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Modern History Sourcebook:
Maurice Leudet:
A Day with Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1898

THE energy of the Emperor is proverbial. He never rests, and professes the deepest horror of idleness. Moreover, his capacity for work is prodigious. Amongst those who immediately surround him there is even some fear that his health will some day suffer from his continual efforts to examine into all the affairs of the empire himself. To rest his brain he indulges in all those physical exercises in which he excels.

The Emperor gets up at five o'clock in the morning. As soon as he is up he takes a cold bath. His mother---who is a daughter of Queen Victoria, and an English-woman---has given him a taste from his earliest childhood for cold water, which is so wholesome for those who can stand it. After his bath, he dresses quickly and breakfasts at half-past six.

Immediately after breakfast the Emperor goes into his study, where piles of letters and quantities of documents await him. There are letters received during the night at the post-office and which special messengers bring the first thing in the morning to the Palace of Berlin or the Palace of Potsdam. There are also reports in the handwriting of the ministers and of high authorities. The Emperor, who himself sees to everything, has so much to do in reading all these documents that if he wishes to examine each in detail---which with him is a principle---he cannot allow himself an instant's rest. It is very rarely that he postpones the consideration of any sort of business. He settles everything at the hour he has appointed, even though, to do so, he has to take an hour or two from his sleep.

The adjutants on duty are at their posts at half-past six. The Emperor discusses with them the orders for the day, and at seven he usually goes to see his children. He then betakes himself to the room where he receives, for the most part, the reports of the marshals. Then some conferences with the functionaries under the orders of the master of the household. In these interviews the details of such and such a ceremony are discussed, the programme for some impending journey of the Emperor made out, and the probable expense calculated, etc.

In the same way the Emperor, during his hours of work, looks into the affairs of the imperial household, examines the accounts approves of orders given by the Grand Marshal, and, in a word, settles all questions relating to the daily domestic life. On important occasions he receives the ministers, the councilors with their reports, the prefect of police, generals, and great functionaries. It is the greatest delight to the Emperor to receive the reports of these persons, and to sign the papers they present to him. The Emperor goes into all these reports with so much zeal, though they are coming all day long, that he often says to those working with him, AI know I am giving you a lot of trouble, but I cannot do differently. I have a great task myself to accomplish, and I cannot make my decisions quickly."

If frequently happens that the heads of the different departments bring him twenty papers to sign. Each of these is discussed, and of the twenty perhaps only three or four are carried away signed. For the others, the sovereign is determined to have further information concerning them. By nine o'clock in the morning the Emperor has thus accomplished a good deal of business, and if the weather and the season permit, he goes out for a drive and afterwards takes a pretty long walk. If the weather is unfavorable for driving, he goes to the riding-school and rides for three quarters of an hour. The Emperor is a good fencer, a good rider, and a good shot. When he is on horseback he likes to meet with difficulties. He not only jumps hedges and ditches, but also banks, called Irish banks, with the greatest ease. On days when a military inspection takes place, the Emperor, who has thus had to ride in the open air for a long time, dispenses with his drive. He remains in the saddle for five or six hours at a stretch willingly.

At about eleven the interviews and the reports begin again. This is also the time when audiences are granted. Officers of high rank who have received promotion, or great functionaries who have been accorded a rise, are announced. He also receives the envoys and representatives of foreign countries, princes, and great lords. The Emperor converses with each of them for a few minutes.

At levées the Emperor pays his guests some original attentions. During the course of a levée he will change his uniform five or six times. Thus, for instance, if the son of a deceased general of artillery comes to announce to William II the death of his father, the Emperor does not fail to put on his artillery uniform to do honor to the officer who has died in his service. He wears the uniform of a general of artillery, of cavalry, of infantry, or the naval uniform, according to the person he receives and the position that person occupies. If the Emperor receives foreign representatives of military attachés of foreign powers, he wears the uniform of the army of the country which the visitor represents, or at least the orders belonging to that country. The fatiguing ceremony lasts till about half-past two. The Emperor then goes again to join his children, who are already at table, and takes his second breakfast with them.

