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

History of Frederick the Second online

. (page 4 of 52)
Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 4 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


“Their king” (Wilhelmina’s grandfather) “was of extreme gravity,
and hardly spoke a word to any body. He saluted Madam Sonsfeld, my
governess, very coldly, and asked if I was always so serious, and if my
humor was of a melancholy turn. ‘Any thing but that, sire,’ answered
Madam Sonsfeld; ‘but the respect she has for your majesty prevents her
from being as sprightly as she commonly is.’ He shook his head and said
nothing. The reception he had given me, and this question, gave me such
a chill that I never had the courage to speak to him.”

The wife of George I., the mother of Sophie Dorothee, was the subject
of one of the saddest of earthly tragedies. Her case is still involved
in some obscurity. She was a beautiful, haughty, passionate princess
of Zelle when she married her cousin George, Elector of Hanover.
George became jealous of Count Königsmark, a very handsome courtier of
commanding address. In an angry altercation with his wife, it is said
that the infuriate husband boxed her ears. Suddenly, on the 1st of
July, 1694, Count Königsmark disappeared. Mysteriously he vanished from
earth, and was heard of no more. The unhappy wife, who had given birth
to the daughter Sophie Dorothee, bearing her mother’s name, and to a
son, afterward George II., almost frenzied with rage, was divorced
from her husband, and was locked up in the gloomy castle of Ahlden,
situated in the solitary moors of Luneburg heath. Here she was held in
captivity for thirty years, until she died. In the mean time, George,
ascending the throne of England, solaced himself in the society of
female favorites, none of whom he honored with the title of wife. The
raging captive of Ahlden, who seems never to have become submissive to
her lot, could, of course, exert no influence in the marriage of her

Wilhelmina says that her grandpapa George was intolerably proud after
he had attained the dignity of King of England, and that he was
much disposed to look down upon her father, the King of Prussia, as
occupying a very inferior position. Vexatiously he delayed signing
the marriage treaty, to which he had given a verbal assent, evading
the subject and presenting frivolous excuses. The reputation of the
English Fred was far from good. He had attained eighteen years of age,
was very unattractive in personal appearance, and extremely dissolute.
George I., morose and moody, was only rendered more obstinate by being
pressed. These delays exasperated Frederick William, who was far from
being the meekest of men. Poor Sophie Dorothee was annoyed almost
beyond endurance. Wilhelmina took the matter very coolly, for she
declared that she cared nothing about her cousin Fred, and that she had
no wish to marry him.

The months rolled rapidly on, and Fritz, having entered his fourteenth
year, was appointed by his father, in May, 1725, captain in the Potsdam
Grenadier Guard. This giant regiment has attained world-wide renown,
solely from the peculiarity of its organization. Such a body of men
never existed before, never will again. It was one of the singular
freaks of the Prussian king to form a grenadier guard of men of
gigantic stature. In the prosecution of this senseless aim not only his
own realms were ransacked, but Europe and even Asia was explored in
search of giants. The army was with Frederick William the great object
of life, and the giant guard was the soul of the army. This guard
consisted of three battalions, 800 in each, 2400 in all. The shortest
of the men were nearly seven feet high. The tallest were almost nine
feet in height. They had been gathered, at an enormous expense, out
of every country where they could be found. No greater favor could be
conferred upon the king than to obtain for him a giant. Many amusing
anecdotes are related of the stratagems to which the king resorted to
obtain these mammoth soldiers. Portraits were painted of all of them.
Frederick William paid very little regard to individual rights or to
the law of nations if any chance presented itself by which he could
seize upon one of these monster men. Reigning in absolutism, compared
with which the despotism of Turkey is mild, if he found in his domains
any young woman of remarkable stature, he would compel her to marry one
of his giants. It does not, however, appear that he thus succeeded in
perpetuating a gigantic race.


