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

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Ever since the conclusion of peace, the danger of a conflict between
France and Germany had been apparent. It was not only the growing
discontent and suspicion of the French nation and the French army, who
truly felt that the supremacy of France had been shaken by the growth of
this new power; it was not only that the deep-rooted hatred of France
which prevailed in Germany had been stirred by Napoleon's action, and
that the Germans had received confidence from the consciousness of their
own strength. Had there been nothing more than this, year after year
might have gone by and, as has happened since and had happened before, a
war always anticipated might have been always deferred. We may be sure
that Bismarck would not have gone to war unless he believed it to be
necessary and desirable, and he would not have thought this unless there
was something to be gained. He has often shewn, before and since, that
he was quite as well able to use his powers in the maintenance of peace
as in creating causes for war. There was, however, one reason which
made war almost inevitable. The unity of Germany was only half
completed; the southern States still existed in a curious state of
semi-isolation. This could not long continue; their position must be
regulated. War arises from that state of uncertainty which is always
present when a political community has not found a stable and permanent
constitution. In Germany men were looking forward to the time when the
southern States should join the north. The work was progressing; the
treaties of offensive and defensive alliance had been followed by the
creation of a new Customs' Union, and it was a further step when at
Bismarck's proposal a Parliament consisting of members elected
throughout the whole of Germany was summoned at Berlin for the
management of matters connected with the tariff. Further than this,
however, he was not able to go; the new Constitution was working well;
they could risk welcoming the States of the south into it; but this
could not be done without a war with France. Bismarck had rejected the
French proposal for an alliance. He knew, and everyone else knew, that
France would oppose by the sword any attempt to complete the unity of
Germany; and, which was more serious, unless great caution was used,
that she would be supported by Austria and perhaps by the anti-Prussian
party in Bavaria. There were some who wished to press it forward at
once. Bismarck was very strongly pressed by the National Liberals to
hasten the union with the south; at the beginning of 1870 the Grand Duke
of Baden, himself a son-in-law of the King of Prussia and always the
chief supporter of Prussian influence in the south, formally applied to
be admitted into the Federation. The request had to be refused, but
Bismarck had some difficulty in defending his position against his
enthusiastic friends. He had to warn them not to hurry; they must not
press the development too quickly. If they did so, they would stir the
resentment of the anti-Prussian party; they would play into the hands of
Napoleon and Austria. But if there was danger in haste, there was equal
danger in delay; the prestige of Prussia would suffer.

It is clear that there was one way in which the union might be brought
about almost without resistance, and that was, if France were to make an
unprovoked attack upon Germany, an attack so completely without reason
and excuse that the strong national passion it provoked might in the
enthusiasm of war sweep away all minor differences and party feelings.

There was another element which we must not omit. These years witnessed
the growth in determination and in power of the Ultramontane party. We
can find their influence in every country in Europe; their chief aim was
the preservation of the temporal power of the Pope and the destruction
of the newly created Kingdom of Italy. They were also opposed to the
unity of Germany under Prussia. They were very active and powerful in
South Germany, and at the elections in 1869 had gained a majority. Their
real object must be to win over the Emperor of the French to a complete
agreement with themselves, to persuade him to forsake his earlier
policy and to destroy what he had done so much to create. They had a
strong support in the person of the Empress, and they joined with the
injured vanity of the French to press the Emperor towards war.

In 1867, war had almost broken out on the question of Luxemburg.
Napoleon had attempted to get at least this small extension of
territory; relying on the support of Prussia he entered into
negotiations with the King of Holland; the King agreed to surrender the
Grand Duchy to France, making, however, a condition that Napoleon should
secure the assent of Prussia to this arrangement. At the very last
moment, when the treaty was almost signed, Bismarck made it clear that
the national feeling in Germany was so strong that if the transaction
took place he would have to declare war against France. At the same
time, he published the secret treaties with the southern States. These
events destroyed the last hope of maintaining the old friendly relations
with Napoleon; "I have been duped," said the Emperor, who at once began
reorganising and rearming his forces. For some weeks there was great
danger of war concerning the right of garrisoning Luxemburg; this had
hitherto belonged to Prussia, but of course with the dissolution of the
German Confederation the right had lapsed. The German nation, which was
much excited and thought little of the precise terms of treaties, wished
to defend the right; Bismarck knew that in this matter the Prussian
claim could not be supported; moreover, even if he had wished to go to
war with France he was not ready; for some time must elapse before the
army of the North German Confederation could be reorganised on the
Prussian model. He therefore preserved the peace and the matter was
settled by a European Congress. In the summer of 1867, he visited Paris
with the King; externally the good relations between the two States were
restored, but it was in reality only an armed peace.

It is difficult to decipher Napoleon's wishes; he seems to have believed
that war was inevitable; there is no proof that he desired it. He made
preparations; the army was reorganised, the numbers increased, and a new
weapon introduced. At the same time he looked about for allies.
Negotiations were carried on with Austria; in 1868 a meeting was
arranged between the two Emperors; Beust, who was now Chancellor of the
Austrian Empire, was anxious to make an attempt to overthrow the power
of Prussia in Germany. In 1870, negotiations were entered into for a
military alliance; a special envoy, General Lebrun, was sent to Vienna
to discuss the military arrangements in case of war. No treaty was
signed, but it was an almost understood thing that sooner or later an
alliance between the two Emperors should be formed against Prussia.

It will be seen then that at the beginning of 1870 everything was
tending towards war, and that under certain circumstances war was
desirable, both for France and for Germany; much seemed to depend on the
occasion of the outbreak. If Prussia took the offensive, if she
attempted by force to win the southern States, she would be faced by a
coalition of France and Austria, supported only too probably by Bavaria,
and this was a coalition which would find much sympathy among the
discontented in North Germany. On the other hand, it was for the
advantage of Prussia not to delay the conflict: the King was growing
old; Bismarck could never be sure how long he would remain in office;
moreover, the whole forces of North Germany had now been completely
reorganised and were ready for war, but with the year 1871 it was to be
foreseen that a fresh attempt would be made to reduce their numbers; it
was desirable to avoid a fresh conflict on the military budget;
everything shews that 1870 was the year in which it would be most
convenient for Prussia to fight.

Prussia, at this time, had no active allies on whom she could depend;
Bismarck indeed had secured the neutrality of Russia, but he did not
know that the Czar would come actively to his help; we may feel sure
that he would prefer not to have to call upon Russia for assistance,
for, as we have seen in older days, a war between France and Russia, in
which Germany joined, would be very harmful to Germany. It was in these
circumstances that an opportunity shewed itself of gaining another ally
who would be more subservient than Russia. One of the many revolutions
which had harassed Spain during this century had broken out. Queen
Isabella had lost the throne, and General Prim found himself obliged to
look about for a new sovereign. He applied in vain to all the Catholic
Courts; nobody was anxious to accept an honour coupled with such danger
as ruling over the Spanish people. Among others he applied to Leopold,
hereditary Prince of Hohenzollern, eldest son of that Prince of
Hohenzollern who a few years before had been President of the Prussian
Ministry. The choice seemed a good one: the Prince was an amiable,
courageous man; he was a Catholic; he was, moreover, connected with the
Napoleonic family. His brother had, three years before, been appointed
King of Roumania with Napoleon's good-will.

The proposal was probably made in all good faith; under ordinary
circumstances, the Prince, had he been willing to accept, would have
been a very proper candidate. It was, however, known from the first that
Napoleon would not give his consent, and, according to the comity of
Europe, he had a right to be consulted. Nor can we say that Napoleon was
not justified in opposing the appointment. It has indeed been said that
the Prince was not a member of the Prussian Royal House and that his
connection with Napoleon was really closer than that with the King of
Prussia. This is true, but to lay stress on it is to ignore the very
remarkable voluntary connection which united the two branches of the
House of Hohenzollern. The Prince's father had done what no sovereign
prince in Germany has ever done before or since: out of loyalty to
Prussia he had surrendered his position as sovereign ruler and presented
his dominions to the King of Prussia; he had on this occasion been
adopted into the Royal Family; he had formally recognised the King as
Head of the House, and subjected himself to his authority. More than
this, he had even condescended to accept the position of Prussian
Minister. Was not Napoleon justified if he feared that the son of a man
who had shewn so great an affection to Prussia would not be an agreeable
neighbour on the throne of Spain?

It was in the early spring of 1869 that the first proposals were made to
the Prince; our information as to this is very defective, but it seems
that they were at once rejected. Benedetti's suspicions were, however,
aroused. He heard that a Spanish diplomatist, who had formerly been
Ambassador at Berlin, had again visited the city and had had two
interviews with Bismarck. He feared that perhaps he had some mission
with regard to the Hohenzollern candidature, and, in accordance with
instructions from his Government, enquired first of Thiele and, after a
visit to Paris, saw Bismarck himself. The Count was quite ready to
discuss the matter; with great frankness he explained all the reasons
why, if the throne were offered to the Prince, the King would doubtless
advise him not to accept it. Benedetti was still suspicious, but for the
time the matter dropped. From what happened later, though we have no
proof, we must, I think, share his suspicion that Bismarck was already
considering the proposal and was prepared to lend it his support.

In September of the same year, the affair began to advance. Prim sent
Salazar, a Spanish gentleman, to Germany with a semi-official commission
to invite the Prince to become a candidate, and gave him a letter to a
German acquaintance who would procure him an introduction to the
Prince. This German acquaintance was no other than Herr von Werther,
Prussian Ambassador at Vienna. If we remember the very strict discipline
which Bismarck maintained in the Diplomatic Service we must feel
convinced that Werther was acting according to instructions.[9] He
brought the envoy to the Prince of Hohenzollern; the very greatest
caution was taken to preserve secrecy; the Spaniard did not go directly
to the castle of Weinburg, but left the train at another station, waited
in the town till it was dark, and only approached the castle when hidden
from observation by night and a thick mist. He first of all asked Prince
Charles himself to accept the throne, and when he refused, offered it to
Prince Leopold, who also, though he did not refuse point-blank, left no
doubt that he was disinclined to the proposal; he could only accept, he
said, if the Spanish Government procured the assent of the Emperor
Napoleon and the King of Prussia. Notwithstanding the reluctance of the
family to take the proffered dignity, Herr von Werther (and we must look
on him as Bismarck's agent[9]) a fortnight later travelled from Munich
in order to press on the Prince of Roumania that he should use his
influence not to allow the House of Hohenzollern to refuse the throne.
For the time, however, the subject seems to have dropped. A few months
later, for the third time, the offer was repeated, and now Bismarck uses
the whole of his influence in its favour. At the end of February,
Salazar came on an official mission to Berlin; he had three letters,
one to the King, one to Bismarck, one to the Prince. The King refused to
receive him; Prince Leopold did not waver in his refusal and was
supported by his father; their attitude was that they should not
consider the matter seriously unless higher reasons of State required
it. With Prince Bismarck, however, the envoy was more successful; he had
several interviews with the Minister, and then left the city in order
that suspicions might not be aroused or the attention of the French
Government directed to the negotiations. Bismarck pleaded with great
warmth for the acceptance of the offer; in a memoir to the King, he
dwelt on the great importance which the summons of a Hohenzollern prince
to the Spanish throne would have for Germany; it would be politically
invaluable to have a friendly land in the rear of France; it would be of
the greatest economic advantage for Germany and Spain if this thoroughly
monarchical country developed its resources under a king of German
descent. In consequence of this, a conference was held at Berlin, at
which there were present, besides the King, the Crown Prince, Prince
Carl Anton, and Prince Leopold, Bismarck, Roon, Moltke, Schleinitz,
Thiele, and Delbrueck. By summoning the advice of these men, the matter
was taken out of the range of a private and family matter; it is true
that it was not officially brought before the Prussian Ministry, but
those consulted were the men by whom the policy of the State was
directed. The unanimous decision of the councillors was for acceptance
on the ground that it was the fulfilment of a patriotic duty to
Prussia. The Crown Prince saw great difficulties in the way, and warned
his cousin, if he accepted, not to rely on Prussian help in the future,
even if, for the attainment of a definite end, the Prussian Government
furthered the project for the moment. The King did not agree with his
Ministers; he had many serious objections, and refused to give any
definite order to the Prince that he should accept the offer; he left
the final decision to him. He eventually refused.

