The Guest of Bismarck.—1890
MR. VILLARD'S financial successes with the Kansas Pacific and the Oregon Railway & Navigation had made him in a few years a rich man, although his accumulations were by no means so great as they were reputed to be. As soon as he had an abundance, he bethought himself of ways of benefiting others. What he then did for the Fatherland has already been related. He was equally desirous to use his means for the benefit of his adopted country. Having been a journalist, he knew well the power of the press for good or evil, and that led him to the idealistic conception that he could render no better public service than by founding, or getting control of, a newspaper of absolute independence and outspokenness on public matters, one devoted to the discovery and advocacy of truth, regardless of party and of all other considerations, and with such recognized ability in editorial management as would secure for it not only a local but a national influence. The idea ripened into a fixed purpose when the cooperation of his friend Horace White was assured by the latter's removal to New York, and when Mr. Villard ascertained from Carl Schurz that he would be glad to be one of the editors, upon the expiration of his term of office as Secretary of the Interior, and that Edwin L. Godkin was willing to enlarge his sphere of journalistic activity as editor of the Nation by joining the two other eminent men.
Having accidentally learned in 1881 that the Commercial Advertiser was for sale in New York, he authorized Horace White to enter into negotiations for its purchase; but, while these were progressing, he was informed that the half-interest of Parke Godwin in the New York Evening Post could be bought. This proved to be true, and a purchase was soon effected for his account by Mr. White, who took part of the stock. Not long afterwards, the interest of Isaac Henderson was also acquired by Mr. Villard, and the stock of the Nation exchanged for Evening Post stock. A new business management was installed, and Messrs. Godkin, Schurz, and White took charge of the editorial department. Mr. Villard was prouder of this combination of journalistic ability than of any of his business triumphs. He was confident that, under such auspices, the Evening Post would prove not only equal to the mission he desired it to fulfil, but also a good investment. Convinced, however, that his purchase of the controlling interest in the paper would become known, and that, owing to his prominence in Wall Street, the paper would surely be accused of being his personal organ and of being used for the promotion of his financial interests, and thus find it difficult to establish a character for entire independence, he determined upon an unusual step. He decided to take away from himself all power over the paper as a stockholder, by creating a trust with his entire holding for the benefit of his family, with full authority to the three trustees to protect the editorial department from all interference. This abdication of the right of ownership and practical self-effacement has continued to this day, and not a line of the editorial writing has ever been dictated by Mr. Villard. Every reader of the Evening Post, the whole American press, and in fact the American people generally, know that the paper has ever been true to those high aims for which he was ready to make many sacrifices when he purchased its control.
Once more, in 1890, Mr. Villard was the possessor of wealth. The joint operations with his German clients in railroad and electrical securities and other fortunate investments had enabled him to recover in a few years what he had lost in 1883. As soon as he was able to do so, he resumed his practice of using his spare means for the benefit of others, and made good the promise of a donation to the Law School of Harvard University, which his misfortunes had prevented him from completing. He contributed largely to the building fund of the Bed Cross Hospital and Nurses Training School at Munich, Bavaria. He also added to his previous gifts to the hospital at Speyer and to the Industrial Museum of his native province, and made a large subscription towards the Protestant Memorial Church at Speyer in honor of the famous Protest of 1529 at the sitting of the Imperial Diet in that city. Mr. Villard had a documentary history of Speyer compiled and printed at his own expense, and paid for the publication of an historical work on the Palatinate by the historian Professor Friedrich Menzel, of Bonn, a native of the province. At the request of the historian Von Sybel, he paid the salaries of two of his assistants pursuing special studies in Germany and Italy. On this side of the water, he provided the means for three years for an archaeological exploration of the antiquities of Peru by A. F. Bandelier, and presented the collections resulting from it to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He furthermore again became a regular contributor to numerous public charities and other enterprises for the public good.
