Metternich, though he had not yet completely established his position, acted as chief Austrian representative, and he was naturally in his capacity as host the president of the congress. Friedrich v. Gentz acted as secretary both to him and the congress and did much of the routine work. Alexander of Russia directed his own diplomacy, and round him he had gathered a brilliant body of men who could express but not control their master's desires. Of these the chief were foreigners, according to the traditions of Russian diplomacy. Capo d'Istria, Nesselrode, Stein, Pozzo di Borgo were perhaps the best men in Europe to manage the Russian policy, while Czartoriski represented at the imperial court the hope of Polish nationality. Frederick William III. of Prussia was a weaker character and, as will be seen, his policy was largely determined by his ally. Prince von Hardenberg, who by no means shared all the views of his master but was incapacitated by his growing infirmities, was first Prussian plenipotentiary, and assisting him was Baron von Humboldt. Great Britain was represented by Lord Castlereagh, and under him were the British diplomats who had been attached to the foreign armies since 1813, Clancarty, Stewart and Cathcart. Castlereagh brought with him decided views, which however were not altogether those of his cabinet, and his position was weakened by the fact that Great Britain was still at war with the United States, and that public opinion at home cared for little but the abolition of the slave trade. When parliamentary duties called Castlereagh home in. February 1815, the duke of Wellington filled his place with adequate dignity and statesmanship until the war broke out.
France sent Prince Talleyrand to conduct her difficult affairs. No other man was so well fitted for the task of maintaining the interests of a defeated country. His rare diplomatic skill and supreme intellectual endowments were to enable him to play a deciding part in the coming congress. All the minor powers of Europe were represented, for all felt that their interests were at stake in the coming settlement. Gathered there also were a host of publicists, secretaries and courtiers, and never before had Europe witnessed such a collection of rank and talent. From the first the social side of the congress impressed observers with its wealth and variety, nor did the statesmen disdain to use the dining-table or the ballroom as the instruments of their diplomacy.
All Europe awaited with eager expectation the results of so great an assembly. The fate of Poland and Saxony hung in the balance; Germany awaited an entirely new reorganization; Italy was again ready for dismemberment; rumours went that even the pope and the sultan might be largely affected. Some there were who hoped that so great an opportunity would not be lost, but that the statesmen would initiate such measures of international disarmament as would perpetuate the blessings of that peace which Europe was again enjoying after twenty years of warfare.
It was not long, however, before the...