History of Friedrich II of Prussia Volume XXI Part 25

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In death, I think, he has neither fear nor hope. Atheism, truly, he never could abide: to him, as to all of us, it was flatly inconceivable that intellect, moral emotion, could have been put into HIM by an Ent.i.ty that had none of its own. But there, pretty much, his Theism seems to have stopped. Instinctively, too, he believed, no man more firmly, that Right alone has ultimately any strength in this world: ultimately, yes;--but for him and his poor brief interests, what good was it? Hope for himself in Divine Justice, in Divine Providence, I think he had not practically any; that the unfathomable Demiurgus should concern himself with such a set of paltry ill-given animalcules as oneself and mankind are, this also, as we have often noticed, is in the main incredible to him.

A sad Creed, this of the King's;--he had to do his duty without fee or reward. Yes, reader;--and what is well worth your attention, you will have difficulty to find, in the annals of any Creed, a King or man who stood more faithfully to his duty; and, till the last hour, alone concerned himself with doing that. To poor Friedrich that was all the Law and all the Prophets: and I much recommend you to surpa.s.s him, if you, by good luck, have a better Copy of those inestimable Doc.u.ments!--Inarticulate notions, fancies, transient aspirations, he might have, in the background of his mind. One day, sitting for a while out of doors, gazing into the Sun, he was heard to murmur, "Perhaps I shall be nearer thee soon:"--and indeed n.o.body knows what his thoughts were in these final months. There is traceable only a complete superiority to Fear and Hope; in parts, too, are half-glimpses of a great motionless interior lake of Sorrow, sadder than any tears or complainings, which are altogether wanting to it.

Friedrich's dismissal of Selle, June 4th, by no means meant that he had given up hope from medicine; on the contrary, two days after, he had a Letter on the road for Zimmermann at Hanover; whom he always remembers favorably since that DIALOGUE we read fifteen years ago. His first Note to Zimmermann is of June 6th, "Would you consent to come for a fortnight, and try upon me?" Zimmermann's overjoyed Answer, "Yes, thrice surely yes," is of June 10th; Friedrich's second is of June 16th, "Come, then!" And Zimmermann came accordingly,--as is still too well known.

Arrived 23d June; stayed till 10th July; had Thirty-three Interviews or DIALOGUES with him; one visit the last day; two, morning and evening, every preceding day;--and published a Book about them, which made immense noise in the world, and is still read, with little profit or none, by inquirers into Friedrich. [Ritter von Zimmermann, _Uber Friedrich den Grossen und meine Unterredungen mit Ihm kurz von seinem Tode_ (1 vol. 8vo: Leipzig, 1788);--followed by _Fragmente uber Friedrich den Grossen_ (3 vols. 12mo: Leipzig, 1790); and by &c. &c.]

Thirty-three Dialogues, throwing no new light on Friedrich, none of them equal in interest to the old specimen known to us.

In fact, the Book turns rather on Zimmermann himself than on his Royal Patient; and might be ent.i.tled, as it was by a Satirist, DIALOGUES OF ZIMMERMANN I. AND FRIEDRICH II. An unwise Book; abounding in exaggeration; breaking out continually into extraneous sallies and extravagancies,--the source of which is too plainly an immense conceit of oneself. Zimmermann is fifteen years older since we last saw him; a man now verging towards sixty; but has not grown wiser in proportion.

In Hanover, though miraculously healed of that LEIBESSCHADE, and full of high hopes, he has had his new tribulations, new compensations,--both of an agitating character. "There arose," he says, in reference to some medical Review-article he wrote, "a WEIBER-EPIDEMIK, a universal shrieking combination of all the Women against me:"--a frightful accident while it lasted! Then his little Daughter died on his hands; his Son had disorders, nervous imbecilities,--did not die, but did worse; went into hopeless idiotcy, and so lived for many years.

Zimmermann, being dreadfully miserable, hypochondriac, what not, "his friends," he himself pa.s.sive, it would seem, "managed to get a young Wife for him;" thirty years younger than he,--whose performances, however, in this difficult post, are praised.

Lastly, not many months ago (Leipzig, 1785), the big FINAL edition of "SOLITUDE" (four volumes) has come out; to the joy and enthusiasm of all philanthropic-philosophic and other circulating-library creatures:--a Copy of which came, by course of nature, not by Zimmermann's help, into the hands of Catharine of Russia. Sublime imperial Letter thereupon, with 'valuable diamond ring;' invitation to come to Petersburg, with charges borne (declined, on account of health); to be imperial Physician (likewise declined);--in fine, continued Correspondence with Catharine (trying enough for a vain head), and Knighthood of the Order of St.

