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

There are two chapters on the French Revolution in case anyone was about to start wondering why there is a Roman numeral immediately following the chapter title. I will move on to the second chapter (which is actually chapter three, but who’s keeping track of specifics here?) after I am finished with the first.

By the bye, there is a bit of French in this text, the correct translation of which (as transcribed from the book, that is) I will place at the end of this post as Google doesn’t translate it correctly.


II

The French Revolution. – I

The French Revolution is undoubtedly the most important event of modern history. As we cannot distinctly trace its origin, so we cannot clearly point out its termination in time or space; for like a great wave in agitated seas it is still spreading to countries that in the eighteenth century took no notice of it; and as a matter of fact it seems more adequate to consider the French Revolution as only one part of an immense European revolution which assumed a political and aggressive form in France, while in Germany it was clothed in forms literary and philosophical. It is more than a coincidence that the vast revolutionary  upheaval in France culminated in the immense personality of Napoleon; while in Germany the equally vast intellectual stir culminated in the Jupiter of German thought – Goethe.

The uniqueness and grandeur of the French Revolution are alone sufficient to render an explanation exceedingly difficult, more especially when we attempt, as we should, to give a specific explanation.

It has been customary to account for historical facts by general ethical remarks on human nature, or on the temper of the French, of the German, or the English. However, the very generality of these explanations deprives them of any real value.

For the historian proper, the problem of the French Revolution stands thus: how are we to account for the outbreak of that Revolution under Louis XVI., considering that the long reign of Louis XV. (1715-1774) was to all intents and purposes a far more likely time for a revolution in France?

Under Louis XV. the French people had an ever increasing number of motives to criticise, to fall foul of, to attack, and finally to subvert the government. Many of those abuses were removed under Louis XVI.; in fact, the government of Louis XVI. under Turgot, Necker, even Calonne, worked heroically at the removal of the worst abuses of the old French monarchy.

Moreover, the foreign policy of Louis XVI., was, in comparison with that of Louis XV., a most brilliant advance. Louis XV. was mortally humiliated by England in the Peace of 1763. England was mortally humiliated in torn by Louis XVI. in the Peace of 1783. Vergennes, at the head of foreign policy in France under Louis XVI., was in the highest degree successful, and yet the people, far from acknowledging the good intentions of the government at home, and its great successes abroad, continued to be dissatisfied, and finally broke out in the ever famous Revolution of 1789. Unless we can account for this specific date, or at any rate for the connection of the Revolution with Louis XVI.’s reign, we have fulfilled but very poorly our real task as historian.

If now we view the well-known works of Taine, Tocqueville, Sybel, Buckle, Sorel, and others, on the French Revolution, we shall at once see that neither the apparently scientific and cold analysis of Taine, nor the philosophical reflections of Tocqueville, neither the laborious arguments of the learned German professor, not the dignified diplomatic phrases of Sorel, have in reality advanced our insight into the causes of the French Revolution.

After all these, and similar authors, we still fail to see (I) why the French Revolution broke out under Louis XVI. and not before, and (2) why it at once assumed dimensions so colossal, so intense, as to dwarf any other historical movement, such as the Renaissance or the Reformation, into comparative insignificance.

The sober truth is, we do not understand the French Revolution. Auerbach once said that most people were not yet “Goethe reif” (i.e. ripe for the understanding of Goethe). We must confess that we are not yet “Revolution-ripe”; and that, in spite of the serious and philosophical studies devoted to that Revolution, the best part of our knowledge of that great event is probably still contained in the classical witticism of Boerne: “One man alone could have prevented the French Revolution – Adam – if he had drowned himself before his marriage.”

While acknowledging the exceeding difficulty of accounting for the French Revolution, we may yet try to point out one or two of the circumstances hitherto unnoticed or neglected as the precursors, if not the specific causes of the French Revolution.

It is well known that the prevalent opinion ascribes the French Revolution to the intolerable anarchy and oppression degrading the people of France under the ancien régime.