Bismarck, however, was not to be beaten; he insisted that the
Hohenzollerns should not let the matter drop; and, as he could not
persuade the King to use his authority, acted directly upon the family
with such success that Prince Carl Anton telegraphed to his third son,
Frederick, to ask if he would not accept instead of his brother.
Bismarck had now declared that the acceptance by one of the Princes was
a political necessity; this he said repeatedly and with the greatest
emphasis. At the same time, he despatched a Prussian officer of the
general staff and his private secretary, Lothar Bucher, to Spain in
order that they might study the situation. It was important that as far
as possible the official representative of Prussia should have no share
in the arrangement of this matter.

Prince Frederick came to Berlin, but, like his brother, he refused,
unless the King gave a command. At the end of April, the negotiations
seemed again to have broken down. Bismarck, who was in ill health, left
Berlin for Varzin, where he remained for six weeks.

We are, however, not surprised, since we know that Bismarck's interest
was so strongly engaged, that he was able after all to carry the matter
through. He seems to have persuaded Prince Carl Anton; he then wrote to
Prim telling him not to despair; the candidature was an excellent thing
which was not to be lost sight of; he must, however, negotiate not with
the Prussian Government, but with the Prince himself. When he wrote this
he knew that he had at last succeeded in breaking down the reluctance of
the Prince, and that the King, though he still was unwilling to
undertake any responsibility, would not refuse his consent if the Prince
voluntarily accepted. Prince Leopold was influenced not only by his
interest in the Spanish race, but also by a letter from Bismarck, in
which he said that he ought to put aside all scruples and accept in the
interests of Prussia. The envoys had also returned from Spain and
brought back a favourable report; they received an extraordinarily
hearty welcome; we may perhaps suspect with the King that they had
allowed their report to receive too rosy a colour; no doubt, however,
they were acting in accordance with what they knew were the wishes of
the man who had sent them out. In the beginning of June the decision was
made; Prince Leopold wrote to the King that he accepted the crown which
had been offered to him, since he thereby hoped to do a great service to
his Fatherland. King William immediately answered that he approved of
the decision.

Bismarck then at last was successful. A few days later Don Salazar again
travelled to Germany; this time he brought a formal offer, which was
formally-accepted. The Cortes were then in session; it was arranged that
they should remain at Madrid till his return; the election would then be
at once completed, for a majority was assured. The secrecy had been
strictly maintained; there were rumours indeed, but no one knew of all
the secret interviews; men might suspect, but they could not prove that
it was an intrigue of Bismarck. If the election had once been made the
solemn act of the whole nation, Napoleon would have been confronted with
a _fait accompli_. To have objected would have been most injurious; he
would have had to do, not with Prussia, which apparently was not
concerned, but with the Spanish nation. The feeling of France would not
allow him to acquiesce in the election, but it would have deeply
offended the dignity and pride of Spain had he claimed that the King who
had been formally accepted should, at his demand, be rejected. He could
scarcely have done so without bringing about a war; a war with Spain
would have crippled French resources and diverted their attention from
Prussia; even if a war did not ensue, permanent ill feeling would be
created. It is not difficult to understand the motives by which Bismarck
had been influenced. At the last moment the plan failed. A cipher
telegram from Berlin was misinterpreted in Madrid; and in consequence
the Cortes, instead of remaining in session, were prorogued till the
autumn. All had depended on the election being carried out before the
secret was disclosed; a delay of some weeks must take place, and some
indiscreet words of Salazar disclosed the truth. General Prim had no
course left him but to send to the French Ambassador, to give him
official information as to what had been done and try to calm his

What were Bismarck's motives in this affair? It is improbable that he
intended to use it as a means of bringing about a war with France. He
could not possibly have foreseen the very remarkable series of events
which were to follow, and but for them a war arising out of this would
have been very unwise, for German public opinion and the sympathy of all
the neutral Powers would have been opposed to Prussia, had it appeared
that the Government was disturbing the peace of Europe simply in order
to put a Prussian prince on the throne of Spain contrary to the wishes
of France. He could not ignore German public opinion now as he had done
in old days; he did not want to conquer South Germany, he wished to
attract it. It seems much more probable that he had no very clear
conception of the results which would follow; he did not wish to lose
what might be the means of gaining an ally to Germany and weakening
France. It would be quite invaluable if, supposing there were to be war
(arising from this or other causes), Spain could be persuaded to join in
the attack on France and act the part which Italy had played in 1866.
What he probably hoped for more than anything else was that France would
declare war against Spain; then Napoleon would waste his strength in a
new Mexico; he would no longer be a danger to Germany, and whether
Germany joined in the war or not, she would gain a free hand by the
preoccupation of France. If none of these events happened, it would be
an advantage that some commercial gain might be secured for Germany.

On the whole, the affair is not one which shews his strongest points as
a diplomatist; it was too subtle and too hazardous.

The news aroused the sleeping jealousy of Prussia among the French
people; the suspicion and irritation of the Government was extreme, and
this feeling was not ill-founded. They assumed that the whole matter was
an intrigue of Bismarck's, though, owing to the caution with which the
negotiations had been conducted, they had no proofs. They might argue
that a Prussian prince could not accept such an offer without the
permission of his sovereign, and they had a great cause of complaint
that this permission had been given without any communication with
Napoleon, whom the matter so nearly concerned. The arrangement itself
was not alone the cause of alarm. The secrecy with which it had been
surrounded was interpreted as a sign of malevolence.

Of course they must interfere to prevent the election being completed.
Where, however, were they to address themselves? With a just instinct
they directed their remonstrance, not to Madrid, but to Berlin; they
would thereby appear not to be interfering with the independence of the
Spaniards, but to be acting in self-defence against the insidious
advance of German power.

They could not, however, approach Bismarck; he had retired to Varzin,
to recruit his health; the other Ministers also were absent; the King
was at Ems. It was convenient that at this sudden crisis they should be
away, for it was imperative that the Prussian Government should deny all
complicity. Bismarck must not let it appear that he had any interest in,
or knowledge of, the matter; he therefore remained in the seclusion of

Benedetti also was absent in the Black Forest. On the 4th of July,
therefore, the French _Charge d'Affaires,_ M. de Sourds, called at the
Foreign Office and saw Herr von Thiele. "Visibly embarrassed," he
writes, "he told me that the Prussian Government was absolutely ignorant
of the matter and that it did not exist for them." This was the only
answer to be got; in a despatch sent on the 11th to the Prussian agents
in Germany, Bismarck repeated the assertion. "The matter has nothing to
do with Prussia. The Prussian Government has always considered and
treated this affair as one in which Spain and the selected candidate are
alone concerned." This was literally true, for it had never been brought
before the Prussian Ministry, and no doubt the records of the office
would contain no allusion to it; the majority of the Ministers were
absolutely ignorant of it.

Of course M. de Sourds did not believe Herr von Thiele's statement, and
his Government was not satisfied with the explanation; the excitement in
Paris was increasing; it was fomented by the agents of the Ministry, and
in answer to an interpolation in the Chamber, the Duc de Grammont on the
6th declared that the election of the Prince was inadmissible; he
trusted to the wisdom of the Prussian and the friendship of the Spanish
people not to proceed in it, but if his hope were frustrated they would
know how to do their duty. They were not obliged to endure that a
foreign Power by setting one of its Princes on the throne of Charles V.
should destroy the balance of power and endanger the interests and
honour of France. He hoped this would not happen; they relied on the
wisdom of the German and the friendship of the Spanish people to avoid
it; but if it were necessary, then, strong in the support of the nation
and the Chamber, they knew how to fulfil their duty without hesitation
or weakness.

The French Ministry hereby publicly declared that they held the Prussian
Government responsible for the election, and they persisted in demanding
the withdrawal, not from Spain, but from Prussia; Prim had suggested
that as the Foreign Office refused to discuss the matter, Grammont
should approach the King personally. Benedetti received instructions to
go to the King at Ems and request him to order or advise the Prince to
withdraw. At first Grammont wished him also to see the Prince himself;
on second thoughts he forbade this, for, as he said, it was of the first
importance that the messages should be conveyed by the King; he was
determined to use the opportunity for the humiliation of Germany.

If it was the desire of the French in this way to establish the
complicity of Prussia, it was imperative that the Prussian Government
should not allow them to do so. They were indeed in a disagreeable
situation; they could not take up the French challenge and allow war to
break out; not only would the feeling of the neutral Powers, of England
and of Russia, be against them, but that of Germany itself would be
divided. With what force would the anti-Prussian party in Bavaria and
Wurtemberg be able to oppose a war undertaken apparently for the
dynastic interests of the Hohenzollern! If, however, the Prince now
withdrew, the French would be able to proclaim that he had done so in
consequence of the open threats of France; supposing they were able to
connect the King in any way with him, then they might assert that they
had checked the ambition of Prussia; Prussian prestige would be
seriously injured at home, and distrust of Prussian good faith would be
aroused abroad.

The King therefore had a difficult task when Benedetti asked for an
interview. He had been brought into this situation against his own will,
and his former scruples seemed fully justified. He complained of the
violence of the French Press and the Ministry; he repeated the assertion
that the Prussian Government had been unconnected with the negotiations
and had been ignorant of them; he had avoided associating himself with
them, and had only given an opinion when Prince Leopold, having decided
to accept, asked his consent. He had then acted, not in his sovereign
capacity as King of Prussia, but as head of the family. He had neither
collected nor summoned his council of Ministers, though he had informed
Count Bismarck privately. He refused to use his authority to order the
Prince to withdraw, and said that he would leave him full freedom as he
had done before.

These statements were of course verbally true; probably the King did not
know to what extent Bismarck was responsible for the acceptance by the
Prince. They did not make the confidence of the French any greater; it
was now apparent that the King had been asked, and had given his consent
without considering the effect on France; they could not acquiesce in
this distinction between his acts as sovereign and his acts as head of
the family, for, as Benedetti pointed out, he was only head of the
family because he was sovereign.

All this time Bismarck was still at Varzin; while Paris was full of
excitement, while there were hourly conferences of the Ministers and the
city was already talking of war, the Prussian Ministers ostentatiously
continued to enjoy their holidays. There was no danger in doing so; the
army was so well prepared that they could afford quietly to await what
the French would do. What Bismarck's plans and hopes were we do not
know; during these days he preserved silence; the violence of the French
gave him a further reason for refusing to enter into any discussion.
When, however, he heard of Benedetti's visit to Ems he became uneasy; he
feared that the King would compromise himself; he feared that the French
would succeed in their endeavour to inflict a diplomatic defeat on
Prussia. He proposed to go to Ems to support the King, and on the 12th
left Varzin; that night he arrived in Berlin. There he received the news
that the Prince of Hohenzollern, on behalf of his son, had announced
his withdrawal.

The retirement was probably the spontaneous act of the Prince and his
father; the decisive influence was the fear lest the enmity of Napoleon
might endanger the position of the Prince of Roumania. Everyone was
delighted; the cloud of war was dispelled; two men only were
dissatisfied--Bismarck and Grammont. It was the severest check which
Bismarck's policy had yet received; he had persuaded the Prince to
accept against his will; he had persuaded the King reluctantly to keep
the negotiations secret from Napoleon; however others might disguise the
truth, he knew that they had had to retreat from an untenable position,
and retreat before the noisy insults of the French Press and the open
menace of the French Government; his anger was increased by the fact
that neither the King nor the Prince had in this crisis acted as he
would have wished.

We have no authoritative statement as to the course he himself would
have pursued; he had, according to his own statement, advised the King
not to receive the French Ambassador; probably he wished that the Prince
should declare that as the Spaniards had offered him the crown and he
had accepted it, he could not now withdraw unless he were asked to do so
by Spain; the attempt of Grammont to fasten a quarrel on Prussia would
have been deprived of any responsible pretext; he would have been
compelled to bring pressure to bear on the Spaniards, with all the
dangers that that course would involve. We may suspect that he had
advised this course and that his advice had been rejected. However this
may be, Bismarck felt the reverse so keenly that it seemed to him
impossible he could any longer remain Minister, unless he could obtain
redress for the insults and menaces of France. What prospect was there
now of this? It was no use now going on to Ems; he proposed to return
next day to Varzin, and he expected that when he did so he would be once
more a private man.

