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ON the 31st December, 1888, about six months after his accession to the throne, William II. of Germany addressed his Chancellor, Prince Bismarck, a telegram as follows:
Dear Prince, -The year which has brought us such severe afflictions and irreparable losses is drawing to a close. The thought that you still stand faithful at my side, and enter the New Year in vigorous strength, fills me with joy and comfort. From the bottom of my heart I desire for you happiness, blessings, and, above all, lasting health, and pray Heaven that I may long be permitted to work with you for the welfare and greatness of our Fatherland.
Within fifteen months of the date of
this complimentary message the young Emperor had (on March 22, 1890) telegraphed to a friend in Weimar :
"Many thanks for your friendly letter. I have indeed gone through bitter experiences, NEW SERIES.-VOL. LIV., No. 5.
and have passed many painful hours. heart is as sorrowful as if I had again lost my grandfather! But it is so appointed to me by God; and it has to be borne, even though I should fall under the burden. The post of officer of the watch on the ship of State has fallen to my lot. Her course remains the same so now full steam ahead!''
The recipient of this note was variously supposed, at the time, to be either the Emperor's relative, the Grand Duke of Weimar, or Admiral Bartsch; but the naval imagery employed in the telegram (for His Majesty can be all things to all men) seems to settle the point in favor of the Admiral, who, by the way, was at one time expected to succeed to Prince Bismarck. Well, then, within fifteen short months of his addressing a fervent hope for continued co-operation between himself and his political Palinurus, who had guided the ship of State through so many storms and perils, the Emperor had sud
denly "dropped his pilot" (nor was any one, as I happen to know, more impressed by Punch's cartoon on the subject than His Majesty himself), and taken his own stand on the bridge, shouting out his orders to the man at the wheel, and to all else, in a firm and lusty voice. The fall of Prince Bismarck was and is still felt by all to be one of the wonders of the century; and assuredly no more unexpected event ever happened, though the French, it is true, will have it that nothing is so certain as the unexpected. Cloyed as it is with the taste of manifold sensations, the palate of the European public was tickled, as it had never been before, by the revelation that even a Bismarck was not at all deemed indispensable to the continued welfare of his country, and that a young and inexperienced ruler like the Emperor William had been capable of so supreme an act of courage as to dispense-and rather brusquely too-with the services of a man who had been the making of his nation. "If our young Emperor," said people in Berlin, "has the daring to do a thing like this, what will he not yet have the audacity to do?" Of a truth his courage and capacity are great; and if his life is long enough, and opportunity offers, some successor of his, using the words uttered by Frederick the Great over the ashes of the great Elector, may also point to his tomb, and exclaim, "Messieurs, Der hat viel gethan."
It is not the object of the present article to discuss the causes which led the new Emperor to part with the old Chancellor. Those causes, which were set forth with more or less fulness and accuracy at the time, may be reduced to one succinct explanation incompatibility of age and temper. "How was it possible," remarked a German diplomatist when discussing the subject with me, "for a clear-sighted and self-willed young Emperor of thirty to continue running in the same leash (so to speak) with an autocratic Chancellor of over seventy?" An agreeable person, says one of Lord Beaconsfield's characters, is a person who agrees with you; and Bismarck, in the eyes of his new master, had ceased to fulfil this definition of the term.
The differences which soon sprang up between them were partly personal and partly political; and for once in his life Bismarck found, to his great astonishment, that the world contained a man
with a will stronger than his own. Of the old Emperor, Bismarck once said to the late Lord Ampthill, Mein alter Herr ist stets ueberredet wenn nicht ueberzeugt gewesen:" "I have always been able to talk over if not convince my old master ;" and, indeed, numerous cases might be quoted, the war of 1866 included, to show that William I. often based his decisions, in relation to his Chancellor, on the reversed order of conviction and consent. But his grandson, who had the advantage of inheriting bis English mother's strength of will with his mother's mental force and perspicacity, soon displayed a tendency to rebel against the submission of his judgment to any authority save that of his own instincts and intelligence; and in doing so, as is thought by many well-qualified heads in Berlin, he rendered-though at no slight risk-a very considerable service to the monarchical principle in Prussia and Germany, for which his successors will give him credit.
