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various Silesian Dukes, partly by a fortunate marriage
of the son of that king of Bohemia who fell at Cressy.
From this time Silesia shared the fortunes, good and
evil, of Bohemia ; adopted the doctrines of Huss,
welcomed the Keformation, and supported the cause of
the " Winter-King ; " and had therefore to endure, in
a greater or less degree, the miseries of the wars of
Zisca, and the yet greater miseries of the Thirty



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 257

Years' War. The treaty of Westphalia made no
difference in the political position of Silesia ; only
secured to it freedom of religious opinion, a privilege
which the house of Austria laboured perseveringly to
take away. In 1537, Silesia, or rather certain portions
of Silesia, became connected with Prussia in the
following manner : Frederic Duke of Brieg and
Liegnitz, principalities in Silesia, concluded a treaty
of succession or agreement, to succeed reciprocally, on
failure of heirs to either, with Joachim the Second,
Elector of Brandenburg. Doubts, however, existed
from the first as to the legality of this treaty, and nine
years after its execution it was declared null by the
King of Bohemia, afterwards the Emperor Ferdinand
the First. In this declaration of nullity the states of
Bohemia concurred, and the Duke of Liegnitz at least ,
acquiesced. Nay, the states of Bohemia were the first
to challenge the proceeding. Mr. Carlyle calmly as-
sumes that the paction was "questionable by no mortal."
But the point is not quite so clear. The right of a vassal
to dispose of his lands is most distinctly though impli-
citly limited by the condition that he must not dispose
of them to the injury of his suzerain and of his country.
Would the Earl of Warwick, under our Edward iv.,
have been entitled, by the laws of England, to make
such a " heritage-brotherhood " with the Duke of
Burgundy ? The illustration is perhaps a strong one.
But it brings out the principle which justifies the
states of Bohemia and the King in what they did ; a
principle which not only regulated the whole feudal
system, but which lies at the root of all tenures now,
the principle that a vassal does not hold his land ab-
solutely, that he has no right to alienate it according
to his own arbitrary wish, that, in short, as lawyers
put it, " no man is in law the absolute owner of lands :
he can only hold an estate in them." The rights

R



258 CARLYLE'S HISTORY OF

accruing to Prussia, in virtue of these transactions,
constituted Frederic's best claim on Silesia. Another
and a weaker ground for justifying the invasion
arose as follows : The principality of Jagerndorf, also
a district of Silesia, had come into the possession of
Joachim Frederic, Elector of Brandenburg, by various
steps which it is not necessary to narrate here.
Joachim gave it to his second son, John George. The
new Duke of Jagerndorf, unfortunately for himself,
warmly supported the Elector-Palatine in his attempt
on the crown of Bohemia. The result of that attempt,
and the fate of the " Winter-King/' is well known.
The Duke was laid under the Ban of the Empire, and
of course forfeited Jagerndorf, the investiture of which
was conferred on the princes of the house of Lichten-
stein. With the merits of the cause which the
unlucky John George espoused we have nothing at
present to do. He played and lost ; and accordingly
forfeited his possessions. The proceedings of the
House of Austria may have been harsh, but cannot
be called illegal. The danger had been too great for
lenity. Eulers more merciful than the House of
Hapsburg has ever shown itself, would hardly have
proved lenient to the adherents of a cause which had
nearly torn from them such a possession as the
kingdom of Bohemia. Mr. Carlyle, of course, attacks
this proceeding as " contrary to all law ! " Unfor-
tunately for himself he gives his reasons, or rather his
reason, which is merely that Johann George had left
"innocent sons ;" as if rulers had always recognised,
or were at all bound to recognise, the amiable doctrine
that the political sins of parents do not descend to
children. Lastly, in 1686, the Elector Frederic
William expressly renounced his pretensions to Jagern-
dorf and the other Silesian duchies in exchange
for a district, contiguous to his own dominions, and



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 259

called " the circle of Schwiebus. " Frederick son was
jockeyed out of this circle of Schwiebus for the sum
of 25,000 ; but nevertheless the renunciation of the
father, if, indeed, that renunciation was required,
remained good.