Prussian recruiters were sent in all directions to search with eagle
eyes for candidates for the Potsdam Guard. Their pay was higher than
that of any other troops, and they enjoyed unusual privileges. Their
drill and discipline were as perfect as could by any possibility be
achieved. The following stories are apparently well-authenticated,
describing the means to which the king often resorted to obtain these

In the town of Zulich there was a very tall young carpenter by the
name of Zimmerman. A Prussian recruiting officer, in disguise, Baron
von Hompesch, entered the shop and ordered a stout chest to be made,
“six feet six inches in length, at least - at all events, longer than
yourself, Mr. Zimmerman. Mind you,” he added, “if too short it will
be of no service to me.” At the appointed time he called for the
chest. Looking at it, he exclaimed, in apparent disappointment, “Too
short, as I dreaded!” “I am certain it is over six feet six,” said the
carpenter, taking out his rule. “But I said that it was to be longer
than yourself,” was the reply. “Well, it is,” rejoined the carpenter.
To prove it, he jumped into the chest. Hompesch slammed down the lid,
locked it, whistled, and three stout fellows came in, who shouldered
the chest and carried it through the streets to a remote place outside
of the town. Here the chest was opened, and poor Zimmerman was found
dead, stifled to death.

On another occasion, an Austrian gentleman, M. Von Bentenrieder, who
was exceedingly tall, was journeying from Vienna to Berlin as the
embassador from the Emperor Charles VI. to the Congress of Cambrai.
When near Halberstadt some part of his carriage broke. While the smith
was repairing it, M. Bentenrieder walked on. He passed a Prussian
guard-house, alone, in plain clothes, on foot, an immensely tall,
well-formed man. It was too rich a prize to be lost. The officials
seized him, and hurried him into the guard-house. But soon his carriage
came along with his suite. He was obsequiously hailed as “Your
Excellency.” The recruiting officers of Frederick William, mortified
and chagrined, with many apologies released the embassador of the

As we have mentioned, the agents of the King of Prussia were eager
to kidnap tall men, in whatever country they could find them. This
greatly exasperated the rulers of the various realms of all sizes and
conditions which surrounded the Prussian territory. Frederick William
was always ready to apologize, and to aver that each individual act was
done without his orders or knowledge. Still, there was no abatement of
this nuisance. Several seizures had been made in Hanover, which was the
hereditary domain of George I., King of England. George was very angry.
He was increasingly obstinate in withholding his assent to the double
marriage, and even, by way of reprisal, seized several of the subjects
of Frederick William, whom he caught in Hanover.

Sophie Dorothee seemed to have but one thought - the double marriage.
This would make Wilhelmina queen of England, and would give her
dear son Frederick an English princess for his bride. Her efforts,
embarrassments, disappointments, were endless. Frederick William began
to be regarded by the other powers as a very formidable man, whose
alliance was exceedingly desirable. His army, of sixty thousand men,
rapidly increasing, was as perfect in drill and discipline as ever
existed. It was thoroughly furnished with all the appliances of war.
The king himself, living in Spartan simplicity, and cutting down the
expenses of his court to the lowest possible figure, was consecrating
the resources of his realm to the promotion of its physical strength,
and was accumulating iron-bound casks of gold and silver coin in the
cellars of his palace. It became a matter of much moment to every court
in Europe whether such a monarch should be its enemy or its ally.

After a long series of intrigues, a narrative of which would not
interest the reader, Frederick William was induced to enter into an
alliance, offensive and defensive, with the Emperor Charles VI. of
Germany. This was renouncing the alliance with England, and threw an
additional obstacle in the way of the double marriage. Sophie Dorothee
was bitterly disappointed, and yet pertinaciously struggled on to
accomplish her end.

There was an institution, if we may so call it, in the palace of
the King of Prussia which became greatly renowned, and which was
denominated “The Tobacco College,” or “Tobacco Parliament.” It
consisted simply of a smoking-room very plainly furnished, where the
king and about a dozen of his confidential advisers met to smoke and
to talk over, with perfect freedom and informality, affairs of state.
Carlyle thus quaintly describes this _Tabagie_:


“Any room that was large enough, and had height of ceiling and air
circulation, and no cloth furniture, would do. And in each palace is
one, or more than one, that has been fixed upon and fitted out for that
object. A high room, as the engravings give it us; contented, saturnine
human figures, a dozen or so of them, sitting around a large, long
table furnished for the occasion; a long Dutch pipe in the mouth of
each man; supplies of knaster easily accessible; small pan of burning
peat, in the Dutch fashion (sandy native charcoal, which burns slowly
without smoke), is at your left hand; at your right a jug, which I find
to consist of excellent, thin, bitter beer; other costlier materials
for drinking, if you want such, are not beyond reach. On side-tables
stand wholesome cold meats, royal rounds of beef not wanting, with
bread thinly sliced and buttered; in a rustic, but neat and abundant
way, such innocent accommodations, narcotic or nutritious, gaseous,
fluid, and solid, as human nature can require. Perfect equality is the
rule; no rising or no notice taken when any body enters or leaves. Let
the entering man take his place and pipe without obligatory remarks.
If he can not smoke, let him at least affect to do so, and not ruffle
the established stream of things. And so puff, slowly puff! and any
comfortable speech that is in you, or none, if you authentically have
not any.”

Distinguished strangers were often admitted to the _Tabagie_. The Crown
Prince Fritz was occasionally present, though always reluctantly. The
other children of this numerous family not unfrequently came in to bid
papa good-night. Here every thing was talked of, with entire freedom,
all court gossip, the adventures of the chase, diplomacy, and the
administrative measures of the government. Frederick William had but
very little respect for academic culture. He had scarcely the slightest
acquaintance with books, and gathered around him mainly men whose
knowledge was gained in the practical employments of life. It would
seem, from many well-authenticated anecdotes, which have come down to
us from the _Tabagie_, that these smoking companions of the king, like
Frederick William himself, must have been generally a coarse set of men.

One of this smoking cabinet was a celebrated adventurer named Gundling,
endowed with wonderful encyclopedian knowledge, and an incorrigible
drunkard. He had been every where, seen every thing, and remembered all
which he had either heard or seen. Frederick William had accidentally
picked him up, and, taking a fancy to him, had clothed him, pensioned
him, and introduced him to his Tabagie, where his peculiar character
often made him the butt of ridicule. He was excessively vain, wore
a scarlet coat, and all manner of pranks were cut up by these boon
companions, in the midst of their cups, at his expense.

Another adventurer, by the name of Fassman, who had written books, and
who made much literary pretension, had come to Berlin and also got
introduced to the Tabagie. He was in character very like Gundling, and
the two could never agree. Fassman could be very sarcastic and bitter
in his speech. One evening, as the king and his smoking cabinet were
sitting enveloped in the clouds which they were breathing forth, and
were all muddled with tobacco and beer - for the king himself was a
hard drinker - Fassman so enraged Gundling by some cutting remarks,
that the latter seized his pan of burning peat and red-hot sand and
dashed it into the face of his antagonist. Fassman, who was much the
more powerful of the two, was seriously burned. He instantly grasped
his antagonist, dragged him down, and beat him savagely with his hot
pan, amidst roars of laughter from the beer-stupefied bacchanals.

The half-intoxicated king gravely suggests that such conduct is hardly
seemly among gentlemen; that the duel is the more chivalric way of
settling such difficulties. Fassman challenges Gundling. They meet
with pistols. It is understood by the seconds that it is to be rather
a Pickwickian encounter. The trembling Gundling, when he sees his
antagonist before him, with the deadly weapon in his hand, throws his
pistol away, which his considerate friends had harmlessly loaded with
powder only, declaring that he would not shoot any man, or have any
man shoot him. Fassman sternly advances with his harmless pistol, and
shoots the powder into Gundling’s wig. It blazes into a flame. With
a shriek Gundling falls to the ground as if dead. A bucket of water
extinguishes the flames, and roars of laughter echo over the chivalric
field of combat.

Such was the Tobacco Parliament in its trivial aspects. But it had
also its serious functions. Many questions were discussed there which
stirred men’s souls, and which roused the ambition or the wrath of the
stern old king to the utmost pitch.

We have now reached the year 1726. The Emperor of Germany declares that
he can never give his consent to the double marriage with the English
princes. Frederick William, who is not at all fond of his wife’s
relatives, and is annoyed by the hesitancy which his father-in-law
has manifested in reference to it, is also turning his obstinate
will against the nuptial alliance. A more imperative and inflexible
man never breathed. This year the unhappy wife of George I. died,
unreconciled, wretched, exasperated, after thirty years’ captivity
in the castle of Ahlden. Darker and darker seemed the gloom which
enveloped the path of Sophie Dorothee. She still clung to the marriages
as the dearest hope of her heart. It was with her an ever-present
thought. But Frederick William was the most obdurate and obstinate of

“The wide, overarching sky,” writes Carlyle, “looks down on no more
inflexible sovereign man than him, in the red-collared blue coat and
white leggins, with the bamboo in his hand; a peaceable, capacious, not
ill-given sovereign man, if you will let him have his way; but to bar
his way, to tweak the nose of his sovereign royalty, and ignominiously
force _him_ into another way, that is an enterprise no man or devil, or
body of men or devils, need attempt. The first step in such an attempt
will require to be the assassination of Frederick Wilhelm, for you may
depend upon it, royal Sophie, so long as he is alive the feat can not
be done.”

