CARLYLE'S FREDERICK THE GREAT.*
THE new instalment of Mr. Carlyle's magnum opus embraces a period of thirteen years, including the second Silesian War, the subsequent ten years of peace, and the commencement of the Seven Years' War. The main course of events which took place during these thirteen years is sketched by Mr. Carlyle in his well-known graphic manner, the hero•king being established as the centre of the picture, and receiving unlimited praise, and his enemies and adversaries being buried under mountains of obloquy and ridicule. Here are Frederick's noble qualities, as enumerated • History of Friedrich II. of Prussia, called Frederick the Great. By Thomas. Carlyle. Vo'. IV. London : Chapman and Hall. by Mr. Carlyle :—" He is full of silent finesse, this young king; soon sees into his man, and can lead him strange dances on
occasion. In no man is there a plentifuller vein of cunning, nor of a finer kind. Lynx-eyed perspicacity, inexhaustible contrivance, prompt ingenuity—a man very dangerous to play with at games of skill. And it is cunning regulated always by a noble sense of honour, too ; instinctively abhorrent of attorneyism and the swindler element : a cunning, sharp as the vulpine, yet always strictly human, which is rather beautiful to see. This is one of Friedrich's marked endowments." But an endowment held up to still higher admiration is the hero-king's " rapidity and energy and prompt weight of stroke, such as was seldom met with." The quintessence of Frederick is that " he is a very demon for fighting, and the stoutest king walking the earth." For, says Mr. Carlyle, "diplomacy is clouds; beating of your enemies is sea and land,"—a form of political morality which must sound very agreeable, just now, to the ears of Herr von Bismark and his consorts at Berlin. It is curious, indeed, that while a great English author• is presenting Frederick's robbery of Silesia in the form of an epople, the semi-official Prussian newspapers get eloquent in instituting a compariscn between the heroic deeds of the soldiers of William I. in Schleswig and the doings of the hero-king at the commencement of his reign. The comparison is not so bad, for it was undoubtedly after the same fashion throughout that the Hohenzollern kingdom was made, namely, by "prompt weight of stroke," and, still more, by "a plentiful vein of cunning—a cunning sharp as the vulpine."
Mr. Carlyle's new volume is divided into three parts; the first treating of the Silesian war, 1744-45 ; the second of the next following ten years of peace, 1740-56 ; and the last of the opening period in the Seven Years' War•, 1756-57. Before commencing the relation of the Silesian campaign, Mr. Carlyle goes a little out of his way to demolish one of the foes of the hero-king, General Mentzel, an Austrian officer, doing duty on the Rhine against Frederick's French allies. General Mentzel, " face of him huge and red as that of the foggiest rising moon, stood, looking over into the Lorraine country, when, lo, whistling slightly through the summer air, a rifle ball from some sentry on the French side, took the brain of him, or the belly of him ; and he rushed down at once, a totally collapsed monster, and mere heap of dead ruin, never to trouble mankind more." The sketch is graphic enough, were it only .just and fair. It is difficult to see why an officer fighting against the Great Frederick and his French mercenary allies should necessarily be a " collapsed monster," while the soldiery on the other side are all heroes. Against Prussians, severity is shown only when unsuccessful, or when they are personally disliked by the hero-king. Here is a splendid sketch of one of the latter class, the Duke of Weiseenfels. He is described as "on the verge of sixty ; an extremely polite, but weakish old gentleman ; accidentally preserved in history. One of those conspicuous Human-Clothes-Horses' (phantasmal all but the digestive part), which abound in that Eighteenth -Century and others like it, and distress your historical studies. Poor old soul ; now Feld-marschall and Commander-in-Chief. Has been in Turk and other Wars, with little profit to himself or others. Used to like his glass, they say ; is still very poor, though Dake in reality as well as title. He has still one other beating to get in this world, from Friedrich next year." King Louis XV. of France is not spared either ; for though for a while the ally of Frederick, he fell off before long, and became an enemy. " At Freyburg, the Most Christian King and his army are up to the knees in mud, conquering Hither Austria; besieg- ing Freyburg with much difficulty, owing to the wet,—besieging there with what energy, a spectacle to the world! And has, for the present, but one wife, no mistress either I With rapturous eyes France looks on ; with admiration too big for words. Vol- taire, I have heard, made pilgrimage to Freyburg, with rhymed panegyric in his pocket ; saw those miraculous operations of .a Most Christian King miraculously awakened ; and had the honour to present said Panegyric, and be seen, for the first time, by the royal eyes, which did not seem to relish him much."—Whatever readers may think of the philosophy of Mr. Carlyle, all must agree that as a master of word-painting he is unsurpassed.
