Ever from Grossenhayn onwards there had been message on message, more and more rigorous, precise and indignant, "Do this, do that; your Dilection shall answer it with your head!"--not one message of which reached his Dilection, till Dilection and Fate (such the gallop of events) had done the contrary: and now Dilection and his head have made a finish of it. "No," answers Friedrich to himself; "not till we are all finished!"--and pushes on, he too, like a kind of Fate. "What does or can he mean, then?" say the Austrians, with scornful astonishment, and think his head must be turning: "Will he beat us out of Silesia with his Potsdam Guard-Parade then?" "POTSDAMSCHE WACHT-PARADE:"--so they denominate his small Army; and are very mirthful in their mess-rooms. "I will attack them, if they stood on the Zobtenberg, if they stood on the steeples of Breslau!" said Friedrich; and tramped diligently forward. Day after day, as the real tidings arrive, his outlook in Silesia is becoming darker and darker: a sternly dark march this altogether. Prince Karl has thrown a garrison into Liegnitz on Friedrich's road; Prince Karl lies encamped with Breslau at his back; has above 80,000 when fully gathered; and reigns supreme in those parts. Darker march there seldom was: all black save a light that burns in one heart, refusing to be quenched till death.
Friedrich sends orders that Kyau shall be put in arrest; that Ziethen shall be general of the Bevern wreck, shall bring it round by Glogau, and rendezvous with Friedrich at a place and day, --Parchwitz, 2d of December coming;--and be steady, my old Ziethen. Friedrich brushes past the Liegnitz Garrison, leaves Liegnitz and it a trifle to the right; arrives at Parchwitz November 28th; and there rests, or at least his weary troops do, till Ziethen come up; the King not very restful, with so many things to prearrange; a life or death crisis now nigh. Well, it is but death; and death has been fronted before now! We who are after the event, on the safe sunny side of it, can form small image of the horrors and the inward dubieties to him who is passing through it;--and how Hope is needed to shine heroically eternal in some hearts. Fire of Hope, that does not issue in mere blazings, mad audacities and chaotic despair, but advances with its eyes open, measuredly, counting its steps, to the wrestling-place,--this is a godlike thing; much available to mankind in all the battles they have; battles with steel, or of whatever sort.
Friedrich, at Parchwitz, assembled his Captains, and spoke to them; it was the night after Ziethen came in, night of December 3d, 1757; and Ziethen, no doubt, was there: for it is an authentic meeting, this at Parchwitz, and the words were taken down.
FRIEDRICH'S SPEECH TO HIS GENERALS (Parchwitz, 3d December, 1757). [From RETZOW, i. 240-242 (slightly abridged).]
"It is not unknown to you, MEINE HERREN, what disasters have befallen here, while we were busy with the French and Reichs Army. Schweidnitz is gone; Duke of Bevern beaten; Breslau gone, and all our war-stores there; good part of Silesia gone: and, in fact, my embarrassments would be at the insuperable pitch, had not I boundless trust in you, and your qualities, which have been so often manifested, as soldiers and sons of your Country. Hardly one among you but has distinguished himself by some nobly memorable action: all these services to the State and me I know well, and will never forget.
"I flatter myself, therefore, that in this case too nothing will be wanting which the State has a right to expect of your valor. The hour is at hand. I should think I had done nothing, if I left the Austrians in possession of Silesia. Let me apprise you, then: I intend, in spite of the Rules of Art, to attack Prince Karl's Army, which is nearly thrice our strength, wherever I find it. The question is not of his numbers, or the strength of his position: all this, by courage, by the skill of our methods, we will try to make good. This step I must risk, or everything is lost. We must beat the enemy, or perish all of us before his batteries. So I read the case; so I will act in it.
"Make this my determination known to all Officers of the Army; prepare the men for what work is now to ensue, and say that I hold myself entitled to demand exact fulfilment of orders. For you, when I reflect that you are Prussians, can I think that you will act unworthily? But if there should be one or another who dreads to share all dangers with me, he,"--continued his Majesty, with an interrogative look, and then pausing for answer,--"can have his Discharge this evening, and shall not suffer the least reproach from me."--Modest strong bass murmur; meaning "No, by the Eternal!" if you looked into the eyes and faces of the group. Never will Retzow Junior forget that scene, and how effulgently eloquent the veteran physiognomies were.
"Hah, I knew it," said the King, with his most radiant smile, "none of you would desert me! I depend on your help, then; and on victory as sure."--The speech winds up with a specific passage: "The Cavalry regiment that does not on the instant, on order given, dash full plunge into the enemy, I will, directly after the Battle, unhorse, and make it a Garrison regiment. The Infantry battalion which, meet with what it may, shows the least sign of hesitating, loses its colors and its sabres, and I cut the trimmings from its uniform! Now good-night, Gentlemen: shortly we have either beaten the Enemy, or we never see one another again."