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THE BURSTING FORTH OF BEDLAMS: BELLEISLE AND THE BREAKERS OF PRAGMATIC SANCTION.
The Battle of Mollwitz went off like a signal-shot among the Nations; intimating that they were, one and all, to go battling. Which they did, with a witness; making a terrible thing of it, over all the world, for above seven years to come. Foolish Nations; doomed to settle their jarring accounts in that terrible manner! Nay, the fewest of them had any accounts, except imaginary ones, to settle there at all; and they went into the adventure GRATIS, spurred on by spectralities of the sick brain, by phantasms of hope, phantasms of terror; and had, strictly speaking, no actual business in it whatever.
Not that Mollwitz kindled Europe; Europe was already kindled for some two years past;--especially since the late Kaiser died, and his Pragmatic Sanction was superadded to the other troubles afoot. But ever since that Image of JENKINS'S EAR had at last blazed up in the slow English brain, like a fiery constellation or Sign in the Heavens, symbolic of such injustices and unendurabilities, and had lighted the Spanish-English War, Europe was slowly but pretty surely taking fire. France "could not see Spain humbled," she said: England (in its own dim feeling, and also in the fact of things) could not do at all without considerably humbling Spain. France, endlessly interested in that Spanish-English matter, was already sending out fleets, firing shots,--almost, or altogether, putting forth her hand in it. "In which case, will not, must not, Austria help us?" thought England,--and was asking, daily, at Vienna (with intense earnestness, but without the least result), through Excellency Robinson there, when the late Kaiser died. Died, poor gentleman;--and left his big Austrian Heritages lying, as it were, in the open market-place; elaborately tied by diplomatic packthread and Pragmatic Sanction; but not otherwise protected against the assembled cupidities of mankind! Independently of Mollwitz, or of Silesia altogether, it was next to impossible that Europe could long avoid blazing out; especially unless the Spanish-English quarrel got quenched, of which there was no likelihood.
But if not as cause, then as signal, or as signal and cause together (which it properly was), the Battle of Mollwitz gave the finishing stroke, and set all in motion. This was "the little stone broken loose from the mountain;" this, rather than the late Kaiser's Death, which Friedrich defined in that manner. Or at least, this was the first LEAP it took; hitting other stones big and little, which again hit others with their leaping and rolling, --till the whole mountain-side is in motion under law of gravity, and you behold one wide stone-torrent thundering towards the valleys; shivering woods, farms, habitations clean away with it: fatal to any Image of composite Clay and Brass which it may meet!
There is, accordingly, from this point, a change in Friedrich's Silesian Adventure; which becomes infinitely more complicated for him,--and for those that write of him, no less! Friedrich's business henceforth is not to be done by direct fighting, but rather by waiting to see how, and on what side, others will fight: nor can we describe or understand Friedrich's business, except as in connection with the immense, obsolete, and indeed delirious Phenomenon called Austrian-Succession War, upon which it is difficult to say any human word. If History, driven upon Dismal Swamp with its horrors and perils, can get across unsunk, she will be lucky!
For, directly on the back of Mollwitz, there ensued, first, an explosion of Diplomatic activity such as was never seen before; Excellencies from the four winds taking wing towards Friedrich; and talking and insinuating, and fencing and fugling, after their sort, in that Silesian Camp of his, the centre being there. A universal rookery of Diplomatists;--whose loud cackle and cawing is now as if gone mad to us; their work wholly fallen putrescent and avoidable, dead to all creatures. And secondly, in the train of that, there ensued a universal European War, the French and the English being chief parties in it; which abounds in battles and feats of arms, spirited but delirious, and cannot be got stilled for seven or eight years to come; and in which Friedrich and his War swim only as an intermittent Episode henceforth. What to do with such a War; how extricate the Episode, and leave the War lying? The War was at first a good deal mad; and is now, to men's imagination, fallen wholly so; who indeed have managed mostly to forget it; only the Episode (reduced thereby to an UNintelligible state) retaining still some claims on them.
It is singular into what oblivion the huge Phenomenon called Austrian-Succession War has fallen; which, within a hundred years ago or little more, filled all mortal hearts! The English were principals on one side; did themselves fight in it, with their customary fire, and their customary guidance ("courageous Wooden Pole with Cocked Hat," as our friend called it); and paid all the expenses, which were extremely considerable, and are felt in men's pockets to this day: but the English have more completely forgotten it than any other People. "Battle of Dettingen, Battle of Fontenay, --what, in the Devil's name, were we ever doing there?" the impatient Englishman asks; and can give no answer, except the general one: "Fit of insanity; DELIRIUM TREMENS, perhaps FURENS;-- don't think of it!" Of Philippi and Arbela educated Englishmen can render account; and I am told young gentlemen entering the Army are pointedly required to say who commanded at Aigos-Potamos and wrecked the Peloponnesian War: but of Dettingen and Fontenoy, where is the living Englishman that has the least notion, or seeks for any? The Austrian-Succession War did veritably rage for eight years, at a terrific rate, deforming the face of Earth and Heaven; the English paying the piper always, and founding their National Debt thereby:--but not even that could prove mnemonic to them; and they have dropped the Austrian-Succession War, with one accord, into the general dustbin, and are content it should lie there. They have not, in their language, the least approach to an intelligible account of it: How it went on, whitherward, whence; why it was there at all,--are points dark to the English, and on which they do not wish to be informed. They have quitted the matter, as an unintelligible huge English-and-Foreign Delirium (which in good part it was); Delirium unintelligible to them; tedious, not to say in parts, as those of the Austrian Subsidies, hideous and disgusting to them; happily now fallen extinct; and capable of being skipped, in one's inquiries into the wonders of this England and this World. Which, in fact, is a practical conclusion not so unwise as it looks.