The Collected Letters, Volume 27


TC TO KARL AUGUST VARNHAGEN VON ENSE ; 6 June 1852; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18520606-TC-KAVE-01; CL 27: 135-140


Chelsea, London, 6 june, 1852—

My dear Sir,

Since you last heard of me, I have been reading and inquiring not a little about Frederick the Great; and have often had it in view to write to you, but was always driven back by the vague state of my affairs in that quarter. For all is yet vague; I may say chaotic, pathless,—and on the whole, my studies (if they deserve that name) have hitherto served less to afford me direct vision on the subject, than to shew what darkness still envelopes it for me. Books here are pretty abundant upon Frederick, for he has always been an object of interest to the English; but on the whole not the right Books,—the right Books, materials and helps are not accessible here, and indeed do not exist here even if one could (which I cannot) sit in the British Museum to read them. On the other hand, importation of Books from Germany, I find, is intolerably tedious and uncertain:—in short, I have to admit that my real progress, in proportion to my labour, is quite mournfully small; and after struggling with so many dull reporters, Preuss (in all forms), Ranke, Frédéric (Œuvres de, in two editions), Voltaire, Lloyd (Tempelhof still unattainable), Jomini, Archenholz, Retzow,1 not to speak of Zimmermann, Nicolai, Denina &c &c, “reporters” enough,—I find the thing reported of still hovering at an immeasurable distance, and only revealing itself to me in fitful enigmatic glimpses, not quite identical with any of the “reports” I have heard!— Add to which, I have no definite literary object of my own in view, to animate me in those inquiries; nothing but a natural human curiosity, and love of the Heroic, in the absence of other livelier interests from my sphere of work at present: you may figure I have not been a very victorious labourer for the last 7 or 8 months!

Nevertheless, I decidedly grow in love for my Hero, as I go on; and can by no means decide to throw him up at this stage of the inquiry. That I should ever write anything on Fk seems more and more unlikely; but perhaps it would be good that my reading upon him, which has been a kind of intermittent pursuit with me all my life, should now finish and complete itself at last. Accordingly friend Neuberg, I believe, has now another small cargo of Books on the road for me; nay other wider schemes of inquiry are opening: one way or other, I suppose, I ought to play the game out.

From Reymann's Kreiskarten, and Stieler's maps, joined to an invaluable old Büsching which has come to me, I get, or can get, fair help towards all manner of topography: on the other hand, I greatly want some other kind of Book or Books, which should give me with the due minuteness, & due indubitability, a correct basis of Chronology; in all former inquiries, I had some Contemporary set of Newspapers, Analyse du Moniteur,2 Commons Journals, private Diary or the like, to serve me in this respect; but here I have yet found nothing,—and do much want something, the result being always an indispensable one with me, and preliminary to all other results. Had faithful Preuss done the Oeuvres de Fc according to what I think the right plan, all would have been safe in this particular, in the hands of so exact a man: but unfortunately he has looked on Fc's works as Literature (which they hardly are, or not at all are) and not as Autobiographic Documents of a World-Hero (which is their real character); and thus, tying up every little ounce-weight of different ware into a bundle of its own,—we have a most perverse regularity of method; the Book, in spite of its painful unrememberable annotations, very often unintelligible to the earnest reader; not to be read in any way except with all the volumes about you at once; and yielding at last a result which is quite bewildering,—not a living hero and the shadow of his history, but the disjecta membra [scattered pieces] of him and it. From these Oeuvres, were they even completed, there will be no Chronology easily attainable.— If you know of any such Book as would serve me in this particular, or can hear of any, I will beg you to let me know of it. Also (after all my Büschings and Reymanns), I should be very thankful for a little Topographical Dictionary of Prussia, or even of Germany (if not too big): Büsching's Indexes being hitherto my only help in this respect. Character of place, sequence of time,—Topography and Chronology,—these are the warp and woof of all historical intelligibility to me.

