Tag Archive: education

I’m going on three in this photo, which is a bit young for this post but it’s the only one I could find of the three of us together in the driveway – with Dad’s first car, a green Holden.

I open the front gate.  It moans.  Daddy puts oil on it sometimes and the noise changes, but it doesn’t go away.

The gate clangs as I shut it and start to climb the steep part of the driveway.  It’s easier if I pretend I’m a crab and go up sideways.

I look up as I reach the top.  Daddy’s home!  He’s at the bottom of the yard, in front of the garage.  It’s the first time he’s home before I arrive from kindergarten!

Mummy’s down there, too.  Is something wrong?

They turn to face me as I walk towards them.  No smiles.  Something’s wrong.

I stand in front of them and wait.  Mummy steps back slightly, with lowered eyes.  Daddy clears his throat.

“Did you throw milk over Owen Jessep?”

Did I what?…  Oops!  So I did…  That was ages ago!  It was morning recreation!  I’d forgotten all about it!  And it served him right, too!

I raise my chin and answer proudly,


I wait for the next question, but Daddy goes into one of his long speeches:  It isn’t nice for little girls to throw milk on little boys…  and how lucky I am to have milk to drink when other little girls haven’t got any…  and how wasteful I am…  and it goes on…   and on…

The longer he talks, the angrier I get.  The  muscles in my face tighten.  Don’t listen!

I keep my head up, but my eyes look at the ground between Mummy and Daddy.  A blade of grass is growing in a concrete crack…  Something’s running towards it.  An ant?  Or a spider?  I think it’s an ant…  I’m thirsty…

Daddy pauses for breath and Mummy jumps in.

“Marilyn, what did Owen do to you?”

Well it’s about time!

“He spat in my face!”

Nasty little boy!

Mummy turns to Daddy.  Daddy’s just about to launch back into his lecture and his mouth’s open.  He shuts it, changes gear, and goes off in another direction.

Don’t know how old I am in this one but it looks about right for the post.

This time it’s all about how I’m not punishing Owen;  I’m punishing his mother, who has to wash his coat and pants, and how Daddy thinks that I should apologize to her for throwing milk over her precious little boy who spits in people’s faces!

How did he find out about it, anyway?

“Did Teacher ‘phone?”

Mummy, bright red, blurts out,

“No!  Owen couldn’t wait to rush here to tell me!  He must have run all the way!”

Daddy’s not pleased with this outburst.  He doesn’t say anything, but I can tell.  So can Mummy.

We go back to Mrs Jessep, Owen’s clothes and my apology.

I have doubts about it.  I ask hopefully,

“Is Mrs Jessep going to punish Owen for spitting in my face?”

I sense hesitation.

Daddy is certain that Mrs Jessep will take the appropriate action.

I look at Mummy.  Her eyebrows are raised and her lips are firmly pressed together.  She’s looking at the ground.  Mummy has doubts too.

Daddy’s back on Mrs Jessep’s washing and my apology.

It’s true it wasn’t her fault.  I suppose I’ll have to apologize.  Daddy’s going to nag until I do.  Bad luck he picked today to come home early!

“All right.”

Does he hear the lack of enthusiasm?  He starts off again about coats, washing and “poor Mrs Jessep”.

Mummy steers me back along the driveway to the six-foot paling fence near the laundry.  Daddy follows.

Mummy calls Mrs Jessep, who is in her laundry on the other side of the fence.

Mrs Jessep climbs onto an upturned wooden box and her head appears at the top of the fence.

Mummy tells her that I have something to say to her.  Daddy nudges me.  I take a deep breath.

“I’m very sorry, Mrs Jessep, that you have to wash Owen’s clothes because I threw milk on him when he spat in my face.”

There you are!  Perfect apology!  I didn’t say I was sorry for throwing the milk.  And I’ve told her he spat in my face.

Mummy’s proud of me, I can tell.

Daddy’s squirming a bit.

Well, I apologized, didn’t I?  That’s all he asked me to do!


Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) in 1886.

Roux is going to transform the Dispensary of the Vaccination Service into a veritable hospital of which the principle would be “to do everything to cut the chain of bacterial transmission”.  The rooms are individual, the personnel enters by an interior corridor and leaves by the balcony, the floor is easy to wash with plenty of water, the walls have rounded angles and are covered with an enamelled surface, the furniture is metallic, the nurses work with naked arms so as not to transmit germs from one patient to another with their sleeves…  A reporter from the newspaper Illustration testifies, in the number of 28 June 1890:

“Therefore let us enter in turn the Pasteur Institute […] and let us begin our visit by the important laboratories of ‘Microbie technique’, where, under the direction of Doctor Roux, series of pupils, most of them after their medical studies, receive in five or six weeks a supplement of instruction which is now indispensable for all Medical Doctors.  […]  In this so clean and so light workshop of the modern scholar, one would seek in vain the damp and dingy retreat, the smoky laboratory of the alchemist of the Middle Ages, with its powdery test-tubes and its stuffed crocodiles.  It is in full light and in all possible conditions of salubrity that one pursues today the discovery of the truth…”


In this institution devoted to research which is the Pasteur Institute, not only does one seek, but one finds.  After having worked on tetanos, Roux, assisted by Martin and Chailloux, develops a serum against diphtheria, whose efficacity is tested over several months on children stricken by this terrible illness, in Hopital Trousseau and in Hopital des Enfants-Malades.  He relies on the clinical diagnostic without waiting for the bacteriological diagnostic, and injects the children with the serum from the blood of horses on which he has studied the effects of immunisation, observing the great resistance of these animals to high doses of this illness’ toxins.

The German Behring, who would obtain the Nobel Prize in 1901, would enunciate with Kitasato the principle of the method in this year of 1890:  the serum of the blood of an animal, which is refractory or vaccinated with the help of weak doses of diphtheric or tetanic toxin, is injected into the receiving subject, and procures it immunity against this illness.  The serum of the vaccinated animal then possesses antitoxic properties.  The production of antidiphtheric serum then becomes a source of revenue for the Institute, permitting the financement of the researches.  On the initiative of Le Figaro, a subscription is opened both in France and in other countries for the installation of the Garches Domain and the stables necessary for the production of serum in horses.

The Hopital Pasteur is born.  Within three months, fifty thousand doses of vaccine are distributed free-of-charge.  Doctor Roux will make a Communication on diphtheria in 1894 at the International Congress on Hygiene in Budapest.  This historical Communication, which revolutionizes the History of Medicine, would be received with incredible enthusiasm and would obtain the definitive adhesion of the medical milieu, which can no longer either ignore or refuse this, at last, sure weapon against an illness which is decimating children.  The Concours medical, a periodical, mobilises the profession, exhorts the Medical Practitioners to learn the microbian technique, in particular serodiagnostic, so as to close the gap which separates the Practitioners who have been practising for a long time, from these “young people armed with a knowledge that is different from ours”.  The medical field is at last open to Pasteurism:  created exclusively for treating diphtheria, the Hospital would rapidly take on other infectious diseases:  smallpox, measles and scarlet fever.

