John S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) Abbott.

History of Frederick the Second online

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France united, each of which kingdoms was far more powerful than
Prussia. The winter passed rapidly away without any marked events, each
party preparing for the opening of the campaign in the ensuing spring.
On the 8th of June, 1762, Frederick wrote to D’Argens:

“In fine, my dear marquis, the job ahead of me is hard and difficult,
and nobody can say positively how it will all go. Pray for us; and
don’t forget a poor devil who kicks about strangely in his harness, who
leads the life of one damned.”

Peter III. was a drunken, brutal, half-crazed debauchee. Catharine was
a beautiful, graceful, intellectual, and dissolute woman. They hated
each other. They did not even pretend to be faithful to each other.
Catharine formed a successful conspiracy, dethroned her husband, and
was proclaimed by the army sole empress. After a series of the wildest
scenes of intrigue, corruption, and crime, the imbecile Peter III., who
had fled to the remote palace of Ropscha, was murdered, being first
compelled to drink of poison, and then, while writhing in pain, he
was strangled with a napkin. Whether Catharine were a party to this
assassination is a question which can now probably never be decided.
It is certain that she must have rejoiced over the event, and that she
richly rewarded the murderers.


In the following curious proclamation, the Empress Catharine II.
announced to her subjects the death of her husband:

“The seventh day after our accession to the throne of all the Russias
we received information that the late emperor, Peter III., was attacked
with a violent colic. That we might not be wanting in Christian duty,
or disobedient to the divine command by which we are enjoined to
preserve the life of our neighbor, we immediately ordered that the
said Peter should be furnished with every thing that might be judged
necessary to restore his health by the aids of medicine. But, to our
great regret and affliction, we were yesterday evening apprized that,
by permission of the Almighty, the late emperor departed this life.”

The seventh campaign of the Seven Years’ War commenced on the 1st
of July, 1762. Peter III. had sent an army of twenty thousand men
to the support of Frederick. Aided by these troops, united with his
own army, Frederick had emerged from his winter quarters, and was
just about to attack the Austrian army, which was intrenched upon the
heights of Burkersdorf, a little south of Schweidnitz, which fortress
the Austrians then held. The evening before the contemplated attack
the Russian General Czernichef entered the tent of Frederick with the
following appalling tidings:

“There has been a revolution in St. Petersburg. The Czar Peter
III., your majesty’s devoted friend, has been deposed, and probably
assassinated. The Czarina Catharine, influenced by the enemies of your
majesty, and unwilling to become embroiled in a conflict with Austria
and France, has ordered me to return instantly homeward with the twenty
thousand troops under my command.”

For a moment the king was quite stunned by the blow. The withdrawal
of these troops would expose him to be speedily overwhelmed by the
Austrians. By earnest entreaty, Frederick persuaded Czernichef to
remain with him three days longer. “I will require of you no service
whatever. The Austrians know nothing of this change. They will think
that you are still my ally. Your presence simply will thus aid me
greatly in the battle.”

General Czernichef, though at the risk of his head from the displeasure
of Catharine, generously consented so far to disobey the orders of his
empress. The next day, July 2, 1762, Frederick, with his remaining
troops, attacked the foe, under General Daun, at Burkersdorf. From four
o’clock in the morning until five in the afternoon the antagonistic
hosts hurled themselves against each other. Frederick was the victor.
“On fall of night, Daun, every body having had his orders, and been
making his preparations for six hours past, ebbed totally away, in
perfect order, bag and baggage; well away to southward, and left
Frederick quit of him.”[172]

Early the next morning, Czernichef, greatly admiring the exploit
Frederick had performed, commenced his march home. Just before this
there was a change in the British ministry, and the new cabinet
clamored for peace. England entered into a treaty with France, and
retired from the conflict. Frederick, vehemently upbraiding the English
with treachery - the same kind of treachery of which he had repeatedly
been guilty - marched upon Schweidnitz. After a vigorous siege of two
months he captured the place.

