Joseph II and His Court

Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter LXXVIII. Finis Polonie.

Neither saw the door open; but both heard a soft, melodious voice, saying: "Pardon me, your majesty, I thought you were alone."

The countess uttered a low cry, and trembled from head to foot.

"Do not fear," said the empress, as she gently withdrew her arms, "it is my son the emperor. We need not hide our tears from him, for he knows that this is not the first time his mother has wept for Poland."

The emperor said nothing; he stood staring at the pale and trembling Anna. He, too, grew deathly pale as he looked, and now his trembling limbs answered to the agitation that was overpowering her. Suddenly, as though awaking from a painful dream, he approached, and offering his hand, said:

"I rejoice to see you. I have long sought you in vain."

She did not appear to see him. Her arm hung listlessly at her side, while her figure swayed to and fro like a storm-tossed lily.

"I have not been in Vienna," answered she, in a voice scarcely audible. "I had gone to bury my sorrow in solitude."

"But her love for Poland brought her hither," said the empress, putting her arm affectionately around the countess’s waist.

"I believe you," returned Joseph, bitterly. "The fate of Poland is the only thing worthy of touching the Countess Wielopolska. She is not a woman, she is a Pole—nothing more."

One low wail struggled from the depths of her breaking heart, but she spoke not a word.

The emperor went on: "The Countess Wielopolska is not a woman. She is a monad, representing patriotism; and he who cannot think as she does, is a criminal unworthy of her regard."

"You are cruel, my son," said the empress, deprecatingly. "If the countess has been bitter in her reproaches to you, we must remember her grief and her right to reproach us. We should be gentle with misfortune—above all, when we can bring no relief."

"Let him go on, your majesty," murmured the wretched Anna, while her eyes were raised with a look of supreme agony upon the stern face of the emperor.

"Your majesty is right. I am nothing but a Pole, and I will die with my fatherland. Your hands shall close our coffin-lids, for our fates will not cost you a tear. The dear, noble empress has wept for us both, and the remembrance of her sympathy and of your cruelty we will carry with us to the grave."

The emperor’s eyes flashed angrily, and he was about to retort, but he controlled himself and approached the empress.

"Your majesty will pardon me if I interrupt your interesting conversation, but state affairs are peremptory, and supersede all other considerations. Your majesty has commanded my presence that I might sign the act of partition. The courier, who is to convey the news to Berlin and St. Petersburg, is ready to go. Allow me to ask if your majesty has signed?"

The countess, who understood perfectly that the emperor, in passing her by, to treat with his mother of this dreadful act of partition, wished to force her to retire, withdrew silently to the door.

But the empress, hurt that her son should have been so unfeeling, went forward, and led her back to her seat.

"No, countess, stay. The emperor says that you represent Poland. Then let him justify his acts to us both, and prove that what he has done is right. I have suffered such anguish of mind over the partition of Poland, that Joseph would lift a load from my heart, if he could show me that it is inevitable. My son, you have come for my signature. Before God, your mother, and Poland herself, justify our deed, and I will sign the act."

"Justify? There are many things which we may defend without being able to justify them: and stern necessity often forces us to the use of measures which conscience disapproves."

"Prove to me, then, the necessity which has forced us to dismember a country whose people have never injured us," said the empress, authoritatively.

"But whose disunion at home has become dangerous to their neighbors. Poland lies like a sick man in our midst, whose dying breath infects the land. When there is a fire in our neighborhood, we are sometimes obliged to tear down the burning house lest the fire spread to our own."

"Yes," interrupted the countess, "but you do not rob the neighbor of his land. The soil belongs to him who owns the house."

"But the Poles are not worthy to own their soil. What is Poland to-day? A race of slaves and peasants, without law or order, driven hither and thither by a lewd and corrupt aristocracy, who, instead of blushing for the degeneracy of their caste, hold their saturnalia over the very graves of their noble ancestors. And at the head of this degenerate people is their king, the minion of a foreign court, who promulgates the laws which he receives from his imperial Russian mistress. Verily, God has weighed the Polish nation in His balance, and they have been found wanting."

"Enough!" faltered the countess, raising her hand in deprecation. "Why will you vilify a people who are in the throes of death?"

"No, it is not enough," said the emperor, sternly. "The empress says that I must justify the acts of the three powers to Poland—that pale and beautiful statue before me which lives—and yet is not a woman. I say it again: a nation dies by its own corruption! Poland bears within herself the seeds of her destruction. Her people have been false to their antecedents, false to themselves, to their honor, and even to their faith." [Footnote: Wolf. "Austria under Maria Theresa." p. 535.]

