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ing the whole of Silesia, except a few fortified towns,
he had the effrontery to write to the Duke of Lorraine,
" My heart has no share in the mischief which my
hand is doing to your Court."

Curiously enough, the domestic vices generally
reappear in those who have suffered from them.
Frederic had many of the faults of his father, only in
a less degree. But they do not seem to have been
his naturally ; he acquired them from the teaching of
example. By nature frank, generous, affectionate ;
cruel usage made him deceitful, harsh, unfeeling, im-
placable. " He is as hard," said Voltaire of him, as
Churchill said of James 11., " he is as hard as that
marble table." In some points he greatly improved
and softened as he grew older ; he became more
tolerant, more patient, more moderate. It would
have been an instructive study to mark how many of
his greatest faults were derived from a corrupting
education, and how many of these faults age and
experience removed. But this would have involved
the admission of imperfection in his father, and even
in . himself ; and neither admission is Mr. Carlyle
prepared to make. Instead, therefore, of such a study
of character, we have undiscriminating panegyric of
both, neither interesting, nor philosophical, nor just.

An extravagant affection for the lower animals has
often been found in men who cared very little for



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 283

their fellow-creatures. Frederic was a notable ex-
ample of this ; though the peculiarity is nowhere
mentioned by Mr. Carlyle. He had always some
half-dozen Italian greyhounds in the room with him ;
one the especial favourite, the rest kept to afford the
favourite the pleasures of society. To one of these,
called Alcmena, he was so attached, that at her death
he was quite overpowered with grief, and insisted on
keeping her corpse in his room long after it had
become putrid. Dogs cost him less, he used to say,
and were much more attached and faithful than a
Marquise de Pompadour. A footman was appointed
to the honour of attending on them, and a carriage
was appropriated to their use, in which they went out
for their airing, always occupying the hind seat. They
were all buried on the terrace at Sans Souci, and in
his will he left directions that he should be interred
beside them.

Keen literary tastes were among the strange
elements of Frederic's character. Beyond doubt he
was possessed by an earnest and pure love of literature.
Few kings have ever so loved literature for its own
sake; many successful authors have striven less
laboriously after literary success. He lay under the
disadvantage of having the command of no language ;
and yet his prose writings have received the com-
mendation of Gibbon. As to his verses, the less
said of them the better ; save, perhaps, the one
remark, that Mr. Carlyle's argument, from their
frequent and extreme indecency, to their author's
innocence of the actual commission of those iniquities
which have been laid to his charge, is not more
ingenious than true to human nature.

A curious similarity may be remarked between the
weaknesses and faults which marred the character of
Frederic, and the weaknesses and faults which marred



284 CARLYLE'S HISTORY OF

the character of Richelieu. In both these great men
there was the same love of small matters, and passion
for minuteness of detail, which could not but be in-
jurious to greater interests. In both there was the
same love of literature, the same addiction to literary
trifling. Both were penetrated with a profound scorn
and distrust of their fellow-men ; neither could resist
a mocking humour which made enemies for the sake
of a laugh ; both derived enjoyment from humiliating
and giving pain to others in the intercourse of social
life.

Mr. Carlyle has avoided anything like a delineation
of Frederic's character ; but at the close of all he
brings him strikingly before us in his greatest weak-
ness and his greatest strength :

"He well knew himself to be dying; but some think,
expected that the end might be a little further off. There is
a grand simplicity of stoicism in him; coming as if by
nature, or by long second-nature ; finely unconscious of
itself, and finding nothing of peculiar in this new trial laid
on it. From of old, Life has been infinitely contemptible to
him. In death, I think, he has neither fear nor hope.
Atheism, truly, he never could abide : to him, as to all of us,
it was flatly inconceivable that intellect, moral emotion,
could have been put into him by an Entity that had none of
its own. But there, pretty much, his Theism seems to have
stopped. Instinctively, too, he believed, no man more
firmly, that Eight alone has ultimately any strength in this
world : ultimately, yes : but for him and his poor brief
interests, what good was it ? Hope for himself in Divine
Justice, in Divine Providence, I think he had not practic-
ally any ; that the unfathomable Demiurgus should concern
himself with such a set of paltry ill- given animalcules as
oneself and mankind are, this also, as we have often noticed,
is in the main incredible to him.

