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1766. among high and low. Of which the King knew something; but far from the whole. His object was one of vital importance; and his plan once fixed, he went on with it, according to his custom, regardless of little rubs. The Anecdote Books are full of details, comic mostly, on this subject: How the French rats pounced down upon good harmless people, innocent frugal parsonages, farmhouses; and were comically flung prostrate by native ready wit, or by direct appeal to the King. Details, never so authentic, could not be advisable in this place. Perhaps there are not more than Two authentic Passages, known to me, which can now have the least interest, even of a momentary sort, to English readers. The first is, Of King Friedrich caricatured as a Miser grinding Coffee. I give it, without essential alteration of any kind, in Herr Preuss's words, copied from those of one who saw it:—the second, which relates to a Princess or Ex-Princess of the Royal House, I must reserve for a little while. Herr Preuss says:
"Once, during the time of the Regie' (which lasted from 1766 to 1786 and the King's death: no other date assignable, though 1768, or so, may be imaginable for our purpose), 'as the King came riding along the Jäger Strasse, there was visible near what is called the Fürstenhaus,' kind of Berlin Somerset-House, 17 " a great crowd of people. “See what it is !” the King sent ' his one attendant, a heiduc or groom, into it, to learn ( what it was. “They have something posted up about your Majesty,” reported the groom; and Friedrich, who by this time had ridden forward, took a look at the thing; which was a Caricature figure of himself: King in very melancholy guise, seated on a Stool, a Coffee-mill between his knees; diligently grinding with
17 Nicolai, i. 155.
1766. the one hand, and with the other picking up any bean " that might have fallen. “ Hang it lower,” said the
King, beckoning his groom with a wave of the finger: “Lower, that they may not have to hurt their necks “ about it!" No sooner were the words spoken, which spread instantly, than there rose from the whole crowd one universal huzzah of joy. They tore the Caricature ' into a thousand pieces, and rolled after the King with 'loud “Lebe hoch, Our Friedrich forever!” as he rode slowly away.
That is their Friedrich's method with the Caricature Department. Heffner, Kapellmeister in Upsala, reports this bit of memorability; he was then of the King's Music-Chapel in Berlin, and saw this with his
The King's tendency at all times, and his practice generally, when we hear of it, was to take the people's side; so that gradually these French procedures were a great deal mitigated; and die Regie, --so they called this hateful new-fangled system of Excise Machinery, became much more supportable, “the sorrows of it nothing but a tradition to the younger sort,' reports Dohm, who is extremely ample on this subject.19 De Launay was honourably dismissed, and the whole Regie abolished, a month or two after Friedrich's death.
With a splenetic satisfaction authentic Dohm, who sufficiently condemns the Regie, adds that it was not even successful; and shows by evidence, and computation to the uttermost farthing, that instead of two million thalers annually, it yielded on the average rather less than one. The desired overplus of two millions, and a good deal more did indeed come in, says he: but
19 Preuss, iii. 275 ('from Berlin Conversationsblatt &c. of 1827, No. 253').
10 Christian Wilhelm von Dohm, Denkwürdigkeiten meiner Zeit (Lemgo und Hanover, 1819), iv. 500 et seq.
1766. it was owing to the great prosperity of Prussia at large, after the Seven-Years War; to the manifold industries awakening, which have gone on progressive ever since. Dohm declares farther, that the very object was, in a sort, fanciful, nugatory; arguing that nobody did attack Friedrich;—but omitting to prove that nobody would have done so, had Friedrich not stood ready to receive him. We will remark only, what is very indisputable, that Friedrich, owing to the Regie, or to other causes, did get the humble overplus necessary for him; and did stand ready for any war which might have come (and which did in a sort come); that he more and more relaxed the Regie, as it became less indispensable to him; and was willing, if he found the Caricatures and Opposition Placards too high posted, to save the poor reading people any trouble that was possible.
