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The Men of Schwyz - The Atlantic

As you go from Lucerne in a decorous little steamboat down the pleasant Vierwaldstättersee, or Lake of the Four Forest Cantons, with the sloping hills on either side, and the green meadow-patches and occasional house among the trees, you come to a sudden turn where the scenery changes swiftly, and pass between steep and shaggy rocks rising perpendicularly out of the blue water, which seems to get bluer there, into the frowning Bay of Uri, guarded, as if it were the last home of freedom, by great granite hills, lying like sleepy giants with outstretched arms, while the heavy clouds rest black and broken on their summits, and the white vapors float below. Just where the lake makes this turn is the hamlet of Brunnen, which you will not hurry by, if you are wise, but tarry with the kind little hostess of the Golden Eagle by the pleasant shore, and learn, if you will, as nowhere else, what the spirit of the Swiss was in the ancient time, as in this.

As you walk across the little valley which stretches down from the hills to the lake where Brunnen is, you remember that it is the town of Schwyz you come to, where dwelt once the hardy, valorous little colony which gave its name to Switzerland,—famous in the annals of this stout-hearted mountain-land for the "peculiar fire" with which they have always fought for their ancient freedom,—worthy to leave their name, in lasting token of the service they did to their fellows and to mankind.

Schwyz lies at the foot of the Hacken Mountain, which rises with double peaks known as the Mythen, (Murray and the tourists, with dubious etymological right, translate Mitres,)—with the dark forests above it on the slopes, and the green openings sparkling in the sunlight, where men and their herds of cattle breathe a purer air. Behind these everlasting walls the spirit of freedom has found a resting-place through the turbulent centuries, during which, on rough Northern soil, the new civilization was taking root, hereafter to overshadow the earth.

Touching the origin of these men of Schwyz, there is a tradition, handed down from father to son, which runs in this wise.

"Toward the North; in the land of the Swedes and Frisians, there was an ancient kingdom, and hunger came upon the people, and they gathered together, and it was resolved that every tenth man should depart. And so they went forth from among their friends, in three bands under three leaders, six thousand fighting men, great like unto giants, with their wives and children and all their worldly goods. And they swore never to desert one another, and smote with victorious arm Graf Peter of the Franks, who would obstruct their progress. They besought of God a land like that of their ancestors, where they might pasture their cattle in peace; and God led them into the country of Brochenburg, and they built there Schwyz; and the people increased, and there was no more room for them in the valley. Some went forth, therefore, into the country round about, even as far as the Weissland; and it is still in the memory of old men how the people went from mountain to mountain, from valley to valley, to Frutigen, Obersibenthal, Sanen, Afflentsch, and Jaun;—and beyond Jaun dwell other races."

The time and circumstance of this wandering are unknown, and we may make what we will of it; but to the men of Schwyz the tradition is an affirmation of their original primal independence. And of old time, also, the Emperors have admitted that these people of their own free will sought and obtained the protection of the Empire,—a privilege by no means extended to all the dwellers of the Waldstätte, (or Forest Cantons,) but confined to the men of Schwyz.

As the Emperors were often absent, engaged in great wars, and the times were very troublous, and there was need of some commanding character among them, for the administration of the criminal law touching the shedding of blood, they often made the Count of Lenzburg Bailiff. But no matter of any moment could be acted upon without the sense of the people being taken, of the serf as well as the freeman: for these two classes existed not less among these primitive people than elsewhere, in the feudal times; and this community of counsel of freeman and serf is related to have worked harmoniously, "for equality existed of itself, by nature, there." They chose a Landammann, or chief magistrate,—a man free by birth, of an honorable name and some substance; and for judges also they were careful to select men of substance, "for he careth most for freedom and order who hath most to lose"; and for the greater peace of the land there was a Street-Council, consisting of seven reputable men, who went through the streets administering justice in small causes here and there, as in the East the judges sat at the city-gate or at the door of the palace.

As the people increased, the valleys of Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden were separated and grew to be independent in their own domestic matters, while united with respect to external affairs, as in the league made in 1251 between Zurich, Schwyz, and Uri;—they were like the Five Nations of Canada, says the historian, but more human through Christianity. Their religious belief was simple and fervent; the Goths, as Arians, had rejected the supremacy of the Pope; and now there came secretly teachers from the East, through Bulgaria, Bosnia, and Hungary, even into Rhaetia, and thence to these fastnesses of the Alps. The mind of men, thus left free, developed itself according to the different character of the races. The people of Schwyz were strengthened in their adherence to the authentic Word of God, as it was with the Apostles, without the use of pictures or the bones of saints; this Word they learned by heart, and made little of the additions of men; hence they got to be heretics, and were called Manicheans; but Catholicism conquered them at last.

