Modern history



The prodigious forces discovered and exploited through many decades by the inventive genius and tireless energy of the European peoples seemed in the middle of the nineteenth century to carry them upwards to the very zenith of their power. The states of Europe might subsequently rule over dominions still more extensive, command armies still larger, and possess weapons more terrible by far in their destructive range; yet, as time went on, their supremacy would be increasingly open to challenge from the peoples of other continents. In the years 1830-70, however, it was scarcely questioned. This was a period when the European states were free from serious threat of political dominance by any one among them, and when, prone though they as ever were to shifting antagonisms, they were not more permanently divided into hostile and highly armed camps. Their wars were relatively brief and the loss of life relatively small. Conflict had not yet attained the suicidal proportions of 1914-18, and, although men of vision like Tocqueville and Gioberti could foretell the immense future power of the United States or Russia, it was not until after that first ‘world war’ that a European statesman would write of the decadence of Europe and a European thinker dilate upon the decline of the West.

This supremacy the European peoples owed above all to their near monopoly of the new skills and machines bom of the Industrial Revolution and to the extraordinary and simultaneous increase in their own numbers. These phenomena had become manifest well back in the eighteenth century and had led intelligent men to ponder deeply upon their significance. Malthus had in his Essay on Population feared for man’s subsistence as early as 1799 and Blake had sung of ‘those dark Satanic mills’ in his Milton only five years after. But such dynamic movements were not to be arrested by the condemnation of poets or by the gloomy prophecies of political economists. In the years after the Napoleonic wars they attained a still greater momentum. Never before had Europe given birth to such teeming populations, and in the forty years from 1830 to 1870 they increased again by more than a quarter (30 per cent). The apogee was attained in the last two of these decades and the multiplication went on in town and country, in east and west, in Brittany as well as in Paris, in Russia as well as in the United Kingdom. ‘The fall of the great Roman Empire,’ exclaimed Gerard in Disraeli’s Sybil (1845), ‘what was that? Every now and then there came two or three hundred thousand strangers out of the forests, and crossed the mountains and rivers. They come to us every year, and in greater numbers. What are your invasions of the barbarous nations, your Goths and Visigoths, your Lombards and Huns to our Population Returns!’

And just as the barbarian invasions spelt great movements of peoples, so did the arrival of so many infants in the cradles of Europe. Men had always been on the move, as pilgrims or warriors, to trade, or to seek for a living, seasonal or permanent: but now when so many ‘strangers’ had to be housed, clothed and fed, the pressure of numbers on the means of subsistence was felt as never before. And so, though the movements were, as always, complex, in one place or calling scarcely perceptible, in another almost torrential in their impact, the great tides flowed in two main directions. On the one hand there was the movement within the European continent from country to town, the movement of whole families to man the new factories and work the new machines, a movement which has scarcely since been interrupted and which has resulted in one of the most radical of all the social transformations of the modem age, the divorce between town and country and the heaping up of men in vast urban agglomerations. On the other hand there was the movement away from the Old World, where conscription might bear hardly and where land might be scarce, wages poor, and employment uncertain, to the great undeveloped areas of West and East, the huge shipment of emigrants from northern and western Europe across the Atlantic, and the slower, but ultimately scarcely less significant, eastward trek of Russian moujiks and others to Siberia. This exodus across the Atlantic in particular helped to relieve the tensions in the Old World and so to preserve it from further distress and social upheaval. Perhaps of even greater consequence was that it helped with extraordinary rapidity to call the New World into being to redress the balance of the Old. The whole tempo of North American development was vastly accelerated by ‘the immigrants continually coming and landing’. The population trebled between 1830 and 1870 and production prodigiously increased. What all this was to mean for the Old World in the twentieth century needs no stressing. Meanwhile this spilling-over of European peoples stamped the New World still more indelibly with the imprint of European ancestry, and was itself a facet of the European supremacy. Moreover, the comings and goings between the two continents, however ostentatious the United States might be in political isolation, went some way to justify the twentieth-century historians who discern an ‘Atlantic civilisation’ in the making. Did not Walt Whitman see in his poems ‘through Atlantica’s depths pulses American Europe reaching, pulses of Europe duly return’d’?

What gave this manpower and Europe, with which must be coupled North America, its superior material strength was, however, the Industrial Revolution (ch. II). More men, as the tragic story of Ireland so vividly showed, were useless if society could not employ them. Ireland had no industry and for thousands of Irishmen the choice was to emigrate or starve. But where capital and raw materials abounded, as well as technical skill and inventiveness, there the demand for labour, though fluctuating, was often insistent and immense. So correspondingly was the rise in production, which the French thinkers of the Saint-Simonian school, pioneers in developing the concept of social engineering, rightly emphasised as supremely important in an industrial age. It was they who were among the first to acclaim the engineers and bankers and financiers as the moulders of a new and naturally pacific society (p. 434). It was they who on the continent of Europe helped to promote the railways and to finance the great credit banks of the 1850’s and 1860’s. It was they who were among the chief (and most picturesque) heralds of the new age in which the Rothschilds extended their empire to South America, and in which the industrialist, the merchant, and the financier as well as controlling the new economy began increasingly to play a direct part in politics, to sit in parliaments in Europe and to undermine the landowner’s monopoly of power in Brazil. And what great things the hosts of workers were to accomplish under the direction of these heroes of a new age, the engineers and the contractors and the capitalists, ‘wonders far surpassing the Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts and Gothic cathedrals’! Already in 1848 Marx and Engels, in that embittered paean of praise for the achievements of ‘the bourgeoisie’, the Communist Manifesto, could speak of ‘the world market ’, of ‘industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe’, of the creation within the last 100 years of ‘more massive and more colossal productive forces’ than by ‘all preceding generations together. Subjection of nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground—what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?’

