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Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 27507

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

Frederick commenced the campaign against the house of Hapsburg with all the energy and bold courage of former days. The diplomats had once more been permitted to seek the arts of negotiation, and, these having failed, the king advanced rapidly, and entered Bohemia with his advance-guard. The imperial army, informed of the approach of the enemy, retired hurriedly to their intrenchments at Koeniggratz, beyond the Elbe, without a decisive battle. In the skirmishes at the outposts the Prussians had been victorious. On the opposite shore of the Elbe, at Welsdorf, the king took up his headquarters. Why did he not pursue his bold run of victory? Why did he not surprise the imperial army, which he knew was scattered, and not in a position to resist the strength of the Prussian forces? Moreover, the second column of the Prussian army, under the command of Prince Henry, had also entered Bohemia, and fortified a camp near Rimburg, having united with the Saxon allies, which caused the imperialists under Field-Marshal Loudon to seek protection beyond the Iser, near Muenchengratz and Yung-bunzlau. Why did the king then stop in the midst of his victorious career? He had advanced to the field with his fresh, youthful fire, a shining example to all. He was always mounted, shunning no danger, but taking part in the hardships and fatigue incident to the changing life of war; even showing himself personally active at the discovery of foraging-parties. Why did he suddenly hesitate and lie inactive in camp? Why did he not summon his generals and staff-officers to his quarters, instead of his Minister von Herzberg? Every one asked himself the question, and every one answered it differently.-Some said, "Because the Empress of Russia had raised objections to this war of German brothers;" others, that "the King of the French had offered to settle the quarrel as intermediator." A third said, the "empress-queen, Maria Theresa, was terrified at the rapid advance of the Prussians, and had immediately commenced negotiations for peace."

While the wise politicians of Germany and all Europe read and pondered, Frederick tarried quietly in his peasant-house, in which he had taken up his quarters, and which had been arranged very comfortably with carpets, camp-stools, and curtains. He sat in his cabinet upon the high, leather-covered arm-chair, which had been brought for him from the neighboring parsonage. Alkmene lay upon his knee, and Diana at his feet. His countenance was pale, and betrayed fatigue, but his eye beamed with undimmed brilliancy, and around his mouth played an ironical smile. "Well, so matters stand; therefore, I have summoned you to Welsdorf," said Frederick to his minister, Von Herzberg. "The empress-queen is, above all things, a most tender mother. She is fearfully anxious, now that the dear young Emperor Joseph has left for the army, and will be exposed to the dangers of war. My good friends in Vienna inform me that my entrance into Bohemia created a sensation at the brilliant capital, and had so much alarmed the empress-queen, that she was seriously thinking of negotiating for peace. As I learned this from a reliable source, I halted and encamped, that the empress should know where to find me, and sent to summon you immediately. I had not been here three days, when the empress's ambassador, Baron von Thugut, appeared to make offers, and consult about an armistice of two weeks. I made known my conditions, and promised the empress, through her negotiator, that I would so calculate my movements that her majesty would have nothing to fear for her blood and her cherished emperor. [Footnote: The king's words.-See "Prussia, Frederick the Great," vol. iv., p. 102.] Voila, mon cher ministre, you know all now. If the Austrian diplomat comes a second time, you can negotiate with him."

"Is your majesty also inclined to peace?" asked Herzberg.

The king shrugged his shoulders. "When it can be arranged with honor, yes," said he. "I will acknowledge, Herzberg, to you, the campaign is hard for me. The old fellow of sixty-eight feels the burden of life, and would gladly rest quietly, and enjoy the last few years as philosopher and writer instead of soldier."

"Your majesty has yet many years to live, God willing," cried Herzberg. "It would be a great misfortune to Prussia if she could not yet owe to her great king a long and happy reign."

"Hem!" replied the king, "there are in Prussia very many who think otherwise, and wish me to the devil. But I have no intention of seeking monsieur so soon, for there are sufficient devilish deeds to endure in this earthly vale of sorrow to prepare for one a very decent purgatory, and give him hereafter well-founded hopes of heaven. Therefore I count upon remaining here below a while, and to knead with you this leaven of life that may yield to my subjects an eatable bread. You must help me, Herzberg, when I am the baker, to provide the flour for my people; you must be the associate to knead the bread. In order that the flour should not fail, and the bread give out, it may be necessary, if possible, to make peace."

"Will your majesty be so gracious as to inform me what steps I may take, and upon what conditions?"

