It was an extraordinary position. Both sides depended for food on foraging, and between them they had swept the country clean. The peasantry fled in every direction from Wallenstein's pillaging troops, who destroyed all that they could not carry away. It had become a question with the two armies which could starve the longest, and for three months they lay encamped, each waiting until famine should drive the other out. Surely such a situation had never before been known.
What had preceded this event? A few words will tell. Ferdinand the emperor had, with the aid of Tilly and Wallenstein, laid all Germany prostrate at his feet. Ferdinand the zealot had, by this effort to impose Catholicism on the Protestant states, speedily undone the work of his generals, and set the war on foot again. Gustavus Adolphus, the hero of Sweden, had come to the aid of the oppressed Protestants of Germany, borne down all before him, and quickly won back northern Germany from the oppressor's hands.
And now the cruelty of that savage war reached its culminating point. When Germany submitted to the emperor, one city did not submit. Magdeburg still held out. All efforts to subdue it proved fruitless, and it continued free and defiant when all the remainder of Germany lay under the emperor's control.
It was to pay dearly for the courage of its citizens. When the war broke out again, Magdeburg was besieged by Tilly with his whole force. After a most valiant defence it was taken by storm, and a scene of massacre and ruin followed without a parallel in modern wars. When it ended, Magdeburg was no more. Of its buildings all were gone, except the cathedral and one hundred and thirty-seven houses. Of its inhabitants all had perished, except some four thousand who had taken refuge in the cathedral. Man, woman, and child, the sword had slain them all, Tilly being in considerable measure responsible for the massacre, for he was dilatory in ordering its cessation. When at length he did act there was little to save. All Europe thrilled with horror at the dreadful news, and from that day forward fortune fled from the banners of Count Tilly.
On September 7, 1631, the armies of Gustavus and Tilly met at Leipsic, and a terrible battle ensued, in which the imperialists were completely defeated and all the fruits of their former victories torn from their hands. In the following year Tilly had his thigh shattered by a cannon-ball at the battle of the Lech, and died in excruciating agonies.
Such were the preludes to the scene we have described. The Lutheran princes everywhere joined the victorious Gustavus; Austria itself was threatened by his irresistible arms; and the emperor, in despair, called Wallenstein again to the command, yielding to the most extreme demands of this imperious chief.
The next scene was that we have described, in which the armies of Gustavus and Wallenstein lay face to face at Nuremberg, each waiting until starvation should force the other to fight or to retreat.
Gustavus had sent for reinforcements, and his army steadily grew. That of Wallenstein dwindled away under the assaults of famine and pestilence. A large convoy of provisions intended for Wallenstein was seized by the Swedes. Soon afterwards Gustavus was so strongly reinforced that his army grew to seventy thousand men. At his back lay Nuremberg, his faithful ally, ready to aid him with thirty thousand fighting men besides. As his force grew that of Wallenstein shrank, until by the end of the siege pestilence and want had reduced his army to twenty-four thousand men.
The Swedes were the first to yield in this game of starvation. As their numbers grew their wants increased, and at length, furious with famine, they made a desperate assault upon the imperial camp. They were driven back, with heavy loss. Two weeks more Gustavus waited, and then, despairing of drawing his opponent from his works, he broke camp and marched with sounding trumpets past his adversary's camp, who quietly let him go. The Swedes had lost twenty thousand men, and Nuremberg ten thousand of her inhabitants, during this period of hunger and slaughter.
This was in September, 1632. In November of the same year the two armies met again, on the plain of Luetzen, in Saxony, not far from the scene of Tilly's defeat, a year before. Wallenstein, on the retreat of Gustavus, had set fire to his own encampment and marched away, burning the villages around Nuremberg and wasting the country as he advanced, with Saxony as his goal. Gustavus, who had at first marched southward into the Catholic states, hastened to the relief of his allies. On the 15th of November the two great opponents came once more face to face, prepared to stake the cause of religious freedom in Germany on the issue of battle.
Early in the morning of the 16th Gustavus marshalled his forces, determined that that day should settle the question of victory or defeat. Wallenstein had weakened his ranks by sending Count Pappenheim south on siege duty, and the Swedish king, without waiting for reinforcements, decided on an instant attack.
Unluckily for him the morning dawned in fog. The entire plain lay shrouded. It was not until after eleven o'clock that the mist rose and the sun shone on the plain. During this interval Count Pappenheim, for whom Wallenstein had sent in haste the day before, was speeding north by forced marches, and through the chance of the fog was enabled to reach the field while the battle was at its height.
The troops were drawn up in battle array, the Swedes singing to the accompaniment of drums and trumpets Luther's stirring hymn, and an ode composed by the king himself: "Fear not, thou little flock." They were strongly contrasted with the army of their foe, being distinguished by the absence of armor, light colored (chiefly blue) uniforms, quickness of motion, exactness of discipline, and the lightness of their artillery. The imperialists, on the contrary, wore old-fashioned, close-fitting uniforms, mostly yellow in color, cuirasses, thigh-pieces, and helmets, and were marked by slow movements, absence of discipline, and the heaviness and unmanageable character of their artillery. The battle was to be, to some extent, a test of excellence between the new and the old ideas in war.
At length the fog rose and the sun broke out, and both sides made ready for the struggle. Wallenstein, though suffering from a severe attack of his persistent enemy, the gout, mounted his horse and prepared his troops for the assault. His infantry were drawn up in squares, with the cavalry on their flanks, in front a ditch defended by artillery. His purpose was defensive, that of Gustavus offensive. The Swedish king mounted in his turn, placed himself at the head of his right wing, and, brandishing his sword, exclaimed, "Now, onward! May our God direct us! Lord! Lord! help me this day to fight for the glory of Thy name!" Then, throwing aside his cuirass, which annoyed him on account of a slight wound he had recently received, he cried, "God is my shield!" and led his men in a furious charge upon the cannon-guarded ditch.
The guns belched forth their deadly thunders, many fell, but the remainder broke irresistibly over the defences and seized the battery, driving the imperialists back in disorder. The cavalry, which had charged the black cuirassiers of Wallenstein, was less successful. They were repulsed, and the cuirassiers fiercely charged the Swedish infantry in flank, driving it back beyond the trenches.
This repulse brought on the great disaster of the day. Gustavus, seeing his infantry driven back, hastened to their aid with a troop of horse, and through the disorder of the field became separated from his men, only a few of whom accompanied him, among them Francis, Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg. His short-sightedness, or the foggy condition of the atmosphere, unluckily brought him too near a party of the black cuirassiers, and in an instant a shot struck him, breaking his left arm.
"I am wounded; take me off the field," he said to the Duke of Lauenburg, and turned his horse to retire from the perilous vicinity.
As he did so a second ball struck him in the back. "My God! My God!" he exclaimed, falling from the saddle, while his horse, which had been wounded in the neck, dashed away, dragging the king, whose foot was entangled in the stirrup, for some distance.
The duke fled, but Luchau, the master of the royal horse, shot the officer who had wounded the king. The cuirassiers advanced, while Leubelfing, the king's page, a boy of eighteen, who had alone remained with him, was endeavoring to raise him up.
"Who is he?" they asked.
The boy refused to tell, and was shot and mortally wounded.
"I am the King of Sweden!" Gustavus is said to have exclaimed to his foes, who had surrounded and were stripping him.
On hearing this they sought to carry him off, but a charge of the Swedish cavalry at that moment drove them from their prey. As they retired they discharged their weapons at the helpless king, one of the cuirassiers shooting him through the head as he rushed past his prostrate form.
The sight of the king's charger, covered with blood, and galloping with empty saddle past their ranks, told the Swedes the story of the disastrous event. The news spread rapidly from rank to rank, carrying alarm wherever it came. Some of the generals wished to retreat, but Duke Bernhard of Weimar put himself at the head of a regiment, ran its colonel through for refusing to obey him, and called on them to follow him to revenge their king.
His ardent appeal stirred the troops to new enthusiasm. Regardless of a shot that carried away his hat, Bernhard charged at their head, broke over the trenches and into the battery, retook the guns, and drove the imperial troops back in confusion, regaining all the successes of the first assault.
The day seemed won. It would have been but for the fresh forces of Pappenheim, who had some time before reached the field, only to fall before the bullets of the foe. His men took an active part in the fray, and swept backward the tide of war. The Swedes were again driven from the battery and across the ditch, with heavy loss, and the imperialists regained the pivotal point of the obstinate struggle.
But now the reserve corps of the Swedes, led by Kniphausen, came into action, and once more the state of the battle was reversed. They charged across the ditch with such irresistible force that the position was for the third time taken, and the imperialists again driven back. This ended the desperate contest. Wallenstein ordered the retreat to be sounded. The dead Gustavus had won the victory.
