Frederick the Great and His Family

Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter XII. The Morning at Sans-Souci.

It was five o’clock in the morning. Deep silence reigned, the darkness of night still encompassed the world, the weary might still sleep and rest, life had recommenced nowhere, nowhere except at Sans-Souci, nowhere except in the apartment of the king; while his people slept, the king watched, he watched to work and think for his people. Without the wind howled and blew the snow against his window, and made even the fire in his room flicker; but the king heeded it not. He had completed his toilet and drunk his chocolate; now he was working. It did not disturb him that his room was cold, that the candle on his table gave but a poor light, and even seemed to increase the appearance of discomfort in his apartment; it gave sufficient light to enable him to read the letters which lay upon his table, and which had arrived the previous day. His ministers might sleep—the king waked and worked. He read every letter and petition, and wrote a few words of answer on the margin of each. After reading all business communications, the king took his own letters, those that were addressed to him personally, and came from his absent friends. His countenance, which before was grave and determined, assumed a soft and gentle expression, and a smile played upon his lips. The receipts for to-day were small. There were but few letters, and the large proportion of them came from relations of the king, or from distant acquaintances.

"No letter from D’Argens," said the king, smiling. "My ecclesiastic letter has accomplished the desired end, and the good marquis will arrive here to-day to rail at, and then forgive me. Ah, here is a letter from D’Alembert. Well, this is doubtless an agreeable letter, for it will inform me that D’Alembert accepts my proposal, and has decided to become the president of my Academy of Science."

He hastily broke the seal, and while he read a dark cloud overshadowed his brow. "He declines my offer," he said, discontentedly. "His pride consists in a disregard for princes; he wishes posterity to admire him for his unselfishness. Oh, he does not yet know posterity. She will either be utterly silent on this subject or, should it be spoken of, it will be considered an act of folly which D’Alembert committed. He is a proud and haughty man, as they all are." He again took the letter and read it once more, but more slowly and more carefully than before; gradually the clouds disappeared from his brow, and his eyes beamed with pleasure.

"No," he said; "I have misjudged D’Alembert. My displeasure at a disappointed hope blinded me; D’Alembert is not a small, vain man, but a free and great spirit. He now refuses my presidency, with a salary of six thousand thalers, as he last year refused the position of tutor to the heir of the throne of Russia, with a salary of a hundred thousand francs. He prefers to be poor and needy, and to live up five flights of stairs, and be his own master, than to live in a palace as the servant of a prince. I cannot be angry with him, for he has thought and acted as a wise man; and were I not Frederick, I would gladly be D’Alembert. I will not love him less because he has refused my offer. Ah, it is a real pleasure to know that there are still men who are independent enough to exercise their will and judgment in opposition to the king. Princes would be more noble, if those with whom they associated were not so miserable and shallow-hearted. D’Alembert shall be a lesson and a consolation to me; there are still men who are not deceivers and flatterers, fools and betrayers, but really men."

He carefully refolded the letter, and, before placing it in his portfolio, nodded to it as pleasantly as if it had been D’Alembert himself. He then took another letter.

"I do not recognize this writing," he said, as he examined the address. "It is from Switzerland, and is directed to me personally. From whom is it?"

He opened the letter, and glanced first at the signature.

"Ah," he said, "from Jean Jacques Rousseau! I promised him an asylum. The free Switzers persecuted the unhappy philosopher, and my good Lord Marshal prayed my assistance for him. Lord Marshal is now in Scotland, and it will not benefit him to have his friend here. Well, perhaps it may lead to his return, if he hopes to find Rousseau here. I must see what the philosopher says."

The letter contained only a few lines, which the king read with utter astonishment. "Vraiment!" he exclaimed; "philosophers all belong to the devil. This Jean Jacques does not content himself with declining my offer, but he does it in an unheard-of manner. This is a work of art; I must read it again."

