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Frederick the Second, king of Prussia, after his conquest of Saxony, transported, it is said9, by force, several manufacturers from Dresden to Berlin, where he was very desirous of establishing the manufacture of china. These unfortunate people, separated from their friends, their home, and their native country, were compelled to continue their labours for the profit and for the glory of their conqueror. Amongst the number of those sufferers was Sophia Mansfeld. She was young, handsome, and possessed considerable talents. Several pieces of porcelain of her design and modelling were shown to Frederick, when he visited the manufactory at Meissen, in Saxony; and their taste and workmanship appeared to him so exquisite, that he determined to transport the artist to his capital. But from the time of her arrival at Berlin, Sophia Mansfeld’s genius seemed to forsake her. It was her business to sketch designs, and to paint them on the porcelain; but either she could not or would not execute these with her former elegance: the figures were awkward and spiritless, and it was in vain that the overseer of the works attempted to rouse her to exertion; she would sit for hours, with her pencil in her hand, in a sort of reverie. It was melancholy to see her. The overseer had compassion upon her; but his compassion was not so great as his dread of the king’s displeasure; and he at length declared, that the next time Frederick visited the works, he must complain of her obstinate idleness.
The monarch was expected in a few days; for, in the midst, of his various occupations, Frederick, who was at this time extremely intent upon the establishment of the porcelain manufactory at Berlin, found leisure frequently to inspect it in person. The king, however, was prevented from coming at the appointed hour by a review at Potzdam. His majesty had formed the singular project of embodying, and training to the science of arms, the Jews in his dominions10. They were rather awkward in learning the manual exercise; and the Jewish review, though it afforded infinite amusement to the spectators, put Frederick so much out of humour, that, as soon as it was over, he rode to his palace of Sans Souci, and shut himself up for the remainder of the morning. The preceding evening an English traveller, who had passed some time at Paris with the Count de Lauragais, in trying experiments upon porcelain clays, and who had received much instruction on this subject from Mr. Wedgewood, of Etruria, had been presented to the king, and his majesty had invited him to be present at a trial of some new process of importance, which was to be made this morning at his manufactory. The English traveller, who was more intent upon his countryman Mr. Wedgewood’s fame than upon the martial manoeuvres of the Jews, proceeded, as soon as the review was finished, to exhibit his English specimens to a party of gentlemen, who had appointed to meet him at the china-works at Berlin.
Of this party, was a youth of the name of Augustus Laniska, who was at this time scarcely seventeen years old. He was a Pole by birth — a Prussian by education. He had been bred up at the military school at Potzdam, and being distinguished by Frederick as a boy of high spirit and capacity, he was early inspired with enthusiastic admiration of this monarch. His admiration, however, was neither blind nor servile. He saw Frederick’s faults as well as his great qualities; and he often expressed himself with more openness and warmth upon this subject than prudence could justify. He had conversed with unusual freedom about Frederick’s character with our English traveller; and whilst he was zealous to display every proof of the king’s greatness of mind, he was sometimes forced to acknowledge that “there are disadvantages in living under the power of a despotic sovereign.”
“A despotic sovereign! You will not then call your Frederick a despot?” whispered the English traveller to the young Pole, as they entered the china-works at Berlin. “This is a promising manufactory, no doubt,” continued he; “and Dresden china will probably soon be called Berlin china, by which the world in general will certainly be much benefited. But in the meantime look around you, and read your monarch’s history in the eyes of those prisoners of war — for such I must call these expatriated manufacturers.”
There were, indeed, many countenances in which great dejection was visible. “Look at that picture of melancholy,” resumed the Englishman, pointing to the figure of Sophia Mansfeld —“observe even now, whilst the overseer is standing near her, how reluctantly she works! ’Tis the way with all slaves. Our English manufacturers (I wish you could see them) work in quite another manner — for they are free —”
“And are free men, or free women, never ill?” said Laniska; “or do you Englishmen blame your king, whenever any of his subjects turn pale? — The woman at whom you are now looking is evidently ill. I will inquire from the overseer what is the matter with her.”
Laniska then turned to the overseer, and asked him in German several questions, to which he received answers that he did not translate to the English traveller; he was unwilling that any thing unfavourable to the cause of his sovereign should appear; and, returning to his companion, he changed the conversation. When all the company were occupied round the furnaces, attending to the Englishman’s experiments, Laniska went back to the apartment where Sophia Mansfeld was at work. “My good girl,” said he to her, “what is the matter with you? The overseer tells me, that since you came here you have done nothing that is worth looking at; yet this charming piece (pointing to a bowl of her painting, which had been brought from Saxony) is of your design, is it not?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Sophia, “I painted it — to my sorrow. If the king had never seen or liked it, I should now be —” The recollection of her home, which at this instant rushed full upon her mind, overpowered her, and she paused.
“You would now be in Saxony,” resumed Laniska; “but forget Saxony, and you will be happy at Berlin.”
“I cannot forget Saxony, sir,” answered the young woman, with modest firmness; “I cannot forget a father and mother whom I love, who are old and infirm, and who depended on me for their support. I cannot forget every thing — every body that I have ever loved: I wish I could.”
“Sir,” whispered a Prussian workman, who stood by —“sir, she has a lover in Saxony, to whom she was just going to be married, when she was carried off from her cottage, and brought hither.”
“Cannot her lover follow her?” said Laniska.
“He is in Berlin, in concealment,” replied the workman, in a whisper; “you won’t betray him, I am sure.”
“Not I,” said Laniska; “I never betrayed any one, and I never shall — much less the unfortunate. But why is her lover in concealment?”
“Because it is the king’s pleasure,” replied the Prussian, “that she should no longer consider him as her lover. You know, sir, several of these Saxon women have been compelled, since their arrival at Berlin, to marry Prussians. Sophia Mansfeld has fallen to the lot of a Prussian soldier, who swears that if she delays another month to marry him, he will complain to the king of her obstinacy. Our overseer, too, threatens to complain of her idleness. She is ruined if she go on in this way: we tell her so, but she seems to have lost all sense; for she sits as she does now, like one stupified, half the day, let us say what we will to her. We pity her; but the king knows best: the king must be obeyed.”
“Slave!” exclaimed Laniska, bursting into a sudden transport of indignation, “slave! you are fit to live only under a tyrant. The king knows best! the king must be obeyed! What! when his commands are contrary to reason, to justice, to humanity?” Laniska stopped short, but not before the high tone of his voice, and the boldness of the words he uttered, had astonished and dismayed all present — all except Sophia Mansfeld: her whole countenance became suddenly illuminated; she started up, rushed forwards, threw herself at the feet of Laniska, and exclaimed, “Save me! you can save me! you have courage; and you are a powerful lord, and you can speak to the king. Save me from this detested marriage!”
The party of gentlemen who had been in the next chamber now entered the room, curious to know what had drawn thither such a crowd of workmen. On seeing them enter, Sophia, recollecting herself, rose, and returned to her work quietly; whilst Laniska, much agitated, seized hold of the Englishman’s arm, and hurried out of the manufactory.
