Conversations With Prince Metternich

Taken from Fraser’s Magazine, Volume 61, page 79

IT was in the early part of the winter of 1834 that I made the acquaintance of Prince Mettemich at Vienna. He had heard of the interest that I took in Dr. Gall’s system; and soon after my arrival in the Austrian capital, a lady, a mutual friend, and a relation of his wife, communicated to me the Prince’s wish to see me at his palace. I was told to go there any evening about ten, and I lost no time in profiting by the opportunity. I was ushered into the saloon of the Princess, the beautiful Melanie, born Countess Zichy Ferraris, whom I found surrounded by a small and somewhat noisy circle of relations and friends. It was however near eleven before the Prince entered. He immediately came up and entered into conversation with me without formality. We conversed in German. I was subsequently told that the Prince generally spoke French in his wife’s saloon, especially with strangers, but that he made an exception in my case, having heard of my proficiency in the former, and inability to speak the latter language with fluency.

My eyes at that time were accustomed to scan the heads of all those with whom I came in contact ; and it required but a glance to show me that the Prince’s head was very large, indeed far above the average size, and that both the forehead and coronal region were remarkably prominent. What struck me most, however, was the extraordinary width between the eyebrows, the inner points of which were greatly depressed, showing, according to Gall an extreme development of a mental faculty called by him in German ‘Sachsinn,’ and in French ‘Sens de choses’, ‘ éducabilité’,’ &c. In his great work, Sur les Fonctions du Cerveau, Gall states that he’had perceived this part of the forehead to be prominent in all those who were remarkable for powers of observation and the memory of facts. When very large, he found it to be a sure sign that the individual preferred facts to abstract speculations. Neither before nor since have I met with so remarkable a prominence in this part of the forehead as in Prince Metternich. The cerebellum, too, was very large; and the Prince’s history does not seem to have belied Gal’s teachings in respect to the principal function of this portion o the brain.

After a few questions about myself, and whether I had known either Gall or Spurzheim, to which I replied in the negative, the Prince directly began speaking of the former. ‘ I was one of the first,’ he said, ‘to appreciate Gall’s discoveries, and to encourage him to pursue his investigations. I lived much with him, attended his lectures, and watched his progress. Having myself,’ he added, ‘studied every branch of science necessary to qualify me to become a medical man, I was the better able to understand Gall and the value of his doctrines’ (Lehre). The Prince dwelt upon this and on his love of natural sciences with evident satisfaction, and he more than once repeated to me that he had been one of the first and most consistent of Gall’s followers. ‘Gall.’ he went on to say, ‘ was a man of facts. He had great powers of observation, and nothing escaped him calculated to throw light on his favourite pursuit—the discovery of the functions of the brain. He was a great hater of theories, and he would never converse with ideologists. He was correct in his views, and his knowledge was profound, but he was confused in his manner of expressing himself, and his style 0f language was not good. There was often a want of clearness in his way of placing a subject before his hearers ; and I have frequently corrected him, and told him to alter his phrases, and say so and so.

‘Gall took great interest,’ the Prince told me, ‘in every department of nature, and he occupied himself much with the physiology of plants. In his garden he had a hospital for sick plants, and whenever he observed any in the apartments of his patients in an unhealthy state, he asked to have them sent to him to be cured. I accompanied him often to the bird and horse markets in Vienna ; and, much to the astonishment of the sellers, he invariably pointed out the best singers amongst the birds, and the dispositions of the horses.’

The Prince now asked me whether medical men in England were favorable to phrenology; whether the Phrenological Journal was more devoted to observations or to speculations and theories. He was himself, he assured me, perfectly convinced of the truth of Gail’s ‘ Lehre,’ taken as a whole, though some details were less satisfactorily established than others.

‘ I have never,’ he added, ‘since I became acquainted with Gall’s discoveries, employed any one confidentially or about my person without reference to the shape of his head.’ That phrenology should still be so little ‘known and appreciated, the Prince considered to be owing to the general ignorance of physiology amongst the upper and so-called educated classes.

A propos to the above relation by a great statesman and diplomatist of the interest which he took in Dr. Gall and his system, I may here mention that Gall was also highly valued by Count Pozo di Borgo, the celebrated Russian diplomatist. During his residence as ambassador at Paris, he not only employed Gall as his physician, but he derived so much pleasure from hearing him converse on his favourite subject, that a place was always reserved for him at his table.

