THE NOBLESSE OF THE CONTINENT.
THE ebb tide of despotism, now so visible throughout Europe, seems to be leaving the nobles stranded. The curious account published in the Times of Tuesday of the position of the old Piedmontese families is but a sketch in miniature of a process visible in every country except England and Russia. These great houses, still possessed of considerable though diminishing property, and of a social influence :which increases with their declining political power, refuse to acknowledge the Revolution. It is, in their judgment, a parvenu kind of affair, meant for the benefit of a low set of people, and they " cut " it as they would a man who had risen by trade, or a society into which ravens or littrateurs were occasionally admitted. They cannot arrest it any more than the noble who had himself escorted through Turin by flambeaux can put out all the gas lamps, but they can refuse to recognize "horrid innovations," as he did, and declare, as he probably dees, that they smell disagreeably, and are, when mismanaged, exe' d- ingly dangerous. This ministry, filled with "all manner of dogs in one kennel," as Lord Derby said, these projects of moving the capital to Rome, and ruling over the Pope, these attempts to administer according to the wishes of the canaille, whose business on earth is to pay taxes and be made comfortable in return, are all in their eyes anathema. They do not particu- larly wish to oppress, being more anxious for privilege than for substantial power, and governing their households and tenantry with tolerable fairness and consideration. They do not question in any Sway the propriety of the King extending his dominions, for they are the servants of the House of Savoy, though they think him misguided, and detest the new men and new methods which the Revolution brings to the front. But they stand sullenly aloof, decline to enter political life, look askance On men like Ricasoli and the Littas, whom socially they acknowledge to be their equals, visit only among each other, and keep up in their slowly emptying salons a chorus of gracefully malignant detraction. They liked Rattazzi well enough, because he, though a nouus homo, kept the carriage in the old rut, promoted Piedmontese, and was known to be secretly in favour of keeping the Court around their gloomy old mansions in Turin. But they will have none of Peruzzi, though no plebeian, and, like the English in Italy, feel the new life stirring in Italy an annoyance so great that it slowly deepens passive dislike into hostility.
It is the same all over Europe. In France the Legitimists are becoming day by day more exclusive, more bitter and more isolated from the rest of the world. The man who takes service, except in one or two diplomatic positions, is regarded as a traitor to his family, and a true resident of the faubourg would rather marry- his daughter to a roturier than to a consistent Bonapartist. They mourn over the wrongs of the Pope, detest the modern Italians, stand aside from the struggles of the day as highly educated men do in America, and soothe what of energy they have left by occasional pilgrimages to Frolisdorf, and hourly aspirations for the return of the "son of St. Louis" and the revival of the ancien rejime, not only dead but putrid. In Austria, the nobles, besides keeping their estates, retain vast political power, and regard- ing the present state of affairs as a temporary departure from the rightful order of things, they are less bitter, but they are known to regard the "whims of the day" with constantly increasing dislike. "The army," thundered Count Clam- Gallas last session, "is the Emperor's, and the Reichsrath has nothing to do with it ;" and the nobles around him applauded till the President succeeded in checking their indisereet frankness. A little more Liberalism and they also will retire from public life, leaving an ungrateful country to be rescued by new administrators, and by an Emperor who has forgotten, as King Ferdinand -wrote, "that his family belonged to the twelfth century, and could not adopt the ideas of the nineteenth without making itself ridiculous." In the minor German States, Mecklenburgh-Schwerin excepted, where a middle-age system still prevails, they have adopted this course ; but in Prussia the fight is still continuing. There the "nobles," whose fortunes have declined below those of most country gentlemen, are still fighting with the aid of the King for the ancient position of their order. They still marry only among themselves, claim a monopoly of the army and a preferential right to office, strive to retain their exemption from taxation, rule "society" in its Morning-Post sense, and guard every social privilege, including the right of bullying innkeepers and punishing pamphleteers with sword and pistol. Everywhere, except in Italy, they are the bitter upholders of privilege, and the abuses on which privilege rests ; nowhere, except in Italy, do they attempt to uphold it by placing themselves at the head of the new order of things. In the Penin- sula, outside Piedmont, there are, indeed, Whig noblesse, for the little duchies, by depriving them of all European status, hurt their pride, and by subjecting them to foreigners forced them into cordial alliance with the people. Men, therefore, like Ricasoli, who it is said bade the King remember that the House of Savoy was no older than his own, and who, whether he said it or not, is of the class which the "Almanach" delights to honour, are found acting as popu- lar leaders ; but it is the only example.
