Page images

moved the obstacles to their execution, or could discover and remedy their defects, and changed them with the same precipitation as they were made. Hence he issued an amazing number of ordinances and rescripts, many of which being ill digested or ambiguous, were seldom carried into execution. Couriers were despatched upon couriers, counteracting preceding orders, and every new edict was modified or limited by additional decrees.

"With these principles, it is no wonder that his reign was a continued scene of agitation and disappointment. He himself bore witness to the folly, the inconsistency, and the impracticability of his schemes, when at the close of his life, he said, 'I would have engraved on my tomb: Here lies a sovereign, who with the best intentions never carried a single project into execution.'"*

Lord Brougham accounts it in some degree unfortunate for the fame of Joseph, that he came after so able and celebrated a personage as his mother, the Rex Noster of then enthusiastic Hungary. Unfortunate, too, it was for him, that the Empress Queen was resolved that her son, even when clothed by the election of the German diet with the Imperial title, should exercise none of its prerogatives during her life; and that so long after he had arrived at man's estate, he should be held in a kind of tutelage by that bold and politic princess. Having, therefore, finished his studies,- -as the noble lord goes on to say, "and perceiving that at home he was destined to remain a mere cipher while she ruled, he went abroad, and travelled into those dominions in Italy nominally his own, but where he had no more concern with the government than the meanest of his subjects; and from thence he visited the rest of the Italian states. An eager, but an indiscriminate thirst of knowledge distinguished him wherever he went; there was no subject which he would not master, no kind of information which he would not amass; nor were any details too minute for him to collect." Lord Brougham admits that nothing can be more praiseworthy than a sovereign thus acquainting himself thoroughly with the concerns of the people over whom he is called to rule; and even that the undistinguishing ardour of his studies can lead to little other harm than the losing time, or preventing the acquisition of important matters by distracting the attention to trifles. But Joseph's activity, complains his critic, was as indiscriminate as his inquiries, and he both did some harm and exposed himself to much ridicule by the conduct which it prompted: he must needs visit the convents and inspect the work of the nuns; nor rest satisfied until he imposed on those whose needle moved less quickly than suited his notions of female industry, the task of making shirts for the soldiery. "So his ambition was equally undistinguishing and unreflecting; nor did he consider that the things which it led him to institute might well be void of all merit in him, though highly important in those whose example he was following to the letter regardless of the spirit." Thus, to give a sufficiently far-fetched illustration, because the Emperor of China encourages agriculture by driving, at some solemn festival, a plough with the hand that holds at other times the celestial sceptre, the Emperor of Germany must needs plough a ridge in the Milanese, where of course a monument was erected to perpetuate this act of princely folly.

*Coxe's History of the House of Austria, vol. iii. ch. cxxx.

But of all his admirations, that which Kaiser Joseph entertained for the great enemy of his house, his mother, and his crown, is styled by Lord Brougham" the most preposterous." During the Seven Years' War, which threatened the existence of all three, he would fain, we are told, "have served a campaign under Frederic II.; and although he might probably have had the decency to station himself on the northern frontier, where Russia was the enemy, yet no one can wonder at the Empress Queen prohibiting her son from taking the recreation of high treason to amuse his leisure hours, and occupying his youth in shaking the throne which he was one day to fill. At length, however, the day arrived which he had so long eagerly panted for, when he was to become personally acquainted with the idol of his devotion. His inflexible parent had, in 1766, prevented them from meeting at Torgau; but three years after they had an interview of some days at Neiss, in Silesia, the important province which Frederic had wrested from the Austrian crown. The veteran monarch has well conveyed an idea of his admirer in one of his historical works, which indeed contains very few sketches of equal merit: I affectait une franchise qui lui semblait naturelle; son caractère aimable marquait de la gaieté jointe à la vivacité; mais avec le désir d'apprendre, il n'avait pas la patience de s'instruire."" And certainly, Lord Brougham observes, this impatience of the means, proportioned to an eagerness for the end, was the distinguishing feature of Joseph's whole character and conduct through life, from the most important to the most trivial of his various pursuits.*


