The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz/Volume One/05 Revolutionary Days
ONE morning, toward the end of February, 1848, I sat quietly in my attic-chamber, working hard at my tragedy of "Ulrich von Hutten," when suddenly a friend rushed breathlessly into the room, exclaiming: "What, you sitting here! Do you not know what has happened?"
"The French have driven away Louis Philippe and proclaimed the republic."
|[Lithographed by Leon Noël after the painting by Winterhalter]|
I threw down my pen — and that was the end of "Ulrich von Hutten." I never touched the manuscript again. We tore down the stairs, into the street, to the market-square, the accustomed meeting-place for all the student societies after their midday dinner. Although it was still forenoon, the market was already crowded with young men talking excitedly. There was no shouting, no noise, only agitated conversation. What did we want there? This probably no one knew. But since the French had driven away Louis Philippe and proclaimed the republic, something of course must happen here, too. Some of the students had brought their rapiers along, as if it were necessary at once to make an attack or to defend ourselves. We were dominated by a vague feeling as if a great outbreak of elemental forces had begun, as if an earthquake was impending of which we had felt the first shock, and we instinctively crowded together. Thus we wandered about in numerous bands — to the "Kneipe," where our restlessness, however, would not suffer us long to stay; then to other pleasure resorts, where we fell into conversation with all manner of strangers, to find in them the same confused, astonished and expectant state of mind; then back to the market-square, to see what might be going on there; then again somewhere else, and so on, without aim and end, until finally late in the night fatigue compelled us to find the way home.
The next morning there were the usual lectures to be attended. But how profitless! The voice of the professor sounded like a monotonous drone coming from far away. What he had to say did not seem to concern us. The pen that should have taken notes remained idle. At last we closed with a sigh the notebook and went away, impelled by a feeling that now we had something more important to do — to devote ourselves to the affairs of the fatherland. And this we did by seeking as quickly as possible again the company of our friends, in order to discuss what had happened and what was to come. In these conversations, excited as they were, certain ideas and catchwords worked themselves to the surface, which expressed more or less the feelings of the people. Now had arrived in Germany the day for the establishment of "German Unity," and the founding of a great, powerful national German Empire. In the first line the convocation of a national parliament. Then the demands for civil rights and liberties, free speech, free press, the right of free assembly, equality before the law, a freely elected representation of the people with legislative power, responsibility of ministers, self-government of the communes, the right of the people to carry arms, the formation of a civic guard with elective officers, and so on — in short, that which was called a "constitutional form of government on a broad democratic basis." Republican ideas were at first only sparingly expressed. But the word democracy was soon on all tongues, and many, too, thought it a matter of course that if the princes should try to withhold from the people the rights and liberties demanded, force would take the place of mere petition. Of course the regeneration of the fatherland must, if possible, be accomplished by peaceable means. A few days after the outbreak of this commotion I reached my nineteenth birthday. I remember to have been so entirely absorbed by what was happening that I could hardly turn my thoughts to anything else. Like many of my friends, I was dominated by the feeling that at last the great opportunity had arrived for giving to the German people the liberty which was their birthright and to the German fatherland its unity and greatness, and that it was now the first duty of every German to do and to sacrifice everything for this sacred object. We were profoundly, solemnly in earnest.
The first practical service we had to perform turned out to be a very merry one. Shortly after the arrival of the tidings from France the burgomaster of Bonn, a somewhat timid man, believed the public safety in his town to be in imminent danger. In point of fact, in spite of the general excitement there were really no serious disturbances of the public order. But the burgomaster insisted that a civic guard must at once be organized, to patrol the city and the surrounding country during the night. The students, too, were called upon to join it, and as this forming of such a guard was also part of our political programme, we at once willingly obeyed the summons, — and we did this in such numbers that soon the civic guard consisted in great part of university men. Our prescribed task was to arrest disturbers of the public order and suspicious individuals, and to conduct them to the guardhouse; to induce gatherings of a suspicious nature to disperse; to protect property and generally to watch over the public safety. But the public safety being really in no manner threatened, and the patrolling of the city and neighborhood meeting no serious need, the university men found in the whole proceeding an opportunity for harmless amusement. Armed with our rapiers, the iron sheaths of which were made to rattle upon the pavement to the best of our ability, we marched through the streets. Every solitary citizen whom we met late in the night was summoned with pompous phrases to "disperse" and to betake himself to his "respective habitation," or, if it pleased him better, to follow us to the guardhouse and have a glass of wine with us. Whenever we happened to run across a patrol not composed of students, but of citizens, we at once denounced them as a dangerous mob, arrested them and took them to the guardhouse, where with cheers for the new empire we drank as many glasses together as there were points of reform in the political programme. The good burghers of Bonn fully appreciated the humorous situation and entered heartily into the fun.
