Page images

field for the other. We do not say that he is entirely free from blemishes,

‘quas aut incuria fudit

Aut humana parum cavit natura,'

but we do say that he has fewer of them, with the exception of Macaulay, than any other English classic.

That of a man so truly remarkable-for if as a statesman Chesterfield played a subordinate he played a singularly interesting part-there should be no standard biography, that of writings which have so just a claim to be considered classical there should be no standard edition accessible, is not creditable to his countrymen. It is surely high time for both these defects to be supplied. The dull compilation of Maty, which is the only biography worth mentioning in existence, ought long ago to have been superseded. Lord Stanhope's edition of the works is now so costly, that it is not merely beyond the reach of most private individuals, but of most public libraries. We are glad to see an announcement that the Clarendon Press is about to issue a volume of 'Selections from Chesterfield,' and we are still more pleased to notice that the editor of the volume is the learned editor of Boswell's 'Life of Johnson.' For we accept the omen. No living scholar could be more competent to supply the desideratum to which we have referred, and we trust that Dr. Birkbeck Hill will see his way to laying the readers of Chesterfield under as great an obligation as he has laid the readers of Boswell.

[ocr errors]

Johnson has said that all writers, who wish to acquire the art of being familiar without being coarse, and elegant without being ostentatious in style, should give their days and nights to the volumes of Addison. We are none of us likely to give our days and nights either to the volumes of Addison or to the volumes of Chesterfield. And yet in times like the present we shall do well to turn occasionally to the writings of Chesterfield, and for other purposes than the acquisition of style. In an age distinguished beyond all precedent by recklessness, charlatanry, and vulgarity, nothing can be more salutary than communion with a mind and genius of the temper of his. We need the corrective the educational corrective of his refined good-sense, his measure, his sobriety, his sincerity, his truthfulness, his instinctive application of aristocratic standards in attainment, of aristocratic touchstones in criticism. We need more, and he has more to teach us. We need reminding that life is success or failure, not in proportion to the extent of what it achieves in part, and in accidents, but in proportion to what it becomes in essence, and in proportion to its symmetry.


ART. II. Die Begründung des Deutschen Reiches durch Wilhelm I. Von Heinrich von Sybel. Vols. 1-5. Munich and Leipzig, 1889-90.


T would be difficult to overrate the importance of the work which lies before us. The creation of a united Germany and of a united Italy are the two most striking political phenomena of our age. The history of the second of these two events, so rich in picturesque detail, in heroic self-sacrifice, in consummate statesmanship, still remains to be written. Germany has found a worthy narrator of her struggles. The first historian of his country, and perhaps since the death of Ranke the first in Europe, has given us within twenty years of its completion a history of the events which placed Prussia instead of Austria at the head of Germany, transferred the leadership of the Confederation from a Catholic and Conservative to a Protestant and Progressive Power, and set the crown of Charlemagne on the brows of a successor of Frederick the Great. The Prussian Government, with a wisdom and generosity which might well be imitated in our own country, has done everything in its power to further the task of the historian. The archives of the State and the correspondence of the Foreign Office have been opened to him without reserve. The minutes of ministers, the reports of ambassadors, the records of Conferences, telegrams and communications of all kinds, the notes and despatches of the representatives of foreign Powers, Parliamentary discussions, cuttings from newspapers, have been laid before him, arranged in a well-ordered series of several hundred volumes. Further information has been supplied by the acts of the ministry of State and of the military staff, as well as by oral communications with the actors in the events themselves. The archives of Hanover, Hesse, and Nassau, powers which were generally opposed to Prussian policy, have supplied useful corrections. The writer has been able to follow the history of these momentous years from day to day and from hour to hour in sources whose fidelity cannot be disputed. The result is, that many most important matters are now described for the first time, or are placed in a new light. This very fulness of information places the critic at a disadvantage; he cannot claim access to the same wealth of material. It may be supposed that Sybel would not have been allowed these exceptional privileges, unless it had been known that his verdict was likely to prove favourable to the Emperor and his minister. The volumes are penetrated throughout by a Prussian spirit. Bismarck makes no mistakes, and his opponents are seldom, if

ever, in the right. Several generations may have to pass before we shall hear all sides of the question, and be in a position to form an impartial judgment. In the meantime let us be thankful for what we have. Sybel's reputation stands so high, and his history of the French Revolution is so free from party bias, that we have every reason to trust his honesty and sincerity. His thrilling narrative will never be superseded, and, whatever may be the fate of the Empire whose foundation it narrates, will remain as the classical account of the genius and patriotism of the great Chancellor.

Before we proceed to deal with the facts themselves we must award a due meed of praise to the manner in which they have been presented to us. The work traverses a wide range of subjects, constitutional struggles, international negociations, military campaigns, and parliamentary debates. The constitutional history of England is difficult for a foreigner to understand, and German constitutional history stands in the same relation to that of England, as the German language does to the English language. Yet whatever be the subject with which he has to deal, Sybel is always clear, impressive, and dignified. He shows that contemporary history may be as fitly the material for serious literary treatment as the events of a bygone age. He seems to have taken Clarendon for his model. His sketches of characters and personalities still with us, or recently passed away, are among the best parts of his book, and challenge comparison with that master of portraiture. The volumes before us close with the formation of the North German League in 1866; we may assume that the history of the four momentous years which followed will be given to the world with no unnecessary delay.

