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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček

Chapter V. National Heroism: Revolution and Counter-Revolution

Field-marshal Radetzky

Franz Grillparzer
Traduction de Robert Russell

Texte intégral

1Title: Feldmarschall Radetzky (Field-marshal Radetzky)

2Originally published: Constitutionelle Donau-Zeitung, no. 68, (8 June 1848).

3Language: German

4Modern edition: Franz Grillparzer, Sämtliche Werke, ed. by Peter Frank and Karl Pörnbacher, 4 vols., (München: Hanser, 1960–1965), vol. 1, pp. 218–319.

About the author

5Franz Grillparzer [1791, Vienna – 1872, Vienna]: dramatist, writer and poet. He was the son of an influential Viennese lawyer, Wenzel Grillparzer. He attended the University of Vienna, where he studied philology and law. In 1813, he worked in the Court Library and (after holding various other offices) in 1823 he became a clerk in the treasury. From 1832 until his retirement in 1856, Grillparzer was the director of the state archives. He was also the founding member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in 1847. From 1861, he became a life member of the Upper Chamber of the Reichsrat. The publication in 1816 of a part of his translation of Calderón’s drama, ‘Life is a Dream,’ in the newspaper Wiener Moden-Zeitung impressed Joseph Schreyvogel (1768–1832), the literary and artistic director of the Burgtheater, who became Grillparzer’s spiritual mentor. In 1819, Grillparzer wrote the highly acclaimed tragedy Sappho. Grillparzer’s most prolific period was between 1820 and 1831. His first historical drama, König Ottokars Glück und Ende (‘King Ottokar’s luck and end’) (1823), in which he described the futility and the vanity of worldly greatness, caused him problems with Austrian censorship. Although Grillparzer was critical of the Metternich regime, he did not become a supporter of the revolution in 1848. One of his most famous poems from that period, Feldmarschall Radetzky, was a paean to the field marshal who crushed the revolution in the Italian provinces of the Austrian Empire. Although he acquired an iconic status after 1850, it was not until the centenary of 1891 that the German-speaking world realized that it possessed in him a dramatic poet of world value. Grillparzer was no mere epigone of the classic period, but a poet who, by assimilating the ancient Greek example with the imaginative forms of German classicism and lyricism of the Spanish poetry, had established a new pattern for the dramatic verse in European literature.

6Main works: Die Ahnfrau [The ancestress] (1817); Sappho (1819); Das goldene Vliess [The Golden Fleece] (1821); König Ottokars Glück und Ende [King Ottokar’s luck and end] (1823); Der Traum ein Leben [A dream is life] (1831); Tristia ex Ponto (1835); Feldmarschall Radetzky [Field-marshal Radetzky] (1848); Selbst-biographie [Autobiography] (1872); Die Jüdin von Toledo [The Jewess of Toledo], (written between 1847–1851, published in 1872); Ein Bruderzwist im Hause Habsburg [A Brother-quarrel in the House of Habsburg] (written between 1847–1851, published in 1872); and Libussa (written between 1847–1851, published in 1872).


7The revolution of 1848 put an end to the Metternich regime in Austria. If in Vienna revolutionaries were mainly concerned with overthrowing Metternich, other national groups of the Empire, such as Hungarians, Czechs, Italians and Romanians, were rather preoccupied with achieving their national demands. Many Austrian intellectuals, although sympathetic to the ideals of the revolution, considered the demands for national independence expressed by other nations during the revolution of 1848 as undermining the very existence of the Austrian Empire. They thus welcomed the victories of the imperial army under Josef Radetzky (1766–1858) against the Italian revolutionaries. For the supporters of the Habsburgs in Vienna, Radetzky was the providential person restoring the order disrupted by the revolutionary chaos. Animated by this form of Habsburg patriotism, Johann Strauss the Elder (1804– 1849), for instance, composed the ‘Radetzky March,’ which came to symbolize the unique nature of the House of Habsburg.

8It is in this historical context that Grillparzer expressed his pro-Habsburg allegiance. While he was an ardent critique of the Metternich regime in the 1830s, it was not, however, the first time that Grillparzer made public his edging towards political conservatism. Already in König Ottokars Glück und Ende, he explored the theme of royal suffering and redemption. Nevertheless, with the outbreak of the revolution Grillparzer became acutely aware of the radical transformation the Austrian state was experiencing. Between mid-March and mid-July 1848, he drafted four open letters, intended as warnings to the Viennese population about the dangers of disorder. For example, in the poem, Mein Vaterland (My Country), which appeared in the first number of the new journal Constitutionelle Donau-Zeitung (April 1848), he supported the revolution, but added an anxious admonition against deserting old values; his respect for the orderly life of ‘Biedermeier’ Austria was as strong as his desire to liberate society from the encroachment of censorship and repression. Grillparzer further explored his ambivalent position between the ideals of the revolution and the mourning of lost values in Feldmarschall Radetzky, which was published in June. The poem derived its dramatic tension from the ambivalence between public responsibility and individual motivation. The poem also reflected Grillparzer’s political dilemmas. Although he was an opponent of Metternich, Grillparzer was sceptical about the ‘fever of freedom’ and the complete equality advocated by revolutionaries. The revolution in Vienna, he believed, was characterized by the lack of a programmatic concept and the absence of systematic leadership and of personalities who were capable of defending the rights and freedoms which had been achieved.

9In his memoirs, Grillparzer mentioned his “lack of enthusiasm for liberty” during the revolution of 1848. The libertarian trends, both the movements towards democracy and what he called “the ridiculous issue of nationalism,” were threatening the existence of the Habsburg Monarchy. He was thus particularly concerned with the disruptive effects of separatist nationalisms that in his opinion were trying to destroy the ‘fatherland.’ The theme of loyalty towards the ‘fatherland’ continued to preoccupy Grillparzer after 1848. Feldmarschall Radetzky established Grillparzer’s reputation as a pro-Habsburg supporter, and this was a position he cultivated until the end of his life. With the publication of Ein Bruderzwist im Hause Habsburg, considered his most important historical play, his political sympathies towards the Habsburgs were again exposed.

10The theme of the ‘Habsburg experiment’ continued long after Grillparzer’s death. Joseph Roth (1894–1939), the famous interwar Austrian writer, elaborated Grillparzer’s tradition in his Radetzkymarsch (1932). In retrospect, the ‘Habsburg myth’, as personified by the ‘supra-national’ Austrian army and bureaucracy, became a substitute for a defunct Habsburg Empire, seen as a cosmopolitan place and protector of the small nations of East Central Europe.


Field-marshal Radetzky

Lead on, Commander, lead our cause!
‘Tis more than glory beckons,
Austria is united in your camp
While we are scattered fragments.

Our folly and our vanity
Have split us into factions
But when you lead your men to war
One spirit guides their actions.

Yet which of them would dare to claim
The wisdom that you own?
To see our dreams and hopes fulfilled:
That vision is yours alone.

Your guard does more than keep the watch;
It keeps us safe from harm
And fearlessly defends our cause
When nightly sounds the alarm.

Your camp – a city on the move –
Is all things to your men;
If flames destroy it they’ll go down
And never rise again.

Your ministers and generals
Fear not to use their swords
To keep obedience in peace,
And peace in midst of wars.

Slavs and Magyars have no dispute
Linguistic or sectarian;
The call ‘Vorwärts’ means but one thing
In Czech or in Hungarian.

For mutual help in mutual need
Has founded many a nation;
Death alone divides mankind,
Life binds in aspiration.

May your glorious war inspire us
To extend our hands in union.
When each and all are so conjoined
The victory will be won.


Robert Russell (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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