From The International Library of Masterpieces, Literature, Art, & Rare Manuscripts, Volume XXX, Editor-in-Chief: Harry Thurston Peck; The International Bibliophile Society, New York; 1901; pp. 11105-11112.
PETER THE GREAT AS A SHIP BUILDER, EAST INDIA
WILHELMINE, FRIEDERIKE SOPHIE, Margravine of Beyreuth, a distinguished German writer of memoirs; born at Berlin, July 3, 1709; died October, 1758. She was the favorite sister of Frederick the Great. Her entertaining Memoirs, “Denkwürdigkeiten,” were first published in 1810 (new edition, 1845).
I HAVE, in the preceding year, forgotten to mention the arrival in Berlin of Peter the Great, Emperor of Russia. This episode is curious enough to be worthy of a place in my memoirs. This sovereign, who was very fond of travelling, was on his way from Holland, and was obliged to make a stay in the province of Cleves. As he disliked both society and formalities, he begged the King to let him occupy a villa on the outskirts of Berlin which belonged to the Queen. This villa was a pretty little building, and had been beautifully arranged by the Queen. It contained a gallery decorated with china; all the rooms had mot beautiful looking-glasses. The house was really a little gem, and fully deserved its name, “Monbijou.” The garden was lovely; and its beauty was enhanced by its being close to the river.
To prevent any damage, — as these Russian gentlemen are noted for not being particular or over-careful, — the Queen had the whole house cleared out, and removed everything that might get broken. A few days afterward the Emperor and Empress and their suite arrived by water at Monbijou.
The King and Queen received them on the banks of the river. The King gave the Czarina his hand to help her to land. As soon as the Emperor had landed, he shook hands with the King and said, “Brother Frederick, I am very pleased to see you.” He then approached the Queen, wishing to embrace her, which she however declined. The Czarina then 11106 kissed my mother’s hand repeatedly; afterwards presenting to her the Duke and Duchess of Mecklenburg, who accompanied them, and four hundred so-called ladies. These were, for the most part, German maids, — ladies’-maids and cooks, who fulfilled the duties of ladies-in-waiting. The Queen did not feel inclined to bow to these; and indeed she treated the Czarina and the princess of the blood with great coldness and haughtiness, and the King had a great deal of trouble in persuading her to be civil to them. I saw this curious court the next day, when the Czar and Czarina came to visit the Queen. She received them in the state rooms of the castle, met them at the entrance of these rooms, and led the Empress to her audience chamber.
The King and the Emperor followed behind. As soon as the Emperor saw me, he recognized me, — having seen me five years ago, — took me up in his arms and kissed me all over my face. I boxed his ears, and made frantic efforts to get away from him, saying he had insulted me. This delighted him, and made him laugh heartily. They had told me beforehand what I was to say to him, so I spoke to him of his fleet and his victories. He was so pleased that he said he would willingly sacrifice one of his provinces to have such a child as I was. The Czarina too made much of me. The Queen and the Czarina sat on arm-chairs under a canopy, and I stood near my mother, the princesses of the blood standing opposite.
The Czarina was small, broad, and brown-looking, without the slightest dignity of appearance. You had only to look at her to detect her low origin. She might have passed for a German actress, she had decked herself out in such a manner. Her dress had been bought second-hand, and was trimmed with some dirty-looking silver embroidery; the bodice was covered with precious stones, arranged in such a manner as to represent the double eagle. She wore a dozen orders; and round the bottom of her dress hung quantities of relics and pictures of saints, which rattled when she walked, and reminded one of a smartly harnessed mule. The orders too made a great noise, knocking against each other.
The Czar on the other hand, was tall and well grown, with a handsome face; but his expression was coarse, and impressed one with fear. He wore a simple sailor’s dress. His wife, who spoke German very badly, called her court jester to her aid, and spoke Russian with her. This poor creature was a Princess Gallizin, who had been obliged to 11107 undertake this sorry office to save her life; as she had been mixed up in a conspiracy against the Czar, and had twice been flogged with the knout!
