« ZurückWeiter »
ter, 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 Oc- . tober, 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 among 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 he told them, that he considered them rather “as friends than subjects, that the troops of Brandenburg had been always eminent for their bravery, that they would always fight in his presence, and that he would recompense those who should distinguish themselves in his service, rather as a father than as a king."
The civilities of the great are never thrown away. The soldiers would naturally follow such a leader with alacrity; especially because they expected no opposition: but human expectations are frequently deceived.
Entering thus suddenly into a country which he was supposed rather likely to protect than to invade, he acted for some time with absolute authority; but supposing that this submission would not always last, he endeavoured to persuade the queen to a cession of Silesia, imagining that she would easily be persuaded to yield what was already lost. He therefore ordered his ministers to declare at Vienna, “that he was ready to guaranty all the German dominions of the house of Austria : that he would conclude a treaty with Austria, Russia, and the maritime powers: that he would endeavour that the duke of Lorrain should be electedemperour, and believed that he could accomplish it: that he would immediately advance to the queen two millions of florins: that, in recompense for all this, he required Silesia to be yielded to him.”
These seem not to be the offers of a prince very much convinced of his own right. He afterwards moderated his claim, and ordered his minister to hint at Vienna, that half of Silesia would content him.
The queen answered, that though the king al