As was only right, King Wenceslaus proved his gratitude right royally. He began by breaking up the lady's bathing establishment as a preliminary to building a new and much more sumptuous one. Susanna's father seems to have been left out of the deal altogether by this time. The King then sent for Susanna, who appears to have been close at hand, namely, in the Royal Castle of Žebrac, where the solemn rite now to be related took place. After all, if you must break up a lady's home, the least you can do is to offer her suitable accommodation elsewhere. Susanna therefore appeared before the King, who solemnly invested her with a charter by virtue of which all those who followed the pursuit of keeping a bathing establishment should by their occupation be placed on a social level with the masters of other arts and crafts. They might, indeed, hold high their head among their fellows. It was expressly stated that no Jews, infidels, heretics, or lewd persons should be allowed to patronize bathing establishments; nor might they even enter into the dwelling-places of those who came under the new charter. Severe penalties were to be imposed on those who ventured to speak ill of the keeper of a bathing establishment; he might even lose his head for such temerity; anyway, his property would go to the senior member of the new guild.
* * * * *
Thus spake the King. Furthermore, he ordained that this worshipful guild which did so much towards encouraging cleanly habits should hold as its crest or cognizance within a garland argent and azure, a kingfisher proper. Some chroniclers suggest that the bird was a parrot, but this seems unlikely—parrots can be so indiscreet. Moreover, you may see for yourself on the Old Town side of the tower of the Charles Bridge the bird within the garland, and will recognize it at once for a kingfisher.
Let us watch the pageant that crosses the bridge that Charles built. They pass in the serene atmosphere which, to my thinking, enveloped the city in the Golden Age of Charles "the Father of his Country." They hurry to and fro under the lurid light of civil war waged in the name of religion; they linger on the bridge looking to the sky and its reflections in the water, under the false light which precedes disaster, or move mournfully cast down by the lowering clouds of oppression, to revive when Prague came into her own again one crisp October morning in 1918.
Charles, it seems, lived in the Royal Castle a good deal. We may see him crossing the bridge he built, to look to the progress of the work he was engaged upon. Perchance he was deep in thought on high matters of State, on his Golden Bull which reaffirmed all the privileges granted to Bohemia. This Bull caused a coolness between him and the Pope, whose indefinite claims to interfere in German elections were certainly restricted by that engine. Around him the populace would be talking of the great preachers, Conrad Waldhauser and Milič of Kroměřiže, whom the King protected in their fiery onslaught on the abuses in the Church and immorality of the children of their time. Charles may have thought all this very beautiful but unlikely to last. He saw clouds arising, and they closed over Bohemia when he died.
Of the works that Charles constructed for the beautifying of his capital, several are reflected in the waters of Vltava. There is, for instance, the bridgehead tower on the Mala Strana side, a graceful monument to Charles's gracious days. You may notice on passing under the gateway from the bridge the figure of a witch carved in stone, complete with broom and general air of nocturnal enterprise. I often wonder as I pass by here whether this figure inspired Marion Crawford when he was casting about for a title to his novel which you may have read, The Witch of Prague. There lingers a strong, a powerfully attractive allure of old Prague, just about this quarter, at the left bank end of the Charles Bridge. There is a quaint old tower that dates from Queen Judith's time. I have already pointed it out to you, and told you that it was until fairly recently used as a lock-up. The battlement across the gateway used to bear indications of rough justice as executed in those days; it was frequently adorned with the heads of rebels, traitors or others who had become unpopular, as, for instance, one Bohemicky. It appears that Bohemicky was quite unable to get along with his fellow-citizens, so they had his head off and added to the collection over the gateway. This happened in 1517, when the nations had emerged out of the darkness of the Middle Age and were struggling along by the yet uncertain light of civil progress and religious reform.
The tower on the right bank end of the Charles Bridge bears every indication of dating from King Wenceslaus IV, as his device, the kingfisher, is found to figure in its decorative scheme. Between these two bridgeheads passes a good deal of the historic pageant of Old Prague. Wenceslaus IV played about here a good deal, it would appear. First of all we have that little affair with Susanna of the bathing-place. Then there was a story about one John Nepomuk which seems to have made less stir at the time of the event narrated than its echo did some centuries later. John Nepomuk was a pious soul, as a priest should be, modest and seemly in his ways. He just comes in, as it were, in the background, of the squabbles that Wenceslaus and his Archbishop, John of Jenstein, constantly indulged in. Wenceslaus was all for reforming the Church before reforming himself. As to John Nepomuk, I am rather puzzled about him. The people of Bohemia, on the whole, seem to reverence him as a saint, one of the patrons of their country.
Some saints are a long time in coming to their own. The powers that decide such matters are very deliberate; they are "left at the post" even by such august institutions as Royal Commissions, Parish Councils and Leagues of Nations. We all know how long it took before Joan of Arc was duly canonized, yet her case was perfectly clear; she had her visions, she acted upon them, she also gave advice freely, and was eventually burnt at the stake; in fact, there can have been no doubt, from the very beginning of her career, but that she was the stuff that saints are made of. Another saint whose recognition was very tardy is St. John Nepomuk. He is probably quite unknown to England even to this day, notwithstanding the fact that he stood in close if somewhat uncomfortable relations to one who figures in an English carol, namely, this Good King Wenceslaus.
Now there is relativity in goodness, and this feature was strongly marked in the King of Bohemia of whom we sing at Christmas time. One absolute departure from goodness is reported of him, namely, that he caused his wife's father-confessor to be thrown into the river at Prague; and this man was John Nepomuk.
The trouble arose out of curiosity, and perhaps jealousy. Wine had also a good deal to do with the business; the wine of Mělnik, both white and red, was probably as pleasant to the taste then as it is to-day, and Wenceslaus thought so too. His Queen Sophie was a very good wife indeed, so Wenceslaus, wondering what such a very dear and gentle lady could have to confess, inquired of John Nepomuk about this. I fear John was one of those exasperating persons who give the soft answer that makes one very wild. It had that effect on Wenceslaus; he went off into an ungovernable rage and had John dragged down to the river and thrown in. I believe John's tongue was torn out first. Anyway, this is the sort of picturesque addition that you expect. There is a statue to John Nepomuk on the Charles Bridge, there is a tablet to mark the spot where he was thrown in, and there is his shrine in the cathedral which Luetzow, by the way, describes as of "barbaric splendour."
Now shortly after John Nepomuk's demise came yet another John, surnamed Hus, and as he likewise met with a violent death, and that under yet more picturesque conditions highly coloured by national sentiment, his memory survived, whereas John Nepomuk's was lost in oblivion. After all, John Nepomuk's trouble was more a personal one, a quarrel about a domestic affair, whereas John Hus went all the way to Constance to bear testimony to the faith held by his people, and was burnt there with all the pomp and ceremony which Church and State of those days could put up. As sequel to the martyrdom of John Hus came the wars waged by his Bohemian followers against all the might of the Church of Rome and the Holy Roman Empire. It is, therefore, no wonder that his memory held popular sentiment for centuries, holds it still, though there are signs that John Nepomuk is creeping up again; and in this lie endless possibilities.
In the first place it is maintained by ardent nationalists, and therefore followers of John Hus, that John Nepomuk never existed at all, that he was simply invented by the Jesuits in their successful efforts to bring back to Rome the Protestant people of Bohemia whose army had been defeated in the battle of the White Mountain in 1620. John Nepomuk was raised, they maintain, in opposition to the real national hero and martyr John Hus; therefore the whole story of the former John's death is all invention, and the tablet on the bridge over which he went to martyrdom is a brazen misstatement of fact. The tablet is of bronze, anyway, and shows the saint floating serenely on the surface, his head surrounded by a halo of stars which flew upwards as his body struck the water. Although this serious event is said to have happened in 1383, it was not till nearly three centuries later that it was recalled to the memory of the Bohemian people, who were then encouraged to celebrate the 16th of May as the day set apart for St. John Nepomuk. So they celebrated—it takes little inducement to make a Bohemian celebrate anything. The festival included several attractive features, such as a religious service on the bridge itself, and also a display of fireworks in memory of the afore-mentioned bunch of stars. Such observances must have given great satisfaction to the saint, less so the habit of invoking his aid in times of drought. This surely is rather a delicate matter. Remember, John Nepomuk had been drowned; therefore to ask him to see to a further supply of water seems hardly tactful—it is enough to send any ordinary saint off into a fit of hydrophobia. Anyway, John Nepomuk was duly canonized some three hundred and fifty years after his supposed immersion in the waters of Prague. Since then many churches have been dedicated to his saintly memory; many statues, depicting him with all the truthfulness inherent in the narrative of "the oldest inhabitant," adorn shrines by the wayside: he was apparently popular all over the country—in any case he brought the people at least one holiday. But the war affected the pleasant relations between a kindly saint and the people to whom he had been appointed for special duties by the far distant authorities of Holy Church. The spirit of nationalism tarnished the starry halo of one John, and sought illumination in the fierce glow that destroyed the other. John Nepomuk was relegated to the background where live the quiet souls whose beliefs are not affected by nationalism. John Hus was brought forward by national sentiment which had fiercely resented the suppression of this martyr's memorial celebrations, and for a time it seemed that John Hus would hold the field, that the spirit of the nation would return to his tenets and away from an alien spiritual authority.
