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Berlin and Sans-Souci; or Frederick the Great and his friends online

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immense sum of money, and must then hang in the wardrobe to be
destroyed by moths? In eight days this mourning will be over, and I
would be several hundred francs poorer, and possess a black coat I
could never wear! I will not go this evening to the soiree of the
queen-mother; this is decided. I will announce myself sick. Go and
countermand the tailor."

He turned to leave the room, but paused suddenly. "I cannot decline
this invitation," murmured he. "It is widely known that I have
promised to improvise. The world is looking on eagerly. If I do not
go, or if I announce myself sick, they will say I shrink from this
ordeal. My enemies will triumph! - Tripot, I am obliged to go to the
soiree of the queen."

"Then the tailor must come to take your measure?"

"Fool!" cried Voltaire, stamping furiously. "I have told you I have
no gold for such follies. Gather up your small amount of
understanding, and think of some other expedient."

"Well, your excellency. I know a mode of escape from this
embarrassment, but I scarcely dare propose it."

"Speak out - any means are good which attain their object."

"Below, in the court, dwells the merchant Fromery. His servant is my
very good friend. I have learned from him that his master has just
purchased a beautiful black coat. I think he has about the figure of
your excellency."

"Ah, I understand," said Voltaire, whose countenance became clearer,
"You will borrow for me, from your friend, the coat of his master?"

"Yes, if your excellency is not offended at my proposal?"

"On the contrary, I find the idea capital. Go, Tripot, and borrow
the coat of Fromery."

Voltaire returned once more to his distinguished guests, and
enraptured them again by his witty slanders and brilliant
conversation. As the last visitor departed, he rang for his servant.

"Well, Tripot, have you the coat?"

"I have, your excellency."

Voltaire rubbed his hands with delight. "It seems this is a happy
day for me - I make the most advantageous business arrangements."

"But it will be necessary for your grace to try on this coat. I fear
it is too large; since I saw Fromery, he has grown fat."

"The ass!" cried Voltaire. "How does he dare to fatten, when all the
people of intellect and celebrity, like myself, grow thinner every
day?" So saying, he put on the coat of the merchant Fromery. "Yes,
truly, it is far too large for me. Oh, oh! to think that the coat of
a pitiful Dutch tradesman is too large for the great French poet!
Well, that is because these Dutch barbarians think of nothing but
gormandizing. They puff up their gross bodies with common food, and
they daily become fatter; but the spirit suffers. Miserable slaves
of their appetites, they are of no use themselves, and their coats
are also useless!"

"Does your excellency believe that it is impossible to wear the

"Do I believe it is impossible? Look at me! Do I not look like a
hungry heir in the testamentary coat of his rich cousin the brewer?
Would it not be thought that I was a scarecrow, to drive the birds
from the cornfields?"

At this moment Monsieur Pilleneure was announced.

"Good Heaven! I forgot to countermand the tailor!" cried Tripot.

"That is fortunate!" said Voltaire, calming himself. "God sends this
tailor here to put an end to my vexations. This coat is good and
handsome, only a little too large - the tailor will alter it

"That will be splendid!" said Tripot. "He will take in the seams,
and to-morrow enlarge it again."

"Not so!" cried Voltaire. "The coat could not possibly look well; he
must cut away the seams."

"But then," said Tripot, hesitatingly, "Fromery could never wear his
coat again."

"Fromery will learn that Voltaire has done him the honor to borrow
his coat, and I think that will be a sufficient compensation. Tell
the tailor to enter."

Thanks to the adroitness of Pilleneure, Voltaire appeared at the
soiree of the queen-mother in a handsome, well-fitting black coat.
No one guessed that the mourning dress of the celebrated French
writer belonged to the merchant Fromery, and that the glittering
diamond agraffes in his bosom, and the costly rings on his fingers,
were the property of the Jew Hirsch. Voltaire's eyes were more
sparkling than diamonds, and the glances which he fixed upon the
Princess Amelia more glowing; her pale and earnest beauty inspired
him to finer wit and richer hymns of praise.

No one dared to say that this passionate adoration offered to the
princess was unbecoming and offensive to etiquette. Voltaire was the
man of his age, and therefore justified in offering his worship even
to a princess. He was also the favorite of the king, who allowed him
privileges granted to no other man. There was one present, however,
who found these words of passion and of rapture too bold, and that
one was King Frederick. He had entered noiselessly and unannounced,
as was his custom, and he saw, with a derisive smile, how every one
surrounded Voltaire, and all were zealous in expressing their
rapture over his improvised poem, and entreating him to repeat it.

