Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Pictures of Court Life
By Wilhelmine von Bayreuth (1709–1758)
From ‘Memoirs’: Translation of Helena Augusta Victoria

A NEW epoch began with the year 1729. M. de Lamotte, an officer in the Hanoverian service, and a near relation of Von Sastot, one of my mother’s chamberlains, came to Berlin. He suddenly arrived at Sastot’s, quite secretly, one day. “I am the bearer of a most important confidential message,” he said. “You must hide me somewhere in your house, that my arrival may remain unknown, and you must manage that one of my letters reaches the King.” Sastot promised him all he asked, and then inquired if his business were good or evil. “It will be good if people can hold their tongues, but if they gossip it will be evil. However, as I know you are discreet, and as I require your help in obtaining an interview with the Queen, I must confide all to you. The Prince of Wales intends being here in three weeks at the latest. He means to escape secretly from Hanover, brave his father’s anger, and marry the princess. He has intrusted me with the whole affair; and has sent me here to find out if his arrival would be agreeable to the King and Queen, and if they are still anxious for this marriage. If she is capable of keeping a secret, and has no suspicious people about her, will you undertake to speak to the Queen on the subject? Yet before doing so, and in order to run no risk, you had better first consult with Mademoiselle von Sonnsfeld, of whose discretion I am sure. She will be your guide.”  1
  That very same evening Sastot appeared as usual in the apartments of the Queen, who was not holding receptions. He called Mademoiselle von Sonnsfeld on one side, and told her all that had passed between him and Lamotte: and added that he had not been able to speak unreservedly with him about the affair, as he was afraid of telling this good news to the Queen; because he knew quite well that she would at once confide it all to that wretched Ramen, who would immediately communicate it to Seckendorf and his creatures.  2
  Mademoiselle von Sonnsfeld was much perturbed; but after having well considered the question, decided that Sastot should speak with the Queen. The joy this news caused her is easily to be imagined. She at once communicated them to Countess Finkenstein, and my lady-in-waiting, who both implored her to keep them secret. I was just then very ill. I had had a bad fainting-fit, followed by violent fever, which confined me to my bed. The Queen desired Mademoiselle von Sonnsfeld to prepare me by degrees for this happy event, of which she then wished to speak to me herself.  3
  The next morning Mademoiselle von Sonnsfeld came to drink her tea by my bedside. “I cannot think what has come to Sastot,” she said: “he dances about, sings, and is full of nonsense; and says it is all because he is so delighted at some good news he has heard, which he will however tell nobody.”  4
  “Perhaps he has taken too much,” I said, “and this makes him so merry.”  5
  “Oh no,” she replied: “he declares the good news concerns you!”  6
  “Good God!” I cried: “what good news can I expect in the position in which I am placed, and how can Sastot have anything to do with it?”  7
  “But,” continued Mademoiselle von Sonnsfeld, “supposing he had received the news direct from the Prince of Wales himself?”  8
  “Well, would that be such great happiness?”  9
  “Your Royal Highness is very sinful,” she replied; “and you will be punished for it, if you so despise a prince who risks everything for your sake. What do you want? Do you wish to fade and pine away, or do you wish to marry that delightful Prince of Weissenfels?”  10
  Mademoiselle von Sonnsfeld would have endured anything that this marriage might be accomplished: it was the only point on which we differed, and we had often had arguments on the subject. I now laughed at her speech, without taking much heed of it. I thought that the Prince of Wales had most probably given an assurance similar to that which my brother had given the Queen of England, and that this had caused Sastot’s high spirits. When the Queen herself came to me with this pleasant piece of news, however, I felt in a very different mood. I remained dumb, and could not utter a word. My mother thought it the result of my satisfaction at the news. “I shall at length see you happy and my wishes realized at the same time;—how much joy at once!” I kissed her hands, which I covered with tears. “You are crying,” she exclaimed: “what is the matter?” I would not disturb her happiness, so I answered, “The thought of leaving you distresses me more than all the crowns of the world could delight me.” The Queen was only the more tender towards me in consequence, and then left me. I loved this dear mother truly, and had only spoken the truth to her. She left me in a terrible state of mind. I was cruelly torn between my affection for her and my repugnance to the Prince of Wales; but I determined to leave all to Providence, who would direct my ways.  11
  That same evening the Queen held a reception. As bad luck would have it, the English envoy came to it, and began at once to tell her all the news he had received from his court. The conversation grew livelier and livelier; and without reflecting on the consequences, the Queen confided to him the whole of the Prince of Wales’s project. M. de Bourguait, with intense surprise, asked her if it were all true. “Certainly,” she replied; “and to show you how true it is, he has sent Lamotte here, who has already informed the King of everything.”  12
