History of Friedrich II of Prussia— Volume 6

Author: Thomas Carlyle

Chapter II. Death of George I.

Gibraltar still keeps sputtering; ardent ineffectual bombardment from the one side, sulky, heavy blast of response now and then from the other: but the fire does not spread; nor will, we may hope. It is true, Sweden and Denmark have joined the Treaty of Hanover, this spring; and have troops on foot, and money paid them; But George is pacific; Gibraltar is impregnable; let the Spaniards spend their powder there.

As for the Kaiser, he is dreadfully poor; inapt for battle himself. And in the end of this same May, 1727, we hear, his principal ally, Czarina Catherine, has died;—poor brown little woman, Lithuanian housemaid, Russian Autocrat, it is now all one; —dead she, and can do nothing. Probably the Kaiser will sit still? The Kaiser sits still; with eyes bent on Gibraltar, or rolling in graud Imperial inquiry and anxiety round the world; war-outlooks much dimmed for him since the end of May.

Alas, in the end of June, what far other Job’s-post is this that reaches Berlin and Queen Sophie? That George I., her royal Father, has suddenly sunk dead! With the Solstice, or Summer pause of the Sun, 21st or 22d June, almost uncertain which, the Majesty of George I. did likewise pause,—in his carriage, on the road to Osnabruck,—never to move more. Whereupon, among the simple People, arose rumors of omens, preternaturalisms, for and against: How his desperate Megaera of a Wife, in the act of dying, had summoned him (as was presumable), to appear along with her at the Great Judgment-Bar within year and day; and how he has here done it. On the other hand, some would have it noted, How "the nightingales in Herrenhausen Gardens had all ceased singing for the year, that night he died,"—out of loyalty on the part of these little birds, it seemed presumable. [See Kohler, <italic> Munzbelustigungen, <end italic> x. 88.]

What we know is, he was journeying towards Hanover again, hopeful of a little hunting at the Gorhde; and intended seeing Osnabruck and his Brother the Bishop there, as he passed. That day, 21st June, 1727, from some feelings of his own, he was in great haste for Osnabruck; hurrying along by extra-post, without real cause save hurry of mind. He had left his poor old Maypole of a Mistress on the Dutch Frontier, that morning, to follow at more leisure. He was struck by apoplexy on the road,—arm fallen powerless, early in the day, head dim and heavy; obviously an alarming case. But he refused to stop anywhere; refused any surgery but such as could be done at once. "Osnabruck! Osnabruck!" he reiterated, growing visibly worse. Two subaltern Hanover Officials, "Privy-Councillor von Hardenberg, KAMMERHERR (Chamberlain) von Fabrice, were in the carriage with him;" [Gottfried, <italic> Historische Chronik <end italic> (Frankfurt, 1759), iii. 872. Boyer, <italic> The Political State of Great Britain, <end italic> vol. xxxiii. pp. 545, 546.] King chiefly dozing, and at last supported in the arms of Fabrice, was heard murmuring, "C’EST FAIT DE MOI (’T is all over with me)!" And "Osnabruck! Osnabruck!" slumberously reiterated he: To Osnabruck, where my poor old Brother, Bishop as they call him, once a little Boy that trotted at my knee with blithe face, will have some human pity on me! So they rushed along all day, as at the gallop, his few attendants and he; and when the shades of night fell, and speech had now left the poor man, he still passionately gasped some gurgle of a sound like "Osnabruck;" —hanging in the arms of Fabrice, and now evidently in the article of death. What a gallop, sweeping through the slumber of the world: To Osnabruck, Osnabruck!

In the hollow of the night (some say, one in the morning), they reach Osnabruck. And the poor old Brother,—Ernst August, once youngest of six brothers, of seven children, now the one survivor, has human pity in the heart of him full surely. But George is dead; careless of it now. [Coxe (i. 266) is "indebted to his friend Nathaniel Wraxall" for these details,—the since famous Sir Nathaniel, in whose <italic> Memoirs <end italic> (vague, but NOT mendacious, not unintelligent) they are now published more at large. See his <italic> Memoirs of the Courts of Berlin, Dresden, <end italic> &c. (London. 1799), i. 35-40; also <italic> Historical Memoirs <end italic> (London, 1836), iv. 516-518.] After sixty-seven years of it, he has flung his big burdens,— English crowns, Hanoverian crownlets, sulkinesses, indignations, lean women and fat, and earthly contradictions and confusions,— fairly off him; and lies there.

