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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Education of a Young Prince

By Poultney Bigelow (1855–1954)

[Born in New York, N. Y., 1855. Died, 1954. The German Emperor and his Eastern Neighbors. 1892.]

IN the topmost story of Frederick the Great’s “New Palace,” near Potsdam, in what we may vulgarly term the attic, were the quarters occupied by the preceptors of the then Prince William, and his brother the sailor, Prince Henry. To one accustomed to the luxury of American and English houses, the bareness, not to say bleakness, of the upper story of this famous palace was striking, particularly so in contrast to the innumerable gorgeous flunkies who guarded the state saloons below. But it was ample in space and a foretaste of the barrack life that should seem comfort to a Hohenzollern. In wet weather the great attic made a capital play-ground, and many an Imperial pane of glass was smashed by the blundering aim of one of the youngsters. In such romps the Princes entered heart and soul, giving and taking like the manly little fellows that they were. The good Dr. Hinzpeter would repeatedly whisper to me to take care and not hurt the Prince’s left arm, a warning I was apt to forget, particularly with one who was so clever with his right.

As to the Emperor’s imperfect arm, it is extraordinary that the life which has largely left it should have apparently been utilized in the strengthening of his right. Any one who has shaken it feels as though Goetz von Berlichingen had given him the grip. As a fencer, it was to be expected that he should develop the proficiency that characterized him at Bonn, but it was little thought that he would have the patience and energy requisite to becoming an expert shot, a good swimmer, and a capital oar. In the saddle he manages to hold his reins with his left, in order to have his sword-arm free, and I have many times seen him ride across country taking obstacles which some of his officers have refused. And the moral courage, the persistency, the sense of duty, the pluck, which overcame the impediments to physical development, were constantly at work in other parts of his education.

In the park of Sans Souci, near the Palace, were planted the masts and rigging of a ship, where Prince Henry received practical instruction in sailoring, and which became a favorite romping-place. Netting was stretched over the lower space, and we were occasionally turned loose to scramble about the rigging, some of us playing at pirates making chase after a crew that had taken refuge aloft. Or, what was better still, we sometimes took a cruise about the neighboring lakes on the miniature frigate, a craft that looks very portentous at a distance, with its scowling ports and man-o’-war yards, but in reality, when on board, seems little larger than a good-sized ship’s cutter. The cruise on the frigate was always considered the greatest treat of all, and no doubt to the pleasure derived then is due the fact that the Emperor to-day is a devoted patron of yachting, and sails his toy frigate on the Havel whenever opportunity offers.

When the day’s romp was over, we had tea before going home, always out-of-doors in fair weather. The late Emperor Frederick and his devoted wife never failed to appear on these occasions, to say a few words to each of us, asking after our families, or about the sports of the day. The Empress in particular, then Crown Princess, always examined our food to see that it was wholesome, and saw that her little sons and daughters, as well as their guests, had their napkins properly tucked beneath their chins. The food was, it is needless to say, of the plainest and most wholesome,—bread or toast, fresh milk from the Crown Prince’s model farm at Bornstedt, and some simple bread-cake, with big raisins in it, perhaps. When the Crown Princess and her husband made their appearance, no face lighted up with more pleasure than that of Prince William, for the relation of parent and child could not be conceived in more happy form than in those days in the park of Sans Souci. I remember once—it was at tea on the steam-yacht, some anniversary, I believe—Prince William whispered to me a fact in which he took enormous pride, that the cake had been made by his mother.

Of course, at these romps, the idea of expecting etiquette to be observed would have been absurd; Dr. Hinzpeter would have none of it, the Royal parents held it in horror, and no one despised servility more than their eldest son.

Occasionally there came into these hilarious play-ground meetings some youngster, no doubt the son of a highly-placed official, who had been carefully drilled at home to show proper deference in the presence of the blood Royal. Such a poor wretch lived in momentary dread of violating some imaginary rule, and moved about morbidly conscious of his courtly role. Prince William, celebrated as he justly is for tact, could with difficulty conceal his contempt for the little flunkies that now and then were forced upon him.

