Sacred Texts  Legends/Sagas  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

p. 1


There are many rivers whose celebrity is of much greater antiquity than that of the Rhine. The Nile and the Ganges are intimately associated with the early history of civilization and the mysterious beginnings of wisdom; the Tiber is eloquent of that vanished Empire which was the first to carry the torch of advancement into the dark places of barbarian Europe; the name of the Jordan is sacred to thousands as that first heard in infancy and linked with lives and memories divine. But, universal as is the fame of these rivers, none of them has awakened in the breasts of the dwellers on their banks such a fervent devotion, such intense enthusiasm, or such a powerful patriotic appeal as has the Rhine, at once the river, the frontier, and the palladium of the German folk.

The Magic of the Rhine

But the appeal is wider, for the Rhine is peculiarly the home of a legendary mysticism almost unique. Those whose lives are spent in their creation and interpretation know that song and legend have a particular affinity for water. Hogg, the friend of Shelley, was wont to tell how the bright eyes of his comrade would dilate at the sight of even a puddle by the roadside. Has water a hypnotic attraction for certain minds? Be that as it may, there has crystallized round the great waterways of the world a traditionary lore which preserves the thought and feeling of the past, and retains many a circumstance of wonder and marvel from olden epochs which the modern world could ill have spared.

Varied and valuable as are the traditional tales of other

p. 2

streams, none possess that colour of intensity and mystery, that spell of ancient profundity which belong to the legends of the Rhine. In perusing these we feel our very souls plunged in darkness as that of the carven gloom of some Gothic cathedral or the Cimmerian depths of some ancient forest unpierced by sun-shafts. It is the Teutonic mystery which has us in its grip, a thing as readily recognizable as the Celtic glamour or the Egyptian gloom--a thing of the shadows of eld, stern, ancient, of a ponderous fantasy, instinct with the spirit of nature, of dwarfs, elves, kobolds, erlkings, the wraiths and shades of forest and flood, of mountain and mere, of castled height and swift whirlpool, the denizens of the deep valleys and mines, the bergs and heaths of this great province of romance, this rich satrapy of Faëry.

A Land of Legend

Nowhere is legend so thickly strewn as on the banks of the Rhine. Each step is eloquent of tradition, each town, village, and valley. No hill, no castle but has its story, true or legendary. The Teuton is easily the world's master in the art of conserving local lore. As one speeds down the broad breast of this wondrous river, gay with summer and flushed with the laughter of early vineyards, so close is the network of legend that the swiftly read or spoken tale of one locality is scarce over ere the traveller is confronted by another. It is a surfeit of romance, an inexhaustible hoard of the matter of marvel.

This noble stream with its wealth of tradition has made such a powerful impression upon the national imagination that it has become intimate in the soul of the people and commands a reverence and affection which is not given by any other modern nation to its greatest and

p. 3

most characteristic river. The Englishman has only a mitigated pride in the Thames, as a great commercial asset or, its metropolitan borders once passed, a river of peculiarly restful character; the Frenchman evinces no very great enthusiasm toward the Seine; and if there are many Spanish songs about the "chainless Guadalquivir," the dons have been content to retain its Arabic name. But what German heart does not thrill at the name of the Rhine? What German cheek does not flush at the sound of that mighty thunder-hymn which tells of his determination to preserve the river of his fathers at the cost of his best blood? Nay, what man of patriotic temperament but feels a responsive chord awake within him at the thought of that majestic song, so stern, so strong, "clad in armour," vibrant with the clang of swords, instinct with the universal accord of a united people? To those who have heard it sung by multitudinous voices to the accompaniment of golden harps and silver trumpets it is a thing which can never be forgotten, this world-song that is at once a hymn of union, a song of the deepest love of country, a defiance and an intimation of resistance to the death.

