He was on the eve of a great day. To-morrow he would live again, to-morrow he would be free; this time it was no chimera, no dream—he must succeed.
"Yes, my plan cannot fail," murmured Trenck, as he sat upon his stone seat and gazed at the iron door, which had just closed behind the Commandant Bruckhausen. "My cruel jailer has discovered nothing, carefully as he searched my cell; this time I have dug no mines, broken no walls; this time I shall pass through that door, my comrades will greet me joyfully, and the poor prisoner shall be the mighty commander of the fortress. Only one night more, one single night of patience, and life, and love, and the world shall again belong to me. Oh, I feel as if I would go mad with joy. I have had strength to endure misfortunes, but perhaps the rapture of freedom may be fatal. My God! my God! if I should lose my senses! if the light of the sun should scorch my brain! if the hum of the busy world should crush my spirit!"
He lifted his hands in terror to his brow; he felt as if wrapped in flames, as if fire were rising from his brain; the chains rattled around him with unearthly sounds. "The slightest error, the least forgetfulness would endanger my plan. I will be quiet—I will repeat once more all that we have agreed upon. But first away with these slavish chains, to-morrow I shall be a free man; I will commence my role to-day."
He removed the handcuffs, and with his free right hand loosened the girdle from his waist, at the point where the blacksmith, who fastened it upon him, told him it might be opened by a pressure light as a feather. Now he was free; he stretched with delight his thin, meagre form, and let his arms swing in the air as if to prove their muscle.
This was a sweet, a wonderful prelude to freedom; many weeks and months he had worked upon these chains to prepare for the moment of freedom. Now these chains had fallen. He was already a free man; he cared not for these dark, damp walls. He did not see them; he was already without, where the sun was shining, the birds were singing; where the blue arch of heaven looked down upon the blooming earth. What did he care for the death-like stillness which surrounded him? he heard the noise in the streets; he saw men running here and there in busy haste; he listened to their bright conversation, their merry laughter; he mixed among them with lively greeting, and shared their joys and cares.
Suddenly he again pressed his brow fearfully, and cried; "I shall go mad! A thousand dancing pictures and happy faces are swarming around me; I shall go mad! But no, I will control myself; I will be calm." He raised his head with his accustomed bold defiance. "I will look freedom in the face; my eyelids shall not quiver and my heart shall beat calmly. I will be quiet and thoughtful. I will think it all over once more. Listen to me, oh friend! you, who have heard all my sighs and my despair; you, who know my misery; listen to me, oh gloomy cell. You have always been faithful; you have never wished to forsake or leave me; and when I struggled to escape, you called me always back. But this is our last day together; you shall hear my confession, I will tell you all my plans, by what means I shall escape from you, my true friend, my dark, dreary cell. Know first that this garrison is composed of nine hundred men, who are much dissatisfied. It will not be difficult to win them, particularly if they are well bribed. Besides this, there are two majors and two lieutenants conspiring with me; they will tell their soldiers what to do. The guard at the star-port, is composed of but fifteen men, and if they do not obey me willingly, we will know how to compel obedience. At the end of the star-port lies the city gate. At this only twelve men and one officer are stationed; these we shall easily overpower. On the other side, close to the gate, the Austrian Captain von Kimsky is awaiting me with the remainder of the prisoners of war. All the officers, who have pledged themselves to assist my undertaking, are concealed in a safe house rented for this purpose. At my first call they will rush forward and fall upon the guard; we will overpower them and enter the city. There other friends await us; one of them, under some pretext, holds in his quarters arms for his company, and at my call he will join me with his armed band. Oh my God! my God! I see every thing so plainly and clearly before me. I see myself rushing joyfully through the streets, dashing into the casemates, which contain nine thousand prisoners. I call to them: 'Up, comrades, up; I am Frederick von Trenck, your captain and your leader; arm yourselves and follow me.' I hear them greet me joyfully and cry, 'Long live Trenck!' They take their arms and we rush to the other casemates, where seven thousand Austrian and Russian prisoners are confined. We free them, and I head a little army of sixteen thousand men. Magdeburg is mine; the fortress, the magazine of the army, the treasury, the arsenal, all is in our power. I shall conquer all for Maria Theresa. Oh, King Frederick! King Frederick! I shall avenge myself on you for these long years of misery, for the martyrdom of this fearful imprisonment. Trenck will not be obliged to leave Magdeburg; he will drive away the Prussians, and make himself master."
He laughed so loudly that the old walls echoed the sound, and a wailing sigh seemed to glide along the building. Trenck started and looked timidly around him.
"I am still alone," he murmured, "no one has heard my words; no, no one but you," he continued cheerfully, "my old silent friend, my faithful prison. To-morrow morning the officer on guard will enter and order the sentinels to remove the bed; as soon as they enter I shall rush out and lock the door. The sentinels being locked up, I put on the clothes which are lying in readiness for me in the passage, and then forward to my soldiers. I shall distribute gold freely among them—a friend will meet me with the money at the house of Captain von Kleist, and if he has not sufficient, Amelia has richly supplied me. Arise, arise from your grave, my secret treasures."
He crouched close to the wall and removed the mortar and chalk carefully; he then drew out a stone and took from under it a purse full of gold.
His eye, accustomed to the darkness, saw the gold through the silk net; he nodded to it and laughed with delight as he poured it out and played madly with it. His countenance suddenly assumed an earnest expression.
"Poor Amelia," he murmured softly, "you have sacrificed your life, your beauty, and your youth for me. With never-failing zeal you have moved around me like my guardian angel, and how am I repaying you? By taking from your brother, King Frederick, his finest fortress, his money, his provisions; by compelling you and yours to fly from a city which no longer belongs to you, but to the Empress of Austria, your enemy. With your money I have taken this city; Amelia, you are ignorant of this now, and when you learn it, perhaps you will curse me and execrate the love which has poisoned your whole life. Oh, Amelia! Amelia, forgive me for betraying you also. My unfortunate duty is forcing me onward, and I must obey. Yes," he said, springing from his seat, "I must yield to my fate, I must be free again—I must be a man once more; I can sit no longer like a wild animal in his cage, and tell my grief and my despair to the cold walls. I must reconquer life—I must again see the sun, the world, and mankind—I must live, suffer, and act."
He walked violently to and fro, his whole being was in feverish expectation and excitement, and he felt alarmed. Suddenly he remained standing; pressing his two hands against his beating temples, he murmured:
"I shall indeed go mad. Joy at my approaching deliverance confuses my poor head; I will try to sleep, to be calm—collect my strength for to-morrow."
He lay down upon his miserable couch, and forced himself to be quiet and silent—not to speak aloud to himself in his lonely cell, as he was accustomed to do. Gradually the mad tension of his nerves relaxed, gradually his eyes closed, and a soft, beneficial slumber came over him.
All was still in the dark cell; nothing was to be heard but the loud breathing of the sleeper; but even in sleep, visions of life and liberty rejoiced his heart—his face beamed with heavenly joy; he murmured softly, "I am free!—free at last!"
The hours passed away, but Trenck still slumbered—profound stillness surrounded him. The outer world had long since been awake—the sun was up, and had sent a clear beam of its glory through the small, thickly-barred window, even into the comfortless, desolate cell, and changed the gloom of darkness into a faint twilight.
CHAPTER X. "TRENCK, ARE YOU THERE?"
Trenck slept. Sleep on, sleep on, unfortunate prisoner, for while asleep you are free and joyous; when you awake, your happy dreams will vanish; agony and despair will be your only companions.
Listen! there are steps in the passage; Trenck does not hear them—he still sleeps. But, now a key is turned, the door is opened, and Trenck springs from his pallet.
"Are you there, my friends? Is all ready?"
But he totters back with a fearful shriek, his eyes fixed despairingly upon the door. There stood Von Bruckhausen, the prison commandant, beside him several officers, behind them a crowd of soldiers.
This vision explained all to Trenck. It told him that his plan had miscarried—that again all had been in vain. It told him that he must remain what he was, a poor, wretched prisoner—more wretched than before, for they would now find out that when alone he could release himself from his chains. They would find his gold, which he had taken from its hiding-place, and was now lying loosely upon the floor.
"I am lost!" said he, covering his face with his hands, and throwing himself upon his bed.
A malignant smile brightened up Von Bruckhausen's disagreeable countenance, as his eye took in the broken chains, the glittering gold, and the despairing prisoner. He then ordered the soldiers to raise the chains and fasten them on him.
Trenck made no resistance. He suffered them quietly to adjust his iron belt, to fasten the chain around his neck. He seemed insensible to all that was passing. This fearful blow had annihilated him; and the giant who, but a short time before, had thought to conquer the world, was now a weak, trembling, defenceless child. When he was ordered to rise to have the chains annexed to his iron girdle, and fastened to the wall, he rose at once, and stretched out his hand for the manacles. Now the commandant dared approach Trenck; he had no fear of the chained lion, he could jeer at and mock without danger. He did it with the wrath of a soul hard and pitiless; with the deep, unutterable hate of an implacable enemy; for Trenck was his enemy, his much-feared enemy; he drove sleep from his eyes—he followed him in his dreams. Often at midnight Von Bruckhausen rose in terror from his couch, because he dreamed that Trenck had escaped, and that he must now take his place in that dark, fearful tomb. Surrounded by gay companions, he would turn pale and shudder at the thought of Trenck's escaping—Trenck, whose fearful cell was then destined to be his. This constant fear and anxiety caused the commandant to see in Trenck not the king's prisoner, but his own personal enemy, with whom he must do battle to his utmost strength, with all the wrath and fear of a timid soul. With a cold, malicious smile he informed him that his plot had been discovered, that his mad plan was known; he had wished to take the fortress of Magdeburg and place upon it the Austrian flag. With a jeering smile he held up to him the letter Trenck had sent to his friend in Vienna, in which, without mentioning names, he had made a slight sketch of his plan.
"Will you deny that you wrote this letter?" cried the commandant, in a threatening voice.
Trenck did not answer. His head was bowed upon his breast; he was gazing down in silence.
"You will be forced to name your accomplices," cried the enraged commandant; "there is no palliation for a traitor, and if you do not name them at once, I shall subject you to the lash."
