Adams Papers

From John Quincy Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, 13 August 1800


Schmiedeberg. 13. August. 1800.

Upon our arrival here, I hastened immediately to deliver a letter I had for a clergyman of the place, Mr Hoffman. Unfortunately for us he was obliged to go early yesterday morning to Hirschberg. He requested however his friend Mr Frideric to show us the objects deserving a stranger’s curiosity here, which he has accordingly done. They consist principally of linen manufacturies of various kinds; a business, which in proportion to the place is carried on here with more activity than at Hirschberg—The town contains at most 5000 inhabitants, & their exportation amount to about a million dollars annually.

One of the principal merchants of the town is a Mr Waldkirck, who is at this time employed in erecting buildings sufficient for bleaching from twenty to twenty five thousand pieces of linen yearly. For this purpose he has one large house, in which he hangs up to dry, the linen, that has past through the bleaching tubs; instead of stretching it as is usual elsewhere, upon a grass plot. He gains by this the advantage of being able to perform the process of drying, the whole year round, & is no longer dependant upon the season & the weather. He is likewise introducing here from Ireland the use of oxygenated muriatic acid, “(I am not chymist enough to know precisely what it is) to whiten the linen the better.” Here likewise we saw the process of dressing the linen, by passing it through a tub of starch; the object of which is to give it stiffness, and a gloss to the eye; but which they have not been accustomed to here, & which they say, perhaps with truth, is rather hurtful than beneficial to the linen itself.

Another large manufactury is that of white tape, belonging to Mr. Gebauer, which is likewise a recent establishment here. It is a linen manufactory in miniature, the whole process of making it, being exactly the same. This however is more properly a manufactury, as the [weaving] as well as the bleaching & dressing is done here. There are between thirty & forty looms at work, & in each loom from fifteen to thirty six pieces of tape are made, in proportion to the width, which varies from about 3 inches to a quarter of an inch. The machine by which so many shuttles are set in motion by one loom, is an english invention, as is without exception every contrivance for the abridgment of labor, which we have yet seen in this province.

The weaving is likewise performed in the manufactories of printed linen & cottons, & of damask table linen. The printed linens are principally handkerchiefs & shawls, the figures upon which are partly painted by women, & partly made by wooden moulds the surface of which is first laid upon the colours ready prepared, & then applied to the linen. In cotton they work very little, & what they make is very much inferior to the english.

The Table linen is inferior in quality, & higher in price than that, made in Saxony. This manufactory does not thrive here, & would soon go into ruin, but for the particular encouragement of the Government. The damask is made either of linen altogether, or with a mixture of silk, of which they make a sort of table cloths much used with the country, but not exported elsewhere.

Another article of manufacture that we have met here, is what they call Creas, a sort of linen made of yarn, instead of thread, & bleached before it is wove. The distinction between yarn & thread is not owing to the difference of the article, from which they are spun, but to the manner of spinning. Thread is twisted in spinning, yarn is spun out simply, & consists only of one part. This name of Creas, is Spanish, as are those of Platillas, & Estopilles, by which the different sorts of linen & lawn are designated. Some of the pieces too are called Bretagnes, & they are rolled up à la Morlaix, because the Spaniards were formerly furnished with these articles from manufactures established at Morlaix, in the province of Brittanny. The Bretagnes are small pieces of linen containing just enough to make two shirts, & done up in flat squares, much as you have seen cambricks in our shops—Mr Waldkirck told me that they obliged to send them in such pieces, because the Spaniards is so lazy, that he must even have his linen cut up for him, before he will bye it. The pieces à la Morlaix, are of fifty Silesian ells, & rolled up very close, as round a spindle. What they call Platilles royales, are done up much like the Irish linen; folded, & tied round with bands of stiff paper, ornamented with a red ribband at one end, & stamped figures upon silver plating, to make it very showy; the love of finery being as strong in the common Spaniard as his laziness. This same disposition of judging every thing by the eye, makes it necessary to give the linens likewise a fine gloss, & various inventions are used for the purpose, among which a mashine used by Mr Gentsch, another principal merchant of Schmiedeberg, most attracted our attention—It is put in motion by the means of wheels, which are turned by water, like a common watermill, & four thick plates of glass, of a circular form, & round edges, are made to pass backwards and forwards, over as many pieces of linen, which by the same process are made to unroll & pass under them—They really give it a beautiful gloss, but from the extreme pressure they apply to it must be hurtful to the article itself. Undoubtedly the linen is in its most perfect condition as it comes from the peasant’s hands, when the flax has undergone only the operations of spinning & weaving. If nothing further were done to it, there can be no doubt, but it would last double the time. The whole business of bleaching, fulling, mangling, & glossing is but a continued effort to make the article look fairer, & at the same time to rend its texture; tis the art of a prostitute, who paints the deeper, the more she is racked with disease.

About an english mile distant from Schmiedeberg, lies Buckwald, the seat of Count Redern, who has the superintendency over the mines in lower Silesia, a man of great information & merit, with whom I had some acquaintance at Berlin—It is what in England an ornamented farm, & the grounds are laid out altogether in the english taste. Nature is indeed so extremely beautiful in this country, of herself, that she will condescend to receive very little decoration from human ingenuity. Here are lawns & grottoes, & cascades & running streams, and parks, which scarcely require anything more than enclosures to make english gardens. The inside of the house, & many of the Count’s arrangements with regard to his grounds, we could not see, owing to his present absence. He is gone to Waldenburg, to make preparations at the mines for the reception of the queen—

Near the road, upon the way between Smiedeberg and Landesbut, are three vast masses of rock, at the top of an high mountain, which bear the name of Friesensteins. The prospect from them is not much less extensive on the Silesian side, than that upon the Giant’s head. The whole valley of lower Silesia extends before them, the view from the Kÿnast to the westward, is here renewed from a nothern point, & the whole range of great mountains runs easterly, & seems to depart from the spot upon which the spectator stands.

