Page images
PDF
EPUB

Those who look on his character population and revenue the fifth among without favour or malevolence will pro- them, and in art, science, and civilisanounce that, in the two great elements tion entitled to the third, if not to the of all social virtue, in respect for the second place, sprang from a humble rights of others, and in sympathy for origin. About the beginning of the the sufferings of others, he was de- fifteenth century, the marquisate of ficient. His principles were somewhat Brandenburg was bestowed by the lax. His heart was somewhat hard. Emperor Sigismund on the noble family But though we cannot with truth de- of Hohenzollern. In the sixteenth censcribe him either as a righteous or as a tury that family embraced the Lutheran merciful ruler, we cannot regard with-doct nes. It obtained from the King out admiration the amplitude and fer- of Poland, early in the seventeenth tility of his intellect, his rare talents century, the investiture of the duchy of for command, for administration, and Prussia. Even after this accession of for controversy, his dauntless courage, territory, the chiefs of the house of his honourable poverty, his fervent zeal Hohenzollern hardly ranked with the for the interests of the state, his noble Electors of Saxony and Bavaria. The equanimity, tried by both extremes of soil of Brandenburg was for the most fortune, and never disturbed by either. part sterile. Even round Berlin, the

capital of the province, and round Potsdam, the favourite residence of the

Margraves, the country was a desert. FREDERIC THE GREAT.

In some places, the deep sand could

with difficulty be forced by assiduous (APRIL, 1842.)

tillage to yield thin crops of rye and Freileric the Great and his Times. Edited, oats. In other places, the ancient fowith an Introduction, by THOMAS CAMP rests, from which the conquerors of the

BELL, Esq. 2 vols. 8vo. London: 1842. Roman empire had descended on the Tris work, which has the high honour Danube, remained untouched by the of being introduced to the world by hand of man. Where the soil was rich the author of Lochiel and Hohenlin- it was generally marshy, and its insaden, is not wholly unworthy of so dis- lubrity repelled the cultivators whom tinguished a chaperon. It professes, its fertility attracted. Frederic Wilindeed, to be no more than a compila- liam, called the Great Elector, was the tion ; but it is an exceedingly amusing prince to whose policy his successors compilation, and we shall be glad to have agreed to ascribe their greatness. have more of it. The narrative comes He acquired by the peace of Westdown at present only to the commence- phalia several valuable possessions, and ment of the Seven Years' War, and among them the rich city and district therefore does not comprise the most of Magdeburg; and he left to his son interesting portion of Frederic's reign. Frederic a principality as considerable

It may not be unacceptable to our as any which was not called a kingdom. readers that we should take this oppor- Frederic aspired to the style of roy. tunity of presenting them with a slight alty. Ostentatious and profuse, neg. sketch of the life of the greatest king ligent of his true interests and of his that has, in modern times, succeeded high duties, insatiably eager for frivoby right of birth to a throne. It may, lous distinctions, he added nothing 10 we fear, be impossible to compress so the real weight of the state which he long and eventful a story within the governed : perhaps he transmitted his limits which we must prescribe to our inheritance to his children impaired selves. Should we be compelled to rather than augmented in value; but break off, we may perhaps, when the he succeeded in gaining the great obcontinuation of this work appears, re-ject of his life, the title of King. In turn to the subject.

the year 1700 he assumed this new The Prussian monarchy, the youngest dignity. He had on that occasion to of the great European states, but in undergo all the mortifications which all to the lot of ambitious upstarts. of a member of the Roxburghe Club Compared with the other crowned heads for Caxtons. While the envoys of the of Europe, he made a figure resembling Court of Berlin were in a state of such that which a Nabob or a Commissary, squalid poverty as moved the laughter who had bought a title, would make in of foreign capitals, while the food placed the company of Peers whose ancestors before the princes and princesses of the had been attainted for treason against blood-royal of Prussia was too scanty the Plantagenets. The envy of the to appease hunger, and so bad that even class which Frederic quitted, and the hunger loathed it, no price was thougbt civil scorn of the class into which he too extravagant for tall recruits. The intruded himself, were marked in very ambition of the King was to form a significant ways. The Elector of Saxony brigade of giants, and every country at first refused to acknowledge the dew was ransacked by his agents for men Majesty. Lewis the Fourteenth looked above the ordinary stature. These redown on his brother King with an air searches were not confined to Europe. not unlike that with which the Count No head that towered above the crowd in Molière's play regards Monsieur in the bazaars of Aleppo, of Cairo, or Jourdain, just fresh from the mum- of Surat, could escape the crimps of mery of being made a gentleman. Frederic William. One Irishman more Austria exacted large sacrifices in re-than seven feet high, who was picked turn for her recognition, and at last up in London by the Prussian ambasgave it ungraciously.

