Joseph II and His Court

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Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter XXIII. Father Porhammer and Count Kaunitz.

The empress paced her cabinet with hasty steps. Near the large table, covered with papers of state, stood Father Porhammer.

"Are you sure of what you say?" said Maria Theresa with impatience. "Are you sure that the lord chancellor so far forgets his honor and dignity as to spend his hours of leisure in the company of disreputable actresses? Is it true that his house is the scene of shameful orgies and saturnalian feasts?"

"It is even so, your majesty," replied Porhammer. "It is unhappily true that he whom your majesty has raised to the first place in the empire of—"

"The first place!" echoed the empress angrily. "Know, sir, that the first place in the empire is mine. From God I hold my power and my crown, and I depute them to no man—I alone reign in Austria."

"Your majesty," resumed the father, "did not allow me to finish. I was about to say that he whom your majesty has made your most illustrious subject, he who ought to give to all your subjects an example of moral conduct, is a profligate and libertine. That infamous school of Paris, where reigns the wanton Marquise de Pompadour, the debauched court of Versailles—"

"Hold, father, and remember that France is Austria’s dearest ally," interrupted the empress.

The father bowed. "The school of Parisian gallantry, of which the lord chancellor is a graduate, has borne its fruits. Count Kaunitz mocks at religion, chastity, and every other virtue. Instead of giving an honorable mistress to his house, it is the home of Foliazzi, the singer, who holds him fast with her rosy chains."

"We must send her away from Vienna."

"Ah, your majesty, if you send her, Count Kaunitz will go with her. He cannot live without La Foliazzi. Even when he comes hither to your majesty’s august presence, La Foliazzi is in his coach, and she awaits his return at the doors of the imperial palace."

"Impossible! I will not believe such scandalous reports. Count Kaunitz never would dare bring his mistresses to my palace doors; he never would have the audacity to treat his official visits to myself as episodes in a life of lasciviousness with an unchaste singer. You shall withdraw your words, Father Porhammer, or you shall prove them."

"I will prove them, your majesty."

Just then the door opened, and a page announced the lord chancellor, Count Kaunitz.

"Admit Count Kaunitz," said the empress, "and you, Father Porhammer, remain."

The father withdrew within the embrasure of a window, while the lord chancellor followed the page into the presence of the empress. The count’s face was as fair and his cheeks as rosy as ever; he wore the same fantastic peruke of his own invention, and his figure was as straight and slender as it had ever been. Ten years had gone by since he became prime minister, but nothing had altered HIM. So marble-like his face, that age could not wrinkle, nor care trace a line upon its stony surface.

He did not wait for the imperial greeting, but came forward in his careless, unceremonious way, not as though he stood before his sovereign, but as if he had come to visit a lady of his own rank.

"Your majesty sees," said he, with a courteous inclination of the head, "that I use the permission which has been granted me, of seeking an audience whenever the state demands it. As I come, not to intrude upon your majesty with idle conversation, but to speak of grave and important matters of state, I do not apologize for coming unbidden."

The easy and unembarrassed manner in which Kaunitz announced himself had its effect upon the empress. She who was so accustomed to give vent to the feelings of the moment, overcame her displeasure and received her minister with her usual affability.

"Your majesty, then, will grant an audience to your minister of state?" said Kaunitz, looking sharply at the priest who stood unconcerned at the window.

"Since the lord chancellor comes at such an unusual hour," replied the empress, "I must conclude that his business is of an imperative nature. I am therefore ready to hear him."

Kaunitz bowed, and then turning with an arrogant gesture toward the empress’s confessor, he said, "Do you hear, Father Porhammer? the empress will hold a council with me."

"I hear it, my lord," said the priest.

"Then as we are not on the subject of religion, you will have the goodness to leave the room."

"I was ordered by her majesty to remain," replied Father Porhammer quietly.

Kaunitz turned toward the empress, who, with knit and angry brow, was listening to her minister.

"If it be the empress’s pleasure," said he, bowing, "I will take the liberty of retiring until her majesty is at leisure for earthly affairs. Religion and politics are not to be confounded together; the former being the weightier subject of the two, I give way."

He bowed again, and was about to leave the room, when the empress recalled him.

"Stay!" said she. "Father Porhammer will leave us for a while."

Without a word, the father bowed and withdrew.

"Now speak, Count Kaunitz," said the empress, hastily, "and let the affair be important that has led you to drive my confessor, in such an uncourteous fashion, from my presence."

"Weighty, most weighty is the news that concerns the imperial house of Austria," said Kaunitz, with his unruffled equanimity. "A courier has brought me tidings of the archduke’s election as King of Rome."

