Louise - Queen of Prussia - George Upton




Louise's Probation

As soon as the country between Memel and the Weichsel was evacuated the royal family removed to Koenigsberg, January 15, 1808. It was none too soon, for Louise's health had suffered seriously in the cold, damp climate of Memel. In Koenigsberg she gave birth to a daughter, February i, who was christened with the name of Louise.

In May the royal family moved to the quiet, simple country-seat, which still goes by the name of the Queen. Encouraged by the Koenigsberg professor Severn, she devoted herself while there to the study of the history of Europe and tried "to live in the past, as the future held nothing for her." The ancient history of Germany was particularly comforting to her. The motto of pious knightly times: "Justice, Faith, Love," pleased her so well that she had a seal made bearing the device. But she said that if she were to choose a motto for herself, it would be: "God is my refuge." Her soul was filled with a new hope, as she saw the perishing faith in God's power and dominion reviving amid the fiery trials of the time, and felt that the German and Prussian peoples would awake, abandon foreign immorality, and arise in their might to shake off foreign domination.

At that time a new light had arisen in Switzerland, a man who was dedicating his life and means to the better education of the masses, from a religious and humanitarian standpoint. This was the noble Pestalozzi, who had evolved a new system of education and written books of instruction for the people, particularly for mothers. Louise read the tale of "Poor Leonard and his Noble Gertrude "with great emotion and found in it a passage that particularly appealed to her: "Misery and suffering are God's blessings, when they are patiently endured." Pestalozzi and his followers hoped everything from a more natural system of education and the thorough religious training of youth. The Queen firmly believed in him and awaited with impatience the arrival of his pupil Zeller, from Wurtemberg, whom the King had summoned to introduce the new Swiss system of education into Prussia. Louise took great pleasure in visiting his school and educational institute, and contributed to its success by every means in her power.

It was at that time that she wrote this splendid letter to her father, which gives us such a charming glimpse not only into her matured and disciplined mind, but also into her happy family life. The beginning is sad. She judges and foresees like a prophetess, then she rejoices as only a happy wife and mother can.

"All is over for us, if not forever, at least for the present. For myself I have no more hopes. I have become resigned, and in this resignation to the will of Heaven, I am composed and happy, if not with an earthly happiness, at least with what means much more, a spiritual happiness. I see ever more clearly that all had to come as it has come. God's providence works silently toward new conditions and I feel that there is to be a new order of things, for the old has outlived itself and is doomed to decay. We had fallen asleep on the laurels of Frederick the Great, who, as master of his century, created a new era. We did not advance with it and so it has left us behind. We can learn a great deal from Napoleon, and what he has accomplished will not be lost. It would be blasphemy to say that God is with him; but evidently he is a tool in the hand of the Almighty employed to bury the dead past. The world will certainly progress, faith in the Perfect One is promise of that. But the world can only grow better through the good. Therefore I do not believe that the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is firmly seated on his now brilliant throne. Men of truth and justice alone are secure, and he is only politic and crafty. He does not conform to eternal laws, but only to circumstances as he finds them. He besmirches his reign with many injustices. He is not honest with the world and not true to himself. His unbounded ambition concerns only himself and his personal interests. He is blinded by his own good fortune and believes that he is capable of all things. Withal, he is without moderation; and he who cannot be temperate is sure to fall sooner or later.

"I believe firmly in God, and therefore in a moral order. I do not see this in the rule of the strongest: therefore I live in hopes that better times will come. It is plain that all that has happened and is now happening is but the preparation for the accomplishment of God's good purpose, and not the end, as it shall be in perfection. We shall probably not see this end, but die on the road thither. But God's will be done in everything. In this hope which lives in the depths of my soul I find comfort, strength, courage, and joy. Truly, everything in this world is in transition 1 We must learn our lesson, and our only care should be to become better and wiser with each day.

"You see, dear father, that you have a pious and resigned daughter even in adversity, and that the principles of Christian piety which I owe to your instruction and your good example have borne good fruit and will as long as I draw breath.

"You will he glad to hear, dear father, that the misfortune which has overtaken us has not affected our family life at all; indeed, it has strengthened the bonds and made them all the more precious. The King, who is the best of men, is kinder and more loving than ever. He is still the lover and bridegroom. His deeds, more than his words, show how attentive and full of care for me he is. Yesterday he said to me so sweetly and simply: 'Dear Louise, you have become more precious and dear to me in our misfortunes, as I see more and more what a treasure I have in you. Let storms rage outside if bright weather can only prevail in our married life. I have named our youngest daughter Louise because of my love for you. May she become a second Louise.' His goodness moved me to tears. It is my pride, my joy, and my happiness that I possess the love and respect of the best of husbands, and because I love him and we are so in accord, that the will of the one is also the will of the other. It will be easy for me to preserve this happy understanding, which grows more perfect as the years pass. In a word, he loves me and I love him, and we are happiest when we are together. Forgive me, dear father, if I say this rather boastfully. I should not care to speak of it to others; and this also I have learned from the King. It is enough that we know it ourselves.

