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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Letters—To His Wife, 1851–9
By Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898)
 
FRANKFORT, August 7th, 1851.    
I WANTED to write to you yesterday and to-day, but, owing to all the clatter and bustle of business, could not do so until now, late in the evening on my return from a walk through the lovely summer-night breeze, the moonlight, and the murmuring of poplar leaves, which I took to brush away the dust of the day’s dispatches and papers. Saturday afternoon I drove out with Rochow and Lynar to Rüdesheim; there I took a boat, rowed out upon the Rhine, and swam in the moonlight, with nothing but nose and eyes out of the water, as far as the Mäusethürm near Bingen, where the bad bishop came to his end. It gives one a peculiar dreamy sensation to float thus on a quiet warm night in the water, gently carried down by the current, looking above on the heavens studded with the moon and stars, and on each side the banks and wooded hill-tops and the battlements of the old castles bathed in the moonlight, whilst nothing falls on one’s ear but the gentle splashing of one’s own movements. I should like to swim like this every evening. I drank some very fair wine afterwards, and then sat a long time with Lynar smoking on the balcony—the Rhine below us. My little New Testament and the star-studded heavens brought us on the subject of religion, and I argued long against the Rousseau-like sophism of his ideas, without, however, achieving more than to reduce him to silence. He was badly treated as a child by bonnes and tutors, without ever having known his parents. Later on, in consequence of much the same sort of education as myself, he picked up the same ideas in his youth; but is more satisfied and more convinced by them than ever I was.
  1
  Next day we took the steamer to Coblenz, stopped there an hour for breakfast, and came back the same way to Frankfort, where we arrived in the evening. I undertook this expedition with the intention of visiting old Metternich, who had invited me to do so at Johannisberg; but I was so much pleased with the Rhine that I preferred to make my way over to Coblenz and to postpone the visit. When you and I saw it we had just returned from the Alps, and the weather was bad; on this fresh summer morning, however, and after the dusty monotony of Frankfort, the Rhine has risen very considerably in my estimation. I promise myself complete enjoyment in spending a couple of days with you at Rüdesheim; the place is so quiet and rural, honest people and cheap living. We will hire a small boat and row at our leisure downwards, climb up the Niederwald and a castle or two, and return with the steamer. One can leave this place early in the morning, stay eight hours at Rüdesheim, Bingen, or Rheinstein, etc., and be back again in the evening. My appointment here appears now to be certain.  2
 
MOSCOW, June 6th, 1859.    
I WILL send you at least a sign of life from here, while I am waiting for the samovar; and a young Russian in a red shirt is exerting himself behind me with vain attempts to light a fire—he puffs and blows, but it will not burn. After having complained so much about the scorching heat lately, I woke to-day between Twer and here, and thought I was dreaming when I saw the country and its fresh verdure covered far and wide with snow. I shall wonder at nothing again, and having convinced myself of the fact beyond all doubt, I turned quickly on the other side to sleep and roll on farther, although the play of colors—from green to white—in the red dawn of day was not without its charm. I do not know if the snow still lies at Twer; here it has thawed away, and a cool gray rain is rattling on the green tin of the roofs. Green has every reason to be the Russian favorite color. Of the five hundred miles I have passed in traveling here, I have slept away about two hundred, but each hand-breadth of the remainder was green in every shade. Towns and villages, and more particularly houses, with the exception of the railway stations, I did not observe. Bushy forests with birch-trees cover swamp and hill, a fine growth of grass beneath, long tracts of meadow-land between; so it goes on for fifty, one hundred, two hundred miles. Ploughed land I do not remember to have remarked, nor heather, nor sand. Solitary grazing cows or horses awoke one at times to the presumption that there might be human beings in the neighborhood. Moscow, seen from above, looks like a field of young wheat: the soldiers are green, the cupolas green, and I do not doubt that the eggs on the table before me were laid by green hens.
  3
  You will want to know how I come to be here. I also have already asked myself this question, and the answer I received was that change is the soul of life. The truth of this profound saying becomes especially obvious after having lived for ten weeks in a sunny room of a hotel, with the look-out on pavements. The charms of moving become rather blunted if they occur repeatedly within a short period; I therefore determined to forego them, handed over all paper to ——, gave Engel my keys, declared that I would put up in a week at Stenbock’s house, and drove to the Moscow station. This was yesterday at noon, and this morning, at eight o’clock, I alighted here at the Hôtel de France. First of all I shall pay a visit to a charming acquaintance of former times, who lives in the country, about twenty versts from here; to-morrow evening I shall be here again; Wednesday and Thursday shall visit the Kremlin and so forth; and Friday or Saturday sleep in the beds which Engel will meantime buy. Slow harnessing and fast driving lie in the character of this people. I ordered the carriage two hours ago: to every call which I have been uttering for each successive ten minutes of an hour and a half, the answer is, “Immediately,” given with imperturbably friendly composure; but there the matter rests. You know my exemplary patience in waiting, but everything has its limits; afterwards there will be wild galloping, so that on these bad roads horse and carriage break down, and at last we reach the place on foot. I have meanwhile drunk three glasses of tea and annihilated several eggs; the efforts at getting warm have also so perfectly succeeded that I feel the need of fresh air. I should, out of sheer impatience, commence shaving if I had a glass. This city is very straggling, and very foreign-looking, with its green-roofed churches and innumerable cupolas; quite different from Amsterdam, but both the most original cities I know. No German guard has a conception of the luggage people drag with them into the railway carriage; not a Russian goes without two real pillows in white pillow-cases, children in baskets, and masses of eatables of every kind. Out of politeness they bowed me into a sleeping car, where I was worse off than in my seat. Altogether, it is astonishing to me to see the fuss made here about a journey.  4
 
