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his officers. The building was crowded with the multitude hoping to
see the king. Bonfires began to blaze in the streets, and shouts were
heard of “Long live the King of Prussia.” Frederick hastily collected
his companions, paid his enormous bill at the Raven, “shot off like
lightning,” and was seen in Strasbourg no more.

Voltaire was at this time in Brussels. Frederick wrote him from Wesel,
under date of 2d September, 1740, giving a narrative of his adventures,
partly in prose, partly in verse. It was a long communication, the
rhyme very much like that which a bright school-girl would write upon
the gallop. The following specimen of this singular production will
give the reader a sufficient idea of the whole:

“MY DEAR VOLTAIRE, - You wish to know what I have been about
since leaving Berlin. Annexed you will find a description of it.

“I have just finished a journey intermingled with singular
adventures, sometimes pleasant, sometimes the reverse. You know
I had set out for Baireuth to see a sister whom I love no less
than esteem. On the road Algarotti and I consulted the map to
settle our route for returning by Wesel. Frankfort-on-the-Main
comes always as a principal stage. Strasbourg was no great
roundabout. We chose that route in preference. The _incognito_
was decided, names pitched upon, story we were to tell. In fine,
all was arranged as well as possible. We fancied we should get to
Strasbourg in three days.

“Mais le ciel, qui de tout dispose,
Régla différemment la chose.
Avec de coursiers efflanqués,
Et des paysans en postillons masqués,
Butors de race impertinente,
Notre carrosse en cent lieux accroché,
Nous allions gravement d’une allure indolente,
Gravitant contre les rochers,
L’airs émus par le bruyant tonnere.
Les torrents d’eau répandus sur la terre
Du dernier jour menaçaient les humains.
Et malgré notre impatience,
Quatre bons jours en pénitence
Sont pour jamais perdus dans les charrains.”

(But Heaven, which of all disposes,
Regulated differently the thing.
With coursers lank-sided,
And peasants as postillions disguised,
Blockheads of race impertinent,
Our carriages in a hundred places sticking,
We went gravely at a slow pace,
Knocking against the rocks,
The air agitated by loud thunder.
Torrents of water spread over the earth
With the last day threatened mankind.
And notwithstanding our impatience,
Four good days in penance
Are forever lost in these jumbles.)

“Had all our fatalities been limited to stoppages of speed on the
journey, we should have taken patience. But after frightful roads
we found lodgings still more frightful.”

Then came another strain of verse. Thus the prose and the doggerel
were interspersed through the long narrative. Though very truthful in
character, it was a school-boy performance - a very singular document
indeed to be sent to the most brilliant genius of that age, by one who
soon proved himself to be the ablest sovereign in Europe.

At Wesel the king met Maupertuis, to whom we have already alluded, who
was then one of the greatest of European celebrities. His discovery of
the flattening of the earth at the poles had given him such renown that
the kings of Russia, France, and Prussia were all lavishing honors upon
him. It was a great gratification to Frederick that he had secured his
services in organizing the Berlin Academy. While at Wesel the king was
seized by a fever, which shut him up for a time in the small chateau of
Moyland. He had never yet met Voltaire, and being very anxious to see
him, wrote to him as follows, under date of September 6th, 1740:

“MY DEAR VOLTAIRE, - In spite of myself, I have to yield to the
quartan fever, which is more tenacious than a Jansenist. And
whatever desire I had of going to Antwerp and Brussels, I find
myself not in a condition to undertake such a journey without
risk. I would ask of you, then, if the road from Brussels to
Cleves would not to _you_ seem too long for a meeting? It is the
one means of seeing you which remains to me. Confess that I am
unlucky; for now, when I could dispose of my person, and nothing
hinders me from seeing you, the fever gets its hand into the
business, and seems to intend disputing me that satisfaction.

“Let us deceive the fever, my dear Voltaire, and let me have
at least the pleasure of embracing you. Make my best excuses
to Madame the Marquise that I can not have the satisfaction of
seeing her at Brussels. All that are about me know the intention
I was in, which certainly nothing but the fever could make me

“Sunday next I shall be at a little place near Cleves, where I
shall be able to possess you at my ease. If the sight of you
don’t cure me, I will send for a confessor at once. Adieu. You
know my sentiments and my heart.


