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EDINBURGH Review, April, 1842.]
THIS work, which has the high honour of being introduced to the world by the author of "Lochiel" and "Hohenlinden," is not wholly unworthy of so distinguished a chaperon. It professes, indeed, to be no more than a compilation; but it is an exceedingly amusing compilation, and we shall be glad to have more of it. The narrative comes down at present only to the commencement of the Seven Years' War, and therefore does not comprise the most interesting portion of Frederic's reign.
tentatious and profuse, negligent of his trut interests and of his high duties, insatiably eager for frivolous distinctions, he added no thing to the real weight of the state which he governed; perhaps he transmitted his inheri tance to his children impaired rather than augmented in value, but he succeeded in gain. ing the great object of his life, the title of king. In the year 1700 he assumed this new dignity. He had on that occasion to undergo all the mortifications which fall to the lot of ambitions upstarts. Compared with the other crowned heads of Europe, he made a figure resembling that which a Nabob or a Commissary, who had bought a title, would make in the company of Peers whose ancestors had been at tainted for treason against the Plantagenets.
It may not be unacceptable to our readers that we should take this opportunity of presenting them with a slight sketch of the life of the greatest king that has, in modern times, succeeded by right of birth to a throne. It may, we fear, be impossible to compress so long and eventful a story within the limits which we must prescribe to ourselves. Should we be compelled to break off, we shall, when the continuation of this work appears, return to the subject.
The envy of the class which he quitted, and the civil scorn of the class into which he intruded himself, were marked in very signifi cant ways. The elector of Saxony at first refused to acknowledge the new majesty. Louis the Fourteenth looked down on his brother king with an air not unlike that with which the count in Molière's play regards Monsieur Jourdain, just fresh from the mummery of being made a gentleman. Austria exacted large sacrifice in return for her recognition, and at last gave it ungraciously.
The Prussian monarchy, the youngest of the great European states, but in population and in revenue the fifth amongst them, and in art, science, and civilization entitled to the third, if not the second place, sprang from an humble origin. About the beginning of the fifteenth century, the marquisate of Brandenburg was bestowed by the Emperor Sigismund on the noble 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 administra from 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 Prus Berlin, 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 or tracts, the deep sand could with difficulty beganization. Strict economy enabled him to forced by assiduous tillage to yield thin crops keep up a peace establishment of sixty thou of 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 prince to whose policy his successors have agreed to ascribe their greatness. He acquired by the peace of Westphalia several valuable possessions, and among them the rich city and district of Magdeburg; and he left to his son Frederic a principality as considerable as any which was not called a kingdom.
But the mind of Frederic William was se ill-regulated, that all his inclinations became passions, and all his passions partook of the character of moral and intellectual disease. His parsimony degenerated into sordid ava rice. His taste for military pomp and ordet became a mania, like that of a Dutch burgo master for tulips; or that of a member of the Roxburgh club for Caxtons. While the en such squalid poverty as moved the laughter voys of the court of Berlin were in a state of of foreign capitals; while the food placed b
Frederic aspired to the style of royalty. Os
* Frederic the Great and his Times. Edited, with an
Introduction, by THOMAS CAMPBELL, Esq. 2 vols. 8vo.
