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Making the usual visits in Berlin society, I found that
people qualified to judge had a good opinion of his abil-
ities ; and not infrequent were prophecies that the young
man would some day really accomplish something.

My first opportunity to converse with him came at his
marriage, when a special reception was given by him and
his bride to the diplomatic corps. He spoke at consider-


able length on American topics on railways, steamers,
public works, on Americans whom lie had met, and of the
things he most wished to see on our side the water; al-
together he seemed to be broad-minded, alert, with a quick
sense of humor, and yet with a certain solidity of judg-
ment beneath it all.

After my departure from Berlin there flitted over to
America conflicting accounts of him, and during the short
reign of his father there was considerable growth of myth
and legend to his disadvantage. Any attempt to distil
the truth from it all would be futile; suffice it that both
in Germany and Great Britain careful statements by ex-
cellent authorities on both sides have convinced me that
in all that trying crisis the young man's course was dic-
tated by a manly sense of duty.

The first thing after his accession which really struck
me as a revelation of his character was his dismissal
of Bismarck. By vast numbers of people this was thought
the act of an exultant young ruler eager to escape all re-
straint, and this opinion was considerably promoted in
English-speaking countries by an ephemeral cause: Ten-
niel's cartoon in "Punch" entitled "Dropping the Pilot."
As most people who read this will remember, the iron
chancellor was therein represented as an old, weather-
beaten pilot, in storm-coat and sou'wester, plodding heav-
ily down the gangway at the side of a great ship; while
far above him, leaning over the bulwarks, was the young
Emperor, jaunty, with a satisfied smirk, and wearing his
crown. There was in that little drawing a spark of genius,
and it sped far; probably no other cartoon in "Punch"
ever produced so deep an effect, save, possibly, that which
appeared during the Crimean War with the legend ' ' Gen-
eral February turned Traitor"; it went everywhere, ap-
pealing to deep sentiment in human hearts.

And yet, to me admiring Bismarck as the greatest Ger-
man since Luther, but reflecting upon the vast interests
involved this act was a proof that the young monarch was
a stronger man than any one had supposed him to be..


Certainly this dismissal must have caused him much
regret; all his previous life had shown that he admired
Bismarck almost adored him. It gave evidence of a deep
purpose and a strong will. Louis XIV had gained great
credit after the death of Mazarin by declaring his inten-
tion of ruling alone of taking into his own hands the
vast work begun by Richelieu; but that was the merest
nothing compared to this. This was, apparently, as if
Louis XIII, immediately after the triumphs of Richelieu,
had dismissed him and declared his purpose of hence-
forth being his own prime minister. The young Emperor
had found himself at the parting of the ways, and had
deliberately chosen the right path, and this in spite of
almost universal outcries at home and abroad. The old
Emperor William could let Bismarck have his way to
any extent: when his chancellor sulked he could drive
to the palace in the Wilhelmstrasse, pat his old servant
on the back, chaff him, scold him, laugh at him, and set
him going again, and no one thought less of the old mon-
arch on that account. But for the young Emperor Wil-
liam to do this would be fatal ; it would class him at once
among the rois faineants the mere figureheads "the
solemnly constituted impostors," and in this lay not
merely dangers to the young monarch, but to his dynasty
and to the empire.

His recognition of this fact was, and is, to me a proof
that the favorable judgments of him which I had heard
expressed in Berlin were well founded.

But this decision did much to render him unpopular in
the United States, and various other reports which flitted
over increased the unfavorable feeling. There came re-
ports of his speeches to young recruits, in which, to put
it mildly, there was preached a very high theory of the
royal and imperial prerogative, and a very exacting the-
ory of the duty of the subject. Little account was taken
by distant observers of the fundamental facts in the case ;
namely, that Germany, being a nation with no natural
frontiers, with hostile military nations on all sides, and


