Notes From Emil Reich’s “Foundations of Modern Europe” Part III

I’m going directly into the next chapter with this one since they fit so well together. The first part goes as follows:



The victories of the Prussians in 1866; the ascendency of Prussia in Germany since the day of Sadowa, were events the importance of which was clear to many a statesman and diplomatist in Europe. Thiers, Edgar Quinet, and other leading politicians and public men of France, clearly pointed out that Bismarck could not possibly rest on the laurels of his Austrian campaign; that he was necessarily striving to complete the unity of Germany, which in 1867 was yet far from being completed. Bismarck in 1866 had united the Northern states of Germany into the North-German Confederacy; but the Southern states – Bavaria, Würtemberg, and Baden – were not yet combined with Prussia. It is a question quite open to historical discussion whether Bismarck could not already in 1866 have brought about the unity of the Northern with the Southern states of Germany. In fact, many a modern historian has reproached Bismarck, with great show of justice, with a deliberate plan of retarding the unity of all Germany between 1866 to 1870. Bismarck, it is said, whose military success over Bavaria in 1866 had been as complete as his success over Austria, might have very well forced Bavaria and other Southern states of Germany to join the North-German Confederacy. In that way the Franco-German war might easily have been avoided, and the unity of Germany secured in a peaceful manner, without the terrible loss in men and money entailed by the gigantic war in 1870 and 1871.

It cannot be denied that in the preceding arguments there are some elements of truth; and Bavaria, although at all times highly differentiated from the rest of Germany, and more especially from Prussia, might have been persuaded to join the North-German Confederacy without the terrible war against France. On the other hand, Bismarck’s considerations were of a deeper, and, on the whole, of a juster nature. He felt that the Sough-German states could not be permanently held as members of a united Germany, unless a great and successful war would put an end to any attempt at local separation, and to the numerous centrifugal tendencies of the Catholic Church and Catholic sovereign families in the south of Germany. Moreover, it is well known that those Southern states in 1867 as well as in 1740 or 1645, were always coquetting with France, and had, by secular tradition and habit, a policy of friendship, nay, of alliance, with the French. These old historical traditions and tendencies, Bismarck rightly felt, could not be efficiently combated by anything short of a successful war against France, in which the Bavarians too would be obliged to undergo the sufferings and to accept the sacrifices necessary to the completion of the great plan. Bismarck, therefore, made no definite attempt at persuading Bavaria, Würtemberg, and Baden from 1866 to 1870 to join the North-German confederates.

In France, the fates of the nation were partly in the hands of Napoleon III., partly in those of an obstreperous, hysterical, and aimless opposition. Napoleon III., at no time a great statesman, was then moreover enfeebled and rendered practically useless by his physical inability – he suffered from stone disease – and his plans were easily overridden by those of his wife Eugénie. The Empress was one of the most beautiful women in Europe. In body endowed with the most astounding vigour and health, she was in mind a narrow, resourceless, and badly advised woman, whose only plan was to secure the inheritance for her son Louis (Lou-Lou). She was intimately connected with the Catholic Church, with the French clergy, and prevailed upon Napoleon to extend to the Pope considerations and regards that from a political standpoint were most injurious to France; and, like so many other female sovereigns of France, she had a genius for ignoring the right man, and for encouraging the wrong minister. For even at that time there was no lack of information about the coming danger. Colonel Stoffel, who was the military attaché in Berlin, never ceased informing the Emperor (whom he had aided in writing the life of Cæsar) about the superior organization of the Prussian army. In fact, Stoffel had the clearest impression of the hopeless inferiority of the French army as against the army of Prussia. When the disaster deprived Napoleon of his throne, several of the most incisive reports of Stoffel to the Emperor on the Prussian army were found – unopened – in the bureau of the Emperor. In Parliament also, Adolphe Thiers repeatedly implored the Deputies to abstain from any hostility to Germany, and although Thiers’s imprecations may have been somewhat interested, in that he did not want to increase the power of the opposition in Parliament by encouraging their anti-Prussian politics of the French Parliament, there was a large element of honesty and truth. Everybody felt that Napoleon’s mistake in 1866 of having abstained from an attack on Prussia immediately after Sadowa had caused an irreparable loss of prestige to France, and more particularly to the Napoleonic dynasty. The opposition in the French Parliament constantly attacking Napoleon, and forcing him in the end to very broad and considerable concessions, positively refused to help him in the reconstruction of the army; and there is now, in the light of the latest memoirs of that time, little doubt that the opposition is more directly responsible for the terrible military disasters of France in 1870 and 1871 than even Napoleon himself. By refusing to give any supply for the military force, the necessity of which Napoleon, Marshal Niel, and several other leading military officials had clearly seen and pressed upon the nation, the French Parliament increased the inferiority of France and so raised the boldness of Prussia, which, as we know, was most minutely informed about every public or secret move of the French Government and the French military authorities.