" A sad Creed, this of the King's ; he had to do his duty
without fee or reward. Yes, reader; and what is well
worth your attention, you will have difficulty to find, in the



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 285

annals of any Creed, a King or man who stood more faith-
fully to his duty ; and, till the last hour, alone concerned
himself with doing that. To poor Friedrich that was all the
Law and all the Prophets : and I much recommend you to
surpass him, if you, by good luck, have a better copy of those
inestimable Documents ! Inarticulate notions, fancies, tran-
sient aspirations, he might have, in the background of his
mind. One day, sitting for a while out of doors, gazing into
the Sun, he was heard to murmur, 'Perhaps I shall be
nearer thee soon : ' and indeed nobody knows what his
thoughts were in these final months. There is traceable
only a complete superiority to Fear and Hope ; in parts, too,
are half-glimpses of a great motionless interior lake of
Sorrow, sadder than any tears or complainings, which are
altogether wanting to it." Vol. vi. pp. 636-7.

Assuredly he possessed, if ever man did, fortitude
" the virtue of adversity," the most heroic of all the
virtues. The full force of his character was never shown
till among the dangers and sorrows of the Seven Years'
War. He bore up against overwhelming calamities,
and triumphed over them, and established himself in
security. Few men ever sought less their own happi-
ness and ease, ever worked harder in their vocation.
He discharged, with calm endurance, the multifarious
labours of his life of self-imposed toil, uncheered by
hope, urged on by no fear, but ever loyal to his sense
of duty. "The night cometh when no man can
work." As the night drew nigh, his weariness grew
more intense, his loneliness yet deeper. One by one
the companions of his prime, towards a few of whom
he felt as much affection as his iron nature was capable
of feeling, had fallen from his side ; he had no love for
any of his own family who then survived, save, per-
haps, the Princess Amelia, and in her pitiable state
she could only be to him an additional cause of
sorrow ; through life he had never sought affection, so
now the solace of affection could not be his : friend-



286 CARLYLE'S HISTORY OF

less and hopeless, he met with serene courage the
inevitable end. It is a picture from which we cannot
withhold our reverence, but which fails to command
our love. Had he been less be-praised we should have
liked him better : the outrageous worship of his
biographer affronts the reader, and alienates his
sympathies.

The second great point of interest in this book is,
as we have said, that it contains the completest
exposition and illustration of Mr. Carlyle's views on
government which the world has as yet received.
We have dwelt so long on the character of Frederic
that we must be brief on this matter. Generally, the
world knows pretty well how Mr. Carlyle would have
it governed, but the "Life of Frederic" leaves no
doubt on the matter. Frederic's system is unre-
servedly commended; England, on the other hand,
has only at rare intervals in her history been governed
at all. Lord Chatham was

"The one King England has had, this King of Four
Years, since the Constitutional system set in. Oliver Crom-
well, yes indeed, but he died, and there was nothing for
it but to hang his body on the gallows. Dutch William,
too, might have been considerable, but he was Dutch,
and to us proved to be nothing. Then again, so long as
Sarah Jennings held the Queen's Majesty in bondage, some
gleams of Kinghood for us under Marlborough : after whom
Noodleism and Somnambulism, zero on the back of zero, and
all our Affairs, temporal, spiritual, and eternal, jumbling at
random, which we call the Career of Freedom, till Pitt
stretched out his hand upon them. For four years ; never
again, he ; never again one resembling him, nor indeed
can ever be." . . .

" No ; Nature does not produce many Pitts : nor will
any Pitt ever again apply in Parliament for a career. * Your
voices, your most sweet voices ; ye melodious torrents of



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 287

Gadarene Swine, galloping rapidly down steep places, I,
for one, know whither ! ' * * Enough." Vol. iv. pp.
556, 557.

