CARLYLE'S FREDERICK THE GREAT.*
[Finer NOTICE.] CAELTLE's wonderful talent as a word-painter rises to a culminat- ing point in these last volumes of his story of the great Prussian Frederick. The author of Sartor Resartus has drawn many a striking portrait of the exalted,, godlike hero and the sublime History of Friedrich II. of Prussia, called Frederick the Great. By Thomas Carlyle. Vols. 'Yawl VI. London : Cbapinau and Hall. human beast, but nothing to be compared in richness of colour and marvellous chiaroscuro to this picture of the Hohenzollern Jupiter. All the faults and all the excellencies of the first four volumes of Mr. Carlyle's great work are exhibited to a superlative degree in these final books. There is little or nothing of ' history ' in them. The great historical forces which were at work under and above Frederick, and made the man what he was, Mr. Carlyle does not or will not see. That the Prussian King was tO a great extent the reprgsentative of the powerful liberal party in Germany, which fought at his side against the medieval policy of the House of Hapsburg, Mr. Carlyle does not seem in the least to appreciate; nor does be more than allude to the still more potent fact that Frederick was the champion of Protestantism, not only in theory, but openly acknowledged as such, and that whatever success he gained in the world was owing to the steadfast adherence to him, not of his Pomeranian recruits, but of the devoted and thought- ful Protestant population of Northern Germany, particularly the middle classes. These are things which every student of German history must know, but which Mr. Carlyle, in his lofty way, entirely ignores. He sees no populations; no parties; no religious, social, or political aims and aspirations. He has before him, and paints in appropriate wealth of colours, a flaming celestial hero, borne along upon clouds, and ruling mankind and his Pomeranian recruits by the mere breath of his kingly genius. It is very fine, no doubt, this picture, though, unfortunately, it contains not a morsel of history. However, it is too late to quarrel with Mr. Carlyle on his mode of viewing things, and as he gives us so much, we ought to be thankful for what he gives. Not looking at these volumes as a history, but as a splendid kaleidoscopic picture of a series of historical incidents, they must needs call forth extreme admiration. There is little in the English language equalling, and there is less still surpassing, the graphic power exhibited in these last two volumes from Mr. Carlyle's pen. The panorama opens at the beginning of 1757, the second year of the so-called Seven-Years' War. Russia, France, and Austria, with the German Diet as a tail, are in arms against Frederick, who has at his service 150,000 soldiers, "probably the best that ever were." The French army, "urged by Pompadour and the enthusiasms," is first in the field; but Frederick prefers to attack the Austrians as a beginning, knowing his strength in this quarter. The picture of Frederick's enemies here is not a little curious. "It is unpleasantly notable to what pitch of fixed rage, and hot sullen hatred Austria has now gone; and how the tone has in it a potency of world-wide squealing and droning, such as you no- where heard before. Omnipotence of droning, edged with shrieky squealing, which fills the Universe, not at all in a melodious way. From the depths of the gamut to the shrieky top again,—a dron- ing that has something of porcine or wild-boar character. Figure assembled the wild boars of the world, all or mostly all got together, and each with a knife just stuck into its side, by a felonious indivi- dual too well known,—you will have some notion of the sound of these things." Upon those wild boars the hero-King advanced, meet- ing them near the walls of Prague, on the 2nd of May, 1757. "Before sunset, the whole force lay posted there, and had the romantic City of Prag full in view at their feet. A most romantic, high-piled, many-towered, most unlevel old city, its skylights and gilt steeplecocks glittering in the western sun." After four days' watching on both sides, the Prussian King resolved to attack the enemy, and thereupon ensued the battle of Prague—" Battle of Prag, one of the furious Battles of the World; loud as Doomsday; the very Emblem of which, done on the Piano by females of energy, scatters mankind to flight who love their ears." This " done on the piano by females of energy" is truly unique, even in the great Carlyle gallery of pictures. The battle of Prague, "chaotic whirlwind of blood, dust, mud, artillery thunder, sulphurous rage, and human death and victory," is described graphically, though only in large outlines, owing to the neglect of "lazy Dryaadust " to furnish material. Neverthe- less Dryasdnst has given something. "Gradually, in stirring up those old dead Pedantic record-books, the fact rises on us: silent whirlwinds of old Platt-Deutsch fire, beautifully held down, dwell in those mute masses; better human stuff there is not than that old Teutsch (Dutch, English, Platt-Deutsch, and other varieties) ; and so disciplined here as it never was before or since." Which clearly proves that the main function of "human stuff," Dutch, English, &c., is that of shooting, or being shot. "The general Prussian order this day is: By push of bayonet ; no firing, none, at any rate, till you see the whites of their eyes l' Swift, steady as on the parade-ground, swiftly making up their gaps again, the Prussians advance, on these terms. . . . But how it was done no pen can describe, nor any intellect in clear sequence
understand." Altogether it was a frightful carnage, or, as the "Niebelungen Lied" says, "a murder grim andgreat ;" the Prussian loss being 12,500, and that of the Austrians 13,300 men. To Frederick it was an important victory, though it brought no advantages ; even the city of Prague, under the walls of which the battle was fought, holding out successfully against him. While besieging the city, the Austrians advanced once more, in good order, and, meeting them, the King lost once more in the game of war, sufferings terrible defeat in the battle of Kolin.
