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FREDERIC THE GREAT.*
EDINBURGH Review, APRIL, 1842.]
This work, which has the high honour of tentatious and profuse, negligent of his true being introduced to the world by the author of interests and of his high duties, insatiably "Lochiel” and “Hohenlinden," is not wholly eager for frivolous distinctions, he added ná unworthy of so distinguished a chaperon. It thing to the real weight of the state which he professes, indeed, to be no more than a compi- governed; perhaps he transmitted his inherilation ; but it is an exceedingly amusing com- tance to his children impaired rather than pilation, and we shall be glad to have more of augmented in value, but he succeeded in gain. it. The narrative comes down at present only ing the great object of his life, the title of king. to the commencement of the Seven Years' In the year 1700 he assumed this new dignity. War, and therefore does not comprise the He had on that occasion to undergo all the most interesting portion of Frederic's reign. mortifications which fall to the lot of ambitious
It may not be unacceptable to our readers upstarts. Compared with the other crowned that we should take this opportunity of pre- heads of Europe, he made a figure resembling senting them with a slight sketch of the life of that which a Nabob or a Commissary, who the greatest king that has, in modern times, had bought a title, would make in the comsucceeded by right of birth to a throne. It may, pany of Peers whose ancestors had been atwe fear, be impossible to compress so long and tainted for treason against the Plantagenets. eventful a story within the limits which we must The envy of the class which he quitted, and prescribe to ourselves. Should we be compelled the civil scorn of the class into which he into break off, we shall, when the continuation of truded himself, were marked in very signifithis work appears, return to the subject. cant ways. The elector of Saxony at first
The Prussian monarchy, the youngest of the refused to acknowledge the new majesty. great European states, but in population and Louis the Fourteenth looked down on his broin revenue the fifth amongst them, and in art, ther king with an air not unlike that with science, and civilization entitled to the third, if which the count in Molière's play regards not the second place, sprang from an humble Monsieur Jourdain, just fresh from the mumorigin. About the beginning of the fifteenth cen- mery of being made a gentleman. Austria tury, the marquisate of Brandenburg was be- exacted large sacrifice in return for her restowed by the Emperor Sigismund on the noble cognition, and at last gave it ungraciously. family of Hohenzollern. In the sixteenth century Frederic was succeeded by his son, Frederic that family embraced the Lutheran doctrines. William, a prince who must be allowed to Early in the seventeenth century it obtained have possessed some talents for administrafrom the King of Poland the investiture of the tion, but whose character was disfigured by duchy of Prussia. Even after this accession the most odious vices, and whose eccentrici. of territory, the chiefs of the house of Hohen- ties were such as had never been seen out of a zollern hardly ranked with the Electors of Sax- madhouse. He was exact and diligent in the ony and Bavaria. The soil of Brandenburg transaction of business, and he was the first was for the most part sterile. Even round who formed the design of obtaining for PruzBerlin, the capital of the province, and round sia a place among the European powers, altoPotsdam, the favourite residence of the Mar- gether out of proportion to her extent and graves, the country was a desert. In some population, by means of a strong military ortracts, the deep sand could with difficulty be ganization. Strict economy enabled him to forced by assiduous tillage to yield thin crops keep up a peace establishment of sixty thouof rye and oats. In other places, the ancient sand troops. These troops were disciplined forests, from which the conquerors of the Ro- in such a manner, that placed beside them, man empire had descended on the Danube, the household regiments of Versailles and St. remained untouched by the hand of man. James's would have appeared an awkward Where the soil was rich it was generally squad. The master of such a force could not marshy, and its insalubrity repelled the culti- but be regarded by all his neighbours as a forvators whom its fertility attracted. Frederic midable enemy, and a valuable ally. William, called the Great Elector, was the But the mind of Frederic William was so prince to whose policy his successors have ill-regulated, that all his inclinations became agreed to ascribe their greatness. He ac- passions, and all his passions partook of the quired by the peace of Westphalia several character of moral and intellectual disease. valuable possessions, and among them the rich His parsimony degenerated into sordid avacity and district of Magdeburg; and he left to rice. His taste for military pomp and order his son Frederic a principality as considerable became a mania, like that of a Dutch burgo as any which was not called a kingdom. master for tulips; or that of a member of the Frederic aspired to the style of royalty. Os. Roxburgh club for Caxtons. While the en
voys of the court of Berlin were in a state of * Frederic the Great and his Times. Edited, with an Introduction, by THOMAS CAMPBELL, Esq. 2 vols. 8vo. such squalid poverty as moved the laughter
of foreign capitals; while the food placed be.
