At the opening of the Northern Pacific Railway, Lasker was one of the invited guests, but soon showed himself desperately ill; and, one day, walking along a street in New York, suddenly dropped dead.
A great funeral was given him; and, of all the ceremonies I have ever seen, this was one of the most remarkable for its simplicity and beauty. Mr. Carl Schurz and myself were appointed to make addresses on the occasion in the temple of the Israelites on Fifth Avenue; and we agreed in thinking that we had never seen a ceremony of the kind more appropriate to a great statesman.
At the next session of Congress, a resolution was introduced condoling with the government of Germany on the loss of so distinguished a public servant. This resolution was passed unanimously, and in perfect good faith, every person present—and, indeed, every citizen in the whole country who gave the matter any thought—supposing that it would be welcomed by the German Government as a friendly act.
But the result was astounding. Bismarck took it upon himself, when the resolution reached him, to treat it with the utmost contempt, and to send it back without really laying it before his government, thus giving the American people to understand that they had interfered in a matter which did not concern them. For a time, this seemed likely to provoke a bitter outbreak of American feeling; but, fortunately, the whole matter was allowed to drift by.
Among the striking characteristics of Bismarck was his evident antipathy to ceremonial. He was never present at any of the great court functions save the first reception given at the golden wedding of the Emperor William I, and at the gala opera a few evenings afterward.
The reason generally assigned for this abstention was that the chancellor, owing to his increasing weight and weakness, could not remain long on his feet, as people are expected to do on such occasions. Nor do I remember seeing him at any of the festivities attending the marriage of the present Emperor William, who was then merely the son of the crown prince. One reason for his absence, perhaps, was his reluctance to take part in the Fackeltanz, a most curious survival. In this ceremony, the ministers of Prussia, in full gala dress, with flaring torches in their hands, precede the bride or the groom, as the case may be, as he or she solemnly marches around the great white hall of the palace, again and again, to the sound of solemn music. The bride first goes to the foot of the throne, and is welcomed by the Emperor, who gravely leads her once around the hall, and then takes his seat. The groom then approaches the throne, and invites the Empress to march solemnly around the room with him in the same manner, and she complies with his request. Then the bride takes the royal prince next in importance, who, in this particular case, happened to be the Prince of Wales, at present King Edward VII; the groom, the next princess; and so on, until each of the special envoys from the various monarchs of Europe has gone through this solemn function. So it is that the ministers, some of them nearly eighty years of age, march around the room perhaps a score of times; and it is very easy to understand that Bismarck preferred to avoid such an ordeal.
From time to time, the town, and even the empire, was aroused by news that he was in a fit of illness or ill nature, and insisting on resigning. On such occasions the old Emperor generally drove to the chancellor's palace in the Wilhelmstrasse, and, in his large, kindly, hearty way, got the great man out of bed, put him in good humor, and set him going again. On one of these occasions, happening to meet Rudolf von Gneist, who had been, during a part of Bismarck's career, on very confidential terms with him, I asked what the real trouble was. "Oh,'' said Gneist, "he has eaten too many plover's eggs (Ach, er hat zu viel Kibitzeier gegessen).'' This had reference to the fact that certain admirers of the chancellor in the neighborhood of the North Sea were accustomed to send him, each year, a large basket of plovers' eggs, of which he was very fond; and this diet has never been considered favorable to digestion.
