Stirring Times in Austria
by Mark Twain
I. THE GOVERNMENT IN THE FRYING-PAN.
Here in Vienna in these closing days of 1897 one's blood gets no chance to
stagnate. The atmosphere is brimful of political electricity. All
conversation is political; every man is a battery, with brushes overworn,
and gives out blue sparks when you set him going on the common topic.
Everybody has an opinion, and lets you have it frank and hot, and out of
this multitude of counsel you get merely confusion and despair. For no one
really understands this political situation, or can tell you what is going
to be the outcome of it.
Things have happened here recently which would set any country but Austria
on fire from end to end, and upset the Government to a certainty; but no
one feels confident that such results will follow here. Here, apparently,
one must wait and see what will happen, then he will know, and not before;
guessing is idle; guessing cannot help the matter. This is what the wise
tell you; they all say it; they say it every day, and it is the sole
detail upon which they all agree.
There is some approach to agreement upon another point: that there will be
no revolution. Men say: 'Look at our history, revolutions have not been in
our line; and look at our political map, its construction is unfavourable
to an organised uprising, and without unity what could a revolt
accomplish? It is disunion which has held our empire together for
centuries, and what it has done in the past it may continue to do now and
in the future.'
The most intelligible sketch I have encountered of this unintelligible
arrangement of things was contributed to the 'Traveller's Record' by Mr.
Forrest Morgan, of Hartford, three years ago. He says:
'The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy is the patchwork-quilt, the Midway
Plaisance, the national chain-gang of Europe; a state that is not a
nation, but a collection of nations, some with national memories and
aspirations and others without, some occupying distinct provinces
almost purely their own, and others mixed with alien races, but each
with a different language, and each mostly holding the others
foreigners as much as if the link of a common government did not
exist. Only one of its races even now comprises so much as
one-fourth of the whole, and not another so much as one-sixth; and
each has remained for ages as unchanged in isolation, however
mingled together in locality, as globules of oil in water. There
is nothing else in the modern world that is nearly like it, though
there have been plenty in past ages; it seems unreal and impossible
even though we know it is true; it violates all our feeling as to
what a country should be in order to have a right to exist; and it
seems as though it was too ramshackle to go on holding together any
length of time. Yet it has survived, much in its present shape, two
centuries of storms that have swept perfectly unified countries
from existence and others that have brought it to the verge of
ruin, has survived formidable European coalitions to dismember it,
and has steadily gained force after each; forever changing in its
exact make-up, losing in the West but gaining in the East, the
changes leave the structure as firm as ever, like the dropping off
and adding on of logs in a raft, its mechanical union of pieces
showing all the vitality of genuine national life.'
That seems to confirm and justify the prevalent Austrian faith that in
this confusion of unrelated and irreconcilable elements, this condition of
incurable disunion, there is strength—for the Government. Nearly
every day some one explains to me that a revolution would not succeed
here. 'It couldn't, you know. Broadly speaking, all the nations in the
empire hate the Government—but they all hate each other too, and
with devoted and enthusiastic bitterness; no two of them can combine; the
nation that rises must rise alone; then the others would joyfully join the
Government against her, and she would have just a fly's chance against a
combination of spiders. This Government is entirely independent. It can go
its own road, and do as it pleases; it has nothing to fear. In countries
like England and America, where there is one tongue and the public
interests are common, the Government must take account of public opinion;
but in Austria-Hungary there are nineteen public opinions—one for
each state. No—two or three for each state, since there are two or
three nationalities in each. A Government cannot satisfy all these public
opinions; it can only go through the motions of trying. This Government
does that. It goes through the motions, and they do not succeed; but that
does not worry the Government much.'
The next man will give you some further information. 'The Government has a
policy—a wise one—and sticks to it. This policy is—tranquillity:
keep this hive of excitable nations as quiet as possible; encourage them
to amuse themselves with things less inflammatory that politics. To this
end it furnishes them an abundance of Catholic priests to teach them to be
docile and obedient, and to be diligent in acquiring ignorance about
things here below, and knowledge about the kingdom of heaven, to whose
historic delights they are going to add the charm of their society
by-and-by; and further—to this same end—it cools off the
newspapers every morning at five o'clock, whenever warm events are
happening.' There is a censor of the press, and apparently he is always on
duty and hard at work. A copy of each morning paper is brought to him at
five o'clock. His official wagons wait at the doors of the newspaper
offices and scud to him with the first copies that come from the press.
His company of assistants read every line in these papers, and mark
everything which seems to have a dangerous look; then he passes final
judgment upon these markings. Two things conspire to give to the results a
capricious and unbalanced look: his assistants have diversified notions as
to what is dangerous and what isn't; he can't get time to examine their
criticisms in much detail; and so sometimes the very same matter which is
suppressed in one paper fails to be damned in another one, and gets
published in full feather and unmodified. Then the paper in which it was
suppressed blandly copies the forbidden matter into its evening edition—provokingly
giving credit and detailing all the circumstances in courteous and
inoffensive language—and of course the censor cannot say a word.
Sometimes the censor sucks all the blood out of a newspaper and leaves it
colourless and inane; sometimes he leaves it undisturbed, and lets it talk
out its opinions with a frankness and vigour hardly to be surpassed, I
think, in the journals of any country. Apparently the censor sometimes
revises his verdicts upon second thought, for several times lately he has
suppressed journals after their issue and partial distribution. The
distributed copies are then sent for by the censor and destroyed. I have
two of these, but at the time they were sent for I could not remember what
I had done with them.
If the censor did his work before the morning edition was printed, he
would be less of an inconvenience than he is; but, of course, the papers
cannot wait many minutes after five o'clock to get his verdict; they might
as well go out of business as do that; so they print and take their
chances. Then, if they get caught by a suppression, they must strike out
the condemned matter and print the edition over again. That delays the
issue several hours, and is expensive besides. The Government gets the
suppressed edition for nothing. If it bought it, that would be joyful, and
would give great satisfaction. Also, the edition would be larger. Some of
the papers do not replace the condemned paragraphs with other matter; they
merely snatch they out and leave blanks behind—mourning blanks,
The Government discourages the dissemination of newspaper information in
other ways. For instance, it does not allow newspapers to be sold on the
streets: therefore the newsboy is unknown in Vienna. And there is a stamp
duty of nearly a cent upon each copy of a newspaper's issue. Every
American paper that reaches me has a stamp upon it, which has been pasted
there in the post-office or downstairs in the hotel office; but no matter
who put it there, I have to pay for it, and that is the main thing.
Sometimes friends send me so many papers that it takes all I can earn that
week to keep this Government going.
I must take passing notice of another point in the Government's measures
for maintaining tranquillity. Everybody says it does not like to see any
individual attain to commanding influence in the country, since such a man
can become a disturber and an inconvenience. 'We have as much talent as
the other nations,' says the citizen, resignedly, and without bitterness,
'but for the sake of the general good of the country, we are discouraged
from making it over-conspicuous; and not only discouraged, but tactfully
and skillfully prevented from doing it, if we show too much persistence.
Consequently we have no renowned men; in centuries we have seldom produced
one—that is, seldom allowed one to produce himself. We can say
to-day what no other nation of first importance in the family of Christian
civilisations can say—that there exists no Austrian who has made an
enduring name for himself which is familiar all around the globe.
