The Emperor William
THE death of this venerable prince, the first Emperor of the new Germany, removes one of the most stately, most impressive, and in some respects most agreeable figures of the present generation. With the possible exception of Lincoln, no man since Napoleon has been prominently associated as a ruler of men with events of such magnitude, with revolutions of such transcendent importance, with transactions which have so completely overthrown the traditions and relations of the past, and given name to a new era in history. On the hasty student the full significance of these events is perhaps sometimes lost. They are still recent ; they were bewildering in their rapidity ; they lack perspective. Wars were fought, and battles were won. The Austrians were crushed at Sadowa. The French were crushed at Sedan. The victor took the spoils, and among these was the crown of Germany, now for the first time placed on the brow of a conquering Hohenzollern, the lucky leader in a movement which a slight change of fortune, at any one of several points in an audacious game, might have ruined. Such is perhaps the popular view of a series of events to which only a deeper acquaintance with the earlier facts of history, with the antecedents of the great German problem, can give their true proportions and meaning. But the person of William himself and the part which he played appeal to the most sluggish imagination. At an age greater by several years than that at which by law American generals are placed on the retired list as unfit for active command, the late King of Prussia led his hosts into Bohemia ; and four years afterwards, still vigorous and undaunted, he conducted campaigns in the country of another enemy, and received the crown of reunited Germany in the palace of the Bourbons. These wars, but more especially the last, made the name, the person, and the services of William familiar to every household in the civilized world. Even those who were ignorant of the merits of the great struggles could not fail to be impressed by the spectacle of the aged king, defying fatigue, defying exposure, defying even his own years, in the accomplishment of what he conceived to be his duty ; and then, after the campaigns were over, returning, not to enjoy a well-earned repose, but only to a different kind of labor, performed with the same patient and scrupulous exactitude. He was felt to be a large man, — large in his sense of duty, large in his aims and ends, large in the associates with whom he surrounded himself, large in the physical proportions, which are natural and not unworthy objects of admiration. It is not too much to say that, among the contemporary princes of Christendom, he was the one who filled the greatest place in the estimation of mankind.
In all the outward, and in many of the inward, qualities which seem to belong to wearers of the purple, William was an ideal monarch. Carlyle says that Frederic the Great was every inch a king. By that he means that Frederic had a royal will, and the power to carry it into effect ; and in that sense he is correct. But the outward dignity and decorum of the royal office the greatest of Prussian kings often and even purposely neglected : he was slovenly in dress, undignified in manner, careless in the choice of companions ; a rationalist on the throne, he despised its pomp, and forms, and ceremonials. But William, while equally jealous of the power of his office, never lost sight of its proprieties. Even if royalty is measured by inches, he stood above his great predecessor. His stalwart, massive form, his stately carriage, his portly demeanor, suggested the heroes of the Niebelungenlied. He could be affable, courteous, condescending, but never undignified, never coarse, flippant, or familiar. He never forgot that much was due to the elevation of his office, and he suffered nobody else to forget it in his presence. In matters of state and ceremony he always sacrificed his personal tastes, which were extremely simple and plain, to the necessity of avoiding any vulgarization of his rank and station, of checking any tendency to believe that the king was a mere clerk of Parliament or the ministers, of enforcing the principle that the chief personage in the state was bound to set an example of decorum and dignity. Undoubtedly, this conscientiousness often descended to the trivial and the puerile. It was the foolish boast of his majesty that he alone knew the uniform of every grade, in every branch of the military service ; that he alone knew how to place every decoration that any German officer was entitled to wear. These were foibles, of course, but they were foibles which, though revealing a rather petty side of the Emperor’s nature, were, nevertheless, characteristic of his minute sense of duty, and of his desire to neglect nothing which seemed necessary to the lesson of thoroughness and discipline. In a larger sense, his appearance on public occasions — at banquets, parades, reviews, at the reception of foreign sovereigns and as the guest of friendly courts — was always noble, stately, and imposing ; such as became his name, rank, and character ; such as relieved the office of king from the contempt of the cynical or the familiarity of the vulgar. This is no small part of government. Mere pomp without power is indeed ludicrous, especially when it is used to conceal weakness, as it often is, or to furnish a vain substitute for force ; and Germany has illustrations of this kind, as well as of the other. The Spanish etiquette of Dresden is notorious. The smaller and poorer the prince in Germany, the greater his love of display, the keener his solicitude about forms, the more sumptuous and elaborate the ceremonies of his court ; and this has increased, relatively at least, since imperial unity has stripped these princes of some of their real power and dignity. But if it be true that the Emperor William, having the substance of power, could afford to dispense with some of its tinselry, and was personally of simple tastes, it is still true only in a sense which it is important to remember. Burke says of Henry IV. of France, that though he made some concessions in detail to his subjects, he was careful not to let them encroach on the general stock of the prerogative. It was so in regard to the late Emperor. He was careful not to relax anything from the essential dignity of his rank, and punctiliously exacted the most solemn state and ceremony on all occasions where their omission would have been noticed. The grandeur of royalty was as clear to him as its usefulness. In this respect, in the massive, stately, splendid form which he gave to that institution, he has no rival since Louis XIV. Thus, as a mere figure or type, he filled a large place in the horizon, and every one is sensible of the vacancy that is left.
