The Viennese say of themselves that they are an easy-going, pleasure-loving community, making the best of life, and not taking it very seriously. Nevertheless, they are grieved about the ways of their Parliament, and say quite frankly that they are ashamed. They claim that the low condition of the parliament’s manners is new, not old. A gentleman who was at the head of the government twenty years ago confirms this, and says that in his time the parliament was orderly and well-behaved. An English gentleman of long residence here endorses this, and says that a low order of politicians originated the present forms of questionable speech on the stump some years ago, and imported them into the parliament. However, some day there will be a Minister of Etiquette and a sergeant-at-arms, and then things will go better. I mean if parliament and the Constitution survive the present storm.
IV.—THE HISTORIC CLIMAX
During the whole of November things went from bad to worse. The all-important Ausgleich remained hard aground, and could not be sparred off. Badeni’s government could not withdraw the Language Ordinance and keep its majority, and the Opposition could not be placated on easier terms. One night, while the customary pandemonium was crashing and thundering along at its best, a fight broke out. It was a surging, struggling, shoulder-to-shoulder scramble. A great many blows were struck. Twice Schonerer lifted one of the heavy ministerial fauteuils —some say with one hand—and threatened members of the Majority with it, but it was wrenched away from him; a member hammered Wolf over the head with the President’s bell, and another member choked him; a professor was flung down and belaboured with fists and choked; he held up an open penknife as a defence against the blows; it was snatched from him and flung to a distance; it hit a peaceful Christian Socialist who wasn’t doing anything, and brought blood from his hand. This was the only blood drawn. The men who got hammered and choked looked sound and well next day. The fists and the bell were not properly handled, or better results would have been apparent. I am quite sure that the fighters were not in earnest.
On Thanksgiving Day the sitting was a history-making one. On that day the harried, bedevilled, and despairing government went insane. In order to free itself from the thraldom of the Opposition it committed this curiously juvenile crime; it moved an important change of the Rules of the House, forbade debate upon the motion, put it to a stand-up vote instead of ayes and noes, and then gravely claimed that it had been adopted; whereas, to even the dullest witness—if I without immodesty may pretend to that place—it was plain that nothing legitimately to be called a vote had been taken at all.
I think that Saltpeter never uttered a truer thing than when he said, ‘Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.’ Evidently the government’s mind was tottering when this bald insults to the House was the best way it could contrive for getting out of the frying-pan.