An unearthly yell issued from Trenck's pale lips, and as he raised his head, his countenance was expressive of such wild, such terrible rage, that Bruckhausen drew away from him in affright. Trenck had awakened from his lethargy; he had found again his strength and energy, he was Trenck once more—the Trenck feared by Von Bruckhausen, though lying in chains, the Trenck whom nothing could bend, nothing discourage.
"He who dares to whip me shall die," said he, gazing wildly at the commandant. "With my nails, with my teeth, will I kill him."
"Name your accomplices!" cried Bruckhausen, stamping upon the ground in his rage.
It was Trenck who now laughed. "Ah, you think to intimidate me with your angry voice," said he. "You think your word has power to make me disclose that which I wish to keep secret. You think I will betray my friends, do you? Learn what a poor, weak, incapable human being you are, for not one of the things you wish shall occur. No, I shall not be so contemptible as to betray my friends. Were I to do so, then were I a traitor deserving of this wretched cell, of these fearful chains, for I would then be a stranger to the first, the holiest virtue, gratitude. But no, I will not. I was innocent when these chains were put on me—innocent I will remain."
"Innocent!" cried the commandant; "you who wished to deliver to the enemy a fortress of your sovereign! You call yourself innocent?"
Trenck raised himself from his bed, and threw back his head proudly. "I am no longer a subject of the King of Prussia," said he; "he is no longer my sovereign. Many years ago I was thrown into prison at Glatz without court-martial or trial. When I escaped, all my property was confiscated. If I had not sought my bread elsewhere, I would have starved to death, or gone to ruin. Maria Theresa made me a captain in her army—to her I gave my allegiance. She alone is my sovereign. I owe no duty to the King of Prussia—he condemned me unheard—by one act he deprived me of bread, honor, country, and freedom. He had me thrown into prison, and fettered like some fearful criminal. He has degraded me to an animal that lies grovelling in his cage, and who only lives to eat, who only eats to live. I do not speak to you, sir commandant," continued he—"I speak, soldiers, to you, who were once my comrades in arms. I would not have you call Trenck a traitor. Look at me; see what the king has made of me; and then tell me, was I not justified in fleeing from these tortures? Even if Magdeburg had been stormed, and thousands of lives lost, would you have called me a traitor? Am I a traitor because I strive to conquer for myself what you, what every man, receives from God as his holy right—my freedom?" While he spoke, his pale, wan countenance beamed with inspiration.
The soldiers were struck and touched with it—their low murmurs of applause taught the commandant that he had committed a mistake in having so many witnesses to his conversation with the universally pitied and admired prisoner.
"You will not name your accomplices?" said he.
"No," said Trenck, "I will not betray my friends. And what good would it do you to know their names? You would punish them, and would thereby sow dragons' teeth from which new friends would rise for me. For undeserved misfortune, and unmerited reproach, make for us friends in heaven and on earth. Look there, sir commandant—look there at your soldiers. They came here indifferent to me—they leave as my friends; and if they can do no more, they will pray for me."
"Enough! enough of this," cried the commandant. "Be silent! And you," speaking to the soldiers, "get out of here! Send the blacksmith to solder these chains at once. Go into the second passage—I want no one but the blacksmith."
The soldiers withdrew, and the smith entered with his hot coals, his glowing iron, and his panful of boiling lead. The commandant leaned against the prison-door gazing at the smith; Trenck was looking eagerly at the ceiling of his cell watching the shadows thrown there by the glowing coals.
"It is the ignus fatuus of my freedom," said he, with a weary smile. "It is the fourth time they have danced on this ceiling—it is the fourth time my chains have been forged. But I tell you, commandant, I will break them again, and the shadows flickering on these walls will be changed to a glorious sun of freedom—it will illuminate my path so that I can escape from this dungeon, in which I will leave nothing but my curse for you my cruel keeper."
"You have not, then, despaired?" said the commandant, with a cold smile. "You will still attempt to escape?"
Trenck fixed his keen, sparkling eyes upon Von Bruckhausen, and stretching out his left arm to the smith, he said: "Listen, sir commandant, to what I have to say to you, and may my words creep like deadly poison through your veins! Hear me; as soon as you have left my cell—as soon as that door has closed behind you—I will commence a new plan of escape. You have thrown me in a cell under the earth. The floor in my other cell was of wood—I cut my way through it. This is of stone—I shall remove it. You come daily and search my room to see if there is not some hole or some instrument hidden by which I might effect my escape. Nevertheless I shall escape. God created the mole, and of it I will learn how to burrow in the ground, and thus I will escape. You will see that I have no instruments, no weapons, but God gave me what He gave the mole—He gave my fingers nails, and my mouth teeth; and if there is no other way, I will make my escape by them."
"It is certainly very kind of you to inform me of all this," cried the commandant. "Be assured I shall not forget your words. I shall accommodate myself to them. You seek to escape—I seek to detain you here. I am convinced I shall find some means of assuring myself every quarter of an hour that your nails and teeth have not freed you. The smith's work I see is done, and we dare entertain the hope that for the present you will remain with us. Or perhaps you mean to bite your chains in two as soon as I leave?"
"God gave Samson strength to crush with his arms the temple columns," said Trenck, gazing at the blacksmith, who was now leaving the room. "See, the ignis fatuus has disappeared from my cell, the sun will soon shine."
"Trenck, be reasonable," said Von Bruckhausen, in an entreating tone. "Do not increase your misery—do not force me to be more cruel to you. Promise to make no more attempts to escape, and you shall not be punished for your treacherous plot!"
Trenck laughed aloud. "You promise not to punish me. How could you accomplish it? Has not your cruelty bound me in irons, in chains, whose invention can only be attributed to the devil? Do I not live in the deepest, most forlorn cell in the fortress? Is not my nourishment bread and water? Do you not condemn me to pass my days in idleness, my nights in fearful darkness? What more could you do to me?—how could you punish any new attempt to escape? No, no, sir commandant; as soon as that door has closed on you, the mole will commence to burrow, and some day, in spite of all your care, he will escape."
"That is your last word!" cried Von Bruckhausen, infuriated. "You will not promise to abandon these idle attempts at escape? You will not name your accomplices?"
"No! and again no!"
"Well, then, farewell. You shall remember this hour, and I promise you, you shall regret it."
Throwing a fearful look of malignant wrath at Trenck, who was leaning against his pallet, laughing at his rage, the commandant left the prison. The iron door closed slowly; the firm, even tread of the disappearing soldiers was audible, then all was quiet.
A death-like stillness reigned in the prisoner's cell; no sound of life disturbed the fearful quiet. Trenck shuddered; a feeling of inexpressible woe, of inconsolable despair came over him. He could now yield to it, no one was present to hear his misery and wretchedness. He need not now suppress the sighs and groans that had almost choked him; he could give the tears, welling to his eyes like burning fire, full vent; he could cool his feverish brow upon the stone floor, in the agony of his soul. As a man trembles at the thought of death, Trenck trembled at the thought of life. He knew not how long he had sighed, and wept, and groaned. For him there was no time, no hour, no night—it was all merged into one fearful day. But still he experienced some hours of pleasure and joy. These were the hours of sleep, the hours of dreams. Happier than many a king, than many powerful rulers and rich nobles upon their silken couches, was this prisoner upon his hard pallet. He could sleep—his spirit, busy during the day in forming plans for his escape, needed and found the rest of sleep; his body needed the refreshment and received it.
Yes, he could sleep. Men were hard and cruel to him, but God had not deserted him, for at night He sent an angel to his cell who consoled and refreshed him. It was the angel of slumber—when night came, after all his sorrow, his agony, his despair endured during the day, the consoling angel came and took his seat by the wretched prisoner. This night he kissed his eyes, he laid his soft wings on the prisoner's wounded heart, he whispered glorious dreams of the future into his ear. A beautiful smile, seldom seen when he was awake, now rested upon his lips.
Keep quiet, ye guards, without there—keep quiet, the prisoner sleeps; the sleep of man is sacred, and more sacred than all else is the sleep of the unfortunate. Do not disturb him—pass the door stealthily. Be still, be still! the prisoner sleeps—reverence his rest.
This stillness was now broken by a loud cry.
"Trenck, Trenck!" cried a thundering voice—"Trenck, are you asleep?"
He woke from his pleasant dreams and rose in terror from his bed. He thought he had heard the trumpets of the judgment-day, and listened eagerly for the renewing of the sound.
And again the cry resounded through his cell. "Trenck, are you there?"
With a wild fear he raised his hand to his burning brow.
"Am I mad?" murmured he; "I hear a voice in my brain calling me; a voice—"
The bolts were pushed back, and Commandant Von Bruckhausen, accompanied by a soldier, with a burning torch, appeared on the threshold.
"Why did you not answer, Trenck?" said he.
"The sentinel's call. As you swore to me you would make new attempts to escape, I was compelled to make arrangements to prevent your succeeding. The guards at your door are commanded to call you every quarter of an hour during the night. If you do not answer at once, they will enter your cell to convince themselves of your presence. Accommodate yourself to this, Trenck. We shall now see if you are able to free yourself with your nails and teeth!"
He left the room, the door was closed. It was night once more in the prisoner's cell—but he did not sleep. He sat upon his pallet and asked himself if what had passed was true, or if it was not some wild and fearful dream.
"No, no, it cannot be true; they could not rob me of my last and only pleasure—my sleep! soft, balmy sleep!"
But listen. There is a voice again. "Trenck, Trenck, are you there?"
He answered by a fearful yell, and sprang from his bed, trembling with terror. It was no dream!
"It is true!—they will let me sleep no more. Cowardly thieves! may God curse as I curse you. May He have no pity with you, who have none with me! Ah, you cruel men, you increase my misery a thousandfold. You murder my sleep. God's curse upon you!"
CHAPTER XI. THE KING AND THE GERMAN SCHOLAR.