In spite of the lack of any military reform Napoleon, or rather Eugénie, became more and more convinced that a war with Prussia was absolutely indespensable in order to recoup the prestige of the Emperor’s reign, and the hopes of his son. Accordingly, a pretext was easily found, that that pretext was the well-known Hohenzollern question. One of the princes of the house of Hohenzollern, that is, related to the Prussian dynasty, was proposed as candidate for the Spanish throne, and Bismarck in the beginning acted as if he encouraged that candidature. The French Government affected to see in that move an attempt “to restore the Empire of Charles V.” The very exaggeration lying in these words clearly shows that Napoleon and Eugénie were only trying to find a pretext to make war on Prussia. Nothing could be more ridiculous than to see in the candidature of a Hohenzollern prince for the throne of Spain, a serious attempt at restoring a universal Empire. The French Government, however, affected to be greatly agitated by that candidature, and finally Benedetti, the French ambassador at Berlin, was despatched to interview King William of Prussia himself. King William readily admitted that the candidature of the Hohenzollern prince ought to be, and was to be, dropped. Under ordinary circumstances, the incident would have ended there. However, Grammont, the French foreign minister, determined to bring about a rupture with Prussia. Convinced as he was that the Southern states of Germany would join France against Prussia; confiding as he did in the absurd statement of Marchal Lebœuf, that the French army was completely ready “to the last button”; confiding likewise in the conditional promise of Austria to join France and in a similar, if vague, promise on the part of Italy; Grammont wanted to exercise pressure upon King William through Benedetti, to the effect that not only should King William undertake to discountenance a Hohenzollern candidature, but also that the King should give a formal promise never to entertain such a candidature in future. King William declined to give such a promise. The form in which he did that was neither offensive to France nor derogatory to his own honour. The interview between the King and Benedetti was at Ems, a watering-place on the Rhine. Bismarck, Moltke, and Roon, who had been anxiously watching the manœuvres of Grammont, and were hoping for an immediate rupture of relations and outbreak of the war, on receiving the answer of King William given to Benedetti, learnt to their dismay that the answer was so worded as to avoid any great affront. At this critical moment Bismarck, by omitting certain words of the King’s reply, and by abbreviating it in an artful manner, gave it the appearance of a most offensive declaration to France; and by this Machiavellian manœuvre, Bismarck secured what he and his two colleagues had been waiting for, that is, an instantaneous declaration of war on the part of France; for no sooner had the garbled reply reached Paris, than both Parliament and the Parisian people became frantic with indignation, and under the cries “à Berlin! à Berlin!” forced upon the Government a declaration of war.

This action of Bismarck, some twenty years later related by himself to an Austrian journalist, has been frequently held up as a specimen of his most ruthless and unrighteous policy. No doubt, in giving the King’s reply a version calculated to outrage French dignity, Bismarck acted upon purely political, that is to say, unsentimental principles. On the other hand the provocation really had come from France; the war was inevitable; and both Bismarck and Moltke knew that the French army was then, and just then, in a state of inferiority and unpreparedness, promising well for a rapid and complete victory of the Prussians. To neglect such a conjecture of circumstances, rightly seemed to Bismarck a failure in patriotism; and from a strictly historical, that is, practical standpoint, one cannot but approve a diplomatic move that has secured for Germany complete peace and prosperity for now over thirty-four years; and at the same time put the balance of Europe on a safer and steadier basis.

My schedule has been a bit hectic lately, but I should be able to finish with this chapter next week. Next I’ll either be moving on to the French Revolution or the unity of Italy. I haven’t decided which one yet…

Notes From Emil Reich’s “Foundations of Modern Europe” Part II

(This is the other half of the chapter on the unity of Germany starting from ‘Bismarck’s genius is great, but to him too we may apply the great rule of history, ‘Est locus is rebus‘ (History is largely influenced by the locality where things happen).)


From the Revolution in 1848 to the end of the fifties Prussia was still held to be subordinate to Austria in point of influence in Germany; and an attack on Austria was not considered in any way as promising sure success for the Prussian army. At the same time the Prussian army had ever since the great defeat of Jena in 1806 been reformed and improved and made an instrument of fighting second to none in Europe, and, as subsequent events have proved, superior to most. When Austria in 1859 had been defeated by France (as related above), and had been deprived of most of her territory in Italy; when at the same time the uncompromising position of the Hungarians towards Austria rendered the interior security of Austria more than problematic; a new view of the relation of the Danubian monarchy to Prussia was taken by several Prussian statesmen. Of those men of action, Bismarck was even at that time the most important. He came from a small family in North Germany, and had to recommend him neither wealth nor very remarkable personal connections. His strongest recommendation was his extraordinary political genius. Now that we have been for some time in possession of his letters, his speeches, and may with fair prospect of success cast a constructive glance over the whole life of the great statesman, we may perhaps be entitled to formulate his peculiar genius in a few concise words.

