Adams Papers

From John Quincy Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, 28 July 1800

No: 4.

Hirschberg. 28. July. 1800.

The dimensions of my paper compelled me to break off my last letter before I had finished giving you an account of all we had seen the forenoon we stayed at Bunzlau. Yet I had little more to say; for our visit at the orphan house, which is at the same time a public school, scarcely deserves mentioning. We saw there nothing but a chapel & a dining hall, in which there were about thirty boys at dinner. But the present, being vacation time, many of the children, & most of the instructors are absent—Besides which, the institution itself, we were told is much upon the decline, & instead of two hundred youths, who formerly were educated there, can now scarcely number fifty—There is also a convent of Dominicans at Bunzlau, which now consists of only three monks, & which had nothing worthy of being seen—Before we leave the town, it may not be amiss to tell you that it was the birth place of Opitz, who though he lived less than a century ago, is considered as the father of German poetry, & whom they call the Swan of Bober, as the English call Shakespeare, the Swan of Avon. You would not imagine the name of Bober, calculated to sound very melodiously in poetical ditties, nor is the petty stream itself of a nature to inspire the most lofty strains; yet to the ear of a German, there is nothing harsh, or ludicrous in the sound of Bober, & to their minds, nothing can be more delicious than the verse of Opitz.

After devoting one morning to the sight of the curiosities, which I have now given you an account of, at noon we pursued our journey hither, & arrived here the same night between 10. & 11. At Löwenberg, the only stage between Bunzlau, & this, we were detained two hours, to procure post horses, & met the captain of a company in garrison at the place, who had been in America, among the troops of the Duke of Brunswic, & taken prisoner with General Burgoyne at Saratoga—He returned to Europe soon after, & has been twenty years in the service of Prussia. Transient & accidental as our meeting with him was, he treated us with great civility & offered us an apartment in his house to spend the night, in case we should not get horses in time to come on the same evening hither.

For the six german miles from Bunzlau here, we seemed transported into a different world, from that in which we had travelled, through the Electorate. Turnpike roads, as fine as any in England; a continual interchange of hill & dale, exhibiting an endless variety of lovely prospects, & frequent & considerable villages, & country seats, fields covered with luxuriant harvests, oaks, rearing their majestic heads to the clouds, & streams meandering through meadows, which five times in a season shoot up their fertility in defiance of the scythe; such is the scene, for which we have exchanged pine trees & sands.

Nothing can be more beautiful than the situation of Hirschberg itself; an handsomely built town, with a number of noble edifices situated in a valley surrounded by hills, more or less elevated on every side, with the sublime gloom of the Giant Mountains, as the back ground of the scene. Yet we have not had an opportunity fully to enjoy its beauties; the darkness of the night, when we arrived having intercepted the charming prospect, which the city presents to the approaching traveller—We found it very difficult the first night to procure a place to lodge in; the town being at this time full of company, owing to the vicinity of the baths at Warmbrünn, which are much frequented for two months from the middle of June.

Yesterday being Sunday, we had not an opportunity of seeing any of the manufactures. We went in the afternoon to the catholic church; a large & antient building, gaudily but not richly decorated within. The pictures were all indifferent, excepting the great alter piece, which represented the assension of Christ, & appeared to be in a better style than the rest; though <the rest> I could not approach near enough to examine it accurately—When we went into the church the clergyman was catechising some children; & afterwards I observed that the service was chiefly performed in German—The organ was bad, or very badly played.

In the evening we went to the play, where we saw an opera called Rübenzall, performed for the first time here. This Rübenzall is a personage so important in the Silesian mountains, that you would perhaps be glad to have some account of him; but as yet I know nothing farther of him, than what Zöllner tells—He says, that it was formerly a general belief among the mounteneers, that on the highest summit of the mountains, there resided a giant Genius named Rübenzall, a very capricious sort of spirit, who assumed at pleasure the shape of a wolf, or a bird, or a monk, or a bear, a huntsman or a goat, a serpent, or a wisp of straw; who would often offer himself as a guide to the traveller, & according as he happened to take his fancy, guide him faithfully, & make him handsome presents at parting, or lead him into swamps, or wildernessess, & then leap upon a tree, & then burst into a horse laugh at the perplexity of his miserable dupe—That he had a wonderful facility at raising instantaneous snow storms, or thunder storms according as his fit of caprice happened to be cold, or hot, & that nothing gave him so great offence as to hear his name pronounced—Hence the peasants, who frequented what they considered as his dominions used to call him Mr. John, or the Giant Lord, or the great mountain God; that they might not incur his displeasure by pronouncing his name. But since a chapel has been built upon the spot of his abode; poor Rübenzall has been obliged to fly, & nobody knows what has become of him—At least it is certain that since that period, now nearly 140 years, he has not been seen. I was very well pleased that his first reappearance should be upon the stage at Hirschberg, exactly at the time of our arrival; but he must have lost much of his power as well as his malice, since he has been upon his travels, for he had nothing gigantic in his appearance last night—His costume was very much like that of Hamlet, prince of Denmark upon the London Theatres, & the only symptom of magic about it was a white sash with a few strange figures upon it, which might easily be taken for the ribband of an order. Louisa said he looked like anything but a Genius.

