Posted by Richard on  UTC 2016-09-13 07:18

Dark clouds in the west

Emperor Franz II was crowned on 14 July 1792, which happened to be the third anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in 1789, the event traditionally taken as the start of the French Revolution. A grim anniversary.

When his father, Leopold II, had taken over from the detested Joseph II there had been street parties with free food and wine. Vienna became one large carnival. To the people it seemed as though things could only get better, which was a reasonable assumption, since it was barely conceivable that they could get any worse than the shambles that Joseph had left behind.

The assumption was justified, because in the two years that Leopold had on the throne he managed, through great skill and intelligence, to rescue the Empire from catastrophe and bring it back to a stable condition. Leopold's early death gives rise to one of the great 'if only he had lived' questions of European history. His son Franz II at his accession set a suitably sombre tone for the time by forbidding such jollities: the times were just too serious for parties.

For about 23 years, from Franz's accession until the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Europe was afflicted by the Continental and the Napoleonic Wars. The reader will be relieved to hear that we don't need to treat these complex wars in any deep or systematic way. We can spare ourselves the study of lists of battles, of which there were many, arrays of participating armies, tables of territorial gains and losses and casualty figures. But in return we have to remember that these events were a continuing background to the first half of Franz's reign.

Our musical genius Franz Schubert will have a brief but harmless encounter with the hostilities, as well as some other related excitements, but the events of those bloodthirsty times will otherwise just rumble on almost until the end of his teenage years.

We need a little bit of background, though. As far as we need to be concerned, the main combatants were, on the one side, the Austrian Empire and Prussia and, on the other side, France. Leopold had died in March 1792 and hostilities had broken out scarcely a month after, even before Franz could formally take the throne as Emperor.

It is one of the sad accidents of history that at this critical moment in European affairs the Prussian throne was occupied by Friedrich Wilhelm II (1744-1797). This foolish, sybaritic, philandering glutton – christened by his people the 'Fat Fornicator' (der dicke Lüderjahn) – had succeeded his father, Friedrich II – christened by his people the 'Great' and affectionately the 'Old Fritz'. Although Friedrich, the old warmonger, had his defects (quite a few of them in fact), the existence of his son presents us with one of the many arguments against inherited monarchy that history can offer us.

In 1786, just in time for Europe's greatest crisis since the Thirty Years' War two centuries before, the odious dimwit Friedrich Wilhelm II took his seat on the throne of Prussia. It is a sign for us that Goethe's Duke, Karl August, one of the deeper thinkers among the European nobility, after battling the French in Alsace-Lorraine for two years decided in 1794 that he had had enough of Friedrich Wilhelm and resigned his commission, only returning to military service when the Fat Fornicator was dead and Prussia was under the control of the Fornicator's relatively sensible son, Friedrich Wilhelm III.

In the critical years just after the French revolution the Fat Fornicator was the partner and ally of Leopold II and then of Franz II. Leopold had played the Prussian with all his Italianate skills, but now that Franz and Friedrich Wilhelm were at the rudder, a calm and intelligent strategic foreign policy response to the French Revolution was not to be expected. By the time Friedrich Wilhelm II died in 1797 and his successor was left to clear out the mess of concubines, bigamies, illigitimate children and other indelicacies, the bloody trajectory of the hostilities with France had been set. Too much had happened to go back now and too many other nations were involved. From the year of Franz's accession in 1792 to the end of 1802 – ten violent years – France, despite some setbacks, would be in the ascendant. Hard times for Austria were ahead.

Clamping down, 1792

Franz, the 24 year-old, reacted quickly to the situation at his accession in March 1792. The French Revolution would not to be repeated in the Austrian Empire. In these dangerous, combustible times he needed calm, he needed security. He needed police and he needed censors.

Four times before the year 1792 was out Franz issued decrees that tightened up the censorship of books, newspapers and journals. The first one was issued shortly after his accession. The promptness of the appearance of the first edict and the short intervals between those that followed it tell us how pressing the issue was for Franz.

The very language of the decrees throbs with urgency and seriousness of purpose. The usual preambles are missing: no more 'with fatherly care for the welfare of his people'. Instead, in the four decrees, he comes straight to the point. The first decree, on 11 March 1792 (only ten days after Leopold had died), is particularly lacking in all cosmetic adornments. It is just shouting, the fist banging on the table, a sign of the sudden seriousness of the events in France for the new Emperor:

His Majesty has commanded that all articles from foreign newspapers and such publications, which have as their intention the spreading of vexatious inventions and shameless distortions, the confusion and inflaming of feelings through nonsensical ideas and fantastical trickery, in short the disturbance of public calm, whether using clear language or some disguised form, are to be completely excluded from domestic daily and weekly newspapers, irrespective of whatever title they may appear under and irrespective of whether the complete content is included or just extracts are reproduced.…[1]

'The disturbance of public calm'. The maintenance of calm among his subjects was the goal in these dangerous times. But even Franz saw the impossibility of suppressing all knowledge of the epochal events that were taking place in France. The press in Austria couldn't just pretend that nothing at all of interest was happening in France. In which case:

… it is obvious that foreign articles which merely present economic facts or public events in other countries, knowledge of which cannot be suppressed without tearing the threads of current history and which report factually without including objectionable opinions are excluded from this ban.[2]

Newspaper publishers therefore had to interpret what Franz and his censorship minions would think reasonable – just sufficient to avoid 'tearing the threads of current history' without printing anything that they would regard as inflammatory. If they got that telepathic exercise wrong, the consequences could be severe. Entire print runs could be confiscated, the newspaper might even be shut down for good as a result of one misjudged phrase. The only wise course for publishers, which is almost a defining characteristic of all censorship regimes, was to err on the side of caution: self-censorship.

A couple of weeks after this, having throttled back the flow of news and opinion from the French Revolution, Franz moved to shut down any speculation about his government's possible reaction to the astonishing events in France. In a decree on 27 March he begins with a few sweet words, but the mood does not last long:

As little as I am minded to restrict a moderate freedom of the press, it has become very noticeable to me, however, that various daily and weekly newspapers are presenting putative future decrees or opinions on [government] business which are merely taken from public opinion and which therefore have no basis in fact.[3]

Franz asserts that, although the domestic readership might be able to understand these reports to be speculations, foreign readers can scarcely be expected to judge such opinions, leading to incorrect information being disseminated abroad. In this time of delicate diplomacy in Europe we might find that statement not unreasonable. The decree meant that his censors had to ensure that newspapers only contained true reports of real decrees and government actions, that is, newspapers could only report on such things after the fact.

Because the public now found out about new legislation too late to make any representations, all possibilites of opposition were closed off. Once a decree was issued, open criticism could be interpreted as 'vexatious talk' and dealt with summarily. Franz's sweetly reasonable beginning ends in repressive consequences. Only two days later[4], Franz adds an additional section to the decree reminding the censors to enforce the existing censorship rules rigorously.

More trouble was just around the corner. Inspired by the French example, Hungary in particular was sinking into revolutionary turmoil, not just the plebs against the aristrocracy but also the plebs and the aristocracy united in nationalism against the Germanic Habsburg yoke. Not only that, but provoked by Franz and his dimwitted Prussian partner, France had declared war on Austria on 20 April. On 15 May he reminds his provincial administrations and the censors of their duty in respect of books, but this time – despite the tortured syntax – much more explicitly and concisely:

… that all pamphlets, books, works and manuscripts which a) concern the Hungarian nation and its laws wholly or partly, or which b) contain principles relating to the current freedom system and the French Revolution with the intention of their favourable representation or anything in any respect similar to that should be sent to the censor without fail in cases where the censor has not already received them and they are therefore not contained in the list of banned books.[5]

In his last censorship decree of this busily repressive year, on 12 October, he brings newspaper and book censorship together. By this time events in France had got much worse. On 10 August the Tuilleries had been stormed and the Swiss guard slaughtered; at the beginning of September thousands of prisoners were massacred in Paris; on 20 September the Austrian and Prussian alliance had lost the battle of Valmy to the French and would soon be driven back out of Alsace Lorraine. As an indication of his agitated state of mind, Franz sprays his subjects and his censors with a stream of consciousness rant with embedded grammatical superlatives:

Since current events require us to pay the most careful attention to ensuring that books that are a threat to the state and contain such parts and principles which could disturb the general calm should under no circumstances get into circulation, but rather that they should be promptly suppressed and banned, this overriding task is therefore once again emphatically brought to the attention of the censors and the provincial administrations in that they are to ensure absolutely the strictest implementation of the existing censorship decrees, for the execution of which they bear the strictest responsibility.[6]

After this it should be clear to the censors that in the case of the slightest doubt whether a publication was within the rules or not, it should be banned anyway. There was no room for nuance or giving the benefit of the doubt. The decree now goes on to deal with the censorship of newspapers:

Since also newspapers, if not chosen correctly and freed from all objectionable and questionable items, can contribute greatly to the dissemination of wicked ideas it is therefore a primary duty of the administration to keep a careful watch and ensure that, particularly in those newspapers which reprint pieces from foreign sources and which are available very cheaply and which are therefore read widely by people from the lower orders down to farmers, that nothing offensive or questionable is let through, even when this is already contained in other foreign newspapers.[7]

After a passage encouraging the police to search with greater fervour for that other horror, 'house printing presses' – small, unlicensed printing shops – the decree closes with a call to the provincial governments for the 'most exact adherence' to the strictures of the decree.

This decree makes it clear where Franz sees his enemy: 'people from the lower orders down to farmers', that is, the top levels of the third estate, the ones his grandmother, Maria Theresia, had started teaching to read. We note here the horror vision of the French Revolution for Franz and his ministers, that it was effected by knuckle-dragging scum goaded into unspeakable acts by wild demagogues and orators.

The pressure of events in 1792 in his first nine months had driven Franz to clamp down quickly on all media communication in the Empire. He had used existing rules and mechanisms, tightening them up and placing his administration on high alert for all seditious or contrarian writings. The upheavals in France in the summer and autumn together with Franz's obsessive and fear-driven use of repression to maintain calm ultimately ended, on the 4 January 1793, in the appointment of Count Johann von Pergen (1725-1814), the Minister of Police from Joseph's time, as the recreated office of Minister of Police to the Imperial Court (Polizeihofstelle).[8] Not a moment too soon, because 1793 would be a year of even greater shocks than its predecessor.

The belljar comes down, 1793

Franz's uncle, Joseph II, and his Minister of Police, Count Pergen, had built up the police, and particularly the hated Secret Police, into an instrument for the furtherence of Joseph's bossy and despotic ends, whether the enlightened or the unenlightened ones. Leopold II abolished this monster shortly after his accession, putting the police back under legal, civilian control and refocusing them on their duty of protecting the public and upholding the law. He effectively neutralized the Secret Police, relying on his own network of informers for political spying. Pergen took early retirement, claiming poor eyesight.

Leopold II, a much more convinced reformer than his brother Joseph, had gradually relaxed the state's control of ideas – or rather, only implemented it when and where it suited his pragmatic reign. The shock when Franz II banged his hand on the table was therefore much greater. Franz Seraph Spaun, the antisocial political troublemaker, described the situation during Leopold's reign as follows:

At the beginning of the French Revolution, that is, in the time of the constitutional National Assembly, everything was still quite golden. A huge majority of people abroad wished France all the best in its promising changes to the constitution. Even the Austrian government showed itself as uncommonly liberal. The 'Moniteur', the writings of Mirabeau, Priestley, Rowe and Paine circulated freely. No censorship paralysed the hand or the tongue.[9]

Leopold may have abolished the system, but he had not driven the stake through its heart. The structural concepts and plans were all still there and their architect, Pergen, was still alive and indeed agitating in the background. An architect whose eyesight enjoyed a remarkable recovery when Franz brought him out of the wilderness and caused the undead, the Staatssicherheitspolizei (State Security Police, as, more recently, in the name of the STASI of East German notoriety), to rise out of its grave. It was not dead, it had been merely slumbering, awaiting the call.

We are not surprised to learn that Pergen had nothing good to say about Leopold's legally based and administratively supervised police force, which had replaced his ministry following his ejection. Pergen's restoration meant that it was now time for revenge on those ingrates who had participated in his earlier downfall. He notes with evident hurt how his own system for Joseph had been 'tossed aside', how expensive its replacement was and how much 'scribbling' (Schreiberei) – in other words, due process – it involved.[10] Franz took over Pergen's recommendations 'in their entirety' on 12 March 1793:

I fully approve of your measures, which have their source in the head of a perceptive Minister and the heart of a friend of mankind.[11]

The administration of Joseph and Leopold's welfare policing with its arbitration procedures and expensive free health system was shoved aside and soon withered on the branch. Only fear of unrest kept the health system going at all: Franz restricted access to it, added means-testing and restricted its scope severely.

In contrast, from its creation in 1793, the Polizeihofstelle proved itself to be a powerful instrument for the preservation of calm that Franz II so desired. In 1801 the police took over responsibility for censorship: troublemakers would be isolated and dealt with at the first word they wrote. This instrument would persist for nearly half a century, until the great revolutionary year of 1848. It formed the belljar that Franz and his ministers placed over Austrian society during the first half of the 19th century.[12]

Pergen's experience in running Joseph's police stood him in good stead now Franz was on the throne. Appointed on 1 January he had the system set up by the 1 April. Franz had now got the police force he wanted, the police force of a fearful man.

Whereas Uncle Joseph had wanted to use Pergen's system as a kind of running opinion poll or focus group on the state of mind of his subjects, taking little action on its findings, Franz wanted it as an instrument of control, an instrument for the repression of dissent. Just look what had happened in France with Freemasons and Jacobin clubs. Unlike Joseph, he would certainly take action on the basis of what he learned from his security system. Calm must be maintained at all costs, as that decree of 9 February 1793 had made clear: '… calm and public order … the maintenance of which is the most important task of the administration of the state'.[13] Doing that required action on three fronts: spying on foreigners, spying on Austrian citizens and censoring books.

Welcome to the world of Franz Schubert and his circles of friends!

Institutionalized xenophobia

There had been a time, particularly under Maria Theresia and Joseph II, when Vienna, the hub of the Empire, was regarded as a great cosmopolitan city containing an irridescent mixture of people of all nationalities and languages. During these times the city was one of the most foreigner-friendly places in Europe. Many tradespeople and artisans, particularly from France, had been imported into the Empire to make up the skills deficit in that ramshackle economy. Leopold, reacting to the initial shock of the French Revolution, cleansed the population of a few of the more obvious troublemakers but Vienna and other parts of the Empire continued to be a host to many expatriats and more and more refugees from the disorders in France.

Only a day after Pergen's appointment on 4 January 1793 Franz took steps to deal with the pressing problem arising from the turmoil in France: the enormous influx of emigrés fleeing France for Austria. They may have fled their home country, but these people were not necessarily former aristocrats and landowners, who by their nature might be expected to sympathise with the Austrian monarchy. As the extremist Jacobins gained power in France many of the moderate Girondists wisely fled for their lives, which in turn meant that an unknown proportion of the French in Austria could very well be French revolutionaries in exile. On the surface, the Girondists may not have been quite as blood-crazed as the Jacobins but, when the Girondists finally got the upper hand in France, they were just as capable of massacring their enemies as the Jacobins had been.

Under Franz and Pergen's new system all that changed. Foreigners, particularly citizens of France, were suspects by default. They were subjected to the full armoury of police instruments such as passport checks and luggage inspections. Permits were required for almost everything, permits that sometimes even had to be issued and signed by ministers, generals or by other elevated functionaries. The most suspect aliens and so the most carefully monitored were foreign diplomats:

In every foreign diplomat's house we have to have one or two people in the pay of the police to report on everyday occurrences. For more important business we need trusted people from the educated orders who have access to the smaller, selective circles. Their identity will be known only to the Chief of Police.[14]

Spies everywhere! In the better guesthouses and in private houses where foreigners were staying spies were recruited in order to report whether anyone staying there might deserve closer monitoring. A sufficiently large number of such people had to be be recruited to create a reserve of narks who could, whenever required, be smuggled into the employ of suspects in order to keep them under closer surveillance.

A special government department, a 'Secret Cabinet' (geheime Kabinett) had already existed seemingly since the time of Maria Theresia to coordinate the documentary evidence garnered from foreigners. The spies in the homes and offices of foreigners collected any scraps of paper that might seem informative, even going through wastepaper baskets and the ashes in fireplaces. They sent their haul to the police, who would reconstruct what they could from these scraps. The findings would be collated and analysed in the Secret Cabinet.

The French emigrés were noisy, incautious and fond of large social gatherings. At such meetings positive opinions about the Revolutionary cause in France were loudly expressed. In the midst of the general war-weary defeatism amongst the dispirited Austrians the government could no longer tolerate such behaviour. The participants at the largest of these meetings were rounded up in December 1792.

Readers will remember this as the moment when Franz Seraph Spaun was arrested. As an Austrian citizen, he was simply 'disappeared' into dungeons for eight years. Citizens of other countries were treated badly with summary justice: many were imprisoned for more than a month without charge, their homes and papers were searched and in the end about half of them were deported without being convicted of any crime.

Following on from the raid, Franz's decree of 5 January 1793[15] restated the guidelines for accepting French immigrants and pressed upon his administrators the need for the greatest vigilance. Aware of the dangers exposed by the round-up of the emigré meeting the previous December, he would even revisit the subject of French immigrants and fill some of the gaps with new regulations a little over a month later, on 17 February.[16]

Institutionalized paranoia

No letter was private. Suspect correspondence, whether from Austrians or foreigners, was intercepted by 'Black Cabinets' (schwarze Kabinette) in the post offices. Seals were broken, the contents were copied by hand, the letters skilfully resealed and sent on their way as though nothing had happened.

There was a tradition here. Mozart had been cautious enough to address his letters in a different hand – and that was ten years before Franz took the throne. Could it be that the modern European fetish for adding the sender's name and address on every letter is not just a postal convenience but as much a folk memory of centuries of continental postal censorship? Don't forget that the countries of continental Europe had been governed by despots of one form or another with only brief intermissions until 1945, when the Anglosphere intervened. Old habits die hard.

Joseph and Leopold had also relied heavily on these 'intercepts' to shape their foreign policy, but under Franz postal snooping was extended potentially to include everyone, not just diplomats.

No one was exempt from these measures, even government ministers and higher civil servants. One noted in 1806, writing in secret to the Chancellor: 'I only ever send things through the post that I don't mind being read by anybody'. After his luggage had been searched on his return from Paris he raged that Vienna had 'the most stupid and despicable police administration'.[17]

The most telling thing about this outburst is that neither he nor the Chancellor could do anything about it: the State Police had effectively become the highest organ of government, second only to the Monarch himself.

Talk was carefully monitored. Already in March 1792, before Franz's official accession, local administrations had been sent a decree that reminded them to keep an eye on the mood of the people and track the progress of positive developments or the spread of 'misconceived pseudo-enlightenment' (schwärmerische After-Aufklärung). Any happening that might affect calm and security should be monitored and, if a cause for concern, should be reported without delay. The police and their informants were in particular to keep an ear open for 'vexatious talk' (ärgerliches Reden) against the government, the church or moral standards.

Attacking the Catholic church was especially dangerous. That body enjoyed the particular protection of the law:

… not only because of its intrinsic worth and sanctity … but also because it is one of the most effective methods of ensuring obedience to the law, maintaining calm and unity between the communities, promoting the detestation of vice and therefore the maintenance of a good moral standard.[18]

The careless expression of contrarian opinion could and would lead to punishment, a punishment that could be inflicted directly by the police without the 'criminal' having any legal recourse. The punishment was arbitrary, entirely based on what a police functionary decided was necessary. It was, indeed, a punishment made to fit the crime that could include police arrest for arbitrary periods of time, beatings with sticks or leather straps, starvation or bread and water regimes. For people with jobs and positions the punishment could include loss of employment and disgrace. It was clearly better to keep one's mouth shut, except in the most trusted and intimate circles.

With speech so restricted, we can hardly expect that the written word would be any freer. The censors coordinated closely with the police, under whom they would finally be subsumed in 1801. Logically so, since sedition or spoken or written dissent all hang together. As such the system's boundaries were fluid: an offensive or careless passage in a written text would not only lead to its censorship and suppression but could also lead to any of the punitive measures we have just listed. Under Franz, censorship developed into a system with its tentacles in every aspect of intellectual life in Austria: newspapers, books, journals, lending libraries, plays, speeches, talks, even pictures, maps and paintings. It was, indeed, the Austrian belljar.


For Franz, by the grace of God Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, January 1793 ended with terrible news: the summary trial and beheading of Louis XVI on the 21st. The potential solution of a constitutional monarchy in France had been a horror vision for the absolutist Franz, still clinging to his divine right of kings. It is said that he had forbidden anyone to mention the word 'constitution' in his presence. We have seen some examples in his decrees of strangulated circumlocutions designed to avoid that hated word at all costs and thus avoid giving the concept even just the minimal legitimacy of a name.

After 21 January, when not even a king but 'citizen Louis Capet' was guillotined, there was no monarchy in France anymore, neither absolutist or constitutional. History had moved on and left Franz II standing still. His aunt, Marie-Antoinette, the ex-Queen of France, was in a French prison awaiting her fate. It would be settled with her execution on 16 October of that year. Defensive repression and reaction were his only solutions for Austria.

It did not help the black mood that must have clouded Franz's mind at this time that, also in January 1793, a subversive plot in Vienna had been reported by an informer. The 'Shoemakers' Plot' (Schusterkomplott) involved a group of tradesmen who, under the influence of radical preachers, had become atheists and now espoused views favourable to the French Revolution. The plot was quickly foiled and, in April 1794, a large number of them ended up in the pillory and then in prison for a year for 'spreading atheism'.

On 9 February 1793, clearly under pressure from the terrible events in France and the news from Vienna, Franz enacted a decree, 'Precautions for the maintenance of calm and order in the citizenry' (Vorsorge zur Aufrechterhaltung der bürgerlichen Ruhe und Ordnung), that gives us a sense of his panic:

Since his Majesty has nothing more pressing on his heart than to take all appropriate measures for the maintenance of the calm, the security and the prosperity of his subjects and at the same time to eradicate all those things relating to the spread of the unrestrained and corrupting ideas and principles that are dominant in France, his Majesty has emphatically ordered that the provincial administrations are to take the following measures:[19]

In that decree Franz lashed out at five targets. The targets show the way that censorship and police matters had merged in his mind and in his government.

  1. To tolerate no secret meetings under whatever pretence and to punish those responsible.
  2. To keep a careful eye on all emigré French and only to permit the residence in Austria of those who have valid passes and behave quietly.
  3. To ensure that censorship is strictly maintained according to the existing regulations; that no domestic printing, no reprinting and no import of books is allowed that represents the French Revolution in a positive light, that neither Austrian prints or reprints or imported books are permitted that contain a favourable description of the French Revolution or that deal with changes to the state or its principles that oppose the principles of a well designed monarchy and particularly the principles of the Austrian states [and also]
  4. To completely ensure in line with existing rules that in domestic newspapers nothing appears that has a positive relation to the French Revolution. It would be even better if writers for newspapers and academics could be encouraged to take the opportunity to present the bad consequences of the French Revolution in a lively manner and in a style that everyone can understand easily.
  5. To pay great attention to the destruction and elimination of the ' house printing presses ', the existence of which has already been banned and which contribute to the subversion of the best censorship measures, and to ensure that the police are especially vigilant in this matter.