Undoubtedly Bismarck was a remarkable personality, and sheer personality has always proved a power in history; but in addition to the unanalyzable qualities and charms of a strong personality, aided by an imposing stature, force, and expressiveness of feature, we must always underline the fact that Bismarck was endowed with particularly great technical gifts for the conduct of great political affairs. In the first place, all his diplomatic measures and other manœuvres were based on information regarding the persons and circumstances he was called upon to deal with, such as very few statesmen have ever had at their disposal. To a perfect knowledge of Prussia, of the influential men and women of recent history, Bismarck joined a very rare insight into the general political state of affairs in Europe. He was perfect master of the French language, and had also an astounding command of English; nay, when later on he was Ambassador in Russia, he acquired a working knowledge of Russian. Of the courts and the political situation of the leading Powers in Europe he had acquired from personal study and from a judicious course of reading such ample and accurate knowledge, that as a rule he was better informed about the tendencies and character of political events than most men dealing with them directly or indirectly. Through all his life we are struck with that solidity of information. As is only natural, from a basis so solid and well knit, the vigorous mind of Bismarck could not but infer sound and lasting conclusions. Accordingly he was seldom mistaken in the strategy of his actions, although at all periods of his life the wisdom of his methods was challenged, doubted, attacked, and even ridiculed by men in important and commanding positions. In fact, while we cannot but repeat the remark that Bismarck’s triumph was only the concluding scene of the various antecedent historical events preparing the unity of Germany, yet we should fly in the face of historical truth if we did not recognize that without Bismarck’s energy and wisdom the last part of the long history of German unity could have been enacted only very much later than 1871. Bismarck certainly precipitated a political work undoubtedly inevitable, yet still dependent on a concourse of circumstances which only a superior statesman was able to focus and utilize.

In our own times, when the passions roused by the greatest events in German history have not yet subsided, we are treated every year to another work by a German professor, tracing the origin of modern Germany either to the Emperor William I. alone, or to the anonymous yet “exceedingly important” influence of this or that minor German sovereign; or, on the other hand, to Bismarck alone and exclusively. The former opinion, defended by Professor Ottokar Lorenz, the latter by innumerable German writers, are, we take it, both untenable. Like all great historical facts, the unity of Germany was for generations prepared by general and vast causes embracing an infinite number of particular phenomena; but was consummated by the strong hand of one man. It is certain that that one man was not Emperor William I.  It is equally certain that that man was Bismarck.

It will be found on intimate study of the times of Bismarck that he had firmly seized the necessity of  bringing about the unity of Germany under Prussian ascendency by the most careful conduct of Prussia’s foreign policy. He knew that the consummation of the great work could not be done by the introduction or academical spread of mere ideas. He knew it was preeminently a matter of diplomacy and war. He clearly pointed out in letters and speeches, that while some nations may bring about their national unity through treaties, or the slow work of mutual assimilation, the Germans, as he rightly held, could not possibly realize their secular hope without establishing themselves as a great military power. This is the sense of his famous utterance that history is made by blood and iron. Nobody admired Cavour, the unifier of Italy, more than did Bismarck; likewise nobody acknowledged the surpassing merit of Francis Deák in bringing about the unity of Hungary in a peaceful way more than did Bismarck; but nobody also saw more clearly that the problems with which Deák or Cavour had to contend, although identical in their objects with that of Bismarck, yet had a character so different that for their realization other means were required. It is this clear insight into the real needs for the establishment of German unity that constitutes the greatness of Bismarck. It is true, his complete success has shed an unusual lustre upon his name and his policy. However, it is not the success of Bismarck that ought to prompt us to recognize him as one of the greatest statesmen. It is, as we shall see, both the wisdom and the moderation of his politics. As diplomatic reverses at home or abroad could never discourage him, even so the greatest triumphs in the field or in diplomatic negotiations were never able to beguile him into excessive actions. We must admire both his courage and his moderation, and it is probably the latter quality which will make his name forever that of a model statesman. His adversaries were very numerous. It is well known that the Empress Frederick III., the daughter of Queen Victoria, was the persistent and implacable enemy of Bismarck. On the other hand, the historian Mommsen was likewise continually hostile to Bismarck; and it is certain that the great man lived in a world in incessant intrigues directed against his person and against his work. His greatest successes were unable to persuade the Empress Frederick that she was in error, and all his enemies and opponents were conspiring to shake the nerve of the Titan. In vain. In addition to physical resources of the rarest strength, Bismarck, like all great men, had also an unusual amount of good luck. Like Richelieu and Mazarin, the two greatest ministers of France, Bismarck could, under all circumstances, count on the unswerving attachment and friendship of his sovereign. Against this powerful friendship and steadfast confidence of the monarch all the shafts of envy and jealousy were hurled in vain. Not that the Emperor always shared the opinions or the desires of Bismarck; in fact he was both in 1864, in 1866, and in 1870 very reluctant to accept the policy of his great minister. However reluctant, he in the end consented to it, and it is only fair to say that without that constant and unfailing support and countenance on the part of his monarch, Bismarck could not possibly have resisted the unceasing cabal undermining his position.

In English-speaking countries, let alone in France, the prevalent idea of Bismarck is that of a harsh man, inaccessible to any human sentiment, and obeying only the dictates of political egoism. There is, however, very much exaggeration in that picture. Bismarck was neither harsh nor cruel. He certainly was imperious and was conscious of the necessity of severe measures; but both in private life, whether in his relations to his family or to the few personal friends he had (amongst whom was the American historian Motley), and in public life, his was chiefly the character of a man who acted on objective and not on subjective motives. All over Bismarck is written the great German term, Sachpolitik; that is, a policy of real and objective State interests, without regard to personal likes or dislikes. In his personal character there certainly were two redeeming features. In the first place, he was a man of profound and serene humour. To the modern mind even Richelieu and Mazarin lack this relieving feature, and appear therefore somewhat stiff. Bismarck had a remarkable share of the North German humour which is certainly more grim than agreeable, but which no doubt helps us to put some of the uncouth things of this world into better proportion. It was certainly worthy of the finest humour when Bismarck, at the height of the all-decisive battle of Sadowa (Koeniggraetz), anxious to know the opinion of Moltke, the General-in-Chief, about the probable issue of the engagement, approached the old and very reticent general, not with anxious questions, but by offering him his cigar-box and watching Moltke’s way of selecting the best of the cigars. When Moltke carefully examined the cigars and actually found out the best of them, Bismarck knew that the battle was going on satisfactorily for Prussia, and smilingly withdrew from the presence of Moltke.