He was to be saved by the folly of the French. Grammont, vain, careless,
and inaccurate, carried away by his hatred of Prussia, hot-headed and
blustering, did not even see how great an advantage he had gained. When
Guizot, now a very old man, living in retirement, heard that the Prince
had withdrawn, he exclaimed: "What good fortune these people have! This
is the finest diplomatic victory which has been won in my lifetime."
This is indeed the truth; how easy it would have been to declare that
France had spoken and her wishes had been fulfilled! the Government need
have said no more, but every Frenchman would have always told the story
how Bismarck had tried to put a Hohenzollern on the throne of Spain, had
been foiled by the word of the Emperor, and had been driven from office.
Grammont prepared to complete the humiliation of Prussia, and in doing
so he lost all and more than all he had won.

He had at first declared that the withdrawal of the Prince was worthless
when it was officially communicated to him by Prussia; now he extended
his demands. He suggested to the Prussian Ambassador at Paris that the
King should write to the Emperor a letter, in which he should express
his regret for what had happened and his assurance that he had had no
intention of injuring France. To Benedetti he telegraphed imperative
orders that he was to request from the King a guarantee for the future,
and a promise that he would never again allow the Prince to return to
the candidature. It was to give himself over to an implacable foe. As
soon as Bismarck heard from Werther of the first suggestion, he
telegraphed to him a stern reprimand for having listened to demands so
prejudicial to the honour of his master, and ordered him, under the
pretext of ill health, to depart from Paris and leave a post for which
he had shewn himself so ill-suited.

That same morning he saw Lord Augustus Loftus, and he explained that the
incident was not yet closed; Germany, he said, did not wish for war, but
they did not fear it. They were not called on to endure humiliations
from France; after what had happened they must have some security for
the future; the Duc de Grammont must recall or explain the language he
had used; France had begun to prepare for war and that would not be

"It is clear," writes the English Ambassador, "that Count
Bismarck and the Prussian Ministry regret the attitude which the
King has shewn to Count Benedetti, and feel, in regard to public
opinion, the necessity of guarding the honour of the nation."

To the Crown Prince, who had come to Berlin, Bismarck was more open; he
declared that war was necessary.

This very day there were taking place at Ems events which were to give
him the opportunity for which he longed. On Benedetti had fallen the
task of presenting the new demands to the King; it was one of the most
ungrateful of the many unpleasant duties which had been entrusted to him
during the last few years. In the early morning, he went out in the hope
that he might see someone of the Court; he met the King, himself who was
taking the waters. The King at once beckoned to him, entered into
conversation, and shewed him a copy of the _Cologne Gazette_ containing
the statement of the Prince's withdrawal. Benedetti then, as in duty
bound, asked permission to inform his Government that the King would
undertake that the candidature should not be resumed at any time. The
King, of course, refused, and, when Benedetti pressed the request,
repeated the refusal with some emphasis, and then, beckoning to his
adjutant, who had withdrawn a few paces, broke off the conversation.
When a few hours later the King received a letter from the Prince of
Hohenzollern confirming the public statement, he sent a message to
Benedetti by his aide-decamp, Count Radziwill, and added to it that
there would now be nothing further to say, as the incident was closed.
Benedetti twice asked for another interview, but it was refused.

He had done his duty, he had made his request, as he expected, in vain,
but between him and the King there had been no departure by word or
gesture from the ordinary courtesy which we should expect from these
two accomplished gentlemen. All the proceedings indeed had been unusual,
for it was not the habit of the King, as it was of Napoleon, to receive
foreign envoys except on the advice of his Ministers, and the last
conversation had taken place on the public promenade of the fashionable
watering-place; but the exception had been explained and justified by
the theory that the King's interest in the affair was domestic and not
political. Both were anxious to avoid war, and the King to the last
treated Benedetti with marked graciousness; he had while at Ems invited
him to the royal table, and even now, the next morning before leaving
Ems, granted him an audience, at the station to take leave.
Nevertheless, he had been seriously annoyed by this fresh demand; he was
pained and surprised by the continuance of the French menaces; he could
not but fear that there was a deliberate intention to force a quarrel on
him. He determined, therefore, to return to Berlin, and ordered Abeken,
Secretary to the Foreign Office, who was with him, to telegraph to
Bismarck an account of what had taken place, with a suggestion that the
facts should be published.

It happened that Bismarck, when the telegram arrived, was dining with
Roon and Moltke, who had both been summoned to Berlin. The three men
were gloomy and depressed; they felt that their country had been
humiliated, and they saw no prospect of revenge. This feeling was
increased when Bismarck read aloud the telegram to his two colleagues.
These repeated and impatient demands, this intrusion on the King's
privacy, this ungenerous playing with his kindly and pacific
disposition, stirred their deepest indignation; to them it seemed that
Benedetti had been treated with a consideration he did not deserve; the
man who came with these proposals should have been repulsed with more
marked indignation. But in the suggestion that the facts should be
published, Bismarck saw the opportunity he had wished. He went into the
next room and drafted a statement; he kept to the very words of the
original telegram, but he left out much, and arranged it so that it
should convey to the reader the impression, not of what had really
occurred, but of what he would have wished should happen. With this he
returned, and as he read it to them, Roon and Moltke brightened; here at
last was an answer to the French insults; before, it sounded like a
"Chamade" (a retreat), now it is a "Fanfare," said Moltke. "That is
better," said Roon. Bismarck asked a few questions about the army. Roon
assured him that all was prepared; Moltke, that, though no one could
ever foretell with certainty the result of a great war, he looked to it
with confidence; they all knew that with the publication of this
statement the last prospect of peace would be gone. It was published
late that night in a special edition of the _North German Gazette_, and
at the same time a copy was sent from the Foreign Office to all German
embassies and legations.

It is not altogether correct to call this (as has often been done) a
falsification of the telegram. Under no circumstances could Bismarck
have published in its original form the confidential message to him
from his sovereign; all he had to do was to communicate to the
newspapers the facts of which he had been informed, or so much of the
facts as it seemed to him desirable that the public should know. He, of
course, made the selection in such a form as to produce upon public
opinion the particular effect which for the purposes of his policy he
wished. What to some extent justifies the charge is that the altered
version was published under the heading, "Ems." The official statement
was supplemented by another notice in the _North German Gazette_, which
was printed in large type, and stated that Benedetti had so far
forgotten all diplomatic etiquette that he had allowed himself to
disturb the King in his holidays, to intercept him on the promenade, and
to attempt to force demands upon him. This was untrue, but on this point
the telegram to Bismarck had been itself incorrect. Besides this,
Bismarck doubtless saw to it that the right instructions should be given
to the writers for the Press.

But, indeed, this was hardly necessary; the statement itself was a call
to arms. During all these days the German people had been left almost
without instruction or guidance from the Government; they had heard with
astonishment the sudden outbreak of Gallic wrath; they were told, and
were inclined to believe it, that the Prussian Government was innocent
of the hostile designs attributed to it; and the calm of the Government
had communicated itself to them. They remained quiet, but they were
still uneasy, they knew not what to think; now all doubt was removed.
It was then true that with unexampled eagerness the French had fastened
an alien quarrel upon them, had without excuse or justification advanced
from insult to insult and menace to menace; and now, to crown their
unparalleled acts, they had sent this foreigner to intrude on the
reserve of the aged King, and to insult him publicly in his own country.
Then false reports came from Ems; it was said that the King had publicly
turned his back on Benedetti on the promenade, that the Ambassador had
followed the King to his house, and had at last been shewn the door, but
that even then he had not scrupled again to intrude on the King at the
railway station.[10] From one end of Germany to another a storm of
indignation arose; they had had enough of this French annoyance; if the
French wished for war then war should they have; now there could no
longer be talk of Prussian ambition; all differences of North and South
were swept away; wherever the German tongue was spoken men felt that
they had been insulted in the person of the King, that it was theirs to
protect his honour, and from that day he reigned in their hearts as
uncrowned Emperor.

The telegram was as successful in France as in Germany. There the
question of peace and war was still in debate; there was a majority for
peace, and indeed there was no longer an excuse for war which would
satisfy even a Frenchman. Then there came in quick succession the
recall and disavowment of the Prussian Ambassador, news of the serious
language Bismarck had used to Lord A. Loftus, and then despatches from
other Courts that an official message had been sent from Berlin carrying
the record of an insult offered to the King by the French Ambassador;
add to this the changed tone of the German Press, the enthusiasm with
which the French challenge had been taken up; they could have no doubt
that they had gone too far; they would now be not the accuser but the
accused; had they wished, they did not dare retreat with the fear of the
Paris mob before them, and so they decided on war, and on the 15th the
official statement was made and approved in the Chamber.

It was on this same day that the King travelled from Ems to Berlin. When
he left Ems he still refused to believe in the serious danger of war,
but as he travelled north and saw the excited crowd that thronged to
meet him at every station his own belief was almost overthrown. To his
surprise, when he reached Brandenburg he found Bismarck and the Crown
Prince awaiting him; the news that they had come to meet the King was
itself looked on almost as a declaration of war; all through the return
journey Bismarck unsuccessfully tried to persuade his master to give the
order for mobilisation. When they reached Berlin they found the station
again surrounded by a tumultuous throng; through it pressed one of the
secretaries of the Foreign Office; he brought the news that the order
for mobilisation had been given in France. Then, at last, the
reluctance of the King was broken down; he gave the order, and at once
the Crown Prince, who was standing near, proclaimed the news to all
within earshot. The North German Parliament was summoned, and five days
later Bismarck was able to announce to them that he had received the
Declaration of War from France, adding as he did so that this was the
first official communication which throughout the whole affair he had
received from the French Government, a circumstance for which there was
no precedent in history.

What a contrast is there between the two countries! On the one hand, a
King and a Minister who by seven years of loyal co-operation have learnt
to trust and depend upon one another, who together have faced danger,
who have not shrunk from extreme unpopularity, and who, just for this
reason, can now depend on the absolute loyalty of the people. On the
other side, the Emperor broken in health, his will shattered by
prolonged pain and sickness, trying by the introduction of liberal
institutions to free himself from the burden of government and weight of
responsibility which he had voluntarily taken upon his shoulders. At
Berlin, Bismarck's severity and love of power had brought it about that
the divergent policy and uncertainty of early years had ceased; there
was one mind and one will directing this State; the unauthorised
interference and amateur criticism of courtiers were no longer
permitted. In France, all the evils from which Prussia had been freed by
Bismarck were increasing; here there was no single will; the Ministry
were divided, there was no authority over them; no one could foresee by
whom the decision of the Emperor would be determined; the deliberate
results of long and painful negotiations might be overthrown in ten
minutes by the interference of the Empress or the advice of Prince
Napoleon. The Emperor would pursue half a dozen inconsistent policies in
as many hours. And then, below all, there was this fatal fact, that
Napoleon could not venture to be unpopular. He knew the folly of the
course into which he was being driven, but he did not dare to face the
mob of Paris, or to defy the Chamber of Deputies. He owed his throne to
universal suffrage, and he knew that the people who had set him up could
quickly overthrow him. No man can ever govern who fears unpopularity.
Bismarck did not, Napoleon did.

Before the campaign began, two events took place which we must record.
The first was the publication in the _Times_ of the text of the treaty
with France regarding Belgium. We need not add anything further to what
we have said regarding it; published at this moment it had a great
effect on English public opinion. The other arose out of the opposition
which the exiled King of Hanover had continued to maintain. He had used
the very large sums of money which he possessed to keep together a
Hanoverian Legion, recruited from former officers and soldiers of the
Hanoverian army. He had hoped that war would break out before this and
would be accompanied by a rising in Hanover. His means had now come to
an end, and the unfortunate men were living in Paris almost without
support. They were now exposed to a terrible alternative. They could not
return to Germany; they did not wish to take part in a war on the French
side. Their only hope was emigration to America. Bismarck heard of their
position; he offered to pardon them all and to pay to them from the
Prussian funds the full pension which they would have received had they
continued to serve in the Hanoverian army. It was a timely act of
generosity, and it had the effect that the last element of hostility in
Germany was stilled and the whole nation could unite as one man in this
foreign war.