It was quite a surprise to me to find in Prince Metternich such an earnest disciple of Gall. He renewed the conversation about him, and told me several anecdotes of his want of tact. ‘Gall had,’ he said, ‘a, peculiar faculty for bringing the cudgels on himself. He made many enemies in Vienna especially amongst the priests, and without any necessity. It was owing to his rough manners and uncompromising way of speaking his mind. He totally disregarded the necessity of tact in intercourse with the world. But he was the most careful and patient investigator I have known. He was a great thinker too; indeed, a truly philosophical mind.’ The Prince related to me the following anecdote as exemplifying Gall’s want of tact. ‘ Whenever I have been to Paris,’ he said, ‘ on diplomatic affairs, I have lived with him as much as possible. Gall invited me one evening to his house to be present at the dissection of the head of a girl’ (the name I could not remember) ‘who had been executed that morning for murder. I found the head already placed upon his table, and a large party of savans assembled. Amongst them was the chief physician to the Emperor Napoleon. nevertheless, before Gall proceeded to explain to us the peculiarities of the head and brain, in the most marked manner he called our attention to the striking resemblance he found in the features of the girl and the Emperor Napoleon. Of course we were all silent; but Gall would expatiate on this subject, although I trod upon his feet, and did all in my power to stop him and bring him to matters connected with his science.’

The Prince did not rank Surzheim so high as Gall, though he granted that he had done something for the nomenclature and classification of the mental faculties. I mentioned that the arctic voyager, Captain Ross, himself a phrenologist, had used numerals to distinguish the degrees of development of the cerebral organs. The Prince said that he was one who attached no further value to words than as they served to name and explain things; and as regarded the distinguishing of one faculty from another, or the degrees of development of any of them, it appeared to him the same whether numerals or terms as precise as possible were used. ‘But,’ he added, ‘it will always be most difficult, if not impossible, to designate a fundamental faculty of the mind by one word. Through life I have always paid attention to things themselves, and have never allowed myself to be misled by words.’

He said he had foretold Captain Ross’ failure. Others joining in the conversation, it turned on the periodical overflowing of the Nile. The Prince was of opinion that no satisfactory explanation of this phenomenon had as yet been given. He spoke of the great fertility it produced, and said that he had sent for several barrels of the Nile water to put it to the test. He had applied it to soil in which wheat been sown, and the result had been a surprising crop. He produced several ears of corn as specimens. They were neatly folded up in paper and noted. He had other specimens of corn grown in the same soil, which had not received Nile water. These latter were far inferior in quantity and quality. The Prince informed us, too, that he had planted corn taken from Egyptian mummies, which had been brought over to Vienna, and opened there. The seeds had germinated and produced a crop. I did not sufficiently attend to be able to recal to mind a that was said about this mummy corn; but the memorandum, such as it is, may have some interest, as the question has lately been mooted in England whether genuine mummy corn will grow or not. There could be no doubt of the genuineness of that which the Prince had planted.

He again drew me aside, and returned to the subject of phrenology. The outcry against Gall’s discoveries,’ he said, ‘ as leading to Materialism, was founded on ignorance. I saw the subject in a totally different light and had I not done so, I should have been one of Gall’s opponents. Nevertheless,’ he added, ‘Gall himself was a Materialist and this was the only point on which we could not agree.’

The Prince said that he found also in the phrenological principles a confirmation of the existence of God. He had told Gall that he should oppose him if his doctrines of the functions of the brain should lead to materialism and atheism, but that he had soon found out the contrary. I mentioned the opinions expressed in the Phrenological Journal, that the religious sentiments were the result of inborn fundamental faculties of the brain. ‘ Yes,’ said the Prince, suddenly interrupting me, ‘they could not be there without a purpose. It is impossible to suppose the Almighty meant to deceive his creatures.’

The Prince asked me how I intended to employ my time in Vienna; what studies I pursued &c. I informed him that I wished to see the public institutions, the hospitals, jails, lunatic asylums, &c. ‘Ah,’ he replied, ‘the latter are our weak side’ (Schwache Seite). I told him of the dreadful sights which had met my eyes in the madhouse at Linz, where I had seen many poor creatures behind iron bars, like wild beasts, and chained to the walls to boot, naked and covered with filth. Some had been in this state for upwards of twenty years, till nearly all signs of humanity had become obliterated. ‘I am afraid,’ said the Prince, ‘things are not much better in Vienna.’ Upon this, I ventured to express my surprise that his Highness did not cause improvements in the treatment of lunatics to be introduced. He smiled as he replied, that his department was Foreign Affairs; ‘but,’ he added, ‘things will be greatly improved before long.’ The private asylums in Vienna, he told me, were good. All public lunatic asylums, he was of opinion, ought to be removed from large towns. Each district should have its own, as it was not good to congregate large numbers of the insane together.

I may here mention that I subsequently saw the public lunatic asylum in Vienna, at that time called ‘Der Narrenthurm’ (the Fool’s Tower). It consisted principally of a huge circular building of several stories, and in this, as in the lunatic prison at Linz (for I can call it by no other name), the most disgusting, cruel scenes met my eyes. Here, again, poor creatures were to be seen behind thick iron bars, and chained to the walls. A scraper served to push in the food and bring out a portion of the filth. The treatment of these poor sufferers, considered to be raving maniacs, was too sickening to be dwelt upon. In the female wards cases 0f erotic mania were frequent. I was told, too, that excessive gambling in the ‘ Lotto’ had brought many into the ‘Narrenthurm.’ This Lotto, I may mention here, is a vile kind of lottery , which makes gambling easy and alluring to the poorest classes, and brings in considerable revenues to the State. In all the provincial capitals of the Austrian empire, as well as in Vienna, drawings periodically take place. Out of ninety numbers, five are drawn; speculators can stake even as small an amount as the value of a penny on such numbers as they fancy ‘ be the lucky ones, receiving in proportion as they stake on one number, or on two or on three, and in their order of, succession or not. The gain being great to those who hit upon three numbers in their order of succession, the amount that may be staked on this chance is limited, to prevent the State exchequer running too great a risk of having to disgorge. There are offices for staking on the numbers in every little town. In several I have had opportunities of observing the poorest classes carry articles of clothing, &c., to the pawnbroker’s on the evenings before a drawing, and then go with the money to the lotto office. The rage for gambling and the consequent misery resulting from this lotto system of the ‘paternal government’ of Austria may be easily imagined.

I was refused admission into the only private asylum I could hear of at Vienna. But I made the acquaintance of the proprietor, and to judge by what I saw of him, and what was communicated to me by an enlightened physician, although the money of wealthy relatives might gild the chains of the sufferers, yet coercion formed the main feature of the treatment.

But to return to my conversation with Prince Metternich. He related to me several anecdotes of singular cases of insanity which he met with when visiting lunatic asylum in company with Gall. They once saw two lovers in the same institution, who had become deranged in consequence of a sudden and cruel separation. They no longer knew one another as objects of mutual affection, although the were constantly raving to be united. When brought together they acknowledged being acquainted, but each said the other was not the beloved one. Both were insane on this point. Poor creatures! how different to the cherished image of former days each may have become in the other’s eyes. The Prince mentioned, too, the case of a distinguished mathematician, whose derangement consisted in his mistaking the number 5 for an 0 in all his calculations. In speaking of periodical insanity and suicide, the Prince told me that Gall considered all suicides to be insane. He related the case of a tailor who had jumped into the Danube, and when rescued had told how an angel had appeared to him and enticed him to spring off the bridge. He had heard of several instances of a similar explanation of their conduct having been given by suicides before their death. One was that of a woman who had climbed upon the roof of a house, and then jumped off. She became collected before she died, and related how an angel had suddenly appeared to her and had enticed her upon the roof. When there, he hovered before her, and so allured her that in attempting to reach him, she fell to the ground. Cases of monomania the Prince considered as strong evidence of the truth of Gail’s system; and in all cases of insanity he was convinced that the brain was either primarily; or indirectly affected by bodily disease. He told me that it had been proved in Paris that gambling and politics were the principal causes of suicide. He added, that many minds became unhinged in consequence of frequently attending the debates—a characteristic idea of his Highness.

He spoke much of the German philosophic systems, which he did not like. With his matter-of-fact understanding (Plattgeist) he could not, he said, admire such pure speculations and theories as the German philosophers indulged in. They were extraordinary creations of the imagination, glittering castles built upon sand. The reflective faculties were wrongly directed, and the inductive phil0sophy too much neglected, in Germany. When the German philosophy was examined by the light of physical science, it was found to consist principally of fine words, the sense of which no two minds would interpret exactly in the same way. He blamed, too, the synthetical system of mental philosophy, as opposed to the analytical. Neither did he approve of man’s energies being wasted in attempts to penetrate the ultimate causes of things, since all that man can do, he said, is to observe and note phenomena. It was absurd to puzzle ourselves about the why and because (‘ das Wie und Warum’). I mentioned to him the difficulty I had experienced in arguing with professed disciples of the dialectical school. He said it was perfectly useless to dispute with such and that the only way was to silence them at once by some clinching method. ‘Lalande, the astronomer,’ he said, ‘exerted himself to the utmost, when I associated with him at Paris to convert me to atheism. I told him, firstly, that his principles were repugnant to my feelings; and secondly, that he ennuied me extremely. It did not silence him, so at last I said “You do not believe in God.” He affirmed it. “Well,” I replied, “I do believe in God, so we are both believers. The only difference is that I believe yes, and you believe no; so let us continue good friends, and drop this subject, for no one can prove what he believes.” The Prince told me this anecdote both in German and French, with an air of much self- satisfaction. He expressed to me the pleasure which he had lately derived from reading a French translation of an article from the London Philosophical Journal, ‘On the Progress of Philosophy in the Eighteenth Century.’

Throughout our conversation the Prince’s manner was simple, calm, and earnest. He spoke slowly, and now and then with a slight hesitation. I found his features fine and expressive, but there was a peculiar dead look about the eyes. He seemed to take the deepest interest in every subject that was broached, and never to speak for the sake of carrying on the conversation. Neither on this, nor on subsequent occasions, did I ever hear a merely formal phrase fall from his lips. Though his manners in every respect were the very opposite of impulsive, yet he more than once tapped me on the knee or the arm (according as we were seated, or walking up and down) when he wished particularly to ensure my attention to something he was saying, or when he was pleased with anything I had said.

