Stanley Shaw.

William of Germany online

. (page 12 of 31)
Online LibraryStanley ShawWilliam of Germany → online text (page 12 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

proposal for an official vote of congratulation to the ex-Chancellor
on his eightieth birthday; but against this unpleasantness may be set
his gratification at the receipt of a telegram from the Emperor
expressing his "deepest indignation" at the rejection.

Prince Bismarck died on July 30th, 1898, and was laid to rest at
Friedrichsruh in the presence of the Emperor and Empress, while the
world paused for a moment in its occupations to discuss with
sympathetic admiration the dead man's personality and career.
Bismarck's spirit is still abroad in Germany, and the popular memory
of him is as fresh now as though he died but yesterday. It is more
than probable, much rather is it certain, that all trace of irritation
with the proud old Chancellor has long faded from the Emperor's mind:
indeed at no time does there seem to have been sentiments of personal
or permanent rancour on one side or the other. The episode, in short,
was an inevitable collision of ages, temperaments, and times,
regrettable no doubt as a possibly harmful example of political
discord among the leaders of the nation, but - with due respect for the
judgment of so capable an historian as von Treitschke - leaving no
"indelible stain" either on the pages of German history or on the
reputations of Bismarck or the Emperor.




A great English poet sings of the "spacious days" of Queen Elizabeth.
From the German standpoint the decade from the fall of Bismarck to the
end of the century may not inaptly be described as the spacious days
of William II and the modern German Empire. To the Englishman the
actual territorial acquisitions of Germany during the period must seem
comparatively insignificant, but, taken in connection with the
Emperor's speeches, the building of the German navy, the Caprivi
commercial treaties, the growth of friendly relations and of trade and
intercourse with America, North and South, they mean the opening of a
new era in the history of the Empire - the era of Weltpolitik.

Heligoland was obtained in exchange for Zanzibar in 1890, and is now
regarded by Germans much as Gibraltar or Malta is regarded by
Englishmen. The first Kiel regatta, due solely to the initiative of
the Emperor, and starting the development of sport in all fields which
is a feature of modern German progress, ethical and physical, was held
in 1894. The Caprivi commercial treaties were concluded within the
period. The Kiel Canal, connecting the Baltic and North Sea, and
giving the German fleet access to all the open waters of the earth,
was opened in 1895. In 1896 the Kruger telegram testified to imperial
interest in South African developments. The Hamburg-Amerika Line now
sent a specially fast mail and passenger steamer across the Atlantic.
The district of Kiautschau was leased from China in 1898, securing
Germany a foothold and naval base in the Far East. In the same year
the modern Oriental policy of the Empire was inaugurated by the
Emperor's visit to Palestine and his declaration in the course of it
that he would be the friend of Turkey and of the three hundred
millions of Mohammedans who recognized the Sultan as their spiritual
head. To this year also belongs the measure, the most important in its
consequences and significance of the reign hitherto, the passing of
the First Navy Law. Finally, in 1899 Germany acquired the Caroline
Islands by purchase from Spain, and certain Samoan Islands by
agreement with England and America.

Nothing was more natural as a result of the new world-policy than a
change in the mental outlook of the people. It inaugurated in Germany
an era somewhat analogous to the era inaugurated in England by the
widening and brightening of the Englishman's horizon under Elizabeth.
The analogy may not be closely maintainable throughout, but, generally
speaking, just as the eyes of Englishmen suddenly saw the
possibilities of expansion disclosed to them by Drake, Raleigh, and
Frobisher, so the Emperor's appeals, with the pursuance of German
colonial policy and the attempt to develop Germany's African
possessions, led to an awakening in Germany of a similar, if weaker,
kind. To this awakening the building of the German navy contributed;
and though it did not appeal to the German imagination as did the
deeds of the old navigators to that of Elizabethan Englishmen, it
widened the national outlook and fired the people with new imperial
ambitions. Hitherto, moreover, Germany's attention had been confined
almost solely to trade within continental boundaries: henceforth she
was to do business actively and enterprisingly with all parts of the

The Emperor's thoughts on the subject were expressed in January, 1896,
at a banquet in the Berlin palace given to a miscellaneous company of
leading personalities of the time. The occasion was the celebration of
the twenty-fifth year of the modern Empire's foundation. He said:

"The German Empire becomes a world-empire. Everywhere in the
farthest parts of the earth live thousands of our
fellow-countrymen. German subjects, German knowledge, German
industry cross the ocean. The value of German goods on the
seas amounts to thousands of millions of marks. On you,
gentlemen, devolves the serious duty of helping me to knit
firmly this greater German Empire to the Empire at home."

