1. Works of Thomas Carlyle (by Thomas Carlyle, 1848)
2. History of Friedrich II., called Frederick the Great. (by Thomas Carlyle 1858-65)
The conclusion of the History of Frederick the Great, the most elaborate of Mr. Carlyle's books, appears to afford a good opportunity, not only for reviewing that work as a whole, but for making some observations on the other works of its author, and on the general characteristics of his literary career, which has now been extended over upwards of forty years. The following list of the books contained in Messrs. Chapman and Hall's collected edition is curious in itself, and will appear, upon examination, to throw very considerable light upon the nature of his career:—
These works naturally fall into three main divisions. The first set include the translations from the German, the Life of Schiller, and a considerable number of the more important miscellaneous essays, which also relate to German authors. Sartor Resartus is, as it were, the final result and personal application of these studies. The next set includes Chartism, Hero Worship, Past and Present, and the Latter-day Pamphlets. Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches and the History of Frederick II. form the third class; and the Life of Sterling stands by itself, and has an interest of its own. It throws greater light than all the rest on the personal history, feelings, and character of its author.
Translation of Wilhelm Meister . . . . 1814 Life of Schiller . . . . 1825 Translations from Tieck, &c . . . . 1827 Four vols. of Miscellaneous Essays . . . . 1827-40 Sartor Resartus . . . . 1831 French Revolution . . . . 1840 (?) Chartism . . . . 1840 Hero-Worship . . . . 1840 Past and Present . . . . 1843 Cromwell . . . . 1845-48 or '9 Latter-day Pamphlets . . . . 1850 Life of Sterling . . . . 1851 Frederick the Great . . . .1858-65
Between these three sets of books there is a real and close connexion; and well as they are, no doubt, known to most of our readers, we will try to point out what it is.
The earliest works of all, the Life of Schiller and the German translations, must, no doubt, have been written when their author was quite a young man, and it is easy to see from them what a revelation German literature was to him. His reviews of Goethe, Novalis, and others, but especially his reviews of Richter, are those of an admiring student and disciple; and though there was that in him which there never yet was in any German whatever (if so wide a proposition may be permitted to any human creature), it is abundantly clear that not merely his style, but the whole tone and temper of his mind and cast of his opinions, were most deeply influenced by these studies. It would appear that they were the foundation on which rested his fundamental theories about life and its affairs, his religion, if the word be used in a wide untechnical sense.
Sartor Resartus is the nearest approach which he has ever made to a systematic statement upon this subject. He was, however, too much of an Englishman, and far too deeply imbued with the busy and practical spirit of the age in which he lived, to rest satisfied with the mere investigation or organisation of principles. Practice was to the full as valuable to Mr. Carlyle as theory, and the problem which specially engaged his attention, and on which he brought his general theories to bear was pre-eminently practical. It was the great social and political problem of the age. How ought England to be governed, and for what purposes? and above all, how ought the great question as to the condition of the poor to be dealt with? The History of the French Revolution no doubt forced these thoughts upon his mind, and he expressed them in what we have described as the second class of his works—Chartism, Hero-Worship, Past and Present, and afterwards in lie Latter-day Pamphlets. It is obvious enough, and has been repeated almost ad nauseum, that these works, with the exception of the Latter-Day Pamphlets only state, and that not in the most satisfactory manner, a problem which they do not even attempt to solve. It is obvious enough to every impartial reader, that no one could feel this more deeply than their author. He admits continually, in a thousand forms, that he has not the special knowledge which will enable him to make specific suggestions; he expresses in various ways his contempt for such suggestions, and his belief that the disease over which he laments is too deep to be reached by any 'Morrison's Pill' remedy, and he maintains that it is to secured only by a radical change in lie whole spirit of our lives and institutions. This seems to form the point of connexion between the second and third class of his works. In his histories, he reflects that others have had to deal with modifications of the same problem, and that, for practical purpose, example and sympathy are of far greater efficacy than mere theory; hence he takes up historically the great problem which had fascinated him. How did Cromwell govern this country? How did Frederick play his part as king, and elevate Prussia into a great nation, not by leaving it to itself, but by the most active and persistent government? The letters and Speeches of Cromwell and the History of Frederick are the answers to these questions.
Such appears to us to be, in general terms, the relation between Mr. Carlyle's different writings. They disclose, first, his general principles and views; next, his estimate of the political and social condition of his own time and country; and lastly, his conception, thrown into the narrative form, of the true path to be taken, and of the conditions under which better things may be hoped for. Of course it would be highly pedantic to affect to make any marked distinction between these different classes of writings. Each book has its own object and its own unity; and the author is much too considerable a writer, and far too great an artist, to neglect that fact in order to strain them so as to subserve any special purpose. Still this general vein does run through them all, and does give them a general unity. At all events, it affords a convenient classification for the purpose of making some observations—first, on Mr. Carlyle's general principles; secondly, on his view of the social and political condition of the country; and thirdly, on his view of the light thrown upon it by those passages of history which ho has treated in detail, and specially by his history of Frederick the Great.
First, then, let us shortly consider the nature and chief articles of Mr. Carlyle's general creed. It is expressed over and over again in almost everything that he has written, and is embodied in his very style and habitual terms of expression in a manner as vivid and impressive as it is unsystematic. Sartor Resartus, perhaps, approaches more closely to a systematic exposition of it than any other of his works. His chief and fundamental tenet may be described in a single word. He is a Transcendentalist. He utterly rebelled in his youth, and down to the present time has persisted in his rebellion, against the ruling doctrines of the age, the doctrine, namely, which reduces knowledge to experience generalized, and morality to a system of utilitarianism, and which supplies kindred explanations of religion, beauty, and the other objects by which the human feelings are most deeply stirred. Nothing can exceed the scorn with which he repudiates, satirizes, caricatures, and tramples on these doctrines whenever he has reason to speak of them. Perhaps the best and raciest explosion of this sort to be found in his works is his summary of the pig-philosophy in the Latter-day Pamphlets. Even those unhappy persons who (like the present reviewer to some extent) hold these pernicious doctrines, must enjoy the manner in which they are handled. The passage is well known, but too much to our purpose to be left unquoted, as it exhibits to perfection the nature of the views from which its author revolts, and the sentiment under the influence of which he revolts against them.
1. 'The universe, as far as swine conjecture can go, is an immeasurable swine's-trough, consisting of solids and liquids, and other contrasts and kinds; especially consisting of attainable and unattainable, the latter in immensely larger proportion for most pigs.We have made this long extract because it sets in the clearest light Mr. Carlyle's contempt of the character of the system which he has to attack and protest against. Democracy and Utilitarianism, and all things connected with or related to them, are in his eyes the giant evil of the day, against which he is always, and in all legitimate ways, to make war. He carries on the war not by argument or by set refutation, but by ridicule, by irony, by indignant denunciation and counter assertion. It would be waste of time and space to attempt to give any analysis or compressed account of the attacks which he makes upon these views. Sartor Resartus, or at least the three chapters on the Everlasting No, the Centre of Indifference, and the Everlasting Yes, are a short history of the course by which his mind arrived at its settled principles. Herr Teufelsdröckh revolts against the established creed of his country, and falls fast into a state of indifferent dissatisfaction and terror. He then becomes calm: 'Suppose the worst is true,—suppose I am to die and be damned. I will take it at least like a man, and not tremble before it like a cur. What matter where, so I am still the same.' On this foundation he denies and repudiates whatever he considers false, notwithstanding the penalties usually supposed to be attached to such denials, and at last he is rewarded, as John Bunyan would have said, by a vision of the Celestial City, and the shining ones who walked there. He obtains a transcendental vision of goodness, of immortality, of eternal truth and justice, and of God who is the centre and essence of it all. The eternal world shines out in indefinite but real and indescribable splendour and truth, and seen in its light, he is enabled to look upon the world in which he lives with cheerfulness, with courageous resignation, and with an earnest desire to make it better, and to be on the side of the good influences which play upon it and against the bad ones. It is impossible, from the very nature of the case, that these views should be expressed in a definite manner. They run, as a matter of course into poetry and metaphor. He writes of 'the Destinies,' 'the writings on the marble tablet,' the Silences, and Eternities, and Immensities, us the ultimate ruling principles of life. A single specimen may stand for a thousand. In the Latter-day Pamphlets a group is introduced, 'under the summer beech-tree,' including an 'official law dignitary' and 'an ancient figure not engaged in smoking,' who observes, on the question of 'What to do with our criminals?'—' If we could do approximately as God Almighty does towards them: in a word, if we could try to do justice awards them . . . .' 'I'll thank you for a definition of justice,' sneered the official person, in a cheerily scornful and triumphant manner . . . . 'Well, I have no pocket definition of justice to give your lordship. It has not been quite my trade to look after such a definition. I could rather fancy it had been your lordship's trade, sitting on your high place this long while. But one thing I can tell you: justice always is, whether we define it or lot. Everything done, suffered, or proposed in Parliament, or out of it, is either just or unjust; either is accepted by the gods and eternal facts, or is repelled by them.' A vast deal of Mr. Carlyle's philosophy is fairly illustrated by this short specimen. He believes in Justice, in Right, in the Eternities, and the Silences, in God, in the soul. He does not believe in the pig-philosophy, or in democracy, which is its political equivalent.
2. 'Moral evil is unattainability of pig's-wash; moral good attainability of ditto.
4. 'Define the whole duty of pigs. It is the mission of universal pighood, and the duty of all pigs, at all times, to diminish the quantity of unattainable, and increase that of attainable. All knowledge, and device, and effort, ought to be directed thither, and thither only; pig science, pig enthusiasm and devotion, have this one aim. It is the whole duty of pigs.
5. 'Pig-poetry ought to consist of the universal recognition of the excellence of pig's-wash and ground barley, and the felicity of pigs whose trough is in order and who have had enough. Hrumph!
7. 'Who made the pig? Unknown; perhaps the pork-butcher.' (There is a perfectly sublime humour in this, especially when we consider that it has nothing to do with the subject).
8. 'Have you law and justice in Pigdom? Pigs of observation have discerned that there is or was once supposed to be a thing called justice. Undeniably, at least there is a sentiment in pig-nature called indignation, revenge, &c., which, if one pig provoke another, comes out in a more or less destructive manner: hence, laws are necessary, amazing quantities of laws. For quarrelling is attended with loss of blood, of life, or, at any rate, with frightful effusion of the general stock of hog's-wash, and ruin (temporary ruin) to large sections of hue universal swine's-trough: wherefore, let justice be observed that so quarrelling be avoided.
9. 'What is justice? Your own share of the general swine's-trough, not any portion of my share.
10. 'But what is my share? Ah, there, in fact, lies the grand difficulty . . . . My share is on the whole whatever I can contrive to get without being hanged or sent to the hulks.'
As the present reviewer, to borrow one of Mr. Carlyle's own phrases, has a good deal more sympathy than Mr. Carlyle himself with the pig philosophy, and also with democracy. It may be as well to go a little into the subject, and to state why and how far, notwithstanding this difference, we (to resume the common dialect) agree with Mr. Carlyle upon these topics, and what is the extent of our difference with him.
It is almost too trite a remark to be made that the great controversy between Platonists and Aristotelians, Realists and Nominalists, Locke and Kant, Mr. John Stuart Mill and Sir W. Hamilton, or by whatever other name it may be known, is the fundamental controversy which runs through nearly all intellectual subjects. It shows itself in every subject of human knowledge; for instance, in theology, in ethics, in jurisprudence, in mathematics, and in politics, and in its own proper and natural metaphysical form it is even now just as eager, as vivacious, and as attractive to all manner of men as it was in ancient Athens, and probably in the days when the Pyramids of Egypt were still new. Nothing but great ignorance or extreme presumption could induce any man to suppose that he could contribute anything of the least importance to the decision of such a controversy, if, indeed, any one seriously thinks that it is a controversy which in the nature of things can ever be decided. It is, however, not only possible, but, as it appears to us highly desirable, to make some observations on one particular aspect of the controversy, which, though highly important, has been much neglected.
The question at issue between the Transcendentalist and the Empiricist is, whether all our knowledge is simply generalized experience as the Empiricist affirms, or whether, as the Transcendentalist affirms, we have mental organs by the use of which we are able to affirm various truths of the highest importance, the truths which Transcendenalists do usually affirm being such as the existence of God, the distinction between right and wrong, and their universal obligation. The practical difference between the two schools, and the one which gives the controversy between them that tone of eagerness and something like indignation which it is apt to assume, consists in the fact that Transcendentalists always consider that if their doctrines were universally admitted, mankind would lead a nobler, more exalted life than they actually do loud, and would be free; from all manner of debasing and ignoble conceptions of their duties here and of their prospects hereafter, which are supposed to be the natural growth of Empiricism carried out to its full consequences in all the different departments of life. The controversialists on each side appear to us to do each other great practical injustice. Be the merits of the controversy itself what they will, we think it clear that they stand in need of each other, and that, though neither side is complete in its belief, each has got, hold of a truth which the other side ought to recognize. In order to explain this we will try to state shortly, and with special reference to Mr. Carlyle's writings, the strong and weak side of Transcendentalism and Empiricism respectively.
The strong side of Transcendentalism is, that it does act powerfully on the imagination and on the passions. It is an unquestionable fact that men are immensely influenced by the terms which Transcendentalists employ and of which they profess to justify the employment. The weak side of Transcendentalism is, that no Transcendentalist has ever yet succeeded in making a statement of his views which commands general assent. The Absolute and the Infinite, Faith, Beauty, Justice, Duty, and the like are words of power, but Empiricists have always been able to push their fingers through them. On the other hand, Empiricists can point to results the authority of which no one can deny. The multiplication table is true. Newton's Principia are true. The same may be said of large sections of physical philosophy, and of all results obtained and verified by the application of the approved methods of philosophizing. The most resolute Transcendentalist does not deny that his characteristic and cherished beliefs might be strengthened by further evidence. Theodore Parker, probably, stood alone in the assertion that the actual reappearance of the dead would add nothing to his conviction of the truth of the doctrine of a future state. The immense success and influence of Christianity, and of other religions resting on a basis of fact either true or taken to be true, are so many proofs of the vast importance of the empirical view of things in regard to religion and morals. If the fundamental propositions of both or either could be supported by proofs similar in kind to those on which physical science rests its claims to belief, it cannot be seriously doubted that this would both be and be fell to be a great gain to all who profess to be their friends. The weak side of Empiricism is an incompleteness which is inseparable from the early stages of every philosophy, and which may turn out ultimately to be inseparable from human knowledge and human thought when carried to its highest pitch. Incomplete, however, Empiricism most undoubtedly is upon the moral and religious side. It is far from having thoroughly answered the questions why men should be virtuous? what virtue consists of? and how A B is to know whether this or that is right or wrong? Its utterances are still more unsatisfactory upon the subject of religion, as to which it constantly has to say, 'Perhaps,’ and 'I don't know.' In the meantime life has to go on, men are continually called upon to act here, there, and everywhere, in regard to all manner of matters which cannot be properly managed without reference to topics on which the Transcendentalists speak in an unsatisfactory manner, and on which the Empiricists have nothing at all to say. I am tempted to lie or steal. Why should I refrain? Virtue and Justice forbid you, says the Transcendentalist. And what are Virtue and Justice? They are the writing on the Iron Tablets; the voice of the Eternities; I have no pocket definition of them; but unless you know them and do them they will vindicate themselves in an altogether frightful manner, &c., &c., says the Transcendentalist. In a word, he threatens and rages instead of answering. The Empiricist carries the matter a little further. Virtue is compliance with a system of rules calculated to produce happiness which consists of such and such elements. And why should I try to promote general happiness, even if I got over the difficulty of ascertaining in a satisfactory way in what it consists and what would promote it? You may, perhaps, be more or less hung, damned, and hated, all or either, by yourself and others, says the Empiricist. And suppose I choose to run my chance? Then take your chance and go about your business. This is an answer, but it hardly explains in a completely satisfactory manner all the questions that may be asked, especially if the questioner resolutely pushes home the questions—what degree of probability there is that he will incur the consequences suggested? who is to inflict them? and why his instructor thinks that they will be inflicted? Still, incomplete is the answer of the Empiricist is, is undoubtedly to the purpose, and is true as far as it goes; and what is more, it contains all, or at all events, most of the precise ascertainable truth which it is possible to state on the subject. Happiness is approximately a definite idea; so is punishment. No one can affect to misunderstand their meaning; and though a man may affect to despise and defy the penalties which the utilitarian system holds out, as a matter of fact they have a real and in exceedingly powerful influence, as far as they go, though they certainly do not, at all events, as usually stated, exhaust the topics to which they refer.
The case of morality, of which re have thus given a statement of the most summary kind, affords an excellent illustration of the relation in which, as it appears to us, the two great schools of thought ought to stand to each. The Transcendentalists are preachers, the Empiricists are philosophers. The object of the Transcendentalist is to excite the passions, that of the Empiricist is to give the theory of the doctrine which the Transcendentalists preach. Each function is necessary to the great object of human well-being on the largo scale, and there is really no reason whatever for their being opposed to each other. The Transcendentalist describes the majesty, the beauty, the superlative glory and worth of justice in a thousand ways. He tells men, with perfect truth, that they ought above all things to know and to do justice; that if they do not know it, it will make them know it; that an age which knows and does what is just is by that very fact happy and blessed above all other ages, and so on. This kind of language is of immense importance. In the hands of a man like Mr. Carlyle it may be made to come home to every heart, and to influence thousands upon thousands in the most powerful way in the direction of all that is most worthy of admiration, but it is not in reality opposed to the Empiricist philosophy any more than anatomy or chemistry is opposed to painting. The knowledge of a just man, the contemplation of a just act, excites in my mind feelings of admiration and awe, which are capable of being deepened and rendered habitual and influential over my conduct to an almost indefinite extent by the use of such eloquent and noble phraseology as Mr. Carlyle's, for men are to a great extent the creatures of habit and sympathy. But why need these impressions be in any degree disturbed by my learning that justice consists in adherence to fixed rules, framed so as to promote the general happiness? Would the study of anatomy destroy my delight in the beauty of the human face? or is there any reason why I shall cease to care about water as soon as I learn that it is composed of oxygen and hydrogen gas mixed in certain proportions? One thing is certain at all events, the Transcendentalist will no more be able to reform an unjust law by declaiming about justice without knowing what it means, than the painter will be able to cure a squint without the aid of the surgeon. On the other hand, a man will never fall in love with a mere anatomical plate, or admire a landscape which represents nothing but geological sections; and that, be it what it may, which eludes the anatomist or the geologist, and which is worshipped, indicated, passionately asserted in a thousand forms by the poet and the painter under the name of Beauty, marks the incompleteness but not the falsehood of science, and the sphere in which it stands in need of the assistance of art.
These considerations appear to us to show in what respects Mr. Carlyle has been unjustly treated by the Empirical school, and in what respects he in his turn has been unjust to them. It appears to us that there has been a great deal of injustice on each side. We shall best give our own estimate of Mr. Carlyle by attempting to give a notion of the kind and extent of each of these injustices. We will take first the injustice of the Empirical school to Mr. Carlyle. He is taunted with his inability to suggest practical remedies for the evils of which he complains. He is constantly treated as a mere visionary. His express doctrines are analyzed and declared to be contradictory or unmeaning. His continual employment of humour and irony is stigmatized as impertinence and affectation. In short, he is treated as a more pretender, or, as he would say himself, as a sham. All such criticism appears to us to be unfair, because it proceeds on a false notion of the part which Mr. Carlyle takes, and is fitted by nature to take, in the world of thought and literature. Let us take in turn the different accusations just specified, which are the most important of those which are brought against him, and try to appreciate their value.
First, it is said that he is a mere prophet of evil. A Jeremiah, who suggests no remedies for the evils which he points out in the affairs of the world.
This is in the first place no crime if it were true, and in the next place it is very far indeed from being true. No man is universal; and in a world which contains so strange a mixture of good and evil as the world in which we live, there is abundant room for the discharge of every sort of function. We want prophets of evil as well as prophets of good, for there is plenty for them to prophesy about. That the whole head is sick and the whole heart sore, and that there is no health in us, may be an exaggerated statement; but it is perfectly true and very important that we do suffer under a great variety of political, social, and moral diseases, and that those who point out their existence and insist upon the necessity of curing them do a great service. Every one no doubt has his bias; and the dyspeptic bias is certainly less agreeable to all parties—to those who have it as well as to those who hear the dyspeptic preacher—than the eupeptic; but Heraclitus has his place in the world as well as Democritus, and the unhappy Jeremiah requires a place in society as well as those who take a brighter view of life.
It is, however, very far indeed from being true that Mr. Carlyle is a mere Jeremiah, and that his lamentations have no practical issue or application. In point of fact his writings have produced a strong practical effect on many people, and are well calculated to produce such an effect. They are quaint and strangely-worded sermons on all the great moral virtues, Mr. Carlyle's object is to exhort his readers to truth, industry, fortitude, justice, belief and trust in God, and other things admitted by moralists of all times and countries to be the cardinal and fundamental virtues. That he does this in a most effectual manner, is proved by the immense influence and popularity which, in fact, he has acquired. That he has done it by the use of unusual phraseology, by startling figures, by an admirable employment of humour and imagination, by drawing attractive pictures of the virtues which he preaches, and showing the weak and ridiculous side of the contrary vices in the case of real men—all this is mere accident. Parables are the most impressive of all exhortations, and probably it would be hardly possible in any set discourse on the subject to give so striking an exhortation to manliness, vigour, and truthfulness as is conveyed by Mr. Carlyle in his account of Abbot Sampson in Past and Present. The portrait may or may not resemble the original, but its intrinsic value, considered as a sermon, does not depend on that. It depends on the vigour with which it sets before us the excellence and beauty of the characteristics which it holds up to our admiration. This is true of nearly every picture which Mr. Carlyle has ever painted of great, or even of inconsiderable men. His object always is to construct in his own mind, from such materials as are accessible to him, a picture of the living man as he really was; and when he has got him, he invariably enlists our affections on the side of what was good in him, with as much vigour as the most powerful novelist, and, as it seems to us, with a truth and force of moral sentiment which hardly any writer of fiction, at least in our days, has ever attained to. In all his voluminous writings there is probably not a line which ever did any one any moral harm. There are hundreds, nay thousands of pages, which have taught hundreds of thousands of readers to love and honour every form of virtue, especially the hardier and more active forms of it. This might be illustrated to any extent from every one of his historical or biographical works. The essence of all of them is the same. Here is Burns, Voltaire, Johnson, Rousseau, Cromwell, Napoleon, who you will. This was how he lived and worked. This was the net result of his activity in life. Thus and thus you may satisfy yourselves that in so far as he succeeded, in so far as his work prospered or lasted, it was because it corresponded with fact, and was done well, honestly, and with a true appreciation, express or tacit, of the conditions under which it had to be done. In every single instance, even in those cases in which his general dislike of the person of whom he is writing is greatest, Mr. Carlyle finds something to illustrate his belief in the immense value and beauty of every form of goodness. It is the theme on which he dwells so continually, that it becomes almost a trick with him. Surely this is a practical way of dealing with evils which, according to him, are in every case the companions at least, if not the result, of moral wrong-doings or shortcomings. His sermon, his practical advice to those whom he addresses, may be expressed in the most definite and practical of all possible forms. It. is shortly this—Here, there, and everywhere you are all labouring under a variety of evils which I point out to you, and present to your notice in the most picturesque and striking forms. If you want to cure them, you must begin by being sincere, active, truthful, energetic, and self-sacrificing yourselves, and you must learn to recognize these qualities in others when you see them, and to understand the different results which they and the opposite vices have ha fact continually produced in human affairs. That you may take this advice to heart, understand its bearing and see and feel how true it is; look here, and here, and here, and here, at the problems which have been solved by other men under other circumstances by the help of the very powers which I press you to exert. It is for special men to devise special remedies for particular evils. All that I can do is to point out to you the general means by which all the evils of human life must be remedied, if they are to be remedied at all. Surely if this is not practical teaching it is hard to say what is.
It is continually said, however, that Mr. Carlyle is a mere visionary, and that his style is a mass of affected singularity.
This accusation appears to us as unjust as the other. No doubt he is a Transcendentalist, and as such he labours under the difficulty of being, as he would say himself, semi-articulate. The leading doctrine of Transcendentalism, as Mr. Carlyle frequently says, is, that intellect is in the nature of insight or direct vision, and that the logical faculty is but a secondary subordinate part of it. The humble pig-philosophers would express this by saying that he attaches more importance to power and richness of perception than to the precision of its outlines. Undoubtedly this power is most important. Without good meat cooks are a nuisance. Unless the things which you see are the important and ruling elements of life, it is no great matter to be able to describe clearly to other people what you do see. If, on the other hand, you have your eye on what is permanent and of primary importance, much confusion of language, some tendency to paradox, and any quantity of mannerism are, after all, venial faults. What looks like affected singularity in Mr. Carlyle's style is the natural effect of his position. The strange language which he uses is used because it is the way in which he finds it natural to express the extreme depth, earnestness, and vivacity of his own feelings on the topics on which he writes. It is only by the use of humour and paradox that he can give full scope to his feelings. It is by these means alone that he can show how much he is in earnest, and that he can venture to introduce those occasional bursts of passion into his writings which form so prominent a feature in them. We should describe his style rather as restrained and studiously reticent, than as impertinent or affected. It is the style of a man who does not choose to let himself loose, and to give unrestrained utterance to all that is in his mind. There is no shrieking, or bewailing, or craving for sympathy in it. It is the style of a man of deep sensibility and great self-respect, who is continually saying to his readers, Laugh if you will. There is a ludicrous side to all this. I see and feel it as clearly as any one; but there are also deeper ways of looking at it—things to which I, for my part, attach intense importance, as you may see by every word I write, as much by my laughter as by anything else. Mr. Carlyle's writings almost always suggest that whatever strangeness there may be in his style was put there not by Mr. Carlyle himself, with a view to make an impression, but because that was the way in which the facts presented themselves to his mind. In his earlier writings there is also a dash of something apologetic. He writes as young men often do when they take to periodical literature, as if they felt it a sort of liberty to address the public at all, and were obliged to make special efforts to attract their attention; but by degrees his way becomes clearer before him, he appears to stand more firmly on his legs, and his style becomes what every good style ought to be, the genuine expression of the mind and character of the author, though it retains tricks which certainly deform it, but which, after a certain time, a judicious reader becomes used to, and allows for, just as he allows for the allusive style of Gibbon or the ponderous sentences of Johnson. After all, the singularities of Mr. Carlyle's style form a very small part of it. Some of them, as the use of 'this' and 'that,' are nothing more than Lowland Scotch, the like of which are to be found, for instance, in Chalmers. Otters, as the constant translation of the German 'ganz' into 'quite,' are relics of his early German studies, a much greater singularity forty years ago than they are now. After allowing, however, for these and many scores of other really unimportant matters, which might be brushed away without altering the substance of his works, what remains is a style, in some respects, of almost unequalled excellence. It is admirable for every purpose of description—nervous, natural, and vivid, to a degree which cannot be exaggerated. There is hardly to be found in the whole range of English literature a book which by mere power of style produced so great and permanent an effect as the History of the, French Revolution. The men, the nation, their works and ways, their creeds and their writings, stand before us with an outline so clear and brilliant, that we feel as if we bad known and lived with thorn. Probably several generations of Englishmen will take from Mr. Carlyle their notions of Mirabeau, Robespierre, Danton, and Louis XVI. The exquisite life and energy of these pictures is best seen by contrast. Compare the account of the flight to Varennes, or of the scene of the 10th of August, with the parallel passages in Lamartine. They differ as the conversation of a lively, well-bred man of the world differs from the declamation of a rather pompous and not first-rate actor. A style which has such merits as these must after all be taken on its own terms. Tricks of all kinds—such as twists of language, the frequent repetition of stock phrases (Dead-Sea-Apism, Wind-bag, &c.), the queer habit of quoting from unwritten books by non-existent authors, who are only Mr. Carlyle over again—are points in which, if such a man will indulge himself, he must indulge himself. If Doctor Johnson were still to be met with at the Club, who would object to meet him for fear of his making uncouth faces, or putting orange-peel in his pocket?
There is one singular and conclusive proof of the injustice of regarding Mr. Carlyle as a mere visionary, which has become much more prominent in his later works than it was in his earlier ones. In all English literature there is not to be found an instance of a historian who shows such industry and shrewdness in the investigation of matters of fact. No attorney preparing a brief for counsel could have taken so much pains to get legal evidence of every fact which could possibly be relevant to the cause, as Mr. Carlyle has taken to elucidate everything which can in any way be brought to bear upon the history of his various heroes. Indeed, one of the defects of the History of Frederick II., as it appears to us is, that too much trouble has been expended upon the details of it. This alone would be conclusive proof that whatever else he is, Mr. Carlyle is not a mere spinner of fine phrases which have no relation to practical life, and that whatever else may be said of his Transcendentalism, it is a real belief, founded on real facts, and held by a man who knows what facts are, and how to argue about them. There is a sort of Transcendentalism which people take to because it is the easiest of all forms of talking, and very poor stuff it is; but there is also another kind, which, however strange it may seem to those who incline rather (like ourselves) to the porcine view of things, does as a fact appear eternally true and intensely important to those who show in other ways that their intellects are thoroughly sound and vigorous, and Mr. Carlyle has given superabundant collateral proof of his possession of this soundness and vigour. This in itself ought to protect him from the charge of being visionary, so far as the charge is one which involves a censure.
To those who not merely defend, but admire Mr. Carlyle, his practical sagacity will probably appear one of the most characteristic features of his character. It is entirely in harmony with the whole of his philosophy, which might almost be described as fact-worship. To truth, to fact, to whatever is, and, as he says, thereby proves its right to be, Mr. Carlyle, to use his own language, is unflinchingly ‘loyal;’ and this reverence for truth expresses itself, amongst other things, in the keen sagacity with which he seeks out and sets in order the minutest scraps of it. The well-known controversy about the sinking of the Vengeur, which Mr. Carlyle had described in the early editions of his History of the Revolution in the usual way, and which, notwithstanding its picturesqueness, and notwithstanding the intercession of various admiring Frenchmen, he afterwards expunged, was one of the earliest proofs which he gave of this disposition. Every one of his subsequent books abounds in further illustrations of it.
The last point on which Mr. Carlyle is usually attacked by the Empirical school, is in relation to his specific doctrines which, they say, arc generally fallacies or paradoxes. For instance, that silence is better than speech, and that might is right, are doctrines of his which have been a constant source of attack, sometimes humorous, sometimes serious. Sterling said that he preached the doctrine of silence with a battery of cannon, and when one is told that might is right, there certainly is a strong temptation to ask which of the two it is intended to compliment. Does it mean that when I kill my father I merely seem to have the might to do so, because I have no right to do so? or does it mean that I have the right to do so because I have the might to do so? If the first, the proposition appears to add nothing to the meaning of the word right, but makes the word might unmeaning. In the second case it adds nothing to our knowledge of might, but makes right unmeaning.
Some excuse may probably be found for the unhappy swineherds who are puzzled by these considerations, but we think that there is nevertheless a way out of them. The fact is, that in each of these cases—and they are samples of several which might be mentioned —Mr. Carlyle has a real and important meaning, which it pleases him to throw into a paradoxical form. The silence which is said to lie golden is not the silence of sleep or stupidity, but the silence of self-restraint. Johnson, for instance, who passed his whole life in writing, is praised for his silence, and the meaning of the phrase apparently is, first, that ho did not write about himself and his troubles, and next, that he did not write upon subjects upon which it would probably have been pleasant for him, but not good for his neighbours that he should write. It is a great and a most important truth that there is a style of writing and talking, and a very attractive style it is, which is simply bad, and bad in proportion to its attractiveness. Most of the novels which idealize the author, such poems as the most popular of Byron's, in a word, appeals for sympathy and confessions of weakness of all kinds, ought never to be written at all. The same may be said of those rebellious ravings in which people kick against the pricks, and defy destiny. A man with a considerable gift of expression is under a great temptation to speak unadvisedly with his lips upon matters of this sort, and the self-command which enables him to hold his tongue is certainly a more valuable gift than the fluency which constitutes his temptation to speak. Indeed, Mr. Carlyle's favourite phrase is little more than an adaptation of a very high authority. 'If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.' A talent for silence involves this gift to a great extent. So far, we entirely agree with Mr. Carlyle's admiration of the gift of silence, which is compatible, be it observed, with talking and writing being the trade of the man who possesses it, and may be exercised by a barrister in large practice, or by a newspaper writer as well as by a ploughman. It must, however, be observed that he sometimes appears to mean something more than this. The contrast which sometimes occurs between clearness of inward perception or, as he would say, vision, and difficulty of articulate expression is undoubtedly picturesque, and it strikes Mr. Carlyle's fancy so forcibly that he seems to think that a difficulty in expressing oneself— such, for instance, as Cromwell's— is a positive intellectual or moral excellence, that it adds something, as it were, to the inner light which it conceals. This appears to us to be a fallacy into which Mr. Carlyle has been seduced by his passion for the picturesque.
As to the maxim that Might and Right are identical—that, too, has a meaning, and a most vitally important one, the denial of the truth of which would lead a man straight to the deepest kind of scepticism. The meaning of it appears to be, that the world is so constituted that, on the whole, and in the long run, truth and justice prevail, and are successful; that they are the principles on which alone men can permanently carry on their intercourse with each other. This is a sort of commonplace, the assertion of which would attract little attention. The peculiarity of Mr. Carlyle's way of looking at it is, that he believes it so firmly that he takes permanent and widespread success as evidence of the truth and justice of that which causes it; and in this, again, we think he is perfectly right, though if his mind had bad an analytical bent he would have taken the trouble to ascertain the conditions under which delusions may, as they certainly sometimes do, endure for a great length of time, and would have furnished us with some tests for distinguishing the sort of success and durability which affords evidence of the justice of a cause from that which not unfrequently goes along with gross falsehood and imposture. His History of Frederick II. affords a good illustration of the importance of this side of the problem. Silesia was an Austrian province, by wrong, says Mr. Carlyle, from the middle of the seventeenth to the middle of the eighteenth century. It then became, and has since been, a Prussian province. Why did the century of Austrian might prove nothing as to Austrian right; whilst the century of Prussian might is put forward as evidence of Prussian right? If Mr, Carlyle were able to reply—The Austrian rule never succeeded in assimilating Silesia to the rest of the Austrian empire, and was a military occupation, which came to an end as soon as a stronger than he bound the strong man armed who kept the house; whereas the Prussian rule has made Silesia, to all intents and purposes, a part of Prussia, as French rule has made Franche Comté and Roussillon parts of France—he would have answered the question. Whether he could say so in point of fact, we do not venture to say; but if he wished to prove as well as passionately to assert his doctrine about Might and Right, he ought to provide answers for such questions. The doctrine itself, strange as it may appear that such should be the case, is, in a slightly different form, one of the leading tenets of our porcine creed. Pig philosophy becomes coherent and systematic only by the assertion of the ultimate identity of truth and utility. Truth is to be pursued (according to that philosophy) unflinchingly to all lengths, notwithstanding any apparent and immediate sacrifices, because the widest and largest experience that we can form proves that lit, and it alone, is useful and good in the long run. Great as may be the temptation at particular moments to make your sum come right by counting 5 + 2 = 8, it will be better for you, in the long run, to make the sum equal to 7. Moreover, you will find that systems which do succeed, which do produce general happiness, for long periods of time, and, in a great number of cases, do so because they contain some degree of truth, and in proportion to the degree of truth which they contain. This is Mr. Carlyle's doctrine in other words. Indeed, no one, we imagine, would deny that in every controversy it is an enormous and unspeakable advantage to be on the right side If, then, there is a long and intricate controversy, the rights of which are not immediately apparent, and in which the parties are in other respects pretty equally matched, and if one side steadily gains upon and gradually overpowers the other, is it not at all events probable that the winning side is the one in which this vast hidden advantage lies? In common life, every one says so. Ask any lawyer whether any advantage in a lawsuit can be compared to the advantage of having a good case, and whether, on the other hand; if he knew nothing of the special merits of the case, he would not bet that the side which won in a cause thoroughly fought out, was the right side? Thus the ultimate and essential identity of might and right is a truth of vital importance, though it may be at times expressed by Mr. Carlyle in a paradoxical way. We have taken these doctrines as specimens, because they are perhaps more frequently attacked and ridiculed than any others; but we believe that analogous defences might be set up for most of the maxims which ho so pertinaciously preaches, and which are so frequently stigmatized as false or paradoxical.
Having thus tried to show in what respects Mr. Carlyle is unjustly treated by the Empirical school, let us look a little at the injustice of which Mr. Carlyle himself is guilty towards the poor pigs and their creed. It is in the second or practical division of his works that this injustice is most apparent, in such works, that is to say, as Past and Present, Chartism, the Latter-day Pamphlets, and, in a word, those which deal with the great question of the condition of England, and especially of the labouring classes. A very few words will be enough to recall to his readers the general outline of his views on these subjects. Benthamism, Political Economy, Laissez-faire, are the objects of his special detestation and unsparing ridicule and denunciation. Parliamentary debates, journalism, democratic government, and democratic institutions in general are a vain janglement and babblement. Our first right is to be ruled. Our first necessity is the hero who will take command of us, and load us gently, if it may be, but lead us at all events, in the direction of truth and right, and away from our present anarchy, our beaver-like energy, our aristocratic idleness and selfishness. Laissez-faire, Benthamism, and Democracy have brought us to anarchy, the slough of despond and the brink of the precipice. Nothing can set us to rights but the strong arm of some new Cromwell, who will be a real leader and king of men.
This sort of doctrine fills many volumes, and is well calculated to make a great impression on the imagination. Yet we think it is unjust and thoroughly false in fact. We assert, and will try to prove our assertion, that tried by Mr. Carlyle's own canons, Benthamism and Democracy, have a vast deal of truth in them, and have proved their right by might of the most undeniable kind, and that parliamentary debates, journalism, and the rest, are so far from being justly described as more janglement and babblement, that they, and the other things which Mr. Carlyle despises so heartily, constitute collectively a most vigilant, active, powerful, and benevolent government, which has done, and is doing in this country and elsewhere, one of the greatest works that ever was done in the world, and that in a way in which no Cromwell, Mahomet, or other individual hero could possibly do it, however much his heroism and kingship might be recognized by mankind.
