"Battle lost," said Schwerin: "but what is the loss of a Battle to that of your Majesty's own Person? For Heaven's sake, go; get across the Oder; be you safe, till this decide itself!" That was reasonable counsel. If defeated, Schwerin can hope to retreat upon Ohlau, upon Breslau, and save the Magazines. This side the Oder, all will be movements, a whirlpool of Hussars; but beyond the Oder, all is quiet, open. To Ohlau, to Glogau, nay home to Brandenburg and the Old Dessauer with his Camp at Gottin, the road is free, by the other side of the Oder.--Schwerin and Prince Leopold urging him, the King did ride away; at what hour, with what suite, or with what adventures (not mostly fabulous) is not known:--but it was towards Lowen, fifteen miles off (where he crossed Neisse River, the other day); and thence towards Oppeln, on the Oder, eighteen miles farther; and the pace was swift. Leopold, on reflection, ordered off a Squadron of Gens-d'Armes to overtake his Majesty, at Lowen or sooner; which they never did. Passing Pampitz, the King threw Fredersdorf a word, who was among the baggage there: "To Oppeln; bring the Purse, the Privy Writings!" Which Fredersdorf, and the Clerks (and another Herr, who became Nicolai's Father-in-law in after years) did; and joined the King at Lowen; but I hope stopped there.
The King's suite was small, names not given; but by the time he got to Lowen, being joined by cavalry fugitives and the like, it had got to be seventy persons: too many for the King. He selected what was his of them; ordered the gates to be shut behind him on all others, and again rode away. The Leopold Squadron of Gens-d'Armes did not arrive till after his departure; and having here lost trace of him, called halt, and billeted for the night. The King speeds silently to Oppeln on his excellent bay horse, the worse-mounted gradually giving in. At Oppeln is a Bridge over the Oder, a free Country beyond: Regiment La Motte lay, and as the King thinks, still lies in Oppeln;--but in that he is mistaken. Regiment La Motte is with the baggage at Pampitz, all this day; and a wandering Hussar Party, some sixty Austrians, have taken possession of Oppeln. The King, and the few who had not yet broken down, arrive at the Gate of Oppeln, late, under cloud of night: "Who goes?" cried the sentry from within. "Prussians! A Prussian Courier!" answer they;--and are fired upon through the gratings; and immediately draw back, and vanish unhurt into Night again. "Had those Hussars only let him in!" said Austria afterwards: but they had not such luck. It was at this point, according to Valori, that the King burst forth into audible ejaculations of a lamentable nature. There is no getting over, then, even to Brandenburg, and in an insolvent condition. Not open insolvency and bankrupt disgrace; no, ruin, and an Austrian jail, is the one outlook. "O MON DIEU, O God, it is too much (C'EN EST TROP)!" with other the like snatches of lamentation; [Valori, i. 104.] which are not inconceivable in a young man, sleepless for the third night, in these circumstances; but which Valori knows nothing of, except by malicious rumor from the valet class,--who have misinformed Valori about several other points.
The King riding diligently, with or without ejaculations, back towards Lowen, comes at an early hour to the Mill of Hilbersdorf, within a mile-and-half of that place. He alights at the Mill; sends one of his attendants, almost the only one now left, to inquire what is in Lowen. The answer, we know, is: "A squadron of Gens-d'Armes there; furthermore, a Prussian Adjutant come to say, Victory at Mollwitz!" Upon which the King mounts again;--issues into daylight, and concludes these mythical adventures. That "in Lowen, in the shop at the corner of the Market-place, Widow Panzern, subsequently Wife Something-else, made his Majesty a cup of coffee, and served a roast fowl along with it," cannot but be welcome news, if true; and that his Majesty got to Mollwitz again before dark that same "day," [Fuchs, p. 11.] is liable to no controversy.
In this way was Friedrich snatched by Morgante into Fairyland, carried by Diana to the top of Pindus (or even by Proserpine to Tartarus, through a bad sixteen hours), till the Battle whirlwind subsided. Friendly imaginative spirits would, in the antique time, have so construed it: but these moderns were malicious-valetish, not friendly; and wrapped the matter in mere stupid worlds of cobweb, which require burning. Friedrich himself was stone-silent on this matter, all his life after; but is understood never quite to have pardoned Schwerin for the ill-luck of giving him such advice. [Nicolai, ii. 180-195 (the one true account); Laveaux, i. 194; Valori, i. 104; &c., &c. (the myth in various stages). Most distractedly mythical of all, with the truth clear before it, is the latest version, just come out, in
Friedrich's adventure is not the only one of that kind at Mollwitz; there is another equally indubitable,--which will remain obscure, half-mythical to the end of the world. The truth is, that Right Wing of the Prussian Army was fallen chaotic, ruined; and no man, not even one who had seen it, can give account of what went on there. The sage Maupertuis, for example, had climbed some tree or place of impregnability ("tree" Voltaire calls it, though that is hardly probable), hoping to see the Battle there. And he did see it, much too clearly at last! In such a tide of charging and chasing, on that Right Wing and round all the Field in the Prussian rear; in such wide bickering and boiling of Horse-currents,--which fling out, round all the Prussian rear quarters, such a spray of Austrian Hussars for one element,--Maupertuis, I have no doubt, wishes much he were at home, doing his sines and tangents. An Austrian Hussar-party gets sight of him, on his tree or other standpoint (Voltaire says elsewhere he was mounted on an ass, the malicious spirit!)--too certain, the Austrian Hussars got sight of him: his purse, gold watch, all he has of movable is given frankly; all will not do. There are frills about the man, fine laces, cloth; a goodish yellow wig on him, for one thing:--their Slavonic dialect, too fatally intelligible by the pantomime accompanying it, forces sage Maupertuis from his tree or standpoint; the big red face flurried into scarlet, I can fancy; or scarlet and ashy-white mixed; and--Let us draw a veil over it! He is next seen shirtless, the once very haughty, blustery, and now much-humiliated man; still conscious of supreme acumen, insight and pure science; and, though an Austrian prisoner and a monster of rags, struggling to believe that he is a genius and the Trismegistus of mankind. What a pickle! The sage Maupertuis, as was natural, keeps passionately asking, of gods and men, for an Officer with some tincture of philosophy, or even who could speak French. Such Officer is at last found; humanely advances him money, a shirt and suit of clothes; but can in nowise dispense with his going to Vienna as prisoner. Thither he went accordingly; still in a mythical condition. Of Voltaire's laughing, there is no end; and he changes the myth from time to time, on new rumors coming; and there is no truth to be had from him. [Voltaire,
This much is certain: at Vienna, Maupertuis, prisoner on parole, glided about for some time in deep eclipse, till the Newspapers began babbling of him. He confessed then that he was Maupertuis, Flattener of the Earth; but for the rest, "told rather a blind story about himself," says Robinson; spoke as if he had been of the King's suite, "riding with the King," when that Hussar accident befell;--rather a blind story, true story being too sad. The Vienna Sovereignties, in the turn things had taken, were extremely kind; Grand-Duke Franz handsomely pulled out his own watch, hearing what road the Maupertuis one had gone; dismissed the Maupertuis, with that and other gifts, home:--to Brittany (not to Prussia), till times calmed for engrafting the Sciences. [
On Wednesday, Friedrich writes this Note to his Sister; the first utterance we have from him since those wild roamings about Oppeln and Hilbersdorf Mill:--
KING TO WILHELMINA (at Baireuth; two days after Mollwitz).