FREDERICK THE GREAT AND HIS FAMILY
Part 12 out of 16
"I am still alone," he murmured, "no one has heard my words; no, no
one but you," he continued cheerfully, "my old silent friend, my
faithful prison. To-morrow morning the officer on guard will enter
and order the sentinels to remove the bed; as soon as they enter I
shall rush out and lock the door. The sentinels being locked up, I
put on the clothes which are lying in readiness for me in the
passage, and then forward to my soldiers. I shall distribute gold
freely among them--a friend will meet me with the money at the house
of Captain von Kleist, and if he has not sufficient, Amelia has
richly supplied me. Arise, arise from your grave, my secret
He crouched close to the wall and removed the mortar and chalk
carefully; he then drew out a stone and took from under it a purse
full of gold.
His eye, accustomed to the darkness, saw the gold through the silk
net; he nodded to it and laughed with delight as he poured it out
and played madly with it. His countenance suddenly assumed an
"Poor Amelia," he murmured softly, "you have sacrificed your life,
your beauty, and your youth for me. With never-failing zeal you have
moved around me like my guardian angel, and how am I repaying you?
By taking from your brother, King Frederick, his finest fortress,
his money, his provisions; by compelling you and yours to fly from a
city which no longer belongs to you, but to the Empress of Austria,
your enemy. With your money I have taken this city; Amelia, you are
ignorant of this now, and when you learn it, perhaps you will curse
me and execrate the love which has poisoned your whole life. Oh,
Amelia! Amelia, forgive me for betraying you also. My unfortunate
duty is forcing me onward, and I must obey. Yes," he said, springing
from his seat, "I must yield to my fate, I must be free again--I
must be a man once more; I can sit no longer like a wild animal in
his cage, and tell my grief and my despair to the cold walls. I must
reconquer life--I must again see the sun, the world, and mankind--I
must live, suffer, and act."
He walked violently to and fro, his whole being was in feverish
expectation and excitement, and he felt alarmed. Suddenly he
remained standing; pressing his two hands against his beating
temples, he murmured:
"I shall indeed go mad. Joy at my approaching deliverance confuses
my poor head; I will try to sleep, to be calm--collect my strength
He lay down upon his miserable couch, and forced himself to be quiet
and silent--not to speak aloud to himself in his lonely cell, as he
was accustomed to do. Gradually the mad tension of his nerves
relaxed, gradually his eyes closed, and a soft, beneficial slumber
came over him.
All was still in the dark cell; nothing was to be heard but the loud
breathing of the sleeper; but even in sleep, visions of life and
liberty rejoiced his heart--his face beamed with heavenly joy; he
murmured softly, "I am free!--free at last!"
The hours passed away, but Trenck still slumbered--profound
stillness surrounded him. The outer world had long since been awake-
-the sun was up, and had sent a clear beam of its glory through the
small, thickly-barred window, even into the comfortless, desolate
cell, and changed the gloom of darkness into a faint twilight.
"TRENCK, ARE YOU THERE?"
Trenck slept. Sleep on, sleep on, unfortunate prisoner, for while
asleep you are free and joyous; when you awake, your happy dreams
will vanish; agony and despair will be your only companions.
Listen! there are steps in the passage; Trenck does not hear them--
he still sleeps. But, now a key is turned, the door is opened, and
Trenck springs from his pallet.
"Are you there, my friends? Is all ready?"
But he totters back with a fearful shriek, his eyes fixed
despairingly upon the door. There stood Von Bruckhausen, the prison
commandant, beside him several officers, behind them a crowd of
This vision explained all to Trenck. It told him that his plan had
miscarried--that again all had been in vain. It told him that he
must remain what he was, a poor, wretched prisoner--more wretched
than before, for they would now find out that when alone he could
release himself from his chains. They would find his gold, which he
had taken from its hiding-place, and was now lying loosely upon the
"I am lost!" said he, covering his face with his hands, and throwing
himself upon his bed.
A malignant smile brightened up Von Bruckhausen's disagreeable
countenance, as his eye took in the broken chains, the glittering
gold, and the despairing prisoner. He then ordered the soldiers to
raise the chains and fasten them on him.
Trenck made no resistance. He suffered them quietly to adjust his
iron belt, to fasten the chain around his neck. He seemed insensible
to all that was passing. This fearful blow had annihilated him; and
the giant who, but a short time before, had thought to conquer the
world, was now a weak, trembling, defenceless child. When he was
ordered to rise to have the chains annexed to his iron girdle, and
fastened to the wall, he rose at once, and stretched out his hand
for the manacles. Now the commandant dared approach Trenck; he had
no fear of the chained lion, he could jeer at and mock without
danger. He did it with the wrath of a soul hard and pitiless; with
the deep, unutterable hate of an implacable enemy; for Trenck was
his enemy, his much-feared enemy; he drove sleep from his eyes--he
followed him in his dreams. Often at midnight Von Bruckhausen rose
in terror from his couch, because he dreamed that Trenck had
escaped, and that he must now take his place in that dark, fearful
tomb. Surrounded by gay companions, he would turn pale and shudder
at the thought of Trenck's escaping--Trenck, whose fearful cell was
then destined to be his. This constant fear and anxiety caused the
commandant to see in Trenck not the king's prisoner, but his own
personal enemy, with whom he must do battle to his utmost strength,
with all the wrath and fear of a timid soul. With a cold, malicious
smile he informed him that his plot had been discovered, that his
mad plan was known; he had wished to take the fortress of Magdeburg
and place upon it the Austrian flag. With a jeering smile he held up
to him the letter Trenck had sent to his friend in Vienna, in which,
without mentioning names, he had made a slight sketch of his plan.
"Will you deny that you wrote this letter?" cried the commandant, in
a threatening voice.
Trenck did not answer. His head was bowed upon his breast; he was
gazing down in silence.
"You will be forced to name your accomplices," cried the enraged
commandant; "there is no palliation for a traitor, and if you do not
name them at once, I shall subject you to the lash."
An unearthly yell issued from Trenck's pale lips, and as he raised
his head, his countenance was expressive of such wild, such terrible
rage, that Bruckhausen drew away from him in affright. Trenck had
awakened from his lethargy; he had found again his strength and
energy, he was Trenck once more--the Trenck feared by Von
Bruckhausen, though lying in chains, the Trenck whom nothing could
bend, nothing discourage.
"He who dares to whip me shall die," said he, gazing wildly at the
commandant. "With my nails, with my teeth, will I kill him."
"Name your accomplices!" cried Bruckhausen, stamping upon the ground
in his rage.
It was Trenck who now laughed. "Ah, you think to intimidate me with
your angry voice," said he. "You think your word has power to make
me disclose that which I wish to keep secret. You think I will
betray my friends, do you? Learn what a poor, weak, incapable human
being you are, for not one of the things you wish shall occur. No, I
shall not be so contemptible as to betray my friends. Were I to do
so, then were I a traitor deserving of this wretched cell, of these
fearful chains, for I would then be a stranger to the first, the
holiest virtue, gratitude. But no, I will not. I was innocent when
these chains were put on me--innocent I will remain."
"Innocent!" cried the commandant; "you who wished to deliver to the
enemy a fortress of your sovereign! You call yourself innocent?"
Trenck raised himself from his bed, and threw back his head proudly.
"I am no longer a subject of the King of Prussia," said he; "he is
no longer my sovereign. Many years ago I was thrown into prison at
Glatz without court-martial or trial. When I escaped, all my
property was confiscated. If I had not sought my bread elsewhere, I
would have starved to death, or gone to ruin. Maria Theresa made me
a captain in her army--to her I gave my allegiance. She alone is my
sovereign. I owe no duty to the King of Prussia--he condemned me
unheard--by one act he deprived me of bread, honor, country, and
freedom. He had me thrown into prison, and fettered like some
fearful criminal. He has degraded me to an animal that lies
grovelling in his cage, and who only lives to eat, who only eats to
live. I do not speak to you, sir commandant," continued he--"I
speak, soldiers, to you, who were once my comrades in arms. I would
not have you call Trenck a traitor. Look at me; see what the king
has made of me; and then tell me, was I not justified in fleeing
from these tortures? Even if Magdeburg had been stormed, and
thousands of lives lost, would you have called me a traitor? Am I a
traitor because I strive to conquer for myself what you, what every
man, receives from God as his holy right--my freedom?" While he
spoke, his pale, wan countenance beamed with inspiration.
The soldiers were struck and touched with it--their low murmurs of
applause taught the commandant that he had committed a mistake in
having so many witnesses to his conversation with the universally
pitied and admired prisoner.
"You will not name your accomplices?" said he.
"No," said Trenck, "I will not betray my friends. And what good
would it do you to know their names? You would punish them, and
would thereby sow dragons' teeth from which new friends would rise
for me. For undeserved misfortune, and unmerited reproach, make for
us friends in heaven and on earth. Look there, sir commandant--look
there at your soldiers. They came here indifferent to me--they leave
as my friends; and if they can do no more, they will pray for me."
"Enough! enough of this," cried the commandant. "Be silent! And
you," speaking to the soldiers, "get out of here! Send the
blacksmith to solder these chains at once. Go into the second
passage--I want no one but the blacksmith."
The soldiers withdrew, and the smith entered with his hot coals, his
glowing iron, and his panful of boiling lead. The commandant leaned
against the prison-door gazing at the smith; Trenck was looking
eagerly at the ceiling of his cell watching the shadows thrown there
by the glowing coals.
"It is the ignus fatuus of my freedom," said he, with a weary smile.
"It is the fourth time they have danced on this ceiling--it is the
fourth time my chains have been forged. But I tell you, commandant,
I will break them again, and the shadows flickering on these walls
will be changed to a glorious sun of freedom--it will illuminate my
path so that I can escape from this dungeon, in which I will leave
nothing but my curse for you my cruel keeper."
"You have not, then, despaired?" said the commandant, with a cold
smile. "You will still attempt to escape?"
