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Imperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character online

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brated stud of Trakehnen, which was destined to
improve the breed of horses all over the country, owed
its existence to the solicitude of the king.

Frederick William was far more a king of the poor
than a "soldier king," as one-sided historians long
declared him ; the liardness and harshness for which he
has been blamed were often necessary in his reforming
work. The landed aristocracy rebelled when he sought
to abolish the serfdom of the peasantry, and he only
succeeded in (liminishing tlu- unjust exactions cjf the t,eiiefui:ii' to
landowners. Win n tlic ])(Uy nobility refused to pay a
land-tax, and demanded thai their grievance should be
put before tlx- Provincial Diet, In- wrote the memorable
\v(jrds : "1 siiall gain my point, and plant the so\'-
creignty of the crown as tirm as a rock of bion/c,
.and let tiiese gentry indulge in lluir wind)- talk in the
Diet. We can afford to let people talk when we gain
our point."

Compulsory education, llie otiicial system, and uni-
versal military service, which he introduced, iia\e since
become part of the flcsii and l)loo(l of the nation.


Imperial Germany.

the Great's

His works of


It was Frederick the Great wIki, in the midst of the
dogmatic and philosophic contentions of tlie time,
quietly said: "In my country everybody can secure
his salvation in his own fashion." To him it was that
one of his great territorial nobles, Count Schaf^gotsch,
wrote apologizing for having changed his religion. He
explained how the acquisition of the estate of Schlacken-
werth was bound up with the condition of his becoming
a Catholic. Frederick, in his reply, dryly put it: "I
have taken cognizance of your lordship's action, to
which I have no objection. Many roads lead to heaven ;
your lordship has struck out on the road by Schlacken-
werth. Bon voyage ! ' '

In every department of political and social reform
Frederick the Great took the initiative. He continued
his father's work of creating a free and independent
peasant class, particularly through his edict of 1764,
which led the way to the total abolition of peasant serf-
dom. He advanced capital to the peasant soil-cultivator,
saw that whole districts were drained, laid the founda-
tions of new villages, and gained arid tracts of land for
the plow.

The reign of PVederick William III. was one of deep
national misfortune and degradation. Still, the personal
qualities of the king command our highest respect. At
a time when the pretensions of the aristocracy, particu-
larly ia the army, were an unbearable nuisance, the
for iiis subjects, king promulgated the following cabinet order :

I have noticed with great displeasure that young officers in
particular endeavor to take precedence of civilians. I shall see
that the army is duly esteemed and recognized in its proper
place at the seat of war, where it is called upon to risk life and
limb in the defense of the country. Otherwise, no soldier,

William III.'s

The Priissiaii Monarchy. 85

whatever his rank, is to dare to ill-treat even the humblest
of my citizens, for it is they, and not I, who keep the army. In
their service are the soldiers the command of whom is confided
to me, and arrest, dismissal, and even the penalty of death
await those who act in contravention to my orders.

This is in the true HohenzoUern spirit of protecting the
weak from the strong, and explains the attachment
of the people to the king notwithstanding the trials
Prussia underwent during his reign.

In his reign, too, domestic virtue, so sadly outraged
by society at the time, gained a shining example in his Queen Louisa,
own family. The divine figure of Queen Louisa stands
out for all time as a model of a royal wife and mother.
Has not the late emperor William borne eloquent testi-
mony to the influence of that mother, who at all times
was his guiding star?

Even before the turn of the tide came, and the wave
of French invasion was hurled back which was destined
in course of time to exhaust itself on a barren Atlantic
island, that happy gift of the HohenzoUerns, the capacity
of choosing the best advisers, shone out anew, and
Stein, Hardenberg, and Scharnhorst helped to prepare
the rebuilding of the shattered national edifice.


Tf) admit that, after 1815, a period of reaction set in
that bade many patriots grow anxious for the prospects ,,.ac^uo"i'. "
of their country is only to .say that there are periods of
dull apathy in the life of nations as well as in that of in-
dividuals. I)Ut t\(ii (hiring the reign of hrederick
William I\'., dimincd as it was by Prussia's abject
political role, we can still trace that endeavor of the
rrown to raise the culture and increase thi- happiness
of the people.

