Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Personal Characteristics of the Members of the Frankfort Diet
By Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898)
Confidential Dispatch to Minister Von Manteuffel, May 30th, 1853

IN connection with my report of to-day regarding the attitude of certain envoys in the Kettenburg affair, I take the liberty of making some confidential remarks regarding the personal traits of my colleagues in general, in case it should interest your Excellency to have the information.  1
  Herr von Prokesch is probably well enough known in Berlin to make further indications of his personal characteristics unnecessary; at the same time, I cannot refrain from remarking that the calmness and ease with which he advances false statements of fact, or contests true statements, surpass my expectations, although I have been led to expect a good deal in this direction. These qualities are supplemented by a surprising degree of coolness in dropping a subject or making a change of front, as soon as the untruth which he has taken as his point of departure is identified beyond the possibility of evasion. In case of necessity he covers a retreat of this sort by an ebullition of moral indignation, or by an attack, often of a very personal character, which transfers the discussion to a new and quite different field. His chief weapons in the petty war which I am obliged to wage with him, as often as the interests which we represent diverge, are: (1) Passive resistance, i.e., a dilatory treatment of the affair, by which he forces upon me the rôle of a tiresome dun, and not infrequently, by reason of the nature of the affair, that of a paltry dun. (2) In case of attack, the fait accompli, in the shape of apparently insignificant usurpations on the part of the Chair. These are commonly so calculated that any protest on my part cannot but seem like a deliberate search for points of controversy or like captious verbal criticism. It is therefore scarcely possible for me to avoid, in my dealings with him, the appearance of quarrelsomeness, unless I am willing to sacrifice the interests of Prussia to a degree which every concession would increase….  2
  The Bavarian envoy, Herr von Schrenk, I place among the best elements in the assembly, as regards both his capacity and his character. He is a thorough and industrious worker, and practical in his views and opinions; although his predominantly juristic training and mode of thinking make him at times disputatious, and tend to impede the progress of affairs. In official intercourse he is frank and obliging, so long as his [Bavarian] patriotism, which is high-strung and extremely irritable, is treated with consideration; a foible for which I take particular pains to make allowance.  3
  Our Saxon colleague, Herr von Nostitz, inspires in me less confidence. It seems to me that he has at bottom a traditional inclination toward Prussia and its political system, which is nourished in part by a Protestantism that is more rationalistic than orthodox, and by his fear of Ultramontane tendencies. I believe, however,—and I should be glad to find that I do him an injustice,—that on the whole, personal interests take precedence with him over political interests, and that the suppleness of his character permits him to view the latter in whatever light best suits the former. His economic position is dependent upon his place, aside from the salary, by reason of the fact that he owns a house here in which he lives, which he bought before 1848 at a high price, and which he has vainly attempted to rent for the last five years. His political course is therefore controlled by his desire of remaining in his official position under every contingency; and with the present tendency of the Saxon government, Austria has certainly more opportunity to help him in keeping his place than has Prussia. This circumstance indeed does not prevent Herr von Nostitz from avoiding, as far as his instructions will allow, any patent injury to Prussia; but with his great capacity for labor, his intelligence, and his long experience, he constitutes the most effective support of all Austria’s efforts in the federal assembly. He is particularly adroit in formulating reports and propositions in awkward controversial questions; he knows how to give his draught a color of compromise without the least sacrifice of any Austrian interest, as soon as the correct interpretation comes to the aid of the apparently indeterminate expression. When his draughts become the basis of subsequent discussion, it is then usually discovered for the first time that the real purpose for which they were drawn is contained in what seemed to be casual and incidental words. If the current in Dresden should shift in the Prussian direction, the valuable personal assistance which Herr von Nostitz is able to render by means of his sense, his experience, and the credit both have won him, would be thrown on the Prussian side with the same certainty as now on the Austrian, unless too strong a tie were found in the fact that one of his sons is being educated in the Austrian Naval School, while another is already an officer in the imperial service.  4
  Herr von Bothmer returned to this place a few days ago as representative of Hanover; I learn from him, however, with regret, that his further stay here is in no wise assured. Not only is his a straightforward character that awakens confidence, but he is also the only one of my colleagues who has sufficient independence to give me anything more than passive assistance when I am obliged to protest against the conduct of the Chair.  5
