Reference > The Library > Helen Rex Keller > Reader’s Digest of Books

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
H. R. Keller.  The Reader’s Digest of Books.
Life and Times of Stein
Sir John Robert Seeley (1834–1895)
Stein, Life and Times of; or, Germany and Prussia in the Napoleonic Age, by J. R. Seeley, regius professor of modern history in the University of Cambridge (3 vols., octavo, 1878). Professor Seeley’s object in writing this valuable if rather lengthy biography was primarily, as he states in his preface, to describe and explain the extraordinary transition period of Germany and Prussia, which occupied the age of Napoleon (1806–22),—and which has usually been regarded as dependent upon the development of the Napoleonic policy,—and to give it its true place in German history. Looking for some one person who might be regarded as the central figure around whom the ideas of the age concentrated themselves, he settled on Stein. Biographies of other prominent persons—as Hardenberg, Scharnhorst, etc.—are interwoven with that of Stein. The work is divided into nine parts: (1) Before the Catastrophe (i.e., the Prussian subjugation by Napoleon); (2) The Catastrophe; (3) Ministry of Stein, First Period; (4) Ministry of Stein, Transition; (5) Ministry of Stein, Conclusion; (6) Stein in Exile; (7) Return from Exile; (8) At the Congress; (9) Old Age. It is clearly and picturesquely written, and springs from a statesmanlike and philosophical grasp of its material. Stein’s great services to Prussia, and indeed to the world (the emancipating edict of 1807, his influence in Russia, at the Congress of Vienna, 1814, etc.), have never elsewhere been so convincingly stated. The author indeed confesses, that while at starting he had no true conception of the greatness of the man, Stein’s importance grew on him, and he ended by considering the part which the chancellor played an indispensable one in the development of modern Germany. Many extracts are given from Stein’s letters and official documents, which make his personality distinct and impressive. The politics and social conditions of Russia, Austria, and France, and the effect which these produced in Germany, are made both clear and interesting. A multitude of anecdotes and personal reminiscences adds the element of entertainment which so serious a biography demands. But its great merit is that nowhere else exists a more judicial and philosophic estimate of Napoleon’s character and policy than in the chapters devoted to his meteoric career.  1

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