The Austrian cavalry made an impetuous charge upon the weaker Prussian cavalry on the right of the Prussian line. Frederick commanded here in person. The Prussian right wing was speedily routed, and driven in wild retreat over the plain. The king lost his presence of mind and fled ingloriously with the fugitives. General Schulenberg endeavored, in vain, to rally the disordered masses. He received a sabre slash across his face. Drenched in blood, he still struggled, unavailingly, to arrest the torrent, when a bullet struck him dead. The battle was now raging fiercely all along the lines.“But it is time to end this long, dreary letter. I have had some leisure, and have used it to open to you a heart filled with admiration and gratitude toward you. Yes, my adorable sister, if Providence troubled itself about human affairs, you ought to be the happiest person in the universe. Your not being such confirms me in the sentiments expressed in my epistle.”
The prospects of Maria Theresa seemed now quite desperate. We know not that history records a more inglorious act than that Europe should have thus combined to take advantage of the youth and inexperience of this young queen, weeping over the grave of her father, and trembling in view of her own approaching hour of anguish, by wresting from her the inheritance which had descended to her from her ancestors. France and272 Germany, inspired by the most intense motives of selfish ambition, were to fall upon her, while the most effectual precautions were adopted to prevent Russia and England from coming to her aid.While on this march he wrote from Madlitz, under date of August 16th, to Marquis D’Argens, at Berlin:
Then came another strain of verse. Thus the prose and the doggerel were interspersed through the long narrative. Though very truthful in character, it was a school-boy performance—a very singular document indeed to be sent to the most brilliant genius of that age, by one who soon proved himself to be the ablest sovereign in Europe.For some unexplained reason, soon after this, the king partially relented, and invited Voltaire to Potsdam. He allowed him to retain his cross and key, and said nothing about the return of the volume of poetry. This was a volume of which twelve copies only had been printed. On the 25th of March, 1753, Voltaire left Potsdam for Dresden.General Loudon was in command of the Austrians, and General Butturlin of the Russians, who were arrayed against Frederick. They could not agree upon a plan of attack. Neither commander was willing to expose his troops to the brunt of a battle in which the carnage would necessarily be dreadful. Thus the weeks wore away. Frederick could not be safely attacked, and winter was approaching.
The reader would not be interested in the details of the battle which ensued. It lasted for five hours. It was, as is every battle, an indescribable scene of tumult, uproar, and confusion. The result was long doubtful. Defeat to Frederick would have been utter ruin. It is wonderful how one determined man can infuse his spirit into a whole host. Every Prussian seemed to363 have the same desperate valor, and determination to conquer or to die, which animated his king.Peter III. had been left an orphan, and titular Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, when eleven years of age. His mother was a daughter of Peter the Great. His aunt, the Czarina Elizabeth, who had determined not to marry, adopted the child, and pronounced him to be her heir to the throne. Being at that time on friendly terms with Frederick, the Empress Elizabeth had consulted him in reference to a wife for the future czar. It will be remembered that the king effected a marriage between Peter and Sophia, the beautiful daughter of a Prussian general, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst, and at that time commandant of Stettin. His wife was sister to the heir-apparent of Sweden. Carlyle, speaking of this couple, says:Frederick.”
The Crown Prince, with what degree of sincerity we know not, was now in tears. Prostrating himself before his majesty, he kissed his feet. The king, much moved, was in tears also, and retired to another room.
FREDERICK AND HIS SISTER.“Sire, I own that I am guilty. Will not your majesty grant me a pardon, which God never refuses to the greatest sinner who sincerely confesses his sins? I shall be always ready to shed even the last drop of my blood to show your majesty what grateful sentiments your clemency can raise in me.”“How is it possible, my lord, to believe things so contradictory? It is mighty fine, all this that you now tell me, on the part of the King of England. But how does it correspond with his last speech in Parliament, and with the doings of his ministers at Petersburg and at the Hague, to stir up allies against me? I have reason to doubt the sincerity of the King of England. Perhaps he means to amuse me. But” (with an oath55)269 “he is mistaken. I will risk every thing rather than abate the least of my pretensions.”
Though, as we may see from Frederick’s private correspondence, he suffered terribly in these hours of adversity and peril, he assumed in public a tranquil and even a jocose air. Meeting De Catt upon the evening of that dreadful day, he approached him, smiling, and with theatric voice and gesture declaimed a passage from Racine, the purport of which was, “Well, here you see me not a conqueror, but vanquished.”详情
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