A Cursory View of Prussia from the Death of Frederick II to the Peace of Tilsit
LETTER XXIX: The Flight of the Prussian Royal Family
BUT let us turn from these gloomy and disgustful scenes, to others which, though distressing, yet excite less terrific sensations—those of painful sympathy for the sufferings of the illustrious fugitives; as the whole royal family were not exempted from sharing the general calamity around them, and this even so cruelly aggravated, as to require a singular portion of fortitude to support.
The Queen, I have already observed, was endowed by nature with all the softness of her sex, and was therefore little disposed to interfere in the present turbulent scenes of the cabinet. Her greatest enjoyment was in those happy moments when she could indulge all the fondness of the mother, in that amiable family circle around her. Yet these moments of quiet and of domestic felicity she renounces, as soon as she thinks her Lord, and every thing dear to her, in danger. She exerts every power to avert this danger; nor could the din of arms deter her. She accompanies him to the field; and, when the troops are quitting, on the portentous 13th of October, the camp at Weimar, she walks amongst the ranks, and, by her presence and animation, she attempts to inspire them with confidence and courage.—They march—the monarch, perhaps overcome with a foreboding of the results, prevails upon her to return to Berlin.—Scarcely had she reached the gates of the capital, before the unfortunate tidings from Auerstadt overtook her. Hastily she orders some little necessaries to be packed up, and then flies to Stettin. There, too, she soon finds no safe asylum, and therefore quickly hurries off to Königsberg. But, in her flight, her Majesty meets with such insults and detentions, as are inconceivable: for the vulgar, on hearing of the French success, immediately again adopted their former foolish revolutionary ideas. At length she reached Königsberg, where the King met her. Here fortune seemed to mock her. Sixteen postillions, with sounding horns, (as is usual on such occasions) were sent to announce the complete victory at Pultusk. In a moment the whole city was giddy with joy, and the people assembled in crowds under the palace windows. The royal couple saluted them amidst the loudest shouts of “Long live the King! Long live the Queen!” They both seemed affected, and soon withdrew. All Königsberg once more celebrated a happy day; but this joy was of short duration.
The French continued advancing; and the Queen, though oppressed with a nervous fever, was obliged to be put into a travelling chaise, in the most dreadful weather, and hasten to Memel. Those who have not travelled this road at such a season can have no conception of it; yet to this inconvenience I am sorry to add that, when her Majesty was obliged to change horses, and wished to be removed for the moment into a warm room, the brutes who were already there, would not stir an inch to accommodate her; nay, in one place, a drunken peasant bellowed out, “O! you deserve this, and much more; for, if old Frederick had been alive, all this would not have happened.” To these, and several similar indignities, she showed only that silent contempt they served.
To her—who for many years had been the object of nearly adoration—to a mind so gentle and compassionate as hers, such insolence could not but be excessively grating: but she, like so many others in the world, must not be exempted from the contumely too frequently attending misfortune. The conduct, however, of both these royal sufferers is truly exemplary. They live at present at Memel, in all the retirement of private life, and in such apartments as the best private house in so small a place can be supposed to furnish. The Queen attends to the little duties of her family, comforting herself with a satisfactory consciousness of the past, and her hopes of some favorable change. The King supports his situation with such magnanimity, as entitles him to our respect.
Though this collectedness of mind is, by many, attributed to the want of feeling, yet, at the beginning of this Prince’s reign, I have somewhat accounted for the general reservedness of his appearance, and therefore do not believe it to arise from his natural disposition, as his real character is all diffidence and goodness; nay, his excess of delicacy not to offend, or give uneasiness to those under him, has, I am convinced, been the chief cause of his not dismissing many of his Commanders and Governors, who have so basely betrayed their trust; and he is at present well aware of the vile influence the success of his conqueror has over too many of his subjects, who, from present appearances, would gladly eat of Bonapartè’s bread, were not their conduct of too dubious a complexion for them to be trusted even by him. Yet, betrayed and abandoned as his Prussian Majesty may be, we see no degrading submission on his part to this idol of the continent; and even still, when so near his grasp, he takes every opportunity to show his disdain toward the general usurper.
Both the King and his royal Consort, during their stay at Memel, have particularly shown their attachment towards the English, and even repeatedly spent a short time on board some of the vessels then laying there. On one of these occasions, a few previous arrangements had been made on board one of these ships; amongst others, that of covering the steps of the ladder by which they were to ascend; for which purpose the French colors were made use of. On passing over them, it struck the royal Visitors, and his Majesty immediately exclaimed to his amiable Consort, with an expression which affected all present, “Would we were enabled thus to treat what we shall ever hold in contempt.”
One more anecdote, and then I resume my account of the opening, and also of the close, of the campaign, which led to the famous Peace of Tilsit.
The King is accustomed to take a daily walk entirely alone. In one of these solitary rambles, an old man came climbing up the ramparts with a bundle of sticks on his back, near the place where his Majesty was—“Why do you take this difficult way, when the regular road through the gate is so much easier?” asked the King.—“Because,” answered the old man, “had I come through the gate, I must have paid an impost; and I am so poor I have not wherewithal to pay any thing.” His Majesty made him a small present; and, immediately on his return home, ordered that the poor should be permitted to bring wood, for their own use, into the town, free of every tax.
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