The other and even more satisfactory feature in Bismarck was his utter frankness. In him there was no cant and no hypocrisy. He never said he was righteous when he was only political, and it is he who had the sincerity of saying, “We Prussians make no moral conquests,” which in plain English means that Prussians are selfish, interested, and ruthless fighters. This frankness very frequently puzzled and quite misled his diplomatic opponents. They were unable to believe in it, and so invariably searched for other motives behind that apparent frankness. As a matter of fact Bismarck was quite frank, and he had absolutely broken with the former habit of dissimulation and reticence considered to be the two chief artifices of diplomacy. It is natural that such frankness is repulsive to people who are habitually self-conscious and not frank. On the other hand, it is equally certain that the greatness of Bismarck is increased and not lowered by that noble and virile quality which most men are neither allowed nor able to practise in their own lives.

We have so far seen that Bismarck’s successes are based on sound information of all the elements and factors necessary for his success, and on a personality more powerful, sincere, and aided by the constant friendship of his monarch. We may now see the details of his three great triumphs; we mean the war with Denmark in 1864; the war with Austria in 1866; and the war with France in 1870-1871.

The Danish war we call a triumph, although from the military standpoint it was not only not a glory for Prussia, who acted against tiny Denmark with the aid of Austria, and so could, even in case of great victories, have scarcely claimed any particular glory for it; nay, it is well known that the Prussian army did not, in 1864, manifest any of that superiority which made her so famous in the other two wars. We call the Danish war a triumph of Bismarck, because it was the deeply thought-out manœuvre of how to embroil and compromise Austria, and so bring about the second war.

Briefly, the facts are these. The Southern provinces of Denmark are called Schleswig-Holstein; they were then, as they are now, mostly inhabited by German-speaking people, and they commanded especially the harbour of Kiel, which it was essential for Prussia to have in order to secure command of the Baltic and the North Sea, by making (as has been since done) a canal between Kiel and the mouth of the Elbe River. At that time Austria and Prussia were still both members of the German Confederacy, and it was certain that Austria would not allow Prussia to possess herself of the two duchies, Schleswig-Holstein, single-handed. The Germans, bullies with regard to small people, as are all great powers, heeded not the constant and just recriminations of Denmark, which had given no umbrage or cause for a war to any German sovereign, let alone to the German Confederation.

It was Bismarck’s aim to embroil Austria in a question of no possible interest to Austria, and thereby to win diplomatic leverage over her. It was likewise his object to feel his way in the great international question whether Europe would or would not interfere with the plans of Germany. Although most of the statesmen in Prussia seriously objected to Bismarck’s Danish policy, apprehending, as they did, the immediate interference of England (the Princess of Wales being a daughter of the King of Denmark), yet Bismarck was right in assuming that neither England nor Russia would interfere, and that the only upshot of the whole enterprise would be to engage Austria in what for her was a sterile and embarrassing undertaking.

In this he completely succeeded. The Danes were of course in the end forced to submit, and Austria and Prussia administered the two duchies in common. Bismarck rightly calculated that such common administration of a province, useful only to neighbouring Prussia, could not but lead to friction, and thus give him a new handle for complications with Austria. And when matters did not proceed rapidly enough, Bismarck forced a treaty upon Austria, the treaty of Gastein, August 14th, 1865, in which he apparently put an end to possible friction in the administration of the two duchies, by giving Austria and Prussia two distinct territories for administration; yet in reality the treaty of Gastein was, by its very nature, certain to lead to still more serious complications. Austria, as Bismarck expected her to be, found herself wronged, and the war of 1866 became only a matter of a few incidents which Bismarck did not hesitate to provoke. At that time Bismarck was struggling both with his numerous adversaries at the Court of Berlin, and with the unyielding Parliament of Prussia, the members of which, in utter ignorance of the necessities of the case, refused Bismarck supplies for the army, and so forced him to find the means of keeping us the army, and increasing it by autocratic ordinances of the King, countersigned by him. He then (1863-1865) was the most unpopular man in Prussia. However, he persisted, because he clearly saw that the war with Austria was inevitable, and that by such a war alone the destiny of Germany and the ascendency of Prussia could possibly be realized.

As already stated, King William, as he then was, was very much opposed to the war with Austria, and only with great difficulty could Bismarck persuade him to enter upon it. Moltke, on the other hand, was quite confident of defeating the Austrian army. In fact, the defeat of the Austrian army was for every expert a foregone conclusion. In addition to the usual defect of all Austrian armies, that is to say, to their diversity of languages and races and the consequent lack of unity so fatal to all armies, the Austrian army then was trill armed with old-patterned rifles, -with muzzle-loaders,- whereas the Prussians had breech-loaders, so that the Prussian infantry was able to shoot six times more quickly than did the Austrians.

