Margarethe Müller.

Carla Wenckebach, pioneer online

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Al U L L E R





Hochstes Gluck der Erdenldnder
1st nur die Personlichkeit.












MY first and foremost reason for writing this
biographical sketch has been an ardent
desire to share a precious possession, a possession
that has come to me through intimate knowledge
and deep appreciation of a very unusual, very vital
human being. The joy of the human mind in distinct
personality, that "highest bliss of earth-born be-
ings," as Goethe calls it, is undying; and if through
what I recount of Carla Wenckebach I succeed in
evoking in my readers even a passing gleam of the
glad delight I myself experience in contemplating
her, that gleam will be my reward.

A secondary incentive for writing these memoirs
has been the wish to furnish an historic document
of a life which, though it may not be as truly
typical as it is markedly individual, nevertheless
represents a type of seemingly increasing promi-
nence, that of the woman in whose mental make-
up sex does not appear to be of prime and deci-
sive importance. I do not refer to the mannish
woman, that ephemeral product of hybrid civili-
zation, but to the woman whose instincts and in-
terests are intellectual rather than domestic; one
who marries if the man comes her way, but other-


wise "hunts" congenial activity in preference to
man or motherhood. To this interesting and happy
enough variation of womankind, gallant Uncle
Sam has long granted an important share in public
activities, while "Brother Michel" still holds aloof.
Among the hundreds, or shall I say thousands, of
brave, restless German women who during the latter
half of the last century left the Fatherland in order
to seek larger, freer fields of activity in foreign coun-
tries, none perhaps has done more for her own peo-
ple or won more distinction in her new home than
Carla Wenckebach. Yet none could have been less
conscious of her own achievement, and this fact
has given added zest to my work as biographer.

In regard to material I have been unusually
fortunate in being able to gather largely from
Fraulein Wenckebach's nearest friends and rela-
tives, including her mother, who died only recently;
and there were many other people available from
whom I have extorted their last bit of information.
Through frequent and prolonged visits in East
Frisia, her home in Northern Germany, I have be-
come familiar with the customs and traditions of
the country and with the personnel of its sturdy in-
habitants, whose national motto is, ficdafrea Frt-
senal "Hail to thee, free Frisian!" Myself a native


of Hannover, I was also thoroughly at home in the
atmosphere that surrounded her during her school
days there and in Hildesheim. And for the period
between these school days and her career at Welles-
ley, I had overwhelmingly rich treasures of manu-
script. Most of the quotations I have given are from
letters to her family. I have also made frequent
use of an autobiographical manuscript novel, which,
for the sake of convenience, I have referred to as

The most disheartening drawback to my work
of biographer has been that circumstances com-
pelled me to interpret a subject so thoroughly Ger-
man through the medium of a language not my
mother tongue; and that whenever I wanted to
quote, I have had to translate. And here I must con-
fess that it was often impossible to render into Eng-
lish all the quaint peculiarities of Carla Wencke-
bach's style, the strength, the picturesqueness, the
raciness of wit on the one hand, and the involved
constructions, mixed metaphors, and untranslatable
puns on the other. Need I say that I have not been
so careful to reproduce the faults of her style as
to bring out its beauties? In all other respects
I have tried to be faithful to my ideal of uncom-
promising veracity of presentation, a veracity


such as only a lovingly close yet artistically de-
tached view-point could make possible. I have also
followed my predilection for such manner of treat-
ment as Thackeray describes when he says, "I
would have history familiar rather than heroic."








PORTRAIT OF 1897 Frontispiece
PORTRAIT or 1873 Facing page 12



PORTRAIT OF 1880 197

PORTRAIT OF 1887 242

PORTRAIT OF 1898 288


A sunny childhood . . . had stored up in him
an inexhaustible treasure of inner serenity.
Pessimism has never entirely possessed a soul
who can keep the memory of golden days of
youth to brighten life when darkness sets in.