While his business interests were thriving, Mr. Villard did not overlook the danger which menaced the whole country from the introduction into Congress of the Sherman silver-purchasing act. He saw at once that, if it became a law, the substitution of the silver for the gold standard would be but a question of time, and that very short. Hence, he tried to arouse the most influential bankers to realize the threatening prospect, and to urge them to an active agitation against it in the press and at Washington, but with only limited success. He found hardly any one willing to go with him to the capital to work against the passage of the measure. Indeed, Mr. Villard had, years before, formed the opinion that there was a great lack of foresight and too much of a happy-go-lucky disposition among most Wall Street men, and this impression was now fully confirmed. His predictions that a general crash was bound to come in the wake of that law were simply sneered at. The head of one of the greatest houses even expressed the opinion that a little more currency would do no harm, but would on the contrary help the bankers to relieve themselves of the stocks and bonds they had been obliged to carry for want of a good market.
The detachment of the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company from the Oregon & Transcontinental Company, and the financial independence secured to the Northern Pacific by the creation of the consolidated mortgage, had rendered unnecessary the pursuit of one of the two principal purposes for which the Oregon & Transcontinental Company was organized, viz., to extend financial aid to the companies controlled by it. It was therefore decided, on Mr. Villard's recommendation, to absorb it by making a new company, after paying off the outstanding Oregon & Transcontinental bonds issued against Northern Pacific branches. The absorption was effected in a remarkably quick time by the exchange of share for share of Oregon & Transcontinental stock for North American Company stock in the early summer of 1890.
In the spring of 1890, a great domestic grief came upon Mr. Villard's family. The youngest son, a handsome, gifted lad of seven, passed through a long illness, and, after apparent convalescence, had a relapse and died. The whole family felt the affliction deeply. His friends urged Mr. Villard to seek diversion by a long stay abroad, and he decided to sail for Europe with his family early in July. After travelling some weeks in Ireland, England, and France, they went to St. Blasien in the Black Forest, and subsequently to Freiburg in southern Baden.
Suddenly, cable news of a most alarming character from America plunged Mr. Villard into the gravest anxiety. He had taken the greatest pains to arrange his own private affairs as well as those of the Northern Pacific, North American, and Edison General Electric Companies so that he should not be disturbed by business cares while abroad, and he felt the more assured of unbroken peace of mind as he knew that the absorption of the Oregon & Transcontinental by the North American by the exchange of shares had succeeded with unparalleled rapidity. The cable informed him that, owing to the passage of the Sherman Act, a very severe stringency had set in in the money market, in consequence of which the North American Company found it impossible to renew loans maturing to the extent of $2,000,000, so that forced sales of securities at heavy loss were inevitable unless he could raise that amount at once in Germany on the assets of the company. The message burst upon him like a thunder-clap from a clear sky, but he promptly started for Frankfort and Berlin to appeal to his supporters for the money. He was successful, and made telegraphic transfer of the amount within forty-eight hours of the receipt of the cablegram. This was his sorry first act as president of the North American Company, to which place he had been elected after his departure. He heard at Berlin the first mutterings of the severe financial volcano that later affected the whole civilized world through the suspension of the great house of Baring Brothers. Being assured by cable that the remittance would make everything snug and safe, he went back to Freiburg, but his hope of unbroken quiet proved an illusion. No sooner was Barings failure announced, a few weeks later, than there was flashed to him across the Atlantic another even more peremptory call for several more millions, as the only means of preventing the bankruptcy of the North American Company. Coupled with it was a most pressing sum mons to return to New York at once. This second danger was even more of a staggering surprise than the first, but there was no escape from immediate action. Mr. Villard summoned his German friends to a conference at Frankfort, where they promptly met him. As he expected, it was for him a most trying and embarrassing meeting, owing to the positive assurances he had given on the strength of his own advices that the loan already made would relieve the North American Company of all difficulties, and he at first found very unwilling listeners to his proposition for a further and larger advance. But, after two days of hard pleading, the desired help was granted once more. He was conscious, nevertheless, that the trust of his financial friends in him was shaken and that nothing more could be expected from them.
He declined, however, to follow the summons to New York, and offered his resignation as president of the North American Company, when the message was repeated every few days. He refused to go solely on account of his daughter's health. In other respects it would have been a boon to him to start for the other side, thereby ending the harassing condition of mind he endured day and night, as he had not a single person to advise with at Freiburg, and as the reports regarding the conditions in Wall Street grew more and more ominous from day to day. An all but crushing blow fell upon him finally when the news came of the failure of Decker, Howell & Co., who had been for years his principal brokers, for twelve millions of dollars, on November 11, 1890. Press despatches of the same date announced that it was generally expected that his own bankruptcy would follow that of the firm. There was not the remotest danger of this, as he was a large creditor of theirs, and not a debtor; but he knew that the collapse of the house imperilled the North American Company, for which it had carried loans of millions. This culmination of troubles really left him no choice but to cross the Atlantic. This he did after another visit to Berlin, during which an unusual incident worth recording occurred.