86 Imperial Germany.

While an iron tyraniiv markrd the achninistration of
Chayacterof Austria, as well as of the minor Cierniaii states, there


William IV. 's was at least an earnest o-ood-will on the part of Fred-

reigri. ^ ■'

crick William. The impetus he gave to science and
philosophy, though perhaps not visibly productive at
the time, yet did its share in preparing the public
mind for tlie great events that were to follow. His
romantic idealism, which in its aberration unselfishly
and modestly looked up to an old-fashioned political
oracle such as Metternich' as an authority in the art of
making a people happy — even this weakness was not
without its useful lesson for his successors. For it indi-
rectly tended to emphasize the growing conviction on
the j)art of the select few that sooner or later only a
struggle of life and death could unite Germany.

This and more we ha\e witnessed in our time, and
the greatest here again we find a Hohenzollern king at hand, the
first to recognize the signs of the times, with almost
supernatural instinct in the detection of merit, taking
the foremost place in the onward march of events, and
realizing the German dream of centuries of national
unity and independence. For although without a Bis-
marck the Germany of to-day might have been, without
the late emperor William it could not have been.

In him truly Germany produced a great character,
a force often far more decisive in the shaping of destiny
than all the arts of Machiavelli. And in his case the
words of Goethe, that only men of eminence are cap-
able of recognizing the truly great, find their lit appli-

1 Metternich was a diploiiialist who was supreme in Austria's councils and
by his craft largely controlled tlie policy of Europe from 1815 until 1848. He
represented the " reaction," /. ,"., the effort of continental monarchs to reassert
and reestablish the "divine right" which the Frencli Revolution had \ irtu-
ally destroyed. The main efforts of the reaction were to exercise censorship
of the press, regulate university teaching, refuse or curtail constitutional gov-
ernment, and forcibly to suppress political revolutions throughout Europe.


■^ ^^***w



i^ . H|H|^BBp>^^^

li^MI'lvKOK Wll.l.lAM I.

88 Imperial Germany.

cation in the relationship of the cmijcror to liis paladins.
Brought up in the feudal ideas of a monarchy existing
tVJnor'ihe'"'^ by the grace of God, he lived to discern the sterling
people. character and strength of that people he had once

contemptuously treated as populace. And that people
in its turn learned to understand, to appreciate, and
lastly to idolize the grand old warrior who amidst every
additional luster of his reign remained the same in
God-fearing modesty and in his attachment to what
he conceived to be his mission and his duty. ' This
enthusiasm of the people increased as the old hero ex-
ceeded the age usually allotted to man ; and when his
ninetieth birthday came around it seemed as if the relig-
ious element had mingled with the loyalty of a nation
before an historical figure whose career can find no
parallel in fiction. On that day well might the German

Their devotion . .

to him. students, 2,000 Strong, bear torches in his honor, and

halting before his palace windows cheer to the address
of their leader : "His Majesty, our most gracious kaiser,
the victorious leader in numerous battles, the unifier of
Germany's princes and people, the father of his country,
the custodian of the peace of Europe, the creator of a
new ideal world — long may he live ! ' '

The incidents of his death, which followed so soon
afterward, are still familiar to us all. We remember
how, after calling in vain for his suffering son, "Fritz,
lieber Fritz," almost the last words of the old warrior
were a key-note to his entire life : " I have no time to be
tired. ' ' But let us give place to one with rare powers of
judgment as well as opportunities of exercising them,

1 History will not omit to note what was perhaps one of the noblest traits of
his character, when in 1870 the old king preferred to accept a diplomatic defeat
— almost a personal liuniiliatioii— rather than inflict the misery of war on his
people. We know now how difficult it was to bring him to subscribe to the
declaration of war. — Vide Emperor Frederick's diary.

The Prussian I\Ionarchy. 89

and whose \erdict. if that of a stanch patriot, is at least
not that of a time-server — of a Saxon, and not of a Prus-
sian : '

The emperor William I. reached the hig;hest pinnacle of
worldly fame gradually in one continually rising progress,
showing himself equal to every new task as it came before Verdict of a
him. The man who united Germany, and gave her for the
first time for centuries the unsullied joy of victory, has only
sunk to rest to unite a whole people in sorrow round his

In the years during which the character of man is supposed
to shape itself, his highest ambition could scarcely have ex-
ceeded the hope of commanding the troops of his father or of
his brother. In these years he lived in retirement, sharing the
views of Prussia's best intellect, that the constitution of federal
Germany was as unsatisfactory as tlie state of her west frontier,
and that only a last decisive struggle could give the German
nation independence. He held on to this hope, and saw clearly
that only a strong Prussia would be able to break the pressure
of powerful surnjunding states, and fulfil the national destiny.