The man had his big burdens, big honors so called, absurd enough some of them, in this world; but he bore them with a certain gravity and discretion: a man of more probity, insight and general human faculty than he now gets credit for. His word was sacred to him. He had the courage of a Welf, or Lion-Man; quietly royal in that respect at least. His sense of equity, of what was true and honorable in men and things, remained uneffaced to a respectable degree; and surely it had resisted much. Wilder puddle of muddy infatuations from without and from within, if we consider it well,—of irreconcilable incoherences, bottomless universal hypocrisies, solecisms bred with him and imposed on him,—few sons of Adam had hitherto lived in.

He was, in one word, the first of our Hanover Series of English Kings; that hitherto unique sort, who are really strange to look at in the History of the World. Of whom, in the English annals, there is hitherto no Picture to be had; nothing but an empty blur of discordant nonsenses, and idle, generally angry, flourishings of the pen, by way of Picture. The English Nation, having flung its old Puritan, Sword-and-Bible Faith into the cesspool,—or rather having set its old Bible-Faith, MINUS any Sword, well up in the organ-loft, with plenty of revenue, there to preach and organ at discretion, on condition always of meddling with nobody’s practice farther,—thought the same (such their mistake) a mighty pretty arrangement; but found it hitch before long. They had to throw out their beautiful Nell-Gwynn Defenders of the Faith; fling them also into the cesspool; and were rather at a loss what next to do. "Where is our real King, then? Who IS to lead us Heavenward, then; to rally the noble of us to him, in some small measure, and save the rest and their affairs from running Devilward?"—The English Nation being in some difficulty as to Kings, the English Nation clutched up the readiest that came to hand; "Here is our King!" said they,—again under mistake, still under their old mistake. And, what was singular, they then avenged themselves by mocking, calumniating, by angrily speaking, writing and laughing at the poor mistaken King so clutched!—It is high time the English were candidly asking themselves, with very great seriousness indeed, WHAT it was they had done, in the sight of God and man, on that and the prior occasion? And above all, What it is they will now propose to do in the sequel of it! Dig gold-nuggets, and rally the IGnoble of us?—

George’s poor lean Mistress, coming on at the usual rate of the road, was met, next morning, by the sad tidings. She sprang from her carriage into the dusty highway; tore her hair (or headdress), half-frantic; declared herself a ruined woman; and drove direct to Berlin, there to compose her old mind. She was not ill seen at Court there; had her connections in the world. Fieldmarshal Schulenburg, who once had the honor of fighting (not to his advantage) with Charles XII., and had since grown famous by his Anti-Turk performances in the Venetian service, is a Brother of this poor Maypole’s; and there is a Nephew of hers, one of Friedrich Wilhelm’s Field-Officers here, whom we shall meet by and by. She has been obliging to Queen Sophie on occasions; they can, and do, now weep heartily together. I believe she returned to England, being Duchess of Kendal, with heavy pensions there; and "assiduously attended divine ordinances, according to the German Protestant form, ever afterwards." Poor foolish old soul, what is this world, with all its dukeries!—

The other or fat Mistress, "Cataract of fluid Tallow," Countess of Darlington, whom I take to have been a Half-Sister rather, sat sorrowful at Isleworth; and kept for many years a Black Raven, which had come flying in upon her; which she somehow understood to be the soul, or connected with the soul, of his Majesty of happy memory. [Horace Walpole, <italic> Reminiscences. <end italic>] Good Heavens, what fat fluid-tallowy stupor, and entirely sordid darkness, dwells among mankind; and occasionally finds itself lifted to the very top, by way of sample!—

Friedrich Wilhelm wept tenderly to Brigadier Dubourgay, the British Minister at Berlin (an old military gentleman, of diplomatic merit, who spells rather ill), when they spoke of this sad matter. My poor old Uncle; he was so good to me in boyhood, in those old days, when I blooded Cousin George’s nose! Not unkind, ah, only proud and sad; and was called sulky, being of few words and heavy-laden. Ah me, your Excellenz; if the little nightingales have a11 fallen silent, what may not I, his Son and sephew, do?—And the rugged Majesty blubbered with great tenderness; having fountains of tears withal, hidden in the rocky heart of him, not suspected by every one. [Dubourgay’s Despatches, in the State-Paper Office.]

