A great English poet sings of the "spacious days" of Queen Elizabeth. From the German standpoint the decade from the fall of Bismarck to the end of the century may not inaptly be described as the spacious days of William II and the modern German Empire. To the Englishman the actual territorial acquisitions of Germany during the period must seem comparatively insignificant, but, taken in connection with the Emperor's speeches, the building of the German navy, the Caprivi commercial treaties, the growth of friendly relations and of trade and intercourse with America, North and South, they mean the opening of a new era in the history of the Empire—the era of Weltpolitik.
Heligoland was obtained in exchange for Zanzibar in 1890, and is now regarded by Germans much as Gibraltar or Malta is regarded by Englishmen. The first Kiel regatta, due solely to the initiative of the Emperor, and starting the development of sport in all fields which is a feature of modern German progress, ethical and physical, was held in 1894. The Caprivi commercial treaties were concluded within the period. The Kiel Canal, connecting the Baltic and North Sea, and giving the German fleet access to all the open waters of the earth, was opened in 1895. In 1896 the Kruger telegram testified to imperial interest in South African developments. The Hamburg-Amerika Line now sent a specially fast mail and passenger steamer across the Atlantic. The district of Kiautschau was leased from China in 1898, securing Germany a foothold and naval base in the Far East. In the same year the modern Oriental policy of the Empire was inaugurated by the Emperor's visit to Palestine and his declaration in the course of it that he would be the friend of Turkey and of the three hundred millions of Mohammedans who recognized the Sultan as their spiritual head. To this year also belongs the measure, the most important in its consequences and significance of the reign hitherto, the passing of the First Navy Law. Finally, in 1899 Germany acquired the Caroline Islands by purchase from Spain, and certain Samoan Islands by agreement with England and America.
Nothing was more natural as a result of the new world-policy than a change in the mental outlook of the people. It inaugurated in Germany an era somewhat analogous to the era inaugurated in England by the widening and brightening of the Englishman's horizon under Elizabeth. The analogy may not be closely maintainable throughout, but, generally speaking, just as the eyes of Englishmen suddenly saw the possibilities of expansion disclosed to them by Drake, Raleigh, and Frobisher, so the Emperor's appeals, with the pursuance of German colonial policy and the attempt to develop Germany's African possessions, led to an awakening in Germany of a similar, if weaker, kind. To this awakening the building of the German navy contributed; and though it did not appeal to the German imagination as did the deeds of the old navigators to that of Elizabethan Englishmen, it widened the national outlook and fired the people with new imperial ambitions. Hitherto, moreover, Germany's attention had been confined almost solely to trade within continental boundaries: henceforth she was to do business actively and enterprisingly with all parts of the world.
The Emperor's thoughts on the subject were expressed in January, 1896, at a banquet in the Berlin palace given to a miscellaneous company of leading personalities of the time. The occasion was the celebration of the twenty-fifth year of the modern Empire's foundation. He said:
"The German Empire becomes a world-empire. Everywhere in the farthest parts of the earth live thousands of our fellow-countrymen. German subjects, German knowledge, German industry cross the ocean. The value of German goods on the seas amounts to thousands of millions of marks. On you, gentlemen, devolves the serious duty of helping me to knit firmly this greater German Empire to the Empire at home."
The expression "greater German Empire" immediately reminded the Englishman of his own "Greater Britain," and he concluded that the Emperor was secretly thinking of rivalling him in the extent and value of his colonial possessions. Possibly he was, and doubtless he ardently desired to see Germany owning large and fertile colonies; but it is quite as probable he was thinking of his economic Weltpolitik, and knew as well then as he does now that it must be left to time and the hour to show whether they fall to her or not.
In the same order of ideas may be placed, though it is anticipating somewhat, the Emperor's utterances at Aix in 1902 and three years later at Bremen. At Aix, after describing the failure of Charlemagne's successors to reconcile the duties of a Holy Roman Emperor with those of a German King, he continued:
"Now another Empire has arisen. The German people has once more an Emperor of its own choice, with the sword on the field of battle has the crown been won, and the imperial flag flutters high in the breeze. But the tasks of the new Empire are different: confined within its borders it has to steel itself anew for the work it has to do, and which it could not achieve in the Middle Ages. We have to live so that the Empire, still young, becomes from year to year stronger in itself, while confidence in it strengthens on all sides. The powerful German army guarantees the peace of Europe. In accord with the German character we confine ourselves externally in order to be unconfined internally. Far stretches our speech over the ocean, far the flight of our science and exploration; no work in the domain of new discovery, no scientific idea but is first tested by us and then adopted by other nations. This is the world-rule the German spirit strives for."
At Bremen he said:
"The world-empire I dream of is a new German Empire which shall enjoy on all hands the most absolute confidence as a quiet, peaceable, honest neighbour—not founded by conquest with the sword, but on the mutual confidence of nations aiming at the same end."
The Emperor's world-policy was referred to more than once about this time by Chancellor Prince Buelow in the Reichstag. "It is," he said on one occasion, "Germany's intention and duty to protect the great and ever-growing oversea interests which she has acquired through the development of conditions." "We recognize," he continued,
"that we have no longer interests only round our own fireside or in the neighbourhood of the church clock, but everywhere where German industry and Germany's commercial spirit have penetrated; and we must foster these interests within the bounds of possibility and good sense."
"Our world-policy," he said on another occasion in the same place,
"is not a policy of interference, much less a policy of intervention: had it interfered in South Africa (he was alluding to the Boer War) it must have intervened, and intervention implies the use of force."
On yet another occasion he explained that a prudent world-policy must go hand in hand with a sound protective policy for home industry, and that its basis must be a strong national home policy.
There is nothing in all this, even supposing Germany's interests at that time were purposely exaggerated, to which the foreigner could reasonably object. The foreigner felt perhaps slightly uncomfortable when the same statesman, departing for a moment from his usual objective standpoint, spoke of the German "traversing the world with a sword in one hand and a spade and trowel in the other"; but otherwise no act of Germany's world-policy need have inspired alarm, or need inspire alarm at the present time, in sensible foreign minds. The rapidity of its action probably helped to excite a feeling that it could not be altogether honest or above-board; but it should be remembered that the new Empire had much leeway to make up in the race with other nations, and that quick development was rendered necessary by her commercial treaties, by her protective system, by the unexpected growth of industry and trade, by the continuous increase of population, the development of the mercantile marine, and the growing consciousness of national strength.
And if there is nothing in Germany's development of her world-policy to which the foreigner can reasonably object, there is much in it at which he can reasonably rejoice. Competition is good for him, for it puts him on his mettle. A large and prosperous German population extends his markets and means more business and more profit. The minds of both Germans and the foreigner become broader, more mutually sympathetic and appreciative. The elder Pitt warned his fellow-countrymen against letting France become a maritime, a commercial, or a colonial power. She has become all three, and what injury has occurred therefrom to England or any other nation?
Germany's colonial development dates from about the year 1884, the period of the "scramble for Africa." The first step to acquiring German colonies for the Empire was taken in 1883, when a merchant of Bremen, Edouard Luderitz, made an agreement with the Hottentots by which the bay of Angra Pequena in South-West Africa, with an area of fifty thousand square kilometres, was ceded to him. Luderitz applied to Bismarck for imperial protection. Bismarck inquired of England whether she claimed rights of sovereignty over the bay. Lord Granville replied in the negative, but added that he did not consider the seizure of possession by another Power allowable. Indignant at what he called a "monstrous claim" on all the land in the world which was without a master, Bismarck telegraphed to the German Consul at the Cape to "declare officially to the British Government that Herr Luderitz and his acquisitions are under the protection of the Empire."
The Bremen pioneer was fated to gain no advantage from his enterprise, as he was drowned in the Orange River in 1886. His example as a colonist, however, was followed by three Hanseatic merchants, Woermann, Jansen, and Thormealen, of Hamburg, who acquired land in Togo, a small kingdom to the east of the British Gold Coast, and in the Cameroons, a large tract in the bend of the Gulf of Guinea, extending to Lake Chad, and applied for German imperial protection. Bismarck sent Consul-General Nachtigall with the gunboat Moewe in 1884 to hoist the German flag at various ports. Five days after this had been done the English gunboat Flirt arrived, but was thus too late to obtain Togoland and the Cameroons for England.
