Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

. (page 13 of 84)
Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 13 of 84)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


proficients in the ignoble art of flattery. No man ever
paid com[diments better than Voltaire. His sweetest
ccmfectionery had always a deUcate, yet stimulating
flavour, which was delightftil to palates wearied by the
(xiarse preparations of inferior artists. It was only from
his hand that so much sugar could be swallowed without
making the swallower sick. Copies of verses, writing
desks, trinkets of amber, were exchanged between the
friends. Frederic confided his writings to Voltaire ;
and Voltaire applauded, as if Frederic had been Racine
and Bossuet in one. One of his Royal Highness's per-
formances was a refritation of Machiavelli. Voltaire
nndertook to convey it to the press. It was entitled



Digitized



byGoogk



162 FREDERIC THE GREAT.

the Anti-Machiavel, and was an edifying homily against
rapacity, perfidy, arbitrary government, unjust war, in
shoit, against almost every thing for which its author is
now remembered among men.

The old King uttered now and then a ferocious growl
at the diversions of Rheinsbei^. But his health was
broken ; his end was approaching, and his vigour was
impaired. He had only one pleasure left, that of seeing
tall soldiers. He could always be propitiated by a
present of a grenadier of six feet four or six feet five ;
and such presents were from time to time judiciously
offered by his son.

Early in the year 1740, Frederic William met death
with a firmness and dignity worthy of a better and
Mriser man ; and Frederic, who had just completed his
twenty-eighth year, became King of Prussia. His
character was little understood. That he had good
abilities, indeed, no person who had talked with him, or
corresponded with him, could doubt. But tlie easy,
Epicurean life whiih he had led, his love of good cook-
ery and good wine, of music, of conversation, of light
literature, led many to regard him as a sensual and
intellectual voluptuary. His habit of canting about
moderation, peace, liberty, and tlie happiness which a
good mind derives from the happiness of others, had
imposed on some who should have known better.
Those who thoiiglit best of him expected a Telemachus
after F^n^lon's pattern. Others predicted the approach
of a Medicean age, an age propitious to learning and
art, and not unpropitious to pleasure. Nobody had the
least suspicion that a tyrant of extraordinary military
and political talents, of industry more extraordinaiy
still, without fear, without faith, and without mercy,
had ascended the throne.



Digitized



byGoogk



fREDEKIC THE GREAT. 163

The disappointment of FalstafF at his old boon-com-
|>anion's coronation was not more bitter than that which
awaited some of the inmates of Rheinsberg. They had
long looked forward to the accession of their patron, as
to tlie event from which their own prosperity and greatp-
ness was to date. They had at last reached the prom-
ised laud, the land which they had figured to themselves
as flowing with milk and honey ; and they found it a
desert. " No more of these fooleries,*' was the short,
sharp admonition given by Frederic to one of them.
It soon became plain that, in the most important points,
the new sovereign bore a strong family likeness to his
predecessor. There was indeed a wide diflerence be-
tween the father and the son as respected extent and
vigour of intellect, speculative opinions, amusements,
studies, outward demeanour. But the groundwork of
the character was the same in both. To both were
common the love of order, the love of business, the
military taste, the parsimony, the imperious spirit, the
temper irritable even to ferocity, the pleasure in the
pain and humiliation of others. But these propen-
sities had in Frederic William partaken of the general
unsoundness of his mind, and wore a ver}' different
aspect when found in company with tlie strong and cul-
tivated understanding of his successor. Thus, for ex-
ample, Frederic was as anxious as any prince could be
about the efficiency of his army. But this anxiety
never degenerated into a monomania, like that which
led his father to pay fancy prices for giants. Frederic
was as thrifty about money as any prince or any private
man ought to be. But he did not conceive, Uke his
father, that it was worth while to eat unwholesome cab-
bages for the sake of saving four or five rixdollars in the
jrear. Frederic was, we fear, as malevolent as his



Digitized by VjOOQIC



164 FREDERIC THE GREAT.

fadier ; but Frederic's wit enabled him often to show
his malevolence in ways more decent than those to
which his fiither resorted, and to inflict misery and deg-
radation by a taimt instead of a blow. Frederic, it is
true, by no means relinquished his hereditary privilege
of kicking and cudgelling. His practice, however, as
to that matter, differed in some important respects from
his father's. To Frederic William, the mere circum-
stance that any persons whatever, men, women, or
children, Prussians or foreigners, were witliin reach of
his toes and of his cane, appeared to be a sufficient rear
son for proceeding to belabour them. Frederic re-
quired provocation as well as vicinity ; nor was he ever
known to inflict this paternal species of correction on
any but his born subjects ; though on one occasion M.
Thi^bault had reason, during a few seconds, to antici-
pate the high honour of being an exception to this
general rule.

