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Title: Throne-Makers
Release Date: 2019-02-10
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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Books by William Roscoe Thayer

THE DAWN OF ITALIAN INDEPENDENCE: Italy from the Congress ofVienna, 1814, to the Fall of Venice, 1849. In the series onContinental History. With maps. 2 vols. crown 8vo, $4.00.

THRONE-MAKERS. Papers on Bismarck, Napoleon III., Kossuth,Garibaldi, etc. 12mo, $1.50.

POEMS, NEW AND OLD. 16mo, $1.00.


Boston and New York.

Title page



The Riverside Press, Cambridge





Since 1789 every European people has been busy making a throne, or seatof government and authority, from which its ruler might preside. Thesethrones have been of many patterns, to correspond to the diversity intastes of races, parties, and times. Often, the business of destroyingseems to have left no leisure for building. In England alone have menlearned how to remodel a throne without disturbing its occupant; as wein America raise or move large houses without interrupting the dailylife of the families who dwell in them.

To portray the personality of some of the conspicuous Throne-Makersof the century is the purpose of the following studies. I have wishedto show just enough of the condition of the countries under review toenable the reader to understand what Bismarck, or Napoleon III, orKossuth, or Garibaldi, achieved. I have been brief, and yet I trustthat this method has afforded scope for exhibiting that influence ofthe individual on the multitude which—however our partial science maytry to belittle it—was never more strikingly illustrated than by suchcareers as these in our own time.

The group of Portraits which follow require no special introduction.In the “Tintoret” and “Giordano Bruno” I have brought together ascompactly as possible, for the convenience of English readers, whatlittle is known about these two men. Berti’s work on Bruno, from whichI have drawn largely, deserves a wider recognition than it has receivedoutside of Italy; whoever reads it will regret that that eminentscholar was prevented from completing his volume on Bruno’s philosophy.The sketch of Bryant was written in 1894, that of Carlyle in 1895, onthe occasion of their centenaries.

My thanks are due to the proprietors of The Atlantic Monthly,The Forum, and The American Review of Reviews for permission toreprint such of the following articles as originally appeared in thoseperiodicals.

W. R. T.

8 Berkeley Street, Cambridge,

December 8, 1898.


Napoleon III44
Giordano Bruno252



One by one the nations of the world come to their own, have free playfor their faculties, express themselves, and eventually pass onwardinto silence. Our age has beheld the elevation of Prussia. Well may weask, “What has been her message? What the path by which she climbedinto preëminence?” That she would reach the summit, the work ofFrederick the Great in the last century, and of Stein at the beginningof this, portended. It has been Bismarck’s mission to amplify andcomplete their task. Through him Prussia has come to her own. What,then, does she express?

The Prussians have excelled even the Romans in the art of turning meninto machines. Set a Yankee down before a heap of coal and another ofiron, and he will not rest until he has changed them into an implementto save the labor of many hands; the Prussian takes flesh and blood,and the will-power latent therein, and converts them into a machine.Such soldiers, such government clerks, such administrators, have neverbeen manufactured elsewhere. Methodical, punctilious, thorough,4are those officers and officials. The government which makes themrelies not on sudden spurts, but on the cumulative force of habit. Itsubstitutes rule for whim; it suppresses individual spontaneity, unlessthis can be transformed into energy for the great machine to use. ThatPrussian system takes a turnip-fed peasant, and in a few months makesof him a military weapon, the length of whose stride is prescribed incentimetres—a machine which presents arms to a passing lieutenant withas much gravity and precision as if the fate of Prussia hinged on thatspecial act. It takes the average tradesman’s son, puts him into theeducational mill, and brings him out a professor,—equipped even to thespectacles,—a nonpareil of knowledge, who fastens on some subject,great or small, timely or remote, with the dispassionate persistence ofa leech; and who, after many years, revolutionizes our theory of Greekroots, or of microbes, or of religion. Patient and noiseless as theearthworm, this scholar accomplishes a similarly incalculable work.

A spirit of obedience, which on its upper side passes into deferencenot always distinguishable from servility, and on its lower side isnot always free from arrogance, lies at the bottom of the Prussiannature. Except in India, caste has nowhere had more power. ThePrussian does not5 chafe at social inequality, but he cannot enduresocial uncertainty; he must know where he stands, if it be only on thebootblack’s level. The satisfaction he gets from requiring from thosebelow him every scrape and nod of deference proper to his positionmore than compensates him for the deference he must pay to those abovehim. Classification is carried to the fraction of an inch. Everybody,be he privy councilor or chimney-sweep, is known by his office. Ona hotel register you will see such entries as “Frau X, widow of aschool-inspector,” or “Fräulein Y, niece of an apothecary.”

This excessive particularization, which amuses foreigners, enables thePrussian to lift his hat at the height appropriate to the positionoccupied by each person whom he salutes. It naturally developsacuteness in detecting social grades, and a solicitude to show theproper degree of respect to superiors and to expect as much frominferiors,—a solicitude which a stranger might mistake for servilityor arrogance, according as he looked up or down. Yet, amid a punctilioso stringent, fine-breeding—the true politeness which we associatewith the word “gentleman”—rarely exists; for a gentleman cannot bemade by the rank he holds, which is external, but only by qualitieswithin himself.

