MoboReader > Literature > Old Fritz and the New Era

   Chapter 28 OLD FRITZ.

Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 29441

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


The war terminated, the hostile armies returned to their different German countries. Frederick the Great had gained his point, forcing Austria to renounce the possession of Bavaria. The Prince of Zweibruecken had been solemnly recognized by him as the rightful heir to the electorate, and the lawful ruler and possessor of Bavaria. The Emperor Joseph had submitted with profound regret and bitter animosity to the will of his mother, the reigning empress, and consented to the peace negotiations of Baron von Thugut. Having signed the document of the same, in his quality of co-regent, he angrily threw aside the pen, casting a furious glance at the hard, impenetrable face of Thugut, saying: "Tell her majesty that I have accomplished my last act as co-regent, and I now abdicate. From henceforth I will still lie her obedient son, but no submissive joint ruler, to only follow devotedly her imperial will. Therefore I resign, and never will trouble myself in future about the acts of the government." The emperor kept his word. He retired, piqued, into solitude, wounded in the depths of his soul, and afterward travelled, leaving the government entirely to the empress and her pious confessors.

Bavaria was rescued! It owed its existence to the watchfulness, sagacity, and disinterested aid of Prussia's great king. The Elector Maximilian vowed in his delight that he, as well as his successors and heirs, would never forget that Bavaria must ascribe its continuance to Prussia alone, and therefore the gratitude of the princes of this electorate could not and never would be extinguished toward the royal house of Prussia. Frederick received these overflowing acknowledgments with the calmness of a philosopher and the smile of a skeptic. He understood mankind sufficiently to know what to expect from their oaths; to know that in the course of time there is nothing more oppressive and intolerable than gratitude, that it soon becomes a burden which they would gladly throw off their bent shoulders at any price, and become the enemy of him to whom they had sworn eternal thankfulness. Frederick regarded these oaths of Bavaria not as a security for the future, but as a payment on account of the past.

"I did not go forth to render the Bavarian princes indebted to me," said he, to his only confidante, Count Herzberg, as he brought to him, at Sans-Souci, the renewed expression of thanks of the prince elector. "I would only protect Germany against Austria's grasp, and preserve the equilibrium of the German empire. Believe me, the house of Hapsburg is a dangerous enemy for the little German principalities, and if my successor does not bear it in mind, and guard himself against their flatteries and cat's-paws, Austria will fleece him as the cat the mouse who is enticed by the odor of the bacon. Prussia shall be neither a mouse in the German empire, nor serve as a roast for Austria. But she shall be a well-trained shepherd's dog for the dear, patient herd, and take care that none go astray and are lost."

"Your majesty has drawn an unfortunate character for the future of our country," sighed Herzberg, thoughtfully, "and I must grant that it is sketched with severe but correct outlines so it follows that poor Germany has many combats and hardships in store."

"What do you mean?" asked the king. "What characteristic did I name?"

"Your majesty pointed out Austria as the cat watching for prey in Germany. Prussia, on the contrary, as the shepherd's dog, which should watch the native herd, and occasionally bite those who wander from the flock. The comparison is apt, and clearly exposes the natural hostility of the two nations. Nature has placed the cat and the dog in eternal enmity, and there is no compromise to be thought of, to say nothing of friendship. There may, now and then, be a truce; the cat may draw in her claws, and the dog may cease to howl and growl, but the combat will renew itself, and never end, but in the death of one party, and the victorious triumph of the other."

"You are right," said the king, nodding slightly. "From this natural hostility will proceed many combats and storms for our land, and much blood will be shed on its account. Let us look to the future, and try to ward off the coming evil, in erecting high barriers against the cat-like springs of the enemy. I will think out a security for Germany. But first, mon cher ami, we have to care for our own country and people. The war has greatly injured my poor subjects. Industry is prostrated and prosperity disturbed. We must seek new sources of acquisition, and sustain those which are exhausted. For this, we must think of fresh taxes, and other sources of income."

"Sire," said Herzberg, shrugging his shoulders, "the taxes are already so heavy that it will be difficult to increase them."

