Bismarck and the Foundation of the German Empire - J. W. Headlam

Retirement and Death


Well was it for Germany that Bismarck had not allowed her to fall into the weak and vacillating hands of a Parliamentary government. Peace has its dangers as well as war, and the rivalry of nations lays upon them a burden beneath which all but the strongest must succumb. The future was dark; threatening clouds were gathering in the East and West; the hostility of Russia increased, and in France the Republic was wavering; a military adventurer had appeared, who threatened to use the desire for revenge as a means for his personal advancement. Germany could no longer disregard French threats; year by year the French army had been increased, and in 1886 General Boulanger introduced a new law by which in time of peace over 500,000 men would be under arms. Russia had nearly 550,000 soldiers on her peace establishment, and, against this, Germany only 430,000. They were no longer safe; the duty of the Government was clear; in December, 1886, they brought forward a law to raise the army to 470,000 men and keep it at that figure for seven years. "We have no desire for war," said Bismarck, in defending the proposal; "we belong (to use an expression of Prince Metternich's) to the States whose appetite is satisfied; under no circumstances shall we attack France; the stronger we are, the more improbable is war; but if France has any reason to believe that she is more powerful than we, then war is certain." It was, he said, no good for the House to assure the Government of their patriotism and their readiness for sacrifice when the hour of danger arrived; they must be prepared beforehand. "Words are not soldiers and speeches not battalions."

The House (there was a majority of Catholics, Socialists, and Progressives) threw out the bill, the Government dissolved, and the country showed its confidence in Bismarck and Moltke; Conservatives and National Liberals made a coalition, the Pope himself ordered the Catholics not to oppose the Government (his support had been purchased by the partial repeal of a law expelling religious orders from Prussia), and the Emperor could celebrate his ninetieth birthday, which fell in March, 1887, hopeful that the beneficent work of peaceful reform would continue. And yet never was Bismarck's resource so needed as during the last year in which he was to serve his old master.

First, a French spy was arrested on German soil; the French demanded his release, maintaining that German officers had violated the frontier. Unless one side gave way, war was inevitable; the French Government, insecure as it was, could not venture to do so; Bismarck was strong enough to be lenient: the spy was released and peace was preserved. Then, on the other side, the passionate enmity of Russia burst out in language of unaccustomed violence; the national Press demanded the dismissal of Bismarck or war; the Czar passed through Germany on his way to Copenhagen, but ostentatiously avoided meeting the Emperor; the slight was so open that the worst predictions were justified. In November, on his return, he spent a few hours in Berlin. Bismarck asked for an audience, and then he found that despatches had been laid before the Czar which seemed to shew that he, while avowedly supporting Russia in Bulgarian affairs, had really been undermining her influence. The despatches were forged; we do not yet know who it was that hoped to profit by stirring up a war between the two great nations. We can well believe that Bismarck, in the excitement of the moment, spoke with an openness to which the Czar was not accustomed; he succeeded, however, in bringing about a tolerable understanding. The Czar assured him that he had no intention of going to war, he only desired peace; Bismarck did all that human ingenuity could to preserve it. By the Triple Alliance he had secured Germany against the attack of Russia. He now entered into a fresh and secret agreement with Russia by which Germany agreed to protect her against an attack from Austria; he thereby hoped to be able to prevent the Czar from looking to France for support against the Triple Alliance. It was a policy of singular daring to enter into a defensive alliance with Russia against Austria, at the same time that he had another defensive alliance with Austria against Russia. < ? Footnote ("Our knowledge of this treaty is still very incomplete; even the date is not certain, but it seems most probable that it was executed at this time. Neither Bismarck's own memoirs nor Busch's book throw any light upon it.")?> To shew that he had no intention of deserting his older ally, he caused the text of the treaty with Austria to be published. This need no longer be interpreted as a threat to Russia. Then, that Germany, if all else failed, might be able to stand on her own resources, another increase of the army was asked for. By the reorganisation of the reserve, 500,000 men could be added to the army in time of war. This proposal was brought before the Reichstag, together with one for a loan of twenty-eight million marks to purchase the munitions of war which would be required, and in defence of this, Bismarck made the last of his great speeches.

It was not necessary to plead for the bill. He was confident of the patriotism of the House; his duty was to curb the nervous anxiety which recent events had produced. These proposals were not for war, but for peace; but they must indeed be prepared for war, for that was a danger that was never absent, and by a review of the last forty years he shewed that scarcely a single year had gone by in which there had not been the probability of a great European conflict, a war of coalitions in which all the great States of Europe would be ranged on one side or the other. This danger was still present, it would never cease; Germany, now, as before, must always be prepared; for the strength of Germany was the security of Europe.

"We must make greater exertions than other Powers on account of our geographical position. We lie in the middle of Europe; we can be attacked on all sides. God has put us in a situation in which our neighbours will not allow us to fall into indolence or apathy. The pike in the European fish-pond prevent us from becoming carp."

It was not their fault if the old alliance with Russia had broken down; the alliance with Austria still continued. But, above all, Germany must depend on her army, and then they could look boldly into the future. "It will calm our citizens if they think that if we are attacked on two sides we can put a million good soldiers on the frontier, and in a few weeks support them by another million." But let them not think that this terrible engine of war was a danger to the peace of Europe. In words which represent a profound truth he said: "It is just the strength at which we aim that makes us peaceful. That sounds paradoxical, but it is so. With the powerful engine into which we are forming the German army one undertakes no offensive war." In truth, when the army was the nation, what statesman was there who would venture on war unless he were attacked? "If I were to say to you, 'We are threatened by France and Russia; it is better for us to fight at once; an offensive war is more advantageous for us,' and ask for a credit of a hundred millions, I do not know whether you would grant it,—I hope not." And he concluded: "It is not fear which makes us lovers of peace, but the consciousness of our own strength. We can be won by love and good-will, but by them alone; we Germans fear God and nothing else in the world, and it is the fear of God which makes us seek peace and ensue it."

These are words which will not be forgotten so long as the German tongue is spoken. Well will it be if they are remembered in their entirety. They were the last message of the older generation to the new Germany which had arisen since the war; for already the shadow of death lay over the city; in the far South the Crown Prince was sinking to his grave, and but a few weeks were to pass before Bismarck stood at the bedside of the dying Emperor. He died on March 9, 1888, a few days before his ninety-first birthday, and with him passed the support on which Bismarck's power rested.

He was not a great man, but he was an honourable, loyal, and courteous gentleman; he had not always understood the course of Bismarck's policy or approved the views which his Minister adopted. The restraint he had imposed had often been inconvenient, and Bismarck had found much difficulty in overcoming the prejudices of his master; but it had none the less been a gain for Bismarck that he was compelled to explain and justify his action to a man whom he never ceased to love and respect. How beneficial had been the controlling influence of his presence the world was to learn by the events which followed his death.

That had happened to which for five and twenty years all Bismarck's enemies had looked forward. The foundation on which his power rested was taken away; men at once began to speculate on his fall. The noble presence of the Crown Prince, his cheerful and kindly manners, his known attachment to liberal ideas, his strong national feeling, the success with which he had borne himself on the uncongenial field of battle, all had made him the hope of the generation to which he belonged. Who was so well suited to solve the difficulties of internal policy with which Bismarck had struggled so long? Hopes never to be fulfilled! Absent from his father's deathbed, he returned to Berlin a crippled and dying man, and when a few weeks later his body was lowered into the grave, there were buried with him the hopes and aspirations of a whole generation.

Bismarck Son


His early death was indeed a great misfortune for his country. Not that he would have fulfilled all the hopes of the party that would have made him their leader. It is never wise to depend on the liberalism of a Crown Prince. When young and inexperienced he had been in opposition to his father's government—but his father before him had, while heir to the throne, also held a similar position to his own brother. As Crown Prince, he had desired and had won popularity; he had been even too sensitive to public opinion. His, however, was a character that required only responsibility to strengthen it; with the burden of sovereignty he would, we may suppose, have shewn a fixity of purpose which many of his admirers would hardly have expected of him, nor would he have been deficient in those qualities of a ruler which are the traditions of his family. He was not a man to surrender any of the prerogatives or authority of the Crown. He had a stronger will than his father, and he would have made his will felt. His old enmity to Bismarck had almost ceased. It is not probable that with the new Emperor the Chancellor would long have held his position, but he would have been able to transfer the Crown to a man who had learnt wisdom by prolonged disappointment. How he would have governed is shewn by the only act of authority which he had time to carry out. He would have done what was more important than giving a little more power to the Parliament: he would at once have stopped that old and bad system by which the Prussian Government has always attempted to schoolmaster the people. During his short reign he dismissed Herr von Puttkammer, the Minister of the Interior, a relative of Bismarck's wife, for interfering with the freedom of election; we may be sure that he would have allowed full freedom of speech; and that he would not have consented to govern by aid of the police. Under him there would not have been constant trials for Majestätsbeleidigung or Bismarckbeleidigung. This he could have done without weakening the power of the Crown or the authority of the Government; those who know Germany will believe that it was the one reform which was still required.

The illness of the Emperor made it desirable to avoid points of conflict; both he and Bismarck knew that it was impossible, during the few weeks that his life would be spared, to execute so important a change as the resignation of the Chancellor would have been. On many points there was a difference of opinion, but Bismarck did not unduly express his view, nor did he threaten to resign if his advice were not adopted. When, for instance, the Emperor hesitated to give his assent to a law prolonging the period of Parliament, Bismarck did not attempt to control his decision. When Herr Puttkammer was dismissed, Bismarck did not remonstrate against an act which was almost of the nature of a personal reprimand to himself. It was, however, different when the foreign policy of the Empire was affected, for here Bismarck, as before, considered himself the trustee and guarantor for the security of Germany. An old project was now revived for bringing about a marriage between the Princess Victoria of Prussia and Prince Alexander of Battenberg. This had been suggested some years before, while the Prince was still ruler of Bulgaria; at Bismarck's advice, the Emperor William had refused his consent to the marriage, partly for the reason that according to the family law of the Hohenzollerns a marriage with the Battenberger family would be a mésalliance. He was, however, even more strongly influenced by the effect this would have on the political situation of Europe.

The foundation of Bismarck's policy was the maintenance of friendship with Russia; this old-established alliance depended, however, on the personal good-will of the Czar, and not on the wishes of the Russian nation or any identity of interests between the two Empires. A marriage between a Prussian princess and a man who was so bitterly hated by the Czar as was Prince Alexander must have seriously injured the friendly relations which had existed between the two families since the year 1814. Bismarck believed that the happiness of the Princess must be sacrificed to the interests of Germany, and the Emperor William, who, when a young man, had for similar reasons been required by his father to renounce the hand of the lady to whom he had been devotedly attached, agreed with him. Now, after the Emperor's death the project was revived; the Emperor Frederick wavered between his feelings as a father and his duty as a king. Bismarck suspected that the strong interest which the Empress displayed in the project was due, not only to maternal affection, but also to the desire, which in her would be natural enough, to bring over the German Empire to the side of England in the Eastern Question, so that England might have a stronger support in her perennial conflict with Russia. The matter, therefore, appeared to him as a conflict between the true interests of Germany and those old Court influences which he so often had had to oppose, by which the family relationships of the reigning sovereign were made to divert his attention from the single interests of his own country. He made it a question of confidence; he threatened to resign, as he so often did under similar circumstances; he let it be known through the Press what was the cause, and, in his opinion, the true interpretation, of the conflict which influenced the Court. In order to support his view, he called in the help of the Grand Duke of Baden, who, as the Emperor's brother-in-law, and one of the most experienced of the reigning Princes, was the proper person to interfere in a matter which concerned both the private and the public life of the sovereign. The struggle, which threatened to become serious, was, however, allayed by the visit of the Queen of England to Germany. She, acting in German affairs with that strict regard to constitutional principle and that dislike of Court intrigue that she had always observed in dealings with her own Ministers, gave her support to Bismarck. The marriage did not take place.

