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Chapter 11: Home life and religion

THE successful campaign against Denmark had drawn all German hearts together. Neither the Crown Prince nor the Crown Princess had ever been unpopular with the army, who felt really honoured by that honorary colonelcy which had so much amused the Princess. The Danish War greatly increased their popularity, and the year that followed was probably one of the happiest of their lives. They adored their children, who were being thoroughly well brought up, and, with the one paramount exception of the Prince Consort's death, no great bereavement had cast its shadow over their family circle.

The Crown Princess had early determined in her social life to consider neither party spirit nor high official position; she preferred to gather round her a remarkable society of interesting and distinguished people, - scholars, theologians, archaeologists and explorers, artists, and men of letters. She was always passionately fond of music, and many a young performer owed his or her first introduction to the public to the winter concerts which she organised, while no British painter or writer of eminence ever came to Berlin without receiving an invitation to the New Palace.

One of the most striking testimonies to the Crown Princess's intellectual interests is to be found in a letter written to Charles' Darwin, in January, 1865, by Sir Charles Lyell. The great geologist says that he had had,

"An animated conversation on Darwinism with the Princess Royal, who is a worthy daughter of her father, in the reading of good books and thinking of what she reads. She was very much au fait at the Origin and Huxley's book, the Antiquity, &c. &c., and with the Pfahlbauten Museums which she lately saw in Switzerland. She said that, after twice reading you, she could not see her way as to the origin of four things; namely, the world, species, man, or the black and white races. Did one of the latter come from the other, or both from some common stock? And she asked me what I was doing; and I explained that, in re-casting the Principles, I had to give up the independent creation of each species. She said she fully understood my difficulty, for after your book 'the old opinions had received a shake from which they never would recover.'"

It may seem an intrusion on what should be sacred ground to touch on the religious belief of the Crown Princess, but it is a subject on which there have been a certain number of mis-statements, and it may therefore be well to set forth plainly the material facts.

The present generation perhaps hardly realises what a period of intellectual ferment had set in just at the time when the Princess's mind was most eagerly absorbing all that she could read and hear on the subject of religion and philosophy. She was twenty when Essays and Reviews appeared: she was twenty-two when Colenso published his book on the Pentateuch: twenty-three when Renan's Vie de Jésu appeared: twenty-four when Strauss's shorter Leben Jesu was published and in one year from the time in her life at which we have now arrived Ecce Homo was to appear.

Most important of all, Darwin had published his Origin of Species in 1859, when the Princess was nineteen, and it is evident from Sir Charles Lyell's letter that she had not only read but understood that epoch-making book. Of all the giants of those days Darwin alone remains a giant; the lapse of time, as well as the work of other scholars and thinkers, has reduced the intellectual stature of those other writers whose work seemed of such crucial importance when the Princess was a young woman.

It was indeed a period when many thought, that the old sound, even impregnable, position of Christianity had been not only undermined but overthrown. Strauss, for example, honestly believed that he had entirely destroyed the historical credibility of the four Gospels. The Princess herself came to Germany at a moment when the Tübingen school were the intellectual leaders, and Strauss was their prophet, and the training which she had undergone under the superintendence of her father had prepared her to sympathise rather with the attack than with the defence. It is easy now to see that orthodoxy was not then very fortunate in its champions, and that the overwhelming weight of the scholarship and intellectual strength of the time belonged to the advanced thinkers. Moreover, it must be remembered that much of the religion of that day was mere lip-service, a conventional orthodoxy which, while it resisted investigation and inquiry on the one hand, failed to bear practical fruit in conduct and life.

Only a few months after the Princess had arrived in Prussia as a bride, the then Prince Regent, her father-in-law, made a speech which attracted great attention, not only in Germany but in Europe generally. In it he said it could not be denied that in the Lutheran Church, the established church of Prussia, an orthodoxy had grown up which was not consistent with the basic principles of the church, and the church, in consequence, had dissemblers among its adherents. All hypocrisy, the Prince continued - and he defined hypocrisy as ecclesiastical matters which are utilised for selfish purposes - ought to be exposed wherever possible. It was in the whole conduct of the individual that real religion was exhibited, and that must always be distinguished from external religious appearance and show.