Thus simple and unknown lived this ancient people,—destined to restore in the end the Confederacy of Helvetia, lost since the days of Caesar's victory, thirteen hundred years before,—till Gerhard, Abbot of Einsiedeln, complained of them to the Emperor Henry V. for pasturing their cattle upon the slopes which belonged to the convent: for, forgetful of the people who dwelt in these parts, whose existence, indeed, was concealed from him by the monks, the Emperor Henry II., in 1018, had bestowed upon the convent the neighboring desert; and the Abbot, of course, did not fail to make the most of the gift. Thus there occurred a collision. The Abbot pursued these poor peasants with the spiritual power, which was not light in those days, and summoned them before the Diet of Nobles of Swabia; but they rejected that tribunal, for they acknowledged only the authority of the Emperor. Whereupon the Abbot laid his complaint before Henry V. at Basel, where Graf Rudolph of Lenzburg, Bailiff of Schwyz, spoke for them. A simple people, innocent of human learning, they could urge against the patent of the Emperor only the tradition of their fathers, and judgment went against them touching the matter, and no question was made in it as to the validity of the Emperor's patent. It was an unexpected blow to the Schwyzers. Tradition among people living solitary grows into a religious right, which they fight for readily. For eleven years their turbulence went unpunished; for Henry V. had other matters on his hands, and his two successors conferred other privileges upon the convent. Thirty years afterwards, however, in 1142 or thereabouts, at the solicitation of the monks, obedience was commanded by the Emperor Conrad III., then on the point of departing with his Crusaders to Palestine. But the people answered,—"If the Emperor, to our injury, contemning the traditions of our fathers, will give our land to unrighteous priests, the protection of the Empire is worthless to us." Thereupon the Emperor waxed wroth; the ban was laid upon them by Hermann, Bishop of Constance; but they withdrew, nevertheless, from the protection of the Empire, and Uri and Unterwalden with them,—fearing neither the Emperor nor the ban, for they could not conceive how it was a sin to maintain the right, and so they pastured their cattle without fear.

When Friedrich I. came to the throne and wanted soldiers, he sent Graf Ulrich of Lenzburg, Bailiff of the Waldstätte, into the valleys to speak to the men of Schwyz. "The heart of the people is in the hands of noble heroes," says the historian;—gladly did the youths, six hundred strong, seize their arms and go forth under Graf Ulrich, whom they loved, to fight for the Emperor his friend, beyond the mountains, in Italy. And now it came the Emperor's turn for the ban; the whole Imperial House of Hohenstaufen fell into spiritual disgrace; Friedrich II. was cursed at Lyons as a blasphemer; but these things did not turn away the hearts of the men of Schwyz from his House.

Long after the time of this Ulrich, the last reigning Graf of Lenzburg, shortly after the Swiss Union had been renewed, at the instance of Walther of Attinghausen, in 1206, Unterwalden chose Rudolph, Count of Hapsburg, for Bailiff. He endeavored to extend his authority over the other two Cantons, in which he was aided by the Emperor Otho IV., of the House of Brunswick, who had been raised to the throne in opposition to the House of Swabia, and who, for the purpose of conciliating him, made him Imperial Bailiff of the Waldstätte. An active, vigorous man this Rudolph, grandfather of the Rudolph who was afterwards called to be King of the Germans, whom the Swiss, scattered in their hamlets, were little prepared to make head against, and therefore recognized him with what grace they might, after an assurance that their freedom and rights should be maintained; and he smoothed for them their old controversy with the monks of Einsiedeln, and got a comfortable division of the property made in 1217. But he was hateful to them, nevertheless; and although we know nothing of the way in which he administered his office, we conjecture that it was partly because the Emperor who appointed him was not of the House of Hohenstaufen, to which they were attached, and partly because he claimed that the office of Bailiff was hereditary in his family, whereas the men of Schwyz preferred to offer it of their own free will to whom they would. They made it a condition of assistance to the Emperor Friedrich in 1231, when he went down into Italy to fight the Guelphs, that he should deprive this Rudolph of the office of Imperial Bailiff; and then they went forth, six hundred strong, and did famous work against the Guelphs, with such fire in them that the Emperor not only knighted Struthan von Winkelried of Unterwalden, but gave that valley a patent of freedom, according to which the Schwyzers voluntarily chose the protection of the Empire.

And now Rudolph, Count of Hapsburg, founder of the Austrian monarchy, strides into the history of the men of Schwyz. A tall, slender man this Rudolph, bald and pale; with much seriousness in his features, but winning confidence the moment one spoke with him by his friendliness, loving simplicity; a restless, stirring man, with more wisdom in him than his companions had, equal or superior to him in birth or power, working his way by device when he could, by the strong arm when that was needed. He took the part of the peasants against the nobles, and used the one to put down the other. In the midst of the turmoils in which he got involved with Sanct Gallen and Basel, and while encamped before the walls of the latter city, he was wakened in his tent at midnight by Friedrich of Hohenzollern, Burgrave of Nürnberg; for there had come from Frankfort on the Main Heinrich von Pappenheim, Hereditary Marshal of the Empire, with the news, that, "in the name of the Electors, with unanimous consent, in consideration of his great virtue and wisdom, Lewis Count Palatine of the Rhine and Duke of Bavaria had named Count Rudolph of Hapsburg King of the Roman Empire of the Germans": at which Rudolph was more astonished than those who knew him, it is recorded. Not because of his genealogy, nor his marriage with Gertrude Anne, daughter of Burcard, Count of Hohenburg and Hagenlock, did he win this great fortune, but, as the Elector Engelbrecht of Cologne said, "because he was just and wise and loved of God and men." And now the world learned what was in him; and how for eighteen years he kept the throne, which no king for three-and-twenty years before him had been able to hold, history will relate to the curious.

