Francis Joseph

by Eugene Bagger. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1927. 8vo, xxiii+572 pp. Illus. $5.00.
THIS story of the Austrian Kaiser is a vivid epitome of modern times. The author has furnished rich material for a chain of historical tragedies, with a magnificent decor of scenes and imperial costumes. He has done more: he has in fact written these tragedies himself, full of dramatic intensity, with characters poignantly revealed, the whole cycle moving to inevitable ruin.
Over each drama of the series presides an evil genius. First, Metternich, the link between the era of Napoleon and our modern days. Metternich is drawn with mastery; he stands forth as possessing uncanny foresight and insight into the greed and malice of men, yet wholly without true wisdom or statesmanship. Next, the elegant swindler, Prince Felix Schwarzenberg, who brought the king of Prussia to his knees, inflicting on him humiliation only less than that of his discredited descendant at Doorn. Later comes the jovial, cheating Celt, Count Taaffe, who for fourteen years governed Austria by cynical dishonesty. And, to close the list, Count Berchtold, forging and lying, with the connivance of Kaiser Wilhelm, to force war upon the Serbs. Even the better figures are not spared. The patriot Kossuth was tyrannous to non-Magyars, The sentimental Maximilian had detestable traits of cruelty.
The full-length portrait of Francis Joseph is painted by the accumulation of vivid strokes. He stands forth as a man of splendid opportunities, with an intense devotion to work, his mind filled with catchwords of benevolence, the whole poisoned by furious, cowardly self-love. The author convincingly depicts ‘his infinite egotism, disguised hut not effaced by a no less infinite sense of duty toward himself and nobody and nothing else,’ serving a ’life sentence to penal servitude in the gaol called self.’ His malign reign spans all recent history. When he was born John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had been dead only four years. Madison and Monroe were still living. And this ruthless prisoner of egotism endured to precipitate, and with piercing lucidity to foresee, the ruin of his whole world in the Great War. Since the remote days when his ancestor, an evil bird of prey, swooped down from Habichtsburg, the Hawk’s Eyrie in the mountains, upon the fertile Danube Valley, the Habsburgs had accumulated infinite debts of tyranny and cruelty. When they were presented for payment to Francis Joseph, his answer was disgraceful bankruptcy and death.
The women of the drama are not less repellent, than the men. Archduchess Sophie, his mother, wise in her farsighted egotism, is sordid and brutal, atrocious in her jealous persecution of the youthful Empress Elizabeth, that modern rebel against dead court, formalism. But Elizabeth too was hard and selfish, utterly refusing to make the least payment of sympathy to Francis Joseph, whose devotion to her was the one quality in his life touched with generosity.
No man ever suffered heavier blows: his sisterin-law burned to death at the charity bazaar; his brother fallen before the firing squad under Queretaro; the wife whom, in his stunted way, he loved, murdered by Luccheni; his rebel son victim of disgraceful suicide at Mayerling; his heir assassinated at Sarajevo, thus giving the pretext for war and ultimate ruin, Yet, for all these grievous strokes, the heart of Francis Joseph remained obdurate.