Herr Settembrini belonged to the Francophile party in his own country. which was not surprising when one recalled that his grandfather had compared the six days of the July Revolution to the six days of the creation, and seen that they were as good. But the understanding between the en- lightened republic and Byzantine Scythia was too much for him, it oppressed his breast, and at the same time made him breathe quicker for hope and joy at the thought of the strategic meaning of that network of railways. Then came the Serajevo murder, for everyone excepting German Seven-Sleepers a storm-signal; decisive for the informed ones, among whom we may reckon Herr Settembrini. Hans Castorp saw him shudder as a private citizen at the frightful deed, while in the same moment his breast heaved with the knowledge that this was a deed of popular liberation, directed against the citadel of his loathing. On the other hand, was it not also the fruit of Muscovite activity, and as such giving rise to great heart-searchings? Which did not hinder him, three weeks later, from characterizing the extreme demands of the monarchy upon Servia as a hideous crime and an insult to human dignity, the consequences of which he could foresee well enough, and awaited in breathless excitement.
In short, Herr Settembrini’s feelings were as complex as the fatality he saw fast rolling up, for which he sought by hints and half-words to prepare his pupil, a sort of national courtesy and compunction preventing him from speaking out. In the first days of mobilization, the first declaration of war, he had a way of putting out both hands to his visitor, taking Hans Castorp’s own and pressing them, that fairly went to our young noodle’s heart, if not precisely to his head. ” My friend,” the Italian would say,” gunpowder, the printing-press, yes, you have certainly given us all that. But if you think we could march against the Revolutlon – Caro!. . . .
During those days of stifling expectation, when the nerves of Europe were on the rack, Hans Castorp did not see Herr Settembrini. The newspapers with their wild, chaotic contents pressed up out of the depths to his very balcony, they disorganized the house, filled the dining-room with their sulphurous, stifling breath, even penetrated the chambers of the dying. These were the moments when the “Seven-Sleeper,” not knowing what had happened, was slowly stirring himself in the grass, before he sat up,rubbed his eyes – yes, let us carry the figure to the end, in order to do justice to the movement of our hero’s mind: he drew up his legs, stood up, looked about him. He saw himself released, freed from enchantment – not of his own motion, he was fain to confess, but by the operation of exterior powers, of whose activities his own liberation was a minor incident indeed! Yet though his tiny destiny fainted to nothing in the face of the general, was there not some hint of a personal mercy and grace for him, a manifestation of divine goodness and justice? Would Life receive again her erring and “delicate” child – not by a cheap and easy slipping back to her arms, but sternly, solemnly, peni- tentially – perhaps not even among the living, but only with three salvoes fired over the grave of him a sinner? Thus might he return. He sank on his knees, raising face and hands to a heaven that howsoever dark and sulphurous was no longer the gloomy grotto of his state of sin.
And in this attitude Herr Settembrini found him – figuratively and most figuratively spoken, for full well we know our hero’s traditional reserve would render such theatricality impossible. Herr Settembrini, in fact, found him packing his trunk. For since the moment of his sudden awakening, Hans Castorp had been caught up in the hurry and scurry of a wild departure, brought about by the thunderpeal. “Home” – the Berghof – was the picture of an anthill in a panic: its little population was flinging itself, heels over head, five thousand feet downwards to the catastrophe-smitten flat-land. They stormed the little trains, they crowded them to the footboard – luggageless, if needs must, and the stacks of luggage piled high the station platform, the seething platform, to the height of which the scorching breath from the flat-land seemed to mount – and Hans Castorp stormed with them. In the heart of the tumult Ludovico embraced him, quite literally enfolded him in his arms and kissed him, like a southerner – but like a Russian too – on both his cheeks; and this, despite his own emotion, took our wild traveller no little aback. But he nearly lost his composure when, at the very last, Herr Settembrini called him “Giovanni” and, laying aside the form of address common to the cultured West, spoke to him with the thou!
“E cosi in giù” he said. “Cosi vai in giù finalmente – addio, Giovanni mio! Quite otherwise had I thought to see thee go. But be it so, the gods have willed it thus and not otherwise. I hoped to discharge you to go down to your work, and now you go to fight among your kindred. My God, it was given to you and not to your cousin, our Tenente! What tricks life plays! Go, then, it is your blood that calls, go and fight bravely. More than that can no man. But forgive me if I devote the remnant of my powers to incite my country to fight where the Spirit and sacro egoismo point the way. Addio! ”
Hans Castorp thrust out his head among ten others, filling the little open window-frame. He waved. And Herr Settembrini waved back, with his right hand, while with the ring-finger of his left he delicately touched the corner of his eye.
Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain
Both Ambassadors telegraph to their Foreign Offices, but Lichnowsky with true prophetic inspiration adds the words: “Grey’s proposal is the only possibility of avoiding a world war, in which for us there woidd be everything to lose and nothing to gain. . . . In case France should be drawn in, England would not dare to remain disinterested.”
At the same time Grey sends his third appeal to Petersburg: “Public opinion here would not sanction our going to war over a Serbian quarrel. If, however, war does take place, the development of other issues may draw us into it, and I am therefore anxious to prevent it. . . . The only chance of peace, in my opinion, is for the other four Powers to join in asking the Austrian and Russian Governments not to cross the frontier. … // Germany will adopt this view, I feel strongly that France and ourselves should act upon it.”
Thus on the same day the German reported to his Foreign Office as a supposition what England was reporting to her Embassies both at Berlin and Petersburg as a possibility: in case of war she could scarcely remain neutral.
Here the tragic chain of cause and effect begins. From this moment Grey revolves in his head one single thought: “Shall I tell the world—shall I tell Germany, openly, what I am telling my Ambassadors confidentially; that Germany must give way, because on the outbreak of war we, too, shall mobilise? Paris and Petersburg are waiting for our supporting assurance. I cannot give it, for only Parliament can decide the vital question. If I bind my country by a ‘yes’ to-day, that country can disavow me to-morrow, for neither I nor Asquith nor anyone else knows what the man in the street, what Press and Parliament will say when it comes to the point. Everything will then depend on the circumstances, on whether it looks as though we or the others were being the aggressors.” . . . “And yet I ought to threaten,” his thoughts run on. “In Berlin and Vienna the soldiers are working for war, and Germany’s terrible army, which is better prepared than that of its enemies, can hope for victory over two allies, but not over three.”
Grey afterwards described the central point of these inward struggles in these words:
“One danger I saw, so hideous that it must be avoided and guarded against at every word. It was that France and Russia might face the ordeal of war with Germany relying upon our support; that this support might not be forthcoming, and that we might then, when it was too late, be held responsible by them for having let them in for a disastrous war.”
Here is revealed, as in a classical tragedy, the desperate situation of a man in authority seeking with all the force of his heart and soul to avoid the false step whose fatal consequences he foresees; and yet fatally doomed, whichever way he turns, to take that false step because, in a weak moment, he had been led into making half-promises. Small is the guilt, pure the will, great the confusion, true the effort, tragic the end.
Emil Ludwig, July ’14