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FACTA DUCIS VIVENT OPEROGAQUE
GLORIA RERUM.–OVID, IN LIVIAM 185
THE HERO’S DEEDS AND HARD-WON
FAME SHALL LIVE.
[Illustration: BISMARCK. FROM A PAINTING BY F. VON LENBACH.]
AND THE FOUNDATION OF THE GERMAN EMPIRE
BY JAMES WYCLIFFE HEADLAM
The greater portion of the following pages were completed before the death of Prince Bismarck; I take this opportunity of apologising to the publishers and the editor of the series, for the unavoidable delay which has caused publication to be postponed for a year.
During this period, two works have appeared to which some reference is necessary. The value of Busch’s _Memoirs_ has been much exaggerated; except for quite the last years of Bismarck’s life they contain little new information which is of any importance. Not only had a large portion of the book already been published in Busch’s two earlier books, but many of the anecdotes and documents in those parts which were new had also been published elsewhere.
Bismarck’s own _Memoirs_ have a very different value: not so much because of the new facts which they record, but because of the light they throw on Bismarck’s character and on the attitude he adopted towards men and political problems. With his letters and speeches, they will always remain the chief source for our knowledge of his inner life.
The other authorities are so numerous that it is impossible here to enumerate even the more important. I must, however, express the gratitude which all students of Bismarck’s career owe to Horst Kohl; in his _Bismarck-Regesten_ he has collected and arranged the material so as infinitely to lighten the labours of all others who work in the same field. His _Bismarck-Jahrbuch_ is equally indispensable; without this it would be impossible for anyone living in England to use the innumerable letters, documents, and anecdotes which each year appear in German periodicals. Of collections of documents and letters, the most important are those by Herr v. Poschinger, especially the volumes containing the despatches written from Frankfort and those dealing with Bismarck’s economic and financial policy. A full collection of Bismarck’s correspondence is much wanted; there is now a good edition of the private letters, edited by Kohl, but no satisfactory collection of the political letters.
For diplomatic history between 1860 and 1870, I have, of course, chiefly depended on Sybel; but those who are acquainted with the recent course of criticism in Germany will not be surprised if, while accepting his facts, I have sometimes ventured to differ from his conclusions.
September, 1899. J.W.H.
CHAPTER I. PAGE
BIRTH AND PARENTAGE………………………………. 1
EARLY LIFE, 1821-1847……………………………. 14
THE REVOLUTION, 1847-1852………………………… 34
THE GERMAN PROBLEM, 1849-1852…………………….. 70
FRANKFORT, 1851-1857…………………………….. 86
ST. PETERSBURG AND PARIS, 1858-1862………………. 127
THE CONFLICT, 1862-1863…………………………. 162
SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN, 1863-1864……………………. 192
THE TREATY OF GASTEIN, 1864-1865………………. …226
OUTBREAK OF WAR WITH AUSTRIA, 1865-1866…………….240
THE CONQUEST OF GERMANY, 1866……………………..259
THE FORMATION OF THE NORTH GERMAN CONFEDERATION, 1866-1867……………………………………….291
THE OUTBREAK OF WAR WITH FRANCE, 1867-1870………….315
THE WAR WITH FRANCE AND FOUNDATION OF THE EMPIRE, 1870-1871…………………………….346
THE NEW EMPIRE, 1871-1878…………………………377
THE TRIPLE ALLIANCE AND ECONOMIC REFORM, 1878-1887 ….405
RETIREMENT AND DEATH, 1887-1898……………………440
[From a painting by F. Von Lenbach.]
BISMARCK’S COAT OF ARMS…………………………….2
LUISE WILHELMINE VON BISMARCK………………………10 Bismarck’s Mother.
KARL WILHELM FERD. VON BISMARCK…………………….12 Bismarck’s Father.
BISMARCK IN 1834………………………………….18
BISMARCK IN 1848………………………………….66
BISMARCK IN 1860…………………………………130
GENERAL VON ROON…………………………………140
EMPEROR WILLIAM I………………………………..162
EMPEROR FRANCIS JOSEPH……………………………194
BISMARCK………………………………………..214 [From a painting by F. Von Lenbach.]
GENERAL VON MOLTKE……………………………….248
THE CAPITULATION OF SEDAN…………………………250 [From a painting by Anton Von Werner.]
BISMARCK AND HIS DOGS…………………………….288
NAPOLEON III. AND BISMARCK ON THE MORNING AFTER THE BATTLE OF SEDAN…………………………352 [From a painting by Wilhelm Camphausen.]
KING WILLIAM OF PRUSSIA PROCLAIMED EMPEROR OF GERMANY, VERSAILLES, JANUARY 18, 1871……………370 [From a painting by Anton Von Werner.]
LOUIS ADOLPHE THIERS……………………………..372
OFFICIAL RESIDENCE OF BISMARCK IN BERLIN……………388
THE CONGRESS OF BERLIN, 1878………………………406 [From a painting by Anton Von Werner.]
FRIEDRICHSRUHE…………………………………..430 [From a photograph by Strumper & Co., Hamburg.]
SARCOPHAGUS OF EMPEROR WILLIAM I., CHARLOTTENBURG……454
SCHUECKENBERGE…………………………………..462 [Where Bismarck’s Mausoleum will be erected.]
MAP OF GERMANY SHOWING CHANGES MADE IN 1860…………464
BIRTH AND PARENTAGE.
Otto Eduard Leopold Von Bismarck was born at the manor-house of Schoenhausen, in the Mark of Brandenburg, on April 1, 1815. Just a month before, Napoleon had escaped from Elba; and, as the child lay in his cradle, the peasants of the village, who but half a year ago had returned from the great campaign in France, were once more called to arms. A few months passed by; again the King of Prussia returned at the head of his army; in the village churches the medals won at Waterloo were hung up by those of Grossbehren and Leipzig. One more victory had been added to the Prussian flags, and then a profound peace fell upon Europe; fifty years were to go by before a Prussian army again marched out to meet a foreign foe.
The name and family of Bismarck were among the oldest in the land. Many of the great Prussian statesmen have come from other countries: Stein was from Nassau, and Hardenberg was a subject of the Elector of Hanover; even Bluecher and Schwerin were Mecklenburgers, and the Moltkes belong to Holstein. The Bismarcks are pure Brandenburgers; they belong to the old Mark, the district ruled over by the first Margraves who were sent by the Emperor to keep order on the northern frontier; they were there two hundred years before the first Hohenzollern came to the north.
The first of the name of whom we hear was Herbort von Bismarck, who, in 1270, was Master of the Guild of the Clothiers in the city of Stendal. The town had been founded about one hundred years before by Albert the Bear, and men had come in from the country around to enjoy the privileges and security of city life. Doubtless Herbort or his father had come from Bismarck, a village about twenty miles to the west, which takes its name either from the little stream, the Biese, which runs near it, or from the bishop in whose domain it lay. He was probably the first to bear the name, which would have no meaning so long as he remained in his native place, for the _von_ was still a mark of origin and had not yet become the sign of nobility. Other emigrants from Bismarck seem also to have assumed it; in the neighbouring town of Prenzlau the name occurs, and it is still found among the peasants of the Mark; as the Wends were driven back and the German invasion spread, more adventurous colonists migrated beyond the Oder and founded a new Bismarck in Pomerania.
Of the lineage of Herbort we know nothing; his ancestors must have been among the colonists who had been planted by the Emperors on the northern frontier to occupy the land conquered from the heathen. He seems himself to have been a man of substance and position; he already used the arms, the double trefoil, which are still borne by all the branches of his family. His descendants are often mentioned in the records of the Guild; his son or grandson, Rudolph or Rule, represented the town in a conflict with the neighbouring Dukes of Brunswick. It was his son Nicolas, or Claus as he is generally called, who founded the fortunes of the family; he attached himself closely to the cause of the Margrave, whom he supported in his troubles with the Duke of Brunswick, and whose interests he represented in the Town Council. He was amply rewarded for his fidelity. After a quarrel between the city and the Prince, Bismarck left his native home and permanently entered the service of the Margrave. Though probably hitherto only a simple citizen, he was enfiefed with the castle of Burgstall, an important post, for it was situated on the borders of the Mark and the bishopric of Magdeburg; he was thereby admitted into the privileged class of the _Schlossgesessenen_, under the Margrave, the highest order in the feudal hierarchy. From that day the Bismarcks have held their own among the nobility of Brandenburg. Claus eventually became Hofmeister of Brandenburg, the chief officer at the Court; he had his quarrels with the Church, or rather with the spiritual lords, the bishops of Havelburg and Magdeburg, and was once excommunicated, as his father had been before him, and as two of his sons were after him.
Claus died about the year 1385. For two hundred years the Bismarcks continued to live at Burgstall, to which they added many other estates. When Conrad of Hohenzollern was appointed Margrave and Elector, he found sturdy supporters in the lords of Burgstall; he and his successors often came there to hunt the deer and wild boars, perhaps also the wolves and bears, with which the forests around the castle abounded; for the Hohenzollerns were keen sportsmen then as now, as their vassals found to their cost. In 1555, Hans George, son of the reigning Elector, Albert Achilles, bought the neighbouring estate of Letzlingen from the Alvenslebens; there he built a house which is still the chief hunting-lodge of the Kings of Prussia. Soon he cast envious eyes on the great woods and preserves which belong to Burgstall, and intimated that he wished to possess them. The Bismarcks resisted long. First they were compelled to surrender their hunting rights; this was not sufficient; the appetite of the Prince grew; in his own words he wished “to be rid of the Bismarcks from the moor and the Tanger altogether.” He offered in exchange some of the monasteries which had lately been suppressed; the Bismarcks (the family was represented by two pairs of brothers, who all lived together in the great castle) long refused; they represented that their ancestors had been faithful vassals; they had served the Electors with blood and treasure; they wished “to remain in the pleasant place to which they had been assigned by God Almighty.” It was all of no use; the Prince insisted, and his wrath was dangerous. The Bismarcks gave in; they surrendered Burgstall and received in exchange Schoenhausen and Crevisse, a confiscated nunnery, on condition that as long as the ejected nuns lived the new lords should support them; for which purpose the Bismarcks had annually to supply a certain quantity of food and eighteen barrels of beer.
Of the four co-proprietors, all died without issue, except Friedrich, called the Permutator, in whose hands the whole of the family property was again collected; he went to live at Schoenhausen, which since then has been the home of the family. No remains of the old castle exist, but the church, built in the thirteenth century, is one of the oldest and most beautiful in the land between the Havel and the Elbe. House and church stand side by side on a small rising overlooking the Elbe. Here they took up their abode; the family to some extent had come down in the world. The change had been a disadvantageous one; they had lost in wealth and importance. For two hundred years they played no very prominent part; they married with the neighbouring country gentry and fought in all the wars. Rudolph, Friedrich’s son, fought in France in behalf of the Huguenots, and then under the Emperor against the Turks. His grandson, August, enlisted under Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar; afterwards he fought in the religious wars in France and Germany, always on the Protestant side; lastly, he took service under the Elector of Brandenburg.
It was in his lifetime that a great change began to take place which was to alter the whole life of his descendants. In 1640, Frederick William, known as the great Elector, succeeded his father. He it was who laid the foundations for that system of government by which a small German principality has grown to be the most powerful military monarchy in modern Europe. He held his own against the Emperor; he fought with the Poles and compelled their King to grant him East Prussia; he drove the Swedes out of the land. More than this, he enforced order in his own dominions; he laid the foundation for the prosperity of Berlin; he organised the administration and got together a small but efficient military force. The growing power of the Elector was gained to a great extent at the expense of the nobles; he took from them many of the privileges they had before enjoyed. The work he began was continued by his son, who took the title of King; and by his grandson, who invented the Prussian system of administration, and created the army with which Frederick the Great fought his battles.
The result of the growth of the strong, organised monarchy was indeed completely to alter the position of the nobles. The German barons in the south had succeeded in throwing off the control of their territorial lords; they owned no authority but the vague control of the distant Emperor, and ruled their little estates with an almost royal independence; they had their own laws, their own coinage, their own army. In the north, the nobles of Mecklenburg Holstein, and Hanover formed a dominant class, and the whole government of the State was in their hands; but those barons whose homes fell within the dominion of the Kings of Prussia found themselves face to face with a will and a power stronger than their own; they lost in independence, but they gained far more than they lost. They were the basis on which the State was built up; they no longer wasted their military prowess in purposeless feuds or in mercenary service; in the Prussian army and administration they found full scope for their ambition, and when the victories of Frederick the Great had raised Prussia to the rank of a European Power, the nobles of Brandenburg were the most loyal of his subjects. They formed an exclusive caste; they seldom left their homes; they were little known in the south of Germany or in foreign countries; they seldom married outside their own ranks. Their chief amusement was the chase, and their chief occupation was war. And no king has ever had under his orders so fine a race of soldiers; they commanded the armies of Frederick and won his battles. Dearly did they pay for the greatness of Prussia; of one family alone, the Kleists, sixty-four fell on the field of battle during the Seven Years’ War.
They might well consider that the State which they had helped to make, and which they had saved by their blood, belonged to them. But if they had become Prussians, they did not cease to be Brandenburgers; their loyalty to their king never swerved, for they knew that he belonged to them as he did to no other of his subjects. He might go to distant Koenigsberg to assume the crown, but his home was amongst them; other provinces might be gained or lost with the chances of war, but while a single Hohenzollern lived he could not desert his subjects of the Mark. They had the intense local patriotism so characteristic of the German nation, which is the surest foundation for political greatness; but while in other parts the Particularists, as the Germans called them, aimed only at independence, the Brandenburger who had become a Prussian desired domination.
Among them the Bismarcks lived. The family again divided into two branches: one, which became extinct about 1780, dwelling at Crevisse, gave several high officials to the Prussian Civil Service; the other branch, which continued at Schoenhausen, generally chose a military career. August’s son, who had the same name as his father, rebuilt the house, which had been entirely destroyed by the Swedes during the Thirty Years’ War; he held the position of Landrath, that is, he was the head of the administration of the district in which he lived. He married a Fraeulein von Katte, of a well-known family whose estates adjoined those of the Bismarcks. Frau von Bismarck was the aunt of the unfortunate young man who was put to death for helping Frederick the Great in his attempt to escape. His tomb is still to be seen at Wust, which lies across the river a few miles from Schoenhausen; and at the new house, which arose at Schoenhausen and still stands, the arms of the Kattes are joined to the Bismarck trefoil. The successor to the estates, August Friedrich, was a thorough soldier; he married a Fraeulein von Diebwitz and acquired fresh estates in Pomerania, where he generally lived.
He rose to the rank of colonel, and fell fighting against the Austrians at Chotusitz in 1742. “Ein ganzer Kerl” (a fine fellow), said the King, as he stood by the dying officer. His son, Carl Alexander, succeeded to Schoenhausen; the next generation kept up the military traditions of the family; of four brothers, all but one became professional officers and fought against France in the wars of liberation. One fell at Moeckern in 1813; another rose to the rank of lieutenant-general; the third also fought in the war; his son, the later Count Bismarck-Bohlen, was wounded at Grossbehren, and the father at once came to take his place during his convalescence, in order that the Prussian army might not have fewer Bismarcks. When the young Otto was born two years later, he would often hear of the adventures of his three uncles and his cousin in the great war. The latter, Bismarck-Bohlen, rose to very high honours and was to die when over eighty years of age, after he had witnessed the next great war with France. It is a curious instance of the divisions of Germany in those days that there were Bismarcks fighting on the French side throughout the war. One branch of the family had settled in South Germany; the head of it, Friedrich Wilhelm, had taken service in the Wurtemburg army; he had become a celebrated leader of cavalry and was passionately devoted to Napoleon. He served with distinction in the Russian campaign and was eventually taken prisoner by the Germans in the battle of Leipzig.
The youngest of the four brothers, Karl Wilhelm Friedrich v. Bismarck, had retired from the army at an early age: he was a quiet, kindly man of domestic tastes; on the division of the estates, Schoenhausen fell to his lot, and he settled down there to a quiet country life. He took a step which must have caused much discussion among all his friends and relations, for he chose as wife not one of his own rank, not a Kleist, or a Katte, or a Bredow, or an Arnim, or an Alvensleben, or any other of the neighbouring nobility; he married a simple Fraeulein Mencken. She was, however, of no undistinguished origin. Her father, the son of a professor at the University of Leipzig, had entered the Prussian Civil Service; there he had risen to the highest rank and had been Cabinet Secretary to both Frederick William II. and Frederick III. He was a man of high character and of considerable ability; as was not uncommon among the officials of those days, he was strongly affected by the liberal and even revolutionary doctrines of France.
Fraeulein Mencken, who was married at the age of sixteen, was a clever and ambitious woman. From her her son inherited his intellect; from his father he derived what the Germans call _Gemueth_, geniality, kindliness, humour. By his two parents he was thus connected with the double foundation on which Prussia had been built: on his father’s side he had sprung from the fighting nobles; on his mother’s, from the scholars and officials. In later life we shall find that while his prejudices and affections are all enlisted on the side of the noble, the keen and critical intellect he had inherited from his mother enabled him to overcome the prejudices of his order.
The early life of the young pair was not altogether fortunate. Several children died at a very early age; the defeat of Prussia brought foreign occupation; Schoenhausen was seized by French troopers; the marks of their swords are still to be seen in a beam over one of the doors, and Rittmeister v. Bismarck had to take his wife away into the woods in order to escape their violence.
Of all the children of the marriage only three lived: Bernhard, who was born in 1810, Otto, and one sister, Malvina, born in 1827.
Otto did not live at Schoenhausen long; when he was only a year old, his father moved to Pomerania and settled on the estates Kniephof and Kulz, which had come into the family on his grandfather’s marriage. Pomerania was at that time a favourite residence among the Prussian nobility; the country was better wooded than the Mark, and game more plentiful; the rich meadows, the wide heaths and forests were more attractive than the heavy corn-lands and the sandy wastes of the older province. Here, in the deep seclusion of country life, the boy passed his first years; it was far removed from the bustle and turmoil of civilisation. Naugard, the nearest town, was five miles distant; communication was bad, for it was not till after 1815 that the Prussian Government began to construct highroads. In this distant province, life went on as in the olden days, little altered by the changes which had transformed the State. The greater portion of the land belonged to large proprietors; the noble as in old days was still all-powerful on his own estate; in his hands was the administration of the law, and it was at his manorial court that men had to seek for justice, a court where justice was dealt not in the name of the King but of the Lord of the Manor. He lived among his people and generally he farmed his own lands. There was little of the luxury of an English country-house or the refinement of the French noblesse; he would be up at daybreak to superintend the work in the fields, his wife and daughters that of the household, talking to the peasants the pleasant _Platt Deutsch_ of the countryside. Then there would be long rides or drives to the neighbours’ houses; shooting, for there was plenty of deer and hares; and occasionally in the winter a visit to Berlin; farther away, few of them went. Most of the country gentlemen had been to Paris, but only as conquerors at the end of the great war.
They were little disturbed by modern political theories, but were contented, as in old days, to be governed by the King. It was a religious society; among the peasants and the nobles, if not among the clergy, there still lingered something of the simple but profound faith of German Protestantism; they were scarcely touched by the rationalism of the eighteenth or by the liberalism of the nineteenth century; there was little pomp and ceremony of worship in the village church, but the natural periods of human life–birth, marriage, death–called for the blessing of the Church, and once or twice a year came the solemn confession and the sacrament. Religious belief and political faith were closely joined, for the Church was but a department of the State; the King was chief bishop, as he was general of the army, and the sanctity of the Church was transferred to the Crown; to the nobles and peasants, criticism of, or opposition to, the King had in it something of sacrilege; the words “by the Grace of God” added to the royal title were more than an empty phrase. Society was still organised on the old patriarchal basis: at the bottom was the peasant; above him was the _gnaediger Herr_; above him, _Unser allergnaedigste Herr_, the King, who lived in Berlin; and above him, the _Herr Gott_ in Heaven.
To the inhabitants of South Germany, and the men of the towns, these nobles of Further Pomerania, the _Junker_ as they were called, with their feudal life, their medieval beliefs, their simple monarchism, were the incarnation of political folly; to them liberalism seemed another form of atheism, but in this solitude and fresh air of the great plain was reared a race of men who would always be ready, as their fathers had been, to draw their sword and go out to conquer new provinces for their King to govern.
Of the boy’s early life we know little. His mother was ambitious for her sons; Otto from his early years she designed for the Diplomatic Service; she seems to have been one of those women who was willing to sacrifice the present happiness of her children for their future advancement. When only six years old the boy was sent away from home to a school in Berlin. He was not happy there; he pined for the free life of the country, the fields and woods and animals; when he saw a plough he would burst into tears, for it reminded him of his home. The discipline of the school was hard, not with the healthy and natural hardships of life in the open air, but with an artificial Spartanism, for it was the time when the Germans, who had suddenly awoke to feelings of patriotism and a love of war to which they had long been strangers, under the influence of a few writers, were throwing all their energies into the cultivation of physical endurance. It was probably at this time that there was laid the foundation of that dislike for the city of Berlin which Bismarck never quite overcame; and from his earliest years he was prejudiced against the exaggerated and affected Teutonism which was the fashion after the great war. A few years later his parents came to live altogether in the town; then the boy passed on to the Gymnasium, boarding in the house of one of the masters. The teaching in this school was supplemented by private tutors, and he learned at this time the facility in the use of the English and French languages which in after years was to be of great service to him. The education at school was of course chiefly in the classical languages; he acquired a sufficient mastery of Latin. There is no evidence that in later life he continued the study of classical literature. In his seventeenth year he passed the Abiturienten examination, which admitted him as a student to the university and entitled him to the privilege of serving in the army for one instead of three years. His leaving certificate tells us that his conduct and demeanour towards his comrades and teachers were admirable, his abilities considerable, and his diligence fair.
