Critical and Historical Essays Volume 2
Thomas Babington Macaulay

Part 4 out of 16

line of their retreat might be tracked by the corpses of
thousands who had died of cold, fatigue, and hunger. Many of
those who reached their country carried with them the seeds of
death. Bavaria was overrun by bands of ferocious warriors from
that bloody debatable land which lies on the frontier between
Christendom and Islam. The terrible names of the Pandoor, the
Croat, and the Hussar, then first became familiar to Western
Europe. The unfortunate Charles of Bavaria, vanquished by
Austria, betrayed by Prussia, driven from his hereditary states,
and neglected by his allies, was hurried by shame and remorse to
an untimely end. An English army appeared in the heart of
Germany, and defeated the French at Dettingen. The Austrian
captains already began to talk of completing the work of
Marlborough and Eugene, and of compelling France to relinquish
Alsace and the three Bishoprics.

The Court of Versailles, in this peril, looked to Frederic for
help. He had been guilty of two great treasons: perhaps he might
be induced to commit a third. The Duchess of Chateauroux then
held the chief influence over the feeble Lewis. She, determined
to send an agent to Berlin; and Voltaire was selected for the
mission. He eagerly undertook the task; for, while his literary
fame filled all Europe, he was troubled with a childish craving
for political distinction. He was vain, and not without reason,
of his address, and of his insinuating eloquence: and he
himself that he possessed boundless influence over the King of
Prussia. The truth was that he knew, as yet, only one corner of
Frederic's character. He was well acquainted with all the petty
vanities and affectations of the poetaster; but was not aware
that these foibles were united with all the talents and vices
which lead to success in active life, and that the unlucky
versifier who pestered him with reams of middling Alexandrines,
was the most vigilant, suspicious, and severe of politicians.

Voltaire was received with every mark of respect and friendship,
was lodged in the palace, and had a seat daily at the royal
table. The negotiation was of an extraordinary description.
Nothing can be conceived more whimsical than the conferences
which took place between the first literary man and the first
practical man of the age, whom a strange weakness had induced to
exchange their parts. The great poet would talk of nothing but
treaties and guarantees, and the great King of nothing but
metaphors and rhymes. On one occasion Voltaire put into his
Majesty's hands a paper on the state of Europe, and received it
back with verses scrawled on the margin. In secret they both
laughed at each other. Voltaire did not spare the King's poems;
and the King has left on record his opinion of Voltaire's
diplomacy. "He had no credentials," says Frederic, "and the whole
mission was a joke, a mere farce."

But what the influence of Voltaire could not effect, the rapid
progress of the Austrian arms effected. If it should be in the
power of Maria Theresa and George the Second to dictate terms of
peace to France, what chance was there that Prussia would long
retain Silesia? Frederic's conscience told him that he had acted
perfidiously and inhumanly towards the Queen of Hungary. That her
resentment was strong she had given ample proof; and of her
respect for treaties he judged by his own. Guarantees, he said,
were mere filigree, pretty to look at, but too brittle to bear
the slightest pressure. He thought it his safest course to ally
himself closely to France, and again to attack the Empress Queen.
Accordingly, in the autumn of 1744, without notice, without any
decent pretext, he recommenced hostilities, marched through the
electorate of Saxony without troubling himself about the
permission of the Elector, invaded Bohemia, took Prague, and even
menaced Vienna.

It was now that, for the first time, he experienced the
inconstancy of fortune. An Austrian army under Charles of
Lorraine threatened his communications with Silesia. Saxony was
all in arms behind him. He found it necessary to save himself by
a retreat. He afterwards owned that his failure was the natural
effect of his own blunders. No general, he said, had ever
committed greater faults. It must be added, that to the reverses
of this campaign he always ascribed his subsequent successes. It
was in the midst of difficulty and disgrace that he caught the
first clear glimpse of the principles of the military art.

The memorable year 1745 followed. The war raged by sea and land,
in Italy, in Germany, and in Flanders; and even England, after
many years of profound internal quiet, saw, for the last time,
hostile armies set in battle array against each other. This year
is memorable in the life of Frederic, as the date at which his
noviciate in the art of war may be said to have terminated. There
have been great captains whose precocious and self-taught
military skill resembled intuition. Conde, Clive, and Napoleon
are examples. But Frederic was not one of these brilliant
portents. His proficiency in military science was simply the
proficiency which a man of vigorous faculties makes in any
science to which he applies his mind with earnestness and
industry. It was at Hohenfriedberg that he first proved how much
he had profited by his errors, and by their consequences. His
victory on that day was chiefly due to his skilful dispositions,
and convinced Europe that the prince who, a few years before, had
stood aghast in the rout of Molwitz, had attained in the military
art a mastery equalled by none of his contemporaries, or equalled
by Saxe alone. The victory of Hohenfriedberg was speedily
followed by that of Sorr.

In the meantime, the arms of France had been victorious in the
Low Countries. Frederic had no longer reason to fear that Maria
Theresa would be able to give law to Europe, and he began to
meditate a fourth breach of his engagements. The Court of
Versailles was alarmed and mortified. A letter of earnest
expostulation, in the handwriting of Lewis, was sent to Berlin;
but in vain. In the autumn of 1745, Frederic made Peace with
England, and, before the close of the year, with Austria also.
The pretensions of Charles of Bavaria could present no obstacle
to an accommodation. That unhappy Prince was no more; and Francis
of Lorraine, the husband of Maria Theresa, was raised, with the
general assent of the Germanic body, to the Imperial throne.

Prussia was again at peace; but the European war lasted till, in
the year 1748, it was terminated by the treaty of Aix-la
Chapelle. Of all the powers that had taken part in it, the only
gainer was Frederic. Not only had he added to his patrimony the
fine province of Silesia: he had, by his unprincipled dexterity,
succeeded so well in alternately depressing the scale of Austria
and that of France, that he was generally regarded as holding the
balance of Europe, a high dignity for one who ranked lowest among
kings, and whose great-grandfather had been no more than a
Margrave. By the public, the King of Prussia was considered as a
politician destitute alike of morality and decency, insatiably
rapacious, and shamelessly false; nor was the public much in the
wrong. He was at the same time, allowed to be a man of parts, a
rising general, a shrewd negotiator and administrator. Those
qualities wherein he surpassed all mankind, were as yet unknown
to others or to himself; for they were qualities which shine out
only on a dark ground. His career had hitherto, with little
interruption, been prosperous; and it was only in adversity, in
adversity which seemed without hope or resource, in adversity
which would have overwhelmed even men celebrated for strength of
mind, that his real greatness could be shown.

He had, from the commencement of his reign, applied himself to
public business after a fashion unknown among kings. Lewis the
Fourteenth, indeed, had been his own prime minister, and had
exercised a general superintendence over all the departments of
the Government; but this was not sufficient for Frederic. He was
not content with being his own prime minister: he would be his
own sole minister. Under him there was no room, not merely for a
Richelieu or a Mazarin, but for a Colbert, a Louvois, or a Torcy.
A love of labour for its own sake, a restless and insatiable
longing to dictate, to intermeddle, to make his power felt, a
profound scorn and distrust of his fellow-creatures, made him
unwilling to ask counsel, to confide important secrets, to
delegate ample powers. The highest functionaries under his
government were mere clerks, and were not so much trusted by him
as valuable clerks are often trusted by the heads of departments.
He was his own treasurer, his own commander-in-chief, his own
intendant of public works, his own minister for trade and
justice, for home affairs and foreign affairs, his own master of
the horse, steward, and chamberlain. Matters of which no chief of
an office in any other government would ever hear, were, in this
singular monarchy, decided by the King in person. If a traveller
wished for a good place to see a review, he had to write to
Frederic, and received next day, from a royal messenger,
Frederic's answer signed by Frederic's own hand. This was an
extravagant, a morbid activity. The public business would
assuredly have been better done if each department had been put
under a man of talents and integrity, and if the King had
contented himself with a general control. In this manner the
advantages which belong to unity of design, and the advantages
which belong to the division of labour, would have been to a
great extent combined. But such a system would not have suited
the peculiar temper of Frederic. He could tolerate no will, no
reason, in the State, save his own. He wished for no abler
assistance than that of penmen who had just understanding enough
to translate and transcribe, to make out his scrawls, and to put
his concise Yes and No into an official form. Of the higher
intellectual faculties, there is as much in a copying machine, or
a lithographic press, as he required from a secretary of the

His own exertions were such as were hardly to be expected from a
human body or a human mind. At Potsdam, his ordinary residence,
he rose at three in summer and four in winter. A page soon
appeared, with a large basket full of all the letters which had
arrived for the King by the last courier, despatches from
ambassadors, reports from officers of revenue, plans of
buildings, proposals for draining marshes, complaints from
persons who thought themselves aggrieved, applications from
persons who wanted titles, military commissions, and civil
situations. He examined the seals with a keen eye; for he was
never for a moment free from the suspicion that some fraud might
be practised on him. Then he read the letters, divided them into
several packets, and signified his pleasure, generally by a mark,
often by two or three words, now and then by some cutting
epigram. By eight he had generally finished this part of his
task. The adjutant-general was then in attendance, and received
instructions for the day as to all the military arrangements of
the kingdom. Then the King went to review his guards, not as
kings ordinarily review their guards, but with the minute
attention and severity of an old drill-sergeant. In the meantime
the four cabinet secretaries had been employed in answering the
letters on which the King had that morning signified his will.
These unhappy men were forced to work all the year round like
negro slaves in the time of the sugar-crop. They never had a
holiday. They never knew what it was to dine. It was necessary
that, before they stirred, they should finish the whole of their
work. The King, always on his guard against treachery, took from
the heap a handful of letters at random, and looked into them to
see whether his instructions had been exactly followed. This was
no bad security against foul play on the part of the secretaries;
for if one of them were detected in a trick, he might think
himself fortunate if he escaped with five years of imprisonment
in a dungeon. Frederic then signed the replies, and all were sent
off the same evening.

The general principles on which this strange government was
conducted, deserve attention. The policy of Frederic was
essentially the same as his father's; but Frederic, while he
carried that policy to lengths to which his father never thought
of carrying it, cleared it at the same time from the absurdities
with which his father had encumbered it. The King's first object
was to have a great, efficient, and well-trained army. He had a
kingdom which in extent and population was hardly in the second
rank of European powers; and yet he aspired to a place not
inferior to that of the sovereigns of England, France, and
Austria. For that end it was necessary that Prussia should be all
sting. Lewis the Fifteenth, with five times as many subjects as
Frederic, and more than five times as large a revenue, had not a
more formidable army. The proportion which the soldiers in
Prussia bore to the people seems hardly credible. Of the males in
the vigour of life, a seventh part were probably under arms; and
this great force had, by drilling, by reviewing, and by the
unsparing use of cane and scourge, been taught to form all
evolutions with a rapidity and a precision which would have
astonished Villars or Eugene. The elevated feelings which are
necessary to the best kind of army were then wanting to the
Prussian service. In those ranks were not found the religious and
political enthusiasm which inspired the pikemen of Cromwell, the
patriotic ardour, the thirst of glory, the devotion to a great
leader, which inflamed the Old Guard of Napoleon. But in all the
mechanical parts of the military calling, the Prussians were as
superior to the English and French troops of that day as the
English and French troops to a rustic militia.