Dr. Carl Peters, the German Cecil Rhodes, now arrived at Zanzibar, and on obtaining concessions from the Sultan founded the German East Africa Company, with a charter from his Government. German hopes of great colonial expansion began to run high, but they were dashed by the Anglo-German agreement of June, 1890, delimiting the spheres of England, Germany, and the Sultan of Zanzibar, and stipulating that Germany should receive Heligoland from England in return for German recognition of English suzerainty in Zanzibar and the possession of Uganda, which had recently been taken for Germany by Dr. Peters. At that time Germans thought very little of Heligoland, but there was then no Anglo-German tension, and no apprehension of an English descent on the German coast.
The lease for ninety-nine years of Kiautschau, a small area of about four hundred square miles on the coast of China, was obtained from the Chinese in connexion with the murder of two German missionaries in 1897 in the Shantung Province, of which Kiautschau forms a part. Herr von Buelow, then only Foreign Secretary, referred to the transaction in the Reichstag in words that may be quoted, as they describe German foreign policy in the Far East. "Our cruiser fleet," he said,
"was sent to Kiautschau Bay to exact reparation for the murder of German Catholic missionaries on the one hand, and to obtain greater security for the future against a repetition of such occurrences. The Government,"
"has nothing but benevolent and friendly designs regarding China, and has no wish either to offend or provoke her. We are ready in East Asia to recognize the interests of other Great Powers in the certain confidence that our own interests will be duly respected by them. In one word—we desire to put no one in the shade, but we too demand our place in the sun. In East Asia, as in the West Indies, we shall endeavour, in accordance with the traditions of German policy, without unnecessary rigour, but also without weakness, to guard our rights and our interests."
In mentioning the West Indies the Foreign Secretary was alluding to a quarrel Germany had at this time with the negro republic of Haiti, owing to the arrest and imprisonment of a German subject in that island. Kiautschau is administratively under the German Admiralty.
The Caroline, Marianne, and Palau Islands, including the Marschall Islands and the islands of the Bismarck archipelago, were bought from Spain this year for twenty-five million pesetas, or about one million sterling. The islands are valuable in German eyes, not only for their fertility and capacity for plantation development, but as affording good harbourage and coaling stations on the sea-road to China, Japan, and Central America. By the agreement with England and America, which in this year also put an end to the thorny question of Samoan administration, Germany acquired the Samoan islands of Upolu and Sawaii in the South Sea.
The ten years we are now concerned with were perhaps the most strenuous and picturesque of the Emperor's life hitherto. He was now his own Chancellor, though that post was nominally occupied by General von Caprivi and Prince Chlodwig Hohenlohe successively. He was Chancellor, too, knowing that not a hundred miles off the old pilot of the ship of State was watching, keenly and not too benevolently, his every act and word. He was conscious that the eyes of the world were fixed on him, and that every other Government was waiting with interest and curiosity to learn what sort of rival in statecraft and diplomacy it would henceforward have to reckon with. Naturally many plans coursed through his restlessly active brain, but there were always, one may imagine, two compelling and ever-present thoughts at the back of them. One of these was a determination to promote the moral and material prosperity of his people so as to make them a model and thoroughly modern commonwealth; the other, the resolve that as Emperor he would not allow Germany to be overlooked, to be treated as a quantite negligeable, in the discussion or decision of international affairs.
The Chancellorship of General von Caprivi, who had been successively Minister of War and Marine, lasted from March, 1890, to October, 1894. He may have been a good commanding general, but he has left no reputation either as a man of marked character or as a statesman of exceptional ability. Nor was either character or ability much needed. He was, as every one knew, a man of immensely inferior ability to his great predecessor, but every one knew also that the Emperor intended to be his own Chancellor, pursue his own policy, and take responsibility for it. Taking responsibility is, naturally, easier for a Hohenzollern monarch than for most men, since he is responsible to no one but himself. With the appointment of Caprivi the Emperor's "personal regiment" may be said to have begun.
During General von Caprivi's term of office some measures of importance have to be noted, among them the Quinquennat, which replaced Bismarck's Septennat and fixed the military budget for five years instead of seven; the reduction of the period of conscription for the infantry from three years to two; and the decision not to renew Bismarck's reinsurance treaty with Russia.
The chief event, however, with which Chancellor Caprivi's name is usually associated, is the conclusion of commercial treaties between Germany and most other continental countries. Other countries had followed Germany's example and adopted a protective system, and with a view to the avoidance of tariff wars, Caprivi, strongly supported, it need hardly be said, by an Emperor who had just declared that "the world at the end of the nineteenth century stands under the star of commerce, which breaks down the barriers between nations," began a series of commercial treaty negotiations.
The first agreements were made with Germany's allies in the Triplice, Austria and Italy. Treaties with Switzerland and Belgium, Servia and Rumania, followed. Russia held aloof for a time, but as a great grain-exporting country she too found it advisable to come to terms. With France there was no need of an agreement, since she was bound by the Treaty of Frankfurt, concluded after the war of 1870, to grant Germany her minimum duties. One of the regrettable results of the Empire's new commercial policy was an antagonism between agriculture and industry which now declared itself and has remained active to the present day. The political cause of Caprivi's fall from power, if power it can be called, was the twofold hostility of the Conservative and Liberal parties in Parliament, that of the Conservatives being due to the injury supposed to be done to landlord interests by the commercial treaties, and that of the Liberals by an Education Bill, which, it was alleged, would hand the Prussian school system completely over to the Church. Perhaps the main cause, however, was the general unpopularity he incurred by attacking, officially and through the press, his predecessor, Bismarck, the idol of the people.
It was in the Chancellorship of Prince Hohenlohe, which ended in 1900, that the most memorable events of this remarkable decade occurred; but, as was to be expected, and as the Emperor himself must have expected, the Prince, now a man of seventy-five, played a very secondary part with regard to them. The Prince was what the Germans call a "house-friend" of the Hohenzollern family and related to it. He was useful, his contemporaries say, as a brake on the impetuous temper of his imperial master, though he did not, we may be sure, turn him from any of the main designs he had at heart. Prince Hohenlohe, in character, was good-nature and amiability personified. He was beloved by all classes and parties, and no foreigner can read his Memoirs without a feeling of friendliness for a Personality so moderate and calm and simple. A note he makes in one of his diaries amusingly illustrates the simple side of his character. He is dining with the Emperor, when the Emperor, catching the Prince's eye, which we may be sure was on the alert to gather up any of the royal beams that might come his way, raises his glass in sign of amity. "I felt so overcome," notes the Prince, "that I almost spilt the champagne."
The famous "Kruger telegram" episode occurred during the Chancellorship of Prince Hohenlohe.
For many years the sending of the telegram was cited as a convincing proof of the Emperor's "impulsive" character, and it was not until 1909 that the truth of the matter was stated by Chancellor von Buelow in the Reichstag. In March of that year he said:
"It has been asked, was this telegram an act of personal initiative or an act of State? In this regard let me refer you to your own proceedings. You will remember that the responsibility for the telegram was never repudiated by the directors of our political business at the time. The telegram was an act of State, the result of official consultations; it was in nowise an act of personal initiative on the part of his Majesty the Kaiser. Whoever asserts that it was is ignorant of what preceded it and does his Majesty completely wrong."
The Emperor's telegram to President Kruger, despatched on January 3, 1896, ran as follows:—
"I congratulate you most sincerely on having succeeded with your people, and without calling on the help of foreign Powers, by opposing your own force to an armed band which broke into your country to disturb the peace, in restoring quiet and in maintaining the independence of your country against external attack."
The echoes of this historic message were heard immediately in every country, but naturally nowhere more loudly than in England; and the reverberation of them is audible to the present day. In Germany, however, for a day or two, the telegram seems to have surprised no one, was indeed spoken of with approval by deputies in the Reichstag, and seems not to have occurred to any one in the light of a serious diplomatic mistake. This state of feeling did not last long, and when the English newspapers arrived an entirely new light was thrown on the matter. The Morning Post concluded an article with the words: "It is not easy to speak calmly of the Kaiser's telegram. The English people will not forget it, and in future will always think of it when considering its foreign policy." The British Government's comment on the telegram was to put a flying squadron in commission and issue an official statement urbi et orbi, calling attention to the Convention made with President Kruger in London in 1884, reserving the supervision of the foreign relations of the Transvaal to the British Government.
