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History of Frederick the Second online

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preceptors, M. Duhan, lay at the point of death. He ordered his
carriage to be at once driven to the residence of the dying man. The
house of M. Duhan was situated in a court, blazing with the glow of
thousands of lamps.

“It was an affecting sight,” says M. Bielfeld, “to see a dying man
in the midst of a brilliant illumination, surrounded by princes, and
visited by a triumphant monarch, who, in the midst of the incessant
clamor of exultation, sought only to alleviate the sick man’s pangs,
participating in his distress, and reflecting upon the vanity of all
human grandeur.”

The king having taken a tender adieu of M. Duhan, who died the next
morning, traversed the brilliant streets of the rejoicing city, and
returned to the palace about ten that evening.

Frederick now entered upon a period of ten years of peace.


[Illustration: SANS SOUCI.]



Days of Peace and Prosperity. - The Palace of Sans Souci. - Letter
from Marshal Keith. - Domestic Habits of the King. - Frederick’s
Snuff-boxes. - Anecdotes. - Severe Discipline of the Army. -
Testimony of Baron Trenck. - The Review. - Death of the “Divine
Emilie.” - The King’s Revenge. - Anecdote of the Poor Schoolmaster. -
The Berlin Carousal. - Appearance of his Majesty. - Honors conferred
upon Voltaire.

“Happy the people,” says Montesquieu, “whose annals are blank in
history books.” The annals of the nations are mainly composed of wars,
tumult, and woe. For ten years Prussia enjoyed peace. During this happy
period, when the days and the years glided by in tranquillity, there is
little left for the historian to record. Frederick engaged vigorously
in repairing the ruins left by the war. The burned Silesian villages
were rebuilt; debts were paid; agriculture and commerce encouraged; the
laws revised and reformed. A decree was issued that all lawsuits should
be brought to a decision within a year after their beginning.

The king, weary of the life of turmoil, constructed for himself a
beautiful villa, which he named _Sans Souci_ (“Free from Care”), which
Carlyle characteristically translates “No bother.” It was situated on a
pleasant hill-top near Potsdam, in great retirement, yet commanding an
enchanting view of land and water.

On the first of May, 1747, Frederick took formal possession of this
beautiful chateau. The occasion was celebrated by quite a magnificent
dinner of two hundred covers. Here, for the next forty years, he spent
most of his leisure time. He had three other palaces, far surpassing
Sans Souci in splendor, which he occasionally visited on days of royal
festivities. Berlin and Charlottenburg were about twenty miles distant.
The New Palace, so called, at Potsdam, was but about a mile from Sans
Souci. He had also his palace at Rheinsberg, some thirty miles north of
Berlin, where he had spent many of his early days.


It is said that one day, as Frederick was contemplating the royal
burying-ground, not far from the spot which he had selected for his
rural villa, he said to a companion by his side, in reference to his
own burial, “Oui, alors je serais sans souci.” _Yes, then I shall be
free from care._ From that remark the villa took its name. Frederick
adopted it, and inscribed it in golden letters on the lintel. He
appropriated to his private use three apartments - an audience-room,
a library, and a small alcove for a bedroom. In this alcove, scarcely
larger than a closet, he slept, in soldier style, upon an iron bed,
without curtains. An old slouched hat, softened by wear, served him for
a night-cap. His library was a beautiful room, very richly furnished.
There were terrible war-clouds still sweeping over various parts of
Europe, but their lightning flashes and their thunder roar disturbed
not the repose of Frederick in his elevated retreat.

In the month of October, 1747, Field-marshal Keith visited his Prussian
majesty at Sans Souci. In a letter to his brother he thus describes the
results of his observations:

“I have now the honor, and, what is still more, the pleasure of being
with the king at Potsdam. I have the honor to dine and sup with him
almost every day. He has more wit than I have wit to tell you; speaks
solidly and knowingly on all kinds of subjects; and I am much mistaken
if, with the experience of four campaigns, he is not the best officer
of his army. He has several persons with whom he lives with almost the
familiarity of a friend, but he has no favorite. He shows a natural
politeness for every body who is about him. For one who has been four
days about his person, you will say, I pretend to know a great deal
about his character. But what I tell you you may depend upon. With more
time I shall know as much of him as he will let me know, and no one of
his ministry knows any more.”