Another Book which I want still more, if there be such a Book, is some Biographical Dictionary, or were it even an authentic old “Peerage Book” such as we have in England,—or even a distillation of old Army-Lists and Court Guides,—some Prussian Book, I mean, or general German Book, which would tell me a little who these crowds of empty names are, at lowest which of them is meant when one hears them mentioned. This is a quite frightful want with me! There are such multitudes of different Schwerins (“of Schwerins,” I somewhere heard),3 all of them unknown to me; so many Brandenburg-Schwedl Brunswic-Beverns, half-dozens of Dukes of Würtemburg, &c &c,—it becomes like a Walpurgis-Nacht,4 unless you can fix some of these into the condition of visual shadows at least! The very Margraves of Baireuth and Anspach are and continue mere echoes to me;—the Duchess of Saxe-Gotha too (Fk's and Voltaire's) I have asked on all sides who or what she is and nobody can so much as shew me the colour of a ribbon of her!5 Voltaires 5,000 Letters (100 times too many) I find as imperfectly edited as any; indeed they are three-parts utterly illegible already, for want of editing,—and must end by being flung out, as portions of Chaos or the Utterly Dark, for most part, before very long, I apprehend. It was Fk alone that first sent me into that black element, or beyond the very shores of it; and I confess I had no idea how dark and vacant it had grown.— If you can think of any guide or guides for me, in this important particular at once so essential and so completely unprovided for, surely it will be a great favour. Of course there are guides better or worse, to an inquiring stranger; and the worst of them, if only authentic and intelligible, would be a kind of treasure to me in this enterprise.

Did you see the Selection from Sir Andrew Mitchell's Correspondence, two thick volumes, which appeared here some years ago? Doubtless they are in some of your Berlin libraries. The Editor, one Bisset, is a man of some energy and talent; but said to be very vain and ill-natured; and is, beyond doubt, profoundly ill-informed on the matter he has here undertaken.6 There is a Letter, from a poor English soldier, acting as servant to Marshal Keith, which gives some poor glimpses of Keith in his last moments, and of the terrible mewing of Hochkirch: you must see this poor Tebay's Letter (that is the name of him) for your second edition of Keith;7 if you have it not at hand, pray apply to me for a copy, which will be very easily got. It seems there are large masses of Mitchell Correspondence still unprinted in the British Museum,8 and various Mss. of Frederick included in them; which, however, I believe, have been seen by Raumer9 and other Prussians.— I read Mirabeau, and still have him; but except Mauvillon's volume on the Prussian soldiers,10 I found the rest mainly a huge and to me quite questionable Lecture on Free-trade à la Cobden;11—well worth its reading too, for Mirabeau is Mirabeau wherever one finds him. I have often pictured to myself the one interview of Vater Fritz and Gabriel Honoré on the stage of this world!—

But, on the whole, I must now tell you of a project that has risen here of a little Tour to Germany itself on our part; of which the chief justification to me,—tho' the female mind withal has other views in it,—would be to assist myself in these inquiries after Frederick. To look with my eyes upon Potsdam, Ruppin, Rheinsberg, Küstrin,12 and the haunts of Frederick; to see the Riesengebirge country and the actual fields of Frederick's 10 or 12 grand battles: this would be a real and great gain to me. Hohenfriedberg, Sohr, Leuthen,13 I could walk these scenes as truly notable ones on this Earth's surface; footsteps of a most brilliant, valiant and invincible human soul which had gone before me thro' the centuries, and left indelible trace of himself there. Then at Berlin, one could see at least immensities of Portraits, Chodowiecki14 Engravings &c &c which are quite wanting in this Country; as well as all manner of Books, to be read or to be collected and carried home for reading;—not to mention oral inquiries and communications, or the very sight of friends who might otherwise remain always invisible to me! In short, I think it not unlikely that we may actually come, my Wife and I, this very summer; and try the business a little; for there are Homburg,15 or other watering places in the game too, and we really both of us need a little change of scene, after so many years of this Babel.— The drawbacks are, sad incapacity, especially on my part, for sleeping, for digesting, for supporting the conditions of travel,—which are sport to most people, and alas are death to poor us!16 However, if the motive energy were sufficiently great? We can both of us speak, or could soon learn to speak, a kind of Deutsch-Kauderwälsch [German gibberish], which might be intelligible to the quick-eared; and for me, I have a certain readiness in bad French as well. Miss Wynne17 eagerly urges the attempt, on hygienic grounds; others urge, and in fact, there is a kind of stir in the matter, which may perhaps come to something.

Will you, at any rate, be so kind as describe to me a little what you reckon the resources of Berlin in regard to my Fk speculations might be,—Berlin, I conclude, must be the headquarters in regard to all that;—and mention especially what the proper time, both in regard to climate and to the presence of instructive persons, might be for visiting your city. People speak of Berlin heats, and sands, and blazing pavements, and again of Berlin sleets and frosts: a still more important point would be the possibility of lodging in some open-aired and above all, quiet place; doubtless all this is manageable,—with a maximum of wisdom, and also with a minimum. Till your answer come, I will stir no farther.

Miss Wynne, home from Paris this good while, seems as well as ever, and quite beautiful again. We all salute Varnhagen. Yours always

T. Carlyle