Another helper toward tranquillity is the army. It is as pervasive as the
atmosphere. It is everywhere. All the mentioned creators, promoters, and
preservers of the public tranquillity do their several shares in the
quieting work. They make a restful and comfortable serenity and
reposefulness. This is disturbed sometimes for a little while: a mob
assembles to protest against something; it gets noisy—noisier—still
noisier—finally too noisy; then the persuasive soldiery comes
charging down upon it, and in a few minutes all is quiet again, and there
is no mob.
There is a Constitution and there is a Parliament. The House draws its
membership of 425 deputies from the nineteen or twenty states heretofore
mentioned. These men represent peoples who speak eleven different
languages. That means eleven distinct varieties of jealousies,
hostilities, and warring interests. This could be expected to furnish
forth a parliament of a pretty inharmonious sort, and make legislation
difficult at times—and it does that. The Parliament is split up into
many parties—the Clericals, the Progressists, the German
Nationalists, the Young Czechs, the Social Democrats, the Christian
Socialists, and some others—and it is difficult to get up working
combinations among them. They prefer to fight apart sometimes.
The recent troubles have grown out of Count Badeni's necessities. He could
not carry on his Government without a majority vote in the House at his
back, and in order to secure it he had to make a trade of some sort. He
made it with the Czechs—the Bohemians. The terms were not easy for
him: he must issue an ordinance making the Czech tongue the official
language in Bohemia in place of the German. This created a storm. All the
Germans in Austria were incensed. In numbers they form but a fourth part
of the empire's population, but they urge that the country's public
business should be conducted in one common tongue, and that tongue a world
language—which German is.
However, Badeni secured his majority. The German element in Parliament was
apparently become helpless. The Czech deputies were exultant.
Then the music began. Badeni's voyage, instead of being smooth, was
disappointingly rough from the start. The Government must get the
Ausgleich through. It must not fail. Badeni's majority was ready to carry
it through; but the minority was determined to obstruct it and delay it
until the obnoxious Czech-language measure should be shelved.
The Ausgleich is an Adjustment, Arrangement, Settlement, which holds
Austria and Hungary together. It dates from 1867, and has to be renewed
every ten years. It establishes the share which Hungary must pay toward
the expenses of the imperial Government. Hungary is a kingdom (the Emperor
of Austria is its King), and has its own Parliament and governmental
machinery. But it has no foreign office, and it has no army—at least
its army is a part of the imperial army, is paid out of the imperial
treasury, and is under the control of the imperial war office.
The ten-year arrangement was due a year ago, but failed to connect. At
least completely. A year's compromise was arranged. A new arrangement must
be effected before the last day of this year. Otherwise the two countries
become separate entities. The Emperor would still be King of Hungary—that
is, King of an independent foreign country. There would be Hungarian
custom-houses on the Austrian border, and there would be a Hungarian army
and a Hungarian foreign office. Both countries would be weakened by this,
both would suffer damage.
The Opposition in the House, although in the minority, had a good weapon
to fight with in the pending Ausgleich. If it could delay the Ausgleich a
few weeks, the Government would doubtless have to withdraw the hated
language ordinance or lose Hungary.
The Opposition began its fight. Its arms were the Rules of the House. It
was soon manifest that by applying these Rules ingeniously it could make
the majority helpless, and keep it so as long as it pleased. It could shut
off business every now and then with a motion to adjourn. It could require
the ayes and noes on the motion, and use up thirty minutes on that detail.
It could call for the reading and verification of the minutes of the
preceding meeting, and use up half a day in that way. It could require
that several of its members be entered upon the list of permitted speakers
previously to the opening of a sitting; and as there is no time-limit,
further delays could thus be accomplished.
These were all lawful weapons, and the men of the Opposition (technically
called the Left) were within their rights in using them. They used them to
such dire purpose that all parliamentary business was paralysed. The Right
(the Government side) could accomplish nothing. Then it had a saving idea.
This idea was a curious one. It was to have the President and the
Vice-Presidents of the Parliament trample the Rules under foot upon
This, for a profoundly embittered minority constructed out of fire and
gun-cotton! It was time for idle strangers to go and ask leave to look
down out of a gallery and see what would be the result of it.
II. A MEMORABLE SITTING.
And now took place that memorable sitting of the House which broke two
records. It lasted the best part of two days and a night, surpassing by
half an hour the longest sitting known to the world's previous
parliamentary history, and breaking the long-speech record with Dr.
Lecher's twelve-hour effort, the longest flow of unbroken talk that ever
came out of one mouth since the world began.
At 8.45 on the evening of the 28th of October, when the House had been
sitting a few minutes short of ten hours, Dr. Lecher was granted the
floor. It was a good place for theatrical effects. I think that no other
Senate House is so shapely as this one, or so richly and showily
decorated. Its plan is that of an opera-house. Up toward the straight side
of it—the stage side—rise a couple of terraces of desks for
the ministry, and the official clerks or secretaries—terraces thirty
feet long, and each supporting about half a dozen desks with spaces
between them. Above these is the President's terrace, against the wall.
Along it are distributed the proper accommodations for the presiding
officer and his assistants. The wall is of richly coloured marble highly
polished, its paneled sweep relieved by fluted columns and pilasters of
distinguished grace and dignity, which glow softly and frostily in the
electric light. Around the spacious half-circle of the floor bends the
great two-storied curve of the boxes, its frontage elaborately ornamented
and sumptuously gilded. On the floor of the House the 425 desks radiate
fanwise from the President's tribune.
The galleries are crowded on this particular evening, for word has gone
about that the Ausgleich is before the House; that the President, Ritter
von Abrahamowicz, has been throttling the Rules; that the Opposition are
in an inflammable state in consequence, and that the night session is
likely to be of an exciting sort.
The gallery guests are fashionably dressed, and the finery of the women
makes a bright and pretty show under the strong electric light. But down
on the floor there is no costumery.
The deputies are dressed in day clothes; some of the clothes neat and
trim, others not; there may be three members in evening dress, but not
more. There are several Catholic priests in their long black gowns, and
with crucifixes hanging from their necks. No member wears his hat. One may
see by these details that the aspects are not those of an evening sitting
of an English House of Commons, but rather those of a sitting of our House
In his high place sits the President, Abrahamowicz, object of the
Opposition's limitless hatred. He is sunk back in the depths of his
arm-chair, and has his chin down. He brings the ends of his spread fingers
together, in front of his breast, and reflectively taps them together,
with the air of one who would like to begin business, but must wait, and
be as patient as he can. It makes you think of Richelieu. Now and then he
swings his head up to the left or to the right and answers something which
some one has bent down to say to him. Then he taps his fingers again. He
looks tired, and maybe a trifle harassed. He is a gray-haired, long,
slender man, with a colourless long face, which, in repose, suggests a
death-mask; but when not in repose is tossed and rippled by a turbulent
smile which washes this way and that, and is not easy to keep up with—a
pious smile, a holy smile, a saintly smile, a deprecating smile, a
beseeching and supplicating smile; and when it is at work the large mouth
opens, and the flexible lips crumple, and unfold, and crumple again, and
move around in a genial and persuasive and angelic way, and expose large
glimpses of the teeth; and that interrupts the sacredness of the smile and
gives it momentarily a mixed worldly and political and satanic cast. It is
a most interesting face to watch. And then the long hands and the body—they
furnish great and frequent help to the face in the business of adding to
the force of the statesman's words.
