John S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) Abbott.

History of Frederick the Second online

. (page 13 of 52)
Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 13 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

rain, in spite of which we continued our procession at a foot’s pace.
It may easily be imagined what state we were in. We were as wet as if
we had been in the river. Our hair hung about our ears, and our gowns
and head-dresses were destroyed. We got out at last, after three hours’
rain, at Monbijou, where there was to be a great illumination and ball.
I never saw any thing so comical as all these ladies, looking like so
many Xantippes, with their dresses sticking to their persons. We could
not even dry ourselves, and were obliged to remain all the evening in
our wet clothes.”



The Castle at Reinsberg. - Slender Purses of Fritz and Wilhelmina. -
Liberality of Fritz. - The Ball at Monbijou. - Adventures of Fritz
and Wilhelmina. - Letters. - The Interview. - Anecdote of the King. -
Wilhelmina’s Account of her Brother. - Mental and Physical Maladies
of the King. - Frederick’s cruel Neglect of his Wife. - Daily Habits
of the young Prince. - The shameful Carousal.

About six miles from Ruppin there was the village of Reinsberg,
containing about one thousand inhabitants, clustered around an ancient
dilapidated castle. Frederick was with his regiment in Ruppin. The
Princess Royal, his wife, resided in Berlin. There was an ostensible
reason for this separation in the fact that there was no suitable
mansion for the royal couple at Ruppin. The castle, with its extensive
grounds, belonged to a French refugee. The king purchased it, and
assigned it to his son. As the whole estate was in a condition of
extreme dilapidation, Frederick immediately commenced improvements and
repairs. The building, the gardens, the forests, and the surrounding
lands rapidly assumed a new aspect, until Reinsberg became one of the
most attractive spots in Europe.

The situation of the castle was admirable. A beautiful sheet of water
bathed its walls on one side, while a dense forest of oaks and beeches
rose like an amphitheatre upon the other. The whole edifice assumed
the form of a square, with two towers connected by a double colonnade,
richly ornamented with vases and statuary. Over the majestic portal
was inscribed the motto, _Frederico, tranquillitatem colenti_.[23]
The interior of the palace, in the magnitude and arrangement of the
apartments, their decoration and furniture, was still more imposing
than the exterior. The grand saloon was a superb hall, the walls lined
with mirrors and costly marbles, and the ceiling painted by the most
accomplished artists of the day. The garden, with its avenues, and
bowers, and labyrinth of bloom, extended the whole length of the lake,
upon whose waters two beautiful barges floated, ever ready, under the
impulse of sails or oars, to convey parties on excursions of pleasure.

This immense building presented a front of nearly a thousand feet;
for, being in a quadrangular form, it fronted four ways. It was all
faced with hammered stone. In one of the towers this bachelor husband
constructed his library. It was a magnificent apartment, provided with
every convenience, and decorated with the most tasteful adornments
which the arts could furnish. Its windows commanded an enchanting
prospect of the lake, with its tufted islands and the densely wooded
heights beyond.

The apartments prepared for the Princess Royal were also very
magnificent. Her parlor was twenty feet high. It had six windows,
three opening in the main front toward the town, and the other three
opening toward the interior court. The spaces between the windows were
covered with immense mirrors, so arranged as to display the ceiling,
beautifully painted by one of the finest artists of the day. The artist
had spread his colors with such delicacy and skill, so exquisitely
blending light and shade, that the illusion was almost perfect. The
spectator felt that the real sky, with its fleecy clouds and infinite
depth of blue, overarched him.

Three years were occupied in enlarging and decorating this palace.
In the mean time the Princess Elizabeth resided in Berlin, or in a
small country house provided for her at Schönhausen. The Crown Prince
occasionally visited her, always treating her with the marked respect
due a lady occupying her high position.

The king was by no means pleased with the costly luxuries with which
his son was surrounding himself. But he had, in a very considerable
degree, lost his control over the Crown Prince. Frederick was now
twenty-one years of age. He had married the niece of the Emperor of
Germany. The emperor had probably once saved his life, and was disposed
particularly to befriend him, that he might secure his alliance when
he should become King of Prussia. Frederick was now the rising sun,
and his father the setting luminary. All the courts in Europe were
interested in winning the regards of the Crown Prince.

