Act I Scene 19


War Welfare Department.

HUGO VON HOFMANNSTHAL (looking at a newspaper):    Ah, an open letter to me? – Sweet of Bahr[1] not to forget me in these dreadful times! (He reads aloud.) ‘A salutation to Hofmannsthal. I only know that you are under arms, dear Hugo, though no one can tell me where. That’s why I am writing to you via a newspaper. Perhaps a kindly wind will waft its way to your watchfire and bring you my fond regards – ’ (He breaks off from reading.)

CYNIC:    Well – read on! Hermann Bahr does write nicely!

HUGO VON HOFMANNSTHAL (screws up the paper):    Bahr really is dreadful –

CYNIC:    What’s the matter? (Takes the paper and reads snatches) ‘Every German, whether at home or in the field, now wears a uniform. That is the great good fortune of this moment. May God preserve it! – – This is the ancient track the Nibelungen trod, Minnesinger and Meistersinger, Germanic mysticism and baroque, Klopstock and Herder, Goethe and Schiller, Kant and Fichte, Bach, Beethoven, Wagner.[2] – Good luck, my dear Lieutenant – ’


CYNIC (reading):    ‘I know you are happy. You feel the joy of being a part of it all. There is nothing more profound.’

HUGO VON HOFMANNSTHAL:    Right, if you don’t stop now –

CYNIC (reading):    ‘And we should hold this in our hearts for all time: being part of it all is what matters. And we have to ensure that henceforth we always hold on to something of what it was to be there. Then we will have reached our final goal along the German road, Minnesinger and Meistersinger, Walther von Vogelweide and Hans Sachs, Eckhart and Tauler[3], mysticism and the baroque, Klopstock and Herder, Goethe and Schiller, Kant and Fichte, Beethoven and Wagner, all of them fulfilled in this. -’ What’s the connection? Ah, perhaps he means they’re all exempt from conscription. ‘And this is how an all-powerful God has blessed our feeble generation!’ Thanks be to God! – (reading) ‘You will soon be reaching Warsaw with our army of course!’


CYNIC:    ‘Go straight to our consulate and inquire whether the Austro-Hungarian consul-general is still there: Leopold Andrian[4].’ (He starts to giggle.)

HUGO VON HOFMANNSTHAL:    What are you laughing about?

CYNIC:    He probably stayed in Warsaw after the outbreak of war so he could issue visas for our troops as they arrived – essential in a time of war – otherwise they couldn’t get into Russia! (Reading) ‘And if you’re in good company there, while outside the drums are beating, and Poldi stalks through the room reciting Baudelaire[5] in his passionate, deep voice, don’t forget me, I’m thinking of you! Everything is going so well for you – ’


CYNIC:    ‘– the whole experience will be inundating you with ideas.’ And what ideas they must be, eh!

HOFMANNSTHAL:    Just leave me in peace!

CYNIC:    You’re going to Warsaw soon as well, aren’t you? Some sort of propaganda work, I heard. Will you give your Hindenburg[6] lecture again?

HOFMANNSTHAL:    I told you to leave me in peace –

CYNIC:    Oh, it’s cold again today – I’d better ring for someone to pile some more wood on the watchfires.

HOFMANNSTHAL:    That’s just vicious – you – go and wind someone else up, let me get on with my work.

(Enter Leopold Andrian.)

ANDRIAN (a passionate, deep voice)[7]:    Hello, Hugo, my old sweetheart, it’s me Leopold, so have you heard anything from our dear friend Bahr?

(Hofmannsthal covers his ears.)

CYNIC:    An honour, Baron, you’re just the man we need.

ANDRIAN:    Hugo, dearest  chum, is it true that our pal Bahr simply hasn’t been around and about this season or was he called away to the colours?

CYNIC:    What, him as well?

HOFMANNSTHAL:    Come on, this chap really is too dreadful – let’s go o inside –

ANDRIAN:    Hugo, old man, old messmate, you know Baudelaire really is absolutely the bee’s knees, why don’t I recite a little verset or two for you.

HOFMANNSTHAL:    And let me show you my play, ‘Prince Eugen’!

ANDRIAN:    Marvellous!


[1] Hermann Bahr (1863-1934), writer and critic; prodigious, fêted, influential. Kraus wrote an essay ‘Overcoming Hermann Bahr’, parodying the title of Bahr’s book on modernism, ‘Overcoming Naturalism’; he considered Bahr an opportunist who had sold out to commercial interests, subordinating literature to the journalism of the feuilleton in a downward spiral of mutual trivialisation. ‘Gruss ins Feld’, ‘Greetings from the Front’ (Bahr to Hofmannsthal) appeared in the ‘Neues Wiener Journal’ (1893-1939), 26 August 1914.

[2] This trawl through German culture is mostly familiar; but Minnesinger and Meistersinger both refer to German poets of the Middle Ages, the Minnesinger being particularly associated with courtly love; Friedrich Klopstock (1724-1803), lyric and epic poet, translator of Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’; Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), poet, philosopher, closely associated with the Enlightenment; Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), a philosopher who developed the ideas of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) in the direction of German Idealism. But this is not about the qualities of these people; it’s culture by the yard.

[3] Walther von der Vogelweide (1170-1230), lyric poet, possibly born in Lower Austria; Hans Sachs (1494-1576), poet, playwright, shoemaker, hero of Wagner’s ‘Die Meistersinger’; Eckhart von Hochheim (1260-1327), theologian, philosopher, mystic; Johannes Tauler (1300-1361), theologian, mystic.

[4] Leopold Freiherr Ferdinand von Andrian zu Werburg, baron (1875-1951), career diplomat, Consul General, Warsaw (1911-1914); he returned after the German occupation of Warsaw in 1915; close friend of Hofsmannsthal’s; influential in the Foreign Ministry. He wrote poetry in the style of the French Symbolists.

[5] Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), one of the most important poets of what is usually called French Symbolism; in 1857 ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’, ‘The Flowers of Evil’, was banned by the French government as an outrage to public decency. Baudelaire asserted that art should abandon the natural for the artificial, and that while vice is a natural instinct driven by selfishness, virtue is forced upon us by unnatural selflessness; fortunately the quality of his poetry was determined not by his ideas, but by the quality of his poetry.

[6] Hofmannsthal was writing and lecturing fervently on all things patriotic and Germanic; there also seems little doubt that whatever about his patriotism he was equally fervent about ensuring he didn’t have to fight.

[7] Kraus has Andrian speaking with exaggerated diction, lengthening and distorting long vowels; it is difficult to achieve this effect in English; it feels appropriate to make his vocabulary more arch instead.