Even a year ago John Nepomuk's day was observed only by those who perform their devotions in secret; this year we had vigil and feast kept at top form, pilgrimages from all parts of the country, processions through the streets headed by high dignitaries of the Church, and outward and visible signs of a sincere regard for a patron saint. There was some stimulating opposition too: a band of followers of the other John also demonstrated in favour of their man, whose day was not due for about a month or so. The police were out in force, but the opposition amounted to little more than noise; there were plenty of bands and beer, and no one particularly wanted a row.
There is some significance in this revival of reverence for St. John Nepomuk. Owing to centuries of oppression the mind of the people of Bohemia has developed a strong "spirit of negation," "der Geist der stets verneint," as Goethe would say, to the detriment of constructive ability, so it may be that this spirit having failed to reconstruct a church of some sort, at least on national lines, is going under before the mightiest organization the world has ever known, the Church of Rome.
The Government's attitude was interesting, if not amusing, in the matter of keeping the feast. Officially there was no feast (except the daily socialistic feast of reason), unofficially anyone who wanted to drop a tear for John Nepomuk over the bridge was at liberty to leave his office for that purpose.
Swarms of country folk flocked into the city of Prague to give John Nepomuk his due—but there was also an agricultural exhibition going on at the time. The Government was keenly interested in this exhibition; the crowds who came in out of reverence for John Nepomuk went to the exhibition out of curiosity.
To the Government the late patron saint of Bohemia was of some economic value; what his spiritual value is time will tell. Holy Church can always afford to wait.
John Hus has just been mentioned. He passes before us in the pageant of the Charles Bridge. Wenceslaus IV knew this fervent soul who came up to Prague from his humble home in Southern Bohemia, and arrived at his M.A. degree in 1396, eventually to become Rector of the University. It is possibly indirectly through Wenceslaus that Hus became acquainted with the writings and teachings of Wycliffe. Wenceslaus frequently corresponded on the subject of Church Reform, on the recognition of Urban VI as Pope, and other cognate matters, with his brother-in-law, Richard II of England, and no doubt sister Anne added a line to her husband's letters. Now Anne, we know, had already been deeply impressed by Wycliffe's teaching; his writings had been known and treasured in Prague for some time. John Hus had certainly studied them, and he was an ardent advocate of Church Reform. We also find that he had a friend in that long-suffering Queen Sophie, wife of Wenceslaus; he was even for a time her father-confessor. We see John Hus pass on his way through the storms of controversy to the pyre at which he perished by the faithlessness of an Emperor, Sigismund, younger brother of Wenceslaus, and also some time King of Bohemia. Then again we see the fire that destroyed John Hus's body at Constance reflected time and again, angrily, in the waters of the Vltava; the Hussites were out and, as we have seen, were destroying by fire. So we see the Bishop's palace in flames, the Church of "St. Mary under the Chain," and many of the old houses on the Mala Strana. The same fate, but not by the same agents, befell the old Gothic tower you see standing up above that quaint congerie of buildings below you as you look upstream at the Old Town end of the bridge. Here is the old water tower dating back through many vicissitudes to 1489, and below it are the buildings of the Old Town mill, which are also of venerable age.
Religious dissensions, strife and turmoil, marked the days when Sigismund reigned over Bohemia and also the Holy Roman Empire; there were at one time three rival Emperors, also three Popes, a state of affairs not conducive to the world's welfare; and Prague suffered accordingly. Strange scenes must have been reflected in the Vltava in those stormy times, as the pageant of the history of Prague crossed the Charles Bridge. One day, to the beating of drums, a bevy of priests came from afar; they made for the market-place and there sold indulgences. The Pragers, distracted by the dissensions that rent the country, took to arms repeatedly. Now and then a rift in the clouds would hold out promise of a serener atmosphere; after two Habsburgs, Albert and his posthumous son, Ladislaus, came a King of their own choosing, of their own race and faith, George Podiebrad. But much as the Pragers venerated this native King of theirs, he was able to bring them little lasting good, with all his grand efforts and laudable intentions. George Podiebrad, it appears, was fond of the river, like a good Bohemian, and would come down to bathe occasionally. To make a clean job of it, he used to get shaved at the same time, possibly hair-cut. One day as the barber held the King's chin and flourished his razor, the knight of the tongs asked his sovereign: "Who is now the most mighty man in this Kingdom of Bohemia?" "Surely thou art," quoth the King. When the shave was over the King demanded: "Who is now the mightiest man in this Kingdom of Bohemia?" "Surely thou art," quoth the barber, who was thereupon given striking evidence of his monarch's might, a couple of blows on the jaw, a kick or two in the ribs, and other marks of royal favour. No doubt a few halidoms, gramercies and other bits of furniture were set flying about at the time. The barber was so overcome by these marks of royal favour that he died a few days after taking them. This was George Podiebrad in lighter mood; he had a serious side to him as well, as I may try to show you by and by.
There followed Vladislav, a Pole, and various Habsburgs as Kings of Bohemia, but I see little that the river cares to reflect, of their work or doings. Instead of reflections in the waters, I see them troubled, and anxiety on the face of Prague. There seems to have been a brightening up after the Bohemians had cleared the atmosphere by letting loose the War of Thirty Years. They had invited a foreign Protestant to be their King, and they hoped much from his wife. We have met these two before, Frederick of the Palatinate and Elizabeth, whom the Bohemians still insist on calling an Englishwoman, whereas everyone should know that anyone who has even a remote Scottish relative expects to be considered a Scot "for a' that." The river gives me just a glint of a reflection concerning Frederick and Elizabeth.
The good people of Prague live by the river, on the river, and in warm weather in the river. This has been the pleasant custom of the Pragers from time immemorial; it has not been appreciated by some of the visitors to Prague. So, for instance, this so-called English lady, Elizabeth, wife of him whom history nicknames the "Winter King," was shocked at the very liberal display of pink flesh one day when crossing the Charles Bridge. It was probably a sunny day, and many people of Prague were disporting themselves in the Vltava, as they do to-day. You may see them swimming about or in boatloads pulled by some enthusiastic if perspiring male member of the family; indeed, the results of Bohemia's excellent cuisine are much in evidence. It must be admitted that the same cuisine tends to develop a certain redundancy among those no longer in their first youth. Perhaps the sight of exuberant ladies, scantily clad and bulging over the gunwale of a frail craft, provoked the English Princess to a shocked utterance, the account of which, purposely garbled by the Jesuits, spread abroad like wildfire, and caused much unfavourable comment. The lady herself was subject to remark by the Pragers on account of her very decollete dresses after the fashion set by the Court of her father, King James I of England, of whom it is said, by the way, that he was not over addicted to washing—the tips of his fingers were about the extent of his ablutions; so stone-throwing was out of place in this instance, as in all others. However, as we know, Elizabeth did not make a prolonged stay in Prague; her husband Frederick, by no means endowed with the physical courage of his son Rupert, the Prince Palatine, did a memorable "sprint" when he heard how the people of his adoption had been defeated. The people of Prague then had much more serious matters to concern themselves with than an English Princess's dresses. The troops of the Empire marched into Prague, adventurers of many nations swarmed into the city and settled there while Jesuits set about bringing back the citizens into the fold of the Roman Church by lighting bonfires with the works of the earnest divines who followed in the footsteps of John Hus and the reformers. They endeavoured by these means to stamp out any tendency to freedom of thought, religious and political, in the people of Bohemia. In this they failed.
