Berlin and Sans-Souci
Part 10 out of 11
left Berlin because the mother of Cocceji implored you to do so. I
know you to be magnanimous enough to sacrifice yourself to the
prayers and happiness of another, and for this reason alone you went
to London, where Lord Stuart McKenzie awaited us."
"Poor lord!" said Barbarina, thoughtfully. "I sinned greatly against
him! He loved me fondly; he waited for me with constancy; he was so
truly happy when I came at last, as he hoped, to fulfil my promise,
and become his wife! God knows I meant to be true, and I swore to
myself to make him a faithful wife; but my will was weaker than my
heart. I could not marry him, and on my wedding-day I fled from
London. Poor Lord Stuart!"
"And on that day, when, bathed in tears, you told me to prepare to
leave London with you secretly; on that day you said to me, 'I
cannot, no, I cannot wed a man I do not love. The air chokes me,
Marietta; I must return to Berlin; he is there whom I love, whom I
will love eternally!' I said again, 'Whom do you love, my sister?'
and you replied, 'I love Cocceji!' And now you are amazed that I
believe you! In it possible that I can doubt your word? Is it
possible that Barbarina tells an untruth to her fond and faithful
sister? that she shrouds her heart, and will not allow Marietta to
read what is written there?"
"If I did that," said Barbarina, uneasily, "it was because I shrank
from reading my own heart. Be pitiful, Marietta, do not lift the
veil; allow my poor heart to heal its wounds in peace and quiet."
"It cannot heal, sister, if we remain here," said Marietta,
trembling with suppressed tears. "Let us fly far, far away; accept
the offer of Binatelli; it is the call of God. Come, come,
Barbarina, we will return to our own Italy, to beautiful Rome.
Remain no longer in this cold north, by these icy hearts!"
"I cannot, I cannot!" cried Barbarina, with anguish. "I have no
fatherland--no home. I am no longer a Roman, no longer an Italian. I
am a wretched, homeless wanderer. Why will not my heart bleed and
die? Why am I condemned to live, and be conscious of this torture?"
"Stop, stop, my sister!" cried Marietta, wildly; "not another word!
You are right; we will not lift this fearful veil. Cover up your
heart in darkness--it will heal!"
"It will heal!" repeated Barbarina, pressing Marietta to her bosom
and weeping bitterly.
The entrance of a servant aroused them both; Barbarina turned away
to hide her weeping eyes. The servant announced a lady, who desired
anxiously to speak with the signora.
"Say to her that Barbarina is unwell, and can receive no one."
In a few moments the servant returned with a card, which he handed
to Marietta. "The lady declared she knew the signora would receive
her when she saw the card."
"Madame Cocceji," said Marietta.
Barbarina rose up hastily.
"Will you receive her?" asked Marietta.
"I will receive her."
And now a great change passed over Barbarina: all melancholy; all
languor had disappeared; her eyes sparkled, her cheeks glowed with
an engaging smile, as she advanced to greet the proud lady who stood
upon the threshold.
"Ah, generous lady, how good you are!" said Barbarina, in a slightly
mocking tone. "I have but just returned to Berlin, and you gladden
my heart again by your visit, and grant me the distinction and
privilege of receiving in my house one of the most eminent and
virtuous ladies of Berlin."
Madame Cocceji threw a contemptuous glance upon the beautiful young
woman who dared to look in her face with such smiling composure.
"I have not come, madame, to visit you, but to speak to you!"
"I do not see the distinction; we visit those with whom we wish to
"We visit those with whom we wish to speak, and who are trying to
evade an interview! I have sent to you twice, signora, and commanded
you to come to me, but you have not obeyed!"
"I am accustomed to receive those who wish to see me at my own
house," said Barbarina, quietly. "Indeed, madame, I understand your
language perhaps but poorly. Is it according to the forms of
etiquette to say, 'I have commanded you to come to me?' In my own
fair land we give a finer turn to our speech, and we beg for the
honor of a visit." As Barbarina said this, she bowed with laughing
grace to the proud woman, who gazed at her with suppressed rage.
"This is the second time I have been forced to seek an interview
"The first time, madame, you came with a petition, and I was so
happy as to be able to grant your request. May I be equally
fortunate to-day! Without doubt you come again as a petitioner,"
said Barbarina, with the cunning manner of a cat, who purrs while
The proud Cocceji was wounded; she frowned sternly, but suppressed
her anger. Barbarina was right--she came with a request.
"I called upon you a year ago," said she, "and implored you to cure
my son of that wild love which had fallen upon him like the fever of
madness--which made him forget his duty, his rank, his parents. I
besought you to leave Berlin, and withdraw from his sight that
magical beauty which had seduced him."
"And I declared myself ready to grant your petition," interrupted
Barbarina. "Yes, I conformed myself to your wishes, and left Berlin,
not, however, I confess, to do you a service, but because I did not
love your son; and there is nothing more dull and wearisome than to
listen to protestations of love that you cannot return. But look
you, gracious lady, that is a misfortune that pursues me at every
step. I left Berlin to escape this evil, and fled to London, to find
there the same old story of a love I could not return. I fled then
from London, to escape the danger of becoming the wife of Lord
"Why did you return to Berlin?" said Madame Cocceji, in an imperious
Barbarina looked up surprised. "Madame," said she, "for that step I
am accountable to no one."
"Yes, you are accountable to me!" cried Madame Cocceji, enraged to
the utmost by Barbarina's proud composure. "You are accountable to
me--me, the mother of Cocceji! You have seduced him by your charms,
and driven him to madness. He defies his parents and the anger of
his king, and yields himself up to this shameful passion, which
covers his family with disgrace."
Barbarina uttered a cry of rage, and advanced a few steps. "Madame,"
said she, laying her hand upon the arm of Madame Cocceji, "you have
called this love shameful. You have said that an alliance with me
would disgrace your family. Take back your words, I pray you!"
"I retract nothing. I said but the truth," cried Madame Cocceji,
freeing herself from Barbarina.
"Take back your words, madame, for your own sake!" said Barbarina,
"I cannot, and will not!" she replied, imperiously, "and if your
pride and arrogance has not completely blinded you, in your heart
you will confess that I am right. The dancer Barbarina can never be
the daughter of the Coccejis. That would be a mockery of all
honorable customs, would cast contempt upon the graves of our
ancestors, and bring shame upon our nobility. And yet my unhappy son
dares think of this dishonor. In his insane folly, he rushed madly
from my presence, uttering words of rage and bitter reproach,
because I tried to show him that this marriage was impossible."
"Ah, I love him for this!" cried Barbarina, with a genial smile.
Without regarding her, Madame Cocceji went on: "Even against his
father, he has dared to oppose himself. He defies the anger of his
king. Oh, signora, in the anguish of my soul I turn to you; have
pity with me and with my most unhappy son! He is lost; he will go
down to the grave dishonored, if you do not come to my help! If,
indeed, you love him, your love will teach you to make the offering
of self-sacrifice, and I will bless you, and forgive you all the
anguish you have caused me. If you love him not, you will not be so
cruel as to bury the happiness and honor of a whole family because
of your lofty ambition and your relentless will. Hear my prayer--
leave this city, and go so far away that my son can never follow,
never reach you!"
"Then I must go into my grave," said Barbarina; "there is no other
refuge to which, if he truly loves, he cannot follow me. I, dear
madame, cannot, like yourself, move unknown and unregarded through
the world. My fame is the herald which announces my presence in
every land, and every city offers me, with bended knee, the keys of
her gates and the keys of her heart. I cannot hide myself. Nothing
is known of the proud and noble family of Cocceji outside of
Prussia; but the wide, wide world knows of the Barbarina, and the
laurel-wreaths with which I have been crowned in every land have
never been desecrated by an unworthy act or an impure thought. There
is nothing in my life of which I repent, nothing for which I blush
or am ashamed! And yet you have dared to reproach me--you have had
the audacity to seek to humiliate me in my own house."
"You forget with whom you have the honor to speak."
"You, madame, were the first to forget yourself; I follow your
example. I suppose Madame Cocceji knows and does ever that which is
great and right. I said you had vilified me in my own house, and yet
you ask of me an act of magnanimity! Why should I relinquish your
"Why? Because there remains even yet, perhaps, a spark of honorable
feeling in your bosom. Because you know that my family will never
receive you, but will curse and abhor you, if you dare to entice my
son into a marriage. Because you know that the Prussian nobles, the
king himself, are on my side. The king, signora, no longer favors
you; the king has promised us his assistance. The king will use
every means of grace and power to prevent a marriage, which he
himself has written to me will cover my son with dishonor!"
[Footnote: Schneider, "History of the Opera in Berlin."]
"That is false!" cried Barbarina.
"It is true! and it is true that the king, in order to protect the
house of Cocceji from this shame, has given my husband authority to
arrest my son and cast him into prison, provided my prayers and
tears and menaces should be of no avail! If we fail, we will make
use of this authority, and give him over to General Hake. [Footnote:
Ibid.] Think well what you do--do not drive us to this extremity. I
say there is a point at which even a mother's love will fail, and
the head of our house will act with all the sternness which the law
and the king permit. Go, then, Signora Barbarina--bow your proud
head--leave Berlin. Return to your own land. I repeat to you, do not
drive us to extremity!"
Barbarina listened to this with cool and mocking composure. Not a
muscle of her face moved--she was indeed striking in her majesty and
her beauty. Her imposing bearing, her pallid but clear complexion,
her crimson, tightly-compressed lips, her great, fiery eyes, which
spoke the scorn and contempt her proud lips disdained to utter, made
a picture never to be forgotten.
"Madame," said she, slowly, emphasizing every word, "you have,
indeed, driven ME to extremity. It was not my intention to marry
your son. But your conduct has now made that a point of honor. Now,
madame, I will graciously yield to the passionate entreaties of your
son, and I will wed him."
"That is to say, you will force my husband to make use of the power
the king has given him?"
Barbarina shrugged her shoulders contemptuously. "Arrest your son,
and cast him into prison, you will thereby add a new celebrity to
your name, and quench the last spark of piety and obedience in his
heart. Love has wings, and will follow him everywhere, and will waft
him to the altar, where he will wed Barbarina. Neither your curse,
nor your arrest, nor the will of the king, will now protect him.
Before six months are over, will Barbarina the dancer be the wife of
"Never, never shall that be!" cried Madame Cocceji, trembling with
"That will be!" said Barbarina, smiling sadly, and bending low. "And
now, madame, I think you have attained the object of your visit, and
we have nothing more to say to each other. It only remains for me to
commend myself to your grace and courtesy, and to thank you for the
honor of your visit. Allow me to call my servant, to conduct you to
She rang and commanded the servant to open the folding doors, and
carry the large muff of the countess to the carriage. Madame Cocceji
was pale with rage. She wished to remain incognito, and now her name
had been called before the servant. All Berlin would know before
night that she had visited Barbarina!
