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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balazs Trencsenyi
Michal Kopecek

Chapter I. Historicizing the Nation: Images of the Past, Continuity into the Present

Austria and Germany

Joseph Von Hormayr
Traduction de Robert Russell

Texte intégral

1Title: Österreich und Deutschland (Austria and Germany)

2Originally published: Gotha, In der Beckerschen Buchhandlung, 1814

3Language: German

4Excerpts used are from Kurt Adel, ed., Joseph Freiherr von Hormayr und die vaterländische Romantik in Österreich (Wien: Bergland Verlag, 1969), pp. 132–135.

About the author

5Joseph von Hormayr, Baron of Hortenburg [1781, Innsbruck – 1848, Munich]: historian and publicist. He came from an old aristocratic family from Tyrol. Hormayr studied law in Innsbruck and began a career in administration. From 1799 to 1802, during the wars against revolutionary France, he served as a volunteer. Afterwards he moved to Vienna and worked in the Chancellery of State. After 1808, he was the director of the State and Imperial Archive, a position which enabled him to edit the Archiv für Geschichte, Statistik, Literatur und Kunst (Journal of History, Statistics, Literature and the Arts) between 1810 and 1837. Hormayr’s loyalty to his native Tyrol shaped both his political activity and the historiographic interpretation of Austrian history he advocated in his writings. During the Napoleonic Wars (1804–1815), Tyrol was incorporated in the Kingdom of Bavaria. In 1809, with the support of Archduke Johann of Austria (1782–1859), the population of Tyrol revolted against the Bavarian and French authorities in the so-called ‘Tyrolean Fight for Freedom.’ Together with Andreas Hofer (1767–1810), Hormayr was one of the leaders of the Tyrolean uprising. In 1812 and 1813, Hormayr organized another Tyrolean movement against Napoleon known as the Alpenbund. When Metternich was informed about the movement he ordered the arrest of Hormayr and his collaborators (1813). Eventually, Tyrol reverted to Habsburg government in 1815. In 1828, Hormayr moved to the Bavarian court and became the Bavarian envoy in Hannover and later in Hamburg. In his late works, Anemonen (1845–1847) and especially in Kaiser Franz und Metternich (1848), Hormayr criticized the Metternich regime. In 1846, Hormayr returned to Munich where he died in 1848. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Hormayr was referred to as one of the main representatives of documentary history, who nevertheless attempted to accommodate his vision of independent regional identity to the necessity of building a strong monarchy in Austria.

6Main works: Österreichischer Plutarch, oder Leben und Bildnisse aller Regenten und der berühmtesten Feldherren, Staatsmänner, Gelehrten und Künstler der österreichischen Kaiserstaates [The Austrian Plutarch, or the lives and portraits of all re-gents and the most famous generals, statesmen, scholars and artists of the Austrian Empire] (1807–1814); Taschenbuch über Vaterländische Geschichte [Pocket-Book on national history] 18 vols., (1811–1848); Österreich und Deutschland [Austria and Germany] (1814); Geschichte Andreas Hofers [The history of Andreas Hofer] (1817) (also known as: Das Land Tirol und der Tirolerkrieg); Wien, seine Geschichte und seine Denkwürdigkeiten [Vienna, her history and memorabilia] 9 vols., (1822–1825); Anemonen aus dem Tagebuch eines alten Pilgersmannes [Anemones from the journal of an old pilgrim] (1845–47); Kaiser Franz und Metternich [Emperor Francis and Metternich] (1848).


7The theme of loyalty towards the House of Habsburg has been subject to many historiographic interpretations since the Middle Ages, as dynastic historiography was a well-established trend in Austria. Court historiographers generally devoted their studies to the family genealogy, legal questions and diplomacy as well as to the heraldry of the House of Habsburg. Hormayr combined his interest in dynastic topics with the new trends in critical historiography as exemplified by several authors in Austria at the end of the eighteenth century, such as Marquard Herrgott (1694–1762), Adrian Rauch (1731–1802), and Franz Kurz (1771–1843). Herrgott, the Benedictine historian and diplomat, published a much praised history of the Austrian Imperial family, Genealogia diplomatica Augusta Gentis Habsburgicæ (1737), while Rauch synthesized much of the eighteenth-century developments in Austrian historiography in his Österreichische Geschichte (3 vols., 1779–1781). These authors established a critical historiographic apparatus based on large editions of sources they helped collect and edit.

