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

History of Frederick the Second online

. (page 46 of 52)
Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 46 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


countries not only renders it a duty, but puts us in the absolute
necessity, to adopt the quickest and most effectual means for
dissipating at the right time the storm which threatens to break out
upon us.

“I depend with complete confidence on your soldierly and patriotic
zeal, which is already well and gloriously known to me, and which,
while I live, I will acknowledge with the heartiest satisfaction.
Before all things I recommend to you, and prescribe as your most sacred
duty, that in every situation you exercise humanity on unarmed enemies.
In this respect, let there be the strictest discipline kept among those
under you.

“To travel with the pomp of a king is not among my wishes, and all of
you are aware that I have no pleasure in rich field-furniture; but my
increasing age, and the weakness it brings, render me incapable of
riding as I did in my youth. I shall, therefore, be obliged to make use
of a post-chaise in times of marching, and all of you have liberty to
do the same. But on the day of battle you shall see me on horseback;
and there, also, I hope my generals will follow that example.”

Kaunitz, the Austrian prime minister, was by no means prepared for this
decisive action. In less than a week Frederick had one hundred thousand
soldiers on the frontiers. Austria had not ten thousand there to meet
them. Kaunitz, quite alarmed, assumed a supplicatory tone, and called
for negotiation.

“Must there be war?” he said. “I am your majesty’s friend. Can we not,
in mutual concession, find agreement?”

The result was a congress of three persons, two Prussians and one
Austrian, which congress met at Berlin on the 24th of May, 1778. For
two months they deliberated. The Austrians improved the delay in making
very vigorous preparations for war. Frederick really wished to avoid
the war, for he had seen enough of the woes of battle. They could come
to no agreement.

On the 3d of July Frederick issued his declaration of war. On that very
day his solid battalions, one hundred thousand strong, with menacing
banners and defiant bugle-notes, crossed the border, and encamped on
Bohemian ground. At the same moment, the king’s brother, Prince Henry,
with another army of one hundred thousand men, commenced a march from
the west to co-operate in an impetuous rush upon Vienna. These tidings
caused the utmost consternation in the Austrian capital. An eye-witness
writes:

“The terror in Vienna was dreadful. I will not attempt to describe the
dismay the tidings excited among all ranks of people. Maria Theresa,
trembling for her two sons who were in the army, immediately dispatched
an autograph letter to Frederick with new proposals for a negotiation.”

Frederick had not grown old gracefully. He was domineering, soured, and
irritable, finding fault with every body and every thing. As his troops
were getting into camp at Jaromirtz on the 8th of July, the king,
weary with riding, threw himself upon the ground for a little rest,
his adjutants being near him. A young officer was riding by. Frederick
beckoned to him, and wrote, with his pencil, an order of not the
slightest importance, and said to the officer, aloud, in the hearing of
all, purposely to wound their feelings,

“Here, take that order to General Lossow, and tell him that he is not
to take it ill that I trouble him, as I have none in my suite that can
do any thing.” It often seemed to give Frederick pleasure, and never
pain, to wound the feelings of others.

“On arriving with his column,” writes General Schmettau, “where the
officer - a perfectly skillful man - had marked out the camp, the king
would lift his spy-glass, gaze to right and left, riding round the
place at perhaps a hundred yards distance, and begin, ‘Look here, sir,
what a botching you have made of it again!’

“And then, grumbling and blaming, would alter the camp till it was all
out of rule, and then say,

“‘See there; that is the way to mark out camps.’”[192]

Through the efforts of Maria Theresa there was another brief
conference, but it amounted to nothing. Neither party wished for
war. But Austria craved the annexation of Bavaria, and Frederick was
determined that Austria should not thus be enlarged. Thus the summer
passed away in unavailing diplomacy and in equally unavailing military
manœuvrings. While engaged in these adventures, Frederick received
the tidings of the death of Voltaire, who breathed his last on the
20th of May, 1778. The soul of Frederick was too much seared by life’s
stern conflicts to allow him to manifest, or probably to feel, any
emotion on the occasion. He, however, wrote a eulogy upon the renowned
_littérateur_, which, though written by a royal pen, attracted but
little attention.