It was the winter of 1760. Germany, unhappy Germany, bleeding from a thousand wounds, was for a few months freed from the scourge of war; she could breathe again, and gather new strength for new contests. Stern winter with its ice and snow had alone given peace to the people for a short time. The rulers thought of and willed nothing but war; and the winter's rest was only a time of preparation for new battles. The allies had never yet succeeded in vanquishing the little King of Prussia. Notwithstanding the disappointments and adversities crowded upon him—though good fortune and success seemed forever to have abandoned him—Frederick stood firm and undaunted, and his courage and his confidence augmented with the dangers which surrounded him.
But his condition appeared so sad, so desperate, that even the heroic Prince Henry despaired. The king had in some degree repaired the disasters of Kunersdorf and Mayen by his great victories at Leignitz and Torgau; but so mournful, so menacing was his position on every side, that even the victories which had driven his enemies from Saxony, and at least assured him his winter quarters, brought him no other advantages, and did not lessen the dangers which threatened him. His enemies stood round about him—they burned with rage and thirst to destroy utterly that king who was always ready to tear from them their newly-won laurels. Only by his complete destruction could they hope to quench the glowing enthusiasm which the people of all Europe expressed by shouts and exultation.
The Russians had their winter quarters for the first time in Pomerania. The Austrians lay in Silesia and Bohemia. The newly-supplied French army, and the army of the States, were on the Rhine. While the enemies of Frederick remained thus faithful to each other in their war against him, he had just lost his only ally.
King George II. of England was dead, and the weak George III. yielded wholly to the imperious will of his mother and to that of Lord Bute. He broke off his league with Prussia, and refused to pay the subsidy.
Thus Prussia stood alone—without money, without soldiers, without friends—surrounded by powerful and eager enemies—alone and seemingly hopeless, with so many vindictive adversaries.
All this made Prince Henry not only unhappy, but dispirited—palsied his courage, and made him wish to leave the army and take refuge in some vast solitude where he could mourn over the misfortunes of his distracted country. Accordingly he wrote to the king and asked for his discharge.
The king replied:
"It is not difficult, my brother, in bright and prosperous times, to find men willing to serve the state. Those only are good citizens who stand undaunted at the post of danger in times of great crises and disaster. The true calling of a man consists in this: that he should intrepidly carry out the most difficult and dangerous enterprises. The more difficulty, the more danger—the more bright honor and undying fame. I cannot, therefore, believe that you are in earnest in asking for your discharge. It is unquestionable that neither you nor I can feel certain of a happy issue to the circumstances which now surround us. But when we have done all which lies in our power, our consciences and public opinion will do us justice. We contend for our fatherland and for honor. We must make the impossible possible, in order to succeed. The number of our enemies does not terrify me. The greater their number, the more glorious will be our fame when we have conquered them." [Footnote: Preuss, "History of Frederick the Great," vol. ii., p. 246.]
Prince Henry, ashamed of his despondency, gave to this letter of his brother the answer of a hero. He marched against the Russians, drove them from Silesia, and raised the siege of Breslau, around which the Austrians under Loudon were encamped. Tauentzein, with fearless energy and with but three thousand Prussians, had fortified himself in Breslau against this powerful enemy. So in the very beginning of the winter the capital of Silesia had been retaken By Torgau the king had fought and won his twelfth battle for the possession of Silesia—yes, fought and won from his powerful and irreconcilable enemies. And all this had been in vain, and almost without results. The prospect of peace seemed far distant, and the hope of happiness for Frederick even as remote.
But now winter was upon them. This stern angel of peace had sheathed the sword, and for the time ended the war.
While the pious Maria Theresa and her court ladies made it the mode to prepare lint in their splendid saloons during the winter for the wounded soldiers—while the Russian General Soltikow took up his winter quarters at Poseu, and gave sumptuous feasts and banquets—Frederick withdrew to Leipsic, in which city philosophy and learning were at that time most flourishing. The Leipsigers indeed boasted that they had given an asylum to poetry and art.
The warrior-hero was now changed for a few happy months into the philosopher, the poet, and the scholar. Frederick's brow, contracted by anxiety and care, was now smooth; his eye took again its wonted fire—a smile was on his lip, and the hand which had so long brandished the sword, gladly resumed the pen. He who had so long uttered only words of command and calls to battle, now bowed over his flute and drew from it the tenderest and most melting melodies. The evening concerts were resumed. The musical friends and comrades of the king had been summoned from Berlin; and that nothing might be wanting to make his happiness complete, he had called his best-beloved friend, the Marquis d'Argens, to his side.
D'Argens had much to tell of the siege of Berlin and the Russians—of the firm defence of the burghers-of their patriotism and their courage. Frederick's eyes glistened with emotion, and in the fulness of his thankful heart he promised to stand by his faithful Berliners to the end. But when D'Argens told of the desolation which the Russians had wrought amongst the treasures of art in Charlottenburg, the brow of the king grew dark, and with profound indignation he said:
"Ah, the Russians are barbarians, who labor only for the downfall of humanity. [Footnote: The king's own words,—Archenholtz, vol. i., p. 282] If we do not succeed in conquering them, and destroying their rude, despotic sovereignty, they will again and ever disquiet the whole of Europe. In the mean time, however," said Frederick, "the vandalism of the Russians shall not destroy our beautiful winter rest. If they have torn my paintings and crushed my statues, we must collect new art-treasures. Gotzkowsky has told me that in Italy, that inexhaustible mine of art, there are still many glorious pictures of the great old masters; he shall procure them for me, and I will make haste to finish this war in order to enjoy my new paintings, and to rest in my beautiful Sans-Souci. Ah, marquis, let us speak no longer of it, in this room at least, let us forget the war. It has whitened my hair, and made an old man of me before my time. My back is bent, and my face is wrinkled as the flounce on a woman's dress. All this has the war brought upon me. But my heart and my inclinations are unchanged, and I think I dare now allow them a little satisfaction and indulgence. Come, marquis, I have a new poem from Voltaire, sent to me a few days since. We will see if he can find grace before your stern tribunal. I have also some new sins to confess. That is to say, I have some poems composed in the hours of rest during my campaigns. You are my literary father confessor, and we will see if you can give me absolution."
But the king did not dedicate the entire winter to music, and French poems, and gay, cheerful conversation with his friends. A part of this happy time was consecrated to the earnest study of the ancients. For the first time he turned his attention to German literature, and felt an interest in the efforts of German philosophers and poets.
Quintus Icilius, the learned companion of Frederick, had often assured him that the scholarship, the wit, the poetry of Germany, found at this time their best representatives in Leipsic, that he at length became curious to see these great men, of whom Quintus Icilius asserted that they far surpassed the French in scholarship, and in wit and intellect might take their places unchallenged side by side with the French.
The king listened to this assurance with rather a contemptuous smile. He directed Icilius, however, to present to him some of the Leipsic scholars and authors.
"I will present to your majesty the most renowned scholar and philologist of Leipsic, Professor Gottsched, and the celebrated author, Gellert," said Icilius, with great animation. "Which of the two will your majesty receive first?"
"Bring me first the scholar and philologist," said the king, laughing. "Perhaps the man has already discovered in this barbarous Dutch tongue a few soft notes and turns, and if so, I am curious to hear them. Go, then, and bring me Professor Gottsched. I have often heard of him, and I know that Voltaire dedicated an ode to him. In the mean time I will read a little in my Lucretius and prepare my soul for the interview with this great Dutchman."
Icilius hastened off to summon the renowned professor to the king.
Gottsched, to whom, at that time, all Germany rendered homage, and who possessed all the pride and arrogance of a German scholar, thought it most natural that the king should wish to know him, and accepted the invitation with a gracious smile. In the complete, heart-felt conviction of his own glory, in the rigid, pedantic array of a magnificent, long-tailed wig, the German professor appeared before the king. His majesty received him in his short, simple, unostentatious manner, and smiled significantly at the pompous manner of the renowned man. They spoke at first of the progress of German philosophy, and the king listened with grave attention to the learned deductions of the professor, but he thought to himself that Gottsched understood but little how to make his knowledge palatable; he was probably a learned, but most certainly a very uninteresting man.
The conversation was carried on with more vivacity when they spoke of poetry and history, and the king entered upon this theme with warm interest.
"In the history of Germany, I believe there is still much concealed," said Frederick; "I am convinced that many important documents are yet hidden away in the cloisters."
Gottsched looked up at him proudly. "Pardon, sire," said he, in his formal, pedantic way. "I believe those can be only unimportant documents. To my view, at least, there is no moment of German history concealed—all is clear, and I can give information on every point!"
The king bowed his head with a mocking smile. "You are a great scholar, sir; I dare not boast of any preeminence. I only know the history of the German States written by Pere Barre."
"He has written a German history as well as a foreigner could write it," said Gottsched. "For this purpose he made use of a Latin work, written by Struve, in Jena. He translated this book—nothing more. Had Barre understood German, his history would have been better; he would have had surer sources of information at his command."
"But Barre was of Alsace, and understood German," said Frederick, eagerly. "But you, who are a scholar, an author, and a grammarian, tell me, if any thing can be made of the German language?"
"Well, I think we have already made many beautiful things of it," said Gottsched, in the full consciousness of his own fame. "But you have not been able to give it any melody, or any grace," said Frederick. "The German language is a succession of barbarous sounds; there is no music in it. Every tone is rough and harsh, and its many discords make it useless for poetry or eloquence. For instance, in German you call a rival 'Nebenbuhler,' what a fatal, disgusting sound—'Buhler!'" [Footnote: The king's own words.—Archenholtz, vol. ii., p. 272.]
"Ah, your majesty," said Gottsched, impatiently, "that is also a sound in the French tongue. You should know this, for no one understands better, more energetically than yourself, how to circumvent the 'boules!'"
Frederick laughed; and this gay rejoinder of the learned professor reconciled him somewhat to his puffed-up and haughty self-conceit. "It is true," said he, "this time you are right; but you must admit that, in general, the French language is softer and more melodious!"
"I cannot admit it," said Gottsched, fiercely. "I assert that German is more musical. How harsh, how detestable sounds, for instance, the French 'amour;' how soft and tender—yes, I may say, how characteristic—sounds the word 'liebe!'"
"Aha!" said the king, "you are certainly most happily married, or you would not be so enthusiastic about German 'liebe,' which I admit is a very different thing from French 'amour.' I am, however, convinced that the French language has many advantages over the German. For instance, in the French one word may often suffice to convey many different meanings, while for this purpose several German words must be combined."
