Act I Scene 22


In front of the War Office.

(The Optimist and the Begrudger in conversation.)

OPTIMIST:    You’ve put on blinkers so that you can’t see how the war has illuminated us with an abundance of the spirit of noble-minded self-sacrifice.

BEGRUDGER:    No, it’s just that I won’t turn a blind eye to the abundance of iniquitous inhumanity that was required to achieve that end. If you need to set an apartment block on fire to discover if two upstanding tenants will pull ten honest tenants from the flames, while eighty-eight dishonest tenants use the opportunity for some thieving, it would be a mistake to hold up the fire brigade and the police with a eulogy on the nobler aspects of human nature. It’s quite unnecessary to prove the good are good and inexpedient to create an opportunity for the bad to become worse. War is at best an object lesson by means of the most extreme polarities. That might have the merit of stopping wars in the future. But there is only one polarity that isn’t accentuated by war, that’s the one between the healthy and the sick.

OPTIMIST:    As the healthy stay healthy and the sick stay sick?

BEGRUDGER:    No, as the healthy become sick.

OPTIMIST:    But the sick also get well.

BEGRUDGER:    Ah, you mean a tough regimen puts iron in the soul? Or is it the well-established fact that this war’s shells have shot a million cripples back to health? That hundreds of thousands of consumptives have recovered and as many syphilitics have come back into society?

OPTIMIST:    No, but thanks to the achievements of modern medicine we have succeeded in healing so many of the war’s diseased and wounded –

BEGRUDGER:    – so we can send them back to the front to convalesce. These invalids weren’t restored to health because of the war, it was in spite of the war and for the sole purpose of putting them at the war’s mercy again.

OPTIMIST:    Well, there is a war on. But above all our cutting-edge medicine has managed to prevent the spread of typhus, cholera and plague.

BEGRUDGER:    There again it’s not so much a benefit of war as of a force that counters war. And medicine would have an easier time of it if there was no war. Does it speak in favour of war that it also provides an opportunity to ameliorate some of its collateral damage? Anyone who’s for war should treat these things with the greatest respect. Shame on any scientific precocity that congratulates itself on making artificial limbs instead of developing the ability, on principle, to prevent bones being smashed to smithereens in the first place. From an ethical standpoint the science that dresses wounds today is no better than the one that concocted the shells. War is a moral imperative compared to a science that is happy to patch up injuries simply in order to make the victims fit to fight again. Yes, God’s ancient scourges like cholera and plague, the terrors of wars long past, were so impressed with it all that they deserted. But syphilis and tuberculosis are this war’s true allies, lie-infested humanitarianism will not succeed in concluding a separate peace with them. These diseases march in step with universal conscription and a technology that comes complete with tanks and poison gas. We will see that every epoch gets the pestilence it deserves. To every age its own plague.

OPTIMIST:    Right, here we are at the War Office. Today is a day full of expectation –

(A group of black marketers comes out of the main entrance.)

NEWSPAPER VENDOR:    Special edition – News of the World[1]!

REFUGEE 1 (walking with another):    Give it here! (rips the paper from the newspaper boy’s hand, and reads out) ‘All goes well! War Press Office 30th August 10.30 a.m. Colossal battle continues today, Sunday. Morale good at headquarters due to all going well. The weather is glorious. Kohlfürst[2].’

REFUGEE 2:    He must be one hell of an army commander! (Off.)

BEGRUDGER:    Today the bas-reliefs on the façade of this citadel of sin are more firmly fixed than ever in their look-left look-right positions. If I gaze at those dreadful heads much longer it’s going to bring on a fever.

OPTIMIST:    So what have these lovely old martial figures done to you?

BEGRUDGER:    Nothing, it’s simply that they are martial, and yet these soldiers of Mars are unable to refuse admission to the emissaries of Mercury. To all the rest of the bloody mess we have to add mythological mayhem as well. Since when was Mars god of commerce and Mercury god of war?

OPTIMIST:    To every age its own war!   

BEGRUDGER:    That’s right. But this age doesn’t even have the courage to create the symbols of its own depravity. You know what the Mars of this war looks like? There he goes. Paunchy, Jewish, and maybe something in the auto corps[3]. But Moloch-bellied. His sickle-snout dripping blood. His eyes blazing, ruby-red. He comes driving up to the Café Demel in two Mercedes, fully fitted out with barbed-wire cutters. He oozes along like a tub of lard. He looks like Mr Life-Is-Sweet but ruination follows in his wake.