To rake up from the dust of past centuries preten-
sions such as these, and make them the ground for
war, is conduct the rectitude of which it would be
idle to discuss. No wonder that Mr. Carlyle finds it
convenient to talk vaguely of Frederic's "claims,"
without clearly telling us what these claims were. If
such pleas are to be regarded as a cause of war, the
world could never be at peace for a week together.
What would be said of France were she to take up
arms that she might enlarge her borders till they
should be as they were at the peace of Amiens'?
What would be said of the King of Holland were he
to begin a European war that he might regain the
Belgian provinces ? Nay, fresh as the wound is, would
Austria be held justified were she, without any new
provocation, to overrun with her troops the plains of
Lombardy] But Frederic's conduct was far more
flagrant than any of the cases we have supposed. His
claims were antiquated prescribed by the lapse of
centuries. It is, to say the least, exceedingly doubtful
whether they were at the first well founded. Beyond
doubt they had been distinctly waived by his ancestors,
and prince after prince of his house had acquiesced in
that waiver. And lastly, Prussia was a party to
treaties whereby the integrity of those dominions
which Frederic treacherously invaded was expressly
guaranteed. Of course Mr. Carlyle laughs at the
Pragmatic Sanction : " the only real treaties are a
well-trained army, and your treasury full.' 7 Truly a
comforting doctrine for the wellbeing of mankind,
calculated to promote peace and good-will, and stop



260 CARLYLE'S HISTORY OF

the present mania for armaments, in all ways well
worthy of a great teacher of the public mind. But
surely we cannot disregard the fact that all the States
of Europe, Prussia included, had bound themselves to
maintain the Pragmatic Sanction a treaty which
regulated the Austrian succession, and secured the
Austrian dominions. That instrument, in the weighty
words of Lord Macaulay, " was placed under the pro-
tection of the public faith of the whole civilised world."
And yet Mr. Carlyle would convince us that Frederic
did well to violate his obligations under that instru-
ment, because, forsooth, " flaming Opportunity" invited
him ; that is, because Austria was poor, because the
Emperor was dead, and because the young matron -
hood of the daughter of the man to whom Frederic
probably owed his life might prove unequal to the
cares of empire.

The results of this treachery were such as might easily
have been foreseen. When war had once begun all
the nations of the earth gathered together to the fray.
According to Mr. Carlyle, France is to blame for this.
Why should she have interfered, and have so " palpably
made herself the author of the conflagration of deli-
riums that ensued for above seven years henceforth ;
nay, for above twenty years" ? Undoubtedly France
was wrong. We are in no way concerned to defend
her. But is it just that she should bear the whole,
or even the chief blame ? It would have been right,
of course, in her to have kept aloof, and seen other
nations enriching themselves with the spoils of the
great Austrian heritage ; but such virtue, rare at any
time, would have been unprecedented and incompre-
hensible in the middle of the eighteenth century.
Why, we might rather ask, should she have refrained
from the plunder ? She was bound by no ties to
Austria. She had not been recently an ally and friend



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 261

of the House of Hapsburg. On the contrary, France
and Austria had been foes for long ages. It was too
much to expect that either of these Powers would let
slip a favourable opportunity of humiliating and
reducing the other. And yet France is loaded with
abuse for having yielded to temptation, and gone to
war openly and above-board ; while Frederic's treach-
erous robbery is justified and praised. It is really
too much that history should be turned topsy-turvy
in this fashion. On Frederic, and on Frederic alone,
lies the blame of having commenced this fearful strife.
But for his unprincipled ambition, peace would have
probably been preserved. In peace lay the only hope
of safety for Austria. France and England were ruled
by ministers to whom peace had been always dear.
Russia had nothing to gain by war, and showed no
inclination to move. These Powers, together with
Poland and Holland, had expressly declared their
intention of maintaining the Pragmatic Sanction.
And no one of them showed any symptom of falsify-
ing these declarations until the example of the King
of Prussia called the whole world to arms. " On his
head is all the blood which was shed in a war which
raged during 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 neighbour whom he had
promised to defend, black men fought on the coast of
Coromandel, and red men scalped each other by the
great lakes of North America." 1 The beginning of
strife is like the letting out of waters. It is a terrible
question, At whose door lies the guilt of a war?
And by what motive driven did Frederic do these

1 Lord Macaulay's Essay on Frederic.



262 CARLYLE'S HISTORY OF

things ? In his manifestoes he spoke a little, and Mr.
Carlyle now speaks a great deal, of" claims" on Silesia;
but it must be admitted that Frederic did not, as a
rule, pretend to more virtue than he had. In his
letters and conversations he ascribed his conduct to
its true motives a desire to extend his territory, and
a vain craving for la gloire.

