Friedrich Ferdinand von Beust - Encyclopedia

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FRIEDRICH FERDINAND VON BEUST (1809-1886), Austrian statesman, was descended from a noble family which had originally sprung from the Mark of Brandenburg, and of which one branch had been for over 300 years settled in Saxony. He was born on the 13th of January 1809 in Dresden, where his. father held office at the Saxon court. After studying at Leipzig and Göttingen he entered the Saxon public service; in 1836 he was made secretary of legation at Berlin, and afterwards held appointments at Paris, Munich and London. In March 1848 he was summoned to Dresden to take the office of foreign minister, but in consequence of the outbreak of the revolution was not appointed. In May he was appointed Saxon envoy at Berlin, and in February 1849 was again summoned to Dresden, and this time appointed minister of foreign affairs, an office which he continued to hold till 1866. In addition to this he held the ministry of education and public worship from 1849 to 1853; that of internal affairs in 1853, and in the same year was appointed minister-president. From the time that he entered the ministry he was, however, the leading member of it, and he was chiefly responsible for the events of 1849. By his advice the king refused to accept the constitution proclaimed by the Frankfort parliament, a policy which led to the outbreak of revolution in Dresden, which was suppressed after four days' fighting by Prussian troops, for whose assistance Beust had asked. On Beust fell also the chief responsibility for governing the country after order was restored, and he was the author of the so-called coup d'etat of June 1850 by which the new constitution was overthrown. The vigour he showed in repressing all. resistance to the government, especially that of the university, and in reorganizing the police, made him one of the most unpopular men among the Liberals, and his name became synonymous with the worst form of reaction, but it is not clear that the attacks on him were justified. After this he was chiefly occupied with foreign affairs, and he soon became one of the most conspicuous figures in German politics. He was the leader of that party which hoped to maintain the independence of the smaller states, and was the opponent of all attempts on the part of Prussia to attract them into a separate union; in 1849-1850 he had been obliged to join the "three kings' union" of Prussia, Hanover and Saxony, but he was careful to keep open a loophole for withdrawal, of which he speedily availed himself. In the crisis of 1851 Saxony was on the side of Austria, and he supported the restoration of the diet of the confederation. In 1854 he took part in the Bamberg conferences, in which the smaller German states claimed the right to direct their own policy independent of that of Austria or of Prussia, and he was the leading supporter of the idea of the Trias, i.e. that the smaller states should form a closer union among themselves against the preponderance of the great monarchies. In 1863 he came forward as a warm supporter of the claims of the prince of Augustenburg to Schleswig-Holstein (see Schleswigholstein Question); he was the leader of the party in the German diet which refused to recognize the settlement of the Danish question effected in 1852 by the treaty of London, and in 1864 he was appointed representative of the diet at the congress of London. He was thus thrown into opposition to the policy of Bismarck, and he was exposed to violent attacks in the Prussian press as a "particularist," i.e. a supporter of the independence of the smaller states. The expulsion of the Saxon troops from Rendsburg nearly led to a conflict with Prussia. Beust was accused of having brought about the war of 1866, but the responsibility for this must rest with Bismarck. On the outbreak of war Beust accompanied the king to Prague, and thence to Vienna, where they were received by the emperor with the news of Koniggratz. Beust undertook a mission to Paris to procure the help of Napoleon. When the terms of peace were discussed he resigned, for Bismarck refused to negotiate with him.

