Joseph II and His Court

Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter CXVII. The Promenade and the Epigram.

The royal brothers-in-law then were allowed to promenade alone; that is to say, they were attended by twenty courtiers, whose inestimable privilege it was to follow the king wherever he went.

"It is not then the custom in Austria for princes to appear in public with their escort?" asked the king, after a long pause.

"Oh, yes, we have our body-guards, but they are the people themselves, and we feel perfectly secure in their escort. You should try this body-guard, sire; it is more economical than yours, for its service is rendered for pure love."

"Certainly," replied the king carelessly, "it is a very cheap way of courting popularity: but the price would be too dear for a king of France to pay—he cannot afford to sell his dignity for such small return."

The emperor raised his large blue eyes, and looked full in the king’s face. "Do you really think," he said, "that a king compromises his dignity by contact with his subjects? Do you think that to be honored by your people you must be forever reminding them of your `right divine?’ I, on the contrary, believe that the sovereign who shows himself to be a man, is the one who will be most sincerely loved by the men whom he governs. We are apt to become dazzled by the glare of flattery, sire, and it is well for us sometimes to throw off our grandeur, and mix among our fellows. There we will soon find out that majesty is not written upon the face of kings, but resides in the purple which is the work of the tailor, and the crown, which is that of the goldsmith. I learned this not long ago from a shoemaker’s apprentice."

"From a shoemaker’s apprentice!" exclaimed Louis, with a supercilious smile. "It would be highly edifying to hear from the Count of Falkenstein how it happened that the Emperor of Austria was taught the nothingness of royalty by a shoemaker’s lad!"

"It came quite naturally, sire. I was out driving in a plain cabriolet, when I remarked the boy, who was singing, and otherwise exercising his animal spirits by hopping, dancing, and running along the road by the side of the vehicle. I was much diverted by his drollery, and finally invited him to take a drive with me. He jumped in—without awaiting a second invitation, stared wonderfully at me with his great brown eyes, and in high satisfaction kicked his feet against the dash-board, and watched the motion of the wheels. Now and then he vented his delight by a broad smile, in which I could detect no trace of a suspicion as to my rank of majesty. Finally I resolved to find out what place I occupied in the estimation of an unfledged shoemaker; so I questioned him on the subject. He contemplated me for a moment, and then said, `Perhaps you might be an equerry?’—’Guess higher,’ replied I. ’Well, a count?’—I shook my head. ’Still higher.’—’A prince?’—’Higher yet.’—’Well, then, you must be the emperor.’—’You have guessed,’ said I. Instead of being overcome by the communication, the boy sprang from the cabriolet and pointing at me with a little finger that was full of scorn and dirt, he cried out to the passers-by, ’Only, look at him! he is trying to pass himself off for the emperor.’" [Footnote: "Characteristics and Anecdotes of Joseph II, and his Times," p. 106.]

Louis had listened to this recital with grave composure, and as his face had not once relaxed from its solemnity, the faces of his courtiers all wore a similar expression. As Joseph looked around, he saw a row of blank countenances.

There was an awkward pause. Finally the king observed that he could not see any thing diverting in the insolence of the boy.

"I assure your majesty," replied the emperor, "that it was far more pleasing to me than the subservience of a multitude of fawning courtiers." He glanced sharply at the gentlemen of their suite, who knit their brows in return.

"Let us quicken our pace if it be agreeable to you, count," said Louis, with some embarrassment. The attendants fell back, and the two monarchs walked on for some moments, in silence. The king was wondering how he should manage to renew the conversation, when suddenly, his voice, tremulous with emotion, Joseph addressed him.

"My brother," said he, "accident at last has favored me, and I may speak to you for once without witnesses. Tell me, then, why do you hate me?"

"My brother," exclaimed Louis, "who has dared—"

"No one has intimated such a thing," returned Joseph, vehemently; "but I see it, I feel it in every look of your majesty’s eyes, every word that falls from your lips. Again, I ask why do you hate me? I who came hither to visit you as friend and brother! Or do you believe the idle rumors of your courtiers, that I came to rob aught besides the heart of the King of France? I know that I have been represented as unscrupulous in my ambition, but I entreat of you, dear brother, think better of me. I will be frank with you and confess that I DO seek for aggrandizement, but not at the expense of my allies or friends. I strive to enlarge my territory, but I shall claim nothing that is not righteously my own. There are provinces in Germany which are mine by right of inheritance, others by the right which Frederick used when he took Silesia from the crown of Austria."

"Or that which Joseph used when he took Galicia from the King of Poland," interrupted Louis, significantly.

"Sire, we did not take Galicia. It fell to us through the weakness of Poland, and by reason of exigencies arising from an alliance between the three powers. My claim to Bavaria, however, is of another nature. It is mine by inheritance—the more so that the Elector of Zweybrucken, the successor of the Elector of Bavaria, is willing to concede me my right to that province. The Bavarians themselves long for annexation to Austria, for they know that it is their only road to prosperity. They look with hope and confidence to Maria Theresa, whose goodness and greatness may compensate them for all that they have endured at the hands of their pusillanimous little rulers. The only man in Germany who will oppose the succession of Austria to Bavaria, is Frederick, who is as ready to enlarge his own dominions as to cry ’Stop thief!’ when he sees others doing likewise. But he will not raise a single voice unless he receive encouragement from other powers. If my visit to France has any political significance, it is to obtain your majesty’s recognition of my right to Bavaria. Yes, sire, I DO wish to convince you of the justice of my claim, and to obtain from you the promise of neutrality when I shall be ready to assert it. You see that I speak without reserve, and confide to you plans which heretofore have been discussed in secret council at Vienna alone."