The expression "greater German Empire" immediately reminded the
Englishman of his own "Greater Britain," and he concluded that the
Emperor was secretly thinking of rivalling him in the extent and value
of his colonial possessions. Possibly he was, and doubtless he
ardently desired to see Germany owning large and fertile colonies; but
it is quite as probable he was thinking of his economic Weltpolitik,
and knew as well then as he does now that it must be left to time and
the hour to show whether they fall to her or not.

In the same order of ideas may be placed, though it is anticipating
somewhat, the Emperor's utterances at Aix in 1902 and three years
later at Bremen. At Aix, after describing the failure of Charlemagne's
successors to reconcile the duties of a Holy Roman Emperor with those
of a German King, he continued:

"Now another Empire has arisen. The German people has once
more an Emperor of its own choice, with the sword on the
field of battle has the crown been won, and the imperial
flag flutters high in the breeze. But the tasks of the new
Empire are different: confined within its borders it has to
steel itself anew for the work it has to do, and which it
could not achieve in the Middle Ages. We have to live so
that the Empire, still young, becomes from year to year
stronger in itself, while confidence in it strengthens on
all sides. The powerful German army guarantees the peace of
Europe. In accord with the German character we confine
ourselves externally in order to be unconfined internally.
Far stretches our speech over the ocean, far the flight of
our science and exploration; no work in the domain of new
discovery, no scientific idea but is first tested by us and
then adopted by other nations. This is the world-rule the
German spirit strives for."

At Bremen he said:

"The world-empire I dream of is a new German Empire which
shall enjoy on all hands the most absolute confidence as a
quiet, peaceable, honest neighbour - not founded by conquest
with the sword, but on the mutual confidence of nations
aiming at the same end."

The Emperor's world-policy was referred to more than once about this
time by Chancellor Prince Bülow in the Reichstag. "It is," he said on
one occasion, "Germany's intention and duty to protect the great and
ever-growing oversea interests which she has acquired through the
development of conditions." "We recognize," he continued,

"that we have no longer interests only round our own
fireside or in the neighbourhood of the church clock, but
everywhere where German industry and Germany's commercial
spirit have penetrated; and we must foster these interests
within the bounds of possibility and good sense."

"Our world-policy," he said on another occasion in the same place,

"is not a policy of interference, much less a policy of
intervention: had it interfered in South Africa (he was
alluding to the Boer War) it must have intervened, and
intervention implies the use of force."

On yet another occasion he explained that a prudent world-policy must
go hand in hand with a sound protective policy for home industry, and
that its basis must be a strong national home policy.

There is nothing in all this, even supposing Germany's interests at
that time were purposely exaggerated, to which the foreigner could
reasonably object. The foreigner felt perhaps slightly uncomfortable
when the same statesman, departing for a moment from his usual
objective standpoint, spoke of the German "traversing the world with a
sword in one hand and a spade and trowel in the other"; but otherwise
no act of Germany's world-policy need have inspired alarm, or need
inspire alarm at the present time, in sensible foreign minds. The
rapidity of its action probably helped to excite a feeling that it
could not be altogether honest or above-board; but it should be
remembered that the new Empire had much leeway to make up in the race
with other nations, and that quick development was rendered necessary
by her commercial treaties, by her protective system, by the
unexpected growth of industry and trade, by the continuous increase of
population, the development of the mercantile marine, and the growing
consciousness of national strength.

