Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White— Volume 2

Author: Andrew Dickson White

Chapter XLIV My Recollections of William II—1879-1903

At various times since my leaving the Berlin Embassy various friends have said to me, "Why not give us something definite regarding the German Emperor?" And on my pleading sundry difficulties and objections, some of my advisers have recalled many excellent precedents, both American and foreign, and others have cited the dictum, "The man I don’t like is the man I don’t know."

The latter argument has some force with me. Much ill feeling between the United States and Germany has had its root in misunderstandings; and, as one of the things nearest my heart since my student days has been a closer moral and intellectual relation between the two countries, there is, perhaps, a reason for throwing into these misunderstandings some light from my own experience.

My first recollections of the present Emperor date from the beginning of my stay as minister at Berlin, in 1879. The official presentations to the Emperor and Empress of that period having been made, there came in regular order those to the crown prince and princess, and on my way to them there fell into my hands a newspaper account of the unveiling of the monument to the eminent painter Cornelius, at Dusseldorf, the main personage in the ceremony being the young Prince William, then a student at Bonn. His speech was given at some length, and it impressed me. There was a certain reality of conviction and aspiration in it which seemed to me so radically different from the perfunctory utterances usual on such occasions that, at the close of the official interview with his father and mother, I alluded to it. Their response touched me. There came at once a kindly smile upon the father’s face, and a glad sparkle into the mother’s eyes: pleasing was it to hear her, while showing satisfaction and pride, speak of her anxiety before the good news came, and of the embarrassments in the way of her son at his first public address on an occasion of such importance; no less pleasing was it to note the father’s happy acquiescence: there was in it all a revelation of simple home feeling and of wholesome home ties which clearly indicated something different from the family relations in sundry royal houses depicted by court chroniclers.

Not long afterward the young prince appeared at some of the court festivities, and I had many opportunities to observe him. He seemed sprightly, with a certain exuberance of manner in meeting his friends which was not unpleasing; but it was noticeable that his hearty salutations were by no means confined to men and women of his own age; he was respectful to old men, and that is always a good sign; it could be easily seen, too, that while he especially sought the celebrities of the Franco-Prussian War, he took pains to show respect to men eminent in science, literature, and art. There seemed a healthy, hearty life in him well befitting a young man of his position and prospects: very different was he from the heir to the throne in another country, whom I had occasion to observe at similar functions, and who seemed to regard the whole human race with indifference.

Making the usual visits in Berlin society, I found that people qualified to judge had a good opinion of his abilities; and not infrequent were prophecies that the young man would some day really accomplish something.

My first opportunity to converse with him came at his marriage, when a special reception was given by him and his bride to the diplomatic corps. He spoke at considerable length on American topics—on railways, steamers, public works, on Americans whom he had met, and of the things he most wished to see on our side the water; altogether he seemed to be broad-minded, alert, with a quick sense of humor, and yet with a certain solidity of judgment beneath it all.

After my departure from Berlin there flitted over to America conflicting accounts of him, and during the short reign of his father there was considerable growth of myth and legend to his disadvantage. Any attempt to distil the truth from it all would be futile; suffice it that both in Germany and Great Britain careful statements by excellent authorities on both sides have convinced me that in all that trying crisis the young man’s course was dictated by a manly sense of duty.

The first thing after his accession which really struck me as a revelation of his character was his dismissal of Bismarck. By vast numbers of people this was thought the act of an exultant young ruler eager to escape all restraint, and this opinion was considerably promoted in English-speaking countries by an ephemeral cause: Tenniel’s cartoon in "Punch" entitled "Dropping the Pilot." As most people who read this will remember, the iron chancellor was therein represented as an old, weatherbeaten pilot, in storm-coat and sou’wester, plodding heavily down the gangway at the side of a great ship; while far above him, leaning over the bulwarks, was the young Emperor, jaunty, with a satisfied smirk, and wearing his crown. There was in that little drawing a spark of genius, and it sped far; probably no other cartoon in "Punch" ever produced so deep an effect, save, possibly, that which appeared during the Crimean War with the legend "General February turned Traitor"; it went everywhere, appealing to deep sentiment in human hearts.

And yet, to me—admiring Bismarck as the greatest German since Luther, but reflecting upon the vast interests involved—this act was a proof that the young monarch was a stronger man than any one had supposed him to be. Certainly this dismissal must have caused him much regret; all his previous life had shown that he admired Bismarck—almost adored him. It gave evidence of a deep purpose and a strong will. Louis XIV had gained great credit after the death of Mazarin by declaring his intention of ruling alone—of taking into his own hands the vast work begun by Richelieu; but that was the merest nothing compared to this. This was, apparently, as if Louis XIII, immediately after the triumphs of Richelieu, had dismissed him and declared his purpose of henceforth being his own prime minister. The young Emperor had found himself at the parting of the ways, and had deliberately chosen the right path, and this in spite of almost universal outcries at home and abroad. The OLD Emperor William could let Bismarck have his way to any extent: when his chancellor sulked he could drive to the palace in the Wilhelmstrasse, pat his old servant on the back, chaff him, scold him, laugh at him, and set him going again, and no one thought less of the old monarch on that account. But for the YOUNG Emperor William to do this would be fatal; it would class him at once among the rois fatneants—the mere figureheads—"the solemnly constituted impostors," and in this lay not merely dangers to the young monarch, but to his dynasty and to the empire.

His recognition of this fact was, and is, to me a proof that the favorable judgments of him which I had heard expressed in Berlin were well founded.

But this decision did much to render him unpopular in the United States, and various other reports which flitted over increased the unfavorable feeling. There came reports of his speeches to young recruits, in which, to put it mildly, there was preached a very high theory of the royal and imperial prerogative, and a very exacting theory of the duty of the subject. Little account was taken by distant observers of the fundamental facts in the case; namely, that Germany, being a nation with no natural frontiers, with hostile military nations on all sides, and with serious intestine tendencies to anarchy, must, if she is to live, have the best possible military organization and a central power strong to curb all the forces of the empire, and quick to hurl them. Moreover, these speeches, which seemed so absurd to the average American, hardly astonished any one who had lived long in Germany, and especially in Prussia. The doctrines laid down by the young monarch to the recruits were, after all, only what they had heard a thousand times from pulpit and school desk, and are a logical result of Prussian history and geography. Something, too, must be allowed to a young man gifted, energetic, suddenly brought into so responsible a position, looking into and beyond his empire, seeing hostile nations north, south, east, and west, with elements of unreason fermenting within its own borders, and feeling that the only reliance of his country is in the good right arms of its people, in their power of striking heavily and quickly, and in unquestioning obedience to authority.

