PRINCE OTTO VON BISMARCK
COUNT HELMUTH VON MOLTKE
THE GERMAN CLASSICS
Masterpieces of German Literature
TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH
IN TWENTY VOLUMES
CONTENTS OF VOLUME X
Prince Otto Von Bismarck
Bismarck as a National Type. By Kuno Francke.
The Love Letters of Bismarck. Translated under the supervision of Charlton T. Lewis.
Correspondence of William I. and Bismarck. Translated by J.A. Ford.
From "Thoughts and Recollections." Translated under the supervision of A.J. Butler.
Bismarck as an Orator. By Edmund von Mach.
Speeches of Prince Bismarck. Translated by Edmund von Mach:
Speech from the Throne
Alsace-Lorraine a Glacis Against France
We Shall Never Go to Canossa!
Bismarck as the "Honest Broker"
Salus Publica—Bismarck's Only Lode-Star
We Germans Fear God, and Nought Else in the World
Mount the Guards at the Warthe and the Vistula!
Long Live the Emperor and the Empire!
Count Helmuth Von Moltke
The Life of Moltke. By Karl Detlev Jessen.
Letters and Historical Writings of Moltke:
The Political and Military Conditions of the Ottoman Empire in 1836. Translated by Edmund von Mach.
A Trip to Brussa. Translated by Edmund von Mach.
A Journey to Mossul. Translated by Edmund von Mach.
A Bullfight in Spain. Translated by Edmund von Mach.
Description of Moscow. Translated by Grace Bigelow.
The Peace Movement. Translated by Edmund von Mach.
Fighting on the Frontier. Translated by Clara Bell and Henry W. Fischer.
Battle of Gravelotte—St. Privat. Translated by Clara Bell and Henry W. Fischer.
Consolatory Thoughts on the Earthly Life and a Future Existence. Translated by Mary Herms.
The Life and Work of Ferdinand Lassalle. By Arthur N. Holcombe.
The Workingmen's Programme. Translated by E.H. Babbitt.
Science and the Workingmen. Translated by Thorstein B. Veblen.
Open Letter to the Central Committee. Translated by E.H. Babbitt.
Bismarck Meeting Napoleon after the Battle of Sedan
Prince Bismarck. By Franz von Lenbach
Prince Bismarck. By Franz von Lenbach
Coronation of King William I at Koenigsberg. By Adolph von Menzel
Emperor William I. By Franz von Lenbach
King William's Departure for the Front at the Beginning of the Franco-German War. By Adolph von Menzel
Prince Bismarck. By Franz von Lenbach
The Berlin Congress. By Anton von Werner
Prince Bismarck. By Franz von Lenbach
The Bismarck Monument at Hamburg. By Lederer
William I on his Deathbed. By Anton von Werner
Moltke. By Anton von Werner
Moltke at Sedan. By Anton von Werner
King William at the Mausoleum of his Parents on the Day of the French Declaration of War. By Anton von Werner
The Capitulation of Sedan. By Anton von Werner
The Iron Foundry. By Adolph von Menzel
Flax Barn in Laren. By Max Liebermann
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BISMARCK AS A NATIONAL TYPE
BY KUNO FRANCKE, PH.D., LL.D., Litt.D. Professor of the History of German Culture, Harvard University.
No man since Luther has been a more complete embodiment of German nationality than Otto von Bismarck. None has been closer to the German heart. None has stood more conspicuously for racial aspirations, passions, ideals.
It is the purpose of the present sketch to bring out a few of these affinities between Bismarck and the German people.
Perhaps the most obviously Teutonic trait in Bismarck's character is its martial quality. It would be preposterous, surely, to claim warlike distinction as a prerogative of the German race. Russians, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Americans, undoubtedly, make as good fighters as Germans. But it is not an exaggeration to say that there is no country in the world where the army is as enlightened or as popular an institution as it is in Germany.
The German army is not composed of hirelings of professional fighters whose business it is to pick quarrels, no matter with whom. It is, in the strictest sense of the word, the people in arms. Among its officers there is a large percentage of the intellectual elite of the country; its rank and file embrace every occupation and every class of society, from the scion of royal blood down to the son of the seamstress. Although it is based upon the unconditional acceptance of the monarchical creed, nothing is farther removed from it than the spirit of servility. On the contrary, one of the very first teachings which are inculcated upon the German recruit is that, in wearing the "king's coat," he is performing a public duty, and that by performing this duty he is honoring himself. Nor can it be said that it is the aim of German military drill to reduce the soldier to a mere machine, at will to be set in motion or be brought to a standstill by his superior. The aim of this drill is rather to give each soldier increased self-control, mentally no less than bodily; to develop his self-respect; to enlarge his sense of responsibility, as well as to teach him the absolute necessity of the subordination of the individual to the needs of the whole. The German army, then, is by no means a lifeless tool that might be used by an unscrupulous and adventurous despot to gratify his own whims or to wreak his private vengeance. The German army is, in principle at least, a national school of manly virtues, of discipline, of comradeship, of self-sacrifice, of promptness of action, of tenacity of purpose. Although, probably, the most powerful armament which the world has ever seen, it makes for peace rather than for war. Although called upon to defend the standard of the most imperious dynasty of western Europe, it contains more of the spirit of true democracy than many a city government on this side of the Atlantic.
All this has to be borne in mind if we wish to judge correctly of Bismarck's military propensities. He has never concealed the fact that he felt himself, above all, a soldier. One of his earliest public utterances was a defense of the Prussian army against the sympathizers with the revolution of 1848. His first great political achievement was the carrying through, in the early sixties, of King William's army reform in the face of the most stubborn and virulent opposition of a parliamentary majority. Never, in the years following the formation of the Empire, did his speech in the German Parliament rise to a higher pathos than when he was asserting the military supremacy of the Emperor, or calling upon the parties to forget their dissensions in maintaining the defensive strength of the nation, or showering contempt upon liberal deputies who seemed to think that questions of national existence could be solved by effusions of academic oratory. Over and over, during the last decade of his official career, did he declare that the only thing which kept him from throwing aside the worry and vexation of governmental duties and retiring to the much coveted leisure of home and hearth, was the oath of vassal loyalty constraining him to stand at his post until his imperial master released him of his own accord. And at the very height of his political triumphs he wrote to his sovereign: "I have always regretted that my talents did not allow me to testify my attachment to the royal house and my enthusiasm for the greatness and glory of the Fatherland in the front rank of a regiment rather than behind a writing-desk. And even now, after having been raised by your Majesty to the highest honors of a statesman, I cannot altogether repress a feeling of regret at not having been similarly able to carve out a career for myself as a soldier. Perhaps I should have made a poor general, but if I had been free to follow the bent of my own inclination I would rather have won battles for your Majesty than diplomatic campaigns."
It seems clear that both the defects and the greatness of Bismarck's character are intimately associated with these military leanings of his. He certainly was overbearing; he could tolerate no opposition; he was revengeful and unforgiving; he took pleasure in the appeal to violence; he easily resorted to measures of repression; he requited insults with counter-insults; he had something of that blind furor Teutonicus which was the terror of the Italian republics in the Middle Ages. These are defects of temper which will probably prevent his name from ever shining with that serene lustre of international veneration that has surrounded the memory of a Joseph II. or a Washington with a kind of impersonal immaculateness. But his countrymen, at least, have every reason to condone these defects; for they are concomitant results of the military bent of German character, and they are offset by such transcendent military virtues that we would almost welcome them as bringing this colossal figure within the reach of our own frailties and shortcomings.
Three of the military qualities that made Bismarck great seem to me to stand out with particular distinctness: his readiness to take the most tremendous responsibilities, if he could justify his action by the worth of the cause for which he made himself responsible; his moderation after success was assured; his unflinching submission to the dictates of monarchical discipline.
