Thursday 23 September 2021

The sheer humanity of Cecil and Wilhelm

Destiny to an end

I found myself thinking about the men I wrote about in my blog yesterday and how men of destiny can be undone by the uncertainties and the inadequacies of our humanity. Something to reflect on, if only to put things in perspective about how to live life and relate to others.

There were just 6 years between the birth of Cecil John Rhodes and that of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the former, the 5th son of a country clergyman and the latter, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, the grandson of the first emperor of the German Empire and Queen Victoria, destined for the throne and the power that it portended.

Privilege and fortuitousness

Cecil John Rhodes was a sickly child sent to South Africa in the hope that it might help his health, he became a man of the right time in the right place when gold and diamonds were being discovered in large quantities in South Africa and by deft business acumen, political power and economic heft became one of the richest men in the world.

Kaiser Wilhelm II was a spoilt brat, the eldest of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren, but hardly well-liked for his demeanour, arrogance, megalomania, and self-belief that he was more capable than his ministers and diplomats. In time, his quest to expand his empire with the advent of WWI led to his forced abdication in 1918 and the end of the German Empire.

Our limitations as humans

Cecil John Rhodes could have been anything, he was ambitious if not power-drunk, and Mark Twain wrote of him saying, “he is the only unroyal outsider whose arrival in London can compete for attention with an eclipse.” [Mark Twain: Cecil Rhodes]

Yet, it is his health that failed him, for, at 48, he died with these words recorded from his lips, “So little done, so much to do.” Kaiser Wilhelm II was emperor for just over 30 years when he went into exile at Huis Doorn in The Netherlands where he lived another 23 years probably ruing the decisions that lost him the empire. A man who could only reminisce of the life and glory he once had when he died of a ripe old age of 82.

The dead stay dead

Kaiser Wilhelm II leaves a legacy of being the centre of WWI and presiding over the falling of the major monarchies of mainland Europe, he lies in repose in a mausoleum built by his exiled residence at Huis Doorn.

Cecil John Rhodes, the imperialist and every other epithet he both deserves or not is the benefactor of the Rhodes Scholarship and many memorials to the whitewash and sterilised part of his biography. He lies under a slab of stone at Matopos Hills in Zimbabwe at a place he called World’s View.

Just a thought

You can have so much power and lose it, just as you can have so much money and not live to use it. Who would have thought a sickly child from the English countryside would rise to become one of the most powerful and richest men in the world?

Conversely, maybe Kaiser Wilhelm II might have sustained the German Empire and ruled for 53 years and taking the House of Hohenzollern into its 4th Century of power, but he squandered what was bequeathed to him.

The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” [Bible Gateway: Psalms 103:15-16 (NIVUK)]

Blog - Huis Doorn (1999), Rhodes Cottage (2019)

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