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Alison on the Campaign of 1809.
those who saw him on this occasion will admit that he exhibited then a truly Roman self-command. But since that dies nefastus in Scharding there was a certain bitterness crept into his inward man, which he never afterwards altogether shook off,-a bitterness displaying itself now in the most shallow and misanthropic frivolity, now in a Shakspearean irony. now in outbursts of indignant sarcasm, in which he spared not himself and his own position as minister of finance-a position new to him, and for which he was not by nature particularly well adapted. A two-edged sword had passed through his soul."
Having thus followed the changes in the spirit of the Austrian administration from the beginning of the war in 1793, incarnated as it were and symbolized in the characters of three very different men, Thugut, Cobenzl, and Stadion; let us examine a little more minutely into the character and results of that war of 1809, which is the grand culminating point of Austrian soldiership and patriotism in these latter days. Mr. Alison, amid many vivid and powerful descriptions which we have read once and again with no common pleasure, has drawn some comparisons, and hazarded some logic with regard to the campaigns of Aspern and Wagram, which appear to us, on a cool review of the matter, to be altogether extravagant and unwarranted. One of the passages to which we allude more immediately is as follows:
"The resolute stand made by the Austrians at Aspern is one of the most glorious instances of patriotic resistance which the history of the world exhibits. Driven back by an overwhelming force into the heart of the monarchy, with their fortresses taken, their arsenals pillaged, their armies defeated, they still continued the contest: boldly fronted the invader in the plenitude of his power; and with unshaken resolution advanced alone and unsupported to drive the conqueror of Europe from the capital he had subdued. Contrary to what has usually been experienced in similar cases, they showed the world that the fall of the metropolis did not necessarily draw after it the submission of the empire; but that a brave and patriotic people can find their capital in the general's head-quarters, and reduce the invader to the extremity of peril in consequence of the very means which he had deemed decisive of the contest. The British historian can hardly hope that similar resolution would have been displayed by the citizens of his own country or that a battle of Waterloo would have been fought by the English after London and Woolwich had fallen into the hands of the enemy. Contrasting the heroic battles of Aspern and Wagram after Vienna had fallen, with the unbounded terror inspired at Paris by the advance of the Duke of Brunswick to Valmy in 1792, a hundred and twenty miles from the capital, even when the people were in the highest state of democratic excitement, it is impossible to avoid the inference, that as much in the conduct of a nation under such circumstances depends on the national institutions as on the stage at which they have arrived in social advancement; and in the
invincible tenacity and far-seeing sagacity of an aristocratic government is to be found the only guarantee from the days of Cannae to those of Aspern of such an unshaken resolution, under calamities generally considered as utterly destructive of political independence.”
Now the whole of this passage is written in a spirit of such overcharged eulogy, and there are so many positive errors and absurdities crowded into a single page, that consistently with a due respect for Mr. Alison's talents as a historian, we can attribute its having been written only to a certain most un-English fashion of praising every thing Austrian and Prussian that came into vogue in this country among conservative writers (naturally enough it must be confessed), after the passing of the Reform Bill. Let us look for a minute into the several points. In the first place with regard to the general effect of the capture of a capital on the issue of a war, a distinction must manifestly be made between a homogeneous and centralised country such as France, and a conglomeration of dissimilar provinces such as the Austrian empire. There is only one large city in France: Paris is the hand and the heart of the kingdom. But in Austria there are many large cities, standing each on an independent social base, and performing the living functions of a capital each in its several province: Prague is in this sense a capital; Pesth much more: Innspruck is an independent and a most efficient capital, as the events of this very campaign sufficiently showed. The comparison, therefore, with Paris is most unfair. In the next place it was in no wise by an overwhelming force,' (as the writer admits in another place), but by an inconceivable bungling and a monstrous lack of enterprise and celerity that the Austrians were driven back. In the third place, in order to estimate at its right value the true military glory of the days of Aspern and Wagram, we must consider with discrimination both what sort of a war this was, and how it was conducted as a whole. It was not a war in which the Austrians were attacked and surprised by an untried enemy: it was a deliberately self-chosen war on their part; a war commanded, let us rather say, by an imperious moral necessity, because degradation at the peace of Presburg had gone so far that if the occasion of the Spanish insurrection was not now taken advantage of, utter ruin and prostration were to be looked for. The near example of Prussia was not required to teach Austria that a peaceful subjection to Napoleon was more dangerous than an internecine hostility. A bellum internecinum, therefore, was resolved on; a last stand pro aris et focis, and for very existence; a stand such as Bruce made at Bannockburn without considering whether Edinburgh was behind him or before; the Austrians had every motive to fight bravely, that men contend
The Campaign of 1809.
