Prince Hermann Ludwig Heinrich von Puckler-Muskau (born as Count Pückler, from 1822 Prince) (30 October 1785 – 4 February 1871) was a German nobleman, who was an excellent artist in landscape gardening and wrote widely appreciated books, mostly about his travels in Europe and Northern Africa, published under the pen name of “Semilasso.”
He was born at Muskau Castle in Upper Lusatia, then ruled by the Electorate of Saxony. He served for some time in a cavalry regiment at Dresden, and afterwards travelled through France and Italy, often by foot. In 1811, after the death of his father, he inherited the big Standesherrschaft (barony) of Muskau. Joining the war of liberation against Napoleon I of France, he left Muskau under the General Inspectorate of his friend, the writer and composer Leopold Schefer. As an officer under the Duke of Saxe-Weimar he distinguished himself in the field and was made military and civil governor of Bruges.
After the war, he retired from the army and visited England, where he remained about a year, visiting Covent Garden and Drury Lane, where he admired Eliza O’Neill (an Irish actress and later baroness), studying parks and the High Society, being himself a member of it. In 1822, in compensation for certain privileges which he resigned, he was raised to the rank of “Fürst” by King Frederick William III of Prussia.
In 1817 he had married the Dowager Countess Lucie von Pappenheim, née von Hardenberg, daughter of Prussian statesman Prince Karl August von Hardenberg; the marriage was legally dissolved after nine years, in 1826, though the parties did not separate and remained on amicable terms.
Again he visited England, where he spent nearly two years in search of a wealthy second wife capable of funding his ambitious gardening schemes and became something of a celebrity in London society. On his return home he published a not entirely frank account of his time in England. The book was an enormous success in Germany, and also caused a great stir when it appeared in English as Tour of a German Prince (1831-32). Being a daring character, he subsequently travelled in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Sudan and explored ancient Nubia. He is documented as of having visiting the site of Naqa in modern day Sudan in 1837. At the slave market of Cairo he was enchanted by an Ethopian girl in her early teens whom he promptly bought and named Mahbuba (“the beloved”). Together they continued a romantic voyage in Asia Minor and Greece. In Vienna, he introduced Mahbuba to the European high scociety, but the girl developed tuberculosis and died in Muskau in 1840. Later he would write that she was “the being I loved most of all the world.”
He then lived at Berlin and Muskau, where he spent much time in cultivating and improving the still existing Muskau Park. In 1845 he sold this estate, and, although he afterwards lived from time to time at various places in Germany and Italy, his principal residence became Schloss Branitz near Cottbus, where he laid out another splendid park.
Politically he was a liberal, supporting the Prussian reforms of Freiherr vom Stein. This, together with his pantheism and his extravagant lifestyle, made him slightly suspect in the society of the Biedermeier period.
In 1863 he was made an hereditary member of the Prussian House of Lords, and in 1866 he attended — by then an octogenarian — the Prussian general staff in the Austro-Prussian War. In 1871 he died at Branitz, and, in accordance with instructions in his will, his body was cremated.
As a landscape gardener, he is considered to be an outstanding artist on a European level.
As a writer of books of travel he holds a high position, his powers of observation being keen and his style lucid, animated and witty. This is most evident in his first workBriefe eines Verstorbenen (4 vols, 1830–1831), in which he expresses many independent judgments about England and other countries he visited in the late 1820s and about prominent people he met. Among his later books of travel are Semilassos vorletzter Weltgang (3 vols, 1835), Semilasso in Afrika (5 vols, 1836), Aus Mehemed Ali’s Reich (3 vols, 1844) and Die Rückkehr (3 vols, 1846–1848). He is also the author of the still famous Andeutungen über Landschaftsgärtnerei (1834, “Remarks on landscape gardening”), the only book he published under his own name.
There are as well drawings and caricatures by his hand, but he did not publish them.
His name is still remembered in German cookery through a sweet called Fürst-Pückler-Eis (Prince Pückler ice-cream), very similar to Neapolitan ice cream – not invented by him, but named in his honour.
Excerpt from Pukler-Muskau’s “Letters”
Holyhead, August 9th,—Evening
I have had a bad night, a high fever, bad weather, and rough roads. The latter misery I incurred by choosing to visit the celebrated ‘Paris mines’ in the Isle of Anglesea. This island is the complete reverse of Wales; almost entirely flat—no trees, not even a thicket or hedge—only field after field. The copper-mines on the coast are, however, interesting. My arrival having been announced by Colonel H——, I was received with firing of cannon, which resounded wildly from the caves beneath. I collected several beautiful specimens of the splendid and many-coloured ore: the lumps are broken small, thrown into heaps, and set on fire like alum ore, and these heaps left to burn for nine months: the smoke is in part caught, and forms sulphur. It is curious to the uninitiated, that during this nine months’ burning, which expels all the sulphur by the force of the chemical affinity created by the fire, the pure copper, which had before been distributed over the whole mass, is concentrated, and forms a little compact lump in the middle, like a kernel in a nutshell. After the burning, the copper, like alum again, is washed; and the water used for the purpose is caught in little pools: the deposit in these, contains from twenty-five to forty per cent. of copper; and the remaining water is still so strongly impregnated, that an iron key held in it, in a few seconds assumes a brilliant copper colour.
The ore is then repeatedly smelted, and at last refined; after which it is formed into square blocks, of a hundred pounds weight, for sale; or pressed by mills into sheets for sheathing vessels. The ore is then repeatedly smelted, and at last refined; after which it is formed into square blocks, of a hundred pounds weight, for sale; or pressed by mills into sheets for sheathing vessels. A singular
circumstance is observable at the founding, which is a pretty sight. The whole mass flows into a sand-bed or matrix, divided into eight or ten compartments, like an eating-trough for several animals: the divisions do not quite reach the height of the exterior edge; so that the liquid copper, which flows in at one end, as soon as the plug is drawn out must fill the first compartment before it reaches the second, and so on. Now the strange thing is, that all the pure copper which was contained in the furnace remains in this first compartment,—the others are filled with slag, which is only used for making roads. The reason is this;—the copper ore contains a portion of iron, which is magnetically affected: this holds the copper together, and forces it to flow out first. Now as they know pretty accurately, by experience, what proportion of pure copper any given mass of ore will contain, the size of these compartments is regulated so as exactly to contain it. The manager, a clever man, who spoke half Welsh half English, told me that he had first invented this manner of founding, which spared much trouble, and that he had taken out a patent for it. The advantages which arise from it are obvious; since without these divisions or compartments, the copper, even if it flowed out first, must afterwards have spread itself over the whole mass. The Russians, who in matters of trade and manufacture suffer nothing to pass neglected, soon sent a traveller hither to make himself master of the process. It was not in the slightest degree concealed from him;—indeed it is but justice to say that the masters of all commercial and manufacturing establishments in England are generally very liberal.
While I was yet standing by the furnace, an officer made his appearance, and in the name of the brother of Colonel H——, who is likewise a colonel, and commands a Hussar regiment in this neighbourhood, invited me to dine and spend the night. I was, however, too tired and unwell to venture on the exploit of a mess-dinner in England; where, in the provinces at least, the wine is dealt out in right old English measure. I wished too to sail by the packet of to-night; and therefore gratefully declined the invitation, and took the road to Holyhead, where I arrived at ten o’clock.
My usual ill luck at sea did not permit me to sail,—the night was so rough that the packet went off without passengers. I staid behind, not very unwillingly, to take another day’s rest in a comfortable inn.