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

St. Petersburg and Paris


In the autumn of 1857 the health of the King of Prussia broke down; he was unable to conduct the affairs of State and in the month of September was obliged to appoint his brother as his representative to carry on the Government. There was from the first no hope for his recovery; the commission was three times renewed and, after a long delay, in October of the following year, the King signed a decree appointing his brother Regent. At one time, in the spring of 1858, the Prince had, it is said, thought of calling on Bismarck to form a Ministry. This, however, was not done. It was, however, one of the first actions of the Prince Regent to request Manteuffel's resignation; he formed a Ministry of moderate Liberals, choosing as President the Prince of Hohenzollern, head of the Catholic branch of his own family.

The new era, as it was called, was welcomed with delight by all parties except the most extreme Conservatives. No Ministry had been so unpopular as that of Manteuffel. At the elections which took place immediately, the Government secured a large majority. The Prince and his Ministers were able to begin their work with the full support of Parliament and country.

Bismarck did not altogether regret the change; his differences with the dominant faction at Court had extended to the management of home as well as of foreign affairs; for the last two years he had been falling out of favour. He desired, moreover, to see fresh blood in the Chamber.

"The disease to which our Parliamentary life has succumbed, is, besides the incapacity of the individual, the servility of the Lower House. The majority has no independent convictions, it is the tool of ministerial omnipotence. If our Chambers do not succeed in binding the public interest to themselves and drawing the attention of the country, they will sooner or later go to their grave without sympathy."

Curious it is to see how his opinion as to the duties and relations of the House towards the Government were to alter when he himself became Minister. He regarded it as an advantage that the Ministry would have the power which comes from popularity; his only fear was that they might draw the Regent too much to the left; but he hoped that in German and foreign affairs they would act with more decision, that the Prince would be free from the scruples which had so much influenced his brother, and that he would not fear to rely on the military strength of Prussia.

One of their first acts was to recall Bismarck from Frankfort; the change was inevitable, and he had foreseen it. The new Government naturally wished to be able to start clear in their relations to Austria; the Prince Regent did not wish to commit himself from the beginning to a policy of hostility. It was, however, impossible for a cordial co-operation between the two States to be established in German affairs so long as Bismarck remained at Frankfort; the opinions which he had formed during the last eight years were too well known. It was, moreover, evident that a crisis in the relations with Austria was approaching; war between France and Austria was imminent; a new factor and a new man had appeared in Europe,—Piedmont and Cavour.

In August, 1858, Cavour had had a secret and decisive interview with Napoleon at Plombières; the two statesmen had come to an agreement by which France engaged to help the Piedmontese to expel the Austrians from Italy. Bismarck would have desired to seize this opportunity, and use the embarrassment of Austria as the occasion for taking a stronger position in Germany; if it were necessary he was prepared to go as far as an alliance with France. He was influenced not so much by sympathy with Piedmont, for, as we have seen, he held that those who were responsible for foreign policy should never give way to sympathy, but by the simple calculation that Austria was the common enemy of Prussia and Piedmont, and where there were common interests an alliance might be formed. The Government were, however, not prepared to adopt this policy. It might have been supposed that a Liberal Ministry would have shewn more sympathy with the Italian aspirations than the Conservatives whom they had succeeded. This was not the case, as Cavour himself soon found out.

Bismarck in 1860.


After his visit to Plombières, Cavour had hurried across the frontier and spent two days at Baden-Baden, where he met the Prince of Prussia, Manteuffel, who was still Minister, and other German statesmen. Bismarck had been at Baden-Baden in the previous week and returned a few days later; he happened, however, on the two days when Cavour was there, to be occupied with his duties at Frankfort; the two great statesmen therefore never met. Cavour after his visit wrote to La Marmora saying that he had been extremely pleased with the sympathy which had been displayed to him, both by the Prince and the other Prussians. So far as he could foresee, the attitude of Prussia would not be hostile to Italian aspirations. In December, however, after the change of Ministry, he writes to the Italian Envoy at Frankfort that the language of Schleinitz, the new Foreign Minister, is less favourable than that of his predecessor. The Cabinet do not feel the same antipathy to Austria as that of Manteuffel did; German ideas have brought about a rapprochement.

"I do not trust their apparently Liberal tendencies. It is possible that your colleague, Herr von Bismarck, will support us more closely, but I fear that even if he is kept at Frankfort he will not exercise so much influence as under the former Ministry."

Cavour's insight did not deceive him. The Italian question had for the moment re-awakened the old sympathy for Austria; Austria, it seemed, was now the champion of German nationality against the unscrupulous aggression of France. There were few men who, like Bismarck, were willing to disregard this national feeling and support the Italians. To have deliberately joined Napoleon in what after all was an unprovoked attack on a friendly prince of the same nation, was an act which could have been undertaken only by a man of the calibre of Frederick the Great. After all, Austria was German; the Austrian provinces in Italy had been assigned to the Emperor by the same authority as the Polish provinces to Prussia. We can imagine how great would have been the outcry had Austria joined with the French to set up a united Poland, taking Posen and West Prussia for the purpose; and yet this act would have been just of the same kind as that which would have been committed had Prussia at this time joined or even lent diplomatic support to the French-Italian alliance. It is very improbable that even if Bismarck had been Minister at this period he would have been able to carry out this policy.