In the history of American opinion at this time there was one comical episode. The strongholds of opinion among us friendly to Germany have been, for the last sixty years, our universities and colleges, in so many of which are professors and tutors who, having studied in Germany, have brought back a certain love for the German fatherland. To them there came in those days a curious tractate by a little-known German professor—one of the most curious satires in human history. To all appearance it was simply a biographical study of the young Roman emperor Caligula. It displayed the advantages he had derived from a brave and pious imperial ancestry, and especially from his devout and gifted father; it showed his natural gifts and acquired graces, his versatility, his growing restlessness, his manifold ambitions, his contempt of wise counsel, the dismissal of his most eminent minister, his carelessness of thoughtful opinion, his meddling in anything and everything, his displays in the theater and in the temples of the gods, his growth—until the world recognized him simply as a beast of prey, a monster. The whole narrative was so managed that the young prince who had just come to the German throne seemed the exact counterpart of the youthful Roman monarch—down to the cruel stage of his career; THAT was left to anticipation. The parallels and resemblances between the two were arranged with consummate skill, and whenever there was a passage which seemed to present an exact chronicle of some well-known saying or doing of the modern ruler there would follow an asterisk with a reference to a passage in Tacitus or Suetonius or Dion Cassius or other eminent authority exactly warranting the statement. This piece of historical jugglery ran speedily through thirty editions, while from all parts of Germany came refutations and counter-refutations by scores, all tending to increase its notoriety. Making a short tour through Germany at that period, and stopping in a bookseller’s shop at Munich to get a copy of this treatise, I was shown a pile of pamphlets which it had called out, at least a foot high. Comically enough, its author could not be held responsible for it, since the name of the young Emperor William was never mentioned; all it claimed to give or did give was the life of Caligula, and certainly there was no crime in writing a condemnatory history of him or any other imperial miscreant who died nearly two thousand years ago. In the American colleges and universities this tractate doubtless made good friends of Germany uneasy, and it even shocked some excellent men who knew much of Roman history and little of mankind; but gradually common sense resumed its sway. As men began to think they began to realize that the modern German Empire resembles in no particular that debased and corrupt mass with which the imperial Roman wretches had to do, and that the new German sovereign, in all his characteristics and tendencies is radically a different being from any one of the crazy beasts of prey who held the imperial power during the decline of Rome.

Sundry epigrams had also come over to us; among others, the characterization of the three German Emperors: the first William as "Der greise Kaiser," the Emperor Frederick as "Der weise Kaiser," and the second William as "Der Reise Kaiser"; and there were unpleasant murmurs regarding sundry trials for petty treason. But at the same time there was evident, in the midst of American jokes at the young Emperor’s expense, a growing feeling that there was something in him; that, at any rate, he was not a fat-witted, Jesuit-ridden, mistress-led monarch of the old Bourbon or Hapsburg sort; that he had "go" in him—some fine impulses, evidently; and here and there a quotation from a speech showed insight into the conditions of the present world and aspiration for its betterment.

In another chapter I have given a general sketch of the conversation at my first presentation to him as ambassador; it strengthened in my mind the impression already formed,—that he was not a monarch of the old pattern. The talk was not conventional; he was evidently fond of discoursing upon architecture, sculpture, and music, but not less gifted in discussing current political questions, and in various conversations afterward this fact was observable. Conventional talk was reduced to a minimum; the slightest hint was enough to start a line of remark worth listening to.

Opportunities for conversation were many. Besides the usual "functions" of various sorts, there were interviews by special appointment, and in these the young monarch was neither backward in presenting his ideas nor slow in developing them. The range of subjects which interested him seemed unlimited, but there were some which he evidently preferred: of these were all things relating to ships and shipping, and one of the first subjects which came up in conversations between us was the books of Captain Mahan, which he discussed very intelligently, awarding great praise to their author, and saying that he required all his naval officers to read them.

Another subject in order was art in all its developments. During the first years of my stay he was erecting the thirty-two historical groups on the Avenue of Victory in the Thiergarten, near my house. My walks took me frequently by them, and they interested me, not merely by their execution, but by their historical purpose, commemorating as they do the services of his predecessors, and of the strongest men who made their reigns significant during nearly a thousand years. He was always ready to discuss these works at length, whether from the artistic, historical, or educational point of view. Not only to me, but to my wife he insisted on their value as a means of arousing intelligent patriotism in children and youth. He dwelt with pride on the large number of gifted sculptors in his realm, and his comments on their work were worth listening to. He himself has artistic gifts which in his earlier days were shown by at least one specimen of his work as a painter in the Berlin Annual Exhibition; and in the window of a silversmith’s shop on the Linden I once saw a prize cup for a yacht contest showing much skill in invention and beauty in form, while near it hung the pencil drawing for it in his own hand.

His knowledge of music and love for it have been referred to elsewhere in these chapters. Noteworthy was it that his feeling was not at all for music of a thin, showy sort; he seemed to be touched by none of the prevailing fashions, but to cherish a profound love for the really great things in music. This was often shown, as, for example, at the concert at Potsdam to which he invited President and Mrs. Harrison, and in his comments upon the pieces then executed. But the most striking evidence of it was the music in the Royal Chapel. It has been given me to hear more than once the best music of the Sistine Pauline, and Lateran choirs at Rome, of the three great choirs at St. Petersburg, of the chorus at Bayreuth, and of other well-known assemblages under high musical direction; but the cathedral choir at Berlin, in its best efforts, surpassed any of these, and the music, both instrumental and choral, which reverberates under the dome of the imperial chapel at the great anniversaries there celebrated is nowhere excelled. For operatic music of the usual sort he seemed to care little. If a gala opera was to be given, the chances were that he would order the performance of some piece of more historical than musical interest. Hence, doubtless, it was that during my whole stay the opera at Dresden surpassed decidedly that at Berlin, while in the higher realms of music Berlin remained unequaled.