Works, such as the books of the famous Arthur Young, who travelled through France shortly before the outbreak of the French Revolution, are quoted to prove the utter misery of the peasantry and smaller bourgeoisie (middle classes), and the wretched decadence of the nobility. However, it has long been proved that Arthur Young had been completely taken in by the most artful of innocents in Europe, i.e. by the peasantry of France. It is indeed somewhat grotesque to assume, as Arthur Young did, that any peasant would reveal to him what he as a rule does not even communicate to his wife, that is, all the details of his household and farm.

We now positively know that in districts of France where the people were stated (by Arthur Young) to have been utterly poor, they had during that time made extensive purchases of land and farms. The economic history of peasants cannot be written from their own oral statements. It must be looked for in acts of notaries and other legal documents.

The alleged misery of the people under the ancien régime was, it is now admitted, very much less severe under Louis XVI. than under Louis XV. On the other hand, we have positive knowledge (not only from the well-known discourse of Savaron) that the people under Louis XIII. (1614) were literally crushed down by the most abject misery.

It is true that Savaron said to Louis XIII.: “Que diriez-vous, sire, si vous aviez vu dans vos pays de Guyenne et d’Auvergne les hommes paître l’herbe à la manière de bêtes?” Yet the (Catholic) people never rose under Louis XIII.

The circumstance above alluded to as probably one of the preparatory causes of the French Revolution is the startling homogeneity of the French people. In modern times, more especially in America, we are so used to the phenomenon of millions of people conforming to one and the same standard of religion, opinions, dress, and manners, that we easily forget that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries such homogeneous masses were by far the exception. In the seventeenth century a Provençal or a Breton would have taken it almost as an insult to be called a Frenchman. In the seventeenth century, previous to 1685 (Revocation of the Edict of Nantes), there was in France a very considerable number of Huguenots, that is, people who had, besides the language, very little in common with the rest of Catholic France. Nay, within Catholic France the Jansenists formed a most distinct, and most characteristically differentiated, group of people. In various provinces there still pulsated an autonomous life of their own, and the social strata were still so separated from one another as to make the bourgeois practically an impossibility in the refined drawing-rooms of the aristocracy or the court.

France was in the seventeenth century very far from being a homogeneous nation. The complaint of one class or one group found no echo in that of another group, and could thus acquire no momentum of political importance. Complaints (doléances) such as were submitted by the whole of France in 1788-1789, were of frequent occurrence, even in the seventeenth century; but the complaints of one province, or sect, or class met with so little encouragement on the part of other provinces, sects, or classes, that they invariable ended in sheer indifference and neglect. When, on the other hand, we regard France under Louis XVI. we are struck with a most remarkable homogeneity of the people.

The Huguenots had been expelled in 1685; the Jansenists suppressed by the Bull Unigenitus, 1713. The autonomous rights and local political life of various provinces had been levelled out by the great centralizations of Colbert, Louvois, and the other great ministers of Louis XIV., and the bourgeoisie under Louis XV. had penetrated into most of the aristocratic salons. The bourgeois furnished the great types of the stage, they monopolized nearly the whole intellect of France, and claimed successfully the recognition of social equality.

This homogeneity then had caused the mental attitude of most Frenchmen to be the same, at least with regard to certain fundamental principles of politics, philosophy, and society. This homogeneity must, we take it, be admitted as the first and indispensable condition of the great event called the French Revolution. For what do we find? As soon as clever or important thoughts on politics were published in Paris, whether in pamphlet form, in a book, or in a discourse (whether it was Turgot, Necker, Condorcet, the Abbé Sieyès, or some provincial municipality), the rest of France, or certainly the majority of Frenchmen, at once took it up, discussed it, refuted it, accepted it; in short, intensely interested themselves in it. This was a new phenomenon.


End Part One of the first chapter on the French Revolution.

As promised, here is the correct translation of the French quote:

“What would you say, Sire, if you had seen in your territories of Guyenne and Auvergne, men eating grass like beasts?”

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

This is the second part of the section on the unity of Italy beginning from, “…in order to place them under obligations to Italy, had sent out a considerable corps of Italian soldiers to the Crimea as an auxiliary army for the allies.”