While all this looked merry enough, affairs elsewhere were taking a serious turn — as serious as we, too, felt at the bottom of our hearts.
Exciting news came from all sides. In Cologne a threatening ferment prevailed. In the taverns and on the streets resounded the "Marseillaise," which at that time still passed in all Europe as the "hymn of liberty." On the public places great meetings were held to consult about the demands to be made by the people. A large deputation, headed by the late lieutenant of artillery, August von Willich, forced its way into the hall of the city council, vehemently insisting that the municipality present as its own the demands of the people of Cologne to the king. The streets resounded with the military drumbeat; the soldiery marched upon the popular gatherings, and Willich, as well as another ex-artillery officer, Fritz Anneke, were arrested; whereupon increasing excitement.
The Rhenish members of the prorogued United Diet implored the president of the province to urge upon the king an immediate acceptance of the demands of the people as the only thing that could prevent bloody conflicts. In Coblenz, Düsseldorf, Aachen, Crefeld, Cleves and other cities on the Rhine similar demonstrations took place. In South Germany — in Baden, Hessen-on-the-Rhine, Nassau, Würtemberg, Bavaria — the same revolutionary spirit burst forth like a prairie-fire. In Baden the Grand Duke acceded almost at once to what was asked of him, and so did the rulers of Würtemberg, Nassau, and Hessen-Darmstadt. In Bavaria, where even before the outbreak of the French February revolution the notorious Lola Montez, favorite of King Ludwig I., had had to yield her place near the throne to the wrath of the people, uproar followed uproar to drive the king to liberal concessions. In Hessen-Cassel the "Elector" also succumbed to the pressure when the people had armed themselves for an uprising. The students of the university of Giessen sent word to the insurgent Hessians that they stood ready to help them. In Saxony the defiant attitude of the citizens of Leipzig, under the leadership of Robert Blum, quickly brought the king to terms.
Great news came from Vienna. There the students of the university were the first to assail the Emperor of Austria with the cry for liberty and citizens' rights. Blood flowed in the streets, and the downfall of Prince Metternich was the result. The students organized themselves as the armed guard of liberty. In the great cities of Prussia there was a mighty commotion. Not only Cologne, Coblenz and Trier, but also Breslau, Königsberg and Frankfurt-on-the-Oder, sent deputations to Berlin to entreat the king. In the Prussian capital the masses surged upon the streets, and everybody looked for events of great import.
While such tidings rushed in upon us from all sides like a roaring hurricane, we in the little university town of Bonn were also busy preparing addresses to the sovereign, to circulate them for signature and to send them to Berlin. On the 18th of March we too had our mass demonstration. A great multitude gathered for a solemn procession through the streets of the town. The most respectable citizens, not a few professors and a great number of students and people of all grades marched in close ranks. At the head of the procession Professor Kinkel bore the tricolor, black, red and gold, which so long had been prohibited as the revolutionary flag. Arrived on the market-square he mounted the steps of the city hall and spoke to the assembled throng. He spoke with wonderful eloquence, his voice ringing out in its most powerful tones as he depicted a resurrection of German unity and greatness and of the liberties and rights of the German people, which now must be conceded by the princes or won by force by the people. And when at last he waved the black, red and gold banner, and predicted to a free German nation a magnificent future, enthusiasm without bounds broke forth. People clapped their hands, they shouted, they embraced one another, they shed tears. In a moment the city was covered with black, red and gold flags, and not only the Burschenschaft, but almost everybody wore a black-red-gold cockade on his hat. While on that 18th of March we were parading through the streets suddenly sinister rumors flew from mouth to mouth. It had been reported that the king of Prussia, after long hesitation, had finally concluded, like the other German princes, to concede the demands that were pouring upon him from all sides. But now a whispered report flew around that the soldiery had suddenly fired upon the people and that a bloody struggle was raging in the streets of Berlin.