The battle—scarcely less famous than teat of Prague, though not "done on the piano by females of energy "—was fought near the town of Kolin, a little to the east of the Bohemian capital, a country inhabited by a purely Sclavonic population, "poor Czech litunlets all of them, dirty, dark, malodorous, ignorant, abhorrent of German speech." In these malodorous villages the Austrian wild boars had fortified themselves, under General Dann. "That easternmost Village of his is spelt Krzeczhorz ' (unpronounceable to mankind), a dirty little place ; in and round which the Battle had its hinge or cardinal point ; the others, as abstruse of spelling, all but equally impossible to the human organs, we will forbear to name, except in case of necessity." It is admitted, in all his- torical works, that this battle of Kolin would have been won by the Prussians, but for the unpardonable interference of the King with his able commander, Moritz of Dessau. It was quite impos- sible for Mr. Carlyle entirely to ignore this fact ; so he tells the story in his own way, painting it over in a characteristic manner to save his hero. The King, we are told, "dashed from his Hill- top in hot haste toward Prince Moritz, General of the centre, intending to direct him upon a short cut ; and hastily said, with Olympian brevity and fire, Face to the right here!' with Jove- like brevity, and in such blaze of Olympian fire as we may imagine. Moritz himself is of brief, crabbed, fiery mind, brief in temper, and answers to the effect, Impossible to attack the enemy here, your Majesty ; postured as they are ; and we with such orders gone abroad !'—' Face to the right, I tell you!' said the King, still more Olympian, and too emphatic for explaining. Moritz, I hope, paused, but rather think he did not, before remon- strating the second time ; neither perhaps was his voice so low as it should have been : it is certain Friedrich dashed quite up to Moritz at this second remonstrance, flashed out his sword (the only time he ever drew his sword in battle) ; and now, gone all to mere Olympian lightning and thunder tone, asks in this attitude, 'Will Er (will He) obey orders, then? '—Moritz, fallen silent of remonstrance, with gloomy rapidity obeys." In consequence of which obedience the battle of Kolin was lost, and fourteen thou- sand Prussians, finest "human stuff" in the world, were hacked to pieces under Austrian sabres and bayonets. All which is smoothed over as follows :— "Friedrich, withdrawing to his Hight again, and looking back on Moritz, finds that he is making right in upon the Austrian line ; which was by no means Friedrich's meaning, had he not been so brief. Friedrich, doubtless with pain, remembers now that he had said only, 'Face to right,' and had then got into Olympian tempest, which left things dark to Moritz ; Halb-links, half to left withal!' he despatches the new order "—but despatches it when too late. In reality, all this talk about "Jove-like," "Olympian," and so forth, is the merest twaddle, unworthy of Mr. Carlyle, and inexcusable even in the desperate attempt of hoisting a pipeclay hero upon his high pede- stal of fame. The whole conduct of Frederick on this occasion, though fatal in the extreme, is finally glossed over as "only excess of brevity towards Moritz, and accident of the Olympian fire breaking out." This is a sort of history which, bottled in eau de Cologne, might be presented at the Prussian Court by a gold- stick in waiting.
Flying in hot haste from the battlefield of Kolin, the " Olym- pian " King found his career stopped by a troop of infantry, fugitives like himself. He tried to drive them back with the heroic exclamation, "Rascals, do you expect to live for ever ?" To which one of the soldiers replied, sensibly enough, "Fritz [Fred], for eightpence a day we have done enough." Which answer is, in truth, the most noteworthy thing in connection with the battle of Kolin, and most other battles of the Olympian Frederick.
There was great rejoicing at Vienna, and among the "loyal solid Austrian People with its pudding-head," at the victory of Kolin.; and corresponding depression in the northern kingdom. Heroic Frederick talked for a moment of suicide, but gave it up on consideration, reflecting, as he wrote to his sister, that "men are always in the hand of what we call Fate "—' cc' qu'on nomme Is ckstin.' Trusting to fate, the King meanwhile remained quiet at the town of Leitmeritz, near the Saxon frontier, drilling his
shattered army, and drawing fresh " human stuff" from Pomerania and the north. When sufficiently strengthened, he resolved to make a bold dash at the French army of invasion coming from the west, under Generals appointed by "Madame Pompadour and the enthusiasms." The dash, a desperate one, succeeded to per- fection, giving rise to the famous encounter of Rossbach, the most disgraceful defeat, or rout, ever suffered by a French army. Mr.