The character of Frederic was still very imperfectly
understood either by his subjects or by his neighbours,
when events occurred which exhibited it in a strong
light. A few months after his accession died Charles
the Sixth, Emperor of Germany, the kst descendant,
in the male line, of the House of Austria.

Charles left no son, and had, long before his death,
relinquished all hopes of male issue. During the latter
part of his life, his principal object had been to secure
to his descendants in the female line the many crowns
of the house of Hapsburg. With this view, he had
promulgated a new law of succession, widely celebrated
throughout Europe under the name of the Pragmatic
Sanction. By virtue of this law, his daughter, the
Archduchess Maria Theresa, wife of Francis of Lo-
raine, succeeded to the dominions of her ancestors.



Digitized



byGoogk



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 165

No sovereign has ever taken possession of a throne by
a clearer title. All the politics of the Austrian cabinet
had, during twenty years, been directed to one single
end, the settlement of the succession. From every per-
son whose rights could be considered as injuriously af-
fected, renunciations in the most solemn form had been
obtained. The new law had been ratified by the Estates
ot all the kingdoms and principalities which made up
the great Austrian monarchy. England, France, Spain,
Russia, Poland, Prussia, Sweden, Denmark, the Gei^
manic body, had bound themselves by treaty to main-
tain the Pragmatic Sanction. That instrument was
placed under the protection of the public faith of the
whole civilised world.

Even if no positive stipulations on this subject had
existed, the arrangement was one which no good man
would have been willing to disturb. It was a peaceable
arrangement. It was an arrangement acceptable* to the
great population whose happiness was chiefly concerned.
It was an arrangement which made no change in the
distribution of power among the states of Christendom.
It was an arrangement which could be set aside, only by
means of a general war ; and, if it were set aside the et-
fect would be, that the equilibrium of Europe would be
deranged, that the loyal and patriotic feelings of millions
would be cruelly outraged, and that great provinces
which had been united for centuries would be torn from
each other by main force.

The sovereigns of Europe were, therefore, bound by
every obligation which those who are intrusted with
power over their fellow-creatures ought to hold most sa-
cred, to respect and defend the rights of the Archduchess.
Her situation and her personal qualities were such as
might be expected to move the mind of any generous



Digitized



byGoogk



166 FREDERIC THE GREAT.

man to pity, admimtion, and chivalrous tenderness.
She was in her twenty-fourth year. Her form was
majestic, her features beautiful, her countenance sweet
and animated, her voice musical, her deportment gra-
cious and dignified. In all domestic relations she was
without reproach. She was married to a husband whom
she loved, and was on the point of giving birth to a
child, when deatli deprived her of her father. The loss
of a parent, and the new cares of empire, were too
much for her in the delicate state of her health. Her
spirits were depressed, and her cheek lost its bloom.
Yet it seemed that she had little cause for anxiety. It
seemed that justice, humanity, and the faith of treaties
would have their due weight, and that the settlement
so solemnly guaranteed would be quietly carried into
eflFect. England, Russia, Poland, and Holland, declared
in form their intention to adhere to their engagements.
The French ministers made a verbal declaration to the
same effect. But from no quarter did the young Queen
of Hungary receive stronger assurances of friendship
and support than from the King of Prussia*

Yet the King of Prussia, the Anti-Machiavel, had
already fully determined to commit the great crime of
violating his plighted faith, of robbing the ally wliom
he was bound to defend, and of plunging all Europe
into a long, bloody, and desolating war ; and all this
for no end whatever, except that he might extend his
dominions, and see his name in the gaaiettes. He de-
termined to assemble a great army with speed and se-
crecy, to invade Silesia before Maria Theresa should be
apprised of his design, and to add that rich province to
his kingdom.

