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Chapter 16: Silver Wedding - The Crown Prince's Illness

THE Crown Prince and Princess now looked forward to celebrating their silver wedding on January 25, 1883.

The festivities were rather dashed by the sudden death, only four days before, of Prince Charles of Prussia, the Emperor's brother. The old Prince had never liked his English niece, and it was whispered in the diplomatic world that he had much preferred to die before rather than after the celebrations in which she was to be so conspicuous a figure!

Preparations for commemorating the anniversary with due honour had been made for fully a year before, and money was being collected for various presentations, when it was intimated that the Crown Prince and Princess wished the subscriptions to be devoted to public and philanthropic objects. This made a great impression, and the central committee raised the large sum of £42,000, mostly in quite small contributions. It was presented to the Prince and Princess on February 16, with the request that it should be used for charitable purposes chosen by their Imperial Highnesses.

The money was accordingly distributed among the various charities with which the Crown Prince and Princess were connected, and some of which they had themselves founded - such as the workmen's colonies for reclaiming the unemployed and finding temporary occupation for them; institutions for the technical and practical education of working men in their leisure hours; the promotion of health in the home; the Victoria School for the training of nurses; and the Victoria Foundation for the training of young girls in domestic and industrial work. The city of Berlin had a separate fund, which reached the round sum of £E10,000, and of this £ 5900 was spent on building a nursing institute.

The death of Prince Charles caused the postponement of the festivities to the end of February, when they were held in what we should call "full State." The Prince of Wales represented Queen Victoria, and the Emperor Francis Joseph also sent his heir-apparent.

The principal ceremony was both impressive and artistic, and there we can trace the influence of the Crown Princess. It consisted in a representation of the Court of Queen Elizabeth, arranged by the artists of Berlin. The Crown Prince, in the uniform of the Queen's Cuirassiers, and the Crown Princess in white satin and silver lace, led the magnificent procession, in which all the Royal personages took part. After the Crown Prince and Princess had taken their seats between the Emperor and Empress, a dramatic representation of the Court of Charles the Bold, of Burgundy, with its picturesque troubadours, was given, followed by the Elizabethan Pageant. Then came what was perhaps the most interesting scene of all - a large assemblage dressed to represent the great painters of the Renaissance in Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands, who advanced, one by one, and did obeisance to the Crown Prince and Princess as patrons of the arts.

In May, 1883, the Princess paid a private visit to Paris. She only stayed three days, but during those three days undertook more intelligent sightseeing than most women of her then age would have found possible. She was entertained at luncheon by Lord Lyons, and at dinner at Saint Germain by Prince Hohenlohe, who in his diary rather ungraciously observes: "Rural excursions with Royal personages are not exactly among the pleasant things of life."

During this visit the Princess said to a French friend that one of the lives she would have liked to lead would have been that of a little bourgeoise of the Rue Saint Denis, going on high-days and holidays to the Théâtre Français.

The Crown Princess was now able to carry out her cherished project of building an English church dedicated to St. George in Berlin, largely with the £5700 which was contributed in England for the silver wedding celebrations. The wisdom of this employment of the money subscribed may perhaps be doubted, for it can only have confirmed the idea prevailing in some quarters that the Princess remained, and would always remain, an Englishwoman in all her feelings and sympathies. However, the laying of the foundation-stone, which the Crown Princess performed herself in the spring of 1884, was carried out with considerable ceremony.

The Crown Prince made a speech on the occasion, in which he recalled that King Frederick William IV had assigned one of the rooms in the palace of Monbijou to the use of the English congregation, and that the King's brother, the then Emperor, actuated by the same feelings, had granted the land on which the church was to be built. The Crown Princess took the keenest interest in the building, and followed the carrying out of the architect's plans in every detail.

After the death of Field-Marshal Baron von Manteuffel, Stadthalter of Alsace-Lorraine, it was suggested that the Crown Prince might be his successor, but the old Emperor refused to consider the notion, while being willing to consider the appointment of the young Prince William. It is said that the Crown Princess herself went to her father-in-law and begged him not to put so great an affront on her husband. The post was, therefore, conferred on Prince Hohenlohe.