 

The decisive event, however, was the attempted crime of Orsini. It appears that Napoleon III., long before he succeeded in ascending the throne of France, and when he was still a roaming adventurer, had promised to the Italian patriots that whenever he should succeed in his aspirations he would extend to them a helping hand and put an end to the political and social anarchy of Italy. There is little doubt that Napoleon took these promises pretty seriously. Like all the members of the Napoleon family, ha had deep Italian sympathies; and, moreover, his general policy made him take his early promises to the Italian patriots as part of a policy both practical and sublime. However, the exigencies of his home as well as his foreign policy, the great war with Russia from 1854 to 1856, had prevented him from realizing his promises; and to numerous secret reminders of the part of the Italian patriots he answered evasively. These patriots had always threatened him with death unless he redeemed the promises made to them in the autumn of 1857. The most resolute of these patriots, Orsini, left London fro Paris, determined to put an end to the life of Napoleon. With several accomplices he ambushed Napoleon in a street near the Opéra in Paris, whither Napoleon, his wife Eugénie, and other members of his court were repairing in the evening of the 14th January, 1858. Orsini and his accomplices threw several bombs at the carriage of the Emperor; the bombs exploded, and killed and wounded over one hundred and forty persons; however, the Emperor and his wife escaped unscathed. Orsini in prison behaved with the most heroic steadfastness. Napoleon really wanted to pardon him, but it appeared that it would have been unwise to pardon the assassin of so many persons; the indignation of the French public was too intense. Orsini, however, made the Emperor promise that a French army would enter Italy and wage war with Austria, and having obtained this formal promise from Napoleon, Orsini mounted the scaffold with serenity. Napoleon could no longer doubt the very serious character of the threats constantly levelled at him by the Italian patriots. Under the pretence of taking the waters at Plombiéres in central eastern France, he had an interview with Cavour, and there a formal alliance was made and a promise given that at an early date war should be made against Austria both by France and Sardinia, and after the successful termination of the war Austria’s power in Italy would be put an end to.

Although Napoleon, as already remarked, was quite sincere in his ideas about the principle of nationality, and seriously believed that nothing but good could come from a still greater union amongst the distracted territories of Italy and other countries, yet personally he was not in favour of the union of the whole of the Italian Peninsula. At that time a number of French diplomatists and politicians warned him of the inevitable consequences that a unity of all Italy could not but entail upon the prestige and power of France. Italy, they said, if united, will only be the prelude to a similar union in Germany and in other portions of Europe, and France will inevitably suffer from the rise of new and powerful national states. Napoleon did not deny the force of these arguments. However, he hoped to keep the patriotic enthusiasm of the Italians within bounds, and to make of Italy, not one kingdom under the rule of the House of Savoy, but four kingdoms under the suzerainty of France. In this entirely false view he was confirmed by the subtlety and diplomacy of Cavour, who himself very well knew that once Austria’s power was broken in Italy, and the friendship and moral support of France and England secured, nothing could prevent the Italians from establishing themselves as one single united monarchy. Napoleon declared war against Austria, and the war was rapidly finished by the campaign of 1859, the two most important engagements being at Magenta, near Milan, and at Solferino, close to Mantua. The Austrian army, although in no wise inferior to that of the French, was badly generalled, and a few misunderstandings sufficed to produce the defeat of Austria in both engagements. The Italians, drunk with enthusiasm, wanted to force Napoleon to continue the campaign, hoping to oust the Austrians from Italy altogether. However, Napoleon now took fright at the vast waves of national enthusiasm roused in Italy. In order to keep it within bounds he hurried on a peace with Austria at Villa Franca. According to that peace the Austrians were still to retain very considerable Venetian territory in Italy; but the rest of Lombardy they handed over to Napoleon, who ceded it to the King of Sardinia. The Italians were furious in their disappointment. They considered Napoleon a greater enemy of theirs than were the Austrians. They claimed, and not without a fair show of justice, that one more battle, the success of which was scarcely doubtful, would have made secure the unity of Italy. They reproached Napoleon with a childish fear of the anger of the Pope, Pius IX., and with the intention of keeping Italy in her old anarchy. Garibaldi and other Italian patriots, especially Mazzini, published innumerable pamphlets, calling upon the Italian nation to rise in a body and to drive out her enemies. Cavour, who continually clung to his diplomacy, and who was, moreover, crushed by illness, overwork, and the considerable strain of continuous vigilance and diplomatic negotiations, still managed to hold the balance between the wavering of Napoleon, the hostility of the Austrians and the Pope, and the excessive claims of the ultras. He died in June, 1861, and by that time the unity of Italy was a foregone conclusion. The patriots under Garibaldi had, by their bold initiative in Sicily and Naples, so irretrievably engaged and compromised the people of southern Italy, that one part of Italy after another declared for Victor Emmanuel, hitherto only King of Lombardy, as King of Italy. The inevitable and necessary advent of the unity of Italy was finally quite clearly shown in 1866, when Victor Emmanuel, although beaten by Austria on sea and on land at Lissa and at Custozza, nevertheless made good his claim to the Venetian territory still in the hands of Austria, so that the whole of Italy, except the city of Rome, was in August, 1866, under the rule of Victor Emmanuel as King of Italy. The City of Rome was entered by the Italians a few weeks after the commencement of the Franco-German War, and ever since Italy has been a united monarchy.

