Henry H Lancaster.

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alludes to Frederic's recruiting expedients, though he
does to those of his father. But Frederic was, in this
respect, even worse than Frederic William. He had
his miserable crimps spread all over Europe, kidnap-
ping peasants, or seducing the troops of his allies ;
sticking at no crime to gain men to be sacrificed to
the ambition of this " last of the Kings." He profited
by their disgraceful services, and paid them ; but if
they were detected he disowned them, and left them
to their fate. The cruelty of the treatment to which
the troops thus recruited were subjected was such as
few armies have ever experienced. The following
description, though given in a work of fiction, is no
whit exaggerated : -

" The life the private soldier led was a frightful one to
any but men of iron courage and endurance. There was a
corporal to every three men, marching behind them, and
pitilessly using the cane ; so much so that it used to be said
that in action there was a front rank of privates and a
second rank of sergeants and corporals to drive them on.
. . . The punishment was incessant. Every officer had the


liberty to inflict it ; and in peace it was more cruel than in
war. ... I have seen the bravest men of the army cry like
children at a cut of the cane ; I have seen a little ensign of
fifteen call out a man of fifty from the ranks, a man who
had been in a hundred battles, and he has stood presenting
arms, and sobbing and howling like a baby while the young
wretch lashed him over the arms and thighs with the stick.
In the day of action this man would dare anything. A
button might be awry then and nobody touched him ; but
when they had made the brute fight then they lashed him
again into subordination." l

This horrible life was uncheered by hope. The
possibility of promotion at once awakes the stimulus
of personal ambition and imparts a feeling of profes-
sional dignity ; but for the Prussian soldier there was
no such possibility. The army must be officered by
nobles alone. This illustrious prince, in whom Mr.
Carlyle discovers, as the soul of all his noble tenden-
cies, "that he has an endless appetite for men of
merit, and feels, consciously and otherwise, that they
are the one thing beautiful, the one thing needful to
him/ 7 when peace came, would dismiss any officer who
was not noble, whatever his services might have been.
In spite of all his cant about equality and sneers at
blood, he was in practice a bitter aristocrat. He
carried his reverence of German quarterings even into
his administration of civil affairs. He would not allow
a merchant to travel at more than a certain fixed rate
of expense ; he would allow a nobleman's estate to be
purchased by none but a nobleman. The punishments
by which this motley army was kept in order were
frightful. Death was regarded as a secondary punish-
ment. In order to insure a capital sentence a strange
and horrible crime of child-murder became prevalent.
The soldiers shrank from the guilt of suicide ; but they

1 Thackeray, " Barry Lyndon."


thought it little harm to secure their own release from
suffering by causing the death of an innocent child.
That even such an army as this fought well under
Frederic is matter for no surprise. For they knew
their trade well, and on the field of battle that know-
ledge must come into play. Men are essentially com-
bative by nature ; and the hounds love the huntsman
who can best show them the prey. But they fought
unstirred by any of those influences which almost
make fighting virtue. It is too bad of Mr. Carlyle
to compare such an army as this to Cromweirs Iron-
sides. He has elsewhere described it far more truly,
"fighters animated only by drill-sergeants, mess-
room moralities, and the drummer's cat!" 1 A few
of the native Prussian soldiers did show something of
stern enthusiasm, as at Leuthen ; but these were the
exception. The stock of such men was soon ex-
hausted ; and the rest were merely the best fighting
brutes, perfectly trained, and handled by a master.
Never, we think, did the profession of arms wear a
less inviting aspect. The army, as a body, was ani-
mated by nothing of that religious and political en-
thusiasm which made the troops of the Commonwealth
the finest soldiers the world has ever seen, or of that
passion for distinction and glory, that fervid devotion
to a leader, which carried the legions of Napoleon
triumphantly to the close of many a bloody day.
"When Frederic himself implored them to return to
the charge at Colin, he had for his answer, "No, no,
Fritz ; we have done enough for eightpence a day."
No such thought was present to any English or French
soldier when brought up to turn the doubtful battle
at Marston Moor or Marengo.