Parliament, representation, a free press, these things
on which we are wont to pride ourselves, are not only
useless, they are utterly destructive and damnable.
Indeed, as to the last, we are told with unusual dis-
tinctness that it cannot " answer very long among
sane human creatures ; and, indeed, in nations not in
an exceptional case, it becomes impossible amazingly
soon." This, however, does not arise from indifference
to his country. On the contrary, it springs from a
keen jealousy for her honour. Mr. Carlyle never
writes with more unaffected enthusiasm than when he
is describing some gallant exploit of his countrymen.
Hawke destroying the French fleet amid the storms
of the Bay of Biscay and the dangers of an unknown
shore, the column at Fontenoy, the horsemen who
followed Granby at Warburg none of these want their
sacred poet. He seems ever on the watch for some
exploit of British arms, eager to celebrate it. But, as
a rule, it is only the men that he can praise. The
officers he finds a sorry set. If they are without fear
of death, they are also without knowledge of war.
Trained soldiers laugh at them as " knowing abso-
lutely nothing whatever " of their profession ; and
" this goes from the ensign up to the general." In a
word, they are nothing but " courageous poles with
cocked hats," which evil, as well as all others, comes
from our constitutionalism, which prevents the recog-
nition of heroes, and denies them scope when found.
The only remedy is to renounce altogether our miser-
able system, and to throw the government of the
country unreservedly into the hands of those who are
worthy. Let us be ruled by " heroes," and all will be
well.



288 CARLYLE'S HISTORY OF

Now this high-sounding theory, whatever its merits,
is by no means new. It is at least as old as Plato.
Indeed it is a necessary result of speculations, which
consider politics in an ethical point of view, which
mix up politics with ethics. Plato's ideal statesman,
as developed in the Gorgias and the Kepublic, is
a minute and despotic teacher or trainer, fashioning
all men after the pattern he thinks best. In his
state only hero-philosophers are to bear sway. A
chosen few have been gifted with that gold beyond
price, which gives them the right to guide and govern
men. On these few nature has bestowed the sad
privilege of ruling, on others she imposes the obliga-
tion of obedience. 1 But then the difficulty is how
these hero-rulers are to be secured. Plato faces the
difficulty, and gives us the result in the social rules of
the Kepublic. He does not shrink from putting
plainly before us all the extraordinary social regula-
tions requisite to carry out such a theory of govern-
ment, the restraint and enforced uniformity to which
it leads. But Mr. Carlyle does not face this difficulty
at all. He preaches the duty of obedience to these
rulers when they appear; he says, that because we
have them not we are running down steep places like
" Gadarene swine ; " but he gives us no hint of how
we are to get them. It is perhaps true, that of all
forms of government, a wise and beneficent despotism
may do most for the happiness of the people. But
where are we to find this ? We fear that few rulers
of this stamp have ever existed, or are likely to exist
among the sons of men. Certainly the examples
which Mr. Carlyle has given from our own history
are not calculated to recommend his theory. Crom-
well, a great and sagacious prince, did all in his power
that his government should not be despotic ; great as

1 " Republic," v. 474.



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 289

were the merits of William in., a care for the interests
of the people of England was at no time the leading
motive of his policy ; and perilous would be the for-
tunes of a nation which lay at the mercy of the
greedy, and traitorous, and all-capable Marlborough.
Pitt's daring enthusiasm saved England in a dark and
troublous hour; but Pitt's career, marred by many
and grievous errors, shows nothing less than the
wisdom and statesman-like sagacity which could
safely be intrusted with uncontrolled power over the
destinies of a nation. No second Pitt, says Mr. Car-
lyle, in a spirit of dismal prophecy, can ever save
England again. But we are not told why. Pitt rose
to power under constitutionalism ; and under a phase
of constitutionalism far less alive to the influence of
genius than that under which we now live. If Mr.
Carlyle would point out the influences which in our
present state of society throw obstacles in the path
of genius, he would do good service ; for such influ-
ences there undoubtedly are. But he does no service
by simply calling his fellow-countrymen swine
whether of the Gadarene or any other breed.