8In many respects, Hormayr belonged to this historiographic tradition. In a monumental work published between 1807 and 1814, Österreichischer Plutarch, he depicted the historical achievements of Austria as some of the most remarkable in European history. Hormayr followed the main tenets of dynastic historiography and presented the accomplishments of former monarchs as meaningful examples of patriotic values. Considering the political situation in Austria during the Napoleonic Wars, Hormayr’s task was to convince the Austrians of the danger of revolutionary change and the integrity as well as necessity of the monarchy. It was the historical mission of nobility and the monarchy, destroyed by the French Revolution, which Hormayr hoped to restore by writing about aristocratic and royal principles.

9The journals Hormayr edited from 1808 and 1810, respectively, namely, Vaterländische Blätter für den österreichischen Kaiserstaat and Archiv für Geographie, Historie, Staats-und Kriegskunst, inaugurated a new phase in Hormayr’s writing. The creation of a national history complemented the love of national language and the establishment of a national literature. The general intellectual debates in Vienna at the time centered on the issue of national literature, which was not only seen as ‘German’ but also as elevating Austria to a leading role in the anti-Napoleonic movement. The ideas of Friedrich von Schlegel (1772–1829), who moved to Vienna in 1808 and joined the Austrian Foreign Office, also served to cement the ideological foundation for the ‘national liberation’ from Napoleon’s armies in Austria.

10Hormayr synthesized many of these ideas in Österreich und Deutschland (1814). Three main ideas dominate Hormayr’s interpretation of Austria’s destiny in European history: the conviction that ‘History,’ an independent and objective judge, could serve as a guide through the difficulty of present times; the importance of Austria in European history, whose role had always been to protect its very diverse nations from successive oppressions; and, finally, devotion to the ruling house. In addition to praising Austria’s role in preserving the balance of power in Central Europe and restoring the pre-Napoleonic status quo, Hormayr also recognized the fact that the Empire was composed of a variety of languages and peoples. This made Austria unique and, also, contributed to its specific historical evolution. Hormayr emphasised the plurality of social, political and cultural traditions characterizing the Austrian Empire, assuming that regional identities and different historical traditions complemented each other in supporting the House of Habsburg. Drawing on the experience of the ‘Tyrolean Fight for Freedom’ that shaped his perspective on the intertwining of regionalism and loyalty towards the House of Habsburg, Hormayr put special emphasis on regional traditions, devising a specific sort of dynastical patriotism.

11A new modality of Romantic historiography emerged during the ‘Vormärz’ era in Austria. The proponents of this new orientation considered history as shaping the civic and patriotic consciousness of the citizens. One major question animated these debates on Austria’s role in a transformed Central Europe: how to orient the national identification of various regional groups towards an encompassing Austrian identity. Hormayr attempted to combine a variant of the supra-national ‘Reichspatriotismus’ (‘Imperial patriotism’) with the existence of ethnic and language variety in Austria, and was willing to cultivate these regional traditions as long as they remained confined within the realm of cultural revival and did not seek secession from Austria. While various regionalisms centered exclusively on ‘Heimat’ (homeland) and ‘Land,’ his historiographic model was a compromise between regional and national identity, as it became more strongly oriented towards an inclusive model of the history of the German people and nation in Austria. Ultimately, his attempts to formulate a supra-ethnic, state-based Austrian identity presupposed a natural German cultural predominance. At the same time, his vision of Austria’s historical mission went against those projects of German unification which challenged the position of the Habsburgs.

12Hormayr’s idea of regional identity functioned on three argumentative levels. First, that the local ‘Heimat’ was an experiential realm which provided a matrix for perception and memory in social and political life; secondly, that the celebration of local and regional particularity compensated for the levelling effects of the Josephist reforms, namely, centralization; and, thirdly, that these mediating and compensatory functions required that the image of the ‘Heimat’ be reduced and altered for the purposes of national integration. In addition to his arguments about the equal respect for the ethnic groups of the Empire and the importance of the Austrian Empire for European stability, these argumentative levels fashioned the discussion about national identity during the ‘Vormärz’ era. It was, however, during the revolution of 1848 that they were integrated into discussions on patriotism and nationalism, which came to dominate political thinking in nineteenth-century Austria.


Austria and Germany

  • 1 At the temple of the Egyptian Goddess Neith in Sais, Plutarch reports the inscription: “No mortal (...)

