WHEN the great struggle was over at last and peace was declared, the
Crown Princess had a pleasant opportunity of exercising the generosity
and delicacy which formed perhaps the most notable part of her
many-sided and impulsive character.
M. Thiers bad sent to Berlin as French Ambassador the Comte de Gontaut Biron. Although allied by birth to several great German families, M. de Gontaut, as he was generally styled, found his position in Berlin a very painful one. France lay in the dust at the feet of the only real conqueror she had ever known. The whole of the huge war indemnity had not yet been paid off, and French territory was not yet free from the foot of the invader. There were also all kinds of comparatively unimportant, yet vexatious and annoying, outstanding points which still awaited settlement, and till these were arranged Germany refused to give up certain prisoners confined in German fortresses.
Moreover, Bismarck, though outwardly conciliatory and courteous, did not seek to spare the French Ambassador as a more generous and sensitive foe would have done. M. de Gontaut was actually expected to be present at each of the splendid Court and military fêtes which were then being given to celebrate the foundation of the new German Empire and the victorious return of the Prussian Army to the capital.
From the very beginning of his difficult task, the Ambassador found firm and kind friends in the Crown Prince and Princess. On the occasion of his first audience the Crown Princess came forward with kindly, eager words, telling him that she and her husband had just read with the greatest pleasure the memoirs of his grandmother, that Duchess de Gontaut who, as Gouvernante of the Royal children, played so great a part in the Revolution, and later, in the Restoration. The Princess went on to speak of her intense satisfaction and relief at the declaration of peace, and she concluded with the words: "We know that you have made a great sacrifice in coming to Berlin; and we will do everything in our power to make your task less painful."
When M. de Gontaut was later joined by his daughter, the Crown Princess did all she could to make the daily life of this young French lady as agreeable as was possible in the circumstances, and in this she had the warm sympathy and assistance of the Empress Augusta, who, as we know, had many old and affectionate links with the Legitimist world to which the Ambassador belonged.
The Crown Princess's youngest child, who afterwards married Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse, was born on April 22, 1872, and was christened Margaret Beatrice Feodora - Margaret after the Queen of Italy, whom the child's parents both regarded with warm affection.
Queen Margherita came to Berlin for the ceremony, and a great fête was given at the New Palace. It was more like an English garden party than anything previously known at the Prussian Court, but the Crown Princess had a way of making her own precedents. She caused invitations to be sent, not only to the nobility and the hosts of officials who had a prescriptive right to be present at such a function, but also to persons who were merely distinguished for their literary, artistic, or scientific achievements.
The months which followed ushered in a peaceful period of happiness and rest for the Princess. Her magnificent work during the war had won her warm friends and admirers in every class, but of more moment to her than her own personal popularity was that enjoyed by the Crown Prince, whose relations with the military party now became much pleasanter in consequence of his achievements in the field and the enthusiastic devotion felt, for him throughout the army.
Unfortunately for the Crown Prince and Princess, Bismarck's position had been even more radically transformed by the war, and the Minister's domination over his already ageing sovereign grew more and more obvious. It was an open secret that the Emperor and his heir differed on many important questions, and the gulf between them was sedulously widened by Bismarck's jealous prejudice against the Crown Prince. Incidents that would have been in ordinary circumstances too slight to mention now revealed, even to strangers, the friction which was symptomatic of deeper disagreement.
The Crown Prince, as we have seen, set much store by the new Imperial honours which the war had brought to his House, and he was always very punctilious in speaking of his father as "Emperor" and of his mother as "Empress." The Emperor, however, habitually still spoke of himself as "King" and of the Empress as "Queen." The story goes that on one occasion the Emperor, addressing some lady in the presence of his son, observed that it was extraordinarily mild for the time of year, and that "the Queen" had brought him some spring flowers which she had picked out of doors that morning. The Crown Prince answered, "Yes, so the Empress told me." "I did not know you had already seen the Queen to-day," remarked his father.
The experiences she had just gone through had shown the Crown Princess the inadequacy of the existing hospital organisation in Germany. From her point of view, and from that of the English ladies who had rendered her such great assistance in creating - it was nothing less - the Army Nursing Service, a more scientific training for nurses was evidently the first necessity; and in securing this she was particularly helped by Miss Lees, afterwards Mrs. Dacre Craven, who had been a friend and associate of Miss Nightingale.