The events of the fifties and sixties of the last century fully proved the correctness of Cavour’s policy. He was right in thinking that the famous saying, “Italia fara da sè” (“Italy will do it all alone”), was a useful war-cry, but historically and diplomatically the greatest untruth. It was not Italy that made the unity of the Peninsula: it was France; it was, to a certain extent, England; it was Prussia. The result of Cavour’s policy redounds to his personal glory as much as did later on the results of the policy of Bismarck to the glory of the Germans. We say, to Cavour’s personal glory, for we mean to intimate that his policy exalted far more his own genius than it contributed to the greatness of Italy. No nation that has won her liberty and independence at the hands of another people can ever hope to rank as a really great nation before many a generation after her liberation. Had the Italians won the battles of Magenta and Solferino single-handed, and without the aid of any one else, as the Greeks did the battle of Salamis, and the English their battles against the Armada, or the Germans the battles against France, there would undoubtedly have been a far more rapid growth in the social economy and political reconstruction of Italy. The forces that made Italy were not her own forces; and so the immense impetus given to a nation by the triumphs on all-important battlefields has been lacking to her. More than thirty-five years has now elapsed since Victor Emmanuel was made King of all Italy, and while the Italians have been making great efforts to work the regeneration of their nation, and while by international courtesy they are considered a great Power, yet in reality they are far from being so. Internally sapped by the relentlessly hostile agitation of the Catholic Church; her southern provinces cankered by ignoble poverty, brigandage, and total lack of industrial enterprise; her population constantly drained by emigration to South America; Italy is still far from that greatness that her patriots hoped to see as soon as the enemy, more particularly Austria, should leave the country. There is of course no reason to despair of Italy. Her people as individuals are in many ways the most gifted in Europe. The resources both of her moral and intellectual nature are boundless; her position in the centre of the Mediterranean opens immense vistas of material success for her in the near future, but the initial mistake of winning her independence at the hands of others will tell on her heavily for many a year to come.

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

Note: The library I blog at will be closed this coming Monday, so you can expect the next installment of this series to be posted on Wednesday the twenty-first. If something prevents this from happening, then the next part will most likely be posted on Friday instead. Thank you.


X

The Unity of Italy

The political events in the twenty years from 1851 to 1871 were so great that they can, like all great events, be summed up in a few clear words. They may be reduced to the following five groups of facts:

(1) The establishment, prosperity, and downfall of the second French Empire.

(2) The fall of the Austrian Empire from its former greatness.

(3) The defeat of the Russians by the English and French, and the consequent gravitation of Russia not towards the West, but towards the East, that is, Asia.

(4) The rise of the unity of Italy.

(5) The rise of the unity of Germany.