I ondon 1812.
FREDERIC THE GREAT.
fore the princes and the princesses of the brats. If he saw a clergyman staring at the blood-royal of Prussia was too scanty to ap- soldiers, he admonished the reverend gentlepease hunger, and so bad that even hunger man to betake himself to study and prayer, loathed it-no price was thought too extrava- and enforced this pious advice by a sound gant for tall recruits. The ambition of the caning, administered on the spot. But it was king was to form a brigade of giants, and in his own house that he was most unreasonaevery country was ransacked by his agents ble and ferocious. His palace was hell, and for men above the ordinary stature. These he the most execrable of fiends—a cross beresearches were not confined to Europe. No tween Moloch and Puck. His son Frederic head that towered above the crowd in the ba- and his daughter Wilhelmina, afterwards Marzaars of Aleppo, of Cairo, or of Surat, could gravine of Bareuth, were in an especial manescape the crimps of Frederic William. One ner objects of his aversion. His own mind Irishman more than seven feet high, who was was uncultivated. He despised literature. He picked up in London by the Prussian ambas- hated infidels, Papists, and metaphysicians, sador, received a bounty of nearly 1300l. ster- and did not very well understand in what they ling-very much more than the ambassador's differed from each other. The business of salary. This extravagance was the more ab- life, according to him, was to drill and to be surd, because a stout youth of five feet eighi, drilled. The recreations suited to a prince, who might have been procured for a few dol were to sit in a cloud of tobacco-smoke, to sip lars, would in all probability have been a Swedish beer between the puffs of the pipe, to much more valuable soldier. But to Frederic play backgammon for three-halfpence a rubWilliam, this huge Irishman was what a brass ber, to kill wild hogs, and to shoot partridges Otho, or a Vinegar Bible, is to a collector of a by the thousand. The Prince-Royal showed different kind.
little inclination either for the serious employIt is remarkable, that though the main end ments or for the amusements of his father. He of Frederic William's administration was to shirked the duties of the parade-he detested have a military force, though his reign forms the fume of tobacco-he had no taste either for an important epoch in the history of military backgammon or for field-sports. He had rediscipline, and though his dominant passion was ceived from nature an exquisite ear, and perthe love of military display, he was yetone of the formed skilfully on the flute. His earliest inmost pacific of princes. We are afraid that structors had been French refugees, and they had his aversion to war was not the effect of huma- awakened in him a strong passion for French nity, but was merely one of his thousand whims. literature and French society. Frederic WilHis feeling about his troops seems to have re- liam regarded these tastes as effeminate and sembled a miser's feeling about his money. contemptible, and, by abuse and persecution, He loved to collect them, to count them, to see made them still stronger. Things became them increase; but he could not find it in his worse when the Prince-Royal attained that heart to break in upon the precious hoard. time of life at which the great revolution in He looked forward to some future time when the human mind and body takes place. He his Patagonian battalions were to drive hostile was guilty of some youthful indiscretions, infantry before them like sheep. But this fu- which no good and wise parent would regard ture time was always receding; and it is pro- with severity. At a later period he was acbable that, if his life had been prolonged thirty cused, truly or falsely, of vices, from which years, his superb army would never have seen History averts her eyes, and which even Saany harder service than a sham fight in the tire blushes to name-vices such that, to borfields near Berlin. But the great military row the energetic language of Lord-Keeper means which he had collected, were destined Coventry, “ the depraved nature of man, which to be employed by a spirit far more daring of itself carrieth man to all other sin, abhorreth and inventive than his own.
them.” But the offenses of his youth were not Frederic, surnamed the Great, son of Fre- characterized by any peculiar turpitude. They deric William, was born in January, 1712. It excited, however, transports of rage in the may safely be pronounced that he had received king, who hated all faults except those to from nature a strong and sharp understanding, which he was himself inclined; and who con. and a rare firmness of temper and intensity of ceived that he made ample atonement to Heawill. As to the other parts of his character, it ven for his brutality, by holding the softer pas. is difficult to say whether they are to be as-sions in detestation. The Prince-Royal, too, cribed to nature, or to the strange training was not one of those who are content to take which he underwent. The history of his boy- their religion on trust.