"How can I repeat what I no longer know?" said he. "An angel floated
by me in the air, and, by a glance alone, she whispered words which
my enraptured lips uttered as in a wild hallucination."

"The centuries to come are to be pitied if they are to be deprived
of this enchanting poem," said the Princess Amelia. She had remarked
the entrance of the king, knew that his eye was fixed upon her, and
wished to please him by flattering his beloved favorite.

"If your royal highness thinks thus, I will now write out a poem
which I had designed only to recite," said Voltaire, seating himself
at the card-table; and, taking a card and pencil, he wrote with a
swift hand and handed the card, bowing profoundly.

The king, who was a silent spectator of this scene, looked at the
Princess Amelia, and saw that she blushed as she read, and her brow
was clouded.

"Allow me, also, to read the poem of the great Voltaire, my sister,"
said the king, drawing near.

The princess handed him the card, and while Frederick read, all
stood around him in respectful silence.

"This poem is sublime," said the king, smiling. He saw that the
princess was no longer grave, and that Voltaire breathed freely, as
if relieved from a great apprehension. "This little poem is so
enchanting, that you must allow me to copy it, my sister. Go on with
your conversation, messieurs, it does not disturb me."

A request from the lips of a king is a command; all exerted
themselves therefore to keep up a gay and animated conversation, and
to seem thoughtless and unoccupied. Frederick seated himself at the
table, and read once more the poem of Voltaire, which was as

"Souvent un pen de verite
Se mele au plus grossier mensonge.
Cette nuit dans l'erreur d'un songe,
Au rang des rois j'etais monte,
Je vous aimais alors, et j'osais vous le dire,
Les dieux a mon reveil ne m'ont pas tout ote,
Je n'ai perdu que mon empire."

"Insolent!" cried the king, and his scornful glance wandered away to
Voltaire, who was seated near the queen engaged in lively
conversation. "We will damp his ardor," said he, smiling; and,
taking a card, he commenced writing hastily.

Truly at this moment the stem master Voltaire might have been
content with his royal pupil; the rhymes were good and flowed
freely. When Frederick had finished his poem, he put Voltaire's card
in his bosom and drew near to the princess.

"The poem is piquant," said he; "read it yourself, and then ask
Voltaire to read it aloud."

Amelia looked strangely at the king, but as she read, a soft smile
lighted up her lovely, melancholy face. Bowing to her brother, she
said in low tones, "I thank your highness."

"Now give the card to Voltaire, and ask him to read it," said the

Voltaire took the card, but as he read he did not smile as the
princess had done - he turned pale and pressed his lips tightly

"Read it," said the king.

"I beg your pardon," said Voltaire, who had immediately recovered
his self-possession; "this little poem, so hastily composed, was not
worthy of the exalted princess to whom I dared address it. Your
majesty will be graciously pleased to remember that it was born in a
moment, and the next instant lost its value. As I now read it, I
find it dull and trivial. You will not be so cruel as to force me to
read aloud to your majesty that which I condemn utterly."

"Oh, le coquin!" murmured Frederick, while Voltaire, with a profound
bow, placed the card in his pocket.

When the soiree was over, and Voltaire returned to his rooms, the
gay and genial expression which he had so carefully maintained
during the evening disappeared; and his lips, which had smiled so
kindly, muttered words of cursing and bitterness. He ordered Tripot
to arrange his writing-table and leave the room. Being now alone, he
drew the card from his bosom, and, as if to convince himself that
what he saw was truth and no cruel dream, he read aloud, but with a
trembling voice:

"On remarque, pour l'ordinaire,
Qu'un songe eat analoque a notre caractere,
On heros peut rever, qu'il a passe le Rhin,
Un chien qu'il aboie a la lune;
Un joueur, qu'il a fait fortune,
Un voleur, qu'il a fait butin.
Mais que Voltaire, a l'aide d'un mensonge,
Ose se croire roi lui que n'est qu'un faquin,
Ma fois! c'est abuser du souge."

