Hero Tales and Legends of the Rhine
by Lewis Spence
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

From that time onward the German national spirit flourished, but the future of the Empire was uncertain till its fate was decided by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. In the great hall of the Palace of Versailles in 1871 William I, King of Prussia, proclaimed, in the hour of victory, the restoration of the confederated German Empire. The French forfeited their Rhenish provinces, and once more the Rhine was restored to Germany.

That the Thirty Years' War did not fail to linger in the folk-memory is evidenced by the following gruesome legend of Oppenheim:

The Battle of Skeletons

The smoke and terror of the great struggle had surged over Oppenheim. A battle had been fought there, and the Swedes and Spaniards who had contested the field and had been slain lay buried in the old churchyard hard by the confines of the town. At least many had been granted the right of sepulture there, but in a number of cases the hasty manner in which their corpses had received burial was all too noticeable, and a stranger visiting the churchyard confines years after the combat could not fail to be struck by the many uncoffined human relics which met his gaze.

But an artist who had journeyed from far to see the summer's sun upon the Rhine water, and who came to Oppenheim in the golden dusk, was too intent on the search for beauty to remember the grisly reputation of the town. Moreover, on entering the place the first person by whom he had been greeted was a beautiful young maiden, daughter of the innkeeper, who modestly shrank back on hearing his confident tones and, curtsying prettily, replied to his questions in something like a whisper.

"Can you recommend me to a comfortable hostelry, my pretty maid, where the wine is good and the company jovial?"

"If the Herr can put up with a village inn, that of my father is as good as any in the place," replied the maid.

"Good, my pretty," cried the bold painter, sending the ready blood to her face with a glance from his bright black eyes. "Lead the way, and I will follow. Or, better still, walk with me."

By the time they had reached the inn they felt like old friends. The girl had skilfully but simply discovered the reason for the young artist's sojourn in Oppenheim, and with glowing face and eyes that had grown brighter with excitement, she clasped her hands together and cried: "Oh, the Herr must paint my beloved Oppenheim. There is no such place by moonlight, believe me, and you will be amply repaid by a visit to the ruins of the old church to-night. See, a pale and splendid moon has already risen, and will light your work as the sun never could."

"As you ask me so prettily, Fraeulein, I shall paint your beloved abbey," he replied. "But why not in sunlight, with your own sweet face in the foreground?"

"No, no," cried the girl hastily. "That would rob the scene of all its romance."

"As you will," said the artist. "But this, I take it, is your father's inn, and I am ready for supper. Afterward—well, we shall see!"

Supper over, the painter sat for some time over his pipe and his wine, and then, gathering together his sketching impedimenta, quitted the inn and took his way toward the ruins of Oppenheim's ancient abbey. It was a calm, windless night, and the silver moon sailed high in the heavens. Not a sound broke the silence as the young man entered the churchyard. Seating himself upon a flat tombstone, he proceeded to arrange his canvas and sketching materials; but as he was busied thus his foot struck something hard. Bending down to remove the obstacle, which he took for a large stone, he found, to his horror, that it was a human skull. With an ejaculation he cast the horrid relic away from him, and to divert his mind from the grisly incident commenced to work feverishly. Speedily his buoyant mind cast off the gloomy train of thought awakened by the dreadful find, and for nearly a couple of hours he sat sketching steadily, until he was suddenly startled to hear the clock in the tower above him strike the hour of midnight.

He was gathering his things preparatory to departure, when a strange rustling sound attracted his attention. Raising his eyes from his task, he beheld a sight which made his flesh creep. The exposed and half-buried bones of the dead warriors which littered the surface of the churchyard drew together and formed skeletons. These reared themselves from the graves and stood upright, and as they did so formed grisly and dreadful battalions—Swedes formed with Swedes and Spaniards with Spaniards. On a sudden hoarse words of command rang out on the midnight air, and the two companies attacked one another.

The luckless beholder of the dreadful scene felt the warm blood grow chill within his veins. Hotter and hotter became the fray, and many skeletons sank to the ground as though slain in battle. One of them, he whose skull the artist had kicked, sank down at the young man's feet. In a hollow voice he commanded the youth to tell to the world how they were forced to combat each other because they had been enemies in life, and that they could obtain no rest until they had been buried.

Directly the clock struck one the battle ceased, and the bones once more lay about in disorder. The artist (who, it need hardly be said, gave no more thought to his picture) hastened back to the inn and in faltering accents related his experiences. When the Seven Years' War broke out, not long afterward, the people of Oppenheim declared that the apparition of the skeletons had foretold the event.

The Robbers of the Rhine

For many hundreds of years the valley of the Rhine itself, and the various valleys adjacent, were the haunt of numerous bodies of rapacious and desperate banditti. The rugged, mountainous nature of the country naturally made lawlessness the more easy there, and till so late as the beginning of the nineteenth century these gangs of robbers were a constant menace to the traveller in Rhineland. At the time of the French Revolution, indeed, and for some decades thereafter, the district was literally infested with thieves; for the unsettled state of Europe at this date perforce tended to bring desperadoes from far and near, and for a while the inhabitants of the different villages on the banks of the Rhine endured a veritable reign of terror.

But almost from the outset the brigands realized that they would soon be undone if they grew too numerous. They knew that, in that event, strong military measures would probably be taken against them; so they made every effort to practise that union which is proverbially strength, and to prevent the enlisting in their ranks of anyone likely to prove cowardly or perfidious. In some cases, too, they actually had a well and capably organized system whereby one of their number could escape quickly, if need be, from the scene of his crime; for, like the French prisoners described in Stevenson's St. Ives, they had a line of sanctuaries extending perhaps into Austria or Italy, the retreat in most instances being an inn whose keeper was sworn to hide and protect his robber guest at all costs. In short, there was honour among these thieves, and even a certain spirit of freemasonry; while, more important still, the captain of a band was very often in league with the few police officials of the neighbourhood.

The great highwaymen of Stuart and Georgian England—for example, that gallant Beau Brocade of whom Mr. Austin Dobson writes—were mostly content with waylaying a chance passer-by; while their contemporaries in France usually worked on this principle also, as witness the deeds of the band who figure in Theophile Gautier's story Le Capitaine Fracasse. But the robbers of the Rhine were of different mettle from these, and often it was almost a predatory warfare rather than mere brigandage which they carried on. Frequently they had an agent in each of the villages on the river, this agent being usually a member of the scattered remnant of Israel; and the business of this person was to discover a house containing especial wealth, and then to inform the robbers accordingly. Having gleaned the requisite information in this wise, the gang would sally down from the mountains at dead of night; and it was customary, as they drew near to their prey, for the captain to call his henchmen to attention and see that each was ready for the imminent fray. Then, having gagged the village watchman and muffled his bell, they would proceed to surround the house they intended to rifle, and, should resistance be offered, to batter in the door with a log or other instrument. Sometimes it would transpire that the Jewish agent had misinformed them, telling them of booty where booty there was little, and woe betide him should this prove the state of affairs. Moreover, unlike the brigands in Gil Blas, these scoundrels of the Rhine would not be encumbered by prisoners, and they were wont to slay outright all who were minded to show fight.

Yet to their own brotherhood the robbers were invariably loyal, seldom failing to carry away with them such of their confreres as were wounded in the assault; for each was sworn to support his fellows under all circumstances, and awful was the fate of the marauder who violated this compact. It is told of a band commanded by one Picard, a cruel but brave leader, that one of its members chanced to be captured, and with a view to purchasing his freedom he gave information about the whereabouts of his chief. The next night, as the captive lay in his dungeon, a masked face suddenly appeared at the barred window, and in awestruck tones the prisoner asked the new-comer to declare his identity. "I am Picard, your captain," came the answer. "As in duty bound, I have risked my life to set you free," and having spoken thus, he proceeded to file through one of the bars, which being accomplished, the reprobate was drawn out of his cell by the aid of a rope. He breathed freely now, finding himself once more among some of his old comrades, but a moment later Picard addressed him again. "Traitor," he snarled, "do not think that your perfidy has failed to reach our ears; you must pay the full penalty."

"Mercy," cried the unfortunate one; "at least let me die in action. Lead on against some foe, and let me fall at their hands."

"Cowards," retorted Picard, "deserve no such gallant fate," and with these words he drove his sword deep into the heart of the traitor.

In general it was a point of honour among these bandits that none should reveal to a woman anything about the doings of his band, and one story relates how a young brigand, on the eve of setting out on his first predatory expedition, was rash enough to inform his sweetheart whither he and his mates were bound. Their commander was a Captain Jikjak, reputed something of a wit; and betimes, after the brigands had marched forward silently for a while, this worthy called upon them to halt. They imagined it was but the usual inspection of arms which was about to take place, but Jikjak, speaking in stentorian tones, told them that a traitor was in their midst, and pointing to the culprit, he bade him step forth. The young man pled his youth as an excuse for his fault, and he told the captain that, could he but get a chance to show his prowess once, they would soon see that he was as gallant a robber as any of them. But Jikjak laughed scornfully, saying he was anxious to find out which was stronger, the young man's legs or a pair of trees. The culprit quailed on hearing the verdict, and implored a less ghastly fate; but Jikjak was obdurate, and smiling blandly, he bade his followers bend a couple of stout branches to the ground and tie their tops to the ankles of the offender....

Such, then, were the robbers of the Rhine, and such the code of honour which existed among them. A romantic institution they no doubt were, yet it was a form of picturesqueness whose disappearance can scarcely be regretted.


Affinities of the Rhine Legends

A close perusal of the body of tradition known as the legends of the Rhine displays one circumstance which is calculated to surprise the collector of these narratives not a little. It is generally represented—probably through ignorance of the real circumstances—that these tales abound in the matter of folklore. This is, however, by no means the case, and even a superficial examination of them will prove most of them to be allied to the matter of romance in a much more intimate way than they approach that of folklore. But this is not so as regards all of them, and it will be interesting to look into the character of those which present folklore affinities, whilst leaving the consideration of their romantic aspect for a later portion of this chapter.