"Our children are our treasures, and we look upon them with confidence and hope. The Crown-prince [later Frederick William the Fourth] is full of life and spirit. Our son William [the German Emperor], if I do not deceive myself, will be like his father, simple, sensible, and reliable. He resembles his father most, but will not be so handsome, I think. You see, dear father, I am still in love with my husband."

After picturing in the same graphic manner her son Carl and the daughters Charlotte and Alexandrine, the happy mother continues:

"There is nothing to be said yet about little Louise. May she become like her ancestress, the amiable and pious Louise of Orange, the worthy consort of the Great Elector. Now I have shown you my whole gallery, beloved father. You will say, this is a mother who is in love with her children and can see only the good. But really I do not see any bad tendencies in any of them. They have their faults like other children, but these disappear in time as they grow older. Circumstances and conditions discipline people, and it may be well for our children that they have become acquainted in their youth with the serious side of life. Had they grown up in the lap of luxury and in comfort, they would have thought that it must always be so. But now they perceive that there is another side to life in the grave face of their father and the frequent tears and sadness of their mother. My whole care is devoted to my children, and I ask God daily in my prayers to bless them and not to take his Holy Spirit from them. If God preserves them to me, he gives me my richest treasure, which no one can take from me. Come what may, united with our good children we shall be happy. I am and remain always your grateful daughter,

"LOUISE"

Thus, happy with her husband and children, communing with God and occupied with the future of her people, Louise lived a blessed life in her family circle, though the little country house was hardly large enough to accommodate them, and in spite of the hardships of the time. "I have good books, a good conscience, a good piano, and so can live more peacefully among the storms of the world than those who cause these storms," she wrote to a friend.

Napoleon had just raised a fresh storm by crushing Spain, as he had crushed Prussia. But this time it was a revolution of the people, a prophecy of the storm which was to arise five years later against the tyrant in enslaved Germany. In the dethronement of the King of Spain at a time of peace, in order to put his brother Joseph on the throne, Louise recognized fresh evidence of the iron hand which rested so heavily on the bowed brow of Europe, and also a warning for Prussia. "What have we to expect in our situation?" she wrote. "Ah, my God! will the time come when the hand of fate shall at last write 'Mene, mene, tekel' on these walls? I do not complain, however, that my lot has been cast in this unhappy period. I have borne children who will perhaps contribute to the good of humanity."

In the meanwhile Napoleon had been holding the fate of Prussia cruelly in the balance, until in September, 1808, the country, with the exception of the three fortresses on the Oder, was at last evacuated by the French tormentors. Napoleon now wished to have the royal family again in Berlin, "as in a mousetrap," surrounded by the armies of France and of the Rhenish Confederation. Instead of immediately returning thither, they gladly accepted an invitation from Czar Alexander to visit St. Petersburg, December 27. On the journey the King and Queen were shown at Riga the house of the order, founded in 1390, "guild of the blockheads," whose members were obliged to take an oath never to marry.

The King remarked to Louise: "Had I belonged to that guild you would have been spared many unhappy experiences."

"Had they been ten times worse, and had you been able to foretell all our misfortunes, I should not have allowed you to become a master of this guild," she answered.

The royal pair were greeted with all honors and pomp, both on the journey and in St. Petersburg. The French ambassador also feted them at a grand banquet. But Louise was depressed rather than elated by all this pomp and ceremony. A deep melancholy possessed her in the midst of these splendors. Added to this, she fell ill at an evening exhibition of fireworks, which ended with a shower of thirty-four thousand rockets.

On January 31, the King and Queen returned to Koenigsberg. "I come as I went; nothing dazzles me now," she remarked. "My kingdom is not of this world." Two days after her thirty-third birthday (t 809) she wrote:

"This has been another day when I have felt the burden of the world with all its sins. I am sick and I believe that as long as things remain in their present condition, I shall not get well. [It was dreadful to her that war had broken out again between France and Austria, and in the end Russia and Prussia would be forced to take the field against Austria.] My birthday was a terrible day to me. In the evening there was a brilliant celebration given by the city in my honor, preceded by a rich, gay banquet at the castle. How sad it all made me! My heart was torn. I danced! I smiled and said pleasant things to the hosts, was friendly to every one, but could scarcely endure my misery. To whom will Prussia belong a year hence? Whither shall we all be scattered? God, Almighty Father, take pity on us!"

