Frederick the Great and His Family

Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter I. The King.

The king laid his flute aside, and with his hands folded behind his back, walked thoughtfully up and down his room in Sans-Souci. His countenance was now tranquil, his brow cloudless; with the aid of music he had harmonized his soul, and the anger and displeasure he had so shortly before felt were soothed by the melodious notes of his flute.

The king was no longer angry, but melancholy, and the smile that played on his lip was so resigned and painful that the brave Marquis d’Argens would have wept had he seen it, and the stinging jest of Voltaire have been silenced.

But neither the marquis nor Voltaire, nor any of his friends were at present in Potsdam. D’Argens was in France, with his young wife, Barbe Cochois; Voltaire, after a succession of difficulties and quarrels, had departed forever; General Rothenberg had also departed to a land from which no one returns—he was dead! My lord marshal had returned to Scotland, Algarotti to Italy, and Bastiani still held his office in Breslau. Sans-Souci, that had been heretofore the seat of joy and laughing wit—Sans-Souci was now still and lonely; youth, beauty, and gladness had forsaken it forever; earnestness and duty had taken their place, and reigned in majesty within those walls that had so often echoed with the happy laugh and sparkling jest of the king’s friends and contemporaries.

Frederick thought of this, as with folded hands he walked up and down, and recalled the past. Sunk in deep thought, he remained standing before a picture that hung on the wall above his secretary, which represented Barbarina in the fascinating costume of a shepherdess, as he had seen her for the first time ten years ago; it had been painted by Pesne for the king. What recollections, what dreams arose before the king’s soul as he gazed at that bewitching and lovely face; at those soft, melting eyes, whose glance had once made him so happy! But that was long ago; it had passed like a sunbeam on a rainy day, it had been long buried in clouds. These remembrances warmed the king’s heart as he now stood so solitary and loveless before this picture; and he confessed to that sweet image, once so fondly loved, what he had never admitted to himself, that his heart was very lonely.

But these painful recollections, these sad thoughts, did not last. The king roused himself from those dangerous dreams, and on leaving the picture cast upon it almost a look of hatred.

"This is folly," he said; "I will to work."

He approached the secretary, and seized the sealed letters and packets that were lying there. "A letter and packet from the queen," he said, wonderingly opening the letter first. Casting a hasty glance through it, a mocking smile crossed his face. "She sends me a French translation of a prayer-book," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "Poor queen! her heart is not yet dead, though, by Heaven! it has suffered enough."

He threw the letter carelessly aside, without glancing at the book; its sad, pleading prayer was but an echo of the thoughts trembling in her heart.

"Bagatelles! nothing more," he murmured, after reading the other letters and laying them aside. He then rang hastily, and bade the servant send Baron Pollnitz to him as soon as he appeared in the audience-chamber.

A few minutes later the door opened, and the old, wrinkled, sweetly smiling face of the undaunted courtier appeared.

"Approach," said the king, advancing a few steps to meet him. "Do you bring me his submission? Does my brother Henry acknowledge that it is vain to defy my power?"

Pollnitz shrugged his shoulders. "Sire, "he said, sighing, "his highness will not understand that a prince must have no heart. He still continues in his disobedience, and declares that no man should marry a woman without loving her; that he would be contemptible and cowardly to allow himself to be forced to do what should be the free choice of his own heart."

Pollnitz had spoken with downcast eyes and respectful countenance; he appeared not to notice that the king reddened and his eyes burned with anger.

"Ah! my brother dared to say that?" cried the king. "He has the Utopian thought to believe that he can defy my wishes. Tell him he is mistaken; he must submit to me as I had to submit to my father."

"He gives that as an example why he will not yield. He believes a forced marriage can never be a happy one; that your majesty had not only made yourself unhappy by your marriage, but also your queen, and that there was not a lady in the land who would exchange places with your wife."

The king glanced piercingly at Pollnitz. "Do you know it would have been better had you forgotten a few of my wise brother’s words?"

"Your majesty commanded me to tell you faithfully every word the prince said."

"And you are too much a man of truth and obedience, too little of a courtier, not to be frank and faithful. Is it not so? Ah! vraiment, I know you, and I know very well that you are playing a double game. But I warn you not to follow the promptings of your wicked heart. I desire my brother to marry, do you hear? I will it, and you, the grand chamberlain, Baron Pollnitz, shall feel my anger if he does not consent."

"And if he does?" said Pollnitz, in his laughing, shameless manner; "if I persuade the prince to submit to your wishes, what recompense shall I receive?"

"On the day of their betrothal, I will raise your income five hundred crowns, and pay your debts."

"Ah, sire, in what a pitiable dilemma you are placing me! Your majesty wishes Prince Henry to engage himself as soon as possible, and I must now wish it to be as late as possible."

"And why?"

"Because I must hasten to make as many debts as possible, that your majesty may pay them."

"You are and will remain an unmitigated fool; old age will not even cure you," said the king, smiling. "But speak, do you think my brother may be brought to reason?"

Pollnitz shrugged his shoulders, gave a sly smile, but was silent.

"You do not answer me. Is my brother in love? and has he confided in you?"

"Sire, I believe the prince is in love from ennui alone, but he swears it is his first love."

"That is an oath that is repeated to each lady-love; I am not afraid of it," said the king, smiling "Who is the enchantress that has heard his first loving vows? She is doubtless a fairy—a goddess of beauty."

"Yes, sire, she is young and beautiful, and declares it is also her first love, so no one can doubt its purity; no one understands love as well as this fair lady; no other than Madame von Kleist, who, as your majesty remembers, was lately divorced from her husband."

"And is now free to love again, as it appears," said the king, with a mocking smile. "But the beautiful Louise von Schwerin is a dangerous, daring woman, and we must check her clever plans in the bud. If she desires to be loved by my brother, she possesses knowledge, beauty, and experience to gain her point and to lead him into all manner of follies. This affair must be brought quickly to a close, and Prince Henry acknowledged to be the prince royal."

"Prince Henry goes this evening to Berlin to attend a feast given by the Prince of Prussia," whispered Pollnitz.

"Ah! it is true the prince’s arrest ceases at six o’clock, but he will not forget that he needs permission to leave Potsdam."

"He will forget it, sire."

The king walked up and down in silence, and his countenance assumed an angry and threatening appearance. "This struggle must be brought to a close, and that speedily. My brother must submit to my authority. Go and watch his movements; as soon as he leaves, come to me."

Long after Pollnitz had left him, the king paced his chamber in deep thought. "Poor Henry! I dare not sympathize with you; you are a king’s son—that means a slave to your position. Why has Providence given hearts to kings as to other men? Why do we thirst so for love? as the intoxicating drink is always denied us, and we dare not drink it even when offered by the most bewitching enchantress!"

Involuntarily his eye rested upon the beautiful picture of Barbarina. But he would have no pity with himself, as he dared not show mercy to his brother. Seizing the silver bell, he rang it hastily.

"Take that picture from the wall, and carry it immediately to the inspector, and tell him to hang it in the picture-gallery," said Frederick.

He looked on quietly as the servant took the picture down and carried it from the room, then sighed and gazed long at the plane where it had hung.

"Empty and cold! The last token of my youth is gone! I am now the king, and, with God’s blessing, will be the father of my people."


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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter I. The King.," 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 November 26, 2022,

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter I. The King." 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. 26 Nov. 2022.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter I. The King.' 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 26 November 2022, from