Secret Strategical Instructions

Charles Hamilton SMITH   |   King of Prussia FREDERICK

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FREDERICK, King of Prussia (SMITH, Charles Hamilton, translator). Secret Strategical Instructions, of Frederic the Second, for His Inspectors General. Translated from the German by Captain C.H. Smith. Coventry: R. Pratt et al., 1811. Slim quarto, early 20th-century three-quarter red polished calf, elaborately gilt-decorated spine, marbled boards and endpapers, top edge gilt, uncut (original front wrapper bound in). $9800.

First translation into English of Frederick the Great’s Secret Instructions, intended to complement Foster’s 1762 translation of Frederick’s Military Instructions, with 31 hand-colored copperplates by Smith of fortifications and strategic formations (five folding), Frederick’s biographer Thomas Carlyle’s copy, inscribed, “To Major Genl. Sir Colin Campbell G.C.B &c &c, with many kind regards, T. Carlyle, Chelsea, Decr 1853.” With an additional gift inscription to Major-General Clayton Bissell, Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence in World War II.

In the turbulent 18th century, the small state of Prussia was led by a man “of high military genius, capable of infusing into others his own undaunted spirit, while his subjects had learned both from him and his predecessors habits of patience, perseverance, and discipline”(Britannica). In the Seven Years War, which pitted Prussia against an overwhelming Continental alliance of Austria, Russia, France, and Saxony, Frederick the Second “distinguished himself by continually keeping at bay much more powerful antagonists. He took advantage of the natural lack of cohesion of coalitions and fought his enemies, so far as possible, one at a time. The superior discipline of the Prussian army allowed Frederick to march it to the theater of war in small detachments, from various directions, uniting only shortly before a battle was to be fought. He also made the most of the oblique order of battle which he had inculcated in the Prussian army and which allowed him to concentrate his forces against emerging weak spots in his enemies’ more ponderous formations” (Encyclopedia of World Biography). This translation of the King of Prussia’s commentary on the plates for his famous military handbook is intended as a supplement to Foster’s English translation of Frederick’s Military Instructions (1762), which “relates chiefly to strategies.” This work focuses rather on his military tactics— his “manner of misleading the enemy respecting the real point of attack— even the art of rapidly passing from the defensive to the offensive state, keeping in view all the chances of success. By these principles, peculiarly his own, he was enabled often to accomplish great actions with small comparative means.” This copy belonged to Thomas Carlyle, whose last major work was the epic life of Frederick the Great, History of Friedrich II of Prussia (1858-65). “Carlyle had once more set out, in his imperturbable romantic way, to do something more than make known to the world ‘what had happened.’ Not but what he was, in respect of the truth of history, just as conscientious in his way as historians of the scientific school are. This is to be seen in the unwearying labor with which he collected his materials, poring over libraries of ‘dull books’; and in his efforts to see with his own eyes the backgrounds against which Frederick’s life was played, the battlefields on which he fought. But there was another purpose which, in the first instance, moved him to undertake the work; he set out with the object of demonstrating the heroic in Frederick, of illustrating his thesis of ‘the hero as king” (Cambridge History). This is Carlyle’s own copy of Frederick’s Secret Strategical Instructions, which he presented to Major General, Sir Colin Campbell, who after having fought in the Sikh Wars in India eventually resigned his command and in March 1853 returned to England. Carlyle saw him in December, when he gave him this book.

Light scattered foxing. A near-fine copy with extraordinary provenance.

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