Frederick's reign lasted but ninety days, and his son ruled in his place. The new Emperor belonged to the generation which had grown up since the war; he could not remember the old days of conflict; like all of his generation, from his earliest years he had been accustomed to look on Bismarck with gratitude and admiration. In him, warm personal friendship was added to the general feeling of public regard; he had himself learnt from Bismarck's own lips the principles of policy and the lessons of history. It might well seem that he would continue to lean for support on the old statesman. So he himself believed, but careful observers who saw his power of will and his restless activity foretold that he would not allow to Bismarck that complete freedom of action and almost absolute power which he had obtained during the later years of the old Emperor. They foretold also that Bismarck would not be content with a position of less power, and there were many ready to watch for and foment the differences which must arise.

In the first months of the new reign, some of Bismarck's old enemies attempted to undermine his influence by spreading reports of his differences with the Emperor Frederick, and Professor Geffken even went so far as to publish from the manuscript some of the most confidential portions of the Emperor's diary in order to shew that but for him Bismarck would not have created the new Empire. The attempt failed, for, rightly read, the passages which were to injure Bismarck's reputation only served to shew how much greater than men thought had been the difficulties with which he had had to contend and the wisdom with which he had dealt with them.

From the very beginning there were differences of opinion; the old and the new did not think or feel alike. Bismarck looked with disapproval on the constant journeys of the Emperor; he feared that he was compromising his dignity. Moltke and others of the older generation retired from the posts they filled; Bismarck, with growing misgivings, stayed on. His promises to his old master, his love of power, his distrust of the capacity of others, all made it hard for him to withdraw when he still might have done so with dignity. We cannot doubt that his presence was irksome to his master; his influence and authority were too great; before them, even the majesty of the Throne was dimmed; the Minister was a greater man than the Sovereign.

If we are to understand what happened we must remember how exceptional was the position which Bismarck now occupied. He had repeatedly defied the power of Parliament and shewn that he was superior to the Reichstag; there were none among his colleagues who could approach him in age or experience; the Prussian Ministers were as much his nominees as were the officials of the Empire. He himself was Chancellor, Minister-President, Foreign Minister, and Minister of Trade; his son was at the head of the Foreign Office and was used for the more important diplomatic missions; his cousin was Minister, of the Interior; in the management of the most critical affairs, he depended upon the assistance of his own family and secretaries. He had twice been able against the will of his colleagues to reverse the whole policy of the State. The Government was in his hands and men had learnt to look to him rather than to the Emperor. Was it to be expected that a young man, ambitious, full of spirit and self-confidence, who had learnt from Bismarck himself a high regard for his monarchical duties, would acquiesce in this system? Nay, more; was it right that he should?

It was a fitting conclusion to his career that the man who had restored the monarchical character of the Prussian State should himself shew that before the will of the King he, as every other subject, must bow.

Bismarck had spent the winter of 1889 at Friedrichsruh. When he returned to Berlin at the end of January, he found that his influence and authority had been undermined; not only was the Emperor influenced by other advisers, but even the Ministry shewed an independence to which he was not accustomed. The chief causes of difference arose regarding the prolongation of the law against the Socialists. This expired in 1890, and it was proposed to bring in a bill making it permanent. Bismarck wished even more than this to intensify the stringency of its provisions. Apparently the Emperor did not believe that this was necessary. He hoped that it would be possible to remove the disaffection of the working men by remedial measures, and, in order to discuss these, he summoned a European Congress which would meet in Berlin.