To change the tense. At the time of which I have just been speaking the
crowds in the galleries were gazing at the stage and the pit with rapt
interest and expectancy. One half of the great fan of desks was in effect
empty, vacant; in the other half several hundred members were bunched and
jammed together as solidly as the bristles in a brush; and they also were
waiting and expecting. Presently the Chair delivered this utterance:
'Dr. Lecher has the floor.'
Then burst out such another wild and frantic and deafening clamour as has
not been heard on this planet since the last time the Comanches surprised
a white settlement at night. Yells from the Left, counter-yells from the
Right, explosions of yells from all sides at once, and all the air sawed
and pawed and clawed and cloven by a writhing confusion of gesturing arms
and hands. Out of the midst of this thunder and turmoil and tempest rose
Dr. Lecher, serene and collected, and the providential length of his
enabled his head to show out of it. He began his twelve-hour speech. At
any rate, his lips could be seen to move, and that was evidence. On high
sat the President, imploring order, with his long hands put together as in
prayer, and his lips visibly but not hearably speaking. At intervals he
grasped his bell and swung it up and down with vigour, adding its keen
clamour to the storm weltering there below.
Dr. Lecher went on with his pantomime speech, contented, untroubled. Here
and there and now and then powerful voices burst above the din, and
delivered an ejaculation that was heard. Then the din ceased for a moment
or two, and gave opportunity to hear what the Chair might answer; then the
noise broke out again. Apparently the President was being charged with all
sorts of illegal exercises of power in the interest of the Right (the
Government side): among these, with arbitrarily closing an Order of
Business before it was finished; with an unfair distribution of the right
to the floor; with refusal of the floor, upon quibble and protest, to
members entitled to it; with stopping a speaker's speech upon quibble and
protest; and with other transgressions of the Rules of the House. One of
the interrupters who made himself heard was a young fellow of slight build
and neat dress, who stood a little apart from the solid crowd and leaned
negligently, with folded arms and feet crossed, against a desk. Trim and
handsome; strong face and thin features; black hair roughed up;
parsimonious moustache; resonant great voice, of good tone and pitch. It
is Wolf, capable and hospitable with sword and pistol; fighter of the
recent duel with Count Badeni, the head of the Government. He shot Badeni
through the arm and then walked over in the politest way and inspected his
game, shook hands, expressed regret, and all that. Out of him came early
this thundering peal, audible above the storm:
'I demand the floor. I wish to offer a motion.'
In the sudden lull which followed, the President answered, 'Dr. Lecher has
Wolf. 'I move the close of the sitting!'
P. 'Representative Lecher has the floor.' (Stormy outburst from the Left—that
is, the Opposition.)
Wolf. 'I demand the floor for the introduction of a formal notion.
(Pause). Mr. President, are you going to grant it, or not? (Crash of
approval from the Left.) I will keep on demanding the floor till I get
P. 'I call Representative Wolf to order. Dr. Lecher has the floor.'
Wolf. 'Mr. President, are you going to observe the Rules of this House?'
(Tempest of applause and confused ejaculations from the Left—a boom
and roar which long endured, and stopped all business for the time being.)
Dr. von Pessler. 'By the Rules motions are in order, and the Chair must
put them to vote.'
For answer the President (who is a Pole—I make this remark in
passing) began to jangle his bell with energy at the moment that that wild
pandemonium of voices broke out again.
Wolf (hearable above the storm). 'Mr. President, I demand the floor. We
intend to find out, here and now, which is the hardest, a Pole's skull or
This brought out a perfect cyclone of satisfaction from the Left. In the
midst of it someone again moved an Adjournment. The President blandly
answered that Dr. Lecher had the floor. Which was true; and he was
speaking, too, calmly, earnestly, and argumentatively; and the official
stenographers had left their places and were at his elbows taking down his
words, he leaning and orating into their ears—a most curious and
Dr. von Pessler (to the Chair). 'Do not drive us to extremities!'
The tempest burst out again: yells of approval from the Left, catcalls and
ironical laughter from the Right. At this point a new and most effective
noise-maker was pressed into service. Each desk has an extension,
consisting of a removable board eighteen inches long, six wide, and a
half-inch thick. A member pulled one of these out and began to belabour
the top of his desk with it. Instantly other members followed suit, and
perhaps you can imagine the result. Of all conceivable rackets it is the
most ear-splitting, intolerable, and altogether fiendish.
The persecuted President leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes,
clasped his hands in his lap, and a look of pathetic resignation crept
over his long face. It is the way a country schoolmaster used to look in
days long past when he had refused his school a holiday and it had risen
against him in ill-mannered riot and violence and insurrection. Twice a
motion to adjourn had been offered—a motion always in order in other
Houses, and doubtless so in this one also. The President had refused to
put these motions. By consequence, he was not in a pleasant place now, and
was having a right hard time. Votes upon motions, whether carried or
defeated, could make endless delay, and postpone the Ausgleich to next
In the midst of these sorrowful circumstances and this hurricane of yells
and screams and satanic clatter of desk-boards, Representative Dr.
Kronawetter unfeelingly reminds the Chair that a motion has been offered,
and adds: 'Say yes, or no! What do you sit there for, and give no answer?'
P. 'After I have given a speaker the floor, I cannot give it to another.
After Dr. Lecher is through, I will put your motion.' (Storm of
indignation from the Left.)
Wolf (to the Chair). 'Thunder and lightning! look at the Rule governing
Kronawetter. 'I move the close of the sitting! And I demand the ayes and
Dr. Lecher. 'Mr. President, have I the floor?'
P. 'You have the floor.'
Wolf (to the Chair, in a stentorian voice which cleaves its way through
the storm). 'It is by such brutalities as these that you drive us to
extremities! Are you waiting till someone shall throw into your face the
word that shall describe what you are bringing about?(1) (Tempest of
insulted fury from the Right.) Is that what you are waiting for, old
Grayhead?' (Long-continued clatter of desk-boards from the Left, with
shouts of 'The vote! the vote!' An ironical shout from the Right, 'Wolf is
Wolf keeps on demanding the floor for his motion. At length—
P. 'I call Representative Wolf to order! Your conduct is unheard of, sir!
You forget that you are in a parliament; you must remember where you are,
sir.' (Applause from the Right. Dr. Lecher is still peacefully speaking,
the stenographers listening at his lips.)
Wolf (banging on his desk with his desk-board). 'I demand the floor for my
motion! I won't stand this trampling of the Rules under foot—no, not
if I die for it! I will never yield. You have got to stop me by force.
Have I the floor?'
P. 'Representative Wolf, what kind of behaviour is this? I call you to
order again. You should have some regard for your dignity.'
Dr. Lecher speaks on. Wolf turns upon him with an offensive innuendo.
Dr. Lecher. 'Mr. Wolf, I beg you to refrain from that sort of
suggestions.' (Storm of hand-clapping from the Right.)
This was applause from the enemy, for Lecher himself, like Wolf, was an
Wolf growls to Lecher, 'You can scribble that applause in your album!'
P. 'Once more I call Representative Wolf to order! Do not forget that you
are a Representative, sir!'
Wolf (slam-banging with his desk-board). 'I will force this matter! Are
you going to grant me the floor, or not?'