In 1867 the Crown Princess had drawn up a memorandum in which she laid it down that the best nurses would prove to be those who would combine the obedience of the Catholic Sisterhoods with a more scientific and comprehensive training. The Kaiserwerth Institution, where Florence Nightingale had gained valuable experience, did not give a sufficiently scientific education, and she came to the conclusion that a nursing school must be established in Berlin, where ladies, who should be given a distinguishing dress and badge, should be trained. The outbreak of the war of 1870 interrupted this scheme, but now that the pressing emergency was over, the Princess returned to her old scheme, the fundamental principle of which was that it should be carried out by educated and refined gentlewomen, preferably orphans. They were to have a three years' theoretical and practical course, followed by a course of monthly nursing, and were to pass an examination to test their proficiency.
In the face of strong opposition, both on the part of the medical profession and of the middle classes in Germany, the Princess organised this society of trained lady nurses, who tended the sick poor in their own homes. The society began in a very quiet, humble way, but now you could not find a German, man or woman, who would not admit that this was a splendid addition to the philanthropic institutions of the country. The Princess also founded a society for sending the sick children of poor parents out of the larger towns into the country or to the seaside.
It need hardly be pointed out that in each of these cases the Crown Princess copied peculiarly British institutions, and this no doubt was partly why they aroused such indignant opposition.
All through her life one of the Princess's mental peculiarities was that of thinking it impossible that any reasoning human being could object to anything that was obviously in itself a good and wise measure. To oppose a scheme simply because the idea of it had first originated in England or in France was something that she could not understand, so far removed was she from certain littlenesses of human nature, as well as from the dominion of national and racial prejudice.
The Crown Princess, and in this also she was warmly supported by her husband's approval and sympathy, wished the new Empire to bestow more recognition on those Germans who had attained distinction in the arts of peace rather than of war. Encouraged by the knowledge that her work during the country's wars had at last won a measure of national understanding and gratitude, she again did everything in her power to break down the old Prussian Court barrier between the "born " and the "not born." But, as might have been predicted, the Princess's efforts were fairly successful as regards the latter, though not as regards the former.
To German women of all classes, the Princess's interest in science seemed both eccentric and unfeminine. She had attended, when still a very young woman, some lectures given in Berlin by the great chemist, Hoffmann, who dedicated to her, in later years, his book, Remembrances of Past Friends - a compliment which pleased and touched her very much.
Her practical love of art was also regarded as uncalled for in a, Royal lady, and indeed unnatural in the mother of a large young family. She had a studio built in the palace, where she worked under the teaching of Professor Hagen, and she also studied under von Angeli. She was fond of visiting the studios of Berlin painters, particularly of the two Begas, of Oscar the painter, and Reinhold the sculptor, where she sometimes made studies as a student, and where she sometimes was herself the study. She and her husband were always great friends of the various artists. Among the names that recur constantly in this connection are those of Anton von Werner, to one of whose children the Crown Prince was godfather, and Georg Bleibtreu.
The New Palace in Berlin was nicknamed "The Palace of the Medicis," because of the enthusiastic encouragement which its owners always gave to what they believed to be genius, or even talent. The Crown Princess not only entertained persons of distinction in art and literature, but, what was less easily forgiven her, any foreign scientists and artists of eminence who came to Berlin were eagerly invited by her, generally to informal tea-parties.
But in time even the Princess realised that it was hopeless to try to blend the two elements. Unfortunately, she never took the trouble to hide her preference for people who interested and amused her to those who were merely "hoffähig." The Prussian nobility were amazed and affronted that a Prussian princess should esteem so lightly the possession of numerous quarterings, and it was a bitter grievance that their future sovereign and his consort actually preferred the society of painters and musicians and similar persons whom they regarded as nobodies.
At the same time, she was always on cordial and pleasant terms with diplomatists, who as a rule combine the advantages of good birth with intelligence and culture and the most delightful of professions. For many years of her life her greatest personal friends were Lord Ampthill (at the time Lord Odo Russell) and his wife, a daughter of that Lord Clarendon who had expressed so high an admiration of the Princess Royal's mental gifts.
But perhaps the Crown Princess most surprised and offended her husband's future subjects by her pro-Jewish attitude. In this she showed extraordinary courage and breadth of view. For example, she accepted the patronage of the Auerbach schools for the education of Jewish orphans, and that at a time when the whole of Berlin, from the great official world to the humblest tradesman, was taking part in the Judenhetze.
The Crown Princess was indeed, as we have seen, extremely broad-minded in matters of religion. She heartily despised the type of mind which attacks Jews as Jews, or Catholics as Catholics. She showed this in March, 1873, when she spoke strongly to Prince Hohenlohe about the hostile policy the Prussian Government was then pursuing towards his Church. She observed that in her opinion those called upon to govern should influence the education of the people, as that of itself would make them independent of the hierarchy, and she added: "I count upon the intelligence of the people; that is the great power." But Hohenlohe drily answered: "A much greater power is human stupidity, of which we must take account in our calculations before everything."