We will not condescend to refute at length the
pleas which the compiler of the Memoirs before us has



Digitized



byGoogk



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 167

copied firom Doctor Preuss. They amount to this,
that the house of Brandenburg had some ancient pre-
tensions to Silesia, and had in the previous century been
compelled, by hard usage on the part of the Court of
Vienna, to waive those pretensions. It is certain that,
wlioever might originally have been in the right, Pi*us-
sia had submitted. Prince after prince of the house of
Brandenburg had acquiesced in the existing arrange-
ment. Nay, the Court of Berlin had recently been al-
lied with that of Vienna, and had guaranteed the integ-
rity of the Austrian states. Is it not perfectly clear
that, if antiquated claims are to be set up against recent
treaties and long possession, the world can never be at
peace for a day ? The laws of all nations have wisely
established a time of limitation, after which titles, how-
ever illegitimate in their origin, cannot be questioned.
It is felt by everybody, that to eject a person from his
estate on the ground of some injustice committed in the
time of the Tudors would produce all the evils which
result from arbitrary confiscation, and would make all
property insecure. It concerns the commonwealth —
so runs the legal maxim — that there be an end of liti-
gation. And surely this maxim is at least equally ap-
plicable to the great commonwealth of states ; for in
that commonwealth litigation means the devastation of
provinces, the suspension of trade and industry, sieges
like these of Badajoz and St. Sebastian, pitched fields
like those of Eylau and Borodino. We hold that the
transfer of Norway from Denmark to Sweden was an
unjustifiable proceeding ; but would the king of Den-
mark be tlierefore justified in landing, without any new
provocation, in Norway, and commencing military op-
erations there ? The king of Holland thinks, no doubt,
that he was unjustly deprived of the Belgian provinces.



Digitized



by Google



108 FREDERIC TllE GREAT.

Grant that it were so. Woiild he, therefore, be justi-
fied in marching with an army on Brussels ? The case
against Frederic was still stronger, inasmuch as the in-
justice of which he complained had been conunitted
more than a century before. Nor must it be forgotten
that he owed the highest personal obligations to the
house of Austria. It may be doubted whether his life
had not been preserved by the intercession of the prince
whose daughter he was about to plunder.

To do the King justice, he pretended to no more vir-
tue than he had. In manifestoes he might, for form's
sake, insert some idle stories about his antiquated claim
on Silesia ; but in his conversations and Memoirs he
took a very different tone. His own words are : " Am-
bition, interest, the desire of making people talk about
me, carried the day ; and I decided for war."

Having resolved on his course, he acted with ability
and vigour. It was impossible wholly to conceal his
preparations; for throughout the Prussian territories
regiments, guns, and baggage were in motion. The
Austrian envoy at Berlin apprised his court of these
facts, and expressed a suspicion of Frederic's designs ;
but the ministers of Maria Theresa refused to give
credit to so black an imputation on a young prince who
was known chiefly by his high professions of integrity
and philanthropy. " We will not," they wrpte, " we
cannot, believe it."

In the mean time the Prussian forces had been
assembled. Without any declaration of war, without
any demand for reparation, in the very act of pouring
forth compliments and assurances of good-will, Fred-
eric commenced hostilities. Many thousands of his
troops were actually in Silesia before the Queen of
Hungary knew that he had set up any claim to any



Digitized



byGoogk



FKED£RIG THE GREAT. 169

part of her territories. At length he sent her a
messfoge which could be regarded only as an insult.
If she would but let him have Silesia, he would, he
said, stand by her against any power which should try
to deprive her o£ her other dominions ; as if he was
not already bound to stand by her, or as if his new
promise could be of more value than the old one.

It was the depth of winter. The cold was severe,
and the roads heavy with mire. But the Prussians
pressed on. Resistance was impossible. The Austrian
army was then neither numerous nor efficient. The
small portion of that army which lay in Silesia was
unprepared for hostilities. Glogau was blockaded ;
Breslau opened its gates ; Olilau was evacuated. A
few scattered garrisons still held out; but the whole
open country was subjugated : no enemy ventured to
encounter the King in the field ; and, before the end
of January, 1741, he returned to receive the congratu-
lations of his subjects at Berlin.