During the winter Russia and France interposed in behalf of peace. The
belligerents agreed to submit the question to their decision. Austria
was permitted to take a small slice of Bavaria, and for a time the
horrors of war were averted.

Soon after this an event occurred very characteristic of the king - an
event which conspicuously displayed both his good and bad qualities. A
miller was engaged in a lawsuit against a nobleman. The decree of the
court, after a very careful examination, was unanimously in favor of
the nobleman; the king, who had impulsively formed a different opinion
of the case, was greatly exasperated. He summoned the four judges
before him, denounced them in the severest terms of vituperation, would
listen to no defense, and dismissed them angrily from office.

“May a miller,” he exclaimed, fiercely, “who has no water, and
consequently can not grind, have his mill taken from him? Is that just?
Here is a nobleman wishing to make a fish-pond. To get more water for
his pond, he has a ditch dug to draw into it a small stream which
drives a water-mill. Thereby the miller loses his water, and can not
grind. Yet, in spite of this, it is pretended that the miller shall pay
his rent, quite the same as at the time when he had full water for his
mill. Of course he can not pay his rent. His incomings are gone.

“And what does the court of Cüstrin do? It orders the mill to be sold,
that the nobleman may have his rent! Go you, sir,” addressing the grand
chancellor, “about your business, this instant. Your successor is
appointed; with you I have nothing more to do.” The other three were
assailed in the same way, but still more vehemently, as the king’s
wrath flamed higher and higher. “Out of my sight,” he exclaimed at
last; “I will make an example of you which shall be remembered.”

[Illustration: CONDEMNATION OF THE JUDGES.]

The next day, December 11, 1779, the king issued the following protocol
in the newspapers:

“The king’s desire always was and is that every body, be he high or
low, rich or poor, get prompt justice. Wherefore, in respect to this
most unjust sentence against the miller Arnold, pronounced in the
Neumark, and confirmed here in Berlin, his majesty will establish an
emphatic example, to the end that all the courts of justice in the
king’s provinces may take warning thereby, and not commit the like
glaring unjust acts. For let them bear in mind that the least peasant,
yea, what is still more, that even a beggar, is, no less than his
majesty, a human being, and one to whom due justice must be meted out.
All men being equal before the law, if it is a prince complaining
against a peasant, or _vice versa_, the prince is the same as the
peasant before the law.

“Let the courts take this for their rule; and whenever they do not
carry out justice in a straightforward manner, without any regard of
person and rank, they shall have to answer to his majesty for it.”

The discarded judges were arrested, imprisoned for a year, and fined a
sum of money equal to the supposed loss of the miller. In this case the
judges had heard both sides of the question, and the king but one side.
The question had been justly decided. The case was so clear that the
new judges appointed by the king, being conscientious men, could not
refrain from sustaining the verdict. Still the king, who would never
admit that he was in the wrong, ordered no redress for those who had
thus suffered for righteousness sake. After Frederick’s death the court
compelled the miller to refund the money which had been so unjustly
extorted for damages.

On the 29th of November, 1780, Maria Theresa died. The extraordinary
character which she had developed through life was equally manifested
in the hour of death. She died of congestion of the lungs, which
created a painful and suffocating difficulty of breathing. Her
struggles for breath rendered it impossible for her to lie upon the
bed. Bolstered in her chair, she leaned her head back as if inclined to
sleep.

“Will your majesty sleep, then?” inquired an attendant.

“No,” the empress replied; “I could sleep, but I must not. Death is too
near. He must not steal upon me. These fifteen years I have been making
ready for him; I will meet him awake.”

For fifteen years she had been a mourning widow. Her husband had died
on the 18th of August. The 18th day of every month had since then been
a day of solitary prayer. On the 18th of every August she descended
into the tomb, and sat for a season engaged in prayer by the side of
the mouldering remains of her spouse.

[Illustration: MARIA THERESA AT THE TOMB OF HER HUSBAND.]

The Emperor Joseph had been embarrassed in his ambitious plans by the
conscientious scruples of his mother. He now entered into a secret
alliance with the Czarina Catharine, by which he engaged to assist her
in her advance to Constantinople, while she, in her turn, was to aid
him in his encroachments and annexations to establish an empire in the
West as magnificent as the czarina hoped to establish in the East.