Nearly all of Silesia was again in the hands of Frederick. He seems
to have paid no regard to the ordinary principles of honor in the
accomplishment of his plans. Indeed, he seems to have had no delicate
perceptions of right and wrong, no instinctive appreciation of what
was honorable or dishonorable in human conduct. He coined adulterated
money, which he compelled the people to take, but which he refused to
receive in taxes. In his _Military Instructions_, drawn up by his own
hand, he writes:

“When you find it very necessary, yet very difficult, to gain any
intelligence of the enemy, there is another expedient, though a cruel
one. You take a rich burgher, possessed of rich lands, a wife, and
children. You oblige him to go to the enemy’s camp, as if to complain
of hard treatment, and to take along with him, as his servant, a spy
who speaks the language of the country; assuring him at the same time
that, in case he does not bring the spy back with him, after having
remained a sufficient time in the enemy’s camp, you will set fire to
his house, and massacre his wife and children. I was forced to have
recourse to this cruel expedient. It answered my purpose.”[173]

A man’s moral nature must be indeed obtuse who could thus recommend the
compulsion of a peaceable citizen to act the part of a traitor to his
own country, under the alternative of having his house fired and his
wife and children massacred.

Winter was now approaching. The Austrians in Saxony made a desperate
attack upon Prince Henry, and were routed with much loss. The shattered
Austrian army retired to Bohemia for winter quarters. Under the
circumstances, it was a victory of immense importance to Frederick.
Upon receiving the glad tidings, he wrote to Henry:

“Your letter, my dear brother, has made me twenty years younger.
Yesterday I was sixty, to-day hardly eighteen. I bless Heaven for
preserving your health, and that things have passed so happily. It is a
service so important rendered by you to the state that I can not enough
express my gratitude, and will wait to do it in person.”

On the 24th of November the belligerents entered into an armistice
until the 1st of March. All were exhausted. It was manifest that peace
would soon be declared. Commissioners to arrange the terms of peace met
at the castle of Hubertsburg, near Dresden. On the 15th of February,
1763, peace was concluded. _Frederick retained Silesia_. That was the
result of the war.

According to Frederick’s computation, he had succeeded in wresting
this province from Maria Theresa at an expense of eight hundred and
fifty-three thousand lives, actual fighters, who had perished upon
the field of battle. Of these, one hundred and eighty thousand were
Prussians. Of the hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children
who, in consequence of the war, had perished of exposure, famine, and
pestilence, no note is taken. The population of Prussia had diminished,
during the seven years, five hundred thousand.

The day in which the treaty was signed Frederick wrote to the Marquis
D’Argens as follows: “The best thing I have now to tell you of, my dear
marquis, is the peace. And it is right that the good citizens and the
public should rejoice at it. For me, poor old man that I am, I return
to a town where I know nothing but the walls, where I find no longer
any of my friends, where great and laborious duties await me, and
where I shall soon lay my old bones in an asylum which can neither be
troubled by war, by calamities, nor by the wickedness of men.”

Archenholtz, who was an eye-witness of the miseries which he describes,
gives the following account of the state of Germany at the close of the

“Whole provinces had been laid waste. Even in those which had not been
thus destroyed, internal commerce and industry were almost at an end.
A great part of Pomerania and Brandenburg was changed into a desert.
There were provinces where hardly any men were to be found, and where
the women were therefore obliged to guide the plow. In others women
were as much wanting as men. The most fertile plains of Germany, on the
banks of the Oder and the Wesel, presented only the arid and sterile
appearance of a desert. An officer has stated that he had passed
through seven villages without meeting a single person excepting a


On the 15th of March, 1763, Frederick left Leipsic, and on the 30th
entered his capital of Berlin, from which he had been absent six years.
It was nine o’clock in the evening when his carriage drove through
the dark and silent streets to his palace. His arrival at that hour
had not been anticipated. It is said that he repaired immediately to
the queen’s apartment, where he met the several members of the royal
family. As soon as it was known that the king had arrived, Berlin
blazed with illuminations and rang with rejoicings.