Switzerland was divided at this period into small sovereignties and baronial fiefs; and there were, besides, also the Imperial cities of Bern and Basel and Zürich. The nobles were warlike and restless. Rudolph checked their depredations and composed their dissensions. Upon that seething age of violence and rapine he laid, as it were, the forming hand, as if in the darkness the coming time was dimly visible to him;—a man to be remembered, in the vexed and disheartening history of Austria, as one of her few heroes. The people of Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden, notwithstanding the dislike they had shown to his ancestor, voluntarily appointed him their protector; and he gave them, in 1274, the firm assurance that he would treat them as worthy sons of the Empire in inalienable independence; and to that assurance he remained true till his death, which happened in 1291, in the seventy-fourth year of his age.

It is related in the Rhymed Chronicle of Ottocar, how he had been kept alive for a whole year by the skill of his physicians, but that they told him at last, as he sat playing at draughts, that death was upon him, and that he could live but five days. "Well, then," he said, "on to Spires!" that he might lay him in the Imperial vault in the great Cathedral there,—where many Emperors slept their long sleep, till, in the Orléans Succession War in the time of Louis XIV., as afterwards in 1794, under the revolutionary commander Custine, French soldiers rudely disturbed it, with every circumstance of outrage which Frenchmen only could devise. Rudolph went forth thither, but fell by the way, and died at Germersheim, a dirty little village which he had founded. And in the Cathedral at Spires, where he rested from his activities, you may see this day a monumental statue of him, executed by that great artist, the late Ludwig Schwanthaler of Munich, for his art-loving patron, Ludwig I., King of Bavaria.

Rudolph was succeeded by his son Albrecht, then forty-three years old, likewise a vigorous man, whose restless spirit of aggrandizement gave the Swiss much uneasiness. His purpose seems to have been to acquire the sovereignty of the ecclesiastical and baronial fiefs, and, having thus encompassed the free cities and the Three Cantons, to compel submission to his authority. In the seventh week after Rudolph's death, they met together to renew the ancient bond with the people of Uri and Unterwalden; and they swore, in or out of their valleys, to stand by one another, if harm should be done to any of them. "In this we are as one man," ran their oath, among other things, "in that we will receive no judge who is not a countryman and an inhabitant, or who has bought his office."

After several years of troubles and frights among them, the Emperor sent to the Forest Cantons to say, that it would be well for them and their posterity, if they submitted to the protection of the Royal House, as all neighboring cities and counties had done; he wished them to be his dear children; he was the descendant of their Bailiff of Lenzburg, son of their Emperor Rudolph; if he offered them the protection of his glorious line, it was not that he lusted after their flocks or would make merchandise of their poverty, but because he knew from his father and from history what brave men they were, whom he would lead to victory and knighthood and plunder.

Then spake the nobles and the freemen of the Forest Cantons: "They know very well, and will ever remember, how his father of blessed memory was a good leader and Bailiff to them; but they love the condition of their ancestors, and will abide by it. If the King would but confirm it!"

And thereupon they sent Werner, Baron of Attinghausen, Landammann of Uri, like his fathers before him and his posterity after him, to the Imperial Court. But the King was quarrelling with his Electors, and was in bad humor, and sent to Uri to forbid them from assessing land-rates on a convent there. Whereupon the men of Schwyz, being without protection, made a league for ten years with Werner, Count of Honburg; and that their submission to the Austrian power might not be construed into a duty, they sent to the King for an Imperial Bailiff. Albrecht appointed Hermann Gessler of Brunek, and Beringer of Landenberg, whose cousin Hermann was in much favor with him. Beringer's manners were rough even at the Court; and to get rid of him, they sent him to tame the Waldstätte. He appointed Bailiffs whose poverty and avarice were the cause of much oppression, emboldened as they were by the ill-feeling of the King towards the men of Schwyz, whose freedom the King had refused to confirm, and waited only for opportunity to annihilate their ancient rights, after the example he had already set in Vienna and Styria.

The Imperial Bailiffs resolved to take up their abode in the Forest Cantons,—Landenberg in Unterwalden, near Sarnen, in a castle of the King's, while Gessler built a prison-castle by Altorf in Uri; for within the memory of men no lord had dwelt in Schwyz. They used their power wantonly;—unjust and weary imprisonments for slightest faults; haughty manners, and all the stings of insolent authority;—and no redress to be had at the King's hands. The peace and happy security of the men of Schwyz were gone, and they looked in one another's faces for the thing that was to be done. The honored families of their race were despised and called peasant-nobles;—there was Werner Stauffacher, a well-to-do and well-meaning man; and the Lord of Attinghausen above all, of an ancient house, in years, with much experience, and true to his country; there was Rudolph Redings of Biberek, whose descendants live to this day in Schwyz, supporting still the honor of their name; and the Winkelrieds, mindful of the spirit of their ancestor who slew the dragon. In such persons the people believed; they knew them and their fathers before them; and when they were made light of, there was hatred between the people and the Bailiffs. As Gessler passed Stauffacher's house in Steinen, one day, where the little chapel now stands, and saw how the house was well built, with many windows, and painted over with mottoes, after the manner of rich farmers' houses, he cried to his face, "Can one endure that these peasants should live in such houses?"