“You are right, you are right,” cried he, “Frederick is a tyrant! But how can I save his victim?”
“Not by violence, my Augustus; not by violence!” replied a young man of the name of Albert, who followed Laniska, anxious to restrain the impetuosity of his friend’s temper, with which he was well acquainted. “By imprudence,” said he, “you will but expose yourself to danger; you will save, you will serve no one.”
“Tame prudence will neither save nor serve any one, however it may prevent its possessor from exposing himself to danger,” retorted Laniska, casting upon Albert a look of contemptuous reproach. “Prudence be your virtue — courage mine.”
“Are they incompatible?” said Albert, calmly.
“I know not,” replied Laniska; “but this I know, that I am in no humour to reason that point, or any other, according to all those cursed forms of logic, which, I believe, you love better than any thing else.”
“Not better than I love you, as I prove by allowing you to curse them as much and as often as you think proper,” replied Albert, with a smile, which could not, however, force one from his angry friend.
“You are right to practise logic and rhetoric,” resumed Laniska, “as much and as often as you can, since in your profession you are to make your bread by your tongue and your pen. I am a soldier, or soon to be a soldier, and have other arms and other feelings.”
“I will not dispute the superiority of your arms,” replied Albert; “I will only beg of you to remember, that mine will be at your service whenever you want or wish for them.”
This temperate and friendly reply entirely calmed Laniska. “What would become of Augustus Laniska,” said he, giving Albert his hand, “if he had not such a friend as you are? My mother may well say this, as she does ten times a-day; but now take it in your sober manner, what can we do for this poor woman? for something must be done.”
After some consideration, Albert and Laniska determined to draw up a petition for Sophia, and to present it to the king, who was known to pay ready and minute attention to every application made to him in writing, even by the meanest of his subjects. The petition was presented, and an answer anxiously expected. Frederick, when at Potzdam, often honoured the Countess Laniska with a visit. She was a woman of considerable information and literature, acquirements not common amongst the Polish or Prussian ladies; and the king distinguished the countess by his approbation, in order to excite some emulation amongst his female subjects. She held a sort of conversazione at her house, which was frequented by all foreigners of distinction, and especially by some of the French literati, who were at this time at Frederick’s court.
One evening — it was a few days after Sophia Mansfeld’s petition had been presented — the king was at the Countess Laniska’s, and the company were conversing upon some literary subject, when Frederick, who had been unusually silent, suddenly turned to the English traveller, who was one of the company, and asked him whether his countryman, Mr. Wedgewood, had not made a beautiful imitation of the Barberini, or Portland Vase?
The Englishman replied, that the imitation was so exquisite, as scarcely to be known by the best judges from the original: and he went on, with much eagerness, to give a description of the vase, that he might afterward, for the honour of his country, repeat some lines written upon the subject by an English poet11. Frederick was himself a poet, and a judge of poetry; he listened to the lines with attention; and, as soon as the Englishman had finished speaking, he exclaimed, “I will write a description of the Prussian vase myself.”
“The Prussian Vase!” said the English traveller: “I hope I may have the honour of seeing it before I leave Berlin.”
“If you prolong your stay another month, your curiosity will probably be gratified,” replied Frederick. “The Prussian Vase is not yet in being; but I have this day determined to offer a reward, that I know will produce a vase worthy of Prussia. Those who have the command of motives, and know their power, have also the command of all that the arts, or what is called a genius for the arts, can produce. The human mind, and human fingers, are much the same in Italy, in England, and in Prussia. Then, why should not we have a Prussian as as well as a Wedgewood’s or a Barberini Vase? We shall see. I do not understand mon métier de roi, if I cannot call forth talents where I know them to exist. There is,” continued the king, fixing his eyes full upon Laniska, “there is, in my porcelain manufactory at Berlin, a woman of considerable talents, who is extremely anxious to return, along with some lovers of hers, to Saxony. Like all other prisoners of war, she must purchase her liberty from the conqueror; and if she cannot pay her ransom in gold, let her pay it by her talents. I do not give premiums to idleness or obstinacy. The king must be obeyed, whether he knows how to command or not: let all the world, who are able to judge, decide.” Frederick, as soon as he had finished this speech, which he pronounced in a peremptory tone, left the room; and Laniska’s friend, who perceived that the imprudent words he had uttered in Berlin had reached the king’s ear, gave the young man up for lost. To their surprise, however, the king took no further notice of what had happened, but received Laniska the next day at Sans Souci with all his usual kindness. Laniska, who was of an open, generous temper, was touched by this conduct; and, throwing himself at Frederick’s feet, he exclaimed:—
“My king! forgive me, if in a moment of indignation I called you a tyrant.”
“My friend, you are yet a child, and I let children and fools speak of me as they please,” replied Frederick. “When you are an older man, you will judge more wisely, or, at least, you will speak with more discretion within twenty miles of a tyrant’s palace. Here is my answer to your Sophia Mansfeld’s petition,” added he, giving Laniska the paper, which Albert had drawn up; at the bottom of which was written, in the king’s own hand, these words:—
“I will permit the artist who shall produce, before this day month, the most beautiful vase of Berlin china, to marry or not to marry, whomsoever he or she shall think proper, and to return to Saxony with all imaginable expedition. If the successful artist choose to remain at Berlin, I will add a reward of 500 crowns. The artist’s name shall be inscribed on the vase, which shall be called the Prussian Vase.” No sooner had Sophia Mansfeld read these words, than she seemed animated with new life and energy. She was likely to have many competitors; for, the moment the king’s intentions were made known in the manufactory, all hands and heads were at work. Some were excited by the hope of regaining their liberty; others stimulated by the mention of 500 crowns; and some were fired with ambition to have their name inscribed on the Prussian Vase. But none had so strong a motive for exertion as Sophia. She was indefatigable. The competitors consulted the persons whom they believed to have the best taste in Berlin and Potzdam. Sophia’s designs were shown, as soon as they were sketched, to the Countess Laniska, whose advice was of material use to her.
At length, the day which was to decide her fate arrived. The vases were all ranged, by the king’s order, in his gallery of paintings at Sans Souci; and in the evening, when Frederick had finished the business of the day, he went thither to examine them. Laniska and some others were permitted to accompany him: no one spoke, whilst Frederick was comparing the works of the different competitors.
“Let this be the Prussian Vase,” said the king. It was Sophia Mansfeld’s. Laniska just stayed to show her name, which was written underneath the foot of the vase, and then he hurried away to communicate the happy news to Sophia, who was waiting, with her lover, at the house of the Countess Laniska, in Potzdam, impatient to hear her fate. She heard it with inexpressible joy; and Laniska’s generous heart sympathized in her happiness. It was settled that she should the next morning be married to her lover, and return with him to her father and mother in Saxony. The happy couple were just taking leave of the young count and his mother, when they were alarmed by the sound of many voices on the great staircase. Some persons seemed to be disputing with the countess’s servants for admittance. Laniska went out to inquire into the cause of the disturbance. The hall was filled with soldiers.
“Are you the young Count Laniska?” said an officer to him, the moment he appeared.
“I am the young Count Laniska,” replied he, in a firm tone. “What do you want with me? and why this disturbance in my mother’s house at this unseasonable hour?”
“We come here by the king’s orders,” replied the soldier. “Is not there in this house a woman of the name of Sophia Mansfeld?”
“Yes,” replied Laniska: “what do you want with her?”
“She must come with us; and you are our prisoner, count,” replied the soldier.
It was in vain to ask for further explanation. The soldiers could give none; they knew nothing, but that their orders were to convey Sophia Mansfeld immediately to Meissen in Saxony, and to lodge Count Laniska in the castle of Spandau, a state prison.
“I must know my crime before I submit to punishment,” cried Laniska, in a passionate voice; but he restrained the natural violence of his temper, on seeing his mother appear, and, at her request, yielded himself up a prisoner without resistance, and without a murmur. “I depend on your innocence, my son, and on the justice of the king,” said the countess; and she took leave of him without shedding a tear. The next day, even before the king arrived at Potzdam, she went to the palace, determined to wait there till she could see him, that she might hear from his own lips the cause of her son’s imprisonment. She waited a considerable time — for, without alighting from horseback, Frederick proceeded to the parade, where he was occupied for some hours; at length he alighted, and the first person he saw, on entering his palace, was the Countess Laniska.
“I am willing to believe, madam,” said he, “that you have no share in your son’s folly and ingratitude.”
“My son is, I hope, incapable of ingratitude, sir,” answered the countess, with an air of placid dignity. “I am well aware that he may have been guilty of great imprudence.”
“At six o’clock this evening let me see you, madam,” replied the king, “at Sans Souci, in the gallery of paintings, and you shall know of what your son is accused.”
At the appointed hour she was in the gallery of paintings at Sans Souci. No one was there. She waited quietly for some time, then walked up and down the gallery with extreme impatience and agitation; at last, she heard the king’s voice and his step; the door opened, and Frederick appeared. It was an awful moment to the mother of Laniska. She stood in silent expectation.
“I see, madam,” said the king, after fixing his penetrating eye for some moments on her countenance, “I see that you are, as I believe you to be, wholly ignorant of your son’s folly.” As he spoke, Frederick put his hand upon the vase made by Sophia Mansfeld, which was placed on a small stand in the middle of the gallery. The countess, absorbed by her own reflections, had not noticed it.
“You have seen this vase before,” said the king; “and you have probably seen the lines which are inscribed on the foot of it.”
“Yes,” said the countess, “they are my son’s writing.”
“And they are written by his own hand,” said the king.
“They are. The poor Saxon woman who draws so admirably cannot write; and my son wrote the inscription for her.”
“The lines are in a high strain of panegyric,” said the king; and he laid a severe emphasis on the word panegyric.
“Whatever may be my son’s faults,” said the countess, “your majesty cannot suspect him of being a base flatterer. Scarcely a month has elapsed since his unguarded openness exposed him to your displeasure. Your majesty’s magnanimity, in pardoning his imprudent expressions, convinced him at once of his error in having used them; and, in the fit of enthusiasm with which your kindness upon that occasion inspired him, he, who is by no means a poet by profession, composed the two lines of panegyric which seem to have given your majesty offence, but which I should never have conceived could be the cause of his imprisonment.”
“You plead like a mother, madam,” said the king; “but you reason like a woman. Have I ever said that your son was imprisoned for having written two lines of flattery? No, madam: I know how to smile both at flattery and satire, when they are undisguised; but there is a degree of baseness which I cannot so easily pardon. Be patient, madam; I will listen to all you can say in your son’s defence, when you have read this inscription. But, before you read it, understand that I was upon the point of sending this vase to Paris. I had actually given orders to the man who was packing up that case (pointing to a half-packed case of porcelain) to put up the Prussian Vase as a present for a Prussian bel esprit of your acquaintance. The man showed me the inscription at the bottom of the vase. I read the flattering lines with pleasure, and thought them — as people usually think flattering lines made on themselves —— excellent. I was even fool enough immediately to consider how I could reward the author, when my friend, the packer, interrupted the course of my thoughts, by observing, with some exclamation of astonishment, that the blue colour of the vase came off in one spot, where he had been rubbing it. I looked, and saw that part of the inscription at the bottom of the vase had been covered over with blue paint. At first sight, I read the words, ‘On the character of Frederick the Great;’ the blue paint had concealed the next word, which is now, madam, sufficiently legible.” The word to which the king pointed was —tyrant. “Those flattering lines, madam, you comprehend, were written —‘On the character of Frederick, the great tyrant.’
“I shall spare you, madam, all the reflections I have made on this occasion. Tyrant as I am, I shall not punish the innocent mother for the follies of her son. I shall be at your house, along with the rest of your friends, on Tuesday evening.”
The unhappy mother of Laniska withdrew from the presence of the king, without attempting any reply. Her son’s conduct admitted, she thought, of no apology, if it were really true that he had written the words to which his name was signed. Of this she doubted; but her consternation was at first so great, that she had not the power to think. A general belief remained in her mind of her son’s innocence; but then a number of his imprudent words and actions came across her memory; the inscription was, apparently, in his own hand-writing. The conversation which had passed in the porcelain manufactory at Berlin corroborated the idea expressed in this inscription. The countess, on her return home, related the circumstances, with as much composure as she could, to Albert, who was waiting to hear the result of her interview with the king. Albert heard her relation with astonishment; he could not believe in his friend’s guilt, though he saw no means of proving his innocence. He did not, however, waste his time in idle conjectures, or more idle lamentations: he went immediately to the man who was employed to pack up the vase; and, after questioning him with great care, he went to Berlin to the porcelain manufactory, and inquired whether any persons were present when Laniska wrote the inscription for Sophia Mansfeld. After Albert had collected all the information that could be obtained, his persuasion of Laniska’s innocence was confirmed.
On Tuesday Frederick had promised to come to the countess’s conversazione. The company, previous to his majesty’s arrival, were all assembled round the sofa, on which she was seated, and they were eagerly talking over Laniska’s affair. “What a blessing it is,” cried the English traveller, “to live in a country where no man can be imprisoned without knowing of what he is accused! What a blessing it is to live under a government where no man can be condemned without trial, and where his trial must be carried on in open day, in the face of his country, his peers, his equals!”— The Englishman was in the midst of a warm eulogium upon the British mode of trial by jury, when Frederick entered the room, as it was his custom, without being announced: and the company were so intently listening to our traveller, they did not perceive that the king was one of his auditors. “Would to Heaven,” cried the Countess Laniska, when the Englishman paused —“would to Heaven my son could have the advantage of such a trial!”
“And would to Heaven,” exclaimed Albert, “that I might plead his cause!”
“On one condition,” said Frederick; and, at the sound of his voice, every one started —“on one condition, young man, your prayer shall be granted. You shall plead your friend’s cause, upon condition that, if you do not convince his judges of his innocence, you shall share his punishment. His punishment will be a twelvemonth’s imprisonment in the castle of Spandau; and yours the same, if you fail to establish your cause and his. Next to the folly of being imprudent ourselves, that of choosing imprudent friends is the most dangerous. Laniska shall be tried by his equals; and, since twelve is the golden, harmonic, divine number, for which justice has a blind predilection, let him have twelve judges, and call them, if you please, a jury. But I will name my counsel, and you counsel for Laniska. You know the conditions — do you accept of them?”
“Willingly, sire!” cried Albert, joyfully. “You will permit me to have access to the prisoner in the castle of Spandau?”
“That is a new condition; but I grant it. The governor shall have orders to admit you to see and converse with his prisoner for two hours; but if, after that conversation, your opinion of your friend should change, you will not blame me if I hold you to your word.”
Albert declared that he desired no more: and the Countess Laniska, and all who were present, joined in praising Frederick’s clemency and Albert’s generosity. The imprisonment of Laniska had been much talked of, not only in public companies at Potzdam and at Berlin, but, what affected Frederick much more nearly, it had become the subject of conversation amongst the literati in his own palace at Sans Souci. An English traveller, of some reputation in the literary world, also knew the circumstances, and was interested in the fate of the young count. Frederick seems to have had a strong desire to be represented in an amiable point of view by writers who, he believed, could transmit his fame to posterity. Careless of what might be said of him, he was anxious that nothing should be printed derogatory to his reputation. Whether the desire to give to foreigners a striking proof of his magnanimity, or whether his regard for the young count, and his friendship for his mother, were his motives in granting to Laniska this trial by jury, cannot and need not be determined. Unmixed virtue is not to be expected from kings more than from common men.
After his visit to the prisoner in the castle of Spandau, Albert felt no inclination to recede from the agreement into which he had entered; but Laniska was much alarmed when he was told of what had passed. “Oh, my generous friend!” exclaimed the young count, “why did you accept of the conditions offered to you by the king? You may — I am sure you do — believe in my innocence; but you will never be able to prove it. You will soon be involved in my disgrace.”
“I shall think it no disgrace,” replied Albert, “to be the fellow-prisoner of an innocent friend.”
“Do not you remember,” said Laniska, “that, as we were returning from Berlin, after my unlucky visit to the porcelain manufactory, you promised me, that whenever I should be in want of your weapons, they should be at my service? I little thought that I should so soon be in such need of them. Farewell — I pray for their success.”
On the day appointed for the trial of Laniska, crowds of people of all ranks flocked to hear the proceedings. A spacious building in Potzdam, intended for a barrack, was, upon this occasion, converted into a hall of justice; a temporary gallery was erected for the accommodation of the audience; and a platform was raised in the centre of the hall, where the judge’s chair was placed: on the right hand of his chair a space was railed in for the reception of the twelve young gentlemen, who were to act as jurors; on the left another space was railed in for spectators. In the front there was a large table, on each side of which were benches for the counsel and witnesses: those for the crown on the right hand; those for the prisoner on the left. Every thing had, by the king’s orders, been prepared in this manner, according to the English custom.
The Countess Laniska now entered the court, with a few friends, who had not yet forsaken her. They took their seats at the lower end of the gallery; and as every eye turned upon the mother, who waited to hear the trial of her son, an awful silence prevailed. This lasted but for a few moments; it was succeeded by a general whispering amongst the crowds, both in the hall and in the gallery. Each individual gave his opinion concerning the event of the trial: some declared that the circumstances which must appear against Laniska were so strong, that it was madness in Albert to undertake his defence; others expressed great admiration of Albert’s intrepid confidence in himself and his friend. Many studied the countenance of the king, to discover what his wishes might be; and a thousand idle conjectures were formed from his most insignificant movements.
At length, the temporary judge having taken his seat, twelve young gentlemen were chosen, from the most respectable families in Potzdam, to act as jurors. The prisoner was summoned to answer to the charges brought against him, in the name of Frederick the Second, king of Prussia. Laniska appeared, guarded by two officers: he walked up to the steps of the platform with an air of dignity, which seemed expressive of conscious innocence; but his countenance betrayed involuntary marks of emotion, too strong for him to command, when, on raising his eyes, he beheld his friend Albert, who stood full in his view. Albert maintained an immovable composure of countenance. The prisoner was now asked whether he had any objections to make to any of the twelve persons who had been selected to judge his cause. He made none. They proceeded to take an oath, “that, in their decision, they would suffer no motives to influence them but a sense of truth and justice.” The judge then rose, and addressing himself to the jury, said:—
“You are here, by the king’s order, to form your opinions concerning the guilt or innocence of the prisoner, commonly known by the name of Count Augustus Laniska. You will learn the nature and circumstances of the accusation against him from Mr. Warendorff, the gentleman on my right hand, who in this cause has the honour of being counsel for his majesty. You will hear from the gentleman on my left, Albert Altenburg, all that can be said in defence of the prisoner, for whom he voluntarily offers himself as counsel. After having listened to the arguments that may be adduced, and to the witnesses that shall be examined on each side, you are, gentlemen, according to the tenour of the oath which has just been administered to you, to decide, without regard to any consideration but truth and justice. Your opinion is to be delivered to me by the eldest amongst you, and it is to be expressed in one or other of these phrases —guilty or not guilty.
“When I shall have heard your decision, I am, in his majesty’s name, to pronounce sentence accordingly. If the prisoner be judged by you not guilty, I am to announce to him that he is thenceforward at liberty, and that no stain affixes to his honour from the accusation that has been preferred against him, or from his late imprisonment, or from this public trial. If, on the contrary, your judgment shall be, that the prisoner is guilty, I am to remand him to the castle of Spandau, where he is to remain confined for twelve months from this day. To the same punishment I am also to condemn Albert Altenburg, if he fail to establish in your minds the innocence of the Count Laniska. It is upon this condition that he is permitted to plead the cause of his friend.
“Gentlemen, you are called upon to give impartial attention in this cause, by your duty to your king and to your country.”
As soon as the judge, after making this short address to the jury, had seated himself, Mr. Warendorff, counsel for the crown, rose, and spoke in the following manner:—
“My lord, and gentlemen of the jury,
“It is with inexpressible concern that I find myself called upon to plead in this cause. To be the accuser of any man is an invidious task: to be the accuser of such a man as I once thought — as you perhaps still think — the young Count Laniska must, to a person of generous feelings, be in a high degree difficult and distressing. I do not pretend to more generosity or delicacy of sentiment than others; but I beg any of you, gentlemen, to imagine yourselves for a moment in my place, and to conceive what must be my sensations as a man, and as an advocate. I am not ignorant how popular the name of Augustus Laniska is, both in Berlin and Potzdam. I am not ignorant that the young count has been in the habit of living amongst you, gentlemen, on terms of familiarity, friendship, and confidence; nor can I doubt that the graceful, manly manner, and open deportment, for which he is so eminently distinguished, must have strongly prepossessed you in his favour. I am not ignorant that I have to plead against him before his friends, in the presence of his mother — a mother respected even in a higher degree than her son is beloved; respected for her feminine virtues — for her more than feminine endowments; who, had she no other claim upon your hearts, must, by the unfortunate situation in which she now appears, command your sympathy.
“You must all of you feel, likewise, strongly prepossessed in favour of that noble-minded youth, who has undertaken to defend the prisoner’s cause, at the hazard of sharing his punishment. I respect the general character of Albert Altenburg; I admire his abilities; I applaud him, for standing forward in defence of his friend; I pity him, because he has a friend, for whom, I fear, even he will find it impossible to establish any plausible defence. But the idea that he is acting handsomely, and that he has the sympathy of numbers in his favour, will doubtless support the young advocate in his arduous task. He appears in this court in the striking character of counsel, disinterested counsel, for his friend.
“Gentlemen, I also appear in this court as counsel, disinterested counsel for a friend. Yes, gentlemen, I am permitted to call Frederick the Great my friend. He is not, as other great monarchs have been, ambitious to raise himself above the sphere of humanity; he does not desire to be addressed in the fulsome strains either of courtly or of poetical adulation: he wishes not to be worshipped as a god, but to be respected as a man12. It is his desire to have friends that shall be faithful, or subjects that shall be obedient. Happy his obedient subjects — they are secure of his protection: happy, thrice happy, his faithful friends — they are honoured with his favour and his confidence. It was in the power of the prisoner now before you to have been in this enviable class. You all of you know that the Countess Laniska, his mother, has for years been honoured by the friendship of her sovereign; even the conduct of her son has not been able to shake his confidence in her. A Pole by birth, Augustus Laniska was educated amongst the first of the Prussian nobility, at the military academy at Potzdam, that nursery of heroes. From such an education — from the son of such a mother — honourable sentiments and honourable conduct were to be expected. Most confidently were they expected by his king, who distinguished the young count, as you all know, even in his boyish days. The count is said to be of a temper naturally impetuous: the errors into which such a temper too publicly betrayed him were pardoned by the indulgence of his king. I am compelled to recall one recent instance of the truth of these assertions, as it is immediately connected with the present cause.”
Here Mr. Warendorff related all that had passed at the porcelain manufactory at Berlin, and the king’s subsequent conduct towards Count Laniska. On the magnanimity of his majesty, the eloquent counsel expatiated for a considerable time; but the applauses with which this part of his oration was received by a party in the gallery, who were seated near the king, were so loud, as almost to drown the voice of the orator, and effectually to distract the attention of those employed to take down his words. When he could again be heard distinctly, he resumed as follows:
“I am not surprised at these testimonies of admiration which burst from the warm hearts of his majesty’s subjects; I am only surprised that a heart could be found in his dominions on whom such magnanimity could make no impression. I am shocked, I am grieved, when I find such a heart in the person of Count Laniska. Can it be believed that, in the course of one short month after this generous pardon, that young nobleman proved himself the basest of traitors — a traitor to the king, who was his friend and benefactor? Daring no longer openly to attack, he attempted secretly to wound the fame of his sovereign. You all of you know what a degree of liberty, even licence, Frederick the Great permits to that species of satirical wit with which the populace delight to ridicule their rulers. At this instant there are various anonymous pasquinades on the garden-gates at Sans Souci, which would have provoked the resentment — the fatal resentment — of any other monarch upon earth. It cannot be doubted that the authors of these things could easily be discovered, if the king condescended to make any inquiries concerning them: it cannot be doubted that the king has power to punish the offenders: yet they remain untouched, perhaps unknown. Our sovereign is not capable of feeling the petty emotions of vulgar spleen or resentment; but he could not be insensible to the treacherous ingratitude of one, whom he imagined to have been attached to him by every tie of kindness and of duty. That the Count Laniska should choose the instant when the king was showing him unusual favour, to make that favour an instrument of his base malice, is scarcely credible. Yet, Prussians, incredible as it sounds to us, it is true. Here are my proofs: here are my witnesses.”
Mr. Warendorff, at this instant, uncovered the Prussian Vase, and then pointed to a Jew, and to the master of the porcelain manufactory, who stood beside him, ready to give their evidence. We omit that part of Mr. Warendorff’s speech which contained the facts that have been already related. The Prussian Vase was handed to the jury: the verses in praise of Frederick the Great were read, and the word tyrant was seen, afterward, with the utmost surprise. In the midst of the general indignation, Mr. Warendorff called upon the Jew to come forward and give his evidence. This Jew was an old man, and there was something remarkable in his looks. His head was still; his neck was stiff; but his eyes moved with incessant celerity from side to side, and he seemed uneasy at not being able to see what was passing behind him: there was a certain firmness in his attitude, but his voice trembled when he attempted to speak. All these circumstances prepossessed Laniska’s friends against the Jew the moment he appeared; and it was justly observed, that his having the misfortune to be a Jew was sufficient to prejudice many of the populace against him, even before a word he uttered reached their ears. But impartial spectators judged that the poor man was only terrified at being called upon to speak in so large an assembly. Solomon (for that was the name of the Jew), after having taken an oath upon the Talmud that he would speak nothing but the truth, made the following answers to the questions put to him by Mr. Warendorff:—
Mr. Warendorff. —“Did you ever see this vase before?”
Mr. Warendorff. —“Where? when? Tell all you know about it to the gentlemen of the jury.”
Solomon. —“The first time I saw that vase was in the gallery of paintings, at the king’s palace of Sans Souci; to the best of my recollection, it was on the night of the first day of the month, about ten o’clock, or, perhaps, it might be eleven: I wish to be exact; but I cannot be certain as to the hour precisely.”
Mr. Warendorff. —“The exact hour is not of any consequence: proceed. Tell us how you came to see this vase. Take your time to speak. We are in no hurry: the truth will appear sooner or later.”
Solomon. —“His majesty himself put the vase into my hands, and commanded me to pack it up, with some other china, which he was going to send as a present to a gentleman at Paris. I am something of a judge of china myself, being used to selling small pieces of it up and down the town and country. So I was struck with the first sight of this beautiful vase; I looked at it very carefully, and wiped away, with my handkerchief, the dust which had settled on the white figures: here is the very handkerchief. I wiped the vase all over; but, when I came to rub the bottom, I stopped to read the verses on the character of Frederick the Great; and having read these, I rubbed the white letters quite clean: the ground on which they were written was blue. I found that some of the blue colour came off upon my handkerchief, which surprised me a good deal. Upon examining further, I perceived that the colour came off only in one spot, of about an inch long, and half an inch broad. The king was at this time standing with his back to me, looking at a new picture which had just been hung up in the gallery; but hearing me make an exclamation (‘Father Abraham!’ I believe it was that I said), his majesty turned round. ‘What is the matter with you, Solomon? You look wondrous wise,’ his majesty was pleased to say. ‘Why do you call on Father Abraham at this time of day? Do you expect that he will help you to pack up that china — hey, Solomon, my friend?’ I had no power to answer this question, for by this time, to my utter astonishment, I had discovered that, on the spot where I had rubbed off the blue paint, there was a word written — the word was tyrant. ‘On the character of Frederick, the great tyrant!’ Said I to myself —‘what can this mean?’ The king snatched the vase from my hands, read what I had read, saw the paint which had been rubbed off upon my handkerchief, and without saying one word left the gallery. This is all I know about the matter.”
The Jew bowed to the court, and Mr. Warendorff told him that, having closed his evidence, he might depart. But Albert rose to desire that the judge would order him to remain in court, as he purposed to examine, or, according to the English term, to cross-examine him further, at a proper time. The judge ordered the Jew to remain in court. The next witness called, on the part of the crown, was the master of the porcelain manufactory of Berlin; to whom Mr. Warendorff put the following questions:—
Q. —“Have you seen the verses which are inscribed on the foot of this vase?”
Answer. —“Yes, I have.”
Q. —“Do you recollect what words are written over the verses?”
Answer. —“I do: the words are —‘On the character of Frederick, the great tyrant.’”
Q. —“Do you know by whom those words and these verses were written?”
Answer. —“I believe that they were written by Count Augustus Laniska.”
Q. —“How do you know? or why do you believe it?”
Answer. —“I was present when Sophia Mansfeld, the woman by whom the vase was designed, told the count that she did not know how to write, and that she would be obliged to him if he would write the inscription himself on it. The vase at this time had not been put into the furnace. It was in what we call biscuit. The Count Laniska took a proper tool, and said that he would write the inscription as she desired. I saw him writing on the bottom of the vase for some minutes. I heard him afterward call to one of the workmen, and desire that he would put the vase into the furnace: the workman accordingly carried it into the next room to the furnace, as I believe.”
Q. —“Did you see the inscription on the vase after it was taken out of the furnace? and was the word ‘tyrant’ then on it?”
Answer. —“I did not see the vase immediately upon its being taken out of the furnace; but I saw it about an hour afterward. At that time I read the inscription: the word ‘tyrant’ was not then visible on the vase; the place where it now appears was blue. I carried it myself, along with some others, to the king’s palace at Sans Souci. The night of the first day of this month his majesty sent for me, and showed me the word tyrant on the vase: I had never seen it there till then. It could not have been written after the china was baked: it must have been written whilst the biscuit was soft; and it must have been covered over with the blue paint after the vase was taken out of the furnace. I believe the word was written by Count Laniska, because I saw nobody else write upon the vase hut him; because the word exactly resembles the handwriting of the rest of the inscription; and because I, upon a former occasion, heard the count make use of that very word in speaking of Frederick the Great.”
Here the master of the porcelain manufactory finished speaking, and was going, with Mr. Warendorff’s permission, to retire; but Albert signified his intention to cross-examine him also, and the judge commanded that he should remain in court. The two next witnesses who were produced and examined were the workman who carried the vase to the furnace, and the man whose business it was to put the biscuit into the furnace. Neither of these witnesses could write or read. The workman deposed, that he carried the Prussian Vase, as he was desired, to the furnace; that no one touched it on the way thither. The man whose business it was to put the biscuit into the furnace swore that he put it along with several other vases into the furnace; that he attended the fire, and that no one touched any of them till they were baked and taken out by him. Here the evidence for the prosecution closed. Mr. Warendorff observed, that he should forbear to expatiate further upon the conduct of the prisoner; that he had been ordered by his sovereign to speak of him with all possible moderation; that he earnestly hoped the defence that should be made for Count Laniska might be satisfactory; and that the mode of trial which had been granted to him by the king was a sufficient proof of the clemency of his majesty, and of his earnest desire to allow the prisoner every possible means of re-establishing his character in the eyes of the public. Albert now rose. The Count Laniska, who had appeared unmoved during Mr. Warendorff’s oration, changed countenance the moment Albert rose in his defence; the Countess Laniska leaned forward over the rails of the gallery in breathless anxiety: there was no sound heard in the whole gallery, except the jingling of the chain of the king’s sword, with which he was playing.
“I shall not attempt, gentlemen,” said Albert, “to move your sympathy by a pathetic description of my own feelings as a man, and as an advocate. Whatever mine may be, it is my wish and my duty to repress them. I have need of that calm possession of my understanding, which will be necessary to convince yours of the innocence of my friend. To convince is my object. If it were in my power, I should, upon the present occasion, disdain to persuade. I should think it equally incompatible with my own honour and that of the Count Laniska. With these sentiments, I refrain, Prussians, from all eulogium upon the magnanimity of your king. Praises from a traitor, or from the advocate of a traitor, must be unworthy of a great monarch, or of a generous people. If the prisoner before you shall be proved to be no traitor, he will doubtless have opportunities of expressing by actions, better than I can by words, his gratitude to his sovereign, for having allowed him this public trial by his equals — men who are able to discern and to assert the truth. It cannot have escaped their observation, that no positive evidence whatever has yet been produced against the prisoner. No one has yet been heard to swear that he saw Count Laniska write the word tyrant upon this vase. The first witness, Solomon the Jew, has informed us of what our senses could not leave us room to doubt, that the word is actually engraved upon the porcelain: further, he has told us that it was covered over with blue paint, which he rubbed off with his handkerchief. All this may be true; but the wisdom of Solomon, united to that of Baron Warendorff, has failed to point out to us any certain connexion between this blue paint, this handkerchief, and the supposed guilt of the Count Laniska. The master of the porcelain manufactory came next, and I apprehended that, as being a more respectable witness than the Jew, it was reserved for him to supply this link in the chain of evidence. But this respectable witness simply swore, that he heard a woman say she could not write or read; that she asked Count Laniska to write an inscription upon a vase for her; that, in consequence of this request, the count wrote something upon the vase, he does not pretend to know what; but he believes that the word tyrant must have been one of the words then written by the count, because he saw no one else write on the vase; because the hand-writing of that word resembles the rest of the inscription; and because the count, in his hearing, had, upon a former occasion, made use of the same expression in speaking of the king. I recapitulate this evidence, to show that it is in no part positive: that it all rests upon circumstances. In order to demonstrate to you that the word in question could not have been written by any person but Laniska, two witnesses are produced — the workman who carried the vase to the furnace, and he who put it into the fire. The one has positively sworn that no person touched the vase on the way to the furnace. The other as positively swears that no one meddled with the vase after it was put into the furnace.
“It is granted that the word could not have been engraved after the biscuit was baked. The witness, however, has not sworn, or asserted, that there was no interval of time between his receiving the vase and his putting it into the fire. What became of it during this interval? How long did it last? Will the witness swear that no one touched it during this interval?
“These are questions which I shall put to him presently. I hope I have established my first assertion, that you have no positive evidence of the prisoner’s guilt.
“You well know, gentlemen, that where positive evidence of any supposed fact cannot be produced, our judgments must be decided by the balance of probabilities; and it is for this reason that the study of probabilities, and the power of comparing them, has, in a late celebrated essay, been called the Science of Judges.13 To you, judges of my friend, all the probabilities of his supposed guilt have been stated. Weigh and compare them with those which I shall produce in favour of his innocence. His education, his character, his understanding, are all in his favour. The Count Laniska must be much below the common standard of human virtue and capacity, if, without any assignable motive, he could have committed an action at once so base and so absurd as this of which he is accused. His temper is naturally or habitually open and impetuous, even to extreme imprudence. An instance of this imprudence, and of the manner in which it was pardoned by the king, has been stated to you. Is it probable that the same man should be both ingenuous and mean? Is it probable that the generosity with which he was treated made no impression upon his heart? His heart must, upon this supposition, be selfish and unfeeling. Look up, gentlemen, towards that gallery — look at that anxious mother! those eager friends! Could Laniska’s fate excite such anxiety, if he were selfish and unfeeling? Impossible! But, suppose him destitute of every generous sentiment, you cannot imagine Count Laniska to be a fool. You have been lately reminded that he was early distinguished for his abilities by a monarch, whose penetration we cannot doubt. He was high in the favour of his sovereign: just entering upon life — a military life; his hopes of distinction resting entirely upon the good opinion of his general and his king: all these fair expectations he sacrifices — for what? for the pleasure — but it could be no pleasure — for the folly of writing a single word. Unless the Count Laniska be supposed to have been possessed with an insane desire of writing the word tyrant, how can we account for his writing it upon this vase? Did he wish to convey to France the idea, that Frederick the Great is a tyrant? A man of common sense could surely have found, at least, safer methods of doing so than by engraving it as his opinion upon a vase which he knew was to pass through the hands of the sovereign whom he purposed thus treacherously to insult. The extreme improbability that any man in the situation, with the character, habits, and capacity of Count Laniska, should have acted in this manner amounts, in my judgment, almost to a moral impossibility. I knew nothing more, gentlemen, of this cause, when I first offered to defend Laniska at the hazard of my liberty: it was not merely from the enthusiasm of friendship that I made this offer; it was from the sober conviction of my understanding, founded upon the accurate calculation of moral probabilities.
“It has been my good fortune, gentlemen, in the course of the inquiries which I have since made, to obtain further confirmation of my opinion. Without attempting any of that species of oratory which may be necessary to cover falsehood, but which would encumber instead of adorning truth, I shall now, in the simplest manner in my power, lay the evidence before the court.”
The first witness Albert called was the workman who carried the vase to the man at the furnace. Upon his cross-examination, he said that he did not deliver the vase into the hands of the man at the furnace, but that he put it, along with several other pieces, upon a tray, on a table, which stood near the furnace.
Albert. —“You are certain that you put it upon a tray?”
Witness. —“Quite certain.”
Albert. —“What reason have you for remembering that circumstance particularly?”
Witness. —“I remember it, because I at first set this vase upon the ledge of the tray, and it was nearly falling. I was frightened at that accident, which makes me particularly remember the thing. I made room upon the tray for the vase, and left it quite safe upon the tray: I am positive of it.”
Albert. —“That is all I want with you, my good friend.”
The next witness called was the man whose business it was to put the vases into the furnace.
Albert. —“Did you see the witness who was last examined put this vase upon a tray when he left it under your care?”
Witness. —“I did.”
Albert. —“You are certain that he put it upon the tray? What reason have you to remember that circumstance particularly?”
Witness. —“I remember it, because I heard the witness cry out, ‘There, William, I had like to have thrown down this cursed vase; but, look you here, I’ve left it quite safe upon the tray.’ Upon this, I turned and looked, and saw that vase standing upon the tray, safe, with some others.”
Albert. —“Do you recollect any thing else that passed?”
Witness. —“Only that the witness told me I must put it — the vase, I mean — into the furnace directly; and I answered to that, ‘All in good time; the furnace is not ready yet; it will go in along with the rest.’”
Albert. —“Then you did not put it into the furnace immediately after it was left with you?”
Witness. —“No, I did not — but that was not my fault — I could not; the furnace was not hot enough.”
Albert. —“How long do you think it was, from the time it was left upon the tray, till you put it into the furnace?”
Witness. —“I don’t know — I can’t be positive: it might be a quarter of an hour, or twenty minutes; or it might be half an hour. I cannot be positive, sir; I cannot be positive.”
Albert. —“You need not be positive. Nobody wants you to be positive. Nobody wants to entrap you, my good friend. During this quarter of an hour, or twenty minutes, or half an hour, that you speak of, did you ever lose sight of this vase?”
Witness. —“To be sure I did. I did not stand watching it all the while. Why should I? It was safe enough.”
Albert. —“Do you recollect where you found the vase when you took it to put it into the furnace?”
Witness. —“Yes: it was standing as it might be here, in the middle of the table.”
Albert. —“Do you recollect whether it was standing upon the tray or not?”
Witness. —“It was not upon the tray, as I recollect: no, I’m sure it was not, for I carried to the furnace first the tray and all that was on it, and then I remember, I came back for this, which was standing, as I said before, as it might be here, in the middle of the table.”
Albert. —“Was any body, except yourself, at the furnace, or in the room, from the time that this vase was brought to you, till you put it into the furnace?”
Witness. —“Not as I remember. It was our dinner-time. All the men, except myself, were gone to dinner: I stayed to mind the furnace.”
Albert. —“It was you, then, that took this vase off the tray, was it?”
Witness. —“No, it was not. I never took it off the tray. I told you it was not upon the tray with the others; I told you it was upon the table, as it might be here.”
Albert. —“Yes, when you were going to put it into the furnace, you said that you saw it standing in the middle of the table; but you recollect that you saw the workman who brought it put it upon the tray. You told us you remembered that circumstance perfectly.”
Witness. —“Yes, so I do.”
Albert. —“The vase could not have got off the tray of itself. You did not take it off. How came it off, do you think?”
Witness. —“I don’t know. I can’t tell. Somebody, to be sure, must have taken it off. I was minding the furnace. My back was to the door. I don’t recollect seeing any body come in; but many might have come in and out, without my heeding them.”
Albert. —“Take your own time, my good friend. Recollect yourself; perhaps you may remember.”
Witness. —“Oh, yes, now you put me upon recollecting, I do remember that Solomon the Jew came in, and asked me where Sophia Mansfeld was; and it certainly must have been he who took the vase off the tray; for now I recollect, as I looked round once from the furnace, I saw him with it in his hand; he was looking at the bottom of it, as I remember: he said, here are some fine verses, or some such thing; but I was minding the furnace. That’s all I know about the matter.”
Albert. —“That is enough.”
The next witness who came forward was the husband of Sophia Mansfeld. — He deposed, that on the 29th of April, the day on which the Prussian Vase was finished, as stated by the former evidence, and sent to be put into the furnace, he met Sophia Mansfeld in the street: she was going home to dinner. He asked to see the vase: she said that it was, she believed, put into the furnace, and that he could not then see it; that she was sorry he had not come sooner, for that he could have written the inscription on it for her, and that would have spared her the shame of telling Count Laniska that she could not read or write. She added, that the count had written all that was wanting for her. The witness, being impatient to see the vase, went as fast as he could to the manufactory, in hopes of getting a sight of it before it was put into the furnace. He met Solomon the Jew at the door of the manufactory, who told him that he was too late, that all the vases were in the furnace; he had just seen them put in. The Jew, as the witness now recollects, though it did not strike him at the time, was eager to prevent him from going into the furnace-room. Solomon took him by the arm, and walked with him up the street, talking to him of some money which he was to remit to Meissen, to Sophia Mansfeld’s father and mother.
Albert asked the witness on whose account this money was to be remitted by the Jew to Meissen.
Witness. —“The money was to be remitted on Sophia Mansfeld’s account.”
Albert. —“Did she borrow it from the Jew?”
Witness. —“No; the Jew owed it to her for work done by her. She had the art of painting on glass. She had painted some glasses for a large magic lantern, and several small pictures on glass. She did these things at the hours when she was not obliged to be at the manufactory. She rose very early in the morning and worked hard. She sold her work to the Jew upon condition that he would remit the price agreed upon to her father and mother, who were old, and depended on her for support.”
Albert. —“Was the money punctually remitted to her father and mother by the Jew?”
Witness. —“Not a farthing of it was remitted by him, as Sophia discovered since her return to Meissen.”
Albert. —“Did you ever hear this Jew say any thing about Sophia Mansfeld’s returning to Saxony?”
Witness. —“Yes; I once heard the Jew say that he hoped she never would leave Berlin, because she was of great use to him. He advised me to settle in Berlin. This passed about six weeks ago. About a week before the prize was decided by the king, I met the Jew, and told him Sophia had good hopes of getting back to Saxony. He looked very much vexed, and said, ‘She is not sure of that.’”
Albert. —“Did you ever hear this Jew speak of Count Laniska?”
Witness. —“Yes, about two months ago I saw him in the street when I was speaking to Solomon, and I asked the Jew who he was. He answered, ‘He is the Count Laniska — a man that I hate, and on whom I will be revenged some time or other.’ I asked why he hated the count. The Jew replied, ‘Because the Christian dog has made the corps of Jews his laughing-stock. This day, when my son was going through his manual exercise before the king, Count Laniska was holding his sides with laughter. I’ll be revenged upon him some time or other.’”
Albert. —“I have no occasion, sir, to trouble you with any farther questions.”
The next witness who appeared was a druggist of Berlin. He deposed, that, on the 30th of April, Solomon the Jew came to his shop and asked for blue paints; that, after trying the colours very carefully upon the back of a letter, which he took out of his pocket, he bought a small quantity of a shade of blue, which the witness produced in court.
Albert ordered that the paint should be handed to the gentlemen of the jury, that they might compare it with the blue ground of the Prussian Vase. With this it was found, upon comparison, to match exactly.
Albert to the druggist. —“Do you know what became of the paper upon which you say the Jew tried your colours?”
Witness. —“Yes; here it is. I found it under the counter, after the Jew went away, and I kept it to return to him, as I saw there was an account on the other side of the paper, which I imagined he might want. He never happened to call at my shop afterwards, and I forgot that I had such a paper, till you, sir, called upon me about a week ago, to make inquiry on this subject. You desired me to keep the paper carefully, and not to let any one know that it was in my possession, till the day on which the trial of Count Laniska was to come on. I have complied with your request, and here is the paper.”
The paper was handed to the jury; and one of the shades of blue exactly matched that of the ground of the Prussian Vase. Albert now called upon the Jew to produce, once more, the handkerchief with which he had rubbed off the paint. The chain of evidence was now complete, for the blue on the handkerchief was precisely the same as the colours on the paper and on the vase. After the jury had satisfied themselves of this resemblance, Albert begged that they would read what was written upon the paper. The first thing that struck their eyes was the word tyrant frequently repeated, as if by some one who had been practising to write different hands. One of these words was an exact resemblance of the word tyrant on the Prussian Vase; and Albert pointed out a circumstance, which had till now escaped attention, that the letter r, in this word, was made differently from all the ars in the rest of the inscription. The writing of the Count Laniska had, in every other respect, been successfully imitated.
After Albert had shown these things to the jury, he here closed the evidence in favour of the prisoner, observing, that the length of time which the trial had lasted seemed to have somewhat fatigued both the judge and jury; and, knowing that it was now their usual hour of dinner, he prudently forbore to make a long speech upon the evidence which had been laid before them in favour of his friend: he left it to their own understandings to determine the balance of probabilities between the honour of Count Laniska and the honesty of Solomon the Jew.
The judge, in a manner which would have done honour even to the English bench, summed up the evidence on both sides, and gave a distinct and impressive charge to the jury, who, without leaving the court, gave a verdict in favour of the prisoner. Loud acclamations filled the hall. In the midst of these acclamations, the word —“Silence!” was pronounced by that voice which never failed to command instantaneous obedience in Prussia. All eyes turned upon the monarch.
“This court is now dissolved,” said his majesty. “My judgment confirms the verdict of the jury. Count Laniska, I took your sword from you too hastily. Accept of mine in its stead.” And as he pronounced these words, Frederick ungirded his sword, and presented it to the young count. “As for you, sir,” continued the king, addressing himself to Albert, “you want no sword for the defence of your friends. Your arms are superior to ours. Let me engage them in my service; and, trust me, I shall not leave them long unemployed, or unrewarded.”
There was but one person present to whom this speech seemed to give no satisfaction. This person was Solomon the Jew, who stood apart, waiting in black silence to learn his own fate. He was sentenced, not to a year’s imprisonment in the castle of Spandau, but to sweep the streets of Potzdam (including the court in front of Count Laniska’s palace) for a twelvemonth.
After having heard this sentence, which was universally approved of, the spectators began to retire.
The king dined — it is always important to know where great men dine — Frederick the Great dined this day at the Countess Laniska’s, in company with her son, his friend Albert, and the English traveller. After dinner, the king withdrew to attend parade; and it was observed that he wore the Count Laniska’s sword.
“You will allow,” said the countess to the English traveller, “that our king is a great man; for none but great men can bear to acknowledge that they have been mistaken.”
“You will allow, madam,” replied the Englishman, “that it was our English trial by jury which convinced the king of his mistake.”
“And you applaud him for granting that trial,” said Albert.
“To a certain degree I do,” said the Englishman, from whom it was difficult to extort praise of a despotic king —“to a certain degree, I do; but you will observe, that this trial by jury, which is a matter of favour to you Prussians, is a matter of right to us Englishmen. Much as I admire your king of Prussia, I admire our English constitution more.”
9 Vide Wraxall’g Memoirs of the Court of Berlin.]
10 Wraxall’s Memoirs of the Court of Berlin, &c.]
11 Darwin. — See his description of the Barberini vase in the Botanic Garden. We hope our readers will pardon this anachronism.]
13 Voltaire — Essai sur les Probabilités en fait de Justice.]
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