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Imperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character online

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who has not let slip the opportunity of proving his attachment
to you in person. We are reminded of the time when he was
permitted to fight side by side with you for the greatness of

The high distinctions which my late grandfather bestowed
upon you have left me no means of specially testifying my own
gratitude ; I, therefore, beg you to accept one mark of respect,

A mark of the Only homage I can do you in my youth. It is the preroga-

tive of the monarch to have the emblems on which his soldiers
take the oath, which fly before his troops, and symbolize the
honor of his arms and the valor of his army, standing in his
ante-room. It is with peculiar pride that I renounce this right
for to-day, and beg you to allow the colors of my Guards,
which have so often waved under you in many hard-fought
battles, to find a place in your dwelling. A lofty history lies in
the ribbons and tattered colors that stand before you, a history
which has been written chiefly by yourself.

I beg you to accept this token of your rank [the emperor
here presented the baton] as a personal souvenir of myself and
as a memento of this day. The real field-marshal's baton,
which you earned under fire before the enemy, has long been
in your hands. This is only a sign and symbol of my respect,
veneration, and gratitude. I beg you, gentlemen, to join me
in the cry, "God bless, preserve, and cherish our venerable
field-marshal, long a blessing to the army and the Fatherland."
We are grateful to him for being great enough not to stand
alone, but to form a school of military leaders who, trained in
his spirit, will be the strength and glory of our army.



Unde superbit homo, cujus conceptio culpa,
Nasci poena, labor vita, iiecesse mori ! '


Not only in its character, but in its very composition,
the German aristocracy shows a marked contrast to that and English
of England. With us many of the most eloquent i)ane- ^"^ ocracies.
gyrists of aristocracy are to be found outside its own
charmed circle ; in Germany it would be difficult to find
many sympathizers with the nobility among the middle
classes or among the masses. And the explanation is
not to be sought only in the difference of the two aris-
tocracies themselves. Differences of evolution, of tradi-
tion, and of influence account for this and many other
peculiarities of the German aristocracy.

We remember the surprise of a great Prussian land-
owner on being told of the almost tyrannical power our power of the
land laws and our leasehold system give to an English ^-"s''^'' '°''^-
territorial grandee. ' ' How can your people put up with
it?" he exclaimed. And yet such is the case. We
have long put up with things that have produced revo-
lutions elsewhere. And yet the English aristocracy still
has a large following in the country, while in Germany
the nobility has next to none. Weighty causes must he
found to account for this, fjuitc independent t)f any
anifiunt of servility in the I-Jiglish character, or any

I Wherefore is man proud, whose conceplioti is a sin, whose hirlli is a pen-
alty, whose life is a toil, and for whom death is inevitable.



Imperial Germany.


What a title
represents in

want of that amiable compound in the German ; both
nations, to start with, may have httle to reproach them-
selves with on that score. These causes will be found
to exist to a large extent in the following facts and their


The German aristocracy, notwithstanding its many
strong points, has been not only guilty of great class
selfishness — like privileged classes in other countries —
but it has been the victim of its own short-sighted and
narrow class feeling. In England a far-sighted policy
of sacrificing its units has strengthened the power for
good and for evil of an aristocratic caste. In Germany
the anxiety of each unit to retain its shadowy advan-
tages has resulted in the loss of what was most valuable
to retain, and in the retention of much which, though of
small value to-day, has contributed not a little to reap
for its holders that lack of sympathy of which we find
the German aristocracy the object in its own country.

