My Early Life

by William II, ex-Emperor of Germany. Translated from the German. New York: George H. Doran Co. 1926. 8vo. xiv+336 pp. Illustrated. $5.00.
THE most striking trait of the Kaiser’s second volume of memoirs is the sharp contrast it offers to the first. In this quiet and prosaic record of days long before the war there is none of the tone of snorting defiance and none of the flamboyant extravagances of the characteristic Wilhelm manner. No one would suppose that the present writer was the author of those marginal notes of 1914 which showered volleys of hysterical abuse upon the King and the Foreign Secretary of England: ‘Swine! Scoundrel! Liar! Common cheat! Low cur! Double-tongued liar!’ It is natural enough that the peculiar organ which the author himself terms ‘the Imperial mouth’ should be trained to speak in many voices; but in this case the effect of novelty is almost challenging; one listens, surprised and alert, as if to a sustained feat of ventriloquism. The pains taken suggest a deliberate effort to build up for the author a wholly new reputation — that of a sane and matter-of-fact and even commonplace person, a sort of royal Babbitt. In any case it is clearly evident that the editorial department at Doorn has been greatly strengthened.
These early memories begin with the Kaiser’s ' earliest distinct recollection ’ — a visit to Osborne in 1861, when he was a child of two and a half. The story of his childhood and the elaborate apparatus of his education occupies almost half the volume; it is told with surprising fullness of precise detail; and one notes later, in the preface, that the material for these ‘recollections’ is provided by his father’s diaries, his own letters and school exercises, and a lengthy manuscript volume by his tutor, Hinzpeter, There is a noticeable similarity of style between the school exercises of the little prince, the quotations from Hinzpeter’s notebooks, and the text of the 1926 recollections; and in general this earlier portion of the book has an impersonal, copperplate quality which suggests that the author himself has entirely forgotten the subject matter.
The official childhood came to an end at the age of fifteen, when the prince went for three years to school at Cassel, an ‘unreformed Prussian gymnasium’ where he was crammed from 5 A.M. to 9 P.M. (and where he complains that the curriculum offered ' no adequate basis for Germanism’). There followed several university years at Bonn, still under the eye of Hinzpeter; and at last, at the age of twenty, Prince William was permitted to launch forth into the world on his own, as an officer in a Potsdam regiment. This continued to be his official status for the next ten years, when the death of his father brought him prematurely, and amid general misgivings, to the throne. The book ends, with significant abruptness, at this point — June 1888. It is thus separated by a dead air space of twenty-five years from the more poignant phase opening in 1914.
This record of training and preparation is broken constantly by notes of royal visits to England, Vienna, and Petersburg; of the frequent comings and goings of the Court in Germany, and of a constant succession of court functions of every sort — the things which really interested the author, and which provided, in his own inner scheme of things, the raison d’être of his existence. His recollection of them, however, is singularly impersonal and barren. The interesting and significant aspects of the matters touched on are avoided altogether; one might say that the author approaches one topic after another only to turn away before actually touching it. One turns with interest to see what he has to say of Bismarck or Waldersee or his friend the Crown Prince Rudolph, but somehow they slip through the text like mere names on an official programme. All the portraits have this unsubstantial quality; and the wide panorama the author surveys is unrelieved by any saving glimpse from a personal perspective. In part this is due to the obvious desire to be discreet and avoid controversial ground; but in part, perhaps, it is due to the author’s own vision. Although he keeps turning his eyes to things and people about him, his interest is wholly centred in himself; and the impression left on the reader is one of flat, monotonous, impersonal egotism.
Oddly enough, this book which contributes nothing to the subject, which has no personal quality and is unrelieved by any sense of humor, is yet interesting and singularly readable.
One thing new, perhaps, the Kaiser does offer. Quite unintentionally, his long catalogue of trivialities connected with his military service on the front at Potsdam indicates clearly and convincingly the exact character of his ‘militarism.’ Nothing could have been more anodyne, and be himself sets it forth in one revealing paragraph: —
' Throughout my long military career, and during my reign, I have been able personally to watch with interest the intense preoccupation with which foreign sovereigns followed our parades. The high efficiency of our army continually in evidence at such reviews showed them the value of our friendship — and of our enmity. . . . The underlying meaning of military parades must be remembered in making any criticism of them, and also the importance attached to them as a meeting ground for princes, giving opportunity for many important political discussions. Superbly impressive as demonstrations, highly useful from a military point of view, and most decorative from a Court one, their particular value was the opportunity they afforded for political influences.’
Poor old Wilhelm ! He never meant to go any further, and this was all he asked for. It is a cruel fate that they cannot go on forever, and for this book of bygone memories the proper title would have been: ‘No More Parades.'