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204 Imperial Germany



To know is often to love, as ignorance is only too
often the parent of hatred as well as of vice. A new
departure in this direction would streng-then those ex-
cellent feelings of solidarity with all the good in human
nature that underlies much of the less amiable outward
German characteristics. A mutual understanding be-
tween the aristocracy (and through it with royalty) and
A new clement the middle classcs would be a new element of streng:th

of strength. _ _ ^

in the common battle to be waged against the subver-
sive elements that are gradually coming to the fore
in all European countries. Germany was the starting-
point of the spiritual rebirth in the Reformation. Ger-
many is in the center of Europe, and standing there
must be the center of support to retain all that is worth
retaining from countless generations of effort and strife.

But, besides this more serious aspect, there are minor
points to be considered which alone are well worth our
wishing the barriers between the aristocracy and the
middle classes might be somewhat removed. German
manners in general would be greatly improved thereby.
That constant feeling of anxiety as to our position is
fatal to ease of manner, and not a little accountable for
much petty unhappiness.

Removing the class barrier would facilitate inter-
intermarriage marrying, and would tend to make commercial men
look at aristocratic ofificers less as drones who can only
marry for money. Rich commoners might marry aris-
tocrats — a rare case now, when thousands of penniless
titled women are doomed to celibacy, and often eke out
their sad existence in those medieval institutions we
find all over Germany — homes for old maids of noble
birth. The daughters of the poor aristocracy are sadly
handicapped in the competition for husbands. For the
accomplished daughters of the supposed wealthy for-



The German Aristocracy. 205

eigners, the many comely English and American girls
who swarm on the Continent, often prove too tempting
to the poor German baron, and make him oblivious to
the fact that their names lack the magic prefix von.

VII.

Some of the manifestations of aristocratic class pride
would be most amusine if they were not so unfortunate Absurd

" -^ manifestations

in their results. It is not so long ago that at Hano- of class pride,
verian watering-place dances a line was drawn between
the nobility and the untitled. At a little Mecklenburg
watering-place such as Heiligenbad a commoner was
looked upon as ne.xt door to a culprit. And even nearer
the large German towns, at public dances a marked
division between the classes can still be easily noticed,
as the foregoing will lead the reader to suppose. How-
ever, these lamentable traits are only to be met with in
the feudal North. Elsewhere, particularly in the demo-
cratic South, they would not be tolerated. And even
in the North there are many influences at work tending
to lessen class prejudice. It dies hardest in the out-
of-the-way capitals of some of the petty principalities,
where national life pulsates too slowly to kick the beam
of nonsense out of sight.

The late emperor Frederick retained in middle age

, ..... , , , ,_ , . Frederick lll.'s

the pure romantic idealism or early youth. 1 o him aversion to
every form of privilege and undeserved favor was an
abhorrence. He now and then even seemed to go out
of his way to honor the untitled. For instance, his
friend and aide-de-cami), General Mischke, was not of
noble birth. This trait of the emperor's character was
one of the reasons of liis great popularity with lli<' inicl-
lectual classes.

The late Count Alfred Adelmann, a talented writer,



2o6 Imperial Gtriiiaiiy.

broke a lance lov the untitled citizen classes and their
excellent qualities. He told the aristocracy plainly that
it must either work like the rest or go to the wall. To
its honor it must be said that there are many more
among' the nobilitv who think likewise.

A very amusing and, what is more, an auUientic

instance of class pride, is worth recording. It is in-

Aii aristocratic structive as showing how the most vicious qualities of

banker. , , . . ,

a class are always to l^e found m its parvenus. A
great Berlin banker, who had been ennobled, and whose
son was serving in the army, had invited the officers of
his son's regiment to dinner. During the dinner the
colonel noticed that all the officers of the regiment were
present except one who was not in possession of the
noble prefi.x of vo7i to his name. Asking his host why
the officer in question was not present, the banker
replied with a smile, " I intended that we should be
entirely of our own class ! " Whereupon, at a signal
from the colonel, all the officers rose and left the house.
It seems a pity that such sentiments do not always
meet with a like prompt rebuke. Still, we must say, from
wide personal observation, that, notwithstanding the Ger-
man popular prejudice against the army, as being the
hot-bed of aristocratic class feeling, it is precisely among
German officers that the more absurd prejudices are re-
buked and often ludicrously exposed. It is true that there
Influence of ^re Certain regiments the officers of which are almost ex-
nobiiitv in the ^lusivcly drawu from the nobility, but beyond that it
would be the greatest mistake to suppose that a title
forms a passport to advancement and positions of re-
sponsibility in the German army ; nothing of the sort.
The powers that be wink at and even encourage a harm-
less class feeling among officers as far as it can be done
without harm to the institution itself. And if it maketh



armv.



