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semi-public statements; and the historian may possibly find another,
and not without its touch of comedy, in the reception by the Emperor
of the Chinese prince, who headed the "mission of atonement" for the
murder of the Emperor's Minister in Pekin during the Boxer troubles.

From the New Palace our foreigner will probably drive to the Marble
Palace, which (for Baedeker is ever at one's elbow with the facts) he
will mark was built in 1796 by Frederick William II, who died here,
was completed in 1845 by Frederick William IV, and was the residence
of the present Emperor at the time of his accession.

But while our foreigner has been hurrying from one palace to another,
with his mind in a fog of historical and topographical confusion - if
he is an American, half-hoping, half-expecting to meet the Emperor or
Empress and secure a bow from one or other, or - why not? - one of
William's well-known vigorous _poignées de main_, there is always one
thought predominant in his mind - Sans Souci. That is the real object
of his quest, the main attraction that has brought him, all
unconscious of it, to Berlin, and not the laudable, but wholly
mistaken efforts of the "Society for the Promotion of Tourist
Traffic," which seeks to lure the moneyed and reluctant foreigner to
the German capital. Our foreigner enters the Park of Sans Souci and
his spirit is at rest. Now he knows where he really is - not in the
wonderful new German Empire, not in modern Berlin with its splendid
and to him unspeaking streets, its garish "night-life," its
faultily-faultless municipal propriety, not in Potsdam, "the true
cradle of the Prussian army," as Baedeker, deviating for an instant
into metaphor, describes it, but simply in Sans Souci. He is now no
longer in the twentieth century, but the eighteenth - one hundred and
fifty years ago or more - in Frederick's day, the period of pigtails,
of giant grenadiers in the old-time blue and red coats, the high and
fantastic shako made of metal and tapering to a point, of
three-cornered hats resting on powdered wigs, of yellow top-boots, and
exhaling the general air of ruffianly geniality characteristic of the
manners and soldiers of the age.

As our foreigner advances through the park, where, as he is told, the
Emperor makes a promenade each Christmas Eve distributing ten-mark
pieces (spiteful chroniclers make it three marks) to all and sundry
poor, he will notice the fountain "the water of which rises to a
height of 130 feet," with its twelve figures by French artists of the
eighteenth century, and ascend the broad terraced flight of marble
steps up which the present Crown Prince is credited with once urging
his trembling steed - leading to the Mecca of his imagination, the
palace Sans Souci itself. The building is only one story high, not
large, reminding one somewhat of the Trianon at Versailles, though
lacking the Trianon's finished lightness and elegance, yet with its
semicircular colonnade distinctly French, and impressive by its
elevated situation. The chief, the enduring, the magical impression,
however, begins to form as our foreigner commences his pilgrimage
through the rooms in which Frederick passed most of his later years.
As he pauses in the Voltaire Chamber he imagines the two great
figures, seated in stiff-backed chairs at a little table on which
stand, perhaps, a pair of cut Venetian wine-glasses and a tall bottle
of old Rheinish - the great man of thought and the great man of action,
the two great atheists and freethinkers of Europe, with their earnest,
sharply featured faces, and their wigs bobbing at each other,
discussing the events and tendencies of their time. And how they must
have talked - no wonder Frederick, though the idol of his subjects,
withdrew for such discourse from the society of the day, with its
twaddle of the tea-cups and its parade-ground platitudes.

As in our own time, there was then no lack of stimulating topics. The
influence of the old Catholicism and the old feudalism was rapidly
diminishing, the night of superstition was passing, and the age of
reason, that was to culminate with such tremendous and horrible force
in the French Revolution, was beginning to dawn. The encyclopaedists,
with Diderot and d'Alembert in the van, were holding council in
France, mobilizing the intellects of the time, and, like Bacon, taking
all knowledge for their province, for a fierce attack on the old
philosophy, the old statecraft, the old art, and the old religion. Are
such topics and such men to deal with them to be found to-day, or have
all the great problems of humanity and its intellect been started,
studied, and resolved? And are motor-cars, aeroplanes, dances,
Dreadnoughts, millinery, rag-time reviews, auction bridge, the rise
and fall of stocks, and the last extraordinary round of golf, all that
is left for the present generation to discuss?