He asked puzzling hood is painfully interesting. Oliver Twist in questions, and brought forward arguments the parish workhouse, Smike at Dotheboys which seemed to savour of something different Hall, were petted children when compared from pure Lutheranism. The king suspected with this wretched heir-apparent of a crown. that his son was inclined to be a heretic of The nature of Frederic William was hard and some sort or other, whether Calvinist or Atheisi bad, and the habit of exercising arbitrary power his maj.sty did not very well know. The or had made him frightfully savage. His rage dinary malignity of Frederic William was ba? constantly vented itself to right and left in enough. He now thought malignity a part of curses and blows. When his majesty took a his duty as a Christian man, anu ail the conwalk, every human being fled before him, as science that he had stimulated his hatred. if a tiger had broken loose from a menagerie. The fute was broken—the French books were If he met a lady in the street, he gave her a sent out of thư palace—the prince was wicked, kick, and told her to go home and mind her and cudgelled, an' pulled by the hair.
ner the plates were hurled at his head-some- midst of the sandy waste of the Marquisaie. times he was restricted to bread and water- The mansion, surrounded by woods of oak sometimes he was forced to swallow food so and beech, looks out upon a spacious lake nauseous that he could not keep it on his sto- There Frederic amused himself by laying out mach. Once his father knocked him down, gardens in regular alleys and intricate mazes, dragged him along the floor to a window, and by building obelisks, temples, and conservawas with difficulty prevented from strangling tories, and by collecting rare fruits and flowers him with the cord of the curtain. The queen, His retirement was enlivened by a few comfor the crime of not wishing to see her son panions, among whom he seems to have premurdered, was subjected to the grossest indig. ferred those who, by birth or extraction, were nities. The Princess Wilhelmina, who took French. With these inmates hé dined and her brother's part, was treated almost as ill as supped well, drank freely, and amused him. Mrs. Brownrigg's apprentices. Driven to de- self sometimes with concerts, sometimes with spair, the unhappy youth tried to run away; holding chapters of a fraternity which he callthen the fury of the old tyrant rose to madness. ed the Order of Bayard; but literature was his The prince was an officer in the army; his chief resource. tlight was therefore desertion, and, in the moral His education had been entirely French. code of Frederic William, desertion was the The long ascendency which Louis XIV, had highest of all crimes. “Desertion,” says this enjoyed, and the eminent merit of the tragic royal theologian, in one of his half-crazy let- and comic dramatists, of the satirists, and of ters, “is from hell. It is a work of the child- the preachers who had flourished under that ren of the devil. No child of God could pos- magnificent prince, had made the French lan. sibly be guilty of it.” An accomplice of the guage predominant in Europe. Even in coun. prince, in spite of the recommendation of a tries which had a national literature, and which court-martial, was mercilessly put to death. could boast of names greater than those ca It seemed probable that the prince himself Racine, of Molière, and of Massillon-in the would suffer the same fate. It was with dif- country of Dante, in the country of Cervantes, ficulty that the intercession of the States of in the country of Shakspeare and Milton-the Holland, of the Kings of Sweden and Poland, intellectual fashions of Paris had been to a and of the Emperor of Germany, saved the great extent adopted. Germany had not yet House of Brandenburgh from the stain of an produced a single masterpiece of poetry or unnatural murder. After months of cruel sus- eloquence. In Germany, therefore, the French pense, Frederic learned that his life would be taste reigned without rival and without limit. spared. He remained, however, long a pri- Every youth of rank was taught to speak and soner; but he was not on that account to be write French. That he should speak and pitied. He found in his jailers a tenderness write his own tongue with politeness, or even which he had never found in his faiher; his with accuracy and facility, was regarded as table was not sumptuous, but he had whole comparatively an unimportant object. Even some food in sufficient quantity to appease Frederic William, with all his rugged Saxon hunger; he could read the Henriade without prejudices, thought it necessary that his chil. being kicked, and play on his flute without dren should know French, and quite unneces. having it broken over his head.
