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The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 18/Number 109/The Progress of Prussia

< The Atlantic Monthly‎ | Volume 18‎ | Number 109
 

THE PROGRESS OF PRUSSIA.


The changes that have taken place in Europe in the last twenty years are of a most comprehensive character, and as strange as comprehensive; and their consequences are likely to be as remarkable as the changes themselves. In 1846 Russia was the first power of Europe, and at a great distance ahead of all other members of the Pentarchy. She retained the hegemony which she had acquired by the events of 1812-1814, and by the great display of military force she had made in 1815, when 160,000 of her troops were reviewed near Paris by the sovereigns and other leaders of the Grand Alliance there assembled after the second and final fall of the first Napoleon. Had Alexander I. reigned long, it is probable that his eccentricities—to call them by no harder name—would have operated to deprive Russia of her supremacy; but Nicholas, though he might never have raised his country so high as it was carried by his brother, was exactly the man to keep the power he had inherited,—and to keep it in the only way in which it was to be kept, namely, by increasing it. This he had done, and great success had waited on most of his undertakings, while in none had he encountered failure calculated to attract the world's attention. England had in some sense shared men's notice with Russia immediately after the settlement of Europe. The "crowning carnage, Waterloo," was considered her work; and, as the most decisive battle since Philippi, it gave to the victor in it an amount of consideration that was equal to that which Napoleon himself had possessed in 1812. But this consideration rapidly passed away, as England did nothing to maintain her influence on the Continent, while Russia was constantly busy there, and really governed it down to the French Revolution of 1830; and her power was not much weakened even by the fall of the elder Bourbons, with whom the Czar had entered into a treaty that had for one of its ends the cession to France of those very Rhenish provinces of which so much has been said in the course of the present year. Russia was victorious in her conflicts with the Persians and the Turks, and the battle of Navarino really had been fought in her interest,—blindly by the English, but intelligently by the French, who were willing that she should plant the double-headed eagle on the Bosporus, provided the lilies should be planted on the Rhine. If the fall of the Bourbons in France, and the fall of the Tories in England, weakened Russia's influence in Western Europe, those events had the effect of drawing Austria and Prussia nearer to her, and of reviving something of the spirit of the Holy Alliance, which had lost much of its strength from the early death of Alexander. Russia had her own way in almost every respect; and in 1846 Nicholas was almost as powerful a ruler as Napoleon had been a generation earlier, with the additional advantage of being a legitimate sovereign, who could not be destroyed through the efforts of any coalition. Three years later he saved Austria from destruction by his invasion of Hungary,—an act of hard insolence, which quite reconciles one to the humiliation that overtook him five years later. He was then so powerful that the reactionists of the West cried for Russian cannon, to be used against the Reds. There was no nation to dispute the palm with Russia. England was supposed to be devoted to the conversion of cotton into calico, and to be ruled in the spirit of the Manchester school. She had retired into her shell, and could not be got out of it. Austria was thinking chiefly of Italy, and of becoming a naval power by incorporating that Peninsula into her empire. Prussia was looked upon as nothing but a Russian outpost to the west, and waiting only to be used by her master. France had not recovered from her humiliation of 1814-15, and never would recover from it so long as she warred only at barricades or in Barbary. Russia was supreme, and most men thought that supreme she would remain.

Thus stood matters down to 1853. Early in that year the Czar entered on his last quarrel with the Turks, whose cause was espoused by England, partly for the reason that Russian aggrandizement in the East would be dangerous to her interests, but more on the ground that she had become weary of submission to that arrogant sovereign who was in the habit of giving law to the Old World. Russia's ascendency, though chiefly the work of England, was more distasteful to the English than it was to any other European people,—more than it was to the French, at whose expense it had been founded; and had Nicholas made overtures to the latter, instead of making them to England, it is very probable he would have accomplished his purpose. But he detested Napoleon III., and he was at no pains to conceal his sentiments. This was the one great error of his life. The French Emperor had two great ends in view: first, to get into respectable company; and, secondly, to make himself powerful at home, by obtaining power and influence for France abroad. Unaided, he could accomplish neither end; and Nicholas and Victoria were the only two sovereigns who could be of much use to him in accomplishing one or both. Had Nicholas been gracious to him, had he, in particular, made overtures to him, he might have had the Emperor almost on his own terms; for the French disliked the English, and they did not dislike the Russians. Everything pointed to renewal of that "cordial understanding" between Russia and France which had existed twenty-five years earlier, when Charles X. was king of France, and which, had there been no Revolution of July, would have given to Russia possession of Constantinople, and to the French that roc's egg of theirs, the left bank of the Rhine. But prosperity had been fatal to the Czar. He could not see what was palpable to everybody else. He allowed his feelings to get the better of his judgment. He treated Napoleon III. with less consideration than he treated the Turkish Sultan; and Napoleon actually was forced to teach him that a French ruler was a powerful personage, and that the days of Louis Philippe were over forever. If not good enough to help Russia spoil Turkey, the Czar must be taught he was good enough to help England prevent the spoliating scheme. France and England united their forces to those of Turkey, and were joined by Sardinia. Russia was beaten in the war, on almost all its scenes. The world ascribed the result to Napoleon III. France carried off the honors of the war, and of spoil there was none. The Peace of Paris, which terminated the contest, was the work of Napoleon. He dictated its terms, forcing them less on his enemy than on his allies.

As Russia's leadership of Europe had come from success in war, and had been maintained by subsequent successes of the Russian armies,—in Persia, in Turkey, in Poland, and elsewhere,—it followed that that leadership was lost when the fortune of war changed, and those armies were beaten on every occasion where they met the Allies. No military country could stand up erect under such crushing blows as had been delivered at the Alma, at Inkermann, at the Tchernaya, and at Sebastopol, not to name lesser Allied successes, or to count the victories of the Turks. Nicholas died in the course of the war, falling only before the universal conqueror. His successor submitted to the decision of the sword, and in fact performed an act of abdication inferior only to that executed by Napoleon. France stepped into the vacant leadership, and held it for ten years. Subsequent events confirmed and strengthened the French hegemony. The Italian war, waged by the Emperor in person, had lasted only about as many months as the Russian war did years, and yet it had proved far more damaging to Austria than the other had proved to Russia. The mere loss of territory experienced by Austria, though not small, was the least of the adverse results to her. Her whole Italian scheme was cut through and utterly ruined; and it was well understood that the days of her rule over Venetia were destined to be as few as they were evil. For what she then did, France received Savoy and Nice, which formed by no means a great price for her all but inestimable services,—services by no means to be ascertained, if we would know their true value, by what was done in 1859. France created the Kingdom of Italy. After making the amplest allowance for what was effected by Cavour, by Garibaldi, by Victor Emanuel, and by the Italian people, it must be clear to every one that nothing could have been effected toward the overthrow of Austrian domination in Italy but for the action of French armies in that country. That the Emperor meant what he wrought is very unlikely; but after the events of 1859 it was impossible to prevent the construction of the kingdom of Italy; and the Frenchman had to consent to the completion of his own work, though he did so on some occasions with extreme reluctance,—not so much from the dictation of his own feelings, as from the aversion which the French feel for the Italian cause, and which is so strong, and so deeply shared by the military, that it was with difficulty the soldiers in the camp of Châlons were prevented getting up an illumination when news reached them of the battle of Custozza, the event of which was so disastrous to Italy, and would have been fatal to her cause, had not that been vindicated and established by Prussian genius and valor on the remote fields of Germany and Bohemia. The descendants of men who fought under Arminius saved the descendants of the countrymen of Varus. Those persons who have condemned the Frenchman's apparently singular course toward Italy on some occasions, have not made sufficient allowance for the dislike of almost all classes of his subjects for the Italians. The Italian war was unpopular, and the Russian war was not popular. While the French have been pleased by the military occurrences that make up the histories of those wars, they were by no means pleased by the wars themselves, and they do not approve them even at this day; and the extraordinary events of the current year are not at all calculated to make them popular in France: for it is not difficult to see that there is a close connection between the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy and the elevation of Prussia to the first place in Europe; and Prussia is the power most abhorred by the French. So intense is French hatred of Prussia, that it is not too much to say that, last summer, the French would almost as lief have seen the Russians in Paris as the Prussians in Vienna.

