Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the Cavalry

J. Colin Fewster Trent University, Canada

This essay is reprinted with the kind permission of 'Seminar. A Journal in Germanic Studies,' in which it first appeared in volume 32.2 (May 1996): 115 - 28.
©Navigare.de 11.2001

"Es gibt keine Heilanstalt, die so nützlich wär wie diese Existenz."

In the summer of 1895 Hofmannsthal described to Schnitzler the pleasures of life on manoeuvres and, knowing Schnitzler's aversion to the military, concluded his letter with the admonition: "Begreifen Sie, daß ich zufrieden bin!" (Briefe 175). Like Schnitzler, later commentators are reluctant to accept that Hofmannsthal could have derived any satisfaction from military service and might have viewed it favourably as a very positive stage in his development as a man and a writer. This resistance is readily understandable in the light of Hofmannsthal's frantic and unbecoming efforts in July 1914 to be transferred from a garrison in Istria to a comfortable post in Vienna (Lunzer 25-30).

He commenced his service in 1894/95 as an Einjährig-Freiwilliger in the 6th Dragoons and took part in exercises in 1896, 1897, 1898 and 1900 as a reserve officer in the 8th Galician Uhlans and in 1904 and 1905 in the Landwehr-4th Uhlans. These military experiences have been seen until now as an ordeal that, to his credit, he did not seek to avoid (Alewyn 79) and that, with an open mind, he survived without damage to his character (Hederer 31). More frequently, though, his periods of service have been viewed as downright distressing and negative, especially in discussions of Reitergeschichte (1899), his most famous portrayal of the military world. The view is fostered that discipline and mechanical routine were an unmitigated torment to a sensitive and refined poet and made him into an uncompromising foe of the military mind.

The most worthwhile result in human terms that critics can salvage from his military service is the growth in maturity and knowledge of life that came above all from involuntary contact with the ugliness of it (Fiedler 151; Robertson 319; Volke 55). Ironically, this beneficial result is, of course, indirectly a sad comment on Hofmannsthal's unwillingness to confront social problems in the raw. An informed awareness of a world of material and spiritual deprivation could have been gained by a stroll from his own affluent 3rd District across the tracks of the Südbahnhof into neighbouring working-class Favoriten. Instead, summer cavalry exercises in the squalor of remote Galicia, some twenty hours by train from Vienna, were apparently needed to obtain a necessary adjustment of perspective: "Ich korrigiere meinen Begriff vom Leben: von dem, was das Leben für die meisten Menschen ist: es ist viel freudloser, viel niedriger, als man gerne denkt" (Briefe 182).

It is, of course, by no means remarkable that there were many times when Hofmannsthal grumbled about army life. In this respect he was no different from other soldiers past and present, conscript or volunteer. No great effort is required to cull from his correspondence remarks that express his occasional unhappiness. But critics are especially quick to quote from a letter to Andrian in 1896 his description of Dienst as "eine fortwährende moralische Gefangenschaft" (Briefe 197), presumably because it reflects a common response to military service and is what one would expect to hear from a highly sensitive aesthete known as Loris (Exner 56, 57; Fiedler 152; Gilbert 104; Mauser 116; Träbing 231). But just as Hofmannsthal was widely misunderstood in the 1890s as an aesthete, the insistence on interpreting his military experiences as essentially a litany of misery and disapproval also requires correction. It ignores the context of Hofmannsthal's critical remarks, his own difficult character and his many favourable comments on military life.

When seen within this broader context, the definition of Dienst loses the force of an absolute condemnation. Hofmannsthal tells Andrian that only someone who has served in the army can understand what Dienst is and he can only describe the mood that it engenders, "eine fortwährende moralische Gefangenschaft." He then emphasizes in the very next sentence that his dislike is widely shared: "Im Grund hassen alle Offiziere, die eleganten und uneleganten, den Dienst" (Briefe 197). So his complaint amounts to nothing more than a universal and commonplace dislike of mindless routine (that Gamaschendienst of which the unimaginative Franz Joseph was a virtuoso). As soon as Hofmannsthal was freed from mundane duties, he found that soldiering was not without stimulation and enjoyment. In a letter to his mother he drew a distinction, overlooked by critics, between the boredom of life in barracks, which had made him "so wahnsinnig deprimiert und geradezu krank," and the joy he found in field exercises (Briefe 170).

