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Art. I. - Geschichte des Oestreichischen Hofs und Adels, und
der Oestreichischen Diplomatie. (History of the Austrian Court, Nobility, and Diplomacy.) By Dr. EDWARD VEHSE (forming part of a series of Histories of the German Courts since the Reformation). Ten Parts. Hamburg: 1852. RECENT Swiss traveller describes a village in the Grison
country, situated on the slope of a great mountain, of which the strata shelve in the direction of the place. Huge crags directly overhanging the village, and massy enough to sweep the whole of it into the torrent below, have become separated from the main body of the mountain in the course of ages by great fissures, and now scarcely adhere to it. When they give way, the village must perish; it is only a question of time, and the catastrophe may happen any day. For years past, engineers have been sent from time to time to measure the width of the fissures, and report them constantly increasing. The villagers for more than one generation have been fully aware of their danger; subscriptions have been once or twice opened in the cantons and in Germany to enable them to remove; yet they live on in their doomed dwellings from year to year, fortified against the ultimate certainty and daily probability of destruction by the common sentiment-things may last their time, and longer.
It is needless to say how much of this popular fatalism is exhibited in the habitual acquiescence of modern society in the political institutions under which it lives. The cracks and VOL. XCVIII. NO. CXCIX.
crevices in the mountain which overhangs our old privilegefounded European system, are constantly sounded by explorers, and their reports are never very reassuring; we are more and more convinced of the insecurity of thrones and commonwealths, and political sagacity wholly fails to reveal to us the manner of their reconstruction. Yet we live on in a kind of provisional safety, reconciled to the constant neighbourhood of dangers against which, apparently, we can no better guard ourselves than the villagers can prevent the fall of their rocks. And certainly no existing portion of that system more frequently reminds us of the case of our Grison villagers, than the fabric of the Austrian Empire; an edifice raised by a succession of accidents, on the surface of a mass destitute of all the ordinary political principles of cohesion, and doomed for generations past, by seers of all political sects, to speedy destruction. Yet the fatalist principle seems to prevail there as elsewhere. Its statesmen live on, not as disbelieving in the destiny predicted to them, but as conscious of inability to escape from it. They look on the revolutionary enemies with whom they maintain their everlasting struggle of repression, as the Turks do on the yellow-haired Russians, -as those who are destined, sooner or later, to take away their place and nation. Their rules of conduct, their professed principles, even their favourite maxims,--the alors comme alors of Kaunitz, the après nous le déluge of Metternich, --- all seem to indicate the thorough consciousness that what exists is provisional only, while to attempt to fashion the unknown future out of the present is but the hopeless task of a visionary. Yet the empire subsists meanwhile, and gives every now and then ample proof that its institutions, whatever their real strength may be, possess at least a superficial vigour and tenacity sufficient to repel outward invasion, and to reconsolidate the fabric after temporary shocks from within.
We do not mean to recommend the gossiping volumes before us as throwing any peculiar and direct light on these great questions of the day. But they form a compilation which the political inquirer will find useful no less than the antiquarian, and contain a world of anecdotic talk, industriously collected from all kinds of sources, trustworthy and otherwise, combined in German fashion with a very painstaking register of the official history of the Austrian monarchy: its succession of ministers, diplomatists, and generals, the pedigrees and vicissitudes of its noble families, from the reign of Maximilian down to the present time.
Unlike the fortunes of the other great European monarchies
those of Russia, Prussia, and Great Britain, showing a constant and continuing increase of power; that of France a steady increase for centuries followed by a stationary period - that of Austria (separating her history as far as possible from that of the Germanic Empire with which she was so long connected) exhibits several remarkable alternations of advance and decline. The first military monarchy of Austria was that founded by Maximilian and Charles the Fifth, which attained its height of power after the battle of Mühlberg in 1547. The lanzknechts of Maximilian, the Austrian heavy cavalry, and the hussars' of Hungary (first known by that name in Germany during the campaign of Mühlberg), had triumphed in turn over the French in Italy, the Turks in the East, and the Swabians and Saxons at home. And the monarchy which they upheld was, as it were, the first offspring of the mediæval chaos-brilliant in youthful strength, confident in its destinies, animated at once by the fire of old chivalry and modern improvement.
But all its fair prospects were overcast by the political storms which arose from the Reformation. Charles the Fifth, in an evil hour for the immediate furtunes of himself and his race, had, after much wavering, cast his sword into the balance on the side of the old religion. His hereditary subjects were still under the strong influence of early Protestantism. The reigns of Ferdinand I., Maximilian II. (regarded by many as himself a secret Protestant), Rudolf II., and Matthias (1556–1619), were, regarded from a general point of view, nothing but a continued and unsuccessful struggle against religious and secular innovation. In that struggle the first military monarchy of Austria was broken down; the central authority reduced to the narrowest limits. Throughout her German provinces (not to mention the endless complication of Hungarian affairs), confederacies of Lutheran nobles, burghers, and pensants encroached with increasing boldness on the shrunken prerogatives of the Crown.
Many of our readers will remember how much light the German historian Ranke has recently thrown on that comparatively obscure and unnoticed field of history, the Protestant conversion and Catholic reconversion of Austria. Dr. Vehse's third and fourth volumes add ample anecdotic matter to the more general statements of that philosophical writer. He shows in detail the rapidity and heartiness with which the Austrian nobility and townsfolk, in the several German provinces, embraced the Reformation. Even among the peasantry the old religion found it difficult to hold its own against the ardent incursions of the reformed preachers. It is common enough to speak of unchangeable traits in national and local character. But the fact is, that great revolutions will in some rare cases as completely transform the character of a people in two or three generations, as if it had been exterminated, and a new one substituted for it. Those who best know what the population of Vienna now is, will find it the most difficult to realise the fact, that the ancestors of her burghers of the present day were those who went out, by tens of thousands, an armed civic militia, to listen to the sermons of the Calvinist Opitz, and who plunged into the Flacian controversy on irreversible decrees' with all the zeal of a Scottish hill congregation. The change from what
. the fathers were to what the children have since become, was wrought in a few years by the determined, uncompromising, root-and-branch industry of the Jesuits. About the merits of that change men will never be agreed, until it is settled whether Thought, with its concomitant controversial turbulence, be or be not better than thoughtlessness, dividing its leisure hours between superstition and dissipation.
At the end of the sixteenth century it was said, that in all Austria Proper only five noble landed families, in Carinthia seven, in Styria one, remained Catholic, or, according to Hormayr, in all the hereditary States only thirty. When Ferdinand II. then Duke of Styria, kept Easter, 1596, at Gratz, he was almost the only individual there who followed the Catholic rite ; the whole town had become Protestant. A little more, and the triumph of the Reformation would have been complete from the Baltic to the Adriatic. Theological divisions, and the rapacity of Protestant nobles, began its defeat; but few secondary causes more contributed than the inflexible character of Ferdinand himself, who never stinted until he had trampled it out in blood in all the German provinces of Austria. Its ebb was as rapid as its flow had been. Easter 1626, just thirty years after the time above mentioned, was appointed by Ferdinand as the latest term at which Protestant worship could be tolerated in Upper Austria, its last stronghold. Eighty thousand peasants took up arms in their despair. Pappenheim, who suppressed their revolt, declared that even he, the ferocious soldier of the Thirty Years' War, had never in his life seen
such wild fury as that with which the Boors, singing psalms, 6 or with the frightful war-cry
“ Weil's gilt die Seel' und auch das Blut,
So geb' uns Gott den Heldenmuth,” • rushed on his cavalry, pulled them from their horses, and set on them with pikes, clubs, and morgensterns. The slaugh