And still the sergeant-at-arms did not appear. It was because there wasn't
any. It is a curious thing, but the Chair has no effectual means of
After some more interruptions:
Wolf (banging with his board). 'I demand the floor. I will not yield!'
P. 'I have no recourse against Representative Wolf. In the presence of
behaviour like this it is to be regretted that such is the case.' (A shout
from the Right, 'Throw him out!')
It is true he had no effective recourse. He had an official called an
'Ordner,' whose help he could invoke in desperate cases, but apparently
the Ordner is only a persuader, not a compeller. Apparently he is a
sergeant-at-arms who is not loaded; a good enough gun to look at, but not
valuable for business.
For another twenty or thirty minutes Wolf went on banging with his board
and demanding his rights; then at last the weary President threatened to
summon the dread order-maker. But both his manner and his words were
reluctant. Evidently it grieved him to have to resort to this dire
extremity. He said to Wolf, 'If this goes on, I shall feel obliged to
summon the Ordner, and beg him to restore order in the House.'
Wolf. 'I'd like to see you do it! Suppose you fetch in a few policemen
too! (Great tumult.) Are you going to put my motion to adjourn, or not?'
Dr. Lecher continues his speech. Wolf accompanies him with his
The President despatches the Ordner, Dr. Lang (himself a deputy), on his
order-restoring mission. Wolf, with his board uplifted for defence,
confronts the Ordner with a remark which Boss Tweed might have translated
into 'Now let's see what you are going to do about it!' (Noise and tumult
all over the House.)
Wolf stands upon his rights, and says he will maintain them until he is
killed in his tracks. Then he resumes his banging, the President jangles
his bell and begs for order, and the rest of the House augments the racket
the best it can.
Wolf. 'I require an adjournment, because I find myself personally
threatened. (Laughter from the Right.) Not that I fear for myself; I am
only anxious about what will happen to the man who touches me.'
The Ordner. 'I am not going to fight with you.'
Nothing came of the efforts of the angel of peace, and he presently melted
out of the scene and disappeared. Wolf went on with his noise and with his
demands that he be granted the floor, resting his board at intervals to
discharge criticisms and epithets at the Chair. Once he reminded the
Chairman of his violated promise to grant him (Wolf) the floor, and said,
'Whence I came, we call promise-breakers rascals!' And he advised the
Chairman to take his conscience to bed with him and use it as a pillow.
Another time he said that the Chair was making itself ridiculous before
all Europe. In fact, some of Wolf's language was almost unparliamentary.
By-and-by he struck the idea of beating out a tune with his board. Later
he decided to stop asking for the floor, and to confer it upon himself.
And so he and Dr. Lecher now spoke at the same time, and mingled their
speeches with the other noises, and nobody heard either of them. Wolf
rested himself now and then from speech-making by reading, in his clarion
voice, from a pamphlet.
I will explain that Dr. Lecher was not making a twelve-hour speech for
pastime, but for an important purpose. It was the Government's intention
to push the Ausgleich through its preliminary stages in this one sitting
(for which it was the Order of the Day), and then by vote refer it to a
select committee. It was the Majority's scheme—as charged by the
Opposition—to drown debate upon the bill by pure noise—drown
it out and stop it. The debate being thus ended, the vote upon the
reference would follow—with victory for the Government. But into the
Government's calculations had not entered the possibility of a
single-barrelled speech which should occupy the entire time-limit of the
setting, and also get itself delivered in spite of all the noise. Goliath
was not expecting David. But David was there; and during twelve hours he
tranquilly pulled statistical, historical, and argumentative pebbles out
of his scrip and slung them at the giant; and when he was done he was
victor, and the day was saved.
In the English House an obstructionist has held the floor with
Bible-readings and other outside matters; but Dr. Lecher could not have
that restful and recuperative privilege—he must confine himself
strictly to the subject before the House. More than once, when the
President could not hear him because of the general tumult, he sent
persons to listen and report as to whether the orator was speaking to the
subject or not.
The subject was a peculiarly difficult one, and it would have troubled any
other deputy to stick to it three hours without exhausting his ammunition,
because it required a vast and intimate knowledge—detailed and
particularised knowledge—of the commercial, railroading, financial,
and international banking relations existing between two great
sovereignties, Hungary and the Empire. But Dr. Lecher is President of the
Board of Trade of his city of Brunn, and was master of the situation. His
speech was not formally prepared. He had a few notes jotted down for his
guidance; he had his facts in his head; his heard was in his work; and for
twelve hours he stood there, undisturbed by the clamour around him, and
with grace and ease and confidence poured out the riches of his mind, in
closely reasoned arguments, clothed in eloquent and faultless phrasing.
He is a young man of thirty-seven. He is tall and well-proportioned, and
has cultivated and fortified his muscle by mountain-climbing. If he were a
little handsomer he would sufficiently reproduce for me the Chauncey Depew
of the great New England dinner nights of some years ago; he has Depew's
charm of manner and graces of language and delivery.
There was but one way for Dr. Lecher to hold the floor—he must stay
on his legs. If he should sit down to rest a moment, the floor would be
taken from him by the enemy in the Chair. When he had been talking three
or four hours he himself proposed an adjournment, in order that he might
get some rest from his wearing labours; but he limited his motion with the
condition that if it was lost he should be allowed to continue his speech,
and if it was carried he should have the floor at the next sitting. Wolf
was now appeased, and withdrew his own thousand-times-offered motion, and
Dr. Lecher's was voted upon—and lost. So he went on speaking.
By one o'clock in the morning, excitement and noise-making had tired out
nearly everybody but the orator. Gradually the seats of the Right
underwent depopulation; the occupants had slipped out to the
refreshment-rooms to eat and drink, or to the corridors to chat. Some one
remarked that there was no longer a quorum present, and moved a call of
the House. The Chair (Vice-President Dr. Kramarz) refused to put it to
vote. There was a small dispute over the legality of this ruling, but the
Chair held its ground.
The Left remained on the battle-field to support their champion. He went
steadily on with his speech; and always it was strong, virile, felicitous,
and to the point. He was earning applause, and this enabled his party to
turn that fact to account. Now and then they applauded him a couple of
minutes on a stretch, and during that time he could stop speaking and rest
his voice without having the floor taken from him.
At a quarter to two a member of the Left demanded that Dr. Lecher be
allowed a recess for rest, and said that the Chairman was 'heartless.' Dr.
Lecher himself asked for ten minutes. The Chair allowed him five. Before
the time had run out Dr. Lecher was on his feet again.
Wolf burst out again with a motion to adjourn. Refused by the Chair. Wolf
said the whole Parliament wasn't worth a pinch of powder. The Chair
retorted that that was true in a case where a single member was able to
make all parliamentary business impossible. Dr. Lecher continued his
The members of the Majority went out by detachments from time to time and
took naps upon sofas in the reception-rooms; and also refreshed themselves
with food and drink—in quantities nearly unbelievable—but the
Minority stayed loyally by their champion. Some distinguished deputies of
the Majority stayed by him too, compelled thereto by admiration of his
great performance. When a man has been speaking eight hours, is it
conceivable that he can still be interesting, still fascinating? When Dr.
Lecher had been speaking eight hours he was still compactly surrounded by
friends who would not leave him, and by foes (of all parties) who could
not; and all hung enchanted and wondering upon his words, and all
testified their admiration with constant and cordial outbursts of
applause. Surely this was a triumph without precedent in history.
During the twelve-hour effort friends brought to the orator three glasses
of wine, four cups of coffee, and one glass of beer—a most stingy
re-enforcement of his wasting tissues, but the hostile Chair would permit
no addition to it. But, no matter, the Chair could not beat that man. He
was a garrison holding a fort, and was not to be starved out.
When he had been speaking eight hours his pulse was 72; when he had spoken
twelve, it was 100.
He finished his long speech in these terms, as nearly as a permissibly
free translation can convey them:
'I will now hasten to close my examination of the subject. I conceive that
we of the Left have made it clear to the honourable gentlemen of the other
side of the House that we are stirred by no intemperate enthusiasm for
this measure in its present shape....
'What we require, and shall fight for with all lawful weapons, is a
formal, comprehensive, and definitive solution and settlement of these
vexed matters. We desire the restoration of the earlier condition of
things; the cancellation of all this incapable Government's pernicious
trades with Hungary; and then—release from the sorry burden of the
'I voice the hope—I know not if it will be fulfilled—I voice
the deep and sincere and patriotic hope that the committee into whose
hands this bill will eventually be committed will take its stand upon high
ground, and will return the Ausgleich-Provisorium to this House in a form
which shall make it the protector and promoter alike of the great
interests involved and of the honour of our fatherland.' After a pause,
turning towards the Government benches: 'But in any case, gentlemen of the
Majority, make sure of this: henceforth, as before, you find us at our
post. The Germans of Austria will neither surrender nor die!'
Then burst a storm of applause which rose and fell, rose and fell, burst
out again and again and again, explosion after explosion, hurricane after
hurricane, with no apparent promise of ever coming to an end; and meantime
the whole Left was surging and weltering about the champion, all bent upon
wringing his hand and congratulating him and glorifying him.
Finally he got away, and went home and ate five loaves and twelve baskets
of fish, read the morning papers, slept three hours, took a short drive,
then returned to the House, and sat out the rest of the thirty-three-hour
To merely stand up in one spot twelve hours on a stretch is a feat which
very few men could achieve; to add to the task the utterance of a hundred
thousand words would be beyond the possibilities of the most of those few;
to superimpose the requirement that the words should be put into the form
of a compact, coherent, and symmetrical oration would probably rule out
the rest of the few, bar Dr. Lecher.
III.—CURIOUS PARLIAMENTARY ETIQUETTE.
In consequence of Dr. Lecher's twelve-hour speech and the other
obstructions furnished by the Minority, the famous thirty-three-hour
sitting of the House accomplished nothing. The Government side had made a
supreme effort, assisting itself with all the helps at hand, both lawful
and unlawful, yet had failed to get the Ausgleich into the hands of a
committee. This was a severe defeat. The Right was mortified, the Left
Parliament was adjourned for a week—to let the members cool off,
perhaps—a sacrifice of precious time; for but two months remained in
which to carry the all-important Ausgleich to a consummation.
If I have reported the behaviour of the House intelligibly, the reader has
been surprised by it, and has wondered whence these law-makers come and
what they are made of; and he has probably supposed that the conduct
exhibited at the Long Sitting was far out of the common, and due to
special excitement and irritation. As to the make-up of the House, it is
this: the deputies come from all the walks of life and from all the grades
of society. There are princes, counts, barons, priests, peasants,
mechanics, labourers, lawyers, judges, physicians, professors, merchants,
bankers, shopkeepers. They are religious men, they are earnest, sincere,
devoted, and they hate the Jews. The title of Doctor is so common in the
House that one may almost say that the deputy who does not bear it is by
that reason conspicuous. I am assured that it is not a self-granted title,
and not an honorary one, but an earned one; that in Austria it is very
seldom conferred as a mere compliment; that in Austria the degrees of
Doctor of Music, Doctor of Philosophy, and so on, are not conferred by the
seats of learning; and so, when an Austrian is called Doctor, it means
that he is either a lawyer or a physician, and that he is not a
self-educated man, but is college-bred, and has been diplomaed for merit.
That answers the question of the constitution of the House. Now as to the
House's curious manners. The manners exhibited by this convention of
Doctors were not at that time being tried as a wholly new experiment. I
will go back to a previous sitting in order to show that the deputies had
already had some practice.
There had been an incident. The dignity of the House had been wounded by
improprieties indulged in in its presence by a couple of the members. This
matter was placed in the hands of a committee to determine where the guilt
lay and the degree of it, and also to suggest the punishment. The chairman
of the committee brought in his report. By this it appeared that in the
course of a speech, Deputy Schrammel said that religion had no proper
place in the public schools—it was a private matter. Whereupon
Deputy Gregorig shouted, 'How about free love!'
To this, Deputy Iro flung out this retort: 'Soda-water at the Wimberger!'
This appeared to deeply offend Deputy Gregorig, who shouted back at Iro,
'You cowardly blatherskite, say that again!'
The committee had sat three hours. Gregorig had apologised. Iro explained
that he didn't say anything about soda-water at the Wimberger. He
explained in writing, and was very explicit: 'I declare upon my word of
honour that I did not say the words attributed to me.'
Unhappily for his word of honour, it was proved by the official
stenographers and by the testimony of several deputies that he did say
The committee did not officially know why the apparently inconsequential
reference to soda-water at the Wimberger should move Deputy Gregorig to
call the utterer of it a cowardly blatherskite; still, after proper
deliberation, it was of the opinion that the House ought to formally
censure the whole business. This verdict seems to have been regarded as
sharply severe. I think so because Deputy Dr. Lueger, Burgermeister of
Vienna, felt it a duty to soften the blow to his friend Gregorig by
showing that the soda-water remark was not so innocuous as it might look;
that, indeed, Gregorig's tough retory was justifiable—and he
proceeded to explain why. He read a number of scandalous post-cards which
he intimated had proceeded from Iro, as indicated by the handwriting,
though they were anonymous. Some of them were posted to Gregorig at his
place of business and could have been read by all his subordinates; the
others were posted to Gregorig's wife. Lueger did not say—but
everybody knew—that the cards referred to a matter of town gossip
which made Mr. Gregorig a chief actor in a tavern scene where
siphon-squirting played a prominent and humorous part, and wherein women
had a share.
There were several of the cards; more than several, in fact; no fewer than
five were sent in one day. Dr. Lueger read some of them, and described
others. Some of them had pictures on them; one a picture of a hog with a
monstrous snout, and beside it a squirting soda-siphon; below it some
Gregorig dealt in shirts, cravats, etc. One of the cards bore these words:
'Much-respected Deputy and collar-sewer—or stealer.'
Another: 'Hurrah for the Christian-Social work among the
women-assemblages! Hurrah for the soda-squirter!' Comment by Dr. Lueger:
'I cannot venture to read the rest of that one, nor the signature,
Another: 'Would you mind telling me if....' Comment by Dr. Lueger: 'The
rest of it is not properly readable.'
To Deputy Gregorig's wife: 'Much-respected Madam Gregorig,—The
undersigned desires an invitation to the next soda-squirt.' Comment by Dr.
Lueger: 'Neither the rest of the card nor the signature can I venture to
read to the House, so vulgar are they.'
The purpose of this card—to expose Gregorig to his family—was
repeated in others of these anonymous missives.
