Berlin and Sans-Souci
Part 8 out of 11
with such masterly skill as now in this hour of anguish. The pain,
the love, the doubt, the longing which swelled his heart, found
utterance in this mournful adagio. Greatly moved, the three friends
listened breathlessly to this wondrous development of genius. The
king completed the music with a note of profound suffering.
Algarotti bowed to Rothenberg. "Friend," said he, "that was the last
song of the dying swan."
"God grant that it was the last song of love, not the death-song of
the king's heart! When a man tears love forcibly from his heart, I
am sure he tears away also a piece of the heart in which it was
"Can we not think of something to console him? Let us go in the
morning to Barbarina; perhaps we may learn from her what has
"Think you we can do nothing more to-day to withdraw the king from
his painful solitude?"
"I think the king is a warrior and a hero, and will be able to
While the king, in solitude, strengthened only by his genius,
struggled with his love, Barbarina, with all the passion of her
stormy nature, endured inexpressible torture. She was not alone--her
sister was with her, mingled her tears with hers, and whispered
sweet words of hope.
"The king will return to you; your beauty holds him captive with
invisible but magic bonds. Your grace and fascinations will live in
his memory, will smile upon him, and lure him back humble and
conquered to your feet."
Barbarina shook her head sadly. "I have lost him. The eagle has
burst the weak bonds with which I had bound his wings; now he is
free, he will again unfold them, and rise up conquering and to
conquer in the blue vaults of heaven. In the rapturous enjoyment of
liberty he will forget how happy he was in captivity. No, no; I have
lost him forever!"
She clasped her hands over her face, and wept bitterly. Then, as if
roused to extremity by some agonizing thought, she sprang from her
seat; her eyes were flashing, her cheeks crimson.
"Oh, to think that he abandoned me; that I was true to him; that a
man lives who deserted Barbarina! That is a shame, a humiliation, of
which I will die--yes, surely die!"
"But this man was, at least, a king," said her sister, in hesitating
Barbarina shook her head fiercely, and her rich black hair fell
about her face in wild disorder.
"What is it to me that he is a king? His sceptre is not so powerful
as that of Barbarina. My realm extends over the universe, wherever
men have eyes to see and hearts to feel emotion. That this man is a
king does not lessen my shame, or make my degradation less bitter.
Barbarina is deserted, forsaken, spurned, and yet lives. She is not
crushed and ground to death by this dishonor. But, as I live, I will
take vengeance, vengeance for this monstrous wrong--this murder of
So, in the midst of wild prayers, and tears, and oaths of vengeance,
the day declined; long after, Barbarina yielded to the tender
entreaties of Marietta, and stretched herself upon her couch. She
buried her head in the pillows, and during the weary hours of the
night she wept bitterly.
With pale cheeks and weary eyes she rose on the following morning.
She was still profoundly sad, but no longer hopeless. Her vanity,
her rare beauty, in whose magic power she still believed, whispered
golden words of comfort, of encouragement; she was now convinced
that the king could not give her up. "He spurned me yesterday, to-
day he will implore me to forgive him." She was not surprised when
her servant announced Duke Algarotti and General Rothenberg.
"Look you," said she, turning to her sister, "you see my heart
judged rightly. The king sends his two most confidential friends to
conduct me to him. Oh, my God, grant that this poor heart, which has
borne such agony, may not now break from excess of happiness! I
shall see him again, and his beautiful, loving eyes will melt out of
my heart even the remembrance of the terrible glance with which he
looked upon me yesterday. Farewell, sister; farewell--I go to the
"But not so; not in this negligee; not with this hair in wild
disorder," said Marietta, holding her back.
"Yes, even as I am," said Barbarina. "For his sake I have torn my
hair; for his sake my eyes are red; my sad, pale face speaks
eloquently of my despair, and will awaken his repentance."
Proudly, triumphantly she entered the saloon, and returned the
profound salutation of the two gentlemen with a slight bow.
"You bring me a message from his majesty?" said she, hastily.
"The king commissioned us to inquire after your health, signora,"
Barbarina smiled significantly. "He sent you to watch me closely,"
thought she; "he would ascertain if I am ready to pardon, ready to
return to him. I will meet them frankly, honestly, and make their
duty light.--Say to his majesty that I have passed the night in
sighs and tears, that my heart is full of repentance. I grieve for
The gentlemen exchanged a meaning glance; they already knew what
they came to learn. Barbarina had had a contest with the king, and
he had separated from her in scorn. Therefore was the proud
Barbarina so humble, so repentant.
Barbarina looked at them expectantly; she was convinced they would
now ask, in the name of the king, to be allowed to conduct her to
the castle. But they said nothing to that effect.
"Repentance must be a very poisonous worm," said General Rothenberg,
looking steadily upon the face of Barbarina; "it has changed the
blooming rose of yesterday into a fair, white blossom."
"That is perhaps fortunate," said Algarotti. "It is well known that
the white rose has fewer thorns than the red, and from this time
onward, signora, there will be less danger of mortal wounds when
Barbarina trembled, and her eyes flashed angrily. "Do you mean to
intimate that my strength and power are broken, and that I can never
recover my realm? Do you mean that the Barbarina, whom the king so
shamefully deserted, so cruelly humiliated, is a frail butterfly?
That the purple hue of beauty has been brushed from my wings? that I
can no longer charm and ravish the beholder because a rough hand has
"I mean to say, signora, that it will be a happiness to the king, if
the sad experience of the last few days should make you milder and
gentler of mood," said Algarotti.
Rothenberg and himself had gone to Barbarina to find out, if
possible, the whole truth. They wished to deceive her--to lead her
to believe that the king had fully confided in them.
"The king was suffering severely yesterday from the wounds which the
sharp thorns of the red rose had inflicted," said Rothenberg.
"And did he not cruelly revenge himself?" cried Barbarina. "He left
me for long hours kneeling at his door, wringing my hands, and
pleading for pity and pardon, and he showed no mercy. But that is
past, forgotten, forgiven. My wounds have bled and they have healed,
and now health and happiness will return to my poor martyred heart.
Say to my king that I am humble. I pray for happiness, not as my
right, but as a royal gift which, kneeling and with uplifted hands,
I will receive, oh, how gratefully! But no, no, you shall not tell
this to the king--I will confess all myself to his majesty. Come,
come, the king awaits us--let us hasten to him!"
"We were only commanded to inquire after the health of the signora,"
said Algarotti, coolly.
"And as you have assured us that you have passed the night in tears
and repentance, this confession may perhaps ameliorate his majesty's
sufferings," said Rothenberg.
Barbarina looked amazed from one to the other. Suddenly her cheeks
became crimson, and her eyes flashed with passion. "You did not come
to conduct me to the king?" said she, breathlessly.
"No, signora, the king did not give us this commission."
"Ah! he demands, then, that I shall come voluntarily? Well, then, I
will go uncalled. Lead me to his majesty!"
"That is a request which I regret I cannot fulfil. The king has
sternly commanded us to admit no one."
"No one, without exception, signora," said Algarotti, bowing
Barbarina pressed her lips together to restrain a cry of anguish.
She pressed her hands upon the table to sustain her sinking form.
"You have only come to say that the king will not receive me; that
to-day, as yesterday, his doors are closed against me. Well, then,
gentlemen, you have fulfilled your duty. Go and say to his majesty I
shall respect his wishes--go, sirs!"
Barbarina remained proudly erect, and replied to their greeting with
a derisive smile. With her hands pressed nervously on the table, she
looked after the two cavaliers as they left her saloon, with wide-
extended, tearless eyes. But when the door closed upon them, when
sure she could not be heard by them, she uttered so wild, so
piercing a cry of anguish, that Marietta rushed into the room.
Barbarina had sunk, as if struck by lightning, to the floor.
"I am dishonored, betrayed, spurned," cried she, madly. "O God! let
me not outlive this shame--send death to my relief!"
Soon, however, her cries of despair were changed to words of scorn
and bitterness. She no longer wished to die--she wished to revenge
herself. She rose from her knees, and paced the room hastily,
raging, flashing, filled with a burning thirst for vengeance,
resolved to cast a veil over her shame, and hide it, at least, from
the eyes of the world.
"Marietta, O Marietta!" cried she, breathlessly, "help me to find
the means quickly, by one blow to satisfy my vengeance!--a means
which will prove to the king that I am not, as be supposes, dying
from grief and despair; that I am still the Barbarina--the adored,
triumphant, all-conquering artiste--a means which will convince the
whole world that I am not deserted, scorned, but that I myself am
the inconstant one. Oh, where shall I find the means to rise
triumphantly from this humiliation? where--"
"Silence, silence, sister! some one is coming. Let no one witness
The servant entered and announced that Baron von Swartz, director of
the theatre, wished to know if the signora would appear in the
ballet of the evening.
"Say to him that I will dance with pleasure," said Barbarina.
When once more alone, Marietta entreated her to be quiet, and not
increase her agitation by appearing in public.
Barbarina interrupted her impatiently. "Do you not see that already
the rumor of my disgrace has reached the theatre? Do you not see the
malice of this question of Baron Swartz? They think the Barbarina is
so completely broken, crushed by the displeasure of the king, that
she can no longer dance. They have deceived themselves--I will dance
tonight. Perhaps I shall go mad; but I will first refute the
slander, and bring to naught the report of my disgrace with the
And now the servant entered and announced Monsieur Cocceji.
"You cannot possibly receive him," whispered Marietta. "Say that you
are studying your role, for the evening; say that you are occupied
with your toilet. Say what you will, only decline to receive him."
Barbarina looked thoughtful for a moment. "No," said she, musingly,
"I will not dismiss him. Conduct Cocceji to my boudoir, and say he
may expect me."
The moment the servant left them, Barbarina seized her sister's
hand. "I have prayed to God for means to revenge myself, and He has
heard my prayer. You know Cocceji loves me, and has long wooed me in
vain. Well, then, today he shall not plead in vain; to-day I will
promise him my love, but I will make my own conditions. Come,
Glowing and lovely from excitement, Barbarina entered the boudoir
where the young Councillor Cocceji, son of the minister, awaited
her. With an enchanting smile, she advanced to meet him, and fixing
her great burning eyes upon him, she said softly, "Are you not yet
cured of your love for me?"
The young man stepped back a moment pale and wounded, but Barbarina
stood before him in her wondrous beauty; a significant, enchanting
smile was on her lip, and in her eyes lay something so sweetly
encouraging, so bewildering, that he was reassured, he felt that it
was not her intention to mock at his passion.
"This love is a fatal malady of which I shall never be healed," he
said warmly; "a malady which resists all remedies."