"Is that all?" said Maria Theresa. "That is no news. The voice of Prussia decided that matter long ago; and this is the only advantage we have ever reaped from our long and terrible war with Frederick?"

"No, your majesty, no, this is not the only thing we have obtained. This war has yielded us material advantages. It has increased the military strength of the country; it has placed before the eyes of all Europe the inexhaustible nature of Austria’s resources; it has brought all the little Germanic principalities under Austria’s dominion. It has united Hungary, Sclavonia, Italy, Bohemia, and Lombardy under Austria’s flag and Austria’s field-marshals. Indeed, your majesty, this war has given us something of far more value than Prussia’s vote. The bloody baptism of the battle-field has made Austrians of all those who bled for Austria’s rights."

"That does not prevent that abominable man from clinging to my fair domain of Silesia. How will my ancestor, the great Charles, greet me when I go to my grave, bearing the tidings that under my reign Austria has been shorn of a principality?"

"No such tidings shall your majesty bear to your forefathers," replied Kaunitz, fervently. "Leave Frederick alone with his bit of a principality; more trouble than profit may it be to him! Long before he will have transformed his Silesian Austrians into loyal Prussians, we shall have repaired the damage he has done us by new and richer acquisitions."

"No, no, no!" cried the empress, "let us have no more war. What we do not possess by just right, I never will consent to win with the sword."

"But inheritance and alliance bestow rights," persisted the minister. "Your majesty has marriageable daughters and sons, and it is time to think of negotiating honorable alliances for them."

The eyes of the empress sparkled, and her face beamed with happy smiles. The establishment of her children was her constant thought by night and day, and in broaching this subject, Kaunitz was meeting her dearest wishes. Her displeasure against him melted away like snow before the sun, and she gave herself up entirely to the pleasing discussion.

"It will be difficult to find husbands for my daughters" said she. "All the reigning heads of European families are married, and their sons are too young for Elizabeth and Amelia. I cannot marry my grown-up daughters to boys; nor can I bring a set of insignificant sons-in-law to hang about the court. My husband the emperor would never consent to bestow his daughters upon petty princes, who, instead of bringing influence with them, would derive their reflected consequence from an alliance with us. If we cannot find them husbands worthy of their station, my daughters must remain single, or devote their lives to God."

"If your majesty’s eldest daughters choose that holy vocation, politics need not interfere with their inclinations, the boyish heirs of European kingdoms can await the advent of the younger princesses."

"Let them wait," said the empress; "we will train noble queens for them."

"But the Archduke Leopold need not wait," said Kaunitz; "we will begin with him. The Spanish ambassador has received from his sovereign, Carlos IV., a letter directing him to offer his daughter Maria Louisa to your majesty’s second son. Knowing that his highness the Archduke Joseph is your majesty’s successor, he supposes that the Emperor Francis will bestow upon his second son the grand duchy of Tuscany. "

"A very good alliance," returned Maria Theresa, nodding her head. "The women of the house of Bourbon are all estimable. Our lost Isabella was a lovely woman. Well, the grand-daughter of the King of Spain having died, let us renew our connection with him through his daughter; and may God grant to Leopold happier nuptials than were those of my poor Joseph."

"The Archduke Joseph, too, must marry," said Kaunitz. "Poor Joseph!" sighed the empress; "even now his heart is full of sorrow; and while he mourns his dead, we make plans to marry him to another! But you are right, count; he must marry. We cannot listen to his heart, he must sacrifice himself to duty. Austria must have another heir. But let us give him a little respite."

"He will forget his sorrow when he is crowned King of Rome," said Kaunitz. "Ambition is certain to cure love; and the possession of a crown may well console any man for the loss of a woman."

Maria Theresa was displeased. "Do you deem it, then, so light a thing?" said she, with a frown, "to lose a beloved wife? Do you think it great happiness to wear a crown? You know nothing either of the pains of power or the joys of marriage; but I can tell you that many a time I would have fainted under the burden of my crown, had my Franz not sustained me with his loving and beloved hand. But what know you of love? Your heart is a market-place wherein you seek slaves for your harem, but no honorable woman would make it her home. I have heard scandalous reports concerning your house, Count Kaunitz; I have—"

A light knock was heard at the door, and as the empress gave the word, Father Porhammer entered the room.

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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter XXIII. Father Porhammer and Count Kaunitz.," 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 July 2, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=JRASMTTHJ21C1SX.

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter XXIII. Father Porhammer and Count Kaunitz." 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 Jul. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=JRASMTTHJ21C1SX.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter XXIII. Father Porhammer and Count Kaunitz.' 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 July 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=JRASMTTHJ21C1SX.