Mr. Villard received a call at his hotel from the aide-de camp of the Imperial Chancellor, General Count Caprivi. The aide stated that the Chancellor, although he had never met him, knew that he was an authority on all American matters, and hence was desirous of conferring with him on an important subject affecting Germany and the United States. Mr. Villard at once offered to pay his respects to the Chancellor, and met him by appointment, the evening of the same day, at his official residence. He found Count Caprivi a truly imposing personality in every way, of commanding physical presence, most polished manners, and a ready conversationalist. He impressed one at once as every inch a gentleman, with a superior mind, of strict integrity, natural frankness, and quick and correct judgment, all of which qualities he really possessed. The Chancellor told Mr. Villard that he wished to consult him confidentially regarding a serious problem that had come before him within a few days. The passage of an extreme protection measure by the American Congress (the first McKinley tariff) had moved one of the Continental Powers to suggest to the others that the time for a retaliatory policy against the United States had come, and to propose a conference for the consideration of joint offensive measures. He wished to know Mr. Villard's opinion as to the course Germany ought to pursue regarding the matter. His own judgment was against the proposed action.
Mr. Villard replied that he thought the Chancellor's conclusion the correct one. As for himself, he was a radical free-trader, and therefore his judgment might be biassed, but he was confident that the very extreme to which the new tariff bill had gone, and the suspicious circumstances under which it was passed, would immediately produce a reaction in the United States. He believed, too, that this reaction would find expression in the election of a new Congress in the following month. He could but urge the Chancellor to await the result of that election, which would no doubt of itself put a stop to the suggested demonstration of the Powers. Mr. Villard offered to cable to good judges of the political situation as to the outcome of the election and advise him of their answer. The Count accepted the offer, and another interview took place the next day, at which Mr. Villard produced the answers to his telegraphic inquiries confirming his views. The Chancellor then told him that he would remain passive and thanked him warmly for his courtesy. As Mr. Villard was still on the Continent at the time of the election, he telegraphed its result to the Chancellor, who was then on a visit to the King of Italy at Monza, and who, in acknowledgment of his despatch, said that he had proved to be a true prophet.
Mr. Villard had not made the personal acquaintance of Caprivi's predecessor, Prince Bismarck, during his two years residence at Berlin in 1884–6. Although as willing as any German to render grateful homage to him as the creator of national unity, and to recognize the power of his giant mind, he still held to the unfavorable opinion of Bismarck's personal character, and his political methods before the Franco-German war, to which he had given expression in an article in the North American Review in 1869, then under the editorship of James Russell Lowell and Charles Eliot Norton. His prejudices against the Chancellor had been strengthened, too, by the latter's return in 1879 to a reactionary policy in the internal affairs of Germany, and especially by his openly proclaimed purpose of abandoning the revenue tariff for a protective one.
Early in the summer of 1890, a few months after the acceptance of Bismarck's resignation, while discussing that great event one day with the late Ludwig Bamberger, the well-known liberal leader in the Reichstag and the principal advocate of the gold standard in Germany, Mr. Villard mentioned incidentally that he had never met the Prince. "What," exclaimed Bamberger, "how has that happened?" On being told that it was from want not of opportunity but of inclination, Bamberger rejoined that he had made a great mistake in avoiding an introduction, and went on to say: "You know, I fully share your views of Bismarck's character and as to the vacillations of his policy, which I am opposing strongly in the Reichstag. Moreover, I have not only public but private reasons for finding fault with him, because he has treated me badly, although I have never shrunk from any sacrifice of time and labor when he called upon me for service in the interest of the public. You may not be aware that I went to Versailles at his summons, and remained there a long time as one of his advisers in the peace negotiations with the Thiers Provisional Government. Nevertheless, although he is both selfish and unprincipled, he is at the same time, in my deliberate judgment, the greatest man of our age, and one of the most interesting. Why, I believe that as a conversationalist he is unequalled, and to listen to him for an hour would alone be worth a voyage from America. Be sure not to leave Europe again without having made his acquaintance. That is my urgent advice." Mr. Villard decided to follow it. It so happened that the very next day he was introduced by General von Xylander, his brother-in-law, who was also in Berlin, to Professor Schweninger, the Prince's medical adviser, who, after numerous medical authorities had failed, had successfully treated him for rheumatism and neuralgia by simply opposing and conquering the patient's willpower and making him restrain his inordinate appetite for food and drink. It occurred to Mr. Villard to ask the professor what the chances were of being received at Friedrichsruhe. "Why," he answered, "the Prince will bid you welcome at once. He knows all about you, and likes nothing better than to meet men who have accomplished something in the world. Just ask leave by letter to pay your respects to him and you will get a prompt reply. I expect to be with him myself in a few days, and I hope you will come while I am there. Mr. Villard wrote to the Prince on the same day, and, receiving a cordial invitation to come at any time that suited him and spend a few days with him, set out within forty-eight hours.