This letter to his mother is also a useful reminder of Hofmannsthal's vulnerability to depression. His periods of military service were also accompanied by black moods and anxiety attacks (to which the nightmarish atmosphere of Soldatengeschichte [1895/96] is a forceful testimony). An evenhanded assessment of the value of Hofmannsthal's military experiences must recognize the influence of these moods on his bleaker descriptions of his situation. Military life may have intensified these moods at times but it did not necessarily cause them. Hofmannsthal's congenital depression could strike him anywhere, in a dreary Galician military camp or in a comfortable Swiss hotel (Briefe 261).

However, his first exercise in 1896 in Tlumacz was in many ways a particularly unpleasant experience. "Ostgalizien muß der Teufel erfunden haben," he wrote to his father (Briefe 196). For most of the 28 days Hofmannsthal had to endure rain, mud and cold, ugliness and squalor, atrocious food and a revolting billet. His initial depression intensified his sensitivity to the routine of Dienst, and so it is hardly surprising that he formulated here the often quoted definition of Dienst. And yet even in his letter to Andrian, and even more so in other letters from Tlumacz, Hofmannsthal mentions a fact that critics choose to ignore: that aspects of military life also engendered satisfaction and cheerfulness: for instance, his riding, the brigadier's praise for his military ability, and the social life, including tennis and drinking to excess (Briefe 188, 198, 201, 202). Indeed, by the end of the exercise he wrote to Bahr in a way that gives no hint that he had earlier complained to Andrian about "moralische Gefangenschaft": "Ich bin moralisch mit der Waffenübung recht zufrieden: ich habe mich unter 20 wildfremden Menschen in eine ziemlich gute Stellung gesetzt und gehe fast ungern fort" (Briefe 200).

What needs to be recognized, therefore, is that Hofmannsthal's bleak definition of Dienst is neither remarkable nor does it reflect in its partiality the overall meaning of military service to him. What is really remarkable are his more frequent comments that express satisfaction with his military experiences. At the end of his Freiwilligenjahr he told his mother that he had no regrets: "Gerade in 3 Wochen ist also für mich diese sonderbare Zeit vorüber, und ich möchte after all doch nicht darauf verzichten, sie durchgemacht zu haben" (Briefe 180).

Though many of these favourable comments occur in letters to his parents, they cannot be dismissed as nothing more than disingenuous efforts to calm worried minds. It may confound the expectations of modern readers whose own experiences may have taught them to view things military with suspicion and it may contradict the image of a sensitive and refined poet, with a reputation in the 1890s of being an aesthete and decadent, but Hofmannsthal's letters do reveal that he was a willing peacetime warrior. It is rather surprising, even allowing for his instinctive patriotism, that a man of his sensibility and cosmopolitan interests never questioned the spirit and assumptions of the army in which he served. This view of an unreluctant and conscientious soldier is further confirmed by the authority of the Qualifikationslisten, the annual reports compiled by his superior officers.

Whatever may have been the frequency and intensity of Hofmannsthal's dark rnoods, they were not serious enough to undermine his enthusiasm and his military progress. Far from being perceived as an unsuitable soldier, from 1895 until 1905 the Qualifikationslisten describe him as "kräftig, gesund, zu allen Diensten im Kriege und im Frieden geeignet" (All citations from the Qualifikationslisten are taken from the file "Hugo Hofmann von Hofmannsthal/1874" in the Kriegsarchiv of the Austrian Staatsarchiv, Vienna). His attitude is characterised from 1895 onwards as "eifrig" and "ambitioniert", from 1900 to 1905 indeed as "sehr ambitioniert". His promotions, from Titular-Corporal to Titular-Wachtmeister to Cadettoffizier-Stellvertreter in der Reserve and finally, in 1897, to Lieutenant in der Reserve, proceeded without delay ("in der Rangstour"). His performance during summer exercises was assessed favourably and in 1900, for instance, the following remarks were entered in his record: "Sehr strebsam sich Detailerkenntnisse zu erwerben. [...] Ein sehr fleißiger gehorsamer Offizier; zeigte sich gut verwendbar. [...] Ist als Ordonnanzoffizier geeignet". The satisfaction which the army found in his approach and aptitude is reflected in Hofmannsthal's own positive attitude. Even though in Galicia in 1900 he had been for days in the saddle, in unseasonably cold and wet weather, he remained in good spirits and wrote to his parents: "Es gibt jedenfalls keine Heilanstalt, die so nützlich wär wie diese Existenz" (Briefe 315).

