Confessions of Frederick the Great - H. Treitschke

This book combines a hundred pages of Frederick the Great's personal diaries, with a short biography of the Prussian King written by an eminant German nationalist, liberal, historian. The works were published during the Great War and the author's intent was to demonstrate that the roots of the secular, militaristic, "gospel of inhumanity" preached by German philosophers of the early 20th century reached all the way back to the foundation of Prussia under Europe's first openly atheistic monarch.

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The origin of the gospel of inhumanity preached by von Bernhardi in his Germany and the Next War is to be found in the Confessions of Frederick the Great, which came into my hands accidentally a short time ago. The Rev. Graham McElroy, whom I met at a friend's house, who had noticed the resemblance, lent me an eighteenth century duodecimo containing an English translation of the first five "Mornings" of the Confessions, which up till then were unknown to me. And about the same time the editor of The Globe showed me the proof of an article which he had commissioned upon this book. It was a learned and intuitive paper, and a perusal of it and the book made me explore the subject at the British Museum. There I found the other two "Mornings," in another little eighteenth-century volume in their original French, and one of them, the highly important "Morning" which deals with Finance, had apparently never been translated into English on account of its banality.

Banal it is, but it contributes not a little to proving that the Confessions really were written by Frederick, for it sets forth, so naturally that one can almost hear Frederick saying the words, his nostrums for improving the administration and the yield of the Prussian taxes.

But intrinsic evidence is not necessary, for the manuscript of the Confessions in French has been preserved in Frederick's own handwriting, and if it were necessary, I have the opinion of the accomplished French scholar to whom I sent, to be typed, my translation of "Mornings" VI. and VII. When I met her, I asked if she knew what she had been typing. "No," she replied, "and what is more, I cannot be certain whether the translation is from the French or from the German"—the fact being that Frederick, writing in French, was unable to divest himself of Germanisms.

Even had von Bernhardi not openly confessed, by allusion, his obligations to Frederick, no one who had read the two books could fail to perceive that the seed of Germany and the Next War is to be found in the extremely amusing and shameless Confessions of Frederick the Great. It is obvious in all its nakedness.

And since von Bernhardi constantly admits his indebtedness to Treitschke, the historian of the Prussification of Germany, it seemed to me that I could offer no more interesting commentary on Frederick's Confessions than a translation of what Treitschke wrote about the great Frederick. This, like most of Treitschke's works, had never been translated into English. It proved very difficult to translate, and as my knowledge of German is slight, Miss Louise Scheerer made a literal translation of it, which I transposed, as far as I was able, into current phraseology. Mr. Sidney Whitman, the learned author of our chief books about Bismarck, who is second to no English writer on contemporary Germany and Austria, had almost completed explaining the phrases which baffled us, when he introduced Dr. Oscar Levy, the editor of the great eighteen-volume translation of Nietzsche, and the chief authority on Nietzsche in Great Britain. Dr. Levy has most generously gone through our entire translation to see that no mistranslations have crept in.

It may be taken, therefore, that whatever the literary faults, due entirely to me, may be, the translation is accurate, a matter of immense importance where Treitschke, who is almost as difficult to translate as Carlyle would be, is concerned. Treitschke, like Carlyle, is a great word-coiner and word-joiner, and pours forth torrents of ideas. But he is not more reliable than Macaulay, for he generally applied a similarly encyclopaedic knowledge with the partisanship of an advocate rather than the justice of a judge.

What sort of man Frederick was I shall endeavour to show in an introduction more within the comprehension of a plain man than he would be likely to find Treitschke's pregnant analysis of Frederick's share in Prussification.

I shall not detain the reader by specifying the actual passages in the Confessions which are paralleled by von Bernhardi, but shall prefer to point out how Frederick's unblushing disciple has put into practice their Royal Larkinism [hooliganism], their gospel of Tuum est meum [what's yours is mine].

D. S.

London, December, 1914.

[Contents, 1 of 3] from Confessions of Frederick by H. Treitschke
[Contents, 2 of 3] from Confessions of Frederick by H. Treitschke
[Contents, 3 of 3] from Confessions of Frederick by H. Treitschke