Dramatic art is another field in which he takes an enlightened interest: he has great reason for doing so, both as a statesman and as a man.

As a result of observation and reflection during a long life which has touched public men and measures in wide variety, I would desire for my country three things above all others, to supplement our existing American civilization: from Great Britain her administration of criminal justice; from Germany her theater; and from any European country, save Russia, Spain, and Turkey, its government of cities.

As to the second of these desired contributions, ten years in Germany at various periods during an epoch covering now nearly half a century have convinced me that her theater, next after her religious inheritance, gives the best stimulus and sustenance to the better aspirations of her people. Through it, and above all by Schiller, the Kantian ethics have been brought into the thinking of the average man and woman; and not only Schiller, but Lessing, Goethe, Gutzkow, and a long line of others have given an atmosphere in which ennobling ideals bloom for the German youth, during season after season, as if in the regular course of nature. The dramatic presentation, even in the smallest towns, is, as a rule, good; the theater and its surroundings are, in the main, free from the abuses and miseries of the stage in English-speaking lands, and, above all, from that all-pervading lubricity and pornographic stench which have made the French theater of the last half of the nineteenth century a main cause in the decadence of the French people. In most German towns of importance one finds the drama a part of the daily life of its citizens—ennobling in its higher ranges, and in its influence clean and wholesome.

It may be added that in no city of any English-speaking country is Shakspere presented so fully, so well, and to such large and appreciative audiences as in Berlin. All this, and more, the Emperor knows, and he acts upon his knowledge. Interesting was it at various times to see him sitting with his older children at the theater, evidently awakening their interest in dramatic masterpieces; and among these occasions there come back to me, especially, the evenings when he thus sat, evidently discussing with them the thought and action in Shakspere’s "Julius Caesar" and "Coriolanus," as presented on the stage before us. I could well imagine his comments on the venom of demagogues, on the despotism of mobs, on the weaknesses of strong men, and on the need, in great emergencies, of a central purpose and firm control. His view of the true character and mission of the theater he has given at various times, and one of his talks with the actors in the Royal Theater, shortly after my arrival, may be noted as typical. In it occur passages like the following: "When I came into the government, ten years ago, . . . I was convinced that this theater, under the guidance of the monarch, should, like the school and the university, have as its mission the development of the rising generation, the promotion of the highest intellectual good in our German fatherland, and the ennobling of our people in mind and character.... I beg of you that you continue to stand by me, each in his own way and place, serving the spirit of idealism, and waging war against materialism and all un-German corruptions of the stage."

After various utterances showing his steady purpose in the same direction, there came out, in one of the later years of my stay, sundry remarks of his showing a new phase of the same thought, as follows: "The theater should not only be an important factor in education and in the promotion of morals, but it should also present incarnations of elegance, of beauty, of the highest conceptions of art; it should not discourage us with sad pictures of the past, with bitter awakenings from illusions, but be purified, elevated, strengthened for presenting the ideal. . . . Our ordinary life gives us every day the most mournful realities, and the modern authors whose pleasure it is to bring these before us upon the stage have accepted an unhealthy mission and accomplish a discouraging work."

In his desire to see the theater aid in developing German ideals and in enriching German life, he has promoted presentations of the great episodes and personages in German history. Some of these, by Wildenbruch and Lauff, permeated with veins of true poetry, are attractive and ennobling. Of course not all were entirely successful. I recall one which glorified especially a great epoch in the history of the house of Hohenzollern, the comical effect of which on one of my diplomatic colleagues I have mentioned elsewhere; but this, so far as my experience goes, was an exception.

There seems much reason for the Emperor’s strenuous endeavors in this field. The German theater still remains more wholesome than that of any other country, but I feel bound to say that, since my earlier acquaintance with it, from 1854 to 1856 and from 1879 to 1881, there has come some deterioration, and this is especially shown in various dramas which have been held up as triumphs. In these, an inoculation from the French drama seems to have resulted in destruction of the nobler characteristics of the German stage. One detects the cant of Dumas, fils, but not his genius; and, when this cant is mingled with German pessimism, it becomes at times unspeakably repulsive. The zeal for this new drama seems to me a fad, and rather a slimy fad. With all my heart I wish the Emperor success in his effort to keep the German stage upon the higher planes.

Another subject which came up from time to time was that of archaelogical investigation. Once, in connection with some talk on German railway enterprises in Asia Minor, I touched upon his great opportunities to make his reign illustrious by services to science in that region. He entered into the subject heartily; it was at once evident that he was awake to its possibilities, and he soon showed me much more than I knew before of what had been done and was doing, but pointed out special difficulties in approaching, at present, some most attractive fields of investigation.

Interesting also were his views on education, and more than once the conversation touched this ground. As to his own academic training, there is ample testimony that he appreciated the main classical authors whom he read in the gymnasium at Cassel; but it was refreshing to hear and to read various utterances of his against gerund-grinding and pedantry. He recognizes the fact that the worst enemies of classical instruction in Germany, as, indeed, elsewhere, have been they of its own household, and he has stated this view as vigorously as did Sydney Smith in England and Francis Wayland in America. Whenever he dwelt on this subject the views which he presented at such length to the Educational Commission were wont to come out with force and piquancy.

On one occasion our discussion turned upon physical education, and especially upon the value to students of boating. As an old Yale boating man, a member of the first crew which ever sent a challenge to Harvard, and one who had occasion in the administration of an American university to consider this form of exercise from various standpoints, I may say that his view of its merits and his way of promoting it seemed to me thoroughly sensible.