IT was on St. Valentine's Day in the ancient city
of Hildesheim, and in the year of our Lord one
thousand eight hundred and fifty-three, that Life
played fairy godmother to the Royal Hannoverian
Deputy Postmaster Carl Georg Christian Wencke-
bach and his wife Marie Sophie Dorothea. Just after
the bell from the thousand-year-old cathedral (the
"Dom") near by had struck midnight, there ap-
peared in the green-curtained family cradle a pair
of rosy twins, the first, so the chronicler reports,
marking the event with a lively kick and a joyous
crow, the other following in demure silence and with
limbs tired from waiting.

Before two weeks were over, the little late-comer
had gone out of the world as quietly as she had
entered it, and her more robust sister was left sole
possessor of the cradle which, until the twins came,
had been occupied by Claus, the eldest born, a
blond-haired and blue-eyed boy of two.

The baby, rolled up in her swaddling-clothes,
looked, we suppose, much like other babies of the
time, a time that did not allow much freedom of
motion of any kind and tied up its infants as securely
in swathing-bands as it did its adults in enthralling


bonds of reactionary laws. All the approved instru-
ments of torture devised for the agony of infants,
the stiff linen cap, the coarse fustian jacket, the
narrow bag for the feet, and the long, stiff knitted
band intended to be wound round and round the
soft little body to give it "stability," all these,
we may be sure, were inflicted on our baby. Her
fitness for survival was further tested by a number
of hot and heavy feather beds massed underneath
and on top of the little martyr. The consequence
was that in spite of her natural vigor she succumbed
and threatened to go the way of her twin. But after
a few weeks she rallied again so quickly that, much
to the satisfaction of Frau Marie, the day set apart
for the jolly celebration of her baptism did not need
to be postponed at all beyond "decent" limits. The
little heathen was only seven weeks old when they
took her to the Protestant church of St. Andrew's,
the same in which John Bugenhagen of old had
preached his first sermon of heresy. Here the four
godmothers, the four wives of four Royal Han-
noverian Deputy Postmasters, standing round the
magnificent old font, not only promised to watch
over the child's spiritual welfare, but in addition
gave her their four Christian names, Anna, Doris,
Amalie, Katharine.


She was called by none of these names, however,
for the parents did not like them, much as they may
have valued their possessors. They preferred the old
pagan name of Catd to the Christian Katharine;
and because, even to the hardy Frisian ear, Catd
sounded rather too severe for a soft little baby,
they changed it into the Frisian pet name of Tosi.
Catd-Tosi she was, then, and Catd-Tosi she remained
until but that belongs in another chapter.

Tosi was a good child : she slept like her favorite
playmate, the kitten, and ate with much gusto,
never overdoing in either. There was no fussiness
about her, and she was never heard to scream ex-
cept when the food did not appear at the accus-
tomed hour, or when the older brother petted her
too much or dealt her an unexpected blow. She had
none of the dainty, gingerly ways of little Glaus,
who wept when he got his hands or his clothes soiled,
and who could play for hours making finery for his
dolls. Tosi, to his disgust, rather enjoyed dirt, and
was happiest when she could romp on the floor with
Mieseken, the cat, or could make mud pies with the
street urchins in the courtyard behind the gabled

Soon it appeared, though the mother's devoted
love for her firstborn would hardly have let her


acknowledge it, that Tosi was an unusually clever
child. When she was scarcely more than fifteen
months old she had mastered the rudiments of
a practical German vocabulary. One of her greatest
delights, moreover, was to sit on her father's lap,
repeating the big words that he rolled out for her,
words, maybe, like Podbielski, Sebastopol, Unab-
hdngigJceitskampf, and others that were in the air
at that time. Such words, pronounced with ever
varying intonations and in surprisingly novel com-
binations, were as interesting to Tosi as his dolls
were to Glaus. She would sing them, shout them,
whisper them to the cradle, the walls, the kitten,
whenever she felt herself unobserved. And what bet-
ter game could there have been devised for a future