RATHAUS [CITY HALL] AT BONN
The enthusiastic elation was followed by a short time of anxious expectancy. At last came the report of the awful events that had taken place in the capital.
The king of Prussia, Frederick William IV., at first received the petitions rushing in upon him with sullen silence. He had so recently, and then so emphatically, even so defiantly, proclaimed his inflexible determination never to consent to any constitutional limitation of his kingly power, that the thought of yielding to popular pressure anything that he fancied should be only a free emanation of the royal will was well-nigh inconceivable to him. But the situation became more threatening from day to day. Not only the language of the deputations arriving from various parts of the kingdom constantly grew more and more impetuous and peremptory, but the people of Berlin began to hold mass meetings counting by thousands and to greet with thundering acclamations the political watchwords uttered by popular orators. The municipal authorities, too, were swept into the current and entreated the king to make concessions. At last he saw the necessity of yielding something. On the 14th of March he gave a "gracious" answer to an address presented by the city council, but that answer was still too evasive and indefinite to satisfy public opinion. Meanwhile bloody collisions occurred between the police supported by military detachments and the multitude thronging the public squares and streets, in which a merchant and a university student were killed. The bitterness of feeling caused by these events was somewhat assuaged by a rumor that the king had resolved upon further and more important concessions, which would be publicly announced on the 18th. He had indeed concluded to issue an edict opening a prospect of steps to be taken in favor of national unity and abolishing the censorship of the press.
On the afternoon of the fateful 18th of March an immense concourse of people assembled on the open square in front of the royal palace, hoping to hear the authoritative announcement that the popular demands had been granted. The king appeared on the balcony and was received with enthusiastic cheers. He attempted to speak, but could not be heard. In the belief, however, that he had granted all that was asked for, the people were ready for a jubilee. Then a cry arose for the removal of the bodies of troops surrounding the palace and appearing to separate the king from his people. It seemed to be expected that this would be granted, too, for an effort was made to open a passage for the soldiers through the dense crowd, when a roll of drums was heard. This was regarded as a signal for the departure of the soldiery; but, instead of the troops withdrawing, heavy bodies of infantry and cavalry pressed upon the multitude for the evident purpose of clearing the square. Then two shots rang from the infantry line and the whole scene suddenly and frightfully changed. Frantic cries arose: "We are betrayed! We are betrayed!" In an instant the mass of people who but a moment before had joyously acclaimed the king, dispersed in the adjoining streets with the angry shout, "To arms, to arms!" In all directions the thoroughfares were soon blocked with barricades. The paving-stones seemed to leap from the ground and to form themselves into bulwarks surmounted by black-red-gold flags, and manned by citizens, university students, tradesmen, artists, laborers, professional men — hastily armed with all sorts of weapons, from rifles and shotguns down to pikes, axes and hammers. There was no preparation, no plan, no system, in the uprising; everybody seemed to follow a common instinct. Then the troops were ordered to the assault. When, after a fierce fight they had taken one barricade, they were at short distances confronted by another and another. Behind the barricades women were busy bringing food and drink for the fighters and caring for the wounded. During the whole night the city resounded with the roar of cannon and the rattle of musketry.
The king seemed at first sternly determined to put down the insurrection at any cost; but as the street battle proceeded he became painfully conscious of its terrible character. Reports arrived in rapid succession. He would now give an order to stop the fight and then an order to go on. Shortly after midnight he wrote with his own hand an address to "My dear Berliners." He began by saying that the firing of the two shots which had caused the excitement had been a mere accident, that a band of miscreants, mostly foreigners, had taken advantage of this misunderstanding to goad many of his good subjects into this fratricidal fight. Then he promised to withdraw the troops as soon as the insurgents would remove the barricades, and he implored them "to listen to the fatherly voice of their king, to which the grievously suffering queen joined her affectionate and tearful prayers." But the address failed to produce the desired effect. It was accompanied with the roar of cannon and the rattle of musketry, and the fighting citizens rather resented being called "a band of miscreants."