with serious intestine tendencies to anarchy, must, if she
is to live, have the best possible military organization and
a central power strong to curb all the forces of the empire,
and quick to hurl them. Moreover, these speeches, which
seemed so absurd to the average American, hardly aston-
ished any one who had lived long in Germany, and espe-
cially in Prussia. The doctrines laid down by the young
monarch to the recruits were, after all, only what they
had heard a thousand times from pulpit and school desk,
and are a logical result of Prussian history and geog-
raphy. Something, too, must be allowed to a young man
gifted, energetic, suddenly brought into so responsible a
position, looking into and beyond his empire, seeing hostile
nations north, south, east, and west, with elements of un-
reason fermenting within its own borders, and feeling that
the only reliance of his country is in the good right arms
of its people, in their power of striking heavily and
quickly, and in unquestioning obedience to authority.

In the history of American opinion at this time there
was one comical episode. The strongholds of opinion
among us friendly to Germany have been, for the last
sixty years, our universities and colleges, in so many
of which are professors and tutors who, having studied
in Germany, have brought back a certain love for the Ger-
man fatherland. To them there came in those days a
curious tractate by a little-known German professor one
of the most curious satires in human history. To all ap-
pearance it was simply a biographical study of the young
Roman emperor Caligula. It displayed the advantages
he had derived from a brave and pious imperial ancestry,
and especially from his devout and gifted father; it
showed his natural gifts and acquired graces, his versa-
tility, his growing restlessness, his manifold ambitions, his
contempt of wise counsel, the dismissal of his most emi-
nent minister, his carelessness of thoughtful opinion, his
meddling in anything and everything, his displays in the
theater and in the temples of the gods, his growth until
the world recognized him simply as a beast of prey, a mon-


ster. The whole narrative was so managed that the young
prince who had just come to the German throne seemed
the exact counterpart of the youthful Roman monarch
down to the cruel stage of his career; that was left to
anticipation. The parallels and resemblances between the
two were arranged with consummate skill, and whenever
there was a passage which seemed to present an exact
chronicle of some well-known saying or doing of the mod-
ern ruler there would follow an asterisk with a reference
to a passage in Tacitus or Suetonius or Dion Cassius or
other eminent authority exactly warranting the statement.
This piece of historical jugglery ran speedily through
thirty editions, while from all parts of Germany came ref-
utations and counter-refutations by scores, all tending to
increase its notoriety. Making a short tour through
Germany at that period, and stopping in a bookseller's
shop at Munich to get a copy of this treatise, I was
shown a pile of pamphlets which it had called out,
at least a foot high. Comically enough, its author could
not be held responsible for it, since the name of the
young Emperor William was never mentioned; all it
claimed to give or did give was the life of Caligula,
and certainly there was no crime in writing a condem-
natory history of him or any other imperial miscreant
who died nearly two thousand years ago. In the Ameri-
can colleges and universities this tractate doubtless made
good friends of Germany uneasy, and it even shocked
some excellent men who knew much of Roman history
and little of mankind; but gradually common sense re-
sumed its sway. As men began to think they began to
realize that the modern German Empire resembles in no
particular that debased and corrupt mass with which the
imperial Roman wretches had to do, and that the new
German sovereign, in all his characteristics and tenden-
cies is radically a different being from any one of the crazy
beasts of prey who held the imperial power during the de-
cline of Rome.

Sundry epigrams had also come over to us; among


others, the characterization of the three German Em-
perors: the first William as "Der greise Kaiser," the
Emperor Frederick as "Der weise Kaiser," and the sec-
ond William as "Der Eeise Kaiser"; and there were un-
pleasant murmurs regarding sundry trials for petty trea-
son. But at the same time there was evident, in the midst
of American jokes at the young Emperor's expense, a
growing feeling that there was something in him ; that, at
any rate, he was not a fat-witted, Jesuit-ridden, mistress-
led monarch of the old Bourbon or Hapsburg sort; that
he had "go" in him some fine impulses, evidently; and
here and there a quotation from a speech showed insight
into the conditions of the present world and aspiration
for its betterment.