"So I am already a scoundrel?" said Voltaire, grinning. "My enemies
triumph, and he who a short time since was called the wise man of
the age, the Virgil of France, is nothing but a scoundrel! This
time, I confess, I merited my humiliation, and the consciousness of
this increases my rage. I am a good-humored, credulous fool. Why was
I so silly as to credit the solemn protestations of the king that I
should never feel his superior rank; that he would never show
himself the master? If I dare to claim an equality with him for an
instant, he swings his rod of correction, and I am bowed in the
dust! Voltaire is not the man to bow patiently. The day shall come
in which I will revenge with rich interest the degradation of this
evening. But enough of anger and excitement. I will sleep; perhaps
in happy dreams I shall wander from the chilly borders of the Spree
to my own beautiful Paris."

He called Tripot, and commanded him to announce to Fredersdorf that
he was ill, and could not accompany the king to Potsdam in the

He then retired, and the gods, perhaps, heard his prayer, and
allowed him in dreams to look upon Paris, where the Marquis de
Pompadour reigned supreme, and the pious priests preached against
the Atheist Voltaire, to whom the great-hearted King of Prussia had
given an asylum. Perhaps he saw in his dreams the seigneurie of his
glittering future, and his beautiful house at Ferney, where he built
a temple, with the proud inscription, "Voltaire Deo erexit!"

At all events, his dreams must have been pleasant and refreshing. He
laughed in his sleep; and his countenance, which was so often
clouded by base and wicked passions, was bright and clear; it was
the face of a poet, who, with closed eyes, looked up into the heaven
of heavens.

The morning came, and Voltaire still slept - even the rolling of the
carriages aroused him but for a moment; he wrapped himself up in his
warm bed. the soft eider down of his pillow closed over his head and
made him invisible. Tripot came lightly upon tiptoe and removed the
black coat of the merchant Fromery. Voltaire heard nothing; he slept
on. And now the door was noisily opened, and a young woman, with
fresh, rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes, entered the room; she was
dressed as a chambermaid, a little white coquettish cap covered her
hair, and a white apron with a little bodice was laced over her
striped woollen robe. Upon her white, naked arm she carried linen
which she threw carelessly upon the floor, and drew with rash steps
near the bed. Voltaire still slept, and was still invisible.

The young chambermaid, believing that he had gone with the king to
Potsdam, had come to arrange the room; with a quick movement she
seized the bed with her sinewy hands and threw it off. A wild cry
was heard! a white skeleton figure rose from the bed, now lying in
the middle of the chamber, and danced about the floor with doubled
fists and wild curses. The girl uttered a shriek of terror and
rushed from the room; and if the form and the nightcap had not been
purely white, she would have sworn she had seen the devil in person,
and that she had cast him out from the bed of the great French poet.
[Footnote: Thiebault, v., 281.]



The day of grace was at an end. The four weeks which the king had
granted to his sister, in order that she might take counsel with
herself, were passed, and the heart of the princess was unmoved -
only her face was changed. Amelia hid her pallor with rouge, and the
convulsive trembling of her lips with forced smiles; but it was
evident that her cheeks became daily more hollow, and her eyes more
inflamed. Even the king remarked this, and sent his physician to
examine her eyes. The princess received this messenger of the king
with a bitter, icy smile.

"The king is very good; but I am not ill - I do not suffer."

"But, your royal highness, your eyes suffer. They are weak and
inflamed: allow me to examine them."

"Yes, as my brother has commanded it; but I warn you, you cannot
heal them."

Meckel, the physician, examined her eyes with the closest attention,
then shook his head thoughtfully.

"Princess," said he at last, in low, respectful tones, "if you grant
your eyes no rest; if, instead of sleeping quietly, you pass the
night pacing your room; if you continue to exhaust your eyes by
constant weeping, the most fatal consequences may result."

"Do you mean I will become blind?" said Amelia, quietly.

"I mean your eyes are suffering; that, however, is no acute disease;
but your whole nervous system is in a dangerous condition, and all
this must be rectified before your eyes can be healed."

"Prescribe something, then, as his majesty has commanded it," said
Amelia, coldly.

"I will give your royal highness a remedy; but it is of so strong
and dangerous a nature, that it must be used only with the utmost
caution. It is a liquid; it must be heated, and you must allow the
steam to pass into your eyes. Your highness must be very, very
careful. The substances in this mixture are so strong, so corrosive,
that if you approach too near the steam, it will not only endanger
your eyes, but your face and your voice. You must keep your mouth
firmly closed, and your eyes at least ten inches above the vessel
from which the steam is rising. Will your highness remember all
this, and act as I have directed?"

