TC TO LORD ASHBURTON ; 7 October 1852; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18521007-TC-LOA-01; CL 27: 323-326
TC TO LORD ASHBURTON
Berlin (British Hotel, unter den Linden) 7 Octr 1852—
Dear Lord Ashburton,
It is now the seventh day that I am in Berlin: this day week, namely, we were at Frankfurt on the Oder, and the “blasted heath” of Cunersdorf where Frederic received his worst defeat from the Russians,—not even a blasted heath that Cunersdorf, for it is sand and will not carry heath, and several of the “hills” have been blown away since Fritz was there; certainly the wretchedest of all terrestrial Hamlets,—there we were last Thursday about this hour; and came to Berlin the same night. Of course you are often in my thoughts here, oftener than usual; for I was to have seen all these things along with you, and to have done much else; had the Powers that preside over Travel been propitious; but they were not; and all the revenge I can have is to write you a word or two (under highly difficult circumstances as usual!) before I go hence.
Some Note from My Lady I had counted on finding here; but there has none come; which fact has of course given rise to various considerations on my part: however, I will not let myself believe that it proceeds from new illness, either on her part or yours; and so it shall be of no consequence to me, and only a very temporary business, as my return home is now to be speedy. Radowitz, I believe, is just come or about coming to Berlin: it appears there are easy methods of getting to him if I much wanted it; but I by no means much do; it is, rather, as My Lady prophesied, a task to keep the people off me,—airy people (possessed of much more enthusiasm than I!) full of officious zeal, and who can do me no good at all.
I carried your letter to Lord Bloomfield on Saturday last,—wanting some service from him in regard to the Royal Library;—and was at once admitted to an interview, and very kindly received indeed both by himself and by his Wife, to whom also, it appears, her good Sister Mrs Villiers had recommended me. I have since seen them again; they asked me to dinner, and I went to tea;—found there a little English Party, and had a pleasant hour or two, and some talk with the Diplomatist himself; whom I find to be a solid honourable English character; very fit (I shd suppose) for his post, and with far more sense in him than he cares to express in talk. With him I am very glad to have made this little bit of acquaintance; his service in regard to the Library too was at once granted me, and has been essentially useful in the affair of books,—enabling me to carry books home with me, and read them (had I any time!) not under headache and foul air, but in quiet and with my windows open. In short I am much obliged to you for what you did in this matter. His Lordp asked me, when last there, if I wanted to know anybody? Ach Gott, no! Why shd I know anybody, except those that could help to expedite the wretched task I am here upon, and let me end it sooner and get home again!—
Berlin has beautiful Royal and other Public Buildings; two or three really handsome squares, with trees and statues in them; and this street, “under the Lime-trees,” which resembles, tho' afar off, two Edinburgh Princes Streets set to front one another, is a handsome lively street: but as a whole, the City has a rawboned awkward bare appearance (so many low houses, witht chimnies, and deep ditches by way of gutters on each side with unsteady wooden lids to them),—occasionally it reminds you of Paris, then again of some nondescript Congeries of warehouses and maltkilns, some Manchester without the industry, or any smoke save that of bad tobacco, which penetrates all corners and sanctuaries, and seems to be here what Liberty of the Press was defined to be in England, “the air we breathe, if we have it not we die!”— Soldiers greatly abound everywhere; the very cabmen have a kind of brass helmet: the noise of this and some other streets is very great; but seems chiefly to proceed from droschkas [four-wheeled cabs], and the carting of wood, peat &c for fuel, add to which that the pavements are very bad.
In my inquiries after Fritz I have not been very victorious; but I have done my best, and everybody has been willing, if not many able, to be of real help to me. A lot of old Books the good Neuberg has managed to fish up for me out of the dark shops here: that has been one's chief acquisition in most cities hitherto. Localities I have seen, tho' indistinctly and under fearfully stupid guidance for most part (having no time to search for guides): Pottsdam for most part seemed dreadfully ugly, a place for bull frogs rather than men; but Sanssouci itself and the Neue Pallast [New Palace] (of Fritz's building there) are both decidedly pleasant places; have wood, dry ground (Sanssouci even a hill) and wear an expensive and fantastic if not a beautiful or completely royal appearance. Charlottenburg and Spandau,1 a certain learned Artist here (one Magnus,2 Professor of something, and “the best Portrait Painter in the world,” say the Berliners), who has been very kind to me, and has actual sense in him,—he is to shew me over these places this very day; and that nearly ends my visiting of “places,” thank God!— In finding likenesses of Frk and his Generals and Intimates, tho' running after that as the one thing doable here (besides gathering of books), I have not been successful at all: indeed nobody can succeed, for the Portraits do not exist anywhere as a collection, but are scattered over the whole country, and of many personages nobody can give you notice of a Portrait existing anywhere. In the Royal Palaces and Collections of Kunst-Sachen [art objects], there is little but a beggarly account of empty boxes on that head: one Portrait of Frk as a young man, five or six times repeated with insignificant variations, by a contemporary called Pesne:3 that is literally all that I can recollect of truly superior quality that refers to him in these long galleries: of his people there is no trace whatever to be found there,—holy families, Rape of the Sabines, flaying of Bartholomew &c &c stand there instead. Here too one is obliged to be content with what is attainable; and so leave that of the possible, the might-be sphere, with a sad but transient sigh.
Nay in a private house here, one Schickler's the Chief Bankers of the place,4 I have found a Portrait of Fredc,—guided by my Professor Magnus,—which seems to me completely final on that subject, and worth all that I had ever seen before of him or shall see. Really an admirable Portrait; kitcat shape, half the size of life, painted by one Graaf of Dresden,5—to whom Fc did not sit, but who had watched him everywhere for many years, and who was the best painter in Germany of that day. This Portrait pleased and surprised me not a little; for even Rauch (the Sculptor who did the grand Denkmal [monument] here, whh is full of Portraits)6 assured me he knew of no good Portrait of Fk,—and appeared never to have heard of this, till my guide Magnus mentioned it to him. A noble old silverheaded man, this Rauch, nevertheless,—tall, clear, clean as aether; 76 years old and with a smile in him like 16! He and Cornelius, another Painter,7 are the men of most mark I have seen here; indeed the only 2 that seem worthy of much memory from me. And this Portrait of Fk is by far my best conquest in that departt of my business— Magnus incidentally mentioned that he was getting or was about to get it copied for the Russian Demidoff;8 I inquired the price of that operation,—£40; which is too dear a sum for me, tho' Demidoff will have a bargain of it if well done.— — In the line of Art, all else I have done has been to examine some thousands of Chodowiecki Prints (they pronounce him Cod-ov-yetski); he seems to me the cleverest man since Hogarth's time;9 really a man of genius with his burin: but I do not, for practical objects, find that any of his, still less of other people's prints will much avail me; or that I can reasonably buy, or desire the buying of any “Berlin Art” at all for my own poor interests: such is really the fact; and let My Lady and you, in spite of your munificence, understand it to be actually such. Alas! the whole subject of Fk is trampled into mire in my mind, in these sad disastrous days and operations; and I do not really believe I shall ever find anything to write about him,—why should I? Ach Gott, let him lie there trampled down under the dreary Pedants of his own and his country's producing,—and let me get home again, and try for a little sleep!—— —— The day after tomorrow, I hope to set out: Hanover, Köln, Ostend,—Chelsea itself by the middle of next week! Tell My Lady if she have written anything hither, it will follow me; and that I hope to see you both soon at Bath House some evening!
Faxit, faxit [May it come to pass, may it happen]! Ever ys,