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SKETCH OF THE ADMINISTRATION AND FALL OF STRUENSEE. * - Sir James Mackintosh, The Miscellaneous Works 
The Miscellaneous Works. Three Volumes, complete in One. (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1871).
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SKETCH OF THE ADMINISTRATION AND FALL OF STRUENSEE.*
On the arrival of Charles VII. of Sweden, at Altona, in need of a physician,—an attendant whom his prematurely broken constitution made peculiarly essential to him even at the age of nineteen,—Struensee, the son of a Lutheran bishop in Holstein, had just begun to practise medicine, after having been for some time employed as the editor of a newspaper in that city. He was now appointed physician to the King, at the moment when he was projecting a professional establishment at Malaga, or a voyage to India, which his imagination, excited by the perusal of the elder travellers, had covered with “barbaric pearl and gold.” He was now twenty-nine years old, and appears to have been recommended to the royal favour by an agreeable exterior, pleasing manners, and some slight talents and superficial knowledge, with the subserviency indispensable in a favourite, and the power of amusing his listless and exhausted master. His name appears in the publications of the time as “Doctor Struensee,” among the attendants of his Danish Majesty in England; and he received, in that character, the honorary degree of Doctor of Medicine from the University of Oxford.
Like all other minions, his ascent was rapid, or rather his flight to the pinnacle of power was instantaneous; for the passion of an absolute prince on such occasions knows no bounds, and brooks no delay. Immediately after the King’s return to Copenhagen, Struensee was appointed a Cabinet Minister. While his brother was made a counsellor of justice, he appointed Brandt, another adventurer, to superintend the palace and the imbecile King; and intrusted Rantzau, a disgraced Danish minister, who had been his colleague in the editorship of the Altona Journal, with the conduct of foreign affairs. He and his friend Brandt were created Earls. Stolk, his predecessor in favour, had fomented and kept up an animosity between the King and Queen: Struensee (unhappily for himself as well as for her) gained the confidence of the Queen, by restoring her to the good graces of her husband. Caroline Matilda, sister of George III., who then had the misfortune to be Queen of Denmark, is described by Falkenskiold* as the handsomest woman of the Court, as of a mild and reserved character, and as one who was well qualified to enjoy and impart happiness, if it had been her lot to be united to an endurable husband. Brandt seems to have been a weak coxcomb, and Rantzau a turbulent and ungrateful intriguer.
The only foreign business which Struensee found pending on his entrance into office, was a negotiation with Russia, concerning the pretensions of that formidable competitor to a part of Holstein, which Denmark had unjustly acquired fifty years before. Peter III., the head of the house of Holstein, was proud of his German ancestry, and ambitious of recovering their ancient dominions. After his murder, Catharine claimed these possessions, as nominal Regent of Holstein, during the minority of her son. The last act of Bernstorff’s administration had been a very prudent accommodation, in which Russia agreed to relinquish her claims on Holstein, in consideration of the cession to her by Denmark of the small principality of Oldenburg, the very ancient partimony of the Danish Royal Family. Rantzau, who in his exile had had some quarrel with the Russian Government, prevailed on the inexperienced Struensee to delay the execution of this politic convention, and aimed at establishing the influence of France and Sweden at Copenhagen instead of that of Russia, which was then supported by England. He even entertained the chimerical project of driving the Empress from Petersburgh. Falkenskiold, who had been sent on a mission to Petersburgh, endeavoured, after his return, to disabuse Struensee, and to show him the ruinous tendency of such rash counsels, proposing to him even to recall Bernstorff, to facilitate the good understanding which could hardly be re-restored as long as Counts Osten and Rantzau, the avowed enemies of Russia, were in power. Struensee, like most of those who must be led by others, was exceedingly fearful of being thought to be so. When Falkenskiold warned him against yielding to Rantzau, his plans were shaken: but when the same weapon was turned against Falkenskiold, Struensee returned to his obstinacy. Even after Rantzau had become his declared enemy, he adhered to the plans of that intriguer, lest he should be suspected of yielding to Falkenskiold. Whereever there were only two roads, it was easy to lead Struensee, by exciting his fear of being led by the opposite party.
