Adams Papers

From John Quincy Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, 10 January 1801

No 22.

Berlin. 10. January. 1800 [1801]

In my last letter, by a halfline of postscript, I told you that peace between the Austrians & French was signed. I wrote this upon information I had received just before I closed my letter, & although I had reason to believe it authentic, it has since proved erroneous. In wishing to give the latest news, you know how often we are liable to give groundless humours for facts, & therefore it is always in such cases best to correct the mistake we have created. It was not a peace, but an armistice for thirty days, which followed so soon after the Archduke Charles’ resumption of the command. It is, as might be expected altogether advantageous to the french, & at once burdensome & humiliating to the Austrians; in all probability it will within the thirty days be followed by the signature of preliminaries bearing the same stamp. It would have been better policy for England & Austria to have negotiated separately, while they might have treated at the same time, & with perfect concert, than to have waited this extremity, which it does no credit to their penetration, that they did not foresee, as at least, almost inevitable.

But I have done with politics, which are sweets of so exquisite a nature, that more than a very little of them palls upon the taste. Of our habitual domestic & social life, as I have seldom said any thing to you, it is probable you have concluded it goes on in nearly the same round as when you were with us. The principal difference is that we more frequently see company both at home & abroad. Since our return from Silesia particularly, Louisa’s health has permitted her to partake of la societé more than she could at any former period—Besides the families of Dr Brown & Count Brühl, with whom our intimacy has much increased since you left us, we have now the additional benefit of two very pleasant & friendly sets of acquaintainces in the present Spanish & english ministries. There are likewise now here a number of English of both sexes; transient travellers, some of whom by their amiable characters add to our pleasures, while others by their singularities at least afford us diversion.

The large & crowded assemblies for the purpose of dancing & card playing, some of which you remember to have attended during your stay in this place, are still more frequent now, than they were then, but neither my taste for them, nor that of my wife have increased since you left us—I was present at one since the date of my last to you, which was marked by an event of the melancholy nature.

The Swedish minister, on the 30th. of last month, in order to close one year & century, & commence another with magnificence & festivity, gave a ball to about three hundred persons, the company usually invited at this sort of entertainment—The evening commenced with a brilliancy, for which his house is highly distinguished on such occasions, & with a degree of merriment, which I have seldom witnessed at such parties—Between nine & ten, a young man whom you know, Dorville, a lieutenant in Marshall Möllendorf’s regiment, immediately after leading down a dance, without uttering a word, a groan, or a sigh, fell into the arms of a Perponcher, who stood next him, & from that instant never drew another breath. Every body of the company supposed at first that he had only fainted, & therefore the shock of this dreadful accident was not immediately felt in all its force—Medical aid was immediately called in, & an hour or more elapsed, before it was ascertained beyond a doubt, that he was dead—When this became no longer questionable, its effects upon <many> the nerves of many ladies present was discovered in a very distressing degree—Wild delirium, convulsion & hysteric fits, faintings, & all the varieties of sudden illness were experienced, or pretended by different individuals of the fair company; for incredible as it would seem to any one little versed in the manners of courtly circles, neither Affectation, nor Scandal omitted to perform their parts in this horrid scene. It is yet, a subject of controversy, whether the number of those, who fainted away from weakness, or those who committed a similar act from decorum, was the greatest—One lady, upon her husband proposing to go home, requested him to wait for her, while she fainted—Another, while in the state of insensibility was principally solicitous that her hair should not be discomposed, & whenever a lock was discomposed by the chaffing of her temples, always put up her hand & arranged it again—The rouge as effectually disappeared from one face, as the blood from another, & this fled trembling to the heart, that found a safe refuge in the pocket handkerchief. Many countenances, the most intrepidly ruddy at all other times, now triumphed most in the ghastly paleness of their hue, & there was at least as much justice as severity in the observation of a Gentleman, that he never say a calamity more universally & deeply lamented among the ladies; for the young women had lost their dancing, & the old had lost their supper—I forbear. The occasion is as improper for indulging sarcasms, as for the hypocracy of sentiment. I saw nothing of this myself, & only repeat a part, a very small part of what I heard—I came away before the worst was known—Louisa did not go.