Trenck fixed his keen, sparkling eyes upon Von Bruckhausen, and
stretching out his left arm to the smith, he said: "Listen, sir
commandant, to what I have to say to you, and may my words creep
like deadly poison through your veins! Hear me; as soon as you have
left my cell--as soon as that door has closed behind you--I will
commence a new plan of escape. You have thrown me in a cell under
the earth. The floor in my other cell was of wood--I cut my way
through it. This is of stone--I shall remove it. You come daily and
search my room to see if there is not some hole or some instrument
hidden by which I might effect my escape. Nevertheless I shall
escape. God created the mole, and of it I will learn how to burrow
in the ground, and thus I will escape. You will see that I have no
instruments, no weapons, but God gave me what He gave the mole--He
gave my fingers nails, and my mouth teeth; and if there is no other
way, I will make my escape by them."
"It is certainly very kind of you to inform me of all this," cried
the commandant. "Be assured I shall not forget your words. I shall
accommodate myself to them. You seek to escape--I seek to detain you
here. I am convinced I shall find some means of assuring myself
every quarter of an hour that your nails and teeth have not freed
you. The smith's work I see is done, and we dare entertain the hope
that for the present you will remain with us. Or perhaps you mean to
bite your chains in two as soon as I leave?"
"God gave Samson strength to crush with his arms the temple
columns," said Trenck, gazing at the blacksmith, who was now leaving
the room. "See, the ignis fatuus has disappeared from my cell, the
sun will soon shine."
"Trenck, be reasonable," said Von Bruckhausen, in an entreating
tone. "Do not increase your misery--do not force me to be more cruel
to you. Promise to make no more attempts to escape, and you shall
not be punished for your treacherous plot!"
Trenck laughed aloud. "You promise not to punish me. How could you
accomplish it? Has not your cruelty bound me in irons, in chains,
whose invention can only be attributed to the devil? Do I not live
in the deepest, most forlorn cell in the fortress? Is not my
nourishment bread and water? Do you not condemn me to pass my days
in idleness, my nights in fearful darkness? What more could you do
to me?--how could you punish any new attempt to escape? No, no, sir
commandant; as soon as that door has closed on you, the mole will
commence to burrow, and some day, in spite of all your care, he will
"That is your last word!" cried Von Bruckhausen, infuriated. "You
will not promise to abandon these idle attempts at escape? You will
not name your accomplices?"
"No! and again no!"
"Well, then, farewell. You shall remember this hour, and I promise
you, you shall regret it."
Throwing a fearful look of malignant wrath at Trenck, who was
leaning against his pallet, laughing at his rage, the commandant
left the prison. The iron door closed slowly; the firm, even tread
of the disappearing soldiers was audible, then all was quiet.
A death-like stillness reigned in the prisoner's cell; no sound of
life disturbed the fearful quiet. Trenck shuddered; a feeling of
inexpressible woe, of inconsolable despair came over him. He could
now yield to it, no one was present to hear his misery and
wretchedness. He need not now suppress the sighs and groans that had
almost choked him; he could give the tears, welling to his eyes like
burning fire, full vent; he could cool his feverish brow upon the
stone floor, in the agony of his soul. As a man trembles at the
thought of death, Trenck trembled at the thought of life. He knew
not how long he had sighed, and wept, and groaned. For him there was
no time, no hour, no night--it was all merged into one fearful day.
But still he experienced some hours of pleasure and joy. These were
the hours of sleep, the hours of dreams. Happier than many a king,
than many powerful rulers and rich nobles upon their silken couches,
was this prisoner upon his hard pallet. He could sleep--his spirit,
busy during the day in forming plans for his escape, needed and
found the rest of sleep; his body needed the refreshment and
Yes, he could sleep. Men were hard and cruel to him, but God had not
deserted him, for at night He sent an angel to his cell who consoled
and refreshed him. It was the angel of slumber--when night came,
after all his sorrow, his agony, his despair endured during the day,
the consoling angel came and took his seat by the wretched prisoner.
This night he kissed his eyes, he laid his soft wings on the
prisoner's wounded heart, he whispered glorious dreams of the future
into his ear. A beautiful smile, seldom seen when he was awake, now
rested upon his lips.
Keep quiet, ye guards, without there--keep quiet, the prisoner
sleeps; the sleep of man is sacred, and more sacred than all else is
the sleep of the unfortunate. Do not disturb him--pass the door
stealthily. Be still, be still! the prisoner sleeps--reverence his
This stillness was now broken by a loud cry.
"Trenck, Trenck!" cried a thundering voice--"Trenck, are you
He woke from his pleasant dreams and rose in terror from his bed. He
thought he had heard the trumpets of the judgment-day, and listened
eagerly for the renewing of the sound.
And again the cry resounded through his cell. "Trenck, are you
With a wild fear he raised his hand to his burning brow.
"Am I mad?" murmured he; "I hear a voice in my brain calling me; a
The bolts were pushed back, and Commandant Von Bruckhausen,
accompanied by a soldier, with a burning torch, appeared on the
"Why did you not answer, Trenck?" said he.
"The sentinel's call. As you swore to me you would make new attempts
to escape, I was compelled to make arrangements to prevent your
succeeding. The guards at your door are commanded to call you every
quarter of an hour during the night. If you do not answer at once,
they will enter your cell to convince themselves of your presence.
Accommodate yourself to this, Trenck. We shall now see if you are
able to free yourself with your nails and teeth!"
He left the room, the door was closed. It was night once more in the
prisoner's cell--but he did not sleep. He sat upon his pallet and
asked himself if what had passed was true, or if it was not some
wild and fearful dream.
"No, no, it cannot be true; they could not rob me of my last and
only pleasure--my sleep! soft, balmy sleep!"
But listen. There is a voice again. "Trenck, Trenck, are you there?"
He answered by a fearful yell, and sprang from his bed, trembling
with terror. It was no dream!
"It is true!--they will let me sleep no more. Cowardly thieves! may
God curse as I curse you. May He have no pity with you, who have
none with me! Ah, you cruel men, you increase my misery a
thousandfold. You murder my sleep. God's curse upon you!"
THE KING AND THE GERMAN SCHOLAR.
It was the winter of 1760. Germany, unhappy Germany, bleeding from a
thousand wounds, was for a few months freed from the scourge of war;
she could breathe again, and gather new strength for new contests.
Stern winter with its ice and snow had alone given peace to the
people for a short time. The rulers thought of and willed nothing
but war; and the winter's rest was only a time of preparation for
new battles. The allies had never yet succeeded in vanquishing the
little King of Prussia. Notwithstanding the disappointments and
adversities crowded upon him--though good fortune and success seemed
forever to have abandoned him--Frederick stood firm and undaunted,
and his courage and his confidence augmented with the dangers which
But his condition appeared so sad. so desperate, that even the
heroic Prince Henry despaired. The king had in some degree repaired
the disasters of Kunersdorf and Mayen by his great victories at
Leignitz and Torgau; but so mournful, so menacing was his position
on every side, that even the victories which had driven his enemies
from Saxony, and at least assured him his winter quarters, brought
him no other advantages, and did not lessen the dangers which
threatened him. His enemies stood round about him--they burned with
rage and thirst to destroy utterly that king who was always ready to
tear from them their newly-won laurels. Only by his complete
destruction could they hope to quench the glowing enthusiasm which
the people of all Europe expressed by shouts and exultation.
The Russians had their winter quarters for the first time in
Pomerania. The Austrians lay in Silesia and Bohemia. The newly-
supplied French army, and the army of the States, were on the Rhine.
While the enemies of Frederick remained thus faithful to each other
in their war against him, he had just lost his only ally.
King George II. of England was dead, and the weak George III.
yielded wholly to the imperious will of his mother and to that of
Lord Bute. He broke off his league with Prussia, and refused to pay
Thus Prussia stood alone--without money, without soldiers, without
friends--surrounded by powerful and eager enemies--alone and
seemingly hopeless, with so many vindictive adversaries.
All this made Prince Henry not only unhappy, but dispirited--palsied
his courage, and made him wish to leave the army and take refuge in
some vast solitude where he could mourn over the misfortunes of his
distracted country. Accordingly he wrote to the king and asked for
The king replied:
"It is not difficult, my brother, in bright and prosperous times, to
find men willing to serve the state. Those only are good citizens
who stand undaunted at the post of danger in times of great crises
and disaster. The true calling of a man consists in this: that he
should intrepidly carry out the most difficult and dangerous
enterprises. The more difficulty, the more danger--the more bright
honor and undying fame. I cannot, therefore, believe that you are in
earnest in asking for your discharge. It is unquestionable that
neither you nor I can feel certain of a happy issue to the
circumstances which now surround us. But when we have done all which
lies in our power, our consciences and public opinion will do us
justice. We contend for our fatherland and for honor. We must make
the impossible possible, in order to succeed. The number of our
enemies does not terrify me. The greater their number, the more
glorious will be our fame when we have conquered them." [Footnote:
Preuss, "History of Frederick the Great," vol. ii., p. 246.]
Prince Henry, ashamed of his despondency, gave to this letter of his
brother the answer of a hero. He marched against the Russians, drove
them from Silesia, and raised the siege of Breslau, around which the
Austrians under Loudon were encamped. Tauentzein, with fearless
energy and with but three thousand Prussians, had fortified himself
in Breslau against this powerful enemy. So in the very beginning of
the winter the capital of Silesia had been retaken By Torgau the
king had fought and won his twelfth battle for the possession of
Silesia--yes, fought and won from his powerful and irreconcilable
enemies. And all this had been in vain, and almost without results.
The prospect of peace seemed far distant, and the hope of happiness
for Frederick even as remote.
But now winter was upon them. This stern angel of peace had sheathed
the sword, and for the time ended the war.
While the pious Maria Theresa and her court ladies made it the mode
to prepare lint in their splendid saloons during the winter for the
wounded soldiers--while the Russian General Soltikow took up his
winter quarters at Poseu, and gave sumptuous feasts and banquets--
Frederick withdrew to Leipsic, in which city philosophy and learning
were at that time most flourishing. The Leipsigers indeed boasted
that they had given an asylum to poetry and art.
The warrior-hero was now changed for a few happy months into the
philosopher, the poet, and the scholar. Frederick's brow, contracted
by anxiety and care, was now smooth; his eye took again its wonted
fire--a smile was on his lip, and the hand which had so long
brandished the sword, gladly resumed the pen. He who had so long
uttered only words of command and calls to battle, now bowed over
his flute and drew from it the tenderest and most melting melodies.
The evening concerts were resumed. The musical friends and comrades
of the king had been summoned from Berlin; and that nothing might be
wanting to make his happiness complete, he had called his best-
beloved friend, the Marquis d'Argens, to his side.
D'Argens had much to tell of the siege of Berlin and the Russians--
of the firm defence of the burghers-of their patriotism and their
courage. Frederick's eyes glistened with emotion, and in the fulness
of his thankful heart he promised to stand by his faithful Berliners
to the end. But when D'Argens told of the desolation which the
Russians had wrought amongst the treasures of art in Charlottenburg,
the brow of the king grew dark, and with profound indignation he
"Ah, the Russians are barbarians, who labor only for the downfall of
humanity. [Footnote: The king's own words,--Archenholtz, vol. i., p.
282] If we do not succeed in conquering them, and destroying their
rude, despotic sovereignty, they will again and ever disquiet the
whole of Europe. In the mean time, however," said Frederick, "the
vandalism of the Russians shall not destroy our beautiful winter
rest. If they have torn my paintings and crushed my statues, we must
collect new art-treasures. Gotzkowsky has told me that in Italy,
that inexhaustible mine of art, there are still many glorious
pictures of the great old masters; he shall procure them for me, and
I will make haste to finish this war in order to enjoy my new
paintings, and to rest in my beautiful Sans-Souci. Ah, marquis, let
us speak no longer of it, in this room at least, let us forget the
war. It has whitened my hair, and made an old man of me before my
time. My back is bent, and my face is wrinkled as the flounce on a
woman's dress. All this has the war brought upon me. But my heart
and my inclinations are unchanged, and I think I dare now allow them
a little satisfaction and indulgence. Come, marquis, I have a new
poem from Voltaire, sent to me a few days since. We will see if he
can find grace before your stern tribunal. I have also some new sins
to confess. That is to say, I have some poems composed in the hours
of rest during my campaigns. You are my literary father confessor,
and we will see if you can give me absolution."
But the king did not dedicate the entire winter to music, and French
poems, and gay, cheerful conversation with his friends. A part of
this happy time was consecrated to the earnest study of the
ancients. For the first time he turned his attention to German
literature, and felt an interest in the efforts of German
philosophers and poets.
Quintus Icilius, the learned companion of Frederick, had often
assured him that the scholarship, the wit, the poetry of Germany,
found at this time their best representatives in Leipsic, that he at
length became curious to see these great men, of whom Quintus
Icilius asserted that they far surpassed the French in scholarship,
and in wit and intellect might take their places unchallenged side
by side with the French.
The king listened to this assurance with rather a contemptuous
smile. He directed Icilius, however, to present to him some of the
Leipsic scholars and authors.
"I will present to your majesty the most renowned scholar and
philologist of Leipsic, Professor Gottsched, and the celebrated
author, Gellert," said Icilius, with great animation. "Which of the
two will your majesty receive first?"
"Bring me first the scholar and philologist," said the king,
laughing. "Perhaps the man has already discovered in this barbarous
Dutch tongue a few soft notes and turns, and if so, I am curious to
hear them. Go, then, and bring me Professor Gottsched. I have often
heard of him, and I know that Voltaire dedicated an ode to him. In
the mean time I will read a little in my Lucretius and prepare my
soul for the interview with this great Dutchman."
Icilius hastened off to summon the renowned professor to the king.
Gottsched, to whom, at that time, all Germany rendered homage, and
who possessed all the pride and arrogance of a German scholar,
thought it most natural that the king should wish to know him, and
accepted the invitation with a gracious smile. In the complete,
heart-felt conviction of his own glory, in the rigid, pedantic array
of a magnificent, long-tailed wig, the German professor appeared
before the king. His majesty received him in his short, simple,
unostentatious manner, and smiled significantly at the pompous
manner of the renowned man. They spoke at first of the progress of
German philosophy, and the king listened with grave attention to the
learned deductions of the professor, but he thought to himself that
Gottsched understood but little how to make his knowledge palatable;
he was probably a learned, but most certainly a very uninteresting
The conversation was carried on with more vivacity when they spoke
of poetry and history, and the king entered upon this theme with
"In the history of Germany, I believe there is still much
concealed," said Frederick; "I am convinced that many important
documents are yet hidden away in the cloisters."
Gottsched looked up at him proudly. "Pardon, sire," said he, in his
formal, pedantic way. "I believe those can be only unimportant
documents. To my view, at least, there is no moment of German
history concealed--all is clear, and I can give information on every
The king bowed his head with a mocking smile. "You are a great
scholar, sir; I dare not boast of any preeminence. I only know the
history of the German States written by Pere Barre."
"He has written a German history as well as a foreigner could write
it," said Gottsched. "For this purpose he made use of a Latin work,
written by Struve, in Jena. He translated this book--nothing more.
Had Barre understood German, his history would have been better; he
would have had surer sources of information at his command."
"But Barre was of Alsace, and understood German," said Frederick,
eagerly. "But you, who are a scholar, an author, and a grammarian,
tell me, if any thing can be made of the German language?"
"Well, I think we have already made many beautiful things of it,"
said Gottsched, in the full consciousness of his own fame. "But you
have not been able to give it any melody, or any grace," said
Frederick. "The German language is a succession of barbarous sounds;
there is no music in it. Every tone is rough and harsh, and its many
discords make it useless for poetry or eloquence. For instance, in
German you call a rival 'Nebenbuhler,' what a fatal, disgusting
sound--'Buhler!'" [Footnote: The king's own words.--Archenholtz,
vol. ii., p. 272.]
"Ah, your majesty," said Gottsched, impatiently, "that is also a
sound in the French tongue. You should know this, for no one
understands better, more energetically than yourself, how to
circumvent the 'boules!'"
Frederick laughed; and this gay rejoinder of the learned professor
reconciled him somewhat to his puffed-up and haughty self-conceit.
"It is true," said he, "this time you are right; but you must admit
that, in general, the French language is softer and more melodious!"
"I cannot admit it," said Gottsched, fiercely. "I assert that German
is more musical. How harsh, how detestable sounds, for instance, the
French 'amour;' how soft and tender--yes, I may say, how
characteristic--sounds the word 'liebe!'"
"Aha!" said the king, "you are certainly most happily married, or
you would not be so enthusiastic about German 'liebe,' which I admit
is a very different thing from French 'amour.' I am, however,
convinced that the French language has many advantages over the
German. For instance, in the French one word may often suffice to
convey many different meanings, while for this purpose several
German words must be combined."
"That is true. There your majesty is right," said Gottsched,
thoughtfully. "The French language has this advantage. But this
shall be no longer so--we will change it! Yes, yes--we will reform
Frederick looked astonished and highly diverted. This assumption of
the learned scholar, "to change all that," impressed him through its
immensity. [Footnote: Many years afterward the king repeated this
declaration of Gottsched to the Duchess of Gotha, "We will change
all that," and was highly amused.] "Bring that about sir," said the
king, gayly. "Wave your field-marshal's staff and give to the German
language that which it has never possessed, grace, significance, and
facility; then breathe upon it the capability to express soft
passion and tender feeling, and you will do for the language what
Julius Caesar did for the people. You will be a conqueror, and will
cultivate and polish barbarians!"
Gottsched did not perceive the mockery which lay in these words of
the king, but received them smilingly as agreeable flattery. "The
German language is well fitted to express tender emotions. I pledge
myself to translate any French poem faithfully, and at the same time
melodiously," said he.
"I will put you to the proof, at once," said the king, opening a
book which lay upon the table. "Look! These are the Odes of
Rousseau, and we will take the first one which accident presents
Listen to this:"
"'Sous un plus heureux auspice,
La Deesse des amours,
Veut qu'un nouveau sacrifice,
Lui consacre vos beaux jours;
Deja le bucher s'allume.
L'autel brille, l'encens fume,
La victime s'embellit,
L'amour meme la consume,
Le mystere s'accomplit.'
"Under a most happy omen,
The goddess of love
Wished that a new sacrifice
Should consecrate to her our bright days.
Already the fagots are lighted,
The altar glows, the incense fumes,
The victim is adorned--
By love itself it is consumed,
The mystery accomplished."]
"Do you believe it is possible to translate this beautiful stanza
into German?" said the king.
"If your majesty allows me, I will translate it at once," said he.
"Give me a piece of paper and a pencil."
"Take them," said Frederick. "We will divert ourselves by a little
rivalry in song, while you translate the verses of the French poet
into German. I will sing to the praise of the German author in
French rhyme. Let us not disturb each other."
Frederick stepped to the window and wrote off hastily a few verses,
then waited till he saw that Gottsched had also ceased to write. "I
am ready, sir," said the king.
"And I also," said the scholar, solemnly. "Listen, your majesty, and
be pleased to take the book and compare as I read;" then with a loud
nasal voice he read his translation:
"'Mit ungleich gluecklicherm Geschicke,
Gebeut die Koenigin zarter Pein,
Hin, Deine schoenen Augenblicke,
Zum Opfer noch einmal zu weihn,
Den Holzstoss liebt man aufzugeben,
Der Altar glaenzt, des Weihrauchs Duefte
Durchdringen schon die weiten Luefte,
Das Opfer wird gedoppelt schoen,
Durch Amors Glut ist es verflogen,
Und das Geheimniss wird vollzogen.'"
