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Beacon Lights of History, Volume VIII by John Lord

Part 4 out of 5

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only secured by the affections of a people; if these are destroyed, one
great element of regal power is lost.

Under the administration of Cardinal Fleury (1726-1743) the finances
were somewhat improved, since he aimed at economical arrangements,
especially in the collection of taxes. He attempted to imitate Sully and
Colbert, but without their genius and boldness he effected but little.
He had an unfortunate quarrel with the Parliament of Paris, and was
obliged to repeal a favorite measure. After his death the country was
virtually ruled by the King's mistress, Madame de Pompadour, who
displaced ministers at her pleasure, and who encouraged unbounded
extravagance. The public deficit increased continually, until it finally
amounted to nearly two hundred millions in a single year. In spite of
this increasing derangement of the finances, the court had not the
courage or will to face the difficulties, but resorted to new loans and
forced contributions, and every form of iniquitous taxation. If a great
functionary announced the necessity of economy or order, he was
forthwith disgraced. Nothing irritated the court more than any proposal
to reduce unnecessary expenses. Nor would any other order, either the
nobles or the clergy, consent to make sacrifices.

In such a state of things, a most oppressive system of taxation was the
necessary result. In no country in modern times have the burdens of the
people been so great. Taxes were imposed to the utmost extent that they
were able to bear, without their consent; and upon the slightest
resistance or remonstrance they were imprisoned and treated as
criminals. So great were the taxes on land, that nearly two-thirds of
the whole gross produce, it has been estimated, went to the State, and
three-quarters of the remainder to the landlord. The peasant thus only
received about one-twelfth of the fruit of his labors; and on this
pittance his family was supported. Taxes were both direct and indirect,
levied upon every article of consumption, upon everything that was
imported or exported, upon income, upon capital, upon the transmission
of property, upon even the few privileges which were enjoyed. But not
one-half that was collected went to the royal treasury; it was wasted
by the different collectors and sub-collectors. In addition to the
ordinary burdens were enormous monopolies, granted to nobles and
courtiers, by which the income of the State was indirectly plundered.
The poor man groaned amid his heavy labors and great privations, without
exciting compassion or securing redress.

And, in addition to his taxes, the laborer was deprived of all the
privileges of freedom. He was injured, downtrodden, mocked, and
insulted. The laws were unequal, and gave him no security; game of the
most destructive kind was permitted to run at large through the fields,
and yet the people were not allowed to shoot a hare or a deer upon their
own grounds. Numerous edicts prohibited hoeing and weeding, lest young
partridges should be destroyed. The people were bound to repair the
roads without compensation, to grind their corn at the landlord's mill,
bake their bread in his ovens, and carry their grapes to his wine-press.
They had not the benefit of schools, or of institutions which would
enable them to improve their minds. They could not rise above the
miserable condition in which they were born, or even make their
complaints heard. Feudalism, in all its social distinctions, and in all
its oppressive burdens, crushed them as with an iron weight, or bound
them as with iron fetters. This weight they could not throw off, these
fetters they could not break. There was no alternative but in
submission,--forced submission to overwhelming taxes, robberies,
insults, and injustice, both from landed proprietors and the officers of
the crown.

Those, however, who lived upon the unrequited toil of the people lived
out of sight of their sorrows,--not in beautiful chateaux, as their
ancestors did, by the side of placid rivers and on the skirts of
romantic forests, or amid vineyards and olive-groves, but in the capital
or the court. Here, like Roman senators of old, they squandered the
money which they had obtained by extortion and corruption of every sort.
Amid the palaces of Versailles they displayed all the vanities of dress,
all the luxuries of their favored life. Here, as lesser stars, they
revolved around the great central orb of regal splendor, proud to belong
to another world than that in which the plebeian millions toiled and
suffered. At Versailles they attempted to ignore their own humanity, to
forget their most pressing duties, and to despise the only pursuits
which could have elevated their minds or warmed their hearts.

But they were not great feudal nobles, like the Guises and the Epernons,
such as combined to awe even regal power under the House of Valois,--men
who could coin money and exercise judicial authority in their own
domain,--but timid and subservient courtiers, as embarrassed in their
affairs as was the King himself. Nevertheless, many of the ancient
privileges of feudalism were enjoyed by them. They were exempt from many
taxes which oppressed merchants and farmers; they alone were appointed
to command in the army and navy; they alone were made prelates and
dignitaries in the Church; they were comparatively free from arrest when
their crimes were against society and God rather than the government;
they were distinguished from the plebeian class by dress as well as by
privileges; and they only had access to court and a share in the plunder
of the kingdom. Craving greater excitements than that which even
Versailles afforded, they built, in the Faubourg St. Germain, those
magnificent hotels which are still the dreary but imposing monuments of
aristocratic pride; and here they plunged into every form of excess and
folly for which Paris has always been distinguished. But it was in their
splendid equipages, and in their boxes at the opera, that they displayed
the most striking contrast to the habits of the plebeian people with
whom they were surrounded. Their embroidered vests, their costly silks
and satins, their emerald and diamond buckles, their point-lace ruffles,
their rare furs, their jewelled rapiers, and their perfumed
handkerchiefs were peculiar to themselves,--for in those days wealthy
shopkeepers, and even the daughters of prosperous notaries, could ill
afford such luxuries, and were scarcely allowed to shine in them if
they would. A velvet coat then cost more than one thousand francs; while
the ruffs and frills, and diamond studs and knee-buckles, and other
appendages to the dress of a gentleman, swelled the amount to scarcely
less than forty thousand francs, or sixteen hundred louis-d'or. If a
distinguished advocate was admitted to the presence of royalty, he must
appear in simple black. Gorgeous dresses were reserved only for the
_noblesse_, some one hundred and fifty thousand privileged persons; all
the rest were _roturiers_, marked by some emblem of meanness or
inferiority, whatever might be their intellectual and moral worth. Never
were the _noblesse_ more enervated; and yet they always appeared in a
mock-heroic costume, with swords dangling at their sides, or hats cocked
after a military fashion on their heads. As the strength of Samson of
old was in his locks, so the degenerate nobles of this period guarded
with especial care these masculine ornaments of the person; and so great
was the contagion for wigs and hair-powder, that twelve hundred shops
existed in Paris to furnish this aristocratic luxury. The muses of Rome
in the days of her decline condescended to sing on the arts of cookery
and the sublime occupations of hunting and fishing; so in the heroic
times of Louis XV. the genius of France soared to comprehend the
mysteries of the toilet. One eminent _savant_, in this department of
philosophical wisdom, absolutely published a bulky volume on the
_principles_ of hair-dressing, and followed it--so highly was it
prized--by a no less ponderous supplement. This was the time when the
_cuisine_ of nobles was as famous as their toilets, and when recipes for
different dishes were only equalled in variety by the epigrams of ribald
poets. It was a period not merely of degrading follies, but of shameless
exposure of them,--when men boasted of their gallantries, and women
joked at their own infirmities; and when hypocrisy, if it was ever added
to their other vices, only served to make them more ridiculous and
unnatural. The rouge with which they painted their faces, and the powder
which they sprinkled upon their hair were not used to give them the
semblance of youthful beauty, but rather to impart the purple hues of
perpetual drunkenness, such as Rubens gave to his Bacchanalian deities,
united with the blanched whiteness of premature old age. Licentiousness
without shame, drunkenness without rebuke, gambling without honor, and
frivolity without wit characterized, alas, a great proportion of that
"upper class" who disdained the occupations and sneered at the virtues
of industrial life.

But these dissipated courtiers had a model constantly before their eyes,
whose more excessive follies it were difficult to rival; and this was
the King himself, whom the whole nation was called upon to obey. If
Louis XIV. was a Nebuchadnezzar, unapproachable from pride, Louis XV.
was a Sardanapalus in effeminacy and insouciant revelries. The shameless
infamies of his life were too revolting to bear more than a passing
allusion; and I should blush to tear away the historic veil which covers
up his vices from the common eye. I shrink from showing to what depths
humanity can sink, even when clothed in imperial purple and seated on
the throne of state. The countless memoirs of that wicked age have
however, exposed to the indignant eye of posterity the regal
debaucheries of Versailles and the pollutions of the Pare aux
Cerfs,--that infamous seraglio which cost the State one hundred millions
of livres, at the lowest estimate. And this was but a part of the great
system of waste and folly. Five hundred millions of the national debt
were incurred for expenses too ignominious to be even named. The King,
however, was not fond of pomp; it was fatiguing for him to bear, and he
generally shut himself from the sight and intercourse of any but
convivial friends,--no, not friends, for to absolute monarchs the
pleasures of friendship are denied; I should have said, the panderers to
his degrading pleasures. Never did the Papal court at Avignon or Rome,
even in the worst ages of mediaeval darkness, witness more scandalous
enormities than those which disgraced the whole reign of Louis XV.,
either in the days of his minority, when the kingdom was governed by
the Duke of Orleans, or in his latter years, when the Duke of Choiseul
was the responsible adviser of the crown. The Palais Royal, the Palais
Luxembourg, the Trianon, and Versailles were alternately scenes of
excesses which would have disgraced the reigns of the most degenerate of
Saracenic caliphs. So vile was the court, that a celebrated countess one
day said, at a public festival, that "God, after having formed man, took
the mud which was left, and made the souls of princes and footmen."

And the King hated business as much as he hated pomp. Unlike his
predecessor, he left everything in the hands of his servants. Nothing
wearied him so much as an interview with a minister, or a dispatch from
a general. In the society of his mistresses he abnegated his duties as a
monarch, and the labors of his life were employed in gratifying their
resentments and humoring their caprices. Their complaints were more
potent than the suggestions of ministers, or the remonstrances of
judges. In idle frivolities his time was passed, neglectful of the great
interests which were intrusted to him to guard; and the only attainment
of which he was proud was a knack of making tarts and bon-bons, with
which he frequently regaled his visitors.

And yet, in spite of these ignoble tastes and pursuits, the King was by
no means deficient in natural abilities. He was much superior to even
Louis XIV. in logical acumen and sprightly wit. He was an agreeable
companion, and could appreciate every variety of talents. No man in his
court perceived more clearly than he the tendency of the writings of
philosophers which were then fermenting the germs of revolution. "His
sagacity kept him from believing in Voltaire, even when he succeeded in
deceiving the King of Prussia." He was favorable to the Jesuits, though
he banished them from the realm; perceiving and feeling that they were
his true friends and the best supports of his absolute throne,--and yet
he banished them from his kingdom. He was hostile too, in his heart, to
the very philosophers whom he invited to his table, and knew that they
sought to undermine his power. He simply had not the moral energy to
carry out the plans of that despotism to which he was devoted.
Sensuality ever robs a man of the advantages and gifts which reason
gives, even though they may be bestowed to an extraordinary degree.
There is no more impotent slavery than that to which the most gifted
intellects have been occasionally doomed. Self-indulgence is sure to sap
every element of moral strength, and to take away from genius itself all
power, except to sharpen the stings of self-reproach. "Louis XV. was not
insensible to the dangers which menaced his throne, and would have
despoiled the Parliament of the right of remonstrance; would have
imposed on the Jansenists the yoke of Papal supremacy; would have burned
the books of the philosophers, and have sent their authors to work out
their system within the gloomy dungeons of the Bastille;" but he had not
the courage, nor the moral strength, nor the power of will. He was
enslaved by his vices, and by those who pandered to them; and he could
not act either the king or the man. Seeing the dangers, but feeling his
impotence, he affected levity, and exclaimed to his courtiers _Apres
nous le deluge_,--a prediction which only uncommon sagacity could have
prompted. Immersed however in unworthy pleasures, he gave himself not
much concern for the future; and this career of self-abandonment
continued to the last, even after satiety and _ennui_ had deprived the
appetites of the power to please. His latter days were of course
melancholy, and his miseries resulted as much from the perception of the
evils to come as from the failure of the pleasures of sense. A languor,
from which he was with difficulty ever roused, oppressed his life. Deaf,
incapable of being amused, prematurely worn out with bodily infirmities,
hated and despised by the whole nation, he dragged out his sixty-fourth
year, and died of the small-pox, which he caught in one of his visits to
the Pare aux Cerfs; and his loathsome remains were hastily hurried into
a carriage, and deposited in the vaults of St. Denis.