This reminds me that Gneist on one occasion told me another story, which throws some light on the chancellor's habits. Gneist had especial claims on Americans. As the most important professor of Roman law at the university he had welcomed a long succession of American students; as a member of the imperial parliament, of the Prussian legislature, and of the Berlin town council, he had shown many kindnesses to American travelers; and as the representative of the Emperor William in the arbitration between the United States and Great Britain on our north- western boundary, he had proved a just judge, deciding in our favor. Therefore it was that, on the occasion of one of the great Thanksgiving dinners celebrated by the American colony, he was present as one of the principal guests. Near him was placed a bottle of Hermitage, rather a heavy, heady wine. Shortly after taking his seat, he said to me with a significant smile, "That is some of the wine I sent to Bismarck, and it did not turn out well.'' "How was that?'' I asked. "Well,'' he said, "one day I met Bismarck and asked him about his health. He answered, 'It is wretched; I can neither eat nor sleep.' I replied, 'Let me send you something that will help you. I have just received a lot of Hermitage, and will send you a dozen bottles. If you take a COUPLE OF GLASSES each day with your dinner, it will be the best possible tonic, and will do you great good.' Sometime afterward,'' continued Gneist, "I met him again, and asked how the wine agreed with him. 'Oh,' said Bismarck, 'not at all; it made me worse than ever.' 'Why,' said I, 'how did you take it?' 'Just as you told me,' replied Bismarck, 'A COUPLE OF BOTTLES each day with my dinner.' ''
Bismarck's constant struggle against the diseases which beset him became pathetic. He once asked me how I managed to sleep in Berlin; and on my answering him he said—"Well, I can never sleep in Berlin at night when it is quiet; but as soon as the noise begins, about four o'clock in the morning, I can sleep a little and get my rest for the day.''
It was frequently made clear that the Emperor William and the German officials were not the only ones to experience the results of Bismarck's ill health: the diplomatic corps, and among them myself, had sometimes to take it into account.
Bismarck was especially kind to Americans, and, above all, to the American diplomatic representatives. To this there was but one exception, my immediate successor, and that was a case in which no fault need be imputed to either side. That Bismarck's feeling toward Americans generally was good is abundantly proven, and especially by such witnesses as Abeken, Sidney Whitman, and Moritz Busch, the last of whom has shown that, while the chancellor was very bitter against sundry German princes who lingered about the army and lived in Versailles at the public expense, he seemed always to rejoice in the presence of General Sheridan and other compatriots of ours who were attached to the German headquarters by a tie of much less strength.
But, as I have already hinted, there was one thing which was especially vexatious to him; and this was the evasion, as he considered it, of duty to the German Fatherland by sundry German-Americans. One day I received a letter from a young man who stated his case as follows: He had left his native town in Alsace-Lorraine just before arriving at the military age; had gone to the United States; had remained there, not long enough to learn English, but just long enough to obtain naturalization; and had then lost no time in returning to his native town. He had been immediately thrown into prison; and thence he wrote me, expressing his devotion to the American flag, his pride in his American citizenship,—and his desire to live in Germany. I immediately wrote to the minister of foreign affairs, stating the man's case, and showing that it came under the Bancroft treaties, or at least under the construction of them which the German Government up to that time had freely allowed. To this I received an answer that the Bancroft treaties, having been made before Alsace-Lorraine was annexed to the empire, did not apply to these new provinces, and that the youth was detained as a deserter. To this I replied that, although the minister's statement was strictly true, the point had been waived long before in our favor; that in no less than eight cases the German Government had extended the benefit of the Bancroft treaties over Alsace-Lorraine; and that in one of these cases the acting minister of foreign affairs had declared the intention of the government to make this extension permanent.
But just at this period, after the death of Baron von Blow, who had been most kindly in all such matters, the chancellor had fallen into a curious way of summoning eminent German diplomatists from various capitals of Europe into the ministry of foreign affairs for a limited time—trying them on, as it were. These gentlemen were generally very agreeable; but on this occasion I had to deal with one who had been summoned from service at one of the lesser German courts, and who was younger than most of his predecessors. To my surprise, he brushed aside all the precedents I had cited, and also the fact that a former acting minister of foreign affairs had distinctly stated that, as a matter of comity, the German Government proposed to consider the Bancroft treaties as applying permanently to Alsace-Lorraine. Neither notes nor verbal remonstrances moved him. He was perfectly civil, and answered my arguments, in every case, as if he were about to yield, yet always closed with a "but''—and did nothing. He seemed paralyzed. The cause of the difficulty was soon evident. It was natural that Bismarck should have a feeling that a young man who had virtually deserted the German flag just before reaching the military age deserved the worst treatment which the law allowed. His own sons had served in the army, and had plunged into the thickest of the fight, one of them receiving a serious wound; and that this young Alsatian Israelite should thus escape service by a trick was evidently hateful to him. That the chancellor himself gave the final decision in this matter was the only explanation of the fact that this particular acting minister of foreign affairs never gave me an immediate answer.
