THE DEFEAT OF AUSTRIA
THE affair of the Danish duchies, which opened in January 1864, led by logical steps to the defeat of Austria in July 1866. This is far from saying that Bismarck knew at the outset where he was going, whatever he might claim later on. The future is a land of which there are no maps; and historians err when they describe even the most purposeful statesman as though he were marching down a broad high- road with his objective already in sight. More flexible historians admit that a statesman often has alternative courses before him; yet even they depict him as one choosing his route at a crossroads. Certainly the development of history has its own logical laws. But these laws resemble rather those by which flood-water flows into hitherto unseen channels and forces itself finally to an unpredictable sea. The death of Frederick VII opened the flood-gates; and Bismarck proved himself master of the storm, a daring pilot in extremities. In his own words: 'Man cannot create the current of events. He can only float with it and steer.'
Sleswig and Holstein, the two ' Elbe duchies', had long been a pivot of German national feeling. They had been in personal union with Denmark for many centuries. Holstein, inhabited entirely by Germans, was a member of the German confederation; Sleswig was not, though Germans predominated in its southern half. In 1848 they had risen against the King of Denmark; and all Germany had rallied to their side. Even Prussia fought for them. The non- German Great Powers were then united on the side of treaty-rights. They had threatened to support Denmark. Prussia had given way, much to her discredit in Germany; the revolution had been humiliated; and the duchies were