In the development of these revolutionary changes England had been pre-eminent. During these years, 1830-70, her industrial and commercial expansion continued unabated. Aided by her natural resources in coal and iron and by her unrivalled naval supremacy and command of sea-routes to all parts of the globe, she had by 1850 ‘triumphantly established herself as the workshop of the world as well as its shipper, trader and banker’ (p. 333). To technical advances, too, she had much to contribute. To these it was largely due that in these forty years her production of iron increased eightfold. More than ever the mid-century was an Age of Iron, when the iron-masters stood behind both the men who used the machines and those who made them, when bridges and public buildings and factories and the first great multiple stores were made of iron, and the wooden ships of the line gave way to fighting ships of iron, thus revolutionising the problems of naval warfare (ch. XI). It was the Englishman Bessemer’s process (1856), too, which heralded the coming of the Age of Steel, hitherto almost a precious metal. But these years in which England maintained her pre-eminence were also those of the increasingly rapid diffusion of industry upon the European mainland and in North America, often under the guidance of skilled British labour and entrepreneurs. Wherever this happened the old domestic industries tended to decline and to be replaced by factories. Such a transition was particularly evident in the textile industries, which everywhere, from Normandy to Great Russia, loomed large because of the need for their products, the numbers they employed, the rapidity of their technical improvements and, until the American Civil War, the abundance of cheap supplies of raw cotton. The shift from home to factory was often painful, but generally inescapable. From country to country, however, its rate varied in accordance with the availability of coal and the means to transport it cheaply. Thus it was effected most rapidly in England, Belgium, Germany and the U.S.A., which possessed or were near to coalfields and had established good communications, first by water and then by rail.

Already before 1830 the steamboat had begun to show its utility on rivers and lakes. Now it was to compass the oceans, surpass sail, sound the death-knell of the ‘wooden walls’ of the old-time navies, and, overcoming some formidable technical problems, provide services which were safe, efficient, regular and economical. Its advent was among other things to bring a new prosperity to Hamburg and Bremen in the north of Europe and to Marseilles in the south; to reanimate the Mediterranean generally and to hasten the realisation of an ancient dream—the building of the Suez Canal (ch. XVI).

Still more revolutionary was the coming of the Railway Age. Hitherto men and goods had always moved most easily and cheaply by water. Now the great continental land masses were to be penetrated by means which were rapid and regular over great distances in a manner undreamtof before. It was within these forty years, 1830-70, that the initial stages of this revolution were accomplished—the great world envisaged by Tennyson as spinning ‘for ever down the ringing grooves of change’ had by 1870 built the most important sixth of its railways, the lines centred mainly in Europe and North America (p. 34).

Speed was thus an exhilarating new factor in man’s experience—the extraordinary acceleration of movement, already adumbrated, in these years became an accomplished fact, reducing distance, modifying his ways of life and thought and so firing his imagination that already Jules Verne, the father of modem science fiction, could write books with such titles as From the Earth to the Moon (1865), Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1870) and Round the World in Eighty Days (1873). Meanwhile men could travel as never before, for pleasure as well as for business, and to the leisurely aristocrat of the Grand Tour there now succeeded the eager tourist with his guide-book, the mountaineer, and the amateur of winter sports. The farmer’s horizon widened, for steam-power extended his markets, and from 1850 to 1873, before it showed how vulnerable it could also make him to competition from overseas, contributed to his enjoyment of a new period of prosperity. In the United States the swift building of a great network of communications bound North and West more closely together, accentuating their contrasts with the society of the south, and made the American domestic market the largest unobstructed field of commerce in the world (p. 612). The ocean cable brought into being not only a world market, but also a world ocean freight, once tramp-ships could be directed by a cabled message to their next port of call (p. 37). And the telegraph revolutionised the transmission of news. Intelligence that it had taken days to convey now flashed to its destination in a matter of minutes. The three great news agencies, Havas, Wolff and Reuters, sprang into being, and for the journalist as well as the banker and trader the world was becoming one. History itself was accelerated and the whole time-scale to which statesmen and generals had been wont to work was now transformed.

Only a small part of these immense and rapid advances in material civilisation was directly attributable to contemporary progress in science (ch. III). Developments in organic chemistry were indeed by 1870 affecting society in various ways through the application of its artifices to medicine (anaesthetics and antiseptics), agriculture (fertilisers), manufacture, and war (gun-cotton). But many of the railway engineers, shipbuilders and makers of machines were still trained mostly in the school of empiricism and experience, ‘drawing indefinably from the steady accumulation of knowledge since the seventeenth century’, and much of the technical skill of the age had little relation to abstract knowledge. The engineer was ordinarily a practical man to whom, however varied his problems, science was an auxiliary rather than a system.

None the less, the pursuit of scientific knowledge had by 1830 attained a genuine autonomy. The scientific amateur had changed or was changing insensibly into the professor, especially in Germany, which was now taking the lead in educational progress, and the professor was a man of university standing with a laboratory and often costly equipment at his disposal. The scientist extended his domain far into space, ‘brought millions of years within the scope of his pronouncements’ (p. 49), and claimed almost dogmatic certainty for his truths. Pure mathematics developed its modern character, a new astronomy entered into its own, the bases of electrical science were laid and physics was transformed into a unitary study. And, added to all this, there were evolved in western Europe concepts which affected men’s social welfare and thinking so deeply as the new theory of energy, which led to the development of thermodynamics, molecular theory and the theories of bacteria and of evolution. No wonder that the scientist had won and secured a prestige which was reflected in a variety of ways: in the growing popular interest in his work and discoveries, in the growing demand for a ‘modern’ education in which natural sciences as well as modern languages would have a regular part, and in the growing belief of utilitarians, positivists and others that the processes of scientific reasoning could usefully be applied to the study of man in society. Men thus came to speak of the ‘science’ of political economy, the Saint-Simonians talked of the ‘science of production’, and philosophy was rechristened ‘moral science’. The extreme example of the attempt to transfer to social phenomena the methods proper to mechanistic science came with the deduction by Marx and Engels of economic laws which they believed to determine the whole of history.

