Ebooks, Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Free books and stories online to read now ~ Main Page

 

 

 

The King of Bavaria by E. E.

Of all the prominent personages who, through their official position or individual power, or both combined, occupy at present the eye of the public, probably not one is more unjustly criticised or more generally misunderstood than Ludwig II., king of Bavaria. As a reigning monarch, young, handsome, secluded in his habits and unmarried, he is of course exposed to all the inquisitive observation and exaggerated gossip which the feminine curiosity and masculine envy of a court and capital can supply—gossip which is eagerly listened to by the annual crowd of foreigners who spend a few days in Munich to visit the Pinakothek, listen to a Wagner opera, and catch, if possible, a glimpse of the romantic young king; and is by them carried home to find public circulation at third hand through the columns of sensation newspapers. And when to this personal criticism is added the strife of opinion over his political acts, and the ill-will of the extreme Church party in consequence of his liberal tendencies, it may easily be believed that his real character is but little known, and is in many cases deliberately falsified. A brief review of the facts and circumstances of his reign may serve to correct, in some degree, the false impressions which have so long prevailed.

In 1864, in the midst of the confusion of the Schleswig-Holstein war, which was then agitating all Germany, King Max died, and his eldest son, Ludwig, only nineteen years old, was summoned from the quiet routine of his university studies to ascend the throne of Bavaria. In childhood his health had been extremely delicate, and on that account he had been educated in unusual privacy—training which, joined to his naturally reserved and meditative disposition, and the various disenchantments of his public career, may satisfactorily account for his present confirmed love of solitude. The position to which he was so unexpectedly called was an exceedingly difficult one for a mind filled, as his was, with ideal visions of liberty and progress, and totally inexperienced in the ways of a selfish world and in the profundity of Jesuitical intrigues; and the unavoidable embarrassments of the time had been increased by the course of his immediate predecessors. Ludwig I., through a sentimental love of the picturesque, had encouraged the multiplication of monasteries and convents and brotherhoods of wandering friars, and Maximilian, though naturally tolerant, and still more liberalized by the influence of his Protestant queen, was a firm believer in the divine right of kings; and having joined hands with the clerical party in putting down the revolution of 1848, found himself afterward so far compromised in their behalf that he was unable to oppose their aggrandizing plans; so that in his reign the priests, and especially the Jesuits, attained to a greater degree of power than they had ever before known.

The young king for a while carried on the government after his father's policy, and with the same ministerial officers; but he soon began to show signs of independence of character, the first manifestation of which was an attempt to curtail the power of the Jesuits, especially in the matter of public instruction. This was, of course, enough to rouse the enmity of the whole Society of Jesus against him, and its members have been busy ever since in thwarting all his plans and doing their utmost to render him unpopular with his subjects.

Unfortunately, the king soon gave his people a plausible excuse for fault-finding by the unbounded favor which he bestowed upon Wagner, whose ideas and whose music were at that time alike obnoxious to the majority of Germans. The favorite theory of this great genius, but arrogant and unscrupulous man, was the elevation of the German nation through the aesthetic and moral influence of a properly developed theatre; and the king was ready to offer every facility for the practical realization of this visionary plan. But the Jesuits scented heresy in the alliance between the experienced composer and the youthful dreamer, and the liberal party were indignant that Wagner's affairs should be made a cabinet question at a time of such great national anxiety. The dissatisfaction rose to such a height at last that it became necessary for Wagner to leave Munich, and for his royal patron to break off, apparently at least, the unpopular intimacy. The people were right, to some extent, in denouncing Wagner, whose course in Munich, as elsewhere, had been selfish and ungrateful, and in blaming the king for indulging his individual tastes to the neglect of his duties as a ruler; but the youth and inexperience of the latter were a sufficient excuse for excess of enthusiasm, and reproach may well be forgotten in astonishment and admiration at the capacity of this mere boy to understand and feel those wonderful musical dramas which were then almost universally laughed at or condemned, though their gradual but steady rise in public appreciation seems now to warrant their claim to be considered as "the music of the future."

In December, 1865, a little more than a year after his accession, King Ludwig acknowledged the union of Italy under Victor Emmanuel—an important step, which at once arrayed the Catholic Church against him as its enemy. He also endeavored to effect a reconciliation between Vienna and Berlin, but his mediation did not avail; nor could he hinder the alliance of Bavaria with Austria in the war of 1866. But as soon as peace was concluded he quitted the policy of his father, which he had hitherto, for the most part, followed, and selected as members of his cabinet men of liberal principles and progressive ideas, calling to, its head Prince Hohenlohe, a known friend of Prussia and a firm opposer of the Austrian alliance.

