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ART. II.- Der Kronprinz und die deutsche. Kaiserkrone. Erin
nerungsblätter von Gustav Freytag. Leipzig, 1889.
VARIETY of favourable conditions promised not only A
popularity, but truth and finality, to Freytag's portraiture of the late Emperor Frederick. The subject was one which appeared peculiarly congenial to the essentially national genius of the author. No more inspiring theme could be suggested to a German writer, who was at once a poet, an historian, a zealous patriot, and himself an eye-witness of some of the great events which regenerated Germany under the supremacy of the House of Hohenzollern. Freytag's ‘Reminiscences' of the Crown Prince, who led the first united German army to victory, and who, as Freytag repeatedly asserts, originated the idea of the German Empire, were eagerly expected. Few books attained so wide a circulation in so short a time. But the volume gained only that immediate popularity which springs from curiosity ; it has justified its title to nothing more permanent. The latest work of the popular novelist adds nothing to his reputation as an author or a man. It has been read with pleasure by few, with surprise by most, with indignation or disappointment by the majority.
The book owed its rapid circulation to curiosity, excited partly by the interest of the subject, partly by the fame of the author. The tragedy of the brief reign of the Emperor Frederick indelibly impressed the pathos of his death upon the mind of the civilized world. The heroic figure, gentle nature, and lovable character of the victor of Königgratz and Wörth still live in the affections both of the North and South Germans, who treasure as a national heirloom their recollections of unser Fritz.' The part which, as his Diary claimed, and as Freytag allows, the Emperor Frederick took in the assumption of the German Imperial crown, adds more striking proportions to his personality. The mingled hopes and despair, foreboding and relief, which were produced by his accession and early death, are still fresh impressions in political circles. Since that event, aspirations after freedom continue to make his name a war-cry, and his programme a standard of future reforms; party animosities still depreciate or defend his reputation ; an uneven struggle is to this day waged over his body,—a struggle in which his assailants were encouraged in detraction, and his defenders coerced into silence. In a word, all the passions, jealousies, and prejudices of contemporary German politics combine to distort the outlines of a noble character and career. Men who respect the deceased
Emperor's Emperor's memory ask themselves anxiously, when will the dead be suffered to rest in peace, alike from friend or foe?
It is not our purpose to add fuel to the flames. A war of reprisals is little to our taste. The Life of the late Emperor Frederick must some day be written. Till the task has been accomplished by competent hands, full materials for a final judgment are not forthcoming. In the necessary interval the most that can be done is to correct false impressions. This is our present object. The effect, which Gustav Freytag's * Reminiscences' are calculated to produce, is misleading. In Germany numerous answers have been published, several of which, six months ago, had already reached five or six editions.* The fact proves that public opinion is, to say the least, divided upon the points which the German master of fiction raises in his present volume. Recent changes in the domestic policy of Germany give something more than a speculative or historical interest to the character and aims of the late Emperor Frederick. Internal affairs reached a crisis, when the repressive reactionary policy of Bismarck could no longer be continued. A plunge into the future seemed to the present Emperor to offer the best chance of safety. The deadlock, and the hazardous remedy, might perhaps have been avoided, if, twenty years ago, the Emperor Frederick had been enabled to carry out his projects for free constitutional development, and for the gradual extension of local self-government and industrial freedom. In the German problem, England is selfishly, and therefore profoundly, interested. For the Old World, the difficulties of the near future are everywhere the
They are not now the rectification of boundaries, but the distribution of wealth. Rightly or wrongly, the present Emperor has broken with the past, and adopted new methods to meet new difficulties. His policy may, or may not, succeed. It is certainly attended with risk. If he fails to relieve industrial distress, he will appear to a people, habituated to obey their Sovereign as if he were the commander-in-chief of an army, in the light of a ruler who has broken his word, or is powerless to keep it. The political instinct of his father showed him, even
* We take this opportunity of acknowledging our general obligations to these pamphlets, and more particularly to the three following works :
(1) Gustav Freytag über Kaiser Friedrich. Eine Entgegnung, etc.' Von Dr. Otto Arendt, Mitglied des Hauses der Abgeordneten. Sechste Auflage. Berlin, 1889.
(2) •Der Deutsche Kaiser Friedrich. Eine Erwiderung, etc.' Von K. Schrader, Mitglied des Reichstags. Fünfte Auflage. Berlin, 1889.
(3) · Das Tagbuch Kaiser Friedrich's und Gustav Freytag über Kaiser Friedrich. Zwei Aufsätze aus den Preussischen Jahrbüchern. Von Hans Delbrück. Berlin, 1889.
before the Franco-Prussian War, the direction in which the domestic affairs of Germany were rapidly tending. He desired to avert the shock of conflicting interests which, as he thought, the internal policy of the late Chancellor tended to accelerate and render inevitable. Had his counsel_been accepted twenty years ago, it is possible that the present Emperor might not now be driven to the alternative, either of governing by military force or of posing as an earthly Providence. In these political views lies the secret of the conflicts which have centred round the name of the Emperor Frederick, the explanation of the hostility of the official German press, the key to the depreciatory criticism of Gustav Freytag.
