At Wesel the king met Maupertuis, to whom we have already alluded, who was then one of the greatest of European celebrities. His discovery of the flattening of the earth at the poles had given him such renown that the kings of Russia, France, and Prussia were all lavishing honors upon him. It was a great gratification to Frederick that he had secured his services in organizing the Berlin Academy. While at Wesel the king was seized by a fever, which shut him up for a time in the small chateau of Moyland. He had never yet met Voltaire, and being very anxious to see him, wrote to him as follows, under date of September 6th, 1740:Prince Bevern, aware that the battle would be renewed upon the morrow, and conscious that he could not sustain another435 such struggle, withdrew with his Prussian troops in the night, through the silent streets of Breslau, to the other side of the Oder, leaving eighty cannon behind him. The next morning, in visiting one of the outposts, he was surprised by a party of the Austrians and taken prisoner. It was reported that, fearing the wrath of the king, he had voluntarily allowed himself to be captured. General Kyau, the next in rank, took the command. He rapidly retreated. Breslau, thus left to its fate, surrendered, with its garrison of four thousand men, ninety-eight pieces of cannon, and vast magazines filled with stores of war. The next day was Sunday. Te Deums were chanted by the triumphant Austrians in the Catholic churches in Breslau, and thanks were offered to God that Maria Theresa had reconquered Silesia, and that “our ancient sovereigns are restored to us.”
The Austrians retired to Dresden for winter quarters. Frederick was left in the field which he had won. Gradually he withdrew to his old camping-ground at Freiberg, where his troops had been cantoned the previous winter. On the 10th of November, 1760, he wrote from Meissen to the Marquis D’Argens at Berlin:It seems that the Crown Prince had an inquiring mind. He was interested in metaphysical speculations. He had adopted, perhaps, as some excuse for his conduct, the doctrine of predestination, that God hath foreordained whatsoever cometh to pass. The idea that there is a power, which Hume calls philosophical necessity, which Napoleon calls destiny, which Calvin calls predestination, by which all events are controlled, and that this necessity is not inconsistent with free agency, is a doctrine which ever has commanded the assent, and probably ever will, of many of the strongest thinkers in the world.“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.
Wesel was the fortress of a small province belonging to Prussia, on the Rhine, many leagues from Berlin. The intervening territory belonged to Hanover and Hesse Cassel. The king ordered his captive son to be taken, under a strong guard, by circuitous roads, so as not to attract attention, to the castle of Mittenwalde, near Berlin. The king then started for home, probably as wretched as he was making every body about him. After a very rapid journey, he reached Berlin late in the afternoon of Sunday, the 27th of August, 1730. It was the evening after the fabrication of the letters had been completed. We give, from the graphic pen of Wilhelmina, the account of the king’s first interview with his family:The Prussian kingdom, which thus fell to Frederick by “divine right,” consisted of an assemblage of duchies, marquisates, principalities, and lordships, comprising an area of nearly fifty-seven thousand square miles, being about the size of the State of Michigan, and very similarly situated as to climate and soil. It was unfortunately not a compact country, as several of the states could only be reached by passing through the territories of other powers. The annual revenue amounted to a little over six million dollars. There was also in the treasury a sum, which Frederick William had saved, of about seven million dollars. The army consisted of seventy-six thousand men, in the highest state of discipline, and abundantly furnished with all the materiel of war.
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.From the schedule which Frederick has given of his resources, it seems impossible that he could have raised more than about fifteen million dollars annually, even counting his adulterated coin at the full value. How, with this sum, he could have successfully confronted all combined Europe, is a mystery which has never yet been solved. It was the great object of both parties in this terrible conflict to destroy every thing in the enemy’s country which could by any possibility add to military power. All the claims of humanity were ignored. The starvation of hundreds of thousands of peasants—men, women, and children—was a matter not to be taken into consideration. The French minister, in Paris, wrote to Marshal De Contades on the 5th of October, 1758,This despondency lasted, however, but a moment. Concealing his emotions, he smoothed his furrowed brow, dressed his face in smiles, and wrote doggerel verses and jocose letters as if he were merely a fashionable man of pleasure. At the same time he rallied all his marvelous energies, and prepared to meet the exigency366 with sagacity and intrepidity rarely surpassed. Orders were immediately dispatched to the Old Dessauer to marshal an army to oppose Grüne and Rutowski, while the king hastened to Silesia to attack Prince Charles. Leopold, though he had nearly numbered his threescore years and ten, according to Frederick, was very glad to fight once again before he died. The veteran general ventured to make some suggestions in reference to the orders he had received. The king sternly replied,
A ROYAL EXECUTIONER.
“Is there any battalion which has a mind to follow me to Lissa?”Ere long a company of Austrian scouts approached. From a distance they eyed the sentinel, moving to and fro as he guarded his post. A sharp-shooter crept near, and, taking deliberate aim at his supposed victim, fired. A twitch upon the rope caused the image to fall flat. The whole band of Austrians, with a shout, rushed to the spot. The Prussians, from their ambuscade, opened upon them a deadly fire of bullets. Then, as the ground was covered with the mutilated and the dead, the Prussians, causing the welkin to ring with their peals of laughter, rushed with fixed bayonets upon their entrapped foes. Not a single Austrian had escaped being struck by a bullet. Those who were not killed outright were wounded, and were taken captive. This is one of the “slight pleasantries” of war.In the month of October, 1747, Field-marshal Keith visited his Prussian majesty at Sans Souci. In a letter to his brother he thus describes the results of his observations:
“At last, about nine, somebody brought word that my brother had changed his route and gone to Culmbach, there to stay overnight. I was for setting out thither. Culmbach is twenty miles from Berneck. But the roads are frightful, and full of precipices. Every body rose in opposition. And whether I would or not they put me into the carriage for Himmelkron, which is only about ten miles off. We had like to have got drowned on the road, the waters were so swollen. The horses could not cross but by swimming.“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.”“The day before yesterday, in all churches, was prayer to Heaven for success to your majesty’s arms, interest of the Protestant religion being one cause of the war, or the only one assigned by the reverend gentleman. At the sound of these words the zeal of the people kindles. ‘Bless God for raising such a defender! Who dared suspect our king’s indifference to Protestantism?’”
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The king, weary of the life of turmoil, constructed for himself376 a beautiful villa, which he named Sans Souci (“Free from Care”), which Carlyle characteristically translates “No bother.” It was situated on a pleasant hill-top near Potsdam, in great retirement, yet commanding an enchanting view of land and water.In reference to this event, the prince wrote to his mother from Potsdam, “I am in the utmost despair. What I had always apprehended has at last come on me. The king has entirely forgotten that I am his son. This morning I came into his room as usual. At the first sight of me he sprang forward, seized me by the collar, and struck me a shower of blows with his rattan. I tried in vain to screen myself, he was in so terrible a rage, almost out of himself. It was only weariness that made him give up. I am driven to extremity. I have too much honor to endure such treatment, and I am resolved to put an end to it in one way or another.”
In the following terms, Frederick, the moment the battle was over, announced his victory, not to his wife, but to his friend Jordan:Frederick was overjoyed. He regarded the day as his own, and the Russian army as at his mercy. He sent a dispatch to anxious Berlin, but sixty miles distant: “The Russians are beaten. Rejoice with me.” It was one of the hottest of August days, without a breath of wind. Nearly every soldier of the Prussian army had been brought into action against the left wing only of the foe. After a long march and an exhausting fight, they were perishing with thirst. For twelve hours many of them had been without water. Panting with heat, thirst, and exhaustion, they were scarcely capable of any farther efforts.详情
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