The one inexplicable puzzle to our mind is, that this
army never rose up in impetuous revolt and put a

1 " French Revolution," vol. iii.


stop to the whole thing, by shooting, if necessary, the
king and every officer they had. We are told indeed
that Frederic was never quite safe on parade, and no
wonder. The troops deserted, when opportunity
offered, as at the retreat from Dresden, in scores and
hundreds ; but no mutiny was ever brought to a suc-
cessful issue, though the attempt was more than once
made. The difficulty of combination, in such circum-
stances, is almost insuperable ; and we fear it must
be added, that there is a tendency in human nature
to cower before stern oppression. Of this strange
army we get no knowledge from these pages ; we are
presented instead with an imaginary picture of high-
minded Prussians, devoted to their king, and over-
flowing with patriotism and Lutheran hymns.

The third of Mr. Carlyle's volumes opens with
rejoicings over the beginning of Frederic's civil re-
forms rejoicings not wholly undeserved. He showed
a real anxiety for the speedy administration of jus-
tice, and did his best to secure for his subjects this
great blessing. He abolished torture. He granted
to all sects, except the Jews, perfect religious liberty.
He allowed uncontrolled freedom of thought and ex-
pression. These were great boons. But one boon,
greater than all these, was persistently withheld,
namely, freedom of action. "My people," he said,
" may think as they please, provided I may act as I
please ! " Never was a people so regulated and dis-
ciplined in every relation of life. They could not
marry, or buy or sell, or travel abroad, or stay at
home, save as the king thought fit. And the extra-
ordinary thing is, that he did all this superintendence
himself. He had absolutely no ministers. Those who
are curious to see how nearly the life of a great and
illustrious prince may resemble the life of a galley-
slave should read Lord Macau] ay's sketch of Frederic's


business habits. He himself did all the work of
governing Prussia, and what that work must have
been, owing to his love of meddling and distrust of
subordinates, it is hardly possible for us to conceive.
A nobleman could not go to Aix-la-Chapelle for his
health ; a man of letters could not go to Holland to
procure information for a history of that country,
without special permission from the king. 1 Sir Charles
Hanbury Williams thus writes to Mr. Fox in 1751: "If
a courier is to be despatched to Versailles, or a minister
to Vienna, his Prussian Majesty draws himself the
instructions for the one, and writes the letters for the
other. This you will say is great ; but if a dancer at
the opera has disputes with a singer, or if one of those
performers wants a new pair of stockings, a plume for
his helmet, or a finer petticoat, the same king of
Prussia sits in judgment on the cause, and with his
own hand answers the dancer's or the singer's letter/' 2
His leading idea was to make Prussia a barrack-yard.
He was persuaded that his people could not act or
think wisely for themselves, and that he therefore
must think and act for them. In his conception of
how to promote the wellbeing of a nation he was far
inferior to Peter the Great. The Czar laboured to
raise brutes into men ; Frederic's aim was that men
should remain as children.

Perhaps the most inexcusable and pernicious de-
velopment of Frederic's love of meddling was when he
interfered with the administration of the law. The

1 The marginal notes written by Frederic on the reports sent to him by
his ministers, or more properly speaking, secretaries, are characteristic,
and sometimes most amusing. The answer which he gives to a petition
from some officials objecting to the promotion of their juniors over their
heads, is well worthy of attention among ourselves : " I have in my
stable a parcel of old mules, who have served me a long while, but I
have not yet found any of them apply to be made superintendents of
the stable."