sador, received a bounty of near thirFrederic was succeeded by his son, teen hundred pounds sterling, very Frederic William, a prince who must much more than the ambassador's be allowed to have possessed some salary. This extravagance was the talents for administration, but whose more absurd, because a stout youth of character was disfigured by odious five feet eight, who might have been vices, and whose eccentricities were procured for a few dollars, would in all such as had never before been seen out probability have been a much more of a madhouse. He was exact and valuable soldier. But to Frederic diligent in the transacting of business ; William, this huge Irishman was what and he was the first who formed the a brass Otho, or a Vinegar Bible, is to design of obtaining for Prussia a place a collector of a different kind. among the European powers, alto- It is remarkable, that though the gether out of proportion to her extent main end of Frederic William's adand population, by means of a strong ministration was to have a great milimilitary organization. Strict economy tary force, though his reign forms an enabled him to keep up a peace estab-important epoch in the history of mililishment of sixty thousand troops. tary discipline, and though his domiThese troops were disciplined in such nant passion was the love of military a manner, that placed beside them, the display, he was yet one of the most pahousehold regiments of Versailles and cific of princes. We are afraid that his St. James's would have appeared an aversion to war was not the effect of awkward squad. The master of such humanity, but was merely one of his a force could not but be regarded by thousand whims. His feeling about all his neighbours as a formidable his troops seems to have resembled a enemy and a valuable ally.

miser's feeling about his money. Ho But the mind of Frederic William loved to collect them, to count them, was so ill regulated, that all his incli- to see them increase ; but he could not nations became passions, and all his find it in his heart to break in upon passions partook of the character of the precious hoard. He looked formoral and intellectual disease. His ward to some future tiine when his parsimony degenerated into sordid ava- Patagonian battalions were to drive rice. His taste for military pomp and hostile infantry before them like sheep : order became a mania, like that of a but this future time was always recedDutch burgomaster for tulips, or that ing; and it is probable that, if his life had been prolonged thirty years, his between the puffs of the pipe, to play superb army would never have seen any backgammon for three halfpence a harder service than a sham fight in the rubber, to kill wild hogs, and to shoot fields near Berlin. But the great mili- partridges by the thousand. The Prince tary means which he had collected were Royal showed little inclination either destined to be employed by a spirit far for the serious employments or for the more daring and inventive than his own. amusements of his father. He shirked

