Part 1 out of 3
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LIFE AND ADVENTURE OF BARON TRENCK - VOLUME 2
TRANSLATED BY THOMAS HOLCROFT
Thomas Holcroft, the translator of these Memoirs of Baron Trenck,
was the author of about thirty plays, among which one, The Road to
Ruin, produced in 1792, has kept its place upon the stage. He was
born in December, 1745, the son of a shoemaker who did also a little
business in horse-dealing. After early struggles, during which he
contrived to learn French, German, and Italian, Holcroft contributed
to a newspaper, turned actor, and wrote plays, which appeared
between the years 1791 and 1806. He produced also four novels, the
first in 1780, the last in 1807. He was three times married, and
lost his first wife in 1790. In 1794, his sympathy with ideals of
the French revolutionists caused him to be involved with Hardy,
Horne Tooke, and Thelwall, in a charge of high treason; but when
these were acquitted, Holcroft and eight others were discharged
Holcroft earned also by translation. He translated, besides these
Memoirs of Baron Trenck, Mirabeau's Secret History of the Court of
Berlin, Les Veillees du Chateau of Madame de Genlis, and the
posthumous works of Frederick II., King of Prussia, in thirteen
The Memoirs of Baron Trenck were first published at Berlin as his
Merkwurdige Lebensbeschreibung, in three volumes octavo, in 1786 and
1787. They were first translated into French by Baron Bock (Metz,
1787); more fully by Letourneur (Paris, 1788); and again by himself
(Strasbourg, 1788), with considerable additions. Holcroft
translated from the French versions.
THE LIFE OF BARON TRENCK.
Blessed shade of a beloved sister! The sacrifice of my adverse and
dreadful fate! Thee could I never avenge! Thee could the blood of
Weingarten never appease! No asylum, however sacred, should have
secured him, had he not sought that last of asylums for human
wickedness and human woes--the grave! To thee do I dedicate these
few pages, a tribute of thankfulness; and, if future rewards there
are, may the brightest of these rewards be thine. For us, and not
for ours, may rewards be expected from monarchs who, in apathy, have
beheld our mortal sufferings. Rest, noble soul, murdered though
thou wert by the enemies of thy brother. Again my blood boils,
again my tears roll down my cheeks, when I remember thee, thy
sufferings in my cause, and thy untimely end! I knew it not; I
sought to thank thee; I found thee in the grave; I would have made
retribution to thy children, but unjust, iron-hearted princes had
deprived me of the power. Can the virtuous heart conceive
affliction more cruel? My own ills I would have endured with
magnanimity; but thine are wrongs I have neither the power to forget
Enough of this. -
The worthy Emperor, Francis I., shed tears when I afterwards had the
honour of relating to him in person my past miseries; I beheld them
flow, and gratitude threw me at his feet. His emotion was so great
that he tore himself away. I left the palace with all the
enthusiasm of soul which such a scene must inspire.
He probably would have done more than pitied me, but his death soon
followed. I relate this incident to convince posterity that Francis
I. possessed a heart worthy an emperor, worthy a man. In the
knowledge I have had of monarchs he stands alone. Frederic and
Theresa both died without doing me justice; I am now too old, too
proud, have too much apathy, to expect it from their successors.
Petition I will not, knowing my rights; and justice from courts of
law, however evident my claims, were in these courts vain indeed to
expect. Lawyers and advocates I know but too well, and an army to
support my rights I have not.
What heart that can feel but will pardon me these digressions! At
the exact and simple recital of facts like these, the whole man must
be roused, and the philosopher himself shudder.
Once more:- I heard nothing of what had happened for some days; at
length, however, it was the honest Gelfhardt's turn to mount guard;
but the ports being doubled, and two additional grenadiers placed
before my door, explanation was exceedingly difficult. He, however,
in spite of precaution, found means to inform me of what had
happened to his two unfortunate comrades.
The King came to a review at Magdeburg, when he visited Star-Fort,
and commanded a new cell to be immediately made, prescribing himself
the kind of irons by which I was to be secured. The honest
Gelfhardt heard the officer say this cell was meant for me, and gave
me notice of it, but assured me it could not be ready in less than a
month. I therefore determined, as soon as possible, to complete my
breach in the wall, and escape without the aid of any one. The
thing was possible; for I had twisted the hair of my mattress into a
rope, which I meant to tie to a cannon, and descend the rampart,
after which I might endeavour to swim across the Elbe, gain the
Saxon frontiers, and thus safely escape.
On the 26th of May I had determined to break into the next casemate;
but when I came to work at the bricks, I found them so hard and
strongly cemented that I was obliged to defer the labour till the
following day. I left off, weary and spent, at daybreak, and should
any one enter my dungeon, they must infallibly discover the breach.
How dreadful is the destiny by which, through life, I have been
persecuted, and which has continually plunged me headlong into
calamity, when I imagined happiness was at hand!
The 27th of May was a cruel day in the history of my life. My cell
in the Star-Fort had been finished sooner than Gelfhardt had
supposed; and at night, when I was preparing to fly, I heard a
carriage stop before my prison. O God! what was my terror, what
were the horrors of this moment of despair! The locks and bolts
resounded, the doors flew open, and the last of my poor remaining
resources was to conceal my knife. The town-major, the major of the
day, and a captain entered; I saw them by the light of their two
lanterns. The only words they spoke were, "Dress yourself," which
was immediately done. I still wore the uniform of the regiment of
Cordova. Irons were given me, which I was obliged myself to fasten
on my wrists and ankles; the town-major tied a bandage over my eyes,
and, taking me under the arm, they thus conducted me to the
carriage. It was necessary to pass through the city to arrive at
the Star-Fort; all was silent, except the noise of the escort; but
when we entered Magdeburg I heard the people running, who were
crowding together to obtain a sight of me. Their curiosity was
raised by the report that I was going to be beheaded. That I was
executed on this occasion in the Star-Fort, after having been
conducted blindfold through the city, has since been both affirmed
and written; and the officers had then orders to propagate this
error that the world might remain in utter ignorance concerning me.
I, indeed, knew otherwise, though I affected not to have this
knowledge; and, as I was not gagged, I behaved as if I expected
death, reproached my conductors in language that even made them
shudder, and painted their King in his true colours, as one who,
unheard, had condemned an innocent subject by a despotic exertion of
My fortitude was admired, at the moment when it was supposed I
thought myself leading to execution. No one replied, but their
sighs intimated their compassion; certain it is, few Prussians
willingly execute such commands. The carriage at length stopped,
and I was brought into my new cell. The bandage was taken from my
eyes. The dungeon was lighted by a few torches. God of heaven!
what were my feelings when I beheld the whole floor covered with
chains, a fire-pan, and two grim men standing with their smiths'
* * * * * *
To work went these engines of despotism! Enormous chains were fixed
to my ankle at one end, and at the other to a ring which was
incorporated in the wall. This ring was three feet from the ground,
and only allowed me to move about two or three feet to the right and
left. They next riveted another huge iron ring, of a hand's
breadth, round my naked body, to which hung a chain, fixed into an
iron bar as thick as a man's arm. This bar was two feet in length,
and at each end of it was a handcuff. The iron collar round my neck
was not added till the year 1756.
* * * * * *
No soul bade me good night. All retired in dreadful silence; and I
heard the horrible grating of four doors, that were successively
locked and bolted upon me!
Thus does man act by his fellow, knowing him to be innocent, having
received the commands of another man so to act.
O God! Thou alone knowest how my heart, void as it was of guilt,
beat at this moment. There sat I, destitute, alone, in thick
darkness, upon the bare earth, with a weight of fetters
insupportable to nature, thanking Thee that these cruel men had not
discovered my knife, by which my miseries might yet find an end.
Death is a last certain refuge that can indeed bid defiance to the
rage of tyranny. What shall I say? How shall I make the reader
feel as I then felt? How describe my despondency, and yet account
for that latent impulse that withheld my hand on this fatal, this
This misery I foresaw was not of short duration; I had heard of the
wars that were lately broken out between Austria and Prussia.
Patiently to wait their termination, amid sufferings and
wretchedness such as mine, appeared impossible, and freedom even
then was doubtful. Sad experience had I had of Vienna, and well I
knew that those who had despoiled me of my property most anxiously
would endeavour to prevent my return. Such were my meditations!
such my night thoughts! Day at length returned; but where was its
splendour? Fled! I beheld it not; yet was its glimmering obscurity
sufficient to show me what was my dungeon.
In breadth it was about eight feet; in length, ten. Near me once
more stood a night-table; in a corner was a seat, four bricks broad,
on which I might sit, and recline against the wall. Opposite the
ring to which I was fastened, the light was admitted through a semi-
circular aperture, one foot high, and two in diameter. This
aperture ascended to the centre of the wall, which was six feet
thick, and at this central part was a close iron grating, from
which, outward, the aperture descended, and its two extremities were
again secured by strong iron bars. My dungeon was built in the
ditch of the fortification, and the aperture by which the light
entered was so covered by the wall of the rampart that, instead of
finding immediate passage, the light only gained admission by
reflection. This, considering the smallness of the aperture, and
the impediments of grating and iron bars, must needs make the
obscurity great; yet my eyes, in time, became so accustomed to this
glimmering that I could see a mouse run. In winter, however, when
the sun did not shine into the ditch, it was eternal night with me.
Between the bars and the grating was a glass window, most curiously
formed, with a small central casement, which might be opened to
admit the air. My night-table was daily removed, and beside me
stood a jug of water. The name of TRENCK was built in the wall, in
red brick, and under my feet was a tombstone with the name of TRENCK
also cut on it, and carved with a death's head. The doors to my
dungeon were double, of oak, two inches thick; without these was an
open space or front cell, in which was a window, and this space was
likewise shut in by double doors. The ditch, in which this dreadful
den was built, was enclosed on both sides by palisades, twelve feet
high, the key of the door of which was entrusted to the officer of
the guard, it being the King's intention to prevent all possibility
of speech or communication with the sentinels. The only motion I
had the power to make was that of jumping upward, or swinging my
arms to procure myself warmth. When more accustomed to these
fetters, I became capable of moving from side to side, about four
feet; but this pained my shin-bones.
The cell had been finished with lime and plaster but eleven days,
and everybody supposed it would be impossible I should exist in
these damps above a fortnight. I remained six months, continually
immersed in very cold water, that trickled upon me from the thick
arches under which I was; and I can safely affirm that, for the
first three months, I was never dry; yet did I continue in health.
I was visited daily, at noon, after relieving guard, and the doors
were then obliged to be left open for some minutes, otherwise the
dampness of the air put out their candles.
This was my situation, and here I sat, destitute of friends,
helplessly wretched, preyed on by all the torture of thought that
continually suggested the most gloomy, the most horrid, the most
dreadful of images. My heart was not yet wholly turned to stone; my
fortitude was sunken to despondency; my dungeon was the very cave of
despair; yet was my arm restrained, and this excess of misery
How then may hope be wholly eradicated from the heart of man? My
fortitude, after some time, began to revive; I glowed with the
desire of convincing the world I was capable of suffering what man
had never suffered before; perhaps of at last emerging from this
load of wretchedness triumphant over my enemies. So long and
ardently did my fancy dwell on this picture, that my mind at length
acquired a heroism which Socrates himself certainly never possessed.