By right of precedence, among the legends of the Rhine which possess folklore characteristics is the wonderful legend of the Lorelei, a word derived from the old High German lur, to lurk, and lai, a rock. The height from which the bewitching water-spirit sent her song floating over the waves of the Rhine is situated near St. Goar, and possesses a remarkable echo which may partly account for the legend.

The Lorelei

Many are the legends which cluster round the name of the Lorelei. In some of the earlier traditions she is represented as an undine, combing her hair on the Lorelei-berg and singing bewitching strains wherewith to lure mariners to their death, and one such legend relates how an old soldier named Diether undertook to capture her.

Graf Ludwig, son of the Prince Palatine, had been caught in her toils, his frail barque wrecked, and he himself caught in the whirlpool and drowned. The prince, grievously stricken at the melancholy occurrence, longed to avenge his son's death on the evil enchantress who had wrought such havoc. Among his retainers there was but one who would undertake the venture—a captain of the guard named Diether—and the sole reward he craved was permission to cast the Lorelei into the depths she haunted should he succeed in capturing her.

Diether and his little band of warriors ascended the Lorelei's rock in such a way as to cut off all retreat on the landward side. Just as they reached the summit the moon sailed out from behind a cloud, and behold, the spirit of the whirlpool was seen sitting on the very verge of the precipice, binding her wet hair with a band of gleaming jewels.

"What wouldst thou with me?" she cried, starting to her feet.

"To cast thee into the Rhine, sorceress," said Diether roughly, "where thou hast drowned our prince."

"Nay," returned the maid, "I drowned him not. 'Twas his own folly which cost him his life."

As she stood on the brink of the precipice, her lips smiling, her eyes gleaming softly, her wet dark hair streaming over her shoulders, some strange, unearthly quality in her beauty, a potent spell fell upon the little company, so that even Diether himself could neither move nor speak.

"And wouldst thou cast me in the Rhine, Diether?" she pursued, smiling at the helpless warrior. "'Tis not I who go to the Rhine, but the Rhine that will come to me."

Then loosening the jewelled band from her hair, she flung it on the water and cried aloud: "Father, send me thy white steeds, that I may cross the river in safety."

Instantly, as at her bidding, a wild storm arose, and the river, overflowing its banks, foamed right up to the summit of the Lorelei Rock. Three white-crested waves, resembling three white horses, mounted the steep, and into the hollowed trough behind them the Lorelei stepped as into a chariot, to be whirled out into the stream. Meanwhile Diether and his companions were almost overwhelmed by the floods, yet they were unable to stir hand or foot. In mid-stream the undine sank beneath the waves: the spell was broken, the waters subsided, and the captain and his men were free to return home.

Nevermore, they vowed, would they seek to capture the Lorelei.

The Forsaken Bride

There is a later and more popular legend of the Lorelei than the foregoing.

According to this tale Lorelei was a maiden of surpassing beauty who dwelt in the town of Bacharach in medieval times. So potent were her attractions that every gallant on whom her eye rested fell hopelessly in love with her, while her ever-widening fame drew suitors in plenty from all parts of the country. The dismissed lovers wandered disconsolately in the neighbouring forests, vowing to take their lives rather than suffer the pangs of unrequited passion; while occasionally the threat was fulfilled, and a brave knight would cast himself into the Rhine and perish for love of the cold and cruel maid. Thus her fatal beauty played havoc among the flower of German chivalry. But she, dowered with virtue and goodness, as well as with more transient charms, trembled when she saw the effect of her attractions on her many lovers, and secluded herself as closely as possible.

The truth was, she had given her heart into the keeping of a young knight who, after plighting his troth with her, had ridden away to the wars, his military ardour and desire for glory triumphing over his love. Years had gone by, yet he did not return, and Lorelei thought that he had perished on the field of battle, or had taken another bride and forgotten her. But she remained true to him in spite of his long silence, and spent her days in tears and prayers for his safety.

Meanwhile she was besieged by an ever-increasing band of suitors, to whom her retiring disposition and sorrowful mien but made her the more desirable. Then it began to be rumoured abroad that she was a sorceress, who won the hearts of men by magic art and with the aid of the Evil One. The rumour was spread broadcast by jealous and disappointed women who saw their menfolk succumb to the fatal charms of the Maid of Bacharach. Mothers noticed their sons grow pale and woe-begone because of her; maids their erstwhile lovers sighing out a hopeless passion for the beautiful Lorelei; so they brought against her accusations of sorcery, which in those days generally led to the death of the victim by burning. So grievously did these malign whispers add to the already heavy burden of the maid that she surrendered herself to be tried, hardly caring whether or not she were found guilty. She was summoned before the criminal court held at Rhens by the Archbishop of Cologne, and charged with practising the black art in order to ensnare men's affections.

However, when she appeared before the court her beauty so impressed the assembly, and even the old Archbishop himself, that none could believe her guilty. Her lovely face bore the imprint of innocence, her grief touched every heart, and on all sides she was treated with the greatest respect and kindness. The old prelate assured her that she would not be judged harshly, but begged to hear from her own lips that she was innocent of the foul charge brought against her. This assurance she gave with artless simplicity, and a murmur of approval went up from the crowd. The sympathy of those present—for even her accusers were melted—and the kindness of the aged Churchman who was her judge moved her to confess her unhappy love-story.

"I pray thee," she concluded wearily, "I pray thee, my lord, let me die. I know, alas! that many true knights have died for love of me, and now I fain would die for the sake of one who hath forsaken me."

The prelate, moved almost to tears by the pathetic story, laid his hand on the head of the weeping maid.

"Thou shalt not die, fair maiden," he said. "I will send thee to a convent, where thou mayst live in peace." And calling to his side three trusty old knights, he bade them conduct Lorelei to the convent across the river, and charge the abbess to treat her with the greatest kindness. Having blessed the maid once more, he bade them go. On their way to the convent they must needs pass the rock since known as the Lorelei-berg, and the girl, who had maintained a pensive silence all the way, now observed that she would fain ascend the rock and look for the last time at the castle of her betrothed knight.

Her escort would have courteously assisted her, but she, with the agility of youth, easily outstripped them, and stood alone on the summit, surveying the fair scene before her. A light barque was sailing up the river, and as she gazed on it Lorelei uttered a loud cry, for there in the bow stood her truant lover! The knight and his train heard the shriek and beheld with horror the maiden standing with outstretched arms on the very edge of the precipice. The steering of the boat was forgotten for the moment, and the frail craft ran on the rocks. Lorelei saw her lover's peril and, calling his name, leapt into the tide.

Nothing more was seen of the lovers; together they sleep the sleep of death beneath the waters of the Rhine.

A Blending of Legends

In these legends we observe how the tradition of a mere water-nymph has developed into a story concerning a hapless damsel. The first applies to the Lorelei as a water-spirit pure and simple, but legends which refer to beings originally water-spirits have a knack of becoming associated in later times with stories of distressed ladies. Indeed, one such came to the writer's knowledge only a few months ago. The mansion of Caroline Park, near Edinburgh, dating from the end of the seventeenth century, has in its vicinity a well which is reputed to be inhabited by a 'Green Lady,' who emerges from her watery dwelling at twilight and rings the great bell of the old manor-house. On visiting the vicinity for the purpose of verifying the legend information was gleaned respecting another story of a captured lady who had been incarcerated in a room in the mansion and had written some verses to her lover with her diamond ring on a window-pane. The strange thing is that these stories, though obviously of different origin, appear now to have become fused in the popular imagination: the 'Green Lady' and the verse-writing damsel become one and the same, thus affording a case in point of the fusion of a mythological tale with a later and probably verifiable incident. The Lorelei is of course a water-spirit of the siren type, one who lures heedless mariners to their destruction. In Scotland and the north of England we find her congener in the water-kelpie, who lurks in pools lying in wait for victims. But the kelpie is usually represented in the form of a horse and not in that of a beauteous maiden.

The Nixie

Another water-spirit not unlike the Lorelei is the nixie, which is both male and female, the male appearing like any human being, but, as in the case of the water-spirits of the Slavonic peoples and England, Scotland, and Central America, being possessed of green teeth. The male is called nix, the female nixie, the generic term for both being nicker, from a root which perhaps means 'to wash.' There is perhaps some truth in the statement which would derive the Satanic patronymic of 'Old Nick' from these beings, as spirits extremely familiar to the Teutonic mind. On fine sunny days the nixies may be seen sitting on the banks of rivers, or on the branches of trees, combing their long golden locks. Previous to a drowning accident the nixies can be seen dancing on the surface of the water. Like all sea and river spirits, their subaqueous abode is of a magnificence unparalleled upon earth, and to this they often convey mortals, who, however, complain that the splendours of the nixies' palaces are altogether spoiled for them by the circumstance that their banquets are served without salt.

Where on the marshes boometh the bittern, Nicker the Soulless sits with his ghittern; Sits inconsolable, friendless and foeless, Bewailing his destiny, Nicker the Soulless.

The Nixie of the Mummel-lake

The legend of the nixie of Seebach is one of gloom and tragedy, albeit as charming as most of the Rhine tales.

It was the custom among the young people of Seebach to assemble of an evening in the spinning-room, which on the occasion about to be dealt with was in the house of the richest and most distinguished family in the country. The girls spun and laughed and chatted, while the youths hung about their chairs and cracked jokes with them. One evening while they were thus employed there came among them a stranger, a young lady beautifully clad and carrying an ivory spinning-wheel. With becoming modesty she asked to be allowed to join the company, which permission the simple youths and maidens readily accorded. None was more eager to do honour to the new-comer than the son of their host. While the others were still gaping in awestruck fashion, he quietly fetched her a chair and performed various little services for her. She received his attentions so graciously that a warmer feeling than courtesy sprang up in his heart for the fair spinner.