Thus he became a soldier, heart and soul, loved for his per-
sonal amiability, and feared for his severity in matters of dis-
cipline, which showed even the humblest subaltern that an
e.xacting and stern eye was upon him. Others slightingly mis-
took for useless play-soldiering wiiat was in reality a deep
political game.

Public opinion indulged in radical dreams ; it went into
ecstasies in brotherly enthusiasm for Poles and P'renchmen,
and hoped for a millennium of peace. In its conceit it could not
understand the rough military ardor and sense of duty of this
Prussian prince in its bearing on the future of the country.

In his opposition to organic changes in the constitution lu-
encountered all the hatred of party ; he warned his brother
that Parliament would abuse its power of granting taxation by
weakening the army. His warnings were not heeded, and as
he had before given up the love of his youtii to the (all ofdntx
to the state, so now he ceased all oi)position when once the de-

1 " Zwci Kaiser," by Mciiirich vnii Trcllsc like, professor of history in tin-
t'liiversily of Berlin. Vol. LXII. of " I'reiissisclie Jahrbiielier " (Pnissian

.V true soldier.

A loval brother.

go hnpcrial i'rcnnayiy.

An exile.

cision of the king his brother was taken. And like a knii;iit of
old he, as the first subject, took on his own shoulder all the
unpopularity that threatened to discharge itself upon the crown.
The revohilion broke out. A rabid liate, a storm of miscon-
ception, poured over his head and drove him into exile ; only
the army that knew him never wavered in its devotion, and at
the bivouac fires in Schleswig-Holstein the soldiers sang :

Prince of Prussia, brave and true,
Return and cheer thy troops anew,
Much-beloved general.

And when he returned from the exile which he had accepted
for his brother's .sake, he honestly and unreservedly cooper-
ated in the spirit of the new order of things.

Years afterward, the illness of Frederick William IV. put

The king of j^jp^ ^^ ^^^^ head of affairs. Two years later the death of the

Prussia. , .

king placed the crown on his head. After short days of popu-
lar joy and uncertain expectation, he had to feel the fitful char-
acter of popular favor and to begin that battle which, as heir to
the throne, he had foreseen — the battle for his own work, the
reorganization of the army. The hatred of party grew to such
intensity as was only possible among the descendants of the
sufferers by the Thirty Years' War ; the German comic papers
even represented this manly, true-hearted soldier's face as that
of a tiger. The struggle reached such a height that only the
decisive power of military success could cut the knot, and
prove the rights of the monarch.

And these successes came in those memorable seven years
which summed up the results of two centuries of Prussian his-
tory. Blow after blow, all these questions found their solution,
to the attainment of which the diplomacy of Prussia had
worked for generations.

The last of German boundaries in the North was torn from
Scandinavian grasp ; the battle of Sadowa secured what had
been missed at Kolin,' the liberation of Germany from the
hegemony of the House of Austria. Then at last, by a se-

The emperor of quencc of unnvaled victories, the coronation at \'er.sailles set

Germany. ^^^ g^^j ^^^ ^^^^ exceeded what in days gone by the men of

1813 had fondly hoped for.

1 Kolin, the severest defeat Frederick the Great sustained during the Seven
Years' War at the liantls of tlie .\uslrian commander, Field-Marshal Daun.

The Prussian Monarchy. 91

Gratefully the Prussians recognized that their institutions
were now more safeguarded than e\er under a powerful
sovereign ; for, immediately after the War of 1866, the king,
who had shown himself to be so thoroughly in the right, volun-
tarily offered atonement for the technical breach of the consti-
tution, and not a word of bitterness ever came to his lips to call
up the differences of the past. The whole German people had
for the first time gained the feeling of national pride and, in the
joy of their new condition, forgotten the discord of centuries.