A French eyewitness testifies: “They had no talent, these Régie fellows, but that of writing and ciphering; extremely conceited too, and were capable of the most ‘ ridiculous follies. Once, for instance, they condemned 6
a common soldier, who had hidden some pounds of tobacco, to a fine of 200 thalers. The King, on re'viewing it for confirmation, wrote on the margin: “ Before confirming this sentence, I should wish to “ know where the Soldier, who gets 8 groschen” (ninepence halfpenny) “in the 5 days, will find the 200
crowns for paying this Fine !" 20 Innumerable instances of a constant disposition that way, on the King's part, stand on record. “A crown a head on the import “ of fat cattle, Tax on butcher's-meat?” writes he once to De Launay: “No, that would fall on the poorer " classes; to that I must say No. I am, by office, Pro“ curator of the Poor (l'avocat du pauvre).” Elsewhere
20 Laveaux (2d edition), iii. 228.
1766. it is, “ Avocat du pauvre et du soldat (of the working-man " and of the soldier); and have to plead their cause."21
We will now give our Second Anecdote; which has less of memorability to us strangers at present, though doubtless it was then, in Berlin society, the more celebrated of the two; relating, as it did, to a high CourtLady, almost the highest, and who was herself only too celebrated in those years. The heroine is Princess Elizabeth of Brunswick, King's own Niece and a pretty woman; who for four years (14th July 1765—18th April 1769) of her long life was Princess Royal of Prussia,-Wife of that tall young Gentleman, whom we used to see dancing about, whom we last saw at Schweidnitz, getting flung from his horse, on the day of Pirch's saddle there;—but in the fourth year ceased to be so22 (for excellent reasons, on both sides), and lived thenceforth in a divorced eclipsed state, at Stettin, where is laid the scene of our Anecdote. I understand it to be perfectly true; but cannot ascertain from any of the witnesses in what year the thing happened; or whether it was at Stettin or Berlin,—though my author has guessed, Stettin, in the Lady's divorced state,' as appears :
"This Princess had commissioned, direct from Lyon, a very beautiful dress; which arrived duly, addressed to her at Stettin. • As this kind of stuffs is charged with very heavy dues, the Douanier, head Customhouse Personage of the Town, had the impertinence to detain the dress till payment were made. The Princess, in a lofty indignation, sent word to this person, To bring the dress instantly, and she would pay the dues on it.
He obeyed: but,'—mark the result,—scarcely had the Princess 'got eye on him, when she seized her Lyon Dress; and, giving 'the Douanier a couple of good slaps on the face, ordered him out of her apartment and house. 21 Preuss, iii. 20.
22 Rödenbeck, ii. 241, 257.
"The Douanier, thinking himself one and somewhat, withdrew in high choler; had a long Procès-verbal of the thing
drawn out; and sent it to the King with eloquent complaint, “ That he had been dishonoured in doing the function appointed
him.” Friedrich replied as follows: ‘To the Douanier at Stettin : “ The loss of the Excise-dues shall fall to my score; the Dress “shall remain with the Princess; the slaps to him who has received " them. As to the pretended Dishonour, I entirely relieve the “ complainant from that: never can the appliance of a beautiful “ hand dishonour the face of an Officer of Customs.-F.23
Northern Tourists, Wraxall and others, passing that way, speak of this Princess, down to recent times, as a phenomenon of the place. Apparently a high and peremptory kind of Lady, disdaining to be bowed too low by her disgraces. She survived all her generation, and the next and the next, and indeed into our own. Died, 18th February 1840: at the age of ninety-six. Three score and eleven years of that eclipsed Stettin Existence; this of the Lyon gown, and caitiff of a Customhouser slapped on the face, her one adventure put on record for us!
She was signally blameable in that of the Divorce; but not she alone, nor first of the Two. Her CrownPrince, Friedrich Wilhelm, called afterwards, as King, “ der Dicke (the Fat, or the Big),” and held in little esteem by Posterity,-a headlong, rather dark and physical kind of creature, though not ill-meaning or dishonest,—was himself a dreadful sinner in that department of things; and had begun the bad game against his poor Cousin and Spouse! Readers of discursive turn are perhaps acquainted with a certain “Gräfin von Lichtenau," and her Memoirs so-called :—not willingly, but driven, I fish up one specimen, and one only, from that record of human puddles and perversities :
Rödenbeck (abridged), iii. 229.