Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

History of Friedrich II of Prussia V 4 by Thomas Carlyle

Part 3 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

genealogies of men. This little Boy should have been the excellent
paternal Majesty's exact counterpart; resembling him at all
points, "as a little sixpence does a big half-crown:" but we
perceive he cannot. This is a new coin, with a stamp of its own.
A surprising FRIEDRICH D'OR this; and may prove a good piece yet;
but will never be the half-crown your Majesty requires!--

Conceive a rugged thick-sided Squire Western, of supreme degree,--
or this Squire Western is a hot Hohenzollern, and wears a crown
royal;--conceive such a burly NE-PLUS-ULTRA of a Squire, with his
broad-based rectitudes and surly irrefragabilities; the honest
German instincts of the man, convictions certain as the Fates, but
capable of no utterance, or next to none, in words; and that he
produces a Son who takes into Voltairism, piping, fiddling and
belles-lettres, with apparently a total contempt for Grumkow and
the giant-regiment! Sulphurous rage, in gusts or in lasting
tempests, rising from a fund of just implacability, is inevitable.
Such as we shall see.

The Mother, as mothers will, secretly favors Fritz; anxious to
screen him in the day of high-wind. Withal she has plans of her
own in regard to Fritz, and the others; being a lady of many
plans. That of the "Double-Marriage," for example; of marrying her
Prince and Princess to a Princess and Prince of the
English-Hanoverian House; it was a pleasant eligible plan,
consented to by Papa and the other parties; but when it came to be
perfected by treaty, amid the rubs of external and internal
politics, what new amazing discrepancies rose upon her poor
children and her! Fearfully aggravating the quarrel of Father and
Son, almost to the fatal point. Of that "Double-Marriage," whirled
up in a universe of intriguing diplomacies, in the "skirts of the
Kaiser's huge Spectre-Hunt," as we have called it, there will be
sad things to say by and by.

Plans her Majesty has; and silently a will of her own. She loves
all her children, especially Fritz, and would so love that they
loved her.--For the rest, all along, Fritz and Wilhelmina are sure
allies. We perceive they have fallen into a kind of cipher-speech;
[ Memoires de Bareith, i. 168.] they
communicate with one another by telegraphic signs. One of their
words, "RAGOTIN (Stumpy)," whom does the reader think it
designates? Papa himself, the Royal Majesty of Prussia, Friedrich
Wilhelm I., he to his rebellious children is tyrant "Stumpy," and
no better; being indeed short of stature, and growing ever
thicker, and surlier in these provocations!--

Such incurable discrepancies have risen in the Berlin Palace:
fountains of bitterness flowing ever wider, till they made life
all bitter for Son and for Father; necessitating the proud Son to
hypocrisies towards his terrible Father, which were very foreign
to the proud youth, had there been any other resource. But there
was none, now or afterwards. Even when the young man, driven to
reflection and insight by intolerable miseries, had begun to
recognize the worth of his surly Rhadamanthine Father, and the
intrinsic wisdom of much that he had meant with him, the Father
hardly ever could, or could only by fits, completely recognize the
Son's worth. Rugged suspicious Papa requires always to be humored,
cajoled, even when our feeling towards him is genuine and loyal.
Friedrich, to the last, we can perceive, has to assume masquerade
in addressing him, in writing to him,--and in spite of real love,
must have felt it a relief when such a thing was over. That is,
all along, a sad element of Friedrich's education! Out of which
there might have come incalculable damage to the young man, had
his natural assimilative powers, to extract benefit from all
things, been less considerable. As it was, he gained self-help
from it; gained reticence, the power to keep his own counsel;
and did not let the hypocrisy take hold of him, or be other than a
hateful compulsory masquerade. At an uncommonly early age, he
stands before us accomplished in endurance, for one thing; a very
bright young Stoic of his sort; silently prepared for the
injustices of men and things. And as for the masquerade, let us
hope it was essentially foreign even to the skin of the man! The
reader will judge as he goes on. "Je n'ai jamais trompe
personne durant ma vie, I have never deceived anybody
during my life; still less will I deceive posterity," [
Memoires depuis la Paix de Huberrtsbourg, 1763-1774
(Avant-Propos), OEUVRES, vii. 8.] writes Friedrich when his head
was now grown very gray.

Chapter XIII.


Neither as to intellectual culture, in Duhan's special sphere, and
with all Duhan's good-will, was the opportunity extremely golden.
It cannot be said that Friedrich, who spells in the way we saw,
"ASTEURE" for "A CETTE HEURE," has made shining acquisitions on
the literary side. However, in the long-run it becomes clear, his
intellect, roving on devious courses, or plodding along the
prescribed tram-roads, had been wide awake; and busy all the
while, bringing in abundant pabulum of an irregular nature.

He did learn "Arithmetic," "Geography," and the other useful
knowledges that were indispensable to him. He knows History
extensively; though rather the Roman, French, and general European
as the French have taught it him, than that of "Hessen, Brunswick,
England," or even the "Electoral and Royal House of Brandenburg,"
which Papa had recommended. He read History, where he could
find it readable, to the end of his life; and had early begun
reading it,--immensely eager to learn, in his little head, what
strange things had been, and were, in this strange Planet he was
come into.

We notice with pleasure a lively taste for facts in the little
Boy; which continued to be the taste of the Man, in an eminent
degree. Fictions he also knows; an eager extensive reader of what
is called Poetry, Literature, and himself a performer in that
province by and by: but it is observable how much of Realism there
always is in his Literature; how close, here as elsewhere, he
always hangs on the practical truth of things; how Fiction itself
is either an expository illustrative garment of Fact, or else is
of no value to him. Romantic readers of his Literature are much
disappointed in consequence, and pronounce it bad Literature;--and
sure enough, in several senses, it is not to be called good! Bad
Literature, they say; shallow, barren, most unsatisfactory to a
reader of romantic appetites. Which is a correct verdict, as to
the romantic appetites and it. But to the man himself, this
qualityof mind is of immense moment and advantage; and forms
truly the basis of all he was good for in life. Once for all, he
has no pleasure in dreams, in parti-colored clouds and
nothingnesses. All his curiosities gravitate towards what exists,
what has being and reality round him. That is the significant
thing to him; that he would right gladly know, being already
related to that, as friend or as enemy; and feeling an unconscious
indissoluble kinship, who shall say of what importance, towards
all that. For he too is a little Fact, big as can be to himself;
and in the whole Universe there exists nothing as fact but is a
fellow-creature of his.

That our little Fritz tends that way, ought to give Noltenius,
Finkenstein and other interested parties, the very highest
satisfaction. It is an excellent symptom of his intellect, this of
gravitating irresistibly towards realities. Better symptom of its
quality (whatever QUANTITY there be of it), human intellect cannot
show for itself. However it may go with Literature, and
satisfaction to readers of romantic appetites, this young soul
promises to become a successful Worker one day, and to DO
something under the Sun. For work is of an extremely unfictitious
nature; and no man can roof his house with clouds and moonshine,
so as to turn the rain from him.

It is also to be noted that his style of French, though he spelt
it so ill, and never had the least mastery of punctuation, has
real merit. Rapidity, easy vivacity, perfect clearness, here and
there a certain quaint expressiveness: on the whole, he had
learned the Art of Speech, from those old French Governesses, in
those old and new French Books of his. We can also say of his
Literature, of what he hastily wrote in mature life, that it has
much more worth, even as Literature, than the common romantic
appetite assigns to it. A vein of distinct sense, and good
interior articulation, is never wanting in that thin-flowing
utterance. The true is well riddled out from amid the false;
the important and essential are alone given us, the unimportant
and superfluous honestly thrown away. A lean wiry veracity (an
immense advantage in any Literature, good or bad!) is everywhere
beneficently observable; the QUALITY of the intellect always
extremely good, whatever its quantity may be.

It is true, his spelling--"ASTEURE" for "A CETTE HEURE"--is very
bad. And as for punctuation, he never could understand the mystery
of it; he merely scatters a few commas and dashes, as if they were
shaken out of a pepper-box upon his page, and so leaves it.
These are deficiencies lying very bare to criticism; and I confess
I never could completely understand them in such a man. He that
would have ordered arrest for the smallest speck of mud on a man's
buff-belt, indignant that any pipe-clayed portion of a man should
not be perfectly pipeclayed: how could he tolerate false spelling,
and commas shaken as out of a pepper-box over his page? It is
probable he cared little about Literature, after all; cared, at
least, only about the essentials of it; had practically no
ambition for himself, or none considerable, in that kind;--and so
might reckon exact obedience and punctuality, in a soldier, more
important than good spelling to an amateur literary man: He never
minded snuff upon his own chin, not even upon his waistcoat and
breeches: A merely superficial thing, not worth bothering about,
in the press of real business!--

That Friedrich's Course of Education did on the whole prosper, in
spite of every drawback, is known to all men. He came out of it a
man of clear and ever-improving intelligence; equipped with
knowledge, true in essentials, if not punctiliously exact, upon
all manner of practical and speculative things, to a degree not
only unexampled among modern Sovereign Princes so called, but such
as to distinguish him even among the studious class. Nay many
"Men-of-Letters" have made a reputation for themselves with but a
fraction of the real knowledge concerning men and things, past and
present, which Friedrich was possessed of. Already at the time
when action came to be demanded of him, he was what we must call a
well-informed and cultivated man; which character he never ceased
to merit more and more; and as for the action, and the actions,--
we shall see whether he was fit for these or not.

One point of supreme importance in his education was all along
made sure of, by the mere presence and presidence of Friedrich
Wilhelm in the business: That there was an inflexible law of
discipline everywhere active in it; that there was a Spartan
rigor, frugality, veracity inculcated upon him. "Economy he is to
study to the bottom;" and not only so, but, in another sense of
the word, he is to practise economy; and does, or else suffers for
not doing it. Economic of his time, first of all: generally every
other noble economy will follow out of that, if a man once
understand and practise that. Here was a truly valuable foundation
laid; and as for the rest, Nature, in spite of shot-rubbish, had
to do what she could in the rest.

But Nature had been very kind to this new child of hers.
And among, the confused hurtful elements of his Schooling, there
was always, as we say, this eminently salutary and most potent
one, of its being, in the gross, APPRENTICESHIP TO FRIEDRICH
WILHELM the Rhadamanthine Spartan King, who hates from his heart
all empty Nonsense, and Unveracity most of all. Which one element,
well aided by docility, by openness and loyalty of mind, on the
Pupil's part, proved at length sufficient to conquer the others;
as it were to burn up all the others, and reduce their sour dark
smoke, abounding everywhere, into flame and illumination mostly.
This radiant swift-paced Son owed much to the surly, irascible,
sure-footed Father that bred him. Friedrich did at length see into
Friedrich Wilhelm, across the abstruse, thunderous, sulphurous
embodiments and accompaniments of the man;--and proved himself,
in all manner of important respects, the filial sequel of
Friedrich Wilhelm. These remarks of a certain Editor are perhaps
worth adding:--

"Friedrich Wilhelm, King of Prussia, did not set up for a
Pestalozzi; and the plan of Education for his Son is open to
manifold objections. Nevertheless, as Schoolmasters go, I much
prefer him to most others we have at present. The wild man had
discerned, with his rugged natural intelligence (not wasted away
in the idle element of speaking and of being spoken to, but kept
wholesomely silent for most part), That human education is not,
and cannot be, a thing of VOCABLES. That it is a thing of earnest
facts; of capabilities developed, of habits established, of
dispositions well dealt with, of tendencies confirmed and
tendencies repressed:--a laborious separating of the character
into two FIRMAMENTS; shutting down the subterranean, well down and
deep; an earth and waters, and what lies under them; then your
everlasting azure sky, and immeasurable depths of aether, hanging
serene overhead. To make of the human soul a Cosmos, so far as
possible, that was Friedrich Wilhelm's dumb notion: not to leave
the human soul a mere Chaos;--how much less a Singing or
eloquently Spouting Chaos, which is ten times worse than a Chaos
left MUTE, confessedly chaotic and not cosmic! To develop the man
into DOING something; and withal into doing it as the Universe and
the Eternal Laws require,--which is but another name for really
doing and not merely seeming to do it:--that was Friedrich
Wilhelm's dumb notion: and it was, I can assure you, very far from
being a foolish one, though there was no Latin in it, and much of
Prussian pipe-clay!"

But the Congress of Cambrai is met, and much else is met and
parted: and the Kaiser's Spectre-Hunt, especially his Duel with
the She-Dragon of Spain, is in full course; and it is time we
were saying something of the Double-Marriage in a directly
narrative way.


Book of the day: