Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Prince Klemens Lothar Wenzel von Metternich
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Prince Klemens Lothar Wenzel Von Metternich
Statesman; born at Coblenz, 15 May, 1773; died at Vienna, 11 June, 1859; son of Count Georg, Austrian envoy of the Court of Vienna at Coblenz, and Maria Beatrix, née Countess von Kageneck.
He studied philosophy at the University of Strasburg, and law and diplomacy at Mainz. A journey to England completed his education. Metternich began his public career in 1801 as Austrian ambassador to the Court of Dresden. Though he had for several years prepared himself for a diplomatic career, he was especially fortunate in being immediately appointed to so prominent a position. Only two years later he was made ambassador to Berlin. The emperor considered it very important to have a minister at Berlin who could gain the favour of the Court and the principal Prussian statesmen, and who knew how to combine "great powers of observation with a moderate and agreeable manner". Metternich had already proved that he possessed these qualities. Napoleon was then emperor with the new empire at the zenith of its power. The Emperor Francis needed his ablest ambassador at Napoleon's Court, and in May, 1806, he sent Metternich to Paris. Metternich found himself in the difficult position of representing Austria in the face of the overweening threats and ambitious plans of Napoleon at the height of his power. He did so with dignity and firmness, as his report of his important audience with Napoleon on 15 August, 1808, shows. The year 1809 is marked by the great war between Austria and France. The German States were called upon to join her, but only the Tyrol responded. On 13 May Vienna was besieged by the French, but eight days later Napoleon was defeated by the Archduke Charles at Aspern. Metternich, treated as a prisoner of state by Napoleon, was finally released in July in exchange for members of the French embassy. After the battle of Wagram Austria's position was hopeless. Its army was cut off from Hungary and compelled to retreat to Moravia and Bohemia. A great statesman was needed to save the situation. On 4 August the Emperor Francis appointed Metternich as minister of state to confer with Napoleon, and on 8 October, minister of the imperial house and of foreign affairs. By the treaty of Schönbrunn (14 October), Austria was greatly reduced in size, and reached the greatest depths of its humiliation. But the moment of its degradation saw the beginning of its rise. The two-headed eagle soared to the loftiest heights, and it was Metternich who gave it the strength for its flight. For nearly forty years he directed Austria's policy. His first concern was to establish tolerable relations with the French Emperor. Napoleon desired by means of a new marriage to ally himself with one of the old European dynasties in the hope to raise himself and to provide an heir for the imperial throne. He obtained a divorce from Josephine Beauharnais, and through the mediation of Metternich married Maria Louise, daughter of the Emperor Frances of Austria. Though at present it seems to become more and more probable that Napoleon's union with Josephine was a valid marriage, nevertheless it is certain that when Napoleon wedded Maria Louise (11 March, 1810) the Court of Vienna and the Papal Curia were absolutely convinced of the unlawfulness of Napoleon's first alliance.
Napoleon's connexion with the imperial family of Austria had no influence on politics. Fate led the French Emperor, after ruining so many others, to ruin himself. At Schönbrunn he pronounced the temporal sovereignty of the Roman See to be at an end, and in reply to the pope's excommunication he remarked: "This will not cause the arms to drop from the hands of my grenadiers." Although he imprisoned the pope, in the Russian campaign on the Beresina the arms did drop from the frozen hands of his grenadiers. As the crisis approached the decision lay with Austria. From a quarter past eleven in the morning until half past eight in the evening Metternich was closeted with Napoleon (Dresden, 26 June, 1813). "Our conference consisted of the strangest farrago of heterogeneous subjects, characterized now by extreme friendliness, now by the most violent outbursts of fury". Napoleon raged, threatened, and leaped up like a chafed lion. Metternich remained calm. Napoleon let his hat, which he was holding under his arm, drop to the floor. Metternich did not stoop to pick it up. The emperor also tried persuasion. "Your sovereigns", he said, "who were born to their thrones cannot comprehend the feelings that move me. To them it is nothing to return to their capitals defeated. But I am a soldier. I need honour and glory. I cannot reappear among my people devoid of prestige. I must remain great, admired, covered with glory." For that reason, he said, he could not accept the proposed conditions of peace. Metternich replied, "But when will this condition of things cease, in which defeat and victory are alike reasons for continuing these dismal wars? If victorious, you insist upon the fruits of your victory; if defeated, you are determined to rise again." Napoleon made various offers for Austria's neutrality, but Metternich declined all bargaining, and Napoleon's oft-repeated threat, "We shall meet in Vienna", was his farewell to Metternich. Metternich gave the signal for war, and Schwarzenberg led the decisive battle of Leipzig. The Emperor Francis raised his "beloved Count Metternich" to the rank of Austrian prince. "Your able efforts in conducting the department with which I entrusted you in difficult times are now, at a moment highly decisive in the world's destiny, happily crowned with success."
Metternich reached the height of his power and renown at the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815). No idea can be had of the difficulty of the problems that were to be solved. The very first conference of the representatives of the powers previously allied against France (Austria, Prussia, Russia, and England), held on 19 September, 1814, at Metternich's villa on the Rennweg, ended in a discord over the Polish question. It constantly required all of Metternich's most brilliant qualities to preserve harmony. One of his favourite means was to provide festivities of all sorts. They have often been criticized as if they had been the object of the congress, and not a means to attain its ends. Metternich succeeded finally in bridging over every difficulty. The Emperor Francis expressed his satisfaction with Metternich's services in securing peace and order in Europe, and especially in restoring to Austria its ancient pre-eminence. The rearrangement of German and Italian affairs gave but little satisfaction to either side, but henceforth Metternich was the leading statesman of Europe. For the settlement of questions still pending and other difficulties that arose, the following congresses were held: Aix-la-Chapelle, 1818; Karlsbad (a conference of ministers), 1819; Vienna, 1820; Troppau, 1820; Laibach, 1821; and Verona, 1822. The Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle, at which the monarchs of Austria, Prussia, and Russia were personally present, devoted its attention to the adjustment of the relations of the powers to France, though Metternich also emphasized the dangers arising from demagogic agitation, and expressed his suspicions that its focus was in Germany. When, not long after, the Russian councillor, Kotzebue, was assassinated by the student, Sand, Metternich in twenty-four conferences of German ministers at Karlsbad took measures to put an end to the political troubles in Germany. All publications of less than twenty folios were to be subject to censorship; government officers were to be placed at the universities to supervise them; in the several states the constitutions providing for diets in accordance with ancient usage were to be retained; representative constitutions were to be suppressed. Despite England's and Russia's resistance, Metternich at the two succeeding congresses successfully carried his proposition to intervene in behalf of the Italian states, which were threatened and hard pressed by the revolution. This measure brought upon Austria the hatred of the Italian people. Finally Austria and Russia split on the question of freeing Greece from the Turkish yoke, Austria showing herself to be a decided friend of the Turks. The result was a blow to Metternich's policy. He had dropped from the high-water mark of his influence. Thereafter Russia's influence increased.
Since the death of Prince Kaunitz (1794) the position of house, court, and state chancellor had been vacant, but in 1821 Metternich was invested with that office. "Your deserts have been increased by the uninterrupted zeal, the ability and fearlessness with which, especially in the last two years, you devoted yourself to the preservation of general order and the triumph of law over the disorderly doings of disturbers of the peace in the states at home and abroad." Under the Emperor Ferdinand I after 1835, the direction of affairs, after the emperor himself, was in the hands of a council consisting of the Archduke Ludwig (uncle of the emperor), the state chancellor Metternich, and the court chancellor Kolowrat. Metternich's influence over Austria's internal affairs was less than is generally supposed. Count Hartig, who was well informed, declares (Geschichte der Revolution, p. 19): "In matters of internal administration the prince was seldom heard, and was purposely kept away from them." In this department after 1826, it was the minister Count Kolowrat whose influence was decisive. Many envied Metternich his pre-eminence. The aristocracy always saw the foreigner in him, and others looked with resentment upon the preference shown foreigners in the state chancery (Friedrich Gentz, Adam Müller, Friedrich Schlegel, Jarke). Grillparzer, director of archives in the Hofkammer, expressed himself very harshly on that point in 1839, though it must be noted that Grillparzer had been highly incensed. In all these matters Kolowrat had the advantage of Metternich. He was even considered capable of granting, or, at least, of preparing a constitution, and was thought to be inclined to do so.
As time passed "the Metternich system" came to be held more and more responsible for everything unpleasant, and its author to be hated and attacked. His own acts show the injustice done the prince in this regard. To quote from his "Political Testament": "To me the word freedom has not the value of a starting-point, but of an actual goal to he striven for. The word order designates the starting-point. It is only on order that freedom can be based. Without order as a foundation the cry for freedom is nothing more than the endeavour of some party or other for an end it has in view. When actually carried out in practice, that cry for freedom will inevitably express itself in tyranny. At all times and in all situations I was a man of order, yet my endeavour was always for true and not for pretended liberty." These words are the key to the understanding and appreciation of Metternich's actions.
Two more passages characteristic of the great statesman's temper of mind may be cited: "Admirers of the press honour it with the title, 'representative of public opinion', though everything written in the papers is nothing but the expression of those who write. Will the value of being the expression of public opinion ever be attributed to the publications of a Government, even of a Republican Government? Surely not! Yet every obscure journalist claims this value for his own products. What a confusion of ideas!" No less just and important a remark is the following on state religion: "The downfall of empires always directly depends upon the spread of unbelief. For this very reason religious belief, the first of virtues, is the strongest power. It alone curbs attack and makes resistance irresistible. Religion cannot decline in a nation without causing that nation's strength also to decline, and the fall of states does not proceed in arithmetical progression according to the law of falling bodies, but rapidly leads to destruction." When on 13 March, 1848, the storm of the revolution raged in Vienna, the state chancellor, who preferred to sacrifice himself rather than others, immediately resigned his position. He went to England, Brussels, and Schloss Johannisberg. From the last place he returned to Vienna in 1851, and eight years later died in his palace on the Rennweg at the age of eighty-six.
In Europe Napoleon, Metternich, and Bismarck set their stamp upon the nineteenth century. All three of them lived to see their own fall. Metternich remained the longest in the leading position of "coachman of Europe". Nothing better characterizes the great statesman than what he repeatedly said, proud and aristocratic as always, to Baron A. von Hübner a few weeks before his death: "I was a rock of order" (un rocher d'ordre). Metternich married three times: in 1795 Maria Eleonora, granddaughter of Princess Kaunitz, by whom he had seven children; in 1827 Maria Antonia, Baroness von Leykam, by whom he had a son, Richard Klemens; and in 1831 Countess Melanie Zichy, by whom he had three children.
The only one of his sons that survived him was Richard Klemens, who published: "Aus Metternichs nachgelassenen Papieren" (8 vols., Vienna, 1880-84). The first two volumes contain Metternich's biography. In the third volume begins the "Schriften-Sammlung" arranged according to years as follows: vol. III, 1816-22; vol. IV, 1823-29; vol. V, 1830-35; vol. VI, 1835-43; vol. VII, 1844-48. Vol. VII contains "Mein Rücktritt", pp. 617-32, "Mein politisches Testament", pp. 633-42, and "Ehren, Würden, und Auszeichnungen", pp. 643-58. Vol. VIII, 1848-59, contains: "Aus dem Tagebuch der Fürstin Melanie" (pp. 3-141), Metternich's letters to his daughter Leontine (1848-58) (pp. 142-282), letters to Baron Koller in London, Count Buol in Vienna, and others (1849-58) (pp. 283-420), supplements to the Princess Melanie's diary, a collection of Metternich's writings (1848-53) (pp. 421-586), and the year of his death (1859) (pp. 589-627).
Fürst Clemens von Metternich in Der Katholik, I (1870), 726-50; GUGLIA, Friedrich von Gentz (Vienna, 1901); VON RAVELSBERG, Metternich und seine Zeit, 1773-1859, II (Vienna and Leipzig, 1906-); WURZBACH, Biographisches Lexikon des Kaisertums Oesterreich, XVIII (1868), 23-62.