"Give me my muff," she said impatiently to the servant; "it is not
necessary you should carry it. I came on foot."
"On foot?" said Barbarina, laughing merrily. "Truly, you wished to
remain incognito, and you would not leave your equipage with its
coat of arms, standing before my door! I thank you once more for the
honor of your visit, and commend myself to you with the glad wish
that we may meet again."
"Never more!" said Madame Cocceji, casting a withering look upon the
gay dancer, and hastening from the room.
Voltaire was now a continuous guest of King Frederick. The latter
had written a letter to Louis the Fifteenth, and begged him to
relinquish his subject and historian, and this request was supposed
to be acceded to. Besides this, the king, who was ever thoughtful of
the happiness and comfort of his friends, had proposed to Madame
Denis, Voltaire's beloved niece, to follow her uncle to Berlin,
dwell in the royal castle at Potsdam, and accept from him an annuity
of four thousand francs.
Voltaire himself besought her to come. He wrote to her that, as she
had lived contentedly with her husband in Landau, she could surely
be happy in Berlin and Potsdam. Berlin was certainly a much more
beautiful city than Landau, and at Potsdam they could lead an
agreeable and unceremonious life. "In Potsdam there are no
tumultuous feasts. My soul rests, dreams, and works. I am content to
find myself with a king who has neither a court nor a ministry.
Truly, Potsdam is infested by many whiskered grenadiers, but, thank
Heaven, I see little of them. I work peacefully in my room, while
the drums beat without. I have withdrawn from the dinners of the
king; there were too many princes and generals there. I could not
accustom myself to be always vis-a-vis with a king and en ceremonie.
But I sup with him--the suppers are shorter, gayer, and healthier. I
would die with indigestion in three months if I dined every day in
public with a king." [Footnote: OEuvres Completes, p. 360]
Madame Denis, however, seemed to doubt the happy life of Berlin and
Potsdam. She wrote, declining the proposition, and expressing her
fears that Voltaire would himself soon repent that he had left
beautiful, glittering Paris, the capital of luxury and good taste,
and taken refuge in a barbaric land, to be the slave of a king,
while, in Paris, he had been the king of poetry.
Voltaire had the audacity to bring this letter to the king--perhaps
to wound him, perhaps to draw from him further promises and
Frederick read the letter; his brow did not become clouded, and the
friendly smile did not vanish from his lips. When he had read it to
the end, he returned it, and his eyes met the distrustful, lowering
glance of Voltaire with an expression of such goodness and candor
that the latter cast his eyes ashamed to the ground.
"If I were Madame Denis," said Frederick, "I would think as she
does; but, being myself, I view these things differently. I would be
in despair if I had occasioned the unhappiness of a friend; and it
will not be possible for me to allow trouble or sorrow to fall upon
a man whom I esteem, whom I love, and who has sacrificed for me his
fatherland and all that men hold most dear. If I could believe that
your residence here could be to your disadvantage, I would be the
first to counsel you to give it up. I know I would think more of
your happiness than I would of the joy of having you with me. We are
philosophers. What is more natural, more simple, than that two
philosophers, who seem made for each other--who have the same
studies, the same tastes, the same mode of thinking--should grant
themselves the satisfaction of living together? I honor you as my
teacher of eloquence and poetry; I love you as a virtuous and
sympathetic friend. What sort of bondage, what misfortunes, what
changes have you to fear in a realm where you are as highly honored
as in your fatherland--where you have a powerful friend who advances
to meet you with a thankful heart? I am not so prejudiced and
foolish as to consider Berlin as handsome as Paris. If good taste
has found a home in the world, I confess it is in Paris. But you,
Voltaire, will you not inaugurate good taste wherever you are? We
have organs sufficiently developed to applaud you; and, as to love,
we will not allow any other land superiority in that respect. I
yielded to the friendship which bound you to the Marquise du
Chatelet, but I was, next to her, your oldest friend. How, when you
have sought an asylum in my house, can it ever be THOUGHT it will
become your prison? How, being your friend, can I ever become your
tyrant? I do not understand this. I am convinced that, as long as I
live, you will be happy here. You will be honored as the father of
literature, and you will ever find in me that assistance and
sympathy which a man of your worth has a right to demand of all who
honor and appreciate him." [Footnote: The king's own words.--Oeuvres
"Alas! your majesty says that you honor me, but you no longer say
that you love me," cried Voltaire, who had listened to this eloquent
and heart-felt speech of the king with eager impatience and lowering
frowns. "Yes, yes, I feel it; I know it too well! Your majesty has
already limited me to your consideration, your regard; but your
love, your friendship, these are costly treasures from which I have
been disinherited. But I know these hypocritical legacy-hunters, who
have robbed me of that most beautiful portion of my inheritance. I
know these poor, beggarly cousins, these D'Argens, these Algarottis,
these La Mettries, this vainglorious peacock Maupertius. I--"
"Voltaire," said the king, interrupting him, "you forget that you
speak of my friends, and I do not allow any one to speak evil of
them. I will never be partial, never unjust! My heart is capable of
valuing and treasuring all my friends, but my friends must aim to
deserve it; and if I give them my heart, I expect one in return."
"Friendship is a bill of exchange, by which you give just so much as
you are entitled to demand in return."
"Give me, then, your whole heart, Voltaire, and I will restore mine
to you! But I fear you have no longer a heart; Nature gave you but a
small dose of this fleeting essence called love. She had much to do
with your brain, and worked at that so long that no time remained to
make the heart perfect; just as she was about to pour a few drops of
this wonderful love-essence into your heart, the cock crew three
times for your birth, and betrayed you into the world. You have long
since used up the poor pair of drops which fell into your heart.
Your brain was armed for centuries, with power to work, to be
useful, to rejoice the souls of others. but I fear your heart was
exhausted in your youthful years."
"Ah, I wish your majesty were right!" cried Voltaire; "I should not
then feel the anguish which now martyrs me, the torture of being
misunderstood by the most amiable, the most intellectual, the most
exalted of monarchs. Oh, sire, sire! I have a heart, and it bleeds
because you doubt of its existence!"
"I would believe you if you were a little less pathetic," said the
king. "You not only assert, but you declaim. There is too little of
nature and truth in your tone; you remind me a little of the stilted
French tragedies, in which design and premeditation obscure all true
passion; in which love is only a phrase, that no one believes in,
dressed up with the tawdry gilding of sentiment and pathos."
"Your majesty will crush me with your scorn and mockery!" cried
Voltaire, whose eyes now flamed with anger. "You wish to make me
feel how powerless, how pitiful I am. Where shall I find the
strength to strive with you? I have won no battles. I have no
hundred thousand men to oppose to you and no courts-martial to
condemn those who sin against me!"
"It is true you have not a hundred thousand soldiers," said the
king, "but you have four-and-twenty, and with these four-and-twenty
soldiers you have conquered the whole realm of spirits; with this
little army you have brought the whole of educated Europe to your
feet. You are, therefore, a much more powerful king than I am. I
have, it is true, a hundred thousand men, but I dare not say that
they will not run when it comes to the first battle. You, Voltaire,
have your four-and-twenty soldiers of the alphabet, and so well have
you exercised them, that you must win every battle, even if all the
kings of the earth were allied against you. Let us make peace, then,
my 'invincible!' do not turn this terrible army of the four-and-
twenty, with their deadly weapons, against me, but graciously allow
me to seize upon the hem of your purple robe, to sun myself in your
dazzling rays, to be your humble scholar, and from you and your army
of heroes to learn the secret art of winning battles with invisible
"Your majesty makes me feel more and more how poor I am; even my
four-and-twenty, of whom you speak, have gone over to you, and you
understand, as well as I do, how to exercise them."
"No, no!" said Frederick, changing suddenly his jesting tone for one
of grave earnestness. "No, I will learn of you. I am not satisfied
to be a poor-souled dilettante in poetry, though assured I can.
never be a Virgil or a Voltaire. I know that the study of poetry
demands the life, the undivided heart and mind. I am but a poor
galley-slave, chained to the ship of state; or, if you will, a
pilot, who does not dare to leave the rudder, or even to sleep, lest
the fate of the unhappy Palinurus might overtake him. The Muses
demand solitude and rest for the soul, and that I can never
consecrate to them. Often, when I have written three verses, I am
interrupted, my muse is chilled, and my spirit cannot rise again
into the heights of inspiration. I know there are privileged souls,
who can make verses everywhere--in the tumult of court life, in the
loneliness of Cirey, in the prisons of the Bastile, and in the
stage-coach. My poor soul does not enjoy this freedom. It resembles
an anana, which bears fruit only in the green-house, but fades and
withers in the fresh air." [Footnote: The king's own words.--Oeuvres
"Ah! this is the first time I have caught the Solomon of the North
in an untruth," cried Voltaire, eagerly. "Your soul is not like the
anana, but like the wondrous southern tree which generously bears at
the same time fruits and flowers; which inspires and sweetly
intoxicates us with its fragrance, and at the same time strengthens
and refreshes us by its celestial fruits. You, sire, are not the
pupil of Apollo, you are Apollo himself!"
The king smiled, and, raising his arms to heaven, he exclaimed, with
the mock pathos of a French tragedian:
"O Dieu! qui douez les poetes
De tant de sublime faveure;
Ah, rendez vos graces parfaites,
Et qu'ils soient un peu moins menteurs."
"In trying to punish me for what you are pleased to call my
falsehood, your majesty proves that I have spoken the truth," cried
Voltaire, eagerly. "You wish to show me that the fruit of your muse
ripens slowly, and you improvise a charming quatrain that Moliere
himself would be proud to have composed."
"Rendez vos graces parfaites,
Et qu'ils Boient un peu moins menteurs!"
repeated Frederick, nodding merrily to Voltaire. "Look you, friend,
I am perhaps that mortal who incommodes the gods least with prayers
and petitions. My first prayer to-day was for you; show, therefore,
a little gratitude, and prove to me that the gods hear the earnest
prayers of the faithful. Be less of a flatterer, and speak the
simple truth. I desire now to look over with you my compositions of
the last few days. I wish you, however, always to remember that when
you write, you do so to add to the fame of your nation and to the
honor of your fatherland. For myself, I scribble for my amusement;
and I could easily be pardoned, if I were wise enough to burn my
work as soon as it was finished. [Footnote: The king's own words.--
Oeuvres Posthumes.] When a man approaches his fortieth year and
makes bad verses as I do, one might say, with Moliere's
"'Si j'en faissis d'aussi mechants,
Je me garderais bien de les montrer aux gens.'"
"Your majesty considers yourself already too old to make verses, and
you are scarcely thirty-eight: am I not then a fool, worthy of
condemnation, for daring to do homage to the Muses and striving to
make verses--I, the gray-haired old man who already counts fifty-
"You have the privilege of the gods! you will never grow old; and
the Muses and Graces, though women, must ever remain faithful to
you--you understand how to lay new chains upon them."
