Frederick’s Essay on German Literature
AMONG THE MEN of action of world history, Frederick the Great has been the most prolific writer, and none has taken intellectual endeavor and commerce with the Muses as seriously as he. A long life of joyless toil, of active involvement in terrifying events, and of relentless service to the state forms the background to his epistles, verses, essays, and sundry treatises—and they were as numerous as if he had been one of the idle abbés of the salons and boudoirs in the world of Louis XV. Nor were his literary works much more weighty in content or mood except where they touched upon matters with which he meant to immortalize his own true concerns, statecraft and politics. His historical writings are worthy of their author, not only by virtue of their subject matter, with which no other writer was as thoroughly familiar, but also by the manner in which they are presented. Standing in the tradition of the Greek and Roman classics and of Voltaire, they bear witness to his imperious will and his clearsighted understanding of reality—despite the use of the foreign language and despite a pretentiously elegant or overly direct style. His nonpolitical writings, especially those in verse, are less likely to reflect his moods at any given moment than are his letters; they usually served to give standard form to enlightened or stoic commonplaces, at best to the permanent convictions that were dear to him.
KeywordsGerman Language Cultural Matter German Literature Hyrcanian Forest Intellectual Endeavor
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