Thus military life could appeal to Hofmannsthal, and it deepens an understanding of the man and the writer to ask why this was so. Clearly, it satisfied needs within him which he also saw as of benefit to him as a writer. Undoubtedly, one reason for his constructive approach to military life was the hope of an improvement in health and vitality, both physical and mental. lt is significant that he wrote to Beer-Hofmann in 1896 from manoeuvres in Galicia: "Das Leben, das wir in Wien führen, ist nicht gut" (Briefe 189). Central to this unhealthy life was the lure of aestheticism. As his early plays testify, the fear of an artificial and isolated life deeply troubled the young Hofmannsthal, who was at heart very moral and conservative. In his attempt to involve himself more meaningfully in society, to achieve that desired "Verknüpfung mit dem Leben", the breakthrough from "Praeexistenz zur Existenz" (Aufzeichnungen 214), he saw in compulsory service as an Einjährig-Freiwilliger, followed by ten years in the reserve, not spiritual imprisonment, but an opportunity to resist flight from the responsibilities of life. He made no attempt to obtain a deferment or an early discharge on medical grounds (which, as his advice to Andrian indicates, he certainly knew how to arrange [Andrian 129]). The army offered him a structured world of discipline which would help him to curb his wayward individualism and to gain in strength of character.

He believed that his friend Bebenburg had already enjoyed such improvement of character from naval life, so it was appropriate that Hofmannsthal wrote to him in 1894:

Es wird Dir sonderbar vorkommen, aber ich freu mich eigentlich aufs dienen. Weißt Du, wegen der naiven geistlosen Art, sein Leben hinzubringen und mit diesem Hinbringen eine unentrinnbare Pflicht zu erfüllen, während meinem gewöhnlichen Dasein dadurch, daß ich es völlig selber gestalten darf und doch kein reifer Mensch bin, mitunter etwas recht gekünsteltes anhaftet, etwas scheinmäßiges. (Bebenburg 55)

Later in 1894 Hofmannsthal informed his friend that his expectations had been met: "Im ganzen macht mir der Dienst recht viel Freude, sowohl die Moral davon: Unterordnung und Einsatz der ganzen Person" (Briefe 120).

Hofmannsthal saw the army, therefore, in a positive light as a school of discipline, and thus of life, and the entries in his Qualifikationslisten confirm that he complied with the moral imperative of military life. His attitude towards superiors is described from 1895 onwards as "willig und gehorsam", and from 1898 until 1905 even as "sehr gehorsam". In addition, his attitude towards authority is characterized further in 1900, when he was already an established writer, as "sehr achtungsvoll und bescheiden" and in 1905 as "pflichtgemäß und offen". When on leave as an Einjährig-Freiwilliger he appeared among his fellow writers in his dragoon's uniform and the compatibility between Hofmannsthal's character and the military mind did not escape Felix Salten: "Nun trug er die Dragoneruniform, wenn er kam. Er hatte auch jetzt die ihm von jeher eigene Freude an Gesetzmäßigkeit, an Ordnung, an Gehorsam und Befehlen, am sinnvollen Mechanismus des Militärs, an dem tieferen Sinn des Reglements wie der Zeremonien" (Salten 43-4).

What clearly also appealed to Hofmannsthal was the physically active life of a cavalryman which provided a healthy corrective to excessive self-absorption and analysis. He remarked to his parents in 1895 that his momentary loss of interest in reading and writing was "ungeheuer gesund" (Briefe 218). In 1894 he wrote to Andrian that he was thinking "sehr wenig, aber viel einfacher und stärker" (Briefe 128), so that he was able to view life from a clearer perspective. And it was appropriately from Tlumacz in Galicia that he wrote to Andrian in 1896: "Ich glaube: das schöne Leben verarmt einen" (Briefe 185). Part of this impoverishment was a decrease in vitality of will. His Vienna of affluence and art had produced, he wrote in 1891, "Wir Menschen mit sehr entwickelten Nerven und geschwächtem Willen" (Prosa I, 47). Writing in his quarters in Göding in 1895 he concluded, in the manner of Paul Bourget, that ideas had undermined inner strength, that "eine entmutigende Literatur" had led to an enfeeblement of resolve and moral purpose (Aufzeichnungen 123). This alleged crisis of will is the theme of most of his early essays on Barrès, Amiel, Ferdinand von Saar, Ibsen and D'Annunzio. The title of his review of fragments of Amiel's diaries, Das Tagebuch eines Willenskranken, summed up the character of contemporary writing and his own problem.

