Adams Papers

From John Quincy Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, 2 September 1800

No: 15.

Breslau. 2. September—1800.

Before we left Berlin to come upon this tour, we were advised not to pass through Breslau at all. It was said to be a large old city, resembling all other great cities, & containing nothing that deserved the attention of travellers. We had therefore not put it down upon the original list of our route. But when we found ourselves in the course of our excursion within a few miles of it, we thought after making so long a tour round the whole province, it would be shewing the capital too great a mark of contempt to neglect it altogether, & concluded to give it a few days of our time upon our return—We have no reason to repent of this final determination; for although the place is as it had been described to me nothing more than a large, old & very dirty city; & although the weather since we came to it has been constantly such as to confine us a great part of the time, to the house, we have still met with objects of curiosity sufficient to amuse & employ the few days we have devoted to the place.

Breslau contains upwards of sixty thousand inhabitants, of whom about, one third are catholics, & nine tenths of the other two thirds, Lutherans. Yet from the vast number of churches & cloisters, which present themselves to the stranger’s eye in every quarter of the town, a person without further information would take it for a place entirely catholic. Nine of these churches for the protestant inhabitants; the catholics of course have twenty six; many of which are however cloisters, & the streets are full of friars of all colours, black, white & grey with all their trompery.

The two principal churches, are the catholic cathedral, & the lutheran church of St: Elizabeth; both of which we have visited. The cathedral as it now stands was built about the year 1150, & is principally remarkable for several magnificent chapels, which have been added to the body of the church by several of the former bishops. It contains relics too; for what is a roman catholic church without relics? That of most note here is the staff of St. Elizabeth, with a silver spiral plate winding round it, upon which is engraved some account of her & her family—She was a daughter to a king of Hungary; born in 1207, & died in 1231—She was canonized in 1235—But whether, like St: Hedwige, for going on foot up an hill to hear mass, or for what other cause soever does not appear. A part of the head of St. John, the baptist, (for they have not here as in other churches, the whole head) & his fore finger, are only shewn upon great festivals—Upon one of the alter pieces they have a skeleton decked out with abundance of finery, which they keep under a glass frame. They are the hallowed bones of St: Theodore, whose legend I have not the happiness of being acquainted with. This church has several monuments of fine sculpture, particularly a statue of St: Elizabeth in the chapel dedicated to her, which is very much admired—It has likewise many paintings, the best of which are the twelve apostles, done at Rome, though our attendant could not tell us by whom.

We likewise saw the inside of the bischop’s palace, which he is building anew, in a style of princely magnificence. It is situated near the cathedral, on the banks of the Oder, commanding at once a beautiful prospect of the town & the country around. The see is not dependant upon any archbishopric, but immediately upon the pope—Before the prussian conquest, the bishop had frequently been an Archiduke of Austria. The present prelate is a Prince of Hohenlohe.

We saw another catholic church, belonging to a convent of Augustine nuns, in which however we found nothing worthy of remark. The lutheran church of St. Elizabeth itself looks more like a catholic, than a protestant house of worship. It was built some centuries before the reformation, & still contains several alters, at which certain masses were founded. The masses by an agreement between the two religious parties, are now celebrated in the cathedral church, by priests, who have been authorized to say them, by solemnities at the original altars.

There are likewise libraries belonging to most of the churches & cloisters; but none of them are of great value, excepting that in the church of St. Elizabeth, which is a public library, the foundation of which was laid about a century ago, by a person of the name of Rhediger, whose name it still bears, though very much enlarged by several considerable donations. It contains besides many large & costly compilations in print, a number of valuable manuscripts, among which is a copy of Froissart’s chronicle, in four large folio volumes, written upon parchment & adorned with a great number of coloured drawings, executed in the best manner of the age in which it was written. Its date is of 1468, & it contains about one third more matter than the printed edition of Froissart, whose editor thought it expedient to omit every thing, which he thought would not redound to the honor of the nation. I asked Mr. Scheibel, the present librarian, why he did not publish an edition of the book from this genuine manuscript. He said that such things could be undertaken at this time only in England, & the work in Germany would not pay the expence of the publication. We were shewn another manuscript of a very different kind, though perhaps not less curious. To the naked eye, it appears to be a drawing with a pen, of the Venus de Medicis, upon a half sheet of folio paper. But looking at it through a magnifying glass, you find it is a copy of Ovid’s art of love, perfectly legible, & the whole five books within a compass of ten inches in length, & three in width. There are various other curiosities of a similar nature. A few valuable pictures, particularly one portraits by Rembrandt, & one of Luther, by Lucas Cranach—Collections of medals, of marbles, of marine shells, of minerals, &c. This library is open twice a week for the use of the public—Like most other public libraries in Europe, it is crouded into too small a room.

At the Magdalen, which is likewise a lutheran church, there is also a library; but of so little consequence, that Mr Manso, the librarian, a poet of distinguished talents & learning, did not think it worth while to show it to me. We only saw therefore the collection of paintings belonging to it, among which there are some copies from Rubens & Rembrandt, & many good original pictures, especially landscapes, though by painters of inferior [. . .]