The German Aristocracy.



207



the noble's heart glad to know that all his brother
officers belong to his set. surely the German military
aristocracy has earned a right to such small concessions
of sentiment. But there they stop. Once class privi-
lege might interfere with the effectiveness of the huge i i,„it of
man-slaying machine, once the sensitiveness of the
noble born might endanger the bones of a Pomeranian



concessions.




The National Gali.kry, Berlin, with Frederick's Bridgk i.n thk

Foreground.

grenadier, it is swept away like cobwebs from the
corners of a looking-glass. From the moment responsi-
bility is attached to a post, class i)rivilc'ges count for
nothing, and, whether in the army, in the civil service,
or in any other walk of pul)lic lite, untitled merit takes ranks nobility,
precedence of the highest birth.

To the honor of the (ierman aristocracy be it said,
poor as it may tx- in coin f)f the realm, stripped as
it may be of territorial, social, or political influence,
it stands its gromul in th<' army ;is well as in tin- .ul-



20S



Imperial Germany.



A captain of
noble lineage.



ministrative offices of the state witli an iron sense of
duty and with a high average of intellectual power. In
fact, it may be said that the conscientious manner in
which the German nobility has performed its duty of
late in the army has served more than anything else to
decrease the envy that undoubtedly is still felt for it in
the Fatherland.

We remember meeting a grisly-haired count of the
Holy Roman Empire, a captain in a Prussian foot regi-
ment — the oldest captain in the army, we were told. At
first we could hardly understand a man of his lineage —
for his family figured in the " Almanach de Gotha" —
being only a captain at his age. The oldest captain in
the army ! What a position of relegated fitness ! A
glance at the expressionless bullock's eyes and five
minutes' conversation solved the enigma. His intellect-
ual gifts were limited to the leading of a company, and
there he was, leading it. How apposite and fit, how
truly Prussian ! That one little instance was well calcu-
lated to supply us with the key to many a Prussian vic-
tory, had we needed one. The aristocrats who guide
Prussia's destinies are not in the habit of giving a son
an important command to soothe the feelings of a father
whom they feel they cannot again intrust with high
office.



vni.



The poor
aristocracy.



A class peculiar to Germany is the poor aristocracy,
for a large percentage of the German nobility is very
poor indeed, living from hand to mouth. Among them
one long struggle goes on to uphold the privileges of
birth against the power of money ; and tradition is the
only weapon they can wield. Their children are brought
up in the Spartan simplicity that inculcates self-denial at



The German Aristocracy. 209

an early age. The daughters are accustomed to give
wjay to the sons, who have to serve in the army, and to
whose equipment every spare mark must needs be
devoted. Outward appearances alone must be kept
up at all hazards.

The mother is the head of the family here more .^^ ^^^
than elsewhere. She it is who nurtures the feeling of for heirlooms.
pride for the noble descent of their family. The vener-
ation for what has descended from bygone generations
is excessive, and extends to the merest trifles. An
ornament has no value if it can be bought at a jeweler's
shop, whereas the most insignificant bit of jewelry is a
treasure if it has descended from a great-grandmother. '
Yet this poor aristocracy, with all its prejudices, has
done a great deal to form the sterling hardness of the
German character.

Although we must admire the many good points of
the German aristocracy, we cannot help thinking their unenviable

■' \ • \_ position.

position and prospects as a class to be anythmg but en-
viable. Whatever their merits as individuals, as a class
they are only too likely to reap what has been sown
by their forefathers. The more so that they do not
possess a partisan, a worshiper, and an incense-burner
in the state church clergy, as in England.