Struensee’s measures of internal policy appear to have been generally well-meant, but often ill-judged. Some of his reforms were in themselves excellent: but he showed, on the whole, a meddling and restless spirit, impatient of the necessary delay, often employed in petty change, choosing wrong means, braving prejudices that might have been softened, and offending interests that might have been conciliated. He was a sort of inferior Joseph II.; like him, rather a servile copyist than an enlightened follower of Frederic II. His dissolution of the Guards (in itself a prudent measure of economy) turned a numerous body of volunteers into the service of his enemies. The removal of Bernstorff was a very blamable means of strengthening himself. The suppression of the Privy Council, the only feeble restraint on despotic power, was still more reprehensible in itself, and excited the just resentment of the Danish nobility. The repeal of a barbarous law, inflicting capital punishment on adultery, was easily misrepresented to the people as a mark of approbation of that vice.
Both Struensee and Brandt had embraced the infidelity at that time prevalent among men of the world, which consisted in little more than a careless transfer of implied faith from Luther to Voltaire. They had been acquainted with the leaders of the Philosophical party at Paris, and they introduced the conversation of their masters at Copenhagen. In the same school they were taught to see clearly enough the distempers of European society; but they were not taught (for their teachers did not know) which of these maladies were to be endured, which were to be palliated, and what were the remedies and regimen by which the remainder might, in due time, be effectually and yet safely removed. The dissolute manners of the Court contributed to their unpopularity; rather, perhaps, because the nobility resented the intrusion of upstarts into the sphere of their priviledged vice, than because there was any real increase of licentiousness.
It must not be forgotten that Struensee was the first minister of an absolute monarchy who abolished the torture; and that he patronized those excellent plans for the emancipation of the enslaved husbandmen, which were first conceived by Reverdil, a Swiss, and the adoption of which by the second Bernstorff has justly immortalized that statesman. He will be honoured by after ages for what offended the Lutheran clergy,—the free exercise of religious worship granted to Calvinists, to Moravians, and even to Catholics; for the Danish clergy were ambitious of retaining the right to persecute, not only long after it was impossible to exercise it, but even after they had lost the disposition to do so;—at first to overawe, afterwards to degrade non-conformists; in both stages, as a badge of the privileges and honour of an established church.
No part, however, of Struensee’s private or public conduct can be justly considered as the cause of his downfall. His irreligion, his immoralities, his precipitate reforms, his parade of invidious favour, were only the instruments or pretexts by which his competitors for office were able to effect his destruction. Had he either purchased the good-will, or destroyed the power of his enemies at Court, he might long have governed Denmark, and perhaps have been gratefully remembered by posterity as a reformer of political abuses. He fell a victim to an intrigue for a change of ministers, which, under such a King, was really a struggle for the sceptre.
His last act of political imprudence illustrates both the character of his enemies, and the nature of absolute government. When he was appointed Secretary of the Cabinet, he was empowered to execute such orders as were very urgent, without the signature of the King, on condition, however, that they should be weekly laid before him, to be confirmed or annulled under his own hand. This liberty had been practised before his administration; and it was repeated in many thousand instances after his downfall. Under any monarchy, the substantial fault would have consisted rather in assuming an independence of his colleagues, than in encroaching on any royal power which was real or practicable. Under so wretched a pageant as the King of Denmark, Struensee showed his folly in obtaining, by a formal order, the power which he might easily have continued to execute without it. But this order was the signal of a clamour against him, as an usurper of royal prerogative. The Guards showed symptoms of mutiny: the garrison of the capital adopted their resentment. The populace became riotous. Rantzau, partly stimulated by revenge against Struensee, for having refused a protection to him against his creditors, being secretly favoured by Count Osten, found means of gaining over Guldberg, an ecclesiastic of obscure birth, full of professions of piety, the preceptor of the King’s brother, who prevailed on that prince and the Queen-Dowager to engage in the design of subverting the Administration. Several of Struensee’s friends warned him of his danger; but, whether from levity or magnanimity, he neglected their admonitions. Rantzau himself, either jealous of the ascendant acquired by Guldberg among the conspirators, or visited by some compunctious remembrances of friendship and gratitude, spoke to Falkenskiold confidentially of the prevalent rumours, and tendered his services for the preservation of his former friend. Falkenskiold distrusted the advances of Rantzau, and answered coldly, “Speak to Struensee:” Rantzau turned away, saying, “He will not listen to me.”