Frederic, surnamed the Great, son of the duties of the parade : he detested Frederic William, was born in January, the fume of tobacco : he had no taste 1712. It may safely be pronounced either for backgammon or for field that he had received from nature a sports. He had an exquisite ear, and strong and sharp understanding, and a performed skilfully on the flute. His care firmness of temper and intensity earliest instructors had been French of will. As to the other parts of his refugees, and they had awakened in character, it is difficult to say whether him a strong passion for French litethey are to be ascribed to nature, or to rature and French society. Frederic the strange training which he under- William regarded these tastes as effe. went. The history of his boyhood is minate and contemptible, and, by painfully interesting. Oliver Twist in abuse and persecution, made them still the parish workhouse, Smike at Dothe- stronger Things became worse when boys Hall, were petted children when the Prince Royal attained that time of compared with this wretched heir ap- life at which the great revolution in parent of a crown. The nature of the human mind and body takes place. Frederic William was hard and bad, He was guilty of some youthful indisand the habit of exercising arbitrary cretions, which no good and wise papower had made him frightfully savage. rent would regard with severity. At His rage constantly vented itself to a later period he was accused, truly or right and left in curses and blows. falsely, of vices from which History When his Majesty took a walk, every averts her eyes, and which even Satire human being fed before him, as if a blushes to name, vices such that, to tiger had broken loose from a mena- borrow the energetic language of Lord gerie. If he met a lady in the street, Keeper Coventry, “the depraved na. he gave her a kick, and told her to go ture of man, which of itself carrieth home and mind her brats. If he saw a man to all other sin, abhorreth them." clergyman staring at the soldiers, he But the offences of his youth were not admonished the reverend gentleman to characterized by any peculiar turpibetake himself to study and prayer, and tude. They excited, however, transenforced this pious advice by a sound ports of rage in the King, who hated caning, administered on the spot. But all faults except those to which he was it was in his own house that he was himself inclined, and who conceived most unreasonable and ferocious. His that he made ample atonement to palace was hell, and he the most exe- Heaven for his brutality, by holding crable of fiends, a cross between Moloch the softer passions in detestation. The and Puck. His son Frederic and his Prince Royal, too, was not one of those daughter Wilhelmina, afterwards Mar- who are content to take their religion gravine of Bareuth, were in an especial on trust. He asked puzzling questions, manner objects of his aversion. His and brought forward arguments which own mind was uncultivated. He de- seemed to savour of something difspised literature. He hated infidels, ferent from pure Lutheranism. The papists, and metaphysicians, and did King suspected that his son was innot very well understand in what they clined to be a heretic of some sort differed from each other. The business or other, whether Calvinist or Atheist of life, according to him, was to drill his Majesty did not very well know. and to be drilled. The recreations The ordinary malignity of Frederic suited to a prince, were to sit in a cloud William was bad enough. He now of tobacco smoko, to sip Swedish beer thought malignity a part of bis duty as a Christian man, and all the con- When his confinement terminated science that he had stimulated his ha- he was a man. He had nearly comtred. The Aute was broken : the pleted his twenty-first year, and could French books were sent out of the scarcely be kept much longer under palace: the Prince was kicked and the restraints which had made his boycudgelled, and pulled by the hair. At hood miserable. Suffering had madinner the plates were hurled at his tured his understanding, while it had head: sometimes he was restricted to hardened his heart and soured his bread and water : sometimes he was temper. He had learnt self-command forced to swallow food so nauseous that and dissimulation: he affected to conhe could not keep it on his stomach. form to some of his father's views, and Once his father knocked him down, submissively accepted a wife, who was dragged him along the floor to a win- a wife only in name, from his father's dow, and was with difficulty prevented hand. He also served with credit, from strangling him with the cord of though without any opportunity of the curtain. The Queen, for the crime acquiring brilliant distinction, under of not wishing to see her son murdered, the command of Prince Eugene, during was subjected to the grosseat indigni- a campaign marked by no extraordities. The Princess Wilhelmina, who nary events. He was now permitted took her brother's part, was treated al- to keep a separate establishment, and most as ill as Mrs. Brownrigg's appren- was therefore able to indulge with tices. Driven to despair, the unhappy caution his own tastes. Partly in order youth tried to run away. Then the to conciliate the King, and partly, no fury of the old tyrant rose to madness. doubt, from inclination, he gave up a The Prince was an officer in the army: portion of his time to military and his flight was therefore desertion ; and, political business, and thus gradually in the moral code of Frederic William, acquired such an aptitude for affairs as desertion was the highest of all crimes. his most intimate associates were not “ Desertion," says this royal theologian, aware that he possessed. in one of his half crazy letters,“ is from His favourite abode was at Rheinshell. It is a work of the children of berg, near the frontier which separates the Devil. No child of God could pos- the Prussian dominions from the Duchy sibly be guilty of it.” An accomplice of Mecklenburg. Rheinsberg is a ferof the Prince, in spite of the recom- tile and smiling spot, in the midst of mendation of a court martial, was mer- the sandy waste of the Marquisate. cilessly put to death. It seemed pro- The mansion, surrounded by woods of bable that the Prince himself would oak and beech, looks out upon a spasuffer the same fate. It was with dif- cious lake. There Frederic amused ficulty that the intercession of the States himself by laying out gardens in reguof Holland, of the Kings of Sweden lar alleys and intricate mazes, by buildand Poland, and of the Emperor of ing obelisks, temples, and conservaGermany, saved the House of Bran- tories, and by collecting rare fruits denburg from the stain of an unnatural and Aowers. His retirement was enmurder. After months of cruel sus- livened by a few companions, among pense, Frederic learned that his life whom he seems to have preferred those would be spared. He remained, how- who, by birth or extraction, were ever, long a prisoner ; but he was not French. With these inmates he dined on that account to be pitied. He found and supped well, drank freely, and in his gaolers a tenderness which he amused himself sometimes with conhad never found in his father ; his certs, and sometimes with holding table was not sumptuous, but he had chapters of a fraternity which he called wholesome food in sufficient quantity the Order of Bayard; but literature to appease hunger : he could read the was his chief resource. Henriade without being kicked, and His education had been entirely could play on his Aute without having French. The long ascendency which it broken over his head.