sary that they should be well versed in German. When his confinement terminated, he was The Latin was positively interdicted. “My
He had nearly completed his twenty- son,” his majesty wrote, “shall not learn Latin; first year, and could scarcely, even by such a and, more than that, I will not suffer anybody parent as Frederic William be kept much even to mention such a thing to me.” One of longer under the restraints which had made the preceptors ventured to read the Golden nis boyhood miserable. Suffering had matured Bull in the original with the Prince-Royal. his understanding, while it had hardened his Frederic William entered the room, and broke heart and soured his temper. He had learnt out in his usual kingly style. self-command and dissimulation; he affected “Rascal, what are you at there ?" to conform to some of his father's views, and “Please your majesty," answered the pre submissively accepted a wife, who was a wife ceptor, “I was explaining the Golden Bull to only in name, from his father's hand. He also his royal highness." served with credit, though without any oppor- “ I'll Golden Bull you, you rascal!" roared tunity of acquiring brilliant distinction, under the majesty of Prussia. Up went the king's the command of Prince Eugene, during a cam- cane, away ran the terrified instructor, and paign marked by no extraordinary events. He Frederic's classical studies ended forever. was now permitted to keep a separate esta. He now and then affected to quote Latin sen. blishment, and was therefore able to indulge tences, and produced such exquisite Cicerowith caution his own tastes. Partly in order nian phrases as these :-"Stante pede morire," rc conciliate the king, and partly, no doubt, —“De gustibus non est disputandus,”—“Tot from inclination, he gave up a portion of his verbas tot spondera.” or Italian, he had not time to military and political business, and enough to read a page of Metastasio with ease; thus gradually acquired such an aptitude for and of the Spanish and English, he did not, affairs as his most intimate associates were as far as we are aware, understand a single not aware that te possesse..
word. His favourite abode was at Rheinsberg, near As the highest human compositions to which the frontier which separates the Prussian do- he had access were those of the French writers, minions from the duchy of Mecklenburg. it is not strange that his admiration for those Rheinsberg is a fertile and smiling spot, in the writers should have been unbounded. His
ambitious and eager temper early prompted | larly those which are written with earnestness, him to imitate what he admired. The wish, and are not embroidered with verses. perhaps, dearest to his heart was, that he might It is not strange that a young man devoted to rank among the masters of French rhetoric literature, and acquainted only with the literaand poetry. He wrote prose and verse as ture of France, should have looked with profound indefatigably as if he had been a starving veneration on the genius of Voltaire. Nor is hack of Cave or Osborn; but Nature, which it just to condemn him for this feeling. “A had bestowed on him, in a large measure, the man who has never seen the sun," says Caldetalents of a captain and of an administrator, ron in one of his charming comedies, “cannot had withheld from him those higher and rarer be blamed for thinking that no glory can exceed gifts, without which industry labours in vain that of the moon. A man who has seen neither to produce immortal eloquence or song. And, moon nor sun, cannot be blamed for talking of indeed, had he been blessed with more imagi- the unrivalled brightness of the morning star.” nation, wit, and fertility of thought, than he Had Frederic been able to read Homer and appears to have had, he would still have been Milton, or even Virgil and Tasso, his admirasubject to one great disadvantage, which would, tion of the Henriade would prove that he was in all probability, have forever prevented him utterly destitute of the power of discerning from taking a high place among men of letters. what is excellent in art. Had he been familiar He had not the full command of any language. with Sophocles or Shakspeare, we should have There was no machine of thought which he expected him to appreciate Zaire more justly. could employ with perfect ease, confidence, Had he been able to study Thucydides and and freedom. He had German enough to Tacitus in the original Greek and Latin, he scold his servants, or to give the word of would have known that there were heights in command to his grenadiers; but his grammar the eloquence of history far beyond the reach and pronunciation were extremely bad. He of the author of the Life of Charles the Twelfth. found it difficult to make out the meaning But the finest heroic poem, several of the most even of the simplest German poetry On one powerful tragedies, and the most brilliant and occasion a version of Racine's Iphigénie was picturesque historical work that Frederic had read to him. He held the French original in ever read, were