His schemes were carried out with profound secrecy
and duplicity. He preferred no demand for redress, he
made no declaration of war. He continued his assur-
ances of amity up till the last moment, and had overrun
Silesia with his troops before Austria knew that they
had any cause of quarrel against her. As he began
the war, so he carried it on. With every new success
he rose, "sibyl-like," in his demands; and yet Mr.
Carlyle affects to be mightily indignant because the
world would not credit his professions of moderation.
But whenever his own ends were secured, he cared
little for the safety of his allies, or for the preservation
of his own honour. After the battle of Chotusitz,
Maria Theresa agreed to cede Silesia, and he abandoned
France and Bavaria without a thought. France,
pressed by Austria and England, was soon reduced
to desperate straits ; Bavaria was overrun by bands
of Austrian hussars, and her unhappy Elector hurried
heartbroken to the grave. Then Frederic took alarm
at the ascendency of Austria, allied himself anew with
France, and without complaint, without cause of
offence, a second time invaded the Austrian dominions.
A year had barely elapsed when he again deserted
France, and concluded another peace with Austria,
now sufficiently humiliated. In fact, his policy was
simply this : to seize whatever he could, and then so
to play off France against Austria as to prevent the
fruits of his robberies being forced out of hands. The
policy was astute, and it was pursued with perfect



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 263

resolution, rapacity, and faithlessness. A desire to
stand well in public opinion, somewhat strange in
such a politician, connected perhaps with the real
admiration and the love of letters which formed part
of his character, prompted him from time to time
to justify his conduct in the eyes of Europe. 1 Thus,
on the occasion of his second attack on Austria in
1744, he published a letter or address to the people
of England. He does not seem to have taken much
by the motion. " A poor performance," writes Horace
Walpole of it ; " his Yoltaires and his literati should
correct his works before they are printed. To pen
manifestoes worse than the lowest commis that is kept
jointly by two or three Margraves, is insufferable."

On the question of the partition of Poland we have
less to say. Our readers will not hear from us any
" shrieks or foam-lipped curses " over that proceeding.
Mr. Carlyle defends or palliates it by drawing a
forcible and humorous picture of Poland in a state of
"anarchy, pestilence, famine, and pigs eating your
dead bodies," deliverance from which would be a
manifest blessing for Poland herself, and hardly less
so for her neighbours. The Poles are plainly no
favourites with Mr. Carlyle ; and their constitution,
as described by him, with the right of confederation
that is, the right of any man to disobey the law
when he might think fit ; and the Liberum Veto that
is, the right of any man to stop the proceedings of
the whole Parliament, " an ever-flowing fountain of
anarchy, joyful to the Polish nation," certainly seems
the most remarkable form of social existence under
which mortal men ever attempted to live and prosper.

1 Mr. Carlyle differs from this, and finds in Frederic " not the least
anxiety to stand well with any reader." This may be true of Frederic
in his autobiography, but not as a rule. Witness the instance in the
text, his publication of the papers found at Dresden, and his "Apologie
de ma Conduite" in 1757.



264 CARLYLE'S HISTORY OF

We should like to quote much here, but we must
content ourselves with the summing up :

" The Poles put fine colours on all this ; and are much
contented with themselves. The Kussians they regard as
intrinsically an inferior barbarous people ; and to this day
you will hear indignant Polack Gentlemen bursting out in
the same strain : ' Still barbarian, sir ; no- culture, no litera-
ture,' inferior because they do not make verses equal to
ours ! How it may be with the verses, I will not decide ;
but the Kugsians are inconceivably superior in respect that
they have, to a singular degree among Nations, the gift of
obeying, of being commanded. Polack Chivalry sniffs at
the mention of such a gift. Polack Chivalry got sore stripes
for wanting this gift. And in the end, got striped to death,
and flung out of the world, for continuing blind to the want
of it, and never acquiring it. Beyond all the verses in
Nature, it is essential to every Chivalry and Nation and
Man. ' Polite Polish Society for the last thirty years has
felt itself to be in a most halcyon condition/ says Kulhiere j 1
'given up to the agreeable, and to that only;' charming
evening-parties, and a great deal of flirting : full of the
benevolences, the philanthropies, the new ideas, given up
especially to the pleasing idea of 'Laissez-faire, and every-
thing will come right of itself/ ' What a discovery ! ' said
every liberal Polish mind; 'for thousands of years, how people
did torment themselves trying to steer the ship ; never knowing
that the plan was, to let go the helm, and honestly sit down
to your mutual amusements and powers of pleasing ! '