"Take this paper," said the king, extending a written document to Herzberg. "I have therein expressed my wishes, and you can act accordingly. I am prepared for peace upon any terms which can be made with honor, and which do not frustrate the aim I have in view. You well know that this is the security of Germany against Austria's ambitious love of territorial aggrandizement! I cannot and I will not suffer that the house of Habsburg should strive for unjust possession in Germany, and appropriate Bavaria to herself while a lawful heir exists. I well know that I play the role of Don Quixote, and am about to fight for the rights of Germany as the Chevalier de la Mancha fought for his Dulcinea del Toboso. Mais, que voulez-vous, it is necessary for my fame and repose that I enter the arena once more against Austria to prove to her that I exist. I take this step on account of the prestige I have gained in the German empire, and which I should lose if I had not faced Austria in this Bavarian contest. And besides, it is agreeable to me to accustom my successor to the thunder of cannon, and witness his bearing on the field of battle."

"He will certainly do honor to the heroic race of Hohenzollern," answered Herzberg, bowing.

A sudden flash from the king's fiery eyes met the calm pale face of Herzberg. "Mere words and flattery, which prove that you are not satisfied, Herzberg! Nay, nay, do not deny it; you do not like that I should tarry and treat, and set the pen in motion instead of the sword. You are a man of deeds, and if you had had your way, I should have already won a decisive battle, and be on the road to Vienna to besiege the empress in her citadel, and dictate an humiliating peace to her."

"Your majesty, I can assure you-"

"Well, well, do not quarrel!" interrupted the king; "do you suppose I cannot read your honest and obstinate face? Do you suppose I did not mean what I said? Acknowledge that I am right! confess it, I command you!"

"If your majesty commands it, then I will acknowledge it. Yes, I did wish that your majesty had not empowered Baron von Thugut to return for further negotiations. It would have been well if your majesty had marched victorious to Vienna, to let the proud Hapsburgers see for once that Frederick of Prussia does not stand behind them, but at their side; that he has created a new order of things; that the old, mouldy, rotten statutes of the imperial sovereignty have fallen in the dust before Frederick the Great; that Germany must be newly mapped out, in order to give room near the old man Austria for young Prussia. Yes, your majesty, I could have wished that you had even been less generous, less noble toward the supercilious, insolent enemy, and have accepted no conditions but those of 'equality for Prussia with Austria in the German empire!'"

"My dear sir, I am truly astonished at the vigor with which you express

yourself; I am very glad to find you so enthusiastic," said Frederick,

nodding to his minister; "but listen-I will confide to you that which

I do not wish you to repeat: I am no longer, to my regret, what you so

flatteringly call me, 'Frederick the Great,' but only 'Old Fritz.' Do

you understand me? the latter is a deplorable, worn-out soldier, who no

longer feels power or vigor. The lines of Boileau often recur to me on

mounting my horse:

'Unfortunate one, leave thy steed growing old in peace,

For fear, that, panting and suddenly out of breath,

In falling, he may not leave his master upon the arena!'

It is the misery of life that man will grow old, and that the body, when worn and weary, will even subdue the spirit, and force her to fold her wings and suffer. I did not realize that it had gone so far with me, and I imagined that the winged soul could raise the old, decayed body. Therefore I risked, in spite of my lazy old age, to undertake this war, for I recognized it as a holy duty to enter into it, for the honor and justice of our country, and prove to the Emperor of Germany that he could not manage and rule at his will in the German empire. I long not for the honor of new laurels, but I should be satisfied, as father of my subjects, to gain a civil crown.

"There you have my creed. I have as sincerely confessed to you as my respectable cousin, the empress-queen, to her confessor; only I did not fall upon my knees to you, and you do not as the said confessor, betray me to the Holy Father at Rome."

"Your majesty well knows that every word which you have the grace to confide to me, is engraved upon my inmost soul, and that no power upon earth could force me to reveal it."

"I know that you are a true and zealous servant of your king and country," said Frederick. "Once more I say to you, other than an honorable peace I will not make; and if empress-queen does not accept the abandonment of Bavaria as the basis of peace, then I must conquer my aversion to war, and the sword must arrange what the pen has failed to do. And now, passons ladessus! Until Thugut arrives, let us speak of other things. I have been tolerably industrious, and have improved the leisure of camp-life as much as possible. I have written a panegyric upon Voltaire, and when it is revised and corrected you shall arrange an anniversary in memoriam, at the Berlin Academy, and read my eulogy."

"All Germany and all Europe will be surprised at the magnanimity of the royal mind which could occupy itself in the camp with the muse, and erect an imperishable monument to the man who witnessed such ingratitude and baseness to his benefactor and protector."