At last, on the afternoon of Sunday, the 19th of March, when one of the high commanders of the troops, General Möllendorf, had been captured by the citizens, the withdrawal of the troops was resolved upon. Peace was concluded on the understanding that the army should leave Berlin, that there should be freedom of the press, and that Prussia should have a constitution on a broad democratic basis. When the soldiery had marched off something happened that in dramatic force and significance has never been surpassed in the history of revolutions. From all parts of the city solemn and silent processions moved toward the royal palace. They escorted the bodies of those of the people who had been killed in the battle; the corpses of the slain were carried aloft on litters, their gaping wounds uncovered, their heads wreathed with laurel branches and immortelles. So the processions marched into the inner palace court, where the litters were placed in rows in ghastly parade, and around them the multitude of men with pallid faces, begrimed with blood and powder smoke, many of them still carrying the weapons with which they had fought during the night; and among them women and children bewailing their dead. Then the king was loudly called for. He appeared in an open gallery, pale and dejected, by his side the weeping queen. "Hat off!" the multitude shouted, and the king took off his hat to the dead below. Then a deep voice among the crowd intoned the old hymn, "Jesus, meine Zuversicht" — "Jesus, my Refuge," in which all present joined. The chorus finished, the king silently withdrew and the procession moved away in grim solemnity.
|[Illustration by Charlotte Weber-Ditzler]|
THE REVOLUTION IN BERLIN, 1848
This was a terrible humiliation to the crown, but at the same time a pointed answer to the king's address in which the fighters had been denounced as a band of miscreants, or as the seduced victims of such a band. Had there really been such miscreants, or persons answering our present conception of anarchists, among them, Frederick William IV. would hardly have survived that terrible moment when he stood before them, alone and defenseless, and they fresh from the battlefield with guns in their hands. But at that moment their cry was not "Death to the king!" nor "Down with royalty!" but "Jesus, my Refuge!"
Nor was the history of those fateful days tainted by any act of heinous crime; indeed, two private houses were sacked, the owners of which had been caught betraying the fighting citizens to the soldiery. But while the insurgents were in complete control of large portions of the city during the whole night, there was not a single case of theft or of wanton destruction. Property was absolutely safe.
The "Prince of Prussia," the oldest brother of the childless king and presumptive heir to the throne — the same prince who as Kaiser William I. was in the course of events to become the most popular monarch of his time — was reported to have given the order to fire on the people, and the popular wrath turned upon him. By order of the king the prince left Berlin under cover of night and hurried to England. Excited crowds gathered in front of his palace on the street "Unter den Linden." There was no military guard to protect the building. A university student put upon its front the inscription "National property," and it was not touched. Immediately after the street battle had ceased the shops were opened again as in ordinary times.
Arms were distributed among the people from the government armories. The king declared, "I have become convinced that the peace and the safety of the city cannot be better maintained than by the citizens themselves." On the 21st of March Frederick William IV. appeared again among the people, on horseback, a black-red-gold scarf around his arm, a black-red-gold flag at his request carried before him, a huge tricolor hoisted at the same moment on the royal palace. The king spoke freely to the citizens. He would "place himself at the head of the movement for a united Germany; in that united Germany Prussia would be merged." He swore that he wanted nothing but a "constitutional and united Germany." At the university building he turned to the assembled students, saying, "I thank you for the glorious spirit you have shown in these days. I am proud that Germany possesses such sons." It was understood that a new and responsible ministry had been appointed, composed of members of the liberal opposition; that a constituent assembly to be elected by the Prussian people should be convoked to frame a constitution for the kingdom of Prussia; and a national parliament to be elected by the people of all the German states, to meet at Frankfurt for the purpose of uniting all Germany under a new constitutional government. The people of Berlin were in ecstasy.
"The heroes fallen in the glorious struggle for social and political liberty," as the proclamation of the municipal assembly called them, were carried for burial to the Friedrichshain cemetery, accompanied by two hundred thousand citizens, who took the coffins past the royal palace, where the king again stood with uncovered head.
Such were the great tidings the country received from Berlin. Thus the cause of liberty and national union seemed to have achieved a decisive and irreversible victory. The kings and princes themselves, foremost the King of Prussia, had solemnly promised to serve it. The jubilation of the people was without bounds.