Though the pay of the Prussian soldier was small, though every
rixdollar of extraordinary charge was scrutinised by Frederic
with a vigilance and suspicion such as Mr. Joseph Hume never
brought to the examination of an army estimate, the expense of
such an establishment was, for the means of the country,
enormous. In order that it might not be utterly ruinous, it was
necessary that every other expense should be cut down to the
lowest possible point. Accordingly Frederic, though his dominions
bordered on the sea, had no navy. He neither had nor wished to
have colonies. His judges, his fiscal officers, were meanly paid.
His ministers at foreign courts walked on foot, or drove shabby
old carriages till the axle-trees gave way. Even to his highest
diplomatic agents, who resided at London and Paris, he allowed
less than a thousand pounds sterling a year. The royal household
was managed with a frugality unusual in the establishments of
opulent subjects, unexampled in any other palace. The King loved
good eating and drinking, and during great part of his life took
pleasure in seeing his table surrounded by guests; yet the whole
charge of his kitchen was brought within the sum of two thousand
pounds sterling a year. He examined every extraordinary item with
a care which might be thought to suit the mistress of a boarding-
house better than a great prince. When more than four rixdollars
were asked of him for a hundred oysters, he stormed as if he had
heard that one of his generals had sold a fortress to the Empress
Queen. Not a bottle of champagne was uncorked without his express
order. The game of the royal parks and forests, a serious head of
expenditure in most kingdoms, was to him a source of profit. The
whole was farmed out; and though the farmers were almost ruined
by their contract, the King would grant them no remission. His
wardrobe consisted of one fine gala dress, which lasted him all
his life; of two or three old coats fit for Monmouth Street, of
yellow waistcoats soiled with snuff, and of huge boots embrowned
by time. One taste alone sometimes allured him beyond the limits
of parsimony, nay, even beyond the limits of prudence, the taste
for building. In all other things his economy was such as we
might call by a harsher name, if we did not reflect that his
funds were drawn from a heavily taxed people, and that it was
impossible for him, without excessive tyranny, to keep up at once
a formidable army and a splendid court.

Considered as an administrator, Frederic had undoubtedly many
titles to praise. Order was strictly maintained throughout his
dominions. Property was secure. A great liberty of speaking and
of writing was allowed. Confident in the irresistible strength
derived from a great army, the King looked down on malcontents
and libellers with a wise disdain; and gave little encouragement
to spies and informers. When he was told of the disaffection of
one of his subject, he merely asked, "How many thousand men can
he bring into the field?" He once saw a crowd staring at
something on a wall. He rode up and found that the object of
curiosity was a scurrilous placard against himself. The placard
had been posted up so high that it was not easy to read it.
Frederic ordered his attendants to take it down and put it lower.
"My people and I," he said, "have come to an agreement which
satisfies us both. They are to say what they please, and I am to
do what I please." No person would have dared to publish in
London satires on George the Second approaching to the atrocity
of those satires on Frederic, which the booksellers at Berlin
sold with impunity. One bookseller sent to the palace a copy of
the most stinging lampoon that perhaps was ever written in the
world, the Memoirs of Voltaire, published by Beaumarchais, and
asked for his Majesty's orders. "Do not advertise it in an
offensive manner," said the King; "but sell it by all means. I
hope it will pay you well." Even among statesmen accustomed to
the licence of a free press, such steadfastness of mind as this
is not very common.

It is due also to the memory of Frederic to say that he earnestly
laboured to secure to his people the great blessing of cheap and
speedy Justice. He was one of the first rulers who abolished the
cruel and absurd practice of torture. No sentence of death,
pronounced by the ordinary tribunals, was executed without his
sanction; and his sanction, except in cases of murder, was rarely
given. Towards his troops he acted in a very different manner.
Military offences were punished with such barbarous scourging
that to be shot was considered by the Prussian soldier as a
secondary punishment. Indeed, the principle which pervaded
Frederic's whole policy was this, that the more severely the army
is governed, the safer it is to treat the rest of the community
with lenity.

Religious persecution was unknown under his government, unless
some foolish and unjust restrictions which lay upon the Jews may
be regarded as forming an exception. His policy with respect to
the Catholics of Silesia presented an honourable contrast to the
policy which, under very similar circumstances, England long
followed with respect to the Catholics of Ireland. Every form of
religion and irreligion found an asylum in the States. The
scoffer whom the parliaments of France had sentenced to a cruel
death, was consoled by a commission in the Prussian service. The
Jesuit who could show his face nowhere else, who in Britain was
still subject to penal laws, who was proscribed by France, Spain,
Portugal, and Naples, who had been given up even by the Vatican,
found safety and the means of subsistence in the Prussian

Most of the vices of Frederic's administration resolve selves
into one vice, the spirit of meddling. The indefatigable activity
of his intellect, his dictatorial temper, his military habits,
all inclined him to this great fault. He drilled his people as he
drilled his grenadiers. Capital and industry were diverted from
their natural direction by a crowd of preposterous regulations.
There was a monopoly of coffee, a monopoly of tobacco, a monopoly
of refined sugar. The public money, of which the King was
generally so sparing, was lavishly spent in ploughing bogs, in
planting mulberry trees amidst the sand, in bringing sheep from
Spain to improve the Saxon wool, in bestowing prizes for fine
yarn, in building manufactories of porcelain, manufactories of
carpets, manufactories of hardware, manufactories of lace.
Neither the experience of other rulers, nor his own, could ever
teach him that something more than an edict and a grant of public
money was required to create a Lyons, a Brussels, or a

For his commercial policy, however, there was some excuse. He had
on his side illustrious examples and popular prejudice.
Grievously as he erred, he erred in company with his age. In
other departments his meddling was altogether without apology. He
interfered with the course of justice as well as with the course
of trade; and set up his own crude notions of equity against the
law as expounded by the unanimous voice of the gravest
magistrates. It never occurred to him that men whose lives were
passed in adjudicating on questions of civil right were more
likely to form correct opinions on such questions than a prince
whose attention was divided among a thousand objects, and who had
never read a law-book through. The resistance opposed to him by
the tribunals inflamed him to fury. He reviled his Chancellor. He
kicked the shins of his judges. He did not, it is true, intend to
act unjustly. He firmly believed that he was doing right, and
defending the cause of the poor against the wealthy. Yet this
well-meant meddling probably did far more harm than all the
explosions of his evil passions during the whole of his long
reign. We could make shift to live under a debauchee or a tyrant;
but to be ruled by a busybody is more than human nature can bear.

The same passion for directing and regulating appeared in every
part of the King's policy. Every lad of a certain station in life
was forced to go to certain schools within the Prussian
dominions. If a young Prussian repaired, though but for a few
weeks, to Leyden or Gottingen for the purpose of study, the
offence was punished with civil disabilities, and sometimes with
the confiscation of property. Nobody was to travel without the
royal permission. If the permission were granted, the pocket-
money of the tourist was fixed by royal ordinance. A merchant
might take with him two hundred and fifty rixdollars in gold,
a noble was allowed to take four hundred; for it may be observed,
in passing, that Frederic studiously kept up the old distinction
between the nobles and the community. In speculation, he was
a French philosopher, but in action, a German prince. He talked
and wrote about the privileges of blood in the style of Sieyes;
but in practice no chapter in the empire looked with a keener
eye to genealogies and quarterings.

Such was Frederic the Ruler. But there was another Frederic, the
Frederic of Rheinsberg, the fiddler and flute-player, the
poetaster and metaphysician. Amidst the cares of State the King
had retained his passion for music, for reading, for writing, for
literary society. To these amusements he devoted all the time
that he could snatch from the business of war and government; and
perhaps more light is thrown on his character by what passed
during his hours of relaxation, than by his battles or his laws.

It was the just boast of Schiller that, in his country, no
Augustus, no Lorenzo, had watched over the infancy of poetry. The
rich and energetic language of Luther, driven by the Latin from
the schools of pedants, and by the French from the palaces of
kings, had taken refuge among the people. Of the powers of that
language Frederic had no notion. He generally spoke of it, and of
those who used it, with the contempt of ignorance. His library
consisted of French books; at his table nothing was heard but
French conversation. The associates of his hours of relaxation
were, for the most part, foreigners. Britain furnished to the
royal circle two distinguished men, born in the highest rank, and
driven by civil dissensions from the land to which, under happier
circumstances, their talents and virtues might have been a source
of strength and glory. George Keith, Earl Marischal of Scotland,
had taken arms for the House of Stuart in 1715; and his younger
brother James, then only seventeen years old, had fought
gallantly by his side. When all was lost they retired together to
the Continent, roved from country to country, served under
various standards, and so bore themselves as to win the respect
and good-will of many who had no love for the Jacobite cause.
Their long wanderings terminated at Potsdam; nor had Frederic any
associates who deserved or obtained so large a share of his
esteem. They were not only accomplished men, but nobles and
warriors, capable of serving him in war and diplomacy, as well as
of amusing him at supper. Alone of all his companions, they
appear never to have had reason to complain of his demeanour
towards them. Some of those who knew the palace best pronounced
that the Lord Marischal was the only human being whom Frederic
ever really loved.

Italy sent to the parties at Potsdam the ingenious and amiable
Algarotti, and Bastiani, the most crafty, cautious, and servile
of Abbes. But the greater part of the society which Frederic had
assembled round him, was drawn from France. Maupertuis had
acquired some celebrity by the journey which he had made to
Lapland, for the purpose of ascertaining, by actual measurement,
the shape of our planet. He was placed in the chair of the
Academy of Berlin, a humble imitation of the renowned academy of
Paris. Baculard D'Arnaud, a young poet, who was thought to have
given promise of great things, had been induced to quit his
country, and to reside at the Prussian Court. The Marquess
D'Argens was among the King's favourite companions, on account,
as it should seem, of the strong opposition between their
characters. The parts of D'Argens were good, and his manners
those of a finished French gentleman; but his whole soul was
dissolved in sloth, timidity, and self-indulgence. He was one of
that abject class of minds which are superstitious without being
religious. Hating Christianity with a rancour which made him
incapable of rational inquiry, unable to see in the harmony and
beauty of the universe the traces of divine power and wisdom, he
was the slave of dreams and omens, would not sit down to table
with thirteen in company, turned pale if the salt fell towards
him, begged his guests not to cross their knives and forks on
their plates, and would not for the world commence a journey on
Friday. His health was a subject of constant anxiety to him.
Whenever his head ached, or his pulse beat quick, his dastardly
fears and effeminate precautions were the jest of all Berlin. All
this suited the King's purpose admirably. He wanted somebody by
whom he might be amused, and whom he might despise. When he
wished to pass half an hour in easy polished conversation,
D'Argens was an excellent companion; when he wanted to vent his
spleen and contempt, D'Argens was an excellent butt.

With these associates, and others of the same class, Frederic
loved to spend the time which he could steal from public cares.
He wished his supper parties to be gay and easy. He invited his
guests to lay aside all restraint, and to forget that he was at
the head of a hundred and sixty thousand soldiers, and was
absolute master of the life and liberty of ail who sat at meat
with him. There was, therefore, at these parties the outward show
of ease. The wit and learning of the company were ostentatiously
displayed. The discussions on history and literature were often
highly interesting. But the absurdity of all the religions known
among men was the chief topic of conversation; and the audacity
with which doctrines and names venerated throughout Christendom
were treated on these occasions startled even persons accustomed
to the society of French and English freethinkers. Real liberty,
however, or real affection, was in this brilliant society not to
be found. Absolute kings seldom have friends: and Frederic's
faults were such as, even where perfect equality exists, make
friendship exceedingly precarious. He had indeed many qualities
which, on a first acquaintance were captivating. His conversation
was lively; his manners, to those whom he desired to please, were
even caressing. No man could flatter with more delicacy. No man
succeeded more completely in inspiring those who approached him
with vague hopes of some great advantage from his kindness. But
under this fair exterior he was a tyrant, suspicious, disdainful,
and malevolent. He had one taste which may be pardoned in a boy,
but which, when habitually and deliberately indulged by a man of
mature age and strong understanding, is almost invariably the
sign of a bad heart--a taste for severe practical jokes. If a
courtier was fond of dress, oil was flung over his richest suit.
If he was fond of money, some prank was invented to make him
disburse more than he could spare. If he was hypochondriacal, he
was made to believe that he had the dropsy. If he had
particularly set his heart on visiting a place, a letter was
forged to frighten him from going thither. These things, it may
be said, are trifles. They are so; but they are indications, not
to be mistaken, of a nature to which the sight of human suffering
and human degradation is an agreeable excitement.