The King patronizes literary and scientific Men. - Anecdotes. -
The Family Quarrel. - Birth of Frederick William III. - Rapid
Recuperation of Prussia. - The King’s Tour of Observation. - Desolate
Aspect of the Country. - Absolutism of Frederick. - Interview between
Frederick and D’Alembert. - Unpopularity of Frederick. - Death of the
King of Poland. - Plans for the Partition of Poland. - Intrigues of
Catharine. - Interview between Frederick and the Emperor Joseph. -
Poland seized by Russia, Prussia, and Austria. - The Division of the
Spoil. - Remorse of Maria Theresa. - Indifference of Frederick to
public Opinion.

There still remained to Frederick twenty-three years of life. He now
engaged very vigorously in the endeavor to repair the terrible ravages
of war by encouraging agriculture, commerce, and all useful arts. He
invited the distinguished French philosophers Helvetius and D’Alembert
to visit his court, and endeavored, though unavailingly, to induce them
to take up their residence in Berlin. They were both in sympathy with
the king in their renunciation of Christianity.

There are many anecdotes of Frederick floating about in the journals
whose authenticity can not be vouched for. The two following are
doubtless authentic. Frederick, as he was riding through the streets of
Berlin, saw a crowd looking upon a picture which was posted high up on
a wall. He requested his groom to see what it was. The servant returned
with the reply, “It is a caricature of your majesty, seated on a stool,
with a coffee-mill between your knees, grinding with one hand, and
picking up the beans which have fallen with the other,”

“Take it down,” said the king, “and hang it lower, that the people may
not hurt their necks in looking at it.”

The crowd heard what he said. With bursts of laughter they tore the
caricature in pieces, scattered it to the winds, and greeted the king,
as he rode away, with enthusiastic shouts of “Our Fritz forever.”

The 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 Christian 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.

[Illustration: FREDERICK THE GREAT, ÆT. 59.]

Upon one occasion she ordered a very rich silk dress directly from
Lyons. The custom-house dues were heavy. The custom-house officer
detained the dress until the dues should be paid. The haughty princess,
exceedingly indignant, sent an order to him to bring the dress
instantly to her, and she would pay the demand. As soon as he entered
her apartment, she snatched the dress from his hands, and with her open
palm gave him two slaps in the face, ordering him immediately to leave
the house[175]

The officer drew up a statement of the facts, and sent it to the king,
with the complaint that he had been dishonored in discharging the
duties intrusted to him by his majesty. The king sent the following

“To the custom-house officer at Stettin. The loss of the excise dues
shall fall to my score. The dress shall remain with the princess;
the slaps to him who received them. As to the pretended dishonor, I
entirely relieve the complainant from that. Never can the appliance of
a beautiful hand dishonor the face of an officer of customs.”

Frederick, with his own pen, gives the following account of this
family quarrel, which resulted in the divorce of the Crown Prince and

“Not long ago we mentioned the Prince of Prussia’s marriage with
Elizabeth of Brunswick. The husband, young and dissolute, given up to
a profligate life, from which his relatives could not correct him, was
continually committing infidelities to his wife. The princess, who
was in the flower of her beauty, felt outraged by such neglect of her
charms. Her vivacity and the good opinion she had of herself brought
her upon the thought of avenging her wrongs by retaliation. Speedily
she gave into excesses scarcely inferior to those of her husband.
Family quarrels broke out, and were soon publicly known. The antipathy
which ensued took away all hope of succession. The brothers of the
king, Henry and Ferdinand, avowed frankly that they would never consent
to have, by some accidental birth, their rights of succession to the
crown carried off. In the end, there was nothing for it but proceeding
to a divorce.”[176]

Within three months after the divorce, the Crown Prince, anxious for
an heir, married, on the 18th of April, 1769, the Princess Frederica
Louisa, of Hesse-Darmstadt. A son was born to them, who became
Frederick William III.

Under the energetic administration of Frederick, Prussia began, very
rapidly, to recover from the desolation which had overwhelmed it. The
coin, in a little more than a year, was restored to its purity. In
the course of two years Frederick rebuilt, in different parts of his
realms, fourteen thousand five hundred houses. The army horses were
distributed among the impoverished farmers for plow teams. Early in
June, 1763, the king set out on a general tour of inspection.

