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The Kaiser

( Originally Published 1907 )

WHEN I think of the Kaiser I think of a bright May morning at Potsdam. It is the Spring Parade, and across from where we are gathered under the windows of the old palace the household troops are drawn up on the great parade ground, their helmets and banners and lances all astir in the jolly sunshine. Officers gallop hither and thither shouting their commands. Regiments form and re-form. Swords flash out and flash back again. A noble background of trees frames the gay picture with cool, green foliage. There is a sudden stillness. The closely serried ranks are rigid and moveless. The shouts of command are silenced.

The Kaiser."

He comes slowly up the parade ground on his great white charger, helmet and eagle flashing in the sun-light, sitting his horse as if he lived in the saddle, his face turned to his men as he passes by.

Morgen, meine Kinder." His salutation rings out at intervals in the clear morning air. And back from the ranks in choruscomes the response: " Morgen, Majestat."

And as he rides on, master of a million men, the most powerful figure in Europe, reviewing his troops on the peaceful parade ground at Potsdam, one wonders whether the day will ever come when he will ride down those ranks on another errand, and when that cheerful response of the soldiers will have in it the ancient ring of doom-" Te morituri salutamus."

For answer, let us look at this challenging figure on the white charger. What is he? What has he done?

The Kaiser is easily the foremost man in Europe. He is a King after Charles the First's own heart, " a King indeed," the last that is left, the residuary legatee of " the divine right." The divinity of the Tsar vanished in the tumult of Red Sunday. He is an autocrat struggling with an infuriated people. His power frankly rests on physical force. But the Kaiser is still able to associate Providence with his rule, still invokes the Almighty as the witness of his authority. Democracy, which has devoured all the rest, thunders at the base of his throne. It leaps higher and ever higher. One day there will come a wave that will submerge all, and " divine right " will have passed for ever from Kings to peoples; Then the Kaiser will rule by consent, like our own monarch, or ---

Meanwhile he stands, facing the modern world, the symbol of medimvalism in the heart of the Twentieth Century. The cause for which he fights could have no more worthy protagonist. He is every inch a King. Divest him of his office and he would still be one of the half-dozen most considerable men in his Empire. When the British editors visited Germany they were brought into intimate contact with all the leaders of action and thought in the country, and I believe it is true to say that the Kaiser left the sharpest and most vivid personal impression on the mind.

It was the impression of enormous energy and mental alertness, of power, wayward and uncertain, but fused with a spark of genius, of a temperament of high nervous force, quickly responsive to every emotional appeal. His laugh is as careless as a boy's, but you feel that it is laughter that may turn to lightning at a word.

The world distrusts the artistic temperament in affairs. It prefers the stolid man who thinks slowly and securely and acts with deliberation. It likes a man whose mental processes it can follow and under-stand, a man of the type of the late Duke of Devon-shire, solid, substantial, and not the least bit clever. There is the root of the disquiet with which the Kaiser has been regarded for twenty years. He is a man of moods and impulses, an artist to his finger tips, astonishingly versatile, restless, and unnerving. He keeps his audience in a state of tense expectation. Any moment, it feels, a spark from this incandescent personality may drop into the powder magazine.

He is full of dramatic surprises, of sudden and shattering entrances, of mysterious exits. He moves amidst alarums and excursions. And wherever he goes the limelight follows him. He journeys to Tangier, and Europe trembles with the thunder of his tread. He sails away into Arctic seas on a summer cruise, and his astonishing sermons to his men echo round the world. He comes back and makes our flesh creep with his pictured visions of the Yellow Peril. He writes an opera and is off to the Rhine to wind his horn. He addresses public meetings like a party politician, and with the authority of a prophet, and he denounces the Socialists like a Property Defence League orator.

No man in history ever had a more god-like vision of himself than he has. His " cloud of dignity is held from falling " by the visible hand of the Almighty.

I regard my whole position," he tells the representatives of Brandenburg, " as given to me direct from Heaven and that I have been called by the Highest to do His work. Sometimes, indeed, even the Almighty is subordinate. Suprema lex regis voluntas, he writes in the Golden Book of Munich. He declares his omnipotence with a childish egoism that would be ludicrous if it were not so sincere. He takes nothing for granted does not, like Montaigne, let his chateaux speak for him. " My Church, of which I am summus episcopus," he says, in lecturing the office-bearers on their duties. And again, " There is only one master in this country. That am I Who opposes me I shall crush to pieces." It is like the vain prattle of an unschooled boy.