OPTIMIST:    So go on, tell me what you’ve got against Oppenheimer[4]?

(In front of the War Office, meanwhile, a growing crowd of people, for the most part German-nationalist students and Galician refugees.  We see people from both groups arm in arm in many cases and suddenly ‘The Watch on the Rhine’ rings out: ‘A thunderous sound, the call is roared’ – )

Nepallek and Angelo Eisner von Eisenhof step towards each other.

VON EISNER:    My dear Privy Counsellor, servitore, in good health I hope, how is Prince Montenuovo? We haven’t seen each other since the time –

NEPALLEK:    My best regards. Thank you. I can’t complain. His Highness is in capital form.

VON EISENHOF:    After the funeral, the letter of profound appreciation for all His Highness had done, His Highness thoroughly deserved it, must have done his nerves the world of good, society is so entirely of one mind now –

NEPALLEK:    Well, naturally – and you Baron, are you doing your bit? Fundraising must be making very serious demands on you, I imagine –

VON EISENHOF:    No, you think too well of me, dear Privy Counsellor, I really keep myself to myself at the moment. There’s a long line of pushy newcomers, one prefers to leave the field to them. They’re not to everyone’s palate, those types – no, I have no inclination for that sort of thing – so –

NEPALLEK:    But the good cause, the good cause Baron, I know you so well, you won’t neglect all those fundraising events even if, and I do understand completely, you can’t be on the committees yourself any more –

VON EISENHOF:    No, I only attend the House of Lords now – sorry, what am I talking about, the Association of Landlords, I’m just up to my eyes in work there, and Riedl, as you know, is not his old self – he must have experienced some disappointment, I don’t know, he seems to feel just a little bit ignored on account of the war – yes, even our most popular celebrities are losing their pole positions, while others shove their way in –

NEPALLEK:    Oh, it’ll all straighten itself out, even for us –

VON EISENHOF:    Yes, we all have to show forbearance. I’ve had some very unpleasant experiences myself. As for fundraising, you know that’s a story in itself. Oh yes, I could give the Fackel some material about that – if one could get mixed up with that man Kraus that is. You know what, Privy Counsellor, it’s all sacrifice and nothing but sacrifice and not even a word of thanks? My God, I don’t avoid these things of course – my friends, Harrach, Schönborn[5] and the others arrange charity dinners and they send me invitations of course – only yesterday I had one from Pipsi Starhemberg[6], you know, don’t you, he’s with Maritschl Wurmbrand –

NEPALLEK:    No, I was sure he was with Mädi Kinsky[7]

VON EISENHOF:    Quite the reverse, you must be joking, the only possible candidate for her is Bubi Windischgrätz, you know him, he’s a major in the Guards now – but I tell you, there’s bombardment from every side, only yesterday Mappl Hohenlohe[8] spoke to me at mass, you know, his wife’s a Schaffgotsch, he said, why do you make yourself so scarce, and I said, my dear Mappl tempora mutatur, times have changed, the sort of people at the top now, well, I don’t understand how you can get involved in it at all. Personally I like to be where it’s peaceful. In other words where no one notices you. You know what he said to that, my dear Privy Counsellor? You’re right, he said! I think precisely the same way as Montschi[9] on that one. Naturally I’ll pay my bit on time – but get involved with that upstairs crowd? No, you know me better than that. Never been a friend of the limelight. You know what happens – you’re at a Te Deum, in all innocence, the next day they publish a list of who was there and you’re in the paper!

NEPALLEK:    It’s despicable, I know. I now insist that at the very least, if they must mention me at all, it has to be with my full name.  Not just Privy Counsellor Nepallek, or Privy Counsellor Wilhelm Nepallek, but my proper name, Wilhelm Friederich – Privy Counsellor Friederich Wilhelm[10] Nepallek. Now that doesn’t sound bad at all, does it, with those names I could go straight to Potsdam, a diplomatic posting to the Kaiser’s palace[11]

VON EISENHOF:   Sounds splendid! But – Potsdam? Would you want to?

NEPALLEK:    Of course not, it’s just me demonstrating a bit of my Germanic faith, à la Nibelung. Me – leave the prince! Even today His Highness appreciates my arrangements for that very particular funeral.

VON EISENHOF:    It was lovely.

NEPALLEK:    In strict compliance with the rules – just as a third-class funeral should be –

VON EISENHOF:    But once again a first-class success for you. It was really frightfully nice that day at the Südbahnhof. (He greets a passer-by.) Wasn’t that a Lobkowitz? He’ll complain I didn’t recognise him again – As for the burial at Arstetten of course – it was, unfortunately, quite clear you had no hand in that performance, it was so very, very mediocre.

NEPALLEK:    Obviously – it was made impossible for us! The Archduke’s Belvedere chums wouldn’t let go. We were insistent, I’d told them: all according to the Spanish ceremonial, no hanky panky!  However, because his people were so stubborn, there was some hanky panky in Arstetten.


NEPALLEK:    The representatives from the fire brigade were stuffing their bellies, right next to their majesties’ coffins, a thunderstorm meant the coffins had been left in the cash office at the goods yard, well, they were all smoking cigars, it was a scandal, but then as you well know, we were not responsible for it, at the Südbahnhof the ceremony was quite splendid.

VON EISENHOF:    I remember it as if it was yesterday, at the time I was standing between Cary Auersperg[12] and Poldi Kolowrat[13]. We haven’t actually seen each other since that historic moment in time.

NEPALLEK:    Yes, we did all in our power. And the Emperor’s letter of profound appreciation to the prince did plug certain noteworthies’ mouths: ‘All in accordance with my wishes’. But above all it acknowledged how His Highness, i.e. all of us, slaved away at that funeral. I know the letter off by heart: ‘In recent days the demise of my beloved nephew, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, with whom you always had such intimate association’ –

VON EISENHOF:    Two flies with one stroke.

NEPALLEK:    Precisely. ‘- has placed quite exceptional demands upon you, my dear prince, and has afforded you a further opportunity’ –

VON EISENHOF:    Absolutely, His Highness must have so been delighted with the opportunity that demise afforded. I know exactly how he felt.

NEPALLEK:    Like this. ‘- An opportunity to prove your devoted allegiance to my person and my house to such a high degree.’ Job done! With warmest thanks and fullest appreciation for outstandingly loyal service, what more could you want, there must have been a few noteworthies close to exploding.

VON EISENHOF:    A letter of profound appreciation from on high couldn’t have come as a surprise to His Highness though?

NEPALLEK:    Not at all, His Highness seized the initiative immediately, as soon as the bodies – that’s to say, what I mean is –

VON EISENHOF:    I know, you mean things were happening very fast.  You can see that, dear Privy Counsellor, now we’ve even got a world war.

NEPALLEK:    Yes, a just and solemn expiation! Oh, yes. If His Highness hadn’t seized the initiative –

VON EISENHOF:    What? For a world war?

NEPALLEK:    What am I saying? I was simply going to talk about his profound desire for peace.

VON EISENHOF:    What? In a world war?

NEPALLEK:    No – I beg your pardon – I was thinking about something else altogether. I wanted to say things couldn’t go on as they were anyway. You know, ever since we annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in ’08 –

VON EISENHOF:    I predicted it all to Ährenthal[14] once. I recall it as if it was only yesterday, it was the year Alin Palffy made his society debut. I went to the Ballplatz with him –

NEPALLEK:    That’s a responsibility for anyone –

VON EISENHOF:   We all have burdens to bear, I have my ups and downs –

NEPALLEK:     What? Even you Baron?

VON EISENHOF:    Yes, yes, one can scarcely manage on what the shops can deliver now. I’m just on my way over to – maybe I’ll bump into Tutu Trauttmansdorff[15] – but we have to stick it out, stick it out – the crucial thing is that our boys whip ’em good, the rest will just sort itself out – my best regards, a kiss from me on the hand of His Highness, bye-bye –

NEPALLEK:    I’ll pass it on, your servant, goodbye –

(We hear singing: ‘A thunderous sound, the call is roared’.)


[1] ‘Neuigkeits Weltblatt’, ‘News of the World’ (1874-1943), Viennese daily newspaper; Catholic oriented.

[2] ‘Cabbage prince’; Kohl is common in Vienna for ‘rubbish’, ‘nonsense’; a pantomimic feel seems appropriate in English: Count Claptrap, Baron Baloney or, more vegetatively, Prince Rhubarb.

[3] Just as Jews in Vienna made disproportionate contributions to everything from literature and the arts, to medicine and science, to teaching and the law, so too did they feature greatly in commerce and industry; Kraus, of course, was a high-profile part of that contribution himself – and his family’s industrial clout financed him; for Kraus the fact that many of the Empire’s powerful financiers were Jewish is a statement of fact, not anti-Semitism; his image is of capitalism’s rapacious embrace of the war, not of Jewishness.