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-a cross between Moloch and Puck. His son Frederic and his daughter Wilhelmina, afterwards Margravine of Bareuth, were in an especial man ner objects of his aversion. His own mind was uncultivated. He despised literature. He hated infidels, Papists, and metaphysicians, and did not very well understand in what they differed from each other. The business of life, according to him, was to drill and to be drilled. The recreations suited to a prince, were to sit in a cloud of tobacco-smoke, to sip Swedish beer between the puffs of the pipe, to play backgammon for three-halfpence a rubber, to kill wild hogs, and to shoot partridges by the thousand. The Prince-Royal showed little inclination either for the serious employments or for the amusements of his father. He shirked the duties of the parade-he detested the fume of tobacco-he had no taste either for backgammon or for field-sports. He had received from nature an exquisite ear, and performed skilfully on the flute. His earliest instructors had been French refugees, and they had awakened in him a strong passion for French literature and French society. Frederic William regarded these tastes as effeminate and contemptible, and, by abuse and persecution, made them still stronger. Things became worse when the Prince-Royal attained that time of life at which the great revolution in the human mind and body takes place. He was guilty of some youthful indiscretions, which no good and wise parent would regard with severity. At a later period he was accused, truly or falsely, of vices, from which History averts her eyes, and which even Satire blushes to name-vices such that, to borrow the energetic language of Lord-Keeper Coventry, "the depraved nature of man, which of itself carrieth man to all other sin, abhorreth them." But the offences of his youth were not characterized by any peculiar turpitude. They excited, however, transports of rage in the king, who hated all faults except those to which he was himself inclined; and who conceived that he made ample atonement to Heaven for his brutality, by holding the softer passions in detestation. The Prince-Royal, too, was not one of those who are content to take their religion on trust. He asked puzzling questions, and brought forward arguments which seemed to savour of something different from pure Lutheranism. The king suspected that his son was inclined to be a heretic cf some sort or other, whether Calvinist or Atheist his maj sty did not very well know. The or dinary malignity of Frederic William was bad enough. He now thought malignity a part of his duty as a Christian man, and all the con science that he had stimulated his hatred. The flute was broken-the French books were sent out of the palace-the prince was kicked, and cudgelled, an: pulled by the hair. At in
fore the princes and the princesses of the blood-royal of Prussia was too scanty to appease hunger, and so bad that even hunger loathed it-no price was thought too extravagant for tall recruits. The ambition of the king was to form a brigade of giants, and every country was ransacked by his agents for men above the ordinary stature. These researches were not confined to Europe. No head that towered above the crowd in the bazaars of Aleppo, of Cairo, or of Surat, could escape the crimps of Frederic William. One Irishman more than seven feet high, who was picked up in London by the Prussian ambassador, received a bounty of nearly 1300l. sterling-very much more than the ambassador's salary. This extravagance was the more absurd, because a stout youth of five feet eight, who might have been procured for a few dollars, would in all probability have been a much more valuable soldier. But to Frederic William, this huge Irishman was what a brass Otho, or a Vinegar Bible, is to a collector of a different kind.
It is remarkable, that though the main end of Frederic William's administration was to have a military force, though his reign forms an important epoch in the history of military discipline, and though his dominant passion was the love of military display, he was yet one of the most pacific of princes. We are afraid that his aversion to war was not the effect of humanity, but was merely one of his thousand whims. His feeling about his troops seems to have resembled a miser's feeling about his money. He loved to collect them, to count them, to see them increase; but he could not find it in his heart to break in upon the precious hoard. He looked forward to some future time when his Patagonian battalions were to drive hostile infantry before them like sheep. But this future time was always receding; and it is probable that, if his life had been prolonged thirty years, his superb army would never have seen any harder service than a sham fight in the fields near Berlin. But the great military means which he had collected, were destined to be employed by a spirit far more daring and inventive than his own.
Frederic, surnamed the Great, son of Frederic William, was born in January, 1712. It may safely be pronounced that he had received from nature a strong and sharp understanding, and a rare firmness of temper and intensity of will. As to the other parts of his character, it is difficult to say whether they are to be ascribed to nature, or to the strange training which he underwent. The history of his boyhood is painfully interesting. Oliver Twist in the parish workhouse, Smike at Dotheboys Hall, were petted children when compared with this wretched heir-apparent of a crown. The nature of Frederic William was hard and bad, and the habit of exercising arbitrary power had made him frightfully savage. His rage constantly vented itself to right and left in 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
enrses and blows.
ner the plates were hurled at his head-some- | midst of the sandy waste of the Marquisate. 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 conserva was 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 com for 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 he dined and her brother's part, was treated almost as ill as supped well, drank freely, and amused himMrs. 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. flight was therefore desertion, and, in the moral code of Frederic William, desertion was the highest of all crimes. "Desertion,” says this royal theologian, in one of his half-crazy letters, "is from hell. It is a work of the children of the devil. No child of God could possibly be guilty of it." An accomplice of the prince, in spite of the recommendation of a court-martial, was mercilessly put to death. It seemed probable that the prince himself would suffer the same fate. It was with difficulty that the intercession of the States of Holland, of the Kings of Sweden and Poland, and of the Emperor of Germany, saved the House of Brandenburgh from the stain of an unnatural murder. After months of cruel suspense, Frederic learned that his life would be spared. He remained, however, long a prisoner; but he was not on that account to be pitied. He found in his jailers a tenderness which he had never found in his father; his 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 The Latin was positively interdicted. "My
His education had been entirely French. The long ascendency which Louis XIV. had enjoyed, and the eminent merit of the tragic and comic dramatists, of the satirists, and of the preachers who had flourished under that magnificent prince, had made the French lan guage predominant in Europe. Even in coun tries which had a national literature, and wich could boast of names greater than those Racine, of Molière, and of Massillon-in the country of Dante, in the country of Cervantes, in the country of Shakspeare and Milton-the intellectual fashions of Paris had been to a great extent adopted. Germany had not yet produced a single masterpiece of poetry or eloquence. In Germany, therefore, the French taste reigned without rival and without limit Every youth of rank was taught to speak and write French. That he should speak and write his own tongue with politeness, or even with accuracy and facility, was regarded as
When his confinement terminated, he was
"Rascal, what are you at there?"