In olden times a title meant more than a mere empty
attribute of privileged birth ; it meant a position of
power, either personal or inherited. Not so many
centuries ago even the offspring of royal blood in
England — not to mention the sons of the nobility — were
commoners. Royalty has in our day adopted the fiction
that every son of a king is born a prince. The main dif-
ference between the aristocracy of England and that of
Germany is to be found in the fact that the German
aristocracy has slavishly adopted the example of royalty,
whereas the English aristocracy has, up to the present
day, held to the original idea that a title must represent
power. Primogeniture is the key-note of English aris-
tocratic power ; tin- title is reserved to the eldest son,

The German Aristocracy. 193

who inherits the bulk of the property. Thus an EngHsh

title usually means a large landowner. A German title j^^ German •

means in most cases nothing more than an amiable

descendant of one of many who once, perhaps, owned

land and power. The English aristocracy lives on its

estates in the country, and there forms centers of social

and political life. The small percentage of the German

aristocracy which lives in the country, even if rich,

usually leads a life of economy, solitude, and intellectual

stagnation. It wields neither great social nor political


Not only in the transmission of titles have the Ger-
mans copied the example of royalty, but in other points intermarriage.
of scarcely minor importance. The modern royal cus-
toms — even laws — of intermarrying only with equals,
which were originally designed for political purposes
only, have found servile followers among the German
aristocracy, without any excuse or pretense of policy.
The consequences of such action have shown themselves
to be disastrous in more senses than one. They have
resulted in the gradual erection of a barrier which in our
day may be said to divide the aristocracy of birth from
the aristocracy of intellect and the middle classes more
than they are so divided in any other European

The Germans, who before now have been accused „ , . ,

' Pedantry ami

of pedantry and doctrinarism, have proved themselves doctrinarism.
essentially pedantic and doctrinaire in the constitution
of their aristocracy.' It is an unduly extended and yet
a closed oligarchy with a weak action of the heart. In
England the aristocracy is constantly strengthened by
the admi.ssion of new blood. Not only that, but the

1 This applies even with Rrealer force 1(j llic .\ustri;ins, wlin In llii'- Ji - in so
many other points are one with the Germans. •


Imperial Ger7nany.


The result in

younger branches of a great house pass untitled and un-
noticed back into the commonalty, and carry with them
into the middle classes their sympathies for their power-
ful relations. The German system has had the precisely
opposite effect. Each scion of a noble family inherits
the title, the social status, and the obligation to marry
according to his station (^standesgem'dss^ . This erects a
barrier between him and the untitled which has proved
disastrous in its results all around. What would a Ger-
man petty baron think of the son of an English duke,
whose ancestry might put half the ' ' Almanach de
Gotha'" to shame, marrying a commoner's daughter,
or entering a wine merchant's or a stockbroker's office?
And yet the former very often happens, and the latter
has happened, in England without lessening by one iota
the prestige of the aristocracy. The well-connected
English member of the middle classes may well look
upon a peer as only his superior by chance of primogen-
iture ; he is of the same stock — of the same flesh and
blood. The German untitled citizen is cut off from the
aristocracy without even an imaginary connecting link.
In Saxony, indeed, so distinct is the line that sepa-
rates the aristocracy from the people that the former
can even be seen to be of an entirely different race from
the latter. The Saxon nobility is a tall, fair-haired race,
with the true Germanic cast of features, whereas the
mass of the population is rather short and thickset, with
features bearing distinct traces of Slavonic blood.

German pedantry hugs the magical word von,' the idea

1 An annual publication containing among other data lists of the royal fami-
lies and aristocracies of Europe.

"iVim (oO is prefixed to the names of titled persons as originally indicating
th« possessor of an estate or castle which formed the last name.

The German Aristocracy. 195

Power of the
German von.

of quarterings — even if they be emblazoned on empty
space — and, in so doing, has often, here as elsewhere,
sacrificed the substance for the shadow. Thus, German
pedantry has no idea of the English feeling which
classes untitled families among the proudest aristocracy
of the country — such as have refused titles, but are
well known by their honorable standing of generations.
It is the von that does it, not the distinction of the
family. Though, once the von possessed, it must be
admitted that an old, inferior tide stands far higher than
a modern one of more ambitious sound.

Far be it from us to lose sight of the splendid qualities
to be found among the German aristocracy. Still, we
cannot help deploring what we must consider the weak
points of an institution which must reform, or lose much
that its well-wishers would gladly see it retain.

Even German royalty has of late set the German aris-
tocracy a shining example of rising superior to class
prejudice, not only in the matter of marriage (this it has
often done), but in another direction.

