Page images

had refufed his confent, the propofition of course became fruitlefs. The czarina however warmly defended the equity of the measure.

Frederic in the mean time did not confine his views to the fubject which had immediately given rife to his jealoufy, but determined out of this particular occafion to originate a general principle, that fhould apply to all future transactions of a fimilar nature. He defired, in the clofe of a long life, which had been crowded with great public tranfactions, to leave as it were to his fucceffors a legacy of principles, the tendency of which should be to perpetuate the prefent political situation of his country and he accordingly exerted himself with great affiduity in negociating with the electors of Hanover and Saxony a league, for the prefervation of the Germanic conftitution, and particularly to prevent fuch ceffions and exchanges of territory, as were contrary to the Golden Bull and other great chartularies, or might be fuppofed injurious to the balance of power in the empire. This treaty, the articles of which have never been made public, was concluded on the twenty-third of July 1785, and among the princes reported to have acceded to it, the names of fome of whom however are to be regarded as doubtful, have been enumerated the elector of Mentz, the landgrave of Heffe Caffel, the duke of Brunfwic, the dukes of Weimar and Saxe Gotha and the prince of Anhalt. The British ministry appear to have entered into the tranfaction with particular readinefs, and it is from this period that we are to date the intimate connexion between the courts of London aud Berlin, which has already produced confiderable confequences. The landgrave of Heffe died on the

thirty-first of October following and was fucceeded by his fon; but this event feems to have produced no alteration in the political connexions of that country.

The emperor was not idle during thefe tranfactions, nor did he regard the politics of Pruffia with a favour able eye. Prince Kaunitz, his prime minitter, during the period in which the league was negociating, addreffed in the month of June two feveral let, ters to the imperial ambassadors in the different courts of the empire, which were afterwards made public, directing them to remonftrate against the irregular and hoftile nature of the league, which could not but be regarded as perfonal to the emperor himself. With respect to Jofeph, he had during a confiderable part of this period been abfent in an excursion to the ftates of Italy, and did not return to his capital till a few weeks before the figning of the treaty. The measure itfelf was vindicated by its royal author in a circular letter to the courts of Germany on the tenth of Auguft, and in a fimilar addrefs to the different. ftates of Europe of the twenty-third of that month.

Thefe papers produced a prolix and laborious reply on the part of the court of Vienna, and a rejoinder equally tedious from the Pruffian go vernment. The empéror párticularly exerted himself to prove, that there was nothing in the meditated exchange contrary either to natural right or the laws of the empire, and that of confequence the confederation of princes was to be regarded as an unjuft abridgment of the prerogative of fovereigns, and a confpiracy of a part of a great political body to rule over and dictate to the whole. No peace could ever be negociated among contending powers,

if the party, that was the lofer in the conteft, had not the power of ceding to the victorious adversary a part of thofe dominions under the fanction of a treaty, which had been wrefted from him by the violence of war. There was indeed an article in the Golden Bull, which forbad to an elector of the empire the alienation of the dominions that entitled him to that privilege. But in anfwer to this it was alledged by the emperor, that Bavaria had not been raised to the rank of an electorate, an affertion which was controverted by the king of Pruffia, till after the promulgation of the Golden Bull; and he denied, that the chartulary could intend to provide for perpetuating any forms of election, that had not exifted nor even been in contemplation till a more recent period. It had farther been faid, that certain treaties ftipulated for the entail and indivifibility of the Bavarian dominions; but in answer to these the emperor produced the treaty of Baden of 1714, exprefsly providing and permitting an exchange, at a time when it was fuppofed that the elector, in confequence of fome mifcarriages and disappointments, would defire wholly to withdraw himfelf from his hereditary dominions. He added, that the guarantee of other powers in a question of this nature was only intended to fecure the execution of certain family fettlements and compacts, and could never be of validity to prevent the family by mutual confent from changing thofe fettlements. Finally he quoted the compact of the Bavarian family in the year 1771, in which it had been directly ftipulated, that fuch exchanges as were dictated by neceffity or led to obvious advantage should be regarded as valid.