Here, then, there was a fundamental difference of opinion between the King of Prussia and his Minister; the result was that Bismarck did not consider himself able to defend the Socialist law before the Reichstag, for he could not any longer give full expression to his own views; the Parliament was left without direction from the Government, and eventually a coalition between the extreme Conservatives, the Radicals, and the Socialists rejected the bill altogether. A bitterly contested general election followed in which the name and the new policy of the Emperor were freely used, and it resulted in a majority opposed to the parties who were accustomed to support Bismarck. These events made it obvious that on matters of internal policy a permanent agreement between the Emperor and the Chancellor was impossible. It seems that Bismarck therefore offered to resign his post as Minister President, maintaining only the general control of foreign affairs. But this proposition did not meet with the approval of the Emperor. There were, however, other grounds of difference connected even with foreign affairs; the Emperor was drawing closer to England and thereby separating from Russia.

William I


By the middle of March, matters had come to a crisis. The actual cause for the final difference was an important matter of constitutional principle. Bismarck found that the Emperor had on several occasions discussed questions of administration with some of his colleagues without informing him; moreover, important projects of law had been devised without his knowledge. He therefore drew the attention of the Emperor to the principle of the German and Prussian Constitutions. By the German Constitution, as we have seen, the Chancellor was responsible for all acts of the Ministers and Secretaries of State, who held office as his deputies and subordinates. He therefore claimed that he could require to be consulted on every matter of any importance which concerned any of these departments. The same right as regards Prussian affairs had been explicitly secured to the Minister-President by a Cabinet order of 1852, which was passed in order to give to the President that complete control which was necessary if he was to be responsible for the whole policy of the Government. The Emperor answered by a command that he should draw up a new order reversing this decree. This Bismarck refused to do; the Emperor repeated his instructions. It was a fundamental point on which no compromise was possible; the Emperor proposed to take away from the Chancellor that supreme position he had so long enjoyed; to recall into his own hands that immediate control over all departments which in old days the Kings of Prussia had exercised and, as Bismarck said, to be his own Prime Minister. In this degradation of his position Bismarck would not acquiesce; he had no alternative but to resign.

The final separation between these two men, each so self-willed and confident in his own strength, was not to be completed by ceremonious discussions on constitutional forms. It was during an audience at the castle, that the Emperor had explained his views, Bismarck his objections; the Emperor insisted that his will must be carried out, if not by Bismarck, then by another. "Then I am to understand, your Majesty," said Bismarck, speaking in English; "that I am in your way?" "Yes," was the answer. This was enough; he took his leave and returned home to draw up the formal document in which he tendered his resignation. This, which was to be the conclusion of his public life, had to be composed with care; he did not intend to be hurried; but the Emperor was impatient, and his impatience was increased when he was informed that Windthorst, the leader of the Centre, had called on Bismarck at his residence. He feared lest there was some intrigue, and that Bismarck proposed to secure his position by an alliance with the Parliamentary opposition. He sent an urgent verbal message requiring the resignation immediately, a command with which Bismarck was not likely to comply. Early next morning, the Emperor drove round himself to his house, and Bismarck was summoned from his bed to meet the angry sovereign. The Emperor asked what had taken place at the interview with Windthorst, and stated that Ministers were not to enter on political discussions with Parliamentary leaders without his permission. Bismarck denied that there had been any political discussion, and answered that he could not allow any supervision over the guests he chose to receive in his private house.

"Not if I order it as your sovereign?" asked the Emperor.

"No. The commands of my King cease in my wife's drawing-room," answered Bismarck. The Emperor had forgotten that Bismarck was a gentleman before he was a Minister, and that a Prussian nobleman could not be treated like a Russian boyar.

No reconciliation or accommodation was now possible. The Emperor did all he could to make it appear that the resignation was voluntary and friendly. He conferred on the retiring Chancellor the highest honours: he raised him to the rank of Field Marshal and created him Duke of Lauenburg, and publicly stated his intention of presenting him with a copy of his own portrait. As a soldier, Bismarck obediently accepted the military honour; the new title he requested to be allowed not to use; he had never been asked whether he desired it.