The king was a very busy man. In addition to carrying on quite an
extensive literary correspondence, he was vigorously engaged in writing
his memoirs. He was also with great energy developing the wealth of his
realms. In the exercise of absolute power, his government was entirely
personal. He had no constitution to restrain him. Under his single
control were concentrated all legislative, judicial, and executive
powers. There was no senate or legislative corps to co-operate in
framing laws. His ministers were merely servants to do his bidding.
The courts had no powers whatever but such as he intrusted to them. He
could at any time reverse their decrees, and flog the judges with his
cane, or hang them.

Frederick was a great snuff-taker. He always carried two large
snuff-boxes in his pocket. Several others stood upon tables around
in his rooms, always ready for use. The cheapest of these boxes cost
fifteen hundred dollars. He had some richly studded with gems, which
cost seven thousand five hundred dollars. At his death one hundred and
thirty snuff-boxes appeared in the inventory of his jewels.

Many anecdotes are related illustrative of the kind feelings of the
king toward the peasants. He was much interested in ameliorating their
condition, and said to the Bishop of Varmia, “Believe me, if I knew
every thing - if I could read every thing myself - all my subjects
should be happy. But alas! I am but a man.”

In the ranks all of the army were equally entitled to distinction.
Promotion was conferred upon merit, not upon the accident of birth.
This principle, which was entirely ignored in the other European
despotisms, probably contributed to the success of Frederick’s armies.
A Hanoverian count wrote to him, soliciting a high position in the army
for his son, in favor of his exalted birth. Frederick dictated the
following reply:

“I am obliged to tell you that I have long forbid _counts_ to be
received, as such, into my army; for when they have served one or
two years they retire, and merely make their short military career a
subject of vain boasting. If your son wishes to serve, the title of
count can be of no use to him. But he will be promoted if he learn his
profession well.”

The king then took the pen himself, and added with his own hand:

“Young counts who have learned nothing are the most ignorant
people in all countries. In England the king’s son begins by
being a sailor on board a ship, in order to learn the manœuvres
belonging to that service. If it should miraculously happen that
a count could be good for any thing, it must be by banishing
all thoughts about his titles and his birth, for these are only
follies. Every thing depends upon personal merit.


The severity of discipline in the Prussian army was dreadful. The
slightest misdemeanor was punished mercilessly. The drill, exposure,
and hardships in the camp made life to the soldier a scene of constant
martyrdom. Desertion was almost impossible. The only avenue of escape
was suicide. In the little garrison at Potsdam, in ten years, over
three hundred, by self-inflicted death, escaped their miseries. Dr.
Zimmerman states that it not unfrequently happened that a soldier
murdered a child, and then came and gave himself up to justice. They
thought that if they committed suicide they would be subject to
eternal punishment. But the murdered infant was sure to go to heaven,
and the murderer would have time to repent and make his peace with God.

Baron Trenck, in his memoir, gives an appalling account of these
hardships in the body-guards to which he belonged. In time of peace
there was scarcely an hour which he could command. The morning
drill commenced at four o’clock. The most complicated and perilous
manœuvres were performed. Frederick considered this the best school
for cavalry in the world. They were compelled to leap trenches, which
were continually widened till many fell in and broke their legs or
arms. They were also compelled to leap hedges, and continue to charge
at the highest possible speed for miles together. Almost daily some
were either killed or wounded. At midday they took fresh horses, and
repeated these toilsome and dangerous labors. Frequently they would be
called from their beds two or three times in one night, to keep them
on the alert. But eight minutes were allowed the guardsman to present
himself on horseback, in his place, fully equipped. “In one year of
peace,” he says, “the body-guards lost more men and horses than they
had in two battles during the war.”

In 1747 Marshal Saxe visited Potsdam. He witnessed a review of the
guards. In the account of this review given by Algarotti, he says, “The
squadron of guards, which at one time, drawn up close, exhibited the
appearance of a rock, at another resembled a cloud scattered along the
plain. In the charge on full gallop one horse’s head was not a foot
beyond another. The line was so exactly straight that Euclid himself
could not have found fault with it.”