Through all these wondrous events — events that might have
intoxicated even the brain of the most sober — King William His virtues.
comes before us unchanged in kindliness, firmness, and
modesty. He himself believed that only a short span would
be granted him to see the first beginning of the new order
of things. But it was ordained otherwise, and far more benefi-
cially. Not only did he live to complete the legal groundwork
of the new empire, but to add to the stability of the edifice
by the power of his individuality. At first the allied German
jjrinces only saw a diminution of their own jiower in ihe new
order of things. But soon they learnt to regard it as an e.\tra
guarantee of their own rights ; for one of their own number it
was who wore the crown, and his fidelity was a bond of safety
for all. Thus through the emperor's doing, and even against
the opinion e.xpressed by Bismarck, it came to pass that the
Hundesrath, which at first had been looked upon as the seed-
bed of dissension, in a few short years became the most reliable
guarantee of unity, while the Reichstag drifted into a helpless
plaything f)f jxarties.

The emperor never possessed a confidant who advistvl iiini
on every subject. With rare knowledge of mankiiul, he dis- nuaiiii"s ^
covered the best men to advise and assist him. With tlie free-
tl(}m from envy only belonging to a great heart, he left full
scope t(j those he had tried, but each one, even Bismarck, only
in his own department. I le always remained emperor, by
whose hands alone were held all the threads of power.

The highest hajjpiness of his life came to him when, after
having escaped assassination as if by miracle, he met the
enemies of society with that generous imperial message* which
aimed at striking at th<r root of the fimdanKiital evils of society

*Thc mcssaRc <>f February, itjKi, to the working clasSL-s.


Jnipcrial Litrjiiaiij.

Phe guardian
ol peace.

Frederick III.

Opinions as to
his ability as
a ruler.

in our time. Only sinrc liu-n lias llic nation t1ioroui;lily realized
what it possessed in its emperor. A current of popular afTection
hereafter carried him along. luirojie came to look upon the
old warrior as the guardian of tlie peace o{ the world. At
home the strong monarchical character of iiis government was
confirmed year by year. The personal will of the sovereign
wielded its good right side by side with that of Parliament, and
now with the warm approval of better informed i^ublic opinion.
The Germans knew that their emperor always did what was
right and necessary, and in his simple unadorned language
always " said what was to be said," as Goethe has it. Even in
fields of effort for which he had originally no natural bent, his
innate discernment soon found its bearings. How much the
ideal work of the nation owes to him ! Vet among artists and
men of science he never distinguished an unworthy one.

We all remember how the hopes of more than one
nation centered around tlie sick bed of hi.s dying- son, as
we all know how^ they were doomed to disappointment.
The grave closed over the purest embodiment of what
is noble in the German character, for Frederick retained
the idealism of youth even in middle age. Had he
lived, the world would ha\'e seen how far such a nature
would have been able to reconcile the differences and
antagonisms still latent in the Fatherland.

He was the hope of the advanced Liberals, not only
in Germany, but beyond its borders. On the other
hand, there are some, and by no means the least high-
minded, who inclined to the belief that his goodness
might ha\e been abused, his trust misplaced, and that
he did not possess the hardness necessary to guide the
national helm in troublous times. There are some who
hold that a noble nature is not identical with a good
and great ruler. It is no guarantee against one of the
greatest dangers of sovereigns — the misplacing of confi-
dence. A trivial matter in a private citizen, in a ruler

Kmpkkor I'ki-;i>i-;rkk III.

94 Imperial Germany

it is often one t)f supreme national importance. Some
critics point to the late emperor William- in this
respect — as almost of superhuman discernment, and
compare him with the emperor Frederick, who man)-
believe not only misplaced his confidence in a physi-
cian, but, of greater moment, misplaced his confidence
in one, at least, to whom he confided his diary.
Some, again, aver that the influence of the empress
his wife — so well intentioned — was not happy in this
respect. Many think Germany is hardly ripe for that
cosmopolitan breadth and generosity of view and sym-
pathy which distinguished Frederick III.

Through his rare simplicity and affability of manner

His popularity, he gained the popular heart as none had done before
him ; but whether that kindliness of disposition, that
earnest, almost feverish, desire for the welfare of all,
would have enabled him to carry out his benevolent
plans, none can tell. Some tliink that a man of his
romantic bent would have strongly resented a mis-
judgment of his aims. That he was capable of strong,
almost passionate, decision, the sudden dismissal of
Herr von Puttkamer' — the one noticeable act of his
short reign — seems to prove.