Age had benumbed his sense of pleasure, and he drank the poisonous
draught with cool indifference; but I was young, inured to high
hopes, yet now beholding deliverance impossible, or at an immense, a
dreadful distance. Such, too, were the other sufferings of soul and
body, I could not hope they might be supported and live.
About noon my den was opened. Sorrow and compassion were painted on
the countenances of my keepers. No one spoke; no one bade me good
morrow. Dreadful indeed was their arrival; for, unaccustomed to the
monstrous bolts and bars, they were kept resounding for a full half-
hour before such soul-chilling, such hope-murdering impediments were
removed. It was the voice of tyranny that thundered.
My night-table was taken out, a camp-bed, mattress, and blankets
were brought me; a jug of water set down, and beside it an
ammunition loaf of six pounds' weight. "That you may no more
complain of hunger," said the town-major, "you shall have as much
bread as you can eat." The door was shut, and I again left to my
What a strange thing is that called happiness! How shall I express
my extreme joy when, after eleven months of intolerable hunger, I
was again indulged with a full feast of coarse ammunition bread?
The fond lover never rushed more eagerly to the arias of his
expecting bride, the famished tiger more ravenously on his prey,
than I upon this loaf. I ate, rested; surveyed the precious morsel;
ate again; and absolutely shed tears of pleasure. Breaking bit
after bit, I had by evening devoured all my loaf.
Oh, Nature! what delight hast thou combined with the gratification
of thy wants! Remember this, ye who gorge, ye who rack invention to
excite appetite, and yet which you cannot procure! Remember how
simple are the means that will give a crust of mouldy bread a
flavour more exquisite than all the spices of the East, or all the
profusion of land or sea! Remember this, grow hungry, and indulge
Alas! my enjoyment was of short duration. I soon found that excess
is followed by pain and repentance. My fasting had weakened
digestion, and rendered it inactive. My body swelled, my water-jug
was emptied; cramps, colics, and at length inordinate thirst racked
me all the night. I began to pour curses on those who seemed to
refine on torture, and, after starving me so long, to invite me to
gluttony. Could I not have reclined on my bed, I should indeed have
been driven, this night, to desperation; yet even this was but a
partial relief; for, not yet accustomed to my enormous fetters, I
could not extend myself in the same manner I was afterwards taught
to do by habit. I dragged them, however, so together as to enable
me to sit down on the bare mattress. This, of all my nights of
suffering, stands foremost. When they opened my dungeon next day
they found me in a truly pitiable situation, wondered at my
appetite, brought me another loaf; I refused to accept it, believing
I nevermore should have occasion for bread; they, however, left me
one, gave me water, shrugged up their shoulders, wished me farewell,
as, according to all appearance, they never expected to find me
alive, and shut all the doors, without asking whether I wished or
needed further assistance.
Three days had passed before I could again eat a morsel of bread;
and my mind, brave in health, now in a sick body became
pusillanimous, so that I determined on death. The irons, everywhere
round my body, and their weight, were insupportable; nor could I
imagine it was possible I should habituate myself to them, or endure
them long enough to expect deliverance. Peace was a very distant
prospect. The King had commanded that such a prison should be built
as should exclude all necessity of a sentinel, in order that I might
not converse with and seduce them from what is called their duty:
and, in the first days of despair, deliverance appeared impossible;
and the fetters, the war, the pain I felt, the place, the length of
time, each circumstance seemed equally impossible to support. A
thousand reasons convinced me it was necessary to end my sufferings.
I shall not enter into theological disputes: let those who blame me
imagine themselves in my situation; or rather let them first
actually endure my miseries, and then let them reason. I had often
braved death in prosperity, and at this moment it seemed a blessing.
Full of these meditations, every minute's patience appeared
absurdity, and resolution meanness of soul; yet I wished my mind
should be satisfied that reason, and not rashness, had induced the
act. I therefore determined, that I might examine the question
coolly, to wait a week longer, and die on the fourth of July. In
the meantime I revolved in my mind what possible means there were of
escape, not fearing, naked and chained, to rush and expire on the
bayonets of my enemies.
The next day I observed, as the four doors were opened, that they
were only of wood, therefore questioned whether I might not even cut
off the locks with the knife that I had so fortunately concealed:
and should this and every other means fail, then would be the time
to die. I likewise determined to make an attempt to free myself of
my chains. I happily forced my right hand through the handcuff,
though the blood trickled from my nails. My attempts on the left
were long ineffectual; but by rubbing with a brick, which I got from
my seat, on the rivet that had been negligently closed, I effected
The chain was fastened to the run round my body by a hook, one end
of which was not inserted in the rim; therefore, by setting my foot
against the wall, I had strength enough so far to bend this hook
back, and open it, as to force out the link of the chain. The
remaining difficulty was the chain that attached my foot to the
wall: the links of this I took, doubled, twisted, and wrenched,
till at length, nature having bestowed on me great strength, I made
a desperate effort, sprang forcibly up, and two links at once flew
Fortunate, indeed, did I think myself: I hastened to the door,
groped in the dark to find the clinkings of the nails by which the
lock was fastened, and discovered no very large piece of wood need
be cut. Immediately I went to work with my knife, and cut through
the oak door to find its thickness, which proved to be only one
inch, therefore it was possible to open all the four doors in four-
Again hope revived in my heart. To prevent detection I hastened to
put on my chains; but, O God! what difficulties had I to surmount!
After much groping about, I at length found the link that had flown
off; this I hid: it being my good fortune hitherto to escape
examination, as the possibility of ridding myself of such chains was
in nowise suspected. The separated iron links I tied together with
my hair ribbon; but when I again endeavoured to force my hand into
the ring, it was so swelled that every effort was fruitless. The
whole might was employed upon the rivet, but all labour was in vain.
Noon was the hour of visitation, and necessity and danger again
obliged me to attempt forcing my hand in, which at length, after
excruciating torture, I effected. My visitors came, and everything
had the appearance of order. I found it, however, impossible to
force out my right hand while it continued swelled.
I therefore remained quiet till the day fixed, and on the determined
fourth of July, immediately as my visitors had closed the doors upon
me, I disencumbered myself of my irons, took my knife, and began my
Herculean labour on the door. The first of the double doors that
opened inwards was conquered in less than an hour; the other was a
very different task. The lock was soon cut round, but it opened
outwards; there was therefore no other means left but to cut the
whole door away above the bar.
Incessant and incredible labour made this possible, though it was
the more difficult as everything was to be done by feeling, I being
totally in the dark; the sweat dropped, or rather flowed, from my
body; my fingers were clotted in my own blood, and my lacerated
hands were one continued wound.
Daylight appeared: I clambered over the door that was half cut
away, and got up to the window in the space or cell that was between
the double doors, as before described. Here I saw my dungeon was in
the ditch of the first rampart: before me I beheld the road from
the rampart, the guard but fifty paces distant, and the high
palisades that were in the ditch, and must be scaled before I could
reach the rampart. Hope grew stronger; my efforts were redoubled.
The first of the next double doors was attacked, which likewise
opened inward, and was soon conquered. The sun set before I had
ended this, and the fourth was to be cut away as the second had
been. My strength failed; both my hands were raw; I rested awhile,
began again, and had made a cut of a foot long, when my knife
snapped, and the broken blade dropped to the ground!
God of Omnipotence! what was I at this moment? Was there, God of
Mercies! was there ever creature of Thine more justified than I in
despair? The moon shone very clear; I cast a wild and distracted
look up to heaven, fell on my knees, and in the agony of my soul
sought comfort: but no comfort could be found; nor religion nor
philosophy had any to give. I cursed not Providence, I feared not
annihilation, I dared not Almighty vengeance; God the Creator was
the disposer of my fate; and if He heaped afflictions upon me He had
not given me strength to support, His justice would not therefore
punish me. To Him, the Judge of the quick and dead, I committed my
soul, seized the broken knife, gashed through the veins of my left
arm and foot, sat myself tranquilly down, and saw the blood flow.
Nature, overpowered fainted, and I know not how long I remained,
slumbering, in this state. Suddenly I heard my own name, awoke, and
again heard the words, "Baron Trenck!" My answer was, "Who calls?"
And who indeed was it--who but my honest grenadier Gelfhardt--my
former faithful friend in the citadel! The good, the kind fellow
had got upon the rampart, that he might comfort me.
"How do you do?" said Gelfhardt. "Weltering in my blood," answered
I; "to-morrow you will find me dead."--"Why should you die?" replied
he. "It is much easier for you to escape here than from the
citadel! Here is no sentinel, and I shall soon find means to
provide you with tools; if you can only break out, leave the rest to
me. As often as I am on guard, I will seek opportunity to speak to
you. In the whole Star-Fort, there are but two sentinels: the one
at the entrance, and the other at the guard-house. Do not despair;
God will succour you; trust to me." The good man's kindness and
discourse revived my hopes: I saw the possibility of an escape. A
secret joy diffused itself through my soul. I immediately tore my
shirt, bound up my wounds, and waited the approach of day; and the
sun soon after shone through the window, to me, with unaccustomed
Let the reader judge how far it was chance, or the effect of Divine
providence, that in this dreadful hour my heart again received hope.
Who was it sent the honest Gelfhardt, at such a moment, to my
prison? For, had it not been for him, I had certainly, when I awoke
from my slumbers, cut more effectually through my arteries.
Till noon I had time to consider what might further be done: yet
what could be done, what expected, but that I should now be much
more cruelly treated, and even more insupportably ironed than
before--finding, as they must, the doors cut through and my fetters
After mature consideration, I therefore made the following
resolution, which succeeded happily, and even beyond my hopes.
Before I proceed, however, I will speak a few words concerning my
situation at this moment. It is impossible to describe how much I
was exhausted. The prison swam with blood; and certainly but little
was left in my body. With painful wounds, swelled and torn hands, I
there stood shirtless, felt an inclination to sleep almost
irresistible, and scarcely had strength to keep my legs, yet was I
obliged to rouse myself, that I might execute my plan.
With the bar that separated my hands, I loosened the bricks of my
seat, which, being newly laid, was easily done, and heaped them up
in the middle of my prison. The inner door was quite open, and with
my chains I so barricaded the upper half of the second as to prevent
any one climbing over it. When noon came and the first of the doors
was unlocked, all were astonished to find the second open. There I
stood, besmeared with blood, the picture of horror, with a brick in
one hand, and in the other my broken knife, crying, as they
approached, "Keep off, Mr. Major, keep off! Tell the governor I
will live no longer in chains, and that here I stand, if so he
pleases, to be shot; for so only will I be conquered. Here no man
shall enter--I will destroy all that approach; here are my weapons;
lucre will I die in despite of tyranny." The major was terrified,
wanted resolution, and made his report to the governor. I meantime
sat down on my bricks, to wait what might happen: my secret intent,
however, was not so desperate as it appeared. I sought only to
obtain a favourable capitulation.
