OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z


Pages: <1> 2

The throne of Austria was occupied by the Emperor Francis during the momentous years which intervened from 1793 to 1835. Francis meant well by his subjects: he desired to see them contented and happy; but his views differed extremely from theirs in regard to the methods by which these desirable conditions were to be attained. His theory of government dispensed not only with popular interference but with popular criticism. He allowed no liberty of thought or speech; he kept his people in abject submission, believing that to be for their good. He enforced a strict censorship over the press of Austria, and a vigorous scrutiny of all printed matter which came from abroad, that foreign agitators should not disturb the happy tranquillity which the absence of thought might be expected to produce. He upheld a minutely ramified system of secret police, by which he should have timely warning if unhappily the contagion of liberalism reached his people. In all his measures for repressing the intelligence of his subjects ("I want obedient subjects," he said to the professors at Laybach, "and not men of learning") and preserving untarnished that ignorant loyalty without which he believed government impossible, he was ably supported by his wily and unscrupulous minister, Prince Metternich. A more absolute despotism never existed among men than that which was maintained to the close of the emperor's life. Thirty-seven million people held their lives and their property and their right to form and express an opinion at the pleasure of the government. The emperor, although weak, selfish, and obstinate, was good-natured. His people had passed with him through the terrible years of Napoleon's supremacy, and the recollections of their common danger and suffering gained for the errors of the aged emperor a tolerance which was little likely to be extended to those of his successor. The accession of the new emperor marks the opening of a new era. In most European states men were awakening to a new political life. Exclusion from participation in the management of their own national affairs was becoming insufferable. The demand for self-government grew year by year louder and more importunate. The precautions of the government had not been able to shut out from Austria the subtle and pervading impulse. Deep and wide among the Austrian people spread the desire for free institutions. The cities were full of secret societies - the perilous resort to which despotism compels its victims. The government made no concession. Discussion of political questions was stifled; every amelioration even of admitted evils was delayed. The finances of the empire were in a miserable position, and large annual deficits had to be covered by loans. Universal discontent prevailed; faith in the emperor and his ministers was utterly gone. Besides the general dissatisfaction with the form of government, there existed special causes of complaint. The Slav populations alleged that, under the influence of dislike to Russia, the government postponed their interests to those of their German fellow-subjects. The Hungarians refused to be contented without a restoration of government separate from that of Austria proper. The whole empire seemed ripe for revolt; and no wiser policy than that of forcible suppression - no worthier aim than that of indefinite postponement, had been discovered by the Emperor Ferdinand and his advisers.

Upon a people thus prepared the news that France had once more conquered a tyrant king fell like the voice of the trumpet which summoned them to instant battle. The government, and all those whose interests were identified with the government, received with dismay the tidings of that awful event. The citizens of Vienna perceived that the hour of their deliverance had struck. A few days passed, in constantly growing excitement, and then the mob sacked the palace of Prince Metternich, and were driven away by the soldiers not without bloodshed. A new ministry was appointed. Under the influence of fear, the government hastened to offer concessions which reason had failed to obtain. The press was set free from its fetters; an assembly of the estates of the empire was convened; political prisoners were liberated; such reforms as the people desired were bountifully promised; even universal suffrage was decreed. But so little did these enforced and reluctant gifts conciliate the people that the emperor deemed it wise to withdraw secretly from his capital. He did so, he intimated, rather than employ force against his subjects, and he was ready to welcome the return of his prodigal sons.

Some weeks after his flight the assembly which he had convened met in Vienna. The hopes which usually cluster around revolutionary parliaments invested this assemblage with an interest deep although ephemeral, and the presence of the emperor alone seemed wanting to the happy inauguration of the new era. The emperor listened to the voice of his repentant prodigals and returned to his capital. But the penitence of the Viennese. was not enduring. In a few weeks disturbances of an alarming character broke out. The arsenal was captured; Count Latour, the aged minister-at-war, was brutally murdered the emperor once more betook himself to flight; and Vienna was entirely in the hands of the insurgents.