2 Quoted in Lord Mahon's "History of England." Appendix, vol. iv.


story of Miller Arnold's lawsuit is well known. We
have no space to go into that matter here, further
than is necessary to illustrate Frederic's style of
government. If, after repeated investigation and
consideration, all the best judges in a country should
agree on a point in an intricate and difficult branch
of law ; if, in spite of remonstrances and threats from
a despotic king, they adhere to their opinion as one
which they cannot, on their consciences, change or
modify, people will be apt to think that they must be
in the right. Not so the king of Prussia. Without
misgiving he reversed the decision ; abused the judges
who pronounced it only a little less coarsely than his
father would have done ; and rewarded them for their
conscientiousness by dismissal and imprisonment,
finding them liable also in damages to the successful
litigant. The results were what might have been
expected. For some time after the Courts of Law
found the utmost difficulty in enforcing their authority ;
and it is gratifying to know that hundreds of peasants
used to throng under the king's windows with peti-
tions in their hands, all loudly shouting, " Please your
Majesty, consider our case ; we have been far worse
treated than the Arnolds." How the king relished
this practical result of his interference we are not
informed. Finally Frederic's successor had to pay
out of his own pocket all the expenses occasioned by
this freak of royal equity, and so hush up the matter.
Frederic's commercial policy opens up a topic at
once more attractive and instructive. In many
respects it was worthy of attention, and not the less
so because he violated, pretty consistently, all the
doctrines of free-trade.

" To prevent disappointment, I ought to add that Friedrich
is the reverse of orthodox in ' Political Economy ;' that he
had not faith in Free Trade, but the reverse ; nor had ever


heard of those Ultimate Evangels, unlimited competition,
fair start, and perfervid race by all the world (towards
' cheap-and-nasty,' as the likeliest winning-post for all the
world), which have since been vouchsafed us." Vol. iv. p.

" They are eloquent, ruggedly strong Essays, those of a
Mirabeau Junior upon Free Trade; they contain, in con-
densed shape, everything we were privileged to hear, seventy
years later, from all organs, coach-horns, jews-harps, and
scrannel-pipes, pro and contra, on the same sublime subject :
' God is great, and Plugson of Undershot is his Prophet.
Thus saith the Lord, Buy in the cheapest market, sell in the
dearest!'" Vol. vi. p. 351.

It is no cause of reproach to Frederic that he did
not understand or appreciate free-trade ; but it is
difficult to keep one's temper when a man like Mr.
Carlyle condescends to such idle buffoonery as this.
It was hard enough to get free-trade adopted ; it is
even now hard enough to get it carried out ; and it is
very intolerable that a great writer and pretentious
teacher should indulge in meaningless sneers at a
policy which he cannot intelligently attack. That
Frederic was wrong in many of his views, as his horror
at the precious metals leaving the country, his love of
monopolies, his belief that manufactures would flourish
at his will, that trade could be fostered by restrictive
laws, will now-a-days hardly be disputed. On the
other hand, he adopted a course with regard to many
matters, which, though we may hastily condemn it as
unsound, would seem, judged by the result, to have
been eminently successful ; and Mr. Carlyle would
have rendered better service by helping us to a solution
of these difficulties, than by his vague denunciations
of the " Dismal Science," as he thinks it humorous to
call Political Economy.

It is hard indeed to say whether we are more
astonished by Frederic's mode of sustaining the


burdens of war, or by his power of repairing the ruin
which war leaves behind. Even seen, as it only now
can be seen, by dim glimpses, his war budget is indeed
wonderful ; to extravagant British minds almost in-
conceivable. The pay of the Prussian soldier was
small, and when peace came every unnecessary man
was rigorously paid off. The economy practised in
every branch of the public service was carried to the
verge of meanness. The frugality practised in the
Eoyal household was unexampled, though it were
much to be desired that it should gain imitators.
Moreover, the war was to a great extent conducted
on the principle of making war support itself. In
Saxony, an enemy's country, levies of men and contri-,
butions were made by Frederic during all those terrible
years. Still the mystery remains quite inexplicable :
how did he manage to come through that fearful con-
flict without incurring a penny of debt \ And then
another curious question arises, and one of some
moment when nations take to fighting, Would it not
have been better if debt had been incurred ? Would
not much suffering have been avoided if more money
had been forthcoming ? Though the nation did even-
tually recover, at the time the agony was almost too
great for endurance. Now, might not this agony
have been greatly mitigated, might not much personal
suffering have been spared, much property have been
preserved, by borrowing from the resources of the
future? Then, again, as to the tampering with the
currency. Can it ever be good in the long-run for
the financial wellbeing of a nation that the coinage
should be debased as Frederic debased it ?