Had the Silesian question been merely a question
between Frederic and Maria Theresa, rt would be im-
possible to acquit the Prussian King of gross perfidy.
But when we consider the effects which his policy pro-
duced, and could not fail to produce, on the whole
community of civilised nations, we are compelled to
pronounce a condemnation still more severe. Till he
began the war, it seemed possible, even probable, that
the peace of the worid would be preserved. The
plunder of the great Austrian heritage was indeed a
strong temptation ; and in more than one cabinet ambi*
tious schemes were already meditated. But the treaties
by which the Pragmatic Sanction had been guaranteed
were express and recent To throw all Europe into
tonfusion for a purpose clearly unjust, was no light



Digitized by VjOOQIC



170 FREDERIC THE GREAT.

matter. England was true to her engagements. The
voice of Fleury had always been for peace. He had a
conscience. He was now in extreme old age, and was
unwilling, after a life which, when his situadon was
considered, must be pronounced singularly pure, to
carry the fresh stain of a great crime before the tribu-
nal of his God. Even the vain and unprincipled Belle-
Isle, whose whole life was one wild day-dream of con-
quest and spoliation, felt that France, bound as she
was by solemn stipulations, could not, without disgrace,
make a direct attack on the Austrian dominions.
Charles, EUector of Bavaria, pretended that he had a
right to a large part of the inheritance which the Prag-
matic Sanction gave to the Queen of Hungary ; but
he was not sufficiently powerful to move without sup-
port. It might, therefore, not unreasonably be expected
that, after a short period of restlessness, all the poten-
tates of Christendom would acquiesce in the arrange-
ments made by the late Emperor. But the selfish
rapacity of die King of Prussia gave the signal to his
neighbours. His example quieted their sense of shame.
His success led them to underrate the difficulty of dis-
membering the Austrian monarchy. The whole world
sprang to arms. On the head of Frederic 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 moun-
taineers who were slaughtered at CuUoden. The evils
)>i*oduced 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
dcf<»id, black men fought on the coast of Coromandel,
and red men scalped each other by the Great Lakes of
North America.



Digitized



byGoogk



FREDERIC THE GREAT. 171

Silesia had been occupied withoat a battle ; bat the
Austrian troops were advancing to the relief of the
fortresses which still held out. In the spring Frederic
rejoined his army. He had seen little of war, and had
never commanded any great body of men in the field.
It is not, therefore, strange that his first mihtary opera-
dons showed little of that skill which, at a later period,
was tlie admiration of Europe. What connoisseurs say
of some pictures painted by Raphael in his youth, may
be said of this campaign. It was in Frederic's early
bad naanner. Fortunately for him, the generals to
whom he was opposed were men of small capacity.
The discipline of his own troops, particularly of the
infantry, was unequalled in that age ; and some able
and experienced officers were at hand to assist him
with their advice. Of these, the most distinguishe<l
was Field-MarAal Schwerin, a brave adventurer of
Pomeranian extraction, who had served half the gov-
ernments in Europe, had borne the commissions of the
States General of Holland and of the Duke of Meck-
lenburg, had fought under Marlborough at Blenheim,
and had been with Charles the Twelfth at Bender.

Frederic's first battle was fought at Molwitz; and
never did the career of a great commander open in a
more inauspicious manner. His army was victorious.
Not only, however, did he not establish his title to the
character of an able general ; but he was so unfortu-
nate as to make it doubtful whether he possessed the
vulgar courage of a soldier. The cavalry, which he
commanded in person, was put to fh'ght. Unaccus-
tomed to the tumult and carnage of a field of battle, he
lost his self-possession, and listened too readily to those
ffho urged him to save himself. His English grey
carricrl him many miles from the field, while Schwerin,



Digitized by VjOOQIC
J



172 FREDERIC THE GREAT.

though wounded in two places^ manfully upheld the
day. The skill of the old Field-Marshal and the stead-
iness of the Prussian battalions prevailed ; and the
Austrian army was driven from the fidd with the loss
of eight thousand men.

The news was carried late at night to a mill in which
the King had taken shelter. It gave him a bitter pang.
He was successfiil ; but he owed his success to dispo-
sitions which others had made, and to the valour of
men who had fought while he was flying. So unprom-
ising was the first appearance of the greatest warrior of
that age.

