( Originally Published 1907 )
ON some rising ground by the port of Hamburg there is a statue, rude, colossal, looking out over the landscape. In its suggestion of brutality and force it is incomparable. It stands out against the sky like a ruthless menace, and in fancy one sees a sea of blood surging at the base. It is the statue of Bismarck looking out over the Germany that he welded with blood and iron.
With this vision of the Vulcan of modern Europe fresh in the mind you turn out of the Wilhelmstrasse at Berlin into the Chancellor's residence and pass through into the park where Bismarck used to stride about with his great boarhounds for companions. To-day the Chancellor holds a reception. You advance through the gay throng thinking of those terrible brows and that fierce, barbaric figure with the boarhounds, and find yourself in the presence of a suave and polished gentleman with a black poodle. He takes you by the hand and leads you aside with winning cordiality. He gives you the impression that you are the only person he really cares for in all that company. It is for you he has been waiting and watching. You gather that your affairs are his constant companion and that his interest in them is one of his really serious attachments to life. He stoops and pats the black poodle, surrenders you with an air of regretful affection, and turns to the next comer with his genial smile.
Bismarck was force : Billow is finesse. Bismarck was the iron hand: Billow is the velvet glove. Bismarck's tread sounded like thunder through Europe: Billow treads softly. He is the most accomplished courtier in Europe. He disarms you by his unconquerable blandness and friendliness. I saw him described in an English paper recently as " worn-out and harassed, looking too tired and apathetic to be a happy man." I have never seen a man who looked less harassed, less tired and apathetic, more at ease with himself and the world. He carries his sixty years with the spirit of youth. His eye is clear and laughing, the carriage of his tall, soldierly figure erect and alert, his conversation full of an engaging sprightliness. He has none of the challenging air of the typical Prussian, and his vivacity suggests Rome rather than Berlin, the boudoir more than the battle-field. He wins by subtle address. With Bismarck it was a word and a blow and the blow first. When Richter used to attack him in the Reichstag he would rise in a sort of apoplectic wrath, tug at the stiff collar of his uniform and hurl his thunderbolts about in blind fury. Prince Bülow meets the assaults of Bebel of the twinkling eye and the fiery eloquence with the weapons of wit and politeness, for he has brought into German Parliamentary warfare a style of oratory, polished and urbane, which is wholly contrary to the traditions of a country where politics are harsh and intolerant, and where your public foe is your private enemy.
He has the elusiveness of the diplomatist. The impression he conveys is that of an elegant trifler with affairs, one who is as free from hates as he is from passionate enthusiasms. No urgent moral or human motive governs him. He has followed Bismarck's ruthless policy in Poland, but without Bismarck's ruthlessness of spirit, for he has nothing of Bismarck's fierce intensity. His heart is never engaged. When he utters his occasional Bismarckisms, they fall from his lips robbed of their thunder. Let the man alone," he said, replying in the Reichstag to Mr. Chamberlain's reference to the German Army-" let the man alone. He is biting at granite." It was a fine saying ; but it was an echo. The voice was the voice of Bülow, but the words were the words of Frederick the Great. The true Bülow utters himself in lighter and more airy fashion, in the language of gay persiflage. " Well, why shouldn't Miss Italy have an extra dance if she wants one? " he asks when Germany is disturbed by the appearance of a violent flirtation between Great Britain and Italy. " It would be absurd to show jealousy." And so with the Socialists. He never stamps on them with Bismarck's brutal violence. He is polite and ironical. He seeks to laugh them out of court by superior wit and pleasantry.
All parties are one to him, for he is vassal to no political theory. The machine of government is a thing apart from the life of the people. It is the property of a class his class. "The public! What have they to do with the law except obey it? he might say with a famous Bishop of Exeter; but he would say it with more suaveness of phrase. Democratic government is an ideal which fills him with polite scorn. The people are children to be ruled with paternal kindness and tickled with the phrases of Chauvinism. His political empiricism is exhibited in his bloc. The idea of ruling through an alliance of the Clericals aid the Liberals could only have occurred to a mind without any fixed principle of internal political development. It could only have occurred also in a country where the spirit of Liberalism is dead and only the shell remains.