NOTE.--In this chapter, besides the ordinary authorities, I have
depended largely on the memoirs of the King of Roumania. Bismarck, in
his own memoirs, states that the writer was not accurately informed; but
even if there are some errors in detail, the remarkable statements
contained in this work must command belief until they are fully
contradicted and disproved. There has, I believe, been no attempt to do




On July 31, 1870, Bismarck left Berlin with the King for the seat of
war, for, as in 1866, he was to accompany the army in the field. For the
next few months indeed Germany was to be governed from the soil of
France, and it was necessary for the Minister to be constantly with the
King. Bismarck never forgot that he was a soldier; he was more proud of
his general's uniform than of his civil rank, and, though not a
combatant, it was his pride and pleasure that he should share something
of the hardships and dangers of war. He was as a matter of fact never so
well as during the campaign: the early hours, the moderate and at times
meagre food, the long hours in the saddle and the open air, restored the
nerves and health which had been injured by the annoyances of office,
late hours, and prolonged sedentary work. He was accompanied by part of
the staff of the Foreign Office, and many of the distinguished strangers
who followed the army were often guests at his table; he especially
shewed his old friendliness for Americans: General Sheridan and many
others of his countrymen found a hearty welcome from the Chancellor.

It was not till the 17th of August that the headquarters came up with
the fighting front of the army; but the next day, during the decisive
battle of Gravelotte, Bismarck watched the combat by the side of the
King, and, as at Koeniggraetz, they more than once came under fire. At one
period, Bismarck was in considerable danger of being taken prisoner. His
two sons were serving in the army; they were dragoons in the Cuirassiers
of the Guards, serving in the ranks in the same regiment whose uniform
their father was entitled to wear. They both took part in the terrible
cavalry charge at Mars-la-Tour, in which their regiment suffered so
severely; the eldest, Count Herbert, was wounded and had to be invalided
home. Bismarck could justly boast that there was no nepotism in the
Prussian Government when his two sons were serving as privates. It was
not till the war had gone on some weeks and they had taken part in many
engagements, that they received their commissions. This would have
happened in no other country or army. This was the true equality, so
different from the exaggerated democracy of France,--an equality not of
privilege but of obligation; every Pomeranian peasant who sent his son
to fight and die in France knew that the sons of the most powerful man
in the country and in Europe were fighting with them not as officers but
as comrades. Bismarck was more fortunate than his friends in that
neither of his sons--nor any of his near relatives--lost his life;
Roon's second son fell at Sedan, and the bloody days of Mars-la-Tour and
Gravelotte placed in mourning nearly every noble family in Prussia.

From Gravelotte to Sedan he accompanied the army, and he was by the
King's side on that fatal day when the white flag was hoisted on the
citadel of Sedan, and the French general came out of the town with the
message that Napoleon, having in vain sought death at the head of his
troops, placed his sword in the hands of the King of Prussia.

The surrender of Sedan was a military event, and the conditions had to
be arranged between Moltke and Wimpffen, who had succeeded MacMahon in
command, but Bismarck was present at the conference, which was held in
his quarters, in case political questions arose. As they rode down
together to Doncheroy he and Moltke had agreed that no terms could be
offered except the unconditional surrender of the whole army, the
officers alone being allowed to retain their swords. Against these
conditions Wimpffen and his companions struggled long, but in vain.
Moltke coldly assured them that they could not escape, and that it would
be madness to begin the fight again; they were surrounded; if the
surrender were not complete by four o'clock the next morning the
bombardment of the town would begin. Wimpffen suggested that it would be
more politic of the Germans to show generosity; they would thereby earn
the gratitude of France, and this might be made the beginning of a
lasting peace; otherwise what had they to look forward to but a long
series of wars? Now was the time for Bismarck to interfere; it was
impossible, he declared, to reckon on the gratitude of nations; at times
men might indeed build with confidence on that of a sovereign and his
family; "but I repeat, nothing can be expected from the gratitude of a
nation." Above all was this true of France. "The Governments there have
so little power, the changes are so quick and so unforeseen, that there
is nothing on which one can rely." Besides, it would be absurd to
imagine that France would ever forgive us our successes. "You are an
irritable and jealous people, envious and jealous to the last degree.
You have not forgiven us Sadowa, and would you forgive us Sedan? Never."

They could not therefore modify the terms in order to win the gratitude
and friendship of France; they might have done so had there been
prospects of immediate peace. One of the officers, General Castelnau,
announced that he had a special message from Napoleon, who had sent his
sword to the King and surrendered in the hope that the King would
appreciate the sacrifice and grant a more honourable capitulation.
"Whose sword is it that the Emperor Napoleon has surrendered?" asked
Bismarck; "is it the sword of France or his own? If it is the sword of
France the conditions can be greatly softened; your message would have
an extraordinary importance." He thought and he hoped that the Emperor
wished to sue for peace, but it was not so. "It is only the sword of the
Emperor," answered the General. "All then remains as it was," said
Moltke; he insisted on his demands; Wimpffen asked at least that time
might be allowed him to return to Sedan and consult his colleagues. He
had only come from Algeria two days before; he could not begin his
command by signing so terrible a surrender. Even this Moltke refused.
Then Wimpffen declared the conference ended; rather than this they would
continue the battle; he asked that his horses might be brought. A
terrible silence fell on the room; Moltke, with Bismarck by his side,
stood cold and impenetrable, facing the three French officers; their
faces were lighted by two candles on the table; behind stood the
stalwart forms of the German officers of the staff, and from the walls
of the room looked down the picture of Napoleon I. Then again Bismarck
interfered; he begged Wimpffen not in a moment of pique to take a step
which must have such horrible consequences; he whispered a few words to
Moltke, and procured from him a concession; hostilities should not be
renewed till nine o'clock the next morning. Wimpffen might return to
Sedan and report to the Emperor and his colleagues.

It was past midnight when the conference broke up; before daybreak
Bismarck was aroused by a messenger who announced that the Emperor had
left Sedan and wished to see him. He hastily sprang up, and as he was,
unwashed, without breakfast, in his undress uniform, his old cap, and
his high boots, shewing all the marks of his long day in the saddle, he
mounted his horse and rode down to the spot near the highroad where the
Emperor in his carriage, accompanied by three officers and attended by
three more on horseback, awaited him. Bismarck rode quickly up to him,
dismounted, and as he approached saluted and removed his cap, though
this was contrary to etiquette, but it was not a time when he wished
even to appear to be wanting in courtesy. Napoleon had come to plead for
the army; he wished to see the King, for he hoped that in a personal
interview he might extract from him more favourable terms. Bismarck was
determined just for this reason that the sovereigns should not meet
until the capitulation was signed; he answered, therefore, that it was
impossible, as the King was ten miles away. He then accompanied the
Emperor to a neighbouring cottage; there in a small room, ten feet
square, containing a wooden table and two rush chairs, they sat for some
time talking; afterwards they came down and sat smoking in front of the

"A wonderful contrast to our last meeting in the Tuileries,"
wrote Bismarck to his wife. "Our conversation was difficult, if I
was to avoid matters which would be painful to the man who had
been struck down by the mighty hand of God. He first lamented
this unhappy war, which he said he had not desired; he had been
forced into it by the pressure of public opinion. I answered that
with us also no one, least of all the King, had wished for the
war. We had looked on the Spanish affair as Spanish and not as

The Emperor asked for more favourable terms of surrender, but Bismarck
refused to discuss this with him; it was a military question which must
be settled between Moltke and Wimpffen. On the other hand, when
Bismarck enquired if he were inclined for negotiations for peace,
Napoleon answered that he could not discuss this; he was a prisoner of
war and could not treat; he referred Bismarck to the Government in

This meeting had therefore no effect on the situation. Bismarck
suggested that the Emperor should go to the neighbouring Chateau of
Belle Vue, which was not occupied by wounded; there he would be able to
rest. Thither Bismarck, now in full uniform (for he had hurried back to
his own quarters), accompanied him, and in the same house the
negotiations of the previous evening were continued; Bismarck did not
wish to be present at them, for, as he said, the military men could be
harsher; and so gave orders that after a few minutes he should be
summoned out of the room by a message that the King wished to see him.
After the capitulation was signed, he rode up with Moltke to present it
to the King, who received it on the heights whence he had watched the
battle, surrounded by the headquarters staff and all the princes who
were making the campaign. Then, followed by a brilliant cavalcade, he
rode down to visit the captive sovereign.

Bismarck would at this time willingly have made peace, but there was no
opportunity of opening negotiations and it is doubtful whether even his
influence would have been able successfully to combat the desire of the
army to march on Paris. On September 4th, the march, which had been
interrupted ten days before, was begun. Immediately afterwards news came
which stopped all hopes of a speedy peace. How soon was his warning as
to the instability of French Governments to be fulfilled! A revolution
had broken out in Paris, the dethronement of the Emperor had been
proclaimed, and a Provisional Government instituted. They at once
declared that they were a government of national defence, they would not
rest till the invaders were driven from the land, they appealed to the
memories of 1792. They were indeed ready to make peace, for the war,
they said, had been undertaken not against France but against the
Emperor; the Emperor had fallen, a free France had arisen; they would
make peace, but they would not yield an inch of their country or a stone
of their fortresses. With great energy they prepared the defence of
Paris and the organisation of new armies; M. Thiers was instructed to
visit the neutral Courts and to beg for the support of Europe.

Under these circumstances it was Bismarck's duty to explain the German
view; he did so in two circular notes of September 13th and September
16th. He began by expounding those principles he had already expressed
to Wimpffen, principles which had already been communicated by his
secretaries to the German Press and been repeated in almost every paper
of the country. The war had not been caused by the Emperor; it was the
nation which was responsible for it. It had arisen from the intolerance
of the French character, which looked on the prosperity of other nations
as an insult to themselves. They must expect the same feeling to

"We cannot seek guarantees for the future in French feeling. We
must not deceive ourselves; we must soon expect a new attack; we
cannot look forward to a lasting peace, and this is quite
independent of the conditions we might impose on France. It is
their defeat which the French nation will never forgive. If now
we were to withdraw from France without any accession of
territory, without any contribution, without any advantage but
the glory of our arms, there would remain in the French nation
the same hatred, the same spirit of revenge, for the injury done
to their vanity and to their love of power."

Against this they must demand security; the demand was addressed not to
any single Government but to the nation as a whole; South Germany must
be protected from the danger of French attack; they would never be safe
so long as Strasburg and Metz were in French hands; Strasburg was the
gate of Germany; restored to Germany, these cities would regain their
defensive character. Twenty times had France made war on Germany, but
from Germany no danger of disturbance to the peace of Europe was to be

For the first time he hereby officially stated that Germany would not
make peace without some accession of territory; that this would be the
case, everyone had known since the beginning of the war. At a council of
war directly after Gravelotte it was determined to require Alsace; after
Sedan the terms naturally rose. The demand for at least some territory
was indeed inevitable. The suggestion that from confidence in the
peaceful and friendly character of the French nation they should
renounce all the advantages gained by their unparalleled victories
scarcely deserved serious consideration. Had the French been successful
they would have taken all the left bank of the Rhine; this was actually
specified in the draft treaty which General Le Brun had presented to the
Emperor of Austria. What claim had France to be treated with a leniency
which she has never shewn to any conquered enemy? Bismarck had to meet
the assumption that France was a privileged and special land; that she
had freedom to conquer, pillage, and divide the land of her neighbours,
but that every proposal to win back from her what she had taken from
others was a crime against humanity.

