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    The German Emperor

    by Gilbert Keith Chesterton
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    The list of the really serious, the really convinced, the really
    important and comprehensible people now alive includes, as most
    Englishmen would now be prepared to admit, the German Emperor. He is a
    practical man and a poet. I do not know whether there are still people
    in existence who think there is some kind of faint antithesis between
    these two characters; but I incline to think there must be, because of
    the surprise which the career of the German Emperor has generally
    evoked. When he came to the throne it became at once apparent that he
    was poetical; people assumed in consequence that he was unpractical;
    that he would plunge Europe into war, that he would try to annex France,
    that he would say he was the Emperor of Russia, that he would stand on
    his head in the Reichstag, that he would become a pirate on the Spanish
    Main. Years upon years have passed; he has gone on making speeches, he
    has gone on talking about God and his sword, he has poured out an ever
    increased rhetoric and æstheticism. And yet all the time people have
    slowly and surely realised that he knows what he is about, that he is
    one of the best friends of peace, that his influence on Europe is not
    only successful, but in many ways good, that he knows what world he is
    living in better than a score of materialists.

    The explanation never comes to them--he is a poet; therefore, a
    practical man. The affinity of the two words, merely as words, is much
    nearer than many people suppose, for the matter of that. There is one
    Greek word for "I do" from which we get the word practical, and another
    Greek word for "I do" from which we get the word poet. I was doubtless
    once informed of a profound difference between the two, but I have
    forgotten it. The two words practical and poetical may mean two subtly
    different things in that old and subtle language, but they mean the same
    in English and the same in the long run. It is ridiculous to suppose
    that the man who can understand the inmost intricacies of a human being
    who has never existed at all cannot make a guess at the conduct of man
    who lives next door. It is idle to say that a man who has himself felt
    the mad longing under the mad moon for a vagabond life cannot know why
    his son runs away to sea. It is idle to say that a man who has himself
    felt the hunger for any kind of exhilaration, from angel or devil,
    cannot know why his butler takes to drink. It is idle to say that a man
    who has been fascinated with the wild fastidiousness of destiny does not
    know why stockbrokers gamble, to say that a man who has been knocked
    into the middle of eternal life by a face in a crowd does not know why
    the poor marry young; that a man who found his path to all things kindly
    and pleasant blackened and barred suddenly by the body of a man does not
    know what it is to desire murder. It is idle, in short, for a man who
    has created men to say that he does not understand them. A man who is a
    poet may, of course, easily make mistakes in these personal and
    practical relations; such mistakes and similar ones have been made by
    poets; such mistakes and greater ones have been made by soldiers and
    statesmen and men of business. But in so far as a poet is in these
    things less of a practical man he is also less of a poet.

    If Shakespeare really married a bad wife when he had conceived the
    character of Beatrice he ought to have been ashamed of himself: he had
    failed not only in his life, he had failed in his art. If Balzac got
    into rows with his publishers he ought to be rebuked and not
    commiserated, having evolved so many consistent business men from his
    own inside. The German Emperor is a poet, and therefore he succeeds,
    because poetry is so much nearer to reality than all the other human
    occupations. He is a poet, and succeeds because the majority of men are
    poets. It is true, if that matter is at all important, that the German
    Emperor is not a good poet. The majority of men are poets, only they
    happen to be bad poets. The German Emperor fails ridiculously, if that
    is all that is in question, in almost every one of the artistic
    occupations to which he addresses himself: he is neither a first-rate
    critic, nor a first-rate musician, nor a first-rate painter, nor a
    first-rate poet. He is a twelfth-rate poet, but because he is a poet at
    all he knocks to pieces all the first-rate politicians in the war of

    Having made clear my position so far, I discover with a certain amount
    of interest that I have not yet got to the subject of these remarks. The
    German Emperor is a poet, and although, as far as I know, every line he
    ever wrote may be nonsense, he is a poet in this real sense, that he has
    realised the meaning of every function he has performed. Why should we
    jeer at him because he has a great many uniforms, for instance? The very
    essence of the really imaginative man is that he realises the various
    types or capacities in which he can appear. Every one of us, or almost
    every one of us, does in reality fulfil almost as many offices as
    Pooh-Bah. Almost every one of us is a ratepayer, an immortal soul, an
    Englishman, a baptised person, a mammal, a minor poet, a juryman, a
    married man, a bicyclist, a Christian, a purchaser of newspapers, and a
    critic of Mr. Alfred Austin. We ought to have uniforms for all these
    things. How beautiful it would be if we appeared to-morrow in the
    uniform of a ratepayer, in brown and green, with buttons made in the
    shape of coins, and a blue income-tax paper tastefully arranged as a
    favour; or, again, if we appeared dressed as immortal souls, in a blue
    uniform with stars. It would be very exciting to dress up as Englishmen,
    or to go to a fancy dress ball as Christians.

    Some of the costumes I have suggested might appear a little more
    difficult to carry out. The dress of a person who purchases newspapers
    (though it mostly consists of coloured evening editions arranged in a
    stiff skirt, like that of a saltatrice, round the waist of the wearer)
    has many mysterious points. The attire of a person prepared to criticise
    the Poet Laureate is something so awful and striking that I dare not
    even begin to describe it; the one fact which I am willing to reveal,
    and to state seriously and responsibly, is that it buttons up behind.

    But most assuredly we ought not to abuse the Kaiser because he is fond
    of putting on all his uniforms; he does so because he has a large number
    of established and involuntary incarnations. He tries to do his duty in
    that state of life to which it shall please God to call him; and it so
    happens that he has been called to as many different estates as there
    are regiments in the German Army. He is a huntsman and proud of being a
    huntsman, an engineer and proud of being an engineer, an infantry
    soldier and proud of being so, a light horseman and proud of being so.
    There is nothing wrong in all this; the only wrong thing is that it
    should be confined to the merely destructive arts of war. The sight of
    the German Kaiser in the most magnificent of the uniforms in which he
    had led armies to victory is not in itself so splendid or delightful as
    that of many other sights which might come before us without a whisper
    of the alarms of war. It is not so splendid or delightful as the sight
    of an ordinary householder showing himself in that magnificent uniform
    of purple and silver which should signalise the father of three
    children. It is not so splendid or delightful as the appearance of a
    young clerk in an insurance office decorated with those three long
    crimson plumes which are the well-known insignia of a gentleman who is
    just engaged to be married. Nor can it compare with the look of a man
    wearing the magnificent green and silver armour by which we know one who
    has induced an acquaintance to give up getting drunk, or the blue and
    gold which is only accorded to persons who have prevented fights in the
    street. We belong to quite as many regiments as the German Kaiser. Our
    regiments are regiments that are embattled everywhere; they fight an
    unending fight against all that is hopeless and rapacious and of evil
    report. The only difference is that we have the regiments, but not the

    Only one obvious point occurs to me to add. If the Kaiser has more than
    any other man the sense of the poetry of the ancient things, the sword,
    the crown, the ship, the nation, he has the sense of the poetry of
    modern things also. He has one sense, and it is even a joke against
    him. He feels the poetry of one thing that is more poetic than sword or
    crown or ship or nation, the poetry of the telegram. No one ever sent a
    telegram who did not feel like a god. He is a god, for he is a minor
    poet; a minor poet, but a poet still.
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