Circumstances had already rendered Frederick one of the most important personages in Europe. He could ally himself with France, and humble Austria; or he could ally himself with England and Austria, and crush France. All the lesser lights in the Continental firmament circulated around these central luminaries. Consequently Frederick was enabled to take a conspicuous part in all the diplomatic intrigues which were then agitating the courts of Europe.
“About nine this morning,” was the reply, “the prince got to horse. Not long after three he came back again with a swarm of officers, all going full speed for Lissa. They were full of bragging when they came; now they were off wrong side foremost! I saw how it was. Close following after him the flood of them ran. The high road was not broad enough. It was an hour and more before it ended. Such a pell-mell, such a welter! cavalry and infantry all jumbled together. Our king must have given them a terrible flogging.”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.“My dearest Brother,—Your letter and the one you wrote to Voltaire have nearly killed me. What fatal resolutions, great God! Ah! my dear brother, you say you love me, and you drive a dagger into my heart. Your epistle, which I did receive, made me shed rivers of tears. I am now ashamed of such weakness. My misfortune would be so great that I should find worthier resources than tears. Your lot shall be mine. I shall not survive your misfortunes, or those of the house I belong to. You may calculate that such is my firm resolution.
Frederick, who had taken his position upon a windmill, saw, with much satisfaction, the successful operation of his plan. Suddenly, with almost miraculous swiftness of movement, his perfectly drilled troops, horse, foot, and artillery, every man reckless of life, poured forth with a rush and a roar as of a lava-flood upon the extreme left of the Austrians. It was one o’clock of the day. There was neither brook, bush, fence, nor marsh to impede the headlong impetuosity of the assault. At the point of attack the Prussians were, of course, most numerous. There were a few moments of terrible slaughter, and the left wing of the Austrian army was annihilated. The ground was covered with the wounded and the dead, and the fugitives, in dismay, were fleeing across the fields.In truth, when General Daun approached, and Frederick saw that there was no possibility of his taking the city, he, in the wantonness of his rage, set fire to upward of a hundred houses in the suburbs which had hitherto escaped the flames. Three hundred and fifty houses were destroyed within the walls. More than that number were half destroyed, shattered by bombs, and scorched with flames. These were terrible calamities falling upon a city already exhausted by four years of the most desolating war. The King of Poland closed his appeal by saying,
Baron Trenck, in his memoir, gives an appalling account of these hardships in the body-guards to which he belonged. In time of peace there was scarcely an hour which he could command. The morning drill commenced at four o’clock. The most complicated and perilous man?uvres were performed. Frederick considered this the best school for cavalry in the world. They were compelled to leap trenches, which were continually widened till many fell in and broke their legs or arms. They were also compelled to leap hedges, and continue to charge at the highest possible speed for miles together. Almost daily some were either killed or wounded. At midday they took fresh horses, and repeated these toilsome and dangerous labors. Frequently they would be called from their beds two or three times in one night, to keep them on the alert. But eight minutes were allowed the guardsman to present himself on horseback, in his place, fully equipped. “In one year of peace,” he says, “the body-guards lost more men and horses than they had in two battles during the war.”
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.141 “I have received a letter from the king, all agog about the princess. When his first fire of approbation is spent, you might, praising her all the while, lead him to notice her faults. Mon Dieu, has he not already seen what an ill-assorted marriage comes to—my sister of Anspach and her husband, who hate one another like the fire? He has a thousand vexations from it every day.
Still, most of the courtly carousers did not comprehend this. And when the toast to Wilhelmina as Princess of Wales was received with such acclaim, they supposed that all doubt was at an end. The news flew upon the wings of the wind to Berlin. It was late in the afternoon of Monday, April 30. Wilhelmina writes:
It would seem that Frederick’s troops must have had iron sinews, and that they needed as little repose as did their master. Those not at work with the spade were under arms to repel an assault. Two or three times there was an alarm, when the whole fifty thousand, in an hour, were in battle-array. Frederick was fully aware of the crisis he had encountered. To be beaten there was irretrievable ruin. No one in the army performed more exhausting labor than the king himself. He seemed to be omnipresent, by day and by night. Near the chief battery, in a clump of trees, there was a small tent, and a bundle of straw in the corner. Here the king occasionally sought a few moments of repose. But his nervous excitement rendered him so restless, that most of the time he was strolling about among the guard parties, and warming himself by their fires.
Thus the last fortress in Silesia fell into the hands of Frederick. There was no longer any foe left in the province to dispute his acquisition. He took possession of Neisse on the 1st of November, celebrating his victory with illuminations and all the approved demonstrations of public rejoicing.“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!’“Salzdahlum, Noon, June 12, 1733.详情
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