Bismarck: Letters to Johanna 1/3
Excerpt, “German Classics of the 19th and 20th Centuries,” Vol. X, 1914; translator Charlton T. Lewis et al.
For I married you in order to love you in God
And according to the need of my heart,
And in order to have in the midst of the strange world
A place for my heart,
Which all the world’s bleak winds cannot chill,
And where I might find the warmth of the home fire,
To which I eagerly betake myself when
It is stormy and cold without.
Otto von Bismarck
Berlin, April 28, 1851.
My Dear Sweetheart,
Mother’s premonition that I would remain long away has, unfortunately, proved correct this time. The King was the first to propose my nomination, and that at once, as a real delegate to the Diet; his plan has, of course, encountered much opposition, and has finally been so modified that Rochow will, it is true, remain Minister at Petersburg, whither he is to return in two months, but meanwhile, provisionally, he is commissioned to Frankfort, and I am to accompany him, with the assurance that, on his leaving for Petersburg, I shall be his successor. But this last is between ourselves.
Now I want to go, first of all, to Frankfort, and take a look at the situation, and hear how I shall stand pecuniarily pending my definite appointment, of which I know nothing at all as yet. Then I shall see whether I can leave again shortly after the start, and whether I am to count on staying any longer; for, although I have, indeed, accepted, still I am not yet sufficiently familiar with the ground to be able to say definitely whether I shall stay there or shortly get out again. As soon as that is decided, we shall probably, after all, have to consider for you, too, the prospect of exchanging your quiet Reinfeld existence for the noise of the Diet’s diplomacy.
Your folks have often complained that nothing was made of me by those above me; now this is, beyond my expectations and wishes, a sudden appointment to what is at this moment the most important post in our diplomatic service; I have not sought it; I must assume that the Lord wished it, and I cannot withdraw, although I foresee that it will be an unfruitful and a thorny office, in which, with the best intentions, I shall forfeit the good opinion of many people. But it would be cowardly to decline.
I cannot give you today further particulars as to our plans, how we shall meet, what will be done about your going to the seashore; only I shall try to make leisure, if possible, to see you before. I feel almost like crying when I think of this sudden upsetting of our innocent plans, as well as of the uncertainty when I shall see you again, my beloved heart, and the babies; and I earnestly pray God to arrange it all without detriment to our earthly welfare and without harm to my soul.
God be with you, my dear, and bring us together again soon.
With heartfelt love.
Your most faithful v.B.
Frankfort, May 14, 1851.
My Little Dear,
It seems to be getting constantly more certain that I shall take Rochow’s position in the summer. In that event, if the rating remains as it was, I shall have a salary of twenty-one thousand rix-dollars, but I shall have to keep a large train and household establishment and you, my poor child, must sit stiff and sedate in the drawing-room, be called Excellency, and be clever and wise with Excellencies. The city is not so bad as you suppose; there are a great many charming villas before the gates, similar to those in the Thiergarten, only more sunny.
As Councilor of Legation, it will be difficult for us to live there, owing to distance and expense; but as Ambassador, quite as charming as is possible in a foreign land.By letters of introduction I have quickly become acquainted with the charming world hereabouts. Yesterday I dined with the English Ambassador, Lord Cowley, nephew of the Duke of Wellington; very kind, agreeable people; she is an elegant woman of about forty, very worldly, but benevolent and easy to get acquainted with; I have immediately put myself on a friendly footing with her, so that when you step into the cold bath of diplomatic society she may be a powerful support for you.
Previously I called on a Frau von Stallupin (pronounce Stolipine), a young woman without children, kindly, like all Russian women, but terribly rich, and settled in a little castle-like villa, so that one hardly dares to take a step or to sit down; a Scharteuck interior is a rude barn compared with it.Day before yesterday evening I called on Frau von Vrintz, a sister of Meyendorf’s wife; the diplomatic folks assemble every evening in her drawing-room. Countess Thun was there, a very handsome young woman, in the style of Malvinia; also the Marquis de Tallenay, French Ambassador, a polite fifty-year-old; Count Szechenyi, a gay young Magyar, full of pranks, and divers other foreign personages.
They gamble there every evening, the lady of the house, too, and not for very low stakes; I was scolded for declaring it boresome, and told them it would be my rôle to laugh at those who lost. Society probably does not appeal to you very strongly, my beloved heart, and it seems to me as though I were harming you by bringing you into it, but how shall I avoid that?
I have one favor to ask of you, but keep it to yourself, and do not let mother suspect that I have written you one word about it, otherwise she will worry needlessly over it: occupy yourself with French as much as you can in the meantime, but let it be thought that you yourself have discovered that it is useful. Read French, but, if you love me, do not do so by artificial light, or if our eyes pain you; in that case you had better ask mother to read to you, for it is almost harder to understand than to speak. If you know of any agreeable piece of baggage you can get in a hurry to chatter French to you, then engage one; I will gladly pay the bill.
You will enter here an atmosphere of French spirit and talk, anyway; so you cannot avoid familiarizing yourself with it as far as possible. If you know of no person whom you like and who is available, let it go; and, at any rate, I beg you sincerely not to consider this advice as a hardship, or otherwise than if I asked you to buy yourself a green or a blue dress; it is not a matter of life and death; you are my wife, and not the diplomats’, and they can just as well learn German as you can learn French. Only if you have leisure, or wish to read anyway, take a French novel; but if you have no desire to do so, consider this as not written.
For I married you in order to love you in God and according to the need of my heart, and in order to have in the midst of the strange world a place for my heart, which all the world’s bleak winds cannot chill, and where I may find the warmth of the home-fire, to which I eagerly betake myself when it is stormy and cold without; but not to have a society woman for others, and I shall cherish and nurse your little fireplace, put wood on it and blow, and protect it against all that is evil and strange, for, next to God’s mercy, there is nothing which is dearer and more necessary to me than your love, and the homelike hearth which stands between us everywhere, even in a strange land, when we are together.
Do not be too much depressed and sad over the change of our life; my heart is not attached, or, at least, not strongly attached, to earthly honor; I shall easily dispense with it if it should ever endanger our peace with God or our contentment.
Farewell, my dearly beloved heart. Kiss the children for me, and give your parents my love.
Your most faithful v.B.