Page images


The Austrian empire has long been the most remarkable phenomenon of the political world. That empire, so populous and fertile, has ever wanted, in the highest degree, that consonance of national manners, and that congeniality of national feeling, which are so essential to ease in governing, and which have so long formed the strength of Great Britain and France. Hungary and Bohemia, which form so large a portion of the imperial dominions, have little connexion or conformity with each other, and still less with the remote provinces of Galicia or Lombardy.

According, however, as this is the case, so much greater is the credit due to the paternal government, and to the wise minister who has been enabled so long to preserve such discordant materials in that control which is essential to happiness and prosperity. The long period of tranquillity and safety enjoyed by the various populations of Austria, is the noblest monument that could be imagined to commemorate Prince Metternich's labours ; and, whatever happens, that memorial of his wisdom and of his success, must ever be enrolled in the pages of history.

It is much to be regretted, for the cause of a steady, in opposition to a rash progress, that as abuse creeps into all things human, the long success of the old system, and the natural antagonism that must always arise between age and youth, between growing principles and decaying powers ; should have delayed such slight constitutional reforms in this colossal empire as would have obviated impatience and insistance on the part of the people. The evil of prolonged resistance, is that it originates insurrection, and that then those demands, which in their first form were of an exceedingly moderate and constitutional character, are apt to assume a revolutionary and anarchical aspect. It is not that the excesses of democracy are to be anticipated in Austria, to manifest themselves in the form they assume in France. Both the character of the government and of the people is quite different; but, unluckily, the nature of the government differs in the separate kingdoms of which the empire is made up, and the character of the people differs very widely among themselves.

The Austrian national character is marked by the same features as that of the German nation at large. Sincerity, fidelity, industry, and a love of order, are conspicuous in them, and would long since have entitled them to fill a distinguished rank in the scale of European civilisation, had not their beneficial operation been counteracted by a deficient system of education, an illiterate priesthood, and a stationary government. Madame de Staël has said of the Germans, that they are a just, constant, and sincere people, “ divided by the sternness of feudal demarcation, into an unlettered nobility, unpolished scholars, and a depressed commonalty.” This does not coincide with the impressions we have derived from several visits to Austria in modern times. We have seen nothing but a happy country, with no signs of that striking contrast betwixt poverty and riches which offends the eye so much in our otherwise favoured island. All the inhabitants, those of the capital excepted, appeared to enjoy that happy mediocrity which is the consequence of a gentle and

wise administration. It is to be hoped it will be very long ere the Austrian states dream of throwing off their allegiance to one of the oldest and noblest houses of Europe ; one which has obtained for them the power, happiness, and prosperity, which they have so long enjoyed; and one which has so exalted their national character, as to have given fourteen emperors to Germany, besides six kings to Spain, and to have once stood first on the list of European sovereignties.

That the Imperial power in Austria is in danger, from the ever-stirring spirit of democracy, and that this danger is increased by the diversity of its governments and people, there is no doubt. Democracy is the great moving power among mankind. It is one of the most active elements which work out the progress of the moral world, and general government of Providence. Aristocracy is, on the other hand, the controlling and regulating power. As democracy and the lust of conquest is the moving, so aristocracy and attachment to property are the steadying powers of nature. Nor is Austria wanting in this power, or deficient in this great element of national stability.

Alison, in his “ History of Europe," makes a very ingenious remark, that the reasonings of the learned, the declamations of the ardent, the visions of the philanthropic, have generally been rather directed against the oppression of sovereigns, or nobles, than the madness of the people. This, he justly remarks, affords the most decisive demonstration, that the evils flowing from the latter are much greater, and more acute than those which have originated with the former; for it proves that the former have been so tolerable as to have long existed, and therefore have been long complained of ; whereas, those springing from the latter have been intolerable, and speedily led to their own abolition.

