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Imperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character online

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I " Les Allcmands " (The Germans), hy I-t; I'irc Didon. Paris, 1884,


Imperial Germany.

Change of view-
point makes a


strong " table talk " of a Luther of its freshness and classicity.

Farther on :

The Germans, proud of their strength, show no sign of senil-
ity in tliL-ir national life. Their failings rather tell of barbarism
than of decrepitude ; they offer a strange mi.xture of primitive
coarseness and of civilization. The barbaric is in the blood,
the superior and civilized nature is due to education.

A Frenchman may perhaps be more justified in using
such strong language than an Englishman, for the na-
tionalities of Latin race, withal, still retain a grace of
manner, even in the humblest sphere, to which the
Teuton as well as the Anglo-Saxon may well aspire in
vain. Still, the subject of manners is a peculiar one.
Much that is uncongenial to us in the manners of an-
other people ceases to be so when we come to live
among them and understand their ways and methods.
Some of our own insular peculiarities, usually put down
to want of consideration for others, are often the result
of a certain shyness which, once understood, generally
reveals beneath the surface a far greater cordiality of
feeling than that underlying continental scraping and
hat-lifting. So, also, beneath the somewhat rough out-
ward manner of the North German there is often far
more fairness, if not generosity of sentiment, than is to
be found among more readily " taking" nationalities.

Downright vulgarity is not often met with in Ger-
many, but, when it is, it is far worse than in England.
It is more often allied to intense sensitiveness combined
with aggressive arrogance and Rcchthaberei — the mental
disease of feeling and asserting yourself to be always in
the right. In England even the most vulgar feel a cer-
tain nervousness, and are cowed before birth and posi-
tion: it is not so in Germany.

This brings us to the consideration of a German

German Society.


institution which, if not conspicuous for vulgarity, is not
without a taint of barbarism — dueUing. It is nurtured Duelling,
at the university, and is customary in all grades of Ger-
man life, except the humble classes. Since the War of
1870 it has perhaps been on the increase, and only a
few years ago, two schoolboys, of the respective ages
of sixteen and thirteen, were had up before the court of

Opkra House, Frankfort-on-the-Main.

justice in Stuttgart for fighting a most determined duel
with pistols. They were both dangerously wounded.

What can be said against duelling has been forcibly
j;ut by Schopenhauer in his essay on the nuaniiig of
honor, and his arguments are unanswerable — among
them, that nations of such admitted virility as the
Swedes, the English, and the Americans (r\(^\\• also the
Russians) do without it.

That the " tf)uchiness " of tin- German character en-

, ,,• . . Ill • • Us encouragc-

courages duellmg is certain ; that the university mcnt.
authorities look upon it as a necessary means of inciil-

220 Imperial iioinaiij.

eating a certain manliness. In this case German youth
would seem to stand at a cHsadvantage compared with
the youth of those nations which possess manliness with-
out it.

Then, again, it is asserted by military authorities that

the^arm^'" duelling is necessary to the discipline of the army. If
such be the sad truth, it must be admitted that in Ger-
many it is not allowed to degenerate into bullying ; it is
kept within the narrowest possible limits, for no officer
is allowed to fight a duel without previously asking the
permission of the council of honor of his regiment, and
an unprincipled duellist would soon, like Othello, find
his occupation gone.

But whichever way we look upon it, it seems a pity

A barbarous j^^t j-i^jg barbarous custom should exist practically unre-
Strained, and be answerable for much sorrow and wrong
in the country. For (iernian duels (except those at the
university) are anything but child's play. The middle-
aged professional man, at the slightest insult, remembers
his university days, and is ready to meet the fiercest
military fire-eater with sword or pistol.


Leaving duelling out of the question, the above strict-
ures must, of course, not receive acceptance without a
due reservation and allowance to be made. Except
duelling they hardly apply at all to the best society of
the wealthier cities of the empire, besides the former
free towns of Hamburg, Bremen, Frankfort-on-the-Main,
etc. There we find the patrician burgher supreme, and
with him all the peculiarities of his supremacy.

The days when the good Frankforters used to speak
Changes in French in their social gatherings are passed ; also the

social life. _ ° o I '

ambition of the gilded youth of Hamburg and Bremen

German Society. 221

to pass itself off as English has undergone a slight trans-
ition. Nowadays the commerce-gorged types of Frank-
fort sun their dull features in the blaze of stars and
ribbons earned in the dust and glare of battle, and feel
themselves belonging to a great military nation, against
the creation of which they literally raved and whined.

