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Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria, was born May 13, 1717, daughter of Charles VI. of the house of Hapsburg--ruling Austria for more than four hundred years--and of Elizabeth of Brunswick. From her father she inherited the "deadly Hapsburg tenacity," and from her mother much good sense and capacity for managing affairs, all of which stood her in good stead. She was especially fortunate in three things: that she lived in the time of Frederick the Great of Prussia, for thus she had given to her a chance to know of what stuff she was made; that she did not marry him, as was proposed by the great Eugene; and that she did not live to see the beautiful head of her daughter, Marie Antoinette, fall under the guillotine. Though the court of Charles VI. rivalled in ceremonial observance that of Spain, the little archduchess was reared in almost Spartan simplicity of dress and food. From Jesuit text-books she learned her history and geography, and she spoke several languages, none of which, however, could she ever write or spell quite correctly. But chiefly she was taught the pre-eminent dignity and power of the Hapsburgs, and the necessary indivisibility of the Austrian state. She learned to hunt, to shoot, and to dance, and at suppers of state she and her little sister were sometimes allowed to present to their stately mother her gloves and fan when the emperor rose. She had an aversion to business and great diffidence of her own capacity, and though the emperor took her to the council of state at the time of the Polish election, when she was only sixteen, he yet failed to give her any real knowledge of the commonest forms of business. In this austere court, never seeing a smile on her father's face, she grew up, "the prettiest little maiden in the world," to a radiant woman, heir-expectant to the throne by virtue of the Pragmatic Sanction, an order of state by means of which the Emperor Charles VI. had undertaken to settle the Austrian succession.
At the end of the war she was forty-six years old, and it was only two years after, August 18, 1765, that she herself made the shroud for her husband, and put on the mourning which was to last for fifteen years. Ever after that she spent in seclusion the whole month of August and the 18th of every other month, thus breaking the routine of her busy days. I give in brief the account of one of these: Rising at five or six, according to the season, prayer, dressing, hearing mass, breakfast, work till nine on petitions and reports, a second mass, a visit to her children, more work till dinner at one, and again work. This she was apt to do in a sentinel-guarded arbor to which she would go from the palace, carrying despatches and papers in a tray slung by a cord round her neck. Vespers at six, an evening card-party, supper, a walk at eight, and then sleep. After the death of Francis she made her son Joseph joint-ruler, but soon found herself obliged to limit his authority to the care of the army. At fifty the small-pox greatly marred her beauty, though she was now at the age when the constant beauty of soul of her life shone fair on the lofty face. When she was fifty-three she bade good-by to the little fifteen-years-old Marie Antoinette, going, as she hoped, to assure the alliance of France, never to see her again. To her for the rest of Maria Theresa's life, as to the other married daughters, went a courier every three weeks with letters, which have been preserved, and may still be read for knowledge of the mother and empress. At fifty-five Maria Theresa became a party to the partition of Poland, and because this transaction is regarded as a blot upon her character, I give in full the words which she sent to Kaunitz when she returned to him the signed agreement. She was then fifty-five years old, and keen memories of 1741 and of her young life must have stirred the trembling pen as she wrote on it: "Placet, because so many great and learned men wish it; but when I have been long dead, people will see what must come from the violation of everything that until now has been deemed holy and right." And then on a slip of paper sent with the document stood these words: "When all my countries were attacked, and I no longer knew where I might go quietly to lie in, I stood stiff on my good right and the help of God. But in this affair, when not only clear justice cries to Heaven against us, but also all fairness and common-sense condemn us, I must confess that all the days of my life I have never felt so troubled, and I am ashamed to show myself before the people. Let the prince consider what an example we give to the world, when, for a miserable slice of Poland or of Moldavia and Wallachia, we risk the loss of our honor and reputation. I feel that I am alone, and no longer in health and strength; and therefore, although not without my greatest sorrow I allow matters to take their own course."
The heaviest burdens and greatest trials of her life were now over. The fruit of her careful plans was beginning to be reaped in prosperity, and a long period of tranquillity had come. She turned all her attention to reforms: academies were established, among others one for the education of the Magyar noble youth in Vienna, that these might become the more surely incorporated with the Austrian system. The public schools were reconstituted, the monasteries reformed, and no longer allowed to furnish asylums for criminals. Priests were forbidden to be present at the making of wills, and the Inquisition was suppressed. Through most convincing efforts on the part of Kaunitz, the Jesuits had been finally expelled from the country. Agriculture, trade, and commerce were encouraged, though by the advice of England the navy was given up. Inoculation for the small-pox was introduced, and a hospital for its treatment, as well as a home for veteran soldiers, built in Vienna. When she was sixty, the war of the Bavarian Succession was happily ended, in opposition to the will of Joseph, by her most untiring efforts. Servitude and the torture had been abolished; the taxes, on a better basis, were bringing in large returns; a standing army had been created, the monarchy lifted and strengthened, and the court and the people stood together against oppression from the aristocracy. Austria had been carried from the Middle Ages into modern times, and was no longer a conglomeration but a nation.
Maria Theresa had reached the age of sixty-three when the brave religious spirit, over which flattery had had no power, was waiting in pain and anguish but not in fear the hour of its release. The generous and open hand could no longer give; the heart so keenly sensitive to criticism was to dread it no more; the eyes that, as she had written to Marie Antoinette, had shed so many relieving tears were nevermore to need that relief. "You are all so timid," she said, "I am not afraid of death. I only pray to God to give me strength to the end." She did not forget Poland, she gratefully remembered Hungary, and then, with the cry, "To Thee! I am coming!" she sank back dead, in the arms of the son whom, as a little baby, she had held up in her brave arms to plead for the loyalty of the Hungarian nobles. The high imperial heart had ceased to beat, the house of Hapsburg had come to an end, and Joseph II., of the house of Hapsburg-Lorraine, was the sovereign ruler of Austria.
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