"No, no, sire! I am too old," sighed Voltaire; "an old poet, an old
lover, an old singer, and an old horse are alike useless things--
good for nothing. [Footnote: Voltaire's own words.--Oeuvres
Posthumes, p. 364.] Well, your majesty can make me a little younger
by reading me some of your verses."
Frederick stepped to his writing-desk, and, seating himself, nodded
to Voltaire to be seated also.
"You must know," said the king, handing Voltaire a sheet of paper
covered with verses--"you must know that I have come with six twin
brothers, who desire in the name of Apollo to be baptized in the
waters of Hippocrene, and the 'Henriade' is entreated to be
Voltaire took the paper and read the verses aloud. The king listened
attentively, and nodded approvingly over Voltaire's glowing and
"This is grand! this is sublime!" cried Voltaire. "Your majesty is a
French writer, who lives by accident in Germany. You have our
language wholly in your power."
Frederick raised his finger threateningly. "Friend, friend, shall I
weary the gods again with my prayer?"
"Your majesty, then, wishes to hear the whole truth?"
"The whole truth!"
"Then you must allow me, sire, to read the verses once more. I read
them the first time as an amateur, now I will read them as a
As Voltaire now repeated the verses, he laid a sharp accent upon
every word and every imperfect rhyme; scanned every line with stern
precision. Sometimes when he came to a false Alexandrine, he gave
himself the appearance of being absolutely unable to force his lips
to utter such barbarisms; and then his eyes glowed with malicious
fire, and a contemptuous smile played about his mouth.
The king's brow clouded. "I understand," said he, "the poem is
utterly unworthy--good for nothing. Let us destroy it."
"Not so, sire--the poem is excellent, and it requires but a few
day's study to make it perfect. On the Venus di Medici no finger
must be too long, no nail badly formed; and what are such statues,
with which we deck our gardens, to the monuments of the library? We
must, therefore, make your work perfect. There is infinite grace and
intellect in this little poem. Where have you found such treasures,
sire? How can your sandy soil yield such blossoms? How can such
charming grace and profound learning be combined? [Footnote:
Voltaire's own words.--Oeuvres Posthumes, p. 329.] But even the
Graces must stand upon a sure footing, and here, sire, are a few
feet which are too long. Truly, that is sometimes unimportant, but
the work of a distinguished genius should be PERFECT. You work too
rashly, sire--it is sometimes more easy to win a battle than to make
a good poem. Your majesty loves the truth so well, that by speaking
the truth in all sincerity I shall best prove to you my most
profound reverence. All that you do must be perfectly done; you are
fully endowed with the ability necessary. No one must say 'Caesar
est supra grammaticum.' Caesar wrote as he fought, and was in both
victorious. Frederick the Great plays the flute like Blavet, why
should he not also write like the greatest of poets? [Footnote:
Ibid., p. 823.] But your majesty must not disdain to give to the
beautiful sentiment, the great thought, a lovely and attractive
"Yes, you are right!" said Frederick; "I fail in that, but you must
not think that it is from carelessness. Those of my verses which you
have least criticised are exactly those which have cost me the least
effort. When the sentiment and the rhyme come in competition, I make
bad verses, and am not happy in my corrections. You cannot
comprehend the difficulties I have to overcome in making a few
tolerable verses. A happy combination by nature, an irrepressible
and fruitful intellect, made you a great poet without any effort of
your own. I feel and acknowledge the inferiority of my talent. I
swim about in the ocean of poetry with my life-preserver under my
arm. I do not write as well as I think. My ideas are stronger than
my expressions; and in this embarrassment, I am often content if my
verses are as little indifferent as possible, and do not expect them
to be good." [Footnote: The king's own words, p. 346.]
"It is entirely in your majesty's power to make them perfect. With
you, sire, it is as with the gods--'I will!' and it is done. If your
majesty will condescend to adorn the Graces and sylphs, the sages
and scholars, who stumble about in this sublime poem with somewhat
rugged feet, with artistic limbs, they will flutter about like
graceful genii, and step with majesty like the three kings of the
East. Now let us try--we will write this poem again."
He made a long mark with a pen over the manuscript of the king, took
a new sheet of paper, and commenced to write the first lines. He
criticised every word with bitter humor, with flashing wit, with
mocking irony. Inexorable in his censure, indifferent in his praise,
his tongue seemed to be armed with arrows, every one of which was
intended to strike and wound.
The face of Frederick remained calm and clear. He did not feel that
he was a mighty king and ruler, injured by the fault-finding of a
common man. He was the pupil, with his accomplished teacher; and as
he really wished to learn, he was indifferent as to the mode by
which his stern master would instruct him.
After this they read together a chapter from the king's "Higtoire de
Mon Temps." A second edition was about to appear, and Voltaire had
undertaken to correct it. He brought his copy with him, in order to
give Frederick an account of his corrections.
"This book will be a masterwork, if your majesty will only take the
pains to correct it properly? But has a king the time and patience?-
-a king who governs his whole kingdom alone? Yes, it is this thought
which confounds me! I cannot recover from my astonishment; it is
this which makes me so stern in my judgment of your writings. I
consider it a holy duty."
"And I am glad you are harsh and independent," said the king. "I
learn more from ten stern and critical words, than from a lengthy
speech full of praise and acknowledgment! But tell me, now, what
means this red mark, with which you have covered one whole side of
"Sire, this red mark asks for consideration for your grandfather,
King Frederick the First; you have been harsh and cruel with him!"
"I dared not be otherwise, unless I would earn for myself the charge
of partiality," said the king. "It shall not be said that I closed
my eyes to his foolishness and absurdity because he was my
grandfather. Frederick the First was a vain and pompous fool; this
is the truth!"
"And yet I entreat your grace for him, sire. I love this king
because of his royal pomp, and the beautiful monument which he left
"Well, that was vanity, that posterity might speak of him. From
vanity he protected the arts; from vanity and foolish pride he
placed the crown upon his head. His wife, the great Sophia
Charlotte, was right when she said of him on her death-bed: 'The
king will not have time to mourn for me; the interest he will take
in solemnizing my funeral with pomp and regal splendor will
dissipate his grief; and if nothing is wanting, nothing fails in the
august and beautiful ceremony, he will be entirely comforted.'
[Footnote: Thiebault.] He was only great in little things, and
therefore when Sophia Charlotte received from her friend Leibnitz
his memoir 'On the Power of Small Things,' she said, smiling:
'Leibnitz will teach me to know small things; has he forgotten that
I am the wife of Frederick the First, or does he think that I do not
know my husband?'" [Footnote: Ibid.]
"Well, I pray for grace for the husband on his wife's account.
Sophia Charlotte was an exalted and genial woman; you should forgive
her husband all other things, because he was wise enough to make her
his wife and your grand-mother! And if your majesty reproaches him
for the vanity of making himself king, that is a vanity from which
his descendants have obtained some right solid advantages."
"The title appears to me not in the least disagreeable! The title is
beautiful, when given by a free people, or earned by a prince.
Frederick the First had done nothing to stamp him a king, and that
"So let it be," said Voltaire, shrugging his shoulders, "he is your
grandfather, not mine. Do with him as you think best, sire; I have
nothing more to say, and will content myself with softening a few
phrases." [Footnote: This conversation of the king and Voltaire is
historic. Voltaire tells it in a letter to Madame Denis.]
When he saw that Frederick's brow clouded at these words, he said,
with a sly laugh: "Look you, how the office of a teacher, which your
majesty forced upon me, makes me insolent and haughty! I, who would
do well to correct my own works, undertake to improve the writings
of a king. I remind myself of the Abbot von Milliers, who has
written a book called 'Reflections on the Faults of Others.' On one
occasion he went to hear a sermon of a Capuchin. The monk addressed
his audience, in a nasal voice, in the following manner: 'My dear
brothers in the Lord, I had intended to-day to discourse upon hell,
but at the door of the church I have read a bill posted up,
"Reflections on the Faults of Others." "Ha! my friend," thought I,
"why have you not rather made reflections over your own faults?" I
will therefore speak to you of the pride and arrogance of men!'"
"Well, make such reflections always when occupied with the History
of Louis the Fifteenth," said the king, laughing; "only, I beseech
you, when you are with me, not to be converted by the pious
Capuchin, but make your reflections on the faults of others only."
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF VOLTAIRE.
Voltaire enjoyed the rare privilege of speaking the truth to the
king, and he made a cruel and bitter use of his opportunities in
this respect. He was jealous and envious of the king's fame and
greatness, and sought to revenge him-self by continual fault-finding
and criticism. He sought to mortify the great Frederick, who was
admired and wondered at by all the world; to make him feel and
confess that he could never equal the renowned writer Voltaire.
Frederick felt and acknowledged this frankly and without shame, but
with that smiling composure and great self-consciousness which is
ever ready to do justice to others, and demands at the same time a
just recognition of its own claims. Voltaire might exalt himself to
the clouds, he could not depreciate the king. He often made him
angry, however, and this gratified the malice of the great French
The other friends of Frederick looked upon this conduct of Voltaire
with regret; and the Marquis d'Argens, who was of a fine and gentle
nature, soon saw the daily discontent of the king, and the wicked
joy of Voltaire.
"My friend," said he, "the king wrote a poem yesterday, which he
read aloud to me this morning. He declares that there is one bad
rhyme in his poem, and that it tortures him. I tried in vain to
reassure him. I know that the rhyme is incorrect, but you will
provoke him beyond measure if you tell him so. He has tried in vain
to correct it, without impairing the sense of the passage. I have,
therefore, withheld all criticism, and read to him some verses from
La Fontaine, where the same fault is to be found. I have wished to
convince him that the poem is worthy of praise, although not exactly
conformed to rule. I beg of you, Voltaire, to follow my example."
"And why should I do that?" said Voltaire, in his most snarling
"Because, with your severe and continual criticisms you will disgust
the king, and turn him aside from his favorite pursuit. I think it
important to poetry and the fine arts that the great and powerful
sovereign of Prussia should love and cherish them; should exalt
those who cultivate them, and, indeed, rank himself amongst them.
What difference does it make, Voltaire, if a bad rhyme is to be
found in the poetry of the philosopher of Sans-Souci?" [Footnote:
Thiebault, vol. v., p. 337.]
"The king wishes to learn of me how to make good poetry, and my love
to him is not of that treasonable, womanly, and cowardly sort which
shrinks from blaming him because it fears to wound his self-love.
The king has read his poem to you, and it is your province to wonder
at and praise your friend. He will read it to me as 'Pedagogo de sua
Maesta.' I will be true and just, where you have dared to flatter
Never was Voltaire more severe in his criticism, more cutting in his
satire, than to-day. His eyes sparkled with malicious joy, and a
wicked smile played still upon his lip as he left the king and
returned to his own apartment.
