Изображения страниц

tentedly resign the portraiture of Moulders, Kantwises, and Kennebys, to artists whose knowledge of life is more varied than his own, or whose conceptive ability enables them, as in some rare instances is the case, to dispense with the experience from which all but the very highest sort of artists are obliged to draw.

Art. III.—THE CRISIS IN PRUSSIA. The politics no less than the scenery of north-eastern Germany are by no means attractive. The interminable marshes of the Havel, the dreary sand-waste which surrounds the capital, the rich but unlovely plain of Magdeburg, have all their antitypes in the history of Prussia. From time to time some enterprising English newspaper sends a correspondent to Berlin; but the editor soon discovers that not one reader in a thousand pays any attention to his letters, and the veil once more descends upon those confused struggles, of which, even more truly than of the pictures of Wouvermans, it may be said, that it is difficult to make out “which is plaintiff and which defendant.”

But Prussian politics have a meaning after all, and sometimes, as at this moment, very grave issues are depending on the decisions of Prussian rulers and the good sense of the Prussian people. Our object in this article will be to point out, as clearly as we can, the present state of parties at Berlin, sketching the antecedents of rival politicians, and attempting to form an estimate of the chances of the future. In order to do this, it will be necessary to review at some length the recent history of Prussia, in which it is easy to distinguish four well-marked periods.

The first of these extends from the accession of Frederick William IV., in June 1840, to the opening of the United Landtag, in April 1847.

The second commences with that event, and terminates with the dissolution of the National Assembly and the proclamation of the new Constitution on December 5th, 1849.

The third begins with the proclamation of the new Constitution, and extends to the assumption of the regency by the Prince of Prussia.

The fourth opens with that occurrence, and is still in progress.

To the three first of these periods we may with confidence assign the names of the period of expectation, the period of revolution, and the period of reaction; but he who could with con

fidence give a distinctive name to the fourth, would know the secret of the future of Germany, perhaps the secret of the future of constitutional government upon the Continent.

In June 1840, Frederick William III. closed his long and chequered career. Tried by both extremes of fortune, he had shown few great qualities in either, and the numerous expressions of regret, which followed his decease, proved only the loyal sentiments of his deceived and long-suffering subjects. A quarter of a century had passed away since he pledged his kingly word to give a constitution to Prussia, and death surprised him before he had made up his mind to do what he had promised. The advent of his successor was heralded by many hopes. The Crown Prince was not very well known; but those, who had been admitted to his society, spoke highly of his accomplishments, his learning, and his liberal opinions. His good disposition had not, people said, been changed by his altered position. He had remarked, it was reported, to Alexander von İlumboldt, that as Crown Prince he was necessarily the first noble of the realm, but that as king he was only the first citizen. The new reign opened with a series of gracious and popular acts. A general amnesty for political offences; the recal to high office of Schön, the illustrious and beloved fellow-labourer of the deeply venerated Stein; the advancement of Boyen, who was regarded as the inheritor of the traditions of Scharnhorst and of Gneisenau, cheered the hearts of all enlightened and liberal Prussians, and excited no little alarm at Vienna and St. Petersburg. The morning which dawned so brightly was not, however, destined to be long unclouded. The first untoward event was the answer given by the monarch to the states of East Prussia, when, on the occasion of the Huldigung (homage) ceremonial at Königsberg, they ventured to express their hopes that the long-promised Constitution would at last become a reality. Somewhat later an order in council appeared, which left no doubt on the minds of reflecting men, as to the real intentions of the king. It was clear that the sort of change which he contemplated was not that which the nation wished. Some half middle-age, half lowerempire organisation might take the place of the old order; but of a constitution founded on abstract ideas of what was right and just, or on the actual necessities of the nation, there was no chance whatever. The appointment of Eichhorn, a member of the ultra-pietistic and absolutist party, to the important office of minister of public instruction, in the room of the wise Altenstein, the one man of enlightenment who had contrived to the last to retain the favour of the old king, further increased the uneasiness of the public mind. With the advancement of this mischievous tool of obscurantism began a series of coercive and illconceived measures, which had their natural result in the antagonistic follies and excesses of 1848. The censorship grew ever stricter and stricter; numerous press prosecutions took place, the most famous being that of which Dr. Jacoby of Königsberg was the victim, and which ended in the acquittal of the accused by the High Court of Berlin, much to the disgust of the king and of the government. Eichhorn extended his mischievous activity into all departments. Students were encouraged to denounce the religious or political heresies of their professors; the books in the libraries of schoolmasters were carefully inspected; the standard of elementary education was intentionally lowered; men were advanced in the various gymnasia and universities, not on account of their attainments, but on account of their attachment to the views of the pietists. The régime of the most literary of contemporary monarchs seemed destined to result in the same hostility to all real learning which was openly avowed by the Emperor Francis. It was, however, too late. In vain Stahl, who had succeeded the liberal jurist Gans at Berlin, repeated the watchword, that science must retrace her steps.' In vain Hengstenberg and his crew tried to bring in a Prussian if not a Roman popery; in vain Eichhorn travelled from university to university, suspending here, denouncing there; in vain successive ministers of the interior seconded him with all their power,-ordering domiciliary visits, turning liberals from other German states out of the country at two hours' notice, suppressing newspapers, and so forth. In vain the king himself, for seven long years, scolded now this city and now that-Breslau one day and Berlin another; in vain he speechified, and in vain he cajoled; in vain he dismissed petition after petition, which the provincial state assemblies addressed to him; in vain he tried to make the Prussian people content with a representation formed of an agglomeration of committees, chosen from the different provincial state assemblies, and possessed merely of a deliberative voice. The pressure from without grew too strong; and at length, after mature consultation with confidential advisers, the "patent" of February 30, 1817, was given to the world.

The king was a most ardent, as he was certainly a most influential, disciple of the “historical” school of publicists and jurists. It would be difficult to speak too highly of the merits of Savigny and his fellow-labourers, as long as they confined themselves to explaining the present by the past; but unfortunately these same men, when they came to be ministers of state, made an altogether improper use of their own researches. They were justly proud of having shown how baseless were the speculations by which their immediate predecessors had

[ocr errors]

attempted to account for existing phenomena in the domain of politics. They hated the à priori verbiage which had been the cant of the day during the French Revolution, and they jumped to the conclusion, that all the state arrangements which were historically explicable, and which had once been reasonable, should still be kept unimpaired, or at most should be developed. They forgot that for more than half a century the people for whom they had to legislate had been sitting at the feet of those often mistaken but still effective teachers against whom they had made war.

The United Landtag, which was called into being by the “patent” of the 3d of February, was a masterpiece of learned reconstruction ; but it was not a body likely to be of much use in a world of hard realities. It met on the 11th of April, and sat through a considerable part of the summer. The king had told it that the last thing in the world which he wished its members to do, was to represent the feelings of the people. “Die Rolle sogenannter Volksrepräsentanten” (“the roll of so-called people's representatives") was an object of supreme contempt to the royal savant. Nevertheless, the one good result which it produced was to give vent to the popular uneasiness. Already the names of Vincke and others, who have since been famous for their advocacy of liberal opinions, began to make themselves familiar to the public ear. The king talked theocratic nonsense: “Never, never will I allow a piece of written paper, like a second Providence, to force its way between our Lord God in heaven and this land, to rule us with its paragraphs, and to supersede by them the old holy loyalty". No wonder, then, that he was embittered by the language held by some of the deputies, and that he closed the session in no good humour, It is difficult to say how long the farce might have lasted if events had not occurred beyond the frontier which changed altogether the aspect of affairs.

The news of the outbreak in Paris came to Berlin on one of those sunny February days which cheer the long cold spring of the great German plain.' Groups were soon gathered on the Linden, and the exciting intelligence, passing from mouth to mouth, quickly reached the remotest quarters of the city. The tidings of the flight of Louis Philippe, and of the fall of the monarchy of July, followed in quick succession. On the 6th of March the first public meeting took place in the Thiergarten. The events of the 13th at Vienna brought the revolution nearer, and on the 18th Berlin was in full revolt. No little mystery still shrouds the occurrences of that day and of the one which followed it. Thus much is, however, clear: there was no intention on the part of the people to provoke a conflict; and, on the

other hand, the two shots which were fired by the soldiery were fired without orders. In the palace the greatest indecision prevailed. The king lost his head, and his nearest relatives were more occupied in intriguing for their own advantage than in taking measures to insure his triumph. At length, while the contest was still undecided, when the military were in full possession of the principal streets and squares, and the insurgents had fallen back into the side streets and suburbs, the order went forth from the highest authority, that the troops should be withdrawn. Withdrawn they were, to the annoyance of many moderate liberals, who felt that either the conflict should have been avoided altogether, or the insurrection should have been effectually crushed.

With the withdrawal of the troops began eight uneasy months, in which no party, and hardly any public man, in Prussia gathered any laurels. The first scene was the deep humiliation of the king, who was made to stand with uncovered head before the bodies of those who had fallen in defence of the barricades, while a hymn composed by his ancestress, the wife of the great Elector, “ Jesus, meine Zuversicht" ("Jesus, my trust"), was sung by the immense crowd which had gathered under the windows of the palace. In the beginning of April the United Landtag was called together, but merely for the purpose of preparing the way for the National Assembly, which was to succeed it, and which was opened on the 22d May. This body, which ought to have fulfilled the functions of a constituent assembly, proved itself curiously incapable of useful work. The king, whose imaginative and excitable temperament had been impressed by the grandiose proportions of the popular movement, seems really at first to have wished to deal honestly by his people; but he was pushed further and further towards the reactionists, partly by the blunders of the national representatives, and partly by the growing insolence and atrocity of the mob. The plundering of the arsenal on the night of the 15th June-the outrageous attack on the hotel of the liberal minister Auerswald in the month of August—the revolutionary harangues of such wretched demagogues as Held and Müller of the Linden-the assaults which were made upon unpopular journalists, showed that the lower classes of the population little understood the difference between liberty and license, as the reactionary cliques amongst the nobles, the clergy, and the military, understood the distinction between order and servitude.

The National Assembly was divided into unnumbered cliques and fractions of cliques; but we may distinguish in it four very well-marked shades of opinion. First, there was the “extreme left," the foremost names of which were Waldeck and Jacoby ;

[ocr errors]


« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »