rederick the Great, like Carlyle, finds himself divided between compliance with the law ordained by his natural father, Friedrich Wilhelm, and the desire to pursue the interest in art and literature validated by his spiritual father, Voltaire. So the triad of son, father, and godfather — Carlyle, James Carlyle, and Goethe — this time becomes Frederick, Friedrich Wilhelm, and Voltaire. Like all sons, Carlyle and Frederick seek to become paternal authorities themselves. Carlyle, debarred from assuming the authority of James Carlyle, had attempted to obtain the literary authority of Goethe. But, since his allegiance to literature was also a rebellion against the authority of his father, it constantly undermined itself. The impossibility of achieving his father's authority through writing, manifested in his insistence in Latter-Day Pamphlets and The Life of John Sterling that the man of letters is excluded from political action, led him to project himself into the figure of Frederick, whose father forces him to abandon his desire to write in order to lead a life of military action.
Carlyle ascribes the same characteristics to Friedrich Wilhelm that he had ascribed to his father in the "Reminiscence of James Carlyle," [151/152] his father's "inflexible authority" becoming the "unquestioned authority" of Frederick Wilhelm (FG, 1:348). Friedrich Wilhelm possesses the same combination of qualities — " simplicity," preference for silence, disdain for art and speculation — that made James Carlyle an unselfconscious believer. Friedrich Wilhelm's rustic simplicity manifests itself in his love for the "Spartan Hyperborean" hunting lodge at Wusterhausen that he prefers to his palaces at Potsdam and Berlin. Disdaining talk, he holds "Tabagies" — "Tobacco-Parliaments," not speech-making parliaments — that consist mainly of silent smoking. Finally, he distrusts literature and speculation, turning Jakob Gundling, his only literary courtier, into a "Court-Fool" and banishing the philosopher Christian Wolff from his domains (2:80-93). Finally, he is, like James Carlyle, a man of action, a builder or "Aedile." In addition to the implicit comparison in Frederick the Great, Carlyle explicitly compared James Carlyle and Friedrich Wilhelm in the 1866 Reminiscences (333). The fact that he conceived the figure of Friedrich Wilhelm in terms of the figure of his own father explains how he could write so approvingly of a figure whom others find barbarous.
Like Carlyle, Frederick is born into a world that contains not only the rustic idyll of Wusterhausen but the French culture that his father had attempted to banish from Brandenburg when he assumed the throne (1: 334ff) . Consequently, the narrative of Frederick the Great develops in terms of a dialectic between German culture, identified with Friedrich Wilhelm, and French culture, identified with Voltaire and the philosophes: between masculinity (the "centre" of German culture is "Papa") and femininity (Frederick's mother and sister are francophiles), between Lutheran orthodoxy and freethinking heterodoxy, the Spartan and the Athenian, the "solid" and the "unsolid" (1:31934, 385). The "proud spirit" of young Frederick inevitably comes into conflict with the "iron laws" of his father, and although Friedrich Wilhelm thinks "[t]his Fritz ought to fashion himself according to his Father's pattern . . . it cannot be. It is the new generation come.... A perennial controversy in human life; coeval with the genealogies of men" (1:427). Like Teufelsdröckh and John Sterling, the "fiery young Arab" colt Frederick "break[s] harness" and, rebelling against his father's "imprison [ing]" military discipline, combs out his hair "like a cockatoo, the foolish French fop, instead of conforming to the Army-regulation" and takes to "verses, story-books, flute-playing" (3:11, 2:i8q, 1:422). Like Carlyle, he becomes unorthodox and develops dyspepsia, the physical correlative of the modern condition of doubt (see also Adrian). When Friedrich Wilhelm discovers his son "unlawful[ly]" playing music and wearing French costumes, he ferrets out "contraband" Latin texts, banishes "illicit French