The arrny recognized the same problem and did not confine it to highly-strung writers but saw it as a common failing of its educated conscripts. In order to kindle enthusiasm among these, the arrny claimed an increase in will as a benefit of army life, as a guide for prospective Einjährig-Freiwillige, first published in 1912, illustrates:

Die Stählung und das völlige Beherrschenlernen des eigenen Willens, seineAnspannung bis zu einem Grade, den viele Menschen in ihrem Zivilleben niemals erreichen, ja niemals aufsuchen, geben dem Manne einen moralischen Rückhalt, dessen - auch praktischer - Wert nicht hoch genug eingeschätzt werden kann. (Wir Einjährig 8)

Hofmannsthal acknowledged the substance of this claim in 1896 in a review of D'Annunzio's latest novel when, in an oblique reference to his military service, he informed his readers that he had undergone "eine komplexe, wortlose Lehre [...] welche sich auf das Sittliche in jener Sache bezieht" (Prosa 1, 233). He related his own development and D'Annunzio's new direction to an aesthetic equivalent he had found in Aristotle's Poetics: "Auch das Leben ist (wie das Drama) auf das Tuen gestellt und das Lebensziel ist ein Tuen, nicht eine Beschaffenheit" (Prosa 1, 236).

Though there were other reasons for serving in the cavalry, Hofmannsthal's general preoccupation with will and action makes his choice appear almost as the calculated application of theory to practice. Few things could illustrate more dramatically the controlled concentration of energy, will and single-minded purpose than a massed formation of cavalry charging to the attack. Indeed, in France, where the struggle against decadence was deemed a matter of national survival, ideas did join the cavalry, and the Bergsonian concept of elan vital became the cornerstone of military thought and offensive à outrance became the official doctrine for both cavalry and infantry (Tuchman 48-51). What Marshal Foch defined in military terms - "Victoire, c'est la volonté!" - reflected both Hofmannsthal's psychological approach as he strove to place his life and art on more solid foundations and his military training. Though originally mounted infantry, the Austrian dragoons emphasized more the aggressive tradition of the arme blanche, dependent on individual and collective will, with its aim of breaking the morale of infantry through shock tactics. Hofmannsthal's letters report on spirited action in the saddle and exercises with the sword.

Even before his military service Hofmannsthal had taken fencing lessons and had begun to ride. Though these were fashionable activities for a young man of his class with aristocratic pretensions, they were both sports that called for the concentration, energetic will, quick reflexes and calm nerves which Hofmannsthal considered so vital to his development. The cultivation of these qualities had an urgency for him as he contended with a depressing sense of the inadequacy of his masculinity. His bouts of depression and what in 1915 he still called his "wirklich absurde Nerven" (Schnitzler 277) made matters worse. Andrian was struck early in their friendship by Hofmannsthal's great fear of being weak and cowardly (Renner 24).

This anxiety stood, presumably, in some relation to his sexual ambivalence and his nagging worry of still being Jewish by character despite his family's assimilation (see Rieckmann). In a decade that was marked by the Dreyfus trials and in Vienna by a widespread and increasingly militant anti-Semitism for which assimilation was a laughable fiction, Hofmannstal's fragile sense of identity was challenged further by the general conviction that athletic incompetence and physical cowardice were inseparable from the Jewish character. Even the guide for future Einjährig-Freiwillige, though it reflects the official policy of tolerance and encourages Jews to serve their year, states in bald terms that Jews are deficient in manly energy and soldierly qualities; military service will, of course, bring improvement (15). The result was that in 1911 only 6.2% of Jewish reserve officers served in the cavalry whereas the transport corps (Train) and fortress artillery accounted for 50% (Deák 211). Thus the urge to prove that he was a totally assimilated Viennese who had overcome his Jewish origins, added to his general sense of inferiority, must have served as a strong incentive to Hofmannsthal to become proficient in activities considered to be Gentile, military and aristocratic.

