페이지 이미지

itself in laughter; or the fabulous Houyhnms themselves were there to mock in their peculiar fashion.

Frederick William made Gundling President of the Berlin Academy, an institution corresponding to our Royal Society, thus proving that his contempt for science was as great as his contempt for literature. Such a king, brutish in his diversions—for what man that had a soul above a brute's would not have shrunk with pain from the spectacle of such degradation as that of Gundling and Fassmann ?— and incapable of any intellectual interest, was a hideous anachronism in the eighteenth century. With wonder, with shame—nay, with unaffected anguish—may we contemplate the spectacle of Mr. Carlyle, standing by with a half-sympathetic smile while this crowned savage insults the intelligence of his time and rolls humanity in the mire. All the spiritual enthusiasm with which Carlyle's earlier essays and nobler books inspire us, rises in protest against this immolation of his better self at the shrine of such a hero.



FREDERICK THE GREAT was a preferable man to his father. Whether he was in the deep sense a better may be questioned: his father was not steeped in sensual vice as he was, nor was his father capable of such a crime as the seizure of Silesia: yet it is impossible not to prefer him; for he could have had no sentiment but loathing in connection with such scenes in the Tobacco Parliament as his father delighted to witness; he did not regard art, science, letters with the spite of a stunted brain; he did not tell lies to cloak miserly shabbiness; and he did not offend common sense by kidnapping overgrown blockheads to turn into soldiers. It is to be remembered also, in extenuation of his faults, that he was brought up in the household of Frederick William, a household in which Christian faith seemed the characteristic of a fool, in which he was subjected to ill-treatment, to injustice, to cruelty, fitted almost to force on him what was his settled conviction in after life, that God, though certainly existing, did not concern Himself with the affairs of this pitiful world.

Frederick, on ascending the throne in 1740, professed, I doubt not with sincerity, that the well-being of the State was his grand concern, which he expressly desired to be regarded as having a claim prior to his personal interest; acted with discriminating but real generosity to those who had been kind to him in his adversity; declared himself the friend of religious toleration and of freedom of the Press; and undertook the energetic patronage of science, art, and all kinds of noble culture. He had composed a book called Anti-Machiavel, the nature of which may be guessed from its title. Voltaire spoke in raptures of its ability, and I think we may believe that Frederick was not consciously insincere in writing it. This was a bright beginning; and if any one had told the young King that, within a few months, he would be chargeable with one of the blackest crimes mentioned in history, he would have replied, "Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?"

In October, 1740, Charles VI., Emperor of Austria died, and his daughter Theresa, twenty-three years old, in delicate health, who had given no shadow of offence to Frederick, succeeded to the throne. The first impulse of Frederick, on hearing the news, was to avail himself of the weakness of her situation and the confusion in which he knew that the outbreak of war would involve Europe, to lay hold, by military force, of her large and important province, Silesia. So soon as he knew that her father was dead, he sent for his chief general and chief minister; matured with them his scheme of spoliation; and within a few weeks entered Silesia at the head of an army strong enough to overpower all resistance. Here is Mr. Carlyle's comment on the transaction. The Seizure Of Silesia.

Not the peaceable magnanimities, but the warlike, are the thing appointed Friedrich this winter, and mainly henceforth. Those "golden or soft radiances " which we saw in him, admirable to Voltaire or to Friedrich, and to an esurient philanthropic world, it is not these, it is "the steel-bright or stellar kind," that are to become predominant in Friedrich's existence; grim hail-storms, thunders and tornado for an existence to him, instead of the opulent genialities and halcyon weather, anticipated by himself and others! Indisputably enough to us, if not to Friedrich,

Seizure of Silesia. 149

"Reinsberg and Life to the Muses" are done. On a sudden, from the opposite side of the horizon, see, miraculous Opportunity, rushing hitherward—swift, terrible, clothed with lightning like a courser of the gods; dare you clutch him by the thunder-mane, and fling yourself upon him, and make for the Empyrean by that course rather? Be immediate about it, then ; the time is now or never! No fair judge can blame the young man that he laid hold of the flaming Opportunity in this manner, and obeyed the new omen. To seize such an opportunity, and perilously mount upon it, was the part of a young magnanimous king, less sensible to the perils, and more to the other considerations, than one older would have been.

This is one of the passages on account of which Carlyle, since the publication of his Life of Cromwell, has ceased, as an historian, to lead the intelligence, and guide the conscience of Europe. On the French [Revolution, and on the character of Cromwell, he was accepted as speaking, in the main, the truth; but this verdict on Frederick's seizure of Silesia has not been ratified by the assent of civilised mankind, and deserves to be repudiated. We need not go far afield to discover or establish ethical principles by which to try Mr. Carlyle's decision. His own maxims of veracity, reality, fact, are adequate to the occasion. If my neighbour, as I assert and he denies, owes me ten shillings, and if his coach breaks down when I am passing, and if I rush upon him, filch from him his purse containing twenty sovereigns, and refuse to return him one penny, then I have not honourably taken an opportunity to enrich myself, but have acted as a robber and a thief. Now this is accurately what Frederick did to Maria Theresa. Claim to Silesia had never been made on the part of Prussia until Frederick clutched his prey. Several of Frederick's ancestors, in the last and the preceding century, had claimed certain parts of Silesia. Frederick had absolutely no other pretence for seizing the whole. Who is our authority for this statement? Mr. Carlyle. From him we learn that, in virtue of a kind of family compact into which the Elector of Brandenburg entered with the Duke of Liegnitz, a family compact which the Austrian Emperor of the period disallowed and annulled, the Hohenzollerns claimed to inherit certain districts, Liegnitz, Brieg, Jagerndorf, lying either in Silesia, or on its borders. The claim was one on which jurists might have disputed in an international court of law, but sustainable or not sustainable, it bore such a relation to a claim to Silesia as a claim to ten shillings would bear to a claim to twenty sovereigns. Suppose, for example, that Napoleon had claimed two or three Welsh dukedoms, and, to enforce that claim, had seized and retained the whole of Wales,— his procedure would have been precisely that of Frederick.

What rendered the seizure of Silesia by Frederick peculiarly atrocious was the fact, of which we cannot rationally suppose him ignorant, that it was sure to bring on a general war in Europe. For many years before the death of the Emperor Charles VI., it had been the object—the reasonable and laudable object—of Austrian policy to secure the succession in favour of his daughter Maria Theresa. What stood in the way was one of those old laws by which, as in several European kingdoms, women were excluded from the Austrian throne. With the assent of all the provinces of the Austrian Empire, this arrangement had been set aside; and England, France, Russia, Prussia—in short, the Powers of the civilised world, "from Naples and Madrid, to Russia and Sweden"—had accepted the instrument known to historians as the Pragmatic Sanction, binding themselves to maintain Theresa in her heritage. Her accession did injustice to no one, promoted peace in Europe, was welcomed by the population of Austria and Hungary, and had been guaranteed by Frederick's father. Had things been left to take their course, a most important contribution would have been made to the recognition of a public law in Europe; a law of reason and justice superior to that of the sword, a law by which the dictates of common sense, of honour, and of humanity might pacifically prevail. Frederick interdicted all that. He sprang like a wolf upon

« 이전계속 »