Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/86

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[Jan. 9, 1864.
ONCE A WEEK.

extravagance of house-rent, and the scarcity of silver. “It wasn’t so before ’48,” they say; “we could live on half what we do now, could get cooks for 6l. a year, and housemaids for 3l. per annum, much better knitters, too, than the present set, who require double wages!”

How government clerks, officers, and the poorer class of professional men maintain their families, is a mystery. The Austrian commis is proverbially a poor devil, and every one knows that the military pay is far from munificent. Yet the clerk on his 80l. per annum keeps up an appearance, and the captain on his 200l. is obliged to make a show of 400l. The former pinches and screws to the utmost degree in his little ménage among the clouds, i.e. on a seventh storey, never letting the world know what he and his wife live and look smart upon. The latter gets into debt and goes to the Jews, who always help the military. Neither condition is to be envied.

The education of children, and especially of girls, is another expensive item in family ledgers. There are no schools or colleges for the daughters of gentlemen, a want which reduces parents to the necessity of governesses and tutors. It is not unusual, therefore, to find in a merchant’s or banker’s family a German tutor, a French bonne, and an English governess; or at least the two first, the latter not being yet so plentiful in Vienna as in most other continental cities. I may mention that French is the language of many private circles, and English is very generally understood and spoken.

And now I come to the copious subject of dinners. Whether, like Dr. Johnson, “we like to dine,” or whether we are content with cold mutton and cucumber in the bosom of our family, it is not wholly an uninteresting matter to inquire how other nations prefer the day’s meal.

Dinner-parties are given at three o’clock, or later, but business men dine at one. There are no tables d’hôte—a surprising fact, considering the sociability of the people, and one for which I can imagine no cause. Every hotel has, instead, its upper and lower dining-room; the former a splendid apartment glittering with chandeliers and gilding, in which you dare not for the life of you order a dinner of fewer than a dozen courses, with wines to match. The lower is far less pretentious, with unvarnished floors, black-handled knives, straight-backed chairs, and rather shabby waiters. Here you can dine as simply as you please; and, provided that you don’t forget to add a few kreutzers for the Kellner, will always be received with a welcome.

You gain a good deal of information at these dining-rooms. The same men come to one place day after day, till acquaintanceships are formed, and strangers talk to each other with the greatest readiness. It is a curious and significant fact, that unabatedly as discussion is carried on by all, politics seldom come on the tapis. The play, the Prater, the fluctuations of the Exchange, the affairs of other nations, the latest news of the city, no other topic fails to be brought forward but this so interesting one. Yet the Austrians have now a parliament and a constitution. How are we to explain these discrepancies? English residents threw out hints to me of café-house spies, &c. &c., but of course such statements should be confirmed.

I feel tempted to recall here a whimsical personal experience touching those very words—parliament and constitution. Travelling in the front coupé of a diligence from Ischil to Salzburg, I found myself in company with a Hungarian commercial traveller, whilst the back compartment of the vehicle (divided from us only by a plate-glass partition) was full of Austrian officers. The Hungarian made enthusiastic advances of good-fellowship to me at once, proving his high estimation by an inordinate confidence. He told me of his former exploits in the Hungarian national army, of his hatred of Austria and everything Austrian; finally, of his universal contempt for empire, statesmen, and parliament.

“They will tell you,” he said, with a declamatory flourish of the arms, “that their Upper house and Lower house are based on English principles; that the country is represented by those able to do so; that the oratory is patriotic, the government constitutional. Don’t believe a word of it. They have what is called a parliament, ’tis true; but its law is—silence—mum, as children say when they’re frightened. Voilà tout.

We were going over so uneven a road that the white-coated officers behind us could hear nothing of all this, which seemed rather a pity, seeing how dramatic were the elements of the “situation.” Depend on it, this Hungarian commis de commerce entertained no more anti-Austrian feelings than all his compatriots do. You meet the national costume constantly in the streets of Vienna; and whether the wearers of it be men or women, all have a strange underlying look of hatred. It is my firm belief that no amount of good government (and the government is undoubtedly good) will ever efface this feeling entertained by the conquered towards the conquering. You never by any chance find the two nations mixed in society; and when encountered separately, the Hungarian is ready to fall on your neck, whilst the Austrian is