I add only that the Fabrice, who had poor George in his arms that night, is a man worth mentioning. The same Fabrice (Fabricius, or perhaps GOLDSCHMIDT in German) who went as Envoy from the Holstein-Gottorp people to Charles XII. in his Turkish time; and stayed with his Swedish Majesty there, for a year or two, indeed till the catastrophe came. His Official LETTERS from that scene are in print, this long while, though considerably forgotten; [<italic> Anecdotes du Sejour du Roi de Suide a Bender, ou Lettres de M. le Baron de Fabrice pour servir d’elaircissement a l’Histoire de Charles XII. <end italic> (Hambourg, 1760, 8vo).] a little Volume, worth many big ones that have been published on that subject. The same Fabrice, following Hanover afterwards, came across to London in due course; and there he did another memorable thing: made acquaintance with the Monsieur Arouet, then a young French Exile there, Arouet Junior ("LE JEUNE or L. J."), who,— by an ingenious anagram, contrived in his indignation at such banishment,—writes himself VOLTAIRE ever since; who has been publishing a HENRIADE, and doing other things. Now it was by questioning this Fabrice, and industriously picking the memory of him clean, that M. de Voltaire wrote another book, much more of an "Epic" than Henri IV.,—a HISTORY, namely, OF CHARLES XII.; [See Voltaire, <italic> OEuvres Completes, ii. 149, xxx. 7, 127. Came out in 1731 (ib. xxx. Avant-Propos, p. ii).] which seems to me the best-written of all his Books, and wants nothing but TRUTH (indeed a dreadful want) to make it a possession forever. VOLTAIRE, if you want fine writing; ADLERFELD and FABRICE, if you would see the features of the Fact: these three are still the Books upon Charles XII.


Before this event, his Majesty was in gloomy humor; and special vexations had superadded themselves. Early in the Spring, a difficult huff of quarrel, the consummation of a good many grudges long subsisting, had fallen out with his neighbor of Saxony, the Majesty of Poland, August, whom we have formerly heard of, a conspicuous Majesty in those days; called even "August the Great" by some persons in his own time; but now chiefly remembered by his splendor of upholstery, his enormous expenditure in drinking and otherwise, also by his three hundred and fifty-four Bastards (probably the maximum of any King’s performance in that line), and called August DER STARKE, "August the Physically Strong." This exemplary Sovereign could not well be a man according to Friedrich Wilhelm’s heart: accordingly they had their huffs and little collisions now and then: that of the Protestant Directorate and Heidelberg Protestants, for instance; indeed it was generally about Protestantism; and more lately there had been high words and correspondings about the "Protestants of Thorn" (a bad tragedy, of Jesuit intrusion and Polish ferocity, enacted there in 1724); [Account of it in Buchholz, i. 98-102.]—in which sad business Friedrich Wilhelm loyally interfered, though Britannic George of blessed memory and others were but lukewarm; and nothing could be done in it. Nothing except angry correspondence with King August; very provoking to the poor soul, who had no hand but a nominal one in the Thorn catastrophe, being driven into it by his unruly Diet alone.

In fact, August, with his glittering eyes and excellent physical constitution, was a very good-humored fellow; supremely pleasant in society; and by no means wishful to cheat you, or do you a mischief in business,—unless his necessities compelled him; which often were great. But Friedrich Wilhelm always kept a good eye on such points; and had himself suffered nothing from the gay eupeptic Son of Belial, either in their old Stralsund copartnery or otherwise. So that, except for these Protestant affairs,—and alas, one other little cause,—Friedrich Wilhelm had contentedly left the Physically Strong to his own course, doing the civilities of the road to him when they met; and nothing ill had fallen out between them. This other little cause—alas, it is the old story of recruiting; one’s poor Hobby again giving offence! Special recruiting brabbles there had been; severe laws passed in Saxony about these kidnapping operations: and always in the Diets, when question rose of this matter, August had been particularly loud in his denouncings. Which was unkind, though not unexpected. But now, in the Spring of 1727, here has a worse case than any arisen.

Captain Natzmer, of I know not what Prussian Regiment, "Sachsen-Weimar Cuirassiers" [<italic> Militair-Lexikon, <end italic> iii. 104.] or another, had dropt over into Saxony, to see what could be done in picking up a tall man or two. Tall men, one or two, Captain Natzmer did pick up, nay a tall deserter or two (Saxon soldier, inveigled to desert); but finding his operations get air, he hastily withdrew into Brandenburg territory again. Saxon Officials followed him into Brandenburg territory; snapt him back into Saxon; tried him by Saxon law there;—Saxon law, express in such case, condemns him to be hanged; and that is his doom accordingly.