The Prussian Government acted on the whole correctly. As the war became more imminent the Prince Regent prepared the Prussian army and eventually the whole was placed on a war footing. He offered to the Emperor of Austria his armed neutrality and a guarantee of the Austrian possessions in Italy. In return he required that he himself should have the command of all the forces of the German Diet. Had Austria accepted these terms, either the war would have been stopped or the whole force of Germany under the King of Prussia would have attacked France on the Rhine. The Emperor however refused to accept them; he required a guarantee not only of his possessions in Italy but also of his treaties with the other Italian princes. Moreover, he would accept the assistance of Prussia only on condition that the Prussian army was placed under the orders of the general appointed by the Diet. It was absurd to suppose that any Prussian statesman would allow this. The action of Austria shewed in fact a distrust and hatred of Prussia which more than justified all that Bismarck had written during his tenure of office at Frankfort. In the end, rather than accept Prussian assistance on the terms on which it was offered, the Emperor of Austria made peace with France; he preferred to surrender Lombardy rather than save it by Prussian help. "Thank God," said Cavour, "Austria by her arrogance has succeeded in uniting all the world against her."

The spring of the year was spent by Bismarck at St. Petersburg. He had been appointed Prussian Minister to that capital—put out in the cold, as he expressed it. From the point of dignity and position it was an advance, but at St. Petersburg he was away from the centre of political affairs. Russia had not yet recovered from the effects of the Crimean War; the Czar was chiefly occupied with internal reforms and the emancipation of the serfs. The Eastern Question was dormant, and Russia did not aim at keeping a leading part in the settlement of Italian affairs. Bismarck's immediate duties were not therefore important and he no longer had the opportunity of giving his advice to the Government upon the general practice. It is improbable that Herr von Schleinitz would have welcomed advice. He was one of the weakest of the Ministry; an amiable man of no very marked ability, who owed his position to the personal friendship of the Prince Regent and his wife. The position which Bismarck had occupied during the last few years could not but be embarrassing to any Minister; this man still young, so full of self-confidence, so unremitting in his labours, who, while other diplomatists thought only of getting through their routine work, spent the long hours of the night in writing despatches, discussing the whole foreign policy of the country, might well cause apprehension even to the strongest Minister.

From the time of Bismarck's departure from Frankfort our knowledge of his official despatches ceases; we lose the invaluable assistance of his letters to Manteuffel and Gerlach. For some time he stood so much alone that there was no one to whom he could write unreservedly on political matters.

He watched with great anxiety the progress of affairs with regard to Italy. At the beginning of May he wrote a long letter to Schleinitz, as he had done to Manteuffel, urging him to bold action; he recounted his experiences at the Diet, he reiterated his conviction that no good would come to Prussia from the federal tie—the sooner it was broken the better; nothing was so much to be desired as that the Diet should overstep its powers, and pass some resolution which Prussia could not accept, so that Prussia could take up the glove and force a breach. The opportunity was favourable for a revision of the Constitution. "I see," he wrote "in our Federal connection only a weakness of Prussia which sooner or later must be cured, ferro et igni." Probably Schleinitz's answer was not of such a kind as to tempt him to write again. In his private letters he harps on the same string; he spent June in a visit to Moscow but he hurried back at the end of the month to St. Petersburg to receive news of the war. Before news had come of the peace of Villafranca he was constantly in dread that Prussia would go to war on behalf of Austria:

"We have prepared too soon and too thoroughly, the weight of the burden we have taken on ourselves is drawing us down the incline. We shall not be even an Austrian reserve; we shall simply sacrifice ourselves for Austria and take away the war from her."

How disturbed he was, we can see by the tone of religious resignation which he assumes—no doubt a sign that he fears his advice has not yet been acted upon.

"As God will. Everything here is only a question of time; peoples and men, wisdom and folly, war and peace, they come and go like rain and water, and the sea alone remains. There is nothing on earth but hypocrisy and deceit."

