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These were his last words. He fainted, and, after a few gasps, died. It was about two oclock in the afternoon of Tuesday, the 31st of May, 1740. Thus the soul of Frederick William passed to the spirit land, in the fifty-first year of its sojourn here on earth.

Frederick retreated down the banks of the Elbe, and sent couriers to the camp at Prague, ordering the siege immediately to be raised, and the troops to retire down the Moldau to join him at Leitmeritz. The news was received at the camp at two oclock on Sunday morning, June 19, creating amazement and consternation. As Frederick was on his retreat with his broken battalions from the field of battle, parched with thirst, burning with heat, and smothered with dust, it is recorded that an old dragoon brought to the king, in his steel cap, some water which he had drawn from a well, saying to his sovereign, consolingly, Peter III. was a drunken, brutal, half-crazed debauchee. Catharine was a beautiful, graceful, intellectual, and dissolute woman. They hated each other. They did not even pretend to be faithful to each other. Catharine formed a successful conspiracy, dethroned her husband, and was proclaimed by the army sole empress. After a series of the wildest scenes of intrigue, corruption, and crime, the imbecile Peter III., who had fled to the remote palace of Ropscha, was murdered, being first compelled to drink of poison, and then, while writhing in pain, he was strangled with a napkin. Whether Catharine were a party to this531 assassination is a question which can now probably never be decided. It is certain that she must have rejoiced over the event, and that she richly rewarded the murderers.

549 Frederick had cultivated a supreme indifference to public opinion. Not believing in any God, in any future retribution, or in any immortality, and regarding men merely as the insects of an hour, like the myriad polyps which, beneath the ocean, rear their stupendous structures and perish, his sense of right and wrong must necessarily have been very different from that which a believer in the Christian faith is accustomed to cherish. In allusion to this subject, he writes:

All negotiation in reference to the marriages was now apparently88 at an end. Lieutenant Katte remained at Potsdam. In the absence of Lieutenant Keith he became more than ever the friend and confidant of the Crown Prince. Wilhelmina, aware of the dissipated character of Katte, mourned over this intimacy. The king was very much annoyed by the blunder of which he himself had been guilty in insulting the court of England in the person of its embassador. He declared, in his vexation, that he would never again treat in person with a foreign minister; that his hot temper rendered it unsafe for him to do so.

Four good days in penance

On Saturday morning, August 28, 1756, the Prussian army, over one hundred thousand strong, entered Saxony at three different points on the northern frontier. Frederick, with about sixty thousand troops, crossed the Elbe at Torgau, and seized upon Leipsic. Duke Ferdinand, of Hanover, led his columns405 across the frontier about eighty miles to the right. The Duke of Brunswick-Bevern crossed about the same distance to the left. Each column was stronger than the whole Saxon army. The appointed place of rendezvous for the three divisions was the city of Dresden, the capital of Saxony. By the route marked out, each column had a distance of about one hundred and fifty miles to traverse.

Early in the morning Fredericks whole army was on the rapid march for Breslau, which was scarcely twenty miles distant from the battle-field. The Austrians had collected immense military stores in the city. Prince Charles, as he fled through the place with the wreck of his army, left a garrison of seventeen thousand men for its defense. In a siege of twelve days, during which there was an incessant bombardment and continual assaults, the city was carried. A few days after this, Liegnitz, which the Austrians had strongly fortified, was also surrendered to the victor. Frederick had thus reconquered the whole of Silesia excepting the single fortress of Schweidnitz.

There is a gloom of the soul far deeper than any gloom with which nature can ever be shrouded. It is not easy to conceive of a mortal placed in circumstances of greater mental suffering than was the proud, ambitious young monarch during the hour in which he waited, in terror and disgrace, by the side of the mill, for the return of his courier. At length the clatter of hoofs was heard, and the messenger came back, accompanied by an adjutant, to announce to the king that the Prussians still held Lowen, and that the Prussian army had gained a signal victory at Mollwitz.