A thick fog came on as night fell and prevented pursuit, even if the weariness of the Swedes would have allowed it. They held the field, while Wallenstein hastened away, his direction of retreat being towards Bohemia. The Swedes had won and lost, for the death of Gustavus was equivalent to a defeat, and the emperor, with unseemly rejoicing, ordered a Te Deum to be sung in all his cities.
On the following day the Swedes sought for the body of their king. They found it by a great stone, which is still known as the Swedish stone. It had been so trampled by the hoofs of charging horses, and was so covered with blood from its many wounds, that it was difficult to recognize. The collar, saturated with blood, which had fallen into the hands of the cuirassiers, was taken to Vienna and presented to the emperor, who is said to have shed tears on seeing it. The corpse was laid in state before the Swedish army, and was finally removed to Stockholm, where it was interred.
Thus perished one of the great souls of Europe, a man stirred deeply by ambition, full of hopes greater than he himself acknowledged, a military hero of the first rank, and one disposed to prosecute war with a humanity far in advance of his age. He severely repressed all excesses of his soldiery, was solicitous for the security of citizens and peasantry, and strictly forbade any revengeful reprisals on Catholic cities for the frightful work done by his opponents upon the Protestants. Seldom has a conqueror shown such magnanimity and nobility of sentiment, and his untimely death had much to do with exposing Germany to the later desolation of that most frightful of religious wars.
His defeated foe, Wallenstein, was not long to survive him. After his defeat he acted in a manner that gave rise to suspicions that he intended to play false to the emperor. He executed many of his officers and soldiers in revenge for their cowardice, as he termed it, recruited his ranks up to their former standard, but remained inactive, while Bernhard of Weimar was leading the Swedes to new successes.
His actions were so problematical, indeed, that suspicion of his motives grew more decided, and at length a secret conspiracy was raised against him with the connivance of the emperor. Wallenstein, as if fearful of an attempt to rob him of his power, had his superior officers assembled at a banquet given at Pilsen, in January, 1634. A fierce attack of gout prevented him from presiding, but his firm adherents, Field-Marshals Illo and Terzka, took his place, and all the officers signed a compact to adhere faithfully to the duke in life and death as long as he should remain in the emperor's service. Some signed it who afterwards proved false to him, among them Field-Marshal Piccolomini, who afterwards betrayed him.
Just what designs that dark and much revolving man contemplated it is not easy to tell. It may have been treachery to the emperor, but he was not the man to freely reveal his secrets. The one person he trusted was Piccolomini, whose star seemed in favorable conjunction with his own. To him he made known some of his projected movements, only to find in the end that his trusted confidant had revealed them all to the emperor.
The plot against Wallenstein was now put into effect, the emperor ordering his deposition from his command, and appointing General Gablas to replace him, while a general amnesty for all his officers was announced. Wallenstein was quickly taught how little he could trust his troops and officers. Many of his generals fell from him at once. A few regiments only remained faithful, and even in their ranks traitors lurked. With but a thousand men to follow him he proceeded to Eger, and from there asked aid of Bernhard of Weimar, as if he purposed to join with those against whom he had so long fought. Bernhard received the message with deep astonishment, and exclaimed, moved by his belief that Wallenstein was in league with the devil,—
"He who does not trust in God can never be trusted by man!"
The great soldier of fortune was near his end. The stars were powerless to save him. It was not enough to deprive him of his command, his enemies did not deem it safe to let him live. One army gone, his wealth and his fame might soon bring him another, made up of those mercenary soldiers of all nations, and of all or no creeds, who would follow Satan if he promised them plunder. His death had been resolved upon, and the agent chosen for its execution was Colonel Butler, one of the officers who had accompanied him to Eger.
It was late in February, 1634. On the night fixed for the murder, Wallenstein's faithful friends, Illo, Terzka, Kinsky, and Captain Neumann were at a banquet in the castle of Eger. The agents of death were Colonel Butler, an Irish officer named Lesley, and a Scotchman named Gordon, while the soldiers employed were a number of dragoons, chiefly Irish.
In the midst of the dinner the doors of the banqueting hall were burst open, and the assassins rushed upon their victims, killing them as they sat, with the exception of Terzka, who killed two of his assailants before he was despatched.
From this scene of murder the assassins rushed to the quarters of Wallenstein. It was midnight and he had gone to bed. He sprang up as his door was burst open, and Captain Devereux, one of the party, rushed with drawn sword into the room.
"Are you the villain who would sell the army to the enemy and tear the crown from the emperor's head?" he shouted.
Wallenstein's only answer was to open his arms and receive the blow aimed at his breast. He died without a word. Thus, with a brief interval between, had fallen military genius and burning ambition in two forms,—that of the heroic Swede and that of the ruthless Bohemian.
THE SIEGE OF VIENNA.
Once more the Grand Turk was afoot. Straight on Vienna he had marched, with an army of more than two hundred thousand men. At length he had reached the goal for which he had so often aimed, the Austrian capital, while all western Europe was threatened by his arms. The grand vizier, Kara Mustapha, headed the army, which had marched straight through Hungary without wasting time in petty sieges, and hastened towards the imperial city with scarce a barrier in its path.
Consternation filled the Viennese as the vast army of the Turks rolled steadily nearer and nearer, pillaging the country as it came, and moving onward as irresistibly and almost as destructively as a lava flow. The emperor and his court fled in terror. Many of the wealthy inhabitants followed, bearing with them such treasures as they could convey. The land lay helpless under the shadow of terror which the coming host threw far before its columns.
But pillage takes time. The Turks, through the greatness of their numbers, moved slowly. Some time was left for action. The inhabitants of the city, taking courage, armed for defence. The Duke of Lorraine, whose small army had not ventured to face the foe, left twelve thousand men in the city, and drew back with the remainder to wait for reinforcements. Count Ruediger of Stahrenberg was left in command, and made all haste to put the imperilled city in a condition of defence.
On came the Turks, the smoke of burning villages the signal of their approach. On the 14th of June, 1683, their mighty army appeared before the walls, and a city of tents was built that covered a space of six leagues in extent.
Their camp was arranged in the form of a crescent, enclosing within its boundaries a promiscuous mass of soldiers and camp-followers, camels, and baggage-wagons, which seemed to extend as far as the eye could reach. In the centre was the gorgeous tent of the vizier, made of green silk, and splendid with its embroidery of gold, silver, and precious stones, while inside it was kept the holy standard of the prophet. Marvellous stories are told of the fountains, baths, gardens, and other appliances of Oriental luxury with which the vizier surrounded himself in this magnificent tent.
Two days after the arrival of the Turkish host the trenches were opened, the cannon placed, and the siege of Vienna began. For more than two centuries the conquerors of Constantinople had kept their eyes fixed on this city as a glorious prize. Now they had reached it, and the thunder of their cannon around its walls was full of threat for the West. Vienna once theirs, it was not easy to say where their career of conquest would be stayed.
Fortunately, Count Ruediger was an able and vigilant soldier, and defended the city with a skill and obstinacy that baffled every effort of his foes. The Turks, determined on victory, thundered upon the walls till they were in many parts reduced to heaps of ruins. With incessant labor they undermined them, blew up the strongest bastions, and laid their plans to rush into the devoted city, from which they hoped to gain a glorious booty. But active as they were the besieged were no less so. The damage done by day was repaired by night, and still Vienna turned a heroic face to its thronging enemies.
Furious assaults were made, multitudes of the Turks rushing with savage cries to the breaches, only to be hurled back by the obstinate valor of the besieged. Every foot of ground was fiercely contested, the struggle at each point being desperate and determined. It was particularly so around the Loebel bastion, where scarcely an inch of ground was left unstained by the blood of the struggling foes.
Count Ruediger, although severely wounded, did not let his hurt reduce his vigilance. Daily he had himself carried round the circle of the works, directing and cheering his men. Bishop Kolonitsch attended the wounded, and with such active and useful zeal that the grand vizier sent him a threat that he would have his head for his meddling. Despite this fulmination of fury, the worthy bishop continued to use his threatened head in the service of mercy and sympathy.
But the numbers of the garrison grew rapidly less, and their incessant duty wore them out with fatigue. The commandant was forced to threaten death to any sentinel found asleep upon his post. A fire broke out which was only suppressed with the greatest exertion. Famine also began to invade the city, and the condition of the besieged grew daily more desperate. Their only hope lay in relief from without, and this did not come.
Two months passed slowly by. The Turks had made a desert of the surrounding country, and held many thousands of its inhabitants as prisoners in their camp. Step by step they gained upon the defenders. By the end of August they possessed the moat around the city walls. On the 4th of September a mine was sprung under the Burg bastion, with such force that it shook half the city like an earthquake. The bastion was rent and shattered for a width of more than thirty feet, portions of its walls being hurled far and wide.