In Spring 1895, the former Normaliens celebrate their School’s centenary.  They go to place a commemorative plaque on the little laboratory of the Rue d’Ulm, or rather the garret where one can only enter on one’s knees, and in which Pasteur installed, thirty-seven years earlier, his steamer, and made the first culture bouillons.  Then they go to visit the Institute.  They are received by Roux who has spread out on the tables the instruments “religiously conserved as witnesses to his Master’s progression”, the balloons of the Sea of Ice which gave such a great blow to the murderous theory of spontaneous generation, the test-tubes which were used for the studies on vinification, culture media, as well as an impressive collection of microbes.  Around noon, Pasteur has himself transported into the laboratory.  Roux then takes a microscope and proudly shows him the plague baccillus, which with that of diphtheria, completes their trophies as killers of microbes.

Shortly afterwards, Pasteur leaves to reside in Villeneuve-l’Etang, where Alexandre Dumas would come to chat with him.  He will die, stricken by an attack of uremia, on 28 September 1895.  The funeral will be grandiose.  It is Raymond Poincare, then Minister of Instruction, who will receive the coffin in the name of the Government, and would make a speech “of the highest eloquence”.  On this day, black tails and top hats would be side-by-side with tradesmen’s smocks and the caps of the labourer.  It is the time of reconciliations.  Celine Pouchet would write to Madame Pasteur:

“Madame, permit the daughter of Felix-Archimede Pouchet, whose fights with the illustrious scholar were so resounding, to associate herself with your immense pain and with the mourning of the whole of France.”

The embalmed body of Louis Pasteur is descended into its crypt at the Institute which bears his name, on 27 November 1896.  The French Scientist had become a laic saint.


To be continued.

Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) in 1886.

Thanks to a subscription opened in the New York Herald, four little Americans contaminated by rabies, belonging to working families, are able to come to Paris to be vaccinated.  People are coming from everywhere to be saved from the incurable ill.  By 1st March 1886, three hundred and fifty people have received the treatment.  Only one could not be saved:  Louise Pelletier.  Pasteur is then able to unveil his great project:

“My intention is to found in Paris a model establishment, without having any recourse to the State, with the help of international donations and subscriptions.”

In light of the results, the Academie des sciences names a Commission which unanimously adopts the project that an establishment for the treatment of rabies after being bitten be created in Paris, under the name of Institut Pasteur.

At this epoch, the 1870 War is still weighing heavily on the minds of all Peoples, despite the sixteen years that have passed.  There is great attention being given to this relentless fight which is being pursued against all illnesses.  A subscription is opened in France and other countries to finance the Institute.  The funds are to be received by the Banque de France, the Credit Foncier, the Tresoriers Payeurs Generaux and the Tax Collectors.  A Milan newspaper, La Perseveranza, which has opened a subscription, collects 6,000 francs.  Alsace, the homeland of the little Meister, mobilises, even though eleven months have gone by since the child’s recovery.  Alsace-Lorraine would bring in 43,000 francs.  The movement accelerates, money arrives from everywhere.

Meanwhile, nineteen Russians from the Smolensk province arrive in Paris.  The only French word that they know is “Pasteur”.  Attacked by a rabid wolf, most of them display horrible wounds.  A pope, surprised by the furious animal while on his way to church, had his upper lip and his right cheek ripped off, his face is only a gaping wound.  Five of these unfortunate people are in such a serious state that they have to be transported to the Hotel-Dieu.  Pasteur decides that he needs to do a double innoculation for them, for it is known that after certain bites of rabid wolves, all of the wounded had died.  The other Russians would remain in the laboratory of the Ecole normale.  These poor people are therefore to be seen, dressed in their tourloupe, on their way to their vaccination, their hands and heads covered in compresses, passing silently amongst the very diverse group of those bitten:  an English family, a Basque with his beret on his head, a French peasant woman, an Hungarian in his national costume.  People come from everywhere to be saved, for rabies means certain death after a terrible agony…

Alas, three of the Russians succumb;  the trip from Russia had been too long, the ill had had the time to install itself.  The return of the sixteen survivors is greeted in Russia with a quasi religious fervour and Tsar Alexander takes part in the foundation of the Pasteur Institute by giving 100.000 francs.

Pasteur’s renown grows even more.  The queue of patients lengthens:

“People in rags bitten near streams where they were trying to get a bone with meat still on it from a bulldog, elegant women with hair the colour of henna, that their King Charles Spaniel had scratched, elderly women wearing glasses, whose terrier had fought with a suspicious molossus, a lugubrious cortege that was comical in its implacable variety”,

reports Leo Claretie, from the magazine Coins de Paris.  Meanwhile, the money from the subscriptions is flowing in, the Official Journal does not stop publishing lists of generous donors for the creation of the Institute, where the names of the greatest fortunes mingle with a student’s savings, a working man’s salary.  Pasteur, ageing, his health declining, would say, during a Conference before the Societe philanthropique, in June 1866:

“It must be recognized that our century will have been, more than all the other centuries, concerned with the humble, those suffering and the very young.  Pursued by the fixed idea of helping them, three great things were needed:  we had to combat illness, poverty and ignorance.”

In May, a festival is organized in the Trocadero Palace in honour of Pasteur, subscriptions are still arriving.

On 14 November 1888, the Pasteur Institute is inaugurated in presence of President Sadi Carnot, who climbs the steps on the scholar’s arm.  There are Ministers there, representatives of the Diplomatic Corps, Members of the Academie de medecine and of the Institute.  Pasteur is tired.  His tongue is paralyzed, his speech hesitant.  Jean-Baptiste Pasteur has to read his father’s inaugural speech.  This speech is full of contained emotion, the elderly fighter is at the sunset of his life:

“Alas, I have the poignant melancholy of entering it [the Institute] as a man vanquished by time, who no longer has around him any of his Masters, nor even any of his companions from the fight.  If I have the pain of saying to myself:  they are no more, at least I have the consolation of thinking that all that we have defended together will not perish.  The collaborators and the disciples who are here share our scientific faith.”

The Institute is a great dispensary for the treatment of rabies, a study centre for virulent and contagious illnesses, and a teaching centre.  The course on microbia technique, directed by Emile Roux, lasts five weeks.  One pupil comments:

“Professor Roux was an outstanding Professor, endowed with an eloquence which did not seek its effect in words but captivated by the sobriety of the expression of the terms.”

The course unfolds directly inside the laboratory amongst the work instruments.  It takes place in the afternoon, so as to permit the Medical Doctors to continue to assume their charges.  The programme contains the knowledge of bacteria, the techniques of bacteriology, the experimentation on animals, the notions of virulence and of immunity, the practice of vaccinations.  The auditors come from all of the countries of the world, and all stages of the medical career are represented, from the young Intern right up to the Faculty Professor and the Head of Hospital Services.  The course in biological chemistry is taught by Duclaux;  the vaccination service, the principal axis of the work, is entrusted to Chamberland.  He has become specialized in the applications of his Master’s principles in everyday life, perfecting the “Chamberland Filter”, a column of porous porcelain which is fixed on the end of taps, and filters the germs and microbes contained in the water, efficiently avoiding the transmission of illnesses through piped water.  He also invents the autoclave, an hermetically sealed apparatus permitting the sterilization by heating of the laboratory instruments.  Finally, a newcomer, the Russian Metchnikoff, who studies white globules and their properties in the defence of organisms, is responsible for the Pasteurians’ personal laboratories.  Metchnikoff, “a zoologist who wandered into Medicine”, as he will call himself, is going to discover the deep mechanisms of the organism’s immunity to microbes.