The Emperor himself appears to have recognized that he and his advisers had made a serious blunder, and that a gesture which, it is highly probable, was partly prompted by the chivalrous side of his character, was certain to be gravely misunderstood. At any rate his policy, or that of his Government, changed, and instead of following up his encouraging words with mediation or intervention, he assumed an attitude of neutrality towards the war which soon after began. Subsequently, in the Reichstag, Chancellor von Buelow described the course the German Government pursued immediately before and during the war; and there seems no reason to discredit his account. The speech was made apropos of the projected visit of President Kruger to Berlin, when on his tour of despair to the capitals of Europe while the war was still in progress. He was cheered by boulevard crowds in Paris, itself a thing of no great significance, and was received at the Elysee and by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, M. Delcasse. The visitor was very reserved on both occasions, and confined himself to sounding his hosts as to whether or not he could reckon on their good offices.
From Paris he started for Berlin, where he had engaged a large and expensive first-floor suite of rooms in a fashionable hotel. At Cologne, however, shortly after entering Germany, a telegram from Potsdam awaited him, announcing the Emperor's refusal to grant him audience. The imperial telegram consisted of a few words to the effect that the Emperor was "not in a position" to receive him. Nor in truth was he. An audience at that moment would have meant war between Germany and England.
As to German policy with regard to the Boer War, Prince Buelow explained that the German Government deplored the war not only because it was between two Christian and white races, that were, moreover, of the same Germanic stock, but also because it drew within the evil circle of its consequences important German economic and political interests. He went on to describe their nature, enumerating under the one head the thousands of German settlers in South Africa, the industrial establishments and banks they had founded there, the busy trade and the millions sterling of invested capital; while, as regarded the other head, the Government had to take care that the war exercised no injurious influence on German territory in that region.
The Government, the Chancellor claimed, had done everything consistent with neutrality and the conservation of German interests to hinder the outbreak of the war. It had "loyally" warned the two Dutch republics of the disposition in Europe, and left them in no doubt as to the attitude Germany would adopt if war should come. These communications were not made directly, but through the Hague authorities and the Consul-General of the Netherlands in Pretoria. At that time the United States Government had come forward with a proposal for a submission of the quarrel to its arbitration, but the proposal had been rejected by President Kruger.
A little later the President changed his mind, but it was then too late and war was declared. Once the die was cast, Germany could only with propriety have interfered, provided she had reason to believe her mediation would be accepted by both parties: otherwise her conduct would not be mediation, but be regarded, in accordance with diplomatic usage, as intervention with coercive measures in the background. For such a policy Germany had no disposition, for it meant running the risk of a diplomatic defeat on the one hand and of an armed conflict with England on the other.
As regards the visit of the President to Berlin and the Emperor's refusal to receive him, the Chancellor asked would a reception have done any good either to the President or to Germany, and he answered his own question with an emphatic negative. To the President an audience would have been of no more use than the ovations and demonstrations he was greeted with in Paris. To Germany a reception would have meant a shifting of international relations to the disadvantage of the country: in other words, would have meant the risk, almost the certainty, of war. "Wars," said the Chancellor in this connexion,
"are much more easily unchained through elementary popular passions, through the passionate excitation of public opinion, than in the old days through the ambitions of monarchs or through the jealousies of Ministers."
And he concluded:
"With regard to England we stand entirely independent of her: we are not a hair's-breadth more dependent on England than England is on us. But we are ready on the basis of mutual consideration and complete equality—about this obvious preliminary condition for a proper relation between two Great Powers we have never left any Power in doubt: I say, we are ready on this basis to live with England in peace, friendship, and harmony. To play the Don Quixote and to lay the lance in rest and attack wherever in the world English windmills are to be found, for that we are not called upon."
But just then there was little prospect of "peace friendship, and harmony" with England. The world remembers, and unfortunately the English people do not forget, that they had nowhere more bitter and offensive critics than in Germany. One refined method of opprobrium was the unprohibited sale in the main streets of Berlin of spittoons bearing the countenance of the English Colonial Minister, Mr. Chamberlain. A war with England would at that moment have been highly popular in Germany, but as the Chancellor wisely reminded the Parliament, it was the duty of the statesman to protect international relations from disturbance by intrigue or by popular demonstration.
Finally the Chancellor dealt with a report widely current in England and Germany at the time, to the effect that the Emperor's refusal to receive President Kruger was due to the influence of his uncle, King Edward. The Chancellor emphatically denied that any pressure of the kind from the English Court, or from any other source, had been employed, and ended by saying:
"To suppose that his Majesty the Kaiser could allow himself to be influenced by family relations shows little understanding of his character, or of his love of country. For his Majesty solely the national standpoint is decisive, and if it were otherwise, and family relations or dynastic considerations determined our foreign policy, I would not remain Minister a day longer."
A precisely similar and unfounded charge, it will be remembered, was made against King Edward VII in 1902, to the effect that it was Court influence, not the deliberate judgment of the Cabinet, that was the efficient cause of the co-operation of the British with the German fleet in the demonstration off the coast of Venezuela.
A recent writer, Dr. Adolf Stein, gives an account of the sending of the famous telegram which corroborates that of Prince von Buelow. The telegram, according to this version, was a well-considered answer to a question from the Transvaal Government put to the German Government a month before the Raid occurred, and when the Transvaal Government got the first inkling of the preparations being made for it. President Kruger asked what attitude Germany would adopt in case of a war between England and the Boer republics. The answer given to the person who made the inquiry on behalf of the Transvaal Government was that President Kruger might rest assured of Germany's
"diplomatic support in so far as it was also Germany's interest that the independence of the Boer States should be maintained, but that for anything beyond this he should not reckon on Germany's assistance or that of any Great Power."
This answer, Dr. Stein says, was in course of transmission by the post when the Raid occurred.
The Raid was made on January 1st. The event was at once telegraphed to Berlin, where Prince Hohenlohe was Chancellor, with Freiherr Marschall von Bieberstein, afterwards German Ambassador in Constantinople and London, as his Foreign Secretary. According to Dr. Stein, they drew up a telegram to President Kruger, and on the morning of the 3rd laid it before the Emperor, who had come early from Potsdam for consultation on the matter. The Chancellor, it should be mentioned, had been at Potsdam the day previous, but at that time the news of the Raid had not reached the Emperor. The Emperor, Chancellor, and Foreign Secretary now decided that a telegram congratulating President Kruger for having repulsed the Raid "without foreign aid" was the best non-committal form to adopt. The Emperor, Dr. Stein continues, raised some objections, but was over-persuaded by Prince Hohenlohe and von Bieberstein.
As confirming this version, a little note in Lord Goschen's Biography may be recalled, in which Lord Goschen confides to a friend a few weeks before the Raid that the "Germans were taking the Boers under their wing, as the Americans had done with the Venezuelans."
Enough perhaps has been said to show that the sending of the telegram had nothing to do with the Emperor's "impulsive" character, and it will only be fair to him to let the notion that it had drop finally out of contemporary history. As an act of State it was in consonance with German policy at the time. That policy, if it did not look to acquiring possession of the Transvaal, may very well have looked to enlisting the sympathies and friendship of the Dutch in South Africa, and finding in them and their country a field for German enterprise and a market for German goods; and there was therefore nothing impulsive, however mistaken the act may have been as a matter of foreign policy, in the German Government's congratulating President Kruger on successful resistance to a private raid.
We have suggested that the telegram was partly due to a certain element of chivalry in the Emperor's character. The Emperor was well acquainted with other forms of government and other social systems besides his own, and though a Hohenzollern could put himself in the position of the chief of the little Boer republic, threatened as he was with annihilation by a mighty and powerful opponent. Moreover, there is always to be remembered the sympathy of view, particularly of religious view, that existed in the two men as regarded their attitude and duties to their respective "folk." The President had appealed to the Emperor for help. The Emperor had had to refuse it, but had wired that he would do all he could "diplomatically." He knew that this was but a poor sort of assistance, but it was something, and when the Raid occurred he gave the diplomatic assistance he had promised by sending a telegram of congratulation. In any case—tempi passati. Foreign policy is not concerned with sympathies or antipathies, and the whole episode should be ignored, or, better still, forgotten.
The Kruger telegram, it turned out, was to usher in a long period of tension between two countries of the same race, singularly alike in their ideals of whatever is sound and praiseworthy in Christian civilization, and almost equally mutual admirers of the fundamental features of each other's national character. Unfortunately, along with these fundamental features of the English and German national characters, the love of money, the auri sacra fames, has to be reckoned with, and in the race of nations for wealth and power the fundamental qualities are apt, for a time, to be overborne and cease to act. The rise of the modern German Empire to power and prosperity, and the new world-situation thus created, largely by the Emperor, is at the bottom of Anglo-German tension. As a main contributory cause of both the power and the prosperity, was the creation of the German navy at the period of which we write.
The following is a parable which he who runs may read:—
In a certain town, with a large and heterogeneous population, there was once a "monster" shop. The firm (there were three partners) had been established for hundreds of years, had thrown out several branches, and by hard work, enterprise, and honesty had acquired a leading position in the trade of the town: so much so, indeed, that as time went on it had also come to do the carriage and delivery of goods for most of the smaller shops, though some of these were large houses themselves and the majority of them in a fair way of business. The smaller shops were naturally a little jealous of the "monster," and it was the dream of every owner of them to enlarge his premises and become the proprietor of an equally great emporium as the "monster." One day, therefore, a little cluster of shops, at some distance from the "monster," suddenly resolved to form a combination, and after settling a dispute with a neighbour in consideration of a sum of money and a fruitful tract of land, issued the prospectus of the new company and began to do business on modern lines.
Almost from the very beginning the new company was a great success: its situation was central; the company inspired its members with enterprise and spirit; it was industrious, energetic, and splendidly organized; and at last it began to cut into the trade of the old-established "monster." Competition might have gone on in the ordinary way had not the new company made a departure in business methods that gradually roused special uneasiness among the members of the "monster" firm. Hitherto the latter had its delivery vans travel all over the town, and so well was this part of its system carried on that the firm acquired all but a monopoly of carrying and delivery. The new company, however, now began to do a little in the same line, whereupon the "monster" took to building a superior type of van much more powerful and imposing, if also much more expensive, than the one previously in use. The new company naturally followed suit, and in a surprisingly short time had built, or had under construction, several vans of an exactly similar kind. The "monster" saw the new departure of their rivals at first with curiosity, then with contempt, then with anxiety, and finally with suspicion and alarm. At the time of writing the alarm appears to have abated, but a good deal of the suspicion remains. The town is the world, the "monster" Great Britain, and the rival company the modern German Empire.
It would require the Emperor himself properly to tell the story of his creation of the modern German navy, and if he has a right to call any part of his people's property his own, he is justified in speaking, as he invariably does, of "my navy." As Prince William, his interest in the subject may have been originally due, as has been seen, to his partly English parentage, his frequent visits to England, and the fact that his physical disability threatened to prevent him taking an active part in the more strenuous duties of the soldier. It is very probable that it was in the region that cradled the British navy the idea of a great German navy was conceived by him. We have seen that the Emperor, as Prince William, showed his enthusiasm in the matter by delivering lectures on it in military circles, though it was not his lot, but that of his brother Henry, to be assigned the navy as a profession. In his Order to the Navy on ascending the throne, he spoke of the "lively and warm interest" that bound him to the navy, shortly afterwards issued directions for a new marine uniform on the English model, and caused the introduction into the Lutheran Church service of a special prayer for the arm. He gave a parliamentary soiree at the New Palace in Potsdam, and before allowing his Conservative and National Liberal guests to sit down to supper, made them listen to a lecture which occupied two hours, giving particular attention, with the aid of maps and plans, to the battle of the Yalu between the fleets of China and Japan. He founded the Technical Shipbuilding Society, and took, and takes, an animated part in its proceedings, suggesting positions for the guns, the disposition of armour, the dimensions of submarines, and a hundred other details. In 1908 he delivered an after-dinner lecture at the "Villa Achilleion" in Corfu on Nelson and the battle of Trafalgar, based on the writings of Captain Mark Kerr of the Implacable, at which the situations of the French, English, and Spanish fleets were sketched by the imperial hand. To his admiration for the writings of Captain Mahan his persistence in enlarging the fleet is said largely to be due. He is, of course, assisted by a host of able experts, among whom Admiral von Tirpitz—the ablest German since Bismarck, many Germans say—is the most distinguished; but as he is his own Foreign Minister and own Commander-in-Chief, he is, in the fullest sense, his own First Lord of the Admiralty.
The Emperor closed one of his naval lectures with an anecdote which the papers reported next day as being received with "stormy amusement." It was about the metacentrum, the centre of gravity in ship construction. The Emperor told of his having asked an old sea lieutenant to explain to him the metacentrum. "I received the answer," said the Emperor, "that he did not know very exactly himself—it was a secret. 'All I can say is,' the old seaman went on, 'that if the metacentrum was in the topmast, the ship would over-turn.'" The success of a jest, one is told, lies in the ear of the hearer. Possibly something of the "stormy amusement" may have been called forth by the reflection that the imperial metacentrum had on occasion got misplaced.
In addition to the natural and accidental predispositions of the Emperor, certain general considerations, which imposed themselves irresistibly on all men's attention as the century drew to its close, impelled him to more energetic action. A student of the history of other countries as well as his own, and a watchful observer of the tendencies of the time, he felt that the young Empire was incomplete as long as it was without a navy corresponding in size and power to its army, the organization of which had been completed. With its army alone he regarded the Empire as a colossus, no doubt, but a colossus standing on one leg, and was convinced that if the Empire was to be a success it must have a navy at least able to withstand attack by any of his continental neighbours and potential enemies.
On ascending the throne the Emperor was naturally most occupied with the internal situation of his new inheritance, and spent a good deal of his time railing at Social Democracy and the press, explaining the nature of his Heaven-appointed kingship, and rousing his somewhat lethargic people to a sense of their power and possibilities; but he found a moment in 1891 to write under a photograph he gave the retiring Postmaster-General Stephan:
"The world, at the end of the nineteenth century, stands under the star of commerce; commerce breaks down the barriers which separate the peoples and creates new relations between the nations."
Then the idea slumbered in his mind for a few years, while he continued to make his own people restless with criticism, perhaps deserved, of their sluggishness, their pessimism, their party strife, and foreign peoples equally restless with phrases like "nemo me impune lacessit"; until the idea came suddenly to utterance in 1897, when, on seeing the figure of Neptune on a monument to the Emperor William, he broke out: "The trident should be in our grip!" From this time, and for the next few years, the growth of the navy may be said to have never long been far from his thoughts. In sending Prince Henry to Kiautschau at the close of 1898 he made the remark that "imperial power means sea power, and sea power and imperial power are dependent on each other." Nine months afterwards at Stettin he used a phrase alone sufficient to keep his name alive in history: "Our future lies on the water!"
At Hamburg, in 1899, he laid emphasis on the changes in the world which justify a naval policy one can see now was almost inevitable.
"A strong German fleet," he said, "is a thing of which we stand in bitter need." And he continued:
"In Hamburg especially one can understand how necessary is a powerful protection for German interests abroad. If we look around us we see how greatly the aspect of the world has altered in recent years. Old-world empires pass away and new ones begin to arise. Nations suddenly appear before the peoples and compete with them, nations of whom a little before the ordinary man had been hardly aware. Products which bring about radical changes in the domain of international relations, as well as in the political economy of the people, and which in old times took hundreds of years to ripen, come to maturity in a few months. The result is that the tasks of our German Empire and people have grown to enormous proportions and demand of me and my Government unusual and great efforts, which can then only be crowned with success when, united and decided, without respect to party, Germans stand behind us. Our people, moreover, must resolve to make some sacrifice. Above all they must put aside their endeavour to seek the excellent through the ever more-sharply contrasted party factions. They must cease to put party above the welfare of the whole. They must put a curb on their ancient and inherited weakness—to subject everything to the most unlicensed criticism; and they must stop at the point where their most vital interests become concerned. For it is precisely these political sins which revenge themselves so deeply on our sea interests and our fleet. Had the strengthening of the fleet not been refused me during the past eight years of my Government, notwithstanding all appeals and warnings—and not without contumely and abuse for my person—how differently could we not have promoted our growing trade and our interests beyond the sea!"
Perhaps; but perhaps, too, it was as well for the peace of the world that Germany had no great war fleet during those eight years of troubled international relations, and that the gentle and adjusting hand of Providence, not the mailed fist of the Emperor, was guiding the destinies of nations.
Previous to the opening of the reign a German navy can hardly be said to have existed. Yet it should not be forgotten that Germany also has maritime traditions of no small interest, if of no great importance, to the world. The Great Elector, the ancestor of the Emperor who ruled Brandenburg from 1640 to 1688, was fully conscious of the profit his people might acquire by sea commerce, and the little navy of high-sea frigates which he built stood manfully, and often successfully, up to the more powerful navies of Sweden and Spain. This fleet was known, too, far away from Brandenburg, for the records tell how the Pope and the Maltese Knights and Louis XIV willingly admitted it to their harbours.