Books," and "ruthlessly" shears his son's cockatoo locks (2:188, 1:422). Unable to [152/153] bear any longer the beatings his father metes out when he discovers these "effeminate" practices, Frederick tries to flee Prussia (1:393). Friedrich Wilhelm discovers the plot, executes Frederick's close friend Hans Hermann von Katte for treason, and only absolves his son from the same fate when he promises to "quit his French literatures and pernicious practices, one and all" (2:352). Frederick's attempt to flee Prussia is his "Everlasting No"; just as Sterling's remorse at the death of Boyle in the Spanish rebellion leads to a religious conversion, so Frederick achieves an Everlasting Yea of sorts after witnessing the execution of Katte. He now learns to "love this rugged Father," and before long he is performing his duties like "Papa's second self" (3:29, 150)
Yet Friedrich Wilhelm's repression only makes Frederick's "French" or literary self emerge all the more powerfully. Frederick obtains a private residence at Reinsberg where he is free to pursue his artistic pursuits, and it is at this period of his life that he first corresponds with his new "Intellectual Father," Voltaire (5:271). As Carlyle had regarded Goethe and the Germans as the new priesthood and the authors of the new liturgy, so Frederick regards Voltaire as "Preacher, Prophet, and Priest," the bearer of the "new 'Gospel"' (3:193, 192). Although Frederick outwardly obeys his father, he has not really accepted his beliefs, and in his relations with Friedrich Wilhelm he becomes "calculat[ing], reticent . . . half-sincere" (2:373). He pretends, for example, to dislike the woman Friedrich Wilhelm has chosen for him to marry so that he will appear all the more submissive when he accepts her. Because Frederick submits to the superior power but not to the superior belief of Friedrich Wilhelm, the conclusion of the first half of the history does not so much resolve the conflict of father and son as polarize the conflicting French and German "elements" in the hunting-lodge at Wusterhausen and the art projects of Reinsberg.
When Frederick takes the throne in the second half of the history, his contemporaries justifiably wonder whether he will indeed be a second Friedrich Wilhelm or whether he will reign as an enlightened philosopher-king."' Once his father dies, and physical compulsion disappears, it would seem that he is free to follow his own desires. Indeed, although he surprises his contemporaries by expanding his army, he does initially dedicate himself to the arts in homage to the "Muses." But the second half of the history will demonstrate that Friedrich Wilhelm's authority was more than simple strength or power, that he remains "the supreme ultimate Interpreter, and grand living codex, [153/154] of the Laws," and that his laws have the authority of the "Laws of this Universe" (2:72, 119; see 1:340, 434, 2:72, 326). Frederick cannot obtain authority through rebellion but only through submitting to the law as laid down by his father. By the end of the first year of his reign, he is at war and begins to discover that "Bellona [will be] his companion for long years henceforth, instead of Minerva and the Muses, as he had been anticipating" (3:413).Carlyle is very insistent on this point, repeating it several times: "Not the Peaceable magnammities, but the Warlike, are the thing appointed Friedrich ... henceforth"; war is his "inexorable element," while "Peace and the Muses" are "denied him" (3:395, 4:363, 5: 196). Carlyle shaped his represen tation of Fredericks life to emphasize the victory of Bellona over the Muses. While 70 percent of the final four volumes (eight of the eleven books) represent Frederick's wars, the period of the wars only occupied 27 percent of the historical time covered. Carlyle condenses the ten years' peace between the Silesian wars and the Seven Years' War, as well as the final twenty-three years of Frederick's life, each into one book. Indeed, Frederick, who wages three major wars, outdoes his father, who fought only one, becoming in the process more like Friedrich Wilhelm than Friedrich Wilhelm himself.