It is to the ordinary contemplator of the manners and actions of governments one of the greatest riddles how bureaucratic governments will, even in the face of the greatest dangers, scarcely move to introduce reforms. The fact that the Prussian army was provided with much superior arms had long been known by Austria and by everybody; yet no attempt was made to improve the Austrian rifle. In addition to this another characteristic feature of Austrian military organization was practised: the old Austrian mistake of placing the wrong man in the right place, and the right man in the wrong place. Bismarck had, as we have seen in a former chapter, long promised Italy to help her in her attempts at unity, and accordingly he had early in 1866 concluded a treaty with the Italian Government, in keeping with which Italy was bound to attack Austria in Lombardy at the same time that Prussia should attack Austria in Bohemia. At that time the Austrian general Benedek had from long experience a very complete knowledge of Lombardy, and was no doubt able to conduct a successful campaign against Italy. Archduke Albert, on the other hand, the Austrian Emperor’s uncle, had a very authoritative and useful knowledge of Bohemia, and would have no doubt played a creditable rôle in a Bohemian campaign against Prussia. In that war, therefore, Benedek should have obtained the chief command in Lombardy, which he knew very well, and Archduke Albert the chief command in Bohemia, with which he was so intimately acquainted. However, Austrian wisdom, as usual, intrusted Benedek with the command in Bohemia, of which he knew nothing, and sent Albert to Italy, where his presence against the small and untrained army of Italy was scarcely required.

The military consequences of that blunder became manifest at once. Benedek, attacked in the northeast of Bohemia by the converging troops of Prussia under Moltke and the Crown Prince, lost his head at once, and by a series of strategic mistakes lost a number of minor engagements, and finally, in the great battle of Sadowa or Koeniggraetz, on July 3d, 1866, was forced to beat a hasty retreat. The Prussians at once followed him and occupied Moravia and marched close to Vienna. It was then that Bismarck’s greatness and real statesmanship were shining in the most brilliant manner. The Prussian army and all its generals, together with the Prussian king, were intoxicated with their rapid victories, and in their enthusiasm naturally insisted with violence on entering Vienna. However, Bismarck, whose eyes were already directed towards France, and who wanted to complete the great scheme of the German nation, clearly felt that he would soon need the friendship and alliance of Austria, and that he could obtain neither by a gratuitous humiliation of the Austrian ruler, such as an entrance into Vienna would unfailingly entail upon the latter. He therefore clearly and unmistakably declared to his sovereign that it was in the greatest interest of Prussia to discontinue her victorious progress, and to make peace with Austria on a basis not humiliating to the conquered. Another Prussian army had meanwhile made a most victorious advance into Hanover and the South-German States, who had joined Austria and were trying to fight Prussia. On the other hand, however, the Austrians had been very successful against the Italians, both on sea and on land, and Italy was practically at the mercy of Austria. Finally, Bismarck was afraid, as he himself said later on, that Napoleon III., Emperor of France, in order to put an end to the rapid victories of Prussia, might attack the Rhenish provinces and thereby render Sadowa and other successful battles of the war barren and unprofitable.

When Bismarck saw that no ordinary means would suffice to persuade the generals and the Prussian King to adopt his view of the situation, he threatened to take his life rather than consent to an entry into Vienna and the humiliation of the Austrian ruler. As usual he prevailed, and the Peace of Prague was made (1866), by which Austria lost no territory whatever, and had to pay a merely nominal sum by way of compensation, but by which Austria consented to be no longer a member of the German Confederation. In consequence of that, Prussia, which had meanwhile incorporated Hanover and other territories, especially Frankfort-on-the-Main, had become the leading Power in Germany, and Bismarck now established the North-German Confederacy, which was a partial realization of the great hope of the German nation. Italy, as we have seen, now obtained even the Venetian territory hitherto held by Austria, and so the campaign of 1866 established the ascendency of Prussia in Germany, completed the unity of Italy, and to the present day placed Austria on the level of a minor Power.

End Chapter XI

Notes From Emil Reich’s “Foundations of Modern Europe” Part I

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that this book has entered the public domain due to its having been published in 1908 and the copyright being expired. The bad news is that I’m not a typing robot and, as consequence, I will probably have to post some or all of the transcripts in chunks rather than in their entirety all at the same time. (I also have other things to do outside of this blog, so the time I can spend typing is limited.)

P.S. I will be transcribing parts based on whim rather than their actual place in the book, but if I start on a part and post it in sections, then I will finish the sections of that part before moving on to the next part. In accordance with the aforementioned whims, I will be starting on chapter eleven. Mind you, this is only Part One of this chapter. It begins as follows below:




The history of the unity of Germany is in many ways one of the most instructive chapters of history. For in Germany perhaps more than in most countries the old perennial and terrible fight of man against nature has been fought out, and has finally led to results considerable and perhaps all important. Like all the other nations of Europe, the Germans have always tried to make the limits of their country conterminous with the limits of their language. Europe has at no time been given to the Roman ideal, and just as a United States of Europe is, as we shall see, impossible in the near or in the far future, so it was impracticable in the last 2000 years. Europe consists at present of over forty highly organized polities, each of which clings to its personality in language, law, custom, and every other feature of national life with uncompromising tenacity. Each of these states has at all times tried to combine and unite its members and to separate itself from its neighbours. The centripetal forces in Europe have always been in the minority, and even the greatest emperors and conquerors have found that their dreams of uniting Europe under one rule were short-lived and sterile.

