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King Of Prussia
by [?]

In every great performance, perhaps in every great character, part is the gift of nature, part the contribution of accident, and part, very often not the greatest part, the effect of voluntary election, and regular design. The king of Prussia was undoubtedly born with more than common abilities; but that he has cultivated them with more than common diligence, was probably the effect of his peculiar condition, of that which he then considered as cruelty and misfortune.

In this long interval of unhappiness and obscurity, he acquired skill in the mathematical sciences, such as is said to have put him on the level with those who have made them the business of their lives. This is, probably, to say too much: the acquisitions of kings are always magnified. His skill in poetry and in the French language has been loudly praised by Voltaire, a judge without exception, if his honesty were equal to his knowledge. Musick he not only understands, but practises on the German flute, in the highest perfection; so that, according to the regal censure of Philip of Macedon, he may be ashamed to play so well.

He may be said to owe to the difficulties of his youth an advantage less frequently obtained by princes than literature and mathematicks. The necessity of passing his time without pomp, and of partaking of the pleasures and labours of a lower station, made him acquainted with the various forms of life, and with the genuine passions, interests, desires, and distresses, of mankind. Kings, without this help from temporary infelicity, see the world in a mist, which magnifies every thing near them, and bounds their view to a narrow compass, which few are able to extend by the mere force of curiosity. I have always thought that what Cromwell had more than our lawful kings, he owed to the private condition in which he first entered the world, and in which he long continued: in that state he learned his art of secret transaction, and the knowledge by which he was able to oppose zeal to zeal, and make one enthusiast destroy another.

The king of Prussia gained the same arts, and, being born to fairer opportunities of using them, brought to the throne the knowledge of a private man, without the guilt of usurpation. Of this general acquaintance with the world there may be found some traces in his whole life. His conversation is like that of other men upon common topicks, his letters have an air of familiar elegance, and his whole conduct is that of a man who has to do with men, and who is not ignorant what motives will prevail over friends or enemies.

In 1740, the old king fell sick, and spoke and acted in his illness with his usual turbulence and roughness, reproaching his physicians, in the grossest terms, with their unskilfulness and impotence, and imputing to their ignorance or wickedness the pain which their prescriptions failed to relieve. These insults they bore with the submission which is commonly paid to despotick monarchs; till at last the celebrated Hoffman was consulted, who failing, like the rest, to give ease to his majesty, was, like the rest, treated with injurious language. Hoffman, conscious of his own merit, replied, that he could not bear reproaches which he did not deserve; that he had tried all the remedies that art could supply, or nature could admit; that he was, indeed, a professor by his majesty’s bounty; but that, if his abilities or integrity were doubted, he was willing to leave, not only the university, but the kingdom; and that he could not be driven into any place where the name of Hoffman would want respect. The king, however unaccustomed to such returns, was struck with conviction of his own indecency, told Hoffman, that he had spoken well, and requested him to continue his attendance.

The king, finding his distemper gaining upon his strength, grew at last sensible that his end was approaching, and, ordering the prince to be called to his bed, laid several injunctions upon him, of which one was to perpetuate the tall regiment by continual recruits, and another, to receive his espoused wife. The prince gave him a respectful answer, but wisely avoided to diminish his own right or power by an absolute promise; and the king died uncertain of the fate of the tall regiment.