To be continued.

Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) in 1886.

In September 1854, Louis Pasteur is named Professor and Doyen of the new Faculty of Sciences in Lille.  In this institution, the pupils, having paid a small amount of money, have access to the laboratories where they can repeat the principal experiments done in class.  Pasteur displays eloquence to attract numerous auditors to the Faculty:

“Where in your families do you find a single young man whose curiosity and interest are not immediately woken when you place a potato in his hands, and with it he can make sugar, with this sugar, alcohol, with this alcohol, ether and vinegar?  Who would not be happy to tell his family in the evening that he has just made an electric telegraph work?”

What would lead Pasteur from crystals to yeasts, from yeasts to bacteria, finally from bacteria to vaccine, is doubtless born of the relations that he formed at this epoch with the industrial world.  Leading “scholarly caravans”, the Professor takes his students into foundries and factories at Aniche, Denain, Saint-Omer and Valenciennes, and questions continuously.  Not only does he want to place Science at the service of the Industrialists, but he thinks that, to feed itself, Science must find economical applications, rapidly preferably, if not immediately.  He invents therefore what we would call today Applied Science:  an Industrialist solicits him and he installs for the first time a laboratory in a factory.  He says:

“Without the theory, the practice is only the routine given by habit.  Only the theory can make the spirit of invention surge and develop.”

Under the scholar’s impulsion, the Lille Faculty passes in notoriety that of Lyon, the Pasteur Revolution is underway.


One day, the son of an Industrialist talks about the accidents which happened during the Summer of 1856 during the manufacture of beetroot alcohol in the factory of his father, Monsieur Bigo, where numerous fermentations turned out to be defectuous, the beetroot juice not being transformed into alcohol.  Pasteur’s microscope enters into action, along with his polarimetre.  Pasteur observes the beetroot juice.  Something is intriguing him.  The laboratory is not succeeding in imitating Nature.  There is a natural fermentation and a laboratory fermentation.  In fact, the Professor is on the point of making a discovery which will shake the Chemistry world…  We must understand that, at this epoch, the most total obscurity surrounds the phenomenon of fermentations – the transformations are done in the Industry most often in an empiric fashion.  The potato and the beetroot only become alcohol and vinegar if a certain number of particular conditions are present, but the intimate mechanics of this metamorphosis is not yet known.

For months and months, the untiring scientific detective would verify that he has not made a mistake:  Nature conserves the power to make polarized light turn in the fermented substances that he is studying, the laboratory does not.  Why?…  In natural fermentation, he is going to see the intervention of a small living mould:  yeast.

“Louis is plunged up to his neck in beetroot juice”,

his wife would write to her father-in-law.  To this beetroot juice, Louis adds chalk, sulphur, phosphorus…  When the conditions are good, the yeasts develop and the fermentation accelerates:  each mould only sprouts if it finds what it needs to renew itself, “food”, as it were.

What Pasteur is claiming comes in total contradiction with what is thought by the principal Scientists of his epoch, like the German Justus Von Liebig.  He considers that the little mould is one of the results of fermentation.  Pasteur demonstrates, on the contrary, that it is its cause, then he shows that the yeast can be dried, reduced to powder and conserved like this without losing its faculty of reproduction.

“This little cellular plant can exist in a fecund state in the air and in dust.”

This passing swipe is aimed at the heterogenists.  All that is left is to put together the two techniques that he masters, that of crystals and that of fermentations.  On 21 December 1857, he announces to the Academy that he has discovered a mode of fermentation of tartric acid:  the yeasts eat the right acid and degrade it and make it ferment, but do not attack the left.

“The yeasts are very singular table guests for whom the disposition of the serving dishes on the table has more importance than their chemical nature.”

In October 1857, he is named Administrator of the Ecole normale superieure, and Director of Scientific Studies.  But he will fail;  he is not made for Administration.  His lack of diplomacy, his comportment, which is at the least authoritative, offend the Normaliens, the students are agitated under his rule, and he will return to his cherished studies, his charge being abolished by the Minister of the epoch.


Pasteur is anxious to return to his studies on wines.

“Could the diseases of wines come from organized ferments, little microscopic vegetals whose germs would develop according to certain circumstances of temperature, atmospheric variations, exposure to air which would allow their evolution or their introduction into the wine?…  I arrived in fact at this result, that the alterations of wines are correlative to the presence and the multiplication of microscopic vegetals.”

It is an important question:  these national riches rapidly go bad and, consequently, cannot be exported.  With his little troup, Pasteur settles in Arbois to study the new wines.  The Municipal Council proposes to cover the costs of the installation of a little laboratory for their local boy.  Pasteur gratefully thanks the Mayor in a brief speech full of emotion, but prefers to camp with his assistants in the back-room of a cafe, fearing not to be able to render a service in proportion to the generosity of the aediles.  The installation is extremely basic, the instruments of investigation are made locally.  Duclaux recounts:

“As the apparatus nearly all came from the Carpenter, the Tinsmith or the Blacksmith of Arbois, one can guess that they did not have state of the art forms and that, when we carried them into the street, to go to draw wine from the cellars destined for the analyses, we never passed without raising a few jeering remarks in the rather mocking population of the little town.”

For the scholar, the problem is reduced to opposing the development of the organized ferments or parasitic vegetals, the cause of the malady of the wine.  He therefore notes, after several unsuccessful attempts, that it is enough to bring the wine for a few instants to a temperature of 50 or 60 degrees Centigrade.  That is all.  The procedure is extremely simple to do.

“I note that the wine is never altered by this preliminary operation, and as there is nothing to prevent it still being submitted to the gradual action of the oxygen in the air, the more or less exclusive source, in my opinion, of its improvement over time, it is evident that this procedure unites the most advantageous conditions.”

The scientific problem solved, Pasteur’s greatest concern is to have the whole country benefit from his discovery.  But French viticulture is not ready to hear this sort of discourse, and retrenches behind its traditions, rejecting the principle of the heating of wine.  The harvests therefore continue to be spoiled in the casks and in the bottles.  It is the Navy which will change the course of History, loading onto its ships casks of heated wine.

To be continued.

The imperial family at Godollo.

Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) considers Godollo to be her true home.  Godollo is her refuge;  a meeting-place for hunts, for games with Maria-Valeria, for celebrations in which everyone participates.  Emperor Franz-Josef is so happy to find her in excellent humour that he is transformed.  He had been deprived of her for three months, he had feared for her health and now, at last, family life is back, with its simple joys, his days of hunting and the hope of a serene existence.  But melancholy waits, tenacious.  One day in October, Sissi loses her faithful companion, Shadow.  The big dog, who followed his mistress like a shadow, is buried in the park.  Sissi loses a friend who had never disappointed her, and locks herself up in her bedroom, in tears.