But, while Frederick's first war teaches him the value of his father's virtues-he wins, not through his own efforts, but because he has inherited a well-prepared army from his father-he has not yet learned the limitations of the arts and still clings to his literary father, Voltaire. In order to depict the final triumph of war over art, Carlyle presents Voltaire's visit to Berlin in 1750-52 as a mock tragedy. During the ten years' peace following the Silesian wars, Frederick attempts to revive his artistic projects, in part by convincing Voltaire to take up residence in Berlin, but, although Frederick imagines that he can still dedicate himself to the Muses, his experience of war has made that project impossible. Frederick eventually perceives that while he has been "battling for his existence," Voltaire has been growing "great by 'Farces of the Fair,"' and he quickly grows impatient when his literary father gets embroiled in a series of ridiculous adventures culminating in the controversy of the "Infinitely Little" (5:267, 348). The latter episode, which soon comes to represent the pettiness of the intellectuals involved (one cannot help but recall the Lilliputian debate between the Big-endians and the Little-endians), generates the mock-tragic denouement of Voltaire's visit. Voltaire might win the intellectual debate, but, as the real issue is power, he is destined to lose, for he has made the mistake of attacking Maupertius, the president of Frederick's royal academy. The farce ends when the king, who cannot accept being embarrassed in this manner, has Voltaire arrested and forces him to depart from Berlin in disgrace. (Carlyle again shapes his narrative to deemphasize Frederick's interest in the arts. While he represents Voltaire as seeking trouble in the controversy, Nancy Mitford suggests that Frederick actually set Maupertius and Voltaire against one another (11-12). Mitford also points out that Carlyle never mentions Frederick's interest in the rococo art of Watteau: 3; see 12.) just as Friedrich Wilhelm had banished French courtiers when he assumed the throne, Frederick, now truly become his father's "second self," banishes Voltaire's French frivolity from his court (1:334-35)- "Voltaire at Potsdam is a failure," Carlyle reports, and, "happily," the "Life to the Muses" is "extremely disappointing" (5:380, 205).
In Frederick the Great, the literary man has become the opposite of [154/155] what he had been in Carlyle's writings of the 1830s. Whereas Carlyle's literary father, Goethe, had recaptured the transcendental, Sterling's literary father, Coleridge, produces only transcendental moonshine, and Frederick's literary father, Voltaire, is a skeptic, belonging to the "Anarchic Republic . . . of Letters," who makes the transcendental inaccessible (4:396; see 1: 11, 270, 8: 217-18). In his depiction of Voltaire, Carlyle inverts his earlier representations of authorial creativity. Whereas Teufelsdröckh was to become a Goethe-like author whose Palingenesia would bring about the phoenix rebirth of society, Voltaire is a "Phoenix douched"; instead of realizing ideals, he produces the anarchy of revolution, "Realised Voltairism" (5:294, 3:177). In another passage, Carlyle's phrasing similarly suggests that Voltaire is an inverted Dante. just as The Divine Comedy "belongs to ten Christian centuries, only the finishing of it is Dante's," the "Theory of the Universe" of the eighteenth century is "not properly of Voltaire's creating, but only of his uttering and publishing" (HHW, 98; FG, 3:193). Whereas Carlyle depicted the Germans as conveyors of a new religious spirit, he depicts Voltaire's "spiritual[ityl" as mere wit (esprit), and his writings as "Gundlingiana," the antics of a court jester (3:177, 8:218).
When Frederick banishes Voltaire, he finally recognizes that his own "swift-handed, valiant, steel-bright kind of soul ... [is] very likely for a King's ... not likely for a Poet's" (3:238). Except as historical documents, his writings have lost all interest; he emerges as a hero precisely because he is the one man of action in a "Writing Era" (i: 11). It is not by imitating Voltaire, the author of farces, that Frederick becomes "Vater Fritz," but by imitating Friedrich Wilhelm, one of "the Authors of Prussia" (4:366).
In the figure of Frederick the Great, Carlyle completes his vision of the author as creator of a new paradise in the image of the God of Genesis. Carlyle's first project that dealt with Frederick — a translation of a text describing Frederick's interest in draining swamps and the profits to be obtained thereby-was an extension of his growing obsession with land reclamation (see NL, 2:141) — In Frederick the Great, where Carlyle proceeded to represent Frederick as the author of Prussia, Frederick inherits the authority to create Prussia from the "fathers" who, from the year 928 to the accession of Friedrich Wilhelm in 1713, began the process of separating land and water "into two firmaments" through the territorial expansion of Brandenburg by war, purchase, colonization, and land reclamation (2:5 1; see 1: 78, 96, 131, 176, 250, 293, 309, 341, 3:313, 4:47, 5:308, 8:254, 305, 3o6).