This work of union, this attempt to bring together in one highly differentiated state the members of one and the same nation, this old historical endeavour of the European peoples, has been realized in some countries earlier than in others. The English proper realized it in the early middle ages, and what is at present England and Wales were one country already in 1284. Next came the French. It took an enormous number of wars, battles, sieges, campaigns, intrigues, marriages, treaties, etc., in fact, all the resources of pacific and warlike policy, to unite the south of France with the north, and the west with the east. At last, under the Bourbon kings, early in the seventeenth century, and with regard to Lorraine in 1766, all the parts of modern France were united under one rule, although the homogeneity of the people was still far from complete, as we have seen in the first lecture on the French Revolution.

Germany proper was unable to secure her unity before the latter part of the nineteenth century. Germany is mostly an inland country, and has so far had no considerable sea power. It will be noticed that inland countries are not easily united; and even a common ruler leaves the people, the subjects themselves, in a state of utter discrepancy and divergence among themselves. It is really the sea that unites people, and France, having a very considerable sea power as early as the seventeenth century, had in this very circumstance an enormous leverage over Germany. Of the diverse elements of what was called the Holy Roman Empire of the Germanic nation in previous centuries, it is very difficult to form a definite idea. The number of sovereigns, from a small lord to the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, who all had sovereign rights over their respective subjects, is positively amazing. There is no exaggeration in stating that between the Rhine and the Elbe rivers the number of very small, small, great, and greater sovereigns in the seventeenth century was over 1000. Even then the fiction of a united Holy Roman Empire under the German Emperor was upheld, but it was a mere fiction. The emperor had no fixed nor considerable revenue; he had no standing and efficient army; and being at the same time the ruler of Austria and Hungary he had no vital interest in the welfare of his provinces outside his Danubian monarchy. In fact, the interest of the Habsburg emperors was rather the other way. The more Germany was split up into innumerable little sovereignties, the more it was unable to offer very great resistance to the Habsburgs. The great international treaty of 1648, the so-called Westphalian Peace, had really increased the anarchic state of Germany, and by its terms Sweden and France stood as guarantors or perpetuators of the German anarchy. It is at the present day almost impossible to realize the confusion, the chaos, the incredible disorder, that reigned in Germany in consequence of this political dismemberment. Each sovereign had coins of his own, had customs-lines of his own, had little armies of his own, separate individual codes of law of his own; the religion of the sovereign decided as a rule the religion of his subjects, and a very considerable portion of Germany was “under the crozier,” belonging as it did to powerful ecclesiastical potentates such as the Archbishops of Cologne, of Mayence, of Trèves, and the Bishops of Bamberg and Würtzburg. Litigation in the courts of these small sovereigns, and appeals to the central court of the Emperor, were, as a rule, exposed to the most exasperating delays and to ruinous expense. The great German poet Schiller, in his tragedy Kabale und Liebe (“Intrigue and Love”), has given us a terrible picture of the cruelty and oppression practised by these petty tyrants. Commerce flourished very little, and the German towns had long fallen from that commercial importance which they had reached in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The people were quite indifferent to their lot, and did not even rise when the Landgrave of Hesse sold them like chattels to the English to fight the Americans in the war of 1775-1783. The position of the women was, especially in the seventeenth century, most degrading. The German woman, at no time endued with any superior intellectual energy, was in the seventeenth century an altogether obscure and insignificant partner of her husband. It is true that in the first half of the eighteenth century the status of German women was considerably raised, and we hear of many an energetic, highly intellectual and cultivated woman in the lives of the great German writers of that century.

This rapid sketch of the misery of the Germans for lack of political or economic unity must now be supplemented with a picture of a more agreeable kind. The Germans, while politically paralyzed and unable to shake off the torpor that had fallen upon them since the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, had yet one great ideal in common; as they describe it themselves, while Germany was practically a mere geographical expression, “Germandom” (Deutschthum) soon began to exert itself. To put it in plain words, the unity of the Germans was, in contrast to that of the English and French, at first not a political unity but an intellectual one. They were politically as diverse as if they had been total foreigners to one another. Intellectually, however, they had begun, ever since the second half of the eighteenth century, to feel themselves as a nation, to learn the immense value of their language in scientific and literary works, and so to feel a consciousness of German nationality which, although still lacking political union, yet prepared the way for the latter too. In this sense the history of German literature is even more important to the historian than is the history of French or English literature. The works in which for the first time the unparalleled resources of the German language were made use of where the greatest possible incentive to a feeling of nationality in Germany.  Even up to the middle of the eighteenth century all the most valuable works published in Germany were still written either in Latin or in French. When, however, in the second half of the century Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Wieland, Schiller, and other very numerous German writers, in their works – many of which will survive forever – manifested the astounding power of the German idiom, its adaptability to prose and poetry alike, its capacity for the highest philosophical researches as well as for the lowest comedy; its force in narrative, didactic, and descriptive style alike – when all this became clear to the enthusiastic readers of these authors, the Germans felt that a new era had begun in their history. As in the sixteenth century the spiritual reform of the Reformation had brought home to the Germans their spiritual unity, so in the first half of the eighteenth century and in the first third of the nineteenth century the constantly increasing number of classical works written in German impressed upon the Germans the fact that they were fast becoming united intellectually too.