No outward honours could recompense him for the affront he had received. What profited it him that the Princes and people of Germany joined in unanimous expression of affection and esteem, that he could scarcely set foot outside his house for the enthusiastic crowd who cheered and followed him through the streets of Berlin? For twenty-four years he had been Prussian Minister and now he was told he was in the way. His successor was already in office; he was himself driven in haste from the house which so long had been his home. A final visit to the Princes of the Royal House, a last audience with the Emperor, a hasty leave-taking from his friends and colleagues, and then the last farewell, when in the early morning he drove to Charlottenburg and alone went down into the mausoleum where his old master slept, to lay a rose upon his tomb.

The rest he had so often longed for had come, but it was too late. Forty years he had passed in public life and he could not now take up again the interests and occupations of his youth. Agriculture had no more charms for him; he was too infirm for sport; he could not, like his father, pass his old age in the busy indolence of a country gentleman's life, nor could he, as some statesmen have done, soothe his declining years by harmless and amiable literary dilettanteism. His religion was not of that complexion that he could find in contemplation, and in preparation for another life, consolation for the trials of this one. At seventy-five years of age, his intellect was as vigorous and his energy as unexhausted as they had been twenty years before; his health was improved, for he had found in Dr. Schweninger a physician who was not only able to treat his complaints, but could also compel his patient to obey his orders. He still felt within himself full power to continue his public work, and now he was relegated to impotence and obscurity. Whether in Varzin or Friedrichsruh, his eyes were always fixed on Berlin. He saw the State which he had made, and which he loved as a father, subjected to the experiment of young and inexperienced control. He saw overthrown that carefully planned system by which the peace of Europe was made to depend upon the prosperity of Germany. Changes were made in the working of that Constitution which it seemed presumption for anyone but him to touch. His policy was deserted, his old enemies were taken into favour. Can we wonder that he could not restrain his impatience? He felt like a man who sees his heir ruling in his own house during his lifetime, cutting down his woods and dismissing his old servants, or as if he saw a careless and clumsy rider mounted on his favourite horse.

From all parts of Germany deputations from towns and newspaper writers came to visit him. He received them with his customary courtesy, and spoke with his usual frankness. He did not disguise his chagrin; he had, he said, not been treated with the consideration which he deserved. He had never been accustomed to hide his feelings or to disguise his opinions. Nothing that his successors did seemed to him good. They made a treaty with England for the arrangement of conflicting questions in Africa; men looked to Bismarck to hear what he would say before they formed their opinion; "I would never have signed the treaty," he declared. He quickly drifted into formal opposition to the Government; he even made arrangements with one of the Hamburg papers that it should represent his opinions. He seemed, to have forgotten his own principle that, in foreign affairs at least, an opposition to the policy of the Government should not be permitted. He claimed a privilege which as Minister he would never have allowed to another. He defied the Government. "They shall not silence me," he said. It seemed as though he was determined to undo the work of his life. Under the pretext that he was attacking the policy of the Ministers, he was undermining the loyalty of the people, for few could doubt that it was the Emperor at whom the criticisms were aimed.

In his isolation and retirement, the old uncompromising spirit of his ancestors once more awoke in him. He had been loyal to the Crown—who more so?—but his loyalty had limits. His long service had been one of personal and voluntary affection; he was not a valet, that his service could be handed on from generation to generation among the assets of the Crown. "After all," he would ask, "who are these Hohenzollerns? My family is as good as theirs. We have been here longer than they have." Like his ancestors who stood out against the rule of the Great Elector, he was putting personal feeling above public duty. Even if the action of the new Government was not always wise, he himself had made Germany strong enough to support for a few years a weak Ministry.