The House, by vote, censured the two improper deputies.
This may have had a modifying effect upon the phraseology of the
membership for a while, and upon its general exuberance also, but it was
not for long. As has been seen, it had become lively once more on the
night of the Long Sitting. At the next sitting after the long one there
was certainly no lack of liveliness. The President was persistently
ignoring the Rules of the House in the interest of the government side,
and the Minority were in an unappeasable fury about it. The ceaseless din
and uproar, the shouting and stamping and desk-banging, were deafening,
but through it all burst voices now and then that made themselves heard.
Some of the remarks were of a very candid sort, and I believe that if they
had been uttered in our House of Representatives they would have attracted
attention. I will insert some samples here. Not in their order, but
selected on their merits:
Mr. Mayreder (to the President). 'You have lied! You conceded the floor to
me; make it good, or you have lied!'
Mr. Glockner (to the President). 'Leave! Get out!'
Wolf (indicating the President). 'There sits a man to whom a certain title
Unto Wolf, who is continuously reading, in a powerful voice, from a
newspaper, arrive these personal remarks from the Majority: 'Oh, shut your
mouth!' 'Put him out!' 'Out with him!' Wolf stops reading a moment to
shout at Dr. Lueger, who has the floor but cannot get a hearing, 'Please,
Betrayer of the People, begin!'
Dr. Lueger, 'Meine Herren—' ('Oho!' and groans.)
Wolf. 'That's the holy light of the Christian Socialists!'
Mr. Kletzenbauer (Christian Socialist). 'Dam—nation! Are you ever
going to quiet down?'
Wolf discharges a galling remark at Mr. Wohlmeyer.
Wohlmeyer (responding). 'You Jew, you!'
There is a moment's lull, and Dr. Lueger begins his speech. Graceful,
handsome man, with winning manners and attractive bearing, a bright and
easy speaker, and is said to know how to trim his political sails to catch
any favouring wind that blows. He manages to say a few words, then the
tempest overwhelms him again.
Wolf stops reading his paper a moment to say a drastic thing about Lueger
and his Christian-Social pieties, which sets the C.S.S. in a sort of
Mr. Vielohlawek. 'You leave the Christian Socialists alone, you
word-of-honour-breaker! Obstruct all you want to, but you leave them
alone! You've no business in this House; you belong in a gin-mill!'
Mr. Prochazka. 'In a lunatic-asylum, you mean!'
Vielohlawek. 'It's a pity that such man should be leader of the Germans;
he disgraces the German name!'
Dr. Scheicher. 'It's a shame that the like of him should insult us.'
Strohbach (to Wolf). 'Contemptible cub—we will bounce thee out of
this!' (It is inferable that the 'thee' is not intended to indicate
affection this time, but to re-enforce and emphasise Mr. Storhbach's
Dr. Scheicher. 'His insults are of no consequence. He wants his ears
Dr. Lueger (to Wolf). 'You'd better worry a trifle over your Iro's word of
honour. You are behaving like a street arab.'
Dr. Scheicher. 'It is infamous!'
Dr. Lueger. 'And these shameless creatures are the leaders of the German
Meantime Wolf goes whooping along with his newspaper readings in great
Dr. Pattai. 'Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! You haven't the floor!'
Strohbach. 'The miserable cub!'
Dr. Lueger (to Wolf, raising his voice strenuously above the storm). 'You
are a wholly honourless street brat!' (A voice, 'Fire the rapscallion
out!' But Wolf's soul goes marching noisily on, just the same.)
Schonerer (vast and muscular, and endowed with the most powerful voice in
the Reichsrath; comes ploughing down through the standing crowds, red, and
choking with anger; halts before Deputy Wohlmeyer, grabs a rule and
smashes it with a blow upon a desk, threatens Wohlmeyer's face with his
fist, and bellows out some personalities, and a promise). 'Only you wait—we'll
teach you!' (A whirlwind of offensive retorts assails him from the band of
meek and humble Christian Socialists compacted around their leader, that
distinguished religious expert, Dr. Lueger, Burgermeister of Vienna. Our
breath comes in excited gasps now, and we are full of hope. We imagine
that we are back fifty years ago in the Arkansas Legislature, and we think
we know what is going to happen, and are glad we came, and glad we are up
in the gallery, out of the way, where we can see the whole thing and yet
not have to supply any of the material for the inquest. However, as it
turns out, our confidence is abused, our hopes are misplaced.)
Dr. Pattai (wildly excited). 'You quiet down, or we shall turn ourselves
loose! There will be cuffing of ears!'
Prochazka (in a fury). 'No—not ear boxing, but genuine blows!'
Vieholawek. 'I would rather take my hat off to a Jew than to Wolf!'
Strohbach (to Wolf). 'Jew flunky! Here we have been fighting the Jews for
ten years, and now you are helping them to power again. How much do you
get for it?'
Holansky. 'What he wants is a strait-jacket!'
Wolf continues his reading. It is a market report now.
Remark flung across the House to Schonerer: 'Die Grossmutter auf dem
Misthaufen erzeugt worden!'
It will be judicious not to translate that. Its flavour is pretty high, in
any case, but it becomes particularly gamy when you remember that the
first gallery was well stocked with ladies.
Apparently it was a great hit. It fetched thunders of joyous enthusiasm
out of the Christian Socialists, and in their rapture they flung biting
epithets with wasteful liberality at specially detested members of the
Opposition; among others, this one at Schonerer, 'Bordell in der
Krugerstrasse!' Then they added these words, which they whooped, howled,
and also even sand, in a deep-voiced chorus: 'Schmul Leeb Kohn! Schmul
Leeb Kohn! Schmul Leeb Kohn!' and made it splendidly audible above the
banging of desk-boards and the rest of the roaring cyclone of fiendish
noises. (A gallery witticism comes flitting by from mouth to mouth around
the great curve: 'The swan-song of Austrian representative government!'
You can note its progress by the applausive smiles and nods it gets as it
Kletzenbauer. 'Holofernes, where is Judith?' (Storm of laughter.)
Gregorig (the shirt-merchant). 'This Wolf-Theatre is costing 6,000
Wolf (with sweetness). 'Notice him, gentlemen; it is Mr. Gregorig.'
Vieholawek (to Wolf). 'You Judas!'
Chorus of Voices. 'East-German offal tub!'
And so the war of epithets crashes along, with never-diminishing energy,
for a couple of hours.
The ladies in the gallery were learning. That was well; for by-and-by
ladies will form a part of the membership of all the legislatures in the
world; as soon as they can prove competency they will be admitted. At
present, men only are competent to legislate; therefore they look down
upon women, and would feel degraded if they had to have them for
colleagues in their high calling.
Wolf is yelling another market report now.
Gessman. 'Shut up, infamous louse-brat!'
During a momentary lull Dr. Lueger gets a hearing for three sentences of
his speech. The demand and require that the President shall suppress the
four noisiest members of the Opposition.
Wolf (with a that-settles-it toss of the head). 'The shifty trickster of
Vienna has spoken!'