But there was lacking what until lately has always hemmed German progress—money; and the commercially-minded Dutch, a people themselves with many German characteristics, kept the Germans from the sea. Then came Frederick the Great, who ruled from 1740 to 1786, and those Germans who are fond of claiming Shakespeare for their own will also tell you that the plan drawn up by Frederick for Pitt's seven years' struggle with France—that plan so unfortunately imitated afterwards by the Emperor in his correspondence with Queen Victoria during the Boer War—was the foundation-stone of British naval supremacy! Frederick, too, saw the advantage of possessing a fleet, but he had his hands full with France and Russia, and reluctantly had to decline the offer of the French naval hero, Labourdonnais, to build him a battle-fleet. At this period, and in the Great Elector's time, Emden was the Plymouth of Prussia. When Frederick died, there followed that time of which Germans themselves are ashamed—the hole-and-corner time, the time when the parochial spirit was abroad and no German burgher saw beyond the village church and the village pump; the Biedermeier time (that comic figure of the German Punch), the time of genuine German philistinism, when the people were lapped in an idyllic repose and were content, as many are to-day, with the smallest and simplest pleasures.
This spirit continued until the early quarter of the nineteenth century, when Professor Frederick List roused the attention of his countrymen, and notably that of Bismarck, to the necessity of an independent national existence and a national economic policy. In 1836 a committee recommended naval coast protection, but it was not until 1848, when Denmark blockaded the German coast, that anything was done to provide for it. In that year the National Assembly of delegates from various German Diets, which met at Frankfort, voted for the marine a million sterling to be levied on the German States, but only one-half of the money could be collected. Still, three steam frigates, one large and six small steam corvettes, and two sailing corvettes were got together, but in 1852, owing to the poverty of the States, two of the ships were sold to Prussia for L60,000 and the rest disposed of by auction at less than a fourth of their value. The officers and men were disbanded with a year's pay.
To this humiliating state of things Bismarck refers in his "Gedanken und Erinnerungen." "The German fleet," he writes,
"and Kiel harbour as a foundation for its institution, were from 1848 on one of the most burning thoughts at whose fire German aspirations for unity were accustomed to warm themselves and to concentrate. Meanwhile, however, the hatred of my parliamentary opponents was stronger than the interest for a German fleet, and it seemed to me that the Progressive party at that time preferred to see the newly-acquired rights of Prussia to Kiel, and the prospect of a maritime future founded on its possession, rather in the hands of the auctioneer, Hannibal Fischer, than in those of a Bismarck Ministry."
From this on naval development in Prussia was slow; there was no interest for a marine either among the governing classes or the people; but it was not wholly neglected, for Wilhelmshaven was acquired from the Duchy of Oldenburg, a small fleet was sent to the Orient with a view to obtaining commercial treaties and concessions, and a sum of L320,000 was devoted annually to naval requirements. During the Danish War of 1864 a fleet of three screw corvettes, two paddle steamers, and a few gunboats was considered sufficient to protect the coasts and make a blockade impossible.
From 1885 onwards there had been several Navy Proposals, but it was in that of 1889, a year after the Emperor's accession, that the beginning of Germany's naval policy is to be found. In that Proposal it was announced that the Government intended to depart from the previous principles of naval policy which had "become antiquated owing to the progress of science and the character of future naval warfare, as also owing to the extension of Germany's oversea relations." Up to this time German maritime needs had invariably been postponed to military requirements. The necessity for a fleet was indeed recognized, but only for purposes of coast defence and the prevention of a blockade of the ports on the North Sea and Baltic. To this end no large fleet was considered needful, particularly as the war with France had demonstrated the futility of coast attack. During that war two small fleets were sent from Cherbourg to blockade the North Sea and Baltic coasts, but the admirals in charge found the task "impossible" and returned to France after a few single engagements with divided honours had occurred. At that time the German people felt entirely secure on the score of invasion. The numerous espionage incidents of more recent times prove that this feeling of security has entirely passed away, and all countries are now armed as though they were to be invaded to-morrow.
Emperor William I did something, though not much, for the German navy. Moltke was interested in it and proposed an armoured cruiser fleet, but he was thinking chiefly of coast defence. Roon also took up the matter and laid a Navy Bill before the Diet in 1865, but it was rejected because, in Virchow's words, the Diet thought "the Constitution more important than the development of the army and navy." The war of 1866 showed the necessity of a fleet, and this time the Diet accepted Roon's proposals. Still, however, the object was coast defence; and when Emperor William I died the navy was relatively of no consideration. In the ten years between 1881 and 1891 only one armoured cruiser, the Oldenburg, was launched. With the accession of the Emperor, however, began a new, and for the Emperor and the Empire—why not candidly admit it?—a glorious chapter in German naval history.
An incident during the reign which really touched German national pride, and was one of the reasons which caused the Emperor to accelerate the building of a powerful fleet, was the eviction, if the term is not too strong, of the German admiral, Diedrich, by the Americans from the harbour of Manila in the course of the Spanish-American War. Admiral Dewey was in command of a blockading fleet at Manila. The ships of various nationalities, and among them some German warships, were in the harbour. Various causes of irritation arose between the Germans and Americans. There was talk of Spain's being desirous of selling the Philippines to Germany, and the impression got abroad in America that the Germans were inclined to behave as if they were already the new masters of the islands. The German warships kept going in and out of the harbour of Millesares, a village close to Manila, in connexion with the exchange of time-expired men, using search-lights, the American admiral thought, in an unnecessary way, and doing other acts which he considered might give information to blockade-running vessels.
In accordance with custom, the Germans, had at first supplied themselves with permits from the American admiral for crossing the blockade lines, but as time went on the German ships began to cross the line without them. Admiral Dewey thereupon issued an order that permits must be obtained. The German admiral sent his flag-lieutenant to Admiral Dewey to protest, on the ground that warships are exempt from blockade regulations. The American admiral's reply was to bring his fist down on his cabin table and say,
"Tell Admiral Diedrich, with my compliments, that he must obtain permits, and that if a German ship breaks the blockade lines without one it spells war, for I shall fire on the first vessel that attempts it."
The flag officer went back with the message, and Admiral Diedrich took his ships, which were greatly inferior in number to those of the Americans, out of the harbour.
The German navy, in contrast to the army, is a purely imperial institution—an institution, according to the Constitution, "entirely under the chief command of the Kaiser," consequently in no respect administered or controlled by the federated kingdoms and states. One speaks of the "royal" army, but of the "imperial" navy. The Emperor is officially described as the navy's "Chef," superintends its organization and disposition, with his brother Prince Henry as Inspector-General, and appoints its officials and officers. He exercises his functions through the Marine Cabinet, a creation of his own, which serves as a connecting link between the Emperor and the Admiralty.
The legislative stages of the growth of the German navy have so far been five in number. The first Navy Law passed the Reichstag on third reading, on March 28, 1898, 212 members voting for it and 139 against, in a Parliament of 397 members. It provided for the building of a fleet of seventeen battleships within a certain time, and fixed the age of the ships at twenty-five years. The new ships were divided into ships-of-the-line (a new designation), large armoured cruisers, and small armoured cruisers. This fleet, however, was not large enough to have any influence on sea politics or seaborne trade, and the occurrences of the Spanish-American War, just now begun and finished, determined the Emperor to make further proposals. A great agitation for the navy was started throughout the Empire, and on January 25, 1900, Admiral Tirpitz laid the second Navy Bill (a "Novelle," as it is called) before the Reichstag.
The new measure demanded a doubling of the fleet. The first fleet was intended chiefly with a view to coast defence, while the new fleet was to assure "the economic development of Germany, especially of its world-commerce." If the first Navy Bill had excited surprise and uneasiness in England, the sensations roused by the second may be imagined, not altogether because of the increase of German naval power, but of the power that would result when the new German navy was combined with the navies of Germany's allies of the Triplice. The third Navy Bill was a consequence of the Russo-Japanese War and of the lesson taught by the sea-fight of Tsuschima. It was laid before the Reichstag on November 28, 1905, for "a stronger representation of the Empire abroad." Its main object was to increase by almost one-half the size of the battleships, thus following the lead of England, which had decided on the new and famous "Dreadnought" class of vessel, remarkable for its five revolving armoured turrets (instead of two previously) and the number of its heavy guns. Hitherto English warships had had an average tonnage of about 14,000 tons: the tonnage of the original "Dreadnought" was 18,300 tons. Notwithstanding the enormous nature of the financial demand (L47,600,000 within eleven years) the Reichstag passed the Bill on May 19, 1905. A torpedo fleet of 144 boats, in 24 divisions, was additionally provided for in this Bill.
