Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 132.djvu/316

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309

PRINCE BISMARCK'S LITERARY FACULTY.

and sympathy a passage from a letter to his wife written on the eve of the battle of Sadowa, which, after a hurried account of the events of the previous days, he concludes: "Greet every one cordially. Send me a novel, but one at a time only. God be with you. Just received your letter; thousand thanks. I can feel with you the calm after we had left. Here in this throng of events one cannot realize the situation, except perhaps at night in bed." What epic poet could have drawn a great statesman and leader of the people in the midst of events of which he is the primary cause — seeking an hour's forgetfulness in a work of fiction, but never losing the thought of wife and home — with more graphic touches than is done unconsciously in these few broken lines?

To return to Bismarck's love of nature, it ought to be mentioned that, unlike many Germans, he is passionately fond of the sea. Even to so dull a place as Ostend he looks back "with longing," "for there," he writes, "I have met again an old love, quite unchanged and quite as beautiful as at our first acquaintance. I feel the separation bitterly, and look forward with impatience to the moment when, at Norderney, I may rest again on her heaving bosom; I can hardly understand how one can live away from the sea." A piece of landscape painting from a very different region is the only further specimen of Bismarck's descriptive power which the limits of space will allow me to quote. In the early autumn of 1862 he made a short tour to the south of France previously to assuming the office of prime minister. His letters to his wife are resplendent with air and light of southern seas and skies. Here is one dated Luchon, September 9th, 1862: "The day before yesterday we ascended from here the Col de Venasque: first two hours through splendid beech forest, full of ivy, rocks, and waterfalls; after that a hospitium, then again two hours' steep ascent on horseback over the snow, with views into the distance, still, deep lakes among snow and cliffs. At a height of seventy-five hundred feet there opens in the pointed crest of the Pyrenees a narrow gate through which one enters Spain. The land of chestnuts and palms presents the appearance of a mountain gorge surrounded by the Maladetta, in front of us Pic de Sauvegarde and Pic de Picade. To the right flow streams towards the Ebro, to the left towards the Garonne; and on the horizon rises up one glacier and snow-covered peak behind the other far into Catalonia and Aragon. Here we breakfasted on a slight acclivity of the rocks — red partridges without salt or water — and afterwards rode downwards again on giddy mountain paths, but with splendid weather . . . To-day we saw the lake of Oo — a mountain gorge like the upper lake at Berchtes-garden, but enlivened by a tremendous waterfall rushing into it. We went on the lake singing French chansonettes and Mendelssohn — that is to say, I listened. After that we rode home in a storm of rain, and are now dry and hungry again."

It was during this tour in the south of France that Bismarck at Avignon picked on the grave of Laura the olive branch which soon afterwards he offered to the indignant Radicals of the Prussian Chamber as a symbol of his conciliatory feeling. He also met Napoleon, with whom on this and later occasions he lived on the friendliest terms. Bismarck seems to have exercised a kind of fascination over the mind of the emperor, who half incredulously, half admiringly, listened to his vast schemes. The same charm of the Prussian statesman's personality has been experienced by many different people under different conditions. Even Jules Favre submitted to it when, during the siege of Paris, he met the enemy of his country, and M. Thiers supplied the clue to the phenomenon by calling Bismarck, somewhat uncomplimentarily, "un sauvage plein de génie" using the word "sauvage" in the sense of an impulsive nature untamed by the fetters of conventionality or diplomatic usage. Who has ever heard of Metternich or Talleyrand inspiring personal sympathy or even personal hatred? There is of course a reverse to the medal. The impulsiveness and irritability of Bismarck's nature have not unfrequently led him into personal squabbles unworthy of his position alike as a statesman and an individual. In such moments he drops the extreme and cordial politeness of his ordinary bearing, and one is not astonished at reading that even so bold a man as Dr. Russell, the Times correspondent in the Prussian camp, did not Relish the idea of facing Bismarck's wrath at Versailles.

It is true that in moments of excitement Bismarck becomes all but an orator. His ordinary speaking is by no means perfect. There is in his delivery nothing of Mr. Gladstone's wonderful smoothness and readiness of parlance. Bismarck's utterance resembles clock-work. He says a certain number of words, stops for a second regardless of comma or colon, and takes up the sentence again where he left