The perils which surrounded the empire seemed now to threaten its dissolution. Lombardy and Venetia were in revolt, aided by the King of Sardinia and encouraged by the universal sympathy of Italy; Hungary had declared herself independent; the Slavs of Bohemia and Silesia had taken up arms; Vienna was held by rebel hands, and the palace of the emperor no longer afforded him personal safety. Still further, the impulse which animated these movements was the impulse by which all the surrounding populations of western Europe were pervaded.

But the empire, experienced in danger and accustomed to defeat, proved to be tenacious of life. Within a few months her difficulties were surmounted, and she was again at peace. Prince Windischgratz suppressed, without extreme difficulty, the Slavonian revolt. General Radetsky enjoyed an easy triumph over the ill-prepared Italian patriots, and restored tranquillity by the defeat of the Sardinian king at Novara, Three days after the flight of the emperor, Jellachich, Ban of Croatia, was before Yienna with an army of thirty thousand men, resolute to maintain the monarchy; and this force was speedily raised to seventy thousand. The insurgents stood firm, and the city endured bombardment. It was not surrendered until the frightful slaughter of its defenders rendered further resistance impossible. The emperor, hopeless now of a reign useful to his people or tolerable by himself, abdicated in favour of his nephew, then a lad of eighteen. The Hungarians were still in arms. They were a people numbering about eleven million, and occupying a territory somewhat larger than Great Britain and Ireland. Under Austrian rule they suffered wrongs which fully justified revolt. Taxation was borne exclusively by the labouring classes. The nobles were exempted from burdens which pressed so heavily on the poor. The peasant supported church, school, and army; tilled the fields of the proprietor without recompense; yielded at nominal prices such supplies as the military service required; and if a nobleman owed him money and was unwilling to pay it, there was no law by which the claim could be enforced. A yearning for independence had long existed, especially among the Magyars, who composed nearly one-half of the Hungarian nation. The thrilling news of what the French had done quickened the purposes of the Hungarian chiefs, and precipitated the inevitable conflict.

Austria made such preparations as were possible amid the vast difficulties which surrounded her to reclaim her revolted vassal. The Hungarian government, at the head of which was Louis Kossuth, drew out the resources of the country as for a contest the issue of which was national independence or utter ruin. The Hungarians stood on the defensive, and during the first few months of the war it appeared that they were able to maintain the liberties which they had asserted. Their forces grew with success. Poles, French, and Italians, whose revolutionary sympathies had been frustrated at home, now hastened to Hungary. Georgey, the skilful commander of the patriot army, found himself at the head of a hundred and twenty thousand veteran troops, well equipped by help of the paper money which Kossuth issued in profusion.

Austria recognized the hopelessness of her attempt to quell the defence of this heroic people. In her distress she appealed to Russia for help, and the Czar Nicholas, to whom successful democracy so near his own border was highly distasteful, intimated his intention to send a hundred and fifty thousand men to the relief of discomfited Austria.

The Hungarians prolonged during several weeks a brave defence against enemies now of overwhelming strength. Everywhere they were overmatched and driven back. Dissensions among the leaders hastened the fatal close of their noble efforts. Kossuth resigned his office after investing General Georgey with the powers of dictator. But Georgey had lately despaired of success. The sole use which he made of his new authority was to negotiate with the Russian general, Prince Paskiewitch, an unconditional surrender of his troops. Resistance ceased; Hungary was again the slave of Austria; the scaffold was set up, and the Austrian general, Haynau, barbarously put to death all the Hungarian generals who fell into his hands.

The advisers of the new emperor could not fail to perceive the necessity of conciliating the liberalism whose vitality had been so terribly asserted. A proclamation in the emperor's name boldly avowed the excellence of free institutions, and announced a restoration of the empire on the basis of true liberty and the equality of rights. A few months later, while the Hungarians were still making good their defence, a constitution was promulgated. Henceforth laws were to be made for Austria by a parliament elected by household suffrage. The press was to be unfettered. Complete religious freedom was guaranteed; universal education was provided. The empire had offered terms which the most advanced liberals of the time could not fail to regard as satisfactory. But it did so under the fierce pressure of necessity; and ease quickly recanted vows made in pain. After a languid existence of three years the constitution was cancelled and the ancient despotism reimposed.