The governor, General Borck, presently came, attended by the town-
major and some officers, and entered the outward cell, but sprang
back the moment he beheld a figure like me, standing with a brick
and uplifted arm. I repeated what I had told the major, and he
immediately ordered six grenadiers to force the door. The front
cell was scarcely six feet broad, so that no more than two at a time
could attack my intrenchment, and when they saw my threatening
bricks ready to descend, they leaped terrified back. A short pause
ensued, and the old town-major, with the chaplain, advanced towards
the door to soothe me: the conversation continued some time: whose
reasons were most satisfactory, and whose cause was the most just, I
leave to the reader. The governor grew angry, and ordered a fresh
attack. The first grenadier was knocked down, and the rest ran back
to avoid my missiles.
The town-major again began a parley. "For God's sake, my dear
Trenck," said he, "in what have I injured you, that you endeavour to
effect my ruin? I must answer for your having, through my
negligence, concealed a knife. Be persuaded, I entreat you. Be
appeased. You are not without hope, nor without friends." My
answer was--"But will you not load me with heavier irons than
He went out, spoke with the governor, and gave me his word of honour
that the affair should be no further noticed, and that everything
should be exactly reinstated as formerly.
Here ended the capitulation, and my wretched citadel was taken. The
condition I was in was viewed with pity; my wounds were examined, a
surgeon sent to dress them, another shirt was given me, and the
bricks, clotted with blood, removed. I, meantime, lay half dead on
my mattress; my thirst was excessive. The surgeon ordered me some
wine. Two sentinels were stationed in the front cell, and I was
thus left four days in peace, unironed. Broth also was given me
daily, and how delicious this was to taste, how much it revived and
strengthened me, is wholly impossible to describe. Two days I lay
in a slumbering kind of trance, forced by unquenchable thirst to
drink whenever I awoke. My feet and hands were swelled; the pains
in my back and limbs were excessive.
On the fifth day the doors were ready; the inner was entirely plated
with iron, and I was fettered as before: perhaps they found further
cruelty unnecessary. The principal chain, however, which fastened
me to the wall, like that I had before broken, was thicker than the
first. Except this, the capitulation was strictly kept. They
deeply regretted that, without the King's express commands, they
could not lighten my afflictions, wished me fortitude and patience,
and barred up my doors.
It is necessary I should here describe my dress. My hands being
fixed and kept asunder by an iron bar, and my feet chained to the
wall, I could neither put on shirt nor stockings in the usual mode;
the shirt was therefore tied, and changed once a fortnight; the
coarse ammunition stockings were buttoned on the sides; a blue
garment, of soldier's cloth, was likewise tied round me, and I had a
pair of slippers for my feet. The shirt was of the army linen; and
when I contemplated myself in this dress of a malefactor, chained
thus to the wall in such a dungeon, vainly imploring mercy or
justice, my conscience void of reproach, my heart of guilt--when I
reflected on my former splendour in Berlin and Moscow, and compared
it with this sad, this dreadful reverse of destiny, I was sunk in
grief, or roused to indignation, that might have hurried the
greatest hero or philosopher to madness or despair. I felt what can
only be imagined by him who has suffered like me, after having like
me flourished, if such can be found.
Pride, the justness of my cause, the unbounded confidence I had in
my own resolution, and the labours of an inventive head and iron
body--these only could have preserved my life. These bodily
labours, these continued inventions, and projected plans to obtain
my freedom, preserved my health. Who would suppose that a man
fettered as I was could find means of exercising himself? By
swinging my arms, acting with the upper part of my body, and leaping
upwards, I frequently put myself in a strong perspiration. After
thus wearying myself I slept soundly, and often thought how many
generals, obliged to support the inclemencies of weather, and all
the dangers of the field--how many of those who had plunged me into
this den of misery, would have been most glad could they, like me,
have slept with a quiet conscience. Often did I reflect how much
happier I was than those tortured on the bed of sickness by gout,
stone, and other terrible diseases. How much happier was I in
innocence than the malefactor doomed to suffer the pangs of death,
the ignominy of men, and the horrors of internal guilt!
In the following part of my history it will appear I often had much
money concealed under the ground and in the walls of my den, yet
would I have given a hundred ducats for a morsel of bread, it could
not have been procured. Money was to me useless. In this I
resembled the miser, who hoards, yet hives in wretchedness, having
no joy in gentle acts of benevolence. As proudly might I delight
myself with my hidden treasure as such misers; nay, more, for I was
secure from robbers.
Had fastidious pomp been my pleasure, I might have imagined myself
some old field-marshal bedridden, who hears two grenadier sentinels
at his door call, "Who goes there?" My honour, indeed, was still
greater; for, during my last year's imprisonment, my door was
guarded by no less than four. My vanity also might have been
flattered: I might hence conclude how high was the value set upon
my head, since all this trouble was taken to hold me in security.
Certain it is that in my chains I thought more rationally, more
nobly, reasoned more philosophically on man, his nature, his zeal,
his imaginary wants, the effects of his ambition, his passions, and
saw more distinctly his dream of earthly good, than those who had
imprisoned, or those who guarded me. I was void of the fears that
haunt the parasite who servilely wears the fetters of a court, and
daily trembles for the loss of what vice and cunning have acquired.
Those who had usurped the Sclavonian estates, and feasted
sumptuously from the service of plate I had been robbed of, never
ate their dainties with so sweet an appetite as I my ammunition
bread, nor did their high-flavoured wines flow so limpid as my cold
Thus, the man who thinks, being pure of heart, will find consolation
when under the most dreadful calamities, convinced, as he must be,
that those apparently most are frequently least happy, insensible as
they are of the pleasures they might enjoy. Evil is never so great
as it appears.
"Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head."
As you LIKE IT.
Happy he who, like me, having suffered, can become an example to his
YOUTH, prosperous, and imagining eternal prosperity, read my history
attentively, though I should be in my grave! Read feelingly, and
bless my sleeping dust, if it has taught thee wisdom or fortitude!
FATHER, reading this, say to thy children, I felt thus like them, in
blooming youth, little prophesied of misfortune, which after fell so
heavy on me, and by which I am even still persecuted! Say that I
had virtue, ambition, was educated in noble principles; that I
laboured with all the zeal of enthusiastic youth to become wiser,
better, greater than other men; that I was guilty of no crimes, was
the friend of men, was no deceiver of man or woman; that I first
served my own country faithfully, and after, every other in which I
found bread; that I was never, during life, once intoxicated; was no
gamester, no night rambler, no contemptible idler; that yet, through
envy and arbitrary power, I have fallen to misery such as none but
the worst of criminals ought to feel.
BROTHER, fly those countries where the lawgiver himself knows no
law, where truth and virtue are punished as crimes; and, if fly you
cannot, be it your endeavour to remain unknown, unnoticed; in such
countries, seek not favour or honourable employ, else will you
become, when your merits are known, as I have been, the victim of
slander and treachery: the behests of power will persecute you, and
innocence will not shield you from the shafts of wicked men who are
envious, or who wish to obtain the favour of princes, though by the
worst of means.
SIRE, imagine not that thou readest a romance. My head is grey,
like thine. Read, yet despise not the world, though it has treated
me thus unthankfully. Good men have I also found, who have
befriended me in misfortunes, and there, where I had least claim,
have I found them most. May my book assist thee in noble thoughts;
mayest thou die as tranquilly as I shall render up my soul to appear
before the Judge of me and my persecutors. Be death but thought a
transition from motion to rest. Few are the delights of this world
for him who, like me, has learned to know it. Murmur not, despair
not of Providence. Me, through storms, it has brought to haven;
through many griefs to self-knowledge; and through prisons to
philosophy. He only can tranquilly descend to annihilation who
finds reason not to repent he has once existed. My rudder broke not
amid the rocks and quicksands, but my bark was cast upon the strand
of knowledge. Yet, even on these clear shores are impenetrable
clouds. I have seen more distinctly than it is supposed men ought
to see. Age will decay the faculties, and mental, like bodily
sight, must then decrease. I even grew weary of science, and envied
the blind-born, or those who, till death, have been wilfully
hoodwinked. How often have I been asked, "What didst thou see?"
And when I answered with sincerity and truth, how often have I been
derided as a liar, and been persecuted by those who determined not
to see themselves, as an innovator singular and rash!
Sire, I further say to thee, teach thy descendants to seek the
golden mean, and say with Gellert--"The boy Fritz needs nothing;--
his stupidity will insure his success, Examine our wealthy and
titled lords, what are their abilities and honours, then inquire how
they were attained, and, if thou canst, discover in what true
Once more to my prison. The failure of my escape, and the recovery
of life from this state of despair, led me to moralise deeper than I
had ever done before; and in this depth of thought I found
unexpected consolation and fortitude, and a firm persuasion I yet
should accomplish my deliverance.
Gelfhardt, my honest grenadier, had infused fresh hope, and my mind
now busily began to meditate new plans. A sentinel was placed
before my door, that I might be more narrowly watched, and the
married men of the Prussian states were appointed to this duty, who,
as I will hereafter show, were more easy to persuade in aiding my
flight than foreign fugitives. The Pomeranian will listen, and is
by nature kind, therefore may easily be moved, and induced to
I began to be more accustomed to my irons, which I had before found
so insupportable; I could comb out my long hair, and could tie it at
last with one hand. My beard, which had so long remained unshaven,
gave me a grim appearance, and I began to pluck it up by the roots.
The pain at first was considerable, especially about the lips; but
this also custom conquered, and I performed this operation in the
following years, once in six weeks, or two months, as the hair thus
plucked up required that length of time before the nails could again
get hold. Vermin did not molest me; the dampness of my den was
inimical to them. My limbs never swelled, because of the exercise I
gave myself, as before described. The greatest pain I found was in
the continued unvivifying dimness in which I lived.
I had read much, had lived in, and seen much of the world. Vacuity
of thought, therefore, I was little troubled with; the former
transactions of my life, and the remembrance of the persons I had
known, I revolved so often in my mind, that they became as familiar
and connected as if the events had each been written in the order it
occurred. Habit made this mental exercise so perfect to me, that I
could compose speeches, fables, odes, satires, all of which I
repeated aloud, and had so stored my memory with them that I was
enabled, after I had obtained my freedom, to commit to writing two
volumes of my prison labours. Accustomed to this exercise, days
that would otherwise have been days of misery appeared but as a
moment. The following narrative will show how munch esteem, how
many friends, these compositions procured me, even in my dungeon;
insomuch that I obtained light, paper, and finally freedom itself.
For these I have to thank the industrious acquirements of my youth;
therefore do I counsel all my readers so to employ their time.
Riches, honours, the favours of fortune, may be showered by monarchs
upon the most worthless; but monarchs can give and take, say and
unsay, raise and pull down. Monarchs, however, can neither give
wisdom nor virtue. Arbitrary power itself, in the presence of
these, is foiled.
