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FREDERICK THE GREAT.
The man is not of godlike physiognomy, any more than of imposing stature or costume: close-shut mouth with thin lips, prominent jaws and nose, receding brow, by no means of Olympian height; head, however, is of long form, and has superlative gray eyes in it. Not what is called a beautiful man; nor yet, by all appearance, what is called a happy. On the contrary, the face bears evidence of many sorrows, as they are termed, of much hard labor done in this world; and seems to anticipate nothing but more still coming. Quiet stoicism, capable enough of what joy there were, but not expecting any worth mention; great unconscious and some conscious pride, well tempered with a cheery mockery of humor, are written on that old face; which carries its chin well forward, in spite of the slight stoop about the neck; snuffy nose, rather flung into the air, like an old snuffy lion on the watch; and such a pair of eyes as no man, or lion, or lynx of that century bore elsewhere, according to all the testimony we have. "Those eyes," says Mirabeau, " which, at the bidding of his great soul, fascinated you with seduction or with terror!" Most excellent, potent, brilliant eyes, swift-darting as the stars, steadfast as the sun; gray, we said, of the azure-gray color: large enough, not of glaring size; the habitual expression of them vigilance, and penetrating sense, rapidity resting on depth. Which is an excellent combination; and gives us the notion of a lambent outer radiance springing from some great inner sea of light and fire in the man. The voice, if he spoke to you, is of similar physiognomy: clear, melodious, and sonorous; all tones arc in it, from that of ingenuous inquiry, graceful sociality, light-flowing banter (rather prickly for most part), up to definite word of command, up to desolating word of rebuke and reprobation; a voice " the clearest and most agreeable in conversation I ever heard," says witty Dr. Moore. "He speaks a great deal," continues the Doctor; "yet those who hear him regret that he does not speak a good deal more. His observations are always lively, very often just; and few men possess the talent of repartee in greater perfection."
In the Life of Frederick the first thing that strikes me as calling for remark is the astonishing display it presents of llfcerary skill, dexterity, and adroitness. Carlyle was now a veteran, several years older than Scott, when his frame and brain gave way under a pressure of mental toil that seemed at the time to be rather a pleasure than a labor. Scott, no doubt, had the calamity of his bankruptcy to weigh him down, but his literary work never seemed to cost him an effort. Carlyle, on the other hand, has always avowed that, Hke Goethe, he got nothing in his sleep; his literary work was never a recreation or relief to him; he stood to his tasks with such intensity of application that—so ho told the Edinburgh students in his address as their Lord Rector—every book cost him an illness. But the vivacity of the ten volumes on Frederick is as notable as their thoroughness, their elaborate finish, their idiomatic expressiveness and inventive brilliancy of language, and their attestation of enormous research.
The plan of the book, like that of the battle of Marengo, and of many other feats of genius, could have been justified only by success. Arresting the attention of the reader by placing before him, on the first pages, so bold, picturesque, and interesting a portrait of Frederick at threescore, that it cannot be forgotten, the biographer turns speedily to the cradle of the infant, shows us his father nearly stifling him with caresses, alludes to the" cannon-volley ings, kettle-drummings, metal crown, heavy cloth-of-silver," and other pompous tomfooleries of the christening, and then, with an occasional glance back at " the little boy now sleeping in his cradle at Berlin," puts in two, or almost three, volumes of information not only about his father aud mother, but about the origin of the Prussian Monarchy, and even about the general course of German and European history, in so far as this was connected with the rise, progress, and culmination of the Hohenzollerns. From the time, more than three hundred years before the birth of Christ, when "Pytheas, the Marseilles travelling commissioner, looking out for new channels of trade," sailed along the Baltic coasts, and looked upon the marshy jungles, shaggy bisons, and largelimbed barbarians of " the now Prussian kingdom," to the day of Frederick's birth, nothing of essential importance in the history of Germany, or even of Europe, escapes Carlyle. It is hardly too much to say that he brings modern history to a focus in the cradle of Frederick.
SCHEME OF THE BOOK.