" To this condition of beautifully phosphorescent rot-heap
has Poland ripened, in the helpless reigns of those poor
Augusts ; the fulness of time not now far off, one would
say ? It would complete the picture, could I go into the
state of what is called ' Keligion ' in Poland. Dissenterism,
of various poor types, is extensive; and, over-against it, is such
a type of Jesuit Fanaticism as has no fellow in that time.
Of which there have been truly savage and sanguinary out-
breaks, from time to time ; especially one at Thorn, forty
years ago, which shocked Friedrich Wilhelm and the whole

1 Rulhifcre, i. 216 (a noteworthy passage).



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 265

Protestant world. Polish Orthodoxy in that time, and
perhaps still in ours, is a thing worth noting. A late
Tourist informs me, he saw on the streets of Stettin, not
long since, a drunk human creature staggering about, who
seemed to be a Baltic Sailor, just arrived ; the dirtiest, or
among the dirtiest, of mankind ; who, as he reeled along,
kept slapping his hands upon his breast, and shouting, in
exultant soliloquy, ' Polack, Catholik !' /am a Pole and
Orthodox, ye inferior two-legged entities ! In regard to the
Jesuit Fanaticisms at Thorn and elsewhere, no blame can
attach to the poor Augusts, who always leant the other way,
what they durst or could. Nor is speciality of blame due
to them on any score ; it was ' like People, like King/
all along ; and they, such their luck, have lived to bring
in the fulness of time." Vol. vi. pp. 409, 410.

Looking upon these things, Mr. Carlyle is clearly
of opinion that Poland was moribund, and had well
deserved to die. He makes a somewhat novel appli-
cation of the old analogy between the State and the
Individual, maintaining that just as when a man
" has filled the measure of his wicked blockheadisms,
sins and brutal nuisancings, there are Gibbets pro-
vided, there are Laws provided ; and you can, in an
articulate regular : manner, hang him and finish him
to general satisfaction," so nations fallen into depths
of decay must be disposed of by some similar process.
There is much truth in all this, but the analogy fails
in one important point, namely, that it is not so easy
to hang a nation as to hang one man. The "finish-
ing " is an essential element in Mr. Carlyle's process ;
and to finish a nation is a hard thing. Poland, for
example, has not been finished to this day. Had the
partition of Poland, once accomplished, proved to be a
matter disposed of for ever, had no re-partitions and
rebellions ensued, Mr. Carlyle's defence might have
been held conclusive ; but, as things have turned out,
the case is not quite so clear. Of all the parties



266 CARLYLE'S HISTORY OF

concerned, however, the Czarina was most free from
blame. Mr. Merivale, in his recently published
volume of Essays, has shown that she interfered not
only in the interests of order, but as the champion of
religious liberty. The territory which she took from
Poland had been for long a debateable land between
two barbarous nations. She interfered in answer to
the appeals and supplications of millions of serfs,
almost all orthodox Greeks, ground down to the earth
by a savage and bigoted aristocracy, the victims at
once of tyranny and fanaticism. The Archbishop of
Cracow had induced the Diet to bind themselves by a
solemn vow never to extend toleration to schismatics,
thus adding another to the many instances in
which successful Ultramontanism has proved the ruin
of nations. Still, judged of by the results, the parti-
tion of Poland was, to say the least of it, a serious
blunder, and the above defence can be pleaded on
behalf of Catherine alone. Yet it would be well for
Frederic's reputation if nothing worse than his share
in this transaction could be laid to his charge.