With us, even if the aristocracy were deprived to-
morrow of the popular sympathies it enjoys, it would
still have the means of adding to its power by the con-
stant addition to its ranks of wealthy commoners, and
by our extravagant rewards for any services it may
render to the state. In Germany both these sources of
power are non-existent. Wealth does not lead to en-

> It may also be mentioned that the German nobility is not in the habit of
lettinK their homes furnished to strangers in order to a<ld to their iiuome, as
is nowadays regularly j>ra( ticed in a country llie inhabitants of which pride
themselves upon the fact that "their house is their castle."



2IO Imperial Germany.

noblcmcnt ; and services to the state, in whatever
^'\ "^"d"^^^^"' t^'^P'^cit)', liave seldom been extravagantly rewarded-
The case of Bismarck is unique ; for the dotations to
IMoltke and other great leaders in the War of 1870 were
all but nominal according to our standard. The highest
services are invariably rewarded only by the honorary
distinction of high orders and the personal friendship of
the sovereign, which accompanies its recipient into
private life on his retirement on a frugal pension. The
consciousness of having done his duty has to make
amends for the lack of opportunity of acquiring worldly
riches.

To-day, the greater number of aristocracy would, but
Dependence f^r the profession of arms, be absolutely penniless, if not
profes™.''"'' breadless. For, although they largely fill the higher
government civil appointments, their number is limited,
and the pay is so little at the start that only those
can enter the service who have something to fall
back upon. This can only be looked upon as a great
national misfortune, and the more to be deplored when
we remember the services the poor German aristocracy
has rendered to the state as its military servants.

We are almost inclined to ask ourselves, Would Ger-
man unity ever have come about had it not been for the
splendid staff of aristocratic, but poor, officers who have
for generations devoted their lives unselfishly to the
profession of arms and to the service of the state?
The poor German aristocracy has contributed its fair
share toward the creation of a powerful, united Father-
land.



CHAPTER IX.

GERMAN SOCIETY.

Social intercourse cannot exist among honorable people
without a certain sort of coniidence ; it must be common
among them. Each should have a sense of security and dis-
cretion which never gives place to the fear that something ma\-

be said imprudently.

— La Rochefoucauld.

I.

German society in its widel- sense is a prism of
many, but by no means harmoniously blended, colors.
In few countries is the aristocracy of birth so cut ott
in social life from some of the best intellect of the land.
Nowhere is intellect found so largely outside the circles Talent not a

• I'l 1 passport.

of wealth and high birth, for German society, unlike the
PVench, does not bow to talent alone. This distinct
social feature is a result from within, for the tendency of
the Prussian monarchy of late has been to recognize and
raise the purely intellectual elements of the country even
more than is done in England. But, whereas with us
the recognition of brains is invariably followed by tlie
social acceptance of its possessor's family, in Germany it
stops short of womankind.

In Enedand a great i)rofessor is tlistinguislu-d l)y
royalty, and the aristocracy follows suit ( if it has not lionizini;.
jMX'ceded the recognition of royalty), aiul tin- upper
mitldle classes follow in its wake, receiving and visiting
the linn's wife and family.

In Germany this is far (liferent. A great artist, a
man i>t letters, an eminent man of science may be



211



212



Imperial Germany.



The test of
social position.



An arbitrary
distinction.



Exclusion of
women.



loaded with stars or appointed to high ofifice ; he will be
readily received either in his personal or in his official
character, but the aristocracy will not visit him, nor will
the nobility visit his wife. His wife has no social status.
She is not hoffdhig, which means she is not qualified to
be received at court, the test of social position in Ger-
many. Even more, should she be of noble birth
herself, and previous to her marriage, have been pre-
sented to her sovereign, she forfeits this privilege on her
marriage with a commoner ; this in marked contrast
to the English social law : ' ' born a lady, always a lady.
These facts may seem of small importance to the casual
observer, and yet they are accountable for much that is
peculiar to German society. They are at the root of,
and partly explain, the inadequacy of woman's social
status in Germany.