The fourth Navy Bill was brought in in 1908, with the diminution of the age of the German battleship from twenty-five to twenty years as its principal aim. As a result the number of new ships to be built by 1912 was raised from six to twelve. The fifth and last Navy Bill was passed last year, 1912, creating a third active squadron as reserve, made up of existing vessels and three new battleships. The German navy now consists of 41 battleships of the line, 12 large armoured cruisers, and 30 small armoured cruisers, the cruisers being for purposes of reconnaissance; the foreign-service fleet of 8 large and 10 small armoured cruisers; and an active reserve fleet of 16 battleships, 4 large and 12 small armoured cruisers.
Like sailors everywhere, the German sailor is a frank and hearty type of his race, and welcome wherever he goes. The German naval officer is usually of middle-class extraction, while a slightly larger proportion of the officers of the army is taken from the noblesse. He is a fine, frank, and manly fellow as a rule, and, like the Emperor, perfectly willing to admit that his navy is closely modelled on that of Great Britain. Moreover, in addition to a thorough knowledge of his profession, he is able, in two cases out of three, to converse with useful fluency in English, French, and in some cases Italian as well.
The navy, like the army, is recruited by conscription, but active service is for three years, as in the German cavalry and artillery, while only two years in the German infantry. Naturally young men of an adventurous turn of mind frequently elect for the navy, as they hope thereby to see something of the world. At the end of their third year of service they may go back to civil life as reservists or may "capitulate," that is, continue in active service for another year, and renew their "capitulation" thenceforward from year to year. The ordinary sailor receives (since 1912) the equivalent of 14s. 6d. in cash monthly and 9s. for clothing, but when at sea additional pay of 6s. a month. The result of the system of conscription is that about 40 per cent. of the fleet's crews consist of what may be called seasoned sailors, the remainder being three-year conscripts. The officer class is recruited from young men who have passed a certain school standard examination and enter the navy as cadets. The one-year-volunteer system (Einjaehriger Dienst) only partially obtains in the navy, for purposes, namely, of coast defence and other services on land. After two years the cadet becomes a midshipman, and with five or six other middies serves for a year or so on board ship, when he becomes a sub-lieutenant and is promoted by seniority to full lieutenant, captain-lieutenant (the English naval lieutenant with eight years' service), corvette-captain (the English naval commander, with three stripes), frigate-captain (corresponding in rank to a lieutenant-colonel in the English army), and finally captain-at-sea (with four stripes), when he may get command of a battleship. To reach this great object of the German naval officer's ambition takes on an average twenty-four years, or about the same period as in the British navy.
The upper ranks, in ascending order, are contre-admiral (the English rear-admiral), vice-admiral, admiral, grand-admiral (English Admiral of the Fleet). There are only four grand-admirals in Germany, namely, the Emperor (as "Chef" of the navy), his brother Prince Henry (as inspector-general), retired Admiral von Koester (president of the Navy League), and Admiral von Tirpitz (Secretary of Admiralty and the only "active" grand-admiral). King George V of England is an admiral of the German navy, as the Emperor is an admiral of the British navy.
Salutes are a matter of international agreement. They are: 33 guns (simultaneously from all ships) for the Emperor and foreign monarchs, 21 for the Crown Prince of Germany or of a foreign country, 19 for a grand-admiral or an ambassador, 17 for an admiral, the Secretary of Admiralty or inspector-general, 15 for a vice-admiral, 13 for contre-admiral, and so descending. 101 guns are fired on the Emperor's birthday or on the birth of an imperial prince. 66 guns is the salute when a German monarch ascends the imperial throne, and 101 when a German Emperor dies.
The yearly salaries of German naval officers are as follows: Admiral, L1,294 (of which L699 is "pay"), vice-admiral, L897 (L677 "pay"), contre-admiral, L772 (L677 "pay"), captain-at-sea, L520 (L438 "pay"), corvette-captain, L396 (L280 "pay"), full lieutenant, L174 (L120 "pay"), and so on downwards. Jews are not allowed to become officers of the navy, thus following the practice in the army. There is no law to prevent Jews becoming officers in either army or navy, but, as a matter of tradition or prejudice, no regimental or naval commander is willing to accept an Israelite among his officers.
It is time, however, to return to the personal doings of the Emperor. He is responsible for Germany's foreign policy, and his duties in connexion with it and with the navy must often have suggested to him the desirability of seeing with his own eyes something of the Orient, the new battlefield of the world's diplomacy, and possibly a new Eldorado for European merchants and engineers. His journey to the East, now undertaken, was, however, chiefly a religious one, though it had also something of a chivalric character, since much of every German's imagination is concerned with the Crusades, the Order of Knight Templars, and similar historical or legendary incidents and personalities in the early stages of the struggle between the Christian and the Saracen. The birthplace of Christ has special interest for a Hohenzollern who holds his kingship by divine grace, and in the Emperor's case because his father had made the journey to Jerusalem thirty years before. The Emperor, lastly, cannot but have been glad to escape, if only for a time, such harassing concerns as party politics, scribbling journalists, long-winded ministerial harangues, and Social Democrats.
The journey of the Emperor and Empress to Palestine occupied about a month from the middle of October, 1898, to the middle of the following November, and while it was one of the most delightful and picturesque experiences of the Emperor, it entailed some unforeseen and not altogether agreeable consequences. It was very much criticized in Germany as an exhibition of a theatrical kind, of the "decorative in policy," as Bismarck used to say, who saw no utility in decoration, and evidently did not agree with Shakspeare that the "world is still deceived by ornament." It was objected that the Emperor should have stayed at home to look after imperial business, that such a journey must excite suspicion in England and France—in the former because England is an Oriental power, and in the latter because France is supposed to claim special protective rights over Christianity in the East.
The Englishman who reads what German writers say about the journey gets the impression that the criticism was an expression of jealousy—jealousy, as we know from Bismarck and Prince Buelow, being a national German failing. Every German ardently desires to see Italy and the Orient, but until of late years few Germans had the means of gratifying the wish. In one point, however, the critics were right. The Emperor, when in Damascus, after saying that he felt "deeply moved at standing on the spot where one of the most knightly sovereigns of all times, the great Sultan Saladin, stood," went on to say that Sultan Abdul "and the three hundred million Mohammedans who, scattered over the earth, venerated him as their Caliph, might be assured that at all times the German Emperor would be their friend." It was a harmless and vague remark enough, one would think, but political writers in all countries have made great capital out of it ever since whenever Germany's Oriental policy is discussed. At the risk of repetition it may be said that that policy is, in the East as elsewhere, a purely economic one. The Emperor's mistake perhaps chiefly lay in raising hopes in Turkish minds which were very unlikely to be realized.
The Emperor's allusion to Saladin as the most knightly sovereign of all times was a bad blunder. He was doubtless carried away by a combination, in his probably at this time somewhat excited imagination, of the chivalrous figures of the crusading times with thoughts of the German Knight Templars and other soldierly characters. Saladin was a brave man physically, and fond of imperial magnificence, as is only natural and necessary for an Oriental potentate to be; and a good deal of Eastern legend grew up about him on that account. Legend was enough for the Emperor in his then romantic mood. He forgot, or did not know, that Saladin, from the point of view of a modern and in reality far more knightly age, was a sanguinary and fanatic ruffian, who showed no mercy to his Christian prisoners—killed, in fact, one of them, Rainald de Chatillon, with his own hand, sacked Jerusalem, turned the Temple of Solomon into a mosque, after having it "disinfected" with rose-water, and killed Pope Urban III, who died, the chronicles tell, of sorrow at the news.
The journey was, as has been said, a delightful and picturesque experience for the Emperor and the Empress. They passed through Venice with its marble palaces, sailed over the sapphire waters of the Adriatic, and were received with great demonstrations of welcome by the Sultan in Constantinople. When they were leaving, the Sultan gave the Emperor a gigantic carpet, and the Emperor gave the Sultan a gold walking-stick, an exact imitation of the stick Frederick the Great used to lean on, and sometimes, very likely, apply to the backs of his trusty but stupid lieges.
