“Let us deceive the fever, my dear Voltaire, and let me have at least the pleasure of embracing you. Make my best excuses to Madame the Marquise that I can not have the satisfaction of seeing her at Brussels. All that are about me know the intention I was in, which certainly nothing but the fever could make me change.Frederick, in his Histoire de mon Temps, states that, in the negotiations which at this time took place in Berlin, France pressed the king to bring forward his armies into vigorous co-operation; that England exhorted him to make peace with Austria; that Spain solicited his alliance in her warfare against England; that Denmark implored his counsel as to the course it was wise for that kingdom to pursue; that Sweden entreated his aid against Russia; that Russia besought his good offices to make298 peace with the court at Stockholm; and that the German empire, anxious for peace, entreated him to put an end to those troubles which were convulsing all Europe.
“We have been running about like fools, quite inflated with our victory, to see if we could not chase the Austrians out of Dresden. But they made mockery of us from the tops of their mountains. So I have withdrawn, like a naughty little boy, to hide myself, out of spite, in one of the most cursed villages of Saxony. We must now drive these gentlemen of the imperial army out of Freiberg in order to get something to eat and a place to sleep in.158The Crown Prince Frederick had married the daughter of the Duke of Brunswick. She was a very beautiful, proud, high-spirited woman. Her husband was a worthless fellow, dissolute in the extreme. She, stung to madness, and unrestrained by Christian537 principle, retaliated in kind. A divorce was the result. The discarded princess retired to the castle of Stettin, where she lived in comparative seclusion, though surrounded with elegance.
“After dinner,” writes Voltaire, “the king retired alone into his cabinet, and made verses till five or six o’clock. A concert commenced at seven, in which the king performed on the flute as well as the best musician. The pieces of music executed were also often of the king’s composition. On the days of public ceremonies he exhibited great magnificence. It was a fine spectacle to see him at table, surrounded by twenty princes of the empire, served on the most beautiful gold plate in Europe, and attended by thirty handsome pages, and as many young heyducs, superbly dressed, and carrying great dishes of massive gold. After these banquets the court attended the opera in the great theatre, three hundred feet long. The most admirable singers and the best dancers were at this time in the pay of the King of Prussia.”On the 15th of May, 1753, the Russian Senate had passed the resolution that it should henceforth be the policy of Russia not only to resist all further encroachments on the part of Prussia, but to seize the first opportunity to force the Prussian monarch back to the possession of simply his original boundary of Brandenburg. It was also agreed that, should Prussia attack any of the allies of Russia, or be attacked by any of them, the armies of the czar should immediately array themselves against the armies of Frederick. There were many other papers, more or less obscure, which rendered it very certain that Maria Theresa would ere long make a new attempt to regain Silesia, and that in that attempt she would be aided both by Russia and Poland. Frederick also knew full well that nothing would better please his uncle George II. of England than to see Prussia crowded back to her smallest limits. To add to Frederick’s embarrassment, France was hopelessly alienated from him.
“My very dear Sister,—It would be impossible to leave this place without signifying, dearest sister, my lively gratitude for all the marks of favor you showed me in the House on the Lake. The highest of all that it was possible to do was that of procuring me the satisfaction of paying my court to you. I beg millions of pardons for so incommoding you, dearest sister, but I could not help it, for you know my sad circumstances well enough. I entreat you write me often about your health. Adieu, my incomparable and dear sister. I am always the same to you, and will remain so till my death.“Formerly, my dear marquis, the affair of the 15th would have decided the campaign. At present it is but a scratch. A great battle must determine our fate. Such we shall soon have. Then, should the event prove favorable to us, you may, with good reason, rejoice. I thank you for your sympathy. It has cost much scheming, striving, and address to bring matters to this point. Do not speak to me of dangers. The last action cost me only a coat and a horse. That is buying victory cheap.151The Austrian army, which outnumbered the Prussian over three to one, was in a camp, very strongly fortified, near Breslau. A council of war was held. Some of the Austrian officers, dreading the prowess of their redoubtable opponent, advised that they should remain behind their intrenchments, and await an attack. It would, of course, be impossible for less than thirty thousand men to storm ramparts bristling with artillery, and defended by nearly ninety thousand highly disciplined and veteran troops.
It was supposed that his Prussian majesty would now march southwest for the invasion of Bohemia. Austria made vigorous preparations to meet him there. Much to the surprise and bewilderment449 of the Austrians, the latter part of April Frederick directed his columns toward the southeast. His army, about forty thousand strong, was in two divisions. By a rapid march through Neisse and Jagerndorf he reached Troppau, on the extreme southern frontier of Silesia. He then turned to the southwest. It was again supposed that he intended to invade Bohemia, but from the east instead of from the north.
Et des paysans en postillons masqués,“Some countries take six months, some twelve, to get in motion for war. But in three weeks Prussia can be across the frontiers and upon the throats of its enemy. Some countries have a longer sword than Prussia, but none can unsheath it so soon.”In reference to this event, the prince wrote to his mother from Potsdam, “I am in the utmost despair. What I had always apprehended has at last come on me. The king has entirely forgotten that I am his son. This morning I came into his room as usual. At the first sight of me he sprang forward, seized me by the collar, and struck me a shower of blows with his rattan. I tried in vain to screen myself, he was in so terrible a rage, almost out of himself. It was only weariness that made him give up. I am driven to extremity. I have too much honor to endure such treatment, and I am resolved to put an end to it in one way or another.”
The king could be very courteous. He gave a dinner-party, at which General Loudon, one of the most efficient of the Austrian generals, and who had often been successfully opposed to Frederick, was a guest. As he entered the king said,“Surrender to me peaceably,” was the substance of this demand, “the province of Silesia, and I will be the ally of your majesty in maintaining your right to the throne, and in defending the integrity of all the rest of your realms. I will exert my influence to have the Grand-duke Francis41 chosen Emperor of Germany, and will also immediately pay one million of dollars into the Austrian treasury.”
His wintry ride, a defeated monarch leaving a shattered army behind him, must have been dark and dreary. He had already exhausted nearly all the resources which his father, Frederick William, had accumulated. His army was demoralized, weakened, and his materiel of war greatly impaired. His subjects were already heavily taxed. Though practicing the most rigid economy, with his eye upon every expenditure, his disastrous Bohemian campaign had cost him three hundred and fifty thousand dollars a month. The least sum with which he could commence a new campaign for the protection of Silesia was four million five hundred thousand dollars. He had already melted up the sumptuous plate, and the massive silver balustrades and balconies where his father had deposited so much solid treasure.Maria Theresa, anxious to save Prague, sent an army of sixty thousand men under General Daun to its relief. This army, on the rapid march, had reached Kolin, about fifty miles east of415 Prague. Should General Daun, as was his plan, attack Frederick in the rear, while the fifty thousand in Prague should sally out and attack him in front, ruin would be almost inevitable. Frederick, gathering thirty-four thousand men, marched rapidly to Kolin and attacked the foe with the utmost possible fierceness. The Austrians not only nearly twice outnumbered him, but were also in a very commanding position, protected by earthworks. Never did men fight more reckless of life than did the Prussians upon this occasion.
Copyright © 2020