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Bismarck and the Foundation of the German Empire by James Wycliffe Headlam

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Frankfort," he said, "may be very bright, but the gold which gives
truth to its brilliance has first to be won by melting down the
Prussian crown." His speech caused great indignation; ten thousand
copies of it were printed to be distributed among the electors so as to
show them the real principles and objects of the reactionary party.

His opposition to any identification of Prussia and Germany was
maintained when the Prussian Government itself took the initiative and
proposed its own solution. During the summer of 1849, the Prussian
programme was published. The Government invited the other States of
Germany to enter into a fresh union; the basis of the new Constitution
was to be that of Frankfort, but altered so far as might be found
necessary, and the union was to be a voluntary one. The King in order to
carry out this policy appointed as one of his Ministers Herr von
Radowitz. He was a man of the highest character and extreme ability. An
officer by profession, he was distinguished by the versatility of his
interests and his great learning. The King found in him a man who shared
his own enthusiasm for letters. He had been a member of the Parliament
at Frankfort, and had taken a leading part among the extreme
Conservatives; a Roman Catholic, he had come forward in defence of
religion and order against the Liberals and Republicans; a very eloquent
speaker, by his earnestness and eloquence he was able for a short time
to give new life to the failing hopes of the German patriots.

Bismarck always looked on the new Minister with great dislike. Radowitz,
indeed, hated the Revolution as much as he did; he was a zealous and
patriotic Prussian; but there was a fundamental difference in the nature
of the two men. Radowitz wished to reform Germany by moral influence.
Bismarck did not believe in the possibility of this. To this perhaps we
must add some personal feeling. The Ministry had hitherto consisted
almost entirely of men who were either personal friends of Bismarck, or
whom he had recommended to the King. With Radowitz there entered into it
a man who was superior to all of them in ability, and over whom Bismarck
could not hope to have any influence. Bismarck's distrust, which
amounted almost to hatred, depended, however, on his fear that the new
policy would bring about the ruin of Prussia. He took the extreme
Particularist view; he had no interest in Germany outside Prussia;
Wuertemberg and Bavaria were to him foreign States. In all these
proposals for a new Constitution he saw only that Prussia would be
required to sacrifice its complete independence; that the King of
Prussia would become executor for the decrees of a popular and alien
Parliament. They were asked to cease to be Prussians in order that they
might become Germans. This Bismarck refused to do. "Prussians we are,"
he said, "and Prussians we will remain." He had no sympathy with this
idea of a United Germany which was so powerful at the time; there was
only one way in which he was willing that Germany should be united, and
that was according to the example which Frederick the Great had set. The
ideals of the German nation were represented by Arndt's famous song,
"Was ist des Deutschen Vaterland?" The fatherland of the Germans was not
Suabia or Prussia, not Austria or Bavaria, it was the whole of Germany
wherever the German tongue was spoken. From this Bismarck deliberately
dissociated himself. "I have never heard," he said, "a Prussian soldier
singing, 'Was ist des Deutschen Vaterland?'" The new flag of Germany was
to be the German tricolour, black and white and gold.

"The Prussian soldiers," cried Bismarck, "have no tricoloured
enthusiasm; among them you will find, as little as in the rest of
the Prussian people, the desire for a national regeneration; they
are contented with the name of Prussia, and proud of the name of
Prussia. These troops follow the black and white flag, not the
tricolour; under the black and white they die with joy for their
country. The tricolour they have learnt since the 18th of March
to look on as the colours of their foes."

These words aroused intense indignation. One of the speakers who
followed referred to him as the Prodigal Son of the German Fatherland,
who had deserted his father's house. Bismarck repudiated the epithet. "I
am not a prodigal son," he said; "my father's house is Prussia and I
have never left it." He could not more clearly repudiate the title
German. The others were moved by enthusiasm for an idea, he by loyalty
to an existing State.

Nothing was sound, he said, in Germany, except the old Prussian

"What has preserved us is that which is specifically Prussian. It
was the remnant of the _Stock-Preussenthum_ which has survived
the Revolution, the Prussian army, the Prussian treasure, the
fruits of many years of intelligent Prussian administration, and
the living co-operation between King and people. It was the
attachment of the Prussian people to their hereditary dynasty,
the old Prussian virtues of honour, loyalty, obedience, and the
courage which, emanating from the officers who form its bone and
marrow, permeates the army down to the youngest recruit."

He reminded the House how the Assembly at Frankfort had only been saved
from the insurgent mob by a Prussian regiment, and now it was proposed
to weaken and destroy all these Prussian institutions in order to change
them into a democratic Germany. He was asked to assent to a Constitution
in which the Prussian Government would sink to the level of a provincial
council, under the guidance of an Imperial Ministry which itself would
be dependent on a Parliament in which the Prussian interests would be in
a minority. The most important and honourable duties of the Prussian
Parliament would be transferred to a general Parliament; the King would
lose his veto; he would be compelled against his will to assent to laws
he disliked; even the Prussian army would be no longer under his sole
command. What recompense were they to gain for this?

"The pleasant consciousness of having followed an unselfish and
noble policy; of having satisfied the requirements of a national
regeneration; of having carried out the historical task of
Prussia, or some such vague expression."

With this he contrasted what would have been a true Prussian policy, a
policy which Frederick the Great might have followed.

"He would have known that now as in the day of our fathers the
sound of the trumpets which summoned them to their sovereign's
flag has not lost its power for Prussian ears; he would have had
the choice either of joining our old comrade Austria, and
undertaking the brilliant part which the Emperor of Russia has
played, and destroying the cause of the Revolution, or by the
same right by which he took Silesia, he might, after refusing to
accept the crown, have ordered the Germans what constitution they
should have, and thrown the sword into the scale; then Prussia
would have been in the position to win for Germany its place in
the Council of Europe.

"We all wish the same. We all wish that the Prussian eagle should
spread out his wings as guardian and ruler from the Memel to the
Donnersberg, but free will we have him, not bound by a new
Regensburg Diet. Prussians we are and Prussians will we remain; I
know that in these words I speak the confession of the Prussian
army and the majority of my fellow-countrymen, and I hope to God
that we will still long remain Prussian when this sheet of paper
is forgotten like a withered autumn leaf."

The policy of Radowitz was doomed to failure, not so much because of any
inherent weakness in it, but because Prussia was not strong enough to
defend herself against all the enemies she had called up. The other
Courts of Germany were lukewarm, Austria was extremely hostile. The
Kings of Hanover and Saxony retreated from the alliance on the ground
that they would enter the union only if the whole of Germany joined;
Bavaria had refused to do so; in fact the two other Kings had privately
used all their influence to prevent Bavaria from joining, in order that
they might always have an excuse for seceding. Prussia was, therefore,
left surrounded by twenty-eight of the smaller States. A Parliament from
them was summoned to meet at Erfurt in order to discuss the new
Constitution. Bismarck was elected a member of it; he went there
avowedly to protect the Prussian interests. He had demanded from the
Government that at least the Constitution agreed on in Erfurt should
again be submitted to the Prussian Chamber; he feared that many of the
most important Prussian rights might be sacrificed. His request was
refused, for it was obvious that if, after the Parliament of Erfurt had
come to some conclusion, the new Constitution was to be referred back
again to the twenty-eight Parliaments of the allied States, the new
union would never come into effect at all. It is curious here to find
Bismarck using the rights of the Prussian Parliament as a weapon to
maintain the complete independence of Prussia. Sixteen years later, when
he was doing the work in which Radowitz failed, one of his chief
difficulties arose from the conduct of men who came forward with just
the same demand which he now made, and he had to refuse their demands as
Radowitz now refused his.

He did not take much part in the debates at Erfurt; as he was one of the
youngest of the members, he held the position of Secretary; the
President of the Assembly was Simpson, a very distinguished public man,
but a converted Jew. "What would my father have said," observed
Bismarck, "if he had lived to see me become clerk to a Jewish scholar?"
On one occasion he became involved in what might have been a very
serious dispute, when he used his power as Secretary to exclude from the
reporters' gallery two journalists whose reports of the meeting were
very partial and strongly opposed to Austria. His attitude towards the
Assembly is shewn by the words:

"I know that what I have said to you will have no influence on
your votes, but I am equally convinced that your votes will be as
completely without influence on the course of events."

The whole union was, as a matter of fact, broken down by the opposition
of Austria. Bismarck had, in one of his first speeches, warned against a
policy which would bring Prussia into the position which Piedmont had
held before the battle of Novara, when they embarked on a war in which
victory would have brought about the overthrow of the monarchy, and
defeat a disgraceful peace. It was his way of saying that he hoped the
King would not eventually draw the sword in order to defend the new
Liberal Constitution against the opposition of Austria. The day came
when the King was placed in this position. Austria had summoned the old
Diet to meet at Frankfort; Prussia denied that the Diet still legally
existed; the two policies were clearly opposed to one another: Austria
desiring the restoration of the old Constitution, Prussia, at the head
of Liberal Germany, summoning the States round her in a new union. There
were other disputes about Schleswig-Holstein and the affairs of Hesse,
but this was the real point at issue. The Austrians were armed, and were
supported by the Czar and many of the German States; shots were actually
exchanged between the Prussian and Bavarian outposts in Hesse. The
Austrian ambassador had orders to leave Berlin; had he done so, war
could not have been avoided. He disobeyed his orders, remained in
Berlin, asked for an interview with the King, and used all his influence
to persuade him to surrender. The Ministry was divided; Radowitz stood
almost alone; the other Ministers, Bismarck's friends, had always
distrusted his policy. They wished to renew the old alliance with
Austria; the Minister of War said they could not risk the struggle; it
was rumoured that he had deliberately avoided making preparations in
order to prevent the King putting himself at the head of the Liberal
party. During the crisis, Bismarck was summoned to the King at
Letzlingen; there can be no doubt what his advice was; eventually the
party of peace prevailed, and Radowitz resigned. Bismarck on hearing the
news danced three times round the table with delight. Brandenburg died
almost immediately after; Manteuffel became Minister-President; he asked
Schwarzenberg for an interview, travelled to Olmuetz to meet him, and an
agreement was come to by which practically Prussia surrendered every
object of dispute between the two great Powers.

The convention of Olmuetz was the most complete humiliation to which any
European State has ever been subjected. Prussia had undertaken a policy,
and with the strong approval of the great majority of the nation had
consistently maintained it for over a year; Austria had required that
this policy should be surrendered; the two States had armed; the
ultimatum had been sent, everything was prepared for war, and then
Prussia surrendered. The cause for this was a double one. It was partly
that Prussia was really not strong enough to meet the coalition of
Austria and Russia, but it was also that the King was really of two
minds; he was constitutionally unable to maintain against danger a
consistent course of policy.

Bismarck was one of the few men who defended the action of the Ministry.
In the ablest of all his speeches he took up the gauntlet, and exposed
all the weakness and the dangers of Radowitz's policy. This was not a
cause in which Prussia should risk its existence. Why should they go to
war in order to subject Prussia not to the Princes but to the Chambers
of the smaller States? A war for the Union would, he said, remind him of
the Englishman who had a fight with the sentry in order that he might
hang himself in the sentry-box, a right which he claimed for himself and
every free Briton. It was the duty of the councillors of the King to
warn him from a policy which would bring the State to destruction.

