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to extend my miseries into future times. I have still resources. A
pistol-shot can deliver me from my sorrows and my life, and I think
a merciful God would not damn me for that, but, taking pity on me,
would, in exchange for a life of wretchedness, grant me salvation. This
is whitherward despair can lead a young person whose blood is not so
quiescent as if he were seventy.

“I have received a letter from the king, all agog about the princess.
When his first fire of approbation is spent, you might, praising her
all the while, lead him to notice her faults. _Mon Dieu_, has he not
already seen what an ill-assorted marriage comes to - my sister of
Anspach and her husband, who hate one another like the fire? He has a
thousand vexations from it every day.

“And what aim has the king? If it is to assure himself of me, that is
not the way. Madam of Eisenach might do it, but a fool not. On the
contrary, it is morally impossible to love the cause of our misery. The
king is reasonable, and I am persuaded he will understand this himself.”

To his sister, Fritz wrote, about the same time, in a more subdued
strain, referring simply to his recent life in Cüstrin: “Thus far
my lot has been a tolerably happy one. I have lived quietly in the
garrison. My flute, my books, and a few affectionate friends have made
my way of life there sufficiently agreeable. They now want to force me
to abandon all this in order to marry me to the Princess of Bevern,
whom I do not know. Must one always be tyrannized over without any hope
of a change? Still, if my dear sister were only here, I should endure
all with patience.”

Queen Sophie, who still clung pertinaciously to the idea of the English
match, was, of course, bitterly hostile to the nuptial alliance with
Elizabeth. Indeed, the queen still adhered to the idea of the double
English marriage, and exhausted all the arts of diplomacy and intrigue
in the endeavor to secure the Princess Amelia for the Crown Prince,
and to unite the Prince of Wales to a younger sister of Wilhelmina.
Very naturally she cherished feelings of strong antipathy toward
Elizabeth, who seemed to be the cause, though the innocent cause, of
the frustration of her plans. She consequently spoke of the princess
in the most contemptuous manner, and did every thing in her power to
induce her son to regard her with repugnance. But nothing could change
the inexorable will of the king. Early in March the doomed Princess
Elizabeth, a beautiful, artless child of seventeen years, who had seen
but little of society, and was frightened in view of the scenes before
her, was brought to Berlin to be betrothed to the Crown Prince, whom
she had never seen, of whom she could not have heard any very favorable
reports, and from whom she had never received one word of tenderness.
The wreck of happiness of this young princess, which was borne so
meekly and uncomplainingly, is one of the saddest which history
records. Just before her arrival, Fritz wrote to his sister as follows.
The letter was dated Berlin, March 6, 1732:

“MY DEAREST SISTER, - Next Monday comes my betrothal, which will
be done just as yours was. The person in question is neither
beautiful nor ugly; not wanting in sense, but very ill brought
up, timid, and totally behind in fashionable address. That is
the candid portrait of the princess. You may judge by that, my
dearest sister, if I find her to my taste or not.

“You never can believe, my adorable sister, how concerned I am
about your happiness. All my wishes centre there, and every
moment of my life I form such wishes. You may see by this that
I preserve still that sincere friendship which has united our
hearts from our tenderest years. Recognize at least, my dear
sister, that you did me a sensible wrong when you suspected me of
fickleness toward you, and believed false reports of my listening
to tale-bearers - me, who love only you, and whom neither absence
nor lying rumors could change in respect of you. At least, don’t
again believe such things on my score, and never mistrust me till
you have had clear proof, or till God has forsaken me, or I have
lost my wits.

“Your most humble brother and servant,
“FREDERICK.”

The betrothal took place in the Berlin palace on Monday evening, March
10, 1732. Many distinguished guests from foreign courts were present.
The palace was brilliantly illuminated. The Duke and Duchess of Bevern,
with their son, had accompanied their daughter Elizabeth to Berlin. The
youthful pair, who were now to be betrothed only, not married, stood in
the centre of the grand saloon, surrounded by the brilliant assemblage.
With punctilious observance of court etiquette, they exchanged rings,
and plighted their mutual faith. The old king embraced the bride
tenderly. The queen-mother, hoping that the marriage would never take
place, saluted her with repulsive coldness. And, worst of all, the
prince himself scarcely treated her with civility. The sufferings of
this lovely princess must have been terrible. The testimony to her
beauty, her virtues, her amiable character, is uncontradicted. The
following well-merited tribute to her worth is from the pen of Lord
Dover:

[Illustration: THE BETROTHAL.]