THE Fates smiled on the little blond-haired
and blue-eyed family in the modest apartment
of the picturesque old Hildesheim house, and spun
them a series of peaceful, uneventful days and
months and years. Herr Wenckebach, a handsome,
middle-aged man, and his buxom Frau Marie, the
younger sister of his deceased first wife, were a
happily matched couple, whose even tempers and
simple, quiet ways harmoniously enveloped the bud-
ding lives about them. They had both been accus-
tomed to hard times and frugal living from their
childhood up, and now enjoyed their little share
of ease and peace with grateful hearts. Out of the
four hundred and fifty dollars that a Royal Gov-
ernment paid its Royal Postmaster per annum,
they could squeeze a wonderful amount of solid
comfort and enjoy ment Even an occasional trip to
Hannover, the capital of the kingdom, lying fifteen
miles south of Hildesheim, was not entirely out of
the question. From time to time the eager Herr
Postmeister, urged by domestic Frau Marie, would
betake himself to this Eldorado to feast his mind
on the exquisite performances at the court theater
of George V, or to quicken his soul in the strains


of Joachim's wonderful violin. There was a hunger
in him for things beautiful and intellectual that his
humdrum life of a post-official only intensified. His
forefathers as far back as the fifteenth century had
all been university men, lawyers, judges, mayors,
and the like, but he, like many men of his time,
had been cheated out of the university education in
consequence of the terrible poverty that Germany's
wars with Napoleon had brought down on her sons.
He never complained about his lot, however, partly
because he had an unusual amount of good Frisian
common sense, and partly, too, because he knew that
kind Fate had a piece of good fortune in store for

In the Wenckebachs' gute Stube there hung, a
little apart from the family daguerreotypes with
which the wall under the sofa mirror was covered,
a picture of goodly size bearing a conspicuous air
of distinction. It was a holiday treat for the chil-
dren to be admitted to this "best room," Frau
Marie's sanctuary of furniture worship, and, high
in their father's arms, to get a good look at "the
big picture." This was a fine reproduction of an
excellent oil painting, the original of which may
still be seen in the museum of Emden, the capital
of East Frisia. It represents a man of about forty-



five whose firm chin, fair complexion, light blond
hair, and dark blue eyes betray the Wenckebach.
Something, however, in the curve of his exquisitely
chiseled mouth, in the half playful, half ironical
look of his eyes, in the curls carefully rolled up over
his delicately fashioned ears, in the fastidious non-
chalance with which his neckwear is arranged, marks
him out from the company of wooden-looking Fri-
sian dignitaries on the walls of the museum, as it set
him apart from his surroundings in the stiff little
parlor at Hildesheim.

This was "Uncle Wenckebach," the cultivated
and courtly chief of the family clan, whom his rela-
tives of more heroic character had good-naturedly
nicknamed "Mademoiselle Wenckebach," not only
on account of his grace and daintiness, but also on
account of his Dutch wife and other anti-Frisian
eccentricities. The living reality behind the picture,
however, had meanwhile grown to be a decrepit old
man, who, over his knitting, an occupation to
which blindness had reduced him, slowly nodded
himself to sleep.

News reached the Hildesheim post-office in the

fall of 1854 that Uncle Wenckebach, officially

known as Johann Heinrich Georg Wenckebach, had

died, and that his nephew, Carl Georg Christian,



was now " lord "of the fine family estate * inUpgant,
East Frisia.

The Herr Postmeister was calmly satisfied that
kind Nature had taken her course, and had finally
delivered his uncle and him from their respective
burdens. But Frau Marie's heart leaped for joy and
gratitude at the thought of being proprietress of
a goodly portion of East Frisian soil, to which she
clung even more tenaciously than did her husband.
For she had grown up in a little country place,
which had been the home, too, of her postmaster,
and she loved the country, not so much perhaps
for its own sake, as for the sake of her associations
with it, and for the advantages it had over the city
in the eyes of a devoted housewife. A new post-
master provided, Herr Wenckebach was ready to
take himself and his family away from old Hildes-

* This estate, being a fidei commis, falls back into the possession of
the state when the male branch of the family dies out.



IT was on a fine spring morning in 1855 that the
little Frisian tribe, about whose "foreignness"
the Hildesheimers had probably gossiped all the
more because it had charmed them, were cheered
away from the Hildesheim station with stiff Ger-
man nosegays and ready German tears, no jour-
ney in Germany could be ventured upon without
the comfort of these. And the bitterest tears were
shed, I am told, by two children, by little Tosi,
who had to leave her kitten behind, and by the
substitute pro tern for the kitten, a handsome,
fair-haired girl of fourteen, who had to tear herself
from a beloved mother in order to help earn bread
for a fatherless family of nine by acting as a sort
of nursery governess to the Wenckebach children.
That this little maiden, who subsequently developed
into a woman of rare power and insight, happened
to become the chief guide and inspiration of Tosi's
early years, was the first of those morsels of extra
good luck with which a kind guardian angel fa-
vored his charge.

