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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Katte was arrested before he could escape


Few royal princes ever had a more unfortunate childhood and youth than Frederick the Great. His mother, Sophia Dorothea of Hannover, a sister of George II. of England, was an amiable, mild-tempered woman who was devotedly attached to him, but had no power to protect him from the violence of his hard and tyrannical father. As a boy his chief tastes were music and French literature, which he could only indulge by stealth: the king not only called him "idiot!" and "puppy!" when he found him occupied with a flute or a French book, but threatened him with personal chastisement. His whole education, which was gained almost in secret, was chiefly received at the hands of French _emigres_, and his taste was formed in the school of ideas which at that time ruled in France, and which was largely formed by Voltaire, whom Frederick during his boyhood greatly admired, and afterward made one of his chief correspondents and intimates. The influence of this is most clearly to be traced throughout his life.

[Sidenote: 1728.]

His music became almost a passion with him, though it is doubtful whether any of the praises of his proficiency that have come down to us are more than the remains of the flatteries of the time. His compositions, which were performed at his concerts, to which leading musicians were often invited, do not give any evidence of

the genius claimed for him in this respect; but it is certain that he attained a considerable degree of mechanical skill in playing the flute. In after-life his musical taste continued to influence him greatly, and the establishment of the opera at Berlin was chiefly due to him. His father's persistent opposition rather fanned than suppressed the eagerness which he showed in this and other studies, as a boy; and doubtless contributed to a thoroughness which afterward stood him in good stead.

In 1728, when only sixteen years old, he accompanied his father on a visit to the court of Augustus the Strong, at Dresden, and was for a time led astray by the corrupt society into which he was there thrown. The wish of his mother, that he should marry the Princess Amelia, the daughter of George II., was thwarted by his father's dislike of England; the tyranny to which he was subjected became intolerable, and in 1730, while accompanying his father on a journey to Southern Germany, he determined to run away.

His accomplice was a young officer, Lieutenant von Katte, who had been his bosom-friend for two or three years. A letter written by Frederick to the latter fell by accident into the hands of another officer of the same name, who sent it to the king, and the plot was thus discovered. Frederick had already gone on board of a vessel at Frankfort, and was on the point of sailing down the Rhine, when his father followed, beat him until his face was covered with blood, and then sent him as a prisoner of State to Prussia. Katte was arrested before he could escape, tried by a court-martial and sentenced to several years' imprisonment. Frederick William annulled the sentence and ordered him to be immediately executed. To make the deed more barbarous, it was done before the window of the cell in which Frederick was confined. The young Prince fainted, and lay so long senseless that it was feared he would never recover. He was then watched, allowed no implements except a wooden spoon, lest he might commit suicide, and only permitted to read a Bible and hymn-book. The officer who had him in charge could only converse with him by means of a hole bored through the ceiling of his cell.


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