The king, as we have mentioned, allotted to his son a very moderate
income, barely enough for the necessary expenses of his establishment.
But the prince borrowed money in large sums from the Empress of
Germany, from Russia, from England. It was well known that, should his
life be preserved, he would soon have ample means to repay the loan.
Frederick William probably found it expedient to close his eyes against
these transactions. But he did not attempt to conceal the chagrin with
which he regarded the literary and voluptuous tastes of his son.

“When I am dead,” he said, petulantly, “you will see Berlin full of
madmen and freethinkers, and the sort of people who walk about the

Wilhelmina’s purse was generally empty, and she was often in great want
of money. Her penurious father had married her below her rank that he
might escape settling upon her a dowry. Though her husband was heir to
the marquisate of Baireuth, his father was still living. That father
was a drunkard and a miser. It seems that the son received but little
more than his wages as colonel in the army. Wilhelmina records that one
day her brother Fritz came to her and said,

“Seckendorf” (the embassador of the emperor) “sometimes sends me money,
of which I have great need. I have already taken measures that he
should procure some for you. My _galleons_ arrived yesterday, and I
will divide their contents with you.”

He then gave her a thousand crowns. Wilhelmina manifested a little
natural reluctance in receiving the money. But he shrugged his
shoulders and said,

“Take them freely. The empress sends me as much money as I wish. I
assure you that by this means I get rid of the demon of poverty as soon
as I find him approaching me.”

“The empress, then,” added Wilhelmina, “is a better exorcist than other

“Yes,” the Crown Prince replied; “and I promise you that she will drive
away your demon as well as mine.”

Poland, ever in turmoil, was at this time choosing a king. The emperor
advocated the claims of August of Saxony. France urged Stanislaus, a
Polish noble, whose daughter had married the French dauphin. War ensued
between France and Germany. Frederick William became the ally of the
emperor. An army of ten thousand men, admirably equipped and organized,
was upon the march for the Rhine, to act with the emperor against
France. The Crown Prince was very eager to join the expedition, and
obtained permission to do so.

On the evening of the 29th of June, 1734, there was a grand ball at
the little palace of Monbijou. At three o’clock in the morning the
Crown Prince changed his ball-dress for a military suit, and with his
staff set out at full speed for the seat of war. They traveled in
carriages, by post, night and day, hastening to take part in the siege
of Philipsburg. A little after midnight on the morning of the 2d of
July, they reached Hof, having traveled two hundred miles, and having
two hundred miles still farther to go. At Hof the prince was within
thirty-five miles of Baireuth, to which place Wilhelmina had some time
before returned. He was very anxious to see her. But his father had
strictly prohibited his going through Baireuth, under the assumption
that it would occasion loss of time. Frederick made arrangements with
Wilhelmina, who was in a very delicate state of health, to meet him at
Berneck, about twelve miles from Baireuth. But, unfortunately, one of
the carriages which conveyed the Crown Prince and his companions lost a
wheel, which detained them several hours. The commands of the king were
explicit that the Crown Prince should not be separated from the rest of
the company.

Thus Wilhelmina, upon reaching Berneck, according to appointment,
did not find her brother there, and could hear nothing from him. The
prince, upon his arrival at Hof, wrote as follows to his sister

“Hof, July 2, 1734, not long after 4 A.M.

“MY DEAR SISTER, - Here I am, within six leagues of a sister I
love, and I have to decide that it will be impossible to see
her after all. I have never so lamented the misfortune of not
depending on myself as at this moment. The king being very sour
sweet on my score, I dare not risk the least thing. A week from
next Monday, when he arrives himself, I should be queerly treated
in the camp if I were found to have disobeyed orders.