In the November of 1885, Matthew Arnold paid a visit to Germany in order to obtain information as to the German system of education. The Crown Princess was keenly interested in the inquiries he was making. With her usual energy, she went to considerable personal trouble in order to help him, and she arranged, among other things, that Mr. Arnold should make a short stay on Count Redern's property, in the Mark of Brandenburg.

In one of his letters Arnold gives a charming account of a soiree at the New Palace: "The Crown Princess came round the circle, and I kissed her hand, as everyone here does when she holds it out. She talked to me a long time, and said I must come and see her quietly, comfortably." A few days later he dined at the palace, the only other guest being Hoffmann, the great chemist. Arnold sat next the Crown Princess, who "talked I may say all dinner. She is very able and well-informed."

A day or two later came a message asking him to tea with the Crown Princess: "She was full of the Eastern question, as all of them here are; it is of so much importance to them. She talked, too, about Bismarck, Lord Ampthill, the Emperor, the Empress, the Queen, the Church, English politics, the German nation, everything and everybody indeed, except the Crown Prince and herself."

Mr. Arnold was very anxious to meet "the great Reichs-Kanzler" himself, but this was not easy, as the great man was reputed to be almost inaccessible: but the Crown Princess herself wrote and asked Bismarck to receive her compatriot.

Matthew Arnold was struck by the lack in Berlin of what certainly exists in London and Paris, namely, an agreeable, cultivated society consisting mainly of upper middle-class elements. He observed that in Berlin there was, in addition to the Court, only groups of functionaries, of soldiers, and of professors.

As may be gathered from much that has already appeared in this volume, the Crown Princess was ever pathetically anxious that England and Germany should be on the most friendly terms of confidence and affection. Consequently she went through some days of considerable anxiety, in the spring and early summer of 1884, over the "incident" of Angra Pequena. When Lord Granville decided to recognise German sovereignty in this territory, the Crown Princess was quite as pleased in her way as Bismarck was. Lord Ampthill, in a letter to Lord Granville, observes "The Crown Princess, who dined with us last night, was beyond measure happy at the general contentment and altered tone of the Press."

This Lord Ampthill, the Lord Odo Russell of former days, was a valued friend of the Crown Princess. She was always, naturally, on terms of friendship with her mother's representative in Berlin, but Lord Ampthill's appointment had given her special satisfaction. The Ambassador's premature death in 1884 was a great grief to the Princess, and the day after his death the Crown Prince himself came to the villa, where Lord and Lady Ampthill had lived near Sans Souci, to lay a wreath on the coffin.

The health of the old Emperor now began to give occasion for anxiety. He had been born on March 22, 1797, and when he reached his eighty-seventh birthday in 1884 it seemed as if his course was almost run. In the circumstances the Crown Prince and Princess could scarcely help anticipating the time when, as it then seemed, the great powers and responsibilities of the throne would be theirs. But it is certainly true to say that the feeling of duty was paramount in their minds, and that nothing was further from their thoughts than to covet the Imperial purple for its own sake. They regarded it as the symbol of all that they were determined to do for the welfare and happiness of the people.

Even if they had been blind to the apparently immediate consequences of the old Emperor's failing health, they would have been enlightened by the altered demeanour of Prince Bismarck. He showed clear signs of a desire to cultivate better relations with the Heir Apparent and his family, and he even attended an evening party given by the Crown Princess on the occasion of her birthday.

Not long afterwards, early in 1885, the Crown Prince sounded Bismarck as to whether, in the event of the Emperor's death, he would remain in office. The astute Chancellor said that he would, subject to two conditions, namely, that there should be no foreign influences in State policy, and that there should be no Parliamentary government; it is said that the Crown Prince assented with an eloquent gesture.

The real tragedy of the Crown Princess's life surely lies in these years of waiting. She could not - assuredly she did not - for a moment wish that the old Emperor should die. She had nursed him devotedly during the long illness caused by Nobeling's attempted assassination, and it is a significant fact that she alone had been able to persuade the stern old soldier to leave his hard camp bed for a soft invalid couch. She knew as well as anyone the Emperor's noble qualities, and she cherished for him a warm and filial affection.

