In the later years of Napoleon’s rule, when he had reached the summit of power, and the various German States lay prostrate at his feet, there arose in Austria a great man, on whom the eyes of Europe were speedily fixed, and who gradually became the central figure of Continental politics. This remarkable man was Count Metternich, who more than any other man set in motion the secret springs which resulted in a general confederation to shake off the degrading fetters imposed by the French conqueror. In this matter he had a powerful ally in Baron von Stein, who reorganized Prussia, and prepared her for successful resistance, when the time came, against the common enemy. In another lecture I shall attempt to show the part taken by Von Stein in the regeneration of Germany; but it is my present purpose to confine attention to the Austrian chancellor and diplomatist, his various labors, and the services he rendered, not to the cause of Freedom and Progress, but to that of Absolutism, of which he was in his day the most noted champion.
Metternich, in his character as diplomatist, is to be contemplated in two aspects: first, as aiming to enlist the great powers in armed combination against Napoleon; and secondly, as attempting to unite them and all the German States to suppress revolutionary ideas and popular insurrections, and even constitutional government itself. Before presenting him in this double light, however, I will briefly sketch the events of his life until he stood out as the leading figure in European politics,—as great a figure as Bismarck later became.
Clemens Wenzel Nepomuk Lothar, Count von Metternich, was born at Coblentz, on the Rhine, May 15, 1773. His father was a nobleman of ancient family. I will not go into his pedigree, reaching far back in the Middle Ages,—a matter so important in the eyes of German and even English biographers, but to us in America of no more account than the genealogy of the Dukes of Edom. The count his father was probably of more ability than an ordinary nobleman in a country where nobles are so numerous, since he was then, or soon after, Austrian ambassador to the Netherlands. Young Metternich was first sent to the University of Strasburg, at the age of fifteen, about the time when Napoleon was completing his studies at a military academy. In 1790, a youth of seventeen, he took part in the ceremonies attending the coronation of Emperor Leopold at Frankfort, and made the acquaintance of the archduke, who two years later succeeded to the imperial dignity as Francis II. We next see him a student of law in the University of Mainz, spending his vacations at Brussels, in his father’s house.