« ZurückWeiter »
CHARLES FREDERICK, the present king of Prussia, whose actions and designs now keep Europe in attention, is the eldest son of Frederick William by Sophia Dorothea, daughter of George the First king of England. He was born January 24, 1711-12. Of his early years nothing remarkable has been transmitted to us. As he advanced towards manhood, he became remarkable by his disagreement with his father.
The late king of Prussia was of a disposition violent and arbitrary, of narrow views, and vehement passions, earnestly engaged in little pursuits, or in schemes terminating in some speedy consequence, without any plan of lasting advantage to himself or his subjects, or any prospect of distant events. He was therefore always busy, though no effects of his activity ever appeared ; and always eager, though he had nothing to gain. His behaviour was to the last degree rough and savage. The least provocation, whether designed or accidental, was returned by blows, which he did not always forbear to the queen and princesses.
* First printed in the Literary Magazine for 1756
From such a king and such a father it was not any enormous violation of duty in the immediate heir of a kingdom sometimes to differ in opinion, and to maintain that difference with decent pertinacity. A prince of a quick sagacity and comprehensive knowledge must find many practices in the conduct of affairs which he could not approve, and some which he could scarcely for
bear to oppose.
The chief pride of the old king was to be master of the tallest regiment in Europe. He therefore brought together from all parts men above the common military standard. To exceed the height of six feet was a certain recommendation to notice, and to approach that of seven a claim to distinction. Men will readily go where they are sure to be caressed; and he had therefore such a collection of giants as perhaps was never seen in the world before.
To review this towering regiment was his daily pleasure, and to perpetuate it was so much his care, that when he met a tall woman, he immediately commanded one of his Titanian retinue to marry her, that they might propagate procerity, and produce heirs to the father's habiliments.
In all this there was apparent folly, but there was no crime. The tall regiment made a fine show at an expense not much greater, when once it was collected, than would have been bestowed upon common men. But the king's military pastimes were sometimes more pernicious. He maintained a numerous army, of which he made no other use than to review and to talk of it ; and when he, or perhaps his emissaries, saw a boy, whose form and sprightliness promised a future
soldier, he ordered a kind of badge to be put about his neck, by which he was marked out for the service, like the sons of Christian captives in Turkey; and his parents were forbidden to destine him to any other mode of life.
This was sufficiently oppressive, but this was not the utmost of his tyranny. He had learned, though otherwise perhaps no very great politician, that to be rich was to be powerful; but that the riches of a king ought to be seen in the opulence of his subjects, he wanted either ability or benevolence to understand. He therefore raised exorbitant taxes from every kind of commodity and possession, and piled up the money in his treasury, from which it issued no more. How the land which had paid taxes once was to pay them a second time, how imposts could be levied without commerce, or commerce continued without money, it was not his custom to inquire. Eager to snatch at money, and delighted to count it, he felt new joy at every receipt, and thought himself enriched by the impoverishment of his dominions.
By which of these freaks of royalty the prince was offended, or whether, as perhaps more frequently happens, the offences of which he complained were of a domestick and personal kind, it is not easy to discover. But his resentment, whatever was its cause, rose so high, that he resolved not only to leave his father's court, but his territories, and to seek a refuge among the neighbouring or kindred princes. It is generally believed that his intention was to come to England, and live under the protection of his uncle, till his father's death, or change of conduct, should give him liberty to return.
His design, whatever it was, he concerted with an officer in the army whose name was Kat, a man in whom he placed great confidence, and whom, having chosen him for the companion of his flight, he necessarily trusted with the preparatory measures. A prince cannot leave his country with the speed of a meaner fugitive. Something was to be provided, and something to be adjusted. And, whether Kat found the agency of others necessary, and therefore was constrained to admit some partners of the secret; whether levity or vanity incited him to disburden himself of a trust that swelled in his bosom, or to show to a friend or mistress his own importance; or whether it be in itself difficult for princes to transact any thing in secret ; so it was, that the king was informed of the intended flight, and the prince and his favourite, a little before the time settled for their departure, were arrested, and confined in different places.
The life of princes is seldom in danger ; the hazard of their irregularities falls only on those whom ambition or affection combines with them. The king, after an imprisonment of some time, set his son at liberty; but poor Kat was ordered to be tried for a capital crime. The court examined the cause, and acquitted him ; the king remanded him to a second trial, and obliged his judges to condemn him. In consequence of the sentence thus tyrannically extorted, he was publickly beheaded, leaving behind him some papers of reflections made in the prison, which were afterwards printed, and among others an admonition to the prince, for whose sake he suffered, not to foster in himself the opinion of destiny, for that
a Providence is discoverable in every thing round
This cruel prosecution of a man who had committed no crime, but by compliance with influence not easily to be resisted, was not the only act by which the old king irritated his son. A lady with whom the prince was suspected of intimacy, perhaps more than virtue allowed, was seized, I know not upon what accusation, and, by the king's order, notwithstanding all the reason of decency and tenderness that operate in other countries, and other judicatures, was publickly whipped in the streets of Berlin.
At last, that the prince might feel the power of a king and a father in its utmost rigour, he was in 1733 married against his will to the princess Elizabetha Christina of Brunswick Lunenburg Beveren. He married her indeed at his father's command, but without professing for her either esteem or affection, and, considering the claim of parental authority fully satisfied by the external ceremony, obstinately and perpetually during the life of his father refrained from her bed. The poor princess lived about seven years in the court of Berlin, in a state which the world has not often seen, a wife without a husband, married so far as to engage
person to a man who did not desire her affection, and of whom it was doubtful whether he thought himself restrained from the power of repudiation by an act performed under evident compulsion.
Thus he lived secluded from publick business, in contention with his father, in alienation from his wife. This state of uneasiness he found the only means of softening. He diverted his mind