As, however, during this long reign of fifty-eight years, women were
the presiding geniuses of the court and the virtual directors of the
kingdom, I cannot give a faithful portrait of the times without some
allusion, at least, to that woman who was as famous in her day as Madame
de Montespan was during the most brilliant period of the reign of Louis
XIV. I single out Madame de Pompadour from the crowd of erring and
infirm females who bartered away their souls for the temporary honors of
Versailles. Not that proud peeress whom she displaced, the Duchesse de
Chateauroux; not that low-born and infamous character by whom she was
succeeded, Du Barry; not the hundreds of other women who were partners
or victims of guilty pleasures, and who descended unlamented and
unhonored to their ignominious graves, are here to be alluded to. But
Madame de Pompadour is a great historical personage, because with her
are identified the fall of the Jesuits in France, the triumph of
philosophers and economists, the disgrace of ministers, and the most
outrageous prodigality which ever scandalized a nation. Louis XV. was
almost wholly directed by this infamous favorite. She named and
displaced the controllers-general, and she herself received annually
nearly fifteen hundred thousand livres, besides hotels, palaces, and
estates. She was allowed to draw bills upon the treasury without
specifying the service, and those who incurred her displeasure were
almost sure of being banished from the court and kingdom, and perhaps
sentenced, by _lettre de cachet_, to the dreary cells of the Bastille.
She virtually had the appointment of the prelates of the Church and of
the generals of the army; and so great was her ascendency that all
persons, whatsoever their rank, found it expedient to pay their homage
to her. Even Montesquieu praised her intellect, and Voltaire her beauty,
and Maria Theresa wrote flattering letters to her. The prime minister
was her tool and agent, since royalty itself yielded to her sway; even
the proud ladies of the royal family condescended to flatter and to
honor her. Sprung only from the middle ranks of society, she yet assumed
the airs of a princess of the blood.

From her earliest years, long before she was admitted to the court, it
had been the dream of this woman to seduce the King. Her father was
butcher to the Invalides, and she spent nearly all the money she could
command in a costly present to a great duchess, the Princess Conti, in
order to be presented. She played high, and won--not a royal heart, but
the royal fancy. Her dress, manners, and extraordinary beauty increased
the impression she had once before made at a hunting-party; and after
the levee she was sent for, and became virtually the minister of the
realm. She was unquestionably a woman of great intellect, as well as of
tact and beauty, and even manifested a sympathy with some sorts of
intellectual excellence. She was the patroness of artists, philosophers,
and poets; but she liked those best who were distinguished for their
infidel or licentious speculations. She was the friend of those
economists and philosophers who sapped the foundations of the social
system. An imperious and insolent hauteur and reckless prodigality were
her most marked peculiarities,--just such as were to be expected in an
unprincipled woman raised suddenly to high position. In spite of her
power, she did not escape the malignant stings of envenomed rivals or
anonymous satirists. "She was rallied on the baseness of her origin; she
avenged herself by making common cause with those philosophers who
overturned the ancient order." She was both mistress and politician, but
her politics and alliances subverted the throne which gave her all her
glory. Her ascendency of course rested on her power of administering to
the tastes and pleasures of the 'King, and she showed genius in the
variety of amusements which she invented. She reigned twenty years, and
lost her empire only by death. Madame de Maintenon had maintained her
ascendency over Louis XIV. by the exercise of those virtues which
extorted his respect, but Madame de Pompadour by the faculty of charming
the senses. It was by her that Versailles was enriched with the most
precious and beautiful of its countless wonders. Her own collection of
pictures, cameos, antiques, crystals, porcelains, vases, gems, and
articles of _vertu_ was esteemed the richest and most valuable in the
kingdom, and after her death it took six months to dispose of it. Her
library was valued at more than a million of francs, and contained some
of the rarest manuscripts and most curious books in France. The sums,
however, which she spent on literary curiosities or literary men were
small compared with the expenses of her toilet, of her _fetes_, her
balls, and her palaces. And all these expenses were open as the day in
the eyes of a nation suffering from ruinous taxation, from famine, and
the shame of unsuccessful war!

We are impressed with the blind and suicidal measures which all those
connected with the throne instigated or encouraged in this reign,--from
the King to the most infamous of his mistresses. Whoever pretended to
give his aid to the monarchy helped to subvert it by the very measures
which he proposed. "The Duke of Orleans, when he patronized Law, gave a
shock to the whole economical system of the old regime. When this Scotch
financier said to the powerful aristocracy around him, 'Silver is only
to you the means of circulation, beyond this it belongs to the country,'
he announced the ruin of the glebe and the fall of feudal prejudices.
The bankruptcies which followed the bursting of his bubble weakened the
potent charm of the word 'honor,' on which was based the stability of
the throne." The courtiers, when they blazed in jewels, in embroidered
silks and satins, in sumptuous equipages, and in all the costly
ornaments of their times, gave employment and importance to a host of
shopkeepers and handicraftsmen, who grew rich, as those who bought of
them grew poor. The wealth of bankers, brokers, mercers, jewellers,
tailors, and coachmakers dates to these times,--those prosperous and
fortunate members of the middle-class who "inhabited the Place Vendome
and the Place des Victoires, as the nobles dwelt in the Rue de Grenelle
and the Rue St. Dominique. The nobles ruined themselves by the
extravagance into which they were led by the court, and their chateaux
and parks fell into the hands of financiers, lawyers, and merchants,
who, taking the titles of their new estates, became a parvenu
aristocracy which excited the jealousy of the old and divided its
ranks." The inferior, but still prosperous class, the shopkeepers, also
equally advanced in intelligence and power. In those dark and dingy
backrooms, in which for generations their ancestors had been immured,
they now discussed their rights, and retailed the scandals which they
heard. They read the sarcasms of the poets and the theories of the new
philosophers. Even the tranquillity which succeeded inglorious war was
favorable to the rise of the middle classes; and the Revolution was as
much the product of the discontent engendered by social improvements as
of the frenzy produced by hunger and despair. The court favored the
improvements of Paris, especially those designed for public amusements.
The gardens of the Tuileries were embellished, the Champs Elysees
planted with trees, and pictures were exhibited in the grand salon of
the Louvre. The Theatre Francais, the Royal Opera, the Opera Comique,
and various halls for balls and festivals were then erected,--those
fruitful nurseries of future clubs, those poisoned wells of popular
education. Nor were charities forgotten with the building of the
Pantheon and the extension of the Boulevards. The Hopital des
Enfants-Trouves allowed mothers, unseen and unheard, to bequeath their
children to the State.

There were two events connected with the reign of Madame de Pompadour--I
do not say of the King, or his queen, or his ministers, for
philosophical history compels us to confine our remarks chiefly to great
controlling agencies, whether they be sovereigns or people; to such a
man as Peter the Great, when one speaks of a semi-barbarous nation, to
ideas, when we describe popular revolutions--which had a great influence
in unsettling the kingdom, although brought about in no inconsiderable
measure by this unscrupulous mistress of the King. These were the
expulsion of the Jesuits, and the triumph of the philosophers.

In regard to the first, I would say, that Madame de Pompadour did not
like the Jesuits; not because they were the enemies of liberal
principles, not because they were the most consistent advocates and
friends of despotism in all its forms, intellectual, religious, and
political, or the writers of casuistic books, or the perverters of
educational instruction, or boastful missionaries in Japan and China, or
cunning intriguers in the courts of princes, or artful confessors of the
great, or uncompromising despots in the schools,--but because they
interfered with her ascendency. It is true she despised their
sophistries, ridiculed their pretensions, and detested their government;
but her hostility was excited, not because they aspired like her, like
the philosophers, like the popes, like the press in our times, to a
participation in the government of the world, but because they disputed
her claims as one of the powers of the age. The Jesuits were scandalized
that such a woman should usurp the reins of state, especially when they
perceived that she mocked and defied them; and they therefore refused to
pay her court, and even conspired to effect her overthrow. But they had
not sufficiently considered the potency of her wrath, or the desperate
means of revenge to which she could resort; nor had they considered
those other influences which had been gradually undermining their
influence,--even the sarcasms of the Jansenists, the ridicule of the
philosophers, and the invectives of the parliaments. Only one or two
favoring circumstances were required to kindle the smothered fires of
hatred into a blazing flame, and these were furnished by the attempted
assassination of the King, in his garden at Versailles, by Damiens the
fanatic, and the failure of La Valette the Jesuit banker and merchant at
Martinique. Then, when the nation was astounded by their political
conspiracies and their commercial gambling, to say nothing of the
perversion of their truth, did their arch-enemy, the King's mistress,
use her power over the King's minister, her own creature, the Due de
Choiseul, to decree the confiscation of their goods and their banishment
from the realm; nay, to induce the Pope himself, in conjunction with the
entreaties of all the Bourbon courts of Europe, to take away their
charter and suppress their order. The fall of the Jesuits has been
already alluded to in another volume, and I will not here enlarge on
that singular event brought about by the malice of a woman whom they had
ventured to despise. It is easy to account for her hatred and the
general indignation of Europe. It is not difficult to understand that
the decline of that great body in those virtues which originally
elevated them, should be followed by animosities which would undermine
their power. We can see why their moral influence should pass away, even
when they were in possession of dignities and honors and wealth. But it
is a most singular fact that the Pope himself, with whose interests they
were allied,--their natural protector, the head of the hierarchy which
they so constantly defended,--should have been made the main agent in
their temporary humiliation. Yet Clement XIV.--the weak and timid
Ganganelli--was forced to this suicidal act. Old Hildebrand would have
fought like a lion and died like a dog, rather than have stooped to such
autocrats as the Bourbon princes. A judicial and mysterious blindness,
however, was sent upon Clement; his strength for the moment was
paralyzed, and he signed the edict which dispersed the best soldiers
that sustained the interests of absolutism in Europe.

The effect of the suppression of the order in France was both good and
ill. The event unquestionably led to the propagation of an impious
philosophy and all sorts of crude opinions and ill-digested theories,
both in government and religion, in the schools, the salons, and the
pulpits of France. The press, relieved of its most watchful and jealous
spies, teemed with pamphlets and books of the most licentious character.
The good and evil powers were both unchained and suffered to go free
about the land, and to do what work they could. There are many who feel
that this combat is necessary for the full development of human strength
and virtue; who maintain that the good is much more powerful than the
evil in any age of moral experiences; and who believe that angels of
light will, on our mundane arena, prevail over angels of darkness,--that
one truth is stronger than one thousand lies, and that two can put ten
thousand to flight. There are others, again, who think that there is a
vitality in error as well as a vitality in truth, as proved seemingly by
the prevalence of Pagan falsehoods, Mohammedan empires, and Papal
superstitions. But to whatever party clearness of judgment belongs, one
thing is historically certain,--that never was poor human nature more
puzzled by false guides, more tempted by appetites and passions, more
enslaved by the lust of the eye and the pride of life, than during the
latter years of the reign of Louis XV. Never was there a period or a
country in Christendom more frivolous, pleasure-seeking, sceptical,
irreligious, vain, conceited, and superficial than during the reign of
Madame de Pompadour. No; never was there a time of so little moral
elevation among the great mass, or when so few great enterprises were
projected for the improvement of society.

And it was from society thus disordered, inexperienced, and godless that
all restraints were removed from the ancient and venerated guardians of
youth, of religion, and of literature. Judge what must have been the
effects; judge between these opposing theories, whether it were better
to have the institutions of society guarded by selfish, ambitious, and
narrow-minded priests, or to have the flood-gates of vastly
preponderating evil influences opened upon society already reeling in
the intoxication of the senses, or madly raving from the dethronement of
reason, the abnegation of religious duties, and the extinction of the
light of faith. I would not say that either one or the other of these
horrible alternatives is necessary or probable in these times, that _we_
are compelled to choose between them, or that we ever shall be
compelled; but simply, that, in the middle of the eighteenth century,
and in France,--that semi-Catholic and semi-infidel nation,--there
existed on the one hand a most execrable spiritual despotism exercised
by the Jesuits, and on the other a boundless ferment of destructive and
revolutionary principles, operating on a people generally inclined, and
in some cases abandoned, to every folly and vice. This despotism, while
it was selfish and unwarrantable, still had in view the guardianship of
morals and literature,--to restrain men from crimes by working on their
fears; but society, while it sought to free itself from hypocritical and
oppressive leaders, also sought to remove all social and moral
restraints, and to plunge into reckless and dangerous experiments. It
was a war between these two social powers,--between unlawful despotism
and unsanctified license. We are to judge, not which was the better, but
which was the worse.

One thing, however, is certain,--that Madame de Pompadour, in whom was
centred so much power, threw her influence against the Jesuits, and in
favor of those who were not seeking to build up literature and morals on
a sure and healthy foundation, but rather secretly and artfully to
undermine the whole intellectual and social fabric, under the plea of
liberty and human rights. Everybody admits that the writings of the
philosophers gave a great impulse to the revolutionary storm which
afterwards broke out. Ideas are ever most majestic, whether they are
good or evil. Men pass away, but principles are indestructible and of
perpetual power. As great and fearful agencies in the period we are
contemplating, they are worthy of our notice.

Although the great lights which adorned the literature of the preceding
reign no longer shone,--such geniuses as Moliere, Boileau, Racine,
Fenelon, Bossuet, Pascal, and others,--still the eighteenth century was
much more intellectual and inquiring than is generally supposed. Under
Louis XIV. intellectual independence had been nearly extinguished. His
reign was intellectually and spiritually a gloomy calm between two
wonderful periods of agitation. All acquiesced in his cold, heartless,
rigid rule, being content to worship him as a deity, or absorbed in the
excitements of his wars, or in the sorrows and burdens which those wars
brought in their train. But under Louis XV. the people began to meditate
on the causes of their miseries, and to indulge in those speculations
which stimulated their discontents or appealed to their intellectual
pride. Not from La Rochelle, not from the cells of Port Royal, not from
remonstrating parliaments did the voices of rebellion come: the genius
of Revolution is not so poor as to be obliged to make use of the same
class of instruments, or repeat the same experiments, in changing the
great aspects of human society. Nor will she allow, if possible, those
who guard the fortresses which she wishes to batter down to be
suspicious of her combatants. Her warriors are ever disguised and
masked, or else concealed within some form of a protecting deity, such
as the fabled horse which the doomed Trojans received within their
walls. The court of France did not recognize in those plausible
philosophers, whose writings had such a charm for cultivated intellect,
the miners and sappers of the monarchy. Only one class of royalists
understood them, and these were the Jesuits whom the court had exiled.
Not even Frederic the Great, when he patronized Voltaire, was aware what
an insidious foe was domiciled in his palace, with all his sycophancy
of rank, with all his courtly flattering. In like manner, when the grand
seigneurs and noble dames of that aristocratic age wept over the sorrows
of the "New Heloise," or craved that imaginary state of untutored
innocence which Rousseau so morbidly described, or admired those
brilliant generalizations of laws which Montesquieu had penned, or
laughed at the envenomed ironies of Voltaire, or quoted the atheistic
doctrines of D'Alembert and Diderot, or enthusiastically discussed the
economical theories of Dr. Quesnay and old Marquis Mirabeau,--that stern
father of him who, both in his intellectual power and moral deformity,
was alike the exponent and the product of the French Revolution,--when
the blinded court extolled and diffused the writings of these new
apostles of human rights, they little dreamed that they would be still
more admired among the people, and bring forth the Brissots, the
Condoreets, the Marats, the Dantons, the Robespierres, of the next
generation. I would not say that their influence was wholly bad, for in
their attacks on the religion and institutions of their country they
subverted monstrous usurpations. But whatever was their ultimate
influence, they were doubtless among the most efficient agents in
overturning the throne; they were, in reality, the secret enemies of
those by whom they were patronized and honored. "They cannot, indeed,
claim the merit of being the first in France who opened the eyes of the
nation; for Fenelon had taught even to Louis XIV., in his immortal
'Telemaque,' the duties of a king; Racine, in his 'Germanicus,' had
shown the accursed nature of irresponsible despotism; Moliere, in his
'Tartuffe,' had exposed the vices of priestly hypocrisy; Pascal, in his
'Provincial Letters,' had revealed the wretched sophistries of the
Jesuits; Bayle even, in his 'Critical Dictionary,' had furnished
materials for future sceptics."

But the hostilities of all these men were united in Voltaire, who in
nearly two hundred volumes, and with a fecundity of genius perfectly
amazing and unparalleled, in poetry, in history, in criticism,--yet
without striking originality or profound speculations,--astonished and
delighted his generation. This great and popular writer clothed his
attacks on ecclesiastical power, and upon Christianity itself, in the
most artistic and attractive language,--clear, simple, logical, without
pedantry or ostentation,--and enlivened it with brilliant sarcasms,
appealing to popular prejudices, and never soaring beyond popular
appreciation. Never did a man have such popularity; never did a famous
writer leave so little to posterity which posterity can value.

While Voltaire was indirectly undermining the religious convictions of
mankind, the Encyclopedists more directly attacked the sources of
religious belief, and openly denied what Voltaire had doubted. But
neither Diderot nor D'Alembert made such shameless assaults as the
apostles of a still more atheistic school,--such men as Helvetius and
the Baron d'Holbach, who advocated undisguised selfishness, and
attributed all virtuous impulses to animal sensation. More dangerous
still than these ribald blasphemers were those sentimental and morbid
expounders of humanity of whom Rousseau was the type,--a man of more
genius perhaps than any I have named, but the most egotistical of that
whole generation of dreamers and sensualists who prepared the way for
revolution. He was the father of those agitating ideas which spread over
Europe and reached America. He gave utterance in his eloquent writings
to those mighty watch-words, "Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality," that
equally animated Mirabeau, Robespierre, and Jefferson. But the writings
of the philosophers will again be alluded to in the next lecture, as
among the efficient causes of the French Revolution.

When we contemplate those financial embarrassments which arose from half
a century of almost universal war, and those awful burdens which bent to
the dust, in suffering and shame, the whole people of a great country;
when we consider the absurd and wicked distinctions which separated man
from man, and the settled hostility of the clergy to all means of
intellectual and social improvement; when we remember the unparalleled
vices of a licentious court, the ignominious negligence of the
government to the happiness and wants of those whom it was its duty to
protect, and the shameless insults which an infamous woman was allowed
to heap upon the nation; and then when we bear in mind all the elements
of disgust, of discontent, of innovation, and of reckless and impious
defiance,--can we wonder that a revolution was inevitable, if society is
destined to be progressive, and man ever to be allowed to break
his fetters?

On that Revolution I cannot enter. I leave the subject as the winds
began to howl and the rains began to fall and the floods began to rise,
and all together to beat upon that house which was built upon the sand.


Lacretelle's Histoire de France; Anquetil; Henri Martin's History of
France; Dulaure's Histoire de Paris; Lord Brougham's Lives of Rousseau
and Voltaire; Memoires de Madame de Pompadour; Memoires de Madame Du
Barry; Revue des Deux Mondes, 1847; Chateau de Lucienne; L'Ami des
Hommes, par M. le Marquis de Mirabeau; Maximes Generales du
Gouvernement, par Le Docteur Quesnay; Histoire Philosophique du Regne de
Louis XV., par le Comte de Tocqueville; Memoires Secrets; Pieces
Inedites sous le Regne de Louis XV.; Anecdotes de la Cour de France
pendant la Faveur de Madame Pompadour; Louis XV. et la Societe du XVIII.
Siecle, par M. Capefigue; Alison's introductory chapter to the History
of Europe; Louis XV. et son Siecle, par Voltaire; Saint Simon; Memoires
de Duclos; Memoires du Duc de Richelieu.


A. D. 1672-1725.


If I were called upon to name the man who, since Charlemagne, has
rendered the greatest services to his country, I should select Peter the
Great. I do not say that he is one of the most interesting characters
that has shone in the noble constellations of illustrious benefactors
whom Europe has produced. Far otherwise: his career is not so
interesting to us as that of Hildebrand, or Elizabeth, or Cromwell, or
Richelieu, or Gustavus Adolphus, or William III., or Louis XIV., or
Frederic II., or others I might mention. I have simply to show an
enlightened barbarian toiling for civilization, a sort of Hercules
cleansing Augean stables and killing Nemean lions; a man whose labors
were prodigious; a very extraordinary man, stained by crimes and
cruelties, yet laboring, with a sort of inspired enthusiasm, to raise
his country from an abyss of ignorance and brutality. It would be
difficult to find a more hard-hearted despot, and yet a more patriotic
sovereign. To me he looms up, even more than Richelieu, as an instrument
of Divine Providence. His character appears in a double light,--as
benefactor and as tyrant, in order to carry out ends which he deemed
useful to his country, and which, we are constrained to admit, did
wonderfully contribute to its elevation and political importance.

Peter the Great entered upon his inheritance as absolute sovereign of
Russia, when it was an inland and even isolated state, hemmed in and
girt around by hostile powers, without access to seas; a vast country
indeed, but without a regular standing army on which he could rely, or
even a navy, however small. This country was semi-barbarous, more
Asiatic than European, occupied by mongrel tribes, living amid snow and
morasses and forests, without education, or knowledge of European arts.
He left this country, after a turbulent reign, with seaports on the
Baltic and the Black seas, with a large and powerfully disciplined army,
partially redeemed from barbarism, no longer isolated or unimportant,
but a political power which the nations had cause to fear, and which,
from the policy he bequeathed, has been increasing in resources from his
time to ours. To-day Russia stands out as a first-class power, with the
largest army in the world; a menace to Germany, a rival of Great Britain
in the extension of conquests to the East, threatening to seize Turkey
and control the Black Sea, and even to take possession of Oriental
empires which extend to the Pacific Ocean.

Nobody doubts or questions that the rise of Russia to its present proud
and threatening position is chiefly owing to the genius and policy of
Peter the Great. Peter was a descendant of a patriarch of the Greek
Church in Russia, whose name was Romanoff, and who was his
great-grandfather. His grandfather married a near relative of the Czar,
and succeeded him by election. His father, Alexis, was an able man, and
made war on the Turks.

Peter was a child when his father died, and his half-brother Theodore
became the Czar. But Theodore reigned only a short time, and Peter
succeeded him at the age of ten (1682), the government remaining in the
hands of his half-sister, Sophia, a woman of great ability and
intelligence, but intriguing and unscrupulous. She was aided by Prince
Galitzin, the ablest statesman of Russia, who held the great office of
chancellor. This prince, it would seem, with the aid of the general of
the Streltzi (the ancient imperial guards) and the cabals of Sophia,
conspired against the life of Peter, then seventeen years of age,
inasmuch as he began to manifest extraordinary abilities and a will of
his own. But the young Hercules strangled the serpent,--sent Galitzin to
Siberia, confined his sister Sophia in a convent for the rest of her
days, and assumed the reins of government himself, although a mere
youth, in conjunction with his brother John. That which characterized
him was a remarkable precocity, greater than that of anybody of whom I
have read. At eighteen he was a man, with a fine physical development
and great beauty of form, and entered upon absolute and undisputed power
as Czar of Muscovy.

In the years of the regency, when the government was in the hands of his
half-sister, he did not give promise of those remarkable abilities and
that life of self-control which afterwards marked his career.

In his earlier youth he had been surrounded with seductive pleasures, as
Louis XIV. had been, by the queen-regent, with a view to _control_ him,
not oppose him; and he yielded to these pleasures, and is said to have
been a very dissipated young man, with his education neglected. But he
no sooner got rid of his sister and her adviser, Galitzin, than he
seemed to comprehend at once for what he was raised up. The vast
responsibilities of his position pressed upon his mind. To civilize his
country, to make it politically powerful, to raise it in the scale of
nations, to labor for its good rather than for his own private pleasure,
seems to have animated his existence. And this aim he pursued from first
to last, like a giant of destiny, without any regard to losses, or
humiliations, or defeats, or obstacles.

Chance, or destiny, or Providence, threw in his path the very person
whom he needed as a teacher and a Mentor,--a young gentleman from
Geneva, whom historians love to call an adventurer, but who occupied the
post of private secretary to the Danish minister. Aristocratic pedants
call everybody an adventurer who makes his fortune by his genius and his
accomplishments. They called Thomas Becket an adventurer in the time of
Henry II., and Thomas Cromwell in the reign of Henry VIII. The young
secretary to the Danish minister seems to have been a man of remarkable
ability, insight, and powers of fascination, based on his intelligence
and on knowledge acquired in the first instance in a mercantile
house,--as was the success of Thomas Cromwell and Alexander Hamilton.

It was from this young man, whose name was Lefort, whom Peter casually
met at dinner at the house of the Danish envoy, that he was made
acquainted with the superior discipline of the troops of France and
Germany, and the mercantile greatness of Holland and England,--the two
things which he was most anxious to understand; since, as he believed,
on the discipline of an army and the efficiency of a navy the political
greatness of his country must rest. A disciplined army would render
secure the throne of absolutism, and an efficient navy would open and
protect his ports for the encouragement of commerce,--one of the great
sources of national wealth. Without commerce and free intercourse with
other countries no nation could get money; and without money even an
absolute monarch could not reign as he would.

So these two young men took counsel together; and the conviction was
settled in the minds of each that there could be no military discipline
and no efficient military power so long as the Streltzi--those
antiquated and turbulent old guards--could depose and set up monarchs.
They settled it, and with the enthusiasm of young men, that before they
could get rid of these dangerous troops,--only fit for Oriental or
barbaric fighting,--they must create a regiment after their own liking,
large enough to form the nucleus of a real European army, and yet not
large enough to excite jealousy,--for Sophia was then still regent, and
the youthful Peter was supposed to be merely amusing himself. The Swiss
"adventurer"--one of the most enlightened men of his age, and full of
genius--became colonel of this regiment; and Peter, not thinking he
knew anything about true military tactics, and wishing to learn,--and
not too proud to learn, being born with disdain of conventionalities and
precedents,--entered the regiment as drummer, in sight of his own
subjects, who perhaps looked upon the act as a royal freak,--even as
Nero practised fiddling, and Commodus archery, before the Roman people.
From drummer he rose to the rank of corporal, and from corporal to
sergeant, and so on through all the grades.

That is the way Peter began,--as all great men begin, at the foot of the
ladder; for great as it was to be born a prince, it was greater to learn
how to be a general. In this fantastic conduct we see three things: a
remarkable sagacity in detecting the genius of Lefort, a masterly power
over his own will, and a willingness to learn anything from anybody able
and willing to teach him,--even as a rich and bright young lady, now and
then, when about to assume the superintendence of a great household,
condescends to study some of the details of a kitchen, those domestic
arts on which depend something of that happiness which is the end and
aim of married life. Many a promising domestic hearth is wrecked--such
is the weakness of human nature--by the ignorance or disdain of humble
acquirements, or what seem humble to fortunate women, and yet which are
really steps to a proud ascendency.

We trace the ambition of Peter for commercial and maritime greatness
also to a very humble beginning. Whether it was a youthful sport,
subsequently directed into a great enterprise, or the plodding intention
to create a navy and open seaports under his own superintendence, it
would be difficult to settle. We may call this beginning a decree of
Providence, an inspiration of genius, or a passion for sailing a boat;
the end was the same, as it came about,--the entrance of Russia into the
family of European States.

It would seem that one day, by chance, Peter's attention was directed to
a little boat laid up on the banks of a canal which ran through his
pleasure-grounds. It had been built by a Dutch carpenter for the
amusement of his father. This boat had a keel,--a new thing to him,--and
attracted his curiosity, Lefort explained to him that it was constructed
to sail against the wind. So the carpenter was summoned, with orders to
rig the boat and sail it on the Moskva, the river which runs through
Moscow. Peter was delighted; and he soon learned to manage it himself.
Then a yacht was built, manned by two men, and it was the delight of
Peter to take the helm himself. Shortly five other vessels were built to
navigate Lake Peipus; and the ambition of Peter was not satisfied until
a still larger vessel was procured at Archangel, in which he sailed on a
cruise upon the Frozen Ocean. His taste for navigation became a passion;
and once again he embarked on the Frozen Ocean in a ship, determined to
go through all the gradations of a sailor's life. As he began as drummer
in Lefort's regiment, so he first served as a common drudge who swept
the cabin in a Dutch vessel; then he rose to the rank of a servant who
kept up the fire and lighted the pipe of the Dutch skipper; then he was
advanced to the duty of unfurling and furling the sails,--and so on,
until he had mastered the details of a sailor's life.

Why did he condescend to these mean details? The ambition was planted in
him to build a navy under his own superintendence. Wherefore a navy,
when he had no seaports? But he meant to have seaports. He especially
needed a fleet on the Volga to keep the Turks and Tartars in awe, and
another in the Gulf of Finland to protect his territories from the
Swedes. We shall see how subsequently, and in due time, he conquered the
Baltic from the Swedes and the Euxine from the Turks. He did not seem to
have an ambition for indefinite territorial aggrandizement, but simply
to extend his empire to these seas for the purpose of having a free
egress and ingress to it by water. He could not Europeanize his empire
without seaports, for unless Russia had these, she would remain a
barbarous country, a vast Wallachia or Moldavia. The expediency and the
necessity of these ports were most obvious. But how was he to get them?
Only by war, aggressive war. He would seize what he wanted, since he
could attain his end in no other way.

Now, I do not propose to whitewash this enlightened but unscrupulous
robber. On no recognized principles of morality can he be defended, any
more than can Louis XIV. for the invasion of Flanders, or Frederic II.
for the seizure of Silesia. He first resolved to seize Azof, the main
port on the little sea of that name which opens out into the Black Sea,
and which belonged to the Turks. It was undoubted robbery; but its
possession would be an immense advantage to Russia. Of course, that
seizure could not be justified either by the laws of God or the laws of
nations. "Thou shalt not steal" is an eternally binding law for nations
and for individuals. Peter knew that he had no right to this important
city; but at the same time he knew that its possession would benefit
Russia. So we are compelled to view this monarch as a robber, taking
what was not his, as Ahab seized Naboth's vineyard; but taking it for
the benefit of his country, which Ahab did not. He knew it was a
political crime, but a crime to advance the civilization of his empire.
The only great idea of his life was the welfare of his country, by any
means. For his country he would sacrifice his character and public
morality. Some might call this an exalted patriotism,--I call it
unmitigated Jesuitism; which seems to have been the creed of
politicians, and even of statesmen, for the last three hundred years.
All that Peter thought of was _the end_; he cared nothing for the
_means_. I wonder why Carlyle or Froude has not bolstered up and
defended this great hyperborean giant for doing evil that good may come.
Casuistry is in their line; the defence of scoundrels seems to be
their vocation.

Well, then, bear in mind that Peter, feeling that he must have Azof for
the good of Russia, irrespective of right or wrong, went straight
forward to his end. Of course he knew he must have a fight with Turkey
to gain this prize, and he prepared for such a fight. Turkey was not
then what it is now,--ripe fruit to be gobbled up by Russia when the
rest of Europe permits it; but Turkey then was a great power. At that
very time two hundred thousand Turks were besieging Vienna, which would
have fallen but for John Sobieski. But obstacles were nothing to Peter;
they were simply things to be surmounted, at any sacrifice of time or
money or men. So with the ships he had built he sailed down the River
Don and attacked Azof. He was foiled, not beaten. He never seemed to
know when he was beaten, and he never seemed to care. That hard, iron
man marched to his object like a destiny. What he had to do was to take
Azof against an army of Turks. So, having failed in the first campaign,
through the treachery of one Jacobs who had been employed in the
artillery, he tried it again the next year and succeeded, his army being
commanded by General Gordon, a Scotchman, while he himself served only
as ensign or lieutenant. This port was the key of Palus Maeotis, and
opened to him the Black Sea, on which he resolved to establish a navy.
He had now an army modelled after the European fashion, according to the
suggestions of Lefort, whose regiment became the model of other
regiments. Five thousand men were trained and commanded by General
Gordon. Lefort raised another corps of twelve thousand, from the
Streltzi chiefly. These were the forces, in conjunction with the navy,
with which he reduced Azof. He now returns to Moscow, and receives the
congratulations of the boyars, or nobles,--that class who owned the
landed property of Russia and cultivated it by serfs. He made heavy
contributions on these nobles, and also on the clergy,--for it takes
money to carry on a war, and money he must have somehow.

These forced contributions and the changes which were made in the army
were not beheld with complacency. The old guard, the Streltzi, were
particularly disgusted. The various innovations were very unpopular,
especially those made in reference to the dress of the new soldiers. The
result of all these innovations and discontents was a conspiracy to take
his life; which, however, was seasonably detected and severely punished.

An extraordinary purpose now seized the mind of the Czar, which was to
travel in the various countries of Europe, and learn something more
especially about ship-building, on which his heart was set. He also
wished to study laws, institutions, sciences, and arts; and in order to
study them effectually, he resolved to travel incognito. Hitherto he had
not been represented in the European courts; so he appointed an embassy
of extraordinary magnificence to proceed in the first instance to
Holland, then the foremost mercantile state of Europe. The retinue
consisted of four secretaries, at the head of whom was Lefort, twelve
nobles, fifty guards, and other persons,--altogether to the number of
two hundred. As they travelled through Prussia they were received with
great distinction, and the whole journey seems to have been a
Bacchanalian progress. There were nothing _lout, fetes_ and banquets to
his honor, and the Russians proved to have great capacity for drinking.
At Koenigsberg he left his semi-barbaric embassy to their revels, and
proceeded rapidly and privately to Holland, hired a small room--kitchen
and garret--for lodgings, and established himself as journeyman
carpenter, with a resolute determination to learn the trade of a
ship-carpenter. He dressed like a common carpenter, and lived like one,
with great simplicity. When he was not at work in the dock-yard with his
broad axe, he amused himself by sailing a yacht, dressed like a Dutch
skipper, with a red jacket and white trousers. He was a marked
personage, even had it not been known that he was the Czar,--a tall,
robust, active man of twenty-five, with a fierce look and curling brown
locks, free from all restraint, seeing but little of the ambassadors who
had followed him, and passing his time with ship-builders and merchants,
and adhering rigidly to all the regulations of the dock-yards. He spent
nine months in this way at hard labor, and at the end of that time
had mastered the art of ship-building in all its details, had
acquired the Dutch language, and had seen what was worth seeing of
Amsterdam,--showing an unbounded curiosity and indefatigable zeal,
frequenting the markets and the shops, attending lectures in anatomy and
surgery, learning even how to draw teeth; visiting museums and
manufactories, holding intercourse with learned men, and making
considerable proficiency in civil engineering and the science of
fortification. Nothing escaped his eager inquiries. "Wat is dat?" was
his perpetual exclamation. "He devoured every morsel of knowledge with
unexampled voracity." Never was seen a man on this earth with a more
devouring appetite for knowledge of every kind; storing up in his mind
everything he saw, with a view of introducing improvements into Russia.
To see this barbaric emperor thus going to school, and working with his
own hands, insensible to heat and cold and weariness, with the single
aim of benefiting his countrymen when he should return, is to me one of
the most wonderful sights of history.

His chosen companion in these labors and visits and pleasures was also
one of the most remarkable men of his age. His name was
Mentchikof,--originally a seller of pies in the streets of Moscow, who
attracted, by his beauty and brightness, the attention of General
Lefort, and was made a page in his household, and was as such made known
to the Czar, who took a fancy to him, and soon detected his great
talents; so that he rose as rapidly as Joseph did in the court of
Pharaoh, and became general, governor, prince, regent, with almost
autocratic power. The whole subsequent reign of Peter, and of his
successor, became identified with Prince Mentchikof, who was prime
minister and grand vizier, and who forwarded all the schemes of his
master with consummate ability.

After leaving Holland, Peter accepted an invitation of William III. to
visit England, and thither he went with his embassy in royal ships, yet
still affecting to travel as a private gentleman. He would accept no
honors, no public receptions, no state banquets. He came to England, not
to receive honors, but to add to his knowledge, and he wished to remain
unfettered in his sight-seeing. In England, the same insatiable
curiosity marked him as in Holland. He visits the dock-yards, and goes to
the theatre and the opera, and holds interviews with Quakers and attends
their meetings, as well as the churches of the Establishment. The
country-houses of nobles, with their parks and gardens and hedges,
filled him with admiration. He was also greatly struck with Greenwich
Hospital, which looked to him like a royal palace (as it was
originally), and he greatly wondered that the old seedy and frowsy
pensioners should be lodged so magnificently. The courts of Westminster
surprised him. "Why," said he, in reference to the legal gentlemen in
wigs and gowns, "I have but two lawyers in my dominions, and one of them
I mean to hang as soon as I return." But while he visited everything,
generally in a quiet way, avoiding display and publicity, he was most
interested in mechanical inventions and the dock-yards and mock naval
combats. It would seem that his private life was simple, although he is
accused of eating voraciously, and of drinking great quantities of
brandy and sack. If this be true, he certainly reformed his habits, and
learned to govern himself, for he was very temperate in his latter days.
Men who are very active and perform herculean labors, do not generally
belong to the class of gluttons or drunkards. I have read of but few
great generals, like Caesar, or Charlemagne, or William III., or
Gustavus Adolphus, or Marlborough, or Cromwell, or Turenne, or
Wellington, or Napoleon, who were not temperate in their habits.

After leaving England, the Czar repaired to Vienna, _via_ Holland,
sending to Russia five hundred persons whom he took in his
employ,--navy captains, pilots, surgeons, gunners, boat-builders,
blacksmiths, and various other mechanics,--having an eye to the
industrial development of his country; which was certainly better than
driving out of his kingdom four hundred thousand honest people, as Louis
XIV. did because they were Protestants. But Peter did not tarry long in
Vienna, whose military establishments he came to study, being compelled
to return hastily to Moscow to suppress a rebellion. He returned a much
wiser man; I doubt if any person ever was more improved than he by his
travels. What an example to tourists in these times! All travelling
(except explorations) is a dissipation and waste of time unless
self-improvement is the main object. Pleasure-seeking is the greatest
vanity on this earth, for he who _seeks_ pleasure never finds it; but it
comes when it is a minor consideration.

The apprenticeship of Peter is now completed, and he enters more
seriously upon those great labors which have given him an immortality. I
am compelled to be brief in stating them.

The first thing he did, on his return, was finally to crush the
Streltzi, who fomented treasons and were hostile to reform. He had
wisely left General Gordon at Moscow with six thousand soldiers,
disciplined after the European fashion. In abolishing the turbulent and
prejudicial Streltzi, he is accused of great cruelties. He summarily
executed or imprisoned some four thousand of them caught in acts of
treason and rebellion, and drafted the rest into distant regiments. He
may have been unnecessarily cruel, as critics have accused Oliver
Cromwell of being in his treatment of the Irish. But, cruel or not, he
got rid of troops he could not trust, and organized soldiers whom he
could,--for he must have tools to work with if he would do his work. I
neither praise nor condemn his mode of working; I seek to show how he
performed his task.

After disbanding rebellious soldiers, he sought to make his army more
efficient by changing the dress of the entire army. He did away with the
long coat reaching to the heels, something like that which ladies wear
in rainy days; and the drawers not unlike petticoats; and the long,
bushy beards. He found more difficulty in making this reform than in
taking Azof, although aided by Mentchikof, his favorite,
fellow-traveller, and prime minister. He was not content with cutting
off the beards of the soldiers and shortening their coats,--he wished to
make private citizens do the same; but the uproar and discontent were so
great that he was obliged to compromise the matter, and allow the
citizens to wear their beards and robes on condition of a heavy tax,
graded on ability to pay it. The only class he exempted from the tax
were the clergy and the serfs.

Among other reforms he changed the calendar, making the year to begin
with January, and abolished the old laws with reference to marriage, by
which young people had no power of choice; but he decreed that no
marriage should take place unless an intimacy had existed between the
parties for at least six months. He instituted balls and assemblies, to
soften the manners of the people. He encouraged the theatre, protected
science, invited eminent men to settle in Russia, improved the courts of
justice, established posts and post-offices, boards of trade, a vigorous
police, hospitals, and alms-houses. He imported Saxony sheep, erected
linen, woollen, and paper mills, dug canals, suppressed gambling, and
fostered industry and art. He aimed to do for Russia what Richelieu and
Colbert did for France.

The greatest opposition to his reforms came from the clergy, with the
Patriarch at their head,--a personage of great dignity and power, ruling
an _imperium in imperio_. Peter had no hostility to the Greek religion,
nor to the clergy. Like Charlemagne, he was himself descended from an
ecclesiastical family. But finding the clergy hostile to civil and
social reforms, he sought to change the organization of the Church
itself. He did not interfere with doctrines, nor discipline, nor rites,
nor forms of worship; but he unseated the Patriarch, and appointed
instead a consistory, the members of which were nominated by himself.
Like Henry VIII., he virtually made himself the head of the
Church,--that is, the supreme direction of ecclesiastical affairs was
given to those whom he controlled, and not to the Patriarch, whose power
had been supreme in religious matters,--more than Papal, almost
Druidical. In former reigns the Patriarch had the power of life and
death in his own tribunals; and when he rode to church on Palm Sunday,
in his emblazoned robes, the Czar walked uncovered at his side, and held
the bridle of his mule. It is a mark of the extraordinary power of Peter
that he was enabled to abolish this great dignity without a revolution
or bloodshed; and he not only abolished the patriarchal dignity, but he
seized the revenues of the Patriarch, taxed the clergy, and partially
suppressed monasteries, decreeing that no one should enter them under
fifty years of age; yea, he even decreed universal toleration of
religion, except to the Jesuits, whom he hated, as did William III. and
Frederic II. He caused the Bible to be translated into the Slavonic
language, and freely circulated it. And he prosecuted these reforms
while he was meditating, or was engaged in, great military enterprises.

I approach now the great external event of Peter's life, his war with
Charles XII., brought about in part by his eagerness to get a seaport on
the Baltic, and in part by the mad ambition of the Swedish king,
determined to play the part of Alexander. The aggressive party in this
war, however, was Peter. He was resolved to take part of the Swedish
territories for mercantile and maritime purposes; so he invaded Sweden
with sixty thousand men. Charles, whose military genius was not
appreciated by the Czar, had only eight thousand troops to oppose the
invasion; but they were veterans, and fought on the defensive, and had
right on their side. This latter is a greater thing in war than is
generally supposed; for although war is in our own times a mechanism in
a great measure, still moral considerations underlie even physical
forces, and give a sort of courage which is hard to resist. The result
of this invasion was the battle of Narva, when Peter was disgracefully
beaten, as he ought to have been. But he bore his defeat complacently.
He is reported as saying that he knew the Swedes would have the
advantage at first, but that they would teach him how to beat them at
last. I doubt this. I do not believe a general ever went into battle
with a vastly overwhelming force when he did not expect victory. But the
great victory won by Charles (a mere stripling king, scarcely nineteen)
turned his head. Never was there a more intoxicated hero. He turned his
victorious army upon Poland, dethroned the king, invaded Saxony, and
prepared to invade Russia with an army of eighty thousand troops. His
cool adversary, who since his defeat at Narva had been prosecuting his
reforms and reorganizing his army and building a navy, was more of a
wily statesman than a successful general. He retreated before Charles,
avoided battles, tempted him in the pursuit to dreary and sparsely
inhabited districts, decoyed him into provinces remote from his base of
supplies; so that at the approach of winter Charles found himself in a
cold and desolate country (as Napoleon was afterwards tempted to _his_
ruin), with his army dwindled down to twenty-five thousand men, while
Peter had one hundred thousand, with ample provisions and military
stores. The generals of Charles now implore him to return to Sweden, at
least to seek winter quarters in the Ukraine; but the monarch,
infatuated, lays siege to Pultowa, and gives battle to Peter, and is not
only defeated, but his forces are almost annihilated, so that he finds
the greatest difficulty in escaping into Turkey with a handful of
followers. That battle settled the fortunes of both Charles and Peter.
The one was hopelessly ruined; the other was left free to take as much
territory from Sweden as he wished, to open his seaports on the Baltic,
and to dig canals from river to river.

But another enemy still remained, Turkey; who sought to recover her
territory on the Black Sea, and who had already declared war. Flushed
with conquest, Peter in his turn became rash. He advanced to the
Turkish territory with forty thousand men, and was led into the same
trap which proved the ruin of Charles XII. He suddenly finds himself in
a hostile country, beyond the Pruth, between an army of Turks and an
army of Tartars, with a deep and rapid river in his rear. Two hundred
thousand men attack his forty thousand. He cannot advance, he cannot
retreat; he is threatened with annihilation. He is driven to despair.
Neither he nor his generals can see any escape, for in three days he has
lost twenty thousand men,--one half his army. In all probability he and
his remaining men will be captured, and he conducted as a prisoner to
Constantinople, and perhaps be shown to the mocking and jeering people
in a cage, as Bajazet was. In this crisis he shuts himself up in his
tent, and refuses to see anybody.

He is saved by a woman, and a great woman, even Catherine his wife, who
originally was a poor peasant girl in Livonia, and who after various
adventures became the wife of a young Swedish officer killed at the
battle of Marienburg, and then the mistress of Prince Mentchikof, and
then of Peter himself, who at length married her,--"an incident," says
Voltaire, "which fortune and merit never before produced in the annals
of the world," She suggested negotiation, when Peter was in the very
jaws of destruction, and which nobody had thought of. She collects
together her jewels and all the valuables she can find, and sends them
to the Turkish general as a present, and favorable terms are secured.
But Peter loses Azof, and is shut out from the Black Sea, and is
compelled to withdraw from the vicinity of the Danube. The Baltic is
however still open to him; and in the mean time he has transferred his
capital to a new city, which he built on the Gulf of Finland.

It was during his Swedish war, about the year 1702, when he had driven
the Swedes from Ladoga and the Neva, that he fixed his eyes upon a
miserable morass, a delta, half under water, formed by the dividing
branches of the Neva, as the future seat of his vast empire. It was a
poor site for a capital city, inaccessible by water half the year,
without stones, without wood, without any building materials, with a
barren soil, and liable to be submerged in a storm. Some would say it
was an immense mistake to select such a place for the capital of an
empire stretching even to the Pacific ocean. But it was the only place
he could get which opened a water communication with Western Europe. He
could not Europeanize his empire without some such location for his new
capital. So St. Petersburg arose above the marshes of the Neva as if by
magic, built in a year, on piles, although it cost him the lives of one
hundred thousand men. "We never could look on this capital," says
Motley, "with its imposing though monotonous architecture, its colossal
squares, its vast colonnades, its endless vistas, its spires and
minarets sheathed in barbaric gold and flashing in the sun, and remember
the magical rapidity with which it was built, without recalling Milton's
description of Pandemonium:--

"'As bees
In spring time, when the sun with Taurus rides,
Pour forth their populous youth about the hive
In clusters: they among fresh dews and flowers
Fly to and fro, or on the smoothed plank,
The suburb of their straw-built citadel,
Now rubbed with balm, expatiate, and confer
Their state affairs: so thick the aery crowd
Swarm'd and were straighten'd; till, the signal given,
Behold a wonder!'

"The transfer of the seat of government, by the removal of the senate
from Moscow, was effected a few years afterwards. Since that time, the
repudiated Oriental capital of the ancient Czars, with her golden tiara
and Eastern robe, has sat, like Hagar in the wilderness, deserted and
lonely in all her barbarian beauty. Yet even now, in many a backward
look and longing sigh, she reads plainly enough that she is not
forgotten by her sovereign, that she is still at heart preferred, and
that she will eventually triumph over her usurping and artificial rival."

So writes a great historian; but to me it seems that the longing eyes of
the Emperor of Russia are not turned to the old barbaric capital, but
to a still more ancient capital,--that which Constantine, with
far-seeing vision, selected as the central city of the decaying empire
of the Romans, easily defended, resting on both Europe and Asia, with
access to the Mediterranean and Black seas; the most magnificent site
for the capital of a great empire on the face of the globe, which is
needed by Russia if she is to preserve her maritime power, and which
nothing but the jealousy of the Western nations has prevented her from
twice seizing within a single generation. We say, "Westward, the star of
empire takes its way." But an empire larger in its territories than all
Europe, and constantly augmenting its resources, although still Cossack,
still undeveloped, has its eye on Eastern, not Western extension, until
China herself, with her four thousand years of civilization and her four
hundred millions of people, may become a spoil to be divided between the
Emperor of Russia and the Empress of India; not as banded and united
robbers divide their spoil, but the one encroaching from the West and
North, and the other from the West and South.

Peter, after having realized the great objects to which he early
aspired, after having founded a navy and reorganized his army, and added
provinces to his empire, and partially civilized it, and given to it a
new capital, now meditated a second tour of Europe, this time to be
accompanied by his wife. Thirteen years had elapsed since he worked as a
ship-carpenter in the dock-yards of Holland. He was now forty-three years
old, still manly, vigorous, and inquiring. In 1715, just as Louis had
completed his brilliant and yet unfortunate career, Peter first
revisited the scene of his early labors, where he was enthusiastically
received, and was afterwards entertained with great distinction at
Paris. He continued his studies in art, in science, and laws, saw
everything, and was particularly impressed with the tomb of Richelieu.
"Great man!" apostrophizes the Czar, "I would give half of my kingdom to
learn from thee how to govern the other half." Such remarks indicate
that he knew something of history, and comprehended the mission of the
great cardinal,--which was to establish absolutism as one of the needed
forces of the seventeenth century; for it was Richelieu, hateful as is
his character, who built up the French monarchy.

From Paris, Peter proceeded to Berlin, where he was received with equal
attentions. He inspired universal respect, although his aspect was
fierce, his habits rough, and his manners uncouth. The one thing which
marked him as a great man was his force of character. He was undazzled
and unseduced; plain, simple, temperate, self-possessed, and
straightforward. He had not worked for himself, but for his country, and
everybody knew it. His wife Catherine, also a great woman, did not make
so good an impression as he did, being fat, vulgar, and covered with
jewels and orders and crosses. I suppose both of them were what we now
should call "plain people." Station, power, and wealth seem to have very
little effect on the manners and habits of those who have arisen by
extraordinary talents to an exalted position. Nor does this position
develop pride as much as is generally supposed. Pride is born in a man,
and will appear if he is ever so lowly; as also vanity, the more amiable
quality, which expends itself in hospitalities and ostentations. The
proud Gladstone dresses like a Methodist minister, and does not seem to
care what kind of a hat he wears. The vain Beaconsfield loved honors and
stars and flatteries and aristocratic insignia: if he had been rich he
would have been prodigal, and given great banquets. Peter made no
display, and saved his money for useful purposes. It would seem that
most of the Russian monarchs have retained simplicity in their
private lives.

The closing years of Peter were saddened by a great tragedy, as were
those of David. Both these monarchs had the misfortune to have
rebellious and unworthy sons, who were heirs to the throne. Alexis was
as great a trial to Peter as Absalom was to David. He was hostile to
reforms, was in league with his father's enemies, and was hopelessly
stupid and profligate. He was not vain, ambitious, and beautiful, like
the son of David; but coarse, in bondage to priests, fond of the
society of the weak and dissipated, and utterly unfitted to rule an
empire. Had he succeeded Peter, the life-work of Peter would have been
wasted. His reign would have been as disastrous to Russia as that of
Mary Queen of Scots would have been to England, had she succeeded
Elizabeth. The patience of the father was at last exhausted. He had
remonstrated and threatened to no purpose. The young man would not
reform his habits, or abstain from dangerous intrigues. He got beastly
drunk with convivial friends, and robbed and cheated his father whenever
he got a chance.

What was Peter to do with such a rebellious, undutiful, profligate,
silly youth as Alexis,--a sot, a bigot, and a liar? Should he leave to
him the work of carrying out his policy and aims? It would be weakness
and madness. It seemed to him that he had nothing to do but disinherit
him. In so doing, he would render no injustice. Alexis had no claim to
the throne, like the eldest son of Victoria. The throne belonged to
Peter. He had no fetters on him like a feudal sovereign; he could elect
whom he pleased to inherit his vast empire. It was not his son he loved
best, but his country. He had the right to appoint any successor he
pleased, and he would naturally select one who would carry out his plans
and rule ably. So he disinherited his eldest son Alexis, and did it in
virtue of the power which he imagined he had received, like an old
Jewish patriarch, from God Almighty. There was no law of Russia
designating the eldest son as the Czar's successor. No one can
reasonably blame Peter for disinheriting this worthless son, whom he had
ceased to love,--whom he even despised.

Having disinherited him, out of regard to public interests more than
personal dislike, the question arises, what shall he do with him? Shall
he shut him in a state-prison, or confine him to a convent, or make way
with him? One of these terrible alternatives he must take. What
struggles of his soul to decide which were best! We pity a man compelled
to make such a choice. Any choice was bad, and full of perils and
calumnies. Whatever way he turned was full of obstacles. If he should
shut him up, the priests and humiliated boyars and other intriguing
rascals might make him emperor after Peter's death, and thus create a
counter reformation, and upset the work of Peter's life. If he should
make way with Alexis, the curses of his enemies and the execrations of
Europe and posterity would follow him as an unnatural father. David,
with his tender nature and deep affection, would have spared Absalom if
all the hosts of Israel had fallen and his throne were overturned. But
Peter was not so weak as David; he was stern and severe. He decided to
bring his son to trial for conspiracy and rebellion. The court found
him guilty. The ministers, generals, and senators of the empire
pronounced sentence of death upon him. Would the father have used his
prerogative and pardoned him? That we can never know. Some think that
Peter did not intend to execute the sentence. At any rate, he was
mercifully delivered from his dilemma. Alexis, frightened and apparently
contrite, was seized with a fit of apoplexy, and died imploring his
father's pardon.

This tragedy is regarded as the great stain on the reign of Peter. It
shocked the civilized world. I do not wish to exculpate Peter from
cruelty or hardheartedness; I would neither justify him nor condemn him.
In this matter, I think, he is to be judged by the supreme tribunal of
Heaven. I do not know enough to acquit or condemn him. All I know is,
that his treatment of his son was both a misfortune and a stain on his
memory. The people to decide this point are those rich fathers who have
rebellious, prodigal, reckless, and worthless sons, hopelessly
dissipated, and rendered imbecile by self-indulgence and wasteful
revels; or those people who discuss the expediency and apparent state
necessity for the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, when the welfare of
a great kingdom was set against the ties of blood.

After the death of Alexis, a few more years are given to the Czar to
follow out his improvements, centralize his throne, and extend his
territories both on the Baltic and in the East. The death of Charles
XII. enabled him to take what Swedish provinces he needed to protect his
mercantile interests, and to snatch from Persia the southern coast of
the Caspian,--the original kingdom of Cyrus. "It is not land I want,"
said he, "but water." This is the key to all his conquests. He wanted an
outlet to the sea, on both sides his empire. He did not aim at
territorial enlargement so much as at facilities to enrich and civilize
his empire.

Having done his work,--the work, I think, for which he was raised
up,--he sets about the succession to his throne. Amid unprecedented pomp
he celebrates the coronation of his faithful and devoted wife, to whom
he also has been faithful. It is she only who understands and can carry
out his imperial policy. He himself at Moscow, 1724, amid unusual
solemnities, placed the imperial crown upon her brow, and proudly and
yet humbly walked before her in the gorgeous procession as a captain of
her guard. Before all the great dignitaries of his empire he gives the
following reasons for his course:--

"The Empress Catherine, our dearest consort, was an important help to us
in all our dangers, not in war alone, but in other expeditions in which
she voluntarily accompanied us; serving us with her able counsel,
notwithstanding the natural weakness of her sex, more particularly at
the battle of Pruth, when our army was reduced to twenty-two thousand
men, while the Turks were two hundred thousand strong. It was in this
desperate condition, above all others, that she signalized her zeal by a
courage superior to her sex. For which reasons, and in virtue of that
power which God has given us, we thus honor our spouse with the
imperial crown."

Peter died in the following year, after a reign of more than forty
years, bequeathing a centralized empire to his successors, a large and
disciplined army, a respectable navy, and many improvements in
agriculture, manufactures, commerce, and the arts,--yea, schools and
universities for the education of the higher classes.

Whatever may have been the faults of Peter, history cannot accuse him of
ingratitude, or insincerity, or weak affections,--nothing of which is
seen in his treatment of the honest Dutchman, in whose yard he worked as
a common laborer; of Lefort, whom he made admiral of his fleet; or of
Mentchikof, whom he elevated to the second place in his empire. Peter
was not a great warrior, but he created armies. He had traits in common
with barbarians, but he bequeathed a new civilization, and dispelled the
night of hereditary darkness. He owed nothing to art; he looms up as a
prodigy of Nature. He cared nothing for public opinion; he left the
moral influence of a great example. He began with no particular aim
except to join his country to the sea; he bequeathed a policy of
indefinite expansion. He did not leave free institutions, for his
country was not prepared for them; but he animated thirty millions with
an intense and religious loyalty. He did not emancipate serfs; but he
bequeathed a power which enabled his successors to loosen fetters with
safety. He degraded nobles; but his nobles would have prevented if they
could the emancipation of the people. He may have wasted his energies in
condescending to mean details, and insisting on doing everything with
his own hands, from drummer to general, and cabin-boy to admiral,
winning battles with his own sword, and singing in the choir as head of
the Church; but in so doing he made the mistake of Charlemagne, whom he
strikingly resembles in his iron will, his herculean energies, and his
enlightened mind. He could not convert his subjects from cattle into
men, even had he wished, for civilization is a long and tedious process;
but he made them the subjects of a great empire, destined to spread from
sea to sea. Certainly he was in advance of his people; he broke away
from the ideas which enslaved them. He may have been despotic, and
inexorable, and hard-hearted; but that was just such a man as his
country needed for a ruler. Mr. Motley likens him to "a huge engine,
placed upon the earth to effect a certain task, working its mighty arms
night and day with ceaseless and untiring energy, crashing through all
obstacles, and annihilating everything in its path with the unfeeling
precision of gigantic mechanism." I should say he was an instrument of
Almighty power to bring good out of evil, and prepare the way for a
civilization the higher elements of which he did not understand, and
with which he would not probably have sympathized.

Who shall say, as we survey his mighty labors, and the indomitable
energy and genius which inspired them, that he does not deserve the
title which civilization has accorded to him,--yea, a higher title than
that of Great, even that of Father of his country?


Journal de Pierre le Grand; History of Peter the Great, by Alexander
Gordon; John Bell's Travels in Russia; Henry Bruce's Memoirs of Peter;
Motley's Life of Peter I.; Voltaire's History of the Russian Empire
under Peter the Great; Voltaire's Life of Charles XII.; Biographic
Universelle; Encyclopaedia Britannica,--article "Russia;" Barrow's
Memoir of the Life of Peter the Great; Schuyler's History of Peter
the Great.


A.D. 1712-1786.


The history of Frederic the Great is simply that of a man who committed
an outrageous crime, the consequences of which pursued him in the
maledictions and hostilities of Europe, and who fought bravely and
heroically to rescue himself and country from the ruin which impended
over him as a consequence of this crime. His heroism, his fertility of
resources, his unflagging energy, and his amazing genius in overcoming
difficulties won for him the admiration of that class who idolize
strength and success; so that he stands out in history as a struggling
gladiator who baffled all his foes,--not a dying gladiator on the arena
of a pagan amphitheatre, but more like a Judas Maccabaeus, when hunted
by the Syrian hosts, rising victorious, and laying the foundation of a
powerful monarchy; indeed, his fame spread, irrespective of his cause
and character, from one end of Christendom to the other,--not such a
fame as endeared Gustavus Adolphus to the heart of nations for heroic
efforts to save the Protestant religion,--but such a fame as the
successful generals of ancient Rome won by adding territories to a
warlike State, regardless of all the principles of right and wrong. Such
a career is suggestive of grand moral lessons; and it is to teach these
lessons that I describe a character for whom I confess I feel but little
sympathy, yet whom I am compelled to respect for his heroic qualities
and great abilities.

Frederic of Prussia was born in 1712, and had an unhappy childhood and
youth from the caprices of a royal but disagreeable father, best known
for his tall regiment of guards; a severe, austere, prejudiced, formal,
narrow, and hypochondriacal old Pharisee, whose sole redeeming
excellence was an avowed belief in God Almighty and in the orthodox
doctrines of the Protestant Church.

In 1740, this rigid, exacting, unsympathetic king died; and his son
Frederic, who had been subjected to the severest discipline, restraints,
annoyances, and humiliations, ascended the throne, and became the third
King of Prussia, at the age of twenty-eight. His kingdom was a small
one, being then about one quarter of its present size.

And here we pause for a moment to give a glance at the age in which he
lived,--an age of great reactions, when the stirring themes and issues
of the seventeenth century were substituted for mockeries, levities,
and infidelities; when no fierce protests were made except those of
Voltaire against the Jesuits; when an abandoned woman ruled France, as
the mistress of an enervated monarch; when Spain and Italy were sunk in
lethargic forgetfulness, Austria was priest-ridden, and England was
governed by a ring of selfish lauded proprietors; when there was no
marked enterprise but the slave-trade; when no department of literature
or science was adorned by original genius; and when England had no
broader statesman than Walpole, no abler churchman than Warburton, no
greater poet than Pope. There was a general indifference to lofty
speculation. A materialistic philosophy was in fashion,--not openly
atheistic, but arrogant and pretentious, whose only power was in sarcasm
and mockery, like the satires of Lucian, extinguishing faith, godless
and yet boastful,--an Epicureanism such as Socrates attacked and Paul
rebuked. It found its greatest exponent in Voltaire, the oracle and idol
of intellectual Europe. In short, it was an age when general cynicism
and reckless abandonment to pleasure marked the upper-classes; an age
which produced Chesterfield, as godless a man as Voltaire himself.

In this period of religious infidelity, moral torpor, fashionable
mediocrity, unthinking pleasure-seeking, and royal orgies; when the
people were spurned, insuited and burdened,--Frederic ascends an
absolute throne. He is a young and fashionable philosopher. He professes
to believe in nothing that ages of inquiry and study are supposed to
have settled; he even ridicules the religious principles of his father.
He ardently adopts everything which claims to be a novelty, but is not
learned enough to know that what he supposes to be new has been exploded
over and over again. He is liberal and tolerant, but does not see the
logical sequence of the very opinions he indorses. He is also what is
called an accomplished man, since he can play on an instrument, and
amuse a dinner-party by jokes and stories. He builds a magnificent
theatre, and collects statues, pictures, snuff-boxes, and old china. He
welcomes to his court, not stern thinkers, but sneering and amusing
philosophers. He employs in his service both Catholics and Protestants
alike, since he holds in contempt the religion of both. He is free from
animosities and friendships, and neither punishes those who are his
enemies nor rewards those who are his friends. He apes reform, but
shackles the press; he appoints able men in his service, but only those
who will be his unscrupulous tools. He has a fine physique, and
therefore is unceasingly active. He flies from one part of his kingdom
to another, not to examine morals or education or the state of the
people, but to inspect fortresses and to collect camps.

To such a man the development of the resources of his kingdom, the
reform of abuses, and educational projects are of secondary importance;
he gives his primary attention to raising and equipping armies, having
in view the extension of his kingdom by aggressive and unjustifiable
wars. He cares little for domestic joys or the society of women, and is
incapable of sincere friendship. He has no true admiration for
intellectual excellence, although he patronizes literary lions. He is
incapable of any sacrifice except for his troops, who worship him, since
their interests are identical with his own. In the camp or in the field
he spends his time, amusing himself occasionally with the society of
philosophers as cynical as himself. He has dreams and visions of
military glory, which to him is the highest and greatest on this earth,
Charles XII. being his model of a hero.

With such views he enters upon a memorable career. His first important
public act as king is the seizure of part of the territory of the Bishop
of Liege, which he claims as belonging to Prussia. The old bishop is
indignant and amazed, but is obliged to submit to a robbery which
disgusts Christendom, but is not of sufficient consequence to set it
in a blaze.

The next thing he does, of historical importance, is to seize Silesia, a
province which belongs to Austria, and contains about twenty thousand
square miles,--a fertile and beautiful province, nearly as large as his
own kingdom; it is the highest table-land of Germany, girt around with
mountains, hard to attack and easy to defend. So rapid and secret are
his movements, that this unsuspecting and undefended country is overrun
by his veteran soldiers as easily as Louis XIV. overran Flanders and
Holland, and with no better excuse than the French king had. This
outrage was an open insult to Europe, as well as a great wrong to Maria
Theresa,--supposed by him to be a feeble woman who could not resent the
injury. But in this woman he found the great enemy of his life,--a
lioness deprived of her whelps, whose wailing was so piteous and so
savage that she aroused Europe from lethargy, and made coalitions which
shook it to its centre. At first she simply rallied her own troops, and
fought single-handed to recover her lost and most valued province. But
Frederic, with marvellous celerity and ability, got possession of the
Silesian fortresses; the bloody battle of Mollwitz (1741) secured his
prey, and he returned in triumph to his capital, to abide the issue
of events.

It is not easy to determine whether this atrocious crime, which
astonished Europe, was the result of his early passion for military
glory, or the inauguration of a policy of aggression and aggrandizement.
But it was the signal of an explosion of European politics which ended
in one of the most bloody wars of modern times. "It was," says Carlyle,
"the little stone broken loose from the mountain, hitting others, big
and little, which again hit others with their leaping and rolling, till
the whole mountain-side was in motion under law of gravity."

Maria Theresa appeals to her Hungarian nobles, with her infant in her
arms, at a diet of the nation, and sends her envoys to every friendly
court. She offers her unscrupulous enemy the Duchy of Limberg and two
hundred thousand pounds to relinquish his grasp on Silesia. It is like
the offer of Darius to Alexander, and is spurned by the Prussian robber.
It is not Limberg he wants, nor money, but Silesia, which he resolves to
keep because he wants it, and at any hazard, even were he to jeopardize
his own hereditary dominions. The peace of Breslau gives him a temporary
leisure, and he takes the waters of Aachen, and discusses philosophy. He
is uneasy, but jubilant, for he has nearly doubled the territory and
population of Prussia. His subjects proclaim him a hero, with immense
paeans. Doubtless, too, he now desires peace,--just as Louis XIV. did
after he had conquered Holland, and as Napoleon did when he had seated
his brothers on the old thrones of Europe.

But there can be no lasting peace after such outrageous wickedness. The
angered kings and princes of Europe are to become the instruments of
eternal justice. They listen to the eloquent cries of the Austrian
Empress, and prepare for war, to punish the audacious robber who
disturbs the peace of the world and insults all other nationalities. But
they are not yet ready for effective war; the storm does not at once
break out.

The Austrians however will not wait, and the second Silesian war ensues,
in which Saxony joins Austria. Again is Frederic successful, over the
combined forces of these two powers, and he retains his stolen province.
He is now regarded as a world-hero, for he has fought bravely against
vastly superior forces, and is received in Berlin with unbounded
enthusiasm. He renews his studies in philosophy, courts literary
celebrities, reorganizes his army, and collects forces for a renewed
encounter, which he foresees.

He has ten years of repose and preparation, during which he is lauded
and nattered, yet retaining simplicity of habits, sleeping but five
hours a day, finding time for state dinners, flute-playing, and operas,
of all which he is fond; for he was doubtless a man of culture, social,
well read if not profound, witty, inquiring, and without any striking
defects save tyranny, ambition, parsimony, dissimulation, and lying.

It was during those ten years of rest and military preparation that
Voltaire made his memorable visit--his third and last--to Potsdam and
Berlin, thirty-two months of alternate triumph and humiliation. No
literary man ever had so successful and brilliant a career as this
fortunate and lauded Frenchman,--the oracle of all salons, the arbiter
of literary fashions, a dictator in the realm of letters, with amazing
fecundity of genius directed into all fields of labor; poet, historian,
dramatist, and philosopher; writing books enough to load a cart, and all
of them admired and extolled, all of them scattered over Europe, read by
all nations; a marvellous worker, of unbounded wit and unexampled
popularity, whose greatest literary merit was in the transcendent
excellence of his style, for which chiefly he is immortal; a great
artist, rather than an original and profound genius whose ideas form the
basis of civilizations. The King of Prussia formed an ardent friendship
for this king of letters, based on admiration rather than respect;
invited him to his court, extolled and honored him, and lavished on him
all that he could bestow, outside of political distinction. But no
worldly friendship could stand such a test as both were subjected to,
since they at last comprehended each other's character and designs.
Voltaire perceived the tyranny, the ambition, the heartlessness, the
egotism, and the exactions of his royal patron, and despised him while
he flattered him; and Frederic on his part saw the hollowness, the
meanness, the suspicion, the irritability, the pride, the insincerity,
the tricks, the ingratitude, the baseness, the lies of his
distinguished guest,--and their friendship ended in utter vanity. What
friendship can last without mutual respect? The friendship of Frederic
and Voltaire was hopelessly broken, in spite of the remembrance of
mutual admiration and happy hours. It was patched up and mended like a
broken vase, but it could not be restored. How sad, how mournful, how
humiliating is a broken friendship or an alienated love! It is the
falling away of the foundations of the soul, the disappearance forever
of what is most to be prized on earth,--its celestial certitudes. A
beloved friend may die, but we are consoled in view of the fact that the
friendship may be continued in heaven: the friend is not lost to us. But
when a friendship or a love is broken, there is no continuance of it
through eternity. It is the gloomiest thing to think of in this
whole world.

But Frederic was too busy and pre-occupied a man to mourn long for a
departed joy. He was absorbed in preparations for war. The sword of
Damocles was suspended over his head, and he knew it better than any
other man in Europe; he knew it from his spies and emissaries. Though he
had enjoyed ten years' peace, he knew that peace was only a truce; that
the nations were arming in behalf of the injured empress; that so great
a crime as the seizure of Silesia must be visited with a penalty; that
there was no escape for him except in a tremendous life-and-death
struggle, which was to be the trial of his life; that defeat was more
than probable, since the forces in preparation against him were
overwhelming. The curses of the civilized world still pursued him, and
in his retreat at Sans-Souci he had no rest; and hence he became
irritable and suspicious. The clouds of the political atmosphere were
filled with thunderbolts, ready to fall upon him and crush him at any
moment; indeed, nothing could arrest the long-gathering storm.

It broke out with unprecedented fury in the spring of 1756. Austria,
Russia, Sweden, Saxony, and France were combined to ruin him,--the most
powerful coalition of the European powers seen since the Thirty Years'
War. His only ally was England,--an ally not so much to succor him as to
humble France, and hence her aid was timid and incompetent.

Thus began the famous Seven Years' War, during which France lost her
colonial possessions, and was signally humiliated at home,--a war which
developed the genius of the elder Pitt, and placed England in the proud
position of mistress of the ocean; a war marked by the largest array of
forces which Europe had seen since the times of Charles V., in which six
hundred thousand men were marshalled under different leaders and
nations, to crush a man who had insulted Europe and defied the law of
nations and the laws of God. The coalition represented one hundred
millions of people with inexhaustible resources.

Now, it was the memorable resistance of Frederic II. to this vast array
of forces, and his successful retention of the province he had seized,
which gave him his chief claim as a hero; and it was his patience, his
fortitude, his energy, his fertility of resources, and the enthusiasm
with which he inspired his troops even after the most discouraging and
demoralizing defeats, that won for him that universal admiration as a
man which he lived to secure in spite of all his defects and crimes. We
admire the resources and dexterity of an outlawed bandit, but we should
remember he is a bandit still; and we confound all the laws which hold
society together, when we cover up the iniquity of a great crime by the
successes which have apparently baffled justice. Frederic II., by
stealing Silesia, and thus provoking a great war of untold and
indescribable miseries, is entitled to anything but admiration, whatever
may have been his military genius; and I am amazed that so great a man
as Carlyle, with all his hatred of shams, and his clear perceptions of
justice and truth, should have whitewashed such a robber. I cannot
conceive how the severest critic of the age should have spent the best
years of his life in apologies for so bad a man, if his own philosophy
had not become radically unsound, based on the abominable doctrine that
the end justifies the means, and that an outward success is the test of
right. Far different was Carlyle's treatment of Cromwell. Frederic had
no such cause as Cromwell; it was simply his own or his country's
aggrandizement by any means, or by any sword he could lay hold of. The
chief merit of Carlyle's history is his impartiality and accuracy in
describing the details of the contest: the cause of the contest he does
not sufficiently reprobate; and all his sympathies seem to be with the
unscrupulous robber who fights heroically, rather than with indignant
Europe outraged by his crimes. But we cannot separate crime from its
consequences; and all the reverses, the sorrows, the perils, the
hardships, the humiliations, the immense losses, the dreadful calamities
through which Prussia had to pass, which wrung even the heart of
Frederic with anguish, were only a merited retribution. The Seven Years'
War was a king-hunt, in which all the forces of the surrounding
monarchies gathered around the doomed man, making his circle smaller and
smaller, and which would certainly have ended in his utter ruin, had he
not been rescued by events as unexpected as they were unparalleled. Had
some great and powerful foe been converted suddenly into a friend at a
critical moment, Napoleon, another unscrupulous robber, might not have
been defeated at Waterloo, or died on a rock in the ocean. But
Providence, it would seem, who rules the fate of war, had some
inscrutable reason for the rescue of Prussia under Frederic, and the
humiliation of France under Napoleon.

The brunt of the war fell of course upon Austria, so that, as the two
nations were equally German, it had many of the melancholy aspects of a
civil war. But Austria was Catholic and Prussia was Protestant; and had
Austria succeeded, Germany possibly to-day would have been united under
an irresistible Catholic imperialism, and there would have been no
German empire whose capital is Berlin. The Austrians, in this contest,
fought bravely and ably, under Prince Carl and Marshal Daun, who were no
mean competitors with the King of Prussia for military laurels. But the
Austrians fought on the offensive, and the Prussians on the defensive.
The former were obliged to manoeuvre on the circumference, the latter in
the centre of the circle. The Austrians, in order to recover Silesia,
were compelled to cross high mountains whose passes were guarded by
Prussian soldiers. The war began in offensive operations, and ended in

The most terrible enemy that Frederic had, next to Austria, was Russia,
ruled then by Elizabeth, who had the deepest sympathy with Maria
Theresa; but when she died, affairs took a new turn. Frederic was then
on the very verge of ruin,--was, as they say, about to be
"bagged,"--when the new Emperor of Russia conceived a great personal
admiration for his genius and heroism; the Russian enmity was converted
to friendship, and the Czar became an ally instead of a foe.

The aid which the Saxons gave to Maria Theresa availed but little. The
population, chiefly and traditionally Protestant, probably sympathized
with Prussia more than with Austria, although the Elector himself was
Catholic,--that inglorious monarch who resembled in his gallantries
Louis XV., and in his dilettante tastes Leo X. He is chiefly known for
the number of his concubines and his Dresden gallery of pictures.

The aid which the French gave was really imposing, so far as numbers
make efficient armies. But the French were not the warlike people in the
reign of Louis XV. that they were under Henry IV., or Napoleon
Bonaparte. They fought, without the stimulus of national enthusiasm,
without a cause, as part of a great machine. They never have been
successful in war without the inspiration of a beloved cause. This war
had no especial attraction or motive for them. What was it to Frenchmen,
so absorbed with themselves, whether a Hohenzollern or a Hapsburg
reigned in Germany? Hence, the great armies which the government of
France sent to the aid of Maria Theresa were without spirit, and were
not even marshalled by able generals. In fact, the French seemed more
intent on crippling England than in crushing Frederic. The war had
immense complications. Though France and England were drawn into it, yet
both France and England fought more against each other than for the
parties who had summoned them to their rescue.

England was Frederic's ally, but her aid was not great directly. She did
not furnish him with many troops; she sent subsidies instead, which
enabled him to continue the contest. But these were not as great as he
expected, or had reason to expect. With all the money he received from
Walpole or Pitt he was reduced to the most desperate straits.

One thing was remarkable in that long war of seven years, which strained
every nerve and taxed every energy of Prussia: it was carried on by
Frederic in hard cash. He did not run in debt; he' always had enough on
hand in coin to pay for all expenses. But then his subjects were most
severely taxed, and the soldiers were poorly paid. If the same economy
he used in that war of seven years had been exercised by our Government
in its late war, we should not have had any national debt at all at the
close of the war, although we probably should have suspended
specie payments.

It would not be easy or interesting to attempt to compress the details
of a long war of seven years in a single lecture. The records of war
have great uniformity,--devastation, taxes, suffering, loss of life and
of property (except by the speculators and government agents), the
flight of literature, general demoralization, the lowering of the tone
of moral feeling, the ascendency of unscrupulous men, the exaltation of
military talents, general grief at the loss of friends, fiendish
exultation over victories alternated with depressing despondency in view
of defeats, the impoverishment of a nation on the whole, and the
sickening conviction, which fastens on the mind after the first
excitement is over, of a great waste of life and property for which
there is no return, and which sometimes a whole generation cannot
restore. Nothing is so dearly purchased as the laurels of the
battlefield; nothing is so great a delusion and folly as military glory
to the eye of a Christian or philosopher. It is purchased by the tears
and blood of millions, and is rebuked by all that is grand in human
progress. Only degraded and demoralized peoples can ever rejoice in war;
and when it is not undertaken for a great necessity, it fills the world
with bitter imprecations. It is cruel and hard and unjust in its nature,
and utterly antagonistic to civilization. Its greater evils are indeed
overruled; Satan is ever rebuked and baffled by a benevolent Providence.
But war is always a curse and a calamity in its immediate results,--and
in its ultimate results also, unless waged in defence of some
immortal cause.