In another chapter I have given a general sketch of
the conversation at my first presentation to him as ambas-
sador; it strengthened in my mind the impression al-
ready formed, that he was not a monarch of the old pat-
tern. The talk was not conventional; he was evidently
fond of discoursing upon architecture, sculpture, and
music, but not less gifted in discussing current political
questions, and in various conversations afterward this
fact was observable. Conventional talk was reduced to
a minimum ; the slightest hint was enough to start a line
of remark worth listening to.

Opportunities for conversation were many. Besides the
usual ' ' functions ' ' of various sorts, there were interviews
by special appointment, and in these the young monarch
was neither backward in presenting his ideas nor slow
in developing them. The range of subjects which in-
terested him seemed unlimited, but there were some which
he evidently preferred: of these were all things relating
to ships and shipping, and one of the first subjects which
came up in conversations between us was the books of
Captain Mahan, which he discussed very intelligently,
awarding great praise to their author, and saying that he
required all his naval officers to read them.

Another subject in order was art in all its develop-


merits. During the first years of my stay he was erect-
ing the thirty-two historical groups on the Avenue of Vic-
tory in the Thiergarten, near my house. My walks took
me frequently by them, and they interested me, not merely
by their execution, but by their historical purpose, com-
memorating as they do the services of his predecessors,
and of the strongest men who made their reigns signifi-
cant during nearly a thousand years. He was always
ready to discuss these works at length, whether from the
artistic, historical, or educational point of view. Not only
to me, but to my wife he insisted on their value as a means
of arousing intelligent patriotism in children and youth.
He dwelt with pride on the large number of gifted sculp-
tors in his realm, and his comments on their work were
worth listening to. He himself has artistic gifts which in
his earlier days were shown by at least one specimen
of his work as a painter in the Berlin Annual Exhibition ;
and in the window of a silversmith's shop on the Linden
I once saw a prize cup for a yacht contest showing much
skill in invention and beauty in form, while near it hung
the pencil drawing for it in his own hand.

His knowledge of music and love for it have been re-
ferred to elsewhere in these chapters. Noteworthy was
it that his feeling was not at all for music of a thin, showy
sort; he seemed to be touched by none of the prevailing
fashions, but to cherish a profound love for the really
great things in music. This was often shown, as, for ex-
ample, at the concert at Potsdam to which he invited Presi-
dent and Mrs. Harrison, and in his comments upon the
pieces then executed. But the most striking evidence of
it was the music in the Royal Chapel. It has been given
me to hear more than once the best music of the Sistine,
Pauline, and Lateran choirs at Rome, of the three great
choirs at St. Petersburg, of the chorus at Bayreuth, and
of other well-known assemblages under high musical di-
rection; but the cathedral choir at Berlin, in its best ef-
forts, surpassed any of these, and the music, both instru-
mental and choral, which reverberates under the dome

II. 15


of the imperial chapel at the great anniversaries there
celebrated is nowhere excelled. For operatic music of the
usual sort he seemed to care little. If a gala opera was to
be given, the chances were that he would order the per-
formance of some piece of more historical than musical
interest. Hence, doubtless, it was that during my whole
stay the opera at Dresden surpassed decidedly that at
Berlin, while in the higher realms of music Berlin re-
mained unequaled.

Dramatic art is another field in which he takes an en-
lightened interest : he has great reason for doing so, both
as a statesman and as a man.

As a result of observation and reflection during a long
life which has touched public men and measures in wide
variety, I would desire for my country three things above
all others, to supplement our existing American civiliza-
tion: from Great Britain her administration of criminal
justice ; from Germany her theater ; and from any Euro-
pean country, save Russia, Spain, and Turkey, its gov-
ernment of cities.