She notices that Rudolf has changed a lot.  The Heir to the Throne is seventeen, and his relations with his mother are distant.  His intelligence is superior.  His open mind and his loving qualities have already made him very popular, in both Vienna and Budapest.  [The towns of Buda and Pest were united in 1873.]  He speaks very well in public, fluently speaks several languages, and both his historical and economic knowledge are very advanced, with a marked interest for social preoccupations.  Rudolf, well-informed about European politics, has just drawn up a memorandum destined for his preceptor in which he reveals very liberal ideas and sympathy for the republican system.  Franz-Josef is satisfied with his son’s intellectual value and hopes that his political ideas will be modified with age and experience.

Sissi regrets that her son is so little interested in the Arts and, in particular, in poetry.  It is not however through lack of imposing a great number of verses on him to learn by heart.  From her, he has a free spirit and a passionate nature which asks questions.  He says:

“My mind is always occupied with one thing or another.  Everything interests me.  Each thing speaks a different language to me.  Sometimes, I have cheerful, happy thoughts, sometimes they are sombre and bitter…  I realise that I shall never know all that I wish to know…”

It is understandable that Franz-Josef is worried about these tendencies.  In definitive, Rudolf’s lively temperament, which is nervous and a bit exalted, makes him more Sissi’s son than Franz-Josef’s.

After a few months of harmonious life, Sissi leaves for England, at the end of February, with the intention of participating in the last hunts of the season.  Franz-Josef has given in.  How can he retain this beautiful bird who still suffocates as if life is only a cage?  His love, revived by four months of life in common, has just tripled the annual pension that the Empress would receive if he died.

In London, Queen Victoria, remembering that Sissi had twice declined her dinner invitation, makes it known to the Empess that her timetable does not allow her to receive her.  Elisabeth protests to her husband, on 5 March.

An intrepid horsewoman, she worries the English who receive her for a hunt.  The Sassetot accident is in everyone’s mind.  Captain George Middleton, nicknamed Bay, is chosen to escort the Empress.  This mission does not really enchant him.  He says to Lord Spencer, the organizer of the hunt:

“What do I care if she’s an empress?  How am I supposed to watch over her?  Of course, I’ll do it, but I would prefer to follow the hunt how I want.”

Lord Spencer’s choice surprises his friends.  Bay Middleton is one of the best horsemen in the Kingdom, but he takes risks.  Lord Spencer knows Sissi too well to ignore that she would not put up with a timorous companion.  Around one hundred cavaliers take part in this hunt which unfolds in Northamptonshire.

In an excellent mood, Sissi, who has finally been received by Queen Victoria and fulfilled the role assigned to her by Franz-Josef, is truly untiring.  She donates a trophy, it is Bay who wins it.  She observes this horseman with a critical eye.  He is not very tall, but he is racy, sure of himself, cultivating humour which is sometime ferocious.  At thirty-years-old, he has the privilege of both interesting men and seducing women.

At the end of the first day of hunting, the officer recognizes that the Empress is an exceptional amazon.  On 26 March, Elisabeth writes to Franz-Josef:

“Everyone is asking me if you will not decide to come over here one day.”

But Franz-Josef, faithful to his principles, is absorbed in the examination of international politics.  Tsar Alexander II dreams of taking revenge for the Crimean War, and it is vital that the great European powers have a common vision of the situation.  The Emperor is counting a lot on the support of Queen Victoria, and is relieved that she had received Sissi to luncheon.  Sissi doesn’t want to hear anything about politics.

On 4 April, the Empress returns to Vienna.  Franz-Josef is happy:  Sissi has not had an accident.

A letter arrives for Elisabeth, written by Louis II of Bavaria, at two o’clock in the morning.  Between a migraine headache and a toothache, the King, who has just financed the construction of Wagner’s theatre, in Bayreuth, delivers his anguish to his only ally:

“Perhaps a day will come when I, in turn, will make peace with this heavy Earth!”

And the tormented King concludes by strikingly resuming  his life:

“I want to remain for myself and for others an eternal enigma.  Dear and precious, you are and will remain, for I know that never have you doubted me.”

An eternal enigma…  Louis II’s wish will come true.  The Earth appears heavy to him because he is unable to efface from his memory the vision of his brother Othon, who has completely descended into madness.  And the fear of sinking, himself, into dementia leaves him prostrate.  If the Wittelsbach heredity is considered responsible for these neuroses, it must however be recalled that on his mother’s side, a Prussian princess, Louis could also have gained a few genetic faults:  one of his aunts believed that she had swallowed a piano, which is not a sign of absolute equilibrium.

To be continued.

Elisabeth of Austria

7 February 1869.  Prince Rudolf, Archduke of Austria, who is heading for his eleventh birthday, is being rewarded for his excellent school marks.  He is attending a theatrical performance for the first time, in his parents’ company.  The play, The Enchanted Prince, is perfectly appropriate for the Archduke.  Franz-Josef is most satisfied with his son’s studies.  The boy is passionate about History;  a Life of Alexander the Great that he reads all the time has to be snatched from his hands.  But his sensitivity is developing in parallel with his intelligence.  Ill-luck having unfortunately caused him to witness a young man’s suicide in the Schonbrunn park, he has been particularly marked by it.

His mother is fighting boredom.  She can no longer confront Vienna.  How can she support the permanent criticism, the jealousy and the pettiness when, in five hours by train, she can be at Ofen or at Godollo, feasted, acclaimed, loved?  She is therefore absent from Vienna at the inauguration of the new Opera House, on 25 May, the first Ringstrasse edifice to be finished.  Vienna is being transformed, and is growing bigger.  The new theatre has been built with inspiration from the plans of the Paris Opera House and those of the Chatelet Theatre.  It has cost six million florins.  The Habsburgs have always spent colossal sums of money for music.  It is therefore a long tradition, which is being continued by Franz-Josef with this performance of Don Juan by Mozart, given in front of two thousand seven hundred spectators, by an orchestra of one hundred and eleven musicians.  For the Ascension, the Empress consents to put in an appearance in the Saint Etienne Cathedral, after three hours of dressing and hairdressing.  The Belgian Ambassador affirms:

“If she hadn’t come, I believe that there would have been a revolution”.

In June, the Empress flees to her native Bavaria.  A shadow, however, hangs over this stay:  she has taken only Maria-Valeria with her.  Gisela and Rudolf are at Bad Ischl with their grandmother.  Franz-Josef asks her to come back.  Sissi agrees, but remarks to him:

“I make concessions and sacrifices for you, I hope that you will do the same for me.”

Just the idea of returning to Austrian soil is a “sacrifice”.  Elisabeth doesn’t want anything to do with what is happening in Vienna.  This is a mistake.  But it is too late.  She is punishing the Viennese, when only the Court is “guilty”.

