Under the belljar
Under the belljar
Posted by Richard on UTC 2016-10-01 09:06.
After the Jacobins had gone to their nooses and their dungeons there was silence about them. Franz's belljar came down. The official police and court documents were sealed and put in a secret archive, an archive that was expressly kept secret even by Franz II's grandson, Emperor Franz Josef I in 1878, more than 80 years later. Eventually it was as though the Austrian Jacobins had never been. As we shall see shortly, even 50 years after the trials the still prevailing censorship regime had made these events just a vague memory, a memory that it was probably best not even to try to remember. By the time the Austrian Empire collapsed in 1918, more than a century after the plotters had met their end, the Jacobin plot and its chilling effect on the citizens of the Empire was largely forgotten. It would be another half century before historians became aware of the importance of this dramatic moment. 
We can no longer measure the full extent and importance of the Jacobin conspiracy in Austria. After the first police raids an unknown number of manuscripts and samizdat in the possession of the conspirators and their supporters would have been destroyed in anticipation of further police action. Even after Riedel's arrest, friends went through his apartment and removed any incriminating evidence that the police had overlooked. The model of Hebenstreit's war machine was still in the chest in which it was stored and was also removed. We can only suspect that there was a large number of Jacobin manuscripts in existence that had been distributed among a wide circle which were hurridly destroyed. In an empire based on preferment the possession of such things was a dangerous liability.
The conspiratorial and revolutionary documents the police found went into the files of the case and effectively disappeared from view for 150 years.
And what did the people of gay, cosmopolitan Vienna, the hub of the Empire, think of all this going on in their midst?
Caroline Pichler, author and socialite with a noted salon, then a 25 year-old, has left us a description of the events around the Jacobin plot as seen by a socially well-placed inhabitant of Vienna. Her eyewitness description is interesting but must be taken with at least two pinches of salt.
For the first pinch we need to remember that she is writing this account fifty years after the fact, so that it is not entirely suitable for use as a historical documentation of the events of that time.
The second pinch is that she is writing under the strict scrutiny of the censor: her statements are therefore carefully formulated – recognisably so in the language she uses – so as not to give offence. What survives after this salting is still worth consideration, though.
She gives an account of the shock that went through Viennese society when the knowledge of the arrest of the Jacobin suspects came out:
[The news of the arrests] came like a bolt out of the blue to the cheerful Viennese, out of the middle of whom a considerable number of well-known men, called friends by many, had been ripped, designated as traitors and who were looking at an uncertain, perhaps terrible future. The arrestees mostly belonged to the educated middle class; they were civil servants, businessmen, lawyers, academics, in other words just that category that had produced many of the important revolutionaries in France. 
What she says about the citizens' knowledge of what was going on, given Franz and Pergen's preference for secrecy, seems completely credible. Franz's tight grip on the press meant that only that information leaked out that the government allowed to leak out:
What the crimes [of the condemned] were, what their aims were and how many of those aims they succeeded in attaining remained covered with a thick veil. 
Because of the impending censorship of her autobiographical work Memories, Caroline had to be extremely circumspect in describing her attitude to the plot and the plotters. She does not mention their names or their fates, covering all the details – the acts, the motives – in a 'thick veil'. That is what Austrian writers had to do, even half a century after the fact. She herself was never a revolutionary, neither in background nor temperament, so her description seems to reflect a genuine opinion, albeit phrased very carefully.
Moderate people believed that a secret conspiracy … existed and that it had had questionable, indeed subversive intentions and that it was necessary and imperative from the viewpoint of public order and security that it should not be tolerated but instead punished severely.
However, [it was also thought] that one had proceeded with too much noise and unnecessary severity just because some of the principal discoverers and commission members were keen to advertise their services and had therefore chosen to present the issue to the Monarch in the most dangerous and disadvantageous light. 
Many thought like this and even at that time I agreed with them, because I couldn't a priori ascribe any unfairness to our Emperor Franz. The later knowledge of the confessions of some of the condemned and their release after their imprisonment confirm this opinion completely. 
Those who dabble in the gloomy study of 'channelled speech' and particularly the manner of writing that offers no attack surface for censors will have their dreary fun with this passage, indeed with most of Caroline Pichler's reminiscences from her Memories. 'I couldn't a priori ascribe any unfairness to our Emperor Franz'. Quite. One day we shall pluck up courage and have a look at that work more closely: it has a tale to tell.
Caroline tells us that the trial of the Viennese Jacobins polarised opinion in Viennese society:
From this time onwards the voice of the spirit of division was loud and intemperate in Vienna. The term 'Jacobin' began to be heard frequently, a term that was not only applied to all those who nursed 'French principles' but which unfortunately was used by exaggeratedly loyal and orthodox opponents to stigmatize anyone who expressed any sort of liberal idea.
In return, the other party would call anyone an 'aristocrat', a 'bigot', an 'enemy of all enlightenment' who adhered to his religious rules, was a loyal subject of the Emperor and who desired public order and security. 
The polarisation of opinion and the associated prejudices were even reflected in fashion – that completely characteristic Biedermeier proccupation:
… and many men grew enormous sideburns. Many others, however, especially the most moral and reserved young men avoided this style, since loyalists took large sideburns to be the true sign of a Jacobin. Some men, who may have even been quite loyalist, sported sideburns just to follow the fashion and were therefore also stigmatized as Jacobins, thus creating a bad impression on their superiors and therefore affecting their careers. 
Ludwig van Beethoven was living in Vienna at the time. Unlike Caroline, his mind, as far as we know, was not concerned with the hairstyles of the young men, but like her he was affected by the events and the rumours surrounding the trials. He wrote about them to his old friend Nikolaus Simrock (1751-1832) in Bonn on 2 August 1794. Simrock was a notable figure in the German Enlightenment, a publisher of many of Beethoven's first editions and a supporter of the French. Beethoven's amusing, grumpy satire is, however, careful satire. Despite the fact that he was the plaything of princes, as a stranger in a strange land he knew he had to be careful in the way he expressed himself.
It's very hot here; the Viennese are worried, they soon won't have any more ice cream; because the winter was so mild, the ice is in short supply. Here, various people of importance have been arrested; people say a revolution was supposed to break out. But I believe that so long as the Austrian has brown beer and sausages, he won't revolt. It is said that the gates of the suburbs (Vorstädten) are to be closed at night at ten. Soldiers are said to be carrying their weapons loaded. One must not speak too loudly here otherwise the Police will provide accommodation for you. 
The first plotters had been arrested barely a week before this letter was written. We are clear about the condition of the populace after the arrests: nothing is clear, everything is whispered from person to person. Beethoven's caution is evident: 'various people of importance', 'people say', 'was supposed to', 'are said to be'. Simrock, a revolutionary in his own prosperous way, would be able to read between the lines of his old friend's letter, containing important events wrapped in trivia.
Emperor Franz quickly grew impatient with his legal system, knowing how damaging delay was. Sooner or later the authorities would have to lift their news blackout around the events and tell people something. When Gilowsky's corpse was publicly dangled on a pole and then Hebenstreit was strung up he had thousands of flyers ready to tell the populace of their evil ways. The other prisoners just disappeared from view in distant dungeons, held in solitary confinement, known only by the number of their cell. Their rank stripped, their assets confiscated. They became unpersons. One moment they were there – Caroline Pichler would have known many of the Viennese among them – and the next moment they had gone.
Returning to Caroline's carefully phrased memories of those by then distant times, she tells us delicately of the inhibiting effect the Jacobin trials had on the young. It forced young men to be more cautious and not risk giving the wrong impression, not only in fashion and hairstyles but also in speech and behaviour. Caroline gives us a good picture of what it was like to be a young, educated man in Vienna after the Jacobin trials.
It is natural that young men of our circle would feel the effects of these public events. Although in their dress, speech and manners they all kept within the barriers of respectibility and acceptability, those who belonged to certain 'Saturday Clubs' decided to dissolve these in order not to give the Government and public opinion any cause for offence. One of these men especially was Count Chorinsky, the nephew of just that senior civil servant who had proved to be the most active in his pursuit of the suspects and the conspirators. Most of them destroyed anything they had written, especially when it concerned politics or which contained 'advanced' opinions that had been expressed without reserve, because expressed among friends. They were justifiably afraid of house searches: those who were still making a career in the world could not allow such a stain to fall upon their reputations. 
The vast bureaucratic apparatus of the Austrian Empire was the employer of choice for young, educated men. Few thought of taking up capitalist enterprise unless they already came from entrepreneurial families. With success and money you could buy yourself aristocratic standing, but until that moment the industrialist, the factory owner, the trader had usually no more social legitimacy than than a baker or a teacher. For the non-entrepreneurial young man there was no easy movement from class to class: a post had to be found which was appropriate to the young man's station. Closing off career opportunities by being thought to be a dangerous freethinker was almost a sentence of starvation.
Franz Schubert was born on 31 February 1797, just a little over two years after Franz's reinstatement of the death sentence in his 'insolent criticism' decree of 2 January 1795. That decree and the pervasiveness of the Secret Police who had 'saved' Franz from the Jacobin Conspiracy, the snoopers, the paid narks, the ever-present censorship and the secret police who implemented it set the tone in the Austrian Empire for the next fifty years.
Enough already! In a future post we shall meet the young men of Franz Schubert's Freundeskreise, his Circles of Friends, and see how they grew up and survived in the suffocating atmosphere of conformity under Franz's Biedermeier belljar.