There can be little doubt that, in the course of his long and magnificent career, Prince Bismarck had insensibly come to establish a kind of personal imperium in imperio within the limits of the Prussian Crown. No one had fought more desperately than he to save the rights of this crown from the curtailing scissors of a Constitution, as no one had been a more jealous defender of these rights after they had at last been limited and reduced to charter-form by the revolutionary movement of '48. Yet, if the truth must be told, this very same Bismarck had gradually, and perhaps even unconsciously, ended by absorbing into his own person the excercise of some of those rights which appertained exclusively to his Sovereign. He would doubtless be the first to protest against this view; but if he can fully account for his dismissal from office on any other general theory, there are thousands of his most candid and intelligent countrymen who would be grateful for the explanation.
With the accession of the young Emperor authority within the Empire had become divided and contested, as it had also come to be under Ferdinand and Wallenstein. The analogy is not perfect; but there is a clear similarity of a certain kind between the two cases, though it has curiously enough escaped the notice of German writers; and Bismarck, too, accord
ing to his own avowal (for who does not remember the veiled reproaches against a certain statesman-colleague with which he began his lamentations and recriminations at Friedrichsruh ?), found his native Butlers, his Devereux, his Leslies, and his Gordons. He suffered the inevitable penalty of all who have ever risen to transcendent heights of influence and power. In the course of his table-talk, during the French war, the ex-Chancellor once remarked that, though the Prussian people huzza'd and beclapped their great Frederick when alive, they secretly rubbed their hands in glee when finally the old tyrant had breathed his last. And the same remark applies, to some extent, to Bismarck's own official death, which certainly excited surprise throughout Germany, and sentimental sorrow, but comparatively little real regret and no great apprehension for the future. As a financial journal well expressed it at the time, even the aspen-leaves of the Bourse never so much as quivered at the news of the mighty Chancellor's fall." His countrymen adored him, vowing to be eternally grateful for the great things he had done, and were intensely proud of him as part of their national greatness; but, to speak the honest truth, they were beginning to groan under the weight of his personal authority and will, which overshadowed. every walk of their public life; and this was more especially the case with his colleagues and immediate subordinates, with whom the Iron Chancellor enjoyed as little official popularity as was inspired by Wellington in the hearts of the troops whom he so often led to victorious battle. Every one felt that Bismarck's life-work was done, and that there would now be no great danger-nay: that there would be a positive advantage-in his leaving the further pursuit and development of his task to younger and fresher hands. In the oft-quoted words of Schiller,—
"Der Mohr hat seine Schuldigkeit gethan, Der Mohr kann gehen."
But it is a thousand times more easy to wean one's self from the love of drink than from the love of power, and the latter was a species of intoxication in which, as it had been his greatest passion through life, Bismarck desired to revel until the day of his death. It is only affirming that he is mortal to say that, with all his
splendid achievements, he committed some stupendous mistakes-his bootless combat with invincible Rome included-in the course of his life; but, perhaps, his crowning error of judgment was his misconception of the moment when Germany, through his efforts, might now be said to be firmly seated in the saddle and be left to ride of herself. Bismarck has frequently expressed himself an admirer of the character of George Washington, boasting that Prussia was the first European State to recognize the great Republic of his creating; but his admiration would have assumed a much more flattering form had he ben careful to select the proper time for imitating the Cincinnatus of the West.
Nor is it too much to assert that his grand historical figure would have gone down to posterity in more majestic and unmutilated shape had he, like Ariel, recognized when his "task was fairly done,' and voluntarily surrendered the helin of the ship of State into other hands, resolved to spend the evening of his life in dignity and silence.
