... we are all prompted by the same motives, all deceived by the same fallacies, all animated by hope, obstructed by danger, entangled by desire, and seduced by pleasure. — Samuel Johnson

Elizabeth - Empress of Austria - George Upton




The Empress' Travels

Urged by her love of nature and of new scenes as well as by her inborn restlessness, Elizabeth, as is well known, spent a great part of her time travelling about incognito from place to place like any ordinary tourist. She never tired of studying strange lands and peoples, and the constant change and communion with nature calmed her tortured spirit as nothing else could. "One should never stay indoors except when absolutely necessary," she declared, "and our homes should be so ordered as not to destroy the illusions we bring in with us." The sea had an irresistible attraction for her, and she would pace up and down the deck of her yacht for hours sometimes, ordering no one to speak to or approach her. "The sea is my father confessor," she used to say; "it removes all my cares and troubles and has taught me all I know." Her yacht Miramar, on which she spent so much of her time, was elegantly and conveniently fitted up with every comfort. On the deck was a large round pavilion of glass commanding a view of the sea in all directions, for her use in wet. weather, but the Empress' favorite spot was the after deck, which was shut off from the rest of the yacht with sail cloth so that there should be nothing to interfere with her outlook over the sea.

She usually travelled under the name of Countess of Hohenembs, her Majesty's thirty-eighth title in the Court Calendar. She loved to explore strange, out-of-the-way places, and displayed wonderful enthusiasm and endurance as a traveller. Of all lands, however, she loved the East the best. Her favorite cities were Tunis, Algiers, Cairo, and Alexandria, and she was the first European sovereign to visit Troy.

Her talent for languages was remarkable. Besides German and Hungarian, she had mastered French, English, and Greek, and had a fair knowledge of Latin. She never cared to learn Italian, indeed she had the greatest dislike to everything pertaining to Italy, having been subjected to several outrages at the hands of the people of that country. She had narrowly escaped death at Trieste in the early eighties, when a bomb was thrown into the citadel where she was staying.

Owing to the Empress' reluctance to appear in public, her features were not generally known in Austria, a fact which led to many absurd situations. One day when taking the train at Modling she sent her servant to order the station-master to have the train stopped at a small station near her palace at Lainz. Seeing that the train was about to start, she called to the guard: "Tell that man in the black coat to make haste!" Whereupon the officer bawled out, "Here, hurry up, you! or else your good woman will go off and leave you!" evidently taking the Empress for the horrified servant's wife. It was not always easy to preserve her incognito on her travels, though she made every effort to do so because of her keen enjoyment of the adventures which it brought about.

In her younger days she used to spend much time in Scotland and Ireland, where she delighted in the hunting. During one of these visits in Ireland the fox she was pursuing sprang over the wall of Maynooth College, near which the chase had led her, and dashed across the exercise ground where the students were sauntering peacefully about. Great was their amazement the next moment when the wall was also cleared by several hounds and a horsewoman on a magnificent hunter, who had evidently followed the fox through a pond, for she was dripping wet. The fox was quickly captured, and the rider dismounted and asked to see the head of the college, to whom she explained her identity, requesting to be shown to a room where she could change her clothes. No feminine garments were to be found, however, in a seminary for young priests and she was forced to borrow one of the doctors' cassocks. While her clothes were drying she invited the professors to have tea with her, charmed them all with her graciousness, and caused much merriment by her comical appearance and lively descriptions of her adventures.

Once while in Amsterdam, where she occasionally went to be treated by an eminent specialist in nervous disorders, she entered a toy shop to buy a doll, saying to her companion:

"I am sure my granddaughter will be delighted when she gets this."

The shop-keeper, thinking it impossible that this slender, youthful-looking person could be a grandmother, made some remark to that effect.

"Oh, yes, I have four grandchildren," said the Empress, "and to prove it I will come again soon and buy some toys for the other three. You may send them to my daughter, the Princess Gisela in Munich."

The poor shop-keeper was dumfounded and humbly apologized for his rudeness.

"You were not rude," said Elizabeth kindly; "on the contrary, you were very flattering."

She was usually regarded as somewhat eccentric in Amsterdam, from her habit of always holding a fan before her face in the street, and once a street urchin ran up to her and snatched it away, crying, "Let me see your face!" But in spite of the unpleasant experiences which her incognito occasionally created, she could never be induced to abandon it and was much displeased when people did not respect her wishes in this matter. When one of the servants at a Spanish hotel, where she had registered as "Frau Fo1na of Corfu," addressed her as "Your Highness," she retorted sharply, "There are no Highnesses in my apartments."