Duke Charles Theodore of Bavaria has set up in
regular practice as an oculist at his own expense. He An instance

. .... of roval

has built a regular hospital for eye diseases, m which superiority to

. , . ,- , I • 1 M class prejudice.

the poor receive advice gratis. 1 \v himself has his daily
hours of consultation from two till five o'clock in his
own house, where, assisted by a young doctor in his
employ, patients of every station are given free advice.
It is stated that in the course of a few months he gave
advice to 2,800 patients and performed 290 operations,
among them some of difficulty requiring great skill. It
is interesting to note that his wife, a princess of Hra-
ganza, thoroughly enters into her husband's profession,
and constantly j)erfornis the duties of nurse to his


Iiiipirial (uriiiany.

A royal


Another Bavarian prince, Louis Ferdinand, uncle of
the present king- — married to the Spanisli infanta Maria
de la Paz — studied medicine in Munich and Heidelberg.
The Bavarian government waived the state examination
in his favor and he is now entering on regular practice.

Princess Hel-
ene of Schleswig-
Holstein — aunt
of the present
German empress
— is not only
married to Pro-
fessor von Es-
march, the emi-
nent surgeon, but
he is recognized
by the imperial
relatives of his
wife, including
the emperor, and
is on the best of
terms with them.
Lastly, a Wiir-
temberg princess is married to a Breslau doctor, and,
strange to say, instead of raising himself in the profes-
sion by such a match, he is even said to be looked
upon askance by his colleagues for having married out
of his sphere of life.

What the untitled intellectual class of Germany thinks
of the prejudices and privileges of the German aristoc-
racy is well illustrated by the following words of the
eminent writer, Gustav Freytag:'


4 Iff

The Royal Festival Hall, Carlsruhe.

i"Bilder aus tier deutschen Verganjcenheit " (Pictures from Germany's
Past), Vol. IV.

The German Aristocracy. 197

The German commoner will ever be an uncompromising
opponent of all those political and social privileges by which Attitude of the
the aristocracy still claim an exceptional position among the J^^n,n\oner
people. Not because he is envious of these usages, or that he
would wish to put himself in their place, but because he recog-
nizes sadly {oluic Frcudc) that in their consequence they are
apt to warp their judgment, their knowledge of the world, and
also their firmness of character. Not only that, but because
some of these antiquated traditions, such as the privileged
position of the aristocracy at court, even e.\pose our princes to
the danger of sinking down into the narrow horizon of the Ger-
man Junker. For the noblest force, the leadership in the
domain of ideal and practical affairs, lies with the citizen class.


Changes are more easily suggested than carried out,
especially when, as in the case of the German aristoc-
racy, a good deal is to be said for things as they are.

Its very poverty has called forth special virtues, and

. Conservative

m many Other ways the German aristocracy has been power of an

It • 11-111 1-1 c aristocracy.

able to retam much that is valuable and in danger or
being swept away in our democratic age. But even
taking the good manners and breeding, so beneficial in
social intercourse — the sense of chivalry often communi-
cated from father to son — at their highest estimate, we
must deplore the more that narrow spirit wliicli has so
limited their sj^here of influence.

The English aristocracy is popular because, side by
side with the greatest possible development of class Source of

. , ... . . , , , popularity of

power, it has retained its connection with the people by English
its younger sons, who mingle and intermarry with the
middle classes. It is popular because its ranks are con-
stantly recruited from the people, even if in a somewhat
eccentric fashif)n. Hut, above all, the sources of its
popularity must be sought in the extraordinarv in-
stances of strong characters it has always had iln-

igS Imperial Germany.

good fortune to produce. And not only this, but
because the ])ccuHarities of its constitution have ever
allowed such characters to wield political power, and
thus to attain great personal popularity. English nobles
have dazzled the popular imagination by their liberal
ideas, by their generosity, by their individual superiority
to class selfishness. They have not weakened the
power of their class by so doing, but strengthened its
Its hold on the hold on the feelings of their countrymen. And to what

masses. ^ -'

an extent they have been successful in so doing may be
judged by those who fully realize what the power of a
title is to-day in England in our democratic age of trans-
ition. An unworthy subserviency of the middle classes,
a base instinct of cringing and toadying to the fountain
of many favors, may explain some, but it does not
explain by any means all the hold the English aristoc-
racy has retained on the imagination of the people.
Least of all does it explain the hold it has on the
uneducated masses. That influence is partly due to
many excellent qualities which the English privileged
class has shown from time immemorial.