"Now, your majesty," said Gottsched, "do you not find that the
German language is capable of repeating the French verses promptly
"I am astonished that you have been able to translate this beautiful
poem. I am sorry I am too old to learn German. I regret that in my
youth I had neither the courage nor the instruction necessary. I
would certainly have turned many of my leisure hours to the
translation of German authors, rather than to Roman and French
writers; but the past cannot be recalled, and I must be content! If
I can never hope to become a German writer, it will at least be
granted me to sing the praises of the regenerator of the German
language in French verse. I have sought to do so now--listen!"
The king read aloud a few verses to the enraptured professor. The
immoderate praise enchanted him, and, in the assurance of his pride
and conceit, he did not remark the fine irony concealed in them.
With a raised voice, and a graceful, bantering smile, the king
"C'est a toi Cygne des Saxons,
D'arracher ce secret a la nature avare;
D'adoucir dans tes chants d'une langue barbare,
Les durs et detestables sons'"
[Footnote: Oeuvres Posthumes, vol. vii., p 216.
"It is thine, swan of the Saxons,
To draw the secret from the miser Nature;
To soften with thy songs the hard
And detestable sounds of a barbarous tongue."]
"Ah! your majesty," cried Gottsched, forgetting his indignation over
the langue barbare, in his rapture at the praise he had received,
"you are kind and cruel at the same moment. You cast reproach upon
our poor language, and, at the same time, give me right royal
praise. Cygne des Saxons--that is an epithet which does honor to the
royal giver, and to the happy receiver. For a king and a hero, there
can be no higher fame than to appreciate and reverence men of
letters. The sons of Apollo and the Muses, the scholars, the artists
and authors, have no more exalted object than to attain the
acknowledgment and consideration of the king and the hero. Sire, I
make you a most profound and grateful reverence. You have composed a
masterly little poem, and when the Cygne des Saxons shall sing his
swanlike song, it will be in honor of the great Frederick, the
Csesar of his time."
"Now, my dear Quintus," said the king, after Gottsched had
withdrawn, "are you content with your great scholar?"
"Sire," said he, "I must sorrowfully confess that the great
Gottsched has covered his head with a little too much of the dust of
learning; he is too much of the pedant."
"He is a puffed-up. conceited fool," said the king, impatiently;
"and you can never convince me that he is a great genius. Great men
are modest; they have an exalted aim ever before them, and are never
satisfied with themselves; but men like this Gottsched place
themselves upon an altar, and fall down and worship. This is their
only reward, and they will never do any thing truly great."
"But Gottsched has really great and imperishable merit," said
Quintus, eagerly. "He has done much for the language, much for
culture, and for science. All Germany honors him, and, if the
incense offered him has turned his head, we must forgive him,
because of the great service he has rendered."
"I can never believe that he is a great man, or a poet. He had the
audacity to speak of the golden era of literature which bloomed in
the time of my grandfather, Frederick I., in Germany, and he was so
foolhardy as to mention some German scribblers of that time, whose
barbarous names no one knows, as the equals of Racine, and
Corneille, and even of Virgil. Repeat to me, once more, the names of
those departed geniuses, that I may know the rivals of the great
writers of the day!"
"He spoke of Bessen and Neukirch," said Quintus; "I must confess it
savors of audacity to compare these men with Racine and Corneille;
he did this, perhaps, to excite the interest of your majesty, as it
is well known that the great Frederick, to whom all Germany renders
homage, attributes all that is good and honorable to the German, but
has a poor opinion of his intellect, his learning, and his wit."
The king was about to reply, when a servant entered and gave him a
letter from the professor, Gottsched.
"I find, Quintus," said the king, "that my brother in Apollo does me
the honor to treat me with confidence. If I was at all disposed to
be arrogant, I might finally imagine myself to be his equal. Let us
see with what sort of dedication the Cygne des Saxons has honored
us." He opened the letter, and while reading, his countenance
cleared, and he burst out into a loud, joyous laugh. "Well, you must
read this poem, and tell me if it is pure German and true poetry."
The king, assuming the attitude of a great tragedian, stepped
forward with a nasal voice, and exactly in the pompous manner of
Gottsched, he read the poem aloud. "Be pleased to remark," said the
king, with assumed solemnity, "that Gottsched announces himself as
the Pindar of Germany, and he will have the goodness to commend me
in his rhymes to after-centuries. And now, tell me, Quintus, if this
is German poetry? Is your innermost soul inspired by these exalted
"Sire," said Quintus Icilius, "I abandon my renowned scholar, and
freely confess that your majesty judged him correctly; he is an
insufferable fool and simpleton."
"Not so; but he is a German scholar," said the king, pathetically;
"one of the great pillars which support the weight of the great
temple of German science and poetry."
"Sire. I offer up my German scholar; I lay him upon the altar of
your just irony. You may tear him to pieces; he is yours. But I pray
you, therefore, to be gracious, sire, and promise me to receive my
"I promise," said the king: "I wish also to become acquainted with
"Promise me, however, one thing. If the German poet resembles the
German scholar, you will make me no reproaches if I turn away from
all such commodities in future?"
Gellert was just returning from the university, where, in the large
hall, he had recommenced his lectures on morality. A large audience
had assembled, who had given the most undivided attention to their
beloved master. As he left the rostrum the assembly, entirely
contrary to their usual custom, burst forth in loud applause, and
all pressed forward to welcome the beloved teacher on his return to
his academic duties after his severe illness.
These proofs of love had touched the sensitive German poet so deeply
in his present nervous and suffering condition, that he reached his
lodging deathly pale and with trembling knees: utterly exhausted, he
threw himself into his arm-chair, the only article of luxury in his
The old man, who sat near the window in this study, was busily
engaged in reading, and paid him no attention; although Gellert
coughed several times, he did not appear to remark his presence, and
continued to read.
"Conrad," said Gellert, at length, in a friendly, pleading tone.
"Professor," answered the old man, as he looked up unwillingly from
"Conrad, it seems to me that you might stand up when I enter; not,
perhaps, so much out of respect for your master, as because he is
delicate and weak, and needs your assistance."
"Professor," said the old man, with composure, "I only intended
finishing the chapter which I have just commenced, and then I should
have risen. You came a little too soon. It was your own fault if I
was compelled to read after you came."
Gellert smiled. "What book were you reading so earnestly, my old
"The 'Swedish Countess,' professor. You know it is my favorite book.
I am reading it now for the twelfth time, and I still think it the
most beautiful and touching, as well as the most sensible book I
ever read. It is entirely beyond my comprehension, professor, how
you made it, and how you could have recollected all these charming
histories. Who related all that to you?"
"No one related it to me, it came from my own head and heart," said
Gellert, pleasantly. "But no, that is a very presumptuous thought;
it did not come from myself, but from the great spirit, who
occasionally sends a ray of his Godlike genius to quicken the hearts
and imaginations of poets."
"I do not understand you, professor," said Conrad, impatiently. "Why
do you not talk like the book--I understand all that the 'Swedish
Countess' says, for she speaks like other people. She is an
altogether sensible and lovely woman, and I have thought sometimes,
Old Conrad hesitated and looked embarrassed.
"Well, Conrad, what have you thought?"
"I have thought sometimes, sir, perhaps it would be best for you to
marry the 'Swedish Countess,'"
Gellert started slightly, and a light flush mounted to his brow.
"I marry!" he exclaimed;" Heaven protect me from fastening such a
yoke upon myself, or putting my happiness in the power of any
creature so fickle, vain, capricious, haughty, obstinate, and
heartless as a woman. Conrad, where did you get this wild idea? you
know that I hate women; no, not hate, but fear them, as the lamb
fears the wolf."
"Oh, sir," cried Conrad, angrily, "was your mother not a woman?"
"Yes," said Gellert, softly, after a pause--"yes, she was a woman, a
whole-hearted,' noble woman. She was the golden star of my
childhood, the saintly ideal of the youth, as she is now in heaven
the guardian angel of the man; there is no woman like her, Conrad.
She was the impersonation of love, of self-sacrifice, of goodness,
and of devotion."
"You are right," said Conrad, softly, "she was a true woman; the
entire village loved and honored her for her benevolence and piety;
when she died, it seemed as though we had all lost a mother."
"When she died," said Gellert, his voice trembling with emotion, "my
happiness and youth died with her; and when the first handful of
earth fell upon her coffin I felt as if my heart-strings broke, and
that feeling has never left me."
"You loved your mother too deeply, professor," said Conrad; "that is
the reason you are determined not to love and marry some other
"Why, man, do not talk to me again of marrying," cried Gellert.
"What has that fatal word to do in my study?"
"A great deal, sir; only look how miserable every thing is here; not
even neat and comfortable, as it should certainly be in the room of
so learned and celebrated a professor. Only think of the change that
would be made by a bright young wife. You must marry, professor, and
the lady must be rich. This state of things cannot continue; you
must take a wife, for you cannot live on your celebrity."
"No, Conrad, but on my salary," said Gellert. "I receive two hundred
and fifty thalers from my professorship; only think, two hundred and
fifty thalers! That is a great deal for a German poet, Conrad; I
should consider myself most fortunate. It is sufficient for my
necessities, and will certainly keep me from want."
"It would be sufficient, professor, if we were not so extravagant. I
am an old man, and you may very well listen to a word from me. I
served your father for fifteen years--in fact, you inherited me from
him. I have the right to speak. If it goes so far, I will hunger and
thirst with you, but it makes me angry that we should hunger and
thirst when there is no necessity. Have you dined today?"
"No, Conrad," said Gellert, looking embarrassed. "I had,
accidentally, no money with me as I came out of the academy, and you
know that I do not like to go to the eating-house without paying
"Accidentally you had no money? You had probably left it at home."
"Yes, Conrad, I had left it at home."
"No, sir; you gave your last thaler to the student who came this
morning and told you of his necessities, and complained so bitterly
that he had eaten nothing warm for three days. You gave your money
to him, and that was not right, for now we have nothing ourselves."