In order to show this we must vindicate a little the leading principle of Benthamism and Democracy, which, as a matter of fact, has beat the guiding and ruling spirit of the government of this country for the whole of the present and during part of the last century. The 'greatest happiness principle,’ as Bentham delighted to call it (and there is by the way a curious analogy between Benthamese and Carlylese, and also between the characters of the two men, if we had time to draw it out), did not mean, in Bentham's works, or in those of his disciples, the personal gratification of each individual man. It was 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number.' It is very true that it is the weak side of Bentham's theories that he does not give sufficient prominence to the reasons which may and ought to induce men to try to further this object: but the question between him and Mr. Carlyle is as to the goodness of the object itself; and at the risk of being stigmatized as mere pigs, with no souls to speak of above the trough and its contents, we think that Mr. Carlyle would find it extremely difficult to deny either of the following propositions:—
1. A pocket definition of justice is essentially necessary to all practical attempts to introduce justice into the actual relations between men.
2. Adherence to rules of conduct founded on the principle of promoting the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the best pocket definition of justice yet propounded.
As a matter of fact this definition has been applied to a vast number of practical questions of the highest importance, and has produced results which Mr. Carlyle on his own principles ought to approve; and which he most assuredly would have extolled to the skies if they had been brought about, not gradually by parliamentary means, but by some Cromwell or Frederic, out of his own head, and in opposition to the wishes and prejudices of his time and country.
Let us take a few of them. Look, for instance, at the question of law reform. That in this department Benthamism has been triumphant, and had its way without opposition for about forty years past, no one with a competent knowledge of the subject will deny. Let us look a little at its results. Was it pleasing to the Immensities and the Eternities that men should be liable to precisely the same punishment for murder, for sheep-stealing, for stealing to the value of forty shillings in a dwelling house, for five shillings in a shop, and for breaking the dam of a fish-pond? That they should by way of compensation go scot free in a vast number of cases because juries would not convict them, and in a vast number of other cases because some microscopic defect was obscurely visible in some part of a most clumsy and elaborate proceedure? Was it pleasing to the Veracities and Eternal Facts that the process of judicially ascertaining truth should be such as to prevent it from coming to light, and to arm those who were interested in its oppression or perversion with a thousand effectual means of concealing it? Was it written on the iron tablets that a man who had landed property worth ten thousand year might run into debt with every tradesman who would trust him to the extent, say of fifty thousand, and that if he suddenly died his heir should be able to enjoy that state and repudiate the debts? Were the ecclesiastical courts, which granted probate of wills, and letters of administration to intestate estates, in the nature of owleries, enchanted wiggeries, and haunts of foul creatures swollen with fees to the extent of many thousands of pounds a-year, and if not, were there ever any institutions in the world which deserved such names? Was it vain janglement and babblement to spin out suits in Chancery to a monstrous length, and to use in conveyances and acts of parliament fifty words to express one thought? The despised pig philosophers were the persons who first succeeded in impressing on the world the fact that these things were unjust and monstrous, the reasons why they were unjust and monstrous, and the alterations which were required to put just things in their places, and this they never could have done if they had not devised their pocket definition of justice and applied it to the particular matters in hand.
Take another illustration. The only specific measures of social reform on which Mr. Carlyle insists are education and emigration. Who preached these things quite independently of Mr. Carlyle, in season and out of season, till they became positive bores to mankind? The Benthamites, the authors of the new Poor-law, the professors of the Dismal Science, men like Mr. Senior, Sir George Lewis, Sir James Shuttleworth, and others of similar views. Mr. Carlyle says that the new Poorlaw was only a half truth: no one knew that better than its authors. No one struggled more energetically or persistently to supply education, as the supplement to the Poor-law; to teach men to live like human creatures, and not like beasts, besides pricking and goading them into doing so. Teach men industry and self-reliance by your schools, force them into industry and self-reliance by your workhouses, was the doctrine of the pig philosophers. Has it not borne fruit? Do not the Gods and the Eternal Facts (if they have any sense in them) say Well done? Are not pauperism and crime too greatly reduced, and are not the rising generation, the working men of thirty-five years of age and under, better taught, better behaved, more of human beings and less of beasts than their predecessors? The answer to every one of these questions is notoriously Yes; and if you ask how the thing was done, the answer is that the pig philosophers, with their dismal science, contributed more to the result than any other body of men in England.
If proof is required of facts so notorious, look at the whole history of the growth of the system of popular education—a system which now embraces the bulk of the children of the poor, and which does give them, in a substantial way, a hold of the indispensable elements of all knowledge. This system was founded, extended, adapted by all sorts of ingenious devices, to the strange and highly complicated state of feeling and of society existing in the country by Benthamites and Utilitarians, in the teeth of all sorts of stupid, arrogant, and ignorant opposition from every person through whom they had to work, and whom in process of time they actually did convert into serviceable instruments in the great object in view. It would have been much more striking and picturesque, no doubt, if some Jupiter Tonans had issued decrees on the subject in the fiat lux style, and if schools had thereupon risen all over the country; but fiat lux in this case was a complicated business; the coals had to be got out of the cellar, the grate to be swept up, the wood to be laid, and a light to be struck with very old-fashioned flint and steel and damp tinder. All this was at last effectually done, and we have now got a roaring fire which is gradually warming the whole house. Ought not a worshipper of Facts and the Eternal Silences and Veracities to recognize in this something worthy of his admiration? The truth is, that the commonplaces about the advantages of parliamentary government, a free press, and all the rest of it, are in the main true. Downing-street, Westminster Hall, and the Houses of Parliament, with all their babblements, janglements, and doleful creatures having the honour to be, are collectively a far better king than any Cromwell or Frederick could possibly be. Will any one compare King Parliament to King Louis Napoleon'? ... We fancy that the Veracities, the Eternities, and the Immensities would make a very emphatic deliverance on that subject if they had a suitable organ to speak through. The state of public and private virtue, of morality and religion in France, is not a very cheerful one. With all the goodwill in the world no single mind in the present day could possibly take in all the knowledge which is required to manage the institutions of mankind as they now exist. There are single departments of affairs in the present day which require as much thought as Cromwell had to bestow on the government of the whole nation, and thus Democracy is a simple necessity. The despot, if you got him, would have to act blindly and at random when he passed out of a very narrow sphere indeed. The collective king is far more powerful, he is far less likely to abuse his power, he is infinitely more amenable to reason, he is in general much wiser and much more humane than the single despot. Mr. Carlyle seems to us to have altogether misunderstood and undervalued the character of Democracy, and to have failed to give it credit for the real hold which it has on facts, and for its desire to do justice, to benefit mankind, and to produce gradually a higher form of life than we see at present. Here and there, especially in his earlier works, Mr. Carlyle appears to see this, but he does not keep to it, and after a certain time loses sight of it. In the course of the last two centuries all institutions and creeds have been thrown into one vast crucible. The times have been in labour, and the earnest and perpetual efforts of the human race to establish something permanent and satisfactory have apparently begun to be rewarded by the establishment of principles which are not to be despised because at present they look anything but romantic or attractive. Mr. Carlyle himself points out in various places that there are modern 'gospels', as he would say, which have been preached in all directions and with a singular degree of success by Democracy and its heroes. There is, for instance, Napoleon's gospel of 'la carrière ouverte aux talens.’ There is the doctrine of ‘laissez-faire', which, if Mr. Carlyle will only attend to it, is singularly like most of his own creed, for it is nothing else than the doctrine of natural sanctions—or if a man will not work neither let him eat. These and others of the same sort have, as he himself would admit, a foundation as solid as human nature itself. That they are in themselves incomplete, that other doctrines of a more beautiful kind will be required by way of supplement to them, is unquestionably true; but that they are the basis on which all such doctrines must and will be built—that they are the conditions to which, like it or like it not, our modern life must conform itself—these are propositions which Mr. Carlyle ought to be the last person to deny.
If, then, Democratic principles are to prevail, the practical question will really be, whether its powers ought to be vested in one hand or in many? and we can hardly conceive how any one who compares Louis Napoleon, the British Parliament, and the American Congress, can feel any sort of doubt on the question. It is like a comparison between health and disease. Mr. Carlyle might safely be challenged to show a single thing which would clearly be beneficial on the wide scale to mankind, and which would not have a full hearing with a very fair chance of ultimate adoption from Parliament or Congress. As to the special subject on which he has preached so eloquently and so long, the necessity of all the common prosaic virtues, namely, truth, honesty, courage, what he calls ‘veracity,’ and the like, as the indispensable condition of all reform, they flourish all round him in the richest abundance if he would only open his eyes and look at the general current of life in which he is placed. To speak of the way in which the practical business of life is transacted as mere babblements and janglements is quite as unjust as it could be to apply such phrases to Mr. Carlyle's own writings. There is a vast deal of talking in Parliament no doubt, but Frederick and Cromwell also talked a great deal, and wrote whole libraries of letters. Indeed it is yet to be seen how business of any kind can be done without the communication of ideas, or how ideas can be communicated without language. If men were guided, like ants or bees, by a dumb instinct, they might no doubt dispense with words written or spoken; but as matters actually stand this is not, and cannot possibly be the case, and the only fair question is one of degree. Does the quantity of talk which takes place in Parliament exceed what is required for the purposes of business? It seems to us rash and not just to assert that it does. The House of Commons is by no means patient of people who talk for the sake of hearing themselves speak, and has its own methods of keeping them within bounds. A reluctance to cry question, or by coughing, talking, and shuffling about, to bring a man to the point, is not one of the sins which can justly be charged on the British M.P. That parliaments work slowly, by degrees, and in a very laborious, elaborate, and prosaic way, is undoubtedly true; but is not their work all the more solid and serviceable in consequence? Joseph II. made all manner of reforms, some of which were highly important, in Austrian institutions, and they all more or less fell through because they had not been ground into the minds of the people by the parliamentary mill. A worshipper of fact and veracity, ought to see something eminently respectable and satisfactory in the slow irresistible elephantine manner in which the English Parliament and cognate institutions do their work.
It is when we compare the judgment of Mr. Carlyle on the one hand, and that of the British Parliament on the other, upon some specific question, that we get the strongest impression of his injustice to popular institutions and ways of arguing. Take, for instance, the slavery question. The British Parliament, after years of agitation, discussion, inquiry, and the like, arrived at last at the conclusion that slavery was a sin and a shame, which must be abolished at any price, and abolished it accordingly was at the price of £20,000,000 sterling and a great deal of power of producing sugar in the West Indian islands and especially in Jamaica. Mr. Carlyle always resented this. He thought that the British public had been imposed upon by effeminate cant. He considered that the black man was a kind of booby, an inferior, unlovely creature who, above all things, required to be well governed. He liked permanence: why should not servants be hired for life? Was it not on the whole better for Gurth, the thrall of Cedric the Saxon, to go about with an iron collar round his neck, loyally attached (in every sense of the word) to Cedric, than that he should squat on a patch of waste land, and there bask in the sun and look at the pumpkins growing of themselves? In short, was not slavery the decree of nature, fact, and the gods, who 'wish, besides pumpkins, that spices and valuable products be grown in the West Indies?' So that ‘Quashee, if he will not help in bringing out the spices, will get himself made a slave again, and with beneficent whip, since other methods avail not, be compelled to work.' As Mr. Biglow puts it, 'the blacks ought to labour, and we lie on sofies, and reelise our Maker's orig'nal idee.' Mr. Carlyle, however, certainly wished for slavery freed from its abuses. ‘How to abolish the abuses of slavery, and save the precious thing in it, and there is much more to the same purpose.
