USC Digital Voltaire

Voltaire to Frederick the Great - 1742 May 15

To the King of Prussia
See in the edition of 75 the 1st vol: of
poems page: 199
in Paris[1] this 15 May 1742[2]

1.              When you had a father[3], and a master in that father, 
2.              You were a philosopher, and lived by your laws. 
3.                                Today ranked among kings 
4.                                And more worthy of this rank than any of them, 
5.              You nevertheless serve twenty masters at the same time. 
6.              These masters are tyrants; the first is glory, 
7.                                A tyrant whose chains you love, 
8.                                And who places at the end of our verses, 
9.              As in your great achievements, Brilliant Victory[4]
10.                             Politics by glory’s side, 
11.                             Less dazzling, just as strong, 
12.           Contemplating, writing or breaking a Treaty, 
13.           Measures your steps, led on by this glory. 
14.                             Interest, Loyalty, 
15.           Sometimes together, and too often at odds; 
16.           Dangerous friends, secret opponents; 
17.           Every day generates plans and new dangers; 
18.           To listen at all times, to see everything, and to do the right thing, 
19.                             Compensate some with hope, 
20.           Others with reasons, a few with good words,

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21.           To have one’s laws cherished and one’s power feared:
22.                             What troubles!  What burdens!
23.           To reign is not a destiny as sweet as one may think: 
24.                             What a price a hero must pay!

25.           It costs you nothing, sire, this is all
26.           natural to you. You are accomplishing great, wise actions with the
27.           same ease that you write music and poetry
28.           and that you write such letters that would give a
29.           fine mind in France a distinguished place among the
30.           fine minds all jealous of him.
31.           I hold out some hope that Your Majesty will strengthen
32.           Europe just as you have weakened it, and that my fellow men
33.           will bless you after having admired you.
34.           My hope is not only based on the project that
35.           the abbot of Saint-Pierre[5] has sent to your majesty. I presume
36.           that you see the things that the too often unheard peacemaker
37.           is trying to guess; and that the philosopher king
38.           does know perfectly well what the philosopher, who is not king,
39.           strives, in vain, to guess.

[Shelfmark: Rare  f F840, V935 d]

[1] For more information see Voltaire’s Paris.
[2] EE Letter ID: D2605
[3] Frederick William I of Prussia (14 August 1688 – 31 May 1740). For additional information see Frederick William I of Prussia.
[4] This is probably a term of flattery used by Voltaire to refer to Frederick’s victory in battle.  The Battle of Mollwitz, fought by Prussia and Austria on 10 April 1741, was Frederick’s first battle, as new king of Prussia. This battle was part of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748).
[5] Saint-Pierre, Charles-Irénée Castel, abbé de, (18 February 1658  – 29 April 1743). French author whose novel ideas inspired Rousseau and Kant. In a letter dated 12 April 1742 (D2602), Frederick told Voltaire that the Abbé de Saint-Pierre had sent him a work concerned with establishing peace in Europe forever. It is likely that Frederick was talking about the Abbé de Saint-Pierre’s Projet pour rendre la paix perpétuelle en Europe (Project for Perpetual Peace in Europe, 1713), and that this is the work to which Voltaire here alludes as well. For more information see Saint-Pierre.

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