The Collected Letters, Volume 28


TC TO C. K. J. BUNSEN ; 3 February 1853; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18530203-TC-CKJB-01; CL 28: 24-28


Chelsea, 3 Febr 1853

My dear Sir,

Thanks for your Goethe-Charlotte Documents;1 which I propose to examine by the first opportunity of leisure I have,—some time this week, I hope.

I would so gladly obey your commands, and those of Charity, both at once: and yet I fear I shall not be able to do this little thing you require of me in the name of that Divinity!2 My studies at present are far, far on the other Pole, from Werter and his sentimental Pistol:3 I have never in the least liked Werter;4 and Werterism in these sad generations is a thing I daily regard with more and more abhorrence! Had Goethe never done better, than Werter, he had been no man of mine. Of course I shall read, as all the world will, with prurient curiosity, if not with a thousand other feelings which are due to them, the letters young Goethe wrote to young Madame: but I confess to a considerable shock from the Frau-von-Stein affair;5 and questioned always, or rather did not question, the propriety of publishing to a gaping mob such extremely private passages in the history of my hero. The letters to Charlotte, it appears from your description, fall under quite another category, and deserve to be published. At any rate I can see well that, unless burnt, they must be published some day or other. As above said, I undertake to read them with at least prurient curiosity: but to stand sponsor for them, and recommend the reading of them to the world,—to which I would, if I could, in my present savage humour, recommend far other things;—all the Prudences admonish me against this!

For the rest, it surely cannot be a difficult matter to secure a preference for the translation you patronize? The first of all conditions will be that the translation be good. That being achieved (which is not quite simple in the case of Goethe), it will surely only require that you, or I, or any person of known credibility in such a matter, certify in these lines: ‘Here are authentic Documents on the genesis of your delightful Werter, O Public; they are well translated; and the produce of the edition is for a charitable object: you will not pirate such a translation; you will respect it, and read it a great many of you!’—Or if this won't do, and piracy still ensue; then will it not be the best of all monitions to a certain Gentleman to commence representations and negotiations and forthwith get so iniquitous and foolish an arrangement, profitable to nobody, set upon the same footing?—In fine, however, the goodness of the translation is your bower-anchor: of course if that is not attained, nothing either is, nor altogether ought to be, attained.

These are my crude notions; which I write, not to lose time:—it is always my desire, and partly even my purpose of late, to see you ‘one of these days’; but, alas, it never takes effect! I must add a few words on another subject which you touch upon in this kind message of last night, and which, ever since I saw you last, have been more or less in my head. I mean the Portrait of Frederick the Great; which it seems somebody is copying, with a view to England, perhaps even to our esteemed self,—gratifying, tho' not needful in that quarter!

I know Pesne's Portrait of Fk as Crown Prince very well; I found it in the Berlin Gallery, in the Schloss,6 and I think a third time somewhere: a good Picture, and of a beautiful youth (more like his mother than he afterwards grew); there are authentic copperplates of it in the British Museum; and on the whole I have a copy of it privately in my own head to a sufficient degree. Unless the Artist employed is first-rate, and the copy to be in oil, a perfect fac-simile of Pesne and intended for some sumptuous Gallery, it will not be of much use here.

There is, at Charlottenburg, a still more beautiful Picture by the same Pesne, representing Fk as a child of 3 or 4 years, beating a little drum, with his elder sister (Margravine of Baireuth afterwards) and a negro valet looking on:7 this I remember as quite an excellent Piece, and Fritzchen as the prettiest little eaglet of a child I have almost anywhere seen pictured: of this too, or of this especially, a man who had a Gallery of Pictures might rejoice to possess a perfect copy;—and indeed I think, if our National Gallery were completely up to the ideal of its duty, it wd take care to have them perfectly copied, and hung up to general view. Alas, alas!— These two pictures I well enough know; and they are worth copying on the terms just indicated, but hardly otherwise. They are the only two good Pictures of Fk that are known at Berlin; the only two on which one can at all depend for resemblance; and they are not of Fk the Great (being so young), but only Fk preparing to be great. It seemed to be made out by the best authorities that Fk never sat for his Portrait to anybody after he was King; and accordingly the number of bad and impossible Portraits of Fk, in Germany and out of it, is very great. The modern Berlin Artists, I could see, have adopted a kind of Compromise Fredk, a general ‘ Average of Fredericks’; which is current everywhere but to me quite worthless, fully as like an old Chelsea Pensioner8 as a Great Man; this you could get in any Printshop as the adopted ‘Portrait of FredK’; this, with Chodowiecki's contemporary sketch (not C.'s best by any means, tho' of some worth, and often repeated by C.), seemed to be all one could get:9—and truly the resources of the Berlin Galleries, and Archives and Libraries, and of German Literature and Vorstellungskunst generally, in reference to Fredk and his Heroes, were by no means nor are, of an exhilarating nature to me! Rauch's Portrait, of course, I saw daily—of which you have now a cast; but that also seemed mainly the ‘Compromise Fredk’ current in the shops; and neither it, nor any of the other Portraits, in that magnificent expressive mass of Sculpture, would in the least kindle itself into life for me, but refused absolutely to represent the reality of Fk and his Ziethens and Seidlitzes,10—and left me to my sorrowful reflexions. The Dead Mask of Fk's Face11 seemed to be all I was to get about him, of credible, from Berlin Art.