And if there is nothing in Germany's development of her world-policy
to which the foreigner can reasonably object, there is much in it at
which he can reasonably rejoice. Competition is good for him, for it
puts him on his mettle. A large and prosperous German population
extends his markets and means more business and more profit. The minds
of both Germans and the foreigner become broader, more mutually
sympathetic and appreciative. The elder Pitt warned his
fellow-countrymen against letting France become a maritime, a
commercial, or a colonial power. She has become all three, and what
injury has occurred therefrom to England or any other nation?

Germany's colonial development dates from about the year 1884, the
period of the "scramble for Africa." The first step to acquiring
German colonies for the Empire was taken in 1883, when a merchant of
Bremen, Edouard Luderitz, made an agreement with the Hottentots by
which the bay of Angra Pequena in South-West Africa, with an area of
fifty thousand square kilometres, was ceded to him. Luderitz applied
to Bismarck for imperial protection. Bismarck inquired of England
whether she claimed rights of sovereignty over the bay. Lord Granville
replied in the negative, but added that he did not consider the
seizure of possession by another Power allowable. Indignant at what he
called a "monstrous claim" on all the land in the world which was
without a master, Bismarck telegraphed to the German Consul at the
Cape to "declare officially to the British Government that Herr
Luderitz and his acquisitions are under the protection of the Empire."

The Bremen pioneer was fated to gain no advantage from his enterprise,
as he was drowned in the Orange River in 1886. His example as a
colonist, however, was followed by three Hanseatic merchants,
Woermann, Jansen, and Thormealen, of Hamburg, who acquired land in
Togo, a small kingdom to the east of the British Gold Coast, and in
the Cameroons, a large tract in the bend of the Gulf of Guinea,
extending to Lake Chad, and applied for German imperial protection.
Bismarck sent Consul-General Nachtigall with the gunboat _Moewe_ in
1884 to hoist the German flag at various ports. Five days after this
had been done the English gunboat _Flirt_ arrived, but was thus too
late to obtain Togoland and the Cameroons for England.

Dr. Carl Peters, the German Cecil Rhodes, now arrived at Zanzibar, and
on obtaining concessions from the Sultan founded the German East
Africa Company, with a charter from his Government. German hopes of
great colonial expansion began to run high, but they were dashed by
the Anglo-German agreement of June, 1890, delimiting the spheres of
England, Germany, and the Sultan of Zanzibar, and stipulating that
Germany should receive Heligoland from England in return for German
recognition of English suzerainty in Zanzibar and the possession of
Uganda, which had recently been taken for Germany by Dr. Peters. At
that time Germans thought very little of Heligoland, but there was
then no Anglo-German tension, and no apprehension of an English
descent on the German coast.

The lease for ninety-nine years of Kiautschau, a small area of about
four hundred square miles on the coast of China, was obtained from the
Chinese in connexion with the murder of two German missionaries in
1897 in the Shantung Province, of which Kiautschau forms a part. Herr
von Bülow, then only Foreign Secretary, referred to the transaction in
the Reichstag in words that may be quoted, as they describe German
foreign policy in the Far East. "Our cruiser fleet," he said,

"was sent to Kiautschau Bay to exact reparation for the
murder of German Catholic missionaries on the one hand, and
to obtain greater security for the future against a
repetition of such occurrences. The Government,"

he continued,

"has nothing but benevolent and friendly designs regarding China, and
has no wish either to offend or provoke her. We are ready in East Asia
to recognize the interests of other Great Powers in the certain
confidence that our own interests will be duly respected by them. In
one word - we desire to put no one in the shade, but we too demand our
place in the sun. In East Asia, as in the West Indies, we shall
endeavour, in accordance with the traditions of German policy, without
unnecessary rigour, but also without weakness, to guard our rights and
our interests."

In mentioning the West Indies the Foreign Secretary was alluding to a
quarrel Germany had at this time with the negro republic of Haiti,
owing to the arrest and imprisonment of a German subject in that
island. Kiautschau is administratively under the German Admiralty.

The Caroline, Marianne, and Palau Islands, including the Marschall
Islands and the islands of the Bismarck archipelago, were bought from
Spain this year for twenty-five million pesetas, or about one million
sterling. The islands are valuable in German eyes, not only for their
fertility and capacity for plantation development, but as affording
good harbourage and coaling stations on the sea-road to China, Japan,
and Central America. By the agreement with England and America, which
in this year also put an end to the thorny question of Samoan
administration, Germany acquired the Samoan islands of Upolu and
Sawaii in the South Sea.

The ten years we are now concerned with were perhaps the most
strenuous and picturesque of the Emperor's life hitherto. He was now
his own Chancellor, though that post was nominally occupied by General
von Caprivi and Prince Chlodwig Hohenlohe successively. He was
Chancellor, too, knowing that not a hundred miles off the old pilot of
the ship of State was watching, keenly and not too benevolently, his
every act and word. He was conscious that the eyes of the world were
fixed on him, and that every other Government was waiting with
interest and curiosity to learn what sort of rival in statecraft and
diplomacy it would henceforward have to reckon with. Naturally many
plans coursed through his restlessly active brain, but there were
always, one may imagine, two compelling and ever-present thoughts at
the back of them. One of these was a determination to promote the
moral and material prosperity of his people so as to make them a model
and thoroughly modern commonwealth; the other, the resolve that as
Emperor he would not allow Germany to be overlooked, to be treated as
a _quantité négligeable_, in the discussion or decision of
international affairs.

The Chancellorship of General von Caprivi, who had been successively
Minister of War and Marine, lasted from March, 1890, to October, 1894.
He may have been a good commanding general, but he has left no
reputation either as a man of marked character or as a statesman of
exceptional ability. Nor was either character or ability much needed.
He was, as every one knew, a man of immensely inferior ability to his
great predecessor, but every one knew also that the Emperor intended
to be his own Chancellor, pursue his own policy, and take
responsibility for it. Taking responsibility is, naturally, easier for
a Hohenzollern monarch than for most men, since he is responsible to
no one but himself. With the appointment of Caprivi the Emperor's
"personal regiment" may be said to have begun.

During General von Caprivi's term of office some measures of
importance have to be noted, among them the Quinquennat, which
replaced Bismarck's Septennat and fixed the military budget for five
years instead of seven; the reduction of the period of conscription
for the infantry from three years to two; and the decision not to
renew Bismarck's reinsurance treaty with Russia.

The chief event, however, with which Chancellor Caprivi's name is
usually associated, is the conclusion of commercial treaties between
Germany and most other continental countries. Other countries had
followed Germany's example and adopted a protective system, and with a
view to the avoidance of tariff wars, Caprivi, strongly supported, it
need hardly be said, by an Emperor who had just declared that "the
world at the end of the nineteenth century stands under the star of
commerce, which breaks down the barriers between nations," began a
series of commercial treaty negotiations.

The first agreements were made with Germany's allies in the Triplice,
Austria and Italy. Treaties with Switzerland and Belgium, Servia and
Rumania, followed. Russia held aloof for a time, but as a great
grain-exporting country she too found it advisable to come to terms.
With France there was no need of an agreement, since she was bound by
the Treaty of Frankfurt, concluded after the war of 1870, to grant
Germany her minimum duties. One of the regrettable results of the
Empire's new commercial policy was an antagonism between agriculture
and industry which now declared itself and has remained active to the
present day. The political cause of Caprivi's fall from power, if
power it can be called, was the twofold hostility of the Conservative
and Liberal parties in Parliament, that of the Conservatives being due
to the injury supposed to be done to landlord interests by the
commercial treaties, and that of the Liberals by an Education Bill,
which, it was alleged, would hand the Prussian school system
completely over to the Church. Perhaps the main cause, however, was
the general unpopularity he incurred by attacking, officially and
through the press, his predecessor, Bismarck, the idol of the people.