In September, 1749, Madame Du Châtelet, the “divine Emilie” of
Voltaire, suddenly died. The infidel philosopher seemed much grieved
for a time. Frederick, who never fancied Madame Du Châtelet, was the
more eager, now that she was out of the way, that Voltaire should
come to Sans Souci, and aid him in his literary labors. A trivial
incident occurred at this time worthy of record, as illustrative of the
character of the king. At the close of the year 1749 there had been
a review of Austrian troops at Mähren. It was not a very important
affair, neither the empress queen nor her husband being present. Three
Prussian officers made their appearance. It was said that they had
come to inveigle soldiers to desert, and enlist under the banners of
Prussia. They were peremptorily ordered by the Austrian authorities to
leave the ground. Frederick, when he heard of it, said nothing, but
treasured it up.

A few months after, in May, 1750, there was a grand review at Berlin.
An Austrian officer who chanced to be there was invited by his friend,
a Prussian officer, Lieutenant Colonel Chasot, to attend. The Austrian
was not willing to ride upon the parade-ground without the permission
of the king. Colonel Chasot called upon Frederick and informed him that
an Austrian officer would be happy, with his majesty’s permission, to
be present at the review.

“Certainly, certainly,” exclaimed the king.

This was on the evening before the review. On the morrow the Austrian
accordingly rode upon the field. He had hardly arrived there when, just
as the manœuvres were commencing, one of the aids-de-camp of Frederick
galloped up to him and said, “By the king’s command, sir, you are
ordered instantly to retire from this field.”

Colonel Chasot, exceedingly chagrined, rode directly to the king, and
inquired, “Did not your majesty grant me permission to invite my friend
to the review?”

“Certainly,” replied the king, in his most courteous tones; “and if he
had not come, how could I have paid back the Mähren business of last

It is pleasant to record another incident more creditable to Frederick.
In the year 1750 there was a poor and aged schoolmaster, by the name
of Linsenbarth, a very worthy man, a veritable Dominie Sampson,
residing in the obscure village of Hemmleben. He had been educated as a
clergyman, had considerable book learning, was then out of employment,
and was in extreme destitution. The pastor of the village church died,
leaving a vacant pulpit, and a salary amounting to about one hundred
dollars a year. The great man of the place, a feudal lord named Von
Werthern, offered the situation to Linsenbarth upon condition that he
would marry his lady’s termagant waiting-maid. Linsenbarth, who had no
fancy for the haughty shrew, declined the offer. The lord and lady were
much offended, and in various ways rendered the situation of the poor
schoolmaster so uncomfortable that he gathered up his slender means,
amounting to about three hundred dollars, all in the deteriorated coin
of the province, and went to Berlin. His money was in a bag containing
nearly nine thousand very small pieces of coin, called _batzen_.

At the custom-house the poor man’s coin was seized as contraband. He
was informed that the king, had forbidden the circulation of that kind
of money in Berlin. The heartless officials laughed at the poor man’s
distress, paid no regard to his remonstrances and pleadings, and locked
up his confiscated coin.

Poor Linsenbarth had a feather bed, a small chest of clothes, and a bag
of books. He went to a humble inn, called the “White Swan,” utterly
penniless. The landlord, seeing that he could levy upon his luggage in
case of need, gave him food and a small room in the garret to sleep
in. Here he remained in a state verging upon despair for eight weeks.
Some of the simple neighbors advised him to go directly to the king, as
every poor man could do at certain hours in the day. He wrote a brief
statement of the facts, and started on foot for Potsdam. We give the
result in the words of Linsenbarth:

“At Potsdam I was lucky enough to see the king. He was on the esplanade
drilling his troops. When the drill was over he went into the garden,
and the soldiers dispersed. Four officers remained lounging on the
esplanade. For fright, I knew not what to do; I drew the papers from my
pocket. These were my memorial, two certificates of character, and a
Thuringian pass. The officers, noticing this, came directly to me and
said, ‘What letters have you there?’ I thankfully imparted the whole.
When the officers had read them, they said, ‘We will give you good
advice. The king is extra gracious to-day, and is gone alone into the
garden. Follow him straight. You will have luck.’

“This I would not do; my awe was too great. They thereupon laid hands
upon me. One took me by the right arm, another by the left, and led me
to the garden. Having got me there, they looked out for the king. He
was among the gardeners examining some rare plant, and had his back to
us. Here I had to halt. The officers began in an under tone to put me
through my drill. ‘Take your hat under your left arm; put your right
foot foremost; breast well forward; hold your head up; hold your papers
aloft in your right hand; there, so - steady - steady!’


“They then went away, often looking around to see if I kept my posture.
I perceived well enough that they were making game of me; but I stood
all the same like a wall, being full of fear. When the king turned
round he gave a look at me like a flash of sunbeams glancing through
you. He sent one of the gardeners to bring my papers. Taking them, he
disappeared in one of the garden walks. In a few minutes he came back
with my papers open in his hand, and waved with them for me to come
nearer. I plucked up heart and went directly to him. Oh, how graciously
this great monarch deigned to speak to me!

“‘My good Thuringian,’ said the king, ‘you came to Berlin seeking to
earn your bread by the industrious teaching of children, and here
at the custom-house they have taken your money from you. True, the
_batzen_ are not legal here. They should have said to you, “You are
a stranger and did not know of the prohibition. We will seal up the
bag of _batzen_. You can send it back to Thuringia and get it changed
for other coin.” Be of good heart, however. You shall have your money
again, and interest too. But, my poor man, in Berlin they do not give
any thing gratis. You are a stranger. Before you are known and get to
teaching, your bit of money will be all gone. What then?’

“I understood the speech perfectly well, but my awe was too great
to allow me to say, ‘Your majesty will have the grace to allow me
something.’ But as I was so simple, and asked for nothing, he did not
offer any thing. And so he turned away. But he had gone scarcely six
or eight steps when he looked around and gave me a sign to walk by his

The king then questioned him very closely respecting the place where
he had studied, during what years, under what teachers, and to what
branches he had devoted special attention. While thus conversing the
clock struck twelve. This was the dinner-hour of his majesty. “Now I
must go,” said the king. “They wait for their soup.”

Linsenbarth, thus left alone, sauntered from the garden back to the
esplanade. There he stood quite bewildered. He had walked that day
twenty miles beneath a July sun and over the burning sands. He had
eaten nothing. He had not a farthing in his pocket.

“In this tremor of my heart,” writes Linsenbarth, “there came a valet
out of the palace and asked, ‘Where is the man that was with my king
in the garden?’ I answered, ‘Here.’ He led me into the palace to a
large room, where pages, lackeys, and soldier valets were about. My
valet took me to a little table excellently furnished with soup, beef;
likewise carp, dressed with garden salad; likewise game, with cucumber
salad; bread, knife, fork, plate, spoon were all there. My valet set me
a chair, and said,

“‘This that is on the table the king has ordered to be served for you.
You are to eat your fill and mind nobody. I am to serve.’

“I was greatly astonished, and knew not what to do; least of all could
it come into my head that the king’s valet who waited on his majesty
should wait on me. I pressed him to sit by me; but, as he refused, I
did as bidden.

“The valet took the beef from the table and set it on the charcoal dish
until wanted. He did the like with the fish and roast game, and poured
me out wine and beer. I ate and drank till I had abundantly enough.
Dessert, confectionery, what I could. A plate of big black cherries
and a plateful of pears my waiting-man wrapped in paper, and stuffed
them into my pockets to be a refreshment on the way home. And so I rose
from the royal table, and thanked God and the king in my heart that I
had so gloriously dined. At that moment a secretary came, brought me
a sealed order for the custom-house at Berlin, with my certificates
and the pass; told down on the table five tail-ducats and a gold
Friedrich under them, saying, ‘The king sent me this to take me home to

“And if the hussar took me into the palace, it was now the secretary
took me out again. And there, yoked with six horses, stood a royal
wagon, which, having led me to, the secretary said, ‘You people, the
king has given order that you are to take this stranger to Berlin,
and you are to accept no drink-money from him.’ I again testified my
thankfulness for the royal kindness, took my place, and rolled away.

