Copyright
Stanley Shaw.

William of Germany online

. (page 6 of 31)
Online LibraryStanley ShawWilliam of Germany → online text (page 6 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


doctrine which traditionally only applies to wearers of the crown of
Prussia. But if he does, it may, it is here suggested, be considered
further evidence that he employs the terms "von Gottes Gnaden" in a
sense other than that of "divine right" as conceived by the
Anglo-Saxon. The German "Gnade" means "favour," "grace," "mercy,"
"pity," or "blessing," and is at times used in direct contrast with
the word "Recht," which means "justice" as well as "right." The point,
indeed, need hardly be elaborated, and the Emperor's own explanation
of the revelation of God to mankind, with its special reference to his
grandfather which we shall find later in the confession of faith to
Admiral Hollmann, is highly significant of the sense in which he
regards himself and every ruling Hohenzollern as selected for the
duties of Prussian kingship. It is the work of the kingship he is
divinely appointed to do of which he is always thinking, not the legal
right to the kingship _vis à vis_ his people he is mistakenly supposed
to claim. He regards himself as a trustee, not as the owner of the
property. And is not such a spirit a proper and praiseworthy one? In a
sense we Christians, if in a position of responsibility, believe that
we are all divinely appointed to the work each of us has to do:
instruments of God, who shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we may.
The Emperor finely says of the Almighty: "He breathed into man His
breath, that is a portion of Himself, a soul." Reason is what chiefly
distinguishes man from the brute, though there are those who hold that
reason is but a higher form of brutish instinct, which again has its
degree among the brutes; but, assuming that reason is of divine
origin, enabling us to receive, by one means or another, the dictates
of the Almighty, it seems clear that there must be channels through
which these dictates become known to us.

This conveyance, this making plain is, as many people, and the Emperor
among them, believe, performed by God through the agency of those whom
mankind agree to call "great." For the last nineteen centuries a large
part of civilized mankind is at one in the belief that Christ was such
an agency, while millions again agree to call the agency Buddha,
Mahomet, Confucius, or Zoroaster. In the creed of Islam Christ, as a
prophet, comes fifth from Adam. In America there are thousands who
believe, or did believe, in the agency of a Mrs. Eddy or a Dr. Dowie.
And if this is so in matters of religion, itself only a form of the
reasoning soul, why should it not be the same in morals or philosophy,
art or science, government or administration: why should we not all
accept, as many still do, the sayings and writings of the Hebrew
prophets (as does the Emperor), of Plato and Aristotle, of Bacon and
Hobbes, of Milton and Shakespeare and Goethe, of Kepler and Galileo,
or Charlemagne and Napoleon, as divinely intended to convey and make
plain to us the dictates of Heaven until such time as yet greater
souls shall instruct us afresh and still more fully?

It may be that the Emperor thinks in some such way; his speeches and
edicts at least suggest it. Certainly, as already mentioned, he did on
one occasion, when speaking of his kingship, employ the word "right"
as descriptive of the nature of his appointment by God. But that was
early in his reign, and at no time since has he insisted on a
Heaven-granted right to rule. It was, no doubt, different with some of
his absolute predecessors, but it was not the view of Frederick the
Great, who declared himself "the first servant of the State."
Moreover, it is hardly conceivable that the Emperor, who is acquainted
with the facts of history and is a man of practical common sense
besides, does not know that the doctrine of "divine right" has long
been rejected by people of intelligence in every civilized country,
including his own.

If he really believes in divine right in the Stuart sense he must
think that the conditions of Germany are so different from those of
the rest of civilized mankind, and his own people so little advanced
in knowledge and political science, that a doctrine absurd and
dangerous to the peace of enlightened commonwealths is applicable as a
basis of rule in his own. It seems a more plausible view, that the
Emperor considers the expression "von Gottes Gnaden" an academic
formula of government, or what is still more likely, as a moral and
religious, not a legal, dogma, which yet expresses one of the leading
and most admirable features of his policy as a ruler. If it is not so,
he is inconsistent with himself, since he has repeatedly declared
himself bound by the Constitution in accordance with which his
grandfather and father and he himself have hitherto ruled. At present
the doctrine of divine "right" is regarded by Germans no less than by
Englishmen as dead and buried, and mention of it in Germany is usually
greeted with a smile. Even the notion of appointment by divine
"grace," while considered a harmless and praiseworthy article of faith
with the Emperor, is no longer regarded as a living principle of
government.




V.



THE ACCESSION



1888-1890

With his accession began for the Emperor a period of extraordinary
activity which has continued practically undiminished to the present
day. During that time he has been the most prominent man and monarch
of his generation. From the domestic point of view his life perhaps
has not been marked by many notable events, but from the point of view
of politics and international relations it has been the history of his
reign and to no small extent the history of the world.

When a German Emperor ascends the throne there is no great outburst of
national rejoicing, no great series of popular ceremonials. There is
no brilliant procession as in England, no impressive coronation like
that of an English monarch in Westminster Abbey, no State visit of the
monarch to the Houses of Parliament. In Germany Parliament goes to the
King, not the King to Parliament.

On the same day that the Emperor began his reign he addressed
proclamations to the army and navy. The addresses to the people and
the Parliament were to come a few days later. In the proclamation to
the army he said:

"I and the army were born for each other. Let us remain
indissolubly so connected, come peace or storm, as God may
will. You will now take the oath of fidelity and obedience
to me, and I swear always to remember that the eyes of my
ancestors are bent on me from the other world, and that one
day I shall have to give an account touching the fame and
the honour of the army."

His address to the navy was in the same vein.

"We have only just put off mourning for my unforgettable
grandfather, Kaiser William I, and already we have had to
lower the flag for my beloved father, who took such an
interest in the growth and progress of the navy. A time of
earnest and sincere sorrow, however, strengthens the mind
and heart of man, and so let us, keeping at heart the
example of my grandfather and father, look with confidence
to the future. I have learned to appreciate the high sense
of honour and of duty which lives in the navy, and know that
every man is ready faithfully to stake his life for the
honour of the German flag, be it where it may. Accordingly I
can, in this serious hour, feel fully assured that we shall
stand strongly and steadily together in good or bad days, in
storm or sunshine, always mindful of the Fatherland and
always ready to shed our heart's blood for the honour of the
flag."

To his people he promised that he would be a

"just and mild prince, observant of piety and religion, a
protector of peace, a promoter of the country's prosperity,
a helper to the poor and needy, a faithful guardian of the
right."

To the Parliament a week later he announced that he meant to walk in
the footsteps of his grandfather, particularly in regard to the
working classes, to acquire the confidence of the federated princes,
the affection of the people, and the friendly recognition of foreign
countries. He said that in his opinion the

"most important duties of the German Emperor lay in the
domain of the military and political security of the nation
externally, and internally in the supervision of the
carrying out of imperial laws."

The highest of these laws, he explained, was the Imperial Constitution
and "to preserve and protect the Constitution, and in especial the
rights it gives to the legislative bodies, to every German, but also
to the Emperor and the federated states," he considered "among the
most honourable duties of the Emperor."

While the order of these addresses is different to what it would be in
England, it entirely accords with the spirit of the Prussian monarchy
and the political system of the German people. Settled in the heart of
Europe, the nation rests on the army, and it is hardly too much to say
that, from the Emperor's point of view, possibly also from the popular
German point of view, the interests of the army must be considered
before the interests of the rest of the population. An English
monarch, who issued his first address to the British navy, would be as
justified in doing so by the real necessities of Great Britain as a
German Emperor who first addresses the German army is justified by the
real necessities of Germany; for the British navy is as vital to the
British as the German army is to the German nation. In England,
however, the monarch's respect for the people and Parliament takes
precedence of his respect for the army, not _vice versa_ as in
Germany.

