Frederick II of Prussia

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A single Voltaire will do more honor to France than a thousand pedants, a thousand false wits, a thousand great men of inferior order.

"I was young, had a big army, a full treasury, and I wanted to see my name in the newspapers"<--published where?--> Frederick II of Prussia (January 24, 1712August 17, 1786) was king of Prussia from 1740 to 1786. He was also known as Friedrich der Große (Frederick the Great)


  • Ich empfinde für das göttliche Wesen die tiefste Verehrung und hüte mich deshalb sehr, ihm ein ungerechtes, wankelmütiges Verhalten zuzuschreiben, das man beim geringsten Sterblichen verurteilen würde. Aus diesem Grunde, liebe Schwester, glaube ich lieber nicht, dass das allmächtige, gütige Wesen sich im mindesten um die menschlichen Angelegenheiten kümmert. Vielmehr schreibe ich alles, was geschieht, den Geschöpfen und notwendigen Wirkungen unberechenbarer Ursachen zu und beuge mich schweigend vor diesem anbetungswürdigen Wesen, indem ich meine Unwissenheit über seine Wege eingestehe, die mir zu offenbaren seiner göttlichen Weisheit nicht gefallen hat.
    • I feel the deepest veneration for the divine being, and therefore I am careful not to attribute to him unjust, fickle behavior, which would be condemned by the meanest mortal. Because of that, dear sister, I prefer not to believe that the almighty, benevolent being is at all concerned with human affairs. Rather I do attribute everything that happens to the living beings and certain effects of incalculable causes and I silently bow down before this being which is worthy of adoration, by admitting my ignorance concerning his ways, which his godly wisdom chose not to reveal.
    • Letter to princess Amalie von Preußen[specific citation needed]
  • I think it better to keep a profound silence with regard to the Christian fables, which are canonized by their antiquity and the credulity of absurd and insipid people.
    • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), trans. Richard Aldington, letter 37 from Frederick to Voltaire (June 1738)
  • A single Voltaire will do more honor to France than a thousand pedants, a thousand false wits, a thousand great men of inferior order.
    • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), trans. Richard Aldington, letter 48 from Frederick to Voltaire (1740-01-06)
  • Avec toute l’algèbre du monde on n’est souvent qu’un sot lorsqu’on ne sait pas autre chose. Peut-être dans dix ans la société tirera-t-elle de l’avantage des courbes que des songe-creux d’algébristes auront carrées laborieusement. J’en félicite d’avance la postérité; mais, à vous parler vrai, je ne vois dans tous ces calculs qu’une scientifique extravagance. Tout ce qui n’est ni utile ni agréable ne vaut rien. Quant aux choses utiles, elles sont toutes trouvées; et, pour les agréables, j’espère que le bon goût n’y admettra point d’algèbre.
    • [A] man with all the algebra in the world is often only an ass when he knows nothing else. Perhaps in ten years society may derive advantage from the curves which these visionary algebraists will have laboriously squared. I congratulate posterity beforehand. But to tell you the truth I see nothing but a scientific extravagance in all these calculations. That which is neither useful nor agreeable is worthless. And as for useful things, they have all been discovered; and to those which are agreeable, I hope that good taste will not admit algebra among them.
    • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), trans. Richard Aldington, letter 93 from Frederick to Voltaire (1749-05-16)
  • Do you think I take any pleasure in this dog's life, in seeing and causing death in people unknown to me, in losing friends and acquaintances daily, in seeing my reputation ceaselessly exposed to the caprices of fortune, in spending the whole year with uneasiness and apprehension, in continually risking my life and my fortune? I certainly know the value of tranquility, the charms of society, the pleasures of life, and I like to be happy as much as anybody. Although I desire all these good things, I will not buy them with baseness and infamy. Philosophy teaches us to do our duty, to serve our country faithfully at the expense of our blood and of our repose, to commit our whole being to it.
    • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), trans. Richard Aldington, letter 141 from Frederick to Voltaire (1759-07-02)
  • Neither antiquity nor any other nation has imagined a more atrocious and blasphemous absurdity than that of eating God. — This is how Christians treat the autocrat of the universe.
    • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), trans. Richard Aldington, letter 215 from Frederick to Voltaire (1776-03-19)
  • It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects, and the amount of money that goes out of the country as a consequence. Everybody is using coffee; this must be prevented. His Majesty was brought up on beer, and so were both his ancestors and officers. Many battles have been fought and won by soldiers nourished on beer, and the King does not believe that coffee-drinking soldiers can be relied upon to endure hardships in case of another war.
    • 1777; quoted by Bert L. Vallée, Alcohol in the Western World, Scientific American, Vol. 278, No. 6 (June), 1998, pp. 80-85
  • As to your Newton, I confess I do not understand his void and his gravity; I admit he has demonstrated the movement of the heavenly bodies with more exactitude than his forerunners; but you will admit it is an absurdity to maintain the existence of Nothing.
    • Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano's, 1927), trans. Richard Aldington, letter 221 from Frederick to Voltaire (1777-11-25)
  • Je voulus faire un jet d’eau dans mon jardin; Euler calcula l’effort des roues pour faire monter l’eau dans un bassin, d’où elle devait retomber par des canaux, afin de jaillir à Sans-Souci. Mon moulin a été exécuté géométriquement, et il n’a pu élever une goutte d’eau à cinquante pas du bassin. Vanité des vanités! vanité de la géométrie!
    • I wanted to have a water jet in my garden: Euler calculated the force of the wheels necessary to raise the water to a reservoir, from where it should fall back through channels, finally spurting out in Sans Souci. My mill was carried out geometrically and could not raise a mouthful of water closer than fifty paces from the reservoir. Vanity of vanities! Vanity of geometry!
    • Letter H 7434 from Frederick to Voltaire (1778-01-25)
  • (About the battle of Kunersdorf) "I shall not survive this cruel misfortune. The consequences will be worse than defeat itself. I have no resources left, and, to speak quite frankly I believe everything is lost. I shall not outlive the downfall of my country. Farewell, forever!"
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  • Machiavel's The Prince is to ethics what the work of Spinoza is to faith. Spinoza sapped the fundamentals of faith, and drained the spirit of religion; Machiavel corrupted policy, and undertook to destroy the precepts of healthy morals: the errors of the first were only errors of speculation, but those of the other had a practical thrust. [...] I always have regarded The Prince as one of the most dangerous works which were spread in the world; it is a book which falls naturally into the hands of princes, and of those who have a taste for policy. [...] There is a real injustice in concluding that the rotten apples are representative of all of them.
    • Foreword
  • It is thus the justice (one would have to say) which must be the main responsibility of a sovereign. Since it is the prime interest of the many people whom they control, they must give it priority over any other interest of their own. What then becomes of Machiavel's recommendations of naked self-interest, self-aggrandizement, unleashed ambition and despotism? The sovereign, far from being the absolute Master of the people which are under his domination, is only the first servant.
    • Ch. 1 : What A Strong Prince Really Is, And How One Can Reach That Point
  • It is a fact that princes who try to raise other princes with violence, end up destroying themselves.
    • Ch. 3 : Mixed Principalities
  • We humans are foolish in many ways: we want to conquer all as if we had all time, as if our lives did not have any end. Thus, our real time passes too quickly, and often when one believes that they are working only for themselves, they are in fact working for unworthy or ungrateful successors.
    • Ch. 5 : How It Is Necessary To Control The Cities, Or The Principalities, Which Are Controlled By Their Own Laws Before They Were Conquered
  • Hero demolished both his friends and his soldiers, who had helped him in the execution of his plans; he found new friends, and raised other troops. I say, in spite of Machiavel and of the ingrates, that this policy of Hero is very bad, and that it is much more prudent to trust the troops which have tested and known value, and have friends whose loyalty has also been tested. The new and unknown ones are also unsafe. I leave the reader to push this reasoning further; all those who detest ingratitude, and who truly value friendship, will not remain neutral on this matter.
    • Ch. 6 : New States That The Prince Acquires By His Valor And His Own Weapons