  “Oh, why does your Majesty tell me this? I am wretched, for I must prevent it.” Greatly frightened, my mother asked him why he must do so. “Because I am my sovereign’s envoy; because my office requires of me that I should inform him of so important a matter. I shall send off a messenger to England this very evening. Would to God I had known nothing of all this!” The Queen’s prayers and entreaties were all of no avail; for he left her, to dispatch the messenger. My mother’s consternation was indescribable! She was in utter despair. Countess Finkenstein came the next morning and told me all that had happened. The only means we had in our power of preventing greater misfortune was to endeavor to keep it all from the King. At the end of a week the King came to Berlin to receive the Prince of Wales. He had had a secret interview with Lamotte, after which the long ardently desired arrival of the Prince was daily expected. But this joy was doomed to be turned to sorrow. A courier brought the news that at the express command of his father, the Prince of Wales had suddenly left Hanover for England. This news fell on the King and Queen like a thunderbolt.  13
  But it is time that I should now unravel this mystery. The English nation were most anxious for the Prince of Wales’s presence in England, and had incessantly begged the King to grant it. The King, on the other hand, did not feel at all inclined to do so; as he feared he might suffer in personal consideration, and that the Prince’s arrival in England would raise an opposition against him which might lead to disturbances. In order to have some plausible reason against his presence in England, the King had himself written to the Prince, suggesting his going to Berlin and marrying me. This step he intended to use afterwards to bring about a rupture with the Prince, by which means he could keep him several years longer at Hanover. The Prince, who ardently desired the alliance with me, was only too delighted to obey his father’s wishes. The sudden arrival of Bourguait’s messenger spoilt everything. This messenger was sent to the Secretary of State. Nothing remained to the King, who was anxious that no suspicion should be aroused in England, but to desire the Prince to return. Poor Lamotte became the innocent victim of all this. He had to spend two years in the fortress of Hameln, and was obliged to leave the Hanoverian service. He afterwards entered the Prussian army, where he still commands a regiment.  14
  My father was greatly incensed at again finding himself duped by England. He returned to Potsdam soon after this affair was settled, and we shortly followed him.  15
  Immediately after our arrival my father had a violent attack of gout, which troubled him for some time. This illness, added to his displeasure at his disappointed hopes, made his temper unbearable. I was called nothing else by him but the “English canaille,” and he ill-treated me and my brother in a shocking manner. We were not allowed to leave him for one single moment during the whole day. We took all our meals near his bedside; and to torment us still more, he let us have only those things to eat for which we had an absolute dislike. But good or bad, we were obliged to swallow them down, and run the risk of being ill for the rest of the day. Not a single day passed without some unfortunate occurrence, and we could not lift up our eyes without beholding some unhappy being who was being tormented. The King was of too impatient a nature to remain long in bed, so he sat in an arm-chair in which he had himself wheeled about the castle. He held a crutch in each hand to support himself, and we followed this triumphal car like wretched prisoners expecting their sentence.  16
  On one occasion, when his temper was more than usually bad, he told the Queen that he had received letters from Anspach, in which the margrave announced his arrival at Berlin for the beginning of May. He was coming there for the purpose of marrying my sister; and one of his ministers would arrive previously with the betrothal ring. My father asked my sister whether she were pleased at this prospect, and how she would arrange her household. Now my sister had always made a point of telling him whatever came into her head, even the greatest home-truths, and he had never taken her outspokenness amiss. On this occasion, therefore, relying on former experience, she answered him as follows: “When I have a house of my own I shall take care to have a well-appointed dinner-table,—better than yours is; and if I have any children of my own I shall not plague them as you do yours, and force them to eat things they thoroughly dislike!”  17
  “What is amiss with my dinner-table?” the King inquired, getting very red in the face.  18
  “You ask what is the matter with it,” my sister replied: “there is not enough on it for us to eat, and what there is is cabbage and carrots, which we detest.”  19
  Her first answer had already angered my father, but now he gave vent to his fury. But instead of punishing my sister he poured it all on my mother, my brother, and myself. To begin with, he threw his plate at my brother’s head, who would have been struck had he not got out of the way; a second one he threw at me, which I also happily escaped; then torrents of abuse followed these first signs of hostility. He reproached the Queen with having brought up her children so badly. “You will curse your mother,” he said to my brother, “for having made you such a good-for-nothing creature. A man was once condemned to death in Carthage for various crimes,” he continued, “and as he was being led to the place of execution, he asked to be allowed to speak to his mother. Whilst pretending to whisper to her, he bit a piece out of her ear; saying at the same time, ‘I treat you like this, that you may serve as an example to all mothers that do not bring up their children virtuously.’ You can do the same,” my father continued, still addressing himself to my brother; and with this remark he let himself be wheeled away in his chair. As my brother and I passed near him to leave the room, he hit out at us with his crutch. Happily we escaped the blow, for it would certainly have struck us down; and we at last escaped without harm from the room. I had been so upset by this scene that I trembled all over, and was obliged to sit down to avoid fainting. My mother, who came after us, comforted us as best she could, and endeavored to persuade us to return to the King. We were, however, not the least inclined to do this: the scene with the plates and the crutch had frightened us too much. At length we were obliged to do so, and we found the King conversing quietly with his officers.  20
  I felt quite ill nevertheless, and fainted away in the Queen’s room. My mother’s maid exclaimed, on seeing me, “Good gracious, your Royal Highness, what is the matter? you look dreadful!” I looked in the glass, and saw that my face and neck were covered with red spots. I told her I had been very much agitated, and that this was the result. I fainted again several times. The red spots disappeared as soon as I was in the cold air, appearing again in the heat of the room. I was obliged to keep about as best I could, as I was unable to get to bed. That night I was attacked by violent fever, which left me so weak next morning that I was obliged to ask my mother to excuse me from coming to her. She sent me word that dead or alive I must go to her. I then sent word that I had a rash which made it impossible. She however repeated her command, and I was carried into her room, where I went from one fainting-fit into another. In this condition I was dragged to the King. My sister, seeing that I was ready to give up the ghost, said to the King, “I beseech you, dear father, let my sister return to her room: she has fever, and cannot even stand.” The King asked me if this were true. “You look very ill,” he said, “but I will cure you;” and he forced me to drink a whole goblet full of very strong old Rhine wine. My rash had gone in, and I was fighting with death. I had no sooner drunk the wine than I began to be delirious, and begged my mother to have me taken to my room. This she granted on condition that I would leave it again in the evening.  21
  I laid myself down without taking off my head-dress; but no sooner was I in bed than the violence of the fever deprived me of my reason. The doctor who was called in pronounced me to be suffering from an inflammatory fever, and gave me three remedies not at all suitable to my present illness. From time to time I recovered consciousness, and then I prayed that God would take me to himself. Amidst bitter tears I said to Mademoiselle von Sonnsfeld, “The many sufferings I have been through have made me indifferent to this world, and now Providence will grant me the highest bliss. I am the cause of all my mother’s and brother’s sorrows: my death will put an end to these. If I die, promise me to say two things in my name to the King: first that I beg he will restore me his affections, and secondly, implore him to be kinder towards my mother and my brother.” I lay for thirty-six hours between life and death, and at last small-pox declared itself.  22
  The King had never once inquired after me since the commencement of my illness. As soon, however, as he heard the nature of my complaint, he sent his court surgeon to find out if I really had small-pox. This rude personage said many unkind things to me in the King’s name, besides being most repulsive in his own behavior. At any other time this would have provoked my anger, but I was now far too ill to notice his insolence. Upon the doctor’s confirming the statement that I had the small-pox, I was put into quarantine. All communication with my rooms was cut off, and nobody about the King and Queen was allowed to come near me. I felt that I was being treated like a plague-stricken creature. My governess and my maid were the only attendants I had. Though I lay in an icy cold room, deserted by the whole world, I had the comfort of my brother’s visits. He had had the small-pox, and came daily to spend with me what spare time he had. The Queen sent incessantly to inquire after me, but was not allowed to see me. For nine days I was as ill as I could be. All the symptoms seemed to point towards a fatal termination, and those who saw me thought I should be marked for life. I escaped death, however, and not a trace remained of this fearful malady.  23
  Meanwhile M. von Bremer, who had been sent by the Margrave of Anspach, arrived at Berlin. My sister’s betrothal by proxy then took place, the ceremony being of the simplest description. The King had got rid of his gout and of his bad temper, preserving the latter towards me alone. That charming Holzendorf never entered my room without bringing me some disagreeable message from him. This bad man was in the very highest favor, and everybody bowed before him. He used his advantages, however, to do as much harm as he could, particularly to the Queen, my brother, and myself. He was Seckendorf’s creature; and that says volumes.  24
  My father was now kinder towards my brother, but merely because he thought it politic to be so; and because Grumkow, into whose hands he had completely fallen, advised him to be so. Count Finkenstein and Colonel Kalkstein were in Grumkow’s way, and prevented his carrying out his plans. They were therefore to be got rid of, under the pretext that my brother no longer required governors. He persuaded the King to agree to their discharge, and succeeded. The two governors were dismissed in an honorable manner, both of them receiving a good pension for their services. They were replaced by two officers who had not the slightest power over my brother. The one was Colonel Rochow, the other M. von Kaiserling. The former, as will be seen in the course of these memoirs, was no genius; and the other, while exceedingly clever, had no religion of any kind. He had read a great deal, and boasted of being somewhat of a poet. It will be easily understood that my brother infinitely preferred Kaiserling to Rochow. The former’s love of science and learning made him a very agreeable companion. They had not long been together before the conversation turned on religious subjects. Kaiserling raised doubts in my brother’s mind. These doubts were, as I shall hereafter show, indelibly strengthened by another person.  25
  My brother came to me every day, and we occupied ourselves in reading and writing. I remember well how we read Scarron’s comic novel, and made satires from it applicable to the King’s entourage. We called Grumkow, La Rancune; the Margrave of Schwedt, who had reappeared with his pretensions, Saldague; Seckendorf, La Rapinière. We did not even spare the King; but I must not say which part we assigned to him. We showed our performance to the Queen, who was greatly amused at it. I fear we deserved a severe reprimand. Children ought never to lose sight of the respect and honor they owe their parents. I have reproached myself a thousand times since, for acting so much against this precept. Our youth, and the approval our efforts at authorship met with, must to some extent be our excuse.  26
  Madame de Bouvillon was not forgotten in our satirical novel: we gave her name to the Queen’s mistress of the robes, whom we thought she resembled. We often joked in her presence about it, so that she became curious to know who this Madame de Bouvillon was. I told her that the Queen of Spain’s “Camerera Majors” were called so, and they all had to be of this family. Six weeks after this, at one of the Queen’s receptions, the conversation turned on the Spanish court; and my mother’s mistress of robes thought she could not do better to show the world how much she knew about it than by saying that all “Camerera Majors” were of the family of Bouvillon. Everybody laughed, and she found out that she had been taken in. After inquiring further, and being made acquainted with the story of the heroine to whom I had given the rank of “Camerera Major,” she perceived at once that I had made fun of her, and was so extremely angry that I had the greatest trouble in appeasing her. I was very fond of her, and knew her worth; and what I had done was done to amuse the Queen. Since then I have left off turning people into ridicule: it is wiser to find fault with one’s self. How easily the faults of others are perceived by us! whilst to our own we are blind. But I must return to my story.  27
  As the Margrave of Anspach was expected in a week, and as neither he nor my sister had had the small-pox, I was sent away from Potsdam. Before my departure I went to see the King, but my mother would not allow me to remain long with him. He was generally so unkind to me that, as I had not yet quite recovered my strength, the Queen was afraid the agitation would be bad for me….  28
  My sister’s wedding took place amidst great pomp and rejoicing. She took her departure with her husband a fortnight afterwards, and I was then set at liberty.  29
  We did not remain long in Berlin, but joined the King at Wusterhausen, where the quarrels began afresh. Not a day passed without some scene or other. The King’s anger against my brother and myself reached such a pitch that, with the exception of the hours for our meals, we were banished both from his presence and the Queen’s. He scarcely allowed us the necessaries of life, and we were tormented with hunger from morning till night. Our only food was coffee and milk; and during dinner and supper time we were honored with epithets anything but pleasing. Of an afternoon we went secretly to see the Queen; and whilst we were with her she always had her spies watching to inform her in good time of the King’s approach. One day whilst we were with her, she had not, through some carelessness or other, had early enough notice of my father’s return. There was only one door to the room in which we were, so that we had to make up our minds at once what to do. My brother hid himself in a cupboard, and I slipped under my mother’s bed. We had scarcely had time to do so before the King entered the room. He was unfortunately very tired, sat down, and went to sleep for two hours. I was in a most uncomfortable position, and nearly smothered hiding under that low bed. I peeped out from time to time to discover if the King was still asleep. Anybody who had witnessed this occurrence must have laughed.  30
  At last the King woke up, and left the room; we crept from our hiding-places, and implored the Queen never to expose us to a similar “comedy” again. I often begged the Queen to allow me to write to the King, asking him the reason of his anger against me, and begging his forgiveness. She would not let me do so, however. She said it would be of no use: “Your father would only grant you his favor on condition that you married either the Margrave of Schwedt or the Duke of Weissenfels.” I quite saw the force of these arguments, and had to submit.  31
  A few peaceful days followed these storms, but alas, only to make way for still worse. The King went to Libnow, where he met the King of Poland and his son. In spite of all the difficulties that had been placed in his way, my father still hoped to arrange a marriage between me and the King of Poland. The Crown Prince of Poland persistently turned a deaf ear to the entreaties of both sovereigns, and was not to be induced to sign the marriage contract. My father, finding himself forced to give up this plan, deemed it right at once to solemnly betroth me, during the King of Poland’s visit, to the Duke of Weissenfels. On his return to Wusterhausen, my father passed through the small town of Dam, which belonged to this prince, and stopped there a few days. During his absence we had remained at Wusterhausen, and consequently enjoyed some peace and quiet: but this all came to an end as soon as the King returned. He never saw my brother without threatening him with his stick; and this latter often said to me that he would respectfully bear all ill treatment save blows, but that if it came to these he would run away.  32

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.