He was in truth a handsome lad, whose attentions any maid might have been proud to receive. Well-built and slender, he bore himself with a proud carriage, and the expression on his delicate features was grave and thoughtful beyond his years. When at length the fair visitor departed, he loitered disconsolate and restless, listening to the idle surmises of the peasant youths concerning the identity of the lady, but offering no opinion himself. On the following day at the same hour she again appeared and, seeing her cavalier of the previous day, smiled and bowed to him. The young man glowed with pleasure, and diffidently renewed his attentions. Day after day the lady of the spinning-wheel joined the company, and it was noted that the girls were brighter and more diligent, and the young men more gentle and courteous, for her coming. It was whispered among them that she was a nixie from the Mummel-lake far under the mountains, for never mortal was so richly endowed with beauty and grace. As time went on the son of the house grew more and more melancholy as his love for the fair unknown became deeper. Only during the brief hour of her visit would he show any cheerfulness. All the rest of the day he would mope in silent wretchedness. His friends saw with distress the change which had come over him, but they were powerless to alter matters. The lady could not be persuaded to remain beyond her usual hour, nor to give any hint of her identity.

One day, thinking to prolong her visit, the young man put back the hands of the clock. When the hour drew near for her to depart, he slipped out of the house so that he might follow her and find out where she lived. When the hour struck, the lady, who seemed to have feared that she was late, walked hastily from the house in the direction of the lake. So quickly did she walk that the youth following in her path could scarcely keep pace with her. She did not pause when she reached the shore, but plunged directly into the water. A low, moaning sound rose from the waves, which boiled and bubbled furiously, and the young man, fearing that some evil had befallen the maid, sprang in after her, but the cruel currents dragged him down, and he sank out of sight.

Next day his body was found floating on the lake by some woodcutters, and the nixie of the Mummel-lake was seen no more.

The Wild Huntsman

One of the most interesting Rhine myths is that concerning the Wild Huntsman, which is known all over Rhineland, and which is connected with many of its localities. The tale goes that on windy nights the Wild Huntsman, with his yelling pack of hounds, sweeps through the air, his prey departing souls. The huntsman is, of course, Odin, who in some of his aspects was a hunter-god. The English legend of Herne the Hunter, who haunts Windsor Park, is allied to this, and there can be little doubt that Herne is Odin. Indeed, it is here suggested that the name Herne may in some way be connected with one of Odin's titles, Hari, the High One. It was the legend of the Wild Huntsman that inspired Sir Walter Scott to write one of his finest ballads of the mysterious. An Edinburgh friend had perused a ballad by Burger, entitled Lenore, but all he could remember of it were the following four lines: Tramp, tramp, across the land they ride; Splash, splash, across the sea. Hurrah! the dead can ride apace, Dost fear to ride with me?

This verse fired Scott's imagination. He liked this sort of thing, and could do it very well himself. So on reaching home he sat down to the composition of the following ballad, of which we give the most outstanding verses:


The Wildgrave winds his bugle horn: To horse, to horse, haloo, haloo! His fiery courser sniffs the morn, And thronging serfs their lord pursue.

The eager pack, from couples freed, Dash through the bush, the brier, the brake While answering hound, and horn, and steed, The mountain echoes startling wake.

The beams of God's own hallowed day Had painted yonder spire with gold, And, calling sinful men to pray, Loud, long, and deep the bell hath tolled.

But still the Wildgrave onward rides; Haloo, haloo, and hark again! When, spurring from opposing sides, Two stranger horsemen join the train.

Who was each stranger, left and right? Well may I guess, but dare not tell. The right-hand steed was silver-white; The left, the swarthy hue of hell.

The right-hand horseman, young and fair, His smile was like the morn of May; The left, from eye of tawny glare, Shot midnight lightning's lurid ray.

He waved his huntsman's cap on high, Cried, "Welcome, welcome, noble lord! What sport can earth, or sea, or sky, To match the princely chase, afford?"

"Cease thy loud bugle's clanging knell," Cried the fair youth with silver voice; "And for devotion's choral swell, Exchange the rude, unhallowed noise.

"To-day th' ill-omened chase forbear; Yon bell yet summons to the fane: To-day the warning spirit hear, To-morrow thou mayst mourn in vain."

The Wildgrave spurred his ardent steed And, launching forward with a bound, "Who for thy drowsy priestlike rede Would leave the jovial horn and hound?

"Hence, if our manly sport offend: With pious fools go chant and pray. Well hast thou spoke, my dark-brown friend, Haloo, haloo, and hark away!"

The Wildgrave spurred his courser light, O'er moss and moor, o'er holt and hill, And on the left and on the right Each stranger horseman followed still.

Up springs, from yonder tangled thorn, A stag more white than mountain snow; And louder rung the Wildgrave's horn— "Hark forward, forward! holla, ho!"

A heedless wretch has crossed the way— He grasps the thundering hoofs below; But, live who can, or die who may, Still forward, forward! on they go.

See where yon simple fences meet, A field with autumn's blessings crowned; See, prostrate at the Wildgrave's feet, A husbandman with toil embrowned.

"Oh, mercy! mercy! noble lord; Spare the poor's pittance," was his cry; "Earned by the sweat these brows have poured In scorching hours of fierce July."

"Away, thou hound, so basely born, Or dread the scourge's echoing blow!" Then loudly rung his bugle horn, "Hark forward, forward! holla, ho!"

So said, so done—a single bound Clears the poor labourer's humble pale: Wild follows man, and horse, and hound, Like dark December's stormy gale.

And man, and horse, and hound, and horn Destructive sweep the field along, While joying o'er the wasted corn Fell famine marks the madd'ning throng.

Full lowly did the herdsman fall: "Oh, spare, thou noble baron, spare; These herds, a widow's little all; These flocks, an orphan's fleecy care."

"Unmannered dog! To stop my sport Vain were thy cant and beggar whine, Though human spirits of thy sort Were tenants of these carrion kine!"

Again he winds his bugle horn, "Hark forward, forward! holla, ho!" And through the herd in ruthless scorn He cheers his furious hounds to go.

In heaps the throttled victims fall; Down sinks their mangled herdsman near; The murd'rous cries the stag appal, Again he starts, new-nerved by fear.

With blood besmeared, and white with foam, While big the tears of anguish pour, He seeks, amid the forest's gloom, The humble hermit's hallowed bow'r.

All mild, amid the route profane, The holy hermit poured his prayer: "Forbear with blood God's house to stain: Revere His altar, and forbear!

"The meanest brute has rights to plead, Which, wronged by cruelty or pride, Draw vengeance on the ruthless head; Be warned at length, and turn aside."

Still the fair horseman anxious pleads; The black, wild whooping, points the prey. Alas! the Earl no warning heeds, But frantic keeps the forward way.

"Holy or not, or right or wrong, Thy altar and its rights I spurn; Not sainted martyrs' sacred song, Not God Himself shall make me turn."

He spurs his horse, he winds his horn, "Hark forward, forward! holla, ho!" But off, on whirlwind's pinions borne, The stag, the hut, the hermit, go.

And horse and man, and horn and hound, The clamour of the chase was gone; For hoofs, and howls, and bugle sound, A deadly silence reigned alone.

Wild gazed the affrighted Earl around; He strove in vain to wake his horn, In vain to call; for not a sound Could from his anxious lips be borne.

High o'er the sinner's humbled head At length the solemn silence broke; And from a cloud of swarthy red The awful voice of thunder spoke:

"Oppressor of creation fair! Apostate spirits' hardened tool! Scorner of God! Scourge of the poor! The measure of thy cup is full.

"Be chased for ever through the wood, For ever roam the affrighted wild; And let thy fate instruct the proud, God's meanest creature is His child."

'Twas hushed: one flash of sombre glare With yellow tinged the forest's brown; Up rose the Wildgrave's bristling hair, And horror chilled each nerve and bone.

Earth heard the call—her entrails rend; From yawning rifts, with many a yell, Mixed with sulphureous flames, ascend The misbegotten dogs of hell.

What ghastly huntsman next arose, Well may I guess, but dare not tell: His eye like midnight lightning glows, His steed the swarthy hue of hell.

The Wildgrave flies o'er bush and thorn, With many a shriek of hapless woe; Behind him hound, and horse, and horn, And hark away, and holla, ho!

With wild despair's reverted eye, Close, close behind, he marks the throng; With bloody fangs, and eager cry, In frantic fear he scours along.

Still, still shall last the dreadful chase, Till time itself shall have an end; By day, they scour earth's caverned space; At midnight's witching hour, ascend.

This is the horn, and hound, and horse, That oft the 'lated peasant hears; Appalled, he signs the frequent cross, When the wild din invades his ears.

Dwarfs and Gnomes

Beings of the dwarf race swarmed on the banks of Rhine. First and foremost among these are the gnomes, who guard the subterranean treasures, but who on occasion reveal them to mortals. We meet with these very frequently under different guises, as, for instance, in the case of the 'Cooper of Auerbach,' and the Yellow Dwarf who appears in the legend of Elfeld. The Heldenbuch, the ancient book in which are collected the deeds of the German heroes of old, says that "God gave the dwarfs being because the land on the mountains was altogether waste and uncultivated, and there was much store of silver and gold and precious stones and pearls still in the mountains. Wherefore God made the dwarfs very artful and wise, that they might know good and evil right well, and for what everything was good. Some stones give great strength, some make those who carry them about them invisible. That is called a mist-cap, and therefore did God give the dwarfs skill and wisdom. Therefore they built handsome hollow-hills, and God gave them riches."

Keightley, in his celebrated Fairy Mythology, tells of a class of dwarfs called Heinzelmaennchen, who used to live and perform their exploits in Cologne. These were obviously of the same class as the brownies of Scotland, Teutonic house-spirits who attached themselves to the owners of certain dwellings, and Keightley culled the following anecdote regarding them from a Cologne publication issued in 1826:

"In the time that the Heinzelmaennchen were still there, there was in Cologne many a baker who kept no man, for the little people used always to make, overnight, as much black and white bread as the baker wanted for his shop. In many houses they used to wash and do all their work for the maids.