Before disposing of the events of this period of the Emperor's life mention may be made of two or three occurrences which must have been a source of political interest or social entertainment to him. From among them we select the Dreyfus case and the historic scene arranged for the painter, Adolf Menzel, in Sans Souci.
The Dreyfus case, though its investigation brought to light no fact implicating the German authorities, naturally aroused interest throughout Germany. The interest was felt equally in the army, notwithstanding that it contains no Jewish officer, and among the civil population. In France, it will be remembered, the case acquired its importance from the charge, made by the anti-Semite Drumont and his journal La Libre Parole, that the Jews were exploiting the Government and the country. There is an anti-Semite party in Germany, founded by the Court preacher Stoecker in 1878, but possibly owing to the prudence and good citizenship of the Jews in Germany, it has gained little weight or momentum since.
The "affaire," as it was universally known, was only once referred to in the German Parliament, in January, 1898, when Chancellor von Buelow declared "in the most positive way possible" that there had "never been any traffic or relations of any kind whatsoever between Dreyfus and any German authority," adding that the alleged finding of an official German communication in the wastepaper basket of the German Embassy in Paris was a fiction. The Chancellor concluded by saying that the case had in no respect ever troubled relations between Germany and France.
The incident most often cited as evidence of the Emperor's love of recalling the days of his great ancestor, Frederick the Great, is the concert he arranged at Sans Souci on June 13, 1895, to gratify, we may be sure, as well as surprise, the famous painter. The incident and its origin are described in a work already mentioned, the "Private Lives of William II and His Consort," by a lady of the Court. The account given below is illustrative of the unfriendly sentiments which are evident throughout the work, but the lady is probably fairly accurate as regards the incident, and in any case her gossip will give the reader some notion, though by no means an entirely faithful one, of the Court atmosphere at the time. Talk at the palace during afternoon tea having turned on the fact that Adolf Menzel, the painter, would shortly celebrate his eightieth birthday, some one remarked on the refusal by the Court marshal in the previous reign to allow him to see the scene of his celebrated "Flute Concert at Sans Souci," which he was then composing, lighted up. The conversation, according to the lady writer, continued thus:—
"'Maybe he was frightened at the prospect of furnishing a couple of dozen wax candles,' sneered the Duke of Schleswig.
"'More likely he knew nothing of Menzel's growing reputation,' suggested Begas, the sculptor.
"The Emperor overheard the last words. 'Are you prepared to say that my grand-uncle's chief marshal failed to recognize the genius of the foremost Hohenzollern painter?' he asked sharply.
"'I would not like to libel a dead man,' answered Begas, 'but appearances are certainly against the Count. I have it from Menzel's own lips that the Court marshal refused him all and every assistance when he was painting the scenes of life in Sans Souci. The rooms of the chateau were accessible to him only to the same extent as to any other paying visitor or the hordes of foreign tourists, and he had to make his sketches piece-meal, gathering corroborative and additional material in museums and picture-galleries.'
"Quick as a flash the Kaiser turned to Count Eulenburg. 'I shall repay the debt Prussia owes to Menzel,' he spoke, not without declamatory effect. 'We will have the representation of the Sans Souci flute concert three days hence. Your programme is to be ready tomorrow morning at ten. Menzel, mind you, must know nothing of this: merely command him to attend us at the Schloss at supper and for a musical evening.' And, turning round, he said to her Majesty: 'You will impersonate Princess Amalia, and you, Kessel' (Adjutant von Kessel, then Commander of the First Life Guards), 'engage all your tallest and best-looking officers to enact the great King's military household.'
"Again the Kaiser addressed Count Eulenberg: 'Be sure to have the best artists of the Royal Orchestra perform Frederick the Great's compositions, and let Joachim be engaged for the occasion.' Saying this, he took her Majesty's arm, and bidding his guests and the Court a hasty good-night, strode out of the apartment."
A description of the Empress's costume for the concert follows.
"Her Majesty's dress consisted of a petticoat of sea-green satin, richly ornamented with silver lace of antique pattern and an overdress of dark velvet, embroidered with gold and set with precious stones. On her powdered hair, amplified by one of Herr Adeljana, the Viennese coiffeur's, most successful creations, sat a jaunty three-cornered hat having a blazing aigrette of large diamonds in front, the identical cluster of white stones which figured at the great Napoleon's coronation, and which he lost, together with his entire equipage, in the battle of Waterloo. In her ears her Majesty wore pearl ornaments representing a small bunch of cherries. Like the aigrette, they are Crown property, and that Auguste Victoria thought well enough of the jewels to rescue them from oblivion for this occasion was certainly most appropriate."
The Emperor's costume is also described.
"He wore the cuirassier uniform of the great Frederick's period, a highly ornamented dress that suited the War Lord, who was painted and powdered to perfection, extremely well, especially as Wellington boots, a very becoming wig and his strange head-gear really and seemingly added to his figure, while his usually stern face beamed pleasantly under the powder and rouge laid on by expert hands."
The arrival of Menzel is then narrated and the reception by the Emperor, who took the part of an adjutant of Frederick the Great's, and in that character "bombarded the helpless master," as the chronicler says,
"with forty stanzas of alleged verse, in which the deeds of Prussia's kings and the masterpieces that commemorate them were extolled with a prosiness that sounded like an afterclap of William's Reichstag and monument orations."
A real concert followed, and supper was taken in the Marble Hall adjoining. The authoress concludes as follows:—
"I was contemplating these reminiscences (the pictures of La Barberini) in silent reverie when the door opened and the Kaiser came in with little Menzel.
"'I have a mind to engage Angeli to paint her Majesty's picture in the costume of Princess Amalia,' said the Emperor 'What do you think of it?'
"'Angeli is painter to many emperors and kings,' replied the Professor, and I saw him smile diplomatically as he moved his spectacles to get a better view of the allegorical canvas on the left wall that exhibits the nude figure of the famous mistress in its entirety.
"'I am glad you agree with me on that point,' said the Emperor, impatient to execute the idea that had crossed his mind. 'I will telegraph to him to-night.'
"And when, five minutes later, Menzel bent over my hand to take formal leave, I heard him murmur in his dry, absent-minded manner—'Pesne ... Angeli ... Frederick the Great ... William II!"
We have spoken of the Court atmosphere of this time. The following extracts from the Memoirs of ex-Chancellor Prince Hohenlohe will assist the reader, perhaps even better than a connected account, to enter, in imagination at all events, into it. The conversations cited between the Emperor and the Prince turn on all sorts of topics—the pass question in Alsace (where Hohenlohe was then Statthalter), the possibility of war with Russia, pheasant shooting, projected monuments, the breach with Bismarck, the Triple Alliance, and a hundred more of the most different kinds. Once talking domestic politics, the Emperor said:
"It will end by the Social Democrats getting the upper hand. Then they will plunder the people. Not that I care. I will have the palace loop-holed and look on at the plundering. The burghers will soon call on me for help;"
and on another occasion, in 1889, Hohenlohe tells of a dinner at the palace, and how after dinner, when the Empress and her ladies had gone into another salon, the Emperor, Hohenlohe, and Dr. Hinzpeter (the Emperor's old tutor) conversed together for an hour, all standing. "The first subject touched on," relates the Prince, was the gymnasia (high schools), the Emperor holding that they made too exacting claims on the scholars, while Hohenlohe and Hinzpeter pointed out that otherwise the run on the schools would be too great and cause danger of a "learned proletariat." Prince Hohenlohe concludes:
"In the whole conversation, which never once came to a standstill, I was pleased by the fresh, lively manner of the Emperor, and was in all ways reminded of his grandfather, Prince Albert."
Next year the Prince was present at an official dinner in the Berlin palace. He writes:—
"BERLIN, 22 March, 1890.
"At seven, dinner in the White Salon (at the palace). I sat opposite the Empress and between Moltke and Kameke. The former was very communicative, but was greatly interfered with by the continuous music, and was very angry at it. Two bands were placed facing each other, and when one ceased the other began to play its trumpets. It was hardly endurable. The Emperor made a speech in honour of the Queen of England and the Prince of Wales (afterwards King Edward, present on the occasion of the investiture of his son Prince George, now King George V, with the Order of the Black Eagle), and mentioned his nomination as English admiral (whose uniform he was wearing) and the comradeship-in-arms at the battle of Waterloo; he also hoped that the English fleet and the German army would together maintain peace. Moltke then said to me: 'Goethe says, "a political song, a discordant song."'