Landeshut. 15. August. Friday.

After seeing the various curiosities at, & near Schmiedeberg, of which you have here a short account; we came the day before yesterday to this town. The distance is the same as that from Hirschberg to Schmiedeberg; two german miles; but the ride is longer, as the whole way is a continual succession of up & down hills. The road continues to be very good, & almost every hundred paces as we proceed, some beautiful prospect presents itself to our view.

Landeshut is one of the oldest towns in Silesia, & though it has not more than half the population of Schmiedeberg, being built more compact, it appears to be larger. In the middle of the town, as in almost all the Silesian cities, is a square, in the centre of which stands the town house. The houses all round the square have piazza’s before them, like those of Covent Garden theatre in London, or the Arcades of the palais royale at Paris. One of the houses in the square is always an inn, & as the square is the centre of all business, & the place, where all the markets are held, the traveller has always before him an appearance of activity, which makes the town look lively. The houses are built as in Holland, with the gable end towards the street; but they are almost all covered with a white plaster, which gives lightness & gaity to the appearance of the streets, & has a very advantageous effect, when view’d at a distance. From the tops of the houses, very large wooden troughs, as spouts, run out into the street, so that the water, which falls from them may just hit the gutter; they look like so many old beams sticking out from the roofs, & are so great a deformity, that I wonder they have not been by degrees removed, & more seemly spouts substituted in their stead. Landeshut has at three different periods, in the war of the Hussites, in the 14th. century; in the thirty years war, & in the seven years war, suffered every extremity of sacking, plundering & fire. In point of opulence however it is now the second of the mountain cities, and its exportation of linens is inferior in amount, only to that of Hirschberg.

On my arrival, I delivered a letter to Mr Ruck, one of the principal linen merchants of the place, a Saxon by birth, but who has long travelled in England & Holland. His wife is the daughter of Mr Peter Hasenclever, a man, whose name must be well known in America; particularly in the states of New York, & New Jersey, where just before the commencement of the American revolution, he established very extensive iron works—An undertaking, in which he failed however by the misconduct & dishonesty of his partners in England. He then came, together with his daughter & son in law, & entered into the linen trade here; in which they prospered so well, that at his death he left an handsome property, & Mr Ruck, is now in the first line of business in the province.

Yesterday morning Mr Ruck, who is a very respectable old gentleman, of 75. came in his carriage, & took us with him to the cloister of Griissau, a convent of monks of the cistercian order, situated in a beautiful plain, about a german mile distant from the town—The abbot, whom they call here the prelate, was absent, but one of the monks, a young man, who both in mind & person seemed fitter for any other place, than a cloister, received & attended us with the most obliging kindness.

This cloister was founded in the year 1292. by Bolko, the second, duke of Schweidnitz, and Jauer, a descendant of the great Polish family of the Piasts. They have in a chapel here, a sarcophagus erected in honor of him, with a Latin inscription, purporting that from the brevity of his stature, he had borne the surname of parvus. But that if he were to be esteemed by the ability, with which he governed his dominions, he would be entitled to that of magnus—if by his affability, his charity & generosity—longè major—& if by his liberality to the church, more especially in the foundation of this convent—verè maximus—Here is a double climax, of which the highest term will doubtless appear to you, chosen with a sagacity, which would do honor to a jesuit.

The cieling of the church is painted so as to give an airy light appearance to the whole, although the paintings themselves are in a style of mediocrity. There are a few pictures by Willman, whom they call the Silesian Raphaël, & they are certainly of merit much superior to the rest. One of the alter pieces, the young monk, who accompanied us, said was good for nothing, because it was a lie. It meant to represent an assemblage of all the saints, & there were only monks & priests. One of the scenes, which happened to the convent in the Hussite war, is represented both in painting & sculpture. It was the murder of the Abbot & all the monks to the number of seventy. The destruction was so complete, that to preserve the foundation itself they were obliged to draw several monks from another convent.—The organ is the finest in all Silesia, & contains about 2600 pipes. The organist played for us about half an hour. The tones are strong & clear, but the imitation of the human voice is very imperfect.

Close to the church appropriated exclusively to the convent, is another, which they call the parochial church, build by one of the abbots about seventy years ago, & dedicated to St. Joseph, the foster father of Christ. It is painted in fresco, on the cieling, & round the walls entirely by the hand of Willman. The scenes are from the history of Joseph’s life, & many of them are more creditable to the imagination, than to the judgment of the painter.

The library consists of about 25000 volumes, which are kept in a light chamber, & ranged in excellent methodical order. It contains all the great collections of the fathers, the acts of the Saints, councils &c. The acts of the saints, is a work, which I had never been before. The method observed in this compilation is by giving the acts of each Saint, under the title of the day, devoted to him in the callendar. There are fifty six thick folio volumes, & they have yet reached only to the middle of September. The last volume was published at Antwerp, about the year 1754. & probably the work will never be carried any farther. Muratori’s great collection of the Italian historians is likewise here. But they have not that of the Byzantine writers. They are likewise entirely destitute of modern books, & excepting the German, of all books in the modern languages. I saw only two manuscripts, one written by a Russian general, during the seven years war; the other a copy of the Koran, upon parchment. The number of monks at this convent is now only thirty. The foundation is very rich, & there are about 4000 peasants in vassalage under it.


MHi: Adams Family Papers, Letterbooks.

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