The social status of the well-educated and wealthy
commoner in the above-mentioned towns, to which a ^■'T'^'i'^"" '"
few others might be added, is a far higher one than
where he is overshadowed and left in the cold by a court
and its military surroundings. In capitals such as Dres-
den and Stuttgart it is comparatively rare to see a
civilian in the best society. Everywhere are glittering
uniforms ; sets that are patronized by the flower of cav-
alry regiments ; others, more humble, that are content
with the infantry, who hardly ever congregate socially ;
ofificial balls, where the subaltern and the minor civil
official have to dance with the gawky daughters of their
superiors till they wish themselves away. Here the male
element reigns supreme, but in the towns where there is
no dominating court society the fair sex exercises a con-
trolling social influence, although it has not always been
employed as well as it might have been. Still, anybody
who has mixed in the best society of these towns cannot
have failed to notice the well-bred ease of manner of the
ladies and their high culture. With the possession of
money there has grown a cultivation of the fme arts and
a great diffusion of the social amenities of life generally.
These towns mostly possess a patriarchal oligarchy con- a patriarchal
sisting f)f the wealthiest families, some of them with a " '
liislory reaching back many generations. There is less
distinction to be found between the titled and the com-
moner, and yet the petty spirit of cli(iues which is pecu-
liar to social life in ("/< rmany shows itself even there,

222 Imperial Germany.

though in a special form. For the wealthy merchant-
citizen has a class priile of his own, which is not always
justitied by the small attention he pays to externals.
The wealthy citizen is deferential to his womankind,
ciiaracteristics ^yhich has a knack of exacting: deference. But he has

of the wealthy *

citizen. oftcn a bumptious hauteur and purse pride which ])Ut to

shame the pride of birth of the noble with sixty-four
quarterings. A class which in England is oftcn known
for its toadying to the aristocracy now and then shows
bloated arrogance in Germany. The wealthy consul —
here and there a generous patron of the fine arts, com-
bining the culture of intellect with the manners of good
society — is often an arrogant type of hard-headed
counting-house life. Never so uneducated as some of
our city magnates, he is far more arrogant and offensive.
This arrogance is too often the veil under which he tries
to hide his conscious social inferiority to the noble of the

Although the wealthy Frankforter patrician will give
you to understand that he is the equal of any count of

Different planes ,ttit-. t-'i- • ii*

ofsociety. the Holy Roman Empire, he is yet conscious that his

equality exists only in his own imagination as long as he
is within the four walls of his beloved father-town. He
has a distinct knowledge that though his daughters may
receive the best society at home, they have only to
marry a commoner in Berlin or Dresden or Munich in
order to lose their social feathers and to be quietly rel-
egated to a place, outside the select circle. Thus the
consciousness of his greatness is a very imperfect one,
and, as such, shows all the drawbacks which imperfect
convictions are apt to develop in the human breast.
After all, the good German patrician town-folk are only
human, and, as such, but the creatures of the petty
character of their existence.

German Society.


Berlin is the one town in the empire where untitled
intellect has from time to time held a distinct and recog- ^^^'^.'^jf^'^
nized social position, and, hand in hand with rarely
cultured women, exercised a distinctly beneficial social,
if not even a political, influence. The intellectual society
between the
years 1830 and
i860 in Berlin
wielded more
than local influ-
ence. Men such
as Prince Puck-
ler, Varnhagen
von Ense, the
Mendel ssohns,
Lassalle, and
women such as
Rahel Levin and
others, left their
stamp on the
thought of their
time. They in-
spired as well as
entertained. The
fare then offered

was of Spartan simplicity, invariably only tea and small
cakes, and yet in their hands society offered the only
analogy to a French salon (d la Madame Recamier, or,
in our days, ci la Madame Mohl) which has ever been
realized in Germany. If these ideal conditions no longer
exist, on the other hand some advantages remain to
German cosmopolitan society which are woith ni>liiig.
If, for example, you meet a man of note or c-.xceplional
position, you have not to run the gauntlet of a crowd of

The Stkassuuko Camikdral.

1)0 Ilnti'd.