It came at last to insulting their wives and daughters; and the first man that attempted this, one Wolfenschiess, was struck dead by an angry husband; and when the brave wife of Stauffacher reflected how her turn might come next, she persuaded her husband to anticipate the danger. Werner Stauffacher at once crossed the lake to Uri, to consult with his friend Walther, Prince of Attinghausen, with whom he found concealed a young man of courage and understanding. "He is an Unterwaldner from the Melchthal," said Walther; "his name is Erni an der Halden, and he is a relation of mine; for a trifling matter Landenberg has fined him a couple of oxen; his father Henry complained bitterly of the loss, whereupon a servant of the Bailiff said, 'If the peasants want to eat bread, they can draw their own plough'; at which Erni took fire, and broke one of the fellow's fingers with his stick, and then took refuge here; meanwhile the Bailiff has caused his father's eyes to be put out." And then the two friends took counsel together; and Walther bore witness how the venerable Lord of Attinghausen had said that these Bailiffs were no longer to be endured. What desolating wrath resistance would bring upon the Waldstätte they knew and measured, and swore that death was better than an unrighteous yoke. And they parted, each to sound his friends,—appointing as a place of conference the Rütli. It is a little patch of meadow, which the precipices seem to recede expressly to form, on the Bay of Uri, sloping down to the water's edge,—so called from the trees being rooted out (ausgereutet) there,—not far from the boundary between Unterwalden and Uri, where the Mytenstein rises solitary like an obelisk out of the water. There, in the stillness of night, they often met together for council touching the work which was to be done; thither by lonely paths came Fürst and Melchthal, Stauffacher in his boat, and from Unterwalden his sister's son, Edelknecht of Rudenz. The more dangerous the deed, the more solemn the bond which bound them.

On the night of Wednesday before Martinmas, on the 10th of November, 1307, Fürst, Melchthal, and Stauffacher brought each from his own Canton ten upright men to the Rütli, to deliberate honestly together. And when they came there and remembered their inherited freedom, and the eternal brotherly bond between them, consecrated by the danger of the times, they feared neither Albrecht nor the power of Austria; and they took each other by the hand, and said, that "in these matters no one was to act after his own fancy; no one was to desert another; that in friendship they would live and die; each was so to strive to preserve the ancient rights of the people that the Swiss through all time might taste of this friendship; neither should the property or the rights of the Count of Hapsburg be molested, nor the Bailiffs or their servants lose one drop of blood; but the freedom which their fathers gave them they would bequeath to their children": and then, when remembering that upon what they did now the fate of their posterity depended, each looked upon his friend, consoled. And Walther Fürst, Werner Stauffacher, and Arnold an der Halden of Melchthal lifted their hands to heaven, and, in the name of God, who created emperor and peasant with the inalienable rights of man, swore to maintain their freedom; and when the thirty heard this, each one raised his hand and swore the same by God and the Saints;—and then each went his way to his hut, and was silent, and wintered his cattle.

In the mean while it happened that the Bailiff Hermann Gessler was shot dead by Wilhelm Tell, who was of Bürglen, at the entrance of the Schächenthal, a half-hour from Altorf, in Uri,—son-in-law of Walther Fürst, and a man of some substance, for he had the steward-ship in fee in Bürglen of the Frauenmüster Abbey in Zürich,—one of the conspirators. Out of wanton tyranny, or suspicious of the breaking out of disturbances, Gessler determined to discover who bore the joke most impatiently; and, after the symbolical way of the times and the people, set up a hat, (it was on the 18th of November,) to represent the dignity of the Duke Albrecht of Austria, and commanded all to do it homage. The story of Tell's refusal, and of the apple placed on the head of his son to be shot at, the world knows far and wide. Convinced by his success that God was with him, Tell confessed, that, if the matter had gone wrong, he would have had his revenge upon the Bailiff. Gessler did not dare to detain him in Uri, on account of Tell's many friends and relations, but took him up the lake, contrary to the traditions of the people, which forbade foreign imprisonment. They had not got far beyond the Rütli, when the föhn-wind, breaking loose from the gulfs of the Gothard, threw the waves into a rage, and the rocks echoed with its angry cries. In this moment of deadly danger, Gessler commanded them to unbind Tell, who, he knew, was an excellent boatman; and as they passed by the foot of the Axen Mountain, to the right as you come out of the Bay of Uri, Tell grasped his bow and leaped upon a flat rock there, climbed up the mountain while the boat tossed to and fro against the rocks, and fled through the land of the men of Schwyz. But the Bailiff escaped the storm also, and landed by Küssnacht, where he fell with Tell's arrow through him.