While these scenes were transpiring the Crown Prince was habitually
residing at Potsdam, a favorite royal residence about seventeen miles
west from Berlin. Here he was rigidly attending to his duties in
the giant regiment. We have now, in our narrative, reached the year
1727. Fritz is fifteen years of age. He is attracting attention by
his vivacity, his ingenuous, agreeable manners, and his fondness for
polite literature. He occasionally is summoned by his father to the
Smoking Cabinet. But the delicacy of his physical organization is such
that he loathes tobacco, and only pretends to smoke, with mock gravity
puffing from his empty, white clay pipe. Neither has he any relish for
the society which he meets there. Though faithful to the mechanical
duties of the drill, they were very irksome to him. His books and his
flute were his chief joy. Voltaire was just then rising to celebrity
in France. His writings began to attract the attention of literary
men throughout Europe. Fritz, in his youthful enthusiasm, was charmed
by them. In the latter part of June, 1729, a courier brought the
intelligence to Berlin that George I. had suddenly died of apoplexy. He
was on a journey to Hanover when he was struck down on the road. Almost
insensible, he was conveyed, on the full gallop, to Osnabrück, where
his brother, who was a bishop, resided, and where medical aid could be
obtained. But the shaft was fatal. At midnight his carriage reached
Osnabrück. The old man, sixty-seven years of age, was heard to murmur,
“It is all over with me,” and his spirit passed away to the judgment.

The death of George I. affected the strange Frederick William very
deeply. He not only shed tears, but, if we may be pardoned the
expression, blubbered like a child. His health seemed to fail, and
hypochondria, in its most melancholy form, tormented him. As is not
unusual in such cases, he became excessively religious. Every enjoyment
was deemed sinful, if we except the indulgence in an ungovernable
temper, which the self-righteous king made no attempt to curb.
Wilhelmina, describing this state of things with her graphic pen,

“He condemned all pleasures; damnable all of them, he said. You were
to speak of nothing but the Word of God only. All other conversation
was forbidden. It was always he who carried on the improving talk at
table, where he did the office of reader, as if it had been a refectory
of monks. The king treated us to a sermon every afternoon. His valet de
chambre gave out a psalm, which we all sang. You had to listen to this
sermon with as much devout attention as if it had been an apostle’s. My
brother and I had all the mind in the world to laugh. We tried hard to
keep from laughing, but often we burst out. Thereupon reprimand, with
all the anathemas of the Church hurled on us, which we had to take with
a contrite, penitent air - a thing not easy to bring your face to at
the moment.”

In this frame of mind, the king began to talk seriously of abdicating
in favor of Frederick, and of retiring from the cares of state to a
life of religious seclusion in his country seat at Wusterhausen. He
matured his plan quite to the details. Wilhelmina thus describes it:

“He used to say that he would reserve for himself ten thousand crowns
a year, and retire with the queen and his daughters to Wusterhausen.
‘There,’ added he, ‘I will pray to God, and manage the farming economy,
while my wife and girls take care of the household matters. You,
Wilhelmina, are clever; I will give you the inspection of the linen,
which you shall mend and keep in order, taking good charge of laundry
matters. Frederica, who is miserly, shall have charge of all the stores
of the house. Charlotte shall go to market and buy our provisions. My
wife shall take charge of the little children and of the kitchen.’”

At that time the family consisted of nine children. Next to Wilhelmina
and Fritz came Frederica, thirteen; Charlotte, eleven; Sophie Dorothee,
eight; Ulrique, seven; August Wilhelm, five; Amelia, four; and Henry, a
babe in arms.

