صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

whose support Prince Bülow had hitherto lived, was attacked by the German Government as an unpatriotic party. The cry of antiSocialism was worked with desperate vigour. The German national temperament was touched in its tenderest point. The furor Teutonicus was roused to irresistible vigour. The Kaiser was forgotten. The Reichstag was dissolved. New elections were held. The Socialists went down like ninepins and the Clericals were kept in opposition. German national pride was filled with satisfaction. The pessimists were comforted. The monarch, who in rebuking them had denounced the whole body of his subjects, was forgiven. Since then, the Court clique formerly surrounding the Emperor has been broken up as a result of scandalous exposures. Confidence in the Emperor's judgment was further shaken, but upon the whole the relations between Sovereign and subjects continued to be better than had been generally expected. The slow process of passive disillusionment continued, but German feeling on this point, though full of secret uneasiness, was silent and patient. This was the state of things when the Daily Telegraph interview was given to the world.

Upon the authorship of that document we shall not speculate. German newspapers have declared without contradiction that it was finally passed by the Kaiser in the form of printed proofs, with annotations in the Imperial hand and laudatory remarks on the margin. Whether it was the result of notes of conversations precisely such as his Majesty has held with several Englishmen, or whether the contents of some of his Majesty's letters were incorporated, the terms of the interview were astounding. “You English are mad, mad, mad as March hares," was the exordium. He had repeatedly assured us of his friendship. He felt continued suspicion as a personal insult. It was time for Englishmen to understand that the sincerity of his friendship had been shown not only by words, but by deeds. In order to maintain good relations with this country, the Emperor had placed himself in opposition to the sentiment of large sections of his countrymen hostile to England. Yet during the Boer War, in response to Queen Victoria's heart-broken letters, he had drawn up and sent to Windsor a plan of campaign, which, curiously enough, bore a surprising resemblance to the scheme afterwards carried out by Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener. He had refused to receive the Boer leaders. When France and Russia had suggested to Germany an anti-British coalition he had declined to join it, and had telegraphed to Windsor disclosing the attempt and his refusal. The German Fleet was made necessary by the growth of German commercial interests, and would increase indefinitely with them. But the Emperor vehemently repudiated the suggestion that his naval plans were aimed at England. They were directed against the Yellow

Peril, and justice would be done to him at last when the fleets of Germany and England spoke on the same side in the debates of the future.

There is no need to point out again the disastrous character of this document from the point of view of German interests. It was bound to defeat its immediate purpose by admitting that large sections of German feeling are hostile, and yet that German naval expansion must continue. It was soon pointed out that the refusal to join an anti-British coalition at the beginning of 1900 had not been unconditional Germany asked significantly for a preliminary guarantee for Alsace-Lorraine. Only when that condition was refused did she break off negotiations. It is quite certain that, had her naval force been then powerful enough, the European coalition against us would have been formed at once. To send us a plan of campaign was no compliment; to reveal the fact was worse. So much for ourselves. As regards other countries, the needless declaration of a deadly enmity to distant Japan seemed to the Kaiser's subjects a mad turn of political eccentricity. How could any Power negotiate again with Berlin on confidential terms if its most secret propositions might be revealed to its rivals ? Above all, there was the revelation that while all Germany was wild with pro-Boer enthusiasm, its Imperial Sovereign, who himself had much private sympathy with the Boers, was drawing up a plan of operations against them. Prince Bülow has since explained that neutrality was not violated, since the plan was in reality a series of “aphorisms" upon the military art. It could hardly have been of any very definite assistance to this country in the circumstances of the crisis. But the mischief was done. The iron entered deep into the soul of the German people. The Kaiser's personal prestige in the sight of his own subjects irrevocably perished. The constitutional crisis of two years ago reappeared in a far more dangerous form.

By the organs of every party the Kaiser was attacked in unmeasured terms. Junker and pan-German journalists wrote like the Vorwärts and Maximilian Harden. The monarch stood repudiated, tragical, alone. When it might have seemed impossible to make the situation worse, the last touch of farce added humiliation to wrath. The official North German Gazette declared that the publication of the interview had been submitted to all the responsible authorities in the regular way, but as the result of an incredible series of coincidences nobody had read it. The handwriting was so bad that the Emperor could not read it. Herr von Schoen, the Foreign Secretary, was on leave, and he did not read it. When the document reached the hands of a most experienced

and blameless official in the Wilhelmstrasse, it appeared to bear
the awful seal of Imperial approval so plainly that Herr Klemeth
did not read it. Passed on to the Imperial Chancellor, then taking a
much-needed and much-burthened holiday at Norderney, Prince
Bülow assumed that his careful subordinates in the Wilhelmstrasse
had satisfied themselves, and he did not read it. (With a stroke
of his unwitting pen he gave summary authority for publication:
Erledigt B.,” according to Herr Harden's piquant annotation in
Die Zukunft.) At this solemn official confession of how things
may now be managed in the Foreign Office where Bismarck once
ruled, the Kaiser's subjects were finally beside themselves. There
went up one supreme cry for “constitutional guarantees."