Moritz Busch has recorded an occurrence, belonging to the autumn of 1877, which most impressively brings before us the tragic grandeur and the portentous issues of Bismarck's career. It was twilight at Varzin, and the Chancellor, as was his wont after dinner, was sitting by the stove in the large back drawing-room. After having sat silent for a while, gazing straight before him, and feeding the fire now and anon with fir-cones, he suddenly began to complain that his political activity had brought him but little satisfaction and few friends. Nobody loved him for what he had done. He had never made anybody happy thereby, he said, not himself, nor his family, nor any one else. Some of those present would not admit this, and suggested "that he had made a great nation happy." "But," he retorted, "how many have I made unhappy! But for me three great wars would not have been fought; eighty thousand men would not have perished; parents, brothers, sisters, and wives would not have been bereaved and plunged into mourning.... That matter, however, I have settled with God." "Settled with God!"—an amazing statement, a statement which would seem the height of blasphemy if it were not an expression of noblest manliness, if it did not reveal the soul of a warrior dauntlessly fighting for a great cause, risking for it the existence of a whole country as well as his own happiness, peace, and salvation, and being ready to submit the consequences, whatever they might be, to the tribunal of eternity. To say that a man who is willing to take such responsibilities as these makes himself thereby an offender against morality appears to me tantamount to condemning the Alps as obstructions to traffic. A people, at any rate, that glories in the achievements of a Luther has no right to cast a slur upon the motives of a Bismarck.
Whatever one may think of the worth of the cause for which Bismarck battled all his life—the unity and greatness of Germany—it is impossible not to admire the policy of moderation and self-restraint pursued by him after every one of his most decisive victories. And here again we note in him the peculiarly German military temper. German war-songs do not glorify foreign conquest and brilliant adventure; they glorify dogged resistance and bitter fight for house and home, for kith and kin. The German army, composed as it is of millions of peaceful citizens, is essentially a weapon of defense. And it can truly be said that Bismarck, with all his natural aggressiveness and ferocity, was in the main a defender, not a conqueror. He defended Prussia against the intolerable arrogance and un-German policy of Austria; he defended Germany against French interference in the work of national consolidation; he defended the principle of State sovereignty against the encroachments of the Papacy; he defended the monarchy against the republicanism of the Liberals and Socialists; and the supreme aim of his foreign policy after the establishment of the German Empire was to guard the peace of Europe.
The third predominant trait of Bismarck's character that stamps him as a soldier—his unquestioning obedience to monarchical discipline—is so closely bound up with the peculiarly German conceptions of the functions and the Purpose of the State, that it will be better to approach this Part of his nature from the political instead of the military side.
In no other of the leading countries of the world has the laissez faire doctrine had as little influence in political matters as in Germany. Luther, the fearless champion of religious individualism, was, in questions of government, the most pronounced advocate of paternalism. Kant, the cool dissector of the human intellect, was at the same time the most rigid upholder of corporate morality. It was Fichte, the ecstatic proclaimer of the glory of the individual will, who wrote this dithyramb on the necessity of the constant surrender of private interests to the common welfare: "Nothing can live by itself or for itself; everything lives in the whole; and the whole continually sacrifices itself to itself in order to live anew. This is the law of life. Whatever has come to the consciousness of existence must fall a victim to the progress of all existence. Only there is a difference whether you are dragged to the shambles like a beast with bandaged eyes, or whether, in full and joyous presentiment of the life which will spring forth from your sacrifice, you offer yourself freely on the altar of eternity."
Not even Plato and Aristotle went so far in the deification of the State as Hegel. And if Hegel declared that the real office of the State is not to further individual interests, to protect private property, but to be an embodiment of the organic unity of public life; if he saw the highest task and the real freedom of the individual in making himself a part of this organic unity of public life, he voiced a sentiment which was fully shared by the leading classes of the Prussia of his time, and which has since become a part of the political creed of the Socialist masses all over Germany.
Here we have the moral background of Bismarck's internal policy. His monarchism rested not only on his personal allegiance to the hereditary dynasty, although no medieval knight could have been more steadfast in his loyalty to his liege lord than Bismarck was in his unswerving devotion to the Hohenzollern house. His monarchism rested above all on the conviction that, under the present conditions of German political life, no other form of government would insure equally well the fulfilment of the moral obligations of the State.
He was by no means blind to the value of parliamentary institutions. More than once has he described the English Constitution as the necessary outcome and the fit expression of the vital forces of English society. More than once has he eulogized the sterling political qualities of English landlordism, its respect for the law, its common sense, its noble devotion to national interests. More than once has he deplored the absence in Germany of "the class which in England is the main support of the State—the class of wealthy and therefore conservative gentlemen, independent of material interests, whose whole education is directed with a view to their becoming statesmen, and whose only aim in life is to take part in public affairs"; and the absence of "a Parliament, like the English, containing two sharply defined parties whereof one forms a sure and unswerving majority which subjects itself with iron discipline to its ministerial leaders." We may regret that Bismarck himself did not do more to develop parliamentary discipline; that, indeed, he did everything in his power to arrest the healthy growth of German party life. But it is at least perfectly clear that his reasons for refusing to allow the German parties a controlling influence in shaping the policy of the government were not the result of mere despotic caprice, but were founded upon thoroughly German traditions, and upon a thoroughly sober, though one-sided, view of the present state of German public affairs.
To him party government appeared as much of an impossibility as it had appeared to Hegel. The attempt to establish it would, in his opinion, have led to nothing less than chaos. The German parties, as he viewed them, represented, not the State, not the nation, but an infinite variety of private and class interests—the interests of landholders, traders, manufacturers, laborers, politicians, priests, and so on; each particular set of interests desiring the particular consideration of the public treasury, and refusing the same amount of consideration to every other. It seemed highly desirable to him, as it did to Hegel, that all these interests should be heard; that they should be represented in a Parliament based upon as wide and liberal a suffrage as possible. But to intrust any one of these interests with the functions of government would, in his opinion, have been treason to the State; it would have been class tyranny of the worst kind.
The logical outcome of all this was his conviction of the absolute necessity, for Germany, of a strong non-partisan government: a government which should hold all the conflicting class interests in check and force them into continual compromises with one another; a government which should be unrestricted by any class prejudices, pledges, or theories, and have no other guiding star than the welfare of the whole nation. And the only basis for such a government he found in the Prussian monarchy, with its glorious tradition of military discipline, of benevolent paternalism, and of self-sacrificing devotion to national greatness; with its patriotic gentry, its incorruptible courts, its religious freedom, its enlightened educational system, its efficient and highly trained civil service. To bow before such a monarchy, to serve such a State, was indeed something different from submitting to the chance vote of a parliamentary majority; in this bondage even a Bismarck could find his highest freedom.
For nearly forty years he bore this bondage; for twenty-eight he stood in the place nearest to the monarch himself; and not even his enemies dared to assert that his political conduct was guided by other motives than the consideration of public welfare. Indeed, if there is any phrase for which he, the apparent cynic, the sworn despiser of phrases, seems to have had a certain weakness, it is the word salus publica. To it he sacrificed his days and his nights; for it he more than once risked his life; for it he incurred more hatred and slander than perhaps any man of his time; for it he alienated his best friends; for it he turned not once or twice, but one might almost say habitually, against his own cherished prejudices and convictions. The career of few men shows so many apparent inconsistencies and contrasts. One of his earliest speeches in the Prussian Landtag was a fervent protest against the introduction of civil marriage; yet the civil marriage clause in the German constitution is his work. He was by birth and tradition a believer in the divine right of kings; yet the King of Hanover could tell something of the manner in which Bismarck dealt with the divine right of kings if it stood in the way of German unity. He took pride in belonging to the most feudal aristocracy of western Europe, the Prussian Junkerdom; yet he did more to uproot feudal privileges than any other German statesman since 1848. He gloried in defying public opinion, and was wont to say that he felt doubtful about himself whenever he met with popular applause; yet he is the founder of the German Parliament, and he founded it on direct and universal suffrage. He was the sworn enemy of the Socialist party—he attempted to destroy it, root and branch; yet through the nationalization of railways and the obligatory insurance of workmen he infused more Socialism into German legislation than any other statesman before him.
Truly, a man who could thus sacrifice his own wishes and instincts to the common good; who could so completely sink his own personality in the cause of the nation; who with such matchless courage defended this cause against attacks from whatever quarter—against court intrigue no less than against demagogues—such a man had a right to stand above parties; and he spoke the truth when, some years before leaving office, in a moment of gloom and disappointment he wrote under his portrait, Patrice inserviendo consumor.
There is a strange, but after all perfectly natural, antithesis in German national character. The same people that instinctively believes in political paternalism, that willingly submits to restrictions of personal liberty in matters of State such as no Englishman would ever tolerate, is more jealous of its independence than perhaps any other nation in matters pertaining to the intellectual, social, and religious life of the individual. It seems as if the very pressure from without had helped to strengthen and enrich the life within.