"Now, about this time, there was an expert tailor to whom they appeared to have taken a great fancy, for when he married he found in his house, on the wedding-day, the finest victuals and the most beautiful utensils, which the little folk had stolen elsewhere and brought to their favourite. When, with time, his family increased, the little ones used to give the tailor's wife considerable aid in her household affairs; they washed for her, and on holidays and festival times they scoured the copper and tin, and the house from the garret to the cellar. If at any time the tailor had a press of work, he was sure to find it all ready done for him in the morning by the Heinzelmaennchen.

"But curiosity began now to torment the tailor's wife, and she was dying to get one sight of the Heinzelmaennchen, but do what she would she could never compass it. She one time strewed peas all down the stairs that they might fall and hurt themselves, and that so she might see them next morning. But this project missed, and since that time the Heinzelmaennchen have totally disappeared, as has been everywhere the case, owing to the curiosity of people, which has at all times been the destruction of so much of what was beautiful in the world.

"The Heinzelmaennchen, in consequence of this, went off all in a body out of the town, with music playing, but people could only hear the music, for no one could see the mannikins themselves, who forthwith got into a ship and went away, whither no one knows. The good times, however, are said to have disappeared from Cologne along with the Heinzelmaennchen."

St. Ursula

One of the most interesting figures in connexion with Rhenish mythology is that of St. Ursula, whose legend is as follows:

Just two centuries after the birth of Christ, Vionest was king of Britain. Happy in his realm, his subjects were prosperous and contented, but care was in the heart of the monarch, for he was childless. At length his consort, Daria, bore him a daughter, who as she grew up in years increased in holiness, until all men regarded her as a saint, and she, devoting herself to a religious life, refused all offers of marriage, to the great grief of her parents, who were again troubled by the thought that their dynasty would fail for want of an heir. Charmed with the rumour of her virtues, a German prince, Agrippus, asked her as a wife for his son, but the suit was declined by the maiden until an angel appeared to her in a dream and said that the nuptials ought to take place. In obedience to this heavenly mentor, St. Ursula no longer urged her former scruples, and her father hastened to make preparations of suitable magnificence for her departure to the Rhine, on whose banks her future home was to be. Eleven thousand virgins were selected from the noblest families of Britain to accompany their princess, who, marshalling them on the seashore, bade them sing a hymn to the Most High and dismiss all fears of the ocean, for she had been gifted with a divine knowledge of navigation and would guide them safely on their way.

Accordingly St. Ursula dismissed all the seamen, and standing on the deck of the principal vessel, she gave orders to her eleven thousand maiden followers, who, under the influence of inspiration, flitted over the ships dressed in virgin white, now tending the sails, now fixing the ropes, now guiding the helm, until they reached the mouth of the Rhine, up which they sailed in saintly procession to Cologne. Here they were received with great honours by the Roman governor of the place; but soon they left the city to ascend the stream to Basel on their way to Rome, to which holy city St. Ursula had determined upon making a pilgrimage. Wherever upon their journey they met the officers of state they were received as befitted their heavenly mission, and from Basel were accompanied by Pantulus, who was afterward canonized, and whose portrait is to be seen in the church of St. Ursula. Once at Rome Pope Cyriacus himself was so affected by their devoted piety that, after praying with them at the tombs of the apostles, he determined on abdicating the pontifical office to accompany them on their return down the Rhine to Cologne.

At Mayence they were joined by Prince Coman, the son of Agrippus, who for love of his betrothed at once forsook the errors of his pagan faith and was baptized. The eleven thousand virgins, with their sainted leader, her husband, and Pope Cyriacus, passed rapidly to Cologne, where, however, they were not long destined to live in peace. A horde of barbarians from the North invaded the place, and having gained possession of the city, they slew the virgin retinue of St. Ursula, the venerable Pope, the saint herself, and her spouse Coman, after inflicting the most horrible tortures upon them. Some were nailed living to the cross; some were burned; others stoned; but the most refined cruelties were reserved for the most distinguished victims. Look on the walls of the church of St. Ursula and you will see depicted the sufferings of the young martyr and of her youthful husband. Her chapel yet contains her effigy with a dove at her feet—fit emblem of her purity and faith and loving-kindness; while the devout may, in the same church, behold the religiously preserved bones of the eleven thousand virgins.

Saint or Goddess?

The sainthood of St. Ursula is distinctly doubtful, and the number of her retinue, eleven thousand, has been proved to be an error in monkish calligraphy. St. Ursula is, indeed, the Teutonic goddess Ursa, or Hoersel. In many parts of Germany a custom existed during the Middle Ages of rolling about a ship on wheels, much to the scandal of the clergy, and this undoubtedly points to moon-worship, the worship of Holda, or Ursula, whom German poets of old regarded as sailing over the deep blue of the heavens in her silver boat. A great company of maidens, the stars, follow in her train. She is supposed, her nightly pilgrimage over, to enter certain hills.

Thus in the later guise of Venus she entered the Hoerselberg in Thuringia, in which she imprisoned the enchanted Tannhaeuser, and there is good reason to believe that she also presided over the Ercildoune, or Hill of Ursula, in the south of Scotland, the modern Earlston, after which Thomas the Rhymer took his territorial designation, and whose story later became fused with her myth in the old Scottish ballad of Thomas the Rhymer. Thus we observe how it is possible for a pagan myth to become an incident in Christian hagiology.

Satan in Rhine Story

In the legends of the Rhine the picturesque figure of his Satanic majesty is frequently presented, as in the legends of 'The Sword-slipper of Solingen,' 'The Architect of Cologne Cathedral,' and several other tales. The circumstances of his appearance are distinctly Teutonic in character, and are such as to make one doubt that the Devil of the German peoples has evolved from the classical satyr. May it not be that the Teutonic folk possessed some nature-spirit from which they evolved a Satanic figure of their own? Against this, of course, could be quoted the fact that the medieval conception of the Devil was sophisticated by the Church, which in turn was strongly influenced by classical types.

Affinity of the Rhine Legends with Romance

But on the whole the legends of the Rhine exhibit much more affinity with medieval romance than with myth or folklore.[1] A large number of them are based upon plots which can be shown to be almost universal, and which occur again and again in French and British story. One of the commonest of these concerns the crusader who, rejected by his lady-love, spends hopeless years in the East, or, having married before setting out for the Orient, returns to find his bride the wife of another. The crusader exercised a strong influence upon the literature of medieval Europe, and that influence we find in a very marked degree in the legends of the Rhine. Again, a number of these tales undoubtedly consist of older materials not necessarily mythical in origin, over which a later medieval colour has been cast. Unhappily many of these beautiful old legends have been greatly marred by the absurd sentimentality of the German writers of the early nineteenth century, and their dramatis personae, instead of exhibiting the characteristics of sturdy medieval German folk, possess the mincing and lackadaisical manners which mark the Franco-German novel of a century ago. This contrasts most ludicrously in many cases with the simple, almost childlike, honesty which is typical of all early Teutonic literature. Had a Charles Lamb, a Leigh Hunt, or an Edgar Allan Poe recast these tales, how different would have been their treatment! Before the time of Schiller and Goethe French models prevailed in German literature. These wizards of the pen recovered the German spirit of mystery, and brought back to their haunts gnomes, kobolds, and water-sprites. But the mischief had been done ere they dawned upon the horizon, and there were other parts of Germany which appeared to them more suitable for literary presentment than the Rhine, save perhaps in drama. Moreover, the inherent sentimentality of the German character, however fitted to bring out the mysterious atmosphere which clings to these legends, has weakened them considerably.

[Footnote 1: See author's Dictionary of Medieval Romance (London, 1913), preface, and article 'Romance, Rise and Origin of.']

The Poetry of the Rhine

Robert Louis Stevenson, exiled in the South Pacific islands, used to speak with passionate fondness of the rivers of his native Scotland, the country he loved so dearly, but which the jealous fates forbade him to visit during fully half his life. Garry and Tummel, Tweed and Tay—he used to think of these as of something almost sacred; while even the name of that insignificant stream, the Water of Leith, sounded on his ear like sweet music, evoking a strangely tender and pathetic emotion. And this emotion, crystallized so beautifully by Stevenson in one of his essays in Memories and Portraits, must have been felt, too, by many other exiles wandering in foreign parts; for surely an analogous feeling has been experienced sometimes by every traveller of sensitive and imaginative temperament, particularly the traveller exiled irrevocably from his home and longing passionately to see it. Horatius, about to plunge into the Tiber, addressed it as his father and god, charging it to care well for his life and fortunes—fortunes in which those of all Rome were involved for the time being. Ecce Tiber! was the glad cry of the Romans on beholding the Tay—a cry which shows once again with what ardent devotion they thought of the river which passed by their native city; while Naaman the Syrian, told that his sickness would be cured would he but lave his leprous limbs in the Jordan, exclaimed aghast against a prescription which appeared to him nothing short of sacrilegious and insulting, and declared that there were better and nobler streams in his own land. Even the deadly complaint with which he was smitten could not shake his fidelity to these, could not alter his conviction that they were superior to alien streams; and the truth is that nearly every great river—perhaps because its perpetual motion makes it seem verily a living thing—has a way of establishing itself in the hearts of those who dwell by its banks.

The Rhine is no exception to this rule; on the contrary, it is a notable illustration thereof. From time immemorial the name of the mighty stream has been sacred to the Germans, while gradually a halo of romantic glamour has wound itself about the river, a halo which appeals potently even to many who have never seen the Vaterland. Am Rhein!—is there not magic in the words? And how they call up dreams of robber barons, each with his strange castle built on the edge of a precipice overlooking the rushing stream; fiends of glade and dell, sprites of the river and whirlpool, weird huntsmen, and all the dramatis personae of legend and tradition.