ing for their dearest and most vital interests could have; if they were not determined to fight thoroughly, and to the end, it was sheer folly and madness in them to fight at all. Well, in such circumstances, without one pitched battle, at least, of the concentrated forces of the empire, it was impossible that the campaign could be said even to have begun. And how did it begin? The Austrians, knowing that all Germany was to be roused by a successful first blow, took the offensive; Napoleon was surprised; Berthier paralyzed by their movements; the French troops scattered here and there, without any order, or facility of combination; the most decisive successes, the most glorious results were before the eye, in the very grasp of the Austrians; and yet the blow was not given. Nothing was done. The slow, clumsy Imperialists allowed themselves to be manoeuvred out of the grand decisive moment of the war. Napoleon was not a man to run such a risk twice; he, at least, would not be slow; four days' work was enough to reverse the position, and with the position, the fortunes of the two armies; the French were now concentrated; the Austrians divided and scattered, and beaten in detail. The archduke retreated across the Danube into Bohemia; Napoleon marched, driving the small band of Hiller before him to Vienna; the capital itself was taken, and Napoleon installed in Schoenbrunn, without a single grand battle! The archduke's army was not destroyed, scarcely even dispirited; and yet Mr. Alison tells us gravely that in such a posture of affairs as this, had the Archduke Charles commanded British soldiers and not Austrians; had Vienna been London, the subsequent patriotic resistance at Aspern and Wagram would have been impossible! We confess ourselves unable to see either the extraordinary merit of Aspern and Wagram on the part of the Austrians, or the correct view of the speculation concerning the supposed conduct of British generals and British troops in circumstances precisely similar. Instead of heaping exaggerated eulogies on the Austrians for the good fighting on these two bloody days, a sound judgment will rather propose this questionhow did it happen that the two pitched battles of the concentrated forces on which the safety of the empire was risked, came to be fought after the enemy entered the capital, and not before? -What became of the far seeing sagacity of an aristocratic government' at Landshut and Abensberg and Eckmühl?—The fact of the matter is, as Hormayr has well expressed it, Aspern, with all its bard-besung glories, was not so much a battle won as an attack repulsed. Napoleon, having his natural rashness raised to the point of folly by the stupidity with which this campaign, no less than that of 1805, was opened on the part of the Austrians, conceived such a contempt for their
strategics, that any bold step in their teeth seemed certain of sucHe resolved to pass a great river with the enemy waiting his arrival on the opposite bank. His intended attack on their position was repulsed: he was himself attacked while in the act of landing his troops: no position could possibly have been more unfavourable for him, none more favourable for the enemy. Numbers also were, on that day, on the side of the Austrians. The result might have been anticipated. Napoleon was driven back into the river, and obliged to ensconce himself in the island of Lobau. Thus far well: but a victory of this kind was nothing without consequences; no battle, indeed, can be said to be gained that does not produce consequences; Aspern was a bright beginning; for the Austrians, accustomed to defeats, morally, a great victory; but physically, it did not propagate itself, as every real victory does; blow did not follow blow till the antagonist surrendered; on the contrary, he got ample time, not only to recover, but to recruit; his communications were not cut off; he remained enthroned in the capital, drawing new strength every day from Italy and from France, and feeding on his adversaries' stores; the grand insurrection in the Tyrol was left unimproved; and Aspern became an heroic abortion. It had, in fact, with all its waste of blood and treasure, to be fought over again: the