The king read aloud in a most pathetic voice: "Votre majeste m’offre un asyle, et m’y prome la liberte; mais vous avez une epee, et vous etes roi. Vous m’offrez une pension, a moi, qui n’a rien fait pour vous. Mais en avez-vous donne a tous les braves gens qui ont perdu bras et jambes en vos services?"

"Well," said the king, laughing, "if being a ruffian makes one a philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau deserves to be called the greatest philosopher in the world. Truly, Fortune is playing curious pranks with me to-day, and seems determined to lower my royal pride. Two refusals at one time; two philosophers who decline my invitation. No, not two philosophers—D’Alembert is a philosopher, but Rousseau is in truth a fool."

He tore this letter, and threw the pieces in the fire. He then seized another letter, but laid it down again before opening it. He had heard the great clock in the hall strike eight. That was the sign that the business of the day, which he shared with his attendants, should begin, and that the king had no more time to devote to his private correspondence. The last stroke of the clock had scarcely sounded, as a light knock was heard at the door, which was instantly opened by the command of the king.

Baron von Kircheisen, the prefect of Berlin, entered the room. He came to make his weekly report to the king. His respectful greeting was returned merely by a dark side-glance, and the king listened to his report with evident displeasure.

"And that is your entire report?" asked his majesty, when the prefect had finished. "You are the head of police for the city of Berlin, and you have nothing more to tell me than any policemen might know. You inform me of the number of arrivals and departures, of the births and deaths, and of the thefts which have been committed, and that is the extent of your report."

"But I cannot inform your majesty of things that have not occurred," returned Baron von Kircheisen.

"So nothing else has occurred in Berlin. Berlin is then a most quiet, innocent city, where at the worst a few greatly-to-be-pitied individuals occasionally disturb the repose of the righteous by mistaking the property of others for their own. You know nothing. You do not know that Berlin is the most vicious and immoral of cities. You can tell me nothing of the crimes which are certainly not of a kind to be punished by the law, but which are creeping from house to house, poisoning the happiness of entire families, and spreading shame and misery on every hand. You know nothing of the many broken marriage-vows, of the dissension in families, of the frivolity of the young people who have given themselves up to gambling and dissipation of all kinds. Much misery might be avoided if you knew more of these matters, and were ready with a warning at the right moment."

"Sire, will you permit me to say that is not the task of the ordinary police; for such matters a secret police is required."

"Well, why do you not have a secret police? Why do you not follow the example of the new minister of police at Paris, De Sartines? That man knows every thing that happens in Paris. He knows the history of every house, every family, and every individual. He occasionally warns the men when their wives are on the point of flying from them. He whispers to the wives the names of those who turn their husbands from them. He shows the parents the faro-bank at which their sons are losing their property, and sometimes extends a hand to save them from destruction. That is a good police, and it must be acknowledged that yours does not resemble it."

"If your majesty desires it, I can establish such a police in Berlin as De Sartines has in Paris. But your majesty must do two things: First, you must give me a million of thalers annually."

"Ah! a million! Your secret police is rather expensive. Continue. What do you desire besides the million?"

"Secondly, the permission to destroy the peace of families, the happiness of your subjects—to make the son a spy upon his father— the mother an informer against her daughter—the students and servants the betrayers of their teachers and employers. If your majesty will permit me to undermine the confidence of man to his fellow-man—of the brother to his sister—of the parents to their children—of the husbands to their wives by buying their secrets from them—if I may reward such treachery, then, your majesty, we can have such a police as De Sartines has in Paris. But I do not think that it will promote propriety or prevent crime."

The king had listened to him with increasing interest, his brow growing clearer and clearer as the bold speaker continued. When he finished, the king ceased his walk, and stood motionless before him, looking fully into his excited countenance.

"It is, then, your positive conviction that a secret police brings with it those evils you have depicted?"

"Yes, your majesty, it is my positive conviction."

