Heinrich Heine: “Preface – The Citizen Kingdom of 1832” Pt 2
Excerpt, “The Works of Heinrich Heine: French Affairs.” Translator: Charles Godfrey Leland.
Friedrich Wilhelm III
Oh this Prussia! How well it understands how to make the utmost of its people — even its revolutionists! For its political comedies it employs assistants of every colour. It even puts to use zebras with tri-coloured stripes. So it has of late years set on its most fiery demagogues to preaching everywhere that all Germany must become Prussian. Hegel must justify the permanence of servitude as reasonable, and Schleiermacher is compelled to protest against freedom, and commend Christian submission to the will of of superior authority.
And it is irritating and infamous this turning to profit philosophers and theologians to influence the people, and who are thus compelled, by treason to God and common-sense and reason, to thus publicly dishonour themselves. How many a nobler soul, how much admirable talent, has been thereby degraded for worthless aims! How great was the name of Arndt before he, by higher command, wrote his scabby, shabby little work, in which he wags his tail like a dog, and doggish as a Wendish dog, barks at the sun of July! The name of Stagemann had once the most honourable sound, but how deeply has he fallen since he wrote his Russian Songs!
May he be forgiven by the Muse whose kiss once consecrated his lips by nobler poems! but what shall I say of Schleiermacher, the knight of the third class of the order of the Red Eagle? Once he was himself noble and belonged to the first class. But not only the great, even the lesser men have been ruined.
There is poor Ranke, whom the Prussian sent traveling at its expense; a fine talent — good at carving little historical figures and arranging them picturesquely — a good harmless soul, pleasing as mutton with Teltower turnips — an innocent man, whom, should I ever marry, I would choose for a family friend, and who is certainly also a Liberal; and he was lately compelled to publish in the Staats Zeitung (the State Journal) a defense of the resolutions of the Diet. Other stipendiaries, whom I will not name, have done the like, and are still all “Liberals.”
Oh, I know them, these Jesuits of the North! He who has ever, be it from dire need or heedlessly, accepted the least thing from them is thereby lost for ever. Even as hell kept Proserpine because she had eaten there the seed of a pomegranate, so those Jesuits ever give liberty again to any one who has in the least profited by them, and be it only a single seed of the golden apple, or, to speak more prosaically, a single louis-d’or, they hardly allow him, like hell to Proserpine, to pass half the year in the light of the upper world.
At such times they indeed appear as the children of light, and take their places among us, the other Olympians, and speak and write with ambrosian liberality; but when the appointed time comes, they are found again in infernal darkness, in the realm of obscurity, and they write Prussian apologies, declarations against the Messenger, rules for the censorship, or even a defense of the resolution of the Diet.
I cannot pass by these resolutions of the Diet without comment, yet neither to refute them, much less, as has been often done, to seek to demonstrate their illegality. As I very well know who the persons were who prepared the document on which those resolutions were founded, I do not doubt that it — that is to say, the federal act of Vienna — contains the most legal rights to any despotic caprice. As yet but little use has been made of this masterpiece of the noble gentility, and its contents were of little consequence to the people.
Now that it has been placed in a proper light, and all the peculiar beauties of the chef-d’oeuvre — its secret springs and hidden staples to which chains may be attached its fetters for feet, its concealed iron collars, thumb-screws — in short, the whole artistic elaborate work — is generally visible, every one sees that the German people, having sacrificed its princes, property, and blood, when it should receive the promised reward of gratitude, was most impiously deceived; that we were infamously juggled, and instead of the promised Magna Charta of freedom, what was drawn up was a legal contract of slavery.
In virtue of my academic authority as Doctor of both laws, I solemnly declare that such a document, prepared by faithless agents, is null and void; in virtue of my duty as a citizen, I protest against all the consequences which the resolutions of the Diet of June 28th, deduced from this worthless paper in virtue of my power as popular publicist or speaker, I lodge my complaint against those who prepared it, and accuse them of lese-nationality and of high treason to the German people.
Poor German people! It was while you were resting from battling for your princes, and were burying your brothers who had fallen in battle or were binding up your faithful wounds, smiling to see the blood running from your true hearts so full of joy and confidence — of joy that your beloved princes were saved, and of confidence in the humanely holy feeling of gratitude — even then in Vienna they were forging the federal act in the old workshop of the aristocracy.
Strange! Even the prince who owed the most gratitude to his people, and who consequently promised that people a representative constitution, or one such as other free races possess; and who in the time of need promised it in white and black with the most positive words; this very prince has now been crafty enough to induce to falsehood and breach of faith the other German princes, who also promised their subjects a free constitution, and he now supports himself on the Vienna federal act to destroy the newly blown German constitution; he who should not dare to utter the word Constitution without blushing!
