A Cursory View of Prussia from the Death of Frederick II to the Peace of Tilsit
LETTER II: Prussia at the Time of Frederick II
FREDERICK WILLIAM II. ascended the throne with a well disciplined army of two hundred thousand men to defend it, and a treasury of forty millions of dollars, amassed for the service of the state. This prince, though by no means destitute of ability, had still not powers sufficient to govern, with wisdom, a kingdom organized with so much art as was that of Prussia. His mind had been long corrupted by an extravagant attachment to the fair sex which overcame every other consideration. The natural consequence was, that he and the state gradually declined together. He, however, felt the superiority of Frederick; and, in reverence to his memory, attempted at the beginning of his reign to be the statesman, and even became his own minister. He also retained the principal officers employed by his predecessor, both in the civil and military departments: but it is not always a consequence that the chief under Frederick William should have the same animation as under the eye of a Frederick II.
Affairs, however, at first went on pretty smoothly, and some few useful alterations were made; but these did not arise from the foundation head: for this was become turbid and sluggish in it’s course; and his majesty, already tired of the cabinet, transferred his chief attention to his amours, in which his old favorite, Mrs. Rietz*, was of most convenient assistance. A mind thus subdued, must lose it’s energy. As business, therefore, became irksome, it was found expedient to divide the departments, so that now, each province had it’s separate governor, and having no superior to guide or connect them, this produced a complete ministerial aristocracy, as each had his own separate interests to pursue. Thus freed from every shackle, the king must at least be amused; and though men of warm passions, with enervated minds like his, become frequently the dupes of their own imaginations, yet it will scarcely be credited, that the successor of Frederick II., through the artifices of Bischoffswerder and Wölner (two adventurers, pretending to great skill in occult sciences), should become a visionary, and edified with the sight of ghosts and apparitions; and, what is still more singular, that he should actually believe in them.
*Of whom a short account will be hereafter given.
This naturally was a source of knavery, and Bischoffswerder soon became the acting man in the cabinet, as he found means to persuade the king, that all business was directed by his majesty alone; an idea which Frederick William very willingly adopted.
In the meant time, the treasure which had been amassed for the service of the state, was now otherwise employed, and scattered about with lavish hand; whilst daily diplomas were issued for mushroom nobility, who were required to pay liberally for their elevation.
Under such circumstances, those yet remaining from the old school of Frederick, could not feel themselves very comfortable: accordingly, in 1792, Hertzberg and others got their dismission. This left the field open for political speculators. The Emperor Leopold, who was a greater statesman than a soldier, immediately seised the opportunity, gained over the cabinet, and prevailed upon Prussia to enter into the treaty of Pilnitz, by which Poland was to be totally dismembered, not withstanding Frederick William had so lately, and so solemnly, engaged himself to protect the new constitution of that country! But here, the excited vanity of the monarch prevailed over the duty of the man, as was too frequently his unfortunate case. For, too ready to adopt the opinion of those around him, who knew his foibles, he, under the idea they gave him, of relieving a suffering monarch, and of suppressing the overwhelming principles of jacobinism, had been already hastily led to the ridiculous crusade against France, where his shameful retreat threw the first indelible blot on the Prussian name, and may be considered as the first retrograde step made by Prussia from it’s former elevation.
Nor were these deviations from the principles of Frederick’s politics confined to remote operations; for his favorites, the illuminati, apparently afraid of ridicule, ventured to abuse their influence at home, by publishing edicts, not only prohibiting certain publications, but also directing the faith of individuals in matters of religion.
Men of abilities, whom Frederick had collected around him, were now insulted, and obliged, by this bigoted despotism, to make way for those whose greater complaisance approved, as they benefited by the vile dissipation of the public money, and by the impolitic operations of a depraved cabinet: a cabinet whose venal principles sought rapine through every channel; and, deeming Poland a proper source of plunder, the furtive entrance of the Prussian troops into this unhappy country was therefore hastened; though, in sound policy, it ought ever to have remained a barrier against two such powerful neighbours. This flagrant act of their violence—their suppression or rather their impotent attempts to suppress the patriotic insurrection in Poland— and, lastly, the famous peace of Basle, are three complete documents to the world, of the continued deviation from the plans of the Great Frederick, and of their nearer approach to their ultimate downfall. As these three points deserve some closer attention, I shall make them the subject of my next letter.
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