How wisely has Providence ordained that the endowments of industry,
learning, and science, given by ourselves, cannot be taken from us;
while, on the contrary, what others bestow is a fantastical dream,
from which any accident may awaken us! The wrath of Frederic could
destroy legions, and defeat armies; but it could not take from me
the sense of honour, of innocence, and their sweet concomitant,
peace of mind--could not deprive me of fortitude and magnanimity. I
defied his power, rested on the justice of my cause, found in myself
expedients wherewith to oppose him, was at length crowned with
conquest, and came forth to the world the martyr of suffering
Some of my oppressors now rot in dishonourable graves. Others,
alas! in Vienna, remain immured in houses of correction, as Krugel
and Zeto, or beg their bread, like Gravenitz and Doo. Nor are the
wealthy possessors of my estates more fortunate, but look down with
shame wherever I and my children appear. We stand erect, esteemed,
and honoured, while their injustice is manifest to the whole world.
Young man, be industrious: for without industry can none of the
treasures I have described be purchased. Thy labour will reward
itself; then, when assaulted by misfortune, or even misery, learn of
me and smile; or, shouldst thou escape such trials, still labour to
acquire wisdom, that in old age thou mayest find content and
The years in my dungeon passed away as days, those moments excepted
when, thinking on the great world, and the deeds of great men, my
ambition was roused: except when, contemplating the vileness of my
chains, and the wretchedness of my situation, I laboured for
liberty, and found my labours endless and ineffectual; except while
I remembered the triumph of my enemies, and the splendour in which
those lived by whom I had been plundered. Then, indeed, did I
experience intervals that approached madness, despair, and horror:
beholding myself destitute of friend or protector, the Empress
herself, for whose sake I suffered, deserting me; reflecting on past
times and past prosperity; remembering how the good and virtuous,
from the cruel nature of my punishment, must be obliged to conclude
me a wretch and a villain, and that all means of justification were
cut off: O God! How did my heart beat! with what violence! What
would I not have undertaken, in these suffering moments, to have put
my enemies to shame! Vengeance and rage then rose rebellious
against patience; long-suffering philosophy vanished, and the
poisoned cup of Socrates would have been the nectar of the gods.
Man deprived of hope is man destroyed. I found but little
probability in all my plans and projects; yet did I trust that some
of them should succeed, yet did I confide in them and my honest
Gelfhardt, and that I should still free myself from my chains.
The greatest of all my incitements to patient endurance was love. I
had left behind me, in Vienna, a lady for whom the world still was
dear to me; her would I neither desert nor afflict. To her and my
sister was my existence still necessary. For their sakes, who had
lost and suffered so much for mine, would I preserve my life; for
them no difficulty, no suffering was too great; yet, alas! when
long-desired liberty was restored, I found them both in their
graves. The joy, for which I had borne so much, was no more to be
About three weeks after my attempt to escape, the good Gelfhardt
first came to stand sentinel over me; and the sentinel they had so
carefully set was indeed the only hope I could have of escape; for
help must be had from without, or this was impossible.
The effort I had made had excited too munch surprise and alarm for
me to pass without strict examination; since, on the ninth day after
I was confined, I had, in eighteen hours, so far broken through a
prison built purposely for myself, by a combination of so many
projectors, and with such extreme precaution, that it had been
universally declared impenetrable.
Gelfhardt scarcely had taken his post before we had free opportunity
of conversing together; for, when I stood with one foot on my
bedstead, I could reach the aperture through which light was
Gelfhardt described the situation of my dungeon, and our first plan
was to break under the foundation which he had seen laid, and which
he affirmed to be only two feet deep.
Money was the first thing necessary. Gelfhardt was relieved during
his guard, and returned bringing within him a sheet of paper rolled
on a wire, which he passed through my grating; as he also did a
piece of small wax candle, some burning amadone (a kind of tinder),
a match, and a pen. I now had light, and I pricked my finger, and
wrote with my blood to my faithful friend, Captain Ruckhardt, at
Vienna, described my situation in a few words, sent him an
acquittance for three thousand florins on my revenues, and requested
he would dispose of a thousand florins to defray the expenses of his
journey to Gummern, only two miles from Magdeburg. Here he was
positively to be on the 15th of August. About noon, on this same
day, he was to walk with a letter in his hand; and a man was there
to meet him, carrying a roll of smoking tobacco, to whom he must
remit the two thousand florins, and return to Vienna.
I returned the written paper to Gelfhardt by the same means it had
been received, gave him my instructions, and he sent his wife with
it to Gummern, by whom it was safely put in the post.
My hopes daily rose, and as often as Gelfhardt mounted guard, so
often did we continue our projects. The 15th of August came, but it
was some days before Gelfhardt was again on guard; and oh! how did
my heart palpitate when he came and exclaimed, "All is right! we
have succeeded." He returned in the evening, and we began to
consider by what means he could convey the money to me. I could
not, with my hands chained to an iron bar, reach the aperture of the
window that admitted air--besides that it was too small. It was
therefore agreed that Gelfhardt should, on the next guard, perform
the office of cleaning my dungeon, and that he then should convey
the money to me in the water-jug.
This luckily was done. How great was my astonishment when, instead
of one, I found two thousand florins! For I had permitted him to
reserve half to himself, as a reward for his fidelity; he, however,
had kept but five pistoles, which he persisted was enough.
Worthy Gelfhardt! This was the act of a Pomeranian grenadier! How
rare are such examples! Be thy name and mine ever united! Live
thou while the memory of me shall live! Never did my acquaintance
with the great bring to my knowledge a soul so noble, so
It is true, I afterwards prevailed on him to accept the whole
thousand; but we shall soon see he never had them, and that his
foolish wife, three years after, suffered by their means; however,
she suffered alone, for he soon marched to the field, and therefore
Having money to carry on my designs, I began to put my plan of
burrowing under the foundation into execution. The first thing
necessary was to free myself from my fetters. To accomplish this,
Gelfhardt supplied me with two small files, and by the aid of these,
this labour, though great, was effected.
The cap, or staple, of the foot ring was made so wide that I could
draw it forward a quarter of an inch. I filed the iron which passed
through it on the inside; the more I filed this away, the farther I
could draw the cap down, till at last the whole inside iron, through
which the chains passed, was cut quite through! by this means I
could slip off the ring, while the cap on the outside continued
whole, and it was impossible to discover any cut, as only the
outside could be examined. My hands, by continued efforts, I so
compressed as to be able to draw them out of the handcuffs. I then
filed the hinge, and made a screw-driver of one of the foot-long
flooring nails, by which I could take out the screw at pleasure, so
that at the time of examination no proofs could appear. The rim
round my body was but a small impediment, except the chain, which
passed from my hand-bar: and this I removed, by filing an aperture
in one of the links, which, at the necessary hour, I closed with
bread, rubbed over with rusty-iron, first drying it by the heat of
my body; and would wager any sum that, without striking the chain
link by link, with a hammer, no one not in the secret would have
discovered the fracture.
The window was never strictly examined; I therefore drew the two
staples by which the iron bars were fixed to the wall, and which I
daily replaced, carefully plastering them over. I procured wire
from Gelfhardt, and tried how well I could imitate the inner
grating: finding I succeeded tolerably, I cut the real grating
totally away, and substituted an artificial one of my own
fabricating, by which I obtained a free communication with the
outside, additional fresh air, together with all necessary
implements, tinder, and candles.
That the light might not be seen, I hung the coverlid of my bed
before the window, so that I could work fearless and undetected.
Every thing prepared, I went to work. The floor of my dungeon was
not of stone, but oak plank, three inches thick; three beds of which
were laid crossways, and were fastened to each other by nails half
an inch in diameter, and a foot long. Raving worked round the head
of a nail, I made use of the hole at the end of the bar, which
separated my hands, to draw it out, and this nail, sharpened upon my
tombstone, made an excellent chisel.
I now cut through the board more than an inch in width, that I might
work downwards, and having drawn away a piece of board which was
inserted two inches under the wall, I cut this so as exactly to fit;
the small crevice it occasioned I stopped up with bread and strewed
over with dust, so as to prevent all suspicious appearance. My
labour under this was continued with less precaution, and I had soon
worked through my nine-inch planks. Under them I came to a fine
white sand, on which the Star Fort was built. My chips I carefully
distributed beneath the boards. If I had not help from without, I
could proceed no farther; for to dig were useless, unless I could
rid myself of my rubbish. Gelfhardt supplied me with some ells of
cloth, of which I made long narrow bags, stuffed them with earth,
and passed them between the iron bars, to Gelfhardt, who, as he was
on guard, scattered or conveyed away their contents.
Furnished with room to secrete them under the floor, I obtained more
instruments, together with a pair of pistols, powder, ball, and a
I now discovered that the foundation of my prison, instead of two,
was sunken four feet deep. Time, labour, and patience were all
necessary to break out unheard and undiscovered; but few things are
impossible, where resolution is not wanting.
The hole I made was obliged to be four feet deep, corresponding with
the foundation, and wide enough to kneel and stoop in: the lying
down on the floor to work, the continual stooping to throw out the
earth, the narrow space in which all must be performed, these made
the labour incredible: and, after this daily labour, all things
were to be replaced, and my chains again resumed, which alone
required some hours to effect. My greatest aid was in the wax
candles, and light I had procured; but as Gelfhardt stood sentinel
only once a fortnight, my work was much delayed; the sentinels were
forbidden to speak to me under pain of death: and I was too fearful
of being betrayed to dare to seek new assistance.
Being without a stove, I suffered much this winter from cold; yet my
heart was cheerful as I saw the probability of freedom; and all were
astonished to find me in such good spirits.
Gelfhardt also brought me supplies of provisions, chiefly consisting
of sausages and salt meats, ready dressed, which increased my
strength, and when I was not digging, I wrote satires and verses:
thus time was employed, and I contented even in prison.
Lulled into security, an accident happened that will appear almost
incredible, and by which every hope was nearly frustrated.
Gelfhardt had been working with me, and was relieved in the morning.
As I was replacing the window, which I was obliged to remove on
these occasions, it fell out of my hand, and three of the glass
panes were broken. Gelfhardt was not to return till guard was again
relieved: I had therefore no opportunity of speaking with him, or
concerting any mode of repair. I remained nearly an hour
conjecturing and hesitating; for certainly had the broken window
been seen, as it was impossible I should reach it when fettered, I
should immediately have been more rigidly examined, and the false
grating must have been discovered.
I therefore came to a resolution, and spoke to the sentinel (who was
amusing himself with whistling), thus: "My good fellow, have pity,
not upon me, but upon your comrades, who, should you refuse, will
certainly be executed: I will throw you thirty pistoles through the
window, if you will do me a small favour." He remained some moments
silent, and at last answered in a low voice, "What, have you money,
then?"--I immediately counted thirty pistoles, and threw them
through the window. He asked what he was to do: I told him my
difficulty, and gave him the size of the panes in paper. The man
fortunately was bold and prudent. The door of the pallisadoes,
through the negligence of the officer, had not been shut that day:
he prevailed on one of his comrades to stand sentinel for him,
during half an hour, while he meantime ran into the town, and
procured the glass, on the receipt of which I instantly threw him
out ten more pistoles. Before the hour of noon and visitation came,
everything was once more reinstated, my glaziery performed to a
miracle, and the life of my worthy Gelfhardt preserved!--Such is the
power of money in this world! This is a very remarkable incident,
for I never spoke after to the man who did me this signal service.