However, the guardian of the palace has moved on, the other members of
the party are getting bored, and our foreigner follows the guardian's
lead. Thus conducted, he passes through half a dozen rooms, each a
museum of historical associations - the dining-room with its round
table made famous by Menzel's picture (now in the Berlin National
Gallery) in which Frederick and his guests are seen seated, but in
which it is difficult if not impossible to be certain which is the
host; the concert-room with the clock which Frederick was in the habit
of winding up, and which "is said to have stopped at the precise
moment of his death, 2.20 a.m., August 17th, 1786"; the death-chamber
with its eloquent and pathetic statue, Magnussen's "Last Moments of
Frederick the Great"; the library and picture gallery. Strangely
enough, Baedeker has no mention of a female subject portrayed in the
concert-room in all sorts of attitudes and in all sorts and no sort of
costume. Yet every one has heard of La Barberini, the only woman, the
chroniclers (and Voltaire among them) assure us, Frederick ever loved.
She was no woman of birth or wit like the Pompadour, Récamier or
Staël, but of merely ordinary understanding and the wife of a
subordinate official of the Court. She charmed Frederick, however, and
may have loved him. If so, let us remember that the morals of those
days were not those of ours, and not grudge the lonely King his
enjoyment of her beauty and amiability.

One thing only remains for our foreigner to see - the coffin of
Frederick in the old Garrison Church. It lies in a small chamber
behind the pulpit and looks more like the strong box of a miser than
the last resting-place of a great king. For such a man it seems poor
and mean, but probably Frederick himself did not wish for better. He
must have known that his real monument would be his reputation with
posterity. In fact the chroniclers agree, and the noble statue of
Magnussen confirms the impression, that at the close of his stormy
life he was glad finally to be at rest anywhere. "_Quand je serai
là_," he was wont to say, pointing to where his dogs were buried in
the palace park, "_je serai sans souci_."

In every court there is a disposition on the part of courtiers to
agree with everything the monarch says, to flatter him as dexterously
as they can, to minister to princely vanity, if vanity there be, to
"crawl on their bellies," in the choice language of hostile court
critics, or "wag their tails" and double up their bodies at every bow;
show, in short, in different ways, often all unconsciously, the
presence of a servile and self-interested mind. The disposition is not
to be found in courts alone. It is one of the commonest and most
malignant qualities of humanity, and can any day and at any hour be
observed in action in any Ministry of State, any mercantile office,
any great warehouse, any public institution, in every scene, in fact,
where one or many men are dependent for their living on the favour or
caprice of another. On the other hand, let it not be forgotten that
this innate tendency of human nature is at times replaced by another
which has frequently the same outward manifestations, but is not the
same feeling, the sentiment, namely, of embarrassment arising from the
fear of being servile, and the equally frequent embarrassment arising
from that principle which is always at work in the mind, the
association of ideas, which in the case of a monarch presents him to
the ordinary mortal as embodying ideas of grandeur, power, might, and
intellect to which the latter is unaccustomed. Education, economic
changes, and the art of manners have done much to conceal, if not
eradicate, human proneness to servility, and the Byzantinism of the
time of Caligula and Nero, of Tiberius, Constantine, or Nikiphoros, of
the Stuarts and the Bourbons, has long been modified into respect for
oneself as well as for the person one addresses. There are, however,
still traces of the old evil in the German atmosphere, and in especial
a tendency among officials of all grades to be humble and submissive
to those above them and haughty and domineering to those below them.
The tendency is perhaps not confined to Germany, but it seems, to the
inhabitant of countries where bureaucracy is not a powerful caste, to
penetrate German society and ordinary life to a greater degree - yet
not to a great degree - than in more democratic societies.

The Emperor naturally knows nothing of such a thing, for there is no
one superior to him in the Empire in point of rank, and he is much too
modern, too well educated, and of too kindly and liberal a nature to
encourage or permit Byzantinism towards him on the part of others.
Indeed Byzantinism was never a Hohenzollern failing. In his able work
on German civilization Professor Richard tells of some Silesian
peasants who knelt down when presenting a petition to Frederick
William I, and were promptly told to get up, as "such an attitude was
unworthy of a human being." Only on one occasion in the reign has an
action of the Emperor's afforded ground for the suspicion that he was
for a moment filled with the spirit of the Byzantine emperors - namely,
when he demanded the "kotow" from the Chinese Prince Tschun, who led
the "mission of atonement" to Germany. This, however, was not really
the result of a Byzantine character or spirit, but of the excusable
anger of a man whose innocent representative had been treacherously
killed.

Of affinity with the idea of Byzantinism is that as frequently
occurring idea in German court and ordinary life conveyed by the word
"reaction." Here again we have one of those qualities to be found
among mankind everywhere and always: the instinct opposed to change,
even to those changes for the good we call progress, the disposition
that made Horace deride the _laudator temporis acti se puero_ of his
day, the feeling of the man who laments the passing of the "good old
times" and the military veteran who assures us that "the country, sir,
is going to the dogs." In political life such men are usually to be
found professing conservatism, owners of land, dearer to them often
than life itself, which they fear political change will damage or
diminish. In Germany the Conservative forces are the old agrarian
aristocracy, the military nobility, and the official hierarchy, who
make a worship of tradition, hold for the most part the tenets of
orthodox Protestantism, dread the growing influence of industrialism,
and are members of the Landlords' Association: types of a dying
feudalism, disposed to believe nothing advantageous to the community
if it conflicts with any privilege of their class. Under the name of
Junker, the Conservative landowners of the region of Prussia east of
the Elbe, they have become everywhere a byword for pride, selfishness,
in a word - reaction. They and men of their kidney are to be
distinguished from the German "people" in the English sense, and hold
themselves vastly superior to the burghertum, the vast middle class.
They dislike the "academic freedom" of the university professor, would
limit the liberty of the press and restrain the right of public
meeting, and increase rather than curtail the powers of the police. On
the other hand, if they are a powerful drag on the Emperor's Liberal
tendencies - Liberal, that is, in the Prussian sense - towards a
comprehensive and well-organized social policy, they are at least
reliable supporters of his Government for the military and naval
budgets, since they believe as whole-heartedly in the rule of force as
the Emperor himself. The German Conservative would infinitely prefer a
return to absolute government to the introduction of parliamentary
government. At the same time it should not be supposed that the
Emperor or his Chancellor, or even his Court, are reactionary in the
sense or measure in which the Socialist papers are wont to assert. It
is doubtful if nowadays the Emperor would venture to be reactionary in
any despotic way. Given that his monarchy and the spirit that informs
it are secure, that Caesar gets all that is due to Caesar, and that he
and his Government are left the direction of foreign policy, he is
quite willing that the people should legislate for themselves, enjoy
all the rights that belong to them under the _Rechtsstaat_ established
by Frederick the Great, and, in short, enjoy life as best they can.




VII.



"DROPPING THE PILOT"

Heinrich von Treitschke, the German historian, writing to a friend,
speaks of the dismissal of Prince Bismarck as "an indelible stain on
Prussian history and a tragic stroke of fate the like of which the
world has never seen since the days of Themistocles."

Opinions may differ as to the indelibility of the stain - which must be
taken as a reflection on the conduct of the Emperor; and parallels
might perhaps be found, at least by students of English history, in
the dismissal of Cardinal Wolsey by Henry VIII, or that of the elder
Pitt by George III. But there may well be general agreement as to the
tragic nature of the fall, for it was a struggle between a strong
personality and the unknown, but irresistible, laws of fate.

The historic quarrel between the Emperor and his Chancellor was not
merely the inevitable clash between two dispositions fundamentally
different, but between - to adapt the expression of a modern poet - "an
age that was dying and one that was coming to birth." Old Prussia was
giving place to New Germany. The atmosphere of war had changed to an
atmosphere of peace. The standards of education and comfort were
rising fast. The old German idealism was being pushed aside by
materialism and commercialism, and the thoughts of the nation were
turning from problems of philosophy and art to problems of practical
science and experiment. Thought was to be followed by action. Mankind,
after conversing with the ancients for centuries, now began to
converse with one another. The desire for national expansion, if it
could not be gratified by conquest, was to be satisfied by the spread
of German influence, power, activity, and enterprise in all parts of
the world. Such a collision of the ages is tragedy on the largest
scale, for nothing can be more tragic - more inevitable or
inexorable - than the march of Progress.