But on that sad day of parting Auguste Alfeis
was only a child .needing comfort as much as little
Tosi did. So, when the first violent grief was over,


they comforted each other, now as ever after-
wards, Auguste by giving, Tosi by contentedly
taking what was offered. Later in life these gifts of
Auguste to Tosi were the devotion of a generous
nature, the wisdom of a lover of human hearts, the
unconscious influence of a personality touched with
genius. For the present, they were kindergarten
songs which Claus had learned to sing in the lit-
tle kindergarten of Auguste's mother, and kinder-
garten games, with which the untiring Auguste held
the attention of both children and parents when-
ever the sport of seeing houses and fields and trees
fly past the windows lost its attraction.

The end of the railway world in those days was
Bremen. From there on, the jerking and jolting
of the Bummelzug (cautious Frau Marie had been
afraid to try a faster train) was exchanged for the
jig-jog of the yellow mail-coach, by which our party
passed now over the melancholy sands and moors,
now through the rich forests and marshes of the
duchy of Oldenburg, and found themselves in East
Frisia just at sunrise.

How eagerly the travelers must have looked about

them that morning! What they saw, we presume,

was exactly what the modern traveler as yet a

rara avis in East Frisia would see now in those



sea-girt lowlands, fresh green meadows studded
with sleek cattle; candle-shaped red church spires
with red villages clustering about them; solitary
farmsteads, their gabled roofs of thatch or tile
protected against the fierce blasts of the north wind
by a high hedge of close-set and neatly trimmed
linden trees; gray poplars growing in stately inde-
pendence; birches and hawthorn bushes clustering
in cosy groups; long military lines of mountain ash
or maple marking the conventional thoroughfares;
and best and dearest of all, glistening canals with
brown sails slowly gliding seaward, and windmills
flapping their arms about in wild joy as they are
wont to do whenever a child of the soil returns

In one of the little country towns, there are no
real cities in East Frisia, the grandparents came
to the mail tavern from the town where both the
grandfathers ruled as magistrates, to shake hands
with their children and to inspect the youngest
generation of Wenckebachs.

And here Tosi disgraced herself she would not
kiss one of the grandmothers, the good, but stem-
looking stepmother of Frau Marie, and she screamed
at the sight of a crippled and disfigured relative.
When her mother, applying some pedagogic mas-


sage, attempted to make her "behave," the tired and
frightened child threw herself on the floor, kicking
vehemently and shrieking out Nein, nein, nein with
ever increasing temper. Parents and grandparents,
to whom obedience was second nature, and who
had an inborn dread of everything that savored of
a "scene," stood by in helpless bewilderment at
this unprecedented outburst of passion in their
progeny. Young Auguste, however, picked up the
kicker in her muscular arms and removed her from
the sphere of unwelcome sights, such as birthmarks
and crippled bodies, and out of range of these rasp-
ing Frisian voices, whose unaccustomed harshness
had probably helped to frighten the sensitive child.
When the two appeared again Tosi was radiantly
happy, playing with the bright silver dollar that
Auguste's mother had given her daughter for a
mascot. This talisman worked such wonders on the
little reprobate that on parting she was willing,
though reluctantly, to save her reputation of a
"good child" by waving a hasty "by-by" to the
old folks.

At last the travelers reached the old church town
of Marienhafe, near which the Wenckebach "Burg,"
as the villagers called it, a stately, gray, tile-
topped farmhouse, was snugly situated in lordly
[ I*]


surroundings of groves and gardens. Through a
gorgeous triumphal arch erected by the men and
maids who were inherited with the place, they en-
tered the imposing avenue of venerable chestnut
trees leading to the manor house.