It is not for these things, however, that William will live in history, but for the prominent part which he had in a momentous historical drama. The very length of that drama, if Jena and Sedan be taken as the first and the last acts, is impressive, and the late Emperor may be called an actor through the whole of it. In this respect he stands alone. Opinions may differ about the proper assignment of credit to the king on the one hand, and to Bismarck and Moltke on the other, for the final achievement ; but neither the great statesman nor the great soldier had, like their master, walked the stage during the whole course of the play. Bismarck was unborn when Jena was fought and lost. Moltke was not a Prussian by birth, and is a Prussian to-day only by acquired allegiance, as Prince Eugene was an Austrian, or Marshal Saxe a Frenchman. But William was a youth of nine when the old Prussian system went down under the blows of Napoleon ; and though too young to understand the folly which brought on the catastrophe, or its crushing significance, he followed his parents into their cruel exile, learned to feel the afflictions of his country, and entered the army before the hand of the tyrant was lifted.
It is easy to see, therefore, why the war of 1870 had for him an import deeper than any felt by his two chief lieutenants. For Moltke it was scarcely more than a game of chess, — played, indeed, with great bodies of mortal men as pieces, yet played by him, at least, with little feeling beyond the desire to win. Even with Bismarck it was only the means to an end. The end was German unity, and the defeat of France being necessary to that, he felt a profound interest in the victory ; but the retributive side of it appealed to him only as a student of history, who had not personally felt the iron hand of the first Napoleon. It was, however, this side or aspect of the great contest which public opinion made most prominent in the view of the Emperor, and some of his own expressions support such a theory. If his object had been unity alone, it is by no means certain that he would have felt that unity dependent on a previous victory over the French. There were able men, strong men, men trained to habits of political thought, who believed that the South German states could be taken into the larger confederation by a mere treaty in time of peace, and kept in without the cementing principle of a common victory over France ; and there was much in the king’s tone or temper of mind to incline him to such a solution
of the problem. Everybody now sees that Bismarck was right. The victories in France and the overthrow of Napoleon gave Prussia two great elements of strength in the negotiations for imperial unity, and reduced the terms on which otherwise the southern states might have been disposed to insist. The one was the fierce enthusiasm and the thoroughly national spirit aroused by the victories themselves. The other was the prostration of the power which would have aided them to drive a hard bargain with Prussia. But to a man like King William these considerations might have seemed, as they seemed to deeper thinkers than himself, not a little strained, and hardly worth the experiment of a bloody and doubtful war ; while the motive from personal, dynastic, and national revenge was concrete, simple, easy to understand, and easy to obey. For though a humane man, the Emperor was not a forgiving man, but cherished resentments with great tenacity. This was the case even with personal injuries, or what he conceived to be such. It is a part of the secret history of Berlin politics that no career was open, with his consent, to any man who in the conflict period from 1862 to 1866 had made himself personally obnoxious to the palace ; and common rumor specified certain eminent politicians, whom Bismarck himself had long since forgiven, who afterwards joined the government ranks, but who were prevented from taking seats in the cabinet by the absolute veto of the Emperor. If he were thus severe toward personal enemies, it was natural that he should take even greater pleasure in punishing the enemies of his house and country. In France he saw the enemy of both. He saw the government of France in the hands of a ruler whose only hereditary title to distinction was that he bore the name of the oppressor of Prussia, the oppressor who had driven his father into exile, had insulted his mother, and hurried her into an early grave ; and even a prince with a shorter memory than William’s, or a weaker historical sense, or a more forgiving spirit, would have longed for the hour of retribution, and have grasped it eagerly when it came. In this vivid sense, then, of wrongs to be redressed and injuries to be avenged is to be found one secret of the king’s personal interest in the war with France.