This was especially true of riding. Mary E. Gilbert has examined the image of the horse in Hofmannsthal's works, but it is evident that the act of riding in itself was important to Hofmannsthal in the development of a more secure identity. Though riding was most intensive and challenging during his year with the 6th Dragoons, he had already discovered the therapeutic benefits of riding at a time when others imagined him most at home in a literary cafe. In the exchange of letters in 1893 with Bebenburg (then serving at sea), both friends looked forward to riding together (Bebenburg 30, 34) and Hofmannsthal related how riding in the Prater brought relief from his depression and made him feel "ein bissel anders als im Starrkrampf" (Bebenburg 45).

With his problem of "absurd nerves" riding was a challenge to Hofmannsthal, but also a vivid illustration of his goal of mastering the art of living with greater ease and confidence, which in the 1890s he expressed often in French: "Il faut glisser la vie, ne pas l'appuyer" (see Stoupy for a plausible explanation of the grammatically incorrect French). Successful, seemingly effortless riding is not the result of a physical struggle with the horse, but a matter of light and firm control, which is achieved through knowledge of the horse's strengths and faults and the smooth transmission to the horse of the rider's aids and confidence. The best riders ride by their seats, which explains Hofmannsthal's boast that one could only learn the right seat with the dragoons (Fiechtner 46). Riding was clearly of immense help in his resistance to his dreamy self-preoccupation and unreliable nerves, for what was required was a concentrated mind, quick and smooth reactions, determination and an overcoming of fear, especially of the inevitable falls. To a man who feared losing the reins in his own life and order in his own society, riding appears as a symbolic activity, an education in the light control of an unpredictable animal that can become dangerous once it senses fear and loss of control in the rider.

The struggle to retain self-control became even more critical during Hofmannsthal's service with the cavalry, when jumping over solid obstacles, galloping over uneven ground and the confusion of a charge increased the chances of a tumble. He did steel his nerves, however, and developed into a very enthusiastic and competent rider. On the occasion of a regimental steeplechase in Göding towards the end of his year as a volunteer, he expressed in two letters the hazards of riding and his own skill. Shortly before the race, anticipating what he would do much later in Ad me ipsum, he asked Schnitzler to publish his random jottings, "wenn ich an der Bretterwand hinflieg' und mir das Genick brech' (unwahrscheinlich, aber möglich)" (Briefe 165). In a letter to his father after the event, he wrote that despite one fault which cost him the second prize, "ich bin sehr froh, daß ich hübsch geritten und, mit Ausnahme des einen, die vielen schweren Hindernisse brillant gesprungen bin" (Briefe 166). Ironically, the more critical eyes of experienced officers were not quite so impressed and the Qualifikationsliste for that year rates him as a "schwacher Reiter" (which is, incidentally, the only arguably critical remark in his service record). He did improve and in 1896, 1898 and 1900 he was rated as a "guter Reiter".

Many letters attest to the pleasure that riding in the cavalry gave him. In darker moments it was often his horse that made life bearable. Thus he wrote to his mother: "Natürlich ohne mein Pferd wäre es viel, viel schlechter. Mein Pferd macht mir wirklich täglich Freude, denn es geht brillant" (Briefe 132). The therapeutic value of riding is summed up in the terse postscript to his reply to the less robust Andrian who had complained yet again about his neurasthenia: "Reite!!" (Andrian 101).

Though service in the cavalry resulted in enhanced physical and mental well-being, the choice was probably influenced more by social considerations that also had a bearing on his writing. lt was an important step in Hofmannsthal's general attempt to establish closer ties between himself and society, and the society with which he, Edler von Hofmannstal, identified was, of course, that of titles and privileges, though his family had only been elevated in 1835 to the Dienstadel and was still essentially middle class. His aristocratic outlook was reinforced by his childhood in an area of palaces and his awareness at school of being quite exceptional. He spent his married life until his death in a Baroque villa in Rodaun that had been built for Countess Fuchs, the beloved governess of the Empress Maria Theresia. His cultivation of aristocratic manners, including the characteristic nasal twang, was widely noticed (Fiechtner 45, 169, 199, 209, 262). Andrian regarded him as a snob whose snobbery was intensified temporarily by cavalry service (Renner 6, 37). Hofmannsthal's non-literary friends came from the nobility and they included Bebenburg, Oppenheimer and the two Franckensteins, Clemens and Georg (possibly his closest friend emotionally in the 1890s and who also served his Freiwilligenjahr in the 6th Dragoons [Renner 21]). He joined them in the 1890s in the typical aristocratic pursuits of riding, game shooting, sailing, fencing and tennis (whereas he rode his bicycle with the untitled Schnitzler).

