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History of Frederick the Second online

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had passed.

At the battle of Sohr, Biche was taken captive with the king’s baggage.
The animal manifested so much joy upon being restored to its master
that the king’s eyes were flooded with tears.

On the 4th of July the king rode out for the last time. Not long after,
the horse was again brought to the door, but the king found himself too
weak to mount. Still, while in this state of extreme debility and pain,
he conducted the affairs of state with the most extraordinary energy
and precision. The minutest questions received his attention, and every
branch of business was prosecuted with as much care and perfection as
in his best days.

“He saw his ministers, saw all who had business with him, many who had
little; and in the sore coil of bodily miseries, as Hertzberg observed
with wonder, never was the king’s intellect clearer, or his judgment
more just and decisive. Of his disease, except to the doctors, he spoke
no word to any body.

“The body of Frederick is a ruin, but his soul is still here, and
receives his friends and his tasks as formerly. Asthma, dropsy,
erysipelas, continual want of sleep; for many months past he has
not been in bed, but sits day and night in an easy-chair, unable to
get breath except in that posture. He said one morning to somebody
entering, ‘If you happened to want a night-watcher, I could suit you

There is something truly sublime in the devotion with which he, in
disregard of sleeplessness, exhaustion, and pain, gave himself to work.
His three clerks were summoned to his room each morning at four o’clock.

“My situation forces me,” he said, “to give them this trouble, which
they will not have to suffer long. My life is on the decline. The time
which I still have belongs not to me, but to the state.”

He conversed cheerfully upon literature, history, and the common topics
of the day. But he seemed studiously to avoid any allusion to God, to
the subject of religion, or to death. He had from his early days very
emphatically expressed his disbelief in any God who took an interest in
the affairs of men. Throughout his whole life he had abstained from any
recognition of such a God by any known acts of prayer or worship. Still
Mr. Carlyle writes:

“From of old, life has been infinitely contemptible to him. In death,
I think, he has neither fear nor hope. Atheism, truly, he never could
abide: to him, as to all of us, it was flatly inconceivable that
intellect, moral emotion, could have been put into _him_ by an Entity
that had none of its own. But there, pretty much, his Theism seems to
have stopped. Instinctively; too, he believed, no man more firmly, that
Right alone has ultimately any strength in this world: ultimately,
yes; but for him and his poor brief interests, what good was it? Hope
for himself in divine Justice, in divine Providence, I think he had
not practically any: that the unfathomable Demiurgus should concern
himself with such a set of paltry, ill-given animalcules as one’s self
and mankind are, this also, as we have often noticed, is in the main
incredible to him.

“Inarticulate notions, fancies, transient aspirations, he might have,
in the background of his mind. One day, sitting for a while out of
doors, gazing into the sun, he was heard to murmur, ‘Perhaps I shall be
nearer thee soon;’ and, indeed, nobody knows what his thoughts were in
these final months. There is traceable only a complete superiority to
fear and hope; in parts, too, are half glimpses of a great motionless
interior lake of sorrow, sadder than any tears or complainings, which
are altogether wanting to it.”

Dr. Zimmermann, whose work on Solitude had given him some renown,
had been sent for to administer to the illustrious patient. His
prescriptions were of no avail. On the 10th of August, 1786, Frederick
wrote to his sister, the Duchess Dowager of Brunswick:

“MY ADORABLE SISTER, - The Hanover doctor has wished to make
himself important with you, my good sister; but the truth is, he
has been of no use to me. The old must give place to the young,
that each generation may find room clear for it; and life, if we
examine strictly what its course is, consists in seeing one’s
fellow-creatures die and be born. In the mean while, I have felt
myself a little easier for the last day or two. My heart remains
inviolably attached to you, my good sister. With the highest
consideration, my adorable sister, your faithful brother and


The last letter which it is supposed that he wrote was the following
cold epistle to his excellent wife, whom, through a long life, he had
treated with such cruel neglect:

“MADAM, - I am much obliged by the wishes you deign to form; but a
heavy fever I have taken hinders me from answering you.”

Scarcely any thing can be more sad than the record of the last days
and hours of this extraordinary man. Few of the children of Adam have
passed a more joyless life. Few have gone down to a grave shrouded with
deeper gloom. None of those Christian hopes which so often alleviate
pain, and take from death its sting, cheered his dying chamber. To him
the grave was but the portal to the abyss of annihilation.