Such, in broadest outline, was a part of the vast background to the events of these crowded and sometimes tumultuous years. It is that part in which the eye of the beholder falls upon the highlights that seem to justify a great and confident optimism; in which he sees men who believe that they are captains of their souls and masters of their fate marching surely forward under the banner of Progress. Indeed, the declared aim of the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851, the first of many to display and make manifest the material advances of the age, was ‘to seize the living scroll of human progress inscribed with every successive conquest of man’s intellect’. Men might well feel with the Prince Consort in that year that they were living in ‘a period of most wonderful transition, which tends rapidly to accomplish that great end to which indeed all history points—the realisation of the unity of mankind ’.

Much else there was, too, which might seem to fortify that vision of universal brotherhood, of the onward progress towards ‘the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World ’. The liberal and charitable influences released by the intellectual revolution of the seventeenth century and by the political revolution of the eighteenth worked as an ever more powerful leaven in society, goading its conscience and making it freer and more humane. So it was that during these forty years the slave trade was further restricted and slavery itself abolished in many parts of the world, even though in the United States the price of abolition was a prolonged and deadly civil war. So, too, legislators slowly were induced to improve the conditions of workers in factories, the peasants were liberated from feudal bondage in the Habsburg empire, the many millions of Russian serfs were in their turn emancipated, and the areas in which the Jews could enjoy civic rights were gradually extended. As men thus became more equal before the law, the laws themselves became more humane, for the penal code in many countries was revised. And, at the same time, with the extension of the vote, the introduction even of universal manhood suffrage in Switzerland, France and Prussia, they became more nearly equal in front of the voting urn or ballot box. Gradually, too, tariff barriers were lowered, and its advocates claimed that free trade would also bind the nations more closely together and reduce the causes of war (p. 349). Moreover, though men nevertheless still killed one another in battle, the rules of war were more strictly defined, the idea of neutrality, applicable to a state such as Belgium or a sea like the Black Sea, emerged as a fruitful concept of international law, and the Red Cross was founded to relieve the sufferings of the wounded regardless of their nationality. The Red Cross Society became international, and the growing use of the word ‘international’ (first coined by Jeremy Bentham) in a wider-than-legal context was itself a development of a new age and the symbol of new aspirations. It was in these years that the International Working Men’s Association was founded, that the improvement of the navigation of the Danube was entrusted to an international commission, and that there took place the series of international congresses which led to the establishment of the Universal Postal Union in 1874. Indeed, nationality itself was regarded by some of its finest prophets as but a stepping stone on the way to a United States of Europe (ch. IX).

At the same time the frontiers of the civilisation which thus decidedly on its higher levels emphasised the fraternity and dignity of man were being pushed ever farther afield, advancing sometimes by force and sometimes by peaceful penetration and persuasion. Thus France, by the slow consolidation and extension of her conquest of Algiers in 1830, accomplished what Spain at the height of her power had failed to achieve, and embarked upon an enterprise which would eventually open up a great North African empire to offset her relative decline in Europe (p. 427). Thus in the Far East the doors of the virtually closed worlds of China and Japan were forced asunder with revolutionary consequences for both these states and for the whole area (ch. XXVI). The seclusion of the traditional supreme power of the Far East was fatally breached: Russia seized the opportunity to advance her frontiers to the Amur and beyond the Ussuri to the border of Korea; and in the port of Shanghai, which underwent a phenomenal growth, was established an international settlement of foreign residents that ‘became in effect an independent city-republic with its own laws and administration’. When such changes took place it was not long before Japan and Siam were obliged also to ‘enter into diplomatic relations on a basis of equality with western states and to grant western merchants and missionaries free access’ to all their territory, or before France, establishing herself in Cochin-China, laid the foundations for her dominion in Indo-China. For China the question was no longer whether her ‘rulers would be able to prevent the influx of the West, but how they would adapt themselves to the new conditions’. Whereas in the main they sought to ‘obstruct in every way possible the forces they no longer dared openly to oppose’, in Japan the demands of ‘the barbarians’ from the West had brought about a revolution and the men who now came to the fore were ‘prepared for radical innovations for the sake of national strength and independence’. Having been persuaded by events that it was impossible to oppose western power without learning the secrets of its success, they had become advocates of unrestricted intercourse with the West, ready to seek out knowledge all over the world. The extraordinary success with which they adapted western institutions and techniques to serve their national ends was to be one of the most striking chapters in the history of Asia during the following half-century.

The opening of China was a facet of another, no less notable, development, the shifting of the balance of Great Britain’s imperial interests from West to East, from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, owing to the growth and consolidation of her trade and power in India, Ceylon, and Burma (p. 350). The consolidation of her power was demonstrated by the continual extension of her Indian territories and, after the mutiny of 1857, by the abolition of the East India Company and the establishment of direct rule under a viceroy. It also involved the critical, and later criticised, decision of 1835 to subsidise an educational system on western lines, in the belief that ‘western educated Indians would be assimilated to western ways and that western ideas would filter down through them to the great mass of the people’ (p. 118). The consolidation of her trade helped to bring about a remarkable accessory extension of the British colonial empire, for she was led to acquire new or to develop existing territories, trading stations, and commitments all along the route to India or in its vicinity, from the South Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. By 1870 West and South African trading ports had become large colonial possessions, Australia was far more than a convict settlement, and New Zealand, now occupied by white settlers alongside her native Maori inhabitants, had become a dependency of the British Crown.

In this vast epic of European expansion a notable role was played by the missionary as well as the soldier, the administrator, and the trader. These years were among the greatest in the long story of missionary achievement when, for the first time predominantly under the aegis of the Protestant Churches, many intrepid messengers, from the United States as well as from Europe, carried the word of God into what then seemed the utmost parts of the earth, as far as Melanesia in the East and also into the unknown heart of Africa. Their path was often rough, they sometimes caused friction with suspicious rulers, they unwittingly inspired the rebellion of the Chinese Taipings, but in their own way, together with the soldiers and the administrators and the traders, who often took with them the more dubious wares of western civilisation, they too contributed to the great movements which made more dependent upon one another men who spoke different tongues, dwelt in different climates and belonged to societies which were worlds apart in organisation and outlook. For the optimists and the idealists and all those who had an unflinching confidence in man’s ability to better himself and control his environment the vista of continuous progress towards the day when the human race would dwell together in unity was beautiful, clear, and infinitely exciting.