"Still I would not shrink, from the war; I would advise it, were
anyone able to prove to me the necessity for it, or to point out
a worthy end which could be attained by it and in no other way.
Why do great States wage war nowadays? The only sound principle
of action for a great State is political egoism and not
Romanticism, and it is unworthy of a great State to fight for any
matter which does not concern its own interests. Shew us,
gentlemen, an object worthy of war and you have my vote. It is
easy for a statesman in his office or his chamber to blow the
trumpet with the breath of popularity and all the time to sit
warming himself by his fireside, while he leaves it to the
rifleman, who lies bleeding on the snow, whether his system
attains victory and glory. Nothing is easier; but woe to the
statesman who at such a time does not look about for a reason for
the war which will be valid when the war is over. I am convinced
you will see the questions which now occupy us in a different
light a year hence, when you look back upon them through a long
perspective of battle-fields and conflagrations, misery and
wretchedness. Will you then have the courage to go to the peasant
by the ashes of his cottage, to the cripple, to the childless
father, and say: 'You have suffered much, but rejoice with us,
the Union is saved. Rejoice with us, Hassenpflug is no longer
Minister, Bayernhofer rules in Hesse.'"

Eloquent words; but what a strange comment on them his own acts were to
afford. In 1850 Prussia had a clearer and juster cause of war than in
1866; every word of his speech might have been used with equal effect
sixteen years later; the Constitution of 1850 was little different from
that which Bismarck himself was to give to Germany. The policy of
Radowitz was the only true policy for Prussia; if he failed, it was
because Prussia's army was not strong enough; war would have been
followed by defeat and disaster. There was one man who saw the evils as
they really were; the Prince of Prussia determined that if ever he
became King the army of Prussia should be again made strong and

It was probably this speech which determined Bismarck's future career.
He had defended the agreement with Austria and identified himself with
the policy of the Government; what more natural than that they should
use him to help to carry out the policy he had upheld. Prussia consented
to recognise the restoration of the Diet; it would be necessary,
therefore, to send an envoy. Now that she had submitted to Austria the
only wise policy was to cultivate her friendship. Who could do this
better than Bismarck? Who had more boldly supported and praised the new
rulers of Austria? When the Gotha party, as they were called, had wished
to exclude Austria from Germany, he it was who said that Austria was no
more a foreign State than Wuertemberg or Bavaria. The appointment of
Bismarck would be the best proof of the loyal intentions of the Prussian

A few years later he himself gave to Motley the following account of his

"In the summer of 1851," Motley writes, "he told me that the
Minister, Manteuffel, asked him one day abruptly, if he would
accept the post of Ambassador at Frankfort, to which (although
the proposition was as unexpected a one to him as if I should
hear by the next mail that I had been chosen Governor of
Massachusetts) he answered, after a moment's deliberation, 'yes,'
with out another word. The King, the same day, sent for him, and
asked him if he would accept the place, to which he made the same
brief answer, 'Ja.' His Majesty expressed a little surprise that
he made no inquiries or conditions, when Bismarck replied that
anything which the King felt strong enough to propose to him, he
felt strong enough to accept. I only write these details, that
you may have an idea of the man. Strict integrity and courage of
character, a high sense of honour, a firm religious belief,
united with remarkable talents, make up necessarily a combination
which cannot be found any day in any Court; and I have no doubt
that he is destined to be Prime Minister, unless his obstinate
truthfulness, which is apt to be a stumbling-block for
politicians, stands in his way."




Bismarck when he went to Frankfort was thirty-six years of age; he had
had no experience in diplomacy and had long been unaccustomed to the
routine of official life. He had distinguished himself by qualities
which might seem very undiplomatic; as a Parliamentary debater he had
been outspoken in a degree remarkable even during a revolution; he had a
habit of tearing away the veil from those facts which everyone knows and
which all wish to ignore; a careless good-fellowship which promised
little of that reserve and discretion so necessary in a confidential
agent; a personal and wilful independence which might easily lead him
into disagreement with the Ministers and the King. He had not even the
advantage of learning his work by apprenticeship under a more
experienced official; during the first two months at Frankfort he held
the position of First Secretary, but his chief did not attempt to
introduce him to the more important negotiations and when, at the end of
July, he received his definite appointment as envoy, he knew as little
of the work as when he arrived at Frankfort.

He had, however, occupied his time in becoming acquainted with the
social conditions. His first impressions were very unfavourable.
Frankfort held a peculiar position. Though the centre of the German
political system it was less German than any other town in the country.
The society was very cosmopolitan. There were the envoys of the German
States and the foreign Powers, but the diplomatic circle was not graced
by the dignity of a Court nor by the neighbourhood of any great
administrative Power. Side by side with the diplomatists were the
citizens of Frankfort; but here again we find indeed a great
money-market, the centre of the finance of the Continent, dissociated
from any great productive activity. In the neighbourhood were the
watering-places and gambling-tables; Homburg and Wiesbaden, Soden and
Baden-Baden, were within an easy ride or short railway journey, and
Frankfort was constantly visited by all the idle Princes of Germany. It
was a city in which intrigue took the place of statesmanship, and never
has intrigue played so large a part in the history of Europe as during
the years 1850-1870. Half the small States who were represented at
Frankfort had ambitions beyond their powers; they liked to play their
part in the politics of Europe. Too weak to stand alone, they were also
too weak to be quite honest, and attempted to gain by cunning a position
which they could not maintain by other means. This was the city in which
Bismarck was to serve his diplomatic apprenticeship.

Two extracts from letters to his wife give the best picture of his
personal character at this time:

"On Saturday I drove with Rochow to Ruedesheim; there I took a
boat and rowed out on the Rhine, and bathed in the
moonlight--only nose and eyes above the water, and floated down
to the Rat Tower at Bingen, where the wicked Bishop met his end.
It is something strangely dreamlike to lie in the water in the
quiet, warm light, gently carried along by the stream; to look at
the sky with the moon and stars above one, and, on either side,
to see the wooded mountain-tops and castle parapets in the
moonlight, and to hear nothing but the gentle rippling of one's
own motion. I should like a swim like this every evening. Then I
drank some very good wine, and sat long talking with Lynar on the
balcony, with the Rhine beneath us. My little Testament and the
starry heavens brought us on Christian topics, and I long shook
at the Rousseau-like virtue of his soul."

"Yesterday I was at Wiesbaden, and with a feeling of melancholy
revisited the scenes of former folly. May it please God to fill
with His clear and strong wine this vessel in which the champagne
of twenty-one years foamed so uselessly.... I do not understand
how a man who reflects on himself, and still knows, and will
know, nothing of God, can endure his life for contempt and
weariness. I do not know how I endured this in old days; if, as
then, I were to live without God, thee, and the children, I do
not know why I should not put life aside like a dirty shirt; and
yet most of my acquaintances live thus."

Now let us see what he thinks of his new duties:

"Our intercourse here is at best nothing but a mutual suspicion
and espionage; if only there was anything to spy out and to hide!
It is pure trifles with which they worry themselves, and I find
these diplomatists with their airs of confidence and their petty
fussiness much more absurd than the member of the Second Chamber
in his conscious dignity. Unless some external events take place,
and we clever men of the Diet can neither direct nor foresee
them, I know already what we shall bring about in one or two or
three years, and will do it in twenty-four hours if the others
will only be reasonable and truthful for a single day. I am
making tremendous progress in the art of saying nothing in many
words; I write reports many pages long, which are smooth and
finished like leading articles, and if Manteuffel after reading
them can say what they contain, he can do more than I. We all do
as though we believed of each other that we are full of thoughts
and plans, if only we would express them, and all the time we
none of us know a hair's breadth more what will become of

Of the Austrian Envoy who was President of the Diet he writes:

"Thun in his outward appearance has something of a hearty good
fellow mixed with a touch of the Vienna _roue_. Underneath this
he hides, I will not say great political power and intellectual
gifts, but an uncommon cleverness and cunning, which with great
presence of mind appears from underneath the mask of harmless
good-humour as soon as politics are concerned. I consider him as
an opponent who is dangerous to anyone who honestly trusts him,
instead of paying back in his own coin."

His judgment on his other colleagues is equally decisive; of the
Austrian diplomatists he writes:

"one must never expect that they will make what is right the
foundation of their policy for the simple reason that it is the
right. Cautious dishonesty is the characteristic of their
association with us. They have nothing which awakens confidence.
They intrigue under the mask of good-fellowship."

It was impossible to look for open co-operation from them;

"their mouths are full of the necessity for common action, but
when it is a question of furthering our wishes, then officially
it is, 'We will not oppose,' and a secret pleasure in preparing

It was just the same with the envoys of the other countries: with few
exceptions there is none for whom right has any value in itself.

"They are caricatures of diplomatists who put on their official
physiognomy if I ask them for a light, and select gestures and
words with a truly Regensburg caution, if they ask for the key of
the water-closet." Writing to Gerlach he speaks of "the lying,
double-tongued policy of the Austrians. Of all the lies and
intrigues that go on up and down the Rhine an honest man from the
old Mark has no conception. These South German children of nature
are very corrupt."

His opinion of the diplomatists does not seem to have improved as he
knew them better. Years later he wrote:

"There are few diplomatists who in the long run do not prefer to
capitulate with their conscience and their patriotism, and to
guard the interests of their country and their sovereign with
somewhat less decision, rather than, incessantly and with danger
to their personal position, to contend with the difficulties
which are prepared for them by a powerful and unscrupulous

He does not think much better of his own Prussian colleagues; he often
complains of the want of support which he received. "With us the
official diplomacy," he writes, "is capable of playing under the same
roof with strangers against their own countrymen."

These letters are chiefly interesting because of the light they throw on
his own character at the beginning of his diplomatic career; we must not
take them all too seriously. He was too good a raconteur not to make a
good story better, and too good a letter-writer not to add something to
the effect of his descriptions; besides, as he says elsewhere, he did
not easily see the good side of people; his eyes were sharper for their
faults than their good qualities.[4] After the first few passages of
arms he got on well enough with Thun; when he was recalled two years
later Bismarck spoke of him with much warmth. "I like him personally,
and should be glad to have him for a neighbour at Schoenhausen."

It is however important to notice that the first impression made on him
by diplomatic work was that of wanton and ineffective deceit. Those who
accuse him, as is so often done, of lowering the standard of political
morality which prevails in Europe, know little of politics as they were
at the time when Schwarzenberg was the leading statesman.

It was his fate at once to be brought in close contact with the most
disagreeable side of political life. In all diplomatic work there must
be a good deal of espionage and underhand dealing. This was a part of
his duties which Bismarck had soon to learn. He was entrusted with the
management of the Press. This consisted of two parts: first of all, he
had to procure the insertion of articles in influential papers in a
sense agreeable to the plans of the Prussian Government; secondly, when
hostile articles appeared, or inconvenient information was published, he
had to trace the authors of it,--find out by whom the obnoxious paper
had been inspired, or who had conveyed the secret information. This is a
form of activity of which it is of course not possible to give any full
account; it seems, however, clear that in a remarkably short time
Bismarck shewed great aptitude for his new duties. His letters to
Manteuffel are full of curious information as to the intrigues of those
who are hostile to Prussia. He soon learns to distrust the information
supplied by the police; all through his life he had little respect for
this department of the Prussian State. He soon had agents of his own. We
find him gaining secret information as to the plans of the Ultramontane
party in Baden from a compositor at Freiburg who was in his pay. On
other occasions, when a Court official at Berlin had conveyed to the
newspapers private information, Bismarck was soon able to trace him out.
We get the impression, both from his letters and from what other
information we possess, that all the diplomatists of Germany were
constantly occupied in calumniating one another through anonymous
contributions to a venal Press.

