« ZurückWeiter »
which he wore almost constantly within doors, and took off only during interviews with persons of high birth and at dinner time. His strict economy was manifest in his dress, for his uniforms were usually patched and threadbare, while his boots from age and want of blacking appeared of a tawny red. Two of the Cabinet-Secretaries now laid before him extracts of the letters which they had opened, together with various petitions and memorials. The Adjutant of the Royal Guard brought a Report of all strangers who had either arrived at or departed from Potsdam the day before. A similar report as to Berlin had already reached the King, inclosed in the first packet of letters. Next came the Adjutant-General, with whom Frederick was wont day by day to discuss and decide all the affairs of the army.
Having despatched these affairs, Frederick passed into his writing-room, where he began by drinking off several glasses of cold water flavoured with fennel-leaves, and employed himself with replies to his letters and notes on his memorials. At intervals he used to sip several cups of coffee, which, in the last twenty years of his life, were always mingled with mustard. Not unfrequently, also, he indulged in a little fruit which stood ready on the side-table; of stone-fruit, above all, he was passionately fond. Parsimonious as he seemed on most occasions, he would buy the earliest forced cherries in the months of December and January for his private eating at the rate of two dollars each.
It was the object of Frederick in this, as in other matters, to bring forward hidden merit. In a remote district an avenue of cherry-trees led, and still leads, from the village of Helmsdorf to the village of Heiligenthal. It excited little notice until Frederick, on one of his journeys, having tasted the fruit, was struck with its peculiar richness of flavour; and gave orders that some basketfuls of it should be sent every summer to Potsdam.
While still in his writing-room Frederick allowed himself daily half an hour's relaxation with his flute. But even this short relaxation was by no means lost time so far as business was con. cerned. He once said to d'Alembert that during his musical exercises he was accustomed to turn over in his mind his affairs of state, and that several of his happiest thoughts for their adıninistration had occurred to him at those times.
Between eight and ten o'clock the King received the CabinetSecretaries separately, and gave them his instructions. These men, though inferior both in rank and salary, were the chief instruments of his sovereign will : for it is not the least
the singularities of his government, that only by exception, and on special occasions, did Frederick ever see his own Ministers. It B 2
was in writing that they sent him their reports,—it was in writing that he sent them his commands.
After the Cabinet-Secretaries had been despatched, the occupations of Frederick until dinner were not so uniformly fixed as the preceding. Sometimes he attended the review of his guards at eleven; sometimes took a ride, sometimes a walk, sometimes read aloud to himself, and sometimes granted audiences. In these—at least with respect to his own subjects who were not of noble birth, nor admitted to his familiar intercourse—no Eastern Sultan ever maintained more haughty state. We have now lying before us two reports of interviews, as printed in the appendix to one of Dr. Preuss's volumes; the one from a President of the Chambre des Domaines at Cleves, the other from his colleague, a second President at Aurich; and it appears incidentally that although both of them parted from the King with full assurances of his approbation and favour, they were not admitted to kiss his hand, but only his coat!
But whatever might be the previous occupations, as the clock struck noon Frederick sat down to dinner. In his youth twelve had been the dinner-hour for all classes at Berlin; nay, his ancestor the Great Elector had always dined at eleven. But before the close of Frederick's reign the people of fashion gradually extended the hour till two; and ever since at Berlin, as elsewhere, it has become later and later. Well may a French novelist of our own time exclaim, • Tous les jours on dîne plus tard; incessamment on ne dînera plus du tout!'
Since the close of the Seven Years' War Frederick had renounced suppers, and dinner became with him, as with Prince Talleyrand, his single daily meal. The King was a gourmand of the first water; and had he survived till 1802, would no doubt have received the honorary presidency of the Jury Dégustateur ; or the dedication of Grimod de la Reyniêre's 'Almanach,' preferably even to the Second Consul Cambacérès. The bill of fare was daily laid before his Majesty, comprising not merely a list of the dishes, but the name of the cook by whom each dish was to be dressed; and these bills of fare were always well considered, and often corrected and amended by the Royal hand. Sometimes, when they gave promise of some novel experiment or favourite dainty—as polentas and eel-pies—the King, in his eagerness, would order the dinner to be brought in ten or twelve minutes earlier than the appointed hour. After dinner he used to mark with a cross the names of those dishes which had afforded him particular pleasure. Of wine he drank sparingly; his favourite vintage being from the banks of the Dordogne, and in general diluted with water.
The King's meals, however, were highly social as well as gastronomic. He frequently invited guests in numbers varying from seven to ten, and entertained them with a varied and never-failing flow of conversation. There was no limitation as to rank in those whom he invited, nor any arrogance of Royalty in his behaviour towards them; but they suffered unmercifully from his wit, or as his butts, for he especially delighted in such jests as were most likely to give pain. Thus, then, came his guests, half pleased and half afraid :
"In quorum facie miseræ magnæque sedebat
Pallor amicitiæ.' Politics, religion, and history, with anecdotes of Court and war, jocular and serious, were his favourite topics, and were always treated with entire freedom and unreserve. When the guests amused him, or when the conversation took a more than usually interesting turn, the sitting was sometimes protracted from noon till past four o'clock; in general, however, it ended much sooner.
On rising from table Frederick allowed himself another half hour with his flute; after which the Cabinet-Secretaries brought in the letters which he had directed or dictated, and which now came before him again transcribed and ready for his signature. It was not unusual for the King when signing to enforce the object of the letter by adding to it a few clear sharp words. Many of these postscripts are still preserved. Thus, when he replied to an application for money, there are sometimes found appended in the Royal handwriting such phrases as I cannot give a single groschen,' or 'I am now as poor as Job.' Thus, when the celebrated singer Madame Mara sent him a long memorial against some intended arrangements at the Opera, the King's postscript is— Elle est payée pour chanter et non pas écrire." Thus, again, when a veteran General bad asked permission to retire, the official answer bids him reconsider his request, and there follows, manu propriâ, the significant remark — The hens that will not lay I will not feed !'t
But, perhaps, the most curious of all is the following in five words to Baron Arnim, in which five words it will be seen that three languages are blended, and each of the three incorrectly :Scriptus est scriptus; nicht raisoniren.'I
In some, though not numerous, cases the postscript seems to us utterly at variance with the letter. Thus when Colonel Philip
* June 30, 1776.
+ To General Von Lax-Debnen, January 8, 1773. Two days after the King (according to bis hint) granted the General his retirement, but refused him his pension. Oct. 26, 1776 – Urkunden-buch, vol. iii. p. 196.
Von Borcke wished to retire from the army and to live on his estates in Pomerania, the King (May 30, 1785) desired a letter to be drawn out for his Royal signature, stating that the said Colonel has been always found faithful, brave, and irreproachable in times of war, and that his Majesty has been constantly satisfied with him ;' but in signing this document the King added with his own hand some German words to the following effect :• Abschied for a Prussian who will not serve, and one ought therefore to thank God that one gets rid of him.' Surely, whatever satisfaction or advantage the letter might be intended to confer must have been turned into the very opposite by such an addition.
When this correspondence was completed, the King sometimes took a walk-out of doors if the weather was fine, or through his saloons if it rained. Sometimes he conversed with his friend Colonel Guichard, whom he had by patent new-named Quintus Icilius, or some other staff-officer; sometimes he received the artists who had executed his commissions, or who brought him their works to view. But whenever his leisure served, the hours between four and six, or what remained of them, were devoted to his literary labours. It was during this interval that he composed nearly all the volumes in prose and verse which are now to be reprinted. Numerous, indeed, they are. As Voltaire of him and to him (March 24, 1772), "Il a fait plus de livres qu'aucun des princes contemporains n'a fait de bâtards !'
It is very remarkable, however, and not easily explained, that though Frederick practised authorship for almost half a century —though every day he was reading and writing German for business and French for pleasure-yet he never in any degree mastered the spelling of either language. To the last we find the strangest errors even in the most common words. Thus he writes winter uIVERD, old vieu, flesh cher, actress ACCTRISSE, and the word which in private life he most disliked, PeYER.
It is also singular that up to the close of May, 1737, his Majesty always signed his name in French according to the usual manner, FREDERIC, but ever afterwards FEDERIC.
From six till seven o'clock the King had usually a small concert, in which only musicians or a few amateurs of the highest rank were admitted, and in which he himself played the flute. By long practice he had acquired excellent skill with that instrument. In his very last years, however, the decay of his front teeth deprived him of this daily recreation. Thus losing the power to execute, he lost also the wish to hear, music; and from ihat time forward he seldom appeared at any concert. During Frederick's earlier years his suppers had become
justly renowned from the wit of the guests whom he there gathered round him and from his own. Voltaire thus alludes to them in a sketch at that period of his Royal Patron's daily life :
• Il est grand Roi tout le matin,
Puisse-t-il n'avoir point de fin! But when, after 1763, the King discontinued his suppers, the void thus left in bis evenings was supplied by still frequently receiving a circle of distinguished men, as some of his generals, the Marquis d'Argens, Lord Marischal, and Lucchesini. His usual plan was to begin by reading aloud to them a passage from some book, which served as a kind of text for the lively conversation which ensued. During the rest of the evening, or for the whole of it when no visitors came, the King was read to by one or more lecteurs, selecting either original French works or translations into French of the Greek and Latin classics. At about nine o'clock he went to bed.
Such was the daily life of Frederick; a life not at all varied on Sundays or other holydays, but diversified by annual reviews of his troops and journeys to his provinces. Froin his alternate toils in the field and labours in the administration, it might be supposed that he had in truth an iron frame; on the contrary, however, his health from his childhood was delicate and variable. But the want of bodily strength was well supplied by his ardent and indomitable soul. The following are his own expressions in a letter to Voltaire of the 7th September, 1776:
"Quant à ma méthode de ne me point ménager, elle est toujours la même. Plus on se soigne et plus le corps devient délicat et faible. Mon métier veut du travail et de l'action: il faut que mon corps et mon esprit se plient à leur devoir. Il n'est pas nécessaire que je vive, mais bien que j'agisse. Je m'en suis toujours bien trouvé. Cependant je ne prescris cette méthode à personne, et me contente de la suivre.'
It may be observed that the sketch of the King's daily life makes no reference whatever to a Queen Consort; yet in 1733, under his father's dictation, Frederick had espoused the Princess Elizabeth of Brunswick-Bevern, who survived not only through his whole reign of almost half a century, but even for eleven years afterwards, namely, till 1797. This Princess was of exemplary character, filled with admiration for the great deeds of her husband, and grateful for the slightest token of his notice; and so benevolent, that of the 41,000 dollars assigned her yearly she