[4] Not the better known Josef Oppenheimer (1698-1738), financial advisor to Karl Alexander of Wurtemburg, subject of Leon Feuchtwangler’s novel ‘Jud Süss’; accused of trumped up crimes, tortured and hanged. The Nazis plagiarised Feuchtwangler’s novel for an anti-Semitic film fantasy in 1940, but our awareness of that is anachronistic. Kraus means Samuel Oppenheimer (1630-1703) who financed Leopold I’s Turkish wars; also close to Prince Eugen of Savoy. It is in the context of the militaristic nationalism that Kraus has something ‘against Oppenheimer’. For the Optimist Oppenheimer is to be admired as, by extension, is the union between war and capital; for Kraus this is all about making war into business.

[5] Harrach, Franz Ferdinand’s chamberlain. (Pro n.70). Schönborn, aristocratic family with deep ties to the Catholic hierarchy; Count Friedrich Carl von Schönborn-Buchheim, Reichsvikar 1706, later became Prince Bishop of Banberg and Würzburg; the current Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna is Christopher Schönborn.

[6] Stahremberg, aristocratic family from Upper Austria, elevated to princes in 1765.  Ernst Rüdiger Stahremberg (1899-1956) fought on the Italian front; conservative and Catholic, he would lead Austria’s fascist Fatherland Front in the 1930’s and become Vice Chancellor, before fleeing after the Anschluss.

[7] Kinsky (Vchynský, Czech), ancient Bohemian aristocratic family; prominent soldiers and diplomats. The head of the dynasty in 1914, Prince Karel Andreas Kinsky, ambassador to Britain and one of Winston Churchill’s mother’s lovers, volunteered to fight on the Russian front because he would not fight Britain.

[8] Hohenlohe, mainly German aristocratic family with distinct Catholic and Protestant branches.Chlodwig Carl Viktor, Prince of Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst (1819-1900) was Prime Minister of Prussia (1894-1900); his brother Konstantin’s marriage to Marie Antoinette Prinzessin zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg (1837-1920) brought the family into particularly close contact with Vienna and the Austro-Hungarian nobility.

[9]  Prince Montenuovo. (Pro n.77) There is a Lieutenant Montschi in Oscar Straus’s operetta ‘Ein Waltzertraum’, ‘A Waltz Dream’ (1907), still very much in the popular imagination at this time; Montschi is companion to Niki, a hero whose main preoccupations are Vienna, its beer-gardens and its waltzes.

[10] Friederich and Wilhelm are the most notable names of the Kings of Prussia.

[11] Potsdam, a suburb of Berlin, the site of the Neues Palais, built between 1763 and 1769, the favourite residence of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Kraus doesn’t have Nepallek define what such a ‘move’ might involve, but it is an expression of would-be prestigious elevation. Although the word Kaiser is used in German of both Franz Josef and the German Emperor, Kaiser is so firmly associated with Germany (‘Kaiser Bill’) in English that I adopt the convention of referring to Franz Josef I as Emperor and Wilhelm II as Kaiser.

[12] Karl Maria Alexander von Auersperg, baron, prince (1859-1927); a prominent member of the House of Lords, where he assiduously represented the interests of the landed gentry; also a Privy Counsellor and Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece; he was a very determined opponent of universal suffrage.

[13] It is not quite clear who this is; the Auersperg and Kolowrat–Krakowsky families had been important political players in Austro-Hungarian history; and there was an odd link between the families. Leopold Kolowrat-Krakowsky, count (1852-1910), father of film-maker Alexander (Sascha) Kolowrat, spent several years in exile in America, after killing Prince Wilhelm von Auersperg in a pistol duel in 1876; he was later pardoned by the Emperor. The most romantic theory about the duel: they loved the same woman, Countess Anna Waldstein, who never married and eventually became a nun; the most unpleasant: Wilhelm’s uncles, Karl (not Karl Maria Alexander) and Adolf paid Leopold to kill him, so that Adolf’s son would inherit the princely title; Wilhelm was nearsighted and didn’t want to fight; Karl, as head of the family, insisted he did.

[14] Aloys von Ärenthal, baron (1854-1912), ambassador to Russia, Foreign Minister (1906-1912).

[15] Trauttmansdorf-Weinsbergs, Austro-Hungarian princes; Trauttmansdorf Castle in the Southern Tyrol, now in Italy, was the winter residence of Franz Josef’s estranged wife Elisabeth (Sissi).