The next year he passed in the ordinary course to the university, entering at Goettingen; the choice was probably made because of the celebrity which that university had acquired in law and history. It is said that he desired to enter at Heidelberg, but his mother refused her permission, because she feared that he would learn those habits of beer-drinking in which the students of that ancient seat of learning have gained so great a proficiency; it was, however, an art which, as he found, was to be acquired with equal ease at Goettingen. The young Bismarck was at this time over six feet high, slim and well built, of great physical strength and agility, a good fencer, a bold rider, an admirable swimmer and runner, a very agreeable companion; frank, cheerful, and open-hearted, without fear either of his comrades or of his teachers. He devoted his time at Goettingen less to learning than to social life; in his second term he entered the Corps of the Hanoverians and was quickly noted for his power of drinking and fighting; he is reported to have fought twenty-six duels and was only wounded once, and that wound was caused by the breaking of his opponent’s foil. He was full of wild escapades, for which he was often subjected to the ordinary punishments of the university.
To many Germans, their years at the university have been the turning-point of their life; but it was not so with Bismarck. To those who have been brought up in the narrow surroundings of civic life, student days form the single breath of freedom between the discipline of a school and the drudgery of an office. To a man who, like Bismarck, was accustomed to the truer freedom of the country, it was only a passing phase; as we shall see, it was not easy to tie him down to the drudgery of an office. He did not even form many friendships which he continued in later years; his associates in his corps must have been chiefly young Hanoverians; few of his comrades in Prussia were to be found at Goettingen; his knowledge of English enabled him to make the acquaintance of the Americans and English with whom Goettingen has always been a favourite university; among his fellow-students almost the only one with whom in after life he continued the intimacy of younger days was Motley. We hear little of his work; none of the professors seem to have left any marked influence on his mind or character; indeed they had little opportunity for doing so, for after the first term his attendance at lectures almost entirely ceased. Though never a student, he must have been at all times a considerable reader; he had a retentive memory and quick understanding; he read what interested him; absorbed, understood, and retained it. He left the university with his mind disciplined indeed but not drilled; he had a considerable knowledge of languages, law, literature, and history; he had not subjected his mind to the dominion of the dominant Hegelian philosophy, and to this we must attribute that freshness and energy which distinguishes him from so many of his ablest contemporaries; his brain was strong, and it worked as easily and as naturally as his body; his knowledge was more that of a man of the world than of a student, but in later life he was always able to understand the methods and to acquire the knowledge of the subjects he required in his official career. History was his favourite study; he never attempted, like some statesmen, to write; but if his knowledge of history was not as profound as that of a professed historian, he was afterwards to shew as a parliamentary debater that he had a truer perception of the importance of events than many great scholars who have devoted their lives to historical research, and he was never at a loss for an illustration to explain and justify the policy he had assumed. For natural science he shewed little interest, and indeed at that time it scarcely could be reckoned among the ordinary subjects of education; philosophy he pursued rather as a man than as a student, and we are not surprised to find that it was Spinoza rather than Kant or Fichte or Hegel to whom he devoted most attention, for he cared more for principles of belief and the conduct of life than the analysis of the intellect.
His university career does not seem to have left any mark on his political principles; during just those years, the agitation of which the universities had long been the scene had been forcibly repressed; it was the time of deep depression which followed the revolution of 1830, and the members of the aristocratic corps to which he belonged looked with something approaching contempt on this _Burschenschaft_, as the union was called, which propagated among the students the national enthusiasm.
After spending little more than a year at Goettingen, he left in September, 1833; in May of the following year he entered as a student at Berlin, where he completed his university course; we have no record as to the manner in which he spent the winter and early spring, but we find that when he applied to Goettingen for permission to enter at Berlin, it was accorded on condition that he sat out a term of imprisonment which he still owed to the university authorities. During part of his time in Berlin he shared a room with Motley. In order to prepare for the final examination he engaged the services of a crammer, and with his assistance, in 1835, took the degree of Doctor of Law and at once passed on to the public service.
He had, as we have seen, been destined for the Diplomatic Service from early life; he was well connected; his cousin Count Bismarck-Bohlen stood in high favour at Court. He was related to or acquainted with all the families who held the chief posts both in the military and civil service; with his great talents and social gifts he might therefore look forward to a brilliant career. Any hopes, however, that his mother might have had were destined to be disappointed; his early official life was varied but short. He began in the judicial department and was appointed to the office of Auscultator at Berlin, for in the German system the judicature is one department of the Civil Service. After a year he was at his own request transferred to the administrative side and to Aix-la-Chapelle; it is said that he had been extremely pained and shocked by the manner in which the officials transacted the duties of their office and especially by their management of the divorce matters which came before the court. The choice of Aix-la-Chapelle was probably owing to the fact that the president of that province was Count Arnim of Boytzenburg, the head of one of the most numerous and distinguished families of the Mark, with so many members of which Bismarck was in later years to be connected both for good and evil. Count Arnim was a man of considerable ability and moderate liberal opinions, who a few years later rose to be the first Minister-President in Prussia. Under him Bismarck was sure to receive every assistance. He had to pass a fresh examination, which he did with great success. His certificate states that he shewed thoroughly good school studies, and was well grounded in law; he had thought over what he had learnt and already had acquired independent opinions. He had admirable judgment, quickness in understanding, and a readiness in giving verbal answers to the questions laid before him; we see all the qualities by which he was to be distinguished in after life. He entered on his duties at Aix-la-Chapelle at the beginning of June; at his own request Count Arnim wrote to the heads of the department that as young Bismarck was destined for a diplomatic career they were to afford him every opportunity of becoming acquainted with all the different sides of the administrative work and give him more work than they otherwise would have done; he was to be constantly occupied. His good resolutions did not, however, continue long; he found himself in a fashionable watering-place, his knowledge of languages enabled him to associate with the French and English visitors, he made excursions to Belgium and the Rhine, and hunting expeditions to the Ardennes, and gave up to society the time he ought to have spent in the office. The life at Aix was not strict and perhaps his amusements were not always edifying, but he acquired that complete ease in cosmopolitan society which he could not learn at Goettingen or Berlin, and his experiences during this year were not without use to him when he was afterwards placed in the somewhat similar society of Frankfort. This period in his career did not last long; in June, 1837, we find him applying for leave of absence on account of ill-health. He received leave for eight days, but he seems to have exceeded this, for four months afterwards he writes from Berne asking that his leave may be prolonged; he had apparently gone off for a long tour in Switzerland and the Rhine. His request was refused; he received a severe reprimand, and Count Arnim approved his resolution to return to one of the older Prussian provinces, “where he might shew an activity in the duties of his office which he had in vain attempted to attain in the social conditions of Aachen.”
He was transferred to Potsdam, but he remained here only a few weeks; he had not as yet served in the army, and he now began the year as a private soldier which was required from him; he entered the Jaeger or Rifles in the _Garde Corps_ which was stationed at Potsdam, but after a few weeks was transferred to the Jaeger at Stettin. The cause seems to have been partly the ill-health of his mother; she was dying, and he wished to be near her; in those days the journey from Berlin to Pomerania took more than a day; besides this there were pecuniary reasons. His father’s administration of the family estates had not been successful; it is said that his mother had constantly pressed her husband to introduce innovations, but had not consistently carried them out; this was a not unnatural characteristic in the clever and ambitious woman who wished to introduce into agricultural affairs those habits which she had learnt from the bureaucrats in Berlin. However this may be, matters had now reached a crisis; it became necessary to sell the larger part of the land attached to the house at Schoenhausen, and in the next year, after the death of Frau von Bismarck, which took place on January 1, 1839, it was decided that Herr von Bismarck should in future live at Schoenhausen with his only daughter, now a girl of twelve years of age, while the two brothers should undertake the management of the Pomeranian estates.
So it came about that at the age of twenty-four all prospect of an official career had for the time to be abandoned, and Otto settled down with his brother to the life of a country squire. It is curious to notice that the greatest of his contemporaries, Cavour, went through a similar training. There was, however, a great difference between the two men: Cavour was in this as in all else a pioneer; when he retired to his estate he was opening out new forms of activity and enterprise for his countrymen; Bismarck after the few wild years away from home was to go back to the life which all his ancestors had lived for five hundred years, to become steeped in the traditions of his country and his caste. Cavour always points the way to what is new, Bismarck again brings into honour what men had hastily thought was antiquated. He had to some extent prepared himself for the work by attending lectures at a newly founded agricultural college in the outskirts of Greifswald. The management of the estate seems to have been successful; the two brothers started on their work with no capital and no experience, but after three or four years by constant attention and hard work they had put the affairs in a satisfactory state. In 1841, a division was made; Otto had wished this to be done before, as he found that he spent a good deal more money than his brother and was gaining an unfair advantage in the common household; from this time he took over Kniephof, and there he lived for the next four years, while his brother took up his abode four miles off at Kulz, where he lived till his death in 1895. Otto had not indeed given up the habits he had learnt at Goettingen; his wild freaks, his noisy entertainments, were the talk of the countryside; the beverage which he has made classical, a mixture of beer and champagne, was the common drink, and he was known far and wide as the mad Bismarck. These acts of wildness were, however, only a small part of his life; he entered as a lieutenant of Landwehr in the cavalry and thereby became acquainted with another form of military service. It was while he was at the annual training that he had an opportunity of shewing his physical strength and courage. A groom, who was watering horses in the river, was swept away by the current; Bismarck, who was standing on a bridge watching them, at once leaped into the river, in full uniform as he was, and with great danger to himself saved the drowning man. For this he received a medal for saving life. He astonished his friends by the amount and variety of his reading; it was at this time that he studied Spinoza. It is said that he had among his friends the reputation of being a liberal; it is probable enough that he said and did many things which they did not understand; and anything they did not understand would be attributed to liberalism by the country gentlemen of Pomerania; partly no doubt it was due to the fact that in 1843 he came back from Paris wearing a beard. We can see, however, that he was restless and discontented; he felt in himself the possession of powers which were not being used; there was in his nature also a morbid restlessness, a dissatisfaction with himself which he tried to still but only increased by his wild excesses. As his affairs became more settled he travelled; one year he went to London, another to Paris; of his visit to England we have an interesting account in a letter to his father. He landed in Hull, thence he went to Scarborough and York, where he was hospitably received by the officers of the Hussars; “although I did not know any of them, they asked me to dinner and shewed me everything”; from York he went to Manchester, where he saw some of the factories.
“Generally speaking I cannot praise too highly the extraordinary courtesy and kindness of English people, which far surpass what I had expected; even the poor people are pleasant, very unassuming, and easy to get on with when one talks to them. Those who come much into intercourse with strangers–cab-drivers, porters, etc.–naturally have a tendency to extortion, but soon give in when they see that one understands the language and customs and is determined not to be put upon. Generally I find the life much cheaper than I expected.”