"He may be right," said the king, thoughtfully. "Nothing demoralizes men so much as spies and denunciations, and a good government should punish and not reward the miserable spies who betray their fellowcreatures for gold with the wicked intention of bringing them into misfortune. A good government should not follow the Jesuits’ rule— ’That the end consecrates the means.’"

"Will your majesty, then, graciously allow me to dispense with a secret police?"

"Well, yes. We will remain as we are, and De Sartines may keep his secret police. It would not suit us, and Berlin shall not be still further demoralized by spies and betrayers. Therefore, no more of the secret police. When crime shows itself by day we will punish it. We will leave it to Providence to bring it to light. Continue to report to me, therefore, who has died and who has been born; who have arrived and who have departed; who has stolen and who has done a good business. I am well pleased with you—you have spoken freely and bravely, and said openly what you thought. That pleases me; I am pleased when my agents have the courage to speak the truth, and dare occasionally to oppose me. I hope you will retain this virtue."

He bowed pleasantly to the prefect, and offered him his hand. He then dismissed him, and ordered the ministers to enter with their reports and proposals. After these came the council, and only after the king had worked with them uninterruptedly for three hours, did he think of taking some repose from all this work, which had occupied him from six o’clock in the morning until nearly twelve. He was on the point of entering his library as loud voices in the anteroom arrested his attention.

"But I tell you that the king gives no audiences to-day," he heard one of the servants say.

"The king has said that every man who wishes to speak to him shall be admitted!" exclaimed another voice. "I must speak to the king, and he must hear me."

"If you must speak to him, you must arrange it by writing. The king grants an audience to all who demand it, but he fixes the hour himself."

"Misery and despair cannot await a fixed hour!" cried the other. "If the king will not listen to unhappiness when it calls to him for redress, but waits until it pleases him to hear, he is not a good king."

"The man is right," said the king, "I will listen to him immediately."

He hastily advanced to the door and opened it. Without stood an old man, poorly dressed, with a pale, thin face, from whose features despair and sorrow spoke plainly enough to be understood by all. When his great, sunken eyes fell upon the king, he cried, joyfully, "God be thanked, there is the king!" The king motioned to him to approach, and the old man sprang forward with a cry of delight.

"Come into the room," said the king; "and now tell me what you wish from me?"

"Justice, your majesty, nothing but justice. I have been through the war, and I am without bread. I have nothing to live upon, and I have twice petitioned your majesty for a situation which is now vacant."

"And I refused it to you, because I had promised it to another."

"They told me that your majesty would refuse me this situation." cried the man, despairingly. "But I cannot believe it, for your majesty owes it to me, and you are usually a just king. Hasten, your majesty, to perform your duty, and justify yourself from a suspicion which is unworthy of your kingly fame."

The king measured him with a flashing glance, which the pale, despairing suppliant bore with bold composure.

"By what authority," asked the king, in a thundering voice, as he approached the man, with his arm raised threateningly—"by what authority do you dare speak to me in such a tone? and on what do you ground your shameless demands?"

"On this, your majesty, that I must starve if you refuse my request. That is the most sacred of all claims, and to whom on earth dare I turn with it if not to my king?"

There lay in these words a sorrow so heart-breaking, a plaint so despairing in the voice, that the king was involuntarily much moved. He let fall his uplifted arm, and the expression of his countenance became gentle and tender.

"I see that you are very unhappy and despairing," he said, kindly; "you were right to come to me. You shall have the place for which you asked. I will arrange it. Come here to-morrow to the Councillor Muller. I will give you some money, that you may not starve until then."

He silenced the delighted man’s expressions of gratitude, and ringing his bell he summoned Deesen, who kept his purse, in order to give the man a gold piece. But Deesen did not appear, and the second chamberlain announced in an embarrassed manner that lie was not in the palace. The king commanded him to give the man the promised gold piece and then to return to him.

"Where is Deesen?" asked the king, as the chamberlain returned.

"Sire, I do not know," he stammered, his eyes sinking beneath the piercing glance of the king.

