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- Lectures and Essays - 10/67 -


Othello, the hero of their tribe, won his Desdemona, in whose love he finds the countercharm of his wandering life. But what sort of war such a soldiery made, may be easily imagined. Its treatment of the people and the country wherever it marched, as minutely described by trustworthy witnesses, was literally fiendish. Germany did not recover the effects for two hundred years.

A century had passed since the first preaching of Luther. Jesuitism, working from its great seminary at Ingoldstadt, and backed by Austria, had won back many, especially among the princes and nobility, to the Church of Rome; but in the main the Germans, like the other Teutons, were still Protestant even in the hereditary domains of the House of Austria. The rival religions stood facing each other within the nominal unity of the Empire, in a state of uneasy truce and compromise, questions about ecclesiastical domains and religious privileges still open; formularies styled of concord proving formularies of discord; no mediating authority being able to make church authority and liberty of private judgment, Reaction and Progress, the Spirit of the Past and the Spirit of the Future lie down in real peace together. The Protestants had formed an Evangelical Union, their opponents a Catholic League, of which Maximilian, Elector of Bavaria, a pupil of the Jesuits, was chief. The Protestants were ill prepared for the struggle. There was fatal division between the Lutherans and the Calvinists, Luther himself having said in his haste that he hated a Calvinist more than a Papist. The great Protestant princes were lukewarm and weak-kneed: like the Tudor nobility of England, they clung much more firmly to the lands which they had taken from the Catholics than to the faith in the name of which the lands were taken; and as powers of order, naturally alarmed by the disorders which attended the great religious revolution, they were politically inclined to the Imperial side. The lesser nobility and gentry, staunch Protestants for the most part, had shown no capacity for vigorous and united action since their premature attempt under Arnold Von Sickingen. On the peasantry, also staunch Protestants, still weighed the reaction produced by the Peasants' war and the excesses of the Anabaptists. In the free cities there was a strong burgher element ready to fight for Protestantism and liberty; but even in the free cities wealth was Conservative, and to the Rothschilds of the day the cause which offered high interest and good security was the cause of Heaven.

The smouldering fire burst into a flame in Bohemia, a kingdom of the House of Austria, and a member of the Empire, but peopled by hot, impulsive Sclavs, jealous of their nationality, as well as of their Protestant faith--Bohemia, whither the spark of Wycliffism had passed along the electric chain of common universities by which mediaeval Christendom was bound, and where it had kindled first the martyr fire of John Huss and Jerome of Prague, then the fiercer conflagration of the Hussite war. In that romantic city by the Moldau, with its strange, half Oriental beauty, where Jesuitism now reigns supreme, and St. John Nepemuch is the popular divinity, Protestantism and Jesuitism then lay in jealous neighbourhood, Protestantism supported by the native nobility, from anarchical propensity as well as from religious conviction; Jesuitism patronized and furtively aided by the intrusive Austrian power. From the Emperor Rudolph II., the Protestants had obtained a charter of religious liberties. But Rudolph's successor, Ferdinand II., was the Philip II. of Germany in bigotry, though not in cruelty. In his youth, after a pilgrimage to Loretto, he had vowed at the feet of the Pope to restore Catholicism at the hazard of his life. He was a pupil of the Jesuits, almost worshipped priests, was passionately devoted to the ceremonies of his religion, delighting even in the functions of an acolyte, and, as he said, preferred a desert to an empire full of heretics. He had, moreover, before his accession to the throne, come into collision with Protestantism where it was triumphant, and had found in its violence too good an excuse for his bigotry. It was inevitable that as King of Bohemia he should attempt to narrow the Protestant liberties. The hot Czech blood took fire, the fierceness of political turbulence mingled with that of religious zeal, and at a council held at Prague, in the old palace of the Bohemian kings, Martiniz and Slavata, the most hated of Ferdinand's creatures, were thrown out of a window in what was called good Bohemian fashion, and only by a marvellous accident escaped with their lives. The first blow was struck, the signal was given for thirty years of havoc. Insurrection flamed up in Bohemia. At the head of the insurgents, Count Thurn rushed on Vienna. The Emperor was saved only by a miracle, as Jesuitism averred,--as Rationalism says, by the arrival of Dampierre's Imperial horse. He suffered a fright which must have made him more than ever prefer a desert to an empire full of heretics. By a vote of the States of Bohemia the crown was taken from Ferdinand and offered to Frederic, Elector Palatine. Frederic was married to the bright and fascinating Princess Elizabeth of England, the darling of Protestant hearts; other qualifications for that crown of peril he had none. But in an evil hour he accepted the offer. Soon his unfitness appeared. A foreigner, he could not rein the restive and hard mouthed Czech nobility, a Calvinist and a pupil of the Huguenots, he unwisely let loose Calvinist iconoclasm among a people who clung to their ancient images though they had renounced their ancient faith. Supinely he allowed Austria and the Catholic League to raise their Croats and Walloons with the ready aid, so valuable in that age of unready finance, of Spanish gold. Supinely he saw the storm gather and roll towards him. Supinely he lingered in his palace, while on the White Hill, a name fatal in Protestant annals, his army, filled with his own discouragement, was broken by the combined forces of the Empire, under Bucquoi, and of the Catholic League, under Count Tilly. Still there was hope in resistance, yet Frederic fled. He was in great danger, say his apologists. It was to face a great danger, and show others how to face it, that he had come there. Let a man, before he takes the crown of Bohemia, look well into his own heart. Then followed a scaffold scene like that of Egmont and Horn, but on a larger scale. Ferdinand, it seems, hesitated to shed blood, but his confessor quelled his scruples. Before the City Hall of Prague, and near the Thein Church, bearing the Hussite emblems of the chalice and sword, amidst stern military pomp, the Emperor presiding in the person of his High Commissioner, twenty- four victims of high rank were led forth to death. Just as the executions commenced a bright rainbow spanned the sky. To the victims it seemed an assurance of Heaven's mercy. To the more far-reaching eye of history it may seem to have been an assurance that, dark as the sky then was, the flood of Reaction should no more cover the earth. But dark the sky was: the counter-reformation rode on the wings of victory, and with ruthless cruelty, through Bohemia, through Moravia, through Austria Proper, which had shown sympathy with the Bohemian revolt. The lands of the Protestant nobility were confiscated, the nobility itself crushed; in its place was erected a new nobility of courtiers, foreigners, military adventurers devoted to the Empire and to Catholicism, the seed of the Metternichs.