Days of pain and nights of sleeplessness were his portion. A hard cough
racked his frame. His strength failed him. Ulcerous sores broke out
upon various parts of his body. A constant oppression at his chest
rendered it impossible for him to lie down. Gout tortured him. His
passage to the grave led through eighteen months of constant suffering.
Dr. Zimmermann, in his diary of the 2d of August, writes:

“The king is very chilly, and is always enveloped in pelisses, and
covered with feather-beds. He has not been in bed for six weeks, but
sleeps in his chair for a considerable time together, and always
turned to the right side. The dropsical swelling augments. He sees
it, but will not perceive what it is, or at least will not appear to
do so, but talks as if it were a swelling accompanying convalescence,
and proceeding from previous weakness. He is determined not to die if
violent remedies can save him, but to submit to punctures and incisions
to draw off the water.”

Again, on the 8th, Dr. Zimmermann wrote: “The king is extraordinarily
ill. On the 4th erysipelas appeared on the leg. This announces bursting
and mortification. He has much oppression, and the smell of the wound
is very bad.”

On the 15th, after a restless night, he did not wake until eleven
o’clock in the morning. For a short time he seemed confused. He then
summoned his generals and secretaries, and gave his orders with all his
wonted precision. He then called in his three clerks and dictated to
them upon various subjects. His directions to an embassador, who was
about leaving, filled four quarto pages.

As night came on he fell into what may be called the death-sleep.
His breathing was painful and stertorous; his mind was wandering
in delirious dreams; his voice became inarticulate. At a moment of
returning consciousness he tried several times in vain to give some
utterance to his thoughts. Then, with a despairing expression of
countenance, he sank back upon his pillow. Fever flushed his cheeks,
and his eyes assumed some of their wonted fire. Thus the dying hours
were prolonged, as the friendless monarch, surrounded by respectful
attendants, slowly descended to the grave.

His feet and legs became cold. Death was stealing its way toward the
vitals. About nine o’clock Wednesday evening a painful cough commenced,
with difficulty of breathing, and an ominous rattle in the throat. One
of his dogs sat by his bedside, and shivered with cold; the king made a
sign for them to throw a quilt over it.

Another severe fit of coughing ensued, and the king, having with
difficulty got rid of the phlegm, said, “The mountain is passed; we
shall be better now.” These were his last words. The expiring monarch
sat in his chair, but in a state of such extreme weakness that he was
continually sinking down, with his chest and neck so bent forward that
breathing was almost impossible. One of his faithful valets took the
king upon his knee and placed his left arm around his waist, while the
king threw his right arm around the valet’s neck.

It was midnight. “Within doors all is silence; around it the dark earth
is silent, above it the silent stars.” Thus for two hours the attendant
sat motionless, holding the dying king. Not a word was spoken; no sound
could be heard but the painful breathing which precedes death.

At just twenty minutes past two o’clock the breathing ceased, the
spirit took its flight, and the lifeless body alone remained. Life’s
great battle was ended, and the soul of the monarch ascended to that
dread tribunal where prince and peasant must alike answer for all the
deeds done in the body. It was the 17th of August, 1786. The king had
reigned forty-six years, and had lived seventy-six years, six months,
and twenty-four days.

One clause in the king’s will was judiciously disregarded. As a last
mark of his contempt for his own species, Frederick had directed that
he should be buried at Sans Souci by the side of his dogs.

In the king’s will, the only reference to any future which might be
before him was the following:

“After having restored peace to my kingdom; after having conquered
countries, raised a victorious army, and filled my treasury; after
having established a good administration throughout my dominions; after
having made my enemies tremble, I resign, without regret, this breath
of life to Nature.”

He left a small sum for the support of his amiable, blameless, and
neglected queen, saying, “She never gave me the least uneasiness during
my whole reign, and she merits every attention and respect for her many
and unshaken virtues.”

“All next day the body lay in state in the palace; thousands crowding,
from Berlin and the other environs, to see that face for the last time.
Wasted, worn, but beautiful in death, with the thin gray hair parted
into locks, and slightly powdered.”[201]

At eight o’clock in the evening his body was borne, accompanied by a
battalion of the Guards, to Potsdam; eight horses drew the hearse. An
immense concourse, in silence and sadness, filled the streets. He was
buried in a small chapel in the church of the garrison at Potsdam.
There the remains of Frederick and his father repose side by side.