It will be seen that these five groups of facts completely changed the physiognomy of Europe. France, after a temporary rise to first-class importance, was humiliated and deprived of her great influence. It was so with Austria, which up to 1850 was one of the great Powers and of decisive influence in all Continental matters; it was even so with the influence of Russia, which for a long time back had been appreciable in nearly the whole of Europe and which now proved unable to make any headway, whether in the southwest portion of her Empire, or in Germany, and was forced to seek for new fields of conquest in uncivilized Asia. Finally, by the rise of a united Germany and Italy, new powers were introduced into the concert of Europe which, as everybody knows, have had influence not only on the Continent, but on the international position of England, America, and the Far East. These momentous changes were realized chiefly by the genius, luck, and energy of two men, Bismarck in Germany and Cavour in Italy. If we now add similar events, not as comprehensive, but of almost equal importance, such as the unification of Hungary by Francis Deák and the rise of the Danubian principalities and kingdoms (kingdom of Roumania, kingdom of Servia, principality of Bulgaria, etc.), we have exhausted the number of really important and influential events during the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Louis Napoleon, as we saw, was made President of the French Republic, and by the coup d’état of the 2d December, 1851, he made himself Emperor of the French. There are few men in modern history with regard to whom the judgment of their contemporaries was led astray in a more pitiable manner than with regard to Louis Napoleon. As the heir of the great Napoleon he impressed the nations and gave rise to an appreciation wholly out of proportion to his real merits. Napoleon III. was neither a man of genius nor a man of action. He was a strange combination of a dreamer and yet a persistent worker; a man lacking in the chief quality of a ruler, that is, in the sense of proportion as applied to the great events and leading persons of his time. Nearly all the ideals floating before his mind were impracticable and adverse to the interests both of his dynasty and of his subjects. He pursued a nationalist policy, dreaming of the union of nations and wasting his time, money, and power on an enterprise that promised neither glory nor profit.

The Italians, ever since they had been united into the kingdom of Italy by Napoleon the Great, had never given up the idea of restoring the unity of the Peninsula. That idea had been in their minds and hearts for over a thousand years previously. The greatest minds and characters of Italy; generals and admirals, thinkers, poets and men of action, all had, in innumerable books, articles, poems, and actions, attempted to pave the way for the restoration of the unity of Italy. All these attempts had been, however, in vain. It is one of the deepest lessons of history that Italy, which in times before Christ had, under Roman rule, succeeded in uniting the whole Western world, was, after the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century of our era, absolutely unable to make good her own unity. It is a further curious teaching of History, it must now be added, that the unity which Italy before Christ conferred upon the European world and which after Christ she was unable to secure for herself, was in the nineteenth century given to her by the great Powers of Europe, chiefly by France. Thus there is no exaggeration in saying that the unity which Italy formerly gave to the world, the world gave to her in the nineteenth century.

The forces of the Italians themselves were curiously inadequate. In the Italian character there are, as in all high-strung natures, the most surprising contradictions. In private life there is no more dramatic nation that the Italians, yet they have never produced dramatic literature of any high order. In public life there are no more ardent politicians than the Italians, and their wonderful intelligence, dash, and courage seemed to promise national or concerted action on a grand scale. In reality, however, the Italians of the last century consistently shrank from grand and open actions, and their greatest statesman, Cavour, instead of choosing the methods of Bismarck or of some Italian hothead like Garibaldi, unswervingly clung to methods quite the reverse of open warfare and military exploits. Already during the time of the Reaction, as we have seen, the Italians essayed to make good their unity by secret societies, anonymous risings, and nameless political murders. It seemed impossible to prevail upon the people in Italy to rise in a body. With all due recognition of the immense merits of the Catholic Church for the rest of the world it cannot be denied that in the nineteenth as well, as in the preceding centuries the Papacy prevented the Italians from accomplishing any great action on behalf of Italian unity. The Papal States took up the very centre of Italy and thus cut the Peninsula into two halves, linked by a state neither national nor powerful enough to offer protection. This “third body” in the polity of Italy has, as Machiavelli observed, always been the real cause of the disunion of Italy. The Popes had in former times very frequently invoked the help of foreign potentates in order to foil any attempt on the part of Italian princes or heads of states to secure the unity of Italy. Cavour now turned the tables on the Popes; and the very policy that they had used for centuries to deprive Italy of the advantages of union was now utilized by Cavour to secure that unity, despite all the antagonistic policy of the Pope and of the smaller monarchs in Italy. Bismarck, as is well known and as we shall see in a subsequent chapter, had proceeded on the lines of a policy in many ways directly the opposite to that of Cavour. He, too, laboured at the unity of Germany, but he was convinced, and events proved him right, that that unity could only be obtained by “blood and iron.” Cavour, on the other hand, who had made a deep study of English, French, and Italian history, had come to an entirely different solution of the same problem. Without entirely discarding the more aggressive patriots, he was determined to secure the unity of Italy by making that great aim an interest of France in the first place, of England and Prussia in the next. Once, he rightly thought, the great Powers of Europe, or most of them, are interested on behalf of the unity of Italy, their combined forces will force down all opposition on the part of Austria, the Pope, or the King of Naples; just as had been the case in 1830 when Belgium wanted to become an independent State and succeeded, because England in the first place, and also other Powers, had an interest in seeing Belgium separated from Holland.

