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LATTER STAGE OF THE FRENCH-GERMAN WAR,
To the Editor of the TIMES
Chelsea, 11 Nov. 1870. SIR,—It is probably an amiable trait of human nature, this cheap pity and newspaper lamentation over fallen and afflicted France ; but it seems to me a very idle, dangerous, and misguided feeling, as applied to the cession of Alsace and Lorraine by France to her German conquerors ; and argues, on the part of England, a most profound ignorance as to the mutual history of France and Germany, and the conduct of France towards that Country, for long centuries back. The question for the Germans, in this crisis, is not one of ‘magnanimity,' of 'heroic pity and forgiveness to a fallen foe,' but of solid prudence, and practical consideration what the fallen foe will, in all likelihood, do when once on his feet again. Written on her memory, in a dismally instructive manner, Germany has an experience of 400 years on this point; of which on the English memory, if it ever was recorded there, there is now little or no trace visible.
Does any of us know, for instance, with the least precision, or in fact know at all, the reciprocal procedures, the mutual history as we call it, of Louis XI. and Kaiser Max? Max, in his old age, put down, in chivalrous allegorical or emblematic style, a wonderful record of these things, The Weisse König (“White King,” as he called himself ; “Red King," or perhaps • Black," being Louis's adumbrative title); adding many fine engravings by the best artist of his time : for the sake of these prints, here and there an English collector may possess a copy of the book ; but I doubt if any Englishman has ever read it, or could, for want of other reading on the subject, understand any part of it. Old Louis's quarrel with the Chief of Germany, at that time, was not unlike this last one of a younger Louis : “You accursed Head of Germany, you have been prospering in the world lately, and I not ; have at you, then, with fire and sword !" But it ended more successfully for old Louis and his French than I hope the present quarrel will. The end, at that time, was, That opulent, noble Burgundy did not get re-united to her old Teutonic mother, but to France, her grasping stepmother, and remains French to this day.
Max's grandson and successor, Charles V., was hardly luckier than Max in his road-companion and contemporary French King. Francis I., not content with France for a kingdom, began by trying to be elected German Kaiser as well ; and never could completely digest his disappointment in that fine enterprise. He smoothed his young face, however; swore eternal friendship with the young Charles who had beaten him; and, a few months after, had egged-on the poor little Duke of Bouillon, the Reich's and Charles's vassal, to refuse homage in that quarter, and was in hot war with Charles. The rest of his earthly existence was a perpetual haggle of broken treaties, and ever-recurring war and injury with Charles V.;—a series, withal, of intrusive interferences with Germany, and every German trouble that arose, to the worsening and widening of them all, not to the closing or healing of any one of them. A terrible journey these Two had together, and a terrible time they made out for Germany between them, and for France too, though not by any means in a like degree. The exact deserts of his Most Christian Majesty Francis I. in covenanting with Sultan Soliman,—that is to say, in letting loose the then quasi-infernal roaring-lion of a Turk (then in the height of his sanguinary fury and fanaticism, not sunk to caput mortuum and a torpid nuisance as now) upon Christendom and the German Empire, I do not pretend to estimate. It seems to me, no modern imagination can conceive this atrocity of the Most Christian King; or how it harassed, and haunted with incessant terror, the Christian nations for the two centuries ensuing.
Richelieu's trade, again, was twofold : first, what everybody must acknowledge was a great and legitimate one, that of coercing and drilling into obedience to their own Sovereign the vassals of the Crown of France; and secondly, that of plundering, weakening, thwarting, and in all ways tormenting the German Empire. “ He protected Protestantism there ?" Yes, and steadily persecuted his own Huguenots, bombarded his own Rochelle ; and in Germany kept up a Thirty-Years War, cherishing diligently the last embers of it till Germany were burnt to utter ruin; no nation ever nearer absolute ruin than unhappy Germany then was. An unblessed Richelieu for Germany; nor a blessed for France either, if we look to the ulterior issues, and distinguish the solid from the specious in the fortune of Nations. No French ruler, not even Napoleon I., was a feller or crueler enemy to Germany, nor half so perni. cious to it (to its very soul as well as to its body): and Germany had done him no injury that I know of, except that of existing beside him.