One of the first projects of the new ministry was to free the public schools, as far as possible, from the influence of the clergy. These and other liberal movements aroused the whole force of the Ultramontane party, and a terrible strife ensued, resulting in Hohenlohe's resignation, which the king was unwillingly obliged to accept. Hohenlohe was succeeded by Count Bray, a man devoted to feudalism and the Church, who had been minister under Ludwig I. and Maximilian II. The clerical party were exultant in their triumph. They saw that trouble was brewing between France and Prussia, and trusted that Count Bray would be able to prevent any alliance between the latter state and Bavaria. They would have preferred a coalition with France and Austria against Prussia and the kingdom of Italy, with the ultimate purpose of reinstating the pope as a temporal sovereign. To this end they were willing to degrade Bavaria to a province of Rome, and would gladly have dethroned the king if they could have done so; their hatred of him having been increased in the mean time by his public recognition of Dr. Döllinger's protest against the decree of papal infallibility. But when the crisis came their hopes were speedily frustrated by the king's prompt decision to stand by Prussia in the contest. He at once declared his intention to Parliament, which had until then appeared willing to grant only the supplies necessary to maintain Bavaria in a state of armed neutrality. The decision was the king's alone—"My word is sacred" was his principle of action—but after he had taken the first step his ministers supported him throughout the struggle with patriotic zeal. He immediately issued a proclamation calling his people to arms against their hereditary enemy, and his message, "We South Germans are with you" was the first pledge of sympathy and assistance that cheered the king and the citizens at Berlin.

King Ludwig's conduct in this matter is especially deserving of praise, because his kingdom is of sufficient size and importance to make its absorption into the empire a great sacrifice of individual pride; particularly when it is remembered that Prussia, of which Bavaria had long been jealous, was to be the leading power in the new union of states, and Prussia's king the emperor. But from the time of Ludwig's accession he had looked forward with hope to a consolidation of the numerous states of Germany into one nation; and the opportunity, though coming sooner than he or any one else had anticipated, found him not unprepared for the change. When the storm against Hohenlohe was at its height, he said, "Does that party really think that the steps which have already been taken toward the unity of Germany will be retracted? Then they do not know me. I have not read Schiller in vain. I too can say, 'All the power, all the influence, which belongs to me as a constitutional prince I will lay in the scale of the idea of the unity of Germany.' I should greatly prefer to devote myself to peaceful pursuits, to clear the way for my people to elevate themselves through education and material prosperity, and to help them open the noble treasure of ideas bequeathed to them by our thinkers and poets; but when a foreign enemy is standing at Germany's gates I hold it my duty not only to give my army, my lands and my property for the public good, but to offer myself to the commander in-chief as a common soldier of the united German empire." On another occasion he said, "I acknowledge in my country only one party—that of truly noble men, who, through extensive knowledge, pure thoughts and useful deeds, serve the commonwealth, whether these be skillful workmen, citizens, peasants, scholars, honest magistrates, who, like myself, serve the people conscientiously, officers who are friends as well as leaders of the soldiers, worthy priests of all confessions, who are real physicians of souls, righteous judges, teachers of my people, or noblemen who add to the distinction of title that of true nobility of soul, and set a worthy example in all good things: all these, and only these, are of my party."

And again: "I desire of my Creator not the satisfaction of gratified ambition, but the joy of knowing that after my death it will be said of me, 'Ludwig II. strove to be a true friend to his people, and he succeeded in making them happier." And again: "It would gratify me more to obtain a true solution of my country's social problems than to become, by force of arms, ruler of all Europe; nor should I be willing to incur the responsibility of a single life lost through my pursuit of any selfish plan."

These quotations are sufficient to show the enlightened views of the king in regard to his duties as a ruler; and his whole conduct since his accession has proved his desire to free his subjects from the chains of bigotry and superstition in which they have so long been bound. His constant opposition to the machinations of the Jesuits, his increasing neglect of the religious shows and ceremonies in which Munich delights, and his open support of Döllinger and the liberal Catholics, indicate plainly enough that he is no slave of the Church of which he is by birth and training a member; but his example and influence cannot, as yet, effect much against the strong majority of Ultramontanists in Parliament and the crowds of priests who still hold spiritual sway over the greater portion of his people. One peculiar hindrance to the success of any progressive measure in Bavaria lies in the absurd regulation which makes every ex-cabinet minister a member of a separate government council, the consent of which must be obtained before any new royal or parliamentary decree can be put in force; and as the majority of these ex-ministers are Ultramontanists or otherwise behind the times, it will be seen that the progressive party, though with the king at their head, are constantly thwarted by this auxiliary force of the Jesuits and old fogies outside the government.

