Truly, a man who could thus sacrifice his own wishes and instincts to the common good; who could so completely sink his own personality in the cause of the nation; who with such matchless courage defended this cause against attacks from whatever quarter—against court intrigue no less than against demagogues—such a man had a right to stand above parties; and he spoke the truth when, some years before leaving office, in a moment of gloom and disappointment he wrote under his portrait, Patrice inserviendo consumor.
There is a strange, but after all perfectly natural, antithesis in German national character. The same people that instinctively believes in political paternalism, that willingly submits to restrictions of personal liberty in matters of State such as no Englishman would ever tolerate, is more jealous of its independence than perhaps any other nation in matters pertaining to the intellectual, social, and religious life of the individual. It seems as if the very pressure from without had helped to strengthen and enrich the life within.
Not only all the great men of German thought, from Luther down to the Grimms and the Humboldts, have been conspicuous for their freedom from artificial conventions and for the originality and homeliness of their human intercourse; but even the average German official—wedded as he may be to his rank or his title, anxious as he may be to preserve an outward decorum in exact keeping with the precise shade of his public status—is often the most delightfully unconventional, good-natured, unsophisticated, and even erratic being in the world, as soon as he has left the cares of his office behind him. Germany is the classic land of queer people. It is the land of Quintus Fixlein, Onkel Braesig, Leberecht Huehnchen, and the host of Fliegende Blatter worthies; it is the land of the beer-garden and the Kaffeekranzchen, of the Christmas-tree and the Whitsuntide merry-making; it is the land of country inns and of student pranks. What more need be said to bring before one’s mind the wealth of hearty joyfulness, jolly good-fellowship, boisterous frolic, sturdy humor, simple directness, and genuinely democratic feeling that characterizes social life in Germany.
And still less reason is there for dwelling on the intellectual and religious independence of German character. Absence of constraint in scientific inquiry and religious conduct is indeed the very palladium of German freedom. Nowhere is higher education so entirely removed from class distinction as in the country where the imperial princes are sent to the same school with the sons of tradesmen and artisans. Nowhere is there so little religious formalism, coupled with such deep religious feeling, as in the country where sermons are preached to empty benches, while Tannhauser and Lohengrin, Wallenstein and Faust, are listened to with the hush of awe and bated breath by thousands upon thousands.