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Frederick the Great of Prussia

Berlin, the capital of modern Germany, was for a long time a little town in the land of Prussia, beyond the borders of the true Germany. Gradually its princes built up a strong kingdom, until, in Frederick the Great's time (1740-86), Prussia became one of the Powers of Europe.

Like most Prussians, Frederick believed in military power. His ambition was to form a regiment of giants. An Irishman, seven feet high, was found in London by the Prussian ambassador, and was paid a bounty of nearly 1,300 to go to Frederick -- very much more than his finder's salary!

Further light upon the character of Prussia's Grand Monarch is shed by the following story. "How goes our education business?" he asked of an official. "Very well," was the answer; "in the old days, when the notion was that men were naturally inclined to evil, schoolmasters were very severe, but now, when we realize that men are inchned to be good, schoolmasters are more generous." "Alas! my dear fellow," was Frederick's reply, "you don't know that infernal human race as I do!"

It was in the cynical Frederick's time that Prussia began its long duel with Austria, from which, by shameful means, he filched the province of Silesia. Then two ancient enemies, France and Austria, allied themselves to resist the sinister ways of Prussia's king. And so the crime of the seizure of Silesia was "the little stone broken loose from the mountain, hitting others, big and little, which again hit others with their leaping and rolling, till the whole mountain side was in motion " -- and the Seven Years' War (1756-63) resounded literally throughout the world.

In Europe, its battles were the opening scenes of that drama in which Sadowa was the close, and Sedan the epilogue." In America and India, and on the seas, it was the supreme struggle for overseas colonies and trade, and for naval power on which these depend.

The two main scenes of action overseas were strange contrasts. India was densely peopled, and derived its culture from ancient times; whereas the vast wilderness of North America was empty, except for a few tribes of Indians and a few French and English colonies fringing its rivers and coasts. "Black men fought each other on the coast of Coromandel, and red men" in America, in order that Frederick of Prussia might "rob a neighbour he had promised to defend."

But the war meant far more than this. Pitt, with his energy and public spirit, "won Canada (and India) in Germany" -- by helping Frederick the Great against his enemies. Wolfe defeated Montcalm at Quebec, and Clive defeated the French in India.

"It was not so much in the number as in the importance of its triumphs that the Seven Years' War stood. Three of its many victories determined for years to come the destinies of mankind.

"With that of Rossbach began the re-creation of Germany, the long process of its union under the leadership of Prussia and Prussia's kings. With that of Plassey the influence of Europe told for the first time since the days of Alexander the Great on the nations of the East. With the triumph of Wolfe on the Heights of Abraham began the history of the United States. By removing an enemy whose dread had knit the colonies to the mother-country, and by breaking through the line with which France had barred them from the basin of the Mississippi, Pitt laid the foundation of the great republic of the West."

Thus the story of the Grand Monarchs shows how the struggle of rival faiths after the Reformation gave way to the struggle for trade and colonies. The nation-states fought each for its own interests. They gave no allegiance to a higher power like the world-religion and world-monarchy, which was the ideal of the Middie Ages when the "world" was smaller. Mainly for this reason, "the theory of nationality" seems to one great historian "a retrograde step in history." The subject would form an interesting debate.