I speak of His Majesty Friedrich Wilhelm, third of the name, King of Prussia, ruler of the Rhine, to whom I was transferred as subject in the year of grace 1815, with several millions of other Rhinelanders. As may be well supposed, my consent to this was not asked. I was exchanged, I believe, against a poor East Frisian whom I had never seen, who had never initiated me into his former feelings of devotion to the royal Prussian government, and who perhaps was made so unhappy by the exchange that he now lies buried as a Hanoverian.
I, however, have not been made happy by that Prussian press-ganging, and all that I have gained by it is the right to most humbly remind that monarch that he should, according to his promise, graciously bestow on us a representative constitution.
Having always had, as I shall always have, a liking for royalty, it is repugnant to my principles and feelings to criticize too severely principles and feelings to criticize too severely princes as individuals. My inclinations are rather to praise them for their good qualities. Therefore, I willingly praise the personal virtues of the monarch of whose system of government, or rather of whose Cabinet, I have spoken so unreservedly.
I attest with pleasure that Friedrich Wilhelm III, as a man deserves the highest honour and regard, such as the great majority of the Prussian people give him. He is good and brave. He has shown himself steadfast in adversity, and, what is much more unusual, gentle in prosperity. He is of chaste heart, of touchingly modest manner, with citizen-like simplicity, of good domestic manners, a tender father, especially so towards the beautiful Czarina, to which tenderness we owe perhaps the cholera, and a still greater evil with which our descendants will do battle, and be duly grateful.
Moreover, the King of Prussia is a very religious man; he holds strongly to religion; he is a good Christian; firmly attached to the evangelical confession of faith; he has even himself written a liturgy; he believes in the symbols — ah! I wish I believed in Jupiter, the father of the gods, who punished perjury, and that he would at last give us the promised constitution.
For is not the word of a king as holy as an oath?
But of all the virtues of Friedrich Wilhelm, that which is most praised is his love of justice, of which the most touching tales are told. As, for instance, that he not long ago paid 11,227 thalers and twenty-two “good groschen” from his private treasury to satisfy the legal demand of a Kyritzer citizen. It is said that the son of the miller of Sans Souci being in straightened circumstances wished to sell the celebrated windmill in regard to which his father had the celebrated lawsuit with Friedrich the Great.
The present King, however, had paid to the needy man a large sum of money, so that the celebrated windmill might remain in its old condition as a monument of Prussian love of justice. That is all very fine and praiseworthy; but where is the promised constitution, to which the Prussian people have the most decided right according to every principle of divine and human justice?
So long as the King of Prussia does not fulfill this most sacred obligation, so long as he withholds from the people their well-earned free constitution, I cannot call him just, and the windmill of Potsdam does not remind of Prussian love of justice, but of Prussian wind.
I know well enough that literary hirelings maintain that the King of Prussia promised this constitution of his own accord and free will, which promise is quite independent of all circumstances of the time. Fools without soul or sense that they are, not to know that men when we keep from them that which is theirs by legal right, are much less offended than when we refuse to give them what has been promised out of pure love, for in this latter case our vanity is wounded by feeling that he who voluntarily offered something does not care for us.
Or was it perhaps a mere personal caprice, quite independent of all temporal circumstances, which induced the King of Prussia to promise to his people a free constitution? In that case he had not even the intention to be grateful; and yet there was a very great reason why he should have been, for never before did any prince find himself in such lamentable case as that into which the King of Prussia had fallen after the battle of Jena, and from which he was rescued by his people.
Could he not then have availed himself of the consolations of religion, the insolence with which he was treated by the Emperor Napoleon must have brought him to despair. But I can refute the defenders of this breach of promise by a sound document. It is the bulletin of the battle of Jena. In very truth the condition of the King of Prussia was then wretched in the extreme. From this he was rescued by his people, to whom he out of gratitude promised a free constitution. How deeply had he sunk when he lived as a private individual at Königsberg, and read nothing but Lafontaine’s tales!”
If Napoleon had not then been occupied with far more important matters than thinking of His Majesty Friedrich William the Third, he would certainly have put the latter entirely out of the way. Some time after, when all the kings of Europe united in a rabble of conspiratory against Napoleon, and the man of the people succumbed to this emeute of Princes, and the Prussian donkey gave the dying lion the final kick, he regretted too late the sin of omission.
When he paced up and down in his wooden cage of Saint Helena and remembered that he had cajoled the Pope and forgotten to crush Prussia, then he gnashed his teeth, and if a rat then came in his way, he stamped upon and killed the poor beast.
To be continued…