It should be remembered that this was Tell's deed alone: the hour which the people had agreed upon for their deliverance had not come; they had no part in the death of Gessler. Carlyle has remarked this as appearing also in Schiller's drama, in the construction of which, he says, "there is no connection, or a very slight one, between the enterprise of Tell and that of the men of Rütli." It was not a deed conformable to law or the highest ethics, yet it was one which mankind is ever ready to forgive and applaud; and the echo of it through the ages will die away only when hatred of tyranny and wrathful impatience under hopeless oppression die away also from the hearts of men. Tell was an outlaw, and he took an outlaw's vengeance: it was life against life. And yet it is a curious fact, that the historian of Switzerland (that wonderful genius, Johannes Müller, who is reported to have read more books than any man in Europe, in proof of which they point you to his fifty folio volumes of excerpts in the Town Library at Schaffhausen) suggests as a reason why there were only one hundred and fourteen persons, who had known Tell, to gather together in 1388, not much more than thirty years after his death, at the erection of a chapel dedicated to his memory on the rock where he leaped ashore, that Tell did not often leave Bürglen, where he dwelt, and that, according to the ethics of that period, the deed was not one likely to attract inquisitive wonderers to him.

There is hardly an event or character in history which is not to somebody a myth or a phantom; and so Tell has not escaped the skepticism of men. But those who doubt his existence have little experience of history, says Müller. Grasser was the first to remark the resemblance between the adventures of Tell and those of a certain Tocco, or Toke, or Palnatoke, of Denmark, which are related by Saxo Grammaticus, a learned historian who flourished in Denmark in the twelfth century, of which kingdom and its dependencies he compiled an elaborate history, first printed at Paris in 1486; but the Danish Tocco, who is supposed to have existed in the latter half of the tenth century, was wholly unknown to the Swiss, who, if ever, came to the Alps before that time. The Icelanders, also, have a similar story about another hero, which appears in the "Vilkinasaga" of the fourteenth century. It is more likely that the Danes and other Northern people got their tradition from the Swiss, by way of the Hanse Towns perhaps, if we are to be permitted to believe in but one original tradition, which is not less arbitrary than unphilosophic.

Moreover, for what did these one hundred and fourteen people dedicate a chapel to him thirty years and a little more after his death? And there is the Chronicle of Klingenberg, which covers the end of the fourteenth century, which tells his story; and Melchior Russ, of Lucerne, who, in compiling his book, about the year 1480, had before him a Tell-song, and the Chronicle of Eglof Etterlins, Town-Clerk of Lucerne in the first half of the fifteenth century; and since 1387, too, there has been solemn service by the people of Uri to commemorate him. So that the "Fable Danoise" of Uriel Freudenberger of Bern (1760) becomes a mere absurdity, and the indignant Canton of Uri had no less right to burn it (although to burn was not to answer it, suggests the critic,) than to honor the "Defence" by Balthasar with two medals of gold. And what has been written to establish him may be read in Zurlauben, (whose approbation is almost proof, says Müller, reverentially,) and elsewhere as undernoted.[A]

[Footnote A: In Balthasar, Déf. de Guill. Tell (Lucerne, 1760); Gottl. Eman. von Haller, Vorlesung über Wilh. Tell, etc. (Bern, 1772); Hisely, Guill. Tell et la Révolution de 1307 (Delft, 1826); Ideler, Die Sage vom Schüsse des Tell (Berlin, 1836); Häusser, Die Sage vom Tell (Heidelberg, 1840); Schoenhuth, Wilh. Tell, Geschichte aus der Vorzeit (Reutlingen, 1836); Henning, Wilh. Tell (Nürnberg, 1836); and Histoire de Guill. Tell, Libérateur de la Suisse (Paris, 1843).]

Tell's posterity in the male line is reported to have died out with Johann Martin, in 1684; the female, with Verena, in 1720. Yet it is certainly a little surprising that the elder Swiss chroniclers, John of Winterthur, and Justinger of Bern, for instance, who were almost Tell's contemporaries, make no mention of him in relating the Revolution in the Waldstätte, and that it should be left to Tschudi and others, almost two hundred years afterwards, in the sixteenth century, to give his story that dramatic importance upon which Schiller has set the seal forever. It can be explained, perhaps, on the ground that it did not at the time possess that importance which we have been taught to give it; though roughly, thus, we do away with the poetry of it, to be sure. Let Voltaire, whose function it was to deny, enjoy his feeble sneer, that "the difficulty of pronouncing those respectable names"—to wit, Melchtad, and Stauffager, and Valtherfurst, to say nothing of Grisler—"injures their celebrity." Neither are we to conceal the fact, that it is doubted, if not denied, that there ever was any Gessler in Uri to perform all the wicked things ascribed to him, and to get that arrow through him in such dramatic and effective manner in the Hollow Way; for has not Kopp published, with edifying explanation, "Documents for the History of the Confederation," (Lucerne, 1835,) in which, in the list of Bailiffs (Landvoigte) at Küssnacht, we do not find the name of Gessler? Perhaps there was a mistake in the name, the critic suggests.