Professor Schweninger and a servant in livery received him at the station, which was only a few hundred yards from the mansion. The latter proved to be a very plain building, being really but an enlarged country inn, and neither the exterior nor the interior revealed the splendor which the fame and wealth of the owner led one, not unnaturally, to expect. The guest was shown into a commodious chamber on the second floor, and was just making his ablutions when he heard heavy steps approaching his door, and immediately there appeared in it the erect form of the Prince, dressed in black, with a slouch hat of the same color,—the same costume in which Lenbach painted his best portrait of him—with a heavy stick in his right hand, and followed by two large Danish dogs. The Prince welcomed Mr. Villard heartily, and, when the latter apologized for being in his shirt sleeves and for not offering his wet hands, the Prince said: "Just go on with your toilet. I will sit down and we can talk while you wash and dress." One of the dogs, encouraged, no doubt, by his master's friendly words, now approached Mr. Villard, standing up before him and putting his paws on his shoulders and trying to lick his face. "There is another hearty greeting for you," the Prince remarked, calling the animal off. I am really glad you came," he said, "first, because you are a German who has gained a high position in a foreign country, a sort of success which I have always especially admired, because I know how difficult it is to achieve; and, secondly, because I like company, and you are the only visitor I have had in a week except Schweninger." On Mr. Villard's expressing astonishment at this, he said: "Yes, it is just as I state it. The fact is that I am under a regular boycott. Ever since I lost my position, everybody is afraid to have anything to do with me from fear of displeasing the young chap who discharged me. Why, formerly my trouble was to keep people away from here. Everybody wanted to come, especially the officials who needed my good will. Now, none of the latter dare come lest their names should appear in the newspapers as my visitors and be seen by the new man on the throne. I know that men travel by here every day who, a few months ago, would have no more dared to pass this place without paying their respects than they would have ventured to pass me on the street in Berlin without saluting me. But I ought not to have expected anything else, for hounds follow those who feed them." This outburst was a clear indication of what was uppermost in the Prince's mind, and prepared his hearer for what was to follow on the same line during his stay.
Mr. Villard's toilet being finished, the Prince and the dogs led the way to the rear of the mansion, where the two took seats on a sort of veranda. Professor Schweninger joined them, followed by Bismarck's private secretary, the Princess, her married daughter, Countess Rantzau, and the latter's children. The Prince, noticing the gouty formations on his visitor's hands, said: "I see you are suffering from gout. How long have you had it?" When told for nearly twenty years, he pointed to the Professor: "That is the man to help you. But for him I should have been obliged to retire from office long ago. Perhaps it would have been better for me if I had done so. All the medical professors had practised their arts upon me without doing me any good. He alone gave me relief and made life tolerable for me. You had better try him, although he is a great tyrant and exacts strict obedience. I found it hard to change my habits of life, but he made me do it. I now eat and drink only what he sees fit to allow me. See how gentle he looks. But I tell you he can be as rough [grob] as any old Bavarian [Altbaier], of which stock he comes."
