"No ditch is too deep, And no wall is too high, If two love each other They'll meet by-and-by."
The music of this is particularly sweet, graceful and tender.
Prince Henry, the sailor brother of the kaiser, has written a number of pieces, one of the best known and most popular of which is called the "Matrosen Marsch," which is to be purchased in all large music stores. He also holds his own as a first-class amateur performer, both on the violin and the piano. His sister, the crown princess of Greece, a pupil of Rufer, excels on the organ, as does also the widowed Empress Frederick, while there is not one of the children of the present kaiser who does not possess musical gifts of a high order, which are being developed both in theory and in practice by celebrated professors and masters.
There is no doubt that, but for the weakness of his left arm, Emperor William would have been as skilful a performer as the other members of his family. As it is, his devotion to music is restricted to composition and to conducting. The kaiser is very fond of acting as bandmaster during the musical soirees given at court, and other entertainments of this kind honored by the presence of the reigning family. It has been claimed that he is the first Prussian ruler to thus wield the baton since the days of Frederick the Great. But this is not the case, for I recall being present, many years ago, at a dinner at the palace of Koblenz, given by Empress Augusta in honor of her consort, old Emperor William, who had come over from Ems for the purpose, when during the dinner the old emperor remarked that the band of the Augusta regiment, which was playing at the further end of the White Hall, had played the ballet melody of "Satanella" in too fast a time. Rising from his seat, and pushing aside the screen which concealed the band from view, he took the baton from the hand of the bandmaster, and after exclaiming: "Very quietly and slowly, gentlemen, if you please," he tapped twice on the music-stand in front of him, and then commenced to conduct with as much skill and art as if he had never done anything else in his life. Several times during the course of the piece he exclaimed "Noch ruehiger," (still more gently) and when the end of the piece was reached he laid down the baton with the remark, "Now, that was fine," and, thanking the band with a very friendly and kindly smile, returned to his seat at table.
The present kaiser's principal contribution to music is undoubtedly his composition of the melody to the "Sang am Aegir," a poem of considerable power by his friend Count Philipp Eulenburg. The composition begins as follows:
The words may be rendered as:
"Of Aegir, Lord of the Waves, Whom mermaids and mermen revere."
The bars that follow rivet the attention of the listener on account of their weird originality. They are full of feeling, very melodious, and easily caught by the ear. Towards the close, the melody breaks off into a purely military strain, so that the final bars are suggestive of the sound of trumpets, recalling to mind some ancient martial fanfare.
William has a very marked predilection for Wagnerian music, and is the life and soul of the "Potsdam-Berlin Wagner Society," which is one of the most influential social institutions of the Prussian capital. His principal lieutenant and Adlatus in the management of this association, which is in every sense of the word a court institution, is Major von Chelius, who holds a commission in the kaiser's own body regiment of Hussars of the Guard. The major is a particular favorite of both the emperor and the empress, and he takes a very prominent part in all the musical entertainments at court, almost invariably playing the piano accompaniments for the singing of Princess Albert of Saxe-Altenburg, and of Prince Max of Baden, who possesses a rich baritone voice. The major is the composer of the popular opera "Haschisch," and has inherited his musical talents from his mother, a Hamburger by birth. His father is a dignitary of the Court of Baden, while his wife, a most charming woman, was, prior to her marriage, a Fraulein von Puttkamer, a member, therefore, of the same family as the late Princess Bismarck.
But although manifesting a preference for Wagner, the kaiser is not averse to Mozart, or to the Italian school. "Der Freischuetz" is one of his favorite operas, and while he does not care for Falstaff, he is very fond of "I Medici," and greatly admires Leon Cavallo. He possesses a very correct ear, and a most pleasing voice, and many of his evenings are passed in trying new songs, his wife, who is an excellent pianist, playing the accompaniment.
Though quite as passionately fond of music as the Hohenzollerns, the Hapsburgs have achieved less distinction as composers, and even as performers. Indeed, there are but two scions of the reigning house of Austria, who can be said to have won any kind of fame as composers, namely, the missing Archduke John, who was the author of an exceedingly pretty and catchy ballet that still figures on the repertoire of the imperial opera, and Archduke Joseph, so well known by the name of the "Gypsy Archduke," who has done more than anyone else in Europe to place on record, both in writing and in print, the weird music and extraordinary quaint melodies of the Tziganes, melodies which he has arranged exquisitely for orchestral use. True, there is not a single archduke or archduchess in Austria and Hungary, who does not play with taste and feeling. Indeed, music seems to be inborn in them, and while the widowed crown princess is devoted to her piano, on which her performances are characterized by a superb technique, but coupled alas! with a complete absence of sentiment, her husband, the lamented Crown Prince Rudolph, was a composer of no mean power and seemed at times to pour forth his entire soul in the melodies which he coaxed from this instrument. Indeed he often sat at the piano for hours, playing, in a manner indescribably expressive and touching, airs improvised on the spur of the moment, which, while they remained impressed on the minds and ears of those present, would seem to fade at once from the memory of the prince himself. His was what may be called a true genius for music.
The member of the House of Hapsburg most famous in the annals of music of the present century, was undoubtedly that Archduke Rudolph, son of Emperor Leopold II., who died a cardinal. He was the protector, the friend and disciple of Beethoven, many of whose most famous works, would assuredly have remained unwritten had it not been for the fact that he received the same powerful support, both material and moral, from the imperial cardinal as Richard Wagner obtained from King Louis of Bavaria.
With regard to Archduke Joseph, the above-mentioned "Gypsy Archduke," there is no doubt that without him the outer world would still have been left in ignorance of the incalculably rich mine of Tzigane music. He is only distantly related to Emperor Francis-Joseph, being the senior member of a branch of the house of Hapsburg which has been settled for more than one hundred years in Hungary. His father's entire life was spent there, where he held the office of Viceroy, and it is there that Archduke Joseph himself was entirely brought up, and where he has spent his whole existence.
At an early age he was attracted to the gypsies by their music, and it was this that led him to think of their welfare, and to devote himself to the study of the characteristics, the history and the origin of these mysterious nomads. Until he took them under his protection, they were regarded more or less as pariahs of Central and Southern Europe, the hand of every man being against them, and the authorities and people at large combining to subject them to persecution of the most cruel character. Their gratitude to the archduke when he obtained better treatment for them knew no bounds, and was shown, among other instances, in a notable manner during the Austro-Prussian. war, when Joseph was at the head of a division of Magyar troops.
"Our retreat," so the archduke tells the story, "before the advance of the Prussian army, immediately preceding the battle of Sadowa, led us to camp one night in the neighborhood of a town in Bohemia. I was lodged in a peasant's cottage, when about midnight I heard the sentry at my door hoarsely challenging some new-comer. My aid-de-camp entered, and reported that a gypsy wanted to see me in private.
"On my asking the dusky visitor in Romani what was the matter, he told me that the enemy was approaching to surprise us.
"'The outposts have not heard anything suspicious?' I remarked.
"'No, your imperial highness,' he replied, 'because the enemy is still a long way off.'
"'But how do you know this?' I asked.
"'Come to the window,' replied the Zingari, leading me forward to the narrow glazed opening in the rough wall, and directing my gaze to the dark sky, lighted by the silver rays of the moon. 'Do you see those birds flying over the woods towards the south?'
"'Yes, I see them. What of it?'
"'What of it? Do not birds sleep as well as men? They would certainly not fly about at night-time thus had they not been disturbed. The enemy is marching through the wood southwards, and has frightened and driven the birds before it.'
"I at once ordered the outposts to be reinforced, and the camp to be alarmed. Two hours later, the outposts were fighting fiercely with the foe, and I was able to realize that my camp and my division had been saved from surprise and destruction only by the keen observation and sagacity of a grateful gypsy."
The archduke spent a large sum of money, some years ago, in endeavoring to turn the gypsies from their nomadic life, and to induce them to settle down, in order to devote their time and energies to the practice of the wonderful art of working metal, which they possess to so marked a degree, instead of roaming aimlessly about, and sometimes thieving, as is unfortunately their habit. He built a number of villages for them in the district surrounding Presburg, and organized gypsy settlements. But the scheme proved a failure. The Tziganes, true to the instincts that they have inherited from countless generations, abandoned the comfortable houses, the fields and blossoming gardens with which they had been provided by their imperial benefactor. They refused to till the soil, and commenced once more their interminable wanderings.
In spite of this fiasco, the archduke still continues to consider himself as the protector of the Romanys, and remains proud of his title of "Gypsy Prince," being sagacious enough to realize that it is impossible for a race to eradicate from their character, in a comparatively short space of time, traits that have been theirs for hundreds, nay thousands of years; for the origin of these gypsies is still shrouded in mystery and lost in the gloom of prehistoric ages, although it is probable that they are of Persian descent.
While Emperor William's taste as regards music meets with very widespread approval, and his gifts as a composer are very generally recognized, he has been less fortunate with regard to other branches of art; notably in the matter of painting, where he finds himself in frequent conflict with his people, especially with the great painters of his empire. Of all the muses there is none so truly democratic as that of pictorial art. The pictorial muse displays a truly republican intolerance of control on the part of either king or government. Hence it is only natural that Germany, which has produced in the past, and still possesses, so many world-famed painters and architectural designers, should strongly resent the kaiser's assumption of the supreme arbitership in all matters relating to art. His subjects submitted to his claim of "Regis voluntas suprema lex," in matters connected with the administration of the government, in diplomacy, in the drama, in music, and in literature, but they deny his power to impose upon them his taste in pictorial art.
