When Voltaire accepted Frederick's invitation to visit him at Potsdam, the pretext that he gave for leaving France was the religious persecution he was enduring; but the fact seems to be that he had a secret commission from the French Government to try to bring Frederick over to the side of France. At first, Voltaire seemed very happy at the Prussian Court, and wrote home the most flattering accounts of Frederick. It is possible, however, that some of his enthusiasm was due to the suspicion that his letters were opened and read; for there is no doubt that, after a little time, he found the atmosphere of Sans Souci thoroughly uncongenial. Nor is this strange; for, though the intellectual tastes of the King and his French guest were similar, their dispositions were entirely different. They would have still admired each other at a distance, but propinquity proved fatal to their friendship. Ere many months had passed, the situation became critical, and they threw bitter and sarcastic words like thunderbolts at each other. In this Voltaire had, on the whole, the advantage; for never has the man existed who could infuse so much poison into a sneer, as could Voltaire. Thus, in reference to correcting the French verses which Frederick wanted him to criticise, he remarked, " The King sends me his soiled linen to wash." He also sarcastically said of the Prussians, that in their language they made up for the scarcity of their ideas by the length of their words and the superfluity of their consonants. What wonder, then, that in return Frederick declared that Voltaire was a blackguard and a consummate rascal ? " I am amazed," he wrote, "that so much talent does not make a better man. He deserves to be flogged for his actions. He has behaved in a most unworthy manner; he deserves to be branded on Parnassus, and it is a pity that such a worthless soul should be linked to so glorious a genius. Still," he added, " I will not express my feelings to him, for I require his aid in studying the French language; fine things may be learned even from a vagabond. I want to know how to write his French. What do I care for his morals ?"
The Gardens Of Sans Souci.
The Staircase And Terraces.
Statue Of Frederick The Great.
On The Terrace,.
Voltaire, on the other hand, wrote to his niece: " Coquettes, kings, and poets are accustomed to flattery. Frederick combines these three characters. It is not possible that truth can pierce this triple wall of self-esteem."
Frederick In His Study.
It is easy to see, therefore, that these men could not live together. The ties which bound them would not endure such constant irritation as their daily intercourse occasioned, and soon snapped in anger. It was on the esplanade, in front of the great palace of Potsdam, while Frederick was reviewing his troops, that Voltaire and his patron met for the last time. An officer approached the King and said : "Sire, Monsieur Voltaire has come to take his leave of you." Frederick turned toward his former friend and remarked quietly: "Are you then resolved to go?" "Sire," replied Voltaire, "the state of my health requires my departure." "In that case," said the King, "I wish you bon voyage" In this way separated (never to meet again) two of the brightest minds in Europe, each having committed the mistake so often made before and since their time, of thinking that a brilliant intellect, when brought into terms of intimacy, must of necessity command love because it so easily wins admiration.
The Royal Palace in the town of Potsdam was, also, frequently occupied by Frederick, particularly on State occasions, for the villa of Sans Souci was little else than his private apartments. Here he received ambassadors from other lands, and one may still see here, adjoining his library, the secret cabinet where Frederick used to dine in private with his guests. The room is very small, and furnished in red satin with gold trimmings. In the middle of the room is a round table, the centre of which was arranged to detach itself from the outer circle of the table, and to descend through the floor into the kitchen below. The necessary food and dishes would be placed upon it, and it would rise again to its former place. The object of this ingenious mechanism was to avoid the presence of servants, thus enabling the King and his guests to converse without danger of being overheard.