Not only all the great men of German thought, from Luther down to the Grimms and the Humboldts, have been conspicuous for their freedom from artificial conventions and for the originality and homeliness of their human intercourse; but even the average German official—wedded as he may be to his rank or his title, anxious as he may be to preserve an outward decorum in exact keeping with the precise shade of his public status—is often the most delightfully unconventional, good-natured, unsophisticated, and even erratic being in the world, as soon as he has left the cares of his office behind him. Germany is the classic land of queer people. It is the land of Quintus Fixlein, Onkel Braesig, Leberecht Huehnchen, and the host of Fliegende Blatter worthies; it is the land of the beer-garden and the Kaffeekranzchen, of the Christmas-tree and the Whitsuntide merry-making; it is the land of country inns and of student pranks. What more need be said to bring before one's mind the wealth of hearty joyfulness, jolly good-fellowship, boisterous frolic, sturdy humor, simple directness, and genuinely democratic feeling that characterizes social life in Germany.
And still less reason is there for dwelling on the intellectual and religious independence of German character. Absence of constraint in scientific inquiry and religious conduct is indeed the very palladium of German freedom. Nowhere is higher education so entirely removed from class distinction as in the country where the imperial princes are sent to the same school with the sons of tradesmen and artisans. Nowhere is there so little religious formalism, coupled with such deep religious feeling, as in the country where sermons are preached to empty benches, while Tannhauser and Lohengrin, Wallenstein and Faust, are listened to with the hush of awe and bated breath by thousands upon thousands.
In all these respects—socially, intellectually, religiously—Bismarck was the very incarnation of German character. Although an aristocrat by birth and bearing, and although, especially during the years of early manhood, passionately given over to the aristocratic habits of dueling, hunting, swaggering and carousing, he was essentially a man of the people. Nothing was so utterly foreign to him as any form of libertinism; even his eccentricities were of the hardy, homespun sort. He was absolutely free from social vanity; he detested court festivities; he set no store by orders or decorations; the only two among the innumerable ones conferred upon him which he is said to have highly valued were the Prussian order of the Iron Cross, bestowed for personal bravery on the battlefield, and the medal for "rescuing from danger" which he earned in 1842 for having saved his groom from drowning by plunging into the water after him.
All his instincts were bound up with the soil from which he had sprung. He passionately loved the North German plain, with its gloomy moorlands, its purple heather, its endless wheatfields, its kingly forests, its gentle lakes, and its superb sweep of sky and clouds. Writing to his friends when abroad—he traveled very little abroad—he was in the habit of describing foreign scenery by comparing it to familiar views and places on his own estates. During sleepless nights in the Chancellery at Berlin there would often rise before him a sudden vision of Varzin, his Pomeranian country-seat, "perfectly distinct in the minutest particulars, like a great picture with all its colors fresh—the green trees, the sunshine on the stems, the blue sky above. I saw every individual tree." Never was he more happy than when alone with nature. "Saturday," he writes to his wife from Frankfort, "I drove to Ruedesheim. There I took a boat, rowed out on the Rhine, and swam in the moonlight, with nothing but nose and eyes out of water, as far as the Maeuseturm near Bingen, where the bad bishop came to his end. It gives one a peculiar dreamy sensation to float thus on a quiet warm night in the water, gently carried down by the current, looking above on the heavens studded with moon and stars, and on each side the banks and wooded hilltops and the battlements of the old castles bathed in the moonlight, whilst nothing falls on one's ear but the gentle splashing of one's movements. I should like to swim like this every evening." And what poet has more deeply felt than he that vague musical longing which seizes one when far away from human sounds, by the brook-side or the hill-slope? "I feel as if I were looking out on the mellowing foliage of a fine September day," he writes again to his wife, "health and spirits good, but with a soft touch of melancholy, a little homesickness, a longing for deep woods and lakes, for a desert, for yourself and the children, and all this mixed up with a sunset and Beethoven."
His domestic affections were by no means limited to those united to him by ties of blood; he cherished strong patriarchal feelings for every member of his household, past or present. He possessed in a high degree the German tenderness for little things. He never forgot a service rendered to him, however small. In the midst of the most engrossing public activity he kept himself informed about the minutest details of the management of his estates, so that his wife could once laughingly say that a turnip from his own fields interested him vastly more than all the problems of international politics.
His humor, also, was entirely of the German stamp. It was boisterous, rollicking, aggressive, unsparing—of himself as little as of others—cynic, immoderate, but never without a touch of good-nature. His satire was often crushing, never venomous. His wit was racy and exuberant never equivocal. Whether he describes his vis-a-vis at a hotel table, his Excellency So-and-So, as "one of those figures which appear to one when he has the nightmare—a fat frog without legs, who opens his mouth as wide as his shoulders, like a carpet-bag, for each bit, so that I am obliged to hold tight on by the table from giddiness"; whether he characterizes his colleagues at the Frankfort Bundestag as "mere caricatures of periwig diplomatists, who at once put on their official visage if I merely beg of them a light to my cigar, and who study their words and looks with Regensburg care when they ask for the key of the lavatory"; whether he sums up his impression of the excited, emotional manner in which Jules Favre pleaded with him for the peace terms in the words, "He evidently took me for a public meeting"; whether he declined to look at the statue erected to him at Cologne, because he "didn't care to see himself fossilized"; whether he spoke of the unprecedented popular ovations given to him at his final departure from Berlin as a "first-class funeral"—there are always the same childlike directness, the same naive impulsiveness, the same bantering earnestness, the same sublime contempt for sham and hypocrisy.
And what man has been more truthful in intellectual and religious matters? He, the man of iron will, of ferocious temper, was at the same time the coolest reasoner, the most unbiased thinker. He willingly submitted to the judgment of experts, he cheerfully acknowledged intellectual talent in others, he took a pride in having remained a learner all his life, but he hated arrogant amateurishness. He was not a church-goer; he declined to be drawn into the circle of religious schemers and reactionary fanatics; he would occasionally speak in contemptuous terms of "the creed of court chaplains"; but, writing to his wife of that historic meeting with Napoleon in the lonely cottage near the battlefield of Sedan, he said: "A powerful contrast with our last meeting in the Tuileries in '67. Our conversation was a difficult thing, if I wanted to avoid touching on topics which could not but affect painfully the man whom God's mighty hand had cast down." And more than once has he given vent to reflections like these: "For him who does not believe—as I do from the bottom of my heart—that death is a transition from one existence to another, and that we are justified in holding out to the worst of criminals in his dying hour the comforting assurance, mors janua vitae—I say that for him who does not share that conviction the joys of this life must possess so high a value that I could almost envy him the sensations they must procure him." Or these: "Twenty years hence, or at most thirty, we shall be past the troubles of this life, whilst our children will have reached our present standpoint, and will discover with astonishment that their existence, but now so brightly begun, has turned the corner and is going down hill. Were that to be the end of it all, life would not be worth the trouble of dressing and undressing every day."
We have considered a few traits of Bismarck's mental and moral make-up which seem to be closely allied with German national character and traditions. But, after all, the personality of a man like Bismarck is not exhausted by the qualities which he has in common with his people, however sublimated these qualities may be in him. His innermost life belongs to himself alone, or is shared, at most, by the few men of the world's history who, like him, tower in splendid solitude above the waste of the ages. In the Middle High German Alexanderlied there is an episode which most impressively brings out the impelling motive of such titanic lives. On one of his expeditions Alexander penetrates into the land of Scythian barbarians. These child-like people are so contented with their simple, primitive existence that they beseech Alexander to give them immortality. He answers that this is not in his power. Surprised, they ask why, then, if he is only a mortal, he is making such a stir in the world. Thereupon he answers: "The Supreme Power has ordained us to carry out what is in us. The sea is given over to the whirlwind to plough it up. As long as life lasts and I am master of my senses, I must bring forth what is in me. What would life be if all men in the world were like you?" These words might have been spoken by Bismarck. Every word, every act of his public career, gives us the impression of a man irresistibly driven on by some overwhelming, mysterious power. He was not an ambitious schemer, like Beaconsfield or Napoleon; he was not a moral enthusiast like Gladstone or Cavour. If he had consulted his private tastes and inclinations, he would never have wielded the destinies of an empire. Indeed, he often rebelled against his task; again and again he tried to shake it off; and the only thing which again and again brought him back to it was the feeling, "I must; I cannot do otherwise." If ever there was a man in whom Fate revealed its moral sovereignty, that man was Bismarck.
