Berlin 16. December 1797.
My Dear Sir.
It is now so long since the date of my last Letter, that I find it again necessary to apologize for suffering the lapse of such an interval since I wrote. My excuse at present rests really upon a variety of constant uninterrupted occupations, upon the cares and fatigue of a long, troublesome and very unpleasant voyage and journey; upon the very severe illness of my wife and brother following each other so closely that for some days both were ill at once; upon the necessity and at the same time extreme difficulty of procuring a roof over our heads in this town, and the indispensible articles of household necessity; and upon the pressure of presentation to the king, and to all the Princes and Princesses belonging to the royal family, who are numerous, and none of whom could according to the usages of the place be omitted. These avocations have left me little time to write, and none for the collection of materials for writing; of such information as could make a letter worth the time which it must employ for your perusal; and even at this moment, remote from almost all the sources of intelligence interesting to us, I can entertain you with nothing better than the relation of my own mischances, or of the formalities and etiquette of a German Court.
Upon receiving in London my commission to this Court and credential Letter to the late king I prepared immediately for the shortest and least expensive possible conveyance hither. A particular circumstance rendered the time peculiarly critical as related to my domestic convenience. It was however what I could not regard, and I lost not a moment of time on that account. We embarked on board an Hamburg Merchant ship, directly from London to Hamburg, on the 18th: of October.—Our passage was extremely rough and stormy, but not very long, since we landed at Hamburg on the 26th: of the same month. We remained there but a very few days; left it on the 2d: and arrived at Berlin on the 7th: of November. Immediately upon my arrival I applied to the Ministers in the department of foreign affairs, and proceeded both with regard to the business here, and that of Sweden, as I have related in several short Letters to the Secretary of State, the only ones which nothing could warrant me to postpone, and which therefore I snatched every possible moment to write—What they contain it were needless to repeat to you.
The journey at land, from the badness of the roads, and of the drivers was worse than the voyage at sea: yet as we had all borne it tolerably well, I began to flatter myself that we should suffer nothing further from it, beyond the fatigue and continual anxiety on the way. But the third day after our arrival my wife was taken violently ill: for ten days I could scarcely leave her bedside for a moment; her illness from which Heaven be praised, she appears now to be in a great measure recovered has only left us to hope, that it has not been materially and permanently injurious to her Constitution—She was scarcely risen from bed, when my brother was seized with an alarming inflammatory sore throat accompanied with an high fever, and many symptoms threatening an attack of the rheumatism which has heretofore afflicted him. He too however most happily escaped that evil, and after an illness of eight or ten days recovered to a better state of health I think than he has before enjoyed these eighteen months
As there had been no Minister from the United States here, received before me, and as I came without having any acquaintance here, I have found my introduction at the Court and to the Princes embarassing enough. I have been however perfectly well received every where. The Government is very apparently pleased with this mission, as a mark of attention from the Government of the United States, and probably specially gratified that they should have sent a Minister here, not having already one at Vienna.
The difficulty which arose with regard to my credentials which were addressed to the late king, and which it was impossible for me to deliver, as he was actually dying at the time of my arrival, and expired within ten days after, has been related to the Secretary of State.—The new king has however by giving me a private Audience recognized me as Minister accredited to his predecessor, and I now stand in the same predicament with the other foreign Ministers who have not yet received the renewal of their credentials.
The accession of the present king has been a period of much
expectation, as it has been supposed that it would be followed by important changes in
the system of the cabinet. The internal changes may possibly be considerable but they
will not, I think<
g> be immediate, nor perhaps very rapid. As to the external
policy, there is hitherto no appearance of any probable alteration. The Ministers in the
department of foreign affairs remain the same. They are three. Count Finkenstein, who
has held the place very nearly fifty years. The Baron d’Alvensleben whom you may have
seen as Prussian Minister at the Hague, where he succeeded the Baron de Tulemeyer, and
the Court Haugwitz, a Silesian, the principal acting Minister in the office, though, and
it may be because the youngest. The two former of these Gentlemen are characterized in a
book of considerable celebrity both on account of its author and the nature of its
highly libellous and often slanderous contents.
There is an apparent coolness between this Court and those of Vienna, and of London. The house of Austria seems indeed the perpetual rival of that of Brandenburg. The English alliance seems to have been barely temporary, and to be altogether dissolved. The situation with France is a distant and suspicious amity without cordiality, but without the least probability of renewed hostility. With Russia there seems to be a better understanding than there was before the death of the late Empress.
The king, though quite a young man, is not without some experience, and is said to have a very military turn. This indeed can hardly be otherwise here, in a Country, the only basis of whose power is military, and which is little more than a nation of soldiery.—His habits of life, are domestic, distinguished by great simplicity, and a laborious activity—There is in his manners a gravity approaching to harshness, but nothing that betokens weakness, indolence or dissipation, the most dangerous of all qualities to a sovereign, and especially at the present times.
The principal change hitherto made has been the abolition of a monopoly recently established upon the cultivation and commerce of tobacco. Monopolies are common for most articles of importation, but that upon tobacco was perhaps the most severely felt, bearing heaviest upon the poor and upon a class of People the most important of all under this Government; the soldiers.—This is considered as one of the popular acts, the purpose of which is to conciliate affections at the commencement of the reign, and it will undoubtedly produce that effect.
An example of severity has been shewn towards a woman well known by
the attachment of the late king for her, which she is reported to have abused to a great
degree—She is mentioned by Mirabeau under the name of Mademoiselle Henck or Madame
Rietz; she had since been created Countess of Lichtenau, and had maintained her
influence and ascendancy over the late king until the time of his death.—She has been
put under an arrest in her house, and is charged with crimes of State, but of what
nature is not particularly known.—She had accumulated by the liberality of the king a
fortune greater than  becomes a<
n> private individual, and by
means which were highly criminal. The rigour which she experiences, excites little
commiseration among the public, by whom she was general detested.
The state of the Country at the present moment appears to be that of a perfect tranquility both at home and abroad—I have no doubt but that it will continue for the present at least.
The intercourse with Russia is considerable, and there are several Russians here: among the rest a Prince Souboff, the last principal favourite of Catherine, and who since her decease has received from the reigning Emperor, a permission to travel. With regard to the Russian Emperor himself there are various and very contradictory reports current. He is alternately represented as one of the most indefatigable and incessantly active Monarchs in Europe. By others as resembling in many of the most disadvantageous particulars his unfortunate father, whose catastrophe is anticipated as rapidly approaching for him. Neither of these accounts has any strong authority to vouch.
I am your affectionate Son
John Q. Adams.