The Small German Courts in the Eighteenth Century

The Small German Courts in the Eighteenth Century

The Small German Courts in the Eighteenth Century

The Small German Courts in the Eighteenth Century

Excerpt

The idea of this book came to me on one of the several journeys I made with the express purpose of visiting the palaces and castles built by the German princes during the eighteenth century.

Wandering through these palaces, alternately pompous replicas of Louis XIV châteaux, or endowed with that grace so characteristic of the Louis XV period; strolling through parks now formal as the classic prototypes of Le Nôtre, now artless and neglected in the English manner, or filled with unexpected chinoiseries, my initial curiosity soon became an obsession. The visitor is eager to know more of the creators of these magnificent domains, frames from which the pictures have vanished, than he can learn from the vague and usually erroneous information given by the guides. He would like a glimpse into the private lives of the figures who dwelt in them, and who perhaps deserve to be rescued from oblivion.

I had already been struck by a phrase Voltaire wrote in a letter to his niece, Mme Denis: 'The majority of the German Courts today are like those of the ancient Paladins. They are old castles where one seeks amusement. One finds there pretty ladies-inwaiting, handsome bachelors; they engage mountebanks.'

I was anxious to pursue my researches in a subject which I already had vaguely in mind, when I came across Heinrich Heine's appreciation of the vast work--it comprises no fewer than fortyfour volumes--on the German courts by the Austrian, Vehse. It appeared in the middle of the nineteenth century: 'The Germans,' he says, 'will at last meet their princes face to face. What a superb menagerie of highly original animals . . . true masterpieces of the Good Lord in which He has given free reign to poetic fantasy and an author's talent which fills me with admiration. No human artist could have conceived such figures, neither a Shakespeare nor a Raupach. We can only see in them the handiwork of God.'

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