Whither has he gone now? Has he joined his compeers? Is he conversing in ethereal regions with Alexander, Caesar, Frederick? Is he sweeping over land and sea in the whirlwind and the thunder-cloud? Or may we hope that he is still working out the task which, in spite of all the imperiousness of his nature, was the essence of his earthly life—the task of making the Germans a nation of true freemen?
[Footnote 1: From Glimpses of Modern German Culture. Permission Dodd, Mead & Company, New York.]
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THE LOVE LETTERS OF BISMARCK TRANSLATED UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF CHARLTON T. LEWIS
Hotel de Prusse, Stettin, (Not dated: Written about the end of December, 1846.)
TO HERR VON PUTTKAMER:
Most Honored Sir.—I begin this communication by indicating its content in the first sentence—it is a request for the highest thing you can dispose of in this world, the hand of your daughter. I do not conceal from myself the fact that I appear presumptuous when I, whom you have come to know only recently and through a few meetings, claim the strongest proof of confidence which you can give to any man. I know, however, that even irrespective of all obstacles in space and time which can increase your difficulty in forming an opinion of me, through my own efforts I can never be in a position to give you such guaranties for the future that they would, from your point of view, justify intrusting me with an object so precious, unless you supplement by trust in God that which trust in human beings cannot supply. All that I can do is to give you information about myself with absolute candor, so far as I have come to understand myself. It will be easy for you to get reports from others in regard to my public conduct; I content myself, therefore, with an account of what underlay that—my inner life, and especially my relations to Christianity. To do that I must take a start far back.
In earliest childhood I was estranged from my parents' house, and at no time became entirely at home there again; and my education from the beginning was conducted on the assumption that everything is subordinate to the cultivation of the intelligence and the early acquisition of positive sciences.
After a course of religious teaching, irregularly attended and not comprehended, I had at the time of my confirmation by Schleiermacher, on my sixteenth birthday no belief other than a bare deism, which was not long free from pantheistic elements. It was at about this time that I, not through indifference, but after mature consideration, ceased to pray every evening, as I had been in the habit of doing since childhood; because prayer seemed inconsistent with my view of God's nature; saying to myself: either God himself, being omnipresent, is the cause of everything—even of every thought and volition of mine—and so in a sense offers prayers to himself through me, or, if my will is independent of God's will, it implies arrogance and a doubt as to the inflexibility as well as the perfection of the divine determination to believe that it can be influenced by human appeals. When not quite seventeen years old I went to Goettingen University. During the next eight years I seldom saw the home of my parents; my father indulgently refrained from interference; my mother censured me from far away when I neglected my studies and professional work, probably in the conviction that she must leave the rest to guidance from above: with this exception I was literally cut off from the counsel and instruction of others. In this period, when studies which ambition at times led me to prosecute zealously—or emptiness and satiety, the inevitable companions of my way of living—brought me nearer to the real meaning of life and eternity, it was in old-world philosophies, uncomprehended writings of Hegel, and particularly in Spinoza's seeming mathematical clearness, that I sought for peace of mind in that which the human understanding cannot comprehend. But it was loneliness that first led me to reflect on these things persistently, when I went to Kniephof, after my mother's death, five or six years ago. Though at first my views did not materially change at Kniephof, yet conscience began to be more audible in the solitude, and to represent that many a thing was wrong which I had before regarded as permissible. Yet my struggle for insight was still confined to the circle of the understanding, and led me, while reading such writings as those of Strauss, Feuerbach, and Bruno Bauer, only deeper into the blind alley of doubt.
I was firmly convinced that God has denied to man the possibility of true knowledge; that it is presumption to claim to understand the will and plans of the Lord of the World; that the individual must await in submission the judgment that his Creator will pass upon him in death, and that the will of God becomes known to us on earth solely through conscience, which He has given us as a special organ for feeling our way through the gloom of the world. That I found no peace in these views I need not say. Many an hour have I spent in disconsolate depression, thinking that my existence and that of others is purposeless and unprofitable—perchance only a casual product of creation, coming and going like dust from rolling wheels.
About four years ago I came into close companionship, for the first time since my school-days, with Moritz Blankenburg, and found in him, what I had never had till then in my life, a friend; but the warm zeal of his love strove in vain to give me by persuasion and discussion what I lacked—faith. But through Moritz I made acquaintance with the Triglaf family and the social circle around it, and found in it people who made me ashamed that, with the scanty light of my understanding, I had undertaken to investigate things which such superior intellects accepted as true and holy with childlike trust. I saw that the members of this circle were, in their outward life, almost perfect models of what I wished to be. That confidence and peace dwelt in them did not surprise me, for I had never doubted that these were companions of belief; but belief cannot be had for the asking, and I thought I must wait submissively to see whether it would come to me. I soon felt at home in that circle, and was conscious of a satisfaction that I had not before experienced—a family life that included me, almost a home.
I was meanwhile brought into contact with certain events in which I was not an active participant, and which, as other people's secrets, I cannot communicate to you, but which stirred me deeply. Their practical result was that the consciousness of the shallowness and worthlessness of my aim in life became more vivid than ever. Through the advice of others, and through my own impulse, I was brought to the point of reading the Scriptures more consecutively and with resolute restraint, sometimes, of my own judgment. That which stirred within me came to life when the news of the fatal illness of our late friend in Cardemin tore the first ardent prayer from my heart, without subtle questionings as to its reasonableness. God did not grant my prayer on that occasion; neither did He utterly reject it, for I have never again lost the capacity to bring my requests to Him, and I feel within me, if not peace, at least confidence and courage such as I never knew before.
I do not know what value you will attach to this emotion, which my heart has felt for only two months; I only hope that it may not be lost, whatever your decision in regard to me may be—a hope of which I could give you no better assurance than by undeviating frankness and loyalty in that which I have now disclosed to you, and to no one else hitherto, with the conviction that God favors the sincere.
I refrain from any assurance of my feelings and purposes with reference to your daughter, for the step I am taking speaks of them louder and more eloquently than words can. So, too, no promises for the future would be of service to you, since you know the untrustworthiness of the human heart better than I, and the only security I offer for the welfare of your daughter lies in my prayer for God's blessing. As a matter of history I would only observe that, after I had seen fraeulein Johanna repeatedly in Cardemin, after the trip we made together this summer, I have only been in doubt as to whether the attainment of my desires would be reconcilable with the happiness and peace of your daughter, and whether my self-confidence was not greater than my ability when I believed that she could find in me what she would have a right to look for in her husband. Very recently, however, together with my reliance on God's grace, the resolution which I now carry out has also become fixed in me, and I kept silent when I saw you in Zimmerhausen only because I had more to say than I could express in conversation. In view of the importance of the matter and the great sacrifice which it will involve for you and your wife in separation from your daughter, I can scarcely hope that you will give a favorable decision at once, and only beg that you will not refuse me an opportunity for explanation upon any considerations which might dispose you to reject my suit, before you utter a positive refusal.
There is doubtless a great deal that I have not said, or not said fully enough, in this letter, and I am, of course, ready to give you exact and faithful information as to everything you may desire to know; I think I have told what is most important.
I beg you to convey to your wife my respectful compliments, and to accept kindly the assurance of my love and esteem.
Schoenhausen, February 1, '47.
I had only waited for daylight to write you, my dear heart, and with the light came your little green spirit-lamp to make my lukewarm water seethe—though this time it found it ready to boil over. Your pity for my restless nights at present is premature, but I shall give you credit for it. The Elbe still lies turbid and growling in her ice-bonds: the spring's summons to burst them is not yet loud enough for her. I say to the weather: "If you would only be cold or warm! But you stay continually at freezing-point, and at this rate the matter may long drag on." For the present my activity is limited to sending out, far and wide, from the warm seat at the writing-table, diverse conjurations, whose magic starts quantities of fascines, boards, wheelbarrows, etc., from inland towards the Elbe, perchance to serve as a prosaic dam in restraint of the poetical foaming of the flood. After I had spent the morning in this useful rather than agreeable correspondence, my resolve was to chat away comfortably through the evening with you, beloved one, as though we were sitting on the sofa in the red drawing-room; and with sympathetic attention to my desire the mail kept for my enjoyment precisely at this gossiping hour your letter, which I should have received by good rights day before yesterday. You know, if you were able to decipher my inexcusably scrawled note  from Schlawe, how I struck a half-drunken crowd of hussar officers there, who disturbed me in my writing. In the train I had, with my usual bad luck, a lady vis-a-vis, and beside me two very stout, heavily fur-clad passengers, the nearer of whom was a direct descendant of Abraham into the bargain, and put me in a bitter humor against all his race by a disagreeable movement of his left elbow.