With regard to the private life of the king, his secluded habits are a source of general complaint. The Bavarians, and especially the citizens of Munich, would like him to mix freely with his people in the streets and at places of public resort, as Ludwig I. was in the habit of doing, and to settle down with wife and children around him, after the manner of good King Max; to head all their festive processions, preside at the opening of their annual fairs, and lend himself to legendary customs which have long lost their significance, and to social gayeties in which he can find no pleasure. And because he refuses to take his airings in the crowded streets, to head the processions on Corpus Christi and St. John's Day, to wash the disciples' feet on Holy Thursday, to preside at the Michaelmas horse-races and puppet-shows, and to marry for the sake of increasing the brilliancy of the court and perpetuating the Wittelsbach dynasty, he is denounced alike by devotees and worldlings, who judge him, not by what he does that is good and useful, but by what he does not do to gratify them. Because he spends the greater part of the year in retirement at his castles in the country, coming to Munich only for the session of Parliament in the winter, he is accused of indifference to the prosperity of his state and the welfare of his subjects.

But he himself says, "It is incumbent upon a prince to meditate upon the duties of his calling, which he can surely do better when alone with God and Nature than in the confusion of a court." His ministers and all who have occasion to approach him in a business capacity declare that at every such interview they are surprised at his thorough knowledge of the subject under discussion, as also at his keen insight into character and motives.

To an unprejudiced observer—say to an intelligent foreigner who remains in Bavaria long enough, not only to hear all the gossip, but to see and judge for himself as to the merits of the case—the career of this young king is exceedingly interesting and worthy of admiration. It is something, in these times of political intrigue and diplomatic evasion, that a king can say, "My word is sacred," without awakening in any mind a remembrance of broken faith and forgotten obligations. It is something, amid the corruptions of a dissolute capital and the temptations of a royal court, that the sovereign, young, full of tender sentiment, and unprotected by the marriage tie, lives on with virtue unimpeached; not even the bitterest enemy daring to breathe a word against the purity of this modern Lohengrin. It is something that a man born to the splendors of a throne should prefer to these the simplicity of Nature, the solitude of woods and mountains, the companionship of music that searches the soul's sincerity, and of books that have no recognition of royalty in their announcement of immortal and universal truths.

In the endless criticism of which the king is the subject attention is often called, sometimes in pity, sometimes in blame, to the fact that he has no intimate friend or friends. Those who make this reproach forget that his station demands a certain degree of isolation, unless he would lay himself open to the charge of favoritism, and the object of his preference to the flatteries and manoeuvrings of the parasites that infest a court. Of the men of his own age whose rank would entitle them to associate with the king on terms of familiarity, there is not one who has sufficient sympathy with his tastes and pursuits to be chosen by him as a companion; and the tyranny of etiquette and custom forbids him to seek out a congenial friend from among the untitled scholars and thinkers who judge him tenderly and justly from afar. Moreover, his early unfortunate essays in this direction may well have taught him to be reserved and cautious in be-stowing his confidence and love. The man whose splendid genius enthralled, and still enthralls, the intellect of the king had not the moral qualities to secure his esteem; the woman whose beauty once took his senses captive he soon found to be unworthy of his heart; and disappointments such as these are a lesson for a lifetime to a character such as his.

Fortunately, he has abundant resources within himself for the entertainment of his self-chosen solitude. The education which was so early interrupted by a summons to the throne has been continued with zeal through the study of the best authors in various languages. He always has some favorite work at hand for the edification of a chance mood or unoccupied moment; and in his frequent short journeys, however slight provision he may make for his wardrobe, a port-manteau well filled with books is sure to accompany him. When in the country a good portion of his time is spent on horseback. With a single attendant at some distance behind him, he rides for hours, stopping occasionally at some peasant's cottage or roadside inn to refresh himself with a glass of water or a simple meal, treating his temporary entertainers the while with an unreserved friendliness which has won him the devoted affection of his lowly neighbors, and which he never displays within the precincts of the court.

The king's favorite residence is Hohenschwangau, where he is building a noble castle upon the site of a ruin which was originally a Roman fortress and afterward a feudal stronghold. The new building is modeled after the style of the Wartburg, and is composed of various kinds of stone brought from different parts of Germany and Switzerland, and selected for their beauty and durability. The work has been in progress for about two years, and will probably require ten or twelve years more to finish it, as the season for outdoor labor in that mountainous region is necessarily short.. The surrounding scenery is magnificent: lakes, mountains, gorges, waterfalls, gloomy forests, sunny meadows, all that is grand and beautiful in Nature, are here comprised within a single view.