"What if I return your love?" said she in soft, sweet tones.
Cocceji's countenance beamed with ecstasy; he was completely
overcome by this unlooked-for happiness.
"Barbarina, if I dream, if I am a somnambulist, do not awaken me!
If, in midsummer madness only, I have heard these blissful words, do
not undeceive me! Let me dream on, give my mad fancy full play; or
slay me if you will, but do not say that I mistake your meaning!"
"I shall not say that," she whispered, almost tenderly. "For a long
year you have sworn that you loved me."
"And you have had the cruelty to jest always at my passion."
"From this day I believe in your love, but you must give me a proof
of it. Will you do that?"
"I will, Barbarina!"
"Well, then, I demand no giant task, no herculean labor; there is no
rival whom you must murder! I demand only that you shall make your
love for me known to the whole world. Give eclat to this passion! I
demand that with head erect, and clear untroubled eye, you shall
give the world a proof of this love! I will not that this love you
declare to me so passionately shall be hidden under a veil of
mystery and silence. I demand that you have the courage to let the
sun in the heavens and the eyes of men look down into your heart and
read your secret, and that no quiver of the eyelids, no feeling of
confusion shall shadow your countenance. I will that to-morrow all
Berlin shall know and believe that the young Councillor Cocceji, the
son of the minister, the favorite of the king, loves the Barbarina
ardently, and that she returns his passion. Berlin must know that
this is no cold, northern, German, phlegmatic LIKING, which chills
the blood in the veins and freezes the heart, but a full, ardent,
glowing passion, animating every fibre of our being--an Italian
love, a love of sunshine, and of storm, and of tempest."
Barbarina was wholly irresistible; her bearing was proud, her eyes
sparkled, her face beamed with energy and enthusiasm. A less
passionate nature than that of Cocceji would have been kindled by
her ardor, would have been carried away by her energy.
The fiery young Cocceji threw himself at her feet. "Command me! my
name, my life, my hand, are yours; only love me, Barbarina, and I
will be proud to declare how much I love you; to say to the whole
world this is my bride, and I am honored and happy that she has
deigned to accept my hand!"
"Of this another time," said Barbarina, smiling; "first prove to the
world that you love me. This evening in the theatre give some public
evidence, give the Berliners something to talk about: then--then--"
said she, softly, "the rest will come in time."
THE DISTURBANCE IN THE THEATRE.
Duke Algarotti and General Rothenberg returned to the castle much
comforted by their interview with Barbarina.
"The Barbarina repents, and is ready to take the first step toward
reconciliation," said Rothenberg; "I see the end; I will go at once
and order my cook to prepare a splendid supper for the evening."
"Do not be hasty," said Algarotti, shaking his head; "you may give
your cook unnecessary trouble, and the rich feast might be cold
before the arrival of the king."
"Do you believe that?"
"I believe that for a summer cloud or an April shower the king would
not withdraw himself to solitude and silence. It is no passing mood,
but a life question which agitates him."
"The door has not been opened to-day; Fredersdorf has repeatedly
begged for admittance."
The two friends stood sad and irresolute in the anteroom, alarmed at
the seclusion and silence of the king. Suddenly the door leading
into the corridor was hastily opened, and a man of commanding and
elegant appearance stood upon the threshold; you saw at a glance
that he was a cavalier and a courtier, while his glowing cheek, his
clear, bright eyes, and jovial smile betrayed the man of pleasure
and the epicure. This remarkable man, in whom every one who looked
upon him felt confidence; whose face, in spite of the thousand
wrinkles which fifty years of an active, useful life had laid upon
it, still retained an innocent, amiable, and childlike expression--
this man was the Marquis d'Argens, the true, unchangeable, never-
faltering friend of the king. He had consecrated to him his heart,
his soul, his whole being; so great was his reverence for his royal
master, that the letters received from him were always read
standing. The marquis had just returned from Paris; he entered the
anteroom of the king with a gay and happy smile, impatient and eager
to see his beloved master. Without looking around, he hastened to
the door which led into the cabinet of the king. Rothenberg and
Algarotti drew near to him, and greeted him joyously, then told him
of the strange seclusion of the king. The countenance of the marquis
was troubled, and his eyes filled with tears.
"We must not allow this," he said decidedly; "I will kneel before
the door, and pray and plead till the noble heart of the king is
reached, and he will have pity with our anxiety. Go, Fredersdorf,
and announce me to his majesty."
"Sire," said Fredersdorf, knocking on the door, "sire, the Marquis
d'Argens is here and begs for admittance."
No answer was given.
"Oh, sire," said the marquis, "be merciful; have consideration for
my eagerness to see you after so long an absence; I have travelled
day and night in order to enjoy that happiness a few hours sooner. I
wish to warm and solace myself in the sunshine of your glance; be
gracious, and allow me to enter."
A breathless silence followed this earnest entreaty. At last the
door was shaken, a bolt was drawn back, and the king appeared on the
threshold. He was pale, but of that clear and transparent pallor
which has nothing in common with the sallow hue of physical
weakness; there was no trace of nervous excitement. Smiling, and
with calm dignity, he approached his friends.
"Welcome, marquis, most welcome! may joy and happiness crown your
return! No doubt you have much to relate to us of your wild and
impudent countrymen, and I see that Rothenberg and Algarotti are
burning with curiosity to hear an account of your love adventures
and rendezvous with your new-baked and glowing duchesses and
"Ah, your majesty, he approached me with the proud mien of a
conqueror," said Rothenberg, gladly entering into the jesting humor
of the king. "We are more than ready to believe in the triumphs of
the marquis at the court of Louis the Fifteenth."
"The marquis has done wisely if he has left his heart in Paris,"
said Algarotti. "Your majesty knows that he suffers greatly with
heart disease, and every girl whom he does not exactly know to be a
rogue, he believes to be an angel of innocence."
"You know," said Rothenberg, "that shortly before his journey, his
house-keeper stole his service of silver. The marquis promised to
give her the worth of the silver if she would discover the thief and
restore it. She brought it back immediately, and the marquis not
only paid her the promised sum, but gave her a handsome reward for
her adroitness in discovering the robber. As D'Argens triumphantly
related this affair to me, I dared to make the remark that the
housekeeper was herself the rogue, the good marquis was as much
exasperated with me as if I had dared to charge HIM with theft!
'Have more reverence for women,' said he to me, gravely; 'to
complain of, or accuse a woman, is a crime against God and Nature.
Women are virtuous and noble when not misled, and I cannot see who
could have tempted my good house-keeper; she is, therefore,
All laughed heartily, but D'Argens, who cast his eyes to the ground,
looking somewhat ashamed. But the king advanced, and laying both
hands upon the shoulders of the marquis, he looked into the kindly,
genial face with an expression of indescribable love and confidence.
"He has the heart of a child, the intellect of a sage, and the
imagination of a poet, by the grace of God," said the king. "If all
men were like him, this earth would be no vale of tears, but a
glorious paradise! It is a real happiness to me to have you here, my
dear D'Argens. You shall take the place of the Holy Father, and
bless and consecrate a small spot of earth for me. With your pure
lips you shall pray to the house gods for their blessing and
protection on my hearth, and beseech them to pour a little joy and
mirth into the cup of wormwood and gall which this poor life presses
to our lips. My palace of Weinberg, near Potsdam, is finished. I
will drive you there today--you alone, marquis! As for the others,
they are light-minded, audacious, suspicious children of men, and
they shall not so soon poison the air in my little paradise with
their levities. You alone, D'Argens, are worthy. You are pure as
those who lived before the fall. You have never tasted of the
ominous and death-giving apple. You will go with me, then, to
Weinberg, and when you have consecrated it, you shall relate to me
the chronique scandaleuse of the French court. Now, however, I must
work!--Fredersdorf, are my ministers here?"
"Sire, they have been an hour in the bureau."
"Who is in the anteroom?"
"Baron Swartz, with the repertoire of the week."
"Ah! Swartz," said the king, thoughtfully, "let him enter."
Fredersdorf hastened to summon the director, and the king
recommenced his careless conversation with his friends. As the baron
entered, the king stepped forward to meet him, and took a paper from
his hand. He read it with seeming indifference, but his lips were
compressed and his brow clouded.
"Who will dance the solo this evening in Re Pastore?" he said, at
"Signora Barbarina, your majesty."
"Ah! the Signora Barbarina," said the king, carelessly, "I thought I
heard that she was indisposed?"
Frederick's eyes were fixed searchingly upon his friends. He perhaps
suspected the truth, and thought it natural that, in the disquiet of
their hearts, they had sought an explanation of Barbarina.
"Sire," said Rothenberg, "Signora Barbarina has entirely recovered.
Algarotti and myself made her a visit this morning, and she
commissioned us, if your majesty should be gracious enough to ask
for her, to say that she was well and happy."
The king made no reply. He walked thoughtfully backward and forward,
then stood before D'Argens, and said, in a kindly tone: "You are so
great an enthusiast for the stage that it would he cruel to take you
to Weinberg this evening. We will go to the theatre and see
Barbarina dance, and to-morrow you shall consecrate my house; and
now, adieu, gentlemen I must work! You will be my guests at dinner,
and will accompany me to the theatre."
The king entered his study. "She defies me," said he lightly to
himself. "She will prove to me that she is indifferent. Well, so be
it; I will also show that I have recovered!"
The theatre was at last opened. A brilliant assembly filled the
first range of boxes, and the parquet. The second tier and the
parterre were occupied by the burghers, merchants, and their wives
and daughters, who were waiting with joyful impatience for the
commencement of the performance. The brilliant court circle,
however, was absorbed by other interests. A murmur had spread abroad
that "the Barbarina had fallen into disgrace and lost forever the
favor of the king." The wild despair of the beautiful dancer was
spoken of, and there were some who declared that she had made an
attempt to take her life. Others asserted that she had sworn never
again to appear on the Berlin stage, and that she would assuredly
feign illness in order not to dance. All were looking anxiously for
the rising of the curtain, and toward the side door through which
the king and his suite were accustomed to enter.
At last the door opened; the drums and trumpets sounded merrily; the
king entered, and walked with calm composure to his chair. The bell
rang, the curtain rolled up, and the ballet began.
There was at first a dance of shepherds, and shepherdesses, then an
interruption by fauns and satyrs, who intermingled in groups with
the first dancers and ranged themselves on the side of the stage,
waiting for the appearance of the shepherd queen. There was a
breathless pause--every eye but the king's was fixed upon the stage.
