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From John Quincy Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, 6 August 1800

N 7.

Hirschberg. 6. August. 1800—

In limiting each of these letters to a single sheet of paper, I find myself often obliged to break off in the midst of my story, & to give you in different letters, fragments of our transactions in one day—My principal reason for this is to spare your patience, which I hope will last the longer for only having to undergo the trial of one sheet at a time—I now proceed therefore in the account of our excursion on the 2d: instt: to the show pits, & the Elbe fall.

It is a remarkable circumstance, that upon this mountain, & certainly within four, or five english miles of each other, are the sources of the Elbe & of the Oder, two of the largest rivers of Germany, one of which runs easterly untill it empties itself into the Baltic beyond Stettin, while the other takes its course westward, & rolls its waters into the North Sea at Cuxhaven. The sources of both are numerous for instead of eleven Springs, which some of the German geographers would assign to the Elbe, there are probably here above fifty, which pay their tribute to it, & the springs, which finally send their streams to the Oder on the Silesian side are equally numerous—It is one of the pleasing peculiarities, which first meet the traveller’s attention here, that he can scarcely walk ten minutes in any direction, without meeting some rippling current, so cool & clear, that the mere sigh<g>t, or hearing of it, as it slides along, is enough to refresh your thirst, & relieve your fatigue. But whence all these waters so very near the summit of the mountains, can be supplied, is a question which I think would have occurr’d to my mind here, even if I had not heard it started many years ago by my uncle Cranch—He was of opinion, that the mere rain, which falls upon the top of high mountains could not be sufficient to feed the mighty rivers, which they originate; and after seeing the numberless brooks, which run here, so near the highest pitch of these mountains, & the great and inexaustable masses of water, which proceed from them—I am altogether of the same opinion. This is not however the controversy, which was once so warmly debated between the neighbouring Bohemians, & Silesians, upon this mountain concerning the source of the Elbe—That question was, on which side of the Summit, the real sourse of the Elbe was; for the Silesians not content with possessing the original source of the Oder, contended likewise <for the honor> that the Elbe <likewise> originated on their side! You will not be surprized to hear that this contest was once carried so far as to occasion scenes of riot & bloodshed between the neighbouring borderers; nor that even to this day the encroaching Silesians have not universally abandoned their hypothesis.

Between 2 and 3. in the afternoon we returned to the Silesian baude, where we stopped to dine upon the provisions we had carried with us, & upon what we could get there— They could only supply us with brown bread, milk & butter, for which however they made us pay the double of what the same articles would have cost us in any of the Silesian cities—I mention this because these mountainers had been represented us, both in conversation & by the books of the travellers hither, as the most perfect models of patriarchal virtue, happiness, & simplicity. Every thing we have seen of them had tended to give us ideas of them, directly the reverse of these.

Their houses are situated at such an elevation upon the mountains that the ground will produce nothing but grass, & they can raise nothing but cows, goats, and a few fouls. For six months in the year they are in a manner buried under the snow, and & cut off from all intercourse with other human beings—Their log huts are of a single story & a hay loft—The floor below is divided into four departments, <of> one of which is a stable for their cattle; another, their dairy; the third is the common dwelling place of all the family; and the fourth a very small room for the reception of strangers—The family room serves at once as kitching, eating room & bedroom, & is heated with fires, all the year round—There is a wide bench that goes all round the room, on which they sleep for they have no beds, or at most one for the master & mistress of the house, & if the strangers, who pass the night there, require soft beds, they must content themselves as well as they can with sweet hay, for straw is a luxury unknown to these virtuous patriarchs. As they have not this article for their cows to lay down upon, they keep their stables uncommonly clean and generally make one of the Streams, which are so abundant upon their mountains run through them, & through the dairy—But the cow-yard, in which all the manure is kept, is close upon the house, so that you<r> nose it at a great distance upon your approach to the house, & by this community of the roof between the family, and all the other cattle, so much filthiness arises, that it is scarcely conceivable how they can keep even their dairies clean—Of their persons they appear to take no concern at all, & are of course as dirty as any other peasants in the most wretched hovels of Europe. The houses are generally full of children, clad in no other garb, than a course shirt, oftentimes stark naked; & loaded with vermine, like the land of Egypt, at the last of its plagues—Such is the condition of these venerable and blissful beings, whom we have heard extolled as the children of nature; the true samples of mankind in the golden age—Their manners are varied according to their <original> individual characters; all are coarse, most of them disgusting, & some rude & insolent. As to their treatment of strangers, the only two in which we have been entertained imposed egregiously upon us in their charges.

From the Silesian baude, we returned after dinner to our inn at Schreiberhau, which we reached at about 7. in the evening—It partakes rather too much of the qualities above described as belonging to the peasants’s huts, but is not quite so bad.

