The day was not far past when German scholars had been forced to go to Leyden, Paris, Cambridge, Padua, even Vienna—when the German universities had been strongholds of obscurantism, dogmatic theology, and sterile pedantry. But now the tide was suddenly setting in from the other direction. Scholars from all over the world were coming to Berlin, Heidelberg, Leipzig, Halle, Munich, Bonn, and Göttingen. Even in far-away America the whole system of higher education was being remodeled upon German plans. Harvard was borrowing copiously from Berlin; in the Johns Hopkins Medical School a new Heidelberg was arising.
In every other field of civilized activity the Germans were going ahead just as rapidly. The inventions and discoveries of their scientists were being applied with an ingenuity and a dispatch that no other nation could match; they were swiftly getting a virtual monopoly of all those forms of industry which depended upon scientific exactness,—for example, the manufacture of drugs, dye-stuffs, and optical goods. And at the same time they were making equal, if not actually superior, progress in the grosser departments of trade. Their two great steamship corporations, the one founded back in 1847 and the other ten years later, were taking on new life and acquiring huge fleets of freight and passenger ships—fleets soon to be much larger, in fact, than any that even England could show. Their tramp steamers, more numerous every year, were trading to all the ports of the world. German drummers were everywhere, eager to make terms, speaking all languages. The first German colonies had been acquired in the middle eighties; the setting up of new ones now went on apace; advances were made into Africa and Oceania; a landing on the mainland of Asia was to follow in 1897. And the German navy, so long a mere paper power, was soon to be converted into a thing of authentic steel.
So in the arts. Wagner was dead, but German music still lived in Johannes Brahms, now the acknowledged tone-master of the world, perhaps the true successor of Beethoven and Bach. Nor was he a solitary figure. A youngster named Richard Strauss, the son of a Munich horn-player, was fast coming to fame; Mahler, Humperdink, and other lesser men were carrying on the glorious German tradition; German conductors and teachers were in high demand; German opera, after years of struggle, was at last breaking into New York, London, even Paris. And in literature Germany was entering upon the most productive period since the golden age of Goethe and Schiller. The German drama, before any other, began to show the influence of the revolutionary Ibsen, himself a resident of Germany, and more German in blood than Norwegian. Sudermann and Hauptmann, the twin giants, were at the threshold of their parallel careers; Lilienkron, Hartleben, and Bierbaum were about to put new life into the German lyric; a new school of German storytellers was arising. And Munich, to make an end, was beginning to offer rivalry to Paris in painting, and bringing in students from afar. On all sides there was this vast enrichment of the national consciousness, this brilliant shining forth of the national spirit, this feeling of new and superabundant efficiency, this increase of pride, achievement, and assurance.
The thing to be noted here is that the progress I have been describing was initiated and carried on, not by the old aristocracy of the barrack and the court, but by a new aristocracy of the laboratory, the study, and the shop. The Junkertum, though it was still to do good service as a hobgoblin, had long since ceased to dominate the state, and its ideals had gone the way of its power. Bismarck was the last of its great gladiators—and its first deserter. Far back in the seventies, perhaps even in the sixties, he had seen the signs of its impending collapse, and thereafter he had been gradually metamorphosed into an exponent of the new order. Did he wage a war upon the Catholic Church? Then it was because he saw all organized and autonomous religion, with its tenacity to established ideas and its hostility to reforms from without, as a conspiracy against that free experimentation which alone makes for human progress. Did he do valiant battle with the Socialists, the Liberals, the whole tribe of political phrasemongers and tub-thumpers? Then it was because he knew how puerile and how futile were the cure-alls preached by these quacks—how much all political advancement was a matter of careful trial and stage-management, and how little it was a matter of principles and shibboleths. And did he, in the end, definitely turn his back upon the axioms of his youth, and take his stand for the utmost dissemination of opportunity, the true democratization of talent? Then it was because he had seen feudalism gasp out its last breath when federalism was born at Versailles, and was convinced that it was dead to rise no more.