Since the French-German war of 1870 and the establishment of the present German Empire it has been the fashion in Germany to scoff at the year 1848, dubbing it the "crazy year," and to ridicule the "thoughtlessness" with which at that time great political programmes were made, comprehensive demands formulated, and far-reaching movements set on foot, to be followed by cruel disappointments and catastrophes. But did the German people of 1848 deserve such ridicule? True, the men of those times did not know how to deal with the existing conditions, nor to carry to the desired end the movement so victoriously and hopefully begun. It is equally true that the popular movement was disjointed and now in retrospect appears in certain lights fantastic. But what reasonable person can wonder at this? The people, although highly developed in science, philosophy, literature and art, had always lived under a severe guardianship in all political matters. They had never been out of leading strings. They had observed only from afar how the other nations exercised their right to govern themselves, and managed their active participation in the functions of the state, and those foreign nations the Germans had learned to admire and perhaps to envy. They had studied the theory of free institutions in books and had watched their workings in current newspaper reports. They had longed for the possession of like institutions and earnestly striven for their introduction in their own country. But with all this observing, learning, and longing, and striving, the larger part of the German people had been excluded by the prevailing rigid paternalism from practical experience in the exercise of political self-government. They had not been permitted to learn the practical meaning of political liberty. They had never received or known the teachings which spring from the feeling of responsibility in free political action. The affairs of government lay outside of the customs and habits of their lives. Free institutions were to them mere abstract conceptions, about which the educated and the seriously thinking men indulged in politico-philosophical speculations, while to the uneducated and the superficial they only furnished political catchwords, in the use of which the general discontent with existing conditions found vent.
Suddenly after a prolonged fermentation, and following an impulse from abroad, the German people rose up in strength. The kings and princes now conceded everything that they had refused before, and the people found themselves all at once in full possession of an unaccustomed power. Is it to be wondered at that these surprising changes brought forth some confused desires and misdirected endeavors? Would it not have been more astonishing if the people had at once clearly defined and wisely limited their desires, and promptly found the right means for the attainment of the right objects? Do we expect that the beggar who suddenly becomes a millionaire will instantly know how to make the best use of his unwonted wealth? And yet, it cannot be said of the large majority of the German people that, however vague their political notions may have been, they asked in the revolutionary movements of the year 1848 in the main for anything that was unreasonable or unattainable. Much of what they at that period sought to accomplish has since been realized. The errors committed by them in 1848 were more in the means employed than in the ends aimed at. And the greatest of these errors sprang from the childlike confidence with which they expected the complete fulfillment of all the promises which the kings and princes, especially the King of Prussia, had made under stress of circumstances. It is idle to indulge in speculations about that which might have been if that which was had been different. But one thing is certain: If the princes had not permitted themselves to be seduced by the machinations of the reactionary parties on the one side, nor to be frightened by occasional popular excesses on the other, but had with unflinching fidelity and with the exertion of all their power done that which in March, 1848, they had given the people reason to expect of them, the essential objects fought for at that period would have proved themselves entirely practicable. It was indeed not prudent on the part of the people in their enthusiastic enjoyment of what they called the "Volkerfrühling" — the People's Springtime — an enjoyment to which they gave themselves with such ingenuous elation, to cherish that credulous confidence, instead of assuring themselves of the necessary guarantees against a reaction bound to come; but this imprudence sprang from no ignoble source. He surely wrongs the German people who lays solely at their and their leaders' doors the responsibility for the failures of the years 1848-49, overlooking the tergiversations of the princes.
But what should make the memory of that "springtime" especially dear to Germans is the enthusiastic spirit of self-sacrifice for the great cause which for a while pervaded almost every class of society with rare unanimity. It is this moral elevation which, even if sometimes it ran into fantastic exaggerations, the German people should prize and honor — of which they should certainly not be ashamed. My heart warms whenever I think of those days. In my immediate surroundings I knew hosts of men who at that time were ready at any moment to abandon and risk all for the liberty of the people and the greatness of the fatherland. We ought to respect him who is willing to throw away all, even life itself, for a good and great idea. And whoever, be it an individual or people, has had in life moments of such self-sacrificing enthusiasm, should hold the memory of them sacred.
Upon the occasion of a crowded public meeting of university men in the "Aula," the great university hall at Bonn, I found myself, quite unintentionally, thrust into a conspicuous position among my fellow-students. I do not remember the special purpose for which the meeting was held. Professor Ritschl, our foremost philologist and, if I recollect rightly, at that time dean of the philosophical faculty, a very highly esteemed and popular man, was in the chair. I stood among the crowd. I had thought much and formed a decided opinion of the subject which was under discussion, but did not attend the meeting with the intention of taking part in the debate. Suddenly I heard some of the speakers say something very repugnant to my feelings, and following a sudden impulse, I found myself the next moment speaking to the assembly. I have never been able to recollect what I said. I only remember that I was in a nervous condition until then entirely unknown to me; that thoughts and words came to me in an uninterrupted flow; that I spoke with vehement rapidity, and that the applause following my speech wakened me out of something like a dream. This was my first public speech. When the meeting had adjourned I met at the exit of the hall Professor Ritschl. As I attended some of his lectures he knew me. He put his hand upon my shoulder and asked:
"How old are you?"