“Elizabeth Christina, who became the wife of Frederick the Great, was a
princess adorned with all the virtues which most dignify human nature;
religious, benevolent, charitable, affectionate, of the strictest
and most irreproachable conduct herself, yet indulgent and forgiving
for the faults of others. Her whole life was passed in fulfilling the
circle of her duties, and, above all, in striving without ceasing to
act in the way she thought would be most pleasing to her husband,
whom she respected, admired, and even loved, in spite of his constant
neglect of her.”

Baron Bielfeld, a member of the court, thus describes her personal
appearance: “Her royal highness is tall of stature, and her figure is
perfect. Never have I seen a more regular shape in all its proportions.
Her neck, her hands, and her feet might serve as models to the painter.
Her hair, which I have particularly admired, is of a most beautiful
flaxen, but somewhat inclining to white, and shines, when not powdered,
like rows of pearls. Her complexion is remarkably fine; and in her
large blue eyes vivacity and sweetness are so happily blended as to
make them perfectly animated.

“The princess has an open countenance; her eyebrows are neat and
regular; her nose is small and angular, but very elegantly defined; and
her coral lips and well-turned neck are equally admirable. Goodness
is strongly marked in her countenance; and we may say, from her whole
figure, that the Graces have exerted themselves in forming a great
princess. Her highness talks but little, especially at table, but all
she says is sterling sense. She appears to have an uncommon genius,
which she ornaments by the continual study of the best French authors.”

The reception of the princess was so cruel, by Queen Sophie and her
younger daughter Charlotte, that the inexperienced maiden of but
seventeen summers must have been perfectly wretched. But she could only
bear her anguish in silence. There was nothing for her to say, and
nothing for her to do. She was led, by resistless powers, a victim to
the sacrifice.

About three weeks after this sad betrothal, Fritz wrote to his sister
Wilhelmina, under date of Berlin, March 24, 1732, as follows:

“God be praised, my dearest sister, that you are better. Nobody can
love you more tenderly than I do. As to the Princess of Bevern, the
queen bids me answer that you need not style her ‘Highness,’ but that
you may write to her quite as to an indifferent princess. As to
‘kissing the hands,’ I assure you I have not kissed them nor will kiss
them. They are not pretty enough to tempt me that way.

“Believe, my charming sister, that never brother in the world loved
with such tenderness a sister so charming as mine.”

The betrothed princess, bewildered, wounded, heart-broken, returned
with her parents to her home, there to await the consummation of her
sacrifice by being married to a man who had never addressed to her a
loving word, and who, in his heart, had resolved never to receive her
as his wife. The Crown Prince, unfeeling and reckless, returned to his
dissolute life in garrison at Ruppin. The queen continued an active
correspondence with England, still hoping to break the engagement of
her son with Elizabeth, and to secure for him the Princess Amelia.

Ruppin, where the Crown Prince continued to reside for several years,
was a small, dull town of about two thousand inhabitants. The only life
it exhibited was found in the music and drillings of the garrison.
The only important event in its history was the removal of the Crown
Prince there. Of what is called society there was none. The hamlet
was situated in the midst of a flat, marshy country, most of it quite
uncultivated. The region abounded in peat bogs, and dark, still lakes,
well stocked with fish.

A comfortable house, with garden and summer-house, was provided for
the Crown Prince. He occasionally gave a dinner-party to his brother
officers; and from the summer-house rockets were thrown into the sky,
to the great gratification of the rustic peasantry.

Both father and son had become by this time fully satisfied that their
tastes and characters were so different that it was not best for them
to live near each other. The prince spent much of his time with his
flute. He also engaged in quite a wide range of reading to occupy the
listless hours. Works of the most elevated and instructive character
especially interested him, such as history, biography, moral and
intellectual philosophy, and polite literature in its higher branches
of poetry and the drama. “What mankind have done and been in this
world,” writes Carlyle, “and what the wisest men, poetical or other,
have thought about mankind and their world, this is what he evidently
had the appetite for - appetite insatiable, which lasted him to the
very end of his days.”