Worthy democrats in England, accustomed to only one state of society, will imagine that this "attitude of reserve," as the noblesse affectedly phrase it, matters little to the countries whose interests they so visibly postpone to their own ; but it is not quite so. Let them retire and die out, if that pleases them, is the popular Eng- lish verdict ; but unfortunately their retirement is a real and terrible loss to the great constitutional cause. It is a loss directly, for whether it be, as they think, from their blood, or, as philoso- phers think, from their training, or, as we should imagine, from the mental power produced by the habit of viewing the scene from above rather than below, this class possesses an excep- tional amount of political force. The Revolution of 1688 was all the more complete because it was headed by the Russells and Seymours and Cavendishes and Fitzwilliams The States-General might have run a much feebler course but for Mirabeau, Italian by blood, but a great French noble for all that, nor would the Directory have been the stronger for the absence of Barras, "old as the rocks of Provence." The unity of Italy, if it is established, will be due to a noble whose fathers followed the Dukes of Maurienne when Charlemagne gave them Savoy, and Italian funds would rise five per cent. were the lord of the almost feudal estate of Broglio once more at the head of affairs. They have a fearlessness, these men, in politics, such as we see in Earl Russell, to which the democratic leaders do not always rise, and they-have in foreign affairs immense advantages, not the least being that they do not view kings with the secret awe which produees, in avenging itself, Jacobin violence. Their instru- ment for restraining kings, if they would but act, would be not the guillotine, but the courtier-like implacability with which Earl Grenville frequently dictated terms to George the Third, and Earl Grey " managed " so successfully William the Fourth. Their withdrawal throws the business of administration into the hands of men less accustomed to rule, and, therefore, without that rooted dislike for extreme measures which an experience of rule is pretty sure to confer. A De Rohan can tyrannize horribly, but his instincts would save him from orders like those of M. de Persigny. A dozen men of the class in the Landtag of Prussia, .resdy to lead the Liberals, would give that gelatinous body bones, and remove half the King's obstinacy by showing him men who could "carry on the King's Government" without incessantly irri- tating his personal pride. Moreover, this junker class, as the Germans call it, has still immense social weight. In Germany they control society, and an immense section of the mass of the people; and even in France, where they have so completely lost their direct power,. they still give the stamp to all social coin. Paris may make M_ Thiers a member, and the Emperor make him a minister, but only the Faubourg St. Germain could place him in a corresponding- social position. Let any one who doubts it think for an instant what advantage Napoleon would acquire were the Legitimists, on th& death of the Comte die Chambord, to declare that the direct line of St. Louis having expired, the heir of Napoleon the First as the- choice of the people was entitled to their adhesion. That course has been suggested, and few reasonable men will doubt that to secure its adoption the Emperor would make almost any concession conceivable, provided it left him and his dynasty firmly- fixed in France. In Prussia they have, in addition to this great power, the virtual control of the army, which, even when it detests, the system which restricts command to a caste, is still too much under the influence of discipline to resist the whole mass of its officers. It did resist them in France, but not till the King had been taken prisoner, and the capital was in the hands of the Revo- lution. Lastly, this order acts as the backbone, or rather the- binding withe, of all the scattered elements of reaction. It is not the whole people in any country who want progress towards true- freedom. The priests in almost all lands detest it; the wealthy dis- trust it; the working mass, except when, as in the case of Italy, their- imaginations are touched, look on with a hazy doubt whether ita benefits will penetrate down to them. None of these elements, singly could resist the impetus of the middle class led by the educated, but, grouped mound the noblesse, finding in them officers and guides, and acquiring from them the persistence which is the virtue of aristocracies, and which the mob of priests, old women, and peasants, called the party of the reaction, lacks as much as any other mob, they form a most dangerous obstacle in the path of the locomotive. In Prussia they stopped it, in Austria they keep it slow, in the smaller States they struggle till the advance is rather that of a boring machine than an engine, and in France they make it ungentlemanly to ride in the new fangled train. It is they, as much as the priests or Napoleon, who by keeping Rome divide Italy, and they who, more than the Kings, by dividing Germany keep from Europe the pleasant prospect of an enduring peace.
What will be the end of it all? Will the aristocracy of Europe, like the English Jacobites, at last accept the new order of things, retaining only so much of disloyalty as to make them excellent Whigs? Or will they, like the nobles of Spain, slowly wear them- selves out, apart from politics, and await in silly pride the day when the country will destroy their privileges as it has those of the- Church ? We suspect that the answer will differ in every country. In France, they will probably linger on till they sink from a party into a clique ; from a clique into a remembrance ; surviving, per- haps, the race of St. Louis, as the Covenanters survive the- Covenant, great sections splitting off from time to time, as the Covenanters split last month, to leave the pure faith in the keeping of an ever-decreasing priesthood. In Germany they will probably- share the fate of the kinglets, being " mecliatized " into the peasantry, among whom the law of equal division dooms them at last to descend. Only in Italy do they seem to have much chance of re-invigoration. There, however, they retain one principle, the- duty of devotion to the House of Savoy, which keeps open the gate for a return to public life. Every official in Italy is still the servant of the King, and gradually the adventurous and the able, the young and the ambitious, pleading always their duty to the Sovereign, will possibly commence for his interests to do their duty to the country. In the rest of Europe west of the Vistula the role of the old noblesse appears to draw to its termination. The fact may be pleasing to men of democratic opinions, but Whigs, while admitting the necessity, will be doubtful whether the present can afford to break with the past without loss, whether it is true agri- culture to pare away roots that the tree may grow the faster.