As to the second of these desired contributions, ten
years in Germany at various periods during an epoch
covering now nearly half a century have convinced me that
her theater, next after her religious inheritance, gives the
best stimulus and sustenance to the better aspirations of
her people. Through it, and above all by Schiller, the
Kantian ethics have been brought into the thinking of
the average man and woman; and not only Schiller, but
Lessing, Goethe, Gutzkow, and a long line of others have
given an atmosphere in which ennobling ideals bloom for
the German youth, during season after season, as if in
the regular course of nature. The dramatic presentation,
even in the smallest towns, is, as a rule, good ; the theater
and its surroundings are, in the main, free from the abuses
and miseries of the stage in English-speaking lands, and,
above all, from that all-pervading lubricity and porno-
graphic stench which have made the French theater of the
last half of the nineteenth century a main cause in the


decadence of the French people. In most German towns
of importance one finds the drama a part of the daily
life of its citizens ennobling in its higher ranges, and in
its influence clean and wholesome.

It may be added that in no city of any English-speak-
ing country is Shakspere presented so fully, so well, and
to such large and appreciative audiences as in Berlin.
All this, and more, the Emperor knows, and he acts upon
his knowledge. Interesting was it at various times to see
him sitting with his older children at the theater, evi-
dently awakening their interest in dramatic masterpieces ;
and among these occasions there come back to me, espe-
cially, the evenings when he thus sat, evidently discussing
with them the thought and action in Shakspere 's "Ju-
lius Caesar ' ' and ' ' Coriolanus, ' ' as presented on the stage
before us. I could well imagine his comments on the
venom of demagogues, on the despotism of mobs, on the
weaknesses of strong men, and on the need, in great emer-
gencies, of a central purpose and firm control. His view
of the true character and mission of the theater he has
given at various times, and one of his talks with the actors
in the Royal Theater, shortly after my arrival, may be
noted as typical. In it occur passages like the following :
"When I came into the government, ten years ago, . . .
I was convinced that this theater, under the guidance of
the monarch, should, like the school and the university,
have as its mission the development of the rising genera-
tion, the promotion of the highest intellectual good in our
German fatherland, and the ennobling of our people in
mind and character. ... I beg of you that you continue to
stand by me, each in his own way and place, serving the
spirit of idealism, and waging war against materialism
and all un-German corruptions of the stage."

After various utterances showing his steady purpose
in the same direction, there came out, in one of the later
years of my stay, sundry remarks of his showing a new
phase of the same thought, as follows : ' ' The theater
should not only be an important factor in education and


in the promotion of morals, but it should also present in-
carnations of elegance, of beauty, of the highest concep-
tions of art ; it should not discourage us with sad pictures
of the past, with bitter awakenings from illusions, but
be purified, elevated, strengthened for presenting the ideal.
. . . Our ordinary life gives us every day the most
mournful realities, and the modern authors whose plea-
sure it is to bring these before us upon the stage have
accepted an unhealthy mission and accomplish a discour-
aging work.'*

In his desire to see the theater aid in developing Ger-
man ideals and in enriching German life, he has pro-
moted presentations of the great episodes and person-
ages in German history. Some of these, by Wildenbruch
and Lauff, permeated with veins of true poetry, are at-
tractive and ennobling. Of course not all were entirely
successful. I recall one which glorified especially a great
epoch in the history of the house of Hohenzollern, the
comical effect of which on one of my diplomatic colleagues
I have mentioned elsewhere ; but this, so far as my expe-
rience goes, was an exception.

There seems much reason for the Emperor's strenu-
ous endeavors in this field. The German theater still re-
mains more wholesome than that of any other country,
but I feel bound to say that, since my earlier acquaintance
with it, from 1854 to 1856 and from 1879 to 1881, there
has come some deterioration, and this is especially shown
in various dramas which have been held up as triumphs.
In these, an inoculation from the French drama seems
to have resulted in destruction of the nobler characteris-
tics of the German stage. One detects the cant of Dumas,
fils, but not his genius; and, when this cant is mingled
with German pessimism, it becomes at times unspeakably
repulsive. The zeal for this new drama seems to me a
fad, and rather a slimy fad. With all my heart I wish the
Emperor success in his effort to keep the German stage
upon the higher planes.