"Vous allez trop vite, mon cher; vraiment, trop vite," cried Frederick, ardently. "It is true Voltaire was a miserable fellow, but he was a great poet. He returned meanness and ingratitude to me for the many kindnesses I showed to him, for I treated him more like a friend than a king. Voltaire was my benefactor, in so far that I owed to him the most agreeable and elevating hours of my youth, In memory of these hours I have written this eulogy. It is not worthy of particular mention, and the Academie Francaise will doubtless severely criticise my knowledge of their language. But it is impossible to write well, one moment in camp and another on the march. If it is unworthy of him whom it was intended to celebrate, I have at least availed myself of the freedom of the pen, and will cause to be publicly read in Berlin what one dares not whisper in Paris." [Footnote: The king's own words.-"Posthumous Works," vol. xv., p. 109. This eulogy upon Voltaire, which the king wrote in camp, Herzberg read, in the November following, before the Academy.]

"I shall be most happy to be the instrument to make known this generous expression of your majesty's good-will," remarked Herzberg, bowing.

Frederick smiled, adding: "But with the other work which I have commenced, you are not quite satisfied. You are such an enthusiastic German, that you presume to assert that the intolerable German jargon is a beautiful and expressive language!"

"And I abide by this decision, your majesty," zealously cried Herzberg. "The German language is euphonious, and prolific in ideas, and it is well capable of rivalling in brevity and clearness those of the ancients."

"That you have already asserted, and I have contested it, and again I contest it to-day. Do not trouble me with your German language. It will only deserve notice when great poets, distinguished orators, and admirable historians, have given it their attention and corrected it, freeing it from such disgusting and effeminate phrases as now disfigure it, and cause one to use a mass of words to express a few ideas. At present it is only an accumulation of different dialects, which every division of the German empire thinks to speak the best, and of which twenty thousand can scarcely understand what the other twenty thousand are saying!" [Footnote: The king's own words.-See "Posthumous Works," vol. xv.]

"Sire," cried Herzberg, with vehemence, "should a German king thus speak of his native tongue, at the same time that he takes the field to vindicate the honor of Germany, and submits to all the miseries and hardships of war? Your majesty cannot be in earnest, to despise our beautiful language."

"I do not despise it; I only say that it must be reformed, and shorn of its excrescences. Until then we must use the French, which is to-day the language of the world, and in which one can render all the master-works of the Greeks and t

he Latins, with the same versatility, delicacy, and subtlety, as the original. You pretend that one can well read Tacitus in a German translation, but I do not think the language capable of rendering the Latin authors with the same brevity as the French."

"Sire, to my joy, I can give you proof to the contrary. A Berlin savant, Conrector Moritz, at my request, has translated a few chapters of the fourteenth book of the 'Annals of Tacitus,' word for word, most faithfully into German. He has written it in two columns, the translation at the side of the original. I have taken the liberty to bring this work with me and you will see how exactly, and with what brevity, Latin authors can be rendered into German, and that there are young learned men who have seized the spirit of our language and know how to use it with grace and skill."

"Indeed, give it to me," cried the king, zealously. "I am truly curious to admire the German linguist's work who has so boldly undertaken to translate Tacitus."

"Sire," said Herzberg, raising his eyes knowingly, with a mild, imploring expression to the king's face-"sire, I join a request with this translation."

"What is it? I am very curious about a petition from you, it is so seldom that you proffer one."

"Your majesty, my request concerns the translator of this very chapter of Tacitus. He is Conrector Moritz, attached to the Gray Cloister in Berlin-an unusually gifted young man, who has undoubtedly a brilliant future before him. He has already written many eminent works. The Director Gedicke recommended him to me as a most distinguished, scholarly person, and I have learned to know and appreciate the young man by this means."

"I see it," nodded the king. "You speak of him with great enthusiasm, and as what you so warmly recommend is generally able and well qualified, I begin to be interested in this Herr Moritz. When I return to Berlin-and Heaven grant that it may be soon!-I will at once empower you to present this luminary. Are you satisfied?"

"Sire, dare I ask still more? I would beg your majesty to grant this young man an audience at once."

"How, at once! Is this phoenix here, who so interests my Minister Herzberg? Where is he from, and what does he wish?"

"He is from Berlin; I met him making the journey on foot. He sat upon a stone, by the wayside, eating a piece of bread, with a glowing face, and so absorbed talking to himself in Latin that he heard not the creaking of my carriage through the sand. I recognized him immediately, and called him by name. He turned, perfectly unembarrassed and not at all ashamed to have been discovered in such an humble and poor position."

"That is to say, he is a good comedian," said the king. "He knew that you would drive past there, and placed himself expressly to call your attention to him."