While talking of the aquatic habits of the people of Prague, of Bohemia generally, I am reminded of accounts by Byzantine chroniclers, reporters and travellers who described Slavs they had met or heard of. This would be some time ago, say sixth or seventh century. These Slavs had a wonderful idea of lying in ambush—I cannot call it a military stratagem, it is so amphibious. They lay down in shallow pools, showing only the end of a blow-pipe to breathe through, and so waylaid the enemy. The Byzantines must have been up against the Czechs, who seem to me distinctly amphibious in summer-time. True, the stratagem described is no longer in use; it is too simple for modern times and methods; besides, I do not know many Bohemians of whom I could say that they are built for that man[oe]uvre, that they would ever be able effectively to conceal their manly proportions in shallow pools. No, I do not think it could be done to-day. One buirdly body, whose proportions were not easy to conceal, caught my eye one day as I was paddling about among a swarm of merry swimmers. He stood out among the crowd, a majestic figure. It was not his costume—simplicity itself—which attracted my attention, not his fiercely upturned moustache nor the red and white jockey cap that crowned his square-cut head. It was his massive stateliness as a whole. Surely he had taken guidance from Marcus Aurelius: "Be thou like a promontory"!
On sunny summer days all Prague seems to be on or in the river, and a very sensible and healthy way it is to spend the hot hours of the day—and it can be appreciably hot in Prague. As a rule you may reckon on long spells of fine weather throughout Bohemia, as the country is sheltered on the weather side by the high mountains which hold up the rain. So all Prague turns out to enjoy the river and the sunshine. During the summer months the inhabitants of Prague, a very white-skinned race, turn ripe brown in the parts exposed to the sun; and, as I suggested before, a considerable aggregate surface is thus exposed. In contrast to low-cut white frocks, brown necks recall sights familiar to Eastern travellers. I do not suggest that this detracts from the charm of the ladies of Prague, to which I pay ready tribute. And in winter the normal fairness of skin of the Aryan reasserts itself, while the charm remains—in fact, intensifies. It is singularly pleasant to watch the younger generation at play on or in the river. They are all good, strong swimmers, but their chief delight seems to lie in each one "paddling his, or her, own canoe." The river canoe is not quite the same as those which we derived from the Red Indians, though that kind of craft is also seen about. The popular canoe is a very small flat-bottomed concern with pointed stem and stern, is generally gaily painted and named appropriately "Water Bubble," "Fairy," or something equally ingenious. It looks easy when you see a lass gracefully paddling herself along with a double oar; it is anything but as easy as it looks. This class of canoe is a very unstable craft. I have tried to navigate one, and spent the whole time in the water—simply could not keep inside the tub. This I much regretted, for it must be thoroughly enjoyable to laze about under the trees that overhang the river from one or other of the islands and listen to the band. You do not get half the enjoyment you should out of music when swimming around all the time, and it would not be appreciated if you appeared like Venus or Undine, from out of the foam as it were, among the customers of the "Restauration" on one or other of the islands—besides, you would not have your pocket-book, stuffed with notes, on your person just then.
Charles and the Housing Problem. The "carryings on" in the New Town, and more about "St. Mary of the Snow"; also about Rudolph II and some troublesome guests of his inviting, called the "Passauer." How Count Thurn chased the "Passauer" out of town. A word about the Salvation Army. How the centre of fashion shifted to the Old Town in the days of Wenceslaus IV, and we move with it down the Karlova Ulice, look at various matters of interest and listen to a story about a confectioner and his nocturnal visitors. The 21st of June in Prague and the Hus celebrations on the 6th of July. The Old Town Hall and the Church of Our Lady of Tyn. The "Powder Tower," night life in Prague, and a word on missionaries of long ago and of to-day. A good deal about concerts, theatres, opera and other recreations. A mention of Jungmann and Kalina, and the Slav Congress of 1848. A memory of barricades and street fighting. Something about Sokols.
Charles, we have seen, had added a fourth quarter, the New Town, to his city of Prague, moved thereto by the acuteness of the "Housing Problem," which, by the way, is equally urgent to-day. Prague is again the capital of a free and flourishing State, and is again hard put to it to find room for all those who feel attracted to her. The New Town soon entered into the spirit of mediaeval Prague, put on no airs, but just joined in any fray that happened to be going on. So New Town and Old were wont to meet in battle over some vexed question, generally of theology strongly mixed with politics, and a favourite cockpit was the ground in front of "St. Mary of the Snow." It was on one of those occasions that the steeple was brought down, together with a couple of monks who were hiding in it, and also the big bell Carolus; a gun was brought into action, and no doubt gave tone to the proceedings. This was in 1434; nearly two centuries later some visitors generally alluded to as the "Passauer," plundered this church and monastery.
This visit of the "Passauer" was again due to that noxious mixture, religion plus politics. The Union of Protestant German Princes had been broken, and Ravaillac's dagger had killed Henri Quatre, spoiling his plans towards helping Protestantism, in which plans the French King had also included Bohemia. Just about this time the Habsburger King of Bohemia, Rudolph II, who must have been rather mad, was looking out for a successor. He loathed all his relatives with complete impartiality, save one, and that one was a cousin, Archduke Leopold, Bishop of Strassbourg and Passau. Leopold was one of those fighting prelates who send others to do the dirty work; in this case an army of his, some thirty thousand bandits led by a foreign condottiere, invaded Bohemia, burning and pillaging until they came to Prague. Rudolph had probably invited them, as the imperial garrison of the Hradšany admitted these "Passauer" to the Mala Strana. In Old Prague these marauders met with resistance, though here too preparations had been made towards their visit, as gunpowder and other warlike stores had been found in monasteries and houses of the Jesuits. The Estates of Bohemia hastily equipped Count Thurn, who soon got the better of Leopold's mercenaries, and chased them and the Jesuits out of the country. Fighting about this quarter of Prague—in fact, anywhere in the city—is now discouraged by an efficient police force, and the only warlike sounds I have ever heard proceeding from out the shadows of "St Mary of the Snow" came from the band of the Salvation Army. A very good band it is too, though the tunes it plays are not up to the native standard of music. Nevertheless the Salvation Army is not only tolerated, but enjoys a certain amount of popularity; deservedly too, for that organization does a great deal of good rescue work. Jungmann's statue looks down thoughtfully upon this somewhat corybantic form of religious expression when on a Sunday afternoon the Salvation Army band is in full blast. Jungmann, who brought out the value of the Czech language, its poetic possibilities, by translating into it Milton's Paradise Lost, may wonder at this strange striving after "the Beauty of Holiness," which also comes from England. But probably he understands.
The New Town seems to have developed along a line of local politics all its own and at variance with that of its very close neighbours, Old Town, Vyšehrad and Mala Strana. Their local politicians did not lack initiative; no one can accuse them of that failing. I can recall one instance as example. During the days when the Protestants of Prague, in their religious ardour, had split up into at least two distinct and hostile parties, a procession of Utraquists, priests leading with the Host, passed by the New Town Hall. Some one threw a brick and hit a priest, thereupon the populace stormed the Town Hall and hurled Mayor and Corporation out of the window; those of the victims who still showed signs of life were dispatched with clubs—in fact, a clean-up of municipal authorities took place. Public spirited certainly, unconventional, you may say; but if the Bohemian is to have no power of imagination, who may?