"You do know!" said the king, gravely. "Deesen has positive orders from me to remain in the anteroom, because I might need him. If he dares to disobey my orders, he must have a powerful reason, and you know it. Out with it! I will know it."

"If your majesty commands, I must speak," said the chamberlain, sighing. "Your majesty will not permit us to be married, but we were made with hearts, and we sometimes fall in love."

"Deesen is in love, then?" said the king.

"Yes, your majesty, he loves a beautiful girl in Potsdam, whose name is Maria Siegert. And although he cannot marry her, she has consented to be his beloved. And as to-day was the great report day, Deesen thought that your majesty would not need him, and that he had time to go to Potsdam to visit his sweetheart. He seems to have been delayed. That is the reason, your majesty, that Deesen is not in the anteroom."

"Very well," said the king; "as soon as Deesen returns he must come to my library. I forbid you, however, to repeat one word of this conversation."

"Ah, your majesty, I am well pleased that I need not do it, for Deesen is very passionate, and if he learns that I have betrayed his secret he is capable of giving me a box on the ear."

"Which would, perhaps, be very wholesome for you," said the king, as he turned toward his library.

A quarter of an hour later, Deesen entered the library with a heated, anxious face.

The king, who was reading his beloved Lucretius while he paced the floor, turned his great, piercing eyes with a questioning expression on the anxious face of his attendant. "I called for you, and you did not come," said the king.

"I beg your majesty to pardon me," stammered Deesen.

"Where were you?"

"I was in my room writing a letter, sire."

"Ah, a letter. You were no doubt writing to that beautiful barmaid at the hotel of the Black Raven at Amsterdam, who declined the attentions of the servant of the brothers Zoller."

This reference to the journey to Amsterdam showed Deesen that the king was not very angry. He dared, therefore, to raise his eyes to those of the king, and to look pleadingly at him.

"Sit down." said the king, pointing to the writing-table. "I called you because I wished to dictate a letter for you to write. Sit down and take a pen."

Deesen seated himself at the table, and the king began walking up and down as before, his hands and book behind him.

"Are you ready?" asked the king.

"I am ready, sire," returned Deesen, dipping his pen into the ink. "Write then," commanded the king, as he placed himself immediately in front of Deesen—"write, then, first the heading: ’My beloved—’"

Deesen started, and glanced inquiringly at the king. Frederick looked earnestly at him, and repeated, "’My beloved—’"

Deesen uttered a sigh, and wrote.

"Have you written that?" asked the king.

"Yes, sire, I have it—’My beloved.’"

"Well, then, proceed. ’My beloved, that old bear, the king—’ Write," said the king, interrupting himself as he saw that Deesen grew pale and trembled, and could scarcely hold the pen—"write without hesitation, or expect a severe punishment."

"Will your majesty have the kindness to dictate? I am ready to write every thing," said Deesen, as he wiped his brow.

"Now then, quickly," ordered the king, and he dictated—"’That old bear, the king, counts every hour against me that I spend so charmingly with you. That my absence may be shorter in the future, and less observed by the old scold, I wish you to rent a room near here in the suburbs of Brandenburg, where we can meet more conveniently than in the city. I remain yours until death."


"Have you finished?" asked the king.

"Yes, sire, I have finished," groaned Deesen.

"Then fold the letter and seal it, and write the address ’To the unmarried Maria Siegert, Yunker Street, Potsdam.’"

"Mercy, sire, mercy!" cried Deseen, springing up and throwing himself at the feet of the king. "I see that your majesty knows all- -that I have been betrayed."

"You have betrayed yourself, for to-day is the tenth time that I have called for you when you were absent. Now send your letter off, and see that your Siegert gets a room here. If, however, you are again absent when I call, I will send your beautiful Maria to Spandau, and dismiss you. Go, now, and dispatch your letter."

Deesen hurried off, and the king looked smilingly after him for a moment, and was on the point of returning to his reading, when his attention was attracted by the approach of a carriage.