His uncle dwells aloof from politics. The Kaiser comes down into the arena like a stump orator. " To me," he said in 1889, every Social Democrat is synonymous with enemy of the nation and of the Fatherland." This to the largest party in the land a party that commands three and a half million votes. And years have not taught him discretion. At Breslau not long ago, in addressing a deputation of working men, he said:

For years you and your brothers in Germany have allowed yourselves to be kept by Socialist agitators under the delusion that if you do not belong to their party you will not be in a position to obtain a hearing for your legitimate interests. That is a downright lie. . With such men you cannot, you dare not, as men who love honour, have anything more to do: you cannot, you dare not let yourselves be guided by them any longer.

Diplomacy and restraint, it will be seen, are not among his varied gifts in dealing with his people.

Sometimes his vaulting ambition o'erleaps itself. It was his dearest wish to be not German Emperor, but Emperor of Germany, and crowned as such. He designed all the splendours of the ceremony, taking Charlemagne as his prototype; but he found there were limits to the complaisance of the other German rulers and peoples, always intensely jealous of the dominance of Prussia and its King. They would not yield, and he remains today the uncrowned German Emperor, not the crowned Emperor of Germany. It is the fly in the Imperial ointment, the supreme disappointment of his career. Bismarck had cared only for the substance, and not for the shadow, when he consented to the limited title of the ruler of the new Empire. The subject was being discussed in his presence at the time of the union. Some were for German Emperor, and some for Emperor of Germany. " Does anyone know the Latin word for sausage? " asked Bismarck, using that homely imagery of his. " Farcimentum," said one. " Farcimen," said another. " Farcimentum or farcimen, it is all the same to me," said Bismarck. Sausage was sausage, whatever the name. He had welded Germany and was indifferent to titles.

The Kaiser's view of his divine function extends to every phase of life. There is nothing in which he cannot instruct his people. He will snatch the baton from the incompetent conductor and show him how to lead the orchestra, the brush from the incompetent artist and show him how to paint. He can cook a dinner as skilfully as he can preach a sermon, draw a cartoon, write an opera, play the piano, or talk in five languages. And who will forget his amazing letter to Admiral Hollmann on the " higher criticism," in reply to Professor Delitzsch? Even trade does not escape him, and the famous pottery works which he has founded and carries on at Cardinen are a source of delighted labour to him. He has established a shop in Berlin to dispose of his wares, and he will take an order on the cuff of his shirt sleeve with the promptness of a commercial traveller.

But all this is the recreation of his strenuous life. His serious task is to make Germany great. The ambition with which he set out was to create a Navy. He has done it. Frederick taught Germany to march ; he has taught it to swim. Navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse." And if he regards his people as children, he is anxious that they should be efficient children. His views on education are entirely radical and not very sympathetic towards the meticulous and exact scholarship which is Germany's contribution to the modern world. " Our business is to educate young Germans, not young Greeks and Romans," he says. He approves of Homer, " that glorious man about whom I have always been enthusiastic," and of Cicero and Demosthenes, " whose speeches must have filled everyone with delight; " but he has no sympathy with "grammatical and fanatical philologists," who waste their own time and the time of students over grammatical hair-splitting. " Away with this tomfoolery; war to the knife against such teaching."

He will have no rival near the throne. Does the mighty figure of Bismarck tower to the heavens and divide the crown? Then Bismarck must go back to his fields and woodlands at Friedrichsruhe. He will brook no interference, tolerate no counsel. He is here to command, not to take advice. And yet the revelations of the Moltke-Harden trial have shown that the most omnipotent of. Emperors is subject to the subtlest and most insidious of influences.