"Ah," said he, seating himself at his writing-table, with a loud
laugh, "I shall write well to-day, for I have had a lesson.
Frederick does not know how far he is my benefactor. In correcting
him, I correct myself; and in directing his studies, I gain strength
and judgment for my own works. [Footnote: Voltaire's own words.--
Oeuvres, p. 363.] I will now write a chapter in my History of Louis
XIV. My style will be good. The chapter which I have read this
morning, in Frederick's 'Histoire de Mon Temps' has taught me what
faults to avoid. Yes, I will write of Louis XIV. Truly I owe him
some compensation. King Frederick has had the naivete to compare his
great grandfather, the so-called great Prince-Elector, to the great
Louis. I was amiable enough to pardon him for this little compliment
to his ancestors, and not to strike it from his 'Histoire.' And,
indeed, why should I have done that? The world will not be so
foolish as to charge this amusing weakness to me! After all, the
king writes but for himself, and a few false, flattering friends; he
can, therefore, say what he will. I, however, I write for France--
for the world! But I fear, alas, that fools will condemn me, because
I have sought to write as a wise man." [Footnote: CEuvres, p. 341.]
Voltaire commenced to write, but, he was soon interrupted by his
servant, Tripot, who announced that the Jew Hirsch, for whom
Voltaire had sent, was at the door. Voltaire rose hastily, and
called him to enter.
"I have business with you, my friend," said he to the Jew. "Close
the door, Tripot, and see that we are not disturbed."
Voltaire hastened with youthful agility through the saloon, and
beckoned to the Jew to follow him into his bedroom.
"First of all, friend, we will make a small mercantile operation."
So saying, he opened the door of a large commode. "See, here are
twelve pounds of the purest wax-lights. I am a poor man, with weak
eyes. I have no use for these lights; I can never hope to profit by
them. Here, also, are several pounds of sugar and coffee, the
savings of the last two months. You will buy all this of me; we will
agree upon a fixed price, and the last day of every month you will
come for the same purpose. Name your price, sir."
Hirsch named his price; but it seemed that the great poet understood
how to bargain better than the Jew. He knew exactly the worth of the
sugar and the coffee, he spoke so eloquently of the beauty and
purity of the thick white wax-lights, that the Hebrew increased his
"And now to more important business," said Voltaire. "You are going
to Dresden--you will there execute a commission for me. I wish to
invest eighteen thousand thalers in Saxon bonds. They can now be
purchased at thirty-five, and will be redeemed at a hundred."
"But your excellency knows that the king has forbidden his subjects
to buy these bonds. He demanded and obtained for his subjects a
pledge that they should be paid at par for the bonds they now hold,
while the subjects of the King of Saxony receive only their present
value. The king promised, however, that the Prussians should make no
further investments in these bonds. You see, then, that it is
impossible for me to fulfil this commission."
"I see that you are a fool!" cried Voltaire, angrily. "If you were
not a fool, you would know that Voltaire, the chamberlain of the
king, would not undertake a business transaction which would stain
his reputation or cast a shadow on his name. When Voltaire makes
this investment, you can understand that he is authorized to do so."
"That being the case," said Hirsch, humbly, "I am entirely
satisfied, and will gladly serve your excellency."
"If you fill this commission handsomely and promptly, you may feel
assured of a reward. Are you ambitious? Would you not like a title?"
"Certainly I am ambitious. I should be truly happy if I could obtain
the title of 'royal court agent.'"
"Well, buy these bonds for me in Dresden cheap, and you shall have
this coveted title," said the noble author of the "Henriade," and
other world-renowned works.
"I will buy them at thirty-five thalers."
"And you will invest eighteen thousand thalers at this rate. Our
contract is made; now we will count the gold. I have not the ready
money--I will give you drafts--come into my study.--There are three
drafts," said he, "one on Paris, one on your father, and one on the
Jew Ephraim. Get them cashed, good Hirsch, and bring me my Saxon
"In eight days, your excellency, I will return with them, and you
will have a clear profit of eleven thousand thalers."
Voltaire's eyes sparkled with joy. "Eleven thousand thalers!" said
he; "for a poor poet, who lives by his wits and his pen, that is a
"You will realize that sum," said Hirsch, with the solemn
earnestness of a Jew when he has made a good trade.
Hirsch was about to withdraw, but Voltaire hastened after him, and
seizing his arm, he cried out threateningly: "You are not going
without giving me your note? You do not think that I am such a fool
as to give you eighteen thousand thalers, and have nothing to prove
"You excellency has my word of honor," said the Jew, earnestly.
Voltaire laughed aloud. "Your word! the honorable word of a man for
eighteen thousand thalers! My dear friend, we do not live in
paradise, but in a so-called Christian city--your worthy forefathers
obtained for us this privilege. Do you believe that I will trust one
of their descendants? Who will go my security that you will not,
nail my innocence and my confiding heart upon the cross, and slay
them if I should be unsuspicious enough to trust my money with you
in this simple way?"
"I will give you ample security," said Hirsch, taking a morocco case
from his pocket. "I did not know why your excellency sent for me. I
thought perhaps you wished to buy diamonds, and brought some along
with me. Look, sir! here are diamonds worth twenty-two thousand
thalers! I will leave them with you--I, the poor Jew, do not fear
that the great poet Voltaire will deceive and betray me."
"These diamonds are beautiful," said Voltaire--"very beautiful, and
perhaps if my speculation succeeds, I may buy some from you. Until
then, I will take care of them."
Voltaire was about to lock them up, but he paused suddenly, and
fixed his eyes upon the calm countenance of the Jew.
"How do I know that these are real diamonds?" he cried; and as
Hirsch, exasperated by this base suspicion, frowned and turned pale,
he exclaimed fiercely: "The diamonds are false! I know it by your
terror. Oh, oh, you thought that a poet was a good, credulous
creature who could be easily deceived. Ah! you thought I had heard
nothing of those famous lapidaries in St. Germain, who cut diamonds
from glass, and cook up in their laboratories the rarest jewels!
Yes, yes, I know all these arts, and all the brewing of St. Germain
will not suffice to deceive me."
"These diamonds are pure!" cried Hirsch.
"We will have them tested by a Christian jeweller," said Voltaire.--
"Tripot! Tripot! run quickly to the jeweller Reclam--beg him to come
to me for a few moments."
Tripot soon returned with Reclam. The diamonds were pronounced pure
and of the first water; and the jeweller declared they were fully
worth twenty-two thousand thalers. Voltaire was now fully satisfied,
and, when once more alone, he looked long and rapturously upon these
"What woman can boast of such dazzling fire in her eyes?" said he,
laughing; "what woman can say that their color is worth twenty-two
thousand thalers? It is true they glisten and shimmer in all lights
and shades--that is their weakness and their folly. With you,
beautiful gems! these changing hues are a virtue. Oh, to think that
with this handful of flashing stones I could buy a bag of ducats!
How dull and stupid are mankind--how wise is God! Sinking those
diamonds in the bowels of the earth was a good speculation. They are
truffles to tempt the snouts of men; and they root after them as
zealously as the swine in Perigord root after the true truffles.
Gold! gold! that is the magic word with which the world is ruled. I
will have gold--I will rule the world. I will not give place to
dukes or princes. I will have my seigneuries and my castles; my
servants in rich livery, and my obedient subjects. I will be a grand
seigneur. Kings and princes shall visit me in my castle, and wait in
my antechamber, as I have been compelled to wait in theirs. I will
be rich that I may be every man's master, even master of the fools.
I will enslave the wise by my intellect--I will reduce the foolish
to bondage with gold. I must be rich! rich! rich! therefore am I
here; therefore do I correct the poor rhymes of the king; therefore
do I live now as a modest poet, and add copper to copper, and save
my pension of five thousand thalers, and sell my wax-lights and my
coffee to the Jew. Let the world call me a miser. When I become
rich, I will be a spendthrift: and men who are now envious and angry
at my fame shall burst with rage at my fortune. Ah, ah, it is not
worth the cost to be a celebrated writer! There are too many
humiliations connected with this doubtful social position. It gives
no rank--it is a pitiful thing in the eyes of those who have actual
standing, and is only envied by those who are unnoticed and unknown.
For my own part, I am so exhausted by the discomforts of my
position, I would gladly cast it from me, and make for myself what
the canaille call a good thing--an enormous fortune. I will scrape
together all the gold that is possible. I will give for gold all the
honor and freedom and fame which come to me. I am a rich gainer in
all these things by my residence with King Frederick. He has this
virtue: he is unprejudiced, and cares nothing even for his own royal
rank. I will therefore remain in this haven, whither the storms,
which have so long driven me from shore to shore, have now safely
moored me. My happiness will last just as long as God pleases."
[Footnote: Voltaire's own words.--Oeuvres, p. 110.]
He laughed heartily, and took his cash-book, in which he entered
receipts and expenditures. It was Voltaire's greatest pleasure to
add up his accounts from time to time, and gloat over the growth of
his fortune; to compare, day by day, his receipts and expenses, and
to find that a handsome sum was almost daily placed to his credit.
The smallest necessary expenditure angered him. With a dark frown he
said to himself: "It is unjust and mean to require of me to buy
provender for my horse, and to have my carriage repaired; if the
king furnishes me with an equipage, he should not allow it to be any
expense to me. The major-domo is an old miser, who cheats me every
month out of some pounds of sugar and coffee, and the wax-lights are
becoming thinner and poorer. I will complain to King Frederick of
all this; he must see that order prevails in his palace."
Voltaire closed his account-book, and murmured: "When I have an
income of a hundred and fifty thousand francs, I will cease to
economize. God be praised, I have almost reached the goal! But,"
said he, impatiently, "in order to effect this, I must remain here a
few years, and add my pension to my income. Nothing must prevent
this--I must overcome every obstacle. What! who can hinder me? my
so-called friends, who naturally are my most bitter enemies? Ha, ha!
what a romantic idea of this genial king to assemble six friends
around him at Sans-Souci, the most of them being authors--that is to
say, natural enemies! I believe if two authors, two women, or two
pietists, were placed alone upon a desert isle, they would forget
their dependence upon each other, and commence intriguing at once.