It is no exaggeration to state that the emperor is in almost perpetual conflict, and at open war with the great majority of German painters and designers—a notable exception being the case of Professor von Menzel. Indeed, their discontent occasionally breaks forth with an intensity altogether new in the annals of German loyalty to the throne. A very remarkable instance thereof is the means which they adopted to show their disapproval of the emperor's treatment of Wallot, the designer of the palace of the imperial parliament. Wallot is universally recognized as the foremost architect of the age in Germany, and his original design for the building, as accepted by the authorities, was a very grandiose and magnificent conception. Financial considerations necessitated the modification of some of the features of the building, while others were forced upon the architect sorely against his will by the emperor, with the result that the palace is not quite so superb as originally projected. It remains, however, a magnificent and imposing pile, well worthy of the purpose for which it has been erected, and in no way a displeasing monument of German art and architecture as understood in the nineteenth century.
All the recognized authorities, both Teuton and foreign, in questions of art and architecture, have pronounced themselves in this sense, the only discordant note being that to which the emperor has given utterance. Not only has he publicly declared the new Reichshaus to be "the very acme of bad taste," but he even went to the length of striking the designer's name from the list of gold medalists at the exhibition of art and architecture held at Berlin shortly after the completion and inauguration of the building. The gold medal had been voted to Herr Wallot by a jury composed of all the most celebrated artists in Germany, whose verdict, representing that of the nation, might have been considered as definite and final. The kaiser, however, when the list was submitted to him for final approval, substituted, in lieu of the name of Professor Wallot, that of his favorite portrait painter, Madame Palma Parlaghy, whose work is, in the eyes of Germany's leading artists, so execrable that the hanging committee of the Berlin Academy have repeatedly refused to accord places to any of her pictures on its walls.
Madame Parlaghy is a pupil of Makart and of Lenbach, and a native of Hadji-Dorog, in Hungary. She is between thirty and forty, possessed of glittering, enigmatic eyes, highly-colored cheeks and lips, and the almost too profuse head of hair that one sees so often on the shores of the Danube. Her beauty may, nevertheless, be described as majestic, and she conveys the idea of being a woman possessed of considerable strength of mind, as well as much diplomacy. She was first recommended to the emperor by the present Czarina of Russia, to whom she gave drawing lessons, prior to the marriage of the empress, and after William had obtained an idea of her skill by a very pleasing portrait which she painted of Field Marshal von Moltke, which was, however, rejected by the hanging committee of an art exhibition at Berlin, he purchased the picture in question for a large sum, and likewise gave her an order to paint several portraits of himself, declaring openly that if the judgment of the leading Berlin artists were to be final in the matter of admitting paintings to public galleries and exhibitions, there would never be a single work of art worthy of the name on view. Madame Parlaghy's portraits of the emperor, though questionable as works of art, are, it must be confessed, very flattering likenesses of his majesty.
It was shortly after this slight inflicted by the emperor on Professor Wallot, and the honor conferred upon Madame Parlaghy, that the National Society of Architects and the National Association of Artists, the two principal organizations of the kind in Germany—composed of all that is most eminent in the realms of architecture and art—jointly invited Professor Wallot to a great banquet in Berlin, at which over six hundred guests were present, in the course of which William was guyed in a most merciless manner! The chief ornament on the principal table was a model of the Reichshaus in "Schwarzbrod," cheese and confectionery. The dome consisted of a Dutch cheese, the "Germania" on the top was represented by a smartly aproned chambermaid on horseback, the horse being led by a footman in imperial livery, while the whole was labeled "Der gipfel des geschmack,"—the acme of taste. Another item of the programme was a sort of automatic machine, which, when a gold medal was placed in the slot, would perform "Der gesang an Ihr,"—the song to her—meaning, of course, Madame Parlaghy.
The joke, I need hardly say, consisted in the parodying of the title of the emperor's musical composition "Sang am Aegir!" The lustre hanging from the ceiling, which is known in Germany as a "Kronleuchter" was in the form of an old crinoline. At the entrance to the banqueting hall hung the representation of a gold medal, which a lady painter was trying in vain to grasp. The tone of the speeches throughout the evening was in thorough keeping with the decorations, and it is doubtful whether such a bold exhibition of independence, and even disloyalty towards the sovereign, has ever been seen in the Prussian capital. It speaks well for William's good sense that he should have refrained from proceeding against any of the organizers of the entertainment on the ground of lese majeste.
There is, as I stated above, one Prussian painter, however, of whom the kaiser is exceedingly fond, whose eminence in art is acknowledged, not only in Germany, but all the world over, and upon whom William has lavished the highest honors that it is in his power to bestow. The painter in question is Professor von Menzel; popularly known in Berlin as "His Little Excellency," owing to his diminutive size, his stature being about four feet nine inches! Professor Menzel, who is of the most humble origin, is to-day a Knight of the Order of the Black Eagle, which is the Prussian equivalent of the English Order of the Garter, or of the Austrian Order of the Golden Fleece, this decoration carrying with it a patent of hereditary nobility. He is now considerably over eighty, but from his twelfth year he has earned his living by means of his brush and palette. All his principal paintings are devoted to the illustration of historic episodes of Prussian history and of the reigning house of Hohenzollern. One of his masterpieces is entitled "The Flute Concert," and represents Frederick the Great in his palace at Sans-Souci, at a concert with the principal members of court and his household around him.
One evening the emperor sent for old Menzel, and asked him to join the royal family at Sans-Souci. When the little painter alighted he was conducted to the imperial presence, and was somewhat astonished to notice that the sentinels at the various doors instead of being arrayed in their ordinary uniform, wore the military garb of the time of Frederick the Great. But his surprise developed into downright amazement, when at length two folding-doors were thrown open, and he found himself in the same apartment which had furnished the scene of his painting of "The Flute Concert." The room was lighted, as in olden times, with wax candles, the old-time furniture was disposed identically as represented in his painting, and, moreover, the company assembled was composed of men in the costumes of the time of Frederick the Great, and of ladies attired in the picturesque dress of the middle of the last century. There advanced to welcome the astounded artist a personage who, but for the moustache, was the very image of Frederick the Great, and in whom the little professor had some difficulty to recognize the kaiser. William greeted him with old-fashioned courtesy, using the elaborate politeness of our great grandfathers, and after having presented the little painter to all the guests, the ladies curtsying deeply in the fashion of the Court of Versailles, and the men bowing low, Menzel was led by the emperor to a seat beside the empress, and the emperor's private band, whose uniforms were in perfect keeping with the costumes of the guests, played first of all several of Frederick the Great's compositions for the flute, and then a few of Bach's loveliest morceaux. The emperor himself remained standing beside the little painter's chair throughout the entire concert, the empress alone and some of her ladies being seated, while the remainder of the fair guests, as well as all the men, stood about the apartment endeavoring as far as possible to group themselves in the same way as the personages figuring in Menzel's painting. After the concert was finished, the company adjourned to an adjoining room, Menzel occupying the place of honor to the right of the empress, while the emperor toasted the little fellow with more than ordinary eloquence and cordiality.
It is doubtful whether any sovereign has ever gone to such lengths in order to honor the leading artist of his dominions, and it is difficult to speak too highly of the delicacy of the compliment, or of its originality. It might have been sufficient to turn the head of any other painter than Menzel. But while he is devoted to the reigning family there is certainly no one who is less of a courtier. In fact he is terribly outspoken, and never hesitates to speak to his sovereign with the fearless sincerity of a Diogenes. Of a truth, there is no end to the stories current, illustrating his independence of character. Once, having been commissioned by the grandfather of the present kaiser, namely, old Emperor William, to paint a picture of his coronation as King of Prussia, he reproduced with too much exactitude, and too little flattery, the features of the emperor's exceedingly vain and by no means youthful consort, Empress Augusta. Her majesty insisted that he should alter his portrait of her, and render it more attractive, but this Menzel absolutely refused to do, and the consequence was that the empress on numerous occasions made him feel the weight of her displeasure.
The old painter bided his time, and eventually got even with her in a very characteristic fashion. Being entrusted with the task of reproducing on canvas the scene of the emperor's departure for the seat of war in 1870, he portrayed the Empress Augusta with her face entirely concealed in her handkerchief, as if weeping, although she prided herself on not having shed a single tear on that occasion.
Another time during the life of old Field Marshal Wrangel, a lady of the court, more famous for her vanity than her beauty, complained to him that Menzel had done her scant justice in a large picture representing some important event of contemporary court history. Wrangel, who was famous as a brow-beating bully of the good old Prussian type,—people trembling at the mere sight of him,—promised to see Menzel, and to make him change the portrait of the lady to a more flattering likeness. Greatly to his surprise, however, when he broached the subject to Menzel, he discovered that the latter greatly resented such meddlesomeness. Indeed, Menzel even had the temerity to suggest that field marshals would do far better to attend to subjects that they knew something about than to the art of painting, of which they knew nothing. Wrangel flared up, so did Menzel, and soon the air was blue with finely characterized and bona-fide Prussian oaths, punctuated with the angry sarcasms of the enraged painter. The upshot of the interview was that Wrangel, who had never before turned his back on an enemy, was compelled to beat an ignominious retreat without having accomplished his object; but before disappearing through the door of the studio, he turned and positively yelled at the painter:
"You are a disgusting little toad, and your picture is vile."
While most of the members of the House of Hapsburg paint and sketch with a good deal of cleverness and skill, there is only one, namely, the now widowed Archduchess Maria-Theresa, who can be regarded as an artist in every sense of the word. She excels alike with the chisel and the brush, while during the lifetime of her husband, her salon became, in spite of the strictness of Austrian court etiquette, the one place where eminent artists were certain to find a cordial welcome, irrespective of birth or social status.
The studio of the archduchess is situated on the second floor of her palace, in the Favoritenstrasse, and is a very lofty, long and narrow apartment, looking out on the street. It is particularly remarkable for its simplicity, presenting therein a powerful contrast to the magnificence of the two salons through which it is necessary to pass in order to reach it. The few stools, tabourets, armchairs and divans therein contained, are upholstered with soft-toned Oriental rugs, the walls are hidden by some sort of olive-colored velvety fabric, and the wall opposite the windows is divided in the middle by a species of gallery, the exquisite wood carvings of which were brought by the archduchess herself from Meran. The parqueted floors are partly concealed by the skins of tigers and polar bears, shot in the Arctic regions and in India by her brother, Dom Miguel, Duke of Braganza, the legitimist pretender to the throne of Portugal, while on easels, and suspended from the walls, are oil-color portraits by the archduchess of Baroness C. Kolmossy, to whom she is indebted for her knowledge of painting, of her husband, the late Archduke Charles-Louis, and of her sister-in-law, the lamented Empress Elizabeth, in riding habit and in ball-dress.
There is also a very pretty picture of a cat in the act of effecting its escape from the basket in which it had been confined, and a wonderful crayon sketch of Maria-Theresa's stepson, Archduke Francis-Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The colossal fire-place niched in one of the corners of the studio, is surmounted, not by a mirror, but by a panel of well-nigh priceless Oriental embroidery, the brilliant colors of which have been softened and rendered harmonious and mellow by age.
The doors are draped by portieres of Flemish tapestry, and shielded by Mucharabieh screens of curiously-carved wood from Cairo. Preserved from dust and damage beneath plate-glass are some unique pieces of antique Venetian point lace, presented by another brother-in-law, Don Alfonso of Spain, the younger brother of the Pretender Don Carlos, while on a huge square writing-table, the equipments of which are of Oriental gold filigree-work, richly jewelled, are usually found letters either to or from the favorite brother-in-law of the archduchess, Duke Charles-Theodore of Bavaria, the celebrated oculist, who during the course of his practice has performed more than three thousand successful operations for cataract without accepting a single penny-piece by way of remuneration.
True, the patients of this royal physician are nearly all of them poor people, and it is for their benefit that he has converted one of his castles into an ophthalmic hospital, and another palace into a species of convalescent home and resort, where poor gentlefolk and government servants with inadequate means can spend a couple of weeks in the country free of all cost.
It is difficult to refrain from a deep degree of sympathy for this so brilliant and accomplished Archduchess Maria-Theresa, whose character is best illustrated by the fact that she is literally worshipped by her grown-up step-children. The sudden death of her husband was not only a cruel bereavement, but was also the destruction of great and much-cherished ambitions.
Through the death of Crown Prince Rudolph, her husband, as next brother to Emperor Francis-Joseph, became heir to the throne, and owing to the refusal of Empress Elizabeth to take any part whatsoever in court life, the archduchess was from that moment, to all intents and purposes, the "first lady in the land." It was she who presided at all court ceremonies and official functions, who received the presentations, and who filled the post of empress alike at Vienna and at Pesth. Her husband was entirely swayed by her, and completely subject to her influence, and it is notorious that she looked for the day when, through his accession to the throne, she would become the virtual ruler of the great dual empire, and be in a position to inaugurate all sorts of political ideas, peculiar to herself, notably in connection with a reversal of Austria's present foreign policy. She has never made any secret of her disapproval of the Austrian alliance with Italy, and has even gone so far as to attend with her husband public meetings in favor of the restoration of the temporal power of the Papacy, at which King Humbert was bitterly denounced and abused as a usurper! There seemed no reason whatsoever why her consort should not live to succeed his elder brother, and as the archduke possessed a singularly strong constitution, and had scarcely suffered a single hour's illness since his childhood, there was no cause to fear any untoward event. Indeed he might have been alive at the present moment had it not been for his unfortunate pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where in some way he contracted the malady which carried him off so very suddenly. He enjoys the distinction of being the only member of his house whose whole body reposes in the vault of the Capuchin Church at Vienna, where so many hundred Hapsburgs sleep, some in coffins of silver and gold, others in caskets of exquisitely ornamented copper. According to a very gruesome custom in vogue with the reigning house of Austria for many centuries, the heart is extracted from the body of the imperial dead within twenty-four hours after their demise, placed in a silver urn filled with spirits of wine, hermetically sealed, and then conveyed with the utmost pomp and ceremony, though at night, to the old cathedral of St. Stephen, where it is received with much solemnity by the clergy, and placed in niches of the wall, near the high altar. The entrails are in the same way removed, and conveyed with identically the same ceremonies to the ancient church of the Augustines, and it is only what is left that is buried in the vaults of the Capuchin Church.
Archduke Charles-Louis did not relish this extraordinary yet traditional treatment of his remains after death, and fervently believing in the resurrection of the body in the flesh, thought it distinctly uncanny that his heart and his entrails should each have to go hunting through the city for his body on the Day of Judgment. Accordingly, he was laid to rest just as he died, instead of being entombed, like all the other members of the House of Hapsburg, in sections.
If I have refrained in the preceding chapter from making any mention of the attainments of the Dowager Empress Frederick, either as a sculptor or as a painter, it is because she is so immeasurably superior to all other royal personages in the realms of art that she can no longer be regarded as a mere amateur, no matter how clever. Besides this, her individuality is so strong, her intellectual gifts so great, and the part which she has played in German politics so important that she really deserves separate treatment.
If I link her name with that of her daughter-in-law, Empress Augusta-Victoria, it is because the latter's influence on German affairs has been even still more weighty, though she is far less brilliant and clever than her husband's mother. Indeed my readers after perusing this chapter may feel disposed to ask themselves whether ordinary intelligence in high places does not work more successfully than genius.
It is difficult to describe Empress Frederick as anything else than a genius. Certainly I have never known a more gifted woman. The diversity, the scope, and the depth of her knowledge are simply amazing. In conversation it is difficult to broach any subject, no matter what it is, that she has not mastered. Her acquaintance with the mediaeval, Renaissance and modern schools of painting, and with every form and work of art industry is unsurpassed even by those men who have devoted their entire lives to these studies. I have on one and the same evening heard her converse on Venetian art with Ludovic Passini, proving herself his equal in her astounding knowledge of Venice, past and present; talk with a distinguished physician, who was amazed by the theoretical knowledge which she displayed of the throat and breathing organs, and who declared that if she had only had practical experience, she would have been the finest throat specialist in the world; and discuss literature with a celebrated Englishman of letters, chiding him upon his admitting his inability to cap a passage from Pope, which she quoted! The late Sir Richard Wallace, than whom no one possessed a more profound knowledge of the masterpieces of the painters, goldsmiths, jewelers and potters of bygone centuries, was wont to declare that Empress Frederick surpassed him as an expert, although, with unlimited wealth at his disposal, he had devoted more than half a century of his life to the collection of "chefs d'oeuvre" in all parts of the world.
The depth of her researches into chemical science exceeds that of Lord Salisbury, who is her most intimate personal friend in England, and at whose Elizabethan country seat she invariably visits when in her native country, most of her time while under his roof being spent with him in his laboratory. But it is particularly as an artist, both with brush and chisel, that she excels, and while as a painter she ranks with some of the leading professional masters of the present day, as a sculptor she surpasses anything achieved or even attempted as yet by a woman.
The subject which naturally stimulates her most to artistic effort is the portraiture of her fondly-loved husband. His memory, although he has been dead eleven years, is so fresh in her mind, her eye is so capable of recalling his image, and her hand is so well trained to follow her impressions, and to reproduce what she can visualize, that no sculptor could vie with her in reproducing his splendid form and manly features. She once gave a commission to the celebrated German sculptor Uphues for a colossal statue of "Unser Fritz," and calling at the artists' studio, whilst he was at work on his clay model, she pointed out to him some points in which he had not caught the right expression. Verbal explanations not adequately conveying her meaning, she asked permission to use the roughing chisel, set to work, and in half an hour with a touch here and a touch there, modified the features to such a degree that the sculptor was astounded at the striking improvement. The model has since been transferred to marble, and is universally considered to be the best portrait extant of Emperor Frederick.
