Monday, 10 August 2015

METTERNICH: NAPOLEON'S BANE

Of Metternich, the Austrian statesman who had nearly, perhaps quite, as much to do with the downfall of Napoleon as our own Pitt or Wellington; who was regarded during the first half of the nineteenth century by the Liberals of Europe as a Machiavellian reactionary, zealously re-forging for Continental peoples the chains of religious and political authority which the French revolution had burst; who was, next to Napoleon, the greatest personal force in the international politics of the post-revolutionary period—of this man, as interesting in his private life, as he was influential in his public policy, there has hitherto been no English biography at all adequate to his place in history. In fact, the only "life" of him worth mentioning with which we are acquainted is that written by G. B. Malleson more than twenty years ago for the "Statesmen Series." and that was no more than a highly condensed text-book. A young Oxford historian, Sir. G. A. C. Sandeman, has now attempted, "without pretending to produce any new facts, or to expound any original theories," to give in a comparatively short volume a trustworthy sketch of Metternich's life from the domestic as well as the official side. ("Metternich," by G. A. C. Sandeman. London: Methuen; Melbourne: George Robertson and Co.) 

In the main Mr. Sandeman is to be congratulated upon the manner in which he has performed the task he set before himself. His sketch is clearly based on wide and intelligent study of German authorities, and of contemporary documents, as well as of English historical works dealing with the times in which Metternich played his part upon the world's stage. He has not over loaded his pages with dry details, but he has provided excellent concise summaries of the wars and diplomatic struggles which formed, so to speak, the setting of Metternich's career. At the same time he has avoided the bald and categorical method of a text book, and put in enough descriptive and anecdotal decoration to attract readers who are not professed historical students.

Clement Metternich was essentially a child of the eighteenth century. Born in 1773, he was brought up under the old-world conditions of absolutism in politics, cast-worship in society, and polished artificiality in manners and conduct—conditions which received their death-blow when French mobs captured the Bastille, invaded Royal palaces, legislative assemblies, and courts of justice, and gloated over the executions of King, Queen, aristocrats, and even moderate Republicans. Throughout his life he remained true to the eighteenth-century type, essentially artificial as it was in its loves and its politics, its wigs and its wars, its complexions and its diplomacy. As Mr. Sandeman, who judges him anything but harshly on the whole, admits, Metternich somehow leaves a bad taste in the mouth:—"Attractive, talented, and always socially successful, he nevertheless gives the impression of always posing for effect, or pleasing for an object. He was painfully self-complacent. He was a strange mixture of domestic affection and domestic infidelity, of apparent strength and real weakness, of firm principle and gross inconsistency. He intermingled politics with pleasure, concerts with conferences, women with work." With him Clement Metternich always came first, the Hapsburg dynasty next, and then, more and more remote, the Austrian Empire and the German Fatherland. His family, an ancient and renowned one, had in latter generations gained wealth and position by holding posts under the Austrian Government. His father looked to the Emperor's favour for continuance in offices, which meant, for one so extravagant, if not actual means of livelihood, at least the only chance of keeping together the remnants of large ancestral states. Thus Clement Metternich was, so to speak, born a courtier and a believer in personal rule. It was only natural that such a man, however much he may have been, as he himself insisted, a friend of liberty, and a sympathiser with progress, should incline, not only in the routine work of administration, but upon all critical occasions, when a decisive choice had to be made, to the side of cautious conservatism, and should desire above all to maintain in operation the principles of the old regime.

About the time of Metternich's birth, the German courts, great and small, were thoroughly French in tone, and many of their rulers attracted, as even the autocratic Frederick the Great was at one time, by the liberal ideas of the French philosophers who made ready the intellectual pathway of the coming Revolution, had sought to govern as "benevolent despots" for the benefit of their subjects. From princes and courtiers the liberal ideas were filtering through to the peoples at large, but as yet the ruling classes had no fear that the people themselves might wish to take charge of legislation and work out their own salvation. This in a special sense was true of Austria, of which Mr. Sandeman remarks:—