In 1844, his sister, to whom he was passionately devoted, was married to an old friend, Oscar von Arnim. Never did an elder brother write to his young sister more delightful letters than those which she received from him; from them we get a pleasant picture of his life at this time. Directly after the wedding, when he was staying with his father at Schoenhausen, he writes:
“Just now I am living here with my father, reading, smoking, and walking; I help him to eat lamperns and sometimes play a comedy with him which it pleases him to call fox-hunting. We start out in heavy rain, or perhaps with 10 degrees of frost, with Ihle, Ellin, and Karl; then in perfect silence we surround a clump of firs with the most sportsmanlike precautions, carefully observing the wind, although we all, and probably father as well, are absolutely convinced that there is not a living creature in it except one or two old women gathering firewood. Then Ihle, Karl, and the two dogs make their way through the cover, emitting the most strange and horrible sounds, especially Ihle; father stands there motionless and on the alert with his gun cocked, just as though he really expected to see something. Ihle comes out just in front of him, shouting ‘Hoo lala, hey heay, hold him, hie, hie,’ in the strangest and most astonishing manner. Then father asks me if I have seen nothing, and I with the most natural tone of astonishment that I can command, answer ‘No, nothing at all.’ Then after abusing the weather we start off to another wood, while Ihle with a confidence that he assumes in the most natural manner praises its wealth in game, and there we play over the game again _dal segno_. So it goes on for three or four hours; father’s, Ihle’s, and Fingal’s passion does not seem to cool for a moment. Besides that, we look at the orange house twice a day and the sheep once a day, observe the four thermometers in the room once every hour, set the weather-glass, and, since the weather has been fine, have set all the clocks by the sun and adjusted them so closely that the clock in the dining-room is the only one which ever gives a sound after the others have struck. Charles V. was a stupid fellow. You will understand that with so multifarious an occupation I have little time left to call on the clergymen; as they have no vote for the election it was quite impossible.
“The Elbe is full of ice, the wind E.S.E., the latest thermometer from Berlin shews 8 degrees, the barometer is rising and at 8.28. I tell you this as an example how in your letters you might write to father more the small events of your life; they amuse him immensely; tell him who has been to see you, whom you have been calling on, what you had for dinner, how the horses are, how the servants behave, if the doors creak and the windows are firm–in short, facts and events. Besides this, he does not like to be called papa, he dislikes the expression. _Avis au lecteur_.”
On another occasion he says:
“Only with difficulty can I resist the temptation of filling a whole letter with agricultural lamentations over frosts, sick cattle, bad reap, bad roads, dead lambs, hungry sheep, want of straw, fodder, money, potatoes, and manure; outside Johann is persistently whistling a wretched schottische out of tune, and I have not the cruelty to interrupt it, for he seeks to still by music his violent love-sickness.”
Then we have long letters from Nordeney, where he delighted in the sea, but space will not allow us to quote more. It is only in these letters, and in those which he wrote in later years to his wife, that we see the natural kindliness and simplicity of his disposition, his love of nature, and his great power of description. There have been few better letter-writers in Germany or any other country.
His ability and success as an agriculturist made a deep impression on his neighbours. As years went on he became much occupied in local business; he was appointed as the representative of his brother, who was Landrath for the district; in 1845 he was elected one of the members for the Provincial Diet of Pomerania. He also had a seat in the Diet for the Saxon province in which Schoenhausen was situated. These local Diets were the only form of representative government which existed in the rural districts; they had little power, but their opinion was asked on new projects of law, and they were officially regarded as an efficient substitute for a common Prussian Parliament. Many of his friends, including his brother, urged him again to enter the public service, for which they considered he was especially adapted; he might have had the post of Royal Commissioner for Improvements in East Prussia.
He did make one attempt to resume his official career. At the beginning of 1844 he returned to Potsdam and took up his duties as Referendar, but not for long; he seems to have quarrelled with his superior. The story is that he called one day to ask for leave of absence; his chief kept him waiting an hour in the anteroom, and when he was admitted asked him curtly, “What do you want?” Bismarck at once answered, “I came to ask for leave of absence, but now I wish for permission to send in my resignation.” He was clearly deficient in that subservience and ready obedience to authority which was the best passport to promotion in the Civil Service; there was in his disposition already a certain truculence and impatience. From this time he nourished a bitter hatred of the Prussian bureaucracy.
This did not, however, prevent him carrying out his public duties as a landed proprietor. In 1846 we find him taking much interest in proposals for improving the management of the manorial courts; he wished to see them altered so as to give something of the advantages of the English system; he regrets the “want of corporate spirit and public feeling in our corn-growing aristocracy”; “it is unfortunately difficult among most of the gentlemen to awake any other idea under the words ‘patrimonial power’ but the calculation whether the fee will cover the expenses.” We can easily understand that the man who wrote this would be called a liberal by many of his neighbours; what he wanted, however, was a reform which would give life, permanency, and independence to an institution which like everything else was gradually falling before the inroads of the dominant bureaucracy. The same year he was appointed to the position of Inspector of Dykes for Jerichow. The duties of this office were of considerable importance for Schoenhausen and the neighbouring estate; as he writes, “it depends on the managers of this office whether from time to time we come under water or not.” He often refers to the great damages caused by the floods; he had lost many of his fruit-trees, and many of the finest elms in the park had been destroyed by the overflowing of the Elbe.
As Bismarck grew in age and experience he associated more with the neighbouring families. Pomerania was at this time the centre of a curious religious movement; the leader was Herr von Thadden, who lived at Triglaff, not many miles from Kniephof. He was associated with Herr von Semft and three brothers of the family of Below. They were all profoundly dissatisfied with the rationalistic religion preached by the clergy at that time, and aimed at greater inwardness and depth of religious feeling. Herr von Thadden started religious exercises in his own house, which were attended not only by the peasants from the village but by many of the country gentry; they desired the strictest enforcement of Lutheran doctrine, and wished the State directly to support the Church. This tendency of thought acquired greater importance when, in 1840, Frederick William IV succeeded to the throne; he was also a man of deep religious feeling, and under his reign the extreme Lutheran party became influential at Court. Among the ablest of these were the three brothers von Gerlach. One of them, Otto, was a theologian; another, Ludwig, was Over-President of the Saxon province, and with him Bismarck had much official correspondence; the third, Leopold, who had adopted a military career, was attached to the person of the King and was in later years to have more influence upon him than anyone except perhaps Bunsen. The real intellectual leader of the party was Stahl, a theologian.
From about the year 1844 Bismarck seems to have become very intimate with this religious coterie; his friend Moritz v. Blankenburg had married Thadden’s daughter and Bismarck was constantly a visitor at Triglaff. It was at Blankenburg’s wedding that he first met Hans v. Kleist, who was in later years to be one of his most intimate friends. He was, we are told, the most delightful and cheerful of companions; in his tact and refinement he shewed an agreeable contrast to the ordinary manners of Pomerania. He often rode over to take part in Shakespeare evenings, and amused them by accounts of his visit to England. He was present occasionally at the religious meetings at Triglaff, and though he never quite adopted all the customs of the set the influence on him of these older men was for the next ten years to govern all his political action. That he was not altogether at one with them we can understand, when we are told that at Herr von Thadden’s house it would never have occurred to anyone even to think of smoking. Bismarck was then, as in later life, a constant smoker.
The men who met in these family parties in distant Pomerania were in a few years to change the whole of European history. Here Bismarck for the first time saw Albrecht von Roon, a cousin of the Blankenburgs, then a rising young officer in the artillery; they often went out shooting together. The Belows, Blankenburgs, and Kleists were to be the founders and leaders of the Prussian Conservative party, which was Bismarck’s only support in his great struggle with the Parliament; and here, too, came the men who were afterwards to be editors and writers of the _Kreuz Zeitung_.
The religious convictions which Bismarck learnt from them were to be lasting, and they profoundly influenced his character. He had probably received little religious training from his mother, who belonged to the rationalistic school of thought. It was by them that his monarchical feeling was strengthened. It is not at first apparent what necessary connection there is between monarchical government and Christian faith. For Bismarck they were ever inseparably bound together; nothing but religious belief would have reconciled him to a form of government so repugnant to natural human reason. “If I were not a Christian, I would be a Republican,” he said many years later; in Christianity he found the only support against revolution and socialism. He was not the man to be beguiled by romantic sentiment; he was not a courtier to be blinded by the pomp and ceremony of royalty; he was too stubborn and independent to acquiesce in the arbitrary rule of a single man. He could only obey the king if the king himself held his authority as the representative of a higher power. Bismarck was accustomed to follow out his thought to its conclusions. To whom did the king owe his power? There was only one alternative: to the people or to God. If to the people, then it was a mere question of convenience whether the monarchy were continued in form; there was little to choose between a constitutional monarchy where the king was appointed by the people and controlled by Parliament, and an avowed republic. This was the principle held by nearly all his contemporaries. He deliberately rejected it. He did not hold that the voice of the people was the voice of God. This belief did not satisfy his moral sense; it seemed in public life to leave all to interest and ambition and nothing to duty. It did not satisfy his critical intellect; the word “people” was to him a vague idea. The service of the People or of the King by the Grace of God, this was the struggle which was soon to be fought out.
Bismarck’s connection with his neighbours was cemented by his marriage. At the beginning of 1847, he was engaged to a Fraeulein von Puttkammer, whom he had first met at the Blankenburgs’ house; she belonged to a quiet and religious family, and it is said that her mother was at first filled with dismay when she heard that Johanna proposed to marry the mad Bismarck. He announced the engagement to his sister in a letter containing the two words, “All right,” written in English. Before the wedding could take place, a new impulse in his life was to begin. As representative of the lower nobility he had to attend the meeting of the Estates General which had been summoned in Berlin. From this time the story of his life is interwoven with the history of his country.
Bismarck was a subject of the King of Prussia, but Prussia was after all only one part of a larger unit; it was a part of Germany. At this time, however, Germany was little more than a geographical expression. The medieval emperors had never succeeded in establishing permanent authority over the whole nation; what unity there had been was completely broken down at the Reformation, and at the Revolution the Empire itself, the symbol of a union which no longer existed, had been swept away. At the restoration in 1815 the reorganisation of Germany was one of the chief tasks before the Congress of Vienna. It was a task in which the statesmen failed. All proposals to restore the Empire were rejected, chiefly because Francis, who had taken the style of Emperor of Austria, did not desire to resume his old title. Germany emerged from the Revolution divided into thirty-nine different States; Austria was one of the largest and most populous monarchies in Europe, but more than half the Austrian Empire consisted of Italian, Slavonic, and Hungarian provinces. The Emperor of Austria ruled over about 20,000,000 Germans. The next State in size and importance was Prussia. Then came four States, the Kingdoms of Saxony, Hanover, Bavaria, and Wuertemberg, varying in size from five to two million inhabitants; below them were some thirty principalities of which the smallest contained only a few thousand inhabitants. By the principles adopted in the negotiations which preceded the Congress of Vienna, every one of these States was recognised as a complete independent monarchy, with its own laws and constitutions. The recognition of this independence made any common government impossible. Neither Austria nor Prussia would submit to any external authority, or to one another; the Kings of Bavaria and Wuertemberg were equally jealous of their independence. All that could be done was to establish a permanent offensive and defensive alliance between these States. For the management of common concerns, a Diet was appointed to meet at Frankfort; the Diet, however, was only a union of diplomatists; they had to act in accordance with instructions from their governments and they had no direct authority over the Germans; each German was officially regarded as a subject, as the case might be, of the King of Prussia, the Prince of Reuss, the Grand Duke of Weimar. There was no German army, no German law, no German church. No development of common institutions was possible, for no change could be introduced without the universal consent of every member of the Confederation.
This lamentable result of the Congress of Vienna caused much dissatisfaction among the thinking classes in Germany. A very strong national feeling had been aroused by the war against Napoleon. This found no satisfaction in the new political institutions. The discontent was increased when it was discovered that the Diet, so useless for all else, was active only against liberty. Prince Metternich, a very able diplomatist, knew that the Liberal and National ideas, which were so generally held at that time, would be fatal to the existence of the Austrian Empire; he therefore attempted to suppress them, not only in Austria, but also in Germany, as he did in Italy. Unfortunately the King of Prussia, Frederick William III., whose interests were really entirely opposed to those of Austria, was persuaded by Metternich to adopt a repressive policy. The two great powers when combined could impose their will on Germany; they forced through the Diet a series of measures devoted to the restriction of the liberty of the press, the control of the universities, and the suppression of democratic opinion.
The result of this was great discontent in Germany, which was especially directed against Prussia; in 1830 the outbreak of revolution in Paris had been followed by disturbances in many German States; Austria and Prussia, however, were still strong enough to maintain the old system. The whole intellect of the country was diverted to a policy of opposition; in the smaller States of the south, Parliamentary government had been introduced; and the great aim of the Liberals was to establish a Parliament in Prussia also.
In 1840 the old King died; the son, Frederick William IV., was a man of great learning, noble character, high aspirations; he was, however, entirely without sympathy or understanding for the modern desires of his countrymen; he was a child of the Romantic movement; at the head of the youngest of European monarchies, he felt himself more at home in the Middle Ages than in his own time. There could be no sympathy between him and the men who took their politics from Rousseau and Louis Blanc, and their religion from Strauss. It had been hoped that he would at once introduce into Prussia representative institutions. He long delayed, and the delay took away any graciousness from the act when at last it was committed. By a royal decree published in 1822 it had been determined that no new loan could be made without the assent of an assembly of elected representatives; the introduction of railways made a loan necessary, and at the beginning of 1847 Frederick William summoned for the first time the States General.
The King of Prussia had thereby stirred up a power which he was unable to control; he had hoped that he would be able to gather round him the representatives of the nobles, the towns, and the peasants; that this new assembly, collecting about him in respectful homage, would add lustre to his throne; that they would vote the money which was required and then separate. How much was he mistaken! The nation had watched for years Parliamentary government in England and France; this was what they wished to have, and now they were offered a modern imitation of medieval estates. They felt themselves as grown men able and justified in governing their own country; the King treated them as children. The opening ceremony completed the bad impression which the previous acts of the King had made. While the majority of the nation desired a formal and written Constitution, the King in his opening speech with great emphasis declared that he would never allow a sheet of paper to come between him and God in heaven.
Bismarck was not present at the opening ceremony; it was, in fact, owing to an accident that he was able to take his seat at all; he was there as substitute for the member for the _Ritterschaft_ of Jerichow, who had fallen ill. He entered on his Parliamentary duties as a young and almost unknown man; he did not belong to any party, but his political principles were strongly influenced by the friends he had found in Pomerania. They were soon to be hardened by conflict and confirmed by experience; during the first debates he sat silent, but his indignation rose as he listened to the speeches of the Liberal majority. Nothing pleased them; instead of actively co-operating with the Government in the consideration of financial measures, they began to discuss and criticise the proclamation by which they had been summoned. There was indeed ample scope for criticism; the Estates were so arranged that the representatives of the towns could always be outvoted by the landed proprietors; they had not even the right of periodical meetings; the King was not compelled to call them together again until he required more money. They not only petitioned for increased powers, they demanded them as a right; they maintained that an assembly summoned in this form did not meet the intentions of previous laws; when they were asked to allow a loan for a railway in East Prussia, they refused on the ground that they were not a properly qualified assembly.
This was too much for Bismarck: the action of the King might have been inconclusive; much that he said was indiscreet; but it remained true that he had taken the decisive step; no one really doubted that Prussia would never again be without a Parliament. It would be much wiser, as it would be more chivalrous, to adopt a friendly tone and not to attempt to force concessions from him. He was especially indignant at the statement made that the Prussian people had earned constitutional government by the part they took in the war of liberation; against this he protested:
“In my opinion it is a bad service to the national honour to assume that the ill-treatment and degradation that the Prussians suffered from a foreign ruler were not enough to make our blood boil, and to deaden all other feelings but that of hatred for the foreigners.”
When told that he was not alive at the time, he answered:
“I cannot dispute that I was not living then, and I have been genuinely sorry that I was not born in time to take part in that movement; a regret which is diminished by what I have just heard. I had always believed that the slavery against which we fought lay abroad; I have just learned that it lay at home, and I am not grateful for the explanation.”
The ablest of the Liberal leaders was George v. Vincke; a member of an old Westphalian family, the son of a high official, he was a man of honesty and independence, but both virtues were carried to excess; a born leader of opposition, domineering, quarrelsome, ill to please, his short, sturdy figure, his red face and red hair were rather those of a peasant than a nobleman, but his eloquence, his bitter invective, earned the respect and even fear of his opponents. Among these Bismarck was to be ranged; in these days began a rivalry which was not to cease till nearly twenty years later, when Vincke retired from the field and Bismarck stood triumphant, the recognised ruler of the State. At this time it required courage in the younger man to cross swords with the experienced and powerful leader.
Vincke was a strong Liberal, but in the English rather than the Prussian sense; his constant theme was the rule of law; he had studied English history, for at that time all Liberals prepared themselves for their part by reading Hallam or Guizot and Dahlmann; he knew all about Pym and Hampden, and wished to imitate them. The English Parliament had won its power by means of a Petition of Right and a Bill of Rights; he wished they should do the same in Prussia; it escaped him that the English could appeal to charters and ancient privileges, but that in Prussia the absolute power of the King was the undisputed basis on which the whole State had been built up, and that every law to which they owed their liberty or their property derived its validity from the simple proclamation of the King.
Bismarck, if he had read less, understood better the characteristics of England, probably because he knew better the conditions of his own country. He rose to protest against these parallels with England; Prussia had its own problems which must be settled in its own way.
“Parallels with foreign countries have always something disagreeable…. At the Revolution, the English people were in a very different condition from that of Prussia to-day; after a century of revolution and civil war, it was in a position to be able to give away a crown and add conditions which William of Orange accepted. On the other hand, we are in possession of a crown whose rights were actually unlimited, a crown held by the grace not of the people but of God, and which of its own free-will has given away to the people a portion of its rights–an example rare in history.”
It shows how strong upon him was the influence of his friends in Pomerania that his longest and most important speech was in defence of the Christian monarchy. The occasion was a proposal to increase the privileges of the Jews. He said:
“I am no enemy of the Jews; if they become my enemies I will forgive them. Under certain circumstances I love them; I am ready to grant them all rights but that of holding the magisterial office in a Christian State. This they now claim; they demand to become Landrath, General, Minister, yes even, under circumstances, Minister of Religion and Education. I allow that I am full of prejudices, which, as I have said, I have sucked in with my mother’s milk; I cannot argue them away; for if I think of a Jew face to face with me as a representative of the King’s sacred Majesty, and I have to obey him, I must confess that I should feel myself deeply broken and depressed; the sincere self-respect with which I now attempt to fulfil my duties towards the State would leave me. I share these feelings with the mass of the lower strata of the people, and I am not ashamed of their society.”
And then he spoke of the Christian State:
“It is as old as every European State; it is the ground in which they have taken root; no State has a secure existence unless it has a religious foundation. For me, the words, ‘by the Grace of God,’ which Christian rulers add to their name, are no empty phrase; I see in them a confession that the Princes desire to wield the sceptre which God has given them according to the will of God on earth. As the will of God I can only recognise that which has been revealed in the Christian Gospel–I believe that the realisation of Christian teaching is the end of the State; I do not believe that we shall more nearly approach this end by the help of the Jews…. If we withdraw this foundation, we retain in a State nothing but an accidental aggregate of rights, a kind of bulwark against the war of all against all, which ancient philosophy has assumed. Therefore, gentlemen, do not let us spoil the people of their Christianity; do not let us take from them the belief that our legislation is drawn from the well of Christianity, and that the State aims at the realisation of Christianity even if it does not attain its end.”
We can well understand how delighted Herr von Thadden was with his pupil. “With Bismarck I naturally will not attempt to measure myself,” he writes; “in the last debates he has again said many admirable things”; and in another letter, “I am quite enthusiastic for Otto Bismarck.” It was more important that the King felt as if these words had been spoken out of his own heart.
Among his opponents, too, he had made his mark; they were never tired of repeating well-worn jests about the medieval opinions which he had sucked in with his mother’s milk.
At the close of the session, he returned to Pomerania with fresh laurels; he was now looked upon as the rising hope of the stern and unbending Tories. His marriage took place in August, and the young Hans Kleist, a cousin of the bride, as he proposed the bridegroom’s health, foretold that in their friend had arisen a new Otto of Saxony who would do for his country all that his namesake had done eight hundred years before. Careless words spoken half in jest, which thirty years later Kleist, then Over-President of the province, recalled when he proposed the bridegroom’s health at the marriage of Bismarck’s eldest daughter. The forecast had been more than fulfilled, but fulfilled at the cost of many an early friendship; and all the glory of later years could never quite repay the happy confidence and intimacy of those younger days.
Followed by the good wishes of all their friends, Bismarck and his young wife started on their wedding tour, which took them through Austria to Italy. At Venice he came across the King of Prussia, who took the opportunity to have more than one conversation with the man who had distinguished himself in the States General. At the beginning of the winter they returned to Schoenhausen to settle down to a quiet country life. Fate was to will it otherwise. The storm which had long been gathering burst over Europe. Bismarck was carried away by it; from henceforth his life was entirely devoted to public duties, and we can count by months the time he was able to spend with his wife at the old family house; more than forty years were to pass before he was able again to enjoy the leisure of his early years.