Into the great breach made the assailants poured in an eager multitude. But the defenders were equally alert, and drove them back with loss. On the following day they charged again, and were again repulsed by the brave Viennese, the ruined bastion becoming a very gulf of death.
The Turks, finding their efforts useless, resumed the work of mining, directing their efforts against the same bastion. On the 10th of September the new mine was sprung, and this time with such effect that a breach was made through which a whole Turkish battalion was able to force its way.
This city now was in the last extremity of danger; unless immediate relief came all would soon be lost. The garrison had been much reduced by sickness and wounds, while those remaining were so completely exhausted as to be almost incapable of defence. Ruediger had sent courier after courier to the Duke of Lorraine in vain. In vain the lookouts swept the surrounding country with their eyes in search of some trace of coming aid. All seemed at an end. During the night a circle of rockets was fired from the tower of St. Stephen's as a signal of distress. This done the wretched Viennese waited for the coming day, almost hopeless of repelling the hosts which threatened to engulf them. At the utmost a few days must end the siege. A single day might do it.
That dreadful night of suspense passed away. With the dawn the wearied garrison was alert, prepared to strike a last blow for safety and defence, and to guard the yawning breach unto death. They waited with the courage of despair for an assault which did not come. Hurried and excited movements were visible in the enemy's camp. Could succor be at hand? Yes, from the summit of the Kahlen Hill came the distant report of three cannon, a signal that filled the souls of the garrison with joy. Quickly afterwards the lookouts discerned the glitter of weapons and the waving of Christian banners on the hill. The rescuers were at hand, and barely in time to save the city from its almost triumphant foes.
During the siege the Christian people outside had not been idle. Bavaria, Saxony, and the lesser provinces of the empire mustered their forces in all haste, and sent them to the reinforcement of Charles of Lorraine. To their aid came Sobieski, the chivalrous King of Poland, with eighteen thousand picked men at his back. He himself was looked upon as a more valuable reinforcement than his whole army. He had already distinguished himself against the Turks, who feared and hated him, while all Europe looked to him as its savior from the infidel foe.
There were in all about seventy-seven thousand men in the army whose vanguard ascended the Kahlen Hill on that critical 11th of September, and announced its coming to the beleaguered citizens by its three signal shots. The Turks, too confident in their strength, had thoughtlessly failed to occupy the heights, and by this carelessness gave their foes a position of vantage. In truth, the vizier, proud in his numbers, viewed the coming foe with disdain, and continued to pour a shower of bombs and balls upon the city while despatching what he deemed would be a sufficient force to repel the enemy.
On the morning of September 12, Sobieski led his troops down the hill to encounter the dense masses of the Moslems in the plain below. This celebrated chief headed his men with his head partly shaved, in the Polish fashion, and plainly dressed, though he was attended by a brilliant retinue. In front went an attendant bearing the king's arms emblazoned. Beside him was another who carried a plume on the point of his lance. On his left rode his son James, on his right Charles of Lorraine. Before the battle he knighted his son and made a stirring address to his troops, in which he told them that they fought not for Vienna alone, but for all Christendom; not for an earthly sovereign, but for the King of kings.
Early in the day the left wing of the army had attacked and carried the village of Nussdorf, on the Danube, driving out its Turkish defenders after an obstinate resistance. It was about mid-day when the King of Poland led the right wing into the plain against the dense battalions of Turkish horsemen which there awaited his assault.
The ringing shouts of his men told the enemy that it was the dreaded Sobieski whom they had to meet, their triumphant foe on many a well-fought field. At the head of his cavalry he dashed upon their crowded ranks with such impetuosity as to penetrate to their very centre, carrying before him confusion and dismay. So daring was his assault that he soon found himself in imminent danger, having ridden considerably in advance of his men. Only a few companions were with him, while around him crowded the dense columns of the foe. In a few minutes more he would have been overpowered and destroyed, had not the German cavalry perceived his peril and come at full gallop to his rescue, scattering with the vigor of their charge the turbaned assailants, and snatching him from the very hands of death.
So sudden and fierce was the assault, so poorly led the Turkish horsemen, and so alarming to them the war-cry of Sobieski's men, that in a short time they were completely overthrown, and were soon in flight in all directions. This, however, was but a partial success. The main body of the Turkish army had taken no part. Their immense camp, with its thousands of tents, maintained its position, and the batteries continued to bombard the city as if in disdain of the paltry efforts of their foes.
Yet it seems to have been rather rage and alarm than disdain that animated the vizier. He is said to have, in a paroxysm of fury, turned the scimitars of his followers upon the prisoners in his camp, slaughtering thirty thousand of these unfortunates, while bidding his cannoneers to keep up their assault upon the city.
These evidences of indecision and alarm in their leader filled the Turks with dread. They saw their cavalry battalions flying in confusion, heard the triumphant trumpets of their foes, learned that the dreaded Polish king was at the head of the irresistible charging columns, and yet beheld their commander pressing the siege as if no foe were in the field. It was evident that the vizier had lost his head through fright. A sudden terror filled their souls. They broke and fled. While Sobieski and the other leaders were in council to decide whether the battle should be continued that evening or left till the next morning, word was brought them that the enemy was in full flight, running away in every direction.
They hastened out. The tidings proved true. A panic had seized the Turks, and, abandoning tents, cannon, baggage, everything, they were flying in wild haste from the beleaguered walls. The alarm quickly spread through their ranks. Those who had been firing on the city left their guns and joined in the flight. From rank to rank, from division to division, it extended, until the whole army had decamped and was hastening in panic terror over the plain, hotly pursued by the death-dealing columns of the Christian cavalry, and thinking only of Constantinople and safety.
The booty found in the camp was immense. The tent of the grand vizier alone was valued at nearly half a million dollars, and the whole spoil was estimated as worth fifteen million dollars. The king wrote to his wife as follows:
"The whole of the enemy's camp, together with their artillery and an incalculable amount of property, has fallen into our hands. The camels and mules, together with the captive Turks, are driven away in herds, while I myself am become the heir of the grand vizier. The banner which was usually borne before him, together with the standard of Mohammed, with which the sultan had honored him in this campaign, and the tents, wagons, and baggage, are all fallen to my share; even some of the quivers captured among the rest are alone worth several thousand dollars. It would take too long to describe all the other objects of luxury found in his tents, as, for instance, his baths, fountains, gardens, and a variety of rare animals. This morning I was in the city, and found that it could hardly have held out more than five days. Never before did the eye of man see a work of equal magnitude despatched with a vigor like that with which they blew up, and shattered to pieces, huge masses of stone and rocks."
Sobieski, on entering Vienna, was greeted with the warmest gratitude and enthusiasm by crowds of people, who looked upon him as their deliverer. The governor, Count Ruediger, grasped his hand with affection, the populace followed him in his every movement, while cries of "Long live the king!" everywhere resounded. Never had been a more signal delivery, and the citizens were beside themselves with joy.
In this siege the Turks had lost forty-eight thousand men. Twenty thousand more fell on the day of battle, and an equal number during the retreat. It is said that in the tent of the grand vizier were found letters from Louis XIV. containing the full plan of the siege, and to the many crimes of ambition of this monarch seems to be added that of bringing this frightful peril upon Europe for his own selfish ends. As for the unlucky vizier, he was put to death by strangling, by order of the angry sultan, on his reaching Belgrade. It is said that his head, found on the taking of Belgrade by Eugene, years afterwards, was sent to Bishop Kolonitsch, whose own head the vizier had threatened to take in revenge for his labors among the wounded of Vienna.
The war with the Turks continued, with some few intermissions, for fifteen years afterwards. It ended to the great advantage of the Christian armies. One after another the fortresses of Hungary were wrested from their hands, and in the year 1687 they were totally defeated at Mohacz by the Duke of Lorraine and Prince Eugene, and the whole of Hungary torn from their grasp.
In 1697 another great victory over them was won by Eugene, at Zenta, by which the power of the Turks was completely broken. Belgrade, which they had long held, fell into his hands, and a peace was signed which confirmed Austria in the possession of all Hungary. From that time forward the terror which the Turkish name had so long inspired vanished, and the siege of Vienna may be looked upon as the concluding act in the long array of invasions of Europe by the Mongolian hordes of Asia. It was to be followed by the gradual recovery, now almost consummated, of their European dominions from their hands.
THE YOUTH OF FREDERICK THE GREAT.
