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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Joseph II.

  • [Emperor of Germany; son of Maria Theresa; born in Vienna, 1741; emperor, 1765; divided Poland with Prussia and Russia; united with Catherine II. in a war against Turkey; introduced many civil and ecclesiastical reforms, often prematurely; abolished feudal serfdom, allowed liberty of conscience, limited the authority of the Pope and clergy, suppressed convents, and encouraged peaceful arts, but encountered insurrections in Belgium and Hungary; died February, 1790.]
  • I am a royalist by trade.

  • At an evening party where Jefferson, the American minister, was playing chess with the old Duchesse de Bourbon, and Joseph II., then in Paris incognito under the title of Count Falkenstein, was looking on, the duchess said, “How happens it, M. le Comte, that while we all feel so much interest in the cause of the Americans, you say nothing for them?” to which he replied, “C’est mon métier d’être royaliste:” “most unexpected from a philosophe,” adds Carlyle. It is well known that Joseph advised his brother-in-law, Louis XVI., not to help the Colonies.
  • Franklin received very much the same answer from Frederick the Great, in requesting assistance for his countrymen. “Tell me, doctor,” said the king, “how you would employ that assistance.”—“In conquering liberty, the natural privilege of man,” was the answer. Frederick, after a moment’s reflection, made this reply: “Born of a royal family, and become king, I will not employ my power to spoil the trade [à gâter le métier]: I was born to command, and the people to obey” (je suis né pour commander, et le peuple pour obéir).
  • Marie Antoinette, however, said to Lafayette, on his return from America, in 1779, “Tell us good news of our dear republicans, of our beloved Americans!”
  • When Victor Emmanuel was asked how he could attend to affairs of state after the death of his mother and brother, in 1855, he replied, “It is my trade to be king” (Je suis roi, c’est mon métier).
  • Joseph II. was fond of travelling through his dominions incognito. On some such occasion he volunteered to stand as godfather at a christening in a village church. The priest asked the usual questions: Your name? “Joseph.” Surname? “The Second.” Occupation? “Kaiser!”
  • Beauty is always queen (la beauté est toujours reine).

  • Offering his arm at Versailles to Mme. Dubarry, the mistress of the late king, Louis XV., when she demurred at the honor.
  • When asked if the bells of Vienna might not be rung on the entry of the Pope, the emperor replied, “Why not? bells are the cannon of the clergy!”
  • When his attendants hesitated at showing him in Venice a picture by Zuccaro, representing his predecessor, Frederick I., doing penance after excommunication at the feet of Pope Alexander III., in 1177, Joseph good-naturedly exclaimed, “Tempi passati!” (That’s ancient history!)
  • He remarked during a journey through Silesia, most of which had been taken from his mother, Maria Theresa, by Frederick the Great, “I see that Prussia has the garden, and I the hedge!”
  • Joseph II. attended the foundation, by Catherine II. of Russia, of a new city, Ekaterinaslof, which was never built further. He remarked after the ceremony, “The empress and I have this day achieved a great work: she has laid the first stone of a great city, and I have laid the last.” What he called Catherine was true of himself: “A sovereign who begins every thing, and ends nothing.”