In the days of Wenceslaus IV the fashionable centre of Prague seems to have been shifted from the impressive Hradšany side to the Old Town. The King himself preferred to live in close touch with his people; he wanted to see life—he certainly made it, for Wenceslaus when young was quite "one of the lads of the village." Let us look up that good King's haunts. On crossing the Charles Bridge from the Mala Strana to the Old Town we keep straight along the Karlova Ulice—that is, as straight as you can along this narrow old street by which Charles must have made his way to the Carolinum. I have already pointed out to you the dome which surmounts the home of the Red Cross Knights, the Knights Crucifer, and told you that this building and the church that stands somewhat apart on your left, behind the statue of Charles IV, is the work of the Jesuits. We may go in by the wide gateway into this mass of buildings, the Clementinum, also part of the University, but this is guide-book business, and I prefer to take you my own way. So we go along the crooked street past a bunch of churches, one of which is the longest in Prague; you may see their bulbous towers from my terrace, or your own if you get the right point of view. These churches do not interest me particularly except for a lovely bit of wrought-iron railing belonging to the Italian Chapel, just where the street takes a slight twist. Here you have quaint old houses, with red-tiled roofs and dormer windows. One of them seems inclined to impede the progress of the traffic, and the street bends slightly away to the right to oblige this building. There are quaint ornamentations on the narrow side of this house facing us, human figures and wreaths, and in the centre of the design a star. This old house has a little story to tell. Long ago, possibly in the sixteenth century, it was an inn, or a lodging-house, was said to be haunted, so the great-grandson of the last innkeeper there gave up taking lodgers and became a confectioner. One winter's evening, probably in preparation for Christmas, this confectioner was surveying the day's handiwork. He was particularly pleased with two little sugar figures he had fashioned; they represented a lady and her gallant in Spanish dress, each draped in the heavy folds of a cloak. He was interrupted by a knock at the door, and in came two figures, in Spanish dress, cloak and all, a lady and her cavalier. The only thing strange about them were their faces: they were like masks, beautiful indeed, but lifeless. However, the couple were quite amiable; they took the proffered seats, and the gallant spoke. "Have you, good master [gramercies, gadzooks, etc., according to taste], a couple of sugar figures in Spanish dress, each draped in a cloak?" "Zounds!" or something equally effective (in Czech, please) from the confectioner, "here is the very article!" The little figures gave satisfaction; the gallant purchased them with much fine gold, then proffered a request for a favour in return. "Granted," or words to that effect, from the confectioner. "As it happens," continued the gallant, "we have lost our heads, and would be much obliged if you would recover them for us. You see, we called here about a hundred years ago and were murdered in our beds, here in this house. It was your great-grandfather's doing; he was a bit peevish that evening. We had arrived with all our trunks, had searched the whole town for lodgings; every place was crowded. Some one advised us to call here. The old gentleman, after a deal of grumbling, showed us into a room, the first floor front. I feel sure he really never liked us; in fact, we were no sooner asleep than he came in and cut our heads off. He put our bodies in one of our trunks, the contents of which he kept as souvenirs; you know he was a great collector. He mislaid our heads, and we have suffered much inconvenience in consequence. The ones we are wearing now are not real ones—wax, you know; quite good of their kind, but not what we have been used to. If you would be good enough to look around for those heads, put them in a coffin with our bodies and have our whole outfit decently buried, we should feel much relieved. By the way, our old trunks are somewhere about the premises still, down in the cellar; your great-grandfather was always keen on cold-storage—a collector should be." The confectioner promised to see to this little matter, the visitors tried to get up a smile of gratitude, and faded away. Right enough, after searching diligently amongst his ancestor's collection, the confectioner found the missing articles, carried out the instructions given him by his visitors, and never saw them again. They have left Prague for good and all, I gather.
It is well worth while to dive into the little narrow streets and alleys to right and left; here you come upon many reminders of ancient Prague. Look out especially for the quaint house-signs, some of which have not yet been swept away—signs of exquisite design and workmanship, a lily, a fish, keys or bunches of grapes. The Karlova Ulice eventually lands us in the little Old Town Square, where you will find a beautiful wrought-iron cage over a well, of sixteenth-century workmanship, and passing on we arrive at one of the most historic spots of Prague, the Staroměstke Naměsti, the Old Town Square, or Ring. In shape it is neither of these two, but that does not detract from the throbbing interest that clings to it.
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There was something unusual in the atmosphere of Prague when on the 21st of June the sun dispelled the river mist, penetrated the purple shadows of the quaint old streets, lit up the windows along the modern quays, and gave promise of a glorious day to those who hurried to their daily work. The unusual thing was an occasional streak of black in the general radiance. Above that quarter of the castle where the President's standard flies, a black flag floated on the morning breeze. The same black note was repeated at the Czech National Theatre, and elsewhere black banners waved out over the streets. This 21st of June was a day of mourning for the children of Prague; on that day they remembered the events of three centuries ago, events which robbed them of their rights as a sovereign people, and fixed them firmly, ruthlessly, under the yoke of Habsburg. It was the commemoration day for those who had made the supreme sacrifice for the faith that was in them. The battle of the White Mountain had been lost, and with it went the last remnant of those able to resist the encroaching Austrians and the band of adventurers who, under the cloak of religion, waged savage war in this fair country.
The cause of the trouble is far to seek. It arose from a characteristic of these Slavonic people which should endear them to us, namely, a very strong feeling of race and its responsibilities and a great tenacity when defending their political and religious liberty. It is particularly in the latter direction that the people of Bohemia and Moravia have been in close touch with English thought. They were among the first, perhaps the only people of the Continent, to embrace the tenets of Wycliffe, and they fought for their convictions during the weary vicissitudes of the Hussite wars. There were many Germans among those who took to the new religious thought; Germans who had made their home in Bohemia and Moravia, and were among the most earnest workers for the country's welfare. But the Drang nach Osten of the Germans of the Holy Roman Empire under its semi-independent Princes and Electors, all intent on their own advancement, was a constant menace to the peaceful development of the Bohemian and Moravian people. They were not protected from invasion by the silver sea. Bohemia never had a sea-coast, despite the descriptive scenery in Measure for Measure. And here, I fear, is another shattered illusion. When Shakespeare spoke of Bohemia he meant Apulia, which at one time was named Bohemundia, after its King Bohemund. Bohemia has always been exposed to enemies from the west, who could pour in over the passes from Saxony or Bavaria. So the stout resistance of the Hussites was eventually broken, and the House of Habsburg, for some time elected Kings of Bohemia, encroached more and more on the chartered freedom of the country. A first definite act of imperial bad faith following on years of a policy inspired by malevolence and tempered by stupidity, brought matters to a climax. A heated scene in the Council Chamber of the Castle of Prague ended in what is described as the "Act of Defenestration." In plain English, the Emperor's lieutenants, who, by the way, happened to be a couple of Czech gentlemen bringing evidence of the sovereign's treachery, were thrown out of the window. A midden in the moat broke their fall; the officials fell soft, and got safely away. But this very distinct lack of appreciation of the Emperor's demands on the part of the Bohemian Estates let loose all the horrors of the Thirty Years' War, a conflict which, waged under the cloak of religion and with the blessings of Rome, set back civilization in Central Europe for many generations. For the Czech inhabitants of Bohemia and Moravia, as for those of Teuton origin who sympathized with the liberal movement of the time, the battle of the White Mountain and its tragic sequel on that 21st of June was the death-knell of their hopes.
That there were Germans among the victims shows that it was not merely racial rivalry as between Slav and Teuton, and that there was one Roman Catholic among the number demonstrates that their protest was not directed solely against the power and presumption of an intolerant creed.
The beauty of the architectural composition grouped about the Town Hall was spoilt by the same black note that marked the 21st of June of this year of grace. A large tribune, draped in black, projected well out into the square from under the slender turret of the Town Hall Chapel. Escorted by alien mercenaries, the twenty-seven martyrs were led to execution; the dull, continuous rolling of drums accompanied the scene until the last victim had been disposed of. Strange to relate, the sword which was used by the one executioner was discovered some forty-four years ago in an Edinburgh curiosity shop. On its basket hilt are graven the names of the Bohemian gentlemen who fell by it (three of the twenty-seven were hanged), and under those names the remark in the Czech language: "The last unhappy task, on 21st June 1621. G. M." The sword has returned to the country where the effects of its fell work are felt to this day.
This day, the anniversary, the sunlit square saw numbers of pious folk carrying wreaths to place them where white stones serve as constant reminder of those men who died in the courage of their convictions, both religious and political. It seems to be a peculiarly Slavonic trait, this recalling of sad events in their history. The Serbs still celebrate Vidovdan, the day of their disastrous defeat at Kossovo, where their chivalry, the finest in Eastern Europe, went under in a sea of blood.
As a boy I was very strong on observing national and other holidays, but cannot recall any celebration of the Saxon defeat at Hastings; it never occurred to me: lack of imagination probably—and another festive occasion missed.
There is, however, something fine in this Slavonic conception of events worth commemorating; they may celebrate victories, but they also observe the anniversaries of great national disasters, "lest they forget."
In the broad space between the Town Hall and the Tyn Church stands an imposing group of statuary. Its centre figure of a simple and convincing dignity represents Master John Hus, the great precursor of those sons of Bohemia who died for their faith. The figure stands facing towards the Town Hall.
This group of statuary has only recently found its appropriate site here in the ancient centre of the city's life—formerly a column surmounted by the "Virgin" threw its slender shadow across the square.
Looking out over the city on the 6th of July the first sight that caught my eye was a display of bunting; flags flew everywhere, most of them the colours of the Czecho-Slovak Republic, red and white with a blue triangular insertion close up to the flagstaff. There is a correct heraldic method of describing this, but to most people, as to myself, it is barely intelligible, and hardly fits in with an everyday account of things seen from a terrace in the capital of a very modern republic, the constitution of which allows of no titles of nobility, and therefore has little use for heraldry.
