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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Prince von Bismarck

  • [Carl Otto, Prince von Bismarck-Schönhausen, a distinguished Prussian statesman; born at Brandenburg, 1813; member of the Diet, 1847; ambassador to St. Petersburg, 1859; to Paris, 1862; prime minister in that year; chancellor of the North-German Confederation, 1867; of the German Empire, 1871.]
  • Blood and iron.

  • In a letter from St. Petersburg to Baron von Schleinitz, the Prussian minister of foreign affairs, May 12, 1859, Bismarck wrote, “I see in our relations with the Bund [the old German Confederation, at the head of which stood Austria] a fault of Prussia’s, which we must cure sooner or later ferro et igne” (Ich sehe in unserm Bundesverhältnisse ein Gebrechen Preussens, welches wir früher oder später “ferro et igne” werden heilen müssen). This letter only saw the light in 1866, when Prussia applied the cure to her Bund-relation ferro et igne. He had already made a public use of the words in a speech before the Budget Commission of the Prussian House of Delegates, Sept. 30, 1862: “It is desirable and necessary that the condition of affairs in Germany and of her constitutional relations should be improved; but it cannot be accomplished by speeches and resolutions of a majority, but only by iron and blood” (Die deutschen Zustände und Verfassungsverhältnisse zu verbessern ist wünschenswerth und nothwendig, was jedoch nicht durch Majoritätsbeschlüsse, Reden, u. s. w., sondern nur durch Eisen und Blut bewirkt werden kann). There was, however, nothing original in the expression. Quintilian speaks of slaughter as meaning blood and iron (cædes videtur significare sanguinem et ferrum).—Declamationes. Arndt, the soul-stirrer of the “War of Liberation,” had introduced the words to a German audience,—
  • “Zwar der Tapfere nennt sich Herr der Länder
  • Durch sein Eisen, durch sein Blut”
  • Lehre an den Menschen: 5.
  • Schenkendorf, in “Das Eiserne Kreuz,” declared that only iron and blood could save his countrymen; and Heine, in manuscript memoranda found after his death, anticipated the “healing” as well as the “blood and iron” in Bismarck’s letter to von Schleinitz; for he said that “Napoleon healed through fire and iron the sick nation.”
  • Somewhat similar was Bismarck’s remark, expressive of his dislike of political speeches, concerning the popular indignation excited by Manteuffel’s arrangement with Austria during an insurrection of the people of Hesse-Cassel against the government in 1850, “Better pointed bullets than pointed speeches,” (Lieber Spitzkugeln als Spitzreden).
  • He used a striking equivalent for cannon-balls, when speaking in Parliament at another time of the insufficiency of debates: “The decision will come only from God, from the God of battles, when he lets fall from his hand the iron dice of destiny.”
  • Bismarck denied on four different occasions, from 1866 to 1875, the use of the expression “Might before Right” (Macht geht vor Recht), which was imputed to him in the House of Deputies in 1863.
  • In the same debate in which he used the words “iron and blood,” he said, “We have too many critics of government, too many parliamentary candidates, too many Catilinarian existences” (zu viele catilinarische Existenzen): this latter phrase had already been employed as the title of a romance by Theodore König (Breslau, 1854, “A Catilinarian Existence”), being meant in both cases to express an existence supported by conspiracy.
  • The definition of a newspaper-writer, that he is “a man who has failed in his career,” although not given in that form by Bismarck, is derived from a remark of his to a deputation from Rügen to the king, Nov. 10, 1862; to the members of which he said a few days previously, “An amicable relation between the government and the House of Deputies is rendered impossible by the opposition press, which is in the hands of malecontents who have failed in their career.” With this may be compared Disraeli’s well-known observation in “Lothair,” that “a critic is a man who has failed in literature and the arts.”
  • Only one other saying belongs to this period of Bismarck’s life, but that is the earliest in point of time: it is significant of his own “Junker” politics, and may have recommended him at the outset of his career to the favor of a prince who was to claim during a long reign the authority of divine right. Bismarck declared in the Prussian Parliament in 1847, that “the Prussian sovereigns are in possession of a crown, not by the grace of the people, but by God’s grace.”
  • A great unrecognized Incapacity.

  • While minister to Paris for a short time in 1862, he studied the men with whom he was afterwards to deal, and mystified the official world by his undiplomatic frankness. He easily read the character of Napoleon III., whose silence had imposed upon the French people, and of whom the English ambassador, Lord Cowley, had said, “He never speaks, and always lies” (Il ne parle jamais, et il ment toujours). Events were to prove the justice of Bismarck’s verdict, “He is a great unrecognized Incapacity” (une grande incapacité inconnue). It was more accurate than the judgment which the Prussian’s apparent levity caused the emperor to pass upon him,—“He is not a serious man” (Ce n’est pas un homme sérieux); a judgment “of which,” said Bismarck, “I naturally did not remind him at the weaver’s of Donchery,” where, after the battle of Sedan, the emperor surrendered himself to the king of Prussia, and discussed with Bismarck the terms of capitulation. Thiers said later of the Prussian chancellor, “He is an amiable barbarian” (C’est un barbare aimable); and Francis Joseph of Austria, hearing him criticised after the battle of Sadowa had destroyed the hegemony of Austria in the Germanic Confederation, exclaimed, “Oh, if I had but him!”
  • His “Junker” politics, by which is to be understood the “high and dry” conservatism of the landed nobility, is illustrated by a remark, which he made during this time concerning constitutional government, that it was “democracy in its Sunday best” (la démocratie endimanchée).
  • While in Paris, Bismarck accused Thiers of sulking with his friends and his books, instead of taking that part in public affairs, even under the Second Empire, to which his ability and previous career would entitle him. “Be minister,” said the Prussian, “and we will between us re-make the map of Europe.” When the map of Europe was re-made in 1871, it was not “between them,” in the sense of 1862.
  • Even Bismarck’s slightest remarks at this time were considered afterwards as prophetic. Walking one day with the emperor on the terrace of St. Germain, he saw the dome of the Invalides shining on the distant horizon. “It looks,” he observed, “like a gilded Prussian helmet” (il ressemble à un casque prussien doré).
  • If Italy did not exist, it would be necessary to invent her.

  • To Chevalier Nigra, minister of Italy to Paris; of the tendency of Napoleon III. to encourage Italy, and thus, by opposing Austria, to assist unwittingly the purpose of Bismarck to humble the leader of the Germanic Confederation, which occurred in 1866. The expression is derived from a line of Voltaire’s, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him” (Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer).—Epître à l’Auteur du Livre des Trois Imposteurs. It also occurs in a letter of Voltaire to Frederick, Prince Royal of Prussia. “Seldom,” wrote the poet later, “am I satisfied with my lines; but I confess that I feel for this one the tenderness of a father.” A similar thought occurs in a sermon of Archbishop Tillotson: “If God were not a necessary Being of himself, he might almost seem to be made for the use and benefit of mankind.” Goethe declared, “If there be not a God, there will be some day;” that the necessity of a Supreme Being must be sooner or later acknowledged. Millaud borrowed Voltaire’s line in voting for the death of Louis XVI.: “If death did not exist to-day, it would be necessary to invent it” (Aujourd’hui si la mort n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer).
  • France took no part in the struggle which broke out between Prussia and Austria in the summer of 1866, but hoped to gain by it some territorial acquisition, however slight, rather than come out of it empty-handed. Some one compared the policy of Napoleon III. to a man who should profit by an eruption of Vesuvius to boil an egg. Bismarck accused France of pursuing “a policy of pour-boire,” the smallest favor being gratefully received (la France fait une politique de pour-boire).
  • At the close of the “six-weeks’ war,” Prussia found herself at the head of the North-German Confederation, which had taken the place of the old Bund. Bismarck expressed the new position of Germany by saying in the Parliament of the Confederation, March 11, 1867, “Let us put Germany, so to speak, into the saddle! You will see that she can ride” (Setzen wir Deutschland, so zu sagen, in den Sattel! Reiten wird es schon können). Of similar character was the reply of the Liberal leader, Herr Lasker, to Bismarck, in the Reichstag, session of 1881, “Germany has reached her majority.”
  • The chancellor said in the Zoll Parliament, May 18, 1868, “An appeal to fear never finds an echo in German hearts” (Ein Appell an die Furcht findet im deutschen Herzen niemals ein Echo).
  • “Liberalism,” he once declared, “is only nonsense, which it is easy to bring to reason; but revolution is a force which it is necessary to know how to use.”
  • In 1862, during a struggle between the Prussian parliament and the government, he showed that he had in mind the fate of Strafford after a resort to force, by saying, “Death on the scaffold under certain circumstances is as honorable as death on the battle-field.”
  • Some deviations from strict veracity led Bismarck to declare in the Prussian Upper House, Feb. 13, 1869, “It will soon come to be said, ‘He lies like the telegraph.’” Napoleon’s bulletins, especially those from the Russian campaign, made “To lie like a bulletin” a proverbial expression.
  • I am going to let Paris stew in her own gravy.