"Captain Natzmer to swing on the gallows? Taken on Brandenburg territory too, and not the least notice given me?" Friedrich Wilhelm blazes into flaming whirlwind; sends an Official Gentleman, one Katsch, to his Excellenz Baron von Suhm (the Crown-Prince’s cultivated friend), with this appalling message: "If Natzmer be hanged, for certain I will use reprisals; you yourself shall swing!" Whereupon Suhm, in panic, fled over the marches to his Master; who bullied him for his pusillanimous terrors; and applied to Friedrich Wilhelm, in fine frenzy of indignant astonishment, "What, in Heaven’s name, such meditated outrage on the law of nations, and flat insult to the Majesty of Kings, can have meant?" Friedrich Wilhelm, the first fury being spent, sees that he is quite out of square; disavows the reprisals upon Suhm. "Message misdelivered by my Official Gentleman, that stupid Katsch; never did intend to hang Suhm; oh, no;" with much other correspondence; [In Mauvillon (ii. 189-195) more of it than any one will read.]—and is very angry at himself, and at the Natzmer affair, which has brought him into this bad pass. Into open impropriety; into danger of an utter rupture, had King August been of quarrelsome turn. But King August was not quarrelsome; and then Seckendorf and the Tobacco-Parliament,—on the Kaiser’s score, who wants Pragmatic Sanction and much else out of these two Kings, and can at no rate have them quarrel in the present juncture,—were eager to quench the fire. King August let Natzmer go; Suhm returned to his post; [Pollnitz, ii. 254.] and things hustled themselves into some uneasy posture of silence again;—uneasy to the sensitive fancy of Friedrich Wilhelm above all. This is his worst collision with his Neighbor of Saxony; and springing from one’s Hobby again!—

These sorrows, the death of George I., with anxieties as to George II. and the course he might take; all this, it was thought, preyed upon his Majesty’s spirits;—Wilhelmina says it was "the frequent carousals with Seckendorf," and an affair chiefly of the royal digestive-apparatus. Like enough;—or both might combine. It is certain his Majesty fell into one of his hypochondrias at this time; talked of "abdicating" and other gloomy things, and was very black indeed. So that Seckendorf and Grumkow began to be alarmed. It is several months ago he had Franke the Halle Methodist giving ghostly counsel; his Majesty ceased to have the Newspapers read at dinner; and listened to lugubrious Franke’s exhortations instead. Did English readers ever hear of Franke? Let them make a momentary acquaintance with this famous German Saint. August Hermann Franke, a Lubeck man, born 1663; Professor of Theology, of Hebrew, Lecturer on the Bible; a wandering, persecuted, pious man. Founder of the "Pietists," a kind of German Methodists, who are still a famed Sect in that country; and of the WAISENHAUS, at Halle, grand Orphan-house, built by charitable beggings of Franke, which also still subsists. A reverend gentleman, very mournful of visage, now sixty-four; and for the present, at Berlin, discoursing of things eternal, in what Wilhelmina thinks a very lugubrious manner. Well; but surely in a very serious manner! The shadows of death were already round this poor Franke; and in a few weeks more, he had himself departed. [Died 8th June, 1727.] But hear Wilhelmina, what account she gives of her own and the young Grenadier-Major’s behavior on these mournful occasions. Seckendorf’s dinners she considers to be the cause; all spiritual, sorrows only an adjunct not worth mentioning. It is certain enough.

"His Majesty began to become valetudinary; and the hypochondria which tormented him rendered his humor very melancholy. Monsieur Franke, the famous Pietist, founder of the Orphan-house at Halle University, contributed not a little to exaggerate that latter evil. This reverend gentleman entertained the King by raising scruples of conscience about the most innocent matters. He condemned all pleasures; damnable all of them, he said, even hunting and music. You were to speak of nothing but the Word of God only; all other conversation was forbidden. It was always he that carried on the improving talk at table; where he did the office of reader, as if it had been a refectory of monks. The King treated us to a sermon every afternoon; his valet-de-chambre gave out a psalm, which we all sang; you had to listen to this sermon with as much devout attention as if it had been an apostle’s. My Brother and I had all the mind in the world to laugh; we tried hard to keep from laughing; but often we burst out. Thereupon reprimand, with all the anathemas of the Church hurled out on us; which we had to take with a contrite penitent air, a thing not easy to bring your face to at the moment. In a word, this dog of a Franke [he died within few months, poor soul, CE CHIEN DE FRANKE] led us the life of a set of Monks of La Trappe.