Two days afterwards, on the 16th of January, 1772, there was a brilliant masked ball at Court, where the conspirators and their victims mingled in the festivities (as was observed by some foreign ministers present) with more than usual gaiety. At four o’clock in the morning, the Queen-Dowager, who was the King’s step-mother, her son, and Count Rantzau, entered the King’s bedchamber, compelled his valet to awaken him, and required him to sign an order to apprehend the Queen, the Counts Struensee and Brandt, who, with other conspirators, they pretended were then engaged in a plot to depose, if not to murder him. Christian is said to have hesitated, from fear or obstinacy,—perhaps from some remnant of humanity and moral restraint: but he soon yielded; and his verbal assent, or perhaps a silence produced by terror, was thought a sufficient warrant. Rantzau, with three officers, rushed with his sword drawn into the apartment of the Queen, compelled her to rise from her bed, and, in spite of her tears and threats, sent her, half-dressed, a prisoner to the fortress of Cronenbourg, together with her infant daughter Louisa, whom she was then suckling, and Lady Mostyn, an English lady who attended her. Struensee and Brandt were in the same night thrown into prison, and loaded with irons. On the next day, the King was paraded through the streets in a carriage drawn by eight milk-white horses, as if triumphing after a glorious victory over his enemies, in which he had saved his country: the city was illuminated. The preachers of the Established Church are charged by several concurring witnesses with inhuman and unchristian invectives from the pulpit against the Queen and the fallen ministers; the good, doubtless, believing too easily the tale of the victors, the base paying court to the dispensers of preferment, and the bigoted greedily swallowing the most incredible accusations against unbelievers. The populace, inflamed by these declamations, demolished or pillaged from sixty to a hundred houses.
The conspirators distributed among themselves the chief offices. The King was suffered to fall into his former nullity: the formality of his signature was dispensed with; and the affairs of the kingdom were conducted in his name, only till his son was of an age to assume the regency. Guldberg, under the modest title of “Secretary of the Cabinet,” became Prime Minister. Rantzau was appointed a Privy Councillor; and Osten retained the department of Foreign Affairs: but it is consolatory to add, that, after a few months, both were discarded at the instance of the Court of Petersburgh, to complete the desired exchange of Holstein for Oldenburgh.
The object of the conspiracy being thus accomplished, the conquerors proceeded, as usual, to those judicial proceedings against the prisoners, which are intended formally to justify the violence of a victorious faction, but substantially aggravate its guilt. A commission was appointed to try the accused: its leading members were the chiefs of the conspiracy. Guldberg, one of them, had to determine, by the sentence which he pronounced, whether he was himself a rebel. General Eichstedt, the president, had personally arrested several of the prisoners, and was, by his judgment on Struensee, who had been his benefactor, to decide, that the criminality of that minister was of so deep a die as to cancel the obligations of gratitude. To secure his impartiality still more, he was appointed a minister, and promised the office of preceptor of the hereditary prince,—the permanence of which appointments must have partly depended on the general conviction that the prisoners were guilty.
The charges against Struensee and Brandt are dated on the 21st of April. The defence of Struensee was drawn up by his counsel on the 22d; that of Brandt was prepared on the 23d. Sentence was pronounced against both on the 23d. On the 27th, it was approved, and ordered to be executed by the King. On the 28th, after their right hands had been cut off on the scaffold, they were beheaded. For three months they had been closely and very cruelly imprisoned. The proceedings of the commission were secret: the prisoners were not confronted with each other; they heard no witnesses; they read no depositions; they did not appear to have seen any counsel till they had received the indictments. It is characteristic of this scene to add, that the King went to the Opera on the 25th, after signifying his approbation of the sentence; and that on the 27th, the day of its solemn confirmation, there was a masked ball at Court. On the day of the execution, the King again went to the Opera. The passion which prompts an absolute monarch to raise an unworthy favourite to honour, is still less disgusting than the levity and hardness with which, on the first alarm, he always abandons the same favourite to destruction. It may be observed, that the very persons who had represented the patronage of operas and masquerades as one of the offences of Struensee, were the same who thus unseasonably paraded their unhappy Sovereign through a succession of such amusements.