Another subject which came up from time to time was


that of archaeological investigation. Once, in connec-
tion with some talk on German railway enterprises in
Asia Minor, I touched upon his great opportunities to
make his reign illustrious by services to science in that
region. He entered into the subject heartily; it was at
once evident that he was awake to its possibilities, and
he soon showed me much more than I knew before of what
had been done and was doing, but pointed out special dif-
ficulties in approaching, at present, some most attractive
fields of investigation.

Interesting also were his views on education, and more
than once the conversation touched this ground. As to his
own academic training, there is ample testimony that he
appreciated the main classical authors whom he read in
the gymnasium at Cassel; but it was refreshing to hear
and to read various utterances of his against gerund-
grinding and pedantry. He recognizes the fact that the
worst enemies of classical instruction in Germany, as, in-
deed, elsewhere, have been they of its own household, and
he has stated this view as vigorously as did Sydney Smith
in England and Francis Wayland in America. When-
ever he dwelt on this subject the views which he presented
at such length to the Educational Commission were wont
to come out with force and piquancy.

On one occasion our discussion turned upon physical
education, and especially upon the value to students of
boating. As an old Yale boating man, a member of the
first crew which ever sent a challenge to Harvard, and
one who had occasion in the administration of an Ameri-
can university to consider this form of exercise from
various standpoints, I may say that his view of its merits
and his way of promoting it seemed to me thoroughly

From time to time some mention from me of city im-
provements observed during my daily walks led to an
interesting discussion. The city of Berlin is wonderfully
well governed, and exhibits all those triumphs of mod-
ern municipal skill and devotion which are so conspicu-


ously absent, as a rule, from our American cities. While
his capital preserves its self-governing powers, it is clear
that he purposes to have his full say as to everything
within his jurisdiction. There were various examples
of this, and one of them especially interested me: the
renovation of the Thiergarten. This great park, virtually
a gift of the Hohenzollern monarchs, which once lay upon
the borders of the city, but is now in the very heart of
it, had gradually fallen far short of what it should have
been. Even during my earlier stays in Berlin it was un-
derstood that some of his predecessors, and especially his
father, had desired to change its copse-like and swampy
character and give it more of the features of a stately
park, but that popular opposition to any such change had
always shown itself too bitter and uncompromising. This
seemed a great pity, for while there were some fine trees,
a great majority of them were so crowded together that
there was no chance of broad, free growth either for trees
or for shrubbery. There was nothing of that exquisitely
beautiful play, upon expanses of green turf, of light and
shade through wide-expanded boughs and broad masses
of foliage, which gives such delight in any of the finer
English or American parks. Down to about half a dozen
years since it had apparently been thought best not to in-
terfere, and even when attention was called to the dark,
swampy characteristics of much of the Thiergarten, the
answer was that it was best to humor the Berliners; but
about the beginning of my recent stay the young Em-
peror intervened with decision and force, his work was
thorough, and as my windows looked out over one corner
of this field of his operations, their progress interested
me, and they were alluded to from time to time in our
conversations. Inteiesting was it to note that his energy
was all-sufficient; the Berliners seemed to regard his ac-
tivity as Arabs regard a sand-storm, as predestined and
irresistible, and the universal verdict now justifies his
course, both on sanitary and artistic grounds.

The same thing may be said, on the whole, of the in-


fluence he has exerted on the great adornments of his
capital city. The position and character of various mon-
uments on which he has impressed his ideas, and the lay-
ing out and decoration of sundry streets and parks, do
credit not merely to his artistic sense, but to his fore-

This prompt yet wise intervention, actuated by a public
spirit not only strong but intelligent, is seen, in various
other parts of the empire, in the preservation and restora-
tion of its architectural glories. When he announced to
me at Potsdam his. intention to present specimens rep-
resentative of German architecture and sculpture to the
Germanic Museum at Harvard, he showed, in enumerating
and discussing the restorations at Marienburg and Naum-
burg, the bas-reliefs at Halberstadt, the masks and statues

Online LibraryAndrew Dickson WhiteAutobiography of Andrew Dickson White (Volume 2) → online text (page 21 of 54)