Yet more astonishing than Frederic's management
of the war was the way in which Prussia, under his
guidance, recovered from its effects. The state of
the country at the close of the Seven Years' conflict is


not easy to be imagined. The population had been
decreased by ten per cent. ; wide tracts of country
lay desolate ; the villages were depopulated ; the
fields were uncultivated ; at best, only women and
children remained to follow the plough. The very
seed-corn had been devoured. The towns were hardly
in better plight than the country. In Berlin itself a
third part of the population was supported by alms.
But if the guilty ambition of Frederic had reduced his
country to this point of misery, it is only fair to add
that his industry and administrative capacity soon
raised her out of it. In some three or four years
Prussia was restored to comparative prosperity. There
could hardly be a more interesting or instructive
study than to inquire carefully how this was done.
Readers who remember Lord Macaulay's elaborate
account of the debasement of the coinage under
William, and the measures taken to restore it, will
understand what might have been done here. Un-
happily Mr. Carlyle has no taste for such inquiries.
He reiterates with vehemence that Frederic violated
all the doctrines of " the dismal science," but beyond
this it does not please him to go. And we are not
sure that he is right even thus far. Undoubtedly
Frederic did not much understand or value Political
Economy, but in the matter now before us it is by no
means quite clear that political economists would
have condemned all his proceedings. For example,
at the close of the war he had in hand some twenty-
five million thalers which he had got ready against
the next campaign. These he spent himself, in the
manner and at the places where necessity seemed
most imperious. Now it is certainly a doctrine of
Political Economy that private enterprise best
develops the resources of a country. But there is
not in this science more than in others any rule


without exceptions ; and the most rigid political eco-
nomists will probably admit that crises may come in
the history of a nation, when the interference of the
Government may not only be harmless but salutary.
Such a crisis in our own history was the Irish famine.
Some writers carry this doctrine considerable lengths,
maintaining, for instance, that Government may, with
good effect, afford to the people facilities of locomotion,
so as to enable them to take advantage of any local rise
in wages. Indeed, strictly looked at, is a State system
of emigration anything but carrying out this principle
on a large scale ? The truth is, that the doctrines of
economic science cannot be unbendingly applied to
extraordinary conditions of society. Prussia, at the
close of the war, was in a condition altogether extra-
ordinary. Trade was annihilated, property insecure,
the law weak, and the people consequently in that
state in which a tendency to hoard money, instead of
profitably employing it, must have been wide-spread.
It may therefore be doubted whether Frederic's
" paternal," or rather steward-like, system of govern-
ment was not well adapted to the exigencies of the
case. The question is most interesting, but we have
no space to discuss it here the rather that it is not
opened by Mr. Carlyle. Instead of dealing with it he
has chosen to indulge in such " inarticulate shriekings"
against Political Economy and Free-Trade as we have
quoted above. By this course he has done injustice
at once to his readers and himself. His readers have
lost much valuable political information ; and the life
of Frederic has been written without any sufficient
statement of Frederic's greatest and purest title to
fame. For a detailed account of the means by which
Frederic healed the wounds of the State, and of his
administration during the last twenty-three years of
peace which closed his reign, how willingly would we


exchange the prolix record of the early glories of the
Hohenzollerns, the irritating defences of the extra-
vagances of Frederic William, or even the minute
descriptions of Frederic's marches and countermarches
among the mountains of Bohemia. That Frederic
was totally mistaken in the general principles of his
administration is hardly disputable, but it by no
means follows that he was mistaken in the measures
he adopted under certain extraordinary circumstances ;
and history never could have discharged a more
useful office than in pointing out the reasons of this

There can be no doubt that Frederic had at heart
the wellbeing of his subjects. Immediately after his
accession he announced his determination to " make
men happy." That he sincerely laboured to carry out
this determination cannot be denied. Unfortunately,
like most men in all ranks and stations of life, he in-
sisted on making others happy according to his views,
not according to their own. It is a mistake not less
serious than common. He believed he understood their
real interests better than they did themselves ; therefore
they were not permitted to seek their wellbeing in their
own way. His argument ran thus : I am wiser than
my people, therefore they can only be truly happy
if they obey my orders in all things ; and so the
whole population was drilled like so many soldiers
or almost slaves. Again, he thought it for the good of
the country that his territory should be enlarged, and
so the Seven Years' War was brought upon the people
that Silesia might be obtained. That war cost Prussia
some 200,000 men, not to speak of the sufferings of
the survivors. Was the acquisition of Silesia sufficient
to convert all this misery into a balance of happiness ?
Supposing Frederic had never gone near Silesia, but
had preserved peace throughout his reign, devoted