The Revolution thus begun at the Rütli, and by Tell, went forward swiftly in January, 1308; and, true to their oath, it was consummated by the men of Schwyz without harm to the property of the Bailiffs, also without the spilling of a single drop of blood. The prison at Uri was captured, and Landenberg also, as he descended to hear mass, by twenty men from Unterwalden; but, escaping, he fled across the meadows from Sarnen to Alpnach, where he was overtaken and made to swear that he would never set foot again in the Waldstätte, and then suffered to depart safely to the King. And the peasants breathed again; and Stauffacher's wife opened her house to all who had been at the Rütli; and there was joy in the land.

And how in that same year Duke Albrecht met with a bloody end, such as befell no King or Emperor of the Germans before or after him, at the hands of Duke John, his nephew, whose inheritance he had kept back, and other conspirators; and what vengeance overtook the murderers; and how Duke John, escaping in the habit of a monk into Italy, was no more heard of, but became a shadow forever, like the rest of them;—and how, eight years afterwards, came the expedition of Duke Leopold of Austria against the Waldstätte, and the fight at Morgarten, where the Swiss, thirteen hundred mountaineers in all, Wilhelm Tell among them, routed twenty thousand of the well-armed chivalry of Austria,—dating from that heroic Thermopylae of theirs the foundation of the Swiss Confederacy, as, larger and perhaps not less resolute, we see it to-day, ready to defy, if need be, single-handed, the greatest military nation of the earth;—and how, thirty years afterwards, the men of Schwyz and Uri go forth, nine hundred strong,—among them Tell, and Werner Stauffacher, now bent with years,—to the aid of Bern, threatened by the nobles roundabout;—and how, in 1332, was formed the league with Lucerne, whereby the beautiful lake gets its name as the Lake of the Four Forest Cantons;—and how, one sultry July day in 1386, the men of Schwyz and Uri and Unterwalden, together with other Swiss,—some of them armed with the very halberds with which their fathers defended the pass at Morgarten,—fought again their hereditary enemy, Austria, by the clear waters of the little Lake of Sempach; how, when they saw the enemy, they fell upon their knees, according to their ancient custom, and prayed to God, and then with loud war-cry dashed at full run upon the Austrian host, whose shields were like a dazzling wall, and their spears like a forest, and the Mayor of Lucerne with sixty of his followers went down in the shock, but not a single one of the Austrians recoiled; and how at that critical, dreadful moment,—for the flanks of the enemy's phalanx were advancing to encompass them,—there suddenly strode forth the Knight Arnold Strutthan von Winkelried, crying, "I will make a path for you! care for my wife and children!" and, rushing forward, grasped several spears and buried them in his breast,—a large, strong man, he bore the soldiers down with him as he fell, and his companions pushed forward over his dead body into the midst of the host, and the victory was won, and another book was added to the epic story of the men of Schwyz and Uri and Unterwalden;—and how Duke Leopold fell fighting bravely, as became his house, and six hundred and fifty nobles with him, so that there was mourning at the Court of Austria for many a year, and men said it was a judgment upon the reckless spirit of the nobles; and how Martin Malterer, standard-bearer, of Freyburg in the Breisgau, happening to come upon Leopold as he was dying, was as one petrified, and the banner fell from his hands, and he threw himself across the body of Leopold to save it from further outrage, waiting for and finding his own death there;—and how this ruinous contest between Switzerland and Austria was not finally closed till the time of Maximilian, in 1499, when first the right of private war was abolished in Germany;—and how, through the various fortunes of the succeeding centuries, the character of the Swiss has remained for the most part the same as in the earlier time:—these things one may read at large elsewhere; but we hasten to the conclusion.

The story of Tell has been the subject of several dramas. Lemierre, a popular French dramatist of his day, (though J. J. Rousseau affects to call him a scribe whom the French Academy once crowned,) produced a play founded upon it, in Paris, in 1766; but the language of Swiss freemen on a French stage was little to the taste of those days, and it was a failure. Voltaire, when asked what he thought of it, replied,—"Il n'y a rien à dire; il est écrit en langue du pays." But twenty years afterwards it was revived with prodigious success; for the truth which was in it flashed out then, forerunner of the storm which was soon to break over France. Again, when Florian, whom we are to remember always for his "Fables," banished in 1793 by the decree which forbade nobles to remain in Paris, taking refuge at Sceaux, was arrested and thrown into prison, he consoled his captivity by composing his drama of "Guillaume Tell,"—the worst of his productions, it is recorded. Lastly, it has been consecrated for all time by the genius of Friedrich Schiller. The legend was first brought to Schiller's notice, doubtless, by Goethe, who writes to him concerning it from Switzerland in 1797. Goethe himself thought of founding an epic on it. It was not, however, till 1801, before his journey to Dresden, that Schiller's attention was permanently directed to it. Completed on the 18th of February, it was brought out at Weimar on the 17th of March, 1804, with the most extraordinary success: the fifth act, however, was suppressed, in deference to the intended court alliance with the daughter of a murdered Russian emperor; it not being considered good taste to represent the assassination of an autocrat upon such an occasion.