Battle, both literal and figurative, is Carlyle's principal metaphor for the work of creating the Prussian nation. Whereas the wars of the eighteenth century are otherwise indicative of its "anarchic" tendencies, Frederick's battles, like those of his ancestors, are "pitched [155/156] fight[s] ... against anarchy" which, like his land reclamation projects, turn land to human use (1: 72). His wars not only aim to suppress the "inveterate ineffective war[s]" of the era but to produce order by acquiring the lands that constitute the new Prussian state. This at least partially accounts for the lavish attention Carlyle devotes to the geographical details of Frederick's battles. He made a journey to Germany exclusively to examine the twelve major battle sites, and in the history he provides detailed narratives and maps of the armies' positions and maneuvers, indicating the specific relationship of the battles to the physical geography of the land (see Brooks). The creation of a culture is no longer for Carlyle a matter of "spirituality," for the ideal has become associated with Voltaire and Gundlingiana; instead it is a matter of physical force, of military drill, forced labor, and agricultural production.
* * * * * *
Yet, while Frederick authors an epic nation, Carlyle fails, as he acknowledges from the start, to "disimprison" the "imprisoned Epic" of Frederick the Great so that it can transform his own anarchic era as Frederick, at least temporarily, transformed Germany in the eighteenth century (1: 17). Carlyle, aged sixty when he got under way with the history, recognized that Frederick the Great was the "last of [its] kind," a last desperate search for epic closure (Marrs, 719; see Kaplan, 397). This search stretched out the process of writing the history far beyond his expectations but never brought him to the termination he desired.
While in The French Revolution Carlyle had written an epic history of a people who could not author an epic myth, in Frederick the Great he authored a non-epic history of the creation of an epic nation. The following passages, each representing the spread of rumor, illustrate the differences between the two histories:
Not so, however, does neighbouring Saint-Antoine look on [the repair of the castle of Vincennes]: Saint-Antoine to whom these peaked turrets and grim donjons, all-too near her own dark dwelling, are of themselves an offence. Was not Vincennes a kind of minor Bastille? Great Diderot and Philosophes have lain in durance here; great Mirabeau, in disastrous eclipse, for forty-two months. And now when the old Bastille has become a dancing-ground (had any one the mirth to dance), and its stones are getting built into the Pont Louis-Seize, does this minor, comparative insignificance of a Bastille [156/157] flank itself with fresh-hewn mullions, spread out tyrannous wings; menacing Patriotism? New space for prisoners: and what prisoners? A d'Orleans, with the chief Patriots on the tip of the Left? It is said, there runs "a subterranean passage" all the way from the Tuileries hither. Who knows? Paris, mined with quarries and catacombs, does hang wondrous over the abyss; Paris was once to be blown up,though the powder, when we went to look, had got withdrawn. A Tuileries, sold to Austria and Coblentz, should have no subterranean passage. Out of which might not Cobleritz or Austria issue, some morning; and, with cannon of long range, 'foudroyer," bethunder a patriotic Saint-Antoine into smoulder and ruin! (FR, 2:128-29; first instance of emphasis added)
In Berlin, from Tuesday 31 st May 1740, day of the late King's [Frederick Wilhelm's] death, till the Thursday following, the post was stopped and the gates closed....