Frederic had a keen eye for the foibles of others, and loved to
communicate his discoveries. He had some talent for sarcasm, and
considerable skill in detecting the sore places where sarcasm
would be most acutely felt. His vanity, as well as his malignity,
found gratification in the vexation and confusion of those who
smarted under his caustic jests. Yet in truth his success on
these occasions belonged quite as much to the king as to the wit.
We read that Commodus descended, sword in hand, into the arena,
against a wretched gladiator, armed only with a foil of lead,
and, after shedding the blood of the helpless victim, struck
medals to commemorate the inglorious victory. The triumphs of
Frederic in the war of repartee were of much the same kind. How
to deal with him was the most puzzling of questions. To appear
constrained in his presence was to disobey his commands, and to
spoil his amusement. Yet if his associates were enticed by his
graciousness to indulge in the familiarity of a cordial
intimacy, he was certain to make them repent of their presumption
by some cruel humiliation. To resent his affronts was perilous;
yet not to resent them was to deserve and to invite them. In his
view, those who mutinied were insolent and ungrateful; those who
submitted were curs made to receive bones and kickings with the
same fawning patience. It is, indeed, difficult to conceive how
anything short of the rage of hunger should have induced men to
bear the misery of being the associates of the Great King. It was
no lucrative post. His Majesty was as severe and economical in
his friendships as in the other charges of his establishment, and
as unlikely to give a rixdollar too much for his guests as for
his dinners. The sum which he allowed to a poet or a philosopher
was the very smallest sum for which such poet or philosopher
could be induced to sell himself into slavery; and the bondsman
might think himself fortunate, if what had been so grudgingly
given was not, after years of suffering, rudely and arbitrarily

Potsdam was, in truth, what it was called by one of its most
illustrious inmates, the Palace of Alcina, At the first glance it
seemed to be a delightful spot, where every intellectual and
physical enjoyment awaited the happy adventurer. Every newcomer
was received with eager hospitality, intoxicated with flattery,
encouraged to expect prosperity and greatness. It was in vain
that a long succession of favourites who had entered that abode
with delight and hope, and who, after a short term of delusive
happiness, had been doomed to expiate their folly by years of
wretchedness and degradation, raised their voices to warn the
aspirant who approached the charmed threshold. Some had wisdom
enough to discover the truth early, and spirit enough to fly
without looking back; others lingered on to a cheerless and
unhonoured old age. We have no hesitation in saying that the
poorest author of that time in London, sleeping on a bulk, dining
in a cellar, with a cravat of paper, and a skewer for a shirt-
pin, was a happier man than any of the literary inmates of
Frederic's Court.

But of all who entered the enchanted garden in the inebriation of
delight, and quitted it in agonies of rage and shame, the most
remarkable was Voltaire. Many circumstances had made him desirous
of finding a home at a distance from his country. His fame had
raised him up enemies. His sensibility gave them a formidable
advantage over him. They were, indeed, contemptible assailants.
Of all that they wrote against him, nothing has survived except
what he has himself preserved. But the constitution of his mind
resembled the constitution of those bodies in which the slightest
scratch of a bramble, or the bite of a gnat, never fails to
fester. Though his reputation was rather raised than lowered by
the abuse of such writers as Freron and Desfontaines, though the
vengeance which he took on Freron and Desfontaines was such, that
scourging, branding, pillorying, would have been a trifle to it,
there is reason to believe that they gave him far more pain than
he ever gave them. Though he enjoyed during his own lifetime the
reputation of a classic, though he was extolled by his
contemporaries above all poets, philosophers, and historians,
though his works were read with as much delight and admiration at
Moscow and Westminster, at Florence and Stockholm, as at Paris
itself, he was yet tormented by that restless jealousy which
should seem to belong only to minds burning with the desire of
fame, and yet conscious of impotence. To men of letters who could
by no possibility be his rivals, he was, if they behaved well to
him, not merely just, not merely courteous, but often a hearty
friend and a munificent benefactor. But to every writer who rose
to a celebrity approaching his own, he became either a disguised
or an avowed enemy. He slily depreciated Montesquieu and Buffon.
He publicly, and with violent outrage, made war on Rousseau. Nor
had he the heart of hiding his feelings under the semblance of
good humour or of contempt. With all his great talents, and all
his long experience of the world, he had no more self-command
than a petted child, or a hysterical woman. Whenever he was
mortified, he exhausted the whole rhetoric of anger and sorrow to
express his mortification. His torrents of bitter words, his
stamping and cursing, his grimaces and his tears of rage, were a
rich feast to those abject natures, whose delight is in the
agonies of powerful spirits and in the abasement of immortal
names. These creatures had now found out a way of galling him to
the very quick. In one walk, at least, it had been admitted by
envy itself that he was without a living competitor. Since Racine
had been laid among the great men whose dust made the holy
precinct of Port-Royal holier, no tragic poet had appeared who
could contest the palm with the author of Zaire, of Alzire, and
of Merope. At length a rival was announced. Old Crebillon, who,
many years before, had obtained some theatrical success, and who
had long been forgotten, came forth from his garret in one of the
meanest lanes near the Rue St. Antoine, and was welcomed by the
acclamations of envious men of letters, and of a capricious
populace. A thing called Catiline, which he had written in his
retirement, was acted with boundless applause. Of this execrable
piece it is sufficient to say, that the plot turns on a love
affair, carried on in all the forms of Scudery, between Catiline,
whose confidant is the Praetor Lentulus, and Tullia, the daughter
of Cicero. The theatre resounded with acclamations. The King
pensioned the successful poet; and the coffee-houses pronounced
that Voltaire was a clever man, but that the real tragic
inspiration, the celestial fire which had glowed in Corneille and
Racine, was to be found in Crebillon alone.

The blow went to Voltaire's heart. Had his wisdom and fortitude
been in proportion to the fertility of his intellect, and to the
brilliancy of his wit, he would have seen that it was out of the
power of all the puffers and detractors in Europe to put Catiline
above Zaire; but he had none of the magnanimous patience with
which Milton and Bentley left their claims to the unerring
judgment of time. He eagerly engaged in an undignified
competition with Crebillon, and produced a series of plays on the
same subjects which his rival had treated. These pieces were
coolly received. Angry with the court, angry with the capital,
Voltaire began to find pleasure in the prospect of exile. His
attachment for Madame du Chatelet long prevented him from
executing his purpose. Her death set him at liberty; and he
determined to take refuge at Berlin.

To Berlin he was invited by a series of letters, couched in terms
of the most enthusiastic friendship and admiration. For once the
rigid parsimony of Frederic seemed to have relaxed. Orders,
honourable offices, a liberal pension, a well-served table,
stately apartments under a royal roof, were offered in return for
the pleasure and honour which were expected from the society of
the first wit of the age. A thousand louis were remitted for the
charges of the journey. No ambassador setting out from Berlin for
a court of the first rank, had ever been more amply supplied. But
Voltaire was not satisfied. At a later period, when he possessed
an ample fortune, he was one of the most liberal of men; but till
his means had become equal to his wishes, his greediness for
lucre was unrestrained either by justice or by shame. He had the
effrontery to ask for a thousand louis more, in order to enable
him to bring his niece, Madame Denis, the ugliest of coquettes,
in his company. The indelicate rapacity of the poet produced its
natural effect on the severe and frugal King. The answer was a
dry refusal. "I did not," said his Majesty, "solicit the honour
of the lady's society." On this, Voltaire went off into a
paroxysm of childish rage. "Was there ever such avarice? He has
hundreds of tubs full of dollars in his vaults, and haggles with
me about a poor thousand louis." It seemed that the negotiation
would be broken off; but Frederic, with great dexterity, affected
indifference, and seemed inclined to transfer his idolatry to
Baculard D'Arnaud. His Majesty even wrote some bad verses, of
which the sense was, that Voltaire was a setting sun, and that
D'Arnaud was rising. Good-natured friends soon carried the lines
to Voltaire. He was in his bed. He jumped out in his shirt,
danced about the room with rage, and sent for his passport and
his post-horses. It was not difficult to foresee the end of a
connection which had such a beginning.

It was in the year 1750 that Voltaire left the great capital,
which he was not to see again till, after the lapse of near
thirty years, he returned bowed down by extreme old age, to die
in the midst of a splendid and ghastly triumph. His reception in
Prussia was such as might well have elated a less vain and
excitable mind. He wrote to his friends at Paris, that the
kindness and the attention with which he had been welcomed
surpassed description, that the King was the most amiable of men,
that Potsdam was the paradise of philosophers. He was created
chamberlain, and received, together with his gold key, the cross
of an order, and a patent ensuring to him a pension of eight
hundred pounds sterling a year for life. A hundred and sixty
pounds a year were promised to his niece if she survived him. The
royal cooks and coachmen were put at his disposal. He was lodged
in the same apartments in which Saxe had lived, when, at the
height of power and glory, he visited Prussia. Frederic, indeed,
stooped for a time even to use the language of adulation. He
pressed to his lips the meagre hand of the little grinning
skeleton, whom he regarded as the dispenser of immortal renown.
He would add, he said, to the titles which he owed to his
ancestors and his sword, another title, derived from his last and
proudest acquisition. His style should run thus: Frederic, King
of Prussia, Margrave of Brandenburg, Sovereign Duke of Silesia,
Possessor of Voltaire. But even amidst the delights of the
honeymoon, Voltaire's sensitive vanity began to take alarm. A few
days after his arrival, he could not help telling his niece that
the amiable King had a trick of giving a sly scratch with one
hand while patting and stroking with the other. Soon came hints
not the less alarming, because mysterious. "The supper parties
are delicious. The King is the life of the company. But--I have
operas and comedies, reviews and concerts, my studies and books.
But--but--Berlin is fine, the princesses charming, the maids of
honour handsome. But--"

This eccentric friendship was fast cooling. Never had there met
two persons so exquisitely fitted to plague each other. Each of
them had exactly the fault of which the other was most impatient;
and they were, in different ways, the most impatient of mankind.
Frederic was frugal, almost niggardly. When he had secured his
plaything he began to think that he had bought it too dear.
Voltaire, on the other hand, was greedy, even to the extent of
imprudence and knavery; and conceived that the favourite of a
monarch who had barrels full of gold and silver laid up in
cellars ought to make a fortune which a receiver-general might
envy. They soon discovered each other's feelings. Both were
angry; and a war began, in which Frederic stooped to the part of
Harpagon, and Voltaire to that of Scapin. It is humiliating to
relate, that the great warrior and statesman gave orders that his
guest's allowance of sugar and chocolate should be curtailed. It
is, if possible, a still more humiliating fact, that Voltaire
indemnified himself by pocketing the wax candles in the royal
antechamber. Disputes about money, however, were not the most
serious disputes of these extraordinary associates. The sarcasms
of the King soon galled the sensitive temper of the poet.
D'Arnaud and D'Argens, Guichard and La Metrie, might, for the
sake of a morsel of bread, be willing to bear the insolence of a
master; but Voltaire was of another order. He knew that he was a
potentate as well as Frederic, that his European reputation, and
his incomparable power of covering whatever he hated with
ridicule, made him an object of dread even to the leaders of
armies and the rulers of nations. In truth, of all the
intellectual weapons which have ever been wielded by man, the
most terrible was the mockery of Voltaire. Bigots and tyrants,
who had never been moved by the wailing and cursing of millions,
turned pale at his name. Principles unassailable by reason,
principles which had withstood the fiercest attacks of power, the
most valuable truths, the most generous sentiments, the noblest
and most graceful images, the purest reputations, the most august
institutions, began to look mean and loathsome as soon as that
withering smile was turned upon them. To every opponent, however
strong in his cause and his talents, in his station and his
character, who ventured to encounter the great scoffer, might be
addressed the caution which was given of old to the Archangel:

"I forewarn thee, shun
His deadly arrow: neither vainly hope
To be invulnerable in those bright arms,
Though temper'd heavenly; for that fatal dint,
Save Him who reigns above, none can resist."

We cannot pause to recount how often that rare talent was
exercised against rivals worthy of esteem; how often it was used
to crush and torture enemies worthy only of silent disdain; how
often it was perverted to the more noxious purpose of destroying
the last solace of earthly misery, and the last restraint on
earthly power. Neither can we pause to tell how often it was used
to vindicate justice, humanity, and toleration, the principles of
sound philosophy, the principles of free government. This is not
the place for a full character of Voltaire.

