Supplementary Appendix 114.2

Review of Memoiren des Marquis von G***.: von dem Verfasser des Genius (Berlin 1792), Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1792) 221 (Friday, 17 August 1792) 395–96:

Were one obliged to assess these memoirs merely as a novel, it would be impossible to waste any more words on it than to say it is the most nonsensical, disorganized, inexplicably foolish piece of fiction that has perhaps ever soiled a piece of paper. – A comparison, however, of the title with other recently published writings by the same author and other circumstances as well reveal not only that the book intends to imply a more personal, concrete reference to the author, but that such a reference may genuinely be present in certain passages.

From this perspective, the Memoiren des Marquis von G. need to be subjected to a certain extent to a historical critique assessing not only the piece itself, but also the identity between its protagonist and the author. A closer examination in the present case will, moreover, not be entirely superfluous insofar as even the most foolish deceiver finds excessive opportunity to satisfy his illicit, malicious mischief in people’s idle gullibility for the mysterious and secretive.

Even St. Germain and Cagliostro — let it be said here: as shameful examples for humankind — were in many respects nothing more than blockheads; and, even more to the point, it is morally impossible for a healthy mind to cast itself into the force field of a charlatan and swindler.

With regard to the person in question here, it does indeed genuinely seem that the entire spectrum of wrongness seems to be present through which the sort of persona he has chosen will be most successful, a spectrum that alone makes it possible to sustain such a role or to pick it up again and again despite any shamefulness that might attach to it. The most important secret of such swindlers is to engage concentric lies, according to the various measure of human receptiveness, that facilitate a flight from the most abominable, crude lies down, step by step, into modest, almost quotidian lies, lies whose status, did not the need to lie already predominate, might easily replace regular, balanced truths.

The protagonist of these memoirs even claims to have used precisely this secret, alongside many other wondrous arcana, in important political affairs in his capacity as statesman; one can, however, retort straightaway that he engaged such solely as a crude, quite ordinary adventurer, and is now trying the same devices out on the public in these memoirs.

The author of the Genius, Marchese von Grosse, and Marquis von G. — for they are one and the same person — would have made a considerable blunder by revealing such an important advantage, in part voluntarily, in part without realizing it, in his memoirs if the arcanum itself, engaged with the requisite shamelessness, did not have quite sufficient power itself to remain an infallible means, all indiscretion notwithstanding, preventing his discovery and unmasking.

There is, however, one very simple remedy for avoiding such influence, namely, not to believe lies, nor overlook absurdities, nor tolerate wickedness; but those who possess that particular arcanum [the secret of ensnaring victims in concentric lies such that one always has a way out] are convinced through experience and through instinct that this will never become the general disposition of the great mass of people.

Otherwise the puzzling and vague formulae with which such a person believes he can conceal the most shameless immorality and repugnant banality, and with respect to which, similar to the horse thief Jenkinson in the Vicar of Wakefield [1766], he thinks he must reproduce his creation story and Sanchoniathon with every new bit of artistry — otherwise all these formulae would at most be useful against him in the form of an arrest warrant, and certainly never as ingredient in his literary products.

The majority of these memoirs are obviously filled with the crudest and most brainless wind-baggery not unlike the story of the French dragoon who boasted to his comrades that the queen, on seeing him dance, allegedly cried out, Sacre-dieu, voilà un beau danseur! At the same time, however, there is much here that, quite apart from bringing on the author the charge of the most unpardonable stupidity, might also charge him with the most base malice; and it is not improbable that the allusions to the intimate relationships among individual families — mentioned by way of self-justification in the introduction — might here and there be on the mark.

In the logic and morality of this particular author, however, there really is no absurdity, no wickedness that would want for some justification or other. Since, however, impudence or even criminal transgression of this sort is protected from chastisement by the civil police through certain devices of cunning artifice, we are happy to impose at least literary police measures on this delinquent, thereby providing what we consider to be the best possible satisfaction for any interested parties.

In the case of such a man, however, one cannot expect any real effect from chastisement, a man who, as these memoirs repeatedly attest, possesses that unique sublimity of mind for which insults, shame, dementis, and other such unpleasantries — unpleasantries lesser minds are unable to withstand — present the least of difficulties.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott