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Imperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character online

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that social democracy is feared, and subterraneously
spreading and powerful. It is but j)ermitted to hope
and belie\-e that the disadvantages may be temporary,
while the advantages may be permanent. If these ex-

12S Inipoial Ganiaiiy.

Power of the

pectations be realized, the Germans can jnstly retort on
the Manchester school : " Has it with yon prevented the
land drifting-, year by year, into fewer hands? Has it
not assisted to exterminate the small free-holders ? Has
it arrested the terrible depression of forty millions ster-
ling- in the annual value of English land ? Has it been
able to banish or lessen to any perceptible extent the
squalor, dirt, and misery to be met with in every large
town in the richest country of the world ? "

To many it might well seem as if despotic laws were
now and then as necessary in an over-civilized country
as in a primitive one. It is obviously as absurd to say
that force is no remedy as that unlimited liberty must
necessarily be an unalloyed boon. The opinion of the
majority is, after all, the expression of force— the will of
the many.



A great nation is a nation tliat produces great men.

— Lord Bcaco7isfield.

About a hundred years at^o there lived a German
author who wrote : "Oh, that we only possessed na-
tional pride and unity, and we should have been one
nation, the first, the most powerful, in Europe. One a German

' ' ^ ^ _ patriot s hope.

nation I For that alone 1 wish I could come back again
in a hundred years, to see my countrymen as a nation,
or to hear of a German William Pitt.'"

If poor old Weber could come to life again, he would
sec much to rejoice over in his Fatherland; much that
his honest old patriot's heart never dared to hope for ;
but, above all, he could still see Otto von Bismarck-
Schonhausen Prince Bismarck, Germany's Iron Chan-
cellor !

Those who only admire this great man because the
fates always turned the critical quarters-of-an-hour of Elements in

. , Bismarck's

history in his favor do not understand or can hardly ap- character.
preciate him. For in Bismarck's character, boldness,
perspicacity, and dogged determination are allied to
astute caution in a degree hardly equaled in history.
These in their union give rise to a moderation in success
ef|ually remarkable.

l'"or years we follow him, from his modest ancestral

1 Karl Julius Wt-her, " Dcmocritos."



Imperial Get in a in '.

home to his entry into poHtics ; everywhere tlie rough
A Prussian and Sturdy Prussian squire, readv to break an oppo-

sqiiire. -^ ' , .

nent's head or to save a man from drownmg ; every-
where strong, demonstratively aggressive in his un-
bridled animal spirits. Here and there short glimpses
of family affection relieve the picture of its harshness.
A descendant of a hardy northern soldier family, he
seems born out of his time ; a paladin longing for the
jousts of tournament, or for foray, or adventure by field
or flood.

He steps into a position of responsibility, and gradu-

Period of ,, , ,, i • 11

transformation, ally, very gradually, the strong wme passes through
fermentation, and the old nature is as if clarified into
a new character. " May it please God," he wrote to his
wife (July 3, 1851), "to fill this vessel with strong and
clear wine, now that the champagne of youth has effer-
vesced uselessly and left stale dregs behind." Those
who had known Bismarck only during these earlier years
hardly recognized the man later on at the head of affairs.

Called to the Frankfort Diet in 1851,' as the repre-
sentative of Prussia, he was a square peg in a round
hole for the condition of things as they then were.

In a letter to the prime minister of Prussia dated July
5, 1 85 1, Bismarck's predecessor in Frankfort, Herr
von Rochow,' tells the following respecting Bismarck's
appointment as his successor, and the comments of the
then prince of Prussia on his visit to Frankfort :

The latter said, " And this lieutenant of the Landvvehr is to
be our ambassador at the Diet?" "Yes," I replied, "and
I believe he is well chosen ; Herr von Bismarck is spontaneous,
energetic, and I beHeve he will come up to every expectation
of your royal highness."

1 The various German states, including Austria, were loosely combined in a
federation. The Diet was a representative body of delegates from the
different states. Austria wielded the chief power.

in the Diet.

From an aiili>\^nipli fmi h ail .

Pkinck Bismarck.

132 IinpcriaL Cicmiany.

Tlie prince had nothing to say in return, but in general
he was favorably impressed witii tliis (.■xcelleiit chamjiion
of right and true Prussian sentiments. I fancy his royal high-
ness would have wished Ilerr von Bismarck might have been
a little older, with gray hairs, but whether witii these attributes
it would be exactly possible to meet the expectations of his
royal highness I hardly dare to say.