Causes of quarrel multiplied fast. Voltaire, who, partly from
love of money, and partly from love of excitement, was always
fond of stock-jobbing, became implicated in transactions of at
least a dubious character. The King was delighted at having such
an opportunity to humble his guest; and bitter reproaches and
complaints were exchanged. Voltaire, too, was soon at war with
the other men of letters who surrounded the King; and this
irritated Frederic, who, however, had himself chiefly to blame:
for, from that love of tormenting which was in him a ruling
passion, he perpetually lavished extravagant praises on small men
and bad books, merely in order that he might enjoy the
mortification and rage which on such occasions Voltaire took no
pains to conceal. His Majesty, however, soon had reason to regret
the pains which he had taken to kindle jealousy among the members
of his household. The whole palace was in a ferment with literary
intrigues and cabals. It was to no purpose that the imperial
voice, which kept a hundred and sixty thousand soldiers in order,
was raised to quiet the contention of the exasperated wits. It
was far easier to stir up such a storm than to lull it. Nor was
Frederic, in his capacity of wit, by any means without his own
share of vexations. He had sent a large quantity of verses to
Voltaire, and requested that they might be returned, with remarks
and corrections. "See," exclaimed Voltaire, "what a quantity of
his dirty linen the King has sent me to wash!" Talebearers were
not wanting to carry the sarcasm to the royal ear; and Frederic
was as much incensed as a Grub Street writer who had found his
name in the Dunciad.

This could not last. A circumstance which, when the mutual regard
of the friends was in its first glow, would merely have been
matter for laughter, produced a violent explosion. Maupertuis
enjoyed as much of Frederic's goodwill as any man of letters. He
was President of the Academy of Berlin; and he stood second to
Voltaire, though at an immense distance, in the literary society
which had been assembled at the Prussian Court. Frederic had, by
playing for his own amusement on the feelings of the two jealous
and vainglorious Frenchmen, succeeded in producing a bitter
enmity between them. Voltaire resolved to set his mark, a mark
never to be effaced, on the forehead of Maupertuis, and wrote the
exquisitely ludicrous Diatribe of Doctor Akakia. He showed this
little piece to Frederic, who had too much taste and too much
malice not to relish such delicious pleasantry. In truth, even at
this time of day, it is not easy for any person who has the least
perception of the ridiculous to read the jokes on the Latin city,
the Patagonians, and the hole to the centre of the earth, without
laughing till he cries. But though Frederic was diverted by this
charming pasquinade, he was unwilling that it should get abroad.
His self-love was interested. He had selected Maupertuis to fill
the chair of his Academy. If all Europe were taught to laugh at
Maupertuis, would not the reputation of the Academy, would not
even the dignity of its royal patron, be in some degree
compromised? The King, therefore, begged Voltaire to suppress
this performance. Voltaire promised to do so, and broke his word.
The Diatribe was published, and received with shouts of merriment
and applause by all who could read the French language. The King
stormed. Voltaire, with his usual disregard of truth, asserted
his innocence, and made up some lie about a printer or an
amanuensis. The King was not to be so imposed upon. He ordered
the pamphlet to be burned by the common hangman, and insisted
upon having an apology from Voltaire, couched in the most abject
terms. Voltaire sent back to the King his cross, his key, and the
patent of his pension. After this burst of rage, the strange pair
began to be ashamed of their violence, and went through the forms
of reconciliation. But the breach was irreparable; and Voltaire
took his leave of Frederic for ever. They parted with cold
civility; but their hearts were big with resentment. Voltaire had
in his keeping a volume of the King's poetry, and forgot to
return it. This was, we believe, merely one of the oversights
which men setting out upon a journey often commit. That Voltaire
could have meditated plagiarism is quite incredible. He would
not, we are confident, for the half of Frederic's kingdom, have
consented to father Frederic's verses. The King, however, who
rated his own writings much above their value, and who was
inclined to see all Voltaire's actions in the worst light, was
enraged to think that his favourite compositions were in the
hands of an enemy, as thievish as a daw and as mischievous as a
monkey. In the anger excited by this thought, he lost sight of
reason and decency, and determined on committing an outrage at
once odious and ridiculous.

Voltaire had reached Frankfort. His niece, Madame Denis, came
thither to meet him. He conceived himself secure from the power
of his late master, when he was arrested by order of the Prussian
resident. The precious volume was delivered up. But the Prussian
agents had, no doubt, been instructed not to let Voltaire escape
without some gross indignity. He was confined twelve days in a
wretched hovel. Sentinels with fixed bayonets kept guard over
him. His niece was dragged through the mire by the soldiers.
Sixteen hundred dollars were extorted from him by his insolent
gaolers. It is absurd to say that this outrage is not to be
attributed to the King. Was anybody punished for it? Was anybody
called in question for it? Was it not consistent with Frederic's
character? Was it not of a piece with his conduct on other
similar occasions? Is it not notorious that he repeatedly gave
private directions to his officers to pillage and demolish the
houses of persons against whom he had a grudge, charging them at
the same time to take their measures in such a way that his name
might not be compromised? He acted thus towards Count Bruhl in
the Seven Years' War. Why should we believe that he would have
been more scrupulous with regard to Voltaire?

When at length the illustrious prisoner regained his liberty, the
prospect before him was but dreary. He was an exile both from the
country of his birth and from the country of his adoption. The
French Government had taken offence at his journey to Prussia,
and would not permit him to return to Paris; and in the vicinity
of Prussia it was not safe for him to remain.

He took refuge on the beautiful shores of Lake Leman. There,
loosed from every tie which had hitherto restrained him, and
having little to hope, or to fear from courts and churches, he
began his long war against all that, whether for good or evil,
had authority over man; for what Burke said of the Constituent
Assembly, was eminently true of this its great forerunner:
Voltaire could not build: he could only pull down: he was the
very Vitruvius of ruin. He has bequeathed to us not a single
doctrine to be called by his name, not a single addition to the
stock of our positive knowledge. But no human teacher ever left
behind him so vast and terrible a wreck of truths and falsehoods,
of things noble and things base, of things useful and things
pernicious. From the time when his sojourn beneath the Alps
commenced, the dramatist, the wit, the historian, was merged in a
more important character. He was now the patriarch, the founder
of a sect, the chief of a conspiracy, the prince of a wide
intellectual commonwealth. He often enjoyed a pleasure dear to
the better part of his nature, the pleasure of vindicating
innocence which had no other helper, of repairing cruel wrongs,
of punishing tyranny in high places. He had also the
satisfaction, not less acceptable to his ravenous vanity, of
hearing terrified Capuchins call him the Antichrist. But whether
employed in works of benevolence, or in works of mischief, he
never forgot Potsdam and Frankfort; and he listened anxiously to
every murmur which indicated that a tempest was gathering in
Europe, and that his vengeance was at hand.

He soon had his wish. Maria Theresa had never for a moment
forgotten the great wrong which she had received at the hand of
Frederic. Young and delicate, just left an orphan, just about to
be a mother, she had been compelled to fly from the ancient
capital of her race; she had seen her fair inheritance
dismembered by robbers, and of those robbers he had been the
foremost. Without a pretext, without a provocation, in defiance
of the most sacred engagements, he had attacked the helpless ally
whom he was bound to defend. The Empress Queen had the faults as
well as the virtues which are connected with quick sensibility
and a high spirit. There was no peril which she was not ready to
brave, no calamity which she was not ready to bring on her
subjects, or on the whole human race, if only she might once
taste the sweetness of a complete revenge. Revenge, too,
presented itself, to her narrow and superstitious mind, in the
guise of duty. Silesia had been wrested not only from the House
of Austria, but from the Church of Rome. The conqueror had indeed
permitted his new subjects to worship God after their own
fashion; but this was not enough. To bigotry it seemed an
intolerable hardship that the Catholic Church, having long
enjoyed ascendency, should be compelled to content itself with
equality. Nor was this the only circumstance which led Maria
Theresa to regard her enemy as the enemy of God. The profaneness
of Frederic's writings and conversation, and the frightful
rumours which were circulated respecting the immorality of his
private life, naturally shocked a woman who believed with the
firmest faith all that her confessor told her, and who, though
surrounded by temptations, though young and beautiful, though
ardent in all her passions, though possessed of absolute power,
had preserved her fame unsullied even by the breath of slander.

To recover Silesia, to humble the dynasty of Hohenzollern to the
dust, was the great object of her life. She toiled during many
years for this end, with zeal as indefatigable as that which the
poet ascribed to the stately goddess who tired out her immortal
horses in the work of raising the nations against Troy, and who
offered to give up to destruction her darling Sparta and Mycenae,
if only she might once see the smoke going up from the palace of
Priam. With even such a spirit did the proud Austrian Juno strive
to array against her foe a coalition such as Europe had never
seen. Nothing would content her but that the whole civilised
world, from the White Sea to the Adriatic, from the Bay of Biscay
to the pastures of the wild horses of the Tanais, should be
combined in arms against one petty State.

She early succeeded by various arts in obtaining the adhesion of
Russia. An ample share of spoil was promised to the King of
Poland; and that prince, governed by his favourite, Count Bruhl,
readily promised the assistance of the Saxon forces. The great
difficulty was with France. That the Houses of Bourbon and of
Hapsburg should ever cordially co-operate in any great scheme of
European policy, had long been thought, to use the strong
expression of Frederic, just as impossible as that fire and water
should amalgamate. The whole history of the Continent, during two
centuries and a half, had been the history of the mutual
jealousies and enmities of France and Austria. Since the
administration of Richelieu, above all, it had been considered as
the plain policy of the Most Christian King to thwart on all
occasions the Court of Vienna, and to protect every member of the
Germanic body who stood up against the dictation of the Caesars.
Common sentiments of religion had been unable to mitigate this
strong antipathy. The rulers of France, even while clothed in the
Roman purple, even persecuting the heretics of Rochelle and
Auvergne, had still looked with favour on the Lutheran and
Calvinistic princes who were struggling against the chief of the
empire. If the French ministers paid any respect to the
traditional rules handed down to them through many generations,
they would have acted towards Frederic as the greatest of their
predecessors acted towards Gustavus Adolphus. That there was
deadly enmity between Prussia and Austria was of itself a
sufficient reason for close friendship between Prussia and
France. With France Frederic could never have any serious
controversy. His territories were so situated that his ambition,
greedy and unscrupulous as it was, could never impel him to
attack her of his own accord. He was more than half a Frenchman:
he wrote, spoke, read nothing but French: he delighted in French
society: the admiration of the French he proposed to himself as
the best reward of all his exploits. It seemed incredible that
any French Government, however notorious for levity or stupidity,
could spurn away such an ally.

The Court of Vienna, however, did not despair. The Austrian
diplomatists propounded a new scheme of politics, which, it must
be owned, was not altogether without plausibility. The great
powers, according to this theory, had long been under a delusion.
They had looked on each other as natural enemies, while in truth
they were natural allies. A succession of cruel wars had
devastated Europe, had thinned the population, had exhausted the
public resources, had loaded governments with an immense burden
of debt; and when, after two hundred years of murderous hostility
or of hollow truce, the illustrious Houses whose enmity had
distracted the world sat down to count their gains, to what did
the real advantage on either side amount? Simply to this, that
they had kept each other from thriving. It was not the King of
France, it was not the Emperor, who had reaped the fruits of the
Thirty Years' War, or of the War of the Pragmatic Sanction. Those
fruits had been pilfered by states of the second and third rank,
which, secured against jealousy by their insignificance, had
dexterously aggrandised themselves while pretending to serve the
animosity of the great chiefs of Christendom. While the lion and
tiger were tearing each other, the jackal had run off into the
jungle with the prey. The real gainer by the Thirty Years' War
had been neither France nor Austria, but Sweden. The real gainer
by the War of the Pragmatic Sanction had been neither France nor
Austria, but the upstart of Brandenburg. France had made great
efforts, had added largely to her military glory, and largely to
her public burdens; and for what end? Merely that Frederic might
rule Silesia. For this and this alone one French army, wasted
by sword and famine, had perished in Bohemia; and another had
purchased with flood of the noblest blood, the barren glory of
Fontenoy. And this prince, for whom France had suffered so much,
was he a grateful, was he even an honest ally? Had he not been
as false to the Court of Versailles as to the Court of Vienna?