Voltaire's. Such high and his hand; but was forced to own that, even various excellence moved the young prince with such help, he could not understand the almost to adoration. The opinions of Voltaire translation. Yet though he had neglected his on religious and philosophical questions had mother tongue in order to bestow all his atten- not yet been fully exhibited to the public. At tion on French, his French was, after all, the a later period, when an exile from his country, French of a foreigner. It was necessary for and at open war with the Church, he spoke him to have always at his beck some men of out. But when Frederic was at Rheinsberg, letters from Paris' to point out the solecisms Voltaire was still a courtier; and, though he and false rhymes, of which, to the last, he was could not always curb his petulant wit, he had frequently guilty. Even had he possessed the as yet published nothing that could exclude poetic faculty—of which, as far as we can him from Versailles, and little that a divine of judge, he was utterly destitute—the want of a the mild and generous school of Grotius and language would have prevented him from be- Tillotson might not read with pleasure. In ing a great poet. No noble work of imagina- the Henriade, in Zaire, and in Alzire, Christian tion, as far as we recollect, was ever composed piety is exhibited in the most amiable form, by any man, except in a dialect which he had and, some years after the period of which we learned without remembering how or when; are writing, a Pope condescended to accept and which he had spoken with perfect ease the dedication of Mahomet. The real sentibefore he had ever analyzed its structure. ments of the poet, however, might be clearly Romans of great talents wrote Greek verses ; perceived by a keen eye through the decent but how many of those verses have deserved disguise with which he veiled them, and could to live? Many men of eminent genius have, not escape the sagacity of Frederic, who held in modern times, written Latin poems; but, similar opinions, and had been accustomed to as far as we are aware, none of those poems, practise similar dissimulation. not even Milton's, can be ranked in the first The prince wrote to his idol in the style of a class of art, or even very high in the second.worshipper, and Voltaire replied with exquisite It is not strange, therefore, that in the French grace and address. A correspondence followverses of Frederic, we can find nothing be- ed, which may be studied with advantage by yond the reach of any man of good parts and those who wish to become proficients in the industry-nothing above the level of Newdi- ignoble art of Aattery. No man ever paid gate and Seatonian poetry. His best pieces compliments better than Voltaire. His sweetmay perhaps rank with the worst in Dodsley's ened confectionary had always a delicate, yet collection. In history, he succeeded better. stimulating flavour, which was delightful to We do not, indeed, find in any part of his palates wearied by the coarse preparations of voluminous Memoirs, either deep reflection or inferior artists. It was only from his hand that vivid painting. But the narrative is distin- so much sugar could be swallowed without guished by ctearness, conciseness, good sense, making the swallower sick. Copies of verses, and a certain air of truth and simplicity, which writing-desks, trinkets of amber, were exis singularly graceful in a man who, having changed between the friends. Frederic condone great things, sits down to relate them. fided his writings to Voltaire, and Voltaire On the whole, however, none of his writings applauded, as if Frederic had been Racine and are so agreeable to us as his Letters; particu- Bossuet in one. One of his royal highness. Vol. IV.-64
performances was a refutation of the Principe prince could be about the efficacy of his army. of Machiavelli. Voltaire undertook to convey But this anxiety never degenerated into a moit to the press. It was entitled the Anti-Machi-nomania, like that which led his father to day avel, and was an edifying homily against rapa- fancy-prices for giants. Frederic was as thnfty city, perfidy, arbitrary government, unjust war about money as any prince or any private man -in short, against almost every thing for which ought to be. But he did not conceive, like his its author is now remembered among men. father, that it was worth while to eat unwhole
The old king uttered now and then a fero- some cabbages for the sake of saving four or cious growl at the diversions of Rheinsberg. five rix-dollars in the year. Frederic was, we But his health was broken, his end was ap- fear, as malevolent as his father; but Fredeproaching, and his vigour was impaired. He ric's wit enabled him often to show his malehad only one pleasure left—that of seeing tall volence in ways more decent than those to soldiers. He could always be propitiated by a which his father resorted, and to inflict misery present of a grenadier of six feet eight or six and degradation by a taunt instead of a blow. feet nine; and such presents were from time Frederic, it is true, by no means relinquished to time judiciously offered by his son. his hereditary privilege of kicking and cudgel