In the new campaign against Austria, Napoleon arrived before Vienna, May 10. After overthrowing the brave army led so gallantly by Archduke Carl, in the battle of Wagram (July 5-6, 1809), he dictated the humiliating peace treaty at Schonbrunn on October 14, which made the return of the royal family to Berlin impossible. Therefore Louise passed another summer with her family at the country-seat near Koenigsberg. Her health grew worse, and an intermittent fever depleted her system. Austria's new misfortune, which completed the enslavement of Germany, increased her illness. —" God knows where I may be buried—scarcely in Prussian soil

Austria is singing her swan song and then adieu, Germania!" she wrote in her journal, fearing the utmost from Napoleon's anger and greed and no longer believing there was any future for them on earth.

Notwithstanding all this, she devoted herself zealously, as far as her strength allowed her to do so, to the schools of the adjacent metropolis of Koenigsberg, as the nurseries of a better future. She was especially interested in the "model institute" installed in the orphans' home by School-director Zeller. She studied detailed reports and took a lively interest in all that pertained to the moral elevation of the people. She clearly perceived that this would cost great sacrifices. To her sorrow she realized that neither reason nor justice, morality nor piety had been awakened by the misfortunes which had overtaken Prussia. She wrote to a friend: "Our natures are too hardened through selfishness and false education for them to be easily shaken or disciplined. Only great revolutions can and will accomplish this."

She watched with great interest during this cruel and sorrowful time, the revolt of the people of the Tyrol under the leadership of the heroic, simple, and pious Andreas Hofer, innkeeper of Passeyr, against the foreigners. "Hofer!" she wrote, "what a man! This Hofer, a peasant, becomes a field-marshal, and what an able one! His weapons, prayer; his ally, God! He fights with folded hands and bent knee, and slays as with the flaming sword of the cherubim!" How she must have mourned over the fallen hero, when, betrayed by a countryman, he was taken prisoner by the French and shot on the walls of the fortress at Mantua, February 20, 1810!

At the beginning of September Louise had to be taken back to the city castle as the result of a relapse. In those days of suffering she found a comforter in the excellent, liberal-minded Pastor Borowsky. Once, when the King was looking dejectedly into the future, he took him by the button of his uniform and frankly said to him: "Your Majesty must learn faith!" Borowsky describes the Queen thus:

"She is not joyful in this time of trial; but her earnestness is full of quiet cheer, and the insight and composure which God has given her lends to her personality a charm and dignity. Her eyes have indeed lost their former brilliancy, and one can tell that she has wept much and still weeps; but they have gained an expression of sadness and quiet longing which is more beautiful than the mere zest of life. The roses on her cheeks have faded, and a delicate pallor has taken their place; but it is still a beautiful face, and I like the white roses on those cheeks almost better than the red ones. About her mouth, where formerly a sweet, happy smile lurked, one sees now and then a slight trembling of the lips. This shows pain but no bitterness. Her dress is always extremely simple, and the choice of colors shows her mood. Last Sunday I found her alone in the sitting-room, and reading the Holy Book. She quickly arose, met me kindly, and began at once: ' I have now come to feel and appreciate the wonderful one hundred and twenty-sixth Psalm about which we lately conversed. The more I ponder it and try to understand it, the more its grandeur and loveliness attract me. I know of nothing so elevating and comforting, so deep and so sweet, as these precious words. It is full of a spirit of sadness and yet of victory, of resignation and of the most joyful confidence and trust; it is a hallelujah with tears. I have read it again and again, until it is graven on my memory.' And then the Queen reverently repeated the psalm, with a soft, but clear, firm voice, varying it here and there and applying it to her condition. The tone in which she recited it betrayed how deeply her richly tuned nature had made it her own."

Louise's youngest son, Albert, was born October fourth. At the christening the officiating clergyman spoke of "the dedication of the child to life" instead of the reception of this new soul into the company of God's elect. This shallow and superficial interpretation, which seemed to Louise like a profanation of the holy sacrament, grieved her deeply. Only the certainty consoled her that the worthiness or the opinions of the officiating clergyman had nothing to do with the holiness of the christening and could take nothing from it, for its power comes from God who instituted it, and not from weak men who perform it. But these occurrences gave her an insight into the true causes of Prussia's downfall. She expressed this in the words: "We have fallen away from the faith; hence our misfortunes." All the more urgent it seemed to her that she must never tire in her work, particularly for the religious elevation of the people. In this she was in accord with her husband. Freiherr von Stein, who had been banished by Napoleon, but whom she considered the "foundation stone of justice" and a "jewel among the German people," and had always esteemed so highly because the foundation of his steadfast political character was a serious piety and high morality, expressed her sentiments exactly when he said that "it was the highest duty to foster a moral, religious, and patriotic spirit in the nation, to infuse fresh courage, self reliance, and a feeling of national unity, with a readiness to make any sacrifice for independence." Thus Louise inspired all the efforts and the work by means of which, in the field of religion, of morality, and of scientific education, the Prussian State was to be regenerated.