The Austrian war of 1866 had a somewhat different color or complexion. It was mainly political, in its origin and in its ends ; and the force of historic vengeance, the impulse of national animosities, hardly entered into it. A longcourse of political rivalry had indeed preceded it, so that it was the outcome of organic causes. It was as inevitable as the struggle between Athens and Sparta for the hegemony in Greece. But though the ultimate product of historical causes, the war when it came was one of the most deliberate, most artificial, and in its moral aspects most causeless that have ever been undertaken. The means for the war were obtained by the government of Prussia through a long and systematic defiance of the national constitution. It involved a breach of the federal compact. Regarded throughout the confederation as a wanton scheme of aggression, it was bitterly opposed by the people of Prussia, alike by those who feared defeat and those who feared victory : defeat, because that would mean the loss of Prussian independence under the imperial supremacy of the Hapsburgs ; victory, because that would mean the loss of Prussian liberty under the dynastic absolutism of the Hohenzollerns. Either result seemed menacing to the cause of constitutional freedom in the several states, and to the cause of German unity and liberal institutions. The people did not look upon Austria as a national enemy ; for the arrogance of her tone, the haughty insolence of her diplomacy, and her jealous intolerance of Prussian equality were rather fitted to exasperate statesmen than to anger, embitter, and arouse the mass of a nation. The alternative, so far as it presented any voluntary choice to the King of Prussia, was thus a trying one. He might live at peace with his own people and with other princes, endure the insults of Austrian policy, tolerate the anarchy of Germany, and expose Prussia to deeper and deeper degradation ; or he might face the issue of power bravely, trample on the laws in order to get ready for war, and, choosing his own time for battle, take the chances of failure and success. Only a man of great determination could choose the latter course, and since Frederic the Great no such man had sat on the throne of Prussia. It was to the credit of the new king that he made his choice with gravity, indeed, but without fear and without hesitation.
This concession may appear inconsistent with what has just been said of the artificial and aggressive character of the war of 1866. But these terms describe only its immediate, outward, and superficial appearance, all that many foreign observers have even yet been able to see, and not the deeper substance which made it seem a virtual necessity to the king. For such, in fact, it was. In that character, as an act performed under the law of political necessity, the attack upon Austria found its justification among the leading Prussian statesmen, was afterwards ratified by the Prussian people, and will be approved by future historians. Even the Austrians themselves have learned to view the matter in this light.
Yet to rest here would leave a way open for misapprehension. There are two kinds of political necessity. One is absolute, the other relative ; one is immediate and peremptory, the other is ultimate and contingent ; one commands, the other exhorts ; one is obeyed perhaps most abjectly by the timid, the other is obeyed most promptly by the bold and strong. Burke has a description of the former. “ It is the first and supreme necessity only,” he says ; “ a necessity that is not chosen but chooses ; a necessity paramount to deliberation, that admits no discussion and demands no evidence, which alone can justify a resort to anarchy,” — or, he might have added, a resort to many other extreme and violent measures in political life. Webster expressed the very sentiment, if indeed he did not have this same passage in his mind, when, in the case of the Caroline, he wrote of a necessity “ instant, overwhelming, having no choice of means and no moment of deliberation.” Such a necessity arises in case of any sudden invasion, a formidable outbreak, or any immediate and unexpected peril, which compels instant and justifies arbitrary measures. Of course no crisis of this kind confronted William I. when he came to the throne. If such a crisis had existed, the policy which he adopted would have found an easier justification ; but the ease of the justification would have been purchased at the price of his reputation for political insight and political courage, — in a word, for statesmanship in the larger sense. The foolish man knows when a murderer has his hands on his throat. The timid will fight when no quarter is offered, and it is impossible to run away.
It follows that the political necessity which William obeyed was of the other kind. It was a necessity which did not overrule judgment, but invited and even needed it ; which did not appeal to the desperation of cowardice, but to the calm reason of courage ; which imposed, not released, responsibility ; which did not choose, but was chosen. The difference may be illustrated by many examples from history. There was a political necessity imposed on the United States to put down the rebellion, and there was a political necessity recognized by them to expel the French from Mexico ; but it is evident that the two duties were not the same in urgency aud peremptoriness. The responsibility of Russia in opposing invasion by Napoleon was different from the responsibility of securing internal and external security by attacking Turkey in 1877. The same distinction may be extended for the benefit of William. Prussia was in no immediate danger, and her existence would not have been threatened if the old system had continued. It would have been possible to accept the existing state of things ; to endure the weakness of Germany, the arrogance of Austria, the relative inferiority of Prussia ; and in a material sense the near future would have been full of ease, indolence, and comfort. But the moral or political degradation would have been always present. Even physical danger, though remote, was not improbable nor invisible ; and the question was whether that danger should be awaited with a blind trust in fortune, or anticipated by a bold, audacious, and therefore hazardous policy. It was inevitable that the rivalry between Austria and Prussia in the German confederation must end in the supremacy of one or the other. The supremacy of Austria would mean the reduction of Prussia to the rank of a power of the second class, and this could be averted only by a successful war. Thus we return to the dilemma already described. Austria would not yield without fighting, — so much was certain. Prussia could escape fighting only by renouncing all claims to leadership or even equality ; and if she decided to fight, there remained the further question whether she would fight at a time chosen by Austria, and only as a desperate struggle for existence, or would choose her own time, and prepare for the struggle in her own way. This was the problem of political necessity as it presented itself to William. He saw the alternative. He felt the responsibility which rested upon him, and he was equal to it. The necessity which he obeyed was chosen, but he obeyed it, and took all the consequences. The result was equally creditable to his foresight and his courage.
It is not alone, however, from the censures of those who condemn the entire policy of Prussia in the first ten years of his reign that William has suffered. Even the friends of that policy have perhaps done injustice to the king by exalting the relative merits of his great minister. In cases of this kind it is difficult to decide. The language of courtiers often gives to princes the credit for measures to winch they have only assented ; while, on the other hand, the panegyrists of statesmen have not infrequently overlooked, or underrated, the part taken by those who stood above the statesmen, and anticipated rather than sanctioned their plans. Between Bismarck and William no dispute over the division of merit could indeed arise. Bismarck was always careful to give the king full credit for all that had been done, and the king, with his theories of divine right and the omniscience of royalty, could only acquiesce in such a method. Nothing, indeed, is more characteristic of the two men, of their relations, and of their theories of government than the attitude which each assumed toward the triumphs of the past. But there was glory enough for both. It is trite to say that without the aid of Bismarck’s unrivaled sagacity, coolness, and resolution the great plan would probably never have been carried through ; whether it would never have been formed without Bismarck, whether in fact it was not formed in the head of William years before he saw him, is a different question. It is related that when William, then Prince of Prussia, met the future chancellor he exclaimed that he had at last found a man to do his work. To know such a man when he found him was wisdom. To have the work planned, and only awaiting the opportunity, at that early date, when he was only heir presumptive to the throne, shows that the brain of the prince had been busy, and that he could form his own ideas.
The period from the fall of Napoleon to the middle of the century was indeed a great school for the formation of political character. Its beginning saw the restoration of the old dynasty in France and the universal triumph of reaction ; it ended with new outbursts of popular impatience, seeking, often wildly, rashly, and blindly, to throw off the shackles of tyranny. The interval was Metternich. Rarely could it be more correct and more suggestive to give the name of a great man to the age in which he figured than to call this period after the subtle, courtly, and splendid high priest of reaction, who for a whole generation made the princes of Germany slavishly repeat after him the articles of his political creed, and enforce the same beliefs upon all who obtained or desired their favor. This was the era of repression. The French Revolution had planted its seeds in Germany ; those seeds had sprouted ; and all through this period the tiny blades and shoots of liberalism were pushing their way to the surface, modestly and unobtrusively searching for air and light in which to grow, but only to be cut down and trodden back in the earth from which they came. No matter in what form the popular aspirations presented themselves, it was Metternich’s maxim that they must be summarily crushed before they attained any dangerous vigor. No freedom of speech, or of the press, or of public meeting ; no parliaments worth the name ; no free thought in the universities or in the pulpits, — such was the command of Metternich, and the servile little governments of Germany obeyed. The Carlsbad decrees, the Congress of Laybach, the suppression of gymnastic societies, the imprisonment of Jahn, and a long series of repressive acts and edicts, of police persecutions and military confiscations, make up the history of the period, over which, as if it were not already dark enough, the stern and gloomy Nicholas of Russia cast the shadow of his example and authority. This was not, however, the end. The German people are patient and docile beyond almost any other in the world, but even the worm will sometimes turn when trodden on. In 1848 and 1849, again inspired by French example, the Germans, with arms in their hands, demanded their enfranchisement ; and all over the Fatherland princes and prineelets trembled in the corners of their palaces, while angry mobs howled and stormed beneath their windows. While Metternich was rubbing his eyes with amazement at this ill-bred insubordination, he himself was swept away by the tempest, and left office, never more to return. The very air itself was full of revolution. The movements were ill organized, however, and, wanting concert, were early put down by the well-trained regular troops. But the old era was never fully restored. One prince after another issued a constitution ; parliaments were summoned ; and the people were admitted to a small share in the management of their own affairs. And then this new system, born of fear and viewed with distrust, was put into operation.