For a young man of his background and outlook the 6th Dragoons were an appropriate choice and a demonstration of his class loyalties. The cavalry was the domain of the nobility and in 1896 58% of its officers were nobles, compared with 14% in the infantry (Deák 194). Even in this exclusive world the 6th Dragoons were regarded as a particularly distinguished regiment (unlike the 8th Galician Uhlans to whom Hofmannsthal was later assigned as a reserve subaltern) whose history dated back to the Thirty Years War. Until 1867 it was known as the Mährisches Kürassier-Regiment Graf Wallmoden; after 1867 and until its disbandment in 1918 it was called the K.u.K. Mährisches Dragoner-Regiment Nr.6 (which in 1895 bore the name of the then honorary colonel, Albrecht Prinz von Preußen). It had last seen active service in 1866 when it had fought with distinction against Prussian Uhlans at Wysokow, prior to the major battle at Königgrätz; the regimental history notes with pride the superior swordsmanship and riding skills of its men (Wrede 564).

It was after the manoeuvres at the end of Hofmannsthal's Freiwilligenjahr that the Emperor Franz Joseph complimented the regiment: "Herr Oberst, das Regiment ist hervorragend, ist wunderschön" (Wrede 793). This praise was perhaps more genuine than the emperor's customary use of inoffensive remarks, for several prominent members of the imperial family chose to serve in the 6th Dragoons: the dissolute Archduke Otto, father of the last emperor, from 1887 to 1890; Archduke Joseph August was an Oberleutnant during Hofmannsthal's year; and Archduke Franz Salvator, married to the emperor's daughter Valerie, commanded the regiment from 1898 to 1902.

Hofmannsthal's delight in such illustrious company is evident in the jocular letter to his parents, on his arrival in the regiment, in which he records having dined "mit einem Erbprinzen, 3 gewöhnlichen Prinzen, 9 Grafen, 7 Freiherren, 16 Reichs- und sonstigen Rittern und Edlen nebst einigen wenigen bürgerlichen Canaillen" (Briefe 118). He was enchanted by the history that emanated from the portraits in the officers' mess and no less from the scions of noble families ("25 junge Herren und heißen dann und wann Starhemberg oder Schaumburg-Lippe oder Kinsky, Radetzky und O'Donnell und Tiefenbach und Herbertstein und Crenneville und Auersperg und Taxis: und, wenn man will, so riechen die nach Wallenstein"), whose movements of arms and eyebrows "im übrigen Europa nur mehr in Museen zu sehen sind und die ich sehr goutiere" (Briefe 119). Where others might have sensed decadence, Hofmannsthal saw approvingly genuine aristocratic refinement and distinction. At the end of his year, in a letter to his father, he expressed his satisfaction that he had decided to serve in the Sixth (Briefe 167). Later in Reitergeschichte (1899) he erected a literary monument to his old regiment; though it never actually served in Italy in 1848, it is a patrol of the Sixth, under its then name of Wallmodenkürassiere, that Hofmannsthal depicts vividly in action against resistance to Habsburg rule around Milan.

Notwithstanding such evidence of pleasure in the company of officers and other volunteers, commentators prefer to cite Hofmannsthal's less complimentary remarks on officers (Exner 56; Träbing 234) or to pass over quickly this chapter in his life as though the company of soldiers had been an insignificant, somewhat incongruous, episode in the life of a man with his mind on more sublime matters. Though it can be assumed that he was the only dragoon who ever read Otway's Venice Preserved in Galician stables, he found nonetheless, despite his arcane interests and a penchant for introspection, his fellow volunteers and officers to be on the whole congenial companions, "enorm gutmütig" (Briefe 127-8).

