THE HOHENZOLLERN CANDIDATURE
MODERN history affords no parallel to the suddenness and completeness of Austria's eclipse after Sadowa and the Treaty of Prague. The Power which had so long dominated Germany, and had spoken for her in the councils of Europe, fell at once into the background. It was not that the war left Austria intrinsically weaker than before, save for the moment, but rather that it had exposed a weakness which already existed, yet had been but little suspected by the outside world, and by Austria herself not at all. Every nation has its mission to perform, the vigorous and the decadent alike: the mission of the former is to go forward, that of the latter to make way for others, and allow them to do the work for which it is unfitted. Austria seemed to have reached the stage of decline in which renunciation and self-effacement are a nation's last remaining virtues. The weight of empire had imposed upon her military strength, statesmanship, and material resources a drain which all were incapable of meeting, and because she had been living upon a past reputation she failed to recognize their insufficiency until it was too late to avert disaster.
Henceforth Austria was thrown back upon herself, and more than ever her politics became circumscribed by Habsburg interests. Driven out of Germany, and now retaining only a narrow foothold in Italy, it was in the East that she was in future to seek the assertion of her influence.
Yet Austria's disappearance from the stage upon which she had so long played the foremost part in the drama of German unity meant only a certain rearrangement of the cast, for the drama itself was to continue a little longer. Now an actor who until lately had been little more than an understudy took the leading place, and the late prompter of the piece aspired to an active rôle.
The relations between Prussia and France were peculiar.