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Frederick II

Character

Frederick was tolerant in religious matters, personally professing atheism to his intimates. Cold and curt, he relaxed only during his famous midnight suppers at Sans Souci, his residence at Potsdam. There he was surrounded by a group of educated men, mostly French, that included at times Voltaire (who broke with him in 1753 but who later resumed his friendship from a safe distance), d'Alembert, La Mettrie, and Maupertuis.

Frederick's wit was corrosive and icy. He wrote inconsequential poetry and remarkable prose on politics, history, military science, philosophy, law, and literature. Nearly all his writings were in French. He failed to appreciate such men as Lessing and Goethe, who were among his most ardent admirers. A pupil of Quantz, he played the flute creditably, and he composed marches, concertos for the flute, and other pieces. Frederick's personal appearance in his later years—small, sharp-featured, untidy, and snuff-stained—has become part of the legend of "Old Fritz." He was succeeded by his nephew, Frederick William II.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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