The language of this and other letters was partly due to the state of his health; the continual anxiety and work of his life at Frankfort, joined to irregular hours and careless habits, had told upon his constitution. He fell seriously ill in St. Petersburg with a gastric and rheumatic affection; an injury to the leg received while shooting in Sweden, became painful; the treatment adopted by the doctor, bleeding and iodine, seems to have made him worse. At the beginning of July, 1860, he returned on leave to Berlin; there he was laid up for ten days; his wife was summoned and under her care he began to improve. August he spent at Wiesbaden and Nauheim, taking the waters, the greater part of the autumn in Berlin; in October he had to go Warsaw officially to receive and accompany the Czar, who came to Breslau for an interview with the Prince Regent. From Breslau he hurried back to Berlin, from Berlin down to Pomerania, where his wife was staying with her father; then the same week back to Berlin, and started for St. Petersburg. The result of these long journeys when his health was not completely reestablished was very serious. He was to spend a night on the journey to St. Petersburg with his old friend, Herr von Below, at Hohendorf, in East Prussia; he had scarcely reached the house when he fell dangerously ill of inflammation of the lungs and rheumatic fever. He remained here all the winter, and it was not until the beginning of March, 1860, that he was well enough to return to Berlin. Leopold von Gerlach, who met him shortly afterwards, speaks of him as still looking wretchedly ill. This prolonged illness forms an epoch in his life. He never recovered the freshness and strength of his youth. It left a nervous irritation and restlessness which often greatly interfered with his political work and made the immense labour which came upon him doubly distasteful. He loses the good humour which had been characteristic of him in early life; he became irritable and more exacting. He spent the next three months in Berlin attending the meetings of the Herrenhaus, and giving a silent vote in favour of the Government measures; he considered it was his duty as a servant of the State to support the Government, though he did not agree with the Liberal policy which in internal affairs they adopted. At this time he stood almost completely alone. His opinions on the Italian question had brought about a complete breach with his old friends. Since the conclusion of the war, public opinion in Germany, as in England, had veered round. The success of Cavour had raised a desire to imitate him; a strong impulse had been given to the national feeling, and a society, the National Verein, had been founded to further the cause of United Germany under Prussian leadership. The question of the recognition of the new Kingdom of Italy was becoming prominent; all the Liberal party laid much stress on this. The Prince Regent, however, was averse to an act by which he might seem to express his approval of the forcible expulsion of princes from their thrones. As the national and liberal feeling in the country grew, his monarchical principles seemed to be strengthened. The opinions which Bismarck was known to hold on the French alliance had got into the papers and were much exaggerated; he had plenty of enemies to take care that it should be said that he wished Prussia to join with France; to do as Piedmont had done, and by the cession of the left bank of the Rhine to France to receive the assistance of Napoleon in annexing the smaller states. In his letters of this period Bismarck constantly protests against the truth of these accusations. "If I am to go to the devil," he writes, "it will at least not be a French one. Do not take me for a Bonapartist, only for a very ambitious Prussian." It is at this time that his last letter to Gerlach was written. They had met at the end of April, and Gerlach wrote to protest against the opinion to which Bismarck had given expression:

"After the conversation which I have had with you I was particularly distressed that, by your bitterness against Austria, you had allowed yourself to be diverted from the simple attitude towards law and the Revolution. For you an alliance with France and Piedmont is a possibility, a thought which is far from me and, dear Bismarck, ought to be far from you. For me Louis Napoleon is even more than his uncle the incarnation of the Revolution, and Cavour is a Rheinbund Minister like Montgellas. You cannot and ought not to deny the principles of the Holy Alliance; they are no other than that authority comes from God, and that the Princes must govern as servants appointed by God."

Bismarck answers the letter the next day:

"I am a child of other times than you. No one loses the mark impressed on him in the period of his youth. In you the victorious hatred of Bonaparte is indelible; you call him the incarnation of the Revolution and if you knew of any worse name you would bestow it upon him. I have lived in the country from my twenty-third to my thirty-second year and will never be rid of the longing to be back again; I am in politics with only half my heart; what dislike I have of France is based rather on the Orleans than the Bonapartist régime. It is opposed to bureaucratic corruption under the mask of constitutional government. I should be glad to fight against Bonaparte till the dogs lick up the blood but with no more malice than against Croats, Bohemians, and Bamberger fellow-countrymen."

The two friends were never to meet again. The old King of Prussia died at the beginning of the next year, and Gerlach, who had served him so faithfully, though perhaps not always wisely, survived his master scarcely a week.

In the summer of 1860 Bismarck returned to his duties in Russia; and this time, with the exception of a fortnight in October, he spent a whole year in St. Petersburg. He had still not recovered from the effects of his illness and could not, therefore, go out much in society, but he was much liked at Court and succeeded in winning the confidence both of the Emperor and his family. His wife and children were now with him, and after the uncertainty of his last two years he settled down with pleasure to a quieter mode of life. He enjoyed the sport which he had in the Russian forests; he studied Russian and made himself completely at home. Political work he had little to do, except what arose from the charge of "some 200,000 vagabond Prussians" who lived in Russia. Of home affairs he had little knowledge:

"I am quite separated from home politics, as besides the newspapers I receive scarcely anything but official news which does not expose the foundation of affairs."

For the time the reports of his entering the Ministry had ceased; he professed to be, and perhaps was, quite satisfied.

"I am quite contented with my existence here; I ask for no change in my position until it be God's will I settle down quietly at Schönhausen or Reinfeld and can leisurely set about having my coffin made."

In October he had to attend the Czar on a journey to Warsaw where he had an interview with the Prince Regent. The Prince was accompanied by his Minister-President, the Prince of Hohenzollern, who took the opportunity of having long conversations with the Ambassador to St. Petersburg. It is said that as a result of this the Minister, who wished to be relieved from a post which was daily becoming more burdensome, advised the Prince Regent to appoint Bismarck Minister-President. The advice, however, was not taken.