The Prince then began to question his guest regarding himself, about his early life in Germany, how long he had been in the United States, and about the course of his career there. He wanted to know how many miles of railroad he had built, in what time it had been done, how many steamships had been under his control, how many men he had employed, being very much surprised that fifteen thousand Chinamen had been among them, and saying: Why, you had a whole army corps under your command!" He asked how much capital Mr. Villard had been obliged to raise and how it was raised, and about the relative value of white and Chinese labor. He inquired whether he had named Bismarck, the capital of Dakota, after him, to which his guest had to reply that the place had been founded and baptized before he had anything to do with the Northern Pacific. Bismarck remembered that he had received thence telegraphic greetings from the German participants in the Northern Pacific opening excursion, and asked whether it had a future. In reply, Mr. Villard had to confess that it was not then very prosperous, and he explained that all the capitals of the several American States were as a rule of slow growth. This the Prince could not understand in the light of the contrary European experience. He remarked that what his guest had accomplished in a foreign country he never could have done in the Fatherland, owing to tradition and to the clinging to accustomed ways so characteristic of old countries. Did he not encounter a great deal of prejudice among native Americans against him as a foreigner in the pursuit of his undertakings? To this Mr. Villard replied that, on the contrary, he had found his chief financial backing and his main support among them, and that there was no people on earth among whom enterprise and energy prevailed to a greater extent, or that more readily appreciated those who possessed such qualities. To this the Prince said that he was well aware that the Americans were the most progressive people in the world, for which he admired them, but it was new to him that they were so free from national jealousies in appreciating merit.
An early dinner ended this first talk. The Prince sat at one end of the table, the Princess at the other. On his right sat Mr. Villard, on his left Professor Schweninger. The secretary and the Rantzau family formed the rest of the party. Behind the host at a distance of about six feet lay the two dogs next to each other, watching the proceedings eagerly, but not stirring until towards the end of the repast, when, upon a sign from their master, they approached and sat on their haunches on each side of him. Then from time to time the Prince threw morsels into their open jaws. The table talk was of an ordinary kind, but one amusing incident is worth remembering. The Prince had one glassful of light Rhine wine, and then called for another. Schweninger at once interposed, saying: "Your Highness, you have had your allowance for one meal, and you can't have any more." The Prince looked at Mr. Villard quizzically, and remarked, "Now, you see how I am treated. I have to submit, but at times when the censor is not here I jump the traces. He doesn't know, but I will tell him now [and he chuckled heartily] that I celebrated my last birthday by enjoying several bottles of wine and several glasses of beer." "Yes, you did," retorted the doctor, "and when I came here a few days afterwards, you growled dreadfully over fresh neuralgic pains."
After dinner, the Prince excused himself for his afternoon nap, after inviting Mr. Villard to go with him on his usual four o'clock drive. Punctually at that hour, the two set out for a tour of the "Sachsenwald," or Saxon Forest, as the extensive woods adjoining the mansion grounds are called. They consist largely of grand old oak-trees free from all undergrowth, under the canopy of which the carriage passed, now following roads, now regardless of them.
After describing his estate, the Prince began speaking English "so that that fellow," pointing to the coachman, "may not understand us," and surprised his companion by his fluency, his command of idiomatic expressions, and his very slight accent. He began with these words: "Since I have been kicked out of office," which so astonished his hearer that he begged pardon for interrupting him and said: "Prince, that is an Americanism; where did you pick it up?" He answered that he did not remember where, but the expression fitted his case exactly, for the manner of his dismissal was but the equivalent of an application of the toe of a boot. He then proceeded to tell the story of his forced resignation. Such a rapid flow of keen wit, of cutting sarcasm and bitter denunciation as followed for half an hour Mr. Villard never heard before and never again. It was a strange mixture of eloquence and loquaciousness. Bismarck's voice seemed not as deep and strong as his stature led one to expect, but it had a pleasant sound. A most intense sense of the wrong and ingratitude he claimed to have suffered made itself manifest. As an example of his unjust treatment, he recounted what he had done to unify the nation and to aggrandize the Hohenzollern dynasty. There was not only an unhesitating assertion of his own deserts as the founder of the German Empire, but an almost sneering and even contemptuous depreciation of other performers in the historic drama of his time, including even the old Emperor William, the unfortunate Emperor Frederick, and the Empresses Augusta and Frederick. His language became a perfect diatribe when he referred to the present Emperor and some of his ministers, whom he held responsible for his removal. His expressions regarding them were not only amazing but embarrassing to his hearer, who had close social relations with the ministerial objects of his scorn. To quote but one phrase: "Some of those rogues I picked out of the very gutter." Fortunately, he did not stop for any word of assent, but went right on until his pent-up wrath was expended. As he remarked, when it was all spent: It was quite a relief to me to have this opportunity to speak without restraint to a gentleman who I am sure will honor my confidence. Even were it not for this restriction, some of the sayings the visitor heard and noted down at the time were so extraordinary that, if they were repeated, their reality would probably be doubted, and certainly the lese-majesty they involved would render it unsafe for one who repeated them to venture again on German soil.