The church & other buildings belonging to the college of jesuits are among the most remarkable objects of curiosity at Breslau. The university was founded in the year 1702, by the Emperor Leopold, & the buildings were begun upon so large & extensive a plan, that they were not compleated in 1740, at the period of the Prussian conquest, & as a great part of the funds then ceased, they have remained unfinished. One of their houses, the Government took away from them, & at the time when the order of the jesuits was abolished in the year 1774, the university here was continued under the title of a royal school institution—The principal apartments are two churches; one large & magnificently decorated; the other a small one, where occasionally sermons are preached to the students in Latin—the Leopoldine hall, where all the public disputations are held, & an astronomical observatory at the top of the building, which has been erected within these few years. The philosophical & astronomical apparatus is small. The only instruments we saw, were, Neutonian telescopes, caustic mirrors, a micrometer for measuring the distance of the stars; a quadrant with a meridian line, an air pump & a couple of electrical machines. From the observatory there is a very fine view of the vast plain in which Breslau is situated, & of the distant mountains by which it is bounded; all which we saw with double advantage through their excellent perspective glasses. The number of students at this college is about six hundred. That of the professors is seventeen—Their course of studies comprehends a period of eleven years, five of which are devoted to the antient languages, three to philosophy, & three to theology, but under the term philosophy, they embrace almost every object of human science. The professors are all paid from the appropriated funds, & the instruction is given free from all expence.

There are public schools likewise connected with the church of St: Elizabeth & Mary Magdalen, the first of which has about twenty professors & teachers, & three hundred students. The instruction here is only preparatory to that of an university.

About an english mile out of the town are the country seat & gardens of Prince Hohenlohe, the governor of Breslau. The place is called Scheidnich. The gardens are spacious & agreable, & always open to the public. They contain various small monuments erected by the prince, in honor of Frederic, the second, the late & present kings—Last week he gave the king & queen upon their visit here a splendid entertainment, at which the gardens were finely illuminated.

Breslau is a place of considerable trade, & has much more an appearance of business & activity, than Berlin. The most essential articles of its exportation, are broad cloths & linen; the latter of which however, the merchants here all draw from the mountain towns. Nor do they manufacture themselves a quarter part of the broad cloths, which they send abroad. Their situation, watered by the River Oder, which gives them an immediate communication with Hamburg, & Stettin, naturally makes them the centre of the commerce of the province. They have likewise some trade over land, with the east, which is carried on by russian caravans, from the description that has made to us of which, we regret not staying here long enough to see one of them.

There are no manufactures of importance in the town. The sugar refinery is indeed very large, & having to supply the greatest part of the province, refines sugar to the amount of several millions annually; like that of Hirschberg, it belongs to a company; the property being originally divided into shares of seven hundred dollars, but which are now worth more than three thousand.

We have visited two other manufactures, which had been mentioned to us. One of what they call turkish yarn, because it was formerly made only in Turkey, & the other of sewing needles. The yarn is spun from cotton imported by the Russian caravans from the east, & dyed red. The difficulty consists in the dying, an operation, of which cotton requires much preparation to be made susceptible; not having like wool, a natural oil, which imbibes the colouring particles, & facilitates the work. This yarn when dyed, is used, to weave in a mixture of linen. I mentioned having seen one such manufactory at Schmiedeberg.

The needle manufactory is principally remarkable, as it is one of those, in which the division of labour is carried to the greatest extent. Every needle must pass through seventy seven hands before it is fit for use. But the needles made here, are much inferior to those of the low countries; of Munster & Aix la chapelle—& bear no comparison with the english. The most common ornaments of the rooms & chambers in this country are busts, portraits, & imitations of antique basso–relievo’s, in stucco, or plaister of Paris. We have scarcely entered a house in Silesia without meeting more, or less of these, & we have here been to a workshop of a man, who makes them. He takes good likenessess, & the work is very cheap.

There is a cannon foundery here, but the work’s are all for the king, & for the last two years they have had nothing to do. It resembles in every respect that, which you saw at the Hague.

I have dined once in a society founded upon the same principles with the Casino, at Berlin. Here it goes by the name of the resource, & consists of more than two hundred members. The company at dinner was mixed as is usual at such places—chiefly officers of the army. I was seated next to a general Lentken, who told me he had been forty eight years in the service, & in the seven years war, had received a wound for each year. The scars upon his face & hands testified to the truth of what he said. You will readily conceive that when you have once entered upon the topic of the seven years war, & Frederic, the second, with a Prussian general, you are in no danger of lacking materials for conversation. I found that of the general, of course, very amusing, though his circle of ideas & of information appeared to have been extremely cautious of spreading beyond the line of his business.

“And little of this great world could he talk

“More than pertains to feats of broil & battle.”


MHi: Adams Family Papers, Letterbooks.

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