"Yes, Conrad, it was right, it was my duty; he hungered and I was
full; he was poor and in want, and I had money, and sat in my warm,
comfortable room; it was quite right for me to help him."
"Yes, you say so always, sir, and our money all goes to the devil,"
muttered Conrad. "With what shall we satisfy ourselves to-day?"
"Well," said Gellert, after a pause, "we will drink some coffee, and
eat some bread and butter. Coffee is an excellent beverage, and
peculiarly acceptable to poets, for it enlivens the fancy."
"And leaves the stomach empty," said Conrad.
"We have bread and butter to satisfy that. Ah, Conrad, I assure you
we would often have been very happy in my father's parsonage if we
had had coffee and bread and butter for our dinner. We were thirteen
children, besides my father and mother, and my father's salary was
not more than two hundred thalers. Conrad, he had less than I, and
he had to provide for thirteen children."
"As if you had not provided for yourself since you were eleven years
old--as if I had not seen you copying late into the night to earn
money, at an age when other children scarcely know what money is,
and know still less of work."
"But when I carried the money which I had earned to my mother, she
kissed me so tenderly, and called me her brave, noble son--that was
a greater reward than all the money in the world. And when the next
Christmas came, and we were all thirteen so happy, and each one
received a plate filled with nuts and apples and little presents, I
received a shining new coat. It was the first time I had ever had a
coat of new cloth. My mother had bought the material with the money
I had earned. She had kept it all, and now my writings had changed
into a beautiful coat, which I wore with pride and delight. No coat
is so comfortable as one we have earned ourselves. The self-earned
coat is the royal mantle of the poor."
"But we need not be poor," scolded Conrad. "It is that which makes
me angry. If we were careful, we could live comfortably and free
from care on two hundred and fifty thalers. But every thing is given
away, and every thing is done for others, until we have nothing left
" We have never gone hungry to bed, Conrad, and we need not hunger.
To-day we have coffee, and bread and butter, and to-morrow I will
receive something from my publishers from the fourth edition of my
fables. It is not much, it will be about twenty thalers, but we will
be able to live a long time on that. Be content, Conrad, and go now
into the kitchen and prepare the coffee; I am really rather hungry.
Well, Conrad, you still appear discontented. Have you another
grievance in reserve?"
"Yes, professor, I have another. The beadle tells me that the
university have offered you a still higher position than the one you
now hold. Is it true?"
"Yes, Conrad, it is true. They wished me to become a regular
"And you declined?"
"I declined. I would have been obliged to be present at all the
conferences. I would have had more trouble, and if I had had the
misfortune to become rector I would have been lost indeed, for the
rector represents the university; and if any royal personages should
arrive it is he who must receive them and welcome them in the name
of the university. No, no; protect me from such honors. I do not
desire intercourse with great men. I prefer my present position and
small salary, and the liberty of sitting quietly in my own study, to
a regular professorship and a higher salary, and being forced to
dance attendance in the antechambers of great people. Then, in
addition to that, I am delicate, and that alone would prevent me
from attending as many lectures as the government requires from a
regular high-salaried professor. You must never receive money for
work that you have not done and cannot do. Now, Conrad, those are my
reasons for declining this situation for the second time. I think
you will be contented now, and prepare me an excellent cup of
"It is a shame, nevertheless," said Conrad, "that they should say
you are not a regular professor. But that is because you have no
wife. If the Swedish countess were here, every thing would be
changed; your study would be nicely arranged, and you would be so
neatly dressed, that no one would dare to say you were not a regular
"But that is no offence, Conrad," cried Gellert, laughing. "In the
sense in which you understand it, I am more now than if I had
accepted this other position, for I am now called an extraordinary
"Well, I am glad that they know that you are an extraordinary
professor," said Conrad, somewhat appeased. "Now I will go to the
kitchen and make the coffee. That reminds me that I have a letter
for you which was left by a servant."
He took a letter from the table, and handed it to his master. While
he was breaking the seal, Conrad approached the door slowly and
hesitatingly, evidently curious to hear the contents of the letter.
He had not reached the door, when Gellert recalled him.
"Conrad," said Gellert, with a trembling voice, "hear what this
"Well, I am really curious," said Conrad, smiling.
Gellert took the letter and commenced reading:
"My dear and honored professor, will you allow one of your--"
Here he hesitated, and his face flushed deeply. "No," he said,
softly; "I cannot read that; it is too great, too undeserved praise
of myself. Read it yourself."
"Nonsense!" said Conrad, taking the letter; "the professor is as
bashful as a young girl. To read one's praise, is no shame. Now
listen: 'My dear and honored professor, will you allow one of your
pupils to seek a favor from you? I am rich! God has enriched you
with the rarest gifts of mind and heart, but He has not bestowed
outward wealth upon you. Your salary is not large, but your heart is
so great and noble, that you give the little you possess to the poor
and suffering, and care for others while you yourself need care.
Allow me, my much-loved master, something of that same happiness
which you enjoy. Grant me the pleasure of offering you (who divide
your bread with the poor, and your last thaler with the suffering) a
small addition to your salary, and begging you to use it so long as
God leaves you upon earth, to be the delight of your scholars, and
the pride of Germany. The banker Farenthal has orders to pay to you
quarterly the sum of two hundred thalers; you will to-morrow receive
the first instalment."
"'YOUR GRATEFUL AND ADMIRING PUPIL.'"
"Hurrah! hurrah!" cried Conrad, waving the paper aloft. "Now we are
rich, we can live comfortably, without care. Oh, I will take care of
you, and you must drink a glass of wine every day, in order to
become strong, and I will bring your dinner from the best eating-
house, that you may enjoy your meal in peace and quiet in your own
"Gently, gently, Conrad!" said Gellert, smiling. "In your delight
over the money, you forget the noble giver. Who can it be? Who among
my pupils is so rich and so delicate, as to bestow so generously,
and in such a manner?"
"It is some one who does not wish us to know his name, professor,
"cried Conrad, gayly; "and we will not break our hearts over it. But
now, sir, we will not content ourselves with bread and coffee; we
are rich, and we need not live so poorly! I will go to the eating-
house and bring you a nice broiled capon, and some preserved fruit,
and a glass of wine."
"It is true," said Gellert, well pleased; "a capon would strengthen
me, and a glass of wine; but no, Conrad, we will have the coffee; we
have no money to pay for such a meal."
"Well, we can borrow it! To-morrow you will receive the first
quarterly payment of your pension, and then I will pay for your
"No, Conrad, no!" said Gellert, firmly. "You should never eat what
you cannot pay for immediately. Go to the kitchen and make the
coffee." Conrad was on the point of going discontentedly to obey the
command of his master, when a loud and hasty ring was heard at the
outer door of the professor's modest lodging.
"Perhaps the banker has sent the money to-day," cried Conrad, as he
hurried off, whilst Gellert again took the letter and examined the
But Conrad returned, looking very important.
"The Prussian major, Quintus Icilius, wishes to speak to the
professor, in the name of the king," he said, solemnly.
"In the name of the king!" cried Gellert; "what does the great
warrior-hero want with poor Gellert?"
"That I will tell you," replied a voice from the door; and as
Gellert turned, he saw before him the tall figure of a Prussian
officer. "Pardon me for having entered without your permission. Your
servant left the door open, and I thought--"
"You thought, I hope, that Gellert would be happy to receive an
officer from the king, especially one who bears so celebrated a
name," said Gellert, courteously, as he signed to Conrad to leave
the room--a sign that Conrad obeyed most unwillingly, and with the
firm determination to listen outside the door.
"In the first place, allow me to say how happy I am to make the
acquaintance of so learned and celebrated a man as Professor
Gellert," said Quintus, bowing deeply; "then I must announce the
cause of my appearance. His majesty the King of Prussia wishes to
know you, and he has sent me to conduct you to him at once."
"At once?" cried Gellert. "But, sir, you must see that I am weak and
ill. The king will not care to see a sick man who cannot talk."
Quintus glanced sympathizingly at the poor professor, and said:
"It is true, you do not look well, and I cannot force you to go with
me to-day; but allow me to make one remark: if you think to escape
the interview altogether, you are mistaken. The king desires to
speak with you, and it is my duty to bring you to him. If you cannot
go to-day, I must return to-morrow; if you are then still unwell,
the day after; and so on every day, until you accompany me."
"But this is frightful!" cried Gellert, anxiously.
Quintus shrugged his shoulders. "You must decide, sir," he said; "I
give you an hour. At four o'clock I will return and ask if you will
go to-day, or another time."
"Yes; do that, major," said Gellert, breathing more freely. "In the
mean time, I will take my dinner, and then see how it is with my
courage. Conrad! Conrad!" exclaimed Gellert, as Quintus Icilius left
him, and his servant entered the room. "Conrad, did you hear the bad
tidings? I must go to the King of Prussia."
"I heard," said Conrad, "and I do not think it bad tidings, but a
great honor. The king sent for Professor Gottsched a few days since,
and conversed with him a long time. Since then, his entire household
act as if Gottsched were the Almighty Himself, and as if they were
all, at least, archangels. Therefore, I am glad that the king has
shown you the same honor, and that he desires to know you."
"Honor!" murmured Gellert. "This great lord wishes to see the
learned Germans for once, as others visit a menagerie, and look at
the monkeys, and amuse themselves with their wonderful tricks. It is
the merest curiosity which leads such men to desire to behold the
tricks and pranks of a professor. They know nothing of our minds; it
satisfies them to look at us. Conrad, I will not go; I will be ill
to-day and every other day. We will see if this modern Icilius will
And the usually gentle and yielding poet paced the room in angry
excitement, his eyes flashing, and his face deeply flushed.
"I will not--I will not go."
"You must go, professor," said Conrad, placing himself immediately
in front of his master, and looking at him half-imploringly, half-
threateningly--"you must go; you will give your old Conrad the
pleasure of being able to say to the impudent servants of Herr
Gottsched that my master has also been to the King of Prussia. You
will not do me the injury of making me serve a master who has not
been to see the king, while Herr Gottsched has been?"