I found my brother in his dressing-gown, and he employed the five minutes of our interview very completely, according to his habit, in emptying a woolsack full of vexatious news about Kniephof before me: disorderly inspectors, a lot of damaged sheep, distillers drunk every day, thoroughbred colts (the prettiest, of course) come to grief, and rotten potatoes, fell in a rolling torrent from his obligingly opened mouth upon my somewhat travel-worn self. On my brother's account I must affect and utter some exclamations of terror and complaint, for my indifferent manner on receiving news of misfortune vexes him, and as long as I do not express surprise he has ever new and still worse news in stock. This time he attained his object, at least in my inner man, and when I took my seat next to the Jewish elbow in green fur I was in a right bad humor; especially the colt distressed me—an animal as pretty as a picture and three years old.
Not before getting out of doors did I become conscious of the ingratitude of my heart, and the thought of the unmerited happiness that had become mine a fortnight earlier again won the mastery in me. In Stettin I found drinking, gambling friends. William Ramin took occasion to say, apropos of a remark about reading the Bible, "Tut! In Reinfeld I'd speak like that, too, if I were in your place, but to believe you can impose on your oldest acquaintances is amusing." I found my sister very well and full of joy about you and me. She wrote to you, I think, before she received your letter. Arnim is full of anxiety lest I become "pious." He kept looking at me all the time earnestly and thoughtfully, with sympathetic concern, as one looks at a dear friend whom one would like to save and yet almost gives up for lost. I have seldom seen him so tender. Very clever people have a curious manner of viewing the world. In the evening (I hope you did not write so late) I drank your health in the foaming grape-juice of Sillery, in company with half a dozen Silesian counts, Schaffgotsch and others, at the Hotel de Rome, and convinced myself Friday morning that the ice on the Elbe was still strong enough to bear my horse's weight, and that, so far as the freshet was concerned, I might today be still at your blue or black side if other current official engagements had not also claimed my presence. Snow has fallen very industriously all day long, and the country is white once more, without severe cold. When I arrived it was all free from snow on this side of Brandenburg; the air was warm and the people were ploughing; it was as though I had traveled out of winter into opening spring, and yet within me the short springtime had changed to winter, for the nearer I came to Schoenhausen the more oppressive I found the thought of entering upon the old loneliness once more, for who knows how long. Pictures of a wasted past arose in me as though they would banish me from you. I was on the verge of tears, as when, after a school vacation, I caught sight of Berlin's towers from the train.
The comparison of my situation with that in which I was on the 10th, when I traveled the same line in the opposite direction; the conviction that my solitude was, strictly speaking, voluntary, and that I could at any time, albeit through a resolve smacking of insubordination and a forty hours' journey, put an end to it, made me see once more that my heart is ungrateful, dismayed, and resentful; for soon I said to myself, in the comfortable fashion of the accepted lover, that even here I am no longer lonely, and I was happy in the consciousness of being loved by you, my angel, and, in return for the gift of your love, of belonging to you, not merely in vassalage, but with my inmost heart. On reaching the village I felt more distinctly than ever before what a beautiful thing it is to have a home—a home with which one is identified by birth, memory, and love. The sun shone bright on the stately houses of the villagers, and their portly inmates in long coats and the gayly dressed women in short skirts gave me a much more friendly greeting than usual; on every face there seemed to be a wish for my happiness, which I invariably converted into thanks to you. Gray-haired Bellin's fat face wore a broad smile, and the trusty old soul shed tears as he patted me paternally on the back and expressed his satisfaction; his wife, of course, wept most violently; even Odin was more demonstrative than usual, and his paw on my coat-collar proved incontestably that it was muddy weather. Half an hour later Miss Breeze was galloping with me on the Elbe, manifestly proud to carry your affianced, for never before did she so scornfully smite the earth with her hoof. Fortunately you cannot judge, my heart, in what a mood of dreary dulness I used to reenter my house after a journey; what depression overmastered me when the door of my room yawned at me and the mute furniture in the silent apartments confronted me, bored like myself. The emptiness of my existence was never clearer to me than in such moments, until I seized a book—though none of them was sad enough for me—or mechanically engaged in any routine work.
My preference was to come home at night, so that I could go to sleep immediately. Ach, Gott!—and now? What a different view I take of everything—not merely that which concerns you as well, and because it concerns you, or will concern you also (although I have been bothering myself for two days with the question where your writing-desk will stand), but my whole view of life is a new one, and I am cheerful and interested even in my work on the dike and police matters. This change, this new life, I owe, next to God, to you, ma tres chere, mon adoree Jeanneton—to you who do not heat me occasionally, like an alcohol flame, but work in my heart like warming fire. Some one is knocking.
Visit from the co-director, who complains of the people who will not pay their school taxes. The man asks me whether my fiancee is tall.
"Oh yes; rather."
"Well, an acquaintance of mine saw you last summer with several ladies in the Harz Mountains, and you preferred to converse with the tallest, that must have been your fiancee."
The tallest woman in your party was, I fancy, Frau von Mittelstaedt. * * * The Harz! The Harz!
After a thorough consultation with Frau Bellin, I have decided to make no special changes here for the present, but to wait until we can hear the wishes of the lady of the house in the matter, so that we may have nothing to be sorry for. In six months I hope we shall know what we have to do.
It is impossible as yet to say anything definite about our next meeting. Just now it is raining; if that continues the Elbe may be played out in a week or two, and then. * * * Still no news whatever about the Landtag. Most cordial greetings and assurances of my love to your parents, and the former—the latter, too, if you like—to all your cousins, women friends, etc. What have you done with Aennchen? My forgetting the Versin letters disturbs me; I did not mean to make such a bad job of it. Have they been found Farewell, my treasure, my heart, consolation of my eyes.
Your faithful BISMARCK.
Another picture, a description of a storm in the Alps, which catches my eye as I turn over the pages of the book, and pleases me much:
"The sky is changed, and such a change! O night, And storm, and darkness, ye are wondrous strong, Yet lovely in your strength, as is the light Of a dark eye in woman! Far along From peak to peak, the rattling crags among, Leaps the live thunder; not from one lone cloud, But every mountain now has found a tongue, And Jura answers through her misty shroud— Back to the joyous Alps, who call to her aloud.
And this is in the night:—most glorious night! Thou wert not sent for slumber! let me be A sharer in thy fierce and fair delight— A portion of the tempest and of thee! How the lit lake shines, a phosphoric sea, And the big rain comes dancing to the earth! And now again 'tis black, and now the glee Of the loud hills shakes with its mountain-mirth, As if they did rejoice o'er a young earthquake's birth."
On such a night the suggestion comes uncommonly near to me that I wish to be a sharer in the delight, a portion of tempest, of night; mounted on a runaway horse, to dash down the cliffs into the falls of the Rhine, or something similar. A pleasure of that kind, unfortunately, one can enjoy but once in this life. There is something intoxicating in nocturnal storms. Your nights, dearest, I hope you regard, however, as sent for slumber, not for writing. I see with regret that I write English still more illegibly than German. Once more, farewell, my heart. Tomorrow noon I am invited to be the guest of Frau Brauchitsch, presumably so that I may be duly and thoroughly questioned about you and yours. I'll tell them as much as I please. Je t'embrasse mille fois.
Schoenhausen, February 7, '47.