An extraordinarily rude, coarse, and fierce old despot was Frederick William, first King of Prussia, son of the great Elector and father of Frederick the Great. He hated France and the French language and culture, then so much in vogue in Europe; he despised learning and science; ostentation was to him a thing unknown; and he had but two passions, one being to possess the tallest soldiers in Europe, the other to have his own fierce will in all things on which he set his mind. About all that we can say in his favor is that he paid much attention to the promotion of education in his realm, many schools being opened and compulsory attendance enforced.
Of the fear with which he inspired many of his subjects, and the methods he took to overcome it, there is no better example than that told in relation to a Jew, whom the king saw as he was riding one day through Berlin. The poor Israelite was slinking away in dread, when the king rode up, seized him, and asked in harsh tones what ailed him.
"Sire, I was afraid of you," said the trembling captive.
"Fear me! fear me, do you?" exclaimed the king in a rage, lashing his riding-whip across the man's shoulders with every word. "You dog! I'll teach you to love me!"
It was in some such fashion that he sought to make his son love him, and with much the same result. In fact, he seemed to entertain a bitter dislike for the beautiful and delicate boy whom fortune had sent him as an heir, and treated him with such brutal severity that the unhappy child grew timid and fearful of his presence. This the harsh old despot ascribed to cowardice, and became more violent accordingly.
On one occasion when young Frederick entered his room, something having happened to excite his rage against him, he seized him by the hair, flung him violently to the floor, and caned him until he had exhausted the strength of his arm on the poor boy's body. His fury growing with the exercise of it, he now dragged the unresisting victim to the windows, seized the curtain cord, and twisted it tightly around his neck. Frederick had barely strength enough to grasp his father's hand and scream for help. The old brute would probably have strangled him had not a chamberlain rushed in and saved him from the madman's hands.
The boy, as he grew towards man's estate, developed tastes which added to his father's severity. The French language and literature which he hated were the youth's delight, and he took every opportunity to read the works of French authors, and particularly those of Voltaire, who was his favorite among writers. This predilection was not likely to overcome the fierce temper of the king, who discovered his pursuits and flogged him unmercifully, thinking to cane all love for such enervating literature, as he deemed it, out of the boy's mind. In this he failed. Germany in that day had little that deserved the name of literature, and the expanding intellect of the active-minded youth turned irresistibly towards the tabooed works of the French.
In truth, he needed some solace for his expanding tastes, for his father's house and habits were far from satisfactory to one with any refinement of nature. The palace of Frederick William was little more attractive than the houses of the humbler citizens of Berlin. The floors were carpetless, the rooms were furnished with common bare tables and wooden chairs, art was conspicuously absent, luxury wanting, comfort barely considered, even the table was very parsimoniously served.
The old king's favorite apartment in all his places of residence was his smoking-room, which was furnished with a deal table covered with green baize and surrounded by hard chairs. This was his audience-chamber, his hall of state, the room in which the affairs of the kingdom were decided in a cloud of smoke and amid the fumes of beer. Here sat generals in uniform, ministers of state wearing their orders, ambassadors and noble guests from foreign realms, all smoking short Dutch pipes and breathing the vapors of tobacco. Before each was placed a great mug of beer, and the beer-casks were kept freely on tap, for the old despot insisted that all should drink or smoke whether or not they liked beer and tobacco, and he was never more delighted than when he could make a guest drunk or sicken him with smoke. For food, when they were in need of it, bread and cheese and similar viands might be had.
A strange picture of palatial grandeur this. Fortune had missed Frederick William's true vocation in not making him an inn-keeper in a German village instead of a king. Around this smoke-shrouded table the most important affairs of state were discussed. Around it the rudest practical jokes were perpetrated. Gundling, a beer-bibbing author, whom the king made at once his historian and his butt, was the principal sufferer from these frolics, which displayed abundantly that absence of wit and presence of brutality which is the characteristic of the practical joke. As if in scorn of rank and official dignity, Frederick gave this sot and fool the title of baron and created him chancellor and chamberlain of the palace, forcing him always to wear an absurdly gorgeous gala dress, while to show his disdain of learned pursuits he made him president of his Academy of Sciences, an institution which, in its condition at that time, was suited to the presidency of a Gundling.
For these dignities he made the poor butt suffer. On one occasion the kingly joker had a brace of bear cubs laid in Gundling's bed, and the drunken historian tossed in between them, with little heed of the danger to which he exposed the poor victim of his sport. On another occasion, when Gundling grew sullen and refused to leave his room, the king and his boon companions besieged him with rockets and crackers, which they flung in at the open window. A third and more elaborate trick was the following. The king had the door of Gundling's room walled up, so that the drunken dupe wandered the palace halls the whole night long, vainly seeking his vanished door, getting into wrong rooms, disturbing sleepers to ask whither his room had flown, and making the palace almost as uncomfortable for its other inmates as for himself. He ended his journey in the bear's den, where he got a severe hug for his pains.
Such were the ideas of royal dignity, of art, science, and learning, and of wit and humor, entertained by the first King of Prussia, the coarse-mannered and brutal-minded progenitor of one of the greatest of modern monarchs. His ideas of military power were no wiser or more elevated. His whole soul was set on having a play army, a brigade of tall recruits, whose only merit lay in their inches above the ordinary height of humanity. Much of the revenues of the kingdom were spent upon these giants, whom he had brought from all parts of Europe, by strategy and force where cash and persuasion did not avail. His agents were everywhere on the lookout for men beyond the usual stature, and on more than one occasion blood was shed in the effort to kidnap recruits, while some of his crimps were arrested and executed. More than once Prussia was threatened with war for the practices of its king, yet so eager was he to add to the number of his giants that he let no such difficulties stand in his way.
His tall recruits were handsomely paid and loaded with favors. To one Irishman of extraordinary stature he paid one thousand pounds, while the expense of watching and guarding him while bringing him from Ireland was two hundred pounds more. It is said that in all twelve million dollars left the country in payment for these showy and costly giants.
By his various processes of force, fraud, and stratagem he collected three battalions of tall show soldiers, comprising at one time several thousand men. Not content with the unaided work of nature in providing giants, he attempted to raise a gigantic race in his own dominions, marrying his grenadiers to the tallest women he could find. There is nothing to show that the result of his efforts was successful.
The king's giants found life by no means a burden. They enjoyed the highest consideration in Berlin, were loaded with favors, and presented with houses, lands, and other evidences of royal grace, while their only duties were show drills and ostentatious parades. They were too costly and precious to expose to the dangers of actual war. When Frederick William's son came to the throne the military career of the giants suddenly ended. They were disbanded, pensioned off, or sent to invalid institutions, with secret instructions to the officers that if any of them tried to run away no hinderance should be placed in their path to freedom.
It is, however, with Frederick William's treatment of his son that we are principally concerned. As the boy grew older his predilection for the culture and literature of France increased, and under the influence of his favorite associates, two young men named Katte and Keith, a degree of licentiousness was developed in his habits. To please his father he accepted a position in the army, but took every opportunity to throw aside the hated uniform, dress in luxurious garments, solace himself with the flute, bury himself among his books, and enjoy the society of the women he admired and the friends he loved. He was frequently forced to attend the king's smoking-parties, where he seems to have avoided smoking and drinking as much as possible, escaping from the scene before it degenerated into an orgy of excess, in which it was apt to terminate.
These tastes and tendencies were not calculated to increase the love of the brutal old monarch for his son, and the life of the boy became harder to bear as he grew older. His sister Wilhelmina was equally detested by the harsh old king, who treated them both with shameful brutality, knocking them down and using his cane upon them on the slightest provocation, confining them and sending them food unfit to eat, omitting to serve them at table, and using disgusting means to render their food unpalatable.
"The king almost starved my brother and me," says the princess. "He performed the office of carver, and helped everybody excepting us two, and when there happened to be something left in a dish, he would spit upon it to prevent us from eating it. On the other hand, I was treated with abundance of abuse and invectives, being called all day long by all sorts of names, no matter who was present. The king's anger was sometimes so violent that he drove my brother and me away, and forbade us to appear in his presence except at meal-times."
This represented the state of affairs when they were almost grown up, and is a remarkable picture of court habits and manners in Germany in the early part of the eighteenth century. The scene we have already described, in which the king attempted to strangle his son with the curtain cord, occurred when Frederick was in his nineteenth year, and was one of the acts which gave rise to his resolution to run away, the source of so many sorrows.
Poor Frederick's lot had become too hard to bear. He was bent on flight. His mother was the daughter of George I. of England, and he hoped to find at the English court the happiness that failed him at home. He informed his sister of his purpose, saying that he intended to put it into effect during a journey which his father was about to make, and in which opportunities for flight would arise. Katte, he said, was in his interest; Keith would join him; he had made with them all the arrangements for his flight. His sister endeavored to dissuade him, but in vain. His father's continued brutality, and particularly his use of the cane, had made the poor boy desperate. He wrote to Lieutenant Katte,—
"I am off, my dear Katte. I have taken such precautions that I have nothing to fear. I shall pass through Leipsic, where I shall assume the name of Marquis d'Ambreville. I have already sent word to Keith, who will proceed direct to England. Lose no time, for I calculate on finding you at Leipsic. Adieu, be of good cheer."