"But, Conrad," said Gellert, complainingly, "what good will it have
done me to have declined the position of regular professor, that I
might be in no danger of becoming rector, and being obliged to see
kings and princes?"
"It will show the world," said Conrad, "that a poet need not be a
regular professor in order to be called into the society of kings
and princes. You must go--the king expects you; and if you do not
go, you will appear as the Austrians do, afraid of the King of
"That is true," said Gellert, whose excitement had somewhat
subsided; "it will look as though I were afraid."
"And so distinguished a man should fear nothing," said Conrad, "not
even a king."
"Well, so be it," said Gellert, smiling, "I will go to the king to-
day, but I must first eat something; if I went fasting to the king I
might faint, and that would disgrace you forever, Conrad."
"I will run and bring the coffee," said the delighted old servant.
THE POET AND THE KING.
Gelbert had scarcely finished his frugal meal, and arranged his
toilet a little, when Major Quintus arrived and asked the poet if he
were still too unwell to accompany him to the king.
"I am still indisposed," said Gellert, with a sad smile, "but my
indisposition is of a kind that leaves me neither to day, to-morrow
nor any day; it is therefore better for me to gratify the king's
commands at once. I am ready to accompany you, sir; let us depart."
He took his three-cornered hat, which Conrad handed him with a
delightful smirk, and followed the major to the splendid house where
the king had taken his quarters for the winter.
"Allow me a favor, sir," said Quintus, as they mounted the steps;
"the king is prejudiced against German poets and philosophers, and
it would be of the greatest advantage to the literary and political
world of Germany for these prejudices to disappear, and for the
great Frederick to give to Germany the sympathy and encouragement
which until now he has lavished upon the French and Italians. Think
of this, sir, and endeavor to win the king by your obliging and
"Oh, major!" sighed Gellert, "I do not understand the art of
pleasing the great ones of this world. I cannot utter words of
praise and flattery; my heart and manners are simple and not showy."
"Exactly, this is beautiful and attractive," said the major,
smiling:" the king cannot endure pretension or conceited wisdom. Be
simply yourself; imagine that you are in your own study, conversing
frankly and freely with a highly-honored friend, to whom politeness
and attention are due."
The king, with his flute in hand, was walking up and down the room,
when the door opened, and Major Quintus entered with Gellert.
Frederick immediately laid his flute aside, and advanced to meet the
poet with a gracious smile. Gellert's gentle and intellectual
countenance was composed, and his eyes were not cast down or
confused by the piercing glance of the king.
"Is this Professor Gellert?" said the king, with a slight
"Yes, your majesty," said Gellert, bowing profoundly.
"The English ambassador has spoken well of you," said the king; "he
has read many of your works."
"That proves him to be a thoughtful and benevolent gentleman, who
hopes something from German writers," said Gellert, significantly.
Frederick smiled, and perhaps to excite him still more, said
"Tell me, how does it happen, Gellert, that we have so few
"Your majesty sees before you now a German poet whom even the French
have translated, and who call him the German La Fontaine."
"That is great praise, great praise," said the king, whose large
eyes fastened themselves more attentively upon Gellert's modest,
expressive face. "You are then called the German La Fontaine? Have
you ever read La Fontaine?"
"Yes, sire, but I did not imitate him," said Gellert, ingenuously,
"I am an original."
The king nodded gayly; Gellert's quick frankness pleased him.
"Good," he said, "you are an excellent poet; but why do you stand
Gellert shrugged his shoulders slightly.
"Your majesty is prejudiced against the Germans."
"No, I cannot admit that," said the king, quickly.
"At least against German writers," replied Gellert.
"Yes, that is true; I cannot deny that. Why have we no good writers
"We have them, sire," said Gellert, with noble pride. "We boast a
Maskow, a Kramer--who has set Bossuet aside."
"How!" cried the king, astonished; "Bossuet? Ah, sir, how is it
possible for a German to set Bossuet aside?"
"Kramer has done so, and with great success," said Gellert, smiling.
"One of your majesty's most learned professors has said that Kramer
has the eloquence of Bossuet, and more profound historical
The king appeared really astonished, and walked several times
thoughtfully up and down his room.
"Was my learned professor capable of deciding that question?"
"The world believes so, sire."
"Why does no one translate Tacitus?"
"Tacitus is difficult," said Gellert, smiling; "there are some bad
French translations of this author."
"You are right," said the king.
"Altogether," continued Gellert, "there are a variety of reasons why
the Germans have not become distinguished in letters. When art and
science bloomed in Greece, the Romans were becoming renowned in war.
Perhaps the Germans have sought their fame on the battle-field;
perhaps they had no Augustus or Louis XIV. who favored and
encouraged the historians and poets of Germany."
This was a daring and broad allusion, but Frederick received it
"You have had an Augustus, perhaps two, in Saxony," he said.
"And we have made a good commencement in Saxony. We should have an
Augustus for all of Germany."
"What!" cried the king, quickly, and with sparkling eyes, "you
desire an Augustus for Germany?"
"Not exactly," said Gellert, "but I wish that every German sovereign
would encourage genius and letters in his country. Genius needs
encouragement; and when it does not find it in its own land, and
from its native princes, it cannot retain the great and joyous power
The king did not answer, but walked thoughtfully up and down; from
time to time he glanced quickly and searchingly at Gellert, who was
standing opposite to him.
"Have you ever been out of Saxony?" said the king, at last.
"Yes, sire, I was once in Berlin."
"You should go again," said the king--then added, as if he regretted
having shown the German poet so much sympathy, "at all events, you
"To do so, your majesty, I require health and money."
"Are you sick?" asked the king, in a gentle, sympathizing voice.
"What is your malady? Perhaps too much learning."
Gellert smiled. "As your majesty thinks so, it may bear that
interpretation. In my mouth it would have sounded too bold."
"I have had this malady myself," said the king, laughing; "I will
cure you. You must take exercise--ride out every day."
"Ah, sire, this cure might easily produce a new disease for me,"
said Gellert, terrified; "if the horse should be healthier than I, I
could not ride it, and if it were as weak as myself, we would not be
able to stir from the spot."
"Then you must drive," said the king, laughing.
"I have not the money, sire."
"That is true," said the king. "All German writers need money, and
we have fallen upon evil times."
"Yes, truly, sire, evil times; but it lies in your majesty's hands
to change all this, if you would give peace to Germany."
"How can I?" cried the king, violently. "Have you not heard that
there are three against me?"
"I care more for ancient than modern history," said Gellert, who did
not desire to follow the king upon the slippery field of politics.
"You, then, are accurately acquainted with the ancients?" said the
king. "Which, then, do you think the greatest and most renowned of
that epoch--Homer or Virgil?"
"Homer, I think, merits the preference, because he is original."
"But Virgil is more polished and refined."
Gellert shook his head violently. Now that the old writers were
being discussed, the German sage overcame his timidity.
"We are entirely too widely separated from Virgil to be able to
judge of his language and style. I trust to Quintilian, who gives
Homer the preference."
"But we must not be slaves to the judgment of the ancients," said
the king, aroused.
"I am not, sire; I only adopt their views when distance prevents my
judging for myself."
"You are certainly right in this," said the king, kindly.
"Altogether you appear to be a wise and reasonable man. I understand
that you have greatly improved the German language."
"Ah, yes, sire, but unfortunately it has been in vain."
"Why is this?" said the king. "You all wish me to interest myself in
German, but it is such a barbarous language, that I often have
quires of writing sent me, of which I do not understand a word. Why
is it not otherwise?"
"If your majesty cannot reform this, I certainly cannot," said
Gellert, smiling; "I can only advise, but you can command."
"But your poems are not written in this stiff, pompous German. Do
you not know one of your fables by heart?"
"I doubt it, sire, my memory is very treacherous."
"Well, try and think of one. In the mean while I will walk backward
and forward a little. Well, have you thought of one?"
"Yes, your majesty," said Gellert, after a brief silence, "I believe
I remember one."
"Let us hear it," said the king; and, seating himself upon the
fauteuil, he gazed fixedly at Gellert, who, standing in the middle
of the room, his clear glance turned toward the king, now began his
"A painter, Athens his abode,
Who painted less for love of gain
Than crowns of laurel to obtain,
Mars' portrait to a connoisseur once showed,
And his opinion of it sought.
The judge spoke freely what he thought,
Twas wholly not unto his taste, he said,
And that, to please a practised eye,
Far less of art should be displayed.
The painter failed not to reply,
And though the critic blamed with skill,
Was of the same opinion still."
"Then in the room a coxcomb came,
To scan the work with praise or blame.
He with a glance its worth descried;
'Ye gods! A masterpiece' he cried.
'Ah, what a foot! what skilled details,
E'en to the painting of the nails!
A living Mars is here revealed,
What skill--what art in light and shade--
Both in the helmet and the shield,
And in the armor are displayed!'"
"The painter blushed with humbled pride,
Looked at the judge with woful mien,
'Too well am I convinced' he cried,
'Unjust to me thou hast not been.'
The coxcomb scarce had disappeared,
when he his god of battle smeared."
"And the moral," cried the king, with vivacity, as Gellert ceased
for a moment.
"Here is the moral, sire:"
"If what you write offends the critic's rules,
It is an evil sign, no doubt;
But when 'tis lauded to the skies by fools,
'Tis time, indeed, to blot it out."
"That is beautiful--very beautiful; you have something gallant in
your person. I understand every thing you say. I received a
translation of 'Iphigenia' by Gottsched, and Quintus read it to me.
I had the French with me, and I did not understand a word. He also
brought me a poem by Pietsh, but I threw it aside."
"I threw it aside, also," said Gellert, smiling.
The king smiled pleasantly. "Should I remain here, you must come
often and bring your fables to read to me."
Gellert's brow clouded slightly. "I do not know whether I am a good
reader," he said, in some embarrassment. "I have such a sing-song,
"Yes, like the Silesians," said the king, "but it sounds pleasantly.