Gelfhardt's alarm may easily be imagined; he some days after
returned to his post, and was the more astonished as he knew the
sentinel who had done me this good office; that he had five
children, and a man most to be depended on by his officers, of any
one in the whole grenadier company.
I now continued my labour, and found it very possible to break out
under the foundation; but Gelfhardt had been so terrified by the
late accident, that he started a thousand difficulties, in
proportion as my end was more nearly accomplished; and at the moment
when I wished to concert with him the means of flight, he persisted
it was necessary to find additional help, to escape in safety, and
not bring both him and myself to destruction. At length we came to
the following determination, which, however, after eight months'
incessant labour, rendered my whole project abortive.
I wrote once more to Ruckhardt, at Vienna; sent him a new assignment
for money, and desired he would again repair to Gummern, where he
should wait six several nights, with two spare horses, on the glacis
of Klosterbergen, at the time appointed, everything being prepared
for flight. Within these six days Gelfhardt would have found means,
either in rotation, or by exchanging the guard, to have been with
me. Alas! the sweet hope of again beholding the face of the sun, of
once more obtaining my freedom, endured but three days: Providence
thought proper otherwise to ordain. Gelfhardt sent his wife to
Gummern with the letter, and this silly woman told the post-master
her husband had a lawsuit at Vienna, that therefore she begged he
would take particular care of the letter, for which purpose she
slipped ten rix-dollars into his hand.
This unexpected liberality raised the suspicions of the Saxon post-
master, who therefore opened the letter, read the contents, and
instead of sending it to Vienna, or at least to the general post-
master at Dresden, he preferred the traitorous act of taking it
himself to the governor of Magdeburg, who then, as at present, was
Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick.
What were my terrors, what my despair, when I beheld the Prince
himself, about three o'clock in the afternoon, enter my prison with
his attendants, present my letter, and ask, in an authoritative
voice, who had carried it to Gummern. My answer was, "I know not."
Strict search was immediately made by smiths, carpenters, and
masons, and after half an hour's examination, they discovered
neither my hole nor the manner in which I disencumbered myself of my
chains; they only saw that the middle grating, in the aperture where
the light was admitted, had been removed. This was boarded up the
next day, only a small air-hole left, of about six inches diameter.
The Prince began to threaten; I persisted I had never seen the
sentinel who had rendered me this service, nor asked his name.
Seeing his attempts all ineffectual, the governor, in a milder tone,
said, "You have ever complained, Baron Trenck, of not having been
legally sentenced, or heard in your own defence; I give you my word
of honour, this you shall be, and also that you shall be released
from your fetters, if you will only tell me who took your letter."
To this I replied, with all the fortitude of innocence, "Everybody
knows, my lord, I have never deserved the treatment I have met with
in my country. My heart is irreproachable. I seek to recover my
liberty by every means in my power: but were I capable of betraying
the man whose compassion has induced him to succour my distress;
were I the coward that could purchase happiness at his expense, I
then should, indeed, deserve to wear those chains with which I am
loaded. For myself, do with me what you please: yet remember I am
not wholly destitute: I am still a captain in the Imperial service,
and a descendant of the house of Trenck."
Prince Ferdinand stood for a moment unable to answer; then renewed
his threats, and left my dungeon. I have since been told that, when
he was out of hearing, he said to those around him, "I pity his hard
fate, and cannot but admire his strength of mind!"
I must here remark that, when we remember the usual circumspection
of this great man, we are obliged to wonder at his imprudence in
holding a conversation of such a kind with me, which lasted a
considerable time, in the presence of the guard. The soldiers of
the whole garrison had afterwards the utmost confidence, as they
were convinced I would not meanly devote others to destruction, that
I might benefit myself. This was the way to gain me esteem and
intercourse among the men, especially as the Duke had said he knew I
must have money concealed, for that I had distributed some to the
He had scarcely been gone an hour, before I heard a noise near my
prison. I listened--what could it be? I heard talking, and learned
a grenadier had hanged himself to the pallisadoes of my prison.
The officer of the town-guard, and the town-major again entered my
dungeon to fetch a lanthorn they had forgotten, and the officer at
going out, told me in a whisper, "One of your associates has just
It was impossible to imagine my terror or sensations; I believed it
could be only my kind, my honest Gelfhardt. After many gloomy
thoughts, and lamenting the unhappy end of so worthy a fellow, I
began to recollect what the Prince had promised me, if I would
discover the accomplice. I knocked at the door, and desired to
speak to the officer; he came to the window and asked me what I
wanted; I requested he would inform the governor that if he would
send me light, pen, ink, and paper, I would discover my whole
These were accordingly sent, an hour's time was granted; the door
was shut, and I was left alone. I sat myself down, began to write
on my night-table, and was about to insert the name of Gelfhardt,
but my blood thrilled, and shrank back to my heart. I shuddered,
rose, went to the aperture of the window and called, "Is there no
man who in compassion will tell me the name of him who has hanged
himself, that I may deliver many others from destruction?" The
window was not nailed up till the next day; I therefore wrapped five
pistoles in a paper, threw them out, called to the sentinel, and
said, "Friend, take these, and save thy comrades; or go and betray
me, and bring down innocent blood upon thy head!"
The paper was taken up; a pause of silence ensued: I heard sighs,
and presently after a low voice said, "his name is Schutz; he
belonged to the company of Ripps." I had never heard the name
before, or known the man, but I however immediately wrote SCHUTZ,
instead of Gelfhardt. Having finished the letter I called the
lieutenant, who took that and the light away, and again barred up
the door of my dungeon. The Duke, however, suspected there must be
some evasion, and everything remained in the same state: I obtained
neither hearing nor court-martial. I learned, in the sequel, the
following circumstances, which will display the truth of this
apparently incredible story.
While I was imprisoned in the citadel, a sentinel came to the post
under my window, cursed and blasphemed, exclaiming aloud against the
Prussian service, and saying, if Trenck only knew my mind, he would
not long continue in his hole! I entered into discourse with him,
and he told me, if I could give him money to purchase a boat, in
which he might cross the Elbe, he would soon make my doors fly open,
and set me free.
Money at that time I had none; but I gave him a diamond shirt-
buckle, worth five hundred ferns, which I had concealed. I never
heard more from this man; he spoke to me no more. He often stood
sentinel over me, which I knew by his Westphalian dialect, and I as
often addressed myself to him, but ineffectually; he would make no
This Schutz must have sold my buckle, and let his riches be seen;
for, when the Duke left me, the lieutenant on guard said to him--
"You must certainly be the rascal who carried Trenck's letter; you
have, for some time past, spent much money, and we have seen you
with louis-d'ors. How came you by them?" Schutz was terrified, his
conscience accused him, he imagined I should betray him, knowing he
had deceived me. He, therefore, in the first agonies of despair,
came to the pallisadoes, and hung himself before the door of my
How wonderful is the hand of Providence! The wicked man fell a
sacrifice to his crime, after having escaped a whole year, and the
faithful, the benevolent-hearted Gelfhardt was thereby saved.
The sentinels were now doubled, that any intercourse with them might
be rendered more difficult. Gelfhardt again stood guard, but he had
scarcely opportunity, without danger, to speak a few words: he
thanked me for having preserved him, wished me better fortune, and
told me the garrison, in a few days, would take the field.
This was dreadful news: my whole plan was destroyed at a breath.
I, however, soon recovered fresh hopes. The hole I had sunken was
not discovered: I had five hundred florins, candles, and
The seven years' war broke out about a week after, and the regiment
took the field. Major Weyner came, for the last time, and committed
me to the care of the new major of the militia, Bruckhausen, who was
one of the most surly and stupid of men. I shall often have
occasion to mention this man.
All the majors and lieutenants of the guard, who had treated me with
compassion and esteem, now departed, and I became an old prisoner in
a new world. I acquired greater confidence, however, by remembering
that both officers and men in the militia were much easier to gain
over than in the regulars; the truth of which opinion was soon
Four lieutenants were appointed, with their men, to mount guard at
the Star Fort in turn, and before a year had passed, three of them
were in my interest.
The regiments had scarcely taken the field ere the new governor,
General Borck, entered my prison, like what he was, an imperious,
cruel tyrant. The King, in giving him the command, had informed him
he must answer for my person with his head: he therefore had full
power to treat me with whatever severity he pleased.
Borck was a stupid man, of an unfeeling heart, the slave of despotic
orders; and as often as he thought it possible I might rid myself of
my fetters and escape, his heart palpitated with fear. In addition
to this, he considered me as the vilest of men and traitors, seeing
his King had condemned me to imprisonment so cruel, and his
barbarity towards me was thus the effect of character and meanness
of soul. He entered my dungeon not as an officer, to visit a
brother officer in misery, but as an executioner to a felon. Smiths
then made their appearance, and a monstrous iron collar, of a hand's
breadth, was put round my neck, and connected with the chains of the
feet by additional heavy links. My window was walled up, except a
small air-hole. He even at length took away my bed, gave me no
straw, and quitted me with a thousand revilings on the Empress-
Queen, her whole army, and myself. In words, however, I was little
in his debt, and he was enraged even to madness.
What my situation was under this additional load of tyranny, and the
command of a man so void of human pity, the reader may imagine. My
greatest good fortune consisted in the ability I still had to
disencumber myself of all the irons that were connected with the
ankle-rims, and the provision I had of light, paper, and implements;
and though it was apparently impossible I should break out
undiscovered by both sentinels, yet had I the remaining hope of
gaining some officer, by money, who, as in Glatz, should assist my
Had the commands of the King been literally obeyed escape would have
been wholly impossible; for, by this, all communication would have
been totally cut off with the sentinels. To this effect the four
keys of the four doors were each to be kept by different persons;
one with the governor, another with the town-major, the third with
the major of the day, and the fourth with the lieutenant of the
guard. I never could have found opportunity to have spoken with any
one of them singly. These commands at first were rigidly observed,
with this exception, that the governor made his appearance only
every week. Magdeburg became so full of prisoners that the town-
major was obliged to deliver up his key to the major of the day, and
the governor's visitations wholly subsided, the citadel being an
English mile and a half distant from the Star Fort.
General Walrabe, who had been a prisoner ever since the year 1746,
was also at the Star Fort, but he had apartments, and three thousand
rix-dollars a year. The major of the day and officer of the guard
dined with him daily, and generally stayed till evening. Either
from compassion, or a concurrence of fortunate circumstances, these
gentlemen entrusted the keys to the lieutenant on guard, by which
means I could speak with each of them alone when they made their
visits, and they themselves at length sought these opportunities.
My consequent undertakings I shall relate, with all the arts and
inventions of a wretched prisoner endeavouring to escape.