"You are greatly mistaken," cried the king, with increased animation. "I will impose a tax upon those things which are now exempt, and establish a capable administration for the purpose. Bread, flour, meat, and beer, the sustenance of the poor, shall remain as they are, for I will not that they shall pay more. But tobacco, coffee, and tea, are superfluous things, which the prosperous and rich consume. Whoever will smoke, and drink tea or coffee, can and shall pay for being a gourmand!"

"I beg pardon, but it is just these taxes which will create the greatest discontent," answered Herzberg. "Your majesty will remember that the duty on coffee was complained of and criticised by every one, and the poor people grumbled more than all. In spite of the resistance of government, coffee has become, more and more, a means of nourishment and refreshment for the lower class."

"I will teach them to renounce it," cried the king, striking the table violently with his staff "I will not suffer so much money to go out of the country for this abominable beverage! My people shall re-learn to drink their beer, instead of this infamous stuff, as I had to do when a young man. What was good enough for the crown prince of Prussia, will to-day suffice for his subjects. I tell you, Herzberg, I will teach them to drink their beer, or pay dearly for this bad, foreign stuff. Then we will see which will conquer, Prussian beer or foreign coffee."

"It is possible that the former will be victorious on account of their poverty and the high duties; but in any case the people will be discontented, and grumble against your majesty."

"Do you suppose that I care for that?" asked the king, with a quick, fiery glance at the calm, earnest face of his confidant. "Do you think that I care for the applause of the people, or trouble myself about their complaints? I regard their shouting or their grumbling about as much as the humming or buzzing of a fly upon the wall. If it dares to light upon my nose, I brush it off; and if I can, I catch it. Beyond that, it is its nature to hum and buzz. Herzberg, you understand that if a ruler should listen to the praises or discontent of his subjects, he would soon be a lost man, and would not know his own mind. The people are changeable as the weather; to-morrow they crush under their feet what to-day they bore aloft, and praise one day what they stone the next. Do not talk to me about the people! I know this childish, foolish mass, and he is lost who counts upon their favor. It is all the same to me whether they like or hate me. I shall always do my duty to my subjects according to the best of my knowledge and ability, as it becomes an honorable and faithful officer. As the chief and most responsible servant of my kingdom, I should be mindful to increase her income and diminish her expenses-to lay taxes upon the rich, and lighten them for the poor. This is my task, and I will fulfil it so long as I live!"

"Oh," cried Herzberg, with enthusiasm, "would that the entire nation might hear these words, and engrave them upon their hearts!"

"Why that, mon cher?" asked Frederick, shrugging his shoulders. "I do not ask to be deified; my subjects are perfectly welcome to discuss my acts, so long as they pay me punctually, and order and quiet are respected and preserved."

"All that is done," said Herzberg, joyfully. "The machine of state is so well arranged, that she has fulfilled her duty during the war, and will soon reestablish prosperity."

"Particularly," cried the king, "if we rightly understand the art of agriculture. In the end every thing depends upon him who best cultivates his field. This is the highest art, for without it there would be no merchants, courtiers, kings, poets, or philosophers. The productions of the earth are the truest riches. He who improves his ground, brings waste land under the plough, drains the swamps, makes the most glorious conquests over barbarism."

"And those are also conquerors, sire," said Herzberg, smiling, "who drain the mental swamps, and improve the waste mental ground. Such are those who increase the schools and instruct the people. I have caused the school authorities to report to me, according to your majesty's command. A happy progress has been noticed everywhere. Cultivation and education are advancing; and since our teachers have adopted the principles of Rousseau, a more humane spirit is perceptible throughout our schools."

"What principle do we owe to Jean Jacques?" asked the king.

"Sire, the principle that man is good by nature!"

"Ah, mon cher, who says that knows but little of the abominable race to which we belong!" [Footnote: The king's words.-See "Prussia." vol. iv., p. 221.]

"Do you not believe in this doctrine?" asked Herzberg.