Of Louis XIV.'s four grand plunderings and incendiarisms of Europe,—for no real reason but his own ambition, and desire to snatch his neighbour's goods,—of all this we of this age have now, if any, an altogether faint and placid remembrance, and our feelings on it differ greatly from those that animated our poor forefathers in the time of William III. and Queen Anne. Of Belleisle and Louis XV.'s fine scheme to cut Germany into four little kingdoms, and have them dance and fence to the piping of Versailles, I do not speak; for to France herself this latter fine scheme brought its own reward : loss of America, loss of India, disgrace and discomfiture in all quarters of the world,-advent, in fine, of The French Revolution ; embarkation on the shoreless chaos on which ill-fated France still drifts and tumbles,
The Revolution and Napoleon I., and their treatment of Germany, are still in the memory of men and newspapers; but that was not by any means, as idle men and newspapers seem to think, the first of Germany's sufferings from France ; it was the last of a very long series of such, the last but one, let us rather say; and hope that this now going on as “Siege of Paris," as wide-spread empire of bloodshed, anarchy, delirium, and mendacity, the fruit of France's latest “ marche à Berlin" may be the last ! No nation ever had so bad a neighbour as Germany has had in France for the last 400 years ; bad in all manner of ways; insolent, raparjous, insatiable, unappeasablę, continually aggressive.
And now, furthermore, in all History there is no insolent, unjust neighbour that ever got so complete, instantaneous, and ignominious a smashing-down as France has now got from Germany Germany, after 400 years of ill-usage, and generally of ill-fortune, from that neighbour, has had at last the great happiness to see its enemy fairly down in this manner :—and Germany, I do clearly believe, would be a foolish nation not to think of raising up some secure boundary-fence between herself and such a neighbour, now that she has the chance.
There is no law of Nature that I know of, no Heaven's Act of Parliament, whereby France, alone of terrestrial beings, shall not restore any portion of her plundered goods when the owners they were wrenched from have an opportunity upon them. To nobody, except to France herself for the moment, can it be credible that there is such a law of Nature. Alsace and Lorraine were not got, either of them, in so divine a manner as to render that a probability. The cunning of Richelieu, the grandiose long-sword of Louis XIV., these are the only titles of France to those German countries. Richelieu screwed them loose (and, by happy accident, there was a Turenne, as General, got screwed along with them ;-Turenne, I think, was mainly German by blood and temper, had not Francis I. egged-on his ancestor, the little Duke of Bouillon, in the way we saw, and gradually made him French); Louis le Grand, with his Turenne as supreme of modern Generals, managed the rest of the operation,-except indeed, I should say, the burning of the Palatinate, from Heidelberg Palace steadily downwards, into black ruin; which Turenne would not do sufficiently, and which Louis had to get done by another. There was also a good deal of extortionate law-practice, what we may fairly call violently-sharp attorneyism, put in use. The great Louis's “ Chambres de Réunion," Metz Chamber, Brissac Chamber, were once of high infamy, and much complained of here in England, and everywhere else beyond the Rhine. The Grand Louis, except by sublime gesture, ironically polite, made no answer. He styled himself, on his very coins (écu of 1687, say the Medallists), ExcELSUS SUPER OMNES GENTES DOMINUS ; but it is certain, attorneyism of the worst sort was one of his instruments in this conquest of Alsace. Nay, as to Strasburg, it was not even attorneyism, much less a long-sword, that did the feat; it was a housebreaker's jemmy on the part of the Grand Monarque. Strasburg was got in time of profound peace by bribing of the magistrates to do treason, on his part, and admit his garrison one night.
Nor as to Metz la Pucelle, nor any of these Three Bishoprics, was it force of war that brought them over to France; rather it was force of fraudulent pawnbroking. King Henri II (year 1552) got these places, - Protestants applying to him in their extreme need, -as we may say, in the way of pledge. Henri entered there with banners spread and drums beating, “solely in defence of German liberty, as God shall witness ;" did nothing for Protestantism or German liberty (German liberty managing rapidly to help itself in this instance); and then, like a brazen-faced unjust pawnbroker, refused to give the places back,—“had ancient rights over them,” extremely indubitable to him, and could not give them back. And never yet, by any pressure or persuasion, would. The great Charles V., Protestantism itself now supporting, endeavoured, with his utmost energy and to the very cracking of his heart, to compel him; but could not. The present Hohenzollern King, a modest and pacific man in comparison, could and has. I believe it to be perfectly just, rational and wise that Germany should take these countries home with her from her unexampled campaign; and, by well fortifying her own old Wasgau (“Vosges"), Hundsrück (Dog's-back), Three Bishoprics, and other military strengths, secure herself in time coming against French visits.
The French complain dreadfully of threatened “loss of honour;" and lamentable bystanders plead earnestly, “Don't dishonour France; leave poor France's honour bright.” But will it save the honour of France to refuse paying for the glass she has voluntarily broken in her neighbour's windows? The attack upon the windows was her dishonour. Signally disgraceful to any nation was her late assault on Germany; equally signal has been the ignominy of its execution on the part of France. The honour of France can be saved only by the deep repentance of France; and by the serious determination never to do so again,-to do the reverse of so forever henceforth. In that way máy the honour of France again gradually brighten to the height of its old splendour,-far beyond the First Napo