It was nearly two o’clock in the morning when I took my leave of the Prince. He shook hands with me cordially, and asked me to repeat my visit as often as possible, promising me introductions to the directors of the principal institutions of Vienna. My first impression of Prince Metternich—which, as I was, I noted down before going to bed (as likewise the above memoranda of our conversation)— was very different from what I had expected. There was in him a total absence of that air of astuteness which I had fancied must belong to so great a diplomatist. His head and body were erect, and there was a self-possessed and somewhat proud bearing about him which is best expressed by the German term ‘imponirend.’ He seemed to me a man of strong consistent character, self-satisfied, and with decided principles and rules of conduct; yet his manners and conversation were extremely simple and frank, so that I felt myself at ease, and much pleased with his calm, methodical way of carrying on a conversation.

It was not long before I again drove to Prince Metternich’s palace. The Princess had told me that her saloon would be 0pen to me every night after ten, an that her husband always came in from his bureau between that hour and eleven. I confess I should have preferred earlier hours; but for very many years it had been the Prince’s habit to devote this part of the night to social intercourse, and, as he informed me himself, he never retired to rest before two in the morning. ‘Habit is man’s nurse,’ says Schiller; nevertheless it must require an originally strong constitution to permit this habit of late hours to obtain, especially where, as in Prince Metternich’s case, so many of the day hours were devoted to important state affairs.

So methodical was he, however, in everything, that he told me on this second visit, that in his bureau he had two desks on opposite sides of the room. At the one he wrote all his despatches and official letters, or conversed with those who came to him on public business; the other was for his private affairs. Nothing could induce him, he said, to open at his private desk an official letter, however unimportant; if handed to him whilst sitting there, he would take it across to read it at the desk for the affairs of State. He acted in the same manner with private letters when brought to him at his official desk. He dwelt much on the association of ideas and their connexion with the outward objects to which we become accustomed; likewise on the beneficial influence on the mind from strict attention to physical order. The Prince spoke, too, with contempt of a class of clever men whose minds are generally in a state of confusion, their knowledge as ill-arranged as their possessions.

In the interim between my first and second visits, I had sent the Prince a Berlin Medical Journal to read, containing a review by Dr. Ideler of George Combe’s System of Phrenology, a translation 0f which had in the course of that year appeared in Germany. The Prince told me that he had read the review with much interest, and had lent it to his physician. Although Dr. Ideler in this article expressed his entire conviction of the truth of the general principles of phrenology, contrasting them favourably with the German speculative system 0f psychology, yet he dissented from many of Combe’s views. For instance, he disputed on theoretical grounds the phrenological organs and separate faculties of Hope, Conscientiousness, and Concentrativeness, explaining these phases of mental life as the result of the combined actions of other faculties, the physiological constitution, &c. The Prince said that he agreed with the reviewer every time that he corrected Combe. Subsequently he mentioned that he wished to have it fully established to what extent the faculties of animals were capable of development. On the one hand, he said, he did not think their treatment by man such as to elicit all their powers; but on the other, he could not agree with those philosophers who assert that animals have souls. Their instincts and propensities he found to be something quite different from the moral and intellectual faculties of man. I ventured to dissent from this view in its general and absolute bearing, stating that several of the intellectual differences between man and the superior animals were more quantitative than qualitative. I called his attention to many of the actions of monkeys and dogs which could not be explained by so-called ‘blind instinct.’ The Prince acknowledged that dogs would choose between motives, as when they will check their inclination to steal food from the recollection of punishment; but nevertheless I found it to be entirely repugnant to his religious feelings to suppose it possible that animals could have souls. He did not hold with the celebrated German physiologist, Burdach who has said that man in his pride never did a more foolish thing than when he built up a wall between himself and the rest of the animal creation. The Prince stated, however, that although he firmly believed the soul of man to be an immaterial essence or principle, yet he could not deny that all mental manifestations were dependent on material conditions. He saw too, he said, the practical value of this view, since we can become acquainted with the laws of matter the conditions of health. and development, &c. Those, he added, who were of a different opinion brought themselves into a difficulty, as they could not account for insanity. The light which phrenology threw on this disease, he said, was one of the first things which struck him in the days of his intercourse with Gall and had helped to convince him of, the truth of doctrines. He blamed the use of such terms as ‘disease of the mind,’ ‘of the soul,’ &c. (Geisteskrankheit, Seelenkrankheit); also the German way of speaking of a low character, as a vulgar soul (eine gemeine Seele), &c. The Prince, in comparing the inborn faculties with our concrete desires, said the former were as the soil (Baden), the latter the seeds (Santkorn) which sprang up in it.