No greater tribute to her brilliancy and penetration in the matter of statecraft could possibly be given than the undisguised and openly acknowledged animosity with which she was, throughout her married life, regarded by the late Prince Bismarck, who feared her more than all his masculine rivals and opponents together. She was a political foe worthy in every respect of his steel, for she repeatedly checkmated his moves; and if he sometimes spoke of her with a brutality and a degree of vehemence altogether out of place, this must be regarded as more in the light of a compliment than as an intentional piece of discourtesy, as it was a virtual admission of the fact that her opposition to his projects was of altogether too masculine and virile a character to admit for one moment of his according to her that forbearance and chivalrous deference which men as a rule are wont to concede to women as a tribute to their sex. She fought him unceasingly, from the time when he violated the Prussian constitution, shortly before the war with Denmark, until the day when through her efforts and statecraft he was driven from office,—a vanquished foe. He had used in vain every weapon against her that his ingenuity could devise. He had even gone so far as to publicly charge her with treason in betraying to the English, and through them to the French, military secrets which had been imparted to her by her husband, during the war of 1870. He had, in short, done everything that lay in his power to prevent her husband from succeeding to the crown, mainly, as he admitted, with the object of preventing her from sharing the throne as empress; and after having grossly insulted her in the presence of her dying, voiceless and helpless husband by refusing to transact any state business, or to communicate any confidential reports to the monarch as long as she was in the room, he incited her eldest son, whose mind he had deliberately poisoned against her, to take steps which could only intensify the sorrow of the grief-stricken woman immediately after her so fondly loved husband had been taken from her.
Yet she carried the day in the end, and her son is now the very first to acknowledge his mother's cleverness and the fact that she showed herself more than a match in statecraft for the man reputed as the greatest statesman of the century, namely, Bismarck.
One of the cleverest of the many clever things that she did, was the manner in which she brought about the fall of Bismarck. She was too shrewd to dream of exercising any direct pressure on her son. It was done indirectly, and with so much diplomacy, that William never dreamt at the time of dismissing the iron chancellor that he was playing his mother's game. Abstaining from any steps towards a reconciliation with her son, she merely took advantage of the kaiser's visit to Westphalia, to place in his path his old tutor, Professor Hintzpeter, a pedagogue of whom William had been very fond, and whose teachings had left a deep impression upon the mind of his imperial pupil. The empress knew the professor's characteristics, his fads, and his views. She likewise recognized and understood, as only a mother can do, the complex character of her son, and she foresaw the effects that were likely to be achieved by bringing the two men once more into communication with each other.
Like William II., Hintzpeter is full of contrasts, for while on the one hand he has always professed the most advanced radical and even socialistic doctrines,—doctrines with which he impregnated the mind of his princely charge,—yet he would tolerate no familiarity or condescension on his part towards inferiors, and was even wont to force William to wash his hands when he had so far forgotten himself as to shake hands with anyone of a subordinate or menial rank. Another trait of character of Professor Hintzpeter, is his firm conviction that difficulties, no matter how vast and intricate, are always capable of being settled and satisfactorily arranged by means of eloquent phrases and good intentions.
At the time when William renewed his acquaintance, in the capital of Westphalia, with his old tutor, the socialistic and labor problems were engaging the attention not merely of Germany, but likewise of all Europe. Prince Bismarck was in favor of a continuance of harsh measures with regard to labor, and of persecution of the most resentless nature so far as the socialists were concerned. Hintzpeter, full of his former sympathies for autocracy and socialism at one and the same time, called William's attention to the fact that Bismarck's policy had merely had the effect of vastly increasing the strength of the socialists as a factor in German politics, and of rendering the labor difficulties more acute. He, therefore, suggested to the emperor the idea that he should endeavor to solve both problems by means of an international congress, under his own presidency, at which means should be devised for reconciling the interests of socialism with the state, and those of capital with labor.
William, with all his common-sense and cleverness, has inherited from his ancestress, Queen Louise, and one might almost say from his grand-uncle, King Frederick William IV., a very strongly developed tendency towards idealism. It was to this phase of his nature that the recommendation of Professor Hintzpeter particularly appealed, and the more he considered the matter, the more he discussed it with his old tutor, the more convinced he became that it was in his power to solve the difficulties of both socialism and labor, and thus to earn the gratitude, not only of his own people, but of the entire civilized world.
Of course, Prince Bismarck immediately realized the Utopian character of the scheme, saw its impracticability, and proceeded to condemn it with more than his ordinary irritability and brusquerie. Finding, however, that the emperor was not to be argued out of the idea of holding a labor conference, he proceeded to ridicule it, and what was worse, to cause it to be scoffed at and treated with derision as the vaporings of an inexperienced and altogether too generous-minded youth, in German as well as foreign papers, which William knew derived their inspiration from the chancellor's palace in the Wilhelmstrasse.
All this served to embitter the relations between the emperor and the prince. The latter perceived that the kaiser was getting beyond his control, and was subject to other influences, while the emperor now commenced to appreciate the extent to which, he had been made subservient to the policy and to the wishes of his chancellor. Meanwhile the necessity became apparent of taking some immediate step, one way or another, in connection with the prolongation of the exceptional measures against the socialists which were just expiring. The chancellor was determined that they should be renewed, while the emperor felt that, with the international congress coming on, he would be handicapped in his role of arbitrator, and his good faith would justly be suspected by the socialists were he to consent to the continuance of repressive measures against them that were extra-legal, that is to say, beyond the laws of the land, and as such, strictly speaking, unconstitutional.
Finally, William discovering that Bismarck was negotiating with the various party leaders, notably with the late Dr. Windhorst, leader of the Catholic party in the Reichstag, with a view to the prolongation of the anti-socialist measures, made up his mind to dismiss him, and called for his resignation for having ventured to negotiate with the opposition leaders in the Reichstag, without his knowledge or consent, in order to obtain their support to a measure about which he had expressed his disapproval. That was the real cause of Bismarck's fall, despite all other stories current on the subject, and had not Empress Frederick engineered the meeting in the Westphalian capital between her son and his former tutor, it is possible that Prince Bismarck might have died in office.
It is scarcely necessary to remind my readers that, as predicted by the old chancellor, the international labor congress resulted in a fiasco, while the emperor ultimately became so embittered by the failure of the socialists to appreciate his kindly intentions towards them, that he now regards them as his most bitter enemies, and practically calls upon every soldier who joins the army to be prepared to use his rifle, not only against the enemies from without, but also against the enemies within—that is, the socialists.
Naturally William to-day regrets that he permitted himself to be talked into any such schemes as the reconciliation of the socialists with the crown, and of capital with labor, and Professor Hintzpeter, while retaining the affection of his former pupil, has long ceased to enjoy his confidence as a political adviser. He is no longer looked upon in the light of a German Richelieu, as the foreign newspapers were wont to describe him when he was at the climax of his power, and he no longer possesses anything in common with his Russian counterpart, Professor Pobiedenotsoff, except in a singular peculiarity of appearance. Indeed, Hintzpeter's looks invite caricature. He is lanky, ungainly and lantern-jawed, and seems like a man who has never been young, and who has not yet obtained the venerability of old age. His manners are exceedingly ungracious, and even repellent, but when once he becomes interested in a discussion he seems to undergo an entire transformation. He is no longer the same man, and gives one at that moment the impression of being nothing but a bundle of seething nerves, the vibrations of which seem to extend to, as well as to influence, all those who are within range of his voice.
The Empress Frederick was shrewd enough to keep in the background all the time! She took no part in the fight between her son and Prince Bismarck, and was particularly careful to avoid identifying herself in any way with Professor Hintzpeter. The result was that the kaiser did not dream of ascribing to her any responsibility for the mistake into which he had been led by his former tutor.
As foreseen by Empress Frederick, with Prince Bismarck once in retirement and disgrace, and the emperor disposed to reverse the entire Bismarckian policy, it commenced to dawn upon his majesty that among other errors into which he had been led by his ex-chancellor was his own harshness and unfriendliness towards his mother. It was while under this impression that he took the first steps towards a reconciliation with the imperial widow, who, by showing herself particularly affectionate and amiable, made her son feel still more bitterly the unfilial nature of the conduct which he had been led by Bismarck to adopt until then towards his mother. The friendly relations thus established between mother and son have subsisted ever since, and the emperor does not disdain now to seek Empress Frederick's advice in a number of matters, having realized how clever she is, while there is no one whose approval he values more highly than hers. Most people are in the habit of portraying the Empress Frederick as a woman embittered and soured by disappointment. Yet if the truth were known, there are few whose existence at the present moment is of a more ideal character, She has lost a noble and devoted husband, but this bereavement must, to a certain extent, have been softened by the genuine sorrow manifested by all, not only in his own country, but throughout the civilized world, when he died. Her marriage was a singularly happy one, unclouded by even the faintest difference of opinion with her consort, and she is now enjoying a delightfully contented eventide of life.