So long as the Provisional Government adopted the attitude that they
would not even consider peace on the basis of some surrender of
territory, there was no prospect of any useful negotiations. The armies
must advance, and beneath the walls of Paris the struggle be fought out
to its bitter end. Bismarck meanwhile treated the Government with great
reserve. They had no legal status; as he often pointed out, the Emperor
was still the only legal authority in France, and he would be quite
prepared to enter into negotiations with him. When by the medium of the
English Ambassador they asked to be allowed to open negotiations for an
armistice and discuss the terms of peace, he answered by the question,
what guarantee was there that France or the armies in Metz and Strasburg
would recognise the arrangements made by the present Government in
Paris, or any that might succeed it? It was a quite fair question; for
as events were to shew, the commander of the army in Metz refused to
recognise them, and wished to restore the Emperor to the throne; and the
Government themselves had declared that they would at once be driven
from power if they withdrew from their determination not to accept the
principle of a cession of territory. They would be driven from power by
the same authority to which they owed their existence,--the mob of
Paris; it was the mob of Paris which, from the beginning, was really
responsible for the war. What use was there in a negotiation in which
the two parties had no common ground? None the less Bismarck consented
to receive M. Jules Favre, who held the portfolio of Foreign Affairs,
and who at the advice of Lord Lyons came out from Paris, even at the
risk of a rebuff, to see if by a personal interview he might not be able
to influence the German Chancellor. "It is well at least to see what
sort of man he is," was the explanation which Bismarck gave; but as the
interview was not strictly official he did not, by granting it, bind
himself to recognise Favre's authority.

Jules Favre met Bismarck on September 18th. They had a long conversation
that evening, and it was continued the next day at Ferneres, Baron
Rothschild's house, in which the King was at that time quartered. The
French envoy did not make a favourable impression; a lawyer by
profession, he had no experience in diplomatic negotiations; vain,
verbose, rhetorical, and sentimental, his own report of the interview
which he presented to his colleagues in Paris is sufficient evidence of
his incapacity for the task he had taken upon himself. "He spoke to me
as if I were a public meeting," said Bismarck afterwards, using an
expression which in his mouth was peculiarly contemptuous, for he had a
platonic dislike of long speeches. But let us hear Favre himself:

"Although fifty-eight years of, age Count Bismarck appeared to be
in full vigour. His tall figure, his powerful head, his strongly
marked features gave him an aspect both imposing and severe,
tempered, however, by a natural simplicity amounting to
good-nature. His manners were courteous and grave, and quite free
from stiffness or affectation. As soon as the conversation
commenced he displayed a communicativeness and good-will which he
preserved while it lasted. He certainly regarded me as a
negotiator unworthy of him and he had the politeness not to let
this be seen, and appeared interested by my sincerity. I was
struck with the clearness of his ideas, his vigorous good sense,
and his originality of mind. His freedom from all pretensions was
no less remarkable."

It is interesting to compare with this the account given by another
Frenchman of one of the later interviews between the two men[11]:

"The negotiations began seriously and quietly. The Chancellor
said simply and seriously what he wanted with astonishing
frankness and admirable logic. He went straight to the mark and
at every turn he disconcerted Jules Favre, who was accustomed to
legal quibbles and diplomatic jobbery, and did not in the least
understand the perfect loyalty of his opponent or his superb
fashion of treating questions, so different from the ordinary
method. The Chancellor expressed himself in French with a
fidelity I have never met with except among the Russians. He made
use of expressions at once elegant and vigorous, finding the
proper word to describe an idea or define a situation without
effort or hesitation."

"I was at the outset struck by the contrast between the two
negotiators. Count Bismarck wore the uniform of the White
Cuirassiers, white tunic, white cap, and yellow band. He looked
like a giant. In his tight uniform, with his broad chest and
square shoulders and bursting with health and strength, he
overwhelmed the stooping, thin, tall, miserable-looking lawyer
with his frock coat, wrinkled all over, and his white hair
falling over his collar. A look, alas, at the pair was sufficient
to distinguish between the conqueror and the conquered, the
strong and the weak."

This, however, was four months later, when Jules Favre was doubtless
much broken by the anxieties of his position, and perhaps also by the
want of sufficient food, and Comte d'Herisson is not an impartial
witness, for, though a patriotic Frenchman, he was an enemy of the

Bismarck in granting the interview had said that he would not discuss an
armistice, but only terms of peace. For the reasons we have explained,
Favre refused to listen even to the proposition of the only terms which
Bismarck was empowered to bring forward. The Chancellor explained those
ideas with which we are already acquainted: "Strasburg," he said, "is
the key of our house and we must have it." Favre protested that he could
not discuss conditions which were so dishonourable to France. On this
expression we need only quote Bismarck's comment:

"I did not succeed in convincing him that conditions, the
fulfilment of which France had required from Italy, and demanded
from Germany without having been at war, conditions which France
would undoubtedly have imposed upon us had we been defeated and
which had been the result of nearly every war, even in the latest
time, could not have anything dishonourable in themselves for a
country which had been defeated after a brave resistance, and
that the honour of France was not of a different kind to that of
other countries."

It was impossible to refuse to discuss terms of an armistice; as in 1866
the military authorities objected to any kind of armistice because from
a military point of view any cessation of hostilities must be an
advantage to France; it would enable them to continue their preparations
and get together new armies, while Germany would have the enormous
expense of maintaining 500,000 men in a foreign country. Bismarck
himself from a political point of view also knew the advantage of
bringing the war to a rapid close, while the moral effect of the great
victories had not been dissipated. However, France had no Government; a
legal Government could not be created without elections, and Favre
refused to consider holding elections during the progress of
hostilities. After a long discussion Bismarck, other suggestions being
rejected, offered an armistice on condition that the war should
continue round Metz and Paris, but that Toul and Strasburg should be
surrendered and the garrison of Strasburg made prisoners of war. "The
towns would anyhow fall into our hands," he said; "it is only a question
of engineering." "At these words," says Favre, "I sprang into the air
from pain and cried out, 'You forget that you speak to a Frenchman. To
sacrifice an heroic garrison which is the object of our admiration and
that of the world would be a cowardice. I do not promise even to say
that you have offered such a condition.'" Bismarck said that he had no
wish to offend him; if the King allowed it the article might be
modified; he left the room, and after a quarter of an hour returned,
saying that the King would accept no alteration on this point. "My
powers were exhausted," writes Favre; "I feared for a moment that I
should fall down; I turned away to overcome the tears which choked me,
and, while I excused myself for this involuntary weakness, I took leave
with a few simple words." He asked Bismarck not to betray his weakness.
The Count, who seems really to have been touched by the display of
emotion, attempted in some sort of way to console him, but a few days
later his sympathy was changed into amusement when he found that the
tears which he had been asked to pass over in silence were paraded
before the people of Paris to prove the patriotism of the man. "He may
have meant it," said Bismarck, "but people ought not to bring sentiment
into politics."

The terms which Bismarck had offered were as a matter of fact not at
all harsh; a week later the garrison of Strasburg had become prisoners
of war; had the French accepted the armistice and begun negotiations for
peace they would probably, though they could not have saved Strasburg
and Alsace, have received far better terms than those to which they had
to assent four months later.

Bismarck in refusing to recognise the Provisional Government always
reminded them that the Emperor was still the only legitimate Government
in France. He professed that he was willing to negotiate with the
Emperor, and often talked of releasing him from his confinement in
Germany, coming to terms with Bazaine, and allowing the Emperor at the
head of the army at Metz to regain his authority in France. We do not
quite know to what extent he was serious in using this language, for he
often threatened more than he intended to perform. It is at least
possible that he only used it as a means for compelling the Provisional
Government quickly to come to terms and thereby to bring the war to an
end. It is, however, certain that negotiations went on between him and
the Empress and also with Bazaine. They came to nothing because the
Empress absolutely refused to negotiate if she was to be required to
surrender any French territory. In this she adopted the language of the
Provisional Government in Paris, and was supported by the Emperor.

The negotiations with the Provisional Government were more than once
renewed; soon after the investiture of Paris had begun, General Burnside
and another American passed as unofficial messengers between the French
and German Governments, and at the beginning of November, Thiers came as
the official agent of the Government in Tours; these attempts were,
however, always without result; the French would not accept an armistice
on the only conditions which Bismarck was authorised by the King and the
military authorities to offer. During the rest of the year there was
little direct communication with the French authorities. Bismarck,
however, was not idle. In his quarters at Versailles he had with him
many of the Foreign Office staff; he had not only to conduct important
diplomatic negotiations, but also to maintain control over the nation,
to keep in touch with the Press, to communicate to the newspapers both
events and comments on them. At this crisis he could not leave public
opinion without proper direction; he had to combat the misstatements of
the French, who had so long had the ear of Europe, and were still
carrying their grievances to the Courts of the neutral Powers, and found
often eager advocates in the Press of the neutral countries. He had to
check the proposal of the neutral Powers to interfere between the two
combatants, to inform the German public of the demands that were to be
made on France and the proposals for the unity of the country, and to
justify the policy of the Government; all this was done not only by
official notes, but by articles written at his dictation or under his
instruction, and by information or suggestions conveyed by his
secretaries to his newspapers. In old days the Prussian Government had
been inarticulate, it had never been able to defend itself against the
attacks of foreign critics; it had suffered much by misrepresentation;
it had lost popularity at home and prestige abroad. In the former
struggles with France the voice of Germany had scarcely been heard;
Europe, which was accustomed to listen to every whisper from Paris,
ignored the feelings and the just grievances of Germany. Bismarck
changed all this; now he saw to it that the policy of the Government
should be explained and defended in Germany itself; for though he
despised public opinion when it claimed to be the canon by which the
Government should be directed, he never neglected this, as he never
neglected any means by which the Government might be strengthened.
Speaking now from Versailles, he could be confident that Europe would
listen to what Germany said, and it was no small benefit to his nation
that it had as its spokesman a man whose character and abilities ensured
that no word that he uttered would be neglected.

The neutral Powers really gave him little concern. There was no
intention of supporting France either in England, Russia, or Austria. He
shewed great activity, however, in defending the Germans from the
charges so freely made against them by the French Press, of conducting
the war in a cruel manner; charges which were untrue, for, according to
the unanimous testimony of foreign observers who accompanied the army,
the moderation of the German soldiers was as remarkable as their
successes. Bismarck was not content with rebutting unjust
accusations,--he carried on the war into the enemy's camp. He was
especially indignant at the misuse made by the French of irregular
troops; he often maintained that the German soldiers ought never to
imprison the _franc-tireurs,_ but shoot them at once. He feared that if
civilians were encouraged to take part in the war it would necessarily
assume a very cruel character. At Meaux he came upon a number of
_franc-tireurs_ who had been taken prisoners. "You are assassins,
gentlemen," he said to them; "you will all be hung." And, indeed, these
men who fired secretly on the German troops from behind hedges and in
forests, and had no kind of uniform, could not claim to be treated as
prisoners of war. When the bombardment of Paris began he took great
pains to defend a measure which was much attacked in other countries; he
had used all his influence that the bombardment should not be delayed,
and often spoke with great annoyance of the reluctance of the military
authorities to begin. He wished every measure to be taken which would
bring the war to an end as soon as possible. The long delay before Paris
seems to have affected his nerves and spirits; there were many anxious
hours, and it was always difficult for him to wait patiently the result
of what others were doing. The military authorities were, as always,
very jealous of all attempts by him to interfere in their department,
and he was not always satisfied with their decisions. Like all the
Germans he was surprised and angry at the unexpected resistance of
Paris, and the success of Gambetta's appeal to the nation. He was
especially indignant at the help which Garibaldi gave: "This," he said,
"is the gratitude of the Italians"; he declared that he would have the
General taken prisoner and paraded through the streets of Berlin.

