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A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.)

Of Hohenstiel Schwangau who has a duty to perform


SAGACITY

said, "Here is an interval of peace. Prolong it, make it delightful; but do so under cover of intending to cut it short. If you would induce a fierce mountain tribe to come down from its fortress and settle in the plain, you do not bid it destroy the fortress. You bid it enjoy life in the city, and remember that it runs no risk in doing so, because it has its fortress to fall back upon at the first hint of danger. And the time will come when it can hear with equanimity that the fortress has gone to ruin, and that fighting is no longer in fashion. The mountain tribe will have learned to love the fatness of the valley, while thinking of those mother ribs of its mountain fastness which are ever waiting to prop up its life. Just so put a wooden sword into the hand of the Hohenstieler, and let him brag of war, learning meanwhile the value of peace."

"Not so," the Prince replied; "my people shall not be cheated into virtue. Truth is the one good thing. I will tell them the truth. I will tell them that war, for war's sake, is damnable; that glory at its best is shame, since its image is a gilded bubble which a resolute hand might prick, but the breath of a foolish multitude buoys up beyond its reach." "And what," he asked, "is the glory, what the greatness, which this foolish nation seeks? That of making every other small; not that of holding its place among others which are themselves great. Shall such a thing be possible as that the nation which earth

loves best--a people so aspiring, so endowed; so magnetic in its attraction for its fellow-men--shall think its primacy endangered because another selects a ruler it has not patronized, or chooses to sell steel untaxed?"

"But this does not mean that Hohenstiel is to relinquish the power of war. The aggressiveness which is damnable in herself is to be condemned in others, and to be punished in them. Therefore, for the sake of Austria who sins, of Italy who suffers, of Hohenstiel-Schwangau who has a duty to perform, the war which SAGACITY deprecates must be waged, and Austria smitten till Italy is free."

"At least," rejoins SAGACITY, "you secure some reward from the country you have freed; say, the cession of Nice and Savoy; something to satisfy those at home who doubt the market-value of right and truth."

"No," is the reply, "you may preach that to Metternich and remain with him." And so the Prince worked on; determined that neither fear, nor treachery, nor much less blundering, on his part, should imperil the precarious balance of the world's life.

Once more, and for the last time, SAGACITY lifts up her voice. "You were the fittest man to rule. Give solidity to your life's work by leaving a fit successor to carry it on. Secure yourself this successor in a son. The world is open to you for the choice of your bride."


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