He told me that he had written a treatise on sleep, and explained dreaming on phrenological principles. This treatise he had given to Gall, who was delighted with it, and had printed it in his works. He had found, he said, that those faculties which had been well worked by day slept the soundest by night, whilst those which had been excited only were most disposed to activity and dreaming. The difference in the effects of fatigue and of excitement of the faculties, he said, he had found by experience to be most striking. The muscles generally, he thought, came into a state of repose or sleep before the organs of the mind. He accounted thus for that consciousness which we often have before we fall asleep that we are lying in an uncomfortable position, yet without any disposition to change it, because the limbs are quite at rest. Sometimes, he added, certain organs of the mind are asleep whilst the limbs are active, as in cases of somnambulism.

Our conversation on the foregoing topics coming to an end, the Prince joined Prince Schönburg, an Austrian diplomatist, and other noblemen who had entered his wife’s saloon.

The execution of criminals became the subject of conversation. The Prince defended this extreme. rigour of the law in cases of murder saying that it should not be view in the light of punishment but of prevention only. Therefore he thought judges should never enter into the question whether a convicted murderer were a monomaniac or not, but leave him to be executed as a warning to others. Besides, it would be dangerous for society if it were established that eccentric indulgence in unbridled passions should they lead to murder, might be excused on the score of unsound mind, Prince Schönburg mentioned a project in Saxon to abolish public executions, and to have them take place in jails before certain public functionaries.

This plan Prince Metternich decidedly disapproved of; it would be as well, he said , to do away with capital punishments altogether, for the object being to deter by the example of a painful and ignominious death, the public at large would soon cease to believe in executions if they took place within the precincts of jails, and before social persons only. A little incident amused me in the course of this conversation. Prince Schönburg expressed his doubts whether cases of monomania should be exempted from capital punishment or not , and whilst apparently anxious for the solution of this question, and without allowing time or its discussion, he started another question, viz., Whether executions at all were useful? Prince Metternich immediately, and in no very gentle manner, desired him not to confound two distinct questions, nor whilst requiring an answer to one, to expect at the same time an answer to the other. He alluded to the frequency of such illogical proceedings in conversation, and to the confusion which they cause in arguments. I had previously been struck with the minute attention to the arrangement in his own mind of every subject the Prince conversed upon, and to the logical order in which he placed his arguments. One part he would distinguish by the letter A, another as B , &c.; and so he went on to give his explanations and work out his train of reasoning.

In the course of our conversation this evening, the Prince expressed his disapproval of the publication of crimes and suicides, with all their details, in the public prints. He considered this custom, as it takes place in England, to be injurious to society. It often created a morbid taste for horrors, and led to the commission of crimes and suicide, owing to the instinctive imitative propensities of man. I was again struck with the remarkable composure and self-possession of the Prince, though he never seemed to be thinking of himself, as a diffident man generally does. His voice too was invariably clear, harmonious, and bland, but without any modulation of tone such as one meets with in those who are not altogether candid, or who wish to make an impression on others by flattery or the use of persuasive arguments. I was, however, told by his wife’s relations and others in Vienna that he had an extraordinary talent for avoiding unpleasant things (Talent des Ausweichens). For instance, should any one having the opportunity of approaching him have a petition to present, or any favour to ask not agreeable to him to grant, he would soon become aware of it, and not allow any opening. He could manage this, I was told , s0 adroitly, that the hint would be taken without any offence being given. I was informed, too, that such was the power of his mind, he could extract the essence out of whatever came before him in an incredibly short space of time; that he possessed a vast stock of technical knowledge, and that he was able to converse well upon almost every subject, be it physical science, mechanics, literature, or the fine arts. He had great confidence, it was added, in his own powers in this respect, and he was fond of conversing with well-informed men. He was very silent, however, when in the society of those incapable of appreciating him. As regarded his personal character, I was told that he had never been known to bear malice; that he had no ‘rancune,’ and that he had never punished any one on account 0f enmity toward, or abuse of, himself. ‘But,’ said his mother-in-law, ‘er ist durchaus Verstandesmensch’ (entirely a man of intellect), ‘nevertheless he is invariably kind to those around him. His letters, I was informed, were written in a beautifully clear style, and his French letters especially were said to be masterpieces for perspicuity and elegance of expression.

On another of my night visits at the Prince Metternich’s palace, I found the Princess, her sister Princess Odescalchi, and a party of friends, many of them fashionable young noblemen, engaged at cards, and apparently playing rather high. Silver markers, about the size and value of English crown pieces,were piled up in heaps, or being passed from one player to the other. I had the curiosity to examine one of these markers, and found stamped upon it the Prince’s coat of arms, With all his orders—Golden Fleece, Maria Theresa, &c. When the Prince entered the saloon the card- playing party continued to make so much noise that he led me into another room. His first question this evening was whether I ever played at cards. On my replying in the negative, he remarked that no sensible man ever did, and that he himself never touched a card. I may as well mention here, however, that some years after this conversation I heard that the Prince had become a whist player, and very fond of his regular evening rubber. Possibly he had become a convert to the opinion of his brother diplomatist, Talleyrand, who on hearing some middle-aged gentleman say that he never played at cards, replied, ‘Vous vous preparez une triste vieillesse.’

