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History of Frederick the Second online

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Bückeburg, himself a mason and a very gentlemanly man, defended the
craft with such persuasive eloquence as quite captivated the Crown
Prince. After dinner the prince took him secretly aside, conversed
with him more fully upon the subject, expressed his admiration
of the system, and his wish to be admitted into the fraternity:
But it was necessary carefully to conceal the step from the irate
king. Arrangements were immediately made to assemble at Brunswick a
sufficient number of masons from Hamburg, where the Crown Prince, on
his return, could be received in a secret meeting into the mystic

The Crown Prince met the masons by agreement at “Korn’s Hotel.” On
the night of Tuesday, August 14th, 1738, the king having that evening
continued his journey, Frederick, after adopting extreme precautions
to prevent any publicity of the act, fearing probably only lest it
should reach his father’s ears, passed through the mysterious rites of
initiation. It does not, however, appear that subsequently he took any
special interest in the society.[28]

The year 1739 was spent by the prince mostly at Reinsberg. Many
distinguished visitors were received at the chateau. Frederick
continued busily engaged in his studies, writing both prose and
verse, and keeping up a lively correspondence with Voltaire and other
literary friends. He engaged very earnestly in writing a book entitled
_Anti-Machiavel_, which consisted of a refutation of Machiavel’s
_Prince_. This book was published, praised, and read, but has long
since been forgotten. The only memorable thing about the book now
is that in those dark days of absolutism, when it was the almost
universally recognized opinion that power did not ascend from the
people to their sovereign, but descended from the monarch to his
subjects, Frederick should have spoken of the king as the “born servant
of his people.”

In July of this year the Crown Prince took another journey with his
father through extensive portions of the Prussian territory. The
following extract from one of his letters to Voltaire reflects pleasing
light upon the heart of Frederick, and upon the administrative ability
of his father:

“Prussian Lithuania is a hundred and twenty miles long, by from forty
to sixty broad. It was ravaged by pestilence at the beginning of this
century, and they say three hundred thousand people died of disease and
famine. The disorder carried off the people, and the lands remained
uncultivated and full of weeds. The most flourishing of our provinces
was changed into the most miserable of solitudes.

“Meanwhile Frederick the First died, and with him was buried all his
false grandeur, which consisted only in a vain magnificence, and in the
pompous display of frivolous ceremonies. My father, who succeeded him,
compassionated the general misery. He visited the spot, and saw, with
his own eyes, this vast country laid waste, and all the dreadful traces
which a contagious malady, a famine, and the sordid avarice of a venal
administration leave behind them. Twelve or fifteen towns depopulated,
and four or five hundred villages uninhabited, presented themselves
to his view. Far from being discouraged by such a sad spectacle, his
compassion only became the more lively from it; and he resolved to
restore population, plenty, and commerce to this land, which had even
lost the appearance of an inhabited country.

“Since this time he has spared no expense for the furtherance of his
salutary intentions. He first established wise regulations and laws. He
rebuilt whatever had been allowed to go to ruin in consequence of the
plague. He brought and established there thousands of families from the
different countries of Europe. The lands became again productive, and
the country populous. Commerce reflourished; and at the present time
abundance reigns in this country more than ever before. There are now
half a million of inhabitants in Lithuania. There are more towns than
formerly; more flocks, and more riches and fertility than in any other
part of Germany.

“And all that I have been relating to you is due to the king alone, who
not only gave the orders, but himself saw that they were faithfully
obeyed. He both conceived the designs and executed them. He spared
neither care, nor trouble, nor vast treasures, nor promises, nor
recompenses, in order to assure the existence and the comfort of half a
million of rational beings, who owe to him alone their happiness. There
is something in my mind so heroic in the generous and laborious manner
in which the king has devoted himself to the restoring to this deserted
country its population, fertility, and happiness, that I think you will
see his conduct in the same light as I do when you are made acquainted
with the circumstances.”

