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in institution, the letter killeth. But the spirit, – the breath divine in our souls, the deep and living sense of religion in our hearts, underlying and quickening every thing else, this alone can make us men; this alone can make us preachers to men.
ART. II. — SPRINGER'S PERIOD OF REVOLUTIONS.
A Brief Survey of the Period of Revolutions (1789, 1848), in Public
Lectures at the University of Prague. By Dr. Anton HEINRICH SPRINGER. Prague: Published by Friedrich Ehrlich, 1849.
It is now eighteen years since this book was published in Germany, and it is not yet introduced to the American public; por has it, to our knowledge, found a translator into the English tongue. Theodore Parker, who first brought it to our notice, urged another friend to undertake the task of translation, and himself corrected the version of the opening chapters; but other engagements prevented the completion of the task. It is in the hope of bringing it to the attention of publishers and the public, that we present a review of its contents.
The history of the last century has generally been studied among us from the French or English point of view; and the strong conservative tendencies of the one nation, the intense nationality of the other, have given color to the views of their most liberal writers. To the more philosophic and broader mind of Germany, we may reasonably look for a better insight into the causes of events and the progress of ideas.
Dr. Springer's book was published in the year 1849, during the brief period before the re-action which followed the popu. lar movements of 1848. He does not pretend to speak as an indifferent spectator. He writes in the interests of a progressive humanity. He believes in the final establishment of the rights and freedom of all human beings. He claims to understand the revolutions of the past century, because he has
acted his part in the affairs of this ; because he has watched the same conflict of passions, has felt the same changes of hope and fear. He says, if his book has no other merit, it will at least have that of representing to posterity the thoughts and feelings of our time; the spirit which animated the youth of France, Italy, Germany, Hungary, in 1848.
But while this position and this sympathy give to his narrative the vividness of an eye-witness's story, and to his arguments the force of a personal appeal, he is no mere partisan or vulgar enthusiast. His scope of vision is wide, his work is truly ideal. He traces the events of history to no blind destiny, no controlling material force or individual caprice; but to the gradual development of ideas working out results in various forms, modified by all the material conditions of climate, locality, and race, and qualified by the individual characters of rulers and ministers. His style is clear, forci. ble, and idiomatic; and the interest of the narrative is sustained throughout.
In his view, the Period of Revolution dates not from the eighteenth century, but from the time of Luther, when the great incubus of tyranny was lifted from the minds of men by the Protestant Reformation. Then “the revolutionary element was almost exclusively developed in the religious world. Protestantism wished only to hear of ecclesiastical freedom, and obstinately refused to maintain its consequences also in politics; but the State nevertheless went through a thorough renewal at that time, which did not indeed establish freedom, but which did much to pave the way for her future reign."
At the period of the Reformation, national unity was not yet established, and confusion reigned throughout society. Absolutism was a necessary step in the progress of mankind; but, towards the seventeenth century, when this history opens, the work of absolutism was done, and corruption had begun and was in full vigor.
France stands in the foreground of nations. Full of ideas, passionate and quick in feeling, she has led the van of the revolutionary army. Her own great destiny among the nations is yet unfulfilled; but her agonies have not been all in vain. The imperial rule of Napoleon III. is like the silken bonds of love compared to the iron hand of her kings. We may sum up the spirit of this epoch in the conclusion of the kingly edicts of Louis XIV., "Car tel est notre plaisir.” A perfect machine, an all-powerful director: if executive force only be wanted, this is the perfection of a State. If the real king were there, if the whole value of the body politic were indeed centred in one will, nothing could be more simple and efficient. Unity of territory and of nation, and even a certain equality, the equality of nothingness before the law, are the benefits we owe to absolutism; and these were necessary before freedom could be established. But, unfortunately, instead of unity, we have one individuality, and all the rest sacrificed to it. Insecure in reason and justice, absolutism took refuge in superstition. The divine right of kings became the great argument for their rule. “God judges over gods, and these gods are kings,” says Bossuet. “He alone has the right to try their deeds and misdeeds.” Even Louis XIV. did not claim there was no higher law than the State.