MOSCOW, June 8th.    
THIS city is really, as a city, the handsomest and most original existing: the environs are cheerful, not pretty, not ugly; but the view from the top of the Kremlin on this panorama of green-roofed houses, gardens, churches, spires of the strangest possible form and color, mostly green, or red or bright blue, generally crowned at the top with a gigantic golden onion, and mostly five or more on one church,—there are certainly a thousand steeples!—anything more strangely beautiful than all this lit up by the slanting rays of the setting sun it is impossible to see. The weather has cleared up again, and I should stay here a few days longer if there were not rumors of a great battle in Italy, which may perhaps bring diplomatic work in its train, so I will be off there and get back to my post. The house in which I am writing is, curiously enough, one of the few that survived 1812; old, thick walls, like those at Schönhausen, Oriental architecture, big Moorish rooms.
  5
 
JUNE 28th, Evening.    
AFTER a three hours’ drive through the gardens in an open carriage, and a view of all its beauties in detail, I am drinking tea, with a prospect of the golden evening sky and green woods. At the Emperor’s they want to be en famille the last evening, as I can perfectly well understand; and I, as a convalescent, have sought retirement, and have indeed done quite enough to-day for my first outing. I am smoking my cigar in peace, and drinking excellent tea, and see, through the smoke of both, a sunset of really rare beauty. I send you the inclosed jasmine as a proof that it really grows and blossoms here in the open air. On the other hand, I must own that I have been shown the common chestnut in shrub-form as a rare growth, which in winter is wrapped up; otherwise, there are very fine large oaks, ash-trees, limes, poplars, and birches as thick as oaks.
  6
 
PETERSBURG, July 26, 1859.    
HALF an hour ago a cabinet courier woke me with war and peace. Our policy drifts more and more into the Austrian wake; and when we have once fired a shot on the Rhine, it is over with the Italian-Austrian war, and in its place a Prussian-French comes on the scene, in which Austria, after we have taken the burden from her shoulders, stands by us or fails to stand by us just so far as her own interests require. She will certainly not allow us to play a very brilliant victor’s part.
  7
  As God wills! After all, everything here is only a question of time: nations and individuals, folly and wisdom, war and peace, they come and go like the waves, but the sea remains. There is nothing on this earth but hypocrisy and jugglery; and whether fever or grape-shot tear off this fleshly mask, fall it must sooner or later: and then, granted that they are equal in height, a likeness will after all turn up between a Prussian and an Austrian which will make it difficult to distinguish them. The stupid and the clever, too, look pretty much alike when their bones are well picked. With such views, a man certainly gets rid of his specific patriotism; but it would indeed be a subject for despair if our salvation depended on them.  8
 
 
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