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CARLYLE'S FREDERICK THE GREAT.
YEARS have passed since we met or "inarticulate men of genius ;”. Thomas Carlyle in these pages. We whether the judicial career of Judge then discussed the two first volumes Jefferies is to be pronounced " very of the history of Frederick ; the Rhadamanthine," or an episode of goodly bulk of four others that devil-worship; whether the fall of have appeared in the interval tells the Roman empire, or the Peninus that he must have diligently de- sular war, or the Indian mutiny, voted the whole period to his hero. were in consonance with the “Laws Many summers and winters have of the Universe," or in opposition still found the philosopher seated to that mystic code, no disciple can in his study, where the singular tell us, for it is the character of his goblins whom, by some strange philosophy that it always requires spell, learnt from we know not to be interpreted and applied by what wizard, he evoked in early the author. Under these circumlife, the Mud-Demons, Windbags, stances, a practical man, puzzled in Phantasm - Captains, Dryasdusts, the labyrinthine wildernesses of the &c., &c., have clung to him with world, and seeking light and guidastonishing pertinacity. Dwelling ance, might prefer some homely incessantly in an atmosphere of un- candle which he could carry in his reality, in that strange region to hand, to the fitful irradiations of which he was long ago introduced that more elaborate apparatus by German metaphysicians, much which, like Mr Pickwick's dark bemuddled in tobacco and beer, lantern, produces effects chiefly and with which English readers meteoric and bewildering. have got to be as familiar as young Far, however, from becoming Cockneys with a Drury Lane panto- more and more hazy and unintellimime, it might have been expected gible as he grows older, he exhibits that he would in some degree lose in these later volumes fewer crothis hold on humanity, and would chets and fewer freaks of style, but adapt himself more and more to not less of that descriptive and althose cloudlands wherein he de- lusive power and wealth of imagery lighted to abide. Long persistence which have always formed his chief in the theory of regarding this ma- attractions. The “ gilt farthings" terial earth and those who walk on which we spoke of in a former reit as mere shadows, might have view of his book, the bits of comended in dissolving for any practi- monplace palmed upon us under a cal purpose his relations with actual thick disguise of staring metaphor life, and causing all his acts, and and allusion, have been mostly his judgments on the acts of others, withdrawn from circulation, and to be referred more and more to replaced by a more legitimate cointhat mysterious standard of meas- age. No doubt this view of the urement, the nature of which has later volumes is partly due to our been so copiously, yet so dimly, re- familiarity with Carlylese, rendering vealed to us. Dimly, we say; for us indifferent to verbal pranks, and after all our experience of the sage's more sensitive to excellences. But opinions on men and things, we are it is owing in much greater degree still at a loss to imagine in what to the improvement in his subject. light he would be pleased to regard He is no longer encumbered with any single character or event in Frederick - William, the eccentric history on which he has not yet hero of the earlier volumes, the delivered a verdict. Whether King crazy, brutal father of the soldierHerod, Nero, Philip II., and the king. The insupportable tediousDuke of Alva, were Mud-demons, ness of such dim transactions as "Double-Marriage Projects" and that government of force which the “ Tobacco Parliaments" (or orgies philosopher has always held up as in which the crack-brained potentate the perfection of a political system indulged, along with a few congenial — successful, because of a small lunatics and idiots), happily came kingdom he made a great power ; to an end along with their author. because, with inadequate means, he Frederick's boyhood, too, so squalid, did the work and achieved the reso barren of interest and incident, sults due to great means; because giving so little promise or sugges- he made for his army, his countion of the future conqueror and try, and himself, a fine and lasting statesman, had ended before his reputation. The power inherited father's death; and with the wars from his father suffered no diminufor which he gave the signal by tion of absolutism in Frederick's the seizure of Silesia, he stands hands; and we should not have forth surrounded by figures SO been surprised had he been selectspirited and so martial, in the ed for glorification in an additional midst of such