Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 135.pdf/180

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burg, Hardenberg had recommended that his extradition should be demanded, and that the demand should be backed, if necessary, by war with France. The king was in a flutter, though for a wonder he took the first part of the advice. An express is at once sent to Haugwitz in Silesia, with a letter proposing the question in the following form: "I have demanded satisfaction of Bonaparte for the violation of neutrality, and because Rumbold was accredited to my person. His extradition has been demanded. If this is not granted, but recourse is had to subterfuges, what should Prussia do to maintain her dignity and to fulfil her engagements both towards Russia, in accordance with the existing understanding, and towards her co-estates in North Germany? Many persons vote for war; I do not (moi pas). Reflect on the matter, and give me the benefit of your views. You know that I reserved to myself the right of having recourse to you in critical circumstances — and these are critical indeed!" Hardenberg remarks, "How significant was that moi pas, which the king underlined!"

It may in fact be said that there were times when Haugwitz and Hardenberg might be considered indifferently as foreign ministers, though they represented opposite policies. But the confusion in the foreign department went really much further than this. Hardenberg gives us a clearer view than we could get before of an abuse which caused much outcry at the time — the secret influence of the cabinet secretaries. Of course the ministers in Prussia, where the king governed personally, had not the same undivided responsibility as they have in constitutional countries. The king took their advice or not, as it pleased him. But in 1806 the condition of things was this, that the control of affairs was in the hands neither of the ministers nor of the king, but of two or three men called cabinet secretaries who went and came between them. This abuse had risen out of a habit which Frederick the Great had formed of transacting business without any personal communication with his ministers. The reports of the ministers were laid before him and upon these his decision was formed. It was the business of the cabinet secretaries in his time simply to draft the orders of cabinet from his rough notes and to take charge of them. This form of transacting business continued after Frederick was gone, but began then to have a very different meaning and effect. These secretaries, originally merely clerks, began now to rival the ministers in influence. From drafting orders of cabinet they passed to practically originating them; and as they had the advantage, which the ministers had not, of personal communication with the king, they gradually reduced the ministers to mere tools. Meanwhile they had no real responsibility, and at the same time, compared with the ministers, they had no accurate knowledge of the affairs they conducted. The particular cabinet secretary who controlled foreign affairs, making Haugwitz, and as far as he could, Hardenberg also his agent, was one Lombard, a Frenchman by birth, and very naturally suspected, though Hardenberg pronounces him not guilty, of being in Napoleon's pay. Just before the catastrophe came, Stein complained in a letter to the king that "the guidance of the diplomatic affairs of the state, at a period unparelleled in modern history, is in the impure and feeble hands of a French poetaster of mean extraction, a roué, in whom is combined with moral corruption a complete physical prostration and decrepitude!"

If we put aside the considerable part which accident played in the fall of Prussia — for Alexander's sudden change of policy at Tilsit was an accident as far as Prussia is concerned — the causes of the catastrophe seem such as we have described: on the one hand, the want of any nation, in the proper sense of the word, underlying the State, on the other hand, a deplorable confusion in the administration arising from a failure of that powerful royal initiative by which the administration had been originally created. And now let us pass from the fall of Prussia to its reconstruction.

We misapprehend the nature of what took place when we say, as we usually do, that some important and useful reforms were introduced by Stein, Hardenberg, and Scharnhorst. In the first place, such a word as reform is not properly applied to changes so vast, and in the second place, the changes then made or at least commenced, went far beyond legislation. We want some word stronger than reform which shall convey that one of the greatest events of modern history now took place in Prussia. Revolution would convey this, but unfortunately we appropriate that word to changes in the form of government, or even mere changes of dynasty, provided they are violent, though such changes are commonly quite insignificant compared to what now took place in Prussia. And the effect of our want of a word is not less