In accordance with this request, Voltaire repaired to Cleves to visit
the king. Many years afterward, having quarreled with Frederick, and
being disposed to represent him in the most unfavorable light, he gave
the following account of this interview in his _Vie Privée_:

“The king said that he would come and see me _incognito_ at Brussels.
But having fallen ill a couple of leagues from Cleves, he wrote me that
he expected I would make the advances. I went accordingly to present
my profound homages. I found at the gate of the court-yard a single
soldier on guard. The privy councilor Rambonet, Minister of State, was
walking about the court, blowing on his fingers to warm them. He had
on great ruffles of dirty linen, a hat with holes in it, and an old
periwig, one end of which hung down into one of his pockets, while the
other hardly covered his shoulder.

“I was conducted into his majesty’s apartment, where there was nothing
but the bare walls. I perceived in a closet, lit by a single wax
candle, a small bed, two feet and a half wide, on which lay a little
man wrapped up in a cloak of coarse blue cloth. It was the king, who
perspired and shivered, under a miserable coverlet, in a violent access
of fever. I made my bow, and began the acquaintance by feeling his
pulse, as if I had been his first physician. When the fit was passed he
dressed himself and came to supper. Algarotti, Keyserling, Maupertuis,
and the king’s embassador to the States General made up the party. We
talked learnedly respecting the immortality of the soul, liberty, and
the Androgynes of Plato, and other small topics of that nature.”


Frederick, who was then in the zenith of his admiration for Voltaire,
describes as follows, in a letter to his friend M. Jordan, his
impressions of the interview:

“I have at length seen Voltaire, whom I was so anxious to know. But,
alas! I saw him when under the influence of my fever, and when my mind
and my body were equally languid. With persons like him one ought not
to be sick. On the contrary, one ought to be specially well. He has the
eloquence of Cicero, the mildness of Pliny, and the wisdom of Agrippa.
He unites, in a word, all the collected virtues and talents of the
three greatest men of antiquity. His intellect is always at work. Every
drop of ink that falls from his pen is transformed at once into wit.
He declaimed his _Mahomet_ to us, an admirable tragedy which he has
composed. I could only admire in silence.”

Indeed, it would seem that, at the time, Voltaire must have been very
favorably impressed by the appearance of his royal host. The account he
then gave of the interview was very different from that which, in his
exasperation, he wrote twenty years afterward. In a letter to a friend,
M. De Cideville, dated October 18th, 1740, Voltaire wrote:

“When you sent me, inclosed in your letter, those verses for our Marcus
Aurelius of the North, I fully intended to pay my court to him with
them. He was at that time to have come to Brussels _incognito_. But the
quartan fever, which unhappily he still has, deranged all his projects.
He has sent me a courier to Brussels, and so I set out to find him in
the neighborhood of Cleves.

“It was there that I saw one of the most amiable men in the world, who
forms the charm of society, who would be every where sought after if he
were not a king; a philosopher without austerity, full of sweetness,
complaisance, and obliging ways - not remembering that he is king when
he meets his friends; indeed, so completely forgetting it that he made
me too almost forget it, and I needed an effort of memory to recollect
that I here saw, sitting at the foot of my bed, a sovereign who had an
army of a hundred thousand men.”



The Herstal Affair. - The Summons. - Voltaire’s Manifesto. - George II.
visits Hanover. - The Visit of Wilhelmina to Berlin. - Unpopularity
of the King. - Death of the Emperor Charles VI.

On the River Maas, a few miles north of the present city of Liege,
there was a celebrated castle called Herstal. For many generations
feudal lords had there displayed their pomp and power; and it had
been the theatre not only of princely revelry, but of many scenes of
violence and blood. A surrounding territory of a few thousand acres,
cultivated by serfs, who were virtually slaves, was the hereditary
domain of the petty lords of the castle. A few miles south of the
castle there was a monastery called Liege, which was a dependency of
the lords of Herstal.

