"Political Correspondence of Frederick the Great". Aus: The Times vom Montag, dem 2. Juni 1879; S. 4

Frederick the Great

(From our Berlin Correspondent [probably Carl Abel, 1837-1906 ])

The proof-sheets of the second volume of the "Political Correspondence of Frederick the Great" are before me. Could Mr. Carlyle have waited till now before writing his great history he would have doubtless been able to throw much more light on the motives and movements of the hero of the Seven Years' War, for, while maps and battlefields have been open to the inspection of all, most of the docamentary evidence relating to the treaties and intrigues with which that Soldier-King was connected have hitherto been systematically hid away amid the dust of secret archives. The time, however, has now come when in the opinion of those most interested in the reputation of their Royal ancestor, his life-size statue, true to nature, may be completely unveiled. The 24th of January last, therefore, being the 167th birthday anniversary of Frederick the Unique, was signalized by the appearance of the first volume of his "Political Correspondence"- a work which will appear in 30 tomes, and be published at as regular intervals as possible in the course of about 10 years. The voluminous "Œuvres de Frédéric le Grand" merely contain the literary relics and private letters of the King, while the present undertaking, intended to act as a supplement thereto, will produce in evidence the political vouchers of those events whereof he was the soul and centre. These will consist of Frederick's letters to various European Sovereigns, Cabinet orders, autograph directions to his Ministers and representatives at foreign Courts, marginal notices on the reports of Ambassadors and Generals, &c, and confidential directions to agents at home and abroad. This "epoch-making" work is edited by the Royal Academy of Sciences here - a body of which Frederick himself was not only patron, but working member; and the name of Professors Droysen, Duncker, and Von Sybel, who sign the preface, will surely be a guarantee of careful editorial labour. In the volumes before me there is a little that is not from the hand of Frederick himself, for he was a King who guided the ship of State with his own strong hand. Of a Prussian Parliament in his time there was not the faintest trace, all the three Estates sitting, as Mr. Carlyle pithily puts it, under one three-cornered hat. Frederick's Ministers were mere secretaries or amanuenses, passive instruments of the Royal will. The reports of Ambassadors, &c., were read by the King alone, or by him first and his Ministers afterwards. The first volume of his "Political Correspondence," a cleanly-printed octavo of well-nigh 500 pages, contains 650 documents relating to the time between the 3d of June, 1740, and the 31st of December, 1741 - that is, the greater part of the first Silesian War. The second volume, of which an advance copy is before me, closes with the end of 1743, and a volume, for which the work is already well in hand, will be devoted to each of the eventful years (1744 and 1745) of the second Silesian War. Most of the documents now published are in French, Frederican French, the rest being written in a language which by a stretch of courtesy may be called German. For Frederick the Great, though he raised high his native country, almost ruined his native language. It was no wonder that Lessing and other patriotic men were stung with shame at the grotesque and hybrid character which their dear Teutonic tongue had assumed and set themselves to extirpate the hated alien element. Take an example culled at random:
"Man muss sehr obligeant sein, die Sache an sich aber beständig trainiren, bis man siehet wie die Conjuncturen gehen werden."
Or again : -
"Die Vicariatsqualität muss dem offerirten gemeinsamen Concert nicht widersprechen, sonst wird eine Contradiction daraus."
The marginal remarks of the King on the reports of his Ministers are often far-sighted and pregnant, showing the business character of the man to perfection. "Alles sehr gut, aber Sie müssen erst marchiren und agiren" or again, "bon, bon, admirable," varied by "das Contrarium wird sich bald zeigen. Geduld." These volumes throw a good deal of new light on the relations of England to the political complications of the time, and Excellencies Hyndford and Robinson (Ambassadors at Berlin and Vienna respectively) are frequent objects of Frederick's criticism. "Vous avez répondu," writes the King to Podewills, "comme un ange à Hyndford sur le sujet de Robinson." Silesia being virtually in the hands of Frederick, the Queen of Hungary began to show signs of yielding, and Robinson was chosen to act as mediator. His Majesty was highly incensed when his Excellency appeared in the camp at Strehlen with an ultimatum from the Court of Austria, which he deemed insulting to his honour, but his wrath knew no bounds when the undaunted Robinson returned with a fresh proposal to cede part of North Silesia to Frederick in return for his armed support of Austria. "Faites-moi partir," wrote the King to his "dear Privy Minister of State von Podewills" -
