Seven

BETHMANN AND THE BRITISH

AS SUCCESSOR to the fallen Bernhard von Bülow, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg was not Wilhelm II's preferred choice, and there was no ardent honeymoon of goodwill such as Bülow had enjoyed at the outset of his chancellorship. Nevertheless, for a while the Kaiser and his new chief servant, so dissimilar to one another in personality, managed to get on reasonably well, and Bethmann admitted that Wilhelm acceded to all his requests, although not always as quickly as he might have wanted. 1 The Kaiser had known Bethmann for almost thirty years, for he had hunted with the future chancellor at Hohenfinow, the Bethmanns' large estate east of Berlin, when they were both young men. 2 Entering the service of the Prussian crown, Bethmann had made his way up the bureaucratic ladder unusually quickly, leading to speculation that he was one of the Kaiser's favorites. 3 Wilhelm in fact liked him but no more than (and in fact not as much as) a number of other officials. What worked in favor of Bethmann's appointment were his experience and his proven competence as an administrator. Furthermore, like the Kaiser, the chancellor was anti-Socialist, antidemocratic, and anti-Polish — in a word, thoroughly Prussian. Bethmann accepted office solely out of a sense of duty, for he had worked with Wilhelm for years and was fearful of the Kaiser, probably because he knew what a difficult master Wilhelm would be. "Only a genius or a man driven by ambition and lust for power can covet this position," Bethmann declared, "and I am neither." 4

An identity of political views contrasted with a distinct disparity in the personalities of Wilhelm and his newly appointed chancellor. Unlike the effervescent and garrulous Kaiser, Bethmann had a ponderous air, a tendency to didacticism, and no humor whatsoever. From the outset of his administration, those who knew the new chancellor predicted that he would sooner or later bore his master. 5 Bethmann had none of the love of pomp that so excited Wilhelm; the acclaim of crowds left him unmoved (nor did he equate cheers with popularity), and he deplored the frivolity and parvenu ostentation with which Wilhelm often behaved. 6 A serious

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