But the background to the mid-nineteenth-century scene also had its shadows; and for some thoughtful observers it was these that arrested attention and seemed deep and ominous. In them they saw dark and uncontrollable forces, that threatened to undermine faith, overthrow political order and rend society in two. For such men the French Revolution had let loose a flood of ills and a continuing restless and subversive ‘spirit of innovation’, while the Industrial Revolution was giving birth to a society as ugly as it was heartless. Man’s creative genius had more than ever outstripped his moral capacity. They saw their fellows absorbed as never before by the business of getting and spending, and they saw emerging as patrons of art and as leaders of the new industrial civilisation the new kind of rich men who had no leisure to cultivate the things of the spirit (p. 137), but were mere ‘spent ones of a workday age’. They saw their time, too, as an age of doubt and scepticism as well as one that was choked by absorption with material things. The foundations of belief had already been assailed by the eighteenth-century rationalists and their followers, and the institutions that upheld belief derided or attacked by anti-clericals and revolutionaries. Now, when the geologist Lyell overthrew the biblical chronology with his theories of the age of the earth and the antiquity of man, when Darwin replaced the biblical story of special creation by a theory of evolution based upon natural selection, when the new, largely German and ‘scientifically’ methodical scholarship directly subjected the text of the Bible to critical examination, and when even the divinity of Christ was questioned anew by a writer of the calibre of Ernest Renan, agnosticism penetrated the ancient seats of learning and science itself seemed to join in the assault. The Churches in Europe, for all their expansive vigour in remote climates, were ‘facing the most serious and far-reaching challenge to the fundamentals of Christian faith since the thirteenth century’ (p. 102). The challenge was indeed met in resounding fashion when, in 1864, Pope Pius IX promulgated his famous Syllabus of Modem Errors, which appeared to be not merely a rejection of certain contemporary scientific theories but also a direct attack on the basic principles of modern society (p. 92). But this war of science and religion encouraged scepticism on the one hand and obscurantism on the other. When, in addition, society was undergoing such swift and sometimes disturbing transformations, it was no wonder that many either knew not what to believe or wished to believe and could not, no wonder that novelists, who now had their splendid noonday, and other writers were concerned with the perplexities of the soul and the search for a seemingly ever more elusive Truth and Reality. ‘What ought I to do, and what ought I to believe?’ questioned Lord Montacute in Disraeli’s Tancred, while that great Romantic exile, Herzen, in the remarkable dialogue ‘Before the Storm’ (of 1848-9) declared ‘Universal grief’ to be ‘the supreme characteristic of our times. A dull weight oppresses the soul of contemporary man; the consciousness of his moral helplessness torments him; the absence of belief in anything whatever causes him to grow old before his time.’ If there was unbounded optimism on one side there was equally profound pessimism on the other.

There were further reasons, too, for gloom and anxiety. In the industrial world which was being bom, as Carlyle said, ‘with infinite pangs’, the dark places were sometimes terrifyingly obscure and ugly. Behind the facades, erected by architects who had no concern with social problems and no conception of town planning, lay the slums, next to the ‘Palaces of Industry ’, the hovels of what Tocqueville in 1833 called ‘this new Hades’ of Manchester, out of which the shortest road was said to be drunkenness. In such places—for Manchester had its parallels, for instance, in Lille—there lived that race of men for whom the new name ‘proletariat’ had been coined; and it was a melancholy discovery that the conditions in which they had to live and work produced physical and moral debasement and emptiness of mind. Their numbers might increase despite disease and filth, but the quality of the race declined. Moreover, the growth of this ‘proletariat’ most disquietingly seemed to make two nations where before there had been but one—‘Two nations’, in Disraeli’s famous phrase in Sybil, ‘between whom there is no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones or inhabitants of different planets....’ The age-old dumb warfare of the poor against the rich was now threatening to become one on a far vaster scale of labour against capital. The workers in industry, dwelling in towns, were now the potentially disaffected, whereas the peasant, once so prone to revolt, had since his emancipation generally less motive to rebel. Some, who were appalled at these evils of the new industrialism, saw a remedy only in the voluntary building of new societies in which there should be a redistribution of property and some degree of communal ownership—hence the Socialist utopias which were a curious and characteristic product of the time. Others, more practical, hoped and worked with varying degrees of success for gradual mitigation of the evils and reconciliation of the opposing classes through state intervention or the organisation of trade unions and syndicates. Others still, with Marx at their head, propagated the theory of ruthless and inescapable class war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. By so doing they injected new venom into the hatreds of society—the wounds of which were later to be kept open and made wider by the bitter dogmas of these new doctrinaires.

‘All previous historical movements’, proclaimed the Communist Manifesto, ‘were movements of minorities, or in the interests of minorities. The proletarian movement is the.. .movement of the immense majority.’ It was now that men first began to speak of ‘the masses’, that Walt Whitman sang ‘And mine a word of the modern “En masse'", and that to feed and clothe these masses ‘mass-production’ was on the way. Western society, which had perhaps first acquired the habit of thinking in quantitative terms two centuries earlier, now more than ever reckoned in numbers both in peace and in war. As early as 1833 Tocqueville had written in one of his note-books: ‘The century is primarily democratic. Democracy is like a rising tide; it only recoils to come back with greater force, and soon one sees that for all its fluctuations it is always gaining ground. The immediate future of European society is completely democratic.’ Democracy, too, meant the rule of the majority, and industrialism was to give a further powerful impetus to the democratic tide. It made wealth more fluid, facilitated the access of new classes to power and acted in various ways as a levelling agent—even the railway appeared to many to be a blind instrument of equality. So, although perhaps men did not yet use the phrase ‘the age of the common man’, that age appeared to be not far ahead. And in this period beginning after 1815, which was to be historically minded as none before, a period in which historicism even pervaded architecture so that a man would choose in what style of what past age to build his house (p. 138), men also envisaged a transformation of history itself. Already in 1820 Thierry in France was demanding ‘a history of citizens, a history of subjects, a history of the people’, consideration of ‘the destinies of the masses of men who have lived and felt like us ’. Michelet in 1846 answered the call in his Le Peuple, as, across the Channel in his French Revolution, did Carlyle, who foresaw the time when ‘History would be attempted on quite other principles; when the Court, the Senate and the Battlefield receding more and more into the background, the Temple, the Workshop and the Social Hearth will advance more and more into the Foreground’. In literature the hero of the novel became a more ordinary, less heroic, character, and Mrs Gaskell, George Sand and many authors besides Dickens wrote works of fiction that were also powerful indictments of social injustice and exposed the wrongs of the poor. At the same time, although the Industrial Revolution and its attendant problems gave little inspiration to the artist, painters like Millet and Courbet could choose farm labourers and stone breakers for subjects, while the old allegorical and classical and, to some extent, the biblical scenes went out of fashion. After the mid-century realism tended to dominate in art and literature as in many other fields of human activity (chs. VI and VII).