The king's journey took place. Frederick accompanied him, his mind full of his projected flight. The king added to his resolution by ill-treatment during the journey, and taunted him as he had often done before, saying,—
"If my father had treated me so, I would soon have run away; but you have no heart; you are a coward."
This added to the prince's resolution. He wrote to Katte at Berlin, repeating to him his plans. But now the chapter of accidents, which have spoiled so many well-laid plots, began. In sending this letter he directed it "via Nuernberg," but in his haste or agitation forgot to insert Berlin. By ill luck there was a cousin of Katte's, of the same name, at Erlangen, some twelve miles off. The letter was delivered to and read by him. He saw the importance of its contents, and, moved by an impulse of loyalty, sent it by express to the king at Frankfort.
Another accident came from Frederick's friend Keith being appointed lieutenant, his place as page to the prince being taken by his brother, who was as stupid as the elder Keith was acute. The royal party had halted for the night at a village named Steinfurth. This the prince determined to make the scene of his escape, and bade his page to call him at four in the morning, and to have horses ready, as he proposed to make an early morning call upon some pretty girls at a neighboring hamlet. He deemed the boy too stupid to trust with the truth.
Young Keith managed to spoil all. Instead of waking the prince, he called his valet, who was really a spy of the king's, and who, suspecting something to be amiss, pretended to fall asleep again, while heedfully watching. Frederick soon after awoke, put on a coat of French cut instead of his uniform, and went out. The valet immediately roused several officers of the king's suite, and told them his suspicions. Much disturbed, they hurried after the prince.
After searching through the village, they found him at the horse-market leaning against a cart. His dress added to their suspicions, and they asked him respectfully what he was doing there. He answered sharply, angry at being discovered.
"For God's sake, change your coat!" exclaimed Colonel Rochow. "The king is awake, and will start in half an hour. What would be the consequence if he were to see you in this dress?"
"I promise you that I will be ready before the king," said Frederick. "I only mean to take a little turn."
While they were arguing, the page arrived with the horses. The prince seized the bridle of one of them, and would have leaped upon it but for the interference of those around him, who forced him to return to the barn in which the royal party had found its only accommodation for that night. Here he was obliged to put on his uniform, and to restrain his anger.
During the day the valet and others informed the king of what had occurred. He said nothing, as there were no proofs of the prince's purpose. That night they reached Frankfort. Here the king received, the next morning, the letter sent him by Katte's cousin. He showed it to two of his officers, and bade them on peril of their heads to keep a close watch on the prince, and to take him immediately to the yacht on which the party proposed to travel the next day by water to Wesel.
The king embarked the next morning, and as soon as he saw the prince his smothered rage burst into fury. He grasped him violently by the collar, tore his hair out by the roots, and struck him in the face with the knob of his stick till the blood ran. Only by the interference of the two officers was the unhappy youth saved from more extreme violence.
His sword was taken from him, his effects were seized by the king, and his papers burned by his valet before his face,—in which he did all concerned "an important service."
At the request of his keepers the prince was taken to another yacht. On reaching the bridge of boats at the entrance to Wesel, he begged permission to land there, so that he might not be known. His keepers acceded, but he was no sooner on land than he ran off at full speed. He was stopped by a guard, whom the king had sent to meet him, and was conducted to the town-house. Not a word was said to the king about this attempt at flight.
The next day Frederick was brought before his father, who was in a raging passion.
"Why did you try to run away?" he furiously asked.
"Because," said Frederick, firmly, "you have not treated me like your son, but like a base slave."
"You are an infamous deserter, and have no honor."
"I have as much as you," retorted the prince. "I have done no more than I have heard you say a hundred times that you would do if you were in my place."
This answer so incensed the old tyrant that he drew his sword in fury from its scabbard, and would have run the boy through had not General Mosel hastily stepped between, and seized the king's arm.
"If you must have blood, stab me," he said; "my old carcass is not good for much; but spare your son."
These words checked the king's brutal fury. He ordered them to take the boy away, and listened with more composure to the general, who entreated him not to condemn the prince without a hearing, and not to commit the unpardonable crime of becoming his son's executioner.
Events followed rapidly upon this discovery. Frederick contrived to despatch a line in pencil to Keith. "Save yourself," he wrote; "all is discovered." Keith at once fled, reached the Hague, where he was concealed in the house of Lord Chesterfield, the English ambassador, and when searched for there, succeeded in escaping to England in a fishing-boat. He was hung in effigy in Prussia, but became a major of cavalry in the service of Portugal.
Katte was less fortunate. He was warned in time to escape, and the marshal who was sent to arrest him purposely delayed, but he lost precious time in preparation, and was seized while mounting his horse.
His arrest filled the queen with terror. Numerous letters were in his possession which had been written by herself and her daughter to the prince royal. In these they had often spoken with great freedom of the king. It might be ruinous should these letters fall into his hands.
Some friend sent the portfolio supposed to contain them to the queen. It was locked, corded, and sealed. The trouble about the seal was overcome by an old valet, who had found in the palace garden one just like it. The portfolio was opened, and the queen's fears found to be correct. It contained the letters, not less than fifteen hundred in all. They were all hastily thrown into the fire,—too hastily, for many of them were innocent of offence.
But it would not do to return an empty portfolio. The queen and her daughter immediately began to write letters to replace the burned ones, taking paper of each year's manufacture to prevent discovery. For three days they diligently composed and wrote, and in that period fabricated no less than six or seven hundred letters. These far from filled the portfolio, but the queen packed other things into it, and then locked and sealed it, so that no change in its appearance could be perceived. This done, it was restored to its place.
We must hasten over what followed. On the king's return his first greeting to his wife was, "Your good-for-nothing son is dead." He immediately demanded the portfolio, tore it open, and carried away the letters which had been so recently concocted. In a few minutes he returned, and on seeing his daughter broke out into a fury of rage, his eyes glaring, his mouth foaming.
"Infamous wretch!" he shouted; "dare you appear in my presence? Go keep your scoundrel of a brother company."
He seized her as he spoke and struck her several times violently in the face, one blow on the temple hurling her to the floor. Mad with rage, he would have trampled on her had not the ladies present got her away. The scene was a frightful one. The queen, believing her son dead, and completely unnerved, ran wildly around the room, shrieking with agony. The king's face was so distorted with rage as to be frightful to look at. His younger children were around his knees, begging him with tears to spare their sister. Wilhelmina, her face bruised and swollen, was supported by one of the ladies of the court. Rarely had insane rage created a more distressing spectacle.
In the end the king acknowledged that Frederick was still alive, but vowed that he would have his head off as a deserter, and that Wilhelmina, his confederate, should be imprisoned for life. He left the room at length to question Katte, who was being brought before him, harshly exclaiming as he did so, "Now I shall have evidence to convict the scoundrel Fritz and that blackguard Wilhelmina. I shall find plenty of reasons to have their heads off."
But we must hasten to the conclusion. Both the captives were tried by court-martial, on the dangerous charge of desertion from the army. The court which tried Frederick proved to be subservient to the king's will. They pronounced sentence of death on the prince royal. Katte was sentenced to imprisonment for life, on the plea that his crime had been only meditated, not committed. The latter sentence did not please the despot. He changed it himself from life imprisonment to death, and with a refinement of cruelty ordered the execution to take place under the prince's window, and within his sight.
On the 5th of November, 1730, Frederick, wearing a coarse prison dress, was conducted from his cell in the fortress of Cuestrin to a room on the lower floor, where the window-curtains, let down as he entered, were suddenly drawn up. He saw before him a scaffold hung with black, which he believed to be intended for himself, and gazed upon it with shuddering apprehension. When informed that it was intended for his friend, his grief and pain became even more acute. He passed the night in that room, and the next morning was conducted again to the window, beneath which he saw his condemned friend, accompanied by soldiers, an officer, and a minister of religion.
"Oh," cried the prince, "how miserable it makes me to think that I am the cause of your death! Would to God I were in your place!"
"No," replied Katte; "if I had a thousand lives, gladly would I lay them down for you."
Frederick swooned as his friend moved on. In a few minutes afterwards Katte was dead. It was long before the sorrowing prince recovered from the shock of that cruel spectacle.
Whether the king actually intended the execution of his son is questioned. As it was, earnest remonstrances were addressed to him from the Kings of Sweden and Poland, the Emperor of Germany, and other monarchs. He gradually recovered from the insanity of his rage, and, on humble appeals from his son, remitted his sentence, requiring him to take a solemn oath that he was converted from his infidel beliefs, that he begged a thousand pardons from his father for his crimes, and that he repented not having been always obedient to his father's will.