Meanwhile events were taking place in Prussia which were to bring about important constitutional changes. The success of the Ministry of the new era had not answered the expectations of the country. Their foreign policy had been correct, but they had shewn no more spirit than their predecessors, and the country was in that excited state in which people wanted to see some brilliant and exciting stroke of policy, though they were not at all clear what it was they desired. Then a rift had begun to grow between the Regent and his Ministers. The Liberalism of the Prince had never been very deep; it owed its origin in fact chiefly to his opposition to the reactionary government of his brother. As an honest man he intended to govern strictly in accordance with the Constitution. He had, however, from the beginning no intention of allowing the Chambers to encroach upon the prerogatives of the Crown. The Ministers on the other hand regarded themselves to some extent as a Parliamentary Ministry; they had a majority in the House and they were inclined to defer to it. The latent causes of difference were brought into activity by the question of army reform.

General von Roon.


The Prince Regent was chiefly and primarily a soldier. As a second son it had been doubtful whether he would ever succeed to the throne. He had an intimate acquaintance with the whole condition of the army, and he had long known that in many points reform was necessary. His first action on succeeding his brother was to appoint a Commission of the War Office to prepare a scheme of reorganisation. A memorandum had been drawn up for him by Albert von Roon, and with some alterations it was accepted by the Commission. The Minister of War, Bonin (the same who had been dismissed in 1854 at the crisis of the Eastern complications), seems to have been indifferent in the matter; he did not feel in himself the energy for carrying through an important reform which he had not himself originated, and of which perhaps he did not altogether approve. The Prince Regent had set his mind upon the matter; the experience gained during the mobilisation of 1859 had shewn how serious the defects were; the army was still on a war footing and it was a good opportunity for at once carrying through the proposed changes. Bonin therefore resigned his office and Roon, in December, 1859, was appointed in his place.

This appointment was to have far-reaching results; it at once destroyed all harmony in the Ministry itself. The rest of the Ministers were Liberals. Roon was a strong Conservative. He was appointed professedly merely as a departmental Minister, but he soon won more confidence with the Regent than all the others. He was a man of great energy of character and decision in action. The best type of Prussian officer, to considerable learning he joined a high sense of duty founded on deep-rooted and simple religious faith. The President of the Ministry had practically retired from political life and the Government had no longer a leader. Roon's introduction was in fact the beginning of all the momentous events which were to follow. But for him there would have been no conflict in the Parliament and Bismarck would never have become Minister.

At the beginning of 1860 the project of law embodying the proposals for army reform was laid before the Lower House. It was ordered by them in accordance with the practice to be referred to a small Committee.

The proposals consisted of (a) an increase in the number of recruits to be raised each year, (b) a lengthening of the term of service with the colours, (c) an alteration in the relations of the Landwehr to the rest of the army.

The Committee appointed to consider these reforms accepted the first, but rejected the second and third. They asserted that the three years' service with the colours was not necessary, and they strongly disliked any proposal for interfering with the Landwehr. The report of the Committee was accepted by the House. It was in vain that the more far-seeing members of the Liberal party tried to persuade their leaders to support the Government; it was in vain that the Ministers pointed out that the Liberal majority had been elected as a Government majority, and it was their duty to support Ministers taken from their own party. The law had to be withdrawn and the Government, instead, asked for a vote of nine million thalers, provisionally, for that year only, as a means of maintaining the army in the state to which it had been raised. In asking for this vote it was expressly stated that the principles of the organisation should be in no wise prejudiced.

"The question whether in future a two or three years' service shall be required; whether the period with the Reserve shall be extended; in what position the Landwehr shall be placed—all this is not touched by the present proposal."

On this condition the House voted the money required, but for one year only. The Government, however, did not keep this pledge; the Minister of War simply continued to carry out the reorganisation in accordance with the plan which had been rejected; new regiments were formed, and by the end of the year the whole army had been reorganised. This action was one for which the Prince and Roon were personally responsible; it was done while the other Ministers were away from Berlin, and without their knowledge.

When the House met at the beginning of the next year they felt that they had been deceived; they were still more indignant when Roon informed them that he had discovered that the whole of the reorganisation could be legally carried through in virtue of the prerogative of the Crown, and that a fresh law was not required; that therefore the consideration of the changes was not before the House, and that all they would have to do would be to vote the money to pay for them. Of course the House refused to vote the money; after long debates the final settlement of the question was postponed for another year; the House, though this time by a majority of only eleven votes, granting with a few modifications the required money, but again for one year only.

All this time Bismarck was living quietly at St. Petersburg; he had no influence on affairs, for the military law had nothing to do with him, and the Regent did not consult him on foreign policy. No one, however, profited by Roon's appointment so much as he; he had once more a friend and supporter at Court, who replaced the loss of Gerlach. Roon and he had known one another in the old Pomeranian days. There was a link in Moritz Blankenburg, who was a "Dutz" friend of Bismarck's and Roon's cousin. We can understand how untenable Roon's position was when we find the Minister of War choosing as his political confidants two of the leaders of the party opposed to the Ministry to which he belonged.

Ever since Roon had entered the Government there had been indeed a perpetual crisis.