Titles of nobility have been abolished, and he who under the old regime of Austria would style himself Count von Potts and Kettlehausen is now called plain Mr. Potts. Other titles, those that have been won by individual achievement and cannot be inherited, still remain in use to brighten our drab existence. Most common amongst these is "Doctor"; you may be a doctor of any or many more or less exact sciences; Professor seems to come next in quantity; again you may profess anything you like. This title is run rather close by Rad, or so it sounds at least, which seems to be the old German Rath slightly modified; of these also there is a great and glorious variety. You have Pan (Mister) President for the august being who presides over boards of financial, commercial or industrial enterprise; Pan Inspectors are also plentiful and in highly variegated form. In fact, there is quite an imposing array of titled dignitaries who as true republicans have risen by their own merits. As yet the "leprosy of decorations," as Dr. Seton Watson describes the outbreak of coloured ribbons on manly chests, its spread in inverse ratio to danger incurred, has not assumed undue proportions—but who knows? I must, however, get back to the 6th of July and tell you how the memory of John Hus is kept green.
A glance at the streets on that day shows you groups of wayfarers carrying wreaths, and they converge on the square outside the Old Town Hall where stands the monument to John Hus. The shop windows display portraits of the Czech national hero, which is also reproduced inset in wreaths, and this recalls to my mind the same day in 1918, when I first became aware of what Master John Hus stands for to this people of tenacious memory.
It was a day of pure Italian colour, that 6th of July, 1918, when I set out from among those lovely Colline Euganie towards the front among the Alps. First along broad, well-kept roads, through the plains of Veneto, where trellised vine hung heavy laden, past homesteads, villas of warm ochre hues or red, or pink, and all embowered in rich green foliage. Through the narrow winding streets of graceful Vicenza, across the arcaded market-place of old Verona, past the stately ruins of Montecchio, till the road reached the foothills of the Alps. Then up by hairpin turns, gaining an ever wider view of the vast plain lying in a morning haze beyond which you knew was Venice and the blue Adriatic, then down by winding ways into a valley. An outpost in Italian field-grey uniform, not men of the Italian type, but stocky, fair-haired and square-jawed, their collars decorated with red and white tabs. Every group displayed a wreath, within it an effigy of John Hus, for these soldiers were of the Czecho-Slovak Legion, and they were for the first time in their lives allowed to commemorate without let or hindrance the anniversary of their national hero's death. On this day five centuries ago John Hus had met death at the stake for holding to his religious convictions. Trusting in the word of an Emperor who had promised him a safe conduct back to his own country, John Hus had gone to Constance to defend his faith. Rome proved all-powerful, prevailed against the promise of an Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and John Hus perished, on his lips, they say, the words, "O Sancta Simplicitas!" But his memory lives, and most surely amongst those of simple faith.
We do not observe the memory of those who suffered martyrdom for England's spiritual freedom; by the way, there is in Bohemia a church dedicated to St. Thomas a Becket.
I am describing the space between Town Hall and Cathedral as a square, which is as about as accurate as the German name "Altstaedter Ring." The Czech name for it is easier to pronounce than most of their words. Czech is an immensely difficult language, and I still marvel at the clever inhabitants of the country who pronounce it with ease—even with great fluency. They can make jokes in it too, for the pleasant sound of laughter is often heard in this "City Beautiful." I have never tackled a Czech joke, but am quite prepared to give it credit for all the wit and humour required of a joke, and as long as somebody is happy over it all is well, and I smile with him.
Really there is something about this city which is smile-producing. It is difficult to analyse, and may be attributed to the sheer beauty of the place. And your smile may well go with a catch in your throat, for there is always pathos in great beauty, and nowhere more so than here in Prague. There is the delicate beauty of the Town Hall Chapel, and facing it the tall steeples of the Tyn Church, with clusters of quaint little pointed turrets, overtop a row of houses that seem to have set themselves down with the deliberate intention of blocking the west entrance. Now these houses are arcaded, and so are those on the south side of the square. You puzzle for a while and then recall Padua, Verona and other towns of Northern Italy; so now you know whence came the inspiration that set up arcades in a northern capital. You ask how and when this influence came to Prague, so I remind you of the relations that existed between Bohemia and Italy, and of which I have told you when discussing King John and his great son Charles. Under the guidance of the latter, the Renaissance was not long in making its influence felt in Prague—in fact, in all Bohemia—and Italian architects who introduced the arcaded house added fresh beauties to the city. To the earlier period of Italian influence must be attributed a quaint arched house, the one at the corner of the Tynska Ulice. It seems to block the west entrance to the Church of Our Lady of Tyn. The old house dates back to the early days of the fourteenth century, at which period the Tyn Church, though founded in the eleventh century, was still a-building. I cannot blame the old houses for having squatted down in front of this church; they were probably under the impression that it would never be finished. They have at least left a vaulted alley-way leading to the somewhat insignificant west entrance. The Tyn Church, though not completed till fairly recently, has actually served as the principal church of the Old Town since 1310. Here the reformers, preachers that I have already mentioned, Conrad Waldhauser and Milič of Kroměřiže, drew large congregations by their fiery denunciations and their call to repentance. Our Lady of Tyn is to Prague what St. Paul's is to London in a certain degree; many celebrities are buried here, among them that strange character Tycho de Brahe, astronomer, logician, drunkard and duellist, the friend of Keppler and his own worst enemy.
The show-entrance to the Tyn Church is a Gothic porch of rarest beauty; it is tucked away in the little alley on the north side, and generally closed. You are expected to enter by the south door.
A word of warning here: never try to be enterprising between midday and 2 p.m. in Prague, or for that matter anywhere else in the country, unless it be in search of food. At midday everything closes down—churches, museums, shops; they do not open again till the good people in charge of them have had sufficient time for an ample meal—two hours are considered sufficient. You will therefore find the cathedral closed to you until the vergers have dined. But in the meantime you will find the quaint conglomeration of buildings at the east end of the cathedral very attractive. These buildings originally served many purposes—cathedral close, market and custom house, and even at times as bear-garden or zoo. To my thinking, the outside of the cathedral is far more attractive than the inside, which suffers from over-decoration in the incongruous style peculiar to Continental churches. I shall not conduct you personally round the Church of Our Lady of Tyn.
Good King Wenceslaus, of whom we sing at Christmas-time, seems to have caused the chapel and tower of the Town Hall to be built, at least according to archaeologists; the sign of a kingfisher within a wreath which appears here is taken to denote work done in his time. The master architect of those last decades of the fourteenth century was Peter Parler, who also did a good deal of work on the Tyn Church.
The tower was added to the house of Welflin od Kamene, which was acquired in 1538, and some fifty years later the beautiful chapel, the Gothic projection of which looks out on to the scene of martyrdom of 1621. You will find two very interesting and lovely Sessions Rooms in this Town Hall. In one of these George Podiebrad, a native of Bohemia and of the country's faith, was elected and proclaimed King in 1458. To my thinking, the best time of day on which to come upon this old Town Hall is of an evening, say in late autumn; approach it by that quaint little alley, the Melantrichova, called so in honour of Melantrich, who was famous as printer and publisher in the latter half of the sixteenth century. While wandering about the narrow alleys, these quaint passages under the houses, a peculiar feature of Prague, you will pick up something of the old spirit of the city and repeople it with the shades of former inhabitants or visitors to suit your taste or knowledge of its history. There is, for instance, one visitor whom I can quite see roaming about in nocturnal Prague—Dr. Faust. Local legend prefers to call him Wilhelm instead of Heinrich, but that does not matter—he fits into the picture.
Sooth to say, I find about this old quarter of the city a certain atmosphere spiced with wickedness, not thoroughly bad, just enough to keep you amused. Look round for yourself o' nights, and you will probably find reason to agree with me. There is again, in this spicy atmosphere, a local—or shall we say native?—foundation with a markedly exotic top-dressing. For the foundation of this peculiar atmosphere I make Good King Wenceslaus responsible. I have already suggested that he was "hot stuff," and certainly, when he moved into the palace that stood near the "Powder Tower," he made things merry and bright in the Old Town. A night out with Wenceslaus was a liberal education. Fundamentally his form of amusement was probably the same as you may enjoy to-day if you are inclined that way. An exotic touch is given to nocturnal diversions nowadays by American bars and "Palais de Danse" varying in degree of respectability; here the English language seems to predominate, in our version and that of our distant relatives across the Atlantic. The natives of the city do not frequent these haunts in any great numbers; they have their own amusements, but they look in occasionally, possibly as a mark of respect to the great allied nations, and their representatives, the bearers of western culture. The Bohemian when thinking of America recognizes only the United States of that continent. Many of them emigrate to that country; some return with their own rendering of the English language and a professed admiration for the country of their sometime sojourn, of its institutions and leading citizens. The Pragers have expressed this admiration by naming their finest railway station after President Wilson of the Lost Points, whereas their own President has to be content with a rather grubby old terminus.