And now there was an outburst of admiration and enthusiasm. Yes,
there she was; rosy, glowing, perfumed, tender, enchanting, and
intoxicating, she floated onward in her robe of silver. Her magical
smile disclosed her small, pearly teeth and laughing dimples; her
great, mysterious black eyes understood the art of flattery and of
menace; in both they were irresistible. Noiselessly she floated
onward to the front of the stage. Now, with indescribable grace, she
bowed her body backward, and standing on tiptoe she raised her
rounded arms high over her head, and looked upward, with a sweet
smile, to a wreath of roses which she held.
"Wondrous, most wondrous!" cried suddenly a full, clear voice. It
was the young state councillor, Von Cocceji, who sat in the
proscenium box near the stage, and gazed with beaming eyes on
Barbarina turned toward him, and smiled sweetly. The king frowned,
and played rather fiercely with his snuff-box.
"Wondrous!" repeated Cocceji, and threw a threatening, scornful
glance upon a thin, wan young man who sat near him, and who dared,
in a small, weak voice to repeat the "wondrous" of the young
athlete. "I pray you, sir, to refrain from the expression of your
applause, or, if that is impossible, choose your own words, and not
mine to convey your approbation," said the six-footed giant,
Cocceji, to his pallid neighbor.
The latter looked with a sort of horror at the broad-shouldered,
muscular figure before him, and scarcely daring to breathe loudly,
he looked with wide-open, staring eyes at Barbarina, who was now
floating with enchanting grace upon the stage. The audience had
entirely forgotten the vague rumors of the day--thought no more of
the king. Their attention was wholly given to Barbarina and Cocceji,
whose eyes were ever fixed threateningly upon his shrinking
neighbor. Suddenly, just as Barbarina had completed one of her most
difficult tours and knelt before the lamps to receive the bravos of
the spectators, something flew from the loge of Cocceji, and fell
exactly at Barbarina's feet.
This offering was no wreath or bouquet of flowers, no costly gem,
but a man, a poor, panting, terrified man, who did not yet
comprehend how he came to make this rapid journey through the air,
nor why Cocceji with his giant hand had seized him and dashed him
upon the stage.
Confused and terrified, the poor bruised youth lay for some moments
motionless at the feet of Barbarina; then gathering himself up and
bowing profoundly to the king, who regarded him in fierce silence,
he said aloud: "Sire, I pray for pardon; I am not to blame; Cocceji
forbade me, in a proud, commanding tone, to look upon the Signora
Barbarina. As I did not choose to obey this arbitrary order, he
seized me without warning, and dashed me at the feet of the
signora." [Footnote: Machler's "History of Frederick the Great."]
The public, recovering from their astonishment, began to whisper,
laugh merrily, and gaze ironically at the young man, who stood
humble and wan near Barbarina; while Cocceji, turning his bold,
daring face to the audience, seemed to threaten every man who looked
upon him questioningly. The orchestra was silent. Barbarina stood
radiant in grace and beauty, and smiled bewitchingly upon Cocceji.
"Go on," said suddenly the clear, commanding voice of the king, as
he nodded to the poor youth, who disappeared behind the curtain. "Go
on," said the king again. The music commenced, and Barbarina,
raising her garland of roses, swam like an elf over the boards. The
audience thought not of her grace and beauty. They were wholly
occupied with this curious adventure; they had forgotten her
disgrace. They thought only of Cocceji's passionate love, and
declared he was jealous as a Turk. So Barbarina had gained her
Early the next morning a plain, simple equipage stood at the gate of
the new park in Potsdam. The king and the Marquis D'Argens entered
the carriage alone. Frederick refused all other attendance; even his
servants were forbidden to accompany him.
When the carriage stopped he opened the door himself, and springing
lightly out, offered his arm to his older and less agile friend. The
marquis blushed like a young girl, and wished to decline this
offered service of the king.
Frederick, however, insisted upon giving his assistance, and said,
smiling: "Forget, D'Argens, for this day, that I am a king; grant me
the pleasure of passing the time with you without ceremony, as
friend with friend. Come, marquis, enter my paradise, and I pray you
to encourage a solemn and prayerful mood."
"Do you know, sire, I have a feeling of oppression and exaltation
combined, such as the Grecians may have felt when they entered the
Delphian valley?" said D'Argens, as arm in arm with the king they
sauntered through the little shady side allee which the king had
expressly chosen in order to surprise the marquis with the
unexpected view of the beautiful height upon which the castle was
"Well, I believe that many oracles will go out from this height to
the world," said Frederick; "but they shall be less obscure, shall
bear no double meaning; shall not be partly false, shall contain
great shining truths. I also, dear D'Argens, feel inspired. I seem
to see floating before me through the trees a majestic, gigantic
form of air, with uplifted arm beckoning me to follow her. That is
the spirit of the world's history, marquis; she carries her golden
book on her arm; in her right hand, with which she beckons me, she
holds the diamond point with which she will engrave my name and this
consecrated spot upon her tables. Therefore, my holy father and
priest. I have brought you here to baptize my Weinberg. Come,
friend, that form of air beckons once more; she awaits the baptism
And now they passed from the little allee and entered the great
avenue; an expression of admiration burst from the lips of the
marquis; with flashing eyes he gazed around upon the magnificent and
enchanting scene. Here, just before them, was the grand basin of
marble, surrounded with groups of marble statues; farther off the
lofty terraces, adorned with enormous orange-trees, rustling their
glossy leaves and pearly blossoms in the morning breeze, greeting
their king with their intoxicating fragrance. Upon the top of these
superb terraces, between groups of marble forms and laughing
cascades, stood the little castle of Weinberg, beautiful in its
simplicity; upon its central cupola stood a golden crown, which
sparkled and glittered in the sunshine.
The king pointed to the crown. "Look," said he, "how it flashes in
the sun, and throws its shadow upon all beneath it: so is it, or may
it be, with my whole life! May my crown and my reign be glorious!"
The marquis pressed his hand tenderly. "They will be great and
glorious through all time," said he. "Your grand-children and your
great-grandchildren will speak of the lustre which played upon that
crown, and when they speak of Prussia's greatness they will say:
'When Frederick the Second lived, the earth was glad with light and
Arm in arm, and silently, they mounted the marble steps of the
terrace. Deep, holy silence surrounded them, the cascades prattled
softly. The tops of the tall trees which bordered the terrace bowed
and whispered lowly with the winds; here and there was heard the
melodious note of a bird. No noise of the mad world, no discord
interrupted this holy peace of nature. They seemed to have left the
world behind them, and with solemn awe to enter upon a new
Now they had reached the height; they turned and looked back upon
the beautiful panorama which lay at their feet. The luxurious
freshness, the artistic forms, the blue and graceful river winding
through the wooded heights and green valleys, formed an enchanting
"Is not this heavenly?" said Frederick, and his face glowed with
enjoyment. "Can we not rest here in peace, away from all the sorrows
and sufferings of this world?"
"This is, indeed, a paradise," cried the marquis. He spread out his
arms in ecstasy as if he would clasp the whole lovely picture to his
breast; then, turning his eyes to heaven, he exclaimed, "O God!
grant that my king may be happy in this consecrated spot!"
"HAPPY?" repeated Frederick, with a slight shrug. "Say CONTENT,
marquis. I believe that is the highest point any man attains upon
this earth. And now let us enter the house."
He took the arm of the marquis, and then stepped over the golden
sand to the large glass door which led to the round saloon. As
Frederick opened the door he fixed his great blue eyes steadily upon
"Pray! marquis, pray! we stand upon the threshold of a new
existence, which now opens her mysterious portals to us."
"Sire, my every thought is a prayer for you at this moment."
They entered the oblong saloon.
"This is the room which separates me from my friends," said the
king. "This side of the house I will dwell; that side is for the use
of my friends, above all others, dear marquis, for you. In this
saloon we will meet together, and here will be my symposium. Now I
will show you my own room, then the others."
In the reception-room, which was adorned with taste and splendor,
Frederick remained but a few moments; he scarcely allowed his
artistic friend a fleeting glance at the superb pictures which hung
upon the walls, and for the selection of which he had sent the
merchant, Gotzkowsky, several times to Italy; he gave him no time to
look upon the statues and vases of the Poniatowsken Gallery, for
which four hundred thousand thalers had been paid, but hurried him
"You must first see my work-room," said Frederick; "afterward we
will examine the rest."
He opened the door and conducted the marquis into the round library
which had no other adorning than that of books; they stood arrayed
in lofty cases around this temple of intellect, of art, and science,
and even the door through which they had entered, and which the king
had lightly pressed back, had now entirely disappeared behind the
books, with which it was cunningly covered on the inside.
"You see," said Frederick, "he who enters into this magic circle is
confined for life. He cannot get out, and I will have it so. With
this day begins a new existence for me, D'Argens. When I crossed the
threshold, the past fell from me like an over-ripe fruit."
Frederick's face was sad, his eye clouded; with a light sigh he laid
his hand upon the shoulder of the marquis and looked at him long and
"I wish to tell you a secret," said he at last. "I believe my heart
died yesterday, and I confess to you the death-struggle was hard.
Now it is past, but the place where my heart once beat is sore, and
bleeds yet from a thousand wounds. They will heal at last, and then
I shall be a hard and hardened man. We will speak no more of it."
"No, sire, we shall not say that you will ever be hardened," cried
D'Argens, deeply moved. "You dare not slander your heart and say
that it is dead. It beats, and will ever beat for your friends, for
the whole world, for all that is great, and glorious, and exalted."
"Only no longer for love," said the king; "that is a withered rose
which I have cast from me. The roses of love are not in harmony with
thrones or crowns; they grow too high and climb over, or their soft
rosy leaves are crushed. I owe it to my people to keep myself free
from all chains and make my reign glorious. I will never give them
occasion to say that I have been an idle and self-indulgent savant.
I dedicate to Prussia my strength and my life. But here, friend,
here in my cloister, which, like the Convent of the Carmelites,
shall never be desecrated by a woman's foot; here we will, from time
to time, forget all the pomps and glories of the world, and all its
vanities. Here, upon my Weinberg, I will not be a king, but a friend
and a philosopher."
"And a poet," said D'Argens, in loving tones. "I will now recall a
couplet to the poet-king, which he once repeated to me, when I was
"'Nous avons deux moments a vivre;
Qu'il en soit un pour le plaisir.'"
"Can you believe that we have not already exhausted this moment?"
said Frederick, with a sad smile. Then, after a short pause, his
face lightened and his eye glowed with its wonted fire; a gay
resolve was written in his countenance. "Well, let us try, marquis,
if you are right; let us seek to extend this moment as long as
possible, and when death comes--"
"Finissons sans trouble, et mourons sans regrets,
En laissant l'univers, comble de nos bienfaits.