Students of the military science will find much to
interest them in these volumes. Not only are the
battles narrated, as we said before, distinctly and
with brilliancy, so that ordinary readers can under-
stand and enjoy ; but no little skirmish is forgotten
and the plans of Frederic's campaigns are mapped out
in a way which must for soldiers be both interesting
and instructive. We can imagine no more profit-
able study than the study of Frederic's marches and
manoeuvres in which, so far as we can judge, his
military genius is even more conspicuous than on the
field of actual battle, always excepting the signal
triumphs of Eossbach and Leuthen. Indeed, for so
great a captain, Frederic committed some extraordi-
nary blunders in the work of fighting. At Colin, Hoch-



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 267

kirch, and Cunnersdorf, disregarding the counsels of
his best officers, he rushed into errors which brought
him to the brink of destruction. At Prague, again,
he rejected advice which, had it been followed, would
have secured to him not only the victory he gained,
but the total and final overthrow of the foe. In fact,
Frederic was not a heaven-born general. Lord Stan-
hope, in the passage we before quoted, was quite
mistaken when he spoke of Frederic's skill in war as
"formed by his own genius and acquired from no
master." It was formed by long experience, and
acquired, not only from the teaching of his own
veterans, but from some severe practical lessons ad-
ministered in his second Silesian war, by old Marshal
Traun. " No general," says Frederic himself, " com-
mitted more faults than did the King in this cam-
paign/' 1 It was a campaign of manoeuvring not
fighting, and Frederic was out-manoeuvred. His
campaigns in the Seven Years' War had very different
issues. Beaten he sometimes was, out-marched or
out-manoeuvred never.

It would be out of place to discuss here at any
length Frederic's qualities as a commander, even were
we qualified to do so ; but the constitution of his
army, and his bearing towards both his officers and
their men, are points of general interest, and which
throw some light on his character. What manner of
man did he show himself to be in this most important
relation of his life ? The first thing which strikes us
is, that a harsher chief never led men to victory. He
praised rarely, rewarded almost never, and punished
unsparingly. On his officers he visited mere blunders
with cruel severity. Bevern, a brave and skilful
captain, was sent to Stettin in disgrace because of the

1 He always admitted that he regarded this campaign as his school in
the art of war, and M. de Traun as his teacher.



268 CARLYLE'S HISTORY OF

doubtful result of the battle of Breslau, fought in cir-
cumstances which even Mr. Carlyle admits to have
been " horribly difficult/ 7 Schmettau, for the capitu-
lation of Dresden, a capitulation expressly authorised
by Frederic himself about a month before it happened,
was disgraced and never employed again. Years
after, when the aged veteran ventured to complain of
the scanty pension allowed him from the Invalid List,
he received the gracious answer that he should be
" thankful he had not lost his head." General Finck,
an able soldier, of tried skill and courage, who had
been thought worthy to be intrusted with the com-
mand of the army after the disaster of Cunnersdorf, was
ordered by the king, against his own vehement re-
monstrances, into a position of extraordinary difficulty
and danger at Maxen " has a Sphinx riddle on his
mind, such as soldiers seldom had." He failed to
extricate himself, and was forced to capitulate. For
this he received a year's imprisonment in Spandau,
and was thereafter dismissed the service. Throughout
his life Frederic kept up a strange vindictiveness
towards every one who had been, however innocently,
connected with this disgrace ; possibly because he
must have felt that he had himself in great measure
to blame for it. Years after, when an officer, who
had belonged to the capitulating army, fallen into
poverty and evil times, -sent in a humble petition for
a pension, Frederic wrote on the margin, with cruel
sarcasm : " Assign him a pension by all means ! assign
it on the profits of Maxen." Such conduct betrays
unmistakeably a cruel nature, and is veiy short-
sighted besides. Frederic was not better served in
consequence of it, but worse. Instances not a few
occurred in these wars, in which his generals, from an
undue dread of his displeasure, rushed upon disaster
against their own better judgment. Thus, in 1760,



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 269

Fouquet, " the Bayard " of Prussia, reluctantly obey-
ing Frederic's mistaken orders (Spandau and disgrace
might have been awaiting him otherwise), lost Silesia,
and some 10,000 men. Fear indeed is a deadly foe
to good counsel. No man can exercise the full
powers of his mind when disturbed by the knowledge
that a mistake, however innocent, will certainly entail
punishment. Accordingly no wise chief, in war or
anything else, was ever other than lenient to mere
errors of judgment.

The constitution of Frederic's army was in the
highest degree remarkable. It was officered by
Prussians and nobles ; but the troops were gathered
from all quarters of the earth, and by every possible
device of lying and kidnapping. Mr. Carlyle never



Online LibraryHenry H LancasterEssays and reviews → online text (page 21 of 38)