She resides during the greater part of the year in a home constructed in one of the loveliest portions of Germany, near Homburg, according to her own designs, and her own ideas; she possesses a vast fortune, which renders her independent of all her relatives, and which she is free to spend as she wishes. With all her sons and daughters married, she has no domestic cares of her own, and is at liberty to order her mode of existence as she pleases, unhampered by any obligations or restrictions, save those which her son may see fit to impose. Her rank is of the highest, for she is the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria, and the mother of the present German emperor, besides which she has the status and title of an empress-queen. In fact, she has the rank of a sovereign, without any of the responsibilities that are attached thereto, and while she may have experienced, at one moment, disappointment at being deprived by her husband's premature death of engineering a number of political, social and economic reforms in Germany, upon which she had set her heart, yet she cannot but have realized by this time that her existence as an empress-dowager is infinitely more agreeable than that of an empress-regent would have been, for had she been at the present moment seated by her husband's side on the throne, she would have found no time to devote to those arts and sciences to which she is so passionately devoted, and which nowadays occupy the greater portion of her life.
In spite of being a great-grandmother, Empress Frederick is still in splendid bodily health and vigor. She rides on horseback daily in summer, and in winter spends a considerable amount of time skating on the ice. She is not handsome, and, in fact, has never been even pretty, but has always had a bright, intelligent and pleasing face. Moreover, she has inherited her mother's peculiarly melodious voice. Unfortunately, she is imperious, and intolerant of stupidity; it is this, coupled with her lack of tact, which is responsible for her unpopularity.
In spite of all her philanthropy, her generosity, and her cleverness, and notwithstanding the blamelessness of her life, she is not liked by the people of her adopted country, and this, while it has not prevented her from playing a preponderant role in German politics, as above described, has proved an obstacle to her exercise of any influence upon the German people. After all, this absence of tact may be excused, for it is usually wanting in people of genius. She is very tender-hearted, and will not, if she can prevent it, allow any living thing on the estate to be disturbed or killed.
No description of Empress Frederick seems complete without adding thereto a brief reference to the grand-master of her court, Count Seckendorff, who may be said to have devoted his entire life to her service, and to that of her husband. A scion of one of the oldest houses of the Prussian aristocracy, and bearing a name that figures frequently in the pages of German history, he was attached to the household of Empress Frederick as chamberlain in the early days of her marriage, and the only time since then when he has been absent from her side was during the war; for the count is no mere drawing-room soldier, as is the case with so many military men who are in attendance on royalty. He has seen active service in the wars of 1864, 1866 and 1870, winning the iron cross for bravery in the latter campaign, and was likewise attached to Lord Napier's expedition to Abyssinia, which found its climax in the storming of Magdala, and in the death of Emperor Theodore.
As an artist he may be said to be almost as gifted as Empress Frederick is herself, and his paintings have won distinctions of the highest order at many national and foreign exhibitions. Indeed, it is this sympathy of artistic tastes that has contributed in no small measure to the altogether exceptional position which he enjoys in the favor and confidence of the widowed empress. He has seen all her children grow up around her, has been the confidant of many of her sorrows, and at a moment when both she and her dying husband were surrounded by chamberlains and officers who were devoted to the interests of Bismarck, and virtually traitors in the camp, he alone remained loyal in evil as well as in happier days. Being a bachelor, he makes his home with the empress, attends her wherever she goes, and, after having been the object of much abuse and even calumny,—the latter originated and circulated by the so-called "reptile press,"—that is to say, the newspapers, domestic and foreign, drawing pay and inspiration from Prince Bismarck,—he now enjoys the regard and the good-will of everyone at the Courts of Berlin and Windsor, particularly at the latter, where his lifelong devotion to the widowed empress is keenly appreciated by her mother, Queen Victoria.
No greater contrast can be conceived than that which exists between Empress Frederick and her daughter-in-law, the empress-regnant. Far less brilliant than either her husband's mother or grandmother, she has nevertheless managed to achieve, as I have remarked before, not only an infinitely greater degree of popularity, but likewise a more extensive influence upon the German people. Experience and history show that ordinary sense on the throne is far more beneficial to the population than a lofty order of intellect, and Empress Augusta-Victoria merely offers another illustration of the truth of this assertion. None of the queens of Prussia, nor either of the first German empresses, can be said to have left any impress upon the subjects of their respective husbands. There is no doubt that the so celebrated Queen Louise of Prussia was the cause of Prussia's receiving infinitely harsher treatment at the hands of Napoleon than the kingdom would otherwise have experienced; while the consort of old Emperor William, a pupil of Goethe, and famed for her culture and accomplishments, was disliked by the people, and was just as little in touch with them as her still more talented daughter-in-law, Empress Frederick.
For Empress Augusta-Victoria, however, a most profound sympathy extends throughout the length and breadth of Germany. Every housewife, every mother, looks to her as to a model, knows that she is satisfied to excel in her purely domestic duties, and that she does, not strive to render herself superior to her sex by intellectual brilliancy and scientific attainments. Thanks to this sympathy which she inspires, and to the fact that she is looked upon by men and women alike in her husband's dominions as the ideal of what a German "hausfrau" should be, she has been able to exercise an influence of infinitely greater importance upon the nation at large than any other consort of a Prussian sovereign can have boasted to achieve.
It is to this estimable woman, whom some were disposed at first to denounce as narrow-minded and witless, that must be attributed the very strongly developed religious revival apparent throughout Protestant Germany since the present emperor came to the throne. Prior to the present reign, church-going was as a rule eschewed by the male sex, women constituting the backbone of the congregation, while the clergy of the Lutheran persuasion was looked down upon, being treated by the territorial nobility much in the same way as upper servants, that is to say, on a par with the farm bailiffs, the stewards and the housekeepers In a word, religion and everything pertaining thereto was not considered fashionable.
To-day all this is changed. Under the guidance of the empress, her husband, reared by his broad-minded mother in the ideas of Strauss and of Renan, has become a strict churchman, and court, nobility, bureaucracy and in fact the middle and lower classes too, have followed suit. Free-thinking and neglect of religious duties are at present considered the acme of bad form in Germany. Everybody professes the most profound interest in questions and enterprises relating to the church, and a large number of daughters of the most illustrious houses of the German nobility have conferred their hands and their hearts upon penniless Lutheran pastors, whose social status has thereby been entirely changed. Moreover, if during the past ten years more churches have been built, particularly in Berlin, than had been the case in the entire previous half-century, this is because every one has become aware that the most facile way of winning the good graces of the empress, and the favor of her consort is by building a church, or endowing some hospital.
The empress is ever ready to help in every good work, and her private charities are very great, but she does not approve of the higher education or the emancipation of women, and entertains a holy horror of everything pertaining to the female suffrage movement. Women, according to her views, should remain in their own sphere, and should regard their duties to their husbands, their children, and their homes as their first and foremost obligations; the nursing of the sick, the training of young people, and the organization and direction of charitable institutions, affording plenty of scope for those members of the fair sex who have no domestic tasks to occupy their time.
She claims that in this way a woman is able to exercise a far more important and beneficial influence than by endeavoring to supplant men in professions essentially masculine, and certainly she herself constitutes a striking illustration of the truth of her contention, for the influence of the present German empress is felt throughout the length and breadth of the land—a gracious womanly influence in every sense of the word.
Among the many philanthropic organizations which owe their origin to the empress, is the Central Association of German Actresses, which has of late years done more towards elevating the stage than has ever been accomplished by members of the aristocracy who have seen fit to join the dramatic profession with that avowed object in view. The work of this society is to enable actresses to provide themselves, at the lowest possible cost, with the costumes considered necessary by the managers of the theatres. It is well known that while in Germany the pieces are beautifully put on the stage, the salaries paid to the actresses do not in many cases cover the expenses of the stage dresses. The empress makes a point of giving all her court and evening gowns, which were formerly the perquisites of her dressers and maids, to the association, and has invited the ladies of the Court of Berlin to follow her example. Those ladies who feel that they cannot afford to give the dresses, are asked to sell them to the Association as cheaply as possible, and the latter then turns them over at a merely nominal cost to such ladies of the dramatic profession as are considered worthy of support and assistance.
This organization is managed entirely by great ladies, the empress herself acting as president, and in this manner they are brought into personal contact with actresses both of high and low degree. The intercourse thus established has been most beneficial, for it has not only helped to place the social status of the stage on a more agreeable basis, but it also constitutes an incentive to actresses to keep their names and reputations free from blemish, since they naturally understand that the empress and the great ladies of the aristocracy can only treat them as friends, so long as they live up to the same standard of respectability as that which prevails in the highest circles of society, and at court.
One of the most valuable qualities of Empress Augusta-Victoria is her extraordinary tact. It is due to this, more than anything else, that she has been able to retain, not only a hold upon the affection and regard of her impulsive and brilliant husband, but also an influence over him without his being aware of the fact. By the leading members of his court, and by his principal ministerial advisers, she is regarded not merely in the light of his guardian angel, but as his most sensible counsellor. She may be relied upon at all times to soothe his anger, soften any bitterness which he may entertain towards this or that person, and call forth at critical moments the most generous and chivalrous phases of his, on the whole, very attractive character.
She is claimed by those who know the true state of affairs to act in the capacity of a brake and a safety-valve to her husband, and it is no secret that both the classes and the masses feel an additional sense of security when they know their popular empress to be by the emperor's side; for every mistake that he has made since he ascended the throne has taken place during her absence, and he himself is the first to acknowledge that she is largely responsible for every success that he has achieved.
The sentiments of the empress towards Bismarck have been much misunderstood and misconstrued. It is perfectly true that she was brought up from her earliest childhood to regard him as the enemy of her house, the prince having, as I have already related, been the author of the indefensible act of spoliation, by means of which her father had been deprived of the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, now forming part of the kingdom of Prussia. The manner in which the Iron Chancellor was viewed in the home of the empress when a young girl, may best be gathered from the fact that whenever her nurses and governesses were desirous of putting a stop to her naughtiness and of frightening her into obedience, they would exclaim: "Bismarck's coming! wow! wow!" This childhood impression has continued so deep that even to this day, whenever the empress shows any signs of reluctance to comply with her husband's wishes, or betrays irritation, the kaiser is in the habit of springing upon her the familiar old cry of "Bismarck's coming! wow! wow!" which at first always makes her start as she did in infancy and girlhood, and then causes her to burst into laughter, and restores her to good humor.
These sentiments of aversion to Bismarck were to a great extent modified at the time of her marriage by the knowledge that it was the chancellor who had contributed more than anybody else to facilitate and bring about the match. The latter was opposed by many of Emperor William's kinsfolk, as well as by influential people at court, on the ground that her rank was inadequate to render her a suitable match for the heir to the throne of Germany. Bismarck, however, took the ground that a marriage between the heir presumptive and the eldest daughter of the de jure Duke of Schleswig-Holstein would go a long way to reconcile the inhabitants of the above-named duchies to their annexation by Prussia, while at the same time it would constitute the reparation of an act which he himself admitted was extremely unjust, but to which he was compelled by imperative considerations of policy.
Empress Augusta-Victoria has been so supremely happy in her married life that she has always felt a certain amount of gratitude to Bismarck, which tended to obliterate her childhood's impressions against him; and no more striking indication of her sentiments towards the famous statesman can be given than the fact that she travelled all the way to Friedrichsrueh at a moment when the sickness of her children demanded her presence by their bedside, in order to attend the private and home funeral of the man who had publicly described her father as the most stupid prince in all Europe; who had deprived him of his throne, and who had sent him to an early grave as a broken-spirited and thoroughly embittered man.
While the empress takes but little part in politics, on her favorite ground, that women should have no concern whatsoever in the conduct thereof, she has at least on two occasions, to my knowledge, intervened in important crises. Thus in 1892, when General Count Caprivi, having differed with William on the subject of the new education laws, had written to tender his resignation of the office of chancellor, the empress at once indicted an autograph letter, in which, with expressions of mingled pathos and dignity, she appealed to him so strongly not to desert her husband, or to subject the latter to the anxiety, the trouble, and even the odium of another ministerial crisis, that he at once traveled down to Huebertuesstock, where the emperor was staying, and informed him that he withdrew his resignation, and would remain in office.
Two years later, when Caprivi again resigned, it was largely the personal entreaties contained in the letters which she addressed to old Princess Hohenlohe which led to the latter's withdrawal of the opposition that, until then, had stood in the way of Prince Hohenlohe's acceptance of the chancellorship.
Like most other consorts of reigning sovereigns and princesses of the blood, Empress Augusta-Victoria holds the colonelcy of a number of Prussian and Russian regiments, whose uniform she occasionally wears in a somewhat feminized form at those grand military reviews of which the kaiser is so fond. Her favorite garb of this kind is the uniform of the second regiment of Pomeranian Cuirassiers, one of the oldest and most celebrated corps of cavalry of the Prussian army. The regimental tunic is of snow-white cloth, and held in its place by the silver shoulder-straps of a colonel is the orange ribbon of the Order of the Black Eagle, which crosses her breast to the left hip, where the jewel of the order is attached by a large rosette. The star of the order is worn on the left breast, while just above it are a number of smaller decorations. With this white tunic, with its silver buttons, its silver embroidery and scarlet facings, a white cloth skirt is worn, while in lieu of the helmet now in use by the regiment, the empress has adopted the old-fashioned, broad-brimmed cavalier hat, with the flowing white ostrich plumes which the officers of the corps were wont to don in the early part of the last century. Thus attired, the empress takes her place by the side of her husband at the saluting point at any of the grand reviews at which she may happen to be present, and as soon as a regiment of which she happens to be colonel approaches, she at once canters, takes her place at its head as commanding officer, and leads it past her husband in true military fashion, saluting with her riding whip before returning to his side.
Sometimes she is accompanied by one or another of the emperor's sisters, or else by the handsome young Grand Duchess of Hesse, all of whom hold honorary colonelcies, and who appear on such occasions on horseback and in uniform. The Grand Duchess of Hesse, who holds the command of an infantry regiment, wears not merely the tunic, but likewise the helmet of the corps in question, and looks particularly fascinating on these occasions.
Empress Augusta-Victoria and her mother-in-law, the Empress Frederick, are the only two women who have ever been admitted to the Order of the Black Eagle, the highest order of the kingdom of Prussia, and neither the consort of Old Emperor William nor any of the earlier queens of Prussia, not even Queen Louise, ever received this distinction. The innovation dates from the time of the late Emperor Frederick. The first thing he did on becoming emperor was to take the ribbon of the order from his own uniform and hang it across the shoulders of his wife, in token of gratitude, and in recognition of the fact that, had it not been for her championship and faithful guard of his interests, Bismarck would have carried the day, and debarred him from accession to the crown. While the emperor's action, of course, excited a good deal of criticism amongst the older dignitaries of the order, and among the members of the government and court, it was heartily approved of by the world at large, as being not only well deserved, but also a singularly pathetic demonstration on the part of the dying monarch of his profound sense of obligation to his most devoted consort.
When Emperor William in turn ascended the throne, he at once proceeded to follow his father's example, and to invest his own wife with the Black Eagle, in order to place her, as the reigning empress, upon the same level in this particular respect, as her mother-in-law, the dowager empress. It may be taken for granted that henceforth the Order of the Black Eagle will remain a prerogative of all the consorts of the kings of Prussia and emperors of Germany.
The whole youth of the empress was spent at Prinkenau, the fine country seat of her parents, which is now owned by her brother. Those days were varied only by visits to her uncle, Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, who makes his home in England, where he is married to Queen Victoria's daughter Helena, and to her relatives, the Prince and Princess Hohenlohe. The emperor first made her acquaintance during a day's shooting at Prinkenau. He was en route to the chateau, when, having lost his way in the forest, he met a young girl, of whom he inquired his whereabouts and how to proceed. This was the Princess Augusta-Victoria, and he always declared that he fell in love with her from that moment.
She was, therefore, a total stranger to Berlin court life and Berlin society at the time of her marriage, and at first found it very difficult to adapt herself to the formal etiquette by which royal personages are surrounded at Berlin. It was here that her American aunt, Countess Waldersee, came to her assistance, instructed her, and acted as her mentor, not only in matters of etiquette and manner, but in the attitude to be observed towards the various members of Berlin society as well.
It is as a mother that the empress shows herself in one of her most charming lights. She is, indeed, an ideal mother, and, in spite of her manifold duties, personally supervises, not merely the education of her children, but even every little detail connected with their comfort and well-being. In fact the empress, as well as the emperor, are at their best when surrounded by their children, in whose company they spend far more time than fashionable people in less exalted spheres of society consider it necessary or pleasant to do.
The empress is extremely economical as regards the clothing of her children, and the suits of the elder princes are cut down to fit their younger brothers.
With her own wardrobe the empress is equally careful, and she has a staff of dressmakers who are always at work remodelling her gowns, so that it is possible for her to appear in them several times without their being recognized. On state occasions she is always superbly dressed, and covered with the most gorgeous jewels, but when in the country she delights in the simplest costumes; a serge skirt, a pretty blouse, and a plain straw hat, being her favorite garb. Her grand court costumes, as a rule, hail from Vienna, and Empress Augusta-Victoria probably shares with her grandmother, Queen Victoria, the distinction of being one of the two ladies, occupants of thrones, who do not patronize any of the great Parisian couturiers.
The empress never orders her dresses herself. That is done by her principal lady-in-waiting, who has patterns sent to the palace, from which she selects a certain number to show the empress. When the imperial lady has made her choice, she settles from plates the way in which the gown is to be made, after invariably submitting her selections to the emperor, who has excellent taste in such matters.
The empress usually breakfasts alone with the emperor. In summer, often at the unearthly hour of six in the morning! The meal is a substantial one, American and English, rather than Continental in fashion, and she is apt to declare that it is the only time throughout the entire day when she is able to discuss matters of a private or domestic character with her husband. The imperial couple often ride out on horseback together in the early morning, after breakfast, before the kaiser repairs to the palace to begin his day's work at nine o'clock. The empress looks very well on horseback, as she has an excellent seat, and the plain habit suits her rounded figure extremely well. Her stable is quite distinct from that of the emperor, and with the exception of one white horse all the mounts that she uses are brown in color.
At luncheon the emperor and empress generally have a few guests, and it is the same at dinner, which takes place at seven in the evening. On rising from the table, the empress frequently takes her place at the piano to accompany the emperor, who has a fine baritone and most expressive voice.
It is asserted by those who know the empress best, that she has kept a diary since her earliest girlhood, in which she has set down her daily experiences, although it is claimed that these diaries have been seen by no one, not even by the emperor. The empress, who never fails to write her diary every evening, keeps the precious volumes under lock and key in a large cabinet situated in her bedroom. Perhaps some day the personal experiences of Empress Augusta-Victoria will be published, and while they may possibly throw light on many dark places in the history both of the nation and the court, there is no doubt that their revelations will be characterized by that kindliness of heart, that forbearance, and, above all, that sound common sense which are so conspicuous in Empress Augusta-Victoria.
Since the days of the canonized rulers of Hungary, Bohemia, Russia, and France, there have been no sovereigns of the Old World who have been so distinguished for their piety and for the fervor of their religious belief as the present Emperors of Germany and Austria, for they both take very seriously to heart their official and liturgical designation as the Anointed of the Lord.
It is no mere cant or hypocrisy in their case, but a profound belief in the teachings of the Scripture in which they truly believe is to be found the most powerful bulwark of the throne against the ever rising tide of democracy, and the fundamental basis of the entire monarchical system. Save for this, their manifestations of Christianity may be said to differ.
Francis-Joseph, now in the eventide of a singularly sad and stormy life, and of a reign that was inaugurated by a most sanguinary civil war, reminds one, in spite of the hereditary title of "Apostolic Majesty" conferred upon his forbears by the Papacy, of nothing so much as of the publican of the parable going up to the temple to pray, so deep and unaffected is the humility with which he approaches the altar or kneels at the priedieu in the chapel of his palace, or beside the tombs of those most near and dear to him.
Emperor William's piety, while equally fervent, does not give one the same idea of self-abasement in the sight of the Almighty. It would be unfair to compare him to that other personage of the parable, namely, the Pharisee, for the latter was obviously lacking in sincerity; but at the same time, William in his moments of religious fervor, invariably recalls to mind that pretty story told by the late Alphonse Daudet, entitled the "Dauphin's Deathbed," in which the little boy-prince, on the eve of his departure for a happier world, responds to the exhortations of his chaplain with the exclamation: "But one thing consoles me, M. l'Abbe, and that is that up there in the Paradise of the stars I shall still be the Dauphin. I know that the good God is my cousin, and cannot fail to treat me according to my rank!"
Emperor Francis-Joseph will be prepared, in, a future existence, to take his place among the very humblest of his subjects, realizing that in the eyes of the Divinity all human creatures are equal, whereas Emperor William, on the other hand, in his heart of hearts, is certainly convinced that there will be a special place reserved for him above—a place in keeping with his rank here on earth. True, he has never actually said this in so many words, but he has assuredly indicated this belief both by his utterances and his actions. He makes no attempt to conceal his conviction that personages of royal birth, and, in particular, reigning sovereigns, are fashioned by the Almighty with clay of a quality vastly superior to that employed for the composition of ordinary human creatures.
Notwithstanding all the Spartan rigor and severity to which he was subjected in his youth, for the purpose of dispelling exaggerated pride of birth and station, he feels assured that the rights and privileges which he enjoys above his fellow-men are of Divine origin. Although a constitutional sovereign, he is never tired of declaring that he is responsible for the performance of his duties as ruler of Germany to the Almighty alone, and that God alone is able to appreciate and to pass judgment upon his actions.
That Emperor William considers himself to be far nearer to the throne of God, and in an infinitely closer degree of communion with the Almighty than any ordinary being, is apparent from many of his public utterances. In fact, the amazing intimacy which he professes with his Maker, and the strange manner in which he implies that he and the Creator have interests in common, and joint understandings that are beyond the comprehension of ordinary mankind, would savor of downright blasphemy, were it not for the undeniable sincerity of his Teutonic majesty, who really regards himself as a Divine instrument. Indeed, there is no doubt that it is this belief which he honestly entertains that has served to keep his private life, since he ascended the throne, so thoroughly blameless. For there is no doubt that William does his utmost to live up to the teachings of his faith, to order every phase of his existence in conformity with the precepts of Christianity, and to avoid everything that could tend to impair his status as a vice-regent of Providence in the eyes of the devout.
Few are the incidents and events of his reign to which he does not impart a religious flavor. Thus it was only last summer, on the completion of a new fort at Metz, that he insisted on its inauguration taking place with much religious pomp and ceremony, and he himself christened the fortress in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, thus calling down the blessing of the Trinity on a stronghold, the guns of which are pointed against France, and the success of which can only consist in the destruction of innumerable French foes!
It is he, too, who has originated the practice of christening with religious ceremonies the great guns furnished by Krupp for use afloat and ashore against Germany's enemies; and on the blades of the swords which he has presented to his elder sons, and to his favorite generals and officers, there is invariably inscribed on the one side, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," and on the other, averse from the Bible, surmounted by the imperial cypher.
William has even gone to the length of drawing up an extraordinary argument in defence of duelling based upon quotations taken from the Bible. The emperor takes as the text of his argument that verse of the writings of St. Paul, in which the Apostle declares that he would rather die than that anyone should rob him of his good name. William infers from this that the most eloquent and forcible of all the fathers of the Church was prepared to fight to the death for the honor of his name.
"Nowhere in the Bible," adds his majesty, "is there any prohibition of duelling, not even in the New Testament, which, unlike the Old Testament, is not a book of law. Indeed, every attempt to use the New Testament as the basis for a new code of law has resulted in failure."
With regard to the use made by the opponents of duelling of that law in the Old Testament which proclaims, "Thou shalt not kill," the emperor draws attention to another portion of the Old Testament, wherein is mentioned that the sword shall not be carried in vain. Then invoking St. Paul's epistle to the Galatians, in which the Apostle exclaims: "Oh! ye foolish Galatians. This only would I learn of you. Received ye the spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of the faith? Are ye so foolish, having begun in the spirit, that ye wish to perfect yourselves in the flesh?"
The emperor declares that to twist the Word of God into a prohibition of duelling is nothing else than to perfect one's self by the flesh—that is to say to attribute an altogether material and common-place interpretation to what is meant spiritually. He adds that this is just as reprehensible in the eyes of the Almighty as the attempts by the Pharisees to adapt the Mosaic law to their own convenience, attempts which were so bitterly denounced by Christ.
Finally, the emperor generally concludes this extraordinary exposition of his views by the following exordium:
"He who after careful self-examination finds himself compelled to fight a duel, and whose conscience is clear of sentiments of hatred and of vengeance, may do so in the conviction that he is in no wise acting contrary to the Word of God, to the obligations of honor, or to the accepted customs of society. As in battle, so also in the duel, which has been forced upon him in one way or another, he may say to himself: If we live, we live in the Lord, and if we die, we die in the Lord, Amen."
It must be borne in mind that Emperor William delivered himself of these utterances, not merely in his capacity of Emperor of Germany, King of Prussia, and commander-in-chief of the entire German army, but also in his self-assumed role of Summus-Episcopus, or spiritual as well as temporal chief of the Lutheran Church throughout the empire. Such a speech was delivered on the occasion of the endeavor made by certain members of the court circles to induce the Lutheran synod to institute disciplinary measures against the Potsdam pastor who had declined to accord the rites of Christian burial to Baron von Schrader, killed in a duel by Baron Kotze, the encounter being the outcome of the anonymous letter scandal already described. The synod, however, thoroughly endorsed the attitude of the Lutheran minister in question, and availed itself of the opportunity to pass a resolution to the effect that no person killed in a combat of this kind, or even dying from wounds received in a duel, could be regarded as having met his death as a Christian, and as such entitled to Christian burial.
Curiously enough this view was endorsed by the gallant old General Bronsart von Schellendorf, at that time minister of war, who, in expressing his approval of the resolution, called upon the emperor as commander-in-chief to take more radical steps for checking the phenomenal growth of the practice of duelling.
William, however, declined to comply with the request, dismissed the general shortly afterwards from office, and, on the contrary, proceeded to condemn both the action of the synod and of the Potsdam pastor who had declined to officiate at Baron Schrader's obsequies, giving as the reason for his position in the matter the argument from which I have just given some extracts.
This was by no means the first time that William found himself in conflict with the provincial synods of the Lutheran Church in his dominions. On one occasion the consistory of the Lutheran Church of the Province of East Prussia, in which the imperial game preserves of Rominten are situated, passed a unanimous vote of censure upon the kaiser for having desecrated the Sabbath, and violated the secular laws with regard to its observance, by giving a big hunting-party on Sunday at Rominten. It was understood at the time that the consistory would have abstained from taking this extreme step had it not been for the comment excited throughout Germany by the somewhat malicious juxtaposition in most of the newspapers of two articles, one of which gave an elaborate description of the Sunday shooting-party of the emperor at Rominten, while in a parallel column was a proclamation just issued by the civil governor of the province of Westphalia, calling attention to the lax observance of the Sunday laws, and reiterating the pains and penalties that are prescribed by statute for those who shoot, sing, dance, play skittles or indulge in any recreation, whether in public or in private, that is inconsistent with repose on Sunday.
Of course, the vote of the consistory of Eastern Prussia was eventually quashed, and its members disciplined. But the publicity given to the affair served to call the attention of the people at large to the emperor's disregard of the laws which he himself had caused to be enacted. Previous to his reign, Sunday had been looked upon as a day of recreation, revelry, and festivity throughout Germany.
