4 JULY 1931, Page 28

Prince von Billow

Memoirs, 1897-1903. By Prince von Biilow. Translated by F. A. Voigt. (Putnam. 259.) Prince Billow and the Kaiser. By Spectator. Translated by Oakley Williams. (Thornton Butterworth. 12s. 6d.) WHATEVER may be thought of the late Prince von Billow as a statesman, he was unquestionably a clever and witty writer. And he took the best possible way of avenging himself on his countless enemies when in the years between the Armistice and his death in 1929 he dictated his voluminous memoirs, for no German book of recent years has been half so entertaining or so malicious. It has been and will continue to be denounced as a travesty of German and European politics during the author's term of office, first as Foreign Secretary from 1897 to 1900 and then as Chancellor from 1900 to 1909. It abounds in half-truths, and worse, about the author's colleagues and acquaintances. The principles of German policy which it depends may seem deplorable— especially the reliance on military and naval power rather than on the cultivation of good will among the nations. Yet there is no denying the charm and vivacity of the narrative, with its countless personal sketches and apt literary and artistic allusions. Prince von Billow's account of William II in all his glory promises to be as enduring as St. Simon's equally elaborate and spiteful memoirs of the Court of Louis Quatorze.

The first volume, which runs to over six hundred pages of close print and is excellently translated, begins with the author's appointment to succeed Freiherr von Marschall at the Foreign Office, and covers the six critical years to 1903. Two later volumes are to deal respectively with the remaining years of his Chancellorship and with the War period to 1919, and a final volume will describe his earlier life, from his birth in 1849 to his Italian Embassy. That instinct for publicity which Prince von Billow showed in the books on German policy that he wrote while in office is apparent in his command that the autobiography should begin in the middle. The reader is at once plunged into the troubled sea of domestic and foreign politics in 1897, when Bismarck was still alive, the Socialists were restive, Great Britain was faced with troubles in South Africa and with French opposition in Central Africa and elsewhere, and Russia, though an ally of France,was not yet alienated from Germany. The new Foreign Secretary had the opportunity of coming to a friendly under, Ltanding with the Government of Lord Salisbury and Mr. Chamberlain, and many pages in this volume relate to the iaformal negotiations which ended in the loss of a great opportunity. The author chose to, side with Tirpitz, the advocate for a powerful German Navy, rather than with the

sober diplomatists who supported an Anglo-German agreement. He came. to London with the Emperor in the late autumn of 1899, and reports his reception by Queen Victoria and his conversation with, Mr. Chanaberlain. He says kind things about us as "a nation of sahibs." He .commends the courtesy of

our politicians, noting, for instance, that Mr. Gladstone was at pains to, praise Mr. Austen Chamberlain (as he then was) for his maiden speech, .though the speaker's father had done Mr. Gladstone infinite harm politically. But the author disliked and feared King Edward (then Prince of Wales), attributing to him an inborn dislike of Germany, especially _ of his nephew.

"In the main, the King impressed the Kaiser, although the latter did have momenta when he hated his wicked uncle.' The occasions When he would have been bnly too glad for a heartfelt reconciliation were far more frequent. When-the -uncle talked politics with the nephew, I had an impression of a fat, malicious tom-cat playing with a ,sbrewmouse."

The Empress Frederick, we are told, once said to the author's mother-in-law, before 1900: "Remember, Donna Laura, what I say to you. Mon fits rem a la ruine-de l'Alletnagne."

What Prince von Billow's German critics think is clearly stated in "Spectator's" clever and concise little book, a reduced version of a work that has had some vogue in Germany. "-Spectator," a German, publicist, has collected significant passages from the Prince's letters to the Emperor, as published in the German Diplomatic Documents on the origin of the War. To these passages, dating from 1903 onwards, " Spectator " prefixes a caustic commentary on the Prince's policy and methods, incidentally showing how often his public utterances were at variance with his private opinions—and with the truth. It is amusing to compare the commentary and the memoirs. Thus the Prince complains again and again that in 1914 "casually and thoughtlessly, above all blunderingly, we had • given the Viennese an unconsidered and unlimited blank cheque." But " Spectator " accuses him of having given the cheque six years before in the Bosnian crisis.