It is unquestionable that the mental discipline acquired by this
elevated course, to which he consecrated so diligently his hours,
prepared him for the wonderful career upon which he soon entered, and
enabled him to act with efficiency which filled Europe with his renown.

It appears, moreover, that Fritz devoted himself very assiduously to
his military duties, earnestly studying the art of war, and making
himself familiar with the achievements of the most renowned commanders.
His frugal father allowed him but a very meagre income for a
prince - not above four thousand five hundred dollars a year. With this
sum it was scarcely possible to keep up even the appearance of such an
establishment as belonged to his rank. Such glimpses as we get of his
moral and social developments during this period are not favorable.
He paid no respect to the claims of religion, and was prone to revile
Christianity and its advocates. He was particularly annoyed if the
chaplain uttered, in his sermons, any sentiments which the prince
thought had a bearing against the sensual indulgences and the wild
amusements of himself and his companions. On one occasion the chaplain
said in his sermon, “There was Herod, who had Herodias to dance before
him, and he gave her John the Baptist’s head for her pains.”

The prince assumed to make a personal application of this. Herod meant
the Crown Prince; Herodias, his boon companions; and John the Baptist
was the chaplain. To punish the offender, the prince, with several
brother officers, went at night, smashed the windows of the chaplain,
and threw in a shower of fire-crackers upon him and his wife, who was
in delicate health, driving them in dismay out into the stable-yard.
The stern old king was very indignant at this conduct. Grumkow affirms,
we hope falsely, that the prince threw the whole charge upon his
associate officers, and that they were punished for the deed, while he
escaped.

Thus the summer of 1732 passed away. In November Wilhelmina returned
from Baireuth to Berlin on a visit. She remained at home for ten
months, leaving her babe, Frederica, at Baireuth. There must have
been some urgent reason to have induced her to make this long visit,
for her reception, by both father and mother, was far from cordial.
Neither of them had been really in favor of the match with the young
prospective Margraf of Baireuth, but had yielded to it from the force
of circumstances. The journey to Berlin was long and cold. Her mother
greeted her child with the words, “What do you want here? What is a
mendicant like you come hither for?” The next day her father, who had
been upon a journey, came home. His daughter had been absent for two
years. And yet this strange father addressed her in the following cruel
and sarcastic words:

“Ah! here you are. I am glad to see you.” Then, taking a light, he
carefully examined her from head to foot. After a moment’s silence, he
added, “How changed you are! I am sorry for you, on my word. You have
not bread to eat, and but for me you might go a-begging. I am a poor
man myself; not able to give you much; will do what I can. I will give
you now and then twenty or thirty shillings, as my affairs permit. It
will always be something to assuage your want. And you, madam,” turning
to the queen, “will sometimes give her an old dress, for the poor child
hasn’t a shift to her back.”

This merciless banter from her parents cut the unhappy princess to the
heart. With the utmost difficulty she refrained from bursting into
convulsive crying. Her husband seems to have been a kind man, inspired
with true and tender affection for his wife. But much of the time he
was necessarily absent on regimental duty. The old Marquis of Baireuth,
her husband’s father, was penurious, irascible, and an inebriate.
Wilhelmina often suffered for the necessaries of life. There seemed to
be no refuge for her. The home of her step-parents was unendurable, and
the home of her childhood was still more so. Few and far between must
have been the joys which visited her crushed heart.

A few days after her arrival at Berlin, Fritz, on short leave of
absence, ran over from Ruppin, and had a brief interview with his
sister, whom he had not seen since her marriage. The royal family
supped together, with the exception of the king, who was absent. At
the table the conversation turned upon the future princess royal,
Elizabeth. The queen said, addressing Wilhelmina, and fixing her eyes
on Fritz,

“Your brother is in despair at the idea of marrying her. And he is not
wrong. She is an actual fool. She can only answer whatever is said to
her by _yes_ or _no_, accompanied by a silly laugh, which is painful to
hear.”