There is no reason to doubt that, when penning the telegram before quoted with reference to his assumption of the post of officer of the watch on this ship, the Emperor was perfectly sincere in saying that, in parting with Bismarck, he had suffered as much as if he had again lost his grandfather. Yet there is just as little reason to doubt that, from a particular date, it was His Majesty's fixed purpose to effect a divorce between himself and his Chancellor, even as it was the set determination of Nelson to get rid of his own wife after he had become infatuatedly attached to Lady Hamilton. Not that Lady Nelson had ceased to command the respect and even the love of her husband. On the contrary," said her capricious lord, "I call God to witness, there is nothing in you, or your conduct, that I wish otherwise.' And so it was pretty much with the maker of the German Empire, who was involuntarily divorced from the office which he had held with such distinction for about a quarter of a century, and loaded with valedictory honors, including his ducal title, which he has continued to despise and ignore.
"That will never do," the young Emperor is reported to have said to the author of the" Neue Herr" when attending a rehearsal of that historical play last win
ter in the Schauspielhaus at Berlin. "Even when a Hohenzollern dismisses one of his ministers he loads him with honors. You must change all that." This criticism was said to have been addressed to Herr von Wildenbruch, a Foreign Office clerk-a sort of court poet, or unofficial laureate at Berlin-who might be called the would-be Wagner of the heroic rhymed verse drama in Germany. Certainly his plays, dealing by preference with subjects connected with the rise of the Hohenzollerns, and appealing to the popular sense of melodramatic patriotism, are frightfully full of swashbuckler sound and sword-clashing; and nothing would content this aspiring dramatist but that he should produce a play entitled the "Neue Herr," or the New Ruler" a play, strange to say, about which, and the sensation it created, the English Correspondents at Berlin found remarkably little to report at the time, though in the case of one of them, at least, this omission was simply due to the fact of his being under editorial orders to restrict the field of his observation and his comment. But who, then, was the "Neue Herr"? It was the young Emperor's own ancestor, the "Great Elector," one of whose first acts, on succeeding to the throne, was to dismiss from office Adam von Schwarzenberg, his predecessor's Chancellor, and virtually take all the reins of power into his own reforming hands. This incident forms one of the main motives in Wildenbruch's play; but who shall say whether the selection of this subject, with its obvious parallel between the past and the present, was due to accident or to design?
Was the dramatist's subject suggested to him, or did he select it himself, taking, perhaps, his "master's humor for a warrant" I know not; but what was patent to all the world was that the Emperor himself took the very greatest interest in the matter and production of the piece, that he attended several dress rehearsals, and directed certain changes to be made (as above referred to), that he was foremost among the "first-nighters, and after the performance went behind the scenes, where he decorated the dramatist with the Red Eagle, besides showering studs, sleeve-links, breast pins, and other marks of favor on the principal actors, and that he afterward frequently hastened
away from evening parties to revel in the scenes and dialogues of the " Neue Herr."
On the literary merits of this play most of the critics were extremely hard, one of them--and a very good one, too-characterizing it as "eine hyper-loyale RadauComödie," which might be rendered " an ultra-loyal drama of the rowdy-dowdy type. But it was agreed by all that the author could not possibly feel hurt at those adverse comments, seeing that the achievement of political effect more than of literary excellence must have been his primary aim. Certainly the parting scenes between the Great Elector and his father's old Chancellor, Schwarzenberg-who finally went off in a fit of apoplexy-were felt by all who witnessed the piece to be extremely suggestive and painful; nor was little other than disgust excited by the picture of rude and ranting military nobles, with their repulsive immorality, in which the piece abounded. But it had at least one redeeming scene-as softened and touching as it was again suggestive. This was an apartment in the royal castle at Berlin, where a way worn and breathless courier, just arrived from distant Königsberg, enters, and on bended knee announces to the Kur-Prinz (i.e., hereditary Prince) the death of his father, and his consequent succession to the crown. Ou being left alone, and after overcoming the first shocks of his grief, young Frederick William (destined to become and be called the Great Elector) falls to soliloquizing on the nature and duties of his high sovereign office; but from those reveries he is speedily aroused by the tumult of a myriad-headed multitude of his people, who, catching wind of the change of rulers, have already streamed from all quarters of the city to the Schloss to acclaim their" Neue Herr." Attracted by the sound, the young Elector (he was only eighteen) goes to the window and becomes a prey to emotion as he gazes down on this surging sea of his subjects-men, women, and children, with their weal and woe all depending on him. The sight of them fills him with an almost crushing sense of responsibility, and he ends by registering holy vows to live for the good of his people and for nothing else, to be a model ruler, beloved at home and feared abroad, to pull down the proud and selfish (Schwarzenberg, the Chancellor, included), to raise up the lowly and op
pressed, to put a chicken (so to speak) into every poor man's pot, and to be, in the highest sense of the word, a true Landesvater of his Vaterland.