During the long weeks at Versailles, Bismarck was much occupied with
German affairs. The victory of Sedan was the foundation of German unity;
Bismarck's moderation and reserve now earned its reward; he had always
refused to press the southern States into the Federation; now the offer
to join came from them. Baden asked, as she had already done at the
beginning of the year, to be received into the Union; the settlement
with Wurtemberg, and above all with Bavaria, was less simple. At the
request of the Bavarian Government Delbrueck was sent to Munich for an
interchange of opinion, and the negotiations which were begun there were
afterwards continued at Versailles and Berlin. There were many
difficulties to be overcome: the Bavarians were very jealous of their
independence and were not prepared to put themselves into the position
which, for instance, Saxony occupied. But the difficulties on the
Prussian side were equally great: the Liberal party wished that the
Constitution should be revised and those points in it which they had
always disliked altered; they would have made the government of the
Federal authorities more direct, have created a Federal Ministry and a
Federal Upper House, and so really changed the Federation into a simple
State, thereby taking away all the independence of the dynasties. It was
quite certain that Bavaria would not accept this, and there was some
considerable danger that their exaggerated demands might lead to a
reaction in South Germany. Probably under any circumstances the
unification of Germany would have been completed, but it required all
Bismarck's tact to prevent the outbreak of a regular party struggle. The
most extreme line was taken by the Crown Prince of Prussia; he desired
the immediate creation of an emperor who should have sovereign authority
over the whole of Germany, and he even went so far as to suggest that,
if the Bavarians would not accept this voluntarily, they might be
compelled to do so. He had repeated conversations with Bismarck on this,
and on one occasion at least it ended in an angry scene. The Crown
Prince wished to threaten the South Germans. "There is no danger," he
said; "let us take a firm and commanding attitude. You will see I was
right in maintaining that you are not nearly sufficiently conscious of
your own power." It is almost incredible that he should have used such
language, but the evidence is conclusive; he was at this time commanding
the Bavarian troops against the French; Bavaria had with great loyalty
supported Prussia through the war and performed very valuable services,
and now he proposed to reward their friendship by compelling them to
accept terms by which the independence of the King and the very
existence of the State would be endangered. The last request which the
King of Bavaria had sent to the Crown Prince as he left Munich to take
command of the Bavarian army was that nothing might be done to interfere
with Bavarian independence. Of course Bismarck refused to listen to
these suggestions; had he done so, the probable result would have been
that the Bavarian army would have been withdrawn from France and then
all the result of the victories would have been lost.

What Bismarck did was in accordance with his usual practice to make no
greater alteration in existing institutions than was absolutely
necessary; he did not therefore undertake any reform of the Federal
Constitution, but simply proposed treaties by which the southern States,
each separately, entered into the existing alliance. Certain special
conditions were allowed: the King of Bavaria was to maintain the command
over his troops in time of peace; a Voice was given to Bavaria in the
management of foreign affairs; she retained her own post and telegraph,
and there were certain special privileges with regard to finance to meet
the system of taxation on beer; and then the Prussian military code was
not to apply to Bavaria, and Bavaria was to retain her own special laws
with regard to marriage and citizenship. These concessions were
undoubtedly very considerable, but Bismarck granted them, for, as he
said to the Bavarian envoys, "we do not want a discontented Bavaria; we
want one which will join us freely." The Liberal Publicists in Germany
with characteristic intolerance complained that when they had hoped to
see the Constitution made simpler and the central government stronger it
had really become more federal; they did not see that this federalism
was merely the expression of existing facts which could not be ignored.
They prophesied all kinds of difficulties which have not been
fulfilled, for they forgot that harmonious working, in an alliance
voluntarily made, would be a firmer bond of union than the most
stringent articles of treaties which were looked on as an unjust burden.
Bismarck's own words, spoken the evening after the agreements were
signed, give the true account of the matter:

"The newspapers will not be satisfied, the historian may very
likely condemn our Conventions; he may say, 'The stupid fellow
might easily have asked for more, he would have got it, they
would have had to give it him; his might was his right.' I was
more anxious that these people should go away heartily satisfied.
What is the use of treaties which men are forced to sign? I know
that they went away satisfied. I do not wish to press them or to
take full advantage of the situation. The Convention has its
defects, but it is all the stronger on account of them."

He could afford now to be generous because in 1866 he had been so stern;
he had refused to take in Bavaria when it would have weakened the
association of the North; now that the nucleus had been formed he could
allow the Catholic South greater freedom. He was right; the concessions
granted to Bavaria have not been in any way a danger to the Empire.

As soon as he had signed the Convention he looked into the room where
his secretaries were and said: "The work is done; the unity of Germany
is completed and with it Kaiser and Reich." Up to this time he had
taken no open steps towards the proclamation of the Empire; but it was
unanimously demanded by almost the whole nation and especially by the
South Germans. But here he kept himself in the background; he refused to
make it appear as though he were to make the Emperor or found the
Empire. He allowed the natural wish of the people to work itself out
spontaneously. There was indeed some reluctance to assume the title at
the Prussian Court; the King himself was not anxious for a new dignity
which would obscure that title which he and his ancestors had made so
honourable. This feeling was shared by many of the nobility and the
officers; we find it strongest in Roon, who in this represents the
genuine feeling of the older Prussian nobility. They disliked a change
which must mean that the Prussia to which they were so devotedly
attached was to become merged in a greater Germany. There was also some
apprehension that with the new title the old traditions of the Prussian
Court, traditions of economy, almost of parsimony, might be forgotten,
and that a new career might begin in which they would attempt to imitate
the extravagance and pomp of less prudent sovereigns. With this perhaps
Bismarck himself had some sympathy.

The King would, of course, only assume the new title if it was offered
to him by his fellow-princes; there was some danger lest the Reichstag,
which had been summoned to ratify the treaties, might ask him to assume
it before the princes did; had they done so, he would probably have
refused. The Crown Prince, who was very eager for the new title, and
the Grand Duke of Baden used all their influence with their
fellow-princes. The initiative must come from the King of Bavaria; he
was in difficulty as to the form in which the offer should be made.
Bismarck, who throughout the whole negotiations worked behind the
scenes, smoothing away difficulties, thereupon drafted a letter which he
sent by special messenger to the King of Bavaria. The King at once
adopted it, copied it out and signed it, and at the same time wrote
another letter to the other princes, asking them to join in the request
which he had made to the King of Prussia, to assume the title of Emperor
which had been in abeyance for over sixty years. So it came about that
the letter by which the offer to the King was made had really emanated
from his own Chancellor. It shews to what good purpose Bismarck used the
confidence which, by his conduct in the previous negotiations, the King
of Bavaria had been led to place in him.

On the 18th of January, 1871, in the Palace of Versailles, the King
publicly assumed the new title; a few days later Bismarck was raised to
the rank of Prince.

A few days later Paris fell; the prolonged siege was over and the power
of resistance exhausted; then again, as three months before, Favre asked
for an audience, this time to negotiate the capitulation of the city; we
need not here dwell on the terms of the capitulation--we need only quote
what Favre himself says of Bismarck's attitude:

"I should be unfaithful to truth if I did not recognise that in
these mournful discussions I always found the Chancellor eager to
soften in form the cruelty of his requirements. He applied
himself as much as was possible to temper the military harshness
of the general staff, and on many points he consented to make
himself the advocate of our demands."

A few weeks were allowed for elections to be held and an assembly to
meet at Bordeaux, and then once more M. Thiers appeared, to negotiate
the terms of peace. He knew that the demands would be very heavy; he
anticipated that they would be asked to surrender Alsace, including
Belfort, and of Lorraine at least the department of the Moselle, with
Metz; he expected a large war indemnity--five thousand million francs.
The terms Bismarck had to offer were almost identical with these, except
that the indemnity was placed at six thousand million francs. The part
Thiers had to play was a very difficult one; he knew that if Germany
insisted on her full demands he must accept; he was too experienced a
politician to be misled by any of the illusions under which Favre had
laboured. He, as all other Frenchmen, had during the last three months
learned a bitter lesson. "Had we made peace," he said, "before the fall
of Metz, we might at least have saved Lorraine." He hoped against hope
that he might still be able to do so. With all the resources of his
intellect and his eloquence he tried to break down the opposition of the
Count. When Metz was refused to him then he pleaded for Belfort. Let us
hear what Favre, who was present at the decisive interview, tells us; we
may use his authority with more confidence that he was a silent and
passive auditor.

"One must have been present at this pathetic scene to have an
idea of the superhuman resources which the illustrious statesman
displayed. I still see him, pale, agitated, now sitting, now
springing to his feet; I hear his voice broken by grief, his
words cut short, his tones in turn suppliant and proud; I know
nothing grander than the sublime passion of this noble heart
bursting out in petitions, menaces, prayers, now caressing, now
terrible, growing by degrees more angry in face of this cruel
refusal, ready for the last extremities, impervious to the
counsels of reason, so violent and sacred were the sentiments by
which he was governed."

Bismarck remained obdurate; he would surrender neither Metz nor Belfort.
Then Thiers cried out:

"Well, let it be as you will; these negotiations are a pretence.
We appear to deliberate, we have only to pass under your yoke. We
ask for a city absolutely French, you refuse it to us; it is to
avow that you have resolved to wage against us a war of
extremity. Do it! Ravish our provinces, burn our houses, cut the
throats of their unoffending inhabitants, in a word, complete
your work. We will fight to the last breath; we shall succumb at
last, but we will not be dishonoured."

It was a burst of passion, all the more admirable that Thiers knew his
threats were vain; but it was not ineffective. Bismarck was troubled; he
said he understood what they suffered; he would be glad to make a
concession, "but," he added, "I can promise nothing; the King has
commanded me to maintain the conditions, he alone has the right to
modify them; I will take his orders; I must consult with Mons. de
Moltke." He left the room; it was nearly an hour before he could find
Moltke; then he returned to give the answer to the Frenchmen. "You had
refused that we should enter Paris; if you will agree that the German
troops occupy Paris, then Belfort shall be restored to you." There could
be no doubt as to the answer, and some hours later the assent of the
King was given to this alteration in the conditions. Before this the
indemnity had been reduced to five thousand million francs; below that
all the efforts of the French were not able to bring it. There were many
other exciting scenes during the progress of the negotiations; on one
occasion Thiers threatened Bismarck with interposition of the neutral
Powers; "If you speak to me of Europe, I will speak of the Emperor," was
Bismarck's answer. He threatened to open negotiations with him and to
send him back to France at the head of Bazaine's army. On another
occasion--it was during the discussion of finance--another scene took
place which Favre describes:

"As the discussion continued, he grew animated, he interrupted
Thiers at every word, accused him of wishing to spoil everything;
he said that he was ill, at the end of his powers, he was
incapable of going further, in a work that we were pleased to
make of no use. Then, allowing his feelings to break out, walking
up and down the little room in which we were deliberating with
great strides, he cried, 'It is very kind of me to take the
trouble to which you condemn me; our conditions are
ultimatums--you must accept or reject them. I will not take part
in it any longer; bring an interpreter to-morrow, henceforward I
will not speak French any longer.'"

And he began forthwith to talk German at a great rate, a language which
of course neither of the Frenchmen understood.

It is interesting to compare with this Bismarck's own account of the
same scene:

"When I addressed a definite demand to Thiers, although he
generally could command himself, he sprang up and cried, 'Mais
c'est un indignite.' I took no notice but began to talk German.
For a time he listened, but obviously did not know what to think
of it. Then in a plaintive voice he said, 'But, Count, you know
that I do not understand German.' I answered him now in French.
'When just now you spoke of _indignite_, I found that I did not
understand French enough and preferred to speak German, here I
know what I say and hear.' He understood what I meant and at once
agreed to that which he had just refused as an indignite."

Bismarck's part in these negotiations was not altogether an easy one,
for it is probable that, in part at least, he secretly sympathised with
the arguments and protests of the French. He was far too loyal to his
master and his country not to defend and adopt the policy which had been
accepted; but there is much reason to believe that, had he been
completely master, Germany would not have insisted on having Metz, but
would have made the demand only to withdraw it. The arguments for the
annexation of Alsace were indeed unanswerable, and again and again
Bismarck had pointed out that Germany could never be safe so long as
France held Strasburg, and a French army supported on the strong basis
of the Vosges could use Strasburg as a gate whence to sally forth into
Germany. No one indeed who has ever stood on the slopes of the Black
Forest and looked across the magnificent valley, sheltered by the hills
on either side, through which the Rhine flows, can doubt that this is
all one country, and that the frontier must be sought, not in the river,
which is not a separation, but the chief means of communication, but on
the top of the hills on the further side. Every argument, however, which
is used to support German claims to Strasburg may be used with equal
force to support French claims to Metz. If Strasburg in French hands is
the gate of Germany, Metz in German hands is, and always will remain, a
military post on the soil of France. No one who reads Bismarck's
arguments on this point can fail to notice how they are all nearly
conclusive as to Strasburg, but that he scarcely takes the trouble to
make it even appear as though they applied to Metz. Even in the speech
before the Reichstag in which he explains and justifies the terms of
peace, he speaks again and again of Strasburg but hardly a word of Metz.
He told how fourteen years before, the old King of Wuertemberg had said
to him, at the time of the Crimean troubles, that Prussia might count on
his voice in the Diet as against the Western Powers, but only till war
broke out.

