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History of Frederick the Second online

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water jumble in his body.” The Crown Prince was deeply affected in view
of the deplorable condition of his father, and wept convulsively. The
stern old king was stern to the end. He said one day to Frederick, “If
you begin at the wrong end with things, and all go topsy-turvy after I
am gone, I will laugh at you out of my grave.”

Quite unexpectedly, the latter part of January the virulence of
the king’s complicated diseases of gout, dropsy, and ulcers seemed
to abate. Though but forty-seven years of age, he was, from his
intemperate habits, an infirm old man. Though he lingered along for
many months, he was a great sufferer. His unamiability filled the
palace with discomfort.

Frederick returned to Ruppin. Though he treated his wife with ordinary
courtesy, as an honored member of the court, his attentions were
simply such as were due to every lady of the royal household. It does
not appear that she accompanied him to Ruppin or to Reinsberg at that
time, though the apartments to which we have already alluded were
subsequently provided for her at Reinsberg, where she was ever treated
with the most punctilious politeness. Lord Dover says that after the
accession of the prince to the throne he went to see his wife but
once a year, on her birthday. She resided most of the time at Berlin,
surrounded by a quiet little court there. However keen may have been
her sufferings in view of this cruel neglect, we have no record that
any word of complaint was ever heard to escape her lips. “This poor
Crown Princess, afterward queen,” says Carlyle, “has been heard, in her
old age, reverting in a touching, transient way to the glad days she
had at Reinsberg. Complaint openly was never heard of her in any kind
of days; but these, doubtless, were the best of her life.”

[Illustration: FRITZ IN HIS LIBRARY.]

Frederick had become very ambitious of high intellectual culture and of
literary renown. He gathered around him a numerous class of scholarly
men, and opened an extensive correspondence with the most distinguished
philosophers, poets, and historians all over Europe. He commenced and
persevered in a course of very rigorous study, rising at an early
hour, and devoting the unbroken morning to intellectual pursuits. The
renowned men of earth have not attained their renown but by untiring
exertions. For six or seven consecutive hours every day the prince was
busy in his library, when no one was allowed to interrupt him. He wrote
to a friend about this time:

“Having been not quite well lately, my physician has advised me to
take more exercise than I have hitherto done. This has obliged me to
mount my horse and take a gallop every morning. But, in order not to
be obliged on that account to change my ordinary way of life, I get up
earlier, in order to regain on the one hand what I lose on the other.”

He rose about five o’clock. After a horseback ride of an hour he
devoted the mornings to his books. The remainder of the day was given
to society, music, and recreation. The following extract from his
correspondence throws additional light upon the employment of his time.
The letter was addressed to an intimate friend, Baron Von Suhm, of

“I think you will not be sorry if I say a few words to you respecting
our rural amusements, for with persons who are dear to us we love to
enter even into the smallest details. We have divided our occupations
into two classes, of which the first consists of what is useful, and
the second of what is agreeable. I reckon in the list of the usefuls
the study of philosophy, history, and languages. The agreeables are
music, the tragedies and comedies which we represent, the masquerades
and presents which we give. The serious occupations, however, have
always the prerogative of going before the others. And I think I can
say that we make a reasonable use of our pleasures, only indulging
in them to relieve the mind, and to prevent moroseness and too much
philosophic gravity, which is apt not to yield a smile even to the

Again he wrote a few months after, while absent from home: “I set
off on the 25th to return to my dear garden at Ruppin. I burn with
impatience to see again my vineyards, my cherries, and my melons.
There, tranquil and free from all useless cares, I shall live really
for myself. I become every day more avaricious of my time, of which
I render an account to myself, and never lose any of it without much
regret. My mind is now wholly turned toward philosophy. That study
renders me wonderful services, which are repaid by me with affection. I
find myself happy because I am more tranquil than formerly. My soul is
much less agitated with violent and tumultuous emotions. I suppress the
first impulses of my passions, and do not proceed to act upon them till
after having well considered the question before me.”

