A Cursory View of Prussia from the Death of Frederick II to the Peace of Tilsit
LETTER XXXI: The Impact of the Treaty of Tilsit on Prussia
IN this unpleasant state of affairs, when Bennigsen found himself so pursued, he was apprehensive the enemy would set no bounds to their conquests, and therefore thought it most prudent to propose an armistice, as the best means to stop their immediate farther progress. This was readily accepted; and a courier sent to the Emperor Alexander, then at Tilsit, with an invitation from Bonapartè to an amicable interview.
Alexander, when, in April, at Memel, had promised to the King, that he would sooner risque his whole empire than listen to any accommodation with such an upstart usurper—Alexander, when, in June, at Tilsit, was so infatuated by Bonapartè’s flattering assurances, that the ceremony of this amicable interview was soon adjusted on the famous raft on the Niemen; where, after one single private conversation of a few hours, the Emperor of all the Russias was sill more completely conquered by Bonapartè’s insinuating address, than this troops had before been by his manœuvres. Frederick William was now invited to partake of the armistice; but he flatly refused it. At length, however, as the prospect of an honorable peace was held out to him, his love for his subjects prevailed upon him to comply—yet still it was with reluctance that he went to Tilsit. Even after he had arrived there, and both Alexander and Bonapartè were waiting for him on the raft, he hesitated some time before he would enter the boat. Obliged, however, by circumstances, to suppress his natural feelings against the united treachery of both, he met them. The result then was, the preliminaries to the peace of Tilsit. Frederick William made some opposition to the terms regarding himself: “What have you to object to?” said Bonapartè, with an air of contempt: “you, who are so entirely conquered, are not entitled even to an opinion.”—“Conquered!” exclaimed the justly offended Monarch, “I am not conquered—but betrayed by my supposed friends—I am betrayed by perfidious subjects.” Had a ball through Bonapartè’s head followed this exclamation, it would, methinks, have been pardonable, at least it would have been a benefit to the world; but such an act of violence was inconsistent with the character of Frederick William. Even his spirited reply would have been enough to have ruined him entirely, had not Bonapartè been aware of the necessity of placing such a barrier between France and Austria as he now intended to make of what he should leave Prussia; for his apparent generosity has always a motive towards his own safety and advantage.
Nothing can more illustrate this than the present peace of Tilsit, by which “the Elector of Saxony, as another barrier, is to have all Polish Prussia, with the acknowledged title of King of Saxony; and, in addition to this and his other titles, that of Duke of Warsaw. A constitution is to establish the laws and liberties of the Polish nation. The frontiers of Russia towards Poland are hereby acknowledged and confirmed, by which a population of about two hundred thousand souls is to be joined to this empire. The countries of Hesse-Cassel, Brunswick, and all the possessions hitherto belonging to Prussia along the left side of the Elbe, including Magdeburg, are to form the kingdom of Westphalia, of which Jerome, Bonapartè’s brother, is acknowledged sovereign. Dantzig, with a territory of eight English miles around, is declared a free Hanseatic city, under the protection of the Duke of Warsaw. Silesia, the whole of Old Prussia, and all the districts belonging to this kingdom down to the Elbe, are restored to Prussia. All the Princes belonging to the confederation of the Rhine are acknowledged; as is also the disposition of all those territories which are, and may hereafter be, in the possession of Bonapartè.”
These are the principal articles of the peace of Tilsit; by which Bonapartè secures to his brother Jerome, as his kingdom of Westphalia:
Whilst, by this peace, Prussia is deprived of
Besides Dantzig, the loss of which cannot be calculated.
Prussia is, per Contra, permitted to retain:
This is the work of the Great Frederick, and the fame his great actions have so justly acquired to Prussia, down away for ever. But still, the future sovereigns of this kingdom may be happier than before, as Bonapartè seems to have adapted it’s government, as pious authors their writings, to the meanest capacity; whilst the Great Frederick had screwed it up so high, that none but such as himself could keep it from falling. Therefore it soon fell under FrederickWilliam II., and not only fell, but sunk so deep under his lavish excesses, as to require a second Frederick the Great to save it from ruin. This Bonapartè has effected, though by different means; and now, feeling himself secure in his own artful web, he meditates his further progress through Europe, till he has the whole continent at his feet; then, like Alexander, who wept at having no more worlds to conquer, will he weep and gnash his teeth, that there is still one little spot remaining, where you now are, my worthy Friend, which bids defiance to his artifices and his arms.
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