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

History of Frederick the Second online

. (page 16 of 52)
Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 16 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

hundred and forty thousand souls. He was restrained by no Parliament,
no Constitution, no customs or laws superior to his own resolves. He
could take advice of others, and call energetic men to his aid, but his
will alone was sovereign.

The Prussian kingdom, which thus fell to Frederick by “divine right,”
consisted of an assemblage of duchies, marquisates, principalities,
and lordships, comprising an area of nearly fifty-seven thousand
square miles, being about the size of the State of Michigan, and very
similarly situated as to climate and soil. It was unfortunately not
a compact country, as several of the states could only be reached by
passing through the territories of other powers. The annual revenue
amounted to a little over six million dollars. There was also in the
treasury a sum, which Frederick William had saved, of about seven
million dollars. The army consisted of seventy-six thousand men, in
the highest state of discipline, and abundantly furnished with all the
_materiel_ of war.

Quite an entire change seemed immediately to take place in the
character of the young king. M. Bielfeld was the first who was
introduced to his apartment after the death of Frederick William.
Frederick was in tears, and seemed much affected.

“You do not know,” said he to M. Bielfeld, “what I have lost in losing
my father.”

“It is true, sire,” Bielfeld replied, “but I know very well what you
have gained in getting a kingdom. Your loss is great, but your motives
for consolation are very powerful.”

The king smiled, and immediately entered very vigorously upon business.
It was not possible, under these circumstances, for him deeply to mourn
over the death of so tyrannical a father. Frederick was twenty-eight
years of age. He is described as a handsome young man, five feet seven
inches in stature, and of graceful presence. The funeral ceremonies
of the deceased monarch were conducted essentially according to the
programme already given. The body of the king mouldered to dust in the
sepulchre of his fathers. His spirit returned to the God who gave it.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

If these words are true, which Milton places in the lips of the
apostate fiend, it is appalling to think of the ungoverned and
ungovernable spirit with which the king entered the unseen world. We
know not that there is any power in the alembic of death to transform
the character; and certain it is that if Frederick William carried
with him to the abode of spirits the same character which he cherished
in this world, there are but few who could be rendered happy by his
society. But we must leave him with his God, and return to the stormy
scenes upon which his son now entered.

The young sovereign commenced his reign with the utterance of very
noble sentiments. The day after his accession he assembled the chief
officers of his father to administer to them the oath of allegiance. He
urged them to be humane in the exercise of all authority which might be
delegated to them.

“Our grand care,” said he, “will be to further the country’s
well-being, and to make every one of our subjects contented and happy.
If it ever chance that my particular interest and the general good
of my country should seem to conflict, it is my wish that the latter
should always be preferred.”




Establishment of the Berlin Academy of Sciences. - Religious
Toleration. - A Free Press. - Sternness of the young King. - Domestic
Habits of the King. - Provision for the Queen-mother. - Absolutism of
the King. - Journey to Strasbourg. - First Interview with Voltaire.

The conduct of Frederick the Second, upon his accession to the throne,
was in accordance with his professions. The winter had been intensely
cold. The spring was late and wet. There was almost a famine in the
land. The public granaries, which the foresight of his father had
established, contained large stores of grain, which were distributed
to the poor at very low prices. A thousand aged and destitute women
in Berlin were provided with rooms, well warmed, where they spun in
the service of the king, with good wages, and in their grateful hearts
ever thanking their benefactor. He abolished the use of _torture_ in
criminal trials, not forgetting that he himself had come very near
having his limbs stretched upon the rack. This important decree, which
was hailed with joy all over Prussia, was issued the third day after
his accession.

Very vigorous measures were immediately adopted to establish an Academy
of Sciences. The celebrated French philosopher Maupertuis, who had just
obtained great renown from measuring a degree of the meridian at the
polar circle, was invited to organize this very important institute.
The letter to the philosopher, written by the king but a few days after
his accession, was as follows:

“My heart and my inclination excited in me, from the moment I
mounted the throne, the desire of having you here, that you might
put our Berlin Academy in the shape you alone are capable of
giving it. Come then, come, and insert into this wild crab-tree
the sciences, that it may bear fruit. You have shown the figure
of the earth to mankind; show also to a king how sweet it is to
possess such a man as you.

