The general voice of history has severely condemned the Prussian king for this invasion of Silesia. Frederick probably217 owed his life to the interposition of the father of Maria Theresa, when the young prince was threatened with the scaffold by his own father. Prussia was bound by the most solemn guarantees to respect the integrity of the Austrian states. There was seemingly a great want of magnanimity in taking advantage of the extreme youth, inexperience, and delicate health of the young queen, who was also embarrassed by an empty treasury and a weakened and undisciplined army. Frederick had also made, in his Anti-Machiavel, loud protestations of his love of justice and magnanimity. Mr. Carlyle, while honestly stating these facts, still does not blame Frederick for seizing the opportunity which the death of the emperor presented for him to enlarge his dominions by plundering the domain of Maria Theresa.“He seemed embarrassed, and added, ‘But the universe is eternal.’
“My dear Brother,—Your bad conduct has greatly injured my affairs. It is not the enemy, but your ill-concerted measures, which have done me this harm. My generals also are inexcusable, whether they gave you bad advice or only suffered you to come to such injudicious resolutions. In this sad situation it only remains for me to make a last attempt. I must hazard a battle. If we can not conquer, we must all of us have ourselves killed.“You are too good. I am ashamed to abuse your indulgence. But do, since you are willing, try and sound the French, and learn what conditions of peace they would demand. Send that Mirabeau103 to France. Willingly will I pay the expense. He may offer as much as five million thalers [,750,000] to the Favorite104 for peace alone.”
CHAPTER XI. DIPLOMATIC INTRIGUES.About two hundred miles south of Berlin there was quite an important marquisate called Baireuth. The marquis had a good-looking young son, the heir-apparent, who had just returned from the grand tour of Europe. Upon the death of his father he would enter upon quite a rich inheritance. This young marquis, Frederick by name, Baron Borck proposed as a substitute for77 the Duke of Weissenfels. It was understood that Wilhelmina was such a prize that kings, even, would be eager to obtain her hand. There could therefore be no doubt but that the Marquis of Baireuth would feel signally honored by such nuptials. The worn and weary mother eagerly accepted this proposal. She suggested it to the king. Sullenly he gave it his assent, saying, “I will passively submit to it, but will take no active part whatever in the affair. Neither will I give Wilhelmina one single copper for dowry.”
With almost unprecedented rapidity Frederick pressed his troops along, accomplishing “in three marches near upon seventy miles.” The course of the Oder here is, in its general direction, northwest. The army marched along its southwestern banks. On Saturday evening, the last day of the year, the advance-guard took possession of the southern and western suburbs of Breslau.229 The city, of one hundred thousand inhabitants, was spread out over both banks of the stream. Frederick established his headquarters at the palace of Pilsnitz, about five miles from the city. There were many Protestants in Breslau, who rejoiced in the idea of exchanging a Catholic for a Protestant government. It is said that some of the sentinels on the walls would watch their opportunity and present arms to the Prussian soldiers, and even at times exclaim, “Welcome, dear sirs!Days of pain and nights of sleeplessness were his portion. A hard cough racked his frame. His strength failed him. Ulcerous sores broke out upon various parts of his body. A constant oppression at his chest rendered it impossible for him to lie down. Gout tortured him. His passage to the grave led through eighteen months of constant suffering. Dr. Zimmermann, in his diary of the 2d of August, writes:
Frederick divided his retreating army into two columns. One, led by the young Leopold, was to retire through Glatz. The other, led by Frederick, traversed a road a few leagues to the west, passing through K?niggratz. It was an awful retreat for both these divisions—through snow, and sleet, and mud, hungry, weary, freezing, with swarms of Pandours hanging upon their rear. Thousands perished by the way. The horrors of such a retreat no pen can describe. Their very guides deserted them, and became spies, to report their movements to the foe.
“Your true father to the death,“It will have been easy for you to conceive my grief when you reflect upon the loss I have had. There are some misfortunes which are reparable by constancy and courage, but there are others against which all the firmness with which one can arm one’s self, and all the reasonings of philosophers, are only vain and useless attempts at consolation.121 Of the latter kind is the one with which my unhappy fate overwhelms me, at a moment the most embarrassing and the most anxious of my whole life. I have not been so sick as you have heard. My only complaints are colics, sometimes hemorrhoidal, and sometimes nephritic.
As has often been mentioned, the carnage of the battle-field constitutes by no means the greater part of the miseries of war. One of the sufferers from the conflagration of the city of Cüstrin gives the following graphic account of the scene. It was the 15th of August, 1758:
“My dear Son Fritz,—I am glad you need no more medicine. But you must have a care of yourself some days yet, for the severe weather gives me and every body colds. So pray be on your guard.At the bridges Frederick found but three thousand men of his late army. The huts around were filled with the wounded and the dying, presenting an aspect of misery which, in these hours of terrible defeat, appalled his majesty. In one of these huts, surrounded by mutilated bodies, groans, and death, Frederick wrote the following dispatch to his minister (Finckenstein) at Berlin. It was dated Oetscher, August 12, 1759:
Frederick was astounded, alarmed, for a moment overwhelmed, as these tidings were clearly made known to him. He had brought all this upon himself. “And yet,” the wretched man exclaimed, “what a life I lead! This is not living; this is being killed a thousand times a day!”详情
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