He then visits certain great functionaries, generals, and ministers, and discusses State affairs with them. He visits an artist and sits for a picture or a bust. He inspects the barracks and the public offices, and, if he has time, he concludes the afternoon with a carriage drive, which lasts till five or six o'clock. At half-past six he again receives persons who have some communication to make to him, or who come to consult him upon military or civil business. He reads reports, and signs papers which were presented to him in the morning, but which he wished to think over. Finally, at seven o'clock he dines with his family.

On leaving the table the Emperor devotes some time to his children, who have spent the day in their studies, or in physical exercises; then he returns to work. In the evening, as a novel recreation, the Emperor practices fencing. Towards ten he takes a light repast, and then retires to his bedroom. At a little after ten he summons his valet to help him to undress. On a table beside his bed there are always placed paper and pencil, in order that the Emperor may make a note of anything that occurs to him before he goes to sleep or before he gets up in the morning.

Such is one of the Emperor's working-days, in ordinary arcumstances. In extraordinary circumstances William II imposes yet greater labor on himself. Think for a moment of the additional work imposed on him by the visit of a king or any sort of prince. All the business of the day is done by him, no matter what happens, even when the visit of some great personage obliges him to spend half the day at repasts, drives and walks, and ceremonies. On these occasions his time is so parceled out that it is often not till eleven o'clock in the morning that he can go into his study to glance at the newspapers, or read a new scientific, political, or literary book. It is past eleven at night before he can dispose himself for sleep. Even then he rises, if need be, at four o'clock, and begins again, without interruption, the business of the State. At the same time, visits, military maneuvers, inspections outside Berlin, occupy a great deal of the Emperor's time. During a journey he is never a moment idle. In the saloon carriage which is reserved for him, he writes, looks at reports, signs papers, etc. By the evening, after all the ceremonies at which he is obliged to be present, after the speeches and the toasts which he has had to listen to, and to which he has had to reply, he is very tired; but, nevertheless, when he is once more in his room, he looks at papers, runs through documents, and appends his signature. When he is away from Berlin, which is the seat of government, he is careful to attend to all business with even greater promptitude and attention than usual.

During reviews and inspections the Emperor is on horseback from five o'clock in the morning till two in the afternoon. He has hardly time to take his hurried meals. Immediately afterwards he sets to work to study the business of State, has a levée in the afternoon, and assists at fresh ceremonies. Outwardly he does not show the least fatigue or the least effort. There is a sort of coquetry in his way of having a pleasant word for each of his visitors. In these exceptional circumstances the Emperor has often not more than three hours for sleep. The next day he is on horseback again at the earliest possible hour. Passionately fond of life by the sea, he is particularly fond of the natural beauties of the North Sea coast. Even during his pleasure trips he devotes a great part of his time to work. At every place where he stops he finds dispatches, letters, reports for him, and even on his yacht his active spirit obliges him to read and study. It is true that he takes somewhat long voyages during the summer, when the departments take their holiday; but the government machine never stops, and William II has affairs to settle which require prompt execution.

In spite of all the work which the Emperor imposes on himself, he finds time to read most of the books of any importance which appear in Europe, whether literary, scientific, religious, or philosophical. A distinguished linguist, having in particular a marvelous acquaintance with French and German, he reads all these books, not in translations, but in the original. Therefore he is rarely at a loss when there is any discussion of a new book. In order to be abreast of all these studies, this reading, and these various labors, William II is penetrated with the idea that only the most absolute regularity in the employment of time can enable him to solve the apparently unsolvable problems of how to have sufficient knowledge of everything which attracts human observation.

He was prepared for this life of work by the severe education he was subjected to. He was, in fact, brought up in a hard school. Each day he had only half an hour to pursue his own tastes. Knowing the value of time, it is seldom indeed that he puts anything oft till the morrow. A little theatrical in his manner, even one might say cabotin, he has nevertheless a strong sentiment that the chief of the State should not only be the representative of authority, but also the most active collaborator in the life of the country of which he is the head. His mystical ideas have led him to believe that he holds his right to rule from the Deity. He is one of the last believers in Divine right, of which M. le Comte de Chambord was the last representative in France.


Source:

From: From: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, 14 Vols., (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. VII: Germany, The Netherlands, and Switzerland, pp. 269-275.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.


This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall, November 1998
halsall@fordham.edu