1

Prince Bülow offered to resign, but no fitting successor was available. He reappeared as Imperial Chancellor in the Reichstag, and in a situation where no sophistry could wholly succeed, he somewhat bettered his position by one significant though hesitating declaration. To remain in office, he said, had been the hardest sacrifice of his life. The sincerity of this assurance could not be questioned. Prince Bülow is weary and in failing health. Honours have been heaped upon him. He is rich and cultivated. Married to the accomplished Italian lady who is a stepdaughter of Marco Minghetti, the Imperial Chancellor is the fortunate possessor of one of the loveliest villas in Rome; he looks back to his residence in the Eternal City as to the happiest days of his life; and thither he is ready to retire at any time. The Reichstag does not mistake the position in that respect. But Prince Bülow assured the deputies that he had only withdrawn his resignation upon terms. “It is a firm conviction which I have gained during these days of stress that the Emperor will in future observe that reserve even in private conversation, which is equally indispensable in the interest of a uniform policy and for the authority of the Crown. Were that not so, neither I nor any successor of mine could assume responsibility.” The debate continued upon a high level of excellence worthy of the dignity of a great people, but the violence of the attacks upon the Crown increased rather than abated. For a few more days, indeed, it seemed that the whole position might again be compromised as a result of a brilliant and painful philippic delivered by Herr Heine from the Socialist benches. "The Emperor had become accustomed to speak on all subjects. He spoke on science, not dreaming how scientists shook their heads, and nobody told him. He spoke on art, not knowing how artistic circles smiled. He spoke on politics; but they had heard enough about that. Thanks to the Emperor, the national unity had been brought about again, but it was the unity of indignation." In its effect upon the Kaiser's temperament this attack was likely

to defeat its purpose. But it hit one of the real blots of the situation. Personal government on the German Emperor's principles is incompatible with efficiency, if only because no responsible man can be a universal specialist. The immediate business of the German Chancellorship alone is three or four times as large as it was when even the giant powers of Bismarck sometimes sank under the burthen. Herr Heine's philippic passed without rebuke from the Ministerial table, and for another week it seemed as though the Emperor's resentment of the absence of any effort to defend him against extreme attacks might bring about the Chancellor's overthrow and cause-in the words of the well-known Imperialist Democrat, Friedrich Naumann--an open declaration of war between the Crown and the nation.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

"The German people were waiting for a sign from their Emperor approving Prince Bülow's speech and confirming the apparent promise of constitutional guarantees. Nothing of that kind was forthcoming. It was presently admitted that relations between Kaiser and Chancellor were more strained than ever. Upon this the tempest of national indignation, momentarily hushed, burst out with more passion than before. For some days William II. showed a defiant indifference to the feeling of his people. He had been hunting in the neighbouring Empire with the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. He now paid a visit in Bavaria to his close friend, Prince Fürstenberg. There he hunted again. A theatrical company was brought from Frankfort, and a troupe of cabaret artistes from the Chat Noir in Berlin. These gay performances were kept up until after midnight with unbounded applause. In an interval of this holiday the Kaiser watched the manæuvres of the latest airship, bestowed upon its inventor the Order of the Black Eagle, and declared Count Zeppelin to be “the greatest German of the twentieth century.” In the national mood of the moment, these superlatives did not please. There were rumours that Prince Fürstenberg was to be Chancellor, but he is an Austrian subject. Other reports declared that the Kaiser would call a soldier to his side, and that his candidate was General von Löwenfeld, commanding the Hanoverian army corps—the post held by Caprivi when summoned to succeed Bismarck. By now, however, the height to which public agitation had risen had begun to cause profound alarm in Court circles; and it was at last announced that a satisfactory result might be expected from the critical interview to be held between the Kaiser and his Minister. This meeting took place at Potsdam on Tuesday, November 17th. We note the date, because it was at first thought to mark an epoch in the political evolution of the German Empire. The official gazette, the Reichsanzeiger, published a statement which will be so often referred to in coming years, whether it may prove

to mark a historic concession or not, that we make no apology for quoting it here in full :

In the audience given to-day to the Imperial Chancellor, his Majesty the Emperor and King heard a statement lasting over an hour by Prince Bülow. The Imperial Chancellor depicted the feeling aroused among the German people in reference to the publication in the Daily Telegraph and its causes.

Prince Bülow explained further the attitude which he had adopted in the discussions of the Reichstag concerning the interpellations on the subject.

His Majesty the Emperor received the statements and explanations of the Imperial Chancellor with great earnestness, and announced his will thus : Unswayed by the exaggerations of public criticism, which he felt to be unjust, he would regard it as his highest imperial task to secure the consistency of the policy of the Empire with the maintenance of the constitutional responsibilities. In accordance therewith, his Majesty the Emperor approved the declarations of the Imperial Chancellor in the Reichstag, and assured Prince Bülow of his continued confidence.

Does this amount to a constitutional guarantee? Obviously not. It means nothing but that the Kaiser is temporarily chastened, and that Prince Bülow has saved with great adroitness his personal reputation. The German Emperor is nearly fifty. No great alteration in his character can be expected. He will remain the same man. In Voltaire's phrase, “His fate is his temperament." He will always be liable to yield to incalculable impulses. How are his advisers to resist him? They are his nominees dependent on his breath. At the moment of a serious mistake made by any of his Ministers, he can dismiss that Minister. It is not thought that Prince Bülow can remain long in office, for the former cordiality of his relations with his Sovereign can hardly be restored, and the Reichstag feels that the Chancellor has again substituted hypnotic address for solid results. But Prince Bülow's successor will be chosen by the Emperor, and the "maintenance of constitutional responsibilities” as they at present exist means, if strictly interpreted, that the Chancellor will continue as hitherto to be responsible to the Imperial head of the State and not to a Parliamentary majority. No new means is set up to ensure that the will of the Reichstag shall automatically prevail. That Chamber merely continues to possess the right of refusing supplies which it has enjoyed since the foundation of the Empire.

We shall be told that this settles it if only the deputies are sufficiently in earnest. Not at all. German conditions are peculiar. Consider them. How can supplies be refused without disorganising the defences and dislocating the insurance funds? The Customs revenue comes in as a matter of course, and the Reichstag cannot intercept it. Continued pressure on the part of a large and solid majority of the representatives of the people would be irresistible; but in Germany sectarian and social differences are so profound

« السابقةمتابعة »