Prince Billow's politics, in fact, are the politics of the Foreign Minister. Human rights and human wrongs do not interest him. He dwells, like his Emperor, outside them in the realm of Imperial dreams. The Baghdad Railway is more to him than the desolation of Macedonia, and a great navy is more than the impoverishment of the people that is its price. In all this he represents the spirit of German policy, with its large ambitions and its divorce from the humanising tendency of modern politics. It is a spirit that contrasts strikingly with the spirit of France, which, now as ever, bears the banner of civilisation. France is in the Twentieth Century: Germany, with all its wonderful organisation, is spiritually still in the Eighteenth. It will remain there until the inspiration of its government comes not from the Court, but from the people.
But with all his Imperialism Prince Bülow would seem to love war as little as the Kaiser. " Wars themselves are not half so interesting as the events that cause them," he said long ago, and in these words spoke the diplomatist. And again, " War is a vulgar thing, and at this time of day the man who prevents war is greater than the man who wins battles." He will never talk like Bismarck about " bleeding France white "; but the Morocco affair left an uneasy sense that his pacificism is not wholly to be trusted. Trust, indeed, is not a quality that springs from so supple and adroit a personality.
His imperturbable urbanity and savoir faire, concealing a certain. Machiavellian view of government, are the secret of Prince Billow's success. They have enabled him to remain on the top for eleven years in a world of intrigue as tortuous and unscrupulous as an Oriental Court. How tortuous, how unscrupulous, the world realised through the noisome revelations of the Harden-Moltke case. It is the consequence of a government which centres not in the people, but in an autocrat. Prince Bülow, of course, denies this. When replying to Bebel on one occasion, he declared that camarillas and intrigues were not peculiar to absolute monarchies.
" I have," he said, " spent a portion of my life in countries which are governed on strictly Parlia .mentary lines. I have also lived in Republics. I can assure Herr Bebel that intrigues and backstair influences and all that sort of thing flourish in those countries a good deal more than in ours. Never has so much incense been burned before princely vanity as there is now burnt before King Demos. The courtiers of King Demos are superior to the courtiers of princes in the art of cringing and fawning."
Yet outside the realm of romance it would be difficult to find a story of political plotting to parallel that in which Prince Bülow has played so interesting a rôle. It is a story in which we see the Emperor as a tool in the hands of a subtle intriguer who weaves his plots and pulls his strings from the coulisses behind the scenes. There is no more sinister figure in modern European politics than that of Prince Philip Eulenburg, who has now fallen, like Lucifer, never to rise again, bringing down with him in his final catastrophe Count Posadowsky, with the long grey beard, whom I used to see taking his coffee every afternoon in the café opposite the Palast Hotel. Eulenburg has been the Warwick of Germany. Even in Bismarck's day this strange, elusive figure was a power strong enough to win the hate of the Iron Chancellor, who would have no rival near the Throne. " He has eyes that can spoil my breakfast at any time," said Bismarck of him. " He does not want to be anything — neither Secretary of State nor Chancellor. He thinks with Voltaire, l'amitié d'un grand homme est un bienfait des dieux. That is all he wants. He is an enthusiast, a spiritualist, and a fine talker in the style of Radowitz. For a man of the Kaiser's dramatic temperament that kind of man is very dangerous."
