Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 132.djvu/314

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



vate letters of the most intimate kind have been trusted to such an editor, does not concern us here. We simply have to consider them as literary documents of rare interest.

I have spoken of Bismarck as a man of impulse, a poet. Using the word now in its more proper meaning, I should say that his poetic gift, as evinced in these letters, lies chiefly in two striking features — a remarkable amount of quiet humor and an infinitely tender, almost lyrical, sympathy with the beauties of nature. To characterize Bismarck's humor, one might say that it has a touch of Sterne in it. Not of Sterne's satire and fanciful extravagance, but of the subtle touches of realism with which that unrivalled prose poet brings before us the life, the thoughts, the conversations, and little eccentricities of a couple of English country gentlemen. A somewhat similar kind of minute humorous observation — although, of course, in a much lesser degree of literary perfection — is observable in the letters which Bismarck addressed to his sister from his rural solitude. At that time he was a disappointed man. He had tried the army and the civil service. without much satisfaction to himself or others. The estate of his father in Pomerania, which he had undertaken to manage, was encumbered with mortgages. Congenial society also could hardly be found amongst the feudal nobles of that province, or of Alt-Mark, compared with whom a Conservative squire of Bucks or Huntingdonshire would be a model of social enlightenment and political progressiveness. At times Bismarck tried to out-Herod Herod. His feats in the hunting-field and at drinking-bouts, where a horrid mixture of stout and champagne was quaffed by the bumper, earned him the nickname of "der tolle Bismarck" — that is, mad or wild Bismarck. A story of a number of young foxes being suddenly let loose in the drawing-room to frighten the female cousins reminds one of Tony Lumpkin's practical jocularity. But moody reaction followed such fits of artificial buoyancy. Bismarck would disappear for days amongst the woods of his estate, or lock himself up in his closet, poring over numberless volumes of miscellaneous literature. Even Spinoza he explored to find "adversity's sweet milk, philosophy," with what result may be imagined. At one time, it is said, he had made up his mind to say good-bye to his native land and seek his fortune in India.

There is, however, nothing of bitterness or disappointed egotism in his letters of this period. They are written in a spirit of bonhomie mixed with gentle self-irony and an occasional indication of impatience and discontentment. What, for instance, can be more thoroughly good-natured than the humor with which Bismarck describes the "farce of shooting the fox," daily performed by the simple-minded father and most patiently endured by the son? or what more tenderly filial than the closing passages of the same note addressed to his sister, where he reminds her to give a few more details of her daily life in her letters to the old gentleman?" Tell him who has called on you and on whom you have called, what you have had for dinner, how your horses are, how the servants behave, whether the doors creak and the windows are weather-tight — in short, facts! Also he does not like to be called papa, having a particular objection to that term." A Dutch painter could not have hit off more perfectly the good-natured country gentleman of the old school walking his preserves and sheep-pens and winding up his old-fashioned clocks than Bismarck has done in a few touches.

"Madame," he says, addressing his sister in 1845, evidently in imitation of one of Heine's favorite mannerisms, "I can hardly resist the temptation to fill an entire letter with agricultural complaints, night frosts, sick cattle, bad rape and bad roads, dead lambs, hungry sheep, want of straw, fodder, money, potatoes, and manure; in addition, John is whistling outside a most infamous polka-tune both falsely and pertinaciously, and I am not cruel enough to stop him, knowing that he is trying to soothe his violent love trouble by means of music. The ideal of his dreams, by the persuasion of her parents, has given him the congé, and married a carpenter: exactly my case but for the carpenter, who is still rumbling in the lap of futurity. However, I must get married, Devil take me, that's clear. For since father's departure I am lonely and alone, and this mild, damp weather makes me feel melancholy and longingly loving. It is no use contending. I must marry Miss after all; every one says so, and nothing is more natural, as we have both been left behind. It is true she leaves me cold, but then they all do that. . . . When I came from Angermünde the waves of the River Zam-

    of the narrative had not much to lose by the process, but the peculiar charm of the letters has, of course, been obliterated entirely. Moreover mistakes abound throughout the volume.