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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Flanders declared itself independent of Austria


Not

content with what he had accomplished, Joseph now went further. He gave equal rights to Jews and members of the Greek Church, ordered German hymns to be sung in the Catholic Churches and the German Bible to be read, and prohibited pilgrimages and religious processions. These measures gave the priesthood the means of alarming the ignorant people, who were easily persuaded that the Emperor intended to abolish the Christian religion. They became suspicious and hostile towards the one man who was defying the Church and the nobles in his efforts to help them. Only the few who came into direct contact with him were able to appreciate his sincerity and goodness. He was fond of going about alone, dressed so simply that few recognized him, and almost as many stories of his intercourse with the lower classes are told of him in Austria as of Frederick the Great in Prussia. On one occasion he attended a poor sick woman whose daughter took him for a physician: on another he took the plough from the hands of a peasant, and ploughed a few furrows around the field. If his reign had been longer, the Austrian people would have learned to trust him, and many of his reforms might have become permanent; but he was better understood and loved after his death than during his life.

[Sidenote: 1785. JOSEPH II.'S REFORMS.]

One circumstance must be mentioned, in explanation of the sudden and sweeping character of Joseph II.'s measures

towards the Church. The Jesuits, by their intrigues and the demoralizing influence which they exercised, had made themselves hated in all Catholic countries, and were only tolerated in Bavaria and Austria. France, Spain, Naples and Portugal, one after the other, banished the Order, and Pope Clement XIV. was finally induced, in 1773, to dissolve its connection with the Church of Rome. The Jesuits were then compelled to leave Austria, and for a time they found refuge only in Russia and Prussia, where, through a most mistaken policy, they were employed by the governments as teachers. Their expulsion was the sign of a new life for the schools and universities, which were released from their paralyzing sway, and Joseph II. evidently supposed that the Church of Rome itself had made a step in advance. The Archbishop of Mayence and the Bishop of Treves were noted liberals; the latter even favored a reformation of the Catholic Church, and the Emperor had reason to believe that he would receive at least a moral support throughout Germany. He neither perceived the thorough demoralization which two centuries of Jesuit rule had produced in Austria, nor the settled determination of the Papal power to restore the Order as soon as circumstances would permit.

Joseph II.'s last years were disastrous to all his plans. In Flanders, which was still a dependency of Austria, the priests incited the people to revolt; in Hungary the nobles were bitterly hostile to him, on account of the abolition of serfdom, and an alliance with Catharine II. of Russia against Turkey, into which he entered in 1788,--chiefly, it seems, in the hope of achieving military renown--was in every way unfortunate. At the head of an army of 200,000 men, he marched against Belgrade, but was repelled by the Turks, and finally returned to Vienna with the seeds of a fatal fever in his frame. Russia made peace with Turkey before the fortunes of war could be retrieved; Flanders declared itself independent of Austria, and a revolution in Hungary was only prevented by his taking back most of the decrees which had been issued for the emancipation of the people. Disappointed and hopeless, Joseph II. succumbed to the fever which hung upon him: he died on the 20th of February, 1790, only forty-nine years of age. He ordered these words to be engraved upon his tomb-stone: "Here lies a prince, whose intentions were pure, but who had the misfortune to see all his plans shattered!" History has done justice to his character, and the people whom he tried to help learned to appreciate his efforts when it was too late.


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