The king raised his large blue eyes musingly to the busts placed upon the bookcases, and around the walls. They lingered long upon those of Homer, Plato, and D'Alembert; then turned to that of Voltaire, with its satyr-like face. "No, I do not believe it," he sadly responded. "Mankind is an ignoble race; still one must love them, for among the wicked are always some worthy ones, whose light beams so brightly clear, that they change night into day. During my life I have learned to know many base, miserable creatures, but I have become reconciled to them, as I have also found some who were virtuous and excellent-some who were noble and beautiful, as the grains of wheat among the chaff. You belong to the latter, my Herzberg; and as in heaven many unjust will be forgiven for one just person, so will I upon earth forgive on your account the Trencks, Schaffgotschs, Goernes, Voltaires, Wallraves, Glasows, Dahsens, and all the traitors, poisoners, and perfidious ones, as they may be called. Remain by my side and sustain me, to prevent many a wicked thing and bring to pass much that is good. I shall always be grateful to you in my heart for it; that you can depend upon even if my weather-beaten face looks ill-humored, and my voice is peevish. Remember that I am a fretful old man, who is daily wasting away, approaching that bourne from which no traveller has ever returned."

"God grant that your majesty may be far removed from this bourne!" said Herzberg, with emotion. "And He may grant it on account of your subjects, who are so much in need of your care and government."

"There is no one upon earth who could not be replaced," said the king, shaking his head. "When I am gone, they will shout to my successor. I trust my subjects will exchange a good ruler for their fretful old king. I have been very well satisfied with him during the campaign, and he has shown ability in the diplomatic mission to St. Petersburg. He has proved himself a soldier and a diplomat, and I hope he will become a great king. Herzberg, why do you not answer me, but cast down your eyes? What does your silence mean?"

"Nothing at all-truly nothing! The crown prince has a noble, generous heart, a good understanding; only-"

"Why hesitate, Herzberg? Go on-what is your 'only?'"

"I would only say that the crown prince must beware and not be governed by others."

"Oh, you mean that he will be ruled by mistresses and favorites?"

"I do fear it, your majesty! You well know that the crown princes are generally the antipodes of those ascendant to the throne. If the ruler has only an enlightened mind, and is free from prejudices, so-"

"Is his crown prince an obscurer," added quickly the king, "having the more prejudices, and is capable of being ruled by mystics and exorcists. Is not that your meaning?"

Count Herzberg nodded. The king continued with animation: "Some one has told me of a new friend who returned from the war with the prince, and who belongs to the Rosicrucians and exhorters, and hopes to find many adherents here for such deceptions. Is it true?"

"Yes, sire. It is Colonel Bischofswerder, a Rosicrucian and necromancer and of course of very pleasant address. He has indeed already gained much power over the impressible mind of Frederick William, and his importance is greatly on the increase."

"What does the crown prince's mistress say to it? Is she not jealous?"

"Of which one does your majesty speak?"

The king started, and his eyes flashed. "What!" he cried with vehemence, "is there a question of several? Has the crown prince others besides Wilhelmine Enke, whom I have tolerated?"

"Sire, unfortunately, the prince has not a very faithful heart. Besides, it is Bischofswerder's plan, as I suppose, to separate him from Wilhelmine, who will not subordinate herself to him, and who even dares to mock the necromancers and visionaries, and oppose them to the crown prince."

"Does Enke do that?" asked the king.

"Yes, sire," answered Herzberg, as the king rose and slowly paced the room. "And one must acknowledge that in that she does well and nobly. Otherwise one cannot reproach her. She leads a quiet, retired life, very seldom leaving her beautiful villa at Charlottenburg, but devotes herself to the education of her children. She is surrounded with highly-educated men, savants, poets, and artists, who indeed all belong to the enlightened, the so-called Illuminati, and which are a thorn in the eye to Colonel Bischofswerder. Your majesty will perceive that I have some good informants in this circle, and the latest news they bring me is that the bad influence is upon the increase. The Rosicrucians reproach the prince for his immoral connection with Wilhelmine Enke, as they would replace her by one who gives herself up to them."

"That shall not take place," cried the king. "No, we will not suffer that; and particularly when we are forced to recognize such abominable connections, we should endeavor to choose the most desirable. I cannot permit that this person, who has at least heart and understanding, should be pus

hed aside by Bischofswerder. My nephew shall retain her, and she shall drive away the Rosicrucians with all their deviltries. Herzberg, go and tell the crown prince, from me, that I order-"

His majesty suddenly stopped, and looked at Herzberg with surprise, who was smiling.

"Why do you laugh, Herzberg?"

"I was not laughing, sire. If my lip quivered against my will, it was because I stupidly and foolishly dared to finish the broken sentence."

"Well, how did you manage to conclude it?"

"Sire, your majesty said, 'Tell the crown prince that I order him'-and there you ceased. I added 'order him to love Wilhelmine Enke, and be faithful to her.' I beg pardon for my mistake. I should have known that your majesty could never command the execution of that which is not to be forced; that my great king recognizes, as well as I, that love is not compulsory, or fidelity either. Pardon me for my impertinence, and tell me the order which I shall take to the crown prince from my beloved king and master."

The king stepped close up to the minister, and gazed with a half-sad, half-tender expression in the noble and gentle face of Herzberg, and in the sensible brown eyes, which sank not beneath the fiery glance of Frederick. Then, slowly raising his hand from the staff, he menaced him with his long, bony forefinger.

"Herzberg, you are a rogue, and will teach me morals. Indeed, you are right-love is not compulsory, but one can sometimes aid it. Say nothing to the prince. The interior of his house must, indeed, be left to himself, but we will keep our eyes open and be watchful. Do so also, Herzberg, and if you discover any thing, tell me; and if Wilhelmine Enke needs assistance against the infamous Rosicrucians, and with her aid this mystic rabble can be suppressed, inform me, and I am ready to send her succor. Ah! Herzberg, is it not a melancholy fact that one must fight his way through so much wickedness to obtain so little that is good? My whole life has passed in toil and trouble; I have grown old before my time, and would rest from my labors, and harvest in the last few years, what I have sown in a lifetime. Is it not sad that I hope for no fruit, and that the seed that I have scattered will be trodden under foot by my successor? I must gaze at the future without joy, without consolation!"

The king turned to the window, perhaps to hide the tears which stood in his eyes. Herzberg did not presume to interrupt the sad silence, but gazed with an expression of the deepest sympathy at the little bent form, in the threadbare coat. Grief filled his heart at the thought that this head was not only bowed down by the weight of years and well-deserved laurels, but also from its many cares and griefs, and hopeless peering into the future.

The king turned again, and his eyes were bright and un-dimmed. "We must never lose courage," said he, "and we must have a reserve corps in life as well as upon the field of battle. For the world resembles the latter, and the former is a continual war, in which we must not be discouraged nor cast down, if there is not hope in our souls. I will cling to As you have said, and I have also found it true, that crown prince is a good and brave man, and possesses a keen understanding, we may succeed in bringing him from the erroneous ways in which his youth, levity, and the counsels of wicked friends have led him. We will try with kindness and friendliness, as I believe these have more effect upon him. Let us not even scorn to aid Wilhelmine in so far as is compatible with honor. If a mistress is necessary to the happiness of the prince, this one seems the most worthy of all to encourage. Beyond the clouds the stars are still shining, and it appears to me as if I see in perspective in the heaven of Prussia's future, a star which promises a bright light with years. Do you not think with me, the little Prince Frederick William is a rising star?"

"Yes, your majesty," answered Herzberg, joyfully, "He is a splendid little boy, of simple and innocent heart, and bright, vigorous mind, modest and unpretending."

"You see," cried the king, evidently cheered, "there is one star and we will watch over it, that it is not obscured. I must see the prince oftener. He shall visit me every month and his governors and teachers shall report to me every quarter. We will watch over his education, and train him to be a good king for the future, and guard ourselves against being pusillanimous, foolish, and fretful, and not be discouraged in life. I have entered my last lustrum, or five years. Hush! do not dispute it, but believe me! My physique is worn out, and the mental grows dull, and although I live and move about, I am half in the grave. There are two coffins in this room, which contain the greater part of my past. Look around, do you not see them?"

"No," said Herzberg, as he glanced at the different articles of furniture, "I see none."