When such language could be used from the very steps of the throne, it may be imagined how great was the intellectual ferment in which everyone who thought and read at all was necessarily involved. Naturally the eager, impulsive Princess, with the intellectual courage and sincerity which her father had implanted in her, could not stand aloof, But if, at this time of her life, she seemed to abandon the old orthodox positions, it is not less true to say that, while paying the penalty at the time in unhappiness and spiritual disquiet, she ultimately reaped the reward of an even firmer faith. She came to see, indeed, that the deepest religious convictions are not the fruit of philosophical speculation or of textual criticism, but of experience.

In the years that followed, the Princess was destined to be a near spectator of great events - of the progress and ultimate triumph of Bismarck's policy of blood and iron; while in her own home she suffered the bitter pain of the death of children, of sister, of brother. Even what seemed surely the crowning tragedy of her husband's brief reign and swift end was not all. That cruel malady, the origin of which still defies research, and which often, as in her case, kills slowly with lingering torture, seized upon her in her stricken widowhood.

Yet the successive ordeals through which she passed seemed but to strengthen her grasp upon the realities of life, and the Christian faith took on for her a new meaning and became the rock to which alone she clung. She left a most striking expression of her religious belief, written in the summer of 1884, at a time when she had no prevision of the fiery trials which were still in store for her. Long as the passage is, it is worth quoting in full:

"When people are puzzled with Christianity (or their acceptance of it), I am reminded of a discussion between an Englishman and an advanced radical of the Continent (a politician). The latter said, 'England will become a republic as time advances.' The Englishman answered, 'I do not see why she should. We enjoy all the advantages a republic could give us (and a few more), and none of its disadvantages.' Does not this conversation supply us with a fit comparison when one hears, The days of creeds are gone by, &c.? I say 'No.' You can be a good Christian and a Philosopher and a Sage, &c. The eternal truths on which Christianity rests are true for ever and for all; the forms they take are endless; their modes of expression vary. It is so living a thing that it will grow and expand and unfold its depths to those who know how to seek for them.

"To the thinking, the hoard of traditions, of legends and doctrines, which have gathered around it in the course of centuries remain precious and sacred, to be loved and venerated as garbs in which the vivifying, underlying truths were clad, and beyond which many an eye has never been able to penetrate. It would be wrong, and cruel, and dangerous to disturb them; but meanwhile the number of men who soar above the earth-born smallness of outward things continues to increase, and the words in which they clothe their souls' conception of Christianity are valuable to mankind; they are in advance of the rest of human beings, and can be teachers and leaders by their goodness and their wisdom. So were the Prophets and the Apostles in their day, and so are all great writers, poets, and thinkers. That the Church of England should now possess so many of these men is a blessing for the nation, and the best proof that the mission of the Church on earth has not come to an end."

Side by side with this we may quote some lines which brought the Empress Frederick comfort in her last hours of suffering,

"All are stairs
Of the illimitable House of God .
... And men as men
Can reach no higher than the Son of God.
The perfect Head and Pattern of Mankind.
The time is short, and this sufficeth us
To live and die by; and in Him again
We see the same first starry attribute,
'Perfect through suffering,' our salvation's seal,
Set in the front of His humanity.
For God has other words for other worlds,
But for this world the word of God is Christ."

We must now take up again the thread of the Crown Princess's life, when, unshadowed by any sense of impending doom, she was absorbed in her husband and children and in her intellectual and artistic pursuits.

Early in the year 1865 the Crown Princess had the joy of welcoming her sister, Princess Alice, on a visit to Berlin. Princess Alice wrote to the Queen: "Vicky is so dear, so loving! I feel it does me good. There is the reflection of Papa's great mind in her. He loved her so much and was so proud of her; " and she adds a vivid little picture of the baby: "Sigismund is the greatest darling I have ever seen - so wonderfully strong and advanced for his age - with such fine colour, always laughing, and so lively he nearly jumps out of our arms."

It was a great pleasure to the Crown Princess when her husband was appointed to the curious office of Protector of Public Museums. Thenceforward they both took a very active part in the management of these institutions, and it was owing to their efforts that the Old Museum has but few rivals in Europe in completeness and arrangement.