It is characteristic of the customs of the time that he had to warn his
wife that all her letters to him would be read in the post-office before
he received them. It was not only the Austrians who used these methods;
each of the Prussian Ministers would have his own organ which he would
use for his own purposes, and only too probably to attack his own
colleagues. It was at this time that a curious fact came to light with
regard to Herr von Prokesch-Osten, the Austrian Ambassador at Berlin. He
had been transferred from Berlin to Frankfort, and on leaving his house
sold some of his furniture. In a chest of drawers was found a large
bundle of papers consisting of newspaper articles in his handwriting,
which had been communicated to different papers, attacking the Prussian
Government, to which he at the time was accredited. Of Prokesch it is
that Bismarck once writes: "As to his statements I do not know how much
you will find to be Prokesch, and how much to be true." On another
occasion, before many witnesses, Bismarck had disputed some statement he
made. "If it is not true," cried Prokesch, "then I should have lied in
the name of the Royal and Imperial Government." "Certainly," answered
Bismarck. There was a dead pause in the conversation. Prokesch
afterwards officially admitted that the statement had been incorrect.

This association with the Press formed in him a habit of mind which he
never lost: the proper use of newspapers seemed to him, as to most
German statesmen, to be not the expression of public opinion but the
support of the Government; if a paper is opposed to the Government, the
assumption seems to be that it is bribed by some other State.

"The whole country would rejoice if some of the papers which are
supported by foreign sources were suppressed, with the express
recognition of their unpatriotic attitude. There may be
opposition in the internal affairs, but a paper which in Prussia
takes part against the policy of the King on behalf of foreign
countries, must be regarded as dishonoured and treated as such."

Politically his position was very difficult; the Diet had been restored
by Austria against the will of Prussia; the very presence of a Prussian
Envoy in Frankfort was a sign of her humiliation. He had indeed gone
there full of friendly dispositions towards Austria; he was instructed
to take up again the policy which had been pursued before 1848, when all
questions of importance had been discussed by the two great Powers
before they were laid before the Diet. Bismarck, however, quickly found
that this was no longer the intention of Austria; the Austria which he
had so chivalrously defended at Berlin did not exist; he had expected to
find a warm and faithful friend--he found a cunning and arrogant enemy.
Schwarzenberg had spared Prussia but he intended to humble her; he
wished to use the Diet as a means of permanently asserting the
supremacy of Austria, and he would not be content until Prussia had been
forced like Saxony or Bavaria to acquiesce in the position of a vassal
State. The task might not seem impossible, for Prussia appeared to be on
the downward path.

Of course the Diet of Frankfort was the place where the plan had to be
carried out; it seemed an admirable opportunity that Prussia was
represented there by a young and untried man. Count Thun and his
successors used every means to make it appear as though Prussia was a
State not of equal rank with Austria. They carried the war into society
and, as diplomatists always will, used the outward forms of social
intercourse as a means for obtaining political ends. On this field,
Bismarck was quite capable of meeting them. He has told many stories of
their conflicts.

As President of the Diet, Thun claimed privileges for himself which
others did not dare to dispute.

"In the sittings of the military commission when Rochow was
Prussian envoy, Austria alone smoked. Rochow, who was a
passionate smoker, would also have gladly done so, but did not
venture. When I came I did not see any reason against it; and
asked for a light from the Presiding State; this seemed to be
noticed with astonishment and displeasure by him and the other
gentlemen; it was obviously an event for them. This time only
Austria and Prussia smoked. But the others obviously held it so
important that they sent home a report on it. Someone must have
written about it to Berlin, as a question from the late King
arrived; he did not smoke himself and probably did not find the
affair to his taste. It required much consideration at the
smaller Courts, and for quite half a year only the two great
Powers smoked. Then Schrenk, the Bavarian envoy, began to
maintain the dignity of his position by smoking. The Saxon
Nostitz would doubtless have liked to begin too, but I suppose he
had not yet received permission from his Minister. But when next
time he saw that Bothmer, the Hanoverian, allowed himself a
cigar, he must have come to an understanding with his neighbour
(he was a good Austrian, and had sons in the Austrian army), for
he brought out his pouch and lit up. There remained only the
Wuertemberger and the Darmstadter, and they did not smoke at all,
but the honour and the importance of their States required it,
and so on the following day the Wuertemberger really brought out
his cigar. I can see him with it now, a long, thin, yellow thing,
the colour of rye-straw,--and with sulky determination, as a
sacrifice for his Swabian fatherland, he smoked at least half of
it. Hesse-Darmstadt alone refrained."

On another occasion Thun received Bismarck in his shirt sleeves: "You
are quite right," said Bismarck, "it is very hot," and took off his own

In the transaction of business he found the same thing. The plan seemed
to be deliberately to adopt a policy disadvantageous to Prussia, to
procure the votes of a majority of the States, thereby to cause Prussia
to be outvoted, and to leave her in the dilemma of accepting a decision
which was harmful to herself or of openly breaking with the Federation.
On every matter which came up the same scenes repeated themselves; now
it was the disposal of the fleet, which had to a great extent been
provided for and maintained by Prussian money; Austria demanded that it
should be regarded as the property of the Confederation even though most
of the States had never paid their contribution. Then it was the
question of the Customs' Union; a strong effort was made by the
anti-Prussian party to overthrow the union which Prussia had established
and thereby ruin the one great work which she had achieved. Against
these and similar attempts Bismarck had constantly to be on the
defensive. Another time it was the publication of the proceedings of the
Diet which the Austrians tried to make a weapon against Prussia. The
whole intercourse became nothing but a series of disputes, sometimes
serious, sometimes trivial.

Bismarck was soon able to hold his own; poor Count Thun, whose nerves
were not strong, after a serious discussion with him used to go to bed
at five o'clock in the afternoon; he complained that his health would
not allow him to hold his post if there were to be continuous quarrels.
When his successor, Herr v. Prokesch, left Frankfort for Constantinople,
he said that "it would be like an Eastern dream of the blessed to
converse with the wise Ali instead of Bismarck."

As soon as the first strangeness had passed off Bismarck became
reconciled to his position. His wife and children joined him, he made
himself a comfortable home, and his house soon became one of the most
popular in the town; he and his wife were genial and hospitable and he
used his position to extend his own influence and that of his country.
His old friend, Motley, visited him there in 1855 and wrote to his wife:

"Monday, July 30, 1855.

" ... The Bismarcks are as kind as ever--nothing can be more
frank and cordial than her manners. I am there all day long. It
is one of those houses where everyone does what he likes. The
show apartments where they receive formal company are on the
front of the house. Their living rooms, however, are a _salon_
and dining-room at the back, opening upon the garden. Here there
are young and old, grandparents and children and dogs all at
once, eating, drinking, smoking, piano-playing, and pistol-firing
(in the garden), all going on at the same time. It is one of
those establishments where every earthly thing that can be eaten
or drunk is offered you; porter, soda water, small beer,
champagne, burgundy, or claret are about all the time, and
everybody is smoking the best Havana cigars every minute."

He had plenty of society, much of it congenial to him. He had given up
playing since his marriage, and was one of the few diplomatists who was
not found at the Homburg gaming-tables, but he had a sufficiency of
sport and joined with the British envoy, Sir Alexander Malet, in taking
some shooting. A couple of years later in contradicting one of the
frequent newspaper reports, that he aimed at supplanting the Minister,
he says:

"My castle in the air is to spend three to five years longer at
Frankfort, then perhaps the same time in Vienna or Paris, then
ten years with glory as Minister, then die as a country

A prospect which has been more nearly fulfilled than such wishes
generally are.

He was for the first year still a member of the Second Chamber and
occasionally appeared in it; his interest in his diplomatic work had,
however, begun to overshadow his pleasure in Parliamentary debate.

"I am thoroughly tired of my life here," he writes in May, 1853,
to his wife from Berlin, "and long for the day of my departure. I
find the intrigues of the House immeasurably shallow and
undignified; if one always lives among them, one deceives oneself
and considers them something wonderful. When I come here from
Frankfort and see them as they really are, I feel like a sober
man who has fallen among drunkards. There is something very
demoralising in the air of the Chambers; it makes the best people
vain without their knowing it."

So quickly has he outgrown his feelings of a year ago: then it was the
intrigues of diplomatists that had seemed to him useless and
demoralising. Now it was Parliamentary debates; in the opinion he formed
at this time he never wavered.

His distaste for Parliamentary life was probably increased by an event
which took place about this time. As so often before in the course of
debate he had a sharp passage of words with Vincke; the latter referred
contemptuously to Bismarck's diplomatic achievements. "All I know of
them is the famous lighted cigar."

Bismarck answered with some angry words and at the close of the sitting
sent a challenge. Four days later a duel with pistols took place--the
only one he ever fought. Neither was injured. It seems that Vincke, who
had the first shot, seeing that Bismarck (who had received the sacrament
the night before) was praying, missed on purpose; Bismarck then shot
into the air.

For these reasons he did not stand for re-election when the Chamber was
dissolved in 1852, although the King was very much displeased with his
determination. He was shortly afterwards appointed member of the newly
constituted House of Lords, but though he occasionally voted, as in duty
bound, for Government measures, he never spoke; he was not to be heard
again in the Parliament until he appeared there as President of the
Ministry. He was glad to be freed from a tie which had interfered with
his duties at Frankfort; to these he devoted himself with an
extraordinary energy; all his old repugnance to official life had
disappeared; he did not confine himself to the mere routine of his
duties, or to carrying out the instructions sent to him from Berlin.

His power of work was marvellous: there passed through his hands a
constant series of most important and complicated negotiations; up to
this time he had no experience or practice in sedentary literary work,
now he seems to go out of the way to make fresh labours for himself. He
writes long and careful despatches to his Minister on matters of general
policy; some of them so carefully thought out and so clearly expressed
that they may still be looked on as models. He is entirely free from
that circumlocution and involved style which makes so much diplomatic
correspondence almost worthless. His arguments are always clear,
complete, concise. He used to work long into the night, and then, when
in the early morning the post to Berlin had gone, he would mount his
horse and ride out into the country. It was in these years that he
formed those habits to which the breakdown of his health in later years
was due; but now his physical and intellectual vigour seemed

He never feared to press his own views as to the policy which should be
pursued. He also kept up a constant correspondence with Gerlach, and
many of these letters were laid before the King, so that even when
absent he continued as before to influence both the official and
unofficial advisers. He soon became the chief adviser on German affairs
and was often summoned to Berlin that his advice might be taken; within
two years after his appointment he was sent on a special mission to
Vienna to try and bring about an agreement as to the rivalry concerning
the Customs' Union. He failed, but he had gained a knowledge of persons
and opinions at the Austrian Court which was to be of much use to him.

During these years, indeed, he acquired a most remarkable knowledge of
Germany; before, he had lived entirely in Prussia, now he was at the
centre of the German political system, continually engaged in important
negotiations with the other Courts; after a few years there was not a
man of importance in German public life whose character and opinions he
had not gauged.

Further experience only confirmed in him the observations he had made at
the beginning, that it was impossible to maintain a good understanding
with Austria. The tone of his letters soon changes from doubt and
disappointment to settled and determined hostility. In other matters
also he found that the world was not the same place it had seemed to
him; he had been accustomed to regard the Revolution as the chief danger
to be met; at Frankfort he was in the home of it; here for nearly a year
the German Assembly had held its meetings; in the neighbouring States of
Baden, Hesse, and in the Palatinate, the Republican element was strong;
he found them as revolutionary as ever, but he soon learnt to despise
rather than fear them:

"The population here would be a political volcano if revolutions
were made with the mouth; so long as it requires blood and
strength they will obey anyone who has courage to command and, if
necessary, to draw the sword; they would be dangerous only under
cowardly governments.

"I have never seen two men fighting in all the two years I have
been here. This cowardice does not prevent the people, who are
completely devoid of all inner Christianity and all respect for
authority, from sympathising with
the Revolution."

His observations on the character of the South Germans only increased
his admiration for the Prussian people and his confidence in the
Prussian State.

He had not been at Frankfort a year before he had learnt to look on this
hostility of Austria as unsurmountable. As soon as he had convinced
himself of this, he did not bewail and bemoan the desertion of their
ally; he at once accustomed himself to the new position and considered
in what way the Government ought to act. His argument was simple.
Austria is now our enemy; we must be prepared to meet this enmity either
by diplomacy or war; we are not strong enough to do so alone; therefore
we must have allies. There was no sure alliance to be had in Germany; he
despised the other German States. If there were to be a war he would
rather have them against him than on his side. He must find help abroad;
Austria had overcome Prussia by the alliance with Russia. Surely the
only thing to be done was to seek support where it could be got, either
with Russia or with France, if possible with both. In this he was only
reverting to the old policy of Prussia; the alliance with Austria had
only begun in 1813. From now until 1866 his whole policy was ceaselessly
devoted to bringing about such a disposition of the forces of Europe
that Austria might be left without allies and Prussia be able to regain
the upper hand in German affairs.

The change was in his circumstances, not in his character; as before he
was moved by a consuming passion of patriotism; something there was too
of personal feeling,--his own pride, his own ambitions were engaged,
though this was as nothing compared to love of his country and loyalty
to the King. He was a soldier of the Prussian Crown: at Berlin he had to
defend it against internal enemies; now the danger had shifted, the
power of the Government was established, why waste time in fighting
with Liberalism? Other enemies were pressing on. When Jellachich and
Windischgaetz had stood victorious by the blood-stained altar of St.
Stephen's, the Austrian army had destroyed the common foe; now it was
the same Austrian army and Austrian statesmen who desired to put a limit
to Prussian ambition. Bismarck threw himself into the conflict of
diplomacy with the same courage and relentless persistence that he had
shewn in Parliamentary debates. He had already begun to divine that the
time might come when the Prussian Crown would find an ally in Italian
patriots and Hungarian rebels.

It was the Eastern complications which first enabled him to shew his
diplomatic abilities in the larger field of European politics. The plans
for the dismemberment of the Turkish Empire which were entertained by
the Czar were opposed by England, France, and Austria; Prussia, though
not immediately concerned, also at first gave her assent to the various
notes and protests of the Powers; so that the ambition of the Czar was
confronted by the unanimous voice of Europe.

Bismarck from the beginning regarded the situation with apprehension; he
saw that Prussia was being entangled in a struggle in which she had much
to lose and nothing to gain. If she continued to support the Western
Powers she would incur the hatred of Russia; then, perhaps, by a sudden
change of policy on the part of Napoleon, she would be left helpless and
exposed to Russian vengeance. If war were to break out, and Prussia took
part in the war, then the struggle between France and Russia would be
fought out on German soil, and, whoever was victorious, Germany would be
the loser. What interests of theirs were at stake that they should incur
this danger? why should Prussia sacrifice herself to preserve English
influence in the Mediterranean, or the interests of Austria on the
Danube? He wished for exactly the opposite policy; the embarrassment of
Austria must be the opportunity of Prussia; now was the time to recover
the lost position in Germany. The dangerous friendship of Austria and
Russia was dissolved; if Prussia came to an understanding with the Czar,
it was now Austria that would be isolated. The other German States would
not desire to be dragged into a war to support Austrian dominion in the
East. Let Prussia be firm and they would turn to her for support, and
she would once more be able to command a majority of the Diet.

For these reasons he recommended his Government to preserve an armed
neutrality, in union, if possible, with the other German States. If they
were to take sides, he preferred it should not be with the Western
Powers, for, as he said,--

"We must look abroad for allies, and among the European Powers
Russia is to be had on the cheapest terms; it wishes only to grow
in the East, the two others at our expense."

It shews the advance he had made in diplomacy that throughout his
correspondence he never refers to the actual cause of dispute; others
might discuss the condition of the Christians in Turkey or the Holy
Places of Jerusalem; he thinks only of the strength and weakness of his
own State. The opening of the Black Sea, the dismemberment of Turkey,
the control of the Mediterranean, the fate of the Danubian
Principalities--for all this he cared nothing, for in them Prussia had
no interests; they only existed for him so far as the new combinations
among the Powers might for good or evil affect Prussia.

The crisis came in 1854: a Russian army occupied Moldavia and Wallachia;
England and France sent their fleets to the Black Sea; they determined
on war and they wished for the alliance of Austria. Austria was inclined
to join, for the presence of Russian troops on the Danube was a menace
to her; she did not dare to move unless supported by Prussia and
Germany; she appealed to the Confederacy and urged that her demands
might be supported by the armies of her allies; but the German States
were little inclined to send the levies of their men for the Eastern
interests of the Emperor. If they were encouraged by Prussia, they would
refuse; the result in Germany, as in Europe, depended on the action of
Prussia, and the decision lay with the King.

Was Prussia to take part with Russia or the Western Powers? That was the
question which for many months was debated at Berlin.

The public opinion of the nation was strong for the Western Powers; they
feared the influence of Russia on the internal affairs of Germany; they
had not forgotten or forgiven the part which the Czar had taken in 1849;
the choice seemed to lie between Russia and England, between liberty and
despotism, between civilisation and barbarism. On this side also were
those who wished to maintain the alliance with Austria. Russia had few
friends except at the Court and in the army, but the party of the _Kreuz
Zeitung,_ the Court Camarilla, the princes and nobles who commanded the
_Garde Corps_, wished for nothing better than a close alliance with the
great Emperor who had saved Europe from the Revolution. "Let us draw our
sword openly in defence of Russia," they said, "then we may bring
Austria with us; the old alliance of the three monarchies will be
restored, and then will be the time for a new crusade against France,
the natural enemy of Germany, and the upstart Emperor."

The conflict of parties was keenest in the precincts of the Court;
society in Berlin was divided between the Russian and the English; the
Queen was hot for Russia, but the English party rallied round the Prince
of Prussia and met in the salons of his wife. Between the two the King
wavered; he was, as always, more influenced by feeling than by
calculation, but his feelings were divided. How could he decide between
Austria and Russia, the two ancient allies of his house? He loved and
reverenced the Czar; he feared and distrusted Napoleon; alliance with
infidels against Christians was to him a horrible thought, but he knew
how violent were the actions and lawless the desires of Nicholas. He
could not ignore the opinions of Western Europe and he wished to stand
well with England. The men by whose advice he was guided stood on
opposite sides: Bunsen was for England, Gerlach for Russia; the Ministry
also was divided. No efforts were spared to influence him; the Czar and
Napoleon each sent special envoys to his Court; the Queen of England and
her husband warned him not to forget his duty to Europe and humanity; if
he would join the allies there would be no war. Still he wavered; "he
goes to bed an Englishman and gets up a Russian," said the Czar, who
despised his brother-in-law as much as he was honoured by him.

While the struggle was at its height, Bismarck was summoned to Berlin,
that his opinion might also be heard. At Berlin and at Letzlingen he had
frequent interviews with the King. In later years he described the
situation he found there:

"It was nothing strange, according to the custom of those days,
that half a dozen ambassadors should be living in hotels
intriguing against the policy of the Minister."

He found Berlin divided into two parties: the one looked to the Czar as
their patron and protector, the other wished to win the approval of
England; he missed a reasonable conviction as to what was the interest
of Prussia. His own advice was against alliance with the Western Powers
or Austria; better join Russia than England; better still, preserve
neutrality and hold the balance of Europe. He had the reputation of
being very Russian, but he protested against the term. "I am not
Russian," he said, "but Prussian." He spoke with great decision against
the personal adherents of the King, men who looked to the Czar rather
than to their own sovereign, and carried their subservience even to
treason. As in former days, courage he preached and resolution. Some
talked of the danger of isolation; "With 400,000 men we cannot be
isolated," he said. The French envoy warned him that his policy might
lead to another Jena; "Why not to Waterloo?" he answered. Others talked
of the danger of an English blockade of their coasts; he pointed out
that this would injure England more than Prussia.

"Let us be bold and depend on our own strength; let us frighten
Austria by threatening an alliance with Russia, frighten Russia
by letting her think we may join the Western Powers; if it were
true that we could never side with Russia, at least we must
retain the possibility of threatening to do so."

The result was what we might expect from the character of the King;
unable to decide for either of the contending factors, he alternated
between the two, and gave his support now to one, now to the other. In
March, when Bismarck was still in Berlin, sudden disgrace fell upon the
English party; Bunsen was recalled from London, Bonin, their chief
advocate in the Ministry, was dismissed; when the Prince of Prussia, the
chief patron of the Western alliance, protested, he was included in the
act of disfavour, and had to leave Berlin, threatened with the loss of
his offices and even with arrest. All danger of war with Russia seemed
to have passed; Bismarck returned content to Frankfort. Scarcely had he
gone when the old affection for Austria gained the upper hand, and by a
separate treaty Prussia bound herself to support the Austrian demands,
if necessary by arms. Bismarck heard nothing of the treaty till it was
completed; the Ministers had purposely refrained from asking his advice
on a policy which they knew he would disapprove. He overcame his
feelings of disgust so far as to send a cold letter of congratulation to
Manteuffel; to Gerlach he wrote:

"His Majesty should really see to it that his Ministers should
drink more champagne; none of the gentry ought to enter his
Council without half a bottle under his belt. Our policy would
soon get a respectable colour."

The real weakness lay, as he well knew, in the character of the King.
"If here I say to one of my colleagues, 'We remain firm even if Austria
drives matters to a breach,' he laughs in my face and says, 'As long as
the King lives it will not come to a war between Austria and Prussia.'"
And again, "The King has as much leniency for the sins of Austria as I
hope to have from the Lord in Heaven."

It was a severe strain on his loyalty, but he withstood it; he has, I
believe, never expressed his opinion about the King; we can guess what
it must have been. It was a melancholy picture: a King violent and
timid, obstinate and irresolute; his will dragged now this way, now
that, by his favourites, his wife and his brother; his own Ministers
intriguing against each other; ambassadors recommending a policy instead
of carrying out their instructions; and the Minister-President standing
calmly by, as best he could, patching up the appearance of a Consistent

It was probably the experience which he gained at this time which in
later years, when he himself had become Minister, made Bismarck so
jealous of outside and irresponsible advisers; he did not choose to
occupy the position of Manteuffel, he laid down the rule that none of
his own subordinates should communicate with the King except through
himself; a Bismarck as Foreign Minister would not allow a Gerlach at
Court, nor a Bismarck among his envoys. He had indeed been careful not
to intrigue against his chief, but it was impossible to observe that
complete appearance of acquiescence which a strong and efficient
Minister must demand. Bismarck was often asked his opinion by the King
directly; he was obliged to say what he believed to be the truth, and he
often disapproved of that which Manteuffel advised. In order to avoid
the appearance of disloyalty, he asked Gerlach that his letters should
be shewn to Manteuffel; not all of them could be shewn, still less would
it be possible to repeat all he said. If they were in conflict, his duty
to the King must override his loyalty to the Minister, and the two could
not always be reconciled. To Englishmen indeed it appears most improper
that the King should continually call for the advice of other
politicians without the intervention or the knowledge of his Ministers,
but this is just one of those points on which it is impossible to apply
to Prussian practice English constitutional theory. In England it is a
maxim of the Constitution that the sovereign should never consult anyone
on political matters except the responsible Ministry; this is possible
only because the final decision rests with Parliament and the Cabinet
and not with the sovereign. It was, however, always the contention of
Bismarck that the effective decision in Prussia was with the King. This
was undoubtedly the true interpretation of the Prussian Constitution;
but it followed from this that the King must have absolute freedom to
ask the advice of everyone whose opinions would be of help to him; he
must be able to command the envoys to foreign countries to communicate
with him directly, and if occasion required it, to consult with the
political opponents of his own Ministers. To forbid this and to require
that all requests should come to him by the hands of the Ministers would
be in truth to substitute ministerial autocracy for monarchical

Something of this kind did happen in later years when the German Emperor
had grown old, and when Bismarck, supported by his immense experience
and success, guided the policy of the country alone, independent of
Parliament, and scarcely allowing any independent adviser to approach
the Emperor. This was exceptional; normally a Prussian Minister had to
meet his opponents and critics not so much in public debate as in
private discussion. Under a weak sovereign the policy of the country
must always be distracted by palace intrigue, just as in England under a
weak Cabinet it will be distracted by party faction. The Ministers must
always be prepared to find their best-laid schemes overthrown by the
influence exerted upon the royal mind by his private friends or even by
his family. It may be said that tenure of office under these conditions
would be impossible to a man of spirit; it was certainly very
difficult; an able and determined Minister was as much hampered by this
private opposition as by Parliamentary discussion. It is often the
fashion to say that Parliamentary government is difficult to reconcile
with a strong foreign policy; the experiences of Prussia from the year
1815 to 1863 seem to shew that under monarchical government it is
equally difficult.