It was in the Chancellorship of Prince Hohenlohe, which ended in 1900,
that the most memorable events of this remarkable decade occurred;
but, as was to be expected, and as the Emperor himself must have
expected, the Prince, now a man of seventy-five, played a very
secondary part with regard to them. The Prince was what the Germans
call a "house-friend" of the Hohenzollern family and related to it. He
was useful, his contemporaries say, as a brake on the impetuous temper
of his imperial master, though he did not, we may be sure, turn him
from any of the main designs he had at heart. Prince Hohenlohe, in
character, was good-nature and amiability personified. He was beloved
by all classes and parties, and no foreigner can read his Memoirs
without a feeling of friendliness for a Personality so moderate and
calm and simple. A note he makes in one of his diaries amusingly
illustrates the simple side of his character. He is dining with the
Emperor, when the Emperor, catching the Prince's eye, which we may be
sure was on the alert to gather up any of the royal beams that might
come his way, raises his glass in sign of amity. "I felt so overcome,"
notes the Prince, "that I almost spilt the champagne."

The famous "Kruger telegram" episode occurred during the
Chancellorship of Prince Hohenlohe.

For many years the sending of the telegram was cited as a convincing
proof of the Emperor's "impulsive" character, and it was not until
1909 that the truth of the matter was stated by Chancellor von Bülow
in the Reichstag. In March of that year he said:

"It has been asked, was this telegram an act of personal
initiative or an act of State? In this regard let me refer
you to your own proceedings. You will remember that the
responsibility for the telegram was never repudiated by the
directors of our political business at the time. The
telegram was an act of State, the result of official
consultations; it was in nowise an act of personal
initiative on the part of his Majesty the Kaiser. Whoever
asserts that it was is ignorant of what preceded it and does
his Majesty completely wrong."

The Emperor's telegram to President Kruger, despatched on January 3,
1896, ran as follows: -

"I congratulate you most sincerely on having succeeded with
your people, and without calling on the help of foreign
Powers, by opposing your own force to an armed band which
broke into your country to disturb the peace, in restoring
quiet and in maintaining the independence of your country
against external attack."

The echoes of this historic message were heard immediately in every
country, but naturally nowhere more loudly than in England; and the
reverberation of them is audible to the present day. In Germany,
however, for a day or two, the telegram seems to have surprised no
one, was indeed spoken of with approval by deputies in the Reichstag,
and seems not to have occurred to any one in the light of a serious
diplomatic mistake. This state of feeling did not last long, and when
the English newspapers arrived an entirely new light was thrown on the
matter. The _Morning Post_ concluded an article with the words: "It is
not easy to speak calmly of the Kaiser's telegram. The English people
will not forget it, and in future will always think of it when
considering its foreign policy." The British Government's comment on
the telegram was to put a flying squadron in commission and issue an
official statement _urbi et orbi_, calling attention to the Convention
made with President Kruger in London in 1884, reserving the
supervision of the foreign relations of the Transvaal to the British

The Emperor himself appears to have recognized that he and his
advisers had made a serious blunder, and that a gesture which, it is
highly probable, was partly prompted by the chivalrous side of his
character, was certain to be gravely misunderstood. At any rate his
policy, or that of his Government, changed, and instead of following
up his encouraging words with mediation or intervention, he assumed an
attitude of neutrality towards the war which soon after began.
Subsequently, in the Reichstag, Chancellor von Bülow described the
course the German Government pursued immediately before and during the
war; and there seems no reason to discredit his account. The speech
was made apropos of the projected visit of President Kruger to Berlin,
when on his tour of despair to the capitals of Europe while the war
was still in progress. He was cheered by boulevard crowds in Paris,
itself a thing of no great significance, and was received at the
Elysée and by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, M. Delcassé. The
visitor was very reserved on both occasions, and confined himself to
sounding his hosts as to whether or not he could reckon on their good

From Paris he started for Berlin, where he had engaged a large and
expensive first-floor suite of rooms in a fashionable hotel. At
Cologne, however, shortly after entering Germany, a telegram from
Potsdam awaited him, announcing the Emperor's refusal to grant him
audience. The imperial telegram consisted of a few words to the effect
that the Emperor was "not in a position" to receive him. Nor in truth
was he. An audience at that moment would have meant war between
Germany and England.

As to German policy with regard to the Boer War, Prince Bülow

Online LibraryStanley ShawWilliam of Germany → online text (page 12 of 31)