Yet it was patent, especially to all those who shared the strong political and constitutional opinions of the Crown Princess, that the aged Sovereign had outlived his usefulness to his country. She could not help being conscious that in her husband, and in herself, too, there lay capacities of national service of which William I and his consort had never dreamed.

If the word "disappointment" is used of the Crown Princess's long-deferred hopes, it was in no sense the baulking of any commonplace ambition. The tragedy lay in the failure of the pure and single-hearted dedication of her husband and herself to bettering the lot of those vast, silent millions on whose pains and toil the pomp of thrones and empires, the exquisite refinements of civilisation, the discoveries of science, and the delights of art and literature, seemed to her to be all ultimately based.

The sympathies of one of the most warm-hearted women who ever lived were thus continually torn and divided, for while it seemed to her loyal nature an act of treachery to look forward to the old Emperor's death, she was continually being reminded, by the demeanour of those about her, that that event, which would so entirely alter her position, was expected almost daily.

In the midst of this subtle mental and spiritual conflict, the Crown Princess was struck by yet another arrow from the quiver of fate, inflicting an anguish of anxiety which even her bitterest enemies would surely have wished her to be spared.

In April, 1886, the Crown Prince suffered from a severe attack of measles, which probably left him in a weakened state, as this disease is apt to do when it attacks a man of over fifty. However, he was thought to have recovered sufficiently to visit the King and Queen of Italy on the Riviera in the autumn, and it was there, while out driving, that the Prince caught a severe cold, which brought on an affection of the throat.

The Princess herself undertook, with great efficiency, the chief responsibilities of nursing the patient. But the throat affection did not yield to treatment, and the terrible suspicion that it might never so yield must often have assailed the Princess, even in these early months of her husband's illness. But she did not betray the anxiety gnawing at her heart; on the contrary, she showed throughout a gallant optimism which, as we now look back on it, seems intensely pathetic.

It was the more necessary that the Princess should never for a moment relax her cheerfulness, because the patient himself soon began to suffer from periods of deep depression. To one friend he even said that his time had already passed away, and the future belonged to his son; to another he declared that he had become an old man and stood with one foot in the grave.

On the Emperor William's ninetieth birthday, March 22, 1887, the sailor son of the Crown Princess, Prince Henry of Prussia, was formally betrothed to his cousin, his mother's favourite niece, Princess Irene of Hesse.

During the festivities given in honour of the event, it began to be whispered among the guests that the Crown Prince's throat affection was more serious than had as yet been acknowledged. But it is said that the word "cancer" was only first mentioned in connection with the case when, in deference to the highest medical advice of Berlin, he was sent to Ems to be treated for "a bad cold with bronchial complications following on measles."

The Crown Prince and Princess, with their family, went to Ems in the middle of April and spent a month there. Not only did this bring no improvement, but the patient became perceptibly worse. He was brought back to Berlin, and a consultation of the most eminent medical experts, including Bergmann, Gerhardt, and Wagener, was held, as the result of which a growth in the throat of a malignant character was diagnosed.

Bismarck in his Rendniscences contradicts two curious stories which are worth notice, if only for the reason that they, have obtained a certain amount of currency, and one of them is even to be found in an English work on the Emperor William II.

The first of these stories is that, after his return from Ems, the Crown Prince signed a document in which, in the event of his surviving his father, he renounced his succession to the throne in favour of his eldest son. There is not, says Bismarck, a shadow of truth in this story.

The other statement is that any heir to the Prussian throne who suffers from an incurable physical complaint is, by the Hohenzollern family law, excluded from the succession. The importance of this provision, if it really existed, is obvious; and, at the period we have now reached, when the physical state of the Crown Prince became a subject of intense public interest, it obtained wide currency and no small amount of credit. If, on a strict interpretation of such a rule, the Crown Prince was excluded from the succession, it might have been argued that his eldest son was also incapable of succeeding, owing to the weakened state of his arm. But Bismarck declares categorically that the Hohenzollern family law contains no provision on the matter at all, any more than does the text of the Prussian constitution.

Bismarck goes on to say that the doctors who were treating the Crown Prince resolved at the end of May to carry out the removal of the larynx under anaesthetic without having informed the Prince of their intention. The Chancellor, however, immediately raised objections; required that they should not proceed without the consent of the Prince; and, further, that as they were dealing with the successor to the throne, the consent of the head of the dynasty should also be obtained. The old Emperor, therefore, after being informed of the circumstances by Bismarck, forbade the doctors to carry out the operation without the consent of the Crown Prince.

It must be remembered, in considering the diagnosis of the German experts, that laryngology was at that time almost in its infancy, and it was natural that the Crown Princess should have clung desperately to the belief that a mistake had been made. Indeed, it is said that Professor Bergmann himself advised that the opinion of some other eminent throat specialist should be obtained before it was decided to have recourse to surgical interference.

This was the position when the eminent English throat specialist, Dr. (afterwards Sir) Morell Mackenzie was summoned. There is no need here to go over in detail the painful controversy which was engendered by this step, and which was embittered, not only by thorny questions of professional etiquette, but also by irrelevant political passions. Our purpose is rather to state the principal facts, and leave the reader to form his own conclusions.

The Crown Princess was widely believed to have insisted that the English specialist should be called in simply because of her English prejudices, and this was considered an affront to the medical profession in Germany. As a matter of fact a list of the most eminent throat specialists in Europe was drawn up. One was a Frenchman, another a Viennese, and the third was Morell Mackenzie. The Frenchman was discarded for political reasons, the Viennese for other reasons, and it was a consensus of political and medical opinion which led to the choice of the English specialist.

On May 20, 1887, Dr. Morell Mackenzie arrived in Berlin. The German physicians informed him that they believed they had to deal with a cancer, but they desired his diagnosis. Mackenzie performed more than one small operation to serve as a basis for a microscopic examination, which was entrusted to Professor Virchow, probably the greatest physiologist then living. It was Virchow who reported, to the exultant relief and joy of the Crown Princess, that, while he found a certain thickening of the membrane, he had "discovered nothing to excite suspicions of a wider and graver disease."

Henceforth there was a party in Berlin who were convinced that the growth, if growth it was, in the Crown Prince's throat was benign. But it may serve as an illustration of the passions which the whole affair aroused when it is stated that there were many who asserted that Virchow had been deliberately deceived, and that the English specialist had refrained from submitting to him those portions of the membrane which would have clearly shown the presence of malignant disease. It was this monstrous accusation which chiefly served to inflame the controversy on both sides.

Virchow's report greatly relieved the anxieties of the Crown Prince and Princess at the time, and, relying on it implicitly, they went to England with their daughters in the middle of June for three months. They stayed at first on the healthy heights of Norwood, in the south of London, going later to Scotland and the Isle of Wight.

While at Norwood they saw many distinguished English people, though even then the Prince was prohibited from uttering a word above his breath. Those who met the Prince at this time were painfully struck by his appearance. He was much thinner, and he spoke only in a whisper, but the Princess, who, being always with him, did not notice the gradual change which had come over him, was full of hope. Indeed, she found time to continue her interest in social work. She was present at a gathering held in Drapers' Hall to promote the training of women teachers, and her old friend Lord Granville made a charming little speech about her youth.

The Crown Prince was present with his wife at Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, and it is still remembered how great an impression was made on the London populace by his knightly figure in his white Cuirassier uniform. His was the central and by far the most magnificent presence, like some paladin of mediaeval chivalry, in the mounted escort of princes which surrounded the venerable Sovereign on her way to and from Westminster Abbey.

During their stay in Scotland, the Crown Prince was asked by a gentleman to name his steam launch. He chose the name The White Heather, showing how his thoughts travelled back to the day, nearly thirty years before, when he had gathered on a Scotch mountain the symbolic sprig of white heather to give to the Princess Royal.

The Crown Prince and Princess returned to Germany in the middle of September, and proceeded to Toblach, in the Tyrol. But the climate there was considered too chilly, and the patient was moved to Venice at the end of the month. It was from Venice that the Prince wrote to an old friend a pathetic letter full of hope, in which he said that the real trouble was now overcome, and that it was only necessary to avoid speaking and catching cold. Early in October the Prince was again moved to Baveno, on Lake Maggiore, and at the beginning of November to the Villa Zirio, at San Remo. From San Remo the Princess telegraphed for Dr. Morell Mackenzie, who arrived on November 5.