The deep diplomacy of Cavour was very considerably aided by some of the most excessive radicals, demagogues, and patriots of Italy. For this is the unfailing sign of a great policy, that circumstances apparently opposed to it are in reality helping it forward. Nothing more contradictory can be imagined than the cautious, prudent, cunning policy of Cavour, and the exaggerated zeal of some of the Carbonari who, like Mazzini, Orsini, and others, were firm in their belief that the unity of Italy could be achieved more rapidly by the dagger and the bomb than by diplomatic negotiations. Yet these very radicals and extremists helped Cavour so essentially that his great triumph in July, 1858, the secret alliance with Napoleon III., was entirely owing, in the first place, to the desperate action of Orsini in January of the same year. A few words will put that quite clearly. Cavour in reality, as an Italian statesman, was technically only the minister of the King of Sardinia, that is, of the western part of Lombardy, then a small and unimportant country. The diplomacy of the House of Savoy or the Kings, formerly the Dukes, of Piedmont in Sardinia, has, like that of many a small nation surrounded by mighty Powers, always been characterized by exceeding subtlety and carefulness. It was in Cavour that that dexterity in seizing the reins of diplomacy was carried to its highest perfection. Cavour wanted to persuade Napoleon to wage war with Austria, which ever since the Congress of Vienna had been the most important military power in Italy. Austria possessed practically the whole of the north of Italy except Sardinia, and was preponderant in the rest of the Peninsula. The King of Sardinia single-handed could not hope to cope successfully with Austria; and no serious hope of uniting the other monarchs of Italy against Austria could be entertained. Military help therefore was bound to come from France. It was sufficient for Cavour that England and Prussia should give their moral support in the matter, which they both did in ample measure. Already in 1854, when England and France had begun the Crimean campaign against Russia, Cavour, in order to place them under obligations to Italy, had sent out a considerable corps of Italian soldiers to the Crimea as an auxiliary army for the allies.

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

This is the other half of the chapter on the Franco-German war starting from, “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.”


Bismarck, who, as we have seen, used all his moderation in the moment of his wonderful triumph over Austria, now used all the energy and dash he was capable of to precipitate a terrible conflict with France. In both cases he was guided by the soundest and coolest considerations of policy. In both cases he was right. The question of war or peace is one that most people are unable really to discuss; for nothing short of a very complete or comprehensive knowledge of war gives us the means of placing the great question in its right perspective. Such a knowledge of war is of very rare occurrence. They who constantly preach peace and condemn men like Bismarck have not learnt the great lesson of war, that war in the right time with the right means saves many a nation sacrifices very much greater than those entailed by the war. One has only to compare the policy of Bismarck with that of Austria in 1870 in order not only to approve of Bismarck’s so-called Machiavellian manœuvre, but to consider his whole policy as one eminently meant to secure the true benefits of peace. It is self-evident that Austria in 1870 ought to have joined France unconditionally. It is evident that Austria ought to have learnt, if not from the bygone events of her own history in the eighteenth century, at any rate from the palpable mistake of Napoleon in 1866, that it was her duty to attack Germany in the East as soon as Germany invaded France in the West; just as Napoleon in 1866 ought to have invaded Prussia in the West when Bismarck attacked Austria in the East. Instead of that, Austria – ever unready – abstained from joining in the colossal conflict. The Emperor Francis Joseph neglected what was then his chief duty – that is, to become a strong and faithful ally of the French; to reduce the possible victories of Prussia; to recoup his position and to raise Austria to the international position that she occupied in the eighteenth century, when Maria Theresa, in a spirit of infinitely greater statesmanship, never missed an opportunity of interfering in the great international affairs of Europe. The peaceful policy of the Emperor Francis Joseph in 1870 has, as we now know, been the death-blow of Austria-Hungary in her position as an international Power. Austria has at all times lived more by pressure from abroad than thanks to cohesion from the inside; and since 1870, when she excercised no pressure upon, nor received any from, the rest of Europe, she has necessarily drifted into interior anarchy, and has been the prey of the most unruly, aimless, and hopeless party struggles.

The peaceful policy of Austria in 1870 has entailed upon her the greatest losses, economic, moral, and political; losses infinitely greater than any loss she could have sustained in 1870 by joining the French against Prussia.

The war between Prussia and France at once manifested the inner unity of the German nations; for the Southern states in Germany – Bavaria, Würtemberg, and Baden – at once joined Prussia and the Northern states, and under the leadership of Moltke, of the Crown Prince Frederick, and of Prince Frederick Charles, the German armies invaded France, and in nearly every single battle worsted the French; even when, as at Gravelotte, the Germans had not the superiority of numbers. It is needless to dwell here on the details of the war, the various tragic scenes of which are still within the memory of many. It is well known how absolutely unprepared the French were; it is equally well known that while each individual German officer was full of the most independent and daring initiative, the French officers and generals, from Bazaine and Marshal MacMahon downwards, lost all initiative and every particle of that famous French resourcefulness which in 1859 had carried Napoleon’s army victoriously through the Italian campaign, although the French army, then as in 1870, was very sadly unprepared and ill-provided for.

The most incapable of the French generals was Bazaine, the commander of Metz. At the first blush it appears inexplicable why the German generals, none of whom had seen or experienced a great war, except the war of 1866, which lasted only a few weeks, should prove so immeasurably superior to the French generals, every one of whom had gone through numerous campaigns previous to 1870. In fact, it must be said that in 1870 theory proved infinitely superior to practice; and the German officers, mere theorists, so to speak, undid all the plans, practice, and routine of the French generals. The explanation of this remarkable puzzle may be found in the fact that the experience of the French generals was great indeed, but it had been acquired, not in Europe and against European armies so much as in Mexico, in Algiers, in China; that is, against nations of a civilization and science inferior to that of Europe. We have only lately seen that a war with an ever so small European nation is an affair of a totally different character from wars against black, yellow, or mixed races. The Germans were prepared for that war, and for over two generations had studied all its possibilities in the minutest detail.

After the terrible disaster of Sedan and Metz came the siege of Paris. The French, maddened by their unprecedented disasters, accepted for a time the guidance of Gambetta, a man of energy and insight, but one who lacked the more ruthless virtues of an efficient dictator. He was able to create new armies, to offer to the Germans a resistance of the Loire and in the north of France which in many ways was more efficient than that offered to the Germans by the old regular army of France. The Germans were, after October, 1870, unable to repeat those wholesale captures of armies which characterized the first stage of their war with France; yet Gambetta, it must now be said with regret, was not quite a match for the entirely different situation created in France through the German victories. Not a Gambetta, a Danton was needed. Gambetta, who rightly pursued the policy of resistance to the bitter end, ought to have done away with all the elements of possible opposition to his right plans.