As yet he is but feeling his way — the possibihties
of Prussia as a governing influence had not revealed
themselves to him. The aristocratic leanings of Austria
were indeed sympathetic to his Junker^ nature, even
thougii this same Austria lorded it over his own

At first we only see the militant nature — the fighting
nature'^'^ ^'^ man, ready to resent hostility by retort or blow from
whatever point of the compass it comes. The hauteur
of the Austrian ambassador, Count Thun, the president
of the Diet, receives its quietus incidentally," while
our hero is feeling his way and learning still to ap-
praise facts fully.

Gradually he awakens to the emptiness which under-
lies the Austrian pretensions. The man who since has
hardly ever looked at an opponent without reading him
through and through was not long in forming his
Power of opinion of the Austrian representative. To those who

readiriK men. i '

wrote to him warning him of the political astuteness of
his opponent, he replies, " My good folks, why he is a
thoroughly stupid fellow !"

But he had yet to clarify and formulate his ideas, and
to gain that statesmanlike view of affairs which enabled
him to subordinate everything to his j)urpose. He saw

1 Term for Prussian squire.

2 This refers to tlie well-known anecdote of Bismarck taking away the
breath of the Austrian ambassador by quietly asking him for a light for his
cigar at a time when none of the German representatives dared smoke be-
fore the president of the Diet.



himself recognized only as the representative of a
second-rate power, and his strong nature rebelled at the
position ; but he bore the unpopularity of Prussia with a
light heart, and even seemed to take pleasure in the
feelings that he evoked.

A Count Isenburg, irate at some remark of Bis- cc,\xx\\.
marck's, was said to be coming to Frankfort to thrash Jhreat!'^^''
him. But those who knew Bismarck chuckled at the
idea. He himself, hearing of Isenburg' s murderous
intentions, writes, "I cannot make out what I have
done to the good man ; I always took him for a harm-
less person.'" It need hardly be said the irascible count
thought the matter twice over.

The gossip of the period teems with illustrations of
his bold action and boisterous language, the tenor of
which openly revealed his political views and plans.
Many of his frank, blunt opinions on high personages
in those days are deeply instructive even now as show-
ing with how little wisdom the world is ruled. For
they ha\e invariably ]iroved to be incisive and true.
During these years of petty bickering and enforced
idleness the idea took possession of him that Austria Bismarck an

' enemy to

must be turned out of Germany, and henceforth he be- Austria.
came her death enemy.

The Italian war (jf 1859 broke out and witnessed
Austria's defeat. Public opinion in Germany strongly
e.xpressed itself in a wish to help Austria ; but Bis-
marck, even before the war had begun, was already
half inclined to take the opportunity to join hands with
l-'rance in humbling her. As this wish, openly e.\
pressed, was in direct opposition to the views held in
responsible quarters in Berlin, Bismarck was no longer
the right person to represent the latiii- in I'lankforl,

I " Prcussc-ii ill! Buiidesiag," page 159. Leipzig, 1885.


Imperial Germany.


and was transferred to Petersburg as Prussian ambas-
sador, where he arrived in March, 1859.

There the reputation of his opposition to, and even
Hispopuiaiitv hatred of, Austria had preceded him, and made him

111 Russia. ' '^ '

liighly popular in Russian court circles, still smarting
under the sense of the equivocal conduct of Austria
during the Crimean War.

In the meantime the Italian campaign had shown the
hopeless divisions of the German Federal States in a
stronger light than ever. The victory of France over
Austria was the consequence of this helplessness, and
caused a popular clamor for union to break out anew
in Germany, particularly in the Liberal party. On Sep-
The ■• National tcmber 15, 1859, the " National Union" was formed in
Frankfort-on-the-Main, which included in its program
the representation of the German people, and asked the
central power in Germany to be conferred on Prussia.

