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King Frederick for his Voltaire: As a curious young prince and heir to the throne of Prussia, Frederick II sent a letter to the renowned Enlightenment philosophe Voltaire, marking the beginning of a long and quite complicated relationship. Their relationship began as one of a teacher and student, as the pair exchanged letters on topics ranging from politics to poetry. The correspondence continued to develop after Frederick became King of Prussia, although the friendship did see its share of turbulence as Voltaire's ideals clashed with the king's pursuit of military conquests. Carlyle was certainly well versed in the history of this relationship, as he wrote the twenty-one volume History of Frederich II of Prussia, called Frederick the Great.

Carlyle, who laments society's trend towards mechanism in "Signs of the Times," cites the personal relationship between Voltaire and Frederick as a paradigm of education before the advent of the Mechanical Age. Carlyle sees the one-on-one connection between mentor and pupil dying out in academic institutes that serve their own purposes, rather than holding the central goal of enabling its students to learn. He generalizes: "No individual now hopes to accomplish the poorest enterprise single-handed and without mechanical aids; he must make interest with some existing corporation, and till his field with their oxen" (Carlyle 102). In the context of education, Carlyle describes the mechanization as the development of academic institutes while the personal student-teacher bond fades away. In the relationship of Frederick the Great and Voltaire, Carlyle sees the antithesis of the "Philosophic Institutes...to which it is expected the stray agencies of Wisdom will swarm of their own accord, and hive and make honey" (Carlyle 102); theirs is a human relationship, in which friendship experiences the tumult of disagreements and diverging interests, and the academic machines lack that personal quality that gives life and character to learning. He also suggests that the mechanical institutes deprive brilliant minds of connections people of power who can "painfully nourish [them] with pensions and flattery," as Frederick did Voltaire.


Strachey, Lytton. "Voltaire and Frederick the Great." Books and Characters, French and English. 1915. EServer. 2010. 22 March 2010.

"Frederick II of Prussia." Wikipedia. 2010. Wikimedia Foundation. 22 March 2010.

Last modified 24 March 2010