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- The Story of My Life, Volume 2. - 5/7 -
did not please me, they made an impression because they awakened so much surprise, and more than once he called upon us to be true sons of our time and not a tyrant's bondmen. We heard similar remarks elsewhere in a more moderate form, and from our companions at school in boyish language.
There were two parties there also, but besides loyalty another sentiment flourished which would now be called chauvinism, yet which possessed a noble influence, since it fostered in our hearts that most beautiful flower of the young mind, enthusiasm for a great cause.
And during the history lessons on Brandenburg-Prussia our cheeks would glow, for what German state could boast a grander, prouder history than Prussia under the Hohenzollerns, rising by ability, faithfulness to duty, courage, and self-sacrificing love of country from small beginnings to the highest power?
The Liebe school had been attended only by children of good families, while in the Schmidt school a Count Waldersee and Hoym, the son of a capmaker and dealer in eatables, sat together on the same bench. The most diverse tendencies were represented, and all sorts of satirical songs and lampoons found their way to us. Such parodies as this in the Song of Prussia we could understand very well:
"I am a Prussian, my colours you know, From darkness to light they boldly go; But that for Freedom my fathers died, Is a fact which I have not yet descried."
Nor did more delicate allusions escape us; for who had not heard, for instance, of the Friends of Light, who played a part among the Berlin liberals? To whose ears had not come some longing cry for freedom, and especially freedom of the press?
And though that ever-recurring word Pressfreiheit (freedom of the press) was altered by the wags for us boys into Fressfreiheit (liberty to stuff yourself); though, too, it was condemned in conservative circles as a dangerous demand, threatening the peace of the family and opening the door to unbridled license among writers for the papers, still we had heard the other side of the question; that the right freely to express an opinion belonged to every citizen, and that only through the power of free speech could the way be cleared for a better condition of things. In short, there was no catchword of that stormy period which we ten and twelve-year-old boys could not have interpreted at least superficially.
To me it seemed a fine thing to be able to say what one thought right, still I could not understand why such great importance should be attributed to freedom of the press. The father of our friend Bardua was entitled a counsellor of the Supreme Court, but then he had also filled the office of a censor, and what a nice, bright boy his son was!
Among our comrades was also the son of Prof. Hengstenberg, who was the head of the pietists and Protestant zealots, whom we had heard mentioned as the darkest of all obscurants, and his influence over the king execrated. By the central flight of steps at the little terrace in front of the royal palace stood the fine statues of the horse-tamers, and the steps were called Hengstenberg (Hengste, horses, and Berg, mountain). And this name was explained by the circumstance that whoever would approach the king must do so by the way of "Hengstenberg."
We knew that quip, too, and yet the son of this mischievous enemy of progress was a particularly fine, bright boy, whom we all liked, and whose father, when I saw him, astonished me, for he was a kindly man and could laugh as cheerfully as anybody.
It was all very difficult to understand; and, as we had more friends among the conservatives than among the democrats, we played usually with the former, and troubled ourselves very little about the politics of our friends' fathers. There was, however, some looking askance at each other, and cries of "Loyal Legioner!" "Pietist!" "Democrat!" "Friend of Light!" were not wanting.
As often happens in the course of history, uncomprehended or only half- comprehended catchwords serve as a banner around which a great following collects.
The parties did not come to blows, probably for the sole reason that we conservatives were by far the stronger. Yet there was a fermentation among us, and a day came when, young as I was, I felt that those who called the king weak and wished for a change were in the right.
In the spring of 1847 every one felt as if standing on a volcano.
When, in 1844, it was reported that Burgomaster Tschech had fired at the king--I was then seven years old--we children shared the horror and indignation of our mother, although in the face of such a serious event we boys joined in the silly song which was then in everybody's mouth, and which began somewhat in this fashion:
"Was there ever a man so insolent As Tschech, the mayor, on mischief bent?"
What did we not hear at that time about all the hopes that had been placed on the crown-prince, and how ill he had fulfilled them as king! How often I listened quietly in some corner while my mother discussed such topics with gentlemen, and from the beginning of the year 1847 there was hardly a conversation in Berlin which did not sooner or later touch upon politics and the general discontent or anxiety. But I had no need to listen in order to hear such things. On every walk we took they were forced upon our ears; the air was full of them, the very stones repeated them.
Even we boys had heard of Johann Jacoby's "Four Questions," which declared a constitution a necessity.