"Nowhere was bureaucracy so stolid and immutable; nowhere was dynastic tradition so strong; nowhere was the aristocracy so proud. There would be no yielding here to the forces of Liberalism,any more than there would be in Prussia, bound by the iron military discipline of Frederick the Great. As a matter of fact, there was to be no struggle with Liberalism in Germany until after the struggle with revolutionary France. A great and unscrupulous intellect curbing the turbulent elements of revolution made use of the patriotism and fervour which that revolution had awakened to unite the French people under the banner of ambition. In face of this overwhelming peril, German Liberalism was merged in German patriotism. In Austria and Prussia alike, the aspirations of the masses were, for the moment, turned to the defence of their Fatherland. When all was over patriotism in turn assumed the guise of Liberalism, but statesmen for the most part still lived in the eighteenth century. Even gratitude could not induce them to grant the masses a voice in affairs. Then came an era of spasmodic and almost universal eruption. Rulers thought they were fighting the remnants of this Revolution; they were really kicking against the pricks of Liberty. And in the end the people won."
   Thus succinctly does Mr. Sandeman describe the historical framework in which Metternich's career was set. His diplomatic successes just before and during the overthrow of Napoleon's power brought Metternich fame and authority. Then for a long period of years Austria became, under his skilful guidance, the leading power not only in Germany but in Continental Europe. Though neither cruel nor consciously a reactionary, Metternich had a consuming dread of revolution and all that was associated with it, and consequently he opposed, often with stern severity, everything that might be construed as a manifestation of it. Liberalism, in its constitutional form, he mistook for such a manifestation, and he struggled against it in the Austrian dominions, in Germany, and, as far as he could, by diplomatic action in every Continental country. It was this horror of revolution that brought him into conflict with the national spirit of Hungary and of Italy, and, at last with the popular sentiment of Austria proper. As a result, the man who had, after Waterloo, had the chief say in determining the general policy of the European powers, was, in 1848; driven from office and ultimately into an exile of three years by popular risings in both Austria and Hungary. Metternich's, career, as Mr. Sandeman points out, may be summed up under two heads. In the first place, it was a successful struggle for Austria and Europe against Napoleon and the French Revolution. In the second place, it was an unsuccessful struggle against Liberalism, which was in reality the inevitable claim of the people to a share in their own government, but which Metternich, with his eighteenth century traditions, never ceased to regard as the French Revolution under a new guise, as a destructive agency against which all the champions of order must range themselves. 

After attending courses at the Universities of Strasburg, Mainz, and Brussels successively, Metternich received his first diplomatic appointment at The Hague, whence he was afterwards promoted to Dresden. At the Saxon capital he struck up a friendship with the eccentric English ambassador, Hugh Elliot, who had been sent to Dresden after losing his post at Copenhagen because he declared war on Denmark on his own responsibility. Elliot used to boast to Metternich that he always had news to send home to his Government. "If I do not know of anything," he would say, "I invent my news, and contradict it by the next courier." A representative of the "yellowest" of American journals, could do no more. Even at this early stage Metternich showed a wonderful capacity for combining business and pleasure. He had numerous love affairs, but most of them were with ladies who had political influence that might be used to his advantage, or who could supply him with information on affairs of State gathered from husbands, or other lovers. From Dresden in turn Metternich was moved to the important post of Austrian representative at Berlin, where, in 1805, he had to conduct difficult negotiations with the vacillating King of Prussia, who hesitated to join Austria against Napoleon until Austria had been crushed for the time being at Austerlitz. Strange though it seems in the light of after events, Napoleon was at this time personally favourable to Metternich, and it was at the French Emperor's request that Metternich was sent in 1806 as Austrian ambassador to Paris.

His embassy was from the outset a brilliant social success. Mr. Sandeman tells how "his old-world and stately dignity could not fail to impress the parvenu Court of Napoleon." Napoleon was then striving to bolster up his anomalous position as at once a military autocrat and a child of the Revolution by mimicking the manners and ceremonies of the old legitimate monarchy. Metternich made merry over these attempts to restore old royal forms, to build up by lavish expenditure a Court, and aristocracy fit to vie in splendour with those of Louis the Great. As usual Metternich sought and found favour with prominent ladies of the Court to which he was accredited. Among those with whom he contracted a connection closer than that of friendship was Napoleon's sister, Caroline Bonaparte,who afterwards married Murat and so became Queen of Naples. The manner of his first introduction to her exemplifies the rudeness with which Napoleon sought to conceal his awkwardness in society. Napoleon left Caroline and Metternich together, remarking to his sister as he went out, "Entertain this simpleton. We are wanted elsewhere." This brusque introduction was the beginning of a liaison which lasted down to 1814. In that year, when the armies of the Allies were invading France, Castlereagh, to his astonishment, came across some intercepted letters from Metternich to the Queen of Naples, not only giving her advice, but couched in terms of endearment. During the Paris embassy Metternich used his intimacy with Caroline Bonaparte to gain information which she wheedled out of Napoleon and brought to her lover. This was known to some, at any rate, of Napoleon's Ministers, for we find General Savary, chief of the confidential police, writing that Metternich had "the absolute disposal of a lady of whom Fouche has an indispensable need. Discretion," he added, "forbids me to name her." The advantage, however, of these amorous stratagems does not appear to have been all on Metternich's side, for Fouche and Talleyrand in their turn used Caroline as a source of information about Austrian plans.       

The Paris embassy ended with the renewal of war between Austria and France in 1809. When Metternich got back to Vienna that capital was already in Napoleon's hand, and for a time he was held a prisoner. Upon his release be made straight for the headquarters of his master, the Emperor Francis, who welcomed him cordially, and ordered him to remain at his side as a political adviser for the rest of the campaign. Thus Metternich was present at the disastrous battle of Wagram, which reduced Austria to a state of something very like vassalage to Napoleon. It was soon after the signature of the Treaty of Vienna, which closed this war, that Metternich became Chancellor of the Austrian Empire and Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is probable that his appointment was meant in part as a sop to Napoleon, who did not foresee in the astute diplomatist the future engineer of his downfall. As a matter of fact, from 1809 until 1814 Austria, under Metternich's control, became ostensibly a friend of France. Metternich, who had been a strenuous advocate of war to the death against Napoleon, suddenly threw over the patriotic party, and became seemingly the servile partisan of the French Emperor. He had not abated his desire to free his country from Napoleonic domination, but he realised that in Austria's present condition any clashing with Napoleon's interests, or even with his caprices, would be suicidal. It was not that he adopted a genuinely Francophile policy, but that he entered upon. a Fabian game of waiting and watching. Peace and time were needed for the reorganisation of Austria's resources, and these could only be gained by judicious conciliation of Napoleon.  While outwardly professing friendship for Napoleon, however, Metternich was all the time steadily preparing the way for the day on which his master should be able to exact retribution from the Corsican adventurer.
   The story of the way in which Metternich duped Napoleon after the return from Moscow, until, at the critical moment, the sword of Austria was thrown into the balance against the French Emperor, albeit that he had, in the meantime, become the son-in-law of the Hapsburg Caesar, is too long to be told here, but it will be found related adequately in Mr Sandeman's volume.  Metternich's was not an heroic, nor even a morally defensible policy, but it was eminently prudent. His sacrifice of his master's daughter Marie Louise to a man whose very name she loathed was, Mr. Sandeman insists, and, what is more, proves,"no cowardly surrender to Napoleonic ambition." According to him—

"The Archduchess was the pawn, whose shifting started the long and deadly game in which Metternich schemed upon the chess-board of Europe to checkmate Napoleon. The history of the relations of Austria and France, from the Marriage Alliance to the battle of Leipsic, if read aright, forms an enthralling drama in which Napoleon became slowly but surely entangled in the toils of Austrian diplomacy, to be mercilessly overwhelmed when all the forces for his destruction had been marshalled."       

Mr. Sandeman, it may be mentioned, completely disposes of the unhistorical view of Metternich's attitude towards Napoleon's son, set forth by Rostand in his "L'Aiglon," which was played a few years ago here in Melbourne. The Emperor Francis was evidently very fond of his grandson, but it was obviously impossible to let him go free for fear of complications with France. No captivity, however, could have been pleasanter than that which the lad endured in the beautiful palace of Schoenbrunn. The sinister motives which Rostund attributes to Metternich in the appointment of the young Prince's tutors had no foundation in fact, and Mr. Sandeman declares that it is a "cruel libel" to accuse Metternich of pandering to the lad's vices, or encouraging him to indulge in excesses.
    It is somewhat of a shock to preconceived ideas, gathered from popular English historical works, to learn, as one does from Mr. Sandeman, that Metternich was no strong-minded statesman, pushing forward—now, by force now by guile—a consistent policy, in spite of all obstacles, but essentially a timid ruler, who did, no doubt, hate opposition, but yet never took the bull by the horns, being ever ready to abandon any particular plan at the least hindrance. In short, the real Metternich appears to have been a diplomatist rather than a statesman. It was in the duping of Napoleon that he won his greatest success, and, so long as the work before him was mainly diplomatic re-construction arising out of the disturbances caused by the Napoleonic wars, he contrived, not only to enhance his own reputation among his contemporaries, but, to make his country's prestige great among the nations. It was when broad sympathy with human kind, and constructive statesmanship, were demanded of him by the growth of Liberal ideas among the peoples of the Austrian empire that he failed. History presents us with a Metternich, not the awful ogre of a Rostand, but a very brilliant diplomatist, with, the manners of an eighteenth century exquisite, but without the breadth of mind or the moral courage to be a really great statesman.


The Australasian 29 July 1911

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