While the proposed meeting at Torgau, in 1766, was the topic of European politicians far and wide, we find the Earl of Chesterfield thus discussing it, after his pungent manner, in a letter to his son: emperor, by your account, seems very well for an emperor; who, by being above the other monarchs in Europe, may justly be supposed to have had a proportionably worse education. I find, by your account of him, that he has been trained up to homicide, the only science in which princes are ever instructed; and with good reason, as their greatness and glory singly depend upon the numbers of their fellow-creatures which their ambition exterminates. If a sovereign should, by great accident, deviate into moderation, justice, and clemency, what a contemptible figure would he make in the catalogue of princes! I have always owned a great regard for King Log. From the interview at Torgau, between the two monarchs, they will be either a great deal better or worse together; but I think rather the latter, for our namesake, Philip de Comines, observes, that he never knew any good come from 'l'abouchement des rois.' The King of Prussia will exert all his perspicacity to analyse his imperial majesty; and I would bet upon the one head of his black eagle, against the two heads of the Austrian eagle; though two heads are said, proverbially, to be better than one."+ His lordship adds a wish that he had the direction of both the monarchs, that, under his inspiration, they might together deprive France of Lorraine and Alsace. He was a demonstrative admirer of Frederick the Great; and had his life been prolonged, we can fancy him eating his words, one by one (with no sour faces

* See Historical Sketches of Statesmen, &c., First Series, vol. ii. pp. 207-223, passim. (Edit. 1845.)

† Lord Chesterfield's Letters to his Son, No. 399; July 11, 1766.

the while), about Joseph's homicidal tendencies and training, and recognising in his imperial majesty that "great accident," a royal deviation into clemency and justice.

Another imperial monarch, by the way, exhibited a similar ardour of 'admiration for Frederick. This was the Czar Peter-Semiramis Catherine's worser half.}

Joseph himself, on the other hand, remembering Catherine and St. Petersburg in 1780, might say with Shakspeare's foolish knight, I was adored once, too. Joseph flattered the Czarina to the far end of her long tether, and humoured her to the high tip-top of her bent. She thought him a love of a man. She treated him as every inch a king. When they parted, Catherine was in a flood of tears; and on Joseph's stooping to kiss her hand, she fairly flung her arms about him, and hugged the Kaiser to her heart. When the Crown Prince of Prussia arrived, with a view to eclipse the departing emperor, and to win her majesty to Prussian rather than Austrian preferences, he found himself snubbed and coldshouldered, and indeed, before long, was told to be off-lest Russia, otherwise a coldish country, might become too hot to hold him. Joseph had made an impression which remained, and had adroitly approved himself on this occasion, to all comers, master of the situation. In manners and person, as well as political tact, he was every way in advance of the nephew of Old Fritz, whose unwieldy figure, awkward demeanour, and chilly reserve, invited nothing but odious comparisons, of which all the odium fell to the new comer's share. Nothing could be less to Catherine's mind, at this juncture, than to carry out the rule which bids courteous entertainers

Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest.

She did her very best to keep the Kaiser; and she did her second best to make a clearance, at once and for ever, of Frederick William. That she failed in the former, was all the better reason for carrying her point in the latter instance.

Joseph is described by Alison as an ardent reformer, a philanthropic philosopher, deeply imbued with the delusions of perfectibility, and impatient to change everything in the civil, religious, and military administration of his vast states; in the warmth of his benevolence, urging on many reforms neither called for by, nor beneficial to, his subjects.* Clarendon tells us of his restored master, that "the king had in his nature so little reverence for antiquity, and did in truth so much condemn old orders, forms, and institutions, that the objections of novelty rather advanced than obstructed any proposition. He was a great lover of new inventions, and thought them the effect of wit and spirit, and fit to control the superstitious observation of the dictates of our ancestors."+ There was no very close general resemblance (unless in bonhomie) between philosophic Kaiser Joseph and our Merry Monarch, but in this weakness for experimental innovations imputed to the latter by his conservative Chancellor, the Kaiser had a plenary share. Mrs. Austin, who has some forcible remarks on Joseph's "humane, but rash and premature

History of Europe, vol. ii. ch. ix. § 49.

† Life of Edward, Earl of Clarendon, vol. iii.

[ocr errors]

attempts to force upon a backward people reforms which they were wholly unable to appreciate," pronounces the "tragical history of that illustrious martyr to a passionate, but most autocratic philanthropy, and an overestimate of the power of men to understand their own interests,' to be pregnant with instruction for all who think that good government can coexist with popular ignorance and stupidity. The present Duke of Saxe-Coburg has lately been learning this lesson, and reporting the result. One may apply the moral of La Fontaine's fable

O vous, pasteurs d'humains, et non pas de brebis,
Rois, qui croyez gagner par raison les esprits
D'une multitude étrangère,

Ce n'est jamais par là que l'on en vient à bout !
Il y faut une autre manière.†

It has been called a melancholy truth, as melancholy as it is certain, that the "abominable enterprise" of the Partition of Poland, in 1770, is the only one of all the Emperor's undertakings that ever succeeded. That partition was arranged at his second meeting with Old Fritz, which took place at Neustadt, the year after their original rendezvous at Neiss.