Had he not played, on a large scale, the same part which, in
private life, is played by the vile agent of chicane who sets his
neighbours quarrelling, involves them in costly and interminable
litigation, and betrays them to each other all round, certain
that, whoever may be ruined, he shall be enriched? Surely the
true wisdom of the great powers was to attack, not each other,
but this common barrator, who, by inflaming the passions of both,
by pretending to serve both, and by deserting both, had raised
himself above the station to which he was born. The great object
of Austria was to regain Silesia; the great object of France was
to obtain an accession of territory on the side of Flanders. If
they took opposite sides, the result would probably be that,
after a war of many years, after the slaughter of many thousands
of brave men, after the waste of many millions of crowns, they
would lay down their arms without having achieved either object;
but, if they came to an understanding, there would be no risk,
and no difficulty. Austria would willingly make in Belgium such
cessions as France could not expect to obtain by ten pitched
battles. Silesia would easily be annexed to the monarchy of which
it had long been a part. The union of two such powerful
governments would at once overawe the King of Prussia. If he
resisted, one short campaign would settle his fate. France and
Austria, long accustomed to rise from the game of war both
losers, would, for the first time, both be gainers. There could
be no room for jealousy between them. The power of both would be
increased at once; the equilibrium between them would be
preserved; and the only sufferer would be a mischievous and
unprincipled buccaneer, who deserved no tenderness from either.

These doctrines, attractive from their novelty and ingenuity,
soon became fashionable at the supper-parties and in the coffee-
houses of Paris, and were espoused by every gay marquis and every
facetious abbe who was admitted to see Madame de Pompadour's hair
curled and powdered. It was not, however, to any political theory
that the strange coalition between France and Austria owed its
origin. The real motive which induced the great continental
powers to forget their old animosities and their old state maxims
was personal aversion to the King of Prussia. This feeling was
strongest in Maria Theresa; but it was by no means confined to
her. Frederic, in some respects a good master, was emphatically a
bad neighbour. That he was hard in all dealings, and quick to
take all advantages, was not his most odious fault. His bitter
and scoffing speech had inflicted keener wounds than his
ambition. In his character of wit he was under less restraint
than even in his character of ruler. Satirical verses against all
the princes and ministers of Europe were ascribed to his pen. In
his letters and conversation he alluded to the greatest
potentates of the age in terms which would have better suited
Colle, in a war of repartee with young Crebillon at Pelletier's
table, than a great sovereign speaking of great sovereigns. About
women he was in the habit of expressing himself in a manner which
it was impossible for the meekest of women to forgive; and,
unfortunately for him, almost the whole Continent was then
governed by women who were by no means conspicuous for meekness.
Maria Theresa herself had not escaped his scurrilous jests. The
Empress Elizabeth of Russia knew that her gallantries afforded
him a favourite theme for ribaldry and invective. Madame de
Pompadour, who was really the head of the French Government, had
been even more keenly galled. She had attempted, by the most
delicate flattery, to propitiate the King of Prussia; but her
messages had drawn from him only dry and sarcastic replies. The
Empress Queen took a very different course. Though the haughtiest
of princesses, though the most austere of matrons, she forgot in
her thirst for revenge both the dignity of her race and the
purity of her character, and condescended to flatter the lowborn
and low-minded concubine, who, having acquired influence by
prostituting herself, retained it by prostituting others. Maria
Theresa actually wrote with her own hand a note, full of
expressions of esteem and friendship to her dear cousin, the
daughter of the butcher Poisson, the wife of the publican
D'Etioles, the kidnapper of young girls for the haram of an old
rake, a strange cousin for the descendant of so many Emperors of
the West! The mistress was completely gained over, and easily
carried her point with Lewis, who had, indeed, wrongs of his own
to resent. His feelings were not quick, but contempt, says the
Eastern proverb, pierces even through the shell of the tortoise;
and neither prudence nor decorum had ever restrained Frederic
from expressing his measureless contempt for the sloth, the
imbecility, and the baseness of Lewis. France was thus induced to
join the coalition; and the example of France determined the
conduct of Sweden, then completely subject to French influence.

The enemies of Frederic were surely strong enough to attack him
openly; but they were desirous to add to all their other
advantages the advantage of a surprise. He was not, however, a
man to be taken off his guard. He had tools in every Court; and
he now received from Vienna, from Dresden, and from Paris,
accounts so circumstantial and so consistent, that he could not
doubt of his danger. He learnt, that he was to be assailed at
once by France, Austria, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and the Germanic
body; that the greater part of his dominions was to be portioned
out among his enemies; that France, which from her geographical
position could not directly share in his spoils, was to receive
an equivalent in the Netherlands; that Austria was to have
Silesia, and the Czarina East Prussia; that Augustus of Saxony
expected Magdeburg; and that Sweden would be rewarded with part
of Pomerania. If these designs succeeded, the House of
Brandenburg would at once sink in the European system to a place
lower than that of the Duke of Wurtemberg or the Margrave of

And what hope was there that these designs would fail? No such
union of the continental powers had been seen for ages. A less
formidable confederacy had in a week conquered, all the provinces
of Venice, when Venice was at the height, of power, wealth, and
glory. A less formidable confederacy had compelled Lewis the
Fourteenth to bow down his haughty head to the very earth. A less
formidable confederacy has, within our own memory, subjugated a
still mightier empire, and abused a still prouder name. Such odds
had never been heard of in war. The people whom Frederic ruled
were not five millions. The population of the countries which
were leagued against him amounted to a hundred millions, The
disproportion in wealth was at least equally great. Small
communities, actuated by strong sentiments of patriotism or
loyalty, have sometimes made head against great monarchies
weakened by factions and discontents. But small as was Frederic's
kingdom, it probably contained a greater number of disaffected
subjects than were to be found in all the states of his enemies.
Silesia formed a fourth part of his dominions; and from the
Silesians, born under Austrian princes, the utmost that he could
expect was apathy. From the Silesian Catholics he could hardly
expect anything but resistance.

Some states have been enabled, by their geographical position, to
defend themselves with advantage against immense force. The sea
has repeatedly protected England against the fury of the whole
Continent. The Venetian Government, driven from its possessions
on the land, could still bid defiance to the confederates of
Cambray from the arsenal amidst the lagoons. More than one great
and well appointed army, which regarded the shepherds of
Switzerland as an easy prey, has perished in the passes of the
Alps. Frederic hid no such advantage. The form of his states,
their situation, the nature of the ground, all were against him.
His long, scattered, straggling territory seemed to have been
shaped with an express view to the convenience of invaders, and
was protected by no sea, by no chain of hills. Scarcely any
corner of it was a week's march from the territory of the enemy.
The capital itself, in the event of war, would be constantly
exposed to insult. In truth there was hardly a politician or a
soldier in Europe who doubted that the conflict would be
terminated in a very few days by the prostration of the House of

Nor was Frederic's own opinion very different. He anticipated
nothing short of his own ruin, and of the ruin of his family. Yet
there was still a chance, a slender chance, of escape. His states
had at least the advantage of a central position; his enemies
were widely separated from each other, and could not conveniently
unite their overwhelming forces on one point. They inhabited
different climates, and it was probable that the season of the
year which would be best suited to the military operations of one
portion of the League, would be unfavourable to those of another
portion. The Prussian monarchy, too, was free from some
infirmities which were found in empires far more extensive and
magnificent. Its effective strength for a desperate struggle was
not to be measured merely by the number of square miles or the
number of people. In that spare but well-knit and well-exercised
body, there was nothing but sinew, and muscle and bone. No public
creditors looked for dividends. No distant colonies required
defence. No Court, filled with flatterers and mistresses,
devoured the pay of fifty battalions. The Prussian army, though
far inferior in number to the troops which were about to be
opposed to it, was yet strong out of all proportion to the extent
of the Prussian dominions. It was also admirably trained and
admirably officered, accustomed to obey and accustomed to
conquer. The revenue was not only unincumbered by debt, but
exceeded the ordinary outlay in time of peace. Alone of all the
European princes, Frederic had a treasure laid up for a day of
difficulty. Above all, he was one, and his enemies were many. In
their camps would certainly be found the jealousy, the
dissension, the slackness inseparable from coalitions; on his
side was the energy, the unity, the secrecy of a strong
dictatorship. To a certain extent the deficiency of military
means might be supplied by the resources of military art. Small
as the King's army was, when compared with the six hundred
thousand men whom the confederates could bring into the field,
celerity of movement might in some degree compensate for
deficiency of bulk. It was thus just possible that genius,
judgment, resolution, and good luck united, might protract the
struggle during a campaign or two; and to gain even a month was
of importance. It could not be long before the vices which are
found in all extensive confederacies would begin to show
themselves. Every member of the League would think his own share
of the war too large, and his own share of the spoils too small.
Complaints and recriminations would abound. The Turk might stir
on the Danube; the statesmen of France might discover the error
which they had committed in abandoning the fundamental principles
of their national policy. Above all, death might rid Prussia of
its most formidable enemies. The war was the effect of the
personal aversion with which three or four sovereigns regarded
Frederic; and the decease of any one of those sovereigns might
produce a complete revolution in the state of Europe.

In the midst of a horizon generally dark and stormy, Frederic
could discern one bright spot. The peace which had been concluded
between England and France in 1748, had been in Europe no more
than an armistice; and had not even been an armistice in the
other quarters of the globe. In India the sovereignty of the
Carnatic was disputed between two great Mussulman houses; Fort
Saint George had taken one side, Pondicherry the other; and in a
series of battles and sieges the troops of Lawrence and Clive had
been opposed to those of Dupleix. A struggle less important in
its consequences, but not less likely to produce irritation, was
carried on between those French and English adventurers, who
kidnapped negroes and collected gold dust on the coast of Guinea.
But it was in North America that the emulation and mutual
aversion of the two nations were most conspicuous. The French
attempted to hem in the English colonists by a chain of military
posts, extending from the Great Lakes to the mouth of the
Mississippi. The English took arms. The wild aboriginal tribes
appeared on each side mingled with the Pale-Faces. Battles were
fought; forts were stormed; and hideous stories about stakes,
scalpings, and death-songs reached Europe, and inflamed that
national animosity which the rivalry of ages had produced. The
disputes between France and England came to a crisis at the very
time when the tempest which had been gathering was about to burst
on Prussia. The tastes and interests of Frederic would have led
him, if he had been allowed an option, to side with the House of
Bourbon. But the folly of the Court of Versailles left him no
choice. France became the tool of Austria; and Frederic was
forced to become the ally of England. He could not, indeed,
expect that a power which covered the sea with its fleets, and
which had to make war at once on the Ohio and the Ganges, would
be able to spare a large number of troops for operations in
Germany. But England, though poor compared with the England of
our time, was far richer than any country on the Continent. The
amount of her revenue, and the resources which she found in her
credit, though they may be thought small by a generation which
has seen her raise a hundred and thirty millions in a single
year, appeared miraculous to the politicians of that age. A very
moderate portion of her wealth, expended by an able and
economical prince, in a country where prices were low, would be
sufficient to equip and maintain a formidable army.

