Page images

he was devoted to serious reading and congenial thought. At the University of Göttingen he was an intimate associate of the historian Motley, and their common studies and pursuits laid the foundation of a life-long friendship. As a boy he had been an ardent student of geography, and he often used to relate how the map of Germany, with its thirty-nine different frontiers each painted in its own colour, inspired him with the conviction that such an arrangement was contrary to nature. History, however, was his favourite pursuit. In the full maturity of his experience he delivered himself of the opinion, that a properly conducted study of history must be the necessary foundation of knowledge for every statesman; that by this means he can alone learn what is possible to attain in the various transactions with different states; and that the highest exercise of the diplomatic art lies in the capacity for recognizing the limits of the attainable. The whole of his later life is a practical commentary on this principle.

After leaving the University, Bismarck entered the Prussian Civil Service for a short period; but he found the air of a public office too oppressive, and retired to his own family seat, where he distinguished himself on the one hand as an indefatigable sportsman, a bold rider, and an invincible toper; on the other as a careful administrator, and excellent manager of his estate. He appeared in the Parliament of 1847 as a supporter of the King, and distinguished himself by mastery of language, purity of style, and power of repartee, as well by broad and statesmanlike views on purely Prussian questions. The revolution which overspread Germany in the two following years aroused the Conservative elements of his nature. He became a close personal friend of the King, who was attracted by his avowed belief in the divine right of Kings. It is strange that two such different natures should ever have come together. No one was more surprised at the choice than Bismarck himself. The King regarded me,' he used to say, 'as an egg from which he might hatch a minister.' He entered into a strange world, but he soon found himself at home. He was born a statesman. Nature had endowed him with all the capacities of a ruler, the power of seizing circumstances thoroughly and at once, the acute recognition of the strength and weakness of each position, and, above all, the sure insight into the manner in which the most different natures might be utilized for the furtherance of his purpose. He combined an immovable strength of will in the pursuit of ends, with an abiding elasticity of spirit in the means by which they could be attained. His correspondence at Frankfort, which has been published by the Prussian Govern



ment, exhibits these qualities in the clearest light. Manteuffel, his chief, was jealous of his assumption of infallibility, but could not avoid agreeing with his conclusions.

According to Sybel, the sole object of Bismarck's policy was the aggrandisement of Prussia: all other considerations were made subordinate to this. Questions of the highest importance -of Free-trade or Protection, of feudality or democracy, of religious freedom or the supremacy of the Church—were in his view nothing but means of securing the increased prominence of his own country. In the eyes of his opponents he was the most unprincipled of opportunists. He valued art and science only in proportion as each form of them was likely to contribute to his political ends.' Many stories, some serious and some humorous, are told of his struggles with Austria in these early days. His task, however, in the higher politics was perhaps rendered easier by the death on April 5, 1852, of Prince Felix Schwarzenberg, whose boldness and energy had led Austria from one success to another. His health had long been broken by excesses of all kinds, as well as by political labours. On the morning of the last day of his life he received an invitation to a ball, and said that he would certainly go to it unless he were dead. During the day he held several meetings and conferences, sent a bouquet to the lady whom he expected to meet at the ball, and was dressing for dinner, when he was suddenly seized by a fit of apoplexy and never recovered consciousness. Count Buol, his successor, could imitate his ideas, but had not the capacity to carry them out. The first effect of this change of Ministry was to form a closer tie between Austria and Prussia. A customs union as well as a commercial treaty was concluded for twelve years between the two States.

Bismarck made the influence of his personality felt in the attitude of Prussia during the Crimean war. The well-known conversation between the Emperor Nicholas and Sir Hamilton Seymour, British Ambassador in St. Petersburg, took place in February 1853. The Czar claimed for himself a protectorate over Moldavia, Wallachia, and Servia, and declared his readiness to leave Candia and Egypt to England. The interests of Austria, he said, were identical with those of Russia. Prussia he did not mention. He felt so sure of English co-operation that he prepared for immediate war. But the massacre of Sinope turned the sympathies of the Western Powers against Russia; the Russian Ambassadors were recalled from London and Paris, while the Conference at Vienna resulted in an identical note in a sense hostile to the Czar. Russia found herself


alone in Europe. Thus far the Four Powers were agreed. But in February 1854 it was a pressing question how far Austria and Prussia would give effect to these declarations. Austria was prepared to move, in the hope of obtaining at least a protectorate of the Danubian Principalities. In Prussia opinion was more divided. The Liberals looked with enthusiasm at an opportunity of humbling the great despot of the North, and repairing the humiliation of Olmütz by a chivalrous vindication of freedom. Bunsen, Bonin, the Minister of War, and the Prince of Prussia, supported these views. Even Manteuffel, the Prime Minister, inclined to the same opinion. The King, on the other hand, was inspired by an enthusiastic veneration for the sovereign who had protected Austria in 1849 and Prussia in 1850 from the demon of the Revolution, and who was now leading a crusade for the supremacy of the Cross above the Crescent. Bismarck saw nothing but disadvantage to Prussia in a war against Russia. The other Powers would risk little by it, and might gain a great deal. But with Prussia the case was different. The chief burden of the struggle would fall upon her, and even the most brilliant victory would bring her but little advantage. On the other hand, friendship with Russia might at some time or other be invaluable. What had Prussia to gain in the East? Her one serious antagonist was Austria, the only Power whose humiliation could be of any advantage to her. If Prussia must fight she had better take the side against Austria-a line of action which might obtain for her some considerable concessions in German questions. In the meantime a strict neutrality was the best course.