"And I pledge my royal word never to betray your majesty’s confidence to living mortal," replied Louis, with undisguised embarrassment and anxiety. "Believe me when I say that every thing you have spoken is as though I had never heard it. I shall bury it within the recesses of my own heart, and there it shall remain."

The emperor surveyed his brother-in-law with a glance of mistrust. He thought that the assurance of his secrecy was given in singular language. He was not altogether satisfied to hear that what he had been saying was to be treated as though it had never been said at all.

"Will your majesty, then, sustain me?" asked he of Louis. This direct question staggered his majesty of France. He scarcely knew what he was saying.

"You ask this question," replied he, with a forced smile, "as if the elector was dead, and our decision were imperative. Fortunately, his highness of Bavaria is in excellent health, and the discussion may be—deferred. Let us think of the present. You were wise, my dear brother, when you remarked that the beauties of Nature were calculated to elevate our minds. What royalty can be compared to hers?"

The emperor made no reply. He felt the full significance of the king’s ungracious words, and more than ever he was convinced that Louis regarded him with dislike and ill-will. Again there was a painful silence between the two, and every moment it weighed more heavily upon both.

At last Louis, awaking to a sense of what was due from host to guest, made a desperate resolution, and spoke.

"Have you made any plans for this evening, my brother?" asked he timidly.

"No!" was the curt reply.

"You would be very amiable if, instead of visiting the theatres, you would join the queen in a game of cards."

"I never play," returned Joseph. "A monarch who loses money at cards, loses the property of his subjects." [Footnote: Joseph’s own words. Hubner, part i., page 151.]

"Since you do not like cards, we have other recreations at hand. How would you relish a hunt in the woods of Meudon?"

"Not at all," said Joseph. "Hunting is no recreation for a monarch. HIS time is too precious to be frittered away in such idle sport."

"Ah," said Louis, whose patience was exhausted, "you imitate your old enemy, the King of Prussia, who for twenty years has been crying out against the sins of hunting and gambling."

The emperor’s face grew scarlet, and his eyes flashed. "Sire;" replied he, "allow me to observe to you that I imitate nobody, and that I am resolved now as ever to conduct myself as I see fit."

To this the king bowed in silence. He was so weary of his walk that he led the way to a road by which a short-cut might be made to the palace. This road was crossed by an avenue of trees which bordered a large iron gate leading to the front entrance of the palace. Here the people were accustomed to assemble to obtain a view of their sovereigns; and to-day the throng was greater than usual, for they had learned from the Swiss guard that the two monarchs were out together, and thousands of eager eyes were watching for the glittering uniforms of the gardes de corps.

Great was their astonishment to see two individuals alone; apparently independent of the courtiers at some distance behind them.

"Who could they be—these two gentlemen advancing together? Certainly not the emperor and the king, for the latter never took a step without his life-guards."

"But it is the emperor!" cried a voice in the crowd. "I know his handsome face and his dark-blue eyes."

"And the other is the king!" exclaimed another voice.

"It cannot be," said a third. "The King of France never moves in his own palace without a wall of guards around him—how much less in the open parks, where he is exposed to the danger of meeting his subjects!"

"I suppose we are indebted to the emperor for this bold act of his majesty to-day" said another critic.

"Yes, yes, he it is who has persuaded the king to trust us," cried the multitude. "Let us thank him by a hearty welcome."

The two princes were now quite near, and the crowd took off their hats. The emperor greeted them—with an affable smile; the king with several nods, but without a shadow of cordiality. Suddenly the air was rent with shouts, and a thousand voices cried out, "Long live the emperor!"

The king reddened, but dared not give vent to his displeasure. His eyes sought the ground, while Joseph, gently shaking his head, looked at the people and pointed furtively at their sovereign. They understood him at once, and, eager to repair the inadvertence, they shouted, "Long live the emperor! Long live our king, the father of his people!"

The emperor now smiled and waved his band; while the king still displeased, bowed gravely and turned toward Joseph.

"You are quite right," said he, in sharp, cutting accents, "popularity is a cheap commodity. A king has only to ride about in hackney-coaches and put on the people’s garb, to become the idol of the lower classes. The question, however, is, how long will a popularity of this sort last? "

"If it be called forth by a hackney-coach and an ordinary dress, sire, it may be of short duration; but if it is to last, it must be accorded to real worth," replied Joseph, sympathizing with the discontent of the king.

"Which no one would presume to deny in your majesty’s case," rejoined Louis with a constrained and awkward bow.

"Oh," exclaimed Joseph, blushing, "I had not understood that your majesty’s irony was intended for me, else I should not, have answered as I did. I do not strive after popularity. My actions flow naturally from my convictions. These teach me that my natural condition is not that of an emperor, but of a man, and I conduct myself accordingly." [Footnote: The emperor’s own words. Ramshorn’s "Joseph II.," page 146.]

So saying, the emperor turned once more to salute the people, and then ascended the white marble steps which led to the terrace of the palace. The two monarchs and the glittering courtiers disappeared amid the "vivas" of the multitude, and now they became suddenly silent.

In the midst of this silence, the same voice which had so sharply criticised the king, was heard. Again it spoke as follows

"Marsorio has made another epigram, and mistaking me for Pasquin has just whispered it in my ear!"

"What did he say? Tell us what our good Marsorio says! Repeat the epigram!" saluted the speaker on every side.

"Here it is," returned the voice.

"A nos yeux etonnes de sa simplicite Falkenstein a montre la majeste sans faste; Chez nous par un honteux contraste Qu’a-t’il trouve? Faste sans majeste." [Footnote: Ramshorn, page 146.]


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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter CXVII. The Promenade and the Epigram.," 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 29, 2023,

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter CXVII. The Promenade and the Epigram." 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. 29 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter CXVII. The Promenade and the Epigram.' 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 29 March 2023, from