You must read your fables yourself. No one else can give the proper
emphasis. You must visit me soon again."
"Do not forget the king's request," said Quintus Icilius, as he
escorted Gellert to the door. "Visit him soon, and be assured you
shall never come in vain. I will take care that the king receives
Gellert looked up smilingly at the major. "My dear sir, in many
respects I am quite an old-fashioned man; for example, I have read a
great deal in the Old Scriptures for instruction. I have read, 'Put
not your trust in princes.' These words seem wise to me, and you
must allow me to interpret them literally, and act accordingly."
Gellert withdrew, and hastened home. The major returned to the king,
admiring, almost envying, Gellert's modest, independent, and
"Quintus," said the king, "I thank you sincerely for my new German
acquaintance. The poet is better than the philosopher. Gellert is
the wisest and cleverest poet of his time--a much worthier man than
Gottsched, with all his pompous knowledge. Gellert's fame will
outlive his. He is perhaps the only German who will not be
forgotten. He attempts but little, and succeeds well."
THE KING AND THE VILLAGE MAGISTRATE.
In the little village of Voiseilvitz, near the Silesian frontier,
there was a great stir and excitement. The quartermaster of the army
had just arrived and announced the king's approach. He then went on
to the next village to seek quarters for the army. After their many
sufferings and wants, the weary soldiers were much in need of rest
and refreshment. They had passed many, many miserable weeks, during
which the most patient had become disheartened. The king alone had
retained his courage, his presence of mind, his activity and energy.
He had borne, without complaint, every want and privation.
Surrounded by powerful enemies, his great and clear mind had
contrived the intrenchments which encompassed his camp, and which
had filled his enemies with wonder. Neither Daun, Loudon, Butterlin,
nor Ternitschow, dared attack the camp that had suddenly become a
strong fortress. They gazed in wild amazement at their daring,
invincible enemy, whom they had so often thought to ruin, and who
had continually with his lion strength broken the nets they had laid
for him. Not daring to attack him with their cannon and their
swords, the allies relied upon another much more fearful weapon--
hunger! It was impossible for the king, surrounded as he was by
enemies, to obtain food for his troops and fodder for the horses.
But Frederick did not cease to hope: he turned night into day and
day into night; thus he was prepared for any movement. During the
day he could observe all that passed in the enemy's camp; a few
slight guards were placed in the intrenchments, while the rest of
the army slept. But at night they did not sleep; as soon as evening
came, all the tents were taken down, the cannon were planted, and
behind them the regiments were placed in line of battle. Thus they
stood listening in breathless silence for any sound or movement that
would announce the enemy's approach. All were ready and waiting for
them, determined to die rather than surrender.
In spite of privations, want of rest and food, the army remained
hopeful, for their king shared their danger, wants, and sleepless
nights. He was always with them--he hungered and worked with them.
If the soldiers were deprived of their rations, they had at least
the consolation of knowing that the king suffered likewise. This
strengthened and encouraged them.
The Prussians had fortitude to bear their sufferings, but their
enemy had not the patience to wait. Butterlin, the Russian
commander, tired of watching Frederick, withdrew to Poland; and
Loudon, not feeling secure now in his isolated position, retired
After four weeks of agony and want, the Prussian army could leave
their encampment and seek both food and rest. They were to recruit
themselves in the villages in the vicinity of Strehlen; the king and
his staff were to rest at Voiseilvitz. The house of the magistrate
had been chosen as the only dwelling-place fit for these noble
guests. The magistrate, elated at the honor, was marching from room
to room, scolding, imploring his servants to have every thing clean
"Remember," said he, "a king is to inhabit this house; he will be
enraged if there is the least spot or stain upon the floors or
windows, for of course he wears beautiful garments, covered with
pearls and diamonds, and embroidered in gold and silver. How
fearful, then, would it be were he to ruin them at my house! He
would be infuriated, for money is scarce now, and I dare say as hard
for him to get as for us."
At last, thanks to threats and entreaties, the house was in
readiness for the king. The front room was beautifully clean, and
white blinds were at the windows. The deal table was covered with a
snow-white damask cloth. Beside a window in which were placed some
bright plants, an old leathern arm-chair was standing, which the
magistrate intended for a throne. The walls were covered with some
portraits of the royal family of Prussia. Around a wretched
engraving of Frederick a wreath of immortelles and forget-me-nots
was woven. In a corner stood a large bed with clean white curtains
in readiness for the king. When every thing was arranged, with a
last proud look at his handsome dwelling, the magistrate hurried to
the front door, waiting anxiously for his guest. His heart beat high
with expectation--his whole being was in commotion--he was to see a
king for the first time, and he asked himself how this king would
look. "How glorious his eyes must be! I think he must radiate like
the sun. It must almost blind the eyes to dwell upon his splendor."
Lost in these thoughts, he did not observe a cavalcade consisting of
three riders passing through the street. The foremost one was
enveloped in an old faded blue mantle, his large three-cornered hat
hung far over his brow, shading his eyes and his thin, pale
countenance. His heavy army boots were in need both of brushing and
mending. His two companions formed an agreeable contrast to him.
They wore the rich, glittering uniforms of Prussian staff officers.
All about them was neat and elegant, and pleased the magistrate
right well. The cavalcade now stopped at his house, and, to the
amazement of the villagers, the two spruce young officers sprang to
the ground--and hastened to assist the man in the blue mantle to
alight from his horse. But he waved them aside, and springing
lightly from the saddle, advanced to the house door. The magistrate
blocked up the way, and looking haughtily at the stranger, said:
"You undoubtedly belong to the servants of the king, and think,
therefore, to enter my house. But that cannot be. The king alone
will dwell with me. If you are what I suppose you to be, you must go
next door. My neighbor may have quarters for you."
The stranger smiled. Fixing his large, brilliant eyes sternly upon
the magistrate, he caused him to draw back almost in terror, feeling
as if the sun had really blinded him.
"I am not one of the king's servants," said the stranger, gayly,
"but I am invited to dine with him."
"Then it is all right," said the magistrate, "you can enter. But you
must first go into that little side-room and brush your shoes before
the king sees you, for he would surely be enraged to find you in
The king laughed gayly, and entered the house. "I will go to the
king's chamber at once. I think he will forgive my shoes." He
beckoned to the two officers and entered his room, the door of which
he left open.
The magistrate took no more notice of him, but remained outside,
looking eagerly for the king.
Frederick still did not come to illuminate the street with his
splendor. In his stead came generals and officers, with gold
epaulets and bright stars sparkling on their coats, and entered the
king's chamber, without a word to the magistrate.
"They are all waiting for the king," murmured he, "but I shall see
him first. How splendid and magnificent are all these officers! How
grand, how glorious then must the king be, who is far nobler than
they! He does not come; I will enter and pass the time in looking at
all these splendidly-dressed soldiers." He stepped lightly to the
door, and peered in. He started; a low cry of terror escaped him, as
he looked at the scene before him.
The generals--the officers dressed in the gold and silver
embroidered uniforms--stood around the room with bared heads; in
their midst stood the stranger with the dusty boots. He alone had
his hat on. He alone bore neither epaulets nor stars: he was clad in
simple uniform, without a single ornament, and still, wonderful to
say, it now seemed to the magistrate that he was more noble, more
splendid-looking than all the others. He was the smallest amongst
them, but seemed much taller. They stood with bowed heads before
him; he alone was raised proudly to his full height. There was
something grand and glorious in his countenance; and when his large,
luminous eyes fell upon the magistrate, he endeavored in vain to
slip away--he was rooted to the spot as if by magnetism.
"Will you not stay with us until the king comes?" said Frederick,
The magistrate answered the smile with a broad grin. "I see, sir,"
said he, "that you are laughing at me. You know that you yourself
are the king."
Frederick nodded an assent, and then turned to Prince Anhalt von
"You see, sir, how precarious a thing is the glory and magnificence
of a king. This man took me for a servant; his dull eyes could not
perceive my innate glory."
"Your majesty justly calls this man's eyes dull," said the prince,
Frederick looked at him kindly, and then began a low, earnest
conversation with his generals, who listened attentively to his
The magistrate still stood at the door. It seemed to him that he had
never seen any thing so splendid-looking as this man with the muddy
boots, the simple coat, and torn, unwieldy hat, whose countenance
beamed with beauty, whose eyes glittered like stars.
"That, then, is really the king?" said he to one of the royal
servants--"the King of Prussia, who for five years has been fighting
with the empress for us?"
"Yes, it is him."
"From to-day on I am a Prussian at heart," continued the magistrate;
"yes, and a good and true one. The King of Prussia dresses badly,
that is true, but I suppose his object is to lighten the taxes."
Passing his coat-sleeve across his misty eyes, he hastened to the
kitchen to investigate dinner.
THE PROPOSAL OF MARRIAGE.
Some days had passed since the king entered Voiseilvitz. He dwelt in
the house of the magistrate, and the generals were quartered in the
huts of the village. The regiments were in the neighboring hamlets.
The king lived quietly in his house, wholly given up to anxiety and
discontent. He ate alone in his room, spoke to no one, or if he did,
said only a few grave words. All jesting was vanished from his lips;
he was never seen to smile, never heard to play the flute. The grief
which oppressed his heart was too profound to be confided to the
soft and melting tones of his flute. Even that cherished companion
could now give him no consolation. Fearful, horrible intelligence
had followed him from the encampment at trehlen. It had poisoned
these days of long-denied and necessary rest, and shrouded the
gloomy future with yet darker presentiments of evil.
Schweidnitz, the strong fortress, the key of Silesia, which had been
so long and with such mighty effort defended, had fallen!--had
yielded to the Austrians--and Frederick had thus lost the most
important acquisition of the last year, and thus his possession of
Silesia was again made doubtful. He looked sadly back upon all the
precious blood which had been shed to no purpose--upon all the great
and hardly-won battles, won in vain. He looked forward with an
aching heart to the years of blood and battle which must follow.