Borck had selected three majors and four lieutenants for this
service as those he could best trust. My situation was truly
deplorable. The enormous iron round my neck pained me, and
prevented motion; and I durst not attempt to disengage myself from
the pendant chains till I had, for some months, carefully observed
the mode of their examination, and which parts they supposed were
perfectly secure. The cruelty of depriving me of my bed was still
greater: I was obliged to sit upon the bare ground, and lean with
my head against the damp wall. The chains that descended from the
neck collar were obliged to be supported first with one band, and
then with the other; for, if thrown behind, they would have
strangled me, and if hanging forward occasioned most excessive
headaches. The bar between my hands held one down, while leaning on
my elbow; I supported with the other my chains; and this so benumbed
the muscles and prevented circulation, that I could perceive my arms
sensibly waste away. The little sleep I could have in such a
situation may easily be supposed, and, at length, body and mind sank
under this accumulation of miserable suffering, and I fell ill of a
The tyrant Borck was inexorable; he wished to expedite my death, and
rid himself of his troubles and his terrors. Here did I experience
what was the lamentable condition of a sick prisoner, without bed,
refreshment, or aid from human being. Reason, fortitude, heroism,
all the noble qualities of the mind, decay when the corporal
faculties are diseased; and the remembrance of my sufferings, at
this dreadful moment, still agitates, still inflames my blood, so as
almost to prevent an attempt to describe what they were.
Yet hope had not totally forsaken me. Deliverance seemed possible,
especially should peace ensue; and I sustained, perhaps, what mortal
man never bore, except myself, being, as I was, provided with
pistols, or any such immediate mode of despatch.
I continued ill about two months, and was so reduced at last that I
had scarcely strength to lift the water-jug to my mouth. What must
the sufferings of that man be who sits two months on the bare ground
in a dungeon so damp, so dark, so horrible, without bed or straw,
his limbs loaded as mine were, with no refreshment but dry
ammunition bread, without so much as a drop of broth, without
physic, without consoling friend, and who, under all these
afflictions, must trust, for his recovery, to the efforts of nature
Sickness itself is sufficient to humble the mightiest mind; what,
then, is sickness, with such an addition of torment? The burning
fever, the violent headaches, my neck swelled and inflamed with the
irons, enraged me almost to madness. The fever and the fetters
together flayed my body so that it appeared like one continued
wound--Enough! Enough! The malefactor extended living on the
wheel, to whom the cruel executioner refuses the last stroke--the
blow of death--must yet, in some short period, expire: he suffers
nothing I did not then suffer; and these, my excruciating pangs,
continued two dreadful months--Yet, can it be supposed? There came
a day! A day of horror, when these mortal pangs were beyond
imagination increased. I sat scorched with this intolerable fever,
in which nature and death were contending; and when attempting to
quench my burning entrails with cold water, the jug dropped from my
feeble hands, and broke! I had four-and-twenty hours to remain
without water. So intolerable, so devouring was my thirst, I could
have drank human blood! Ay, in my madness, had it been the blood of
* * * * * *
Willingly would I have seized my pistols, but strength had forsaken
me, I could not open the place I was obliged to render so secure.
My visitors next day supposed me gone at last. I lay motionless,
with my tongue out of my mouth. They poured water down my throat,
and I revived.
Oh, God! Oh, God! How pure, how delicious, how exquisite was this
water! My insatiable thirst soon emptied the jug; they filled it
anew, bade me farewell, hoped death would soon relieve my mortal
sufferings, and departed.
The lamentable state in which I lay at length became the subject of
general conversation, that all the ladies of the town united with
the officers, and prevailed on the tyrant, Borck, to restore me my
Oh, Nature, what are thy operations? From the day I drank water in
such excess I gathered strength, and to the astonishment of every
one, soon recovered. I had moved the heart of the officer who
inspected my prison; and after six months, six cruel months of
intense misery, the day of hope again began to dawn.
One of the majors of the day entrusted his key to Lieutenant
Sonntag, who came alone, spoke in confidence, and related his own
situation, complained of his debts, his poverty, his necessities;
and I made him a present of twenty-five louis-d'ors, for which he
was so grateful that our friendship became unshaken.
The three lieutenants all commiserated me, and would sit hours with
me, when a certain major had the inspection; and he himself, after a
time, would even pass half the day with me. He, too, was poor: and
I gave him a draft for three thousand florins; hence new projects
Money became necessary; I had disbursed all I possessed, a hundred
florins excepted, among the officers. The eldest son of Captain K-
, who officiated as major, had been cashiered: his father
complained to me of his distress, and I sent him to my sister, not
far from Berlin, from whom he received a hundred ducats. He
returned and related her joy at hearing from me. He found her
exceedingly ill; and she informed me, in a few lines, that my
misfortunes, and the treachery of Weingarten, had entailed poverty
upon her, and an illness which had endured more than two years. She
wished me a happy deliverance from my chains, and, in expectation of
death, committed her children to my protection. She, however, grew
better, and married a second time, Colonel Pape; but died in the
year 1758. I shall forbear to relate her history: it indeed does
no honour to the ashes of Frederic, and would but less dispose my
own heart to forgiveness, by reviving the memory of her oppressions
K-n returned happy with the money: all things were concerted with
the father. I wrote to the Countess Bestuchef, also to the Grand
Duke, afterwards Peter III., recommended the young soldier, and
entreated every possible succour for myself.
K-n departed through Hamburg, for Petersburg, where, in consequence
of my recommendation, he became a captain, and in a short time
major. He took his measures so well that I, by the intervention of
his father, and a Hamburg merchant, received two thousand rubles
from the Countess, while the service he rendered me made his own
fortune in Russia.
To old K- , who was as poor as he was honest, I gave three hundred
ducats; and he, till death, continued my grateful friend. I
distributed nearly as much to the other officers; and matters
proceeded so far that Lieutenant Glotin gave back the keys to the
major without locking my prison, himself passing half the night with
me. Money was given to the guard to drink; and thus everything
succeeded to my wish, and the tyrant Borck was deceived. I had a
supply of light; had books, newspapers, and my days passed swiftly
away. I read, I wrote, I busied myself so thoroughly that I almost
forgot I was a prisoner. When, indeed, the surly, dull blockhead,
Major Bruckhausen, had the inspection, everything had to be
carefully reinstated. Major Z- , the second of the three, was also
wholly mine. He was particularly attached to me; for I had promised
to marry his daughter, and, should I die in prison, to bequeath him
a legacy of ten thousand florins,
Lieutenant Sonntag got false handcuffs made for me, that were so
wide I could easily draw my hands out; the lieutenants only examined
my irons, the new handcuffs were made perfectly similar to the old,
and Bruckhausen had too much stupidity to remark any difference.
The remainder of my chains I could disencumber myself of at
pleasure. When I exercised myself, I held them in my hands, that
the sentinel might be deceived by their clanking. The neck-iron was
the only one I durst not remove; it was likewise too strongly
riveted. I filed through the upper link of the pendant chain,
however, by which means I could take it off, and this I concealed
with bread in the manner before mentioned.
So I could disencumber myself of most of my fetters, and sleep in
ease. I again obtained sausages and cold meat, and thus my
situation, bad as it still was, became less miserable. Liberty,
however, was most desirable: but, alas! not one of the three
lieutenants had the courage of a Schell: Saxony, too, was in the
hands of the Prussians, and flight, therefore, more dangerous.
Persuasion was in vain with men determined to risk nothing, but, if
they went, to go in safety. Will, indeed, was not wanting in Glotin
and Sonntag; but the first was a poltroon, and the latter a man of
scruples, who thought this step might likewise be the ruin of his
brother at Berlin.
The sentinels were doubled, therefore my escape through my hole,
which had been two years dug, could not, unperceived by them, be
effected: still less could I, in the face of the guard, clamber the
twelve feet high pallisadoes. The following labour, therefore,
though Herculean, was undertaken.
Lieutenant Sonntag, measuring the interval between the hole I had
dug and the entrance in the gallery in the principal rampart, found
it to be thirty-seven feet. Into this it was possible I might, by
mining, penetrate. The difficulty of the enterprise was lessened by
the nature of the ground, a fine white sand. Could I reach the
gallery my freedom was certain. I had been informed how many steps
to the right or left must be taken, to find the door that led to the
second rampart: and, on the day when I should be ready for flight,
the officer was secretly to leave this door open. I had light, and
mining tools, and was further to rely on money and my own
I began and continued this labour about six months. I have already
noticed the difficulty of scraping out the earth with my hands, as
the noise of instruments would have been heard by the sentinels. I
had scarcely mined beyond my dungeon wall before I discovered the
foundation of the rampart was not more than a foot deep; a capital
error certainly in so important a fortress. My labour became the
lighter, as I could remove the foundation stones of my dungeon, and
was not obliged to mine so deep.
My work at first proceeded so rapidly, that, while I had room to
throw back my sand, I was able in one night to gain three feet; but
ere I had proceeded ten feet I discovered all my difficulties.
Before I could continue my work I was obliged to make room for
myself, by emptying the sand out of my hole upon the floor of the
prison, and this itself was an employment of some hours. The sand
was obliged to be thrown out by the hand, and after it thus lay
heaped in my prison, must again be returned into the hole; and I
have calculated that after I had proceeded twenty feet, I was
obliged to creep under ground, in my hole, from fifteen hundred to
two thousand fathoms, within twenty-four hours, in the removal and
replacing of the sand. This labour ended, care was to be taken that
in none of the crevices of the floor there might be any appearance
of this fine white sand. The flooring was the next to be exactly
replaced, and my chains to be resumed. So severe was the fatigue of
one day, in this mode, that I was always obliged to rest the three
To reduce my labour as much as possible, I was constrained to make
the passage so small that my body only had space to pass, and I had
not room to draw my arm back to my head. The work, too, must all be
done naked, otherwise the dirtiness of my shirt must have been
remarked; the sand was wet, water being found at the depth of four
feet, where the stratum of the gravel began. At length the
expedient of sand-bags occurred to me, by which it might be removed
out and in more expeditiously. I obtained linen from the officers,
but not in sufficient quantities; suspicions would have been excited
at observing so much linen brought into the prison. At last I took
my sheets and the ticking that enclosed my straw, and cut them up
for sand-bags, taking care to lie down on my bed, as if ill, when
Bruckhausen paid his visit.
The labour, towards the conclusion, became so intolerable as to
incite despondency. I frequently sat contemplating the heaps of
sand, during a momentary respite from work; and thinking it
impossible I could have strength or time again to replace all things
as they were, resolved patiently to wait the consequence, and leave
everything in its present disorder. Yes! I can assure the reader
that, to effect concealment, I have scarcely had time in twenty-four
hours to sit down and eat a morsel of bread. Recollecting, however,
the efforts, and all the progress I had made, hope would again
revive, and exhausted strength return: again would I begin my
labours, that I might preserve my secret and my expectations: yet
has it frequently happened that my visitors have entered a few
minutes after I had reinstated everything in its place.
When my work was within six or seven feet of being accomplished, a
new misfortune happened that at once frustrated all further
attempts. I worked, as I have said, under the foundation of the
rampart near where the sentinels stood. I could disencumber myself
of my fetters, except my neck collar and its pendent chain. This,
as I worked, though it was fastened, got loose, and the clanking was
heard by one of the sentinels about fifteen feet from my dungeon.
The officer was called, they laid their ears to the ground, and
heard me as I went backward and forward to bring my earth bags.
