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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Maria Theresa died at the age of sixty three


"The

picture of this representation is in all the collections of the period," says M. de Lomenie. "It is one of the best known reminiscences of the eighteenth century; all Paris hurrying early in the morning to the doors of the Theatre Francais, the greatest ladies dining in the actresses' dressing-room in order to secure places." "The blue ribands," says Bachaumont, "huddled up in the crowd, and elbowing Savoyards; the guard dispersed, the doors burst, the iron gratings broken beneath the efforts of the assailants." "Three persons stifled," says La Harpe, "one more than for Scudery; and on the stage, after the rising of the curtain, the finest collection of talent that had probably ever had possession of the _Theatre Francais,_ all employed to do honor to a comedy scintillating with wit, irresistibly lively and audacious, which, if it shocks and scares a few of the boxes, enchants, rouses, and fires an electrified pit." A hundred representations succeeding the first uninterruptedly, and the public still eager to applaud, such was the twofold result of the audacities of the piece and the timid hesitations of its censors. The _Mariage de Figgaro_ bore a sub-title, _la Folle Journee_. "There is something madder than my piece," said Beaumarchais, "and that is its success." Figaro ridiculed everything with a dangerously pungent vigor; the days were coming when the pleasantry was to change into insults. Already public opinion was becoming hostile to the queen: she was accused of
having remained devoted to the interests of her German family; the people were beginning to call her the Austrian. During the American war, M. de Vergennes had managed to prevail upon the king to remain neutral in the difficulties that arose in 1778 between Austria and Prussia on the subject of the succession to the elector palatine; the young queen had not wanted or had not been able to influence the behavior of France, as her mother had conjured her to do. "My dear lady-- daughter," wrote Maria Theresa, "Mercy is charged to inform you of my cruel position, as sovereign and as mother. Wishing to save my dominions from the most cruel devastation, I must, cost what it may, seek to wrest myself from this war, and, as a mother, I have three sons who are not only running the greatest danger, but are sure to succumb to the terrible fatigues, not being accustomed to that sort of life. By making peace at this juncture, I not only incur the blame of great pusillanimity, but I render the king of Prussia still greater, and the remedy must be prompt. I declare to you, my head whirls and my heart has for a long time been entirely numb." France had refused to engage in the war, but she had contributed to the peace of Teschen, signed on the 13th of May, 1779. On the 29th of November, 1780, Maria Theresa died at the age of sixty-three, weary of life and of that glory to which she "was fain to march by all roads," said the Great Frederick, who added: "It was thus that a woman executed designs worthy of a great man."

In 1784, Joseph II. reigned alone. Less prudent and less sensible than his illustrious mother, restless, daring, nourishing useful or fanciful projects, bred of humanity or disdain, severe and affectionate at the same time towards his sister the queen of France, whose extravagance he found fault with during the trip he made to Paris in 1777, he was now pressing her to act on his behalf in the fresh embarrassments which his restless ambition had just excited in Europe. The mediation of King Louis XVI. between the emperor and the Dutch, as to the navigation of the Scheldt, had just terminated the incident pacifically: the king had concluded a treaty of defensive alliance with Holland. The minister of war, M. de Segur, communicated to the queen the note he had drawn up on this important question. "I regret," he said to Marie Antoinette, "to be obliged to give the king advice opposed to the desire of the emperor." "I am the emperor's sister, and I do not forget it," answered the queen; "but I remember above all that I am queen of France and mother of the dauphin." Louis XVI. had undertaken to pay part of the indemnity imposed upon Joseph II.; this created discontent in France. "Let the emperor pay for his own follies," people said; and the ill-humor of the public openly and unjustly accused the queen.


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