Frederick longed for rest and peace--he was weary of bloodshed and
of war. Like an alluring, radiant picture of paradise, the image of
his beloved Sans-Souci passed from time to time before his soul. He
dreamed of his quiet library and his beautiful picture-gallery. And
yet his courage was unconquered--and he preferred the torture of
these wretched days--he preferred death itself to the unfavorable
and humiliating peace which his proud enemies, made presumptuous by
their last successes, dared to offer him. They stood opposed to him
in monstrous superiority, but Frederick remained unshaken. With a
smaller army and fewer allies Alexander demolished Persia. "But
happily," he said to himself, "there was no Alexander to lead his
enemies to victory."
Frederick did not despair, and yet he did not believe in the
possibility of triumph. He preferred an honorable death to a
dishonorable peace. He would rather fail amidst the proud ruins of
Prussia, made great by his hand, than return with her to their
former petty insignificance. They offered him peace, but a peace
which compelled him to return the lands he had conquered, and to pay
to his victorious enemies the costs of the war.
The king did not regard these mortifying propositions as worthy of
consideration, and he commanded his ambassador, whom he had sent to
Augsburg to treat with the enemy, to return immediately. "It is
true," he said to his confidant, Le Catt, "all Europe is combined
against me--all the great powers have resolved upon my destruction.
And England, the only friend I did possess in Europe, has now
"But one has remained faithful."
"'Among the faithless, faithful only he' Among the innumerable
false, unmoved, unshaken, unseduced, unterrified, that is my sword.
If the exalted empresses are not my friends, the greater honor to my
good sword which has never failed me, and which shall go down with
me into the dark grave. If in Europe I have neither friends nor
allies, I may find both in other parts of the world. Asia may send
me the troops which Europe denies. If Russia is my enemy, who knows
but for this reason Turkey may become my ally? And who knows but an
alliance with the so-called unbelievers would be of more value to
Prussia than a league with the so-called believing Russians? They
call themselves Christians, but their weapons are lies, intrigues,
deceit, and treachery. The Moslem, however, is an honorable man and
a brave soldier. If he calls his God Allah, and his Christ Mohammed,
God may call him to account. I have nothing to do with it. What has
faith to do with the kings of this world? Besides, I believe the
Turks and Tartars are better Christians than the Russians."
"Your majesty is really, then, thinking of an alliance with the
Turks and Tartars?" said Le Catt.
"I am thinking of it so earnestly," said the king, eagerly, "that
day and night I think of nothing else. I have spared no cost, no
gold, no labor, to bring it about. Once I had almost succeeded, and
the Sublime Porte was inclined to this league; and my ambassador,
Rexin, was, with the consent of the Grand Vizier Mustapha, and
indeed by his advice, disguised and sent secretly to Constantinople.
The negotiations were almost completed, when the Russian and French
ambassadors discovered my plans, and by bribery, lies, and intrigues
of every base sort, succeeded in interfering. Mustapha broke his
promise, and his only answer to me was--'that the Sublime Porte must
wait for happier and more propitious days to confirm her friendship
and good understanding with the King of Prussia.' This was the will
of God the Almighty. This propitious year has been a long time
coming, but I hope it is now at hand, and this longed-for alliance
will at length be concluded. The last dispatches from my ambassador
in Constantinople seem favorable. The wise and energetic Grand
Vizier Raghile, the first self-reliant and enterprising Turkish
statesman, has promised Rexin to bring this matter before the
sultan, and I am daily expecting a courier who will bring me a
decisive and perhaps favorable answer from Tartary."
[Footnote: Kammer, "History of the Porte," vol. viii., p. 190.]
Le Catt gazed with admiration upon the noble, excited countenance of
the king. "Oh, sire," said he, deeply moved, "pardon, that in the
fulness of my heart, overcome with joy and rapture. I dare for once
to give expression in words to my love and my admiration. It is a
glorious spectacle to see the proud oak in the midst of the wild
tempest firm and unmoved, not even bowing its proud head to the
raging elements, offering a bold but calm defiance. But it is a
still more exalted spectacle to see a man with a brave heart and
flashing eye defy disaster and death; alone, in the consciousness of
his own strength, meeting Fate as an adversary and gazing upon it
eye to eye unterrified. Misfortune is like the lion of the desert.
If a man with steady eye and firm step advances to meet him, he
ceases to roar and lies down humbly at his feet; he recognizes and
quails before man made in the likeness of God. You, my king, now
offer this spectacle to the astonished world. Can you wonder that I,
who am ever near you, are filled with devotion and adoration, and
must at last give utterance to my emotion? I have seen your majesty
on the bloody battle-field, and in the full consciousness of
victory, but never have I seen the laurels which crown your brow so
radiant as in these days of your misfortune and defeat. Never was
the King of Prussia so great a hero, so glorious a couqueror, as
during these last weeks of destitution and gloom. You have hungered
with the hungry, you have frozen with the freezing; you have passed
the long, weary nights upon your cannon or upon the hard, cold
earth. You have divided your last drop of wine with the poor
soldiers. You did this, sire; I was in your tent and witnessed it--I
alone. You sat at your dinner--a piece of bread and one glass of
Hungarian wine, the last in your possession. An officer entered with
his report. You asked him if he had eaten. He said yes, but his
pale, thin face contradicted his words. You, sire, broke off the
half of your bread, you drank the half of your wine, then gave the
rest to the officer, saying in an almost apologetic tone, 'It is all
that I have.' Sire, on that day I did what since my youth I have not
done--I wept like a child, and my every glance upon your nobel face
was a prayer."
"Enthusiast," said the king, giving his hand to Le Catt with a
kindly smile, "is the world so corrupt that so natural an act should
excite surprise, and appear great and exalted? Are you astonished at
that which is simply human? But look! There is a courier! He stops
before the door of my peasant-palace. Quick, quick! Le Catt; let me
know the news he brings."
Le Catt hastened off, and returned at once with the dispatches.
Frederick took them with impatient haste, and while he read, his
grave face lightened, and a happy, hopeful smile played once more
upon his lips. "Ah, Le Catt," said he, "I was a good prophet, and my
hopes are about to be fulfilled. Europe is against me, but Asia is
my ally. The barbarous Russians are my enemies, but the honest Turks
and Tartars are my friends. This dispatch is from my ambassador
Rexin. He is coming, accompanied by an ambassador of Tartary, and
may be here in a few hours."
"Where will your majesty receive him?" said Le Catt.
The king looked around smilingly at the little room, with the rude
walls and dirty floor.
"I will receive him here!" said he; "here, in my royal palace of
Voiseilvitz. I am forced to believe that a right royal king would,
by his presence, transform the lowliest hut into a palace, and the
most ordinary chair into a throne. The eyes of the ambassador may,
however, be as dull as those of the worthy possessor of my present
palace. It may be that he will not recognize me as the visible
representative of God--as king by the grace of God. We must
therefore come to his assistance, and show ourselves in all the
dazzling glitter of royalty. We must improvise a throne, and, it
appears to me, that leathern arm-chair, which certainly belonged to
a grandfather, is well suited to the occasion. It will be a worthy
representation of my throne, which was my grandfather's throne; he
erected it, and I inherited it from him. Shove it, then, into the
middle of the room, and fasten some of the Russian flags, which we
took at Zorndorf, on the wall behind it; spread my tent-carpet on
the floor, and my throne saloon is ready. Quick, Le Catt, make your
preparations; call the servants, and show them what they have to do.
In the mean time, I will make my toilet; I must not appear before
the worthy ambassador in such unworthy guise." The king rang
hastily, and his valet, Deesen, entered. "Deesen," said he, gayly,
"we will imagine ourselves to be again in Sans-Souci, and about to
hold a great court. I must do then, what I have not done for a long
time--make grande toilette. I will wear my general's uniform, and
adorn myself with the order of the Black Eagle. I will have my hair
frizzed, and screw up an imposing cue. Well, Deesen, why do you gaze
at me so wildly?"
"Sire, the general's coat is here, but--"
"Well, but what?" cried the king, impatiently.
"But the breeches! the breeches!" stammered Deesen, turning pale;
"they are torn; and those your majesty now wears, are your last and
"Well, then," said the king, laughing, "I will continue to wear my
last and only breeches; I will put on my general's coat, voila
"That is wholly impossible," cried Deesen, wringing his hands. "If
your majesty proposes to hold a great court, you cannot possibly
wear these breeches!"
"Why not? why not?" said the king, fiercely.
"Sire," murmured Deesen, "sire, that has happened to them which
happened to your majesty at Torgau."
"That is to say--" said the king, questioningly.
"That is to say, they are wounded."
Frederick looked surprised, and following the glance of his valet,
he found his eyes fixed upon his knees.
"You are right, Deesen," said he, laughing; "that disaster has
befallen my breeches which befell me at Torgau: they are wounded,
and need a surgeon."
"Your majesty must therefore graciously postpone your great court
till to-morrow. Perhaps I may find a tailor in one of the
neighboring villages; he will work during the night, and early
tomorrow every thing will be in order."
"It must be done to-day--done immediately," cried the king. "In a
few hours the injury must be healed, and my apparel fully restored
"But, sire," whispered Deesen, "how can that be possible? Your
majesty has but one pair, and you must take them off, in order that
they may be mended."
"Well, I will take them off," said the king; "go and seek the
tailor. I will undress and go to bed till this important operation
is performed. Go at once!"
While the king was undressing, he heard Deesen's stentorian voice,
calling out lustily through the streets--"A tailor! a tailor! is
there a tailor amongst the soldiers?"
The king was scarcely covered up in bed before Deesen entered, with
a joyous face.
"Sire, I have found a soldier who can do the work; he is not a
tailor, but he swears he can sew and patch, and he undertakes to
dress the wounds."
"And yet, it is said that a higher power rules the world," murmured
the king, when he was again alone; "accident--accident decides all
questions. If there had been no tailor amongst the soldiers, the
King of Prussia could not have received the ambassador of Tartary
to-day, and the negotiations might have been broken off."
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