In the days of the old emperor all the finest performances of the court theatres were reserved for Sunday, the principal state banquets took place on that day, as well as the imperial hunting parties and battues. Among the bourgeoisie, dances, balls and picnics were the order of the Lord's Day, while the lower classes thronged the beer gardens and the beer halls that constitute so important a feature of German life. Regattas, parades, race-meetings, and popular entertainments and festivals of one kind or another, were, in fact, all reserved for Sunday.
All this was changed when the emperor came to the throne, and among the earliest laws enacted on his initiative, were those to which the Governor of Westphalia called attention in the proclamation just described, and which prohibited every form of revelry on the Sabbath. For instance, a few months after William's accession he was invited by the Berlin Yacht Club to attend the annual regatta, which was to take place on the following Sunday morning, but he declined on the ground that it would prevent his going to church, and when the committee offered to postpone the races until the afternoon he declared that his principles would not permit him to regard Sunday as a day to be devoted to regattas, and analogous forms of popular entertainment. It must be explained that he was at the time strongly imbued with the evangelistic views which he had derived from his wife's aunt, the American Countess of Waldersee, and from her protege, ex-Court Chaplain Stoecker, who combined with his strict and Puritanical views on the subject of the Sabbath, the most intense animosity towards the Jews, and a virulent hatred for the late Emperor Frederick.
This strange divine, so famous for many years as the leader of the so-called "Juedenhetz" movement, is one of the most displeasing figures in German public life, and Emperor William, who has long since turned his back upon him, and dismissed him from his court chaplaincy, must bitterly regret that he ever accorded him any favor or intimacy, and permitted himself to be influenced by his views. How is it possible to speak with any patience of a minister of the Church who, in a weekly paper, "The Ecclesiastical Review," of December 10, 1887, actually had the audacity to write in an editorial article signed with his name the following cruel sentence? "Let us pray every day and every hour for our royal family, and in particular for the Old Man (the old kaiser) and for the Young Man (the present emperor) of this race of heroes. May God in His mercy grant that the terrible punishment which has overtaken the sick Prince Frederick (the late Emperor Frederick) bear fruit, and may it bring resignation to his mind, and peace to his conscience."
At the moment when the article appeared, in which it was publicly intimated that the crown prince's malady was a just and well-merited punishment for his sins, the imperial patient, so sorely afflicted, whose life had been so blameless, was at death's door, a fact over which the court chaplain openly rejoiced, proclaiming that "a brilliant future is about to open up before us."
Since William has cut himself adrift from Pastor Stoecker, the strictness of his views with regard to the observance of Sunday, has undergone a change. At any rate, he has modified them in so far as he himself is concerned, and while he is very regular in his attendance at church on Sunday morning, he no longer seems to consider it a sin to go out sailing, shooting or hunting on Sunday afternoons, or to attend theatrical performances or other kinds of entertainment in the evening. Inasmuch as the Sunday Observance Laws have not been repealed, one can only take it for granted that he considers himself and his consort as being above the law of the land, and in no wise bound thereby. Yet neither of their majesties has a legal right to any such immunity. According to the terms of the Prussian constitution the emperor and empress are just as amenable to the laws that figure in the statute book, and equally required to obey them as any ordinary German citizen. The only advantage that the emperor enjoys is that he possesses certain prerogatives in connection with the giving of evidence, and with the punishment of offences that are directed against his person and his honor.
In this obligation to submit to the laws of the land he differs from his grandmother Queen Victoria, and from his ally, Emperor Francis-Joseph, the tenure of whose thrones was originally based on what in olden times was known as the Divine right of kings. Thus, in England, as in Austria, and even in Spain and Portugal, the mediaeval theory still prevails that "the king can do no wrong!" Queen Victoria, for instance, is not below the law like Emperor William, but above it. No court has jurisdiction over her, and legally speaking there is no jurisdiction upon earth to try her in a civil or criminal way, much less to condemn her to punishment.
Of all the prerogatives enjoyed by Queen Victoria, the one, however, of which the kaiser is the most envious is her supremacy of the state Church of England. His ambition is to acquire the same position with regard to the whole Lutheran Church as she enjoys over the Anglican denomination. This dream, difficult of execution for reasons which I will proceed to explain, originated with his great-grandfather, King Frederick-William III., who first conceived the idea of a species of Lutheran Kaliphate, with its headquarters at Berlin, and its Mecca at Jerusalem.
His successor, King Frederick-William IV., took up the notion with all the enthusiasm natural to his mystic character, and kept one of his most trusted statesmen and confidants busily employed for years in endeavoring to federate all the Reformed Churches, with the exception of that of England, under the protectorate and supremacy of the Hohenzollerns. Emperor William goes still further. He aspires to become, not merely the temporal head of the Lutheran Church throughout the world, but likewise its spiritual chief, its pontiff, in fact, in the same manner that the czar is the chief ecclesiastical dignitary and the duly consecrated spiritual head of the national Church of Russia. William bases his claims to the dignity of a summus-episcopus on the fact that he is a titular bishop and archbishop, some nineteen times over, for his ancestors, when annexing the various petty states and sovereignties in bygone times, always made a point of getting the mitre with the crown, and the crozier with the purple and ermine. Many of the petty states of Germany in mediaeval days were ruled, not by temporal rulers, but by archbishops possessing the rank of sovereign and the title of prince.
The ecclesiastical dignity was, in fact, inherent, and part and parcel of the sovereignty. Consequently, when Emperor William's ancestors acquired the one, they likewise secured possession of the other, and thus among his many ecclesiastical titles is that of Prince Archbishop of Silesia, and it is in his ecclesiastical capacity that he has conferred canonries and deaneries upon the military and civil members of his household.
Of course, the difficulty in the way of the emperor's recognition as the supreme head of the Lutheran Church is the fact that the Lutheran faith is by no means confined to his dominions. Lutherans constitute the major part of the population in Wuertemberg, Saxony and Baden, as well as in all the other non-Prussian states of the Confederation, save Bavaria. Besides this, there are millions of Lutherans in Austro-Hungary, the Netherlands, Russia and Scandinavia, who could not recognize his supremacy without disloyalty to their own rulers, all of whom, with the exception of the king of Saxony, the Czar and the Austrian emperor, are, like himself, members of the Reformed Church.
His celebrated pilgrimage to Jerusalem a year ago, the first pilgrimage of a German emperor to the Holy Land since the days of the Crusades, clearly showed the trend of the kaiser's aspirations. He had invited all his fellow-Protestant monarchs to accompany him to Jerusalem, either in person or to send one of the princes of their houses as their representatives, and to ride in his train when he made his entry into the Holy City of Christendom. But not one of the sovereigns thus invited responded to the invitation tendered, and William had no German or foreign prince with him during this memorable pilgrimage.
It was the most extraordinary thing of the kind that has ever been seen, the strangeness of the affair being intensified by that same mixture of the mediaeval with the intensely modern and up-to-date ways which constitutes so peculiar a phase of William's character. The emperor rode into Jerusalem by the same route as that followed by the Founder of Christianity on the first Palm Sunday, wearing a flowing white mantle, and mounted on a milk-white steed. He prayed at dusk with the members of his suite in the Garden of Gethsemane, piously kneeling on the ground, pronounced a religious discourse on the Mount of Olives, received the Holy Communion in the Coenaculum, that is to say, the house in which, according to tradition, Christ celebrated the Last Supper,—nay, he even preached a full-fledged sermon on the occasion of the dedication of the Church of the Saviour at Jerusalem, and traveled by road from Jerusalem to Damascus! And yet, destroying all the romance and old-time glamor that might otherwise have surrounded this imperial crusade, was the fact that he was a "personally conducted" Cook's tourist, that his meals were prepared by French chefs, that champagne was the ordinary beverage at his table, and that, while tramcars were used to go about Damascus, the railroad was selected by him to get back from Jerusalem to Jaffa!
Emperor William has a weakness for preaching, and it must be confessed that he does it well. He possesses a very ready gift of speech, and his fervent religious belief seems to serve as a species of inspiration to his eloquence. Thus on board the Hohenzollern, during his annual yachting cruise along the coast of Norway, he invariably conducts divine service on Sunday morning, taking his place in front of an altar erected on deck, upon which the German war-flag is spread, in lieu of an altar-cloth. Luther's hymns, accompanied by the trombones of the band, are sung. Then the emperor reads the epistle and the gospel with great feeling, and recites the liturgical prayers with considerable fervor. Next he preaches a sermon, which, as a rule, is of his own composition, and extemporary, though occasionally he will read the sermon of some well-known pulpit orator.
It has been observed that he is always much more indulgent in cases of inattention on the part of the congregation when he reads a sermon than when he preaches one of his own. Any sailor who has the misfortune to fall asleep during the discourse is disciplined, and his name figures, of course, on the punishment roll on the following morning, when the day's report is presented to the emperor as the commanding officer of the ship. If the sermon has been one of his majesty's own composition, as a rule he allows the punishment to stand. But if the discourse happens to have been of less illustrious origin, he will almost invariably order the penalty to be remitted, adding, with a smile of indulgence, that "the sermon was rather dreary, wasn't it?"