The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 10 eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 532 pages of information about The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 10.
avoid touching on topics which could not but affect painfully the man whom God’s mighty hand had cast down.”  And more than once has he given vent to reflections like these:  “For him who does not believe—­as I do from the bottom of my heart—­that death is a transition from one existence to another, and that we are justified in holding out to the worst of criminals in his dying hour the comforting assurance, mors janua vitae—­I say that for him who does not share that conviction the joys of this life must possess so high a value that I could almost envy him the sensations they must procure him.”  Or these:  “Twenty years hence, or at most thirty, we shall be past the troubles of this life, whilst our children will have reached our present standpoint, and will discover with astonishment that their existence, but now so brightly begun, has turned the corner and is going down hill.  Were that to be the end of it all, life would not be worth the trouble of dressing and undressing every day.”

IV

We have considered a few traits of Bismarck’s mental and moral make-up which seem to be closely allied with German national character and traditions.  But, after all, the personality of a man like Bismarck is not exhausted by the qualities which he has in common with his people, however sublimated these qualities may be in him.  His innermost life belongs to himself alone, or is shared, at most, by the few men of the world’s history who, like him, tower in splendid solitude above the waste of the ages.  In the Middle High German Alexanderlied there is an episode which most impressively brings out the impelling motive of such titanic lives.  On one of his expeditions Alexander penetrates into the land of Scythian barbarians.  These child-like people are so contented with their simple, primitive existence that they beseech Alexander to give them immortality.  He answers that this is not in his power.  Surprised, they ask why, then, if he is only a mortal, he is making such a stir in the world.  Thereupon he answers:  “The Supreme Power has ordained us to carry out what is in us.  The sea is given over to the whirlwind to plough it up.  As long as life lasts and I am master of my senses, I must bring forth what is in me.  What would life be if all men in the world were like you?” These words might have been spoken by Bismarck.  Every word, every act of his public career, gives us the impression of a man irresistibly driven on by some overwhelming, mysterious power.  He was not an ambitious schemer, like Beaconsfield or Napoleon; he was not a moral enthusiast like Gladstone or Cavour.  If he had consulted his private tastes and inclinations, he would never have wielded the destinies of an empire.  Indeed, he often rebelled against his task; again and again he tried to shake it off; and the only thing which again and again brought him back to it was the feeling, “I must; I cannot do otherwise.”  If ever there was a man in whom Fate revealed its moral sovereignty, that man was Bismarck.

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The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 10 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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