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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Despotic organization of industry



The power of Prussia, during these years, was steadily increasing. Frederick I., it is true, was among the imitators of Louis XIV.: he built stately palaces, and spent a great deal of money on showy Court festivals, but he did not completely exhaust the resources of the country, like the Electors of Saxony and the rulers of many smaller States. On the other hand, he founded the University of Halle in 1694, and commissioned the philosopher Leibnitz to draw up a plan for an Academy of Science, which was established in Berlin, in 1711. He was a zealous Protestant, and gave welcome to all who were exiled from other States on account of their faith. As a ruler, however, he was equally careless and despotic, and his government was often entrusted to the hands of unworthy agents. Frederick the Great said of him: "He was great in small matters, and little in great matters."

His son, Frederick William I., was a man of an entirely different nature. He disliked show and ceremony: he hated everything French with a heartiness which was often unreasonable, but which was honestly provoked by the enormous, monkey-like affectation of the manners of Versailles by some of his fellow-rulers. While Augustus of Saxony spent six millions of thalers on a single entertainment, he set to work to reduce the expenses of his royal household. While the court of Austria supported 40,000 officials and hangers-on, and

half of Vienna was fed from the Imperial kitchen, he was employed in examining the smallest details of the receipts and expenditures of his State, in order to economize and save. He was miserly, fierce, coarse and brutal; he aimed at being a _German_, but he went back almost to the days of Wittekind for his ideas of German culture and character; he was a tyrant of the most savage kind,--but, after all has been said against him, it must be acknowledged that without his hard practical sense in matters of government, his rigid, despotic organization of industry, finance and the army, Frederick the Great would never have possessed the means to maintain himself in that struggle which made Prussia a great power.

Some illustrations of his policy as a ruler and his personal habits must be given, in order to show both sides of his character. He had the most unbounded idea of the rights and duties of a king, and the aim of his life, therefore, was to increase his own authority by increasing the wealth, the order and the strength of Prussia. He was no friend of science, except when it could be shown to have some practical use, but he favored education, and one of his first measures was to establish four hundred schools among the people, by the money which he saved from the expenditures of the royal household. His personal economy was so severe that the queen was only allowed to have one waiting-woman. At this time the Empress of Germany had several hundred attendants, received two hogsheads of Tokay, daily, for her parrots, and twelve barrels of wine for her baths! Frederick William I. protected the industry of Prussia by imposing heavy duties upon all foreign products; he even went so far as to prohibit the people from wearing any but Prussian-made cloth, setting them the example himself. He also devoted much attention to agriculture, and when 17,000 Protestants were driven out of Upper Austria by the Archbishop of Salzburg, after the most shocking and inhuman persecutions, he not only furnished them with land but supported them until they were settled in their new homes.

[Sidenote: 1725.]

The organization of the Prussian army was entrusted to Prince Leopold of Dessau, who distinguished himself at Turin, under Prince Eugene. Although during the greater part of Frederick William's reign peace was preserved, the military force was kept upon a war footing, and gradually increased until it amounted to 84,000 men. The king had a singular mania for giant soldiers: miserly as he was in other respects, he was ready to go to any expense to procure recruits, seven feet high, for his body-guard. He not only purchased such, but allowed his agents to kidnap them, and despotically sent a number of German mechanics to Peter the Great in exchange for an equal number of Russian giants. For forty-three such tall soldiers he paid 43,000 dollars, one of them, who was unusually large, costing 9,000. The expense of keeping these guardsmen was proportionately great, and much of the king's time was spent in inspecting them. Sometimes he tried to paint their portraits, and if the likeness was not successful, an artist was employed to paint the man's face until it resembled the king's picture.

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