Now, in this difficulty as to the supply of heroes
the difficulty which Plato failed to solve, and which
Mr. Carlyle has made no attempt to solve what does
it behove us to do ? Are we to waste ourselves in a
useless longing for them ? or are we rather to enter-
tain the belief that the true greatness of a nation
consists in being able to do without them ; that a
people is then best governed when its institutions are
such as allow of an open and easy expression of the
national will, when, in short, it can look for govern-
ment, not to the accident of one man, but to the free
exercise of the sense and knowledge of the intelligent
community. It is the old story told in new and
pompous words ; the old controversy, constitutionalism



290 CARLYLE S HISTORY OF

against despotism, which, in times of trouble, is always
brought up to puzzle the unwary. But, looking be-
yond plentiful though vague expressions of scorn and
disgust, what definite charges does Mr. Carlyle bring
against constitutional governments'? So far as we
can make out, one only, that they are badly served.
Our statesmen are incapable ; our diplomatists are
ignorant ; the men who lead our armies are " barbers'
poles." And this, the greatest calamity which can
befall a nation, is a necessity of a constitutional
government :

" But Votes, under pain of Death Official, are necessary
to your poor Walpole : and votes, I hear, are still bidden
for, and bought. You may buy them by money down
(which is felony, and theft simple, against the poor Nation) ;
or by preferments and appointments of the unmeritorious
man, which is felony double-distilled (far deadlier, though
more refined), and theft most compound ; theft, not of the
poor Nation's money, but of its soul and body so far, and of
all its moneys and temporal and spiritual interests whatso-
ever ; theft, you may say, of collops cut from its side, and
poison put into its heart, poor Nation ! Or again, you may
buy, not of the Third Estate in such ways, but of the Fourth,
or of the Fourth and Third together, in other still more
felonious and deadly, though refined ways. By doing clap-
traps, namely ; letting off Parliamentary blue-lights, to
awaken the Sleeping Swineries, and charm them into
diapason for you, what a music ! Or, without claptrap or
previous felony of your own, you may feloniously, in the
pinch of things, make truce with the evident Demagogos,
and Son of Nox and of Perdition, who has got 'within
those walls ' of yours, and is grown important to you by the
Awakened Swineries, risen into alt, that follow him. Him
you may, in your dire hunger of votes, consent to com ply
with ; his Anarchies you will pass for him into ' Laws,' as
you are pleased to term them ; instead of pointing to the
whipping-post, and to his wicked long ears, which are so
fit to be nailed there, and of sternly recommending silence,



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 291

which were the salutary thing. Buying may be done in a
great variety of ways. The question, How you buy? is not,
on the moral side, an important one. Nay, as there is a
beauty in going straight to the point, and by that course
there is likely to be the minimum of mendacity for you, per-
haps the direct money-method is a shade less damnable than
any of the others since discovered ; while, in regard to prac-
tical damage resulting, it is of childlike harmlessness in
comparison ! . . .

" I am struck silent, looking at much that goes on under
these stars ; and find that misappointment of your Captains,
of your Exemplars and Guiding and Governing individuals,
higher and lower, is a fatal business always; and that
especially, as highest instance of it, which includes all the
lower ones, this of solemnly calling Chief Captain, and King
by the Grace of God, a gentleman who is not so (and
seems to be so mainly by Malice of the Devil, and by the
very great and nearly unforgiveable indifference of Mankind
to resist the Devil in that particular province, for the
present), is the deepest fountain of human wretchedness,
and the head mendacity capable of being done ! ." Vol.
iii. pp. 374-5, 433.

Doubtless there is much truth in all this. It is
especially true of the lower ranks of the public service.
So far as regards these, England then was, and pro-
bably now is, worse served than any country in the
world. We would especially recommend Mr. Carlyle's
observations on this theme to those wiseacres who
think that India can be best governed by any chance
son of a Director, and regard it as a frightful hardship
that diplomatists should be required to know French,
and that soldiers should be expected to have mastered
the arduous accomplishments of writing and spelling ;
arguing that to insist on such advanced knowledge is
absurd, because there have been eminent men who did
not possess it ; in other words, that because Frederic the
Great never could spell, therefore every boy who can't



292 CARLYLE'S HISTORY OF

spell will make an excellent officer. In all professions
and employments in England, rising merit is less en-
couraged by the Government than in any other
country. This mal-administration of patronage is
doubtless an evil, and it is an evil connected with our
system of Parliamentary Government ; yet we have
our checks, the vague check of public opinion, the
more active check of her Majesty's opposition ; and
the latter of these is supposed to be pretty vigorous
just at present.