We now know from German military writers that the Germans could not have continued the war for another two or three months, after January, 1871. The winter was terribly cold; Bismarck, as he tells us himself in his memoirs, spent sleepless nights in apprehensions of international interference; the financial resources of Germany began to be exhausted, and a popular and implacable war, in the manner of the Spanish resistance to Napoleon, would have forced the German army to retreat, and might possibly have deprived them of Lorraine, if not of Alsace too. However, in the French nation, as usual, there were strong parties filled by nothing but personal ambition, who, in the collapse of the old régime, welcomed an opportunity for raising themselves into power. Of these parties Adolphe Thiers was the head. He wanted peace, and peace by all means, for he knew that peace meant his own coming to power. He had been unsuccessful in his long and wearisome travels to the various courts of Europe, asking for help and intervention. Bismarck – and that is his greatest diplomatic feat – had so completely isolated France that neither England nor Russia, let alone Austria, seriously thought of intervening; although, as we have seen, such intervention was to the vital interest of Austria, and, as we now see, would have been no mistake on the part of England. Surely it would have paid England to retard somewhat, by intervention, the precocious growth of German ascendency. However, Bismarck was quite successful, and peace on terms proposed by Thiers was impossible. Peace was Thiers’s great steppingstone to power; that alone explains why Gambetta ought to have despatched Thiers in one way or another, so as to carry out Gambetta’s own plan of unflinching resistance. Gambetta, however, lacked the power and deep if cruel insight of Danton; and, after the occupation of Paris, France was obliged to accept, in 1871, the terms of peace dictated by Bismarck at Frankfort-on-the-Main, by the terms of which France lost Alsace altogether, and the portion of Lorraine inhabited by German-speaking people; and, moreover, was obliged to par an indemnity of £200,000,000 sterling (1,000,000,000 dollars). The real cost of the war to France was 5,000,000,000 dollars, and but for the immense wealth of the country the war would have ruined it financially as it did politically.

There can be no doubt that the terrible military disasters inflicted on France by the Germans have done to that old and historic country of Europe an incalculable harm; harm, it must be admitted, incomparably more severe than any losses that a continuance of the war after February, 1871, could have possibly brought upon France. On the other hand, the Germans at Versailles – that is, in the very palace of Louis XIV., who in the seventeenth century had so deeply humiliated the Prussian Elector and the Germans generally – constituted themselves into the German Empire. King William of Prussia accepted the new dignity rather reluctantly; and there were great difficulties about the title, which was finally settled as King William, German Emperor. Thus the great political concepts of Bismarck, to bring about the unity of Germany by a successful war with France, rather than by negotiations and treaties with and between German sovereigns themselves, was completely realized; and Germany, that had hitherto been a lax and inefficient conglomeration of small and big sovereignties, was now launched on a great career of political and commercial prosperity, and is now attempting to become a world-power.

The fate of Napoleon is well known. Like his uncle, the great Napoleon, he repaired to England and died in exile. The great Napoleon wanted to accomplish too much and failed; Napoleon III. wanted to accomplish too little and failed. The great Napoleon obeyed the dictates of his own vast mind; Napoleon III. obeyed the dictates of an ambitious and intellectually inferior woman. France herself was in a desperate position. The indemnity she was able to pay off very soon; but the terrible reaction from her dreams of glory, from her conceit, from her irregular ambition and disorganized home policy, was the most appalling that has ever come over any modern nation. She had lost all prestige in the eyes of her contemporaries; from having been the leading nation in Europe she sank down to a second-rate and third-rate Power. Yet people were mistaken in considering France lost and fallen forever. Military defeats have as yet not really ruined a great nation. A nation worsted in fight may lose much, but she is sure to recover. It is the nation that does not fight, like Austria, that loses all the forces of possible recovery; because, like nature, mankind is made by constant fight, and a sentimental and effeminate desire to peace is the forerunner of a nation’s complete extinction.


End of chapter.

I’d like to mention that the conversion in parentheses from pounds sterling to dollars was in the book and was not done by me despite the parentheses. I mention this because I tend to use that writing style and I didn’t want to cause any confusion by not clearing it up. Since I didn’t put it in myself, that also means that the numbers have not been adjusted to their modern equivalents by taking inflation into account – something which I don’t plan on doing anyway. I think the amount of zeros makes it clear, without adjustment, that France lost a lot of money either way.

P.S. I’ve decided to continue in the book by going backwards to the unity of Italy. The French Revolution posts will then come sometime after the Unity of Italy ones.