FRIEDRICH WILHELM'S RECRUITING DIFFICULTIES.
Tall men, not for this regiment only, had become a necessary of life to Friedrich Wilhelm. Indispensable to him almost as his daily bread, To his heart there is no road so ready as that of presenting a tall man or two. Friedrich Wilhelm's regiments are now, by his exact new regulations, levied and recruited each in its own Canton, or specific district: there all males as soon as born are enrolled; liable to serve, when they have grown to years and strength. All grown men (under certain exceptions, as of a widow's eldest son, or of the like evidently ruinous cases) are liable to serve; Captain of the Regiment and AMTMANN of the Canton settle between them which grown man it shall be. Better for you not to be tall! In fact it is almost a kindness of Heaven to be gifted with some safe impediment of body, slightly crooked back or the like, if you much dislike the career of honor under Friedrich Wilhelm. A general shadow of unquiet apprehension we can well fancy hanging over those rural populations, and much unpleasant haggling now and then;--nothing but the King's justice that can be appealed to. King's justice, very great indeed, but heavily checked by the King's value for handsome soldiers.
Happily his value for industrial laborers and increase of population is likewise great. Townsfolk, skilful workmen as the theory supposes, are exempt; the more ingenious classes, generally, his Majesty exempts in this respect, to encourage them in others. For, on the whole, he is not less a Captain of Work, to his Nation, than of other things. What he did for Prussia in the way of industries, improvements, new manufactures, new methods; in settling "colonies," tearing up drowned bogs and subduing them into dry cornfields; in building, draining, digging, and encouraging or forcing others to do so, would take a long chapter. He is the enemy of Chaos, not the friend of it, wherever you meet with him.
For example, Potsdam itself. Potsdam, now a pleasant, grassy, leafy place, branching out extensively in fine stone architecture, with swept pavements; where, as in other places, the traveller finds land and water separated into two firmaments,--Friedrich Wilhelm found much of it a quagmire, land and water still weltering in one. In these very years, his cuttings, embankments, buildings, pile-drivings there, are enormous; and his perseverance needs to be invincible. For instance, looking out, one morning after heavy rain, upon some extensive anti-quagmire operations and strong pile-drivings, he finds half a furlong of his latest heavy piling clean gone. What in the world has become of it? Pooh, the swollen lake has burst it topsy-turvy; and it floats yonder, bottom uppermost, a half-furlong of distracted liquid-peat. Whereat his Majesty gave a loud laugh, says Bielfeld, [Baron de Bielfeld,
No danger of this "Canton-system" of recruitment to the more ingenious classes, who could do better than learn drill. Nor, to say truth, does the poor clayey peasant suffer from it, according to his apprehensions. Often perhaps, could he count profit and loss, he might find himself a gainer: the career of honor turns out to be, at least, a career of practical Stoicism and Spartanism; useful to any peasant or to any prince. Cleanliness, of person and even of mind; fixed rigor of method, sobriety, frugality, these are virtues worth acquiring. Sobriety in the matter of drink is much attended to here: his Majesty permits no distillation of strong-waters in Potsdam, or within so many miles; [Fassmann, p. 728.] nor is sale of such allowed, except in the most intensely select manner. The soldier's pay is in the highest degree exiguous; not above three halfpence a day, for a common foot-soldier, in addition to what rations he has:--but it is found adequate to its purpose, too; supports the soldier in sound health, vigorously fit for his work; into which points his Majesty looks with his own eyes, and will admit no dubiety. Often, too, if not already OFTENEST (as it ultimately grew to be), the peasant-soldier gets home for many months of the year, a soldier-ploughman; and labors for his living in the old way. His Captain (it is one of the Captain's perquisites, who is generally a veteran of fifty, with a long Spartan training, before he gets so high) pockets the pay of all these furloughs, supernumerary to the real work of the regiment;--and has certain important furnishings to yield in return.
At any rate, enrolment, in time of peace, cannot fall on many: three or four recruits in the year, to replace vacancies, will carry the Canton through its crisis. For we are to note withal, the third part of every regiment can, and should by rule, consist of "foreigners,"--men not born Prussians. These are generally men levied in the Imperial Free-towns; "in the REICH" or Empire, as they term it; that is to say, or is mainly to say, in the countries of Germany that are not Austrian or Prussian. For this foreign third-part too, the recruits must be got; excuses not admissible for Captain or Colonel; nothing but recruits of the due inches will do. Captain and Colonel (supporting their enterprise on frugal adequate "perquisites," hinted of above) have to be on the outlook; vigilantly, eagerly; and must contrive to get them. Nay, we can take supernumerary recruits; and have in fact always on hand, attached to each regiment, a stock of such. Any number of recruits, that stand well on their legs, are welcome; and for a tall man there is joyin Potsdam, almost as if he were a wise man or a good man.
The consequence is, all countries, especially all German countries, are infested with a new species of predatory two-legged animals: Prussian recruiters. They glide about, under disguise if necessary; lynx-eyed, eager almost as the Jesuit hounds are; not hunting the souls of men, as the spiritual Jesuits do, but their bodies in a merciless carnivorous manner. Better not to be too tall, in any country, at present! Irish Kirkman could not be protected by the aegis of the British Constitution itself. In general, however, the Prussian recruiter, on British ground, reports, That the people are too well off, that there is little to be done in those parts. A tall British sailor, if we pick him up strolling about Memel or the Baltic ports, is inexorably claimed by the Diplomatists; no business do-able till after restoration of him; and he proves a mere loss to us. [Despatches in the State-Paper Office.] Germany, Holland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, these are the fruitful fields for us, and there we do hunt with some vigor.
For example, in the town of Julich there lived and worked a tall young carpenter: one day a well-dressed positive-looking gentleman ("Baron von Hompesch," the records name him) enters the shop; wants "a stout chest, with lock on it, for household purposes; must be of such and such dimensions, six feet six in length especially, and that is an indispensable point,--in fact it will be longer than yourself, I think, Herr Zimmermann: what is the cost; when can it be ready?" Cost, time, and the rest are settled. "A right stout chest, then; and see you don't forget the size; if too short, it will be of no use to me: mind;"--"JA WOHL! GEWISS!" And the positive-looking, well-clad gentleman goes his ways. At the appointed day he reappears; the chest is ready;-- we hope, an unexceptionable article? "Too short, as I dreaded!" says the positive gentleman. "Nay, your honor," says the carpenter, "I am certain it is six feet six!" and takes out his foot-rule.--"Pshaw, it was to be longer than yourself." "Well, it is."--"No it isn't!" The carpenter, to end the matter, gets into his chest; and will convince any and all mortals. No sooner is he in, rightly flat, than the positive gentleman, a Prussian recruiting officer in disguise, slams down the lid upon him; locks it; whistles in three stout fellows, who pick up the chest, gravely walk through the streets with it, open it in a safe place; and find-horrible to relate--the poor carpenter dead; choked by want of air in this frightful middle-passage of his. [Forster, ii. 305, 306; Pollnitz, ii. 518, 519.] Name of the Town is given, Julich as above; date not. And if the thing had been only a popular Myth, is it not a significant one? But it is too true; the tall carpenter lay dead, and Hompesch got "imprisoned for life" by the business.