There survived, however, the provision which had been made for the education of the people. Austria has maintained her loyalty to the cause of education, with results upon her own career which have been highly beneficial. All children from six to twelve are obliged to attend school, and three-fourths of them actually do so. Education is free; and although it was long under control of the priests to such an extent that one-half of the teachers were themselves ecclesiastics, Austria has attained an educational position immeasurably higher than she occupied thirty years ago.

It was now too late in the world's history for a purely despotic government to maintain itself in central Europe. Once more a liberal policy was adopted, and now, it seemed, with an honest purpose. The emperor "entered suddenly," as it was said, "on the path of constitutionalism." Representative institutions were established, based on. a right of voting which came near to household suffrage. So well satisfied was the emperor of the wisdom of these changes, that he foretold as their result "the salutary transformation of the whole monarchy." (Notwithstanding the apparent ardour of the emperor, constitutional government was suspended from 1865 to 1867) A few years later Hungary obtained the satisfaction of her long-cherished desire. She had her own legislature, chosen by the almost universal suffrage of her people; and the emperor and empress were crowned at Pesth king and queen of Hungary.

The empire was still saddened by the awful memories of Sadowa, by the loss of her Italian possessions, by her fall from the pre-eminent position which she had long held in Germany, "Austria," said the emperor to his people, "has been severely visited by misfortune, but she is not humiliated or bowed down." Her sorrows had indeed been great; but from the greatest of them all she had at length obtained deliverance. She was no longer the victim of an oppressive government. She was no longer defrauded of her rights. Her people were contented because they were no longer wronged. They were loyal to their government, because it was their own choice. The secret organizations by which a wronged people maintain their protest against despotism had wholly disappeared, for the Austrians could now express openly through their freely chosen representatives every political aspiration which they entertained. Even the emperor saw and approved the excellence of the new method. "By the system of direct popular elections," he stated, "the empire has obtained real independence."

Austria, as a constitutional state, no longer enfeebled by the just discontent of the multitudinous races which she governs, enjoys abundantly the elements out of which a prosperous career may be fashioned. Her population is thirty-nine million, and increases at the rate of one per cent, per annum. Her industrial progress gives evidence of steady industry, and therefore of growing prosperity. Her imports, which ten years ago were only twenty-five million sterling, were in. 1884 sixty-one million - figures from which may be inferred a vastly increased command by the people of the comforts of life. Her exports increased from thirty-four million sterling in 1865 to sixty-nine million in 1884; and as her production has grown more rapidly, it is evident that the consumption of native as well as of foreign products must have largely increased. Two-thirds of the population are engaged in agriculture, or labour in the vast forests which overspread a large portion of the surface, Austria sends to her neighbours grain, timber, flax, hemp, wool, fruits, wine, olive oil. In the southern portions of the empire the growing of silk is prosecuted, and the annual production of cocoons amounts to two and a quarter million pounds. The keeping of bees is quite an important branch of rural industry. A census of the bee-hives of the empire gives the number at fifteen million, and the annual yield of honey at eight million pounds. Minerals are annually raised to the value of nine million sterling.

Austria endeavours, by such encouragement as protective duties afford, to establish textile manufactures on her soil. Her progress is not contemptible, but neither as yet has signal success crowned her efforts. She employs in the spinning of wool three quarters of a million spindles, and in the spinning of cotton not quite two million. Great Britain, it may be stated, employs nearly fifty million cotton spindles, and the "United States of America ten million. Austria has also a manufacture of linen, hemp, and silk which has not attained very important dimensions. She is, however, mighty in the production of beer, having no fewer than three thousand two hundred breweries, which supply annually two hundred million gallons of beer for the assuagement of the public thirst. She has two hundred sugar works, in which one and a quarter million tons of beet are consumed. Her manufacture of leather and of paper is large. In some of the more delicate handicrafts her people have attained much skill, and her mathematical, surgical, and musical instruments enjoy high reputation.

>>> Next page >>>
Pages: <1> 2

Pictures for Austria-Hungary

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About