“On reaching Berlin I went at once to the custom-house, and handed them
my royal order. The head man opened the seal. In reading, he changed
color - went from pale to red; said nothing, and gave it to the second
man to read. The second put on his spectacles, read, and gave it to the
third. However, the head man rallied himself at last. I was to come
forward and be so good as to write a receipt that I had received for
my four hundred thalers, all in _batzen_, the same sum in Brandenburg
coin, ready down, without the least deduction. My cash was at once
accurately paid, and thereupon the steward was ordered to go with me
to the ‘White Swan,’ and pay what I owed there, whatever my score was.
That was what the king had meant when he said ‘you shall have your
money back, and interest too.’”

This good old man died in Berlin on the 24th of August, 1777,
eighty-eight years of age.

In the autumn of 1750 Frederick held a famous Berlin carousal, the
celebrity of which filled all Europe. Distinguished guests flocked
to the city from all the adjoining realms. Wilhelmina came to share
in the festivities. Voltaire was also present, “the observed of all
observers.” An English gentleman, Sir Jonas Hanway, in the following
terms describes the appearance of Frederick at this time:

“His Prussian majesty rides much about, often at a rapid rate, with a
pleasant business aspect - humane, though imperative; handsome to look
upon, though with a face perceptibly reddish. His age, now thirty-eight
gone; a set appearance, as if already got into his forties; complexion
florid; figure muscular, almost tending to be plump.”

The carousal presented a very splendid spectacle. It took place by
night, and the spacious arena was lighted by thirty thousand torches.
The esplanade of the palace, which presented an ample parallelogram,
was surrounded by an amphitheatre of rising seats, crowded with the
beauties and dignitaries of Europe. At one end of the parallelogram
was a royal box, tapestried with the richest hangings. The king sat
there; his sister, the Princess Amelia, was by his side, as queen
of the festival. Where the neglected wife of Frederick was is not
recorded. The entrance for the cavaliers was opposite the throne.
The jousting parties consisted of four bands, representing Romans,
Persians, Carthaginians, and Greeks. They were decorated with splendid
equipments of jewelry, silver helmets, sashes, and housings, and were
mounted on the most spirited battle-steeds which Europe could furnish.
The scene was enlivened by exhilarating music, and by the most gorgeous
decorations and picturesque costumes which the taste and art of the
times could create. The festivities were closed by a ball in the vast
saloons of the palace, and by a supper, where the tables were loaded
with every delicacy.

Voltaire was received on this occasion with very distinguished honor.
The king, in inviting him to the court, had sent him a sum amounting to
three thousand dollars to pay the expenses of his journey. He had also
conferred upon him the cross of the order of Merit, and a pension of
about four thousand dollars a year.


For a time Frederick and Voltaire seem to have lived very pleasantly
together. Voltaire writes: “I was lodged under the king’s apartment,
and never left my room except for supper. The king composed, above
stairs, works of philosophy, history, poetry; and his favorite,
below stairs, cultivated the same arts and the same talents. They
communicated to one another their respective works. The Prussian
monarch composed, at this time, his ‘History of Brandenburg;’ and the
French author wrote his ‘Age of Louis XIV.,’ having brought with him
all his materials.[94] His days thus passed happily in a repose which
was only animated by agreeable occupations. Nothing, indeed, could be
more delightful than this way of life, or more honorable to philosophy
and literature.”



Voltaire and the Jew. - Letter from Frederick to D’Arget. -
Letter to Wilhelmina. - Caustic Letters to Voltaire. - Partial
Reconciliation. - Frederick’s brilliant Conversational Powers. -
His Neglect of his Wife. - All Females excluded from his Court. -
Maupertuis and the Academy. - Voltaire’s Malignity. - Frederick’s
Anger. - Correspondence between Voltaire and Maupertuis. - Menaces of
War. - Catt and the King.

The king and Voltaire soon became involved in a very serious quarrel.
Voltaire had employed a Jew, by the name of Hirsch, to engage
fraudulently in speculating in the funds. The transaction was so
complicated that few of our readers would have the patience to follow
an attempt at its disentanglement. Voltaire and his agent quarreled.
The contention rang through all the court circles, as other conspicuous

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 31 of 52)