To any German author the subject which Freytag selected for his theme is sufficiently inspiring ; but Freytag seemed preeminently the man to feel the inspiration. His liberalism, his patriotism, the confidence to which the Crown Prince at one period admitted him, all promised not only that the material would be valuable, but that the treatment would be sympathetic. His professed disregard for honours, and his assured literary position, suggested that his judgment would be independent. The importance of this last consideration can hardly be exaggerated. Independence was, in the time of Prince Bismarck, a rare virtue in German political writing. The official press was all-powerful and entirely dependent. The Guelf Fund, which now amounts to nearly three million pounds a year, was in great measure devoted to its support. Originally expended in seeking out the Reptiles,' as the Chancellor designated the secret agents of King George of Hanover, it was. mainly spent in the subvention of newspapers,
This large expenditure, combined with the severity and frequency of Press prosecutions, and united with the withdrawal from Opposition newspapers of official intelligence, legal notices, and foreign news, reduced German journalism to subserviency. The whole of this vast machinery has been assiduously worked against the late Emperor and his supporters. A smaller man than Freytag would scarcely dare to be independent. At the same time his acknowledged mastery of the German language guaranteed that a brilliant setting would enhance the value of the portrait. Everything, therefore, seemed to indicate that Freytag's picture would be a genuine likeness, true, sympathetic, and final. These hopes have not been realized. Except in the brilliancy of the style, the results have falsified the expectations which the author's antecedents justified the public in forming.
To his own countrymen Gustav Freytag needs no introduction. In England some mention of his special qualifications for the task he has undertaken may prove useful. For many years. Freytag has held the foremost place among German writers. In grace and clearness of style he has no rival among his contemporaries. As novelist, poet, dramatist, and historian, his reputation is firmly established. Born at Kreuzberg in Silesia in 1816, he is connected with the province by birth, education, and marriage. Soll und Haben,' with its admirable passages of local description, and its pictures of the family life of the distinguished Breslau merchant, Molinari, turns to excellent account this intimate knowledge of his native province. In 1848, Freytag settled at Leipzig as editor of the Grenzenboten,' or 'Border Messenger’-a paper which, under the joint management of himself and Julian Schmidt, exercised a widespread influence in literary and political circles.
early writings, Freytag may be regarded as the apostle of industry. He loves to linger over details of the business routine of a merchant's office, or the laborious research of a learned professor. German poets and novelists, who preceded him, had praised the pursuit of harmonious culture as the goal of life. The ideal of social perfection was the existence of an aristocratic idler, possessed of wealth and political privileges, cultivating the graceful amenities of society, exercising a kindly patronage towards inferiors. Freytag struck out a line which vividly contrasted with that of these Epicurean dilettanti. He adopted as his motto the maxim, that national novels must seek out the German people where it is found in its true strength; that is, at its labour. For all the industrial classes who have built up the solid strength of Germany--for merchants, teachers, journalists, and tradesmen-he claims social and political recognition. This note is struck in . Soll und Haben,' which on the one side presents a picture of Silesia in. 1848, and of the conflict of the Catholic Polish element with the Prusso-German Protestant population, and on the other vindicates the value of independent citizen families who compose the strength of the middle classes, and who alone can control absolutism, check democracy, and support the pillars of constitutional government, His ideas are the fusion of educated classes, the abolition of caste and bureaucratic feeling, the removal of social barriers which divided the aristocracy of birth from the aristocracy of talent or of industrial wealth.
An acknowledged master of the pen, and at one time a Liberal in his political views, Freytag was also an ardent patriot. It is true that he was, and still is, steeped in Prussian particularism; that his view of a united Fatherland did not extend beyond a Federation of North and South Germany under
the hegemony of Prussia; and that, under the influence of these ideas, he drifted from Liberalism into an almost blind admiration of Bismarck. The fact is important, because it at once places him out of sympathy with the ideas of the Crown Prince. Freytag dreaded, that the assumption of the imperial dignity would destroy the Spartan simplicity which characterized the Prussian Court, the civil service, and the army. He feared that, under the imperial mantle, the old blue coat of the Hohenzollerns might become an antiquated relic.
Yet though Freytag's conception of the best form of union differed from that which the Crown Prince advocated, and which has now rooted itself in the political life of Germany, his enthusiasm was fired by the spectacle of a united nation. In 1870, he was inspired with the idea of a series of historical novels, illustrating successive epochs in the growth of national life. The result was “Die Ahnen.' He shows himself a keen observer of superficial peculiarities. Excelling in description, he fails in presentation of character. Above all, it is difficult to him to understand large-minded men, to grasp great political ideas, to comprehend the spirit of an age or nation. In contact with practical questions, this narrowness of view told against him. For a few months he took an active part in politics. In 1866 he was elected a member of the North German Diet, and joined the National-Liberal party under the leadership of Bennigsen. Political life was, however, distasteful to him, and he resigned his seat in 1867. The next two or three years were spent upon his beautifully written biography of his friend Karl Mathy, whose energies were consistently devoted to the building up of the German nation. A few weeks after the appearance of this work, the French war broke out, and he was invited by the Crown Prince to join him at head-quarters. It is at this period that the Reminiscences' commence.
Commended to the Crown Prince by his literary reputation, his liberal views, and his patriotism, Freytag was already known both to the Prince and his wife. He owned a country-house near Gotha, and his occasional visits there had brought him into personal contact with Duke Ernest of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Duke Ernest made him · Hofrath' in 1854, accepted the dedication of Soll und Haben' in 1855, and in 1858 presented him to the Prince Consort, who had been greatly amused by Freytag's clever comedy of “The Journalists.' (* Die Journalisten' was published in 1852.) As the friend of her father and her uncle, and as the most distinguished literary man in Germany, the Crown Princess made his acquaintance in the early years of her married life. The Crown Prince had commanded the 11th