"Look upon the table by the window-what do you there see?"

"Your majesty, there is an instrument-case and a sword-sheath."

"They are the ones I refer to. In the case lies my flute, that is to say, my youth, love, poesy, and art, are encoffined there. In the sheath is my sword, which is my manhood, energy, laurels, and fame. I will never play the flute or draw the sword again. All that is past!"

"But there still remains for the great king a noble work to perfect," cried Herzberg. "Youth has flown, and the war-songs are hushed. The poet and hero will change to the lawgiver. Sire, you have made Prussia great and powerful externally; there remains a greater work, to make her the same within. You have added new provinces, give them now a new code of laws. You will no longer unsheath the sword of the hero; then raise that of justice high above your subjects!"

"I will," cried the king, with beaming eyes. "You have rightly seized and comprehended what alone seems to me worthy of will and execution. There shall be but one law for the high and the low, the poor and the rich. The distinguished Chancellor Carmer shall immediately go to work upon it, and you shall aid him. The necessity of such a reform we have lately felt in the Arnold process, where the judge decided in favor of the rich, and wronged the poor man. How could the judge sustain Count Schmettau against the miller Arnold, who had been deprived of the water for his mill, when it was so evident that it was unjust?"

"I beg pardon, majesty, but I believe the judge obeyed the very letter of the law, and-"

"Then this law must be annulled," interrupted the king. "This is why I revoked the judge's sentence, and sent the obstinate fellows to the fortress, sustaining the miller in his right deposing the arrogant Chancellor Furst. I had long resolved upon it, for I knew that he was a haughty fellow, who let the poor crowd his anteroom, and listened to the flattery of the high-born rabble who courted him. I only waited an occasion to bow his haughty head. This offered, and I availed myself of it, voila tout. It is to be hoped that it will be good example for all courts of justice. They will remember that the least peasant and beggar is a human being as much as the king, and that justice should be accorded to if they do not, they will have to deal with me. If a college of justice practises injustice, it is more dangerous than a band of robbers; for one can protect himself from the latter but the former are rascals wearing the mantle of justice, to exercise their own evil passions, from whom no man can protect himself, and they are the greatest scoundrels in the world and deserve a double punishment. I therefore deposed the unjust judge, and sent him to the fortress at Spandau, that all might take warning by his fate." [Footnote: The king's own words.-Seo "Prussia, Frederick the Great," vol. iv.]

"This Arnold trial belongs to history," said Herzberg. "The lawyers will refer to it after the lapse of centuries, and the poor and the oppressed will recall and bless the thoughtfulness of the great king, who would open just as wide a gate for them to enter the heaven of justice as to the rich and noble. This new code of laws will beam above the crown of gold and of laurels, with the splendor of the civil crown, whose brilliants are the tears of gratitude of your people."

"May it be so," said Frederick, with earnestness. "Now tell me, do you know what day of the month it is?"

"Sire, it is the 30th of May.'"

"Yes, you will remember it is the anniversary of Voltaire's death, and after I have quarrelled for two years with the priests and so-called holy fathers at Rome, I have gained my point, and the honor shall be shown him here in Berlin which the priests and friars have refused to the immortal poet in his own country. To-day, exactly at the hour which Voltaire died, the mass for the dead will be read in the Catholic church, to free his immortal soul from purgatory. I have, indeed, no idea of an immortal soul. If there are any, and if it has to endure the threefold heat of which Father Tobias, of Silesia, related to me, I do not believe that the priests, for a few thalers, can loose the unhappy spirit from the bake-oven. But as they refuse burial to the spirit of Voltaire, in order to insult him after death, so must I avail myself of this occasion to offer a last homage to the great poet, which will take place at four o'clock. Go to the mass, Herzberg, and tell me to-morrow how it went off-whether the priests make right pious faces and burn much incense. Adieu. Au revoir, demain."