It would be unjust alike to the father and the son to withhold a letter
which reflects so much credit upon them both - upon the father for his
humane measures, and upon the son for his appreciation of their moral

The king was so pleased with the conduct of his son during this journey
that, in a moment of unusual good-nature, he made him a present of a
very extensive horse-breeding establishment near Tilsit, consisting of
seven farms, all in the most perfect order, as every thing was sure
to be which was under the control of Frederick William. The profits
of this establishment added about ten thousand dollars to the annual
income of the Crown Prince. He was quite overjoyed at the unexpected
gift, and wrote to his sister Wilhelmina a letter glowing with

During the first part of his journey the king had been remarkably
cheerful and genial, but toward its close he was attacked by a new
fit of very serious illness. To the discomfort of all, his chronic
moodiness returned. A few extracts from Pöllnitz’s account of this
journey throws interesting light upon those scenes:

“Till now his majesty has been in especial good-humor. But in Dantzig
his cheerfulness forsook him, and it never came back. He arrived about
ten o’clock at night in that city, slept there, and was off again next
morning at five. He drove only fifty miles this day; stopped in Luppow.
From Luppow he went to a poor village near Belgard, and staid there

“At Belgard next morning he reviewed the dragoon regiment, and was
very ill content with it. And nobody, with the least understanding of
that business, but must own that never did Prussian regiment manœuvre
worse. Conscious themselves how bad it was, they lost head and got into
confusion. The king did every thing that was possible to help them
into order again, but it was all in vain. The king, contrary to wont,
restrained himself amazingly, and would not show his displeasure in
public. He got into his carriage and drove away, not staying to dine
with General Von Platen, as was always his custom with commandants whom
he had reviewed.

“As the prince was anxious to come up with his majesty again, and knew
not where he would meet him, we had to be very swift in the business.
We found the king, with Anhalt and Winterfeld, by-and-by, sitting in a
village in front of a barn, eating a cold pie there which the Marquis
of Anhalt chanced to have with him. His majesty, owing to what he
had seen on the parade-ground, was in the utmost ill-humor. Next day,
Saturday, he went a hundred and fifty or two hundred miles, and arrived
in Berlin at ten o’clock at night, not expected there till the morrow,
so that his rooms were locked, her majesty being over in Monbijou
giving her children a ball.”

Late in the fall of 1739 the health of Frederick William was so rapidly
failing that it became manifest to all that his days on earth would
soon be ended. He sat joylessly in his palace, listening to the moaning
of the wind, the rustle of the falling leaves, and the pattering of the
rain. His gloomy spirit was in accord with the melancholy days. More
dreary storms darkened his turbid soul than those which wrecked the
autumnal sky.

Early in November he came to Berlin, languid, crippled, and wretched.
The death-chamber in the palace is attended with all the humiliations
and sufferings which are encountered in the poor man’s hut. The king,
through all his life, had indulged his irritable disposition, and
now, imprisoned by infirmities and tortured with pain, his petulance
and abuse became almost unendurable. Miserable himself, he made every
one wretched around him. He was ever restless - now in his bed, now
out of it, now in his wheel-chair, continually finding fault, and
often dealing cruel blows to those who came within his reach. He was
unwilling to be left for a moment alone. The old generals were gathered
in his room, and sat around his bed talking and smoking. He could not
sleep at night, and allowed his attendants no repose. Restlessly he
tried to divert his mind by whittling, painting, and small carpentry.
The Crown Prince dared not visit him too often, lest his solicitude
should be interpreted into impatience for the king to die, that he
might grasp the crown. In the grossest terms the king insulted his
physicians, attributing all his sufferings to their wickedness or their
ignorance. Fortunately the miserable old man was too weak to attempt
to cane them. A celebrated physician, by the name of Hoffman, was
sent for to prescribe for the king. He was a man of much intellectual
distinction, and occupied an important position in the university.
As his prescriptions failed to give relief to his majesty, he was
assailed, like the rest, in the vilest language of vituperation. With
great dignity Professor Hoffman replied:

“Sire, I can not bear these reproaches, which I do not deserve. I have
tried, for the relief of your majesty, all the remedies which art
can supply, or which nature can admit. If my ability or my integrity
is doubted, I am willing to leave not only the university, but the
kingdom. But I can not be driven into any place where the name of
Hoffman will not be respected.”

The king was so impressed by this firm attitude of his physician that
he even made an apology for his rudeness. As Frederick William was
now convinced that ere long he must appear before the tribunal of
God, he gradually became a little more calm and resigned.[29] It is,
however, evident that the Crown Prince still had his share of earthly
annoyances, and certainly his full share of earthly frailties. In a
letter to his friend Suhm, written this summer, he says:

“Tantalus never suffered so much while standing in the river, the
waters of which he could not drink, as I when, having received your
package of the translation of Wolff, I was unable to read it. All the
accidents and all the bores in the world were, I think, agreed to
prevent me. A journey to Potsdam, daily reviews, and the arrival of my
brother in company with Messrs. De Hacke and De Rittberg, have been my
impediments. Imagine my horror, my dear Diaphanes,[30] at seeing the
arrival of this caravan without my having in the least expected them.
They weigh upon my shoulders like a tremendous burden, and never quit
my side, in order, I believe, to make me wish myself at the devil.”

As the king’s infirmities and sufferings increased, the sympathies
of his son were more and more excited. He seemed to forget all his
father’s cruel treatment, and to remember only his kingly energies.
The thought of his death became very painful to him, and at times he
recoiled from the oppressive cares he must of necessity assume with the


One evening in April, the king, feeling a little better, decided to
dress and hold a tobacco parliament, as formerly. Quite a numerous
party of his customary cabinet was assembled, and the circle was full.
The pipes were lighted; the king was in good-humor; the beer-pots
circulated merrily; and as every one made an effort to be agreeable,
the scene was unusually animated. Quite unexpectedly, in the midst
of the lively talk, the door opened, and the Crown Prince entered.
Simultaneously, as by a common instinct, the whole company arose and
bowed profoundly to the young prince. The king was exceedingly annoyed.
Trembling with rage, he exclaimed,

“This is the homage you render the rising sun, though you know that the
rule in the tobacco parliament is to rise to no one. You think I am
dead. But I will teach you that I am yet living.”

Ringing violently for his servants, and deaf to all protestations
and excuses, he had himself immediately rolled from the room. As the
courtiers stood bewildered and gazing at each other in consternation,
an officer came in with an order from the king that they should all
leave the palace immediately, and come not back again. The next morning
Pöllnitz, who occupied a position somewhat similar to that of prime
minister, applied for admission to his majesty’s apartment. But a
gendarme seized him by the shoulder and turned him around, saying,
“There is no admittance.” It was several days, and not till after
repeated acts of humiliation, that the king would permit any member of
the parliament again to enter his presence.

In the latter part of April, the weather being very fine, the king
decided to leave Berlin and retire to his rural palace at Potsdam.
It seems, however, that he was fully aware that his days were nearly
ended, for upon leaving the city he said, “Fare thee well, then,
Berlin; I am going to die in Potsdam.” The winter had been one of
almost unprecedented severity, and the month of May was cold and
wet. As the days wore on the king’s health fluctuated, and he was
continually struggling between life and death. The king, with all his
great imperfections, was a thoughtful man. As he daily drew near the
grave, the dread realities of the eternal world oppressed his mind.
He sent for three clergymen of distinction, to converse with them
respecting his preparation for the final judgment. It seems that they
were very faithful with him, reminding him of his many acts of violence
and tyranny, alluding particularly to his hanging Baron Schlubhut,
at Königsberg, without even a trial. The king endeavored to defend
himself, saying,

“It is true that Schlubhut had no trial, but he certainly deserved his
doom. He was a public thief, stealing the taxes he was sent to gather;
insolently offering to repay, as if that were all the amends required;
and saying that it was not good manners to hang a nobleman.”

Still the clergymen pressed upon him his sins, his many acts of
oppression, his unrelenting and unforgiving spirit. Singularly enough,
most of the members of the tobacco parliament were present at this
strange interview; and some of them, courtier like, endeavored to
defend the king against several of the charges brought against him.
The king might emphatically be called a good hater; and he hated his
brother-in-law, the King of England, perhaps with passion as implacable
as ever took possession of a human heart. In allusion to this, one of
the clergymen, M. Roloff, said,

“There is the forgiveness of enemies. Your majesty is bound to forgive
all men. If you do not do this, how can you ask to be forgiven?”

The king had a logical mind. He could keenly feel where the argument
pinched. He seemed quite troubled. After a moment’s pause, he said,
“Well, I will do it.” Then, turning to the queen, he said, “You,
Phiekin, may write to your brother, _after I am dead_, and tell him
that I forgave him, and died at peace with him.”

“It would be better,” M. Roloff mildly suggested, “that your majesty
should write at once.”

“No,” said the king, sternly and peremptorily. “Write after I am dead.
That will be safer.”

At parting, the king bore magnanimous testimony to the fidelity of his
spiritual advisers. He said to M. Roloff, who had been the principal
speaker, “You do not spare me. It is right. You do your duty like an
honest Christian man.”

For such a mind and such a body there could be no possible peace or
repose in the dying-chamber. Feverish, restless, sleepless, impatient,
he knew not what to do with himself. He was incessantly passing from
his bed to his wheel-chair and back again, irascibly demanding this and
that, complaining of every body and every thing. Sometimes he would
declare that he would no longer be sick, but would dress and be well;
and scarcely would he get his clothes on ere he would sink in fainting
weakness, as though he had not another hour to live. Thus the sad days
of sickness wore away as death drew near.

On the 26th of May the Crown Prince received an express informing him
that his father was dying, and that he must hasten to Potsdam with the
utmost speed if he would ever again see him alive. Reinsberg was about
thirty miles north from Potsdam. It took the courier some hours to
reach the place. Frederick, with emotions not easily imagined, started
before the dawn of the morning, followed by a train of attendants, to
hasten to the death-bed of his father, and to receive the kingly crown
of Prussia.

As he reached Potsdam and turned the corner of the palace, he saw,
at a little distance, a small crowd gathered around some object; and
soon, to his inexpressible surprise, beheld his father, dressed, in
his wheel-chair, out of doors, giving directions about laying the
foundations of a house he had undertaken to build. The old king, at the
sight of his son, threw open his arms, and Frederick, kneeling before
him, buried his face in his fathers lap, and they wept together. The
affecting scene forced tears into the eyes of all the by-standers.
Frederick William, upon recovering from a fainting-fit, had insisted
that he would not die, and had compelled his attendants to dress him
and conduct him to the open air.

But the exertion, and the emotion occasioned by the interview with his
son, prostrated him again. He was taken back into his palace and to
his bed more dead than alive. Reviving a little in the afternoon, he
dictated to Frederick all the arrangements he wished to have adopted in
reference to his funeral. This curious document is characteristic, in
every line, of the strange man. His coffin, which was of massive oak
carpentry, had been made for some time, and was in the king’s chamber
awaiting its occupant. He not unfrequently, with affected or real
complacency, fixed his eyes upon it, saying, “I shall sleep right well
there.” In the minute directions to his son as to his burial, he said,

“As soon as I am dead, my body must be washed, a white shirt must be
placed upon it, and it must be stretched out upon a table. They must
then shave and wash me, and cover me with a sheet. After four hours my
body must be opened. The surgeons of the regiments in town will examine
into the malady which has caused my death. They will then dress me in
my best clothes, with all my decorations. Then I am to be placed in my
coffin, and thus left all night.

“The next day the battalions will be formed in complete order, each
grenadier with three cartridges. Crape will be placed about the colors,
the drums, the fifes, and hautboys. Every officer will have crape on
his hat, around his arm, and on the hilt of his sword. The funeral car
will be placed near the green staircase, with the heads of the horses
toward the river. Eight captains of my regiment will carry me toward
the funeral car. These eight captains will also take me out of the car,
and carry me into the church.

“As soon as the car shall begin to move, the drums shall beat the dead
march, and the hautboys shall play the well-known anthem, ‘O blessed
head, covered with blood and wounds!’ The car will stop at the iron
gate. The regiment will defile before it. My two sons, Augustus William
and Henry, will remain with the regiment. You, as my eldest son, with
little Ferdinand, my youngest son, will walk in uniform behind the car.