The revolution which at the end of February broke out in Paris quickly spread to Germany; the ground was prepared and the news quickly came to him, first of disorder in South Germany, then of the fall of the Ministry in Dresden and Munich; after a few days it was told that a revolution had taken place in Vienna itself. The rising in Austria was the signal for Berlin, and on the 18th of March the revolution broke out there also. The King had promised to grant a Constitution; a fierce fight had taken place in the streets of the city between the soldiers and the people; the King had surrendered to the mob, and had ordered the troops to withdraw from the city. He was himself almost a prisoner in his castle protected only by a civilian National Guard. He was exposed to the insults of the crowd; his brother had had to leave the city and the country. It is impossible to describe the enthusiasm and wild delight with which the people of Germany heard of these events. Now the press was free, now they also were going to be free and great and strong. All the resistance of authority was overthrown; nothing, it seemed, stood between them and the attainment of their ideal of a united and free Germany. They had achieved a revolution; they had become a political people; they had shewn themselves the equals of England and of France. They had liberty, and they would soon have a Constitution. Bismarck did not share this feeling; he saw only that the monarchy which he respected, and the King whom, with all his faults, he loved and honoured, were humiliated and disgraced. This was worse than Jena. A defeat on the field of battle can be avenged; here the enemies were his own countrymen; it was Prussian subjects who had made the King the laughing-stock of Europe. Only a few months ago he had pleaded that they should not lose that confidence between King and people which was the finest tradition of the Prussian State; could this confidence ever be restored when the blood of so many soldiers and citizens had been shed? He felt as though someone had struck him in the face, for his country’s dishonour was to him as his own; he became ill with gall and anger. He had only two thoughts: first to restore to the King courage and confidence, and then–revenge on the men who had done this thing. He at least was not going to play with the revolution. He at once sat down and wrote to the King a letter full of ardent expressions of loyalty and affection, that he might know there still were men on whom he could rely. It is said that for months after, through all this terrible year, the King kept it open by him on his writing-table. Then he hurried to Berlin, if necessary to defend him with the sword. This was not necessary, but the situation was almost worse than he feared; the King was safe, but he was safe because he had surrendered to the revolution; he had proclaimed the fatal words that _Prussia was to be dissolved in Germany_.
At Potsdam Bismarck found his old friends of the Guard and the Court; they were all in silent despair. What could they do to save the monarchy when the King himself had deserted their cause? Some there were who even talked of seeking help from the Czar of Russia, who had offered to come to the help of the monarchy in Prussia and place himself at the head of the Prussian army, even if necessary against their own King. There was already a Liberal Ministry under Count Arnim, Bismarck’s old chief at Aachen; the Prussian troops were being sent to support the people of Schleswig-Holstein in their rebellion against the Danes; the Ministers favoured the aspirations of Poland for self-government; in Prussia there was to be a Constituent Assembly and a new Constitution drawn up by it. Bismarck did what he could; he went down to Schoenhausen and began to collect signatures for an address of loyalty to the King; he wished to instil into him confidence by appealing to the loyalty of the country against the radicalism of the town. Then he hurried back to Berlin for the meeting of the Estates General, which had been hastily summoned to prepare for the new elections. An address was proposed thanking the King for the concessions he had made; Bismarck opposed it, but he stood almost alone.
“I have not changed my opinion,” he said, “in the last six months; the past is buried, and I regret more bitterly than any of you that no human power can reawaken it, now that the Crown itself has cast the earth on its coffin.”
Two men alone voted against the address–Bismarck and Herr von Thadden. “It is easy to get fame nowadays,” said the latter; “a little courage is all one requires.”
Courage it did require; Berlin was terrorised; the new National Guard was unable to maintain order; men scarcely dared to appear in the streets in the ordinary dress of a gentleman. The city was full of Polish insurgents, many of whom had only just been released from prison. When the National Assembly came together, it became the organ of the extreme Republican party; all the more moderate men and more distinguished had preferred to be elected for that general German Assembly which at the same time was sitting at Frankfort to create a new Constitution for the whole Confederation. How quickly had the balance of parties altered: Vincke, until a few months ago the leader of the Liberals, found himself at Frankfort regarded as an extreme Conservative; and Frankfort was moderate compared to Berlin. At this time an ordinary English Radical would have been looked upon in Germany as almost reactionary. Bismarck did not seek election for either of the Assemblies; he felt that he could do no good by taking part in the deliberations of a Parliament, the very meeting of which seemed to him an offence against the laws and welfare of the State. He would indeed have had no logical position; both Parliaments were Constituent Assemblies; it was the duty of the one to build up a new Germany, of the other a new Prussia; their avowed object was the regeneration of their country. Bismarck did not believe that Prussia wanted regenerating; he held that the roots for the future greatness of the State must be found in the past. What happened to Germany he did not much care; all he saw was that every proposal for the regeneration of Germany implied either a dissolution of Prussia, or the subjection of the Prussian King to the orders of an alien Parliament.
During the summer he did what he could; he contributed articles to the newspapers attacking the Polish policy of the Government, and defending the landlords and country gentry against the attacks made on them. As the months went by, as the anarchy in Berlin increased, and the violence of the Assembly as well as the helplessness of the Government became more manifest, he and some of his friends determined to make their voices heard in a more organised way. It was at the house of his father-in-law at Rheinfeld that he, Hans Kleist, and Herr von Below determined to call together a meeting of well-known men in Berlin, who should discuss the situation and be a moral counterpoise to the meetings of the National Assembly; for in that the Conservative party and even the Moderate Liberals were scarcely represented; if they did speak they were threatened by the mob which encumbered the approaches to the House. Of more permanent importance was the foundation of a newspaper which should represent the principles of the Christian monarchy, and in July appeared the first number of the _New Prussian Gazette_, or, as it was to be more generally known, the _Kreuz Zeitung_, which was to give its name to the party of which it was the organ. Bismarck was among the founders, among whom were also numbered Stahl, the Gerlachs, and others of his older friends; he was a frequent contributor, and when he was at Berlin was almost daily at the office; when he was in the country he contributed articles on the rural affairs with which he was more specially qualified to deal.
These steps, of course, attracted the attention and the hostility of the dominant Liberal and Revolutionary parties; the _Junker_, as they were called, were accused of aiming at reaction and the restoration of the absolute monarchy. As a matter of fact, this is what many of them desired; they were, however, only doing their duty as members of society; it would have been mere cowardice and indolence had they remained inactive and seen all the institutions they valued overthrown without attempting to defend them. It required considerable courage in the middle of so violent a crisis to come forward and attempt to stop the revolution; it was a good example that they began to do so by constitutional and legal means. They shewed that Prussia had an aristocracy, and an aristocracy which was not frightened; deserted by the King they acted alone; in the hour of greatest danger they founded a Conservative party, and matters had come to this position that an organised Conservative party was the chief necessity of the time.
At first, however, their influence was small, for a monarchical party must depend for its success on the adhesion of the King, and the King had not yet resolved to separate himself from his Liberal advisers. Bismarck was often at Court and seems to have had much influence; both to his other companions and to the King himself he preached always courage and resolution; he spoke often to the King with great openness; he was supported by Leopold von Gerlach, with whom at this time he contracted a close intimacy. For long their advice was in vain, but in the autumn events occurred which shewed that some decision must be taken: the mob of Berlin stormed the _Zeughaus_ where the arms were kept; the Constitution of the Assembly was being drawn up so as to leave the King scarcely any influence in the State; a resolution was passed calling on the Ministers to request all officers to leave the army who disliked the new order of things. The crisis was brought about by events in Vienna; in October the Austrian army under Jellachich and Windischgraetz stormed the city, proclaimed martial law, and forcibly overthrew the Revolutionary Government; the King of Prussia now summoned resolution to adopt a similar course. It is said that Bismarck suggested to him the names of the Ministers to whom the task should be entrusted. The most important were Count Brandenburg, an uncle of the King’s, and Otto v. Manteuffel, a member of the Prussian aristocracy, who with Bismarck had distinguished himself in the Estates General. He seems to have been constantly going about among the more influential men, encouraging them as he encouraged the King, and helping behind the scenes to prepare for the momentous step. Gerlach had suggested Bismarck’s name as one of the Ministers, but the King rejected it, writing on the side of the paper the characteristic words, “Red reactionary; smells of blood; will be useful later.” Bismarck’s language was of such a nature as to alarm even many of those who associated with him. Count Beust, the Saxon Minister, was at this time in Berlin and met Bismarck for the first time; they were discussing the conduct of the Austrian Government in shooting Robert Blum, a leading demagogue who had been in Vienna during the siege. Beust condemned it as a political blunder. “No, you are wrong,” said Bismarck; “when I have my enemy in my power I must destroy him.”
The event fully justified Bismarck’s forecast that nothing was required but courage and resolution. After Brandenburg had been appointed Minister, the Prussian troops under Wrangel again entered Berlin, a state of siege was proclaimed, the Assembly was ordered to adjourn to Brandenburg; they refused and were at once ejected from their meeting-place, and as a quorum was not found at Brandenburg, were dissolved. The Crown then of its own authority published a new Constitution and summoned a new Assembly to discuss and ratify it. Based on the discipline of the army the King had regained his authority without the loss of a single life.
Bismarck stood for election in this new Assembly, for he could accept the basis on which it had been summoned; he took his seat for the district of the West Havel in which the old city of Brandenburg, the original capital of the Mark, was situated. He had come forward as an opponent of the Revolution. “Everyone,” he said in his election address, “must support the Government in the course they have taken of combating the Revolution which threatens us all.” “No transaction with the Revolution,” was the watchword proposed in the manifesto of his party. He appealed to the electors as one who would direct all his efforts to restore the old bond of confidence between Crown and people. He kept his promise. In this Assembly the Extreme Left was still the predominant party; in an address to the Crown they asked that the state of siege at Berlin should be raised, and that an amnesty to those who had fought on the 18th of March should be proclaimed. Bismarck did not yet think that the time for forgiveness had come; the struggle was indeed not yet over. He opposed the first demand because, as he said, there was more danger to liberty of debate from the armed mob than there was from the Prussian soldiers. In one of the most careful of his speeches he opposed the amnesty. “Amnesty,” he said, “was a right of the Crown, not of the Assembly”; moreover the repeated amnesties were undermining in the people the feeling of law; the opinion was being spread about that the law of the State rested on the barricades, that everyone who disliked a law or considered it unjust had the right to consider it as non-existent. Who that has read the history of Europe during this year can doubt the justice of the remark? Then he continues:
“My third reason for voting against the amnesty is humanity. The strife of principles which during this year has shattered Europe to its foundations is one in which no compromise is possible. They rest on opposite bases. The one draws its law from what is called the will of the people, in truth, however, from the law of the strongest on the barricades. The other rests on authority created by God, an authority by the grace of God, and seeks its development in organic connection with the existing and constitutional legal status … the decision on these principles will come not by Parliamentary debate, not by majorities of eleven votes; sooner or later the God who directs the battle will cast his iron dice.”
These words were greeted with applause, not only by the men who sat on his side of the House, but by those opposite to him. The truth of them was to be shewn by the events which were taking place at that very time. They were spoken on the 22d of March. The next day was fought the battle of Novara and it seemed that the last hopes of the Italian patriots were shattered. Within a few months the Austrian army subdued with terrible vengeance the rising in Lombardy and Venetia; Hungary was prostrate before the troops whom the Czar sent to help the young Austrian Emperor, and the last despairing outbreak of rebellion in Saxony and in Baden was to be subdued by the Prussian army. The Revolution had failed and it had raised up, as will always happen, a military power, harder, crueller, and more resolute than that it had overthrown. The control over Europe had passed out of the hands of Metternich and Louis Philippe to fall into those of Nicholas, Schwarzenberg, and Napoleon III.
In Prussia the King used his power with moderation, the conflict of parties was continued within legal limits and under constitutional forms.
The Parliament which still claimed that control over the executive government which all Parliaments of the Revolution had exercised, was dissolved. A new Assembly met in August; the King had of his own authority altered the electoral law and the new Parliament showed a considerable majority belonging to the more moderate Liberal party. Bismarck retained his old seat. He still found much to do; his influence was increasing; he opposed the doctrines of the more moderate Liberalism with the same energy with which he had attacked the extreme Revolution. The most important debates were those concerning the Constitution; he took part in them, especially opposing the claim of the Parliament to refuse taxes. He saw that if the right was given to the Lower House of voting the taxes afresh every year they would be able to establish a complete control over the executive government; this he did not wish. He was willing that they should have the right of discussing and rejecting any new taxes and also, in agreement with the Crown and the Upper House, of determining the annual Budget. It was maintained by the Liberals that the right to reject supplies every year was an essential part of a constitutional system; they appealed to the practice in England and to the principles adopted in the French and Belgian Constitutions. Their argument was that this practice which had been introduced in other countries must be adopted also in Prussia. It was just one of those arguments which above all offended Bismarck’s Prussian patriotism. Why should Prussia imitate other countries? Why should it not have its own Constitution in its own way? Constitution, as he said, was the _mot d’ordre_ of the day, the word which men used when they were in want of an argument. “In Prussia that only is constitutional which arises from the Prussian Constitution; whatever be constitutional in Belgium, or in France, in Anhalt Dessau, or there where the morning red of Mecklenburg freedom shines, here that alone is constitutional which rests on the Prussian Constitution.” If he defended the prerogative of the Crown he defended the Constitution of his country. A constitution is the collection of rules and laws by which the action of the king is governed; a state without a constitution is a mere Oriental despotism where each arbitrary whim of the king is transmuted into action; this was not what Bismarck desired or defended; there was no danger of this in Prussia. He did not even oppose changes in the law and practice of the Constitution; what he did oppose was the particular change which would transfer the sovereignty to an elected House of Parliament. “It has been maintained,” he once said, “that a constitutional king cannot be a king by the Grace of God; on the contrary he is it above all others.”
The references to foreign customs were indeed one of the most curious practices of the time; the matter was once being discussed whether the Crown had the power to declare a state of siege without the assent of the Chambers; most speakers attempted to interpret the text of the Prussian Constitution by precedents derived from the practice in France and England; we find the Minister of Justice defending his action on the ground of an event in the French Revolution, and Lothar Bucher, one of the ablest of the Opposition, complained that not enough attention had been paid to the procedure adopted in England for repealing the _Habeas Corpus Act_, entirely ignoring the fact that there was no Habeas Corpus Act in Prussia. We can easily understand how repulsive this was to a man who, like Bismarck, wished nothing more than that his countrymen should copy, not the details of the English Constitution, but the proud self-reliance which would regard as impertinent an application of foreign notions.
The chief cause for this peculiarity was the desire of the Liberal party to attain that degree of independence and personal liberty which was enjoyed in England or France; the easiest way to do this seemed to be to copy their institutions. There was, however, another reason: the study of Roman law in Germany in which they had been educated had accustomed them to look for absolute principles of jurisprudence which might be applied to the legislation of all countries; when, therefore, they turned their minds to questions of politics, they looked for absolute principles of constitutional government, on which, as on a law of nature, their own institutions might be built up. To find these they analysed the English Constitution, for England was the classical land of representative government; they read its rules as they would the institutions of a Roman Jurisconsult and used them to cast light on the dark places of their own law. Bismarck did not share this type of thought; his mind was rather of the English cast; he believed the old Prussian Constitution was as much a natural growth as that of England, and decided dark points by reference to older practice as an Englishman would search for precedents in the history of his own country.
At that time the absolute excellence of a democratic constitution was a dogma which few cared to dispute; it appeared to his hearers as a mere paradox when Bismarck pointed out how little evidence there was that a great country could prosper under the government of a Parliament elected by an extended franchise. Strictly speaking, there was no evidence from experience; France, as he said, was the parent of all these theories, but the example of France was certainly not seductive. “I see in the present circumstances of France nothing to encourage us to put the _Nessus_ robe of French political teaching over our healthy body.” (This was in September, 1849, when the struggle between the Prince President and the Assembly was already impending.) The Liberals appealed to Belgium; it had, at least, stood the storm of the last year, but so had Russia, and, after all, the Belgian Constitution was only eighteen years old, “an admirable age for ladies but not for constitutions.” And then there was England.
“England governs itself, although the Lower House has the right of refusing taxes. The references to England are our misfortune; give us all that is English which we have not, give us English fear of God and English reverence before the law, the whole English Constitution, but above all the complete independence of English landed property, English wealth and English common-sense, especially an English Lower House, in short everything which we have not got, then I will say, you can govern us after the English fashion.”
But this was not all. How could they appeal to England as a proof that a democratic Parliament was desirable? England had not grown great under a democratic but under an aristocratic constitution.
“English reform is younger than the Belgian Constitution; we have still to wait and see whether this reformed Constitution will maintain itself for centuries as did the earlier rule of the English aristocracy.”
That, in Bismarck’s opinion, it was not likely to do so, we see a few years later; with most Continental critics of English institutions, he believed that the Reform Bill had destroyed the backbone of the English Constitution. In 1857 he wrote:
“They have lost the ‘inherited wisdom’ since the Reform Bill; they maintain a coarse and violent selfishness and the ignorance of Continental relations.”
It was not merely aristocratic prejudice; it was a wise caution to bid his countrymen pause before they adopted from foreign theorists a form of government so new and untried, and risked for the sake of an experiment the whole future of Prussia.
In later years Bismarck apologised for many of the speeches which he made at this period: “I was a terrible Junker in those days,” he said; and biographers generally speak of them as though they required justification or apology. There seems no reason for this. It would have been impossible for him, had he at that time been entrusted with the government of the State, entirely to put into practice what he had said from his place in the Chamber. But he was not minister; he was only a party leader; his speeches were, as they were intended to be, party speeches; they had something of the exaggeration which conflict always produces. They were, moreover, opposition speeches, for he was addressing not so much the Government as the Chamber and the country, and in them the party to which he belonged was a very small minority. But why was there not to be a Conservative party in Prussia?
It was necessary for the proper development of constitutional life that the dominant Liberal doctrines should be opposed by this bold criticism. Bismarck was only doing what in England was done by the young Disraeli, by Carlyle, and by Ruskin; the world would not be saved by constitutional formulae.
There were some of his party whose aims went indeed beyond what may be considered morally legitimate and politically practicable. The Gerlachs and many of their friends, and the purely military party which was headed by Prince Charles Frederick, the King’s youngest brother, desired to do away with the Constitution, to dismiss the Parliament, and to restore the absolute monarchy in a form which would have been more extreme than that which it had had since 1815. The King himself sympathised with their wishes and he probably would have acted according to them were it not that he had sworn to maintain the Constitution. He was a religious man and he respected his oath. There does not appear any evidence that Bismarck wished for extreme action of this kind. Even in his private correspondence, at least in that part of it which has been published, one finds no desire to see Prussia entirely without a Parliament. It was a very different thing to wish as he did that the duties of the Parliament should be strictly limited and that they should not be allowed completely to govern the State. We must always remember how much he owed to representative assemblies. Had the Estates General never been summoned, had the Revolution never taken place, he would probably have passed his life as a country gentleman, often discontented with the Government of the country but entirely without influence. He owed to Parliament his personal reputation, but he owed to it something more than that. Up to 1847 the only public career open to a Prussian subject was the Civil Service; it was from them that not only the subordinate officials but the Ministers of the State were selected. Now we have seen that Bismarck had tried the Civil Service and deliberately retired from it. The hatred of bureaucracy he never overcame, even when he was at the head of the Prussian State. It arose partly from the natural opposition between the nobleman and the clerk. Bismarck felt in this like Stein, the greatest of his predecessors, who though he had taken service under the Prussian Crown never overcame his hatred of “_the animal with a pen_” as he called Prussian Civil Servants, and shed tears of indignation when he was first offered a salary. Bismarck was never a great nobleman like Stein and he did not dislike receiving a salary; but he felt that the Civil Servants were the enemies of the order to which he belonged. He speaks a few years later of “the biting acid of Prussian legislation which in a single generation can reduce a mediatised Prince to an ordinary voter.” He is never tired of saying that it was the bureaucracy which was the real introducer of the Revolution into Prussia. In one of his speeches he defends himself and his friends against the charge of being enemies to freedom; “that they were not,” he says;
“Absolutism with us is closely connected with the omnipotence of the _Geheimrath_ and the conceited omniscience of the Professors who sit behind the green table, a product, and I venture to maintain a necessary product, of the Prussian method of education. This product, the bureaucracy, I have never loved.”
When, as he often does, he maintains that the Prussian Parliament does not represent the people, he is thinking of the predominance among them of officials, for we must always remember that many of the extreme Liberal party and some of their most active leaders were men who were actually at that time in the service of the Crown.
It was the introduction of a Representative Assembly that for the first time in Prussian history made possible a Conservative opposition against the Liberalism of the Prussian Government. There are two kinds of Liberalism. In one sense of the word it means freedom of debate, freedom of the press, the power of the individual as against the Government, independence of character, and personal freedom. Of Liberalism in this sense of the word there was indeed little in the Prussian Government. But Liberalism also meant the overthrow of the old established institutions inherited from the Middle Ages, especially the destruction of all privileges held by the nobility; it meant on the Continent opposition to all form of dogmatic religious teaching; it meant the complete subjection of the Church to the State; it meant the abolition of all local distinctions and the introduction of a uniform system of government chiefly imitated from French institutions. It was in this sense of the word that, with the exception of the first few years of the reign of Frederick William IV., the Prussian Government had been Liberal, and it was this Liberalism which Bismarck and his friends hated almost as much as they did the Liberalism of the Revolution.
The clearest instance of his attitude on such matters is to be found in his opposition to the Bill introduced for making civil marriage compulsory. He opposed it in a speech which was many years later to be quoted against him when he himself introduced a measure almost identical with that which he now opposed. Civil marriage, he said, was a foreign institution, an imitation of French legislation; it would simply serve to undermine the belief in Christianity among the people, “and” he said, “I have seen many friends of the illumination during the last year or two come to recognise that a certain degree of positive Christianity is necessary for the common man, if he is not to become dangerous to human society.” The desire for introducing this custom was merely an instance of the constant wish to imitate what is foreign.
