Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 132.djvu/315

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309

PRINCE BISMARCK'S LITERARY FACULTY.

pel separated me from Kniephof, and as no one would trust me with horses I had to stop the night at Naugard with a number of travellers, commercial and otherwise, all waiting for the abating of the waters. After that the bridges of the Zampel were torn away; so that Knobelsdorf [a friend of Bismarck] and myself, the regents of two great counties [alluding to an appointment he held in his province], were enclosed in a little spot of earth by the waves, while an interregnum of anarchy prevailed from Schievelbein to Damm. As late as one o'clock one of my carts with three casks of spirits was carried away by the floods, and in my affluent of the Zampel a carter with his horse was drowned; I am proud to relate."

At this passage M. Klaczko in the clever pamplet already alluded to utters a shriek of horror. With an elegant allusion to another flood — a sea of human blood, shed of course by Bismarck's fault alone, in France — he points out the brutality of the joke at the expense of an ill-fated menial. But really there is no brutality at all in the case. In connection with the drowned carter, Bismarck goes on to detail several other misfortunes of equal importance. Some houses have tumbled down; a landowner in the neighborhood has hanged himself from desperation at the want of fodder. "An eventful year!" Bismarck exclaims: he is simply mocking and chafing at the narrowness of his circle of vision, in which the commonplace occurrences of life have to stand for historic events. That the life of a servant was not a matter of trifling to him he had shown previously, when with considerable personal danger he saved his groom, from drowning. The medal awarded to him for this brave deed was for some time Bismarck's only order. A diplomatist who inquired somewhat superciliously after the meaning of the unpretending decoration Bismarck silenced with the nonchalant reply, "I am sometimes in the habit of saving a person's life."

Numerous other letters of a similar character might be cited, one in especial dated 1850, in which Bismarck, who in the mean time had married Fraulein Johanna von Puttkammer, describes his troubles as paterfamilias on a trip to the seaside; the company including, besides himself and Frau von Bismarck, two squalling children with a corresponding number of tuneful nursemaids. Matrimonial Britons ought to take example by the great chancellor's heavenly patience. In 1851 Bismarck was appointed Prussian ambassador to the German Diet at Frankfort-on-the-Main, then just re-emerging from the storms of the Revolution. The influence of Austria, which lorded it over the minor potentates of Germany and suppressed the remainder of Liberal feeling in the southern states with an iron hand, was quite in accordance with Bismarck's political views at the time. For diplomacy and statecraft in the abstract he also felt a deep reverence. But soon after his arrival at Frankfort the scales fell from his eyes. With indignation he recognized the humiliating position of his own country, and partly, no doubt, to this sudden reaction in his whole feeling is due the utter contempt with which he speaks of the doings and intriguings of his brother diplomatists. These feelings are expressed with wonderful force of utterance in a remarkable letter to his wife (Frankfort, May 18, 1851), too long to quote here, but well worth the attention of the reader, particularly at the present moment. "Unless external events supervene," he writes, "I can tell you now what we are going to achieve in the next one, two, or five years, and, indeed, will undertake to achieve it myself in twenty-four hours if only the others would be sincere and reasonable for a single day. I always knew that they were cooking with water, but I am surprised at this sober, silly, watery broth, in which there is not a speck of fat to be seen. Forward me Schulze (village mayor), X., or Herr von ——ski from the turnpike house, and I will turn them into first-rate diplomates."

From the irksomeness of his office Bismarck escaped as frequently as possible into the quietude of the country, which in the neighborhood of Frankfort is fertile and beautiful. In one of his letters from this period he describes a delightful swim at night in the Rhine. His description of the woody mountain-tops and the battlements of castle ruins lit up by the moon is instinct with the spirit of romanticism. Descriptions of beautiful scenery of the most varied kind abound in Bismarck's letters. Wherever he went on his diplomatic wanderings — to Vienna, to the south of France, to St. Petersburg and Holland — the letters to his wife give a running commentary of his travelling impressions. Even from the battlefields of Bohemia and France he sends her hurried scraps to say what he has seen and done and felt. As biographical records these are invaluable; but even forgetting the historic import of the man and the date one can hardly read without interest