"Ah," he murmured anxiously, "I fear that I shall be disturbed again by some cousin, who has come to rob me of my time by hypocritical professions of love."

He looked anxiously toward the door. It was soon opened, and a servant announced Prince Henry.

The king’s countenance cleared, and he advanced to meet his brother with a bright smile. But his greeting was not returned, and the prince did not appear to see the extended hand of the king. A heavy cloud lay upon his brow—his cheeks were colorless and his lips compressed, as if he wished to suppress the angry and indignant words which his flashing eyes expressed.

"Ah, my brother," said the king, sadly, "it seems that you have come to announce a misfortune."

"No," said the prince, "I only came, your majesty, to recall a conversation which I held with you ten years ago in this same room, on this very spot."

"Ten years ago?" said the king. "That was at the time of your marriage, Henry."

"Yes, the conversation I refer to concerned my marriage, sire. You had pursued me so long with that subject, that I had at length concluded to submit to the yoke which was to free me from those unworthy and humiliating persecutions."

"I think that you could select more fitting expressions, my brother," said the king, with flashing eyes. "You forget that you are speaking to your king."

"But I remember that I am speaking to my brother, whose duty is to hear the complaints which I have to utter against the king."

"Speak," said the king, after a slight pause. "Your brother will hear you."

"I come to remind you of that hour," said the prince, solemnly, "in which I gave my consent to be married. As I did so, sire, I said to you that I should hold you responsible for this marriage which was made for political purposes and not from love—that I would call you to account before the throne of God, and there ask you by what right you robbed me of my liberty, by what right you laid a chain upon my hand and heart which love could not help me to bear. I said further, sire—if the weight of this chain should become too heavy, and this unnatural connection of a marriage without love should drive me to despair, that upon your head would rest the curse of my misery, and that you would be answerable for my destroyed existence, for my perished hopes."

"And I," said the king, "I took this responsibility upon me. As your king and your elder brother, I reminded you of your duty to give the state a family—sons who would be an example of courage and honor to the men, and daughters who would be a pattern of virtue and propriety to the women. In view of these duties, I demanded of you to be married."

"I come now to call you to account for this marriage," exclaimed the prince, solemnly. "I have come to tell you that my heart is torn with pain and misery; that I am the most wretched of men, and that you have made me so—you, who forced me into this marriage, although you knew the shame and despair of a marriage without love. You had already taken a heavy responsibility upon yourself by your own marriage; and if you were compelled to endure it so long as my father lived, you should have relieved yourself from it so soon as you were free; that is, so soon as you were king. But you preferred to continue in this unnatural connection, or rather you put the chains from your hands, and let them drag at your feet. Not to outrage the world by your divorce, you gave it the bad example of a wretched marriage. You made yourself free, and you made a slave of your poor wife, who has been a martyr to your humors and cruelty. You profaned the institution of marriage. You gave a bad and dangerous example to your subjects, and it has done its work. Look around in your land, sire. Everywhere you will see unhappy women who have been deserted by their husbands, and miserable men who have been dishonored by their faithless wives. Look at your own family. Our sister of Baireuth died of grief, and of the humiliation she endured from the mistress of her husband. Our brother, Augustus William, died solitary and alone. He withdrew in his grief to Oranienburg, and his wife remained in Berlin. She was not with him when he died; strangers received his last breath—strangers closed his eyes. Our sister of Anspach quarrelled with her husband, until finally she submitted, and made a friend of his mistress. And I, sire, I also stand before you with the brand of shame upon my brow. I also have been betrayed and deceived, and all this is your work. If the king mocks at the sacred duties of marriage, how can he expect that his family and subjects should respect them? It is the fashion in your land for husbands and wives to deceive one another, and it is you who have set this fashion."

