FOR many years no historical work has been heralded with half the noise that has preceded the publication of the first installment of the Metternich memoirs. Of the four great statesmen of the century, Bismarck is our contemporary ; Cavour is personally uninteresting; Talleyrand, though his memoirs are still unpublished, has had so much light thrown upon him from other sources that we feel thoroughly acquainted with his history and his opinions. But with Metternich it is different. Partly because of our vague notions of the empire which he so long ruled, partly on account of the peculiar nature of his political influence, the mention of his name excites a high degree of curiosity and interest, — feelings shared by thousands of readers, whose knowledge of him is limited to the fact that he was the all-powerful minister of Austria for more than a generation, and that he used his power to stifle every form of intellectual and political liberty. When, therefore, the reading portion of three great nations read, months before the event, that the memoirs of Metternich were to appear, simultaneously, in their respective languages, they prepared themselves to receive a detailed and carefully-prepared account of what took place in the thirty years of peace preceding 1848,—a narration of all that he saw and did, by the astute and dignified spider who surveyed from the centre every line and curve of the intricate web of European diplomacy.

But the Metternich of the work 1 be fore us by no means corresponds to the common conception of his character and labors. We have reason to be grateful for the fragment of autobiography in which he describes his career down to 1815 ; but this occupies but two thirds of one volume, the remainder being filled with official reports and letters, — matter usually relegated to the end, and printed only in the character of Notes and Illustrations. But if the period ending with 1815 is not that in which Metternich most conspicuously figures, he was none the less, during its latter years, a highly important person. We fancy, too, that he felt real enjoyment in describing this portion of his life, while the remainder of the autobiography must be chiefly devoted to attempts to put a good face upon very bad actions. In the continuation of the memoirs he will be forced to take the tone either of apology or of cynicism ; but thus far the simplicity of the narration is not vitiated by the consciousness, on the part of the writer, of having ever to defend himself. Professional interest is here never seen in conflict with that higher law which should govern the conduct alike of statesmen and of meaner mortals, and the hero of the tale always appears modest and upright, as well as clearsighted and shrewd.

We will not follow the familiar details of Metternich’s life further than is necessary to give an idea of the work before us. Unlike most memoir writers, he does not linger with fondness over the days of his youth, and the first event mentioned is his appearance at the coronation of the Emperor Leopold, in 1790, as one of the representatives of the corporate body of counts of the district of Westphalia. This, at least, is the position which Metternich says he held, and we suppose it is as well to follow the original text as it would be to adopt the ornate English of the translator, who tells us that his constituency consisted of “ the imperial courts of the Westphalian bench.” Though the elder Metternich was in the imperial service, he was not an Austrian subject, and his son, at this time, had never been in any of the patrimonial territories of the Habsburg family, — those widely-extended provinces which, in German political nomenclature, enjoy exclusively the designation of Erbläinder (hereditary lands). In the judgment of the translator, a knowledge of this nomenclature is quite superfluous, and she contents herself with the statement that “ I had never been in Austria. The only spot of hereditary property on which I had set my foot was the estate, of Königswart,” etc. The years following the young count spent in study, in serving his father, and in a journey to England in the train of an imperial mission, during which expedition he was appointed envoy to the Dutch republic. A French army, however, prevented his going thither, and soon after this, father and son proceeded to Vienna, where, being now two and twenty, he married the granddaughter of Kaunitz. At this time he had a strong distaste for public business, greatly preferring the study of physical science and of art. “ I must also acquaint my readers with other causes which kept me aloof from public affairs. . . . Inaccessible to prejudice, and seeking only the truth in everything, my modesty did not allow me to find fault with persons in power if I was not satisfied with what I saw ; on the contrary, I ascribed to the weakness of my own understanding and to my inexperience the feeling which forced me to disapprove of the course they had taken. . . . Was there anything in such a situation to summon me to exchange my peaceful life for a life of activity, constrained to move within limits conflicting with my spirit of independence and cramping my conscience ? These feelings of mine might easily give the impression that my temper had become morose. But that would be a mistake. I was preserved from this weakness by my love for grave studies. I never shut myself up from the world ; my life was that of a man who sought exclusively good society. . . . I frequented those salons by preference in winch I was sure to find pleasant conversation, convinced that such conversation serves to sharpen the intellect, correct the judgment, and is a source of instruction to those who know how to keep it from degenerating into mere babbling.” The emperor, meanwhile, never saw him without reproaching him for his idleness, and in 1801 he consented to enter the government’s service, becoming envoy, first at Dresden, then at Berlin, where he stayed till 1805. He was next appointed ambassador at St. Petersburg, but before going thither his destination was changed, at the request of the French government, to Paris. Metternich’s account of his residence in the French capital, and extracts from letters written there, are by far the most interesting parts of the papers now printed. His judgments, characterizations of the eminent men with whom he came in contact, are all admirable ; his judgment of Bonaparte, whom, as he well says, he had better opportunity for knowing than any other person not a Frenchman, is not only sound, but also sharp and clear. The war of 1809 put an end to the ambassador’s stay in Paris, but his wife remained, and her letters to her husband, printed in the second volume, have both historical and literary value. To them we are indebted for our knowledge of the singular fact that the negotiations for the hand of Marie Louise were opened by Josephine herself in a long conversation with the Countess of Metternich. But the account here given of the preliminaries of the marriage is untrustworthy, for the writer ignores the well-known fact of Josephine’s ecclesiastical marriage before her coronation.

The remainder of the memoir contains little of general interest except the account of the author’s interview with Bonaparte before the battle of Leipzig ; and this is not new. In these last pages, too, the reader begins to feel an antipathy for Metternich, which the following volumes can but strengthen. So long as he was contending with the incendiary principles of the French Revolution and the vain projects of the empire, he had a claim upon the reader’s sympathy ; but here, in the persons of Stein and Arndt, he comes in contact with those feelings of patriotism and moral enthusiasm which he comprehended only enough to hate them with all his soul, and which his later life was to be spent in combating.

To the translation can be given the unusual praise that the book reads as if it had been composed in English, though the English of a very careless writer. But the translator seems to be as ignorant of the history of the period as she is of the geography of the regions mentioned. We have no space here for a list of errata, and must allow two examples to illustrate the whole. The French prince who became Charles X. is called the Count von Artois, and the German province of Lausitz, distant five hundred miles from the French border, is described as “ Haute and Basse Lusace.”

  1. Memoirs of Prince Metternich, 1773-1815. Edited by PRINCE RICHARD METTERNICH. Translated by MRS. ALEXANDER NAPIER. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1880.