"I will remember it," said Amelia, replying only to the first part
of his question.

Meckel did not remark this. He wrote his prescription and withdrew,
once more reminding Amelia of the caution necessary.

As has been said, this was the last day of grace. The princess
seemed calm and resigned. Even to her confidential maid she uttered
no complaints. The steaming mixture was prepared, and, while Amelia
held herself some distance above it, as the physician had commanded,
she said laughingly to Ernestine: "I must strive to make my eyes
bright, that my brother may be pleased, or at least that he may not
be excited against me."

The prescription seemed to work wonders. The eyes of the princess
were clear and bright, and upon her cheeks burned that dark, glowing
carnation, which an energetic will and a strong and bold resolve
sometimes call into life.

"Now, Ernestine, come! make me a careful and tasteful toilet. It
seems to me that this is my wedding-day; that I am about to
consecrate myself forever to a beloved friend."

"Oh, princess, let it be thus!" cried Fraulein von Haak.
imploringly. "Constrain your noble heart to follow the wishes of the
king, and wed the King of Denmark."

Amelia looked at her, amazed and angry. "You know that Trenck has
received my warning, and has replied to me. He will listen to no
suggestions; under no pretext, will he be influenced to cross the
borders of Prussia, not even if full pardon and royal grace are
offered him. I need not, therefore, be anxious on his account."

"That being the case, your royal highness should now think a little
of your own happiness. You should seek to be reconciled to your
fate - to yield to that which is unalterable. The king, the royal
family, yes, the whole land will rejoice if this marriage with the
King of Denmark takes place. Oh, princess, be wise! do willingly,
peacefully, What you will otherwise be forced to do! Consent to be
Queen of Denmark."

"You have never loved, Ernestine, and you do not know that it is a
crime to break a holy oath sworn unto God. But let us be silent. I
know what is before me - I am prepared!"

With calm indifference, Amelia completed her toilet; then stepped to
the large Psyche, which stood in her boudoir, and examined herself
with a searching eye.

"I think there is nothing in my appearance to enrage the king. I
have laid rouge heavily upon my cheeks, and, thanks to Meckel's
prescription, my eyes are as brilliant as if they had shed no tears.
If I meet my brother with this friendly, happy smile, he will not
remark that my cheeks are sunken. He will be content with me, and
perhaps listen to my prayers."

Ernestine regarded her with a sad and troubled glance. "You look
pale, princess, in spite of your rouge, and your laugh lacerates the
heart. There is a tone, a ring in it, like a broken harp-string."

"Still," said Amelia, "still, Ernestine! my hour has come! I go to
the king. Look, the hand of the clock points to twelve, and I ask an
audience of the king at this hour. Farewell, Ernestine! Ernestine,
pray for me."

She wrapped herself in her mantle, and stepped slowly and proudly
through the corridors to the wing of the castle occupied by the
king. Frederick received her in his library. He advanced to the door
to meet her, and with a kindly smile extended both his hands.

"Welcome, Amelia, a thousand times welcome! Your coming proves to me
that your heart has found the strength which I expected; that my
sweet sister has recovered herself, her maidenly pride, fully.

"The proud daughter of the Hohenzollerns is here to say to the king-
-'The King of Denmark demands my hand. I will bestow it upon him. My
father's daughter dare not wed beneath her. She must look onward and
upward. There is no myrtle-wreath for me, but a crown is glittering,
and I accept it. God has made both heart and brain strong enough to
bear its weight. I shall be no happy shepherdess, but I shall be a
great and good queen; I will make others happy.'"

"You have come, Amelia, to say this to the king; but you have also
come to say to your brother - 'I am ready to fulfil your wishes. I
know that no selfish views, no ambitious plans influence you. I know
that you think only of my prosperity and my happiness; that you
would save me from misfortune, humiliation, and shame; that you
would guard me from the mistakes and weaknesses of my own heart, I
accede to your wish, my brother - I will be queen of Denmark?' Now,
Amelia," said Frederick, with an agitated voice, "have I not rightly
divined? Have you not sought me for this purpose?"

"No, my brother, no, no!" cried Amelia, with wild, gushing tears.
"No; I have come to implore your pity, your mercy." Completely
beside herself, mad with passion and pain, she fell upon her knees
and raised her arms entreatingly to the king. "Mercy, my brother,
mercy! Oh, spare my poor, martyred heart! Leave me at least the
liberty to complain and to be wretched! Do not condemn me to marry

Frederick stepped backward, and his brow darkened; but he controlled
his impatience, and drew near his sister with a kindly smile, and
gently raising her from her knees, he led her to the divan.