The Rhine has ever held a wide fame in the domain of literature. For there is scarcely a place on the river's banks but has its legend which has been enshrined in song, and some of these songs are so old that the names of their makers have long since been forgotten. Yes, we have to go very far back indeed would we study the poetry of the Rhine adequately; we have to penetrate deeply into the Middle Ages, dim and mysterious. And looking back thus, and pondering on these legendary and anonymous writings, a poem which soon drifts into recollection is one whose scene is laid near the little town of Lorch, or Lordch. Hard by this town is a mountain, known to geographers as Kedrich, but hailed popularly as 'the Devil's Ladder.' Nor is the name altogether misplaced or undeserved, the mountain being exceeding precipitous, and its beetling, rocky sides seeming well-nigh inaccessible. This steepness, however, did not daunt the hero of the poem in question, a certain Sir Hilchen von Lorch. A saddle, said to have belonged to him, is still preserved in the town; but on what manner of steed he was wont to ride is not told explicitly, and truly it must have been a veritable Bucephalus. For the nameless poet relates that Sir Hilchen, being enamoured of a lady whom angry gnomes had carried to the top of Kedrich and imprisoned there, rode at full gallop right up the side of the mountain, and rescued the fair one!

"Though my lady-love to a tower be ta'en, Whose top the eagle might fail to gain, Nor portal of iron nor battlement's height Shall bar me out from her presence bright: Why has Love wings but that he may fly Over the walls, be they never so high?"

So the tale begins, while at the end the knight is represented exulting in his doughty action:

"Hurrah, hurrah! 'Tis gallantly done! The spell is broken, the bride is won! From the magic hold of the mountain-sprite Down she comes with her dauntless knight! Holy St. Bernard, shield us all From the wrath of the elves of the Whisper-Thal."


There are several different versions of this legend, each of them just as extraordinary as the foregoing. It is evident, moreover, that matter of this sort appealed very keenly to the medieval dwellers by the Rhine, much of the further legendary lore encircling the river being concerned with deeds no less amazing than this of Sir Hilchen's; and among things which recount such events a notable instance is a poem consecrated to the castle of Andernach. Here, once upon a time, dwelt a count bearing the now famous name of Siegfried, and being of a religious disposition, he threw in his lot with a band of crusaders. For a long while, in consequence, he was absent from his ancestral domain; and at length, returning thither, he was told by various lying tongues that his beautiful wife, Genofeva, had been unfaithful to him in his absence, the chief bearer of the fell news being one Golo. This slanderer induced Siegfried to banish Genofeva straightway, and so the lady fled from the castle to the neighbouring forest of Laach, where a little later she gave birth to a boy. Thenceforth mother and son lived together in the wilds, and though these were infested by wild robbers, and full of wolves and other ravening beasts, the pair of exiles contrived to go unscathed year after year, while, more wonderful still, they managed to find daily sustenance. And now romance reached a happy moment; for behold, Count Siegfried went hunting one day in the remoter parts of the forest, and fortuitously he passed by the very place where the two wanderers were living—his wife and the child whom he had never seen.

'Tis in the woody vales of Laach the hunter's horn is wound, And fairly flies the falcon, and deeply bays the hound; But little recks Count Siegfried for hawk or quarry now: A weight is on his noble heart, a gloom is on his brow. Oh! he hath driven from his home—he cannot from his mind— A lady, ah! the loveliest of all her lovely kind; His wife, his Genofeva!—and at the word of one, The blackest traitor ever looked upon the blessed sun. He hath let the hunters hurry by, and turned his steed aside, And ridden where the blue lake spreads its waters calm and wide, And lo! beneath a linden-tree, there sits a lady fair, But like some savage maiden clad in sylvan pageant rare. Her kirtle's of the dappled skin of the rapid mountain roe; A quiver at her back she bears, beside her lies a bow; Her feet are bare, her golden hair adown her shoulders streams, And in her lap a rosy child is smiling in its dreams.

The count had never thought to see his wife again. He imagined that she had long since starved to death or been devoured; and now, finding her alive, his pulses quicken. He knows well that only a miracle could have preserved her during all this period of estrangement, and reflects that on behalf of the virtuous alone are miracles worked. Seeing herein ample proof of Genofeva's innocence, he welcomes her back to his arms and with beating heart bears her to the castle:

Oh! there was joy in Andernach upon that happy night: The palace rang with revelry, the city blazed with light: And when the moon her paler beams upon the turrets shed, Above the Roman gate was seen the traitor Golo's head.

The Brothers

Doubtless it was the thaumaturgic element in this pretty romance which chiefly made it popular among its pristine audiences, yet it was probably the pathos with which it is coloured that granted it longevity, causing it to be handed down from generation to generation long before the advent of the printing-press.

Pathos, of course, figures largely in all folk-literature, and the story of Count Siegfried is by no means the only tale of a touching nature embodied in the early poetry of the Rhine, another similar work which belongs to this category being a poem associated with Liebenstein and Sterrenberg, two castles not far from each other. These places, so goes the tale, once belonged to a nobleman who chanced to have as his ward a young lady of singular loveliness. He had also two sons, of whom the elder was heir to Liebenstein, while the younger was destined to inherit Sterrenberg. These brothers were fast friends, and this partitioning of the paternal estates never begot so much as an angry word between them; but, alas! in an evil day they both fell in love with the same woman—their father's ward. Such events have happened often, and usually they have ended in bitter strife; but the elder of the young men was of magnanimous temperament, and, convinced that the lady favoured the other's advances more than his, he left him to woo and win her, and so in due course it was announced that the younger brother and she were affianced. Anon the date fixed for their nuptials drew near, but it happened that, in the interim, the young knight of Sterrenberg had become infected with a desire to join a crusade; and now, despite the entreaties of his fiancee and his father, he mustered a troop of men-at-arms, led them to join the Emperor Conrad at Frankfort, and set off for the Holy Land. Year after year went by; still the warrior was absent, and betimes his friends and relations began to lose all hope of ever seeing him again, imagining that he must have fallen at the hands of the infidel. Yet this suspicion was never actually confirmed, and the elder brother, far from taking the advantage which the strange situation offered, continued to eschew paying any addresses to his brother's intended bride, and invariably treated her simply as a beloved sister. Sometimes, no doubt, it occurred to him that he might win her yet; but of a sudden his horizon was changed totally, and changed in a most unexpected fashion. The rover came back! And lo! it was not merely a tale of war that he brought with him, for it transpired that while abroad he had proved false to his vows and taken to himself a wife, a damsel of Grecian birth who was even now in his train. The knight of Liebenstein was bitterly incensed on hearing the news, and sent his brother a fierce challenge to meet him in single combat; but scarcely had they met and drawn swords ere the injured lady intervened. She reminded the young men of their sacred bond of fraternity; she implored them to desist from the crime of bloodshed. Then, having averted this, she experienced a great longing to renounce all earthly things, and took the veil in a neighbouring convent, thus shattering for ever the rekindled hopes of her elder suitor. But he, the hero of the drama, was not the only sufferer, for his brother was not to go unpunished for his perfidy. A strange tale went forth, a scandalous tale to the effect that the Grecian damsel was unfaithful to her spouse. Sterrenberg began to rue his ill-timed marriage, and ultimately was forced to banish his wife altogether. And so, each in his wind-swept castle—for their father was now dead—the two knights lived on, brooding often on the curious events of which their lives had been composed. The elder never married, and the younger had no inclination to take that step a second time.

They never entered court or town, Nor looked on woman's face; But childless to the grave went down, The last of all their race. And still upon the mountain fair Are seen two castles grey, That, like their lords, together there Sink slowly to decay.

The gust that shakes the tottering stone On one burg's battlement, Upon the other's rampart lone Hath equal fury spent. And when through Sternberg's shattered wall The misty moonbeams shine, Upon the crumbling walls they fall Of dreary Liebenstein.

This legend is recounted here to illustrate the poetry of the Rhine. A variant of it is given on p. 171.


But the warriors who flit across the lore of Rhineland were not all so unfortunate, and one who fared better was Sir Dietrich of Schwarzenbeck. Marching by the Rhine on his way to join a band of crusaders, this Dietrich chanced to pass a few days at the castle of Argenfels, whose owner was the father of two daughters. The younger of the pair, Bertha by name, soon fell in love with the guest, while he, too, was deeply impressed by her charm; but silken dalliance was not for him at present—for was he not under a vow to try to redeem the Holy Sepulchre?—and so he resumed his journey to Palestine. Here an arduous campaign awaited him. In the course of a fierce battle he was wounded sorely, and while trying to escape from the field he was taken prisoner. This was a terrible fate, a far worse fate than death, for the Saracens usually sold their captives as slaves; and Sir Dietrich as he languished in captivity, wondering whether he was destined to spend the rest of his days serving the infidel in some menial capacity, vowed that if he should ever regain his native Germany he would build there a chapel to St. Peter. Nor did his piety go unrewarded, for shortly afterward a body of his compatriots came to his aid, worsted his foes, and set him free. A joyful day was this for the crusader, but it was not his pious vow that he thought of first; he made for Argenfels, eager to see again the bright eyes of the lady who had enchanted him. Day and night he rode, and as he drew nearer to the castle his passion grew stronger within him; but, alas! on reaching his destination his hopes were suddenly dashed to the ground. War had meantime been waged in the neighbourhood of Bertha's home; her father had been involved, his castle burnt to the ground, and the two daughters had disappeared. Peradventure they had perished, surmised the knight; but he swore he would leave nothing undone which might lead to the restoration of his beloved. Making inquiries far and near throughout the country, he heard at last from an old shepherd that two ladies of gentle birth were sequestering themselves in a disused hermitage near the summit of a mountain called Stromberg. "Is it indeed they?" thought Sir Dietrich. He clambered up the rocky steep leading to the hermitage and a wistful sound greeted his ears, the sound of maidens' voices offering up vespers. "Ave Maria, stella maris," they sang, and in the coolness of the evening the notes vibrated with a new, strange loveliness, for the lover knew that he had not climbed the Stromberg in vain. He returned, bringing Bertha with him, and in due course she became his bride. Yet the fairest rose has its thorns, and the happiness of the pair was not to be wholly undimmed by clouds. For Bertha's sister, showing a curious perversity, expressed a desire to remain in the abode which had sheltered her of late, and nothing could induce her to alter this decision. Sir Dietrich pleaded with her again and again, and of a sudden, while thus engaged, he thought of the vow he had made while a captive—the vow he had not kept. Here, possibly—here in this shadow darkening the joy of his bridal—was a message from on high! So straightway he built his chapel, choosing as situation therefor a spot hard by the windswept hermitage, and in this shrine to St. Peter dwelt Bertha's sister to the end of her days. Was it, mayhap, jealousy and a dart from Cupid's bow which kept her there; and was she, too, enamoured of Sir Dietrich? Well, the poet who tells the story certainly thought so!