himself to developing the resources of the country,
and increasing the intelligence and extending the
liberties of the people, would not the Prussians have
been happier then, more prosperous and higher in the
scale of nations now ? Mr. Carlyle, as we have seen,
defends the Silesian robbery. But even he cannot
defend all Frederic's civil administration ; yet he is
never at a loss for an excuse to save his hero. When
Frederic does anything wise, no one may share the
credit with him ; when he does anything very unwise,
some one else, if possible a Frenchman, has to bear
the blame. Thus, when he introduces a system of
excise for which no good word can be said, the whole
responsibility is laid upon the advice of D'Alembert
and Helvetius.

Frederic's character is a strange study in human
nature. He was often satirised ; but he never fell
into the hands of a satirist who could make the most
of him. To an epigrammatic writer like Pope he
would have been invaluable. The inconsistencies and
contrasts in his nature are grotesque and puzzling.
Mr. Carlyle's indiscriminating praise gives us no aid
towards solving the riddle. This is mainly owing to
his unfortunate predilection for Frederic William.
He insists on defending the conduct of that drunken
savage, whose best excuse, indeed, is, that he was
often drunk for months together, if not quite mad ;
nay, in upholding him as a mode] father, whose
judicious, if somewhat stern control was productive of
the greatest benefit to his son. Now the real truth
we suspect to have been that Frederic's whole nature
was distorted and corrupted by the treatment of his
youth. As a boy, he was "one of the prettiest,
vividest little boys ; " as he grew up he evinced an
open, generous, and affectionate nature. But his love
of literature and music, and a distaste for constant


drill, excited his father's wrath. To what lengths
that wrath reached, public blows, imprisonment,
murder of his son's friend, almost the murder of his
son himself, is well known. No mortal could pass
through such an ordeal unscathed. None but rarely
beautiful natures can come out of an unhappy home
otherwise than hurt and marred. Frederic's home
was more than usually unhappy, and the results of
this were not trifling. Want of sympathy made him
reserved ; cruelty made him hard-hearted ; stern re-
pression made his nature break out into low practical
joking. So far as we can now judge, he was naturally
the very reverse of irreligious, and indeed he early
showed a disposition towards serious thought. But
his father stormed at him as a Calvinist and a Pre-
destinarian ; forced him, on pain of death, to relin-
quish these damnable heresies ; and ended, as might
have been anticipated, in making him a believer in
nothing. Again, paternal love sought to exert itself
in arranging a marriage for the prince, and, yielding
to the suggestions of courtiers in Austrian pay,
paternal love forced upon Frederic a wife whom he
detested, and whom he hardly ever saw ; condemning
him to a life of loneliness, without the affection of a
woman, or the hope of posterity. Worst of all was
that fear taught deceit, the only protection of the
weak. From that sad day on which Katte was led
to death before his eyes, Frederic shrouded himself in
a "polite cloak of darkness," to use Mr. Carlyle's
elegant euphemism for a system of complete hypocrisy.
It is painful to read of the Crown Prince kissing, his
father's dirty gaiters ; but he had to stoop yet lower.
His proud heart must have suffered many a bitter
pang before he endured to write in terms of fawning
affection to such a creature as Grumkow, the most
contemptible of the knot of traitors and toadies, who,


under the intellectual reign of Mr. Carlyle's first hero,
ruled the destinies of Prussia. That cloak of darkness,
which then seemed to stand him in good stead, was
never through life thrown aside, and leaves a shadow
on his fame. Altogether apart from his faithlessness
to his engagements, Frederic's attempts to deceive, or,
in slang phraseology, to "humbug" his adversaries,
were often so barefaced as to be quite ludicrous.
Thus, at the very time when his armies were occupy-

Online LibraryHenry H LancasterEssays and reviews → online text (page 22 of 38)