The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 12 eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 507 pages of information about The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 12.

[Footnote 2:  “Cito remitte matri filiolum!” ("Send the little boy right home to his mother.")]

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FREDERICK THE GREAT

By GUSTAV FREYTAG

TRANSLATED BY E.H.  BABBITT, A.B.

Assistant Professor of German, Tufts College

What was it that, after the Thirty Years’ War drew the attention of the politicians of Europe to the little State on the northeastern frontier of Germany which was struggling upward in spite of the Swedes and the Poles, the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons?  The inheritance of the Hohenzollern was no richly endowed land in which the farmer dwelt in comfort on well-tilled acres, to which wealthy merchant princes brought, in deeply-laden galleons, the silks of Italy and the spices and ingots of the New World.  It was a poor, desolate, sandy country of burned cities and ruined villages.  The fields were untilled, and many square miles, stripped of men and cattle, were given over to the caprices of wild nature.  When, in 1640, Frederick William succeeded to the Electorate, he found nothing but contested claims to scattered territories of some thirty thousand square miles.  In all the fortified places of his home land were lodged insolent conquerors.  In an insecure desert this shrewd and tricky prince established his state, with a craft and disregard of his neighbors’ rights which, even in that unscrupulous age, aroused criticism, but at the same time, with a heroism and greatness of mind which more than once showed higher conceptions of German honor than were held by the Emperor himself or any other prince of the realm.  Nevertheless, when, in 1688, this adroit statesman died, he left behind him only an unimportant State, in no way to be reckoned among the powers of Europe.  For while his sovereignty extended over about forty-four thousand square miles, these contained only one million three hundred thousand inhabitants; and when Frederick II., a hundred years after his great-grandfather, succeeded to the crown, he inherited only two million two hundred and forty thousand subjects, not so many as the single province of Silesia contains today.  What was it then that, immediately after the battles of the Thirty Years’ War, aroused the jealousy of all the governments, and especially of the Imperial house, and which since then has made such warm friends and such bitter enemies for the Brandenburg government?  For two centuries neither Germans nor foreigners ceased to set their hopes on this new State, and for an equally long time neither Germans nor foreigners ceased to call it—­at first with ridicule, and then with spite—­“an artificial structure which cannot endure heavy storms, which has intruded without justification among the powers of Europe.”  How did it come about that impartial judges finally, soon after the death of Frederick the Great, declared that it was time to cease prophesying the destruction of this widely hated power?  For after every defeat, they said, it had risen more vigorously, and had repaired all the damages and losses of war more quickly than was possible elsewhere; its prosperity and intelligence also were increasing more rapidly than in any other part of Germany.

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The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 12 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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