Drinking Songs of the Rhine

It were a lengthy matter to recount the many other poems of Rhineland akin to those mustered above, and enough has been said to indicate their general characteristics; while an ancient Rhine classic of yet a different kind, The Mouse Tower, given elsewhere, is so familiar owing to Southey's English version that it were superfluous to offer any synopsis or criticism of it here. Then a class of poems of which the great river's early literature is naturally replete are those concerned with the growing of the vine and the making of Rhenish, prominent among these being one consecrated to Bacharach, a town which was a famous centre of the wine industry in the Middle Ages. Near Bacharach there is a huge stone in the Rhine which, known as 'the Altar of Bacchus,' is visible only on rare occasions, when the river chances to be particularly low; and in olden times, whenever this stone was seen, the event was hailed by the townsfolk as an omen that their next grape harvest would be an exceptionally successful one. It is with this 'Altar of Bacchus' that the poem in question deals. But coming to modern times, many of the Rhine drinking songs are also concerned to some extent with patriotism—an element which seems to go hand in hand with the bacchanal the world over!—and a typical item in this category is the Rheinweinlied of Georg Hervegh, a poet of the first half of the nineteenth century. A better patriotic song of Rhine-land, however, is one by a slightly earlier poet, Wolfgang Mueller, a native of Koenigswinter, near Bonn, who sings with passionate devotion of the great river, dwelling lovingly on its natural beauties, and exalting it above all other streams. His song appears to have been composed when the writer was undergoing a temporary period of exile from the Vaterland, for a somewhat pathetic and plaintive air pervades each verse, and the poet refers to the Rhine as a memory rather than as something actually before his eyes. But very different is another fine patriotic song of which it behoves to speak, the work of August Kopisch, a contemporary of Mueller. This latter song treats of an incident in the Napoleonic wars, and Bluecher and his forces are represented as encamped on the Rhine and as debating whether to march forward against their French foes. Nor is it necessary to add, perhaps, that they decide to do so, for otherwise no German singer would have handled the theme!

But what, asks someone, is really the brightest gem of Rhineland poetry? while someone else adds that the majority of the writers cited above are but little known, and inquires whether none of the great German authors were ever inspired to song by their beloved river. The name of Heinrich Heine naturally comes to mind in this relation—comes to mind instantly on account of what is surely his masterpiece, Die Lorelei—a poem already dealt with.

But Heine's version far transcends all others, and pondering on its beauty, we think first of its gentle, andante music, a music which steals through the senses like a subtle perfume:

Ich weiss nicht was soll es bedeuten, Dass ich so traurig bin; Ein Maerchen aus alten Zeiten, Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.

There, surely, is a sound as lovely as the fateful maiden herself ever sang; and here, again, is a verse which is a tour de force in the craft of landscape-painting; for not only are the externals of the scene summoned vividly before the reader's eyes, but some of the mystery and strangely wistful appeal of nature are likewise found in the lines:

Die Luft ist kuehl und es dunkelt Und ruhig fliesst der Rhein; Der Gipfel des Berges funkelt Im Abendsonneaschein.



The tale or myth of the Knight of the Swan who came to the succour of the youthful Duchess of Brabant is based upon motives more or less common in folklore—the enchantment of human beings into swans, and the taboo whereby, as in the case of Cupid and Psyche, the husband forbids the wife to question him as to his identity or to look upon him. The myth has been treated by both French and German romancers, but the latter attached it loosely to the Grail legend, thus turning it to mystical use.

As a purely German story it is found at the conclusion of Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival,[1] from which the following version is drawn. The name of the hero as written by Wolfram (Loherangrin) may possibly be traced to Garin le Loherin or Garin of Lorraine. Wagner's version is taken from the same source, but the mighty master of melody altered many of the details for dramatic and other reasons.

[Footnote 1: See my Dictionary of Medieval Romance, articles 'Grail,' 'Parzival,' 'Perceval,' and 'Garin.']

The principal French versions of the romance are Le Chevalier au Cygne and Helyas, and there are medieval English forms of these.[2]

[Footnote 2: Op. cit.]

The Knight of the Swan

In a dungeon in the castle of Cleves lay Elsa of Brabant, languishing in captivity. Her father, the Duke of Brabant, had ere he died appointed his most powerful vassal, one Frederick of Telramund, to be her guardian; but he, seeking only the advancement of his own ends, shamefully abused the confidence of his lord. Using his authority as Elsa's guardian, he sought to compel her to become his wife, and threw her into prison to await the wedding-day, knowing well that none would dare to dispute his action.

An appeal was made on Elsa's behalf to the Emperor, Henry I, who decreed that she should choose a champion, so that the matter might be settled by combat. But, alas! there was not a knight who would venture to match his skill against that of Frederick, who was a giant in stature and an expert in sword-play. In accordance with the Emperor's decree Telramund sent out a herald at stated times to proclaim his readiness to do battle with any who would champion the cause of Elsa.

Time passed, yet the challenge was not accepted, and at length the day was fixed for the bridal. Behind her prison bars the lady wept ceaselessly, and called upon the Virgin to save her from the threatened fate. In her despair she beat her breast with her chaplet, whereon was hung a tiny silver bell. Now this little bell was possessed of magic properties, for when it was rung the sound, small at first as the tinkling of a fairy lure, grew in volume the further it travelled till it resembled the swelling of a mighty chorus. Rarely was its tone heard, and never save when its owner was in dire straits, as on the present occasion. When Elsa beat her breast with it, therefore, its magical qualities responded to her distress, and its faint, sweet tinkle fell on her ear.

Far away over hill and dale went the sound of the bell, growing ever richer and louder, till at length it reached the temple where Parsifal and his knights guarded the Holy Grail. To them it seemed that the swelling notes contained an appeal for help directed to the Holy Vessel over which they kept vigil. While they debated thereon a loud and mysterious voice was heard bidding Parsifal send his son Lohengrin to the rescue of Elsa of Brabant, whom he must take for his wife, yet without revealing to her his identity.

The awed knights recognized the voice as that of the Holy Grail, and Lohengrin at once set out, bound he knew not whither. When he reached the shores of the Rhine he found awaiting him a boat drawn by a stately swan. Taking it as a sign from Heaven, he stepped into the little boat and was carried up the Rhine, to the sound of the most exquisite music.

It was the day on which Elsa was to be wedded to her tyrant. She had spent the night in tears and bitter lamentations, and now, weary and distraught, too hopeless even for tears, she looked out from the bars of her prison with dull, despairing eyes. Suddenly she heard the melodious strains and a moment later saw the approach of a swan-drawn boat, wherein lay a sleeping knight. Hope leapt within her, for she remembered the prophecy of an old nun, long since dead, that a sleeping knight would rescue her from grave peril. Directly he stepped ashore the youth made his way to the place of her confinement and, espying her face at the heavily barred window, knelt before her and begged that she would take him for her champion.

At that moment the blast of a trumpet was heard, followed by the voice of the herald as, for the last time, he challenged any knight to take up arms on behalf of Elsa of Brabant. Lohengrin boldly accepted the challenge, and Telramund, when the news reached him of the unexpected opposition, on the very day he had appointed for his wedding, was surprised and enraged beyond measure, yet he dared not refuse to do battle with the stranger knight, because of the Emperor's decree. So it was arranged that the combat should take place immediately. News of it reached the people of Cleves, and a great concourse gathered to witness the spectacle, all of them secretly in sympathy with the persecuted maiden, though these feelings were carefully concealed from the ruthless Telramund.

Fierce indeed was the combat, for Lohengrin, though less powerfully built than his gigantic opponent, was nevertheless tall and strong, and well versed in the arts of war. At length he laid his enemy in the dust with a well-aimed sword-stroke, and the crowd broke into cheers. The combat was over, and Elsa was free!

Heeding not the acclamations of the people, Lohengrin strode toward Elsa and again knelt at her feet. The blushing maiden bade him name his reward, whereupon the knight begged her hand in marriage, confessing, however, that he might only remain with her so long as she did not question him with regard to his identity. It seemed a small condition to Elsa, who willingly promised to restrain any curiosity she might feel concerning his name and place of abode. The cheers of the populace were redoubled when they learned that Elsa was to bestow her hand on the Swan Knight.

In a few weeks the couple were married, and henceforth for a good many years they lived together very happily. Three sons were born to them, who grew in time to be handsome and chivalrous lads, of noble bearing and knightly disposition. Then it was that Elsa, who had hitherto faithfully kept her promise to her husband, began to fancy that she and her sons had a grievance in that the latter were not permitted to bear their father's name.

For a time she brooded in silence over her grievance, but at length it was fanned into open rebellion by a breath of outside suspicion. Some of the people looked askance at the knight whose name no one knew. So Elsa openly reproached her husband with his secrecy, and begged that for the benefit of their sons he would reveal his name and station. Even the children of humble parents, the children of the peasants, of their own retainers, had a right to their father's name, and why not her sons also?