At the middle of last June the leadership of Europe—Frenchmen said of the world—was in the hands of France; and that such was France's place was the work of Napoleon III. The Emperor had been successful in all his undertakings, with one exception. His Mexican business had proved a total failure; but this had not injured him. Americans thought differently, some of us going so far as to suppose the fall of Maximilian's shaky throne would involve that of the solid throne of Napoleon. No such thing. The great majority of Frenchmen know little and care less about the Mexican business. Intelligent Frenchmen regret the Emperor's having taken it up; but they do so because of the expenditure it has involved, and because they have learnt from their country's history that it is best for her to keep out of that colonizing pursuit which has so many charms for the Emperor,—perhaps because of his Dutch origin. There is something eminently ridiculous about French colonization, which contrasts strangely with the robust action of the English. The Emperor seems to believe in it,—an instance of weakness that places him, on one point at least, below common men, most of whom laugh at his doings in regard to Mexico. If report does him no injustice, he thinks his Mexican undertaking the greatest thing of his reign. What, then, is the smallest thing of that reign? It is somewhat strange that this immense undertaking should not have been practicable till some time after the United States had become involved in civil war, that tasked all American energies, and did not permit any attention to be paid to Napoleon's action in Mexico.

Whether wise or foolish, Napoleon's interference in Mexican affairs had not weakened his power or lessened his influence in the estimation of Europe. Five months ago he was at the head of the European world. His position was quite equal to that which Nicholas held thirteen years earlier. If any change in his condition was looked for, it was sought in the advance of his greatness, not in the chance of his fall. The general, the all but universal sentiment was, that during Napoleon III.'s life France's lead must be accepted; and that, if that life should be much extended, France's power would be greatly increased, and that Belgium and the Rhine country might become hers at no distant day. It is true that, long before the middle of June, the course of events indicated the near approach of war; but it was commonly supposed that the chief result of such war would be to add to the greatness and glory of France. That was about the only point on which men were agreed with respect to the threatened conflict. Prussia and Italy might overthrow the Austrian empire; but most probably Austria, aided by most of Germany, would defeat them both, her armies rendezvousing at Berlin and Milan; and then would Napoleon III., bearing "the sword of Brennus," come in, and save the Allies from destruction, who would gratefully reward him,—the one by ceding the Rhenish provinces, and the other the island of Sardinia, to France. Such was the programme laid out by most persons in Europe and America, and probably not one person in a hundred thought it possible for Prussia to succeed. Even most of those persons who were not overcrowed by Austria's partisans and admirers did not dream that she would be conquered in a week, but thought it would be a more difficult matter for General Benedek to march from Prague to Berlin than was generally supposed, and that such march would not exactly be of the nature of a military promenade. That the French Emperor shared the popular belief, is evident from his conduct. He never would have allowed war to break out, if he had supposed it would lead to the elevation of Prussia to the first place in Europe,—a position held by himself, and which he had no desire to vacate. It was in his power to prevent the occurrence of war down almost to the very hour when the Diet of the Germanic Confederation afforded to Prussia so plausible a ground for setting her armies in motion, by adopting a course that bore some resemblance to the old process of putting a disobedient member under the ban of the Empire. Prussia would not have gone to war with Austria, had she not been assured of the Italian alliance,—an alliance that would not only be useful in keeping a large portion of Austria's force in the south, but would prevent that power from purchasing Italian aid by the cession of Venetia; for so angry were the Austrians with Prussia, that it was quite on the cards that they might become the friends of Italy, if she would but help them against that nation whose exertions in 1859 had prevented Venetia from following the fate of Lombardy.

As Prussia would not have made war in 1866 without having secured the assistance of Italy, so was it impossible for Italy to form an alliance with Prussia without the consent of France being first had and obtained. Napoleon III. possessed an absolute veto on the action of the Italian government, and had he signified to that government that an alliance with Prussia could not meet with his countenance and approval, no such alliance ever would have been formed, or even the proposition to form it have been taken into serious consideration by the Cabinet of Florence. Victor Emanuel II. would have dared no more to attack Francis Joseph, without the consent of Napoleon III., than Carthage durst have attacked Masinissa without the consent of Rome. Prussia was not under the supervision of France, and was and is the only great European nation which had not then, as she has not since, been made to feel the weight of his power; but it may be doubted, without the slightest intention to impeach her courage, if she would have resolved upon war had she been convinced that France was utterly opposed to such resolution, and was prepared to show that the Empire was for peace by making war to preserve it. The opinion was quite common, as matters became more and more warlike with each succeeding day, that the course of Prussia had been fixed upon and mapped out by Count Bismark and Napoleon III., and that the former had received positive assurances that his country should not undergo any reduction of territory should the fortune of war go against her; in return for which he had agreed to such a "rectification of the French frontier" as should be highly pleasing to the pride of Frenchmen, and add greatly to the glory and the dignity of their Emperor. When news came that Napoleon III., after peace had been resolved upon, had asked for the cession of certain Rhenish territory,[1] the demand was supposed to have been made in consequence of an understanding entered into before the war by the courts of Paris and Berlin. There was nothing unreasonable in this supposition; for Napoleon III. was so bent upon extending[Pg 583] the boundaries of France, and was so entirely master of the situation, and his friendship was so necessary to Prussia, that it was reasonable to suppose he had made a good bargain with that power. Probably, when the secret history of the war shall be published, it will be seen that an understanding did exist between Prussia and France, and that Napoleon III., in August, asked for no more than it had been agreed he should have, in June, or May, or even earlier. Why, then, did Prussia give so firm but civil a negative in answer to his demand? and how was it that he submitted with so much of meekness to her refusal, even attributing his demand to the pressure of French public opinion, which is no more strongly expressed in 1866 in favor of the acquisition of the Rhine country, than it has been in almost any year since that country was lost, more than half a century since? The answer is easy. Prussia, no matter what her arrangement with France before the war, durst not pass over to the latter a solitary league of German territory. Her victories had so exalted German sentiment that she could not have her own way in all things. She was, on one side, paralyzed by the unexpected completeness of her military successes, which had brought very near all Germany under her eagles; for all Germans saw at once that she had obtained that commanding position from which the dictation of the unity of their country was not only a possibility, but something that could be accomplished without much difficulty. What Victor Emanuel II. and Count Cavour had been to Italy, William I. and Count Bismark could be to Austria, with this vast difference in favor of the Prussian sovereign and statesman,—that their policy could not be dictated, nor their action hampered, by a great foreign sovereign, who ruled a people hostile to the unity of every European race but themselves. It was impossible even to take into consideration any project that looked to the dismemberment of Germany, at a time when even Southern Germans were ready to unite with Prussia, because she was the champion of German unity, and was in condition to make her championship effectual. Napoleon III. saw how matters were, and, being a statesman, he did not hesitate, at the risk of much loss of influence, to admit a fact the existence of which could not be denied, and which operated with overwhelming force against his interests both as an emperor and as a man. That he may have only deferred a rupture with Prussia is probable enough, for it is not to be assumed that he is ready to cede the first place in Europe to the country most disliked by his subjects, and which refuses to cede anything to him. But he must have time in which to rearm his infantry, and to place in their hands a weapon that shall be to the needle-gun what the needle-gun[2] is to the Austrian muzzle-loader. He has postponed action; but that he has definitely abandoned the French claim to the left bank of the Rhine it would be hazardous to assert. There are reports that a conference of the chief European powers will be held soon, and that by that body something will be done with respect to the French claim that will prove satisfactory to all parties. It would be a marvellous body, should it accomplish so miraculous a piece of business. The matter is in fair way to disturb the peace of Europe before Sadowa shall have become as old a battle as we now rate Solferino.

We do not assert that there was an understanding between France and Prussia last spring, and that Prussia went to war because that arrangement assured her against loss; but we think there is nothing irrational in the popular belief in the existence of such an understanding, and that nothing has occurred since the middle of June that renders that belief absurd. The contrary belief makes a fool of Napoleon III.,—a character which not even the Emperor's enemies have attributed to him since he became a successful man.