The disasters falling upon the Germans from 1805-1807 at the hands of Napoleon, and of which we have been speaking in former chapters, could not but impart to every single German a feeling that a nation cannot rest with a unity which is only intellectual and spiritual. More than that was needed. Political unity was required, and it now became not only a dream but a practical interest for all Germans to consolidate the unity of their political edifice in order to reap the benefit of their spiritual and intellectual unity at leisure. At that time the question really was, not whether the political unity of Germany should be attempted, for on that point all German-speaking nations were at one, but which German power should realize the unity?

As we have seen, the house of Habsburg or Austria played, even in 1815, a considerable role in the so-called German Confederation, and until 1850 the King of Prussia, the only rival of the Habsburgs, could not secure any ascendency or hegemony in that Confederation, and thus it was hoped by very many people that the unity of Germany was to come from Austria. The problem, therefore, which the Germans had to solve in the second half of the nineteenth century, was whether their political unity should come from south Germany or Austria, whence had come their spiritual and intellectual unity, or whether it should come from northern Germany or Prussia, which had hitherto done little or nothing for the intellectual regeneration of the nation except the establishment of a few universities, and which had in 1806 and 1807 proved itself to be utterly helpless, disorganized, and decadent. Such as hoped to see the unity of Germany realized by Austria were singularly mistaken about the nature of the Power. The Habsburgs, for reasons that are not quite clear, have never been able to unite any of the nations that have come under their rule in a real union. They have always been able to make conglomerations or external accumulations of provinces. Their only device in assimilating or uniting the heterogeneous people of their empire has always been to ally themselves with the Catholic Church, and so secure a certain kind of unity. However, it is quite clear that the Catholic Church, in spite of the admirable system of centralization and her great powers of bringing about uniformity of thought and sentiment, could not produce that political and internal or national unity which alone in modern times can give real power to a state. Austria, in other words, or rather the Habsburgs, have at all times been unsuccessful in their attempts at bringing about that political and national unity which in the latter half of the nineteenth century many a patriotic German hoped to see introduced into their own country at the hands of the Habsburgs.

In order to understand this important point very clearly we must hark back for a moment to the times of a war which happened long before the period here treated, but the influence of which is clearly sensible to the present day. We mean the famous Silesian wars which, with the interruption of a few years (1748-1756), raged from 1740 to 1763. In 1741, Frederich the Great succeeded by one victory, obtained by his generals at Mollwitz, in wresting from Maria-Theresa, the ruler of Austria-Hungary, the large and fertile province of Silesia. All the campaigns that followed, with their numerous battles until the peace of 1763, may from the standpoint of our present considerations be quite omitted. They were excessively numerous, and some of them very famous, yet they were unable to alter in any way whatever the effect of the battle of Mollwitz, and they may therefore for our present purpose be left out of consideration altogether. By the conquest of Silesia Frederick the Great acquired a German-speaking province, and was enabled to round off the territory of Prussia both territorially and nationally. At that time Prussia had very few, if any, inhabitants who were not German-speaking, and the German-speaking people all but formed the totality of Prussia, whose nationality was therefore practically unbroken. On the other hand, the loss of Silesia to Maria-Theresa affected the whole subsequent history of Austria. For in 1740, before Frederick wrested Silesia from Maria-Theresa, the majority of the inhabitants in the Austrian Empire were Germans. Austria at that time possessed neither Galicia nor Bukovina, neither Bosnia nor Venetian Italy. The Germans were still in numerical preponderance in Austria. By the loss of Silesia this preponderance of the German element in Austria was done away with. Maria-Theresa, in order to make up for her territorial losses, was compelled to seek for compensation eastward, that is, in parts of Europe where there was no German element. By her conquests in 1772 and 1775 (Gelicia and Bukovina), in 1797, the Treaty of Campo Formio (Venetian Italy), etc., etc., Austria acquired provinces indeed, but always territories inhabited by peoples of an entirely divergent nationality. Thus it may be seen that the Silesian wars threw into the heart of Austria the seeds of perennial disunion, and rendered Austria to the present day incapable of uniting her people into a political fabric of homogeneity. Frederick the Great indeed deprived Austria not only of a province, but in a sense of all her provinces, because Austria could never really assimilate those provinces, having once lost, as she did, the preponderance of her German subjects and being unable to restore it. Prussia, which obtained the heterogeneous elements of the three portions of Poland in 1772, 1793, and 1795, was yet so rich in her German provinces, especially after the Congress of Vienna in 1815, when she obtained large provinces on the Rhine, that her national unity, although broken into in her eastern possessions, was infinitely superior to that of Austria.