The Liberal Ministers were lukewarm in their support of the military bill; they only consented to adopt it on condition that the King would give his assent to those measures which they proposed to introduce, in order to maintain their positions as leaders of the party; they proposed to bring in bills for the reform of the House of Lords, for the responsibility of Ministers, for local government. These were opposed to the personal opinions of the King; he was supported in his opposition by Roon and refused his assent, but he neither dismissed the Ministers nor did they resign. So long as they were willing to hold office on the terms he required, there was indeed no reason why he should dismiss them; to do so would be to give up the last hope of getting the military Bill passed. All through 1861 the same uncertainty continued; Roon indeed again and again wrote to his master, pointing out the necessity for getting rid of his colleagues; he wished for a Conservative Ministry with Bismarck as President. Here, he thought, was the only man who had the courage to carry through the army reform. Others thought as he did. Who so fitted to come to the help of the Crown as this man who, ten years before, had shewn such ability in Parliamentary debate? And whenever the crisis became more acute, all the Quidnuncs of Berlin shook their heads and said, "Now we shall have a Bismarck Ministry, and that will be a coup d'état and the overthrow of the Constitution."

Bismarck meanwhile was living quietly at St. Petersburg, awaiting events. At last the summons came; on June 28, 1861, Roon telegraphed to him that the pear was ripe; he must come at once; there was danger in delay. His telegram was followed by a letter, in which he more fully explained the situation. The immediate cause of the crisis was that the King desired to celebrate his accession, as his brother had done, by receiving the solemn homage of all his people; the Ministry refused their assent to an act which would appear to the country as "feudal" and reactionary. A solemn pledge of obedience to the King was the last thing the Liberals wanted to give, just for the same reasons that the King made a point of receiving it; his feelings were deeply engaged, and Roon doubtless hoped that his colleagues would at last be compelled to resign; he wished, therefore, to have Bismarck on the spot.

Bismarck could not leave St. Petersburg for some days; he, however, answered by a telegram and a long letter; he begins in a manner characteristic of all his letters at this period:

"Your letter disturbed me in my comfortable meditations on the quiet time which I was going to enjoy at Reinfeld. Your cry 'to horse' came with a shrill discord. I have grown ill in mind, tired out, and spiritless since I lost the foundation of my health."

And at the end:

"Moving, quarrelling, annoyance, the whole slavery day and night form a perspective, which already makes me homesick for Reinfeld or St. Petersburg. I cannot enter the swindle in better company than yours; but both of us were happier on the Sadower Heath behind the partridges."

So he wrote late at night, but the next morning in a postscript he added: "If the King will to some extent meet my views, then I will set to the work with pleasure." In the letter he discusses at length the programme; he does not attach much importance to the homage; it would be much better to come to terms on the military question, break with the Chamber, and dissolve. The real difficulty he sees, however, is foreign policy; only by a change in the management of foreign affairs can the Crown be relieved from a pressure to which it must ultimately give way; he would not himself be inclined to accept the Ministry of the Interior, because no good could be done unless the foreign policy was changed, and that the King himself would probably not wish that.

"The chief fault of our policy is that we have been Liberal at home and Conservative abroad; we hold the rights of our own King too cheap, and those of foreign princes too high; a natural consequence of the difference between the constitutional tendency of the Ministers and the legitimist direction which the will of his Majesty gives to our foreign policy. Of the princely houses from Naples to Hanover none will be grateful for our love, and we practise towards them a truly evangelical love of our enemies at the cost of the safety of our own throne. I am true to the sole of my foot to my own princes, but towards all others I do not feel in a single drop of blood the slightest obligation to raise up a little finger to help them. In this attitude I fear that I am so far removed from our Most Gracious Master, that he will scarcely find me fitted to be a Councillor of his Crown. For this reason he will anyhow prefer to use me at the Home-Office. In my opinion, however, that makes no difference, for I promise myself no useful results from the whole Government unless our attitude abroad is more vigorous and less dependent on dynastic sympathies."

Bismarck arrived in Berlin on July 9th. When he got there the crisis was over; Berlin was nearly empty; Roon was away in Pomerania, the King in Baden-Baden; a compromise had been arranged; there was not to be an act of homage but a coronation. There was, therefore, no more talk of his entering the Ministry; Schleinitz, however, told him that he was to be transferred from Russia, but did not say what post he was to have. The next day, in obedience to a command, he hurried off to Baden-Baden; the King wished to have his advice on many matters of policy, and instructed him to draw up a memorandum on the German question. He used the opportunity of trying to influence the King to adopt a bolder policy. At the same time he attempted to win over the leaders of the Conservative party. A general election was about to take place; the manifesto of the Conservative party was so worded that we can hardly believe it was not an express and intentional repudiation of the language which Bismarck was in the habit of using; they desired

"the unity of our German fatherland, though not like the Kingdom of Italy through 'blood and fire' [Blut und Brand; almost the words which Bismarck had used to describe the policy which must be followed], but in the unity of its princes and peoples holding firm to authority and law."