In this perplexity, Professor Magnus (a man of much fame in Berlin, and well deserving of it) took me with him, one day, to the House of the Bankers Schickler (I forget in what street; but they are Splittgerber's successors and known to everybody); there, he said, was a Picture by Graff of Dresden, by far the best Portrait he had ever seen of Fk.12 We went; and I saw this Portrait, and shall never forget it. This it seems to me is the real FK, worth all the Busts, and Prints and Smearings I have ever elsewhere seen; the one Picture which corresponds both with the Dead Mask, and gives you those living eyes,—‘ces grands yeux,’ as Mirabeau defines them, ‘qui portaient, au gré de son âme héroique, la séduction ou la terreur’;13 eyes and a look, not easy for a Painter to represent! I was, and am, quite charmed with that Picture:—and, to come to the practical conclusion, will earnestly recommend to whoever is copying a Portrait of Fredk for English objects, to go thither and copy that, for it will be a real acquisition to us. Any kind of faithful copy of the impression produced by that Picture wd be a possession to all students of the History of Fredk; and in fact it is the only Picture of the elderly Fk, out of the half hundred Pictures, Busts etc. etc. I have seen in my travels, which is of any considerable value to me.

Magnus had undertaken to get this Picture accurately copied for a Russian Count Demidof14 (or some such name) by an Artist he could depend upon for making a facsimile. On my return to England, Lord Ashburton requested me at once to bespeak a similar copy; which I immediately [did]:15 but Magnus wrote in answer that when they took down the Picture from Schickler's rather dim wall, and brought into full daylight, there were found to be faults, the head was out of drawing etc. etc.; and in fine they had renounced copying it. Which I was extremely sorry to hear. I urged in return: ‘Surely it is possible for Painter's Kunst [art] to give me faithfully that impression I got from the Piece on Schickler's wall: correct the evident faults of drawing (Graff had to paint from his own thought and memory not from a sitter); correct them, or leave them uncorrected; but procure us that impression!’ Magnus seemed again to hesitate; but he was just setting out for Spain with Winterhalter;16 and in fine nothing was done.

A certain Marble Bust (I know not by whom) which I saw in the Schloss (old Schloss) at Potsdam appeared to me to have considerable resemblance to a conceivable Frederick:17 but except that, these three Pictures (Pesne's two of the Crown Prince, and still more of the bright little drumming child; and, most of all, Graff's of the Man of Sixty) were the only representations of Fredk that did not rather do me ill than good. If a beneficent genius is at work in Berlin upon Fk for England's behoof,—I will exclusively and emphatically recommend these three pictures;—and for my own behoof (if that by unmerited miracle shd come into play) the last only. And so, at length, I have said my say (impelled really rather by force of conscience in some perceptible degree); and you can make what use of it you find to be fittest, in any quarter concerned with.

I fear there is nobody about you who can give me any lucid testimony about König's Militärisches Pantheon, and whether it is worth sending to Berlin for?18 I am dreadfully at a loss for Books,—and no help, I believe! Yesterday, no farther back, I found either 4 or 5 Schmettaus in Preuss's Book,19 all soldiers, and not so much as their Christian-name given: I will defy Oedipus to say which is which, or whether they are not all imaginary shadows together! By intense inspection and combining I at last made out the Dresden Schmettau; but him of the Kartoffelkrieg (whose Book I have), and him (the same perhaps?) who fell at Jena I shall never make out.20 It is perfectly distressing. I often wish I had an old Berlin Directory, an old Army-List of the years 1750–60?— I still read about FrK and Germany (Books unexampled out of Chaos or Swift's Flying Island); 21 but as to writing about a man, or a thing on those terms …!— Is it not strange that the only really clever Book yet written about Prussia is Mirabeau's (scandalous) Histoire secrète? A great intellect, nay an intellect fairly beyond commonplace, I have yet found in no other. ‘Stupiditas stupiditatum, omnia stupiditas!22

Begging a thousand pardons for this long letter, which is thrice as long as I purposed,

Yours ever truly


His Excy Chevalier Bunsen

etc. etc.