But time sped on, while King William saw that the
sword would need to be sharpened before anything
could come of this. It was imperative to strengthen
the army. Parliament refused to lend itself to a pro-
longation of the period of military service, as also to the
granting of the increased military budget ; at least,
unless the government would declare that it was pre-
pared to use the increased armaments to secure national
unity. In view of the jealousy of Austria and F>ance,
that concession was impossible. The king saw that a
foreign minister who would have to unfold all his plans
to a critical, inquisitive representative assembly must
needs give up, or at least must delay, their fulfilment.
The king, at the risk of losing his crown, determined to
carry out his plans for the reorganization of the army
against the opposition of the majority in Parliament,
and to obtain the necessary funds and spend them with-

Tlie liiiiK
decides upon

Bismarck. 135

out its consent. Thus arose a conflict between crown
and Parliament. In carrying out "this determination to
face the opposition of the majority of his subjects, the
king looked around for a ministry to stand by him.
One by one they fell in this bloodless battle against

King William stood alone. In this dilemma he was Bismarck
advised to send for Herr von Bismarck, who had ^ecomeshis
already gained the reputation of a bold and determined
politician. Thus originated Bismarck's relationship to
his sovereign, which lasted unbroken from 1862 till the
death of the king.


The years of struggle with Parliament from 1862 to
1866 are matters of history, and they tell us that Bis-
marck showed the .same courage and pertinacity as his
royal master.

History shows us with what dexterity during this pe- „. ,. ,

J J ^ 1 His diplomacy.

riod he hoodwinked his opponents, charming them, as it
uere, into a false sleep of security from which they
woke only to find the irrecoverable moment of action
past. We learn how, during his short stay in Paris in
1862, he confided his ])lans to the emperor.' "He is
mad," the latter said; and the empress thought him a
funny fellow. The French ministers with one accord
agreed that he was not by any means a man to be
taken seriously into account.

The preliminary fight for the standard took i)lacc in ,jessio„ ^r
1.S64, when Austria joined Prussia in the campaign n'^oi'^^td'i,'^"
against Denmark, which ended in the cession to Ger-
many of .Schleswig-Holstcin.

It is again a matter of hi.story how Bismarck and the

> Niipolcoii III.

136 Imperial Germany.

king, still acting in opposition to the parliamentary ma-
jority of the country, twisted the division of the spoil
into a rope that coiled itself around the throat of Austria
''Seven Weeks' on the held of Sadowa in 1.S66. We find Bismarck


starting for Bohemia on the outbreak of this war, the
object of universal hatred, if not of execration. He has
told us himself that had Prussia lost he would have un-
failingly committed suicide.

So far we see only the bold political gambler playing
for a great stake. The victory won, he is suddenly re-
vealed in a new character ; for he who had been mainl\-

Bismarck's . ^ ..... , . , . ,

change of instrumental m brmgmg this war about, ni the moment

of victory turns around and boldly opposes his royal
master and his military advisers in their wish to despoil
Austria. He himself has told us how, during the nego-
tiations of Nickolsburg, he had to encounter such oppo-
sition that his nervous system was thoroughly unstrung.
Tlie man of iron threw himself on his bed and sobbed
like a child.

We have seen the j)olitical leader in the making ; we
will now take a glance at the man. First and foremost
among his characteristics we note the rare power of
rising at e\'ery crisis above his narrower self, and
making the interests of his country supreme.

The man who opposed the spoliation of Austria after
Sadowa might well call out with Lord Clive, "I stand
appalled at my own moderation." For it was not the
fear of France, as some erroneously suppose, that dic-
tated such wise moderation, but that prophetic instinct
of his— that instinct which often leads genius to be
stoned by one generation in order to be adored by
posterity — that enabled him to see that a day was near
when it would be policy to be friends with the present

His moderation
Iir)t witiiout

Bismarck. 1 37

Austria has bitten the dust before — in fact, she must
ahnost have become accustomed to it by force of habit —
but the Austrians had never before been humbled by a
foe who, within a generation of laming their arms, suc-
ceeded in gaining their hearts. Yet such is the present us reward,
state of things in parts of Austria — where the hatred of
Prussia prior to 1866 was most intense — that Emperor
AV^illiam and Prince Bismarck compete in popularity
with her reigning house.

Such is the first result of the working out of this trait
of sagacious magnanimity in a great object in Bismarck.
Although he may not be able to say on his death -bed,
with Richelieu, that he had never had any personal
enemies, his only enemies having been the enemies of
the state, he can point to even rarer characteristics.
The subordination of his own strong passions has often
taken a far higher form. If we can picture him as Sylla,
the Roman dictator, crushing his rivals ruthlessly, ex-,
terminating their adherents, we cannot quite credit him
with that stoicism which enabled Sylla to bear in silence j^iodl^^^syiia.^
the opprobrious epithets of that young patrician who
followed the ex-dictator, reviling him, through the
streets of Rome. But our appreciation must increase
in proporiicjn tlic more we bear in mind his passionate
temi)er, when we come to consider that no single in-
stance is on record of Bismarck's ever allowing his
strongest personal leanings, antipathies, or passions to
influence seriously his action when the welfare of the
.state was in c|uestion.

The War of 1S66 concluded, Bismarck returns to
PxTJin with the king, and takes share in the ovations
of the people. He first seeks, side by side with his


Imperial Germany.

The Killol
liidemiiilx .

The secret

sovereign, the con-
donation of past
breaches of the let-
ter of the constitu-
tion, and the Bill of
Indemnity is passed
with acclamation by
a Parliament de-
lighted with national
victory. '

Now begins the
new phase in his ac-
ti\ity — the work of
consolidating what
had been gained —
the strengthening of
the North German
Confederation, the
conciliation of the
popular assembly,
and the smoothing
of the way to a bet-
ter understanding
with the South.

At the beginning
of this period falls masterstroke of
Bismarck's which
was only revealed
to the public and
to France like a
clap of thunder in 1867 — the secret treaty with the

1 The government in violation of the constitution had, in spite of the oppo-
sition of Parliament, carried out its policy of organizing and strengthening
the army.

Princess Bis.makck.

Bismarck. 1 39

South.' The result of this would have been that even
liad the French tardily prox'oked war in 1S66, they
would have found Prussia at the head of all Germany,
a fact they were loth to believe even in 1870, notwith-
standing the previous publication of the treaty.

The years from 1866 to 1870, in their creative and
consolidatin<^ fertilitv, belong- to history; it suffices for Kom years of

c> - ' * ^ ' _ _ peace.

our purpose that they were years of unremitting work
and successful effort with Bismarck. Their calm was
only once disturbed by the Luxemburg quarrel in 1867,
which would have led to war then had it not been for
Bismarck's moderation. This, again, must be regarded
as a striking instance of that self-control and moderation
in success so conspicuous in Bismarck's character ;
doubly so. when we bear in mind that he already
regarded war as inevitable.

The leading facts of the War of 1S70 and the after-
results of these unprecedented campaigns are too well The vvar of
kiKnvn 1(1 r((|uirc that we should dwell on them. It
sufifices for our purpose to point out that, onerous as
were the conditions imposed on tin- vancjuished in the
eyes of the placid onlooker, it was notoriously the work
of Bismarck that they were not far more so. Here, as
in 1.S66, Bismarck was opposed by Moltke, of whom a
uKjst impartial French writer says, " Had Moltke had his M<)iike's
way, France would have been annihilated." And let ^m'P"'^"'""-
there be no mistake: there was nobody to stop the
way ; Austria was ])o\\erless, Russia passive, and the
(tfTers of Fngland's interference ha<l been coldly de-
clined. The calm, dispassionate moderation of Bis-
marck in success, although jjcrhaps hardly perceptil)le
tf) our eyes, has yet been recognized as one of his strik-
ing characteristics, even by individual Frenchmen.

1 That is, with the Soulli German states— Bavaria, Wiirteinberg, and Batleii.


Imperial Gi'iniain ■.

A policy of

Congress, 1878.

receives a
niilitarv order.

It is beside our purpose to enter chronologically here
into the details of his latter-day internal administration ;
we wish only to summarize.

The supreme position he gained for himself and
helped to gain for his country has, since 1870, been
utilized in the interests of peace, so that it has been well
said that never before has such immense political power
been used with such moderation. This is, perhaps, the
brightest jewel in Bismarck's crown of glory, even if in
justice we must admit that he only shares it with his late
imperial master. This moral position led to what was
perhaps, in one sense, the greatest triumph of his life,
when, after the late Turco-Russian War, Europe seemed
on the eve of a desperate struggle, and Russia and
England met at Berlin, and sought the adjustment of
their differences at the hands of the "honest broker."