The matter became more and more serious. The letter of the law was indeed on Bismarck's side; but the young man was an American citizen, and the idea of an American citizen being held in prison was anything but pleasant to me, and I knew that it would be anything but pleasant to my fellow-citizens across the water. I thought on the proud words, "civis Romanus sum,'' and of the analogy involved in this case. My position was especially difficult, because I dared not communicate the case fully to the American State Department of that period. Various private despatches had got out into the world and made trouble for their authors, and even so eminent a diplomatist as Mr. George P. Marsh at Rome came very near being upset by one. My predecessor, Bayard Taylor, was very nearly wrecked by another; and it was the escape and publication of a private despatch which plunged my immediate successor into his quarrel with Bismarck, and made his further stay in Germany useless: I therefore stopped short with my first notification to the State Department—to the effect that a naturalized American had been imprisoned for desertion in Alsace-Lorraine, and that the legation was doing its best to secure his release. To say more than this involved danger that the affair might fall into the hands of sensation-mongers, and result in howls and threats against the German Government and Bismarck; and I knew well that, if such howls and threats were made, Bismarck would never let this young Israelite out of prison as long as he lived.
It seemed hardly the proper thing, serious as the case was, to ask for my passports. It was certain that, if this were done, there would come a chorus of blame from both sides of the Atlantic. Deciding, therefore, to imitate the example of the old man in the school-book, who, before throwing stones at the boy in his fruit-tree, threw turf and grass, I secured from Washington by cable a leave of absence, but, before starting, saw some of my diplomatic colleagues, who were wont to circulate freely and talk much, stated the main features of the case to them, and said that I was "going off to enjoy myself''; that there seemed little use for an American minister in a country where precedents and agreements were so easily disregarded. Next day I started for the French Riviera. The journey was taken leisurely, with interesting halts at Cologne and Aix-la-Chapelle; and, as I reached the hotel in Paris, a telegram was handed me—"Your man in Alsace-Lorraine is free.'' It was evident that the chancellor had felt better and had thought more leniently of the matter, and I had never another difficulty of the sort during the remainder of my stay.
The whole weight of testimony as regards Bismarck's occasional severity is to the effect that, stern and persistent as he was, he had much tenderness of heart; but as to the impossibility of any nation, government, or press scaring or driving him, I noticed curious evidences during my stay. It was well known that he was not unfriendly to Russia; indeed, he more than once made declarations which led some of the Western powers to think him too ready to make concessions to Russian policy in the East; but his relations to Prince Gortchakoff, the former Russian chancellor, were not of the best; and after the Berlin Conference the disappointment of Russia led to various unfriendly actions by Russian authorities and individuals of all sorts, from the Czar down. There was a general feeling that it was dangerous for Germany to resent this, and a statesman of another mold would have deprecated these attacks, or sought to mitigate them. Not so Bismarck: he determined to give as good as was sent; and, for a very considerable time he lost no chance to show that the day of truckling by Germany to her powerful neighbor was past. This became at last so marked that bitter, and even defiant, presentation of unpalatable truths regarding Russia, in the press inspired from the chancery, seemed the usual form in which all Russian statesmen, and especially members of the imperial house, were welcomed in Berlin. One morning, taking up my copy of the paper most directly inspired by the chancellor, I found an article on the shortcomings of Russia, especially pungent—almost vitriolic. It at once occurred to me to look among the distinguished arrivals to see what Muscovite was in town; and my search was rewarded by the discovery that the heir to the imperial crown, afterward Alexander III, had just arrived and was staying a day or two in the city.