In all this some thinkers found much cause for concern or dislike. In spite of a gradually growing literacy resulting from the introduction of primary schools in many countries, and of many private and public efforts to broaden the basis and opportunities for education, enlightenment and numbers were clearly antithetical—even a progressive thinker like John Stuart Mill feared the tyranny that might be exercised by an unenlightened majority. Many compared the rise of the people to the barbarian invasions. They saw in it a force that on the one hand was impetuous and unpredictable and on the other would ruthlessly sweep aside the things of the mind in order to ensure the comforts of the body. ‘Large sections of society’, wrote one hostile observer (Jacob Burckhardt), ‘would readily give up all their individual literatures and nationality, if it had to be so, for the sake of through sleeping-cars.’ This contemporary pessimism was perhaps most comprehensively voiced by another Swiss writer, Amiel, when in 1851 he made the following entry in his Journal after reading Tocqueville’s celebrated study of Democracy in America:

Tocqueville’s book has on the whole a calming effect upon the mind, but it leaves a certain sense of disgust behind. It makes one realise the necessity of what is happening around us.. .but it also makes it plain that the era of mediocrity in everything is beginning, and mediocrity freezes all desire. Equality engenders uniformity, and it is by sacrificing what is excellent, remarkable, and extraordinary that we get rid of what is bad. The whole becomes less barbarous, and at the same time more vulgar.

The age of great men is going; the epoch of the ant-hill.. .is beginning—By continual levelling and division of labour, society will become everything and man nothing...

The statistician will register a growing progress, and the moralist a gradual decline The useful will take the place of the beautiful, industry of art, political economy of religion, and arithmetic of poetry. The spleen will become the malady of a levelling age.

Finally, another of the greatest movements of the times, ‘visceral and profound’, as Cournot called it, an essential part of the historical picture and one which provided the foreground with some of its most stirring and heroic scenes, none the less gave more than one comparatively detached observer reasons for deep misgiving. For the principle of nationality, beneficent in many ways, was yet subversive in character and seemingly could triumph only by use of the sword. And nationality too easily degenerated into nationalism, injecting new causes of embitterment and strife into the rivalries of peoples. So it was that men as diverse as Acton and Herzen could condemn it as hostile alike to right and freedom and Proudhon see in it a grave obstacle in the way of social progress (p. 245).

Except for the coming of the railway, the years 1830 and 1870, by which this volume is approximately bounded, mark no decisive events or turning points in the movement of populations or in the progress of the Industrial Revolution. But they are most significant dates in the development of the two great movements which were to dominate the political history of Europe in the mid-nineteenth century and they have their importance also in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. 1830 was to initiate a new period of political change, to reveal the growing power of nationality and to open the gates to ‘Liberalism’, that word so often used and so seldom defined. 1870 was to mark the close of the first great phase of European nationalism, and, by the completion to all intents and purposes of the unification of Germany and Italy, to effect a radical alteration in the balance of European power to the detriment of France. 1830 was also to hasten on the movement in which small but gallant groups of men in various western countries embarked upon the titanic and then fruitless task of liberalising the Roman Catholic Church. 1870 saw the final measure of their discomfiture and witnessed on the one hand the promulgation of the doctrine of papal infallibility and on the other the definitive extinction of the temporal power of the popes save as a purely token sovereignty. Here were movements and events primarily, it is true, European, but ultimately of significance for the history of a whole world that was increasingly sensitive to every major shift in the balance of European power and to every strong breeze of European thought.

But the paths of liberalism and nationalism, which at first appeared to lie side by side, were neither smooth nor easy, and 1830 was, as Victor Hugo said, a revolution stopped half-way. The forces of conservatism were still powerful to obstruct and divide. The municipal revolutions in Italy were swiftly undone and the future of the peninsula was left to depend on ‘the slender thread of Franco-Austrian rivalry’ (p. 554). The liberal aspirations in Germany were stifled by Mettemich’s Six Articles (p. 493). The nationalist rising in Poland was ruthlessly suppressed by Russian arms (p. 362), and with the Treaty of Munchengratz the three eastern powers seemed once again to stand as a solid and irremovable bulwark against any further attempt to disturb the status quo; while, as time went on, in France itself, the parent of revolution, the July Monarchy took on a more and more conservative hue. So, many of the hopes aroused in 1830 were disappointed, some even of the promises of 1815 were still unfulfilled, and in the cities of western Europe the political exile was once again a familiar figure. For a while it seemed that order was restored not only in Warsaw but through most of Europe, and there ensued more than a decade (1833-46) of apparent, but superficial, calm. Superficial, for underneath there was in fact an immense activity and an immense preparation, a feverish plotting and an eager theorising and exchanging of ideas. Conservative governments, armed with the machinery of censorship, would strenuously seek to repress dangerous thoughts, but thought, even in Russia, could not for ever be confined in a strait-jacket. So these years and indeed the whole of the mid-century decades saw an immense proliferation of liberal and national sentiments, of liberal and national parties and movements, and the transformation even of a Bonapartist quasi-dictatorship into a liberal empire. In them there would be more experimentation with constitutions, more changes in forms of government, than at any other time between 1790 and 1910-20 (p. 185). In them, in many countries from the United States and United Kingdom in the west to Russia in the east, there would be a remarkable series of liberal reforms, whether effected by the legislative action of elected parliaments or conceded, under fear or threat of revolution, by reluctant despots. Whatever the means by which they were brought into being, they reflected the immense and growing force of public opinion (ch. v). In these years the power of the press and of propaganda was demonstrated as never before. In France journalists had helped to dethrone Charles X in 1830; in 1848 they themselves were carried to the seats of government. These were years in which The Times was known as ‘The Thunderer’, when the reports of war correspondents from the Crimea could help to bring about the reform of the British army, when parties even in conservative Prussia took their names from the Wochenblatt and the Kreuzzeitung, and when the authority of a paper produced in London by a Russian exile could be acknowledged by the government of the tsar of all the Russias at St Petersburg (p. 370). So it was that about 1870 a French thinker could justly write: ‘There is now no European government which does not reckon with opinion, which does not feel obliged to give account of its acts and to show how closely they conform to the national interest, or to put forward the interest of the people as the justification for any increase in its prerogatives.’