“When the body has been carried into the church, there shall be
placed upon the coffin my handsomest sword, my best scarf, a pair of
gilt spurs, and a gilt helmet. There shall be brought from Berlin
twenty-four six-pounders, which shall make twelve discharges singly.
Then the battalions will fire.

“I forbid any funeral sermon to be preached over me. In the evening a
festival will be given in the great room in the garden. The cask of
hock which I have in my cellar must be opened. At this repast good wine
alone shall be drank.

“A fortnight after a funeral sermon shall be preached for me in all
the churches. The text shall be, ‘I have fought a good fight; I have
finished my course; I have kept the faith.’ They shall not speak any
thing of my life, of my actions, nor any thing personal of me. But they
shall tell the people that I confessed my sins, and that I died in full
confidence of the goodness of God and of my Savior.”

During the next three days the king suffered much from weakness and
a violent cough. He was often heard murmuring prayers, and would
say to those around him, “Pray for me; pray for me.” Several times
he pathetically exclaimed, “Lord, enter not into judgment with thy
servant, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” A favorite
hymn was often sung to him containing the words, “Naked came I into the
world, and naked shall I go out of it.” At this passage he repeatedly
exclaimed, with much vivacity, as though it were an admirable joke,
“No, not quite naked; I shall have my uniform on.”

At one o’clock in the morning of May 31 he sent for a clergyman, M.
Cochius, and seemed to be in great distress both of body and of mind.
“I fear,” said he, “that I have a great deal of pain yet to suffer. I
can remember nothing. I can not pray. I have forgotten all my prayers.”
M. Cochius endeavored to console him. At the close of the interview the
king said, sadly, “Fare thee well. We shall most probably never meet
again in this world.” He was then rolled, in his wheel-chair, into the
chamber of the queen.

“Oh, Phiekin, my Phiekin!” said he, “thou must rise and help me what
thou canst. This day I am going to die. Thou must be with me this day.”

The dying king strangely decided, at that late hour, to abdicate. All
the officials were hurriedly summoned to his chamber. The poor old
man, bandaged, with his night-cap on, and a mantle thrown over him,
was wheeled into the anteroom where the company was assembled. As he
saw Pöllnitz he exclaimed, sadly, “It is all over.” Noticing one in
tears, he said to him, kindly, “Nay, my friend, this is a debt we all
have to pay.” The king then solemnly abdicated in favor of his “good
son Frederick.” The deed was made out, signed, and sealed. But scarcely
was it executed ere the king fainted, and was carried to his bed. Still
the expiring lamp of life flickered in its socket. About eleven o’clock
the clergyman, M. Cochius, was sent for. The king was in his bed,
apparently speechless. He, however, revived a little, and was in great
pain, often exclaiming, “Pray for me; pray for me; my trust is in the
Savior.” He called for a mirror, and carefully examined his face for
some moments, saying at intervals, “Not so worn out as I thought.” “An
ugly face.” “As good as dead already.”[31]

He then summoned his physician, M. Pitsch, and said, “Feel my pulse.
Tell me how long this will last.”

The physician replied, “Alas! not long.”

“Say not alas,” added the king. “But how do you know?”

“The pulse is gone,” the physician said, sadly.

The king seemed surprised, raised his hand, opening and shutting the
fingers, and then said, “It is impossible. How could I move my fingers
so if the pulse were gone?”

M. Pitsch made no reply. The king, probably feeling at the moment some
physical monition of approaching death, cried out, “Lord Jesus, to thee
I live. Lord Jesus, to thee I die. In life and in death thou art my

These were his last words. He fainted, and, after a few gasps, died.
It was about two o’clock in the afternoon of Tuesday, the 31st of May,
1740. Thus the soul of Frederick William passed to the spirit land, in
the fifty-first year of its sojourn here on earth.

The king having breathed his last, Frederick, in tears, retired to a
private room, there to reflect upon the sad receding past, and upon the
opening future, with the vast responsibilities thus suddenly thrown
upon him. He was now King of Prussia; and not only absolute master of
himself, but absolute monarch over a realm containing two millions two

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 15 of 52)