a clangour of arms chapter on 'Hero-worship. But and shock of nations, as would here the work of years is devoted lend interest to a narrative far less to the career of a man whose great picturesque in treatment and clear merit was, that he was a successful in effect than Mr Carlyle's. For, fighter of battles. A character less the same industry which formerly elevated, less fertile of opportuniled the historian to grope and sift ties for indulging a romantic or thoroughly, though with many poetic vein in the biographer, is lamentations and protests, amid scarcely to be found in the high the chronicles of the voluminous places of history. The fact that Dryasdusts of Prussia, and pick the king, among his aspirations, such scraps as suited him from the aimed at being a poet, tells altochaos of stupidity, has also induced gether against him ; for his aim him, as the chronicler of a conspi- was mere versification and Sterncuous era in war, to study military holdian grandiloquence, and in problems to unusually good purpose. that he failed. Mr Carlyle, with A man who can in a science so all his tendencies setting towards eminently practical, and which has the romantic and picturesque sides for the most part been so pedan- of human character-large dealings, tically treated, as the science of far-reaching influence, and high, if war, discard the pedantry, arrive “inarticulate," genius, is tied for at common-sense conclusions, and years to a subject which, except in describe military operations with the military phase, is commonplace unusual spirit and lucidity, must -crafty, unusually deficient in possess faculties of whose existence great qualities or great motives, and there was little evidence in his for which no amount of gloss or drapery mer works. Exuberance of ima- can present as heroic. “Frederick's gery, fertility of allusion, occasional ideal,” says his biographer, “compassages of vigorous eloquence in pared to that of some, was low; painting a scene or a character his existence, a hard and barren, these we should expect from the though a genuine one, and only author of Sartor Resartus' and worth much memory in the absence * Hero-worship,' but not a plain of better.” Why not have sought account of the manæuvres of hos- better, then, Mr Carlyle ? tile armies.
Frederick was twenty-eight years We do not yet understand why a old when he began to reign. He writer of Mr Carlyle's peculiar fa- had grown up amid influences the shion and modes of thought should most unfortunate and unfavourhave selected the history of Frede- able. The character of the personrick for a theme. It is true that age who ruled in the home of his he is a successful representative of youth is well known. None of the
ruffians who are charged before po- fore, for an ambitious sovereign to lice magistrates with brutal outrages find both a colourable pretext for on the members of their wretched war, and powerful allies in those households could exceed in reckless who, having similar claims elseand capricious cruelty this truculent where, bargained for reciprocal supmonarch. It was to be expected port. And if the times were favourthat Frederick, his intellect and able to the picking of a quarrel, sympathies alike cramped by this they were no less so to its prosecuiron rule of savagery, would seize tion, by a sovereign of exceptional not the best but the readiest con- ability. For at this time there solations that might offer, and that were in Europe no great leaders, the character of his mind would either in politics or war. Dull or deteriorate. Except in fairy tales frivolous sovereigns occupied the and didactic novels, it is rare to find thrones, and suffered favourites or squalor, hardship, and oppression mere routine statesmen to dictate favourable to the development of their policy. The great generals of a virtue and of nobility of character. preceding generation, Marlborough, The duplicity which habitual terror Eugene, Villars, had left representahad produced in the boy reappeared tives only of their system of war, not in the king, but in the more re- of their genius. Pedantry—that is to spectable form of reticentstate-craft. say, an extreme addiction to forms, The external casing of indifference, without reference to their meaning necessary for any one who would or their applicability—was the chalive at all under such conditions, racteristic in the training of armies had become in the man a bright and the conduct of generals, and hard shell, impervious alike to the ruled as absolutely in the field as touch of sympathy or the blow of other forms of incapacity in counfate. The highest heaven he could cil. Contests, begun for petty and look forward to in youth was deliver- private objects, grew in their proance from domestic tyranny—that gress aimless and unmeaning, and attained, he saw nothing beyond chicanery had become, in an unusual either to fear or to hope for. Irre- degree, an element of diplomacy. verent, practical, shrewd, brave, self On such a scene, amid such comreliant, severe but not cruel, of quick petitors, Frederick was peculiarly decision, exacting much and reward- fitted to succeed. A man of high ing sparingly or grudgingly-such and noble character—a Bayard or a was the king and leader who now Turenne-would have entered the stepped on the world's stage. field with obsolete armour and wea
