TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE KAISER'S SPEECH AT KONIGSBERG.
ONLY events, and great events, can reveal fully the character of the German Emperor, and settle once for all whether he is a vain young man who takes his position much too seriously, or an ordinary King with a fancy for speechifying, or a Sovereign with a faculty for governing and managing great affairs, who likes to be seen doing it. As yet the facts, with one exception, are all in favour of the third theory. The Emperor William has, to begin with, reigned for six years, and he is at least as much master as he ever was. He has dispensed with the strongest and most successful Premier who has ever appeared in Europe, and his authority has lost nothing by so doing, either in weight or in attraction for the body of his people. He has maintained peace under circumstances which made war very tempting ; he has greatly increased the strength of his Army ; and his European position is at least as lofty as when he began to reign. At home he is as powerful as ever, and his Parliament on appeal steadily supports him, while he is probably less dis- liked by the masses, though they quiz his restlessness, than any Sovereign of his house. He has produced an impression, in fact, that he understands, and in great measure sympathises with, the keen desire for more com- fort which is penetrating the working classes throughout Europe, and which will probably produce large political as well as social chan gee. These are considerable achieve- ments for a Prince still far from middle age, so consider. able that but for the one exception they would settle the question of the confidence to be reposed in the Emperor's governing capacity. He will, however, make speeches, and these speeches so startle the world by their habitual want of conventionality and occasional rashness, that they perpetually reopen the dispute as to the Emperor's perfect capacity to reign. His speech of Friday week, for example, makes English Radicals doubt whether the Emperor-King is not half mad with pride ; whether it is possible that in this age of the world a Sovereign should seriously think such things, much more say them ; and whether, if those are his thoughts, he can avoid rushing, .at no distant period, upon some great catastrophe.
We doubt the Radical view. In the first place it is to be observed that none of the Emperor's " rash" utter- ances have done him any real harm, or diminished his effective authority as the real Premter in Prussia and Germany as well as the Emperor-King. He rules just as he did before he. uttered them, and receives just as implicit an obedience from men of whose in- tellectual capacity no one doubts. Even the " maddest " speech of all, that to the conscripts, in which he told them that their duty was to fire on their fathers if be bade them, never shook his military position, or excited any unpopularity in a population every man of which either is or has been a soldier. That would seem to indi- cate some comprehension of his people, and some differ- ence, too, between their minds and those of the Emperor's foreign critics. The latter undoubtedly like authority to be kept in the background much more than the former do, and the difference in appreciation caused by that difference in feeling may be very great. The English, in particular, would be dreadfully shocked if an English Admiral were to express his real views about disci. pline with the frankness of the German Emperor, but they will let him act on them with much complacency ; and they are precisely the German Emperor's views. The recent speech at Kiinigsberg in the same way has.not really a false assumption in it. The English dislike to hear of Kings by Divine Right, because they attach to such Kings the idea of absolutism, and, indeed, of the only absolutism they hear about, which is the Russian ; but that is not the German Emperor's thought at all. He is not claiming autocracy, but, within his functions, independence and responsibility to God, just as Abraham Lincoln on one celebrated occasion did. The great President had. been a good deal worried by too much advice, and at last terminated it by saying, " In the end, gentlemen, it is I who must decide." It was quite true, and the advice died away in murmurs ; and it is also true that the Hohenzollern does reign by Divine Right,—that is, by self-derived right, not springing from any statute or plebiscite of the people. The Hohenzollerns made the Dukedom, made the Kingdom, made the Empire, and the representative of the House, whatever the limits of his authority, derives it from God and his own strength alone. The Prussians do not forget their history, and are less irritated by such open claims on the part of their Monarch than a differently situated race would be. He is the Monarch, they say ; and are no more offended than the sailors of a man-of- war are by the " pretensions " of the captain. Even the rebuke to the nobles of Prussia, though a little too savage in tone for the best kind of loftiness, is little misunderstood by the people to whom it was addressed. The Emperor has been trying hard to secure for his people two advantages through an agrarian treaty with Russia. One is to conciliate _Russia itself, which can attack him on the right flank, and the other is to relieve the general misery in Germany by cheapening food. The nobles who have loaded themselves with mortgages are excessively angry at the fall in prices, and have even in their irrita- tion formed themselves into an organised opposition to the Monarch whose bodyguard they have been for centuries. Thereupon the Emperor rates them soundly. You, he says in effect, what are you doing, opposing the very Monarchy with whose existence your own is bound up ? Fall into rank behind me, who am the greatest land- lord, and therefore the greatest sufferer among you, and bear your sufferings in a Christian spirit. " Opposi- tion by nobles is a monstrous thing, justifiable only when the King stands at its head,"—that is, is opposing his own Government. It all sounds too grandiose, no doubt ; but it is all historically true, and ridicule of it comes from English Radicals with a special ill-grace, for they are saying to their Lords precisely the same things. If Sir William Harcourt scolds at the Peers, nobody thinks his conduct outrageous ; but if the Prussian King does it who is his own Premier, he is besmirched with a particu- larly painful kind of abuse. He is only censuring a class;. as he says, though he does it from the point of view that he has, by the history of his country and his own acknow- ledged position, a special right to censure. The Prussian aristocracy are no more injured or humiliated by a rebuke from their Sovereign than a man-of-war's crew by a reprimand from their captain on disorderliness or want of smartness. It is even doubtful if the outspok(n Emperor was at all rash, for the Conservative nobles are profoundly moved, and through their organ declare their complete willingness to fall into rank behind their King.
The truth is that we English have got two ideas in- extricably fixed in our heads which prevent us from judging a man like the German Emperor quite fairly. One is that a King, even if he governs, should remain in the shadow, which is from our history a natural idea. We have for two hundred years forced our Kings to remain in the shadow, until at last we have come to think that the only becoming place for them. The Germans feel differently. They intend their Kings to take a great and visible part in the Executive, to lead the Army, to govern the people with the best advice they can get, and to control the aristocracy, and if rough rebuke to any class is wanted in the execution of those functions,. they tolerate the rough rebuke as soldiers do on service. It may not be a good system,—we have all prospered under a very different one,—but it is the system, and the Emperor William is no more to blame for using- it than Mr. Cleveland is for vetoing a Bill sent up. to him by both Houses of Congress. He is intended to judge for himself, and does judge. The other idea now seriously affecting the English mind is that all the officially great should be mealy-mouthed. They ought not to say unpleasant things at all if they can be avoided; but if they say them, they ought either to wrap them up in suavities or to disguise them by giving them a gentle or witty literary form. Everybody who speaks from above should, they think, pay compliments, abstain from censure particularly of classes—Peers always ex- cepted—and never betray active dislike of anybody— Peers again excepted. There is, in fact, a demand that- the great shall lie a little in a sinless way. It is, perhaps, a natural demand, for all Sovereigns have made. it from Pharaoh's time, and the Democracy is now Sovereign ; but it is also just a little contemptible. The Judges, we note, do not obey it, and why should not a pplitiman in power, or a King, if ho has duties, say outright what he thinks, and express his judgment about his own respon- sibilities ? What is the use of all this shirking and quailing and merging of all characters into mellifluous courtiership ? Let the individual stand out in his in- dividuality, and if he thinks his business is to rule, let him say so as plainly as Abraham Lincoln did, or as the captain of a ship invariably does. The discipline will be none the harder, and there would be a good deal more leadership in the world, which is sadly in want of that very article. Events will show soon enough if the German Emperor has judged himself rightly ; and even if he has not, the German nation will be the stronger for its warning that in his own judgment he is entitled to rule, and will do it.