Here the British nation and Mr. Carlyle are distinctly at issue on a definite point. Abolish slavery says the one—reform it says the other. Mr. Carlyle entirely omits to notice the fact that it was precisely because long experience and repeated trials showed that it could not possibly be reformed that it was at last abolished. The ‘gods,’ whoever they may be, must have a most passionate and insatiable appetite for sugar if they are so anxious to have it grown in Jamaica and Demerara, that they are willing, in order to get it, that one set of human creatures shall be turned into beasts of burden, and another set into something very like beasts of prey. Those which Mr. Carlyle himself regarded as the abuses of slavery were the very incidents which made it profitable. A slave who could not be sold, who was allowed to marry, who could learn to read and write, who could give evidence in courts of justice, who was to be protected by law from his master's cruelty and lust, would be about as unprofitable a piece of property as a man could have. Let any man imagine himself owning farm-labourers on such terms, and being bound to support them. Or suppose that a man had a dog which he was not allowed to drown or to sell, or to separate from her puppies, or even to sequester from the other sex, which he was obliged to support in decent comfort, and out of which in return he got the service of having certain beggars barked at. Who would not avoid such a gift like the plague? A black slave, with the essential privileges of freedom, plus the right of permanent residence and support on a particular estate, would be a ten times worse incumbrance than such a dog. It was the concession of such privileges to serfs which put an end to serfdom in Europe. Treat blacks as you treat cattle in all respects, and you may perhaps under circumstances gratify 'the gods’ by making them grow sugar. Treat them like men, and slavery becomes an insupportable nuisance to the master. Hence, so long as the essential point of slavery—irresponsible proprietary power vested in the master—is permitted to exist, any attempt to remove the abuses of slavery will be futile. The slave will be treated as a mere instrument of avarice and lust, without the faintest regard either to his own moral elevation, or to the 'gods', or to God Almighty, or to the growth of sugar and spice, or to any one thing in the heavens, or the earth, or the water under the earth, except the personal profit and pleasure of the slave-owner. It was the conviction of this fact that led the British nation to abolish the whole system as incurably bad and vile, and it is not a week's insurrection at the end of thirty-three years that will convince them that they were wrong. It is because he resolutely shuts his eyes to all these facts, and because he persists in viewing a most deliberate act done on the most mature consideration as a mere piece of sentimental weakness, that we think Mr. Carlyle unjust, in this as in some other cases, to popular institutions and convictions.
It is remarkable that in some cases Mr. Carlyle falls into transparent fallacies in his heat on this topic. For instance, he talks of slavery as a ‘hiring for life.’ Do I hire my horse for life when I retain the right to sell him at any moment? The horse would probably take a very different view of the transaction, and maintain with some plausibility that he was not ‘hired’ at all, but bought out and out, which is quite another thing. The truths that slavery and nothing else caused the American civil war—that the North found it necessary, as the very first step towards reconstruction, to abolish it utterly, and that they are now attempting, with the best prospect of success, to reorganize the whole condition of Southern society on the basis of freedom to the blacks, ought to teach Mr. Carlyle that democracy and its doctrines on this subject have more in them than he has been disposed to admit.
Such are a few illustrations of the injustice which Mr. Carlyle appears to be guilty of towards Benthamites, Democrats, and Philanthropists. He does not see that in pouring upon us the vials of his wrath, he is really hitting his friends, who have been guilty of no other offence but that of trying to give a definite practical shape to much of his own teaching by substituting cosmos for chaos in various departments of life to the best of our judgments and opportunities.
Such being, in general terms, our view of the general principles of Mr. Carlyle's philosophy, and of the way in which he has applied it to the practical affairs of life, we pass to the third division of his works, his histories, and especially to his history of Frederick II. History, as we have already observed, is his natural resource, because it affords the best opportunities possible for preaching and exhibiting his doctrines on the large scale. As a Transcendentalist he cannot be expected to state his views in the shape of categorical propositions, but he can exhibit them to any extent as illustrated in and by the facts which history discloses. There is a certain relation between the different works in which he has made the attempt to do so. The extraordinary prominence and importance of the French Revolution of course attracted his attention in the first instance. Indeed, it could hardly fail to do so. Several generations will have to pass before that great event ceases to be regarded as a sort of gate or porch opening into a new order of things. To give a sketch of the Revolution, therefore, was what one might view almost as an indispensable prologue to his other writings. Of the way in which he succeeded in this undertaking we have already spoken to some extent, and as the book is probably better known than any other of his works, it is unnecessary to say more of it. Cromwell's Letters and Speeches we may refer to in the same summary manner, observing merely that the extent to which Cromwell realized Mr. Carlyle's ideal of greatness and magnificence of character, is too obvious to any one acquainted with Mr. Carlyle's writings to require any detailed remarks. We come, then, to Frederick II. Why should Mr. Carlyle trouble himself to write his life? What is the net result of it now that he has written it? How far is the result deduced by Mr. Carlyle just and true? On each of these subjects we propose to make some observations. Fewer will be needed than would have been required if we had not noticed detached parts of the work on their first appearance.
How came Mr. Carlyle to take Frederick II. for a subject? The answer would appear to be that he considered him at all events as a sort of connecting link between the old and the new, ‘the last of the kings hitherto, I define him.’ He was a king, and yet he ruled with an eye to the new principles which were coming in, and with the spirit of the age impressed upon him more emphatically than almost any other man of our own and the last century. Mr. Carlyle appears to have been attracted to him by the thought that here, perhaps, he should find an illustration of his own principles in the closest connexion with all the thoughts and feelings of our own times. He has worked at his self-imposed task with wonderful energy, and in some respects with the most conspicuous success; for he has certainly produced a book which testifies to his own gifts as one of the greatest historians of our age—as the greatest by far in his own direction—in an undeniable manner, but he has not attained what he would himself probably consider as the still higher success of thoroughly understanding Frederick, and entering into his mind in such a way as to read to mankind any very definite lesson as deducible from his life. Every part of the book gives the impression that Mr. Carlyle never came thoroughly to like Frederick. He tries his best to do so, and succeeds in admiring certain parts of his character, but in other matters, and especially in what lies deepest and is of most lasting importance, he seems to be sometimes baffled and sometimes repelled by him. With all his French verses and volumes of correspondence, Frederick appears to have possessed a talent for silence so remarkable that he entirely suppressed all traces of what people in these days would call his ‘inner life.' He has nowhere left on record, either in express words or by any of those indications which a biographer like Mr. Carlyle would construe with so much skill and eagerness, the nature of his habitual tone of feeling about the world in which he played so prominent a part, or the principles in which he in his inmost heart believed, and on which he really regulated his conduct.
We have said that Mr. Carlyle would probably have regarded the attainment of such an understanding of Frederick's character as a still higher form of success than that which he actually has achieved, for in all his writings, and especially in his biographies, such has been his continual aim. We are, however, by no means sure that he would be right in viewing the matter thus. We do not think that his happiest portraits or writings are those in which he is perpetually in the worshipping vein. He is, perhaps, even more instructive and satisfactory when the extraordinary powers of his imagination are not exaggerated by the additional stimulus of worship, and when he feels himself justified in looking on the men and things around him with that keen practical good sense which he possesses in a larger measure than almost any other contemporary author, and without any special reference to his peculiar doctrines and transcendentalisms. That fulness of information and sympathy which a man gets from actual personal observation with his own eyes, is of perhaps even more importance to a man who has such an imagination as Mr. Carlyle than to less gifted writers. His estimates being formed principally from the imagination, he is liable when he writes from mere book knowledge to think that he knows more of people than he really does. We always suspect that the importance of the ‘seagreen’ aspect of Robespierre is exaggerated, because it happened to fit in with the Robespierre whom Mr. Carlyle had created in his own mind. Besides, perhaps after all he was not really sea-green. With regard, however, to people whom he himself has known, this difficulty does not arise. Nothing can be more perfect, for instance, than the portraits in the Life of Sterling. Take as a palmary instance the portrait of Coleridge roving dubiously from side to side of the gravel-walk, and talking about his ‘sum-m-jects’ and ‘om-m-jects. The freedom from the necessity of worshipping gives to the likeness of Frederick and his companions something of this natural life-like character. If he had succeeded better in making a hero of Frederick, his history would have had much less historical value. As it is, it appears to us to be not only the best, but almost the only history in English which gives any account of any considerable section of German history which it is possible to read with interest, or to remember when it is read in any tolerable degree. We have plenty of books about England and France which are accessible enough to all the world, and which when read leave some traces behind them; but, if we except Robertson's Charles V., which in the present day it is the fashion to depreciate perhaps rather unduly, there is no English book from which anything but the driest outline of bare facts can be obtained about the history of Germany. Mr. Carlyle has certainly managed to throw upon the history of Prussia, from the beginning of time to the eve of the French Revolution, as broad and bright a light as could be desired. There will, we imagine, be but very few of his numerous readers who will not feel that he has permanently enlarged not merely their knowledge of names and dates, but their conception of the way in which one important section of the human race has demeaned itself upon the face of the earth. This is a matter of much greater importance than the portrait of a single hero; and though no doubt some drawbacks must be made from the merits of the book on grounds sufficiently obvious to all readers of it, the general result is most successful. It enables us to get a vivid notion of the politics of a large part of the eighteenth century, of the persons who took part in them, and of the questions then at issue. We will try to make a slight copy of this elaborate picture, and to make a few observations as we proceed on the view taken by Mr. Carlyle of the chief groups and incidents depicted in it.
Mr. Carlyle begins his book with a history of Prussia in miniature. It fills about half a volume, and is a model of picturesque vigour, giving all the leading points of a tedious and intricate story with beautiful clearness. Condensed to the highest degree, it is somewhat as follows:—The country was visited by Pytheas, the ancient traveller, or ‘Marseilles Travelling Commissioner,' as Mr. Carlyle calls him, 327 B.C., after which nothing specific is known of it till the time of Henry the Fowler, who, in 928 A.D., ‘marching across the frozen bogs, took Brannibor, a chief fortress of the Wends, and ultimately made it one of the six margravates, or border provinces, by which the empire was limited on different sides. His margraves lasted till 1023, when they were succeeded by certain Ascanier margraves, who lasted till 1319. They again gave place to a succession of Bavarian electors till 1373. The Bavarian electors were followed by a period of intricate confusion, in which it seemed as if the country was about to go to pieces, and to be broken up into a variety of petty districts. It came at last partly as a pledge, partly by way of escheat, into the hands of the Emperor Sigismund, who, at the Council of Constance, and in the year 1417, sold it to Frederick of Hohenzollern for about £200,000. Frederick of Hohenzollern was the descendant of Conrad of Hohenzollern, who, in 1170, had taken service with Frederic Barbarossa, and had risen in course of time to be burgrave of Nuremberg and margrave of Baireuth and Anspach, districts which through his descendant became annexed to Brandenburgh.
From the purchase by Frederick in 1417, down to the birth of Frederick the Great in 1712, there were twelve electors, [Frederic I., 1417; Frederic II., 1440; Albert, 1471; John, 1486; Joachim I., 1499 : Joachim II., 1535; John George, 1571; Joachim Frederick, 1578; John Sigismund, 1586; George William, 1619; Frederick William, 1640; Frederick III., 1688 (king, 1701)] the last of whom, Frederick III. became king in 1701. The history of these twelve electors is very briefly described by Mr. Carlyle. Very little, he says, is known about them or their doings, nor are the details much worth knowing. The main fact is that by various ways and means they consolidated their power at home, and contrived to be continually adding to their dominions by one means or another, till the original margravate of Brandenburgh grew into a considerable country. As to the moral side of their history, Mr. Carlyle sums it up in one of his pregnant sentences, which are a little picture in themselves, not to be forgotten when once read. ‘How the Hohenzollerns got their big territories, and came to be what they are in the world, will be seen. Probably they were not any of them paragons of virtue. They did not walk in altogether speckless Sunday pumps, or much clear-starched into consciousness of the moral sublime, but in rugged practical boots, and in such ways as there were.'
The history of the country itself, and of its politics, is certainly meagre enough. With the exception of a number of claims which the Hohenzollerns made in some cases successfully, and in others not, on various neighbouring principalities, very little appears to have happened till the Reformation. Joachim II. became a Protestant in 1539, and some of his relations, who belonged to the Baireuth-Anspach branch of the family, especially a certain Margrave George, were somewhat conspicuous on the Protestant side; but on the whole, Brandenburgh did not make a conspicuous figure in the world at this time, nor till long afterwards. Throughout the whole of the Thirty Years' War it was passive, though it was several times itself the theatre of war, and as such was frightfully devastated. After the war, or rather near the end of it, in 1640, Frederick William, called the Great Elector, came to the throne. He ruled the country apparently with remarkable vigour for forty-eight years, and was succeeded by Frederick III., who took part in the wars against Louis XIV., and was promoted by being made into a king. The important, it cannot be called the interesting, part of the history of Brandenburgh, is the history of the gradual growth of the country, the principal steps in which were as follows:—The acquisition of Neumark, of West Preussen, of Pomerania; the acquisition of claims on Cleves, Jülich, and Berg—the nucleus of modern Rhenish Prussia; and the acquisition of claims on Silesia. A few words on these points are a necessary introduction to any account of Frederick II. himself.
Neumark and West Preussen were acquired from the Knights of the Teutonic order. Neumark was bought and paid for by Joachim II. in 1455, when the order were in great distress on account of long and terrible wars, chiefly with Poland.
West Preussen fell to Brandenburgh in a more complicated way. Albert, the third Elector, had several sons; one of whom, also called Albert, was elected to be the Grand Master of the Teutonic order. He was born in 1490, elected to his office in 1511, and became a Protestant in 1523. He and the other Protestant members of the order possessed themselves of West Preussen, of which he became hereditary duke and they the hereditary nobility. He had a son, Albert Frederick, who succeeded him; on whose death without male issue West Preussen fell to the Brandenburgh Electoral House.
