Wilhelm Busch confessed later on in life, that some things in his book really did happen. His friendship with the miller’s son Erich Bachmann and their childhood antics together likely inspired the figures of Max and Moritz. A pencil portrait that Bush drew at age 14 shows Bachmann as a young man with thick, round cheeks like those of Max.
A self-portrait of Busch from around the same time shows a swirl of hair that suggests the perky jut of hair on Moritz. Busch and Bachmann hunted and caught birds with glue traps and ran around the Bachmann family mill covered in flour. As an adult, Busch visited his friend Bachmann at the mill. There was also a tailor in town who did have to cross a small footbridge to get into his house, as the tailor in Max und Moritz does. And the family name Bolte — the name of the widow who appears in the first and second pranks — was common in Wiedensahl where Busch spent the first 9 years of his life.
Max and Moritz is a German language illustrated story in verse. This highly inventive, blackly humorous tale, told entirely in rhymed couplets, was written and illustrated by Wilhelm Busch and published in 1865.
Max and Mortiz
An old saw runs somewhat so:
Man must learn while here below.
Not alone the A, B, C,
Raises man in dignity;
Not alone in reading, writing,
Reason finds a work inviting;
Not alone to solve the double
Rule of Three shall man take trouble;
But must hear with pleasure Sages
Teach the wisdom of the ages.
Of this wisdom an example
To the world was Master Lämpel.
For this cause, to Max and Moritz
This man was the chief of horrors;
For a boy who loves bad tricks
Wisdom’s friendship never seeks.
With the clerical profession
Smoking always was a passion;
And this habit without question,
While it helps promote digestion,
Is a comfort no one can
Well begrudge a good old man,
When the day’s vexations close,
And he sits to seek repose.
Max and Moritz, flinty-hearted,
On another trick have started;
Thinking how they may attack a
Poor old man through his tobacco.
Once, when Sunday morning breaking,
Pious hearts to gladness waking,
Poured its light where, in the temple,
At his organ sate Herr Lämpel,
These bad boys, for mischief ready,
Stole into the good man’s study,
Where his darling meerschaum stands.
This, Max holds in both his hands;
While young Moritz (scapegrace born!)
Climbs, and gets the powderhorn,
And with speed the wicked soul
Pours the powder in the bowl.
Hush, and quick! now, right about!
For already church is out.
Lämpel closes the church-door
Glad to seek his home once more;
All his service well got through,
Takes his keys, and music too
And his way, delighted, wends
Homeward to his silent friends.
Full of gratitude he there
Lights his pipe, and takes his chair.
“Ah!” he says, “no joy is found
Like contentment on earth’s round!”
Fizz! whizz! bum! The pipe is burst,
Almost shattered into dust.
Coffee-pot and water-jug,
Snuff-box, ink-stand, tumbler, mug,
Table, stove, and easy-chair,
All are flying through the air
In a lightning-powder-flash,
With a most tremendous crash.
When the smoke-cloud lifts and clears,
Lämpel on his back appears;
God be praised! still breathing there,
Only somewhat worse for wear.
Nose, hands, eyebrows (once like yours),
Now are black as any Moor’s;
Burned the last thin spear of hair,
And his pate is wholly bare.
Who shall now the children guide,
Lead their steps to wisdom’s side?
Who shall now for Master Lämpel
Lead the service in the temple?
Now that his old pipe is out,
Shattered, smashed, gone up the spout?
Time will heal the rest once more,
But the pipe’s best days are o’er.
This was the bad boys’ fourth trick,
But the fifth will follow quick.