"Then the matter takes another form. I am determined as well as
any other to maintain the engagements I have entered into. But do
not judge me unjustly; give us Strasburg and we shall be ready
for all eventualities, but so long as Strasburg is a sally-port
for a Power which is always armed, I must fear that my country
will be overrun by foreign troops before my confederates can come
to my help."

The King was right; Germany would never be secure so long as Strasburg
was French; but can France ever be secure so long as Metz is German?

The demand for Metz was based purely on military considerations; it was
supported on the theory, which we have already learnt, that Germany
could never take the offensive in a war with France, and that the
possession of Metz would make it impossible, as indeed is the case, for
France to attack Germany. It was not, however, Bismarck's practice to
subordinate political considerations to military. It may be said that
France would never acquiesce in the loss of either province, but while
we can imagine a generation of Frenchmen arising who would learn to
recognise the watershed of the Vosges as a permanent boundary between
the two nations, it is difficult to believe that the time will ever come
when a single Frenchman will regard with contentment the presence of the
Germans on the Upper Moselle.

Even after the preliminaries of peace were settled fresh difficulties
arose; the outbreak of the Commune in Paris made it impossible for the
French to fulfil all the arrangements; Bismarck, who did not trust the
French, treated them with much severity, and more than once he
threatened again to begin hostilities. At last Favre asked for a fresh
interview; the two statesmen met at Frankfort, and then the final treaty
of peace was signed.




WITH the peace of Frankfort, Bismarck's work was completed. Not nine
years had passed since he had become Minister; in that short time he
completed the work which so many statesmen before him had in vain
attempted. Nine years ago he had found the King ready to retire from the
throne; now he had made him the most powerful ruler in Europe. Prussia,
which then had been divided in itself and without influence in the
councils of Europe, was the undisputed leader in a United Germany.

Fate, which always was so kind to Bismarck, was not to snatch him away,
as it did Cavour, in the hour of his triumph; twenty years longer he was
to preside over the State which he had created and to guide the course
of the ship which he had built. A weaker or more timid man would quickly
have retired from public life; he would have considered that nothing
that he could do could add to his fame, and that he was always risking
the loss of some of the reputation he had attained. Bismarck was not
influenced by such motives. The exercise of power had become to him a
pleasure; he was prepared if his King required it to continue in office
to the end of his days, and he never feared to hazard fame and
popularity if he could thereby add to the prosperity of the State.

These latter years of Bismarck's life we cannot narrate in detail; space
alone would forbid it. It would be to write the history of the German
Empire, and though events are not so dramatic they are no less numerous
than in the earlier period. Moreover, we have not the material for a
complete biographical narrative; there is indeed a great abundance of
public records; but as to the secret reasons of State by which in the
last resource the policy of the Government was determined, we have
little knowledge. From time to time indeed some illicit disclosure, the
publication of some confidential document, throws an unexpected light on
a situation which is obscure; but these disclosures, so hazardous to the
good repute of the men who are responsible and the country in which they
are possible, must be treated with great reserve. Prompted by motives of
private revenge or public ambition, they disclose only half the truth,
and a portion of the truth is often more misleading than complete

In foreign policy he was henceforward sole, undisputed master; in
Parliament and in the Press scarcely a voice was raised to challenge his
pre-eminence; he enjoyed the complete confidence of the allied
sovereigns and the enthusiastic affection of the nation; even those
parties which often opposed and criticised his internal policy supported
him always on foreign affairs. Those only opposed him who were hostile
to the Empire itself, those whose ideals or interests were injured by
this great military monarchy--Poles and Ultramontanes, Guelphs and
Socialists; in opposing Bismarck they seemed to be traitors to their
country, and he and his supporters were not slow to divide the nation
into the loyal and the _Reichsfeindlich_.

He deserved the confidence which was placed in him. He succeeded in
preserving to the newly founded Empire all the prestige it had gained;
he was enabled to soothe the jealousy of the neutral Powers. He did so
by his policy of peace. Now he pursued peace with the same decision with
which but two years before he had brought about a war. He was guided by
the same motive; as war had then been for the benefit of Germany, so now
was peace. He had never loved war for the sake of war; he was too good a
diplomatist for this; war is the negation of diplomacy, and the
statesman who has recourse to it must for the time give over the control
to other hands. It is always a clumsy method. The love of war for the
sake of war will be found more commonly among autocratic sovereigns who
are their own generals than among skilled and practised ministers, and
generally war is the last resource by which a weak diplomatist attempts
to conceal his blunders and to regain what he has lost.

There had been much anxiety in Europe how the new Empire would deport
itself; would it use this power which had been so irresistible for
fresh conflicts? The excuse might easily have been found; Bismarck might
have put on his banner, "The Union of All Germans in One State"; he
might have recalled and reawakened the enthusiasm of fifty years ago; he
might have reminded the people that there were still in Holland and in
Switzerland, in Austria and in Russia, Germans who were separated from
their country, and languishing under a foreign rule. Had he been an
idealist he would have done so, and raised in Germany a cry like that of
the Italian Irredentists. Or he might have claimed for his country its
natural boundaries; after freeing the upper waters of the Rhine from
foreign dominion he might have claimed that the great river should flow
to the sea, German. This is what Frenchmen had done under similar
circumstances, but he was not the man to repeat the crimes and blunders
of Louis and Napoleon.

He knew that Germany desired peace; a new generation must grow up in the
new order of things; the old wounds must be healed by time, the old
divisions forgotten; long years of common work must cement the alliances
that he had made, till the jealousy of the defeated was appeased and the
new Empire had become as firm and indissoluble as any other State in

The chief danger came from France; in that unhappy country the cry for
revenge seemed the only link with the pride which had been so rudely
overthrown. The defeat and the disgrace could not be forgotten; the
recovery of the lost provinces was the desire of the nation, and the
programme of every party. As we have seen, the German statesmen had
foreseen the danger and deliberately defied it. They cared not for the
hostility of France, now that they need not fear her power. _Oderint dum
metuant._ Against French demands for restitution they presented a firm
and unchangeable negative; it was kinder so and juster, to allow no
opening for hope, no loophole for negotiation, no intervention by other
Powers. Alsace-Lorraine were German by the right of the hundred thousand
German soldiers who had perished to conquer them. Any appearance of
weakness would have led to hopes which could never be realised,
discussions which could have had no result. The answer to all
suggestions was to be found in the strength of Germany; the only
diplomacy was to make the army so strong that no French statesman, not
even the mob of Paris, could dream of undertaking single-handed a war of

This was not enough; it was necessary besides to isolate France. There
were many men in Europe who would have wished to bring about a new
coalition of the armies by whose defeat Germany had been built
up--France and Austria, Denmark and the Poles; then it was always to be
expected that Russia, who had done so much for Germany in the past,
would cease to regard with complacency the success of her protege; after
all, the influence of the Czar in Europe had depended upon the divisions
of Germany as much as had that of France. How soon would the Russian
nation wake up, as the French had done, to the fact that the sympathies
of their Emperor had created a great barrier to Russian ambition and
Russian diplomacy? It was especially the Clerical party who wished to
bring about some coalition; for them the chief object was the overthrow
of Italy, and the world still seemed to centre in Rome; they could not
gain the assistance of Germany in this work, and they therefore looked
on the great Protestant Empire as an enemy. They would have liked by
monarchical reaction to gain control of France; by the success of the
Carlist movement to obtain that of Spain, and then, assisted by Austria,
to overthrow the new order in Europe. Against this Bismarck's chief
energies were directed; we shall see how he fought the Ultramontanes at
home. With regard to France, he was inclined to support the Republic,
and refused all attempts which were made by some German statesmen, and
especially by Count Arnim, the Ambassador at Paris, to win German
sympathy and support to the monarchical party. In Spain his support and
sympathy were given to the Government, which with difficulty maintained
itself against the Carlists; a visit of Victor Emmanuel to Berlin
confirmed the friendship with Italy, over which the action of Garibaldi
in 1870 had thrown a cloud. The greatest triumph of Bismarck's policy
was, however, the reconciliation with Austria. One of the most intimate
of his councillors, when asked which of Bismarck's actions he admired
most, specified this. It was peculiarly his own; he had long worked for
it; even while the war of 1866 was still being waged, he had foreseen
that a day would come when Germany and Austria, now that they were
separated, might become, as they never had been when joined by an
unnatural union, honest allies. It was probably to a great extent
brought about by the strong regard and confidence which the Austrian
Emperor reposed in the German Chancellor. The beginnings of an
approximation were laid by the dismissal of Beust, who himself now was
to become a personal friend of the statesman against whom he had for so
long and with such ingenuity waged an unequal conflict. The union was
sealed when, in December, 1872, the Czar of Russia and Francis Joseph
came to Berlin as guests of the Emperor. There was no signed contract,
no written alliance, but the old union of the Eastern monarchies under
which a generation before Europe had groaned, was now restored, and on
the Continent there was no place to which France could look for help or

The years that followed were those in which foreign affairs gave
Bismarck least anxiety or occupation. He even began to complain that he
was dull; after all these years of conflict and intrigue he found the
security which he now enjoyed uninteresting. Now and again the shadow of
war passed over Europe, but it was soon dispelled. The most serious was
in 1875.

It appears that the French reforms of the army and some movements of
French troops had caused alarm at Berlin; I say alarm, though it is
difficult to believe that any serious concern could have been felt.
There was, however, a party who believed that war must come sooner or
later, and it was better, they said, not to wait till France was again
powerful and had won allies; surely the wisest thing was while she was
still weak and friendless to take some excuse (and how easy would it be
to find the excuse!), fall upon her, and crush her--crush and destroy,
so that she could never again raise her head; treat her as she had in
old days treated Germany. How far this plan was deliberately adopted we
do not know, but in the spring of this year the signs became so alarming
that both the Russian and the English Governments were seriously
disturbed, and interfered. So sober a statesman as Lord Derby believed
that the danger was real. The Czar, who visited Berlin at the beginning
of April, dealt with the matter personally; the Queen of England wrote a
letter to the German Emperor, in which she said that the information she
had could leave no doubt that an aggressive war on France was meditated,
and used her personal influence with the sovereign to prevent it. The
Emperor himself had not sympathised with the idea of war, and it is said
did not even know of the approaching danger. It did not require the
intervention of other sovereigns to induce him to refuse his assent to a
wanton war, but this advice from foreign Powers of course caused great
indignation in Bismarck; it was just the kind of thing which always
angered him beyond everything. He maintained that he had had no warlike
intentions, that the reports were untrue. The whole story had its
origin, he said, in the intrigues of the Ultramontanes and the vanity of
Gortschakoff; the object was to make it appear that France owed her
security and preservation to the friendly interference of Russia, and
thereby prepare the way for an alliance between the two Powers. It is
almost impossible to believe that Bismarck had seriously intended to
bring about a war; he must have known that the other Powers of Europe
would not allow a second and unprovoked attack on France; he would not
be likely to risk all he had achieved and bring about a European
coalition against him. On the other hand his explanation is probably not
the whole truth; even German writers confess that the plan of attacking
France was meditated, and it was a plan of a nature to recommend itself
to the military party in Prussia.

Yet this may have been the beginning of a divergence with Russia. The
union had depended more on the personal feelings of the Czar than on the
wishes of the people or their real interests. The rising Pan-Slavonic
party was anti-German; their leader was General Ignatieff, but
Gortschakoff, partly perhaps from personal hostility to Bismarck, partly
from a just consideration of Russian interests, sympathised with their
anti-Teutonic policy. The outbreak of disturbances in the East roused
that national feeling which had slept for twenty years; in truth the
strong patriotism of modern Germany naturally created a similar feeling
in the neighbouring countries; just as the Germans were proud to free
themselves from the dominant culture of France, so the Russians began to
look with jealousy on the Teutonic influence which since the days of
Peter the Great had been so powerful among them.