In a speech from the throne to the Prussian Diet the Emperor took the
Constitutional Oath: "I swear to hold firmly and unbrokenly to the
Constitution of the Kingdom and to rule in agreement with it and the
laws ... so help me God!" and went on to proclaim the continuance in
Prussia and the Empire of his grandfather's and father's policy and
work. He said at the same time, while undertaking not to make the
People uneasy by trying to extend Crown rights, that he would take
care that the constitutional rights of the Crown were respected and
used, and that he meant to hand them over unimpaired to his successor.
He concluded by saying that he would always bear in mind the words of
Frederick the Great, who described himself as the "first servant of
the State."

At Frankfurt-on-the-Oder, a few months later, he declared, when
unveiling a monument to his uncle, Prince Frederick Karl, a hero of
the Franco-Prussian War, that he meant never to surrender a stone of
the acquisitions made in the war and

"believed he voiced the feeling of the entire army in saying
that Germany, rather than do so, would suffer its eighteen
army corps and its whole population of 42 millions to perish
on the field of battle."

At this period of his career the Emperor was, first and foremost, a
thoroughgoing Hohenzollern. Doubtless he is so still, if he talks less
about the dynasty. He admired Frederick the Great, then as now, and in
the first place as military commander, but the ancestor with whom he
even more sympathized, and sympathizes, was the Great Elector. "The
ancestor," he said himself,

"for whom I have the most liking (_Schwärmen_, a hardly
translatable German verb, is the word he used) and who
always shone before me as an example in my youth, was the
Great Elector, the man who loved his country with all his
heart and strength, and unrestingly devoted himself to
rescuing the Mark Brandenburg out of its deep distress and
made it a strong and united whole."

What particularly attracted the Emperor in the history of the Elector
was the fact that he was the first Hohenzollern who saw the importance
of promoting trade and industry, building a navy, and acquiring
colonies. As yet, however, the Emperor had only clear and fairly
definite ideas about the need for a navy. The world-policy may have
been in embryo in his mind, but it was not born.

The imaginative side of the Emperor's character at this period is well
illustrated in a speech he made in 1890 to his favourite "Men of the
Mark." He was talking of his travels, to which allusion had been made
by a previous speaker.

"My travels," said the Emperor,

"have not only had the object of making myself acquainted
with foreign countries and institutions, or to create
friendly relations with neighbouring monarchs, but these
journeys, which have been the subject of much
misunderstanding, had for me the great value that, withdrawn
from the heat of party faction, I could review our domestic
conditions from a distance and submit them to calm
consideration. Any one who, standing on a ship's bridge far
out at sea, with only God's starry heaven above him,
communes with himself, will not fail to appreciate the worth
of such a journey. For many of my fellow-countrymen I would
wish that they might live through such an hour, in which one
can make up an account as to what he has attempted and what
achieved. Then would he be cured of exaggerated
self-estimation, and that we all need."

Having discharged the duty of addressing his own subjects, the
Emperor's next care, after a stay at Kiel where a German Emperor and
King now for the first time in history appeared in the uniform of an
admiral, was personally to announce his accession at the courts of his
fellow-European sovereigns. We find him, accordingly, paying visits to
Alexander II in St. Petersburg, to King Oscar II in Stockholm (where
he received a telegram announcing the birth of his fifth son), to
Christian IX in Copenhagen, to Kaiser Franz Joseph in Vienna and to
King Humbert in Rome. To both the last-mentioned he presented himself
in the additional capacity of Triplice ally.

In August of the year following his accession he paid his first visit
as Emperor to England. It was a very different thing, one may imagine,
from the earliest recorded visit of a German Emperor to the English
Court. That was in 1416, when the Emperor Sigismund (1411-1437)
arrived there and was received by Henry V. Henry postponed the opening
of Parliament specially on his account, made him a Knight of the
Garter, and signed with him at Canterbury an offensive and defensive
alliance against France. How poor the German Empire and the German
Emperor were at that epoch may be judged from the fact that on his way
home Sigismund had to pawn the costly gifts he had received in
England.

On the present occasion a grand naval review of over a hundred
warships, with crews totalling 25,000 men, was held in honour of the
Emperor at Osborne. This was followed, a few days afterwards, by a
parade of the troops at Aldershot under the command of General Sir
Evelyn Wood. On this occasion, after expressing his admiration for the
British troops, the Emperor concluded: "At Malplaquet and Waterloo,
Prussian and British blood flowed in the prosecution of a common
enterprise." In a little speech after the review the Emperor spoke of
the English navy as "the finest in the world." The impression made by
the Emperor on Sir Evelyn has been recorded by that general. "The
Emperor is extremely wide-awake," he writes to a friend, "with a
decided, straightforward manner. He is a good rider. His quick and
very intelligent spirit seizes every detail at a glance, and he
possesses a wonderful memory." The Emperor was now nominated an
honorary Admiral of the British navy and as a return compliment made
Queen Victoria honorary "Chef" of his own First Dragoon Guards. At the
naval review a journalist asked an English naval officer what would
happen if the Emperor, in command of a German fleet, should meet a
British fleet in time of war between England and Germany? - "Would the
British fleet have to salute the Emperor?" "Certainly," replied the
naval officer; "it would fire 100 guns at him."

Next year the Emperor was again in England, this time to be present at
the Cowes regatta, which he took part in regularly during the four
succeeding years, noting, doubtless, all that might prove useful for
the development of the Kiel yachting "week," the success of which he
had then, as always since, particularly at heart. He was received by
Queen Victoria with the simple and homely words, "Welcome, William!"

A State visit to the City of London followed, when he was accompanied
by the Empress, and was entertained to a luncheon given by the City
Fathers in the Guildhall. The entertainment, which took place on July
10, 1891, was remarkable for a speech delivered by the Emperor in
English, in which, besides declaring his intention of maintaining the
"historical friendship" between England and Germany, he proclaimed
that his great object "above all" was the preservation of peace,
"since peace alone can inspire that confidence which is requisite for
a healthy development of science, art, and commerce." On the same
occasion he expressed his feeling of "being at home" in England - "this
delightful country" - and spoke of the "same blood which flows alike in
the veins of Germans and English." Shortly afterwards he attended a
review of volunteers at Wimbledon, and, as he said, was "agreeably
astonished at the spectacle of so many citizen-soldiers in a country
that had no conscription."

The Emperor returned from England to receive the visit of his chief
Triplice ally, the Emperor Franz Joseph, and to discuss with him
doubtless the European situation. Bismarck has been pictured as
sitting at the European chessboard pondering the moves necessary tor
Germany to win the game of which the great prize was the hegemony of
Europe. The chief opposing Pieces, whose aid or neutrality was
desirable, were for long France, Russia, Austria, and Italy; but in
1883, with the conclusion of the Triple Alliance, Austria and Italy
needed less to be considered, and the only two really important
opposing pieces left were France and Russia. Still, Germany, through
her allies of the Triplice, might be dragged into war, and
consequently the doings of Austria and Italy, both in relation to one
another and to France and Russia were, as they now are, of great
importance to her.

At the time of the accession, the chessboard of our metaphor was
mainly occupied with Franco-German relations and with Russian designs
on Constantinople, the Dardanelles, and the Black Sea. The danger to
Germany of war with France, which had arisen out of the Boulanger and
Schnaebele incidents, had died down, but not altogether ceased.
Hohenlohe tells us how at this time, in conversation with the Emperor,
the latter ventured the forecast: "Boulanger is sure to succeed. I
prophesy that as Kaiser Ernest he will pay a visit to Berlin." He was
wrong, we know, as so many prophets are.

Russian designs on Turkey had had to reckon with the opposition of
England and Austria. As regards these designs, Bismarck says:

"Germany's policy should be one of reserve. Germany would
act very foolishly if in Oriental questions, without having
special interests, she took a side before the other Powers,
who were more nearly interested: she would therefore do well
to refrain from making her move as long as possible, and
thus, besides, gain the benefit of longer peace."

