Joseph II and His Court

Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter V. The Archduke Joseph.

The emperor was right; Father Francis came in with complaints of his highness. While the father with great pathos set forth the reason of the archduke’s absence from the family circle, the culprit stood by, apparently indifferent to all that was being said. But, to any one observing him closely, his tremulous mouth, and the short, convulsive sighs, which he vainly strove to repress, showed the real anxiety of his fast-beating heart. He thrust back his rising tears, for the little prince teas too proud to crave sympathy; and he had already learned how to hide emotion by a cold and haughty bearing. From his childhood he had borne a secret sorrow in his heart—the sorrow of seeing his young brother Carl preferred to himself. Not only was Carl the darling of his parents, but he was the pet and plaything of the whole palace. True, the poor little archduke was not gifted with the grace and charming naivete of his brother. He was awkward, serious, and his countenance wore an expression of discontent, which was thought to betray an evil disposition, but which, in reality, was but the reflection of the heavy sorrow which clouded his young heart. No one seemed to understand—no one seemed to love him. Alone in the midst of that gay and splendid court, he was never noticed except to be chided. [Footnote: Hubner, "Life of Joseph II.," page 15.] The buds of his poor young heart were blighted by the mildew of neglect, so that outwardly he was cold, sarcastic, and sullen, while inwardly he glowed with a thousand emotions, which he dared reveal to no one, for no one seemed to dream that he was capable of feeling them.

To-day, as usual, he was brought before his parents as a culprit; and without daring to utter a word in his own defence, he stood by, while Father Francis told how many times he had yawned over the "Lives of the Martyrs;" and how he had refused to read, longer than one hour, a most edifying commentary of the Fathers on the Holy Scriptures.

The empress heard with displeasure of her son’s lack of piety; and she looked severely at him, while he gazed sullenly at a portrait that hung opposite.

"And can it be, my son," exclaimed she, "that you close your heart against the word of God, and refuse to read religious books?"

The boy gave her a glance of defiance. "I do not know," said he, carelessly, "whether the books are religious or not; but I know that they are tiresome, and teach me nothing."

"Gracious Heaven!" cried the empress, with horror, "hear the impious child!"

"Rather, your majesty," said Father Francis, "let us pray Heaven to soften his heart." The emperor alone said nothing; but he looked at the boy with a friendly and sympathizing glance. The child saw the look, and for one moment a flush of pleasure passed over his face. He raised his eyes with an appealing expression toward his father, who could no longer resist the temptation of coming to his relief.

"Perhaps," suggested he, "the books may be dull to a child of Joseph’s years."

"No book," returned the empress, "should be dull that treats of God and of His holy Church."

"And the work, your majesty, which we were reading, was a most learned and celebrated treatise," said Father Francis; "one highly calculated to edify and instruct youth."

Joseph turned away from the father, and spoke to the emperor.

"We have already gone through five volumes of it, your majesty, and I am tired to death of it. Moreover, I don’t believe half that I read in his stupid books."

The empress, as she heard this, uttered a cry of pain. She felt an icy coldness benumb her heart, as she remembered that this unbelieving boy was one day to succeed her on the throne of Austria. The emperor, too, was pained. By the deadly paleness of her face, he guessed the pane that was rending his wife’s heart, and he dared say no more in defence of his son.

"Your majesty sees," continued Father Francis, "how far is the heart of his highness from God and the Church. His instructors are grieved at his precocious unbelief, and they are this day to confer together upon the painful subject. The hour of the conference is at hand, and I crave your majesty’s leave to repair thither."

"No," said the empress, with a deprecating gesture; "no. Remain, good father. Let this conference he held in the presence of the emperor and myself. It is fitting that we both know the worst in regard to our child."

The emperor bowed acquiescence, and crossing the room, took a seat by the side of the empress.

He rang a little golden bell; and the page who came at the summons, was ordered to request the attendance of the preceptors of his highness the Crown Prince of Austria.

Maria Theresa leaned her head upon her hand, and with a sad and perplexed countenance watched the open door. The emperor, with his arm thrown over the gilded back of the divan, looked earnestly at the young culprit, who, pale, and with a beating heart, was trying his best to suppress his increasing emotion.

"I will not cry," thought he, scarcely able to restrain his tears; "for that would be a triumph for my detestable teachers. I am not going to give them the pleasure of knowing that I am miserable."

And, by dint of great exertion, he mastered his agitation. He was so successful, that he did not move a muscle nor turn his head when the solemn procession of his accusers entered the room.

First, at the head, came Father Porhammer, who gave him lessons in logic and physic; after him walked the engineer Briguen, professor of mathematics; then Herr von Leporini, who instructed him in general history; Herrvson Bartenstein, who expounded the political history of the house of Austria; Baron von Beck, who was his instructor in judicature; and finally, his governor, Count Bathiany, the only one toward whom the young prince felt a grain of good-will.