The Prince now, for the first time, began to speak to me of the political state of things in England, and of the recent change of Ministry.* ‘At first,’ he said ‘I had feared disturbances, but the newspapers have reported nothing of the kind. The Whigs are forced to go with the stream, for they are unable to direct it, having compromised themselves with the Radical party. The Tories however, may be able to stem the torrent of reform, and to direct it into useful channels. No one,’ he added, ‘can suppose the Wellington party absurd enough to cry stop, and offer direct opposition to the wishes of the nation. Wellington is well acquainted with the state of public feeling. But I do not think he will be Premier: he is not fit for that post. The people in England,’ he said, ‘attach far too much importance to names. In reality, neither Tories nor Whigs exist any longer as bodies, although individuals may cherish the old party principles. Conservatives and Radicals are now the only two political parties in England.’ Of Lord Durham he said that he was a Radical, and that he had but repeated at Glasgow what Hunt had said years before in Smithfield. Lord Grey, he thought, had acted like an honourable man, for when he found himself no longer able to control the spirit of Reform, he had resigned. The Prince made some remark on the interpretation put on the word Reform, on the variety of meanings different people attached to it. The Prussian Secretary of Legation, who with some others had joined us, said there was, literally speaking, no such thing in politics as Reform at all ; in which opinion Prince Metternich seemed to acquiesce. He said there were many abuses in all countries (Misbräuche), and that no two minds worth anything could have a difference of opinion on the question of their removal when discovered. Every one must wish for this result, but the difficulty was to know what really was an abuse (Misbrauche). There was no question on which there were so many conflicting interests and opinions, and no problem more difficult of solution, than that of effecting sudden and great changes without injury to some part of the political fabric. ‘ Mankind,’ he added, ‘ is always anxious for change, always wanting to be doing something. Men attach too much importance to words. They seldom know what they really want, or they disguise selfish desires under some specious cloak, some popular cry. Whenever I have had to join others to debate on political matters, my object has always been to dive to the bottom of the views and wishes of the party as soon as possible, and to waste no time with words and vague phrases. I have always said, directly we were seated, “ Now, gentlemen, to business: what is it we want ‘1” ’ (zur Sache! nun meine Herrn was wollen wir?) ‘ I have thus forced every one present to speak, and to be as clear and concise as possible; by which means I have soon found out whether he knew what he wanted or not. My own views I have never expressed till the last, but then decisively.’ The Prince made some sagacious remarks on the necessity in politics and legislation of well calculating reactions. ‘As in physics,’ he said, ‘ so in politics ; every action has its reaction ; and superficial politicians, in their desire for change, are unable to foresee how the measures they advocate, if carried out, would react upon society.’

On what he called the spirit of the age—the craving for change— the Prince entered at some length, and used the simile of the stream, which it would be dangerous to attempt to stem altogether, but which could not be left to take its own course. ‘ The wise,’ he said, ‘would take care to direct it into such channels as would irrigate the fields, and be of benefit to the country.’ The Prince spoke too, of the tendency of men to do things and act without due reflection and consideration of consequences. He became quite facetious on this head, and related to me several anecdotes of his experiences in every-day life. It was very amusing, he said, to give to servants commissions to execute, or messages to deliver, and then to call them back and ask them what the were going to do. Very often he had found that no sooner was the word ‘ go,’ as part of a sentence, out of his mouth than 05 the man, in his zeal, would start. ‘ For instance, I may have said “John, go and ” the man would turn, and when called back, and asked where he was going to, would be all abroad. “ Now, then,” I would add, “go to Mr. Noel, in such and such a street, and ask him to dinner tomorrow at five.” Again the man would start, and if called back, and asked to repeat the message, it would probably transpire that in his hurry and confusion he had not thoroughly understood the commission ; so that he would have made two or three blunders had he proceeded to execute it.’ ‘ I have made it a point through life,’ he added, ‘ never to send a verbal message to any one without asking the bearer of it to repeat to me before he started what he was going to say. By this simple precaution, I have saved myself and others much trouble and confusion.’

The Prince told me, whilst speaking of the blunders committed by servants, that he once had a coachman, excellent in every respect but one: he could never find his way from one part of the town to another without driving home first.