The claims to Jülich, Berg, and the Duchy of Cleves arose through the same Albert Frederic. He married, in 1572, Maria Eleonora, the daughter of the Duke of Cleves, who died in 1592. The Duke of Cleves made a will, by which, after the death of his only son without issue, the duchies were to go to Maria Eleonora, with remainder to her daughters successively, if she had no sons. His own younger daughters were excluded from the concession. The son did die without issue in 1609. Maria Eleonora had then already died, leaving several daughters, one of whom had married the Elector, John Sigismund, and he claimed Cleves in her right. It was also claimed by the Prince of Pfalz-Neuburg, who was the son of the testator's second daughter. The contention between the rivals ran so high that on one occasion the Elector slapped the Prince's face. This insult, and the feelings which had produced it, had such an effect on PfalzNeuburg that he became a Roman Catholic, married the sister of the Elector of Bavaria, and was consequently backed by the Roman Catholic party in his claims. The Emperor seized Jülich. The Dutch and Spanish troops, each on their own side, entered the territory, and the quarrel became one of the principal occasions of the Thirty Years' War. After about half-a-century, namely in 1666, an arrangement was made by which the great Elector and Pfalz-Neuburg divided the territory between them, with an additional provision that on the failure of either family the other should succeed to its share. Under this limitation fresh questions arose, and the matter was not finally settled till the Treaty of Vienna in 1815.
The Silesian claims were a still more complicated affair. Various districts, Liegnitz, Brieg, and Wohlau, belonged to a certain Duke of Liegnitz, who in the year 1537 made what was called an Erbverbrüderung treaty with the Elector, Joachim II. The nature of this deed was that if the Liegnitz family became extinct, the Brandenburghs were to get Liegnitz, which included a great part of Silesia, and that if the Brandenburghs became extinct then the Liegnitz family were to get the Bohemian fiefs of Brandenburgh. The States of Bohemia, at the orders of the King of Bohemia, afterwards the Emperor Ferdinand, annulled this deed, but the Brandenburgh electors always denied their right to do so. In 1675 the last Duke of Liegnitz died, and the Emperor Ferdinand took and kept possession of the Duchies. Besides the duchy of Liegnitz there was also a duchy of Jagerndorf in the same neighbourhood. This duchy originally belonged to Vladislaus, the last king but one of Hungary and Bohemia. He sold it in 1524, to the Margrave George, the second son of Albert, the third Elector. From the Margrave George it descended to his son George Frederic, and from George Frederic to the Elector Joachim Frederic, who, in 1606, put into it his second son, John George. John George took part with the Elector Palatine, King of Bohemia, and husband of Henrietta, the sister of Charles I., and both were put to the ban of the empire in the year 1621. Shortly afterwards John George died, and Ferdinand II. seized Jagerndorf, notwithstanding the fact that the late Duke's relations had a right to it. Notwithstanding all remonstrances he kept possession of it.
The Brandenburg family had also claims under other Erbverbrüderungs on Pomerania, but all sorts of intricate disputes arose about it. In the Thirty Years' War it was taken by the Imperialists, and afterwards retaken by the Swedes. Part of it was allotted to the Great Elector, at the peace of Westphalia, part was recaptured by the Great Elector from the Swedes in 1670, but had to be restored on the representations of Louis XIV.
These, in a very few words, were the principal points in the history of Brandenburg under the Hohenzollern Electors, and down to the time when the Electorate merged in a kingdom. When they became kings, the character of their history, internal and external, did not much change. The first king, Frederic I., was a man of rather weak character and very expensive tastes. He had his back half broken by an accident in his childhood, and the shock to his nerves had a very great effect on his whole character and career. The later part of his life was made miserable by an extremely absurd marriage. He was succeeded by his son Frederick William, the father of Frederick the Great, and of him and his affairs Mr. Carlyle naturally has a great deal more to say than of his predecessors. He was in many ways highly remarkable, and Mr. Carlyle's picture of him and his doings is in some respects the most attractive part of the whole book. He is known to the world at large rather by those memoirs of his daughter, Wilhelmina the Margravine of Baireuth than by anything else, and the kind of impression produced by her book may be inferred with considerable accuracy from Lord Jeffrey's review of it. He represents him as a strange, half mad, furious sort of person, whose fits of violence were the terror of his family, and indeed of the nation at large. The book, however, contains much more than this, which, with other matter, Mr. Carlyle combines into a most striking and almost attractive picture.
Frederick William, according to this view of him, which we believe is generally accepted in Germany, was the founder of the prosperity and greatness of Prussia. 'His history,' says Mr. Carlyle, ‘is one of economics.’ There is a domestic chapter, too, which had a singularly important bearing on Frederick II.'s affairs and prospects.
Of the economic history Mr. Carlyle gives us rather glimpses and specimens than anything like a continuous statement. The short result of it is that guided partly by inclination, partly by that remarkable instinct towards the aggrandisement of his nation which is sometimes seen in princes, he aimed with considerable success at making Prussia the most thrifty, and, as Mr. Carlyle says, the most Spartan of nations. As soon as his father was dead he dismissed all the useless part of his court, and cut down the expense of it to about a fifth of its former extent. He applied himself, in all directions, to enforcing the strictest rules of government in every part of the country, and, in particular, he resolved, and carried out his resolution by the most rigorous and even harsh economy, that he would have as good an army as was to be had out of the national resources. By rigorous exertion, extreme economy, and an unsparing use of power, he gradually formed an army of eighty-thousand men, who were better drilled and disciplined than any other troops in Europe. This he effected principally by the help of the Prince of Anhalt-Dessau, the sovereign of a small principality on the frontier, who is one of the most characteristic figures in Mr. Carlyle's whole book. He also gradually amassed a considerable treasure by these means, and in short, in the course of his long reign, made himself one of the most powerful princes in Europe, the most powerful by far in proportion to the extent of his dominions. This rigour of temper, which greatly endears him to Mr. Carlyle, was sometimes pushed to the length of positive tyranny and barbarity. For instance, he hung a certain nobleman of the name of Schlubhut for peculation, with little if any form of law, and in order to get Berlin built according to his own views he forced people to build houses there, whether they could afford it or not. He was a man of infinite grotesqueness of disposition, and of a great deal of strange humour and tenderness. His well-known regiment of giants is an illustration of the first characteristic, and many wonderful scenes reported by Mr. Carlyle between him and his son and his other connexions and dependents of the other. His tobacco parliaments, or Smoking privy councils, were, perhaps, the strangest of these. He and his ministers met of an evening, just like labouring men in a public house tap-room, smoked pipes, talked politics, and played practical jokes of the roughest kind on unfortunate butts, in a manner which was a spectacle to men and gods.
The diplomatic external part of his life was by no means remarkable. He reigned from 1713 to 1740, during which time he had but one war. This was in 1715, when he took Stralsund from Charles XII. He continually pressed for a settlement of his claims on Jülich and Berg, which appeared likely to come into force under the settlement of 1666, on the failure then imminent of the Pfalz-Neuburg line. These claims, however, with all his diplomacy, were not settled either in his days or in his son's. The most important and most intricate, however, of his foreign affairs arose out of his position as a member of the Empire, and had a very important bearing on the history and prospects of his son. The history of this matter is related in the most minute detail, and at somewhat wearisome length by Mr. Carlyle, who contrives, however, in his peculiar way, to connect it with the general course of European history, so as to show the mutual relations of many transactions the bare names of which are all that the present generation, or at least the greater part of them, can be said to remember. In a highly condensed shape the matter stands thus:—After the Treaty of Utrecht the Emperor Charles VI. became involved in a variety of intricate bickerings and intrigues, which Mr. Carlyle calls his ‘spectre-hunts.’ The most important of his objects was to secure the succession to his dominions to his daughter, Maria Theresa, in default of sons, by what was called the Pragmatic Sanction, a peculiarly solemn kind of instrument, which he tried to get accepted and guaranteed by every court in Europe. Prince Eugene told him that a full treasury and an army of two hundred thousand men would be the only real guarantee, which Mr. Carlyle justly calls a piece of ‘insight. He preferred to do it by intrigue and diplomacy, the object of which was to make all sorts of powers undertake to promise to support his view when the case arose. Besides this, he would not give up his titular right to be King of Spain, which involved disputes with King Philip and his wife, Elizabeth Farnese. Elizabeth Farnese, on the other hand, was exceedingly anxious about appanages for her son Carlos, and was continually claiming the duchies of Parma and Placenza, amongst other things, for that object. These quarrels kept Europe in a continuous dread of war, and produced all sorts of treaties, leagues, and devices for keeping the peace. In the course of these negotiations England, Prussia, and the other northern and Protestant powers were a good deal drawn together, and for various reasons it was proposed that a double marriage should take place between Frederick, the Crown Prince of Prussia, and the Princess Amelia; and between Frederick, Prince of Wales, and Wilhelmina Frederick William's daughter. The Austrian court was afraid that if these marriages took place England and Prussia would be too closely connected to suit the Austrian interests, and accordingly the Austrian agents, and especially one Seckendorf, secretly laboured to their utmost to prevent it, and as a means to that end to promote discord between Frederick William and his son. They succeeded in their efforts, and produced quarrels between the father and the son, which all but ended fatally. Ultimately Frederick William found out what their policy had been, and though the marriages were broken off and others substituted for them, he never forgave the treatment he had received, and his son signally revenged it on the House of Austria.
Short as it is, this is not a very defective account of the public events of the reign of Frederick William, who died in 1740, yet something more must be added as to his relations with his son. Frederick the Great was born on the 24th of January, 1712, and was educated under his father's eye in a very rigid effective way: the scheme laid down for this purpose by the father is given at length by Mr. Carlyle, and appears to have been strictly carried out.
A sort of time-table is also given according to which these lessons were to be taught; very strict and grim it is, every hour of the day from six a.m. to five p.m. having its allotted task. As the Prince got older he was put into the Potsdam Guards or giants, but he did not grow in favour with his father as he grew in years. He was of rather delicate, and, as his father considered, effeminate ways. ‘Conceive,' says Mr. Carlyle, 'a rugged, thick-sided Squire Western of supreme degree . . . and that he produces a son who takes into Voltairism, piping, fiddling and belles-lettres, with apparently a total contempt for Grumkow (one of the principal counsellors of Frederick William) and the giant regiment.' There was a strong French element in young Frederick's education, and as far as manners went, the bent of his mind was in the same direction, though deep down, a more emphatically sturdy German never lived. The likeness, however, between the father and son was not apparent to either till near the end of the father's life. The points of disagreement and want of sympathy produced great calamities to both, especially when they were carefully irritated by the Austrian agents, who wished to prevent the marriage for which the Crown Prince was anxious, and with the prospect of which his father tantalized him. The stages through which this diversity between the father and son went, are related by Mr. Carlyle at great length. Old Frederick William, who must have had a vein of something very like madness about him, at last, when the Crown Prince was about seventeen years of age, violently beat him with his stick more than once, and otherwise behaved to him and to his sister with the most outrageous cruelty. The final result is sufficiently well known. Young Frederick determined to run away from his father, and with the assistance of Lieutenant Katte actually attempted to do so during a journey which they made with the King into the Empire. The scheme was discovered when at the point of execution, Katte was sentenced by court-martial to two years' imprisonment in a fortress, which sentence was extended by Frederick William to beheading, which was executed accordingly. Frederick himself had a narrow escape from the same fate, on the ground that he was a colonel in the service, and had meant to desert. He was kept a close prisoner from August to November, 1730, and for more than a year afterwards was kept under very rigid terms to a strict course of duty in the neighbourhood of Custrin, where he had to superintend certain royal domains, and to give an exceedingly strict account of himself and of his way of employing his time.
This penal period of his life was gradually closed by the removal of the different restrictions under which he was placed, and at last, on the 12th of June, 1733, he was married to the Princess Elizabeth Christina, of Brunswick Bevern. His sister about the same time was married to the Margrave of Baireuth. Of his life after his marriage, and during the rest of his father's reign, there is very little to be said. He got a sight of war at the siege of Philipsburg in July, 1734; at which he was present with the Prussian contingent, and where Marshal Berwick was killed, and Prince Eugene took the field for the last time. He afterwards had the revenues of one district of Prussia assigned to him for his maintenance, and lived there at a country house called Reinsberg, where he passed his time in literature. He corresponded, amongst other things, with Voltaire, and wrote his first book— Anti-Machiavel. He passed seven years quietly enough in this manner, until he himself became King on the death of his father, May 31st, 1740. Of the final scene of old Frederick William’s life, Mr. Carlyle draws one of those pictures which no one but himself can draw. It is full of humour and pathos. One little touch is all that we can notice here. It is inimitable in its way. His chief preacher urged on the King very courageously and honestly his various duties, amongst others that of forgiveness of enemies. ‘Well, I will. I do. You, Feekin (his wife) write to your brother (unforgiveablest of beings) after I am dead, that I forgave him, died in with him. Better her Majesty should write at once, suggests the preacher. ‘No, after I am dead—that will be safer.’ He was clearly afraid that his forgiveness might have been thrown away if he recovered.
