Out of print in English since the 1970s, Ravenhall Books has published a welcomed new edition of Metternich's Autobiography in an inexpensive paperback edition. Based on three separate biographical extracts from Metternich's Nachgelassenen and originally edited by Metternich's son, Metternich's memoirs were not truly memoirs, but, like many so-called "memoirs" of the era, a collection of letters, diaries and other documents. Prince Richard Metternich, in presenting the Memoirs, wrote, somewhat hopefully perhaps, "now that more than a generation has passed over his quiet tomb, the image of the resolute defender of conservative principles appears still more imposing, and his own words will enable men to realize the power and charm of his character. Even his enemies will be touched, and will regard with respect the great statesman as he once again passes before them." Metternich observed somewhat disingenuously that "I have made history, and therefore have not found the time to write it." But Metternich also bragged, "What gratifies me is to notice that the productions of my pen are always those which are most to the taste of the public." Metternich's son edited his father's papers with an eye to history. The memoirs were published virtually simultaneously in German French and English (the English translation was done by Robina Napier, wife of a Norfolk vicar, the son of the first editor of the Edinburgh Review).
Metternich's self-described purpose for writing these extracts was that "The present work is tended only to communicate what concerns myself, or has reference to the tone of mind which the circumstances of my time have produced in me, those of which I was a mere spectator and those in which I have myself played a part." These autobiographical extracts were written well after the events described and written, at least in part, for posterity. The account of Metternich's negotiations with Napoleon in 1813, for example, was written almost two decades after the events. Beyond Metternich's self-justifications, are the deletions and "remarkable remolding" of Metternich's memoirs by his son and editor. And as time passes, memories fade and alter as events are internalized into one's inner narrative, which often tends to favor and flatter oneself. French historian Albert Sorel complained of Metternich's account of events: "He makes himself the light of the world; he dazzles himself with his own rays in the mirror which he holds perpetually before his eyes." Though Sorel himself has his own axe to grind as Pieter Geyl has pointed out.
In addition Metternich is not particularly forthcoming, even in writings supposedly not intended for publication. Metternich, for instance, does not mention that it was Talleyrand who was keeping him informed of the negotiations at Erfurt or that Talleyrand was urging Austria to declare war in 1809. His views of many of his contemporaries beyond Napoleon are very circumspect. Nonetheless, French Napoleonic expert Tulard has called Metternich's memoirs "naturellement fondamentale," and observes that, like Talleyrand's memoirs (or Bourrienne's memoirs or Napier's history of the Peninsular war), the publication of Metternich's lead to an exchange of polemics over their veracity. Stuart Woolf calls Metternich "a hostile but attentive observer of the French emperor from the time of his nomination as ambassador at Paris in 1805." A contemporary review of the Memoirs observed that "...few estimates of the Emperor [Napoleon] ever printed have received a like attention from students or been estimated by them at a higher value. Outside of France there was no statesman who knew [Napoleon] so well, none who had such opportunities for seeing and understanding him under widely differing circumstances. Over most contemporary views it had the advantage of being written by a clear-sighted statesman..."
Unlike David Copperfield, who didn't know if he'd be the hero of his life, Metternich had no such doubts. "...An observer of or a participator in all the circumstances which accompanied and followed the overthrow of that order [in France], of all my contemporaries I now stand alone on the lofty stage on which neither my will nor my inclination placed me." Historian Gregor Dallas wrote has written, "Totally vain, [Metternich] might just as well have entitled the memoirs he eventually left behind The History of Me and the World because, as he never tired of pointing out, the destiny of both marched together." Of Metternich's much celebrated "European outlook" Enno E Kraehe points out that it "acquired much embellishment along the way, some of it genuine, much of it rhetorical."
Reviewers of the memoirs, while admitting the "special value" of the memoirs, seemed to see Metternich in a far less admirable light the farther he was removed from the flame of his great adversary, Napoleon. One critic in the Contemporary Review observed at, "There were two Metternich's, indeed-one before and another after 1815.... It is a pity only that the latter wrote the history of the former." The Century magazine, reviewing the memoirs, observed that, "Fussy, pompous, full of hollow phrases, alternately whining or threatening at the foreign policy of France, the spectacle of Metternich is not edifying to witness, and accounts for much of the legacy of hatred and contempt his name left behind him in Europe. He outlived his time. The moment for his disappearance should have that of Napoleon's death..."
Perhaps it is best, as Metternich would have wanted it, to give him the last word, ""I think few men have known [Napoleon] better than I, because I have not confined myself to bare symptoms, but have endeavored to discover their foundation. When I saw that the whole power of good and evil was embodied in that one man, I could do no otherwise than study him, and only him. Circumstances placed me near this man; they have, so to speak, chained me to him.... After my death a very interesting memoir will be found of this man and his influence on the events of his age.... By the writings I leave behind me, many circumstances will certainly be explained, many doubts dispelled, and many errors rectified. For many years I have written and labored at this work.... This work is one of my favorite employments."
Ravenhall has given this sturdy paperback an attractively designed cover and has added some portraits of the chief characters. I would have like to have seen either footnotes or an appendix giving some background on the individuals mentioned in Metternich's memoir. Metternich has a tendency to throw out many names, some famous and some obscure, and even specialists might have to use a biographical reference to identify individuals such as Herr von Alopäus, Abbé Maury, the advocate Vandernoot, Eulogius Schneider, Basedow and Campe, General von Pfuel or Merlin de Thionville, for example.