The Chancellor, however, admitted that against the advantages of a
policy of reserve had to be set the disadvantage of Germany's position
in the centre of Europe with its frontiers exposed to the attacks of a
coalition. "From this situation," said the Chancellor, "it results
that Germany is perhaps the only Great Power in Europe which is not
tempted to attain its ends by victorious war."

"Our interest," he goes on,

"is to maintain peace, whereas our continental neighbours
without exception have wishes, either secret or officially
admitted, which can only be fulfilled through war.
Consequently, German policy must be to prevent war or
confine it as much as possible: to keep in the background
while the European game of cards is going on: and not by
loss of patience or concession at the cost of the country,
or vanity, or provocation from friends, allow ourselves to
be driven from the waiting attitude: otherwise - _plectuntur
Achivi!_ - third parties will rejoice."

That was the Bismarckian policy twenty-five years ago, and though new
economic conditions have had great influence in modifying it since,
particularly as it regards the East, it is practically Germany's
policy now.

In his first speech from the throne to the Reichstag the Emperor thus
referred to the Triple Alliance:

"Our Alliance with Austria-Hungary is publicly known. I hold
to the same with German fidelity, not merely because it has
been concluded, but because I see in this defensive union a
foundation for the balance of power in Europe and a legacy
of German history, the importance of which is recognized by
the whole of the German people, while it accords with
European international law as undeniably in force up to
1866. Similar historical relations and similar national
exigences of the time bind us to Italy. Both Germany and
Italy desire to prolong the blessings of peace that they may
pursue in tranquillity the consolidation of their newly
acquired unity, the betterment of their national
institutions, and the increase of their prosperity."

In a speech a few months later he declared that the Alliance had no
other purpose than to strengthen the peaceful relations of Germany to
other foreign Powers. His next public reference to it was in May,
1900, when Kaiser Franz Joseph visited Berlin on the occasion of the
coming of age of the German Crown Prince. "Truly," exclaimed the
Emperor, in a vein of some exaggeration,

"this Alliance is not alone an agreement in the eyes of the
monarchs, but the longer it has existed, the deeper has it
taken root in the convictions of the peoples, and the moment
that the hearts of the peoples beat in unison nothing can
tear them asunder. Common interests, common feelings, joy
and sorrow shared together, unite our three nations for now
twenty years, and although often enough misunderstandings
and sarcasm and criticisms have been poured out on them, the
three peoples have succeeded in maintaining peace hitherto,
and are regarded by the whole world as its champions."

The history of the Triplice may be shortly related here as, along with
his navy, it is regarded by the Emperor as the chief factor in the
preservation of the world's peace, and is, in fact, as has been said,
the foundation of his foreign policy. It arose from Bismarck's desire
to be independent of Russia and from his dread of a European
coalition - for example, that of France, Austria, and Russia - against
the German Empire. "We had," Bismarck writes,

"carried on successful war against two of the European Great
Powers (Austria and France), and it became advisable to
withdraw at least one of them from the temptation to revenge
which lay in the prospect an alliance with others offered.
It could not be France, as any one who knew the history and
temperament of the two peoples could see, nor England owing
to her dislike of permanent alliances, nor Italy as her
support alone was insufficient against an anti-German
coalition; so that the choice lay between Austria-Hungary
and Russia."

For many reasons Bismarck would have preferred the Russian alliance,
among others the traditional dynastic friendship between the two
countries and the fact that no natural political or religious causes
of conflict existed between them; while a union with Austria was less
reliable, owing to the changeable nature of her public opinion, the
heterogeneousness of her Magyar, Slav, and Catholic populations, and
the loss of influence by the German element with the governing body.
On the other hand, however, an alliance with Austria would be nothing
new, internationally, as such a connection theoretically arose from
the former connection of Germany and Austria in the Holy Roman Empire.
While weighing the matter, a threatening letter from Czar Alexander II
to William I, in which he called on Germany to support his Balkan
policy, and said that if he refused peace could not last between their
two countries, decided Bismarck in favour of Austria. The chief



Online LibraryStanley ShawWilliam of Germany → online text (page 6 of 31)