War began on the 15th of June, the day after that on which that bungling body, the Bund, under Austrian influence, had resort to overt measures against Prussia, which had suffered for some time from its covert measures. The Germanic Confederation ceased to exist on the 14th of June, having completed its half-century, with a little time to spare. The declarations of war that appeared on the 18th of June,—the anniversary of Fehrbellin, Kolin, and Waterloo, all great and decisive Prussian battles, and two of them Prussian victories, or victories which Prussians aided in winning,—the declarations of war, we say, were mere formalities, and as such they were regarded. Prussia's first open operation was taken three days before, when she invaded Saxony,—a country in which the Austrians, had they been wise, would have had at least a hundred thousand men within twenty-four hours after the action of the Diet. Prussia had been prepared for war for some weeks, perhaps months, while we are assured that Austria's preparations were far from complete; from which, supposing the statement correct, the inference is drawn that she did not expect Prussia to push matters to extremity. It is more likely that she fell into the usual error of all proud egotists,—that of estimating the capacity of a foe by her own. We cannot think so poorly of Austrian statesmen and generals as to conclude that they did not see war was inevitable in the latter part of May, which gave them three weeks to mass their troops so near the Saxon frontier as would have enabled them to cross it in a few hours after the Diet had given itself up to their direction, before the world. As the Diet never durst have acted thus without Austria's direct sanction, Austria must have known that war was at hand, and she should have prepared for its coming. Probably she did make all the preparation she thought necessary, she supposing that Prussia would be as slow as herself, because believing that her best was the best thing in the world. This error was the source of all her misfortunes. She applied to the military art, in this age of railways and electric telegraphs, principles and practices that were not even of the first merit in much earlier and very different times. She was not aware that the world had changed. Prussia was thoroughly aware of it, and acted accordingly. She was all vivacity and alertness, and hence her success. In nineteen days, counting from the morning of June 15th, she had accomplished that which almost all men in other countries had deemed impossible. While foreigners were speculating as to the number of days Benedek would require to reach Berlin, and wondering whether he would proceed by the Silesian or the Saxon route, the Prussians were routing him, taking Prague, and marching swiftly toward Vienna. The contending armies first "felt" one another on the 26th of June, in a small affair at Liebenau, in which the Prussians were victorious. The next day there was another "affair," of larger proportions, at Podal, with the same result; and two more actions, one at Nachod and at Skalitz, in which Fortune was consistent, adhering to the single-headed eagle, and the other at Trautenau, which was of the nature of a drawn battle. On the 28th there was another fight at Trautenau, the Prussians remaining masters of the field; while the Austrians were beaten at other points, and fell back to Gitschin, once the capital of Wallenstein's Duchy of Friedland, and where the Friedlander was to receive ample vengeance just seven generations after his assassination by contrivance and order of the head of the German branch of the house of Austria, Ferdinand II. Could Wallenstein have "revisited the glimpses of the moon" on the night of the 28th of last June, he might have cast terror into the soul of Francis Joseph, as the Bodach Glas did into that of Vich-Ian-Vohr, by appearing to him, and bidding him beware of the morrow; for it was at Gitschin, on the 29th of June, and not at Sadowa, on the 3d of July, that the event of the war was decided. Had the battle then and there fought been fortunate for the Austrians, the name of Sadowa would have remained unknown to the world; for then the battle of the 3d of July could not have been fought, or it would have had a different scene, and most probably a different result. Austrian defeat at Gitschin made the battle of Sadowa a necessity, and made it so under conditions highly favorable to the Prussians. The ghost of Wallenstein might have returned to its rest with entire complacency, and with the firm resolution to trouble this sublunary world no more, had it witnessed the flight of the Austrians through Gitschin. By a "curious coincidence," it happens that a large number of the vanquished were Saxons, descendants, it may be, of men who had acted with Gustavus Adolphus against Wallenstein in 1632.

The battle of Sadowa was fought on the 3d of July, the third anniversary of the decisive day of our battle of Gettysburg. At a moderate estimate, four hundred and twenty thousand men took part in it, of whom one hundred and ninety-five thousand were Austrians and Saxons, and two hundred and twenty-five thousand Prussians. This makes the action rank almost with the battle of Leipzig, the greatest of all battles.[3] It is satisfactory evidence of the real greatness of Prussian generalship, that it had succeeded in massing much the larger force on the final field, though at a distance from the Prussian frontier and far within the enemy's territory; and also that while the invaders of Austria were opposed by equal forces on the left and centre of the Austrian line, they were in excessive strength on that line's right, the very point at which their presence was most required. Yet further: these great masses of men were all employed, and admirably handled, while almost a fourth part of the Austrian army remained idle, or was not employed till the issue of the battle had been decided. The Austrian position was strong, or it would have been so in the hands of an able commander; but Benedek was unequal to his work, and totally unfit to command a larger army than even Napoleon I. ever led in any battle. There seldom has lived a general capable of handling an army two hundred thousand strong. The Prussians, to be sure, were stronger, and they were splendidly handled; but it must be observed that they were divided into two armies, and that those armies, though having a common object, operated apart. In this respect, though in no other, Sadowa bears a resemblance to Waterloo, the armies of the Crown Prince and of Prince Frederick Charles answering to those of Blücher and Wellington. The Prussian force engaged far exceeded that of all the armies that fought at Waterloo, and the Austrian army exceeded them by some five or six thousand men. War has very rarely been conducted on the scale that is known in 1866. Even the greatest of the engagements in our civil contest seem to shrink to small proportions when compared with what took place last summer in Bohemia. The armies of Grant and Lee, in May, 1864, probably were not larger than the Prussian army at Sadowa. At the same time, Austria had a great force in Venetia, and large bodies of men in other parts of her empire, and some in the territory of the Germanic Confederation; and the Prussians were carrying on vigorous warfare in various parts of Germany.

After their grand victory, the Prussians pushed rapidly forward toward Vienna; and names that are common in the history of Napoleon's Austrian campaigns began to appear in the daily journals,—Olmütz, Brünn, Znaym, Austerlitz, and others. Nothing occurred to stay their march, and they were in the very act of winning another battle which would have cut the Austrians off from Hungary, when an armistice was agreed upon. It was so in 1809, when the officers had to separate the soldiers to announce the armistice of Znaym. It came out soon after that the cessation of warlike operations took place not a day too soon for the Austrians, whose army was in a fearfully demoralized condition. Vienna would have been occupied in a week by the Prussians, had they been disposed to push matters to extremities, and that without a battle; or, if a battle had been fought, the Austrian force must have been destroyed, or would have been literally cut off from any safe line of retreat. Probably the house of Austria would have been struck out of the list of ruling families, had the Austrians not submitted to the invaders. Count Bismark is a man who would have had no hesitation in reviving the Bohemian and Hungarian monarchies, had further resistance been made to his will. The armistice was quickly followed by negotiations, and those were completed on the 23d of August, exactly seventy days after the Diet, at the dictation of Austria, had given up Prussia to punishment, to be inflicted by the Austrian sword.

The terms of the treaty of peace are moderate; but it should be understood that what Austria loses is very inadequately expressed by these terms, and what Prussia gains not at all; and what Prussia gains at the expense of Austria, important as it is, is less important than what she has gained from France. From Austria she has taken the first place in Germany; from France, the first place in Europe, which is the same thing as the first place in Christendom, or the world,—meaning by the world that portion of mankind which has power and influence and leadership, because of its knowledge, culture, and wealth. The moral blow falls with greater severity on France than on Austria. Austria had no right whatever to the first place in Germany. There was something monstrous, something highly offensive, in the Germanic primacy of an empire made up of Magyars, Poles, Bohemians, Italians, Slavonians, Croats, Illyrians, and other races, and not above a fourth of whose inhabitants were Germans. Prussia had in June last twice as many Germans as Austria, though her entire population was not much more than half as large as that of her rival;[4] and when she turned Austria out of Germany at the point of the needle-gun, she simply asserted her own right to the leadership of Germany. But no one will say that there can be anything offensive in a French primacy of Christendom. Objection may be made to any primacy; but if primacy there must be, as mostly there has been, France has the best claim to it of any country. England might dispute the post with her, and England alone; for they are the two nations of modern times to which the world is most indebted. But England has, all but in direct terms, resigned all pretensions to it. Prussia, therefore, by conquering for herself the first place in the estimation of mankind, who always respect the longest and sharpest sword, unhorsed France. Napoleon III. lost more at Sadowa than was lost by Francis Joseph; and we cannot see how he will be able to recover his loss, should Prussia succeed in her purpose to create a powerful Germanic empire,—and all things point to her success. A new force would be introduced into the European system, of which we can only say, that, if its mere anticipation has been sufficient to curb France on the side of the Rhine, its realization ought to be sufficient to prevent France from extending her dominion in any direction—say over Belgium—which such extension is inclined to take.