My Heart,—Just returned through a wild, drifting snow-storm from an appointment (which unfortunately was occasioned by the burning out of a poor family). I have warmed myself at your dear letter; in the twilight, even, I recognized your "Right honorable." All my limbs are twitching with eagerness to be off to Berlin again today, and to characterize the dikes and floods in terms of the unutterable Poberow dialect. The inexorable thermometer stands at 2 below freezing-point, accompanied with howling wind and large flakes, as though it would soon rain. What is duty! Compare Falstaff's expressions touching honor. At any rate, I shall write you straightway, even if I ruin myself in postage, and no sensible thoughts find their way through the debris of the fire that still has possession of my imagination. After reading your last remark I have just lit my cigar and stirred the ink. First, like a business-man, to answer your letter. I begin with a request smacking of the official desk—namely, that when you write you will, if you please, expressly state what letters you have received from me, giving their dates; otherwise one is uncertain as to the regular forwarding of them, as I am in doubt whether you have received my first letter, which I wrote the day of my arrival here, while on a business trip, in Jerichow, if I mistake not, on very bad paper, Friday, the 29th of January. I am very thankful that you do not write in the evening, my love, even if I am myself to suffer thereby. Every future glance into your gray-blue-black eye with its large pupil will compensate me for possibly delayed or shortened letters.
If I could only dream of you when you do of me! But recently I do not dream at all—shockingly healthy and prosaic; or does my soul fly to Reinfeld in the night and associate with yours? In that case it can certainly not dream here; but it ought to tell about its journey in the morning, whereas the wayward thing is as silent about its nocturnal employments as though it, too, slept like a badger.
Your reminder of the bore, Fritz, with the letter-pouch transports me to Reinfeld and makes me long still more eagerly for the time when I can once again hug my black Jeannette for my good-morning at the desk. About the letter with the strange address, evidently in a woman's hand, I should like to tell you a romantic story, but I must destroy every illusion with the explanation that it comes from a man who used to be a friend of mine, who, if I do not mistake, once in Kniephof took a copy of an Italian address that I received. Again a curtain behind which one fancies there is all the poetry in the world, and finds the flattest prose. (I once saw in Aix-la-Chapelle, while strolling about the stage, the Princess of Eboli, after I had just spent my sympathy upon her as she lay overwhelmed and fainting at the queen's feet in one of the scenes, eating bread and butter and cracking bad jokes behind the scenes.) That cousin Woedtke is fond of me, and that the Versin sausage and letter affair is all right, I am glad to learn.
I need not assure you that I have the most heartfelt sympathy for the sufferings of your good mother; I hope rest and summer will affect her health favorably, and that she will recover after a while, with the joy of seeing her children happy. When she is here she shall not have any steps to go up to reach you, and shall live directly next to you.
Why do you wear mournful black in dress and heart, my angel? Cultivate the green of hope that today made right joyous revelry in me at sight of its external image, when the gardener placed the first messengers of spring, hyacinths and crocus, on my window-ledge. Et dis-moi donc, pourquoi es-tu paresseuse? Pourquoi ne fais-tu pas de musique? I fancied you playing c-dur when the hollow, melting wind howls through the dry twigs of the lindens, and d-moll when the snow-flakes chase in fantastic whirls around the corners of the old tower, and, after their desperation is spent, cover the graves with their winding-sheet. Oh, were I but Keudell, I'd play now all day long, and the tones would bear me over the Oder, Rega, Persante, Wipper—I know not whither. A propos de paresse, I am going to permit myself to make one more request of you, but with a preface. When I ask you for anything I add (do not take it for blasphemy or mockery) thy will be done—your will, I mean; and I do not love you less, nor am I vexed with you for a second if you do not fulfil my request. I love you as you are, and as you choose to be. After I have, by way of preface, said so much with inmost, unadorned truth, without hypocrisy or flattery, I beg you to pay some attention to French—not much, but somewhat—by reading French things that interest you, and, what is not clear to you, make it clear with the dictionary. If it bores you, stop it; but, lest it bore you, try it with books that interest you, whatever they may be—romances or anything else. I do not know your mother's views on such reading, but in my opinion there is nothing that you cannot read to yourself. I do not ask this for my own sake, for we will understand each other in our mother tongue, but in your intercourse with the world you will not seldom find occasions when it will be disagreeable or even mortifying if you are unfamiliar with French. I do not know, indeed, to what degree this is true of you, but reading is in any case a way to keep what you have and to acquire more. If it pleases you, we shall find a way for you to become more fluent in talking, than, as you say, you are now. If you do not like it, rely with entire confidence on the preface to my request.
I wrote to poor Moritz yesterday, and, after reading your description of his sadness, my letter lies like a stone on my conscience, for, like a heartless egotist, I mocked his pain by describing my happiness, and in five pages did not refer to his mourning by even a syllable, speaking of myself again and again, and using him as father-confessor. He is an awkward comforter who does not himself feel pain sympathetically, or not vividly enough. My first grief was the passionate, selfish one at the loss I had sustained; for Marie, so far as she is concerned, I do not feel it, because I know that she is well provided for, but that my sympathy with the suffering of my warmest friend, to whom I owe eternal thanks, is not strong enough to produce a word of comfort, of strong consolation from overflowing feeling, that burdens me sorely. Weep not, my angel; let your sympathy be strong and full of confidence in God; give him real consolation with encouragement, not with tears, and, if you can, doubly, for yourself and for your thankless friend whose heart is just now filled with you and has room for nothing else. Are you a withered leaf, a faded garment? I will see whether my love can foster the verdure once more, can brighten up the colors. You must put forth fresh leaves, and the old ones I shall lay between the pages of the book of my heart so that we may find them when we read there, as tokens of fond recollection. You have fanned to life again the coal that under ashes and debris still glowed in me; it shall envelop you in life-giving flames.
Le souper est servi, the evening is gone, and I have done nothing but chat with you and smoke: is that not becoming employment for the dike-captain? Why not?
A mysterious letter from —— lies before me. He writes in a tone new for him; admits that he perceives that he did many a wrong to his first wife; did not always rightly guide and bear with her weakness; was no prop to the "child," and believes himself absolved by this severe castigation. Qu'est-ce qu'il me chante? Has the letter undergone transformation in the Christian climate of Reinfeld, or did it leave the hand of this once shallow buffoon in its present form? He asserts, moreover, that he lives in a never dreamed of happiness with his present wife, whose acquaintance he made a week before the engagement, and whom he married six weeks after the same event: a happiness which his first marriage has taught him rightly to prize. Do you know the story of the French tiler who falls from the roof, and, in passing the second story, cries out, "Ca va bien, pourvu que ca dure?" Think, only, if we had been betrothed on the 12th of October '44, and, on November 23d, had married: What anxiety for mamma!
The English poems of mortal misery trouble me no more now; that was of old, when I looked out into nothing—cold and stiff, snow-drifts in my heart. Now a black cat plays with it in the sunshine, as though with a rolling skein, and I like to see its rolling. I will give you, at the end of this letter, a few more verses belonging to that period, of which fragmentary copies are still preserved, as I see, in my portfolio. You may allow me to read them still; they harm me no more. Thine eyes have still (and will always have) a charm for me. Please write me in your next letter about the uncertain marriage-plans. I believe, by Jove! that the matter is becoming serious. Until the day is fixed, it still seems to me as though we had been dreaming; or have I really passed a fortnight in Reinfeld, and held you in these arms of mine? Has Finette been found again? Do you remember our conversation when we went out with her in leash—when you, little rogue, said you would have "given me the mitten" had not God taken pity on me and permitted me at least a peep through the keyhole of His door of mercy! That came into my mind when I was reading I Cor. vii. 13 and 14 yesterday.
A commentator says of the passage that, in all relations of life, Christ regards the kingdom of God as the more powerful, victorious, finally overcoming all opposition, and the kingdom of darkness as powerless, falling in ruins ever more and more. Yet, how do most of you have so little confidence in your faith, and wrap it carefully in the cotton of isolation, lest it take cold from any draught of the world; while others are vexed with you, and proclaim that you are people who esteem yourselves too holy to come into contact with publicans, etc. If every one should think so who believes he has found truth—and many serious, upright, humble seekers do believe they find it elsewhere, or in another form—what a Pennsylvania solitary-confinement prison would God's beautiful earth become, divided up into thousands and thousands of exclusive coteries by insuperable partitions! Compare, also, Rom. xiv. 22 and xv. 2; also, particularly, I Cor. iv. 5; viii. 2; ix. 20; also xii. 4 and the following; further, xiii. 2; all in the First Ep. to the Cor., which seems to me to apply to the subject. We talked, during that walk, or another one, a great deal about "the sanctity of doing good works." I will not inundate you with Scripture passages in this connection, but only tell you how splendid I find the Epistle of James. (Matt. xxv. 34 and following; Rom. ii. 6; II Cor. v. 10; Rom. ii. 13; I Epistle of John iii. 7, and countless others.) It is, indeed, unprofitable to base arguments upon separate passages of Scripture apart from their connection; but there are many who are honestly striving, and who attach more importance to passages like James ii. 14 than to Mark xvi. 16, and for the latter passage offer expositions, holding them to be correct, which do not literally agree with yours. To what interpretation does the word "faith" not lend itself, both when taken alone and in connection with that which the Scriptures command us "to believe," in every single instance where they employ the word! Against my will, I fall into spiritual discussion and controversies. Among Catholics the Bible is read not at all, or with great precaution, by the laity; it is expounded only by the priests, who have concerned themselves all their lives with the study of the original sources. In the end, all depends upon the interpretation. Concert in Buetow amuses me: the idea of Buetow is, to my mind, the opposite of all music.
