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Ist, His invasion of the territories of the young Queen Maria Theresa, on the death of the emperor, her father.
2ndly, The seven years' war. 3dly, The partition of Poland.
It is to the two former that I shall at present allude, as the latter belongs to times of a more recent date than I shall be able, as yet, to approach.
In considering the subjects of history, I have always made it my business, first, to inquire for works in our own language; those being the most likely to be placed within your reach.
I have therefore to mention, that a view of the reign of Frederic has been published by Dr. Gillies, another by Dr. Towers. A short account is given of Frederic, by Dr. Johnson; and we have Memoirs of the Court of Berlin, by Wrax hall. Of each in their order.
The work of Dr. Gillies I can in no respect admire. There appear some good observations about the king's military genius, and there are some incidents mentioned of a general nature, which I do not observe in other English works. On the whole, I can only recommend it to the student, when he wishes to learn, what can be said in the praise or defence of Frederic. Gillies appears to me only a warm panegyrist, and on this occasion, neither an historian nor a philosopher.
Before I proceed to other English or any foreign works on this subject, I must observe, that the following appear to me the points to which the student must more particularly attend, in considering the merits of Frederic:- 1st, The justice, or injustice, of his original attack on Silesia. This very valuable province he wrested from the House of Austria, taking advantage of the unprepared situation of the young queen, Maria Theresa, on her first accession to the throne. This was an injury and an outrage which could never be forgiven by her; and if this was an act of ambition, and if to this all his subsequent contests with Austria may be traced, it is he who is responsible for all the calamities that ensued. 2ndly, Frederic endeavoured, by the interference of his personal vigilance and wisdom, to nourish the prosperity and advance the happiness of his subjects. His measures and his success form, therefore, the next division of the subject. 3dly, Frederic was a man of wit and literature; and we can never, in considering the character of this monarch, forget his personal qualities. What, therefore, was Frederic to his scholars and men of science, whom he called around him? and what to his generals and companions in arms? This is the third division of the subject; and such are the points which must be always kept in mind by those who read the history of Frederic. He was one of the sovereigns of Europe, and a great military hero; he endeavoured to be the father of his people. Lastly, he was a man of talents, fond of society, and disposed to be a patron of the wits and philosophers of his age.
All these points, and the character and merits of Frederic in every respect, appear to me to be well understood and represented by Dr. Towers; a writer who has, like Gillies, undertaken to give the English public an account of the life and reign of this renowned monarch. He has fulfilled the promise which he gives in his preface, and he has not been induced, by the splendour which surrounded his hero, to vindicate his actions when they were repugnant to justice and humanity. He has given references to authorities, which Gillies has very improperly omitted; and it will be found that every topic of importance connected with this extraordinary character, is touched upon. Proper diligence has been exerted, and reasonable observations are made ; so that the work may be recommended as giving a correct general idea of all that there is to be known, and as pointing out to the reader the proper sources of more minute inquiry. The book may not be written with any peculiar strength or ability, but it is unaffected and sensible, sufficiently concise, and adequate, I conceive, to all its purposes. The great events are detailed; the campaigns described ; anecdotes given of the king, and the great military characters that surrounded him; and the reader is dismissed with an impression very favourable to the talents, at least, of Frederic, as a commander of armies, and as a prince placed at the head of an arbitrary monarchy, but not favourable to him in other respects.
To this impression, as far as it is favourable, little will, I think, be added by further inquiries into other books
It was with the king as with the image in Nebuchadnezzar's vision, to borrow the compliment of Voltaire to Turgot, when in the gout; “ the head was of gold, but every other part of a very inferior quality.” Something, therefore, may be subtracted from the general impression left by Towers. We may learn that the king's policy was not always enlightened, and that his talents, eminent as they were, did not save him from the mistakes of the times in which he lived. But it is impossible from Towers, or from any book or treatise, to learn how to regard Frederic with any sentiments of kindness. He is often great, but never amiable; perhaps with the single exception of his behaviour to his friend and favourite philosopher, Jourdan.
There is a short account of Frederic by Dr. Johnson, which was first printed in the Literary Magazine, in the year 1756, and is therefore only a fragment. It should be read, because whatever Dr. Johnson writes must necessarily entertain and instruct. It is written with the usual decision and vigour of his biographical compositions ; but it was never continued, and was probably not a work of much deliberation or labour.
Coxe's House of Austria must be diligently read, to understand the politics of Frederic's opponents; but of this work I shall speak more hereafter.
When other books, English and foreign, have been read, the two volumes of Wraxhall may be looked at-the Memoirs of the Court of Berlin. They will be found very entertaining, and they will sometimes amplify, and sometimes revive, the views and opinions respecting Frederic and subjects connected with him, which the student may have collected from prior reading
Such are, I think, our English authors; I must now advert to the writings of the continent. I shall confine myself to three authors—Thiebault, the King of Prussia himself, and Mirabeau.
And first, with respect to the five octavo volumes of Thiebault. You will see an account of the work in the Edinburgh Review for October, 1805. Thiebault was a man of letters, sent to Frederic from Paris, at his desire. Having read the work myself, and first put down my own observations, I afterwards found most of them confirmed by the Review, and very few that had not been there anticipated.
Occurring, therefore, to two different minds, they are probably the observations that naturally arise out of the subject. There is a slight passage or two, in which the reviewer, who is always most at ease when he is severe, appears to me to have indulged his particular genius a little too far. For instance; there is no need of supposing that Frederic did not feel most sensibly, in the common import of the words, the execution of his friend Ducatt. But on the whole, I subscribe sufficiently to the sentiments and opinions which the reviewer has delivered respecting Frederic, and recommend them to your attention. I must even depend on your reading this Edinburgh Review for October, 1805; my lecture will otherwise want one of its component parts.
It is very natural to wish to see the interior of the life and character of any of those personages who are distinguished in history. It is on this account that Thiebault's volumes should be consulted. A very fair portion of this sort of information is given by Dr. Towers; but those who wish for more, must read Thiebault. His Recollections, indeed, as he calls them, seldom rise to the dignity of history; but they are always agreeable, often instructive, occasionally very interesting.
In the first volume we have a good representation, not only of the king, his talents, his opinions on every subject, his conduct to those around him, but of Thiebault himself. A general estimate of the merits of Frederic concludes the volume, which is on the whole the best of the five (the first). It should by all means be read; it will be read with great pleasure. On the whole, therefore, the first volume, and several parts of each succeeding volume, will either occupy or instruct the reader very agreeably.
Frederic is, however, himself an author, and the student will scarcely be excused if he does not read those parts of his works that are of an historic nature.
The most curious point to observe in these productions of the king, is the deceitfulness of the human heart. The king talks of the rage for conquest, the folly of ambition, the waste of human life, as if he had not been himself one of the most striking specimens of this sort of atrocious character that appears in history.
But his account of his campaigns should be looked at. Though too cold and formal, it is concise, striking, rapid ; the work, as well of a statesman and of a man of letters, as of an accomplished warrior; and therefore deserving, in different parts, the attention, not only of military men, but of all who hope to distinguish themselves on the theatre of the world. I had made large references to them, but omit them from want of time.
I now proceed to another view of his character.
Frederic having tried the powers of his genius, in laying waste the labours of man, and in diminishing the population of his provinces, was next seen to undertake a task more difficult, one in which the leaders of armies and cabinets have not hitherto been equally successful; the task of nourishing the industry, increasing the numbers, and raising up the prosperity and happiness of those they govern.
In this enterprise, however, as in the other, the king seems to have exerted himself with his usual energy and activity; and we are bound to consider, as far as we are able, the movements of his mind, as we before did of his armies; the wisdom of his counsels when his ambition had taken the right direction, and was occupied in labouring to create, not destroy.
To many, this part of the general subject may not be so entertaining as those I have hitherto mentioned; but students must endeavour to instruct themselves as well as search for their amusement; and by those who would deserve the high character of statesmen or men of reflection such portions of reading must be sought for rather than avoided.
It happens that a work was composed and entirely dedicated to this division of our subject by Mirabeau, the celebrated Mirabeau of the French Revolution. As he was the son of the marquis who is so distinguished amongst the French economists, it was natural for him, while resident at Berlin, to turn his attention to the situation of Prussia, and to the efforts which the king had made for the re-establishment and furtherance of the prosperity of his dominions. The monarch had in fact laboured to this effect, but rather after his own particular manner, as one used to threaten and command, as a monarch rather than as a philosopher; and therefore the work of Mirabeau, which is drawn up according to the