The paternal heart ran over with glad fondness, invoking Heaven to confirm the omen. Mother was told of it; the phenomenon was talked of,--beautifulest, hopefulest of little drummers. Painter Pesne, a French Immigrant, or Importee, of the last reign, a man of great skill with his brush, whom History yet thanks on several occasions, was sent for; or he heard of the incident, and volunteered his services. A Portrait of little Fritz drumming, with Wilhelmina looking on; to which, probably for the sake of color and pictorial effect, a Blackamoor, aside with parasol in hand, grinning approbation, has been added,--was sketched, and dexterously worked out in oil, by Painter Pesne. Picture approved by mankind there and then. And it still hangs on the wall, in a perfect state, in Charlottenburg Palace; where the judicious tourist may see it without difficulty, and institute reflections on it.
A really graceful little Picture; and certainly, to Prussian men, not without weight of meaning. Nor perhaps to Picture-Collectors and Cognoscenti generally, of whatever couutry,--if they could forget, for a moment, the correggiosity of Correggio, and the learned babble of the Sale-room and varnishing Auctioneer; and think, "Why it is, probably, that Pictures exist in this world, and to what end the divine art of Painting was bestowed, by the earnest gods, upon poor mankind?" I could advise it, once, for a little! Flaying of Saint Bartholomew, Rape of Europa, Rape of the Sabines, Piping and Amours of goat-footed Pan, Romulus suckled by the Wolf: all this, and much else of fabulous, distant, unimportant, not to say impossible, ugly and unworthy, shall pass without undue severity of criticism, in a Household of such opulence as ours, where much goes to waste, and where things are not on an earnest footing for this long while past! As Created Objects, or as Phantasms of such, pictorially done, all this shall have much worth, or shall have little. But I say, Here withal is one not phantasmal; of indisputable certainty, home-grown, just commencing business, who carried it far!
Fritz is still, if not in "long-clothes," at least in longish and flowing clothes, of the petticoat sort, which look as of dark-blue velvet, very simple, pretty and appropriate; in a cap of the same; has a short raven's feather in the cap; and looks up, with a face and eyes full of beautiful vivacity and child's enthusiasm, one of the beautifulest little figures, while the little drum responds to his bits of drumsticks. Sister Wilhelmina, taller by some three years, looks on in pretty marching attitude, and with a graver smile. Blackamoor, and accompaniments elegant enough; and finally the figure of a grenadier, on guard, seen far off through an opening,--make up the background.
We have engravings of this Picture; which are of clumsy poor quality, and misrepresent it much: an excellent Copy in oil, what might be called almost a fac-simile and the perfection of a Copy, is now (1854) in Lord Ashburton's Collection here in England. In the Berlin Galleries,--which are made up, like other Galleries, of goat-footed Pan, Europa's Bull, Romulus's She-Wolf, and the correggiosity of Correggio; and contain, for instance, no Portrait of Frederick the Great; no Likenesses at all, or next to none at all, of the noble series of Human Realities, or of any part of them, who have sprung not from the idle brains of dreaming Dilettanti, but from the Head of God Almighty, to make this poor authentic Earth a little memorable for us, and to do a little work that may be eternal there:--in those expensive Halls of "High Art" at Berlin, there were, to my experience, few Pictures more agreeable than this of Pesne's. Welcome, like one tiny islet of Reality amid the shoreless sea of Phantasms, to the reflective mind, seriously loving and seeking what is worthy and memorable, seriously hating and avoiding what is the reverse, and intent not to play the dilettante in this world.
The same Pesne, an excellent Artist, has painted Friedrich as Prince-Royal: a beautiful young man with MOIST-looking enthusiastic eyes of extraordinary brilliancy, smooth oval face; considerably resembling his Mother. After which period, authentic Pictures of Friedrich are sought for to little purpose. For it seems he never sat to any Painter, in his reigning days; and the Prussian Chodowiecki, [Pronounce KODOV-YETSKI;--and endeavor to make some acquaintance with this "Prussian Hogarth," who has real worth and originality.] Saxon Graff, English Cunningham had to pick up his physiognomy from the distance, intermittently, as they could. Nor is Rauch's grand equestrian Sculpture a thing to be believed, or perhaps pretending much to be so. The commonly received Portrait of Friedrich, which all German limners can draw at once,--the cocked-hat, big eyes and alert air, reminding you of some uncommonly brisk Invalid Drill-sergeant or Greenwich Pensioner, as much as of a Royai Hero,--is nothing but a general extract and average of all the faces of Friedrich, such as has been tacitly agreed upon; and is definable as a received pictorial-myth, by no means as a fact, or credible resemblance of life.
But enough now of Pictures. This of the Little Drummer, the painting and the thing painted which remain to us, may be taken as Friedrich's first appearance on the stage of the world; and welcomed accordingly. It is one of the very few visualities or definite certainties we can lay hold of, in those young years of his, and bring conclusively home to our imagination, out of the
waste Prussian dust-clouds of uninstructive garrulity which pretend to record them for us. Whether it came into existence as a shadowy emanation from the Stralsund Expedition, can only be matter of conjecture. To judge by size, these figures must have been painted about the year 1715; Fritz some three or four years old, his sister Wilhelmina seven.
It remains only to be intimated, that Friedrich Wilhelm, for his part, had got all he claimed from this Expedition: namely, Stettin with the dependent Towns, and quietness in Pommern. Stettin was, from of old, the capital of his own part of Pommern; thrown in along with the other parts of Pommern, and given to Sweden (from sheer necessity, it was avowed), at the Peace of Westphalia, sixty years ago or more:--and now, by good chance, it has come back. Wait another hundred years, and perhaps Swedish Pommern altogether will come back! But from all this Friedrich Wilhelm is still far. Stettin and quiet are all he dreams of demanding there.