Nothing could be more applicable than this remark to the wise and moderate government of Prince Metternich. It is impossible to understand or to appreciate the principle on which it was founded without entering into details concerning the incongruous political conditions of the different kingdoms of which the Austrian Empire was made up of, which would carry us far beyond any moderate limits. The Austrian Empire contains a greater variety of populations than any other country in Europe. Germans, Slavonians, Wallachians, Hungarians, Poles, Bohemians, Croatians, Italians, and other tribes, form a medley population--all differing in their manners, languages, religion, and customsmutually strangers to each other, and having opposite views, interests, and constitutions. The Hungarians, Slavonians, Croatians, and Transylvanians, are as different from the Austrians, and these, in their turn, from the Bohemians, as the British are from the French and Spaniards. It is this variety of population, this diversity of language and manners, this collision of interests and opinions, that so long prevented the Austrian Empire from exerting her whole collected strength, and becoming a match for the power of France. Hungary which, with Transylvania, contains as large a population as the Prussian monarchy, did not, for example, at the downfall of Vienna, supply Austria with more than 100,000 men, when Prussia had a well-appointed army of 230,000 infantry, and 34,000 cavalry. The reason of this lay in the circumstance of the Hungarian government being a powerful feudal aristocracy, who deem every measure which the Imperial Government' takes against them,

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

without the consent of the states, an infringement of the constitution. The Hungarian nobility were like their brethren in France, until 1785, exempted from all taxes, and they claimed this exemption as an hereditary right, and an inviolable privilege. But, in 1785, they were subjected to a land-tax in common with the other subjects of the Austrian Empire; and as no levies could be made without their consent, nor supplies granted, this circumstance operated much against the house of Austria in its struggles against France.

The States of Hungary are composed of prelates, the higher nobility, the lesser nobility, and the deputies of the boroughs. The nobility possessed formerly the sole title to holding land and to public appointments, but this is now disputed by the free towns, which can do what an individual who is not of the nobility cannot do—that is sue or bring an action against a nobleman, and can possess or uphold a citizen in the possession of land without a title to nobility. The emperor, who must swear to the constitution in presence of the people in the open air, when he receives from the hands of the primate the crown of St. Stephen, is the constitutional president of the Diet, but he generally delegates the representation to one of the archdukes, who is called Prince Palatine. Although the actual Palatine -the Archduke Stephen forfeited for a time much of his popularity by attempting so grave à coup d'etat as the dissolution of the Diet, there are still hopes that the people who so bravely upheld Maria Theresa on the throne of her ancestors, will not prefer a feudal tyranny or democratic anarchy, to a wise and tempered monarchical constitution.

The Bohemians who are of Slavonic origin, are, it is well known, more partial to the Hungarians than to the Austrians or Germans. The power of the sovereign has been hitherto much greater in Bohemia than in Hungary, for it comprised the legislative as well as the executive depart

Bohemia is the most flourishing of all the Austrian provinces, whether we look to education or to the labours of productive industry. It is also essentially the country of Protestantism. Prague was the city of Jerome and of John Huss. The Bohemians demand with the rest of the Austrian German States, reforms in the system of administration, national rights, freedom of the press, an increase of provincial liberties, and above all, the expulsion of a horde of public functionaries who are the bane and the curse of the Austrian Empire ; but there is every reason to believe and to hope that the efficacy of regular habits, and of a compact, educated, and thinking population, will preserve Bohemia from the evils of democracy or from a dismemberment from that paternal government which is at the present moment almost solely upheld in the seat of its power by the affections of the people.

Austria, Silesia, Moravia, and Transylvania are nearly similarly circumstanced as Bohemia, only that the latter is far behind hand in point of civilisation, the chief commerce being still in the hands of Greeks and Armenians. In Galicia, or Austrian Poland, the common people are

consequence of their ancient political bondage, ignorant, idle, dirty, and oppressed in the highest degree. The lower nobility are scarcely to be distinguished from the peasants ; and the higher nobility, when refined and educated, partake more of the French character than of the solidity of the Germans. There is not much room here for the working of constitutional reform ; Galicia wants as yet many of the most material



elements of civilisation before it can think of self-government. It is needless to enter into the condition of the other Austrian States. At the present moment national rights, and provincial liberties, are the foremost objects with all classes of the population. The intensity of this feeling is increased to an extent of which we can scarcely form an idea, by the existence in these old feudal countries of seignorial dues, of a system of forced labour and other remnants of barbarous times, long since extinct in western Europe, but which in Wurtemberg and Galicia have already produced a peasants' war, and which now threaten all Austrian Germany with a formidable agrarian agitation.

In Lombardy, there is every reason to believe that Austrian domination must give way before the aroused sentiment of nationality. There was only one to whom the people of Italy looked to after Pius IX., to support them in an effort for national regeneration, and that was the king of the men of Piedmont and Savoy. Nor has Charles Albert disappointed their hopes : backed by the Republic of France, he has gallantly thrown himself into the field of contest with the Emperor of Germany. In Austria Proper, by espousing the cause of a timely reform, much may yet be done. All that Austria demands is more political freedom, less administrative control, and above all, more national institutions. It is true that a despotic government may consider the granting these as opening the floodgates of democracy. But this is not always the case. Early concessions may most effectually ward off anarchy. The states which might still be inclined to wait until a system of government could be devised which might conciliate their common interests and their separate institutions, may, if long resisted, enforce their demands at all hazards to the empire.