On another visit to the Prince, we conversed much on language. To my surprise, he said he was convinced that originally) one or more languages must have been revealed to man. It was utterly impossible for man to have invented a language with all its complicated rules of grammar and syntax. If a number of children, he said, were to be collected together from infancy, and if grown-up persons were only to communicate with them, and bring them up by means of signs, they would never invent a language for themselves. Supposing this were the case, I could
not see, I replied how this would prove that any language, or languages in a perfected form, had been directly revealed to man. It appeared to me that in all there were signs of gradual growth and development, according to the history of a people, and all the circumstances surrounding it, geographical, climatical, &c. I alluded also to the changes ever taking place in modern languages, to the history of the English language in particular. The Prince did not deny the changes in languages, nor the influences I alluded to; nevertheless, he could not allow that the growth of any language had commenced, as it were ab ovo, from a basis of natural sounds, ejaculations, &c. Perfected languages, he affirmed, had been revealed to man, which was proved, moreover, by the Bible in the history of the tower of Babel.

The Prince said it was wrong to teach young children several languages at once, for in that case they would learn none well. He did not fear confusing a child’s mind so that it would string together words of different languages in one sentence to express its thoughts. The laws of euphony and the different characters of languages, would, he thought, prevent such a jumble. But unless some one language were thoroughly studied as a basis for others, a clear conception of grammar, and the general spirit of languages, would never be obtained. On this account he approved of teaching Latin and Greek, the dead or unchanging languages, the former possessing the most perfect grammar and construction, thus serving as a normal tongue. He advocated however, the teaching of several modern languages in early youth, but in succession, for otherwise the organs of articulation would never be able thoroughly to master the varieties and delicacies of pronunciation. He remarked on the folly of teaching children words the meaning 0f which they could not understand ; throughout their education great care should be taken to explain the value of language and its correct use. Although I could not agree with the Prince in his theory of the origin of languages, yet all his views on education I considered sound.

On another occasion the Prince spoke to me of the political position of England and the difficulty of foreseeing the future of that country. Again he said, that in a general way parties might be divided into Reformers and Conservatives and then again variously subdivided into ultra-Tories moderate Tories, Conservative Whigs, on the one side; on the other, into Reformers, Radicals Destructives, &c. The Prince had the latest English political caricatures by H. B. on a table, and we looked at them together. They amused him very much, and he told me that he possessed the entire collection, as in these clever caricatures was displayed the history of political parties, their contests, manoeuvres, &c.

‘The entire difference,’ said the Prince, ‘between enlightened politicians and the advocates of violent measures may be exemplified by the difference in the signification of the singular and the plural of the word Reform. A man who uses this term in the singular, exclaiming, “ I am for Reform,” is a revolutionist and an advocate of every kind of Violent change which would suit his selfish ends or his vague conceited notions of things; but the term reforms means the salutary removal of certain impediments to the welfare of society which powerful minds, after a thorough investigation and consideration of circumstances, have found to be such: therefore every enlightened politician may pronounce himself an advocate 0f reforms.’ The same distinction of parties and motives he added, might be applied to the use of the word ‘liberty’ in its singular and plural meanings (Freiheit und Freheiten). Those who were always crying out for liberty, he said, wanted exemption from control, a general licence to gratify their individual desires and passions, and moreover power to tyrannize over others; but the plural sense, liberties, did not exclude that protection which good laws and wise social arrangements afforded to every virtuous citizen. ‘ I have a respect,’ he added, ‘ for a man who comes to me with concrete propositions for reforms or liberties; at I thoroughly despise our advocates of ‘reform and liberty in the abstract.’ ‘ Man,‘ he continued, ‘ is said to be born for freedom, and thus we have the cry for universal suffrage and freedom of the press, institutions for which society is very far from being prepared. As well might it be proposed that because the horse is the animal most fitted for drawing vehicles I should take a wild steed from the plains, and without subjecting it to a long process of training harness it to a carriage in which I had placed my ‘beloved wife and children. Who but a fool would act in this way? And yet the folly would be equally great to give universal suffrage t0 a people incapable of making a proper use of it.’ I spoke to him of the power of education, and the mischief resulting from too much control, too much bureaucratic police rule, which must always prevent the development of those faculties and those social habits which alone could fit men for freedom. ‘It is quite impossible,’ replied the Prince, ‘for all classes of society to arrive at that degree of education and enlightenment necessary to enable a State or community to derive benefit from ultrademocratic institutions. A large proportion of the inhabitants of any country must always work, and besides be debarred the mental capacity to appreciate virtue. What f0lly, then to allow a licentious press to appeal to and inflame their passions, promote discontent and anarchy.’ He again referred to the injurious effects on society from the reports of murders, robberies, brawls, and so on, in the English papers. Such reports, he asserted, increased the number of crimes, and tended to demoralize the people. ‘What people in the world,’ he added, ‘are such horrormongers as the English? It is disgusting to see how they crowd to any place where some dreadful crime has been committed; and men in general will always prefer such objects as appeal to their vulgar curiosity and animal passions, to such as require a purely intellectual and moral appreciation.