Such are the outlines of one of the laft tranfactions of a monarch, whofe abilities have feldom been equalled by the hereditary poffeffor of a throne, and whofe hiftory, as exhibiting an interefting fpecimen of the application of fhining talents to the direction of a defpotic government, will long be ftudied by all thofe, who deem human transactions and the ftrength and weakness of human understanding a fubject worthy of their fpeculations. We have already related in our narrative of the diffentions of the United Provinces, his attempt in the clofe of this year to fettle the diftracted affairs of that unfortunate republic. The remainder of his life was diftinguifhed by no very confiderable public tranfaction. He was feized about this time with a complication of diforders, and it became evident that he could not long struggle with the infirmities of age and the encroachments of difeafe. In the mean time he rather haftened the close of the eventful fcene, by refufing to employ the proper precautions of regimen and diet, and rather choofing to indulge to the impatience of his temper and the gratification of his appetite. Frederic the Second expired on the feventeenth of Auguft 1786.

The acceffion of his nephew, who fucceeded to the throne by the ap pellation of Frederic William the Second, was not immediately attended with any remarkable event. The new king was not even fufpected of poffeffing any extraordinary degree of abilities. Thofe perfons however, who had figured to themfelves the Pruffian monarchy as a sort of fairy creation, too weak in its foundations and disjointed in its structure, not immediately to fall to pieces,

C 4

pieces, when the hand that fuftained it was removed, found themselves difappointed. The emperor indeed -is faid to have entertained views upon Silefia, a province which had been fo unjustly wrefted from his predeceffors by the late monarch. But upon maturer confideration he found fomething fo formidable and strong in the power by which it was retained, that he did not think it advifable to make the attempt. On the other hand it had been conceived by thofe, who principally defired fuch an event, that the prefent moment was the period, in which a military -interference might be expected on . the part of the Pruffian monarch in - favour of the ftadtholder of the United Provinces. The late king, they faid, had been reftrained by nothing but the infirmity and unenterprifing fpirit of advanced age from taking an active share in the conteft; and Frederic William had an additional motive to this proceeding, as the princefs of Orange, whom the quarrel principally interefted, was his fif ter. It was not however thought advisable in the commencement of a new reign to engage in fo arduous a tranfaction,

There were three perfons, who were named by fpeculative enquirers, as the probable minifters of the new fovereign. The first of these was prince Henry, his uncle, who had diftinguifhed himself with reputation in the wars of Frederic, and who was at the head of what was ftyled the French party in the court of Berlin. But the king appears to have entertained no particular kindnefs for his uncle, and that prince is faid not to have proceeded with the caution, judgment and addrefs, which would have been neceffary to fecure his advancement. The fe

cond candidate was baron de Hertzberg, the most active minister of the late king, and who is known throughout Europe for his annual panegyrics, printed in the Tranfactions of the Berlin Academy, upon the government of his mafter. Hertzberg was the advocate of the ftadtholderian caufe, and the determined adverfary of the intrigues of France in favour of the oppofite party. He appears to have fallen into many of the fame errors of tashness, indifcretion and vanity as prince Henry his rival; but they produced an effect lefs difadvantageous to him, as his character and rank rendered him lefs formidable to the prince on the throne. The laft of those perfons who feemed to have a natural pretence to the fole adminiftration was the duke of Brunfwic Wolfenbuttle, brother-in-law to the king of England, and a general in the fervice of the king of Pruffia. This prince has been fuppofed to be the moft accomplished foldier in Europe; and he adds to this merit many of the qualifications of a ftatefman. He appears to poffefs in no common degree the art of gaining the affections and modelling the inclinations of the perfons with whom he has to tranfact; and the affairs of his domeftic government are administered with the moft fcrupulous punctuality and economy,

The perfonal character of the king appears to have decided the queftion among thefe powerful rivals. Deftitute of talents, of energy and virtue, he defired however to affect the poffeffion of every one of them, At the fame time therefore that he felt an unconquerable averfion to bu finefs, he was determined not to have a principal minifter. This refolution altogether cut off at least for


the present the pretenfions of prince Henry and the duke of Brunfwic. The moment they were called into office, the king muft of neceffity dwindle into a cypher. Nor did Hertzberg himself obtain a decifive victory. He was permitted to continue in office, and appears to have poffeffed as much influence as any of the oftenfible minifters of the king. But his recommendations were frequently fuperfeded, and his measures thwarted, particularly his favourite plan of a war in Holland..

