LONG LIVE THE EMPEROR AND THE EMPIRE!
BY KARL DETLEV JESSEN, PH.D.
Professor of German Literature, Bryn Mawr College
To relate, in detail, the story of the life of General-Fieldmarshal Graf Helmuth von Moltke—or, as we shall briefly call him, Moltke—means to give an account of that memorable phase of modern history, perhaps, so far as Europe is concerned, the most important of the nineteenth century. This was the ascendency of Prussia, of her king and of her people, culminating in the unification and the consolidation of most of the German states into one great empire, with all its realization of military and political power, of social, economic, and, in a wide sense, of cultural eminence and efficiency. The barest outlines, however, must suffice for the present purpose.
Moltke was born at the threshold of the century the history of which he so prominently helped to shape, on October 26, 1800, at Parchim in the duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. On his father’s side he descended from a family of the North German gentry which had come to various degrees of prominence in some German as well as Scandinavian states. No doubt he inherited the military instinct from this race of warriors, statesmen, and landholders; a race the characteristic traits of which indicated the line along which he was bound to develop, the field in which he was to manifest his greatest achievements. But there is just as little doubt that all the elements of character which exalted his military gifts and instincts into an almost antique nobility, simplicity, and grandeur—his dignity, purity, dutifulness, his profound religious devotion, and sense of humor—came to him from his mother, who was descended from an ancient patrician family of the little republican commonwealth, the once famous Hansatown of Luebeck. How far the Huguenot strain may have influenced him, through his paternal grandmother, is hard to tell, since we know but little of Charlotte d’Olivet.