Iro belonged to Schonerer's party. The word-of-honour incident has given
it a new name. Gregorig is a Christian Socialist, and hero of the
post-cards and the Wimberger soda-squirting incident. He stands vast and
conspicuous, and conceited and self-satisfied, and roosterish and
inconsequential, at Lueger's elbow, and is proud and cocky to be in such a
great company. He looks very well indeed; really majestic, and aware of
it. He crows out his little empty remark, now and then, and looks as
pleased as if he had been delivered of the Ausgleich. Indeed, he does look
notably fine. He wears almost the only dress vest on the floor; it exposes
a continental spread of white shirt-front; his hands are posed at ease in
the lips of his trousers pockets; his head is tilted back complacently; he
is attitudinising; he is playing to the gallery. However, they are all
doing that. It is curious to see. Men who only vote, and can't make
speeches, and don't know how to invent witty ejaculations, wander about
the vacated parts of the floor, and stop in a good place and strike
attitudes—attitudes suggestive of weighty thought, mostly—and
glance furtively up at the galleries to see how it works; or a couple will
come together and shake hands in an artificial way, and laugh a gay
manufactured laugh, and do some constrained and self-conscious
attitudinising; and they steal glances at the galleries to see if they are
getting notice. It is like a scene on the stage—by-play by minor
actors at the back while the stars do the great work at the front. Even
Count Badeni attitudinises for a moment; strikes a reflective Napoleonic
attitude of fine picturesqueness—but soon thinks better of it and
desists. There are two who do not attitudinise—poor harried and
insulted President Abrahamowicz, who seems wholly miserable, and can find
no way to put in the dreary time but by swinging his bell and discharging
occasional remarks which nobody can hear; and a resigned and patient
priest, who sits lonely in a great vacancy on Majority territory and
munches an apple.
Schonerer uplifts his fog-horn of a voice and shakes the roof with an
insult discharged at the Majority.
Dr. Lueger. 'The Honourless Party would better keep still here!'
Gregorig (the echo, swelling out his shirt-front). 'Yes, keep quiet,
Schonerer (to Lueger). 'Political mountebank!'
Prochazka (to Schonerer). 'Drunken clown!'
During the final hour of the sitting many happy phrases were distributed
through the proceedings. Among them were these—and they are
strikingly good ones:
This last was the contribution of Dr. Gessman, and gave great
satisfaction. And deservedly. It seems to me that it was one of the most
sparkling things that was said during the whole evening.
At half-past two in the morning the House adjourned. The victory was with
the Opposition. No; not quite that. The effective part of it was snatched
away from them by an unlawful exercise of Presidential force—another
contribution toward driving the mistreated Minority out of their minds.
At other sittings of the parliament, gentlemen of the Opposition, shaking
their fists toward the President, addressed him as 'Polish Dog'. At one
sitting an angry deputy turned upon a colleague and shouted, '—————!'
You must try to imagine what it was. If I should offer it even in the
original it would probably not get by the editor's blue pencil; to offer a
translation would be to waste my ink, of course. This remark was frankly
printed in its entirety by one of the Vienna dailies, but the others
disguised the toughest half of it with stars.
If the reader will go back over this chapter and gather its array of
extraordinary epithets into a bunch and examine them, he will marvel at
two things: how this convention of gentlemen could consent to use such
gross terms; and why the users were allowed to get out the place alive.
There is no way to understand this strange situation. If every man in the
House were a professional blackguard, and had his home in a sailor
boarding-house, one could still not understand it; for, although that sort
do use such terms, they never take them. These men are not professional
blackguards; they are mainly gentlemen, and educated; yet they use the
terms, and take them too. They really seem to attach no consequence to
them. One cannot say that they act like schoolboys; for that is only
almost true, not entirely. Schoolboys blackguard each other fiercely, and
by the hour, and one would think that nothing would ever come of it but
noise; but that would be a mistake. Up to a certain limit the result would
be noise only, but, that limit overstepped, trouble would follow right
away. There are certain phrases—phrases of a peculiar character—phrases
of the nature of that reference to Schonerer's grandmother, for instance—which
not even the most spiritless schoolboy in the English-speaking world would
allow to pass unavenged. One difference between schoolboys and the
law-makers of the Reichsrath seems to be that the law-makers have no
limit, no danger-line. Apparently they may call each other what they
please, and go home unmutilated.
Now, in fact, they did have a scuffle on two occasions, but it was not on
account of names called. There has been no scuffle where that was the
It is not to be inferred that the House lacks a sense of honour because it
lacks delicacy. That would be an error. Iro was caught in a lie, and it
profoundly disgraced him. The House cut him, turned its back upon him. He
resigned his seat; otherwise he would have been expelled. But it was
lenient with Gregorig, who had called Iro a cowardly blatherskite in
debate. It merely went through the form of mildly censuring him. That did
not trouble Gregorig.
The Viennese say of themselves that they are an easy-going,
pleasure-loving community, making the best of life, and not taking it very
seriously. Nevertheless, they are grieved about the ways of their
Parliament, and say quite frankly that they are ashamed. They claim that
the low condition of the parliament's manners is new, not old. A gentleman
who was at the head of the government twenty years ago confirms this, and
says that in his time the parliament was orderly and well-behaved. An
English gentleman of long residence here endorses this, and says that a
low order of politicians originated the present forms of questionable
speech on the stump some years ago, and imported them into the
parliament.(2) However, some day there will be a Minister of Etiquette and
a sergeant-at-arms, and then things will go better. I mean if parliament
and the Constitution survive the present storm.
IV.—THE HISTORIC CLIMAX
During the whole of November things went from bad to worse. The
all-important Ausgleich remained hard aground, and could not be sparred
off. Badeni's government could not withdraw the Language Ordinance and
keep its majority, and the Opposition could not be placated on easier
terms. One night, while the customary pandemonium was crashing and
thundering along at its best, a fight broke out. It was a surging,
struggling, shoulder-to-shoulder scramble. A great many blows were struck.
Twice Schonerer lifted one of the heavy ministerial fauteuils—some
say with one hand—and threatened members of the Majority with it,
but it was wrenched away from him; a member hammered Wolf over the head
with the President's bell, and another member choked him; a professor was
flung down and belaboured with fists and choked; he held up an open
penknife as a defence against the blows; it was snatched from him and
flung to a distance; it hit a peaceful Christian Socialist who wasn't
doing anything, and brought blood from his hand. This was the only blood
drawn. The men who got hammered and choked looked sound and well next day.
The fists and the bell were not properly handled, or better results would
have been apparent. I am quite sure that the fighters were not in earnest.
On Thanksgiving Day the sitting was a history-making one. On that day the
harried, bedevilled, and despairing government went insane. In order to
free itself from the thraldom of the Opposition it committed this
curiously juvenile crime; it moved an important change of the Rules of the
House, forbade debate upon the motion, put it to a stand-up vote instead
of ayes and noes, and then gravely claimed that it had been adopted;
whereas, to even the dullest witness—if I without immodesty may
pretend to that place—it was plain that nothing legitimately to be
called a vote had been taken at all.
I think that Saltpeter never uttered a truer thing than when he said,
'Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.' Evidently the
government's mind was tottering when this bald insults to the House was
the best way it could contrive for getting out of the frying-pan.
The episode would have been funny if the matter at stake had been a
trifle; but in the circumstances it was pathetic. The usual storm was
raging in the House. As usual, many of the Majority and the most of the
Minority were standing up—to have a better chance to exchange
epithets and make other noises. Into this storm Count Falkenhayn entered,
with his paper in his hand; and at once there was a rush to get near him
and hear him read his motion. In a moment he was walled in by listeners.