Delighted with this plan, and sanguine in the hope of its successful
accomplishment, the czarina named her next grandson Constantine.
Austria and Russia thus became allied, with all their sympathies
hostile to Frederick. Old age and infirmities were stealing upon the
king apace. Among the well-authenticated anecdotes related of him, the
following is given by Carlyle:

“Loss of time was one of the losses Frederick could least stand. In
visits, even from his brothers and sisters, which were always by his
own express invitation, he would say some morning (call it Tuesday
morning), ‘You are going on Wednesday, I am sorry to hear’ (what _you_
never heard before). ‘Alas! your majesty, we must.’ ‘Well, I am sorry;
but I will lay no constraint on you. Pleasant moments can not last
forever.’ This trait is in the anecdote-books; but its authenticity
does not rest on that uncertain basis. Singularly enough, it comes to
me individually, by two clear stages, from Frederick’s sister, the
Duchess of Brunswick, who, if any body, would know it well.”

We have often spoken of the entire neglect with which the king treated
his virtuous and amiable queen. Preuss relates the following incident:

“When the king, after the Seven Years’ War, now and then in carnival
season dined with the queen in her apartments, he usually said not a
word to her. He merely, on entering, on sitting down at table, and
leaving it, made the customary bows, and sat opposite to her. Once the
queen was ill of gout. The table was in her apartments, but she was not
there. She sat in an easy-chair in the drawing-room. On this occasion
the king stepped up to the queen and inquired about her health. The
circumstance occasioned among the company present, and all over the
town, as the news spread, great wonder and sympathy. This is probably
the last time he ever spoke to her.”[193]

“The king was fond of children; he liked to have his grand-nephews
about him. One day, while the king sat at work in his cabinet, the
younger of the two, a boy of eight or nine, was playing ball about the
room, and knocked it once and again into the king’s writing operation,
who twice or oftener flung it back to him, but next time put it in his
pocket, and went on. ‘Please your majesty, give it me back,’ begged the
boy, and again begged: majesty took no notice; continued writing. Till
at length came, in the tone of indignation, ‘Will your majesty give
me my ball, then?’ The king looked up; found the little Hohenzollern
planted firm, hands on haunches, and wearing quite a peremptory air.
‘Thou art a brave little fellow. They won’t get Silesia out of thee?’
cried he, laughing, and flinging him his ball.”[194]

The fault-finding character of the king, and his intense devotion to
perfecting his army, both increased with his advancing years. After one
of his reviews of the troops in Silesia, in the year 1784, he wrote in
the following severe strain to the commanding general:

“Potsdam, September 7, 1784.

“MY DEAR GENERAL, - While in Silesia I mentioned to you, and will
now repeat in writing, that my army in Silesia was at no time
so bad as at present. Were I to make shoemakers or tailors into
generals, the regiments could not be worse. Regiment Thadden
is not fit to be the most insignificant militia battalion of a
Prussian army. Of the regiment Erlach, the men are so spoiled by
smuggling they have no resemblance to soldiers; Keller is like
a heap of undrilled boors; Hager has a miserable commander; and
your own regiment is very mediocre. Only with Graf Von Anhalt,
with Wendessen, and Markgraf Heinrich could I be content. See
you, that is the state I found the regiments in, one after one. I
will now speak of their manœuvring.

“Schwartz, at Neisse, made the unpardonable mistake of not
sufficiently besetting the height on the left wing; had it been
serious, the battle had been lost. At Breslau, Erlach, instead of
covering the army by seizing the heights, marched off with his
division straight as a row of cabbages into that defile; whereby,
had it been earnest, the enemy’s cavalry would have cut down our
infantry, and the fight was gone.

“It is not my purpose to lose battles by the base conduct of my
generals; wherefore I hereby appoint that you, next year, if I
be alive, assemble the army between Breslau and Ohlau; for four
days before I arrive in your camp, carefully manœuvre with the
ignorant generals, and teach them what their duty is. Regiment
Von Arnim and regiment Von Kanitz are to act the enemy; and
whoever does not then fulfill his duty shall go to court-martial;
for I should think it a shame of any country to keep such people,
who trouble themselves so little about their business.”