"That is true. There your majesty is right," said Gottsched, thoughtfully. "The French language has this advantage. But this shall be no longer so—we will change it! Yes, yes—we will reform it altogether!"
Frederick looked astonished and highly diverted. This assumption of the learned scholar, "to change all that," impressed him through its immensity. [Footnote: Many years afterward the king repeated this declaration of Gottsched to the Duchess of Gotha, "We will change all that," and was highly amused.] "Bring that about sir," said the king, gayly. "Wave your field-marshal's staff and give to the German language that which it has never possessed, grace, significance, and facility; then breathe upon it the capability to express soft passion and tender feeling, and you will do for the language what Julius Caesar did for the people. You will be a conqueror, and will cultivate and polish barbarians!"
Gottsched did not perceive the mockery which lay in these words of the king, but received them smilingly as agreeable flattery. "The German language is well fitted to express tender emotions. I pledge myself to translate any French poem faithfully, and at the same time melodiously," said he.
"I will put you to the proof, at once," said the king, opening a book which lay upon the table. "Look! These are the Odes of Rousseau, and we will take the first one which accident presents Listen to this:"
"'Sous un plus heureux auspice, La Deesse des amours, Veut qu'un nouveau sacrifice, Lui consacre vos beaux jours; Deja le bucher s'allume. L'autel brille, l'encens fume, La victime s'embellit, L'amour meme la consume, Le mystere s'accomplit.'
[Footnote: "Under a most happy omen, The goddess of love Wished that a new sacrifice Should consecrate to her our bright days. Already the fagots are lighted, The altar glows, the incense fumes, The victim is adorned— By love itself it is consumed, The mystery accomplished."]
"Do you believe it is possible to translate this beautiful stanza into German?" said the king.
"If your majesty allows me, I will translate it at once," said he. "Give me a piece of paper and a pencil."
"Take them," said Frederick. "We will divert ourselves by a little rivalry in song, while you translate the verses of the French poet into German. I will sing to the praise of the German author in French rhyme. Let us not disturb each other."
Frederick stepped to the window and wrote off hastily a few verses, then waited till he saw that Gottsched had also ceased to write. "I am ready, sir," said the king.
"And I also," said the scholar, solemnly. "Listen, your majesty, and be pleased to take the book and compare as I read;" then with a loud nasal voice he read his translation:
"'Mit ungleich gluecklicherm Geschicke, Gebeut die Koenigin zarter Pein, Hin, Deine schoenen Augenblicke, Zum Opfer noch einmal zu weihn, Den Holzstoss liebt man aufzugeben, Der Altar glaenzt, des Weihrauchs Duefte Durchdringen schon die weiten Luefte, Das Opfer wird gedoppelt schoen, Durch Amors Glut ist es verflogen, Und das Geheimniss wird vollzogen.'"
"Now, your majesty," said Gottsched, "do you not find that the German language is capable of repeating the French verses promptly and concisely?"
"I am astonished that you have been able to translate this beautiful poem. I am sorry I am too old to learn German. I regret that in my youth I had neither the courage nor the instruction necessary. I would certainly have turned many of my leisure hours to the translation of German authors, rather than to Roman and French writers; but the past cannot be recalled, and I must be content! If I can never hope to become a German writer, it will at least be granted me to sing the praises of the regenerator of the German language in French verse. I have sought to do so now—listen!"
The king read aloud a few verses to the enraptured professor. The immoderate praise enchanted him, and, in the assurance of his pride and conceit, he did not remark the fine irony concealed in them. With a raised voice, and a graceful, bantering smile, the king concluded:
"C'est a toi Cygne des Saxons, D'arracher ce secret a la nature avare; D'adoucir dans tes chants d'une langue barbare, Les durs et detestables sons'"
[Footnote: Oeuvres Posthumes, vol. vii., p 216.
"It is thine, swan of the Saxons, To draw the secret from the miser Nature; To soften with thy songs the hard And detestable sounds of a barbarous tongue."]
"Ah! your majesty," cried Gottsched, forgetting his indignation over the langue barbare, in his rapture at the praise he had received, "you are kind and cruel at the same moment. You cast reproach upon our poor language, and, at the same time, give me right royal praise. Cygne des Saxons—that is an epithet which does honor to the royal giver, and to the happy receiver. For a king and a hero, there can be no higher fame than to appreciate and reverence men of letters. The sons of Apollo and the Muses, the scholars, the artists and authors, have no more exalted object than to attain the acknowledgment and consideration of the king and the hero. Sire, I make you a most profound and grateful reverence. You have composed a masterly little poem, and when the Cygne des Saxons shall sing his swanlike song, it will be in honor of the great Frederick, the Csesar of his time."
"Now, my dear Quintus," said the king, after Gottsched had withdrawn, "are you content with your great scholar?"
"Sire," said he, "I must sorrowfully confess that the great Gottsched has covered his head with a little too much of the dust of learning; he is too much of the pedant."
"He is a puffed-up conceited fool," said the king, impatiently; "and you can never convince me that he is a great genius. Great men are modest; they have an exalted aim ever before them, and are never satisfied with themselves; but men like this Gottsched place themselves upon an altar, and fall down and worship. This is their only reward, and they will never do any thing truly great."
"But Gottsched has really great and imperishable merit," said Quintus, eagerly. "He has done much for the language, much for culture, and for science. All Germany honors him, and, if the incense offered him has turned his head, we must forgive him, because of the great service he has rendered."
"I can never believe that he is a great man, or a poet. He had the audacity to speak of the golden era of literature which bloomed in the time of my grandfather, Frederick I., in Germany, and he was so foolhardy as to mention some German scribblers of that time, whose barbarous names no one knows, as the equals of Racine, and Corneille, and even of Virgil. Repeat to me, once more, the names of those departed geniuses, that I may know the rivals of the great writers of the day!"
"He spoke of Bessen and Neukirch," said Quintus; "I must confess it savors of audacity to compare these men with Racine and Corneille; he did this, perhaps, to excite the interest of your majesty, as it is well known that the great Frederick, to whom all Germany renders homage, attributes all that is good and honorable to the German, but has a poor opinion of his intellect, his learning, and his wit."
The king was about to reply, when a servant entered and gave him a letter from the professor, Gottsched.
"I find, Quintus," said the king, "that my brother in Apollo does me the honor to treat me with confidence. If I was at all disposed to be arrogant, I might finally imagine myself to be his equal. Let us see with what sort of dedication the Cygne des Saxons has honored us." He opened the letter, and while reading, his countenance cleared, and he burst out into a loud, joyous laugh. "Well, you must read this poem, and tell me if it is pure German and true poetry." The king, assuming the attitude of a great tragedian, stepped forward with a nasal voice, and exactly in the pompous manner of Gottsched, he read the poem aloud. "Be pleased to remark," said the king, with assumed solemnity, "that Gottsched announces himself as the Pindar of Germany, and he will have the goodness to commend me in his rhymes to after-centuries. And now, tell me, Quintus, if this is German poetry? Is your innermost soul inspired by these exalted lines?"
"Sire," said Quintus Icilius, "I abandon my renowned scholar, and freely confess that your majesty judged him correctly; he is an insufferable fool and simpleton."
"Not so; but he is a German scholar," said the king, pathetically; "one of the great pillars which support the weight of the great temple of German science and poetry."
"Sire. I offer up my German scholar; I lay him upon the altar of your just irony. You may tear him to pieces; he is yours. But I pray you, therefore, to be gracious, sire, and promise me to receive my poet kindly."
"I promise," said the king: "I wish also to become acquainted with this model."
"Promise me, however, one thing. If the German poet resembles the German scholar, you will make me no reproaches if I turn away from all such commodities in future?"
CHAPTER XII. GELLERT.
Gellert was just returning from the university, where, in the large hall, he had recommenced his lectures on morality. A large audience had assembled, who had given the most undivided attention to their beloved master. As he left the rostrum the assembly, entirely contrary to their usual custom, burst forth in loud applause, and all pressed forward to welcome the beloved teacher on his return to his academic duties after his severe illness.
These proofs of love had touched the sensitive German poet so deeply in his present nervous and suffering condition, that he reached his lodging deathly pale and with trembling knees: utterly exhausted, he threw himself into his arm-chair, the only article of luxury in his simple study.
The old man, who sat near the window in this study, was busily engaged in reading, and paid him no attention; although Gellert coughed several times, he did not appear to remark his presence, and continued to read.
"Conrad," said Gellert, at length, in a friendly, pleading tone.
"Professor," answered the old man, as he looked up unwillingly from his book.
"Conrad, it seems to me that you might stand up when I enter; not, perhaps, so much out of respect for your master, as because he is delicate and weak, and needs your assistance."
"Professor," said the old man, with composure, "I only intended finishing the chapter which I have just commenced, and then I should have risen. You came a little too soon. It was your own fault if I was compelled to read after you came."
Gellert smiled. "What book were you reading so earnestly, my old friend?"
"The 'Swedish Countess,' professor. You know it is my favorite book. I am reading it now for the twelfth time, and I still think it the most beautiful and touching, as well as the most sensible book I ever read. It is entirely beyond my comprehension, professor, how you made it, and how you could have recollected all these charming histories. Who related all that to you?"
"No one related it to me, it came from my own head and heart," said Gellert, pleasantly. "But no, that is a very presumptuous thought; it did not come from myself, but from the great spirit, who occasionally sends a ray of his Godlike genius to quicken the hearts and imaginations of poets."
"I do not understand you, professor," said Conrad, impatiently. "Why do you not talk like the book—I understand all that the 'Swedish Countess' says, for she speaks like other people. She is an altogether sensible and lovely woman, and I have thought sometimes, professor—"
Old Conrad hesitated and looked embarrassed.
"Well, Conrad, what have you thought?"
"I have thought sometimes, sir, perhaps it would be best for you to marry the 'Swedish Countess'."
Gellert started slightly, and a light flush mounted to his brow.