Thus has a great revolution been effected, and effected, too with something of the speed of light. On the 14th of June, France, in the estimation of the civilized world, was the first of nations, the head of the Pentarchy. On the 4th of July, she had already been deposed, though the change was not immediately recognizable. On the 14th of June, Prussia's place, though respectable, was not to be named with that of France; it was at the tail of the Pentarchy. On the 4th of July she had conquered for herself the headship of that powerful brotherhood. It was the prize of her sword, and it is on the sword that the French Emperor's power mainly rests. He obtained his place by a free use of the military arm, in December, 1851; he confirmed it by the use of the sword in the Russian and Italian wars; and he purposed making a yet further use of the weapon, had circumstances favored his plans, at the time he allowed the Germano-Italian war to begin. Is he who took the sword to perish by it? Is the Prussian sovereign that stronger man of whose coming Crœsus, that type of all prosperous sovereigns, was warned? Who shall say? But as Napoleon's ascendency rested, the sword apart, upon opinion, and not upon prescription, it is difficult to see how he can submit to a surrender of that ascendency, and make way for one who but yesterday was his inferior, and who, in all probability, was then ready to buy his aid at a high price. The Emperor is old and sickly. His life seems to have been in danger at the very time he was making his demand for an increase of imperial territory. Years and infirmities may indispose him to enter on a mighty war; but he thinks more of his dynasty than of himself, his ambition being to found a reigning house. This must lead him to respect French opinion, on his son's account; and opinion in France is anything but friendly to Prussia. Almost all Frenchmen, from Reds to Whites,—Republicans, Imperialists, Orleanists, and Legitimists,—seem to be of one mind on this point. They all agree that Prussian supremacy is unendurable. They could have seen their country make way for England, or Russia, or even Austria, without losing their temper altogether; but for France to be displaced by Prussia is something that it is beyond their philosophy to contemplate with patience. The very successes of the Emperor tell against him under existing circumstances. He has raised France so high, from a low condition, that a fall is unbearable to his subjects. He has triumphed, in various ways, over nations that appeared to be so much greater than Prussia, that to surrender the golden palm to her is the very nadir of degradation. His loss of moral power is as great at home as his loss of material power abroad. He has become ridiculous, as having been outwitted by Germans, whom the French have ever been disposed to look upon as the dullest of mankind. Ridicule may not be so powerful an agency in France to-day as it was in former times, but still it has there a sharp sting. The Emperor may be led into war by the force of French opinion; and he would have all Germany to contend against, with the exception of that portion of it which belongs to the house of Austria. The Austrians would gladly renew the war, with France for their ally. They would forgive Solferino, to obtain vengeance for Sadowa. What occurred among the Austrians when they heard of the French demand for a rectification of their frontier shows how readily they would come into any project for the humiliation of Prussia that France might form. They supposed the French demand would be pushed, and they evinced the utmost willingness to support it,—a fact that proves how little they care for Germany, and also how deeply they feel their own fall. They would have renewed the war immediately, had France given the word. But the Emperor did not give the word. He may have hesitated because he preferred to have Italy as an ally, or to see her occupy the position of a neutral; whereas, had he attacked Prussia before the conclusion of the late war, she must have adhered to the Prussian alliance, which would have led to the deduction of a large force from the armies of Austria and France that he would desire to have concentrated in Germany. Or he may have been fearful of even one of the consequences of victory; for would it not be a source of danger to him and his family were one of his marshals so to distinguish himself in a great war as to become the first man in France? The general of a legitimate sovereign can never aspire to his master's throne; but the French throne is fair prize for any man who should be able to conquer the conquerors of Sadowa. The Emperor's health would not permit him to lead his army in person, as he did in the Italian campaign; and that one of his lieutenants who should, by a repetition of the Jena business, avenge Waterloo, and regain for France, with additions, the rank she held five months ago, would probably prove a greater enemy to the house of Bonaparte than he had been to the house of Hohenzollern. The part of Hazael is always abhorred in advance as much as Hazael himself abhorred it; but Benhadad is sure to perish, and Hazael reigns in his stead.

The nation by which this great change has been wrought in Europe—a change as extraordinary in itself as it is wonderful in its modes, and likely to lead to something far more important—is one of the most respectable members of the European commonwealth, though standing somewhat below the first rank, even while acting on terms of apparent equality with the other great powers. The kingdom of Prussia is of origin so comparatively recent, that there are those now living who can remember others who were old enough to note its creation, in 1700. The arrangements for the conversion of the electorate of Brandenburg into the kingdom of Prussia were completed on the 16th of November, 1700, and the coronation of Frederick I. took place on the 18th of January, 1701, two hundred and eighty-four years less three months after his family's connection with the country began; for it was on the 18th of April, 1417, that the Emperor Sigismund, last member of the Luxemburg family, made Frederick, Burgrave of Nürnberg, Elector of Brandenburg,—the investiture taking place in the marketplace of Constance. The transaction was in the nature of a job, as Frederick was a relative of the Emperor, to whom he had advanced money, besides rendering him assistance in other ways. Frederick was of a very old family, and in this respect, as in some others, the house destined to become so great in the North bore a close resemblance to that other house destined to reign in the South, that of Savoy, which became regal not long after the elevation of descendants of the Burgrave of Nürnberg to royal rank. He was a man adapted to the place he received; and the family has seldom failed to produce able men and women in every generation, some of them being of the highest intellectual force, while others have been remarkable for eccentricities that at times bore considerable resemblance to insanity. Yet there was not much in the history of the new electoral house that promised its future greatness, for more than two centuries.

It is surprising to look back over the history of Germany, and note how differently matters have turned out, in respect to families and countries, from what observers of old times would have predicted. When Charles V. fled before Maurice of Saxony, he may have thought, considering the great part Saxony had had in the Reformation, that from that country danger might come to the house of Austria in yet greater measure; but he would have smiled at the prophet who should have told him not only that no such danger would come, but that Saxony would be ruined because of its adherence to the house of Austria, when assailed by a descendant of the then insignificant Elector of Brandenburg. Yet the prophet would have been right, for Saxony suffered so much from her connection with the Austrians in Frederick the Great's time that she never recovered therefrom; and in the late contest she was lost before a shot was fired, and her troops, after fighting valiantly in Bohemia, shared the disasters of the power upon which she had relied for protection. Bavaria was another German country that seemed more likely to rise to greatness than Brandenburg; but, though her progress has been respectable, it must be pronounced insignificant if compared with that of Prussia. The house of Wittelsbach was great before that of Hohenzollern had risen to general fame; but the latter has passed it, as if Fortune had taken the Hohenzollerns under its special protection, and we should not be in the least surprised were they to take all its territory ere the twentieth century shall have fairly dawned upon the world.

The first of the great Prussian rulers was the Elector Frederick William, who reigned from 1640 to 1688, and who is known as the Great Elector,—a title of which he was every way worthy, and not the less that there was just a suspicion of the tyrant in his composition. He had not a little of that "justness of insight, toughness of character, and general strength of bridle-hand," which Mr. Carlyle attributes to Rudolph of Hapsburg. He was a man of the times, and a man for the times. He came to the throne just as the Thirty Years' War was well advanced in its last decade, and he had a ruined country for his inheritance; but he raised that country to a high place in Europe, and was connected with many of the principal events of the age of Louis XIV. He freed Prussia from her connection with Poland. He created that Prussian army which has done such wonderful things in the greatest of wars in the last two centuries. He it was who won the battle of Fehrbellin, June 18, 1675, at the expense of the Swedes, who were still living on the mighty reputation won under Gustavus Adolphus, almost half a century earlier, and maintained by the splendid soldiers trained in his school. The calm and philosophic Rankè warms into something like eloquence when summing up the work of the Great Elector. "Frederick William," he says, "cannot be placed in the same category with those few great men who have discovered new conditions for the development of the human race; but he may unhesitatingly be ranked with those famous princes who have saved their countries in the hour of danger, and have succeeded in re-establishing order,—with an Alfred, a Charles VII., a Gustavus Vasa. He followed the path trodden by the German territorial princes of old; but among them all there was not one who, finding his state reduced to such a miserable condition, so successfully raised it to independence and power. He instilled into his subjects a spirit of enterprise,—the mainspring of a state. He took measures which secured to his country an increase of power and prosperity. What the world most admired, and indeed what he himself most valued, was the condition of his army. It contained at the time of his death one hundred and seventy-five companies of foot, and seventy-six of cavalry; the artillery had recently been increased in proportion, and the Elector's attention had been constantly directed to its improvement. The whole strength of the army was about twenty-eight thousand men. There was nothing that he recommended so earnestly to his successor as the preservation of this instrument of power. By this it was that he had made room for himself among his neighbors, and had won for the Protestant cause of North Germany the respect that was its due."[5]