Charlotte added, in terms still more bitter and unpardonable, “Your
majesty is not yet aware of all her merit. I was one morning at her
toilet. I remarked that she is deformed. Her gown is stuffed on one
side, and she has one hip higher than the other.” The cruel girl even
went so far as to accuse the princess of suffering from loathsome
ulcers. This discourse was uttered in a loud voice, in presence of the
domestics. Fritz was evidently greatly annoyed, and blushed deeply,
but said nothing. Immediately after supper he retired. Wilhelmina
soon followed him, and they met again privately in Wilhelmina’s room.
The princess asked her brother how he was now getting along with his
father. He replied,

“My situation changes every moment. Sometimes I am in favor, sometimes
in disgrace. My chief happiness consists in my being absent from him.
I lead a quiet and tranquil life with my regiment at Ruppin. Study and
music are my principal occupations. I have built me a house there, and
laid out a garden where I can read and walk about.”

“Then,” writes Wilhelmina, “as to his bride, I begged him to tell me
candidly if the portrait the queen and my sister had been making of her
were the true one.”

“We are alone,” Fritz replied, “and I will conceal nothing from you.
The queen, by her miserable intrigues, has been the source of our
misfortunes. Scarcely were you gone when she began again with England.
She wished to substitute our sister Charlotte for you, and to contrive
her marriage with the Prince of Wales.

“You may easily imagine that she used every endeavor for the success of
her plan, and also to marry me to the English Princess Amelia. The king
was informed of this design from its commencement. He was much nettled
at these fresh intrigues, which have caused many quarrels between
the queen and him. Seckendorf finally took part in the affair, and
counseled the king to make an end of all these plans by concluding my
marriage with the Princess of Bevern.

“The queen can not console herself for this reverse. She vents her
despair in the abuse of that poor princess. She wanted me to refuse the
marriage decidedly, and told me that she should not mind my quarreling
again with the king provided I would only show firmness, in which
case she would be well able to support me. I would not follow her
advice, and declared to her plainly that I did not choose to incur the
displeasure of my father, which had already caused me so much suffering.

“With regard to the princess herself, I do not dislike her as much as I
pretend. I affect not to be able to bear her, in order to make the more
merit of my obedience to the king. She is pretty - a complexion of lily
and rose. Her features are delicate, and her whole face is that of a
beautiful person. She has no breeding, and dresses ill. But I flatter
myself that when she comes here you will have the goodness to assist
in forming her. I recommend her to you, my dear sister; and I hope you
will take her under your protection.”

On Monday, the 8th of June, 1733, the Crown Prince left Ruppin, and,
joining his father and mother, set out, with a suitable retinue, for
the ducal palace of Salzdahlum, in Brunswick, where the marriage
ceremony was to be solemnized. Fritz was twenty-one years of age.
Elizabeth was not quite eighteen. The wedding took place at noon of
Friday, the 12th, in the beautiful chapel of the palace, with the usual
display of splendor and rejoicing. The mansion, situated a few miles
from Wolfenbüttel, was renowned for its gardens and picture-galleries,
and was considered one of the finest in Europe.

The ceremony was performed by the Reverend Johann Lorenz Mosheim,
favorably known throughout Christendom for his treatise upon
Ecclesiastical History. Immediately after the nuptial benediction had
been pronounced, Fritz wrote as follows to Wilhelmina:

“Salzdahlum, Noon, June 12, 1733.

“MY DEAR SISTER, - A minute since the whole ceremony was
finished. God be praised, it is over. I hope you will take it as
a mark of my friendship that I give you the first news of it. I
hope that I shall have the honor to see you again soon, and to
assure you, my dear sister, that I am wholly yours. I write in
great haste, and add nothing that is merely formal. Adieu.

“FREDERICK.”

The queen behaved very unamiably, “plunged in black melancholy,” and
treating her new daughter-in-law with great contempt. There have been
many sad weddings, but this was surely one of the saddest. Frederick
had often declared that he never would receive the princess as his
wife. In the evening, just after the newly-married couple had retired
to their room, through the arrangement of the prince, a false alarm of
fire was raised by some of his friends. This furnished him with the
opportunity to rush from the apartment. He did not return. Ever after
he saw the princess but unfrequently, treating her with cold politeness
when they met, though on public occasions giving her, with all external
forms of civility, the position of honor to which, as his wedded wife,
she was entitled.