Amid the vicissitudes of the revolving centuries the rollicking
lords grew poor, and the frugal monks grew rich. A thrifty city rose
around the monastery, and its bishop wielded a power, temporal and
spiritual, more potent than had ever issued from the walls of the now
crumbling and dilapidated castle. In some of the perplexing diplomatic
arrangements of those days, the castle of Herstal, with its surrounding
district, was transferred to Frederick William of Prussia. The
peasants, who had heard of the military rigor of Prussia, where almost
every able-bodied man was crowded into the army, were exceedingly
troubled by this transfer, and refused to take the oath of allegiance
to their new sovereign, who had thus succeeded to the ownership of
themselves, their flocks, and their herds. The gleaming sabres of
Frederick William’s dragoons soon, however, brought them to terms. Thus
compelled to submission, they remained unreconciled and irritated.
Upon the withdrawal of the Prussian troops, the authority of Frederick
William over the Herstal people also disappeared, for they greatly
preferred the milder rule of the Bishop of Liege.

The bishop denied that Frederick William had any claim to Herstal. He
brought forward a prior claim of his own in behalf of the Church. The
Duke of Lorraine, when proprietor of the castle and its dependencies,
had pawned it to the bishop for a considerable sum of money. This
money, the bishop averred, had never been repaid. Consequently he
claimed the property as still in his possession.

George Ludwig, Count of Berg, who at this time was Bishop of Liege,
was a feeble old man, tottering beneath the infirmities of eighty-two
years. He did not venture upon physical resistance to the power of
Prussia, but confined himself to protests, remonstrances, and to the
continued exercise of his own governmental authority. As Herstal was
many leagues distant from Berlin, was of comparatively little value,
and could only be reached by traversing foreign states, Frederick
William offered to sell all his claims to it for about eighty thousand
dollars. The proposal not being either accepted or rejected by the
bishop, the king, anxious to settle the question before his death, sent
an embassador to Liege, with full powers to arrange the difficulty by
treaty. For three days the embassador endeavored in vain to obtain an
audience. He then returned indignantly to Berlin. The king, of course,
regarded this treatment as an insult. The bishop subsequently averred
that the audience was prevented by his own sickness. Such was the
posture of affairs when Frederick William died.

Upon the accession of Frederick the Second, as officers were dispatched
through the realm to exact oaths of allegiance, the Herstal people,
encouraged by the bishop, refused to acknowledge fealty to the new
king. Frederick was now in the district of Cleve, in the near vicinity
of Herstal. He sent the following very decisive summons to the “Prince
Bishop of Liege,” dated Wesel, September 4, 1740:

“MY COUSIN, - Knowing all the assaults made by you upon my
indisputable rights over my free barony of Herstal, and how the
seditious ringleaders there, for several years past, have been
countenanced by you in their detestable acts of disobedience
against me, I have commanded my privy counselor, Rambonet, to
repair to your presence, and in my name to require from you,
within two days, a distinct and categorical answer to this

“Whether you are still minded to assert your pretended
sovereignty over Herstal, and whether you will protect the rebels
at Herstal in their disorders and abominable disobedience?

“In case you refuse, or delay beyond the term, the answer
which I hereby of right demand, you will render yourself alone
responsible, before the world, for the consequences which
infallibly will follow. I am, with much consideration, my cousin,
your very affectionate cousin,


Rambonet presented the peremptory missive, and waited forty-eight hours
for the answer. He then returned to Wesel without any satisfactory
reply. Frederick immediately issued a manifesto, declaring the reasons
for his action, and ordered two thousand men, horse and foot, who were
all ready for the emergence, to advance immediately to Maaseyk, one
of the principal towns of the bishop, take possession of it and of
the surrounding region, quarter themselves upon the people, enforce
liberal contributions, and remain there until the bishop should come to

The solid, compact army, with infantry, artillery, and cavalry in the
best possible condition, advanced at the double-quick. Arriving at the
gates of Maaseyk, not a moment was spent in parleying. “Open the gates
instantly,” was the summons, “or we shall open them with the petard.”

With great courtesy of words, but pitiless energy of action, General
Borck, who was in command, fulfilled his commission. A contribution
was exacted of fifteen thousand dollars, to be paid within three days;
sufficient rations were to be furnished daily for the troops, or
the general, it was stated, would be under the painful necessity of
collecting them for himself. Two hundred and fifty dollars a day were
to be provided for the general’s private expenses. Remonstrances were
of no avail. Resistance was not to be thought of.