"He also said he hoped the speech wouldn't get into the papers."
(It did, however.)
The next extract describes a conversation Prince Hohenlohe had with the Emperor at Potsdam the following year. It gives an idea of the ordinary nature of conversations between the Emperor and his high officials on such occasions.
"BERLIN, 13 December, 1891.
"Yesterday forenoon was invited to the New Palace at Potsdam. Besides myself were the Prince and Princess von Wied, with the Mistress of the Robes and the Court marshal. Emperor and Empress very amiable. The Emperor spoke of his hunting in Alsace, and supposed it would be some years before the game there would be abundant. Then he expressed his satisfaction at my acquisition of Gensburg, and when I told him there was not much room in the castle he said, no matter, he could nevertheless pass a few days there with a couple of gentlemen very pleasantly. Passing to politics, he gave vent to his displeasure at the attitude of the Conservative party, who were hindering the formation of a Conservative-monarchical combination against the Progressives and Social Democrats. This was all the more regrettable as the Progressives, if now and then they opposed the Social Democrats, still at bottom were with them. The Emperor approves of the commercial treaties and seemed to have great confidence in Caprivi generally. As we came to speak of intrigues and gossip, the Emperor hinted that Bismarck was behind them. He added that people were urging him from many quarters to be reconciled with Bismarck, but it was not for him to take the first step. He seemed well informed about the situation in Russia and considered it very dangerous. When I asked the Emperor how he stood now with the Czar, he replied 'Badly. He went through here without paying me a visit, and I only write him ceremonious letters. The Queen of Denmark prevented him coming to Berlin, for fear he should go to Potsdam. She has gone now with him to Livadia on the pretext of the silver wedding, but in reality to keep him away from Berlin.'"
Writing of a lunch at Potsdam, under date Berlin, November 10, 1892, the Prince notes:—
"The Emperor came late and looked tired, but was in good spirits. We went immediately to table. Afterwards the conversation turned on Bismarck. 'When one compares what Bismarck does with that for which poor Arnim had to suffer!' He would do nothing, he said, against Bismarck, but the consequences of the whole thing were very serious. Waldersee and Bismarck couldn't abide one another. They had, however, become allies out of common hatred of Caprivi, whose fall Bismarck desired. What might happen afterwards neither cared."
The following was penned after the old Chancellor's visit of reconciliation:—
"BERLIN, 27 January, 1894.
"To-night gala performance at the opera. Between the acts I talked first with different monarchs, the King of Wuerttemberg, the King of Saxony, the Grand Duke of Oldenburg, and so on. Then I was sent for by the Empress, of whom I took leave. The Emperor came shortly afterwards. We spoke of Bismarck's visit the day before and the good consequences for the Emperor it would have. 'Yes,' said the Emperor, 'now they can put up triumphal arches for him in Vienna and Munich, I am all the time a length ahead. If the press continues its abuse it only puts itself and Bismarck in the wrong.' I mentioned that red-hot partisans of Bismarck were greatly dissatisfied with the visit, and said the Emperor should have gone to Friedrichsruh (Bismarck's estate near Hamburg). 'I am well aware of it,' said the Emperor,'but for that they would have had a long time to wait. He had to come here.' On the whole the Emperor spoke very sensibly and decisively, and I did not at all get the impression that he now wants to change everything."
Prince Hohenlohe was summoned to Potsdam in October, 1894, by a telegram from the Emperor. All the telegram said was that "important interests of the Empire" were concerned. Hohenlohe was only aware of the dismissal of Caprivi from a newspaper he read in Frankfort on his way to Potsdam. The Emperor met him at the station (Wildpark) and conveyed him to the New Palace, where the Prince agreed to accept the Chancellorship "at the Emperor's earnest request." Princess Hohenlohe was decidedly against her husband, who was now seventy-five, accepting the post, and even ventured to telegraph to the Empress to prevent it.
The Prince has a note on his intercourse with his imperial master. He is writing to his son, Prince Alexander:—
"BERLIN, 17 October, 1896.
"It is a curious thing—my relations to his Majesty. I come now and then to the conclusion, owing to his small inconsideratenesses, that he intentionally avoids me and that things can't continue so. Then again I talk with him and see that I am mistaken. Yesterday I had occasion to report to him, and he poured out his heart to me and took occasion in the friendliest way to ask my advice. And thus my distrust is dissipated."
Hunting with the Emperor:—
"15 December, 1896.
"Yesterday I obeyed the royal invitation to hunt at Springe. I had to leave Berlin as early as 7 a.m. to catch the royal train at Potsdam. From Springe railway station we passed immediately into the hunting district. Only sows were shot. I brought down six. Then we drove to the Schloss, rested for a few hours and then dined. The Emperor was in very good humour and talked incessantly; in addition the Uhlan band and the usually noisy conversation."
When presenting his resignation to the Emperor at Hamburg in October, 1900, the Prince, who had evidently been for some time aware that his term of office was drawing to a close, describes his conversation with the Emperor:—
"At noon, as I came to the Emperor, he received me in a very friendly way. We first settled about summoning the Reichstag, and then his Majesty said, 'I have received a very distressing letter'—an allusion to the Chancellor's official letter of resignation, which he had placed in the Emperor's hands through Tschirschky, Foreign Minister. 'As I then,' continued Hohenlohe, 'explained the necessity of my resignation on the ground of my health and age the Emperor, apparently quite satisfied, agreed, so that I could see he had already expected my request and consequently that it was high time I should make it. We talked further over the question of my successor, and I was agreeably surprised when he forthwith mentioned Buelow, who certainly at the moment is the best man available. His Majesty then said he would telegraph to Lucanus (Chief of the Civil Cabinet) to bring Buelow to Homburg so that we might consult about details. I breakfasted with their Majesties and went calmly home.'"
Writing to his daughter next day Prince Hohenlohe, in words that do equal credit to himself and the imperial family, says:
"It is always a pleasure to me when on such occasions I can convince myself of the Christian disposition of the imperial family. In our for the most part unbelieving age this family seems to me like an oasis in the desert."
Prince Hohenlohe was succeeded as Chancellor by Prince von Buelow, who had held the office of Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for the preceding two years, and practically conducted the Emperor's foreign policy during that time. He had served as Secretary of Embassy in St. Petersburg, Vienna, and Athens, was a Secretary to the Congress of Berlin, fought in the war with France and after seven years as Minister in Bucharest spent four years as Ambassador in Rome. Here he married a divorced Italian lady, the Countess Minghetti. After acting as deputy Foreign Secretary for the late Baron Marschall von Bieberstein, he was appointed permanent Foreign Secretary, and on October 17, 1900, was called by the Emperor to the most responsible post in the Empire next to his own, that of Imperial Chancellor. The Emperor's choice was fully justified, for the new Chancellor proved himself to be the most brilliant diplomatist and parliamentarian since Bismarck.
THE NEW CENTURY
German writers, commenting on the turn of the century, claim to discover a change in the Emperor's character about this period. He has lost much of his imaginative, his Lohengrin, vein, and has become more practical, more prosaic and matter-of-fact. To use the German word, he is now a Realpolitiker, one who deals in things, not words or theories, and drawing his gaze from the stars makes them dwell more attentively on the immediate practical considerations of the world about him. His nature has not changed, of course, nor his manner, but he has begun to see that he must employ means and ways different from those he employed previously. He has not become a Bismarck, for he still pursues his aims more in the spirit of the colonel of a regiment leading his men to the attack with banners flying, drums beating, swords rattling in their scabbards and mailed gauntlets held threateningly aloft, than in that of the cool and calculating politician ruminating in his closet on the tactics of his opponents, and deliberating how best to meet and confound them; but he gives more thought to what is going on about him, to party politics, to the economic necessities of the hour, and to modern science and its inventions.
What strikes the Englishman perhaps as much as anything in the Emperor's character at this time is the Cromwellian trait in it. This is a side of his Protean nature which never seems to have been adequately recognized in England, yet in a singularly baffling character-composition it is one of the fundamental elements. The view of Prussian monarchy, inherited from one Hohenzollern to another for generation after generation, that the race of people to which he belonged (with any other race he could include by conquest in it) has been handed over by Heaven for all eternity to his family, naturally predisposes him to take a religious, a patriarchal, one might say an Hebraic, view of government; but in addition we find the warrior spirit at all times going hand in hand with the religious spirit, almost as strongly as in the case of Mahomet with the Koran in one hand and the sword in the other.