An Austrian View of Alexander I and the Russians at the Congress of Vienna, 1815

[Excerpted from Readings in Modern European History, James Harvey Robinson and Charles Beard, eds. vol. 2 (Boston:Ginn and Company, 1908), pp. 348-352]

The emperor of Russia has come to Vienna, in the first place to be admired (which is always the principal thing in his, thoughts), and next to direct personally the important arrangements which should fix the boundaries and the future position of the many states which claim their share of the immense spoil which is placed at the disposal of the allies by their success against the common enemy. The three principal objects of the Emperor Alexander were : first, to take possession forever of the whole, or almost the whole, of the duchy of Warsaw, with the exception of some small portions, which he would give to the two neighboring powers; second, to prevent Austria from profiting too much by the advantages of her Dew position ; third, to enrich Prussia as much as possible, not Only to compensate her for her ancient Polish provinces, which he had carried away from her by surprise, and which he retained because it pleased him to do so, but also to make her a useful and powerful ally, the only one on whom he could rely in the future. Such were the real objects he had in view; the ostensible object was to mingle in all the affairs of the European nations, and to pass as the arbiter of their destinies.

On arriving at Vienna the emperor was already more or less embroiled with Austria, England, and France. His displeasure with Austria was chiefly on account of the many and deep grievances which he had, or pretended to have, against Prince Metternich. The first and true origin of these grievances dated from the opposition of that minister to the emperor's proposal to become himself the commander in chief of the allied armies. His resentment, which was restrained during the first period of the war, and even hidden under an appearance of great friendliness, broke out for the first time in the month of December, 1813, on the occasion of the allies entering Switzerland, -- a plan which all good generals had approved, but which the emperor opposed, because, in one of his philanthropic moods, he had given his word to some Vaudois apostles of liberty that the neutrality of Switzerland should be respected. Since that moment there has been no return of harmony. Angry and bitter discussions took place almost everyday during the last part of the campaign, and by the time the allies reached Paris they preserved, with difficulty, the outward appearance of a friendliness which had no longer any foundation. The emperor accustomed himself to look on M. de Metternich only as a permanent obstacle to his designs, as a man occupied without intermission in opposing and thwarting him ; at last, as a sworn enemy. . . .

His relations with England (a power which he had always cordially detested, and which he only cultivated either from interest or fear) have been sensibly disturbed since his visit to London. Lord Castlereagh was particularly disagteeabletohimy he called him cold and pedantic, and there were moments in Vienna when he would have treated him as he did M. de Metternich, if extreme fear of openly compromising himself with the British government (the only one before whom he trembled) had not forced him to dissimulate. Neither was the emperor inclined to friendly relations with France. He had not pardoned the king for having adopted a system of government contrary to the advice vk,hich he had wished to give him; he was furious against Prince Talleyrand, who, at the time of the allies entering Paris, had appeared to recognize no law but the will of the Russian emperor, and who, four weeks afterwards, had found the means of rendering himself independent. In the first months of his stay in Vienna there were some violent scenes between the emperor and M. de Talleyrand -- subsequently Talleyrand understood how to impress the emperor by his cleverness, his repartees, and his savoir faire; but the secret aversion remained the same. . . .

Prussia only brought to the congress an immoderate desire for extending her possessions at the expense of the whole world, and without regard to any principle of justice or even of decency. This passion for conquest had its origin neither the character of the king nor of his prime minister ; for in the king, although below mediocrity in intellect and judgment, is yet at bottom a good sort of man, and Chancellor Hardenberg one of the best that ever existed. But the system of this court does not depend after all either on the king or Prince Hardenberg. This system, founded and pursued for the last century, has found fresh support in the general enthusiasm of the nation, in the energy of the army, and in the irresistible power which a certain number of distinguished military men exercise at present on the cabinet. Since the moment of Prussia's resurrection, the principal object of this party has been the total acquisition of Saxony.

Being neither able nor willing to compete with Russia, they transferred all their designs to Germany; the acquisition of Saxony, however enormous it was, was for them but the beginning of a grand series of political operations, by which they hoped sooner or later to unite to Prussia the largest part of the north of Germany, to efface the influence of Austria, and to put themselves at the head of the whole German Confederation. Reckoning on the help of Russia in the execution of this vast scheme, they wished at least to carry away from the congress the foundation stone of their new edifice ; and if Austria has not been able entirely to thwart them, she still deserves some merit, in having at least prevented a considerable part of their schemes.