This was reported the next day; and the major, who was my best
friend, with the town-major, and a smith and mason, entered my
prison. I was terrified. The lieutenant by a sign gave me to
understand I was discovered. An examination was begun, but the
officers would not see, and the smith and mason found all, as they
thought, safe. Had they examined my bed, they would have seen the
ticking and sheets were gone.
The town-major, who was a dull man, was persuaded the thing was
impossible, and said to the sentinel, "Blockhead! you have heard
some mole underground, and not Trenck. How, indeed, could it be,
that lee should work underground, at such a distance from his
dungeon?" Here the scrutiny ended.
There was now no time for delay. Had they altered their hour of
coming, they must have found me at work: but this, during ten
years, never happened: for the governor and town-major were stupid
men, and the others, poor fellows, wishing me all success, were
willingly blind. In a few days I could have broken out, but, when
ready, I was desirous to wait for the visitation of the man who had
treated me so tyranically, Bruckhausen, that his own negligence
might be evident. But this man, though he wanted understanding, did
not want good fortune. He was ill for some time, and his duty
devolved on K- .
He recovered; and the visitation being over, the doors were no
sooner barred than I began my supposed last labour. I had only
three feet farther to proceed, and it was no longer necessary I
should bring out the sand, I having room to throw it behind me.
What my anxiety was, what my exertions were, may well be imagined.
My evil genius, however, had decreed that the same sentinel, who had
heard me before, should be that day on guard. He was piqued by
vanity, to prove he was not the blockhead he had been called; he
therefore again laid his ear to the ground, and again heard me
burrowing. Ho called his comrades first, next thee major; lee came,
and heard me likewise; they then went without the pallisadoes, and
heard me working near the door, at which place I was to break into
the gallery. This door they immediately opened, entered the gallery
with lanthorns, and waited to catch the hunted fox when unearthed.
Through the first small breach I made I perceived a light, and saw
the heads of those who were expecting me. This was indeed a
thunder-stroke! I crept back, made my way through the sand I had
cast behind me, and awaited my fate with shuddering! I had the
presence of mind to conceal my pistols, candles, paper, and some
money, under the floor which I could remove. The money was disposed
of in various holes, well concealed also between the panels of the
doors; and under different cracks in the floor I hid my small files
and knives. Scarcely were these disposed of before the doors
resounded: the floor was covered with sand and sand-bags: my
handcuffs, however, and the separating bar, I had hastily resumed
that they might suppose I had worked with them on, which they were
silly enough to credit, highly to my future advantage.
No man was more busy on this occasion than the brutal and stupid
Bruckhausen, who put many interrogatories, to which I made no reply,
except assuring him that I should have completed my work some days
sooner, had it not been his good fortune to fall sick, and that this
only had been the cause of my failure.
The man was absolutely terrified with apprehension; he began to fear
me, grew more polite, and even supposed nothing was impossible to
It was too late to remove the sand; therefore the lieutenant and
guard continued with me, so that this night at least I did not want
company. When the morning came, the hole was first filled up; the
planking was renewed. The tyrant Borck was ill, and could not come,
otherwise my treatment would have been still more lamentable. The
smiths had ended before the evening, and the irons were heavier than
ever. The foot chains, instead of being fastened as before, were
screwed and riveted; all else remained as formerly. They were
employed in the flooring till the next day, so that I could not
sleep, and at last I sank down with weariness.
The greatest of my misfortunes was they again deprived me of my bed,
because I had cut it up for sand-bags. Before the doors were barred
Bruckhausen and another major examined my body very narrowly. They
often had asked me where I concealed all my implements? My answer
was, "Gentlemen, Beelzebub is my best and most intimate friend; he
brings me everything I want, supplies me with light: we play whole
nights at piquet, and, guard me as you please, he will finally
deliver me out of your power."
Some were astonished, others laughed. At length, as they were
barring the last door, I called, "Come back, gentlemen! you have
forgotten something of great importance." In the interim I had
taken up one of my hidden files. When they returned, "Look ye,
gentlemen," said I, "here is a proof of the friendship Beelzebub has
for me, he has brought me this in a twinkling." Again they
examined, and again they shut their doors. While they were so
doing, I took out a knife, and ten louis-d'ors, called, and they re
turned, grumbling curses; I then shewed the knife and the louis-
d'ors. Their consternation was excessive; and I diverted my
misfortunes by jesting at such blundering, short-sighted keepers.
It was soon rumoured through Magdeburg, especially among the simple
and vulgar, that I was a magician to whom the devil brought all I
One Major Holtzkammer, a very selfish man, profited by this report.
A foolish citizen had offered him fifty dollars if he might only be
permitted to see me through the door, being very desirous to see a
wizard. Holtzkammer told me, and we jointly determined to sport
with his credulity. The major gave me a mask with a monstrous nose,
which I put on when the doors were opening, and threw myself in an
heroic attitude. The affrighted burger drew back; but Holtzkammer
stopped him, and said, "Have patience for some quarter of an hour,
and you shall see he will assume quite a different countenance."
The burger waited, my mask was thrown by, and my face appeared
whitened with chalk, and made ghastly. The burger again shrank
back; Holtzkammer kept him in conversation, and I assumed a third
farcical form. I tied my hair under my nose, and a pewter dish to
my breast, and when the door a third time opened, I thundered,
"Begone, rascals, or I'll set your necks--awry!" They both ran:
and the silly burger, eased of his fifty dollars, scampered first.
The major, in vain, laid his injunctions on the burger never to
reveal what he had beheld, it being a breach of duty in him to admit
any persons whatever to the sight of me. In a few days, the
necromancer Trenck was the theme of every alehouse in Magdeburg, and
the person was named who had seen me change my form thrice in the
space of one hour. Many false and ridiculous circumstances were
added, and at last the story reached the governor's ears. The
citizen was cited, and offered to take his oath of what himself and
the major had seen. Holtzkammer accordingly suffered a severe
reprimand, and was some days under arrest. We frequently laughed,
however, at this adventure, which had rendered me so much the
subject of conversation. Miraculous reports were the more easily
credited, because no one could comprehend how, in despite of the
load of irons I carried, and all the vigilance of my guards, I
should be continually able to make new attempts, while those
appointed to examine my dungeon seemed, as it were, blinded and
bewildered. A proof this, how easy it is to deceive the credulous,
and whence have originated witchcraft, prophecies, and miracles.
My last undertaking had employed me more than twelve months, and so
weakened me that I appeared little better than a skeleton.
Notwithstanding the greatness of my spirit, I should have sunk into
despondency, at seeing an end like this to all my labours, had I not
still cherished a secret hope of escaping, founded on the friends I
had gained among the officers.
I soon felt the effects of the loss of my bed, and was a second time
attacked by a violent fever, which would this time certainly have
consumed me had not the officers, unknown to the governor, treated
me with all possible compassion. Bruckhausen alone continued my
enemy, and the slave of his orders; on his day of examination rules
and commands in all their rigour were observed, nor durst I free
myself from my irons, till I had for some weeks remarked those parts
on which he invariably fixed his attention. I then cut through the
link, and closed up the vacancy with bread. My hands I could always
draw out, especially after illness had consumed the flesh off my
bones. Half a year had elapsed before I had recovered sufficient
strength to undertake, anew, labours like the past.
Necessity at length taught me the means of driving Bruckhausen from
my dungeon, and of inducing him to commit his office to another. I
learnt his olfactory nerves were somewhat delicate, and whenever I
heard the doors unbar, I took care to make a stir in my night-table.
This made him give back, and at length he would come no farther than
the door. Such are the hard expedients of a poor unhappy prisoner!
One day he came, bloated with pride, just after a courier had
brought the news of victory, and spoke of the Austrians, and the
august person of the Empress-Queen with so much virulence, that, at
last, enraged almost to madness, I snatched the sword of an officer
from its sheath, and should certainly have ended him, had he not
made a hasty retreat. From that day forward he durst no more come
without guards to examine the dungeon. Two men always preceded him,
with their bayonets fixed, and their pieces presented, behind whom
he stood at the door. This was another fortunate incident, as I
dreaded only his examination.
The following anecdote will afford a specimen of this man's
understanding. While digging in the earth I found a cannon-ball,
and laid it in the middle of my prison. When he came to examine--
"What in the name of God is that?" said he. "It is a part of the
ammunition," answered I, "that my Familiar brings me. The cannon
will be here anon, and you will then see fine sport!" He was
astonished, told this to others, nor could conceive such a ball
might by any natural means enter my prison.
I wrote a satire on him, when the late Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel was
governor of Magdeburg; and I had permission to write as will
hereafter appear: the Land-grave gave it to him to read himself;
and so gross was his conception, that though his own phraseology was
introduced, part of his history and his character painted, yet he
did not perceive the jest, but laughed heartily with the hearers.
The Landgrave was highly diverted, and after I obtained my freedom,
restored me the manuscript written in my own blood.
About the time that my last attempt at escaping failed, General
Krusemarck came to my prison, whom I had formerly lived with in
habits of intimacy, when cornet of the body guard. Without
testifying friendship, esteem, or compassion, he asked, among other
things, in an authoritative tone, how I could employ my time to
prevent tediousness? I answered in as haughty a mood as he
interrogated: for never could misfortune bend my mind. I told him,
"I always could find sources of entertainment in my own thoughts;
and that, as for my dreams, I imagined they would at least be as
peaceful and pleasant as those of my oppressors." "Had you in
time," replied he, "curbed this fervour of yours, had you asked
pardon of the King, perhaps you would have been in very different
circumstances; but he who has committed an offence in which he
obstinately persists, endeavouring only to obtain freedom by
seducing men from their duty, deserves no better fate."
Justly was my anger roused! "Sir," answered I, "you are a general
of the King of Prussia, I am an Austrian captain. My royal mistress
will protect, perhaps deliver me, or, at least, revenge my death; I
have a conscience void of reproach. You, yourself, well know I have
not deserved these chains. I place my hope in time, and the
justness of my cause, calumniated and condemned, as I have been,
without legal sentence or hearing. In such a situation, the
philosopher will always be able to brave and despise the tyrant."
He departed with threats, and his last words were, "The bird shall
soon be taught to sing another tune." The effects of this courteous
visit were soon felt. An order came that I should be prevented
sleeping, and that the sentinels should call, and wake me every
quarter of an hour; which dreadful order was immediately executed.
This was indeed a punishment intolerable to nature! Yet did custom
at length teach me to answer in my sleep. Four years did this
unheard of cruelty continue! The noble Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel at
length put an end to it a year before I was released from my
dungeon, and once again, in mercy, suffered me to sleep in peace.
Under this new affliction, I wrote an Elegy which may be found in
the second volume of my works, a few lines of which I shall cite.
Wake me, ye guards, for hark, the quarter strikes!
Sport with my woes, laugh loud at my miseries
Hearken if you hear my chains clank! Knock! Beat!
Of an inexorable tyrant be ye
Th' inexorable instruments! Wake me, ye slaves;
Ye do but as you're bade. Soon shall he lie
Sleepless, or dreaming, the spectres of conscience
Behold and shriek, who me deprives of rest.