In England undoubtedly, too, as well as in France
and America, there is a definite line drawn between
those who belong to and those who are outside the nar-
rower pale of polite society. Still, it is not so patently
an arbitrary distinction as in Germany. In fact, it does
not carry with it the sting of its injustice and its irre-
movability ; for in those countries there are few individ-
uals who, by wealth and a sufficient amount of tact, or
by tacking the sails, cannot hope to enter the charmed
circle, whereas in Germany these barriers are almost
insuperable.

It is not the mere presentation or non-presentation at
court which marks the difference. The arbitrary exclu-
sion of many of the most cultured women in Germany
narrows the circle of their social life, to which they
naturally attach greater value than men, who are more
actively absorbed in life's economical struggle. It
causes German women to feel a kind of neglect, which



German Society.



213



in due course produces envy and jealousy. Thus in
such circles we are often impressed with a tone of bitter-
ness, if not of dislike, when the aristocracy, or even the
crown, is mentioned.

This feeling becomes doubly galling when the Ger-
mans see strangers admitted to their best society who
have neither birth nor breeding nor brains to recom-
mend them. For the nicety of perception of the Ger-
man mind is often wofullv at fault when dealing with
foreign elements.

Insular assurance and American "shoddy" force the
gates of the minor German courts. English half-pay Entrance of

•,• 1 • r r 1 •,• • t unworthy

military or naval captains — a refuse or the militia thrown foreigners.
in — sometimes with a growing family, living abroad for
economy on a third-floor flat above a butcher's shop, go
to court, and

have been known "j^St "^

to ans w e r the
addresses of roy-
alty with their
hands in t h c i r
pockets.

A shabby-
genteel coterie ol
middle-class
sweepings who

are distantly related to half the peerage, and let you
know it in and out of season ; a poor, seedy, retired
English diplomatist and his "gocxl lady" ablaze with a
Primrose League "jewel," and with the face of a cook
in front of a Christmas joint — these are a few speci-
mens of the foreign element in German society. For if
refilled natures are rare in any country, they arc rarer
still ain(jng the traveling representatives of a nation.




The Rovai. Theater, Wiesbaden.



A few speci-

niLMlS.



riio (."Termans
at fault.



214 iDipcrial Ccrmauy.

But such are the elements that push their way in their
own country, and, being admitted to court at home, can
claim presentation abroad. Thus it is the fault of the
Ciermans themselves if they make much of foreigners in
society. Why don't they make more of themselves?
For, as long as the Germans exclude the untided of
their own nationality, an English, French, or American
commoner, who at home has no barrier Init the limits
of his self-assertion, will be rightly accepted in German
society, for he has perhaps the requisite standing in
his own country. He forces his way into German
society now and then even when he has no home cre-
dentials to boast of.

This can only be remedied in Germany when the in-
tellectual classes in possession of means come more to
the front. Unfortunately, present circumstances are
little calculated to fit German womankind for an en-
larged scope of social duties.

II.

Other social results can also be traced indirectly to
this artificial barrier erected between the professional,
advantages of a scientific, and Wealthy commercial classes on the one
side and the nobility and royalty on the other.

The German aristocracy is limited to the intellectual
life to be found within its circle, which is slightly spora-
dic. This state of things is disadvantageous to the aris-
tocracy, besides narrowing its popularity, as shown
elsewhere. The intellectual and wealthy classes are
debarred from that contact with a certain urbanity and
graciousness of manner, a deference to women, which
still, whatever may be said to the contrary, is a marked
characteristic of the best German nobility. It is true
that the excluded classes do their utmost to ape aris-



Social dis-



German Society.



tocratic manners, but, like all imperfect imitations, they
lack finish and are liable to be overdone. This applies
especially to German womankind.

The universities, the army, the public services are
open to all classes alike, and there all Ciermans gain a
certain cosmopolitanism of views and manners, which, if
it now and then falls short of a standard which can only
be attained in a highly refined family circle, yet com-
pares fairly with that of similar classes in other coun-
tries. The German women of the middle classes, on the

Results of

Other hand, show the painful results of their social restriction

upon tlie

restrictiiMi in more ways than one. The feeling of their women.






derogatory position begets, as aforesaid — though it be
never so much denied — a latent feeling of envy and
jealousy, which shows itself in excessive sensitiveness.
This again, in its turn, is the ever-recurring cause of
exaggeration of manner and want of tact. Thus inter-
course with the middle classes is far more difificult than
with the aristocracy. Their manners are exaggerated in
their punctiliousness and exaction, and you can inno-
cently tread on toes while you fancy that you are
gaining golden opinions.