Prussia was then very backward in the practical application of art to industry, but the Crown Princess, who had seen how much her father had achieved in this direction in England, was determined to do all she could to secure a similar improvement in her adopted country. Early in 1865 she caused a memorandum to be drawn up setting forth the necessity of founding a School of Applied Art on the model of similar institutions in England. The movement thus started by the Crown Princess led eventually to the foundation of the Museum of Industrial Art at Berlin, which is connected with the School of Applied Art.

It was largely due to the active support and interest of the Crown Prince and Princess that applied art not only found a home in Prussia, but in the course of time reached so high a pitch of excellence that other countries are now fain to learn from Germany. The Crown Prince and Princess also both suggested and themselves supervised the collection and arrangement of an exhibition of artistic objects in the Royal Armoury at Berlin. This, by showing Prussian craftsmen what had already been done, greatly promoted the development of applied art.

But all was not sunshine during this peaceful, happy year, for during its course the Crown Princess lost the constant support and loyal help of Robert Morier. Although the whole of his diplomatic career had been given up to Germany, although he had devoted himself entirely to the study of the political, social, and commercial conditions, and of the relations between Prussia and England, it was arranged that he should be transferred to Athens.

Morier parted with the Crown Prince and Princess on December 15, and it is on record that the Princess wept bitterly on saying good-bye to him. Bismarck and his followers were proportionately delighted at getting rid of him. But their joy was premature, for the Athens appointment fell through, and Morier was finally transferred to Darmstadt as Chargé d'Affaires, a change due to the personal intervention of Queen Victoria.

It must be remembered that Bismarck generally looked at things from a personal point of view. He had found by experience the value of secret agents, of whom he made constant use, and so he believed that every one whom he disliked, whom he feared, whom he wished to conciliate, made use of them too. To his mind Robert Morier was a secret agent, and it was his great desire to isolate the Crown Prince and Princess from everyone who did not belong directly to his own party.

While at Darmstadt Morier remained in touch with the Crown Prince and Princess, and it was he who advised the selection of Dr. Hinzpeter as tutor to their eldest son, afterwards the Emperor William II. Dr. Hinzpeter, who had been a friend of Morier for some time, was an authority on national economy and social reform, as well as a man of the highest personal character.

In the summer of 1865 Frau Putlitz and her husband were the guests of the Crown Prince and, Princess at Potsdam. This time it is the wife who records her impressions in a series of letters to her sister. She was quite as fervent an admirer of the Crown Princess as Putlitz was, and her letters really supplement and complete his letters, for they supply the feminine point of view.

Frau Putlitz was perhaps most impressed by the Crown Princess's versatility - the ease with which she could turn from a gay and smiling talk about bulbs, for instance, to the serious discussion of the profoundest subjects of philosophy. Naturally, this feminine observer notes the Princess's style of dressing, which she greatly admires as being both simple and perfect. "There is," she says, "a charm about her whole presence which it is impossible to describe." Her way of speaking, too, was fascinating, and though she declared that her German had an English accent, Frau Putlitz found it delightfully soft. Shakespeare the Princess frequently quoted, and one morning she read long passages with an expression which was warmly approved by the dramatist, Putlitz himself, who might be allowed to be a good judge. Frau Putlitz thought that the special charm of the Princess consisted in her entire simplicity and naturalness, which was exemplified in her never uttering banal, used-up phrases.

Of the children we have some glimpses; they are described as perfectly charming and very lively. The Princess told Frau Putlitz how anxious she was to have Prince William educated away from home with other boys of his own age, and this intention, as we know, she afterwards carried out in the case of both Prince William and Prince Henry. Little Prince Sigismund is pronounced to be really a delightful child. The Princess spoke with deep feeling of her father, whom she scarcely mentioned without tears, and she brought out all her souvenirs of him which she kept with loving care.

We are also shown the Princess among her books and pictures, the Princess singing old Scottish ballads and English hymns, the Princess painting flower-pieces, and above all the Princess as a gardener. Frau Putlitz compares the neatness of the Princess's own little garden, laid out by herself, to that of a little jewel-box. Enormous strawberries grew on beds of white moss under the beech hedges, and a gigantic lily brought by the Crown Prince from Hamburg was exhibited with pride. Frau Putlitz was surprised at the Princess's practical knowledge of horticulture, and the thoroughness with which she set about it.

These are, to be sure, not matters of great importance in themselves, but it is interesting to see how completely the charm of the Princess's personality fascinated both husband and wife, who were by no means ordinary observers.

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