“Monsieur De Maupertuis, your very affectionate

On the 22d of June a complaint was made to the king that the Roman
Catholic schools were perverted to seducing Protestants to become
Catholics. Frederick returned the complaint with the following words
written upon the margin:

“All religions must be tolerated, and the king’s solicitor must have an
eye that none of them make unjust encroachments on the other; for in
this country every man must get to heaven his own way.”

It is a fact worthy of mention, as illustrative of the neglect with
which the king had regarded his own German language in his devotion to
the French tongue, that in these three lines there were eleven words
wrongly spelled.

But the good sense of the utterance, so rare in those dark days,
electrified thousands of minds. It drew the attention of Europe to
Frederick, and gave him wide-spread renown.

Under Frederick William the newspaper press in Berlin amounted to
nothing. The capital had not a single daily paper. Speedy destruction
would crush any writer who, in journal, pamphlet, or book, should
publish any thing displeasing to the king. Frederick proclaimed freedom
of the press. Two newspapers were established in Berlin, one in French
and one in German. Distinguished men were selected to edit them. One
was a noted writer from Hamburg. Frederick, in his absolutism, had
adopted the resolve not to interfere with the freedom of the press
unless there were some gross violation of what he deemed proper. He
allowed very bitter satires to be circulated in Berlin against himself,
simply replying to the remonstrances of his ministers, “_The press is

Such were the measures adopted during the first week of Frederick’s
reign. He soon abolished the enormously expensive regiment of giants,
and organized, instead of them, four regiments composed of men of the
usual stature.[32] Within a few months he added sixteen thousand men to
his already large army, thus raising the number of the standing army
of his little realm to over ninety thousand men. He compelled his old
associates to feel, and some of them very keenly, that he was no longer
their comrade, but their king. One of the veteran and most honored
officers of Frederick William, in his expressions of condolence and
congratulation, ventured to suggest the hope that he and his sons might
continue to “occupy the same posts and retain the same authority as in
the last reign.”

“You will retain your _posts_,” said the king, severely. “I have no
thought of making any change. But as to _authority_, I know of none
there can be but what resides in the king that is sovereign.”

The Marquis of Schwedt advanced to meet the new-made sovereign, his
face beaming jovially, and with outstretched hands, as in the days of
their old companionship. Frederick, fixing his cold eye steadfastly
upon him, almost floored him with the rebuff, “My cousin, I am now

General Schulenburg, trembling in memory of the fact that he had
once, in court-martial, given his vote in favor of beheading the
Crown Prince, hastened from his post at Landsberg to congratulate the
prince upon his accession to the throne. To his extreme chagrin and
indignation, he was repelled by the words, “An officer should not quit
his post without order. Return immediately to Landsberg.”

As an administrative officer the young sovereign was inexorable and
heartless in the extreme. Those who had befriended him in the days
of his adversity were not remembered with any profusion of thanks
or favors. Those who had been in sympathy with his father in his
persecution of the Crown Prince encountered no spirit of revenge.
Apparently dead to affection, and oblivious of the past, the young
sovereign only sought for those agents who could best assist him in
the work to which he now consecrated all his energies - the endeavor
to aggrandize the kingdom of Prussia. Poor Doris Ritter received but a
trivial pension for her terrible wrongs. Lieutenant Keith, his friend
and confederate in his contemplated flight, who had barely escaped with
his life from Wesel, after ten years of exile hastened home, hoping
that his faithful services and sufferings would meet with a reward. The
king appointed him merely lieutenant colonel, with scarcely sufficient
income to keep him from absolute want. Perhaps the king judged that the
young man was not capable of filling, to the advantage of the state,
a higher station, and he had no idea of sacrificing his interests to

Ten years later the king made poor Keith a present of a purse of gold,
containing about seven thousand dollars, under circumstances which
reflected much credit upon the donor. In the following quaint style
Carlyle records the incident:

“The king did a beautiful thing to Lieutenant Keith the other day - that
poor Keith who was nailed to the gallows, in effigy, for him at Wesel,
long ago, and got far less than he expected. The other day there had
been a grand review, part of it extending into Madame Knyphausen’s
grounds, who is Keith’s mother-in-law.