This done, Frederick was released from prison, but was kept under surveillance at Cuestrin till February, 1732, when he was permitted to return to Berlin. He had been there before on the occasion of his sister's marriage, in November, 1731, the poor girl gladly accepting marriage to a prince she had never seen as a means of escape from a king of whom she had seen too much. With this our story ends. Father and son were reconciled, and lived to all appearance as good friends until 1740, when the old despot died, and Frederick succeeded him as king.
VOLTAIRE AND FREDERICK THE GREAT.
Voltaire, who was an adept in the art of making France too hot to hold him, had gone to Prussia, as a place of rest for his perturbed spirit, and, in response to the repeated invitations of his ardent admirer, Frederick the Great. It was a blunder on both sides. If they had wished to continue friends, they should have kept apart. Frederick was autocratic in his ways and thoughts; Voltaire embodied the spirit of independence in thought and speech. The two men could no more meet without striking fire than flint and steel. Moreover, Voltaire was normally satirical, restless, inclined to vanity and jealousy, and that terrible pen of his could never be brought to respect persons and places. With a martinet like Frederick, the visit was sure to end in a quarrel, despite the admiration of the prince for the poet.
Frederick, though a German king, was French in his love for the Gallic literature, philosophy, and language. He cared little for German literature—there was little of it in his day worth caring for—and always wrote and spoke in French, while French wits and thinkers who could not live in safety in straitlaced Paris, gained the amplest scope for their views in his court. Voltaire found three such emigrants there, Maupertuis, La Mettrie, and D'Arnaud. He was received by them with enthusiasm, as the sovereign of their little court of free thought. Frederick had given him a pension and the post of chamberlain,—an office with very light duties,—and the expatriated poet set himself out to enjoy his new life with zest and animation.
"A hundred and fifty thousand victorious soldiers," he wrote to Paris, "no attorneys, opera, plays, philosophy, poetry, a hero who is a philosopher and a poet, grandeur and graces, grenadiers and muses, trumpets and violins, Plato's symposium, society and freedom! Who would believe it? It is all true, however."
"It is Caesar, it is Marcus Aurelius, it is Julian, it is sometimes Abbe Chaulieu, with whom I sup," he further wrote; "there is the charm of retirement, there is the freedom of the country, with all those little delights which the lord of a castle who is a king can procure for his very obedient humble servants and guests. My own duties are to do nothing. I enjoy my leisure. I give an hour a day to the King of Prussia to touch up a bit his works in prose and verse; I am his grammarian, not his chamberlain ... Never in any place in the world was there more freedom of speech touching the superstitions of men, and never were they treated with more banter and contempt. God is respected, but all they who have cajoled men in His name are treated unsparingly."
It was, in short, an Eden for a free-thinker; but an Eden with its serpent, and this serpent was the envy, jealousy, and unrestrainable satiric spirit of Voltaire. There was soon trouble between him and his fellow-exiles. He managed to get Arnaud exiled from the country, and gradually a coolness arose between him and Maupertuis, whom Frederick had made president of the Berlin Academy. There were other quarrels and complications, and Voltaire grew disgusted with the occupation of what he slyly called "buck-washing" the king's French verses,—poor affairs they were. Step by step he was making Berlin as hot as he had made Paris. The new Adam was growing restless in his new Paradise. He wrote to his niece,—
"So it is known by this time in Paris, my dear child, that we have played the 'Mort de Caesar' at Potsdam, that Prince Henry is a good actor, has no accent, and is very amiable, and that this is the place for pleasure? All this is true, but—The king's supper parties are delightful; at them people talk reason, wit, science; freedom prevails thereat; he is the soul of it all; no ill-temper, no clouds, at any rate no storms; my life is free and well occupied,—but—Opera, plays, carousals, suppers at Sans Souci, military manoeuvres, concerts, studies, readings,—but—The city of Berlin, grand, better laid out than Paris; palaces, play-houses, affable queens, charming princesses, maids of honor beautiful and well-made, the mansion of Madame de Tyrconnel always full and sometimes too much so,—but—but—My dear child, the weather is beginning to settle down into a fine frost."
Voltaire brought the frost. He got into a disreputable quarrel with a Jew, and meddled in other affairs, until something very like a quarrel arose between him and Frederick. The king wrote him a severe letter of reprimand. The poet apologized. But immediately afterwards his irrepressible spirit of mischief broke out in a new place. It was his ill-humor with Maupertuis which now led him astray. He wrote a pamphlet, full of wit and as full of bitterness, called "La diatribe du docteur Akakia," so evidently satirizing Maupertuis that the king grew furious. It was printed anonymously, and circulated surreptitiously in Berlin, but a copy soon fell into Frederick's hand, who knew at once that but one man in the kingdom was capable of such a production. He wrote so severely to Voltaire that the malicious satirist was frightened and gave up the whole edition of the pamphlet, which was burnt before his eyes in the king's own closet, though Frederick could not help laughing at its wit.
But Voltaire's daring was equal to a greater defiance than Frederick imagined. Despite the work of the flames, a copy of the diatribe found its way to Paris, was printed there, and copies of it made their way back to Prussia by mail. Everybody was reading it, everybody laughing, people fought for copies of the satire, which spread over Europe. The king, enraged by this treacherous disobedience, as he deemed it, retorted on Voltaire by having the pamphlet burned in the Place d'Armes.
This brought matters to a crisis. The next day Voltaire sent his commissions and orders back to Frederick; the next, Frederick returned them to him. He was bent on leaving Prussia at once, but wished to do it without a quarrel with the king.
"I sent the Solomon of the North," he wrote to Madame Denis, "for his present, the cap and bells he gave me, with which you reproached me so much. I wrote him a very respectful letter, for I asked him for leave to go. What do you think he did? He sent me his great factotum, Federshoff, who brought me back my toys; he wrote me a letter saying that he would rather have me to live with than Maupertuis. What is quite certain is that I would rather not live with either the one or the other."
In truth, Frederick could not bear to lose Voltaire. Vexed as he was with him, he was averse to giving up that charming conversation from which he had derived so much enjoyment. Voltaire wanted to get away; Frederick pressed him to stay. There was protestation, warmth, coolness, a gradual breaking of links, letters from France urging the poet to return, communications from Frederick wishing him to remain, and a growing attraction from Paris drawing its flown son back to that centre of the universe for a true Frenchman.
At length Frederick yielded; Voltaire might go. The poet approached him while reviewing his troops.
"Ah! Monsieur Voltaire," said the king, "so you really intend to go away?"
"Sir, urgent private affairs, and especially my health, leave me no alternative."
"Monsieur, I wish you a pleasant journey."
This was enough for Voltaire; in an hour he was in his carriage and on the road to Leipsic. He thought he was done for the rest of his life with the "exactions" and "tyrannies" of the King of Prussia. He was to experience some more of them before he left the land. Frederick bided his time.
It was on March 26, 1753, that Voltaire left Potsdam. It was two months afterwards before he reached Frankfort. He had tarried at Leipsic and at Gotha, engaged in the latter place on a dry chronicle asked for by the duchess, entitled "The Annals of the Empire." During this time also, in direct disregard of a promise he had made Frederick, there appeared a supplement to "Doctor Akakia," more offensive than the main text. It was followed by a virulent correspondence with Maupertuis. Voltaire was filling up the vials of wrath of the king.
On May 31 he reached Frankfort. Here the blow fell. There occurred an incident which has become famous in literary history, and which, while it had some warrant on Frederick's side, tells very poorly for that patron of literature. No unlettered autocrat could have acted with less regard to the rights and proprieties of citizenship.
"Here is how this fine adventure came about," writes Voltaire. "There was at Frankfort one Freytag, who had been banished from Dresden and had become an agent for the King of Prussia....He notified me, on behalf of his Majesty, that I was not to leave Frankfort till I had restored the valuable effects I was carrying away from his Majesty.
"'Alack, sir, I am carrying away nothing from that country, if you please, not even the smallest regret. What, pray, are those jewels of the Brandenburg crown that you require?'
"'It be, sir,' replied Freytag, 'the work of poeshy of the king, my gracious master.'
"'Oh, I will give him back his prose and verse with all my heart,' replied I, 'though, after all, I have more than one right to the work. He made me a present of a beautiful copy printed at his expense. Unfortunately, the copy is at Leipsic with my other luggage.'
"Then Freytag proposed to me to remain at Frankfort until the treasure which was at Leipsic should have arrived; and he signed an order for it."