The Memoirs of Falkenskiold contain the written answers of Struensee to the preliminary questions of the commission, the substance of the charges against him, and the defence made by his counsel. The first were written on the 14th of April, when he was alone in a dungeon, with irons on his hands and feet, and an iron collar fastened to the wall round his neck. The Indictment is prefaced by a long declamatory invective against his general conduct and character, such as still dishonour the criminal proceedings of most nations, and from which England has probably been saved by the scholastic subtlety and dryness of her system of what is called “special pleading.” Laying aside his supposed connection with the Queen, which is reserved for a few separate remarks, the charges are either perfectly frivolous, or sufficiently answered by his counsel, in a defence which he was allowed only one day to prepare, and which bears evident marks of being written with the fear of the victorious faction before the eyes of the feeble advocate. One is, that he caused the young Prince to be trained so hardily as to endanger his life; in answer to which, he refers to the judgment of physicians, appeals to the restored health of the young Prince, and observes, that even if he had been wrong, his fault could have been no more than an error of judgment. The truth is, that he was guilty of a ridiculous mimicry of the early education of Emile, at a time when all Europe was intoxicated by the writings of Rousseau. To the second charge, that he had issued, on the 21st of December preceding, unknown to the King, an order for the incorporation of the Foot Guards with the troops of the line, and on their refusal to obey, had, on the 24th, obtained an order from him for their reduction, he answered, that the draught of the order had been read and approved by the King on the 21st, signed and sealed by him on the 23d, and finally confirmed by the order for reducing the refractory Guards, as issued by his Majesty on the 24th; so that he could scarcely be said to have been even in form guilty of a two days’ usurpation. It might have been added, that it was immediately fully pardoned by the royal confirmation; that Rantzau, and others of his enemies, had taken an active share in it; and that it was so recent, that the conspirators must have resolved on their measures before its occurrence. He was further charged with taking or granting exorbitant pensions; and he answered, seemingly with truth, that they were not higher than those of his predecessors. He was accused also of having falsified the public accounts; to which his answer is necessarily too detailed for our purpose, but appears to be satisfactory. Both these last offences, if they had been committed, could not have been treated as high treason in any country not wholly barbarous; and the evidence on which the latter and more precise of the charges rested, was a declaration of the imbecile and imprisoned King on an intricate matter of account reported to him by an agent of the enemies of the prisoner.
Thus stands the case of the unfortunate Struensee on all the charges but one, as it appears in the accusation which his enemies had such time and power to support, and on the defence made for him under such cruel disadvantages. That he was innocent of the political offences laid to his charge, is rendered highly probable by the Narrative of his Conversion, published soon after his execution by Dr. Munter, a divine of Copenhagen, appointed by the Danish Government to attend him;* a composition, which bears the strongest marks of the probity and sincerity of the writer, and is a perfect model of the manner in which a person, circumstanced like Struensee, ought to be treated by a kind and considerate minister of religion. Men of all opinions, who peruse this narrative, must own that it is impossible, with more tenderness, to touch the wounds of a sufferer, to reconcile the agitated penitent to himself, to present religion as the consoler, not as the disturber of his dying moments, gently to dispose him to try his own actions by a higher test of morality, to fill his mind with indulgent benevolence towards his fellow-men, and to exalt it to a reverential love of boundless perfection. Dr. Munter deserved the confidence of Struensee, and seems entirely to have won it. The unfortunate man freely owned his private licentiousness, his success in corrupting the principles of the victims of his desires, his rejection not only of religion, but also in theory, though not quite in feeling, of whatever ennobles and elevates the mind in morality, the imprudence and rashness by which he brought ruin on his friends, and plunged his parents in deep affliction, and the ignoble and impure motives of all his public actions, which, in the eye of reason, deprived them of that pretension to virtuous character, to which their outward appearance might seem to entitle them. He felt for his friends with unusual tenderness. Instead of undue concealment from Munter, he is, perhaps, chargeable with betraying to him secrets which were not exclusively his own: but he denies the truth of the political charges against him,—more especially those of peculation and falsification of accounts.
The charges against Brandt would be altogether unworthy of consideration, were it not for the light which one of them throws on the whole of this atrocious procedure. The main accusation against him was, that he had beaten, flogged, and scratched the sacred person of the King. His answer was, that the King, who had a passion for wrestling and boxing, had repeatedly challenged him to a match, and had severely beaten him five or six times; that he did not gratify his master’s taste till after these provocations; that two of the witnesses against him, servants of the King, had indulged their master in the same sport; and that he received liberal gratifications, and continued to enjoy the royal favour for months after this pretended treason. The King inherited this perverse taste in amusements from his father, whose palace had been the theatre of the like kingly sports. It is impossible to entertain the least doubt of the truth of this defence: it affords a natural and probable explanation of a fact which would be otherwise incomprehensible.