"Faites-moi partir ce coquin de négociateur que je ne puis souffrir ; il serait infâme … moi d'entrer en négociation avec l'Autriche et l'Angleterre. . . . Chassez-moi ce coquin de Robinson, et comptez que s'il reste plus de 24 heures à Breslau je prends l'apoplexie! Envoyez-moi un courrier quand vous l'aurez chassé, que je le sache dehors; si je le rencontre ou si je le trouve dans mon chemin je le dévisagerai (!) et sa . . . [epithet omitted] Reine de Hongrie et son fol de Roi d'Angleterre n'ont qu'à être dupe, l'une de son orgueil et l'autre de sa sottise. Adieu; sans plus de délai exécutez mes ordres, et s'il vous demandait encore une audience, refusez-la-lui tout plat."
This is plain speaking with a vengeance, though it is excelled, if possible, by a threat which the King addressed to Podewills, whom His Majesty suspected of favouring an English instead of a French alliance. On the 16th of June, 1741, Frederick wrote to his "dear Minister:" -
"To be plain with you, you fill me with suspicion, and I shall hold you to be bribed by England if you do not execute my orders and conclude with Valory. . . . I forewarn you not to trifle with me; carry out to the letter all my commands, or your head will fall for it without more ado (sans aucune façon). In the second volume, among other rare things, there is a record of a sharp and amusing passage of arms between Frederick and Hyndford, the English Minister at Berlin, which the writers of textbooks on international law would do well to place among their precedents. In the service of my Lord, it seems, was the wife of a certain hotelkeeper Abbé, who was one fine day arrested by her creditors, whereupon Hyndford declared in anger he could no longer perform his ambassadorial functions until satisfaction were given him for this breach of the law of exterritoriality. Frederick, on reflection, thought it better to yield in the matter, but he gave Hyndford such a lecture on the indecency of converting the mansions of foreign Ministers into an asylum for "banqueroutiers et des gens de mauvaise vie" and on the evils which such abuses produced in Imperial Rome, as must have convinced my Lord that His Majesty was no less qualified to fill a chair of history than a throne. Frederick wrote to my Lord : -
"Je ne puis m'empêcher de vous dire que votre lettre en général m'a fait faire bien des reflexions, car si dans un temps où la cour d'Angleterre ne joue certainement pas le premier rôle dans l'Europe, ses envoyés tiennent des discours si fiers [alluding to Hyndford's expostulation], avec quel ton impérieux et despotique ne parleront-ils pas si la fortune les favorise?"
But Frederick could evidently assume a serious face for the purpose of reprimanding, like the schoolmaster whom duty compels to look angrily grave when punishing a pupil whose offence nevertheless affords him a certain degree of secret amusement. Writing to Podewills about the same time, he remarks: - "Pour tranquilliser Valory je lui ai conté l'histoire de la banqueroutière, avec tous les enjolivements dont j'ai été capable!" But to treat your readers to all that is interesting from an English point of view merely in the two volumes before me would be to reproduce the greater part of their contents ; and those, therefore, who prefer to draw history from the wood, as it were, instead of drinking it from bottles, would do well to study in their original form the revelations of the life and times of Frederick now vouchsafed. For they throw a light on the character of the third King of Prussia procurable from no other source, and yet they cannot but leave a puzzling impression as to the true character of the man. They will prove him to have possessed the most composite of natures, to have merited the title "Great" by combining in himself various qualities of head and heart, any one of which would make a man distinguished ; nay, they strongly tempt the reader now and then to conclude that Frederick was "a mighty mixture of the base and great." For no one can read these volumes without being persuaded that, when Frederick could not achieve his aim by the open-eyed courage of a Caesar, he could have recourse to the sinious, unscrupulous statecraft of a Machiavelli.