When Frederick II. succeeded to the crown, he began by a series of measures not very like those of his rigorous old father, and not particularly likely, one would suppose, to endear him to his biographer. He abolished legal torture and established general toleration, and tried to get about him a variety of French literary friends and associates. In other respects, however (except that he disbanded the Giants), he walked in his father's footsteps and governed the country, and especially the army, pretty much for himself. The most important of his ministers were three clerks, for such was their real function rather than anything higher Eichel, Schuhmacher, and Lautensack. ‘They lasted all his life,’ says Mr. Carlyle, ‘came punctually at four in the morning in summer and five in winter,’ and did an immense quantity of work in a most effective and perfectly obscure and silent manner. The very thought of such men must be like water in a thirsty land to Mr. Carlyle. The history of Frederick's reign forms four thick and wonderfully elaborate volumes, every line of which bears traces of an amount of patient labour which is hardly exemplified elsewhere. Its leading points, however, may, by altering the arrangement slightly, be indicated very shortly. They may be arranged under three heads: — 1. Foreign policy and war. 2. Domestic policy. 3. Literature and friendship.
In order to give a fair view of the nature and relations of Frederick's foreign policy and wars, Mr. Carlyle gives in various places an outline of the principal relations of all the European States to the two great wars in which Frederick took part— the war of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years' War. The Emperor Charles VI. died on the 20th of October, 1740. Just a year before (19th October, 1739) England had declared war against Spain, greatly against the will of Walpole, who was forced into it by the popular indignation roused by the way in which the Spaniards exercised their right of restraining English commerce with South America. Mr. Carlyle always speaks of this quarrel as the ‘Great Jenkins's Ear Question,’ in reference to the well-known story of Captain Jenkins, whose ear was cut off by the crew of a guarda-costa, on which occasion Jenkins ‘recommended, as he observed, ‘his soul to God and his cause to his country.'
According to Mr. Carlyle, the English nation had a real ground of quarrel with Spain, though Burke, long afterwards, declared that none of the principal persons who brought it about, ‘No, not one did in the least degree defend the measure.’ Mr. Carlyle's view is, that by what he calls the everlasting laws of fact and nature, the English had a right to trade with South America, notwithstanding all treaties to the contrary; and he appears to consider that by the same laws of fact and nature England had a right to possess and people the greater part, not to say the whole, of the North American continent. Without discussing this view—which reminds us of the remark of a witty foreigner, that the English nation appeared to him conscientiously to believe that it had a moral right to the whole world, including the moon—it will be enough to say that the English nation very decidedly meant to have as much liberty of trade, and as large a share of the North American continent, and most other places, as it could possibly get: that the French, and to some extent the Spaniards, had similar, though less energetic sentiments; and that the collision of their respective views on this point had a very great effect on the politics of the world at large and those of Germany in particular, inasmuch as it disposed them to take different sides in continental disputes, in order to damage each other's power. England and France, besides this, had each a private and special bias of their own in relation to Germany. As the King of England was Elector of Hanover, he was to some extent a German power, and he was the only sovereign who, being firm in his adhesion to the Pragmatic Sanction, kept his word like a man, and determined to support, the claims of Maria Thesesa to all lengths and at any risk. The French, on the other hand, had views of their own about Germany. Their notion was that it would be a good plan for them in particular, and for Europe in general; they undertook the general superintendence and regulation of Germany, and divided it symmetrically according to their own views. When the death of Charles VI. made necessary the election of a new emperor, they did interfere in a very emphatic manner, and with very remarkable designs. Such was the position of the principal powers which were interested in German affairs at the time of the Emperor's death.
Frederick II.'s own notions on the subject were at once more direct and more limited. It appeared to him that the death of the Emperor, and the difficulties to which it would give rise, afforded an excellent opportunity for the vindication of his claims on Silesia, the nature of which we have already stated. He acted with wonderful secresy, expedition, and resolution upon this view of the case. The news of the Emperor's death reached Berlin on the 25th of October. On the 13th of December Frederick marched upon Silesia, and as the Austrians were altogether unprepared and taken by surprise, overran the province, took Breslau, the capital, on the 2nd of January, took various strong places, and defeated an Austrian army under Neipperg at Mollwitz, some way to the south of Breslau, on the 10th of April, 1741.
This defeat brought the difficulties of Austria to a crisis. The election of the Emperor was coming on. Marshal, Belleisle and the French were intriguing (as it afterwards appeared with success) against the election of the Grand Duke Franz, Maria Theresa's husband. The powers which had accepted the Pragmatic Sanction, all (with the exception of George II.) repudiated it, and many of them claimed the succession adversely to Maria Theresa. Frederick II. offered to support it, and to support the election of the Archduke Francis as emperor if his Silesian claims were settled. He added that Prussia had never assented to it at all except on condition that the Emperor Charles VI. would settle the Prussian claims on Berg and Jülich, which he had never done. Under these circumstances both the English on the one hand, and the French on the other, tried to make treaties with Frederick. The English object was to get his support for the Pragmatic Sanction; the French object, to get his support for the schemes of Belleisle. The different negotiators bid against each other for some time; but at last Frederick signed a treaty with France (5th of June, 1741), the terms of which are still indefinite in the extreme. The French guaranteed Lower Silesia and Breslau to Frederick. What consideration Frederick was to give in return appears altogether vague. This treaty was kept profoundly secret at the time, and the negotiations between Frederick and the Austrians, through English agents, continued for several months in ignorance of it. Military operations in the meantime proceeded. The French marched an army under Maillebois in the direction of Hanover, and the Bavarians threatened Austria itself. Under these circumstances a secret arrangement was at last made at Klein-Schellendorf, on the 9th of October, 1741, that the Austrian forces should be allowed to retire from Silesia towards Moravia unmolested, and that Lower Silesia should be ceded to Frederick, and that in particular he should take Neisse by a sham siege. The effect of this, no doubt, was to throw the French over, and probably few persons will think Mr. Carlyle too severe in observing: ‘Magnanimous I can by no means call Frederick to his allies, nor even superstitiously veracious in this business, but he thoroughly understands, he alone, what just thing he wants out of it.’ Whether Frederick cared much about the adjective which we have underlined may be questionable. Whether he did or not, the rest of the sentence is undeniably true, and it is useless to haggle over trifles.
On the 24th of January, 1742, the Elector of Bavaria was, under French auspices, elected emperor, but his prospects against Austria were hardly so good as they had been. The French had advanced towards Vienna, but had had to retreat, and they called on Frederick, in virtue of his French treaty, and as a proof of the falsehood of the Austrian assertion that he had made a treaty with them (as he had), to create a diversion in their favour. He advanced into Moravia for that, amongst other purposes, in February, 1742, and after passing some time in various manoeuvres and encampments there, fought a fierce and not very decisive battle with the Austrians at Chotusitz, which, however, he was on the whole entitled to consider as a victory. The result, however, of this battle and of the discovery by Frederick of certain double dealing on behalf of the French towards him—the counterpart of his behaviour towards them —was that a public and final treaty was made at Breslau, dated on the 11th of July, by which Silesia was conclusively ceded to him in full satisfaction of all his claims.
After this peace the Austrian and French quarrel still remained outstanding; and principally by the help of English subsidies, and to some extent by the help of English and Hanoverian troops, the Austrians gained considerable advantages. At last the English and Hanoverians, who had advanced to the southwards in rather a purposeless way, were intercepted on their retreat by the French at Dettingen. They contrived to defeat the French (27th of June, 1743). The defeat, though considerable in itself, did not produce very much effect. The Austrian fortunes, however, continued to improve, though for some time the English were of very little use to them, except by money. The Bavarians and French were driven back, till at last, in the summer of 1744, they were driven across the Rhine by Prince Charles, Maria Theresa's brother-in-law. Louis XV. just at this time (August 8 fell ill at Metz, and was sup to be dying, and there really was serious danger of an invasion of France on a great scale. It was rescued from that danger by Frederick, whose behaviour on the occasion it is difficult to reconcile with any other notion of veracity than that of knowing what he wanted and trying to get it. He declared that he wished to restore peace to the Empire and to Europe, that the way in which the Emperor was treated by Austria was not to be endured, and that he accordingly must interfere. He had been trying since the peace of Breslau to procure a union of independent German powers and other means to accomplish this purpose, but without effect. He had, however, bargained with Louis XV. that he was to have a large share of Bohemia as the payment for his assistance. He accordingly set out unexpectedly on the 13th of August, and by the 13th of September had taken Prague. This brought back Prince Charles from his French invasion at once. He recrossed the Rhine on the 23rd of August, and marched against Frederick, whilst the French prepared to strengthen their own frontier, leaving Frederick to shift for himself. Between Prince Charles and Marshal Traun, a very skilful old soldier, Frederick was driven back beyond the Elbe and had to give up Prague. Indeed, Silesia was invaded by the Austrians in the winter of 1744-5, though they were defeated by the old Dessaner.
On the 20th of January, 1745, Charles Albert, the Bavarian Emperor, died, after a nominal reign of three years all but four days; and just a month before (20th of December, 1744) Marshal Belleisle was taken prisoner by a curious accident as he happened in some of his journeys to pass over a little extra-parochial portion of Hanoverian territory, and was forwarded to England, and there confined in a sort of hospitable captivity at Windsor Castle, till the following August. These two events produced various complications in German politics, as they made it necessary to choose a new emperor, and disarranged all those French schemes which had exercised so much influence over German affairs. Instead of invading Germany, the French in the course of this summer invaded the Netherlands, besieged Tournay, and being attacked by the English under the Duke of Cumberland, won the battle of Fontenoy on the 11th of May, alter being within a hair's breadth of losing it. The death of the Emperor Charles Albert led to the election of the Archduke Francis, Maria. Theresa's husband (13th of September), and in the meantime deprived Frederick of whatever advantage he could get from the excuse which he had urged for his advance into Bohemia.
The Austrians passed the greater part of this year in invading Silesia, with the assistance of the Saxons, whom they had induced to join them against Frederick; but they met with wonderfully bad fortune. Frederick, having ensnared them into advancing, defeated them at Hohenfriedberg (4th of June), and he followed them into Bohemia, where, after various encampments and manoeuvres, he again defeated them at Sohr (September 30th). Prince Charles, however, was not easily discouraged. He made an effort, while pretending to go into winter quarters, to march into Brandenburgh and upon Berlin itself. Frederick, however, contrived to disconcert all his schemes by a well-managed attack at a place called Hennersdorf (20th of November), where, having information as to his tactics, he surprised his army on the march and succeeded in cutting it in two. The Saxons, who were to have supported this attempt, with the assistance of an Austrian division, by an advance in a different line towards the same point, were defeated on the 15th of December at Kesselsdorf, by the old Dessaner, who died of a paralytic stroke two years afterwards. This was the end of the war of the Austrian succession so far as Prussia was concerned. It left matters very much where they were at the Treaty of Breslau. Austria got nothing. Silesia remained to Prussia. The peace was concluded at the end of 1745, by the Treaty of Dresden.
Ten years of peace followed, but the Seven Years' War (1756–63) was substantially nothing more than a second edition of the Silesian wars, the parts taken by the other actors being curiously inverted. Maria Theresa found herself quite unable to acquiesce in the loss of Silesia, and entered, about the year 1752, if not earlier, into secret negotiations with Saxony and Russia, with a view to the arrangement of a scheme for picking a quarrel with Prussia and partitioning it afterwards. This was a renewal of an earlier scheme for the same purpose, contained in a treaty of Warsaw made between Maria Theresa and Poland in 1745. Frederick and his minister, Winterfeld, came to the knowledge of this scheme by bribing certain clerks in the Dresden offices, who sent them copies of the despatches which related to it. The Czarina was to some extent disposed to enter into the alliance by Frederick's sarcasms against her, and was enabled by a fortunate accident to make her preparations without exciting much suspicion. The quarrels between France and England about the limits of their respective dominions in America appeared to supply a favourable opportunity for the execution of their plans. The English, according to their custom at that time, began operations by looking out for continental allies, who were to be secured by the payment of subsidies, but Maria Theresa refused to join against France. The Russians agreed to let out fifty-five thousand men for any purpose that might be required, at a very low rate, and actually got them on foot and posted them in the immediate neighbourhood of the eastern frontier of Prussia. This piece of good fortune, however, was counterbalanced, for Frederick managed to conclude with George II. a convention by which each party agreed to guarantee Germany from invasion by any foreign power. The consideration to George II. for that course was that it would protect Hanover, which would otherwise be open to the French. On the other side, Maria Theresa condescended to court the Marquise de Pompadour, whom, also, Frederick had offended by expressing his opinion of her in a pungent manner, and by these and other means she secured the assistance of France. The alliances were thus the reverse of what they had been in the earlier Silesian wars. England supported Prussia instead of Austria and the Pragmatic Sanction. France supported Austria instead of Prussia and Bavaria.