“To form an idea,” he writes, “of the general subversion, and how great
were the desolation and discouragement, you must represent to yourself
countries entirely ravaged, the very traces of the old habitations
hardly discoverable. Of the towns some were ruined from top to bottom;
others half destroyed by fire. Of thirteen thousand houses the very
vestiges were gone. There was no field in seed, no grain for the food
of the inhabitants. Sixty thousand horses were needed if there were
to be plowing carried on. In the provinces generally there were half
a million population less than in 1756; that is to say, upon four
millions and a half the ninth man was wanting. Noble and peasant had
been pillaged, ransomed, foraged, eaten out by so many different
armies; nothing now left them but life and miserable rags.

“There was no credit by trading people even for the necessaries of
life. There was no police in the towns. To habits of equity and order
there had succeeded a vile greed of gain and an anarchic disorder. The
silence of the laws had produced in the people a taste for license.
Boundless appetite for gain was their main rule of action. The noble,
the merchant, the farmer, the laborer, raising emulously each the price
of his commodity, seemed to endeavor only for their mutual ruin. Such,
when the war ended, was the fatal spectacle over these provinces, which
had once been so flourishing. However pathetic the description may be,
it will never approach the touching and sorrowful impression which the
sight of it produced.”

The absolutism of Frederick placed all legislative, judicial,
and executive powers in his hands. He was law-maker, judge, and
executioner. The liberty, property, and lives of his subjects were at
his disposal. He could call others to assist him in the government, but
they were merely servants to do his bidding.

“During the war,” writes Frederick, “the councilors and ministers
had successively died. In such time of trouble it had been impossible
to replace them. The embarrassment was to find persons capable of
filling these different employments. We searched the provinces, where
good heads were found as rare as in the capital. At length five chief
ministers were pitched upon.”

The rich abbeys of the Roman Catholics were compelled to establish
manufactures for weaving damasks and table-cloths. Some were converted
into oil-mills, or “workers in copper, wire-drawers, the flaxes and
metals, with water-power, markets, and so on.”

While on this tour of inspection, the celebrated French philosopher
D’Alembert, by appointment, met the king at Geldern, and accompanied
him to Potsdam. D’Alembert was in entire sympathy with the king in his
renunciation of Christianity. In 1755 D’Alembert had, by invitation,
met Frederick at Wesel, on the Rhine. In a letter to Madame Du Deffand,
at Paris, dated Potsdam, June 25, 1763, D’Alembert wrote:

“I will not go into the praises of King Frederick, now my host. I will
merely send you two traits of him, which will indicate his way of
thinking and feeling. When I spoke to him of the glory which he had
acquired, he answered, with the greatest simplicity,

“‘There is a furious discount to be deducted from said glory. Chance
came in for almost the whole of it. I would far rather have written
Racine’s _Athalie_ than have performed all the achievements of this

“The other trait I have to give you is this. On the 15th of February
last, the day of concluding this peace, which is so glorious to him,
some one said to him, ‘It is the finest day of your majesty’s life.’
The king replied,

“‘The finest day of life is the day on which one quits it.’”[177]

Helvetius, another of the distinguished French deistical philosophers,
was invited to Berlin to assist the king in his financial operations.
To aid the mechanics in Berlin, and to show to the world that the king
was not so utterly impoverished as many imagined, Frederick, on the
11th of June, 1763, laid the foundation of the sumptuous edifice called
“The New Palace of Sans Souci.”

Frederick, though now at peace with all the world, found no nation
in cordial alliance with him. He had always disliked England, and
England returned the dislike with interest. The Duchess of Pompadour,
who controlled France, hated him. Maria Theresa regarded him as a
highway robber who had snatched Silesia from her and escaped with it.
Frederick, thus left without an ally, turned to his former subject,
now Catharine II., whom he had placed on the throne of Russia. On the
11th of April, 1764, one year after the close of the Seven Years’
War, he entered into a treaty of alliance with the Czarina Catharine.
The treaty was to continue eight years. In case either of the parties
became involved in war, the other party was to furnish a contingent of
twelve thousand men, or an equivalent in money.