Let us hope that the century upon which we have now entered, will proceed with more auspicious omens, than that which closed the last. At present we will if you please look back into Silesia during the century, which preceded both. During the reign of the Emperor Mathias, & in the year 1618, commenced that series of events, which have left such traces of desolation throughout Germany, & which makes so conspicuous a figure in the history of modern Europe, under the name of the thirty year’s war—One century had elapsed since the commencement of Luther’s reformation, & in the course of that time, the Princes & people of Germany had become divided into two parties of nearly equal strength, one adhearing to popery, & the other adopting the protestant doctrines. The house of Austria, in whom the imperial dignity had in a manner become hereditary, continued zealously catholic, & by uniting the principles of intolerance with the practice of oppression, compelled the protestants, not only of its own dominions, but almost throughout Europe, to combine in leagues for the mutual support of each other—Such a league at the time of which I speak subsisted between the protestants of Bohemia and of Silesia—By a charter of the Emperor Rudolphus, the protestants had been allowed the privilege of building & using churches, under certain restrictions, some of which were not defined with perfect precision—Several churches had been built in places, where the catholic construction of the limitations did not suffer the privilege to extend—These churches were destroyed, or forcibly taken from the protestants, by order of the Emperor’s government in Bohemia; several of the most vehement of the protestants were at the same time thrown into prison—These transactions caused a general alarm among the protestants—Their deputies from every district of the kingdom assembled at Prague, & agreed upon a petition to the Emperor for the liberation of the protestants prisoners. The answer was negative, severe & menacing. An artful report was circulated by the leaders of the protestants, that this answer was drawn up not by the Emperor himself, but by the council of regency at Prague, & sent to him only to be signed. In their rage the populace hurried to the palace at Prague; rushed into the hall where the council of regency was sitting, & th[r]ew out of the windows, more than eighty feet high, two of the most obnoxious members of the council, & their secretary—The protestants, says Schiller, could never conceive how any one should look upon this as an extraordinary transaction. They asserted it to be according to the custom of Bohemia, & the only surprizing part of the event was the imperial councellors came off unhurt from their fall, having been received in their descent by a large dung hill, that happened to be under the windows from which they had been ejected. From this period the Bohemian protestants flew to arms, & called for the stipulated assistance of their Silesian brethren; they received it accordingly, & thus the province was involved in the thirty years’ war, of which during the greater part of its continuation, it became one of the principal threatres—Alternately pillaged, ransomed, & ravaged by hostile armies now in the character of enemies, & now in that of friends & defenders, now desolated by catholic imperialists, & now ransacked by Swedish protestants, her wealth decayed, her industry dwindled, her population declined, her cities crumbled into ruins & her fruitful fields withered into deserts—The scars of the wounds then inflicted by the hand of religious Discord upon the beauteous face of this country; even at this day, after the lapse of more than a century & a half give deformity to many of its features—At the peace of Westphalia in 1648—Only a small part of Silesia obtained the secure possession of the same religious privileges they had enjoyed before the war—The rest were left at the mercy of the emperor, who at the intercession of Christina, Queen of Sweden, was barely prevailed upon to permit the protestants of his hereditary possessions to attend the performance of their religious services in the neighboured beyond the borders of Silesia, & to allow the building of three new protestant churches, of which was that of Schweidnitz, as I mentioned in my last letter from that place.

The Emperor Mathias died in 1619, & was succeeded by Ferdinand the second, who lived untill 1637—& then dying had for successor his son Ferdinand the third. It was during the reign of this prince, that the peace of Westphalia was signed—He died in 1657, from which time, his son Leopold reigned untill his death in 1705.

During the reign of Leopold—in the year 1675, died the last descendant of the Piasts in Silesia, George William, Duke of Liegnitz, Brieg & Wohlau, whose monument you will remember, we saw, in passing through Liegnitz. By his death, the succession to all his estates, conformably to the compact of mutual inheritance, made by his ancestor with the Elector of Brandenburg, would have devolved upon the descendant & successor of that prince, Frederic William known by the name of the Great Elector. He accordingly advanced his claim, but it was not allowed by the Emperor; the dutchies were by the imperial chancery considered as escheated & declared hereditary fiefs of the crown—As an indemnity however to the elector of Brandenburg, the district of Schwibus, a corner of Silesia bordering upon the electorate was ceded to him, & in consideration of this, he formally renounced by treaty in the year 1685, all his pretentions to the principalities in question. At the same time the Imperial minister, who negotiated this convention by intrigueing with the elector’s son, afterwards his successor, prevailed upon him to sign a secret engagement, that upon his accession to the electorate he would restore the circle of Swibus to the Emperor—This engagement he punctually fulfilled, observing to those of his council, who dissuaded him from it, that he would keep his word, & leave his successors, who would not be bound by his act, to make good their rights in Silesia—He was then full of the project of assuming the kingly title, & his anxiety to obtain the acknowledgment of it by the Emperor, induced him to avoid every collision, which might have produced a refusal.

You have now a short view of the claims, upon which the conquest of Silesia, by the grandson of the first king of Prussia, was founded—In his memoires of the house of Brandenburg he asserts, that their pretentions to the four principalities were indisputable—By the success of his arms, he proved at least, that nothing at least was to be gained by disputing them. The contest on the part of Austria was too unequal against a man, who on one side could write a book, & on the other command an army to support his demands—Austria was in a situation, something like that of Moliere’s Sosie; the proofs against him urged by the God, who assumed his shape & name are so striking to him, that he seriously begins to doubt his own identity.

Près de moi, par la force, il est dèja Sosie

Il pourrait bien l’encore l’être par la raison.

An impartial mind must however admit, that the justice of that claim, was to say the least extremely questionable, which was originally founded upon a compact anulled by the Constitution of the country; where it was made, & which, such as it was, had been at a subsequent period, renounced formally for a valuable consideration. To say that the consideration given was not sufficiently valuable, or that the first king of Prussia was overreached in the negotiation, by virtue of which he restored it, would be held a feeble argument without the aid of artillery.

But although it is extremely difficult to ascertain, which of the parties to this great question were right, such is the unhappy characteristic of human history, that there is no difficulty in finding instances in the course of this transaction, in which they both were essentially wrong—Such was the first grant of Winceslaus to the dukes of Liegnitz, & of Jägerndorf allowing them to dispose of their estates, contrary to the constitution of the kingdom. Such likewise was the secret negotiation, by virtue of which the first king of Prussia restored the dutchies—

Your’s truly.

MHi: Adams Family Papers, Letterbooks.

Index Entries