"I beg pardon, sire; Conrector Moritz could not have known that I would take this journey. You will recollect that the courier arrived at midnight with your majesty's commands, and two hours later I was on the road, and have since travelled day and night. As I met the young man only five miles from this place, he must have set out many days before I thought of leaving Berlin."

"It is true," said the king, "it was a false suspicion. You invited him into your carriage, did you not?"

"I did very naturally, sire, as he told me he was going to beg an audience of your majesty. At first he refused decidedly, as he wished to travel on foot, like the pilgrims to the pope at Rome."

"An original, a truly original genius," cried the king.

"He is so indeed, and is so called by all his friends."

"Has he any friends?" asked the king, with an incredulous smile.

"Yes, sire, many warm and sympathizing friends, who are much attached to him, and, on account of his distinguished and brilliant qualities, are willing to indulge his peculiarities."

"Herzberg, you are charmed, and speak of this man as a young girl in love!"

"Sire, if I were a young girl, I should certainly fall in love with this Moritz, for he is handsome."

"Diable! I begin to fear this subject. You say he is handsome, learned, wise, and good, although he belongs to the airy, puffed-up Berliners. Did you let Herr Moritz wander on in his pilgrimage?"

"No, sire, I persuaded him at last to accept a seat in my carriage, by explaining to him that your majesty might soon leave Welsdorf, and he would run the risk of not arriving in season. Upon no condition would he get inside, but climbed up behind, for, said he, with a firm, decided manner, 'I go to the king as a beggar, not as a distinguished gentleman.'"

"Indeed it is an original," the king murmured to himself. "Do you know what the man wants?" he asked aloud.

"No, your majesty; he said that his business concerned the happiness of two human beings, and that he could only open his heart to his God and his king."

"Where is your protege?"

"He stands outside, and it is my humble request that your majesty will grant him an audience, and permit me to call him."

"It is granted, and-"

Just at that moment the door opened, and the footman announced that the private secretary of his highness Prince von Galitzin had arrived, and most respectfully begged an audience.

"It is he-it is the baron," said the king. "Tell your protege he must wait, and come again. Bid the Prince von Galitzin enter."

As the Minister von Herzberg withdrew, the Baron von Thugut appeared, the extraordinary and secret ambassador of the Empress Maria Theresa.

"Well, Herr Baron, you are already returned," said the king, as he scarcely nodded to the profoundly respectful bows of the ambassador. "I infer, therefore, that your instructions are not from the empress, but from the co-regent, the Emperor Joseph, who has betaken himself to the Austrian camp."

"Sire," answered Thugut, laconically, "I have driven day and night, and have received my instructions directly from the empress."

The king slowly shook his head, and an imperceptible smile played around his lips.

"Does the young emperor approve of these instructions?"

"Sire, his majesty, the emperor, is only the co-regent," answered Thugut, hastily. "It is not therefore necessary, that my sovereign should make her decisions dependent upon her son's concordance."

"The empress will negotiate for peace," said the king to himself, "but the emperor desires to win laurels in the war, and will try to cut off the negotiations of his mother by a coup de main. One must be on his guard!"

Just then the door opened and Herzberg returned.

"You perceive I expected you, Baron von Thugut," said the king, "and I ordered here my minister of state, Herr von Herzberg. This is the Baron von Thugut, my dear minister, the ambassador of the empress-queen, who carries in his pocket peace or war, as it may be."

"Sire, I must protest against being so important a personage, as peace and war alone depend upon your majesty. It alone depends upon the lofty King of Prussia whether he will give peace and tranquillity to Germany, or suffer the guilt of permitting the bloody scourge of civil war again to tear in pieces the unhappy German nation."

"That sounds very sentimental," cried the king, smiling. "The Baron von Thugut will appeal to my heart, when we have only to do with the head. Austria wishes to be the head of Germany, and as such would devour one German state after another, as a very palatable morsel. But if you will be the head, Monsieur le Baron, you cannot represent the stomach also, for, as I have been told, it only exists in those soft animals of the sea whose head is in their stomach, and which think and digest at the same time. Austria does not belong to this class, but has rather a very hard and impenetrable shell. We cannot let her devour as stomach what as the head she has chosen as booty. That the electorate of Bavaria is not to be devoured, is the necessary and fundamental preliminary upon which the temple of peace may be erected. If you, or rather the empress-queen, agree to it, the negotiations can be concluded by you two gentlemen. But if you think to erect a temple of peace upon any other basis, your propositions will be in vain. I have not taken the field to make conquests, but to protect the rights of a German prince, and not suffer others to appropriate a German state. I know, as you have said, that war is a bloody scourge for the nation; but, sir, we will not look at it in a sentimental light, and talk of civil war, when Austria herself compels us to take the field. Or, perhaps, you imagine to prove to my good Pomeranians, Markers, and my other German states, that the Croatians, Pandurians, Hungarians, Wallachians, Italians, and Polanders, are our German brothers, which imperial Austria opposes to us. I think this brotherhood may be traced to our common ancestor, Adam, and in this sense all wars are indeed civil wars. In any case war is a scourge for man, and I am convinced that the empress-queen would just as willingly spare her Croatians, Pandurians, Wallachians, and Galicians, as I all my German subjects collectively."