In internal matters the situation was very different; here Bismarck
could not rule in the same undisputed manner; he had rivals, critics,
and colleagues. The power of the Prussian Parliament and the Reichstag
was indeed limited, but without their assent no new law could be passed;
each year their assent must be obtained to the Budget. Though they had
waived all claim to control the foreign policy, the parties still
criticised and often rejected the laws proposed by the Government. Then
in Prussian affairs he could not act without the good-will of his
colleagues; in finance, in legal reform, the management of Church and
schools, the initiative belonged to the Ministers responsible for each
department. Some of the difficulties of government would have been met
had Bismarck identified himself with a single party, formed a party
Ministry and carried out their programme. This he always refused to do;
he did not wish in his old age to become a Parliamentary Minister, for
had he depended for his support on a party, then if he lost their
confidence, or they lost the confidence of the country, he would have
had to retire from office. The whole work of his earlier years would
have been undone. What he wished to secure was a Government party, a
Bismarck party _sans phrase_, who would always support all his measures
in internal as well as external policy. In this, however, he did not
succeed. He was therefore reduced to another course: in order to get the
measures of the Government passed, he executed a series of alliances,
now with one, now with another party. In these, however, he had to give
as well as to receive, and it is curious to see how easily his pride
was offended and his anger roused by any attempt of the party with which
at the time he was allied to control and influence his policy. No one of
the alliances lasted long, and he seems to have taken peculiar pleasure
in breaking away from each of them in turn when the time came.

The alliance with the Conservatives which he had inherited from the
older days had begun to break directly after 1866. Many of them had been
disappointed by his policy in that year. The grant of universal suffrage
had alarmed them; they had wished that he would use his power to check
and punish the Parliament for its opposition; instead of that he asked
for an indemnity. They felt that they had borne with him the struggle
for the integrity of the Prussian Monarchy; no sooner was the victory
won than he held out his hand to the Liberals and it was to them that the
prize went. They were hurt and disappointed, and this personal feeling
was increased by Bismarck's want of consideration, his brusqueness of
manner, his refusal to consider complaints and remonstrances. Even the
success of 1870 had not altogether reconciled them; these Prussian
nobles, the men to whom in earlier days he himself had belonged, saw
with regret the name of King of Prussia hidden behind the newer glory
of the German Emperor; it is curious to read how even Roon speaks with
something of contempt and disgust of this new title: "I hope," he
writes, "Bismarck will be in a better temper now that the Kaiser egg
has been safely hatched." It was, however, the struggle with the
Catholic Church which achieved the separation; the complete subjection
of the Church to the State, the new laws for school inspection, the
introduction of compulsory civil marriage, were all opposed to the
strongest and the healthiest feelings of the Prussian Conservatives.
These did not seem to be matters in which the safety of the Empire
was concerned; Bismarck had simply gone over to, and adopted the
programme of, the Liberals; he was supporting that all-pervading power
of the Prussian bureaucracy which he, in his earlier days, had so
bitterly attacked. Then came a proposal for change in the local
government which would diminish the influence of the landed proprietors.
The Conservatives refused to support these measures; the Conservative
majority in the House of Lords threw them out. Bismarck's own brother,
all his old friends and comrades, were now ranged against him. He
accepted opposition from them as little as from anyone else; the consent
of the King was obtained to the creation of new peers, and by this means
the obnoxious measures were forced through the unwilling House. Bismarck
by his speeches intensified the bitterness; he came down himself to make
an attack on the Conservatives. "The Government is disappointed," he
said; "we had looked for confidence from the Conservative party;
confidence is a delicate plant; if it is once destroyed it does not grow
again. We shall have to look elsewhere for support."

A crisis in his relations to the party came at the end of 1872; up to
this time Roon had still remained in the Government; now, in
consequence of the manner in which the creation of peers had been
decided upon, he requested permission to resign. The King, who could not
bear to part with him, and who really in many matters of internal policy
had more sympathy with him than with Bismarck, refused to accept the
resignation. The crisis which arose had an unexpected ending: Bismarck
himself resigned the office of Minister-President of Prussia, which was
transferred to Roon, keeping only that of Foreign Minister and
Chancellor of the Empire.

A letter to Roon shews the deep depression under which he laboured at
this time, chiefly the result of ill-health. "It was," he said, "an
unheard-of anomaly that the Foreign Minister of a great Empire should be
responsible also for internal affairs." And yet he himself had arranged
that it should be so. The desertion of the Conservative party had, he
said, deprived him of his footing; he was dispirited by the loss of his
old friends and the illness of his wife; he spoke of his advancing years
and his conviction that he had not much longer to live; "the King
scarcely knows how he is riding a good horse to death." He would
continue to do what he could in foreign affairs, but he would no longer
be responsible for colleagues over whom he had no influence except by
requests, and for the wishes of the Emperor which he did not share. The
arrangement lasted for a year, and then Roon had again to request, and
this time received, permission to retire into private life; his health
would no longer allow him to endure the constant anxiety of office. His
retirement occasioned genuine grief to the King; and of all the
severances which he had to undergo, this was probably that which
affected Bismarck most. For none of his colleagues could he ever have
the same affection he had had for Roon; he it was who had brought him
into the Ministry, and had gone through with him all the days of storm
and trouble. "It will be lonely for me," he writes, "in my work; ever
more so, the old friends become enemies and one makes no new ones. As
God will." In 1873 he again assumed the Presidency. The resignation of
Roon was followed by a complete breach with the party of the _Kreuz
Zeitung_; the more moderate of the Conservatives split off from it and
continued to support the Government; the remainder entered on a campaign
of factious opposition.

The quarrel was inevitable, for quite apart from the question of
religion it would indeed have been impossible to govern Germany
according to their principles. We may, however, regret that the quarrel
was not conducted with more amenity. These Prussian nobles were of the
same race as Bismarck himself; they resembled him in character if not in
ability; they believed that they had been betrayed, and they did not
easily forgive. They were not scrupulous in the weapons they adopted;
the Press was used for anonymous attacks on his person and his
character; they accused him of using his public position for making
money by speculation, and of sacrificing to that the alliance with
Russia. More than once he had recourse to the law of libel to defend
himself against these unworthy insults. When he publicly in the
Reichstag protested against the language of the _Kreuz Zeitung_, the
dishonourable attacks and the scandalous lies it spread abroad, a large
number of the leading men among the Prussian nobility signed a
declaration formally defending the management of the paper, as true
adherents of the monarchical and Conservative banner. These
_Declaranten_, as they were called, were henceforward enemies whom he
could never forgive. At the bottom of the list we read, not without
emotion, the words, "Signed with deep regret, A. von Thadden"; so far
apart were now the two knight-errants of the Christian Monarchy. It was
in reality the end of the old Conservative party; it had done its work;
Bismarck was now thrown on the support of the National Liberals.

Since 1866 they had grown in numbers and in weight. They represented at
this time the general sense of the German people; it was with their help
that during the years down to 1878 the new institutions for the Empire
were built up. In the elections of 1871 they numbered 120; in 1874 their
numbers rose to 152; they had not an absolute majority, but in all
questions regarding the defence of the Empire, foreign policy, and the
army they were supported by the moderate Conservatives; in the conflict
with the Catholics and internal matters they could generally depend on
the support of the Progressives; so that as long as they maintained
their authority they gave the Government the required majority in both
the Prussian and the German Parliament. There were differences in the
party which afterwards were to lead to a secession, but during this
time, which they looked upon as the golden era of the Empire, they
succeeded in maintaining their unity. They numbered many of the ablest
leaders, the lawyers and men of learning who had opposed Bismarck at the
time of the conflict. Their leader was Bennigsen; himself a Hanoverian,
he had brought no feelings of hostility from the older days of conflict.
Moderate, tactful, restrained, patriotic, he was the only man who, when
difficulties arose, was always able to approach the Chancellor, sure of
finding some tenable compromise. Different was it with Lasker, the
ablest of Parliamentary orators, whose subordination to the decisions of
the party was often doubtful, and whose criticism, friendly as it often
was, always aroused Bismarck's anger.

As a matter of fact the alliance was, however, never complete; it was
always felt that at any moment some question might arise on which it
would be wrecked. This was shewn by Bismarck's language as early as
1871; in a debate on the army he explained that what he demanded was
full support; members, he said, were expressly elected to support him;
they had no right to make conditions or withdraw their support; if they
did so he would resign. The party, which was very loyal to him,
constantly gave up its own views when he made it a question of
confidence, but the strain was there and was always felt. The great
question now as before was that of the organisation of the army. It will
be remembered that, under the North German Confederation, a provisional
arrangement was made by which the numbers of the army in peace were to
be fixed at one per cent. of the population. This terminated at the end
of 1871; the Government, however, did not then consider it safe to alter
the arrangement, and with some misgiving the Reichstag accepted the
proposal that this system should be applied to the whole Empire for
three years. If, however, the numbers of the army were absolutely fixed
in this way, the Reichstag would cease to have any control over the
expenses; all other important taxes and expenses came before the
individual States. In 1874, the Government had to make their proposal
for the future. This was that the system which had hitherto been
provisionally accepted should become permanent, and that the army should
henceforward in time of peace always consist of the same number of men.
To agree to this would be permanently to give up all possibility of
exercising any control over the finance. It was impossible for the
National Liberal party to accept the proposal without giving up at the
same time all hope of constitutional development; Bismarck was ill and
could take no part in defending the law; they voted against it, it was
thrown out, and it seemed as though a new conflict was going to arise.

When the Reichstag adjourned in April for the Easter holidays the
agitation spread over the country, but the country was determined not
again to have a conflict on the Budget. "There was a regular fanaticism
for unconditional acceptance of the law; those even on the Left refused
to hear anything of constitutional considerations," writes one member
of the National Liberty party after meeting his constituents. If the
Reichstag persisted in their refusal and a dissolution took place, there
was no doubt that there would be a great majority for the Government. It
was the first time since 1870 that the question of constitutional
privileges was raised, and now it was found, as ever afterwards was the
case, that, for the German people, whatever might be the opinion of
their elected representatives, the name of Bismarck alone outweighed all
else. Bennigsen arranged a compromise and the required number of men was
agreed to, not indeed permanently, but for seven years. For four years
more the alliance was continued.

At this time all other questions were thrown into the shade by the great
conflict with the Roman Catholic Church on which the Government had
embarked. Looking back now, it is still difficult to judge or even to
understand the causes which brought it about. Both sides claim that they
were acting in self-defence. Bismarck has often explained his motives,
but we cannot be sure that those he puts forward were the only
considerations by which he was moved. He, however, insisted that the
struggle was not religious but political; he was not moved by Protestant
animosity to the Catholic Church, but by his alarm lest in the
organisation of the Roman hierarchy a power might arise within the
Empire which would be hostile to the State. But even if the Chancellor
himself was at first free from Protestant hatred to Catholicism,--and
this is not quite clear,--he was forced into alliance with a large party
who appealed at once to the memories of the Reformation, who stirred up
all that latent hatred of Rome which is as strong a force in North
Germany as in England; and with others who saw in this an opportunity
for more completely subduing all, Protestant and Catholic alike, to the
triumphant power of the State, and making one more step towards the
dissociation of the State from any religious body.

The immediate cause of the struggle was the proclamation of the
infallibility of the Pope. It might be thought that this change or
development in the Constitution of the Roman Church was one which
concerned chiefly Roman Catholics. This is the view which Bismarck seems
to have taken during the meetings of the Vatican Council. The opposition
to the decrees was strongest among the German Bishops, and Prince
Hohenlohe, the Prime Minister of Bavaria, supported by his brother the
Cardinal, was anxious to persuade the Governments of Europe to
interfere, and, as they could have done, to prevent the Council from
coming to any conclusion. Bismarck refused on behalf of the Prussian
Government to take any steps in this direction. The conclusion of the
Council and the proclamation of the decrees took place just at the time
of the outbreak of war with France. For some months Bismarck, occupied
as he was with other matters, was unable to consider the changes which
might be caused; it was moreover very important for him during the
negotiations with Bavaria, which lasted all through the autumn, not to
do anything which would arouse the fears of the Ultramontanes or
intensify their reluctance to enter the Empire.

In the winter of 1870 the first sign of the dangers ahead was to be
seen. They arose from the occupation of Rome by the Italians. The
inevitable result of this was that the Roman Catholics of all countries
in Europe were at once given a common cause of political endeavour; they
were bound each of them in his own State to use his full influence to
procure interference either by diplomacy or by arms, and to work for the
rescue of the prisoner of the Vatican. The German Catholics felt this as

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