Ainsi l'astre du jour au bout de sa carriere,
Repand sur l'horizon une douce lumiere,
Et les derniers rayons qu'il darde dans lea airs,
Sont ses derniers soupirs qu'il donne a l'univers."
The marquis listened with rapture to this improvised poem of the
king. When it was concluded, the fiery Provencal called out, in an
ecstasy of enthusiasm: "You are not a mere mortal, sire; you are a
king--a hero--yes, a demi-god!"
"I will show you something to disprove your flattering words," said
Frederick, smiling. "Look out, dear D'Argens; what do you see,
there, directly opposite to the window?"
"Does your majesty mean that beautiful statue in marble?"
"Yes, marquis. What do you suppose that to be?"
"That, sire? It is a reclining statue of Flora."
"No, D'Argens; THAT is my grave!"
"Your grave, sire?" said the marquis, shuddering; "and you have had
it placed exactly before the window of your favorite study?"
"Exactly there; that I may keep death always in REMEMBRANCE! Come,
marquis, we will draw nearer."
They left the house, and advanced to the Rondel, where the superb
statue of Flora was reclining.
"There, under this marble form, is the vault in which I shall lie
down to sleep," said Frederick. "I began my building at Weinberg
with this vault. But it is a profound secret; guard it well, also,
dear friend! The living have a holy horror of death; it is not well
to speak of graves or death lightly!"
D'Argen's eyes were filled with tears. "Oh, sire! may this marble
lie immovable, and the grave beneath it be a mystery for many long
The king shook his head lightly, and a heavenly peace was written on
his features. "Why do you wish that?" said he. Then pointing to the
grave, he said: "When I lie there--Je serais sans souci!" [Footnote:
Nicolai, "Anecdotes of King Frederick."]
"Sans souci!" repeated D'Argens, in low tones, deeply moved, and
staring at the vault.
The king took his hand smilingly. "Let us seek, even while we live,
to be sans souci, and as evidence that I will strive for this, this
house shall be called 'Sans-Souci!'"
It was a lovely summer day. The whole earth seemed to look up with a
smile of faith, love, and happiness into the clear, blue heavens,
whose mysterious depths give promise of a brighter and better
future. Sunshine and clouds were mirrored in the rapid river and
murmuring brook; the stately trees and odorous flowers bowed with
the gentle west wind, and gave a love-greeting to the glorious vault
Upon the terrace of Sans-Souci stood the king, and looked admiringly
upon the lovely panorama spread out at his feet. Nature and art
combined to make this spot a paradise. The king was alone at the
palace of Sans-Souci; for a few happy hours he had laid aside the
burden and pomp of royalty. He was now the scholar, the philosopher,
the sage, and the friend; in one word, he was what he loved to call
himself, the genial abbot of Sans-Souci.
At the foot of the romantic hill upon which his palace was built
Frederick laid aside the vain pomp and glory of the world, and with
them all its petty cares and griefs. With every step upon the
terrace his countenance lightened and his breath came more freely.
He had left the valley of tears and ascended the holy mountain.
Repose and purity were around him, and he felt nearer the God of
Sans-Souci, now glittering in the sunshine, seemed to greet and
cheer him. These two laconic but expressive words, sans souci,
smoothed the lines which the crown and its duties had laid upon his
brow, and made his heart, which was so cold and weary, beat with the
hopes and strength of youth.
He was himself again, the warrior, the sage, the loving ruler, the
just king, the philanthropist, the faithful, fond friend; the gay,
witty, sarcastic companion, who felt himself most at home, most
happy, in the society of scholars, artists, and writers.
Genius was for Frederick an all-sufficient diploma, and those who
possessed it were joyfully received at his court. If, from time to
time, he granted a coat-of-arms or a duke's diadem to those nobles,
"by the Grace of God," it was not so much to do them honor as to
exalt his courtiers by placing among them the great and intellectual
spirits of his time. He had made Algarotti and Chazot dukes, and
Bielfield a baron; he had sent to Voltaire the keys of the wardrobe,
in order that the chosen friend of the philosopher of Sans-Souci
might without a shock to etiquette be also the companion of the King
of Prussia in his more princely castles, and belong to the circle of
prince, and princess, and noble.
When Frederick entered Sans-Souci he laid aside all prejudices and
all considerations of rank. He wished to forget that he was king,
and desired his friends also to forget it, and to show him only that
consideration which is due to the man of genius and of letters. Some
of his friends had abused this privilege, and Frederick had been
forced to humiliate them. There were others who never forgot at
Sans-Souci the respect and reverence due to the royal house. Amongst
these was his ever-devoted, ever-uniform friend, the Marquis
d'Argens. He loved him, not because he was king, hut because he
believed him to be the greatest, best, most exalted of men. In the
midst of his brilliant court circle and all his earthly pomp,
D'Argens did not forget that Frederick was a man of letters, and his
dear friend; even so, while enjoying the hospitalities of Sans-
Souci, he remembered always that the genial scholar and gentleman
was a great and powerful king.
Frederick had the greatest confidence in D'Argens, and granted him
more privileges than any other of his friends. Frederick invited
many friends to visit him during the day, but the marquis was the
only guest whose bedchamber was arranged for him at Sans-Souci.
Four years have elapsed since D'Argens consecrated Weinberg--since
the day in which we closed our last chapter. We take advantage of
the liberty allowed to authors, and pass over these four years and
recommence our story in 1750, the year which historians are
accustomed to consider the most glorious and happy in the life of
Frederick the Second. We all know, alas! that earthly happiness
resembles the purple rose, which, even while rejoicing the heart
with her beauty and fragrance, wounds us with her thorns. We know
that the sunshine makes the flowers bloom in the gardens, on the
breezy mountains, and also on the graves; when we pluck and wear
these roses, who can decide if we are influenced by joy in the
present or sad remembrances of the past?
Frederick the Great appeared to be gay and happy, but these four
years had not passed away without leaving a mark upon his brow and a
shadow on his heart; his youthful smile had vanished, and the
expression of his lip was stern and resolved. He was now thirty-
eight years of age, and was still a handsome man, but the sunshine
of life had left him; his eyes could flash and threaten like Jove's,
but the soft and loving glance was quenched. Like Polycrates, King
Frederick, in order to propitiate fate, had sacrificed his idol. He
had thus lost his rarest jewel, had become poor in love. Perhaps his
crown rested more firmly upon his head, but his heart had received
an almost mortal wound; it had healed, but he was hardened!
Frederick thought not of the past four years, and their griefs and
losses, as he stood now upon the terrace of Sans-Souci, illuminated
by the evening sun, and gazed with ravished eyes upon the panorama
spread out before him.
"Beautiful, wondrous beautiful!" he said to himself. "I think
Voltaire will find that the sun is even as warm and cheering at
Sans-Souci as at Cirey, and that we can be gay and happy without the
presence of the divine Emilie, who enters one moment with her
children, and the next with her learned and abstruse books.
[Footnote: Voltaire lived for ten years in Cirey with his friend the
Marquise Emilie de Chatelet Samont, a very learned lady, to whom he
was much devoted. He had refused all Frederick's invitations because
he was unwilling to be separated from this lady. After twenty years
of marriage, in the year 1749, the countess gave birth to her first
child; two hours after the birth of her son, she seated herself at
her writing-table to write an essay on the Newtonian system; in
consequence of this she sickened and died in two days. After her
death, Voltaire accepted Frederick's invitation to Sans-Souci.] Ah!
I wish he were here; so long as I do not see him, I doubt if he will
At this moment the king saw the shadow of a manly figure thrown upon
the terrace, which the evening sun lengthened into a giant's
stature. He turned and greeted the Marquis d'Argens, who had just
entered, with a gracious smile.
"You are indeed kind, marquis," said Frederick; "you have returned
from Berlin so quickly, I think Love must have lent you a pair of
"Certainly, Love lent me his wings; the little god knew that your
majesty was the object of my greatest admiration, and that I wished
to fly to your feet and shake out from my horn of plenty the
novelties and news of the day."
"There is something new, then?" said the king. "I have done well in
sending you as an ambassador to the Goddess of Rumor; she has
graciously sent you back full-handed: let us see, now, in what your
"The first, and I am sorry to say the most welcome to your majesty,
is this--Voltaire has arrived in Berlin, and will be here to-morrow
The king's countenance was radiant with delight, but he was
considerate, and did not express his rapture.
"Dear marquis, you say that Voltaire has arrived. Do you indeed
D'Argens was silent and thoughtful for a moment; he raised his head,
and his eyes were obscured by tears.
"Yes," said he, "I am sorry! We greet the close of a lovely day, no
matter how glorious the declining sun may be, with something of fear
and regret; who can tell but that clouds and darkness may be round
about the morning? To-morrow a new day dawns and a new sun rises in
Sans-Souci. Sire, I grieve that this happy day is ended."
"Jealous!" said the king, folding his arms and walking backward and
forward upon the terrace. Suddenly he stood before D'Argens and laid
his hands upon his shoulders. "You are right," said he; "a new day
dawns, a new sun rises upon Sans-Souci, but I fear the sun's bright
face will be clouded and the day will end in storm. Voltaire is the
last ideal of my youth; God grant that I may not have to cast it
aside with my other vain illusions! God grant that the man Voltaire
may not cast down the genius Voltaire from the altar which, with
willing hands, I have erected for him in my heart of hearts. I fear
the cynic and the miser. I have a presentiment of evil! My altar
will fall to pieces, and its ruins will crush my own heart. Say what
you will, D'Argens, I have still a heart, though the world has
gnawed at and undermined it fearfully."
"Yes, sire, a great, noble, warm heart," cried D'Argens, deeply
moved, "full of love and poetry, of magnanimity and mercy!"
"You must not betray these weaknesses to Voltaire," said the king,
laughing; "he would mock at me, and I should suffer from his
poisonous satire, as I have done more than once. Voltaire is
miserly; that displeases me. Covetousness is a rust which will
obscure and at last destroy the finest metal! The miser loves
nothing but himself. I fear that Voltaire comes to me simply for the
salary I have promised him, and the four thousand thalers I have
sent him for his journey!"
"In this, sire, you do both yourself and Voltaire injustice.
Voltaire is genial enough to look, not upon your crown, but upon the
clear brow which it shades. He admires and seeks you, not because
you are a king, but because you are a great spirit, a hero, an
author, a scholar, and a philosopher, and, best of all, a good and
"What a simple-minded child yon are, marquis!" said Frederick, with
a sad smile; "you believe even yet in the unselfish attachments of
men. Truly, you have a right to this rare faith; you, at least, are
capable of such an affection. I am vain enough to believe that you
are unselfishly devoted to me."