In Autumn, Franz-Josef has to go to Egypt for the inauguration of the Suez Canal, one of the ultimate prides of the immense economic work of the French Second Empire.  The Emperor does not want to miss the opening of the new scientific and technical marvel by Ferdinand de Lesseps, who has succeeded, in ten years, in vanquishing the desert and all sorts of financial and political difficulties.  Will Sissi accompany him?  In definitive, no.  The voyage looks like a long one, charged with official manifestations.  A new correspondence, very rich, begins between the spouses.  They are unable to live constantly together, nor one without the other, as their daily letters show.  In all points of view, they miss each other.  With military precision, Franz-Josef describes to Sissi the stables, the Arab stallions and the eight hundred Court horses of Sultan Abdul Aziz, and the feasts on the illuminated Bosphorus, worthy of the Arabian Nights.  A tone of complicity and lightheartedness characterises these epistolary exchanges.

After a strong tempest, the imperial yacht Greif has joined, on 16 November, the most extraordinary pacific meeting of boats from all the nations of Europe.  There are eighty ships at anchor.  Empress Eugenie is representing the French Emperor.  Quite naturally, she forms with the Austrian Emperor, a prestigious official couple.  He is seated on her right at the banquet given by the Khedive Ismail Pacha.  Sissi makes an affectionate scene of jealousy to Franz-Josef:

“…  So there you are once again with your dear Empress Eugenie.  I am very jealous because you are flirting with her while I am alone here and cannot even take revenge.”

Sissi can be reassured;  Franz-Josef is above all annoyed by the banquet, which comports thirty courses and is late beginning.  Seven thousand people have to be fed in the middle of a desert…

While the Emperor is on his way home, Sissi learns that her sister Maria, ex-Queen of Naples, who has finally reconciled with her husband, is on the point of giving birth in Rome.  The pretext for leaving is convenient.  She must, however, obtain permission from the Emperor.  So, she goes to meet him at Trieste.  Their meeting is brief but Franz-Josef does not retain his spouse.

On 8 December, having arrived in Rome, which she has never visited, she is met by her sister and brother-in-law, who reside in the Farnese Palace.  Pope Pius IX visits her.  After this inevitable concession to her official role, Sissi literally disappears in Rome, which she visits incognito.  The diplomatic and aristocratic corps are unable to convince her to come to a reception.  Her sister gives birth on 24 December, the day of the Empress’ thirty-second birthday, and Sissi, devoted to the point of circulating in a simple neglige at night in the Farnese Palace to help the mother, catches a cold.  With her mania for treating herself in strange ways, she drinks donkey milk.  Miracle:  she is cured.  The real remedy is, however, completely different:  it is an invitation to a hunt in the countryside around Rome, which she immediately accepts.

Christmas without the Empress.  At the Hofburg, the family is used to Elisabeth’s absences but, in secret, no-one is happy about it.  When she comes back, the Court’s humiliation will be total:  she avoids Vienna, and goes to Godollo, where she spends long hours on horseback.

The Emperor is very absorbed by the French political situation, which is worrying in this 1870 Spring.  Franz-Josef has already charged his Ambassador in Paris to assure the Emperor of the French of his support in a war against Prussia.  But he underlines as well that it is wise to be prudent.  Having arrived in Bad Ischl in June, Elisabeth, forewarned that Franz-Josef will not be able to join her as they both wished, declares, crushed:

“I only hope that there is not another war, that would be awful.”

To be continued.

Elisabeth as Queen of Hungary, by Raab (1867).

Princess Sophia in Bavaria dissolves into tears when King Louis II of Bavaria puts an end to their engagement.  Her parents pass from anger to relief.  When she learns that her sister will not be Queen of Bavaria, Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) writes to her mother:

“My indignation is at its height, as is that of the Emperor.  There are no words to qualify such conduct…  But I am pleased that Sophia is taking it so well.  God knows that she would never have been happy with such a man.  And I wish for her now to find a very kind one.  But whom?”

During November, a rumour is circulating at Court:  the Empress is thinking of giving birth in Hungary and if the child is a boy, she would call him Etienne, after the patron saint of the Hungarians…

The rumour is founded.  After the return of Maximilien’s body from Mexico, Sissi and her spouse leave for Buda-Pest.  Sissi feels that her mission will only be complete with the birth of the child, in Spring.  And Franz-Josef is starting to agree with his wife.  He understands – a little late – that the Hofburg’s suffocating atmosphere has effectively thrown Elisabeth toward more humane milieux.  Sissi is grateful to the Hungarians for having accepted her when her mind was drifting toward certain depression.  And she wants to give them this child, who is just as much that of newfound tenderness, as of her passion for a liberal, just cause.

On 22 April, Sissi gives birth to little Maria-Valeria.  The child’s sex provokes a muffled polemic.  The Hungarians would have preferred a boy, for a future male sovereign would have permitted, in the long term, a kingdom that was independent from Vienna.  The Austrians rejoice.  A girl will be less threatening for the unity of the Empire.  In secret, it is murmured that the beautiful Andrassy is the child’s father…  This is only a calomny which will totally collapse when the resemblance between Franz-Josef and the little girl becomes evident.

The Emperor is very happy.  He describes his paternal joy to his son Rudolf, who has remained in Vienna, and gives him a first portrait of his little sister:

“She is very pretty, she has big, dark blue eyes, a nose still a little fat, a tiny little mouth, and dark hair.  She is very strong and kicks vigorously.”

Immediately, Maria-Valeria will hold a place apart in her mother’s heart.  She will be her favourite child.  With Gisela and Rudolf, Sissi had passed from painful frustration to exaggerated authority.  When she had recovered her natural rights over them, their education had been modified, along with their entourage.  Passing from one extreme to another, all of them regrettable, Sissi had multiplied the teachers.  There were almost fifty of them.  The lessons given to Rudolf, to the point of saturation, had however developed his precocity.  When the little boy obtained only average marks on a piece of homework, he was greatly affected.  His governor having told him that his bad result would deprive him of going hunting with his father, Rudolf had answered:

“It is not for the reward that I try so hard.  I do it because it is my duty.”

He was nine-years-old…

The study of languages was very important, for the Heir to the Throne had to be fluent in German, Hungarian, Czech, Croatian, English and French, and read them with ease.  At a very early age, Duty had been presented to him as a rule for life, along with application to work.  The child had his mother’s sensitivity, but had self-control that had always been absent in her.

For Sissi, the traumatism of the first years had been too much.  The children had only been partially hers.  Maria-Valeria will escape Archduchess Sophia of Austria’s influence.

“I now know the happiness of having a child”,

the Empress says to a lady-in-waiting.

Louis II of Bavaria.

Sissi is very tired.  On 9 June, she leaves directly for Bad Ischl, without passing through Vienna.  One month later, she returns to her cherished Bavaria, for her whole family is asking her to intervene with Louis II to reconnect the family relations which had been interrupted after the scandal of his broken engagement.  The strange King is very agitated.  He has announced his intention of rebuilding the old castle in ruins near his Hohenschwangau residence, on a spur backed up against the peaks along the Austrian border.  In full mediaeval delirium, the King has given his orders:

“I don’t want a symmetrical construction, but something with picturesque variety.”