Early in the year 1740, Frederic William ling. His practice, however, as to that matter, met death with a firmness and dignity worthy differed in some important respects from his of a better and wiser man; and Frederic, who father's. To Frederic William, the mere cirhad just completed his twenty-eighth year, be- cumstance that any persons whatever, men, came King of Prussia. His character was women, or children, Prussians or foreigners, little understood. That he had good abilities, were within reach of his toes and of his cane, indeed, no person who had talked with him or appeared to be a sufficient reason for proceedcorresponded with him could doubt. But the ing to belabour them. Frederic required proeasy Epicurean life which he had led, his love vocation as well as vicinity; nor was he ever of good cookery and good wine, of music, of known to inflict this paternal species of correcconversation, of light literature, led many to tion on any but his born subjects; though on regard him as a sensual and intellectual volup- one occasion M. Thiébault had reason, during tuary. His habit of canting about moderation, a few seconds, to anticipate the high honour peace, liberty, and the happiness which a good of being an exception to this general rule. mind derives from the happiness of others, had The character of Frederic was still very imimposed on some who should have known perfectly understood either by his subjects or better. Those who thought best of him, ex- by his neighbours, when events occurred which pect a Telemachus after Fénélon's pattern. exhibited it in strong lig
A few months Others predicted the approach of a Medicean after his accession died Charles VI., Emperor age-an age propitious to learning and art, and of Germany, the last descendant, in the male not unpropitious to pleasure. Nobody had the line, of the house of Austria. least suspicion that a tyrant of extraordinary Charles left no son, and had, long before bis military and political talents, of industry more death, relinquished all hopes of male issue. extraordinary still, without fear, without faith, During the latter part of his life, his principal and without mercy, had ascended the throne. object had been to secure to his descendants in
The disappointment of Falstaff at his old the female line the many crowns of the house boon companion's coronation, was not more of Hapsburg. With this view, he had promalbitter than that which awaited some of the gated a new law of succession, widely celeinmates of Rheinsberg. They had long looked brated throughout Europe under the name of forward to the accession of their patron, as to the "Pragmatic Sanction.”. By virtue of this the day from which their own prosperity and decree, his daughter, the Archduchess Maria greatness was to date. They had at last reach- Theresa, wife of Francis of Lorraine, succeeded the promised land, the land which they had ed to the dominions of her ancestors. figured to themselves as flowing with milk and No sovereign has ever taken possession of honey, and they found it a desert
. “No more a throne by a clearer title. All the politics of of these fooleries,” was the short, sharp admo- the Austrian cabinet had, during twenty years, nition given by Frederic to one of them. It been directed to one single end--the seulement soon became plain that, in the most important of the succession. From every person whose points, the new sovereign bore a strong family rights could be considered as injuriously aflikeness to his predecessor. There was a wide fected, renunciations in the most solemn form difference between the father and the son as had been obtained. The new law had been respected extent and vigour of intellect, specu- ratified by the Estates of all the kingdoms and lative opinions, amusements, studies, outward principalities which made up the great Ausdemeanour. But the groundwork of the cha-trian monarchy. England, France, Spain, Rusracter was the same in both. To both were sia, Poland, Prussia, Sweden, Denmark, the common the love of order, the love of business, Germanic body, had bound themselves by treaty The military taste, the parsimony, the imperious to maintain the “Pragmatic Sanction." Tha: spirit, the temper irritable even to ferocity, the instrument was placed under the protection of pleasure in the pain and humiliation of others. the public faith of the whole civilized world. But these propensities had in Frederic William Even if no positive stipulations on this sub partaken of the general unsoundness of his ject had existed, the arrangement was one mind, and wore a very different aspect when which no good man would have been willing lound in company with the strong and culti- to disturb. It was a peaceable arrangemeni. vated understanding of his successor. Thus, It was an arrangement acceptable to the great for example, Frederic was as anxious as any population whose happiness was chiefly con