The present castle stands on the spur of an adjacent hill, and commands the same extensive prospect. Though of moderate size (too small, indeed, to accommodate at the same time the king and the queen-mother with their respective suites, for which reason it is occupied by each only during the absence of the other), the appearance of the castle is imposing, and its interior decorations render it a most interesting point for the tourist, as well as a delightful residence for its proprietors. The walls of all the principal apartments are adorned with frescoes painted by some of the best German artists, each room being devoted to a special subject. There is the "Hall of the Swan-Knight," containing illustrations of that most charming legend, the foundation of the world's best opera, Lohengrin; the "Schwangau Chamber," with pictures concerning the history of the locality; the "Bertha Chamber," containing the story of the parents of Charlemagne; the "Ladies' Chamber," portraying the life of German women in the Middle Ages, the principal figure being a portrait of Agnes, wife of Otto von Wittelsbach, an ancestor of the royal house; the "Hall of Heroes," containing illustrations of the Vilkina Saga, Dietrich of Berne being supposed to have lived at Hohenschwangau; the "Knights' Chamber," representing the knightly customs of the Middle Ages; the "Oriental Chamber," with frescoes recalling King Maximilian's travels in the East; and several other rooms, in each of which is commemorated some striking point of German history or some interesting record of national manners. The furniture of all these apartments is rich and tasteful; and scattered here and there are little indications of home-life which lend a new charm to the stately abode. Thus, upon a table loaded with costly and beautiful objects are two exquisite portraits, on porcelain, of the king and his brother, suggesting at once the usual vicinity of their affectionate mother; while the abundance of books in the king's private sitting-room is a pleasant reminder of his studious habits. It is curious to see how the swan, the device of this ancient property, which was formerly called "Schwanstein", is represented in every possible manner and material in the adornment of the castle. Swans are pictured upon the armorial bearings at the entrance-gate; a bronze swan spouts water from its uplifted beak in the garden fountain; while below, upon the two lakes that enclose the park, groups of living swans are floating about, as if to testify to the abiding characteristics of the place. Within the building not only is the swan a prominent figure in the frescoed story, but whichever way one turns one sees a counterfeit presentment of the graceful bird. There is Lohengrin in his enchanted boat impelled by his beloved swan, an exquisite group in silver, and another like it in porcelain; swans are carved upon the furniture, moulded upon the dishes, painted upon cups and saucers, embroidered upon cushions and footstools: they serve as ornaments to antique goblets, as covers to match-boxes, as handles to vases. The paper-knife upon His Majesty's writing-table is carved into the same likeness, and swans adorn the top of the pen-handle and preside over the ink and sand bottles.

Besides the castle of Hohenschwangau, the king has a hunting-lodge at Linderhof, which is being fitted up with great elegance in the Renaissance style, and a palace on Lake Starnberg, where he spends the greater part of his time, its nearness to Munich making it a convenient residence.

As a consolation for the severities of winter and the utter lack of beauty in the situation and surroundings of Munich, he has his winter-garden, that mysterious enclosure at the top of the palace, which is a perpetual irritant to the curiosity of the public, who grudge to their ruler every token of that possession of his which he seems to value above all the rest—his privacy. Now and then some noted scholar or privileged acquaintance is invited to enter this green retreat, so that its delights are not all unknown to the outside world. The garden opens from the private apartments of the king, and encloses a space of two hundred and thirty-four feet in length by fifty (in one part ninety) feet in breadth, being, in fact, the upper story of the west wing of the palace, with a raised and vaulted roof of iron and glass. The landscape is arranged after the king's own idea, and is entirely Oriental in vegetation and effect, the long perspective of tropical luxuriance being closed by a distant view of the Himalaya Mountains, so admirably executed that the illusion is not dispelled until the beholder approaches very near to the wall upon which it is painted. The garden is agreeably diversified by groups of palms, plantains and other trees, by open lawns adorned with beds of brilliant flowers, and by sheltered walks and secluded arbors. A considerable space is occupied by a lake bordered with reeds, the home of several swans, which float up and down in the dreamy silence: a little way from the shore stands a small pavilion entirely hidden in the dense shrubbery that surrounds it; and farther off a gorgeous kiosk raises its glittering cupolas and slender minarets above the neighboring bushes and blossoming plants.

During the king's stay in Munich in the winter he takes but little part in the gayeties of the season. He conforms, indeed, to the customs of a court in giving the stated number of balls, dinners and concerts; but it is easy to see that necessity, and not inclination, prompts him to the task. There is plenty of work to occupy his mind during the session of Parliament, and books enough to read and ponder over in the solitude of his chamber; and so long as he is alert and well prepared on every question of business to which his attention is called, affable and polite to persons with whom he is brought into official contact, gentle and generous to the poor and oppressed who appeal to him in person—and no one can deny that he is all this—why should he be blamed for preferring to spend his time as

A being breathing thoughtful breath,

instead of making himself a gazing-stock for the curious and a companion of the gay and the foolish of his generation?

It may be that in the far-off future, long after the titles and prerogatives of royalty shall have been done away with and wellnigh forgotten, the virtues of this king, who is so poorly appreciated by his contemporaries, will be commemorated in some beautiful legend, like that of his favorite story of the Swan-Knight; since even now, when that chaste hero appears in the dazzling purity of his enchanted armor upon the Munich stage, one turns involuntarily to recognize his counterpart in the solitary occupant of the royal box.