As in the preceding volumes of his history of Frederick, so in this last Mr. Carlyle says very little of the people of Prussia, but confines his whole attention to the hero-king. Yet the period described was a very remarkable one as regards the political and social development of the middle and lower classes, and their participation in the government of the country. In fact, `Frederick's successes in the cabinet and the field were to a great extent based on the hearty co-operation of the rising industrial classes, and the readiness with which they granted him supplies of men and money. The King himself fully recognized this, and on all occasions put himself forward as the champion of the middle classes against the power of the feudal aristocracy, which up to that time had been the ruling body in the State. His en- couragement of trade and commerce raised a class of citizens hitherto unknown, or nearly so,. in Prussia ; while his new code of legislation, called into life by the celebrated Cocceji, gave the death-stroke to feudalism, and the sway of the noble landowner over the active trader and the industrious peasant-proprietor. But of this most important movement Mr. Carlyle says nothing, and, indeed, seems to know nothing. As far as can be judged from the four volumes hitherto published, the biographer of Frederick does not understand at all the true political and social history of either Prussia or Germany. His mind filled with the stories told in the official "CEuvres de Frederic"—which are constantly quoted and relied upon as the most authentic version of the gospel of
the hero-king—he sees nothing in all Prussia but one great man, around whom a couple of millions of little mannikins dance as planets around the sun. Frederick, " the stoutest king walking the earth," is the grand pivot on which hinges the edifice of the State—a Jupiter from whom all is coming, to whom all is return- ing, and to the strength of whom and " silent finesse " every- thing is due. The view thus presented, it is unnecessary to say, will satisfy few earnest historical students, however much they may admire Mr•. Carlyle's graphic sketches of collapsed monsters, extremely polite but weakish old gentlemen, and kings and their armies up to the knees in mud. A clear account of the political organization of .Prussia during the time of the Great King, of the rise of its towns, the decaying influence of the noblesse, the income and expenditure of the Government, the state of educa- tion, and the growth of manufacturing and commercial industry, could have done no harm aside of these clever sketches, and might have-improved the text in -the eyes of many who have the weak- ness to believe that the edifice of modern civilization was built up not solely by fighting men, but also, to a small extent, by work- ing mechanics and low-born " villains," who handle the pickaxe and spade in the sweat of their brow. However, it is wrong, perhaps, to cavil at what Mr. Carlyle offers ; and though his work cannot be accepted as either a true history of Frederick II. or of Prussia, it yet is undoubtedly one of the most notable and striking productions of modern literature.
It is in keeping with the whole plan of Mr. Carlyle's work that in the new volume twice as much space is devoted to the three years of n•ar as to the ten years of peace. But, on the other hand, the sketch of the ten peace years, brief as it is, is decidedly the most interesting, abounding in highly-coloured pictures of the leading men of Frederick's Court. Of course, the King and Court alone figure on the stage, the people and its doings being entirely ignored. Much importance is given to the intercourse of Frederick with Voltaire, and the friends and foes of the latter, such as Madame Du Chatelet, "a brown geometric lady," and President Maupertuis, "the Flattener of the Earth," and pro- fessor of " the Sciences called pure." There are few things more graphic, striking, and picturesque than these sketches, and it is impossible to read them without being delighted with Mr. Carlyle's inimitable art of word-painting. The delineation of Voltaire and his " divine Emilie " is exquisite in its cynicism. '• Figure to yourself a lean lady, with big arms and long legs; small bead, and countenance losing itself in a cloudery of head-dress ; oocked nose and pair of small greenish eyes ; complexion tawny, and mouth too big : this was the divine Emilie, whom Voltaire celebrates to the stars. Loaded to extravagance with ribbons, laces, face-patches, jewels, and female ornaments ; determined to be sumptuous in spite of economics, and pretty in spite of nature . . . And then by her side the. thin long figure of Voltaire, that Anatomy of an Apollo, affecting worship of 'her; that thin long Gentleman, with high red-heeled shoes, and the daintiest polite attitudes and paces; in superfine coat, laced hat under arm ; nose and under lip ever more like coalescing (owing to decay of teeth), but two eyes shining on you like carbuncles." The two lived together "in a kind of permanent way," until the lady died, when Voltaire selected a " female president" in the person of " Niece Denis, a gadding, flaunting, unreasonable, would-be-fashionable female," who, however, did not follow him to Berlin in- his fifth and last visit to King Frederick and the Prussian Court. The visit is described at immense length as a "visit mach misunder- stood in France and England down to this day. By no means sorted out into accuracy and intelligibility, but left as (what is saying a great deal) probably the wastest chaos of all the sections of Friedrich's History." It was the misfortune of Voltaire to fall in at Berlin, soon after his arrival, with a certain Abraham Hirsch, who has the honour of being painted by Mr. Carlyle in full length as follows : " The man is of oily Semitic type, not old in years—there is a fraternal Hirsch, and also a paternal, who is head of the firm—and this young one seems to be already old in Jew art. Speaks French and other dialects, in a Hebrew, partially intelligible manner; supplies Voltaire with diamonds for his stage-dresses, as we perceive. To all appearance, nearly destitute of human intellect, but with abundance of vulpine instead. Very cunning, stupid seemingly, as a mule otherwise; and, on the whole, resembling in various points of character a mule put into breeches and made acquainted with the uses of money." A very ugly law-suit with this " mule put into breeches" was the first thing to spoil Voltaire's sojourn at the Prussian Court, and this was followed by a more serious quarrel with some of his own countrymen, chief among them President Maupertuis, the " Flattener of the Earth." King Frederick, disliking these broils, took the part of Voltaire's enemies, which led to the ultimate explosion.