Immediately after his return he wrote again: “I am now a peaceable
inhabitant of Reinsberg, applying myself to study and reading almost
from morning till night. With regard to the news of this world, you
will learn them better through the gazetteers than through me. They
contain the history of the madness and folly of the great, the wars
of some, the quarrels of others, and the childish amusements of all.
These news are as little worthy the attention of a man of sense as the
quarrels of rats and mice would be.”[25]

The king was not at all pleased either with his son’s studies or his
recreations. Philosophy and literature were as obnoxious to the sturdy
old monarch as were music and all amusements save the rough pastime
of hunting stags and boars. He was a thorough materialist, having no
other thought than to drill his troops and develop the resources of
his realm. Beer and tobacco, both of which he used inordinately, were
almost his only luxuries. He often growled loudly at what he deemed
the coxcombry of his son and companions at Reinsberg, and frequently
threatened to disperse his associates.

But Frederick was now a full-grown man. His heirship to the throne
rendered him a power among the courts of Europe. It was doubtful
whether he would again submit to a caning. The infirm old king, gouty,
dropsical, weakened, and lamed by ulcers, could not conceal from
himself that his power, with his energies, was rapidly waning. Indeed,
at times, he even talked of abdicating in favor of his son. Whenever
there was a transient abatement in his maladies, he roused himself to
the utmost, took short journeys, and tried to deceive himself into the
belief that he was well again.

The principal companions of Frederick at Reinsberg were gay,
pleasure-loving men. Among them were Major Keyserling, a thoughtless
young man, full of vivacity, and of very agreeable manners; and M.
Jordan, a French young gentleman, formerly a preacher, very amiable,
and an author of considerable note. M. Jordan was devotedly attached
to the prince, and continued so through life. He gives the following
testimony to the good qualities of Frederick:

“It is not the king that I love in him; it is the man. If I considered
the dignity and the power of the king, I should only seek to keep
myself at a distance from him. But the qualities which are personal to
him, both of the heart and of the head, they attach me to him for life,
without reserve and without fear.”[26]

Lieutenant Chasot, another of his friends, was a French officer who had
killed a brother officer in a duel at Philipsburg, and, in consequence,
had fled to the Prussian lines. He had brightness of intellect and
winning manners, which rendered him a universal favorite. Captain
Knobelsdorf was a distinguished musician and architect. He rendered
signal service in enlarging and decorating the chateau at Reinsberg.
Baron De Suhm, with whom Frederick kept up a constant correspondence,
was then in Saxony, translating for the Crown Prince the philosophy of
Wolff. He sent the prince chapter by chapter, with copious notes.

In this assembly of gay young men religion was generally a topic
of ridicule. Even Jordan, the ex-preacher, was either willingly or
unwillingly borne along by the current. Subsequently, when youth and
health had fled, and he was on a sick-bed suffering from lingering
disease, he felt the need of those consolations which Christianity
alone can give. He wrote, under date of April, 1745, to Frederick, who
was then king, and whose friendship continued unabated:

“My complaint increases so much that I no longer even hope to recover
from it. I feel strongly, in the situation in which I at present
find myself, the necessity of an enlightened religion arising from
conviction. Without that, we are the beings on earth most to be pitied.
Your majesty will, after my death, do me the justice to testify that if
I have combated superstition with vehemence, I have always supported
the interests of the Christian religion, though differing from the
ideas of some theologians. As it is only possible when in danger to
discover the necessity of bravery, so no one can really have the
consoling advantage of religion except through sufferings.”

It speaks well for Frederick that during this illness, which was long
and painful, he almost daily visited at the bedside of his friend,
ministering to his wants with his own hand. After his death the king
continued his kindness to the bereaved family. Baron Bielfeld gives the
following account of one of the scenes of carousal in which these men
engaged, when in the enjoyment of youth and health:

“About a fortnight ago the prince was in a humor of extraordinary
gayety at the table. His gayety animated all the rest; and some glasses
of Champagne still more enlivened our mirth. The prince, perceiving
our disposition, was willing to promote it, and on rising from table,
told us that he was determined that we should recommence our jollity at

“We were scarcely seated at supper before he began by drinking a number
of interesting healths, which there was a necessity of pledging.
This first skirmish being over, it was followed by an incessant flow
of sallies and repartees. The most contracted countenances became
expanded. The gayety was general, even the ladies assisting in
promoting our jollity.

“After about two hours I stepped out for a moment into the vestibule.
I had placed before me a large glass of water, which the princess,
opposite to whom I had the honor to sit, in a vein of mischievous
pleasantry, had ordered to be emptied, and had filled it with Sellery
wine, which was as clear as rock water. Having already lost my taste, I
mixed my wine with wine. Thinking to refresh myself, I became joyous,
but it was a kind of joy that leaned toward intoxication.

“To finish my picture - the prince ordered me to come and sit by him.
He said many gracious things to me, and let me see into futurity as far
as my feeble sight was then capable of discovering. At the same time,
he made me drink bumper after bumper of his Lunelle wine. The rest of
the company, however, were not less sensible than I of the effects of
the nectar which there flowed in such mighty streams.

“At last, whether by accident or design, the princess broke a glass.
This was the signal for our impetuous jollity, and an example that
appeared highly worthy of our imitation. In an instant all the glasses
flew to the several corners of the room. All the crystals, porcelain,
mirrors, branches, bowls, and vases were broken into a thousand pieces.
In the midst of this universal destruction, the prince stood, like the
man in Horace who contemplates the crush of worlds, with a look of
perfect tranquillity.

[Illustration: THE BANQUET.]

“To this tumult succeeded a fresh burst of mirth, during which
the prince slipped away, and, aided by his pages, retired to his
apartment; and the princess immediately followed. The day after this
adventure the court was at its last gasp. Neither the prince nor any of
the courtiers could stir from their beds.”

Baron Bielfeld himself was so intoxicated that, in attempting to
retire, he fell down the grand staircase from top to bottom. He was
severely bruised, and was taken up senseless. “After lying about a
fortnight in bed,” he writes, “where the prince had the goodness to
come every day to see me, and to contribute every thing possible to my
cure, I got abroad again.”

Frederick William, through spies, kept himself informed of every thing
which was said or done at Reinsberg. Such orgies as the above excited
his contempt and abhorrence. But, notwithstanding the above narrative,
there is abundant testimony that the prince was not ordinarily addicted
to such shameful excesses. The Italian Count Algarotti, distinguished
alike for his familiarity with the sciences and his cultivated taste
for the fine arts, was an honored guest at Reinsberg. In a letter
addressed to Lord Hervey, under date of September 30th, 1739, the count

“What shall I say to you, my lord, of the Prince Royal, the lover and
the favorite of the Muses? Several days, which we passed with him in
his castle of Reinsberg, seemed to be but a few hours. He is the most
intelligent and the most amiable of men. Though I could notice only his
private virtues, I can boldly assure you, my lord, that the world will
one day admire his royal qualifications, and that when he shall be upon
the throne he will show himself to be the greatest of sovereigns. There
is all the reason in the world to believe that he will seek out for
great men with as much eagerness as his father does for giants.”

Baron Bielfeld gives the following account of the ordinary employments,
and the tone of conversation of the prince: “All the employments and
all the pleasures of the prince are those of a man of understanding. He
is, at this time, actually engaged in refuting the dangerous political
reveries of Machiavel. His conversation at table is charming. He talks
much and excellently well. His mind seems to be equal to all sorts of
subjects, and his imagination produces on each of them a number of new
and just ideas. His genius resembles the fire of the vestals that was
never extinct. A decent and polite contradiction is not disagreeable
to him. He possesses the rare talent of displaying the wit of others,
and of giving them opportunity to shine on those subjects in which
they excel. He jests frequently, and sometimes rallies, but never with
asperity; and an ingenious retort does not displease him.

“Nothing can be more elegant than this prince’s library. It has a view
of the lake and gardens. A collection, not very numerous, but well
chosen, of the best books in the French language are ranged in glass
cases, which are ornamented with carvings and gildings in excellent
taste. The portrait of M. De Voltaire occupies an honorable place in
this library. He is the favorite author of the prince, who has, in
general, a high esteem for good French writers both in prose and verse.