Some of the courtiers, in order to divert the king from his melancholy,
and from these ideas of abdication, succeeded in impressing upon him
the political necessity of visiting Augustus, the King of Poland, at
Dresden. The king did not intend to take Fritz with him. But Wilhelmina
adroitly whispered a word to Baron Suhm, the Polish embassador, and
obtained a special invitation for the Crown Prince. It is a hundred
miles from Berlin to Dresden - a distance easily traversed by post in a
day. It was the middle of January, 1728, when the Prussian king reached
Dresden, followed the day after by his son. They were sumptuously
entertained for four weeks in a continuous round of magnificent
amusements, from which the melancholic King of Prussia recoiled, but
could not well escape.

Augustus, King of Poland, called “Augustus the Strong,” was a man
of extraordinary physical vigor and muscular strength. It was said
that he could break horseshoes with his hands, and crush half-crowns
between his finger and thumb. He was an exceedingly profligate man,
introducing to his palaces scenes of sin and shame which could scarcely
have been exceeded in Rome in the most corrupt days of the Cæsars.
Though Frederick William, a stanch Protestant, was a crabbed, merciless
man, drinking deeply and smoking excessively, he was irreproachable
in morals, according to the ordinary standard. Augustus, nominally a
Catholic, and zealously advocating political Catholicism, though a
good-natured, rather agreeable man, recognized no other law of life
than his own pleasure.

Augustus had formed apparently the deliberate resolve to test his
visitor by the most seductive and adroitly-arranged temptations.
But, so far as Frederick William was concerned, he utterly failed.
Upon one occasion his Prussian majesty, when conducted by Augustus,
whirled around and indignantly left the room. That evening, through his
minister, Grumkow, he informed the King of Poland that if there were
any repetition of such scenes he would immediately leave Dresden.

Fritz, however, had not his father’s strength to resist the allurements
of this wicked court. He was but sixteen years of age. From childhood
he had been kept secluded from the world, and had been reared under
the sternest discipline. He was remarkably handsome, full of vivacity,
which qualified him to shine in any society, and was heir to the
Prussian monarchy. He was, consequently, greatly caressed, and every
conceivable inducement was presented to him to lure him into the paths
of guilty pleasure. He fell. From such a fall one never on earth
recovers. Even though repentance and reformation come, a scar is left
upon the soul which time can not efface.

This visit to Dresden, so fatal to Fritz, was closed on the 12th
of February. The dissipation of those four weeks introduced the
Crown Prince to habits which have left an indelible stain upon his
reputation, and which poisoned his days. Upon his return to Potsdam
he was seized with a fit of sickness, and for many years his health
remained feeble. But he had entered upon the downward course. His
chosen companions were those who were in sympathy with his newly-formed
tastes. The career of dissipation into which the young prince had
plunged could not be concealed from his eagle-eyed father. The king’s
previous dislike to his son was converted into contempt and hatred,
which feelings were at times developed in almost insane ebullitions of

Still the queen-mother, Sophie Dorothee, clung to the double marriage.
Her brother, George II., was now King of England. His son Fred, who
had been intended for Wilhelmina, was not a favorite of his father’s,
and had not yet been permitted to go to England. In May, 1728, he was
twenty-one years of age. He was living idly in Hanover, impatient to
wed his cousin Wilhelmina, who was then nineteen years of age. He
seems to have secretly contemplated, in conference with Wilhelmina’s
mother, Sophie Dorothee, a trip incognito to Berlin, where he would
marry the princess clandestinely, and then leave it with the royal
papas to settle the difficulty the best way they could. The plan was
not executed. Wilhelmina manifested coquettish indifference to the
whole matter. She, however, writes that Queen Sophie was so confidently
expecting him that “she took every ass or mule for his royal highness.”

In May the King of Poland returned the visit of Frederick William.
He came with a numerous retinue and in great splendor. During the
past year his unhappy wife had died; and he, then fifty-five years of
age, was seeking to bargain for the hand of Wilhelmina, hoping, by
an alliance with Prussia, to promote some of his political schemes.
The wicked old Polish king was much broken by age and his “terrible
debaucheries.” He had recently suffered the amputation of two toes
from an ulcerated foot, which no medical skill could cure. He was
brought into the palace at Berlin in a sedan, covered with red velvet

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 4 of 52)