The story of Voltaire's quarrel with Maupertuis is told in a most amusing manner. " Maupertuis, not many months ago, had in Two successive Papers, I think Two, communicated to the Academy a Discovery of Metaphysico-Mathematical, or alto- gether Metaphysical nature, on the 'Laws of Motion ;'—Dis- covery which he has, since that, brought to complete perfection, and sent forth to the Universe at large, in his sublime little 'Book of Cosmology;'—grateful Academy striving to admire, and believe, with its Perpetual President, that the Discovery was sub- lime to a degree ; second only to the Flattening of the Earth ; and would probably stand thenceforth as a milestone in the
progress of Human Thought It is well known there have been, to the metaphysical head, difficulties almost insuperable as to How, in the System of Nature, Motion is? How, in the name of Wonder, it can be; and even, whether it is at all? Difficulties to the metaphysical head, sticking its nose into the gutter there;— not difficult to my readers and me, who can at all times walk across the room and triumphantly get over them. But stick your nose into any gutter, entity, or object, this of Motion or another, with obstinacy,—you will easily drown if that be your determination l—Suffice it for us to know in this matter that Maupertuis, intensely watching Nature, has discovered, that the key to her enigma is that Nature is superlatively thrifty in this affair of motion; that she employs for• every Motion done or doable, a Minimum of Action. . . . . Perpetual President Maupertuis hav- ing surprised Nature in this manner, read Papers upon it to an Academy listening with upturned eyes." Voltaire professed scepticism regarding the discoveries of the Perpetual President of the Berlin Academy, and, not content with this, attacked Maupertuis in anonymous pamphlets and other satirical works, which publications naturally gave great offence in • the at- tacked quarter. " We know the sublime Perpetual President, in his yellow wig and sublime supremacy of Pure Science. A: gloomy set figure; affecting the sententious, the emphatic, and a composed impregnability,—like the Jove of -Science. With in:LI mensities of gloomy vanity, not compressible at all times." Vol- taire had an easy game in his inroads upon this solemn Mauper- tuis; but soon found that the "Flattener of the Earth" was backed by the King. The•fact was Frederick was getting tired of Vol- taire, and was glad to find an occasion to- get rid of him. Vain, vacillating, and fond of constant change, the hero-king had been sufficiently amused, for a season or-two, by the esprit and clever sallies of the great author, and having no more need of hina•—all the royal manuscripts, written in execrable French, being duly tier- reeted and revised—kicked him out of doors. By order of Frede- rick, one of Voltaire's squibs against Maupertuis was burned by the common hangman—a proceeding quite in the Prussian heroic style. The inceused author thereupon left the great-King, as he could not well do otherwise, and set out on his 'return to Paris. King and author parted apparently on friendly terms, Voltaire being allowed to keep his Prussian decorations and some presents of manuscripts, consisting of doggrel verses of Royal manufacture. But Voltaire had scarcely left when the Xing again changed his mind in regard to these presents, and to get them back had Vol- taire arrested, in the most brutal manner, at Frankfort on the Main. The story is too well known to need repetition. Mr. Carlyle, as may be expected, defends Frederick in the whole tran- saction, but in a feeble manner, evidently aware that the case he is pleading is a very bad one. The scandalous act, be argues, was "done by Fredersdorf; Friedrich absent in Silesia, or in Preussen even, having no band in it, except the original Order left with Fredersdorf." This except is fatal, as Mr. Carlyle himself ought to see, to the whole defence. But there is another argument, namely, that the whole affair was but "a wretched street-riot hubbub," and that "M. de Voltaire had a talent for speech, but lamentably wanted that of silence." Well, there are people in the world who turn round when they are kicked, and protest against the action, even should the kicker be " the stoutest king walking the earth."
The Frederick-Voltaire intercourse, the description of which fills some ninety pages, is a master-piece of clever painting throughout ; but it is surpassed by an intervening chapter, entitled " Candidatus Linsenbarth (quasi Leutilbeard') visits Berlin." This is the gem of the whole volume as far as graphic description goes. Nothing more exquisite than the delineation of poor Linsenbarth, "a man skilled in Hermeneutics, Hebraics, Polemics, Thetics, Exegetics, Pastorale, Morale, Practical Chris- tianity, and the Philosophy of Zeno, carried to perfection;" who came to Berlin with a bag of 9,000 farthings, which lie had saved as a teacher, but which he lost by confiscation. Mr. Carlyle's contempt of scholastic knowledge, scientific study,— " the Sciences called Pure,"—and all inactive pursuits, finds vent in this chapter in satiric descriptions unsurpassed for brilliancy and picturesqueness. Of this story of the learned " Candidatus," as well as Mr. Carlyle's sketch of the commencement of the Seven Years' War, a " huge imbroglio of potentialities and counter- potentialities," and "a general element of sulphurous powder- smoke," "the great guns going like Jove's thunder," &c., more in our next.