Eulenburg not only did not want to be anything. He feared to be anything, for he wanted to be everything. He wanted to be the invisible power behind the throne, and he knew that if he became Chancellor his official relations with the Kaiser would destroy that power. So he contented himself with being Ambassador at Munich, from whence he pulled his strings. Bismarck fell, Caprivi fell, Hohenlohe, who hated Eulenburg also, passed, and Baron von Bieber-stein, perhaps the ablest statesman in Germany, having been spirited away to Constantinople, the way was clear for Eulenburg's nominee. That nominee was Herr von Bülow, who, after a career in half the embassies of Europe, St. Petersburg, Paris, Bucharest, Athens, and Vienna, was now Ambassador at Rome, and married he had eloped with her to a brilliant Italian Princess of the House of Camporeale, a step-daughter of the Italian statesman Minghetti. Billow and Eulenburg were old friends, using the familiar " thou " in their intercourse. But Billow's wife loved Italy and did not love Berlin, and, it is said, travelled to Vienna to plead with Eulenburg not to press the nomination. The story of this journey is denied by Prince Billow. It is an excellent story," he said in the Reichstag. " It has only one defect it is not true." Whether true or false, Eulenburg had his way. Herr von Billow became Count von Billow and Imperial Chancellor. Then the Eulenburg web was woven at a furious speed. The Chancellor was his nominee. Eulenburg then got M. Lecomte, a friend of his Munich days, appointed to the French Embassy in Berlin, which gave him the key to Franco-German relations. Two lieutenants of his, Holstein and Kiderlen Waechter, were at the Berlin Foreign Office, and finally he secured the appointment of his former military attaché, Count Kuno von Moltke, as Military Governor of Berlin, a position that brought him into daily contact with the Kaiser. Etlenburg was supreme. He held all the strings in his hand.
The camarilla that enmeshed the unconscious Kaiser ran the Empire. The world began to talk, even to print. Eulenburg fell out with Holstein, and the Morocco affair enabled him to secure his dismissal by the Kaiser. Coldness had sprung up between Eulenburg and his Chancellor, for Count von Bülow had proved too great a success to please the ambitious master of the palace. He could talk as brilliantly as Eulenburg, and his influence with the Kaiser was becoming dangerous. He was marked for slaughter. But a sudden attack from another quarter incontinently brought the whole fabric to the ground. Herr von Holstein, smarting from his dismissal, and the desertion of Eulenburg, took Herr Harden, the most brilliant journalist in Berlin, into his confidence. Conveniently, at this time, the wife of Count Kuno von Moltke divorced her husband, and this unsavoury affair became mixed up with Harden's exposure of the camarilla. All this time the Kaiser was sublimely unconscious of how he was ruled, and still visited the Eulenburg seat. But one day the Crown Prince placed half a dozen copies of Harden's paper in his father's hands, and the crash came. Moltke was dismissed, Eulenburg ostracised, and Posadowsky innocent, able, grey bearded Posadowsky whom Eulenburg had selected as the successor of the Chancellor, deposed from his post as Minister of the Interior, where he had done more for Germany than any man of his time.
And so Prince von Billow Prince on the morning that Delcassé fell survives, the last relic of the Eulenburg system, more powerful than ever, so powerful that the Kaiser has begun to feel uncomfortable, so powerful that the fate of Bismarck already overshadows him. " His days are numbered," said a student of politics in Berlin to me. " He lasts because the Kaiser can find no one to succeed him. We are so poor in men who are at once able and liked by the Kaiser. But he will go."
When he falls there will be nothing of the tragedy that surrounded the fall of Bismarck. The old Chancellor's dismissal was like a sentence of death to him. " You take my life when you do take the means whereby I live." He had two passions whereby he lived the passion for power and the passion for the Germany that he had created. When he was cast out of the Wilhelmstrasse he was beggared. No attachment to life remained to him. Prince Billow will pass out as cheerfully as Charles Lamb left the servitude of the East India Company. He will smile as blandly as he smiles now when he receives you in the Wilhelmstrasse, and his black poodle will be with him. He will not be found in Prussia, nor in his native Mecklenburg, nor even in Germany. Italy is the land that holds his heart, and it is there, in Rome, that he has bought a lordly pleasure-house, the Villa Malta, which he purchased from Queen Margherita for £200,000. For Prince Billow, fortunate in all worldly things, is a rich man. He was not rich when he went to Berlin, but an admirer had the happy thought to die and leave him a fortune which brings him in half a million marks a year. Upon that he and his wife will be able to cultivate those polite tastes which are their chief interest in life, for the Prince loves art and literature and archaeology, and will quote the poets of half a dozen tongues, while the Princess, a pupil of Liszt, is devoted to music.