In 1851 Thackeray contributed to Punch two complementary pieces which are essential reading for anyone wishing to ‘place’ his German discourse. The first of these has never been reprinted, and is therefore given in full. Hurrah for Austria!
Now that the Sclavonian and Italian provinces of Austria have joined the German Confederation, sauerkraut may be said to have taken root over the greater portion of Europe: and the friends of the cause of order in this country may have reason to rejoice in their assault on lord palmerston last year. After all, what is there so wholesome, so much needed for Europe just now, as quiet? and is not this the best way of securing it?
For instance, suppose it is found necessary to flog some refractory madame de madersbach on the Danube, a regiment from Coburg may be sent to do the business, and the Austrians be employed elsewhere. Suppose the Emperor (god save him!) wants to shut up a Newspaper Office at Vienna, he may march a Milanese detachment into the city who will perform the job. Suppose the Holy Father is uneasy, and from fear of his own subjects, a Lutheran garrison from Berlin may maintain order in his capital, and a High Dutch-æsthetic-mystific-Prussian force accompany the religious processions, and keep guard in Saint Peter’s.
Suppose—for such things are possible still—suppose, in spite of the paternal government of the king of naples—(Heaven bless his Majesty and reward him!)—another rebellion were to break out in his country—like that, we will say, in Hesse the other day? The tranquillity of Naples is necessary for the tranquillity of the Roman States, and of the Austrian possessions in Italy; the Austrian possessions in Italy form part of the great German Confederation. Forwards, Hanover and Brunswick! We march you into 352Naples to mount guard over the Italian rebels in chains and solitary imprisonment for life, and to back up the spies of carretto.
And we have done this—or helped to do it—and chuckled over our prudence as Conservative statesmen. Confound that palmerston—that brouil lon, the cause of half the mischief in Europe! We have stopped his meddling at any rate.
Yes, and we have seen the noble Hungarian sink, without a hand to help him; we have seen the Hessians, with the best cause, the honestest cause, the cause of every lover of peace and law, handed over to Bavarian courts martial—and never said a word: we have seen twenty thousand men rotting in Neapolitan dungeons, and we read that forty thousand Austrians are on the Sardinian frontier, because the Emperor is disquieted by the encouragement given to liberalism in Savoy.
O how unselfish we English are! how generous, gallant, and wise! How we trounce a Minister who meddles with other folks’ affairs, because as long as we are happy and easy, what matter what tortures, what tyranny, what misery and shame our neighbour may undergo? Let us get over a Neapolitan gentleman, manacled and put into solitary confinement for life on the word of a spy: let us have one over, in a glass box, and put him in the Crystal Exhibition. His tortures will be profitable to us; it will be amusing to see the lonely wretch caught in the trap, and served right.
So Italy, Hungary, are chopped up, and rolled finally into the great German Sausage! So forty thousand men are close upon Sardinia! O you children of hoche! O you inheritors of the name of napoleon! We are cowards and money-grubbers, we are shopkeepers and selfish—but you!—there is chivalry still among you! (Punch, 20 (1851), 86)Through the irony, and the humour expected from writers in this ‘London Charivari’, shines a burning indignation at the form Continental reaction had taken after the revolts of 1848 and 1849. ‘Sauerkraut’, and ‘the great German Sausage’, familiar metonymies for anything German, are here pressed into the service of political satire. The absurdity of ‘a Lutheran garnison from Berlin’ safeguarding the pope recalls Thackeray’s constant girding at those who saw Frederick the Great as ‘the Protestant hero’. ‘High Dutch-aesthetic-mystific Prussian force’ is especially telling in this context: behind the German aesthetic and the cloudy ‘mystifying mysticism’ that fascinated so many British readers in the wake of Coleridge and under the shadow of Carlyle, lurks the kind of ‘Prussian force’ which Thackeray had exposed in Barry Lyndon and which is showing its claws again in the treatment of dissidents at Spandau and elsewhere. Thackeray locates the centre of reaction in Schwarzenberg’s Austria, famed for the brutal 353treatment of its rebellious Hungarian and Italian dependencies; but the Bavarians are seen as hardly less willing to toe the line of oppressive reaction. Liberal Hesse is an honourable exception, ‘with the best cause, the honestest cause, the cause of every lover of peace and law’. Germany, for Thackeray, is a complex entity, and his most malicious touch is the suggestion that the authorities of Coburg—the native region of the prince consort—might now be induced to copy the widely reported action of an Austrian general who had a ‘refractory’ woman flogged. Brunswick and Hanover, the cradle of the Georges, might also be expected to fall in behind Austria and Prussia rather than liberal Hesse.