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23. Minister Thugut

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The prime minister, Baron Thugut, was in his study. It was yet early in the morning, and the minister had just entered his room in order to begin his political task. On the large green table at which Thugut had just sat down, there lay the dispatches and letters delivered by the couriers who had arrived during the night and early in the morning. There were, besides, unfolded documents and decrees, waiting for the minister's signature, in order to become valid laws. But the minister took no notice whatever of these papers, but first seized the newspapers and other periodicals, which he commenced reading with great eagerness. While he was perusing them, his stern features assumed a still harsher mien, and a gloomy cloud settled on his brow. Suddenly he uttered a wild oath and violently hurling the paper, in which he had been reading, to the floor, he jumped up from his chair.

"Such impudence is altogether intolerable!" he shouted, angrily. "It is high time for me to teach these newspaper scribblers another lesson, and they shall have it! I--"

Just then, the door of the anteroom opened, and a footman entered. He informed his master that the police minister, Count Saurau, wished to see him.

Baron Thugut ordered him to be admitted at once, and went to meet him as soon as he heard him come in.

"You anticipate my wishes, my dear count," he said. "I was just going to send for you."

"Your excellency knows that I am always ready to obey your calls," replied Count Saurau, politely. "I acknowledge your superiority and submit to you as though you were my lord and master; notwithstanding our position in society and in the state service, which is almost an equal one, I willingly permit you to treat me as your disciple and inferior."

"And I believe that is the wisest course you can pursue, my dear little count," said Thugut, laughing sarcastically. "It has been good for you to do so, I should think, and so it has been for the whole Austrian ship of state, that has been intrusted to my guidance. Yes, sir, the son of the ship-builder Thunichtgut has shown to you and your fellow-members of the ancient aristocracy that talents and ability are no exclusive privileges of your class, and that a common ship-builder's son may become prime minister, and that a low-born Thunichtgut may be transformed into a Baron von Thugut. The great Empress Maria Theresa has performed this miracle, and baptized me, and I believe Austria never found fault with her for doing so. The ship-builder's son has piloted the ship of state tolerably skilfully through the breakers up to the present time, and he shall do so in future too, in spite of all counts and aristocrats. You see, I do not try to conceal my humble descent; nay, I boast of it, and it is therefore quite unnecessary for you to remind me of what I never want to forget!"

"I see that some late occurrence must have excited your excellency's just anger," exclaimed Count Saurau.

"And being police minister, you doubtless know all about that occurrence," said Thugut, sarcastically.

Count Saurau shrugged his shoulders. "I confess I am unable to divine--"

"Then you have not read the papers this morning?" asked Thugut, scornfully. "You have no idea of the infamous attack which an aristocratic newspaper scribbler has dared to make upon me, nay, upon the emperor himself?"

"I confess that I do not understand what your excellency means," said Count Saurau, anxiously.

"Well, then, listen to me!" exclaimed Thugut, seizing the paper again. "Listen to what I am going to read to you: 'At a time when the whole Austrian people are longing for peace, when our august Empress Theresia and our dearly beloved Archduke Charles share these sentiments of the people and give expression to them at the feet of the throne and in opposition to those who would deluge our cherished Austria with the miseries and dangers of war--at such a time we fondly look back into the great history of our country and remember what has been accomplished by great and gifted members of our imperial house in former periods for the welfare and tranquillity of Austria; we remember, for instance, that Austria in 1619, like to- day, was threatened by enemies and on the eve of a terrible war, not because the honor and welfare of Austria rendered such a war necessary, but because the ambitious and arrogant minister, Cardinal Clesel, was obstinately opposed to peace, and utterly unmindful of the wishes of the people. He alone, he, the all-powerful minister, was in favor of war; he overwhelmed the weak Emperor Mathias with his demands; and when the latter, owing to the anxiety he had to undergo, was taken sick, he even pursued him with his clamor for war into his sick-room. But then the archdukes, the emperor's brothers, boldly determined to interfere. They arrested the rascally minister at the emperor's bedside, and sent him to Castle Ambrass in the Tyrol, where he suffered long imprisonment, a just punishment for his arrogance and for his attempt to involve the country in a war so distasteful to all classes of the people. About half a century later a similar occurrence took place. There was again a minister advocating war in spite of the whole Austrian people. It was in 1673. The minister to whose suggestions the Emperor Leopold lent a willing ear at that time, was Prince Lobkowitz. But the Empress Claudia had compassion on the people, groaning under the heavy yoke of the minister. She alone prevailed upon the emperor by her eloquence and beauty to deprive Prince Lobkowitz suddenly of all his honors and offices and to send him on a common hay-wagon amidst the contemptuous scoffs and jeers of the populace of Vienna to the fortress of Raudnitz, forbidding him under pain of death to inquire about the cause of his punishment.'" [Footnote: Vide Hormayer, "Lebensbilder aus dem Befreiungskriege," vol. i., p. 321.]

"Well," asked Thugut, when he ceased reading, "what do you think of that?"

"I believe the article contains very idle historical reminiscences," said Count Saurau, shrugging his shoulders; "these reminiscences, according to my opinion, have no bearing whatever upon our own times."

 

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Louisa of Prussia and Her Times -by- Louisa Muhlbach

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