The New York Times/Bismarck as Seen by Carl Schurz

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Bismarck as Seen by Carl Schurz
From The New York Times (Section: Review of Books) of December 26, 1908, p. BR800.


BISMARCK AS SEEN
BY CARL SCHURZ

Some Entertaining Stories of Ger-
many's Great Chancellor Figure
in the Reminiscences of the
Statesman-Journalist.


IN the third and last volume of “The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz” (the McClure Company) the story of his life is brought down to the opening of the Grant Administration and the beginning of Mr. Schurz's term as a Senator of the United States. It is a matter for deep regret that death came to the distinguished author while his work was far behind the point to which he purposed to carry it. To supply in a measure what is missing, Mr. Frederic Bancroft, with the assistance of Prof. William A. Dunning, has written a sketch of Mr. Schurz's political career from 1869 to 1906, and this sketch appears along with the portion of the reminiscences that are contained in the volume under notice.

The most interesting portion of the reminiscences themselves to be found in the volume is the chapter that tells of Mr. Schurz's meetings with Bismarck in the Winter of 1868. Mr. Schurz was not at all sure that he would escape arrest if he should enter Germany, but through Mr. George Bancroft, then American Minister at Berlin, he received assurances that he not only would not be molested by the police, but that he would be welcomed; his political sins of twenty years before having been thoroughly forgiven. To his astonishment Mr. Schurz learned, soon after he got to Berlin, that Bismarck desired personally to participate in the welcome.

He met Bismarck in the Chancellor's palace on the Wilhelmstrasse. The Chancellor opened a bottle of wine, lighted his huge pipe, and then talked. The conversation, in which he led, lasted for more than four hours. The story of this interview is told in a pleasing fashion. It pictures Bismarck and the scene with vividness; it reports what he said about matters of very large interest with an intelligence and an understanding that are admirable. Reading this story now in the light of history one cannot refrain from wondering what the world would have thought had Mr. Schurz written his story immediately after leaving the Chancellor's house and given it out for publication. Suppose, for example, Mr. Schurz had published in 1868 Bismarck's prediction of a war with France. Bismarck had been telling how he had averted intervention by France in the Austrian war. He paused, and then added:

But we shall have that war with France anyhow. Do not believe that I love war. I have seen enough of war to abhor it profoundly. The terrible scenes I have witnessed will never cease to haunt my mind. I shall never consent to a war that is avoidable, much less seek it. But this war with France will surely come. It will be forced upon us by the French Emperor. I see that clearly. * * * I do not think he is personally eager for war, and would rather avoid it, but the precariousness of his situation will drive him to it. My calculation is that the crisis will come in about two years. We have to be ready, and of course we are. We shall win, and the result will be just the contrary of what Napoleon aims at — the total unification of Germany outside of Austria, and probably Napoleon's downfall.

Bismarck said this in January, 1868; the predicted war broke out in July, 1870, and the foundation of the German Empire and the downfall of Napoleon were among its results.

Bismarck's freedom in discussing Germany's relations with France and the other powers was astonishing to his listener. Says Mr. Schurz:

I could not help remembering that I was listening to the Prime Minister of the Crown, to whom I was an entire stranger, and who knew nothing of my discretion and sense of responsibility. As if we had been confidential chums all our lives, he gave me, with apparently the greatest abandon and the utmost veracity, inside views of the famous ‘conflict’ period between the Crown and the Prussian Parliament when, seeing the war with Austria inevitably coming, he had without legislative authorization spent millions upon millions of the public funds upon the army in preparation for the great crisis.

Throughout his conversation Bismarck invariably spoke of the King as “der alte Herr” — “the old gentleman” or “the old master.” He told anecdotes about him that made Mr. Schurz stare, and often spoke of him “in a tone of familiar freedom which smacked of anything but reverential respect.”

He told how, his patience tried to the utmost, he would go to the King and ask for the removal of some rusty official so that his place might be filled with a more efficient person.

“The old gentleman, melting with pity, would say: ‘Oh! he has so long been a faithful servant of the State, would it not be cruel to cast him aside like a squeezed-out orange? No, I cannot do it.’

“And there,” said Bismarck, “there we are.”

Mr. Schurz ventured to suggest that an offer to resign might bring the King to terms.

“Oh!” said Bismarck, “I've tried that so often, too often, perhaps, to make it impressive. What do you think happens when I offer my resignation? My old gentleman begins to sob and cry — he actually sheds tears — and says, ‘Now you want to leave me, too?’ Now what can I do when I see him shed tears — what in the world can I do?”

Among the Bismarck stories Mr. Schurz recalls is one relating to the great Gen. Moltke. It is the story of an anxious moment during a battle of the Austrian war, and runs like this:

Things began to look ominous. I confess I felt not a little nervous. I looked at Moltke, who sat quietly on his horse and did not seem to be disturbed by what was going on around us. I thought I would test whether he was really as calm as he appeared. I rode up to him and asked him whether I might offer him a cigar, as I noticed Moltke was not smoking. He replied that he would be glad if I had one to spare. I presented to him my open case, in which were only two cigars, one very good Havana and the other of rather poor quality. Moltke looked at them, and even handled them with great attention, in order to ascertain their relative value, and then, with slow deliberation chose the Havana.

“Very good,” he said composedly.

This reassured me very much. I thought if Moltke can bestow so much time and attention upon the choice between two cigars things cannot be so bad. Indeed, a few minutes later we heard the Crown Prince's guns, we observed the unsteady and confused movements of the Austrian positions, and the battle was won.

Bismarck enjoyed his evening with Mr. Schurz so much that he bade him come to dinner the next day, and when it was over the great pipe was lighted again and another conversation began, which lasted until long after midnight. In this conversation Bismarck discussed with Mr. Schurz the political, social, and business life of America. “I am not a democrat,” said the Chancellor in the course of this conversation. “I am not a democrat and cannot be. I was born an aristocrat and brought up an aristocrat. To tell you the truth, there was something in me that made me instinctively sympathize with the slaveholders as the aristocratic party in your civil war.

“But,” he added with earnest emphasis, “this vague sympathy did not in the least affect my views as to the policy to be followed by our Government with regard to the United States. Prussia is and will steadily be, by tradition as well as by well-understood interests, the firm friend of your Republic, notwithstanding her monarchical and aristocratic sympathies. You may always count upon that.”


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).