England appeared at Vienna with all the brilliancy which she owes to her immense successes, to the prominent part which she had played in the coalition, to her unlimited influence, to a condition of strength and solid prosperity which no other power has attained in these days, and lastly to the respect and fear which she inspires and which govern her relations with all the other governments. In profiting by these advantages England could have given the law to all Europe ; by making common cause with Austria, whose interests were also hers, she might have prevented the aggrandisement of Russia, made Prussia fall back within her own boundaries, reëstablished a
true equilibrium in Germany, and guaranteed for a long time the repose of Europe. England renounced this noble privilege, for reasons which I prefer to explain on another occasion, and which touch on the most delicate ground in this history. It is true, Lord Castlereagh for some time resisted the ambitious schemes of Russia, but he ended by abandoning this opposition. Guided by the purest intentions, but with some radically false views, he first supported Prussia's designs on Saxony to their utmost extent, returned later to a course more in conformity with just principles, and more favorable to Austria, but, stopping halfway, he finally only saved a part of Saxony by a thoroughly bad arrangement. He observed in all the other questions (with the exception of those directly concerning England, such as the establishment of the House of Orange, the slave treaty, etc.) a neutrality often astonishing. But though capable of being the arbiter of Europe, he gave her only weak and partial support. This was, without doubt, the principal cause of the unsatisfactory issue of the congress.

The part of the French ministers at this congress was decidedly the most simple and agreeable of all. Everything relating to France having been regulated by the Treaty of Paris, they had nothing to demand for themselves, and could confine themselves to watching the conduct of others. Defending the feeble against the strong restrains each power within its proper limits, and compels it to work in good faith for the reëstablishment of political equilibrium. To do them justice, their general course has been in accordance with these principles, for they have made no proposal, started no scheme tending directly or indirectly to the least change in the stipulations of the Treaty of Paris, to the slightest extension of their frontiers, or to any pretension whatever, incompatible with the rights of their neighbors or general tranquillity. In spite of all the laws which are current in society, of all the schemes, measures, and intrigues which inveterate hatred against France has falsely and even absurdly attributed to her ministers, a faithful history cannot refuse them this honorable testimony; and 1, who have been a close observer of everything, and am better able to write this portion of history than any one else, I am the first to give them this testimony.

But if M. Talleyrand and his colleagues have never worked against the general good, it is also true that some special obstacles have prevented their cooperating in it, in any efficacious manner. In the first place, the secret article of the Treaty of Paris, which authorized the formerly allied powers to arrange the division of the countries conquered by France, " according to arrangements agreed on between themselves," was a terrible barrier to all their measures ; and if the powers who, like Austria, only demanded order and justice, or, like England, were willing to give up the power which this article allowed them, Russia and Prussia, who were solely guided by ambition and desire of acquisition, would never have suffered it. This, and the often exaggerated fear of the other powers, of appearing to conspire with France, will explain to you in a great measure the nullity of the French plenipotentiaries in all the negotiations, and above all during the beginning of the congress. Another cause contributed very much to this. To hold a firm and imposing attitude against cabinets such as the Russian and Prussian, who considered their wills as almost irresistible, France must be prepared and perfectly decided for war. She pretended to be so, but was not in reality ; and, when once the secret of her policy was suspected, her arguments could no longer encourage her friends, or her menaces terrify her enemies. The present French government longs only for peace ; believing it indispensable for reorganizing the government, the finances, the commerce, and all the resources of France, it looks on peace as the only means of solid security, whilst a fresh war would bring alarming chances of danger and revolution. . . .

Austria found herself, between these four powers, in the most embarrassing position. She could only look on the Emperor Alexander, in spite of all his protestations of friendship for the emperor, as a declared enemy, and on Prussia, always carried away by her own rapacity and ambition, as the inseparable ally of this enemy. She was deterred from too great a friendship with France, not by any reason of direct repugnance or distrust, for she was perfectly convinced of her loyal and friendly disposition, but by what is called respect of mankind, that is to say, by the fear of lowering herself in public opinion, by leaguing herself openly with a power which had formerly been the common enemy of Europe, and which still preserved its bad reputation in the minds of the multitude, led away by the hypocritical declarations of the Russian and Prussian party.

Another consideration also stopped Austria. Perfectly agreed with France in her views on the affairs of Poland and Germany, she was not so in regard to those of Italy. France had a natural interest in regaining her old influence in Italy, by the reëstablishment of the deposed branches of the Bourbon family at Parma, and principally at Naples, whilst Austria wished first to consolidate her own power, then to preserve Parma, which a recent and formal convention had secured to the Empress Maria Louisa, and also to support the king of Naples, whose cause she had embraced from the wisest and most powerful motives of political interest.

The cabinet of Vienna had therefore to fear that, by allying itself too closely with France, whose support was essentially useful in its contests with Prussia and Russia, it might have to sacrifice to this power a part of its great interests in Italy. This is why, during the three months of the congress, Austria has always remained somewhat separated from France, and it is only since the beginning of this year that a real intimacy has been established between the ministers of these two great powers.

There remained then only England as any support to Austria; but England wished for peace, peace before everything, peace -I am sorry to say it -at any price and almost on any conditions. Thus Austria was absolutely in the position of having to rely on herself alone, against Russia and Prussia united ; she had but one ally, who would follow her at the first call, Bavaria; if war broke out, she could rely on the help of France, but this help would be tardy and constrained, and would turn the opinion of all the rest of Germany still more against her. As to England, decided not to quarrel with any one, she would not even give a subsidy to Austria.