  • Attributed to Bismarck during the siege of Paris, 1870–71. The Duke of Alva asserted that the Low Countries were fat enough to be stewed in their own liquor. Bismarck may have thought of a French proverb, “cuire dans son jus,” and of the remark of a great epicurean at dinner, that “with such a gravy one could eat his own father” (avec une pareille sauce on mangerait son père). In Ward’s “London Spy,” IX., p. 219, 1709, quoted in “Notes and Queries,” a writer describes a bath at the Hummums, Covent Garden: “The landlord relieved us out of our purgatory (the tepidarium), and carried us to our own dressing-rooms, which gave us much refreshment after we had been stewing in our own gravy.” Shakespeare speaks of “melting Falstaff in his own grease” (“Merry Wives of Windsor,” II. 1); and Chaucer,—
  • “That in his owen grise I made him frie.”
  • We find many sayings attributed to Bismarck during the memorable campaign of 1870–71. The pretext for war was found in the suggestion by Prussia of Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern as a suitable candidate for the throne of Spain: his hesitation and subsequent refusal of the honor prompted Bismarck to say contemptuously, “A sub-lieutenant does not have the offer of a crown every day” (On n’offre pas tous les jours une couronne à un sous-lieutenant).
  • Busch in his gossipy book, “Bismarck und Seine Leute,” records many of the chancellor’s mots during this time. Thus he said one day concerning religion, during his table-talk, “Were I no longer a Christian, I would not remain at my post an hour” (Wenn ich nicht mehr Christ wäre, bliebe ich keine Stunde mehr auf meinem Posten); and again, “Take away my connection with and relationship to God (den Zusammenhang mit Gott), and I should pack up to-morrow, and return to sow oats at Varzin.”
  • He expressed his contempt for worldly considerations, “Orders and titles do not attract me” (reizen mich nicht). It was remarked when he was younger that he often wore a simple medal as his decoration. Asked the reason of this modest display, he replied, “I am in the habit of sometimes saving a man’s life.” It was the Prussian Safety Medal, given to reward attempts to rescue drowning persons, etc.
  • The struggle which, even in 1870, had declared itself between himself and the Ultramontanes, prompted him to say of some sharp retaliatory measure, “I am accustomed to pay men back in their own coin” (Ich bin gewohnt in die Münze wiederzuzahlen, in dem man mich bezahlt). Thus Sulla wrote as his own epitaph, “No man ever did me so much good, or enemy so much harm, but I repaid him with interest.”
  • Other sayings relate to the French, during the march to Paris and the subsequent siege. Thus he declared Apollo to be the true type of a Frenchman, “who will not own that another plays the flute better or even so well as himself.”
  • The barbarous conduct of the French soldiers, many of them brought from Algiers, caused him to paraphrase Napoleon’s famous mot, “Scratch a Russian, and you will find a Tartar:” “Strip off the white skin from such a Gaul, and you will find a Turco” (Zieht man einem solchen Gallier die weisse Haut ab, so hat man einen Turco vor sich).
  • In discussing with Jules Favre, in 1871, the terms of the surrender of Paris, Bismarck said that in politics personal preferences must be sacrificed to the public good, rather than forced upon the country, which “should be served, not coerced” (la patrie veut être servie et pas dominée). Busch says that this observation made a great impression upon Favre, who replied, “C’est bien juste, monsieur le comte, c’est profond;” and then uttered what Busch characterizes as a bêtise, “Still it is a fine sight to see a man who has never changed his principles.” Belmontet, a French writer, declares, on the other hand, “The absurd man is he who never changes.”
  • When two hundred million francs were offered as an indemnity, together with the surrender of Paris, Bismarck observed, “Paris is too great a personage that we should treat it in so shabby a manner: let us do it the honor of a milliard” (one thousand millions).
  • During the negotiations for peace after the fall of Paris, M. Thiers complained that Bismarck insisted upon speaking German, which the French statesman did not understand. The chancellor explained it by saying, “When I discuss with men with whom I expect to come ultimately to an understanding, I speak their language; but when I see that it is useless to discuss with them, I speak my own.”
  • We are not going to Canossa (Nach Canossa gehen wir nicht).