English popular feeling rightly or wrongly looks upon
German vs. the aristocracy as a curb on the pretension of royalty,
aristocracy. The German people look upon their aristocracy as the
toadies of royalty. English nobles do not care to hang
about a court like German nobles, for the German
nobles, as a class, feel it their vocation to serve the
crown. They have less sentiment for the country at
large, less of a broader patriotism.

The quarrel of Bismarck with the late Count Arnim re-
vealed some of those characteristics of the Prussian court
noble which are so distasteful to the people at large ; in
fact, it may be said that the popular feeling that Bis-
marck was fighting an aristocratic court intrigue upheld

The German Aristocracy. 199

his popularity through this memorable trial. Rich Eng-
lishmen of position do not like the scraping and bowing
of court life ; it is foreign to the best English character.
They either mix with princes on terms of semi-equality
or avoid them.

But we are not writing a treatise on the English aris- ^^^-^ of. class
tocracy, and we only mention some of its strong points Germany."'
and their results in order to show more markedly how
similar evidences of class influence are absolutely non-
existent in Germany. We can but draw our conclusions.
Whoever would expect a noble German landowner to
head a subscription list for any scientific or charitable
purpose ? Whoever thinks of asking a noble in Ger-
many to preside at a public dinner? The German
Philistine would feel his dignity offended by so doing,
though he might be willing to toady quickly enough to
a high-placed oi^cial ; but to subordinate himself to a
mere title would revolt his nobler self. The German
will bow and cringe to a powerful ofhcial, but not to
a mere empty title. The same may almost be said of
the highly cultured professional and mercantile classes.
The feeling of reverence for the aristocracy does not ex-
ist in the form we know it.

As for the lower orders, their sentiments for the
nobility are such that the least said of them the better.
The distrust felt toward the nobility by the masses is so
great that the ( icrman Conservative party has to take it
into account, and is often forced to put forward parlia-
mentary candidates without titles, fearing that it would
be impossible to carry through one of its own order. In
P^ngland a jicrsonal connection of a prominent public
man or of a great landlord is sure of a following among
the electorate. Even a man like Mr. Gladstone had to
fight hard in a Libor;il constituency against the influence

Distrust of the

200 Imperial Germany

of the young and politically unknown son of the great
Scotch landowner, the Duke of Buccleuch. In Ger-
many being the son of a great landowner would avail a
candidate next to nothing. Even the son of a Bismarck
has found it no easy matter to court a German constitu-


It would indeed be reading the signs of the times
wrongly if we deduced this marked difference Quly from
a greater independence of the German people. It is
not that, for the German Philistine can be as debasingly
fawning as any smiling Briton. The main explanation
lies in the difference of the German aristocracy from our

It no longer has any power to wield for good or
. for bad, except in its own society. Elsewhere it has

influence. little or no influence. It has nothing to give, no favors

to confer, as the reward for being toadied to. Our aris-
tocracy can still to some extent give and confer. The
German nobility has rarely produced men who lead
great movements, who stand in the front rank fighting
for new ideas, rallying a large following around them,
while casting a luster on the class they spring from.
And if the cases of Stein and Bismarck are held up to us
as proofs of the contrary, we submit that the popularity
of these great men was, and is, purely personal, and as
it did not spring from, certainly does not at all transmit
itself to, the class to which they belong. The suscepti-
bility to such a feeling does not exist.