The volume which Frederick wanted he had doubtless good reason to demand, when it is considered that it was in the hands of a man who could be as malicious as Voltaire. It contained a burlesque and licentious poem, called the "Palladium," in which the king scoffed at everybody and everything in a manner he preferred not to make public. Voltaire in Berlin might be trusted to remain discreet. In Paris his discretion could not be counted on. Frederick wanted the poem in his own hands.
There was delay in the matter; references to Frederick and returns; the affair dragged on slowly. The package arrived. Voltaire, agitated at his detention, ill and anxious, wanted to get away, in company with Madame Denis, who had just joined him. Freytag refused to let him go. Very unwisely, the poet determined to slip away, imagining that in a "free city" like Frankfort he could not be disturbed. He was mistaken. The freedom of Frankfort was subject to the will of Frederick. The poet tells for himself what followed.
"The moment I was off, I was arrested, I, my secretary and my people; my niece is arrested; four soldiers drag her through the mud to a cheesemonger's named Smith, who had some title or other of privy councillor to the King of Prussia; my niece had a passport from the King of France, and, what is more, she had never corrected the King of Prussia's verses. They huddled us all into a sort of hostelry, at the door of which were posted a dozen soldiers; we were for twelve days prisoners of war, and we had to pay a hundred and forty crowns a day."
Voltaire was furious; Madame Denis was ill, or feigned to be; she wrote letter after letter to Voltaire's friends in Prussia, and to the king himself. The affair was growing daily more serious. Finally the city authorities themselves, who doubtless felt that they were not playing a very creditable part, put an end to it by ordering Freytag to release his prisoner. Voltaire, set free, travelled leisurely towards France, which, however, he found himself refused permission to enter. He thereupon repaired to Geneva, and thereafter, freed from the patronage of princes and the injustice of the powerful, spent his life in a land where full freedom of thought and action was possible.
As for the worthy Freytag, he felicitated himself highly on the way he had handled that dabbler in poeshy. "We would have risked our lives rather than let him get away," he wrote; "and if I, holding a council of war with myself, had not found him at the barrier but in the open country, and he had refused to jog back, I don't know that I shouldn't have lodged a bullet in his head. To such a degree had I at heart the letters and writing of the king."
The too trusty agent did not feel so self-satisfied on receiving the opinion of the king.
"I gave you no such orders as that," wrote Frederick. "You should never make more noise than a thing deserves. I wanted Voltaire to give you up the key, the cross, and the volume of poems I had intrusted to him; as soon as all that was given up to you I can't see what earthly reason could have induced you to make this uproar."
It is very probable, however, that Frederick wished to humiliate Voltaire, and the latter did not fail to revenge himself with that weapon which he knew so well how to wield. In his poem of "La Loi naturelle" he drew a bitter but truthful portrait of Frederick which must have made that arbitrary gentleman wince. He was, says the poet,—
"Of incongruities a monstrous pile, Calling men brothers, crushing them the while; With air humane, a misanthropic brute; Ofttimes impulsive, sometimes over-'cute; Weak 'midst his choler, modest in his pride; Yearning for virtue, lust personified; Statesman and author, of the slippery crew; My patron, pupil, persecutor too."
SCENES FROM THE SEVEN YEARS' WAR.
The story of Frederick the Great is a story of incessant wars, wars against frightful odds, for all Europe was combined against him, and for seven years the Austrians, the French, the Russians, and the Swedes surrounded his realm, with the bitter determination to crush him, if not to annihilate the Prussian kingdom. England alone was on his side. Russia had joined the coalition through anger of the Empress Elizabeth at Frederick's satire upon her licentious life; France had joined it through hostility to England; Austria had organized it from indignation at Frederick's lawless seizure of Silesia; the army raised to operate against Prussia numbered several hundred thousand men.
For years Frederick fought them all single-handed, with a persistence, an energy, and a resolute rising under the weight of defeat that compelled the admiration even of his enemies, and in the end gave him victory over them all. To the rigid discipline of his troops, his own military genius, and his indomitable perseverance, he owed his final success and his well-earned epithet of "The Great."
The story of battle, stirring as it is, is apt to grow monotonous, and we have perhaps inflicted too many battle scenes already upon our readers, though we have selected only such as had some particular feature of interest to enliven them. Out of Frederick's numerous battles we may be able to present some examples sufficiently diverse from the ordinary to render them worthy of classification, under the title of the romance of history.
Let us go back to the 5th of November, 1757. On that date the army of Frederick lay in the vicinity of Rossbach, on the Saale, then occupied by a powerful French army. The Prussian commander, after vainly endeavoring to bring the Austrians to battle, had turned and marched against the French, with the hope of driving them out of Saxony.
His hope was not a very promising one. The French army was sixty thousand strong. He had but little over twenty thousand men. While he felt hope the French felt assurance. They had their active foe now in their clutches, they deemed. With his handful of men he could not possibly stand before their onset. He had escaped them more than once before; this time they had him, as they believed.
His camp was on a height, near the Saale. Towards it the French advanced, with flying colors and sounding trumpets, as if with purpose to strike terror into the ranks of their foes. That Frederick would venture to stand before them they scarcely credited. If he should, his danger would be imminent, for they had laid their plans to surround his small force and, by taking the king and his army prisoners, end at a blow the vexatious war. They calculated shrewdly but not well, for they left Frederick out of the account in their plans.
As they came up, line after line, column after column, they must have been surprised by the seeming indifference of the Prussians. There were in their ranks no signs of retreat and none of hostility. They remained perfectly quiet in their camp, not a gun being fired, not a movement visible, as inert and heedless to all seeming of the coming of the French as though there were no enemy within a hundred miles.
There was a marked difference between the make-up of the two armies, which greatly reduced their numerical odds. Frederick's army was composed of thoroughly disciplined and trained soldiers, every man of whom knew his place and his duty, and could be trusted in an emergency. The French, on the contrary, had brought all they could of Paris with them; their army was encumbered with women, wig-makers, barbers, and the like impedimenta, and confusion and gayety in their ranks replaced the stern discipline of Frederick's camp. After the battle, the booty is said to have consisted largely of objects of gallantry better suited for a boudoir than a camp.
The light columns of smoke that arose from the Prussian camp as the French advanced indicated their occupation,—and that by no means suggested alarm. They were cooking their dinners, with as much unconcern as though they had not yet seen the coming enemy nor heard the clangor of trumpets that announced their approach. Had the French commanders been within the Prussian lines they would have been more astonished still, for they would have seen Frederick with his staff and general officers dining at leisure and with the utmost coolness and indifference. There was no appearance of haste in their movements, and no more in those of their men, whose whole concern just then seemed to be the getting of a good meal.
The hour passed on, the French came nearer, their trumpet clangor was close at hand, every moment seemed to render the peril of the Prussians more imminent, yet their inertness continued; it looked almost as though they had given up the idea of defence. The confidence of the French must have grown rapidly as their plan of surrounding the Prussians with their superior numbers seemed more and more assured.
But Frederick had his eye upon them. He was biding his time. Suddenly there came a change. It was about half-past two in the afternoon. The French had reached the position for which he had been waiting. Quickly the staff officers dashed right and left with their orders. The trumpets sounded. As if by magic the tents were struck, the men sprang to their ranks and were drawn up in battle array, the artillery opened its fire, the seeming inertness which had prevailed was with extraordinary rapidity exchanged for warlike activity; the complete discipline of the Prussian army had never been more notably displayed.
The French, who had been marching forward with careless ease, beheld this change of the situation with astounded eyes. They looked for heaviness and slowness of movement among the Germans, and could scarcely believe in the possibility of such rapidity of evolution. But they had little time to think. The Prussian batteries were pouring a rain of balls through their columns. And quickly the Prussian cavalry, headed by the dashing Seidlitz, was in their midst, cutting and slashing with annihilating vigor.
The surprise was complete. The French found it impossible to form into line. Everywhere their columns were being swept by musketry and artillery, and decimated by the sabres of the charging cavalry. In almost less time than it takes to tell it they were thrown into confusion, overwhelmed, routed; in the course of less than half an hour the fate of the battle was decided, and the French army completely defeated.
Their confidence of a short time before was succeeded by panic, and the lately trim ranks fled in utter disorganization, so utterly broken that many of the fugitives never stopped till they reached the other side of the Rhine.
Ten thousand prisoners fell into Frederick's hands, including nine generals and numerous other officers, together with all the French artillery, and twenty-two standards; while the victory was achieved with the loss of only one hundred and sixty-five killed and three hundred and fifty wounded on the Prussian side. The triumph was one of discipline against over-confidence. No army under less complete control than that of Frederick could have sprung so suddenly into warlike array. To this, and to the sudden and overwhelming dash of Seidlitz and his cavalry, the remarkable victory was due.