Wladimir,--so that, at least, Doctor Zimmermann is RITTER Zimmermann henceforth. And now, here has come his new Visit to Friedrich the Great;--which, with the issues it had, and the tempestuous cloud of tumid speculations and chaotic writings it involved him in, quite upset the poor Ritter Doctor; so that, hypochondrias deepening to the abysmal, his fine intellect sank altogether,--and only Death, which happily followed soon, could disimprison him. At this moment, there is in Zimmermann a worse "Dropsy" of the spiritual kind, than this of the physical, which he has come in relief of!

Excerpts of those Zimmermann DIALOGUES lie copiously round me, ready long ago,--nay, I understand there is, or was, an English TRANSLATION of the whole of them, better or worse, for behoof of the curious:--but on serious consideration now, I have to decide, That they are but as a Scene of clowns in the Elder Dramatists; which, even were it NOT overdone as it is, cannot be admitted in this place, and is plainly impertinent in the Tragedy that is being acted here. Something of Farce will often enough, in this irreverent world, intrude itself on the most solemn Tragedy; but, in pity even to the Farce, there ought at least to be closed doors kept between them.

Enough for us to say, That Ritter Zimmermann--who is a Physician and a Man of Literary Genius, and should not have become a Tragic Zany--did, with unspeakable emotions, terrors, prayers to Heaven, and paroxysms of his own ridiculous kind, prescribe "Syrup of Dandelion" to the King; talked to him soothingly, musically, successfully; found the King a most pleasant Talker, but a very wilful perverse kind of Patient; whose errors in point of diet especially were enormous to a degree. Truth is, the King's appet.i.te for food did still survive:--and this might have been, you would think, the one hopeful basis of Zimmermann's whole treatment, if there were still any hope: but no; Zimmermann merely, with uncommon emphasis, lyrically recognizes such amazing appet.i.te in an old man overwhelmed by diseases,--trumpets it abroad, for ignorant persons to regard as a crime, or perhaps as a type generally of the man's past life, and makes no other attempt upon it;--stands by his "Extract of Dandelion boiled to the consistency of honey;" and on the seventeenth day, July 10th, voiceless from emotion, heart just breaking, takes himself away, and ceases. One of our Notes says:--

"Zimmermann went by Dessau and Brunswick; at Brunswick, if he made speed thither, Zimmermann might perhaps find Mirabeau, who is still there, and just leaving for Berlin to be in at the death:--but if the Doctor and he missed each other, it was luckier, as they had their controversies afterwards. Mirabeau arrived at Berlin, July 21st: [Mirabeau, HISTOIRE SECRETE DE LA COUR DE BERLIN, tome iii. of _OEuvres de Mirabeau:_ Paris, 1821, LETTRE v. p. 37.] vastly diligent in picking up news, opinions, judgments of men and events, for his Calonne;--and amazingly accurate, one finds; such a flash of insight has he, in whatever element, foul or fair.

"JULY 9th, the day before Zimmerman's departure, Hertzberg had come out to Potsdam in permanence. Hertzberg is privately thenceforth in communication with the Successor; altogether privately, though no doubt Friedrich knew it well enough, and saw it to be right. Of course, all manner of poor creatures are diligent about their own bits of interests; and saying to themselves, 'A New Reign is evidently nigh!' Yes, my friends;--and a precious Reign it will prove in comparison: sensualities, unctuous religiosities, ostentations, imbecilities; culminating in Jena twenty years hence."

Zimmermann haggles to tell us what his report was at Brunswick; says, he "set the Duke [ERBPRINZ, who is now Duke these six years past] sobbing and weeping;" though towards the Widow d.u.c.h.ess there must have been some hope held out, as we shall now see. The d.u.c.h.ess's Letter or Letters to her Brother are lost; but this is his Answer:--


"SANS-SOUCI, 10th August, 1786.

"MY ADORABLE SISTER,--The Hanover Doctor has wished to make himself important with you, my good Sister; but the truth is, he has been of no use to me (M'A ETE INUTILE). The old must give place to the young, that each generation may find room clear for it: and Life, if we examine strictly what its course is, consists in seeing one's fellow-creatures die and be born. In the mean while, I have felt myself a little easier for the last day or two. My heart remains inviolably attached to you, my good Sister. With the highest consideration,--My adorable Sister,--Your faithful Brother and Servant, "FRIEDRICH." [_OEuvres de Frederic,_ xxvii. i. 352.]

This is Friedrich's last Letter;--his last to a friend. There is one to his Queen, which Preuss's Index seems to regard as later, though without apparent likelihood; there being no date whatever, and only these words: "Madam,--I am much obliged by the wishes you deign to form: but a heavy fever I have taken (GROSSE FIEVRE QUE J'AI PRISE) hinders me from answering you." [Ib. xxvi. 62.]

