—Mirabeau l’Aîné, sur l’Education Publique,
With respect to the translation, I have aimed at scrupulous fidelity; believing that, even where there may be some obscurity (as in one or two of the earlier chapters), the intelligent reader would prefer the ipsissima verba of so great a man, to any arbitrary construction put upon them by his translator. Still, I have spared no pains to discover the author’s sense in all cases, and to give it in simple and unmistakable words; and I would here mention, with grateful acknowledgment, the valuable assistance I have received in this endeavour from my accomplished German friend, Mr. Eugen Oswald: those who are best acquainted with the peculiarities of thought and style which characterize the writer, will be best able to appreciate the importance of such assistance.
In conclusion, I cannot but feel that there may be many to whom this
book contains little to recommend itself;—little of showy paradox or high-sounding
declamation, little of piquant attack or unhesitating dogmatism, little
immediate reference to sects, or parties, or political schools; but I would
also venture to anticipate that there are others, to whom the subject is
no less congenial, who would willingly listen to a calm investigation of
the most important questions that can occupy the attention of the statesman
and the moralist, to earnest ideas clothed in simple and well-measured
words; and that these will receive with welcome any worthy contribution
to the expanding opinions of our day and nation, and look in these “Ideas,”
perhaps not unsuccessfully, for some true and abiding materials towards
the structure of some fairer polity of the future.
*In the MS. of the Third Chapter, on “Positive Welfare,” there occurs an hiatus of a few pages. This has not been supplied in the German edition, published by the Author’s brother; but the thread of the argument is sufficiently clear, from the Author’s summary, to occasion little difficulty to the reader in continuing it in his own mind.
[*] In 1790 Humboldt was appointed a Councillor of Legation, and attached to the High Court of Berlin. In 1791 he resigned these offices, and the next ten years of his life (during which the present work was written) were spent in travel, literary activity, and constant intercourse with Goethe, Schiller, Wolf, etc. In 1802 he was made Privy Councillor of Legation and Ambassador at the Papal Court, in which capacity he resided six years at Rome. On giving up his diplomatic engagements, he was appointed in 1808 Privy Councillor of State; and as Minister of Worship and Public Instruction, was one of the most active members of the Prussian Reform Ministry, until, through the influence of Napoleon, it was dismissed in 1810. Among many other important improvements and reforms, he founded the University of Berlin. Soon after, he was appointed Ambassador and Plenipotentiary at the Austrian Court, with the additional title of Privy Minister of State. In 1813 he was Plenipotentiary at the Peace Congress of Prague, at Chatillon, and subsequently at the Congress of Vienna. He afterwards visited Paris in a diplomatic capacity; and it was here that Madame de Staël was so much impressed with his genius and culture, that she called him “la plus grande capacité de l’Europe.” In 1818 he was appointed to the Ministry of the Interior; but his strenuous advocacy of constitutional liberty (in opposition to the Carlsbad decrees) was an insuperable obstacle to the schemes of the Cabinets of Vienna and Petersburg, and of some of his colleagues in the Ministry of Prussia. He was offered the ministerial pension of 6000 dollars, but, refusing it, retired to prosecute his more congenial literary labours.
Writings of Wilhelm Von Humboldt