The several clauses of his motion were loudly applauded by these allies,
and as loudly disapplauded—if I may invent a word—by such of
the Opposition as could hear his voice. When he took his seat the
President promptly put the motion—persons desiring to vote in the
affirmative, stand up! The House was already standing up; had been
standing for an hour; and before a third of it had found out what the
President had been saying, he had proclaimed the adoption of the motion!
And only a few heard that. In fact, when that House is legislating you
can't tell it from artillery practice.
You will realise what a happy idea it was to side-track the lawful ayes
and noes and substitute a stand-up vote by this fact: that a little later,
when a deputation of deputies waited upon the President and asked him if
he was actually willing to claim that that measure had been passed, he
answered, 'Yes—and unanimously.' It shows that in effect the whole
House was on its feet when that trick was sprung.
The 'Lex Falkenhayn,' thus strangely born, gave the President power to
suspend for three days any deputy who should continue to be disorderly
after being called to order twice, and it also placed at his disposal such
force as might be necessary to make the suspension effective. So the House
had a sergeant-at-arms at last, and a more formidable one, as to power,
than any other legislature in Christendom had ever possessed. The Lex
Falkenhayn also gave the House itself authority to suspend members for
On these terms the Ausgleich could be put through in an hour—apparently.
The Opposition would have to sit meek and quiet, and stop obstructing, or
be turned into the street, deputy after deputy, leaving the Majority an
unvexed field for its work.
Certainly the thing looked well. The government was out of the frying-pan
at last. It congratulated itself, and was almost girlishly happy. Its
stock rose suddenly from less than nothing to a premium. It confessed to
itself, with pride, that its Lex Falkenhayn was a master-stroke—a
work of genius.
However, there were doubters—men who were troubled, and believed
that a grave mistake had been made. It might be that the Opposition was
crushed, and profitably for the country, too; but the manner of it—the
manner of it! That was the serious part. It could have far-reaching
results; results whose gravity might transcend all guessing. It might be
the initial step toward a return to government by force, a restoration of
the irresponsible methods of obsolete times.
There were no vacant seats in the galleries next day. In fact,
standing-room outside the building was at a premium. There were crowds
there, and a glittering array of helmeted and brass-buttoned police, on
foot and on horseback, to keep them from getting too much excited. No one
could guess what was going to happen, but every one felt that something
was going to happen, and hoped he might have a chance to see it, or at
least get the news of it while it was fresh.
At noon the House was empty—for I do not count myself. Half an hour
later the two galleries were solidly packed, the floor still empty.
Another half-hour later Wolf entered and passed to his place; then other
deputies began to stream in, among them many forms and faces grown
familiar of late. By one o'clock the membership was present in full force.
A band of Socialists stood grouped against the ministerial desks, in the
shadow of the Presidential tribune. It was observable that these official
strongholds were now protected against rushes by bolted gates, and that
these were in ward of servants wearing the House's livery. Also the
removable desk-boards had been taken away, and nothing left for disorderly
members to slat with.
There was a pervading, anxious hush—at least what stood very well
for a hush in that House. It was believed by many that the Opposition was
cowed, and that there would be no more obstruction, no more noise. That
was an error.
Presently the President entered by the distant door to the right, followed
by Vice-President Fuchs, and the two took their way down past the Polish
benches toward the tribune. Instantly the customary storm of noises burst
out, and rose higher and higher, and wilder and wilder, and really seemed
to surpass anything that had gone before it in that place. The President
took his seat and begged for order, but no one could hear him. His lips
moved—one could see that; he bowed his body forward appealingly, and
spread his great hand eloquently over his breast—one could see that;
but as concerned his uttered words, he probably could not hear them
himself. Below him was that crowd of two dozen Socialists glaring up at
him, shaking their fists at him, roaring imprecations and insulting
epithets at him. This went on for some time. Suddenly the Socialists burst
through the gates and stormed up through the ministerial benches, and a
man in a red cravat reached up and snatched the documents that lay on the
President's desk and flung them abroad. The next moment he and his allies
were struggling and fighting with the half-dozen uniformed servants who
were there to protect the new gates. Meantime a detail of Socialists had
swarmed up the side steps and overflowed the President and the Vice, and
were crowding and shouldering and shoving them out of the place. They
crowded them out, and down the steps and across the House, past the Polish
benches; and all about them swarmed hostile Poles and Czechs, who resisted
them. One could see fists go up and come down, with other signs and shows
of a heady fight; then the President and the Vice disappeared through the
door of entrance, and the victorious Socialists turned and marched back,
mounted the tribune, flung the President's bell and his remaining papers
abroad, and then stood there in a compact little crowd, eleven strong, and
held the place as if it were a fortress. Their friends on the floor were
in a frenzy of triumph, and manifested it in their deafening way. The
whole House was on its feet, amazed and wondering.
It was an astonishing situation, and imposingly dramatic. Nobody had
looked for this. The unexpected had happened. What next? But there can be
no next; the play is over; the grand climax is reached; the possibilities
are exhausted; ring down the curtain.
Not yet. That distant door opens again. And now we see what history will
be talking of five centuries hence: a uniformed and helmeted battalion of
bronzed and stalwart men marching in double file down the floor of the
House—a free parliament profaned by an invasion of brute force!
It was an odious spectacle—odious and awful. For one moment it was
an unbelievable thing—a thing beyond all credibility; it must be a
delusion, a dream, a nightmare. But no, it was real—pitifully real,
shamefully real, hideously real. These sixty policemen had been soldiers,
and they went at their work with the cold unsentimentality of their trade.
They ascended the steps of the tribune, laid their hands upon the
inviolable persons of the representatives of a nation, and dragged and
tugged and hauled them down the steps and out at the door; then ranged
themselves in stately military array in front of the ministerial estrade,
and so stood.
It was a tremendous episode. The memory of it will outlast all the thrones
that exist to-day. In the whole history of free parliaments the like of it
had been seen but three times before. It takes its imposing place among
the world's unforgettable things. It think that in my lifetime I have not
twice seen abiding history made before my eyes, but I know that I have
seen it once.
Some of the results of this wild freak followed instantly. The Badeni
government came down with a crash; there was a popular outbreak or two in
Vienna; there were three or four days of furious rioting in Prague,
followed by the establishing there of martial law; the Jews and Germans
were harried and plundered, and their houses destroyed; in other Bohemian
towns there was rioting—in some cases the Germans being the rioters,
in others the Czechs—and in all cases the Jew had to roast, no
matter which side he was on. We are well along in December now;(3) the
next new Minister-President has not been able to patch up a peace among
the warring factions of the parliament, therefore there is no use in
calling it together again for the present; public opinion believes that
parliamentary government and the Constitution are actually threatened with
extinction, and that the permanency of the monarchy itself is a not
absolutely certain thing!
Yes, the Lex Falkenhayn was a great invention, and did what was claimed
for it—it got the government out of the frying-pan.
(1) That is, revolution.
(2) 'In that gracious bygone time when a mild and good-tempered spirit was
the atmosphere of our House, when the manner of our speakers was
studiously formal and academic, and the storms and explosions of to-day
were wholly unknown,' etc.—Translation of the opening remark of a
leading article in this morning's 'Neue Freie Presse,' December 11.
(3) It is the 9th.—M.T.