Picturesque, the result will also be grandiose under the name of Neuschwanstein.  Louis II is inaugurating a series of fantastic castles in a dream of stone which still astonishes and fascinates us today.

Franz-Josef joins Sissi on the day that Louis II, barely embarrassed, comes to visit his favourite cousin.  The reconciliation takes place, but the ducal family is wondering about the sovereign’s spectacular caprices.  One certainty:  Sophia has escaped a bizarre existence…  Sissi’s sister has just become engaged to a grandson of Louis-Philippe, Prince Ferdinand de Bourbon-Orleans, Duke of Alencon.  Less than a year after her misadventure with the King, she is getting married.

The ceremony takes place at Possenhofen and Sissi appears, radiant.  Louis II thinks it indispensable to be present.  He leaves after a few minutes declaring:

“I was mortally bored.”

In September, the Empress wants to leave again for Hungary.  She stops at Vienna but only spends a few hours there.  Anger erupts at Court.  Too late:  the unseizable Empress has already left for Godollo Castle, near Buda-Pest, a personal gift from the grateful Hungarian people, that she wants to consider as her real residence, apart from the Bavarian homes.  The truth becomes evident:  Sissi is only happy in the universe of her childhood or in that of her psychological and political blossoming.  Godollo has been decorated to her taste.  She lives there according to a protocol, of course, but a protocol adapted to life in the country, among horses and game.

Emperor Franz-Josef of Austria by Winterhalter (1865).

Her spouse appreciates Godollo too, as well as family life far from Viennese jealousies.  Further, he treats his rhumatism there.  At Godollo, good humour, simple joys and etiquette reduced to a minimum are, for Elisabeth, a real cure.  It could be said that, at the end of 1868, her character has more or less stabilised in disequilibrium…  The unhappiness which already ravages her cousin Louis II’s mind, is, in hers, combated by an energy which, for once, has given results.  From reception to reception, Sissi plays her role.  She is able to assume these worldly duties because she is devoted to a goodwill mission.  She has been totally adopted by her new country.  The Queen of Hungary is also the Queen of the Hungarian People.

It is a real struggle for her to return to Vienna.  She arrives there on 24 December, her birthday.  The Austrians’ gift for her thirty-first birthday is bitter.  The Press publishes a precise calculation of the Empress’ stays in Austria and in Hungary during the year:  Sissi has spent nearly two-thirds of 1868 in Hungary, far from Vienna.

As a child, Sissi’s mother repeated to her, and to all her daughters, one sentence in French:

“Princesses must learn to be bored gracefully.”

It was a sacred principle.  Sissi has completely destroyed it, sweeping away the boredom, but retaining the grace.


Empress Elisabeth of Austria with Shadow.

On 1 May 1865, the imperial couple inaugurates the Ringstrasse, a long, circular Viennese artery, the work on which had begun seven years earlier.  A new capital is rising from the ground.  But the gaiety of the ceremonies is attenuated by Rudolf’s health.  He has grown a lot, and is very pale.  His mother fears that he might have diphtheria.

July.  Holidays at Bad Ischl.  On the programme:  hunting and excursions.  Little by little, trophies are hung on the walls, starting at the entrance to the Kaiservilla.  The Emperor will collect here the antlers of two thousand chamois and one thousand six hundred deer, to which can be added an immense eagle killed in Hungary, the head of a bear killed on the Tsar’s territory, a boar’s head, and even a derisory weasel shot at Schonbrunn, on 29 December 1860.

Sissi and her husband go hiking like they did during their engagement.  And the Bad Kissingen cure?  Elisabeth feels well, she walks for hours without the slightest fatigue.  Must she take the waters?  Doctor Fischer is adamant:  the annual regularity of the treatment is the best guarantee of its efficiency.  Elisabeth reluctantly agrees, but she will make the briefest stay possible, barely a week.  Her cousin, King Louis II of Bavaria, does not come.  He has lost his illusions about Wagner, although he continues to have his operas played, and refloats his finances.

When she returns to the Kaiservilla, Sissi finds Bad Ischl ravaged by fire.  It is said that two drunken coachmen had been smoking in some straw.  A regional catastrophe.  Twenty-two houses destroyed.  The flames had licked the walls of the imperial villa, where the children were sleeping.  Emperor Franz-Josef is very upset, his beloved Bad Ischl is devastated.

Emperor Franz-Josef of Austria by Winterhalter (1865).

On 18 August the Austrian Emperor celebrates his thirty-fifth birthday.  At Bad Ischl, where the destroyed houses are being rebuilt, thousands of people surround the imperial couple, who cross the esplanade on horseback.  Popular enthusiasm is at its peak when Rudolf appears in a little carriage drawn by donkeys.

Rudolf incarnates the immediate future of the monarchy.  However, his education poses a very serious problem for his mother.  The child’s nervosity comes, of course, from his heredity, but the way that he is being raised aggravates his too-sensitive nature even more.  The Empress leads a tardy and difficult enquiry on this domain reserved for her mother-in-law.  She discovers that Rudolf’s governor, Colonel Leopold of Gondrecourt, chosen by the Archduchess, is a military bigot who ostensibly goes to daily Mass to be seen by the family, in particular by the Emperor and his mother.  The governor unites two qualities, one of them glorified by Franz-Josef, the other sung by the Archduchess:  he is a perfect soldier, he is an excellent Christian.

What does the Emperor want?  He wants his son to learn the profession of arms at an early age, therefore, that he become familiar with courage and danger.  Gondrecourt finds nothing better than to lock the little boy inside a hunting reserve near Schonbrunn and, having left him alone inside, cry out:

“Prince!  Take care, a boar is charging you!”

The stupidity of this experience is consternating.  Gondrecourt also finds it indispensable to impose cold showers on the child, and thinks it instructive to fire shots from a revolver during his sleep.  Rudolf is, quite simply, terrified.

Princess Sophia, Archduchess of Austria.

What does the Archduchess want?  She wants to prepare a prince of high moral value, raised in the faith of God.  But gossips report to Elisabeth – she now has her allies – that Gondrecourt is only a Tartuffe, who purposely passes under Franz-Josef’s windows at six o’clock in the morning, holding a Rosary and a Book of Prayer.  It is said that the volume contains, in reality, a box of cigars, and that the governor, instead of devotions, is going to take breakfast with his mistress, a blonde chorus girl from the theatre.  Dismayed, Sissi exclaims:

“This is madness!”

In fact, this very special education given to Rudolf can only accentuate his fragility.  The child is often ill, he is afraid of the dark, and of noise.  Franz-Josef and his mother do not agree with all of Gondrecourt’s initiatives, but think that Rudolf needs a bit more vigour.  Sissi is enraged.  A discussion begins with her spouse.  Franz-Josef hesitates, as he always does as soon as it concerns the Archduchess.  Sissi plays her last card:

“I can no longer tolerate this.  It is Gondrecourt or I!”