From the preceding considerations it is evident that Prussia was in 1850 in a position of far greater advantage for the national work of the unity of Germany than Austria could possibly be. For Prussia itself occupied a very considerable part of Germany proper, it had German people as subjects, a perfect unity of language and also largely of religion, and all that she lacked was some one great statesman who by genius and luck might realize the old hope. In Austria, on the other hand, the greatest of all statesmen could not have entertained a hope of realizing outside Austria, that is, in Germany, what a succession of rulers and statesmen in the preceding three centuries had never been able to realize in Austria proper. The ethnography of Austria was against any statesman who would have tries to realize the unity of Germany. The ethnography of Germany was quite in favour of Prussia. Prussia indeed wanted great men; Austria could not have done much even with the greatest men at the helm. In the light of events in our own times we can perceive with dazzling clearness that any hope of seeing the unity of Germany realized by Austria was doomed to failure. Austria had neither a powerfully organized and united army, nor a regular and well-stocked exchequer. She had no national forces either in literature, science, art, or any other intellectual or spiritual department. Without such aids even the greatest statesman is shorn of results. Prussia, on the other hand through the reforms introduced by a number of non Prussian statesmen, such as Stein, Hardenberg, Schornhorst, Altenstein, and others from 1807 onwards, had created a system of national education both in law and high schools, by works both scientific and literary, and in her army as well as in her national revenue she had placed herself in a state of great efficiency. Here indeed a great statesman might, by a clever, timely, and successful diplomacy, achieve much.

The old question whether Athens made Themistocles or whether Themistocles made Athens, is to the mind of many a historian an unsolvable problem. However, by a coincidence no doubt very strange, yet regular, we find that in any case of a really great man in history the possibilities of his career had long been prepared by the state or the nation to which he belongs. So it is in our present case. It cannot be denied that the influence of Bismarck from the time when he came to power and to the enjoyment of the complete confidence of King William of Prussia was a decisive power in the history of that country and of Germany. Yet it is equally certain that without the previous reforms made by such men as Luther, Melanchthon, Brenz, and the still greater literary and artistic lights of the Germans who gave them intellectual unity, let alone all the labours of those great reformers in Prussia who succeeded, by indefatigable and ill-requited work, in restoring Prussia to her former greatness, Bismarck’s genius alone could not have done anything. Bismarck at Vienna would have been as helpless as was at the same place Schmerling, or Count Beust. Bismarck’s genius is great, but to him too we may apply the great rule of history, “Est locus in rebus” (History is largely influenced by the locality where things happen).

End Part One (about halfway through)

Presumed Prerogative & Destined Fulfillment

The Meandering Thoughts of a Misplaced European

What is the most important thing in your life? Is it wealth? Is it popularity? Is it fashion? Is it a hobby? Is it personal security? For many people these are leading factors in their lives that shape how they act and what they believe in. These are the most important for quite a few also. It also forms an integral part in why they are motivated. Of course, some of these things are very important for a life of happiness and comfort. We would all like to be seen well by others and have a reputable image. We would all like to spend time doing the things we are impassioned about. We desire to be in the company of others who think alike, behave the same, agree with us and otherwise are of a similar disposition like us. Consequently though, these singular entities in our lives can preoccupy us…

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Summary: Baldr’s Dreams/Baldrs draumar

(It’s about time for another summary of this sort, no?)

As it begins, all the gods and goddesses are gathered together because Baldr has been having menacing dreams. Odin lays a saddle on Sleipnir ( ) and rides to Neflhel where he meets the hound Garm ( ). Odin rides on amidst much barking and the quaking of the earth until he comes to Hel. He rides to the eastern gate (where he knows the grave of a seeress is) and chants spells to wake her from the dead.

She rises from the dead and says,

“What man is this,     to me unknown,

who maketh me fare     such fear-fraught ways?

Was I buried in snow     and beaten by rain

and drenched with dew,     dead was I long.”

Odin introduces himself as Vegtam (“the Wayfarer”) and says he is the son of Valtam (“the Warrior”). The seeress is reluctant to answer Odin’s questions, but does so anyway. Odin asks who is going to slay Baldr and she says it will be Höðr ( ) (keep in mind that the letter before the “r” is pronounced as a “th”). Odin asks who will avenge Baldr after this happens and the seeress says that Rind ( ) will give birth to Váli ( ), who will avenge Baldr’s death.

As after her other answers the seeress says,

“I was loath to speak,     now let me cease.”

This time Odin replies with a riddle (the answer to the riddle is immediately after the quoted text) and says,

“Cease not, seeress,     till said thou hast:

answer the asker     till all he knows:

who are the girls     that greet so sore,

and their kerchief corners     cast to the sky?”

(The answer to the riddle is the waves. The phrase “kerchief corners” could also mean “the corners of the sail”. These sails may also be the ones of the ship that would bear Baldr’s body after his death.)

At this point the seeress guesses that the man asking her questions is really Odin. In response to her having guessed his identity, Odin reveals something about her identity as well, saying that instead of being a seeress or sage woman, she is really the mother of three thurses ( ).

The ending comes rather suddenly with her saying,

“Homeward hie thee,     happy in mind:

no chanted spells     will charm me up

until Loki     is loose from his bonds

and the day will come     of the doom of the gods.”

(The bonds she spoke of would be the ones mentioned near the end of the following summary: . We can infer that she returned to her grave after this and that Odin returned to the other gods and goddesses with the information the seeress gave him. Unfortunately, it seems this was nothing more than a minor elaboration of a part of the Völuspá ) as it contains no new information and ends rather abruptly.)