It is important to recall this history, because William of Prussia lived through it, made part of it, and was educated by it. When it was finished, it left men divided as before into two groups, but with a completed experience to justify their respective places. One class said that the revolutionary uprisings were the natural outcome of Motternich’s policy, and that the lesson of events pointed to a further and franker development of the constitutional system, with larger concessions to the rights of the people and greater modifications of the royal prerogative. But the other set drew from the events precisely the opposite conclusion. They borrowed a phrase from Strafford, and insisted that the one defect of the old policy was its inadequate enforcement ; that thoroughness and determination would have awed discontent ; that the rebellious outbreaks should have been put down with merciless severity ; and that altar and throne should be fortified with irresistible bayonets. To this class it was well understood that the Prince of Prussia belonged. He probably had little sympathy with the Metternichean system of decrees, proclamations, and congresses, for he abhorred phrases, and was a man of deeds. He had more faith in soldiers than in diplomatists. But he believed in the old Frederician rules of government, with the principle of divine right added ; and he found little respect for these in the manner in which his brother, the king, had met the crisis of 1848. Undoubtedly, the conduct of Frederic William IV. was open to censure, and to censure from every side. It satisfied neither those who were for sterner measures, nor those who were for larger concessions. It was timid, weak, fitful, and vacillating ; it lowered the prestige of the crown without meeting the wishes of the people ; it made radicals more radical, and reactionists more reactionary ; and, as not the least of its evils, it confirmed the heir presumptive to the throne in his extreme theories of the prerogative. For William the most satisfactory moment in the protracted Berlin crisis was, doubtless, when old Marshal Wrangel led his corps of soldiers into the city, and turned the national assembly out-ofdoors at the point of the bayonet.
A mind originally autocratic was thus intensified by the stern, narrow life of a Prussian soldier, by the democratic volcano rumbling for so many years beneath the crust of German society, by the unctuous beatitude of the Holy Alliance, by the angry outbreaks of 1848, and by the spectacle of his royal brother’s pitiable weakness. As he waited for the day when he should ascend the throne, he seemed the finest living representative of the old theories of absolute government. A strong man himself, he liked strength in all who held places of command ; and kings, as holders of the most exalted places of command, ought especially to be worthy of their office. But he would not have admitted that fitness itself was a title to royalty, whether the fit man seized the throne as a usurper, or was called to it by a people. Such a view might suit a pagan, or a rationalist, or a Cæsar, but not the descendant of so many generations of Hohenzollerns. The power to rule might come from men, but the authority could only come from above. Among all modern princes, he probably held in the purest form, more literally and absolutely, and with the simplest sincerity, the doctrine of the divine right of kings. This in the nineteenth century, and in a man with so many strong qualities of mind, — the influence of priests and confessors, of a mystical nature, or of a morbid religious spirit being out of the question, — is a bewildering paradox. If the matter were taken seriously, doubtless much edifying speculation might be produced. But this would only lead, though from the opposite direction, into the Emperor’s own error, and pass by unperceived a principal explanation of the paradox. Negatively, at least, his quaint and solemn adherence to a grotesque superstition was largely due to his deficient sense of humor. This appears in many ways. It runs through his whole conduct of life, and often gives a tinge of the comical to the most excellent virtues and dispositions ; but it is specially conspicuous in the intense gravity with which he applied himself to affairs, or the frequent disproportion between the gravity and the subject. Not even Mr. Gladstone is so averse to trifling, or so unconscious of the humor of excessive earnestness. He used to go out to his hunting-seats, and shoot hares, pheasants, and other game by the hundreds as the beaters drove them by, and then have the record of his execution carefully made out, without the slightest apparent suspicion that it was all rather childish and silly. No sense of the humorous side of his military devotion ever seems to have crossed his mind. The profession of arms is of course a useful one, and, like all others, should be pursued faithfully and earnestly. Great armies may be necessary to the safety of a state. But with William the army was an end in itself ; and he was accustomed to parade his fine regiments before visiting sovereigns with as much solemn pride as if he were a Michael Angelo showing The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, or some benefactor of the race explaining a new device for alleviating human misery ; as if it were a noble achievement, independently of other objects, to construct big, showy marching machines out of masses of men torn as it were from the ranks of honest industry to make a German holiday. Other princes held reviews, it is true, but hardly without sometimes reflecting that there was one side of it all just a little incongruous and absurd. Everybody remembers the pious bulletins which the Emperor used to send home to the Empress during the French war, — the fervor with which he used to thank God after each new day of slaughter. The French saw the humor at once, in spite of its cruel meaning for them, and parodied the bulletins. One of these parodies, in verse, and supposed to be addressed by the Emperor to Augusta, may be translated roughly by this couplet : —
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow !”