It would be quite possible for me to enlarge upon the subject of night life in Prague, but discretion advises me not to do so; this is a side of Prague which you must find out for yourself. When after a good dinner you proceed to draw those furtive covers in the region between the Town Hall and the "Powder Tower," you may pick up the scent which, I maintain, hangs about there—that of rather spicy wickedness. I do not mean anything offensive in this; in fact, everything is conducted decently and in good order, also with a certain geniality; the suggestion is rather that you might be mildly wicked if you wanted to be. However, though we have to live in this world we need not be of it.
For those who do not feel drawn towards the furtive corners of the town, there are many other opportunities of recreation. One of these was built by the city itself, and is called the Obecni Dum, which means Town House, I believe; anyway, when asking your way to it linger on the last word and pronounce it as if written "doom." This was built about the site of the palace where Wenceslaus IV held his revels, but it is informed of a more sober spirit. You come upon this building as you pass along the broad street, formerly the moat of the Old Town defences, until you arrive at the street-junction I have already mentioned. Here stands one of the most beautiful monuments to Prague's former glory, the "Powder Tower." When first you come upon this, rising serenely in all its ornate loveliness out of the roar and rattle of the traffic, the sight of it catches your breath. King Vladislav II caused it to be erected—one of the gates of the old city. An unhappy King this latter, I should say; at least his lot was cast in unhappy times. One of the last Slavs to occupy the throne of Bohemia—he was a Prince of Poland—Vladislav succeeded one of the most popular of Bohemian monarchs, George Podiebrad. The times in which Vladislav reigned were evil; the internal religious struggles of Bohemia had reached a desperate stage; all attempts to reunite the Utraquists with Rome had failed, and Alexander Borgia was Pope. The reign of this King, for all the glory of the monuments that commemorate it, seems as it were illumined by the false light that presages disaster. His son Louis was drowned while leaving the battlefield of Mohač, which reduced the greater part of Hungary to a Turkish province, and anarchy held the lands of the Bohemian Crown until in 1526 Ferdinand of Habsburg bribed his way to the throne; one noble Bohemian is said to have accepted fifty thousand gulden for his kind offices.
The "Powder Tower" looks out directly at a somewhat shabby building opposite to it. I have mentioned it before as standing on the site of an early monastic institution founded by those Irish monks who did so much towards bringing Central Europe into the fold of the Church. They were, in fact, the only missionaries, these pilgrims from the Isle of Saints, who took up the task in the fifth and sixth centuries, wandering far afield, through the German forests, along the great rivers Danube and Main, to Italy and Switzerland, where St. Fridian at Lucca and St. Gall in the hills above the Bodensee are still held in pious memory. The Saxon monk Winfrith, better known as St. Boniface, also deserved well of the people of Central Europe, for it was his zeal and energy which assisted Charles the Great in his colonizing achievements. In our own times other missionaries of Anglo-Saxon race, or at least English-speaking, penetrated to the darkest recesses of the Continent, even to Bohemia. They started as soon as the war was over and Europe again a safe place to travel in. They took their toilsome way, by train de luxe and at Government expense, to such distant places as Prague and Vienna, even Buda-Pesth. They were of those who were indispensable while men were fighting, whose services could be spared when danger no longer threatened. They came deeply imbued with the importance of their mission, their commission, diplomatic, economic, hygienic, whatever it was. They came in scores, accompanied by willing and well-paid workers, to bring relief to those who had suffered in the war. They bought up the scanty supplies of the countries to which they brought the blessing arising out of their own high rate of exchange. They came in their hundreds to spread the light of learning in matters hygienic to Prague, the old university town famous for its school of medicine. They taught the young the blessing of western guilds or associations, the young of a country which forged its weapon of social defence, the Sokol, some seventy years ago. They expect a deal of gratitude for all this; they are also entirely devoid of any sense of humour, or they would all go home and keep quiet.
Of real use to the good relations which have existed, intermittently perhaps, but never clouded by misunderstanding, was the mission of the English Singers who came to Prague. They sang to us in the large hall of the Obecni Dum, the building dedicated to the townsfolk's recreation. They sang us old-time motettes, madrigals, ballads, and we were taken back to our own country by the soothing harmonies of Weelkes. We saw Winchester Cathedral, its long nave and squat tower, standing in lush meadows in the shade of ancient elms, the College Gate, its pillars so artfully, invitingly rounded by William of Wykeham, drew us in again. We were stirred by William Byrd's "Praise our Lord, all ye Gentiles," and taken to Oxford by Gibbons's "What is our life? A play of passion. Our mirth? The music of division." Purcell recalled our gracious English landscape, and English life, "When Myra sings we seek the enchanting sound"; and Thomas Morley with "Now is the month of maying." Then there was rollicking Tom Bateson, of Dublin, with his alluring "Come follow me, fair nymphs!" And the Bohemian audience were loud in generous applause.
You may well believe that a land which has given to the world Smetana, Dvořak, Ševček, and so many other famous musicians, will concentrate all that is good in music in Prague, its capital. There are two opera-houses to start with; one of them, the National Theatre, throws its reflections on the surface of the river at the end of the Narodni Třida; the German Theatre stands on the rising ground between the Museum at the top of the Vaclavske Naměsti and the Wilson Station. There are numerous concert-halls, and every restaurant of any repute has a good little orchestra of its own. Then there is a quaint old theatre down in the centre of the Old Town; you will find it standing comfortably among old red-roofed houses, between two open spaces, market-places bright with fruit and flowers in their season. It was in this theatre that Mozart's Don Giovanni was performed for the first time.
It is one of the most interesting parts of Prague, just around this old theatre, and among the crooked lanes and dark corners; it lets you in to the intimacy of the city if you set about your investigations in the right spirit. Alongside of this old theatre, the Mozarteum, divided only by a narrow alley, runs the front—I suppose it is the front—of the Carolinum, the collegiate buildings of Charles's foundation. There is little left outwardly of this building's former aspect, just one glorious Gothic projection which almost touches the balcony of the theatre. Within the Carolinum are spacious halls devoted to all manner of academic functions. In one of these halls I witnessed a scene which struck me with a sense of incongruity that I have not been able to explain to myself. The Indian poet and philosopher, Rabindranath Thagore, was received here by the University of Prague. Learned professors read lengthy addresses of welcome in Czech, and to their own entire satisfaction; the Indian poet spoke in English and recited poetry in his own language, let us hope also to his own satisfaction. Thereupon Rabindranath Thagore, his hands folded meekly inside his wide sleeves, his head drooping and eyes half closed as becomes a poet of the tender kind, passed out from among us—to travel to Paris in an aeroplane. I do not know whether it was this latter event, or the expression of a philosophy so entirely at variance with my own, or perhaps the sound of the high-pitched plaintive voice, that gave me the sense of incongruity, but there it was undoubtedly.
In your wanderings about the Old Town you will come upon all manner of quaint corners, old houses with courtyard and balconies, churches of all sizes and dedicated to many saints, and among these one which to my thinking deserves particular interest. It is the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Wall, very old—how old I cannot tell you—much mutilated and disfigured by restorers whose heads should have gone into the decorative scheme over the gateway of the Mala Strana bridge-tower; but here in this church the Sacrament was first given in both forms, sub utraque.
There are many little backwaters in the Old Town; you may people them with the shades of all those who for centuries have toiled to restore Bohemia to her rightful place among the States of Europe. You may see flitting figures in the twilight, cloaked and obvious conspirators to your discerning eye. These men were probably among those marked down by the secret police as "patriots." Men who were working for freedom of thought what time Jungmann and Kalina, another national poet, died, and twelve thousand of the people joined in the funeral procession as it passed the Town Hall where Arnold, Kalina's friend, was imprisoned. This was in 1847. Then the Slav Congress in 1848, and its stirring scenes, the meeting for Divine Service under the statue of St. Wenceslaus, the scuffle with a sentry caused by an agent provocateur, the charge of troops on an unarmed mob. Followed the erection of barricades, over a hundred in half an hour, and street fighting in various quarters of the city. Ruthless slaughter of citizens as at the Polytechnic School, where an attack by ten thousand troops with artillery was repulsed by seven hundred students of the Clementinum. Then the despair of the vanquished. But the spirit fostered by Bohemia's great men lived on; the people had their museum, containing books and records of their National Society, they had their associations, Sokols, and above all, their music. And so they waited, and not in idleness, for the better days which came to them out of the Great War.
