Page images
[ocr errors]

the skill of the ablest of its statesmen. One great portion, indeed, still obstinately refuses to coalesce with the others. The isolation of Hungary continues a source of embarrassment and danger, and the efforts even of the best-intentioned monarch to attach Venice by affection will probably be made in vain. There is, however, one method of reconciling hostile and unmanageable populations which Austria has not hitherto sufficiently tried, namely, to neutralise political discontent by the diffusion of material prosperity. One of the most effectual means of making subjects contented with their Governments is to make them rich. Solid advantages in the form of augmented wealth seldom fail to impress even the most imaginative people : but Austria can never avail herself of the boundless means which she possesses of adding to the happiness of her people until she has made a fundamental change in her commercial policy; and then, instead of being one of the poorest in proportion to her population and her great physical advantages of all the states of Europe, she may become one of the richest and most prosperous. To these means we would direct attention, in the hope that the better the people of England and of Austria understand each other's commercial interests, the sooner that great and lucrative interchange of commodities will spring up between them which must conduce to the advantage of both.

Many causes have long combined to keep Austria singularly low in the scale of material prosperity as compared with most of the other nations of Europe. The economical peculiarities which she exhibits are remarkable. Endowed over a vast extent of her territory with a soil so rich and fertile that it can be compared only to some of the virgin prairies and savannas of the New World, the Austrian empire did not until within a recent period grow grain enough for the consumption of its own people. In 1854 the quantity of grain and flour imported exceeded that exported by not less than 5,630,000 cwts., of which a large proportion came from Turkey, the most barbarous and neglected country in Europe. With plains which resemble in the richness and abundance of their grasses the pampas of South America, and are almost as well adapted for the grazing of innumerable herds of cattle, Austria still imports stock from Servia and Wallachia; and horses, which might be bred on any scale in Hungary, are occasionally procured from Southern Germany and from Russia. * With forests of almost primæval grandeur, the imports of wood for fuel exceeded until recently the exports. With every conceivable natural advantage for

* Report on the Commerce of Austria,' by Mr. Elliot, Her Majesty's Secretary of Legation, 1858.


growth of the vine, and with numberless gentle eminences, slopes, and sheltered vales, where the grape acquires its highest flavour and perfection, the wines of Hungary, Styria, Transylvania, and Dalmatia, which might vie with the choicest produce of France and Spain, have, with the exception of a few of the more expensive sorts which are occasionally produced as rarities at the tables of the wealthy, until recently scarce been heard of beyond the limits of the empire. This very imperfect development of one of the most valuable of its resources is the characteristic of a country two-thirds of the population of which is employed in agriculture, and where the grandest river of Europe is available for the transport of surplus produce to foreign shores.

Among the causes which have contributed to keep the natural resources of Austria in so undeveloped a state, must be specified the defects and shortcomings of its Government. Austria retained the feudal system of the middle ages longer than most of the other nations of Europe, and she retained it with many of its most oppressive and injurious burthens. The nobility and privileged classes were far more numerous than in any other European state. The entpire, before the outbreak of the revolution of 1848, contained no less than 356,860 persons who claimed feudal exemptions and immunities from the burthens of the state. In Hungary the nobles were in the proportion of one in twenty to the population, and in the other provinces of the empire, although fewer, they exercised generally a very injurious influence. One of the worst consequences of this enormous multiplication of a privileged class was the obstruction opposed to rural improvements. If a bridge, for example, was built, all the nobles were exempt from toll. In Hungary a democratic (if we may so call them) feudal nobility lived chiefly by the oppression of the other classes, and were almost identical with the state itself. But of all the institutions of feudalism in the Austrian dominions, that of the robot was the most pernicious. This was a labour-rent, which prevailed in some of the provinces even down to the year 1848. A small landholder was obliged to work for his lord a hundred and four days in the year, or fifty-two days if he employed oxen. A peasant who occupied a house and garden was compelled to devote a hundred and fifty-six days in the year to the service of his landlord. A ninth of the produce of his land was moreover extorted from him; and all the public burthens from which the great landed proprietors were exempt fell upon him. A tenth of the produce of the soil was also due to the Church. One class of the community thus preyed upon the other; the accumulation of

B 2


capital was impossible ; and agricultural improvement was the last thing thought of by the rich Hungarian noble, who either squandered his revenue in rude and profuse hospitality on his estate, or involved himself in inextricable debt by indulging in the expensive vanities of Vienna or Pesth. The result of this system was that many millions of acres of the richest soil in the world, which, with a small expenditure of capital, might have been reclaimed from the morass, the marsh, and the fen, remained unproductive, for an immense portion of a country which might be made the granary of Europe is still in a state of nature.