“‘Monsieur Keith,’ said the king to him, ‘I am sorry we had to spoil
Madame’s fine shrubbery by our manœuvres; have the goodness to give her
that, with my apologies,’ and handed him a pretty casket with key to
it, and in the interior 10,000 crowns.

“Not a shrub of Madame’s had been cut or injured. But the king, you
see, would count it £1500 of damage done, and here is acknowledgment
for it, which please accept. Is not that a gracious little touch?”

One wretched man, who had been the guilty accomplice of the Crown
Prince in former scenes of guilt and shame, was so troubled by the
neglect with which he was treated that he hanged himself.

Frederick, as Crown Prince, had been quite methodical in the
distribution of his time, and had cultivated rigid habits of industry.
Now, fully conscious of the immense duties and cares which would
devolve upon him as king, he entered into a very systematic arrangement
of the employments of each hour, to which he rigidly adhered during
nearly the whole of his reign of forty-six years. He ordered his
servants to wake him at four o’clock every morning. Being naturally
inclined to sleep, he found it hard to shake off his lethargy. The
attendants were therefore directed, every morning, to place upon his
forehead a towel dipped in cold water. He thus continued to rise at
four o’clock, summer and winter, until an advanced age.

A single servant lighted his fire, shaved him, and dressed his hair.
He always wore the uniform of his guards, and allowed only fifteen
minutes for his morning toilet. He did not indulge in the luxury of
slippers or dressing-gown, though occasionally, when ill, he put on a
sort of linen wrapper, but even then he wore his military boots. Only
on one day in the year did he appear in silk stockings, and that was on
the birthday of his neglected wife, when he formally called upon her
with his congratulations.

The ordinary routine of the day, when not absent on travels or
campaigns, was as follows: As soon as dressed, one of his pages brought
the packet of letters. The number was usually very large. He employed
himself in reading these letters till eight o’clock. By a particular
style of folding, he designated those to which no reply was to be
returned, those to which there was to be an immediate reply, and those
which required further consideration. At eight o’clock one of the four
secretaries of the cabinet entered, took the three parcels, and, while
the king was breakfasting, received from him very briefly the character
of the response to be made.

At nine o’clock Frederick received one of the general officers,
and arranged with him all the military affairs of the day, usually
dismissing him loaded with business. At ten o’clock he reviewed some
one of the regiments; and then, after attending parade, devoted himself
to literary pursuits or private correspondence until dinner-time. This
was the portion of the day he usually appropriated to authorship.
He was accustomed to compose, both in prose and verse, while slowly
traversing the graveled walks of his garden.

He was particularly fond of dogs of the graceful greyhound breed,
and might often be seen with book and pencil in his hand, in the
shady walks, with three or four Italian greyhounds gamboling around
him, apparently entirely absorbed in deep meditation. A page
usually followed at a short distance behind, to attend his call. At
twelve o’clock he dined with invited guests. As quite a number of
distinguished men always met at his table, and the king was very fond
of good living, as well as of the “feast of reason and the flow of
soul,” the repast was frequently prolonged until nearly three o’clock.
At dinner he was very social, priding himself not a little upon his
conversational powers.


In pleasant weather he took a long walk after dinner, and generally
at so rapid a pace that it was difficult for most persons to keep up
with him. At four o’clock the secretaries brought to him the answers
to the letters which they had received from him in the morning. He
glanced them over, examining some with care. Then, until six o’clock,
he devoted himself to reading, to literary compositions, and to the
affairs of the Academy, in which he took a very deep interest. At six
o’clock he had a private musical concert, at which he performed himself
upon the flute. He was passionately fond of this instrument, and
continued to play upon it until, in old age, his teeth decaying, he was
unable to produce the sounds he wished.