“Life’s labor done, securely laid
In this, their last retreat:
Unheeded o’er their silent dust
The storms of life shall beat.”


[1] “He got no improvement in breeding, as we intimated; none at
all: fought, on the contrary, with his young cousin, afterward our
George II., a boy twice his age, though of weaker bone, and gave him a
bloody nose, to the scandal and consternation of the French Protestant
gentlemen and court dames in their stiff silks. ‘Ahee your electoral
highness!’ This had been a rough unruly boy from the first discovery of
him.” - CARLYLE.

[2] _Geständnisse eines Œsterreichischen Veterans_, i., p. 64.

[3] “When his majesty took a walk, every human being fled before him,
as if a tiger had broken loose from a menagerie. If he met a lady in
the street, he gave her a kick, and told her to go home and mind her
brats. If he saw a clergyman staring at the soldiers, he admonished the
reverend gentleman to betake himself to study and prayer, and enforced
this pious advice by a sound caning administered on the spot. But it
was in his own house that he was most unreasonable and ferocious. His
palace was hell, and he the most execrable of fiends.” - MACAULAY.

[4] “It was the queen-mother who encouraged the prince in his favorite
amusement, and who engaged musicians for his service. But so necessary
was secrecy in all these negotiations that if the king, his father,
had discovered he was disobeyed, all these sons of Apollo would have
incurred the danger of being hanged. The prince frequently took
occasion to meet his musicians a-hunting, and had his concerts either
in a forest or cavern.” - BURNEY, _Present State of Music in Germany_,
ii., 139.

[5] “One of the preceptors ventured to read the ‘Golden Bull’ in the
original Latin with the prince royal. Frederick William entered the
room, and broke out, in his usual kingly style, ‘Rascal, what are
you at there?’ ‘Please your majesty,’ answered the preceptor, ‘I was
explaining the “Golden Bull” to his royal highness.’ ‘I’ll Golden Bull
you, you rascal!’ roared the majesty of Prussia. Up went the king’s
cane, away ran the terrified instructor, and Frederick’s classical
studies ended forever.” - MACAULAY.

[6] “Frederick William and George II., though brothers-in-law, and,
in a manner, brought up together, could never endure each other, even
when children. This personal hatred and settled antipathy had like to
have proved fatal to their subjects. The King of England used to style
the King of Prussia _my brother the sergeant_. The King of Prussia
called the King of England _my brother the player_. This animosity soon
infected their dealings, and did not fail to have its influence on the
most important events.” - _Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg, by_
FREDERICK II., vol. ii., p. 69.

[7] “It was a marriage much beneath what this princess might have
pretended to. But Frederick William loved such alliances - first,
because they were at hand, and brought about without trouble, and thus
his daughters were taken off his hands at an early age; and, secondly,
because to these little princes the honor of obtaining a Princess of
Prussia was sufficient, whereas great sovereigns would have required a
more considerable dower than the avaricious habits of Frederick William
permitted him to give.” - _Life of Frederick II._, _by_ LORD DOVER.

[8] “The sad truth, dimly indicated, is sufficiently visible. His
life for the next four or five years was extremely dissolute. Poor
young man, he has got into a disastrous course; consorts chiefly with
debauched young fellows, as Lieutenants Katte, Keith, and others of
their stamp, who lead him on ways not pleasant to his father, nor
conformable to the laws of this universe. Health, either of body
or mind, is not to be looked for in his present way of life. The
bright young soul, with its fine strengths and gifts wallowing like a
rhinoceros in the mud bath. Some say it is wholesome for a human soul;
not we.” - CARLYLE, ii., p. 21.

[9] “Never in any romance or stage play was young lady, without blame,
without furtherance, and without hinderance of her own, so tormented
about a settlement in life - passive she all the while, mere clay in
the hands of the potter, and begging the universe to have the extreme
goodness only to leave her alone.” - CARLYLE.