The poor old bishop called loudly upon the Emperor of Germany for help.
The territory of the Bishop of Liege was under the protection of the
empire. The Emperor Charles VI. immediately issued a decree ordering
Frederick to withdraw his troops, to restore the money which he had
extorted, and to settle the question by arbitration, or by an appeal to
the laws of the empire. This was the last decree issued by Charles VI.
Two weeks after he died.

Frederick paid no regard to the remonstrance of the emperor. The
bishop, in his distress, applied to the French for aid, and then
to the Dutch, but all in vain. He then sent an embassy to Berlin,
proposing to purchase Herstal. The king consented to sell upon the
same terms his father had offered, adding to the sum the expenses of
his military expedition and other little items, bringing the amount up
to one hundred and eighty thousand dollars. The money was paid, and
the Herstal difficulty was settled. This was Frederick’s first act of
foreign diplomacy. Many severely censured him for the violent course he
pursued with a power incapable of resistance. All admitted the energy
and sagacity which he had developed in the affair.

Voltaire, in his _Memoirs_, says that he drew up the manifesto for
Frederick upon this occasion. “The pretext,” he writes, “for this fine
expedition was certain rights which his majesty pretended to have over
a part of the suburbs. It was to me he committed the task of drawing
up the manifesto, which I performed as well as the nature of the case
would let me, never suspecting that a king, with whom I supped, and who
called me his friend, could possibly be in the wrong. The affair was
soon brought to a conclusion by the payment of a million of livres,
which he exacted in good hard ducats, and which served to defray the
expenses of his tour to Strasbourg, concerning which he complained so
loudly in his poetic prose epistle.

“I represented to him that perhaps it was not altogether prudent to
print his _Anti-Machiavel_ just at the time that the world might
reproach him with having violated the principles he taught. He
permitted me to stop the impression. I accordingly took a journey into
Holland purposely to do him this trifling service. But the bookseller
demanded so much money that his majesty, who was not in the bottom of
his heart vexed to see himself in print, was better pleased to be so
for nothing, than to pay for not being so. I could not avoid feeling
some remorse at being concerned in printing this _Anti-Machiavelian_
book at the very moment that the King of Prussia, who had a hundred
millions in his coffers, was robbing the poor people of Liege of
another, by the hand of the privy counselor Rambonet.”[35]

It must be borne in mind that these words were written after Voltaire
had quarreled with Frederick, and when it seems to have been his desire
to represent all the acts of the king in as unfavorable a light as
possible. Frederick himself, about eight years after the settlement of
the Herstal difficulty, gave the following as his version of the affair:

“A miserable Bishop of Liege thought it a proud thing to insult the
late king. Some subjects of Herstal, which belongs to Prussia, had
revolted. The bishop gave them his protection. Colonel Kreutzen was
sent to Liege to compose the thing by treaty, with credentials and full
power. Imagine it; the bishop would not receive him! Three days, day
after day, he saw this envoy apply at his palace, and always denied him
entrance. These things had grown past endurance.”

Frederick returned to Berlin by a circuitous route, which occupied
ten days. His uncle, King George II. of England, whom he exceedingly
disliked, was then on a visit to his Hanoverian possessions. Frederick
passed within a few miles of his Britannic majesty without deigning
to call upon him. The slight caused much comment in the English
papers. It was regarded as of national moment, for it implied that in
the complicated policy which then agitated the courts of Europe the
sympathies of Prussia would not be with England.

Soon after this, Frederick’s next younger brother, Augustus William,
who was heir-presumptive to the throne in default of a son by
Frederick, was betrothed to Louisa Amelia of Brunswick, younger sister
of Frederick’s bride.

