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The Son of a Non-Commissioned Prussian Officer Reflects on His Childhood and Youth in the Late 18th Century (Retrospective Account)

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My uncle had no journeymen; he worked alone; thus, it was only a small workshop. On the very first day, I got into my aunt’s and her mother’s bad books by speaking of the “trade of ‘gold worker.’” I committed a real faux pas there! They flared up as if stung by a wasp. It was not a trade, they said, but an “art” or an “office.” [ . . . ] Moreover, how could I use the expression “gold worker”? That was disparaging; to be sure, there was drudgery involved but no “gold working”; according to them, my statements were entirely rash. My uncle kept mostly quiet at this; I remained silent as well and had to keep my thoughts to myself. [ . . . ]

[1802/03] In addition to all this, new misfortune emerged. I had to gold-plate plenty of items; in doing so, not only was I forced to swallow the toxic mercury fumes, since no precaution to protect me had been taken at all, but I also had to submerge my hands, which had just been in the fire, into cold beer residues with the gold-plated pieces, and then expose them, while not fully dried, to the cold air and subsequently to the fire again. This constant alternation of heat, cold, dryness, and moisture could not be avoided. As early as November, all of my fingers on both hands were frostbitten, with the exception of the thumbs. I tried remedies against this; they did not help and could not help, since I could not go easy on my fingers and the same causes generated the same trouble again. All of the fingers opened and began festering under immense pain. [ . . . ]

[On December 31, 1806, Klöden is released from his articles and thus becomes a journeyman.]

Source: Karl Friedrich von Klöden, Jugenderinnerungen [Childhood Memories]. Edited by Max Jähns. Leipzig, 1874, excerpts, pp. 13-200.

Reprinted in Jürgen Schlumbohm, ed., Kinderstuben, Wie Kinder zu Bauern, Bürgern, Aristokraten wurden 1700-1850 [Upbringing, How Children Became Farmers, Middle-Class Citizens, and Aristocrats 1700-1850]. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1983, pp. 268-99.

Excerpted by the volume editor. Translated by Erwin Fink

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