When Bismarck uttered his famous saying, "We Germans fear God and naught beside,'' he simply projected into the history of Germany his own character. Fearlessness was a main characteristic of his from boyhood, and it never left him in any of the emergencies of his later life.
His activity through the press interested me much at times. It was not difficult to discern his work in many of the "inspired'' editorials and other articles. I have in my possession sundry examples of the originals of these, —each page is divided into two columns,—the first the work of one of his chosen scribes, the second copiously amended in the chancellor's own hand, and always with a gain in lucidity and pungency.
Of the various matters which arose between us, one is perhaps worthy of mention, since it has recently given rise to a controversy between a German-American journalist and Bismarck's principal biographer.
One morning, as I sat in dismay before my work-table, loaded with despatches, notes, and letters, besides futilities of every sort, there came in the card of Lothar Bucher. Everything else was, of course, thrown aside. Bucher never made social visits. He was the pilot-fish of the whale, and a visit from him "meant business.''
Hardly had he entered the room when his business was presented: the chancellor wished to know if the United States would join Germany and Great Britain in representations calculated to stop the injuries to the commerce of all three nations caused by the war then going on between Chile and Peru.
My answer was that the United States could not join other powers in any such effort; that our government might think it best to take separate action; and that it would not interfere with any proper efforts of other powers to secure simple redress for actual grievances; but that it could not make common cause with other powers in any such efforts. To clinch this, I cited the famous passage in Washington's Farewell Address against "entangling alliances with foreign powers'' as American gospel, and added that my government would also be unalterably opposed to anything leading to permanent occupation of South American territory by any European power, and for this referred him to the despatches of John Quincy Adams and the declarations of President Monroe.
He seemed almost dumfounded at this, and to this day I am unable to decide whether his surprise was real or affected. He seemed to think it impossible that we could take any such ground, or that such a remote, sentimental interest could outweigh material interests so pressing as those involved in the monkey-and-parrot sort of war going on between the two South American republics. As he was evidently inclined to dwell on what appeared to him the strangeness of my answer, I said to him: "What I state to you is elementary in American foreign policy; and to prove this I will write, in your presence, a cable despatch to the Secretary of State at Washington, and you shall see it and the answer it brings.''
I then took a cable blank, wrote the despatch, and showed it to him. It was a simple statement of the chancellor's proposal, and on that he left me. In the evening came the answer. It was virtually my statement to Bucher, and I sent it to him just as I had received it. That was the last of the matter. No further effort was made in the premises, so far as I ever heard, either by Germany or Great Britain. It has recently been stated, in an American magazine article, that Bismarck, toward the end of his life, characterized the position taken by Mr. Cleveland regarding European acquisition of South American territory as something utterly new and unheard of. To this, Poschinger, the eminent Bismarck biographer, has replied in a way which increases my admiration for the German Foreign Office; for it would appear that he found in the archives of that department a most exact statement of the conversation between Bucher and myself, and of the action which followed it. So precise was his account that it even recalled phrases and other minutiae of the conversation which I had forgotten, but which I at once recognized as exact when thus reminded of them. The existence of such a record really revives one's child- like faith in the opening of the Great Book of human deeds and utterances at "the last day.''
Perhaps the most interesting phase of Bismarck's life which a stranger could observe was his activity in the imperial parliament.
That body sits in a large hall, the representatives of the people at large occupying seats in front of the president's desk, and the delegates from the various states—known as the Imperial Council—being seated upon an elevated platform at the side of the room, right and left of the president's chair. At the right of the president, some distance removed, sits the chancellor, and at his right hand the imperial ministry; while in front of the president's chair, on a lower stage of the platform, is the tribune from which, as a rule, members of the lower house address the whole body.