The king seemed to think it effeminate and a disgrace to him as a
soldier ever to appear in a carriage. He never _drove_, but constantly
_rode_ from Berlin to Potsdam. In the winter of 1785, when he was quite
feeble, he wished to go from Sans Souci, which was exposed to bleak
winds, and where they had only hearth fires, to more comfortable winter
quarters in the new palace. The weather was stormy. After waiting a few
days for such a change as would enable him to go on horseback, and the
cold and wind increasing, he was taken over in a sedan-chair in the
night, when no one could see him.

In August, 1785, the king again visited Silesia to review his troops.
A private letter, quoted by Carlyle, gives an interesting view of his
appearance at the time:

“He passed through Hirschberg on the 18th of August. A concourse of
many thousands had been waiting for him several hours. Outriders
came at last; then he himself, the unique; and, with the liveliest
expression of reverence and love, all eyes were directed on one point.
I can not describe to you my feelings, which, of course, were those of
every body, to see him, the aged king; in his weak hand the hat; in
those grand eyes such a fatherly benignity of look over the vast crowd
that encircled his carriage, and rolled tide-like, accompanying it.
Looking round, I saw in various eyes a tear trembling.

“His affability, his kindliness, to whoever had the honor of speech
with this great king, who shall describe it! After talking a good while
with the merchants’ deputation from the hill country, he said, ‘Is
there any thing more, then, from any body?’ Upon which the president
stepped forward and said, ‘The burned-out inhabitants of Greiffenberg
have charged me to express once more their most submissive gratitude
for the gracious help in rebuilding; their word of thanks is indeed
of no importance; but they daily pray God to reward such royal
beneficence.’ The king was visibly affected, and said, ‘You don’t need
to thank me; when my subjects fall into misfortune, it is my duty to
help them up again; for that reason am I here.’”

On Monday, the 22d of August, the great review commenced near Strehlen.
It lasted four days. All the country mansions around were filled with
strangers who had come to witness the spectacle.

“The sure fact, and the forever memorable, is that on Wednesday,
the third day of it, from four in the morning, when the manœuvres
began, till well after ten o’clock, when they ended, there was rain
like Noah’s; rain falling as from buckets and water-spouts; and that
Frederick, so intent upon his business, paid not the slightest regard
to it, but rode about, intensely inspecting, in lynx-eyed watchfulness
of every thing, as if no rain had been there. Was not at the pains
even to put on his cloak. Six hours of such down-pour; and a weakly
old man of seventy-three past! Of course he was wetted to the bone. On
returning to head-quarters, his boots were found full of water; ‘when
pulled off, it came pouring from them like a pair of pails.’”[195]

[Illustration: THE LAST REVIEW.]

Lafayette, Lord Cornwallis, and the Duke of York were his guests
at the dinner-table that day. The king suffered from his exposure,
was very feverish, and at an early hour went to bed. The next day
he completed his review; and the next day “went - round by Neisse,
inspection not to be omitted there, though it doubles the distance - to
Brieg, a drive of eighty miles, inspection work included.”[196]

From this exhausting journey for so old a man the king returned to
Potsdam through a series of state dinners, balls, and illuminations. On
the night of the 18th of September he was awoke by a very severe fit of
suffocation. It was some time before he could get any relief, and it
was thought that he was dying. The next day gout set in severely. This
was followed by dropsy. The king suffered severely through the winter.
There is no royal road through the sick-chamber to the tomb. The weary
months of pain and languor came and went. The renowned Mirabeau visited
the king in his sick-chamber on the 17th of April, 1786. He writes:

“My dialogue with the king was very lively; but the king was in such
suffering, and so straitened for breath, I was myself anxious to
shorten it. That same evening I traveled on.”

That same evening Marie Antoinette wrote from Versailles to her sister
Christine at Brussels:

“The King of Prussia is thought to be dying. I am weary of the
political discussions on this subject as to what effects his death must
produce. He is better at this moment, but so weak he can not resist
long. Physique is gone. But his force and energy of soul, they say,
have often supported him, and in desperate crises have even seemed to
increase. Liking to him I never had. His ostentatious immorality has
much hurt public virtue, and there have been related to me barbarities
which excite horror.