"God be thanked for this word!" said D'Argens, with a glowing
countenance. "And now let Voltaire and the seven wise men, and
Father Abraham himself come; your Isaac fears none of them; my king
has faith in me!"
"Yes," said Frederick, "I believe in you; an evil and bitter thing
will it be, if the day shall ever come when I shall doubt you; from
that time onward I will trust no man. I tell you, D'Argens, your
kindly face and your love are necessary to me; I will use them as a
shield to protect myself against the darts and wiles of the false
world. You must never leave me; I need your calm, kind eye, your
happy smile, your childish simplicity, and your wise experience; I
need a Pylades, I well believe that something of Orestes is hidden
in my nature. And now, my Pylades, swear to me, swear to me that you
will never leave me; that from this hour you will have no other
fatherland than Prussia, no other home than Potsdam and Sans-Souci."
"Ah, your majesty asks too much. I cannot adjure my fatherland, I
cannot relinquish my Provence. I am the Switzer, with his song of
home; when he hears it in his own land, his heart bounds with joy;
when he hears it in a strange land, his eyes fill with sorrowful
tears. So it is with the 'beau soleil de ma Provence,' the
remembrance of it warms my heart; I think that if I were a weak old
man, the sight of my beautiful sunny home would make me young and
strong. Your majesty will not ask me to abandon my land forever?"
"You love the sun of Provence, then, more than you do me," said
Frederick, with a slight frown.
"Your majesty cannot justly say that, when I have turned my back
upon it, and shouted for joy when the sun of the north has cast its
rays upon me. Sire, let me pass my life under the glorious northern
sun, but grant that I may die in my own land."
"You are incomprehensible, D'Argens; how can you know when you are
about to die, and when it will be time to return to your beautiful
"It has been prophesied that I shall live to be very old, and I
believe in prophecy."
"What do you call old, marquis? Zacharias was eighty years of ago
when his youthful wife of seventy gave birth to her first child."
"God guard me from such an over-ripe youth and such a youthful wife,
sire! I shall be content if my heart remains young till my
seventieth year, and has strength to love my king and rejoice in his
fame; then, sire, I shall be aged and cold, and then it will be time
for the sun of Provence to shine upon me and iny grave. When I am
seventy years of age, your majesty must allow your faithful servant
to remember that France is his home, and to seek his grave even
where his cradle stood."
"Seventy, marquis! and how old are you now?"
"Sire, I am still young--forty-six years of age. You see I have only
sought a plea to remain half an eternity at the feet of your
"You are forty-six, and you are willing to remain twenty-four years
at my side. I will then be sixty-six; that is to say, I will be hard
of heart and cold of purpose. I will despise mankind, and have no
illusions. Marquis, I believe when that time comes, I can give you
up. Let it be so!--you remain with me till you are seventy. Give
your word of honor to this, marquis."
"Rather will your majesty be gracious enough to promise not to
dismiss me before that time?"
"I promise you, and I must have your oath in return."
"Sire, I swear! On that day in which I enter my seventieth year, I
will send you my certificate of baptism, which you will also look
upon as my funeral notice. You will say sadly, 'The Marquis d'Argens
is dead,' and I--I will go to ma belle Provence, and seek my grave."
[Footnote: Thiebault, vol. i., p. 360.]
"But before this time you will become very religious, a devotee,
will you not?"
"Yes, sire; that is, I shall devoutly acknowledge all your goodness
to me. I shall be the most religious worshipper of all that your
majesty has done for the good of mankind, for the advancement of
true knowledge, and the glory of your great name."
"So far, so good; but there is in this world another kind of
religion, in the exercise of which you have as yet shown but little
zeal. Will you at last assume this mask, and contradict the
principles which you have striven to maintain during your whole
life? Will you, at the approach of death, go through with those
ceremonies and observances which religion commands?"
The marquis did not reply immediately. His eye turned to the
beautiful prospect lying at his feet, upon which the last purple
rays of the evening sun were now lingering.
"This is God, sire!" said he, enthusiastically; "this is truly God!
Why are men not content to worship Him in nature, to find Him where
He most assuredly is? Why do they seek Him in houses made with
"And in wafers made of meal and water?" said Frederick, interrupting
him; "and now tell me, marquis, will you also one day seek Him
"Yes, sire," said D'Argens, after a short pause, "I will do thus
from friendship to my brothers, and interest for my family."
"That is to say, you will be unfaithful to the interests of
philosophy and truth?"
"It will appear so, sire; but no man of intellect and thought will
be duped by this seeming inconsistency. If the part which I play
seem unworthy, I may be excused in view of my motive--at all events,
I do not think it wrong. The folly of mankind has left me but one
alternative--to be a hypocrite, or to prepare bitter grief for my
relations, who love me tenderly. 'Out of love,' then, for my family,
I will die a hypocrite. [Footnote: The marquis returned to Provence,
in his seventieth year, and died there. The journals hastened to
make known that he died a Christian, recanting his atheistical
philosophy. The king wrote to the widow of the marquis for
intelligence on this subject. She replied that her husband had
received the last sacraments, but only after he was in the arms of
death, and could neither see nor hear, and she herself had left the
room. The marquise added: "Ah, sire, what a land is this! I have
been assured that the greatest service I could render to my husband
would be to burn all his writings, to give all his pictures to the
flames; that the more we burn on earth of that which is sinful or
leads to sin, the less we shall burn in hell!"--Oeuvres Posthumes,
vol. xii., p. 316.] But, sire, why should we speak of death? why
disquiet the laughing spirits of the Greeks and Romans, who now
inhabit this their newest temple by discoursing of graves and
"You are right, marquis--away with the ghastly spectre! This present
life belongs to us, and a happy life it shall be. We will sit at the
feet of Voltaire, and learn how to banish the sorrows of life by wit
and mocking laughter. With the imagination and enthusiasm of poets,
we will conceive this world to be a paradise. And now tell me what
other news you have brought back with you from Berlin."
"Well, sire, Voltaire is not the only star who has risen in Berlin.
There are other comets which from time to time lighten the heavens,
and then disappear for a season to reappear and bring strife and war
upon the earth."
Frederick looked searchingly upon the marquis. "You speak in
riddles--what comet has returned?"
"Sire, I know not what to call it. She herself claims a name, her
right to which is disputed by the whole world, though she swears by
"She? it is, then, a woman of whom you speak?"
"Yes, sire; a woman whom for years we worshipped as a goddess, or at
least as an enchanting fairy--Barbarina has returned to Berlin."
"Returned?" said the king, indifferently; but he walked away
thoughtfully to the end of the terrace, and gazed upon the lovely
landscape which, in its quiet beauty, brought peace to his heart,
and gave him the power of self-control.
The marquis stood apart, and looked with kindly interest upon his
noble face, now lighted by the glad golden rays of the sinking sun.
Among the trees arose one of those fierce, sighing winds, which
often accompany the declining sun, and seem the last struggling
groans of the dying day. This melancholy sound broke the peaceful
stillness around the castle, and drowned the babbling of the brooks
and cascades. As the wild wind rustled madly through the trees, it
tore from their green boughs the first faded, yellow leaves which
had lain concealed, like the first white hairs on the temples of a
beautiful woman, and drove them here and there in wanton sport. One
o these withered leaves fell at the feet of the king. He took it up
and gazed at it. Pensively he drew near the marquis.
"Look you, friend," said he, holding up the fallen leaf toward the
marquis; "look you, this is to me the Barbarina--a faded remembrance
of the happy past, and nothing more. Homer was right when he likened
the hearts of men to the yellow leaves tossed and driven by the
winds. Even such a leaf is Barbarina; I raise it and lay it in my
herbarium with other mementoes, and rejoice that the dust and ashes
of life have fallen upon it, and taken from it form and color. And
now that you know this, D'Argens, tell me frankly why the signora
has returned. Does she come alone, or with her husband, Lord Stuart
"She has returned with her sister, and Lord Stuart is not her
husband. It is said that when Barbarina arrived in England, she
found him just married to a rich Scotch lady."
The king laughed heartily. "And yet men expect us to listen gravely
when they rave of the eternity of their love," said he. "This little
sentimental lord called heaven and earth to witness the might of his
love for Barbarina. Was he not almost a madman when I seized his
jewel, and tore her away from Venice? Did he not declare that he
would consider me answerable for his life and reason, if I did not
release my prima donna? He wished her to enter, with an artistic
pirouette, his lofty castle, and place herself, as Lady Stuart
McKenzie, amongst his ever-worthy, ever-virtuous, ever-renowned
ancestors. And now, Barbarina can stand as godmother by his first
"Or he perform that holy office for Barbarina. It is said that she
is also married."
"To the state councillor, Cocceji."
"Folly! how can that be? She has been in England, and he has not
left Berlin. But her return will bring us vexation and strife, and I
see already the whole dead race of the Coccejis raising up their
skeleton arms from their graves to threaten the bold dancer, who
dares to call herself their daughter. I prophesy that young Cocceji
will become even as cool and as reasonable as Lord Stuart McKenzie
has become. Give a man time to let the fire burn out--all depends
upon that. This favor his family may well demand of me, and I must
grant it. But now let us enter the house, marquis, the sun has
disappeared, and I am chilled. I know not whether the news you
bring, or the evening air, has affected me. Let us walk backward and
forward once or twice, and then we will go to the library, and you
will assist me in the last verse of a poem I am composing to greet
Voltaire. Do not frown, marquis, let me sing his welcome; who knows
but I may also rejoice in his departure? My heart is glad at his
coming, and yet I fear it. We must not scrutinize the sun too
closely, or we will find spots upon his glorious face. Perhaps
Voltaire and myself resemble each other too much to live in peace
and harmony together. I think wo are only drawn permanently to our
opposites. Believe me, D'Argens, I shall not be able to live twenty-
four years happily with Voltaire, as I shall surely do with you.
Twenty-four years! do not forget that you are mine for twenty-four
"Sire, as long as I live I am yours. You have not bought me with
gold, but by the power of a noble soul. So long as I live, my heart
belongs to you, even when, at seventy, I fly to seek my grave in
belle Provence. But, my king, I have yet another favor to ask of
"Speak, marquis, but do not be so cruel as to ask that which I
"If it shall please Providence to call me away before I have
attained my seventieth year, if I die in Berlin, will your majesty
grant me the grace not to be buried in one of those dark, damp,
dreary churchyards, where skull lies close by skull, and at the
resurrection every one will be in danger of seizing upon the bones
which do not belong to him, and appearing as a thief at the last
judgment? I pray you, let me remain even in death an individual, and
not be utterly lost in the great crowd. If I die here, grant that I
may be buried where, when living, I have been most happy. Allow me,
after a long and active day, to pass the night of immortality in the
garden of Sans-Souci."