Thus during the 1830’s and 1840’s many charges were being prepared which would disturb the calm, first with minor detonations in 1846 and 1847, and then with the tremendous explosions of 1848-9, the year that marks the great divide in the history of these forty years and that for a brief moment seemed to usher in the springtime of the peoples—‘never had nobler passions stirred in the civilised world, never had a more universal impulse {elan) of souls and hearts burst forth from one end of Europe to another’. But these revolutions of 1848 (ch. XV)—each of them so distinct, although sharing a common ideology—were revolutions largely of intellectuals and, as Odilon Barrot went on to say, ‘all that was to result in failure, because all that was nothing but the pursuit of an impossible ideal ’. The intellectuals who were thus unexpectedly carried to power were, many of them, too unversed in affairs to deal with the complex problems of states in social and political turmoil and suffering still from the economic unrest and depression of the 1840’s. They pitched their aims too high or lacked the means to carry them out. They were enfeebled by internal divisions: and it now emerged that liberal and national aspirations could conflict as well as coincide. So the forces of order could rally, aided by the fears of growing anarchy, and could weaken and overthrow. Reaction, when it came, was generally swift, and as chill and devastating as a snowstorm in May. Republicanism, now again inextricably associated with revolution, was doomed to an ephemeral existence in an essentially monarchical Europe, while socialism raised such alarm that its more militant adherents were fiercely repressed.

What a contrast there was between the years that preceded and the years that followed the Great Divide! In many ways the years of revolution and their immediate aftermath saw the closing of an old era as much as the opening of a new one. By the time they were over many of the men who had governed Europe in the preceding decades, Melbourne and Peel, Metternich, Guizot, and Louis Philippe, were dead or irrevocably fallen from power. A long period of peace between the great powers, in which all accepted the principle of the balance of power and in spite of their mutual antagonisms and jealousies generally acted in concert for the maintenance of treaties and the restraint of aggression, was now drawing to an end (pp. 266-7). 1848 marked the finish of an age in which society was still largely hierarchical and relatively static, when the peasantry in the Germanic world were still largely subject to feudal dues and checks on individual freedom, when suffrage, if allowed at all, was restricted, and when the full civil and military effects of the building of railways and steamboats were still to be seen. The failure of the revolutions put a term also to the Romantic period of liberalism and nationalism, when the devotees of these movements were largely buoyed up by the ideology of the French Revolution. For all its subsequent echoes that revolution had now virtually exhausted its momentum, and the events which followed were engendered by different ideas.

By contrast, the last two post-revolutionary decades present a more intricate and far more swiftly changing pattern. The immediate reaction was followed by a period of relative political stability and of great economic prosperity and development, in which the chief disturbing event was the Crimean War (ch. XVIII). That war, however, the ninth in the long series of Russo-Turkish conflicts, but very different from its predecessors, was important for many reasons. It was more than a local struggle. It reaffirmed what the crisis of 1840-1 had already made clear, that the Near Eastern question and the fate of the Ottoman empire was a common concern of the powers and not to be determined by an over-mighty vassal or by Russia alone. It demonstrated the power of new weapons and it dissolved the existing pattern of European relations. The statesmen who now came to the fore on the continental mainland, Napoleon III, Cavour, Gorchakov, Bismarck, had no connection with the Vienna settlement and no interest in upholding it. Rather they were, each for his own particular purpose, ready to take advantage of its undoing or eager to see it undone. When the old European alignments thus became still more fluid and shifting the diplomats and the soldiers were still more important. Complex diplomacy is an integral part of the story of the Crimean War and of the dramatic years that followed. So, too, is the transformation of armies and the parliamentary resistance that their overhaul sometimes entailed. Between 1830 and 1854 alliances had generally been defensive; now they were formed with offensive aims, as in the celebrated secret pact of Plombieres between Napoleon III and Cavour in 1858 or in the treaty between Prussia and Italy in 1866. Each of these alliances was shortly followed by ‘the impassioned drama’ of war. And in the means of war on land there were now demonstrated changes greater than at any previous time in history (ch. xn). Strategical movement was revolutionised by reason of the railway, the range and accuracy of fire-power were immensely increased, and the system of conscription was intensified and given a new and fatal prestige by the reforms and successes of the Prussian army.

It was significant and characteristic that in Prussia it was the conflict over the army that dominated the first years of the reign of William I and that brought Bismarck to power. It was equally characteristic and a presage of the future that Napoleon III, who also clearly saw the need to reform his army, was unable effectively to do so.

