Confessions of Frederick the Great - H. Treitschke

First Morning—Origin of Our Family

In the times of disorder and confusion, amidst barbarous nations, there was seen to spring up a new arrangement of sovereignties. The governors of different countries shook off the yoke of subjection, and soon became powerful enough to overawe their masters; they obtained privileges, or, to come nearer to the truth, it was with the form of one knee on the ground that they ran away with the substance. Among those daring ones, there were several who laid the foundations of the greatest monarchies; and perhaps, on a fair calculation, even all the emperors, kings, and foreign princes at this very time owe their respective states to them. As for us, we are, most undoubtedly, in that case. I see you blush at this. I forgive you for once; but let me advise you never to play the child so again. Remember, once for all, that, in matter of kingdoms, he catches them that can; and that there is no wrong but in the case of being forced to return them.

The first of our ancestors, who acquired some rights of sovereignty over the country of which he was governor, was Tassillon, of Hohenzollern. The thirteenth of his descendants was Burgrave of Nuremberg; the twenty-fifth of them was Elector of Brandenburg, and the thirty-seventh, King of Prussia. Our family, as well as all the others, has had its Achilles', its Ciceros, its Nestors, its drivellers and its drones, its mothers-in-law, and, without doubt, its women of gallantry. It has also often aggrandized itself by those kinds of right, which are only known to princes at once in luck, and in force enough to exert them; for in the order of our successions, we see those of conveniency, or expectancy, and of protection.

From the time of Tassillon to that of the great Elector, we did little more than vegetate. We could, in the empire, reckon fifty princes in no point inferior to us; and, properly speaking, we were but one of the branches of the great sconce or chandelier of the empire. William the Great, by the splendor of his actions, raised our family into pre-eminence; and at length, in 1701 (the date, you see, is not a very ancient one), vanity placed a crown on the head of my grandfather; and it is to this epoch that we ought to refer our true existence, since it put us into a condition of acting on the footing of kings, and of treating, upon terms of equality, with all the powers of the earth.

Were we to estimate the virtues of our ancestors, we might easily conclude, that it is not to any eminence in them that our family owes its aggrandizement. The greatest part of our princes have been rather remarkable for misconduct; but it was chance and circumstances that have been of service to us. I would even have you to observe, that the first diadem that bound our brows was placed on one of the vainest and lightest of heads, and that head on a body crooked and humpbacked.

And here, I am aware, my dear nephew, that I am leaving you in the dark as to our origin. It has been pretended that that same Count of Hohenzollern was of a great family; but, in truth, few ever appeared in the world so bare of titles. However, at the worst, it is indisputable that we are of an ancient noble extraction: good, good gentlemen, in short; let us stick to that.

The Situation of my Kingdom

As to this point, I am not so well off as I could wish. To convince yourself of which, cast your eyes over the map, and you will see that the greatest part of my territories is dispersed or divided in such a manner, that they cannot mutually assist each other. I have no great rivers that run through my provinces; some border upon them, but few intersect them. [The situation, extent, and soil, of the territories of the great Frederick, have been wonderfully changed of late years; changed upon his own principles, too, as will appear hereafter—orig. Translator.]

Of the Soil of my Territories

A third at least of my dominions lies in waste; another third is in woods, waters, or marshes. The third, which is cultivated, produces nor wine, nor olives, nor mulberry-trees. No fruits nor garden-stuff come to anything, without great care, and very few to the true point of perfection. I have only a few parts in which the wheat and rye have some reputation.

Of the Manners of the Inhabitants

Under this head I have nothing particular or decisive to pronounce, because my kingdom is but a kind of mosaic, made up of various pieces. All that I can, with any certainty, say, is, that, in general, my subjects are hardy and brave, uncurious as to eating, but fond of drinking; tyrants on their estates, and slaves in my service; insipid lovers, and surly husbands; of a wondrously cold, phlegmatic turn, which I take to be at the bottom, rank stupidity; good civilians, little of philosophers, less of poets, and still less of orators; affecting a great plainness in their dress, but imagining themselves dressed in high taste, with a little bag and a great hat, boots up to their waist, a little cane, a very short coat, with a very long waistcoat.

As to the women, they are almost all fat, and special breeders; they have great gentleness, love their domestic employment, and are commonly faithful enough to their husbands. As to the girls, they enjoy the privileges in fashion; to which I have so little objection, that I have, in my memoirs, sought to excuse their weaknesses. I hold it good policy to give those pretty creatures all the ease and freedom that may be, to prevent their learning a horrid practice, by means of which they might amuse themselves without fear of consequences, but which would cause a notable prejudice to the state. Nay, to encourage them the more to population, I take care in my regiments to give the preference to the fruit of their amours; and, if the offspring of an officer, I make him an ensign, and often raise him to higher rank before his turn.