The King balanced these conflicting opinions with great care, and eventually decided for neutrality. The English Ministry were surprised to hear that Prussia offered her neutrality as a greater service than an army of 300,000 men, and demanded as the price of it not only a guarantee for the integrity of Prussian and German territory, but full scope in the reorganization of the German Confederation, and above all the restoration of the principality of Neufchatel in a general peace. Frederick William, however, could not dispel his apprehension of the 'Tiger-spring' of the Emperor Napoleon which might be preparing from the West. He concluded an offensive and defensive alliance with Austria for the mutual protection of their dominions. This alliance was rather a measure of present expediency than an act of disinterested friendship. By it Austria was secured from danger in any attack which she might make on Russia, and Prussia was proVol. 171.-No. 342.



tected against the cupidity of France. At the same time the neutrality of Prussia was emphasized by the recal of Bunsen from England, the dismissal of Bonin, and the degradation of the Prince of Prussia, who was even threatened with arrest. The alliance between Prussia and Austria rested on a very insecure foundation. The views of the two Cabinets became more and more divergent. On July 24, 1854, Austria joined the Western Alliance, and a short time afterwards presented the four points as an ultimatum to Russia. Prussia was astounded to hear that her ally had thus independently taken a new step against Russia which might lead to war. The four points were rejected, and Prussia, by the advice of Bismarck, again asserted her neutrality. Austria was disinclined to act without her ally, to the great disappointment of the Western Powers. She rattled her sabre in its sheath, but would not draw it.' The end of the year saw a still closer alliance between Austria and the belligerent Powers. The prediction of Prince Schwarzenberg was justified, that Austria would one day astonish the world by her ingratitude. Gortschakoff was thunderstruck at this sudden blow, since Russia had a few days earlier accepted the four points. A new demand for the accession of Prussia to the Triple Alliance met with a decided refusal, while Austria suffered a humiliation by the entrance of Sardinia into the war. Count Buol said to Baron Bourqueney that the banner of Piedmont, even if it floated by the side of the French tricolour, could only be regarded by Austria as an emblem of hostility. In the beginning of 1855 the German Confederation refused to support the policy of Austria, which had lost its confidence.

The death of Nicholas on March 2 worked a change in the situation. Peace was now in sight, and the greatest danger to Prussia lay in a close alliance between Austria and France. Happily the policy of Napoleon III. did not point to this result. His main object was to prevent a close union between Russia, Austria, and Prussia. He desired the fusion of Spain with Portugal, and of Sweden with Denmark; the liberation of Poland from Russia, and of Italy from Austrian influence; but the unity either of Italy or of Germany, as independent nations, would not have answered his purpose. He hoped, however, to weaken the power of Austria by a limited support both of Piedmont and of Prussia, in whose aggrandisement he could see no danger to himself. Above all his sympathies with Italy made an Austrian alliance impossible. It was not long before this distrust between Paris and Vienna deepened into hostility. Prussia was not in the first instance invited to the Congress of Paris; but her exclusion would have done more harm to the


other Powers than to herself. Sybel is of opinion that the course of events just described had been as favourable to Prussia as it was unfavourable to her rival. Austria by her selfish and uncertain policy had lost the respect of Europe, while the Cabinet of Berlin had maintained a firm and consistent neutrality. Above all, the influence of Prussia in the Confederation had largely increased, although the friendship of the smaller German States could be but little depended on in time of need. The year which followed the Treaty of Paris was occupied by Prussia mainly on the question of Neufchatel, the tortuous complications of which need not concern us. It was, however, a matter which lay deeply at the heart of the sentimental King. The ill-success of his attempt to recover the principality gave the last blow to his shattered health. In October, 1859, he became so incapable of business that his brother William, Prince of Prussia, was appointed Regent in his stead.

The future Emperor of Germany was at this time sixty years old. He often remarked in later years, that as a young man he had never contemplated the possibility of ascending the throne, that he had learnt how to manage a division of infantry, but had never troubled himself about affairs of State. This discipline, however, trained him in habits of quick decision, firm command, and unconditional obedience. His training was thorough rather than wide. His political convictions had occasionally differed from those of his brother; he would never have consented to the humiliation of Olmütz, and he would have drawn the sword against Russia in the Crimean war. His character, Sybel tells us, was based on deep but simple piety; he was scrupulously conscientious in forming his resolves, and fearlessly independent in carrying them out. Without the brilliancy of his brother, he possessed the natural gifts of understanding what was attainable, and of effecting his object by clear insight, and a knowledge of mankind which was never at fault. A strong Conservative by nature, he did not oppose reforms which he knew to be necessary. He believed that the only safe government for a State like Prussia, surrounded by powerful and jealous neighbours, was a strong monarchy, unaffected by the gusts of public opinion which sway more democratic constitutions. He compared the duty of government to the regulation of a river :

"The banks,' he said, 'must be secured, the dams must not be too narrow or too broad-above all they must not be built at right angles to the stream. In England they are too broad, in Electoral Hesse and in Hanover they are too narrow. Let us hope that in Prussia we may hit upon the golden mean.'

z 2


« PreviousContinue »