Meanwhile he had been maturing in his mind a bolder plan: Why should not
Prussia gain the support she required by alliance with Napoleon?

The Germans had watched the rise of Napoleon with suspicion and alarm;
they had long been taught that France was their natural enemy. When
Napoleon seized the power and assumed the name of Emperor, the old
distrust was revived; his very name recalled memories of hostility; they
feared he would pursue an ambitious and warlike policy; that he would
withdraw the agreements on which the peace of Europe and the security of
the weaker States depended, and that he would extend to the Rhine the
borders of France. He was the first ruler of France whose internal
policy awoke no sympathy in Germany; his natural allies, the Liberals,
he had alienated by the overthrow of the Republic, and he gained no
credit for it in the eyes of the Conservatives. The monarchical party in
Prussia could only have admiration for the man who had imprisoned a
Parliament and restored absolute government; they could not repudiate an
act which they would gladly imitate, but they could not forgive him that
he was an usurper. According to their creed the suppression of liberty
was the privilege of the legitimate King.

It was the last remnant of the doctrine of legitimacy, the belief that
it was the duty of the European monarchs that no State should change its
form of government or the dynasty by which it was ruled; the doctrine of
the Holy Alliance that kings must make common cause against the
Revolution. How changed were the times from the days when Metternich had
used this as a strong support for the ascendancy of the House of
Austria! Austria herself was no longer sound; the old faith lingered
only in St. Petersburg and Berlin; but how weak and ineffective it had
become! There was no talk now of interference, there would not be
another campaign of Waterloo or of Valmy; there was only a prudish
reserve; they could not, they did not dare, refuse diplomatic dealings
with the new Emperor, but they were determined there should be no
cordiality: the virgin purity of the Prussian Court should not be
deflowered by intimacy with the man of sin.[5] If there could not be a
fresh crusade against Buonapartism, at least, there should be no
alliance with it.

From the beginning Bismarck had little sympathy with this point of view;
he regarded the _coup d'etat_ as necessary in a nation which had left
the firm ground of legitimacy; France could not be governed except by an
iron hand. As a Prussian, however, he could not be pleased, for he saw
an enemy who had been weak strengthened, but he did not believe in
Napoleon's warlike desires. In one way it was an advantage,--the
overthrow of the Republic had broken the bond which joined the German
revolutionists to France. He did not much mind what happened in other
countries so long as Prussia was safe.

There is no ground for surprise that he soon began to go farther; he
warned his friends not to irritate the Emperor; on the occasion of the
Emperor's marriage the _Kreuz Zeitung_ published a violent article,
speaking of it as an insult and threat to Prussia. Bismarck's feelings
as a gentleman were offended by this useless scolding; it seemed,
moreover, dangerous. If Prussia were to quarrel with France, they would
be obliged to seek the support of the Eastern Powers: if Russia and
Austria should know this, Prussia would be in their hands. The only
effect of this attitude would be to cut off the possibility of a useful
move in the game of diplomacy:

"There is no good in giving our opposition to France the stamp of
irrevocability; it would be no doubt a great misfortune if we
were to unite ourselves with France, but why proclaim this to all
the world? We should do wiser to act so that Austria and Russia
would have to court our friendship against France than treat us
as an ally who is presented to them."

It is a topic to which he often refers:

"We cannot make an alliance with France without a certain degree
of meanness, but very admirable people, even German princes, in
the Middle Ages have used a sewer to make their escape, rather
than be beaten or throttled."

An alliance with Napoleon was, however, according to the code of honour
professed, if not followed, in every German State, the sin for which
there was no forgiveness. It was but a generation ago that half the
German princes had hurried to the Court of the first Napoleon to receive
at his hands the estates of their neighbours and the liberties of their
subjects. No one doubted that the new Napoleon would be willing to use
similar means to ensure the power of France; would he meet with willing
confederates? The Germans, at least, do not seem to have trusted one
another; no prince dared show ordinary courtesy to the ruling family of
France, no statesman could visit Paris but voices would be heard crying
that he had sold himself and his country. An accusation of this kind was
the stock-in-trade which the Nationalist press was always ready to bring
against every ruler who was obnoxious to them. It required moral
courage, if it also shewed political astuteness, when Bismarck proposed
deliberately to encourage a suspicion from which most men were anxious
that their country should be free. He had already plenty of enemies, and
reports were soon heard that he was in favour of a French alliance; they
did not cease for ten years; he often protests in his private letters
against these unworthy accusations; the protests seem rather absurd, for
if he did not really wish for an alliance between Prussia and France, he
at least wished that people should dread such an alliance. A man cannot
frighten his friends by the fear he will rob them, and at the same time
enjoy the reputation for strict probity.

He explains with absolute clearness the benefits which will come from a
French alliance:

"The German States are attentive and attracted to us in the same
degree in which they believe we are befriended by France.
Confidence in us they will never have, every glance at the map
prevents that; and they know that their separate interests and
the misuse of their sovereignty always stand in the way of the
whole tendency of Prussian policy. They clearly recognise the
danger which lies in this; it is one against which the
unselfishness of our Most Gracious Master alone gives them a
temporary security. The opinions of the King, which ought at
least for a time to weaken their mistrust, will gain his Majesty
no thanks; they will only be used and exploited. In the hour of
necessity gratitude and confidence will not bring a single man
into the field. Fear, if it is used with foresight and clearness,
can place the whole Confederacy at our feet, and in order to
instil fear into them we must give clear signs of our good
relations with France."

He objected to Prussia following what was called a German policy, for,
as he said, by a national and patriotic policy is meant that Prussia
should do what was for the interest, not of herself, but of the smaller

It was not till after the Crimean War that he was able to press this
policy. Napoleon had now won his position in Europe; Gerlach had seen
with pain and disgust that the Queen of England had visited his Court.
The Emperor himself desired a union with Prussia. In this, sympathy and
interest combined: he had much affection for Germany; his mind, as his
education, was more German than French; he was a man of ideas; he was
the only ruler of France who has sincerely desired and deliberately
furthered the interests of other countries; he believed that the nation
should be the basis of the State; his revolutionary antecedents made him
naturally opposed to the House of Austria; and he was ready to help
Prussia in resuming her old ambitious policy.

The affair of Neuchatel gave him an opportunity of earning the personal
gratitude of the King, and he did not neglect it, for he knew that in
the royal prejudice was the strongest impediment to an alliance. In 1857
Bismarck was sent to Paris to discuss this and other matters. Two years
before he had been presented to the Emperor, but it had been at the time
when he was opposed to the French policy. Now for the first time the two
men who were for ten years to be the leaders, now friends, then rivals,
in the realm of diplomacy, were brought into close connection. Bismarck
was not impressed by the Emperor's ability. He wrote:

"People exaggerate his intellect, but underrate his heart."
Napoleon was very friendly; his wish to help the King went
farther than his duty to follow French policy. He said: "Why
should we not be friends; let us forget the past; if everyone
were to attach himself to a policy of memories, two nations that
have once been at war must be at war to all eternity; statesmen
must occupy themselves with the future."

This was just Bismarck's opinion; he wrote home suggesting that he might
prepare the way for a visit of the Emperor to Prussia; he would like to
come and it would have a good effect. This was going farther than the
King, grateful though he was, would allow; he told Gerlach not to answer
this part of the letter at all while Bismarck was in Paris. Bismarck,
however, continued in his official reports and private letters to urge
again and again the political advantages of an understanding with
France; it is Austria that is the natural enemy, for it is Austria whose
interests are opposed to Prussia. If they repel the advance of Napoleon,
they will oblige him to seek an alliance with Russia, and this was a
danger which even in those days Bismarck never ceased to fear. Prince
Napoleon, cousin of the Emperor, was at that time on a visit to Berlin;
on his way through Frankfort he had singled out Bismarck, and (no doubt
under instructions) had shown great friendliness to him; the _Kreuz
Zeitung_ again took the opportunity of insulting the ruler of France;
Bismarck again remonstrated against the danger of provoking hostility by
these acts of petty rancour, disguised though they might be under the
name of principle. He did not succeed in persuading the King or his
confidant; he was always met by the same answer: "France is the natural
enemy of Germany; Napoleon is the representative of the Revolution;
there can be no union between the King of Prussia and the Revolution."
"How can a man of your intelligence sacrifice your principles to a
single individual?" asks Gerlach, who aimed not at shewing that an
alliance with France would be foolish, but that it would be wrong. Five
years before, Bismarck would have spoken as Gerlach did; but in these
years he had seen and learnt much; he had freed himself from the
influence of his early friends; he had outgrown their theoretic
formalism; he had learned to look at the world with his own eyes, and to
him, defending his country against the intrigues of weaker and the
pressure of more powerful States, the world was a different place from
what it was to those who passed their time in the shadow of the Court.
He remembered that it was not by strict obedience to general principles
that Prussia had grown great. Frederick the Second had not allowed
himself to be stopped by these narrow searchings of heart; his successor
had not scrupled to ally himself with revolutionary France. This rigid
insistence on a rule of right, this nice determining of questions of
conscience, seemed better suited to the confessor's chair than to the
advisers of a great monarch. And the principle to which he was asked to
sacrifice the future of his country,--was it after all a true principle?
Why should Prussia trouble herself about the internal constitution of
other States, what did it concern her whether France was ruled by a
Bourbon or an Orleans or a Bonaparte? How could Prussia continue the
policy of the Holy Alliance when the close union of the three Eastern
monarchies no longer existed? If France were to attack Germany, Prussia
could not expect the support of Russia, she could not even be sure of
that of Austria. An understanding with France was required, not by
ambition, but by the simplest grounds of self-preservation.

These and other considerations he advanced in a long and elaborate
memorandum addressed to Manteuffel, which was supplemented by letters to
the Minister and Gerlach. For closeness of reasoning, for clearness of
expression, for the wealth of knowledge and cogency of argument these
are the most remarkable of his political writings. In them he sums up
the results of his apprenticeship to political life, he lays down the
principles on which the policy of the State ought to be conducted, the
principles on which in future years he was himself to act.

"What," he asks, "are the reasons against an alliance with France? The
chief ground is the belief that the Emperor is the chief representative
of the Revolution and identical with it, and that a compromise with the
Revolution is as inadmissible in internal as in external policy." Both
statements he triumphantly overthrows. "Why should we look at Napoleon
as the representative of the Revolution? there is scarcely a government
in Europe which has not a revolutionary origin."