Within the short space of sixteen years there were five wars in Europe: in four of them great powers were opposed to one another and in the fifth great powers were also involved. The result was that the map of Europe, which, but for the emergence in 1830 of Belgium and of the diminutive kingdom of Greece and the disappearance in 1846 of the Free City of Cracow, had remained virtually unchanged since 1815, was now drastically modified. The ‘miracle’ of Italian unification was achieved and what had in 1830 still been little more than a geographical expression had now become a political reality as an independent kingdom claiming rank among the great powers, if only the least (ch. XXI). Still more important, though perhaps less heeded at the time, the vital ‘struggle for supremacy in Germany’ had been won by Prussia at the expense both of Denmark and Austria (ch. XIX). It was soon followed by the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, whose controversial origins, long classic among the case-histories of diplomacy, are here reconsidered in detail (ch. XXII). Thereby, Germany, whose old loose confederation had already been destroyed by Prussia’s victory in 1866, was finally transformed into a unified empire, and to this new power defeated France was forced to surrender her eastern provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. With Britain and Russia both since the Crimean War relatively aloof and preoccupied—a factor which renders the achievements of Bismarck less extraordinary than they have sometimes been made to appear—and France now reeling from the blows of her defeat, the time-honoured principle of the balance of power had been swept aside. In the story of German unification not the least remarkable fact is that the new empire from the moment of its birth acceded to the position of hegemony on the continent of Europe.

All these developments marked the triumph of nationalism (ch. IX) and in part its triumph at the expense of liberalism. In the great reaction that followed 1848-9 the Liberals’ strength and faith were weakened. Some were imprisoned and exiled, others voluntarily expatriated themselves, while many of those who were left were convinced that other methods must be used to achieve their aims. They felt the lure of Real-politik, a word apparently first coined in 1853. In Germany, at least, ‘sick of principles and doctrines’, they thirsted for power that should be embodied in a strong united German national state (p. 504). And so in the end they would be ready to yield to and applaud a man who had ridden roughshod over them in parliament, because by blood and iron he had brought them the power that could be wrested by military success.

All this is a familiar tale, but in recreating or retelling it in the middle of the twentieth century the historian will not only be aware that patient research has modified many of its details. He may also have reason to see it in a different light from that in which it appeared to his predecessors of 1900 or 1910. With the memory or experience of two world wars and the countless and sometimes unspeakable horrors that they engendered he may look more critically at movements which seemed to end in such belligerence, ambition and inhumanity. In reflecting upon German history he can hardly fail to take into account the tremendous consequences of the development of schools of German thought and philosophy partly independent of and antagonistic to the main western stream. He may remember that as early as 1834 Heine wrote that ‘The German revolution will not prove any milder or gentler because it was preceded by the Kantian Critique, the transcendentalism of Fichte, or even by the philosophy of nature. These doctrines served to develop revolutionary forces that only wait their time to break forth and to fill the world with terror and with awe.’ He can indeed hardly fail to perceive the roots of national socialism growing vigorously throughout the nineteenth century. So, too, the story of the Italian Risorgimento may appear in a different perspective, less wholly romantic, less wholly heroic; and mindful of the later rise of fascist dictatorship the historian may remark, as well as the brilliance of Cavour’s statesmanship, the long-term defects of the connubio and the unhealthiness of a parliament which initially depended so much on the masterly control of a single, far from scrupulous, individual. He may remember also that, just as civil war in the United States and emancipation in Russia involved huge problems of reconstruction, so too ‘the miracle’ of political unification in Italy produced a task of adjustment so difficult and painful that there ensued four years of civil war in which the casualties outnumbered ‘those in all the battles for national independence put together’ (p. 576). On the other hand, the punishments meted out to the Russian Decembrists or to the rebellious subjects (other than Italians and Hungarians) of the Habsburg dynasty, once sternly condemned, may now seem mild indeed by comparison with those that some of the heirs of the revolutionary tradition in central and eastern Europe could cheerfully impose. Any survey of Russian history after forty years of communist rule is likely to stress the elements of continuity, to show how ‘the tsarist autocracy and the movements of opposition to it provided many of the moulds of post-revolutionary government and political thought’ (ch. XIV, p. 357). and to dwell on the tradition of absolute centralised government on the one hand which was co-existent with a supposedly traditional collectivism on the other. And it may rank high the perspicacity of those nineteenth-century travellers Custine and Haxthausen, who observed ‘the association of political authority with bureaucratic or military rank rather than private, local or hereditary status, a common indifference to Western conceptions of liberty.. .an obsession with Russia’s historical status, the sense of national exclusivism linked with a sense of supra-national, indeed universal mission’, and ‘the confidence in a manifest destiny in Asia owed to a new dispensation distinct from that of the older maritime trading empires’ (p. 357). Any survey of Austrian history (ch. xx) forty years after the collapse of the empire may, while not glossing over the defects and blunders of Habsburg rule, recall that in the period of the Vormarz it provided the most enlightened and prosperous government in Italy, that in the months immediately following the revolution it carried out the highly complex business of peasant emancipation with remarkable smoothness and efficiency; and that subsequently, partly in consequence of the emancipation and despite the failure to gain admission to the Prussian Zollverein or Customs Union, it presided over a great period of economic development, during which Trieste became one of the foremost ports of the Mediterranean and Vienna, like contemporary Paris, began to be adorned with great new imperial monuments. It may also well uphold the view that ‘the much abused Compromise’ or Ausgleich of 1867 ‘could justify itself historically by continuing to exist for half a century—a remarkable term of life for any settlement in central Europe: because it gave satisfaction to the strongest forces in the field’ (p. 534).

As for France, there too, twenty years after the virtual extinction of the Third Republic and one since the demise of the Fourth, the perspective may seem to have altered. After the narrowness of the July Monarchy and the visionary character and disorder of the Second Republic, the Second Empire (ch. XVII), for all its meretricious aspects, stands out as a period of immense and fruitful activity when French society was less rigid than it had been and French economy more flexible than it might be in years to come. And this flexibility was displayed by the emperor himself. The character of that secretive man is likely always to be a matter for speculation; but, however disastrous eventually the hesitations and duplicities of his foreign policy, he must be accorded some measure of admiration for having apparently succeeded in that most difficult feat of political gymnastics, the transformation of a dictatorial into a liberal regime.