A suit for divorce was commenced against the Queen, on the ground of criminal connection with Struensee, who was himself convicted of high treason for that connection. This unhappy princess had been sacrificed, at the age of seventeen, to the brutal caprices of a husband who, if he had been a private man, would have been deemed incapable of the deliberate consent which is essential to marriage. She had early suffered from his violence, though she so far complied with his fancies as to ride with him in male apparel,—an indecorum for which she had been sharply reprehended by her mother, the Princess-Dowager of Wales, in a short interview between them, during a visit which the latter had paid to her brother at Gotha, after an uninterrupted residence of thirty-four years in England. The King had suffered the Russian minister at Copenhagen to treat her with open rudeness; and had disgraced his favourite cousin, the Prince of Hesse, for taking her part. He had never treated her with common civility, till they were reconciled by Struensee, at that period of overflowing good-nature when that minister obtained the recall from banishment of the ungrateful Rantzau.
The evidence against her consisted of a number of circumstances (none of them incapable of an innocent explanation) sworn to by attendants, who had been employed as spies on her conduct. She owned that she had been guilty of much imprudence; but in her dying moments she declared to M. Roques, pastor of the French church at Zell, that she never had been unfaithful to her husband.* It is true, that her own signature affixed to a confession was alleged against her: but if General Falkenskiold was rightly informed (for he has every mark of honest intention), that signature proves nothing but the malice and cruelty of her enemies. Schack, the counsellor sent to interrogate her at Cronenbourg, was received by her with indignation when he spoke to her of connection with Struensee. When he showed Struensee’s confession to her, he artfully intimated that the fallen minister would be subjected to a very cruel death if he was found to have falsely criminated the Queen. “What!” she exclaimed, “do you believe that if I was to confirm this declaration, I should save the life of that unfortunate man?” Schack answered by a profound bow. The Queen took a pen, wrote the first syllable of her name, and fainted away. Schack completed the signature, and carried away the fatal document in triumph.
Struensee himself, however, had confessed his intercourse to the Commissioners. It is said that this confession was obtained by threats of torture, facilitated by some hope of life, and influenced by a knowledge that the proceeding against the Queen could not be carried beyond divorce. But his repeated and deliberate avowals to Dr. Munter do not (it must be owned) allow of such an explanation. Scarcely any supposition favourable to this unhappy princess remains, unless it should be thought likely, that as Dr. Munter’s Narrative was published under the eye of her oppressors, they might have caused the confessions of Struensee to be inserted in it by their own agents, without the consent—perhaps without the knowledge—of Munter; whose subsequent life is so little known, that we cannot determine whether he ever had the means of exposing the falsification. It must be confessed, that internal evidence does not favour this hypothesis; for the passages of the Narrative, which contain the avowals of Struensee, have a striking appearance of genuineness. If Caroline betrayed her sufferings to Struensee,—if she was led to a dangerous familiarity with a pleasing young man who had rendered essential services to her,—if mixed motives of confidence, gratitude, disgust, and indignation, at last plunged her into an irretrievable fault, the reasonable and the virtuous will reserve their abhorrence for the conspirators who, for the purposes of their own ambition, punished her infirmity by ruin, endangered the succession to the crown, and disgraced their country in the eyes of Europe. It is difficult to contain the indignation which naturally arises from the reflection, that at this very time, and with a full knowledge of the fate of the Queen of Denmark, the Royal Marriage Act was passed in England, for the avowed purpose of preventing the only marriages of preference, which a princess, at least, has commonly the opportunity of forming. Of a monarch, who thought so much more of the pretended degradation of his brother than of the cruel misfortunes of his sister, less cannot be said than that he must have had more pride than tenderness. Even the capital punishment of Struensee, for such an offence will be justly condemned by all but English lawyers, who ought to be silenced by the consciousness that the same barbarous disproportion of a penalty to an offence is sanctioned in the like case by their own law.
Caroline Matilda died at Zell about three years after her imprisonment. The last tidings which reached the Princess-Dowager of Wales on her death-bed, was the imprisonment of this ill-fated daughter, which was announced to her in a letter dictated to the King of Denmark by his new masters, and subscribed with his own hand. Two days before her death, though in a state of agony, she herself wrote a letter to the nominal sovereign, exhorting him to be at least indulgent and lenient towards her daughter. After hearing the news from Copenhagen she scarcely swallowed any nourishment. The intelligence was said to have accelerated her death; but the dreadful malady* under which she suffered, neither needed the cooperation of sorrow, nor was of a nature to be much affected by it.
