On the 14th December, 1865, the Emperor Francis Josef opened the Parliament of Hungary in state. His Majesty was dressed in Hungarian costume. He read his speech in the Hungarian language. The Hungarian Members of Parliament, clad also in the national costume, listened to it politely, and some cheered when he remarked that he came to talk to them with the “frank candour” that befitted a monarch discussing the commonweal with his people. Deak sat silent throughout. “There shall be no compromise,” he had promised the people, and Deak knew his Austrian.

The Emperor’s speech was much better written than anything Mr. Duke could do in the way of speech-writing. It is true it contained a number of venerable sentences which have done duty for Giant Humbug in many generations – “Spirit of mutual concession,” “great work of conciliation,” “prosperity of Hungary,” but it was distinctly cunning and plausible. It pretended to give everything while in reality it gave little. It rallied the patriotic drum so much that a Hungarian Deputy drily observed that for using the expressions his Majesty used – and meaning them – five years before, his Majesty would have thrust a Hungarian into jail. At the end of the speech the deputies, applauded, and when the Press of Vienna next day exultantly proclaimed that Hungary had been appeased – and now – God be praised! – was with the Emperor – the Deputies politely explained that what they applauded was not the speech, but the admirable pronunciation of the Hungarian language the Emperor Francis Josef possessed – for a foreigner. The Emperor’s speech was delivered from a dais, above which hung a painting of Hungary, symbolised as a woman bearing in one hand a naked sword, and in the other a tablet inscribed –

“1848!

A quiet reminder from the fearless Magyars that the Law and the principles of 1848 were the Law and the principles that stood for Hungary. As he read, he glanced occasionally from the corner of his eyes at Deak, who sat silent and outwardly impassive, and did not move an inch even when the speech ceased. Stripped of its casing, the speech of the Emperor meant that Austria was. willing to erect a subordinate Parliament in Hungary with a limited control over home affairs, and to confer with Hungary on common affairs in the Imperial Parliament – but the Constitution was not to be restored; the Laws of ’48 were not to be recognised; the municipal institutions of the country were not to be re-erected. But so plausibly was the new Austrian scheme for the humbugging of Hungary put by the Emperor, such a glamour did he invest it with, so touching were his appeals to and eulogies of Hungary and the Hungarians that had Francis Josef been on the throne of England, and had the people he had to deal with been Irish instead of Hungarian, he would infallibly have been proclaimed the greatest man since Agammenon and the very best. As for the Hungarians, they only said “Francis Josef plays the trickster[1].”

The Emperor saw from his failure to deceive Deak that he could scarcely hope to humbug Hungary on this occasion. But, nevertheless, he felt bound to neglect no means to weaken the national spirit, wherefore he fixed his headquarters at Buda, and displayed an enthusiastic interest in all that patriotic Hungarians took interest in. He mixed affably with the people, and assured them confidentially that he really considered himself more of a Hungarian than an Austrian – he wore a Hungarian tricolour tie of Hungarian manufacture. He told them he would bring the Empress down to see them – the Hungarian is nothing if not chivalrous. He gave dinner-parties every night in the Palace of Buda, and invited every patriot whose name he could find on the Police Shadowers’ List to attend them. In fact the number of dinner-parties he gave laid him up with indigestion in Vienna for three -days after his return. And firework displays be- came so common that the people ceased to take interest in them. Notwithstanding, Hungary continued to whistle “The Austrian Thieves,” and the Parliament, after duly considering his speech, -adopted an address in reply on the motion of Deak, who warned them “never to give up principle for expediency,” which in courteous but firm language informed his Majesty that Hungary declined all compromise, and was neither to be intimidated nor cajoled into the surrender of her rights. The address was presented to Francis Josef on the 24th of February. In the course of it, the Parliament of Hungary said:

The advocates of a policy of expediency need not be astonished if, after having been the victims of many deceptions, Hungary has learned caution, and declines to enter on the path they invite and follow. It was by standing fast to principle our ancestors saved the Fatherland, and compelled the restoration of our Constitution in its integrity. Esau when in want sold his birthright for a mess of pottage – he got the pottage – but there was strife ever after. To such a pass would the apostles of expediency bring our land – to such straits, your Majesty, would pseudo-friendliness and pseudo-concession-making reduce us.

The address was presented to the Emperor at Buda. The Emperor, in a temper, replied that what he had said he had said, and he issued a rescript, to make an end of the matter, assuring his beloved Hungarians that he would firmly uphold the principles he had enunciated in his speech. The Vienna Press warmly supported him. They assured him that it was quite impossible for Hungary to continue the struggle, and that, anyway, Hungary did not want to continue it, as her people were at heart loyal and were totally misrepresented by Deak and the other political agitators who were raising the ructions. All parties in the Parliament debated the Royal Rescript with commendable frankness. “It is not our interest to strengthen Austria in any way,” said Baron Eotvos, the Moderate. “There must be absolute equality and parity of rights between Hungary and Austria,” said Apponyi, the Conservative. With a unanimous voice the Parliament presented a second Address to the Emperor Francis Josef, which they sent him within twenty-four hours of receiving his Rescript. The second Address left nothing to be desired on the score of frankness. It told him that Hungary demanded the complete restoration of her Constitution, the recognition of her independence as a kingdom, the reconstitution of her municipalities, the acknowledgment of her territorial and political integrity, the acceptance of the Laws of 1848, and the absolute amnesty and compensation of every person who had been imprisoned or injured in consequence of the illegal government Austria had maintained in the land since 1848. And, it added, until Hungary got those things she declined to regard the Emperor Francis Josef as King of Hungary, or Austria as other than her enemy. The Emperor merely replied by exhorting Hungary to be loyal, and the deputation which presented the Address thereupon turned upon its heel and left his presence. A few hours later Francis Josef quitted Pesth baffled and agitated. Not a cheer was heard, not a hat was raised as he left the railway station. The Hungarian Parliament continued to meet as if nothing had occurred, and by the direction of Deak acted as if the Laws of ’48 and the Constitution had never been suspended. And Austria was impotent, even if she had been strong enough to intervene, for Bismarck’s subtle policy had succeeded: Prussia and Italy had formed an alliance. Austria knew it was no longer possible to avert war, and was feverishly arming to fight for the hegemony of the German Empire. In this dire strait Francis Josef swallowed his big words, and again made overtures to Deak. Deak’s reply was concise and decisive. All the demands formulated by the Hungarian Parliament must be conceded before Hungary would consider any other question. “Under no circumstances,” added Deak, “shall Hungary send members to an Imperial Parliament or anything on the plan of an Imperial Parliament[2].” It was no time for Austria to attempt to bully or humbug Hungary. The Hungarian Parliament’ proceeded to discharge its business as if no Austria existed, and Bismarck, satisfied that Hungary would not rally to Austria’s aid, caused war to be declared on the 18th of June, 1866.


[1] Mr. Gladstone’s second Home Rule Bill (1893) was mainly modelled on this Austrian proposal which the Hungarians unanimously rejected.

[2] “Hungary inhabited by men who did not speak Hungarian, who set no store on preserving the political identity of the Hungarian kingdom, would be no Hungary for them. And this is the terrible picture which they always keep be- fore their eyes when judging of the probable consequences of any change or reform. They do not ask: ‘Will this make me or my fellow-citizens richer?’ But ‘Will this leave us as good Hungarians as we were?’…. Mr. Mocsary, in a pamphlet entitled ‘ A Kerdesek Kerdese’ – ‘The Question of Questions” which appeared in 1866, has stated with remarkable clearness the terrible consequences which, in his opinion, would result from Hungarians sitting at Vienna in a legislature common to the whole Austro-Hungarian Empire. He asks, in the first place: Who would be sent to represent the nation in such an assembly? Naturally, such Hungarian politicians as could express themselves in German, not only with fluency, but with elegance. As Mr. Mocsary truly observes but few men are gifted by nature with the faculty of making themselves complete masters of two languages. But few are born orators even in their mother-tongue. The consequence would be that Hungary would be represented at Vienna by the least Hungarian of Hungarians, by men to whom not Hungarian, but German, was their mother-tongue. In very country it is the upper classes of society who are the least national. Of no country, perhaps, is this truer than of Hungary. Every ambitious father’s principal care would be to make his son a complete German. With the German language would come German ideas, German modes of thought, German feelings ; and thus Hungarians would be divided into two unequal classes the denationalised and ambitious few whose talents would no longer serve the cause of their country, and, on the other hand, the Abdiels of patriotism, who, spurning civilisation as the wages of treason, would retire to their lonely farms, would deny their children the advantages of education, lest they, too, might be infected by the example of triumphant apostasy, and would gradually die out ‘the Indians of the Old World at once pitied and extirpated.'” – Patterson, “The Magyars.”