More than this, he was attempting to destroy the confidence of the people in the moral justice and necessity of the measures by which he had founded the Empire. They had always been taught that in 1870 their country had been the object of a treacherous and unprovoked attack. Bismarck, who was always living over again the great scenes in which he had been the leading actor, boasted that but for him there would never have been a war with France. He referred to the alteration in the Ems telegram, which we have already narrated, and the Government was forced to publish the original documents. The conclusions drawn from these disclosures and others which followed were exaggerated, but the naïve and simple belief of the people was irretrievably destroyed. Where they had been taught to see the will of God, they found only the machinations of the Minister. In a country where patriotism had already taken the place of religion, the last illusion had been dispelled; almost the last barrier was broken down which stood between the nation and moral scepticism.

Bismarck's criticism was very embarrassing to the Government; by injuring the reputation of the Ministry he impaired the influence of the nation. It was difficult to keep silence and ignore the attack, but the attempts at defence were awkward and unwise. General Caprivi attempted to defend the treaty with England by reading out confidential minutes, addressed by Bismarck to the Secretary of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in which he had written that the friendship of England and the support of Lord Salisbury were more important than Zanzibar or the whole of Africa. He addressed a circular despatch to Prussian envoys to inform them that the utterances of Prince Bismarck were without any actual importance, as he was now only a private man. This only made matters worse; for the substance of the despatch quickly became known (another instance of the lax control over important State documents which we so often notice in dealing with German affairs), and only increased the bitterness of Bismarck, which was shared by his friends and supporters.

For more than two years the miserable quarrel continued; Bismarck was now the public and avowed enemy of the Court and the Ministry. Moltke died, and he alone of the great men of the country was absent from the funeral ceremony, but in his very absence he overshadowed all who were there. His public popularity only increased. In 1892, he travelled across Germany to visit Vienna for his son's wedding. His journey was a triumphal progress, and the welcome was warmest in the States of the South, in Saxony and Bavaria. The German Government, however, found it necessary to instruct their ambassador not to be present at the wedding and to take no notice of the Prince; he was not even granted an audience by the Austrian Emperor. It was held necessary also to publish the circular to which I have already referred, and thereby officially to recognise the enmity.

The scandal of the quarrel became a grave injury to the Government of the country. A serious illness of Bismarck caused apprehension that he might die while still unreconciled. The Emperor took the opportunity, and by a kindly message opened the way to an apparent reconciliation. Then a change of Ministry took place: General Caprivi was made the scapegoat for the failures of the new administration, and retired into private life, too loyal even to attempt to justify or defend the acts for which he had been made responsible. The new Chancellor, Prince Hohenlohe, was a friend and former colleague of Bismarck, and had in old days been leader of the National party in Bavaria. When Bismarck's eightieth birthday was celebrated, the Emperor was present, and once more Bismarck went to Berlin to visit his sovereign. We may be allowed to believe that the reconciliation was not deep. We know that he did not cease to contrast the new marks of Royal favour with the kindly courtesy of his old master, who had known so well how to allow the King to be forgotten in the friend.

[Illustration] from Bismarck and German Empire by J. W. Headlam


As the years went on, he became ever more lonely. His wife was dead, and his brother. Solitude, the curse of greatness, had fallen on him. He had no friends, for we cannot call by that name the men, so inferior to himself, by whom he was surrounded—men who did not scruple to betray his confidence and make a market of his infirmities. With difficulty could he bring himself even to systematic work on the memoirs he proposed to leave. Old age set its mark on him: his beard had become white; he could no longer, as in former days, ride and walk through the woods near his house. His interest in public affairs never flagged, and especially he watched with unceasing vigilance every move in the diplomatic world; his mind and spirit were still unbroken when a sudden return of his old malady overtook him, and on the last day of July, 1898, he died at Friedrichsruh.

He lies buried, not among his ancestors and kinsfolk near the old house at Schoenhausen, nor in the Imperial city where his work had been done; but in a solitary tomb at Friedrichsruh to which, with scanty state and hasty ceremony, his body had been borne.