Such was the situation in which Frederic found himself. He saw
the whole extent of his peril. He saw that there was still a
faint possibility of escape; and, with prudent temerity, he
determined to strike the first blow. It was in the month of
August 1756, that the great war of the Seven Years commenced. The
King demanded of the Empress Queen a distinct explanation of her
intentions, and plainly told her that he should consider a
refusal as a declaration of war. "I want," he said, "no answer
in the style of an oracle." He received an answer at once haughty
and evasive. In an instant the rich electorate of Saxony was
overflowed by sixty thousand Prussian troops. Augustus with his
army occupied a strong position at Pirna. The Queen of Poland was
at Dresden. In a few days Pirna was blockaded and Dresden was
taken. The first object of Frederic was to obtain possession of
the Saxon State papers; for those papers, he well knew, contained
ample proofs that, though apparently an aggressor, he was really
acting in self-defence. The Queen of Poland, as well acquainted
as Frederic with the importance of those documents, had packed
them up, had concealed them in her bed-chamber, and was about to
send them off to Warsaw, when a Prussian officer made his
appearance. In the hope that no soldier would venture to outrage
a lady, a queen, a daughter of an emperor, the mother-in-law of a
dauphin, she placed herself before the trunk, and at length sat
down on it. But all resistance was vain. The papers were carried
to Frederic, who found in them, as he expected, abundant evidence
of the designs of the coalition. The most important documents
were instantly published, and the effect of the publication was
great. It was clear that, of whatever sins the King of Prussia
might formerly have been guilty, he was now the injured party,
and had merely anticipated a blow intended to destroy him.

The Saxon camp at Pirna was in the meantime closely invested; but
the besieged were not without hopes of succour. A great Austrian
army under Marshal Brown was about to pour through the passes
which separate Bohemia from Saxony. Frederic left at Pirna a
force sufficient to deal with the Saxons, hastened into Bohemia,
encountered Brown at Lowositz, and defeated him. This battle
decided the fate of Saxony. Augustus and his favourite Bruhl fled
to Poland. The whole army of the Electorate capitulated. From
that time till the end of the war, Frederic treated Saxony as a
part of his dominions, or, rather, he acted towards the Saxons in
a manner which may serve to illustrate the whole meaning of that
tremendous sentence, "subjectos tanquam suos, viles tanquam
alienos." Saxony was as much in his power as Brandenburg; and he
had no such interest in the welfare of Saxony as he had in the
welfare of Brandenburg. He accordingly levied troops and exacted
contributions throughout the enslaved province, with far more
rigour than in any part of his own dominions. Seventeen thousand
men who had been in the camp at Pirna were half compelled, half
persuaded to enlist under their conqueror. Thus, within a few
weeks from the commencement of hostilities, one of the
confederates had been disarmed, and his weapons were now pointed
against the rest.

The winter put a stop to military operations. All had hitherto
gone well. But the real tug of war was still to come. It was easy
to foresee that the year 1757 would be a memorable era in the
history of Europe.

The King's scheme for the campaign was simple, bold, and
judicious. The Duke of Cumberland with an English and Hanoverian
array was in Western Germany, and might be able to prevent the
French troops from attacking Prussia. The Russians, confined by
their snows, would probably not stir till the spring was far
advanced. Saxony was prostrated. Sweden could do nothing very
important. During a few months Frederic would have to deal with
Austria alone. Even thus the odds were against him. But ability
and courage have often triumphed against odds still more

Early in 1757 the Prussian army in Saxony began to move. Through
four defiles in the mountains they came pouring into Bohemia.
Prague was the King's first mark; but the ulterior object was
probably Vienna. At Prague lay Marshal Brown with one great army.
Daun, the most cautious and fortunate of the Austrian captains,
was advancing with another. Frederic determined to overwhelm
Brown before Daun should arrive. On the sixth of May was fought,
under those walls which, a hundred and thirty years before, had
witnessed the victory of the Catholic league and the flight of
the unhappy Palatine, a battle more bloody than any which Europe
saw during the long interval between Malplaquet and Eylau. The
King and Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick were distinguished on that
day by their valour and exertions. But the chief glory was with
Schwerin. When the Prussian infantry wavered, the stout old
marshal snatched the colours from an ensign, and, waving them in
the air, led back his regiment to the charge. Thus at seventy-two
years of age he fell in the thickest battle, still grasping the
standard which bears the black eagle on the field argent. The
victory remained with the King; but it had been dearly purchased.
Whole columns of his bravest warriors had fallen. He admitted
that he had lost eighteen thousand men. Of the enemy, twenty-four
thousand had been killed, wounded, or taken.

Part of the defeated army was shut up in Prague. Part fled to
join the troops which, under the command of Daun, were now close
at hand. Frederic determined to play over the same game which had
succeeded at Lowositz. He left a large force to besiege Prague,
and at the head of thirty thousand men he marched against Daun.
The cautious Marshal, though he had a great superiority in
numbers, would risk nothing. He occupied at Kolin a position
almost impregnable, and awaited the attack of the King.

It was the eighteenth of June, a day which, if the Greek
superstition still retained its influence, would be held sacred
to Nemesis, a day on which the two greatest princes of modern
times were taught, by a terrible experience, that neither skill
nor valour can fix the inconstancy of fortune. The battle began
before noon; and part of the Prussian army maintained the contest
till after the midsummer sun had gone down. But at length the
King found that his troops, having been repeatedly driven back
with frightful carnage, could no longer be led to the charge. He
was with difficulty persuaded to quit the field. The officers of
his personal staff were under the necessity of expostulating with
him, and one of them took the liberty to say, "Does your Majesty
mean to storm the batteries alone?" Thirteen thousand of his
bravest followers had perished. Nothing remained for him but to
retreat in good order, to raise the siege of Prague, and to hurry
his army by different routes out of Bohemia.

This stroke seemed to be final. Frederic's situation had at best
been such, that only an uninterrupted run of good luck could save
him, as it seemed, from ruin. And now, almost in the outset of
the contest he had met with a check which, even in a war between
equal powers, would have been felt as serious. He had owed much
to the opinion which all Europe entertained of his army. Since
his accession, his soldiers had in many successive battles been
victorious over the Austrians. But the glory had departed from
his arms. All whom his malevolent sarcasms had wounded, made
haste to avenge themselves by scoffing at the scoffer. His
soldiers had ceased to confide in his star. In every part of his
camp his dispositions were severely criticised. Even in his own
family he had detractors. His next brother, William, heir-
presumptive, or rather, in truth, heir-apparent to the throne,
and great-grandfather of the present King, could not refrain from
lamenting his own fate and that of the House of Hohenzollern,
once so great and so prosperous, but now, by the rash ambition of
its chief, made a by-word to all nations. These complaints, and
some blunders which William committed during the retreat from
Bohemia, called forth the bitter displeasure of the inexorable
King. The prince's heart was broken by the cutting reproaches of
his brother; he quitted the army, retired to a country seat, and
in a short time died of shame and vexation.

It seemed that the King's distress could hardly be increased. Yet
at this moment another blow not less terrible than that of Kolin
fell upon him. The French under Marshal D'Estrees had invaded
Germany. The Duke of Cumberland had given them battle at
Hastembeck, and had been defeated. In order to save the
Electorate of Hanover from entire subjugation, he had made, at
Closter Seven, an arrangement with the French Generals, which
left them at liberty to turn their arms against the Prussian

That nothing might be wanting to Frederic's distress, he lost his
mother just at this time; and he appears to have felt the loss
more than was to be expected from the hardness and severity of
his character. In truth, his misfortunes had now cut to the
quick. The mocker, the tyrant, the most rigorous, the most
imperious, the most cynical of men, was very unhappy. His face
was so haggard, and his form so thin, that when on his return
from Bohemia he passed through Leipsic, the people hardly knew
him again. His sleep was broken; the tears, in spite of himself,
often started into his eyes; and the grave began to present
itself to his agitated mind as the best refuge from misery and
dishonour. His resolution was fixed never to be taken alive, and
never to make peace on condition of descending from his place
among the powers of Europe. He saw nothing left for him except to
die; and he deliberately chose his mode of death. He always
carried about with him a sure and speedy poison in a small glass
case; and to the few in whom he placed confidence, he made no
mystery of his resolution.

But we should very imperfectly describe the state of Frederic's
mind, if we left out of view the laughable peculiarities which
contrasted so singularly with the gravity, energy, and harshness
of his character. It is difficult to say whether the tragic or
the comic predominated in the strange scene which was then
acting. In the midst of all the great King's calamities, his
passion for writing indifferent poetry grew stronger and
stronger. Enemies all round him, despair in his heart, pills of
corrosive sublimate hidden in his clothes, he poured forth
hundreds upon hundreds of lines, hateful to gods and men, the
insipid dregs of Voltaire's Hippocrene, the faint echo of the
lyre of Chaulieu. It is amusing to compare what he did during the
last months of 1757, with what he wrote during the same time. It
may be doubted whether any equal portion of the life of Hannibal,
of Caesar, or of Napoleon, will bear a comparison with that short
period, the most brilliant in the history of Prussia and of
Frederic. Yet at this very time the scanty leisure of the
illustrious warrior was employed in producing odes and epistles,
a little better than Cibber's, and a little worse than Hayley's.
Here and there a manly sentiment which deserves to be in prose
makes its appearance in company with Prometheus and Orpheus,
Elysium and Acheron, the Plaintive Philomel, the poppies of
Morpheus, and all the other frippery which, like a robe tossed by
a proud beauty to her waiting woman, has long been contemptuously
abandoned by genius to mediocrity. We hardly know any instance of
the strength and weakness of human nature so striking, and so
grotesque, as the character of this haughty, vigilant, resolute,
sagacious blue-stocking, half Mithridates and half Trissotin,
bearing up against a world in arms, with an ounce of poison in
one pocket and a quire of bad verses in the other.

Frederic had some time before made advances towards a
reconciliation with Voltaire; and some civil letters had passed
between them. After the battle of Kolin their epistolary
intercourse became, at least in seeming, friendly and
confidential. We do not know any collection of Letters which
throws so much light on the darkest and most intricate parts of
human nature, as the correspondence of these strange beings after
they had exchanged forgiveness. Both felt that the quarrel had
lowered them in the public estimation. They admired each other.
They stood in need of each other. The great King wished to be
handed down to posterity by the great Writer. The great Writer
felt himself exalted by the homage or the great King. Yet the
wounds which they had inflicted on each other were too deep to be
effaced, or even perfectly healed. Not only did the scars remain;
the sore places often festered and bled afresh. The letters
consisted for the most part of compliments, thanks, offers of
service, assurances of attachment. But if anything brought back
to Frederic's recollection the cunning and mischievous pranks by
which Voltaire had provoked him, some expression of contempt and
displeasure broke forth in the midst of eulogy. It was much worse
when anything recalled to the mind of Voltaire the outrages which
he and his kinswoman had suffered at Frankfort. All at once his
flowing panegyric was turned into invective. "Remember how you
behaved to me. For your sake I have lost the favour of my native
King. For your sake I am an exile from my country. I loved you. I
trusted myself to you. I had no wish but to end my life in your
service. And what was my reward? Stripped of all that you had
bestowed on me, the key, the order, the pension, I was forced to
fly from your territories. I was hunted as if I had been a
deserter from your grenadiers. I was arrested, insulted,
plundered. My niece was dragged through the mud of Frankfort by
your soldiers, as if she had been some wretched follower of your
camp. You have great talents. You have good qualities. But you
have one odious vice. You delight in the abasement of your
fellow-creatures. You have brought disgrace on the name of
philosopher. You have given some colour to the slanders of the
bigots, who say that no confidence can be placed in the justice
or humanity of those who reject the Christian faith." Then the
King answers, with less heat but equal severity--"You know that
you behaved shamefully in Prussia. It was well for you that you
had to deal with a man so indulgent to the infirmities of genius
as I am. You richly deserved to see the inside of a dungeon. Your
talents are not more widely known than your faithlessness and
your malevolence. The grave itself is no asylum from your spite.
Maupertuis is dead; but you still go on calumniating and deriding
him, as if you had not made him miserable enough while he was
living. Let us have no more of this. And, above all, let me hear
no more of your niece. I am sick to death of her name. I can bear
with your faults for the sake of your merits; but she has not
written Mahomet or Merope."