It was apparently easy for the Crown Prince to relinquish Amelia.
But the English princess, being very unhappy at home, had fixed her
affections upon Frederick with the most romantic tenderness. In beauty
of person, in chivalric reputation, in exalted rank, he was every thing
an imaginative maiden could have desired. She regarded him probably
as, in heart, true to her. He had often sent his protestations to the
English court that he would never marry any one but Amelia. Though the
marriage ceremony had been performed with Elizabeth, he recognized
only its legal tie. Poor Amelia was heart-crushed. Earth had no longer
any joys for her. She never married, but wore the miniature of the
prince upon her breast for the rest of her days. We have no record of
the weary years during which grief was consuming her life. Her eyelids
became permanently swollen with weeping. And when, at the age of sixty,
she died, the miniature of the Crown Prince was still found resting
upon her true and faithful heart. Amelia and Elizabeth - how sad their
fate! Through no fault of their own, earth was to them both truly a
vale of tears. The only relief from the contemplation of the terrible
tragedies of earth is found in the hope that the sufferers may find
compensation in a heavenly home.

On Tuesday, the 16th, the King and Queen of Prussia left Salzdahlum
to return to Potsdam. At the close of the week the Crown Prince and
his bride, escorted by a brilliant retinue of Brunswick notabilities,
set out on their return. In most of the intervening towns they were
received with great pomp. On the 27th, the last day of the next week,
the bridal pair had a grand entrance into Berlin. The troops were all
out upon parade. The clang of bells, the roar of cannon, and peals of
martial music filled the air. All the inhabitants of Berlin and the
surrounding region were in the streets, which were spanned by triumphal
arches, and garlanded with flowers. Gladly would the princess have
exchanged all this for one loving word from her husband. But that word
was not uttered. Two days before the grand reception at Berlin the
princess arrived at Potsdam. Here Wilhelmina, for the first time, met
her cruelly-wronged and heart-crushed sister-in-law. In the following
terms she describes the interview:

“The king led the princess into the queen’s apartment. Then seeing,
after she had saluted us all, that she was much heated and her hair
deranged, he bade my brother take her to her own room. I followed them
thither. My brother said to her, introducing me,

“‘This is a sister I adore, and to whom I am obliged beyond measure.
She has the goodness to promise me that she will take care of you and
help you with her good counsel. I wish you to respect her beyond even
the king and queen, and not to take the least step without her advice.
Do you understand?’

“I embraced the Princess Royal,” Wilhelmina continues, “and gave her
every assurance of my attachment. But she remained like a statue, not
answering a word. Her people not being come, I arranged her hair and
readjusted her dress a little, without the least sign of thanks or any
answer to all my caressings. My brother got impatient at last, and said
aloud,

“‘Devil’s in the blockhead! Thank my sister, then?’

“She made me a courtesy on the model of that of Agnes in the _Ecole des
Femmes_. I took her back to the queen’s apartment, little edified by
such a display of talent.”

It is probable that the princess, in the strangeness of her position,
very young and inexperienced, and insulted by cruel neglect, in the
freshness of her great grief dared not attempt to utter a syllable,
lest her voice should break in uncontrollable sobbings. The Crown
Prince returned to Ruppin, leaving the princess at Berlin. Charles,
the heir-apparent to the ducal crown of Brunswick, and brother of the
Princess Elizabeth, about a week after the arrival of the princess
in Berlin, was married to Fritz’s sister Charlotte - that same wicked
Charlotte who had flirted with Wilhelmina’s intended, and who had so
shamelessly slandered the betrothed of her brother. Several fêtes
followed these marriages, with the usual concomitants of enjoyment and
disappointment. Wilhelmina thus describes one of them:

“The next day there was a great promenade. We were all in phaetons,
dressed out in our best. All the nobility followed in carriages,
of which there were eighty-five. The king, in a Berline, led the
procession. He had beforehand ordered the round we were to take, and
very soon fell asleep. There came on a tremendous storm of wind and



Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 12 of 52)