Bismarck, on hearing this, sent to his old friend Herr von Below, one of the leaders of the party, a memorandum on German affairs, and accompanied it by a letter. He repeated his old point that Prussia was sacrificing the authority of the Crown at home to support that of other princes in whose safety she had not the slightest interest. The solidarity of Conservative interests was a dangerous fiction, unless it was carried out with the fullest reciprocity; carried out by Prussia alone it was Quixotry; it prevented King and Government from executing their true task, the protection of Prussia from all injustice, whether it came from home or abroad; this was the task given to the King by God.

"We make the unhistorical, the jealous, and lawless mania for sovereignty of the German Princes the bosom child of the Conservative party in Prussia, we are enthusiastic for the petty sovereignties which were created by Napoleon and protected by Metternich, and are blind to the dangers which threaten Prussia and the independence of Germany."

He wishes for a clear statement of their policy; a stricter concentration of the German military forces, reform of the Customs' Unions, and a number of common institutions to protect material interests against the disadvantages which arise from the unnatural configuration of the different states.

"Besides all this I do not see why we should shrink back so bashfully from the idea of a representation of the people. We cannot fight as revolutionary an institution which we Conservatives cannot do without even in Prussia, and is recognised as legitimate in every German State."

This letter is interesting as shewing how nearly his wishes on German affairs coincided with those of the Liberal party and of the National Verein: he was asking the Conservatives to adopt the chief points in their opponents' programme. Of course they would not do so, and the King himself was more likely to be alarmed than attracted by the bold and adventurous policy that was recommended to him. Bismarck's anticipation was justified; the King was not prepared to appoint him Foreign Minister. Herr von Schleinitz indeed resigned, but his place was taken by Bernstorff, Minister at London; he had so little confidence in the success of his office that he did not even give up his old post, and occupied the two positions, one of which Bismarck much desired to have.

After attending the coronation at Königsberg, Bismarck, therefore, returned to his old post at St. Petersburg; his future was still quite uncertain; he was troubled by his own health and that of his children; for the first time he begins to complain of the cold.

"Since my illness I am so exhausted that I have lost all my energy for excitement. Three years ago I would have made a serviceable Minister; when I think of such a thing now I feel like a broken-down acrobat. I would gladly go to London, Paris, or remain here, as it pleases God and his Majesty. I shudder at the prospect of the Ministry as at a cold bath."

In March he is still in ignorance; his household is in a bad state.

"Johanna has a cough, which quite exhausts her; Bill is in bed with fever, the doctor does not yet know what is the matter with him; the governess has no hope of ever seeing Germany again."

He does not feel up to taking the Ministry; even Paris would be too noisy for him.

"London is quieter; but for the climate and the children's health, I would prefer to stay here. Berne is an old idea of mine; dull places with pretty neighbourhoods suit old people; only there is no sport there, as I do not like climbing after chamois."

The decision depended on the events at home; the position of the Government was becoming untenable. The elections had been most unfavourable; the Radicals had ceased to efface themselves, the old leaders of 1848 had appeared again; they had formed a new party of "Progressives," and had won over a hundred seats at the expense of the Conservatives and the moderate Liberals; they were pledged not to carry out the military reforms and to insist on the two years' service. They intended to make the difference of opinion on this point the occasion of a decisive struggle to secure and extend the control of the House over the administration, and for this purpose to bring into prominence constitutional questions which both Crown and Parliament had hitherto avoided. From the day the session opened it was clear that there was now no chance of the money being voted for the army. Before the decisive debate came on, the majority had taken the offensive and passed what was a direct vote of want of confidence in the Ministry. On this the Ministry handed in their resignations to the King; their place was taken by members of the Conservative party and Parliament again dissolved after sitting only six weeks. It was the end of the new era.

It was doubtful whether the new Ministers would have the skill and resolution to meet the crisis; they still were without a leader; Prince von Hohenlohe, a member of the Protestant branch of the family to which the present Chancellor of the Empire belongs, was appointed provisional President. The opinions of the country was clear enough; the elections resulted in the complete defeat not only of the Conservatives but of the moderate Liberals; not a single one of the Ministers was returned. There was, therefore, no doubt that the King would either have to give in on the question of the army or to govern against the will of the majority of the Chamber. The struggle was no longer confined to the question of the army; it was a formal conflict for power between the House and the Crown. The attempt to introduce a Parliamentary government which had been thwarted ten years before was now revived. Who could say what the end would be? All precedent seemed to shew that in a struggle between Crown and Parliament sooner or later the King must be beaten, unless, indeed, he was prepared to adopt the means which Napoleon used. The King would not give in; he believed that the army reform was necessary to the safety of his country; on the other hand, he was a man of too loyal a character to have recourse to violence and a breach of the Constitution. If, however, the Constitution proved to be of such a kind that it made it impossible for him to govern the country, he was prepared to retire from his post; the position would indeed be untenable if on his shoulders lay the responsibility of guiding the policy and defending the interests of Prussia, and at the same time the country refused to grant him the means of doing so.