"Too bad; still too young for our new German parliament."
|[Drawing by Bernhard Hoefling]|
CARL SCHURZ AT NINETEEN
I blushed all over; that I should become a member of any parliament — that was a thought to which my ambition had never soared. I feared the good professor had permitted himself to joke with me.
Before long I was again in the foreground. Like all other orders of society in those days, we university men had our peculiar grievances which in the "new time" were to be redressed. The Prussian Government kept at the universities an official one of whose principal duties it was to watch the political tendencies of professors and students. This office had been created at the time of the "persecution of demagogues," after the notorious ministerial conferences at Carlsbad, and was therefore in bad odor with liberal-minded men. The officer in question was at that time Herr von Bethmann Hollweg. More on account of his duties than of his personal qualities he was highly unpopular with the students. We thought that such an officer, a product of the period of deepest degradation, did not fit the new order of things and must speedily be abolished. A meeting of students was therefore called at the riding academy, from which, our object having been rumored about, the professors prudently absented themselves. My impromptu speech in the Aula caused my election as president of this meeting. We resolved to present an address to the academic senate, demanding that the officer in question should at once be removed. As chairman of the meeting I was charged with the duty to write the address on the spot. This was done. It was couched in very peremptory language and consisted only of four or five lines. The meeting approved it forthwith, and resolved — as in those days we loved to do things in dramatic style — to proceed in mass to the house of the rector of the university and personally to present the paper to him. So we marched, seven or eight hundred men, in dense column, to the dwelling of the rector and rang the bell. The rector, Herr van Calker, professor of philosophy, an oldish, anxious-looking little man, soon appeared on the doorstep, and I read to him the energetic sentences of our address. For a moment he timidly looked at the crowd of students, and then told us in halting and stammering phrases how rejoiced he was to behold the soaring spirit of German youth and how the students could accomplish in these important days great things, and that he would be happy to submit our address to the academic senate and to the government for speedy consideration and adjustment. We read upon the face of the good little man, toward whom everyone of us felt most kindly, that he contemplated the soaring spirit of German youth with a certain uneasiness, thanked him for his good-will, took our leave politely and marched back to the market-square. There it was reported to us — whether truly or not — that during our visit to the rector the unpopular officer in question had speedily packed his trunks and already left the town.
While the jubilation over the "Märzerrungenschaften" — the results of the revolutionary movements in March — at first seemed to be general, and even the adherents of absolutism put a good face on a bad business, soon a separation into different party-groups began between those whose principal aim was the restoration of order and authority — the conservatives; those who wished slow and moderate progress — the constitutionalists; and those who aimed at securing the fruits of the revolution in "a constitutional government on the broadest democratic basis" — the democrats. Instinctive impulse as well as logical reasoning led me to the democratic side. There I met Kinkel again, and our friendship soon became very intimate. In the course of our common activity the formal relations between teacher and pupil yielded to a tone of thorough comradeship.
In the beginning the zealous work of agitation absorbed almost all our time and strength. Kinkel, indeed, still delivered his lectures, and I also attended mine with tolerable regularity; but my heart was not in them as before. All the more eagerly I studied modern history, especially the history of the French Revolution, and read a large number of politico-philosophical works and of pamphlets and periodicals of recent date, which treated of the problems of the time. In this way I endeavored to clear my political conceptions and to fill the larger gaps in my historical knowledge — a want which I felt all the more seriously as my task as an agitator was to me a sacred duty.
First we organized a democratic club consisting of citizens and students, which found in the so-called Constitutional Club, led by Professor Löbell, a very able man, a most respectable opponent. Then we founded a local organ for the democratic party, the Bonner Zeitung, a daily paper, the editorship of which was undertaken by Kinkel, while I, as a regular contributor, had to furnish every day one or more articles. And finally, once or twice a week, in fact as often as we could, we marched out to the neighboring villages to preach to the country people the political gospel of the new time, and also to organize them into democratic clubs. Undoubtedly, the nineteen-year-old journalist and speaker brought forth a great deal of undigested stuff, but he believed sincerely and warmly in his cause and would have been ready at any time to sacrifice himself for it.