The middle classes are often exaggerated in their
sensitiveness, and, besides that, are grievously given to sensitiveness,
ill-natured small-talk. Hyper-sensitiveness is one cardi-
nal characteristic of German society, as it is a marked
one of German character generally. A l)roadcr and
more cosmopolitan horizon of social life could not fail to •
diminish, if not entirely to banish it.

To these facts may also be traced that want of prestige
in society which marks German women of tlic untiiKd <onsi<k-iation
classes. Contact with the highest society wcnild soon
show German women the consideration which their
titled sisters enjoy, and whi( li they would ikiI lie slow to



loi wonii-n.



2l6



Imperial Germany.



Their limited
influence.



Prevalence of
slander.



Strive for. Whether they would find the sterner sex
ready to render it, or whether they would be able to
wield the weapons that secure it, is another matter. The
fact remains that, however well educated middle-class
German women may be, they generally suffer from a
pettiness of feeling and thought which is not calculated
to make their lords bow down to them amidst the wear
and tear of every-day life. And the proof of this is, that
they do not succeed in being'treated with that deference
and regard in private life that ladies invariably meet
with in the German aristocracy, as well as in the
educated society of England, France, and America.

Holding, as we do, that women should be the deposi-
tories of all that goes to make up and regulate the
smaller amenities of social life, we cannot but deplore
that the influence of some of the best German women is,
in that respect, very restricted and limited.

Average Germans have a tendency to give way to
their temper in dealing with the ladies of their family
which can only surprise those to whom it is a novelty.
The countrymen of Schopenhauer do not often err on
the side of too much consideration for the fair sex as
such. If a person is unpopular, it seems only to add
bitterness to dislike if that person be a woman. Some
journalistic attacks on the empress Frederick bear testi-
mony to this. Such censors evidently think they are in
the right, but they do not seem to incline to be gener-
ous. It is indeed sad to note that slander, with regard
to women, is easily set in motion and very prevalent
in Germany. In fact, it reflects by no means a " nice "
side of the national character.

The wide prevalence of the custom of spending daily
hours and hours in beer-houses is not without its conse-
quences in roughening German manners, particularly



German Society. 217

toward ladies, and encouraging the love of small-talk

and gossip. It is not that Germans are not scrupulously i"fluence of

or tr J the beer-house

polite in outward form toward ladies ; it is in the in- 'Custom.
timacy of every-day life that they cast off too often
those necessary little courtesies which mean so much.

Among other disadvantages, we think the beer-house
tends to foster a forgetfulness that honorable old age
is also a patent of nobility to be honored. And as a
straw is sufficient to show the direction of the wind, it
may be noted that smoking is indulged in in the ^^ , , .
presence of ladies to a degree which is hardly con- smoking,
sistent with scrupulous regard for the fair sex. Even
hard smokers will admit that the capacity of self-denial
in this respect might now and then be legitimately
called for. The average German almost never stops
to think of self-denial in such matters. Custom has
made him essentially egotistical in the trifles of every-
day life and a healthy female influence is not yet appar-
ent to check him.

Fault-finding may be a thankless task, but those who
feel that they are not blind to their own country's short
comings may claim some excuse for dwelling on those of
others. Still, if our national reputation on the score
of social manners hardly places us on an undisputed
point of vantage to decry others, we may quote the
opinion (jf a Frenchman' who has shown a rare apj^re-
ciation of Germany :

The (icrman — unless belonging to the ideal race of great
poets and tliinkers — liardly knows the e.xquisite relinement of
manner, tlie deUcacy of pointed irony. When his heavy tein- i.-rc,',c|^,'JIa°i'^'*
perament enters into a discussion, strong words accompany liis
arguments, and they fall fast like lieavy paving stones.
Even genius does not always preserve them from these ex-
cesses, and three centuries of culture have not deprived the


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Online LibrarySidney WhitmanImperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character → online text (page 14 of 23)