28. July. 8. o’clock. P.M.

When I expected as a preliminary to your perusal of these letters, that you should always take a map of Silesia in your hand, (for without it, you will find them still more tedious than I am afraid they will prove at best) I was not aware, that I ought likewise to insist upon your having a like recourse to a map of antient Greece—For who would have imagined at the utmost extremity of Germany, to be transported in an instant upon the mountain of Helicon—Yet thither has this day been our afternoon’s excursion—An ingenious & learned Gentleman of this town, who unites a fondness for the beauties of nature with a taste for the improvements of art, & equally conversant with the classical geography of antient times, & the delightful scenes that surround the place of his own residence, has given the name of Helicon, to an hill in the neighbourhood of this town, from a resemblance, he supposed to exist between their respective situations—I can scarcely believe that the real Helicon ever exhibited any thing more beautiful & majestic, than the scenes of its Silesian namesake, & indeed any mind susceptible to the harmony of sounds, will most readily consent to change the name of Hirschberg, for that of Thespiæ; of the Bober for the Thermessus; of the Bäckerbrunnen, & the Merkelbrünnen, for the Hippocrene & Aganippe—The mountain itself like its original is covered with a wild & venerable forest of trees, on one side, & with the profusest bounties of Ceres on the other. To increase the resemblance, in a sort of spiral road winding up the hill, at little distances from each other, niches have been opened in the woods, at spots, which present the most delightful & varied prospects, & each niche is devoted to one of the Muses, with applicable inscriptions, quoted from the Greek & Roman poets. At the top of the hill is a small Temple of Apollo; & in the niche of Terpsicore, a square floor is laid down upon a plot of ground levelled for the purpose, supposed to be appropriated to a dance of the graces; round the floor are placed in a semicercle nine benches, as seats for the Muses, who are to pass judgment upon the dance. All this is fanciful, & to <bear> a lover of classical antiquity peculiarly pleasant, as it forms a chain for the association of ideas all highly delightful, though from such different sources, as required the soul of a poet to bring them together—While the spectator is transported with the view of some of the fairest prospects that the face of the earth can produce, to call at the same instant to his recollection those exquisite enjoyments, which the idea of scenes from ancient Greece must afford to every liberal & cultivated mind, is to administer a sort of intellectual luxury, which discovers an uncommon sensibility for what is truly beautiful, & the highest refinement of taste—Unfortunately, other people, with blunter senses, & less ingenuity have been induced by this example, to find resemblances & build temples, without perceiving the necessity of connection & consistency in a fiction like this, & have given the name of Gibralter to a bold projecting rock in the midst of this mountain of the Muses. The spot offers indeed a most enchanting prospect—Close before the spectator, & about two hundred yards beneath his feet the junction of the rivers Bober & Zacken is formed. On his left hand, with the interval of the narrow profound valley through which the stream runs; rises yet higher than the spot where he stands, a steep hill, covered with thick, lofty, darkling pines. On his right, at a considerable distance his eyes are arrested by the solid gloom of the Giant Mountains; while in front, beyond the confluence of the rivers, it ranges unchecked over blooming meadows, & loaded cornfields, contrasted with the elegant buildings, & the whole handsome town of Hirschberg, surrounded, here with scattered villages, there with rocks & hills, & groves interspersed upon the scene, & bounded only by the horizon—Had this spot been situated any where else, no human being can imagine why it should be called Gibralter—Here upon the mountain of Helicon, & in the midst of the Seats of all the Muses the name seems perfectly absurd—But this is not all—A merchant of this town, with more gratitude, than judgment, & more money, than taste, has been at the expence of building, at a small distance before the temple of Apollo, another temple, or rather a portico of stone, dedicated as appears by the german inscription in the front of the building, to Frederic the unique—Towards the bottom of the building is an alter, a solid cube, without ornament, intended as an emblem of perfection, with the inscription “Thanks to him”—There are likewise inscriptions on the two inside end walls of the fabric, one purporting that “from his days, posterity would begin to date the golden age”—the other that the building was erected by Mr Geier—Jany: 24. 1800—The date no doubt was chosen as being Frederic’s birth day—That a Silesian should build a temple to Frederic II—that he should even consider the golden age as beginning from his days may be excused; for his conquest of Silesia has unquestionably been of advantage to the Province; but why this hill precisely should be chosen for such a show of patriotic devotion, is not easy to determine—An austrian might indeed think the place well selected, & say that the hero’s usurpation of this mountain of the Muses, aptly represented his usurpation of the province; as the great man had one quality, in which he was by no means unique; a most ardent affection for the possessions of others—There are other inconsistencies too in the arrangements upon this hill—Thus in proceeding beyond the temples there are paths leading to different tracts, which respectively bear the names of Orcus, & of the elysian fields—At the spot where these paths separate is a long rock, which with the help of a little painting, & a little imagination is made to pass for the dog of Cerberus—But at a rocky point, on the declivity of the hill, where the usual trodden path terminates, the mythological names are again abandoned, & the place is called the world’s end. From this I went down to the bottom of the hill, untill I came to the borders of the shallow stream, which riples along against the stones—Here an immense rock hangs over in such a manner as to form a sort of cavern, noted for having been once the retreat of false coiners, & which bears the name of the cold kitchen—It would be utterly in vain for me to attempt a description of the wild, romantic & endlessly varied prospects we enjoyed in the course of this walk of four hours—It seems like a land of enchantment. You cannot walk at any time five minutes together, without being presented with a new prospect, of which no two are like each other.

Between the town & the mountain of Helicon, is a small hill called the Hausberg, upon which many of the citizens have formed <by> small shady bowers, & built little fire places; so that they can come in the afternoon on Summer days; make themselves tea, or coffee, & sit & enjoy the beauties of the season & of the country. We saw several of these family parties, partaking these innocent, & wholesome enjoyments—We were ourselves accompanied upon our excursion by the post master of Hirschberg & his family—Mr Rosenstiel, a counsellor in the department of the mines at Berlin, a Silesian himself, & who furnished us with a written direction to guide us upon our route, had informed this gentlemen before hand that we were coming here & requested his attentions to us—We are much indebted to him <for him> for his civility—Your’s—

MHi: Adams Family Papers, Letterbooks.

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