“The queen commands me to give you a thousand regards from her.
She appeared much affected at your illness. But I can not warrant
you how sincere it was, for she is totally changed, and I no
longer comprehend her. She has done me all the hurt with the king
she could. As to Sophie, she is no longer the same. She approves
all the king says or does, and is charmed with her big clown of a

“The king is more difficult than ever. He is content with
nothing. He has no gratitude for whatever favors one can do him.
As to his health, it is one day better, another worse; but the
legs they are always swelled. Judge what my joy must be to get
out of that turpitude; for the king will only stay a fortnight at
most in camp.

“Adieu! my adorable sister. I am so tired I can not stir, having
left on Tuesday night, or rather Wednesday morning, at three
o’clock, from a ball at Monbijou, and arrived here this Friday
morning at four. I recommend myself to your gracious remembrance,
and am, for my own part, till death, dearest sister, your


In the mean time, Wilhelmina, disappointed in not finding her brother,
wrote to him the following account of her adventures:

“I got to Berneck at ten. The heat was excessive. I found myself quite
worn out with the little journey I had taken. I alighted at the house
which had been got ready for my brother. We waited for him, and in
vain waited till three in the afternoon. At three we lost patience;
had dinner served without him. While we were at table there came on
a frightful thunder-storm. I have witnessed nothing so terrible. The
thunder roared and reverberated among the rocky cliffs which begirdle
Berneck, and it seemed as if the world were going to perish. A deluge
of rain succeeded the thunder.

“It was four o’clock, and I could not understand what had become of my
brother. I had sent out several persons on horseback to get tidings of
him, and none of them came back. At length, in spite of all my prayers,
the hereditary prince[24] himself would go in search. I was in cruel
agitations. These cataracts of rain are very dangerous in the mountain
countries. The roads get suddenly overflowed, and accidents often
happen. I thought for certain one had happened to my brother, or to the
hereditary prince.

“At last, about nine, somebody brought word that my brother had
changed his route and gone to Culmbach, there to stay overnight. I was
for setting out thither. Culmbach is twenty miles from Berneck. But
the roads are frightful, and full of precipices. Every body rose in
opposition. And whether I would or not they put me into the carriage
for Himmelkron, which is only about ten miles off. We had like to have
got drowned on the road, the waters were so swollen. The horses could
not cross but by swimming.

“I arrived at last about one in the morning. I instantly threw myself
on a bed. I was like to die of weariness, and in mortal terror that
something had happened to my brother or the hereditary prince. The
latter relieved me on his own score. He arrived at last about four
o’clock; had still no news of my brother. I was beginning to doze a
little, when they came to inform me that M. von Knobelsdorf wished to
speak to me from the Prince Royal. I darted out of bed and ran to him.”

Knobelsdorf was the bearer of a second letter from the Crown Prince.
The first had not reached her. Frederick, having taken an hour or two
of sleep at Hof, rose much refreshed, and, continuing his journey about
fifteen miles farther, wrote this second letter as follows to his

“Munchberg, July 2, 1734.

MY DEAREST SISTER, - I am in despair that I can not satisfy my
impatience and my duty, to throw myself at your feet this day.
But, alas! dear sister, it does not depend upon me. We poor
princes are obliged to wait here till our generals come up. We
dare not go along without them. They broke a wheel in Gera.
Hearing nothing of them since, we are absolutely forced to wait
here. Judge in what a mood I am, and what sorrow must be mine.
Express order not to go by Baireuth or Anspach. Forbear, dear
sister, to torment me on things not depending on myself at all.

“I waver between hope and fear of paying my court to you. I hope
it might still be at Berneck, if you could contrive a road into
the Nürnberg highway again, avoiding Baireuth; otherwise I dare
not go. The bearer, Captain Knobelsdorf, will apprise you of
every particular. Let him settle something that may be possible.
This is how I stand at present: instead of having to expect some
favor from the king, I get nothing but chagrin. But what is more
cruel upon me than all is that you are ill. God, in his grace, be
pleased to help you, and restore that health which I so much wish
for you.


Arrangements were made for them to meet at eight o’clock Saturday
morning, at the Lake House, situated on a small island in a beautiful
artificial sheet of water a couple of miles north of Baireuth. The
prince thus obeyed the letter of the order not to go to Baireuth. The
following account of the interview which ensued is from the pen of

“My brother overwhelmed me with caresses, but found me in so pitiable
a state that he could not restrain his tears. I was not able to stand
on my limbs, and felt like to faint every moment, so weak was I. He
told me that the king was very angry at the margraf for not letting his
son make the campaign. I told him all the margraf’s reasons, and added
surely they were good, in respect of my dear husband.