This, alas! is humanity, and being so, one must withdraw from the
poor affair advantageously and cunningly. [Footnote: Voltaire,
Oeuvres, p. 375.] No one can live peacefully in this world; least of
all, in the neighborhood of a king. It is with kings as with
coquettes, their glances kindle jealousy--and Frederick is a great
coquette. I must, therefore, drive my rivals from the field, and
enjoy in peace the favor of the king. Now which of my rivals are
dangerous to me? All! all! I must banish them all! I will sow such
discontent and rage and malice and strife amongst them, that they
will fly in hot haste, and thank God if I do not bite off their
noses before they escape. I will turn this, their laughing paradise,
into a hell, and I will be the devil to chase them with glowing
pitchforks. Yes, even to Siberia will I drive this long-legged
peacock, Maupertius--him, first of all; then D'Argens, then
Algarotti, then this over-wise and good Lord Marshal, and all others
like him! When Voltaire's sun is in the ascendant, not even stars
shall glitter; It shall not be! I will prove to them that Voltaire's
fiery rays have burned them to ashes!" [Footnote: Voltaire, OEuvres,
He laughed aloud, and seated himself to write a poem. He was invited
that evening to a soiree by the queen-mother, where he wished to
shine as an improvisator. Above all other things, he wished to win
the heart of the Princess Amelia. Since she had played the part of
Aurelia, in "Rome Sauvee," he had felt a passion for the princess,
who had betrayed to the life the ardor and the pains of love, and
whose great flaming eyes seemed, from their mysterious depths, to
rouse the soul of the poet. Voltaire had promised the Princess
Amelia to improvise upon any subject she should select, and he
relied upon his cunning to incline her choice in such a direction as
to make the poem he was now writing appropriate and seem impromptu.
While thus occupied, his servant entered and announced a number of
distinguished gentlemen, who were in the parlor, and wished to make
the great author a morning visit. "Let them all wait!" said
Voltaire, angrily; declaring that this disturbance had cost him a
"But, gracious sir," stammered the servant, "some of the most
distinguished men of the court and the oldest generals, are there!"
"What do I care for their epaulets or their excellencies? Let them
wait, or go to the devil--if they prefer it."
Well, the eminent gentlemen waited; indeed, they waited patiently,
until the great Voltaire, the favorite of the king, the universal
French author, in his pride and arrogance was graciously pleased to
show himself amongst the Dutch barbarians, and allow some rays of
his intellect to fall upon and inspire them!
The saloon was indeed crowded with princes, generals, and nobles.
Voltaire had just returned to Berlin from Potsdam, and all hastened
to pay their respects and commend themselves to his grace and favor.
[Footnote: Forney writes thus in his "Memoirs": "During the winter
months which Voltaire spent in the palace of Berlin, he was the
favorite of the court. Princes, ambassadors, ministers, generals,
nobles of the highest rank went to his morning receptions, and were
often received by him with contemptuous scorn. A great prince was
pleased to play chess with him, and allowed him every time to win
the stake of two louis d'or. It was declared, however, that
sometimes the gold disappeared before the end of the game, and could
not be found."--"Souvenirs d'un Citoyen."]
Voltaire was very gracious this morning. As he was to play the part
of improvisator that night, he thought it politic to make favor with
all those who would be present. He hoped that all the world would
thunder out their enraptured applause, and that Maupertius,
D'Argens, Algarotti, La Mettrie, and all other friends of the king,
would be filled with envy and rage. He smiled, therefore,
benignantly, and had kind and flattering words for all. His bon-mots
and piquant witticisms seemed inexhaustible.
Suddenly his servant drew near, and said it was necessary to speak
to him on a matter of great importance. Voltaire turned with a
winning smile to his guests, and, praying them to wait for his
return, entered his private room.
"Well, Tripot, what have you to say that is important?"
"Gracious sir, the court is in mourning."
Voltaire looked at him enraged. "Fool! what is that to me?"
"It is of the utmost importance to you, sir, if you are going this
evening to the soiree of the queen-mother."
"Will you run me mad, Tripot? What has the court mourning to do with
the queen's soiree?"
"Gracious sir, the explanation is very simple. When the court is in
mourning, no one can appear there in embroidered clothes; you must
wear a plain black coat."
"I have no plain black coat," said Voltaire, with a frowning brow.
"It is necessary, then, for you to order one, and I have sent
Monsieur Pilleneure to come and take your measure."
"Are you insane, Tripot?" cried Voltaire. "Do you regard me as so
vile a spendthrift, so brainless a fool, as to order a new coat for
the sake of one evening's amusement--a coat which will cost an
immense sum of money, and must then hang in the wardrobe to be
destroyed by moths? In eight days this mourning will be over, and I
would be several hundred francs poorer, and possess a black coat I
could never wear! I will not go this evening to the soiree of the
queen-mother; this is decided. I will announce myself sick. Go and
countermand the tailor."
He turned to leave the room, but paused suddenly. "I cannot decline
this invitation," murmured he. "It is widely known that I have
promised to improvise. The world is looking on eagerly. If I do not
go, or if I announce myself sick, they will say I shrink from this
ordeal. My enemies will triumph!--Tripot, I am obliged to go to the
soiree of the queen."
"Then the tailor must come to take your measure?"
"Fool!" cried Voltaire, stamping furiously. "I have told you I have
no gold for such follies. Gather up your small amount of
understanding, and think of some other expedient."
"Well, your excellency. I know a mode of escape from this
embarrassment, but I scarcely dare propose it."
"Speak out--any means are good which attain their object."
"Below, in the court, dwells the merchant Fromery. His servant is my
very good friend. I have learned from him that his master has just
purchased a beautiful black coat. I think he has about the figure of
"Ah, I understand," said Voltaire, whose countenance became clearer,
"You will borrow for me, from your friend, the coat of his master?"
"Yes, if your excellency is not offended at my proposal?"
"On the contrary, I find the idea capital. Go, Tripot, and borrow
the coat of Fromery."
Voltaire returned once more to his distinguished guests, and
enraptured them again by his witty slanders and brilliant
conversation. As the last visitor departed, he rang for his servant.
"Well, Tripot, have you the coat?"
"I have, your excellency."
Voltaire rubbed his hands with delight. "It seems this is a happy
day for me--I make the most advantageous business arrangements."
"But it will be necessary for your grace to try on this coat. I fear
it is too large; since I saw Fromery, he has grown fat."
"The ass!" cried Voltaire. "How does he dare to fatten, when all the
people of intellect and celebrity, like myself, grow thinner every
day?" So saying, he put on the coat of the merchant Fromery. "Yes,
truly, it is far too large for me. Oh, oh! to think that the coat of
a pitiful Dutch tradesman is too large for the great French poet!
Well, that is because these Dutch barbarians think of nothing but
gormandizing. They puff up their gross bodies with common food, and
they daily become fatter; but the spirit suffers. Miserable slaves
of their appetites, they are of no use themselves, and their coats
are also useless!"
"Does your excellency believe that it is impossible to wear the
"Do I believe it is impossible? Look at me! Do I not look like a
hungry heir in the testamentary coat of his rich cousin the brewer?
Would it not be thought that I was a scarecrow, to drive the birds
from the cornfields?"
At this moment Monsieur Pilleneure was announced.
"Good Heaven! I forgot to countermand the tailor!" cried Tripot.
"That is fortunate!" said Voltaire, calming himself. "God sends this
tailor here to put an end to my vexations. This coat is good and
handsome, only a little too large--the tailor will alter it
"That will be splendid!" said Tripot. "He will take in the seams,
and to-morrow enlarge it again."
"Not so!" cried Voltaire. "The coat could not possibly look well; he
must cut away the seams."
"But then," said Tripot, hesitatingly, "Fromery could never wear his
"Fromery will learn that Voltaire has done him the honor to borrow
his coat, and I think that will be a sufficient compensation. Tell
the tailor to enter."
Thanks to the adroitness of Pilleneure, Voltaire appeared at the
soiree of the queen-mother in a handsome, well-fitting black coat.
No one guessed that the mourning dress of the celebrated French
writer belonged to the merchant Fromery, and that the glittering
diamond agraffes in his bosom, and the costly rings on his fingers,
were the property of the Jew Hirsch. Voltaire's eyes were more
sparkling than diamonds, and the glances which he fixed upon the
Princess Amelia more glowing; her pale and earnest beauty inspired
him to finer wit and richer hymns of praise.
No one dared to say that this passionate adoration offered to the
princess was unbecoming and offensive to etiquette. Voltaire was the
man of his age, and therefore justified in offering his worship even
to a princess. He was also the favorite of the king, who allowed him
privileges granted to no other man. There was one present, however,
who found these words of passion and of rapture too bold, and that
one was King Frederick. He had entered noiselessly and unannounced,
as was his custom, and he saw, with a derisive smile, how every one
surrounded Voltaire, and all were zealous in expressing their
rapture over his improvised poem, and entreating him to repeat it.
"How can I repeat what I no longer know?" said he. "An angel floated
by me in the air, and, by a glance alone, she whispered words which
my enraptured lips uttered as in a wild hallucination."
"The centuries to come are to be pitied if they are to be deprived
of this enchanting poem," said the Princess Amelia. She had remarked
the entrance of the king, knew that his eye was fixed upon her, and
wished to please him by flattering his beloved favorite.
"If your royal highness thinks thus, I will now write out a poem
which I had designed only to recite," said Voltaire, seating himself
at the card-table; and, taking a card and pencil, he wrote with a
swift hand and handed the card, bowing profoundly.
The king, who was a silent spectator of this scene, looked at the
Princess Amelia, and saw that she blushed as she read, and her brow
"Allow me, also, to read the poem of the great Voltaire, my sister,"
said the king, drawing near.
The princess handed him the card, and while Frederick read, all
stood around him in respectful silence.
"This poem is sublime," said the king, smiling. He saw that the
princess was no longer grave, and that Voltaire breathed freely, as
if relieved from a great apprehension. "This little poem is so
enchanting, that you must allow me to copy it, my sister. Go on with
your conversation, messieurs, it does not disturb me."
A request from the lips of a king is a command; all exerted
themselves therefore to keep up a gay and animated conversation, and
to seem thoughtless and unoccupied. Frederick seated himself at the
table, and read once more the poem of Voltaire, which was as
"Souvent un pen de verite
Se mele au plus grossier mensonge.
Cette nuit dans l'erreur d'un songe,
Au rang des rois j'etais monte,
Je vous aimais alors, et j'osais vous le dire,
Les dieux a mon reveil ne m'ont pas tout ote,
Je n'ai perdu que mon empire."
"Insolent!" cried the king, and his scornful glance wandered away to
Voltaire, who was seated near the queen engaged in lively
conversation. "We will damp his ardor," said he, smiling; and,
taking a card, he commenced writing hastily.
Truly at this moment the stem master Voltaire might have been
content with his royal pupil; the rhymes were good and flowed
freely. When Frederick had finished his poem, he put Voltaire's card
in his bosom and drew near to the princess.
"The poem is piquant," said he; "read it yourself, and then ask
Voltaire to read it aloud."
Amelia looked strangely at the king, but as she read, a soft smile
lighted up her lovely, melancholy face. Bowing to her brother, she
said in low tones, "I thank your highness."
"Now give the card to Voltaire, and ask him to read it," said the
Voltaire took the card, but as he read he did not smile as the
princess had done--he turned pale and pressed his lips tightly
"Read it," said the king.