Having paid the greatest attention to his army throughout the ten years' peace, and being in a state of high preparation, Frederick thought he had better attack his enemies instead of waiting to be attacked by them. Accordingly, having instructed his ambassador at Vienna to demand an explanation of certain warlike preparations of Maria Theresa's, and an answer having been refused, he marched into Saxony on the 20th August, 1756, overran the greater part of the country, and blockaded the small Saxon army in Pirna. The Austrians attempted to relieve them, but were defeated at Lobositz (5th October, 1756). The Saxons then attempted, under circumstances of extreme hardship and difficulty, to break out; in this they failed to effect, and were forced to capitulate. Frederick compelled the bulk of the private troops to enter his service, and took possession of the whole of the resources of the country for warlike purposes.
This was a prosperous beginning of the war, but it was more than balanced by other events. Frederick was put to the ban of the empire, which involved the raising against him of an army composed of contingents from all the German States, and France took the field with nearly one hundred thousand men. Frederick felt that he was in extreme danger, and before the opening of the campaign of 1757, left directions as to what was to be done in case of his own death or capture. A facsimile of the letter containing them is given by Mr. Carlyle, and a remarkable document it is. There was great need for it, for when the campaign opened in April or May, Prussia was invaded in four seperate directions by the Russians, the Austrians, the French, and the Swedes (whose operations throughout the war were contemptible and not worth more than bare mention), besides which, the army of the Empire was in preparation. Frederick took the offensive by marching upon Prague. Prince Charles was encamped in a strong position near the town, and a desperate battle took place (6th May) between him and the Prussians, in which, after a loss of twelve thousand five hundred Prussians and thirteen thousand three hundred Austrians, the Austrians were defeated, and had more than one narrow escape from being destroyed. They did, however, escape destruction, and managed even to keep possession of Prague, though it was fiercely besieged and bombarded by Frederick. Marshal Daun advanced to relieve the town, and Frederick set out to fight him. They fought at Kolin on the 18th of June. The Prussians, who were greatly outnumbered, lost the battle and a third of their army. One result of this was that Prague was relieved. During the whole of the summer and autumn Frederick remained in a state of the greatest difficulty and perplexity. The English army under the Duke of Cumberland was managed, as usual, with extreme imbecility. The French, under Soubise, and the Imperial army were mustering. The Austrians were in great strength and occupied impregnable positions, and Frederick wandered about in various directions, wondering, apparently, which of his numerous enemies was to overwhelm him. The most fortunate circumstance for him at this time was the accession of Pitt to power in England, and his determination to ‘conquer America in Germany.’ This, however, was rather a fortunate symptom than an actual change for the better. The immediate prospects were still very black. In the midst of his despondency, however, his fortune took a marvellous turn. On the 5th November, as the French and Imperial army, under Soubise, was advancing in the direction of Leipsic, he skilfully fell upon it at Rossbach, at an opportune moment, and utterly routed the whole army with a loss of eight thousand men, prisoners included, in twenty-five minutes, at the expense of one hundred and sixty-five Prussians killed and three hundred and seventy-six wounded. He then marched across the country to Silesia, and at Leuthen, near Breslau, inflicted an even more severe defeat, though it was better contested, upon the Austrians who, however, were two to one in number.
These victories had given Frederick relief; but he was fearfully overmatched — as much as the Southerners in the late civil War. He passed the winter of 1757-8 at Breslau, and in the spring besieged Olmutz unsuccessfully; but in the late summer he was called out to meet an enemy almost more dangerous than any he had yet encountered. This was Marshal Fermor, who had entered Prussia at the north-east corner with a large army of Russians. They met at Zorndorf (12th of August), near Custrin, and a little to the north of Frankfort on Oder. ‘It was the bloodiest battle of the Seven-Years' War. One of the most furious ever fought.’ Frederick got the best of it; but the battle was not very decisive though horribly bloody; still it checked the Russian invasion. From Zorndorf, Frederick speedily returned again to the Silesian corner of his dominions, where on the 14th of October, he was surprised by the Austrians near Hochkirch, where he was forced to retreat with a loss of about eight thousand men, Marshal Keith for one, and one hundred and one guns.
Frederick's position had now become critical in the extreme. There was another Russian invasion in 1759 in the same direction as the one in the preceding year. The Russians gained a victory at Zullichau over Wedell on the 23rd of July, and on the 13th of August they gained a far more important victory, inflicting, indeed, on Frederick himself far the most severe defeat that he ever sustained. This occurred in the terrible battle of Kunersdorf, in which the Prussian army was half destroyed and for the moment almost entirely dispersed. Frederick made up his mind to kill himself, and handed over the army to General Von Finck. By degrees, however, he slightly recovered himself. The Russian army was greatly crippled and did not know how to use its victory. They did not advance on Berlin, but gradually drew off to the eastward. Terrible misfortunes happened in another quarter. Dresden was taken by the Austrians early in September, and on the 21st of November a division under General Finck was forced, after much severe handling, to capitulate to the Austrians at Maxen, the loss to Frederick being about twelve thousand men. The fifth campaign in 1760 was in Lower Silesia, and Frederick attempted to retake Dresden, but failed, and was exposed to terrible danger from the superior forces opposed to him. Being, however, surrounded on all sides, he was attacked by the Austrians at Liegnitz, but repulsed and broke through them, gaining a remarkable and unexpected victory. The Russians were in the main very inactive this year, though they made a flying expedition as far as Berlin, and laid it under contribution, but were unable to hold it. The great event of the year, however, was the battle of Torgau on the Elbe, on the 3rd of November, some way north of Dresden. The battle was fought in the afternoon, and at night Frederick gained a decided victory. This was the last great battle of the war, which was crippled by the defection of Russia from the alliance at the beginning of 1762. This was caused by the death of the Czarina Elizabeth, and the accession of Peter III., who was a devoted admirer of Frederick's. Peter was deposed and murdered by the 9th of July, but the Empress Catherine, who succeeded him, was not unfriendly to Frederick, and left Maria Theresa to fight out her battle with him alone. The ultimate result was the Peace of Hubertsberg, which was made in February, 1763, and as between Austria and Prussia left matters just where they were at the beginning of the war.
From 1763 to 1786, Frederick had no more wars worth particular mention. The only great political event in which he took a leading part was the partition of Poland. Of this transaction Mr. Carlyle says little that adds much to the common stock of knowledge on the subject. That Poland was so governed as to be a dangerous nuisance to all its neighbours is indisputably true; that it was partitioned without any regard to anything except the aggrandisement of the partitioning powers, is no less true. The result appears to be that little sympathy is due to either party. If an habitual drunkard continually disturbs his neighbours, and if they, having certainly no other remedy, knock him on the head and divide his property, the general verdict of mankind would perhaps be, you are great rogues; but he brought it on himself. And something like this appears to be the true view of the partition of Poland, though after all the whole matter is exceedingly obscure, and little authentic information is to be had about it.
Such is the outline of Frederick's transactions as a soldier. As an administrator, we have rather glimpses of his doings than a detailed account of them. His military administration was very effective, but desperately harsh. His army was recruited to a great extent by crimps, who procured recruits from every part of Europe by enormous lying and frauds of the most monstrous kind. It was recruited in part by a rigorous conscription over every part of the Prussian dominions, and also over Saxony. Mr. Carlyle himself finds it difficult to say where the money came from. The explanation appears to be that so long as there is food, clothing, and ammunition in a country, and so long as an army can take what it wants, there is no great occasion for money. The misery of war is dreadfully intensified by such a process; but so long as there is food to take, there is no limit to the extent to which warfare may go.
As to Frederick's pacific administration, his great feats were his Code, and the different enterprises which he promoted and carried out in various parts of his dominions. Mr. Carlyle gives us very little special information about them, and it must be owned that if he had bestowed more of his time and trouble on these points, and troubled himself and his readers less about tactics, with which he fills many hundred pages, his book would have been a good deal improved. Perhaps, however, the materials were wanting. It is pretty safe to assume that the system of administration was as vigorous, as harsh, and as peremptory as the other part of Frederick's character. Such specimens as we do get are not very favourable. He introduced, for instance, a system of collecting taxes which appears to have given immense offence, and to have been abolished after his death. He intermeddled in every sort of private affair, and managed nearly all the business of the kingdom personally. Here and there, of course, such a system produced picturesque instances of fair dealing, but that it was generally beneficial is quite another proposition, and one of which we have no evidence at all. On at least one famous occasion he chose to interfere personally with the ordinary course of civil justice, by reversing the decision of a court of justice about a watercourse. Mr. Carlyle tells the whole story with his usual elaborate carefulness and good faith. He would obviously like to say that Frederick was right, and asserted the eternal laws of nature and fact. He cannot, however, conscientiously say so; he is obliged to own that the matter after all was extremely doubtful, and it is obvious enough that unless the interference was absolutely necessary it was an immense evil.
A much larger and fuller part of the book is devoted to an account of Frederick's personal friendships, especially of his long and strange relations with Voltaire. So full, indeed, is Mr. Carlyle on this topic that he has almost interwoven a life of Voltaire with his life of Frederick. It forms a marvellously entertaining underplot to the history, and gives a more vivid notion of Voltaire's character and career than is to be found elsewhere in English literature. The merit of the story, however, depends principally on the way in which it is told, and on the endless variety of anecdotes with which it is illustrated. Any sort of condensation of it, even if space were not wanting, would be tedious.
We feel that the short sketch which we have thus given of Mr. Carlyle's most elaborate work conveys no notion at all of its real character, though it contains the main points of the history itself. The six thick volumes are an immense repertory, in which something is to be found about nearly every important event in European history which was in any way whatever connected with Prussia or with Frederick. It also contains a number of detached anecdotes and personal histories so elaborate, so authentic, in some instances so inconceivably picturesque and vivid, that wherever the book is opened it has all the interest of a novel.
Voltaire and his divine Emilie; his quarrels with Maupertuis; his extremely disreputable and dirty quarrel with the Jew stock-jobber, Hirsch; his quarrel with the King of Prussia; his way of living in his old age; are all brought before us with inimitable vivacity, and throw more light on the character of the man than anything else written in English. He, however, is only one of many figures introduced into the book. There are excellent sketches of George II., the Duke of Cumberland, Chatham, Wolfe, Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, Prince Henri of Prussia, Belleisle, and innumerable others. We have, besides, incidental accounts of the principal English naval expeditions of the eighteenth century, of the exploits of Vernon and Anson, of the siege of Minorca, of Braddock's expedition and defeat, and of the other wars between the French and English colonies in America. This includes an excellent account of the taking of Quebec, with portraits of Wolfe and Montcalm. Every one of these incidents is told with a degree of skill which no other man could, and of care which hardly any other man would have expended on it all. Such a union of the special gifts of Dryasdust and Walter Scott, with a depth of thought and feeling to which hardly any antiquary or novelist can pretend, has never before been produced in our country. Whatever else the book may be, it is a monument of its author's genius, which will at all events effectually preserves his memory in the world.
The fault of the work appears to us to lie in the selection of its subject. When all is said and done, it is difficult to care much about Frederick or his doings. His history is very curious and highly interesting, and it is impossible not to sympathise with a man who so thoroughly knew what he wanted, and who got it after such desperate struggles. He did get Silesia, and he probably about as much right to it as Maria Theresa. The population, apparently, rather preferred him to her; but the question of right depends on the question whether the States of Bohemia in the year 1544 had or had not a right to annul the Erbverbrüderung made by the Duke of Liegnitz, and whether the Emperor Ferdinand had a right to confiscate Jagerndorf. Frederick's claim dated from 1624 as to Jagerndorf, and from 1675 as to Liegnitz and Brieg; but it seems to have been the way of the German Empire to keep such claims alive and to wrangle, and finally fight over them as was done only two years ago in the instance of the lovely Schleswig-Holstein controversy. What the laws of eternal fact and nature and of everlasting justice may be as to the power of the States of Bohemia over Erbverbrüderungs, appears to us a question as difficult as it is uninteresting; nor can we get beyond the assertion that Frederick, knowing his own mind and watching his opportunity, and having extraordinary good fortune, got what he wanted. Something may be said for his first war, and the last he could not help; but the second war appears to us a mere undisguised piece of rapacity, an attempt to get a slice of Bohemia to which he did not even allege that he had any sort of claim. It is difficult to make this square with fact and nature, as Mr. Carlyle uses the words. The attempt certainly was a fact, and it probably appeared to Frederick very natural.
Fraser’s Magazine, December 1865.