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Empress Maria Theresa Appraises the Character of Joseph II, her Son and Co-Regent (September 14, 1776)

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Do you think that this is the way to keep your subjects? I fear that you will fall into the hands of rascals who, in order to achieve their end, will put up with anything that a soul which is noble and truly attached cannot endure. Judge of my situation vis-à-vis Kaunitz! I must do him the justice to say that he was cut to the quick, and said only: “I did not think to have deserved these reproaches.” What will Stahremberg think when he sees your thoughts? And what strikes me most, this was no immediate reaction; it was twenty-four hours after having received the dispatches, and thus after ripe reflection, that you pleased yourself to drive the dagger into the heart; ironically and with reproaches against people whom you yourself believe to be the best, and whom you have tried to retain. I was obliged almost to doubt whether you were sincere then. What I fear is that you will never find a friend, a man attached to Joseph–by which you set such store–for it is neither from the Emperor nor from the co-Regent that these biting, ironical, malicious shafts proceed, but from the heart of Joseph, and this is what alarms me, and what will be the misfortune of your days and will entail that of the Monarchy and of us all. I shall no longer be alive, but I had flattered myself that after my death I should live on in your heart, that your numerous family, your States, would lose nothing by my death, but would, on the contrary, gain by it. Can I nurse this hope, if you indulge yourself in this tone which repels all tenderness and friendship? Imitation does not flatter; this hero who has made so much talk about himself, this conqueror, has he a single friend? Has he not reason to distrust the whole world? What sort of a life is that from which humanity is banished? In our religion, charity, above all, is the chief foundation, not an advice but a precept, and do you think that you are practicing it when you afflict and bite at people ironically, even those who have rendered great services and who have no weaknesses save those common to us all, such as do not harm either the State or us, but only themselves, and who even in this case have only done their duty in pointing out the drawbacks, who have tried to find a compromise way to reconcile what is past and what is wanted now, with the difficulties which are to be expected–and this is how it is taken! Who will be willing to risk this experience again? To expose himself, if only under the imperative necessity of representing the truth to you, when he is received so?

Talented as you are, you cannot possibly have all the experience, all the familiarity with the past and the present, to do things alone. A “yes” or a “no,” a simple refusal would have been better than all these ironical outpourings in which your heart has vented itself and found satisfaction in admiring the volubility of its words. Beware of taking pleasure in malice! Your heart is not yet bad, but it will become it. It is more than time to stop relishing all these bons mots, these witticisms, which are only designed to wound others and to pour ridicule on them, thereby estranging all decent people and making one believe that the whole human race is unworthy of respect and affection, because one has by one’s own act repelled all that is good and has only kept and opened the door to rogues, toadies, and flatterers. Look here at the example of the Sinzendorffs. One cannot deny them wit, talent, a pleasant manner, but no one can endure them; bad family men, bad subjects, good for no employment either in war or in politics. In a sovereign the harm would be greater still, and would be disastrous both to him and to all his subjects.

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