Jan. 9, 1864.]
ONCE A WEEK.
the three o’clock dinner. It seems rather contradictory, but though the Austrians are the politest people in the world next to the French, they invariably allow the hostess to wait upon her guests. We should hardly credit our senses if we saw Englishmen allowing their friend’s wife to go round the table with a plate of confectionary like Mary the housemaid: in Vienna such feelings must be indulged in silently. Tea over, the married ladies bring out their knitting and chat over household topics, the play, the Prater, and the Court; the young people cluster round the piano; cards, bagatelle, and other amusements are proposed; everyone is animated, amused, and in his element. We are surprised when the wife or daughter of the house comes round to us a few hours later with chocolate, cream, or patisserie, and declare to her that never evening went so fast. Yet all evenings are of the same pattern elsewhere. Dulness and insipidity are words ignored in Austrian drawing-rooms.
I must say a word or two about their amateur music. The Germans are a musical nation, but the Austrians are a nation of musicians, voilà tout! One might fancy there was some peculiar organization of the ear to account for so exclusive a gift, talent, or instinct, call it what you may—exclusive it certainly is in degree. What stolidity is to the Germans, what brilliancy to the French, what pluck to the English, is musical genius to the Austrian. Let any lover of the best music go to Vienna and judge for himself. He will find young ladies of good family singing solos in the churches on Sunday, and feeling nowise degraded by such a voluntary service. He will see business men sit down to the piano in the evening and refresh themselves after their city work, that way; if he goes into the churches during high mass he must elbow his way amongst a crowd of rich and poor; if he visits the Prater or the Volksgarten he will find every out-door orchestra surrounded by a delighted audience; if he is fortunate enough to obtain access to any of the singing societies, held weekly, he cannot help feeling surprise at the number, and good standing, and carefully developed talent of the members.
When the spring season of dinners, balls, and concerts has passed away, when the pavements grow hot under the feet and the air blows sultrily from the hills, everyone “goes out of town.” Towards the end of May the general movement begins. Fiacres are seen hastening towards the railway-station; waggons stand at the doors laden and being laden with beds and sofas; friends drop in to pay farewell visits; the children are furnished with bathing-dresses; everyone more or less partakes in the general movement.
Gmunden, Ischl, and many other spots in the lovely Austrian Tyrol, are the favourite resorts; but the majority of middle-class families hire unfurnished villas a few miles from Vienna, the wives and children almost living out of doors, the husbands and fathers going to the city daily by omnibus, and catching breaths of country air at night.
The environs of Vienna are lovely—mountainous, verdant, and picturesque; but the villages are muddlesome, not to say dirty, with mud cottages, and refuse heaps here and there. The villas are white, square, and uniform, but there is this distinction, that the well kept ones belong to private owners, whilst those that have handsome draperies in the upper windows, and miserably grimy children playing in the court below, are let to all classes of lodgers, peasants tenanting the ground floor as in Vienna.
No people more thoroughly enjoy “out of town” life, however; music and sociability are never wanting in the evenings, and the children have their full share of pleasure. I remember a pleasant visit made by myself to a country house at Döbling, about an hour’s journey from the city. Passing through two long streets, unpaved and dusty, with monotonous rows of white houses, smart above and slovenly below, I found myself in a little court filled with piles of wood, rubbish, and furniture. The house door stood open, thereby affording me a pleasant glimpse of shrubbery and turf; and brushing past two or three old women plucking geese in the entrance, I came upon a delightful picture of family enjoyment. The children were playing under the trees, the papa was dancing baby on the table, the mamma read aloud to him from “Jane Eyre;” all was as it should be in domestic life—innocence, and gaiety, and content.
By-and-bye two or three acquaintances come in, bachelors who are glad to leave their lonely chambers in the scorching city, or occupiers of the neighbouring villa. We chat over iced wine till twilight, when tea awaits us indoors; our host plays us Beethoven’s moonlight sonata as the moon rises over the hills; the young people busy themselves with lessons at a side table; and thus the evening passes. The whole family accompany us to the omnibus; we hear many a cheery “Gute Nacht” at starting, and in less than an hour, alight under the shadow of St. Stefan’s.
One question is apt to puzzle strangers. You may have opportunities of observing various phases of Austrian society, but in none are lovers to be found. Neither in tea-parties