"It shall be so," said the king, much moved. "There, under the
statue of Flora, is my grave--where shall be yours? Choose for
"If I dare choose, sire, let it be there under that beautiful vase
Frederick gave a smiling assent, and taking the arm of the marquis,
he said, "Come, we will go to the vase, and I will lay my hand upon
it and consecrate it to you."
Silently they passed the statue of Flora, which Frederick greeted
gayly, and the marquis with profound reverence then mounted two
small steps and stood upon the green circle. The king paused and
looked down thoughtfully upon a gravestone which his feet almost
"Be pious and prayerful on this spot," said he; "we stand by the
grave of my most faithful friend, who is enjoying before us the
happiness of everlasting sleep. Here lies Biche! Hat off, marquis!
She loved me, and was faithful unto death. Who knows if I, under my
statue of Flora, and you, under your vase, will merit the praise
which I, with my whole soul, award to my Biche! She was good and
faithful to the end." [Footnote: Nicolai, "Anecdoten."--Heft, p.
VOLTAIRE AND HIS ROYAL FRIEND.
The king had withdrawn to his library earlier than usual; he had
attended a cabinet council, worked for an hour with his minister of
state, and, after fulfilling these public duties, withdrawn gladly
to his books, hoping to consume the time which crept along with
The king expected Voltaire; he knew he had arrived at Potsdam, where
he would rest and refresh himself for a few hours, and then proceed
at once to Sans-Souci.
Frederick regarded this first meeting with Voltaire, after long
years of separation, with more of anxiety than of joyful impatience.
Voltaire's arrival and residence at Sans-Souci had been the warm
desire of Frederick's heart for many years, and yet, as the time for
its fulfilment drew near, the king almost trembled. What did this
mean? How was it that this friendship, which for sixteen years had
been so publicly avowed, and so zealously confirmed by private oaths
and protestations, seemed now wavering and uncertain?
About now to reach the goal so ardently striven for, the king felt
that he was not pleased. A cold blast seemed to sweep over him, and
fill him with sad presentiments.
Frederick was filled with wonder and admiration for the genius of
the great French writer, but he knew that, as a man, Voltaire was
unworthy of his friendship. He justly feared that the realities of
life and daily intercourse would fall like a cold dew upon this rare
blossom of friendship between a king and a poet; this tender plant
which, during so many years of separation, they had nourished and
kept warm by glowing assurances and fiery declarations, must now be
removed from the hot-house of imagination, where it had been excited
to false growth by the eloquence of letters, and transplanted into a
world of truth and soberness.
This friendship had no real foundation; it floated like a variegated
phantom in the air, a fata morgana, whose glittering temple halls
and pillars would soon melt away like the early cloud and the
morning dew. In these "cloud-capped towers and gorgeous palaces,"
the two great freethinkers and genial philosophers of their century
intended to cultivate and enjoy their friendship. In these temples
of air they wished to embrace each other, but the two-edged sword of
mistrust and suspicion already flashed between them, and both felt
inclined to draw back.
Both doubted the sincerity of this friendship, and the less they
believed in it the more eloquently they declaimed as to its ardor
and eternity. Each one thought to himself, "I will enjoy and profit
by the fruit of this friendship, I will yield up the blossoms only."
The blossoms, alas! were artificial, without odor and already
fading, though at the first glance they looked fresh and promising.
Once, in the youthful ardor of his enthusiasm for genius, Frederick
had forgotten himself so far as to kiss the hand of Voltaire.
[Footnote: Thiebault.] The proud and ambitious poet had boasted
loudly of this act of devotion; for this Frederick had never
forgiven him; he should have guarded it as a holy and dangerous
secret in the innermost shrine of his heart. Voltaire was angry with
the king because he had lately addressed some verses to the young
poet D'Arnaud, in which he was represented as the rising and
Voltaire as the setting sun. [Footnote: Oeuvres posthumes.] And yet
they believed they loved each other, and were about to put their
love to the severe test of uninterrupted intercourse.
The king awaited Voltaire with impatience, and now he heard the
rolling of carriage-wheels, then the opening of doors, then the
sound of voices. In the first impulse of joy he sprang from his seat
and advanced eagerly to meet Voltaire, but reaching the threshold of
the door ho stood still and considered. "No," said he, "I will not
go to meet him--he would mock at me, perhaps boast of it." He turned
back to Iris chair, and took up the book he had been reading. And
now some one tapped gently upon the door, a servant appeared and
announced "Monsieur Voltaire," and now a figure stood upon the door-
This man, with a small, contracted chest, with a back bowed down by
old age or infirmities; this man, with the wonderous countenance, of
which no one could decide if it was the face of a satyr or a demi-
god; whose eyes flashed with heavenly inspiration at one moment, and
in the next glowed with demoniac fire; whose lips were distorted by
the most frightful grimaces or relaxed into the most enchanting
smiles--this man is Voltaire.
As Frederick's glance met those burning eyes, he forgot all else,
his royalty, his dignity, even Voltaire's baseness and vanity; he
was to him the spirit of the age, the genius of the world, and he
hastened to meet him, opened his arms wide, and pressed him tenderly
to his heart. "Welcome, welcome, my lord and master," said the king;
"I receive you, as becomes a pupil, in my school-room, surrounded by
my books, whose mysterious lessons of wisdom, you, my teacher, will
"On the contrary, sire," said Voltaire, with a soft voice and a most
enchanting smile--"on the contrary, you receive me with all the pomp
of royalty seated upon a throne, which is not yours by inheritance,
but which you have conquered; upon the throne of knowledge and
learning, crowned with the laurels which the gods consecrate to
heroes and poets. Alas! my eyes are dazzled by the lustre which
surrounds me. I bow in humility before this lordly head adorned by
two royal crowns and reigning over two mighty kingdoms. Receive me,
sire, as an ambassador from the realm of poets, whose crown you wear
with so much grace and dignity."
Frederick smiled kindly. "Let me be only a burgher and your comrade
in arms in the republic of letters," said he. "I hold republics
generally as impossibilities, but I believe in a republic of
letters, and I have a right republican heart, striving after
liberty, equality, and brotherly love. Remember this, friend, and
let us forget at Sans-Souci that your comrade is sometimes the first
servant of a kingdom. And now, tell me how you have borne the
fatigues of the journey, and if you have been received at every
station with the marked attention I had commanded."
"Yes, sire, everywhere in Prussia I have felt myself almost
oppressed, humbled, by your greatness. How great, how mighty, how
powerful, must your majesty be, when I am so distinguished, so
honored, simply because I enjoy your favor! This honor and this
pleasure alone have given me strength for my journey. My friends in
Paris thought it absurd and ridiculous for me, in my miserable
condition, to attempt so fatiguing a journey. But, sire, I was not
willing to die before I had once more sat at the feet of this great
and yet simple man, this exalted yet genial philosopher. I wished to
revive and quicken my sick heart at this fountain of wit and wisdom.
I come, therefore, not as Voltaire, but as the tragic Scarron of
your century, and throughout my whole journey I have called myself
the 'Invalid of the King of Prussia.'" [Footnote: Oeuvres Completes
de Voltaire. Oeuvres Posthumes.]
Frederick laughed heartily. "The Marshal of Saxony and yourself are
in the same condition with your maladies; in the extremity of
illness you have more energy and power than all other men in the
most robust health. Voltaire, if you had not come now I should have
considered you a bad penny: in place of the true metal of friendship
I should have suspected you of palming off plated lead upon me. It
is well for you that you are here. You are like the white elephant
for whom the Shah of Persia and the Great Mogul are continually at
war. The one who is so fortunate as to possess the white elephant
makes it always the occasion of an added title. I will follow their
example, and from this time my title shall run thus: 'Frederick, by
the grace of God, King of Prussia, Prince-Elector of Brandenburg,
Possessor of Voltaire, etc. etc.'"
"Your majesty may say, 'of inalienable Voltaire.' I am wiser than
the white elephant; no war shall be necessary to conquer or to hold
me. I declare myself your majesty's most willing subject joyfully.
Let me then be your white elephant, sire, and if the Great Mogul
covets and demands me, I pray you to conceal me."
While Voltaire was speaking, he cast a sly glance upon the
countenance of the king, his smile disappeared, and his face lost
its kindly expression.
Frederick did not, or would not see it. "Not so," said he, gayly; "I
will not conceal you, but boldly declare that you are mine."
"I am, nevertheless, the subject of the King of France," said
Voltaire, shrugging his shoulders. "When I resolved to leave Paris,
they did not deprive me of my title of 'Historian of the King of
France,' they only took from me my pension. They knew I must travel
by post, and that a title was less weighty for the horses than a
pension of six thousand livres; so they lightened me of that, and I
come unpensioned to your majesty."
This little comedy was too clear to escape the king, but he seemed
not to understand it. A shadow fell upon his brow, and the
expression of his face was troubled. He wished to worship Voltaire
as a noble, exalted genius, and he was pained to find him a pitiful,
calculating, common man.
"You have, then, fallen under the displeasure of my brother Louis,
of France?" said he.
"On the contrary, I am assured that I stand in the highest favor. I
am, indeed, honored with a most agreeable and nattering commission;
and if your majesty allows, I will immediately discharge it."
"Do so," said Frederick, smiling. "Lay aside every weight, that your
wings may waft you into the heaven of heavens while at Sans-Souci.
You have been relieved of your pension, cast all your ballast into
the scale also."
"Sire, the Marquise de Pompadour directed me to present your majesty
with her most obedient and submissive greetings, and to assure you
of her reverence and heart-felt devotion."
Frederick quietly drew his tabatiere from his vest-pocket, and
slowly taking a pinch of snuff, he fixed his burning eyes upon
Voltaire's smiling and expectant face; then said, with the most
complete indifference, "The Marquise de Pompadour. Who is she? I do
not know her!"
Voltaire looked at the king astonished and questioning.
Frederick did not remark this, but went on quietly: "Have you no
other greetings for me? Have none of the great spirits, in which
Paris is so rich, remembered me?"
"I shall be careful not to mention any other greetings. All the so-
called great spirits appear so small in the presence of your exalted
majesty, I fear you will not acknowledge them."
"Not so," said Frederick; "I gladly recognize all that is really
great and worthy of renown. Voltaire will never find a more
enthusiastic admirer than I am."
"Ah, sire, these words are a balsam which I will lay upon my breast,
lacerated by the wild outcries of my critics."
