THE GERMAN EMPEROR'S RETREAT. T HE recent crisis in Berlin throws
a flood of light upon the most interesting of all German subjects, the true character of the picturesque young Emperor. That light, we fear, is not altogether favourable, the entire history of the Education Bill suggesting that his Majesty is one of the men to whom reflection brings wisdom, but brings it late, after he has not only willed but acted. It is now clear that the Bill restoring religious education and giving a certain control of it to the clergy of all recognised " Con- fessions " was not intended. to catch votes, Catholic or other, but was produced by a real dread created in the Emperor's mind by the spread of anti-religious ideas and of certain forms of immorality in Berlin. He was pro- foundly shocked by the revelations during a recent trial, and. after ordering severe measures against the souteneurs or " bullies " of the capital, measures which have pro- duced hundreds of arrests, he proceeded to strike at the root of the evil by purifying the education of the young. He ordered. a thorough-going Bill to be drawn up, making that education religious, and allow- ing the clergy a right during the hours of religious in- struction of attendance and. supervision, and at first imagined. that it would pass with comparative ease. The Conservatives and the Catholics of Prussia accepted the measure eagerly, and a large majority for it was almost assured. Some clauses in the Bill, however, greatly alarmed the freethinking classes, always powerful in Prussia; the Reformed Jews, who swarm on the Press and in the professions, were directly affronted by the Bill, they not belonging to a recognised "Confession," and being consequently liable to be taught Christianity; and finally, the whole Liberal Party declared against it. The Minister of Finance, Dr. Miguel, a man of great ability and courage, declared by his friends to have in him the potentiality of "a more liberal Bismarck," handed in his resignation, ostensibly because the Bill would involve much expense for schoolhouses • and a section of the Conservatives intimated that before they could vote, they must insist on large alterations in Com- mittee. The Emperor was at first only irritated by criticism, and made the now celebrated speech to the Brandenburgers, in which he announced his purpose to be immoveable, claimed God as the permanent " ally " of his House, and bade all who were discontented shake off the dust of Prussia from their feet, a sentence which, in the face of an already vast emigration, caused even unreason- able annoyance. Many who are not habitually opponents were excited by this imprudent utterance, and by the efforts of the Public Prosecutors to punish hostile criticisms upon it; and the Emperor found himself con- fronted by the whole body of Liberal opinion within his Empire. If he carried his Bill, he must carry it with the aid of the Conservatives and the Catholics alone,—that is, for future legislation he must place himself in the hands of these parties, and break with the body of cultivated men who prepared the way for the German Empire. Friends not within the Ministry pressed upon him the inexpediency of such a departure from tradition ; he began to hesitate, and then, it is said, consulted the Grand Duke of Baden, a close relative, who now holds in Germany the position once occupied by the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The opinion of the Grand Duke was hostile to the measure, and. the Emperor, veering round, ordered either the withdrawal of the Bill, or such a modification in its clauses as would have deprived the whole proposal of its distinctive character.
So far, this is only an ordinary: instance of change of mind in a nearly absolute Sovereign ; but the Emperor's perplexities were only beginning. Count Caprivi is Prus- sian Premier and Foreign Minister as well as Chancellor of the Empire ; and Count Caprivi, thinking his master resolved, and himself entirely approving the Bill, had pledged himself up to the lips to the new educational policy. It was time, he said. in his speech, that atheism should be repressed. It was impossible for him to turn round simply because his master had turned round, or to withdraw a Bill for opposing which he had. accepted the Finance Minister's resignation. He therefore placed his own resignation in the Emperor's hands, not, we imagine, as Chancellor, but as Prussian Premier ; and after some hesitation, it was, it is said, accepted by his master. The difficulty of separating the two offices is great, because it is as Prussian Premier that the Chancellor votes in and controls the Federal Council of the Empire, which is one of the most important of his functions ; but after much discussion, a road would appear to have been found out of this narrow way. Count Caprivi is to be allowed to remain Foreign Minister of Prussia, and as such to guide the Federal Council, while another col- league, probably Count Eulenberg, an "old Parliamentary hand," without inconvenient genius, may accept the rather thankless office of Premier within the Kingdom. That colleague was not easy to find, for Dr. Miguel, to whom the post was offered, preferred under the circumstances to remain Finance Minister ; but it will not be difficult to fill either that post or the Ministry of Education, which Count Zedlitz has quitted in hot and permanent indignation. He, poor man, had resolutely and willingly seconded his master's will, and to see that will all changed just at the moment of Parliamentary success, was more than he could bear. The Prussian Ministries will therefore be filled again ; Count Caprivi remains Chancellor; and the Bill will either be dropped, or gutted of all its more significant clauses.
This is personal government with a vengeance, and we cannot but believe that his actiOn will greatly reduce the prestige of the Emperor, whose conduct is watched, be it remembered, in Germany with an attention sharpened by an abiding impression that much of it must be explained by his fluctuating health. He suffers exceedingly from a disease in the ear, and diseases in the ear greatly alarm physicians, who know how often they indicate or set up obscure diseases of the brain. The Emperor will be accused either of not knowing his own mind, or of rash impulsiveness in action; and it is difficult to say which defect in so autocratic a ruler most alarms his subjects. We should say ourselves that the popular view is a little exaggerated, and that the Emperor had only given way before the pressure of bets previously unper ceived; but then, he ought to have perceived them before producing his Bill, or at least before announcing that he was specially protected of God, and intended, whatever the consequences, to adhere to his course. His action has not been that of a calm, strong man, but of a violent and weak one, and though we dare say much of it can be explained as the effect of a pressure which the public does not perceive, this will be the conclusion of his subjects, to the immense deterioration of their respect, and therefore o the Emperor's power of initiative. For it must be recol lected, although the Emperor's throne rests upon "a rock of bronze," the physical force of a perfectly disciplined and irresistible army drawn from the whole people his initiative is chiefly powerful because opinion supports it. He always needs, for success, to transmute his will into a statute, and to do that he must obtain a Parliamentary majority from somewhere. There is no majority possible, either in the Prussian Landtag or the German Reichstag, unless either the Liberals or the Catholics vote with the permanent followers of the Crown, the Conservatives ; and while he has irritated the Liberals by introducing his Bill, he has bitterly disappointed the Catholics by withdrawing it. The latter thought they had realised an ideal system of education at last. The Liberals will doubtless return to him, as he has fallen into this quandary by removing their rock of offence ; but still, the muddle has been very bad, and the doubts of the Emperor's critics have received full justification. His Majesty is clearly not so competent to govern successfully by himself, and guided only by his own thoughts, as he was believed to be, and the expecta- tions of certain success to follow his action will no longer attend him. He has been, in fact, defeated upon a cardinal measure, and though the defeat is partly due to himself, that fact will not diminish the impression of ill-success. There can be no " crisis " in Germany or Prussia, for the Emperor still stands on Charlemagne's throne, with its feet of cannon-balls ; but there will be hesitation -and criticism where there has been only prompt and alarmed obedience. Resolution is the first quality in a monarch who, with a Constitution still in force, claims to be Premier as well as Sovereign ; and the history of the „Education Bill is not a history which suggests in its author immoveable resolution. It is very wise, of course, to retrace • one's steps upon due cause shown ; but to jump into a ditch with a flourish of trumpets, only to clamber back again, is not a performance to stir enthusiasm. Nobody would have thought much of the Emperor's retreat, but for the Brandenburg speech ; but then, the Brandenburg speech suggested to the whole world, and was intended to suggest, the impossibility of his retreating.