At last we sat down to dinner, the Czar sitting near the Queen. It is well known that this sovereign had been poisoned when a young man; and that his nerves had never recovered from it, so that he was constantly seized with convulsions over which he had no control. He was suddenly seized with one of these attacks whilst he was dining, and frightened the queen so much that she several times tried to get up and leave the table. After a while the Czar grew calmer, and begged the Queen to have no fear, as he would not hurt her. Then taking her hand in his, he pressed it so tightly that she screamed for mercy; at which he laughed, saying that she had much more delicate bones than his Catherine. A ball had been arranged after dinner; but he stole quietly away, and returned on foot to Monbijou.
The following day he visited all the sights of Berlin, amongst others the very curious collection of coins and antiques. Among these last named was a statue representing a heathen god. It was anything but attractive, but was the most valuable in the collection. The Czar admired it very much, and insisted on the Czarina kissing it. On her refusing, he said to her in bad German that she should lose her head if she did not at once obey him. Terrified at the Czar’s anger, she immediately complied with his orders without the least hesitation. The Czar asked the King to give him this and other statues, a request which he could not refuse. The same thing happened about a cupboard inlaid with amber. It was the only one of its kind, and had cost King Frederick I. an enormous sum; and the consternation was general on its having to be sent to Petersburg.
This barbarous court happily left after two days. The Queen rushed at once to Monbijou, which she found in a state resembling that of the fall of Jerusalem. I never saw such a sight. Everything was destroyed, so that the Queen was obliged to rebuild the whole house.
* This visit occurred in 1717. Wilhelmine was 8 years old. Heres is the only contemporary which mentions this statue-kissing incident, that I can find. Later, others say this was an “erotic statue,” some think of Priapus. It appears, though, that there is little more than Wilhelmine’s say so, which due to her age must only have been based on court gossip at the time.
However, the story was a good one, and several commented on that barbaric display of manners, as if it was gospel. There does appear to have been a statue of Priapus in the Hohenzollern Museum, that is supposed to be the one in question, according to Stern Prize-winning dissertation: “Ich Kaufe Mir Den Kaiser!”, Royal Relics and the Culture of Display in Nineteenth-Century Prussia, by Eva Giloi Brenner, GHI Bulletin NO. 30 (SPRING 2002); pp. 87-88:
“As the archival files revealed, some of the items in the Hohenzollern Museum were straightforward ceremonial objects and symbols of royal power: regalia, seals, uniforms, etc. But these were far outnumbered by objects of a more personal nature, such as those that exemplified the various monarchs’ personal hobbies and obsessions: for example, Frederick the Great’s snuff boxes, or the walking canes with which Friedrich Wilhelm I was wont to thrash any idlers whom he encountered on his strolls down Unter den Linden. There were also objects of a rather more eclectic and eccentric nature (at least to modern eyes): an iron nail turned half to gold by the court alchemist; a ‘hat made from the hair of a blackamoor,’ hand-crafted by the Margrave Albrecht; Luther’s inordinately large beer mug; and a statue of Priapus to which Peter the Great, while visiting Berlin, took such a liking that he ordered his consort, Catherine I, to ‘embrace the indelicate piece of sculpture’ — under threat of cutting off her head if she refused.
“The museum also contained some intriguing corporal relics: locks of Königin Luise’s hair; Wilhelm I’s left sideburn; Frederick the Great’s umbilical cord and two teeth that he knocked out while playing the flute; and &38212; perhaps most bizarre of all — a silver belt buckle that Friedrich Wilhelm I swallowed as a five year old child and shat out three days later.”
Over time, in return for the amber room panels and other presents and concessions, Peter the Great sent Frederick 100 or so over-sized men for his imperial guard, the “Potsdam Giants,” who were Frederick’s pride and joy. — Elf.Ed.
MY father was greatly incensed at again finding himself duped by England. He returned to Potsdam soon after this affair was settled, and we shortly followed him.11108
Immediately after our arrival my father had a violent attack of gout, which troubled him for some time. This illness, added to his displeasure at his disappointed hopes, made his temper unbearable. I was called nothing else by him but the “English canaille,” and he ill-treated me and my brother in a shocking manner. We were not allowed to leave him for one single moment during the whole day. We took all our meals near his bedside; and to torment us still more, he let us have only those things to eat for which we had an absolute dislike. But good or bad, we were obliged to swallow them down and run the risk of being ill for the rest of the day. Not a single day passed without some unfortunate occurrence, and we could not lift up our eyes without beholding some unhappy being who was being tormented. The King was of too impatient a nature to remain long in bed, so he sat in an arm-chair, in which he had himself wheeled about the castle. He held a crutch in each hand to support himself, and we followed this triumphal car like wretched prisoners expecting their sentence.