Carlyle, as may be expected, dwells with immense gusto on the details of this celebrated fight. Here is the picture of the battle- field :—" Right across from Weiasenfels, lapped in this crook of the Saale, or washed by it on south side and on east, rises, with extreme laziness, a dull, circular lump of country, six or eight miles in diameter; with Rossbach and half-a-dozen other scraggy, sleepy Hamlets scattered on it ;—which, till the morning of Saturday, 5th November, 1757, had not been notable to any visitor. The topmost point or points, the county people do call Hills, Tanus-Thigel, Polzen-Hugel,—Hill sensible to wagon-horses in those bad loose tracks of sandy mud, but unimpressive on the Tourist, who has to admit that there seldom was so flat a HilL Rising, let us guess, forty yards in the three or four miles it has had. Might be called a perceptibly pot-bellied plain, with more propriety ; flat country slightly puffed up ;—in shape not steeper than the mould of an immense tea-saucer would be. Tea-saucer six miles in diameter, 100 feet in depth, and of irregular contour." This is the general outline of the field of battle, and now follow the details of the scene. "Various Hamlets lie sprinkled about : very sleepy, rusty, irregular little places ; huts and cattle-stalls huddled down as if shaken from a bag ; much straw, thick thatch, and crumbly mud-brick ; but looking warm and peaceable, for the Four-footed and the Two-footed, which latter, if you speak to them, are solid reasonable people, with energetic German eyes and hearts, though so ill-lodged." From off this curious ground, this "tea-saucer six miles in diameter," the French were ingloriously chased by King Frederick. "Seldom, almost never, not even at Crecy or Poictiers, was any Army better beaten. And truly, we must say, seldom did any better deserve it, so far as the Chief Parties went. Yes, Messieurs, this is the petit Marquis de Brande- bourg ; you will know this one when you meet him again." Frederick reaped all the renown of the victory ; but the greater part of it was due in reality to General Seidlitz, commander of the Prussian horse. The whole affair, from first to last, was little more than a brilliant cavalry charge, under which the French succumbed, owing to the utter incapacity of their Pompadour commanders. "From the first, the matter was hopeless," we learn ; " Seidlitz slashing it at such a rate, and plunging through it and again through it thrice, some say four times : so that, in the space of half an hour, this luckless [French] cavalry was all tumbling off the ground ; plunging down hill, in full flight, across its own infantry or whatever obstacle, Seidlitz on the hips of it ; and galloping madly over the horizon,"—in fact right over the brink of the six-mile tea-saucer. The French, if they did not fight well, did run well. "In two days' time, the French had got to Langensalza, fifty-five miles from the Battle- field of Rossbach ; plundering, running, sacre-diett-ing; a wild deluge of molten wreck; filling the Eichsfeld with its waste noises, making night hideous and day too."
King Frederick celebrate.' his victory in an epic considerably more than indecent; but over the details of which Mr. Carlyle chuckles with immense relish. His Prussian Majesty, we learn, "with a wild burst of spiritual enthusiasm, sings the charms of the rearward part of certain men ; and what a royal ecstatic felicity there sometimes is in indisputable survey of the same. He rises to the heights of Anti-Biblical profanity, quoting Moses on the Hill of Vision ; sinks to the bottomless of human or ultra- human depravity, quoting King Nicomedes's experiences on Cm.sar (happily known only to the learned) ; and, in brief, recognizes that there is, on occasion, considerable beauty in that quarter of the human figure, when it turns on you opportunely." The King, Mr. Carlyle will have it, is in these utterances "altogether thee- retiC, scientific ; sings with gusto the glow of beauty you find in that unexpected quarter, —while kicking it deservedly and with enthusiasm. 'To see the '—what shall we call it : seat of honour, in fact, of your enemy :' has it not an undeniable charm ?" Dwel- ling con amore upon this wonderful poem of King Frederick, Mr. Carlyle sums up his opinion of it as follows :—" A certain heartiness and epic greatness of cynicism ; life's nakedness grown almost as if innocent again ; an immense suppressed insuppressible Halm, on the part of this King. Strange Te-Deum indeed. Coming from the very heart, truly, as few of them do."
Is it not really a wonderful phenomenon of our days that hem- worship should run to such lengths? ,,t