Lewis the Fourteenth had enjoyed, and the eminent merit of the tragic and English, he did not, as far as we are comic dramatists, of the satirists, and aware, understand a single word. of the preachers who had flourished As the highest human compositions under that magnificent prince, had to which he had access were those of made the French language predomi- the French writers, it is not strange nant in Europe. Even in countries that his admiration for those writers which had a national literature, and should have been unbounded. His which could boast of names greater ambitious and eager temper early than those of Racine, of Molière, and prompted him to imitate what he adof Massillon, in the country of Dante, mired. The wish, perhaps, dearest to in the country of Cervantes, in the his heart was, that he might rank country of Shakspeare and Milton, the among the masters of French rhetoric intellectual fashions of Paris had been and poetry. He wrote prose and verse to a great extent adopted. Germany as indefatigably as if he had been a had not yet produced a single master- starving hack of Cave or Osborn ; but piece of poetry or eloquence. In Ger- Nature, which had bestowed on him, many, therefore, the French taste in a large measure, the talents of a reigned without rival and without captain and of an administrator, had limit. Every youth of rank was withheld from him those higher and taught to speak and write French. rarer gifts, without which industry That he should speak and write his labours in vain to produce immortal own tongue with politeness, or even eloquence and song. And, indeed, with accuracy and facility, was re- had he been blessed with more imagigarded as comparatively an unimport- nation, wit, and fertility of thought, ant object. Even Frederic William, than he appears to have had, he would with all his rugged Saxon prejudices, still have been subject to one great disthought it necessary that his children advantage, which would, in all proshould know French, and quite unne- bability, have for ever prevented him cessary that they should be well versed from taking a high place among men in German. The Latin was positively of letters. He had not the full cominterdicted. “My son,” his Majesty mand of any language. There was no wrote, “shall not learn Latin ; and, machine of thought which he could more than that, I will not suffer any employ with perfect ease, confidence, body even to mention such a thing to and freedom. He had German enough

One of the preceptors ventured to scold his servants, or to give the to read the Golden Bull in the original word of command to his grenadiers ; with the Prince Royal. Frederic Wil- but his grammar and pronunciation liam entered the room, and broke out were extremely bad. He found it diffiin his usual kingly style.

cult to make out the meaning even of “Rascal, what are you at there ?”. the simplest German poetry. On one

“ Please your Majesty," answered occasion à version of Racine's Iphithe preceptor, “ I was explaining the génie was read to him. He held the Golden Bull to his Royal Highness.” French original in his hand ; but was

“I'll Golden Ball you, you rascal !" | forced to own that, even with such roared the Majesty of Prussia. Up help, he could not understand the transwent the King's cane ; away ran the lation. Yet, though he had neglected terrified instructor; and Frederic's his mother tongue in order to bestow classical studies ended for ever. He all his attention on French, his French now and then affected to quote Latin was, after all, the French of a foreigner. sentences, and produced such exqui- It was necessary for him to have always sitely Ciceronian phrases as these :- at his beck some men of letters from “Stante pede morire," -“ De gustibus Paris to point out the solecisms and non est disputandus,”—“ Tot verbas false rhymes of which, to the last, he tot spondera.” Of Italian, he had not was frequently guilty. Even had he enough to read a page of Metastasio possessed the poetic faculty, of which, with ease; and of the Spanish and las far as we can judge, he was utterly

me.

« PreviousContinue »