Frederick the Great and His Family

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Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter IX. The King and His Brothers.

The door was thrown open and the princes entered. First came the Prince of Prussia, whose pale, dejected countenance was to-day paler and sadder than usual. Then Prince Henry, whose quick bright eyes were fixed inquiringly on General Retzow. The general shrugged his shoulders, and shook his head. Prince Henry must have understood these movements, for his brow became clouded, and a deep red suffused his countenance. The king, who had seen this, laughed mockingly, and let the princes approach very close to him, before addressing them.

"Sirs," said he, "I have called you here, because I have some important news to communicate. The days of peace are over and war is at hand!"

"War! and with whom?" said the Prince of Prussia, earnestly. "War with our enemies!" cried the king. "War with those who have sworn Prussia’s destruction. War with Austria, France, Saxony, and Russia!"

"That is impossible, my brother," cried the prince, angrily. "You cannot dream of warring against such powerful nations. You cannot believe in the possibility of victory. Powerful and mighty as your spirit is it will have to succumb before the tremendous force opposed to it. Oh! my brother! my king! be merciful to yourself, to us, to our country. Do not desire the impossible! Do not venture into the stormy sea of war, to fight with your frail barks against the powerful men of war that your enemies, will direct against you. We cannot be victorious! Preserve to your country your own precious life, and that of her brave sons."

The king’s eyes burned with anger; they were fixed with an expression of deep hatred upon the prince.

"Truly, my brother," said he, in a cold, cutting tone, "fear has made you eloquent. You speak as if inspired."

A groan escaped the prince, and he laid his hand unwittingly upon his sword. He was deadly pale, and his lips trembled so violently, that he could scarcely speak.

"Fear!" said he, slowly. "That is an accusation which none but the king would dare to bring against me, and of which I will clear myself, if it comes to this unhappy war which your majesty proposes, and which I now protest against, in the name of my rights. my children, and my country."

"And I," said Prince Henry, earnestly—"I also protest against this war! Have pity on us, my king. Much as I thirst for renown and glory, often as I have prayed to God to grant me an occasion to distinguish myself, I now swear to subdue forever this craving for renown, if it can only be obtained at the price of this frightful, useless war. You stand alone! Without allies, it is impossible to conquer. Why, then, brave certain ruin and destruction?"

The king’s countenance was frightful to look at; his eyes were flashing with rage, and his voice was like thunder, it was so loud and threatening.

" Enough of this!" said he; "you were called here, not to advise, but to receive my commands. The brother has heard you patiently, but now the King of Prussia stands before you, and demands of you obedience and submission. We are going to battle; this is settled; and your complaints and fears will not alter my determination But all those who fear to follow me on the battle-field, have my permission to remain at home, and pass their time in love idyls. Who, amongst you all, prefers this? Let him speak, and he shall follow his own inclinations."

"None of us could do that," said Prince Henry, passionately "If the King of Prussia calls his soldiers, they will all come and follow their chieftain joyfully, though they are marching to certain death. I have already given you my personal opinion; it now rests with me to obey you, as a soldier, as a subject. This I will do joyfully, without complaining."

"I also," said Prince Augustus William, earnestly. "Like my brother, I will know how to subdue my own opinions and fears, and to follow in silent obedience my king and my chieftain."

The king threw a glance of hatred upon the pale, disturbed countenance of the prince.

"You will go where I command you," said he, sharply; and not giving the prince time to answer, he turned abruptly to Marshal Schwerin.

"Well, marshal, do you wish for a furlough, during this war? You heard me say I would refuse it to no one."

"I demand nothing of your majesty, but to take part in the first battle against your enemies. I do not ask who they are. The hour for consultation is past: it is now time to act. Let us to work, and that right quickly."

"Yes, to battle, sire," cried Retzow, earnestly. "As soon as your majesty has said that this war is irrevocable, your soldiers must have no further doubts, and they will follow you joyfully, to conquer or to die."

"And you, Winterfeldt," said the king, taking his favorite’s hand tenderly; "have you nothing to say? Or have the Prince of Prussia’s fears infected you, and made of you a coward?"

"Ah, no! sire," said Winterfeldt, pressing the king’s hand to his breast; "how could my courage fail, when it is Prussia’s hero king that leads to battle? How can I be otherwise than joyous and confident of victory, when Frederick calls us to fight against his wicked and arrogant enemies? No! I have no fears; God and the true cause is on our side."

Prince Henry approached nearer to the king, and looking at him proudly, he said:

" Sire, you asked General Winterfeldt if he shared the Prince of Prussia’s fears. He says no; but I will beg your majesty to remember, that I share entirely the sentiments of my dear and noble brother."

As he finished, he threw an angry look at General Winterfeldt. The latter commenced a fierce rejoinder, but was stopped by the king. "Be still, Winterfeldt," he said; "war has as yet not been declared, and till then, let there at least be peace in my own house." Then approaching Prince Henry, and laying his hand on his shoulder, he said kindly:" We will not exasperate each other, my brother. You have a noble, generous soul, and no one would dare to doubt your courage. It grieves me that you do not share my views as to the necessity of this war, but I know that you will be a firm, helpful friend, and share with me my dangers, my burdens, and if God wills it, also my victory."