For ten years the tide ran steadily against Protestantism and German Independence. The Protestants were without cohesion, without powerful chiefs. Count Mansfeldt was a brilliant soldier, with a strong dash of the robber. Christian of Brunswick was a brave knight errant, fighting, as his motto had it, for God and for Elizabeth of Bohemia. But neither of them had any great or stable force at his back, and if a ray of victory shone for a moment on their standards, it was soon lost in gloom. In Frederick, ex-king of Bohemia, was no help; and his charming queen could only win for him hearts like that of Christian of Brunswick. The great Protestant Princes of the North, Saxony and Brandenburgh, twin pillars of the cause that should have been, were not only lukewarm, timorous, superstitiously afraid of taking part against the Emperor, but they were sybarites, or rather sots, to whose gross hearts no noble thought could find its way. Their inaction was almost justified by the conduct of the Protestant chiefs, whose councils were full of folly and selfishness, whose policy seemed mere anarchy, and who too often made war like buccaneers. The Evangelical Union, in which Lutheranism and political quietism prevailed, refused its aid to the Calvinist and usurping King of Bohemia. Among foreign powers, England was divided in will, the nation being enthusiastically for Protestantism and Elizabeth of Bohemia, while the Court leant to the side of order and hankered after the Spanish marriage. France was not divided in will: her single will was that of Richelieu, who, to weaken Austria, fanned the flame of civil war in Germany, as he did in England, but lent no decisive aid. Bethlem Gabor, the Evangelical Prince of Transylvania, led semi- barbarous hosts, useful as auxiliaries, but incapable of bearing the main brunt of the struggle; and he was trammelled by his allegiance to his suzerain, the Sultan. The Catholic League was served by a first-rate general in the person of Tilly; the Empire by a first-rate general and first-rate statesman in the person of Wallenstein. The Palatinate was conquered, and the Electorate was transferred by Imperial fiat to Maximilian of Bavaria, the head of the Catholic League, whereby a majority was given to the Catholics in the hitherto equally-divided College of Electors. An Imperial Edict of Restitution went forth, restoring to Catholicism all that it had lost by conversion within the last seventy years. Over all Germany, Jesuits and Capuchins swarmed with the mandates of reaction in their hands. The King of Denmark tardily took up arms only to be overthrown by Tilly at Lutter, and again at Wolgast by Wallenstein. The Catholic and Imperial armies were on the northern seas. Wallenstein, made Admiral of the Empire, was preparing a basis of maritime operations against the Protestant kingdoms of Scandinavia, against the last asylum of Protestantism and Liberty in Holland. Germany, with all its intellect and all its hopes, was on the point of becoming a second Spain. Teutonism was all but enslaved to the Croat. The double star of the House of Austria seemed with baleful aspect to dominate in the sky, and to threaten with extinction European liberty and progress. One bright spot alone remained amidst the gloom. By the side of the brave burghers who beat back the Prince of Parma from the cities of Holland, a place must be made in history for the brave burghers who beat back Wallenstein from Stralsund, after he had sworn, in his grand, impious way, that he would take it though it were bound by a chain to Heaven. The eyes of all Protestants were turned, says Richelieu, like those of sailors, towards the North. And from the North a deliverer came. On Midsummer day, 1630, a bright day in the annals of Protestantism, of Germany, and, as Protestants and Germans must believe, of human liberty and progress, Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, landed at Penemunde, on the Pomeranian coast, and knelt down on the shore to give thanks to God for his safe passage; then showed at once his knowledge of the art of war and of the soldier's heart, by himself taking spade in hand, and commencing the entrenchment of his camp. Gustavus was the grandson of that Gustavus Vasa who had broken at once the bonds of Denmark and of Rome, and had made Sweden independent and Lutheran. He was the son of that Charles Vasa who had defeated the counter-reformation. Devoted from his childhood to the Protestant cause, hardily trained in a country where even the palace was the abode of thrift and self-denial, his mind enlarged by a liberal education, in regard for which, amidst her poverty, as in general character and habits of her people, his Sweden greatly resembled Scotland; his imagination stimulated by the wild scenery, the dark forests, the starry nights of Scandinavia; gifted by nature both in mind and body; the young king had already shown himself a hero. He had waged grim war with the powers of the icy north; he bore several scars, proofs of a valour only too great for the vast interests which depended on his life; he had been a successful innovator in tactics, or rather a successful restorer of the military science of the Romans. But the best of his military innovations were discipline and religion. His discipline redeemed the war from savagery, and made it again, so far as war, and war in that iron age could be, a school of humanity and self-control. In religion he was himself not an ascetic saint, there is one light passage at least in his early life: and at Augsburg they show a ruff plucked from his neck by a fair Augsburger at the crisis of a very brisk flirtation. But he was devout, and he inspired his army with his devotion. The traveller is still struck with the prayer and hymn which open and close the march of the soldiers of Gustavus. Schools for the soldiers' children were held in his camp. It is true that the besetting sin of the Swedes, and of all dwellers in cold countries, is disclosed by the article in his military


Lectures and Essays - 10/67

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