What effects were produced by the interference of the British Minister for the Queen?—How far the conspirators were influenced by fear of the resentment of King George III.?—and, In what degree that monarch himself may have acquiesced in the measures finally adopted towards his sister?—are questions which must be answered by the historian from other sources than those from which we reason on the present occasion. The only legal proceeding ever commenced against the Queen was a suit for a divorce, which was in form perfectly regular: for in all Protestant countries but England, the offended party is entitled to release from the bands of marriage by the ordinary tribunals. It is said that two legal questions were then agitated in Denmark, and “even occasioned great debates among the Commissioners:—1st. Whether the Queen, as a sovereign, could be legally tried by her subjects; and, 2dly, Whether, as a foreign princess, she was amenable to the law of Denmark?” But it is quite certain on general principles, (assuming that no Danish law had made their Queen a partaker of the sovereign power, or otherwise expressly exempted her from legal responsibility,) that however high in dignity and honour, she was still a subject; and that as such, she, as well as every other person wherever born, resident in Denmark, was, during her residence at least, amenable to the laws of that country.
It was certain that there was little probability of hostility from England. Engaged in a contest with the people at home, and dreading the approach of a civil war with America, Lord North was not driven from an inflexible adherence to his pacific system by the Partition of Poland itself. An address for the production of the diplomatic correspondence respecting the French conquest, or purchase of Corsica, was moved in the House of Commons on the 17th of November, 1768, for the purpose of condemning that unprincipled transaction, and with a view indirectly to blame the supineness of the English ministers respecting it. The motion was negatived by a majority of 230 to 84, on the same ground as that on which the like motions respecting Naples and Spain were resisted in 1822 and 1823;—that such proposals were too little if war was intended, and too much if it was not. The weight of authority, however, did not coincide with the power of numbers. Mr. Greenville, the most experienced statesman, and Mr. Burke, the man of greatest genius and wisdom in the House, voted in the minority, and argued in support of the motion. ‘Such,’ said the latter, ‘was the general zeal for the Corsican, that if the Ministers would withdraw the Proclamation issued by Lord Bute’s Government, forbidding British subjects to assist the Corsican “rebels,” ’ (a measure similar to our Foreign Enlistment Act), ‘private individuals would supply the brave insurgents with sufficient means of defence.’ The young Duke of Devonshire, then at Florence, had sent 400l. to Corsica, and raised 2000l. more for the same purpose by a subscription among the English in Italy.* A Government which looked thus passively at such breaches of the system of Europe on occasions when the national feeling was favourable to a more generous, perhaps a more wise policy, would hardly have been diverted from its course by any indignities or outrages which a foreign Government could offer to an individual of however illustrious rank. Little, however, as the likelihood of armed interference by England was, the apprehension of it might have been sufficient to enable the more wary of the Danish conspirators to contain the rage of their most furious accomplices. The ability and spirit displayed by Sir Robert Murray Keith on behalf of the Queen was soon after rewarded by his promotion to the embassy at Vienna, always one of the highest places in English diplomacy. His vigorous remonstrances in some measure compensated for the timidity of his Government; and he powerfully aided the cautious policy of Count Osten, who moderated the passions of his colleagues, though giving the most specious colour to their acts in his official correspondence with foreign Powers.
Contemporary observers of enlarged minds considered these events in Denmark not so much as they affected individuals, or were connected with temporary policy, as in the higher light in which they indicated the character of nations, and betrayed the prevalence of dispositions inauspicious to the prospects of mankind. None of the unavowed writings of Mr. Burke, and perhaps few of his acknowledged ones, exhibit more visible marks of his hand than the History of Europe in the Annual Register of 1772, which opens with a philosophical and eloquent vindication of the policy which watched over the balance of power, and with a prophetic display of the evils which were to flow from the renunciation of that policy by France and England, in suffering the partition of Poland. The little transactions of Denmark, which were despised by many as a petty and obscure intrigue, and affected the majority only as a part of the romance or tragedy of real life, appeared to the philosophical statesman pregnant with melancholy instruction. “It has,” says he, “been too hastily and too generally received as an opinion with the most eminent writers, and from them too carelessly received by the world, that the Northern nations, at all times and without exception, have been passionate admirers of liberty, and tenacious to an extreme of their rights. A little attention will show that this opinion ought to be received with many restrictions. Sweden and Denmark have, within little more than a century, given absolute demonstration to the contrary; and the vast nation of the Russes, who overspread so great a part of the North, have, at all times, so long as their name has been known, or their acts remembered by history, been incapable of any other than a despotic government. And notwithstanding the contempt in which we hold the Eastern nations, and the slavish disposition we attribute to them, it may be found, if we make a due allowance for the figurative style and manner of the Orientals, that the official papers public acts, and speeches, at the Courts of Petersburgh, Copenhagen, and Stockholm, are in as unmanly a strain of servility and adulation as those of the most despotic of the Asiatic governments.”