‘If you,’ he continued, who have so ‘high an opinion of human nature, and of the elevating influences of the fine arts, were to stick up in the windows of a shop in the Kärtner Strasse’ (the greatest thoroughfare in Vienna), ‘the finest engravings from the works of Rafaelle, Correggio, or any of the masters whom you think have best depicted moral and religious scenes; and if I were to put up in a window on the opposite side voluptuous and obscene pictures such as Paris daily produces, on which side would the people crowd? Whilst you would attract but few of the passersby on my side the thoroughfare would soon be blocked up.’

‘ Such as Vienna now is I grant it,’ I replied ,- ‘but this d0es not prove that with real attempts to educate the people it might not in a few ears be otherwise. Besides, your Highness must excuse me,’ I added, ‘ if I express my surprise that with your numerous churches in Vienna, your large body of clergy, with an archbishop at their head, things should be as bad as you admit.’

His Highness smiled at this remark and gave me to understand that he thought poor human nature so very bad that, but for the priests and police arrangements, nothing but anarchy would prevail. Every virtuous and enlightened man, he further said, was obliged to draw up laws for himself, according to which he squared his conduct. Every thinking being soon found out that what is called liberty is in reality the indulgence of our propensities, which leads in the end to misery and ruin. It was only the vicious, or dolts and fools, who objected to wise laws and social arrangements for the guidance and control of the mass who were led away by empty words and sounds, and exercised their lungs by crying out for liberty.

I had never before heard the Prince speak with so much earnestness as on the foregoing topics. There was a degree of bitterness, and scorn too, in his expression and in the tone of his voice when speaking of reformers and the mass 0f humanity, which showed me too plainly his low estimate of his fellow-creatures, and the hopelessness of any efforts on my part to modify his political principles. I may here mention, however, that on this and other occasions he allowed me to dissent from his views, and that his manners were invariably kind and free from dogmatical pretension. I came to the conclusion that his self-love and consciousness of power over his fellow-creatures on the one hand, and his education under a ‘régime of bigotry and absolutism, together with his experience of the vices and venality of men on the other, had cause him to underestimate the capacity of man to make progress in virtue and civilization.‘

I became also gradually convinced that Prince Metternich acted upon principles which he believed to be sound, and that there was nothing in his character at all allied to that of a hypocrite or cruel despot. He was fond of using analogies in his arguments, which I did not think always to the point; and altogether, his intellect seemed to me more remarkable for the power to master details, and for acuteness in dealing with them, than for originality or profundity of judgment. One key to his power was evidently to be found in his great self-respect and self-control, and in the absence of those passions which so often detract from the influence of genius.

But it is not my purpose to attempt the analysis of the character of a man who has occupied so prominent a position in the history of the first half of this century. I give simply, for as much as they may be worth, the foregoing notes of conversations with a statesman and diplomatist, whose power both enemies and friends have acknowledged, just as they were written down at the time.

R. R. Noel.

* This was on the 25th of November; on the 14th of that month Lord Melbourne had resigned, and the King had sent for the Duke of Wellington.

** His Prognostications as to 1848

In the summer of 1848 a letter was shown to me, written by Prince Metternich to a young Austrian diplomatist, in which sentiments were expressed confirming the above opinion formed by me many years before. The Prince at the time he wrote this letter was a refugee in London, where, he said, he compared himself to ‘the occupant of the largest central box of a theatre, being in the best position to survey the European stage.‘ The young diplomatist told me that he had written to the Prince to express his veneration for his person and principles; his pain at the treatment he had received from the revolutionary party; his disgust at having to serve under the then Liberal ministers at Vienna; his determination to remain faithful to the school in which he had been educated, and to resign his post.

In his reply, Prince Metternich explained to his pupil that he had not thoroughly comprehended his political principles, otherwise he could not think of resigning at such a moment. It was his especial duty, the Prince said, to continue to serve the Imperial family, to bend before the storm, and wait patiently till it should pass over. It was a common error of judgment, he added, particularly on the part of enthusiasts, to believe that history progressed in a straight line, when in fact it marched only in a circle, for things always came back to the point from whence they had started. I cannot now vouch for the exact words, but I well noted in my mind the sense of the Prince’s remarks, and that he spoke of his historical circles as absolute, not even acknowledging their gradual enlargement.

I cannot here refrain from mentioning a circumstance which would seem to show that at this period of his life the Prince’s political vision had become somewhat obscured. It had long been his custom to hold a levée on each New Year’s-day, when he received the dignitaries of State, and such of the Austrian diplomatists as happened to be in Vienna, and on these occasions he in a speech surveyed the history of the past year, and cast the horoscope of the coming one. The Prince had never been known to speak so cheerfully of the immediate future as on New Year’s-day, 1848. He could not see, he said, a single cloud to obscure the political horizon. I have this from the best authority. Before two months had passed over, as is well known, he had to fly for his life. Lesser men in Austria had long felt the ground burning under their feet.


7 thoughts on “Conversations With Prince Metternich”

  1. Before I checked the (obvious, well-placed) link at the top, I thought this was a subtle, superior, superlative spoof of modern culture.

    First I laughed; now I have to weep.


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