Page images
[ocr errors]



N DELIVERING his great speech on the Army Bill (February

1888) which, in the opinion of his enemies, was the most

powerful reactionary utterance of the second half of the century, Bismarck showed himself a consummate master of that art which conceals itself so thoroughly that it requires a laborious collection of evidence to demonstrate its existence. He did not care at all to be considered an orator. His whole mind was centred on carrying his point. In this he succeeded so well on that occasion, and on almost every other, that though he probably made more public speeches and carried more points than any other man in Germany during his day, he is seldom thought of as an eloquent man or as an orator and is rarely classed among the great speakers of his country. In delivering his speech on the Army Bill, he talked to the German Reichstag in what was apparently a bluff, off-hand, jovial style, very much as if he were talking to half a dozen companions around a table over beer and pipes. Now, he stopped to jest with the opposition, now he grew confidential as if he were revealing State secrets to trusted friends, now he appealed as a German to Germans in be half of the Fatherland, now he spoke for the sacred interests of peace and philanthropy - always with the easy, assured assumption that every one must agree with him as a matter of course without the necessity for anything more than this conversational style of putting things among friends.

His mastery of German is phenomenal. Though his language is simplicity itself, his sentences grow on him until no one of less mental power could have emerged from their labyrinths. He does emerge, however, and that so easily and naturally that their involved nature only becomes remarkable when the attempt is made to transfer his thought to another language..

Bismarck (Otto Edward Leopold, Prince von Bismarck-Schönhausen), was born April 1st, 1815, and died July 30th, 1898. He was the greatest « Conservative ” of his age and one of the greatest of any age. Among the public men with whom he was matched in Europe only Gladstone equaled him in intellect and, lacking his intense force of prejudice, Gladstone himself was never anything like his equal in effectiveness. To Bismarck more than to any other one. man, probably more than to any other ten men, was due the gradual but sure growth of the feeling which at his death had turned Europe into an armed camp.) When he first entered politics, as a representative of the extreme royalists of the German land-holding nobility in their opposition to the parliamentary movement of 1848–49, he showed the same tendencies which appear in his speech on the Army Bill of 1888. He was disturbed by the evident tendency of the world to grow into cities, which he regarded as hotbeds of treason and disorder. To check this he believed “blood and iron ” were necessary in both domestic and foreign politics. This and his intense devotion to the royal family of Prussia are the mainsprings of his politics. He opposed the “United Germany," proposed by the Frankfort Parliament of 1849, because he thought it gave too much recognition to the people at the expense of the crown. He fought for royal prerogative at every point in the history of Germany until the empire was established at Versailles after France had submitted on terms he had dictated. In 1884 he achieved his greatest triumph against the «Liberals » of Germany by committing the empire to the colonial policy, which it has since pursued in antagonism to England. His quarrel with the present emperor which resulted in his retirement from court did not retire him from the public affairs of Germany and, up to the time of his death, he remained one of the greatest individual forces in the politics of Europe.

His speech on the Army Bill, here given as an illustration of his oratory, was translated for this work from the Stuttgart edition of his speeches published by authority in 1894.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]






(Delivered in the Reichstag, February 6th, 1888) IF I RISE to speak to-day it is not to urge on your acceptance | the measure the President has mentioned (the army appropri.

ation). I do not feel anxious about its adoption, and I do not believe that I can do anything to increase the majority by which it will be adopted - by which it is all-important at home and abroad that it should be adopted. Gentlemen of all parties have made up their minds how they will vote and I have the fullest confidence in the German Reichstag that it will restore our armament to the height from which we reduced it in the period between 1867 and 1882; and this not with respect to the conditions of the moment, not with regard to the apprehensions which may excite the stock exchanges and the mind of the public; but with

[ocr errors]

a considerate regard for the general condition of Europe. In speaking, I will have more to say of this than of the immediate question.

I do not speak willingly, for under existing conditions a word unfortunately spoken may be ruinous, and the multiplication of words can do little to explain the situation, either to our own people or to foreigners. I speak unwillingly, but I fear that if I kept silent there would be an increase rather than a diminution of the expectations which have attached themselves to this debate, of unrest in the public mind, of the disposition to nervousness at home and abroad. The public might believe the question to be so difficult and critical that a minister for foreign affairs would not dare to touch upon it. I speak, therefore, but I can say truly that I speak with reluctance. I might limit myself to recalling expressions to which I gave utterance from this same place a year and a day ago. Little change has taken place in the situation since then. I chanced to-day on a clipping from the Liberal Gazette, a paper which I believe stands nearer to my friend, Representative Richter, than it does to me. It pictures one difficult situation to elucidate another, but I can take only general notice of the main points there touched on, with the explanation that if the situation has since altered, it is for the better rather than for the worse.

We had then our chief apprehension because of a war which might come to us from France. Since then, one peace-loving President has retired from administration in France, and another peace-loving President has succeeded him. It is certainly a favorable symptom that in choosing its new chief executive France has not put its hand into Pandora's box, but that we have assurance of a continuation under President Carnot of the peaceful policy represented by President Grévy. We have, moreover, other changes in the French administration whose peaceful significance is even stronger than that of the change in the presidency- an event which involved other causes. Such members of the ministry as were disposed to subordinate the peace of France and of Europe to their personal interests have been shoved out, and others, of whom we have not this to fear, have taken their places. I think I can state, also — and I do it with pleasure, because I do not wish to excite but to calm the public mind — that our relations with France are more peaceful, much less explosive than a year ago.

The fears which have been excited during the year have been occasioned more by Russia than by France, or I may say that the occasion was rather the exchange of mutual threats, excitement, reproaches, and provocations which have taken place during the summer between the Russian and the French press. But I do not believe that the situation in Russia is materially different now from what it was a year ago. The Liberal Gazette has printed in display type what I said then:-“Our friendship with Russia sustained no interruption during our war and it is elevated above all doubt to-day. We expect neither assault nor attack nor unfriendliness from Russia.” Perhaps this was printed in large letters to make it easier to attack it. Perhaps also with the hope that I had reached a different conclusion in the meantime and had become convinced that my confidence in the Russian policy of last year was erroneous. This is not the case. The grounds which gave occasion for it lie partly in the Russian press and partly in the mobilization of Russian troops. I cannot attach decided importance to the attitude of the press. They say that it means more in Russia than it does in France. I am of the contrary opinion. In France the press is a power which influences the conclusions of the administration. It is not such a power in Russia, nor can it be; but in both cases the press is only spots of printer's ink on paper against which we have no war to wage. There can be no ground of provocation for us in it. Behind each article is only one man — the man who has guided the pen to send the article into the world. Even in a Russian paper, we may say in an independent Russian paper, secretly supported by French subsidies, the case is not altered. The pen 'which has written in such a paper an article hostile to Germany has no one behind it but the man whose hand held the pen, the man who in his cabinet produced the lucubration and the protector which every Russian newspaper is wont to have that is to say the official more or less important in Russian party politics who gives such a paper his protection. But both of them do not weigh a feather against the authority of his Majesty, the Czar of Russia. ...

Since the great war of 1870 was concluded, has there been any year, I ask you, without its alarm of war ? Just as we were returning, at the beginning of the seventies, they said: When will we have the next war? When will the Revanche be fought? In five years at latest. They said to us then: «The question of

« PreviousContinue »