There circulated in the Newspapers, this Winter, something of what was called a LETTER from Friedrich to Maria Theresa, formally proposing Peace, after these magnificent successes. And certainly, of all things in the Earth, Friedrich would have best liked Peace, this year, last year, and for the next five years: "Go home, then, good neighbors; don't break into my house, don't cut my poor throat, and we will be friends again!" Friedrich, it appears, had actually, finding or making opportunity, sent some polite Letter, of pacific tenor, in his light clever way, to that address;--not without momentary hopes of perhaps getting good from it. [In PREUSS, ii. 130 (Friedrich's Letter mostly given;--bearer a Prince van Lobkowitz, prisoner at Leuthen, now going home on handsome terms) Stenzel, v. 124 (for the PER-CONTRA feeling).] And the Kaiserinn herself, Austria's high Mother, did, they say, after such a Leuthen coming on the back of such a Rossbach, feel discouraged; but the Pompadour (not France's Mother, whatever she might be to France) was of far other mind: "Do not speak of it, MA REINE! Double or quits, that is our game: can we yield for a little ill-luck? Never!"
France dismisses its D'Argenson, "What Armies are these of his; flying home on us, like draggled poultry, across the Rhine!"-- summons the famed Belleisle to be War-Minister, and give things an eagle-quality: ["26th February, 1758" (BARBIER, iv. 258).] France engages to pay its subsidies better (France now the general paying party, Austria, Sweden, Russia itself, all looking to France,--would she were as punctual as England used to be!),--in a word, engages to be magnanimous extremely, and will hear of nothing but persistence. "Shall not we reap, then, where there is such a harvest standing white to us?" Kaunitz admits that there never will again be such a chance.--Peace, it is clear enough, will not be got of these people by any Letter, or human device whatever, except simply by uttermost, more or less miraculous fighting for it. Friedrich is profoundly aware of this fact;--is busy completing his Army: 145,000 for the field, this Year, 53,000 the Silesian part, "a good many of them Austrian deserters;" [Stenzel, v. 155.] and is closing an important Subsidy Treaty with England,--of which more anon.
And if this is the mood in France and Austria, think what Russia's will be! The Czarina is not dead of dropsy, as some had expected, but, on the contrary, alive, and fiercer than ever; furious against Apraxin, and determined that Fermor, his successor, shall defy Winter, and begin work at once. She has indignantly dismissed Apraxin (to be tried by Court-Martial, he); dismisses Bestuchef the Chancellor; appoints a new General, Fermor by name; orders Fermor to go and lose not a moment, now in the depth of Winter since it was not done in the crown of Summer, and take possession of East Preussen in her name.
Which Fermor does; 16th January, crosses the border again, 31,000 in all, without opposition except from the frost; plants himself up and down,--only two poor Prussian battalions there; who retire, with their effects, especially "with seven wagons of money." January 22d, Fermor enters Konigsberg; publishes no end of proclamations, manifestoes, rescripts, to inform the poor people, trembling at the Cossack atrocities of last Year, "That his august Sovereign Elizabeth of All the Russias has now become Proprietress of East Preussen, which shall be perfectly protected and exquisitely well-governed henceforth; and that all men of official or social position have, accordingly, to come and take the oath to her, with the due alacrity and punctuality, at their peril."
No man is willing for the operation, most men shudder at it; but who can help them? Surely it was an unblessed operation. Poor souls, one pities them; for at heart they were, and continued, loyal to their own King; thoroughly abhorrent of becoming Russian, as Czarish Majesty has thoroughly resolved they shall. Some few absconded, leaving their property as spoil; the rest swore, with mental reservation, with shifts, such as they could devise:--for example, some were observed to swear with gloves on; the right hand, which they held up, was a mere right FIST with a stuffed glove at the end of it,--SO help me Beelzebub (or whoever is the recording Angel here)! [
Friedrich could not mend or prevent this bad Business; but was so disgusted with it, he never set foot in East Preussen again,--never could bear to behold it, after such a transformation into temporary Russian shape. I cannot say he abhorred this constrained Oath as I should have done: on the contrary, in the first spurt of indignation, he not only protested aloud, but made reprisals,-- "Swear ME those Saxons, then!" said he; and some poor magistrates of towns, and official people, had to make a figure of swearing (if not allegiance altogether, allegiance for the time being), in the same sad fashion, till one's humor cooled again. [Preuss, ii. 163: Oath given in
It was May or June, as had been anticipated, before the Russian main Army made its practical appearance in those parts. Fermor had, in the interim, seized Thorn, seized Elbing ("No offence, magnanimous Polacks, it is only for a time!"),--and would fain have had Dantzig too, but Dantzig would n't. Not till June 16th did the unwieldy mass (on paper 104,000, and in effect, and exclusive of Cossack rabble, about 75,000) get on way; and begin slowly staggering westward. Very slowly, and amid incendiary fire and horrid cruelty, as heretofore;--and in August coming we shall be sure to hear of it.
Lehwald was just finishing with the Swedes,--had got them all bottled up in Stralsund again, about New-Year's time, when these Russians crossed into Preussen. We said nothing of the Swedish so-called Campaign of last Year;--and indeed are bound to be nearly silent of that and of all the others. Five Campaigns of them, or at least Four and a half; such Campaigns as were never made before or since. Of Campaign 1757, the memorable feature is, that of the whole "Swedish Division," as the laughing Newspapers called it, which was "put to flight by five Berlin Postilions;"--substantially a truth, as follows:--
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