Page images
PDF
EPUB

that its present union with Norway, in that snug Scandinavian peninsula, is a much more natural and happy thing, both geographically and physiologically (for the Norwegians and the Swedes are brother Goths), than either that old clumsy-soldered union of Calmar, or that yet older one as old as the thirteenth centurywith Finland? Let us hope that Bernadotte will neither resign, nor be deposed, nor be assassinated, as had become almost the general rule with his predecessors ; and that Sweden with Norway, after so many violent plunges and careerings, will learn at last to steady itself: to grow quietly, like the grass, into the manhood of a free constitution as England has done before it; and not be heard of in Europe, either by external wars or by internal revolutions, for a century at least.

The history of Sweden from the time of Gustavus Wasa is more interesting than any history of modern times, chiefly for this reason, that it is the history not of great measures merely, but also and principally of great men; of men of decided genius; of kings great and energetic, always valiant, often wise in the difficult art of reigning. They have all done something, the men that held the Scandinavian sceptre. It was not a mere bauble in their hands, but the original OknTopov: a staff not to lean on,

but to strike with: and how they did strike!—The first Gustavus, the clergy; the third, the nobility !In all their Titanic doings, from the overthrow of the papacy at the council of Westeraas, in 1527, to Narva, and the humbling of the mutinous aristocracy by Gustavus III. during the Russian war of 1789, what perseverance, what energy, what vigour, did not they display! Thor's hammer seems to have been left as a political legacy to these men. One great penalty, indeed, the Swedes paid for so much genius: a penalty beyond that which we already mentioned as inherent in the very nature of genius. After so much exertion, Nature, notwithstanding the beneficial influence of frequent crossing, seemingly weary of creating great men, produced an extraordinary thing still, a thing gigantically abnormal, a creature of high notions and contracted views, geuius altogether without sense, dignity altogether without grandeur, obstinacy always most eager about small things-practically a FOOL. This fool sat on the throne of Gustavus Wasa, the last of his line, and only not overturned it: Gustavus IV. Adolphus. But this man also had character; he was no empty dangling fool; no king, such as we have seen, to make a mere clerk-registrar of, and sign all sorts of papers that he had never read: he was a most energetic, active fool; and did one great thing at least, to prove the Wasa stuff in him, and help to atone for his many offences

. When only a boy of 17, in the year 1796, he outwitted the wisest woman in

[blocks in formation]

Europe, the Czarina Catherine of Russia, and so enraged her that the very paint turned pale upon her face with chagrin. The descendant of Gustavus Wasa would not marry a daughter of the house of Romanoff, because she would not sacrifice her Greek religion to her Lutheran love. The bride was there, dressed and decorated for the joyful occasion. The Muscovite queen looked on, eager to pounce upon the fulfilment of her long-delayed hopes. She had already crossed the Baltic in fancy, years before Barclay de Tolly actually accomplished it—the Muscovite priest was also ready—but the Swedish bridegroom was not found. He would not sign the marriage contract before he had spelt and studied every word of it. He suspected some foul play about one of the clauses: the clause about the Greek priest and the Greek chapel in Stockholm. He laid down the pen, and walked away; shut himself

ир

in his chamber, and did not appear at his own wedding; leaving his blooming bride—whom he really loved-to herself and to hysterics. Truly a most deliberate and conscientious fool!

With such fine dramatic elements to work on, the history of Sweden, if it be not one of the most interesting or striking in the world, must want this character by the fault of the writer, or by the want of materials, not by the barrenness of the theme. not our present business here to say how Geijer has succeeded : not Mr. Laing's report alone speaks favourably: in the meanwhile we have accidentally encountered not a historian of Sweden in the grand style, not a Livy, not a Michelet to his country; but a vigorous sketcher, a man with a bold brush and a glowing pencil; an eye-witness with an eye in his head, and a heart in his breast, and a considerable faculty of speculation too; a stout Pomeranian yeoman of the old plain-speaking school; a muscular fiery-hearted man das starke heisse Arndt's Blut,' proverbial in Rügen; one that if Marshal Blücher or the Baron von Stein had been King of Prussia before the battle of Jena, would have been prime minister to either worthily, and prevented many catastrophes; no nice carver and gilder in whom the delicate Clio of the Berlin censorship may delight, but a man with a club. This man, to whom we have already given public thanks for his contributions to the memorable history of the year 1813,* has furnished European history with another original source of information on a theme more remote perhaps from general sympathy, but not less interesting to the reflective mind, or less important to the philosophic historian: we mean the strange drama of the Swedish history during the reign of Gustavus IV. Adolphus,

It is

* F. Q. R., No. LXI., p. 169.

which ended in the deposition of that unfortunate incapable, and the elevation of a French soldier of second rate value to the throne of the Wasas: a sort of political by-play only to the great drama which was being performed in Europe at that time, not a little amusing, amid so much matter of more serious urgency, to some of the spectators, but an earnest enough affair to those immediately concerned, and pregnant, it may be, with earnest issues to our children's children, when Bernadotte and Oscar, and Oscarson to come, shall have played out their difficult parts as God shall order.