224 Imperial Germany.

middle-class nobodies — to steer through a miasmic at-
mosphere of sycophancy — in order to get at him. The
Ahscnccof German middle classes have not yet taken to lion-

nuntmg and its vulgarizmg accessories as a trade, an
aim in life.


In Berlin in recent years the Duke of Ratibor unites
the Hite of intellect and science under his hospitable roof.
Countess Schleinitz until lately was a magnet that at-
tracted and retained all that is eminent in the musical
world. Postmaster Dr. Stephan receives the cream of
Berlin society, as also do from time to time all the other
ministers. Prince Bismarck's receptions while he was in
office were, of course, familiar to the world at large.

The late Professor Helmholtz occupied an exceptional
position, and in his home he was the center of a circle
which in the world of science could perhaps hardly be
equaled for brilliancy outside the walls of Paris. Like-
The Mendeis- ^^^^ the family of Mendelssohn has for generations past
sohn ramiiy. j^^j^ ^ high social position in Berlin. From the witty
contemporary of Frederick the Great downwards, this
family has produced a succession of cultivated men and
women. To-day the Mendelssohns are a center of polite
and intellectual society in Berlin.

The wealthy plutocracy, here as elsewhere, cultivate
the aristocracy of intellect and of the fine arts as a
fashion, some vain vision of French salons of past days
seemingly being the ideal they hopelessly strive to imi-
tate. Besides the above, the wives of one or two celeb-
rities of the world of letters hold receptions which
partake of a cosmopolitan character. They endeavor
to weld or fuse into a homogeneous social stratum the
many characteristic elements of which Berlin society is

Gerniaii Society. 225

composed. The experiment is said to be fairly success-
ful, but those who are best acquainted with them aver -'^ ^ozxsx

' ^ experiment.

that a touch of bohemianism pervades the whole ; an
exaggeration of stilted forms in some, flanked by a
somewhat boisterous abandon in others — the whole pro-
ducing the impression of a spasmodic experiment that is
not indigenous to the soil. For behind all these Berlin
efforts at social intermingling stalks the proud typical
figure of Lieutenant von Strudelwitz, who would be hor-
rified if a celebrated musician or a literary magnate were 1
seen in his house. To such as he — and he represents a
distinct class — a man like Count Hochberg (brother of
the wealthy Prince Pless) has soiled his escutcheon in
accepting the superintendence of the various royal
theaters, although by so doing Count Hochberg is in a
position to influence the taste and culture of the public in
as marked a manner as any six literary stars combined.

Lieutenant von Strudelwitz is a type whose ancestral Lieutenant von
leanings may be traced in the direction of Mecklenburg,
in that favored duchy where, until recently, a mild form
of the "cat," made of a good solid stick, now and then
reminded the humbler inhabitants of the blessings of a
patriarchal state of things. For there are even now
authorities to be found who .strenuously aver that the
stick is not half so debasing as some of our more civil-
ized forms of punishment. Lieutenant von Strudelwitz' s
social ambition is the membership of the most exclusive
club of the capital, the "Union," where gambling vised
to be indulged in by officers until young Prince William,
now German emperor, one day prohibited it in decided

In Major von K., until recently of the Alexander
Guard Regiment, ciuartered in Ik-rlin, we have one of
the finest types of the Prussian officer. He, too, is



Imperial Germany.

Attributes of a
noble officer.

Lack of boast-

noble by birth, but not necessarily narrow in brain and
sympathies in consequence. If he admires England, it
is the history of England's greatness, the English char-
acter of energy, of manliness, which excites his admira-
tion. He and his like invariably read, if not speak,

English, and are
pleased to re-
member that it
was a Scotch-
man whose his-
tory of Freder-
ick the Great is
the standard
work on his
country's great-
est king.

Although he
loves his profes-
sion, which he
considers one
that ought to
be above the
temptation of
money-making and petty personal ambition, he yet is
able to recognize the worth and honor that can be
sought and found in every walk of life, however humble.
If you refer to the privileges the aristocracy possess in
the army, he will tell you it is at most a preference they
enjoy, which, if not deserved by constant and unre-
mitting work and attention, only goes for nothing. He
admits the prefix of von does sometimes confer a pref-
erence, but he does not boast of it, but rather seeks to
excuse it by quoting the number of his ancestors and his
relations who from time to time have shared the dark-

The " Frauenkirche," Dresden, the Finest
Protestant Church in Saxony.