Bismarck would have laughed heartily over this. But it may be doubted if William, had it been shown to him, would have seen the point of the fun, or felt the edge of the satire ; indeed, a man who could appreciate the parody would hardly have sent the original dispatches.
These illustrations will perhaps suffice to explain one feature or one defect of the Emperor’s mind which made it possible for him to accept the doctrine of divine right. The folly of an error is fatal to its success with persons who have a sense of the ridiculous. But William grew up with a belief in divine right, and without the sense of humor which in maturer years might have shown him the absurdity of the doctrine ; so that, for all the world knows, he died in the firm conviction that Providence ordained the Hohenzollerns to rule, and all other Prussians to obey. This theory of the origin of royal authority naturally suggested a sympathetic theory of its extent. What God granted only God could limit ; and as it could not be discovered that any limitations had been made by divine power, it followed that it must be illimitable. This is of course the old Stuart theory of the prerogative. It is strange enough to find the preposterous metaphysics of the most pedantic of English kings gravely adopted more than two centuries afterwards by a busy, active, practical man of affairs, but there is plenty of evidence in William’s own words that this is not an exaggerated statement of his views. And these views had, unfortunately, a direct bearing on the actual course of Prussian politics. In Prussia there had been since the year 1850 a written constitution. That constitution limited the powers of the crown, if only by definition ; and in a legal sense the royal authority was derived from, or at least founded on, the irrevocable instrument which described it. In this sense the charter was in plain conflict with the doctrine of divine right, and presented a serious difficulty to William on his accession. It is to his credit for courage and honesty that he met it boldly, without sophistry or evasion. It was possi-
ble for him to explain that while he did not admit any right on the part of the nation to limit the prerogative, he recognized the right of his brother while king freely to introduce limitations, and his own duty, as his brother’s heir, to accept with the inheritance its burdens and conditions. It is possible to find in his public utterances some traces of such a mental compromise. But these are not conclusive, and the evidence of his conduct is strongly in favor of the theory that he looked on the charter as little more than a set of practical rules, which ought to be observed in normal circumstances, and might be disregarded in serious crises. From this first proposition it was an easy step to the further one, that a serious crisis was present whenever the constitution interfered with a scheme which he considered essential to the state. This too might have been drawn from the creed of the Stuarts, and William applied it with a rather fine logical discrimination. There was, for example, a marked difference between his policy during the period of his regency and his policy after his accession as king. While he acted as substitute for and in the name of his incapacitated brother, he was faithful to both the letter and the spirit of the constitution, introduced a liberal ministry, and rejoiced the hearts of the people. He reasoned, apparently, that as Frederic William IV. had voluntarily invited the nation to share the power of government, it was his own duty, while representing his brother, to give the most complete expression to generosity. But when he became king his conduct changed. At his coronation he announced the principle of divine right in terms which warned the people of impending dangers. Then followed Bismarck, and four years of open, deliberate violation of the charter. The charter stood in the king’s way, and he brushed it aside. If during the later years of his life he lived at peace with his parliaments, and kept within the constitution, it is a sufficient explanation to say that his parliaments no longer opposed his plans ; and that as he had been supported and encouraged by Bismarck during the conflict period, so now, after the victory was won, he accepted the advice of the same great minister, who knew better than himself the temper of the age, and the point at which illegality became unwise even in Prussia. But his principles he refused to abandon. He sternly insisted, on every occasion, that the ministers of the crown were the choice of the crown, and could not be turned out of office by adverse votes of the Diet. He refused to go to the hall of the deputies, either in person or by proxy, to open the annual sessions. The Diet must come to him to hear the programme of his government ; and in the great hall of the old castle the speech from the throne was always read.