Our readers who are acquainted with Arndt's cast of mind, as exhibited in his other works--his. Spirit of the Age,'* his ' Reminiscences,' his patriotic Songs,' &c., will not be disposed to ask any questions as to his inward vocation to write sketches of Swedish history, or indeed of any other history into which he chooses to throw the whole vigour of his ardent mind. His outward vocation to write on Sweden, and on the late Swedish revolution especially, may be stated shortly as follows. Born in the

green isle of Rügen, in the famous biographical year 1769, of German stock, but, by virtue of the sword of Gustavus Adolphus and the diplomacy of Oxenstiern, under Swedish rule, he was both a Swede and a German ev dvvauer (potentially) as Aristotle says: eventually (inclination and circumstance so ordering), he came forth a German and a Prussian, not however without strong Swedish sympathies and some considerable Swedish experience. The son of a thriving Pomeranian yeoman, what nobler ambition could he be expected to have than to be a minister of the Lutheran Church? To Greifswald accordingly, and then to Jena, he betook himself to study theology; but it was an age of theological lukewarmness (so himself says); and perhaps the political pamphleteer was imping its young wings secretly already in the back-chambers of the preacher's brain. He was destined to preach not to a parish in Rügen against brandy, and other small Swedish sins, but to the people of Europe against Napoleon Buonaparte and the great French Revolution. He threw away the Pomeranian black gown therefore (though there was a sleeve in it with 3,000 dollars a-year) very cavalierly, and went roving about the world through Germany, Hungary, Italy, France, the Netherlands, for no particular purpose visible then, but merely from what we may call a sort of Ulyssean instinct, to see the cities and to know the minds of men

«Πολλων δ' ανθρωπων ιδεν αστεα και νοον εγνω.”

* Speaking of this work when at Prague, in 1811, Stein said, “Since BURKE, nothing of such genuine political eloquence has appeared, nothing of such urgent truth."

Sketch of the Historian.

39 Coming back to Griefswald, and being now about twenty years of age, he had the good fortune to fall in love with the daughter of one of the professors there; this connexion soon helped him to an actual professorship; and in this capacity he remained ten years (from 1799 to 1809), partly resident there and lecturing on history, partly in Sweden and Stockholm. He made two visits to Sweden; one in 1803-4, merely out of curiosity to know the country, another more important one in 1806, a fugitive from the unfortunate catastrophe of Jena: on which occasion he had not been in Stockholm two weeks before he was employed by the government to assist in a revision of the Pomeranian laws that was then going forward. Thus employed, and mingling also a little in the unhappy political business with Russia and England in 1808-9, he remained in Stockholm between three and four years at the head quarters of political information, and seeing with his own eyes the most remarkable of the members of the aristocratic confederacy to which the present king owed his remarkable elevation. He then, seeing affairs in Stockholm hopeless, returned to Germany; to Berlin, to Breslau, to Prague; and from thence, as we mentioned formerly,* to Petersburg: there to form that connexion with the Baron von Stein, which renders his reminiscences such a valuable contribution to the history of the year

of liberation in Germany. His future career as a professor in the Prussian university of Bonn is more generally known, and has already been briefly commented on in our brief notice of the Reminiscences.'

The “ Sketches of Swedish History,' as the biographical notice we have just given indicates, boasts the entire value of an original authority, only for the short period of five years—1803, 1806-7-8, and 9. But the writer's early connexion with Sweden, and his natural genius for history, stamp a peculiar value on whatever he says relative to that most interesting country; and in particular his account of the remarkable reign of Gustavus III., and the brilliant character of that monarch, being derived from personal intercourse with some of the most distinguished characters of that age, possesses a worth scarcely inferior to the testimony of the best, far superior to that of a common eye-witness. He has preserved not a little in the shape of anecdote and tradition, from the year 1780 downwards, that might otherwise perhaps have been altogether lost. Not less grateful are we to him for the short but vigorous sketch of the great sovereigns of Sweden from Gustavus Wasa downwards, with which he introduces the reigns of the two last of the race. And we have been equally pleased and in

* In our 61st Number.

structed with some prefatory remarks on the character of the Swedish people, and the peculiarities of their political constitution, conceived in a large and catholic spirit of historical philosophy, but marked also by that vigorous, decided, and unsparing tone of moral censure (when required) which characterizes the author no less than his ready and glowing sympathy with every thing in history that is truly great. Eager as we are to present our readers with some of the masterly political portraits with which this book abounds, we cannot refrain from giving some slight notion here of Arndt's views of the social and political state of Sweden, different as that is radically in so many respects from what we are familiar with on this side the German ocean. In the following extract we see the grand radical weakness of Sweden clearly laid bare.

“What Sweden wants is a population, a people. There should be seven millions at least cultivating that ground which now scarcely supports three. The country is not sufficiently subdued. It is in the state of a colony ; half-peopled, and, in many respects, only half-civilized. Public life in Sweden is too scattered to be strong. It wants mass, it wants weight, it wants the frequent action of body on body, hostile collision of part with part, working out friendly equipoise. Is Sweden a nation ? In one sense it is ; but in the proper and perfect sense it is not. The materials are not there of which a nation in the highest sense is composed. The different classes of which society is made up are not there sufficiently developed, do not rub sufficiently against one another, have not found their proper position, their natural level. The Swedes may possess a political constitution more favourable to freedom than that of Germany, or even of Hungary and France, but they are not therefore a nation in the same sense that the Germans, the Hungarians, and the French are; and this for the plain reason that we have just stated--the spiritual and physical powers of the masses in their restless reciprocity of action and counter-action are wanting. That which the English call PUBLIC SPIRIT is wanting; and must be wanting for some time too, I fear. But why this ? you

will

say. Why this Simply because there are too few of

you.
What?

say again, do mere numbers make a state ? Was the historical importance of Sparta, of Athens, of Syracuse, of Florence, of Venice, of Genoa, rated by mere arithmetic? Listen to me, and I will explain my meaning. I do not say absolutely you are too few to make a nation, but relatively--relatively to the land over which you are spread. If you could collect the dispecta membra of what might be a nation from the North Cape to Ystadt, and concentrate them in the six provinces north, south, and west of Stockholm as a nucleus, then-Oh then!—but this is just the thing that cannot be done ; and so you must even be content to wait. As soon as you have a people with an active communication and interchange of living social influences constantly at work, so soon you will have a public spirit and become in the ripe and full sense of

you will

« PreviousContinue »