These portraits of Frederick the Great and Otto Von Bismarck, the two great architects of the Prussian empire were written by a Christian who clearly identifies the spiritual abyss at the heart of Prussian nationalism. He cannot help but admire the courage and brilliance of these leaders while remaining skeptical that German pragmatism, so admired by western leaders of the 19th century, was at heart atheistic. A fawning essay, written a contemporary admirer of Bismarck, and a well-known speech Bismarck gave to the Reichstag provide additional perspectives.
The closing of the career of Germany's great Chancellor marks an epoch in European history. The consolidation and extension to imperial proportions of the Prussian Power, founded by the warlike Frederic, has been completed by the colossal hand of Bismarck. It has been a wonderful drama, the life and soul of which are to be found in the personality, the force, genius, and heroism, of the chief actors.
As a modern Plutarch, Dr. John Lord has been enlightening a multitude of readers with spirited biographies of the men and women who stand for great movements in the world's progress; and in the long line of his studies it were difficult to find more striking characters than these two giants, who founded and built the German Empire. The lecture on Frederic's career (1712-1786) is here followed by the one on Bismarck, whose story, however, is prefaced by the achievements of Stein, Hardenberg, and Scharnhorst, practically filling in the time between the two. If in these lectures history seems to dominate biography, it will be remembered that the men made the history, and it is a part of their lives. While placing a high estimate on the immense services of each to the State, Dr. Lord is open-eyed to the crime of the one and the arrogance of the other. He is especially amazed that Carlyle, with all his hatred of shams, should have tried to "cover up with sophistries" the crimes of Frederic; and with incisive pen he impartially notes the foibles and faults as well as the grand traits of the Iron Chancellor.
By way of completing the conception of Bismarck, there has been added a character sketch of him, written by Bayard Taylor, shortly after returning from his post as United States Minister to Germany. This is valuable for its discriminating analysis of Bismarck, both as politician and as statesman, while enlivened by personal reminiscences and anecdotes illustrating the characteristics of the man.
No discussion of Bismarck's life and policy would be fair without giving full weight to his convictions concerning the maintenance of the immense military organization that Germany is carrying. In the lecture on Frederic, Dr. Lord reprobates the ambition of Prussia for military aggrandizement, yet sees a possible justification of it in providing a barrier against the barbarous irruption of Russia into Europe; while Bismarck's realization of that and other dangers threatening Germany—situated in the midst of jealous rivals and making herself too strong to be successfully attacked—has compelled the author's qualified approbation. Dr. Lord makes direct reference, on this point, to the speech—or rather the familiar and witty talk, for Bismarck's eloquence was essentially practical and, like his conduct of life, contemptuous of formality—delivered to the Reichstag in 1888, while the bill for larger armament and moneys to support it was under discussion. This speech has been also added, as essential to a just understanding of Bismarck's policy. It is a resume of the relations of Germany to the rest of Europe, unmatched for graphic condensation,—as Bismarck himself calls it, "a forty years' tableau."
Frederic and Bismarck, these two rugged chieftains, the real creators of the German Fatherland, are set forth in the stirring sentences of Dr. Lord and the critical narrative of Bayard Taylor in their own peculiar personalities. And it is believed that, without pretense of exhaustive, detailed history, this brief book will give a just and lucid view of the parts they played in war, diplomacy, and statecraft, which have shaped the life of Germany and profoundly affected the course of continental Europe for two centuries.
The two essays included in this volume by John Lord were written years apart. The second and longer essay, on "Prince Bismarck" begins with an extended review of the history of Prussia between the close of Frederic the Great's reign, and the beginning of Bismarck's career. We have chosen to separate out the transitional material into a dedicated chapter that focuses on the ministries of Stein, Hardenberg, and Scharnhorst, three Prussian statesmen who were influential in the early years of the 19th century.