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MEMOIRS OF MARGRAVINE OF BAREITH.
Mémoires de FrEDERIQUE SOPHIE WILHELMINE DE PRUSSE,
Margrave de Bareith, Sæur de Frederic le Grand. Ecrits de sa Main.
8vo. 2 tomes. Brunswick, Paris, et Londres : 1812.
PHILOSOPHERS have long considered it as probable, that the private manners of absolute sovereigns are vulgar, their pleasures low, and their dispositions selfish ;—that the two extremes of life, in short, approach pretty closely to each other; and that the Masters of mankind, when stripped of the artificial pomp and magnificence which invests them in public, resemble nothing so nearly as the meanest of the multitude. The ground of this opinion is, that the very highest and the very lowest of mankind are equally beyond the influence of that wholesome control, to which all the intermediate classes are subjected, by their mutual dependence, and the need they have for the good will and esteem of their fellows. Those who are at the very bottom of the scale are below the sphere of this influence; and those at the very top are above it. The one have no chance of distinction by any effort they are capable of making; and the other are secure of the highest degree of it, without any. Both therefore are indifferent, or very nearly so, to the opinion of mankind: the former, because the naked subsistence which they earn by their labour will not be affected by that opinion; and the latter, because their legal power and preeminence are equally independent of it. Those who have nothing to lose, in short, are not very far from the condition of those who have nothing more to gain ; and the maxim of reckoning one's-self last, which is the basis of all politeness, and leads, insensibly, from the mere practice of dissimulation, to habits of kindness and sentiments of generous indepen
NATURAL VULGARITY OF ABSOLUTE PRINCES.
dence, is equally inapplicable to the case of those who are obviously and in reality the last of their kind, and those who are quite indisputably the first. Both therefore are deprived of the checks and of the training, which restrain the selfishness, and call out the sensibilities of other men: And, remote and contrasted as their actual situation must be allowed to be, are alike liable to exhibit that disregard for the feelings of others, and that undisguised preference for their own gratification, which it is the boast of modern refinement to have subdued, or at least effectually concealed, among the happier orders of society. In a free country, indeed, the monarch, if he share at all in the spirit of liberty, may escape this degradation; because he will then feel for how much he is dependent on the good opinion of his countrymen ; and, in general, where there is a great ambition for popularity, this pernicious effect of high fortune will be in a great degree avoided. But the ordinary class of arbitrary rulers, who found their whole claim to distinction upon the accident of their birth and station, may be expected to realize all that we have intimated as to the peculiar manners and dispositions of the Caste ; to sink, like their brethren of the theatre, when their hour of representation is over, into gross sensuality, paltry intrigues, and dishonourable squabbles; and, in short, to be fully more likely to beat their wives and cheat their benefactors, than any other set of personsout of the condition of tinkers.
But though these opinions have long seemed pretty reasonable to those who presumed to reason at all on such subjects, and even appeared to be tolerably well confirmed by the few indications that could be obtained as to the state of the fact, there was but little prospect of the world at large getting at the exact truth, either by actual observation or by credible report. The tone of adulation and outrageous compliment is so firmly established, and as it were positively prescribed, for all authorized communications from the interior of a palace, that it would be ridiculous even to form a guess, as to its actual condition, from such materials: And, with
150 MAD. DE BAREITH
-CHARACTER OF HER WORK.
regard to the casual observers who might furnish less suspected information, a great part are too vain, and too grateful for the opportunities they have enjoyed, to do any thing which might prevent their recurrence; while others are kept silent by a virtuous shame; and the remainder are discredited, and perhaps not always without reason, as the instruments of faction or envy. There seemed great reason to fear, therefore, that this curious branch of Natural History would be left to mere theory and conjecture, and never be elucidated by the testimony of any competent observer; when the volumes before us made their appearance, to set theory and conjecture at rest, and make the private character of such sovereigns a matter of historical record.
They bear to be Memoirs of a Princess of Prussia, written by herself; and are in fact memoirs of the private life of most of the princes of Germany, written by one of their own number — with great freedom indeed – but with an evident partiality to the fraternity; and unmasking more of the domestic manners and individual habits of persons in that lofty station, than any other work with which we are acquainted. It is ushered into the world without any voucher for its authenticity, or even any satisfactory account of the manner in which the manuscript was obtained : But its genuineness, we understand, is admitted even by those whose inclinations would lead them to deny it, and appears to us indeed to be irresistibly established by internal evidence.* It is written in the vulgar gossiping style of a chambermaid; but at the same time with very considerable cleverness and sagacity, as to the conception and delineation of character. It is full of events and portraits — and also of egotism, detraction, and inconsistency; but all de
* I have not recently made any enquiries on this subject: and it is possible that the authenticity of this strange book may have been discredited, since the now remote period when I last heard it discussed. It is obvious at first sight that it is full of exaggerations : But that is too common a characteristic of genuine memoirs written in the tranchant style to which it belongs, to detract much from the credit to which the minuteness and confidence of its details may otherwise be thought to entitle it.
IMPRESSION IT LEAVES OF THE AUTHOR.
livered with an air of good faith that leaves us little room to doubt of the facts that are reported on the writer's own authority, or, in any case, of her own belief in the justness of her opinions. Indeed, half the edification of the book consists in the lights it affords as to the character of the writer, and consequently as to the effects of the circumstances in which she was placed: nor is there any thing, in the very curious picture it presents, more striking than the part she unintentionally contributes, in the peculiarity of her own taste in the colouring and delineation. The heartfelt ennui, and the affected contempt of greatness, so strangely combined with her tenacity of all its privileges, and her perpetual intrigues and quarrels about precedence — the splendid encomiums on her own inflexible integrity, intermixed with the complacent narrative of perpetual trick and duplicity - her bitter complaints of the want of zeal and devotedness in her friends, and the desolating display of her own utter heartlessness in every page of the history — and, finally, her outrageous abuse of almost every one with whom she is connected, alternating with professions of the greatest regard, and occasional apologies for the most atrocious among them, when they happen to conduct themselves in conformity to her own little views at the moment - are all, we think, not only irrefragable proofs of the authenticity of the singular work before us, but, together with the lowness of its style and diction, are features — and pretty prominent ones — in that portraiture of royal manners and dispositions which we conceive it to be its chief office and chief merit to display. In this point of view, we conceive the publication to be equally curious and instructive; and there is a vivacity in the style, and a rapidity in the narrative, which renders it at all events very entertaining, though little adapted for abstract or abridgment.We must endeavour, however, to give our readers some notion of its contents.
What is now before us is but a fragment, extending from the birth of the author in 1707 to the year 1742, and is chiefly occupied with the court of Berlin, down
M. DE BAREITH
- HER PORTRAIT OF HER PARENTS.
till her marriage with the Prince of Bareith in 1731. She sets off with a portrait of her father Frederic William, whose peculiarities are already pretty well known by the dutiful commentaries of his son, and Voltaire. His daughter begins with him a little more handsomely; and assures us, that he had “ talents of the first order"
“ an excellent heart”—and, in short, “ all the qualities which go to the constitution of great men.” Such is the flattering outline: But candour required some shading; and we must confess that it is laid on freely, and with good effect. His temper, she admits, was ungovernable, and often hurried him into excesses altogether unworthy of his rank and situation. Then it must also be allowed that he was somewhat hard-hearted; and throughout his whole life gave a decided preference to the cardinal virtue of Justice over the weaker attribute of Mercy. Moreover, “his excessive love of money exposed him” (her Royal Highness seems to think very unjustly) " to the imputation of avarice.” And, finally, she informs us, without any circumlocution, that he was a crazy bigot in religion — suspicious, jealous, and deceitful — and entertained a profound contempt for the whole sex to which his dutiful biographer belongs.
great and amiable” prince was married, as every body knows, to a princess of Hanover, a daughter of our George the First; of whom he was outrageously jealous, and whom he treated with a degree of brutality that would almost have justified any form of revenge. The princess, however, seems to have been irreproachably chaste: But had, notwithstanding, some of the usual vices of slaves; and tormented her tyrant to very good purpose by an interminable system of the most crooked and provoking intrigues, chiefly about the marriages of her family, but occasionally upon other subjects, carried on by the basest tools and instruments, and for a long time in confederacy with the daughter who has here recorded their history. But though she had thus the satisfaction of frequently enraging her husband, we cannot help thinking that she had herself by far the worst of the game; and indeed it is impossible to read,