The pacific and well-meaning Napoleon III was a protagonist in three of the four great European wars between 1848 and 1871. He also in his Mexican adventure sought to take advantage of a war on another continent which was wholly separate in origin, but had immense significance. The American Civil War (ch. XXIV) was the deadliest of all the conflicts of the mid-nineteenth century in terms of destruction and casualties, and occupies in American history the place accorded to the French Revolution in the history of France. It was also the first of modern wars, because of the use the contestants made of the new means of communication and of new weapons and because it became almost totalitarian in its demands upon society. About the origins of this fratricidal and perhaps not necessarily inescapable conflict historians may long hold differing views, but none can now fail to see how momentous it was, for the future not only of the United States but also of Europe and the world. ‘It decided that the United States would remain one nation’ and not break up into two or more. ‘It unified that nation as it had never been unified before and placed it on the way to become a great world power.’ It was thus a triumph for American nationalism over sectionalism (ch. XXIII); but it was also, and this was what made it doubly significant, a triumph for American liberalism and liberalism in general. ‘By destroying slavery and by demonstrating that a popular government could preserve liberty during an internal conflict’, it has been claimed that it ‘vindicated and vitalised the democratic concept everywhere’ (p. 657). ‘The vital issue was not the survival of one nation, more or less, but the survival of a nation committed to the principle that government of the people, by the people, and for the people should not perish from the earth’ (p. 629).

An earlier civil war in nearby Canada, but on a much less spectacular and terrible scale, was also extraordinarily and unpredictably fruitful. Great Britain astonished contemporaries by avoiding in 1832 and 1848 the revolution for which they thought she was ripe, and the peculiar reasons which enabled her highly industrialised society to develop without greater stress and turmoil will always be of interest to historians. But less noticed at the time and of equal importance with the American victory for democracy were the political wisdom and flexibility of outlook which enabled Lord Durham and his aides to devise, and the British government to adopt, a new system of institutional development overseas. The ‘changes in colonial policy, which established self-government in the Dominions and gave birth to a new conception of Empire and Commonwealth’ with the Durham Report of 1839 as its inspiration, were indeed ‘made possible by the growth of economic interests so world-wide that they seemed to be in harmony with universal freedom of the seas and free trade and universal progress’ (p. 349). And their effects were to be profound and widely diffused. In accordance with the principles of this new conception men in every inhabited continent would learn to tread the path towards responsible self-government without renouncing their ties of loyalty and affection to the mother-country. Already by the early 1870’s Australia, New Zealand and the Cape Colony were following in the way.

‘Liberalism’, ‘nationalism’, ‘realism’, ‘industrialism’, ‘capitalism’, ‘socialism’, such words, along with ‘democracy’, must inevitably and frequently be used by historians of this period of the zenith of European power. They are convenient labels, they carry with them whole worlds of most powerful ideas and they were constantly on the lips of contemporaries. But they should not be allowed to obscure the infinite richness and variety of life and thought even within the narrow confines of Europe itself. Whatever may be the verdict upon later times, there was no dull uniformity between 1830 and 1870. Within the general framework of European civilisation, helping to weave or to act as foils to its dominant patterns, how many worlds lay juxtaposed, intermingled and overlapping! Within society the old aristocracies and the new, the world of fashion and the demi-monde; not a single bourgeoisie or middle class, but middle classes greatly diversified in wealth and status and pursuing a multiplicity of callings; skilled workers, producing the most varied goods from most varied materials, the great majority of whom were employed not in the vast factories of monopolists, but in a multitude of small enterprises with differing conditions of labour and in which regional traditions and standards still counted for much; unskilled labourers and navvies and domestic servants; and beside all these the peasants who held their lands by all manner of tenure, free proprietorship, leasehold, metayage and many others, agricultural labourers, serfs and ex-serfs, all of them conserving an infinite variety of customs and costumes and speaking all kinds of dialects. Within the realm of faith the worlds of Protestantism with all its numerous churches and sects, of Roman Catholicism with its monolithic structure of orthodoxy, and of Islam and of the Jews of the dispersion scattered widely from the banking-houses of the West to the ghettos of the East. Within the domain of letters (ch. VII) not only the giants of realism such as Balzac, but the Romantic prophets and poets such as Carlyle and Lamartine and Michelet, the ‘deeply religious’ genius of a Newman or a Dostoevsky and the men who ‘invented and passionately practised’ the doctrines of ‘pure poetry’ and ‘Art for Art’s sake’. Within the system of states the maritime nations of the West with their colonial empires past and present and their classical heritage; the German peoples in the centre with their memories of empire, their particularism, their frustrations and now their own peculiar Weltanschauung-, in the south-east the declining and Asiatic Turks; and in the East the ‘mighty and still unfathomed’ Russian people who had known no Renaissance or Reformation and whose intelligentsia, westerners and Slavophiles, were even now engaged upon their historic debate concerning their place in Europe, whether they were of it or a people apart with a culture and mission all their own; finally, among them all, the subject peoples ‘historic’ and ‘unhistoric’, the ‘martyr nation’ of Poland whose turbulent history ran so contrary to the main European stream and whose fearless bids in 1831 and 1863 to recover her independence were once again doomed to defeat, and the forgotten communities, from the Provencals in the west to the Estonians in the east for whom, in this historically minded age scholars and poets were beginning to rediscover a past, a language and a culture. And lastly, within each individual state how tenaciously men still in many places clung to the old ways of life and thought, where geography counted for so much and where historical and folk memories went back so far! In the last half-century as historians have sought to rediscover and reinterpret the springs of human action within states, to explain why men voted thus and not otherwise in elections or why economic changes were welcomed in one area and obstructed in another, they have had increasingly to take account of regional differences and of deep-rooted local or even family traditions and loyalties. What reader, contemplating the infinite complexity of this ever more swiftly changing historical scene and considering the efforts which the men of the mid-nineteenth century, largely impelled by the boundless energy of the European peoples, made to remould their world or to preserve it from upheaval, can fail to be moved by the marvels they accomplished and by the dramas and tragedies of an age that was so significant in the history of mankind?

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