Schiller's drama has been translated into French by Merle d'Aubigné and others, and many times into English,—among us by the Rev. C. T. Brooks. It follows the tradition substantially. Carlyle declares, indeed, that "the incidents of the Swiss Revolution, as detailed in Tschudi or Müller, are here faithfully preserved, even to their minutest branches." We tarried once for several days at Brunnen, and read the play upon the spot in sight of the Rütli, in the little balcony of the pension of the Golden Eagle, with the deep, calm, blue lake at our feet, and the Hacken and Axen mountains and the Selisberg shutting out the world for a time; and as we look at the play now, it recalls with the utmost minuteness the scenery and the coloring of it all: yet Schiller never was there. It was the last startling effulgence of his comet-like genius; for when the spring-flowers came again, he was gone from our earth.

In the last act of the great drama, as Tell sits at his cottage-door in Bürglen in Uri, surrounded by his wife and children, after the consummation of the deed, there approaches a monk begging alms;—it is the parricide Duke John, flying the sight and presence of men. In the contrast of the feelings of these two persons, then and there, one reads Schiller's justification of his hero. As if to complete by contrast the moral of the drama of "Tell," it is related also in the tradition, that in 1354, when the stream of the Schächen was swollen, Tell, then bowing under the snowy years, seeing a child fall into it, as he passed that way, plunged in, and lost his life. Uhland has indicated this in his "Death of Tell," as only Uhland could:—

  "Die Kraft derselben Liebe,
  Die du dem Knaben trugst,
  Ward einst in dir zum Triebe,
  Dass du den Zwingherrn schlugst."

Some liken life to a book to be read in. To us it is rather an unwritten poem which each age repeats to the next,—melodious sometimes, as when the blind old mythic bard of Chios sang it under the olive-trees, by the blue Aegean, to the listening Greeks, thirsty for beauty, drinking it ever with their eyes, and with their lips lisping it,—or rough and more full of meaning, as when, with the men of Schwyz and Uri and Unterwalden, the great idea of freedom, majestic as their mountains, utters itself, composed and stern, in deeds which for all time make Switzerland honored and free.

On the 10th of November, 1859, the heart of Germany beat with gladness, if touched also with a certain sorrow, as in every hamlet, on every hill-side, from the German Ocean to the Tyrolese Alps, from the Vosges to the Carpathians and the Slavic border, the people met to celebrate with simple rites the hundredth birthday of its great poet Schiller, in whom they recognize not more what he did than what he sought after, whose striving is their striving, from highest to lowest,—the ideal man, burning to gather them together, and fold them as one flock under one shepherd, that, no longer divided, they may face the world and the future with one heart, with one great trembling hope, to lead the new civilization to its lasting triumphs.

Schiller had sung of Wilhelm Tell; and the men of Schwyz remembered him on that occasion, too, on the Rütli, with their confederates from Oberwalden and Niederwalden. On the afternoon of the 11th of November, they met at Brunnen,—on the lake, as we have said,—the men of Schwyz embarking in one great boat, amidst peals of music, while numberless little canoes received the others. The wind, blowing strong from the north, filled the sail, and, as they floated down the Bay of Uri, they remembered Stauffacher and his friends, who had glided over the same dark waters at dead of night, past the Mytenstein to the Rütli, and the old time lived again; and the little chapel on the spot where Tell sprang ashore, erected by the Canton Uri, where once a year, since 1388, mass is said, and a sermon preached to the people, who go up in solemn procession of little boats, looked friendly over to them; and the countrymen of Schiller, present for the first time from Stuttgart and Munich, wondered at the solemn beauty of the snowpeaks reflected in the waters below. A chorus of many voices broke upon the mountain-stillness, as the little fleet approached the Rütli; the men of Uri, already there, "the first on the spot," and with them the men of Gersau, a valiant band, answered in a song of welcome; and they shook each other by the hand, and made a little circle, three hundred in all, upon the Rütli; and Lusser of Uri thanked the men of Schwyz for the invitation to remember their fathers here on the five hundred and fifty-second anniversary of the deeds which Schiller has so gloriously sung. We best remember the poet by repeating and upholding his words:—

  "Wir wollen seyn ein einzig Volk von Brüdern,
  In keiner Noth uns trennen und Gefahr.
  Wir wollen frey seyn, wie die Väter waren,
  Eher den Tod als in der Knechtschaft leben.
  Wir wollen trauen auf den höchsten Gott,
  Und uns nicht fürchten vor der Macht der
  Menschen."

  "One people will we be,—a band of brothers;
  No danger, no distress shall sunder us.
  We will be freemen as our fathers were,
  And sooner welcome death than live as slaves.
  We will rely on God's almighty arm,
  And never quail before the power of man." [B]

[Footnote B: Rev. C. T. Brooks's translation, p. 53.]

Then they read the scene of the Rütli Oath from Schiller's play, and sing the Swiss national song, "Callest thou, my Fatherland?" And the pastor Tschümperlin admonishes them that they best cultivate the spirit of Schiller and Tell by worthy training of their children. As they are about to break up at last, the Landammann Styger of Schwyz suggests a beautiful thing to them:—"As we came from Brunnen, and looked up at the Mytenstein as we passed it,—the great pyramid rising up there out of the water as if meant by Nature for a monument,—it seemed to us that a memorial tablet should be placed there, simple like the column itself, with words like these: 'To Him who wrote "Tell," on his One Hundredth Birthday, the Original Cantons.'" And the proposition was received with unanimous shout of assent. "This was the worthy ending of the Schiller-Festival on the Rütli," says the contemporary chronicle.