The Sokol movement should interest you; it has taken a firm hold among Slavonic nations, and has in it something of the spirit of Freemasonry. Sokol means "falcon"—no doubt the original badge favoured by Slavonic societies. You will find the falcon, sometimes eagle, cropping up in various places. There is a distinguished Order, that of the White Eagle of Serbia, for instance; then the Poles also have started an Order with an eagle or a falcon in it—I am not acquainted with this Order. Members of Sokol societies wear an eagle's feather, or perhaps a falcon's, in the saucy little head-dress, somewhat like our old cavalry forage-cap, when in their becoming full dress. But Sokol means a great deal more than this.
A year or so ago I witnessed a Sokol display on that flat-topped height called Letna; it is, as it were, an eastward prolongation of the Castle Hill. Here is a large recreation ground for the use of such bodies as Sokol societies. In the arena, before a large and appreciative but critical public, the Socialist Sokols gave their display of gymnastic exercises on the occasion I have in mind. It was a stirring sight: ten to twenty thousand young men and maidens went through their graceful movements in perfect unison to the strains of their national music. It must be borne in mind that those exercises have not only physical value but are useful memnonic training. There is much discipline bred of these exercises; the captain goes through the movements by himself, the team repeats them after him. Then again, the Sokol is, and has been from the beginning, a political union. Surely Socialists who submit themselves to this training, to such discipline, are a powerful asset to a young State that has got to make its mark in the world.
By the way, what is a Socialist? I take it that any man who has a flowerpot in his window, whereas his neighbour has none, is no Socialist. But this is, no doubt, a matter of taste or political conviction, I am not quite clear which.
Tells of Emperor Sigismund, King of Bohemia, his rare and troubled visits to this country. Of an emigration from Prague University, and the founding of another at Leipzig. Of the two Habsburgs who followed Sigismund, and more about another great Bohemian already mentioned in this book, George Podiebrad. King George's Peace League. Of Vladislav of Poland as King of Bohemia; how he resided at the Hradšany and beautified it. We go with Vladislav along the route he follows to his coronation; we note many features by the way which Vladislav may or may not have seen, and discuss these features as we go along. Of the end of the Jagoilla dynasty on the throne of Bohemia when Vladislav's son Louis was drowned after the battle of Mohač. Of how Ferdinand of Austria married Anna, daughter of Vladislav, and became King of Bohemia. Of great doings in the Hall built by Vladislav on the Hradšany. Of the beautiful Belvedere which Ferdinand caused to be built for Anna, his Queen. Of other Habsburgs on the throne of Bohemia, particularly that lonely bachelor Rudolph II; of his hobbies and the guests and visitors he welcomed to the castle. Of King Matthias and the "Winter King," and how Bohemia's independence was lost on the battlefield of the White Mountain.
Let us return to our terrace, I to mine, you to yours if it gives you the right point of view, for we will now take the foreground into consideration, the Mala Strana and its "Crown of Glory," the Royal Castle, the Hradšany. We have watched Charles IV in his labours to beautify the capital of the land he loved, and among those labours was the restoration of the Hradšany. His son, however, found attraction elsewhere, and neglected the Royal Castle. Sigismund resided by preference at Kutna Hora whenever his imperial duties gave him time to visit Bohemia. This, his choice of residence, was probably dictated by the troubled times through which Bohemia was passing. Prague was full of tumult and of fierce religious controversy. The Hussites, as we have seen, were out and bent to warfare in the cause they held sacred, and the King had no liking for their views or regard for their opinions. We have also noted the value of that Emperor's given word. In Kutna Hora Sigismund found himself surrounded by a strongly German population, zealous in the cause of Rome and the Empire, hostile to the freedom of thought for which Bohemia was fighting. Racial animosity between Slav and Teuton was running high; its immediate result had been the emigration of several thousand professors and students of German nationality to Leipzig, where a new university arose which was inclined to consider its Alma Mater, Prague, a stepmother.
Then followed the Habsburgs, Albert and his posthumous son Ladislas. Albert succeeded as Sigismund's son-in-law, and reigned for two troubled years of civil war in Bohemia, leaving a disrupted State to Ladislas, his unborn son. During the infancy of this child arose a strong man from out of Bohemia, who served Ladislas so faithfully that the young King on his deathbed sent for him to bid him farewell in touching terms. Then was this strong man, George Podiebrad, unanimously chosen King by the Estates.
George Podiebrad was a native of the country which called him to the throne by reason of his integrity and intelligence. He was also of the faith held by the majority of his subjects, the followers of Master John Hus. His lot was cast in troubled times. Bohemia had been ruled by a succession of monarchs of alien race, at first sympathetic but later unable to see eye to eye with their subjects on religious and other questions. In the time of trial, when the soul of the people called out for guidance and support in the struggle for faith and freedom, those rulers were too much bound by the ties that held them to Western Europe as to champion Bohemia's cause whole-heartedly. They failed to understand that Central Europe was ripe for a new orientation, though there were sufficient indications to point out the way. Above all, a great danger threatened; the Turks were extending their conquests in Eastern Europe, the Byzantine Empire was going under before them, and the fall of Constantinople was imminent.
It was shortly before this latter event that George Podiebrad was called to the throne. He found his country distracted by internal dissensions, exhausted by the Hussite wars and threatened by powerful neighbours. His first task was to set his house in order; in this he achieved complete success, and soon found himself reigning over a strong, happy and united country. He next attended to his country's foreign relations, and succeeded in securing peace without his frontiers by means of a network of treaties. The King of Poland was won over by George Podiebrad's tact and ability, and Matthias Corvinus, King of a Hungary with fluctuating boundaries but including a deal of present-day Roumania, was also a ready ally of Bohemia's King. Within his immediate neighbourhood in Central Europe, George Podiebrad's wisdom and uprightness had brought him many requests to act as arbitrator or intermediary in disputes. His fame spread farther afield, his vision extended as he witnessed the growing importance of his country, and from these circumstances arose an ideal of a great Christian Peace League.
The state of Europe in the fifteenth century was not unlike that of the present day. There was strife, turmoil and dissension everywhere, a mighty power—that of Rome—opposing all free expression of opinion, an obsolete shibboleth called the Holy Roman Empire, and a ruthless enemy active in the East. In the midst of all this trouble George Podiebrad worked diligently at his League; he gained the adhesion of King Louis of France; Burgundy and Bavaria also joined, and Venice, remembering what good business could be made out of crusades, was also inclined to agree. England, it appears, was not particularly interested, at least is not mentioned in connection with this League. George Podiebrad endeavoured to win over the Holy Father, but in vain. Rome had turned a deaf ear even to the despairing cry of the Eastern Church.
The League was to hold its first council at Bale, and subsequent ones in different countries. Its statutes are worth noting; they are drawn up on much the same lines as those of the present-day League of Nations.
When the plans of the League were sufficiently advanced to be put into effect it was found that the forces against it were too powerful. Rome would have none of it, and France, though friendly to the scheme, chiefly out of antagonism to Rome, held back in the end, leaving the King of Bohemia with none but his neighbour, Poland, to support him. That the League should have failed of its purpose is regrettable. It was a genial idea. That it originated in Central Europe and that it gained the adherence of nations farther removed from Western influence is of lasting importance, for it seems to have given a definite direction to a group of Central and Eastern European Powers. Perhaps this direction was subconscious in King George's mind; he may have been actuated only by his desire for peaceful reconstruction behind a united front towards an eastern enemy. However this may be, the idea did not die with George Podiebrad, but has had two revivals, of which I hope to tell you something in time.
George Podiebrad died in 1471, after having ensured the succession to the throne of Bohemia of Vladislav, son of Casimir, King of Poland. King George's reason for going outside his country for a successor instead of finding one among his own sons was his concern for the safety of Bohemia, which, he seems to have considered, would have been endangered by a scion of his own family or nation under the conditions under which he was to leave his country. He was moved towards Poland by reason of the great plan he had formed far in advance of his age, namely, that of the League of Peace.
