The German Character

Lord d’Abernon

Diplomat Sir Edgar Vincent, 1st Viscount d’Abernon, analyses the Germans. This was written shortly after the first world war.

So much has been written on the German character from the time of Tacitus to that of Madame de Staël that it argues some temerity to embark upon the theme again.

The country which Queen Victoria called in the 1840’s our dear little Germany probably deserves these two epithets less than any in the dictionary. The greatest admirers of the German people can hardly apply the word ” dear “; their most virulent opponents cannot speak of them as a little. If superficially unattractive, they are fundamentally great. They are in the highest degree a peculiar people. To take outward appearance first : in this they are clearly distinguished from the nations which surround them in Central Europe. The dome-like heads, which are so much smaller than they look, the thick-set, round bodies, the peculiar develop ment of the region which in a horse would be called the crest, their stiff, angular manners, are all in marked contrast with the suavity and grace of their neighbours, the French, the Austrians, the Bohemians, and the Poles. It has been said that the German figure is the only successful attempt yet made to square the circle in that it is at once square and round. But whatever its contour, it denotes marked solidity and strength. The Germanic race is amongst the sturdiest in the world, the most capable of standing privation, a race of outstanding physical endurance. Their capacity for resisting fatigue and for patiently undergoing long hours of monotonous toil and labour certainly exceeds that of Western Europeans.

Mentally and morally they are not less differentiated than physically. The current English conception of the German is that he is a machine which never stops working; that he enjoys nothing so much as work. This is an exaggeration. But it is undoubted that the German has not only a physical capacity for long hours, but an innate inclination towards thoroughness, earnestness, and Griündlickkeit. He is more than a tireless plodder and an inveterate sap. Whatever he may have been before 1913, he has developed since the war a marked aptitude for physical enjoyment of all kinds, and displays to-day for athletics and sport an enthusiasm and aptitude which will soon make him a dangerous competitor for the highest honours. His physical strength com bined with his love of method and his capacity for taking pains cannot fail to lead to great results. In the realm of amusement as distinguished from athletics German moralists assert that development has been too rapid. While forms of self-indulgence may be different from those in vogue in this country, the German pursues his pleasures no less eagerly than his English cousin, and holds to them no less tenaciously. The conception that the German willingly forgoes leave if the call of business makes his absence from work undesirable is quite erroneous. Let the time for his annual period of rest and recuperation come round, nothing will induce him to remain at the desk. A grave crisis or even a great war may be on the horizon, he will take the train and proceed to some Badeort or sanatorium, ready to undergo a severe regime for the restoration of his health and possibly roam through the woods in a state of nudity with a view to getting closer to nature.

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