That Prince Metternich has already relied too long on the torpor of the capital—that the imperial government has been too long rocked by the comfortable assurance, that all popular movements only came to expire at the gates of Vienna, recent events have now fully shown. It only remains then by early concessions to win the popular confidence and to command the popular affections. Sometime back an author before quoted-Alison-said, “No community need be afraid of going far astray which treads in the footsteps of Rome and England.” And the same author, who believes that all efforts at social amelioration will be ultimately shattered by that principle of human corruption which always comes in to blast the best hopes of the friend of humanity, still takes a just pride in that superior love of moderation and order which so pre-eminently distinguishes this country, and which not having failed at this crisis, ought surely now by that history which is “philosophy teaching by examples” attest to the continental states that a constitutional monarchy is the most solid of all political fabrics; and the one which, by opening to the people legal and constitutional modes of redress, is most effectually opposed to the excesses of democratic turbulence and anarchy.

Of the few great ministers whose functions have been extended to almost the utmost limits of absolute power, and at the same time have been protracted beyond the ordinary duration of human life—who have lived in the long and secure administration of one of the greatest empires of the earth, and who retained that high and responsible position amidst events of infinite magnitude and variety-none are so remarkable nor more illustrious, than Prince Metternich.

Prince Metternich was born at Coblentz, on the 15th of May, 1773, of an ancient house, which had in former ages given more than one elector to the Archbishoprics of Mayence and of Treves. The career of the young diplomatist, for he appears to have been born to the profession, commenced at the Congress of Radstadt, and he rose in it with such rapidity, that in 1806, after the conclusion of the peace at Presburg, he was selected for the important post of Austrian ambassador in Paris. Upon the declaration of war in 1809, he hastened to join the imperial Court, which had taken refuge, after the battle of Wagram, at the fortress of Komorn, in Hungary. Metternich was at this eventful period appointed to succeed Count Stadion as minister of foreign affairs, and he inaugurated his ministerial power by concluding a treaty far less humiliating than was anticipated, and the cause for which only became public when the rising diplomatist was heard to be on his way to Paris, with the daughter of the Emperor of Germany, as a sacrifice to the imperial power of France. But although Metternich thus completed with his own hands the not very exalted task which he had undertaken, it is certain that he ever entertained a strong dislike and hatred to the representative of the French Republic.

It was not, however, till the fortunes of Napoleon were on the decline, that Metternich ventured to show these feelings. When the flower of the French army had perished in Russia, when Alexander was resolved upon reprisals, when the King of Prussia had been roused to resistance, and even the French marshal, Bernadotte, then Crown Prince of Sweden, had with singular ingratitude leagued against his master-then alone was Prince Schwarzenburg sent forth, not only at the head of the Austrian force, but in command of the whole imperial army. We had occasion only lately, in a notice of Mr. Tourgeneff's interesting memoirs in the New Monthly Magazine, to detail, at length, how the impetuosity of Alexander had always to take a lead of the prudential tactics of the Austrian general, and how little the policy of Metternich did really second that of the Steins and Hardenbergs of the day. The battle of Leipsic, however, by establishing the freedom of Germany, won for the diplomatist the dignity of prince of the empire.

Prince Metternich took a prominent and active part in the conferences and negotiations which preceded and accompanied the invasion of France by the Allied Armies. He signed the treaty of Paris, by which Germany was made a league of independent states, and he proceeded thence to England, upon which occasion the University of Oxford conferred on him an honorary degree. Prince Metternich, who was then in his fortysecond year, was chosen, upon the opening of the Congress of Vienna, to preside over its deliberations ; and this species of presidency in the diplomatic affairs of Europe is generally admitted to have been conceded to the illustrious diplomatist, as much out of deference to his personal abilities, as out of consideration for his being the representative of the imperial court. With no principle was Prince Metternich more thoroughly imbued, than with the disastrous effects of democratic influences on society. In this, he was seconded by his able colleague, Gentz. The consequence was, that the promises of constitutional liberty and of national unity, advocated by Stein, Hardenberg, and a few others, received no development at the Congress of Vienna." The national opinion on a

« PreviousContinue »