Nor did he neglect that naval arm which has been of so great service to many countries. Prussia's desire to have a navy has raised many smiles, and caused much laughter, in this century, as if it were something new; whereas it is an ancient aspiration, and one which all Prussian sovereigns and statesmen have experienced for two hundred years, though not strongly. The Great Czar, who came upon the stage just after the Great Elector left it, did not long more for a good sea-coast than that Elector had longed for it. Frederick William could not effect so much as Peter effected, but he did something toward the creation of a navy for Prussia. His reluctance in parting with a portion of Pomerania was owing to his commercial and maritime aspirations. "Of all the princes of the house of Brandenburg," says Rankè, "he is the only one who ever showed a strong predilection for maritime life and maritime power. It was the dream of his youth that he would one day sail along shores obedient to his will, all the way from Custrin, out by the mouths of the Oder, across to the coast of Prussia. His sojourn in the Netherlands had strengthened, though it had not inspired, his love of the sea. The best proof how painful this cession was to the Elector is the fact that he shortly afterward offered to the crown of Sweden, not alone the three sees of Halberstadt, Minden, and Magdeburg, but a sum of two millions of thalers in addition, for the possession of Pomerania." The same writer says of the Great Elector elsewhere, that "his mind had a wide grasp; to us it may seem almost too wide, when we call to mind that he brought the coast of Guinea into direct communication with Brandenburg, and ventured to compete with Spain on the ocean." When he died, the population of his dominions amounted to one million five hundred thousand.

His successor was his son Frederick, who added to the territory of Prussia, and who, as before stated, became king in November, 1700, a few days after the extinction, in the person of Charles II., of the Spanish branch of the house of Austria. One royal house had gone out, and another came in. Prince Eugene of Savoy, the ablest man that ever served the house of Austria, plainly told the German Emperor that his ministers deserved the gallows for advising him to consent to the creation of the new kingdom, and all subsequent German history seems to show that he was right. But that house needed all the aid it could beg, buy, or borrow, to press its claim to the Spanish crowns; and, thanks to the exertions of the Great Elector, Brandenburg had an army, the aid of which was well worth purchasing at what Leopold may have thought to be a nominal price, after all. So well balanced were the parties to the war of the Spanish Succession, at least in its earlier years, that the mere absence of the Prussian contingent from the armies of the Grand Alliance might have thrown victory into the French scale. What would have been the effect had the army and the influence of Brandenburg been placed at the disposal of Louis XIV.? What would have been the fate of the house of Austria, had the Elector been actively employed on the French side, like the Elector of Bavaria, in the campaign of Blenheim, instead of being one of the stoutest supporters of the Austrians? Even Eugene himself might never have won most of those victories which have made his name immortal, had his policy prevailed at Vienna in 1700, and the Emperor refused to convert the Elector of Brandenburg into King of Prussia. At Blenheim, the Prussians behaved in the noblest manner, and won the highest praise from Eugene, who commanded in that part of the field where they were stationed; and he spoke particularly of their "undaunted resolution" in withstanding the enemy's attacks, and of their activity at a later period of the battle. It is curious to observe that he notes the steadiness and strength of their fire,—a peculiarity that has distinguished the Prussian infantry from the beginning of its existence, and which, from the introduction of the iron ramrod into the service, had much to do with the successes of Frederick the Great, and, from the use of the needle-gun, quite as much with the successes of Prince Frederick Charles and the Crown Prince. In the time of Frederick I., the Prussian troops were employed in Germany and Italy, in France and Flanders. They also served against the Turks. It may be said, that, if the Great Elector created the Prussian army, it received the baptism of fire in full from his son, Frederick I., the first Prussian king.

Frederick I. died in 1713. If it be true—as we think it is—that the great enterprise of William of Orange for the deliverance of England could not have been undertaken but for the aid he gave that prince, Englishmen and Americans ought to hold his name in especial remembrance. He was succeeded by his son Frederick William I., who is counted a brute by most persons, but whom Mr. Carlyle would have us believe to have been a man of remarkable worth. He had talents, and he increased the territory of his kingdom. When he died, in 1740, he left to his son a kingdom containing 2,500,000 souls, a treasury containing $6,000,000, and an army more than thirty thousand strong, and which was the first force in Europe because of its high state of discipline and of the superiority of its infantry weapon. The introduction of the iron ramrod was a greater improvement, relatively, in 1740, than was the introduction of the needle-gun in the present generation. Nothing but the use of that ramrod saved the Prussians from destruction in the first of Frederick II.'s wars. That gave them superiority, which they well knew how to keep. "The main thing," as Rankè observes, "was a regular step and rapid firing; or, as the king once expressed it, 'Load quickly, advance in close column, present well, take aim well,—all in profound silence.'" The whole business of infantry in the field is summed up in the royal sentence, though some may think that line would be a better word than column; and the Prussian system did favor the linear rather than the columnar arrangement of troops, as it "presented a wide front, less exposed to the fire of the artillery, and more efficient from the force of its musketry."

Frederick William I. died in 1740. His successor was Frederick II., commonly called the Great. His history has been so much discussed of late years that it would be useless to mention its details. He raised Prussia to the first rank in Europe. Russia was coming in as a European power, and Spain was then as great as France or England, partly because of her former greatness, but as much from the sagacity of her sovereign and the talents of her statesmen. Louis XV. had lessened the weight of France, and George III. had degraded England. The Austrian house had suffered from its failure before Frederick. All things combined to make of Prussia the most formidable of European nations during the last half of Frederick's reign. When he died, in 1786, the Prussian population amounted to six millions,—the increase being chiefly due to the acquisition of Silesia, which was taken from Austria, and to Frederick's share in the first partition of Poland. He left $50,000,000, and his army contained 220,000 men.

Frederick William II., a weak sovereign, reigned till 1797. He took part in the first coalition against revolutionary France, and in the second and third partitions of Poland. Frederick William III. reigned from 1797 to 1840, during which time Prussia experienced every vicissitude of fortune. The first war with imperial France, in 1806-7, led to the reduction of her territory and population one half; and what was left of country and people was most mercilessly treated by Napoleon I., who should either have restored her altogether, or have annihilated her. But the great Emperor was partial to half-measures,—a folly that had much to do with his fall. The misery that Prussia then experienced was the cause of her subsequent greatness; and if she has wrested European supremacy from Napoleon III., she should thank Napoleon I. for enabling her to accomplish so great a feat of arms. The Prussian government had to undertake the task of reform, to save itself and the country from perishing. The chief man in this great work was the celebrated Baron von Stein, whose name is of infrequent mention in popular histories of the Napoleonic age, but who had more to do with the overthrow of the Man of Destiny than any other person. It is one of those strange facts which are so constantly meeting us in history, that it was by Napoleon's advice that Stein was employed by the Prussian king. "Take the Baron von Stein," said the Emperor, when the king at Tilsit spoke of the misery of his situation; "he is a man of sense." Eighteen months later, Napoleon actually outlawed Stein, the decree of outlawry dating from Madrid. The language of the decree was of the most insulting character. "One Stein" (le nommé Stein), it was said, was endeavoring to create troubles in Germany, and therefore he was denounced as an enemy of France and of the Rhenish Confederacy. The property he held in French or confederate territory was confiscated, and the troops of France and her allies were ordered to arrest him, wherever he could be found. Had he been taken, quite likely he would have been as summarily dealt with as Palm had been.

Stein fled into Bohemia, where he resided three years, when Alexander I. invited him to Russia, and employed him in the most important affairs. He kept up Alexander's courage during the darkest days of 1812, and advised, with success, against yielding to the French, though it is probable the Czar might have had his own terms from Napoleon, after the latter had reached Moscow. It is said that the American Minister in Russia, the late Mr. J. Q. Adams, was not less energetic than Stein on the same side. It may well be doubted if their advice was such as a Russian sovereign should have followed, though it was excellent for Germany and for all nations that feared Napoleon. If the American Minister did what was attributed to him, he actually acted in behalf of the very nation against which his own country had just declared war! The war between the United States and England began at the same time that active operations against Russia were entered upon by the French; and England was the only powerful nation upon which Russia could rely for assistance.

