The Old Palace At Potsdam.
Not far from Sans Souci stands an aged oak, known as the Tree of Petitions; for on this Frederick desired to have his subjects fasten their petitions, which were removed only by himself. Among them, he once discovered a complaint that the Roman Catholic schools had been used to convert Protestant children to Catholicism. Frederick returned the following reply : " All religions must be tolerated, but none must make unjust encroachments upon the others. In this country every man must get to heaven his own way." The good sense of these words, so rare in those days, electrified his people, drew the attention of the whole world to Frederick, and gave him great renown.
The Tree Of Petitions.
The Royal Palace.
This generous toleration was shown by him in many ways. Thus, as he was returning one day to Potsdam on horseback, he saw a crowd examining a picture posted high up on a wall. The King requested his groom to see what it was. The man returned, and in a faltering voice explained that it was a shameful caricature, portraying the King hiding food away from his half-starved subjects. "Take it down," said Frederick, "and put it lower, so that the people may not strain their necks in looking at it." The crowd heard what he said, and, laughing heartily, tore the placard into shreds, and shouted to their sovereign, as he rode on toward the palace, " Long live our Fritz! Our Fritz forever! " Another interesting relic of those days at Sans Souci is the windmill about which Frederick had his famous controversy. He wished, as is well known, to purchase and tear it down, since the unsightly object annoyed him ; but its owner refused to sell, and was even successful in a lawsuit with his Majesty. Whereupon Frederick generously turned about and gave him money wherewith to enlarge and improve his mill. It still remains in the possession of the descendants of the miller. Some years ago, its owner, being pecuniarily embarrassed, desired to sell it; but old Kaiser William, learning of it, instantly-sent him money to relieve him, saying: " Never dispose of that property. In your family it is a part of Prussian history."
The Art Gallery.
The Old Mill.
If Sans Souci was "free from care," it was also free from luxury. During his reign of more than forty years, except when absent in his numerous wars, Frederick's habits scarcely varied. In winter, as well as in summer, his servants were commanded to awaken him every morning at four o'clock, and if he did not instantly arise, to put wet towels on his head. He slept upon a plain, camp bedstead made of iron. A slouch hat served him for a nightcap. Only his library was richly furnished. When he had finished with his secretaries after breakfast, he walked an hour or two, pencil and book in hand, with a number of dogs playing around him. In the evening, his delight was a private concert. Frederick had brilliant powers of conversation, and these were never better shown than in the famous suppers which he gave at Sans Souci, lasting from half-past eight to midnight. As a rule, only distinguished gentlemen were invited to these repasts ; for Frederick's favorites were always men of intellectual ability. He never cared especially for the society of women, and, with the exception of his sister, few were admitted to his Court.
There is a pathos in the closing part of Frederick's life at Sans Souci. After a reign of forty-six years, he found himself, at the age of seventy-four, childless and almost friendless, on the verge of the grave. It was on the terrace in front of this villa that, shortly before his death, the old warrior was brought out in his arm-chair, surrounded by his dogs, to bask in the sun. Looking up at the great luminary, the dying monarch murmured, " Perhaps I shall soon be nearer to thee than, now."
Close by the palace of Sans Souci, at the end of the terrace, are the graves of Frederick's favorite dogs. Every one knows how fond he was of these pets. He would allow them to tear his curtains and furniture into shreds, merely laughing at the havoc, and saying: " It is a less expensive weakness than most monarchs have. A Marquise de Pompadour would cost me a great deal more, and would not be so fond or faithful. My dogs," he added, "are the only true, faithful friends I have ever known." He thought of them even at the last moment of his life; for, as he sat in the arm-chair in which he died, literally gasp- ing for breath, he noticed one of his dogs near him shivering with cold, and ordered a blanket to be thrown over it. A few minutes later, after a severe attack of coughing, he whispered, "The mountain is passed. We shall be better now." These were his last words. It was midnight. Two hours later the stars looked down as usual on Sans Souci, but the spirit of its royal master had departed.