“The evenings are devoted to music. The prince has a concert in his
saloon, where no one enters who is not invited, and such invitation is
regarded as an extraordinary favor. The prince has commonly performed a
sonata and a concert for the flute, on which he plays in the greatest
perfection. He fills the flute admirably well, has great agility with
the fingers, and a vast fund of music. He composes himself sonatas. I
have had the honor of standing behind him more than once while he was
playing, and was charmed with his taste, especially in the _adagio_. He
has a continual creation of new ideas.”



Voltaire and Madame Du Châtelet. - Letter from Frederick to Voltaire. -
The Reply. - Visit to the Prince of Orange. - Correspondence. - The
Crown Prince becomes a Mason. - Interesting Letter from the Crown
Prince. - Petulance and declining Health of the King. - Scenes in the
Death-chamber. - Characteristic Anecdotes. - The Dying Scene.

The Crown Prince had for some time been inspired with an
ever-increasing ambition for high intellectual culture. Gradually he
was gathering around him, in his retreat at Reinsberg, men of high
literary reputation, and was opening correspondence with the most
distinguished men of letters in all the adjacent countries.

Voltaire was, at this time, about forty years of age. His renown as
a man of genius already filled Europe. He was residing, on terms of
the closest intimacy, with Madame Du Châtelet, who had separated from
her husband. With congenial tastes and ample wealth they occupied
the chateau of Cirey, delightfully situated in a quiet valley in
Champagne, and which they had rendered, as Madame testifies, a
perfect Eden on earth. It is not always, in the divine government,
that sentence against an evil work is “executed speedily.” Madame Du
Châtelet, renowned in the writings of Voltaire as the “divine Emilie,”
was graceful, beautiful, fascinating. Her conversational powers were
remarkable, and she had written several treatises upon subjects
connected with the pure sciences, which had given her much deserved

Still it is evident that the serpent was in this Eden. Carlyle writes:
“An ardent, aerial, gracefully predominant, and, in the end, somewhat
termagant female, this divine Emilie. Her temper, radiant rather than
bland, was none of the patientest on occasion. Nor was M. De Voltaire
the least of a Job if you came athwart him in a wrong way. I have heard
that their domestic symphony was liable to furious flaws; that plates,
in presence of the lackeys, actual crockery or metal, have been known
to fly from end to end of the dinner-table; nay, they mention ‘knives,’
though only in the way of oratorical action; and Voltaire has been
heard to exclaim, ‘Don’t fix those haggard, sidelong eyes on me in that
way!’ - mere shrillness of pale rage presiding over the scene.”

Voltaire had already written the epic poem the _Henriade_, the history
of _Charles XII._, and several tragedies.

The first letter from Frederick to Voltaire was dated August 8th, 1736.
The following extracts will show the spirit of this flattering epistle:

“MONSIEUR, - Although I have not the satisfaction of knowing you
personally, you are not the less known to me through your works.
They are treasures of the mind, if I may so express myself;
and they reveal to the reader new beauties at every perusal. I
think I have recognized in them the character of their ingenious
author, who does honor to our age and to human nature. If ever
the dispute on the comparative merits of the moderns and the
ancients should be revived, the modern great men will owe it to
you, and to you only, that the scale is turned in their favor.
With the excellent quality of poet you join innumerable others
more or less related to it.

“Monsieur, there is nothing I wish so much as to possess all
your writings. Pray do communicate them to me without reserve.
If there be among your manuscripts any that you wish to conceal
from the eyes of the public, I engage to keep them in profoundest

“I should think myself richer in the possession of your works
than in that of all the transient goods of fortune.

“You inspire the ambition to follow in your footsteps. But I, how
often have I said to myself, unhappy man! throw down a burden
which is above thy strength! One can not imitate Voltaire without
being Voltaire.

“It is in such moments that I have felt how small are those
advantages of birth, those vapors of grandeur, with which vanity
would solace us. They amount to little, properly to nothing. Ah!
would glory but make use of me to crown your successes!