Vaguely everywhere there has a notion gone abroad that this young King will prove considerable. Here at last has a Lover of Philosophy got upon the throne, and great philanthropies and magnanimities are to be expected, think rash editors and idle mankind. Rash editors in England and elsewhere, we observe, are ready to believe that Friedrich has not only disbanded the Potsdam Giants; but means to "reduce the Prussian Army one half " or so, for ease, (temporary ease, which we hope will be lasting) of parties concerned; and to go much upon emancipation, political rose-water, and friendship to humanity, as we now call it. (FG, 3:278-79)
Because epic represents what people believe, The French Revolution merges past and present, reader and history. Already in Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, past and present diverge into the past of Cromwell's large-type letters and speeches and the present of Carlyle's small-type narrative. In Frederick the Great, the reader and narrator are radically separated from the narrated past. Both of the passages above employ the present tense, but the passage from The French Revolution begins immediately in the present-narrator, readers, and historical actors are contemporaneous whereas the passage from Frederick (typical of the latter work) begins in the past tense, a practice that contextualizes the event as a portion of the past that has no contact with the present.
Frederick the Great also follows Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches in abandoning the use of dramatized speech that unites the narrator and the historical actors in the first-person plural "we." The passage from [157/158] The French Revolution, like those discussed in chapter 3, represents polyphonic speech, capturing the paranoia, hyperbole, and fantasy of rumor in St. Antoine. The passage from Frederick the Great, by contrast, does not dramatize conflicting opinions and it keeps the narrator and historical audience distinct; there are two "wels," "we" who spread rumors in the past and "we" who "now call" ideas by different names. The latter groups the narrator and reader in an era separate from that of Frederick and his contemporaries, and the narrator further distances himself through irony by designating the speakers' ideas as "rash" and "idle" "political rose-water."
Finally, Frederick the Great fails to be epic because, like Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, it does not yield symbolic meaning. Although the thematic conflict between father and son, art and war, provides a symbolic structure for the history, this structure remains in the background, obscured by a forest of detail. As in Cromwell, the structure of the history is reduced to mere chronology, and the chapter titles "Phenomena of the Accession," "At Reinsberg, 1736-1740," "Crown Prince Goes to the Rhine Campaign," "Battle of Kunersdorf " refer to dates and events rather than symbolic actions. The kind of mythic episode and anecdote that revealed the meaning of the French Revolution most often turns out in Frederick the Great to be without meaning or, as in the case of the Jenny Geddes story in Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, without historical foundation. Whereas an anecdote like the story of "Margaret with the Pouch-mouth" might in The French Revolution have yielded some insight into events, Carlyle here relates it merely "for sake of the Bride's name," and while the folk myths that have arisen around the figure of Frederick might be "the Epic they could not write of him," more often than not Carlyle debunks these anecdotes rather than discovering their epic potential (1: 135, 6:305). The pattern may be found most clearly in his two narratives of the "world famous 'Moriamur pro Rege nostro Mariâ Thereshiâ'" He first narrates the "poetic," and partly "mythical," version, a "very beautiful heroic scene" in which the Hungarian nobility answer Maria Theresa's pleas for aid with a chivalric oath to die for the queen. He then debunks the first version with a "prose" version in which the barons haggle for confirmation of their constitutional rights before they will swear fealty to the queen (4:259-62). By including both versions, Carlyle tries to have it both ways, but he clearly privileges the final debunking version, prose fact displacing poetic myth and symbol. Whereas he had [158/159] once used the word "mythus" synonymously with "epic" to signify a culture's genuine beliefs, "mythic" now comes to mean simply a story that is untrue (e.g., 4:261, 7:324, 373, 8:7). Another example is an anecdotal "bit of modern chivalry" performed at the Battle of Fontenoy that has been "circulating round the world ... for a century." Carlyle discovers a "small irrefragable Document" demonstrating that the truth is "quite the reverse" and concludes that the story, which does not belong to the folk but to the literary French, is a product of "French Mess-rooms" (5:98-100).
