Study Guide

The Vanity of Human Wishes Stanza 18

By Samuel Johnson

Stanza 18

Lines 241-254

The bold Bavarian, in a luckless hour,
Tries the dread summits of Caesarean pow'r,
With unexpected legions bursts away,
And sees defenceless realms receive his sway:
Short sway! fair Austria spreads her mournful charms,
The queen, the beauty, sets the world in arms;
From hill to hill the beacon's rousing blaze
Spreads wide the hope of plunder and of praise;
The fierce Croatian, and the wild Hussar,
And all the sons of ravage, crowd the war;
The baffled prince, in Honour's flatt'ring bloom,
Of hasty greatness finds the fatal doom,
His foes' derision, and his subjects' blame,
And steals to death from anguish and from shame.

  • Charles Albert, or Charles VII, the "bold Bavarian," tries to gain the throne of Austria ("Caesarean pow'r") through conquest. 
  • At first he does well, managing to take over "defenceless realms." But Austria's queen, Maria Theresa, stops him. She raises a huge army that includes Croatian fighters and Hungarian horsemen ("Hussars"), who are interested in gaining praise and plunder.
  • Poor Charles Albert, once honored, is defeated. His enemies make fun of him, and his subjects blame him.
  • Charles Albert dies (metaphorically) from "anguish and from shame"—bummer.

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