PRIME MINISTER OF PRUSSIA
BISMARCK was 47 when he became prime minister. No man has taken supreme office with a more slender background of experience. He had never been a minister and had spent only a few months of rebellious youth in the bureaucracy nearly twenty years before. During his short time in parliament he had merely voiced extreme reactionary views; he had not tried to win votes or to work with others. At Frankfurt he had fought Austria, not practised diplomacy in the usual sense. He had no friends or social circle, except for a few sycophants who wrote at his dictation. Where an English prime minister spent the recess going from one great country house to another, Bismarck withdrew to his own estate and saw no one. In later years he was absent from Berlin for months, once for ten months, at a time. He is often called a Junker and certainly he liked to present himself as a landowner. But he had a poor opinion of his fellow Junkers and jettisoned their interests without hesitation whenever it suited his policy. His aim was to succeed in whatever he turned his hand to or, as he called it, 'to accomplish God's purpose'; and he certainly did not think that every Junker prejudice was a divine ordinance. The only check on him was the king's will, but he meant to see to it that the king should will what he wanted.
He was too old to learn political habits. He stood outside party or class, a solitary figure following a line of his own devising. He had no colleagues, only subordinates. The Prussian council of ministers rarely debated policy. It was called together only when it was necessary to pass a unanimous resolution or to force the king on some distasteful course. Bismarck conducted foreign policy in