"I beg your pardon," said Voltaire, who had immediately recovered
his self-possession; "this little poem, so hastily composed, was not
worthy of the exalted princess to whom I dared address it. Your
majesty will be graciously pleased to remember that it was born in a
moment, and the next instant lost its value. As I now read it, I
find it dull and trivial. You will not be so cruel as to force me to
read aloud to your majesty that which I condemn utterly."
"Oh, le coquin!" murmured Frederick, while Voltaire, with a profound
bow, placed the card in his pocket.
When the soiree was over, and Voltaire returned to his rooms, the
gay and genial expression which he had so carefully maintained
during the evening disappeared; and his lips, which had smiled so
kindly, muttered words of cursing and bitterness. He ordered Tripot
to arrange his writing-table and leave the room. Being now alone, he
drew the card from his bosom, and, as if to convince himself that
what he saw was truth and no cruel dream, he read aloud, but with a
"On remarque, pour l'ordinaire,
Qu'un songe eat analoque a notre caractere,
On heros peut rever, qu'il a passe le Rhin,
Un chien qu'il aboie a la lune;
Un joueur, qu'il a fait fortune,
Un voleur, qu'il a fait butin.
Mais que Voltaire, a l'aide d'un mensonge,
Ose se croire roi lui que n'est qu'un faquin,
Ma fois! c'est abuser du souge."
"So I am already a scoundrel?" said Voltaire, grinning. "My enemies
triumph, and he who a short time since was called the wise man of
the age, the Virgil of France, is nothing but a scoundrel! This
time, I confess, I merited my humiliation, and the consciousness of
this increases my rage. I am a good-humored, credulous fool. Why was
I so silly as to credit the solemn protestations of the king that I
should never feel his superior rank; that he would never show
himself the master? If I dare to claim an equality with him for an
instant, he swings his rod of correction, and I am bowed in the
dust! Voltaire is not the man to bow patiently. The day shall come
in which I will revenge with rich interest the degradation of this
evening. But enough of anger and excitement. I will sleep; perhaps
in happy dreams I shall wander from the chilly borders of the Spree
to my own beautiful Paris."
He called Tripot, and commanded him to announce to Fredersdorf that
he was ill, and could not accompany the king to Potsdam in the
He then retired, and the gods, perhaps, heard his prayer, and
allowed him in dreams to look upon Paris, where the Marquis de
Pompadour reigned supreme, and the pious priests preached against
the Atheist Voltaire, to whom the great-hearted King of Prussia had
given an asylum. Perhaps he saw in his dreams the seigneurie of his
glittering future, and his beautiful house at Ferney, where he built
a temple, with the proud inscription, "Voltaire Deo erexit!"
At all events, his dreams must have been pleasant and refreshing. He
laughed in his sleep; and his countenance, which was so often
clouded by base and wicked passions, was bright and clear; it was
the face of a poet, who, with closed eyes, looked up into the heaven
The morning came, and Voltaire still slept--even the rolling of the
carriages aroused him but for a moment; he wrapped himself up in his
warm bed. the soft eider down of his pillow closed over his head and
made him invisible. Tripot came lightly upon tiptoe and removed the
black coat of the merchant Fromery. Voltaire heard nothing; he slept
on. And now the door was noisily opened, and a young woman, with
fresh, rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes, entered the room; she was
dressed as a chambermaid, a little white coquettish cap covered her
hair, and a white apron with a little bodice was laced over her
striped woollen robe. Upon her white, naked arm she carried linen
which she threw carelessly upon the floor, and drew with rash steps
near the bed. Voltaire still slept, and was still invisible.
The young chambermaid, believing that he had gone with the king to
Potsdam, had come to arrange the room; with a quick movement she
seized the bed with her sinewy hands and threw it off. A wild cry
was heard! a white skeleton figure rose from the bed, now lying in
the middle of the chamber, and danced about the floor with doubled
fists and wild curses. The girl uttered a shriek of terror and
rushed from the room; and if the form and the nightcap had not been
purely white, she would have sworn she had seen the devil in person,
and that she had cast him out from the bed of the great French poet.
[Footnote: Thiebault, v., 281.]
The day of grace was at an end. The four weeks which the king had
granted to his sister, in order that she might take counsel with
herself, were passed, and the heart of the princess was unmoved--
only her face was changed. Amelia hid her pallor with rouge, and the
convulsive trembling of her lips with forced smiles; but it was
evident that her cheeks became daily more hollow, and her eyes more
inflamed. Even the king remarked this, and sent his physician to
examine her eyes. The princess received this messenger of the king
with a bitter, icy smile.
"The king is very good; but I am not ill--I do not suffer."
"But, your royal highness, your eyes suffer. They are weak and
inflamed: allow me to examine them."
"Yes, as my brother has commanded it; but I warn you, you cannot
Meckel, the physician, examined her eyes with the closest attention,
then shook his head thoughtfully.
"Princess," said he at last, in low, respectful tones, "if you grant
your eyes no rest; if, instead of sleeping quietly, you pass the
night pacing your room; if you continue to exhaust your eyes by
constant weeping, the most fatal consequences may result."
"Do you mean I will become blind?" said Amelia, quietly.
"I mean your eyes are suffering; that, however, is no acute disease;
but your whole nervous system is in a dangerous condition, and all
this must be rectified before your eyes can be healed."
"Prescribe something, then, as his majesty has commanded it," said
"I will give your royal highness a remedy; but it is of so strong
and dangerous a nature, that it must be used only with the utmost
caution. It is a liquid; it must be heated, and you must allow the
steam to pass into your eyes. Your highness must be very, very
careful. The substances in this mixture are so strong, so corrosive,
that if you approach too near the steam, it will not only endanger
your eyes, but your face and your voice. You must keep your mouth
firmly closed, and your eyes at least ten inches above the vessel
from which the steam is rising. Will your highness remember all
this, and act as I have directed?"
"I will remember it," said Amelia, replying only to the first part
of his question.
Meckel did not remark this. He wrote his prescription and withdrew,
once more reminding Amelia of the caution necessary.
As has been said, this was the last day of grace. The princess
seemed calm and resigned. Even to her confidential maid she uttered
no complaints. The steaming mixture was prepared, and, while Amelia
held herself some distance above it, as the physician had commanded,
she said laughingly to Ernestine: "I must strive to make my eyes
bright, that my brother may be pleased, or at least that he may not
be excited against me."
The prescription seemed to work wonders. The eyes of the princess
were clear and bright, and upon her cheeks burned that dark, glowing
carnation, which an energetic will and a strong and bold resolve
sometimes call into life.
"Now, Ernestine, come! make me a careful and tasteful toilet. It
seems to me that this is my wedding-day; that I am about to
consecrate myself forever to a beloved friend."
"Oh, princess, let it be thus!" cried Fraulein von Haak.
imploringly. "Constrain your noble heart to follow the wishes of the
king, and wed the King of Denmark."
Amelia looked at her, amazed and angry. "You know that Trenck has
received my warning, and has replied to me. He will listen to no
suggestions; under no pretext, will he be influenced to cross the
borders of Prussia, not even if full pardon and royal grace are
offered him. I need not, therefore, be anxious on his account."
"That being the case, your royal highness should now think a little
of your own happiness. You should seek to be reconciled to your
fate--to yield to that which is unalterable. The king, the royal
family, yes, the whole land will rejoice if this marriage with the
King of Denmark takes place. Oh, princess, be wise! do willingly,
peacefully, What you will otherwise be forced to do! Consent to be
Queen of Denmark."
"You have never loved, Ernestine, and you do not know that it is a
crime to break a holy oath sworn unto God. But let us be silent. I
know what is before me--I am prepared!"
With calm indifference, Amelia completed her toilet; then stepped to
the large Psyche, which stood in her boudoir, and examined herself
with a searching eye.
"I think there is nothing in my appearance to enrage the king. I
have laid rouge heavily upon my cheeks, and, thanks to Meckel's
prescription, my eyes are as brilliant as if they had shed no tears.
If I meet my brother with this friendly, happy smile, he will not
remark that my cheeks are sunken. He will be content with me, and
perhaps listen to my prayers."
Ernestine regarded her with a sad and troubled glance. "You look
pale, princess, in spite of your rouge, and your laugh lacerates the
heart. There is a tone, a ring in it, like a broken harp-string."
"Still," said Amelia, "still, Ernestine! my hour has come! I go to
the king. Look, the hand of the clock points to twelve, and I ask an
audience of the king at this hour. Farewell, Ernestine! Ernestine,
pray for me."
She wrapped herself in her mantle, and stepped slowly and proudly
through the corridors to the wing of the castle occupied by the
king. Frederick received her in his library. He advanced to the door
to meet her, and with a kindly smile extended both his hands.
"Welcome, Amelia, a thousand times welcome! Your coming proves to me
that your heart has found the strength which I expected; that my
sweet sister has recovered herself, her maidenly pride, fully.
"The proud daughter of the Hohenzollerns is here to say to the king-
-'The King of Denmark demands my hand. I will bestow it upon him. My
father's daughter dare not wed beneath her. She must look onward and
upward. There is no myrtle-wreath for me, but a crown is glittering,
and I accept it. God has made both heart and brain strong enough to
bear its weight. I shall be no happy shepherdess, but I shall be a
great and good queen; I will make others happy.'"
"You have come, Amelia, to say this to the king; but you have also
come to say to your brother--'I am ready to fulfil your wishes. I
know that no selfish views, no ambitious plans influence you. I know
that you think only of my prosperity and my happiness; that you
would save me from misfortune, humiliation, and shame; that you
would guard me from the mistakes and weaknesses of my own heart, I
accede to your wish, my brother--I will be queen of Denmark?' Now,
Amelia," said Frederick, with an agitated voice, "have I not rightly
divined? Have you not sought me for this purpose?"
"No, my brother, no, no!" cried Amelia, with wild, gushing tears.
"No; I have come to implore your pity, your mercy." Completely
beside herself, mad with passion and pain, she fell upon her knees
and raised her arms entreatingly to the king. "Mercy, my brother,
mercy! Oh, spare my poor, martyred heart! Leave me at least the
liberty to complain and to be wretched! Do not condemn me to marry
Frederick stepped backward, and his brow darkened; but he controlled
his impatience, and drew near his sister with a kindly smile, and
gently raising her from her knees, he led her to the divan.
"Come, Amelia, it does not become you to kneel to a man--to God only
should a princess kneel. Let us be seated, and speak to each other
as brother and sister should speak who love and wish to understand
"I am ready for all else, I will accommodate myself to all else--
only be merciful! Do not compel me to wed Denmark!"