"Please your majesty," answered the pre ceptor, "I was explaining the Golden Bull to his royal highness."
a man. 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 to conform to some of his father's views, and submissively accepted a wife, who was a wife only in name, from his father's hand. He also served with credit, though without any opportunity of acquiring brilliant distinction, under the command of Prince Eugene, during a campaign marked by no extraordinary events. He was now permitted to keep a separate establishment, and was therefore able to indulge with caution his own tastes. Partly in order to conciliate the king, and partly, no doubt," De gustibus non est disputandus,"—“Tot verbas tot spondera." Of Italian, he had not enough to read a page of Metastasio with ease and of the Spanish and English, he did not, as far as we are aware, understand a single word.
"I'll Golden Bull you, you rascal!" roared the majesty of Prussia. Up went the king's cane, away ran the terrified instructor, and Frederic's classical studies ended forever. He now and then affected to quote Latin sentences, and produced such exquisite Cicero nian phrases as these:-"Stante pede morire,"
from inclination, he gave up a portion of his time to military and political business, and thus gradually acquired such an aptitude for affairs as his most intimate associates were not aware that he possessed.
His favourite abode was at Rheinsberg, near the frontier which separates the Prussian dominions from the duchy of Mecklenburg. Rheinsberg is a fertile and smiling spot, in the
As the highest human compositions to which he had access were those of the French writers, it is not strange that his admiration for those writers should have been unbounded. His
ambitious and eager temper early prompted him to imitate what he admired. The wish, perhaps, dearest to his heart was, that he might rank among the masters of French rhetoric and poetry. He wrote prose and verse as indefatigably as if he had been a starving hack of Cave or Osborn; but Nature, which had bestowed on him, in a large measure, the talents of a captain and of an administrator, had withheld from him those higher and rarer gifts, without which industry labours in vain to produce immortal eloquence or song. And, indeed, had he been blessed with more imagination, wit, and fertility of thought, than he appears to have had, he would still have been subject to one great disadvantage, which would, in all probability, have forever prevented him from taking a high place among men of letters. He had not the full command of any language. There was no machine of thought which he could employ with perfect ease, confidence, and freedom. He had German enough to scold his servants, or to give the word of command to his grenadiers; but his grammar and pronunciation were extremely bad. He found it difficult to make out the meaning even of the simplest German poetry On one occasion a version of Racine's Iphigénie was read to him. He held the French original in his hand; but was forced to own that, even with such help, he could not understand the translation. Yet though he had neglected his mother tongue in order to bestow all his attention on French, his French was, after all, the French of a foreigner. It was necessary for him to have always at his beck some men of letters from Paris to point out the solecisms and false rhymes, of which, to the last, he was frequently guilty. Even had he possessed the poetic faculty-of which, as far as we can judge, he was utterly destitute-the want of a language would have prevented him from being a great poet. No noble work of imagination, as far as we recollect, was ever composed by any man, except in a dialect which he had learned without remembering how or when; and which he had spoken with perfect ease before he had ever analyzed its structure. Romans of great talents wrote Greek verses; but how many of those verses have deserved to live? Many men of eminent genius have, in modern times, written Latin poems; but, as far as we are aware, none of those poems, not even Milton's, can be ranked in the first class of art, or even very high in the second. It is not strange, therefore, that in the French verses 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 flattery. 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 clearness, 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 is 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 2 U
larly those which are written with earnestness, and are not embroidered with verses.
