Sunday, April 05, 2009

While Emerson was enjoying life in London

There are no journal entries or letters by Emerson on 5 April 1848. To fill the gap, I'll tell a family story.

On that day one of my great-grandfathers was a 12-year-old firebrand in Münster, Westphalia, Germany. When he was 74 he looked back on this period of his life in a light-hearted newspaper interview. He's reported as saying:
In [March] 1848 the Parliament at Frankfort on the Main proposed Johann of Austria for Emperor of Germany and [early in April] the Republicans in Münster had a jubilee in honor of the event. All but the conservatives decorated their houses. The Republican boys -- I was one of them -- broke the windows in all the undecorated houses of the conservatives. My father was a conservative and I broke all his windows. Some of the boys were arrested but I escaped.
This is what he looked like at the time of the interview:

You can tell he was a genial man. My father said he was jolly and talkative; and so he appears. It's difficult to imagine him as the rebellious kid breaking the windows of his father's house.

You have to wonder what the outcome of the event might have been. Apart from eluding arrest, my great-grandfather never said. The revolution of 1848 in Germany, as elsewhere in Europe, ended in failure. My great-grandfather went to school at the highly-respected Catholic College of Münster, but a change in the family fortunes forced him to leave before graduating. Although we have nothing but guesses about what happened, it seems likely that his parents died. Not long after leaving school he emigrated to New York City.

My father used to say that when he departed Münster in the fall of 1854, a small trunk held all his possessions and he had only $5.00 to his name; for what it's worth, great-grandfather himself said the amount was $15.00.

Although -- Horatio Alger-like -- he had by the end of the century become a prominent New York merchant and respected member of the establishment, he did retain something of his early radicalism. For example, he consistently supported liberal causes and retained ties with Carl Schurz and other German immigrants who held liberal views.

Here are a few events of 1848 in Germany from the The manual of dates (1877): - Popular agitation in Hesse-Cassel, Saxony, Bavaria, and Hanover. — March 31. A congress assembles at Frankfort. — May 18. The German parliament assembles. — July l2. The Archduke John of Austria is elected vicar of the empire. — Aug. 4. The Frankfort diet abolishes capital punishment.

Late in the year the German supporters of republican government were defeated -- and the rebels of 1848 would be defeated throughout Europe.

{The storming of the Frankfurt barricades by Prussian Army, October 1848}

Some sources on the events of 1848 in Germany and the rest of Europe:

Timeline--Revolutions of 1848

Germany, September Crisis 1848

Encyclopedia of Revolutions of 1848

Revolutions of 1848 in the German states

The german revolution 1848

The manual of dates, a dictionary of reference to all the most important events in the history of mankind to be found in authentic records, by George Henry Townsend (Frederick Warne, 1877)

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