The German mind can grasp a popular noble only in
German view of the light of One who is opposed to his class. The Ger-
man middle-class mind, ever suspicious and critical,
would refuse to believe in an aristocrat, as such, who

The German Aristocracy.


had not broken with his traditions and cast in his lot
with the enemies of his class. This is a great misfortune
for the aristocracy, and partly also for the people, as it
robs it of the ser\'ices of many noble-minded men who
are driven to consume their high aspirations for the gen-
eral welfare of the community in inactivity, knowing
they are not able to come forth except to excite enmity,
without any chance of doing correspondingly good work.
That such is the case is largely owing to the short-
sighted policy of the German aristocracy as a class from
time immemorial. The individual exceptions to such
policy have been too unimportant to be worth recording.
The German nobility has held to the letter of its privi-
lege, to its high-sounding titles, to its court sinecures, to Mistakes of the

. ... f . nobility.

its cheap glamor, to its narrow-minded customs of inter-
marrying, and in so doing has lost, as before said, the
substance for the shadow. It has done its best to
deepen the ditch between itself and the middle classes,
and by so doing has arrayed the latter among its envi-
ous enemies. For he who says "envy" may as well
say "enemy." The truth of this axiom is most clearly
proved by the dying out of the French hatred for their
nobility ; there is nothing left to envy since they have
shrunk into the last refuge of good manners and chival-
rous feeling. Such qualities are not striking enough to
produce popular enmity.

Let us hope that some day such qualities will awaken
universal sympathy and respect in all countries, and
produce that best form of flattery, when the flattered
are worth flattering — imitation.

It is well known that the German aristocracy has ever

•^ Tlic ntititlcd

used its influence to ostracize the untitled, not only from ostracized,
its own society, but frfjin tliat of its sovereign. And the
smaller the state the more petty and pertinacious have



Imperial Germany.

been its efforts in that direction. And the poorer its
representatives the higher the value they have set on
their fictitious possessions of privilege.

It is hardly known outside of the Fatherland that, with
the exception of the official world, only the titled are
privileged to be received at court. And even of the
oiiftcial world itself, the female portion is (beneath a
\ery high rank) excluded from the privileges often only
temporarily enjoyed by their husbands — a striking con-


Xeuschwanstein, one of the Castles ok the latk King Ludvvig

OF Bavaria.

trast to English social conditions, which do not preclude
a wealthy shopkeeper escorting his "lady" to a reception
at the prime minister's house if he be lucky enough to
induce his employees to vote him into Parliament. But
then wealth in England is a certain passport to Parlia-
ment, and through Parliament into society. In Germany
neither one nor the other is the case.

Now, though many may think, and in Germany many

The German Aristocracy. 203

do so, that the importance of all these trivial distinctions
is hardly worth mentioning, we beg to be allowed to
hold a very different opinion. German merchants and
men of culture will tell you, ' ' We care not for court life,
or for the society of our aristocracy ; they are not worth
having." We cannot share this opinion, even if we
were willing to believe that it were always honest, and it
did not remind us of the fable of the fox and the grapes.
The German courts, and notably the aristocracy, are
still the repositories of social tact and good manners, and Disadvantages

' ■^ of court

it is a great disadvantage to the untitled cultured to be restrictions.

cut off from a free and unrestrained intercourse with

such elements. If it does nothing else it keeps class

jealousy and envy alive. But it does more than that ;

it indirectly influences the excluded in many other ways

than they might be prepared to admit — there are certain

things people are so unwilling to admit.


Can it l)c tloubted that if the social influence of the
ereat historic German houses — for they include many

1 J- 1 111 , 1 Benet^lsofa

splendid names, though the acres they possess are rarely more easy

.J, ,11 intercourse.

as broad and as fat as those in England — could be
brought more directly to bear l)y more easy intercourse
on the cultured untitled, it would beneficially influence
them mutually? .Such an initiative would open up to
the German ncjbility the full wealth of intellectual power
and healthy vitality that is innate in the great German
people. .Such intercourse would broaden the views of
many pers(jns in high positions in Germany, and it
uould gradually help the German people to a more gen-
erous appreciation of the many excclKnl ti-.iits of cliar-
acter often hidden away in old crumbling chateaus or
devoted only to useless court routine or sport.

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Online LibrarySidney WhitmanImperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character → online text (page 13 of 23)