"Ah, see, my sister, although you are struggling against me, how
justly you comprehend your position!" said the king, mildly. "You
speak of wedding Denmark. Your exalted and great destiny sleeps in
these words. A princess when she marries does not wed a man, but a
whole people; she does not only make a man but a nation happy. There
are the weeping, whose tears she will dry; the poor, whose hunger
she will assuage; the unhappy, to whom she will bring consolation;
the sick and dying, with whom she will pray. There is a whole people
advancing to meet her with shouts of gladness, stretching out their
hands, and asking for love. God has blessed the hearts of queens
with the power to love their subjects, because they are women. Oh,
my sister, this is a great, a noble destiny which Providence offers
you--to be the beneficent, mediating, smiling angel, standing ever
by the side of a king--a bond of love between a king and his
subjects! Truly one might well offer up their poor, pitiful wishes,
their own personal happiness, for such a noble destiny."
"I have no more happiness to offer up," sighed Amelia. "I have no
happiness; I do not ask so much. I plead for the poor right of
living for my great sorrow--of being faithful to myself."
"He only is faithful to himself who lives to discharge his duties,"
said the king. "He only is true to himself who governs himself, and
if he cannot be happy, at least endeavors to make others so, and
this vocation of making others happy is the noblest calling for a
woman; by this shall she overcome her selfishness and find comfort,
strength, and peace. And who, my sister, can say that he is happy?
Our life consists in unfulfilled wishes, vain hopes destroyed,
ideals, and lost illusions. Look at me, Amelia. Have I ever been
happy? Do you believe that there is a day of my life I would live
over? Have I not, from my earliest youth, been acquainted with
grief, self-denial, and pain? Are not all the blossoms of my life
broken? Am I not, have I not ever been, the slave of my rank?--a
man, 'cabined, cribbed, confined,' though I appear to be a great
king? Oh, I will not relate what I have suffered--how my heart has
been lacerated and trampled upon! I will only say to you, that,
notwithstanding this, I have never wished to be other than I am,
that I have been always thankful for my fate; glad to be born to a
throne, and not in a miserable hut. Believe me, Amelia, a sublime
misfortune is better, more glorious, than a petty happiness. To have
the brow wounded, because the crown presses too heavily upon the
temples, is more desirable than to breathe out your sorrows in the
midst of poverty and vulgarity, then sink into a dark and unknown
grave. God, who has, perhaps, denied us the blessing of love, gives
fame as a compensation. If we are not happy, we are powerful!"
"Ah, my brother, these are the views of a man and a king," said
Amelia. "I am a poor, weak woman. For me there is no fame, no
"Isabella of Spain and Elizabeth of England were also women, and
their fame has extended through centuries."
"They, however, were independent queens. I can be nothing more than
the wife of a king. Oh, my brother, let me remain only the sister of
a king! Let there be no change in my fate--let all remain as it is!
This is my only hope--my only prayer! My heart is dead, and every
wish is buried--let it suffice, my brother! Do not ask the
The king sprang from his seat, and his eyes glowed with scorn. "It
is, then, all in vain!" said he, fiercely. "You will listen neither
to reason nor entreaty!"
"Oh, sire, have mercy--I cannot wed the King of Denmark!"
"You cannot!" cried the king: "what does that mean?"
"That means that I have sworn never to become the wife of another
than of him whom I love; that means that I have sworn to die
unmarried, unless I go to the altar with my beloved!"
"This wild, mad wish can never be fulfilled!" said the king,
threateningly. "You will marry--I, the king, command it!"
"Command me not, my brother!" cried Amelia, proudly, "command me
not! You stand now upon the extremest boundary of your power; it
will be easy now to teach you that a king is powerless against a
firm, bold will!"
"Ah! you threaten me!"
"No, I pray to you--I pray wildly to your hard heart for pity! I
clasp your knees--I pray to you, as the wretched, the hopeless pray
to God--have mercy upon my torment, pity my unspeakable anguish! I
am a poor, weak woman--oh, have mercy! My heart bleeds from a
thousand wounds--comfort, heal it! I am alone, and oh, how lonely!--
be with me, my brother, and protect and shield me! Oh, my brother!
my brother! it is my life, my youth, my future which cries out to
you! Mercy! grace! Drive me not to extremity! Be merciful, as God is
merciful! Force me not into rebellion against God, against Nature,
against myself! Make me not an unnatural daughter, an unthankful
sister, a disobedient subject! My God! My God! Oh, let your heart be
touched! I cannot wed the King of Denmark--say not that I shall!"
"And if I still say it? If, by the power of my authority, as your
brother and your king, I command you to obey?"
"I may perhaps die, but your command will have no other result,"
said she, rising slowly, and meeting the enraged glance of the king
with a proud and calm aspect. "You have not listened to my prayers;
well, then, I pray no more. But I swear to you, and God in heaven
hears my oath, I will never marry! Now, my king, try how far your
power reaches; what you may do and dare; how far you may prevail
with a woman who struggles against the tyranny of her destiny. You
can lead an army into desperate battle; you can conquer provinces,
and make thrones totter to their base, but you cannot force a woman
to do what she is resolved against! You cannot break my will! I
repeat my oath--I swear I will never marry!"
A cry of rage burst from the lips of the king; with a hasty movement
he advanced and seized the arm of the princess; then, however, as if
ashamed of his impetuosity, he released her and stepped backward.
"Madame," said he, "you will wed the King of Denmark. This is my
unchangeable purpose, my inexorable command! The time of mourning
for his dead wife is passed; and he has, through a special
ambassador, renewed his suit for your hand. I will receive the
ambassador to-morrow morning in solemn audience. I will say to him
that I am ready to bestow the hand of my sister upon the King of
Denmark. To-morrow you will be the bride and in four weeks you will
be the wife of the King of Denmark!"
"And if I repeat to you, that I will never be his wife?"
"Madame, when the king commands, no one in his realm dare say 'I
will not!' Farewell--to-morrow morning, then!" He bowed, left the
room, and closed the door behind him.
Amelia sighed heavily, then slowly and quietly, even as she had
come, she walked through the corridors, and as she passed by her
maids she greeted them with a soft smile. Ernestine wished to follow
her to her boudoir, but she nodded to her to remain outside; she
entered and closed the door. She was alone; a wild shriek burst from
her lips; with a despairing movement she raised her arms to heaven,
then sank powerless, motionless to the floor.
How long she lay there; what martyrdom, what tortures her heart
endured in those hours of solitude, who can know? It was twilight
when Princess Amelia opened the door and bade her friend, Fraulein
von Haak, enter.
"Oh, princess, dearly-beloved princess," she said, weeping bitterly,
pressing Amelia's hand to her lips, "God be thanked that I see you
"Poor child!" said Amelia, gently, "poor child! You thought I would
destroy myself! is it not so, Ernestine? No, no, I must live! A dark
and sad foreboding tells me that a day will come when Trenck will
need me; when my life, my strength, my assistance will be necessary
to him. I will be strong! I will live, and await that day!"
With calm indifference she now began to speak of trifling things,
and listened kindly to all Ernestine related. There was, however, a
certain solemnity in her movements, in her smile, in every word she
uttered; her eyes turned from time to time with an indescribable
expression to heaven, and anxious, alarmed sighs fell trembling from
At last the long and dreary hours of the evening were over. It was
night. Amelia could dismiss her maids and be once more alone. They
brought the spirit-lamp, upon which stood the vessel containing the
steaming mixture for her eyes; she directed them to place it near,
and go quietly to sleep. She would undress herself and read a while
before she went to bed. She embraced Fraulein von Haak, and charged
her to sleep peacefully.
"You have promised," whispered Ernestine, lightly, "you will live!"
"I will live, for Trenck will one day need me. Goodnight!"
She kissed Ernestine upon the brow and smiled upon her till the door
closed--then pressed the bolt forward hastily, and rushed forward to
the large mirror, which reflected her image clearly and distinctly.
With a curious expression she contemplated her still lovely,
youthful, and charming image, and her lips lightly whispered,
"Farewell, thou whom Trenck loved! Farewell, farewell!" she greeted
her image with a weary smile, then stepped firmly to the table,
where the mixture hissed and bubbled, and the dangerous steam
The next morning loud shrieks and groans were heard in the bedroom
of the princess. Amelia's maids had come to arrange her toilet, and
found her stretched upon her couch, with disfigured face, with
bloody eyes, which, swollen and rigid, appeared almost torn from
their sockets! They ran for the physician, for the queen, for the
king; all was confusion, excitement, anguish.
Ernestine knelt weeping by the bed of the princess, and implored her
to say what frightful accident had so disfigured her. Princess
Amelia was incapable of reply! Her lips were convulsively pressed
together; she could only stammer out a few inarticulate sounds.
At last Heckel arrived, and when he saw the inflamed, swollen face,
the eyeballs starting from their sockets, and then the vessel
containing the powerful mixture upon the table, he was filled with
"Ah, the unhappy!" murmured he; "she did not regard my warning. She
drew too near the noxious vapor, and it has entered not only her
eyes but her windpipe; she will suffer much, and never be wholly
Amelia understood these words, which were addressed to Fraulein von
Haak, and a horrible wild laugh burst from her bloody, skinless
"Will she recover?" asked Fraulein von Haak.
"She will recover, but her eyes will be always deformed and her
voice is destroyed. I will hasten to the apothecary's and prepare
He withdrew, and now another door opened, and the king entered. With
hasty steps, and greatly excited, he drew near the bed of the
princess. As he looked upon her deformed countenance, her bleeding,
rigid eyes, he uttered a cry of horror, and bowed down over his
She gazed up at him steadily; tried to open her lips; tried to
speak, but only a dull, hollow sound was heard. Now she slightly
raised herself up with a powerful effort of strength, and moved her
hand slowly over the white wall near her bed.
"She wishes to write," said the king; "perhaps she will tell the
cause of her sufferings. Give her something quickly! there--a coal
from the chimney!"
Fraulein von Haak brought the coal, and Amelia wrote, with trembling
hand, in great, irregular letters, these words upon the wall:
"Now I will not wed the King of Denmark!--now I shall never marry!"
then fell back on her pillow with a hollow laugh, which deformed her
swollen and convulsed features in a frightful manner.
The king sank on a chair near the bed, and, clasping his hands over
his face, he abandoned himself to despair. He saw, he comprehended
all! He knew that she had intentionally disfigured herself; that she
had offered up her beauty to her love! For this reason she had so
piteously pleaded with him!--for this reason had she clamored for
pity!--pity for her youth, her future, her life's happiness! Love
and faith she had offered up! Greater, braver than Juliet, she had
not given herself up to death, but to deformity! She had destroyed
her body, in order to treasure love and constancy in her heart for
her beloved! All this the king knew, and a profound and boundless
sorrow for this young woman, so strong in her love, came over him.