The government of Frederic William commenced, as from thefe preliminaries may cafily be imagined, rather with the affectation and appearances of wife and fpirited proceedings, than with the reality. The air was particularly ftudied of remedying the errors and counteracting the predilections of the late king. The component members of administration remained indeed for the most part the fame, but many leffer changes were carefully introduced. The judges, who had fuffered in the affair of the miller Arnold, where the late king feems to have been at first seduced by the appearance of innocence in the fufferer, and it is to be feared perfifted from the contemptible cowardice of not daring to avow his mistake, were .reftored or acquitted. German literature had been treated with neglect and contempt from an undue partiality to the literature of France, and in order to prove the equity of the fucceffor, a penfion was bestowed upon Rammler, a German poet, and loud profeffions diffeminated of patronage to the learned of that country. The receipts of the Pruffian treasury had been known for feveral years to have exceeded the expendi

ture, and this circumftance afforded an opportunity of difplaying the royal humanity and attention to the welfare of the people. A part of the taxes of government had been collected in the late reign under a fyftem, borrowed from France, and known by the appellation of régie, moft of the collectors being alfo natives of that country. This régie was abolished, and an intention profeffed of fubftituting a more liberal mode of collection in the hands of natives. Nor did government stop here. A commiffion was iffued to investigate the vices of the régie; and the measures of its principal conductor, who, while by cruel and tyrannical methods he filled the public treafury, was fuppofed by peculation to have converted certain fums to his private emolument, were fcrutinised with great feverity. Laftly, whereas Frederic the Second had tranfacted bufinefs feparately with the feveral departments of administration, it was now thought proper to restore an inftitution, called the grand directory, by which the minifters deliberated in concert upon the meafures of government. This laft change feems rather to have taken place in appearance than in reality.

One of the topics, refpecting which the late king had been most remarkably ill-informed, was that of commerce. He had upon all occafions been the friend of privileges and monopoly, and appears to have conceived, that he could not more effectually contribute to the wealth of his dominions, than by curbing the efforts of his subjects with a thoufand artificial and unnatural limitations. This fubject very properly occupied a part of the politics of the new reign, Together with the régie fell the monopoly of tobacco


and the monopoly of coffee; but by this alteration the revenue was faid to be a confiderable lofer, and it was thought neceffary in part at Jeaft to indemnify government for the facrifice that was made. For this purpose a capitation or poll-tax upon the heads of families was introduced, an impofition, the most unpopular in its principle and the moft oppreffive in its operation that could well have been devifed. This, as partaking of the nature of a commutation, was probably fuppofed not to contravene the extraordinary declaration of the king's minifter, appointed for that purpofe to the ftates of Brandenbourg on the acceffion that the bufinefs of the prefent reign fhould be, without impofing any new taxes, to lighten as much as poffible the burthen and amount of those which already exifted. About the fame time a refolution was adopted at the inftigation of general Moellendorf, one of the first military characters of Pruffia, to abolish an iniquitous contribution called le verd, by which, under pretext of inuring the cavalry to the practice of foraging, the lands of the inhabitants were liable to be pillaged during three months of the year under the fanction of fovereign authority.

We have mentioned the ineffeetual efforts of Hertzberg to induce Frederic William to commence his carreer with a war in Holland for the fupport of his brother-in-law the ftadtholder. But, though his arguments did not appear for the prefent to coincide with the inclinations of his mafter, he was not however in every refpect unfucceff. ful. The felection of the count de Goertz, to announce the king's ac

ceffion to the affembly of the states general, was conceived to be made at his nomination; and this mea, fure produced a fort of amicable conferences on the part of Pruffia and France, between that nobleman on one hand and Mr. de Rayneval on the other, which confumed the remainder of the year 1786, and from which fome hopes had been conceived of adjufting these long and complicated diffentions. They broke off in January 1787 with mutual diffatisfaction on both fides, each being difgufted with the conduct of the ftadtholder, whose measures were characterised by a folly and precipitation, that did not conciliate the efteem of any party to his perfonal character.

The court of London feems during this period to have acted a part fimilar to that of the Pruffian minifter, and to have fignified to the court of Berlin, that, if they were willing to decide by military force upon the diffentions of Holland, they might depend upon the British government for a zealous and active co-operation*. So forward were ve within a period of three years from the prefent time to trample upon and deftroy the immunities and liberty of every country but our own! Nor is this to be imputed as an individual fault to the perfons who held the reins of government: the people of England, and every political party among us, influenced it fhould feem by certain chimerical ideas refpecting the balance of Europe, ftrove with each other who fhould be moft eager and diftinguished in afferting the caufe of defpotifm, and rivetting the chains of flavery upon our republican neigh

Hiftoire Secrete de la Cour de Berlin, vol. ii. lettre 37.

« PreviousContinue »