The empress greeted them with grave courtesy, and exhorted them to say without reserve before his parents what they thought of the progress and disposition of the archduke.

Count Bathiany, with an encouraging smile directed toward his pupil, assured their majesties that the archduke was anxious to do right—not because he was told so to do by others, but because he followed the dictates of his own conscience. True, his highness would not see through the eyes of any other person; but this, though it might be a defect in a child, would be the reverse in a man—above all, in a sovereign. "In proof of the archduke’s sincere desire to do right," continued Count Bathiany, "allow me to repeat to your majesties something which he said to me yesterday. We were reading together Bellegarde on knowledge of self and of human nature. The beautiful thoughts of the author so touched the heart of his highness, that, stopping suddenly, he exclaimed to me, ’We must read this again; for when I come to the throne I shall need to know, not only myself, but other men also.’"

"Well said, my son!" exclaimed the emperor.

"I cannot agree with your majesty," said the empress, coldly. " do not think it praiseworthy for a child of his age to look forward with complacency to the day when his mother’s death will confer upon him a throne. To rile it would seem more natural if Joseph thought more of his present duties and less of his future honors."

A breathless silence followed these bitter words. The emperor, in confusion, withdrew behind the harpsichord. The archduke looked perfectly indifferent. While Count Bathiany had been repeating his words, his face had slightly flushed; but when he heard the sharp reproof of his mother, he raised his head, and gave her back another defiant look. With the same sullen haughtiness, he stared first at one accuser, and then at another, while each one in his turn gave judgment against him. First, and most vehement in his denunciations, was Count Bartenstein. He denounced the archduke as idle and inattentive. He never would have any political sagacity whatever. Why, even the great work, in fifteen folios, which he (Count Bartenstein) had compiled from the imperial archives for the especial instruction of the prince, even THAT failed to interest him! [Footnote: Hormayer says that this book was heavy and filled with tiresome details. (No wonder! In fifteen folios.—Trane.)]

Then followed the rest of their professorships. One complained of disrespect; another of carelessness; a third of disobedience; a fourth of irreligion. All concurred in declaring the archduke to be obstinate, unfeeling, and intractable.

His face, meanwhile, grew paler and harder, until it seemed almost to stiffen into marble. Although every censorious word went like a dagger to his sensitive heart, he still kept on murmuring to himself, "I will not cry, I will not cry."

His mother divined nothing of the agony which, like a wild tornado, was desolating the fair face of her child’s whole being. She saw nothing beyond the portals of that cold and sullen aspect, and the sight filled her with sorrow and anger.

"Alas," cried she bitterly, "you are right! He is a refractory and unfeeling boy."

At this moment, like the voice of a conciliatory angel, were heard the soft tones of the melody with which the empress had greeted her husband that morning. It was the emperor, whose hands seemed unconsciously to wander over the keys of the harpsichord, while every head bent entranced to listen.

When the first tones of the heavenly melody fell upon his ear, the young prince began to tremble. His features softened; his lips, so scornfully compressed, now parted, as if to drink in every sound; his eyes filled with tears, and every angry feeling of his heart was hushed by the magic of music. With a voice of love it seemed to call him, and unable to resist its power and its pathos, he burst into a flood of tears, and with one bound reached his father’s arms, sobbing—

"Father, dear father, pity me!"

The emperor drew the poor boy close to his heart. He kissed his blond curls, and whispering, said: "Dear child, I knew that you were not heartless. I was sure that you would come when your father called."

The empress had started from her seat, and she now stood in the centre of the room, earnestly gazing upon her husband and her child. Her mother’s heart beat wildly, and tears of tenderness suffused her eyes. She longed to speak some word of pardon to her son; but before all things, Maria Theresa honored court ceremony. She would not, for the world, that her subjects had seen her otherwise than self-possessed and regal in her bearing.

With one great effort she mastered her emotions; and before the strength of her will, the mighty flood rolled back upon her heart. Not a tear that glistened in her eyelids fell; not a tone of her clear, silvery voice was heard to falter.

"Count Bathiany," said she, "I perceive that in the education of the archduke, the humanizing influences of music have been overlooked. Music to-day has been more powerful with him than filial love or moral obligation. Select for him, then, a skilful teacher, who will make use of his art to lead my son back to duty and religion." [Footnote: Maria Theresa’s own words. Coxe, "House of Austria," vol. v.]


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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter V. The Archduke Joseph.," 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 February 3, 2023,

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter V. The Archduke Joseph." 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. 3 Feb. 2023.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter V. The Archduke Joseph.' 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 3 February 2023, from