I have not forgotten the indignation called forth, even among our acquaintances of moderate views, by Hassenpflug's promotion; and if his name had never come to my ears at home, the comic papers, caricatures, and the talk everywhere would have acquainted me with the feelings awakened among the people of Berlin by the favour he enjoyed. And added to this were a thousand little features, anecdotes, and events which all pointed to the universal discontent.
The wars for freedom lay far behind us. How much had been promised to the people when the foreign foe was to be driven out, and how little had been granted! After the July revolution of 1830, many German states had obtained a constitution, while in Prussia not only did everything remain in the same condition, but the shameful time of the spying by the agitators had begun, when so many young men who had deserved well of their country, like Ernst Moriz, Arndt, and Jahn, distinguished and honourable scholars like Welcker, suffered severely under these odious persecutions. One must have read the biography of the honest and laborious Germanist Wackernagel to be able to credit the fact that that quiet searcher after knowledge was pursued far into middle life by the most bitter persecution and rancorous injuries, because as a schoolboy-- whether in the third or fourth class I do not know--he had written a letter in which was set forth some new division, thought out in his childish brain, for the united German Empire of which he dreamed.
Such men as Kamptz and Dambach kept their places by casting suspicion upon others and condemning them, but they little dreamed when they summoned before their execrable tribunal the insignificant student Fritz Reuter, of Mecklenburg, how he would brand their system and their names. Most of these youths who had been plunged into misery by such rascally abuse of office and the shameful way in which a king naturally anything but malignant, was misled and deceived, were either dead and gone, or had been released from prison as mature men. What hatred must have filled their souls for that form of government which had dared thus to punish their pure enthusiasm for a sacred cause--the unity and well-earned freedom of their native land! Ah, there were dangerous forces to subdue among those grey-haired martyrs, for it was their fiery spirit and high hearts which had brought them to ruin.
Those who had been disappointed in the results of the war for liberty, and those who had suffered in the demagogue period, had ventured to hope once more when the much-extolled crown-prince, Frederick William IV, mounted the throne. What disappointment was in store for them; what new suffering was laid upon them when, instead of the rosy dawn of freedom which they fancied they had seen, a deeper darkness and a more reckless oppression set in! What they had taken for larks announcing the breaking of a brighter day turned out to be bats and similar vermin of the night. In the state the exercise of a boundless arbitrary power; in the Church, dark intolerance; and, in its train, slavish submission, favour-seeking, rolling up of the eyes, and hypocrisy as means to unworthy ends, and especially to that of speedy promotion--the deepest corruption of all-- that of the soul.
What naturally followed caused the loyalists the keenest pain, for the injury done to the strong monarchical feeling of the Prussian people in the person and the conduct of Frederick William IV was not to be estimated. Only the simple heroic greatness and the paternal dignity of an Emperor William could have repaired it.
In the year preceding the revolution there had been a bad harvest, and frightful stories were told of famine in the weaving districts of Silesia. Even before Virchow, in his free-spoken work on the famine- typhus, had faithfully described the full misery of those wretched sufferers, it had become apparent to the rulers in Berlin that something must be done to relieve the public distress.
The king now began to realize distinctly the universal discontent, and in order to meet it and still further demands he summoned the General Assembly.
I remember distinctly how fine our mother thought the speech with which he opened that precursor of the Prussian Chambers, and the address showed him in fact to be an excellent orator.
To him, believing as he did with the most complete conviction in royalty by the grace of God and in his calling by higher powers, any relinquishing of his prerogative would seem like a betrayal of his divine mission. The expression he uttered in the Assembly in the course of his speech--"I and my people will serve the Lord"--came from the very depths of his heart; and nothing could be more sincerely meant than the remark, "From one weakness I know myself to be absolutely free: I do not strive for vain public favour. My only effort is to do my duty to the best of my knowledge and according to my conscience, and to deserve the gratitude of my people, though it should be denied me."
The last words have a foreboding sound, and prove what is indeed evident from many other expressions--that he had begun to experience in his own person the truth of the remark he had made when full of hope, and hailed with joyful anticipations at his coronation--"The path of a king is full of sorrow, unless his people stand by him with loyal heart and mind."
His people did not do that, and it was well for them; for the path indicated by the royal hand would have led them to darkness and to the indignity of ever-increasing bondage, mental and temporal.
The prince himself is entitled to the deepest sympathy. He wished to do right, and was endowed with great and noble gifts which would have done
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