We have now reached the summer of 1729. George II. was a weak-minded, though a proud, conceited man, who, as King of England, assumed airs of superiority which greatly annoyed his irascible and petulant brother-in-law, Frederick William. Flushed with his new dignity, he visited his hereditary domain of Hanover. The journey led him through a portion of the Prussian territory. Courtesy required that George II. should announce that intention to the Prussian king. Courtesy also required that, as the British monarch passed over Prussian soil, Frederick William should furnish him with free post-horses. “I will furnish the post-horses,” said Frederick William, “if the king apprise me of his intention. If he do not, I shall do nothing about it.” George did not write. In affected unconsciousness that there was any such person in the world as the Prussian king, he crossed the Prussian territory, paid for his own post-horses, and did not even condescend to give Frederick William any notice of his arrival in Hanover. The King of Prussia, who could not but be conscious of the vast inferiority of Prussia to England, stung to the quick by this contemptuous treatment, growled ferociously in the Tobacco Parliament.“Potsdam, September 7, 1784.
Several well-authenticated anecdotes are given respecting the conduct of Frederick on this occasion, which illustrate the various phases in the character of this extraordinary man. The evening before the battle of Zorndorf, the king, having completed his arrangements for a conflict against vastly unequal numbers, upon whose issue were dependent probably both his throne and his life, sent for a member of his staff of some literary pretensions, and spent some time in criticising and amending one of the poems of Rousseau. Was this an affected display of calmness, the result of vanity? Was it an adroit measure to impress the officers with a conviction of his own sense of security? Was it an effort to throw off the terrible pressure which was upon his mind, as the noble Abraham Lincoln often found it to be a moral necessity to indulge in a jest even amidst scenes of the greatest anguish? Whatever may have been the motive, the fact is worthy of record.
While Frederick William was confined to his room, tormented by the gout, he endeavored to beguile the hours in painting in oil. Some of these paintings still exist, with the epigraph, “Painted by Frederick William in his torments.” Wilhelmina writes:The king was a very busy man. In addition to carrying on quite an extensive literary correspondence, he was vigorously engaged in writing his memoirs. He was also with great energy developing the wealth of his realms. In the exercise of absolute power, his government was entirely personal. He had no constitution to restrain him. Under his single control were concentrated all legislative, judicial, and executive powers. There was no senate or legislative corps to co-operate in framing laws. His ministers were merely servants to do his bidding. The courts had no powers whatever but such as he intrusted to them. He could at any time reverse their decrees, and flog the judges with his cane, or hang them.
Instantly, and “like a change of scene in the opera,” the Prussians were on the rapid march to the east in as perfect order as if on parade. Taking advantage of an eminence called James Hill, which concealed their movements from the allies, Frederick hurled his whole concentrated force upon the flank of the van of the army on the advance. He thus greatly outnumbered his foes at the point of attack. The enemy, taken by surprise in their long line of march, had no time to form.
The next day M. Hartoff called at the residence of M. Kannegiesser, and informed him “that the ministers, understanding that he designed to ask an audience to-morrow to remind them64 of the answer which he demanded, wished to say that such applications were not customary among sovereign princes; that they dared not treat farther in that affair with him; that, as soon as they received instructions from his Britannic majesty, they would communicate to him the result.”On the 16th of November General Neipperg broke up his camp at Neisse, according to the arrangement and, leaving a small garrison in the city to encounter the sham siege, defiled through the mountains on the south into Moravia. The Prussians, pretending to pursue, hung upon his rear for a short distance, making as much noise and inflicting as little harm as possible. General Neipperg pressed rapidly on to Vienna, where he was exultingly welcomed to aid in defending the city menaced by the French.
“Ah!” said the king, gayly, “we must have them back from him again.”
“‘Alive to it, he? Yes, with a witness, were there hope in the world!’ which threw G?rtz upon instant gallop toward Zweibrück Schloss in search of said heir, the young Duke August Christian; who, however, had left in the interim (summoned by his uncle, on Austrian urgency, to consent along with him), but whom G?rtz, by dexterity and intuition of symptoms, caught up by the road, with what a mutual joy! As had been expected, August Christian, on sight of G?rtz, with an armed Frederick looming in the distance, took at once into new courses and activities. From him no consent now; far other: treaty with Frederick; flat refusal ever to consent: application to the Reich, application even to France, and whatever a gallant young fellow could do.For seven weeks the siege of Olmütz was prosecuted with great vigor. With much skill Frederick protected his baggage trains in their long and exposed route of ninety miles through forests and mountain defiles. General Keith was intrusted with the details of the siege facing the town toward the east; Frederick, with a vigilant corps of horse and foot, was about twenty miles to the west, watching every movement of General Daun, so far as he was able through the thick cloud of Pandours, behind which the Austrian commander endeavored to conceal all his man?uvres.In his “epistle” Frederick had expressed the opinion that428 there was no God who took any interest in human affairs. He had also repeatedly expressed the resolve to Wilhelmina, and to Voltaire, to whom he had become partially reconciled, that he was prepared to commit suicide should events prove as disastrous as he had every reason to expect they would prove. He had also urged his sister to follow his example, and not to survive the ruin of the family. Such was the support which the king, in hours of adversity, found in that philosophy for which he had discarded the religion of Jesus Christ.
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“After a long search, I at length found him in a tower of a church, with a telescope in his hand. Never had I seen him in so much perplexity and anxiety as at this moment. The order he gave me was, ‘You must get out of this scrape as well as you can.’ I had hardly got back to my post when his adjutant337 followed me with a new order to cross the town, and to remain on horseback with my squadron in the opposite suburb.
“I arrived at last about one in the morning. I instantly threw myself on a bed. I was like to die of weariness, and in mortal terror that something had happened to my brother or the hereditary prince. The latter relieved me on his own score. He arrived at last about four o’clock; had still no news of my brother. I was beginning to doze a little, when they came to inform me that M. von Knobelsdorf wished to speak to me from the Prince Royal. I darted out of bed and ran to him.”详情
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