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HE Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 was undoubtedly one of the most
important struggles of modern times, whether as to its immediate results, or its probable consequences in the future. It has materially affected the balance of power in Europe. It has removed the seat of military predominance from France to Germany. It has annulled some of the most important conquests of Louis XIV. It has aggrandised the Teutonic at the expense of the Celtic race. It has shattered one Empire and restored another; given renewed opportunity for the great Republican experiment of France; and prematurely ripened a number of political and social problems which have been gathering force for years, but which now imperiously demand attention, on pain of terrible convul
sions if they be undervalued or set aside. The great contest which we have recently witnessed may be said to have terminated the first act of that period of renewed military development which began, at the close of 1851, with the coup d'état of Louis Napoleon. During the thirty-six years which had elapsed since the peace of 1815, Europe had enjoyed an epoch of repose, untroubled by great wars, scarcely disturbed even by rumours of war. Many dangerous questions slept beneath the surface; but men were content to suppose that they would sleep there for ever. The revival of the Napoleonic tradition roused the nations from their apathy. It was taken for granted that, with a Buonaparte at the head of affairs, France would again become the most aggressive Power on the Continent. The event proved that this was an idle fear; for, of the only two European wars of the Second Empire, previous to the final contest (which was the effect of an old antagonism wherewith dynastic considerations had little to do), the first had for its object the restraining of Russian ambition and the maintenance of the status quo, while the second was directed towards the emancipation of a grand historic race from a barbarian thraldom which had long outraged the moral sense of the world. Yet it is certain that the election of the Prince President to a ten years' dictatorship, and his subsequent elevation to the Imperial dignity, excited in the principal European Governments (including even our own) a sense of apprehension, resulting in the enormous armaments to which we are now accustomed. Thence, by a slow but certain process, ensued the extraordinary aggrandisement of the Hohenzollerns as the most formidable military chieftains of the earth ; and the mutual jealousy of France and Prussia, on this very ground of armed predominance, led to the war which created Germany, and, for the time at least, ruined France. It is not too much to say that the effect of that war has been to transfer the leadership of the Continental States from Paris to Berlin.
It was fortunate for the historian that this portentous war was described with a greater fulness and particularity than any other that has ever occurred. Several gentlemen of the highest ability, the most trained powers of observation, and the most admirable devotion to their difficult and often perilous work, were sent out by all the chief journals (English and foreign), and reported the great events of the war, and even its minor characteristics, with a