An explosion of this kind, it might be supposed, would
necessarily put an end to all amicable communication. But it was
not so. After every outbreak of ill humour this extraordinary
pair became more loving than before, and exchanged compliments
and assurances of mutual regard with a wonderful air of

It may well be supposed that men who wrote thus to each other,
were not very guarded in what they said of each other. The
English ambassador, Mitchell, who knew that the King of Prussia
was constantly writing to Voltaire with the greatest freedom on
the most important subjects, was amazed to hear his Majesty
designate this highly favoured correspondent as a bad-hearted
fellow, the greatest rascal on the face of the earth. And the
language which the poet held about the King was not much more

It would probably have puzzled Voltaire himself to say what was
his real feeling towards Frederic. It was compounded of all
sentiments, from enmity to friendship, and from scorn to
admiration; and the proportions in which these elements were
mixed, changed every moment. The old patriarch resembled the
spoiled child who screams, stamps, cuffs, laughs, kisses, and
cuddles within one quarter of an hour. His resentment was not
extinguished; yet he was not without sympathy for his old friend.
As a Frenchman, he wished success to the arms of his country. As
a philosopher, he was anxious for the stability of a throne on
which a philosopher sat. He longed both to save and to humble
Frederic. There was one way, and only one, in which all his
conflicting feelings could at once be gratified. If Frederic were
preserved by the interference of France, if it were known that
for that interference he was indebted to the mediation of
Voltaire, this would indeed be delicious revenge; this would
indeed be to heap coals of fire on that haughty head. Nor did the
vain and restless poet think it impossible that he might, from
his hermitage near the Alps, dictate peace to Europe. D'Estrees
had quitted Hanover, and the command of the French army had been
intrusted to the Duke of Richelieu, a man whose chief distinction
was derived from his success in gallantry. Richelieu was in truth
the most eminent of that race of seducers by profession, who
furnished Crebillon the younger and La Clos with models for their
heroes. In his earlier days the royal house itself had not been
secure from his presumptuous love. He was believed to have
carried his conquests into the family of Orleans; and some
suspected that he was not unconcerned in the mysterious remorse
which embittered the last hours of the charming mother of Lewis
the Fifteenth. But the Duke was now sixty years old. With a heart
deeply corrupted by vice, a head long accustomed to think only on
trifles, an impaired constitution, an impaired fortune, and,
worst of all, a very red nose, he was entering on a dull,
frivolous, and unrespected old age. Without one qualification for
military command, except that personal courage which was common
between him and the whole nobility of France, he had been placed
at the head of the army of Hanover; and in that situation he did
his best to repair, by extortion and corruption, the injury which
he had done to his property by a life of dissolute profusion.

The Duke of Richelieu to the end of his life hated the
philosophers as a sect, not for those parts of their system which
a good and wise man would have condemned, but for their virtues,
for their spirit of free inquiry, and for their hatred of those
social abuses of which he was himself the personification. But
he, like many of those who thought with him, excepted Voltaire
from the list of proscribed writers. He frequently sent
flattering letters to Ferney. He did the patriarch the honour to
borrow money of him, and even carried this condescending
friendship so far as to forget to pay the interest. Voltaire
thought that it might be in his power to bring the Duke and the
King of Prussia into communication with each other. He wrote
earnestly to both; and he so far succeeded that a correspondence
between them was commenced.

But it was to very different means that Frederic was to owe his
deliverance. At the beginning of November, the net seemed to have
closed completely round him. The Russians were in the field, and
were spreading devastation through his eastern provinces. Silesia
was overrun by the Austrians. A great French army was advancing
from the west under the command of Marshal Soubise, a prince of
the great Armorican house of Rohan. Berlin itself had been taken
and plundered by the Croatians. Such was the situation from which
Frederic extricated himself, with dazzling glory, in the short
space of thirty days.

He marched first against Soubise. On the fifth of November the
armies met at Rosbach. The French were two to one; but they were
ill-disciplined, and their general was a dunce. The tactics of
Frederic, and the well-regulated valour of the Prussian troops
obtained a complete victory. Seven thousand of the invaders were
made prisoners. Their guns, their colours, their baggage, fell
into the hands of the conquerors. Those who escaped fled as
confusedly as a mob scattered by cavalry. Victorious in the West,
the King turned his arms towards Silesia. In that quarter
everything seemed to be lost. Breslau had fallen; and Charles of
Lorraine, with a mighty power, held the whole province. On the
fifth of December, exactly one month after the battle of Rosbach,
Frederic, with forty thousand men, and Prince Charles, at the
head of not less than sixty thousand, met at Leuthen, hard by
Breslau. The King, who was, in general, perhaps too much inclined
to consider the common soldier as a mere machine, resorted, on
this great day, to means resembling those which Bonaparte
afterwards employed with such signal success for the purpose of
stimulating military enthusiasm. The principal officers were
convoked. Frederic addressed them with great force and pathos;
and directed them to speak to their men as he had spoken to
them. When the armies were set in battle array, the Prussian
troops were in a state of fierce excitement; but their excitement
showed itself after the fashion of a grave people. The columns
advanced to the attack chanting, to the sound of drums and fifes,
the rude hymns of the old Saxon Sternholds. They had never fought
so well; nor had the genius of their chief ever been so
conspicuous. "That battle," said Napoleon, "was a masterpiece. Of
itself it is sufficient to entitle Frederic to a place in the
first rank among generals." The victory was complete.
thousand Austrians were killed, wounded, or taken; fifty stand
of colours, a hundred guns, four thousand waggons, fell into
the hands of the Prussians. Breslau opened its gates; Silesia
was reconquered; Charles of Lorraine retired to hide his shame
and sorrow at Brussels; and Frederic allowed his troops to
take some repose in winter quarters, after a campaign, to the
vicissitudes of which it will be difficult to find any parallel
in ancient or modern history.

The King's fame filled all the world. He had during the last
year, maintained a contest, on terms of advantage, against three
powers, the weakest of which had more than three times his
resources. He had fought four great pitched battles against
superior forces. Three of these battles he had gained: and the
defeat of Kolin, repaired as it had been, rather raised than
lowered his military renown. The victory of Leuthen is, to this
day, the proudest on the roll of Prussian fame. Leipsic indeed,
and Waterloo, produced consequences more important to mankind.
But the glory of Leipsic must be shared by the Prussians with the
Austrians and Russians; and at Waterloo the British infantry bore
the burden and heat of the day. The victory of Rosbach was, in a
military point of view, less honourable than that of Leuthen; for
it was gained over an incapable general, and a disorganised army;
but the moral effect which it produced was immense. All the
preceding triumphs of Frederic had been triumphs over Germans,
and could excite no emotions of national pride among the German
people. It was impossible that a Hessian or a Hanoverian could
feel any patriotic exultation at hearing that Pomeranians had
slaughtered Moravians, or that Saxon banners had been hung in the
churches of Berlin. Indeed, though the military character of the
Germans justly stood high throughout the world, they could boast
of no great day which belonged to them as a people; of no
Agincourt, of no Bannockburn. Most of their victories had been
gained over each other; and their most splendid exploits against
foreigners had been achieved under the command of Eugene, who was
himself a foreigner. The news of the battle of Rosbach stirred
the blood of the whole of the mighty population from the Alps to
the Baltic, and from the borders of Courland to those of
Lorraine. Westphalia and Lower Saxony had been deluged by a great
host of strangers, whose speech was unintelligible, and whose
petulant and licentious manners had excited the strongest
feelings of disgust and hatred. That great host had been put to
flight by a small band of German warriors, led by a prince of
German blood on the side of father and mother, and marked by the
fair hair and the clear blue eye of Germany. Never since the
dissolution of the empire of Charlemagne, had the Teutonic race
won such a field against the French. The tidings called forth a
general burst of delight and pride from the whole of the great
family which spoke the various dialects of the ancient language
of Arminius. The fame of Frederic began to supply, in some
degree, the place of a common government and of a common capital.
It became a rallying point for all true Germans, a subject of
mutual congratulation to the Bavarian and the Westphalian, to the
citizen of Frankfort, and to the citizen of Nuremberg. Then first
it was manifest that the Germans were truly a nation. Then first
was discernible that patriotic spirit which, in 1813, achieved
the great deliverance of central Europe, and which still guards,
and long will guard, against foreign ambition the old freedom of
the Rhine.

Nor were the effects produced by that celebrated day merely
political. The greatest masters of German poetry and eloquence
have admitted that, though the great King neither valued nor
understood his native language, though he looked on France as the
only seat of taste and philosophy, yet, in his own despite, he
did much to emancipate the genius of his countrymen from the
foreign yoke; and that, in the act of vanquishing Soubise, he
was, unintentionally, rousing the spirit which soon began to
question the literary precedence of Boileau and Voltaire. So
strangely do events confound all the plans of man. A prince who
read only French, who wrote only French, who aspired to rank as a
French classic, became, quite unconsciously, the means of
liberating half the Continent from the dominion of that French
criticism of which he was himself, to the end of his life, a
slave. Yet even the enthusiasm of Germany in favour of Frederic
hardly equalled the enthusiasm of England. The birthday of our
ally was celebrated with as much enthusiasm as that of our own
sovereign; and at night the streets of London were in a blaze
with illuminations. Portraits of the Hero of Rosbach, with his
cocked hat and long pigtail, were in every house. An attentive
observer will, at this day, find in the parlours of old-fashioned
inns, and in the portfolios of print-sellers, twenty portraits of
Frederic for one of George the Second. The sign-painters were
everywhere employed in touching up Admiral Vernon into the King
of Prussia. This enthusiasm was strong among religious people,
and especially among the Methodists, who knew that the French and
Austrians were Papists, and supposed Frederic to be the Joshua or
Gideon of the Reformed Faith. One of Whitfield's hearers, on the
On which thanks for the battle of Leuthen were returned at the
Tabernacle, made the following exquisitely ludicrous entry in a
diary, part of which has come down to us: "The Lord stirred up
the King of Prussia and his soldiers to pray. They kept three
fast days, and spent about an hour praying and singing psalms
before they engaged the enemy. O! how good it is to pray and
fight!" Some young Englishmen of rank proposed to visit Germany
as volunteers, for the purpose of learning the art of war under
the greatest of commanders. This last proof of British attachment
and admiration, Frederic politely but firmly declined. His camp
was no place for amateur students of military science. The
Prussian discipline was rigorous even to cruelty. The officers,
while in the field, were expected to practise an abstemiousness
and self-denial such as was hardly surpassed by the most rigid
monastic orders. However noble their birth, however high their
rank in the service, they were not permitted to eat from anything
better than pewter. It was a high crime even in a count and
field-marshal to have a single silver spoon among his baggage.
Gay young Englishmen of twenty thousand a year, accustomed to
liberty and luxury, would not easily submit to these Spartan
restraints. The King could not venture to keep them in order as
he kept his own subjects in order. Situated as he was with
respect to England, he could not well imprison or shoot
refractory Howards and Cavendishes. On the other hand, the
example of a few fine gentlemen, attended by chariots and livery
servants, eating in plates, and drinking champagne and Tokay, was
enough to corrupt his whole army. He thought it best to make a
stand at first, and civilly refused to admit such dangerous
companions among his troops.

The help of England was bestowed in a manner far more useful and
more acceptable. An annual subsidy of near seven hundred thousand
pounds enabled the King to add probably more than fifty thousand
men to his army. Pitt, now at the height of power and popularity,
undertook the task of defending Western Germany against France,
and asked Frederic only for the loan of a general. The general
selected was Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, who had attained high
distinction in the Prussian service. He was put at the head of an
army, partly English, partly Hanoverian, partly composed of
mercenaries hired from the petty princes of the empire. He soon
vindicated the choice of the two allied Courts, and proved
himself the second general of the age.

Frederic passed the winter at Breslau, in reading, writing, and
preparing for the next campaign. The havoc which the war had made
among his troops was rapidly repaired; and in the spring of 1758
he was again ready for the conflict. Prince Ferdinand kept the
French in check. The King in the meantime, after attempting
against the Austrians some operations which led to no very
important result, marched to encounter the Russians, who,
slaying, burning, and wasting wherever they turned, had
penetrated into the heart of his realm. He gave them battle at
Zorndorf, near Frankfort on the Oder. The fight was long and
bloody. Quarter was neither given nor taken; for the Germans and
Scythians regarded each other with bitter aversion, and the sight
of the ravages committed by the half savage invaders, had
incensed the King and his army. The Russians were overthrown with
great slaughter; and for a few months no further danger was to be
apprehended from the east.