It was my good fortune to hear Bismarck publicly discuss many important questions, and his way of speaking was not like that of any other man I have ever heard. He was always clothed in the undress uniform of a Prussian general; and, as he rose, his bulk made him imposing. His first utterances were disappointing. He seemed wheezy, rambling, incoherent, with a sort of burdensome self-consciousness checking his ideas and clogging his words. His manner was fidgety, his arms being thrown uneasily about, and his fingers fumbling his mustache or his clothing or the papers on his desk. He puffed, snorted, and floundered; seemed to make assertions without proof and phrases without point; when suddenly he would utter a statement so pregnant as to clear up a whole policy, or a sentence so audacious as to paralyze a whole line of his opponents, or a phrase so vivid as to run through the nation and electrify it. Then, perhaps after more rumbling and rambling, came a clean, clear, historical illustration carrying conviction; then, very likely, a simple and strong argument, not infrequently ended by some heavy missile in the shape of an accusation or taunt hurled into the faces of his adversaries; then, perhaps at considerable length, a mixture of caustic criticism and personal reminiscence, in which sparkled those wonderful sayings which have gone through the empire and settled deeply into the German heart. I have known many clever speakers and some very powerful orators; but I have never known one capable, in the same degree, of overwhelming his enemies and carrying his whole country with him. Nor was his eloquence in his oratory alone. There was something in his bearing, as he sat at his ministerial desk and at times looked up from it to listen to a speaker, which was very impressive.
Twice I heard Moltke speak, and each time on the army estimates. Nothing could be more simple and straight- forward than the great soldier's manner. As he rose, he looked like a tall, thin, kindly New England schoolmaster. His seat was among the representatives, very nearly in front of that which Bismarck occupied on the estrade. On one of these occasions I heard him make his famous declaration that for the next fifty years Germany must be in constant readiness for an attack from France. He spoke very rarely, was always brief and to the point, saying with calm strength just what he thought it a duty to say—neither more nor less. So Caesar might have spoken. Bismarck, I observed, always laid down his large pencil and listened intently to every word.
The most curious example of the eloquence of silence in Bismarck's case, which I noted, was when his strongest opponent, Windthorst, as the representative of the combination of Roman Catholics and others generally in opposition, but who, at that particular time, seemed to have made a sort of agreement to support some of Bismarck's measures, went to the tribune and began a long and very earnest speech. Windthorst was a man of diminutive stature, smaller even than Thiers,—almost a dwarf,—and his first words on this occasion had a comical effect. He said, in substance, "I am told that if we enter into a combination with the chancellor in this matter, we are sure to come out second best.'' At this Bismarck raised his head, turned and looked at the orator, the attention of the whole audience being fastened upon both. "But,'' continued Windthorst, "the chancellor will have to get up very early in the morning to outwit us in this matter.'' There was a general outburst of laughter as the two leaders eyed each other. It reminded one of nothing so much as a sturdy mastiff contemplating a snappish terrier.
As to his relations with his family, which, to some little extent, I noticed when with them, nothing could be more hearty, simple, and kindly. He was beautifully devoted to his wife, and evidently gloried in his two stalwart sons, Prince Herbert and "Count Bill,'' and in his daughter, Countess von Rantzau; and they, in return, showed a devotion to him not less touching. No matter how severe the conflicts which raged outside, within his family the stern chancellor of "blood and iron'' seemed to disappear; and in his place came the kindly, genial husband, father, and host.
The last time I ever saw him was at the Schnhausen station on my way to Bremen. He walked slowly from the train to his carriage, leaning heavily on his stick. He seemed not likely to last long; but Dr. Schweninger's treatment gave him a new lease of life, so that, on my return to Berlin eighteen years later, he was still living. In reply to a respectful message he sent me a kindly greeting, and expressed the hope that he would, ere long, be well enough to receive me; but he was even then sinking, and soon passed away. So was lost to mortal sight the greatest German since Luther.