On this 24 August 1865, the Empress of Austria addresses a veritable family ultimatum to the Emperor, putting her whole life in the balance, confirming in writing her intentions:

“I wish to have full powers for everything that concerns the children, the choice of their entourage, their place of residence, the complete direction of their education, in a word, it is I who will decide everything until their majority.  Further, I desire that, for everything concerning my personal business, such as the choice of my entourage, my place of residence, all changes in the household, etc., I be the only one to decide.


She couldn’t have been clearer nor firmer.  This is no longer anger from Sissi, this is a warning from the Empress who is twenty-eight-years-old.  For the first time since their marriage, Elisabeth refuses to give up one inch of her authority.  In a few lines, she has become perfectly adult.

This peal of domestic thunder is followed by a Court revolution:  Franz-Josef gives in, he agrees with his wife.  Gondrecourt is replaced by Count Josef Latour of Thurnberg, who reveals himself to be an excellent educator.  And Prince Rudolf’s health is entrusted to a new doctor, Dr Widerhoger.  Sissi will ask him for frequent reports, and will read them attentively, when before, she was kept in ignorance by his predecessor.

It is an immense victory.

A radiant and serene Autumn succeeds these upheavals.  Sissi, very beautiful, calmer, is supported by her husband.  Her victory is also that of their united, fortified couple.  On 4 October, the day of Saint Francis (Franz), Sissi organizes a dinner to celebrate the Emperor’s patron saint.  To Rudolf, she recounts:

“At table, we laughed a lot, I made all the ladies empty a flute of Champagne to Papa’s health.”

And she adds that one lady-in-waiting had almost “become too gay” and that another “had difficulty standing upright”.

Sissi has only snatched her independence from the Emperor so that she can be closer to her husband.  Sissi is happy.  Her victory is that of love.


Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

On 15 July 1856, at seven o’clock in the morning, Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Sissi) gives birth to a second girl.  With elegance, the Emperor does not show his disappointment.  His mother, Archduchess Sophia, is more than disappointed.  The child is given the name of Gisela, in memory of a Bavarian princess from the Xth Century.  Vienna and Austria are both equally upset;  to efface this (relative) sadness – the event is still a happy one – the Emperor decides on a trip with Sissi.  At the end of August, a violent incident opposes the Empress and her mother-in-law.  Gisela is also taken from her mother, who is angry and begs the Emperor to agree with her, even more so because the health of little Sophia, aged seventeen months, is worrying.  She has inexplicable attacks of vomitting.  In this combat of a mother who demands to be near her children, Elisabeth is tenacious.  The Archduchess, glacial, refuses to listen.  She finds that Sissi has bad educational principles.  Sissi replies acidly by remarking that it is bad to be raised by maniacal old ladies.  The said old ladies hiss back that the Archduchess has had four sons.  Franz-Josef, laden with complaints, is obliged to decide.  Neutrality is no longer sufficient, the Empress demands a decision.  And, for the first time, he finds in favour of Sissi.  Two days before his departure, he writes to his mother.  Sissi has won.  If the letter is only received by the Archduchess on the day of the couple’s departure for Austria’s South, it is doubtless not an accident.  Franz-Josef has only affronted his mother in writing, but that doesn’t matter.  Sissi’s victory is immense, a mother’s victory but also a wife’s victory, as well as that of an empress.

Radiant, amorous, the young sovereign leaves Vienna for two weeks.  A trip which resembles a second honeymoon…

Emperor Franz-Josef and Empress Elisabeth of Austria in the Schonbrunn park.

The region that Franz-Josef shows Elisabeth is grandiose.  Connecting the Salzburg hills to the North with Carinthia in the East and eastern Tyrol in the West, the decor assembles an unique panorama of over thirty-five peaks higher than three thousand metres, and nineteen glaciers.  The beauty and purety of the Alps.  Mountaineers, the Emperor and the Empress decide to make a grand excursion.  While they are preparing, a message arrives, addressed by the Archduchess, already mad with rage, forbidding the outing.  Happy, invigorated by that Nature which attracts them and unites them, Franz-Josef and Sissi obviously do not change their plans;  they decide that Elisabeth will go as far as possible on horseback, while Franz-Josef, whose foot is surer, will advance over the Pasterze Glacier.  The alpinists who accompany him are very proud, both for themselves and for him.  No Austrian can remember an emperor ever having climbed so high.

But the Archduchess has not renounced.  A second letter reaches Franz-Josef at Graz, the capital of Styria.  His mother threatens to leave the Hofburg.  The Emperor, preoccupied, decides not to answer immediately, which is another victory for Sissi.  He only writes to his mother when he returns to Schonbrunn, on 18 September.  In a firm tone, he sweeps away all of the Archduchess’ objections, including the fallacious one of the absence of sunlight in the apartments destined to the children.  Franzi has handed his pen to Franz-Josef, Emperor of Austria, who would like to be treated as master in his family, as he already is in his empire.  He dares to demand that his mother

“judge Sissi with indulgence considering that, if she is, perhaps, a too-jealous mother, she is also a very devoted spouse and mother”.

Franz-Josef is clear.  In a few sentences, the Emperor has literally set off a palace revolution.  The Archduchess is obviously not going to leave the Hofburg, nor renounce battle, quite the contrary.  She will cleverly change the battlefield…  Sissi has won on the subject of family.  But on the subject of politics, she has no dimension.  In this domain, the Archduchess fears no-one.  She is the woman who “made” the Emperor.

The Empire’s interior politics cannot be called peaceful.  Two regions are ceaselessly agitated with troubles, the Lombardo-Venitian zone, where the upheavals of the Italian unity desired by Cavour more and more contest belonging to Austria;  and Hungary, where nationalism has sharpened.  And these problems of interior politics quickly overflow the imperial framework.  On the one hand, Napoleon III is favourable to Italian unity, Franz-Josef knows that.  On the other hand, the Hungarian agitation interests Russia, which has sworn to venge itself on Austria, but Franz-Josef has not totally realised that.

The first planned voyage is to Italy.  Baron Bach, Minister of the Interior, insists that Sissi make the trip.  She has become the Empress of Charm, and her presence smooths many difficulties.  Involuntarily, Sissi becomes an instrument of propaganda.

During the preparations for this voyage, which appears delicate, two celebrations assemble the family in Vienna.  On 4 November, Franz-Josef’s second brother, Archduke Karl-Louis, aged twenty-three, marries Margaret of Saxe.  Further, the impending engagement of Franz-Josef’s first brother, Archduke Ferdinand-Maximilien, to Princess Charlotte of Saxe-Coburg, the daughter of Leopold I, King of the Belgians, is being organized.

Princess Sophia, Archduchess of Austria.

A new discussion explodes between the Empress and the Archduchess, again about the children.  Seduced by the idea of the voyage with Franz-Josef, Sissi does not want to sadden this joyful perspective by leaving her daughters at the moment when her maternal rights have at last been recognized.  But Gisela is very young.  On the other hand, Sophia appears to be badly weathering the Viennese Winter and Sissi, very worried about the pallor and thinness of her elder daughter, wants to have her with her.