It is not strange that a young man devoted to literature, and acquainted only with the literature of France, should have looked with profound veneration on the genius of Voltaire. Nor is it just to condemn him for this feeling. “A man who has never seen the sun," says Calderon in one of his charming comedies, "cannot be blamed for thinking that no glory can exceed that of the moon. A man who has seen neither moon nor sun, cannot be blamed for talking of the unrivalled brightness of the morning star." Had Frederic been able to read Homer and Milton, or even Virgil and Tasso, his admiration of the Henriade would prove that he was utterly destitute of the power of discerning what is excellent in art. Had he been familiar with Sophocles or Shakspeare, we should have expected him to appreciate Zaire more justly. Had he been able to study Thucydides and Tacitus in the original Greek and Latin, he would have known that there were heights in the eloquence of history far beyond the reach of the author of the Life of Charles the Twelfth. But the finest heroic poem, several of the most powerful tragedies, and the most brilliant and picturesque historical work that Frederic had ever read, were Voltaire's. Such high and various excellence moved the young prince almost to adoration. The opinions of Voltaire on religious and philosophical questions had not yet been fuily exhibited to the public. At a later period, when an exile from his country, and at open war with the Church, he spoke out. But when Frederic was at Rheinsberg, Voltaire was still a courtier; and, though he could not always curb his petulant wit, he had as yet published nothing that could exclude him from Versailles, and little that a divine of the mild and generous school of Grotius and Tillotson might not read with pleasure. In the Henriade. in Zuire, and in Alzire, Christian piety is exhibited in the most amiable form, and, some years after the period of which we are writing, a Pope condescended to accept the dedication of Mahomet. The real senti ments of the poet, however, might be clearly perceived by a keen eye through the decent disguise with which he veiled them, and could not escape the sagacity of Frederic, who held similar opinions, and had been accustomed to practise similar dissimulation.
The prince wrote to his idol in the style of a worshipper, and Voltaire replied with exquisite grace and address. A correspondence follow
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 mos it to the press. It was entitled the Anti-Machi- nomania, like that which led his father to day arel, and was an edifying homily against rapa- fancy-prices for giants. Frederic was as thrifty 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 unwholeThe 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 cudgelling. His practice, however, as to that matter, differed in some important respects from his father's. To Frederic William, the mere cir cumstance that any persons whatever, men, women, or children, Prussians or foreigners, were within reach of his toes and of his cane, appeared to be a sufficient reason for proceeding to belabour them. Frederic required provocation as well as vicinity; nor was he ever known to inflict this paternal species of correc tion on any but his born subjects; though on one occasion M. Thiébault had reason, during a few seconds, to anticipate the high honour of being an exception to this general rule.
Early in the year 1740, Frederic William met death with a firmness and dignity worthy of a better and wiser man; and Frederic, who had just completed his twenty-eighth year, became King of Prussia. His character was little understood. That he had good abilities, indeed, no person who had talked with him or corresponded with him could doubt. But the easy Epicurean life which he had led, his love of good cookery and good wine, of music, of conversation, of light literature, led many to regard him as a sensual and intellectual voluptuary. His habit of canting about moderation, peace, liberty, and the happiness which a good mind derives from the happiness of others, had imposed on some who should have known better. Those who thought best of him, expected a Telemachus after Fénélon's pattern. Others predicted the approach of a Medicean age-an age propitious to learning and art, and not unpropitious to pleasure. Nobody had the least suspicion that a tyrant of extraordinary military and political talents, of industry more extraordinary still, without fear, without faith, and without mercy, had ascended the throne.
The character of Frederic was still very im perfectly understood either by his subjects or by his neighbours, when events occurred which exhibited it in a strong light. A few months after his accession died Charles VI., Emperor of Germany, the last descendant, in the male line, of the house of Austria.
Charles left no son, and had, long before his death, relinquished all hopes of male issue. During the latter part of his life, his principal 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 promul bitter than that which awaited some of the gated a new law of succession, widely cele inmates 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, succeed ed the promised land, the land which they had ed to the dominions of her ancestors. figured to themselves as flowing with milk and honey, and they found it a desert. "No more of these fooleries," was the short, sharp admonition given by Frederic to one of them. It soon became plain that, in the most important points, the new sovereign bore a strong family likeness to his predecessor. There was a wide difference between the father and the son as respected extent and vigour of intellect, speculative opinions, amusements, studies, outward demeanour. 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 partaken of the general unsoundness of his mind, and wore a very different aspect when found in company with the strong and cultivated understanding of his successor. Thus, for example, Frederic was as anxious as any
No sovereign has ever taken possession of a throne by a clearer title. All the politics of the Austrian cabinet had, during twenty years, been directed to one single end-the settlement of the succession. From every person whose rights could be considered as injuriously af fected, renunciations in the most solemn form had been obtained. The new law had been ratified by the Estates of all the kingdoms and principalities which made up the great Aus
Even if no positive stipulations on this subject had existed, the arrangement was one which no good man would have been willing to disturb. It was a peaceable arrangement. It was an arrangement acceptable to the great population whose happiness was chiefly con