He bowed his head and wept bitterly. [Footnote: La partie de
l'histoire de la Princesse Amelie qui a ete la moins connue. et sur
laquelle le public a flotte entre des opinions plus diverses et
moins admissibles, c'est la cause de sea infirmites. Heureusement
constituee sans etre grande, elle n'aurait pas du savoir a les
craindre, meme dans un age tres-avance; et elle en a ete atteinte
bien avant lage, qui pout les faire craindre. Encore, ne les a-t-
elle pas eucs partiellement, elle en a ete spoutanement accablee. Il
n'est pas douteux qu'elle ne les ait cherchees. J'en donnerai pour
preuve un fait qui est certain. A une epoque ou elle avait les yeux
inflammes en tenant ce liquide aux moins a sept ou huit pouces de
distance; et lui recommenda bien de ne pas l'approeher davantage;
et, cependant des qu'elle eut cette composition, elle s'empressa de
s'en frotter les yeux, ce qui produisit un si funeste effet, qu'elle
courut le plus grand danger de devenir aveugle; et que depuis elle a
toujours do les yeux a moitic sortis de leurs orbites, et aussi
hideux qu'ils avaient ete beaux jusque la. Frederic, a qui on n'osa
pas dire combien la princesse avait de part a cette accident, n'a
jamais eu depuis qu'une aversion tres-marquee et un vrai mepris pour
M. Meckel, que la princesse fut obligee de quitter, et qui n'en
etait pas moins un des meilleurs medecina de Berlin, et un des plus
celebres anatomistes de l'Europe.
Une autre infirmite plus ctonnante, encore, o'est que cette
princesse perdit presque totalementc la voix; aussi de sa fautc a ce
qui l'on a pretendu il lui etait difficile de parlor, et tres-
penible aux autres de l'entendre. Sa voix n'etait plus qu'un son
vague, sourd et sepulcral, semblable a celui que forme une personne
qui fait effort pour dire comme a voix basse qu'elle etrangle.
Je ne parlerai pas de sa tete chaneelante et se soutenant a peine de
ses jambes, pour lesquelles son corps appauvri etait un poids si
lourd de ses bras; et de ses mains plus d'a moitie paralyse; mais
quels puissants motifs out pu amener cette belle et aimable
princesse a se faire elle-meme un sort si triste? Quelle philosophie
a pu lui donner assez de force pour le supporter, et ne pas s'en
plaindre? quelle energie tous cea faits ne prouvent-ils pas?--
Thiebault, ii., 287-289.]
The visit which the proud wife of the High-Chancellor Cocceji had
made to the still prouder dancer, had brought the trembling and
irresolute heart of Barbarina to a conclusion. This heart, which had
not been influenced by her own wishes or the eloquent prayers of her
young lover, was wounded by the insane pride of Madame Cocceji, and
forced to a final resolve. The visit was unfortunate, and its
results exactly the opposite of her hopes.
She had come to prove to Barbarina that she should not even dare to
think of becoming the wife of her son. By her wild passion and
abusive words she had so exasperated her, that she determined to do
that for revenge which she had firmly refused to love. In flashing
scorn she had sworn this to the proud wife of the high chancellor;
and her honor and her pride demanded the fulfilment of her oath.
And now a fierce contest commenced between them--carried on by both
parties with bitterness and energy. The high chancellor threatened
his son with his curse. He solemnly declared he would disinherit
him. Cocceji only loved the Barbarina the more glowingly; and, as
his mother spoke to him of the dancer, and uttered passionate and
abusive words, he replied respectfully but decisively that he would
not listen to such accusations against the woman who was to be his
wife, and must forbid them positively. Madame Cocceji was beside
herself with rage; by her prayers and persuasions, she induced her
husband to take refuge in the last and most violent resource that
remained--in the power of arrest which the king had granted him. He
resolved to confine his son in the castle of Mt. Landsberg, and thus
break the magical bands of Ariadne.
One day, the Councillor Cocceji did not appear in the halls of
justice, and no one knew what had become of him. The servants stated
that a carriage stopped at his dwelling in the middle of the night;
that General Haak with two soldiers entered Cocceji's room, and
remained with him some time. They had then all entered the general's
carriage, and driven away.
Cocceji had, however, found a secret opportunity to slip a piece of
paper into the servant's hand, and to whisper, "Quick, to the
The faithful servant obeyed this order. The paper contained only
these words: "I am arrested; make all necessary preparations; expect
me daily. As soon as I am free, our marriage will take place."
Barbarina made her preparations. She undertook frequently little
journeys, and sometimes remained away from Berlin several days. She
bought a costly and beautiful house, to prove to the wife of the
chancellor that she had no thought of leaving Berlin and returning
Some months went by. The king, who had yielded to the prayers of the
Coccejis, and allowed them to arrest their son, would not consent to
his longer confinement. He had no trial; had committed no offence
against the laws or the king; was guilty of no other crime than
wishing to marry the woman he loved.
So the young councillor was released from the castle of Landsberg.
He returned to Berlin; and his first visit was not to his parents,
but to Barbarina, who received him in her new house in Behren
A few hours later, a carriage stood before the door, which
Barbarina, accompanied by her sister and Cocceji, entered, and drove
rapidly away. No one knew where they went. Even the spies of the
Coccejis, who continually watched the house of the dancer, could
learn nothing from the servants who were left behind. A few days
after, they brought the intelligence that Barbarina had returned;
and the councillor dwelt with her in her new house; and the servants
were commanded to call the signora Madame Cocceji. as she was his
well-beloved and trusted wife.
The wife of the high chancellor laughed contemptuously at this
narrative, and declared it to be only a coup de theatre. Suddenly an
equipage drove to the door. Somewhat curious, Madame Cocceji stepped
to the window; she saw that the coachman and footmen were dressed in
liveries glittering with gold, and that the panels of the carriage
were ornamented with the Cocceji coat-of-arms.
The Signora Barbarina was to be seen at the window. Horrified, the
wife of the chancellor stepped back; a servant entered with a card,
which he handed her respectfully.
"I am not at home; I receive no visits!" cried she, after looking at
the card. The servant retired, and the carriage rolled away.
"Yes, it is true. She has triumphed!" groaned the countess, still
gazing at the card, which had these words: "Monsieur de Cocceji and
Madame de Cocceji, nee Barbarina."--"But she shall not succeed; the
Barbarina shall never be called my daughter; this marriage shall be
set aside, the ceremony was not lawful, it is contrary to the laws
of the land. Barbarina is a bourgeoise, and cannot wed a noble
without the express consent of the king. I will throw myself at the
feet of his majesty and implore him to annul this marriage!"
Frederick was much exasperated, and inclined to yield to the
entreaties of his high chancellor. A short time before, he had
commanded the Catholic clergy not to perform any marriage ceremony
without special permission and legitimation; and his anger was
aroused at their daring to disobey him, and in secrecy and silence
to marry Barbarina and Cocceji.
He commanded his cabinet minister Uhden to ascertain by what right
the dancer Barbarina dared to call herself Madame Cocceji, and, if
she could establish her claim, he wished to be informed what priest
had dared to bless the holy banns. He was resolved to punish him
The minister Uhden was a warm personal friend of the high
chancellor, and more than willing, therefore, to carry out sternly
the king's commands. The next day he ordered Barbarina to appear
before him, stating that he had the king's permission to pronounce
judgment upon her.
When Barbarina read this order, she was lost in painful silence, and
a profound melancholy was written upon her pale face.
"What will you do, sister?" said Marietta.
"I will go to the king!" replied Barbarina. rousing herself.
"But the king is at Potsdam."
"Well, then, I will go to Potsdam. Order my carriage; I must go in a
quarter of an hour."
"What shall I say to your husband when he returns home?"
Barbarina looked at her steadily. "Tell him that Madame Cocceji has
gone to Potsdam, to announce her marriage to the king, and ask him
to acknowledge it."
"Barbarina," whispered her sister, "hear me! Your husband is
troubled and sorrowful; he has confided in me. He says he fears you
did not marry him from love, but for revenge, and that you love him
"I am resolved to love him! I will learn how," said she, sadly. "I
have a strong will, and my heart shall obey me!"
She smiled, but her lovely face was overcast with grief, and
Marietta's eyes were filled with tears.
Frederick was alone in his study in the castle of Potsdam; he was
busily engaged in writing. The door was lightly opened, and the
Marquis d'Argens looked in. When he saw that the king had heard
nothing, he beckoned to a lady who stood behind him to draw near.
She entered the room silently and noiselessly; the marquis bowed to
her, and, smiling kindly, he stepped back and closed the door.
The lady, who up to this time had closely concealed her features,
now threw back her veil, and exposed the pale but lovely countenance
and flashing eyes of Barbarina. She gazed at the king with a mingled
expression of happiness and pain.
The king still heard nothing. Suddenly he was aroused by a low sigh;
it seemed to him that a soft, sweet, long-silent voice whispered his
name. He rose hastily and turned; Barbarina was kneeling at the
door; it was that door before which, five years ago, she had kneeled
bathed in tears and wild with despair. She was now, as then, upon
her knees, weeping bitterly, and raising her hands importunately to
the king, pleading for grace and pity.
Frederick was at first pallid from surprise, and a frown was on his
brow; but, as he looked upon her, and saw once more those great,
dark, unfathomable eyes, a painful but sweet emotion overcame him;
the cloud was lifted up, his countenance was illuminated and his
eyes were soft and misty.
With a kindly smile he drew near to Barbarina. "Rise," said he, and
the tones of his voice made her heart beat wildly, and brought fresh
tears to her eyes. "You come strangely and unexpectedly, Barbarina,
but you come with a beautiful retinue, with a crowd of sweet, fond
remembrances--and I--of whom men say, 'He has no religion'--have at
least the religion of memory. I cannot be angry with you, Barbarina;
rise, and tell me why you are here."
He bowed, and took her by the hands and raised her; and now, as she
stood near him, lovely as ever, her great eyes glowing with warmth
and passion, intoxicating the senses with her odorous beauty, the
king felt anguish in his heart which he had no words to express.
They stood silently, side by side, their eyes fixed upon each other,
Frederick holding Barbarina's hand in his; they seemed to be
whispering mysterious fairy tales to each other's hearts.
"I see you, surrounded by smiling, sacred genii," at last, said
Frederick. "These are the genii of the rosy hours which have been.
Ah, Barbarina, thus attended, your face seems to me as the face of
an angel. Why were you not an angel, Barbarina? Why were you only a
woman--a passionate woman, who, not satisfied with loving and being
loved, wished also to govern; who was not content to be worshipped
by the man, but wished to subject the king, whom you thus forced to
forget his humanity, to trample upon and torture his own heart in
order to remain king? Oh, Barbarina, why were you this proud,
exacting woman, rather than the angel which you now truly are?"
She raised her hands, as if imploring him to be silent. "I
understand all that now, I have thought of it, night and day; I know
and I confess that you acted right, sire. And now I am no longer an
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