Lohengrin paled at her foolish words, for to him they were the sign that he must leave his wife and family and betake himself once more to the temple of the Holy Grail.

"Oh, Elsa," he said sorrowfully, "thou knowest not what thou hast done. Thy promise is broken, and to-day I must leave thee for ever." And with that he blew a blast on his silver horn.

Elsa had already repented her rash words, and right earnestly she besought him to remain by her side. But, alas! her tears and pleadings were in vain, for, even as her entreaties were uttered, she heard the exquisite strains of music which had first heralded her lover's approach, while from the window of the castle she espied the swan-boat rapidly drawing toward the shore.

With grave tenderness Lohengrin bade farewell to his wife and family, first, however, revealing to them his identity, and commending them to the care of some of his trusty followers.

Tradition tells that Elsa did not long survive the loss of her beloved husband, but her sons became brave knights, well worthy of the proud name they bore.

A Legend of Liege

A legend of Liege! and is not Liege itself now almost legendary? Its venerable church, its world-famous library replete with the priceless treasures of the past, "with records stored of deeds long since forgot," where are they?—but crumbling clusters of ruins fired by the barbarian torch whose glow, we were told, was to enlighten an ignorant and uncultured Europe! But one gem remains: the wonderful Hotel de Ville, type of the Renaissance spirit in Flanders. Liege may be laid in ruins, but the memory of what it was can never die:

Athens in death is nobler far Than breathing cities of the West;

and the same may be said of those splendours in stone, those wonders of medieval architecture, even the blackened walls of which possess a dignity and beauty which will ever assist the imagination to re-create the picture of what has been.

Liege is a city of the Middle Ages. Time was when the place boasted but a single forge; and though bucklers were heaped beside the anvil, and swords and spears lay waiting for repair, the blacksmith leant against his door-post, gazing idly up the hill-side. Gradually he was aware of a figure, which seemed to have grown into shape from a furze-bush, or to have risen from behind a stone; and as it descended the slope he eyed curiously the grimy face, long beard, and squat form of what he was half unwilling to recognize as a human being. Hobbling awkwardly, and shrugging his shoulders as though cold, the man came in time to the smithy door.

"What! Jacques Perron—idle when work is to be done? Idle smith! idle smith! The horse lacks the bit, and the rider the spur.

'Ill fares the hide when the buckler wants mending; Ill fares the plough when the coulter wants tending.'

Idle smith! idle smith!"

"Idle enough," quoth Jacques. "I'm as idle as you are ugly; but I can't get charcoal any more than you can get beauty, so I must stand still, and you be content with your face, though I'd fain earn a loaf and a cup full enough for both of us this winter morning."

Though the strange man must have known he was horribly ugly—that is, if he ever bent to drink of the clear bright waters of the lovely Meuse, which reflected in those days every lily-bell and every grass-blade which grew upon its banks, and gave a faithful portraiture in its cool waters of every creature that leant over them—though he was certainly the most frightful creature that had ever met the blacksmith's sight, it was evident enough that he did not like being called Ugly-face. But when the honest, good-natured smith spoke of earning a draught for his new acquaintance as well as himself, he smacked his ugly lips and twisted out a sort of smile which made him still more hideous.

"Ah, ah!" said he, "wine's good in winter weather, wine's good in winter weather. Listen, listen! Jacques Perron! listen, listen! Go you up the hill-side—yonder, yonder!" and he pointed with a yellow finger, which seemed to stretch out longer and longer as the smith strained his eyes up the slope, until the digit looked quite as long as the tallest chimney that smoked over Liege. "Listen, listen!" and he sang in a voice like the breath of a huge bellows:

"'Wine's good in winter weather; Up the hill-side near the heather Go and gather the black earth, It shall give your fire birth. Ill fares the hide when the buckler wants mending; Ill fares the plough when the coulter wants tending: Go! Go!'

"Mind my cup of wine—mind my cup of wine!" As he ended this rude chant Jacques saw the long finger run back into the shrivelled hand, as a telescope slips back into its case, and then the hand was wrapped up in the dingy garment, and with a dreadful shiver, and a chattering of teeth as loud as the noise of the anvils now heard on the same spot, the ugly man was wafted away round the corner of the building like a thick gust of smoke from a newly fed furnace.

"Mind my cup of wine—mind my cup of wine!" rang again in the ears of the startled Jacques, and after running several times round his house in vain pursuit of the voice, he sat down on the cold anvil to scratch his head and think. It was quite certain he had work to do, and it was as certain as half a score searches could make it that he had not a single coin in his pouch to buy charcoal to do it with. He was reflecting that the old man was a very strange creature—he was more than half afraid to think who he might be—when in the midst of his cogitation he heard his three children calling out for their morning meal. Not a loaf had Jacques in store, and twisting his hide apron round his loins, he muttered, "Demon or no demon, I'll go," and strode out of the smithy and up the hill-side as fast as though he feared that if he went slowly his courage would not carry him as far up as the heather-bush which the long yellow finger had pointed out.

When the young wife of Jacques came to look for her husband, she saw him returning with his apron full of black morsels of shining stone. She smiled at him; but when he threw them on the furnace and went to get a brand to set them alight, she looked solemn enough, for she thought he had left his wits on the hill-top. Great was her surprise when she saw the stones burn! But her joy was greater than her surprise when she heard her husband's hammer ring merrily, and found the wage of the smith all spared for home use, instead of being set aside for the charcoal-burner. That night Jacques had two full wine-cups and, setting them on the anvil, had scarcely said to himself, "I wonder whether He'll come!" when in walked the Old Man and, nodding familiarly, seated himself on the head of the big hammer. Jacques was a bold and grateful as well as a good-natured fellow, and in a few minutes he and his visitor were on excellent terms. No more shivering or chattering of teeth was seen or heard in the smithy that night. The black stones burned away merrily on the hearth, and the bright flames shone on the honest face of the smith as he hobnobbed with his companion, and looked as though he really thought the stranger as handsome as he certainly had been useful. He sang his best songs and told his best stories, and when the wine had melted his soul he told his new friend how dearly he loved his wife and what charming, dear creatures his children were. "Demon or no demon," he swore the stranger was a good fellow, and though the visitor spoke but little, he seemed to enjoy his company very much. He laughed at the jokes, smiled at the songs, and once rather startled Jacques by letting out again his long telescope arm to pat him on his shoulder when, with a mouth full of praises of his wife, a tear sparkled in his eye as he told over again how dearly he loved his little ones.

Day broke before the wine was exhausted or their hearts flagged, and when the voice of the early cock woke the swan that tended her callow brood amongst the sedges of the Meuse the Old Man departed. Jacques never saw him again, although he often looked in all directions when he went to the hill for a supply of fuel; but from that day Liege grew up in industry, riches, and power. Jacques had found coal, and thus became the benefactor of his native country, and the hero of this favourite Legend of the Liegeois.

The Sword-slipper of Solingen

In Solingen, where the forges rang to the making of sword-blades, many smiths had essayed to imitate the falchions of Damascus, their trenchant keenness and their wondrous golden inlaying. But numerous as were the attempts made to recapture the ancient secret of the East, they all signally failed, and brought about the ruin of many masters of the sword-slipper's art.

Among these was old Ruthard, a smith grown grey in the practice of his trade. He had laid aside sufficient savings to permit himself a year's experiment in the manufacture of Damascus blades, but to no purpose. As the months wore on he saw his hard-earned gold melting steadily away. The wrinkles deepened on his brow, and his only daughter, Martha, watched the change coming over him in sorrowful silence.

One evening—the evening of all evenings, the holy Christmas eve—Martha entered the forge and saw the old man still hard at work. She gently remonstrated with him, asking him why he toiled on such an occasion.

"You work, my father, as if you feared that to-morrow we might not have bread," she said. "Why toil on this holy evening? Have you not sufficient for the future? You must have laid by enough for your old age. Then why fatigue yourself when others are spending the time by their own hearths in cheerful converse?"

The old smith's only reply was to shake his head in a melancholy manner, take some pieces of broken food in his hands, and leave the house. At that moment Wilhelm, the smith's head apprentice, entered the room. He seemed pale and disturbed, and related to Martha, to whom he was betrothed, that he had asked Ruthard for her hand. The old man had firmly told him that he could not consent to their union until he had discovered the secret of making Damascus blades. This he felt was hopeless to expect, and he had come to say "good-bye" ere he set out on a quest from which he might never return. At the news Martha was greatly perturbed. She rose and clung to the young man, her wild grief venting itself in heartrending sobs. She begged him not to depart. But his mind was fully made up, and, notwithstanding her tears and caresses, he tore himself away and quitted the house and the town.

For nearly a fortnight the youth tramped over hill and valley with little in his pouch and without much hope that the slender means of which he was possessed would bring him to the land of the Saracens, where alone he could hope to learn the great art of tempering the blades of Damascus. One evening he entered the solitary mountain country of Spessart and, unacquainted with the labyrinths of the road, lost himself in an adjoining forest. By this time night had fallen, and he cast about for a place in which to lay his head. But the inhospitable forest showed no sign of human habitation. After wandering on, however, stumbling and falling in the darkness, he at length saw a light burning brightly at a distance. Quickly he made for it and found that it came from the window of a cottage, at the door of which he knocked loudly. He had not long to wait for an answer, for an old woman speedily opened and inquired what he wanted at so late an hour. He told her that he desired food and lodging, for which he could pay, and he was at once admitted. She told him, however, that she expected another visitor. Whilst she cooked his supper Wilhelm detailed to her the circumstances of his journey. After he had eaten he retired to rest, but, tired as he was, he could not sleep. Later a dreadful storm arose, through the din of which he heard a loud noise, as if someone had entered the house by way of the chimney. Peering through the keyhole into the next room, he perceived a man seated at the table opposite his hostess whose appearance filled him with misgiving. He had not much leisure for a detailed examination of this person, however, for the witch—for such she was—came to the door of his room, entered, and bade him come and be introduced to a stranger from the East who could tell him the secret of forging Damascus blades. Wilhelm followed the old woman into the other room and beheld there a swarthy man seated, wrapped in a flame-coloured mantle. For a long time the stranger regarded him steadily, then demanded what he wanted from him. Wilhelm told him the circumstances of his quest, and when he had finished the story the man laughed and, drawing from his pocket a document, requested the youth to sign it. Wilhelm perceived that it was of the nature of a pact with Satan, by which he was to surrender his soul in return for the coveted secret. Nevertheless, he set his signature to the manuscript and returned to his couch—but not to sleep. The consequences of his terrible act haunted him, and when morning came he set off on his homeward journey with a fearful heart, carefully guarding a well-sealed letter which the mysterious stranger had put into his hand.