The Introduction presents us with a striking portrait of King Frederick William IV., who came to the throne on June 7, 1840. As a boy he exhibited a strong individuality and a firm will. He was gifted with capacities and interests of every kind. His education developed the religious, the aesthetic, and the intellectual, sides of his nature; so that when he grew up he was full of taste and knowledge, with a sparkling wit and diversified talent, pure in morals, but sentimental and emotional, enthusiastic for every high and noble purpose, and filled with warm reliance on God and mankind. Once convinced of a desirability of a course of action, nothing could shake him. If he was unable to carry it out in practice, he seemed to yield for the moment, but always recurred to his resolution on the first opportunity. His strength of will was rather passive than active, rather stubborn than energetic; his actions were deter

mined not so much by practical understanding as by warmth of heart and general principles.' Unlike most of his race, he had little taste for military affairs. He was stout, beardless, clumsy, and short-sighted; was too quick and superficial at reviews and parades for the taste of his generals; he had too many nerves and too little muscle.' His real passion showed itself in drawing ideal landscapes, in constructing romantic buildings, or in contemplating the contrapuntal mysteries of old Church music. Cornelius the painter praised him with tears in his eyes; Rauch the sculptor said that he had never seen greater delicacy and accuracy in the criticism of statuary. Ranke the historian said to King Max of Bavaria, in the presence of a learned throng, 'He is my master, he is your master, he is the master of all of us.' Alexander von Humboldt found every day wasted in which he did not spend some time in the King's society. His intimate friends, Gerlach, Bunsen, and Radowitz, were dominated by his personality. In this circle the wealth of his fancy and the stream of his ideas appeared inexhaustible; he was a master of eloquence in jest and earnest, in humour and pathos, and always had at his command an appropriate, or even a brilliant expression for any idea which occurred to him, whether political, æsthetic, or religious.' Nothing was more remarkable than the versatility with which he passed from the gravest subject to the most trivial.

[ocr errors]

Under this varied and original nature lay a solid kernel of the impressions which he had formed from the events of his early manhood. Banished into the furthest corner of his dominions by the Napoleonic war, he had conceived a life-long horror of the Revolution, and a deep antipathy to France. He acquired a corresponding enthusiasm for the Emperors, the prelates, and the Knights of the German Empire of the Middle Ages. The alliance of 1813 between Austria and Prussia for the liberation of Germany had made him resolved never to relax the tie which united them, but to strive under any circumstances with fidelity and unselfishness for the splendour and supremacy of the Holy Roman Empire. His ideal of a united Germany was that of Stein and Hardenberg: Austria in the seat of honour; Prussia the second in power; a hierarchy of princes and rulers, each in his own order, constituting an Imperial Diet, and deriving their authority from a divine consecration. This belief in a supernatural consecration was the centre of all his moral and political opinions. Following De Maistre, he believed that God was the foundation of all states and constitutions. For him the kingly crown was surrounded by a mystical splendour, and he who wore it possessed a fountain


of inspiration which was not accorded to other mortals. He said to Bunsen in 1844, 'All of you mean well to me, and are good for carrying out my projects; but there are some things which no man knows unless he is a King, which I myself did not know as Crown Prince, and which I have only understood as sovereign.' It is easy to see how antagonistic these ideas were to the spirit of the age in which he lived, which demanded equality of political rights, criticized with sceptical distrust the claims of authority in Church and State, and sought for universal liberty in the diminished privilege of priests and nobles. The King appeared as the child of a past time, the citizen of another world, the speaker of a foreign language. It was not by a temper of this nature that German unity could be secured, or the long-standing strife between Prussia and Austria be brought to a satisfactory conclusion. The natural result of the first decade of his reign was the humiliating treaty of Olmütz, when Prussia was forced at the bidding of Austria to retire from the position which she had taken up in Hesse and SchleswigHolstein, to dissolve the Union which was a forerunner of the North German League, and to recognize the Imperial Diet which was under the influence of her rival.

It would be tedious to relate the various phases of the struggle, the successive plans for settlement, which were marked at one time by the hesitation of the King, at another by the jealousy of the minor states, or again by the superior statesmanship of Schwarzenberg. The advance of Prussia does not become interesting or even intelligible to the general reader until it falls under the direction of Bismarck, the one statesman of the time who knew his own mind and had the firmness to carry it out. The 'punctation of Olmütz,' as it was called, was signed on November 29, 1850; on August 29, 1851, Otto von BismarckSchönhausen delivered his credentials as representative of Prussia to the President of the Imperial Diet, then sitting at Frankfort, and began a political career which has profoundly affected the history of Europe. He was at that time thirty-six years old, in the full possession of the strength of manhood. He was taller by a head than the ordinary sons of men. complexion radiated with health, his eyes shone with intelligence, his mouth and chin gave the impression of an iron will.' His conversation abounded in original thoughts, picturesque images, striking terms of expression; he was as fascinating and amiable in society, as he was direct and dominant in the conduct of affairs. He owed but little to education. At the University he prefered the duels and the drinking bouts of a corps-student to the tedious lectures of professors. Yet from his earliest years



« PreviousContinue »