German Society. 22-

€St days of Prussia's eclipse in the service of the state.
Except in some instances of self-assertingf plutocracy,

'^ . . '^ '^ . A negative

German society presents one particular negative ad- advantage,
vantage. It is as yet comparatively free from that
restless, vulgar cadging to be found in some countries.
The toady, the tuft-hunter, the vulgar pushing
matron, if not unrepresented, are almost non-existent. .
Not that human nature is different there from else-
where. The conditions are healthier in this respect.
German society offers little temptation to the vulgar
\\\\o bow down to show and wealth ; a toady would
seek in vain a profitable return for his efforts ; and,
lastly, rich heirs are too rare to reward the endeav-
ors of intriguing matrons.


Willst du genau erfahren, was sich ziemt,

— Goethe.

So frage nur bei edlen Fraut-n an.'


Tacitus — that supreme authority on the Germans
ot old — mentions in enthusiastic language their defer-
ence for their womankind. He also praises the German
women for their severe chastity, in such striking con-
trast to the Romans.

Valerius Maximus tells us in reference to their
Chastity of Ger- chastity that the Teuton female prisoners begged vic-

inan women. • n /r • 111 1 11

tonous Marius to allow them to devote themselves
to the service of their holy virgin Vesta, assuring him
they would preserve themselves unstained like this god-
dess and her priests. In consequence of his refusal,
they all strangled themselves in the following night.
Bearing in mind the brutality of those times, the fierce
passions and reckless life of the men, this trait of the
chastity of the women stands out in bold relief, as also
the honor paid to them. In fact, the veneration in
which their women were held by the Germans runs
Veneration right through history ; it is met with in the Middle Ages
pai em. .^ ^^ form of virgin worship, and also in the sentiment

of the Minnesingers — the singers of love. It runs
through German poetry down to the present day. It is

1 1 f you would know exactly what is seemly you need only ask the noble


Womankind and Family Life. 229

true that, in our matter-of-fact time, a little poetry goes
to the wall ; but neither do we expect to find the heroic
\-irtue of German vestals so ready to run to self-immola-
tion as of old. Evil tongues have even been known to
whisper that German women have not always bad
sufificient hatred for the enemies of their country to
please their lords. In fact, many observers to-day fail
to find that stern control of their feelings the old Roman
historians credit them with. Perhaps the sickly kind of
sentimental poetry of the last hundred years has had Demonstrative-
something to do with the development of demonstrative-
ness in German womanhood. However, no rule with-
out an exception : the Germans of to-day are as loud as
ever in praise of their womankind, and the testimony of
a stranger may well be added to the chorus of praise.
Madame de Stael, in her celebrated book "On Ger-
many," says :

The German women possess a charm that is peculiarly their
own, a sweet intonation of the voice ; fair hair and dazzlin^^ Stael's tribute.
complexion. They are modest, their feelings are true, and
their demeanor is simple. Their careful education and the
purity of mind that is natural to them combine to make up
the charm they exercise.

If we may judge the intellectual capacities of a race
by the history of its greatest men, so we can gauge the
moral possibilities of a people by the character of its
greatest and noblest women. In this sense the Germans
may well be proud of their womankind. For although
the Salic law lias prevented them pn^ducing rulers of
the type of our Queen Elizabeth — except in the one
splendid instance of Maria Tlieresa — yet women of
German blood have before now played a giant's part in
history. Empress Catherine of Russia was a born (Ger-
man, Princess Auguste Fredcricke of Anhalt-Zerbst.

'30 Imperial liiinuxiiy.

She was a I'liu- iiislancc of tlic povvir of will and in-
tellect, though she can hardly be saiil to stand as a
model of female \irtue. But (ierman history shows a
jjiKcu Louisa's fairer fieure than her in Oueen Louisa of Prussia, the

beautilul char- "^ -^ _ '

•'»*^"''- mother of the late emperor William. In her were

united all the noblest characteristics of German woman-
kind ; and her exaniplc, stirring' the soul of an entire
nation in her time, may be said to be one of the bright-
est prototypes for the Germans of the future to tlwell on
and to li\e up to. It has even been stated that, without
the moral purification which Prussian society underwent
through the bright example of her domestic life, it is
hardly jjossible that the rising of Prussia in 1S13 against
Napoleon could have taken place. An author of the
period says of her :