M. Ferrari, describing "Prussia, now become a monarchy," with its absolute princes, its debauchees, its boudoir philosophers, and its enlightened king, says of the latter, that he led on the free and federal opposition of the States of Germany to such a height, that the Emperor kept falling lower and lower still, and had hard work to hold his own, summoning to his aid the Magyars, Pandours, Croats, and ante-historical races in Maria Theresa's train. "Joseph II. avenges himself only in falling back upon his own monarchy, wherein, as chief of the despotic revolution, he declares himself first officer of the state, as though his subjects were merely stockholders in an immense joint-stock company. At his command, pens of servile independence make a digest of la monochomachie, wherein all the religious' of all times, all orders, all places, enter an appearance, one after another, like animals of divers races and of opposite habits: some uttering cries by night, others keeping silence, others travelling to and fro; some again cloister together; their plumage varies; a host of circumstances produces new diversities among them; and monasteries fall by hundreds before the ordinances by which this imperial pleasantry is dryly enough sustained."§

It was when Joseph II. had succeeded to the imperial throne and was employing himself in universal reforms, that Wieland produced his "Mirror of Gold"-described by Philarète Chasles as an ingenious piece of Utopianism, the mistakes and faults of which have been tested and condemned by time, that tests all things, and condemns so many. Wieland "deceived himself, like Joseph II., and like all speculative philosophers who would apply abstract theories to the government of men.' M. Chasles declares Wieland's philosophical romance to belong, like Plato's Republic and Sir Thomas More's Utopia, to "that class of impossible books which would be the ruin of the world, were the authors

[ocr errors]

* See Mrs. Austin's valuable work on "Germany," comprising her contributions on that subject to the Edinburgh Review. Lord Brougham

† Fables de la Fontaine, livre x. 11.
§ Ferrari, Histoire des Révolutions d'Italie, t. iv. xime partie, ch. iv.

of them to get a hearing." Joseph himself, adds the French critic,* perceived before long that in this world everything is compassed about with difficulties and drawbacks, that the smallest reform is only achieved with much pains, and that fresh abuses, calling for a new set of remedies, spring up beneath the reformer's tread. The poëte satirique, therefore, took up his pen anew, and set about girding at Joseph, whom he had previously cheered on; the continuation of the " Mirror of Gold" being a formal gibe at Joseph's premature civilisation, introduced, Wieland could now see and say, without art, tact, or common sense.

The difficulty with which the imperial reformer had to contend,-as a reviewer of Thompson's "Austria" has observed,-in his endeavour to give unity, and, in fact, a national character, to his dominions, can only be appreciated by a study of the mass of chaotic elements of which those hereditary dominions were composed. Even at that time, we are reminded, the Germanic Empire had declined into a mere ceremony,—and the cautious house of Habsburg-Lorraine was already preparing to transfer the supreme dignity to Austria. "Joseph began his plan of nationalising his possessions; and, as was natural in his case, he began from the purely German point of view, and wished to establish unity in a German spirit. The Italians, the Magyars, the Zeckse were dissatisfied. He told them plainly that he was a German, and that they must become German too. The use of the Latin language (the common tongue) was abolished in the courts of law, and German substituted. This created confusion. Claims of martyrdom were set up the bolder spirits resisted-an esprit de corps was generated in large masses." And thus it became a point of honour and of pride, we are told, to repress even the tendency to Germanise which had previously worked in silence, and with some success: the rival races made themselves more distinct than ever; and after years of endeavour the monarch found that his attempt had resulted only in sowing the seeds of mutual fear and jealousy amongst his common subjects,-and that, in place of the passive union formerly subsisting, it had introduced the elements of repugnance and future separation. And so, adds the intelligent writer we have quoted, "he gave up his work in sorrow and disgust."†


M. Villemain recognises the disciple of the French philosophes of the eighteenth century in Joseph II., ce monarque à la fois philanthrope et despote, who with imperious zeal protected the ideas of liberty, and yet carried into some of his reforms a something of real intolerance. the Brabant affair, for example, as an absolute prince he proved himself a tyrannical one; but he was influenced by the ideas accredited in Europe by French philosophy." Napoleon once defined Marcus Aurelius "a sort of Joseph II. on a larger scale, a philanthropist and sectary, holding intercourse with the sophists and ideologues of his time, flattering them, imitating them, and persecuting the Christians, just as Joseph II. did the Catholics of the Netherlands."§ An old Edinburgh Reviewer, in pursuit of his argument that a peculiar kind of treachery seems hereditary

*Etudes sur l'Allemagne, IV. Athenæum, 1849, No. 1118.

"Wieland et ses Contemporains."

Villemain, Tableau du XVIII Siècle, t. iii., leçon xii.

See the first volume of M. Villemain's "Souvenirs Contemporains" (1854), p. 155.

« PreviousContinue »