“‘Well,’ said he, ‘let him quit soldiering then, and give back his
regiment to the king. But quiet yourself as to the fears you may have
about him if he do; for I know, by certain information, that there will
be no blood spilt.’

“The hereditary prince came in while we were talking, and earnestly
entreated my brother to get him away from Baireuth. They went to a
window and talked a long time together. My brother told me he would
write a letter to the margraf, and give him such reasons in favor of
the campaign that he doubted not it would turn the scale. He promised
to obtain the king’s express leave to stop at Baireuth on his return,
after which he went away. It was the last time I saw him on the old
footing with me. He has much changed since then. We returned to
Baireuth, where I was so ill that for three days they did not think I
should get over it.”


After this interview the Crown Prince hurried away on his route to
Philipsburg. He reached Nürnberg that night, where he wrote the
following brief but affectionate letter to his sister:

“Nürnberg, July 3, 1734.

“MY VERY DEAR SISTER, - It would be impossible to leave this
place without signifying, dearest sister, my lively gratitude
for all the marks of favor you showed me in the House on the
Lake. The highest of all that it was possible to do was that
of procuring me the satisfaction of paying my court to you. I
beg millions of pardons for so incommoding you, dearest sister,
but I could not help it, for you know my sad circumstances well
enough. I entreat you write me often about your health. Adieu, my
incomparable and dear sister. I am always the same to you, and
will remain so till my death.


Early on the morning of the 4th the prince left Nürnberg, and reached
the camp at Weisenthal on the 7th. Here the imperial and Prussian
troops were collected, who had been sent to attempt to raise the siege
of Philipsburg. But the French lines investing the city were so strong
that Prince Eugene, in command of the imperial army, did not venture
to make an attack. The Crown Prince almost immediately rode out to
reconnoitre the lines of the foe. As he was returning through a strip
of forest a cannonade was opened, and the balls went crashing around
him through the trees. Pride of character probably came to the aid of
constitutional courage. The prince did not in the slightest degree
quicken his pace. Not the least tremor could be perceived in his hand
as he held the reins. He continued conversing with the surrounding
generals in perfect tranquillity, as if unconscious of any danger.

A week after the arrival of the prince the Prussian king entered the
camp. As it was expected that some remarkable feats of war would be
exhibited in the presence of the king, under the leadership of the
renowned Prince Eugene, a very large assemblage of princes and other
distinguished personages was collected on the field. The king remained
for a month, dwelling in a tent among his own troops, and sharing all
their hardships. He, with his son, attended all the councils of war.
Still no attempt was made to relieve Philipsburg. The third day after
the king’s arrival the city surrendered to the French. The campaign
continued for some time, with unavailing manœuvring on both sides of
the Rhine; but the Crown Prince saw but little active service. About
the middle of August the king left the camp to return home. His health
was seriously impaired, and alarming symptoms indicated that he had
not long to live. His journey was slow and painful. Gout tortured him.
Dropsy threatened to strangle him. He did not reach home until the
middle of September. The alarming state of the king’s health added very
much to the importance of the Crown Prince. It was evident that ere
long he must come into power. The following characteristic anecdote is
related of the king during this illness:

One evening, being too unwell to read his usual devotions, he called
upon his _valet de chambre_ to read prayers. In the prayer occurred the
words, “May God bless thee.” The servant, not deeming it respectful to
use _thee_ in reference to the king, took the liberty to change the
phrase, and read it, “May God bless _you_.” The king, exasperated,
hurled something at the head of the speaker, exclaiming, “It is not so;
read it again.” The terrified servant, not conceiving in what he had
done wrong, read again, “May God bless you.” The irascible monarch,
having nothing else he could grasp, took off his night-cap and threw it
into the man’s face, exclaiming, “It is not so; read it over again.”
The servant, frightened almost out of his senses, read for the third
time, “May God bless you.” “_Thee_, rogue,” shouted the king. “‘May God
bless _thee_.’ Dost thou not know, rascal, that, in the eyes of God, I
am only a miserable rascal like thyself?”