On the same day he issued an order[20] that any banned books found in the luggage of Austrians entering the kingdom must be confiscated and destroyed. Banned books brought in by foreigners must also be confiscated, but could be collected again when they left the kingdom. The case of books in the possession of foreigners who were just passing through Austrian territory was regulated in a further decree on 16 April.[21]

But the key target was the one Franz had stated first, for in secret meetings lay the immediate danger. The 'Shoemakers' Plot' had shown this, as would the much more serious 'Jacobin Conspiracy' of 1794, the gloomy details of which we shall deal with another time. Modern historians like to argue that these plots were no real danger, merely incompetent daydreaming by a handful of malcontents. Unlike Franz, however, modern historians are not sitting on a pile of straw bales watching children play with matches beneath them.

The trouble is, of course, that the concept of 'secret meetings' can encompass a wide range of innocent activities. Schubert fans will recall the meetings of the 'Circles of Friends', the book-reading circles, the discussion evenings and such oddities as the Unsinngesellschaft and its camouflaged communications. The repressive measures introduced in Franz's first years outlived the glow of danger in which they had been forged and lived on for another half-century.

The school police

And yet one more bit of the belljar. Not only did Franz reinstate Pergen and all of his previous system, he extended the system to include education, even down to the school level.

Following the resolution of 10 March 1796 our genius Franz Peter Schubert's teacher father, Franz Theodor Schubert and his teacher uncle Karl had to come to terms with the Emperor's introduction of a 'School Police' (Schulpolizei).

The School Police not only had to keep an eye out for troublemakers among young people in higher and lower schools, they also had to keep a special eye on teachers, too. Franz was not about to allow what we would now recognise as a Gramsci-style takeover of the Austrian educational system by social theorists and daydreamers. Schools were now expected to turn out really good (recht herzlich gute), tractable (lenksame) and busy (geschäftige) human beings. The Austrian historian Viktor Bibl noted pointedly that 'busy' here really means 'with no time to think about freedom and the rights of citizens'.[22]

The task of education was to create people who are 'contented in themselves and with their government, therefore orderly and useful citizens' (…mit sich und Regierung zufriedene, folglich ruhige, brauchbare Staatsbürger zu bilden). Bibl notes again that 'citizens' here really means 'subjects'.

The young composer and his friends

Franz II was 43 years on the throne of Austria. His reign (1792-1835) wraps around the 31-year life of Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828) and stamps its contours on the times in which Schubert's life was lived. The composer and his contemporaries breathed the air of that reign. We cannot understand them without understanding the composition of the atmosphere they were breathing.

Franz Schubert lived his entire life under the belljar that Franz and his ministers held down over Austria and its empire. Much of that era has been given a confected name by historians, the Biedermeyer, (~'Bourgeois'), period. It is characterised by a strengthening of middle-class society, by an obsession with fashion, furniture, private salons, music and entertainment. All of the things that didn't really matter, in fact.

Except in the most intimate and trusted circles, conversation was formulaic and polite. It was not a time for the hot words of firebrands, nor the monographs of revolutionaries, nor, indeed, anything remotely unusual or exciting. 'Calm' was the only thing that the Emperor required of his Biedermeyer subjects.

The written word was under siege and only the blandest products escaped. Much of the work of Goethe and Schiller was censored and could not be freely bought or sold. The man now celebrated as the Austrian national poet, Franz Grillparzer, was ground down by the battle to get his works staged or published in a form that approximated to his originals.

We shall look at the practical effects of the astonishing extent of censorship during those years of 'calm' under Franz's belljar another time, as well as some of the struggles against it.


Nearly all of the referenced materials are in German, and nearly all of those in Frakturschrift.