The battle of Molwitz was the signal for a general
explosion throughout Europe. Bavaria took up arms.
France, not yet declaring herself a principal in the
war, took part in it as an ally of Bavaria. The two
great statesmen to whom mankind had owed many
years of tranquillity, disappeared about this time from
the scene, but not till they had both been guilty of the
weakness of sacrificing their sense of justice and their
love of peace to the vain hope of preserving their
power. Fleury, sinking under age and infirmity, was
borne down by the impetuosity of Belle-Isle. Walpolo
retired from the service of his ungrateful country to his
woods and paintings at Houghton ; and his power
devolved on the daring and eccentric Carteret. As
were the ministers, so were the nations. Thirty years
during which Europe had, with few interruptions, en-
ioyed repose, had prepared the public mind for great
military efforts. A new generation had grown up,
which could not remember the siege of Turin or the
slaughter of Malplaquet ; which knew war by nothing
but its trophies ; and which, while it looked with pride
on the tapestries at Blenheim, or the statue in the Place



Digitized



byGoogk



FREDERIC THE QREAT. 178

of Victories, little thought by what privations, by what
waste of private fortunes, by how many bitter tears,
conquests must be purchased.

For a time fortune seemed adverse to the Queen of
Hungary. Frederic invaded Moravia. The French
and Bavarians penetrated into Bohemia, and were
there joined by the Saxons. Prague was tak^i. The
Elector of Bavaria was raised by the suffrages of Ins
colleagaes to the Imperial throne, a throne which the
practice of centuries had almost entitled the House of
Austria to regard as a hereditary possession.

Yet was the spirit of the haughty daughter of the
Csesars unbroken^ Hungary was still hers by an un-
questionable title; and although her ancestors had
found Hungary the most mutinous of all their king-
doms, she resolved to trust herself to the fidelity of a
pe<^le, rude indeed, turbulent, and impatient c£ oppres-
sion, but brave, generous, and simple-hearted. In the
midst of distress and peril she had given birth to a son,
afterwards the Emperor Joseph the Second. Scarcely
had she risen from her coach, when she hastened to
Presburg. There, in the sight of an innumerable mul-
titude, she was crowned with the crown and robed with
tl^ robe of St. Stephen. No spectator could restrain
his tears when the beautiful young mother, still weak
from child-bearing, rode, after the fashion of her fathers,
up the Mount of Defiance, tmsheathed the ancient
sword of state, shook it towards north and south, east
and west, and with a glow on her pale fece challenged
the four comers of the world to dispute her rights and
those of her boy. At the first sitting of the Diet she
appeared clad in deep mourning for her father, and in
pathetic and dignified words implored her people to
support her just cause. Magnates and deputies sprang



Digitized by VjOOQIC



174 FREDERIC THE GREAT.

Up, half 'irew their sabres, and with eager voices
vowed to stand by her with their Uves and fortunes.
Till then her firmness had never once forsaken h^
before the public eye ; but at that shout she sank down
upon her throne, and wept aloud. Still more touching
was the siglit when, a few days later, she came before
the estates of her realm, and held up before them the
little Archduke in her arms. Then it was that the
enthusiasm of Hungary brdce forth into that war-cry
which soon resounded throughout Europe, ^^ Let us
die for our King, Maria Theresa I "

In the mean time, Frederic was meditating a change
of poUcy. He had no wish to raise France to supreme
]>ower on the Continent, at the expense of the house
of Hapsburg. His first object was to rob the Queen
of Hungary. His second object was that, if possiblev
nobody shoukl rob her but himself. He had entered
into engagements with the powers leagued against
Austria ; but these engagements were in his estimation
of no more force dian the guarantee formerly giv^n to
the Pragmatic Sanction. His plan now was to secmre
his share of the plunder by betraying his accomplices.
Maria Theresa was little indined to listen to any sudi
compromise ; but the English government represented
to her so strongly the necessity of bu}ring off Frederic,
that she agreed to negotiate. The negotiation would
not, however, have ended in a treaty, had not the arms
of Fredmc been crowned with a second victory.
Prince Charles of IxMraine^ brother-in-law to Maria
Theresa, a bold and active, though unfortunate general,
gave battle to the Prussians at Chotusitz, and was de-
feated. The King was still only a learner of the mih-
tary art. He acknowledged, at a later period, that his
success on this occasion was to be attributed, not at all



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 13 of 84)