Many letters (e.g. Briefe 183, 195, 197) and his 1895 essay on the officer and painter Theodor von Hörmann reveal how he admired especially the altösterreichisch qualities of some of the older officers. They appeared to him as exemplars of the strength of character that he desired for himself, whereas behind the good-naturedness of younger officers he discerned, magnified and more vulgar, his own immaturity (Briefe 195, 198, 200). Nonetheless, both types of officers belonged to the army in which Hofmannsthal was proud to serve and whatever individual failings he noted, he did not doubt the overall professional competence of the officer corps. After having compared the peacetime standards of the 8th Galician Uhlans unfavourably with those of the prestigious 6th Dragoons, Hofmannsthal believed that the Uhlans, younger officers and all, would outdo the dragoons in wartime: "Trotzdem kann ich mir diese Leute alle sehr gut im Krieg vorstellen, eigentlich besser als die andern" (Briefe 183).

lt does appear that the creator of narcissistic spectators to life, on guard against this tendency in himself welcomed the opportunity to be part of a masculine community, to share in the hardships and dangers of a cavalryman's training and even in his banal pleasures. So it amused Hofmannsthal, too, to impress pretty girls with his dragoon's elegance and at least on one occasion he informed his father that he had been "vollkommen besoffen" (Briefe 201).

Acceptance appears to have been mutual. Fellow officers, both with the dragoons and Uhlans, did not regard him as an aloof and awkward intellectual misfit. The Qualifikationslisten, which have a reputation for frankness and reflect the collective opinion of fellow officers ("laut Ausspruch des Offiziers-Corps"), show that Hofmannsthal enjoyed respect and friendship. From 1895 until 1905 he is described as "ehrenhaft," "ehrliebend" and "gutmüthig". From 1896 until 1905 he was regarded as a "guter (in 1905, "sehr guter") und beliebter Kamerad". In his relations with those of equal rank he was considered from 1895 as "zuvorkommend", from 1898 as "sehr zuvorkommend und kameradschaftlich" and in 1905 as "freundlich".

His observance of the social rules also passed the exacting muster of aristocratic officers and eased his integration. If he had any reservations about the army and its values he must have kept them to himself. In 1895 he was judged as "sehr wohl erzogen mit guten Umgangsformen", and "hat sehr gute Umgangsformen" is to be found in his annual reports until his transfer to the non-active reserve in 1905. His seemingly effortless adaptation to the norms of a cavalry officer extended, according to Olga Schnitzler, to a defence of duelling and in later life he still reminded others of a retired cavalry officer (Fiechtner 210).

Perhaps what helped Hofmannsthal most in his adjustment to military life was that he shared the conservative views on society of his less intellectual comrades. Loyalty to the empire belonged to his patrimony, too, and he was as easily stirred by patriotic sentiments as any young officer: "Dieser Dienst hat sehr viel Schönheit und einen großen Sinn, und im Reglement steht sehr hübsch: ,Uns Franz Josef dem Ersten etc. etc. soll unser Kriegsvolk einen Eid schwören, sich immer so zu verhalten, wie es braven Kriegsleuten zusteht"' (Briefe 123). Dynastic loyalty was deeply ingrained, and even after 1918 former officers of the 6th Dragoons at their annual reunions would descend into the Kapuzinergruft and lay a wreath at the coffin of Franz Joseph. Hofmannsnial knew that as a cavalry officer he belonged in a most vital sense to an élite within an élite. Habsburg power rested on the army and the value of the army depended on the loyalty and ability of the officer corps.

Uncritical acceptance of the status quo and willing military training in its defence were characteristic of Hofmannsthal's commitment to order in society and the empire at this time. Nothing suggests that the ideas of Viktor Adler or Bertha von Suttner, for instance, had any appeal for him. It was only after the end of his term as a reservist in 1905 that he became disenchanted with the ability of the aristocratic leadership to safeguard the future of the empire and his own world of privilege. Nonetheless, like many of his class and Franz Joseph himself, he resisted the collapse he feared for as long as he could and in the First World War he served his empire as an apologist of the Austrian cause (see Lunzer).