"I have allowed you to finish, Henry," said the king, when the prince was at length silent. "I have allowed you to finish, but I have not heard your angry and unjust reproaches, I have only heard that my brother is unhappy, and it is, I know, natural for the unhappy to seek the source of their sorrows in others and not in themselves. I forgive all that you have said against me; but if you hold me responsible for the miserable consequences of the war, which kept the men at a distance for years and loosened family ties, that shows plainly that your judgment is unreliable, and that you cannot discriminate with justice. I did not commence this war heedlessly; I undertook it as a heavy burden. It has made an old man of me; it has eaten up my life before my time. I see all the evil results, and I consider it my sacred duty to bind up the wounds which it has inflicted on my country. I work for this object day and night; I give all of my energies to this effort; I have sacrificed to it all my personal inclinations. But I must be contented to bind up the wounds. I cannot make want disappear; I cannot immediately change sorrow into gladness."

"Ah, sire, you seek to avoid the subject, and to speak of the general unhappiness instead of my special grief. I call you to account, because you forced me to take a wife that I did not know—a wife who has made me the most miserable of men—a wife who has outraged my honor, and betrayed my heart. You gave me a wife who has robbed me of all I held dear on earth—of the wife I loved, and of the friend I trusted."

"Poor brother," said the king, gently, "you are enduring the torments from which I also suffered, before my heart became hardened as it now is. Yes, it is a fearful pain to be forced to despise the friend that you trusted—to be betrayed by those we have loved. I have passed through that grief. The man suffered deeply in me before his existence was merged in that of the king."

"Sire," said the prince, suddenly, "I have come to you to demand justice and punishment. You have occasioned the misery of my house, it is therefore your duty to alleviate it, as far as in you lies. I accuse my wife, the Princess Wilhelmina, of infidelity and treachery. I accuse Count Kalkreuth, who dares to love my wife, of being a traitor to your royal family. I demand your consent to my divorce from the princess, and to the punishment of the traitor. That is the satisfaction which I demand of your majesty for the ruin which you have wrought in my life."

"You wish to make me answerable for the capriciousness of woman and the faithlessness of man," asked the king, with a sad smile. "You do that because I, in performing my duty as a king, forced you to marry. It is true you did not love your intended wife, because you did not know her, but you learned to love her. That proves that I did not make a bad choice; your present pain is a justification for me. You are unhappy because you love the wife I gave you with your whole heart. For the capriciousness of women you cannot hold me responsible, and I did not select the friend who has so wickedly betrayed you. You demand of me that I should punish both. Have you considered, my brother, that in punishing them I should make your disgrace and misery public to the world? Do not imagine, Henry, that men pity us for our griefs; when they seem most deeply to sympathize with us they feel an inward pleasure, especially if it is a prince who suffers. It pleases men that fate, which has given us an exceptional position, does not spare us the ordinary sorrows of humanity."

"I understand, then, that you refuse my request," said the prince. "You will not consent to my divorce, you will not punish the traitor?"

"No, I do not refuse your request, but I beg you will take three days to consider what I have said to you. At the end of that time, should you come to me, and make the same demand, I will give my consent; that is, I will have you publicly separated from your wife, I will have Count Kalkreuth punished, and will thus give the world the right to laugh at the hero of Freiburg."

"Very well, sire," said the prince, thoughtfully, "I will remind you of your promise. I beg you will now dismiss me, for you see I am a very man and no philosopher, unworthy to be a guest at Sans-Souci."

He bowed to the king, who tenderly pressed his hand and silently left the room.

Frederick looked after him with an expression of unutterable pity.

"Three days will be long enough to deaden his pain, and then he will be more reasonable and form other resolutions."


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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter XII. The Morning at Sans-Souci.," Frederick the Great and His Family, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891 in Frederick the Great and His Family (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed September 30, 2022,

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter XII. The Morning at Sans-Souci." Frederick the Great and His Family, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891, in Frederick the Great and His Family, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 30 Sep. 2022.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter XII. The Morning at Sans-Souci.' in Frederick the Great and His Family, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Frederick the Great and His Family, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 30 September 2022, from