Early in October, the Crown Prince, not socially or morally improved by
his campaigning, set out on his return to Berlin. He was by no means
insensible to the fact that the crown of Prussia would soon rest upon
his brow. On the 5th he called again upon his sister at Baireuth. She
was sick and very sad. The following is Wilhelmina’s account of the

“My brother arrived on the 5th of October. He seemed to me in ill
humor. To break off conversation with me, he said that he had to write
to the king and queen. I ordered him pen and paper. He wrote in my
room, and spent more than a good hour in writing a couple of letters
of a line or two each. He then had all the court, one after another,
introduced to him; said nothing to any of them; looked merely with a
mocking air at them; after which we went to dinner.


“Here his whole conversation consisted in quizzing whatever he saw,
and repeating to me, above a hundred times over, the words ‘little
prince,’ ‘little court.’ I was shocked, and could not understand how
he had changed so suddenly toward me. The etiquette of all courts in
the empire is, that nobody who has not at least the rank of captain
can sit at a prince’s table. My brother put a lieutenant there who was
in his suite, saying, ‘A king’s lieutenant is as good as a margraf’s
minister.’ I swallowed this incivility, and showed no sign.

“After dinner, being alone with me, he said, ‘Our sire is approaching
his end. He will not live out this month. I know that I have made you
great promises, but I am not in the condition to keep them. I will
leave you the half of the sum which my predecessor lent you. I think
that you will have every reason to be satisfied with that.’

“I answered that my regard for him had never been of an interested
nature; that I would never ask any thing of him but the continuance of
his friendship; and that I did not wish for one penny if it would in
the least inconvenience him.

“‘No, no,’ said he; ‘you shall have those one hundred thousand thalers.
I have destined them for you. People will be much surprised to see me
act quite differently from what they had expected. They imagine I am
going to lavish all my treasures, and that money will become as common
as pebbles in Berlin. But they will find that I know better. I mean to
increase my army, and to leave all other things on the old footing.
I will have every consideration for the queen, my mother, and will
satiate her with honors. But I do not mean that she shall meddle with
my affairs. If she try it she will find so.’

“I fell from the clouds on hearing all that, and knew not if I were
sleeping or waking. He then questioned me on the affairs of this
country. I gave him the detail of them. He said to me, ‘When your goose
of a father-in-law dies, I advise you to break up the whole court, and
reduce yourselves to the footing of a private gentleman’s establishment
in order to pay your debts. In real truth, you have no need of so many
people. And you must try to reduce the wages of those whom you can not
help keeping. You have been accustomed to live, at Berlin, with a table
of four dishes. That is all you want here. I will invite you now and
then to Berlin, which will spare table and house expenses.’

“For a long time my heart had been swelling. I could not restrain my
tears at hearing all these indignities. ‘Why do you cry?’ said he. ‘Ah!
ah! I see that you are in low spirits. We must dissipate that dark
humor. The music waits us. I will drive that fit out of you by an air
or two on the flute.’ He gave me his hand and led me into the other
room. I sat down to the harpsichord, which I inundated with my tears.”

On the fourth day after the arrival of the Crown Prince at Baireuth,
a courier came with a letter from the queen conjuring him to return
immediately, as the king was growing worse and worse. Frederick
immediately hastened to Potsdam, and on the 12th of October entered
the sick-chamber of his father in the palace there. He seems to have
thought nothing of his wife, who was at Berlin. We have no evidence
that he wrote to her during his absence, or that he visited her upon
his return. For four months the king remained a great sufferer in
Potsdam, trembling between life and death. It was often with great
difficulty that he could breathe. He was impatient and irritable in the
extreme. As he was rolled about in his Bath chair, he would petulantly
cry out, “Air! air!” as if his attendants were to blame for his
shortness of breath. The distress from the dropsy was very great. “If
you roll the king a little fast,” writes an attendant, “you hear the

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 13 of 52)