In regard to the measures of recent years, it is, of course, impossible to say how much was the Emperor’s and how much the chancellor’s. His majesty certainly relaxed none of his belief, as he grew old, that he was truly the fons et origo of everything good in Prussian or German policy ; and the more he became incapacitated by years and infirmity for directing affairs, the more careful his ministers and attendants were to magnify his part. In the course of twenty-five years many disagreements must have arisen between Bismarck and himself. How many there were, and how they were all composed, cannot even be conjectured ; but two lines of policy which the chancellor succeeded in adopting are known to have caused grave misgivings to the Emperor. In foreign politics, the gradual alienation from Russia was not at all agreeable to William’s views. He was strongly attached, by training and inclination, to the Russian alliance, which he regarded as the chief support of Prussia’s interests in European diplomacy ; and the example of Austria’s magnificent ingratitude was one which he felt it peculiarly important not to follow. Ties of blood connecting him with the Romanofs, and a certain sentiment not wanting to his nature, strengthened this conviction. But Bismarck knew Russia better than he, and knew how far Germany could afford to link her policy with that of the Tsars on the Neva. The rupture began, too, at the Congress of Berlin, while William lay prostrate from Nobiling’s shots. When he recovered, the new path had been taken, and for better or worse it had to be followed. The chancellor’s war upon the Church of Rome, and indirectly upon ecclesiastical pretensions of every kind, aroused even stronger apprehensions. The party of the throne in Prussia was also the party of the altar. The Emperor had a deeply religious nature, which often found expression, indeed, as in the war bulletins, in rather too complacent assumptions of divine favor, but still was warm and genuine ; and his reluctance to interfere with the clerical prerogatives was artfully encouraged by many within and without the Church, to whom he lent a sympathetic ear. But notwithstanding his doubts, he behaved with great loyalty when once the policy of repression was adopted. The public knew that the Falk laws were not after his heart, that the palace had much sympathy with the clergy, and this was all. No official discord appeared.
The department in which William made his own individuality most strongly felt was of course that of military affairs. Here he rendered undoubted service. His character and tastes evidently inclined him to this line of work ; and his practical experience, aided by prolonged and ardent study, gave him an almost unrivaled knowledge of the details and principles of army organization. He had, indeed, an admirable lieutenant in the minister of war, Count von Roon, a man whose share in the great events of the time is now perhaps not sufficiently appreciated. But Roon certainly owed more to William than did either Bismarck or Moltke. In fact, the Emperor himself would have made an excellent war minister, if he had been a subject instead of a sovereign, and it is as an organizer rather than as a commander that his name deserves a great place in the annals of the Prussian army. Among his predecessors, he recalls not Frederic the Great, but Frederic William I. If Bismarck worked up the diplomacy of Prussia, and Moltke planned its campaigns, the king himself, aided faithfully by Roon, re-formed the army, and made it the tremendous machine which it is.
This is an undoubted title to fame. To have been, besides, the discoverer of Bismarck and Moltke ; to have led the armies of Prussia in two great and successful wars ; to have overthrown an empire in France and founded one in Germany ; to have set all his subjects an example of courage, conscientiousness, and industry, as those qualities are rarely exemplified in kings ; to have reigned for a whole generation after the age at which most men retire from active life, over the mightiest military empire that the world has ever seen ; and perhaps most remarkable of all, to have been escorted tenderly and mournfully to his grave by a nation which once regarded him as the very incarnation of evil, — to be, and achieve, and experience all of this is the assurance of a permanent place among the great men of earth. “ I have no time to be tired,” he said, even on his dying couch, and the words should be engraved on his monument as the interpretation of his life. This life of indefatigable and unconquerable industry, an industry often misdirected, often unnecessary, often unfortunate, yet always conscientious and sincere, is one which the present generation and the generations to come will study with great and ever-increasing admiration.