It must be confessed, war is terribly exciting. The eyes of the
civilized world were concentrated on Frederic II. during this memorable
period; and most people anticipated his overthrow. They read everywhere
of his marchings and counter-marchings, his sieges and battles, his
hair-breadth escapes, and his renewed exertions, from the occupation of
Saxony to the battle of Torgau. In this war he was sometimes beaten, as
at Kolin; but he gained three memorable victories,--one over the French,
at Rossbach; the second, over the Austrians, at Luthen; and the third,
over the Russians, at Zorndorf, the most bloody of all his battles. And
he gained these victories by outflanking, his attack being the form of a
wedge,--learned by the example of Epaminondas,--a device which led to
new tactics, and proclaimed Frederic a master of the art of war. But in
these battles he simply showed himself to be a great general. It was not
until his reverses came that he showed himself a great man, or earned
the sympathy which Europe felt for a humiliated monarch, putting forth
herculean energies to save his crown and kingdom. His easy and great
victories in the first year of the war simply saved him from
annihilation; they were not great enough to secure peace. Although thus
far he was a conqueror, he had no peace, no rest, and but little hope.
His enemies were so numerous and powerful that they could send large
reinforcements: he could draw but few. In time it was apparent that he
would be destroyed, whatever his skill and bravery. Had not the Empress
Elizabeth died, he would have been conquered and prostrated. After his
defeat at Hochkirch, he was obliged to dispute his ground inch by inch,
compelled to hide his grief from his soldiers, financially straitened
and utterly forlorn; but for a timely subsidy from England he would have
been desperate. The fatal battle of Kunnersdorf, in his fourth campaign,
when he lost twenty thousand men, almost drove him to despair; and evil
fortune continued to pursue him in his fifth campaign, in which he lost
some of his strongest fortresses, and Silesia was opened to his enemies.
At one time he had only six days' provisions: the world marvelled how he
held out. Then England deserted him. He made incredible exertions to
avert his doom: everlasting marches, incessant perils; no comforts or
luxuries as a king, only sorrows, privations, sufferings; enduring more
labors than his soldiers; with restless anxieties and blasted hopes. In
his despair and humiliation it is said he recognized God Almighty. In
his chastisements and misfortunes,--apparently on the very brink of
destruction, and with the piercing cries of misery which reached his
ears from every corner of his dominions,--he must, at least, have
recognized a Retribution. Still his indomitable will remained. His pride
and his self-reliance never deserted him; he would have died rather than
have yielded up Silesia until wrested from him. At last the battle of
Torgau, fought in the night, and the death of the Empress of Russia,
removed the overhanging clouds, and he was enabled to contend with
Austria unassisted by France and Russia. But if Maria Theresa could not
recover Silesia, aided by the great monarchies of Europe, what could she
do without their aid? So peace came at last, when all parties were
wearied and exhausted; and Frederic retained his stolen province at the
sacrifice of one hundred and eighty thousand men, and the decline of one
tenth of the whole population of his kingdom and its complete
impoverishment, from which it did not recover for nearly one hundred
years. Prussia, though a powerful military state, became and remained
one of the poorest countries of Europe; and I can remember when it was
rare to see there, except in the houses of the rich, either a silver
fork or a silver spoon; to say nothing of the cheap and frugal fare of
the great mass of the people, and their comfortless kind of life, with
hardly any physical luxuries except tobacco and beer. It is surprising
how, in a poor country, Frederic could have sustained such an exhaustive
war without incurring a national debt. Perhaps it was not as easy in
those times for kings and states to run into debt as it is now. One of
the great refinements of advancing civilization is that we are permitted
to bequeath our burdens to future generations. Time only will show
whether this is the wisest course. It is certainly not a wise thing for
individuals to do. He who enters on the possession of a heavily
mortgaged estate is an embarrassed, perhaps impoverished, man. Frederic,
at least, did not leave debts for posterity to pay; he preferred to pay
as he went along, whatever were the difficulties.

The real gainer by the war, if gainer there was, was England, since she
was enabled to establish a maritime supremacy, and develop her
manufacturing and mercantile resources,--much needed in her future
struggles to resist Napoleon. She also gained colonial possessions, a
foothold in India, and the possession of Canada. This war entangled
Europe, and led to great battles, not in Germany merely, but around the
world. It was during this war, when France and England were antagonistic
forces, that the military genius of Washington was first developed in
America. The victories of Clive and Hastings soon after followed
in India.

The greatest loser in this war was France: she lost provinces and
military prestige. The war brought to light the decrepitude of the
Bourbon rule. The marshals of France, with superior forces, were
disgracefully defeated. The war plunged France in debt, only to be paid
by a "roaring conflagration of anarchies." The logical sequence of the
war was in those discontents and taxes which prepared the way for the
French Revolution,--a catastrophe or a new birth, as men
differently view it.

The effect of the war on Austria was a loss of prestige, the beginning
of the dismemberment of the empire, and the revelation of internal
weakness. Though Maria Theresa gained general sympathy, and won great
glory by her vigorous government and the heroism of her troops, she was
a great loser. Besides the loss of men and money, Austria ceased to be
the great threatening power of Europe. From this war England, until the
close of the career of Napoleon, was really the most powerful state in
Europe, and became the proudest.

As for Prussia,--the principal transgressor and actor,--it is more
difficult to see the actual results. The immediate effects of the war
were national impoverishment, an immense loss of life, and a fearful
demoralization. The limits of the kingdom were enlarged, and its
military and political power was established. It became one of the
leading states of Continental Europe, surpassed only by Austria, Russia,
and France. It led to great standing armies and a desire of
aggrandizement. It made the army the centre of all power and the basis
of social prestige. It made Frederic II. the great military hero of that
age, and perpetuated his policy in Prussia. Bismarck is the sequel and
sequence of Frederic. It was by aggressive and unscrupulous wars that
the Romans were aggrandized, and it was also by the habits and tastes
which successful war created that Rome was ultimately undermined. The
Roman empire did not last like the Chinese empire, although at one
period it had more glory and prestige. So war both strengthens and
impoverishes nations. But I believe that the violation of eternal
principles of right ultimately brings a fearful penalty. It may be long
delayed, but it will finally come, as in the sequel of the wicked wars
of Louis XIV. and Napoleon Bonaparte. Victor Hugo, in his "History of a
Great Crime," on the principle of everlasting justice, forewarned
"Napoleon the Little" of his future reverses, while nations and
kingdoms, in view of his marvellous successes, hailed him as a friend of
civilization; and Hugo lived to see the fulfilment of his prophecy.
Moreover, it may be urged that the Prussian people,--ground down by an
absolute military despotism, the mere tools of an ambitious king,--were
not responsible for the atrocious conquests of Frederic II. The misrule
of monarchs does not bring permanent degradation on a nation, unless it
shares the crimes of its monarch,--as in the case of the Romans, when
the leading idea of the people was military conquest, from the very
commencement of their state. The Prussians in the time of Frederic were
a sincere, patriotic, and religious people. They were simply enslaved,
and suffered the poverty and misery which were entailed by war.

After Frederic had escaped the perils of the Seven Years' War, it is
surprising he should so soon have become a party to another atrocious
crime,--the division and dismemberment of Poland. But here both Russia
and Austria were also participants.

"Sarmatia fell, unwept, without a crime."

And I am still more amazed that Carlyle should cover up this crime with
his sophistries. No man in ordinary life would be justified in seizing
his neighbor's property because he was weak and his property was
mismanaged. We might as well justify Russia in attempting to seize
Turkey, although such a crime may be overruled in the future good of
Europe. But Carlyle is an Englishman; and the English seized and
conquered India because they wanted it, not because they had a right to
it. The same laws which bind individuals also binds kings and nations.
Free nations from the obligations which bind individuals, and the world
would be an anarchy. Grant that Poland was not fit for self-government,
this does not justify its political annihilation. The heart of the world
exclaimed against that crime at the time, and the injuries of that
unfortunate state are not yet forgotten. Carlyle says the "partition of
Poland was an operation of Almighty Providence and the eternal laws of
Nature,"--a key to his whole philosophy, which means, if it means
anything, that as great fishes swallow up the small ones, and wild
beasts prey upon each other, and eagles and vultures devour other birds,
it is all right for powerful nations to absorb the weak ones, as the
Romans did. Might does not make right by the eternal decrees of God
Almighty, written in the Bible and on the consciences of mankind.
Politicians, whose primal law is expediency, may justify such acts as
public robbery, for they are political Jesuits,--always were, always
will be; and even calm statesmen, looking on the overruling of events,
may palliate; but to enlightened Christians there is only one law, "Do
unto others as ye would that they should do unto you." Nor can Christian
civilization reach an exalted plane until it is in harmony with the
eternal laws of God. Mr. Carlyle glibly speaks of Almighty Providence
favoring robbery; here he utters a falsehood, and I do not hesitate to
say it, great as is his authority. God says, "Thou shalt not steal; Thou
shalt not covet anything which is thy neighbor's, ... for he is a
jealous God, visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children, to the
third and fourth generation." We must set aside the whole authority of
divine revelation, to justify any crime openly or secretly committed.
The prosperity of nations, in the long run, is based on righteousness;
not on injustice, cruelty, and selfishness.

It cannot be denied that Frederic well managed his stolen property. He
was a man of ability, of enlightened views, of indefatigable industry,
and of an iron will. I would as soon deny that Cromwell did not well
govern the kingdom which he had seized, on the plea of revolutionary
necessity and the welfare of England, for he also was able and wise. But
what was the fruit of Cromwell's well-intended usurpation?--a hideous
reaction, the return of the Stuarts, the dissipation of his visionary
dreams. And if the states which Frederic seized, and the empire he had
founded in blood and carnage had been as well prepared for liberty as
England was, the consequences of his ambition might have been far

But Frederic did not so much aim at the development of national
resources,--the aim of all immortal statesmen,--as at the growth and
establishment of a military power. He filled his kingdom and provinces
with fortresses and camps and standing armies. He cemented a military
monarchy. As a wise executive ruler, the King of Prussia enforced law
and order, was economical in his expenditures, and kept up a rigid
discipline; even rewarded merit, and was friendly to learning. And he
showed many interesting personal qualities,--for I do not wish to make
him out a monster, only as a great man who did wicked things, and things
which even cemented for the time the power of Prussia. He was frugal
and unostentatious. Like Charlemagne, he associated with learned men. He
loved music and literature; and he showed an amazing fortitude and
patience in adversity, which called out universal admiration. He had a
great insight into shams, was rarely imposed upon, and was scrupulous
and honest in his dealings as an individual. He was also a fascinating
man when he unbent; was affable, intelligent, accessible, and unstilted.
He was an admirable talker, and a tolerable author. He always
sympathized with intellectual excellence. He surrounded himself with
great men in all departments. He had good taste and a severe dignity,
and despised vulgar people; had no craving for fast horses, and held no
intercourse with hostlers and gamblers, even if these gamblers had the
respectable name of brokers. He punished all public thieves; so that his
administration at least was dignified and respectable, and secured the
respect of Europe and the admiration of men of ability. The great
warrior was also a great statesman, and never made himself ridiculous,
never degraded his position and powers, and could admire and detect a
man of genius, even when hidden from the world. He was a Tiberius, but
not a Nero fiddling over national calamities, and surrounding himself
with stage-players, buffoons, and idiots.

But here his virtues ended. He was cold, selfish, dissembling,
hard-hearted, ungrateful, ambitious, unscrupulous, without faith in
either God or man; so sceptical in religion that he was almost an
atheist. He was a disobedient son, a heartless husband, a capricious
friend, and a selfish self-idolater. While he was the friend of literary
men, he patronized those who were infidel in their creed. He was not a
religious persecutor, because he regarded all religions as equally false
and equally useful. He was social among convivial and learned friends,
but cared little for women or female society. His latter years, though
dignified and quiet, an idol in all military circles, with an immense
fame, and surrounded with every pleasure and luxury at Sans-Souci, were
still sad and gloomy, like those of most great men whose leading
principle of life was vanity and egotism,--like those of Solomon,
Charles V., and Louis XIV. He heard the distant rumblings, if he did not
live to see the lurid fires, of the French Revolution. He had been
deceived in Voltaire, but he could not mistake the logical sequence of
the ideas of Rousseau,--those blasting ideas which would sweep away all
feudal institutions and all irresponsible tyrannies. When Mirabeau
visited him he was a quaking, suspicious, irritable, capricious, unhappy
old man, though adored by his soldiers to the last,--for those were the
only people he ever loved, those who were willing to die for him, those
who built up his throne: and when he died, I suppose he was sincerely
lamented by his army and his generals and his nobility, for with him
began the greatness of Prussia as a military power. So far as a life
devoted to the military and political aggrandizement of a country makes
a man a patriot, Frederic the Great will receive the plaudits of those
men who worship success, and who forget the enormity of unscrupulous
crimes in the outward glory which immediately resulted,--yea, possibly
of contemplative statesmen who see in the rise of a new power an
instrument of the Almighty for some inscrutable end. To me his character
and deeds have no fascination, any more than the fortunate career of
some one of our modern millionnaires would have to one who took no
interest in finance. It was doubtless grateful to the dying King of
Prussia to hear the plaudits of his idolaters, as he stood on the hither
shores of eternity; but his view of the spectators as they lined those
shores must have been soon lost sight of, and their cheering and
triumphant voices unheard and disregarded, as the bark, in which he
sailed alone, put forth on the unknown ocean, to meet the Eternal Judge
of the living and the dead.

We leave now the man who won so great a fame, to consider briefly his
influence. In two respects, it seems to me, it has been decided and
impressive. In the first place, he gave an impulse to rationalistic
inquiries in Germany; and many there are who think this was a good
thing. He made it fashionable to be cynical and doubtful. Being ashamed

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