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"And you believe the king will accept this printed memorial of yours?"
"My friend, Counsellor Menken, has undertaken to deliver it to the king."
"In that case he will accept it, for he thinks very highly of Menken. But what did you tell the king in this memorial?"
"I gave him sound advice about government affairs."
"Advice! my friend, kings do not like to listen to advice, especially when it is given to them spontaneously. Did you confine yourself to general suggestions? You see I am very anxious to learn more about your bold enterprise. Just read the memorial to me, friend Gentz!"
"Ah, that would be a gigantic task for you to hear it, and for myself to read it, the memorial being quite lengthy. I ask the king therein in impressive and fervent words--oh, I wept myself when I penned them--to make his people happy and prosperous. I directed his attention to the various branches of our administration; first, to military affairs--"
"And you advise him to make war?" asked Gualtieri, hastily.
"No, I advise him always to be armed and prepared, but to maintain peace as long as it is compatible with his honor. Next I allude to the condition of our judicial and financial affairs. I beseech him to abstain from interference with the administration of justice, to insist upon a constant equilibrium being maintained between the expenses and revenues of the state, so as not to overburden his subjects with taxes, and not to curtail the development of commerce and industry by vexatious monopolies. Finally, I ask him to devote some attention to intellectual affairs and to the press."
"Oh, I expected that," said Gualtieri, smiling, "and I should not be surprised at all if you had been bold enough to ask the timid and diffident young king to grant freedom of the press to his people."
"Yes, that is what I ask him to do," said Gentz, enthusiastically. "You want me to read the whole memorial to you. Let me read at least what I have said about the freedom of the press. Will you listen to it?"
"Oh, I am most anxious to hear it," said Gualtieri, sitting down on the sofa.
Gentz took several sheets of paper from his desk, sat down opposite his friend and commenced reading in a loud and enthusiastic voice:
"Of all things repugnant to fetters, none can bear them as little as human thought. The oppression weighing down the latter is not merely injurious because it impedes what is good, but also because it promotes what is bad. Compulsion in matters of faith may be passed over in silence. It belongs to those antiquated evils on which now that there is greater danger of an utter prostration of religious ideas than of their fanatical abuse, only narrow-minded babblers are declaiming. Not so, however, with regard to freedom of the press. Misled by unfounded apprehensions, arising from the events of the times, even sagacious men might favor a system which, viewed in its true light, is more injurious to the interests of the government than it ever can be to the rights of the citizens, even in its most deplorable abuses."
"What, even aside from all other considerations, peremptorily and absolutely condemns any law muzzling the press, is the important fact that it is impossible to enforce it. Unless there be a regular inquisition watching over the execution of such a law, it is now-a- days utterly impossible to carry it out. The facilities for bringing ideas before the public are so great, as to render any measure destined to curtail this publicity a mere matter of derision. But if these laws prove ineffectual they may yet exasperate the people, and that is precisely their most dangerous feature; they exasperate without deterring. They instigate those against whom they are directed to offer a resistance which frequently not only remains successful, but moreover becomes glorious and honorable. The most wretched productions, whose real value would not secure a life of two hours, obtain general circulation because it seems to have required some degree of courage to write them. The most insignificant scribblers will be looked upon as men of mind, and the most venal writers suddenly become 'martyrs of truth.' A thousand noxious insects, whom a sunbeam of truth and real sagacity would have dispersed, favored by the darkness created for them with deplorable short-sightedness, insinuate themselves into the unarmed minds of the people, and instil their poison to the last drop, as though it were a forbidden delicacy of the most exquisite character. The only antidote, the productions of better writers, loses its strength because the uninformed only too easily mistake the advocates of salutary restrictions for the defenders of such as are manifestly unjust and oppressive."
"Let freedom of the press, therefore, be the immovable principle of your government, not as though the state or mankind, in this age so prolific in books, were interested in the publication of a thousand works more or less, but because your majesty is too great to maintain an unsuccessful, and therefore disastrous struggle, with petty adversaries. Every one should be held responsible, strictly responsible for unlawful acts and writings assuming such a character, but mere opinion should meet with no other adversary than its opposite, and if it be erroneous, with the truth. Never will such a system prove dangerous to a well-regulated state, and never has it injured such a one. Where it apparently became pernicious, destruction had preceded it already, and mortification and putrefaction had set in." [Footnote: Memorial respectfully presented to his majesty Frederick William III., on his accession to the throne, November 16, 1797, by Frederick Gentz.]
"Well?" asked Gentz, with glowing cheeks and flashing eyes, when he had ceased reading, "what do you think of my exposition of the freedom of the press? Is it not clear, convincing, and unanswerable? Will not the king see that my words contain the truth, and hence follow them?"
Gualtieri looked at his friend with an air of compassionate tenderness.
"Oh, you are a full-grown child," he said; "you still believe in the possibility of realizing Utopian dreams, and your faith is so honest, so manly! You want to force a scourge upon a timid young king, who most ardently desires to maintain peace, and to remain unnoticed, and tell him, 'With this scourge drive out the evil spirits and expel the lies, so as to cause daylight to dawn, and darkness to disappear!'--as though that daylight would not be sure to lay bare all the injuries and ulcers of which our own poor Prussia is suffering, and for which she greatly needs darkness and silence."
"What! you think the king will take no notice of my demands?"
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Louisa of Prussia and Her Times -by- Louisa Muhlbach