Men used to talk of him in whispers in Germany, or they did not talk of him at all, for lèse majesté was the cardinal sin, and walls had ears and streets had spies. But that is changed. Criticism is abroad and the doctrine of divinity has received several checks which the Kaiser has had the wisdom to acknowledge. But he will never be a popular figure. The old Emperor, his " never-to-he-forgotten " grandfather, was loved. There at the palace in Berlin they show you the window at which he used to sit in the mornings to see and be seen by the crowd an old, familiar figure, human and paternal, the father of his people. His grandson is aloof and remote. He dwells on Olympus and sends his thunderbolts hurtling over the astonished people. But though he does not ask for affection, he commands respect. His people admire his character. They are proud of his clean, vigorous life, of his devotion to his family, of his high sense of duty to the Fatherland. His life is a drama that never grows humdrum. It keeps them intellectually on the move. What will happen next with this amazing man?

No one can be more fascinating. His smile is irresistible. But if you are a bore, or if you are out of favour, his look runs you through like a sword. His questions are rapped out like musket shots. He does not listen to your answers, but plays with his dogs. He is not aware of you.

His actions are swift and unexpected. The spur of the moment drives him. It was a momentary irritation with Lord Salisbury that was the origin of the Kruger telegram, perhaps the most momentous and disastrous incident in the history of Europe in our time, for it was the seed of all the bitterness of after years. The telegram form, indeed, is the symbol of his mental processes. He will become a guest at your board at an hour's notice, and be the most light hearted boy at the table. When he entertained the editors at luncheon at the Orangerie at Sans Souci he said nothing about seeing them. The first intimation they had was the vision as they sat taking their coffee in the sunshine of the Kaiser riding up the steep winding paths from the palace below, and in two minutes he was among them, talking of the Londondocks and the Hamburg docks, of the Lake District and Lord Lonsdale, with pleasant frankness and easy, idiomatic English. Then with a bright word of welcome to his country and his house, and with three salutes a special mark of Imperial approval he rode away.

Impulsive, imperious, dramatic, a militarist from his cradle, a statesman trained in " the indirect, crooked ways " of Bismarck, governed by one passion, the passion to make his land great and powerful, how can we cast his horoscope? Is he a menace or a safe-guard? Let his past be his witness. For twenty years he has had the peace of Europe in his keeping and for twenty years not a Gelman soldier has fallen in war. " We are a military people," said a Minister to me in Berlin, " but we are not a warlike people. It is you who are warlike without being military." And so we may say of the Kaiser. He is a militarist, but he is not a warrior. " There will be no war without grave cause while the Kaiser is on the throne," said the politician I have quoted. " He is distrusted by the warlike party and remember that Germany has a considerable school of thinkers who believe in war philosophically as a national purgative. They believe he is timid. But the truth is he wants peace because it is his own and the nation's chief interest. Remember how he disappointed expectation when he came to the throne. Germany was on the verge of war with France and Russia combined, and Europe saw the accession of the youthful Kaiser, so hot-headed and impulsive, with fearful expectation. Here was a new Napoleon, filled with dreams of glory, armed with the most gigantic military weapon in history. And his first official words were words of peace; his first act to visit the European courts, returning with the message, ` I believe that, with the help of God, I have succeeded in ensuring the peace of the world for many years to come.' Set this and the record of his reign against those sudden ebullitions that seem so alarming, but are really only sound and fury, signifying nothing."

He keeps his powder dry and his armour bright. But he stands for peace-peace armed to the teeth, it is true; peace with the mailed fist; but peace nevertheless.

And so, as one watches him riding down the ranks at Potsdam in the bright sunshine, hears the morning greeting rapped out in sharp staccato, and sees his salute to the Empress watching the parade from the windows of the old palace, one feels confidence displacing distrust, and discerns beneath all this rattle of drums and love of the drama of government an undercurrent of purpose, making, it is true, for the aggrandisement of Germany, but making also for the peace of the world. If he fails in his policy of peace, it will be because of the incurable air of falsity that is the besetting vice of German policy--a policy which has been well described by the Frankfurter Zeitung as " incalculable, untrustworthy, and disturbing. It is a policy that always wears a mask, and a mask is a menace. Its words are smooth, but its acts are sinister and seem to have no relation to the words. It is a policy of cunning rather than of candour. It is incident to a government which is personal and secret, and Germany will not cease to be a disturbing element in world politics until the Kaiser has stepped down from his mediaeval throne and derives his power from a free and self-governing people.

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