From 1894 until 1905 Hofmannsthal was to all appearances still a willing warrior. He took his duties and training seriously, he learned to accept responsibilities (very practical lessons in his self-imposed task of "Verknüpfung mit dem Leben") and he developed into a competent soldier. From 1895 onwards he was listed as "begabt mit guter Auffassung" ("sehr" was added to both adjectives in 1904), "theoretisch und praktisch gut ausgebildet im Feld", and "zeigt viel Interesse für den Dienst mit gutem Erfolg". His keenness is recorded in 1904 and 1905: "Ist stets bestrebt seine Erkenntnisse mit Erfolg zu verwerten und zu erweitern". This included, of course, the acquisition of potentially lethal skills and from 1895 until 1905 his record contains the remark: "Zeigt viel Interesse für den Dienst und die Waffe mit Erfolg", supplemented in 1904 with "Gute Kenntnisse im Schießwesen".

He learned, too, how to exercise responsibility for the men in his charge, so that 1896 and 1898, for instance, the records state that he was "entschieden und von gutem Einfluß" towards the lower ranks and in 1905 that he showed "guten Einfluß" and was "wohlwollend". However, there were limits to his interest in his Ruthenian troopers in the 8th Galician Uhlans, for Hofmannsthal never did learn the Regimentssprache. Otherwise, he met the standards set for a reserve lieutenant in the cavalry, and from 1896 until 1905 the following evaluation stands in his record: "Exerziert als selbständiger Zugskommandant und im Eskadronverband sicher im Feld und Patrouillen-Dienst. Gut verwendbar".

Letters reveal that Hofmannsthal enjoyed the opportunity to engage in mock warfare. In 1895 he wrote from manoeuvres, "Das Gefecht ist sehr amüsant, wir haben schon Batterien attackiert" (Briefe 175), and in 1898, from Czortkow on the frontier with Russia, he reported, "Das Exerzieren ist bedeutend lustiger als im Mai, es gibt kleine, aber ganz hübsche Attacken", one of which he led at the head of his troop (Briefe 245, 251). On both occasions his emperor was in attendance and Hofmannsthal seems to have possessed something of Franz Joseph's love of playing soldiers. At all events, in 1898 Hofmannsthal was ecstatic to read how well he had acquitted himself (Briefe 255).

Thus Hofmannsthal's cavalry service brought considerable satisfaction both to the military authorities and to himself. It was a period in which private and public needs coincided. Far from regarding military service in its entirety as "eine fortwährende moralische Gefangenschaft", as is often claimed, he viewed it rather as a school for physical, mental and moral improvement and, by not shirking or rebelling against a social duty, as a very practical way of demonstrating his belonging to society (which his reputation and his own insecurity cast in doubt). As a writer who had felt comfortable with the atmosphere and the assumptions of the army, it would never have occurred to him, as it did to Schnitzler in Leutnant Gustl (1900), to ridicule the self-image of the officer corps. He, too, had reservations about younger officers, but he had no intention of eroding public confidence in the one institution that appeared to guarantee stability in a fractious empire and which appealed to his own native sense of order. Thus interpretations of Reitergeschichte as an indirect indictment of the military mind appear to be quite arbitrary.

In 1898 Andrian had to serve as an Einjährig-Freiwilliger. He had a more serious problem with his nerves than did Hofmannsthal, so his brief period of service did cause the mental anguish that might have been expected of Hofmannsthal earlier: "Jede Stunde hier ist jetzt für mich Gift, schadet mir, meinem Charakter unglaublich. Ich habe den ganzen Vormittag ernstlich an Desertieren oder an's mir eine Kugel durch das Bein schießen gedacht, so unerträglich war der Zustand" (Andrian 122). In vain, Hofmannsthal had advised: "Wenn Du Dich durchfretten kannst, so wäre das glaub ich aber doch wertvoller" (Andrian 121). Of greater physical and mental resilience than Andrian, Hofmannsthal was able to profit from the positive effects of cavalry service in alleviating his insecurity, strengthening his mind and body and imposing a clearly defined and approved social function on him. The increase in health, confidence and maturity aided him as a writer as he steered his course from what he termed the "Kinderkomödie" of his life before military service (Aufzeichnungen 127) towards "das Soziale". It is awareness of this and appreciation of the therapeutic benefit of periodic service with the cavalry which explain his otherwise astonishing endorsement in that letter from manoeuvres in rain-swept Galicia in 1900: "Es gibt jedenfalls keine Heilanstalt, die so nützlich wär wie diese Existenz" (Briefe 315).

 

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