As the king dismissed, with a friendly wave of the hand, his confidential minister, he passed into his cabinet, remaining an hour with his counsellors. At dinner appeared some of the generals, weather-worn and bent, with wrinkled faces and dull eyes. Souvenirs of the glorious years of fame and victory. The king nodded kindly to them, but during the entire meal, he only let some indifferent questions fall from his lips, which were devotedly and tediously answered by some one of the old generals. As their dry, peevish voices resounded through the high, vaulted room, it seemed to reawaken in Frederick's heart the souvenirs of memory and become the echo of vanished days. He gazed up at the little Cupids, in the varied play of bright colors, looking down from the clouds, and the goddesses trumpeting through their long tubes the fame of the immortal, the same as formerly, when they smiled from the clouds upon the beaming face of the young king, dining in the distinguished circle of his friends Voltaire, D'Argens, Algarotti, La Melbrie, and Keith.

The Cupids were fresh as ever, and the goddesses had not removed the trumpets from their lips. But where were the of the merry round-table? Returned to dust. The jests and poesy have died away-all have sunken to decay and darkness. The king silently raised his glass of Tokay, gazing up to the clouds and Cupids, draining it slowly in sacrifice for the dead. Then with a vehement, contemptuous movement, he threw the glass over his shoulder, shivering it into a thousand pieces. The old generals, after dessert, had gently sunk into their afternoon nap, and now started, frightened, looking wildly around, as if they expected the enemy were approaching. Alkmene crept from under the king's chair muffing with her long, delicate nose, the glistening pieces of glass, and the footman bent himself to carefully pick them up.

The king rose silently, saluting the old generals, pointing with his staff to the large folding-doors which led to the garden.

The footmen hastened forward to open them, and stand in stiff, military order upon each side. Frederick walked slowly out, mounting the two steps which led to the upper terrace, signing to the attendants to close the doors.

He was alone. Only Windspiel was there to spring about joyfully, barking, and turning to meet him, who wandered on the border of the terrace, where he had formerly walked with his friends. Now he stopped to gaze up the broad, deserted steps which led from terrace to terrace, as if he could re-people them with the well-known forms, and could see them approach and greet him with the look of endless love and constancy. Then he raised his eyes to heaven, as if to seek there those he in vain sought upon earth.

"Do you not see me, my friends?" he asked, in a gentle but sad voice. "Do you not look down wonderingly where you saw a cheerful, smiling king, upon the now bent, shrunken old man, cold and phlegmatic, who seldom speaks, and then causes every one to yawn? Oh, where have you fled, beautiful spring-time of life-wherein once we used to enliven our conversations with the wit of the Athenians, and the jest fluttered upon our lips as we glided through life in the bold enjoyment of youth? Banished is the dance, and I creep about, leaning upon my staff, enfeebled in body, and with saddened heart! Oh, awful change, unhappy old age! What does it aid me that I am a king? I have won many a battle, but now I am vanquished by age and death and am alone!" [Footnote: The king's words.-See "Posthumous Works," vol. x., p. 100.]

A slight breeze rustled through the trees, fanning, caressingly, the cheeks of the king. The perfume of sweet flowers rose from the terrace, and below rushed the cascade. The marble groups around the fountain glistened in the golden rays of the sun, and in the dark foliage fluttered and sang the merry birds of summer.

Suddenly the wind wafted from the church at Potsdam the clear tones of a bell, announcing to the king the hour of four, the death of Voltaire.

The king walked along to the rose-arbor, to the temple of friendship, where the bust of his sister Frederika was placed. He seated himself near the entrance, listening to the ringing voice of the bell, and recalling that the death-mass had now commenced in Berlin.

The service sacred to memory! The prayer for the immortal soul! As the lonely king sat there, calm and bowed down, a solemn prayer and holy mass rose from his own soul. He bowed lower his head, and, without realizing it himself, traced letters in the sand at his feet, with no witness but the blue heavens above him, and Windspiel who curiously eyed the lines. Thinking of the prayer for Voltaire's undying soul, the king had written the word of profoundest mystery and revelation, of hope and prophecy-"Immortality."

The wind gently rustled in the trees, wafting the perfume of flowers. Sweet stillness reigned around, and lowly sang the birds as if not to waken the king, who slept by the marble form of his beloved sister-Windspiel upon his knees, and in the sand at his feet the word traced by his own hand, "Immortality."

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares