Charles von Hügel/Biographical Sketch

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412865Charles von Hügel — II. Biographical Sketch. Alfred von Reumont

Brussels, 1863.





Translated from the German


By Alfred von Reumont [later Prussian Minister at Florence].
Biographische Denkblätter. Leipzig, 1878. 8vo.


IN our times, the avocations of life are in general so clearly differentiated that the passage from one to another, and the combination of several, are much rarer than in earlier days. The subject of this biographical sketch was one who happily was able not only to become thoroughly at home in several branches of knowledge, but, also found time, in the course of an eventful life, filled with professional duties, to pursue a favourite science so assiduously as to further its progress in a marked degree.

Carl Alexander Anselm Baron von Hügel was born at Ratisbon on the 25th of April, 1795. Diplomacy belonged to the traditions of his family. His father, Johann Aloys Joseph, had transplanted the family to Austria. Born at Coblenz in the year 1754, Aloys von Hügel had attained to great authority under the last Prince Elector of Treves, Clemens Wenzeslaus of Saxony. Stormy times followed, in which the spiritual sovereignties along the Rhine went to pieces. Under the stress of the moment the Prince Elector, like many others, failed to give proofs of heroism: perhaps he had not the chance. When the storm was over Hügel went to Vienna, and found honourable service at the Diet of Ratisbon, as Assessor[1] to the Chief Commissioner Prince Karl von Thurn und Taxis. The elder of his two sons, born at Coblenz in 1792, who bore the names of his princely godfather the Elector, was one of the confidants of the Chancellor of State, Prince Metternich, whose father, also a Rhinelander, had had relations with the Hügel family. In later years this son exercised a certain influence over the literature of his time as Director of the Secret State Archives—a Department at that time administered on principles very different from those which obtain at the present day.

The younger son, Carl, was a student of law at Heidelberg, but discontinued his studies for the purpose of entering the Austrian army, with which he took his share in the last stages of the war of liberation, and entered Paris with the Allied Sovereigns. He next took part in the Northern Mission, which effected the union of Norway with Sweden, and, on his return south, commanded for a time a troop of Hussars stationed in Provence, and acted as Commandant de place at Arles and Tarascon. After the Congress of Laibach[2] he took part in the expedition which restored the absolute power of King Ferdinand in Naples, and, after the easy victory, remained as Military Attaché at the Imperial Embassy in the capital of the Italian South. In 1824 he returned to Vienna. In 1825 he lost his father by death, and was led by unexpected circumstances into new paths.

The circumstances which, apart from a pronounced inclination to scientific pursuits, determined Hügel, a brilliant member—not so much by birth as by personal advantages and connexions—of the brilliant and joyous Viennese society of the third decade of our century, to retire from the army and to absent himself from his home

(In Fancy Dress)
From a Painting by E. Sales. Vienna, 1814.

for many long years, are known to all who take an interest in the inner and domestic history of Austria during the period of its then ruler's omnipotence. Thirty years of age when he first took his place in the society of the capital, he was a handsome man, slender and well built, attractive in manner, refined and elegant, with an open countenance which united liveliness with good nature, full of chivalrous courtesy of bearing. Even in advanced years he retained something very winning, which gave expression both to his consistent high breeding, and to his kindness of heart. He was a member of an aristocracy for which, at that time, after the rapid collapse of the revolutionary movements in the south of Europe, the stream of politics seemed, notwithstanding certain occasional ominous symptoms in France, to be flowing smoothly and evenly, and to leave the amplest room for those social pleasures which made the centre of existence. His marriage with a young lady of one of the noblest Hungarian families seemed settled, when a rival crossed his path, whom he had certainly not expected. The young lady was the Gräfin Mélanie Zichy Ferraris—at that time nineteen years of age: the rival was Prince Clemens Lothar von Metternich, fifty-six years old, who had recently lost his second wife Antonie von Leykam, created on her marriage Gräfin von Beilstein. On the 30th of January, 1831, the marriage took place between the Prince and the Gräfin Mélanie.

Hügel had left home in the previous year. He went first to England, then to France. In both countries he was busily preparing for a journey to the East, and meanwhile made many friendships. Embarking at Toulon[3], he remained for a short time on the mainland of Greece and in Crete; sailed thence to Alexandria, then to Cyprus; crossed to the Syrian coast; tarried for a while in Atakie (Antioch); and thence turned southwards to see the chain of the Lebanon, and to visit Baalbeck. At Beiruth he embarked for Jaffa. He made various excursions through Palestine and Syria; reached Suez, and thence betook himself to Aden; and, at last, in 1832 landed at Bombay. In northern Syria he had suffered from cholera, which also robbed him of his faithful servant. Bombay became now his head-quarters for some time. He traversed, not without suffering from swamp fever and other ills, a part of the old Mahratta kingdom and the Deccan, visited the monuments of Bijapore, Goa, and Mysore; ascended the Nilgiri Hills and reached Ceylon, by way of Coimbatur, the coast of Malabar, and Cape Comorin. There he remained four months, exploring the island in all directions. Then he followed the coast of Coromandel and visited Tranquebar, Pondicherry, and Madras. In October 1833 he went on board the English frigate Alligator and sailed to the Indian Archipelago and Australia. Next he took ship for New Zealand and Manilla, touched at Macao and Canton, and reached Calcutta. From Calcutta he started on the greatest and most memorable of his journeys, the journey to the Himalaya Mountains and along the frontiers of Tibet, which brought him to Cashmere and to the highlands between the Oxus and the Indus. In the year 1835 he turned homewards through the land of the Sikhs to Delhi and proceeded to Bombay, whence, four years before, he had started on his long and laborious travels. In this city, the capital of the Western Presidency, he spent the succeeding year, and at last returned by way of the Cape of Good Hope and Saint Helena to England. He had been away for six years.

A part, but only a part, of this great expedition has been described by him in various works. In the year 1840 appeared the first of the four volumes on Cashmere and the country of the Sikhs; in the years 1850–52 his treatise on the basin of the Cabul and the mountains between the Hindu-Kusch and the Sutlej was published in the Memoirs of the Imperial Academy of Sciences of Vienna. The latter is a work of geographical and historical importance. It is the first description, from the pen of a conscientious observer, of the formation and features, the fortunes and the circumstances, of this part of the south-western declivities of the mightiest elevation of Asia, and indeed of the world; a country which has played an important part in the history of the great military expeditions of all times.

Twenty years after 'Cashmere' was published, an account of an earlier part of his expedition appeared, under the title of "The Pacific Ocean and the Spanish Possessions in the East Indian Archipelago." This account, printed for private circulation, was dedicated to the Archduke Maximilian, who, himself a great traveller, had given proof of very brilliant gifts. The Preface, in which the author explains the cause of the late appearance of the book, shews his impartiality and his sense of justice. He says: "In face of the thoughtless charges of recent travellers, and of the malicious accusations of ancient rivals, I think it only right to raise a voice, however feeble, in favour of the colonial policy of Spain. My opinion is, at all events, the impartial opinion of an independent traveller. For years, and in all parts of the globe, the guest of Englishmen, of that mighty people whose grand views of life actuate each of its members, I feel myself deeply indebted to them for friendly reception and help, without which a part of my travels would have taken double the time, and a part would have been impossible, and I seize this opportunity, as I have done on all previous opportunities, to give expression to my warmest and heartiest thanks. But my judgment with regard to the success of Spanish institutions in the Philippine Islands was not to be warped either by my friendship with individual Englishmen, or by the splendour of the British Colonial Governments.

"If that government is the best for a colony which is the most closely bound up with the native population; that government which thinks it important that the products of the soil should, in the first place, serve for the sustenance of the natives; a government which, instead of feverish money-making, teaches them content; a government which is at one with them in manners and customs, welcomes them as fellow-countrymen, as relations, as brethren, maintains for them peace and quiet, treats them as responsible beings, considers their claims to joy and happiness, educates them, ennobles them, cultivates them, and teaches them to believe in the true God:—then indeed may Spain point, with proud consciousness, to its Philippines[4]."

These travels, however, had other results besides literature. Carl von Hügel sent and brought home magnificent collections, which were incorporated, in part with those of the Imperial Museum of Natural History, in part with those of the National Library of Vienna. A series of more than thirty thousand objects illustrative of the natural sciences; a mass of curiosities of every kind,—idols and costumes, pictures, religious and domestic appurtenances, utensils and tools, armour and weapons, musical instruments and the like, coins, ornaments, precious textile fabrics from India, Cashmere, China; Egyptian antiquities, &c.; drawings and manuscripts, all these things were among the fruits of his long wanderings. A description of a great part of his botanical and zoological collections was published in various works by the collector in conjunction with Endlicher, Heckel, and others. Botany was always his favourite study.

In the gardens of his beautiful villa on the road from Hietzing to St Veit, which from 1837 onwards became his chief residence, he cultivated a large number of exotic flowers and plants, and gathered about him those rich collections of every kind which he retained as souvenirs of the years spent in the East. He was a man of delicate and refined taste, who, whilst giving their full value to scientific interests, and dedicating a large portion of his time to serious labours, loved to be surrounded by that noble luxury which, in his case and for him, was no mere external. His was an artistic nature, and in him the man of science and the man of the world were harmoniously combined. The gardens at Hietzing, with their rare exotic growths—partly in the open air, partly under glass—and their plashing fountains; the collections of strange birds and insects; and many remarkable objects from the far East which threw such various lights on ethnography and the history of costume, and indeed, on the history of civilization:—all these things are treasured in friendly and grateful memory. Three times a week these gardens were open to all.

During this peaceful decade of his life, Hügel organised the first of the public Flower Shows held in his own gardens, and founded the Vienna Horticultural Society, of which he became and remained President until he again and finally left home. On his resignation he was appointed Honorary President: a pleasant memento of those years spent in useful studies.

Whilst he lived this studious life at Hietzing receiving from all quarters, from far and near, visits, proofs of sympathy, and of gratitude, invitations to take up business of all sorts and to engage in occupations foreign to him, he continued, as heretofore, to play an active part in Viennese society. The old relations of his family with the house of Metternich,—relations which, in the case of his brother, had developed into the greatest intimacy,—had their effect with Carl von Hügel also. Years had passed away since the events which had exercised a determining influence upon his fortunes: a friendly relationship began, and continued until the death of the celebrated statesman.

It was towards the end of the public career of the latter that a visit was received at Hietzing which became decisive for the owner of the beautiful villa. General Farquharson, of a Scotch family, brother-in-law of General Sir James Outram, whose name is not unknown in the history of Anglo-Indian policy, came, with his daughter Elizabeth, to visit Hügel, who in the past had been his guest in the distant East. At Verona, in the year 1847, Hügel, then aged fifty-two, engaged himself to the beautiful young girl. But several years had yet to go by before the marriage could take place.

On the 13th of March, 1848, Carl von Hügel brought the fallen Austrian Premier out of the Chancery of State, where it was now dangerous for him to stay, and out of Vienna, which was in a state of tumult characterised by an historian in the euphemistic phrase: "on that day barely fifty persons were killed or wounded." Whilst the mob were sacking the Chancellor's residence—whether its valuable contents were utterly destroyed or appropriated could matter but little to the owner—Hügel got him safely away. His carriage, followed by Prince Liechtenstein on

London, 1848.

horseback, drove at walking pace through the turbulent crowd, which had no suspicion that the man, whose life was threatened, was in hiding within. It was the fate of Latour from which he was escaping at that moment; and he who had been omnipotent in the great Empire had for several days together to slink about in disguise. How the statesman who had grown grey and old in politics was at the time regarded even beyond the limits of Austria, appears in the circumstance that one of the most respected German publishers printed the fragment of a scurrilous lampoon which that untrustworthy scandal-monger Hormayer, who died a few months after Metternich's fall, had not lived to finish. Amid manifold dangers Carl von Hügel conveyed the Prince and Princess Metternich to England, and there for a time Hügel remained[5]. Meanwhile his country was brought to the verge of destruction by madness, incapacity, and infirmity of purpose; and the capital became the scene of anarchy and every crime.

On his return home Hügel with the rank of Major rejoined the army, which, under Prince Windischgrätz, had restored law and order in Vienna: and at the end of the winter, 1849, when the second Piedmontese war began, he was appointed to the head-quarters of the man to whom, when people in general had lost their heads, Grillparzer had addressed his: "In thy Camp is Austria." On the conclusion of the Conventions which had for their result the operations in revolutionary Central Italy on the part of the four Catholic powers, he was sent as representative of the Empire to Gaeta and Naples; he accompanied the Master of the Ordnance, Baron d'Aspre, in his advance on Tuscany; and after the submission of Leghorn he came to Florence. Here, in June, when Lieutenant Field–Marshal Prince Friedrich Liechtenstein took over the command of the army of occupation, he was appointed Chargé d'Affaires; and here, from the conclusion of the Treaty which regulated the occupation, he represented Austria in the capacity of Envoy Extraordinary. This diplomatic mission lasted ten years.

The Grand-ducal Ministry, which arrived from Gaeta in advance of the Sovereign, was glad indeed to negotiate with the diplomatist instead of with the Master of the Ordnance, and Baron von Hügel, during the long period of his mission, did not disappoint these first favourable expectations. And yet his task was assuredly not an easy one! Peaceful as the state of affairs appeared on the surface, the irritation beneath was great and deep. I refrain from giving an opinion whether the military occupation was a necessity, except at Leghorn, which had been the real centre of the revolution, and was the one place where the revolution continued, when the loyalty of the inhabitants had put it down everywhere else. But, notwithstanding the exemplary discipline of the troops and the courtesy which the generals shewed in the performance of their various military duties, this occupation was a misfortune for the Grand Duke, for his family, and for the country: a misfortune which was only increased by its long duration. It made the populace indifferent. It estranged a great party, which included the majority of those, who, in the April of the year in question, had directed the rising in favour of the legitimate sovereign, and among whom ideas of Italian independence had been encouraged by the Grand Duke himself: and it was the estrangement thus produced, which, cleverly utilised and increased from abroad, prepared the way for the revolution of 1859. During this decade all the good qualities

Florence, 1849.

of the Tuscan administration,—to which even its political opponents do justice,—were insufficient to overcome the evil effects of the general political situation, and of the consequent want of liberty with which the abolition of the Constitution of 1848 was associated.

The Austrian Envoy did all that he could to lighten the task of the Government, to soften the pressure of circumstances, to reconcile antagonisms, to conquer antipathies. Even in those cases where political dependence was bound to increase dissatisfaction and to heighten anxiety for the future, he personally awakened no discord. His bearing was always conciliatory, his conduct considerate, his judgment equitable. His personality was of service to him, for he was a man of thoroughly noble temper, of hearty benevolence, of great knowledge of the world, of rich and varied culture, of social virtues,—in a word "a perfect gentleman." All these qualities were of great advantage to him, especially in a city and society such as he found at Florence. His eager patriotism went hand in hand with ready recognition of all that was good and honest, wherever he might happen to find it. He understood and loved the art of keeping a pleasant house. For a while his sister Francesca lived with him, the widow of Count Hardenberg, the Hanoverian Minister at Berlin. She died at Florence. In 1851 he married Miss Farquharson and notwithstanding the great difference of age this marriage, of which three children were the fruit, was a thoroughly happy one.

Surrounded by countless curiosities and works of art of all kinds,—in part inherited, as for instance, the great collection of miniature portraits bequeathed by his brother, who, crushed by the revolution, had died in August 1849[6], in part the outcome of his travels,—full of lively feeling for the beauties of nature, and the most active interest in the wonders of botany, Hügel spent ten years at Florence, years replete with manifold activity and enjoyment. Of these years the winter was spent in the city[7], the summer mostly in its neighbourhood, chiefly at the beautiful country-seat of Quarto,—then the property of Prince Demidoff, but later of the Grand Duchess Marie of Russia,—which commands the lovely, luxuriant valley of the Arno, and the hills and mountains which surround it. Hügel's villa at Hietzing was now the property of Duke William of Brunswick, but a portion of the precious contents of the green-houses were in the hands of M. de Demidoff at San Donato, near Florence, and there Hügel diligently visited his old friends.

Baron von Hügel was always on good terms with Florentine society, which at that time still preserved many of its old traditions, and in social intercourse with the Austrian Minister political differences, whatever they might be, were as little as possible in evidence. It was not the fault of Hügel that sentiments due to causes already indicated were spreading more and more, especially after the Peace Congress at Paris and the new departure made by Piedmont at that time, and that the revolution began in the most peaceful, best administered, and in its domestic circumstances, happiest country of the Peninsula. Whether he had formed a sufficiently definite and clear conception of the movement which had taken hold upon men's minds, and if not of the intentions, at least of the means at the disposal of the party, which, in April 1859, brought about the overthrow of the Grand Duke; whether he had correctly measured the power which had been conferred upon the opponents of the Sovereign by the alienation of the one party and the inert indifference of the other, I should not wish to decide. During the year before the crisis I was only for a time in Tuscany; and immediately before the outbreak I was not there at all, although I kept up constant communication with men of the most divergent views. But when I reflect that, apart from occasional expressions in his letters, Hügel in November 1858 described the present as a time of "restoration of, it is to be hoped, more than momentary quiet and order," and as "a time of truce," I am inclined to doubt whether he rightly appreciated the state of affairs. He was, I think, like many others, surprised, if not by the rising itself, yet by the turn which it instantly took. He left Florence immediately after the Grand-ducal family[8], and like them was not molested. He hardly anticipated that this was a parting for ever from a country which he loved, and where he may well have thought to spend the remainder of his life.

For more than a year he remained in his own country. He had visited it during the time of his mission to Florence, and in particular in the year 1855, when the dignity of Privy Councillor was conferred upon him; but he found it much changed. The death of Prince Metternich, which took place soon after his return to Vienna, on the 11th of June, 1859—the Prince had attained the great age of eighty-six—may well have reminded him of the full significance of the change. And what had not happened during those eleven years since he had rescued Metternich from the fury of the Viennese revolutionaries! In the following May (1860) the printing of his above-mentioned book on the Philippines was complete. The significant preface, written at Florence, in which he relates how his scientific activity had been interrupted a decade before, is dated the 4th November, 1858. "The moment appeared to me to be, at that time, too serious to permit of any mental gift or bodily endowment, whatever their greatness or insignificance, being withdrawn from the public service: a bulwark had to be constructed against the dissolution of society; the break-down had to be prevented of all that was great and noble, of all that had been shaped and hallowed in the long course of centuries; service was demanded by right and order, in one word by the Emperor. To execute this duty I had to bid adieu to my property near Vienna, to my villa formed according to my own taste. There I had hoped, surrounded by the memorials of a stormy life and by those charming witnesses of my wanderings, the plants which I had brought home, to finish my days in quiet work. But duty called me back to an active life, to that world of affairs which I had forsaken a quarter of a century before. That for the Austrian soldier and diplomatist in Italy the last decade can have been no time of leisure for original speculation requires no detailed proof."[9]

In the year 1860 he was appointed Minister[10] at the Belgian Court. It was a post that suited him in many respects. A sovereign, full of ripe experience of the world and of knowledge of men, who, amidst the most ominous circumstances, had built up an orderly system on treacherous ground, had consolidated young institutions, had reconciled, or at least controlled, old antagonisms; a future Queen born of the Imperial house; a Catholic people in the midst of which lingered many a Hapsburg tradition—all this both strengthened the position of Baron von Hügel and harmonised with his tastes and views. He soon made an excellent position for himself in Brussels, and his house again became a social centre, although his increasing years, and the difference in the manners of the place, did not permit of social movement on such a scale as Florence had given scope for. He retained all his old active interest in science and literature, and above all in horticulture, a subject in which Belgium is conspicuous. As in old days he had been drawn to San Donato and Boboli, so now he was constantly in the Botanical Gardens. His beautiful house was near them, surrounded by fresh verdure.

In former days I had been from year's end to year's end in constant intercourse with him: at Brussels I visited him twice, in the springs of 1864 and 1866, and found in his house the hearty, friendly reception of earlier times. The second of my two visits was at a moment of painful agitation. It was the first half of May, shortly before the outbreak of the war which gave a new form to Germany. On the 8th of that month there was a diplomatic dinner at the Austrian Embassy. After the guests had gone I remained for a long while in solitary conversation with the master of the house. Heavy cares and anxieties were pressing upon him. At the age of seventy, after so many vicissitudes, he saw himself once again on the eve of events which, however the die might fall, foreboded another great change. I was deeply moved myself; a conflict between kindred had terrors greater than those of any ordinary war; and the question of right was not to be decided by considerations of statescraft, or conditions of political existence. Without prejudice to our patriotic attachments we parted with our old friendship unimpaired. It was our last meeting.

In the year 1867 his failing health occasioned his retirement from the public service: his sight had begun to suffer during the last year of his stay at Florence. At Brussels, as at Florence, he left behind him the best and the most honourable memories. Thenceforward he lived in the country of his wife, in the Isle of Wight, and at Torquay, on the south coast of Devonshire. His bodily strength was broken. The events of 1866 had been a heavy blow to him, and the rest of his life was one of continuous and painful illness, borne with great patience, and comforted and soothed by the most faithful, self-sacrificing love. His mental faculties, as well as his interests, remained, however, the same.

Hügel had always shewn a lively interest in my Italian studies, and especially in the Memoirs of the Duchess of Albany, whom he had known in her later years, and in the History of the City of Rome. In February 1870 he wrote to me from Torquay sending me Spencer Northcote's and Brownlow's Roma Sotterranea an epitome of di Rossi's Explorations of the Catacombs[11]. It was the memento of a dying man. An uncontrollable longing for home had seized him. He looked death calmly in the face, but wished to await it in his own country. Towards the end of May he was brought to London, but the journey exhausted the small remainder of his strength. With the greatest difficulty he reached Brussels by Calais, a dying man on a bed of pain. The 2nd of June was the day of his death. His widow conveyed his remains to the far-off Imperial city.

The foregoing sketch of a life so rich, fruitful, many-sided, and eventful, is no more than a slight outline, but it may perhaps have succeeded in giving an idea of the bearing and character of an admirable and lovable man, who manifested a very rare combination of qualities. In him the man of the world was combined with the man of science; mature experience of life with profound knowledge in many fields; the enjoyment of social pleasures, and the fulfilment of official duties, with persevering, passionate, industry in scientific pursuits. He was considerate, sympathetic, accessible, humane, without pretension and without stiffness. Till middle life notable in salons, he was a loving husband and father. His deep-seated religious feeling and his attachment to his Church had not a trace of narrowness or intolerance, and his christian charity shewed itself both in the mildness of his judgments, and in his beneficence and liberality. He was a warm patriot without antipathy to other nations; a decided Conservative without political intolerance; in all things full of moderation and equity.

In his official career, as in his scientific, he did not go without distinctions; in the one case as in the other he attached to them a proper value without parading them. When the Imperial Academy of Sciences was founded he was nominated one of its members, and in the year 1849 the English Geographical Society conferred upon him the large Victoria medal: Ob terras reclusas. In the midst of official duties and social distractions he never lost sight of scientific interests.

  1. Concommissarius: see Notes (6)
  2. This Congress, held January—February, 1821, at which the Emperors of Austria and of Russia, the King of Naples, and the Representatives of France and of England, were present, declared itself in favour of an armed intervention in Naples. A. v. H.
  3. May 1831, in the French man-of-war d'Assas. A. v. H.
  4. Der Stille Ocean, p. xi.
  5. The Princess died, March 3, 1854, five years before her husband, who was thirty-two years her senior.
  6. Dec 3, 1849, at Hardenberg, Hanover, A. v. H.
  7. The Embassy occupied the 'Casa Vecchia,' a fine old house in Via Pucci (corner of Via Servi), now an artists' club. A. v. H.
  8. My father left Florence with the Grand Duke, April 27, 1859. a. v. h.
  9. See Notes (18).
  10. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary.
  11. The work of Northcote and Brownlow is the basis of Kraus' book bearing the same title.