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

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this king, whom I do not know, whom I have never seen, who has
forgotten that I am a woman, yes, forgotten that he is a man, though
he bears the empty title of a king? A true king is always and only a
gallant cavalier in his conduct to women. If he fails in this, he is
contemptible and despised."

"How! you despise the king?" said Frederick, who really enjoyed this
unaccustomed scene.

"Yes, I despise him! yes, I hate him!" cried the Barbarina, with a
wild and stormy outbreak of her southern nature. "I no longer pray
to God for my own happiness; that this cruel king has destroyed. I
pray to God for revenge; yes, for vengeance upon this man, who has
no heart, and who tramples the hearts of others under his feet. And
God will help me. I shall revenge myself on this man. I have sworn
it - I will keep my word! Go, sir, and tell this to your king; tell
him to beware of Barbarina. Greater, bolder, more magnanimous than
he, I warn him! Cunningly; slyly, unwarned, by night I was fallen
upon by spies, and dragged like a culprit to Berlin."

The king had no wish to put an end to this piquant scene; he was
only accustomed to the voice of praise and of applause; it was a
novelty, and therefore agreeable to be so energetically railed at
and abused.

"Do you not fear that the king will be angry when I repeat your

"Fear! What more can your king do, that I should fear him? Yes, he
is a king; but am not I a queen? This paltry kingdom is but a small
portion of the world, which is mine, wholly mine; it belongs to me,
as it belongs to the eagle who spreads her proud wings and looks
down upon her vast domains; he has millions in his treasury, but
they are pressed from the pockets of his poor subjects; he requires
many agents to collect his gold, and his people give it grudgingly,
but my subjects bring their tribute joyfully and lay it at my feet
with loving words. Look you! look at these two little feet: they are
my assessors; they collect the taxes from my people, and all the
dwellers in Europe are mine. These are my agents, they bring me in
millions of gold; they are also my avengers, by their aid I shall
revenge myself on your barbaric king."

She leaned back upon the pillows and breathed audibly, exhausted by
her wild passion. The king looked at her with wonder. She was to him
a rare and precious work of art, something to be studied and
worshipped. Her alluring beauty, her impetuous, uncontrolled
passions, her bold sincerity, were all attractions, and he felt
himself under the spell of her enchantments. Let her rail and swear
to be revenged on the barbarian. The king heard her not; a simple
gentleman stood before her; a man who felt that Barbarina was right,
and who confessed to himself that the king had forgotten, in her
rude seizure, that this Barbarina was a woman - forgotten that he, in
all his relations with women, should be only a cavalier.

"Yes, yes," said Barbarina, and an expression of triumph was painted
on her lips - "yes, my little feet will be my avengers. The king will
never more see them dance - never more; they have cost him thousands
of gold; because of them he is at variance with the noble Republic
of Venice. Well, he has seen them for the last time. Ah! it is a
light thing to subdue a province, but impossible to conquer a woman
and an artiste who is resolved not to surrender."

Frederick smiled at these proud words.

"So you will not dance before the king, and yet you have danced for
him this evening?"

"Yes," said she, raising her head proudly. "I have proved to him
that I am an artiste; only when he feels that, will it pain him
never again to see me exercise my art."

"That is, indeed, refined reasoning," said the king. "You danced,
then, in order to make the king thirst anew for this intoxicating
draught, and then deny him? Truly, one must be an Italian to
conceive this plan."

"I am an Italian, and woe to me that I am!" A storm of tears gushed
from her eyes, but in a moment, as if scorning her own weakness, she
drove them back into her heart. "Poor Italian," she said, in a soft,
low tone - "poor child of the South, what are you doing in this cold
North, amongst these frosty hearts whose icy smiles petrify art and
beauty? Ah! to think that even the Barbarina could not melt the ice-
rind from their pitiful souls; to think that she displayed before
them all the power and grace of her art, and they looked on with
motionless hands and silent lips! Ah! this humiliation would have
killed me in Italy, because I love my people, and they understand
and appreciate all that is rare and beautiful. My heart burns with
scorn and contempt for these torpid Berliners."

"I understand you now," said the king; "you heard no bravos, you
were not applauded; therefore you are angry?"

"I laugh at it!" said she, looking fiercely at the king. "Do you not
know, sir, that this applause, these bravos, are to the artiste as
the sound of a trumpet to the gallant war-horse, they invigorate and
inspire, and swell the heart with strength and courage? When the
artiste stands upon the stage, the saloon before him is his heaven,
and there his judges sit, to bestow eternal happiness or eternal
condemnation; to crown him with immortal fame, or cover him with
shame and confusion. Now, sir, that I have explained to you that the
stage saloon is our heaven, and the spectators are our judges, you
will understand that these bravos are to us as the music of the

"Yes, I comprehend," said the king, smiling; "but you must be
indulgent; in this theatre etiquette forbids applause. You have
danced to-day before an invited audience, who pay nothing, and
therefore have not the right to blame or praise; no one dare
applaud - no one but the king."

"Ha! and this rude man did not applaud!" cried she, showing her
small teeth, and raising her hand threateningly toward heaven.

"Perhaps he was motionless and drunk from rapture," said the king,
bowing gracefully; "when he sees you dance again, he will have more
control over himself, and will, perhaps, applaud you heartily."

"Perhaps?" cried she. "I shall not expose myself to this 'perhaps.'
I will dance no more. My foot is sore, and your king cannot force me
to dance."

"No, he cannot force you, but you will do it willingly; you will
dance for him again this evening, of your own free will."

Barbarina answered by one burst of wild, demoniac laughter,
expressive of her scorn and her resentment.

"You will dance again this evening," repeated Frederick, and his
keen eye gazed steadily into that of Barbarina, who, though weeping
bitterly, shook her lovely head, and gave him back bravely glance
for glance. "You will dance, Barbarina, because, if you do not, you
are lost. I do not mean by this that you are lost because the king
will punish you for your obstinacy. The king is no Bluebeard; he
neither murders women nor confines them in underground prisons; he
has no torture chambers ready for you; for the King of Prussia, whom
you hate so fiercely, has abolished the torture throughout his
kingdom - the torture, which still flourishes luxuriantly by the side
of oranges and myrtles in your beautiful Italy. No, signora, the
king will not punish you if you persist in your obstinacy; he will
only send you away, that is all."

"And that is my only wish, all that I ask of Fate."

"You do not know yourself. You, who are an artiste, who are a lovely
woman, who are ambitious, and look upon fame as worth striving for,
you would not lose your power, trample under foot your ambition, see
your rare beauty slighted, and your enchanting grace despised?"

"I cannot see why all these terrible things will come to pass if I
refuse to dance again before your king?"

"I will explain to you, signora - listen. The king (however
contemptuously you may think and speak of him) is still a man, upon
whom the eyes of all Europe are turned - that is to say," he added,
with a gay smile and a graceful bow, "when his bold eye is not
exactly fixed upon them, signora. The voice of this king has some
weight in your world, though, as yet, he has only stolen provinces
and women. It is well known that the king has so irresistible a
desire to see you and to admire you, that he forgot his knightly
gallantry, or set it aside, and, relying only upon his right, he
exacted the fulfilment of the contract signed by your own lovely
hand. That was, perhaps, not worthy of a cavalier, but it was not
unjust. You were forced to obey. You came to Berlin unwillingly,
that I confess; but you have this evening danced before the king of
your own free will. This, from your stand-point, was a great
mistake. You can no longer say, 'I will not dance before the king,
because I wish to revenge myself.' You have already danced, and no
matter with what refinement of reason you may explain this false
step, no one will believe you if the king raises his voice against
you; and he will do this, believe me. He will say: 'I brought this
Barbarina to Berlin. I wished to see if the world had gone mad or
become childish, or if Barbarina really deserved the enthusiasm and
adoration which followed her steps. Well, I have seen her dance, and
I find the world is mad in folly. I give them back their goddess -
she does not suit me. She is a wooden image in my eyes. I wished to
capture Terpsichore herself, and lo, I found I had stolen her
chambermaid! I have seen your goddess dance once, and I am weary of
her pirouettes and minauderies. Lo, there, thou hast that is

"Sir, sir!" cried Barbarina menacingly, and springing up with
flaming eyes and panting breath.