His was essentially the generous temperament of the

"mp^eTament. romautic idealist ; whether he would have shown the
same unimpassioned front to opposition and misjudg-
ment, the same greatness of character in forgiving it, as
his great father, the world can never know. Had he
lived, we believe his rule would have proved a bitter
disappointment to some of those who foolishly tried to
claim him as a partisan.

1 A Prussian politician and an extreme Conservative, who was vice-presi-
dent of the ministry from j88i to 1888. His dismissal arose from his objection
to certain reform measures promulgated by Emperor Frederick III.

The Prussian Monarchy


In many things the late emperor rcmhids us of that
noble and romantic Hohenstaufen, the emperor F"red-
erick II. Full of the most ideal and romantic yearn-
ings, and liimself of the highest cultivation of the mind,
he lived to see his plans thwarted, and then to die of a
broken heart.

Germany cannot yet afford to be ideally romantic or

His resem-
blance to
Frederick II.

Thk Royal Palack at Charlottknburg, where Emperor
Frederick I. Died.

cosmopolitan in sentiment. She is still- perhaps more
than ever — in want of a strong rallying-point, at all
iiazards, which shall unite the nation and enable it to
rise above meaner interests in moments of supreme

Even a superficial glance at what the lloiicn/.ollerns
have been to their country bids us understand that the
backbone of the Prussian nation has 1h( ii loth to i)in its
failh to foreign models of pirli.iniciitariMii. Il (lung to
its own monarchy, in wlii< h tin- .sovereign was not only
the first servant of the slate, but its true beacon-tower in

I'l iissiaii
laitli ill :i


Imperial Gcnnany.

Strength of



Patronage not
limited to the

victory as well as in adversity. While republicans con-
sistently choose to do without heaven-born authority,
there may be some peoj^le who would ])refer to live in a
country where the fountain of grace is a high-minded
monarch rather than the temporary chief of a party.
The loyal Prussians have hitherto had more than an
excuse for preferring the cooperation of Parliament to its
autocratic supremacy, as we have it in England.

Hitherto they have been justified in so doing. With
them loyalty was not a middle-class myth, but a reality
pulsating in the heart of the peasant, the educated
classes, as well as in that of the noble next to the throne.
And no w^onder it was so, for during generations, while
some royal families have done everything to extirpate
such a feeling in their own countries, the Hohenzollerns
have uniformly fostered and strengthened it. From
Frederick William I. — the creator of Prussia's official
organization — down to the present day, this was ever
strongly marked.

While the German aristocracy still clings to its tradi-
tions of birth-privilege, the Hohenzollerns have bridged
the old lines of demarcation, and have hitherto striven
to attract intellect and merit of every class within their
circle. Authors, painters, and men of science — in-
\ariably the best of each class — were often not merely
patronized, but distinguished in a manner reminding us
of the times of the Medici, and of Pope Julius H., who
followed the sulking Michael Angelo to Bologna: " In
the stead of your coming to us, you seem to have
expected that we should attend upon you."

Even here w-e find an analogy in the visit of the late
emperor William to Bayreuth, although that ungrateful
egotistical genius, Richard Wagner, showed himself
anything but appreciative of imj)erial favor.

The Prussian MonarcJiy.


Not only is every Prussian prince bound to learn
a handicraft, as if to bring- his sympathies within scope 'riie privilege
of the humblest, but the very poorest subjects have ever appeal,
been able to petition the sovereign directly. Thus,
loyalty is not a sentiment of vague attachment to an
unknown, unseen lay-figure, but is distinctly personal.
It shows itself, not in the gratification of vulgar curi-
osity- — the hunting after a show ; it is sunk deep in the
heart as an impetus to strengthen patriotism and duty.

The action of the
Hohenzollerns has
strengthened the
monarchical princi-
ple far beyond the
borders of the
Fatherland. Form-
erly a spark would
have sufficed to con-
sume most of the
German petty royal
courts. The Saxon
monarchy was only
saved in 1849 by
the Prussian guards
sweeping the streets
of Dresden with
nuisketry. .Since
then the loyalty of the jjcople of the petty principalities -pi,g
lias become strtrnger, under the guiding sun of Prussia. pH,"cipi'"'''^'
I-'ormerly many of the best intellects of Ciermany were '^'rengiiKued.

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Online LibrarySidney WhitmanImperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character → online text (page 6 of 23)