Images de page

1745, nay we may of the whole facts, hat when Freid

success. Our author well understands how to avail himself of such a feeling, and as. we read his eloquent words we might sometimes almost forget that Friedrich's difficulties were after all only the result of his own crime. An act more unjustifiable than the seizure of Silesia is hardly to be found in modern history, and though therefore at the commencement of the Seven Years' War Friedrich appears contending against the assault of powerful neighbours, yet, remembering that this was really only a new chapter in the history of the war, whose secret sources even Mr. Carlyle himself is compelled to confess “go back to 1745, nay we may say to the first Silesian War of 1740,"we must, on a broad view of the whole facts, pronounce him a wantoni aggressor. We do not doubt, indeed, that when Freidrich, acting upon the secret information he had obtained, commenced, according to his practice, the first campaign of the war by the invasion of Saxony, he was only anticipating the designs of his enemies, but it is to be remembered that the great object of the Empress Queen, the main-spring of that alliance, was only the recovery of the provinces of which the king had unjustly deprived her. “Twice,” says Mr. Carlyle, “she had signed peace with Friedrich, and solemnly ceded Silesia to him ; but that, too, with the imperial lady was by no means the finis of the business." Had the situations been reversed, had Maria-Theresa been the spoiler and Friedrich the victim, we should have had glowing pictures of the wisdom with which he bent before the storm, and waited for better times to redress the injustice of which he was the victim ; while his undying resolve not to be robbed of the ancient possessions of his crown, and his-organization of new alliances and expeditions for their recovery, would have been exhibited as the very highest manifestation of human heroism. That such a man should be expected to submit to the conditions of a treaty extorted from him in an unfortunate hour by the force of his enemies, would be scouted as the absurd demand of some miserable earthworm utterly unfitted to sit in judgment upon this great king of men. As it is, we have the unfortunate Empress exhibited only as the breaker of treaties, while the original offence is entirely ignored. Friedrich's real aspect and "attitude then and there are silently not a little heroic and even pathetic, when well seen into," although, in truth, he is nothing better than a royal robber who finds himself suddenly environed by the forces whom his victim has succeeded in rallying to her help, and required to disgorge his plunder.

As for poor Maria-Theresa, in whose proceedings there is not a little to condemin, but on whose behalf it may be urged, though Mr. Carlyle will doubtless regard the plea as absurdly prosaic, that she was only seeking to vindicate her own right against a powerful and unscrupulous neighbour, there are nothing but cruel and biting words, “ Poor Imperial Majesty, who can tell her troubles and straits in this abstruse time! Heaven itself ordering her to get back the Silesia of her fathers if she could ; yet Heaven always looking dubious, surely, upon this method of doing it. By solemn public treaties, signed in sight of all mankind; and contrariwise, in the very same moments, by secret treaties of a fell nature, concocted under ground, to destroy the life of these! Imperial Majesty flatters herself it may be fair:

Treaty of Dresden, Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, Treaties wrung from me by force, the tyrannic Sea-powers screwing us; Kaunitz can tell! A consummate Kaunitz, who has provided remedies. Treaties do get broken. Besides I will not go to War, unless he the Bad One of Prussia do !” Unhappy Queen! It was her evil fate to be opposed to one whom our modern philosopher has chosen to exalt into a hero, and therefore her undeserved misfortunes, the advantage taken of her helpless and inexperienced youth, the contemptuous disregard of the solemn treaties by which her rights had been guaranteed by the wrong-doers thenselves, are all to be forgotten, while her own breach of a treaty, extorted from her by such means, is to be recorded in these damning words. In very different style is Friedrich treated :“Heroic constancy, courage superior to fate, several clear features of a hero,- pity he were such a liar withal, and ignorant of common honesty-thought the simple sort, in a bewildered manner, endeavouring to forget the latter features, or think them not irreconcileable.” The “simple sort” will certainly be unable to understand why Maria-Theresa is to be condemned for breaking a treaty essentially unjust, while Friedrich's want of honesty is to be accepted as a quality not to be severely judged in a hero.

The view of the politics of the period, as presented in these volumes, is not one calculated to call forth any admiration of the principal actors. Selfishness of the basest kind everywhere predominant, national policy subordinated to petty personal considerations, unblushing vice enthroned in power and directing the councils of cabinets, a miserable system of intrigue dignified with the title of statesmanship, an utter contempt of public good faith and honour, are the prominent features of an era which was preparing the way for the terrible upheavings of the succeeding generation. The atrocities of the French Revolution have often been held up to the indignant reprobation they so well deserve; but surely, when we study the annals of the eighteenth century, we can find some explanation, and even

apology, for the excesses we feel bound to condemn. Very painful, indeed, are the spectacles here presented. There is a Poinpadour wielding the power of France, and therefore flattered and caressed by the first potentates of Europe, poor Maria-Theresa herself not ashamed to humble her pride before the low-born procuress, and address her as “Ma Cousine.” “Oh high Imperial soul” (exclaims Carlyle, justly) “with what strange bedfellows does misery of various kinds bring us acquainted.” Then we have a feeble minister making our own England little better than the laughing-stock of Europe, seeing her oldest ally severed from her, letting her drift helplessly into war for which there had been no preparation, and hoping by“lively foreign diplomatizing” to compensate for the lack of statesmanlike wisdom and military energy—“ Majesty and ministers expecting salvation from abroad as usual.” The Empress Queen forgetting all her obligations to the one friend who had proved faithful to her in the hour of her own extremity, and entering into secret combinations with her bitterest foe, presents a sad contrast to her earlier days. Finally, we have a “poor fat Czarina, of many appetites, of little judgment, continually beaten upon by SaxonAustrian artists and their Russian service-pipes, bombarded with cunningly devised fabrications, every wind freighted for her with phantasmal rumours, no ray of direct daylight visiting the poor sovereign woman.” These were the rulers who were sporting with the happiness of their subjects, or, to speak more truly, who seemed to think that their subjects had no right to think of happiness at all, or that they were anything better than a number of beings created for the purpose of carrying out their own sovereign behests, ministering to their lusts, and extending their power.

