15 MAY 1880, Page 6


WE are not quite sure that the constitution of modern society does not expose great statesmen to a new and very dangerous form of temptation. They are as great, or greater, than they have ever been, but they are apt to think themselves greater than they are. It is not necessary, we suppose, to argue that, for all Tennyson may sing, the " individual " does not "dwindle," for this generation, the men between thirty and sixty years of age, have never known a time when some indivi- dual was not of the last importance to the European world. Napoleon, Nicholas, Palmerston, Cavour, Garibaldi, Pio Nono, Bismarck, Thiers, Gambetta, Beaconsfield, Gladstone,—since 1848, for thirty-two years, human affairs have been affected, first of all, by a series of great and distinctive individualities, the disappearance of each of which has made, or would make, a perceptible blank in current history. Suppose Bismarcl; had not lived, or Thiers had died at sixty The great man is very great still, but he is becoming very conscious of greatness. The modern machinery of publicity makes of the world a colossal sounding-board for his voice. Every, word he utters, the rustle of every movement he makes, however slight, comes back to him in such a volume of reverberating sound, and is followed by such a roar of applause or blame, that it is hardly discreditable to him to feel that he himself must be a giant, and a giant among Lilliputians, to make such a mighty commotion. He laughs, and the echoes sound as if the world were happy ; he swears, and the echoes roar as if the world were groaning with alarm. If it continues, as in Prince Bis- marck's case the reverberation has continued, for years on end, he begins to think himself not only great, but necessary ; not only a force, but a pivot round which human affairs, or at all events affairs in his own country, must necessarily turn. Thiers made that mistake in a very marked way, and believed that when- ever he threatened to resign, opposition would disappear, till at last he was taken at his word, and disappeared himself, instead of the opposition. There was a trace of the same tendency in Lord Palmerston, till his fall after the Conspiracy Bill took it out of him ; and in Lord Beaconsfield, though with this last it was not shown in threats of resignation, but in decisions to take the bit in his own teeth, as in his anti-Irish manifesto, and rush through the universe all alone. The tendency is, however, most manifest in Prince Bismarck, for in him it exaggerates an inherent disposition. Out of his nature, he thinks himself great and others little, and he has listened for fourteen years to a reverberating roar produced by his sayings and acts which has naturally, and almost necessarily, confirmed his confidence in his own giantship. When he has sneezed, the heavens have been full of the thunder ; and how could that be unless he were very big, and the sapphire vault very small, and the remainder of mankind quite little creatures?

One must be very great, or the waters would not stir so much at every ordinary stroke of the swimmer, when he is only, as he thinks, swimming. This illusion, which is not his fault, but only a result of the constitution of modern society, which has perfected its dwelling-house into a vast and ringing auditorium, has so nearly mastered the German Chancellor, that he evidently thinks himself the pivot of the German Empire.

Without him, it must fall ; and so, being fretful and worried by many things, and perhaps inwardly disappointed,—for, after all, it is not nice for a "World Hero" to feel that if he goes for a stroll in the kingdom he has built he will probably be killed,—he no longer takes the trouble to argue down, or reason down, or even live down opposition. He just says he shall go, and expects that to be sufficient. If the central pole breaks or shakes, the tent, though never so big, must come down with a rush. He used to speak brilliantly, and reason convincingly, and act with magnificent energy, but now he applies a less troublesome method to all difficult contingencies.

If the Hohenzollern disapproves' Prince Bismarck sends in his resignation. If the Prussian Cabinet mutters mutiny, he makes his newspapers talk of his resignation. If the Federal Council rejects a stamp-tax, he publishes his resignation. And if the Reichstag will not break the Constitution at his bidding, he goes down, for the only time in the Session, and openly declares that only one argument is necessary, and that is his resignation. He hardly pretended, in his speech of Satur- day, to use any other. He did, indeed, say that to abolish a Free City would be unconstitutional, but that to reduce its area was constitutional ; but the argument was a little too gro- tesque, and he abandoned it to tell the House that he was always labouring for Germany, that her unity was not complete, that without him the Empire would not be safe, and that he was utterly weary of being opposed at every step. He would go, and if he did go, he said, with an angry glance at the Liberals, he would advise the Emperor to appoint a Government of the Right, and how would they like that He would not have so much opposition, or, indeed, so much debate,—or he would depart. "Settle the affairs of the Empire to your own satis- faction only do not ask for my co-operation, if each of you feels himself justified and called upon to call in question the foundations of the Empire." Nobody had questioned the foundations of the Empire, but some had questioned whether Prince Bismarck had interpreted constitutional law aright,— and that, in his opinion, was the same thing. This attitude of the German Chancellor has an interest for Europe, .apart from the light it throws upon his individual character. That will always remain interesting, as the char- acter of one who in everything, even in the wens and warts of his mind, has about him something Titanic, something that suggests Thor, who if he essays to drink the sea, will not empty it, but will make a visible impression ; but there is to-day a more pressing reason -for close observation of his words. Is it not possible—we suggest it with all diffidence—that Prince Bis- marck is wearing out his popularity, and undermining the ulti- mate foundation of his-perwer,—the love and confidence of the German people4 There mast be some awe, to make that kind of love complete, and Jove in a pet is not awful. The Em- peror, very aged, very patient, and very greatly disturbed by what he thinks the strange sway of the modern world towards anarchy, adheres with a fine fidelity to his great servant, who must try him sometimes, if he is like other Kings, almost unendurably. The smaller potentates wait upon him humbly, the strongest of them, Bavaria, having changed her repre- sentative in the Federal Council because the Chancellor condescended to give him a verbal setting-down. The Executive Ministers obey him implicitly, though with a sort of reluctance which every now and then draws from the Chan- cellor some fiery word. But, nevertheless, there are entire classes and bodies of the people with whom his popularity has long been decaying. The Conservatives never heartily trust him. The entire body of Catholics, a third of the whole population, look on him as an enemy. The lower masses, the artisans, the factory hands, and the miners, are becoming Socialist in politics, mainly in antipathy to his system. The Free Towns, the petty States, the great municipalities all resent his disposition to whittle away their privileges and their separateness, and with the Free Towns go nearly all those deeply engaged in foreign trade. This is a very great body of opinion, and it is reflected, with some faithfulness, in Parlia- ment, where the Prince has this Session suffered several serious rebuffs. His South Sea Trading Bill was openly thrown out, though he sent down a message that he had it much at heart. His coming Tobacco Bill was anticipated by a resolution, apparently in the air, but really directed ad* hoc, that no such proposal would be acceptable. And now this Bill for transferring part of Hamburg to Altona, and putting the Customs line below Hamburg, instead of above it—that is, subjecting Hamburg trade to the incon- venience of perpetual search—after the Prince had himself spoken and himself threatened resignation, has been "sent. back to the Committee "—the German form of the English order that a Bill be read six months hence. These things look as if the Chancellor had wearied out the parties, and as if his threat of retiring had begun to lose its force. We do not say it has lost it. We can hardly think of any proposal, except, perhaps, a heavy increase of direct taxation, to which Germany would not listen, rather than finally lose the services of her hero ; but still there are signs of growing impatience, of annoyance under needless pressure, of doubt whether, after all, the Empire is supported only by one man. No doubt, Prince Bismarck could still dissolve with a full certainty that a majority would be returned in his name ; but a dissolution cannot be ordered every day, and representatives, however faithful, grow restless and angry when denied their freedom even of debate. There are clouds gathering about Prince Bismarck, and perhaps the most serious of them is this,—that opposition now rouses in him such fretful anger. He has grown too great in his own eyes to laugh, when a laugh would often extinguish dangerous hostility.