The elections had taken place on May 6th; four days later Bismarck arrived in Berlin; he had at last received his recall. As soon as he was seen in Berlin his appointment as Minister-President was expected; all those who wished to maintain the authority of the Crown, looked on him as the only man who could face the danger. Roon was active, as usual, on his side and was now supported by some of his colleagues, but Schleinitz, who had the support of the Queen, wished to be President himself; there were long meetings of the Council and audiences of the King; but the old influences were still at work; Bismarck did not wish to enter the Ministry except as Foreign Minister, and the King still feared and distrusted him. An incident which occurred during these critical days will explain to some extent the apprehensions which Bismarck so easily awoke. The chronic difficulties with the Elector of Hesse had culminated in an act of great discourtesy; the King of Prussia had sent an autograph letter to the Elector by General Willisen; the Elector on receiving it threw it unopened on the table; as the letter contained the final demands of Prussia, the only answer was to put some of the neighbouring regiments on a war footing. Bernstorff took the opportunity of Bismarck's presence in Berlin to ask his advice; the answer was: "The circumstance that the Elector has thrown a royal letter on the table is not a clever casus belli; if you want war, make me your Under Secretary; I will engage to provide you a German civil war of the best quality in a few weeks." The King might naturally fear that if he appointed Bismarck, not Under Secretary, but Minister, he would in a few weeks, whether he liked it or not, find himself involved in a German civil war of the best quality. He wanted a man who would defend the Government before the Chambers with courage and ability; Bismarck, who had gained his reputation as a debater, was the only man for the post. He could have had the post of Minister of the Interior; he was offered that of Minister-President without a Portfolio; but if he did not actually refuse, he strongly disapproved of the plan; he would not be able to get on with Bernstorff, and Schleinitz would probably interfere. "I have no confidence in Bernstorff's eye for political matters; he probably has none in mine." Bernstorff was "too stiff," "his collars were too high." During these long discussions he wrote to his wife:

"Our future is obscure as in Petersburg. Berlin is now to the front; I do nothing one way or another; as soon as I have my credentials for Paris in my pocket I will dance and sing. At present there is no talk of London, but all may change again. I scarcely get free of the discussions all day long; I do not find the Ministers more united than their predecessors were."

Disgusted with the long waiting and uncertainty he pressed for a decision; after a fortnight's delay he was appointed Minister at Paris, but this was in reality only a fresh postponement; nothing had really been decided; the King expressly told him not to establish himself there. To his wife he wrote from Berlin:

"I am very much pleased, but the shadow remains in the background. I was already as good as caught for the Ministry. Perhaps when I am out of their sight they will discover another Minister-President. I expect to start for Paris to-morrow; whether for long, God knows; perhaps only for a few months or even weeks. They are all conspired together that I should stay here. I have had to be very firm to get away from this hotel life even for a time."

He did not really expect to be away more than ten days or a fortnight. At a farewell audience just before he started, the King seems to have led him to expect that he would in a very few days be appointed as he wished, Foreign Minister.

He arrived in Paris on the 30th, to take up his quarters in the empty Embassy. He did not wait even to see his wife before starting and he wrote to her that she was not to take any steps towards joining him.

"It is not decided that I am to stay here; I am in the middle of Paris lonelier than you are in Reinfeld and sit here like a rat in a deserted house. How long it will last God knows. Probably in eight or ten days I shall receive a telegraphic summons to Berlin and then game and dance is over. If my enemies knew what a benefit they would confer on me by their victory and how sincerely I wish it for them, Schleinitz out of pure malice would probably do his best to bring me to Berlin."

Day after day, however, went by and the summons did not come; on the contrary Bernstorff wrote as though he were proposing to stay on; he did not however, suggest giving up his post in London, Roon wrote that he had raised the question in conversation with the King; that he had found the old leaning towards Bismarck, and the old irresolution. The Chamber had met, but the first few weeks of the session passed off with unexpected quiet and it was not till the autumn that the question of the Budget would come up. Bismarck wrote to Bernstorff to try and find out what was to happen to him, but the King, before whom the letter was laid, was quite unable to come to any decision.

Bismarck therefore determined to use his enforced leisure in order to go across to London for a few days. He had only visited England once as a young man, and, expecting as he did soon to be responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, it was desirable that he should make the personal acquaintance of the leading English statesmen. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons why he had been sent to Paris was that he might renew his acquaintance with the Emperor. There was also a second International Exhibition and everyone was going to London. We have, unfortunately, no letters written from England; after his return he writes to Roon:

"I have just come back from London; people there are much better informed about China and Turkey than about Prussia. Loftus must write more nonsense to his Ministers than I thought."

The only event of which we have any information was his meeting with Mr. Disraeli, who at that time was leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons; it took place at a dinner given by the Russian Ambassador to the Grand Duchess of Saxe-Weimar. Among the guests was Count Vitzthum, Saxon Envoy; he saw Bismarck and Disraeli engaged in a long conversation after dinner; afterwards the English statesman told him the substance of it. Bismarck had spoken as follows:

"I shall soon be compelled to undertake the leadership of the Prussian Government. My first care will be, with or without the help of Parliament, to reorganise the army. The King has rightly set himself this task; he cannot however carry it through with his present councillors. When the army has been brought to such a state as to command respect, then I will take the first opportunity to declare war with Austria, burst asunder the German Confederation, bring the middle and smaller States into subjection, and give Germany a national union under the leadership of Prussia. I have come here to tell this to the Queen's Ministers."