Side by side with the unparalleled ovation on the part
of all Germany which greeted Bismarck on the attainment
of his eightieth birthday — April i, 1895 — we cannot re-
sist the temptation of referring back to a letter the late
emperor William wrote to him in September, 1884, on
the occasion of conferring on him the military insignia
of the order ' ' Pour le Merite. ' ' For its spirit breathes
the due recognition of services such as rarely have been
rendered to a state by a subject, and is doubtless unique
in history as the tribute of a sovereign, who thus hon-
ored himself as much as him whom he distinguished :

Although the significance of this order is intended to be
essentially military, still you ought to have had it long ago.
For, in truth, you have shown the highest courage of the
soldier in many hard times, and, besides, in two wars you have
shown at my side that, beside all other distinctions, you have
the fullest claim to a high military one. Thus I make up for
omissions ( Vcrsaum/cs) in sending you herewith the order
" Pour le Merite," with oak leaves {Eic/irn/au/') added, if only

Bismarck. 141

to express thereby that you ought to have had it before, and
that you have deserved it again and again. I so fully appreciate Emperor
in you the heart and mind of a soldier that I hope, in sending ^Hbufe"^'^
you this order, which many of your ancestors wore with pride,
to give you pleasure. In doing so it affords me satisfaction to
feel that I am thereby granting a deserved distinction as a
soldier to the man whom God's gracious providence has
placed by my side, and who has done so much for his country.


Thus the people, who were so slow to recognize the
man, had come to look upon everything that had oc-
curred, good or bad, as directly foreseen by or emanating
from him. Of course this is as far from being the case
as the estimate of public opinion is ever far from being
the verdict of history. No human being foresees every
turn of the wheel of time ; in nine cases out of ten even
to the ken of genius it is the unforeseen that occurs.
But great men meet the unexpected, while mediocrity is
overtaken and crushed by it. Nor are Bismarck's great
successes alone the most remarkable feature in the man.
The way he has repeatedly turned an awkward occur-
rence to his advantage supplies us with subject for sagacity,
admiration. When (German colonial annexations caused
an outburst of patriotism in .Spain to defend her rights
to the Caroline Islands, ])ublic opinion thought that at
last Bismarck had got into trouble. But lo! he proposes
the arbitration of the pope, and by that single move
does more, without loss of dignity, to conciliate the
Catholic world than a series of reactionary laws might
have attained.

Uniformly succe.ssful abroad, he failed but once —
namely, in his struggle with a foe of a thousand years,
the power of Rome. And yet even here, although he
failed to conquer, neither was it a defeat ; conce.ssions


Jinperial Ccrina)iy.

His struggle
with Roino.

sacrifices for

were made on both sides. Here he failed because suc-
cess was hardly possible. \'ct just this failure supplies
us with a forcible illustration of a yreat trait in the man.
After being identified for years with open antagonism to
the papal see, it must ha\'e cost his pride no trifling
pang to step out lustily on the road to Canossa' — he, a
stanch Protestant — smoking the pipe of peace with the
placidity of an honest purpose.

After leaning for years for support on the best intellect
of Germany, after being hailed as the torch-bearer of the
modern spirit of enlightenment against the temporal pre-
tensions of medieval papacy, it cannot have been with a
light heart that he threw in his lot with many elements
of superstition and class prejudice. But those elements
meant support against the wild dream of anarchic social-
ism, against the ])etty spirit of Parlicularismus ,'^ which
is not dead even up to the present day.

If personal ambition — a word that reads so close to
egregious vanity — had been his motive power, is it to be
supposed that a passionate, vindictive nature like Bis-
marck's would have taken such a step?

History is only too rich in instances to show how
much easier it is for ambitious natures to be "consist-
ent" in their self-willed aims than to turn back in the
face of friend and foe and boldly cry out : "I was
wrong ; I underrated the power of the spirits I raised
too readily. I must retrace my steps."

Now, although Cicero long ago warned his com-
patriots that no liberal man should impute a charge of

1 This refers to the struggle betweuti Pope Gregory VII. and Henry IV^,
emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. It was a contest between church and
state, in which the pope finally compelled the emperor to sue for mercy.
Henry sought the pope at the castle of Canossa. Hence one who tries to
conciliate the Vatican is said to " take the road to Canossa."

- A German expressioti denoting the individual iiiteresl of each separate

Bisinai-ck. 1 43

unsteadiness to another for having changed his opinion,'
that dreadful German pedantic fad, Uberzeicgitngstreiie

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibrarySidney WhitmanImperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character → online text (page 9 of 23)