“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.While these sad scenes were transpiring, the Princess Wilhelmina was held in close captivity in her apartment at the palace in Berlin. The king had convened a council of eight clergymen, and had put to them the question whether a father had not a right to give his daughter in wedlock to whom he pleased. Much to the honor of these clergymen, they replied, with but one exception, in the negative.On one occasion the king himself narrowly escaped being taken prisoner. One of his officers, General Trenck, gives the following graphic narrative of the incident:
“I shall be in the front and in the rear of the army. I shall fly from one wing to the other. No squadron and no company will escape my observation. Those who act well I will reward, and will never forget them. We shall soon either have beaten the enemy or we shall see each other no more.”
The king was doubtless informed of all that had occurred. They reached Manheim the next night. Keith was so terrified, fearing that his life would be the penalty, that he there threw himself upon his knees before the king, confessing all, and imploring pardon. The king, in tones of intense agitation, informed the vigilance trio that death would be their inevitable doom if they allowed the prince to escape. Thus far the prince had been nominally free. Those who occupied the carriage with him—Rochow, Waldau, and Buddenbrock—had assumed to be merely his traveling companions. Their office of guardship had been scrupulously concealed. But henceforth he was regarded and treated as a culprit in the custody of his jailers.“We rose from table. As we had to pass near him in going out, he aimed a great blow at me with his crutch, which, if I had not jerked away from it, would have ended me. He chased me for a while in his wheel-chair, but the people drawing it gave me time to escape to the queen’s chamber.”
a a. Austrian Army. b b. Position of Saxon Forepost, under Nostitz. c c. Advance of Prussian Army. d. Lucchesi’s Cavalry, re-enforced by Daun. e. Left Wing, under Nadasti. f. Frederick’s Hill of Observation. g g. Prussian Army about to attack. h. Ziethen’s Cavalry. i i i. Retreat of Austrians.
On the 4th of November he returned to Breslau, entering the city with great military display. Seated in a splendid carriage, he was drawn through the streets by eight cream-colored horses. Taking his seat upon the ancient ducal throne, he was crowned, with great ceremonial pomp, Sovereign Duke of Lower Silesia. Four hundred of the notables of the dukedom, in gala dresses, and taking oaths of homage, contributed to the imposing effect of the spectacle. Illuminations, balls, and popular festivities, in great variety, closed the triumph.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!”
On the 26th of January Frederick set out from Glatz, with a strong cortége, for Olmütz, far away to the southeast. This place his troops had occupied for a month past. His route led through a chain of mountains, whose bleak and dreary defiles were clogged with drifted snow, and swept by freezing gales. It was a dreadful march, accompanied by many disasters and much suffering.
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Frederick’s treatment of the unfortunate General Zastrow, who was in command at Schweidnitz, was quite peculiar. Very generously he wrote to him:“I was conducted into his majesty’s apartment, where there was nothing but the bare walls. I perceived in a closet, lit by a single wax candle, a small bed, two feet and a half wide, on204 which lay a little man wrapped up in a cloak of coarse blue cloth. It was the king, who perspired and shivered, under a miserable coverlet, in a violent access of fever. I made my bow, and began the acquaintance by feeling his pulse, as if I had been his first physician. When the fit was passed he dressed himself and came to supper. Algarotti, Keyserling, Maupertuis, and the king’s embassador to the States General made up the party. We talked learnedly respecting the immortality of the soul, liberty, and the Androgynes of Plato, and other small topics of that nature.”
On the 18th of December a strong Austrian army entered Silesia and took possession of the country of Glatz. The Prussian troops were withdrawn in good order to their strong fortresses on the Oder. The old Prince Leopold, the cast-iron man, called the Old Dessauer, the most inflexible of mortals, was left in command of the Prussian troops. He was, however, quite seriously alienated from Frederick. A veteran soldier, having spent his lifetime on fields of blood, and having served the monarchs of Prussia when Frederick was but a child, and who had been the military instructor of the young prince, he deemed himself entitled to consideration which an inexperienced officer might not command. In one of the marches to which we have referred, Leopold ventured to take a route different from that which Frederick had prescribed to him. In the following terms the Prussian king reprimanded him for his disobedience:详情
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