[10] The Prussian minister Reichenbach, at London, wrote to M. Grumkow,
under date of March 14, 1730: “Reichenbach flatters himself that the
king will remain firm, and not let his enemies deceive him. If Grumkow
and Seckendorf have opportunity, they may tell his Prussian majesty
that the whole design of this court is to render his country a province
dependent on England. When once the Princess Royal of England shall be
wedded to the Prince Royal of Prussia, the English, by that means, will
form such a party at Berlin that they will altogether tie his Prussian
majesty’s hands.”

[11] Carlyle.

[12] _Memoires de la Margrave De Bareuth._

[13] “A Captain Fouqué comes to Cüstrin on duty or as a volunteer
by-and-by. He is an old friend of the prince’s; a ready-witted,
hot-tempered, highly-estimable man. He is often with the prince.
Their light is extinguished precisely at seven o’clock. ‘Very well,
lieutenant,’ he would say, ‘you have done your orders to the Crown
Prince’s light. But his majesty has no concern with Captain Fouqué’s
candles,’ and thereupon would light a pair. Nay, I have heard of
lieutenants who punctually blew out the prince’s light, as a matter of
duty and command, and then kindled it again as a civility left free
to human nature. In short, his majesty’s orders can only be fulfilled
to the letter. Even in the letter his majesty’s orders are severe
enough.” - CARLYLE, vol. ii., p. 218.

[14] Voltaire, in his unreliable “_Vie Privée du Roi de Prusse_,”
t. ii., p. 51, says that, when Frederick became king, he settled
upon Doris, who was then married and poor, an annuity of seventy-six
dollars. Thiebault, far more accurate, in his “_Souvenirs de Vingt Ans
de Séjour à Berlin_,” says he gave her a pension of one hundred and
fifty-six dollars. It does not speak well for Frederick that he could
have so meanly requited so terrible a wrong.

[15] “The first idea of Frederick William was to deliver his son over
to be condemned by the ordinary tribunal of Prussia, well knowing
that his judges would never venture to decide except according to his
wishes. Indeed, he took a very summary as well as a very certain mode
of effecting this object; for, whenever their sentiments were not
approved by him, he was in the habit of going into the court where
they sat and there distributing kicks and blows to all the judges in
turn, at the same time calling them rogues and blackguards! From men so
circumstanced Frederick would have no chance of acquittal.” - _The Life
of Frederick II._, _by_ LORD DOVER, vol. i., p. 33.

[16] “The prince had been some weeks in his prison at Cüstrin when one
day an old officer, followed by four grenadiers, entered his chamber
weeping. Frederick had no doubt that he was to be made a head shorter.
But the officer, still in tears, ordered the grenadiers to take him to
the window and hold his head out of it, that he might be obliged to
look on the execution of his friend Katte upon a scaffold expressly
built for that purpose. He saw, stretched out his hand, and fainted.
The father was present at this exhibition.” - _Memoirs of the Life of
Voltaire_, p. 26.

[17] “General Ginkel, the Dutch embassador, here told me of an
interview he had with the king. The king harbors most monstrous wicked
designs, not fit to be spoken of in words. It is certain, if he
continue in the mind he is in at present, we shall see scenes here as
wicked and bloody as any that were ever heard of since the creation
of the world. He will sacrifice his whole family - every body, except
Grumkow, being, as he imagines, in conspiracy against him. All these
things he said with such imprecations and disordered looks, foaming
at the mouth all the while, as it was terrible either to see or
hear.” - DICKENS’s _Dispatch, 7th December, 1730_.

[18] Carlyle.

[19] _Life of Frederick II._, _by_ LORD DOVER, vol. i., p. 127.

[20] The grandmother was a very gay, fashionable woman, entirely
devoted to pleasure.

[21] The prince used a harsher term, which we can not quote.

[22] A ruble was about eighty-five cents of our money.

[23] To Frederick cultivating tranquillity.

[24] Her husband.

[25] The above extracts are taken from _Correspondance Familière et
Amicale de Frédéric II., Roi de Prusse, avec U. F. de Suhm_.

[26] Thibault, _Souvenirs de Vingt Ans de Séjours à Berlin_.

[27] William III. of England.