On common current matters of business, and even on uncommon, there continue yet for four days to be Letters expressly dictated by Friedrich; some about military matters (vacancies to be filled, new Free-Corps to be levied). Two or three of them are on so small a subject as the purchase of new Books by his Librarians at Berlin. One, and it has been preceded by examining, is, Order to the Potsdam Magistrates to grant "the Baker Schroder, in terms of his pet.i.tion, a Free-Pa.s.s out of Preussen hither, for 100 bushels of rye and 50 of wheat, though Schroder will not find the prices much cheaper there than here." His last, of August 14th, is to De Launay, Head of the Excise: "Your Account of Receipts and Expenditures came to hand yesterday, 13th; but is too much in small: I require one more detailed,"--and explains, with brief clearness, on what points and how. Neglects nothing, great or small, while life yet is.

TUESDAY, AUGUST 15th, 1786, Contrary to all wont, the King did not awaken till 11 o'clock. On first looking up, he seemed in a confused state, but soon recovered himself; called in his Generals and Secretaries, who had been in waiting so long, and gave, with his old precision, the Orders wanted,--one to Rohdich, Commandant of Potsdam, about a Review of the troops there next day; Order minutely perfect, in knowledge of the ground, in foresight of what and how the evolutions were to be; which was accordingly performed on the morrow. The Cabinet work he went through with the like possession of himself, giving, on every point, his Three Clerks their directions, in a weak voice, yet with the old power of spirit,--dictated to one of them, among other things, an "Instruction" for some Amba.s.sador just leaving; "four quarto pages, which," says Hertzberg, "would have done honor to the most experienced Minister;" and, in the evening, he signed his Missives as usual. This evening still,--but--no evening more. We are now at the last scene of all, which ends this strange eventful History.

Wednesday morning, General-Adjutants, Secretaries, Commandant, were there at their old hours; but word came out, "Secretaries are to wait:"

King is in a kind of sleep, of stertorous ominous character, as if it were the death-sleep; seems not to recollect himself, when he does at intervals open his eyes. After hours of this, [Selle (ut sup.); Anonymous (Kletschke), LETZTE STUNDEN UND LEICHENBEGANGNISS FRIEDRICHS DES ZWEYTEN, (Potsdam, 1786); Preuss, iv. 264 et seq.; Rodenbeck, iii.

363-366.] on a ray of consciousness, the King bethought him of Rohdich, the Commandant; tried to give Rohdich the Parole as usual; tried twice, perhaps three times; but found he could not speak;--and with a glance of sorrow, which seemed to say, "It is impossible, then!" turned his head, and sank back into the corner of his chair. Rohdich burst into tears: the King again lay slumberous;--the rattle of death beginning soon after, which lasted at intervals all day. Selle, in Berlin, was sent for by express; he arrived about three of the afternoon: King seemed a little more conscious, knew those about him, "his face red rather than pale, in his eyes still something of their old fire." Towards evening the feverishness abated (to Selle, I suppose, a fatal symptom); the King fell into a soft sleep, with warm perspiration; but, on awakening, complained of cold, repeatedly of cold, demanding wrappage after wrappage ("KISSEN," soft QUILT of the old fas.h.i.+on);--and on examining feet and legs, one of the Doctors made signs that they were in fact cold, up nearly to the knee. "What said he of the feet?" murmured the King some time afterwards, the Doctor having now stepped out of sight.

"Much the same as before," answered some attendant. The King shook his head, incredulous.

He drank once, grasping the goblet with both hands, a draught of fennel-water, his customary drink; and seemed relieved by it;--his last refection in this world. Towards nine in the evening, there had come on a continual short cough, and a rattling in the breast, breath more and more difficult. Why continue? Friedrich is making exit, on the common terms; you may HEAR the curtain rustling down. For most part he was unconscious, never more than half conscious. As the wall-clock above his head struck 11, he asked: "What o'clock?" "Eleven," answered they. "At 4" murmured he, "I will rise." One of his dogs sat on its Stool near him; about midnight he noticed it s.h.i.+vering for cold: "Throw a quilt over it," said or beckoned he; that, I think, was his last completely conscious utterance. Afterwards, in a severe choking fit, getting at last rid of the phlegm, he said, "LA MONTAGNE EST Pa.s.sEE, NOUS IRONS MIEUX, We are over the hill, we shall go better now."

