Great Speeches of the War/Lichnowsky


[Speech of the late German Ambassador at the dinner given in his honour by the Oxford University Anglo-German Club, June 3, 1914. The University at a special Convocation conferred upon him the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Civil Law. The speech was delivered in German, and has an interesting bearing on the Great War, betraying the sinister influences of German Philosophy.]

Gentlemen:—I believe the honour you have so generously conferred on me is not on account of any merits in the field of knowledge I may possess, but is probably intended to encourage the efforts I have made to become more closely acquainted with English life and English thought, and also to express your approval of the political line I have followed. But, above all, I believe it has been desired to mark the community of ideas which this celebrated University has maintained with German thought for centuries past by fostering and furthering German intellectual life. Professor Fielder, in his pregnant speech, laid stress upon the fact that the Emperor William is one of you, and that exactly one hundred years ago his Majesty's august great-grandfather had the distinction of being made an Hon. Doctor here in Oxford. The latter stayed here with his two sons, one of whom became King Frederick IV., and the other the Emperor Wilhelm I.

Great events have happened during these hundred years. The balance of power has been shifted, and as a result the grouping of the Powers has also been changed. But the goal towards which the British and the German peoples were aiming in those stormy times after years of fighting, and which is still their aim to-day in the unclouded atmosphere of civic progress, has remained the same.

Then, as now, our Monarchs joined hands to maintain peace and to protect civic industry. Then, as now, both British and German policies were in agreement in the endeavour to secure for their peoples the blessings of undisturbed intellectual and economic development. In those days Goethe still lived; Schiller had been dead only a few years. The period of intellectual development and literary growth had preceded the period of political progress and the mighty awakening of Germany to the consciousnesss of her nationality. Our great poets had contributed towards arousing a sense of the ideals of mankind in the German people. By their immortal works they had greatly enhanced the intrinsic value of German culture and thus helped to found the proud sense of nationality. After a period of national listlessness they had laid the foundations for the great awakening which followed.

It has often been debated whether there is any connexion between the literary and political growth of a nation. I think I may say that they are necessarily parallel influences dependent one on the other, a view also shared by Treitschke, and that it is the feeling for the ideal instilled by the Universities, by the men of learning and the great poets, which makes a nation capable of aiming at national ideals, of having faith in itself, and carrying out great political aims. Thus we see that the growth of intellectual power frequently precedes political action, and if, according to Friedrich Nietzsche, human culture depends on the dominance of ideas, the fostering of these ideas which crystalize into ideals rests with the Universities. That is why political movements which pay homage to the national ideals are so often set in motion and carried out by the enthusiastic youth of the Universities. But the national conception which forms the intermediary stage between individuality and humanity reposes mainly on the community of the leading ideals which have received their character from our poets and historians and become embodied in our great Monarchs, statesmen, and generals, and in the foremost representatives of learning and the Arts.

If they are not to die, these ideals must be renewed and revived, and remodelled and developed according to modern requirements, for, as Nietzsche puts it, the living are not to be ruled by the dead. According to Helmholz it is the pure love of truth that leads to the greatest victories when it penetrates into the realms of the unknown. This task is undertaken by both the British and the German Universities, and it would therefore be idle to discuss which of their respective methods of teaching is to be preferred. I like to think that the one very happily completes the other, and that in this case, too, he only would err who pretends that he alone is the possessor of the genuine ring. The more German science and literature are studied in Britain and British science and literature in Germany the more will the intellectual possessions and values of both nations become their common property, and both nations be found nearer to one another in their inner lives. The foundation of a mutual appreciation, by the possession of the same ideals and a community of culture and ethics, will be widened, and in this way the Universities will also help forward political aims.

Therefore I cannot sufficiently express my pleasure in seeing numbers of my youthful fellow countrymen gathered here this evening whose mission it will be some day to help the German people to an understanding of British feeling and British customs, and to spread among us a knowledge of the ideals which give to British culture its distinctive character, and which thus govern the soul of the British nation.

No one has depicted the magic of Oxford in more eloquent words than Matthew Arnold, and the impetus given to our aspirations towards higher aims of which we are all conscious when in her midst. "Steeped in sentiment as she lies, spreading her gardens to the moonlight, and whispering from her towers the last enchantment to the Middle Age, who will deny that Oxford, by her ineffable charm, keeps ever calling us nearer to the true goal of all of us, to the ideal, to perfection—to beauty, in a word, which is only truth seen from another side?—nearer, perhaps, than all the science of Tübingen."