Tlic consort ul" Frederick WilUam lib was endowed by
nature with everything that can be deemed charming in the sex.
The fairest queen with a yet fairer soul : a wliole woman in the
words' deepest meaning. No wish to participate in tlie rule of
lier iuisband was in her character, only devotion to ills person,
nurtured by love, tlie pun-st type of innocence and high
womanly modesty ; such were the principal traits in Louisa's
character, which were destined to form the happiness of the
king and to be the model of a wife to tlie nation at large.

jj^^_.^^.^jj Another author like the one already quoted, a severe

mat"'' '"'^''" observer of mankind, Ilerr von Lang, in his memoirs,
says of the queen :

She was in truth a woman who hovered like an ethereal
being over us, in the form of an angel, with the sweetest per-
suasive powers witii wliich she cast the rays of her lovely
nature around her, so tliat everybody was as if transfixed
into a dream, charmetl by this living, moving fairy picture.

This is high, yes, even extravagant praise ; but it is
fully borne gut by e\ery testimony of friend and foe,
among the latter Naj^oleon and his councillor Talley-

JVoma?i/cifid and Family Life. 231

rand, who said of her : "I knew I should sec a lovely
queen ; but I have seen the loveliest of queens and the
most interesting of women."


Next to history, the literature of a country affords us
a clue to the character of a nation's women. At least,
its poets sliow us what its ideals are like. The heroines
of Walter Scott, Richardson's "Clarissa Harlowe," and,
above all, the glorious creations of Shakespeare, are
heirlooms to the end of time to show posterity what
English womanhood resembled— in its purest ideality,
l)erhaps, the rarest union of tenderness allied to strength
(jf character yet revealed to man.

A cursory glance at the German creations of fiction
shows a marked difference from those of our country. German woinen

11'" 'iction.

No purer, no fauer types has literature created than
those of Goethe and Schiller, yet they are distincdy (Ger-
man ; they are difTerent from our own. Our ideal women
show an independence of character tliat is absent from
the German type. The German figure of poetry enables
us to understand the national boast that there is nothing
like German Weiblichkcit C womanliness). It is un-
dfjubtedly a splendid quality, and yet we cannot bring
ourselves to consider its uniqueness as always synony-
mous with superiority to our own. Each type has
its lights and shades, its strong as well as its weak
points. But to our insular mind the German idi-al is a
little too self-forgettingly devoted, too slavishly worship-
ing, not to make us feel a lack of that strong individual-
ity we find, for instance, in women of Slavonic race.

There is something in the ( ieiinan ideal of woman n,,. (;,.,,„,,„
hood which bids us fee 1 tlieir devotion, once given, leaves 'l',';;ll.,','[,,o^,j.
us no fiirtlier fields to con<|niT. There is something in

Impnial Germany.



the English and Slavonic type which makes us feel it
imperative not only to gain, but to retain, her devotion.
Thus we are of opinion that English as well as Slavonic
women hold their influence longer than their German

Goethe's Gretchen i in "' Faust" ) is essentially Ger-
man in her simple-minded purity, but even more so
in her childlike devotion, and, later on, in her remorse.
Of his Clarchen (in *" Egmont" ) almost the same may
be said. They cause us to feel that it must have been
easy to gain the love of such simple natures, and ihat
we should have esteemed them lighdy accordingly.
And yet it is just this blind, simple, childlike devotion
which looks up to an Egmont as a superior being that
has the greatest charms for the German lover.

It is interesting to note of Fredericke of Sesenheim,
perhaps the sweetest of Goethe's characters — for she
was a lix^ing reality- — that it was her rural simplicity' that
cooled the poet, or at all events enabled him to tear
himself away from her.

In Lotte (in " Werther's Sorrows " ; Goethe has given
us another German t\'i>e — the perfect housewife, cutting
bread-and-butter all around. She is thoroughly honest
and true to her husband, yet she leaves us with a sus-
picion that, if poor Werther had not shot himself, her
friendship for him might have presented her with psy-
chological doubts as to how she should reconcile it with
her love to her husband.

If these female creations excite the admiration of the
men. the lyric poetr)- of the nation has an inordinate in-
fluence over the budding female mind. In fact, poetic

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