On the 5th of October, 1763, Augustus, the unhappy King of Poland,
had died at Dresden, after a troubled reign of thirty years. The
crown was elective. The turbulent nobles, broken up into antagonistic
and envenomed cliques, were to choose a successor. Catharine, as
ambitious as she was able and unprincipled, resolved to place one of
her creatures upon the throne, that Poland, a realm spreading over
a territory of 284,000 square miles, and containing a population of
20,000,000, might be virtually added to her dominions. Carlyle writes:

“My own private conjecture, I confess, has rather grown to be, on
much reading of those _Rulhières_ and distracted books, that the
czarina - who was a grandiose creature, with considerable magnanimities,
natural and acquired; with many ostentations, some really great
qualities and talents; in effect, a kind of she Louis Quatorze (if
the reader will reflect on that royal gentleman, and put him into
petticoats in Russia, and change his improper females for improper
males) - that the czarina, very clearly resolute to keep Poland hers,
had determined with herself to do something very handsome in regard to
Poland; and to gain glory, both with the enlightened philosophe classes
and with her own proud heart, by her treatment of that intricate

In the court of the czarina there was a very handsome young Pole,
Stanislaus Poniatowski, who had been an acknowledged lover of
Catharine. Though Catharine had laid him aside for other favorites, she
still regarded him with tender feelings. He was just the man to do her
bidding. By skillful diplomacy she caused him to be elected King of
Poland. That kingdom was now entirely in her hands, so far as it was in
the power of its monarch to place it there.

This, however, stirred up great strife in Poland. The nobles were
roused. Scenes of confusion ensued. The realm was plunged into a state
of anarchy. Frederick, being in cordial co-operation with the czarina
in all her measures, instructed his minister in Warsaw to follow
her policy in every particular. It has generally been supposed that
Frederick was the first to propose the banditti division of the kingdom
of Poland between Prussia, Russia, and Austria by means of their united
armies. This is not certain. But, whoever may have at first made the
suggestion, it is very certain that Frederick cordially and efficiently
embarked in the enterprise.[178]

Poniatowski was elected King of Poland on the 7th of September, 1764,
and crowned on the 25th of November. He was then thirty-two years
of age, and the scarcely disguised agent of Catharine. Two or three
years passed of wars and rebellions, and all the usual tumult of
this tumultuous world. In August, 1765, the Emperor Francis died. He
was at Innsprück, attending the marriage festivities of his second
son Leopold. About nine o’clock in the evening of the 18th, while
sauntering through the rooms in the midst of the brilliant gala, he was
struck with apoplexy. He staggered for a moment, fell into the hands of
his son Joseph, and instantly died.

Joseph, the oldest son of Maria Theresa and Francis, by the will of
his mother became emperor. But Maria Theresa still swayed the sceptre
of imperial power, through the hands of her son, as she had formerly
done through the hands of her amiable and pliant husband. The young
emperor was fond of traveling. He visited all the battle-fields of the
Seven Years’ War, and put up many monuments. Through his minister at
Berlin, he expressed his particular desire to make the acquaintance of
Frederick. The interview took place at Neisse on the 25th of August,
1769. His majesty received the young emperor on the grand staircase of
the palace, where they cordially embraced each other.

“Now are my wishes fulfilled,” said the emperor, “since I have the
honor to embrace the greatest of kings and soldiers.”

“I look upon this day,” the king replied, “as the fairest of my life;
for it will become the epoch of uniting two houses which have been
enemies too long, and whose mutual interests require that they should
strengthen, not weaken, one another.”

There were dinner-parties, and military reviews, and operas to beguile
the time. The interview lasted three days. The king and the emperor
often walked out arm in arm. Frederick wrote:

“The emperor has a frankness of manner which seems natural to him.
In his amiable character, gayety and great vivacity are prominent

Under cover of these festivities important political matters were
discussed. The question of the partition of Poland arose, and
arrangements were made for another interview. Soon after this,
Frederick sent to Catharine a sketch of a plan for partitioning several

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 44 of 52)