The natures of the two men were, in important respects, fundamentally
different. Bismarck's nature was prosaic, primitive, unscrupulous,
domineering: a type which in an English schoolboy would be described
as a bully, with the modification that while the bully in an English
school is always depicted as a coward at heart (a supposition,
however, by no means always borne out in after-life), Bismarck had the
courage of a bull-dog. Moreover, Bismarck was a Conservative, a
statesman of expediency. The Emperor is a man of principle; and as
expediency, in a world of change, is a note of Conservatism, so, in
the same world, is principle the _leit-motiv_ of Liberalism. To call
the Emperor a man of principle may appear to be at variance with
general opinion as founded on exceptional occurrences, but these do
not supply sufficient material for a fair judgment, and there are many
acts of his reign which show him to be Liberal in disposition.

Not, it need hardly be said, Liberal in the English political sense.
Liberalism in England - the two-party country - usually means a strong
desire to vote against a Conservative on the assumption that the
Conservative is nearly always completely wrong and never completely
right. As will be seen later, there is no political Liberalism in the
English sense in Germany. The Emperor's Liberalism shows itself in his
sympathy with his people in their desire for improvement as a society
of which he is the head, selected by God and only restricted by a
constitutional compact solemnly sworn to by the contracting parties.
Proofs of this sympathy might be adduced - his determination to carry
through his grandfather's social policy against Bismarck's wish,
however hostile he was and is to Social Democracy; his steadfast peace
policy, however nearly he has brought his country to war; his
encouragement of the arts among the lower classes, however limited his
views on art may be; his friendly intercourse with people of all
nationalities and occupations.

The characters also of the two men were different. Bismarck's was the
result of civilian training; the Emperor's of military training.
Bismarck had small regard for manners, and would have scoffed had
anyone told him "manners makyth man"; the Emperor is courtesy itself,
as every one who meets him testifies. Bismarck was fond of eating and
drinking, with the appetite of a horse and the thirst of a drayman,
until he was nearly eighty, and smoked strong cigars from morning to
night - a very pleasant thing, of course, if you can stand it. The
Emperor has never cared particularly for what are called the pleasures
of the table, is fond of apples and one or two simple German dishes,
and has never been what in Germany is called a "chain-smoker."
Bismarck appears not to have had the faintest interest in art; the
Emperor, while of late disclaiming in all art company his lack of
expert knowledge, has always found delight in art's most classical
forms.

Yet the two men had some deeply marked traits of character in common.
The Emperor, as was Bismarck, is Prussian, that is to say mediaeval,
to the core, notwithstanding that he had an English mother and
lived in early childhood under English influences. He has always
exhibited, as Bismarck always did, the genuine qualities of the
Prussian - self-confidence, tenacity of purpose, absolute trust in his
own ideals and intolerance of those of other people, impatience of
rivalry, selfishness for the advantage of Prussia as against other
German States, as strong as that for the newly born Empire against
other countries. Finally, the Emperor is convinced, as Bismarck was
convinced, that in the first and last resort, a society, a people, a
nation, is based on force and by force alone can prosper, or even be
held together. Neither Bismarck nor the Emperor could ever sympathize
with those who look to a time when one strong and sensible policeman
will be of more value to a community than a thousand unproductive
soldiers.

