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In a few days his resolution was known with regard to the tall regiment; for some recruits being offered him, he rejected them; and this body of giants, by continued disregard, mouldered away.
He treated his mother with great respect, ordered that she should bear the title of Queen-mother, and that, instead of addressing him as His Majesty, she should only call him son.
As he was passing soon after between Berlin and Potsdam, a thousand boys who had been marked out for military service surrounded his coach, and cried out, “Merciful king, deliver us from our slavery," He promised them their liberty, and ordered the next day that the badge should be taken off.
He still continued that correspondence with learned men which he began when he was prince; and the eyes of all scholars, a race of mortals formed for dependence, were upon him, as a man likely to renew the times of patronage, and to emulate the bounties of Lewis the Fourteenth.
It soon appeared that he was resolved to govern with very little ministerial assistance : he took cognizance of every thing with his own eyes; declared that in all contrarieties of interest between him and his subjects, the publick good should have the preference; and in one of the first ex. ertions of regal power banished the prime minister and favourite of his father, as one that had betrayed his master, and abused his trust.
He then declared his resolution to grant a general toleration of religion, and among other liberalities of concession allowed the profession of Free Masonry. It is the great taint of his character, that he has given reason to doubt, whether this toleration is the effect of charity or indifference, whether he means to support good men of every religion, or considers all religions as equally good.
There had subsisted for some time in Prussia an order called the Order for favour, which, according to its denomination, had been conferred with very little distinction. The king instituted the Order for merit, with which he honoured those whom he considered as deserving. There were some who thought their merit not sufficiently recompensed by this new title; but he was not very ready to grant pecuniary rewards. Those who were most in his favour he sometimes presented with snuff-boxes, on which was inscribed Amitie augmente le prix.
He was however charitable if not liberal, for he ordered the magistrates of the several districts to be very attentive to the relief of the poor; and if the funds established for that use were not sufficient, permitted that the deficiency should be supplied out of the revenues of the town.
One of his first cares was the advancement of learning. Immediately upon his accession, he wrote to Rollin and Voltaire, that he desired the continuance of their friendship; and sent for Mr. Maupertuis, the principal of the French academicians, who passed a winter in Lapland, to verify, by the mensuration of a degree near the Pole, the Newtonian doctrine of the form of the earth. He requested of Maupertuis to come to Berlin, to settle an academy, in terms of great ardour and great condescension.
At the same time, he showed the world that
literary amusements were not likely, as has more than once happened to royal students, to withdraw him from the care of the kingdom, or make him forget his interest. He began by reviving a claim to Herstal and Hermal, two districts in the
possession of the bishop of Liege. When he sent his commissary to demand the homage of the inhabitants, they refused him admission, declaring that they acknowledged no sovereign but the bishop. The king then wrote a letter to the bishop, in which he complained of the violation of his right, and the contempt of his authority, charged the prelate with countenancing the late act of disobedience, and required an answer in two days.
In three days the answer was sent, in which the bishop founds his claim to the two lordships upon a grant of Charles the Fifth, guarantied by France and Spain; alleges that his predecessors had enjoyed this grant above a century, and that he never intended to infringe the rights of Prussia ; but as the house of Brandenburg had always made some pretensions to that territory, he was willing to do what other bishops had offered, to purchase that claim for a hundred thousand crowns.
To every man that knows the state of the feudal countries, the intricacy of their pedigrees, the confusion of their alliances, and the different rules of inheritance that prevail in different places, it will appear evident, that of reviving antiquated claims there can be no end, and that the possession of a century is a better title than can commonly be produced. So long a prescription supposes an acquiescence in the other claimants; and that acquiescence supposes also some reason, perhaps now unknown, for which the claim was forborn.
Whether this rule could be considered as valid in the controversy between these sovereigns may however be doubted, for the bishop's answer seems to imply, that the title of the house of Brandenburg had been kept alive by repeated claims, though the seizure of the territory had been hitherto forborn.
The king did not suffer his claim to be subjected to any altercations, but, having published a declaration in which he charged the bishop with violence and injustice, and remarked that the feudal laws allowed every man, whose possession was withheld from him, to enter it with an armed force, he immediately despatched two thousand soldiers into the controverted countries, where, they lived without control, exercising every kind of military tyranny, till the cries of the inhabitants forced the bishop to relinquish them to the quiet government of Prussia.
This was but a petty acquisition; the time was now come when the king of Prussia was to form and execute greater designs. On the 9th of October, 1740, half Europe was thrown into confusion by the death of Charles the Sixth, emperour of Germany, by whose death all the hereditary dominions of the house of Austria descended, according to the pragmatick sanction, to his eldest daughter, who was married to the duke of Lorrain, at the time of the emperour's death, duke of Tuscany.
By how many securities the pragmatick sanction was fortified, and how little it was regarded when those securities became necessary: how many claimants started up at once to the several dominions of the house of Austria : how vehemently their pretensions were enforced, and how many
invasions were threatened or attempted: the distresses of the emperour's daughter, known for several years by the title only of the Queen of Hungary, because Hungary was the only country to which her claim had not been disputed: the firmness with which she struggled with her difficulties, and the good fortune by which she surmounted them : the narrow plan of this essay will not suffer me to relate. Let them be told by some other writer of more leisure and wider intelligence.
Upon the emperour's death, many of the German princes fell upon the Austrian territories as upon a dead carcass, to be dismembered
them without resistance. Among these, with whatever justice, certainly with very little generosity, was the king of Prussia, who, having assembled his troops, as was imagined to support the pragmatick sanction, on a sudden entered Silesia with thirty thousand men, publishing a declaration, in which he disclaims any design of injuring the rights of the house of Austria, but urges his claim to Silesia, as rising from ancient conventions of family and confraternity between the house of Brandenburg and the princess of Silesia, and other honourable titles. He says, the fear of being defeated by other pretenders to the Austrian dominions obliged him to enter Silesia without any previous expostulation with the queen, and that he shall strenuously espouse the interests of the house of Austria.
Such a declaration was, I believe, in the opinion of all Europe, nothing less than the aggravation of hostility by insult, and was received by the Austrians with suitable indignation. The king pursued his
purpose, marched forward, and in the frontiers of Silesia made a speech to his followers, in which