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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Wrote Count Clermont to Marshal Belle Isle


He

had need of it. A fresh invasion of Russians, aided by the savage hordes of the Zaporoguian Cossacks, was devastating Prussia; the sanguinary battle of Zorndorf, forcing them to fall back on Poland, permitted Frederick to hurry into Saxony, which was attacked by the Austrians. General Daun surprised and defeated him at Hochkirch; in spite of his inflexible resolution, the King of Prussia was obliged to abandon Saxony. His ally and rival, Ferdinand of Brunswick, had just beaten Count Clermont at Crevelt.

The new commander-in-chief of the king's armies, prince of the blood, brother of the late Monsieur le Duc, abbot commendatory of St. Germain- des-Pres, "general of the Benedictines,", as the soldiers said, had brought into Germany, together with the favor of Madame de Pompadour, upright intentions, a sincere desire to restore discipline, and some great illusions about himself. "I am very impatient, I do assure you, to be on the other side of the Rhine," wrote Count Clermont to Marshal Belle-Isle; "all the country about here is infested by runaway soldiers, convalescents, camp-followers, all sorts of understrappers, who commit fearful crimes. Not a single officer does his duty; they are the first to pillage; all the army ought to be put under escort and in detachments, and then there would have to be escorts for those escorts. I hang, I imprison; but, as we march by cantonments and the regimental (particuliers) officers are the first to show

a bad example, the punishments are neither sufficiently known nor sufficiently seen. Everything smacks of indiscipline, of disgust at the king's service, and of asperity towards one's self. I see with pain that it will be indispensable to put in practice the most violent and the harshest measures." The king's army, meanwhile, was continuing to fall back; a general outcry arose at Paris against the general's supineness. On the 23d of June he was surprised by Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick in the strong position of Crevelt, which he had occupied for two days past; the reserves did not advance in time, orders to retreat were given too soon, the battle was lost without disaster and without any rout; the general was lost as well as the battle. "It is certain," says the Marquis of Vogel, in his narrative of the affair, "that Count Clermont was at table in his headquarters of Weschelen at one o'clock, that he had lost the battle before six, arrived at Reuss at half past ten, and went to bed at midnight; that is doing a great deal in a short time." The Count of Gisors, son of Marshal Belle-Isle, a young officer of the greatest promise, had been killed at Crevelt; Count Clermont was superseded by the Marquis of Contades. The army murmured; they had no confidence in their leaders. At Versailles, Abbe de Bernis, who had lately become a cardinal, paid by his disgrace for the persistency he had shown in advising peace. He was chatting with M. de Stahrenberg, the Austrian ambassador, when he received a letter from the king, sending him off to his abbey of St. Medard de Soissons. He continued the conversation without changing countenance, and then, breaking off the conversation just as the ambassador was beginning to speak of business. "It is no longer to me, sir," he said, "that you must explain yourself on these great topics; I have just received my dismissal from his Majesty." With the same coolness he quitted the court and returned, pending his embassy to Rome, to those elegant intellectual pleasures which suited him better than the crushing weight of a ministry in disastrous times, under an indolent and vain-minded monarch, who was governed by a woman as headstrong as she was frivolous and depraved.


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