KAISER WILHELM II, in death no less than in life, manages to confound and annoy those who must deal with him. For a biographer, the last German Kaiser and King of Prussia poses three difficulties as a subject. A sovereign of autocratic pretensions, his imprint on imperial Germany was substantial, and the record for such a ruler is consequently staggering in its enormity. I can assert no claim to have examined more than a part of either the archival or, especially, the printed record. Wilhelm II was, moreover, an exceedingly foolish man, so that to explain--and sometimes merely to relate--what he did or said reduces a biographer to the greatest perplexity. Finally, he lived to a great, though hardly serene, old age. Born well before Bismarck became his grandfather's minister-president in 1862, he died early in June 1941, only days before Adolf Hitler ordered the Wehrmacht's ill-fated invasion of Russia.
Wilhelm II occupied the German throne for more than thirty years, but his connection with his subjects was tenuous indeed and only in a rarefied sense was he a part of the Germany at large over which he ruled so maladroitly. In all his long life, Wilhelm knew perhaps no more than several hundred Germans, and perhaps only ten or twenty men (and no women other than his wife) could be fairly described as being either his intimate friends or persons with whom he had a steady association. Almost all of these people were great figures drawn from the government, the military, or society. This coterie, grouped around the throne and dependent on it for their offices and other rewards, successfully insulated their sovereign against any influences that might try to penetrate its defenses, and as a result the Kaiser lived behind what one of Bismarck's successors referred to as a "Chinese wall." Wilhelm II, besides, was only spasmodically at the heart of the action in Berlin. He much preferred moving about with his handful of adjutants and advisors to regimental exercises in Potsdam or more distant and obscure garrisons, to aristocratic hunting preserves in Silesia and the mark of Brandenburg, or cruising in his yacht to the blue fiords of Norway, where he