With a wise instinct, Friedrich Wilhelm had discerned that all things in Prussia must point towards his Army; that his Army was the heart and pith; the State being the tree, every branch and leaf bound, after its sort, to be nutritive and productive for the Army's behoof. That, probably for any Nation in the long-run, and certainly for the Prussian Nation straightway, life or death depends on the Army: Friedrich Wilhelm's head, in an inarticulate manner, was full of this just notion; and all his life was spent in organizing it to a practical fact. The more of potential battle, the more of life is in us: a MAXIMUM of potential battle, therefore; and let it be the OPTIMUM in quality! How Friedrich Wilhelm cared, day and night, with all his heart and all his soul, to bring his Army to the supreme pitch, we have often heard; and the more we look into his ways, the more we are impressed with that fact. It was the central thing for him; all other things circulating towards it, deriving from it: no labor too great, and none too little, to be undergone for such an object. He watched over it like an Argus, with eyes that reached everywhere. Discipline shall be as exact as Euclid;--short of perfection we do not stop! Discipline and ever better discipline; enforcement of the rule in all points, improvement of the rule itself where possible, were the great Drill-sergeant's continual care. Daily had some loop fallen, which might have gone ravelling far enough; but daily was he there to pick it up again, and keep the web unrent and solidly progressive.
We said, it was the "poetic ideal" of Friedrich Wilhelm; who is a dumb poet in several particulars,--and requires the privileges of genius from those that READ his dumb poem. It must be owned he rises into the fantastic here and there; and has crotchets of ultraperfection for his Army, which are not rational at all. Crotchets that grew ever madder, the farther he followed them. This Lifeguard Regiment of foot, for instance, in which the Crown-Prince now is,--Friedrich Wilhelm got it in his Father's time, no doubt a regiment then of fair qualities; and he has kept drilling it, improving it, as poets polish stanzas, unweariedly ever since:--and see now what it has grown to! A Potsdam Giant Regiment, such as the world never saw, before or since. Three Battalions of them,--two always here at Potsdam doing formal lifeguard duty, the third at Brandenburg on drill; 800 to the Battalion,--2,400 sons of Anak in all. Sublime enough, hugely perfect to the royal eye, such a mass of shining giants, in their long-drawn regularities and mathematical manoeuvrings,--like some streak of Promethean lightning, realized here at last, in the vulgar dusk of things!
Truly they are men supreme in discipline, in beauty of equipment; and the shortest man of them rises, I think, towards seven feet, some are nearly nine feet high. Men from all countries; a hundred and odd come annually, as we saw, from Russia,--a very precious windfall: the rest have been collected, crimped, purchased out of every European country, at enormous expense, not to speak of other trouble to his Majesty. James Kirkman, an Irish recruit of good inches, cost him 1,200 pounds before he could be got inveigled, shipped and brought safe to hand. The documents are yet in existence; [Forster,
Here, in reference to one other of those poor Giants, is an Anecdote from Fassmann (who is very full on this subject of the Giants; abstruse Historical Fassmann, often painfully cited by us): a most small Anecdote, but then an indisputably certain one; --which brings back to us, in a strange way, the vanished Time and its populations; as the poorest authentic wooden lucifer may do, kindling suddenly, and' peopling the void Night for moments, to the seeing eye!--
Fassmann, a very dark German literary man, in obsolete costume and garniture, how living or what doing we cannot guess, found himself at Paris, gazing about, in the year 1713; where, among other things, the Fair of St. Germain was going on. Loud, large Fair of St. Germain, "which lasts from Candlemas to the Monday before Easter;" and Fassmann one day took a walk of contemplation through the same. Much noise, gesticulation, little meaning. Show-booths, temporary theatres, merry-andrews, sleight-of-hand men; and a vast public, drinking, dancing, gambling, flirting, as its wont is. Nothing new for us there; new only that it all lies five generations from us now. Did "the Old Pretender," who was then in his expectant period, in this same village of St. Germain, see it too, as Fassmann did? And Louis XIV., he is at Versailles; drooping fast, very dull to his Maintenon. And our little Fritz in Berlin is a child in arms;--and the world is all awake as usual, while Fassmann strolls through this noisy inanity of show-booths, in the year 1713.
Strolling along, Fassmann came upon a certain booth with an enormous Picture hung aloft in front of it: "Picture of a very tall man, in HEYDUC livery, coat reaching to his ankles, in grand peruke, cap and big heron-plume, with these words, 'LE GEANT ALLEMAND (German Giant),' written underneath. Partly from curiosity, partly "for country's sake," Fassmann expended twopence; viewed the gigantic fellow-creature; admits he had never seen one so tall; though "Bentenrieder, the Imperial Diplomatist," thought by some to be the tallest of men, had come athwart him once. This giant's name was Muller; birthplace the neighborhood of Weissenfels;--"a Saxon like myself. He had a small German Wife, not half his size. He made money readily, showing himself about, in France, England, Holland;"--and Fassmann went his way, thinking no more of the fellow.--But now, continues Fassmann:--
"Coming to Potsdam, thirteen years after, in the spring of 1726, by his Majesty's order, to"--in fact, to read the Newspapers to his Majesty, and be generally useful, chiefly in the Tobacco-College, as we shall discover,--"what was my surprise to find this same 'GEANT ALLEMAND' of St. Germain ranked among the King's Grenadiers! No doubt of the identity: I renewed acquaintance with the man; his little German Wife was dead; but he had got an English one instead, an uncommonly shifty creature. They had a neat little dwelling-house [as most of the married giants had], near the Palace: here the Wife sold beer [brandy not permissible on any terms], and lodged travellers;-- I myself have lodged there on occasion. In the course of some years, the man took swelling in the legs; good for nothing as a grenadier; and was like to fall heavy on society. But no, his little Wife snatched him up, easily getting his discharge; carried him over with her to England, where he again became a show-giant, and they were doing very well, when last heard of,"-- in the Country-Wakes of George II.'s early time. And that is the real Biography of one Potsdam Giant, by a literary gentleman who had lodged with him on occasion. [Fassmann, pp. 723-730.]
The pay of these sublime Footguards is greatly higher than common; they have distinguished privileges and treatment: on the other hand, their discipline is nonpareil, and discharge is never to be dreamt of, while strength lasts. Poor Kirkman, does he sometimes think of the Hill of Howth, and that he will never see it more? Kirkman, I judge, is not given to thought;--considers that he has tobacco here, and privileges and perquisites; and that Howth, and Heaven itself, is inaccessible to many a man.