  His opposite is found in Herr von Reinhard. While Herr von Bothmer is thorough, clear, and objective in his productions, those of the Würtemberg envoy bear the stamp of superficiality and confused thinking. His removal from the federal assembly might justly be regarded as a great gain for us. I do not know whether his departure from Berlin was connected with circumstances which have left in him a lasting dislike of Prussia, or whether confused political theories (regarding which he expresses himself with more ease and with greater interest than regarding practical affairs) have brought him to believe that the Prussian influence in Germany is deleterious: but at all events his antipathy to us exceeds the degree which, in view of the political situation of Würtemberg, can be supposed to exist in the mind of his sovereign; and I have reason to assume that his influence upon the instructions which are sent him, and his activity, so far as this is independent of instructions, are exerted, as a matter of principle, to the disadvantage of Prussia…. In his bearing towards me personally there is nothing which would justify the conclusion that his feelings are of the sort I have indicated; and it is only rarely that a point is reached in our debates at which, moderated by a certain timidity, his suppressed bitterness against Prussia breaks out. I may remark incidentally that it is he who invariably appears at our sessions last, and too late; and who, through want of attention and through subsequent participation in the discussion on the basis of misapprehensions, occasions further repetitions and waste of time.  6
  The envoy from Baden, Herr von Marschall, is not without sense and fitness for affairs, but is scrupulously careful to avoid the responsibility of an independent opinion, and to discover in the least dubitable matter an intermediate point of view from it may be possible to agree with both sides, or at least to disagree with neither. If there is no escape, he inclines, either for family reasons or because his government is more afraid of Vienna than of Berlin, to the Austrian side rather than to ours. Support against the Chair—as, for example, in the matter of the order of business, upon which he is charged with a report—I can hardly expect from him.  7
  Our colleague from the Electorate, Herr von Trott, takes as little part as possible in the affairs of the Diet; especially avoids reports and committee work; and is frequently absent, making the representative from Darmstadt his proxy. He prefers country life and hunting to participation in assemblies, and gives the impression rather of a jovial and portly squire than of an envoy. He confines himself to announcing his vote, briefly and in the exact language of his instructions; and while the latter are invariably drawn by the Minister, Hassenpflug, in accordance with the directions received from Austria, it does not appear to me that either Austria or the States of the Darmstadt coalition enjoy the personal support of Herr von Trott any more than we do—an impartiality which is rendered easy to the Hessian envoy as much by his distaste for affairs, and I like to think by the revolt of his essentially honorable nature against all that savors of intrigue, as by his formerly indubitable sympathy for Prussia’s interests.  8
  We find a more inimical element in the Grand-Ducal Hessian envoy, Baron von Münch-Bellinghausen. While this gentleman is attached from the start to the interests of Austria by his family connections with the former presidential envoy of the same name, his antagonism to Prussia is considerably intensified by his strong, and I believe sincere, zeal for the Catholic Church. In private intercourse he is a man of agreeable manners; and as regards his official attitude, I have to this extent no cause of complaint—that beyond the degree of reserve imposed upon him by the anti-Prussian policy of his government, I have observed in him no tendency towards intrigue or insincerity. For the rest, he is a natural opponent of the Prussian policy in all cases where this does not go hand in hand with Austria and the Catholic Church; and the warmth with which he not infrequently supports his opinion against me in discussion, I can regard only as a proof of the sincerity of his political convictions. It is certainly, however, an anomalous thing that a Protestant sovereign, who at this moment is in conflict with Catholic bishops, is represented in the Confederacy by Herr von Münch….  9
  One of our trustiest allies is Herr von Scherff, who personally is altogether devoted to the Prussian interests, and has moreover a son in our military service; he is experienced in affairs, and prudent to the point of timidity. This latter trait, as well as the sort of influence which his Majesty the King of the Netherlands exercises upon the federal instructions, often prevents him from giving me, in the sessions of the Diet, that degree of support which I should otherwise receive from him. Outside of the sessions I have always been able to count on him with confidence, whenever I have called upon him for advice, and whenever it has been a question of his aiding me through his influence upon some other envoy or through the collection of information. With his Royal Highness the Prince of Prussia, Herr von Scherff and his family justly stand in special favor.
*        *        *        *        *
  Nassau and Brunswick are represented by the Baron von Dungern, a harmless character, who has neither the personal capacity nor the political credit requisite to give him influence in the Federal Assembly. If the difference that exists in most questions between the attitude of Brunswick and that of Nassau is settled in most cases in favor of the views held by Nassau, (i.e., by Austria,) this is partly due indeed to the connection of Herr von Dungern and his wife with families that are in the Austrian interest, and to the fact that the envoy, who has two sons in the Austrian military service, feels more dread of Austria’s resentment than of Prussia’s; but the chief mistake lies in the circumstance that Brunswick is represented by a servant of the Duke of Nassau, who lives here in the immediate neighborhood of his own court,—a court controlled by Austrian influences,—but maintains with Brunswick, I imagine, connections so closely restricted to what is absolutely necessary that they can hardly be regarded as an equivalent for the five thousand florins which his Highness Duke William contributes to his salary.  11
  The Mecklenburg envoy, Herr von Oertzen, justifies in all respects the reputation of an honorable man which I had heard attributed to him before he assumed his present position. In the period immediately following the reopening of the Federal Diet, he, like a large number of his fellow-countrymen, showed an unmistakable leaning to Austria; but it seems to me indubitable that his observation for two years of the methods which Austrian policy employs here through the organ of the Chair has aroused in Herr von Oertzen’s loyal nature, in spite of the fact that he too has a son in the Austrian army, a reaction which permits me to count fully upon him as far as his personal attitude is concerned, and upon his political support as far as his instructions—of the character of which, on the whole, I cannot complain—in any wise permit. In any case I can depend upon his pursuing, under all circumstances, an open and honorable course…. His attitude in the debates is always tranquil, and in favor of compromise….  12
  The representative of the Fifteenth Curia is Herr von Eisendecher, a man whose ready sociability, united with wit and vivacity in conversation, prepossesses one in his favor. He was formerly an advanced Gothaite, and it seems that this tendency of his has shaded over into a lively sympathy for the development of the Confederation as a strong, unified, central power; since in this way, and with the help of Austria, he thinks that a substitute will be discovered for the unsuccessful efforts towards unity in the Prussian sense. The Curia, it is reported, is so organized that the two Anhalts and the two Schwarzburgs, if they are united among themselves, outvote Oldenburg.  13
  It is in a simpler way and without stating his reasons that the representative of the Sixteenth Curia, Baron von Holzhausen, throws his influence on the Austrian side of the scales. It is said of him that in most cases he draws up his own instructions, even when he has ample time to send for them, and that he meets any protest raised by his principals by holding his peace, or by an adroit use of the large number of members of his Curia and the lack of connection between them. To this it is to be added that the majority of the little princes are not disposed to spend upon their federal diplomacy the amount that would be required for a regular and organized chancelry and correspondence; and that if Herr von Holzhausen, who after the departure of Baron von Strombeck obtained the place as the lowest asker, should resign from their service, they would hardly be able, with the means at their disposal, to secure so imposing a representative as this prosperous gentleman, who is decorated with sundry grand-crosses and the title of privy councillor, and is a member of the oldest patrician family of Frankfort. The nearest relations of Herr von Holzhausen, who is himself unmarried and childless, are in the service of Austria. Moreover, his family pride, which is developed to an unusual degree, points back with all its memories to the imperial city patriciate that was so closely associated with the glorious era of the Holy Roman Empire; and Prussia’s entire position seems to him a revolutionary usurpation, which has played the most material part in the destruction of the privileges of the Holzhausens. His wealth leads me to assume that the ties that bind him to Austria are merely ambitious tendencies—such as the desire for an imperial order or for the elevation of the family to the rank of Austrian counts—and not pecuniary interests, unless his possession of a large quantity of [Austrian] mining shares is to be regarded in the latter light.  14
  If your Excellency will permit me, in closing, to sum up the results of my report, they amount to what follows:—  15
  The only envoys in the Federal Diet who are devoted to our interests as regards their personal views are Herren von Fritsch, von Scherff, and von Oertzen. Herein the first of these follows at the same time the instructions of the government which he represents. Personally assured to Austria, on the other hand, without it being possible to make the same assertion as regards the governments they represent, are Herren von Eisendecher and von Holzhausen, and von Dungern as representing Brunswick. On the Austrian side, besides these, are almost always, in accordance with the instructions of their governments, Herr von Nostitz, Herr von Reinhard, Herr von Münch, Herr von Trott (who, however, displays greater moderation than his Darmstadt colleague), and Herr von Dungern as representing Nassau.  16
  A position in part more independent, in part more mediatory, is assumed by Herren von Schrenk, von Bothmer, von Bülow, von Marschall, and by the representatives of the Free Cities; and yet in the attitude of these envoys also, Austrian influences are not infrequently noticeable.  17

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.