Corsican, profiting by experience, was more cunning in his second passage of the river, and more fortunate; he effected his landing this time in the most gallant style; and Wagram was the consequence. Now, if the Austrians had stood their ground on this field, where, though inferior in numbers, they were vastly superior in the strength of a deliberately and well-chosen position, we should have said the campaign of 1809, with whatever bungling begun and carried on, ended honourably for them; but they did not stand their ground; they were not beaten, indeed, but they retreated; and by retreating before such an adversary as Napoleon, opened the way for an unsafe armistice, and a peace that could not have been more humiliating, had the manly stand at Wagram, and the soldier-like retreat thereafter, been a regular rout to the Austrians, as complete as Waterloo afterwards was to the French. It is impossible, therefore, on an impartial review of the campaign of 1809, to find the soaring culogies of Mr. Alison justified; and as for what was really great and good in that patriotic display, we must ascribe it, if we have any discernment, not to that "invincible tenacity and far-seeing sagacity of aristocratic governments" of which mention was already made, but merely to the stout and sturdy character of the Teutonic race, whether fighting under an Archduke Charles at Wagram, a Blücher at the Katzbach, or a Wellington at Waterloo. As to aristocracy in Austria, more light will be
The Campaign of 1809.
thrown upon that, we think, from Hormayr's portrait of Stadion above given, with its fine background of contrast, than from Mr. Alison's vague flights of indiscriminate eulogy. The Austrian government is not mainly and characteristically aristocratic; an unmaimed old aristocracy in some parts of the heterogeneous composite called Austria does exist; but the true pattern of an aristocratic government is that very England which Mr. Alison so unfavourably contrasts with Austria-England, at least, during the wars, and before the Reform Bill-if, indeed, we are not essentially aristocratic still. Be this as it may, far seeing sagacity' is a quality which no person but Mr. Alison ever found in the aristocratic, or, more properly, bureaucratic conduct of the Austrian wars with France; and the praise of 'invincible tenacity,' whether in 1809 or 1813, belongs to the German people' only, and in no sense to Prussian or Austrian aristocrats, who showed what they could do at Jena, in 1806, and what they could not do at the armistice of Znaym, when, after all the blood and heroism of Aspern and Wagram, the devoted and triumphant Tyrolese were left by an unworthy emperor to the uncovenanted mercies of Napoleon!
It is a hard thing to pronounce so severe a sentence on a series of hard-fought national battles, of which such a gallant soldier as the Archduke Charles was the executive head; but we are compelled to do so by a calm review of the circumstances. One of the documents published by Hormayr (vol. ii., p. 48), expresses what we fear is the real truth with regard to the lamentable peace of Vienna, in the following few words. The extract is from a letter addressed by an experienced person in the Austrian service (whose name, however, Hormayr has, for the present, found it necessary to conceal,) to a confidential agent of the English ministry.
"Vienne, le 3 Janvier, 1810.
"Ce n'est point l'épuisement des ressources qui a fait faire la paix, mais uniquement les embarras provenant de la trop longue durée de l'armistice, et le découragement de nos généraux.
"Ce découragement est une suite nécessaire du 'manque de vigueur dans l'autorité suprême,' et de la secousse occasionnée dans l'armée, par le déplacement de tous les archiducs, d'ailleurs très nécessaire."
We have only to add in reference to the two principal persons engaged in this memorable year, that the Archduke Charles was against the war from the beginning, and that Stadion never voted for the peace, and immediately after its conclusion retired. Possibly the imperial soldier's original disapproval of hostilities might have operated disadvantageously in making him lean to the cautious and safe side at Wagram, and afterwards where a decided