"Also your majesty's Polish subjects, as may be expected," added Baron von Thugut.

"My Polish subjects are the minimum portion, and are about in proportion to the German population as in imperial Austria the German is to the foreign. But enough of this; if I do not recognize this as a civil war, it is indeed a great misfortune. I would do every thing to avoid it-every thing compatible with the honor and glory of my house, as well as that of Germany in general. Therefore let us know the Views of the empress-queen!"

"Sire," answered Von Thugut, as he slowly untied and unfolded the documents, "I beg permission to read aloud to your majesty the acts relative to these points."

"No, baron," answered the king quickly, "the more minute details give to my minister; I wish only the contents in brief."

"At your majesty's command. The empress-queen declares herself ready to renounce the concluded treaty of inheritance to the succession of Bavaria at the death of Elector Charles Theodore; also to give up the district seized, if Prussia will promise to resign the succession of the Margraves of Anspach and Baireuth, and let them remain independent principalities, governed by self-dependent sovereigns."

"That means, that Austria, who will unjustly aggrandize herself by Bavaria, will deprive Prussia of a lawful inheritance!" cried the king, his eyes flashing anger. "I will not heed the after-cause, but I wish to satisfactorily understand the first part of the proposition, that Austria will cede her pretensions to Bavaria."

"Sire, upon conditions only which are sufficient for the honor, the wishes, and necessities of my lofty mistress."

"You hear, my dear Herzberg," said the king, smiling, and turning to his minister, "c'est tout comme chez nous. It will now be your task to find out these conditions, which too closely affect the honor of one or the other. For this purpose you will find the adjacent Cloister Braunau more convenient than my poor cabin. At the conferences of diplomats much time is consumed, while we military people have little time to spare. I shall move on with my army."

"How, then! will your majesty break up here?" cried Thugut, with evident surprise.

The king smiled. "Yes, I shall advance, as my remaining might be construed equal to a retreat. The arts of diplomacy may drag on until the imperialists have assembled all their foreign subjects to the so-called civil war. Then hasten the negotiations, Baron von Thugut, for every day of diplomatic peace is one day more of foraging war, and I know not that you count the Bohemians in the German brotherhood, to whom the calamity of war is ruinous. You have now to deal with the Baron von Thugut, my dear Herzberg, and I hope the baron will accept some diplomatic campaigns with you in Cloister Braunau."

"Sire, I accept, and if your majesty will dismiss me, I will go at once to the cloister," answered Baron von Thugut, whose manner had become graver and more serious since the king's announcement of the intended advance.

"You are at liberty to withdraw. The good and hospitable monks have already been apprised of your arrival by an express courier, and have doubtless a good supper and a soft bed awaiting you."

"Had your majesty the grace to be convinced of my return?" asked Thugut.

"I was convinced of the tender heart of the empress-queen, and that she would graciously try once more, in her Christian mercy, to convert such an old barbarian and heretic as I am. Go now to the cloister, and when I pass by in the morning, with my army, I will not fail to have them play a pious air for the edification of the diplomats-such as, 'My soul, like the young deer, cries unto Thee,' or, 'Oh, master, I am thy old dog,' or some such heavenly song to excite the diplomats to pious thoughts, and therewith I commend you to God's care, Baron von Thugut."

The king charged Herr von Herzberg to play the role of grand-chamberlain, and accompany the ambassador to his carriage, smiling, and slightly nodding a farewell.

The baron was on the point of leaving, when the king called to him.

"Had your majesty the grace to call me?" asked Thugut, hastily turning.

"Yes!" answered Frederick, smiling, and pointing to the string which had served to bind the baron's papers. "You have forgotten something, my lord, and I do not like to enrich myself with others' property." [Footnote: Historical. The king's words.-See Hormayr.]

Baron von Thugut took this last well-aimed stab of his royal opponent somewhat embarrassed, and hastened to pick up the string, and withdraw.

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