A day of thanksgiving was proclaimed by the King, and was
celebrated with pride and delight by his people. The rejoicings
in England were not less enthusiastic or less sincere. This may
be selected as the point of time at which the military glory of
Frederic reached the zenith. In the short space of three quarters
of a year he had won three great battles over the armies of three
mighty and warlike monarchies, France, Austria, and Russia.

But it was decreed that the temper of that strong mind should be
tried by both extremes of fortune in rapid succession. Close upon
this series of triumphs came a series of disasters, such as would
have blighted the fame and broken the heart of almost any other
commander. Yet Frederic, in the midst of his calamities, was
still an object of admiration to his subjects, his allies, and
his enemies. Overwhelmed by adversity, sick of life, he still
maintained the contest, greater in defeat, in, flight, and in
what seemed hopeless ruin, than on the fields of his proudest

Having vanquished the Russians, he hastened into Saxony to oppose
the troops of the Empress Queen, commanded by Daun, the most
cautious, and Laudohn, the most inventive and enterprising of her
generals. These two celebrated commanders agreed on a scheme, in
which the prudence of the one and the vigour of the other seem to
have been happily combined. At dead of night they surprised the
King in his, camp at Hochkirchen. His presence of mind saved his
troops from destruction; but nothing could save them from defeat
and severe loss. Marshal Keith was among the slain. The first
roar of the guns roused the noble exile from his rest, and he was
instantly in the front of the battle. He received a dangerous
wound, but refused to quit the field, and was in the act of
rallying his broken troops, when an Austrian bullet terminated
his chequered and eventful life.

The misfortune was serious. But of all generals Frederic
understood best how to repair defeat, and Daun understood least
how to improve victory. In a few days the Prussian army was as
formidable as before the battle. The prospect was, however,
gloomy. An Austrian army under General Harsch had invaded
Silesia, and invested the fortress of Neisse. Daun, after his
success at Hochkirchen, had written to Harsch in very confident
terms:--"Go on with your operations against Neisse. Be quite at
ease as to the King. I will give a good account of him." In
truth, the position of the Prussians was full of difficulties.
Between them and Silesia, lay the victorious army of Daun. It was
not easy for them to reach Silesia at all. If they did reach it,
they left Saxony exposed to the Austrians. But the vigour and
activity of Frederic surmounted every obstacle. He made a
circuitous march of extraordinary rapidity, passed Daun, hastened
into Silesia, raised the siege of Niesse, and drove Harsch into
Bohemia. Daun availed himself of the King's absence to attack
Dresden. The Prussians defended it desperately. The inhabitants
of that wealthy and polished capital begged in vain for mercy
from the garrison within, and from the besiegers without. The
beautiful suburbs were burned to the ground. It was clear that
the town, if won at all, would be won street by street by the
bayonet. At this conjuncture came news, that Frederic, having
cleared Silesia of his enemies, was returning by forced marches
into Saxony. Daun retired from before Dresden, and fell back into
the Austrian territories. The King, over heaps of ruins, made his
triumphant entry into the unhappy metropolis, which had so
cruelly expiated the weak and perfidious policy of its sovereign.
It was now the twentieth of November. The cold weather suspended
military operations; and the King again took up his winter
quarters at Breslau.

The third of the seven terrible years were over; and Frederic
still stood his ground. He had been recently tried by domestic as
well as by military disasters. On the fourteenth of October, the
day on which he was defeated at Hochkirchen, the day on the
anniversary of which, forty-eight years later, a defeat far more
tremendous laid the Prussian monarchy in the dust, died
Wilhelmina, Margravine of Bareuth. From the accounts which we
have of her, by her own hand, and by the hands of the most
discerning of her contemporaries, we should pronounce her to have
been coarse, indelicate, and a good hater, but not destitute of
kind and generous feelings. Her mind, naturally strong and
observant, had been highly cultivated; and she was, and deserved
to be, Frederic's favourite sister. He felt the loss as much as
it was in his iron nature to feel the loss of anything but a
province or a battle.

At Breslau, during the winter, he was indefatigable in his
poetical labours. The most spirited lines, perhaps, that he ever
wrote, are, to be found in a bitter lampoon on Lewis and Madame
de Pompadour, which he composed at this time, and sent to
Voltaire. The verses were, indeed, so good, that Voltaire was
afraid that he might himself be suspected of having written
them, or at least of having corrected them; and partly from
fright, partly, we fear, from love of mischief, sent them to the
Duke of Choiseul, then prime minister of France. Choiseul very
wisely determined to encounter Frederic at Frederic's own
weapons, and applied for assistance to Palissot, who had some
skill as a versifier, and some little talent for satire. Palissot
produced some very stinging lines on the moral and literary
character of Frederic, and these lines the Duke sent to Voltaire.
This war of couplets, following close on the carnage of Zorndorf
and the conflagration of Dresden, illustrates well the strangely
compounded character of the King of Prussia.

At this moment he was assailed by a new enemy. Benedict the
Fourteenth, the best and wisest of the two hundred and fifty
successors of St. Peter, was no more. During the short interval
between his reign and that of his disciple Ganganelli, the chief
seat in the Church of Rome was filled by Rezzonico, who took the
name of Clement the Thirteenth. This absurd priest determined to
try what the weight of his authority could effect in favour of
the orthodox Maria Theresa against a heretic king. At the high
mass on Christmas-day, a sword with a rich belt and scabbard, a
hat of crimson velvet lined with ermine, and a dove of pearls,
the mystic symbol of the Divine Comforter, were solemnly blessed
by the supreme pontiff, and were sent with great ceremony to
Marshal Daun, the conqueror of Kolin and Hochkirchen. This mark
of favour had more than once been bestowed by the Popes on the
great champions of the faith. Similar honours had been paid, more
than six centuries earlier, by Urban the Second to Godfrey of
Bouillon. Similar honours had been conferred on Alba for
destroying the liberties of the Low Countries, and on John
Sobiesky after the deliverance of Vienna. But the presents which
were received with profound reverence by the Baron of the Holy
Sepulchre in the eleventh century, and which had not wholly lost
their value even in the seventeenth century, appeared
inexpressibly ridiculous to a generation which read Montesquieu
and Voltaire. Frederic wrote sarcastic verses on the gifts, the
giver, and the receiver. But the public wanted no prompter; and
an universal roar of laughter from Petersburg to Lisbon reminded
the Vatican that the age of crusades was over.

The fourth campaign, the most disastrous of all the campaigns of
this fearful war, had now opened. The Austrians filled Saxony and
menaced Berlin. The Russians defeated the King's generals on the
Oder, threatened Silesia, effected a junction with Laudohn, and
intrenched themselves strongly at Kunersdorf. Frederic hastened
to attack them. A great battle was fought. During the earlier
part of the day everything yielded to the impetuosity of the
Prussians, and to the skill of their chief. The lines were
forced. Half the Russian guns were taken. The King sent off a
courier to Berlin with two lines, announcing a complete victory.
But, in the meantime, the stubborn Russians, defeated yet
unbroken, had taken up their stand in an almost impregnable
position, on an eminence where the Jews of Frankfort were wont to
bury their dead. Here the battle recommenced. The Prussian
infantry, exhausted by six hours of hard fighting under a sun
which equalled the tropical heat, were yet brought up repeatedly
to the attack, but in vain. The King led three charges in person.
Two horses were killed under him. The officers of his staff fell
all round him. His coat was pierced by several bullets. All was
in vain. His infantry was driven back with frightful slaughter.
Terror began to spread fast from man to man. At that moment, the
fiery cavalry of Laudohn, still fresh, rushed on the wavering
ranks. Then followed an universal rout. Frederic himself was on
the point of falling into the hands of the conquerors, and was
with difficulty saved by a gallant officer, who, at the head of a
handful of Hussars, made good a diversion of a few minutes.
Shattered in body, shattered in mind, the King reached that night
a village which the Cossacks had plundered; and there, in a
ruined and deserted farm-house, flung himself on a heap of straw.
He had sent to Berlin a second despatch very different from the
first:--"Let the royal family leave Berlin. Send the archives to
Potsdam. The town may make terms with the enemy."

The defeat was, in truth, overwhelming. Of fifty thousand men who
had that morning marched under the black eagles, not three
thousand remained together. The King bethought him again of his
corrosive sublimate, and wrote to bid adieu to his friends, and
to give directions as to the measures to be taken in the event of
his death:-"I have no resource left"--such is the language of one
of his letters--"all is lost. I will not survive the ruin of my
country.--Farewell for ever."

But the mutual jealousies of the confederates prevented them from
following up their victory. They lost a few days in loitering and
squabbling; and a few days, improved by Frederic, were worth more
than the years of other men. On the morning after the battle, he
had got together eighteen thousand of his troops. Very soon his
force amounted to thirty thousand. Guns were procured from the
neighbouring fortresses; and there was again an army. Berlin was
for the present safe; but calamities came pouring on the King in
uninterrupted succession. One of his generals, with a large body
of troops, was taken at Maxen; another was defeated at Meissen;
and when at length the campaign of 1759 closed, in the midst of a
rigorous winter, the situation of Prussia appeared desperate. The
only consoling circumstance was, that, in the West, Ferdinand of
Brunswick had been more fortunate than his master; and by a
series of exploits, of which the battle of Minden was the most
glorious, had removed all apprehension of danger on the side of

The fifth year was now about to commence. It seemed impossible
that the Prussian territories, repeatedly devastated by hundreds
of thousands of invaders, could longer support the contest. But
the King carried on war as no European power has ever carried on
war, except the Committee of Public Safety during the great agony
of the French Revolution. He governed his kingdom as he would
have governed a besieged town, not caring to what extent property
was destroyed, or the pursuits of civil life suspended, so that
he did but make head against the enemy. As long as there was a
man left in Prussia, that man might carry a musket; as long as
there was a horse left, that horse might draw artillery. The coin
was debased, the civil functionaries were left unpaid; in some
provinces civil government altogether ceased to exist. But there
was still rye-bread and potatoes; there was still lead and
gunpowder; and, while the means of sustaining and destroying life
remained, Frederic was determined to fight it out to the very

The earlier part of the campaign of 1760 was unfavourable to him.
Berlin was again occupied by the enemy. Great contributions were
levied on the inhabitants, and the royal palace was plundered.
But at length, after two years of calamity, victory came back to
his arms. At Lignitz he gained a great battle over Laudohn; at
Torgau, after a day of horrible carnage, he triumphed over Daun.
The fifth year closed, and still the event was in suspense. In
the countries where the war had raged, the misery and exhaustion
were more appalling than ever; but still there were left men and
beasts, arms and food, and still Frederic fought on. In truth he
had now been baited into savageness. His heart was ulcerated with
hatred. The implacable resentment with which his enemies
persecuted him, though originally provoked by his own
unprincipled ambition, excited in him a thirst for vengeance
which he did not even attempt to conceal. "It is hard," he says
in one of his letters, "for a man to bear what I bear. I begin to
feel that, as the Italians say, revenge is a pleasure for the
gods. My philosophy is worn out by suffering. I am no saint, like
those of whom we read in the legends; and I will own that I
should die content if only I could first inflict a portion of the
misery which I endure."

Borne up by such feelings, he struggled with various success, but
constant glory, through the campaign of 1761. On the whole the
result of this campaign was disastrous to Prussia. No great
battle was gained by the enemy; but, in spite of the desperate
bounds of the hunted tiger, the circle of pursuers was fast
closing round him. Laudohn had surprised the important fortress
of Schweidnitz. With that fortress half of Silesia, and the
command of the most important defiles through the mountains had
been transferred to the Austrians. The Russians had overpowered
the King's generals in Pomerania. The country was so completely
desolated that he began, by his own confession, to look round him
with blank despair, unable to imagine where recruits, horses, or
provisions were to be found.

Just at this time, two great events brought on a complete change
in the relations of almost all the powers of Europe. One of those
events was the retirement of Mr. Pitt from office; the other was
the death of the Empress Elizabeth of Russia.

The retirement of Pitt seemed to be an omen of utter ruin to the


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