The Prince's countenance during the excited delivery of his philippic was a study. The working of every vein and muscle of the face showed his intense feelings. The play of his great eyebrows was also very remarkable. Most impressive of all were the spirit and light shining from his wonderful eyes. No one ever felt the presence of the Chancellor without a deep sense of the mind-power reflected from those large grey-blue orbs. Their flashing brilliancy and the piercing penetration of the glances shot from them were never to be forgotten. They seemed incapable of expressing affection, and their steel-like hardness only inspired awe for the towering intellect, the irresistible will, the defiant courage, the fiery energy of their owner. To watch the lightning changes of expression mirrored in them, reflecting the strong emotions evoked by humbled pride, wounded ambition, and thwarted selfishness, and above all by the loss of his absolute sway, was, indeed, an enviable privilege.
The Prince himself turned to other subjects when the fumes of ire had passed from him during the rest of the two hours drive. He dwelt upon the marvellous rapidity of the material growth of the United States, and mentioned that he had felt a desire for a long time to see it with his own eyes. Before his retirement it was, of course, out of the question, but now he seriously thought of accepting the invitation of the Hamburg Line and crossing the Atlantic on the steamer named after him. He would have to overcome, however, the strong opposition of the Princess and of Dr. Schweninger to the voyage. "When Mr. Villard assured him that his visit would be hailed with general enthusiasm by Americans as well as Germans, he said: "This is just the reason of the opposition of my wife and doctor to it, and I own that I myself dread the pressure and fatigue of public attention, and should much prefer to travel in strict privacy." He asked his companion whether he believed that the Union could be permanently held together notwithstanding its vast territorial extent, the rapid swelling of the population to enormous proportions, the free admission of large masses of foreigners, and the diversity of climate and local interests. He looked upon the many millions of negroes, whose number was fast increasing, and the prevalence of strong racial prejudices against them, as a grave and permanent danger. He was answered that no man could foretell the fate of the American Republic in the course of the coming generations or centuries; but so far it must be admitted that the experiment of building up a federation of commonwealths under absolutely democratic institutions had been, upon the whole, a great success in both a political and a material respect. The problem of government was no doubt growing more and more complicated and difficult, both in the Union and in the several States, and might get beyond solution when the population should number hundreds of millions. There were even then symptoms of decadence, not material but moral; but the world had witnessed several serious popular aberrations which were followed by a return, sooner or later, to correct ways. Certainly, much could be expected of a people that successfully cut the cancer of slavery out of its body politic, at the cost of a million lives and of thousands of millions of dollars.
The Prince agreed to this and said that, for America, the existing democratic form of government was just as natural as a monarchy for Germany, and, indeed, the only feasible one. "I should be a devoted Republican, too, if I lived in America," he remarked. Mr. Villard ventured the inquiry whether Bismarck was satisfied with the workings of universal suffrage, the immediate adoption of which, upon the formation of the German Empire as the political basis of national life, was thought one of the boldest strokes, if not the very boldest, in his career. The Prince answered: "It cannot be said that the results of universal suffrage have been altogether satisfactory, but I always looked upon it as a just concomitant of, and compensation for, the general liability of our people to military service. Moreover, its adoption was indispensable as a sort of cement in the construction of the edifice of the Empire, as well as a means of overcoming the traditional centrifugal tendencies of some of our smaller potentates and tribes. The worst outgrowth of general suffrage he considered the Social Democrats, and he expressed the conviction that the State would some time be compelled to extirpate this evil by force.
