Frederick was endowed with brilliant powers of conversation. He was fond of society, where he could exercise and display these gifts and accomplishments. Frequent suppers were given at Sans Souci, which lasted from half past eight till midnight. Gentlemen only—learned men—were invited to these entertainments. Frederick was not an amiable man. He took pleasure in inflicting the keenest pain possible with his satirical tongue. No friend was spared. The more deeply he could strike the lash into the quivering nerves of sensibility, the better he seemed pleased with himself.The Austrians, on the careless and self-confident march toward Parchwitz, had crossed the Schweidnitz River, or Water, as it438 was called, when they learned that Frederick, with a tiger-like spring, had leaped upon Neumarkt, an important town fourteen miles from Parchwitz. Here the Austrians had a bakery, protected by a guard of a thousand men. Seven hundred of the guard were instantly sabred or taken prisoners. The rest fled wildly. Frederick gathered up eighty thousand hot bread rations, with which he feasted his hungry troops.“The valet took the beef from the table and set it on the charcoal dish until wanted. He did the like with the fish and roast game, and poured me out wine and beer. I ate and drank till I had abundantly enough. Dessert, confectionery, what I could. A plate of big black cherries and a plateful of pears my waiting-man wrapped in paper, and stuffed them into my pockets to be a refreshment on the way home. And so I rose from the royal table, and thanked God and the king in my heart that I had so gloriously dined. At that moment a secretary came, brought me a sealed order for the custom-house at Berlin, with my certificates and the pass; told down on the table five tail-ducats and a gold Friedrich under them, saying, ‘The king sent me this to take me home to Berlin.’93
“I observed that the king took a pinch of snuff as the sound of each discharge reached him. And even through that air of intrepidity, which never abandoned this prince, I could perceive the sensations of pity toward that unfortunate town, and an eager impatience to fly to its relief.”
In the following curious proclamation, the Empress Catharine II. announced to her subjects the death of her husband:Soon after this, Frederick again wrote to his sister a letter which throws so much light upon his character that we give it almost entire:
Still, on the whole, the siege progressed favorably. Large supplies of food and ammunition were indispensable to Frederick. Thirty thousand hungry men were to be fed. A constant bombardment rapidly exhausts even abundant stores of powder, shot, and shell.On the 15th of September, two days before Frederick had written the despairing letter we have just given, Wilhelmina wrote again to him, in response to previous letters, and to his poetic epistle.
The half-intoxicated king gravely suggests that such conduct is hardly seemly among gentlemen; that the duel is the more chivalric way of settling such difficulties. Fassman challenges Gundling. They meet with pistols. It is understood by the seconds that it is to be rather a Pickwickian encounter. The trembling Gundling, when he sees his antagonist before him, with the deadly weapon in his hand, throws his pistol away, which his considerate friends had harmlessly loaded with powder only, declaring that he would not shoot any man, or have any man shoot him. Fassman sternly advances with his harmless pistol, and shoots the powder into Gundling’s wig. It blazes into a flame. With a shriek Gundling falls to the ground as if dead. A bucket of water extinguishes the flames, and roars of laughter echo over the chivalric field of combat.Meneval, private secretary of Napoleon I., records that, in one546 of the interviews of the emperor with Alexander, the czar offered to co-operate with Napoleon in all his plans if the emperor would consent that Russia should take Constantinople. The French emperor replied, after a moment’s hesitation,
“I never in my life was in so bad a posture as in this campaign. Miracles are still needed to overcome the difficulties which I foresee. I do my duty as well as I can. But remember, my dear marquis, that I can not command good fortune. I am obliged to leave too much to chance, as I have not the means to render my plans more certain.Soon after this, Colonel Hotham, having received a gross insult from the king, demanded his passports. The English embassador had presented the king with a document from his court. Frederick William angrily threw the paper upon the floor, exclaiming, “I have had enough of those things!” and, turning upon his heel, left the room. Colonel Hotham, a high-bred English gentleman, could not brook such an indignity, not only to himself, but to his sovereign. The passionate king had scarcely left the apartment before he perceived the impolicy of his conduct. He tried to make amends. But Colonel Hotham, justly regarding it as an insult to his court, persisted in demanding his passports, and returned to London. The Crown Prince in vain begged Colonel Hotham to remain. Very properly he replied that the incivility was addressed to his king, and that it was for him only to judge what satisfaction was due for the indignity offered.
At the custom-house the poor man’s coin was seized as contraband. He was informed that the king, had forbidden the circulation of that kind of money in Berlin. The heartless officials laughed at the poor man’s distress, paid no regard to his remonstrances and pleadings, and locked up his confiscated coin.Neither the king nor the Crown Prince appeared at the supper. With a select circle, to which neither Wilhelmina nor her mother were admitted, they supped in a private apartment. At the report that the king was treating the Crown Prince with great friendliness, the queen could not conceal her secret pique. “In fact,” says Wilhelmina, “she did not love her children except as they served her ambitious views.” She was jealous of134 Wilhelmina because she, and not her mother, had been the means of the release of Fritz. After supper the dancing was resumed, and Wilhelmina embraced an opportunity to ask her brother why he was so changed, and why he treated her so coldly. He assured her that he was not changed; that his reserve was external only; that he had reasons for his conduct. Still he did not explain his reasons, and Wilhelmina remained wounded and bewildered.
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