Stein had done his work before he was made to leave Prussia. He was the creator of the Prussian people. His reforms would be pronounced agrarian measures in England or America. An imitation of them in England might not be amiss; but in America, where land is a drug, and where possession of it does not give half the consideration that proceeds from the ownership of "stocks" or funds, it would be as much out of place as a mixture for blackening negroes, or a machine for converting New England soil into rocks. "Stein's main idea," says Vehse, "was, 'the burgher must become noble.' With this view, he tried to call forth a strong feeling of nationality and a new spirit in the people. His first step in introducing his new system of administration was the abolition of vassalage, and the change of the titles of seignorial property. This was done by the edict dated Memel, October 9, 1807, which did away with the monopoly until then claimed by the nobles holding such estates, which were now allowed to be acquired also by burghers and peasants. It moreover abolished all the feudal burdens of tenure. In this great law, Frederick William III. laid down the principle: 'After St. Martin's day, 1810, there will be throughout my dominions none but free people.' This edict first created in Prussia a free peasantry. Free burghers, on the other hand, were created by the municipal law from Königsberg, November 19, 1808, which restored to the burgesses their ancient municipal rights of freely electing their magistrates and deputies, and of self-government within their own civic sphere. . . . . Stein tried in every way to secure to the burgher his independence, and to protect him against the despotism of the men in office. With equal energy he tried to develop the spirit of the people."[6] For five years most of the Prussian ministers labored in the same spirit. A military force was created, chiefly by the labors of Scharnhorst, and the limitation of the Prussian army by Napoleon was in great part evaded. Everything was done to create a people, and to have ready the moral and material means from which to create an army, should circumstances arise under which Prussia might think it safe for her to act. Hardenberg did not go so far as Stein would have gone, but it is probable that he acted wisely; for very strong measures might have brought Napoleon's hand upon him. As it was, the Emperor could not complain of measures that breathed the very spirit of the French Revolution, of which he was the impersonation and the champion,—or claimed to be.

But all the labors of Stein, and those other Prussian patriots who acted with him or followed in his footsteps, would have been of no avail, had not Napoleon afforded them an opportunity to turn their labors to account. They might have elevated the people, have accumulated money, have massed munitions, and have drilled the entire male population to the business and work of war, till they should have surpassed all that is told of Roman discipline and efficiency; but all such exertions would have been utterly thrown away had the French Emperor behaved like a rational being, and not sought to illustrate his famous dogma, that the impossible has no existence, by seeking to achieve impossibilities. At the beginning of 1812, Napoleon was literally invincible. He was master of all Continental Europe, from the Atlantic to the Niemen, and from Cape North to Reggio. There was not a sovereign in that part of the world, from the kings of Sweden and Denmark to the Emperor of Austria and the Turkish Sultan, who did not wear crowns and wield sceptres only because the sometime General Bonaparte was willing they should wear and wield the emblems of imperial or royal power. He was at war only with Great Britain, and Spain, Portugal, and Sicily; and Great Britain was the sole enemy he was bound to respect. All the more enlightened Spaniards were all but ready to acknowledge the rule of his brother Joseph, and would have done so but for French failure in the Russian war. England's army could have been driven from the Peninsula with ease, had a third of the men who were worse than wasted in Russia been directed thither in the early spring of 1812. The Bourbons of Sicily hated their English protectors so bitterly, that they were ready to unite with the French to get up a modern imitation of the Sicilian Vespers at their expense. The war might soon have been confined to the ocean, and there it would have been fought for France principally by Americans, as the United States were soon to declare war against England. Never before was man so strong as Napoleon on New-Year's day, 1812; and in less than four years he was living in lodgings, and bad lodgings too, in St. Helena! What hope could the Prussians have, a month before the march to Moscow was resolved upon? None that could encourage them. Some of the more sanguine spirits, supported by general sentiment, were still of opinion that something could be effected; but the larger number of intelligent men were very despondent, and not a few of them began to think of the world beyond the Atlantic, as English patriots had thought almost two centuries earlier, when, that "blood and iron man," Wentworth (Strafford), was developing his system of Thorough with a precision and an energy that even Count Bismark has never surpassed. The bolder Prussians, when their country had to choose between resistance to Napoleon and an alliance with him against Russia, were for resistance, and would have placed their country right across the Emperor's path, and fought out the battle with him, and abided the consequences, which would have been the annihilation of Prussia in a sixth part of the time that Mr. Seward allotted for the duration of the Secession war. The Prussian war party would have had the Russians advance into their country, and thus have staked the issue on just such a contest as occurred in 1806-7. Napoleon, it is at least believed, was desirous that Prussia should join Russia, as that would have enabled him to defeat his enemies without crossing the Russian frontier, and have afforded him an excuse for destroying Prussia. To prevent so untimely a display of resistance to French ascendency was the aim of a few Prussians, headed by the king himself, who became very unpopular in consequence. Fortunately for Prussia, they were successful, and the means employed deceived not only the patriotic party, but even Napoleon, who was completely imposed upon by the report of the Baron von dem Knesebeck against a war between Russia and France. The story belongs to the romance of history; but it is too long, because involving many facts, to be told here.

Prussia was prevented from "throwing herself into the arms of Russia," much to the disgust of Scharnhorst and his friends. She even assisted Napoleon in his war against Alexander, and sent a contingent to the Grand Army, which formed the tenth corps of that memorable force, and was commanded by Marshal Macdonald. It consisted of twenty-six thousand men, including one French infantry division,—the Prussians being generally estimated at twenty thousand men. This corps did very little during the campaign, and soon after the failure of the French it went over to the Russians, taking the first step in that course which made Prussia so formidable a member of the Grand Alliance of 1813-15. But even so late as the close of May, 1813, Prussia was in danger of annihilation, and would have been annihilated had not Napoleon proffered an armistice, which was accepted,—the greatest blunder of his career, according to some eminent critics, as well political as military.

The leading part which Prussia had in the Liberation War and in the first overthrow of Napoleon caused her to be reconstructed by the Congress of Vienna; and her part in the war of 1815 confirmed the impression she had made on the world. Waterloo was as much a Prussian as an English victory,—the loss of the Prussians in that action being about as great as the purely English loss.[7] She became one of the Five Powers which by common consent were rulers of Europe. Down to 1830 she had more influence than France, and from 1830 to the re-establishment of the Napoleonic dynasty, she was France's equal; and even after Napoleon III. had replaced France at the head of Europe, Prussia was the only member of the Pentarchy which had not been humiliated by his blows, or yet more by his assistance. England has suffered from her connection with him,—a connection difficult on many occasions to distinguish from inferiority and subserviency; and in war the old superiority of the French armies to those of Russia and Austria has been asserted in the Crimea and in Italy. Prussia alone has not stooped before the avenger of the man whom she had so vindictive a part in overthrowing, and whom her military chief purposed having slain on the very spot where the Duc d'Enghien had been put to death by his (Napoleon's) orders. Of all the enemies of Napoleon and France in 1815, Prussia was the most malignant, or rather she was the only member of the Alliance which exhibited malignity.[8] She would have had France partitioned; and failed in her design only because openly opposed by Russia and England, while Austria, fearing to offend German opinion, secretly supported the Czar and Wellington. Blücher, an earnest man, was never more in earnest than when he purposed to shoot Napoleon in the ditch of Vincennes; and it required all Wellington's influence to dissuade him from so barbarous a proceeding. Yet Napoleon III. has never been able to avenge these injuries and insults,—to say nothing of Waterloo, and of the massacre of the flying French in the night after the battle, or of the shocking conduct of the Prussians in France in 1815; and the events of the current year would seem to favor, and that strongly, the opinion of those persons who say that France never will be able to obtain her long-thought-of revenge. Certainly, if Prussia was safe, Prussia with most of Germany to back her cannot be in any serious danger of being forced to drink of that cup of humiliation which Napoleon III. has commended to so many countries.