She would often start off on the spur of the moment to see some work of art of which she had heard without telling any of her suite where they were going. Her Greek teacher, Professor Rhousso Rhoussopoulos, relates that on one occasion when the Empress was staying at Wiesbaden for the baths, he suddenly received orders to get ready to accompany herself and the Archduchess Marie Valerie on a journey, and not until they reached the railway station did he learn that their destination was Frankfort-on-the-Main, where Elizabeth wanted to see Thorwaldsen's reliefs and Danecker's "Ariadne," which were in the Rothschild collection there. Luncheon had been ordered for them at the station restaurant at Frankfort. The Empress was in high spirits, and taking her daughter's arm, walked up and down, watching the people and enjoying the bustle of the station. She was delighted that no one recognized her and ate the first part of her luncheon with great relish. But when the second course arrived it was specially served on gold plate with extra attendants; evidently her identity had been discovered. Instantly her cheerfulness vanished and she hastily finished the meal in order to escape as soon as possible. There was nothing she disliked so much as being stared at.

As Professor Rhoussopoulos was walking with her one day in a North German city, she suddenly exclaimed:

"Look how that woman across the street is staring at us! What do you suppose it means?"

"Probably it is only a bad habit she has, your Majesty," replied the professor; but before the words were out of his mouth the Empress had rushed across the street and the next moment the two women were in each other's arms. It was her sister, the Countess of Trani, who was almost as fond of travelling as Elizabeth herself.

Wherever she went the Empress was perpetually at warfare with the police authorities whose duty it was to watch over her safety. She resorted to all sorts of devices to elude and mislead them, and their task was no easy one. Once when she and the Emperor were staying at Mentone, she sent for the chief of police there and told him that it annoyed her exceedingly to he continually followed about by detectives and she wished it stopped. The officer replied that he was compelled to perform his duties, and if it displeased Her Majesty there was nothing left for him but to resign his position.

"No, no!" said the Empress. "Remain in Mentone, by all means, and devote yourself to protecting my husband, for his life is most necessary to his subjects. As for me, what am I? A mere stranger and far too unimportant to attract any attention."

An English journalist was glancing over some books one day in front of a second-hand bookshop in Monza, when the dealer came out and asked him to go away, as the lady inside did not wish to be followed about, evidently supposing him to be a detective. Curious to know who the lady was, he cast a searching glance through the window and recognized the Empress. Taking out one of his cards, he handed it to the dealer with the request that he inform his illustrious customer of her mistake. An hour later, as he was strolling through the palace grounds, he saw Her Majesty a short distance in front of him. Not wishing to arouse her suspicions a second time, he was about to turn down a side path, when she beckoned him to approach and with much dignity and graciousness explained to him the annoyance she was subjected to by the officiousness of the police, and apologized for the scene at the bookshop. Late the next evening, as the journalist entered a well-known restaurant in Milan, great was his amazement to find the Empress seated at one of the tables quite alone and unattended. As he took his seat near by, one of the waiters came to her and said:

"It is rather late, signora, to get anything good; almost everything is gone."

"But I am hungry," replied Elizabeth; "you will have to find me something."

The man disappeared and was back again in a moment. "There is just one course left, signora," he said, "but it is the best of all. I can recommend it, for I have just eaten some of it myself. But it is a trifle dear!"

"How much does this superior dish cost?" asked the Empress, smiling.

"Eighty centesimi," said the waiter doubtfully. Elizabeth laughed aloud.

"The signora need not laugh," he went on in an offended tone; "most people find it so dear they order only a half portion!"

The journalist had sat all this time hidden behind his newspaper, but the Empress recognized him at once and addressing him pleasantly with "Good-evening, Herr journalist," continued to converse with him during the meal.

She was extremely fond of Paris and rarely failed to go there when on her European tours, though always as Countess of Hoheneinbs and never as Empress of Austria. She would often meet her sisters, the Duchess d'Alenccon and the Countess of Trani, and go about with them, as she could do so there without fear of annoyance. One day she took a fancy to ride on an omnibus, but when the driver came to collect her fare she gave him two pieces of gold, an act of munificence that stunned the frugal Parisians and led to her being recognized. Annoyed at the curious interest of the other passengers, she hastily alighted and took refuge in the nearest house, where she waited till the crowd had dispersed and then drove back to her hotel in a closed carriage with the shades closely drawn, vowing it was the last time she would ever attempt to ride on an omnibus in a city like Paris.