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Chapter 3

COUNT VON BISMARCK


Many have sought, and some profess to have found, the reasons the remarkable royal favour enjoyed by Count Bismarck, but the chief, and to our thinking the only one, is the extraordinary genius which even his enemies dare not dispute, notwithstanding the fact that genius is usually anything but a passport to the favour of kings.

We will relate one or two little anecdotes concerning the Prime Minister, beginning with one which does not refer to him personally, but may serve as a sort of preface to another. Every one knows the absurd point to which military etiquette is carried in Prussia.

A Pomeranian general—Pomerania may be called the Prussian Boeotia—being in garrison at Darmstadt and being bored even to the fullest possibility of Darmstadt boredom, was standing at his window, wishing for a conflagration, a revolution, an earthquake—anything—when he beheld an officer in the distance—an officer minus his sword! An awful breach of discipline! "Ah!" thought the delighted general, "here is a lieutenant to make a scapegoat of. Ten minutes' lecture and a fortnight's arrest! What luck!"

The unsuspecting officer drew nearer, and when within hail: "Lieutenant Rupert," shouted the general. The officer looked up, saw the general, and immediately remembering his missing sword, understood his terrible position. The general had seen him; he could not go back, and he felt he must brave the storm. The general beamed and rubbed his hands cheerfully at the prospect of some amusement at last. The lieutenant plucked up courage, entered the house, and arriving at the ante-room, beheld a regulation sword hanging on the wall. "What a mercy!" he murmured, unhooking the sword and quickly buckling it on. Then looking as innocent as possible, he entered the room, and standing at attention by the door,

"The general did me the honour to call," he said.

"Yes," said the general with severity, "I have to enquire—" he stopped suddenly, observing that the culprit's sword was at his side. His expression changed, and he said smiling:

"Yes, I wanted to ask, I wanted to ask—What on earth was it? Ah, yes. I wanted to ask after your family, Lieutenant Rupert. I particularly wished to enquire after your father."

"If my father could hear of your kind feeling towards him, general, he would be greatly gratified. Unhappily, he died twenty years ago."

The general looked considerably taken aback.

The young officer continued: "Have you any further commands, sir?"

"Why, no," said the general. "Only this. Never be seen without your sword. Had you been without it to-day, I should have given you a fortnight's arrest."

"I will take the greatest care, sir! You see?" answered the lieutenant, boldly indicating the sword which hung at his side.

"Yes, yes, I see. It is all right. You can go now."

The young man lost no time in profiting by the permission; he saluted, left the room, and carefully hung up the sword as he went through the ante-room. As he left the house the general, being again at the window, again saw that he had no sword. He summoned his wife:

"Look here," he said, "do you see that officer?"

"Certainly I do," she replied.

"Has he a sword or not?"

"He has not."

"Well then, you are mistaken; he looks as if he hadn't one, but he has."

The lady made no remark, being accustomed to accept whatever her husband said. The young officer escaped with the fright, and took good care not to forget his sword a second time.

Well, a similar misfortune—more, a real humiliation of this kind very nearly happened to the King of Prussia, when he was only the Prince Royal. Von Bismarck was then merely an attache at the Frankfort Legation without any handle to his name. When the prince stopped at Frankfort on his way to a review at Mayence von Bismarck had the honour of being told off to accompany him.

It was a hot day in August and the railway carriages were stifling. Etiquette notwithstanding, ever; one from the prince downward, unbuttoned his coat. On arriving at Mayence, where the troops were drawn up at the station to receive him, the prince refastened his coat but left one button undone. He was just leaving the carriage, when, luckily, von Bismarck noticed the oversight.

"Good heavens, prince!" he exclaimed, "what are you about?"

And, for once forgetting etiquette, which forbids the royal person to be contaminated by profane fingers, he sprang forward and fastened the offending button. Hence, according to some, came the royal favour, for the king, greatly embarrassed by the events of '58, reflected that the man who had saved his credit at Mayence might also save his crown at Berlin.

The count now became the leader of the "Junker" faction, voiced by the "Kreuz Zeitung." He was, in fact, the fittest man for the position, possessing oratorical eloquence, great mental and physical activity, and a complete conviction that any sort of means is justified by the end. And, the end accomplished, he flung from the height of his tribune this epigram in the face of an astonished Chamber: "Might is Right!" in three words summing up both his political creed and the direct consequences which followed.

The life-giving principles of humanity should be exemplified by three nations:


Commercial activity by England.
Moral expansion by Germany.
Intellectual brilliance by France.


If we ask why Germany does not occupy the great position assigned to her we find the answer in this: France has attained freedom of thought, but Germany is allowed only the freedom of a dreamer. The sole atmosphere in which she can breathe freely is that of the fortress or the prison. And if we wonder why the rest of Germany is ruled by the rod of Prussia the explanation may be found in this: German manners do not exist, but there is a national genius; a genius which desired no revolution, but peace and liberty, and, above all—intellectual independence. This desire was Prussia's greatest difficulty; she fought it, she weakened it, and she hopes to conquer it entirely. She boasts of her compulsory education; her children are indeed taught all they can be taught, but once out of school they are never permitted to think for themselves.

The Junker faction is composed chiefly of younger sons who have to seek either an official career or a military one. Failing this, they must depend on the head of the family for a decent maintenance. With very few exceptions there is no "old nobility" in Prussia, the aristocracy is not distinguished by either wealth or intellect. A few names here and there recall ancient Germanic history; others belong to Prussian military annals. But the rest of the nobility can claim no distinction, and have only owned their estates for a century or two.

Consequently, nearly all the liberal and progressive members of the Chamber depend, either by position or office, on the Government, and not one of them was strong enough to fight against a despotism which seizes a child at the moment of his birth, guides him through adolescence, and escorts him for the rest of his life. Therefore Count von Bismarck could insult both Chamber and deputies with impunity, knowing that their complaints would rouse no answering echo in the country, while at Court they were considered as being next door to the servants. On one occasion the President Grabow, being present at a state concert, was going to occupy a chair in one of the less crowded rooms, when a footman stopped him with "These chairs are meant for Excellencies, sir."

"Indeed, my friend," answered the President, "I am evidently out of place here."

From the advent of Hohenzollern supremacy may be dated the decay of moral independence, both in Prussia and the other Germanic states. Not only have the Hohenzollerns failed to exercise any civilizing influence by encouraging literature and purifying the language, but they have changed Minerva into Pallas, and the beneficent deity of knowledge and wisdom has become the Medusa-brandishing goddess of war.

Alexandre Dumas pere