The post of Ambassadress in Vienna is, perhaps, one of the most difficult to fill successfully. Only a woman of the world, and one possessing consummate tact, can cope with the minute and delicate gradations of Austro-hungarian etiquette.
No European capital has undergone such thorough transformation of late years as Vienna.
Under the old regime Austria was called by some "Western China." The real Vienna was limited to a small inner town, surrounded by ramparts and bastions, from which various suburbs, such as Mariahilf, Landstrasse, Leopoldstadt, etc., straggled in all directions. The inhabitants of these suburbs were treated, with true Viennese arrogance, as rank outsiders, but now the Austrian metropolis is extended and modernised. The bastions and glacis have most of them been swept away, the stately Ringstrasse, with its rows of magnificent public builidings, extends over former suburbs, and the kernel city has been merged into the great mass of "Neu-Wien."
As regards social gradations and etiquette, the Chinese wall of prejudice, behind which the crime de la crime of Austrian society is wont to barricade itself, is not yet demolished, although the wider mental atmosphere of this intelligent and hurrying century has wafted its wholesome breath of contempt on the canker of narrow-minded, excessive pride of birth, which claims the monopoly of the world's prestige.
The British Embassy, which was formerly in the Palais Clary in the Herren Gasse, is now a large white house in the Metternich Gasse, opposite the German Embassy. It has a small chapel and garden on one side, and beyond the porter's lodge, on the ground floor, are the principal entrance hall, vestibule, the Ambassador's study, ante-room, and waiting-room, with a separate entrance, and passage to the chancery and offices. On the first floor are seven splendid reception rooms, or State apartments, including the spacious ballroom and separate supper-room for Royalty. They are reached by the grand staircase, which is beautifully decorated. These apartments are all furnished by Government, and movable articles, which are Government property, are all marked with the Royal cypher and broad arrow. The brand is supplied by the Office of Works.
An Ambassador in Vienna requires to be a man of the world par excellence rather than a bureaucrat. He is the mouthpiece of his Government, and possesses, by force of his personal ascendancy, a power no Cabinet can command. His wife's personality and tact count also for a great deal in the difficult task of conciliating seemingly non-fusible elements.
It was at the Vienna Congress of 1815 that various details of diplomatic precedence were definitely defined, and it was decided that only Ambassadors and Nuncios should have representative personal rank.
The British Embassy has always been favourably regarded by the most exclusive Austrian Court set, which is proverbially
M cold to foreigners. This may be due largely to the diplomatic gifts of the various ladies who have held their sway there. In former days Lady Seymour united gracious cordiality of manner with the touch of hauteur which appeals to the Viennese aristocracy. Lady Buchanan was the type of a dignified English lady of the old school, while Lady Elliot is remembered as the kindest and most charming of Ambassadresses, and one who knew most perfectly where to draw the line between the reserve of the woman of the world and the geniality of nearer sympathy. Lady Goschen, who is an American by birth (nee Miss Harriet Hosta Clarke), was Ambassadress here from 1905 until 1908, and was extremly popular. Her successor, the present Ambassadress, Lady Cartwright, is an Italian lady, and was the daughter of the Marchese Chigi-zondodari. She is an extremely beautiful woman, and has identified herself absolutely with her husband's interests. Although she has no children, she gives many little parties for young people, of whom she is very fond. She is interested in the English colony, and ably performs the many onerous duties connected with her position.
Shortly after the Ambassador's arrival, he is received in private audience by the Emperor, to whom he presents his credentials. The latter are under the sign manual of his Sovereign, and contain a general assurance that everything henceforth done by the Ambassador in his official .capacity will be approved of by him. Gala carriages and escort are sent to the Embassy to conduct him to the Hofburg, and full uniform is worn. The aged Emperor, Kaiser Franz Josef, is a widower, and presentations to him, and to the members of the Royal Family, are made by the Grande Maitresse - a lady whose office resembles that of the Oberhofmeisterin of Berlin, and who is a sort of female Lord Chamberlain. It is she who presents the Ambassadress to the various Archduchesses and other great ladies.
Shortly after these presentations have been made, a grand reception is held at the Embassy, to which all society flocks, to make acquaintance with the new arrivals.
When a Court is held in the historic Hofburg, diplomatic ladies who are to be presented assemble either in the Rittersaal or the Mirror Room, and stand in a row in full Court dress. The Grande Maitresse in-troduces them to the monarch, who finds an appropriate word for each of them.
The privilege of presentation among Austrians is by no means an elastic prerogative. Sixteen, quarterings must be shown in the escutcheon of the aspirant, although eight quarterings are considered sufficient in the case of Hungarians.
Innumerable stories have been told of social trials endured by ladies who had not altogether reached the requisite pinnacle of distinction. English ladies who have married Austrian nobles are not exempt from this microscopic inspection nor the attendant consequences. Women of the British aristocracy are always most graciously received in Viennese society, the question of quarterings being raised only in the event of small international marriages.