14History, that pure two-sided mirror of judgements past and judgements still to come, that inexhaustible source of universally beneficial experience, and incorruptible judge of those who have no other judge, illumines the darkest and direst storm with a faith, forged by her mighty lightning-bolts, in a higher providence that guides our destinies. The design of providence is as unexplored as the ancient foundations of the Earth itself, just as we know not why is iron attracted to a magnet. The sibylline pages where once it was inscribed are gone with the wind. The way she moves is also cloaked in mystery; yet here and there her colossal footprint speaks all too clearly, and let mere mortal eyes guess—but only guess—at the truth. For who, seeking to behold her, does not fear the same punishment as befell the insolent miscreant who tore the veil from the image in the temple of Sais?1

15So be it! He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

16Austria: frequently misjudged, never threatening with her might, but expending it in bloody conflicts for other, holy and always just causes; a brave frontier guard against Hun, [Great] Moravian, Magyar, Mongol and Turk, against the hordes from the East and the North, and against the ceaseless schemes of the West to bring back the power of Charlemagne; oft-times saviour of Germany’s liberty, yet never a danger to that of Italy; ancient ally of the guardians of the Gotthard and the icy bastions of Gemmi and the Jungfrau; this Austria has been directed by the hand of destiny to be an intermediary, and as such has survived—and must continue to survive—the most terrible of tempests, as the foundation, the keystone, the precondition of a good (or at least tolerable) state in the European body politic, which is unthinkable without equilibrium on the one hand and, on the other, that liberty in which the smaller, weaker and less stable nations feel their possessions to be safe from more powerful neighbors, and treaties count for more than sand cast in the enemy’s eye until military preparations are complete and the time is ripe! Austria as a political entity evolved over a period of six-and-a-half centuries, in which the various constituent parts that make up her present extent came together through all manner of accidents: as fiefdoms reverting to the Empire, as inheritance, as lands impounded, exchanged or ceded, and most of all through marriage.

17No other European empire can number so many nations, languages, constitutions and different ways of life. How much closer is the Norman to the Provençal, or the Andalusian to the Catalonian, than is the German to the Magyar or the Slovak? We are not surrounded by natural confines comparable to the frontiers of other empires—the Ocean, the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Rhine! Such was the will of Providence. She put us in a position that necessitated a constant struggle to overcome these disadvantageous differences—a struggle for both internal unity (but not uniformity) and external unity, waged in the noblest rivalry between our multifarious tribes and tongues. She placed us in the middle, at the crossroads of nations between two colossi, to the West and to the North, because (as a wise man once said) “it is in conflict that great men show their most brilliant qualities; the common people, as well as literature and the arts, have always been at their most splendid in times of strife between nations! In the bustling theatre of ever-changing world events, to stand still is to lag behind! A river that does not flow soon turns to ice or silt. Where there is light and warmth, there alone is life!”

  • 2 Sicilian statesman (fifth century BC), opposed to the colonizing efforts of Athens.

18This unceasing reciprocal action, this constantly refreshing ebb and flow, this give and take reminiscent of the tenderness of old age and infancy, is vividly evoked in the words of Hermocrates of Syracuse2 to Gelo—a speech repeated often but in vain: “There is no disgrace in connections giving way to one another, a Dorian to a Dorian, or a Chalcidian to his brethren; above and beyond this we are neighbors, live in the same country, are girt by the same sea, and go by the same name. […] But the foreign invader will always find us united against him, since the hurt of one is the danger of all.”

19Unity among all these differences, however, is and has always been represented only by the ruling house, by a house richer than any other in noble and virtuous princes versed in the arts of war and peace—in rulers whose supreme power has been tested by their deeds and sufferings:

  • 3 Shakespeare, King John. [IV.2.]

And that high royalty was ne’er pluck’d off,
The faiths of men ne’er stained with revolt;
Fresh expectation troubled not the land
With any long’d-for change or better state.3

20and “in whose breast (as was said of an ancient king) justice, driven out from every corner of the earth, has found a safe refuge!”

21Just as, within the system of European equilibrium, the existence and prosperity of the Austrian monarchy is necessary for the liberty of all, so is the blessed longevity of the ruling dynasty, as the sole binding element of that mighty existence and prosperity, necessary for its unity!


1 At the temple of the Egyptian Goddess Neith in Sais, Plutarch reports the inscription: “No mortal has yet been able to lift the veil that covers me.”

2 Sicilian statesman (fifth century BC), opposed to the colonizing efforts of Athens.

3 Shakespeare, King John. [IV.2.]


Robert Russell (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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