The stage was, at this juncture, pons. But Frederick was as emiwell suited to the hero. Wars were nent for astuteness as for ability; no longer waged on large grounds, and amid the shifting politics of the national or religious. A succession time, he had the advantage of a of absolute sovereigns since the feu- clear and definite object. His dedal period had at length culminated sign was to seize, at the first favourin an order of beings who looked able opportunity, the Austrian proon the territories they ruled as their vince of Silesia ; and either to reprivate property, to be sold, trans- tain it, or make of the possession of ferred, exchanged, or bequeathed, it a lever by which to wrest from as the family interests of the pro- Austria a recognition to his title to prietor might dictate. As might certain territories on the Rhine ; have been expected under such cir- and the necessary, or at any rate cumstances, there were, for whole judicious, preliminary to such seizdistricts in Europe, numerous claim- ure must be the establishment of a ants, whether on the score of rela- fair-seeming pretext. tionship to a former proprietor, pur- Silesia had never been Prussian. chase, convenience, or political exi- But more than two hundred years gency. It was not difficult, there- before Frederick's time, his ances
tor, the Elector of Brandenburg, had George, Margrave of Anspach, acmade a compact with the Duke of quired, in exchange for other terriLiegnitz, lord of considerable terri- tories which he had purchased with tories in Silesia, by which either his own money, the duchy of Japrince, on failure of heirs to the other, gerndorf. “Hereby," says Mr Carwas to succeed to their joint domin- lyle, “has Jagerndorf joined itself ions. As the Duke was a vassal of to the Brandenburg territories.” the King of Bohemia, the monarch's Rather an audacious assertion, the sanction had been necessary to ren- reader will probably think, considerder the arrangement valid. But ing that the said Margrave George this king's successor, fearing per- never ruled in Brandenburg. haps to see a too powerful neigh- The descendant of this Margrave bour established on his borders, dying without children in 1603, his had recalled the sanction, and the duchy of Jagerndorf fell to the Elecdeed had been cancelled by state tor of Brandenburg, who settled it authority; the vassal had been on his second son, Johann George. compelled to give up his parch- This prince, joining the King of ments, but the Elector of Branden- Bohemia in war against the Kaiser, burg had refused to part with his was put under the ban of the emIn 1675, a hundred and forty years pire, and his territory forfeited. On afterwards, the last Duke of Lieg- what the subsequent claim of Brannitz died, and the Elector of Bran- denburg to Jagerndorf was exactly denburg, reviving the old question, founded, Mr Carlyle does not tell urged his claim upon the Emperor us; but the Electors may be preLeopold Let Mr Carlyle describe sumed to have argued that the terthe colloquy.
ritory which they had divided from “Kaiser Leopold in the scarlet stock.
the Electorate ought to have been
restored to it. But before the ings will not hear of Heritage-Fraternity. "Nonsense!' answers Kaiser Leo
reader is in a position to estimate pold: 'a thing suppressed at once, ages the justice of the claim, it is necesago; by Imperial Power: flat zero of a sary that he should know what an thing, at this time; and you, I again advocate might have to say on the bid you, return me your papers upon Austrian side of these questions; it. This latter act of duty Friedrich
and as the Silesian wars are so imWilhelm would not do; but continued insisting. "Jagerndorf at least, o
portant in the history of Frederick,
po Kaiser of the world,' said he : «Jagern- the first volume of the work would dorf, there is no colour for your keeps have been better employed in giving ing that!' To which the Kaiser again us full means of forming a judgment answers, Nonsense !'-and even falls than in the tedious and unnecessary upon astonishing schemes about it, as account of Frederick's ancestors we shall see; but gives nothing."
