This book covers all the major developments 19th century European history with the intention of explaining how international conflicts set the stage for the Great European War of 1914-1918. Beginning with the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800's and ending with the Balkan wars of the early 1900's, the books covers all major developments in international relations of Europe with a particular emphasis on England, Prussia, and France. The final chapters are dedicated to a description of how the continent fell into war and how modern methods of warfare have dramatically changed to course of current conflicts.
The year 1914 will stand out prominently in future history as the date of the most stupendous war in the history of mankind. In its special character, also, it may come to be regarded as the most atrocious of all wars, at least of all fought by civilized nations. Flashing out suddenly like a bolt from the blue, unannounced, unexpected, unexplained, unprecedented in suddenness and enormity, it hurled nearly the whole of Europe within a week's time from a state of profound peace into one of continental war. The ringing of church bells was drowned by the roar of cannon, the voice of the dove of peace by the blare of the trump of war, and throughout the world ran a shudder of terror as these unwonted and ominous sounds greeted men's ears.
But in looking back through history, tracing the course of events during the past century, following the footsteps of men in war and peace from that day of upheaval when medieval feudalism went down in disarray before the arms of the people in the French Revolution, some explanation of the great European war of 1914 may be reached. Every event in history has its roots somewhere in earlier history, and we need but dig deep enough to find them.
Such is the purpose of the present work. It proposes to lay down in a series of apposite chapters the story of the past century, beginning, in fact, rather more than a century ago with the meteoric career of Napoleon and seeking to show to what it led, and what effects it had upon the political evolution of mankind. The French Revolution stood midway between two spheres of history, the sphere of medieval barbarism and that of modern enlightenment. It exploded like a bomb in the midst of the self-satisfied aristocracy of the earlier social system and rent it into fragments which no hand could put together again. In this sense the career of Napoleon seems providential. The era of popular government had replaced that of autocratic and aristocratic government in France, and the armies of Napoleon spread these radical ideas throughout Europe until the oppressed people of every nation began to look upward with hope and see in the distance before them a haven of justice in the coming realm of human rights.
These new conceptions took time to disseminate themselves. The oppressed peoples had to fight their way upward into the light, to win their progress step by step to the heights of emancipation. It was a hard struggle. Time and again they were cast downward in their climb. The powers of privilege, of the "divine right of kings," fought hard to preserve their ascendency, and only with discouraging slowness did the people move onward to the haven they so earnestly sought.
The story of this upward progress is the history of the nineteenth century, regarded from the special point of view of political progress and the development of human rights. This is definitely shown in the present work, which is a history of the past century and of the twentieth century so far as it has gone. Gradually the autocrat has declined in power and authority, and the principle of popular rights has risen into view. But the autocrat has not been fully dethroned. Medievalism still has its hold on a few of the thrones of Europe, notably those of Germany, Russia and Austria. Is the present war a final effort of medievalism to regain its hold, to put down the doctrine of popular rule and replace it by the old system of absolute government? This, at least, in the absence of apparent causes for the present war, may be offered as one conceivable explanation. If so, we can but hope that the prediction given at the end of this work may come true, and that the close of the war may witness the complete downfall of autocracy as a political principle and the rise of the rule of the people in every civilized nation of the earth.