Such a biographical scheme cannot, on abstract grounds, be commended. The ordinary biographer who should adopt it would be simply unreadable, nor can it be alleged that the success even of Mr. Carlyle, though wonderful, has been complete. All but the most patient and sympathetic readers are sometimes alarmed, and cannot help grumbling, when they arc required to peruse lists of "intercalary kaisers," to trace "Baireuth-Anspach " branches, to understand the coils and complications of Court and diplomatic intrigue respecting this marriage project and that, to distinguish between and remember "the seven European crises," and the seventy times seven personages, male and female, that figured in them. Any other writer would have failed disastrously, but Mr. Carlyle succeeds to at least this extent, that, though readers grumble, yet few, I imagine, except the frivolous and unintelligent, would prefer that these preliminary volumes had been left unwritten. Dry as the subject often looks, you find, if you resolutely enter on it, that, under Carlyle's touch, it becomes interesting. His sense of what is essential in history is so true that, in those chapters, we have an unequalled synopsis of what really was going on, what was vital, and growing, and destined to endure, in Europe in the time treated of; and his eye for what is pietorially vivid is so keen, his power of reproducing the past, by felicitous selection of graphic detail, so great, that a few lines or words from his pen often enable us to realize the state of affairs in extensive territories and for long periods, with a distinctness and practical accuracy which we might have failed to obtain after groping for months in libraries, or reading for weeks in the books of stilted or statistical historians.
However far he may seem to range in European history, Mr. Carlyle does not forget for a moment that his express concern is with the Royal House of Prussia, and there is an almost romantic interest in his account of its rise from small beginnings to a place among sovereignties. "Somewhere about the ycai 1170," Conrad of Hohenzollera set out from the old castle to seek bis fortunes under the great Kaiser Barbarossa. Hohenzollern lies "on the sunward slope of the Rauhe-Alp country," a piece of country in that somewhat indefinite region which holds partly of Germany, partly of Switzerland, "no great way north from Constance and its lake." Near it springs the Danube, at its back is the Black Forest; and its name, " fanciful Dryasdust will tell you," is equivalent to Tollery, or Place-ofTolls; which "gives one the notion of antique peddlers climbing painfully out of Italy and the Swiss valleys, thus far; unstrapping their packages here, and chaffering in unknown dialect about toll." In point of fact, the dwellers in Conrad's ancestral castle appear to have been tax-gatherers on their own account, and to have known how to combine prudence with their exactions, so as not to kill the trades on which they lived.
Conrad was a younger son, and decided that in the wide world, so visible from those high solitudes, he might do better than help his elder brother to gather in the coppers. "Probably with no great stock of luggage about him," he descended the Rauhe-Alp and offered his services to the Kaiser. Barbarossa, knowing a man when he saw him, took Conrad by the hand. "We may conclude he had found capabilities in Conrad; found that the young fellow did effective service as the occasion rose, and knew how to work in a swift, resolute, judicious, and exact manner. Promotion was not likely on other terms; still less high promotion." Conrad was presumably a handsome youth; anyhow, he found favor with an heiress "of immense possessions, and opulent in territories." The kin of this heiress had long been hereditary Burg-grafs of Niirnberg, and to this dignity Conrad was appointed. Such was the lineal ancestor, twentieth in direct ascent, of Frederick the Great.
The Niirnberg Burg-grafs did not lose in their new capacity those faculties of thrift and energy which evidently ran in the blood of the ancient tax-gatherers of Bohenzollern. They BRANDENBURG BOUGHT AND SOLD.
seem to have believed, like Byron, that "ready-money is Aladdin's lamp," and kept in hand the cash that might enable them to take advantage of likely investments. The Kaisers, on the other hand, were royally in want of money, and few more so than Kaiser Sigismund, who, though he declared himself to be super grammaticam, and probably contrived to spell and punctuate according to the freedom of his own will, found that gold was indispensable. In his time the Niirnbcrg Burg-graf was Friedrich, seventh in descent from Conrad, and to him Sigismund applied for successive advances. In 1411 we find the canny Burg-graf holding the Kaiser's deed of acknowledgment for 100,000 gulden, lent at various times, with Brandenburg pledged by way of security. Sigismund borrows 50,000 more, and is very conscious that the more he borrows the less he is likely to repay. "Advance me, in a round sum, 250,000 gulden more," said he to Burg-graf Friedrich, 250,000 more for my manifold occasions in this time — that will be 400,000 in whole — and take the Electorate of Brandenburg to yourself, land, titles, sovereign electorship, and all, and make me rid of it." That was the settlement adopted, in Sigismund's apartment at Constance, on the 30th of April, 1415; signed, sealed, and ratified—and the money paid. The sum paid might amount, in modern English currency, to £200,000, and would probably go as far as a million in our times. For this was Brandenburg bought and sold; nor does it appear from Mr. Carlyle's narrative that Sigismund took the smallest care to certify himself or the people of Brandenburg that the purchaser would respect any rights or privileges which the people might lay claim to. The country was simply passed from seller to buyer as a pawn-ticket that could not be redeemed. The Nurnberg Burg-graf became absolute sovereign of Brandenburg, and not the smallest speck of constitutional freedom detracts from the beauty of the transaction in Mr.'Carlyle's eyes.