"Not I alone will do this," cried Prince Henry, "but also my brother, Augustus William, the Prince of Prussia, whose heart is not less brave, whose courage—"

"Hush, Henry! I pray you," said the Prince of Prussia, sadly; "speak not of my courage. By defending it, it would seem that it had been doubted, and that is a humiliation which I would stand from no one"

The king appeared not to have heard these words. He took some papers from the table by which he was standing, and said:

"All that remains to be told you now, is that I agree with Marshal Schwerin. We will commence the attack in Saxony. To Saxony, then, gentlemen! But, until the day before the attack, let us keep even the question of war a secret."

Then, with the paper under his arm, he passed through the saloon and entered his library.

There was a long pause after he left. The Prince of Prussia, exhausted by the storm which had swept over his soul, had withdrawn to one of the windows, where he was hid from view by the heavy satin damask curtains.

Prince Henry, standing alone in the middle of the room, gazed after his brother, and a deep sigh escaped him. Then turning to Retzow, he said:

"You would not, then, fulfil my brother’s and my own wishes?"

"I did all that was in my power, prince," said the general, sighing. "Your highness did not wish this war to take place; you desired me, if the king asked for my advice, to tell him that we were too weak, and should therefore keep the peace. Well, I said this, not only because you desired it, but because it was also my own opinion. But the king’s will was unalterable. He has meditated this war for years. Years ago, with Winterfeldt’s aid, he drew all the plans and made every other arrangement."

"Winterfeldt!" murmured the prince to himself, "yes, Winterfeldt is the fiend whose whispers have misled the king. We suspected this long ago, but we had to bear it in silence, for we could not prevent it."

And giving his passionate nature full play, he approached General Winterfeldt, who was whispering to Marshal Schwerin.

"You can rejoice, general," said the prince, "for now you can take your private revenge on the Empress of Russia."

Winterfeldt encountered the prince’s angry glance with a quiet, cheerful look.

"Your highness does me too much honor in thinking that a poor soldier, such as I am, could be at enmity with a royal empress. What could this Russian empress have done to me, that could call for revenge on my part?"

"What has she done to you?" said the prince, with a mocking smile. "Two things, which man finds hardest to forgive! She outwitted you, and took your riches from you. Ah! general, I fear this war will be in vain, and that you will not be able to take your wife’s jewels from St. Petersburg, where the empress retains them."

Winterfeldt subdued his anger, and replied: "You have related us a beautiful fairy tale, prince, a tale from the Arabian Nights, in which there is a talk of jewels and glorious treasures, only that in this tale, instead of the usual dragon, an empress guards them. I acknowledge that I do not understand your highness."

"But I understand you perfectly, general. I know your ambitious and proud plans. You wish to make your name renowned. General, I consider you are much in fault as to this war. You were the king’s confidant—you had your spies everywhere, who, for heavy rewards, imparted to you the news by which you stimulated the king."

"If in your eyes," said Winterfeldt, proudly, "it is wrong to spend your gold to find out the intrigues of your own, your king’s, and your country’s enemies, I acknowledge that I am in fault, and deserve to be punished. Yes, everywhere I have had my spies, and thanks to them, the king knows Saxony’s, Austria’s, and Russia’s intentions. I paid these spies with my own gold. Your highness may thus perceive that I am not entirely dependent on those jewels of my wife which are said to be in the Empress of Russia’s possession."

At this moment the Prince of Prussia, who had been a silent witness to this scene, approached General Winterfeldt.

"General," said he, in a loud, solemn voice, "you are the cause of this unfortunate war which will soon devastate our poor land. The responsibility falls upon your head, and woe to you if this war, caused by your ambition, should be the ruin of our beloved country! I would, if there were no punishment for you on earth, accuse you before the throne of God, and the blood of the slaughtered sons of my country, the blood of my future subjects, would cry to Heaven for revenge! Woe to you it this war should be the ruin of Prussia!" repeated Prince Henry. "I could never forgive that; I would hold your ambition responsible for it, for you have access to the king’s heart, and instead of dissipating his distrust against these foreign nations, you have endeavored to nourish it—instead of softening the king’s anger, you have given it fresh food."

"What I have done," cried Winterfeldt, solemnly raising his right hand heavenward—"what I have done was done from a feeling of duty, from love of my country, and from a firm, unshaken trust in my king’s star, which cannot fade, but must become ever more and more resplendent! May God punish me if I have acted from other and less noble motives!"

"Yes, may God punish you—may He not revenge your crime upon our poor country!" said Prince Augustus William. "I have said my last upon this sad subject. From now on, my private opinions are subdued- -I but obey the king’s commands. What he requires of me shall be done—where he sends me I will go, without questioning or considering, but quietly and obediently, as it becomes a true soldier. I hope that you, my brother, Marshal Schwerin, and General Retzow, will follow my example. The king has commanded, we have but to obey cheerfully."

Then, arm in arm, the princes left the audience-room and returned to Berlin.

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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter IX. The King and His Brothers.," Frederick the Great and His Family, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891 in Frederick the Great and His Family (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed February 4, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=9571B8SWX57K2TR.

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter IX. The King and His Brothers." Frederick the Great and His Family, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891, in Frederick the Great and His Family, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 4 Feb. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=9571B8SWX57K2TR.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter IX. The King and His Brothers.' in Frederick the Great and His Family, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Frederick the Great and His Family, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 4 February 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=9571B8SWX57K2TR.