Because Carlyle conceives epic as a closed and totalizing myth, especially at this point in his career, the impossibility of achieving authentic closure also means the impossibility of epic. Frederick the Great seeks totalizing closure by replacing the multiple voices of history-a plurality of dissenting factions that make closure impossiblewith a multiplicity of narrators and narratives. Carlyle splinters himself into personae that represent different aspects of the historian Scott's Dryasdust, Smollett's Smelfungus, Mr. Rigmarole, the aesthetician Sauerteig (and his aesthetic manifesto, the Springwurzeln), and Diogenes Teufelsdröckh — as well as the different stages of historical composition — a "predecessor" of the principal narrator, a "tourist" who has seen the sites of Frederick's battles, a satirical friend of the narrator, a writer whose notebooks the narrator has received, the narrator of an excerpt from an imbroglio of manuscripts, and the editor of the history. By including a representative of each stage of historical interpretation and composition Carlyle would seem to be creating a totality, a history that comprehends every aspect of the past. Yet the different stages of the process of writing history, especially the different historical perspectives, do not seem to add up to a whole so much as they produce a sense of fragmentation.
Carlyle's desire to achieve totality makes it almost impossible for him to decide how to use his historical sources, what to include or exclude. In The French Revolution, he revealed the meaning latent in historical documents by transforming them into dialogues and debates. In Frederick the Great, he does not perform this kind of transformation of historical documents; instead he simply quotes them at length as if he is unable to discover their latent meaning. Moreover, because he cannot decide which episodes are meaningful and which are not, he seems to feel compelled to include them all. The latter tendency is especially apparent in the practice of setting long passages in small type and the use of multiple parallel narratives that represent simultaneous historical actions. Passages in small type, which include direct quotations of documents like thosejust discussed, as well as narratives tangential to the main narrative and renarrations in greater detail of material already narrated, account for about one-fifth of the text (Peckham, 205-6). Tangential narratives, like the stories of Margaret [159/160] with the Pouch-mouth or Laurence Sterne's father at the siege of Gibraltar, do not tell us much about Frederick or his era, but Carlyle includes them because he has no way of deciding what is relevant and what is merely interesting. Particularly indicative of Carlyle's uncertainty about whether he has successfully transformed his material into meaningful history are those passages that simply repeat and amplify the preceding narrative, as if he were trying to discover the second time around what he has missed the first. Instead of reassuring the reader that the narrative is now complete, such amplifications, by demonstrating the inadequacy of the preceding narrative, suggest the possibility of a still more complete narrative that would in turn displace the latter one, the whole process becoming an infinite regress in which one narrative displaces another in a necessarily failed attempt to achieve totality.
Carlyle's desire for totalizing closure was at odds with his desire for closure as the achievement of rest. The latter led him to predict almost as soon as he began writing that he would complete the work quickly, while the former led him to expand the book to twice the length he originally intended-over four thousand pages in six volumes — and to miss deadline after self-imposed deadline from 1856, just a year after he began writing, to 1864, when he was still a year away from finishing.fn23 As if desperately trying to control the impulse to digress and repeat, he repeatedly asserts that he is omitting and abridging material, giving the reader the impression that the book might be much longer than it already is (e.g., 1: 112, 132, 395, 2:2 23, 4:27, 28, 38, 50, 55, 103, 7: 279, 8: 18 1). Yet all of this work was not enough to "keep [his] heart at rest"; still restless after a long day's writing, he felt the need to take relief in horseback riding (LL, 1: 182). The four-thousand odd pages of Frederick the Great are the correlative of the thirty thousand miles he rode while writing it (Rem., 133)
Carlyle's desire to finish writing Frederick and the impulse toward expansion that kept him from succeeding raised his anxieties to such a pitch that he "began to have an apprehension that [he] should never get [his] sad book on Friedrich finished, that it would finish [him] instead" (LM, 2:159). Phrases like "If I live to get out of this last Prussian Scrape" and "if I live to finish" occur frequently in his letters (Spedding, 759; RWE, 496; Marrs, 719). He also compared writing Frederick the Great to being "choked," "nearly ended," and "nearly killed" (RWE, 526; Marrs, 740-41; RWE, 551; see LL, 2:188, 247-48; Duffy, 578; Spedding, 76o). If writing Frederick the Great was killing him, the impulse that extended the process to such a great length has to be regarded as suicidal. When Frederick, surrounded by a "world of enemies," suicidally throws himself into battle, Carlyle argues that it is not a matter of "puking up one's existence, in the weak sick way of [160/161] felo de se; but, far different, that of dying, if he needs must, as seems too likely, in uttermost spasm of battle" (6:223, 253; see 249, 7:298). In writing Frederick the Great, Carlyle, who sometimes spoke approvingly of suicide, similarly threw himself into a labor that would allow him to lose consciousness of himself in the course of performing something like a public duty (Kaplan, 505).