What we should call the middle classes were incensed by certain other activities of the future Empress. From the very first the Crown Princess had been ardently desirous of improving the position of the women of her adopted country. But the German woman of that day was quite content with the place she then held, both in the public esteem and in the consideration of her menfolk; the fact that in youth she was surrounded with an atmosphere of sentimental adoration made up, in her opinion, for the way she was treated in old age and in middle age.
Even so, the efforts made by the Crown Princess in time bore fruit. They comprised the Victoria Lyceum, founded in June, 1869, but placed - and here one reluctantly perceives a certain want of tact on the part of the foundress - under the direction of an English lady. There were also, under the special patronage of the Crown Princess, Fraulein Letze's school for girls of the upper classes, and the Letteverein. Other educational establishments which owed much to her sympathy and direct encouragement were the Victoria and Frederick William Institute, and the Pestalozzi-Froebel House, and these are only a few of the educational establishments in which she took an active and personal interest. Perhaps the most admirable of them all was the Victoria Fortbildungschule, which gave girls the means of continuing their education after they had left school.
In another matter concerning the education of women the Crown Princess was violently opposed to German public opinion. She was a firm believer in the value of gymnastic exercises and outdoor games for girls, and that at a time when they were practically unknown in Prussia. The first lawn-tennis net ever seen in Germany was put up in the grounds of the New Palace at Potsdam, and she was unceasing in her efforts to introduce gymnasiums into girls' schools.
In the winter of 1872, the Crown Prince fell ill of an internal inflammation, and though the critical period was soon over, he took a long time to recover his strength. Margaretha von Poschinger reproduces in her life of him an extraordinary utterance said by the Rheinische Kurier to have been made by the Crown Prince to his wife at this time:
"The doctors say that my illness is dangerous. As my father is old, and Prince William is still a minor, you may not improbably be called upon to act temporarily as Regent. You must promise me to do nothing without Prince Bismarck, whose policy has lifted our House to a power and greatness of which we could not have dreamed."
The interest of this is considerable if we could be sure that it was authentic, and not simply what the newspaper wished the public to believe that the Crown Prince had said. It may well be that Bismarck, who was in the habit of providing for every contingency, was alarmed by the Crown Prince's illness, and desired to consolidate his own position in the event of the Crown Princess becoming Regent.
After a long convalescence at Wiesbaden the Crown Prince returned with his wife to Berlin in the spring of 1873. In the summer they went to Vienna for the International Exhibition, and while there they called, quite without ceremony, on von Angeli, the painter. The Crown Princess invited him to come to Potsdam to paint her husband's portrait; he accepted the commission, and it was the beginning of a long friendship.
Von Angeli speaks with enthusiasm of the simple and charming home life of the Crown Prince and Princess, who often entertained him. He notes that, while there was much talk of a literary, artistic, and scientific kind, politics and military matters were never referred to. For the Crown Princess the painter had the highest admiration - indeed, he says she was gifted with every adornment of mind and heart. She made such progress in painting that von Angeli declares himself proud to call himself her instructor. The Crown Prince took a keen interest in his wife's success, and was himself encouraged to begin working both in charcoal and in colour.
As regarded the relations between England and Germany, the Crown Princess had an increasingly difficult part to play during the years that immediately succeeded the war. France and Germany - the former with far more reason - both considered that they had been badly treated by Great Britain during the conflict. Prince Bismarck either was, or pretended to be, watchful and apprehensive of the state of feeling in France, and Moltke, following his lead, spoke at a State banquet as if war might again be forced on Germany by France.
Urged, as Bismarck and his friends believed, by the Crown Princess, but really by the advice of Lord Granville, Queen Victoria, in 1874, made a personal appeal to the German Emperor. In her letter, after observing that England's sympathies would be with Germany in any difference with France, she added the significant qualification, "unless there was an appearance on the part of Germany of an intention to avail herself of her greatly superior force to crush a beaten foe."
In reviewing the life of the Empress Frederick as a whole, it must never be forgotten that the Emperor William was not expected to reach, as in fact he did, an extraordinary old age. After the Franco-Prussian War, everyone of any intelligence, from Bismarck downwards, attached great importance to the Crown Princess's views and feelings; they believed that she had established a commanding influence over her husband, and that the moment he succeeded to the throne she would be the real ruler. Accordingly, the further intervention of Queen Victoria in 1875, when a German attack on France appeared imminent, was the crowning offence of the "British petticoats."
Queen Victoria, as is well known, wrote a personal letter to the Tsar, who responded by going himself to Berlin. The "British petticoats," it is true, had resented what appeared to be the act of aggression of France before the falsification of the Ems despatch had been revealed, but they were angered by Bismarck's conspiracy with Russia in denouncing the Black Sea Treaty; and his opposition to a law of Ministerial responsibility, which might have given the new Empire a constitutional basis, showed the impossibility of any real political sympathy between the Minister and the Princess who had been trained in the school of Prince Albert.