"What is there now existing in the world of politics which has a
complete legal basis? Spain, Portugal, Brazil, all the American
Republics, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Greece, Sweden,
England, which State with full consciousness is based on the
Revolution of 1688, are all unable to trace back their legal
systems to a legitimate origin. Even as to the German princes we
cannot find any completely legitimate title for the ground which
they have won partly from the Emperor and the Empire, partly from
their fellow-princes, partly from the Estates."

He goes farther: the Revolution is not peculiar to France; it did not
even originate there:

"It is much older than the historical appearance of Napoleon's
family and far wider in its extent than France, if we are to
assign it an origin in this world, we must look for it, not in
France, but in England, or go back even earlier, even to Germany
or Rome, according as we regard the exaggerations of the
Reformation or of the Roman Church as responsible."

But if Napoleon is not the sole representative of revolutions, why make
opposition to him a matter of principle? He shews no desire of

"To threaten other States by means of the Revolution has been for
years the trade of England, and this principle of not associating
with a revolutionary power is itself quite modern: it is not to
be found in the last century. Cromwell was addressed as Brother
by European potentates and they sought his friendship when it
appeared useful. The most honourable Princes joined in alliance
with the States-General before they were recognised by Spain. Why
should Prussia now alone, to its own injury, adopt this excessive

He goes farther: not only does he reject the principle of
legitimacy,--he refuses to be bound by any principles; he did not free
himself from one party to bind himself to another; his profession was
diplomacy and in diplomacy there was no place for feelings of affection
and antipathy.

What is the proper use of principles in diplomacy? It is to persuade
others to adopt a policy which is convenient to oneself.

"My attitude towards Foreign Governments springs not from any
antipathy, but from the good or evil they may do to Prussia." "A
policy of sentiment is dangerous, for it is one-sided; it is an
exclusively Prussian peculiarity." "Every other Government makes
its own interests the sole criterion of its actions, however much
it may drape them in phrases about justice and sympathy." "My
ideal for foreign policy is freedom from prejudice; that our
decisions should be independent of all impressions of dislike or
affection for Foreign States and their governments."

This was the canon by which he directed his own actions, and he expected
obedience to it from others.

"So far as foreigners go I have never in my life had sympathy for
anyone but England and its inhabitants, and I am even now not
free from it; but they will not let us love them, and as soon as
it was proved to me that it was in the interest of a sound and
well-matured Prussian policy, I would let our troops fire on
French, English, Russian, or Austrian, with the same

"I cannot justify sympathies and antipathies as regards Foreign
Powers and persons before my feeling of duty in the foreign
service of my country, either in myself or another; therein lies
the embryo of disloyalty against my master or my country. In my
opinion not even the King himself has the right to subordinate
the interests of his country to his own feelings of love or
hatred towards strangers; he is, however, responsible towards God
and not to me if he does so, and therefore on this point I am

This reference to the King is very characteristic. Holding, as he did,
so high an ideal of public duty himself, he naturally regarded with
great dislike the influence which, too often, family ties and domestic
affection exercised over the mind of the sovereign. The German Princes
had so long pursued a purely domestic policy that they forgot to
distinguish between the interests of their families and their land. They
were, moreover, naturally much influenced in their public decisions, not
only by their personal sympathies, but also by the sympathies and
opinions of their nearest relations. To a man like Bismarck, who
regarded duty to the State as above everything, nothing could be more
disagreeable than to see the plans of professional statesmen criticised
by irresponsible people and perhaps overthrown through some woman's
whim. He was a confirmed monarchist but he was no courtier. In his
letters at this period he sometimes refers to the strong influence which
the Princess of Prussia exercised over her husband, who was heir to the
throne. He regarded with apprehension the possible effects which the
proposed marriage of the Prince of Prussia's son to the Princess Royal
of England might have on Prussian policy. He feared it would introduced
English influence and Anglomania without their gaining any similar
influence in England. "If our future Queen remains in any degree
English, I see our Court surrounded by English influence." He was not
influenced in this by any hostility to England; almost at the same time
he had written that England was the only foreign country for which he
had any sympathy. He was only (as so often) contending for that
independence and self-reliance which he so admired in the English. For
two hundred years English traditions had absolutely forbidden the
sovereign to allow his personal and family sympathies to interfere with
the interests of the country. If the House of Hohenzollern were to
aspire to the position of a national monarch it must act in the same
way. At this very time the Emperor Napoleon was discussing the Prussian
marriage with Lord Clarendon. "It will much influence the policy of the
Queen in favour of Prussia," he said. "No, your Majesty," answered the
English Ambassador. "The private feelings of the Queen can never have
any influence on that which she believes to be for the honour and
welfare of England." This was the feeling by which Bismarck was
influenced; he was trying to educate his King, and this was the task to
which for many years he was devoted. What he thought of the duties of
princes we see from an expression he uses in a letter to Manteuffel:
"Only Christianity can make princes what they ought to be, and free them
from that conception of life which causes many of them to seek in the
position given them by God nothing but the means to a life of pleasure
and irresponsibility." All his attempts to win over the King and Gerlach
to his point of view failed; the only result was that his old friends
began to look on him askance; his new opinions were regarded with
suspicion. He was no longer sure of his position in Court; his
outspokenness had caused offence; after reading his last letter, Gerlach
answered: "Your explanation only shews me that we are now far asunder";
the correspondence, which had continued for almost seven years,
stopped. Bismarck felt that he was growing lonely; he had to accustom
himself to the thought that the men who had formerly been both
politically and personally his close friends, and who had once welcomed
him whenever he returned to Berlin, now desired to see him kept at a
distance. In one of his last letters to Gerlach, he writes: "I used to
be a favourite; now all that is changed. His Majesty has less often the
wish to see me; the ladies of the Court have a cooler smile than
formerly; the gentlemen press my hand less warmly. The high opinion of
my usefulness is sunk, only the Minister [Manteuffel] is warmer and more
friendly." Something of this was perhaps exaggerated, but there was no
doubt that a breach had begun which was to widen and widen: Bismarck was
no longer a member of the party of the _Kreuz Zeitung_. It was fortunate
that a change was imminent in the direction of the Prussian Government;
the old figures who had played their part were to pass away and a new
era was to begin.




In the autumn of 1857 the health of the King of Prussia broke down; he
was unable to conduct the affairs of State and in the month of September
was obliged to appoint his brother as his representative to carry on the
Government. There was from the first no hope for his recovery; the
commission was three times renewed and, after a long delay, in October
of the following year, the King signed a decree appointing his brother
Regent. At one time, in the spring of 1858, the Prince had, it is said,
thought of calling on Bismarck to form a Ministry. This, however, was
not done. It was, however, one of the first actions of the Prince Regent
to request Manteuffel's resignation; he formed a Ministry of moderate
Liberals, choosing as President the Prince of Hohenzollern, head of the
Catholic branch of his own family.

The _new era_, as it was called, was welcomed with delight by all
parties except the most extreme Conservatives. No Ministry had been so
unpopular as that of Manteuffel. At the elections which took place
immediately, the Government secured a large majority. The Prince and his
Ministers were able to begin their work with the full support of
Parliament and country.

Bismarck did not altogether regret the change; his differences with the
dominant faction at Court had extended to the management of home as well
as of foreign affairs; for the last two years he had been falling out of
favour. He desired, moreover, to see fresh blood in the Chamber.

"The disease to which our Parliamentary life has succumbed, is,
besides the incapacity of the individual, the servility of the
Lower House. The majority has no independent convictions, it is
the tool of ministerial omnipotence. If our Chambers do not
succeed in binding the public interest to themselves and drawing
the attention of the country, they will sooner or later go to
their grave without sympathy."

Curious it is to see how his opinion as to the duties and relations of
the House towards the Government were to alter when he himself became
Minister. He regarded it as an advantage that the Ministry would have
the power which comes from popularity; his only fear was that they might
draw the Regent too much to the left; but he hoped that in German and
foreign affairs they would act with more decision, that the Prince would
be free from the scruples which had so much influenced his brother, and
that he would not fear to rely on the military strength of Prussia.

One of their first acts was to recall Bismarck from Frankfort; the
change was inevitable, and he had foreseen it. The new Government
naturally wished to be able to start clear in their relations to
Austria; the Prince Regent did not wish to commit himself from the
beginning to a policy of hostility. It was, however, impossible for a
cordial co-operation between the two States to be established in German
affairs so long as Bismarck remained at Frankfort; the opinions which he
had formed during the last eight years were too well known. It was,
moreover, evident that a crisis in the relations with Austria was
approaching; war between France and Austria was imminent; a new factor
and a new man had appeared in Europe,--Piedmont and Cavour.

In August, 1858, Cavour had had a secret and decisive interview with
Napoleon at Plombieres; the two statesmen had come to an agreement by
which France engaged to help the Piedmontese to expel the Austrians from
Italy. Bismarck would have desired to seize this opportunity, and use
the embarrassment of Austria as the occasion for taking a stronger
position in Germany; if it were necessary he was prepared to go as far
as an alliance with France. He was influenced not so much by sympathy
with Piedmont, for, as we have seen, he held that those who were
responsible for foreign policy should never give way to sympathy, but by
the simple calculation that Austria was the common enemy of Prussia and
Piedmont, and where there were common interests an alliance might be
formed. The Government were, however, not prepared to adopt this
policy. It might have been supposed that a Liberal Ministry would have
shewn more sympathy with the Italian aspirations than the Conservatives
whom they had succeeded. This was not the case, as Cavour himself soon
found out.

After his visit to Plombieres, Cavour had hurried across the frontier
and spent two days at Baden-Baden, where he met the Prince of Prussia,
Manteuffel, who was still Minister, and other German statesmen. Bismarck
had been at Baden-Baden in the previous week and returned a few days
later; he happened, however, on the two days when Cavour was there, to
be occupied with his duties at Frankfort; the two great statesmen
therefore never met. Cavour after his visit wrote to La Marmora saying
that he had been extremely pleased with the sympathy which had been
displayed to him, both by the Prince and the other Prussians. So far as
he could foresee, the attitude of Prussia would not be hostile to
Italian aspirations. In December, however, after the change of Ministry,
he writes to the Italian Envoy at Frankfort that the language of
Schleinitz, the new Foreign Minister, is less favourable than that of
his predecessor. The Cabinet do not feel the same antipathy to Austria
as that of Manteuffel did; German ideas have brought about a

"I do not trust their apparently Liberal tendencies. It is
possible that your colleague, Herr von Bismarck, will support us
more closely, but I fear that even if he is kept at Frankfort he
will not exercise so much influence as under the former

Cavour's insight did not deceive him. The Italian question had for the
moment re-awakened the old sympathy for Austria; Austria, it seemed, was
now the champion of German nationality against the unscrupulous
aggression of France. There were few men who, like Bismarck, were
willing to disregard this national feeling and support the Italians. To
have deliberately joined Napoleon in what after all was an unprovoked
attack on a friendly prince of the same nation, was an act which could
have been undertaken only by a man of the calibre of Frederick the
Great. After all, Austria was German; the Austrian provinces in Italy
had been assigned to the Emperor by the same authority as the Polish
provinces to Prussia. We can imagine how great would have been the
outcry had Austria joined with the French to set up a united Poland,
taking Posen and West Prussia for the purpose; and yet this act would
have been just of the same kind as that which would have been committed
had Prussia at this time joined or even lent diplomatic support to the
French-Italian alliance. It is very improbable that even if Bismarck had
been Minister at this period he would have been able to carry out this

The Prussian Government acted on the whole correctly. As the war became
more imminent the Prince Regent prepared the Prussian army and
eventually the whole was placed on a war footing. He offered to the
Emperor of Austria his armed neutrality and a guarantee of the Austrian
possessions in Italy. In return he required that he himself should have
the command of all the forces of the German Diet. Had Austria accepted
these terms, either the war would have been stopped or the whole force
of Germany under the King of Prussia would have attacked France on the
Rhine. The Emperor however refused to accept them; he required a
guarantee not only of his possessions in Italy but also of his treaties
with the other Italian princes. Moreover, he would accept the assistance
of Prussia only on condition that the Prussian army was placed under the
orders of the general appointed by the Diet. It was absurd to suppose
that any Prussian statesman would allow this. The action of Austria
shewed in fact a distrust and hatred of Prussia which more than
justified all that Bismarck had written during his tenure of office at
Frankfort. In the end, rather than accept Prussian assistance on the
terms on which it was offered, the Emperor of Austria made peace with
France; he preferred to surrender Lombardy rather than save it by
Prussian help. "Thank God," said Cavour, "Austria by her arrogance has
succeeded in uniting all the world against her."