"That is what the king will say," said Frederick quietly. "You know
that the voice of the king is full and strong; it will resound
throughout Europe. No one will believe that you refused to dance. It
will be said that you did not please the king; this will be proved
by the fact that he did not applaud, did not utter a single bravo.
In a word, it will be said you have made a fiasco."

Barbarina sprang from her seat and laid her hand upon the arm of the
king with indescribable, inimitable grace and passion.

"Lead me upon the stage - I will dance now. Ah, this king shall not
conquer me, shall not cast me down. No, no! I will compel him to
applaud; he shall confess that I am indeed an artiste. Tell the
director to prepare - I will come immediately upon the stage."

Barbarina was right when she compared the artiste to a war-horse. At
this moment she did indeed resemble one: she seemed to hear the
sound of the trumpet calling to battle and to fame. Her cheeks
glowed, her nostrils dilated, a quick and violent breathing agitated
her breast, and a nervous and convulsive trembling for action was
seen in every movement. The king observed and comprehended her. He
understood her tremor and her haste; he appreciated this soul-
thirsting for fame, this fervor of ambition, excited by the
possibility of failure; her boldness enraptured him. The sincerity
and power with which she expressed her emotions, commanded his
respect; and while the king paid this tribute to her intellectual
qualities, the man at the same time confessed to himself that her
personal attractions merited the worship she received. She was
beautiful, endowed with the alluring, gentle, soft, luxurious, and
at the same time modest beauty of the Venus Anadyomene, the goddess
rising from the sea.

"Come," said Frederick, "give me your hand. I will conduct you, and
I promise you that this time the king will applaud."

Barbarina did not reply. In the fire of her impatience, she pressed
the king onward toward the door. Suddenly she paused, and giving him
an enchanting smile, she said, "I am, without doubt, much indebted
to you; you have warned me of a danger, and in fact guarded me from
an abyss. Truly I think this was not done for my sake, but because
your king had commanded that I should dance. Your reasons were well
grounded, and I thank you sincerely. I pray you, sir, give me your
name, that I may guard it in my memory as the only pleasant
association with Berlin."

"From this day, signora, you will confess that you owe me a small
service. You have told ine it was a light task to win provinces, but
to capture and subdue a woman was impossible, I hope now I shall be
a hero in your eyes: I have not only conquered provinces, I have
captured a woman and subdued her."

Barbarina was neither astonished nor alarmed at these words. She had
seen so many kings and princes at her feet to be blinded by the
glitter of royalty. She let go the arm of the king, and said calmly
and coolly: "Sire, I do not ask for pardon or grace. The possessor
of a crown must wear it, if he demands that it should be
acknowledged and respected, and the pomp and glare of royalty is, it
seems, easily veiled. Besides, I would not have acted otherwise, had
I known who it was that dared intrude upon me."

"I am convinced of that," said Frederick, smiling. "You are a queen
who has but small consideration for the little King of Prussia,
because he requires so many agents to impress the gold from the
pockets of his unwilling subjects. You are right - my agents cost me
much money, and bring small tribute, while yours cost nothing and
yield a rich harvest. Come, signora, your assessors must enter upon
their duties."

He nodded to Baron Swartz, who stood in the corridor, and said in
German, "The signora will dance; she must be received with respect
and treated with consideration." He gave a light greeting to
Barbarina and returned to the saloon, where he found the last act of
the drama just concluded.

Every eye was fixed upon the king as he entered. He had left the
room in anger, and the courtiers almost trembled at the thought of
his fierce displeasure; but Frederick's brow was clear, and an
expression of peace and quiet was written on his features. He took
his place between the two queens, muttered a few words of
explanation to his mother, and bowed smilingly to his wife. Poor
queen! poor Elizabeth Christine! she had the sharp eye of a loving
and jealous woman, and she saw in the king's face what no one, not
even Frederick himself, knew. While every eye was turned upon the
stage; while all with breathless rapture gazed upon the marvellous
beauty and grace of Barbarina, the queen alone fixed a stolen and
trembling glance upon the countenance of her husband. She saw not
that Barbarina, inspired by ambition and passion, was more lovely,
more enchanting than before. Her eyes were fixed upon the face of
her husband, now luminous with admiration and delight; she saw his
soft smile, and the iron entered her soul.

The dance was at an end. Barbarina came forward and bowed low; and
now something happened so unheard of, so contrary to court
etiquette, that the master of ceremonies was filled with surprise
and disapprobation. The king applauded, not as gracious kings
applaud generally, by laying his hands lightly together, but like a
wild enthusiast who wishes to confess to the world that he is
bewildered, enraptured. He then rose from his chair, and turning to
the princesses and generals behind him, he said, "Gentlemen, why do
you not applaud?" and as if these magical words had released the
hands from bondage and given life to the wild rapture of applause
which had before but trembled on the lip, the wide hall rang with
the plaudits and enthusiastic bravos of the spectators. Barbarina
bowed low and still lower, an expression of happy triumph playing
upon her glowing face.

"I have never seen a more beautiful woman," said the king, as he
sank back, seemingly exhausted, in his chair.

Queen Elizabeth pressed her lips together, to suppress a cry of
pain. She had heard the king's words; for her they had a deeper
meaning. "He will love her, I know it, I feel it!" she said to
herself as she returned after this eventful evening to Schonhausen.
"Oh, why has God laid upon me this new trial, this new humiliation?
Until now, no one thought the less of me because I was not loved by
the king. The world said, 'The king loves no woman, he has no heart
for love.' From this day I shall be despised and pitied. The king
has found a heart. He knows now that he has not outlived his youth;
he feels that he is young - that he is young in heart, young in love!
Oh, my God! and I too am young, and love; and I must shroud my heart
in resignation and gloom."

While the queen was pouring out her complaints and prayers to God,
the Swedish ambassador was confiding his wrath to his king. He wrote
to his sovereign, and repeated to him the angry and abusive words of
the little Princess Amelia, who was known at the court as the little
April Fee. She was more changeable than April, and more stormy and
imperious than Frederick himself. He painted skilfully the gentle
and attractive bearing of the Princess Ulrica, and asked for
permission to demand the hand of this gracious and noble princess
for Adolph Frederick. After the ambassador had written his
dispatches, and sent them by a courier to the Swedish ship lying in
the sound, he said to himself, with a triumphant smile: "Ah, my
little Princess Amelia, this is a royal punishment for royal
impertinence. You were pleased to treat me with contempt, but you
did not know that I could avenge myself by depriving you of a
kingdom. Ah, if you had guessed my mission, how smilingly you would
have greeted the Count Tessin!"

The gentlemen diplomatists are sometimes outwitted.



The reader has learned, from the foregoing chapters, what a splendid
role the French theatre and ballet were now playing at the court of
Berlin. A superb house had been built for the Italian opera and the
ballet, a stage had been prepared in the king's palace for the
French comedies, and every representation was honored by the
presence of the king, the royal family, and the court circle. The
most celebrated singers of Italy, the most graceful Parisian dancers
were now to be heard and seen in Berlin. These things assumed such
vast importance, that the king himself appeared as a critic in the
daily journals, and his articles were published in the foreign
papers. While the king favored the strange actors with his presence
and his grace, the German theatre, like a despised step-child, was
given over to misery and contempt. Compelled to seek an asylum in
low dark saloons, its actors had to be thankful for even the
permission to exist, and to plead with Apollo and the Muses for aid
and applause. The king and the so-called good society despised them
altogether. But this step-child carried under her ashes and ragged
garments the golden robes of her future greatness; her cunning step-
sisters had cast her down into obscurity and want, but she was not
extinguished; she could not be robbed of her future! Only a few
propitious circumstances were necessary to enable her to shake the
dust from her head, and bring her kingly crown to light.

The king had given Schonemein permission to bring his company to
Berlin; and by a happy chance, Schonemein had engaged the young and
talented actor Eckhof for the season. Eckhof was destined to give
renown to the German theatre; he was justly called the first and
greatest actor in Germany. Alas, how much of misery, how much of
humiliation, how many choking tears, how much suffering and care,
how much hunger and thirst were then comprised in that one word, a
"German actor!" None but a lost or despairing man, or an enthusiast,
would enroll himself as a German actor; only when he had nothing
more to lose, and was willing to burn his ships behind him, could he
enter upon that thorny path. Religion and art have always had their
martyrs, and truly the German actors were martyrs in the time of
Frederick the Great. Blessings upon those who did not despair, and
took up their cross patiently!