Without further adventure he reached Solingen, and having acquainted Ruthard with what had transpired, he handed him the letter. But the good old man refused to unseal it.

"You must keep this until your own son and my grandson can open it," he said to Wilhelm, "for over his infant soul the enemy can have no power."

And so it happened. Wilhelm married Martha, and in the course of a few years a little son was born to them, who in due time found the letter, opened it, and mastered the Satanic secret, and from that time the blades of Solingen have had a world-wide renown.

The Architect of Cologne Cathedral

Travellers on the Rhine usually make a halt at Cologne to see the cathedral, and many inquire the name of its creator. Was the plan the work of a single architect? they ask; or did the cathedral, like many another in Europe, acquire its present form by slow degrees, being augmented and duly embellished in divers successive ages? These questions are perfectly reasonable and natural, yet, strange to relate, are invariably answered in evasive fashion, the truth being that the name of the artist in stone who planned Cologne Cathedral is unknown. The legend concerning him, however, is of world-wide celebrity, for the tale associated with the founding of the famous edifice is replete with that grisly element which has always delighted the Germans, and figures largely in their medieval literature, and more especially in the works of their early painters—for example, Duerer, Lucas Cranach, and Albrecht Altdoerfer.

It was about the time of the last-named master that a Bishop of Cologne, Conrad von Hochsteden, formed the resolve of increasing the pecuniary value of his diocese. He was already rich, but other neighbouring bishops were richer, each of them being blest with just what Conrad lacked—a shrine sufficiently famous to attract large numbers of wealthy pilgrims able to make generous offerings. The result of his jealous musing was that the crafty bishop vowed he would build a cathedral whose like had not been seen in all Germany. By this means, he thought, he would surely contrive to bring rich men to his diocese. His first thought was to summon an architect from Italy, in those days the country where beautiful building was chiefly carried on; but he found that this would cost a far larger sum than he was capable of raising; so, hearing that a gifted young German architect had lately taken up his abode at Cologne itself, Conrad sent for him and offered him a rich reward should he accomplish the work satisfactorily. The young man was overjoyed, for as yet he had received no commissions of great importance, and he set to work at once. He made drawing after drawing, but, being in a state of feverish excitement, found that his hand had lost its cunning. None of his designs pleased him in the least; the bishop, he felt, would be equally disappointed; and thinking that a walk in the fresh air might clear his brain, he threw his drawing-board aside and repaired to the banks of the Rhine. Yet even here peace did not come to him; he was tormented by endless visions of groined arches, pediments, pilasters, and the like, and having a stick in his hand, he made an effort to trace some on the sand. But this new effort pleased him no better than any of its predecessors. Fame and fortune were within his reach, yet he was incapable of grasping them; and he groaned aloud, cursing the day he was born.

As the young man uttered his fierce malediction he was surprised to hear a loud "Amen" pronounced; he looked round, wondering from whom this insolence came, and beheld an individual whose approach he had not noticed. He, too, was engaged in drawing on the sand, and deeming that the person, whoever he was, intended to mock his attempts at a plan for the projected cathedral, the architect strode up to him with an angry expression on his face. He stopped short, however, on nearing the rival draughtsman; for he was repelled by his sinister aspect, while at the same time he was thunderstruck by the excellence of his drawing. It was indeed a thaumaturgic design, just such a one as the architect himself had dreamt of, but had been unable to execute; and while he gazed at it eagerly the stranger hailed him in an ugly, rasping voice. "A cunning device, this of mine," he said sharply; and the architect was bound to agree, despite the jealousy he felt. Surely, he thought, only the Evil One could draw in this wise. Scarcely had the thought crossed his mind ere his suspicion was confirmed, for now he marked the stranger's tail, artfully concealed hitherto. Yet he was incapable of withholding his gaze from the plan drawn so wondrously on the sand, and the foul fiend, seeing that the moment for his triumph was come, declared his identity without shame, and added that, would the architect but agree to renounce all hopes of salvation in the next world, the peerless design would be his to do with as he pleased.

The young man shuddered on receiving the momentous offer, but continued to gaze fixedly at the cunning workmanship, and again the Evil One addressed him, bidding him repair that very night to a certain place on a blasted heath, where, if he would sign a document consigning his soul to everlasting damnation, he would be presented with the plan duly drawn on parchment. The architect still wavered, now eager to accept the offer, and now vowing that the stipulated price was too frightful. In the end he was given time wherein to come to a decision, and he hurried from the place at hot speed as the tempter vanished from his sight.

On reaching his dwelling the architect flung himself upon his bed and burst into a paroxysm of weeping. The good woman who tended him observed this with great surprise, for he was not given to showing his emotions thus; and wondering what terrible sorrow had come to him, she proceeded to make kindly inquiries. At first these were met with silence, but, feeling a need for sympathy, the architect eventually confessed the truth; and the good dame, horrified at what she heard, hurried off to impart the story to her father-confessor. He, too, was shocked, but he was as anxious as Bishop Conrad that the proposed cathedral should be duly built, and he came quickly to the architect's presence. "Here," he told him, "is a piece of our Lord's cross. This will preserve you. Go, therefore, as the fiend directed you, take the drawing from him, and brandish the sacred relic in his accursed face the moment you have received it."

When evening drew near the architect hurried to the rendezvous, where he found the Devil waiting impatiently. But a leer soon spread over his visage, and he was evidently overjoyed at the prospect of wrecking a soul. He quickly produced a weird document, commanding his victim to affix his signature at a certain place. "But the beautiful plan," whispered the young man; "I must see it first; I must be assured that the drawing on the sand has been faithfully copied." "Fear nothing." The Devil handed over the precious piece of vellum; and glancing at it swiftly, and finding it in order, the architect whipped it under his doublet. "Aha! you cannot outwit me," shrieked the fiend; but as he was laying hands upon the architect the young man brought forth the talisman he carried. "A priest has told you of this, for no one else would have thought of it," cried the Devil, breathing flame from his nostrils. But his wrath availed him naught; he was forced to retreat before the sacred relic, yet as he stepped backward he uttered a deadly curse. "You have deceived me," he hissed; "but know that fame will never come to you; your name will be forgotten for evermore."

And behold, the fiend's prophecy was fulfilled. The cathedral was scarcely completed ere the young architect's name became irrevocably forgotten, and now this grisly tale is all that is known concerning his identity.

Cologne Cathedral: Its Erection

There are several other tales to account for the belief prevalent at one time that Cologne Cathedral would never be completed. The following legend attributes the unfinished state of the edifice to the curse of a jealous architect. At the time the building was commenced a rival architect was engaged in planning an aqueduct to convey to the city a supply of water purer than that of the Rhine. He was in this difficulty, however: he had been unable to discover the exact position of the spring from which the water was to be drawn. Tidings of the proposed structure reached the ears of the builder of the cathedral, a man of strong passions and jealous disposition, and in time the other architect asked his opinion of the plans for the aqueduct.

Now it so happened that the architect of the cathedral alone had known the situation of the spring, and he had communicated it to his wife, but to no other living creature; so he replied boastfully:

"Speak not to me of your aqueduct. My cathedral, mighty as it will be, shall be completed before your little aqueduct." And he clinched his vainglorious assertion with an oath.

Indeed, it seemed as though his boast would be justified, for the building of the sacred edifice proceeded apace, while the aqueduct was not even begun, because of the difficulty of finding the spring. The second architect was in despair, for of a certainty his professional reputation was destroyed, his hopes of fame for ever dashed, were he unable to finish the task he had undertaken.

His faithful wife strove to lighten his despondency, and at last, setting her woman's wit to work, hit on a plan whereby the threatened calamity might be averted. She set out to visit the wife of the rival architect, with whom she was intimate. The hostess greeted her effusively, and the ladies had a long chat over bygone times. More and more confidential did they become under the influence of old memories and cherry wine. Skilfully the guest led the conversation round to the subject of the hidden spring, and her friend, after exacting a promise of the strictest secrecy, told her its exact situation. It lay under the great tower of the cathedral, covered by the massive stone known as the 'Devil's Stone.'

"Let me have your assurance again," said the anxious lady, "that you will never tell anyone, not even your husband. For I do not know what would become of me if my husband learnt that I had told it to you." The other renewed her promises of secrecy and took her leave. On her return home she promptly told her husband all that had passed, and he as promptly set to work, sunk a well at the spot indicated, and found the spring. The foundations of the aqueduct were laid and the structure itself soon sprang up. The architect of the cathedral saw with dismay that his secret was discovered. As the building of the aqueduct progressed he lost all interest in his own work; envy and anger filled his thoughts and at last overcame him. It is said that he died of a broken heart, cursing with his latest breath the cathedral which he had planned.

The Wager

An alternative story is that of the Devil's wager with the architect of the cathedral. The Evil One was much irritated at the good progress made in the erection of the building and resolved, by means of a cunning artifice, to stop that progress. To this end he paid a visit to the architect, travelling incognito to avoid unpleasant attentions.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse