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Peter Kaspar Wilhelm Beuth

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Peter Kaspar Wilhelm Beuth (1782-1853)

1837 Herr Beuth of Berlin, Privy Councillor, Director of the Board of Trade etc., became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1855 Obituary [2]

MR. PETER KASPAR WILHELM BEUTH, born at Cleves, on the 28th of November 1782, was the son of a physician, under whose judicious guidance his early studies were successfully prosecuted at Berlin, and the foundation of his future career securely laid.

In 1798 he was admitted to the University of Halle, as a student of Civil Law, and in 1801 he entered the service of the State, as Referendary in the department of War, Public Domains, Commerce and Manufacture;s to which duties were added, in 1806, those of Assessor to the corporation of Bakeuth, and in 1809 he was nominated a Councillor of State, in which capacity he afforded valuable assistance to the minister Hardenberg, in the arrangement of the Financial department of the State, the settlement of the import duties, and in framing the regulations for the Police, and for Manufactures, forming the code which was promulgated in 1810.

On the termination of these labours Mr. Beuth was attached to the Finance Department., as Privy Councillor, and by his liberal and enlightened views contributed materially to the policy which was pursued.

In 1813 he served as a volunteer in Lutzow’s free corps of cavalry, and at the conclusion of the war, resuming his civil functions, was appointed to the Finance Department, as chief Councillor for Commerce and Manufactures, in which capacity he took a distinguished part in the arrangement of the commercial code and the settlement of the import duties, as fixed in 1817. In 1821 he received the appointment of Member of the Council of State ; in 1828, that of Director of Trade, Commerce and Public Buildings ; and finally in 1830 he became Chief Privy Councillor.

In the exercise of these varied functions he was animated by the desire of establishing the purest principles of free trade, conceiving as a fixed basis, that the interference of a Government with commercial undertakings, should be strictly limited to preventing any one branch of trade, or manufacture, from being unduly benefited at the expense of another, or of the public ; it being, in his opinion, the duty of the State to devote its best energies to the primary education of the working classes, the cultivation, among the middle classes, of scientific, artistic and technical knowledge, and to engraft upon the classical courses of the upper classes, the study of high art, which by leading them to appreciate beauty of form, colour, and correct proportion, should, by their patronage only of that which was intrinsically good, demonstrate to manufacturers how much it was their interest to attain excellence in their several productions ; believing that by these means alone, successful competition could be maintained with rival nations. In these liberal views Mr. Beuth received the cordial support of the Government, and was enabled to found and maintain the public establishments necessary for the promotion of his system.

It is to him that Prussia is indebted for the creation of the Institute of Arts and Manufactures, of Berlin, and the provincial Primary Schools in connection with it ;-the system of granting stipends for enabling distinguished students to travel in foreign countries, for the completion of their technical education ;-the publication of many fine works, descriptive of those artistic and manufacturing productions as would be most useful to the working classes ;-and the formation of collections of instructive models for mechanics, masons, and carpenters, demonstrating the forms, and methods in use in the various provinces of their own land, and in foreign countries. At the same time, by the encouragement of communications from his scientific and practical countrymen, when travelling, and his hospitable and enlightened reception of distinguished scientific strangers, he obtained a knowledge of the general progress of the world, and aided in the introduction of improvements in Prussian productions, derived from the systems pursued in England and France, and generally throughout Europe and America.

He adopted the excellent system of rewarding the introduction of any amelioration of productive process, by presenting to the successful innovators the most improved and novel implements, or tools used in their manufactures. General Exhibitions of National Industry naturally received his cordial support and he viewed with intense interest, the success of the Universal Exhibition, in London, in 1852, at which he was only prevented from being present, by his growing infirmities ; -the establishment of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, and the preliminary preparations for the International Exhibition of 1855, in Paris ;-how he would have exulted in the varied and excellent display of Prussian productions there exhibited, can only be estimated by those who knew his energetic character and profound foresight.

Another of his useful labours was the transformation of the ancient Academy, into a general School of Architecture, where, by more extended views and liberal measures, its sphere of utility was enabled to take a wider range ; and in order that the industrial arts should be equally benefited, he founded, in 1821, and became the first President of the Society for the Encouragement of National Industry, which has had a powerful effect in stimulating the zeal and energy of the productive classes.

At the inauguration of the new buildings of the University of Halle, on the 31st of October 1834, Mr. Beuth received the dignity, 'pro honoris causa,' of Doctor of Philosophy; in 1836 he was admitted an Honorary Member of the Academy of Fine Arts, of Vienna; and in 1837 he was elected an Honorary Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, of England, an establishment for which he always exhibited vivid interest, and to whose library he contributed several valuable works.

Mr. Beuth remained for many years almost exclusively devoted to the official duties of Director of the Ministry of Finance, where he was at the head of those departments synonymous with the Board of Trade, and part of the Board of Works, in England, but in the year 1847 he retired from his ministerial position, partly because he could not coincide in some important measures adopted in his department, and partly because his advanced age and declining health prevented him, as he conceived, from performing his duties with his former energy. Retirement from public occupation did not, however, lessen his general utility, as he then found, for the first time, an opportunity of visiting foreign countries, whence he returned with even more enlightened views, which he strenuously promulgated among his countrymen. Much of his leisure was devoted to reading works which had hitherto escaped his notice, and even to his latest day he was an example of that unwearied searching €or knowledge, the advantages of which he desired to impress upon the nation, to whose mercantile and manufacturing prosperity he so materially contributed.

The almost universal influence possessed by Mr. Beuth may be readily traced to his personal qualifications. Upon high classical attainments he had engrafted rare accomplishment in the fine arts, governed by pure taste, and he combined with these qualities a thorough knowledge of the technical portions of almost all branches of commerce and manufactures ; his innate energy never acknowledged a difficulty to be insurmountable; his perceptive faculties enabled him to discover merit in others, and the entire absence of jealousy from his mind induced the liberal patronage of artists and men of genius and worth in all positions. He first discovered the genius and great qualities of the architect Schinkel, induced the Government to place him in a fitting position, and made him his friend, receiving from him those artistic suggestions, which when moderated and rendered practical, by the sound judgment of Beuth, produced the great monuments of Prussia. He delighted to pass his time amidst men of that stamp, and with his great conversational powers, the animation and spirit of his manner, and the wit and humour, which not only shone itself, but induced brilliant coruscations from others, he formed a circle of society at Berlin which will long be remembered by all who had the good fortune to be admitted to it.

In the autumn of 1853 he was seized by a fit of apoplexy, from which he never recovered, but died within a short time, in his seventy-first year, retaining to the last the great powers of his mind, and still thoughtful for his country, in whose service he had spent a long life, in an almost uninterrupted career of public utility, which will be outwardly acknowledged by the erection to his memory, of a monument in bronze, for which the statue and the pedestal will be respectively modelled by his friends, the sculptors kiss and Drake ; the cost of this monument, nearly £4,000, has been provided for by voluntary contributions, chiefly from the manufacturers of Prussia, by whom he was deservedly loved during his lifetime, and who anxiously embraced the opportunity of demonstrating their respect for the memory of so great and good a man.'

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