Long before he became Imperial Chancellor Bismarck had done masterly
and important work for the country. In 1862 he began his career by
filling the post of interim Minister President of Prussia at a time
when the present Emperor was still an infant. It was on taking up the
position that he made the celebrated statement that "great questions
cannot be decided by speeches and majority-votes, but must be resolved
by blood and iron." Born in April, 1815, two months before the battle
of Waterloo, at Schoenhausen, in the Prussian Province of Saxony, not
far from Magdeburg, he studied at the universities of Gottingen and
Berlin and passed two steps of the official ladder - Auscultator and
Referendar - which may be translated respectively protocolist and
junior counsel. His parliamentary career began in 1846, two years
before the second French Revolution. At that time Prussia was an
absolute monarchy, without a Constitution or a Parliament. There was
no conscription, that foundation-stone of Prussian power and of the
modern German Empire. Then came the agitated days of 1848, the
sanguinary "March Days" in Berlin. Frederick William IV was on the
throne, and in 1847 permitted the calling of a Parliament, the
forerunner of the present Reichstag; but only to represent the
"rights," not the "opinions," of the people. "No piece of paper,"
cried the King, "shall come, like a second Providence, between God in
heaven and this land!" That, too, was Bismarck's sentiment,
courageously expressed by him when the Diet was debating the idea of
introducing the English parliamentary system, and proved by him in
character and conduct until the day of his death. He would have made a
splendid Jacobite!

The three "March Days," the 18th, 19th, and 20th of March, 1848, form
one of the few occasions in Prussian or German history on which Crown
and people came into direct and serious conflict. According to German
accounts of the episode the outbreak of the revolution in France was
followed by a large influx into Berlin of Poles and Frenchmen, who
instigated the populace to violence. Collisions with the police
occurred, and on March 15th barricades began to be erected. Traffic in
the streets was only possible with the aid of the military. The King
was in despair, not so much, the accounts say, at the danger he was in
of losing his throne as at the shedding of the blood of his folk, and
issued a proclamation promising to grant all desirable reforms,
abolishing the censorship of the press, and summoning the Diet to
discuss the terms of a Constitution. The citizens, however, continued
to build barricades, made their way into the courtyards of the palace,
and demanded the withdrawal of the troops. The King ordered the
courtyards to be cleared, the palace guard advanced, and, either by
accident or design, the guns of two grenadiers went off. No one was
hit, but cries of "Treason!" and "Murder!" were raised. Within an hour
a score of barricades were set up in various parts of the town and
manned by a medley of workmen, university students, artists, and even
men of the Landwehr, or military reserve.

At this time there were about 14,000 troops at the King's disposal,
and with these the authorities proceeded against the mob. A series of
scattered engagements between mob and military began. They lasted for
eight hours, until at midnight General von Prittwitz, who was in
command of the troops, was able to report to the King that the
revolution was subdued.

Next morning, however, the 19th, numerous deputations of citizens
presented themselves at the palace, and assuring the King that it was
the only means of preventing the further effusion of blood, renewed
the request for the withdrawal of the troops. The King consented,
notwithstanding the opposition of Prince, afterwards Emperor, William,
and the troops were drawn off to Potsdam. The citizens thereupon
appointed a National Guard, which took charge of the palace, and in
the evening a vast crowd appeared beneath the King's windows bearing
the corpses of those who had fallen at the barricades during the two
preceding days. The dead bodies were laid in rows in the palace
courtyard, and the King was invited out to see them. He could not but
obey, and bowed to the crowd as he stood bareheaded before the bodies.

It is clear from the occurrences in Berlin in 1848 that while the
Prussian idea of monarchy is deeply rooted in the German mind, the
possibility of a sudden change in public sentiment and a radical
alteration of the relations between Crown and people are never at any
time to be wholly disregarded. Hence it is that the Emperor and his
Government are so insistent on the doctrine of Heaven-granted
sovereignty, so ready to support more or less autocratic monarchies in
other parts of the world, and so sensitive to popular movements like
Anarchism and Nihilism in Russia, or the always-smouldering Polish
agitation and the propaganda of the Social Democracy in Germany. When
King Frederick William IV said to his assembled generals at Potsdam a
week after the "March Days," "Never have I felt more free or more
secure than when under the protection of my burghers," his words were
drowned in the buzz of murmurs and the angry clanking of swords. The
Emperor to-day might, or might not, endorse the words of his ancestor.
Most probably he would not; for, judging by his speeches, his care for
the army, the military state with which he surrounds himself, and his
habitual appearance in uniform, he, though in truth far more a civil



Online LibraryStanley ShawWilliam of Germany → online text (page 10 of 31)