"I marry!" he exclaimed; "Heaven protect me from fastening such a yoke upon myself, or putting my happiness in the power of any creature so fickle, vain, capricious, haughty, obstinate, and heartless as a woman. Conrad, where did you get this wild idea? you know that I hate women; no, not hate, but fear them, as the lamb fears the wolf."
"Oh, sir," cried Conrad, angrily, "was your mother not a woman?"
"Yes," said Gellert, softly, after a pause—"yes, she was a woman, a whole-hearted,' noble woman. She was the golden star of my childhood, the saintly ideal of the youth, as she is now in heaven the guardian angel of the man; there is no woman like her, Conrad. She was the impersonation of love, of self-sacrifice, of goodness, and of devotion."
"You are right," said Conrad, softly, "she was a true woman; the entire village loved and honored her for her benevolence and piety; when she died, it seemed as though we had all lost a mother."
"When she died," said Gellert, his voice trembling with emotion, "my happiness and youth died with her; and when the first handful of earth fell upon her coffin I felt as if my heart-strings broke, and that feeling has never left me."
"You loved your mother too deeply, professor," said Conrad; "that is the reason you are determined not to love and marry some other woman."
"Why, man, do not talk to me again of marrying," cried Gellert. "What has that fatal word to do in my study?"
"A great deal, sir; only look how miserable every thing is here; not even neat and comfortable, as it should certainly be in the room of so learned and celebrated a professor. Only think of the change that would be made by a bright young wife. You must marry, professor, and the lady must be rich. This state of things cannot continue; you must take a wife, for you cannot live on your celebrity."
"No, Conrad, but on my salary," said Gellert. "I receive two hundred and fifty thalers from my professorship; only think, two hundred and fifty thalers! That is a great deal for a German poet, Conrad; I should consider myself most fortunate. It is sufficient for my necessities, and will certainly keep me from want."
"It would be sufficient, professor, if we were not so extravagant. I am an old man, and you may very well listen to a word from me. I served your father for fifteen years—in fact, you inherited me from him. I have the right to speak. If it goes so far, I will hunger and thirst with you, but it makes me angry that we should hunger and thirst when there is no necessity. Have you dined today?"
"No, Conrad," said Gellert, looking embarrassed. "I had, accidentally, no money with me as I came out of the academy, and you know that I do not like to go to the eating-house without paying immediately."
"Accidentally you had no money? You had probably left it at home."
"Yes, Conrad, I had left it at home."
"No, sir; you gave your last thaler to the student who came this morning and told you of his necessities, and complained so bitterly that he had eaten nothing warm for three days. You gave your money to him, and that was not right, for now we have nothing ourselves."
"Yes, Conrad, it was right, it was my duty; he hungered and I was full; he was poor and in want, and I had money, and sat in my warm, comfortable room; it was quite right for me to help him."
"Yes, you say so always, sir, and our money all goes to the devil," muttered Conrad. "With what shall we satisfy ourselves to-day?"
"Well," said Gellert, after a pause, "we will drink some coffee, and eat some bread and butter. Coffee is an excellent beverage, and peculiarly acceptable to poets, for it enlivens the fancy."
"And leaves the stomach empty," said Conrad.
"We have bread and butter to satisfy that. Ah, Conrad, I assure you we would often have been very happy in my father's parsonage if we had had coffee and bread and butter for our dinner. We were thirteen children, besides my father and mother, and my father's salary was not more than two hundred thalers. Conrad, he had less than I, and he had to provide for thirteen children."
"As if you had not provided for yourself since you were eleven years old—as if I had not seen you copying late into the night to earn money, at an age when other children scarcely know what money is, and know still less of work."
"But when I carried the money which I had earned to my mother, she kissed me so tenderly, and called me her brave, noble son—that was a greater reward than all the money in the world. And when the next Christmas came, and we were all thirteen so happy, and each one received a plate filled with nuts and apples and little presents, I received a shining new coat. It was the first time I had ever had a coat of new cloth. My mother had bought the material with the money I had earned. She had kept it all, and now my writings had changed into a beautiful coat, which I wore with pride and delight. No coat is so comfortable as one we have earned ourselves. The self-earned coat is the royal mantle of the poor."
"But we need not be poor," scolded Conrad. "It is that which makes me angry. If we were careful, we could live comfortably and free from care on two hundred and fifty thalers. But every thing is given away, and every thing is done for others, until we have nothing left for ourselves."
"We have never gone hungry to bed, Conrad, and we need not hunger. To-day we have coffee, and bread and butter, and to-morrow I will receive something from my publishers from the fourth edition of my fables. It is not much, it will be about twenty thalers, but we will be able to live a long time on that. Be content, Conrad, and go now into the kitchen and prepare the coffee; I am really rather hungry. Well, Conrad, you still appear discontented. Have you another grievance in reserve?"
"Yes, professor, I have another. The beadle tells me that the university have offered you a still higher position than the one you now hold. Is it true?"
"Yes, Conrad, it is true. They wished me to become a regular professor."
"And you declined?"
"I declined. I would have been obliged to be present at all the conferences. I would have had more trouble, and if I had had the misfortune to become rector I would have been lost indeed, for the rector represents the university; and if any royal personages should arrive it is he who must receive them and welcome them in the name of the university. No, no; protect me from such honors. I do not desire intercourse with great men. I prefer my present position and small salary, and the liberty of sitting quietly in my own study, to a regular professorship and a higher salary, and being forced to dance attendance in the antechambers of great people. Then, in addition to that, I am delicate, and that alone would prevent me from attending as many lectures as the government requires from a regular high-salaried professor. You must never receive money for work that you have not done and cannot do. Now, Conrad, those are my reasons for declining this situation for the second time. I think you will be contented now, and prepare me an excellent cup of coffee."
"It is a shame, nevertheless," said Conrad, "that they should say you are not a regular professor. But that is because you have no wife. If the Swedish countess were here, every thing would be changed; your study would be nicely arranged, and you would be so neatly dressed, that no one would dare to say you were not a regular professor."
"But that is no offence, Conrad," cried Gellert, laughing. "In the sense in which you understand it, I am more now than if I had accepted this other position, for I am now called an extraordinary professor."
"Well, I am glad that they know that you are an extraordinary professor," said Conrad, somewhat appeased. "Now I will go to the kitchen and make the coffee. That reminds me that I have a letter for you which was left by a servant."
He took a letter from the table, and handed it to his master. While he was breaking the seal, Conrad approached the door slowly and hesitatingly, evidently curious to hear the contents of the letter. He had not reached the door, when Gellert recalled him.
"Conrad," said Gellert, with a trembling voice, "hear what this letter contains."
"Well, I am really curious," said Conrad, smiling.
Gellert took the letter and commenced reading:
"My dear and honored professor, will you allow one of your—"
Here he hesitated, and his face flushed deeply. "No," he said, softly; "I cannot read that; it is too great, too undeserved praise of myself. Read it yourself."
"Nonsense!" said Conrad, taking the letter; "the professor is as bashful as a young girl. To read one's praise, is no shame. Now listen: 'My dear and honored professor, will you allow one of your pupils to seek a favor from you? I am rich! God has enriched you with the rarest gifts of mind and heart, but He has not bestowed outward wealth upon you. Your salary is not large, but your heart is so great and noble, that you give the little you possess to the poor and suffering, and care for others while you yourself need care. Allow me, my much-loved master, something of that same happiness which you enjoy. Grant me the pleasure of offering you (who divide your bread with the poor, and your last thaler with the suffering) a small addition to your salary, and begging you to use it so long as God leaves you upon earth, to be the delight of your scholars, and the pride of Germany. The banker Farenthal has orders to pay to you quarterly the sum of two hundred thalers; you will to-morrow receive the first instalment."
"'YOUR GRATEFUL AND ADMIRING PUPIL.'"
"Hurrah! hurrah!" cried Conrad, waving the paper aloft. "Now we are rich, we can live comfortably, without care. Oh, I will take care of you, and you must drink a glass of wine every day, in order to become strong, and I will bring your dinner from the best eating-house, that you may enjoy your meal in peace and quiet in your own room."
"Gently, gently, Conrad!" said Gellert, smiling. "In your delight over the money, you forget the noble giver. Who can it be? Who among my pupils is so rich and so delicate, as to bestow so generously, and in such a manner?"
"It is some one who does not wish us to know his name, professor," cried Conrad, gayly; "and we will not break our hearts over it. But now, sir, we will not content ourselves with bread and coffee; we are rich, and we need not live so poorly! I will go to the eating-house and bring you a nice broiled capon, and some preserved fruit, and a glass of wine."
"It is true," said Gellert, well pleased; "a capon would strengthen me, and a glass of wine; but no, Conrad, we will have the coffee; we have no money to pay for such a meal."
"Well, we can borrow it! To-morrow you will receive the first quarterly payment of your pension, and then I will pay for your dinner."
"No, Conrad, no!" said Gellert, firmly. "You should never eat what you cannot pay for immediately. Go to the kitchen and make the coffee." Conrad was on the point of going discontentedly to obey the command of his master, when a loud and hasty ring was heard at the outer door of the professor's modest lodging.
"Perhaps the banker has sent the money to-day," cried Conrad, as he hurried off, whilst Gellert again took the letter and examined the handwriting.
But Conrad returned, looking very important.
"The Prussian major, Quintus Icilius, wishes to speak to the professor, in the name of the king," he said, solemnly.
"In the name of the king!" cried Gellert; "what does the great warrior-hero want with poor Gellert?"
"That I will tell you," replied a voice from the door; and as Gellert turned, he saw before him the tall figure of a Prussian officer. "Pardon me for having entered without your permission. Your servant left the door open, and I thought—"
"You thought, I hope, that Gellert would be happy to receive an officer from the king, especially one who bears so celebrated a name," said Gellert, courteously, as he signed to Conrad to leave the room—a sign that Conrad obeyed most unwillingly, and with the firm determination to listen outside the door.
"In the first place, allow me to say how happy I am to make the acquaintance of so learned and celebrated a man as Professor Gellert," said Quintus, bowing deeply; "then I must announce the cause of my appearance. His majesty the King of Prussia wishes to know you, and he has sent me to conduct you to him at once."
"At once?" cried Gellert. "But, sir, you must see that I am weak and ill. The king will not care to see a sick man who cannot talk."