The spring of the year was spent by Bismarck at St. Petersburg. He had
been appointed Prussian Minister to that capital--put out in the cold,
as he expressed it. From the point of dignity and position it was an
advance, but at St. Petersburg he was away from the centre of political
affairs. Russia had not yet recovered from the effects of the Crimean
War; the Czar was chiefly occupied with internal reforms and the
emancipation of the serfs. The Eastern Question was dormant, and Russia
did not aim at keeping a leading part in the settlement of Italian
affairs. Bismarck's immediate duties were not therefore important and he
no longer had the opportunity of giving his advice to the Government
upon the general practice. It is improbable that Herr von Schleinitz
would have welcomed advice. He was one of the weakest of the Ministry;
an amiable man of no very marked ability, who owed his position to the
personal friendship of the Prince Regent and his wife. The position
which Bismarck had occupied during the last few years could not but be
embarrassing to any Minister; this man still young, so full of
self-confidence, so unremitting in his labours, who, while other
diplomatists thought only of getting through their routine work, spent
the long hours of the night in writing despatches, discussing the whole
foreign policy of the country, might well cause apprehension even to the
strongest Minister.

From the time of Bismarck's departure from Frankfort our knowledge of
his official despatches ceases; we lose the invaluable assistance of his
letters to Manteuffel and Gerlach. For some time he stood so much alone
that there was no one to whom he could write unreservedly on political

He watched with great anxiety the progress of affairs with regard to
Italy. At the beginning of May he wrote a long letter to Schleinitz, as
he had done to Manteuffel, urging him to bold action; he recounted his
experiences at the Diet, he reiterated his conviction that no good would
come to Prussia from the federal tie--the sooner it was broken the
better; nothing was so much to be desired as that the Diet should
overstep its powers, and pass some resolution which Prussia could not
accept, so that Prussia could take up the glove and force a breach. The
opportunity was favourable for a revision of the Constitution. "I see,"
he wrote "in our Federal connection only a weakness of Prussia which
sooner or later must be cured, _ferro et igni_." Probably Schleinitz's
answer was not of such a kind as to tempt him to write again. In his
private letters he harps on the same string; he spent June in a visit to
Moscow but he hurried back at the end of the month to St. Petersburg to
receive news of the war. Before news had come of the peace of
Villafranca he was constantly in dread that Prussia would go to war on
behalf of Austria:

"We have prepared too soon and too thoroughly, the weight of
the burden we have taken on ourselves is drawing us down the
incline. We shall not be even an Austrian reserve; we shall
simply sacrifice ourselves for Austria and take away the war from

How disturbed he was, we can see by the tone of religious resignation
which he assumes--no doubt a sign that he fears his advice has not yet
been acted upon.

"As God will. Everything here is only a question of time; peoples
and men, wisdom and folly, war and peace, they come and go like
rain and water, and the sea alone remains. There is nothing on
earth but hypocrisy and deceit."

The language of this and other letters was partly due to the state of
his health; the continual anxiety and work of his life at Frankfort,
joined to irregular hours and careless habits, had told upon his
constitution. He fell seriously ill in St. Petersburg with a gastric and
rheumatic affection; an injury to the leg received while shooting in
Sweden, became painful; the treatment adopted by the doctor, bleeding
and iodine, seems to have made him worse. At the beginning of July,
1860, he returned on leave to Berlin; there he was laid up for ten days;
his wife was summoned and under her care he began to improve. August he
spent at Wiesbaden and Nauheim, taking the waters, the greater part of
the autumn in Berlin; in October he had to go Warsaw officially to
receive and accompany the Czar, who came to Breslau for an interview
with the Prince Regent. From Breslau he hurried back to Berlin, from
Berlin down to Pomerania, where his wife was staying with her father;
then the same week back to Berlin, and started for St. Petersburg. The
result of these long journeys when his health was not completely
reestablished was very serious. He was to spend a night on the journey
to St. Petersburg with his old friend, Herr von Below, at Hohendorf, in
East Prussia; he had scarcely reached the house when he fell dangerously
ill of inflammation of the lungs and rheumatic fever. He remained here
all the winter, and it was not until the beginning of March, 1860, that
he was well enough to return to Berlin. Leopold von Gerlach, who met him
shortly afterwards, speaks of him as still looking wretchedly ill. This
prolonged illness forms an epoch in his life. He never recovered the
freshness and strength of his youth. It left a nervous irritation and
restlessness which often greatly interfered with his political work and
made the immense labour which came upon him doubly distasteful. He loses
the good humour which had been characteristic of him in early life; he
became irritable and more exacting. He spent the next three months in
Berlin attending the meetings of the Herrenhaus, and giving a silent
vote in favour of the Government measures; he considered it was his duty
as a servant of the State to support the Government, though he did not
agree with the Liberal policy which in internal affairs they adopted. At
this time he stood almost completely alone. His opinions on the Italian
question had brought about a complete breach with his old friends. Since
the conclusion of the war, public opinion in Germany, as in England, had
veered round. The success of Cavour had raised a desire to imitate him;
a strong impulse had been given to the national feeling, and a society,
the _National Verein_, had been founded to further the cause of United
Germany under Prussian leadership. The question of the recognition of
the new Kingdom of Italy was becoming prominent; all the Liberal party
laid much stress on this. The Prince Regent, however, was averse to an
act by which he might seem to express his approval of the forcible
expulsion of princes from their thrones. As the national and liberal
feeling in the country grew, his monarchical principles seemed to be
strengthened. The opinions which Bismarck was known to hold on the
French alliance had got into the papers and were much exaggerated; he
had plenty of enemies to take care that it should be said that he wished
Prussia to join with France; to do as Piedmont had done, and by the
cession of the left bank of the Rhine to France to receive the
assistance of Napoleon in annexing the smaller states. In his letters of
this period Bismarck constantly protests against the truth of these
accusations. "If I am to go to the devil," he writes, "it will at least
not be a French one. Do not take me for a Bonapartist, only for a very
ambitious Prussian." It is at this time that his last letter to Gerlach
was written. They had met at the end of April, and Gerlach wrote to
protest against the opinion to which Bismarck had given expression:

"After the conversation which I have had with you I was
particularly distressed that, by your bitterness against Austria,
you had allowed yourself to be diverted from the simple attitude
towards law and the Revolution. For you an alliance with France
and Piedmont is a possibility, a thought which is far from me
and, dear Bismarck, ought to be far from you. For me Louis
Napoleon is even more than his uncle the incarnation of the
Revolution, and Cavour is a Rheinbund Minister like Montgellas.
You cannot and ought not to deny the principles of the Holy
Alliance; they are no other than that authority comes from God,
and that the Princes must govern as servants appointed by God."

Bismarck answers the letter the next day:

"I am a child of other times than you. No one loses the mark
impressed on him in the period of his youth. In you the
victorious hatred of Bonaparte is indelible; you call him the
incarnation of the Revolution and if you knew of any worse name
you would bestow it upon him. I have lived in the country from my
twenty-third to my thirty-second year and will never be rid of
the longing to be back again; I am in politics with only half my
heart; what dislike I have of France is based rather on the
Orleans than the Bonapartist regime. It is opposed to
bureaucratic corruption under the mask of constitutional
government. I should be glad to fight against Bonaparte till the
dogs lick up the blood but with no more malice than against
Croats, Bohemians, and Bamberger fellow-countrymen."

The two friends were never to meet again. The old King of Prussia died
at the beginning of the next year, and Gerlach, who had served him so
faithfully, though perhaps not always wisely, survived his master
scarcely a week.

In the summer of 1860 Bismarck returned to his duties in Russia; and
this time, with the exception of a fortnight in October, he spent a
whole year in St. Petersburg. He had still not recovered from the
effects of his illness and could not, therefore, go out much in society,
but he was much liked at Court and succeeded in winning the confidence
both of the Emperor and his family. His wife and children were now with
him, and after the uncertainty of his last two years he settled down
with pleasure to a quieter mode of life. He enjoyed the sport which he
had in the Russian forests; he studied Russian and made himself
completely at home. Political work he had little to do, except what
arose from the charge of "some 200,000 vagabond Prussians" who lived in
Russia. Of home affairs he had little knowledge:

"I am quite separated from home politics, as besides the
newspapers I receive scarcely anything but official news which
does not expose the foundation of affairs."

For the time the reports of his entering the Ministry had ceased; he
professed to be, and perhaps was, quite satisfied.

"I am quite contented with my existence here; I ask for no change
in my position until it be God's will I settle down quietly at
Schoenhausen or Reinfeld and can leisurely set about having my
coffin made."

In October he had to attend the Czar on a journey to Warsaw where he had
an interview with the Prince Regent. The Prince was accompanied by his
Minister-President, the Prince of Hohenzollern, who took the opportunity
of having long conversations with the Ambassador to St. Petersburg. It
is said that as a result of this the Minister, who wished to be relieved
from a post which was daily becoming more burdensome, advised the Prince
Regent to appoint Bismarck Minister-President. The advice, however, was
not taken.

Meanwhile events were taking place in Prussia which were to bring about
important constitutional changes. The success of the Ministry of the
_new era_ had not answered the expectations of the country. Their
foreign policy had been correct, but they had shewn no more spirit than
their predecessors, and the country was in that excited state in which
people wanted to see some brilliant and exciting stroke of policy,
though they were not at all clear what it was they desired. Then a rift
had begun to grow between the Regent and his Ministers. The Liberalism
of the Prince had never been very deep; it owed its origin in fact
chiefly to his opposition to the reactionary government of his brother.
As an honest man he intended to govern strictly in accordance with the
Constitution. He had, however, from the beginning no intention of
allowing the Chambers to encroach upon the prerogatives of the Crown.
The Ministers on the other hand regarded themselves to some extent as a
Parliamentary Ministry; they had a majority in the House and they were
inclined to defer to it. The latent causes of difference were brought
into activity by the question of army reform.