I have been quite garrulous, have I not? Now I must disturb some document-dust, and sharpen my pen afresh to the police-official style, for the president of the provincial court and the government. Could I but enclose myself herewith, or go along in a salmon-basket as mail-matter! Till we meet again, dearest black one. I love you, c'est tout dire.
(I am forgetting the English verses):
"Sad dreams, as when the spirit of our youth Returns in sleep, sparkling with all the truth And innocence, once ours, and leads us back In mournful mockery over the shining track Of our young life, and points out every ray Of hope and peace we've lost upon the way!"
By Moore, I think; perhaps Byron.
"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing."
Cordial remembrances to your parents and the Reddentin folk.
Schoenhausen, February 23, '47.
My Angel!—I shall not send this letter on its way tomorrow, it's true, but I do want to make use of the few unoccupied minutes left me to satisfy the need I am conscious of every hour, to communicate with you, and forthwith to compose a "Sunday letter" to you once more. Today I have been "on the move" all day long. "The Moorish king rode up and down," unfortunately not "through Granada's royal town," but between Havelberg and Jerichow, on foot, in a carriage, and on horseback, and got mighty cold doing so—because, after the warm weather of the last few days, I had not made the slightest preparation to encounter five degrees below freezing, with a cutting north wind, and was too much in haste or too lazy to mount the stairs again when I noticed the fresh air. During the night it had been quite endurable and superb moonlight. A beautiful spectacle it was, too, when the great fields of ice first set themselves massively in motion, with explosions like cannon-shots, shattering themselves against one another; they rear, shoving over and under each other; they pile up house-high, and sometimes build dams obliquely across the Elbe, in front of which the pent stream rises until it breaks through them with rage. Now are they all broken to pieces in the battle—the giants—and the water very thickly covered with ice-cakes, the largest of which measure several square rods, which it bears out to the free sea like shattered chains, with grumbling, clashing noises. This will go on so for about three days more, until the ice that comes from Bohemia, which passed the bridge at Dresden several days ago, has gone by. (The danger is that the ice-cakes by jamming together may make a dam, and the stream rise in front of this—often ten to fifteen feet in a few hours.) Then comes the freshet from the mountains which floods the bed of the Elbe, often a mile in width, and is dangerous in itself, owing to its volume. How long that is to last we cannot tell beforehand. The prevailing cold weather, combined with the contrary sea wind, will certainly retard it. It may easily last so long that it will not be worth while to go to Reinfeld before the 20th. If only eight days should be left me, would you have me undertake it, nevertheless?—or will you wait to have me without interruption after the 20th, or perhaps 18th? It is true that fiance and dike-captain are almost incompatible; but were I not the latter, I have not the slightest idea who would be. The revenues of the office are small, and the duties sometimes laborious; the gentlemen of the neighborhood, however, are deeply concerned, and yet without public spirit. And even if one should be discovered who would undertake it for the sake of the title, which is, strange to say, much desired in these parts, yet there is no one here (may God forgive me the offence) who would not be either unfit for the business or faint-hearted. A fine opinion, you will think, I have of myself, that I only am none of this; but I assert with all of my native modesty that I have all these faults in less degree than the others in this part of the country—which is, in fact, not saying much.
I have not yet been able to write to Moritz, and yet I must send something to which he can reply, inasmuch as my former letter has not as yet brought a sign of life. Or have you crowded me out of his heart, and do you fill it alone? The little pale-faced child is not in danger, I hope. That is a possibility in view of which I am terrified whenever I think of it—that as a crowning misfortune of our most afflicted friend, this thread of connection with Marie might be severed. But she will soon be a year and a half old, you know; she has passed the most dangerous period for children. Will you mope and talk of warm hands and cold love if I pay a visit to Moritz on my next journey, instead of flying to Reinfeld without a pause as is required of a loving youth?
That you are getting pale, my heart, distresses me. Do you feel well otherwise, physically, and of good courage? Give me a bulletin of your condition, your appetite, your sleep. I am surprised also that Hedwig Dewitz has written to you—such a heterogeneous nature, that can have so little in common with you. She was educated with my sister for several years in Kniephof, although she was four or five years the elder of the two. Either she loves you—which I should find quite easy to explain—or has other prosaic intentions. I fancy that she, as is quite natural, does not feel at home in her father's house; she has, therefore, always made her home with others for long periods and with satisfaction.
In your letter which lies before me I come upon "self-control" again. That is a fine acquisition for one who may profit by it, but surely to be distinguished from compulsion. It is praiseworthy and amiable to wean one's self from tasteless or provoking outbursts of feeling, or to give to them a more ingratiating form; but I call it self-constraint—which makes one sick at heart—when one stifles his own feelings in himself. In social intercourse one may practise it, but not we two between ourselves. If there be tares in the field of our heart, we will mutually exert ourselves so to dispose of them that their seed cannot spring up; but, if it does, we will openly pull it up, but not cover it artificially with straw and hide it—that harms the wheat and does not injure the tares. Your thought was, I take it, to pull them up unaided, without paining me by the sight of them; but let us be in this also one heart and one flesh, even if your little thistles sometimes prick my fingers. Do not turn your back on them nor conceal them from me. You will not always take pleasure in my big thorns, either—so big that I cannot hide them; and we must pull at them both together, even though our hands bleed. Moreover, thorns sometimes bear very lovely flowers, and if yours bear roses we may perhaps let them alone sometimes. "The best is foe to the good"—in general, a very true saying; so do not have too many misgivings about all your tares, which I have not yet discovered, and leave at least a sample of them for me. With this exhortation, so full of unction, I will go to sleep, although it has just struck ten, for last night there was little of it; the unaccustomed physical exercise has used me up a bit, and tomorrow I am to be in the saddle again before daylight. Very, very tired am I, like a child.
Schoenhausen, March 14, 1847.
Jeanne la Mechante!—What is the meaning of this? A whole week has passed since I heard a syllable from you, and today I seized the confused mass of letters with genuine impatience—seven official communications, a bill, two invitations, one of which is for a theatre and ball at Greifenberg, but not a trace of Zuckers (the Reinfeld post-office) and "Hochwohlgeboren."  I could not believe my eyes, and had to look through the letters twice; then I set my hat quite on my right ear and took a two hours' walk on the highway in the rain, without a cigar, assailed by the most conflicting sentiments—"a prey to violent emotions," as we are accustomed to say in romances. I have got used to receiving my two letters from you regularly every week, and when once we have acquired the habit of a thing we look upon that as our well-won right, an injury to which enrages us. If I only knew against whom I should direct my wrath—against Boege, against the post-office, or against you, la chatte la plus noire, inside and out. And why don't you write? Are you so exhausted with the effort you made in sending two letters at a time on Friday of last week? Ten days have gone by since then—time enough to rest yourself. Or do you want to let me writhe, while you feast your eyes on my anxiety, tigress! after speaking to me in your last letters about scarlet and nervous fevers, and after I had laid such stress on my maxim of never believing in anything bad before it forces itself upon me as incontestable? We adhere firmly to our maxims only so long as they are not put to the test; when that happens we throw them away, as the peasant did his slippers, and run off on the legs that nature gave us. If you have the disposition to try the virtue of my maxims, then I shall never again give utterance to any of them, lest I be caught lying; for the fact is that I do really feel somewhat anxious. With fevers in Reddis, to let ten days pass without writing is very horrible of you, if you are well. Or can it be that you did not receive on Thursday, as usual, my letter that I mailed on Tuesday in Magdeburg, and, in your indignation at this, resolved not to write to me for another week? If that is the state of affairs, I can't yet make up my mind whether to scold or laugh at you. The worst of it now is that, unless some lucky chance brings a letter from you directly to Stolp, I shall not have any before Thursday, for, as I remember it, there is no mail leaving you Saturday and Sunday, and I should have received Friday's today. If you have not sworn off writing altogether and wish to reply to this letter, address me at Naugard. * * *
Had another visitor, and he stayed to supper and well into the night—my neighbor, the town-counsellor Gaertner. People think they must call on each other Sunday evening, and can have nothing else to do. Now that all is quiet in the night, I am really quite disturbed about you and your silence, and my imagination, or, if not that, then the being whom you do not like to have me name, shows me with scornful zeal pictures of everything that could happen. Johanna, if you were to fall sick now, it would be terrible beyond description. At the thought of it, I fully realize how deeply I love you, and how deeply the bond that unites us has grown into me. I understand what you call loving much. When I think of the possibility of separation—and possible it is still—I should never have been so lonely in all my dreary, lonely life.