Wake me: Again the quarter strikes! Call loud
Rip up all my bleeding wounds, and shrink not!
Yet think 'tis I that answer, God that hears!
To every wretch in chains sleep is permitted:
I, I alone, am robb'd of this last refuge
Of sinking nature! Hark! Again they thunder!
Again they iterate yells of Trenck and death.
Peace to thy anger, peace, thou suffering heart!
Nor indignant beat, adding tenfold pangs to pain.
Ye burthened limbs, arise from momentary
Slumbers! Shake your chains! Murmur not, but rise!
And ye! Watch-dogs of Power! let loose your rage:
Fear not, for I am helpless, unprotected.
And yet, not so--The noble mind, within
Itself, resources finds innumerable.
Thou, Oh God, thought'st good me t' imprison thus:
Thou, Oh God, in Thy good time, wilt me deliver.
Wake me then, nor fear! My soul slumbers not.
And who can say but those who fetter me,
May, ere to-morrow, groan themselves in fetters!
Wake me! For lo! their sleep's less sweet than mine.
Call! Call! From night to morn, from twilight to dawn,
Incessant! Yea, in God's name, Call! Call! Call!
Amen! Amen! Thy will, Oh God, be done!
Yet surely Thou at length shalt hear my sighs!
Shalt burst my prison doors! Shalt shew me fair
Creation! Yea, the very heav'n of heav'ns!
With whom these orders originated, unexampled in the history even of
tyranny, I shall not venture to say. The major, who was my friend,
advised me to persist in not answering. I followed his advice; and
it produced this good effect that we mutually forced each other to a
capitulation: they restored me my bed, and I was obliged to reply.
Immediately after this regulation, the sub-governor, General Borck,
my bitter enemy, became insane, was dispossessed of his post, and
Lieutenant-General Reichmann, the benevolent friend of humanity, was
About the same time the Court fled from Berlin, and the Queen, the
Prince of Prussia, the Princess Amelia, and the Margrave Henry,
chose Magdeburg for their residence. Bruckhausen grew more polite,
probably perceiving I was not wholly deserted, and that it was yet
possible I might obtain my freedom. The cruel are usually cowards,
and there is reason to suppose Bruckhausen was actuated by his fears
to treat me with greater respect.
The worthy new governor had not indeed the power to lighten my
chains, or alter the general regulations; what he could, he did. If
he did not command, he connived at the doors being occasionally at
first, and at length, daily, kept open some hours, to admit daylight
and fresh air. After a time, they were open the whole day, and only
closed by the officers when they returned from their visit to
Having light, I began to carve, with a nail, on the pewter cup in
which I drank, satirical verses and various figures, and attained so
much perfection that my cups, at last, were considered as master-
pieces, both of engraving and invention, and were sold dear, as rare
curiosities. My first attempts were rude, as may well be imagined.
My cup was carried to town, and shown to visitors by the governor,
who sent me another. I improved, and each of the inspecting
officers wished to possess one. I grew more expert, and spent a
whole year in this employment, which thus passed swiftly away. The
perfection I had now acquired obtained me the permission of candle-
light, and this continued till I was restored to freedom.
The King gave orders these cups should all be inspected by
government, because I wished, by my verses and devices, to inform
the world of my fate. But this command was not obeyed; the officers
made merchandise of my cups, and sold them at last for twelve ducats
each. Their value increased so much, when I was released from
prison, that they are now to be found in various museums throughout
Europe. Twelve years ago the late Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel
presented one of them to my wife; and another came, in a very
unaccountable manner, from the Queen-Dowager of Prussia to Paris. I
have given prints of both these, with the verses they contained, in
my works; whence it may be seen how artificially they were engraved.
A third fell into the hands of Prince Augustus Lobkowitz, then a
prisoner of war at Magdeburg, who, on his return to Vienna,
presented it to the Emperor, who placed it in his museum. Among
other devices on this cup, was a landscape, representing a vineyard
and husbandmen, and under it the following words:- By my labours my
vineyard flourished, and I hoped to have gathered the fruit; but
Ahab came. Alas! for Naboth.
The allusion was so pointed, both to the wrongs done me in Vienna,
and my sufferings in Prussia, that it made a very strong impression
on the Empress-Queen, who immediately commanded her minister to make
every exertion for my deliverance. She would probably at last have
even restored me to my estates, had not the possessors of them been
so powerful, or had she herself lived one year longer. To these my
engraved cups was I indebted for being once more remembered at
Vienna. On the same cup, also, was another engraving of a bird in a
cage, held by a Turk, with the following inscription:- The bird
sings even in the storm; open his cage, break his fetters, ye
friends of virtue, and his songs shall be the delight of your
There is another remarkable circumstance attending these cups. All
were forbidden under pain of death to hold conversation with me, or
to supply me with pen and ink; yet by this open permission of
writing what I pleased on pewter, was I enabled to inform the world
of all I wished, and to prove a man of merit was oppressed. The
difficulties of this engraving will be conceived, when it is
remembered that I worked by candle-light on shining pewter, attained
the art of giving light and shade, and by practice could divide a
cup into two-and-thirty compartments as regularly with a stroke of
the hand as with a pair of compasses. The writing was so minute
that it could only be read with glasses. I could use but one hand,
both, being separated by the bar, and therefore held the cup between
my knees. My sole instrument was a sharpened nail, yet did I write
two lines on the rim only.
My labour became so excessive, that I was in danger of distraction
or blindness. Everybody wished for cups, and I wished to oblige
everybody, so that I worked eighteen hours a day. The reflection of
the light from the pewter was injurious to my eyes, and the labour
of invention for apposite subjects and verses was most fatiguing. I
had learnt only architectural drawing.
Enough of these cups, which procured me so much honour, so many
advantages, and helped to shorten so many mournful hours. My
greatest encumbrance was the huge iron collar, with its enormous
appendages, which, when suffered to press the arteries in the back
of my neck, occasioned intolerable headaches. I sat too much, and a
third time fell sick. A Brunswick sausage, secretly given me by a
friend, occasioned an indigestion, which endangered my life; a
putrid fever followed, and my body was reduced to a skeleton.
Medicines, however, were conveyed to me by the officers, and, now
and then, warm food.
After my recovery, I again thought it necessary to endeavour to
regain my liberty. I had but forty louis-d'ors remaining, and these
I could not get till I had first broken up the flooring.
Lieutenant Sonntag was consumptive, and obtained his discharge. I
supplied bins with money to defray the expenses of his journey, and
with an order that four hundred florins should be annually paid him
from my effects till his death or my release. I commissioned him to
seek an audience from the Empress, endeavour to excite her
compassion in my behalf, and to remit me four thousand florins, for
which I gave a proper acquittance, by the way of Hamburgh. The
money-draft was addressed to my administrators, Counsellors Kempf
But no one, alas! in Vienna, wished my return; they had already
begun to share my property, of which they never rendered me an
account. Poor Sonntag was arrested as a spy, imprisoned, ill
treated for some weeks, and, at last, when naked and destitute,
received a hundred florins, and was escorted beyond the Austrian
confines. The worthy man fell a shameful sacrifice to his honesty,
could never obtain an audience of the Empress, and returned poor and
miserable on foot to Berlin, where he was twelve months secretly
maintained by his brother, and with whom he died. He wrote an
account of all this to the good Knoblauch, my Hamburgh agent, and I,
from my small store, sent him a hundred ducats.
How much must I despair of finding any place of refuge on earth,
hearing accounts like these from Vienna.
A friend, whom I will never name, by the aid of one of the
lieutenants, secretly visited me, and supplied me with six hundred
ducats. The same friend, in the year 1763, paid four thousand
florins to the imperial envoy, Baron Reidt, at Berlin, for the
furthering of my freedom, as I shall presently more fully show.
Thus I had once more money.
About this time the French army advanced to within five miles of
Magdeburg. This important fortress was, at that time, the key of
the whole Prussian power. It required a garrison of sixteen
thousand men, and contained not more than fifteen hundred. The
French might have marched in unopposed, and at once have put an end
to the war. The officers brought me all the news, and my hopes rose
as they approached. What was my astonishment when the major
informed me that three waggons had entered the town in the night,
had been sent back loaded with money, and that the French were
retreating. This, I can assure my readers, on my honour, is
literally truth, to the eternal disgrace of the French general. The
major, who informed me, was himself an eye-witness of the fact. It
was pretended the money was for the army of the King, but everybody
could guess whither it was going; it left the town without a convoy,
and the French were then in the neighbourhood. Such were the allies
of Maria Theresa; the receivers of this money are known in Paris.
Not only were my hopes this way frustrated, but in Russia likewise,
where the Countess of Bestuchef and the Chancellor had fallen into
I now imagined another, and, indeed, a fearful and dangerous
project. The garrison of Magdeburg at this moment consisted but of
nine hundred militia, who were discontented men. Two majors and two
lieutenants were in my interest. The guard of the Star Fort
amounted but to a hundred and fifteen men. Fronting the gate of
this fort was the town gate, guarded only by twelve men and an
inferior officer; beside these lay the casemates, in which were
seven thousand Croat prisoners. Baron K-y, a captain, and prisoner
of war, also was in our interest, and would hold his comrades ready
at a certain place and time to support my undertaking. Another
friend was, under some pretence, to hold his company ready, with
their muskets loaded, and the plan was such that I should have had
four hundred men in arms ready to carry it into execution.
The officer was to have placed the two men we most suspected and
feared, as sentinels over me; he was to command them to take away my
bed, and when encumbered, I was to spring out, and shut them in the
prison. Clothing and arms were to have been procured, and brought
me into my prison; the town-gate was to have been surprised; I was
to have run to the casemate, and called to the Croats, "Trenck to
arms!" My friends, at the same instant, were to break forth, and
the plan was so well concerted that it could not have failed.
Magdeburg, the magazine of the army, the royal treasury, arsenal,
all would have been mine; and sixteen thousand men, who were then
prisoners of war, would have enabled me to keep possession.
The most essential secret, by which all this was to have been
effected, I dare not reveal; suffice it to say, everything was
provided for, everything made secure; I shall only add that the
garrison, in the harvest months, was exceedingly weakened, because
the farmers paid the captains a florin per man each day, and the men
for their labour likewise, to obtain hands. The sub-governor
connived at the practice.
One Lieutenant G- procured a furlough to visit his friends; but,
supplied by me with money, he went to Vienna. I furnished him with
a letter, addressed to Counsellors Kempf and Huttner, including a
draft for two thousand ducats; wherein I said that, by these means,
I should not only soon be at liberty, but in possession of the
fortress of Magdeburg; and that the bearer was entrusted with the
The lieutenant came safe to Vienna, underwent a thousand
interrogatories, and his name was repeatedly asked. This,
fortunately, he concealed. They advised him not to be concerned in
so dangerous an undertaking; told him I had not so much money due to
me, and gave him, instead of two thousand ducats, one thousand
florins. With these he left Vienna, but with very prudent
suspicions which prevented him ever returning to Magdeburg. A month
had scarcely passed before the late Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, then