On one occasion, when his temper was more than usually bad, he told that Queen that he had received letters from Anspach, in which the margrave announced his arrival at Berlin for the beginning of May. He was coming there for the purpose of marrying my sister; and one of his ministers would arrive previously with the betrothal ring. My father asked my sister whether she were pleased at this prospect, and how she would arrange her household. Now my sister had always made a point of telling him whatever came into her head, even the greatest home-truths, and he had never taken her outspokenness amiss. On this occasion, therefore, relying on former experience, she answered him as follows: “When I have a house of my own I shall take care to have a well-appointed table, — better than yours is; and if I have any children of my own I shall not plague them as you do yours, and force them to eat things they thoroughly dislike!”
“What is amiss with my dinner-table?” the King inquired, getting very red in the face.
“You ask what is the matter with it,” my sister replied, “there is not enough on it for us to eat, and what there is is cabbage and carrots, which we detest.”
Her first answer had already angered my father, but now 11109 he gave vent to his fury. But instead of punishing my sister, he poured it all on my mother, my brother, and myself. To begin with, he threw his plate at my brother’s head, who would have been struck had he not got out of the way; a second one he threw at me, which I also happily escaped;. Then torrents of abuse followed these first signs of hostility. He reproached the Queen with having brought up her children so badly. “You will curse your mother,” he said to my brother, “for having made you such a good-for-nothing creature. A man was once condemned to death in Carthage for various crimes,” he continued, “and as he was being led to the place of execution, he asked to be allowed to speak to his mother. Whilst pretending to whisper to her, he bit a piece out of her ear; saying at the same time, ‘I treat you like this, that you may serve as an example to all mothers that do not bring up their children virtuously.’ You can do the same,” my father continued, still addressing himself to my brother; and with this remark he let himself be wheeled away in his chair. As my brother and I passed near him to leave the room, he hit out at us with his crutch. Happily we escaped the blow, for it would certainly have struck us down; and we at last escaped without harm from the room. I had been so upset by this scene that I trembled all over, and was obliged to sit down to avoid fainting. My mother, who came after us, comforted us as best she could, and endeavored to persuade us to return to the King. We were, however, not the least inclined to do this: the scene with the plates and the crutch had frightened us too much. At length we were obliged to do so, and we found the King conversing quietly with his officers.
I felt quite ill nevertheless, and fainted away in the Queen’s room. My mother’s maid exclaimed, on seeing me, “Good gracious, your Royal Highness, what is the matter? you look dreadful!” I looked in the glass, and saw that my face and neck were covered with red spots. I told her I had been very much agitated, and that this was the result. I fainted again several times. The red spots disappeared as soon as I was in the cold air, appearing again in the heat of the room. I was obliged to keep about as best I could, as I was unable to get to bed. That night I was attacked by violent fever, which left me so weak next morning that I was obliged to ask my mother to excuse me from coming to her. She sent me word that dead or alive I must go to her. I then 11110 sent word that I had a rash which made it impossible. She however repeated her command, and I was carried into her room, where I went from one fainting-fit into another. In this condition I was dragged to the King. My sister, seeing that I was ready to give up the ghost, said to the King, “I beseech you, dear father, let my sister return to her room: she has fever, and cannot even stand.” The King asked me if this were true. “You look very ill,” he said, “but I will cure you;” and he forced me to drink a whole goblet full of very strong old Rhenish wine. My rash had gone in, and I was fighting with death. I had no sooner drunk the wine than I began to be delirious, and begged my mother to have me taken to my room. This she granted on condition that I would leave it again in the evening.
I laid myself down without taking off my head-dress; but no sooner was I in bed than the violence of the fever deprived me of my reason. The doctor who was called in pronounced me to be suffering from an inflammatory fever, and gave me three remedies not at all suitable to my present illness. From time to time I recovered consciousness, and then I prayed that God would take me to himself. Amidst bitter tears I said to Mademoiselle von Sonnsfeld, “The many sufferings I have been through have made me indifferent to this world, and now Providence will grant me the highest bliss. I am the cause of all my mother’s and brother’s sorrows: my death will put an end to these. If I die, promise me to say two things in my name to the King: first, that I beg he will restore me his affections, and secondly, implore him to be kinder towards my mother and my brother.” I lay for thirty-six hours between life and death, and at last small-pox declared itself.