3d: August—Sunday—

One of the great inconveniences, to which the traveller in these regions must be subject, is an extreme dependence upon the weather—There are but three months in the year, when the mountains can with any comfort be ascended, & at least three quarters of that time they are veiled in clouds, & obstinately deny the view of all their most striking beauties. From the appearance of the last evening, we expected, that this would be an unfavorable day for our intended excursion, & we we[re] well pleased to have a day of rest, after three of very hard labour. I likewise intended to improve the time, to bring up my journal with you, which by the continual motion since our departure from Hirschberg, had necessarily run in arrear—Even this morning, when I first rose, the clouds of the night had not dispersed, & I sat down quietly to begin my last number. I had written only a few lines however when our friend Seidler came & told us the weather was clearing away, & that we must immediately take advantage of it—Before eight o’clock we were in the cart, & rode in a couple of hours to Seydorf, a village at the foot of the Schneepoppe, or more properly the Riesenkoppe (the giant’s head) the loftiest of all these mountains, & the highest point of land in Germany. The weather being excessively warm, we stopped at this village during the heat of the day—The lutheran church was opposite the inn, where we rested, & I attended both the morning, and evening Service—They begin that of the morning by the communion, & at the close of it go through the service of churching women—In the afternoon they begin by catechising the children, in like manner as I had seen the last Sunday at Hirschberg—I did not like the manner here so well as there; but this probably depends principally upon the individual character, or disposition of the clergyman—The church here, as well as the village itself is small; but it is well filled, & there were about fifty boys & girls apparently from six to fourteen years of age, at the catechism. They stood in two rows in the broad aisle, the boys on one side & the girls on the other, while the clergyman went to and fro between them with his exhortation & instruction. I thought he used too much action and vociferation—The organ was tolerable, & the singing so good that it reminded me of Connecticut. They sing instead of psalms, humns & spiritual songs, like those of Dr Watts, and it seemed to me in as good a style of poetry—I took a seat, which I found vacant in the gallery, between an old farmer and a young peasant lass, each of whom by turns held their book open for me to sing, which I regretted my inability to do—The sermon was not more than ten minutes long, & delivered partly extempore & partly with notes—The subject was a discussion of the question, why in the dispensations of Providence, the wicked are suffered to live, & often to prosper—It was pretty well handled, and in a manner suitable to the preacher’s audience—I take this occasion to remark, that the Lutheran’s in this country do not call themselves so, not even protestants, but evangelics; so in every village through which we passed, we found a catholic church, & a evangelic church.

At four in the afternoon, we seated ourselves again in the cart, and for three hours rode up hill as steep as any carriage could go; we then came to the Schlingel’s baude, so called from the name of the person, who keeps it. Here we left the cart untill our return, & pursued our ascending route, about an hour more, when we reached the Hempel’s baude, otherwise called the Samuel’s baude; from the names of its present and former proprietor. This is the house at which almost all the Visitor’s of the Giant’s head, from the Silesian side, pass the night before they go up. It has served for that purpose now, these hundred and fifty years, but during the season of visiting the mountain, it is always full of strangers, its accomodations are very little better than those of its other namesakes— Just below it is another hut, called the clerical baude, because it serves for the entertainment of the priests & other religious persons, who on five stated days in the year are employed to say mass in the chapel on the top of the mountain—From this baude as we passed by it, a chubby boy of eight, or ten years old came out to us to beg; another specimen this, of the patriarchal happiness enjoyed by the inhabitants of these huts.

At the hampel’s baude we took up our quarters for the night. In the stranger’s room, an apartment possibly of ten foot square, they covered the floor with an heap of fresh hay, over which they stretched a dirty shirt, upon which Louisa, Epps, and myself all lay down together, to get such sleep as could be obtained, under the incessant volubility of a number of strangers, seated round a table in the <table> family room, separated from us only by a latched door—They were like ourselves going to the top of the mountain in the morning; and in the mean time, one of them appeared to be delivering lectures upon rhetoric & the belles lettres to his companions—At least he was giving practical specimens of eloquence, which did not cease untill quite late in the night. Whitcomb in the mean time sought repose in the hay loft, where he was not less regaled with the musical gingling of the cow bells, than we with the oratory of the travellers in the next room.

The prospect from this hut is already very extensive, & this evening we had the view of a fire in the plains below, at the distance of about 40 english miles—It was a beautiful sight, though the idea, that it was probably a heavy calamity to some of our fellow creatures, would not allow us to enjoy it.

One of the principal amusements at the baude, is, turning over the book, kept here, as at Scheibershau, & the Kÿnast, for strangers to insert their names—Here it is called the Koppen book, & has been regularly kept for more than a century. You may form an opinion of the numbers of the people, who perform this tour, from the circumstance, that the volume now in use is at its last sheet, & was no longer ago, than the year 1788. The volume containing the names from 1696 to 1736, has been considered as so great a curiosity, that it has been printed—It contains so much trash, that one of the German tourists congratulates his countrymen, upon the improvement of their language, & their intellectual endowments, apparent from the difference between that book, & its successor at the present day—There appears to be still much room for future congratulation of the same kind—We found here & there, a pretty drawing with the pen, or pencil, of the most remarkable objects in the neighbourhood, here & there observations of the barometer, or thermometer, as they stood at the time when the writers were here, & admeasurements of the hights & distances from this spot to the top of the koppe—These with a few pretty lines more, or less applicable to the place, were all we could meet to refresh us, in the dry desert of a thousand pages.

I had expected that I should be the first American, who had made this tour; but from our guide, & the books I perceive a person by the name of Schweinitz from Philadelphia, was here about a year ago—His name is German, and I believe he himself was a native of Germany In Hirschberg I hear there have been within a few years several Americans.

I shall not have room here to tell you of the visit to the Riesenkoppe, and it is besides so material an incident of our journey that it deserves a letter by itself—

MHi: Adams Family Papers, Letterbooks.

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