6Nevertheless, these Prussians—so unsympathetic and rude compared withtheir kinsmen in the south and along the Rhine, not to speak of racesmore amiable still—kept down to our own time a strength and tenacityof character that intercourse with Western Europeans scarcely affected.Frederick the Great tried to graft on them the polished arts and thegrace of the French: he might as well have decorated the granitefaces of his fortresses with dainty Parisian wall-paper. But when hetouched the dominant chord of his race,—its aptitude for system,—hehad a large response. The genuine Prussian nature embodied itselfin the army, in the bureaucracy, in state education, through all ofwhich its astonishing talent for rules found congenial exercise. Onedissipation, indeed, the Prussians allowed themselves, earlier inthis century,—they reveled in Hegelianism. But even here they weretrue to their instinct; for the philosophy of Hegel commended itselfto them because it assumed to reduce the universe to a system, and topigeon-hole God himself.

We see, then, the elements out of which Prussia grew to be a strongstate, not yet large in population, but compact and carefullyorganized. Let us look now at Germany, of which she formed a part.

7We are struck at once by the fact that until 1871 Germany had nopolitical unity. During the centuries when France, England, and Spainwere being welded into political units by their respective dynasties,the great Teutonic race in Central Europe escaped the unifying process.The Holy Roman Empire—at best a reminiscence—was too weak to preventthe rise of many petty princedoms and duchies and of a few largestates, whose rulers were hereditary, whereas the emperor was elective.Thus particularism—what we might call states’ rights—flourished,to the detriment of national union. At the end of the last century,Germany had four hundred independent sovereigns: the most powerfulbeing the King of Prussia; the weakest, some knight whose realmembraced but a few hundred acres, or some free city whose jurisdictionwas bounded by its walls. When Napoleon, the great simplifier, reducedthe number of little German states, he had no idea of encouraging theformation of a strong, coherent German Empire. To guard against this,which might menace the supremacy of France, he created the kingdomsof Bavaria and Westphalia, and set up the Confederation of the Rhine.After his downfall the German Confederation was organized,—a weakinstitution, consisting of thirty-nine members, whose common affairswere regulated8 by a Diet which sat at Frankfort. Representation inthis Diet was so unequal that Austria and Prussia, with forty-twomillion inhabitants, had only one eighth of the votes, while the smallstates, with but twelve million inhabitants, had seven eighths. Fourtiny principalities, with two hundred and fifty thousand inhabitantseach, could exactly offset Prussia with eight millions. By a similaranomaly, Nevada and New York have an equal representation in the UnitedStates Senate.

From 1816 to 1848 Austria ruled the Diet. Yet Austria was herselfan interloper in any combination of German states, for her Germansubjects, through whom she gained admission to the Diet, numberedonly four millions; but her prestige was augmented by the backing ofher thirty million non-German subjects besides. Prussia fretted atthis Austrian supremacy, fretted, and could not counteract it. Besidethe Confederation, which so loosely bound the German particulariststogether, there was a Customs Union, which, though simply commercial,fostered among the Germans the idea of common interests. The spirit ofnationality, potent everywhere, awakened also in the Germans a visionof political unity, but for the most part those who beheld the visionwere unpractical; the men of action, the rulers, opposed a scheme whichenfolded among its possibilities9 the curtailing of their autocracythrough the adoption of constitutional government. No state held morerigidly than Prussia the tenets of absolutism.

Great, therefore, was the general surprise, and among Liberals thejoy, at the announcement, in February, 1847, that the King of Prussiahad consented to the creation of a Prussian Parliament. He grantedto it hardly more power than would suffice for it to assemble andadjourn; but even this, to the Liberals thirsty for a constitution,was as the first premonitory raindrops after a long drought. Among themembers of this Parliament, or Diet, was a tall, slim, blond-bearded,massive-headed Brandenburger, thirty-two years old, who sat as proxyfor a country gentleman. A few of his colleagues recognized him as Ottovon Bismarck; the majority had never heard of him.

Bismarck was born at Schönhausen, Prussia, April 1, 1815. His paternalancestors had been soldiers back to the time when they helped todefend the Brandenburg March against the inroads of Slav barbarians.His mother was the daughter of an employee in Frederick the Great’sWar Office. Thus, on both sides his roots were struck in true Prussiansoil. At the age of six he was placed in a Berlin boarding-school, ofwhich he10 afterward ridiculed the “spurious Spartanism;” at twelvehe entered a gymnasium, where for five years he pursued the usualcourse of studies,—an average scholar, but already noteworthy forhis fine physique; at seventeen he went up to the University atGöttingen. In the life of a Prussian, there is but one period betweenthe cradle and the grave during which he escapes the restraints ofiron-grooved routine: that period comprises the years he spends atthe university. There a strange license is accorded him. By day heswaggers through the streets, leering at the women and affronting themen; by night he carouses. And from time to time he varies the monotonyof drinking-bouts by a duel. Such, at least, was the life of theuniversity student in Bismarck’s time. At Göttingen, and subsequentlyat Berlin, he had the reputation of being the greatest beer-drinkerand the fiercest fighter; yet he must also have studied somewhat,for in due time he received his degree in law, and became officialreporter in one of the Berlin courts. Then he served

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