After the victory of Prussia there was no place for Beust in Germany, and his public career seemed to be closed, but he quite unexpectedly received an invitation from the emperor of Austria to become his foreign minister. It was a bold decision, for Beust was not only a stranger to Austria, but also a Protestant; but the choice of the emperor justified itself. Beust threw himself into his new position with great energy; it was owing to him that the negotiations with Hungary were brought to a successful issue. When difficulties came he went himself to Budapest, and acted directly with the Hungarian leaders. In 1867 he also held the position of Austrian minister-president, and he carried through the measures by which parliamentary government was restored. He also carried on the negotiations with the pope concerning the repeal of the concordat, and in this matter also did much by a liberal policy to relieve Austria from the pressure of institutions which had checked the development of the country. In 1868, after giving up his post as ministerpresident, he was appointed chancellor of the empire, and received the title of count. His conduct of foreign affairs, especially in the matter of the Balkan States and Crete, successfully maintained the position of the empire. In 1869 he accompanied the emperor on his expedition to the East. He was still to some extent influenced by the anti-Prussian feeling he had brought from Saxony. He maintained a close understanding with France, and there can be little doubt that he would have welcomed an opportunity in his new position of another struggle with his old rival Bismarck. In 1867, however, he helped to bring the affair of Luxemburg to a peaceful termination. In 1870 he did not disguise his sympathy for France, and the failure of all attempts to bring about an intervention of the powers, joined to the action of Russia in denouncing the treaty of Paris, was the occasion of his celebrated saying that he was nowhere able to find Europe. After the war was over he completely accepted the new organization of Germany.

As early as December 1870 he had opened a correspondence with Bismarck with a view to establishing a good understanding with Germany. Bismarck accepted his advances with alacrity, and the new entente, which Beust announced to the AustroHungarian delegations in July 1871, was sealed in August by a friendly meeting of the two old rivals and enemies at Gastein.

In 1871 Beust interfered at the last moment, together with Andrassy, to prevent the emperor accepting the federalist plans of Hohenwart. He was successful, but at the same time he was dismissed from office. The precise cause for this is not known, and no reason was given him. At his own request he was appointed Austrian ambassador at London; in 1878 he was transferred to Paris; in 1882 he retired from public life. He died at his villa at Altenberg, near Vienna, on the 24th of October 1886, leaving two sons, both of whom entered the Austrian diplomatic service. His wife, a Bavarian lady, survived him only a few weeks. His elder brother Friedrich Konstantin (1806-1891), who was at the head of the Saxon department for mines, was the author of several works on mining and geology, a subject in which other members of the family had distinguished themselves.

Beust was in many ways a diplomatist of the old school. He had great social gifts and personal graces; he was proud of his proficiency in the lighter arts of composing waltzes and vers de societe. His chief fault was vanity, but it was an amiable weakness. It was more vanity than rancour which made him glad to appear even in later years as the great opponent of Bismarck; and if he cared too much for popularity, and was very sensitive to neglect, the saying attributed to Bismarck, that if his vanity were taken away there would be nothing left, is very unjust. He was apt to look more to the form than the substance, and attached too much importance to the verbal victory of a well-written despatch; but when the opportunity was given him he showed higher qualities. In the crisis of 1849 he displayed considerable courage, and never lost his judgment even in personal danger. If he was defeated in his German policy, it must be remembered that Bismarck held all the good cards, and in 1866 Saxony was the only one of the smaller states which entered on the war with an army properly equipped and ready at the moment. That he was no mere reactionary the whole course of his government in Saxony, and still more in Austria, shows. His Austrian policy has been much criticized, on the ground that in establishing the system of dualism he gave too much to Hungary, and did not really understand Austrian affairs; and the Austro-Hungarian crisis during the early years of the present century has given point to this view. Yet it remains the fact that in a crisis of extraordinary difficulty he carried to a successful conclusion a policy which, even if it was not the best imaginable, was probably the best attainable in the circumstances.

Beust was the author 'of reminiscences: Aus drei Viertel-Jahrhunderten (2 vols., Stuttgart, 1887; English trans. edited by Baron H. de Worms); and he also wrote a shorter work, Erinnerungen zu Erinnerungen (Leipzig, 1881), in answer to attacks made on him by his former colleague, Herr v. Frieseri, in his reminiscences. See also Ebeling, F. F. Graf v. Beust (Leipzig, 1876), a full and careful account of his political career, especially up to 1866; Diplomatic Sketches: No. z, Count Beust, by Outsider (Baron Carl v. Malortie); Flathe, Geschichte von Sachsen, vol. iii. (Gotha, 1877); Friesen, Erinnerungen aus meinem Leben (Dresden, 1880). (J. W. HE.)

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