On the 10th day of November, 1859, also, there was put into the hands of the Central Committee of the Society of the Swiss Union the deed of purchase of the Rütli. It is in the handwriting of Franz Lusser of Uri, Clerk of the Court, and dated the 10th of November, the birthday of Schiller. Thus Switzerland owns its sacred places, and the title-deeds long laid up in its heart are written out at last.

On the 21st of October of last year, on a brilliant afternoon, the men of Schwyz and Uri went forth again from Brunnen, with the chief magistracy of the land. From Treib came the Unterwaldners, all in richly decorated boats, and the inhabitants of Lucerne in two steamboats with much music, meeting in front of the Mytenstein, which lifts its colossal front eighty feet above the water there. The top of it was covered with a large boat-sail, with the arms of the original Cantons and Swiss mottoes on it; in a wreath of evergreen, the arms of the other Cantons; in the middle of it, in token of the twenty-two Cantons, a white cross upon red ground; above all, the flag of the Confederacy spread to the Föhn. At the foot was a little stand made of twigs for the speaker, about which the little fleet was grouped, under the charge of the Landammann Aufdermauer of Brunnen, a gallant gentleman, host of the Golden Eagle, with his kind little sister, of whom we spoke at the beginning.

When all was still, Uri opens the musical trilogy,—the words by P. Gall. Morell, monk of Einsiedeln, the music by Baumgartner of Zürich; Unterwalden takes up the burden; then Schwyz; then all three in chorus;—and the echo of the fresh voices among the rocks there was as in a cathedral. Then Landammann Styger climbs to the stand, and makes a little speech, and reads a letter from Schiller's daughter, (of which presently,) while the curious shepherd-boys stretch out their necks over the craggy tops of the Selisberg to look down upon the lively scene below.

At the end of his speech, Styger lets fall the sail amid the beating of the drums and the shouts of the multitude; and on the flat sides of the rock appear the gilded metal letters, a foot high,—"To the Singer of Tell, Fr. Schiller, the Original Cantons, 1859." And there were other little speeches,—one by Lusser, who exclaims with much truth, "The rocks of our mountains can be broken, but not bent"; and then followed the Swiss psalm by Zwysig. And afterwards, in the evening, a feast in the Golden Eagle in Brunnen, at which, with the ancient sobriety, they remember the dangers of the present, and affirm their neutrality, which should not hang upon the caprice of a neighbor, but be grounded in their own will, for there is no Lord in Christendom for them except Him who is above all.

Thus wrote Schiller's daughter:—

"Gentlemen of the Committee of the Schiller Memorial on the Mytenstein:

"Your friendly words have truly delighted and deeply moved my heart;— not less the engraving of the Mytenstein, which shall stand as the very worthy and noble memorial of the Singer of Wilhelm Tell in the land of the Swiss for all time forever,—a token of recognition of the genius which, struggling for the highest good of mankind, has found its home in the hearts of all noble men and women. With infinite joy I greeted the beautiful idea, so wholly worthy of the land as of the poet,—there, where magnificent Nature, grown friendly, offers its hand on the very ground where one of the noblest, most finished creations of Schiller takes root, to consecrate to him a memorial which, defying time and storms, shall illumine afar off every heart which turns to it.

"In memory also of my beloved mother, Charlotte, Schiller's earthly angel, I rejoice in this memorial. She it was who, with deepest love for Switzerland, which she calls the land of her affections, where she passed happy youthful days from 1783 to 1784, led Schiller to it, and by her fresh, lively descriptions made him partake of it; and so prepared the way for the genius which could embrace and penetrate all things for the masterly representation of the country, which, unfortunately, his feet never trod. If, unhappily, I am not able to be present at the festival on the 21st of October, I am not the less thankful for your kind invitation; and in that sacred hour I will be with you in spirit, deeply sympathizing with all that the noble idea brought into life.

"A little memorial of the 10th of November, 1859, representing Schiller and Charlotte, I pray you, Gentlemen, to accept of me, and, when you recall the parents, to remember also the daughter.

"Respectfully yours,

"EMILIE v. GLEICHEN-RUSSWURM, geb. v. SCHILLER.

"Greiffenstein ob Bonnland. 12 October, 1860."

In the churchyard of Cleversulzbach lies buried, since the 2d of May, 1802, the mother of Schiller. Prof. Dr. E. Mörika, when he was preacher there, erected a simple stone cross over the grave, and with his own hands engraved upon it the words, "Schiller's Mother." On the famous 10th of November, 1859, woman's hand decorated the grave with flowers, and put a laurel wreath upon the cross; and in the hour when great cities with festal processions and banquets and oratory and jubilant song offered their homage to the son, a few persons gathered around the grave of the mother, and in the silence there planted a linden-tree; for in stillness thus, while she lived, had his mother done her part, lovingly and with faith, to unfold and consecrate the genius of Friedrich Schiller.