After the settlement of Europe, in 1815, Prussia did not show much of that encroaching character which is attributed to her, but was one of the most quiet of nations. This was in great measure due to the character of the king. He was of the class of heavy men, and the first part of his reign had been marked by the occurrence of troubles so numerous and so great that his original dislike of change increased to fanaticism. He was one of the framers of the Holy Alliance, which grew out of the thorough fright which he and his friend the Czar felt during the saddest days of 1813. Alexander told a Prussian clergyman, named Egbert, in 1818, that, during one of their flights before Napoleon,—probably on that doleful day when they had to retreat from Dresden, amid wind and rain, and before the French reverse at Kulm had put a good face on the affairs of the Alliance,—Frederick William III. said to him: "Things cannot go on so! we are in the direction of the east, and it is toward the west that we ought to march, that we must march. We shall, God willing, arrive there. And if, as I trust, he should bless our united efforts, we will proclaim in the face of Heaven our conviction that to Him alone belongs the honor." Thereupon, continued the Czar, "We promised, and exchanged a pressure of hands upon it with sincerity." Both monarchs evidently thought they had succeeded in bribing Heaven; for Alexander told his reverend hearer that great victories soon came; "and," said he, "when we had arrived in Paris, we had reached the end of our painful course. The king of Prussia reminded me of the holy resolution of which he had entertained the first idea; and Francis II., who had shared our views, our opinions, and our tendencies, entered willingly into the association." Such was Alexander's account of the origin of that famous league which so perplexed and alarmed our fathers. It differs from the commonly received belief as to its origin, which is, that it was the work of Alexander himself, who was inspired by Madame de Krudener, who, having "played the devil and written a novel,"—she was unfaithful to her marriage vow, and wrote "Valerio,"—naturally became devout as old age approached. It makes somewhat against the Czar's story, that the Holy Alliance was not formed till the autumn of 1815, and that he and Frederick William arrived at Paris in the spring of 1814; and that in the interval he and Francis II. came very near going to war on the Polish question. Alexander was crack-brained, and a mystic, and it is far more likely that he should have originated the Holy Alliance than that the idea should have proceeded from so wooden-headed a personage as the Prussian king, who had about as much sentiment as a Memel log. Alexander was always haunted by the thought that he had consented to the death of his father,—that, as a Greek would have said, he was pursued by the Furies; and he was constantly thinking of expiation, and seeking to propitiate the Deity, and that by means not much different in spirit from those to which savages have resort. There was much of that Tartar in him which, according to Napoleon, you will always find when you scratch a Russian.

Whether Frederick William III. suggested the Holy Alliance may be doubted; but there can be no doubt that he lived thoroughly up to its spirit, which was the spirit of intense absolutism. He broke every promise he had made to his people when he needed their aid to keep his kingdom out of the grasp of Napoleon. He became the vindictive persecutor of the men who had led his subjects in the war to rush to arms, without counting the odds they had to encounter at first. He was a despot of the old pattern, as far as a sovereign of the nineteenth century could be one. It does not appear that he acted thus from love of power for its own sake, to which so much of tyrannical action is due. In most respects he was rather a favorable specimen of the despot. His action was the consequence of circumstances, the effect of experience. He had had two or three thorough frights, and twice he had been in danger of losing his crown, and of seeing the extinction of that nation which his ancestors had been at such pains to create. If exertions of his could prevent the recurrence of such evils, they should not be wanting. As Charles II., after the Restoration of 1660, had firmly resolved on one thing, namely, that, come what would, he would not again go upon his travels, so had Frederick William III., after the restoration of his kingdom, firmly resolved that, happen what might, he would have no more wars, and that, if he could, he would keep out of politics. So he maintained peace, and kept down the politicians. Prussia flourished marvellously during the last twenty-five years of his reign; and, judging from results, his government could not have been a bad one. Under it was created that people whose recent action has astonished the world, and produced for it a new sensation. A comprehensive system of education opened the paths to knowledge to every one; and a not less comprehensive military system made every healthy man's services available to the state. There never before took the field so highly educated a force as that which has just reduced Count Bismark's policy to practice,—not even in America. There may have been as intelligent armies in the Union's service during our civil conflict as those which obeyed Prince Frederick Charles and the Crown Prince of Prussia, but as highly educated most certainly they were not.

When Friedrich von Raumer was in England, in 1835, he, at an English dinner, gave this toast: "The King of Prussia, the greatest and best reformer in Europe." That he was the "best reformer in Europe," we will not insist upon,—but that he was the greatest reformer there, we have no doubt whatever. That he was a reformer at heart, originally, no one would pretend who knows his history. He was made one by stress of circumstances. But having become a reformer, he did a great work, as contemporary history shows. He would have been content to live, and reign, and die, sovereign of just such a Prussia as he found in 1797; but, in spite of himself, he was made to effect a mightier revolution than even a French revolutionist of 1793 would have deemed it possible to accomplish. His career is the liveliest illustration that we know of the doctrine that men are the sport of circumstances.

Frederick William III. died in 1840. His son and successor, Frederick William IV., was a man of considerable ability and a rare scholar; but he was not up to his work, the more so that the age of revolutions appeared again early in his reign. He might have made himself master of all Germany in 1848, but had not the courage to act as a Prussian sovereign should have acted. He was elected Emperor by the revolutionary Diet at Frankfort, but refused the crown. A little later, under the inspiration of General Radowitz, he took up such a position as we have seen his successor fill so effectively. War with Austria seemed close at hand, and the unity of Germany might have been brought about sixteen years since had the Prussian monarch been equal to the crisis. As it was, he "backed down," and Radowitz, who was a too-early Bismark, left his place, and died at the close of 1853. The king lost his mind in 1857; and his brother William became Regent, and succeeded to the throne in 1861, on the death of Frederick William IV.

The reign of William I. will be regarded as one of the most remarkable in Prussian history. Though an old man when he took the crown, William I. has advanced the greatness of Prussia even more than it was advanced by Frederick II. His course with regard to the Danish Duchies has called forth many indignant remarks; but it is no worse than that of most other sovereigns, and stones cannot fairly be cast at him by many ruling hands. Count Bismark has been the chief minister of Prussia under William I., and to him must be attributed that policy which has carried his country, per saltum, to the highest place among the nations. He long since came to the conclusion that nothing could be done for Germany, by Germany and in Germany, till Austria should be thrust out of Germany. He was right; and he has labored to accomplish the dismissal of Austria, with a perseverance and a persistency that it would be difficult to parallel. He alone has done the deed. Had he died last May, there would have been no war in Europe this year; for nothing less than his redoubtable courage and iron will could have overcome the obstacles that existed to the commencement of the conflict.