The men, in knickerbockers, high hats, and short
jackets, shot off pistols in honor of the new master;
the yellow-haired women, in dark, voluminous skirts,
with gay ribbons and flowers in their black lace
caps, and with funny feminine swallowtails on their
jackets, dropped their best curtsies; while white-
headed and barefooted children shyly peeped at
the newcomers from behind the hawthorn hedges.
There was no singing or reciting of poetry to wel-
come them, as there would have been in other parts
of Germany on such occasions, for as Tacitus of
old truly observed Frisia non cantat.



THERE were five ponderous baldachined four-
posters in the low and rambling gray house
to receive the weary travelers. The one that awaited
Frau Marie and her husband stood in a fastidiously
furnished bedroom upstairs, but was soon removed
to a room on the ground floor. Was it the elevated
position of this room it was just above the high
cellar dairy that attracted the proud little Frau
Postmeister to it, or its vicinity to her special realm,
the kitchen, or her unconscious adherence to that
old custom which made owners of a farm couch on
top of their hoard, the dairy? Certain it is that
there was nothing attractive about the room itself,
for it was a low, bamlike place, hardly spacious
enough to hold the huge green majolica stove and
the enormous bed with the crib for the perennial
baby, to say nothing of a big oak table and other
sizable paraphernalia of the household. But Frau
Marie, who always had her own decided taste, liked
it immensely and made it the sanctuary of her
family tabernacle.

So, for thirty years, this room remained the pa-
rental bedchamber, the Herr Postmeister retreat-
ing to one of the handsome guest rooms upstairs
[ 16]


pending the birth of a child. It also served as
the family dining, sewing, and living room when-
ever the weather necessitated the use of stoves,
which in this cold, damp climate was the case for
almost three fourths of the entire year.

"Yes, the most important room in the house
was the ugliest, too," says Auguste Alfeis with a
reminiscent groan. But this did not trouble its East
Frisian owners, whose art sense had never been
awakened. In fact none of the rooms in the house
was conspicuous for beauty, in spite of the magnif-
icent old furnishings. For the splendid Brussels car-
pets, that even now have not quite outlived their use-
fulness, were protected in spots by cheap, gay rugs;
exquisite inlaid tables were covered with white nap-
kins or gaudy, fringed tablecloths; furniture uphol-
stered in fine brocade was blotted here and there by
fussy, bright tidies; the long mirrors between the
windows were separated from their marble supports,
and the latter, laden with gimcrackery of all sorts,
were removed to corners; the few good books were
banished to the attic or hidden in closets; worthless
genre pictures or family daguerreotypes were hung
next to fine old English engravings. So the house
was decidedly inartistic in appearance, but it was
pervaded by an atmosphere of GemiitlichJceit, of
[ 17]


peace and plenty, of kindliness and cheer, that more
than made up for the absence of beauty.

Though there was a great deal of rubbing and
scrubbing, it was never allowed to interfere with
anybody's comfort, and there was no hustle and
bustle, no scolding and bickering, connected with it.
Frau Marie's reverence for her furniture affected the
children's comfort only so far as to require them
(his little princeship Glaus always excepted) to sit
on kitchen stools whenever the family and their
summer guests dined in state in Uncle Wencke-
bach's fine old dining hall. Woe to the little greasy
fingers that dared at such times to meddle with the
splendid polish of the stately high-backed chairs.
Frau Marie did not scold on such occasions, in
fact she hardly ever scolded, but she had a large
store of good-natured ridicule which the children
feared far more than any angry words, and which,
moreover, had the advantage of never disturbing
the serenity and peace of the household. Frau Marie
would have peace at all costs, for she herself had
suffered enough from the absence of it in her own
family, a family of nine children ruled by a step-
mother whose fine moral character could shed no
warmth because the graces were lacking. When
Frau Marie, at the age of twenty-five, had married


the man of her heart's desire, the object of her ear-
liest girlish fancy, she had silently, in her happi-
ness, promised herself to let her own children
there was no doubt in her young mind that she
would have plenty of them enjoy the freedom and
peace she herself had so sorely missed.

And she thoroughly succeeded in making her
home an earthly paradise for her little ones, whose
joys were thousandfold. Every succeeding year
opened a new heaven of bliss, in which the central
sun, the Christmas tree, shone forth with mystic

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Online LibraryMargarethe MüllerCarla Wenckebach, pioneer → online text (page 1 of 15)