[28] Baron Bielfeld, in his letters, gives the following account of
the prince’s admission to the masonic fraternity: “On the 14th the
whole day was spent in preparations for the lodge. A little after
midnight we saw the Prince Royal arrive, accompanied by Count W - - .
The prince presented this gentleman as a candidate whom he recommended,
and whose reception he wished immediately to succeed his own. He
desired us likewise to omit, in his reception, not any one rigorous
ceremony that was used in similar cases; to grant him no indulgence
whatever; but gave us leave, on this occasion, to treat him merely as
a private person. In a word, he was received with all the usual and
requisite formalities. I admired his intrepidity, the serenity of his
countenance, and his graceful deportment even in the most critical
moments. After the two receptions we opened the lodge, and proceeded
to our work. He appeared delighted, and acquitted himself with as much
dexterity as discernment.” - _Letters of Baron Bielfeld_, vol. iii., p.

[29] Baron Bielfeld gives the following account of the personal
appearance of the king at this time: “If we judge by his portraits,
he was in his youth very handsome. But it must be confessed that he
does not now retain any traces of beauty. His eyes are indeed lively,
but his looks are frightful. His complexion is composed of a mixture
of high red, blue, yellow, and green. His head is large. His neck is
quite sunk between his shoulders, and his figure is short and
gross.” - _Letters_, vol. iii., p. 67.

[30] Frederick had taken the fancy of calling his companions by
classical names. Suhm was Diaphanes; Keyserling was called Cæsarion,

[31] Bielfeld informs us that “about one in the afternoon he sent for
Ellert, his first physician, and asked him if he thought that his life
and his sufferings could continue long, and if the agonies of his last
moments would be great. The physician answered, ‘Your majesty has
already arrived at that period. I feel the pulse retire. It now beats
below your elbow.’

“The king inquired, ‘Where will it retire at last?’

“‘To the heart,’ the doctor replied. ‘And in about an hour it will
cease to beat at all.’

“On which the king said, with perfect resignation, ‘God’s will be
done!’” - _Letters_, vol. iii., p. 127.

[32] Frederick William, in his reviews of the giant guard, was
frequently attended by the foreign ministers who chanced to be at his
court. On one of these occasions he asked the French minister if he
thought that an equal number of the soldiers of France would venture
to engage with these troops. With politeness, characteristic of the
nation, the minister replied that it was impossible that men of the
ordinary stature should think of such an attempt. The same question was
asked of the English embassador. He replied, “I can not affirm that an
equal number of my countrymen would beat them, but I think that I may
safely say that half the number would try.”

[33] Voltaire, after he had quarreled with Frederick, gave the
following amusing account of a gift he received from the king soon
after his accession to the throne: “He began his reign by sending an
embassador extraordinary to France, one Camas, who had lost an arm. He
said that, as there was a minister from the French court at Berlin who
had but one hand, he, that he might acquit himself of all obligation
toward the most Christian king, had sent him an embassador with one
arm. Camas, as soon as he arrived safe at his inn, dispatched a lad
to tell me that he was too much fatigued to come to my house, and
therefore begged that I would come to him instantly, he having the
finest, greatest, and most magnificent present that was ever presented
to make me on the part of the king his master. ‘Run, run, as fast as
you can,’ said Madame Du Châtelet; ‘he has assuredly sent you the
diamonds of the crown.’ Away I ran, and found my embassador, whose only
baggage was a small keg of wine, tied behind his chaise, sent from the
cellar of the late king by the reigning monarch, with a royal command
for me to drink. I emptied myself in protestations of astonishment and
gratitude for these _liquid_ marks of his majesty’s bounty, instead of
the _solid_ ones I had been taught to expect, and divided my keg with
Camas.” - _Memoirs_, p. 34.

[34] “As the bishops of Liege had been in possession of the contested
districts for more than a century, and as Frederick William had not,
any more than his predecessors, adopted any vigorous measures to gain
possession of them, it is not probable that the claim of Frederick was
very well founded. At all events, his conduct was violent and unjust.
The inhabitants of these districts had been guilty of no crime but that
of avowing their allegiance to the prince whom they had been accustomed
to obey, and whom they appear to have considered as their lawful
sovereign. When Frederick, therefore, sent his troops to live upon the
inhabitants of those districts at discretion, he committed an act of
tyranny and of cruelty which nothing in the circumstances of the case
could justify.” - _Memoirs of Voltaire_, p. 44.

[35] _Memoirs_, p. 47, 48.

[36] “His majesty,” says M. Bielfeld, “did not appear to be greatly

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 47 of 52)