The Collected Letters, Volume 28


TC TO JAMES MACKENZIE ; 13 March 1853; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18530313-TC-JAMA-01; CL 28: 74-76


Chelsea, 13 March 1853—

My dear Sir,

In many German Books about Frederick the Great, I find notices of a certain Signora Barberini, an amazingly clever and beautiful Opera-dancer, and of a “Scotchman Mr MacKenzie” whose adventures are connected with hers and with the History of Frederick. The story is this.

Barberini had been engaged at Venice for Frederick's Berlin Opera, in 1744, at a high salary, but did not come as was expected; on inquiry it was found a rich young Scotchman of quality, “Mr MacKenzie, ” had fallen in love with her at Venice, was about to marry her, and that she would not come. Frederick applied to the Senate of Venice, shewing his clear fixed bargain with Barberini; but they took no steps: he then impounded the effects of their Ambassador at Berlin, who was just going towards England, had his trunks remained free;—upon which the Venetian Senate did lay hold of Barberini; delivered her, under military escort, to the Austrian authorities on their frontier; who forwarded her duly, under the like, to the Saxons; and they again to Berlin, where she did actually dance and shine many years, and made a fine marriage at last. Poor MacKenzie followed in the rear thro' all this long military march of the Barberini; came to Berlin close behind her; and staid there some time (still in 1744) determined to wed her;—till Frederick, by applying to his friends in Britain or by some other good method, put an end to the speculation.— Of the facts thus far there is no doubt whatever. Zimmermann (Author of Solitude, who has written some wild pieces about Frederick) adds, what is very doubtful, That MacKenzie all his life hated Frederick in consequence; farther that he, MacKenzie, was a Kinsman of Earl Bute the first Prime Minister of George III, into whom he infused his own hatred of Fredk; by means of which (says Zimmermann) the “shameful separate peace” was made by England, and Fredk left in the lurch, at the end of the seven-years war! This latter clause of the story may be accounted very doubtful indeed;—or perhaps if the MacKenzies were not related to the Butes at all, is not doubtful, but certainly false, as I suspect?1

This gallant MacKenzie and his Barberini adventures do not concern me much; nor is it worth any friend's while to take much trouble about him for me. But it has struck me I would tell you of the thing. Perhaps you are yourself a bit of a genealogist; or, if not, perhaps you know some accurate man who understands the Clan MacKenzie (its Seaforths &c &c) sufficiently to identify this Historical young amorous gentleman, and inform me who and what he was,—and especially whether related at all to “Braw Johnny Bute,” as Zimmermann babbles.— Any time; there is no hurry.2

I am very sorry indeed to say, the Book you sent me long ago, so kindly about William Wallace, which was a very good Book of its kind, is for the present in an eclipsed condition,—unattainable to me, or I would have returned it months ago!3 Last summer there came carpenters, masons, plasterers, painters (what they call a “thorough repair”) into this poor house; drove me to Germany, and indeed almost drove me mad;—and at my return, in putting up my Books again, this, to my especial sorrow, was one of the two or so which could not be discovered! If the Book prove ultimately to be lost, my duty next in regard to it is, of course, very clear: but these precious repairs are not even yet completed, nor is the house yet in pristine order: so I will beg you to be patient with me for a while still.

I have not heard anything direct from Erskine this long while; but I was three weeks with him last summer, in my sad Hegira while you were out of the way;—and I hear that he is prosperous and often about Edinburgh. If you have opportunity, forget not my kind and grateful remembrances to him.4—I remain always

Yours sincerely /

T. Carlyle