This biography of Bismarck focuses mainly on his life as a brilliant statesmen who laid the foundations of the German empire. Bismarck is best known for his keen judgment regarding foreign relations. By cleverly manipulating foreign governments, he was able to set his rivals against each other, prevent alliances that would stand against Prussia, and provoke his enemies to undertake foolish campaigns. He oversaw the rise of the German nation to the foremost position in Europe, and laid the foundation for German military dominance in Europe.
The greater portion of the following pages were completed before the death of Prince Bismarck; I take this opportunity of apologising to the publishers and the editor of the series, for the unavoidable delay which has caused publication to be postponed for a year.
During this period, two works have appeared to which some reference is necessary. The value of Busch's Memoirs has been much exaggerated; except for quite the last years of Bismarck's life they contain little new information which is of any importance. Not only had a large portion of the book already been published in Busch's two earlier books, but many of the anecdotes and documents in those parts which were new had also been published elsewhere.
Bismarck's own Memoirs have a very different value: not so much because of the new facts which they record, but because of the light they throw on Bismarck's character and on the attitude he adopted towards men and political problems. With his letters and speeches, they will always remain the chief source for our knowledge of his inner life.
The other authorities are so numerous that it is impossible here to enumerate even the more important. I must, however, express the gratitude which all students of Bismarck's career owe to Horst Kohl; in his Bismarck-Regesten he has collected and arranged the material so as infinitely to lighten the labours of all others who work in the same field. His Bismarck-Jahrbuch is equally indispensable; without this it would be impossible for anyone living in England to use the innumerable letters, documents, and anecdotes which each year appear in German periodicals. Of collections of documents and letters, the most important are those by Herr v. Poschinger, especially the volumes containing the despatches written from Frankfort and those dealing with Bismarck's economic and financial policy. A full collection of Bismarck's correspondence is much wanted; there is now a good edition of the private letters, edited by Kohl, but no satisfactory collection of the political letters.
For diplomatic history between 1860 and 1870, I have, of course, chiefly depended on Sybel; but those who are acquainted with the recent course of criticism in Germany will not be surprised if, while accepting his facts, I have sometimes ventured to differ from his conclusions.