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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Letter to the King of Prussia
By Mirabeau (1749–1791)
 
YOU have reached the throne at a fortunate period. The age is becoming daily more enlightened. It has labored for your benefit, in collecting sound notions for you. It extends its influence over your nation, which so many circumstances have kept behind others. Everything is now tested by a severe logic. The men who see only a fellow-creature under the royal mantle, and require that he should possess some virtue, are more numerous than ever. Their suffrages cannot be dispensed with. In their opinion, one kind of glory alone remains; every other is exhausted. Military success, political talents, wonders in art, improvements in science, have all appeared in turn, and their light has blazed forth from one extremity of Europe to the other. That enlightened benevolence which gives form and life to empires has not yet appeared, pure and unmixed, upon a throne. To you it belongs to place it there; this sublime glory is reserved for you. Your predecessor gained battles enough, perhaps too many; he has too much fatigued Fame’s hundred tongues, and exhausted military glory, for several reigns,—nay, for several centuries…. With much greater facility you may create a glory more pure and not less brilliant, which shall be wholly your own. Frederick conquered the admiration of mankind, but he never won their love…. This love you may entirely possess….  1
  Do not, ah! do not neglect the treasure which Providence has spread in your path. Deserve the blessings of the poor, the love of your people, the respect of Europe, and the good wishes of wise men. Be just, be good, and you will be great and happy!  2
  You wish to obtain, dread sir, the title of Great; but you wish to receive it from the mouth of history, and from the suffrage of ages to come,—you would despise it from the mouths of your courtiers. If you do that which the son of your slave could do, ten times a day, better than yourself, they will tell you that you have performed an extraordinary action! If you suffer your passions to mislead you, they will say that you are right! If you are as lavish of the blood of your subjects as of the waters of your rivers, again will they tell you that you are right! If you barter for gold the air that preserves life, they will say that you are right! If you revenge yourself—you who are so powerful—they will continue to tell you that you are right!… They said the same thing when Alexander, in a drunken fit, plunged his dagger into the bosom of his friend; they said the same thing when Nero murdered his mother….  3
  If you indefatigably perform your duties, without ever putting off till the following day the burthen of the present day; if by great and fruitful principles you can simplify these duties, and reduce them within the capacity of a single man; if you give your subjects all the freedom they can bear; if you can protect every kind of property, and facilitate useful labor; if you terrify petty oppressors who in your name would prevent men from doing, for their own advantage, that which injures not their fellows,—a unanimous shout will bless your authority, and render it more sacred and more powerful. Everything will then be easy for you, because the will and the strength of all will be united to your own strength and your own will, and your labor will become every day less severe. Nature has made labor necessary to man. It gives him also this precious advantage, that change of labor is to him not only a relaxation but a source of pleasure. Who, more easily than a king, can live in strict accordance with this order of nature? A philosopher has said that “no man feels such lassitude of spirit as a king”; he should have said, “a slothful king.” How could lassitude of mind fall upon a sovereign who did his duty? Could he ever keep up his vigor of intellect and preserve his health so well as by shielding himself, under the pursuit of labor, from the disgust which every man of sense must feel among those idle talkers, those inventors of fulsome praises, who study their prince for no other purpose than to corrupt, blind, and rob him? Their sole art is to render him indifferent and feeble, or else impatient, rude, and idle…. Your subjects will enjoy your virtues, which alone can preserve and improve their patrimony. Your courtiers will cultivate your defects, by which alone they can support their influence and their expectations…. It is worthy of you not to govern too much….  4
  [I recommend the immediate] abolition of military slavery; that is to say, the obligation imposed upon every Prussian to serve as a soldier, from the age of eighteen years to sixty and more: that dreadful law arising from the necessities of an iron age and a semi-barbarous country; that law dishonoring a nation without whom your ancestors would have been nothing but slaves, more or less decorated with empty honors. This law does not produce you a single soldier more than you would obtain by a wiser system, which may enable you to recruit the Prussian army in a manner that shall elevate men’s hearts, add to the public spirit, and possess the forms of freedom, instead of those of brutishness and slavery. Throughout Europe, and more especially in your Majesty’s dominions, one of the most useful instincts upon which patriotism could be founded is stupidly lost. Men are forced to go to the battle-field like cattle to the slaughter-house; whilst nothing is easier than to make the public service an object of emulation and glory….  5
  Be also the first sovereign in whose dominions every man willing to work shall find employment. Everything that breathes must obtain its nourishment by labor. This is the first law of nature, anterior to all human convention: it is the connecting bond of all society; for every man who finds nothing but a refusal to his offer to work in exchange for his subsistence becomes the natural and lawful enemy of other men, and has a right of private war against society. In the country, as in cities, let workshops be everywhere opened at your Majesty’s cost; let all men, of what nation soever, find their maintenance in the price of their labor; let your subjects there learn the value of time and activity. Instruction, you are aware, is one of the most important of a sovereign’s duties, and likewise one of his richest treasures. Entire liberty of the press ought to be one of your first acts: not only because any restraint upon this liberty is a hindrance to the enjoyment of natural rights, but because every obstacle to the advancement of knowledge is an evil, a great evil; especially for you, who are debarred thereby from obtaining, through the medium of printing, a knowledge of the truth, and of public opinion,—that prime minister of good kings….  6
  Let information be circulated through your dominions. Read, and let others read. If light were rising on all sides toward the throne, would you invoke darkness? Oh, no! for it would be in vain. You would lose too much, without even obtaining the fatal success of extinguishing it. You will read, you will begin a noble association with books. They have destroyed cruel and disgraceful prejudices, they have smoothed the road before you, they have served you even before you were born. You will not be ungrateful toward the accumulated works of beneficent genius.  7
  You will read, and you will protect those who write; for without them what would become of the human species, and what would it be? They will instruct, they will assist, they will talk to you without seeing you. Without approaching your throne, they will introduce there the august truth. This truth will enter your palace alone, without escort, and without affected dignity; it will bear neither title nor ribands, but will be invisible and disinterested.  8
  You will read, but you will be desirous that your subjects should also read. You will not think you have done all by recruiting your academies from foreign countries: you will found schools, you will multiply them, especially in country places, and you will endow them. You would not reign in darkness; and you will say, “Let there be light!” The light will burst forth at your voice; and its halo, playing round your brow, will form a more glorious ornament than all the laurels won by conquerors….  9
  I trust, dread sir, that my candor will not displease you. Meditate on these respectful lines, and say:—  10
  “This is what will never be admitted to me as true, and is the very reverse of what I shall be told every day. The boldest offer to kings nothing but veiled truths, whilst here I see truth quite naked…. This is far preferable to that venal incense with which I am suffocated by versifiers, and panegyrists of the Academy, who seized upon me in my cradle, and will scarcely leave me when I am in my coffin. I am a man before I am a king. Why should I be offended at being treated as a man? Why should I be offended with a foreigner, who wants nothing of me, and will soon quit my court never more to see me, for speaking to me without disguise? He points out to me that which his eyes, his experience, his studies, and his understanding have collected; he gives me, without expectation of reward, those true and free counsels of which no condition of man is so much in want as kings. He has no interest in deceiving me, and can have none but good intentions…. Let me examine attentively what he proposes; for the mere common-sense and the simple candor of a man who has no other pursuit than the cultivation of his reason and his intellect, may perhaps be as good as the old routine, and trickery, and forms, and diplomatic illusions, and the ridiculous dogmas, of statesmen by profession.”  11
 
 
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