Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/81

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Jan. 9, 1864.]
73
ONCE A WEEK.

awaits you. Not wishing to be imposed upon, you change two or three five-florin pieces at the bureau de baggage, and receive in return a bundle of dirty little scraps of paper. In answer to your look of horror, and two or three words of agitated German, the official suavely informs you that half a dozen of the scraps in question represent Austrian florins, value two shillings each, and the rest six Austrian kreutzers, value twopence!

Now, I had always looked grudgingly at the heavy silver guldens of South Germany, feeling that my bright English sovereigns went at a terrible sacrifice; but this state of things seemed ten times worse. What purse was ever capacious enough to hold three or four dozen bank-notes, even though twopenny ones? And then, to lose the pleasant jingle of loose silver in one’s waistcoat pocket was no ordinary deprivation. It had to be endured, however. During a residence of some months in Vienna, I never saw a single silver or gold coin of the realm in circulation. You pay your cabman with a dozen screws of greasy paper; you tip the omnibus-conductor with a twopenny banknote; you pay the house-porter in the same way if you return home after ten o’clock; you throw a bank-note to the beggar at the church-door! You see the market-women counting up their paper money when their fruit-stalls are emptied; you see the charitable dropping it into the crimson collecting-bags in the churches;—on every side crop up evidences of the critical state of Austrian finance.

And here a curious speculation occurs. So eagerly is foreign coin received, and especially English, that the rate of profit on exchange is most exorbitant. A few years ago it reached so high as fifty per cent, and last year it stood at five-and-twenty. It is easy, therefore, to calculate the advantage obtained by the very few English residents in Vienna in receipt of large incomes from England; and, supposing an income proportionately large, one might live on the profit of exchange, i.e., on nothing! Thus, if you received two thousand a-year, you would get two thousand five hundred from your Austrian banker; and so on, ad infinitum. Let us hope, however, for the sake of the nation, that this state of things will soon pass away. Of course, for Austrians who travel abroad, the loss is frightful.

“I should go to London and see the Industrial Exhibition,” said many Viennese to me; “but when we travel we must pay in silver, and that ruins us!”

I have said that the approach to Vienna is not striking; but every one must be impressed with the first appearance of the city within the ramparts, less, however, from its construction and embellishment than from its life and colouring. For these two specialities it ranks, indeed, first of any European capital. The streets blaze with colour and animation from morning to night; they are not handsome,—narrow, on the contrary, ill paved and irregular, utterly unadorned with trees; and, from their narrowness and the extreme height of the houses, almost inaccessible to the sun. But the brightly-painted shutter-signs of the shops, the gay ice-tents in the Graben, the vivid and varied stream of population, the change of costume, and, lastly, the perfect whiteness of the walls and intense blue of the sky, setting off all—this makes a picture pleasant to look upon.

The shop-signs are sometimes really artistic, and otherwise strike the stranger from their novelty. On every shutter is a representation of the choicest articles sold within. The milkman displays a sketch of hills, pastures, châlet, and milkmaid; the toymaker, an assemblage of dolls, rocking-horses, whips, and bats; the glove-maker, a gigantic glove, with tapering fingers; the milliner, a full-length Parisienne in the newest toilette of the Boulevard des Italiens; the confectioner, a feast of cakes, ices, fruit, and syrups, set off by crystal vases and flaming drapery; &c., &c.

Then the moving part of the street is as variegated as a kaleidoscope. Every fifth man is a soldier, and the military dress of Austria is cheerful beyond description, being white faced with every colour under the sun. The civil uniforms are as numerous; postmen, house-porters, footmen, gendarmes, out-door servants and in-door servants—all have their colours. Even the horses are not allowed to wear sober harness, but must be adorned with high collars and tassels of blue, green, orange, red, or purple. Lastly, the fair Viennese display the greatest amount of taste combined with the greatest possible amount of colour. There is this to be said—that all colours match well with bright vivacious eyes, dark hair and clear shelly-pink complexions—the characteristics of Austrian beauty.

When the stranger grows accustomed to these brilliant effects, other specialities of street life cannot fail to attract his notice. Foremost of these is the frequent transfer of stage decoration from one theatre to another (another result of governmental management),—the convenient windows through which agile lovers or plotters make their escape; the storm and forest scenes, with those wonderful alleys down which glide spirits dressed, as dress-makers say, “in mull-muslin;” salons of princes and throne-rooms of kings;—in