The King had never once inquired after me since the commencement of my illness. As soon, however, as he heard the nature of my complaint, he sent his court surgeon to find out if I really had small-pox. This rude personage said many unkind things to me in the King’s name, besides being most repulsive in his own behavior. At any other time this would have provoked my anger, but I was now far too ill to notice his insolence. Upon the doctor’s confirming the statement that I had the small-pox, I was put into quarantine. All communication with my rooms was cut off, and nobody about the King and Queen was allowed to come near me. I felt that I was being treated like a plague-stricken creature. My 11111 governess and my maid were the only attendants I had. Though I lay in an icy cold room, deserted by the whole world, I had the comfort of my brother’s visits. He had had the small-pox, and came daily to spend with me what spare time he had. The Queen sent incessantly to inquire after me, but was not allowed to see me. For nine days I was as ill as I could be. All the symptoms seemed to point towards a fatal termination, and those who saw me thought I should be marked for life. I escaped death, however, and not a trace remained of this fearful malady.
Meanwhile M. von Bremer, who had been sent by the Margrave of Anspach, arrived at Berlin. My sister’s betrothal by proxy then took place, the ceremony being of the simplest description. The King had got rid of his gout and of his bad temper, preserving the latter towards me alone. That charming Holzendorf never entered my room without bringing me some disagreeable message from him. This bad man was in the very highest favor, and everybody bowed before him. He used his advantages, however, to do as much harm as he could, particularly to the Queen, my brother, and myself. He was Seckendorf’s creature; and that says volumes.
My father was now kinder towards my brother, but merely because he thought it politic to do so; and because Grumkow, into whose hands he had completely fallen, advised him to be so. Count Finkenstein and Colonel Kalkstein were in Grumkow’s way, and prevented his carrying out his plans. They were therefore to be got rid of, under the pretext that my brother no longer required governors. He persuaded the King to agree to their discharge, and succeeded. The two governors were dismissed in an honorable manner, both of them receiving a good pension for their services. They were replaced by two officers who had not the slightest power over my brother. . . .
My sister’s wedding took place amidst great pomp and rejoicing. She took her departure with her husband a fortnight afterwards, and I was then set at liberty.
We did not remain long in Berlin, but joined the King at Wusterhausen, where the quarrels began afresh. Not a day passed without some scene or other. The King’s anger against my brother and myself reached such a pitch that, with the exception of the hours for our meals, we were banished both from his presence and the Queen’s. He scarcely allowed us 1111 the necessaries of life, and we were tormented with hunger from morning till night. Our only food was coffee and milk; and during dinner and supper time we were honored with epithets anything but pleasing. Of an afternoon we went secretly to see the Queen; and whilst we were with her she always had her spies watching to inform her in good time of the King’s approach. One day whilst we were with her, she had not, through some carelessness or other, had early enough notice of my father’s return. There was only one door to the room in which we were, so that we had to make up our minds at once what to do. My brother hid himself in a cupboard, and I slipped under my mother’s bed. We had scarcely had time to do so before the King entered the room. He was unfortunately very tired, sat down, and went to sleep for two hours. I was in a most uncomfortable position, and nearly smothered hiding under that low bed. I peeped out from time to time to discover if the King was still asleep. Anybody who had witnessed this occurrence must have laughed.
At last the King woke up, and left the room; we crept from our hiding-places, and implored the Queen never to expose us to a similar “comedy” again. I often begged the Queen to allow me to write to the King, asking him the reason of his anger against me, and begging his forgiveness. She would not let me do so, however. She said it would be of no use: “Your father would only grant you his favor on condition that you married either the Margrave of Schwedt or the duke of Weissenfels.” I quite saw the force of these arguments, and had to submit.
A few peaceful days followed these storms, but alas, only to make way for still worse. The King went to Libnow, where he met the King of Poland and his son. In spite of all the difficulties that had been placed in his way, my father still hoped to arrange a marriage between me and the King of Poland. The Crown Prince of Poland persistently turned a deaf ear to the entreaties of both sovereigns, and was not to be induced to sign the marriage contract. My father, finding himself forced to give up this plan, deemed it right at once to solemnly betroth me, during the King of Poland’s visit, to the Duke of Weissenfels.