Nevertheless, it was Matthew Arnold who showed a complete understanding of German intellectual life in his well-known verses on Goethe, and no one more than he led the way here in Oxford to an appreciation of German research and the German spirit. Hardly any other English poet has fostered and spread the love of German literature here in Oxford more than he has done. I am also especially pleased to know that a large number of German students meet in Oxford every year to worship at the shrine of British learning, not forgetting British sport, which finds so many followers in our midst, and which conduces greatly to the moral and physical strengthening of the nation.

It may be said that the people who cultivate sports govern the world, and will do so more and more. I regret sincerely that I had not the privilege of studying here myself, but I hope to make up for it by letting my sons keep some terms. [Cheers.] I need not dwell on the merits of English Universities, they are known to us all. They tend to the development of a strong personality and the formation of men of independence and character who are well fitted to be pioneers and to carry West European culture to the furthermost regions of the earth. It is through British University life that the word "gentleman" has gained the superlative meaning which enables it to be accepted by all nations as a standard of culture so that one may say that the gentleman has conquered the entire civilized world. To-day the term gentleman represents the generally accepted standard of social worth, by which all people are measured. The standpoint of a gentleman has become part of the ethics of modern life, it is the "virtus" of to-day; the social manners of a gentleman represent the international "comment," to use a German student's expression. If I am rightly informed, Cecil Rhodes held this view when he became a leader of British Imperialism. He also recognized the compatibility of British and German political needs, he recognized that there was a place in the sun for both, and he was further convinced of the near relationship of British and German culture, I may say of their mutual completion. He thought that the Teutonic race on the foundation of Latin culture was fitted as was no other race to fulfil the mission of Western European civilization. He expressed this idea when he founded the scholarships to which we owe the presence here of many young Germans. Cecil Rhodes, it is true, was above everything an Englishman, but his political and philosophical views were not bound by national prejudices and narrow political limits, nor did he belong to those idealogues who, with mistaken humanitarianism and philanthropy, would give to all races of mankind the same political rights to assert themselves according to their own laws and desires. He was of opinion that in the case of the whole of mankind the law held good that the fittest will survive. He believed that mankind develops according to its law and not according to discretion.

I am of opinion, gentlemen, that the roots of political ethics are to be found in the recognition of this law, in the extension and the dominance of the most powerful and superior races, whose success must simultaneously benefit and improve the whole of mankind. Cecil Rhodes was of opinion that the whole of humanity would be best served if the Teutonic peoples were brought nearer together, and would join hands for the purpose of spreading their civilization to distant regions. In the presence of so many distinguished representatives of literature and its history I need not explain how deeply rooted with us in Germany is the admiration we feel for the great names of British poetry. I will merely remind you that only a few weeks ago the German Shakespeare Society celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. This Society is not only the first German Society of its kind to be formed, and which the Goethe, Dante, and other similar societies have followed, but it is also the only one which has been successful in devoting itself solely to the study of a foreign poet. The causes which have made it possible for a foreign poet to exercise so potent an attraction are manifold. Primarily they lie in the fact that in our feelings this greatest of British poets has already almost become a German, and that the works of no other foreigner have penetrated so deeply into the soul of the German people. Heine says: "The only thing the Germans cannot forgive in Shakespeare is that he did not choose to be born in Germany." Shakespeare, too, has special political attractions for us, because of his outspoken patriotism and national public feeling. Besides this, he has had it in his favour that England has always been regarded as the land of political liberty, and that here were started constitutional rights and the foundation of those civic rights which have spread victoriously throughout the whole of Europe. Hence for us Shakespeare has become a political poet whom we claim as our own, together with Goethe and Schiller.

I rejoice to find that the advanced study of the German language here is especially helpful to our aims, and, besides, this evening I have noticed with satisfaction how much our mother tongue is in evidence in this University. The days are past when the Briton learnt no foreign language, and it is no longer a sign of the unadulterated Englishman that he understands no foreign idiom. It is not very long ago that Prince Bismarck was said to have expressed the opinion that he mistrusted every Englishman who mastered foreign languages; he did not look upon him as a genuine Britisher, but as a colourless international type which he mistrusted. My experience has shown me that the present-day genuine Englishman speaks German as well as we speak English, with this difference only, that the English are less venturesome than we are in the region of foreign tongues. In concluding, I would ask you all to drink with me to the health of the University and the two Societies whose guests we are, and to their continued successful work in helping forward British-German intellectual brotherhood.