Quintus glanced sympathizingly at the poor professor, and said:
"It is true, you do not look well, and I cannot force you to go with me to-day; but allow me to make one remark: if you think to escape the interview altogether, you are mistaken. The king desires to speak with you, and it is my duty to bring you to him. If you cannot go to-day, I must return to-morrow; if you are then still unwell, the day after; and so on every day, until you accompany me."
"But this is frightful!" cried Gellert, anxiously.
Quintus shrugged his shoulders. "You must decide, sir," he said; "I give you an hour. At four o'clock I will return and ask if you will go to-day, or another time."
"Yes; do that, major," said Gellert, breathing more freely. "In the mean time, I will take my dinner, and then see how it is with my courage. Conrad! Conrad!" exclaimed Gellert, as Quintus Icilius left him, and his servant entered the room. "Conrad, did you hear the bad tidings? I must go to the King of Prussia."
"I heard," said Conrad, "and I do not think it bad tidings, but a great honor. The king sent for Professor Gottsched a few days since, and conversed with him a long time. Since then, his entire household act as if Gottsched were the Almighty Himself, and as if they were all, at least, archangels. Therefore, I am glad that the king has shown you the same honor, and that he desires to know you."
"Honor!" murmured Gellert. "This great lord wishes to see the learned Germans for once, as others visit a menagerie, and look at the monkeys, and amuse themselves with their wonderful tricks. It is the merest curiosity which leads such men to desire to behold the tricks and pranks of a professor. They know nothing of our minds; it satisfies them to look at us. Conrad, I will not go; I will be ill to-day and every other day. We will see if this modern Icilius will not yield!"
And the usually gentle and yielding poet paced the room in angry excitement, his eyes flashing, and his face deeply flushed.
"I will not—I will not go."
"You must go, professor," said Conrad, placing himself immediately in front of his master, and looking at him half-imploringly, half-threateningly—"you must go; you will give your old Conrad the pleasure of being able to say to the impudent servants of Herr Gottsched that my master has also been to the King of Prussia. You will not do me the injury of making me serve a master who has not been to see the king, while Herr Gottsched has been?"
"But, Conrad," said Gellert, complainingly, "what good will it have done me to have declined the position of regular professor, that I might be in no danger of becoming rector, and being obliged to see kings and princes?"
"It will show the world," said Conrad, "that a poet need not be a regular professor in order to be called into the society of kings and princes. You must go—the king expects you; and if you do not go, you will appear as the Austrians do, afraid of the King of Prussia."
"That is true," said Gellert, whose excitement had somewhat subsided; "it will look as though I were afraid."
"And so distinguished a man should fear nothing," said Conrad, "not even a king."
"Well, so be it," said Gellert, smiling, "I will go to the king to-day, but I must first eat something; if I went fasting to the king I might faint, and that would disgrace you forever, Conrad."
"I will run and bring the coffee," said the delighted old servant.
CHAPTER XIII. THE POET AND THE KING.
Gelbert had scarcely finished his frugal meal, and arranged his toilet a little, when Major Quintus arrived and asked the poet if he were still too unwell to accompany him to the king.
"I am still indisposed," said Gellert, with a sad smile, "but my indisposition is of a kind that leaves me neither to day, to-morrow nor any day; it is therefore better for me to gratify the king's commands at once. I am ready to accompany you, sir; let us depart."
He took his three-cornered hat, which Conrad handed him with a delightful smirk, and followed the major to the splendid house where the king had taken his quarters for the winter.
"Allow me a favor, sir," said Quintus, as they mounted the steps; "the king is prejudiced against German poets and philosophers, and it would be of the greatest advantage to the literary and political world of Germany for these prejudices to disappear, and for the great Frederick to give to Germany the sympathy and encouragement which until now he has lavished upon the French and Italians. Think of this, sir, and endeavor to win the king by your obliging and pleasing manner."
"Oh, major!" sighed Gellert, "I do not understand the art of pleasing the great ones of this world. I cannot utter words of praise and flattery; my heart and manners are simple and not showy."
"Exactly, this is beautiful and attractive," said the major, smiling: "the king cannot endure pretension or conceited wisdom. Be simply yourself; imagine that you are in your own study, conversing frankly and freely with a highly-honored friend, to whom politeness and attention are due."
The king, with his flute in hand, was walking up and down the room, when the door opened, and Major Quintus entered with Gellert.
Frederick immediately laid his flute aside, and advanced to meet the poet with a gracious smile. Gellert's gentle and intellectual countenance was composed, and his eyes were not cast down or confused by the piercing glance of the king.
"Is this Professor Gellert?" said the king, with a slight salutation.
"Yes, your majesty," said Gellert, bowing profoundly.
"The English ambassador has spoken well of you," said the king; "he has read many of your works."
"That proves him to be a thoughtful and benevolent gentleman, who hopes something from German writers," said Gellert, significantly.
Frederick smiled, and perhaps to excite him still more, said quickly:
"Tell me, how does it happen, Gellert, that we have so few celebrated writers?"
"Your majesty sees before you now a German poet whom even the French have translated, and who call him the German La Fontaine."
"That is great praise, great praise," said the king, whose large eyes fastened themselves more attentively upon Gellert's modest, expressive face. "You are then called the German La Fontaine? Have you ever read La Fontaine?"
"Yes, sire, but I did not imitate him," said Gellert, ingenuously, "I am an original."
The king nodded gayly; Gellert's quick frankness pleased him.
"Good," he said, "you are an excellent poet; but why do you stand alone?"
Gellert shrugged his shoulders slightly.
"Your majesty is prejudiced against the Germans."
"No, I cannot admit that," said the king, quickly.
"At least against German writers," replied Gellert.
"Yes, that is true; I cannot deny that. Why have we no good writers in Germany?"
"We have them, sire," said Gellert, with noble pride. "We boast a Maskow, a Kramer—who has set Bossuet aside."
"How!" cried the king, astonished; "Bossuet? Ah, sir, how is it possible for a German to set Bossuet aside?"
"Kramer has done so, and with great success," said Gellert, smiling. "One of your majesty's most learned professors has said that Kramer has the eloquence of Bossuet, and more profound historical accuracy."
The king appeared really astonished, and walked several times thoughtfully up and down his room.
"Was my learned professor capable of deciding that question?"
"The world believes so, sire."
"Why does no one translate Tacitus?"
"Tacitus is difficult," said Gellert, smiling; "there are some bad French translations of this author."
"You are right," said the king.
"Altogether," continued Gellert, "there are a variety of reasons why the Germans have not become distinguished in letters. When art and science bloomed in Greece, the Romans were becoming renowned in war. Perhaps the Germans have sought their fame on the battle-field; perhaps they had no Augustus or Louis XIV. who favored and encouraged the historians and poets of Germany."
This was a daring and broad allusion, but Frederick received it smilingly.
"You have had an Augustus, perhaps two, in Saxony," he said.
"And we have made a good commencement in Saxony. We should have an Augustus for all of Germany."
"What!" cried the king, quickly, and with sparkling eyes, "you desire an Augustus for Germany?"
"Not exactly," said Gellert, "but I wish that every German sovereign would encourage genius and letters in his country. Genius needs encouragement; and when it does not find it in its own land, and from its native princes, it cannot retain the great and joyous power of creation."
The king did not answer, but walked thoughtfully up and down; from time to time he glanced quickly and searchingly at Gellert, who was standing opposite to him.
"Have you ever been out of Saxony?" said the king, at last.
"Yes, sire, I was once in Berlin."
"You should go again," said the king—then added, as if he regretted having shown the German poet so much sympathy, "at all events, you should travel."
"To do so, your majesty, I require health and money."
"Are you sick?" asked the king, in a gentle, sympathizing voice. "What is your malady? Perhaps too much learning."
Gellert smiled. "As your majesty thinks so, it may bear that interpretation. In my mouth it would have sounded too bold."
"I have had this malady myself," said the king, laughing; "I will cure you. You must take exercise—ride out every day."
"Ah, sire, this cure might easily produce a new disease for me," said Gellert, terrified; "if the horse should be healthier than I, I could not ride it, and if it were as weak as myself, we would not be able to stir from the spot."
"Then you must drive," said the king, laughing.
"I have not the money, sire."
"That is true," said the king. "All German writers need money, and we have fallen upon evil times."
"Yes, truly, sire, evil times; but it lies in your majesty's hands to change all this, if you would give peace to Germany."
"How can I?" cried the king, violently. "Have you not heard that there are three against me?"
"I care more for ancient than modern history," said Gellert, who did not desire to follow the king upon the slippery field of politics.
"You, then, are accurately acquainted with the ancients?" said the king. "Which, then, do you think the greatest and most renowned of that epoch—Homer or Virgil?"
"Homer, I think, merits the preference, because he is original."
"But Virgil is more polished and refined."
Gellert shook his head violently. Now that the old writers were being discussed, the German sage overcame his timidity.
"We are entirely too widely separated from Virgil to be able to judge of his language and style. I trust to Quintilian, who gives Homer the preference."
"But we must not be slaves to the judgment of the ancients," said the king, aroused.
"I am not, sire; I only adopt their views when distance prevents my judging for myself."
"You are certainly right in this," said the king, kindly. "Altogether you appear to be a wise and reasonable man. I understand that you have greatly improved the German language."
"Ah, yes, sire, but unfortunately it has been in vain."
"Why is this?" said the king. "You all wish me to interest myself in German, but it is such a barbarous language, that I often have quires of writing sent me, of which I do not understand a word. Why is it not otherwise?"
"If your majesty cannot reform this, I certainly cannot," said Gellert, smiling; "I can only advise, but you can command."
"But your poems are not written in this stiff, pompous German. Do you not know one of your fables by heart?"
"I doubt it, sire, my memory is very treacherous."
"Well, try and think of one. In the mean while I will walk backward and forward a little. Well, have you thought of one?"
"Yes, your majesty," said Gellert, after a brief silence, "I believe I remember one."
"Let us hear it," said the king; and, seating himself upon the fauteuil, he gazed fixedly at Gellert, who, standing in the middle of the room, his clear glance turned toward the king, now began his recitation.
"A painter, Athens his abode, Who painted less for love of gain Than crowns of laurel to obtain, Mars' portrait to a connoisseur once showed, And his opinion of it sought. The judge spoke freely what he thought, Twas wholly not unto his taste, he said, And that, to please a practised eye, Far less of art should be displayed. The painter failed not to reply, And though the critic blamed with skill, Was of the same opinion still."
"Then in the room a coxcomb came, To scan the work with praise or blame. He with a glance its worth descried; 'Ye gods! A masterpiece' he cried. 'Ah, what a foot! what skilled details, E'en to the painting of the nails! A living Mars is here revealed, What skill—what art in light and shade— Both in the helmet and the shield, And in the armor are displayed!'"
"The painter blushed with humbled pride, Looked at the judge with woful mien, 'Too well am I convinced' he cried, 'Unjust to me thou hast not been.' The coxcomb scarce had disappeared, when he his god of battle smeared."
"And the moral," cried the king, with vivacity, as Gellert ceased for a moment.
"Here is the moral, sire:"
"If what you write offends the critic's rules, It is an evil sign, no doubt; But when 'tis lauded to the skies by fools, 'Tis time, indeed, to blot it out."
"That is beautiful—very beautiful; you have something gallant in your person. I understand every thing you say. I received a translation of 'Iphigenia' by Gottsched, and Quintus read it to me. I had the French with me, and I did not understand a word. He also brought me a poem by Pietsh, but I threw it aside."
"I threw it aside, also," said Gellert, smiling.
The king smiled pleasantly. "Should I remain here, you must come often and bring your fables to read to me."
Gellert's brow clouded slightly. "I do not know whether I am a good reader," he said, in some embarrassment. "I have such a sing-song, monotonous voice."
"Yes, like the Silesians," said the king, "but it sounds pleasantly. You must read your fables yourself. No one else can give the proper emphasis. You must visit me soon again."
"Do not forget the king's request," said Quintus Icilius, as he escorted Gellert to the door. "Visit him soon, and be assured you shall never come in vain. I will take care that the king receives you always."
Gellert looked up smilingly at the major. "My dear sir, in many respects I am quite an old-fashioned man; for example, I have read a great deal in the Old Scriptures for instruction. I have read, 'Put not your trust in princes.' These words seem wise to me, and you must allow me to interpret them literally, and act accordingly."
Gellert withdrew, and hastened home. The major returned to the king, admiring, almost envying, Gellert's modest, independent, and beautiful character.
"Quintus," said the king, "I thank you sincerely for my new German acquaintance. The poet is better than the philosopher. Gellert is the wisest and cleverest poet of his time—a much worthier man than Gottsched, with all his pompous knowledge. Gellert's fame will outlive his. He is perhaps the only German who will not be forgotten. He attempts but little, and succeeds well."
CHAPTER XIV. THE KING AND THE VILLAGE MAGISTRATE.
In the little village of Voiseilvitz, near the Silesian frontier, there was a great stir and excitement. The quartermaster of the army had just arrived and announced the king's approach. He then went on to the next village to seek quarters for the army. After their many sufferings and wants, the weary soldiers were much in need of rest and refreshment. They had passed many, many miserable weeks, during which the most patient had become disheartened. The king alone had retained his courage, his presence of mind, his activity and energy. He had borne, without complaint, every want and privation. Surrounded by powerful enemies, his great and clear mind had contrived the intrenchments which encompassed his camp, and which had filled his enemies with wonder. Neither Daun, Loudon, Butterlin, nor Ternitschow, dared attack the camp that had suddenly become a strong fortress. They gazed in wild amazement at their daring, invincible enemy, whom they had so often thought to ruin, and who had continually with his lion strength broken the nets they had laid for him. Not daring to attack him with their cannon and their swords, the allies relied upon another much more fearful weapon—hunger! It was impossible for the king, surrounded as he was by enemies, to obtain food for his troops and fodder for the horses. But Frederick did not cease to hope: he turned night into day and day into night; thus he was prepared for any movement. During the day he could observe all that passed in the enemy's camp; a few slight guards were placed in the intrenchments, while the rest of the army slept. But at night they did not sleep; as soon as evening came, all the tents were taken down, the cannon were planted, and behind them the regiments were placed in line of battle. Thus they stood listening in breathless silence for any sound or movement that would announce the enemy's approach. All were ready and waiting for them, determined to die rather than surrender.
In spite of privations, want of rest and food, the army remained hopeful, for their king shared their danger, wants, and sleepless nights. He was always with them—he hungered and worked with them. If the soldiers were deprived of their rations, they had at least the consolation of knowing that the king suffered likewise. This strengthened and encouraged them.
The Prussians had fortitude to bear their sufferings, but their enemy had not the patience to wait. Butterlin, the Russian commander, tired of watching Frederick, withdrew to Poland; and Loudon, not feeling secure now in his isolated position, retired also.
After four weeks of agony and want, the Prussian army could leave their encampment and seek both food and rest. They were to recruit themselves in the villages in the vicinity of Strehlen; the king and his staff were to rest at Voiseilvitz. The house of the magistrate had been chosen as the only dwelling-place fit for these noble guests. The magistrate, elated at the honor, was marching from room to room, scolding, imploring his servants to have every thing clean and orderly.
"Remember," said he, "a king is to inhabit this house; he will be enraged if there is the least spot or stain upon the floors or windows, for of course he wears beautiful garments, covered with pearls and diamonds, and embroidered in gold and silver. How fearful, then, would it be were he to ruin them at my house! He would be infuriated, for money is scarce now, and I dare say as hard for him to get as for us."
At last, thanks to threats and entreaties, the house was in readiness for the king. The front room was beautifully clean, and white blinds were at the windows. The deal table was covered with a snow-white damask cloth. Beside a window in which were placed some bright plants, an old leathern arm-chair was standing, which the magistrate intended for a throne. The walls were covered with some portraits of the royal family of Prussia. Around a wretched engraving of Frederick a wreath of immortelles and forget-me-nots was woven. In a corner stood a large bed with clean white curtains in readiness for the king. When every thing was arranged, with a last proud look at his handsome dwelling, the magistrate hurried to the front door, waiting anxiously for his guest. His heart beat high with expectation—his whole being was in commotion—he was to see a king for the first time, and he asked himself how this king would look. "How glorious his eyes must be! I think he must radiate like the sun. It must almost blind the eyes to dwell upon his splendor."
Lost in these thoughts, he did not observe a cavalcade consisting of three riders passing through the street. The foremost one was enveloped in an old faded blue mantle, his large three-cornered hat hung far over his brow, shading his eyes and his thin, pale countenance. His heavy army boots were in need both of brushing and mending. His two companions formed an agreeable contrast to him. They wore the rich, glittering uniforms of Prussian staff officers. All about them was neat and elegant, and pleased the magistrate right well. The cavalcade now stopped at his house, and, to the amazement of the villagers, the two spruce young officers sprang to the ground—and hastened to assist the man in the blue mantle to alight from his horse. But he waved them aside, and springing lightly from the saddle, advanced to the house door. The magistrate blocked up the way, and looking haughtily at the stranger, said:
"You undoubtedly belong to the servants of the king, and think, therefore, to enter my house. But that cannot be. The king alone will dwell with me. If you are what I suppose you to be, you must go next door. My neighbor may have quarters for you."
The stranger smiled. Fixing his large, brilliant eyes sternly upon the magistrate, he caused him to draw back almost in terror, feeling as if the sun had really blinded him.
"I am not one of the king's servants," said the stranger, gayly, "but I am invited to dine with him."
"Then it is all right," said the magistrate, "you can enter. But you must first go into that little side-room and brush your shoes before the king sees you, for he would surely be enraged to find you in dusty boots."
The king laughed gayly, and entered the house. "I will go to the king's chamber at once. I think he will forgive my shoes." He beckoned to the two officers and entered his room, the door of which he left open.
The magistrate took no more notice of him, but remained outside, looking eagerly for the king.
Frederick still did not come to illuminate the street with his splendor. In his stead came generals and officers, with gold epaulets and bright stars sparkling on their coats, and entered the king's chamber, without a word to the magistrate.
"They are all waiting for the king," murmured he, "but I shall see him first. How splendid and magnificent are all these officers! How grand, how glorious then must the king be, who is far nobler than they! He does not come; I will enter and pass the time in looking at all these splendidly-dressed soldiers." He stepped lightly to the door, and peered in. He started; a low cry of terror escaped him, as he looked at the scene before him.
The generals—the officers dressed in the gold and silver embroidered uniforms—stood around the room with bared heads; in their midst stood the stranger with the dusty boots. He alone had his hat on. He alone bore neither epaulets nor stars: he was clad in simple uniform, without a single ornament, and still, wonderful to say, it now seemed to the magistrate that he was more noble, more splendid-looking than all the others. He was the smallest amongst them, but seemed much taller. They stood with bowed heads before him; he alone was raised proudly to his full height. There was something grand and glorious in his countenance; and when his large, luminous eyes fell upon the magistrate, he endeavored in vain to slip away—he was rooted to the spot as if by magnetism.
"Will you not stay with us until the king comes?" said Frederick, laughing.
The magistrate answered the smile with a broad grin. "I see, sir," said he, "that you are laughing at me. You know that you yourself are the king."
Frederick nodded an assent, and then turned to Prince Anhalt von Dessau.
"You see, sir, how precarious a thing is the glory and magnificence of a king. This man took me for a servant; his dull eyes could not perceive my innate glory."
"Your majesty justly calls this man's eyes dull," said the prince, laughing.
Frederick looked at him kindly, and then began a low, earnest conversation with his generals, who listened attentively to his every word.
The magistrate still stood at the door. It seemed to him that he had never seen any thing so splendid-looking as this man with the muddy boots, the simple coat, and torn, unwieldy hat, whose countenance beamed with beauty, whose eyes glittered like stars.
"That, then, is really the king?" said he to one of the royal servants—"the King of Prussia, who for five years has been fighting with the empress for us?"
"Yes, it is him."
"From to-day on I am a Prussian at heart," continued the magistrate; "yes, and a good and true one. The King of Prussia dresses badly, that is true, but I suppose his object is to lighten the taxes." Passing his coat-sleeve across his misty eyes, he hastened to the kitchen to investigate dinner.
CHAPTER XV. THE PROPOSAL OF MARRIAGE.
Some days had passed since the king entered Voiseilvitz. He dwelt in the house of the magistrate, and the generals were quartered in the huts of the village. The regiments were in the neighboring hamlets. The king lived quietly in his house, wholly given up to anxiety and discontent. He ate alone in his room, spoke to no one, or if he did, said only a few grave words. All jesting was vanished from his lips; he was never seen to smile, never heard to play the flute. The grief which oppressed his heart was too profound to be confided to the soft and melting tones of his flute. Even that cherished companion could now give him no consolation. Fearful, horrible intelligence had followed him from the encampment at trehlen. It had poisoned these days of long-denied and necessary rest, and shrouded the gloomy future with yet darker presentiments of evil.
Schweidnitz, the strong fortress, the key of Silesia, which had been so long and with such mighty effort defended, had fallen!—had yielded to the Austrians—and Frederick had thus lost the most important acquisition of the last year, and thus his possession of Silesia was again made doubtful. He looked sadly back upon all the precious blood which had been shed to no purpose—upon all the great and hardly-won battles, won in vain. He looked forward with an aching heart to the years of blood and battle which must follow. Frederick longed for rest and peace—he was weary of bloodshed and of war. Like an alluring, radiant picture of paradise, the image of his beloved Sans-Souci passed from time to time before his soul. He dreamed of his quiet library and his beautiful picture-gallery. And yet his courage was unconquered—and he preferred the torture of these wretched days—he preferred death itself to the unfavorable and humiliating peace which his proud enemies, made presumptuous by their last successes, dared to offer him. They stood opposed to him in monstrous superiority, but Frederick remained unshaken. With a smaller army and fewer allies Alexander demolished Persia. "But happily," he said to himself, "there was no Alexander to lead his enemies to victory."
Frederick did not despair, and yet he did not believe in the possibility of triumph. He preferred an honorable death to a dishonorable peace. He would rather fail amidst the proud ruins of Prussia, made great by his hand, than return with her to their former petty insignificance. They offered him peace, but a peace which compelled him to return the lands he had conquered, and to pay to his victorious enemies the costs of the war.
The king did not regard these mortifying propositions as worthy of consideration, and he commanded his ambassador, whom he had sent to Augsburg to treat with the enemy, to return immediately. "It is true," he said to his confidant, Le Catt, "all Europe is combined against me—all the great powers have resolved upon my destruction. And England, the only friend I did possess in Europe, has now abandoned me."
"But one has remained faithful."
"'Among the faithless, faithful only he' Among the innumerable false, unmoved, unshaken, unseduced, unterrified, that is my sword. If the exalted empresses are not my friends, the greater honor to my good sword which has never failed me, and which shall go down with me into the dark grave. If in Europe I have neither friends nor allies, I may find both in other parts of the world. Asia may send me the troops which Europe denies. If Russia is my enemy, who knows but for this reason Turkey may become my ally? And who knows but an alliance with the so-called unbelievers would be of more value to Prussia than a league with the so-called believing Russians? They call themselves Christians, but their weapons are lies, intrigues, deceit, and treachery. The Moslem, however, is an honorable man and a brave soldier. If he calls his God Allah, and his Christ Mohammed, God may call him to account. I have nothing to do with it. What has faith to do with the kings of this world? Besides, I believe the Turks and Tartars are better Christians than the Russians."
"Your majesty is really, then, thinking of an alliance with the Turks and Tartars?" said Le Catt.
"I am thinking of it so earnestly," said the king, eagerly, "that day and night I think of nothing else. I have spared no cost, no gold, no labor, to bring it about. Once I had almost succeeded, and the Sublime Porte was inclined to this league; and my ambassador, Rexin, was, with the consent of the Grand Vizier Mustapha, and indeed by his advice, disguised and sent secretly to Constantinople. The negotiations were almost completed, when the Russian and French ambassadors discovered my plans, and by bribery, lies, and intrigues of every base sort, succeeded in interfering. Mustapha broke his promise, and his only answer to me was—'that the Sublime Porte must wait for happier and more propitious days to confirm her friendship and good understanding with the King of Prussia.' This was the will of God the Almighty. This propitious year has been a long time coming, but I hope it is now at hand, and this longed-for alliance will at length be concluded. The last dispatches from my ambassador in Constantinople seem favorable. The wise and energetic Grand Vizier Raghile, the first self-reliant and enterprising Turkish statesman, has promised Rexin to bring this matter before the sultan, and I am daily expecting a courier who will bring me a decisive and perhaps favorable answer from Tartary."
[Footnote: Kammer, "History of the Porte," vol. viii., p. 190.]
Le Catt gazed with admiration upon the noble, excited countenance of the king. "Oh, sire," said he, deeply moved, "pardon, that in the fulness of my heart, overcome with joy and rapture. I dare for once to give expression in words to my love and my admiration. It is a glorious spectacle to see the proud oak in the midst of the wild tempest firm and unmoved, not even bowing its proud head to the raging elements, offering a bold but calm defiance. But it is a still more exalted spectacle to see a man with a brave heart and flashing eye defy disaster and death; alone, in the consciousness of his own strength, meeting Fate as an adversary and gazing upon it eye to eye unterrified. Misfortune is like the lion of the desert. If a man with steady eye and firm step advances to meet him, he ceases to roar and lies down humbly at his feet; he recognizes and quails before man made in the likeness of God. You, my king, now offer this spectacle to the astonished world. Can you wonder that I, who am ever near you, are filled with devotion and adoration, and must at last give utterance to my emotion? I have seen your majesty on the bloody battle-field, and in the full consciousness of victory, but never have I seen the laurels which crown your brow so radiant as in these days of your misfortune and defeat. Never was the King of Prussia so great a hero, so glorious a couqueror, as during these last weeks of destitution and gloom. You have hungered with the hungry, you have frozen with the freezing; you have passed the long, weary nights upon your cannon or upon the hard, cold earth. You have divided your last drop of wine with the poor soldiers. You did this, sire; I was in your tent and witnessed it—I alone. You sat at your dinner—a piece of bread and one glass of Hungarian wine, the last in your possession. An officer entered with his report. You asked him if he had eaten. He said yes, but his pale, thin face contradicted his words. You, sire, broke off the half of your bread, you drank the half of your wine, then gave the rest to the officer, saying in an almost apologetic tone, 'It is all that I have.' Sire, on that day I did what since my youth I have not done—I wept like a child, and my every glance upon your nobel face was a prayer."
"Enthusiast," said the king, giving his hand to Le Catt with a kindly smile, "is the world so corrupt that so natural an act should excite surprise, and appear great and exalted? Are you astonished at that which is simply human? But look! There is a courier! He stops before the door of my peasant-palace. Quick, quick! Le Catt; let me know the news he brings."
Le Catt hastened off, and returned at once with the dispatches.
Frederick took them with impatient haste, and while he read, his grave face lightened, and a happy, hopeful smile played once more upon his lips. "Ah, Le Catt," said he, "I was a good prophet, and my hopes are about to be fulfilled. Europe is against me, but Asia is my ally. The barbarous Russians are my enemies, but the honest Turks and Tartars are my friends. This dispatch is from my ambassador Rexin. He is coming, accompanied by an ambassador of Tartary, and may be here in a few hours."
"Where will your majesty receive him?" said Le Catt.
The king looked around smilingly at the little room, with the rude walls and dirty floor.
"I will receive him here!" said he; "here, in my royal palace of Voiseilvitz. I am forced to believe that a right royal king would, by his presence, transform the lowliest hut into a palace, and the most ordinary chair into a throne. The eyes of the ambassador may, however, be as dull as those of the worthy possessor of my present palace. It may be that he will not recognize me as the visible representative of God—as king by the grace of God. We must therefore come to his assistance, and show ourselves in all the dazzling glitter of royalty. We must improvise a throne, and, it appears to me, that leathern arm-chair, which certainly belonged to a grandfather, is well suited to the occasion. It will be a worthy representation of my throne, which was my grandfather's throne; he erected it, and I inherited it from him. Shove it, then, into the middle of the room, and fasten some of the Russian flags, which we took at Zorndorf, on the wall behind it; spread my tent-carpet on the floor, and my throne saloon is ready. Quick, Le Catt, make your preparations; call the servants, and show them what they have to do. In the mean time, I will make my toilet; I must not appear before the worthy ambassador in such unworthy guise." The king rang hastily, and his valet, Deesen, entered. "Deesen," said he, gayly, "we will imagine ourselves to be again in Sans-Souci, and about to hold a great court. I must do then, what I have not done for a long time—make grande toilette. I will wear my general's uniform, and adorn myself with the order of the Black Eagle. I will have my hair frizzed, and screw up an imposing cue. Well, Deesen, why do you gaze at me so wildly?"
"Sire, the general's coat is here, but—"
"Well, but what?" cried the king, impatiently.
"But the breeches! the breeches!" stammered Deesen, turning pale; "they are torn; and those your majesty now wears, are your last and only ones."
"Well, then," said the king, laughing, "I will continue to wear my last and only breeches; I will put on my general's coat, voila tout."
"That is wholly impossible," cried Deesen, wringing his hands. "If your majesty proposes to hold a great court, you cannot possibly wear these breeches!"
"Why not? why not?" said the king, fiercely.
"Sire," murmured Deesen, "sire, that has happened to them which happened to your majesty at Torgau."
"That is to say—"said the king, questioningly.
"That is to say, they are wounded."
Frederick looked surprised, and following the glance of his valet, he found his eyes fixed upon his knees.
"You are right, Deesen," said he, laughing; "that disaster has befallen my breeches which befell me at Torgau: they are wounded, and need a surgeon."
"Your majesty must therefore graciously postpone your great court till to-morrow. Perhaps I may find a tailor in one of the neighboring villages; he will work during the night, and early tomorrow every thing will be in order."
"It must be done to-day—done immediately," cried the king. "In a few hours the injury must be healed, and my apparel fully restored to health."