It was very pleasant for Mr. Villard to have the Chancellor bring up the subject of their mutual friend, Carl Schurz. The Prince said that not only his great public career in America, but the personal attractions he discovered in him at their several meetings, excited his admiration. It was a great pity that such a man served a foreign and not his own country. Just that type of man was needed in Germany to supplant the Geheimrat (privy councillor) species which had given him so much trouble. Bismarck said that he could not understand, and it was not easy to explain to him, why such men as Schurz were not kept in public life. He pronounced it a great shortcoming in the American polity that the eligibility of Senators and Representatives was conditioned on their residence in the States and districts they represented. This inevitably tended to develop champions of local instead of national interests, while the privilege the English and German voters enjoyed of electing any of their countrymen otherwise qualified, regardless of residence, insured the election of the elite of the nation to the parliamentary ranks.
At the end of the drive, the Prince retired to his working-room with his secretary to attend to his correspondence until supper-time. After the evening meal, the whole family gathered around him in the spacious sitting-room. He seated himself in a large easy-chair, and was handed one of the old-fashioned long German pipes. It was lighted for him with a paper taper, and from it he sent forth clouds of tobacco-smoke with evident great enjoyment. He sat like a patriarch, listening to the telegraphic news of the morning and evening papers, which was read to him, and he accompanied and followed the reading with free comments on current events. Their frankness, clearness, and pointedness afforded another rich treat to Mr. Villard. The Chancellor's remarks led to no discussion, as he did not invite it, and everybody was content to listen to him. Something that was read led him to make interesting reference to the relations of Germany to Russia, to the pains he had always taken to keep on the best possible terms with the latter power, as of the most vital importance to his own country, and the fears he entertained that a change for the worse in this direction would come about under the new regime at Berlin. Schweninger broke up the evening's entertainment all too early by announcing to the Prince that his time for retiring had come. The doctor accompanied him to his bedroom to give him some treatment. He was the first one, too, to see him on waking. In fact, there never was a more faithful, self-sacrificing medical attendant than Schweninger. He did not reside at Friedrichsruhe, but had his office at Berlin. Owing to his success with the Prince, he had obtained a very large practice, extending all over Europe. Among his patients were some crowned heads, including the Sultan, a number of princes, and members of the highest aristocracy of birth and finance, so that he passed two-thirds of his time on railroad trains; but, no matter where he was, he never failed to look personally after the Chancellor at least once a month, and to pass from two to three days with him. While at Berlin, he was constantly at his beck and call, and often visited him once a week. Moreover, he would never accept any compensation for his services, but the Prince, who improved every opportunity to praise his fidelity and acknowledge his indebtedness to him, rewarded him in other ways by securing him a professorship at the Berlin University, together with titles and decorations.
Having suffered from neuralgic pains during the night, the Prince was ordered to stay in bed during the forenoon of the next day, but he worked with his secretary. About noon he appeared on the veranda, seemingly as well as the day before and as ready for conversation. Mr. Villard's second day was a repetition of the first; that is, lunch was followed by another drive, and dinner by another evening in the sitting-room. On the drive as well as at home, the Prince's conversation was again pregnant with substance, and original and fascinating in form. He also favored his guest with reminiscences of the Prussian-Austrian and Franco-German wars, and dwelt upon his memorable long sojourn at Versailles during the latter war, his peace negotiations with Thiers and Jules Favre, and the pains that accompanied the birth of the German Empire; on the profound humiliation of the French by the proclamation made in the grand palace of Louis XIV.—which was his (Bismarck's) conception. All this he narrated in his inimitable way. But, as the same incidents have been published in his own memoirs, they need not be repeated. Bismarck's experience, however, with the adjacent city of Hamburg, "his biggest and best neighbor," he called it, he related with great gusto, and it may well be told. When he proposed to bring Hamburg within the custom-lines of the German Empire, he became the worst-hated man in that city, for the people thought that if it lost its prestige as a free port it would be ruined. But the status of a free port with a custom zone within its limits not only did not diminish its prosperity, but multiplied it. Then the supposed oppressor became the recognized and worshipped benefactor of the old Hanseatic commonwealth.
Mr. Villard took his leave of the Prince on the second evening, as he was to start for home in the morning before the Prince would be up. He assured his host of his lasting gratitude for the generous hospitality received, and was told in return that he would be welcome again at any time. He left Bismarck with the fixed impression that the Prince never would or could forget or forgive those who caused his compulsory abdication from power, that he felt nothing less than implacable hatred towards them, that any apparent reconciliation on the Prince's part to the new regime that might follow would be only a stage-show and not a reality, and that his thirst for revenge would not be quenched as long as he lived.