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SEIZURE OF SILESIA.
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 kiug, 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 a 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 civilized 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 neighbor, 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, fileh from him his purse containing twenty sovereigns, and refuse to return him one penny, then I have not honorably 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 jxirts 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 Brandenburgh 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, Jiigerndorf, lying cither 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 favor 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 civilized 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 weleomed 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 honor, and of humanity might pacifically prevail. Fredcrick interdicted all that. He sprang like a wolf upon the prey, and when the young Empress was seen reeling under his attack, the instincts of blood and burglary, the barbaric hist of conquest masking itself in fine words, awoke throughTHE HEINOLSNESS OF THE CRIME.
out Europe. Blood flowed in torrents, and the fountains, stopped for a time, burst out again and again.
It would not be fair to accuse Frederick of having foreseen all the consequences of his crime, but he was a most intelligent, well-informed man, twenty-eight years of age, perfectly able to estimate the principal results—in bloodshed and devastation— of a rupture of European peace at that moment. "On the head of Frederick," wrote an author, not so gifted with genius as Mr. Carlyle, but cool and shrewd in his judgments, "is all the blood which was shed in a war which raged durmg many years, and in every quarter of the globe, the blood of the column of Fontenoy, the blood of the mountaineers who were slaughtered at Culloden. The evils produced by his wickedness were felt in lands where the name of Prussia was unknown; and, in order that he might rob a neighbor whom he had promised to defend, black men fought on the coast of Coromandtl, and red men scalped each other by the Great Lakes of North America." There is, doubtless, a touch of rhetoric in the form in which Macaulay's mdictment is expressed, but it is substantially just; and if it is substantially just, and if there is one moral law for kings and for common men, then the guilt incurred by Fredsrick was stupendous.
Frederick—this must be owned — never troubled himself much to defend his act. He began the war, he said, to make a name for himself, to strengthen Prussia, to turn a rare opportunity to good account. Kingly reasons enough! If successful kings are to be worshipped as heroes, they arc good reasons; otherwise they arc infamously bad reasons. Frederick, we may suppose, was not clearly conscious of the depth and blackness of his villany. But this fact shows only to what an amazing extent, even in the luminous eighteenth century, a naturally vigorous brain had been intoxicated by the fumes of king-worship. Mr. Carlyle, though not pronouncing unreservedly in favor of his hero, defends him more expressly than Frederick ever attempted to defend himself; but Mr. Carlyle's arguments, though presented with rare skill, not only of a literary sort, but of that kind which we admire in great pleaders at the Bar, prove, when fairly examined, almost incredibly weak.
In the first place, as much is made as possible of Frederick's claims upon the Empress - Queen; but these, stated at their broadest, could extend to no more than certain bits of Silesia, and it was obviously burglarious to snatch the whole. In the second place, it is studiously represented that the French were principally to blame for the infraction of the Pragmatic Sanction, and for the sanguinary wars that followed. But the logical nullity of this plea can be demonstrated by reference to the dates of events, nay, by words which, as if forgetful of the drift of his own argument, Mr. Carlyle himself allows to fall from his pen. He tells us that, when Maria Theresa called upon the European Courts to maintain the Pragmatic Sanction, they all, except England and Holland, " hung back," and " waited till they saw." What was it they waited to see? What was the occasion which made Maria Theresa apply to them to defend her? They waited to see how Frederick's attack would prosper. The occasion on which she applied to her pledged protectors was the breaking of Frederick into her dominions, like, as she said, a thief in the night. "On the first invasion of Silesia," says Mr. Carlyle, " Maria Theresa had indignantly complained in every Court; and pointing to the Pragmatic Sanction, had demanded that such law of nature be complied with, according to covenant." She evidently had no doubt, therefore, as to who was the first breaker of the Pragmatic Sanction; and who should know if she did not? Had Frederick been defeated at Mollwitz, the first battle of the war, the Powers that had guaranteed the Pragmatic Sanction would likely enough have affected virtuous indignation, and lent her Carlyle's DEFENCE OF FREDERICK.
their aid to crush the robber. He won the battle; and then the Powers, with the exceptions formerly named, flocked like vultures to tear the victim. France may have acted badly and meanly, but there is nothing like evidence that France would have drawn the sword if Frederick's had remained in the scabbard.
The grand argument, however, by which Mr. Carlyle defends Frederick, is independent of all such consideration of facts and dates. It is of a transcendental character. It rests upon that optimism of which we formerly found traces in the works of Mr. Carlyle. "Friedrich," he says, "after such trial and proof as has seldom been, got his claims on Schlesien allowed by the Destinies. . . . For . . . there are laws valid in Earth and in Heaven; and the great soul of the world is just." The simple answer to this is that it is a begging of the question, or, rather, a twofold begging of the question—once in respect of the principle implied, a second time in its application to the case in hand. The destinies, even if written with a big D, cannot make right wrong, though they crown it with success, and though the success endures for a thousand years. Success has nothing whatever to do in the spiritual sphere. The destinies bade the wind whistle through Cromwell's bones at Tyburn, and flung his system into the kennel. Was his spiritual triumph any the less on that account? So much for Mr. Carlyle's principle; but is he secure on the ground of fact? Has the seizure of Silesia indeed been sealed with the approval of the destinies? In other words, has this great crime borne such fruits that we can refer to it as part of the providential scheme of human history? It has added to the power of Prussia, but I am not sure that it will be found, in the long run, to have conduced to the well-being of Prussia. It typifies that reliance upon "blood and iron" which has become an integral part of Prussian policy. That member of the German Reichstag who represents the district of Holstein, which Prussia retains in her