Yet for all the effort he put into it, he was never even certain that Frederick was worth writing about (NL, 2:142, 149; LL, 2:13940; RWE, 501, 505-6). Was Frederick a reincarnation of Friedrich Wilhelm or the incarnation of an era that "has nothing grand in it, except that grand universal Suicide, named French Revolution?"; was he, like Odin, a great originator, the "Creator of the Prussian Monarchy," or, like the man of letters, a belated hero, the "Last of the Kings?" (1: 8, 3, 6). Because Friedrich Wilhelm is always prepared for war and never doubts the value of his martial ethos, he only needs to go to war once in his lifetime. Precisely because Frederick never fully embraces his father's values, he cannot complete the battle of life and must struggle incessantly against his anarchic enemies. Even in the long era of peace following the Seven Years' War, he cannot rest contentedly at Sans Souci, but drives his industrial regiments to death working on land reclamation projects:
When, in the Marshland of the Netze, he counted more the strokes of the io,ooo spades, than the sufferings of the workers, sick with the marsh-fever in the hospitals which he had built for them; when, restless, his demands outran the quickest performance, — there united itself to the deepest reverence and devotedness, in his People, a feeling of awe, as for one whose limbs are not moved by earthly life.... And when Goethe, himself become an old man, finished his last Drama' (Second Part of Faust), 'the figure of the old King again rose on him, and stept into his Poem; and his Faust got transformed into an unresting, creating, pitilessly exacting Master, forcing-on his salutiferous drains and fruitful canals through the morasses of the Weichsel.'(8:126-27; Carlyle quotes his, or possibly Neuberg's, faithful translation of Gustav Freytag's Neue Bilder aus dem Leben des deutschen Volkes (397-408).)
Like Faust, Frederick wants to reclaim land so that he can found an ideal society on it, but the process of reclaiming the land destroys the very people who would inhabit his utopia.
Carlyle proclaims from the start of Frederick the Great that he has renounce[d] ideals" and will "take-up with the mournfullest barren [161/162] realities," that he has not produced a "Fabulous Epic" in which Frederick is invulnerable, but an "Epic of Reality" (1: 17, 7:234-35). When he wrote The French Revolution, he had been interested in "what has realized itself," in "How Ideals do and ought to adjust themselves with the Actual" (CL, 7:24). Now the movement is in the opposite direction, the ideal emerging from the real, poetic myths displaced by prosaic facts. Carlyle wants to argue that art must proceed, not from the ideal, but from the real, the battle of existence. Instead of visionary art quelling the anarchy of war, military drill, he would argue in "Shooting Niagara," can become an art, progressing from "correct marching in line, to rhythmic dancing in cotillon or minuet" (CME, 5:42). A letter of 1856, in which Carlyle is concerned to argue that Frederick's tactics had still not been improved upon and that Napoleon had not introduced any genuine innovations, suggests that Carlyle's detailed accounts of Frederick's intricate military maneuvers and tactics may partially be accounted for by his desire to see in them Frederick's true artistic genius (Wilson, 5:208-9 Appropriately, the only work of all Frederick's writings that Carlyle regards as having any merit is his Art of War (FG, 5:240
The process of creating the Prussian state does not involve the attempt to realize an ideal as Samson had done in his monastery or Cromwell in the commonwealth. "Vater Fritz" is an impotent creator who has no children of his own; he has the power to create an orderly state, but his writings are incapable of creating cultural belief. Whereas Carlyle's belief in art, or the ideal, had once led him to imagine it as a force that could enable a society to rise above the battle of existence, art had now become for him merely the refinement of war.
Contents last modified 2001; reformatted 2006 & 2015