Frederick II of Prussia

King of Prussia from 1740 to 1786
(Redirected from Frederick the Great)

Frederick II of Prussia (January 24, 1712August 17, 1786) was king of Prussia from 1740 to 1786. He was also known as Friedrich der Große (Frederick the Great)

A single Voltaire will do more honor to France than a thousand pedants, a thousand false wits, a thousand great men of inferior order.


  • Ich empfinde für das göttliche Wesen die tiefste Verehrung und hüte mich deshalb sehr, ihm ein ungerechtes, wankelmütiges Verhalten zuzuschreiben, das man beim geringsten Sterblichen verurteilen würde. Aus diesem Grunde, liebe Schwester, glaube ich lieber nicht, dass das allmächtige, gütige Wesen sich im mindesten um die menschlichen Angelegenheiten kümmert. Vielmehr schreibe ich alles, was geschieht, den Geschöpfen und notwendigen Wirkungen unberechenbarer Ursachen zu und beuge mich schweigend vor diesem anbetungswürdigen Wesen, indem ich meine Unwissenheit über seine Wege eingestehe, die mir zu offenbaren seiner göttlichen Weisheit nicht gefallen hat.
    • I feel the deepest veneration for the divine being, and therefore I am careful not to attribute to him unjust, fickle behavior, which would be condemned by the meanest mortal. Because of that, dear sister, I prefer not to believe that the almighty, benevolent being is at all concerned with human affairs. Rather I do attribute everything that happens to the living beings and certain effects of incalculable causes and I silently bow down before this being which is worthy of adoration, by admitting my ignorance concerning his ways, which his godly wisdom chose not to reveal.
    • Letter to princess Amalie von Preußen[specific citation needed]
  • I think it better to keep a profound silence with regard to the Christian fables, which are canonized by their antiquity and the credulity of absurd and insipid people.
    • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), trans. Richard Aldington, letter 37 from Frederick to Voltaire (June 1738)
  • A single Voltaire will do more honor to France than a thousand pedants, a thousand false wits, a thousand great men of inferior order.
    • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), trans. Richard Aldington, letter 48 from Frederick to Voltaire (1740-01-06)
  • Truth to tell, treaties are only oaths of deception and faithlessness. The jurisprudence of sovereigns is customarily the law of the strongest.
    • Preface to “Histoire de mon temps”, Works (1743), quoted in W. W. Coole (ed.), Thus Spake Germany (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1941), p. 82
  • But a prince, when he binds himself, does not bind himself alone, otherwise he would be in the same position as a private individual. Instead, he exposes great countries and great provinces to a thousand misfortunes. Therefore, it is better that he should break his contract rather than that the people should perish.
    • Historie vom Jahre 1746, quoted in W. W. Coole (ed.), Thus Spake Germany (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1941), p. 82
  • Avec toute l’algèbre du monde on n’est souvent qu’un sot lorsqu’on ne sait pas autre chose. Peut-être dans dix ans la société tirera-t-elle de l’avantage des courbes que des songe-creux d’algébristes auront carrées laborieusement. J’en félicite d’avance la postérité; mais, à vous parler vrai, je ne vois dans tous ces calculs qu’une scientifique extravagance. Tout ce qui n’est ni utile ni agréable ne vaut rien. Quant aux choses utiles, elles sont toutes trouvées; et, pour les agréables, j’espère que le bon goût n’y admettra point d’algèbre.
    • [A] man with all the algebra in the world is often only an ass when he knows nothing else. Perhaps in ten years society may derive advantage from the curves which these visionary algebraists will have laboriously squared. I congratulate posterity beforehand. But to tell you the truth I see nothing but a scientific extravagance in all these calculations. That which is neither useful nor agreeable is worthless. And as for useful things, they have all been discovered; and to those which are agreeable, I hope that good taste will not admit algebra among them.
    • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), trans. Richard Aldington, letter 93 from Frederick to Voltaire (1749-05-16)
  • Only sneaky people and impostors can oppose the progress of sciences and can discredit them, because they are the only ones to whom the sciences do harm.[1]
  • Do you think I take any pleasure in this dog's life, in seeing and causing death in people unknown to me, in losing friends and acquaintances daily, in seeing my reputation ceaselessly exposed to the caprices of fortune, in spending the whole year with uneasiness and apprehension, in continually risking my life and my fortune? I certainly know the value of tranquility, the charms of society, the pleasures of life, and I like to be happy as much as anybody. Although I desire all these good things, I will not buy them with baseness and infamy. Philosophy teaches us to do our duty, to serve our country faithfully at the expense of our blood and of our repose, to commit our whole being to it.
    • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), trans. Richard Aldington, letter 141 from Frederick to Voltaire (1759-07-02)
  • Of all Prussia's neighbours the Russian Empire is the most dangerous, both from its power and its geographical position, and those who rule Prussia after me should cultivate the friendship of those barbarians, because they are able to ruin Prussia altogether through the immense number of their mounted troops, whilst one cannot repay them for the damage which they may do because of the poverty of that part of Russia which is nearest to Prussia, and through which one has to pass in order to get into the Ukraine.
    • Histoire de mon temps (1763-1764), quoted in W. W. Coole (ed.), Thus Spake Germany (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1941), p. 225
  • Neither antiquity nor any other nation has imagined a more atrocious and blasphemous absurdity than that of eating God. — This is how Christians treat the autocrat of the universe.
    • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), trans. Richard Aldington, letter 215 from Frederick to Voltaire (1776-03-19)
  • It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects, and the amount of money that goes out of the country as a consequence. Everybody is using coffee; this must be prevented. His Majesty was brought up on beer, and so were both his ancestors and officers. Many battles have been fought and won by soldiers nourished on beer, and the King does not believe that coffee-drinking soldiers can be relied upon to endure hardships in case of another war.
    • 1777; quoted by Bert L. Vallée, Alcohol in the Western World, Scientific American, Vol. 278, No. 6 (June), 1998, pp. 80-85
  • As to your Newton, I confess I do not understand his void and his gravity; I admit he has demonstrated the movement of the heavenly bodies with more exactitude than his forerunners; but you will admit it is an absurdity to maintain the existence of Nothing.
    • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), trans. Richard Aldington, letter 221 from Frederick to Voltaire (1777-11-25)
  • Je voulus faire un jet d’eau dans mon jardin; Euler calcula l’effort des roues pour faire monter l’eau dans un bassin, d’où elle devait retomber par des canaux, afin de jaillir à Sans-Souci. Mon moulin a été exécuté géométriquement, et il n’a pu élever une goutte d’eau à cinquante pas du bassin. Vanité des vanités! vanité de la géométrie!
    • I wanted to have a water jet in my garden: Euler calculated the force of the wheels necessary to raise the water to a reservoir, from where it should fall back through channels, finally spurting out in Sans Souci. My mill was carried out geometrically and could not raise a mouthful of water closer than fifty paces from the reservoir. Vanity of vanities! Vanity of geometry!
    • Letter H 7434 from Frederick to Voltaire (1778-01-25)
  • (About the battle of Kunersdorf) "I shall not survive this cruel misfortune. The consequences will be worse than defeat itself. I have no resources left, and, to speak quite frankly I believe everything is lost. I shall not outlive the downfall of my country. Farewell, forever!"
  • Machiavel's The Prince is to ethics what the work of Spinoza is to faith. Spinoza sapped the fundamentals of faith, and drained the spirit of religion; Machiavel corrupted policy, and undertook to destroy the precepts of healthy morals: the errors of the first were only errors of speculation, but those of the other had a practical thrust. [...] I always have regarded The Prince as one of the most dangerous works which were spread in the world; it is a book which falls naturally into the hands of princes, and of those who have a taste for policy. [...] There is a real injustice in concluding that the rotten apples are representative of all of them.
    • Foreword
  • It is thus the justice (one would have to say) which must be the main responsibility of a sovereign. Since it is the prime interest of the many people whom they control, they must give it priority over any other interest of their own. What then becomes of Machiavel's recommendations of naked self-interest, self-aggrandizement, unleashed ambition and despotism? The sovereign, far from being the absolute Master of the people which are under his domination, is only the first servant.
    • Ch. 1 : What A Strong Prince Really Is, And How One Can Reach That Point
  • It is a fact that princes who try to raise other princes with violence, end up destroying themselves.
    • Ch. 3 : Mixed Principalities
  • "It is enough", this malicious man tells us, "to extinguish the line of the defeated prince." Can one read this without quivering in horror and indignation?
    • Ch. 3 : Mixed Principalities
  • Compare Holland with Russia; you see only marshy and sterile islands in the former, which rise from the center of the ocean: a small republic which is only 48 miles length by 40 wide. But this small body is the very nerve-center of the region: immense people live in it, and these industrious people are both powerful and rich. They shook the yoke of the Spanish domination, which was then the most formidable monarchy of Europe. The trade of this republic extends to the ends of the world; and new trade appears almost immediately; it can maintain in times of war an army fifty thousand men, without counting a many and well maintained fleet.
    • Ch. 5 : How It Is Necessary To Control The Cities, Or The Principalities, Which Are Controlled By Their Own Laws Before They Were Conquered
  • We humans are foolish in many ways: we want to conquer all as if we had all time, as if our lives did not have any end. Thus, our real time passes too quickly, and often when one believes that they are working only for themselves, they are in fact working for unworthy or ungrateful successors.
    • Ch. 5 : How It Is Necessary To Control The Cities, Or The Principalities, Which Are Controlled By Their Own Laws Before They Were Conquered
  • If the men were without passions, it would be forgivable to see Machiavel try to give some to them; he would be the new Prometheus bringing celestial fire to breathe life into robots. But no man is without passions. When they are moderated, they are the heart of the enterprise; but when the brake is stripped of them, they are its destruction.
    • Ch. 6 : New States That The Prince Acquires By His Valor And His Own Weapons
  • Hero demolished both his friends and his soldiers, who had helped him in the execution of his plans; he found new friends, and raised other troops. I say, in spite of Machiavel and of the ingrates, that this policy of Hero is very bad, and that it is much more prudent to trust the troops which have tested and known value, and have friends whose loyalty has also been tested. The new and unknown ones are also unsafe. I leave the reader to push this reasoning further; all those who detest ingratitude, and who truly value friendship, will not remain neutral on this matter.
    • Ch. 6 : New States That The Prince Acquires By His Valor And His Own Weapons
  • (About Cesare Borgia) What cruelties were not the result of his? Who could count all his crimes? Such was the man that Machiavel prefers to all the great geniuses of his time, and to the heroes of antiquity, and of which he finds the life and action make a good example for those that fortune favors.
    • Chapter VII
  • The cruel man is of misanthropic temperament, and is a man of moods, oscillating from quiet brooding to sudden explosions. If a man like this does not fight this unhappy provision of his soul during his youth, under no circumstances could he avoid becoming furious - and foolish. There are those who would leave it up to God, but to ensure justice on the earth, and not fob it off to the Divinity, it is mandatory that people know both virtue and its benefits, since the virtues lead to unity among them, not the war of all against all. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to conserve them, and show that crime can only return misfortunes and destruction, including of the criminal himself. Who is the last victim of his crimes.
    • Chapter VIII
  • Just as people are born, live a time, and die by diseases or old age, in the same way republics are formed, flower a few centuries, and perish finally by the audacity of a citizen, or by the weapons of their enemies. All has their period; all empires, and largest monarchies even, have only so much time: the republics feel continually that this time will arrive, and they look at any too-powerful family as the carriers of a disease which will give them the blow of death.
    • Chapter IX
  • It does not pay a man to exist until the age of Methuselah by making his days indolent and useless. The more this is reflected upon, the more the reflector will desire to undertake meaningful and useful actions, the more they will have lived.
    • Chapter XIV


  • Like a long boat which follows in the wake of the warship to which it is tied.
    • On the decline of the Dutch Republic subject to British power
    • Attributed in T. C. W. Blanning, The Eighteenth Century (Oxford, 2000)
  • If my soldiers began to think, not one would remain in the ranks.
    • Attributed in J.A. Houlding, Fit for Service: The Training of the British Army, 1715-1795 (Oxford, 1981)
  • "My people and I," he said, "have come to an agreement which satisfies us both. They are to say what they please, and I am to do what I please."
    • Attributed by Thomas Babington Macaulay, Life of Frederick the Great (1882), pg 48.
    • Repeated by Thomas Babington Macaulay in a review of "Frederick the Great and his Times. Edited, with an Introduction, by Thomas Campbell, Esq". Edinburgh Review, ISSN 1751-8482, 04/1842, Volume 75, Issue 151, p. 241-242, though it does not appear in the original work.
    • Knowles, Oxford Dictionary Of Quotations (5th Edition) (Oxford University Press, 1999)
  • Rascals, would you live forever?
    • To hesitant guards at the battle of Kolin, 18 June 1757
    • Attributed in E. M. Knowles, Oxford Dictionary Of Quotations (5th Edition) (Oxford University Press, 1999)
    • "Kerels, wollt ihr den euwig leben?" Frederick the Great, by David Fraser, Penguin 2000, p. 353 Other versions have it: "Hünde, wollt ihr euwig leben?" (Dogs, do you want to live for ever?).
  • Diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments.
    • Attributed in The Times: "Diplomacy without Arms", 1 February 2010.
  • I begin by taking. I shall find scholars later to demonstrate my perfect right.
  • They were stronger than Turk and Saracen, but not than Hunger and Disease. Leaders did not know then, as our little Friend at Berlin came to know, that “an Army, like a serpent, goes upon its belly."
    • Attributed in Thomas Carlyle, “History of Friedrich the Second, Called Frederick the Great", (1858).
  • Christianity… is an old metaphysical fiction, stuffed with fables, contradictions and absurdities: it was spawned in the fevered imagination of the Orientals, and then spread to our Europe, where some fanatics espoused it, where some intriguers pretended to be convinced by it and where some imbeciles actually believed it. Attributed in "The West and the Rest", by Niall Ferguson, Penguin 2011 (Kindle edition).
  • If I had a province to punish, I would let it be governed by philosophers. Attributed in The Orthodox churchman's magazine; or, A Treasury of divine and useful knowledge (1803).


  • Audacity, audacity, always audacity!
    • Il nous faut de l'audace, encore de l'audace, toujours de l'audace! [1]
    • We must dare, dare again, always dare!
    • Georges Danton, speech, Assemblée legislative, Paris (1792-09-02), reported in Le Moniteur (1792-09-04)

Quotes about Frederick II

  • Frederick is what the English call an ‘acquired taste’: repulsive on first contact, yet as one gets involved with him one becomes addicted to him and finds him arousing a sentiment that cannot be called love but that may possibly be stronger than love.
  • The essential character of modern German nationalism was chiefly moulded by the tradition and structure of the Prussian military State. The latter itself changed in the process from a dynastic-aristocratic to a national form. Frederick the Great was elevated to a national divinity in a manner unknown to any other nation. His example became the supreme national dogma.
    • Frederick Hertz, Nationalgeist und Politik, Vol. I (Zuerich, 1937), p. 450, quoted in Lord Vansittart, ‘Preface’, W. M. Knight-Patterson, Germany from Defeat to Conquest, 1913–1933 (1945), p. 9
  • The character of the founder of the greatness of Prussia...can have no attraction for those who require as an indispensable condition of fealty that their hero shall have either purity, or sensibility, or generosity, or high honour, or manly respect for human nature. ... Frederick's sensibility was of the literary and aesthetic kind, rather than the humane and social. ... There has never been any epoch whose foremost men had such faith and hope in the virtues of humanity. There has never been any prominent man who despised humanity so bitterly and unaffectedly as Frederick despised it. We know what to think of a man...who never found so much pleasure in a friendly act as when he could make it the means of hurting the recipient; whose practical pleasantries were always spiteful and sneering and cruel.
  • He is king among the heroes. His mind rises above the earth, he turns upon his own axis like the sun, shines in his own light, shares her heat and her spots. His are the dimensions of a great spirit, and centuries to come will study his stature and nature with the utmost care. ... He demands the space of a colossus. ... I can think of no being more exalted than the King.
    • Friedrich Karl von Moser, Der Herr und der Diener, geschildert mit patriotischer Freiheit (1759), pp. 19–20, quoted in Gerhard Ritter, The Sword and the Sceptre: The Problem of Militarism in Germany, Volume I: The Prussian Tradition, 1740–1890 (1972), p. 36
  • The development of foreign ministries further restricted the scope for summitry. But rulers often retained their own private diplomatic networks. Louis XV was a prime example, while Frederick the Great of Prussia created his own Kabinett, or private office, and took over the most important business from the Foreign Office. Not surprisingly, Frederick also tried his hand at summitry: seeking a rapprochement with Austria after the Seven Years War, he met the emperor Joseph II at Neisse in 1769 and Neustadt in 1770.
    • David Reynolds, Summits: Six Meetings that Changed the Twentieth Century (2007), p. 1
  • We have just sung a Prussian national hymn which celebrates Frederick the Great. What renders that sovereign so present to our memory is not our monarchical faith, but he is for us the personification of the ancient Prussian spirit.
  • Frederick the Great is for us the embodiment of that ancient Prussian spirit on which is based the categorical imperative of duty. The King ... in whom the idea of the State overshadowed all else ... is a figure more suited than any other to a nation that is labouring under heavy burdens.
    • Gustav Stresemann, quoted in W. M. Knight-Patterson, Germany from Defeat to Conquest, 1913–1933 (1945), p. 369
  • Frederick the Great once asked his personal physician, Dr. Zimmermann, "Can you name me a single proof of the existence of God?" Zimmermann replied, "Your Majesty, the Jews!" By that he meant that if one wanted to ask for a proof of God, for something visible and tangible, that no one could contest, which is unfolded before the eyes of all men, then we should have to turn to the Jews. Quite simply, there they are to the present day. Hundreds of little nations in the Near East... have dissolved and disappeared in the huge sea of nations; [only] this one tiny nation has maintained itself.... If the question of a proof of God is raised, one need merely point to this simple historical fact. For in the person of the Jew there stands before our eyes the witness of God's covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and in that way with us all. Even one who does not understand Holy Scripture can see this reminder.
    • Dogmatics in Outline (1949) as translated by Tr. G. T. Thomson ISBN 006130056X, quoted in "Word Alive! An Introduction to the Christian Faith" by John Schwarz (1995)
  • Imperial Germany does not depart sensibly from the pattern of Prussia under Frederick the Great, in respect of its national policies or the aims and methods of government control, nor do the preconceptions of its statesmen differ at all widely from those prevalent among the dynastic jobbers of that predaceous era of state-making.
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  1. Speech at the Academy of Berlin of 27 January 1772 (inside Luca de Samuele Cagnazzi, Saggio sopra i principali metodi d'istruire i fanciulli - 1819 - pp. 12-13 )