  1. ^ Hofdekret 11.03.1792, p. 11.
  2. ^ Ibid. p. 11.
  3. ^ Hofdekret 27.03.1792, p. 30.
  4. ^ Ibid. p. 31.
  5. ^ Hofdekret 15.05.1792, p. 89f.
  6. ^ Hofdekret 12.10.1792, p. 184.
  7. ^ Ibid p. 184f
  8. ^ Hofdekret 04.01.1793, p. 1.
  9. ^ Zu Anfang der Revolution, das ist, zur Zeit der constituirenden National-Versammlung war alles noch golden. Eine ungeheure Majorität im Auslande wünschte Frankreich Glück zu seinen vielversprechenden Veränderungen in der Verfassung. Die Oesterreichische Regierung selbst zeigte sich ungemein liberal. Der Moniteur, die Schriften von Mirabeau, Pristley, Rowe, Paine circulierten frey. Keine Censur lähmte die Hand, oder die Zunge.
    Spaun, Franz von, Über privilegirte Umtriebe, 1821. p. 9f. Online
  10. ^ Pergen's first concern was to disburden his organization from the 'useless scribbling' imposed on it by Sonnenfels and Leopold II. Already on 25 January the District Directors of Police received orders to discontinue their arbitration in minor disputes. Soon after, the civilian police guard set up in December 1791 to improve public security and crime detection, was disbanded. No doubt, the free 'health service' which had been attached to the police administration under the Sonnenfelsian system would also have fallen victim to Pergen's exclusive passion for the secret police, had he not been forced to conclude that the sudden abolition of this widely used and appreciated institution would cause serious unrest in Vienna. Under the circumstances, Pergen had to content himself with a number of 'cuts' to reduce the cost of the service. These amounted to the introduction of a means test on those who wanted to use the service, the issue of regulations to keep down the cost of prescriptions, and the limitation of the service as far as possible to treatment in hospital.
    Wangermann, Ernst. From Joseph II to the Jacobin Trials : Government Policy and Public Opinion in the Habsburg Dominions in the Period of the French Revolution, Oxford Historical Series, 2nd Series. London : 1959. p. 122.
  11. ^ Ich genehmige vollkommen Ihre Vorkehrungen, welche aus dem Kopf eines einsichtsvollen Ministers und aus dem Herzen eines Menschenfreundes ihren Ursprung nehmen.
    Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Wien: AVA, Pergen-Akten X B 1, quoted in Schembor, Friedrich Wilhelm. Franzosen in Wien: Einwanderer und Besatzer: Französische Revolution und napoleonische Besatzung in den österreichischen Polizeiakten. Bochum: Winkler, 2012. p. 96.
  12. ^ Dieser jedenfalls hat in der Polizei eine wesentliche Stütze seiner Herrschermacht erblickt, und seine Einstellung zu ihr blieb, von einigen Schwankungen in der Franzosenzeit abgesehen, zeit seines Lebens gleich. Mit der Errichtung der Polizeihofstelle (1793) gewann er jenes schlagkräftige Instrument, dessen er bedurfte; ihn hat es nicht enttäuscht. 1801 vertraute er der Polizei auch die Zensur an und die nunmehrige Polizei und Zensurhofstelle blieb bis 1848 unverändert bestehen.
    Marx, Julius. Die österreichische Zensur im Vormärz. Österreich Archiv, München: Oldenbourg, 1959.
  13. ^ Hofdekret 09.02.1793, p. 23.
  14. ^ Vortrag der Polizei-Hofstelle, 02.02.1806, quoted from Bibl, Viktor. Die Wiener Polizei : eine kulturhistorische Studie. Leipzig : Stein, 1927. p. 276.
  15. ^ Hofdekret 05.01.1793, p. 1f.
  16. ^ Hofdekret 17.02.1793, p. 34f.
  17. ^ Quoted from Bibl, p. 278.
  18. ^ Quoted from Bibl, p. 280.
  19. ^ Hofdekret 09.02.1793, p. 23.
  20. ^ Ibid p. 24.
  21. ^ Hofdekret 16.04.1793, p. 147f.
  22. ^ Quoted from Bibl, p. 271.

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