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Classical and Romantic Cultural Styles: Exchange of Letters between Clemens Prince von Metternich and King Frederick William IV of Prussia (1840)

Classical and Romantic styles collide in this exchange of letters between Clemens Prince von Metternich and King Frederick William IV of Prussia. The influence of classicism is evident in Metternich’s letter, which he wrote to Frederick William on June 11, 1840, just days after the death of the latter’s father, Frederick William III. As the new Prussian king notes in his reply, Metternich's style combined rational thinking with the sympathy demanded by the occasion. Despite the personal nature of the letter, the Austrian chancellor wrote in the manner of an official state representative, using elaborate, dignified formulations. In contrast, Frederick William’s reply of June 27, 1840, reveals his own devotion to Romanticism. His style is much more emotional and less ornate but appeals strongly to Metternich's sympathy and sorrow.

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I. Metternich to King Frederick William IV of Prussia (letter), Vienna, 11 June 1840

Providence has now called Your Majesty to the high burden of the throne, to which Your Highness was born! You will be equal to the task; you have already won universal trust, and you will also know how to justify it. It is not Your Majesty that I congratulate on the assumption of the throne; it is your realm that deserves this felicitation.

If governing is a task that is difficult to accomplish at any time, it is all the more true in times like ours. Your Majesty knows what I mean by governing, and I entertain the sure conviction that the views and feelings of your mind and your heart are in complete harmony with those of mine.

Your Highness knows the faithful reverence that I showed to the king who has now become immortal; he never doubted me, just as I always relied on him. The task of my ministry for more than thirty years was to bind Austria and Prussia intimately together as the true center of the salvation of our world. My sense tells me that I accomplished this task to the best of my ability. Now this legacy, too, shall pass to Your Majesty, and I know what you thought about its importance years ago. May Your Highness accept the assurance that this knowledge gives me a strength that I honor for all it is worth.

May Your Majesty graciously deign to permit me to remain henceforth towards Your Highness on a footing on which the immortal monarch allowed me to express my views freely! Austria and Prussia have been called to be the sustaining powers with respect to both Europe and Germany. They must get along, for that it is the only way in which great dangers can be mitigated. As long as the heart is healthy, there is hope for life, and in Europe these two realms assume the place of the heart.

May Your Highness deign graciously to accept this outpouring in a moment of heavy burden, and to permit the tribute of deep reverence with which I remain Your Majesty's humbly obedient
Prince Metternich

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