  • In the German Reichstag, May 14, 1872; of the struggle between the clerical or Ultramontane party, and the government, which resulted in the passage of the laws proposed by Dr. Falk, minister of education and worship, hence called “the Falk Laws.” They prohibited the exercise of ecclesiastical functions by persons appointed by the Pope but disapproved by the State, or by persons who refused to take the required oaths before the civil authority. The parliamentary struggle was known as the Kulturkampf, or “culture-contest,” an expression which was first used by Professor Virchow, deputy from Berlin, in an electoral programme of the Progressist party, of which he is a distinguished member: he afterwards explained it by saying that the contest was not merely a religious one, but involved man’s entire intellectual and moral culture. The allusion to Canossa in Bismarck’s mot indicated his intention of not yielding to the clerical party. It referred to the celebrated penance of the emperor Henry IV. during the struggle for supremacy between Germany and Rome. The emperor replied to a summons to appear at Rome to answer charges of misgovernment, by deposing the Supreme Pontiff. Gregory VII. then excommunicated Henry, and fixed a day, when, if still unrepentant, he should cease to reign. Deserted by his subjects, the emperor was compelled to accept the Pope’s terms; and, crossing the Alps, he appeared in the dead of winter before the gates of the castle of Canossa, among the mountains of Modena, in Italy. Knocking at the door, and admitted within the gate, he waited in the space between the first and second walls, standing barefooted in the snow, and fasted until evening. He returned on each of the two following days to the same place; and only on the morning of the fourth day, Jan. 25, 1077, was he admitted to the Pope’s presence, where he swore to be faithful to the command of the Church. “That one scene,” says Bryce, “was enough to mark a decisive change, and inflict an irretrievable disgrace on the crown so debased. Its wearer could no more claim to be the highest power on earth.”—Holy Roman Empire. The struggle for the right of appointment to sees within the dominions of secular princes, which, being repeated in 1872, gave point to Bismarck’s refusal to imitate the example of Henry IV., lasted far beyond the lives of the original parties to the contest. Henry died miserably, dethroned by a son whom the Pope’s hatred of the emperor had raised in rebellion. Twenty years previously, in 1085, Hildebrand passed away at Salerno, bitterly exclaiming with his latest breath, “I have loved justice, and hated iniquity: therefore I die in exile” (dilexi justitiam, et odivi iniquitatem; propterea morior in exilio).
  • In 1877 a monument, called the “Bismarck Stone,” containing a likeness of the chancellor in bas-relief, and the words “Nach Canossa gehen wir nicht,” was erected by private subscription on the spot near Harzburg, where Henry IV. took the road to Italy. The appointment, however, in 1882, of Heir von Schlözer to be Prussian minister at the Vatican, together with such a modification of the Falk Laws as would indicate a cessation of the Kulturkampf, on terms not to have been expected in 1872, prompted the suggestion of one of the Liberal journals of Berlin, “All change here for Canossa.”
  • Beati possidentes!

  • The full sentence is, “Beati in jure consentur possidentes.” It is contained in commentaries on the civil law, and is equivalent to, “Possession is nine points of the law.” With this meaning it was applied by Prince Bismarck to the status of the Christian provinces of Turkey after the war with Russia, and especially to the occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Austria. Mr. Gladstone said in an interview with the correspondent of a German newspaper in 1880, “Whoever understands the meaning of the English phrase, ‘Hands off!’ will be able to understand my line of policy towards the liberated Slavic population.” He wished them to build up their states without foreign occupation: Bismarck would have encouraged their development as provinces of that empire to which the Treaty of Berlin had assigned them.
  • When, in 1875, there was question of the intervention of Germany in the struggle between the Christian provinces and Turkey, which finally led to the Russo-Turkish war, Bismarck declared that “the Herzegovina question is not worth the bones of a Pomeranian fusileer” (l’affaire Herzegovinienne ne vaut pas les os d’un fusiléer poméranien).