The Prince Regent was chiefly and primarily a soldier. As a second son
it had been doubtful whether he would ever succeed to the throne. He had
an intimate acquaintance with the whole condition of the army, and he
had long known that in many points reform was necessary. His first
action on succeeding his brother was to appoint a Commission of the War
Office to prepare a scheme of reorganisation. A memorandum had been
drawn up for him by Albert von Roon, and with some alterations it was
accepted by the Commission. The Minister of War, Bonin (the same who had
been dismissed in 1854 at the crisis of the Eastern complications),
seems to have been indifferent in the matter; he did not feel in himself
the energy for carrying through an important reform which he had not
himself originated, and of which perhaps he did not altogether approve.
The Prince Regent had set his mind upon the matter; the experience
gained during the mobilisation of 1859 had shewn how serious the defects
were; the army was still on a war footing and it was a good opportunity
for at once carrying through the proposed changes. Bonin therefore
resigned his office and Roon, in December, 1859, was appointed in his

This appointment was to have far-reaching results; it at once destroyed
all harmony in the Ministry itself. The rest of the Ministers were
Liberals. Roon was a strong Conservative. He was appointed professedly
merely as a departmental Minister, but he soon won more confidence with
the Regent than all the others. He was a man of great energy of
character and decision in action. The best type of Prussian officer, to
considerable learning he joined a high sense of duty founded on
deep-rooted and simple religious faith. The President of the Ministry
had practically retired from political life and the Government had no
longer a leader. Roon's introduction was in fact the beginning of all
the momentous events which were to follow. But for him there would have
been no conflict in the Parliament and Bismarck would never have become

At the beginning of 1860 the project of law embodying the proposals for
army reform was laid before the Lower House. It was ordered by them in
accordance with the practice to be referred to a small Committee.

The proposals consisted of (a) an increase in the number of recruits to
be raised each year, (b) a lengthening of the term of service with the
colours, (c) an alteration in the relations of the Landwehr to the rest
of the army.

The Committee appointed to consider these reforms accepted the first,
but rejected the second and third. They asserted that the three years'
service with the colours was not necessary, and they strongly disliked
any proposal for interfering with the Landwehr. The report of the
Committee was accepted by the House. It was in vain that the more
far-seeing members of the Liberal party tried to persuade their leaders
to support the Government; it was in vain that the Ministers pointed out
that the Liberal majority had been elected as a Government majority, and
it was their duty to support Ministers taken from their own party. The
law had to be withdrawn and the Government, instead, asked for a vote of
nine million thalers, provisionally, for that year only, as a means of
maintaining the army in the state to which it had been raised. In asking
for this vote it was expressly stated that the principles of the
organisation should be in no wise prejudiced.

"The question whether in future a two or three years' service
shall be required; whether the period with the Reserve shall be
extended; in what position the Landwehr shall be placed--all this
is not touched by the present proposal."

On this condition the House voted the money required, but for one year
only. The Government, however, did not keep this pledge; the Minister
of War simply continued to carry out the reorganisation in accordance
with the plan which had been rejected; new regiments were formed, and by
the end of the year the whole army had been reorganised. This action was
one for which the Prince and Roon were personally responsible; it was
done while the other Ministers were away from Berlin, and without their

When the House met at the beginning of the next year they felt that they
had been deceived; they were still more indignant when Roon informed
them that he had discovered that the whole of the reorganisation could
be legally carried through in virtue of the prerogative of the Crown,
and that a fresh law was not required; that therefore the consideration
of the changes was not before the House, and that all they would have to
do would be to vote the money to pay for them. Of course the House
refused to vote the money; after long debates the final settlement of
the question was postponed for another year; the House, though this time
by a majority of only eleven votes, granting with a few modifications
the required money, but again for one year only.

All this time Bismarck was living quietly at St. Petersburg; he had no
influence on affairs, for the military law had nothing to do with him,
and the Regent did not consult him on foreign policy. No one, however,
profited by Roon's appointment so much as he; he had once more a friend
and supporter at Court, who replaced the loss of Gerlach. Roon and he
had known one another in the old Pomeranian days. There was a link in
Moritz Blankenburg, who was a "Dutz" friend of Bismarck's and Roon's
cousin. We can understand how untenable Roon's position was when we find
the Minister of War choosing as his political confidants two of the
leaders of the party opposed to the Ministry to which he belonged.

Ever since Roon had entered the Government there had been indeed a
perpetual crisis.

The Liberal Ministers were lukewarm in their support of the military
bill; they only consented to adopt it on condition that the King would
give his assent to those measures which they proposed to introduce, in
order to maintain their positions as leaders of the party; they proposed
to bring in bills for the reform of the House of Lords, for the
responsibility of Ministers, for local government. These were opposed to
the personal opinions of the King; he was supported in his opposition by
Roon and refused his assent, but he neither dismissed the Ministers nor
did they resign. So long as they were willing to hold office on the
terms he required, there was indeed no reason why he should dismiss
them; to do so would be to give up the last hope of getting the military
Bill passed. All through 1861 the same uncertainty continued; Roon
indeed again and again wrote to his master, pointing out the necessity
for getting rid of his colleagues; he wished for a Conservative Ministry
with Bismarck as President. Here, he thought, was the only man who had
the courage to carry through the army reform. Others thought as he did.
Who so fitted to come to the help of the Crown as this man who, ten
years before, had shewn such ability in Parliamentary debate? And
whenever the crisis became more acute, all the Quidnuncs of Berlin shook
their heads and said, "Now we shall have a Bismarck Ministry, and that
will be a _coup d'etat_ and the overthrow of the Constitution."

Bismarck meanwhile was living quietly at St. Petersburg, awaiting
events. At last the summons came; on June 28, 1861, Roon telegraphed to
him that the pear was ripe; he must come at once; there was danger in
delay. His telegram was followed by a letter, in which he more fully
explained the situation. The immediate cause of the crisis was that the
King desired to celebrate his accession, as his brother had done, by
receiving the solemn homage of all his people; the Ministry refused
their assent to an act which would appear to the country as "feudal" and
reactionary. A solemn pledge of obedience to the King was the last thing
the Liberals wanted to give, just for the same reasons that the King
made a point of receiving it; his feelings were deeply engaged, and Roon
doubtless hoped that his colleagues would at last be compelled to
resign; he wished, therefore, to have Bismarck on the spot.

Bismarck could not leave St. Petersburg for some days; he, however,
answered by a telegram and a long letter; he begins in a manner
characteristic of all his letters at this period:

"Your letter disturbed me in my comfortable meditations on the
quiet time which I was going to enjoy at Reinfeld. Your cry 'to
horse' came with a shrill discord. I have grown ill in mind,
tired out, and spiritless since I lost the foundation of my

And at the end:

"Moving, quarrelling, annoyance, the whole slavery day and night
form a perspective, which already makes me homesick for Reinfeld
or St. Petersburg. I cannot enter the swindle in better company
than yours; but both of us were happier on the Sadower Heath
behind the partridges."

So he wrote late at night, but the next morning in a postscript he
added: "If the King will to some extent meet my views, then I will set
to the work with pleasure." In the letter he discusses at length the
programme; he does not attach much importance to the homage; it would be
much better to come to terms on the military question, break with the
Chamber, and dissolve. The real difficulty he sees, however, is foreign
policy; only by a change in the management of foreign affairs can the
Crown be relieved from a pressure to which it must ultimately give way;
he would not himself be inclined to accept the Ministry of the Interior,
because no good could be done unless the foreign policy was changed, and
that the King himself would probably not wish that.

"The chief fault of our policy is that we have been Liberal at
home and Conservative abroad; we hold the rights of our own King
too cheap, and those of foreign princes too high; a natural
consequence of the difference between the constitutional tendency
of the Ministers and the legitimist direction which the will of
his Majesty gives to our foreign policy. Of the princely houses
from Naples to Hanover none will be grateful for our love, and we
practise towards them a truly evangelical love of our enemies at
the cost of the safety of our own throne. I am true to the sole
of my foot to my own princes, but towards all others I do not
feel in a single drop of blood the slightest obligation to raise
up a little finger to help them. In this attitude I fear that I
am so far removed from our Most Gracious Master, that he will
scarcely find me fitted to be a Councillor of his Crown. For this
reason he will anyhow prefer to use me at the Home-Office. In my
opinion, however, that makes no difference, for I promise myself
no useful results from the whole Government unless our attitude
abroad is more vigorous and less dependent on dynastic

Bismarck arrived in Berlin on July 9th. When he got there the crisis was
over; Berlin was nearly empty; Roon was away in Pomerania, the King in
Baden-Baden; a compromise had been arranged; there was not to be an act
of homage but a coronation. There was, therefore, no more talk of his
entering the Ministry; Schleinitz, however, told him that he was to be
transferred from Russia, but did not say what post he was to have. The
next day, in obedience to a command, he hurried off to Baden-Baden; the
King wished to have his advice on many matters of policy, and instructed
him to draw up a memorandum on the German question. He used the
opportunity of trying to influence the King to adopt a bolder policy. At
the same time he attempted to win over the leaders of the Conservative
party. A general election was about to take place; the manifesto of the
Conservative party was so worded that we can hardly believe it was not
an express and intentional repudiation of the language which Bismarck
was in the habit of using; they desired

"the unity of our German fatherland, though not like the Kingdom
of Italy through 'blood and fire' [_Blut und Brand;_ almost the
words which Bismarck had used to describe the policy which must
be followed], but in the unity of its princes and peoples holding
firm to authority and law."

Bismarck, on hearing this, sent to his old friend Herr von Below, one of
the leaders of the party, a memorandum on German affairs, and
accompanied it by a letter. He repeated his old point that Prussia was
sacrificing the authority of the Crown at home to support that of other
princes in whose safety she had not the slightest interest. The
solidarity of Conservative interests was a dangerous fiction, unless it
was carried out with the fullest reciprocity; carried out by Prussia
alone it was Quixotry; it prevented King and Government from executing
their true task, the protection of Prussia from all injustice, whether
it came from home or abroad; this was the task given to the King by God.

"We make the unhistorical, the jealous, and lawless
mania for sovereignty of the German Princes the bosom
child of the Conservative party in Prussia, we are enthusiastic
for the petty sovereignties which were created
by Napoleon and protected by Metternich, and are blind
to the dangers which threaten Prussia and the independence
of Germany."

He wishes for a clear statement of their policy; a stricter
concentration of the German military forces, reform of the Customs'
Unions, and a number of common institutions to protect material
interests against the disadvantages which arise from the unnatural
configuration of the different states.

"Besides all this I do not see why we should shrink
back so bashfully from the idea of a representation of
the people. We cannot fight as revolutionary an institution
which we Conservatives cannot do without even in
Prussia, and is recognised as legitimate in every German
State." [6]

This letter is interesting as shewing how nearly his wishes on German
affairs coincided with those of the Liberal party and of the National
Verein: he was asking the Conservatives to adopt the chief points in
their opponents' programme. Of course they would not do so, and the King
himself was more likely to be alarmed than attracted by the bold and
adventurous policy that was recommended to him. Bismarck's anticipation
was justified; the King was not prepared to appoint him Foreign
Minister. Herr von Schleinitz indeed resigned, but his place was taken
by Bernstorff, Minister at London; he had so little confidence in the
success of his office that he did not even give up his old post, and
occupied the two positions, one of which Bismarck much desired to have.

After attending the coronation at Koenigsberg, Bismarck, therefore,
returned to his old post at St. Petersburg; his future was still quite
uncertain; he was troubled by his own health and that of his children;
for the first time he begins to complain of the cold.

"Since my illness I am so exhausted that I have lost all my
energy for excitement. Three years ago I would have made a
serviceable Minister; when I think of such a thing now I feel
like a broken-down acrobat. I would gladly go to London, Paris,
or remain here, as it pleases God and his Majesty. I shudder at
the prospect of the Ministry as at a cold bath."

In March he is still in ignorance; his household is in a bad state.

"Johanna has a cough, which quite exhausts her; Bill is in bed
with fever, the doctor does not yet know what is the matter with
him; the governess has no hope of ever seeing Germany again."

He does not feel up to taking the Ministry; even Paris would be too
noisy for him.

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