“He has done us all a great deal of ill. He has been king for his own
country, but a trouble-feast for those about him - setting up to be the
arbiter of Europe, always assailing his neighbors, and making them pay
the expense. As daughters of Maria Theresa, it is impossible we can
regret him; nor is it the court of France that will make his funeral
oration.”[197]

The Prince of Ligne, a very accomplished courtier, about this time
visited the sick and dying king. During his brief stay he dined daily
with the king, and spent his evenings with him. In an interesting
account which he gives of these interviews, he writes:

“Daily for five hours the universality of his conversation completed
my enchantment at his powers. The arts, war, medicine, literature,
religion, philosophy, morality, history, and legislation passed in
review by turns. The great times of Augustus and Louis XIV.; the good
society among the Romans, the Greeks, and the French; the chivalry of
Francis I.; the valor of Henry IV.; the revival of letters, and their
changes since Leo X.; anecdotes of men of talent of former days, and
their errors; the eccentricities of Voltaire; the sensitive vanity of
Maupertuis; the agreeableness of Algarotti; the wit of Jordan; the
hypochondriacism of the Marquis D’Argens, whom the king used to induce
to keep his bed for four-and-twenty hours by merely telling him he
looked ill - and what not besides? All that could be said of the most
varied and agreeable kind was what came from him, in a gentle tone of
voice, rather low, and very agreeable from his manner of moving his
lips, which possessed an inexpressible grace.”[198]

Dr. Moore gives the following account of a surprising scene,
considering that the king was an infirm and suffering man seventy-three
years of age:

“A few days ago I happened to take a very early walk about a mile from
Potsdam, and seeing some soldiers under arms in a field at a small
distance from the road, I went toward them. An officer on horseback,
whom I took to be the major, for he gave the word of command, was
uncommonly active, and often rode among the ranks to reprimand or
instruct the common men. When I came nearer I was much surprised to
find that this was the king himself.

“He had his sword drawn, and continued to exercise the corps for an
hour after. He made them wheel, march, form the square, and fire by
divisions and in platoons, observing all their motions with infinite
attention; and, on account of some blunder, put two officers of the
Prince of Prussia’s regiment in arrest. In short, he seemed to exert
himself with all the spirit of a young officer eager to attract the
notice of his general by uncommon alertness.”[199]

[Illustration: FREDERICK AND HIS DOGS.]

Frederick was very fond of dogs. This was one of his earliest passions,
and it continued until the end of his life. He almost invariably had
five or six Italian greyhounds about him, leaping upon the chairs, and
sleeping upon the sofas in his room. Dr. Zimmermann describes them as
placed on blue satin chairs and couches near the king’s arm-chair, and
says that when Frederick, during his last illness, used to sit on his
terrace at Sans Souci in order to enjoy the sun, a chair was always
placed by his side, which was occupied by one of his dogs. He fed them
himself, took the greatest possible care of them when they were sick,
and when they died buried them in the gardens of Sans Souci. The
traveler may still see their tombs - flat stones with the names of the
dogs beneath engraved upon them - at each end of the terrace of Sans
Souci, in front of the palace.

“The king was accustomed to pass his leisure moments in playing with
them, and the room where he sat was strewed with leather balls with
which they amused themselves. As they were all much indulged, though
there was always one especial favorite, they used to tear the damask
covers of the chairs in the king’s apartment, and gnaw and otherwise
injure the furniture. This he permitted without rebuke, and used only
to say,

“‘My dogs destroy my chairs; but how can I help it? And if I were to
have them mended to-day, they would be torn again to-morrow. So I
suppose I must bear with the inconvenience. After all, a Marquise De
Pompadour would cost me a great deal more, and would neither be as
attached nor as faithful.’”

One of Frederick’s dogs, Biche, has attained almost historic celebrity.
We can not vouch for the authenticity of the anecdote, but it is stated
that the king took Biche with him on the campaign of 1745. One day the
king, advancing on a reconnoissance, was surprised and pursued by a
large number of Austrians. He took refuge under a bridge, and, wrapping
Biche in his cloak, held him close to his breast. The sagacious animal
seemed fully conscious of the peril of his master. Though of a very
nervous temperament, and generally noisy and disposed to bark at the
slightest disturbance, he remained perfectly quiet until the Austrians



Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 46 of 52)