From time to time some mention from me of city improvements observed during my daily walks led to an interesting discussion. The city of Berlin is wonderfully well governed, and exhibits all those triumphs of modern municipal skill and devotion which are so conspicuously absent, as a rule, from our American cities. While his capital preserves its self-governing powers, it is clear that he purposes to have his full say as to everything within his jurisdiction. There were various examples of this, and one of them especially interested me: the renovation of the Thiergarten. This great park, virtually a gift of the Hohenzollern monarchs, which once lay upon the borders of the city, but is now in the very heart of it, had gradually fallen far short of what it should have been. Even during my earlier stays in Berlin it was understood that some of his predecessors, and especially his father, had desired to change its copse-like and swampy character and give it more of the features of a stately park, but that popular opposition to any such change had always shown itself too bitter and uncompromising. This seemed a great pity, for while there were some fine trees, a great majority of them were so crowded together that there was no chance of broad, free growth either for trees or for shrubbery. There was nothing of that exquisitely beautiful play, upon expanses of green turf, of light and shade through wide-expanded boughs and broad masses of foliage, which gives such delight in any of the finer English or American parks. Down to about half a dozen years since it had apparently been thought best not to interfere, and even when attention was called to the dark, swampy characteristics of much of the Thiergarten, the answer was that it was best to humor the Berliners; but about the beginning of my recent stay the young Emperor intervened with decision and force, his work was thorough, and as my windows looked out over one corner of this field of his operations, their progress interested me, and they were alluded to from time to time in our conversations. Interesting was it to note that his energy was all-sufficient; the Berliners seemed to regard his activity as Arabs regard a sand-storm,—as predestined and irresistible,—and the universal verdict now justifies his course, both on sanitary and artistic grounds.

The same thing may be said, on the whole, of the influence he has exerted on the great adornments of his capital city. The position and character of various monuments on which he has impressed his ideas, and the laying out and decoration of sundry streets and parks, do credit not merely to his artistic sense, but to his foresight.

This prompt yet wise intervention, actuated by a public spirit not only strong but intelligent, is seen, in various other parts of the empire, in the preservation and restoration of its architectural glories. When he announced to me at Potsdam his intention to present specimens representative of German architecture and sculpture to the Germanic Museum at Harvard, he showed, in enumerating and discussing the restorations at Marienburg and Naumburg, the bas-reliefs at Halberstadt, the masks and statues of Andreas Schluter at Berlin, and the Renaissance and rococo work at Lubeck and Danzig, a knowledge and appreciation worthy of a trained architect and archaeologist.

As to his feeling for literature, his addresses on various occasions show amply that he has read to good purpose, not only in the best authors of his own, but of other countries. While there is not the slightest tinge of pedantry in his speeches or talk, there crop out in them evidences of a curious breadth and universality in his reading. His line of reading for amusement was touched when, at the close of an hour of serious official business, an illustration of mine from Rudyard Kipling led him to recall many of that author’s most striking situations, into which he entered with great zest; and at various other times he cited sayings of Mark Twain which he seemed especially to enjoy. Here it may be mentioned that one may note the same breadth in his love for art; for not only does he rejoice in the higher achievements of architecture, sculpture, and painting, but he takes pleasure in lighter work, and an American may note that he is greatly interested in the popular illustrations of Gibson.

I once asked some of the leading people nearest him how he found time to observe so wide a range, and received answer that it was as much a marvel to them as to me; he himself once told me that he found much time for reading during his hunting excursions.

Nor does he make excursions into various fields of knowledge by books alone. Any noteworthy discovery or gain in any leading field of thought or effort attracts his attention at once, and must be presented to him by some one who ranks among its foremost exponents.

But here it should be especially noted that, active and original as the Emperor is, he is not, and never has been, caught by FADS either in art, science, literature, or in any other field of human activity. The great artists who cannot draw or paint, and who, therefore, despise those who can and are glorified by those who cannot; the great composers who can give us neither harmony nor melody, and therefore have a fanatical following among those who labor under like disabilities; the great writers who are unable to attain strength, lucidity, or beauty, and therefore secure praise for profundity and occult wisdom,—none of these influence him. In these, as in other things, the Hohenzollern sanity asserts itself. He recognizes the fact that normal and healthy progress is by an evolution of the better out of the good, and that the true function of genius in every field is to promote some phase of this evolution either by aiding to create a better environment, or by getting sight of higher ideals.

As to his manner, it is in ordinary intercourse simple, natural, kindly, and direct, and on great public occasions dignified without the slightest approach to pomposity. I have known scores of our excellent fellow-citizens in little offices who were infinitely more assuming. It was once said of a certain United States senator that "one must climb a ladder to speak with him"; no one would dream of making any assertion of this sort regarding the present ruler of the Prussian Kingdom and German Empire.

But it would be unjust to suppose that minor gifts and acquirements form the whole of his character; they are but a part of its garb. He is certainly developing the characteristics of a successful ruler of men and the solid qualities of a statesman. It was my fortune, from time to time, to hear him discuss at some length current political questions; and his views were presented with knowledge, clearness, and force. There was nothing at all flighty in any of his statements or arguments. There is evidently in him a large fund of that Hohenzollern common sense which has so often happily modified German, and even European, politics. He recognizes, of course, as his ancestors generally have done, that his is a military monarchy, and that Germany is and must remain a besieged camp; hence his close attention to the army and navy. Every one of our embassy military attaches expressed to me his surprise at the efficiency of his inspections of troops, of his discrimination between things essential and not essential, and of his insight into current military questions. Even more striking testimony was given to me by our naval attaches as to his minute knowledge not only of his own navy, but of the navies of other powers, and especially as to the capabilities of various classes of ships and, indeed, of individual vessels. One thoroughly capable of judging told me that he doubted whether there was any admiral in our service who knew more about every American ship of any importance than does the Kaiser. It has been said that his devotion to the German navy is a whim. That view can hardly command respect among those who have noted his labor for years upon its development, and his utterances regarding its connection with the future of his empire. As a simple matter of fact, he recognizes the triumphs of German commercial enterprises, and sees in them a guarantee for the extension of German power and for a glory more permanent than any likely to be obtained by military operations in these times. When any candid American studies what has been done, or, rather, what has NOT been done, in his own country, with its immense seacoast and its many harbors on two oceans, to build up a great merchant navy, and compares it with what has been accomplished during the last fifty years by the steady, earnest, honest enterprise of Germany, with merely its little strip of coast on a northern inland sea, and with only the Hanseatic ports as a basis, he may well have searchings of heart. The "Shipping Trust" seems to be the main outcome of our activity, and lines of the finest steamers running to all parts of the world the outcome of theirs. There is a history here which we may well ponder; the young Emperor has not only thought but acted upon it.

As to yet broader work, the crucial test of a ruler is his ability to select MEN, to stand by them when he has selected them, and to decide wisely how far the plans which he has thought out, and they have thought out, can be fused into a policy worthy of his country. Judged by this test, the young monarch would seem worthy of his position; the men he has called to the various ministries are remarkably fit for their places, several of them showing very high capacity, and some of them genius.

As to his relation to the legislative bodies, it is sometimes claimed that he has lost much by his too early and open proclamation of his decisions, intentions, and wishes; and it can hardly be denied that something must be pardoned to the ardor of his patriotic desire to develop the empire in all its activities; but, after all due allowance has been made, there remains undeniable evidence of his statesmanlike ability to impress his views upon the national and state legislatures. A leading member of one of the parliamentary groups, very frequently in opposition to government measures, said to me: "After all, it is impossible for us to resist him; he knows Germany so well, and his heart is so thoroughly in his proposals, that he is sure to gain his points sooner or later."

An essential element of strength in this respect is his acquaintance with men and things in every part of his empire. Evidences of this were frequent in his public letters and telegrams to cities, towns, groups, and individuals. Nor was it "meddling and muddling." If any fine thing was done in any part of the empire, he seemed the first to take notice of it. Typical of his breadth of view were the cases of various ship captains and others who showed heroism in remote parts of the world, his telegram of hearty approval being usually the first thing they received on coming within reach of it, and substantial evidence of his gratitude meeting them later.

On the other hand, as to his faculty for minute observation and prompt action upon it: a captain of one of the great liners between Hamburg and New York told me that when his ship was ready to sail the Emperor came on board, looked it over, and after approving various arrangements said dryly, "Captain, I should think you were too old a sailor to let people give square corners to your tables." The captain quietly acted upon this hint; and when, many months later, the Kaiser revisited the ship, he said, "Well, captain, I am glad to see that you have rounded the corners of your tables."

He is certainly a working man. The record of each of his days at Berlin or Potsdam, as given in the press, shows that every hour, from dawn to long after dusk, brings its duties—duties demanding wide observation, close study, concentration of thought, and decision. Nor is his attention bounded by German interests. He is a keen student of the world at large. At various interviews there was ample evidence of his close observation of the present President of the United States, and of appreciation of his doings and qualities; so, too, when the struggle for decent government in New York was going on, he showed an intelligent interest in Mr. Seth Low; and in various other American matters there was recognition of the value of any important stroke of good work done by our countrymen.

As to his view of international questions, two of the opportunities above referred to especially occur to me here.

The first of these was during the troubles in Crete between the Greeks and the Turks. As I talked one evening with one of my colleagues who represented a power especially interested in the matter, the Emperor came up and at once entered into the discussion. He stated the position of various powers in relation to it, and suggested a line of conduct. There was straightforward good sense in his whole contention, a refreshing absence of conventionalities, and a very clear insight into the realities of the question, with a shrewd forecast of the result. More interesting to me was another conversation, in the spring of 1899. As the time drew near for the sessions of the Peace Conference at The Hague, I was making preparations for leaving Berlin to take up my duty in that body, when one morning there appeared at the embassy a special messenger from the Emperor requesting me to come to the palace. My reception was hearty, and he plunged at once into the general subject by remarking, "What the conference will most need is good common sense; and I have sent Count Munster, my ambassador at Paris, because he has lots of it." With this preface, he went very fully into the questions likely to come before the conference, speaking regarding the attitude of the United States and the various powers of Europe and Asia with a frankness, fullness, and pungency which at times rather startled me. On the relations between the United States, Germany, and Great Britain he was especially full. Very suggestive also were his remarks regarding questions in the far East, and especially on the part likely to be played by Japan and China—the interests of various powers in these questions being presented in various aspects, some of them decidedly original and suggestive. While there were points on which we could hardly agree, there were some suggestions which proved to be of especial value, and to one of them is due the fact that on most questions the German delegates at The Hague stood by the Americans, and that on the most important question of all they finally, after a wide divergence from our view, made common cause with Great Britain and the United States. I regret that the time has not come when it is permissible to give his conversation in detail; it treated a multitude of current topics, and even burning questions, with statesmanlike breadth, and at the same time with the shrewdness of a man of the world. There were in it sundry personal touches which interested me; among others, a statement regarding Cecil Rhodes, the South African magnate, and a reference to sundry doings and sayings of his own which had been misrepresented, especially in England. One point in this was especially curious. He said, "Some people find fault with me for traveling so much; but this is part of my business: I try to know my empire and my people, to see for myself what they need and what is going on, what is doing and who are doing it. It is my duty also to know men and countries outside the empire. I am not like ----," naming a sovereign well known in history, "who never stirred out of the house if he could help it, and so let men and things go on as they pleased."

This union of breadth and minuteness in his view of his empire and of the world is, perhaps, his most striking characteristic. It may be safely said that, at any given moment, he knows directly, or will shortly know, the person and work of every man in his empire who is really taking the lead in anything worthy of special study or close attention. The German court is considered very exclusive, but one constantly saw at its assemblages men noted in worthy fields from every part of Germany and, indeed, of Europe. Herein is a great difference between the German and Russian courts. If, during my official life at St. Petersburg, I wished to make the acquaintance of a man noted in science, literature, or art, he must be found at professorial gatherings across the Neva. He rarely, if ever, appeared in the throng of military and civil officials at the Winter Palace. But at Berlin such men took an honored place at the court among those whom the ruler sought out and was glad to converse with.

As to the world outside the empire, I doubt whether any other sovereign equals him in personal acquaintance with leaders in every field of worthy activity. It was interesting from time to time to look over the official lists of his guests at breakfast, or luncheon, or dinner, or supper, or at military exercises, or at the theater; for they usually embraced men noted in civil, ecclesiastical, or military affairs, in literature, science, art, commerce, or industry from every nation. One class was conspicuous by its absence at all such gatherings, large or small; namely, the MERELY rich. Rich men there were, but they were always men who had done something of marked value to their country or to mankind; for the mere "fatty tumors" of the financial world he evidently cared nothing.

A special characteristic in the German ruler is independence of thought. This quality should not be confounded, as it often is, with mere offhand decision based upon prejudices or whimsies. One example, which I have given elsewhere, may be here referred to as showing that his rapid judgments are based upon clear insight: his OWN insight, and not that of others. On my giving him news of the destruction of the Maine at Havana, he at once asked me whether the explosion was from the outside; and from first to last, against the opinions of his admirals and captains, insisted that it must have been so.