It was doubtless an error to class Russia with the Scandinavian nations, merely because they were both comprehended within the same parallels of latitude. The Russians differ from them in race,—a circumstance always to be considered, though more liable to be exaggerated or underrated, than any other which contributes to determine the character of nations. No Sarmatian people has ever been free. The Russians profess a religion, founded on the blindest submission of the understanding, which is, in their modern modification of it, directed to their temporal sovereign. They were for ages the slaves of Tartais, the larger part of their dominions is Asiatic; and they were, till lately, with justice, more regarded as an Eastern than as a Western nation. But the nations of Scandinavia were of that Teutonic race, who were the founders of civil liberty: they early embraced the Reformation, which ought to have taught them the duty of exercising reason freely on every subject: and their spirit has never been broken by a foreign yoke. Writing in the year when despotism was established in Sweden, and its baneful effects so strikingly exhibited in Denmark, Mr. Burke may be excused for comparing these then unhappy countries with those vast regions of Asia which have been the immemorial seat of slavery. The revolution which we have been considering, shows the propriety of the parallel in all its parts. If it only proved that absolute power corrupts the tyrant, there are many too debased to dread it on that account. But it shows him at Copenhagen, as at Ispahan, reduced to personal insignificance, a pageant occasionally exhibited by his ministers, or a tool in their hands, compelled to do whatever suits their purpose, without power to save the life even of a minion, and without security, in cases of extreme violence, for his own. Nothing can more clearly prove that under absolute monarchy, good laws, if they could by a miracle be framed, must always prove utterly vain; that civil cannot exist without political liberty; and that the detestable distinction, lately attempted in this country by the advocates of intolerance,* between freedom and political power, never can be allowed in practice without, in the first instance, destroying all securities for good government, and very soon introducing every species of corruption and oppression.
The part of Mr. Burke’s History, which we have quoted, is followed by a memorable passage which seems, in later times, to have escaped the notice both of his opponents and adherents, and was probably forgotten by himself. After speaking of the final victory of Louis XV. over the French Parliaments, of whom he says, “that their fate seems to be finally decided,† and the few remains of public liberty that were preserved in these illustrious bodies are now no more,” he proceeds to general reflection on the condition and prospects of Europe. “In a word, if we seriously consider the mode of supporting great standing armies, which becomes daily more prevalent, it will appear evident, that nothing less than a convulsion that will shake the globe to its centre, can ever restore the European nations to that liberty by which they were once so much distinguished. The Western world was its seat until another more western was discovered; and that other will probably be its asylum when it is hunted down in every other part of the world. Happy it is that the worst of times may have one refuge left for humanity.”
This passage is not so much a prophecy of the French Revolution, as a declaration that without a convulsion as deep and dreadful as that great event, the European nations had no chance of being restored to their ancient dignity and their natural rights. Had it been written after, or at least soon after the event, it might have been blamed as indicating too little indignation against guilt, and compassion for suffering. Even when considered as referring to the events of a distant futurity, it may be charged with a pernicious exaggeration, which seems to extenuate revolutionary horrors by representing them as inevitable, and by laying it down falsely that Wisdom and Virtue can find no other road to Liberty. It would, however, be very unjust to charge such a purpose on Mr. Burke, or indeed to impute such a tendency to his desponding anticipations. He certainly appears to have foreseen that the progress of despotism would at length provoke a general and fearful resistance, the event of which, with a wise scepticism, he does not dare to foretel; rather, however, as a fond, and therefore fearful, lover of European liberty, foreboding that she will be driven from her ancient seats, and leave the inhabitants of Europe to be numbered with Asiatic slaves. The fierceness of the struggle he clearly saw, and most distinctly predicts; for he knew that the most furious passions of human nature would be enlisted on both sides. He does not conclude, from this dreadful prospect, that the chance of liberty ought to be relinquished rather than expose a country to the probability or possibility of such a contest; but, on the contrary, very intelligibly declares by the melancholy tone in which he adverts to the expulsion of Liberty, that every evil is to be hazarded for her preservation. It would be well if his professed adherents would bear in mind, that such is the true doctrine of most of those whom they dread and revile as incendiaries. The friends of freedom only profess that those who have recourse to the only remaining means of preserving or acquiring liberty, are not morally responsible for the evils which may arise in an inevitable combat.
