Bismarck and the Foundation of the German Empire - J. W. Headlam

The Outbreak of War with France


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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