A Cursory View of Prussia from the Death of Frederick II to the Peace of Tilsit
LETTER I: The Spirit of Frederick II
NOT you alone, my worthy friend, but al-most all Europe, are astonished at the rapid decline of the Prussian empire, and at the instantaneous annihilation of nearly the whole Prussian army—an army which, under the Great Frederick, had been accustomed to conquest, and had achieved such wonders! an empire, which had cost so much time, so much care, to raise to that height from which it is now fallen—fallen apparently never to rise again! for Frederick is no more—with him the fostering genius of Prussia seems fled for ever.
Already at his bier, the reflecting few could not suppress the gloomy forebodings of their future misfortunes; and, long before Bonaparte’s name was known to the world, the fall of Prussia seemed decided: he therefore only hastened the melancholy catastrophe; and the merit, which has always distinguished him, of properly timing his blow, has thus succeeded.
You are solicitous, you say, to be informed of the various circumstances which led to this important event, as you suppose my long residence in these parts will have enabled me to explore the most authentic resources.
I am not, it is true, without some information on this subject; but, to gratify your request in any satisfactory manner, it will, my good Sir, require rather a copious discussion: you must, therefore, permit me to take up my pen at my leisure, and I shall then endeavour to give you a just idea of the natural causes of this momentous change. For which purpose, I shall freely consult such publications as may furnish me with the best intelligence; and, for brevity’s sake, shall occasionally take the liberty even to personate the author; as to you, It must be indifferent under what form you receive you information.
It may not be improper to begin our remarks from the death of Frederick the Second.—At this period, Prussia held a most respectable rank amongst the nations of Europe. High in military fame, founded on actual deeds of prowess, and on the then existing excellent discipline of a numerous army—powerful from the vast resources of an overflowing treasury—and these advantages directed by a head, which, in a manner, had created both; and, by being thus directed so ably, the consequent events have proved, that it was the energy of the mind, and not the situation of the person, which formed and governed the state. In short, the spirit of the monarch pervaded the whole, from the prime minister to the school-boy, from the fifer to the field marshal, even each individual of his subjects partook of the electric spark; and through him, in a manner, they lived, they moved, and had their being. Rarely is a crown placed on the head of such a superior genius; future ages alone will appreciate his real worth.
Such a mind could not be devoid of ambition, but his ambition was guided by justice. When he ascended the throne, he found his possessions and his powers too confined to support his favorite plans, and therefore, on the death of Charles the Sixth, he eagerly seised the opportunity to enforce an old claim he had upon Silesia; in which he so decidedly succeeded, that it was afterwards guaranteed to him as his property. It was now he felt himself enabled to pursue his favorite scheme of supporting the balance of power; and towards this point his plans were ever directed, nor had his conquests any other object. I am confidently assured, that, when at Neisse with the Emperor Joseph, the latter proposed to him to share Germany between them, and thus to make themselves masters of the world, as he called it—“Sire,” answered Frederick, “ the idea is diametrically opposite “to my own principles, and to those I have “ever endeavoured to inculcate into others.” It was from this impression also, that he so much detested war. During the latter peaceful years of his reign, with what energy and success did he study the welfare of his country! But to enter into particulars of this kind, would lead me too far from my present chief subject; I shall therefore close my remarks on this sovereign, by observing, that, both in the civil and military departments, all his arrangements were made with such profound precision, that the complicated machine required abilities equal to his own to support and direct it; and, without their guidance, could not but sink into disorder and confusion. Of the truth of this observation, my future letters will furnish abundant proofs.
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