Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/82

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74
[Jan. 9, 1864.
ONCE A WEEK.

fine, all the splendid “scenis decora alta futuris” are displayed to the vulgar eye, in open carts, weather wet or fine.

A curious arrangement exists regarding butchers’ shops. One might almost begin and end the subject by saying—“there are no butchers’ shops in Vienna,” since you may wander the length and breadth of the city without discovering any. But go at early morning to the market-places in the oldest quarters, and you see an assemblage of little stalls, or moveable shops, each decorated by a fringe of offal, and surrounded by cooks and haus-fraus bargaining. Go to the same place at noon, and shops, offal, seller and customers have vanished into thin air! This strange metamorphosis arises from a stringent police prohibition against any meat being sold after twelve o’clock; and woe be to the prodigal son, therefore, who returns to the bosom of his family at unheard-of hours, fondly expecting a chop! For love nor money are impromptu dinners to be had.

Here is another idiosyncrasy of street life. Long ago with us, Heaven be praised, dogs have been released from horses’ work, but in Vienna, otherwise so admirably and effectually policed, this reformation still remains to be done. I have seen dozens of fine noble creatures doing regular work as bakers’ drudges, and must say, at a risk of being considered as too presuming on canine sagacity, that every one of them looked degraded by it. Of stray dogs—Bohemians, in fact—the police are careful enough. Every night a cart drives through the city to pick up all stragglers, and naturally the more experienced vagabonds get to know the sound of the wheels, and make their escape.

Of all people the Austrians are the most sociable, and of all societies that of Vienna is the most attractive. So many and various elements combine to form these two results, that it behoves us to specialize the particular ones in question. First of all, what is the proper meaning of good society? Why is it desirous that we should be sociable—that is to say, in frequent intercourse with our semblables? Surely, good society must mean an assemblage of cultivated, intelligent, and well-bred people—people able to amuse and be amused, perforce teach and be taught. As to the last question, who can doubt that we should speedily lose all instincts of humanity if left to ourselves? The contemptible fact of gossip-mongers being supported and enjoyed in country towns, confirms this opinion. To live, we must have friction of mind and mind, fresh ideas brought from the outer world like healthful frosty air into the close atmosphere of the family parlour. In all large cities we naturally rub off individual angularities; but in Vienna, of most others, is sociability carried to perfection. Everyone who has spent a season in Paris, knows how short and animated appear the weekly receptions in the Chaussée D’Antin or the Faubourg St. Germain; what inexhaustibly lively discussions people hold; what small things call forth argument; what little effort is necessary to keep up the general flow of spirits and talk. But the Parisians are satisfied with mere chatting, they seldom care to converse. In the salons of Vienna, you are always certain to find first-rate music and good conversation. Discussion is not a mere battledoor and shuttlecock game of words, but an earnest and thoughtful contest of ideas. Politics, as an individual property, is of course ignored as a part of the outlying world, not over-frequently handled; and the Austrians are not an especially literary nation, so that their minds are freer to embrace other and more general subjects. I think I may safely affirm, of every well educated Viennese, artistic feelings and a wonderfully lively interest in all that takes place beyond his own sphere. Music, painting, and the drama, form part and parcel of his daily life, whilst the condition and fluctuating events of other nations offer frequent subjects of thought and inquiry.

As an instance of this, I remember the effect produced in homely, albeit intelligent, little circles of my acquaintance, by the great prize fight between Sayers and Heenan, all the particulars of which were entered into and argued upon with as much eagerness as by ourselves. Go with me to an evening party and judge for yourself whether Austrian society is desirable or not. About seven o’clock, you enter the salon where the guests are assembling, ladies in demi-toilette, gentlemen dressed as suits their pleasure. Tea or Abendessen is spread on the table ready, but the master of the house is not yet home from his café, and the hostess proposes a little music. There is no ceremony of persuading to the piano. Everyone is capable and willing to take part in the evening’s amusement, the gentlemen invariably accompanying the ladies. By the time two or three chorales or duets have been performed, the father of the family comes in with a kindly hand-shake and “Grüss Gott” to his guests; then all sit down to table. Fresh rolls, tea and coffee, ham and sweet biscuits, are arranged on the snowy white cloth, and a fine napkin and caraffe of iced water assigned to each person. Beer and wine stand on the sideboard for the gentlemen.

The meal is dawdled over, and seems made for the ladies only, men seldom eating after