"So the critics have been giving you trouble?" said Frederick.
"Yes, sire," said Voltaire, with the passionate scorn so peculiar to
him; "they have bored their insatiable and poisonous teeth into my
flesh. They are so miserable and so pitiful, that I seem to myself
miserable and pitiful as their victim, and in all humility I will
ask your majesty, if such hounds are allowed to howl unpunished,
would it not be better for Voltaire to creep into some den, and
acknowledge the wild beasts of the forests as his brothers--perhaps
they might regard his verses as melodious barkings and howlings?"
"Still the same boisterous hot-head, the Orlando Furioso," cried the
king, laughing heartily. "Is your skin so tender still that the
needles of the little critics disturb you, and to gratify their
malice will you become a mule? If you are driven to abandon the
Muses, friend, who will have the hardihood to stand by them? No, no!
do not follow in the footsteps of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob; do not 'visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto
the third and fourth generation;' do not make the public of our day,
and of the next century, suffer for the crimes of a few pitiful
critics. The persecutions and slanders of the envious are the
tribute great merit must always pay to the world at large. Let them
rail on, but do not believe that the nations and the future will be
duped by them. Utterly disregarding the criticisms of the so-called
masters of art, we of this century admire and wonder at the chefs-
d'oeuvre of Greece and Rome. The mad cry of Aeschines docs not
obscure the fame of Demosthenes; and in spite of Lucian, Caesar is,
and will ever remain, the greatest man the world has ever produced.
I guarantee that after your death you will be canonized, worshipped.
I humbly entreat you not to hasten the time, but be content to have
the apotheosis in your pocket, and to be honored by all those who
are too exalted to be envious or prejudiced. I, Frederick, stand
foremost in the ranks." [Footnote: The king's own words.--Oeuvres
"Why cannot the whole world be present to hear the words of a king
whom I am proud, from this day onward, to call MY king?" cried
Voltaire, passionately. "Sire, I love you ardently! I believe the
gods made us for each other. I have long loved you tenderly! I have
been angry with you, but I have forgiven you all, and I love you to
madness! There was never a weaker, frailer body than mine, but my
soul is strong! I dare to say I love you as much as I admire you!
[Footnote: Voltaire's own words.] Verily, I hold this to be as great
a conquest as the five other victories your majesty has achieved,
and for which the world worships you. From this day I will be like
your faithful hound; I will lie at your feet, even though you should
spurn me, and declare that you will not be my master and lord. I
will still return. Your threshold shall be my home, and I will be
content with the crumbs which fall from your table. My fortune and
my happiness shall consist in loving you!"
"I will not put your love to so hard a proof," said the king,
smiling. "I dare hope to provide you with a more durable dwelling. I
promise you shall not be like Lazarus, feeding upon crumbs. You
shall be the rich man dispensing them."
Here was a sort of promise and assurance which banished in some
degree the nervous anxiety and distrust of Voltaire, and his
countenance once more beamed with joy. He suppressed his
satisfaction, however, instantly. He did not wish to betray to the
observant eye of Frederick his selfish and miserly nature, and
assumed at once a melancholy look.
"Sire," said he, "I do not resemble Lazarus; and if your majesty
does not possess the miraculous power of the young rabbi, Jesus
Christus, I fear you will soon have to bury me. But I am as true a
believer as any Jew. I trust fully to the magic power of your hand.
Was not your marvellous touch sufficient to place beautiful Silesia,
a gem of the first water, in the crown of Prussia?--to awaken
spirits, sleeping almost the sleep of death, and to call into life
on these barbarous northern steppes the blossoms of education and
refinement? I believe in the miracles of the Solomon of the North,
and I am willing to give my testimony to the whole world."
"Nevertheless, if the French cock crows, you will betray me three
times," said the king. "I know you, Voltaire, and I know when you
are enraged, nothing is sacred. I fear that here, as elsewhere, you
will find provocations. But now, before all other things, what have
you brought me? What gift has your muse produced for the poor
philosopher of Sans-Souci? I will not believe that you come with
empty hands, and that the Homer of France has broken his lyre."
"No, sire, I am not empty-handed! I have brought you a present. I
believe it to be the best and most beautiful production of my muse.
For twenty years I have swelled with indignation at the tragedy
which my good friend, Master Crebillon, made of the most exalted
subject of antiquity. With the adroit hands of a tailor he stitched
up a monkey-jacket out of the purple toga, and adorned it with the
miserable tawdry trifles of a pitiful lore and pompous Gothic verse!
Crebillon has written a French Catiline. I, sire, have written a
Roman Catiline! You shall see, sire, and you shall admire! In one of
my most wretched, sleepless nights, the devil overcame me, and said:
'Revenge Cicero and France! Crebillon has disgraced both. Wash out
this stain from France.' This was a good devil; and even you, sire,
could not have driven me to work more eagerly than he did. Day and
night he chained me to my writing-desk! I feared I should die of
excitement, but the devil held on to me, and the spirits of the
great Romans stood by my table and tore off the absurd and
ridiculous masks which Crebillon had laid upon them. They showed me
their true, exalted, glowing faces, and commanded me to portray
them, 'that the world at last might feel their majestic beauty, and
be no longer deceived by the caricatures of Crebillon!' I was
obliged to obey, sire! I worked unceasingly, and in eight days I had
finished! Catiline was born, and I was as much exhausted as ever a
woman was at the birth of her first-born!" [Footnote: This whole
speech is from Voltaire.]
"You do not mean that in eight days you completed the tragedy?" said
the king. "You mean only that you have arranged the plot, and will
finish the work here."
"No, sire, I bring you the tragedy complete, and I wrote it in eight
days. Ah, sire, this is a tragedy you will enjoy! You will see no
lovelorn Tullia, no infirm and toothless Cicero; you will see a
fearful picture of Rome, a picture at which I myself shuddered. But,
sire, when you read it, you must swear to me to read it in the same
spirit in which it is written. I have left to my collegian Crebillon
all his dramatic plunder; his Catiline is a pure fiction. I have
written mine, remembering my province as an historian. Rome is my
heroine; she is the mistress for whom I would interest all Europe. I
have no other intrigue than Rome's danger; no other material than
the mad craft of Catiline, the vehemence and heroic virtue of
Cicero, the jealousy of the Roman Senate, the development of the
character of Caesar; no other women than that unfortunate who was
seduced by Catiline because of her gentleness and amiability. I know
not, sire, if you will shudder at the fourth act, but I, the writer,
trembled and shuddered. My tragedy is not formed upon any model, it
is new in nova fert animus. Truly I know the world will rail at me
for this, and the small souls gnash their teeth and howl, but my
work is written with a great soul, and kindred spirits will
comprehend me. The envious and the pitiful I will at last trample
under my feet. Jupiter strove with the Titans and overcame them. I
am no Jupiter, neither are my adversaries Titans."
While these words, in an irrepressible and powerful stream of
eloquence, burst from his lips, Voltaire became another man. His
countenance was imposing in its beauty, his eyes glowed with the
fire of inspiration, an enchanting smile played upon his lips, and
his bowed and contracted form was proudly erect and commanding. The
king gazed upon him with admiration. At length, Voltaire, panting
for breath, was silent. Frederick laid his two hands upon his
shoulders, and looked into the glowing face with an indescribable
expression of love and tenderness.
"Now," said he, "I have again and at last found my Voltaire, my
proud, inspired king of poets, my Homer, crowned with immortality!
The might of genius has torn away the mantle of the courtier, and in
place of pitiful, pliant, humble words, I hear again the melodious,
flashing, eloquent speech of my royal poet! Welcome, Voltaire,
welcome to Sans-Souci, whose poor philosopher is but king of men,
while the spirits are subject unto you! Ah, my all-powerful king and
master, be gracious! You possess a wondrous realm, give me at least
a small province in your kingdom."
"Sire, you mock at me," cried Voltaire. "I have written Caesar and
Cicero for the theatre. You, however, exhibit on the stage of the
world the two greatest men of the greatest century, combined in your
own person. I have come to gaze upon this wonder; it is a far
loftier drama than mine, and will be surely more nobly represented.
[Footnote: Voltaire's own words.] Your majesty represents what you
truly are, but where shall I find actors to fill the role of Caesar,
Cicero, and Catiline; how shall I change the pitiful souls of the
coulisse into great men; make noble Romans out of these small
pasteboard heroes of the mode? I could find no actors for my tragedy
in Paris, and it shall never be unworthily represented!"
"We will bring it upon the stage here," said Frederick. "Yes, truly,
this new and great work shall announce, like a flaming comet,
Voltaire's arrival in Berlin. At the same moment in which the
Berlinese see that you are at last amongst them, shall they
acknowledge that you are worthy to be honored and worshipped. In
four weeks, Voltaire, shall your new tragedy be given in my palace."
"Has your majesty, then, a French company, and such a one as may
dare to represent my Catiline?"
"For the love of Voltaire will all my courtiers, and even my sister,
become actors; and though a Cicero failed you in Paris, in Berlin we
will surely find you one. Have we not Voltaire who can take that
role. If no reliable director could be found in Paris, I give you
permission to select from my court circle those you consider most
talented and most capable as actors, and you can study their parts
with them--I myself alone excepted. Ten years ago I wished to have
your 'Death of Caesar' given at Rheinsberg, and I had selected a
role; just then the Emperor of Germany died, and fate called me out
upon the great theatre of the world, where I have since then tried
to play my part worthily, and I must consecrate to this all my
strength and ability. I can play no other part! The two roles might
make a rare confusion, and strange results might follow should the
King of Prussia of this morning be changed to the Cicero of the
evening, utter a fulminating speech against tyrants, and call upon
the noble Romans to defend their rights; while this same King of
Prussia is a small tyrant, and his subjects are more like pitiful
slaves than heroic Romans. I must, therefore, confine myself to the
narrow boundaries of a spectator, and applaud you as heartily in
your character of Cicero as I applaud you in that of the great
"And is this indeed your intention, sire? My poor tragedy lies in my
writing-desk, seemingly dead; will you awaken it to life and light?"
"It shall be given in two months, and you shall conduct it."
Voltaire's countenance darkened; his gay smile disappeared, and
lines of selfishness and covetousness clouded the brow of the great
"In two months, sire!" said he, shaking his head. "I fear I shall
not be here. I have only come to sun myself for a few happy days in
"And then?" said Frederick, interrupting him.
"Then I must fulfil one of the darling dreams of my whole life. I
must go to Italy, to the holy city of Rome, and kneel upon the
graves of Cicero and Caesar. I must see St. Peter's, the Venus de
Medici, and the pope."