Disraeli added to Vitzthum, who, of course, as Saxon Envoy was much interested: "Take care of that man; he means what he says." It does not appear that Bismarck had an opportunity of explaining his project either to Lord Palmerston or to Lord Russell.

All through July he remained in Paris, to which he was called back in order to receive some despatches which after all never arrived; the same uncertainty continued; there was no work to be done there, Emperor and Ministers were going away; he was still all alone in the Embassy without servants, or furniture. As he wrote to his wife, he did not know what to have for dinner or what to eat it on. He therefore applied for leave; he was himself of opinion that as the King would not immediately give him the Foreign Office it was not yet time for him to enter the Ministry. Writing to Roon he advised that the Government should prolong the conflict, draw the Chamber into disputes on small matters which would weary the country; then when they were getting worn out and hoped that the Government would meet them half-way so as to end the conflict, then would be the time to summon him,

"as a sign that we are far from giving up the battle. The appearance of a new battalion in the Ministerial array would then perhaps make an impression that would be wanting now, especially if beforehand a commotion was created by expressions about a coup d'état and a new Constitution; then my own reputation for careless violence would help me and people would think, 'now it is coming!' Then, all the half-hearted would be inclined to negotiation. I am astonished at the political incapacity of our Chambers and yet we are an educated country. Undoubtedly too much so; others are not cleverer but they have not the childish self-confidence with which our political leaders publish their incapacity in its complete nakedness as a model and pattern. How have we Germans got the reputation of retiring modesty? There is not a single one of us who does not think that he understands everything, from strategy to picking the fleas off a dog, better than professionals who have devoted their lives to it."

It was only with difficulty he could even get leave of absence, for the King was as irresolute as ever; as to the cause of the difficulty we get some hint in Roon's letters. There was a party which was pushing Schleinitz, the only member of the Liberal Ministry who remained in office; he had very influential support.

"Her Majesty the Queen returns to Babelsburg on Sunday; she is much agitated, there will be scenes; the temperature towards the Ministry will fall to zero or below."

He eventually got away at the end of July with six weeks' leave of absence; he travelled down to Bordeaux and Bayonne and across the Pyrenees to San Sebastian; he was away from all news of the world; for weeks he scarcely saw even a German paper.

On the 14th of September he was at Toulouse; the sea-bathing, the mountain air, the freedom from work and anxiety, and the warmth had completely restored his health; for the first time since he went to St. Petersburg he had recovered his old spirit, his decision, and directness of action. He wrote that he must have some definite decision; otherwise he would send in his resignation. "My furniture is at St. Petersburg and will be frozen up, my carriages are at Stettin, my horses at Berlin, my family in Pomerania, and I on the highroad." He was prepared to be his Majesty's Envoy at Paris but he was also ready at once to enter the Ministry. "Only get me certainty, one way or another," he writes to Roon, "and I will paint angels' wings on your photograph." Two days later, just as a year before, he received a telegram from Roon telling him to come at once. On the 17th he was in Paris and on the morning of the 20th he arrived in Berlin.

The long-delayed crisis had at last come; the debates on the Budget and the vote for the army reform began on September 11th; it was continued for five days, and at the end the House, by a majority of 273 to 62, refused the money required for the increased establishment. The result of this vote would be that if the wishes of the House were carried out, the whole of the expenditure which had already been made for eight months of the current year was illegal; moreover, the regiments which had already existed for two years must be disbanded. It was a vote which could not possibly be carried into effect, as the money had already been spent. At a meeting of the Ministry which was held the next morning, the majority, including this time even Roon, seemed to have been inclined to attempt a compromise. The King alone remained firm. When he had heard the opinion of all the Ministers, he rose and said that in that case it would be impossible for him to carry on the Government any longer; it would only remain for him to summon the Crown Prince. As he said this he put his hand on the bell to call a messenger. The Ministers all sprang from their chairs and assured him that he might depend upon them, and they would support him to the end. Such were the circumstances in which Roon summoned Bismarck. None the less the influence of the Queen and the Crown Prince were so strong that the King still doubted whether he ought to continue the struggle; on one thing he was determined, that if he had to give way he would abdicate. Two days later he again asked Roon his advice. "Appoint Bismarck Minister-President," was the answer. "But he is not here, he will not accept," objected the King, referring doubtless to the difficulties which Bismarck had raised formerly. "He is in Berlin at this moment," said Roon. The King ordered him to come to Potsdam. When Bismarck arrived there he found the King sitting at his table, and in front of him the act of abdication, already signed. The King asked him whether he was willing to undertake the Government, even against the majority of the Parliament and without a Budget. Bismarck said he would do so. It was one last chance, and the King tore up the act of abdication. Two days later Bismarck was appointed provisional Minister-President, and, at the beginning of October, received his definite appointment as President and Foreign Minister.