After the concert, which usually continued an hour, he engaged in
conversation until ten o’clock. He then took supper with a few friends,
and at eleven retired to his bed.

To his mother he was very considerate in all his manifestations
of filial affection, while, at the same time, he caused her very
distinctly to understand that she was to take no share whatever in the
affairs of government. When she addressed him, upon his accession to
the throne, as “Your Majesty,” he replied, “Call me son. That is the
title of all others most agreeable to me.” He decreed to her the title
of “Her Majesty the Queen-mother.” The palace of Monbijou was assigned
her, where she was surrounded with every luxury, treated with the most
distinguished attention, and her court was the acknowledged centre of
fashionable society.

He seems ever to have treated his nominal wife, Queen Elizabeth,
_politely_. For some months after the accession he was quite prominent
in his public attentions to her. But these intervals of association
grew gradually more rare, until after three or four years they ceased
almost entirely.

Frederick, under the tutelage of his stern father, had not enjoyed
the privileges of foreign travel. While other princes of far humbler
expectations were taking the grand tour of Europe, the Crown Prince
was virtually imprisoned in the barracks, day after day, engaged in
the dull routine of drilling the giant guard. After the death of his
father he did not condescend to be crowned, proudly assuming, in
contradiction to some of his earlier teachings, that the crown was
already placed upon his brow by divine power. He, however, exacted from
the people throughout his realms oaths of allegiance, and in person
visited several of the principal cities to administer those oaths with
much pomp of ceremony. The Danish envoy, writing home to his government
respecting the administration of Frederick, says,

“I must observe that hitherto the King of Prussia does, as it were,
every thing himself; and that, excepting the finance minister, who
preaches frugality, and finds for that doctrine uncommon acceptance,
his majesty allows no counseling from any minister; so that the
minister for foreign affairs has nothing to do but to expedite the
orders he receives, his advice not being asked upon any matter. And so
it is with the other ministers.”

On the 12th of June, but a fortnight after his accession, Frederick
wrote from Charlottenburg to Voltaire, who was then at Brussels, as

“MY DEAR VOLTAIRE, - Resist no longer the eagerness I have to
see you. Do, in my favor, whatever your humanity allows. In the
end of August I go to Wesel, and perhaps farther. Promise that
you will come and join me, for I could not live happy nor die
tranquil without having embraced you. Thousand compliments to
the Marquise” (Madame Du Châtelet, the _divine Emilie_). “I am
busy with both hands - working at the army with one hand, at the
people and the fine arts with the other.”

It would seem that Frederick was not very willing to receive, as his
guest, the divine Emilie, who occupied so questionable a position in
the household of Voltaire; for he wrote again, on the 5th of August, in
reply to a letter from Voltaire, saying,

“I will write to Madame Du Châtelet in compliance with your wish. To
speak to you frankly concerning her journey, it is Voltaire, it is you,
it is my friend that I desire to see. I can not say whether I shall
travel or not travel. Adieu, dear friend, sublime spirit, first-born of
thinking beings. Love me always sincerely, and be persuaded that none
can love and esteem you more than I.”

Again the next day he wrote:

“You will have received a letter from me dated yesterday. This is the
second I write to you from Berlin. I refer you to what was in the
other. If it must be that Emilie accompany Apollo, I consent. But if
I could see you alone, that is what I should prefer. I should be too
much dazzled. I could not stand so much splendor all at once. It would
overpower me. I should need the veil of Moses to temper the united
radiance of your two divinities.”

In return, Voltaire compliments the king very profusely. Speaking of
the book of the royal author, the _Anti-Machiavel_, he writes:

“It is a monument for the latest posterity; the only book worthy of a
king for these fifteen hundred years.”[33]

Frederick was very desirous of visiting France, whose literature,
science, and distinguished men he so greatly admired. Early Monday
morning, the 15th of August, the king left Potsdam to visit his
sister Wilhelmina, intending then to continue his journey _incognito_
into France, and, if circumstances favored, as far as Paris. The
king assumed the name of the Count Dufour. His next younger brother,
William, eighteen years of age, accompanied him, also under an assumed
name. William was now Crown Prince, to inherit the throne should
Frederick leave no children. Six other gentlemen composed the party.
They traveled in two coaches, with but few attendants, and avoided all
unnecessary display.