It is doubtful whether Frederick the Great, with all his cultivated tastes and his abhorrence of transparent adulation, would have discovered much literary merit in Wildenbruch's dramatic attempt to imitate the manner of Plutarch in drawing historic parallels; but we have it on the authority of the new Emperor himself that the Great Elector, and not the Great King, is the exemplar of this preference in the annals of his own house; and it was, therefore, no wonder that last winter he seized the 250th anniversary of Frederick William's accession to the throne to celebrate the occasion with gorgeous military pomp, and to eulogize, in the most glowing terms, the extraordinary virtues of his favorite ancestor. Ancestor-worship is certainly a very marked note in the Emperor's character; nor does he ever speak with greater force and enthusiasm than when pointing a moral by reference to the deeds done by his predecessors. The jus imaginum is the private right in the exercise of which His Majesty takes most delight; and every statue or portrait of his sires seems to apostrophize and inspire him, in the words of Burns:
"Remember, sons, the deeds I've done, And in your deeds Ill live again." The Emperor has confessed that when at school, in Cassel, his historical education, as far as his own country was concerned, was shamefully neglected in favor of useless classical lore, and that at this period, consequently, the Great Elector was to him a very nebulous personage ;" but he has by this time rectified with a vengeance all those errors of his upbringing, and, moreover, taken care that none of his subjects shall henceforth labor under a similar disadvantage, directing that in future the youth of Germany shall learn their world-history by a process the reverse of that hitherto pursued-namely, by working their studious way back from Sedan and Gravelotte, via Rossbach, Leuthen, and Fehrbellin, to Mantinea and Thermopyla. Wildenbruch's portrait of the Neue Herr" soliloquizing on the duties and responsibilities of his sovereign office, and registering pious vows in regard to the future, was really copied from
the Great Elector's ruling descendant, who burns with a high desire to walk in the footsteps of his forefathers. Of these, the greatest were the vanquisher of the Swedes, the victor of the Austrians in alliance with the half of Europe, and the conqueror of the French-the Great Elector, Frederick the Great, and William the Victorious. These three figures form the trinity of the new Emperor's historical worship, the chief objects of his emulation; and it may, therefore, be well to consider how far the qualities which His Majesty has hitherto displayed give promise of his filling up as large and luminous a page in the annals of his nation.
William II. has only occupied the throne for a little over three years, and it cannot be said that during this period his character has been slow of development. Since General Boulanger's beclouded star sank
seemingly forever-beneath the politi cal horizon, that of the young German Emperor has been the cynosure of all eyes. Society must have a saviour of some kind; and at present His Majesty is the only candidate in the field for this honor, among the occupants of thrones at least. It is, therefore, only natural that all eyes. should be bent upon him, and that his claims-unmistakable enough, if unexpressed to be regarded as the leading Sovereign of his time should be closely scrutinized by the light of everything he says and does. It might be argued that hitherto his sayings, on the whole, have rather preponderated over his doings, and that he is thus incurring a very grave responsibility by flying so many drafts on the future. But it must be remembered that youth is the period of impetuosity, and, therefore, of privilege. brief period of his reign, the Emperor has certainly spoken a great deal-nearly as much, indeed, as his grandfather did during all his life-time ;-but then it must be admitted that, though his speeches are often very bold and startling, they are never witless or absurd. Bismarck once said that, when first introduced among the dull old diplomatists at the Diet in Frankfort, he acted among them, with his unconventional and audacious ways, like so much cayenne pepper; and a similar effect has now been produced by the present Emperor in the circle of his fellowsovereigns, who still cling to the old traditions as to the nature and uses of a throne.