It is rare, then, that the contemporary generation judges the great world events of its time correctly; at the very least, let no one venture to do so who has not often made the attempt – with a philosophical eye and without a spirit of system, impartially (to the extent that is possible) – to ponder general matters of politics, the advantages and disadvantages of various state constitutions, and, through the lens of history, the causes of the glory and downfall of older empires and peoples. Let not the man venture upon this work to whom the small local circumstances are foreign, who knows the spirit, the mood, the degree of culture of the nation under discussion only from books! Let not the book scholar venture upon this work who until then has dealt more with dead than with living human beings, and who gazes only from the window of his warm study upon the mighty storms of life, which can arouse passions of every kind, and their terrible consequences, but who has never been a directly participating witness, and who has never observed the first and often very small causes that gave rise to them? Finally, let not the traveler venture upon this task who crosses the land with postal horses, and who draws the stuff for his general judgments from conversations with adherents of this party or that, whom he meets during his brief stay in the cities.
After these presuppositions, no one will suspect that I want to deny these principles in my reflections about the French Revolution, or that I consider myself called upon to render a verdict about it and about the advantages and shortcomings of the new constitution. On the contrary, my intention is to show how little we are still able to see clearly in this great event, to warn against hasty judgments, untimely fear, and blind zeal, and, finally, to call attention to the general principles from which we must proceed if we wish to say something meaningful about the overthrow of the French state and its likely consequences.
Source: Adolph Freyherr von Knigge, Josephs von Wurmbrand, Kaiserlich abyssinischen Ex-Ministers, jezzigen Notarii caesarii publici in der Reichsstadt Bopfingen, politisches Glaubensbekenntniß, mit Hinsicht auf die französische Revolution und deren Folgen [The Political Credo of Joseph von Wurmbrand, Former Imperial Abyssinian Minister, Current Notarii caesarii publici in the Imperial City of Bopfingen, with Regard to the French Revolution and its Consequences]. Frankfurth, Leipzig, 1792.
Reprinted in Adolph Freyherr Knigge, Josephs von Wurmbrand, Kaiserlich abyssinischen Ex-Ministers, jezzigen Notarrii caesarii publici in der Reichstadt Bopfingen, politsches Glaubensbekenntniß, mit Hinsicht auf die französische Revolution und deren Folgen [The Political Credo of Joseph von Wurmbrand, Former Imperial Abyssinian Minister, Current caesarii publici in the Imperial City of Bopfingen, with Regard to the French Revolution and its Consequences], edited by Gerhard Steiner. Frankfurt am Main: Sammlung Insel, 1968.
Translation: Thomas Dunlap