"Such excess of bigotry awakened still more gothic thoughts in the King. He resolved to abdicate the crown in favor of my Brother. He used to talk, He would reserve for himself 10,000 crowns a year; and retire with the Queen and his Daughters to Wusterhausen. There, added he, I will pray to God; and manage the farming economy, while my wife and girls take care of the household matters. You are clever, he said to me; I will give you the inspection of the linen, which you shall mend and keep in order, taking good charge of laundry matters. Frederika [now thirteen, married to ANSPACH two years hence], who is miserly, shall have charge of all the stores of the house. Charlotte [now eleven, Duchess of BRUNSWICK by and by] shall go to market and buy our provisions; and my Wife shall take charge of the little children, [says Friedrich Wilhelm], and of the kitchen." [Little children are: 1. Sophie Dorothee, now eight, who married Margraf of Schwedt, and was unhappy; 2. Ulrique, a grave little soul of seven, Queen of Sweden afterwards; 3. August Wilhelm, age now five, became Father of a new Friedrich Wilhelm, who was King by and by, and produced the Kings that still are; 4. Amelia, now four, born in the way we saw; and 5. HENRI, still in arms, just beginning to walk. There will be a Sixth and no more (son of this Sixth, a Berlin ROUE was killed, in 1806, at the Battle of Jena, or a day or two before); but the Sixth is not yet come to hand.]

Poor Friedrich Wilhelm; what an innocent IDYLLIUM;—which cannot be executed by a King. "He had even begun to work at an Instruction, or Farewell Advice, for my Brother;" and to point towards various steps, which alarmed Grumkow and Seckendorf to a high degree." [Wilhelmina, <italic> Memoires de Bareith, <end italic> i. 108.]

"Abdication," with a Crown-Prince ready to fall into the arms of England, and a sudden finis to our Black-Art, will by no means suit Seckendorf and Grumkow! Yet here is Winter coming; solitary Wusterhausen, with the misty winds piping round it, will make matters worse: something must be contrived; and what? The two, after study, persuade Fieldmarshal Flemming over at Warsaw (August the Strong’s chief man, the Flemming of Voltaire’s CHARLES XII.; Prussian by birth, though this long while in Saxon service), That if he the Fieldmarshal were to pay, accidentally, as it were, a little visit to his native Brandenburg just now, it might have fine effects on those foolish Berlin-Warsaw clouds that had risen. The Fieldmarshal, well affected in such a case, manages the little visit, readily persuading the Polish Majesty; and dissipates the clouds straightway,—being well received by Friedrich Wilhelm, and seconded by the Tobacco-Parliament with all its might. Out at Wusterhausen everything is comfortably settled. Nay Madam Flemming, young, brilliant, and direct from the seat of fashion; it was she that first "built up" Wilhelmina’s hair on just principles, and put some life into her appearance. [Wilhelmina, i. 117.] And now the Fieldmarshal (Tobacco-Parliament suggesting it) hints farther, "If his Prussian Majesty, in the mere greatness of his mind, were to appear suddenly in Dresden when his royal Friend was next there,—what a sunburst after clouds were that; how welcome to the Polish Majesty!"—"Hm, Na, would it, then?"—The Polish Majesty puts that out of question; specially sends invitation for the Carnival-time just coming; and Friedrich Wilhelm will, accordingly, see Dresden and him on that occasion. [Ib. i. 108, 109; Pollnitz, ii. 254; Fassman, p. 374.] In those days, Carnival means "Fashionable Season," rural nobility rallying to head-quarters for a while, and social gayeties going on; and in Protestant Countries it means nothing more.

This, in substance, was the real origin of Friedrich Wilhelm’s sudden visit to Dresden, which astonished the world, in January next. It makes a great figure in the old Books. It did kindle Dresden Carnival and the Physically Strong into supreme illumination, for the time being; and proved the seal of good agreement, and even of a kind of friendliness between this heteroclite pair of Sovereigns,—if anybody now cared for those points. It is with our Crown-Prince’s share in it that we are alone concerned; and that may require a Chapter to itself.


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Chicago: Thomas Carlyle, "Chapter II. Death of George I.," History of Friedrich II of Prussia— Volume 6 in History of Friedrich II of Prussia—Volume 6 Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQFEN44MA8CKHCQ.

MLA: Carlyle, Thomas. "Chapter II. Death of George I." History of Friedrich II of Prussia— Volume 6, in History of Friedrich II of Prussia—Volume 6, Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQFEN44MA8CKHCQ.

Harvard: Carlyle, T, 'Chapter II. Death of George I.' in History of Friedrich II of Prussia— Volume 6. cited in , History of Friedrich II of Prussia—Volume 6. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQFEN44MA8CKHCQ.