The consequence of Queen Victoria's successful intervention was indeed far-reaching. The ten years which followed were probably the most anxious of Bismarck's whole life. France, by the prompt payment of the indemnity and in other ways, had shown a most disquieting power of revival after the war. In addition, the understanding with Russia, which was the pivot of Bismarck's foreign policy, having broken in his hands, he was obliged to recast his policy from the foundations; and, though he succeeded in his immediate aims of separating England and France on the one hand, and France and Russia on the other, his resentment against the Crown Princess and her mother as the origin of all his troubles burned all the more fiercely.
After each quarrel - for quarrels there were - between the all-powerful Minister and his future sovereign, a peace, or rather a truce, was generally patched up, and Bismarck would be invited to some kind of festivity at the Crown Prince's palace. A shrewd observer has recorded that on such occasions his manner to the Crown Princess was always courteous, but to the Crown Prince he was often curt to the verge of insolence.
So intense was the feeling aroused among Bismarck and his followers, that the Crown Prince and Princess found life in Berlin almost intolerable, and they began spending a considerable portion of each year abroad.
The many philanthropic, social, and political interests of the Crown Princess were never allowed to interfere with her family life and duties. Very soon after the war, both she and the Crown Prince began to give much anxious thought to the education and training of their eldest son. We have a significant glimpse of how the question moved the conscientious father in a passage in the Crown Prince's diary written on January 27,1871, while he was still in the field:
"To-day is my son William's thirteenth birthday. It is enough to frighten one to think what hopes already fill the head of this boy, and how we are responsible for the direction which we may give to his education; this education encounters so many difficulties owing to family considerations and the circumstances of the Berlin Court."
The Crown Princess was the victim of much malevolent and ignorant criticism when it was realised that the old traditions were to be broken in some important particulars. The civil element was to be at least of equal importance as the military in the training of Prince William, and he and Prince Henry were sent to the ordinary "gymnasium," or public school, as we should call it, at Cassel, a little town in the old Duchy of Hesse, which the parents deliberately chose because it was some distance from Berlin. The sanction of the Emperor William had to be obtained for this plan, and though he gave it there can be little doubt that he really disapproved.
This "magnanimous resolve, heretofore unexampled in the annals of our reigning families," was indeed regarded with mixed feelings by the country generally. It was not, as was supposed by many, an English idea to send the heir to the throne to an ordinary school. The Prince of Wales had not been educated at all on those lines, and there was certainly no precedent in the Royal House of Prussia. The plan was not without risks, but on the whole it succeeded admirably. By the special wish of the parents, the two princes were treated just like other boys; they were addressed as "you," and were called "Prince William "and "Prince Henry." "No one," said an English newspaper correspondent, "seeing these two simple, kindly-looking lads in their plain military frocks, sitting on a form at the Cassel Gymnasium among the other pupils, would have guessed that they were the two young Imperial Princes."
The Princes had one privilege accorded them; they lived with their tutor, Dr. Hinzpeter, but this circumstance certainly did nothing to reconcile Bismarck to the plan.
Bismarck gives a significant account of his meeting with Hinzpeter at a time when public opinion was busy with the Polish question, and the Alvensleben Convention aroused the indignation of the Liberals in the Diet. Hinzpeter was introduced to Bismarck at a gathering at the Crown Prince's. "As he was in daily communication with the Royalties, and gave himself out to be a man of Conservative opinions, I ventured upon a conversation with him, in which I set forth my views of the Polish question, in the expectation that he would now and again find opportunity of giving expression to it." Some days later Hinzpeter wrote to Bismarck that the Crown Princess had asked to know the subject of their long conversation. He had recounted it all to her, and had then reduced it to writing, and he sent Bismarck the memorandum with the request that he would examine it, and make any needful corrections. This was really courting a snub, which Bismarck hastened to administer, flatly refusing Hinzpeter's request.
The Princess's English ideas prevailed in the physical education of her children, and in her care to occupy them with such innocent pursuits as gardening. But the mother's desire that her eldest son should not be too much under the glamour of military glory was defeated, partly by the boy's own firmness of character, partly by the events of history. The three great wars which culminated in the foundation of the German Empire - the Danish, the Austrian, and the French - covered the period of his boyhood, and his earliest recollections of his father were of a great soldier going forth to win the laurels of victory over the successive enemies of his country. The young Prince in fact spent most of his impressionable years in the full influence of that hero-worship for Frederick the Great which formed the strongest link between the father and the son, though it is plain that each admired his great forbear for different reasons.