These sufferings bound the brother and sister very intimately together. “This dear brother,” Wilhelmina writes, “passed all his afternoons with me. We read and wrote together, and occupied ourselves in cultivating our minds. The king now never saw my brother without threatening him with the cane. Fritz repeatedly told me that he would bear any thing from the king except blows; but that, if he ever came to such extremities with him, he would regain his freedom by flight.”Thus parted these remarkable men, who were never destined to meet again.The authorship of the article could not be concealed. Frederick was indignant. He angrily seized his pen, and wrote a reply, which, though anonymous, was known by all to have been written by the king. In this reply he accused the writer of the article, whom he well knew to be Voltaire, of being a “manifest retailer of lies,” “a concocter of stupid libels,” and as “guilty of conduct more malicious, more dastardly, more infamous” than he had ever known before.
43While matters were in this extremity, the British minister, Dubourgay, and Baron Knyphausen, a distinguished Prussian official, dispatched Rev. Dr. Villa, a scholarly man, who had been Wilhelmina’s teacher of English, on a secret mission to the court of England, to communicate the true state of affairs, and to endeavor to secure some disentanglement of the perplexities. Dr. Villa was a warm friend of Wilhelmina, and, in sympathy with her sorrows, wept as he bade her adieu. The king was in such ill humor that his daughter dared not appear in his presence. If Fritz came within reach of his father’s arm he was pretty sure to receive a blow from his rattan.
The king was quite unscrupulous in the measures to which he resorted to recruit his army. Deserters, prisoners, peasants, were alike forced into the ranks. Even boys but thirteen and fourteen years of age were seized by the press-gangs. The countries swept by the armies were so devastated and laid waste that it was almost an impossibility to obtain provisions for the troops. It will be remembered that upon the capture of Berlin several of the king’s palaces had been sacked by the Russian and Austrian troops. The king, being in great want of money, looked around for some opportunity to retaliate. There was within his cantonments a very splendidly furnished palace, called the Hubertsburg Schloss, belonging to the King of Poland. On the 21st of January, 1761, Frederick summoned to his audience-room519 General Saldern. This officer cherished a very high sense of honor. The bravest of the brave on the field of battle, he recoiled from the idea of performing the exploits of a burglar. The following conversation took place between the king and his scrupulous general. In very slow, deliberate tones, the king said:“I was so little moved by it that I answered, going on with my work, ‘Is that all?’ which greatly surprised them. A while82 after, my sisters and several ladies came to congratulate me. I was much loved, and I felt more delighted at the proofs each gave me of that than at what had occasioned their congratulations. In the evening I went to the queen’s. You may readily conceive her joy. On my first entrance she called me her dear Princess of Wales, and addressed Madam De Sonsfeld as ‘Miladi.’ This latter took the liberty of hinting to her that it would be better to keep quiet; that the king, having yet given no notice of this business, might be provoked at such demonstration, and that the least trifle could still ruin all her hopes.”
Voltaire embraced the opportunity of giving vent to his malice in epigrams and lampoons. Frederick was by no means insensible to public opinion, but he was ever willing to brave that opinion if by so doing he could accomplish his ambitious ends.
“Surrender to me peaceably,” was the substance of this demand, “the province of Silesia, and I will be the ally of your majesty in maintaining your right to the throne, and in defending the integrity of all the rest of your realms. I will exert my influence to have the Grand-duke Francis41 chosen Emperor of Germany, and will also immediately pay one million of dollars into the Austrian treasury.”On the 15th of March Frederick left Berlin for Silesia. Stopping to examine some of his works at Glogau and Breslau, he reached Neisse on the 23d. On the 29th he dismissed the Old Dessauer, with many expressions of kindness and sympathy, to go home to recover his health.
In the latter part of June a large train of over three thousand four-horse wagons, laden with all necessary supplies, left Troppau for Olmütz. It is difficult for a reader unfamiliar with such scenes to form any conception of the magnitude of such an enterprise. There are twelve thousand horses to be shod, harnessed, and fed, and watered three or four times a day. There are three thousand wagons to be kept in repair, rattling over the stones and plowing through the mire. Six thousand teamsters are required. There is invariably connected with such a movement one or two thousand camp-followers, sutlers, women, vagabonds. A large armed force is also needed to act as convoy.“Not long ago we mentioned the Prince of Prussia’s marriage with Elizabeth of Brunswick. The husband, young and dissolute, given up to a profligate life, from which his relatives could not correct him, was continually committing infidelities to his wife. The princess, who was in the flower of her beauty, felt outraged by such neglect of her charms. Her vivacity and the good opinion she had of herself brought her upon the thought of avenging her wrongs by retaliation. Speedily she gave into excesses scarcely inferior to those of her husband. Family quarrels broke out, and were soon publicly known. The antipathy which ensued took away all hope of succession. The brothers of the king, Henry and Ferdinand, avowed frankly that they would never consent to have, by some accidental birth, their rights of succession to the crown carried off. In the end, there was nothing for it but proceeding to a divorce.”176
The heir to the Russian throne was an orphan boy, Peter Federowitz. The Russian court was looking around to obtain for him a suitable wife. Frederick’s commandant at Stettin, a man of renowned lineage, had a beautiful daughter of fourteen. She was a buxom girl, full of life as she frolicked upon the ramparts of the fortress with her young companions. Frederick succeeded in obtaining her betrothal to the young Prince of Russia. She was solemnly transferred from the Protestant to the Greek religion; her name was changed to Catharine; and she was eventually married, greatly to the satisfaction of Frederick, to the young Russian czar.“The king, my brother,” she wrote, “supports his misfortunes with a courage and a firmness worthy of him. I am in a frightful state, and will not survive the destruction of my house and family. That is the one consolation that remains to me. I can not write farther of it. My soul is so troubled that I know not what I am doing. To me there remains nothing but to follow his destiny if it is unfortunate. I have never piqued myself on being a philosopher, though I have made many efforts to become so. The small progress I made did teach me to despise grandeur and riches. But I could never find in philosophy any cure for the wounds of the heart, except that of getting done with our miseries by ceasing to live. The state I am in is worse than death. I see the greatest man of his age, my brother, my friend, reduced to the most frightful extremity. I see my whole family exposed to dangers and, perhaps, destruction. Would to Heaven I were alone loaded with all the miseries I have described to you.”
“Have I not, on all occasions, meant honorably by you? Last time I got wind of your debts, did I not, as a father, admonish you to tell me all? I would pay all; you were only to tell me the truth; whereupon you said there were still two thousand thalers beyond the sum named. I paid these also at once, and fancied I had made peace with you. And then it was found, by-and-by, you owed many thousands more. And as you knew you could not pay, it was as good as if the money had been stolen—not to reckon how the French vermin, Montholieu and partner, cheated you with their new loans.“The torments of Tantalus, the pains of Prometheus, the doom of Sisyphus, were nothing to the torments I have suffered for the last ten days. Death is sweet in comparison with such a life. Pity me, and believe that I still keep to myself a great many evil things, not wishing to afflict or disquiet any body with them. Believe me that I would not counsel you to fly these unlucky countries if I had any ray of hope. Adieu, mon cher.”
In accordance with this request, Voltaire repaired to Cleves to visit the king. Many years afterward, having quarreled with Frederick, and being disposed to represent him in the most unfavorable light, he gave the following account of this interview in his Vie Privée:This letter was addressed to the “reverend, well-beloved, and faithful Müller,” and was signed “your affectionate king.” Though the king had not yet announced any intention of sparing the life of his son, and probably was fully resolved upon his execution, he was manifestly disturbed by the outcry against his proceedings raised in all the courts of Europe. Three days before the king wrote the above letter, the Emperor of Germany, Charles VI., had written to him, with his own hand, earnestly interceding for the Crown Prince. In addition to the letter, the emperor, through his minister Seckendorf, had presented a very firm remonstrance. He announced to Frederick William that112 Prince Frederick was a prince of the empire, and that he was entitled to the protection of the laws of the Germanic body; that the heir-apparent of the Prussian monarchy was under the safeguard of the Germanic empire, and that the king was bound to surrender to this tribunal the accused, and the documents relative to this trial.
But, in the midst of these scenes of gayety, the king was contemplating the most complicated combinations of diplomacy. Europe was apparently thrown into a state of chaos. It was Frederick’s one predominant thought to see what advantages he could secure to Prussia from the general wreck and ruin. Lord Macaulay, speaking of these scenes, says:详情
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