"You will never go to Rome," said Frederick. "The Holy Father will
not have the happiness of converting the blasphemous Saul into the
pious and believing Paul. You will remain in Berlin; if you do not
yield willingly, I must compel you to yield. I will make you my
subject; I will bind you with orders and titles; I will compel you
to accept a salary from me; and then, should they seek to ravish you
from me, I will have a right to withhold you from all the potentates
of the world."
Voltaire's face was again radiant. "Ah! sire, no power or chains
will be necessary to bind me here; your majesty's command alone
"And your duty! My gentleman of the bedchamber dare not withdraw
himself for a single day without my permission. I make you gentleman
of the bedchamber. I lay the ribbon of my order, 'pour le merite,'
around your neck, and that I may always have a rope around you, and
make you completely my prisoner, I give you an apartment in my
palace at Potsdam; and that you may not feel yourself a hermit, you
will have every day six covers laid for your friends; and to mock
you with the appearance of liberty, you shall have your own equipage
and servants, who will obey you in all things with one exception--if
you order your valet to pack up your effects, and your coachman to
take the road to Paris, they will disobey."
Voltaire heard the words of the king with breathless attention.
Sullen suspicion and discontent were written on his face. This did
not, escape the king; he understood the cause, but he said nothing.
Voltaire exhausted himself in words of joy and gratitude, but they
had not the ring of truth, and the joy which his lips expressed
found no echo in his face.
"I have but one other thing to add," said Frederick, at last. "Can
your greatness pardon a poor earthworm, if he dare speak in your
presence of so common and villanous a thing as money?"
Voltaire's eyes sparkled; the subject of conversation did not seem
disagreeable to him.
"You have relinquished a pension of six thousand livres in France,
It is but just that you receive full compensation. Your great spirit
is certainly above all earthly considerations, but our fleshy
existence has its rights. So long as you are with me, you shall not
be troubled by even a shadow of privation. You will therefore
receive a salary of five thousand thalers from me. Your lodging and
your table cost you nothing, and I think you can be very
Voltaire's heart bounded for joy, but he forced himself to seem calm
"Your majesty has forgotten an important matter," said he. "You have
named lodging and food, but you say nothing of light and fire. I am
an old man, and cannot produce them myself."
"Truly said--I find it quite in order that the great free-thinker
and poet of this century is troubled for the light which should
illuminate him. You shall have twelve pounds of wax-lights every
month; I think this will be sufficient for your purposes. As for the
other little necessities of life, have the goodness to apply to the
castellan of the castle. On the first day of every month he will
supply them regularly. The contract is made; you will remain with
"I remain, sire!--not for the title, or the pension, or the order--I
remain with you, because I love you. My heart offers up to you the
dream of my life, my journey to Italy. Oh, I wish I could make
greater, more dangerous sacrifices! I wish I could find a means to
prove my love, my adoration, my worship!"
The king laid his hand softly on Voltaire's shoulder, and looked
earnestly in his eyes.
"Be as good a man as you are a great poet. That is the most
beautiful offering you can bring me."
"Ah! I see," said Voltaire, enraged; "some one has slandered me.
Your majesty has opened your cars to my enemies, and already their
hellish poison has reached your heart. As they cannot destroy
Voltaire the poet, they seize upon Voltaire the man, and slander his
character because they cannot obscure his fame. I will advance to
meet them with an open visor and without a shield. From their place
of ambush, with their poisoned arrows, let them slay me. It is
better to die than to be suspected and contemned by my great and
"See, now, what curious creatures you poets are!" said Frederick;
"always in wild tumult and agitation; either storming heaven or
hell; contending with demons, or revelling with angels! You have no
daily quiet, patience, and perseverance. If you see a man who tells
you he is planting potatoes, you do not believe him--you convince
yourself he is sowing dragons' teeth to raise an army to contend
against you. If you meet one of your fellows with a particularly
quiet aspect, you are sure you can read curses against you upon his
lip. When one begs you to be good, you look upon it as an
accusation. No, no, my poet! no one has poured the poison of slander
into my ears--no one has accused you to me. I am, moreover,
accustomed to form my own conclusions, and the opinions of others
have but little weight with me."
"But your majesty is pleased to lend your ears to my enemies," said
Voltaire, sullenly; "exactly those who attack me most virulently
receive the highest honors at the hands of your majesty. You are as
cruel with me as a beautiful and ravishing coquette. So soon as by a
love-glance you have made me the happiest of men, you turn away with
cold contempt, and smile alluringly upon my rivals. I have yet two
dagger-strokes in my heart, which cause me death-agony. If your
majesty would make me truly happy, you must cure the wounds with
your own hands."
"I will, if it is possible," said the king, gravely. "Let us hear of
what you complain."
"Sire, your majesty has made Freron your correspondent in Paris--
Freron, my most bitter enemy, my irreconcilable adversary. But it is
not because he is my foe that I entreat you to dismiss him; you will
not think so pitifully of me as to suppose that this is the reason I
entreat you to dismiss him from your service. My personal dislike
will not make me blind to the worth of Freron as a writer. No, sire,
Freron is not worthy of your favor; he is an openly dishonored
scoundrel, who has committed more than one common fraud. You may
imagine what an excitement it produced in Paris when it was known
that you had honored this scamp with a position which should be
filled by a man of wisdom and integrity. Freron is only my enemy
because, in spite of all entreaties, I have closed my house upon
him. I took this step for reasons which should have closed the doors
of every respectable house against him. [Footnote: Voltaire's own
words.] Sire, I implore you, do not let the world believe for a
single day longer that Freron is your correspondent. Dismiss him at
once from your service."
The king did not reply for a few moments; he walked backward and
forward several times, then stood quietly before Voltaire. The
expression of his eye was stern.
"I sacrifice Freron to you," said he, "because I will deny you
nothing on this, the day of your arrival; but I repeat to you what I
said before, 'be not only a great poet, be also a good man.'"
Voltaire shook his head, sadly. "Sire," said he, "in your eyes I am
not a great poet, only un soleil couchant. Remember Arnaud, my
pupil, whom I sent to you!"
"Aha!" cried the king, laughing, "you have, then, read my little
poem to Arnaud?"
"Sire, I have read it, and that was the second dagger-stroke which I
received on this journey, to which my loving heart forced my weak
and shrinking body; I felt that I must see you once more before I
died. Yes, I have read this terrible poem, and the lines have burned
into my heart these cruel words:"
'Deja sans etre temeraire,
Prenant votre vol jusqu'aux cieux,
Vous pouvez egaler Voltaire,
Et pres de Virgile et d'Homere.
Jouir de vos succes heureux,
Deja l'Apollon de la France,
S'achemine a sa decadence,
Venez briller a votre tour,
Elevez vous s'il brille encore;
Ainsi le couchant d'un beau jour,
Promet une plus belle aurore.'
[Footnote: Supplement des Oeuvres Posthumes.]
"Yes," said the king, as Voltaire ceased declaiming, and stood in
rather a tragic attitude before him--"yes, I confess that a
sensitive nature like yours might find a thorn in these innocent
rhymes. My only intention was to give to the little Arnaud a few
roses which he might weave into a wreath of fame. It seems I
fulfilled my purpose poorly; it was high time that Voltaire should
come to teach me to make better verses. See, I confess my injustice,
and I allow you to punish me by writing a poem against me, which
shall be published as extensively as my little verse to Arnaud."
"Does your majesty promise me this little revenge in earnest?"
"I promise it; give me your poem as soon as it is ready; it shall be
published in 'Formey's Journal.'"
"Sire, it is ready: hear it now. [Footnote: Oeuvres Completes de
"'Quel diable de Marc Antoine!
Et quelle malice est le votre,
Vous egratinez d'une main
Lorsque vous caressez de l'autre.'"
"Ah," said Frederick, "what a beautiful quatrain Monsieur Arouet has
"Arouet!" said Voltaire, astonished,
"Well, now, you would not surely wish me to believe that this little
stinging, pitiful rhyme, was written by the great Voltaire. No, no!
this is the work of the young Arouet, and we will have it published
with his signature."
Voltaire fixed his great eyes for a moment angrily upon the handsome
face of the king, then bowed his head and looked down thoughtfully.
There was a pause, and his face assumed a noble expression--he was
again the great poet.
"Sire," said he, softly, "I will not have this poem published. You
are right, Voltaire does not acknowledge it. This poor verse was
written by Arouet, or the 'old Adam,' who often strikes the poet
Voltaire slyly in the back. But you, sire, who have already won five
battles, and who find a few morning hours sufficient to govern a
great kingdom with wisdom, consideration, and love; you, by one
kindly glance of your eye, will be able to banish the old Adam, and
call heavenly hymns of love and praise from the lips of Voltaire."
"I shall be content with hymns of love. I will spare you all
eulogy," cried Frederick, giving his hand warmly to Voltaire.
At the close of the first day at Sans-Souci, the new gentleman of
the bedchamber returned to Potsdam, adorned with the order "Pour le
merite," and a written assurance from the king of a pension of five
thousand thalers in his pocket.
Two richly-liveried servants received him at the gate of the palace;
one of them held a silver candelabrum, in which five wax-lights were
burning. Voltaire leaned, exhausted and groaning, upon the arm of
the other, who almost carried him into his apartment. Voltaire
ordered the servant to place the lights on the table, and to wait in
the anteroom for further orders.
Scarcely had the servant left the room when Voltaire, who had thrown
himself, as if perfectly exhausted, in the arm-chair, sprang up
actively and hastened to the table upon which the candelabrum stood;
raising himself on tiptoe, he blew out three of the lights.
"Two are enough," said he, with a grimace. "I am to receive twelve
pounds of wax-lights a month. I will be very economical, and out of
the proceeds of this self-denial I can realize a little pin-money
for my niece, Denis." He took the candelabrum and entered his study.
It was curious to look upon this lonely, wrinkled, decrepit old man,
in the richly-furnished but half-obscure room; the dull light
illuminated his malicious but smiling face; here and there as he
advanced it flashed upon the gilding, or was reflected in a mirror,
while behind him the gloom of night seemed to have thrown an
Voltaire seated himself at his desk and wrote to his niece, Madame
Denis: "I have bound myself with all legal form to the King of
Prussia. My marriage with him is determined upon. Will it be happy?
I do not know. I could no longer postpone the decisive yes. After
coquetting for so many years, a wedding was the necessary
consequence. How my heart beat at the altar! How could I have
supposed, seven months ago, when we arranged our little house in
Paris, that I should be to-day three hundred leagues from home in
another man's house, and this other a ruler!" [Footnote: Oeuvres
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