But if the sovereign were a god in theory, he was often a poor fool in fact; and the government of cabinets was created as a substitute for the missing wisdom of kings. But the cabinets were no better than the princes. The story of the French court and monarchy is familiar, and we must pass it by. It is always instructive to dwell upon it, because such a false halo of military glory and intellectual brilliancy is thrown about the reign of Louis XIV.,- a man who left the country exhausted, with a State debt of four millions, and, what was worse, with the popular respect and affection for the royal government thoroughly undermined.
Under the Regent and Louis XV., royalty lost all remnant of dignity and respect. These shameful profligates so thoroughly disbelieved in virtue, that they did not pay it even the poor tribute of hypocrisy. We spare our readers any fresh description of that slough of licentiousness, of the parc aux cerfs, and the last days of Louis XV. But, even in his lifetime, public opinion had begun to assert itself in the saloons of France; and, before the revolution broke out, the people of Paris already determined the policy of Versailles:
“In the American war of freedom, France took the part of the republic on the other side of the ocean; the most absolute of monarchs was the ally of a free State, and the Quaker Franklin entered the parquettes of Versailles, in plain dress, admired and idolized by the courtiers themselves, and fêted by the ministers of an absolute monarch for his struggles against tyranny. Absolutism had already lost its balance.”
Turn for a moment to the other extreme of society. While the king expended a hundred millions — some say even more — on the infamous parc aux cerfs, whose very existence, says Dr. Springer, “was enough to make the most patient subject a rebel," more than a million of beggars wandered about the country; hunger ruled everywhere, and the national welfare of the people was almost extinguished. At this very time the king speculated in corn for the benefit of his private purse, and was connected with those who made the market artificially dear. It is well to brush away the mist of false glory about kings, and show them mean as well as cruel. Almost all literature, even our children's books, hold up to our sympathy the sufferings of the emigrant nobles during the French Revolution; but who has painted the miseries of the French peasant? Fact is too mighty for the dull pen of the novelist, who must gild his pages with the false glitter of aristocratic splendor. Margaret Fuller said, “ Louis XIV. was the most vulgar of gentlemen." Surely, if to seek base ends by base means be vulgar, vulgarity belonged to the court; and nobility took refuge in the street in the days of Louis XV. This selfish old king had not even a common love for his offspring, and cared little for the ruin fast coming upon them. “Now I may get through this, being an old man," he said; "but my son must look to himself: après moi le déluge." The retribution came soon enough.
The condition of Germany was no better, – in one respect even worse:
66 While in France only one shoe pressed on all, ... the Germans found, every two miles, a new shoe pressing them; and these political divisions made any improvement of their condition almost impossible. Until towards the end of the empire, there were two thousand independent states in Germany, three hundred and twenty-four imperial governments, and one thousand four hundred and seventy-five dependent on the nobility. This condition broke the point of every popular movement, and lamed the power of the nation. Every step towards reform in Germany must pass over two thousand boundaries, in order to become universal. How much good could still adhere to it?"
In this condition of things, we see the importance of the work which absolutism accomplished for France. Germany yet struggles for that unity which can give it strength to maintain its rights when once gained.
Carlyle's powerful pen has described the court of Prussia so vividly, that we need only glance at it here to show how differently things look to a man governed by aristocratic prejudices and worshipping personal power, and to a thorough believer in Christian democracy. Dr. Springer says, –
“ The Prussian court, under Frederic William I., ... offers a refreshing contrast to the shameful management in the other states. Household economy and morals were cared for in an exemplary manner, and especially the whole court housekeeping arranged in an honestcitizen style. But, with the love of show, the fine setting of culture also disappeared, and the Prussian court wore a quarrelsome, coarse, barbaric air.”
Absolute and harsh as he was, he used his power for what he deemed the good of his subjects and of Prussia. He was not hated by his subjects, and his activity was of great profit to his country. But the price was dear which was paid for economic welfare. There was no freedom, but a guardianship extending down to the minutest particulars of private life. “Even the permission to breathe must be got from the king."
This period of decay and corruption in Western Europe saw the birth of the great Northern Colossus, – the Russian
TOL. LXXXIII. — NEW SERIES, vol. IV. NO. 11.