It may be truly said that, morally, Friedrich was not much worse than the best of his contemporaries, while, intellectually, he was more than a match for them all. It is somewhat amusing to see the struggles of these pigmies against the one man of real strength, their frantic violence, their readiness to enter into all sorts of combinations in order to effect his overthrow, the wondering awe with which in their imbecility they look on at some of his marvellous movements, and the helplessness which they all manifest in their conflicts with him. The alliance against which he had to contend at the commencement of the Seven Years' War was so anomalous and extraordinary that, reasoning à priori, it might have been pronounced impossible. That the great leaders in the late war would entirely change sides, France would lend herself to help Austria in undoing the very deed to which she herself had mainly contributed, and that Friedrich would thus be left alone, without a single ally on the Continent, and compelled to seek the friendship of the very monarch whom he had been accustomed to regard with so much contempt, were contingencies so improbable that it was not possible to anticipate or provide against them. Mr. Carlyle justly describes them as “a total circumgyration summerset, or tumble heels-over-head, in the political relations of Europe altogether; miraculous almost as the earthquake at Lisbon to the gazetteer and diplomatic mind, and incomprehensible for long years after.” Friedrich was the great sufferer by these changes in international relations, and it appeared at first as though he must have succumbed to the power of his enemies. He was often, indeed, reduced to the last extremities. For years he was an exile from his capital, and again and again in the crisis of his fate contemplated the employment of poison to end a life whose anxieties and burdens had become intolerable. He was so greatly outmatched in men and military resources that even his grandest victories, such as Rossbach and Leuthen, only gave him temporary relief from assailants whose superior numbers enabled them at once to repair their losses and enclose him again in their toils. That he came out of the struggle not only unsubdued, but even retaining the prize to grasp which Maria-Theresa had commenced the war, may be attributed partly to the feebleness inherent in such a confederacy; partly to the incompetency of the generals opposed to him-poor Prince Karl, once the idol of Germany, and even England, and puffed up by popular applause till he became conceited, rash, presumptuous, Daun, “an honourable, imperturbable, eupeptic sort of man,” the "Fabius Cunctator" of Austria, whose " cautious slow-puzzling mind” was, unfortunately for himself and his country, so unequal to contend against Friedrich’s “rapidity of shift," Soubise, and Broglio, guiltless of any strategic faculty,” but “exquisitely polite," “while under the exquisite politeness what infirmities of temper, splenetic suspicions, and, in fact, mutual hatred lay hidden can never be accurately known"-partly to the opportune death of one of his bitterest enemies, the Czarina ; but most of all to his own determination and skill. But even these qualities would hardly have availed him but for the diversion made in his favour by Great Britain, under the lead of William Pitt, to whom, as the faithful and successful helper of his hero, Mr. Carlyle awards the distinction of being "the one King England has had, this King of four years, since the Constitutional system set in.” His intervention at once relieved Friedrich from the pressure of one of his most formidable enemies, and gave the war a grandeur and an importance in its ultimate results which it would not otherwise have possessed. It converted it from a German or European

into a punt than amily of

The effects, found work for as if exclusively upoelsew

and the death betwetschland angoing roundespread furmely

into a world-wide struggle, which determined something far more important than the rulership of Silesia or the place of Prussia in the European family of States—the destiny of the rich empire of India, and, what promises to have even grander results, of the teeming regions of America. Mr. Carlyle's picture of the results of this interference, and of the general features of the war, is a very striking tableau.

“The effect of which was that Pitt, with his Ferdinands and reinforcements, found work for the French ever onwards from Rossbach ; French also turning, as if exclusively upon perfidious Albion, and the thing became in Teutschland, as elsewhere, a duel of life and death between these natural enemies—Teutschland the centre of it-Teutschland and the accessible French sea-towns; but the circumference of it going round from Manilla and Madras to Havannah and Quebec again. Widespread furious duel; prize, America and life. By land and sea. Handsomely done by Pitt on both elements. Land part, we say, was almost mainly in Germany, under Ferdinand ; in Hessen and the Westphalian countries, as far east as Minden, as far west as Frankforton-Mayn, generally well north of Rhine, well south of Elbe. That was, for five years coming, the cockpit or place of deadly fence between France and England. Friedrich's arena lies east of that, occasionally playing into it a little, and played into by it, and always in lively sympathy and consultation with it ; but, except the French subsidings, diplomatisings, and great diligence against him in foreign courts, Friedrich is, in practical respects, free of the French ; and ever after Rossbach Ferdinand and the English keep them in full work-growing yearly too full. A heavy business for England and Ferdinand, which is happily kept extraneous to Freidrich thenceforth; to him and us; which is not on the stage of his affair and ours, but is to be conceived always as vigorously proceeding alongside of it, close beyond the scenes, and liable at any time to make tragic entry on him again, of which we shall have to notice the louder occurrences and cardinal phrases, but for the future, nothing more.”

The four years during which Pitt exercised almost absolute rule in England form one of the most brilliant periods in our history, and the effect is all the more striking because of the contrast it presents to those which precede or followed it. A great man could hardly have found better foils than those wretched intellectual and moral pigmies, Newcastle and Bute. Poor Newcastle, “with his fidgetings and shufflings, his subtleties, inane trickiness, and fertile hitherings and thitherings, had certainly brought England into a melancholy condition. Such a paralysis of wriggling imbecility had fallen over her in this

« PrécédentContinuer »