George Podiebrad, according to Luetzow, has always remained, next to Charles IV, the sovereign whose memory the Bohemians treasure most. Bohemia's great historian, Palacky, gives to this King a place of honour among the rulers of his country which is only equalled by that assigned to the great Luxemburger. His last years were clouded by the increasing distressful state of Europe, by a painful illness, and by the faithlessness of his one-time friend and ally, Matthias of Hungary. This latter had broken with King George, and had carried war into the lands of the Bohemian Crown, and though defeated and driven out of Moravia, still held several towns in that country. This seems to have served Matthias Corvinus as a pretext for disputing the claim of Vladislav to the throne of Bohemia. There was also another claimant with a certain following, namely, Duke Albert of Saxony, but in the end the crown remained with Vladislav of Poland, who then made his way to Bohemia, and entered Prague on August 19, 1471.
I like to conjure up a picture of the reception given to Vladislav by the good people of Prague. Vladislav, coming from Poland, would probably enter by the gateway where now stands that beautiful "Powder Tower," built under his aegis; I have already pointed it out to you. There he would be received by all manner of "grave and reverend seigniors," among them, of course, the doctors of the University, who, I gather, presented Vladislav with a "neatly bound and printed copy of the Bible, so that he might read it and direct himself and his subjects according to the Will of God": thus writes the chronicler. The good citizens of Prague were evidently pleased to welcome Vladislav, so we can imagine him, three days after his entry into Prague, moving, amidst popular rejoicings, to the Hradšany for coronation. A glittering pageant, no doubt, as it moved along under the shadow of the Church of Our Lady of Tyn, past the Old Town Hall, where the man to whom he owed the throne, George Podiebrad, had been called to rule Bohemia. Then along the Karlova Ulice, under the tower built by Wenceslaus, and over the Charles Bridge up the steep slope of Castle Hill.
I cannot imagine that the aspect of the Mala Strana which Vladislav got while proceeding to his coronation was very different from that of to-day. The Bridge Street on the left bank was possibly narrower and ill-paved, but I am certain that the general aspect of arcaded houses was much the same as it is to-day. I cannot imagine the Mala Strana changing very much, nor will you when once you have seen it. Though many houses, palaces and churches have been rebuilt or added, I should say that the Mala Strana has always preserved a certain independence, a conservative aloofness, from other quarters of the capital. From little glimpses, from snatches of conversation and chance remarks, I am inclined to the idea that the aborigines of the Mala Strana, while admitting the existence of other parts of Prague, such as the Old Town, yet do not consider them quite fit to associate with. There must be in the quaint little backwaters of Mala Strana a certain indigenous type which considers it bold and venturesome to cross the Charles Bridge, a proceeding smacking of foreign travel.
The block of buildings including the tall Church of St. Nicholas, which fills up the middle of that irregular place, the Mala Stranske Naměsti, or Place of the Small Side, would be new to Vladislav were he to repeat his progress to-day. There was a church—a very old one—on this spot, dating back to the thirteenth century; it is said that the martyrs of 1621 communicated here in utraque on the morning of their execution. The tall, imposing Church of St. Nicholas replaced the older edifice—a typical monument this of Jesuit pride of conquest over the fallen National Church of Bohemia. Seen from my terrace, the copper dome of St. Nicholas, its tall and slender campanile, stand up dominant over sleepy red-tiled roofs where linger memories of much earlier days. It is indeed a splendid building, this master-work of Ignatius and Kilian Dienzenhoffer. I must admit this, little as I admire baroque and for all my loathing of the spirit of triumphant intolerance and bigotry which informed the builders of this great monument to the enslavement of a nation's soul.
In former years, before the war, there stood here in the narrowest part of this place, a monument to another triumph over Bohemia's freedom, a monument to Field-Marshal Radecky, whose figure was supported by types of Austrian soldiery of his time. This monument has been removed—destroyed, I believe, by the Pragers when they regained their freedom in October 1918. The removal of this monument leaves a blank, not a sentimental one, merely an artistic one, and has led to an unexpected and probably undesired effect. It has given undue prominence to a little building that stands some way up the place, a building of strict utility with no pretensions to architectural consideration, a building which now stands out exposed as it were, trying to hide its confusion under a mask of gaudy advertisement posters.
The singularly characteristic houses on the north side of this square, with their deep arcades, were probably rebuilt or renovated in the seventeenth century; they must be of considerable antiquity, for one of them, a corner house called "Montagu," has its place in history. The name, by the way, is not derived from the Italian, but from the simple German Montag, Monday; and it has by way of embellishment a Slavonic suffix. It was in this Montagu House that the discontented members of the Bohemian Estates were wont to meet in 1618, and here they hit upon the bright idea of throwing the two lieutenants, go-betweens or whatever they were, of their Habsburg ruler, out of a window. So here on this Mala Stranske Naměsti you may see the very spot from which the War of Thirty Years started.
This Mala Stranske Naměsti is divided into an upper and a lower part by the block of buildings I have already mentioned. The palaces all round here are probably different of aspect from the burgher houses which stood here before the baroque irruption of the seventeenth century, so Vladislav on his way to coronation would have been greeted by a homelier sight; neither could he have seen the plague memorial. The plague commemorated visited Prague in 1715; the man who committed this pyramid, dedicated to Holy Trinity, was one Giovanni Battista Alliprandi, an Italian architect, but not of the Renaissance spirit. This peculiar group of sculpture fails to impress me; the figures, of saints, I believe, are not convincing; they are seen holding emblems of piety, but only for decorative purposes, not as if they in the least knew what to do with them; one or other would have appeared much happier with a knife and fork.
ANY FROM THE NEBOZIZEK GARDEN.]
Vladislav's farther way would take him up that steep road that leads past Strahov out into the country. It was formerly called the Street of Spurs, I believe; it has since been named Nerudova Třida, after John Neruda, the father of Bohemian literature, who spent his early days here. This street has rather a reputation for mild-mannered men of letters and lights of learning, patrons of art and science. There was, for instance, Baron Brettfeld, who entertained young Mozart, da Ponte and Casanova. But all this happened well after the days of Vladislav of Poland, King of Bohemia, who wound up by the narrow streets of Prague's Mala Strana to his coronation on the Hradšany. The Royal Castle had not been regularly inhabited by royalty for nearly a century, and as Vladislav chose to make it his residence, he found much to do in putting the place in order. The part that still shows strong traces of Vladislav's work is beyond the view from my terrace. You may recognize it some way off by a number of heavily mullioned windows in contrast to the very plain setting of the endless rows of other windows all along the front of the castle buildings. This palatial part of the castle—it is that nearest to the cathedral—was begun by Vladislav as soon as he had settled down to his kingship, and was finished in 1502. The chief feature of this building was a vast hall, which you may see still. It has suffered, of course, has been damaged by fire and also by restorers; just at present some archaeologist is at work upon it, and he is, I believe, discovering all sorts of beauties in the decorative Gothic style peculiar to this King of Polish descent and exquisite taste. It seems to me that Gothic in Prague is of finer spiritual quality than the German variant, is of that noble sincerity of which you find many instances in France, in several examples in Portugal, and when it became decorated, never went into the excesses of the Manuelesque style such as you may see it in old Lusitania. Successive Habsburgs who followed on these Polish rulers of Bohemia, Vladislav and his son Louis, benefited by the magnificent work which these two scions of the Royal House of Jagoilla left to posterity. Louis, we know, was drowned just after the battle of Mohač, and the short-lived Polish dynasty made way definitely for Kings of the House of Habsburg. Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, having married Anna, daughter of Vladislav II, laid claim to the throne of Bohemia. He was not alone in this ambition; in fact, there was a greater number of aspirants to the vacant seat than there had ever been before—thirteen in all, among them Francis I of France. However, Ferdinand secured the throne, and reigned as King of Bohemia right royally it would seem. His coronation took place in the great hall built by Vladislav, and the solemn ceremony was followed by a tournament, also held in the same hall—a tournament on horseback, mind you, and ending up with a melee in which thirteen knights a-side took part. There was a banquet too, and the waiting was done by squires on horseback. A great ball brought the festivities to an end. The great fire in Prague in 1541, which destroyed all the State documents, may have been the one which also did much damage to Vladislav's great hall, and Ferdinand's restoration of the same probably did something towards impairing its original beauty. We have reason, however, to be grateful to this Ferdinand, first of the name, for another building which graces the neighbourhood of the Hradšany. This is the Belvedere which stands at the far end of a lovely garden called the Chotkovy Sady. Ferdinand built this Belvedere for Anna, his Queen, with its airy loggias, its wrought architraves and long domed roof. It is one of the most beautiful works of early Renaissance spirit that I have ever seen. All honour to its architect, Giovanni di Spazzio.