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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

He was forced to give up Western Pomerania


Ferdinand's

son, Leopold I., a stupid, weak-minded youth of eighteen, was chosen Emperor in 1658. Like his ancestor, Frederick III., whom he most resembled, his reign was as long as it was useless. Until the year 1705 he was the imaginary ruler of an imaginary Empire: Vienna was a faint reflection of Madrid, as every other little capital was of Paris. The Hapsburgs and the Bourbons being absolute, all the ruling princes, even the best of them, introduced the same system into their territories, and the participation of the other classes of the people in the government ceased. The cities followed this example, and their Burgomasters and Councillors became a sort of aristocracy, more or less arbitrary in character. The condition of the people, therefore, depended entirely on the princes, priests, or other officials who governed them: one State or city might be orderly and prosperous, while another was oppressed and checked in its growth. A few of the rulers were wise and humane: Ernest the Pious of Gotha was a father to his land, during his long reign; in Hesse, Brunswick and Anhalt learning was encouraged, and Frederick William of Brandenburg set his face against the corrupting influences of France. These small States were exceptions, yet they kept alive what of hope and strength and character was left to Germany, and were the seeds of her regeneration in the present century.

[Sidenote: 1660.]

Throughout the greater part

of the country the people relapsed into ignorance and brutality, and the higher classes assumed the stiff, formal, artificial manners which nearly all Europe borrowed from the court of Louis XIV. Public buildings, churches and schools were allowed to stand as ruins, while the petty sovereign built his stately palace, laid out his park in the style of Versailles, and held his splendid and ridiculous festivals. Although Saxony had been impoverished and almost depopulated, the Elector, John George II., squandered all the revenues of the land on banquets, hunting-parties, fireworks and collections of curiosities, until his treasury was hopelessly bankrupt. Another prince made his Italian singing-master prime minister, and others again surrendered their lives and the happiness of their people to influences which were still more disastrous.

The one historical character among the German rulers of this time is Frederick William of Brandenburg, who is generally called "The Great Elector." In bravery, energy and administrative ability, he was the first worthy successor of Frederick of Hohenzollern. No sooner had peace been declared than he set to work to restore order to his wasted and disturbed territory: he imitated Sweden in organizing a standing army, small at first, but admirably disciplined; he introduced a regular system of taxation, of police and of justice, and encouraged trade and industry in all possible ways. In a few years a war between Sweden and Poland gave him the opportunity of interfering, in the hope of obtaining the remainder of Pomerania. He first marched to Koenigsberg, the capital of the Duchy of Prussia, which belonged to Brandenburg, but under the sovereignty of Poland. Allying himself first with the Swedes, he participated in a great victory at Warsaw in July, 1656, and then found it to his advantage to go over to the side of John Casimir, king of Poland, who offered him the independence of Prussia. This was his only gain from the war; for, by the peace of 1660, he was forced to give up Western Pomerania, which he had in the mean time conquered from Sweden.


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