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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

De Soubise was destined before long to have his turn


The

prudent moderation of Abbe de Bernis, then in great favor with Madame de Pompadour, and managing the negotiations with Austria, had removed from the treaty of Versailles the most alarming clauses. The empress and the King of France mutually guaranteed to one another their possessions in Europe, "each of the contracting parties promising the other, in case of need, the assistance of twenty-four thousand men." Russia and Saxony were soon enlisted in the same alliance; the King of Prussia's pleasantries, at one time coarse and at another biting, had offended the Czarina Elizabeth and the Elector of Saxony as well as Louis XV. and Madame de Pompadour. The weakest of the allies was the first to experience the miseries of that war so frivolously and gratuitously entered upon, from covetousness, rancor, or weakness, those fertile sources of the bitterest sorrows to humanity.

"It is said that the King of Prussia's troops are on the march," wrote the Duke of Luynes in his journal (September 3, 1756); "it is not said whither." Frederick II. was indeed on the march with his usual promptitude; a few days later, Saxony was invaded, Dresden occupied, and the Elector-king of Poland invested in the camp of Pirna. General Braun, hurrying up with the Austrians to the Saxons' aid, was attacked by Frederick on the 1st of October, near Lowositz; without being decisive, the battle was, nevertheless, sufficient to hinder the allies from effecting their junction.

The Saxons attempted to cut their way through; they were hemmed in and obliged to lay down their arms; the King of Prussia established himself at Dresden, levying upon Saxony enormous military contributions and otherwise treating it as a conquered country. The unlucky elector had taken refuge in Poland.

The empress had not waited for this serious reverse to claim from France the promised aid. By this time it was understood how insufficient would be a body of twenty-four thousand men for a distant and hazardous war. Recently called to the council by King Louis XV., Marshal Belle-Isle, still full of daring in spite of his age, loudly declared that, "since war had come, it must be made on a large scale if it were to be made to any purpose, and speedily." Some weeks later, preparations were commenced for sending an army of a hundred thousand men to the Lower Rhine. The king undertook, besides, to pay four thousand Bavarians and six thousand Wurtemburgers, who were to serve in the Austrian army. Marshal d'Estrees, grandson of Louvois, was placed at the head of the army already formed. He was not one of the favorite's particular friends. a Marshal d'Estrees," she wrote to Count Clermont, "is one of my acquaintances in society; I have never been in a position to make him an intimate friend, but were he as much so as M. de Soubise, I should not take upon myself to procure his appointment, for fear of having to reproach myself with the results." Madame de Pompadour did not continue to be always so reserved, and M. de Soubise was destined before long to have his turn. M. de Belle-Isle had insisted strongly on the choice of Marshal d'Estrees; he was called "the Temporizer," and was equally brave and prudent. "I am accustomed," said the king, "to hear from him all he thinks." The army was already on the march.

Whilst hostilities were thus beginning throughout Europe, whilst negotiations were still going on with Vienna touching the second treaty of Versailles, King Louis XV., as he was descending the staircase of the marble court at Versailles on the 5th of January, 1757, received a stab in the side from a knife. Withdrawing full of blood the hand he had clapped to his wound, the king exclaimed, "There is the man who wounded me, with his hat-on; arrest him, but let no harm be done him!" The guards were already upon the murderer and were torturing him pending the legal question. The king had been carried away, slightly wounded by a deep puncture from a penknife. In the soul of Louis XV. apprehension had succeeded to the first instinctive and kingly impulse of courage; he feared the weapon might be poisoned, and hastily sent for a confessor. The crowd of courtiers was already thronging to the dauphin's. To him the king had at once given up the direction of affairs.


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