The French comedy and the Italian opera flourished like the green
bay-tree. The German actors took refuge in the saloon of the
Council-house. The lighting up of the Royal Opera-house cost two
hundred and seventy-seven florins every night. The misty light of
sweltering oil lamps illuminated the poor saloon of the Council-

The audience of the German theatre was composed of burghers,
philosophers, poets, bankers, and clerks - the people of the middle
classes, who wore no white plumes in their hats; they were indeed
allowed to enter the opera-house, but through a side passage, and
their boxes were entirely separated from those of the court circle.
These people of the middle classes seemed obscure and unimportant,
but they were educated and intelligent; even then they were a power;
proud and independent, they could not be bribed by flattery, nor
blinded by glitter and pomp. They judged the king as they judged the
beggar, the philosopher as they did the artist, and they judged
boldly and well.

This public voice had declared that Eckhof was a great tragedian,
who rivalled successfully the great French actor, Monsieur Dennis.
This public voice, though but the voice of the people, found
entrance everywhere, even in the saloons of the nobles and cabinets
of princes. Berlin resounded with the name of Eckhof, who dared to
rival the French actor, and with the name of Schonemein, who dared,
every time a drama of Corneille or Racine, of Moliere or Voltaire,
was given in the palace theatre, to represent the same in the
Council-house on the following evening. This was a good idea. Those
who had been so fortunate as to witness the performance at the
palace, wished to compare the glittering spectacle with the poor
caricature, as they were pleased to call it, in the Council-house.
Those whose obscure position prevented them from entering the French
theatre, wished at least to see the play which had enraptured the
king and court; they must be content with a copy, somewhat like the
hungry beggar who stands before the kitchen door, and refreshes
himself by smelling the roast beef he cannot hope to taste. But
there was still a third class who visited the German theatre, not in
derision, not from curiosity, not from a desire to imitate the
nobles in their amusements, but with the seemingly Utopian hope of
building up the German drama. Amongst these were the scholars, who
pronounced the dramas of Gottsched far superior to those of
Corneille and Racine; there were the German patriots, who would not
grant a smile to the best representation of "Le Malade Imaginaire,"
but declared "The Hypochondriac," by Guistorp, the wittiest drama in
the world. In short, this large class of men ranged themselves in
bold opposition to the favoritism shown to Frenchmen by Frederick
the Great. These were the elements which composed the audience in
the Council-house.

One afternoon, just before the opening of the theatre, two young men
were walking arm-in-arm in the castle court; with one of them we are
already acquainted, Joseph Fredersdorf, the merry student of Halle,
the brother of the private secretary - he who had been commissioned
to seek the black ram, for the propitiation of the devil. In
obedience to the command of the secretary, he, with ten other
members of this unholy alliance, had been searching in every quarter
for this sacrifice. Joseph Fredersdorf, indebted to fortune or his
own adroitness, was the first to return from his wanderings, and he
brought with him a black ram, on whose glossy coat the sharpest eye
could not detect one white hair.

Fredersdorf, and Baron Kleist, the husband of the lovely Louise von
Schwerin, were truly happy, and paid willingly some hundred thalers
for this coveted object. Indeed, they considered this a very small
interest to pay for the large capital which they would soon realize.
They were the principal leaders in the secret conspiracy for gold-
making, and many other most distinguished nobles, generals, and
officers belonged to the society. Fredersdorf was resolved to fathom
this mystery; he wished to buy himself free from his service to the
king, and wed the woman he had long so passionately loved. Kleist
was riotous and a spendthrift; he felt that gold alone would enable
him to buy smiles and rapture from this worn-out and wearisome
world. Kleist and his beautiful wife required money in large
measure; she had been a faithful companion and aid - had stood by
honestly and assisted in the waste of her own property; and now they
were compelled to confine themselves to the small income of captain
of the king's guard.

Joseph laughed, chatted, and jested with his young companion, who
walked by his side with modest and downcast eyes. Joseph sometimes
put his hand merrily under the dimpled chins of the rosy servant-

Online LibraryL. MühlbachBerlin and Sans-Souci; or Frederick the Great and his friends → online text (page 7 of 42)