He is certainly, in the opinion of all who know him, impulsive—indeed, a very large proportion of his acts which strike the attention of the world seem the result of impulse; but, as a rule, it will be found that beneath these impulses is a calm judgment. Even when this seems not to be the case, they are likely to appeal all the more strongly to humanity at large. Typical was his impulsive proposal to make up to the Regent of Bavaria the art appropriation denied by sundry unpatriotic bigots. Its immediate result was a temporary triumph for the common enemy, but it certainly drew to the Emperor the hearts of an immense number of people, not only inside, but outside his empire; and, in the long run, it will doubtless be found to have wrought powerfully for right reason. As an example of an utterance of his which to many might seem to be the result of a momentary impulse, but which reveals sober contemplation of problems looming large before the United States as well as Germany, I might cite a remark made last year to an American eminent in public affairs. He said, "You in America may do what you please, but I will not suffer capitalists in Germany to suck the life out of the workingmen and then fling them like squeezed lemon-skins into the gutter."

Any one who runs through the printed volume of his speeches will see that he is fertile in ideas on many subjects, and knows how to impress them upon his audiences. His voice and manner are good, and at times there are evidences of deep feeling, showing the man beneath the garb of the sovereign. This was especially the case in his speech at the coming of age of his son. The audience was noteworthy, there being present the Austrian Emperor, members of all the great ruling houses of Europe the foremost men in contemporary German history, and the diplomatic representatives of foreign powers—an audience representing wide differences in points of view and in lines of thought, yet no one of them could fail to be impressed by sundry references to the significance of the occasion.

Even the most rapid sketch of the Emperor would be inadequate without some reference to his religious views. It is curious to note that while Frederick the Great is one of the gods of his idolatry, the two monarchs are separated by a whole orb of thought in their religious theories and feelings. While a philosophical observer may see in this the result of careful training in view of the evident interests of the monarchy in these days, he must none the less acknowledge the reality and depth of those feelings in the present sovereign. No one who has observed his conduct and utterances, and especially no one who has read his sermon and prayer on the deck of one of his war-ships just at the beginning of the Chinese war, can doubt that there is in his thinking a genuine substratum of religious feeling. It is true that at times one is reminded of the remark made to an American ecclesiastic by an eminent German theological professor regarding that tough old monarch, Frederick William I; namely, that while he was deeply religious, his religion was "of an Old Testament type." Of course, the religion of the present Emperor is of a type vastly higher than that of his ancestor, whose harshness to the youth who afterward became the great Frederick has been depicted in the "Memoirs" of the Margravine of Bayreuth; but there remains clearly in the religion of the present Emperor a certain "Old Testament" character—a feeling of direct reliance upon the Almighty, a consciousness of his own part in guiding a chosen people, and a readiness, if need be, to smite the Philistines. One phase of this feeling appears in the music at the great anniversaries, when the leading men of the empire are brought together beneath the dome of the Palace Church. The anthems executed by the bands and choirs, and the great chorals sung by the congregation, breathe anything but the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount; they seem rather to echo the grim old battle-hymns of the Thirty Years’ War and the war in the Netherlands.

And yet it must be said that there goes with this a remarkable feeling of justice to his subjects of other confessions than his own, and a still more remarkable breadth of view as regards the relations of modern science to what is generally held as orthodox theology. The fearlessness with which he recently summoned Professor Delitzsch to unfold to him and to his family and court the newly revealed relations of Assyrian research to biblical study, which gave such alarm in highly orthodox circles, and his fairness in estimating these researches, certainly revealed breadth of mind as well as trust in what he considered the fundamental verities of religion.

A good example of the curious union, in his mind, of religious feeling, tolerance, and shrewd policy is shown in various dealings with his Roman Catholic subjects.

Of course he is not ignorant that his very existence as King of Prussia and German Emperor is a thorn in the side of the Roman Curia; he knows, as every thinking German knows, that, with the possible exception of the British monarchy, no other is so hated by the Vatican monsignori as his own. He is perfectly aware of the part taken in that quarter against his country and dynasty at all times, and especially during the recent wars; and yet all this seems not to influence him in the slightest as regards justice to his Roman Catholic subjects. He does indeed, resist the return of the Jesuits into the empire,—his keen insight forbids him to imitate the policy of Frederick the Great in this respect,—but his dealings with the Roman Catholic Church at large show not merely wisdom but kindliness. If he felt bound to resist, and did successfully resist, the efforts of Cardinal Rampolla to undermine German rule and influence in Alsace and Lorraine, there was a quiet fairness and justice in his action which showed a vast deal of tolerant wisdom. His visits to the old Abbey of Laach, his former relations with its young abbot, his settlement of a vexed question by the transfer of the abbot to the bishopric of Metz, his bringing of a loyal German into episcopal power at Strasburg, his recent treatment of the prince bishop of Breslau and the archbishop of Cologne, all show a wise breadth of view. Perhaps one of the brightest diplomatic strokes in his career was his dealing with a Vatican question during his journey in the East. For years there had been growing up in world politics the theory that France, no matter how she may deal with monks and nuns and ultramontane efforts within her own immediate boundaries, is their protector in all the world beside, and especially in the Holy Land. The relation of this theory to the Crimean War, fifty years ago, is one of the curious things of history, and from that day to this it has seemed to be hardening more and more into a fixed policy—even into something like a doctrine of international law. Interesting was it, then, to see the Emperor, on his visit to the Sultan, knock the ground from under the feet of all this doctrine by securing for the Roman Catholic interest at Jerusalem what the French had never been able to obtain—the piece of ground at the Holy City, so long coveted by pious Catholics, whereon, according to tradition, once stood the lodging of the Virgin Mary. This the Emperor quietly obtained of the Sultan, and, after assisting at the dedication of a Lutheran church at Jerusalem, he telegraphed to the Pope and to other representatives of the older church that he had made a gift of this sacred site to those who had so long and so ardently desired it.