  • Like a long boat which follows in the wake of the warship to which it is tied.
    • On the decline of the Dutch Republic subject to British power
    • Attributed in T. C. W. Blanning, The Eighteenth Century (Oxford, 2000)
  • If my soldiers began to think, not one would remain in the ranks.
    • Attributed in J.A. Houlding, Fit for Service: The Training of the British Army, 1715-1795 (Oxford, 1981)
  • "My people and I," he said, "have come to an agreement which satisfies us both. They are to say what they please, and I am to do what I please."
    • Attributed by Thomas Babington Macaulay, Life of Frederick the Great (1882), pg 48.
    • Repeated by Thomas Babington Macaulay in a review of "Frederick the Great and his Times. Edited, with an Introduction, by Thomas Campbell, Esq". Edinburgh Review, ISSN 1751-8482, 04/1842, Volume 75, Issue 151, p. 241-242, though it does not appear in the original work.
    • Knowles, Oxford Dictionary Of Quotations (5th Edition) (Oxford University Press, 1999)
  • Rascals, would you live forever?
    • To hesitant guards at Kolin, 18 June 1757
    • Attributed in E. M. Knowles, Oxford Dictionary Of Quotations (5th Edition) (Oxford University Press, 1999)
    • "Kerels, wollt ihr den euwig leben?" Frederick the Great, by David Fraser, Penguin 2000, p. 353 Other versions have it: "Hünde, wollt ihr euwig leben?" (Dogs, do you want to live for ever?).
  • Diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments.
  • I begin by taking. I shall find scholars later to demonstrate my perfect right.
  • Christianity… is an old metaphysical fiction, stuffed with fables, contradictions and absurdities: it was spawned in the fevered imagination of the Orientals, and then spread to our Europe, where some fanatics espoused it, where some intriguers pretended to be convinced by it and where some imbeciles actually believed it. Attributed in "The West and the Rest", by Niall Ferguson, Penguin 2011 (Kindle edition).
  • If I had a province to punish, I would let it be governed by philosophers. Attributed in The Orthodox churchman's magazine; or, A Treasury of divine and useful knowledge (1803).


  • Audacity, audacity, always audacity!
    • Il nous faut de l'audace, encore de l'audace, toujours de l'audace! [1]
    • We must dare, dare again, always dare!
    • Georges Danton, speech, Assemblée legislative, Paris (1792-09-02), reported in Le Moniteur (1792-09-04)

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