It cannot, moreover, be denied that notwithstanding its paternal character the government of Austria for a long period lagged behind the progress of modern improvement, even in matters which could not in any degree come into conflict with the principle of absolutism. It would be difficult, nevertheless, to name any government which has been actuated by better intentions, or which has laboured more steadily to promote the public good. The objects it had at heart were, however, often defeated by the means adopted for obtaining them. For a long period there was no supreme responsible ministry. The business of the State was conducted in a number of court offices or aulic chancellorships, where every measure was determined by votes. Some conception may be formed of the complex political machinery of the Austrian empire by supposing all the principal departments of the British Government to be constituted like the old double Government of India in London, which, we may observe, was mainly a Government of review and control. The aulic councils of the Austrian empire were not mere councils of advice; they were deliberative bodies, which might debate for days over a proposition, and then decide on it by a majority of votes. The procrastination resulting from this mode of administering the affairs of a great empire was intolerable, and led to a change of system whereby much of the business of the State was brought before the Emperor himself. In this mode of conducting the business of government everything depended upon the capacity and energy of the Sovereign; and although the Emperor Francis is said to have paid himself the questionable compliment of saying that he had become a very efficient privycouncillor, the multitude of subjects reserved for the imperial consideration threw the whole business of the country into hopeless artear. Stagnation, and too often corruption, were the necessary consequences of inefficient administration, and the torpor of the empire was the necessary consequence of the irregular action of the heart. The state of the internal communications of Austria has


contributed almost as much as feudal oppression and inefficient government to retard the progress of agriculture, and to keep the empire poor. To the deficiency of means of transport it is still owing that wheat grown in one of the most fertile provinces of Europe is greatly enhanced in price before it can reach a port of shipment. A cask of Hungarian wine can be sent from Pesth to England more cheaply by the circuitous route of the Black Sea and Constantinople, than from the ports of Fiume or Trieste. The construction of roads is certainly difficult in Hungary. The central districts possess scarcely any wood, stone, or gravel, and the transport of materials from great distances necessarily increases the cost of highways, and makes their repair difficult; but even in the immediate neighbourhood of Vienna the roads are still allowed during winter to remain in a condition which, in consequence of the time consumed in transport, and the wear and tear of horses, must considerably increase the price of all articles of consumption. in this respect Austria contrasts unfavourably even with Russia, where the principal approaches to the capital have been solidly constructed and are kept in excellent repair.

One of the greatest obstacles to the industrial progress of Austria has been the impolitic diversion of a considerable portion of her population from the cultivation of the soil to manufactures, which were brought into existence by a system of prohibition. Communities of guilds and trades were encouraged until they multiplied to such an extent as to destroy almost all individual energy and self-reliance. Every workman was restricted from the day of his apprenticeship to one narrow department of industry. He was bound by indissoluble ties to his master, for whom alone his industry could be made productive, for he could not labour for himself even if his employer did not give him work sufficient to occupy one-half his time.* Shopkeepers were subjected to the most vexatious restraints. No one could carry on a business without a licence, and the licence when granted only authorised the sale of goods of a specified character, and no tradesman could leave the town in which he was once established. All enterprise was thus extinguished, and the whole system of Austrian industry constituted a vast combination of monopolies which bound trade in fetters worthy only of the middle ages.

The high price of money, and the difficulty of borrowing in a country where the law exempted the nobles from arrest for debt, have operated, with other causes, in depressing the national industry and retarding agricultural improvement. With

* Report of Mr. Elliot on Austrian Commerce, 1858.


want of capias paid a percentache would noter:

the rate of interest on Government securities varying from 6 to 7 per cent., money could only be borrowed on terms which considerably diminished the probability of eventual profit; and so little were monetary principles understood in parts of the empire, that the province of Transylvania in 1840 did not possess a single bank. A retail tradesman at that time undertook the transmission of money to Vienna, and he would not even receive deposits unless he was paid a percentage for keeping them.*

The want of capital has hitherto prevented the growth of an intermediate order between the landowner and the labourer, and the non-existence of an independent, prosperous middleclass has had an important influence in retarding the material progress of Austria. Commerce has been confined within narrow limits, and restricted to a small number of competitors; and society has been divided into two great denominations—the rich and the poor. Banking accommodation has been rarely afforded except to large landed proprietors; and the great stream of public wealth has not been augmented by those innumerable petty rills, the aggregate contributions of which in other countries so vastly augment its volume, and accelerate its course. The rural economy of Austria has scarcely yet reached that stage of development in which rent is produced. There are few persons corresponding to the British farmer who invest their capital in the cultivation of land not their own, and derive from it a comforta ble subsistence. Almost every proprietor within the Austrian dominions cultivates his own estate. No social phenomenon can more clearly mark the economical difference between England and Austria. Throughout almost the whole of its varied provinces a prince or noble, although the owner of a domain compared with which the largest of English estates would be thought only a petty farm, rarely lets any portion of it to a tenant; but having erected a sufficient number of farm-houses, he places in each a person of his own selection, and pays him for cultivating the land. The capabilities of the soil are, of course, but lightly tested by this system of farming; and it affords little indication of what the future yield of land might become when science and capital are combined in its cultivation.

The impediments which were long opposed to cultivation of waste-lands must have materially interfered with the course of agricultural improvement. The conversion, for example, of the smallest portion of forest into arable land required the special permission of the Sovereign, because the forest laws had enacted that, in order to prevent a scarcity of wood, the extent of forest

* Paget's Hungary and Transylvania,' p. 239.


« PreviousContinue »