“If my destiny refuse me the happiness of being able to possess
you, may I at least hope one day to see the man whom I have
admired so long now from afar, and to assure you, by word of
mouth, that I am, with all the esteem and consideration due those
who, following the torch of truth for guide, consecrate their
labors to the public, Monsieur, your affectionate friend,

“FREDERICK, _Prince Royal of Prussia_.”

Voltaire promptly replied to this letter in corresponding terms of
flattery. His letter was dated Cirey, August 26th, 1736:

“MONSEIGNEUR, - A man must be void of all feeling who were not
infinitely moved by the letter which your royal highness has
deigned to honor me with. My self-love is only too much flattered
by it. But my love of mankind, which I have always nourished
in my heart, and which, I venture to say, forms the basis of
my character, has given me a very much purer pleasure to see
that there is now in the world a prince who thinks as a man - a
_Philosopher_ prince, who will make men happy.

“Permit me to say there is not a man on the earth but owes
thanks for the care you take to cultivate, by sound philosophy,
a soul that is born for command. Good kings there never were
except those who had begun by seeking to instruct themselves; by
knowing good men from bad; by loving what was true; by detesting
persecution and superstition. No prince, persisting in such
thoughts, but might bring back the golden age into his countries.

“Unless one day the tumult of business and the wickedness of
men alter so divine a character, you will be worshiped by your
people and loved by the whole world. Philosophers, worthy of the
name, will flock to your states. The illustrious Queen Christina
quitted her kingdom to go in search of the arts. Reign you,
Monseigneur, and the arts will come to seek you.

“I will obey your commands as to sending those unpublished
pieces. Your criticism will be my reward. It is a price few
sovereigns can pay. I am sure of your secrecy. Your virtue and
your intellect must be in proportion. I should indeed consider
it a precious happiness to come and pay my court to your royal
highness. One travels to Rome to see paintings and ruins. A
prince such as you is a much more singular object, worthier of a
long journey.

“In whatever corner of the world I may end my life, be assured,
Monseigneur, my wishes will be continually for you. My heart will
rank itself among your subjects. Your glory will be ever dear
to me. I shall wish, May you always be like yourself, and may
other kings be like you. I am, with profound respect, your royal
highness’s most humble


The correspondence thus commenced was prosecuted with great vigor. It
seemed difficult to find language sufficiently expressive of their
mutual admiration. Frederick received many of Voltaire’s unpublished
manuscripts, and sent him many tokens of regard. Some of Frederick’s
manuscripts Voltaire also examined, and returned with slight
corrections and profuse expressions of delight.

In the summer of 1738 the infirm old king undertook a journey to
Holland, on a visit of diplomacy to the Prince of Orange. The Crown
Prince accompanied him. It does not, however, appear that they had much
intercourse with each other on the journey. They spent several days
at the beautiful palace of Loo, in Geldern, occupied by the Prince
of Orange and his English bride, a niece to his Prussian majesty. The
palace was imposing in its architectural structure, containing many
gorgeous saloons, and surrounded with beautiful gardens. In a letter
which Frederick wrote from Loo to Voltaire, dated August 6th, we find
the following sentiments:

“I write from a place where there lived once a great man,[27] which
is now the Prince of Orange’s house. The demon of ambition sheds its
unhappy poisons over his days. He might be the most fortunate of men,
and he is devoured by chagrins in his beautiful palace here, in the
middle of his gardens and of a brilliant court.”

In one of the letters of the Crown Prince, speaking of the mode of
traveling with his father, he says: “We have now been traveling near
three weeks. The heat is as great as if we were riding astride upon
a ray of the sun. The dust is like a dense cloud, which renders us
invisible to the eyes of the by-standers. In addition to this, we
travel like the angels, without sleep, and almost without food. Judge,
then, what my condition must be.”

While on this journey to Holland the Crown Prince was one day dining
with a prince of Lippe-Bückeburg. Freemasonry became one of the topics
of conversation at the table. King Frederick William denounced the
institution in his usual style of coarse vituperation, as tomfoolery,
atheism, and every thing else that was bad. But the Prince of

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 14 of 52)