Not that he ridiculed their shyness; on the contrary, it was he who invariably set his new arrivals at their ease, discovered their leading tastes and suggested the sport that would please the larger number. And when the sport was once under way it would have been a keen observer indeed who could, have said that either Prince relied upon anything beyond his own head and hands to make the day successful. It was my fortune, as an American, to be credited with an intimate acquaintance with the red savages of the Wild West, and this reputation I could in no way shake off, in spite of the fact that at that time I had not even seen one. In consequence of this alleged knowledge, I was frequently called upon to give details as to Indian warfare which I should deeply regret to see reproduced. Prince William knew Cooper from beginning to end, and, for that matter, I was not far behind him, so that our Indian studies usually resolved themselves into impersonating some leather-stocking heroes, arming ourselves as fantastically as possible, and then crawling flat on our stomachs through the underbush, for the purpose of capturing some other party impersonating either a hostile tribe or a party of pale-faces.

But I have said enough to illustrate his character as a plucky, hearty, unaffected lad, affectionate towards his parents, and full of consideration for the youngsters of his own age with whom he was brought into contact. In 1874 Prince William and his brother went to a common public school, with uncommonly hard benches, amidst a lot of the odds and ends of German social life invariably to be found in the national Gymnasium. Let no one imagine this to be like attending Eton, where the expensive life limits the pupils to sons of comparatively rich people, and where an English prince can pass his time in luxury and comparative idleness. The schools of Germany are as inexorable in their requirements as any other branch of its public service, and when Prince William took his seat amidst the German burghers’ children at the public school it was with the understanding that he should submit to the same discipline as the rest, and receive his graduating diploma only upon the conscientious fulfilment of the prescribed course.

Dr. Hinzpeter selected his school after having visited the head masters of many others, and found most of them completely unnerved at the idea of having a live prince amongst them. Cassel is about eight hours by rail from Berlin, a distance that meant a great deal to the Princes and their parents. The Court was incensed at the idea of the heir to the throne consorting with ordinary boys; Dr. Hinzpeter was accused of introducing revolutionary ideas into the educational curriculum of the Hohenzollerns; the old Emperor William did not disguise his displeasure, and even the parents gave little more encouragement than their bare consent that the experiment should be tried. It was a bold game that Dr. Hinzpeter was playing; no Royal prince had ever been educated in a popular atmosphere, and nobody at Court wished him well in the undertaking. His reputation was at stake, for while in the event of failure every voice would cry out, “I told you so,” even successfully carried out there would be little to show for his labor. The tutor held that for once in a lifetime, at least, a prince should feel what his subjects do; that he should share the schoolboy interests of the every-day German and absorb the set of ideas that may enable him to strike the popular keynote when he sits upon the throne. For three years Prince William sat on the Cassel benches, i.e., until he successfully passed his final examination and was declared ripe for matriculation at the University.

These three years were years of torture to the tutor. He lived with them, but could not actively assist their studies, for that would have been unfair to the other boys. Teachers would rush to him in desperation to report this and that of their Royal pupil—what should they do? They dared not reprimand the Lord’s anointed! Hinzpeter had to strengthen them, to encourage the Prince to more complete application. Those were days of tension when any moment might destroy forever the result hoped for. The Princes went to school and returned unattended. What if something happened to them on the way?—a schoolboy quarrel, a blow, an injury?—even so small a thing as that would have called the boys back to Berlin. What if a teacher had lost his head and a prince have raised rebellion in the school-room? None of these things happened, but nothing seemed more likely to those who did not understand the precocious nature of Prince William’s character and the devotion with which he pursued that which he considered his duty. And what this amounted to may be measured by the fact that before entering upon his three years’ school course he had to pass an examination far beyond that required for admission to Oxford or Cambridge, and that parallel to his daily tasks on the Gymnasium benches were a series of special labors peculiar to the education of one soon destined to play a conspicuous part at a military Court—possibly to be its leader.