and their doings. On the evidence Such was the claim to the Duchies vouchsafed to us we should confiof Lower Silesia-founded upon a dently say, that if such claims were deed contracted two hundred years to be in all cases supported by war, before, which never took effect, and there could be no peace for any which was formally annulled by the nation on the face of the earth. same authority as had sanctioned From the promptitude with which it. The claim to Jagerndorf, a Frederick acted when the opportuduchy in Southern Silesia, rested nity came, it is evident that he had on different grounds. The younger made up his mind about the seizure sons of the Electors of Brandenburg of Silesia as soon as he became had occasionally been provided for king. Of the merits and validity of by giving them the territories of the pretexts for the act, the reader Baireuth and Anspach. In this must judge from the summary we way members of a younger branch have just given. For him and for of the Hohenzollerns appear in his Prussia it was the most (indeed tory as princes; and one of these, the only) momentous act of his reign; for his whole history is the Frederick, then, being provided history of his struggle for the re- with a pretext, such as it was, still tention of this Austrian province. wanted an opportunity. It came Of his motives the King says him- far more speedily than could have self, after recapitulating certain con- been anticipated. Within a year siderations—"Add to these reasons of the King's accession, the Eman army ready for acting, funds, peror Leopold died very unexpectsupplies all found, and perhaps the edly. By the law of the Austrian desire of making one's self a name; States females could not succeed, all this was cause of the war which and he had daughters only. All the King now entered upon." Per- his life, therefore, he had been emhaps the reader will think with us ployed in impressing on the politithat there is little evidence here cal world (that is to say, the variexcept of “low ambition and the ous courts of Europe), the necessity pride of kings.” But Mr Carlyle of upholding a private arrangement is of another mind about his hero. of his called, like similar arbitrary. “ This young king,” he says, “is and exceptional acts, “a pragmatic magnanimous; not much to be sanction," whereby he decreed that called ambitious, or not in the vul- his female children should succeed gar sense almost at all-strange as him in the Austrian States ; and to it may sound to readers." And on this instrument he had obtained what the King himself said about the concurrence of several European his motives he discourses as fol- powers. At his death his daughter, lows :
Maria-Theresa, became Archduchess
of Austria and Queen of Hungary “Desire to make himself a name!
and Bohemia ; and in the accession how shocking!' exclaim several historians. Candour of confession that he
of this young woman, inexperienced may have had some such desire : how in rule, holding her position by a honest!' is what they do not exclaim. questionable title, and having but As to the justice of his Silesian claims, a bankrupt exchequer, Frederick or even to his own belief about their saw his opportunity. justice, Frederick affords not the least light which can be new to readers here.
Now we are not going to insist
th He speaks, when business requires it,
that magnanimity, or generosity, of those known rights' of his, aná or any other large-hearted quality, with the air of a man who expects to be ought to be the prime element in believed on his word; but it is cursor: politics. On the contrary, seeing ily, and in the business way only; and what are the mischievous results of there is not here or elsewhere the least sentimental statesmanship in our pleading: a man, you would say, con- times, we rather insist that, of all siderably indifferent to our belief on that head ; his eye set on the practical
motives of state policy, those which merely. 'Just Rights? what are rights,
are romantic are the most pernicinever so just, which you cannot make
ous. The dullest of matter-of-fact valid ? The world is full of such. If men would be much safer as a you have rights and can assert them in- political leader than Don Quixote; to facts, do it; that is worth doing !!” and whenever a politician, in press Was ever such pleading heard at
it or parliament, is particularly loud the Old Bailey as this of our moral
in asserting high-minded doctrines historian, our guide, philosopher,
of national self-sacrifice, toleration and friend Thomas? Is it not ex
of injuries, and so forth, he is toleractly the simple code of law of Rob
ably certain to be either a knave or a
fool. Frederick's own ideas on the Roy
subject have been plainly enunci“That he should take who has the power, ated. “My Lord,” he says to the And he should keep who can" ?
English ambassador, “don't talk and was Rob's code "in accordance to me of magnanimity; a prince" with the laws of this universe," or (acting not for himself but for his was it "Devil-worship”?
nation, interpolates Mr Carlyle)