"You accuse, but you bring no proofs!" exclaimed the countess, her eyes now flashing with wounded pride.

"It will not be difficult to collect my proofs," said the emperor, sneering. "Look at what takes place in Poland, since your countrymen have foreseen the fate of their fatherland. What are the Polish diet doing since they anticipate the close of their sittings? Voting themselves pensions, property, and every conceivable revenue, at the expense of the republic, and giving her, with their own parricidal hands, the coup de grace. Such shameless corruption has never come to light in the history of any other nation. Freedom and fatherland are in every mouth, but, in reality, no people care less for either than do the Poles. Slaves, who, while they hold out their hands to be manacled, are striving to reign over other slaves! [Footnote: Raumer, "Contributions," Vol. iv., p. 551.] This is a picture of the Poland whom you love, and through her own crimes she is dying."

"It is not true!" cried the indignant countess. "She dies through the covetousness and greed of her neighbors. It is they who have sown dissension in Poland, while forcing upon her unhappy people a king who is nothing but the despicable tool of their despicable intrigues."

"All this has no reference to Austria," objected the emperor. "We had nothing to do with the selection of the king—nothing to do with the projects of dismemberment. They were resolved upon, with or without our sanction, and the law of self-preservation demands that if we cannot prevent, we must endeavor to profit by them. I know that the partition of Poland has an appearance of gross outrage which is obvious to every eye; while the stringent necessity which has driven Austria to participate in it is known to few. I confess that I would be grieved if the world should misjudge me on this question; for I try, both in public and private life, to be an honest man; and I believe that honesty in statesmanship is the wisest and soundest policy. [Footnote: The emperor’s own words. See Raumer, "Contributions," &c., Vol. iv., p. 539.] We could not do otherwise than we have done, and now, with the full conviction of the exigency which has called for the act, I repeat my question to your majesty, have you signed the act, or will you be so kind as to sign it now?"

The empress had listened with profound attention to her son’s discourse, and her countenance, which before had been pale with anxiety, had assumed an expression of blended serenity and resolution. A pause ensued. Marble-white and speechless the countess, with half-open mouth, started and bent forward, her eyes fixed upon the empress; the emperor, stern and proud, threw back his head and gazed defiantly.

In the midst of this throbbing silence, Maria Theresa went forward and took her seat at the escritoire. She dipped her pen in the silver inkstand, and a sob, that sounded like the last death-sigh, escaped from the lips of the countess. The empress turned quickly around; but the glance of her eye was resolute and her hand was firm.

She bent over the parchment and wrote; then, throwing her pen on the floor, she turned to the emperor and pointed with her right hand to the deed. "Placet," cried she, with her clear, ringing voice—"placet, since so many great and wise men will have it so. When I am dead, the world will learn what came of this violation of all that man holds sacred." [Footnote: The empress’s own words.]

And either that she might conceal her own emotion, or avoid an outburst of grief from the countess, the empress walked hastily through the room, and shut herself up in her dressing-room.

The countess moaned, and murmuring, "Finis Poloniae!" she, too, attempted to cross the room.

The emperor watched her, his eyes beaming with tenderness, his heart a prey to violent anguish. As she reached the door, he saw her reel and cling to a column for support.

With one bound he reached her, and flinging his arms around her swaying figure, she fell, almost unconscious, upon his bosom. For one bewildering moment she lay there.

"Finis Poloniae!" murmured she again, and, drawing herself up to her full height, she again approached the door.

"Farewell!" said she, softly.

The emperor seized her hand. "Anna," said he, imploringly, "Anna, do we part thus? Is this our last interview? Shall we never meet again?"

She turned, and all the love that she had struggled to conquer was in her eyes as they met his. "We shall meet once more," replied she.

"When?" cried Joseph, frantic with grief.

"When the hour has come for us to meet again, I will send for you. Promise to be there to receive my last farewell."

"I swear to be there."

"Then, farewell."

"Farewell, beloved Anna! Oh, let me touch your hand once more!"

"No!" said she, harshly; and, opening the door, she disappeared, and the emperor was left alone.


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: Joseph II and His Court

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Joseph II and His Court

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter LXXVIII. Finis Polonie.," Joseph II and His Court, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891 in Joseph II and His Court (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed March 2, 2024,

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter LXXVIII. Finis Polonie." Joseph II and His Court, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891, in Joseph II and His Court, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 2 Mar. 2024.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter LXXVIII. Finis Polonie.' in Joseph II and His Court, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Joseph II and His Court, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 2 March 2024, from