  1. Exactly what it was Napoleon III. asked of Prussia we never have seen stated by any authority that we can quite trust. The London Times, which is likely to be well informed on the subject, assumes, in its issue of August 11th, that the Emperor asked of Prussia the restoration of the French frontier of 1814,—meaning the French frontier as it was fixed by the Treaty of Paris, on the 30th of May, immediately after the fall of Napoleon I. If this is the correct interpretation of Napoleon's demand, he asked for very little. The Treaty of Paris took from France nearly all the conquests made by the Republic and the Empire, leaving her only a few places on the side of Germany, a little territory near Geneva, portions of Savoy, and the Venaissin. After the second conquest of France, most of these remnants of her conquests were taken from her. Napoleon III. has regained what was then lost of Savoy, and he seems to have sought from Prussia the restoration of that which was lost on the side of Germany, most of which was given to Bavaria and Belgium, and the remainder to Prussia herself. What Prussia holds, he supposed she could cede to France; and as to Bavaria, he may have argued that Prussia was in such position with regard to that kingdom as to make her will law to its government. But how could she get possession of what Belgium holds? Since the failure of his attempt, the French Emperor has been at peculiar pains to assure the King of the Belgians that he has no designs on his territory; and therefore we must suppose he had none when he propounded his demand to Prussia. It may be added, that the cession of the Prussian portion of the spoil of 1815 had been a subject of speculation, and of something like negotiation, long before war between Prussia and Austria was supposed to be possible.
  2. There has been as much noise made over the needle-gun as by that famous and fascinating slaughter weapon; yet it is by no means an arm of tender years. It had been known thirty years when the recent war began, and it had been amply tested in action seventeen years before it was first directed against the Austrians, not to mention the free use that had been made of it in the Danish war. Much that has been said of its character and capabilities since last June was said in 1849, and can be found in publications of that year. The world had forgotten it, and also that Prussia could fight. Nicholas von Dreyse, inventor of the needle-gun, is now living, at the age of seventy-eight. The thought of the invention occurred to him the day after the battle of Jena, in 1806. Some six or seven years since, we read, in an English work, an elaborate argument to show that, in a great war, Prussia must be beaten, because she had no experienced commanders!—like Benedek and Clam-Gallas, for example.
  3. The entire force of the Allies at Leipzig is generally stated to have been 290,000 men; that of the French at 175,000,—making a total of 465,000, or about 45,000 more than were present at Sadowa. So the excess at Leipzig was not so very great. At Leipzig the Allies alone had more guns than both armies had at Sadowa,—but what were the cannon of those days compared to those of these times? The great force assembled in and around Leipzig was taken from almost all Europe, as there were Frenchmen, Germans, Russians, Hungarians, Bohemians, Italians, Poles, Swedes, Dutchmen, and even Englishmen, present in the two armies; whereas at Sadowa the armies were drawn only from Austria, Prussia, and Saxony. The battle of Sadowa lasted only one day; that of Leipzig four days, a large part of the Allied armies taking part only in the fighting of the third and fourth days. The French lost 68,000 men at Leipzig, the Allies, 42,640,—total, 110,640. But 30,000 of the French were prisoners, reducing the number of killed and wounded to 80,640,—which was even a good four days' work. Probably a third of these were killed or mortally wounded, as artillery was freely used in the battle. War is a great manufacturer of pabulum Acheruntis,—grave-meat, that is to say.
  4. It is impossible to speak with precision of the number of the population of Prussia. The highest number mentioned by a respectable authority is 19,000,000; but that is given in "round numbers," and is not meant to be taken literally. But if it be 19,000,000, but little more than half as large as that of Austria as it was when the war began, not much above a fourth as large as that of Russia, many millions below that of the British Islands, a few million less than that of Italy as it stood before the cession of Venetia by Austria, and a few millions more than that of Spain. The populations of Prussia and Italy when the war began were a little above 40,000,000. The populations of Austria and the German states that sided with her may have been about 50,000,000; and Austria had as much assistance from her German allies as Prussia had from the Italians,—the Saxons helping her much, showing the highest military qualities in the brief but bloody war. Had all the lesser German states preserved a strict neutrality, so that the entire Prussian force could have been directed against Austria, the Prussians would have been before Vienna, and probably in that city, in ten days from the date of Sadowa. Prussia brought out 730,000 men, or about one twenty-sixth part of her entire population.
  5. Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg, and History of Prussia during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Vol. I. pp. 91, 92.
  6. Stein was one of those eminent men who have acted as if they thought coarseness bordering upon brutality an evidence of independence of spirit and greatness of soul. He was uncivil to those beneath him, not civil to those above him, and insulting to his equals. He addressed the King of Prussia in language that no gentleman ever employs, and he berated his underlings in a style that even President Johnson might despair of equalling. He hated the Duke of Dalberg, on both public and private accounts; and when the Duke was one of the French Ambassadors at Vienna, in time of the Congress, he offered to call on the Baron. "Tell him," said Stein, "that, if he visits me as French Ambassador, he shall be well received; but if he comes as a private person, he shall be kicked down stairs." Niebuhr, the historian, once told him that he (Stein) hated a certain personage. "Hate him? No," said Stein; "but I would spit in his face were I to meet him on the street." This readiness to convert the human face into a spittoon shows that he was qualified to represent a Southern district in our Congress; for what Stein said he would do was done by Mr. Plummer of Mississippi, who spat in the face of Mr. Slade of Vermont,—the American democrat, who probably never had heard of his grandfather, getting a little beyond the German aristocrat, who could trace his ancestors back through six or seven centuries. Thus do extremes meet. In talents, in energy, in audacity, in arrogance, in firmness of will, and in unbending devotion to one great and leading purpose, Count von Bismark bears a strong resemblance to Baron von Stein, upon whom he seems to have modelled himself,—while Austrian ascendency in Germany was to him what French ascendency in that country was to his prototype, only not so productive of furious hatred, because the supremacy of Austria was offensive politically, and not personally annoying, like that of France; but Bismark, though sufficiently demonstrative in the expression of his sentiments, has never outraged propriety to the extent that it was outraged by Stein. Stein died in 1831, having lived long enough to see the in French Revolution of 1830 that a portion of his work had been done in vain. His Prussian work will endure forever, and be felt throughout the world.
  7. The Prussian loss in the battle of Waterloo was 6,998; the British loss, 6,935;—but this does not include the Germans, Dutch, and Belgians who fell on the field or were put down among the missing. Wellington's total loss was about 16,000. The number of Prussians present in the battle was much more than twice the number of Britons. The number of the latter was 23,991, with 78 guns; of the former, 51,944, with 104 guns. Almost 16,000 of the Prussians were engaged some hours before the event of the battle was decided; almost 30,000 two hours before that decision; and the remainder an hour before the Allied victory was secured. It shows how seriously the French were damaged by Prussian intervention, that Napoleon had to detach, from the army that he had intended to employ against Wellington only, 27 battalions of infantry (including 11 battalions of the Guard), 18 squadrons of cavalry, and 66 guns, making a total of about 18,000 men, or about a fourth part of his force and almost a third of his artillery. This subtraction from the army that ought to have been used in fighting Wellington would alone have suffered gravely to compromise the French; and it is well known that Napoleon felt the want of men to send against the English long before the conflict was over; and this want was the consequence of the pressure of the Prussians on his right flank, threatening to establish themselves in his rear. But this was not all the aid derived by Wellington from the Prussian advance. It was the arrival of a portion of Zieten's corps on the field of Waterloo that enabled the British commander to withdraw from his left the comparatively untouched cavalry brigades of Vivian and Vandeleur, and to station them in or near the centre of his line, where they were of the greatest use at the very "crisis" of the battle,—Vivian, in particular, doing as much as was done by any one of Wellington's officers to secure victory for his commander. The Prussians followed the flying French for hours, and had the satisfaction of giving the final blow to Napoleonism for that time. It has risen again.
  8. No one who is not familiar with the correspondence of the Allied commanders in 1815 can form an adequate idea of the ferocity which then characterized the Prussian officers. On the 27th of June General von Gneisenau, writing for Blücher, declared that Napoleon must be delivered over to the Prussians, "with a view to his execution." That, he argued, was what eternal justice demanded, and what the Declaration of March 13th decided,—alluding to the Declaration against Napoleon published by the Congress of Vienna, which, he said, and fairly enough too, put him under outlawry by the Allied powers. Doing the Duke of Wellington the justice to suppose he would be averse to hangman's work, Gneisenau, who stood next to Blücher in the Prussian service as well as in Prussian estimation, expressed his leader's readiness to free him from all responsibility in the matter by taking possession of Napoleon's person himself, and detailing the intended assassins from his own army. Wellington was astonished at such language from gentlemen, and so exerted himself that Blücher changed his mind; whereupon Gneisenau wrote that it had been Blücher's "intention to execute [murder?] Bonaparte on the spot where the Duc d'Enghien was shot; that out of deference, however, to the Duke's wishes, he will abstain from this measure; but that the Duke must take on himself the responsibility of its non-enforcement." In another letter he wrote: "When the Duke of Wellington declares himself against the execution of Bonaparte, he thinks and acts in the matter as a Briton. Great Britain is under weightier obligations to no mortal man than to this very villain; for, by the occurrences whereof he is the author, her greatness, prosperity, and wealth have attained their present elevation. The English are the masters of the seas, and have no longer to fear any rivalry, either in this dominion or the commerce of the world. It is quite otherwise with us Prussians. We have been impoverished by him. Our nobility will never be able to right itself again." There is much of the perfide Albion nonsense in this. In a letter which Gneisenau, in 1817, wrote to Sir Hudson Lowe, then Governor of St. Helena, he said: "Mille et mille fois j'ai porté mes souvenirs dans cette vaste solitude de l'océan, et sur ce rocher interessant sur lequel vous êtes le gardien du repos public de l'Europe. De votre vigilance et de votre force de caractère dépend notre salut; dès que vous vous relâchez de vos mesures de rigueur contre le plus rusé scélérat du monde, dès que vous permettriez à vos subalternes de lui accorder par une pitié mal entendue des faveurs, notre repos serait compromis, et les honnêtes gens en Europe s'abandonneraient à leurs anciennes inquiétudes." An amusing instance of his prejudice occurs in another part of the same letter, where he says: "Le fameux manuscrit de Ste. Hélène a fait une sensation scandaleuse et dangereuse en Europe, surtout en France, où, quóiqu'il ait été supprimé, il a été lu dans toutes les coteries de Paris, et où même les femmes, au lieu nuits à le copier." Gneisenau was in this country in his youth,—one of those Hessians who were bought by George III. to murder Americans who would not submit to his crazy tyranny. That was an excellent school in which to learn the creed of assassins; for there was not a Hessian in the British service who was not as much a bravo as any ruffian in Italy who ever sold his stiletto's service to some cowardly vengeance-seeker. It ought, in justice, to be added, that Sir Walter Scott states that in 1816 "there existed a considerable party in Britain who were of opinion that the British government would best have discharged their duty to France and Europe by delivering up Napoleon to Louis XVIII.'s government, to be treated as he himself had treated the Duc d'Enghien." So that the Continent did not monopolize the assassins of that time.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.