chapter  2
17 Pages

TWO EMPERORS - - - - -

FOR the second time within a hundred days the nation stands at the bier of its Emperor. After the most fortunate of all her rulers, she laments the most unfortunate. It seems as if in the course of the history of our Emperors, not only imperial splendour was to have a new birth but the tremendous tragic vicissitudes of fate were also to be renewed. It was in very truth under the guidance of God, as he so often said in simple humility, that the Emperor Wilhelm I reached the pinnacle of universal fame, against all human calculation and reckoning, and far beyond his own hope. In his steady ascent, however, he proved fully competent to each new and greater task, till, arrived at the last limit of life, he ended his days in a halo of glory. In death also he was the effective uniter of the Germans, who, to the accompaniment of the cannonthunder of his battles, had, for the first time after centuries, known the happiness of joy at complete victories, and now gathered round his funeral vault in the unanimity of hallowed grief. During the years when the character of a growing man usually takes its decisive bent, Prince Wilhelm could only cherish the ambition some day, as

his father's or brother's commander-in-chief, to lead the Armies of Prussia to new victories. Himself almost the youngest among the champions of the War of Liberation, he shared with Gneisenau, with Clausewitz, and all the political thinkers of the Prussian Army the conviction that Germany's new western frontier was as untenable as its loose confederation of States, and that only a third Punic War could finally decide the old struggle for power between Gauls and Germans, and secure the independence of the German State. All through the quiet period of peace he held fast by this hope. As early as the year 1840 he copied out in his own hand-writing Becker's song, "Our Rhine, free German river, they ne'er shall take away," and finished the last words, "Till the last brave German warrior beneath its stream is laid," with that bold flourish of the pen which afterwards in the Emperor's signature became familiar to the whole world. Hatred to the French was entirely absent from his generous disposition, but more sagacious than all the Prussian statesmen, with the possible exception of Motz, he early grasped the European situation as it regarded Prussia, and recognised that the latter must grow in order to escape the intolerable pressure of so many superior military powers. Thoroughly imbued with such thoughts, and being every inch a soldier, he became in a few years the favourite and the ideal of the Army, beloved for his friendly courtesy, and feared for an official severity, which showed even the lowest camp-follower that a careful and judicial eye was watching him. He looked upon his people in arms and their

awakened intelligence with the undiminished enthusiasm of the War of Liberation, but also with the more sober resolve to develop singly the ideas of Scharnhorst and adapt them to the changed times, so that this Army might always remain the foremost. Outside, in the smaller States, what was here undertaken in deep political seriousness was regarded as idle parade display. The leaders of public opinion indulged in radical dreams, expressed enthusiastic admiration for Poles and Frenchmen, and hoped for perpetual peace. In the conceit of their superfine culture they could not comprehend what the Prince's simple martial thoroughness and devotion to duty signified for the future of the Fatherland.