What would Moritz's situation be, compared with that?—for he has a child, a father, a sister, dear and intimate friends in the neighborhood. I have no one within forty miles with whom I should be tempted to talk more than that which politeness demands; only a sister—but a happily married one with children is really one no longer, at least for a brother who is single. For the first time I am looking the possibility straight in the eyes that you might be taken away from me, that I might be condemned to inhabit these empty rooms without a prospect of your sharing them with me, with not a soul in all the surrounding region who would not be as indifferent to me as though I had never seen him. I should, indeed, not be so devoid to comfort in myself as of old, but I should also have lost something that I used not to know—a loving and beloved heart, and at the same time be separated from all that which used to make life easy in Pomerania through habit and friendship. A very egotistical line of thought and way of looking at things this discloses, you will say. Certainly, but Pain and Fear are egotists, and, in cases like that referred to, I never think the deceased, but only the survivors, are to be pitied. But who speaks of dying? All this because you have not written for a week; and then I have the assurance to lecture you for gloomy forebodings, etc.! If you had only not spoken of the deadly fevers in your last letter. In the evening I am always excited, in the loneliness, when I am not tired. Tomorrow, in bright daylight, in the railway carriage, I shall perhaps grasp your possible situation with greater confidence.
Be rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer. All the angels will guard you, my beloved heart, so that we shall soon meet again with joy. Farewell, and salute your parents. I wrote your father this morning. Your faithful BISMARCK.
Berlin, Friday, May 15, '47.
Dear Heart,—Your father gave me your letter this morning at the session, and in consequence I hardly know what subject was discussed, or, at least, lacked energy to form a clear, conscious conception of it. My thoughts were in Reinfeld and my heart full to overflowing of care. I am submissive in all that may happen, but I cannot say that I should be submissive with gladness. The chords of my soul become relaxed and toneless when I think of all possibilities. I am not, indeed, of that self-afflicting sort that carefully and artfully destroys its own hope and constructs fear, and I do not believe that it is God's will to separate us now—for every reason I cannot believe it; but I know that you are suffering, and I am not with you, and yet if I were there, I could perhaps contribute something to your tranquillity, to your serenity, were it only that I should ride with you—for you have no one else for that. It is so contrary to all my views of gallantry, not to speak of my sentiments for you, that any power whatever should keep me here when I know that you are suffering and I could help and relieve you; and I am still at war with myself to determine what my duty is before God and man. If I am not sooner there, then it is fairly certain that I shall arrive in Reinfeld with your father at Whitsuntide, probably a week from tomorrow. The cause of your illness may lie deeper, or perhaps it is only that the odious Spanish flies have affected you too powerfully. Who is this second doctor you have called in? The frequent changing of doctors, and, on one's own authority, using between-times all sorts of household remedies, or remedies prescribed for others, I consider very bad and wrong. Choose one of the local doctors in whom you have the most confidence, but keep to him, too; do what he prescribes and nothing else, nothing arbitrary; and, if you have not confidence in any of the local men, we will both try to carry through the plan of bringing you here, so that you may have thorough treatment under the direction of Breiers, or some one else. The conduct of your parents in regard to medical assistance, the obstinate refusal of your father, and, allied to that, your mother's arbitrary changing and fixed prejudices, in matters which neither of them understand, seem to me, between ourselves, indefensible. He to whom God has intrusted a child, and an only child at that, must employ for her preservation all the means that God has made available, and not become careless of them through fatalism or self-sufficiency. If writing tires you, ask your mother to send us news. Moreover, it would seem to me very desirable if one of your friends could be prevailed upon to go to you until you are better. Whether a doctor can help you or not—forgive me, but you cannot judge of that by your feelings. God's help is certainly decisive, but it is just He who has given us medicine and physician that, through them, His aid may reach us; and to decline it in this form is to tempt Him, as though the sailor at sea should deprive himself of a helmsman, with the idea that God alone can and will give aid. If He does not help us through the means He has placed within our reach, then there is nothing left to do but to bow in silence under His hand. If you should be able to come to Zimmerhausen after Whitsuntide, please write to that effect beforehand if possible. If your illness should become more serious, I shall certainly leave the Landtag, and even if you are confined to your bed I shall be with you. At such a moment I shall not let myself be restrained by such questions of etiquette—that is my fixed resolve. You may be sure of this, that I have long been helping you pray that the Lord may free you from useless despondency and bestow upon you a heart cheerful and submissive to God—and upon me, also; and I have the firm confidence that He will grant our requests and guide us both in the paths that lead to Him. Even though yours may often go to the left around the mountain, and mine to the right, yet they will meet beyond.
The salt water has already gone from here. If you are too weak for riding, then take a drive every day. When you are writing to me, and begin to feel badly in the least, stop immediately; give me only a short bulletin of your health, even if it is but three lines, for, thank Heaven, words can be dispensed with between us—they cannot add or take away anything, since our hearts look into each other, eye to eye, to the very bottom, and though here and there, behind a fold, some new thing is discovered, a strange thing it is not. Dear heart, what stuff you talk (excuse my rudeness) when you say I must not come if I would rather stop in Zimmerhausen or Angermuende at Whitsuntide! How can I take pleasure anywhere while I know that you are suffering, and moreover, am uncertain in what degree? With us two it is a question, not of amusing and entertaining, but only of loving and being together, spiritually, and, if possible, corporeally; and if you should lie speechless for four weeks—sleep, or something else—I would be nowhere else, provided nothing but my wish were to decide. If I could only "come to your door," I would still rather be there than with my dear sister; and the sadder and sicker you are, so much the more. But the door will not separate me from you, however ill you may be. That is a situation in which the slave mutinies against his mistress. * * *
Your faithful B.
Berlin, Tuesday Morning, May 18, '47.
Dearest,—The last letters from Reinfeld permit me to hope that your illness is not so threatening at the moment as I feared from the first news, although I am continually beset by all possible fears about you, and thus am in a condition of rather complicated restlessness. * * * My letter in which I told you of my election you have understood somewhat, and your dear mother altogether, from a point of view differing from that which was intended. I only wanted to make my position exactly clear to you, and the apologies which to you seemed perhaps forced, as I infer from your mother's letter, you may regard as an entirely natural outflow of politeness. That I did not stand in need of justification with you I very well know; but also that it must affect us both painfully to see our fine plans cancelled. It was my ardent wish to be a member of the Landtag; but that the Landtag and you are fifty miles apart distressed me in spite of the fulfilment of my wish. You women are, and always will be, unaccountable, and it is better to deal with you by word of mouth than by writing. * * * I have ventured once or twice on the speaker's platform with a few words, and yesterday raised an unheard-of storm of displeasure, in that, by a remark which was not explained clearly enough touching the character of the popular uprising of 1813, I wounded the mistaken vanity of many of my own party, and naturally had all the halloo of the opposition against me. The resentment was great, perhaps for the very reason that I told the truth in applying to 1813 the sentence that any one (the Prussian people) who has been thrashed by another (the French) until he defends himself can make no claim of service towards a third person (our King) for so doing. I was reproached with my youth and all sorts of other things. Now I must go over before today's session to see whether, in printing my words, they have not turned them into nonsense. * * *