"Come, Amelia, it does not become you to kneel to a man - to God only
should a princess kneel. Let us be seated, and speak to each other
as brother and sister should speak who love and wish to understand
each other."

"I am ready for all else, I will accommodate myself to all else -
only be merciful! Do not compel me to wed Denmark!"

"Ah, see, my sister, although you are struggling against me, how
justly you comprehend your position!" said the king, mildly. "You
speak of wedding Denmark. Your exalted and great destiny sleeps in
these words. A princess when she marries does not wed a man, but a
whole people; she does not only make a man but a nation happy. There
are the weeping, whose tears she will dry; the poor, whose hunger
she will assuage; the unhappy, to whom she will bring consolation;
the sick and dying, with whom she will pray. There is a whole people
advancing to meet her with shouts of gladness, stretching out their
hands, and asking for love. God has blessed the hearts of queens
with the power to love their subjects, because they are women. Oh,
my sister, this is a great, a noble destiny which Providence offers
you - to be the beneficent, mediating, smiling angel, standing ever
by the side of a king - a bond of love between a king and his
subjects! Truly one might well offer up their poor, pitiful wishes,
their own personal happiness, for such a noble destiny."

"I have no more happiness to offer up," sighed Amelia. "I have no
happiness; I do not ask so much. I plead for the poor right of
living for my great sorrow - of being faithful to myself."

"He only is faithful to himself who lives to discharge his duties,"
said the king. "He only is true to himself who governs himself, and
if he cannot be happy, at least endeavors to make others so, and
this vocation of making others happy is the noblest calling for a
woman; by this shall she overcome her selfishness and find comfort,
strength, and peace. And who, my sister, can say that he is happy?
Our life consists in unfulfilled wishes, vain hopes destroyed,
ideals, and lost illusions. Look at me, Amelia. Have I ever been
happy? Do you believe that there is a day of my life I would live
over? Have I not, from my earliest youth, been acquainted with
grief, self-denial, and pain? Are not all the blossoms of my life
broken? Am I not, have I not ever been, the slave of my rank? - a
man, 'cabined, cribbed, confined,' though I appear to be a great
king? Oh, I will not relate what I have suffered - how my heart has
been lacerated and trampled upon! I will only say to you, that,
notwithstanding this, I have never wished to be other than I am,
that I have been always thankful for my fate; glad to be born to a
throne, and not in a miserable hut. Believe me, Amelia, a sublime
misfortune is better, more glorious, than a petty happiness. To have
the brow wounded, because the crown presses too heavily upon the
temples, is more desirable than to breathe out your sorrows in the
midst of poverty and vulgarity, then sink into a dark and unknown
grave. God, who has, perhaps, denied us the blessing of love, gives
fame as a compensation. If we are not happy, we are powerful!"

"Ah, my brother, these are the views of a man and a king," said
Amelia. "I am a poor, weak woman. For me there is no fame, no

"Isabella of Spain and Elizabeth of England were also women, and
their fame has extended through centuries."

"They, however, were independent queens. I can be nothing more than
the wife of a king. Oh, my brother, let me remain only the sister of
a king! Let there be no change in my fate - let all remain as it is!
This is my only hope - my only prayer! My heart is dead, and every
wish is buried - let it suffice, my brother! Do not ask the

The king sprang from his seat, and his eyes glowed with scorn. "It
is, then, all in vain!" said he, fiercely. "You will listen neither
to reason nor entreaty!"

"Oh, sire, have mercy - I cannot wed the King of Denmark!"

"You cannot!" cried the king: "what does that mean?"

"That means that I have sworn never to become the wife of another
than of him whom I love; that means that I have sworn to die
unmarried, unless I go to the altar with my beloved!"

"This wild, mad wish can never be fulfilled!" said the king,
threateningly. "You will marry - I, the king, command it!"

"Command me not, my brother!" cried Amelia, proudly, "command me
not! You stand now upon the extremest boundary of your power; it
will be easy now to teach you that a king is powerless against a
firm, bold will!"

Online LibraryL. MühlbachBerlin and Sans-Souci; or Frederick the Great and his friends → online text (page 39 of 42)