Considerable criticism has been made on the score of his evident appreciation of his position, and his theory of his relation to it; but when his point of view is cited, one perhaps appreciates it more justly. I have already shown this point of view in the account of the part taken by him at the two-hundredth anniversary of the Royal Academy, and of his remark, afterward, contrasting his theory of monarchy with that of Dom Pedro of Brazil. Jocose as was the manner of it, it throws light upon his idea of his duty in the state. While a constitutional monarch, he is not so in the British sense. British constitutional monarchy is made possible by the "silver streak"; but around the German Empire, as every German feels in his heart, is no "silver streak." This fact should be constantly borne in mind by those who care really to understand the conditions of national existence on the continent of Europe. Herein lies the answer to one charge that has been so often made against the German Emperor—of undue solicitude regarding his official and personal position, as shown in sundry petty treason trials. The simple fact is that German public opinion, embodied in German law, has arrived at the conclusion that it is not best to allow the head of the state to be the sport of every crank or blackguard who can wield a pen or pencil. The American view, which allowed Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley to be attacked in all the moods and tenses of vituperation, and to be artistically portrayed as tyrants, drunkards, clowns, beasts of prey, and reptiles, has not yet been received into German modes of thought. Luther said that he "would not suffer any man to treat the Gospel as a sow treats a sack of oats"; and that seems to be the feeling inherent in the German mind regarding the treatment of those who represent the majesty of the nation.

And here a word regarding the relation of Kaiser and people. In one of the letters to John Adams written by Thomas Jefferson as they both were approaching the close of life, the founder of American democracy declared that he had foreseen the failure of French popular rule, and had therefore favored in France, democrat though he was, a constitutional monarchy. Had Jefferson lived in our time, he would doubtless have arrived at a similar conclusion regarding Germany, for he would have taken account of the difference between a country like ours, with no long period of history which had given to dominant political ideas a religious character,—a country stretching from ocean to ocean, with no neighbors to make us afraid, —and a country like Germany, with an ancient historic head, with no natural frontiers, and beset on every side by enemies; and Jefferson would doubtless have taken account also of the fact that, were the matter submitted to popular vote, the present sovereign, with his present powers, would be the choice of an overwhelming majority of the German people. The German imperial system, like our own American republican system, is the result of an evolution during many generations—an evolution which has produced the present government, decided its character, fixed its form, allotted its powers, and decided on the men at the head of it; and this fact an American, no matter how devoted to republicanism and democracy in his own country, may well acknowledge to be as fixed in the political as in the physical world.

Of course some very bitter charges have been made against him as regards Germany, the main one being that he does not love parliamentary government and has, at various times, infringed upon the constitution of the empire.

As to loving parliamentary government, he would probably say that he cannot regard a system as final which, while attaching to the front of the chariot of progress a full team to pull it forward, attaches another team to the rear to pull it backward. But whatever his theory, he has in practice done his best to promote the efficiency of parliamentary government, and to increase respect for it in his kingdom of Prussia, by naming as life members of the Senate sundry men of the highest character and of immense value in the discussion of the most important questions. Two of these, appointed during my stay, I knew and admired. The first, Professor Gustav Schmoller, formerly rector of the University of Berlin, is one of the leading economists of the world, who has shown genius in studying and exhibiting the practical needs of the German people, and in discerning the best solutions of similar problems throughout the world—profound, eloquent, conciliatory, sure to be of immense value as a senator. The second, Professor Slaby, director of the great technical institution of Germany at Charlottenburg, is one of the leading authorities of the world on everything that pertains to the applications of electricity, a great administrator, a wise counselor on questions pertaining to the German educational system. Neither of these men orates, but both are admirable speakers, and are sure to be of incalculable value. I name them simply as types: others were appointed, equally distinguished in other fields. If, then, the Emperor is blamed for not liking parliamentary and party government, it is only fair to say that he has taken the surest way to give it strength and credit.

As to the alleged violations of the German constitution, the same, in a far higher degree, were charged against Kaiser William I and Bismarck,—and these charges were true,—but it is also true that thereby those men saved and built up their country. As a matter of fact, the intuitive sense as well as the reflective powers of Germans seem to show them that the real dangers to their country come from a very different quarter—from men who promote hatreds of race, class, and religion within the empire, and historic international hatreds without it.

So, too, various charges have been made against the Emperor as regards the United States. From time to time there came, during my stay, statements in sundry American newspapers, some belligerent, some lacrymose, regarding his attitude toward our country. It seemed to be taken for granted by many good people during our Spanish War that the Emperor was personally against us. It is not unlikely that he may have felt sympathy for that forlorn, widowed Queen Regent of Spain, making so desperate a struggle to save the kingdom for her young son; if so, he but shared a feeling common to a very large part of humanity, for certainly there have been few more pathetic situations; but that he really cared anything for the success of Spain is exceedingly doubtful. The Hohenzollern common sense in him must have been for years vexed at the folly and fatuity of Spanish policy. He probably inherits the feeling of his father, who, when visiting the late Spanish monarch some years before his death, showed a most kindly personal feeling toward Spain and its ruler, and an intense interest in various phases of art developed in the Spanish peninsula; but, in his diary, let fall remarks which show his feeling toward the whole existing Spanish system. One of these I recall especially. Passing a noted Spanish town, he remarks: "Here are ten churches, twenty monasteries, and not a single school." No Hohenzollern is likely to waste much sympathy on a nation which brings on its fate by preferring monasticism to education; and never during the Spanish War did he or his government, to my knowledge, show the slightest leaning toward our enemies. Certain it is that when sundry hysterical publicists and meddlesome statesmen of the Continent proposed measures against what they thought the dangerous encroachments of our Republic, he quietly, but resolutely and effectually, put his foot upon them.

Another complaint sometimes heard in America really amounts to this: that the Emperor is pushing German interests in all parts of the world, and is not giving himself much trouble about the interests of other countries. There is truth in this, but the complainants evidently never stop to consider that every thinking man in every nation would despise him were it otherwise.

Yet another grievance, a little time since, was that, apparently with his approval, his ships of war handled sundry Venezuelans with decided roughness. This was true enough and ought to warm every honest man’s heart.