My activity in this direction, however, soon after its beginning came very near a sudden stop. Long before the breaking out of the revolution of March, the people of the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein had made great efforts, while being united with Denmark by a "personal union," to win a politically independent existence. In March, 1848, the people of those Duchies rose in mass to the end of securing this independent position, and of making not only Holstein, but also Schleswig a part of the German Confederation. This uprising awakened in all Germany the liveliest sympathy, and in various places efforts were made to raise volunteer troops for the assistance of the people of the Duchies against the Danes. Especially at the universities these efforts struck a responsive chord, and students in large numbers went to Schleswig-Holstein to join the volunteer organizations. My first impulse was to do likewise. I was already engaged in serious preparations for departure when Kinkel persuaded me to desist, because the liberation of Schleswig-Holstein from the Danish yoke would be recognized by the German Parliament and the German governments as a national cause, and the Prussian and other regular troops would do much better service in the war than the loosely organized and badly drilled bodies of hastily gathered volunteers. Neither did he conceal from me that he was anxious to keep me with him in Bonn, where, as he sought to convince me, I could do the Fatherland much better service in the way of agitation for our cause. As it turned out, the volunteer organizations formed by students fought right bravely in Schleswig-Holstein, but when facing the superior discipline and tactics of the Danish troops, found themselves exposed to all sorts of ugly accidents. The service so rendered was therefore in no proportion to the sacrifices made by their members. The reports brought by several students who, after having served in Schleswig-Holstein for a little time, returned to the universities, consoled me for the restraint I had put upon my warlike ardor.
Several of these Schleswig-Holstein volunteers came to Bonn, and among them Adolph Strodtmann, who at a later period achieved in German literature a respectable place. He became my near personal friend, and will appear as such in this story of my life on various occasions. He was the son of a Protestant clergyman in Hadersleben, a little town in the Duchy of Schleswig. Father and son were enthusiastic adherents of the pro-German national cause, and young Adolph, who shortly before the outbreak of the Schleswig-Holstein uprising had left the gymnasium, joined at once a corps of student-volunteers. He was unfit for military service in a rare degree, for he was not only very nearsighted, but also of imperfect hearing. He told us frequently with great humor of his only martial achievement. One morning the corps of students was surprised in their camp by the Danes and roughly handled. Strodtmann noticed the general tumult and concluded that something extraordinary was the matter. The orders which were given he did not understand; but he joined the crowd of others and soon found himself alone enveloped in powder-smoke. "Then," he added, "I fired my rifle twice, but do not know to this moment whether in the right or wrong direction. I was so nearsighted that I could not distinguish the Danes from our people. I almost fear that I fired in the wrong direction, for suddenly I felt something like a heavy blow in my back; I fell and remained on the ground until the Danes lifted me up and took me away. It was found that a bullet had hit me in the back and had gone straight through me. Of course only a Dane could have shot me in the back, and inasmuch as I always remained in the one spot during the fight, I must have turned my back towards the Danes and fired off my rifle in the direction of our own people." Dangerously wounded, Strodtmann was taken to the "Dronning Maria," the Danish prison-ship, and after a little while exchanged. After a speedy recovery he came to the University of Bonn, to study languages and literature.
His physical infirmities made him a somewhat singular person. His deafness caused all sorts of funny misunderstandings, at which he usually was the first to laugh. He spoke with a very loud voice as if the rest of us had been as deaf as he was himself. In consequence of his wound he had accustomed himself in walking to put one shoulder forward so that he always looked as if he were squeezing himself through an invisible crowd of people, and he was at the same time so inattentive that he ran against all possible objects. But he was a most sincere and honest enthusiast; of almost childlike ingenuousness in his views of men, things, and events; in a high degree capable of self-sacrifice and open to generous and noble impulses. His gifts as well as his inclinations made him devote himself to literature. His verses, which he produced in great profusion and with uncommon facility, excelled less by originality of thought or fancy, than by an abundant and superb flow of poetical expression. It was largely owing to this talent that he subsequently wrote some admirable translations of French, English and Danish poetry and prose. His political instincts were strongly democratic, and he joined the agitation led by Kinkel with great zeal. It was thus that he and I became fast friends.