The case against constitutionalism is not so clear
as regards the higher offices. It cannot be said that
here we are in any way worse than our neighbours.
Mr. Carlyle often makes himself merry with our way
of choosing a king to rule over us. It does sound
comical enough our picking up a Hanoverian gentle-
man, who knew nothing about England and cared
less, who could not even speak our language, and
making him our chief and leader; first binding up
tightly in constitutional restraints lest he might do us
a mischief. But on the whole we prefer this system,
with the results to which it leads, to the system of
investing a dynasty of Bourbons or Hapsburgs with
uncontrolled power, in the hope that by some wondrous
concourse of atoms a hero may rise up among them.
Again, as to our chief men under the king, we do not
see that we are worse than others. Certainly, in the
times Mr. Carlyle writes of, statesmen like the Pelhams
and Bute, soldiers like Lord George Sackville from
sulks or cowardice refusing to charge at Minden, or
Howe fiddling in Philadelphia while America was
slipping from the grasp of England, do not form a
pleasant subject for contemplation, any more than
the Aberdeen administration and Crimean War of our
own day. Nay, the older time has rather the better of



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 293

it, in that they had at least the satisfaction of shooting
an admiral, whereas our miscarriage ended in the
ingenious device of a Chelsea inquiry for white-wash-
ing everybody, and in worrying almost to death the
man to whose courage we were indebted for a know-
ledge of our shortcomings. Still, what nation fared
better in the Seven Years' War ? Not France, which
put Marshal Soubise at the head of her armies, and
was rewarded with the rout of Eossbach. Not Austria,
which sent out Prince Karl five times to lead her
armies to defeat, until at last Leuthen was too much
even for her patience; which threw away her only
chance of victory by depriving Loudon of his com-
mand because he had taken Schweidnitz the most
brilliant exploit of the war without the knowledge
of the Aulic Council or the Empress. Nay, not even
Prussia ; for merit had no chance of rising in an army
officered by nobles alone. There is no harder matter
than to secure that only those who are fit for high
command should attain it. But in this particular
neither reason nor history convinces us that constitu-
tional governments are worse than despotic govern-
ments. We cannot see that Parliaments are more
likely to be affected by favouritism, or any other
corrupt influence, than kings and prostitutes. Surely
George in. and Bute, with a Parliament, were better
than Louis xv. and Madame de Pompadour without
one. Corruption, both in the shape of bribery and of
the promotion of incompetence, prevailed most when
Parliaments were unreformed and public opinion
weak.

He must be a confident critic who can animadvert
on the works of a man of genius without any feeling
of misgiving. Such feelings must be unusually fre-



294 CARLYLE'S HISTORY OF

quent and strong when it is thought right to dissent
from, and even to condemn, the opinions of such a
writer as Mr. Carlyle. We all owe him so much, that
to do this seems not only presumptuous, but un-
grateful. But it is precisely because his power is so
great that his errors may not be passed over. He
cannot escape on the plea of being harmless. A few
years ago his influence was unbounded ; and now, if
less extensive, it is not less potent. To him we owe it
(not to take meaner instances) that the deepest art
critic England can show, and one of the greatest
masters of the English language, has forsaken his
true vocation, and become a fierce denouncer of ima-
ginary evil, and a foolish prophet of woe to come.
And this "Life of Frederic" is, we verily believe,
more calculated to do mischief than anything Mr.
Carlyle has written. It contains the fullest exposition
of his views, and it carries out these views unflinch-
ingly in practice. In composition, style, and arrange-
ment, a falling off from his former self cannot fail to
be remarked ; but his humour is as rich, his power of
description as brilliant as ever. It is in tone and
sentiment that his deterioration is most painfully
obvious. It may not greatly matter what any one
may think of the man Frederic: he is beyond this
world's foolish judgments. And it is no pleasure to
dwell upon the faults which marred a character in so
many points entitled to our respect. But while we
shrink from rash condemnation or vulgar abuse of the
man, we must not be blinded as to the real nature of
his actions. It does matter very greatly that the
verdicts of history should not be reversed, that evil
should not be turned into good, at the bidding of
genius ; that men should not be persuaded that
vigour and fortitude can compensate for rapacity and



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 295

faithlessness. And it does greatly matter also that
men should not be driven into vague dissatisfaction
with all things round them alike with the religion
they profess and the freedom they enjoy. Mr. Carlyle's



Online LibraryHenry H LancasterEssays and reviews → online text (page 23 of 38)