The main facts in the case were these: a petty equatorial "republic," after a long series of revolutions,—one hundred and four in seventy years, Lord Lansdowne tells us, —was enjoying peace and the beginnings of prosperity. Thanks to the United States, it had received from an international tribunal the territory to which it was entitled, was free from disturbance at home or annoyance abroad, and was under a regular government sanctioned by its people. Suddenly, an individual started another so-called "revolution." He was the champion of no reform, principle, or idea; he simply represented the greed of himself and a pack of confederates whose ideal was that of a gang of burglars. With their aid he killed, plundered, or terrorized until he got control of the government—or, rather, became himself the government. Under the name of a "republic" he erected a despotism and usurped powers such as no Russian autocrat would dare claim. Like the men of his sort who so often afflict republics in the equatorial regions of South America, he had no hesitation in confiscating the property and taking the lives, not only of such of his fellow-citizens as he thought dangerous to himself, but also of those whom he thought likely to become so. He made the public treasury his own, and doubtless prepared the way, as so many other patriots of his sort in such "republics" have done, for retirement into a palace at Paris, with ample funds for enjoying the pleasures of that capital, after he, like so many others, shall have been, in turn, kicked out of his country by some new bandit stronger than he.

So far so good. If the citizens of Venezuela like or permit that sort of thing, outside nations have no call to interfere; but this petty despot, having robbed, maltreated, and even murdered citizens of his own country, proceeded to maltreat and rob citizens of other countries and, among them, those of the German Empire. He was at first asked in diplomatic fashion to desist and to make amends, but for such appeals he simply showed contempt. His purpose was evidently to plunder all German subjects within his reach, and to cheat all German creditors beyond his reach. At this the German Government, as every government in similar circumstances is bound to do, demanded redress and sent ships to enforce the demand. This was perfectly legitimate; but immediately there arose in the United States an outcry against a "violation of the Monroe Doctrine." As a matter of fact, the Monroe Doctrine was no more concerned in the matter than was the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints; but there was enough to start an outcry against Germany, and so it began to spread. The Germans were careful to observe the best precedents in international law, yet every step they took was exhibited in sundry American papers as a menace to the United States. There was no more menace to the United States than to the planet Saturn. The conduct of the German Government was in the interest of the United States as well as of every other decent government. Finally, the soldiers in a Venezuelan fort wantonly fired upon a German war vessel—whereupon the commander of the ship, acting entirely in accordance, not only with international law, but with natural right, defended himself, and knocked the fort about the ears of those who occupied it, thus giving the creatures who directed them a lesson which ought to rejoice every thinking American. At this the storm on paper against Germany, both in America and Great Britain, broke out with renewed violence, and there was more talk about dangers to the Monroe Doctrine. As one who, at The Hague Conference, was able to do something for recognition of the Monroe Doctrine by European powers, and who, as a member of the Venezuelan Commission, did what was possible to secure justice to Venezuela, I take this opportunity to express the opinion that the time has come for plain speaking in this matter. Even with those of us who believe in the Monroe Doctrine there begins to arise a question as to which are nearest the interests and the hearts of Americans,—the sort of "dumb driven cattle" who allow themselves to be governed by such men as now control Venezuela, or the people of Germany and other civilized parts of Europe, as well as those of the better South American republics, like Chile, the Argentine Republic, Brazil, and others, whose interests, aspirations, ideals, and feelings are so much more closely akin to our own.

Occasionally, too, there have arisen plaintive declarations that the Emperor does not love the United States or admire its institutions. As to that I never saw or heard of anything showing dislike to our country; but, after all, he is a free man, and there is nothing in international law or international comity requiring him to love the United States; it is sufficient that he respects what is respectable in our government and people, and we may fairly allow to him his opinion on sundry noxious and nauseous developments among us which we hope may prove temporary. As to admiring our institutions, he is probably not fascinated by our lax administration of criminal justice, which leaves at large more unpunished criminals, and especially murderers, than are to be found in any other part of the civilized world, save, possibly, some districts of lower Italy and Sicily. He probably does not admire Tammany Hall or the Philadelphia Ring, and has his own opinion of cities which submit to such tyranny; quite likely he has not been favorably impressed by the reckless waste and sordid jobbery recently revealed at St. Louis and Minneapolis; it is exceedingly doubtful whether he admires some of the speeches on national affairs made for the "Buncombe district" and the galleries; but that he admires and respects the men in the United States who do things worth doing, and say things worth saying; that he takes a deep interest in those features of our policy, or achievements of our people, which are to our credit; that he enjoys the best of our literature; that he respects every true American soldier and sailor, every American statesman or scholar or writer or worker of any sort who really accomplishes anything for our country, is certain.

To sum up his position in contemporary history: As the German nation is the result of an evolution of individual and national character in obedience to resistless inner forces and to its environment, so out of the medley of imperial and royal Hohenstaufens, Hapsburgs, Wittelsbachs, Wettins, Guelphs, and the like, have arisen, as by a survival of the fittest, the Hohenzollerns. These have given to the world various strong types, and especially such as the Great Elector, Frederick II, and William I. Mainly under them and under men trained or selected by them, Germany, from a great confused mass of warriors and thinkers and workers, militant at cross-purposes, wearing themselves out in vain struggles, and preyed upon by malevolent neighbors, has become a great power in arms, in art, in science, in literature; a fortress of high thought; a guardian of civilization; the natural ally of every nation which seeks the better development of humanity. And the young monarch who is now at its head—original, yet studious of the great men and deeds of the past; brave, yet conciliatory; never allowing the mail-clad fist to become unnerved, but none the less devoted to the conquests of peace; standing firmly on realities, but with a steady vision of ideals—seems likely to add a new name to the list of those who, as leaders of Germany, have advanced the world.


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Chicago: Andrew Dickson White, "Chapter XLIV My Recollections of William II— 1879-1903," Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White— Volume 2, ed. Conway, Moncure Daniel, 1832-1907 in Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White—Volume 2 Original Sources, accessed June 6, 2023,

MLA: White, Andrew Dickson. "Chapter XLIV My Recollections of William II— 1879-1903." Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White— Volume 2, edited by Conway, Moncure Daniel, 1832-1907, in Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White—Volume 2, Original Sources. 6 Jun. 2023.

Harvard: White, AD, 'Chapter XLIV My Recollections of William II— 1879-1903' in Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White— Volume 2, ed. . cited in , Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White—Volume 2. Original Sources, retrieved 6 June 2023, from