The Dedication of Germanic Museum of Harvard University
THE DEDICATION OF GERMANIC MUSEUM OF
The establishment of a Germanic Museum as a part of this renowned American University signifies more than a mere collection and exhibition of things historically or artistically remarkable. It is an offspring of the tendency, growing and spreading among civilized nations, to recognize the community between them of thought, of intellectual achievement, of moral endeavor, and of ideal aspirations. It is more particularly an expression of the instinctive desire of the Germanic branches of the human family which, although now separated by political lines of division, claim a common origin and which have made so deep and so peculiar an impress upon the progressive civilization of the human race as to bring to clearer consciousness their original kinship, and the continuity of that kinship, in its various developments and manifestations.
Professor Kuno Francke, to whose personal efforts the first organization and the rapid growth of this enterprise owe so much, has very properly emphasized the fact that “this institution is not a German Museum, but a Germanic Museum,” which is “to bring together representative monuments of the Germanic past on English, Dutch, Scandinavian, Swiss and Austrian soil as well as German.”
Professor Francke has also so cogently set forth how scholars and students may profit from the opportunities for ocular observation afforded by such a museum that nothing need be added to his remarks on that part of the subject. Permit me, then, to devote a few words to another, what I might call the sentimental aspect of it, with especial reference to its effect upon the international intercourse between the peoples concerned.
I am well aware that international relations are not determined by sentiment alone but mainly by interest and impulses of a different kind. In our own history we have had very striking experiences of the sentiment of consanguinity utterly failing to prevent family quarrels; and everybody knows that family quarrels once well started have been apt to be peculiarly fierce. But it would be wrong to assume that sentiment, and especially that of blood-relationship, may not have a very beneficent influence upon the intercourse of kindred peoples at all. To be sure, it will not entirely overrule the antagonism of interests, but it may create a feeling of reluctance to carry these antagonisms to extremes — a feeling favorable to the exertion of every possible effort to bring them to a friendly adjustment.
When, for instance, we contemplate the present American feeling towards England, it will strike us that the often-expressed sentiment that “blood is thicker than water,” already referred to by Baron Bussche, has of late acquired a real significance, which in case of a threatening clash of interests may, not indeed induce either party to forget, or to take an entirely different view of those interests, but at least powerfully stimulate on both sides the wish not to permit such a clash to degenerate into actual hostilities, but to leave no means unused that might bring about an amicable issue. And we all know that a negotiation is already half assured of success when it is approached by both parties in a sincere and warm spirit of conciliation and good understanding. Such sentiment therefore, although it certainly will not obviate all possible differences, may be of exceedingly good service in helping to prevent their running into needless conflicts.
But if this is true with regard to England, is it not equally true with regard to the other members of the Germanic family? Is it not especially true with regard to old Germany, the mother of them all? Her soil is the original birthplace of those motive powers of character, those mental tendencies and those ideal aspirations which most distinguish the Germanic race from others — peculiarities common to Germanic peoples which more or less distinctly reveal themselves in their fundamental conceptions of right and wrong, their collective consciences, their ideals of liberty, their methods of truth-seeking, their philosophies and an almost endless variety of things denoting common instincts. I cannot undertake here to trace these peculiarities in all their various manifestations, but would point out one of them as an example which is strikingly characteristic.
I mention this merely as one of the outgrowths of that blood-kinship which utters itself in many other and more important respects, reminding us that the sentiment that “blood is thicker than water” should have a more constant and comprehensive hearing than it has hitherto received. We all remember than until recently it was a favorite resort of the American demagogue to “twist the British lion's tail,” as it had been the habit of a certain class of Englishmen to revile the Yankee, and that these things were done in most cases without there being the slightest tangible reason for it, and not infrequently in a manner as if a war between the two nations would be a welcome pastime for each. This we have bravely overcome.
Similarly there was, little more than a year ago, an artificial excitement between the United States and Germany on the occasion of the Venezuela affair, which, inflamed by a sensational and unscrupulous press on both sides, pictured to us irreconcilable antagonisms between the two nations, and seemed to rush us into actual danger of hostilities, which might indeed have been precipitated by some unfortunate accident. And then it turned out that there had never been the slightest reason for all this blustering choler, and that, if the sentiment that “blood is thicker than water” had more vigorously asserted itself, the senselessness of the whole turmoil would easily have become apparent at the beginning.
When Americans and Englishmen enumerate the things which they have in common and which sentimentally should bind them together, they seldom omit to mention by the side of the common law and their common principles of civil liberty and so on, their common Shakespeare. Now it is a significant fact that this common Shakespeare is in spite of the difference of language, more alive in Germany, not only than in France or in any Latin or any non-Germanic country, but more alive in Germany than in England or America; that Shakespeare is in Germany not only as generally, or even more generally, read as reproduced in excellent translations, but is far more frequently presented on the stage, because far more in demand by the German public. In fact, there is hardly a respectable theatre which does not carry several of Shakespeare's dramas on its regular repertoire, to be offered not by way of “revival,” or spectacular novelty, but as a matter of course, without which the institution would lose its character, and the omission of which the theatre-going public would resent. Thus the common Shakespeare is emphatically claimed by Germany as her own, while in non-Germanic countries in spite of occasional efforts to introduce him he hardly figures as anything more than an imperfectly intelligible foreign curiosity.
To my mind there is nothing more abominable, nothing more hideous, nothing more criminal, than the reckless goading of nation against nation for the purpose of disturbing their friendship and peaceful intercourse. It is a crime so infamous that it should put anyone guilty of it outside of the social pale of civilized mankind. On the other hand nothing can be more honorable and blessed than any effort to create and nourish a public spirit abhorring the resort to war, except in case of the most absolute and extreme necessity, a sentiment inspiring a statesmanship bent upon devoting in international policy the keenness of its eye to the discovery, not of the things that irritate and divide, but of the things that conciliate and unite.
Whatever makes for friendly sympathy between nations, makes for the good of humanity. Every endeavor directed towards that end, be it ever so limited in its influence, should therefore be most heartily welcomed and fostered. And thus we have good reason for gratitude to the men who originally conceived the plan of establishing this Germanic Museum, not only because it will be the most valuable aid to the scholar and the student in their scientific pursuits, but no less because it will be apt to bring different nations nearer together in the consciousness of kinship. Its effect in international relations may be ever so small and indirect, but it will be something and even a small weight of sentiment may sometimes serve to turn the balance in favor of friendly understanding.
Most heartily do we thank His Majesty, the German Emperor, for his quick and sympathetic appreciation of our endeavors, and for the most generous munificence with which he has aided them; and to our expression of gratitude we may add the assurance that his splendid gifts to the Museum, which challenge our admiration not only because of their value as historic products of German art, but because of the wisely discriminating judgment with which they have been selected, are welcomed in the same friendly spirit in which they are offered. And as the President of the Germanic Museum Association, I express the unanimous and cordial wish of its members that the ailment which has recently befallen the generous benefactor of this institution may soon pass away.
We acknowledge with sincerest gratitude also the magnanimous sympathy with which the Federal Council of the Swiss Republic have favored us with their active and most valuable cooperation, as well as the many private citizens on both sides of the ocean who are aiding the Museum with their donations. And I cannot close without uttering the fervid hope that the many millions of our American fellow citizens of German blood, who, while ardently devoted to this republic, still remember their origin with affectionate pride, will consider it a duty of honor to give free-hearted and open-handed assistance to an institution which appeals to their enlightened public spirit as well as to a sentiment that cannot fail to be dear to their hearts.