About the middle of October Wilhelmina came to Berlin to see her
brothers again. Nine years had passed since her marriage, and seven
since her last sad visit to the home of her childhood, in which
inauspicious visit the wretchedness of her early years had been renewed
by the cruelty of her reception. In Wilhelmina’s journal we find the
following allusion to this her second return to Berlin:

“We arrived at Berlin the end of October. My younger brothers, followed
by the princes of the blood and by all the court, received us at the
bottom of the stairs. I was led to my apartment, where I found the
reigning queen, my sisters, and the princesses. I learned, with much
chagrin, that the king was ill of tertian ague. He sent me word that,
being in his fit, he could not see me, but that he depended on having
that pleasure to-morrow. The queen-mother, to whom I went without
delay, was in a dark condition. Her rooms were all hung in their
lugubrious drapery. Every thing was as yet in the depth of mourning for
my father. What a scene for me! Nature has her rights. I can say with
truth I have almost never in my life been so moved as on this occasion.
My interview with my mother was very touching.”

The next morning Frederick hastened to greet his sister. Wilhelmina
was not pleased with his appearance. The cares of his new reign
entirely engrossed his mind. The dignity of an absolute king did not
sit gracefully upon him. Though ostentatiously demonstrative in his
greeting, the delicate instincts of Wilhelmina taught her that her
brother’s caresses were heartless. He was just recovering from a fit of
the ague, and looked emaciate and sallow. The court was in mourning.
During those funereal days no festivities could be indulged in. The
queen-mother was decorously melancholy; she seems to have been not only
disappointed, but excessively chagrined, to find that she was excluded
by her son from the slightest influence in public affairs. The distant,
arrogant, and assuming airs of the young king soon rendered him

“A general discontent,” writes Wilhelmina, “reigned in the country.
The love of his subjects was pretty much gone. People spoke of him
in no measured terms. Some accused him of caring nothing about those
who helped him as Prince Royal. Others complained of his avarice as
surpassing that of the late king. He was accused of violence of temper,
of a suspicious disposition, of distrust, haughtiness, dissimulation.
I would have spoken to him about these had not my brother Augustus
William and the queen regnant dissuaded me.”

Frederick invited his sister to visit him at Reinsberg, to which place
either business or pleasure immediately called him. After the lapse of
two days, Wilhelmina, with the neglected Queen Elizabeth, repaired to
the enchanting chateau, hoping to find, amid its rural scenes, that
enjoyment which she never yet had been able to find in the sombre halls
of the Berlin palace. Here quite a gay company was assembled. Frederick
was very laboriously occupied during the day in affairs of state.
But in the evening he appeared in the social circles, attracting the
attention of all by his conversational brilliance, and by the apparent
heartiness with which he entered into the amusements of the court. He
took an active part in some private theatricals, and none were aware
of the profound schemes of ambition which, cloaked by this external
gayety, were engrossing his thoughts.

On the 25th of October a courier arrived, direct from Vienna, with
the startling intelligence that the Emperor Charles VI. had died five
days before. The king was at the time suffering from a severe attack
of chills and fever. There was quite a long deliberation in the court
whether it were safe to communicate the agitating intelligence to
his majesty while he was so sick. They delayed for an hour, and then
cautiously informed the king of the great event. Frederick listened in
silence; uttered not a word; made no sign.[36] Subsequent events proved
that his soul must have been agitated by the tidings to its profoundest
depths. The death of the emperor, at that time, was unexpected. But
it is pretty evident that Frederick had, in the sombre recesses of
his mind, resolved upon a course of action when the emperor should
die which he knew would be fraught with the most momentous results.
In fact, this action proved the occasion of wars and woes from which,
could the king have foreseen them, he would doubtless have shrunk back

The Emperor Charles VI. left no son. He therefore promulgated a new law
of succession in a decree known throughout Europe as the “Pragmatic
Sanction.” By the custom of the realm the sceptre could descend only to
male heirs. But by this decree the king declared that the crown of the
house of Hapsburg should be transmitted to his daughter, Maria Theresa.
This law had been ratified by the estates of all the kingdoms and
principalities which composed the Austrian monarchy. All the leading
powers of Europe - England, France, Spain, _Prussia_, Russia, Poland,
Sweden, Denmark, and the Germanic body - had bound themselves by treaty
to maintain the “Pragmatic Sanction.” It was a peaceable and wise
arrangement, acceptable to the people of Austria and to the dynasties

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 17 of 52)