Frederick spent three days with his sister at Baireuth. Wilhelmina was
disappointed in his appearance. The brotherly affection she looked
for was not found. He was cold, stately, disposed to banter her, and
his conversation seemed “set on stilts.” Leaving Baireuth, the king
continued his journey very rapidly toward Strasbourg. When they reached
Kehl, on the eastern banks of the Rhine, they were informed that they
could not cross the river without passports. One of the gentlemen drew
up the necessary document, which the king signed and sealed with his
signet-ring. The curiosity of the landlord had been excited, and he
watched his guests from a closet. Seeing what was done, he said to
Frederstorf, the king’s valet, “Count Dufour is the King of Prussia,
sir; I saw him sign his name.” He was bribed to keep the secret.

When they reached Strasbourg they provided themselves with French
dresses. The king and his brother put up at different inns, that they
might be less liable to suspicion. Frederick, with several of his
party, took lodgings at the Raven Hotel. He sent the landlord out to
invite several army officers to sup with a foreign gentleman, Count
Dufour, from Bohemia, who was an entire stranger in the place. Some of
the officers very peremptorily declined the invitation, considering
it an imposition. Three, however, allured by the singularity of the
summons, repaired to the inn. The assumed count received them with
great courtesy, apologized for the liberty he had taken, thanked them
for their kindness, and assured them that, being a stranger, he was
very happy to make the acquaintance of so many brave officers, whose
society he valued above that of all others.

The companions of the king were well-bred men, of engaging manners,
commanding intelligence, and accustomed to authority. The entertainment
was superb, with an abundance of the richest wines. The conversation
took a wide range, and was interesting and exciting to a high degree.
The French officers were quite bewildered by the scene. The count
was perfect master of the French language, was very brilliant in his
sallies, and seemed perfectly familiar with all military affairs. He
was treated with remarkable deference by his companions, some of whom
were far his superiors in years.

The entertainment was prolonged until a late hour of the night. The
delighted guests, as they retired, urged their host to attend parade
with them in the morning, offering to come in person to conduct him to
the ground. The count, with pleasure, accepted the invitation. In the
morning he was escorted to the parade-ground. His fame spread rapidly.
Friends multiplied. He was invited to sup with the officers in the
evening, and accepted the invitation. Marshal Broglio, a very stately
gentleman of seventy years, was military governor at Strasbourg. The
count and one of his companions, the distinguished philosopher Count
Algarotti, were invited to dine with the marshal. The supper given in
the evening by the officers was brilliant. They then repaired to the
opera. A poor little girl came to the box with a couple of lottery
tickets for sale. Frederick gave her four ducats ($25), and tore up the

Strasbourg began to echo with the fame of this foreign count. But the
next morning, Thursday, August 25, as Marshal Broglio was walking on
the Esplanade, a soldier, who had formerly been in the regiment of
the Crown Prince at Potsdam, and who knew the Crown Prince perfectly,
having seen him hundreds of times, but who had deserted and entered
the French service, came to the marshal, with much bowing and
embarrassment, and assured him that Count Dufour was no less than the
King of Prussia.

The secret was now out. The tidings flew in all directions that the
King of Prussia was in Strasbourg _incognito_. The king, not yet aware
of the detection, called upon the marshal. A crowd of officers gathered
eagerly around. The marshal was much embarrassed in his desire to
respect the _incognito_, and also to manifest the consideration due
to a sovereign. No one yet ventured to address him as king, though
there were many indications that his rank was beginning to be known.
Frederick therefore decided to get out of the city as soon as possible.
To conceal his design, he made arrangements to attend the theatre with
the marshal in the evening. The marshal went to the theatre with all

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 16 of 52)