Frederick the Great of Prussia, by Wilhelm Camphausen.
Part 1 of 2
FREDERICK,* whose chief pleasure was in the proficiency of his troops in military discipline, whenever a new soldier made his first appearance in the guards, asked him three questions. The first was, How old are you? The second was, How long have you been in my service? (as the guards were recruited out of the flower of the marching regiments); and the third was, If he received his pay and his cloathing as he wished?
A young Frenchman, who had been well disciplined, offered himself to enter the guards, where he was immediately accepted, in consequence of his experience in military tactics. The young recruit did not understand the Prussian language, so that his Captain informed him, that when the King saw him first on the parade, he would make the usual enquiries of him in the Prussian language,* therefore he must learn to make the suitable answers, in the form of which he was instructed. As soon as the King beheld a new face in the ranks, taking a lusty pinch of snuff, he went up to him; and, unluckily for the soldier, he put the second question first, and asked him how long he had been in his service?
* ‘Mr Addison’ possibly hoped that unwary patrons of bookshops would assume he was the famous essayist Joseph Addison (1672-1719). In that case, this Frederick would have been King Frederick I, who died in 1713. However, our ‘Mr Addison’ belonged to a much later generation. He self-published his collection of anecdotes in 1795, and included among them stories from the French Revolution of 1789. This ‘anecdote of the late King of Prussia’ must surely refer to Frederick the Great, who had passed away in 1786.
* That is, German.
A Frenchman, handpicked for the life guards of Frederick the Great of Prussia, knew no German. His Captain wondered how he would answer the three questions that the king reliably put to every new recruit: his age, his length of military service, and his satisfaction with pay and clothing. At length, he decided to coach him in the appropriate replies. (60 / 60 words)
The Prussian advance at the start of the Battle of Hohenfriedeberg on June 4th, 1745.
The soldier answered as he was instructed, Twenty-one years, an* please your Majesty.
The King was struck at his figure, which did not announce his age to be more than the time he had been in his service. How old are you? says the King in a surprize. He answered, One year, an please your Majesty. The King still more surprized said, Either, you or I must be a fool. The soldier taking this for the third question, relative to his pay and cloathing, says, Both, an please your Majesty.
This is the first time, says Frederick, still more surprized, that I have been called a fool at the head of my own guards. The soldier’s stock of instruction was now exhausted, and when the Monarch still pursued the design of unravelling the mystery, the soldier informed him that he could speak no more German; but that he would answer in his native tongue. Here Frederick perceived the nature of the man’s situation, at which he laughed very heartily, and advised the young man to apply himself to learning the language of Prussia, and mind his duty.
* The word ‘an’ in this case is a conjunction equivalent to ‘if’, originally from Middle English. Using ‘an’ in this sense is now obsolete. Readers of Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel novels, set in the same era, will nonetheless be used to it.
* That is, German.
Unluckily, the King shuffled his questions, and thus heard that the fresh-faced Frenchman had seen twenty-one years’ military service, yet was one year old. ‘One of us is a fool’ muttered Frederick. ‘Both’ replied the Frenchman eagerly, hoping to express satisfaction with pay and clothing. Happily the confusion was soon cleared up, the king laughing as heartily as anyone. (59 / 60 words)