Just one month from that date, on the 5th of December, another great battle took place, and another important victory for Frederick the Great. With thirty-four thousand Prussians he defeated eighty thousand Austrians, while the prisoners taken nearly equalled in number his entire force.
The Austrians had taken the opportunity of Frederick's campaign against the French to overrun Silesia. Breslau, its capital, with several other strongholds, fell into their hands, and the probability was that if left there during the winter they would so strongly fortify it as to defy any attempt of the Prussian king to recapture it.
Despite the weakness of his army Frederick decided to make an effort to regain the lost province, and marched at once against the Austrians. They lay in a strong position behind the river Lohe, and here their leader, Field-Marshal Daun, wished to have them remain, having had abundant experience of his opponent in the open field. This cautious advice was not taken by Prince Charles, who controlled the movements of the army, and whom several of the generals persuaded that it would be degrading for a victorious army to intrench itself against one so much inferior in numbers, and advised him to march out and meet the Prussians. "The parade guard of Berlin," as they contemptuously designated Frederick's army, "would never be able to make a stand against them."
The prince, who was impetuous in disposition, agreed with them, marched out from his intrenchments, and met Frederick's army in the vast plain near Leuthen. On December 5 the two armies came face to face, the lines of the imperial force extending over a space of five miles, while those of Frederick occupied a much narrower space.
In his lack of numbers the Prussian king was obliged to substitute celerity of movement, hoping to double the effectiveness of his troops by their quickness of action. The story of the battle may be given in a few words. A false attack was made on the Austrian right, and then the bulk of the Prussian army was hurled upon their left wing, with such impetuosity as to break and shatter it. The disorder caused by this attack spread until it included the whole army. In three hours' time Frederick had completely defeated his foes, one-third of whom were killed, wounded, or captured, and the remainder put to flight. The field was covered with the slain, and whole battalions surrendered, the Prussians capturing in all twenty-one thousand prisoners. They took besides one hundred and thirty cannon and three thousand baggage and ammunition wagons. The victory was a remarkable example of the supremacy of genius over mere numbers. Napoleon says of it, "That battle was a master-piece. Of itself it is sufficient to entitle Frederick to a place in the first rank of generals." It restored Silesia to the Prussian dominions.
There is one more of Frederick's victories of sufficiently striking character to fit in with those already given. It took place in 1760, several years after those described, years in which Frederick had struggled persistently against overwhelming odds, and, though often worsted, yet coming up fresh after every defeat, and unconquerably keeping the field.
He was again in Silesia, which was once more seriously threatened by the Austrian forces. His position was anything but a safe one. The Austrians almost surrounded him. On one side was the army of Field-Marshal Daun, on the other that of General Lasci; in front was General Laudon. Fighting day and night he advanced, and finally took up his position at Liegnitz, where he found his forward route blocked, Daun having formed a junction with Laudon. His magazines were at Breslau and Schweidnitz in front, which it was impossible to reach; while his brother, Prince Henry, who might have marched to his relief, was detained by the Russians on the Oder.
The position of Frederick was a critical one. He had only a few days' supply of provisions; it was impossible to advance, and dangerous to retreat; the Austrians, in superior numbers, were dangerously near him; only fortune and valor could save him from serious disaster. In this crisis of his career happy chance came to his aid, and relieved him from the awkward and perilous situation into which he had fallen.
The Austrians were keenly on the alert, biding their time and watchful for an opportunity to take the Prussians at advantage. The time had now arrived, as they thought, and they laid their plans accordingly. On the night before the 15th of August Laudon set out on a secret march, his purpose being to gain the heights of Puffendorf, from which the Prussians might be assailed in the rear. At the same time the other corps were to close in on every side, completely surrounding Frederick, and annihilating him if possible.
It was a well-laid and promising plan, but accident befriended the Prussian king. Accident and alertness, we may say; since, to prevent a surprise from the Austrians, he was in the habit of changing the location of his camp almost every night. Such a change took place on the night in question. On the 14th the Austrians had made a close reconnoisance of his position. Fearing some hostile purpose in this, Frederick, as soon as the night had fallen, ordered his tents to be struck and the camp to be moved with the utmost silence, so as to avoid giving the foe a hint of his purpose. As it chanced, the new camp was made on those very heights of Puffendorf towards which Laudon was advancing with equal care and secrecy.
That there might be no suspicion of the Prussian movement, the watch-fires were kept up in the old camp, peasants attending to them, while patrols of hussars cried out the challenge every quarter of an hour. The gleaming lights, the watch-cries of the sentinels, all indicated that the Prussian army was sleeping on its old ground, without suspicion of the overwhelming blow intended for it on the morrow.
Meanwhile the king and his army had reached their new quarters, where the utmost caution and noiselessness was observed. The king, wrapped in his military cloak, had fallen asleep beside his watch-fire; Ziethen, his valiant cavalry leader, and a few others of his principal officers, being with him. Throughout the camp the greatest stillness prevailed, all noise having been forbidden. The soldiers slept with their arms close at hand, and ready to be seized at a moment's notice. Frederick fully appreciated the peril of his situation, and was not to be taken by surprise by his active foes. And thus the night moved on until midnight passed, and the new day began its course in the small hours.
About two o'clock a sudden change came in the situation. A horseman galloped at full speed through the camp, and drew up hastily at the king's tent, calling Frederick from his light slumbers. He was the officer in command of the patrol of hussars, and brought startling news. The enemy was at hand, he said; his advance columns were within a few hundred yards of the camp. It was Laudon's army, seeking to steal into possession of those heights which Frederick had so opportunely occupied.
The stirring tidings passed rapidly through the camp. The soldiers were awakened, the officers seized their arms and sprang to horse, the troops grasped their weapons and hastened into line, the cannoneers flew to their guns, soon the roar of artillery warned the coming Austrians that they had a foe in their front.
Laudon pushed on, thinking this to be some advance column which he could easily sweep from his front. Not until day dawned did he discover the true situation, and perceive, with astounded eyes, that the whole Prussian army stood in line of battle on those very heights which he had hoped so easily to occupy.
The advantage on which the Austrian had so fully counted lay with the Prussian king. Yet, undaunted, Laudon pushed on and made a vigorous attack, feeling sure that the thunder of the artillery would be borne to Daun's ears, and bring that commander in all haste, with his army, to take part in the fray.
But the good fortune which had so far favored Frederick did not now desert him. The wind blew freshly in the opposite direction, and carried the sound of the cannon away from Daun's hearing. Not the roar of a piece of artillery came to him, and his army lay moveless during the battle, he deeming that Laudon must now be in full possession of the heights, and felicitating himself on the neat trap into which the King of Prussia had fallen. While he thus rested on his arms, glorying in his soul on the annihilation to which the pestilent Prussians were doomed, his ally was making a desperate struggle for life, on those very heights which he counted on taking without a shot. Truly, the Austrians had reckoned without their foe in laying their cunning plot.
Three hours of daylight finished the affray. Taken by surprise as they were, the Austrians proved unable to sustain the vigorous Prussian assault, and were utterly routed, leaving ten thousand dead and wounded on the field, and eighty-two pieces of artillery in the enemy's hands. Shortly afterwards Daun, advancing to carry out his share of the scheme of annihilation, fell upon the right wing of the Prussians, commanded by General Ziethen, and was met with so fierce an artillery fire that he halted in dismay. And now news of Laudon's disaster was brought to him. Seeing that the game was lost and himself in danger, he emulated his associate in his hasty retreat.
Fortune and alertness had saved the Prussian king from a serious danger, and turned peril into victory. He lost no time in profiting by his advantage, and was in full march towards Breslau within three hours after the battle, the prisoners in the centre, the wounded—friend and foe alike,—in wagons in the rear, and the captured cannon added to his own artillery train. Silesia was once more delivered into his hands.
Never in history had there been so persistent and indomitable a resistance against overwhelming numbers as that which Frederick sustained for so many years against his numerous foes. At length, when hope seemed almost at an end, and it appeared as if nothing could save the Prussian kingdom from overthrow, death came to the aid of the courageous monarch. The Empress Elizabeth of Russia died, and Frederick's bitterest foe was removed. The new monarch, Peter III., was an ardent admirer of Frederick, and at once discharged all the Prussian prisoners in his hands, and signed a treaty of alliance with Prussia. Sweden quickly did the same, leaving Frederick with no opponents but the Austrians. Four months more sufficed to bring his remaining foes to terms, and by the end of the year 1762 the distracting Seven Years' War was at an end, the indomitable Frederick remaining in full possession of Silesia, the great bone of contention in the war. His resolution and perseverance had raised Prussia to a high position among the kingdoms of Europe, and laid the foundations of the present empire of Germany.