“It would be amusing,” he said, “if it were not just our own country which was subjected to these experiments of French charlatanism. In the course of the discussion it has often been said by gentlemen standing in this place that Europe holds us for a people of thinkers. Gentlemen, that was in old days. The popular representation of the last two years has deprived us of this reputation. They have shown to a disappointed Europe only translators of French stucco but no original thinkers. It may be that when civil marriage also rejoices in its majority, the people will have their eyes opened to the swindle to which they have been sacrificed; when one after another the old Christian fundamental rights have been taken from them: the right to be governed by Christian magistrates; the right to know that they have secured to their children a Christian education in schools which Christian parents are compelled to maintain and to use; the right of being married in the Christian fashion which his faith requires from everyone, without being dependent on constitutional ceremonies. If we go on in this way I hope still to see the day when the fool’s ship of the time will be wrecked on the rock of the Christian Church; for the belief in the revealed Word of God still stands firmer among the people than the belief in the saving power of any article of the Constitution.”
In the same way he was able from his place in Parliament to criticise the proposals of the Government for freeing the peasants from those payments in kind, and personal service which in some of the provinces still adhered to their property; he attacked their financial proposals; he exposed the injustice of the land tax; he defended the manorial jurisdiction of the country gentlemen. Especially he defended the nobles of Prussia themselves, a class against whom so many attacks had been made. He pointed out that by them and by their blood the Prussian State had been built up; the Prussian nobles were, he maintained, not, as so often was said, unpopular; a third of the House belonged to them; they were not necessarily opposed to freedom; they were, at least, the truest defenders of the State. Let people not confuse patriotism and Liberalism. Who had done more for the true political independence of the State, that independence without which all freedom was impossible, than the Prussian nobles? At the end of the Seven Years’ War boys had stood at the head of the army, the only survivors of their families. The privileges of the nobles had been taken from them, but they had not behaved like the democrats; their loyalty to the State had never wavered; they had not even formed a Fronde. He was not ashamed of the name of Junker: “We will bring the name to glory and honour,” were almost the last words he spoke in Parliament.
Bismarck soon became completely at home in the House. Notwithstanding the strength of his opinions and the vigour with which he gave expression to them, he was not unpopular, even among his opponents. He was always a gentleman and a man of the world; he did not dislike mixing with men of all classes and all parties; he had none of that stiffness and hauteur which many of his friends had acquired from their military pursuits. His relations with his opponents are illustrated by an anecdote of which there are many versions. He found himself one day while in the refreshment room standing side by side with d’Ester, one of the most extreme of the Republican party. They fell into conversation, and d’Ester suggested that they should make a compact and, whichever party succeeded in the struggle for power, they should each agree to spare the other. If the Republicans won, Bismarck should not be guillotined; if the monarchists, d’Ester should not be hung. “No,” answered Bismarck, “that is no use; if you come into power, life would not be worth living. There must be hanging, but courtesy to the foot of the gallows.”
If he was in after years to become known as the great adversary of Parliamentary government, this did not arise from any incapacity to hold his own in Parliamentary debate. He did not indeed aim at oratory; then, as in later years, he always spoke with great contempt of men who depended for power on their rhetorical ability. He was himself deficient in the physical gifts of a great speaker; powerful as was his frame, his voice was thin and weak. He had nothing of the actor in him; he could not command the deep voice, the solemn tones, the imposing gestures, the Olympian mien by which men like Waldeck and Radowitz and Gagern dominated and controlled their audience. His own mind was essentially critical; he appealed more to the intellect than the emotions. His speeches were always controversial, but he was an admirable debater. It is curious to see how quickly he adopts the natural Parliamentary tone. His speeches are all subdued in tone and conversational in manner. Many of them were very carefully prepared, for though he did not generally write them out, he said them over and over again to himself or to Kleist, with whom he lived in Berlin. They are entirely unlike any other speeches–he has, in fact, in them, as in his letters, added a new chapter to the literature of his country, hitherto so poor in prose.
They shew a vivid imagination and an almost unequalled power of illustration. The thought is always concrete, and he is never satisfied with the vague ideas and abstract conceptions which so easily moved his contemporaries. No speeches, either in English or in German, preserve so much of their freshness. He is almost the only Parliamentary orator whose speeches have become to some extent a popular book; no other orator has enriched the language as he has done with new phrases and images. The great characteristic of his speeches, as of his letters, is the complete absence of affectation and the very remarkable intellectual honesty. They are often deficient in order and arrangement; he did not excel in the logical exposition of a connected argument, but he never was satisfied till he had presented the idea which influenced him in words so forcible and original that it was impressed on the minds of his audience, and he was often able to find expressions which will not be forgotten so long as the German language is spoken.
We can easily imagine that under other circumstances, or in another country, he would have risen to power and held office as a Parliamentary Minister. He often appeals to the practice and traditions of the English Parliament, and there are few Continental statesmen who would have been so completely at home in the English House of Commons; he belonged to the class of men from whom so many of the great English statesmen had come and whom he himself describes:
“What with us is lacking is the whole class which in England carries on politics, the class of gentlemen who are well-to-do and therefore Conservative, who are independent of material interests and whose whole education is directed towards making them English statesmen, and the object of whose life is to take part in the Commonwealth of England.”
They were the class to whom he belonged, and he would gladly have taken part in a Parliamentary government of this kind.
The weakness of his position arose from the fact that he was really acquainted with and represented the inhabitants of only one-half of the monarchy. So long as he is dealing with questions of landed property, or of the condition of the peasants, he has a minute and thorough knowledge. He did not always, however, avoid the danger of speaking as though Prussia consisted entirely of agriculturists. The great difficulty then as now of governing the State, was that it consisted of two parts: the older provinces, almost entirely agricultural, where the land was held chiefly by the great nobles, and the new provinces, the Rhine and Westphalia, where there was a large and growing industrial population. To the inhabitants of these provinces Bismarck’s constant appeal to the old Prussian traditions and to the achievements of the Prussian nobility could have little meaning. What did the citizens of Cologne and Aachen care about the Seven Years’ War? If their ancestors took part in the war, it would be as enemies of the Kings of Prussia. When Bismarck said that they were Prussians, and would remain Prussian, he undoubtedly spoke the opinion of the Mark and of Pomerania. But the inhabitants of the Western Provinces still felt and thought rather as Germans than as Prussians; they had scarcely been united with the monarchy thirty years; they were not disloyal, but they were quite prepared–nay, they wished to see Prussia dissolved in Germany. No one can govern Prussia unless he is able to reconcile to his policy these two different classes in the State. It was this which the Prussian Conservatives, to which Bismarck at that time belonged, have always failed to do. The Liberals whom he opposed failed equally. In later years he was very nearly to succeed in a task which might appear almost impossible.
THE GERMAN PROBLEM.
Bismarck, however, did not confine himself to questions of constitutional reform and internal government. He often spoke on the foreign policy of the Government, and it is in these speeches that he shews most originality.
The Revolution in Germany, as in Italy, had two sides; it was Liberal, but it was also National. The National element was the stronger and more deep-seated. The Germans felt deeply the humiliation to which they were exposed owing to the fact that they did not enjoy the protection of a powerful Government; they wished to belong to a national State, as Frenchmen, Englishmen, and Russians did. It was the general hope that the period of revolution might be used for establishing a government to which the whole of Germany would pay obedience. This was the task of the Constituent Assembly, which since the spring of 1848 had with the permission of the Governments been sitting at Frankfort. Would they be able to succeed where the diplomatists of Vienna had failed? They had at least good-will, but it was to be shewn that something more than honest endeavour was necessary. There were three great difficulties with which they had to contend. The first was the Republican party, the men who would accept no government but a Republic, and who wished to found the new state by insurrection. They were a small minority of the German people; several attempts at insurrection organised by them were suppressed, and they were outvoted in the Assembly. The second difficulty was Austria. A considerable portion of Germany was included in the Austrian Empire. If the whole of Germany were to be included in the new State which they hoped to found, then part of the Austrian Empire would have to be separated from the rest, subjected to different laws and a different government; nothing would remain but a personal union between the German and Slavonic provinces. The Government of Austria, after it had recovered its authority at the end of 1848, refused to accept this position, and published a new Constitution, binding all the provinces together in a closer union. The Assembly at Frankfort had no power to coerce the Emperor of Austria; they therefore adopted the other solution, viz.: that the rest of Germany was to be reconstituted, and the Austrian provinces left out. The question, however, then arose: Would Austria accept this–would she allow a new Germany to be created in which she had no part? Surely not, if she was able to prevent it. The third difficulty was the relation between the individual States and the new central authority. It is obvious that whatever powers were given to the new Government would be taken away from the Princes of the individual States, who hitherto had enjoyed complete sovereignty. Those people who in Germany were much influenced by attachment to the existing governments, and who wished to maintain the full authority of the Princes and the local Parliaments, were called _Particularists_. During the excitement of the Revolution they had been almost entirely silenced. With the restoration of order and authority they had regained their influence. It was probable that many of the States would refuse to accept the new Constitution unless they were compelled to do so. Where was the power to do this? There were many in the National Assembly who wished to appeal to the power of the people, and by insurrection and barricades compel all the Princes to accept the new Constitution. There was only one other power in Germany which could do the work, and that was the Prussian army. Would the King of Prussia accept this task?
The German Constitution was completed in March, 1849. By the exercise of much tact and great personal influence, Heinrich von Gagern, the President of the Assembly and the leader of the Moderate party in it, had procured a majority in favour of an hereditary monarchy, and the King of Prussia was elected to the post of first German Emperor. At the beginning of April there arrived in Berlin the deputation which was to offer to him the crown, and on his answer depended the future of Germany. Were he to accept, he would then have undertaken to put himself at the head of the revolutionary movement; it would be his duty to compel all the other States to accept the new Constitution, and, if necessary, to defend it on the field of battle against Austria. Besides this he would have to govern not only Prussia but Germany; to govern it under a Constitution which gave almost all the power to a Parliament elected by universal suffrage, and in which he had only a suspensive veto. Can we be surprised that he refused the offer? He refused it on the ground that he could not accept universal suffrage, and also because the title and power of German Emperor could not be conferred on him by a popular assembly; he could only accept it from his equals, the German Princes.
The decision of the King was discussed in the Prussian Assembly, and an address moved declaring that the Frankfort Constitution was in legal existence, and requesting the King to accept the offer. It was on this occasion that Bismarck for the first time came forward as the leader of a small party on the Extreme Right. He at once rose to move the previous question. He denied to the Assembly even the right of discussing this matter which belonged to the prerogative of the King.
He was still more strongly opposed to the acceptance of the offered crown. He saw only that the King of Prussia would be subjected to a Parliamentary Assembly, that his power of action would be limited. The motto of his speech was that Prussia must remain Prussia. “The crown of