On 17 November, the couple leaves Vienna for a tour that is going to last nearly four months, a length which reveals the political importance of this visit to hostile lands.  The first stage is Laibach, the capital of Slovenia.

Sissi asks to visit an Ursuline convent and hears talk about three black children bought at a slave market somewhere in the Orient.  The Empress becomes Sissi again, and the Mother Superior has the three black girls brought.  The Empress gives them sweets and spends her afternoon in their company.  Countess Esterhazy is indignant, and when the Empress is reminded that she is awaited elsewhere, she laughs out loud, which is rare, for she is complexed about her teeth and, for this reason, keeps her mouth closed.  The Archduchess, who had not missed this fault, had mentioned it to her son:

“Yes, she is very pretty, but she has yellow teeth!”

To be continued.

Elisabeth’s childhood unfolds simply, Winter in Munich, Summer in the country, there where the Bavarian plateau gently rises up to the tops of the Alps at the Austrian border.  Possenhofen, an old castle bought by her father in 1834, is a rectangular building in red stone.  Flanked by stables and a chapel, surrounded by a park and magnificent rose-gardens spread along the grey waters of Lake Starnberg, this venerable home is not at all refined.  The farm is next-door to the house, looked after by domestics who are part of the family.  Along with horses and dogs, the dogs being the real owners of the armchairs, in a peaceful, united family atmosphere, Possenhofen is a children’s paradise.  Everyone calls it affectionately “Possi”.  The children too have nicknames.  Karl-Theodore is Gackerl, Helena becomes Nene, Mathilda is Moineau, Max Emmanuel is Mapperl.  As for Elisabeth, she is called Sissi.

Maximilien, Duke in Bavaria.

Of these years 1840-1848, we must remember the very great liberty enjoyed by the children of Max and Ludovika.  They see their parents continually evolving with an absence of manners and distances which contrasts with the inevitable coldness in numerous great families.  Sissi is raised in ignorance of constraints.  She watches for her father’s arrival and invades his study where he attempts to awaken weary inspiration, with an applied pen.  Poetry is the Wittelsbachs’ secret pleasure.

Princess Ludovika, Duchess in Bavaria.

Charged with Sissi’s education from 1846, Baroness Louise Wulffen, a governess quickly overrun, observes that she is the most dreamy, the most tender and the most distracted of the eight children.  Paradox:  she is also the most scrupulous with what she loves.  The only part of her timetable that she respects is breakfast with her mother, at eight o’clock at the latest.  Then lessons go to two o’clock.  Without doing it on purpose, the Duke saps the governess’ authority, messing up the programmes and the timetable.  Very soon, he has felt that Sissi’s real studies are life around her.  He has understood that her secret companions are called the wind, flowers, stars.  He has noticed that the horses receive her first secrets, and the dogs her first caresses.  The laxism of this father has been strongly criticised for not preparing Sissi to become Elisabeth.  On the contrary, he knew how to assure her a happy dawn of life.

Max is happy to find in this spontaneous character, who doesn’t calculate, an avalanche of enthusiasms which explode into a ball of life.  Too bad if her instruction is reduced, and her manners ordinary.  Too bad if she isn’t gifted for music.  In vain, she martyrises a piano.  On the other hand, she has a passion for writing.  Very early, she expresses grave sentiments and emotions.  Max decides that Sissi should follow her preferences in order to blossom.  He does nothing to stop her.  Sissi grows up in freedom.

The Napoleonic tempest had shaken the Austrian Empire in different ways.  For five hundred and seventy-five years, the Habsburgs had been at home along the Danube, writing the History of Central Europe with the idea, already greatly advanced, of a multinational State.  At the Congress of Vienna, the congress of revenge on Napoleon, Austria recuperated, among others, the Tyrol, the Saltzburg region, and obtained Lombardy as well as Venetia.  For thirty years, Austria had known stability.  Peace and economic development for some, immobilism and the stifling of nationalities for others.  Emancipation was refused to the Hungarians, to the peoples of Bohemia and Italy, for emancipation would have meant dislocation.

In March 1848, revolutionary fever arrived in Austria.  After bloody clashes, the Vienna Court had to take refuge at Innsbruck, the capital of the Tyrol which was faithful to the monarchy.  Budapest and Milan rose up and Venice even wanted to proclaim a republic.

The restoration of Austrian authority, that is to say, order, passes obligatorily by the re-establishment of imperial prestige.  But Emperor Ferdinand, weak, suffering from worrying attacks of nerves, has no prestige.  Since the time when, as the young Prince and Heir, he wandered the corridors, clutching his aides-de-camp, and stammering, his state had worsened.  The epilepsy from which he suffered, was still an ill that was very badly known.

Theoretically, it is his younger brother, the Archduke Franz-Karl, who should wear the crown.  Alas, he is not very brilliant.  His timidity, his lack of character and concentration, eliminate him.  The Austrian problem is therefore, firstly, a family problem.  While the nationalism storm rumbles and Vienna is the echo-chamber of Paris, who has chased out Louis-Philippe, the only possible candidate is his son Franz-Josef.

The Emperor’s nephew is eighteen and the nervous illness has luckily spared him.  His manners are perfect, his allure is beautiful and his judgement healthy.  His mother, the Archduchess Sophia, is a Wittelsbach, sister of the King of Bavaria and of Ludovika.  Authoritive, strict, a true leader, endowed with an energy which was lacking in her husband.  Since the birth of her eldest son on 18 August 1830, she has been thinking of taking her revenge on this poor husband, so “absent”.  This son, to whom she inculcates very early the precepts of order and rigour, this boy whom she educates in the hate of chaos and laxity, she calls Franzi.  With him, the time has come to install upon the Habsburg throne a healthy, well-balanced sovereign.  The Emperor’s youth will rejuvenate the Empire.

On 2 December 1848, Emperor Ferdinand abdicates, then Archduke Franz-Karl, his brother, renounces his rights.  It is eight o’clock in the morning.  Before an assembly of high dignitaries, Franz-Josef kneels and asks his uncle to bless him.  The old Emperor still has enough strength to say to his successor:

“May God bless you.  Remain simply courageous and God will protect you.”

An impressive silence follows this advice.  The new Emperor is eighteen-years-old, but, in a few seconds, he has aged.  Pale, hugging his mother, he will say, a few hours later:

“Adieu, my youth!”

A crushing mission is now his.  So begins a reign comparable in importance to those of Louis XIV and Queen Victoria.  His mother does not hide her relief.  At the beginning of her marriage, she had declared:

“I am not happy, I am satisfied”,

a cutting remark which was a vow.  She is now relieved and venged, her son is Emperor.  Her son enters into History, but this day is her triumph.  In her white moire gown, the Archduchess glows with pride.  In her hair, pink flowers alternate with diamonds.  Around her neck, she wears a necklace of turquoises and diamonds that her husband had given her for the birth of Franz-Josef.  And she is draped in a red scarf with gold embroidery.  In extremis, the trembling monarchy is saved and Austria has a new master whose obsession, which will go as far as blindness, is resumed in one word:  duty.

To be continued.

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