Attendants, Hertzberg, Selle and one or two others, were in the outer room; none in Friedrich's but Strutzki, his Kammerhussar, one of Three who are his sole valets and nurses; a faithful ingenious man, as they all seem to be, and excellently chosen for the object. Strutzki, to save the King from hustling down, as he always did, into the corner of his chair, where, with neck and chest bent forward, breathing was impossible,--at last took the King on his knee; kneeling on the ground with his other knee for the purpose,--King's right arm round Strutzki's neck, Strutzki's left arm round the King's back, and supporting his other shoulder; in which posture the faithful creature, for above two hours, sat motionless, till the end came. Within doors, all is silence, except this breathing; around it the dark earth silent, above it the silent stars. At 20 minutes past 2, the breathing paused,--wavered; ceased. Friedrich's Life-battle is fought out; instead of suffering and sore labor, here is now rest. Thursday morning, 17th August, 1786, at the dark hour just named. On the 31st of May last, this King had reigned 46 years. "He has lived," counts Rodenbeck, "74 years, 6 months and 24 days."

His death seems very stern and lonely;--a man of such affectionate feelings, too; "a man with more sensibility than other men!" But so had his whole life been, stern and lonely; such the severe law laid on him.

Nor was it inappropriate that he found his death in that poor Silesian Review; punctually doing, as usual, the work that had come in hand. Nor that he died now, rather than a few years later. In these final days of his, we have transiently noticed Arch-Cardinal de Rohan, Arch-Quack Cagliostro, and a most select Company of Persons and of Actions, like an Elixir of the Nether World, miraculously emerging into daylight; and all Paris, and by degrees all Europe, getting loud with the DIAMOND-NECKLACE History. And to eyes of deeper speculation,--World-Poet Goethe's, for instance,--it is becoming evident that Chaos is again big. As has not she proved to be, and is still proving, in the most teeming way! Better for a Royal Hero, fallen old and feeble, to be hidden from such things.

"Yesterday, Wednesday, August 16th," says a Note which now strikes us as curious, "Mirabeau, smelling eagerly for news, had ridden out towards Potsdam; met the Page riding furiously for Selle ('one horse already broken down,' say the Peasants about); and with beak, powerful beyond any other vulture's, Mirabeau perceived that here the end now was. And thereupon rushed off, to make arrangements for a courier, for flying pigeons, and the other requisites. And appeared that night at the Queen's Soiree in Schonhausen [Queen has Apartment that evening, dreaming of nothing], 'where,' says he, 'I eagerly whispered the French Minister,' and less eagerly 'MON AMI Mylord Dalrymple,' the English one;--neither of whom would believe me. Nor, in short, what Calonne will regret, but n.o.body else, could the pigeons be let loose, owing to want of funds.'" [Mirabeau, HISTOIRE SECRETE, &c. (LETTRE xiv.), pp.

58-63.]--Enough, enough.

Friedrich was not buried at Sans-Souci, in the Tomb which he had built for himself; why not, n.o.body clearly says. By his own express will, there was no embalming. Two Regiment-surgeons washed the Corpse, decently prepared it for interment: "At 8 that same evening, Friedrich's Body, dressed in the uniform of the First Battalion of Guards, and laid in its coffin, was borne to Potsdam, in a hea.r.s.e of eight horses, twelve Non-commissioned Officers of the Guard escorting. All Potsdam was in the streets; the Soldiers, of their own accord, formed rank, and followed the hea.r.s.e; many a rugged face unable to restrain tears: for the rest, universal silence as of midnight, nothing audible among the people but here and there a sob, and the murmur, 'ACH, DER GUTE KONIG!'

"All next day, the Body lay in state in the Palace; thousands crowding, from Berlin and the other environs, to see that face for the last time.

Wasted, worn; but beautiful in death, with the thin gray hair parted into locks, and slightly powdered. And at 8 in the evening [Friday, 18th], he was borne to the Garnison-Kirche of Potsdam; and laid beside his Father, in the vault behind the Pulpit there," [Rodenbeck, iii. 365 (Public Funeral was not till September 9th).] where the two Coffins are still to be seen.

I define him to myself as. .h.i.therto the Last of the Kings;--when the Next will be, is a very long question! But it seems to me as if Nations, probably all Nations, by and by, in their despair,--blinded, swallowed like Jonah, in such a whale's-belly of things brutish, waste, abominable (for is not Anarchy, or the Rule of what is Baser over what is n.o.bler, the one life's misery worth complaining of, and, in fact, the abomination of abominations, springing from and producing all others whatsoever?)--as if the Nations universally, and England too if it hold on, may more and more bethink themselves of such a Man and his Function and Performance, with feelings far other than are possible at present.

Meanwhile, all I had to say of him is finished: that too, it seems, was a bit of work appointed to be done. Adieu, good readers; bad also, adieu.

History of Friedrich II of Prussia Volume XXI Part 25

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