The Villa Zirio was a comfortable house standing in its own grounds. The first floor, which consisted of two suites of large rooms, was occupied by the Crown Prince and Princess. On this floor were also the rooms of the Princess's lady-in-waiting, Countess von Bruehl. The second floor was assigned to the three young princesses and the rest of the suite.

Unfortunately, owing to the great curiosity and anxiety felt all over Europe as to the progress of the Crown Prince's illness, the little Italian town was filled with newspaper representatives, their headquarters being a large hotel opposite the Villa Zirio. In fact, during the winter of 1887-8, all the world was watching the race between the two lives-that of the ninety-year-old Emperor, and that of his son, already stricken with a mortal disease, on whom so many fair hopes rested.

The Crown Prince and Princess owed a great deal, at this troubled period of their lives, to the devotion and vigilant loyalty of their friend and servant, Count Theodor Seckendorff, whose official position in the Crown Princess's Household was that of "chambellan."

Seckendorff was once well described by an English friend as "the Baldassare Castiglione of the present day." He was, indeed, "the perfect courtier." His father, a distinguished diplomatist, had been attached to the Prussian Legation in London, and so the Count knew England and the English intimately. Indeed, he had obtained leave to accompany Lord Napier of Magdala on the Abyssinian campaign, and he was also with that distinguished commander on the North-West frontier of India. Afterwards he was on the staff of the Crown Prince in the Franco-German War, and was chosen by the latter to be one of the officers to escort Napoleon III to Wilhelmshöhe. Thereafter the Count's relationship with the Crown Prince and Princess became even closer.

A man of fine literary and artistic taste, and a really good artist, Count Seckendorff spoke English, Italian, and French with ease and distinction, and he retained - what few men and women seem able to retain in the world of Courts - a great simplicity of manner and an absolute sincerity of nature. While patriotically devoted to his own country, he was also a true lover of England, and he always did everything that lay in his power to ease the often strained relations between the two nations. After the death of the Empress Frederick, Count Seckendorff continued in faithful and kindly touch with her native country. He organised the Loan Exhibition of British Art in Berlin as late as 1908, and his premature death, two years later, caused much sorrow to a large circle of attached friends in both London and Berlin.

To return to the life at San Remo; in a letter written about this time the Crown Princess says:

"We are passing through a time of heavy trial, but the knowledge that the nation has not forgotten us, and that it hopes and sympathises with us, is a perpetual source of comfort. If it be God's will, this confidence will remain the Crown Prince's most valued future possession, and be the greatest help to him in achieving his noble ideals. Who can tell how many days may yet be granted to him? But when we see him so virile and fresh, we can only trust to the strength of his constitution and believe that his health will not fail him in carrying out his duties, though even in the happiest circumstances he will have to economise his strength and use his voice as little as possible."

From San Remo, too, the Crown Prince wrote to his beloved French tutor a touching letter, in which occurs the following passage:

"As to the life we are leading here, it could not be more intimate and more gemütlich. First of all, my wife nurses me as might a true Sister of Charity, with a calm and knowledge truly admirable. Our daughters surround us with their loving tenderness, and the Riviera is a delightful climate and does us much good."

Even then; the Crown Princess had not given up hope. Her husband still looked in good health; he slept well, and his appetite was excellent.

On December 1, the Princess herself wrote to M. Godet "We are profoundly touched by the many proofs of sympathy which reach us from all sides. I cannot help feeling that it must make you very happy to know that all the care you took, in old days, in developing that pure and noble soul, has now brought to him these universal tributes of respect and confidence."

Alas, even then the Prince had heard from the physicians his sentence of death, which he received with the same stoicism he had shown on the field of battle.

Christmas came, and was celebrated with characteristic kindliness by the Prince, who arranged magnificent gifts for his wife and the little circle of intimate friends at San Remo. But his health steadily declined, and a sudden operation had to be performed early in January.

Meanwhile the aged Emperor had caught a chill in the severe Berlin winter. His magnificent constitution was already enfeebled by age, and to his physical weakness were now added the distress and anxiety caused by the news from San Remo, which became continually more and more disquieting. The end soon came, and the stout old soldier sank and died on March 9, 1888, less than a fortnight before his ninety-second birthday.

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