The Danish dominions continued to be administered in the name of Christian VII., for the long period of thirty-six years after the deposition of Struensee. The mental incapacity under which he always laboured, was not formally recognised till the association of his son, now King of Denmark, with him in the government. He did not cease to breathe till 1808, after a nominal reign of forty-three years, and an animal existence of near sixty. During the latter part of that period, the real rulers of the country were wise and honest men. It enjoyed a considerable interval of prosperity under the administration of Bernstorff, whose merit in forbearing to join the coalition against France in 1793, is greatly enhanced by his personal abhorience of the Revolution. His adoption of Reverdil’s measures of enfranchisement, sheds the purest glory on his name.
The fate of Denmark, after the ambition of Napoleon had penetrated into the North,—the iniquity with which she was stripped by Russia of Norway, for adherence to an alliance which Russia had compelled her to join, and as a compensation to Sweden for Finland, of which Sweden had been robbed by Russia, are events too familiarly known to be recounted here. She is now no more than a principality, whose arms are still surmounted by a royal crown. A free and popular government, under the same wise administration, might have arrested many of these calamities, and afforded a new proof that the attachment of a people to a government in which they have a palpable interest and a direct share, is the most secure foundation of defensive strength.
The political misfortunes of Denmark disprove the commonplace opinion, that all enslaved nations deserve their fate: for the moral and intellectual qualities of the Danes seem to qualify them for the firm and prudent exercise of the privileges of freemen. All those by whom they are well known, commend their courage, honesty, and industry. The information of the labouring classes has made a considerable progress since their enfranchisement. Their literature, like that of the Northern nations, has generally been dependent on that of Germany, with which country they are closely connected in language and religion. In the last half century, they have made persevering efforts to build up a national literature. The resistance of their fleet in 1801, has been the theme of many Danish poets; but we believe that they have been as unsuccessful in their bold competition with Campbell, as their mariners in their gallant contest with Nelson. However, a poor and somewhat secluded country, with a small and dispersed population, which has produced Tycho Brahe, Oehlenschlæger, and Thorwaldsen, must be owned to have contributed her full contingent to the intellectual greatness of Europe.
[* ] From the Edinburgh Review, vol. xliv. p. 366.—Ed.
[* ] General Falkenskiold was a Danish gentleman of respectable family, who, after having served in the French army during the Seven Years’ War, and in the Russian army during the first war of Catharine II. against the Turks, was recalled to his country under the administration of Struensee, to take a part in the reform of the military establishment, and to conduct the negotiation at Petersburgh, respecting the claims of the Imperial family to the dutchy of Holstein. He was involved in the fall of Struensee, and was, without trial, doomed to imprisonment for life at Munkholm, a fortress situated on a rock opposite to Drontheim. After five years’ imprisonment he was released, and permitted to live, first at Montpellier, and afterwards at Lausanne, at which last city (with the exception of one journey to Copenhagen) he past the latter part of his life, and where he died in September, 1820, in the eighty-third year of his age. He left his Memoirs for publication to his friend, M. Secretan, First Judge of the canton of Vaud.
[* ] Reprinted by the late learned and exemplary Mr. Rennell of Kensington. London, 1824.
[* ] Communicated by him to M. Secretan on the 7th of March, 1780.
[* ] An affection of the throat which precluded the passage of all nourishment.—Ed.
[* ] These particulars are not to be found in the printed debate, which copies the account of this discussion given in the Annual Register by Mr. Burke, written, like his other abstracts of Parliamentary proceedings, with the brevity and reserve, produced by his situation as one of the most important parties in the argument, and by the severe nations then prevalent on such publications.
[* ] This was written in 1826.—Ed.
[† ] They were re-established four years afterwards: but as this arose, not from the spirit of the nation, but from the advisers of the young King, who had full power to grant or withhold their restoration, the want of foresight is rather apparent than substantial.