The Song of the 'Iron Chancellor'

How potent Die Wacht am Rhein is to stir the hearts of the children of the Fatherland is proven abundantly by an apposite story regarding the great Bismarck, the 'man of blood and iron.' The scene is the German Reichstag, and the time is that curious juncture in history when the Germans, having realized that union is strength, were beginning to weld together the petty kingdoms and duchies of which their mighty empire was once composed. Gradually this task was becoming accomplished,

p. 4

and meanwhile Germany grew eager to assert her power in Europe, wherefore her rulers commenced to create a vast army. But Bismarck was not satisfied, and in his eyes Germany's safety was still unassured; so he appealed to the Reichstag to augment largely their armaments. The deputies looked at him askance, for a vast army meant ruinous taxation; even von Moltke and von Roon shook their heads, well aware though they were that a great European conflict might break out at any time; and, in short, Bismarck's proposal was met by a determined negative from the whole House. "Ach, mein Gott!" he cried, holding out his hands in a superb gesture of despair. "Ach, mein Gott! but these soldiers we must have." His hearers still demurred, reminding him that the people far and near were groaning under the weight of taxation, and assuring him that this could not possibly be increased, when he suddenly changed his despairing gesture for a martial attitude, and with sublime eloquence recited the lines:

"Es braust ein Ruf wie Donnerhall,
Wie Schwertgeklirr und Wogenprall;
Zum Rhein, zum Rhein, zum deutschen Rhein,
Wer will die Strömes Hüter sein?
Lieb Vaterland, magst ruhig sein,
Fest steht und treu die Wacht am Rhein."

[paragraph continues] The effect was magical; the entire House resounded with cheers, and the most unbounded enthusiasm prevailed. And ere the members dispersed they had told Bismarck he might have, not ten thousand, but a hundred thousand soldiers, such was the power of association awakened by this famous hymn, such the spell it is capable of exercising on German hearers.

p. 5

Topography of the Rhine

Ere we set sail upon the dark sea of legend before us it is necessary that, like prudent mariners, we should know whence and whither we are faring. To this end it will be well that we should glance briefly at the topography of the great river we are about to explore, and that we should sketch rapidly the most salient occurrences in the strange and varied pageant of its history, in order that we may the better appreciate the wondrous tales of worldwide renown which have found birth on its banks.

Although the most German of rivers, the Rhine does not run its entire course through German territory, but takes its rise in Switzerland and finds the sea in Holland. For no less than 233 miles it flows through Swiss country, rising in the mountains of the canton of Grisons, and irrigates every canton of the Alpine republic save that of Geneva. Indeed, it waters over 14,000 square miles of Swiss territory in the flow of its two main branches, the Nearer Rhine and the Farther Rhine, which unite at Reichenau, near Coire. The Nearer Rhine issues at the height of over 7000 feet from the glaciers of the Rheinwaldhorn group, and flows for some thirty-five miles, first in a north-easterly direction through the Rheinwald Valley, then northward through the Schams Valley, by way of the Via Mala gorge, and Tomleschg Valley, and so to Reichenau, where it is joined by its sister stream, the Farther Rhine. The latter, rising in the little Alpine lake of Toma near the Pass of St. Gotthard, flows in a north-easterly direction to Reichenau. The Nearer Rhine is generally considered to be the more important branch, though the Farther Rhine is the longer by some seven miles. From Reichenau the Rhine flows north-eastward to Coire, and

p. 6

thence northward to the Lake of Constance, receiving on its way two tributaries, the Landquart and the Ill, both on the right bank. Indeed, from source to sea the Rhine receives a vast number of tributaries, amounting, with their branches, to over 12,000. Leaving the Lake of Constance at the town of that name, the river flows westward to Basel, having as the principal towns on its banks Constance, Schaffhausen, Waldshut, Laufenburg, Säckingen, Rheinfelden, and Basel.

Not far from the town of Schaffhausen the river precipitates itself from a height of 60 feet, in three leaps, forming the famous Falls of the Rhine. At Coblentz a strange thing happens, for at this place the river receives the waters of the Aar, swollen by the Reuss and the Limmat, and of greater volume than the stream in which it loses itself.

It is at Basel that the Rhine, taking a northward trend, enters Germany. By this time it has made a descent of nearly 7000 feet, and has traversed about a third of its course. Between Basel and Mainz it flows between the mountains of the Black Forest and the Vosges, the distance between which forms a shallow valley of some width. Here and there it is islanded, and its expanse averages about 1200 feet. The Taunus Mountains divert it at Mainz, where it widens, and it flows westward for about twenty miles, but at Bingen it once more takes its course northward, and enters a narrow valley where the enclosing hills look down sheer upon the water.

It is in this valley, probably one of the most romantic in the world, that we find the legendary lore of the river packed in such richness that every foot of its banks has its place in tradition. But that is not to say that this portion of the Rhine is wanting in natural beauty. Here

p. 7

are situated some of its sunniest vineyards, its most wildly romantic heights, and its most picturesque ruins. This part of its course may be said to end at the Siebengebirge, or 'Seven Mountains,' where the river again widens and the banks become more bare and uninteresting. Passing Bonn and Cologne, the bareness of the landscape is remarkable after the variety of that from which we have just emerged, and henceforward the river takes on what may be called a 'Dutch' appearance. After entering Holland it divides into two branches, the Waal flowing to the west and uniting with the Maas. The smaller branch to the right is still called the Rhine, and throws off another branch, the Yssel, which flows into the Zuider Zee. Once more the river bifurcates into insignificant streams, one of which is called the Kromme Rijn, and beyond Utrecht, and under the name of the Oude Rijn, or Old Rhine, it becomes so stagnant that it requires the aid of a canal to drain it into the sea. Anciently the Rhine at this part of its course was an abounding stream, but by the ninth century the sands at Katwijk had silted it up, and it was only in the beginning of last century that its way to the sea was made clear.

The Sunken City

More than six centuries ago Stavoren was one of the chief commercial towns of Holland. Its merchants traded with all parts of the world, and brought back their ships laden with rich cargoes, and the city became ever more prosperous.

The majority of the people of Stavoren were well-to-do, and as their wealth increased they became luxurious and dissipated, each striving to outdo the others in the

p. 8

magnificence of their homes and the extravagance of their hospitality.

Many of their houses, we are told, were like the palaces of princes, built of white marble, furnished with the greatest sumptuousness, and decorated with the costliest hangings and the rarest statuary.

But, says the legend, of all the Stavoren folk there was none wealthier than young Richberta. This maiden owned a fleet of the finest merchant-vessels of the city, and loved to ornament her palace with the rich merchandise which these brought from foreign ports. With all her jewels and gold and silver treasures, however, Richberta was not happy. She gave gorgeous banquets to the other merchant-princes of the place, each more magnificent than the last, not because she received any pleasure from thus dispensing hospitality, but because she desired to create envy and astonishment in the breasts of her guests.

On one occasion while such a feast was in progress Richberta was informed that a stranger was waiting without who was desirous of speaking with her. When she was told that the man had come all the way from a distant land simply to admire her wonderful treasures, of which he had heard so much, the maiden was highly flattered and gave orders that he should be admitted without delay. An aged and decrepit man, clad in a picturesque Eastern costume, was led into the room, and Richberta bade him be seated at her side. He expected to receive from the young lady the symbol of welcome--bread and salt. But no such common fare was to be found on her table--all was rich and luxurious food.

The stranger seated himself in silence. At length he began to talk. He had travelled in many lands, and now


He rose abruptly and left the room    80<br> <i>Hiram Ellis</i>.
Click to enlarge

He rose abruptly and left the room    80
Hiram Ellis.


p. 9

he told of his changing fortunes in these far-off countries, always drawing a moral from his adventures--that all things earthly were evanescent as the dews of morning. The company listened attentively to the discourse of the sage; all, that is, but their hostess, who was angry and disappointed that he had said no word of the wealth and magnificence displayed in her palace, the rich fare on her table, and all the signs of luxury with which he was surrounded. At length she could conceal her chagrin no longer, and asked the stranger directly whether he had ever seen such splendour in his wanderings as that he now beheld.

"Tell me," she said, "is there to be found in the courts of your Eastern kings such rare treasures as these of mine?"

"Nay," replied the sage, "they have no pearls and rich embroideries to match thine. Nevertheless, there is one thing missing from your board, and that the best and most valuable of all earthly gifts."

In vain Richberta begged that he would tell her what that most precious of treasures might be. He answered all her inquiries in an evasive manner, and at last, when her question could no longer be evaded, he rose abruptly and left the room. And, seek as she might, Richberta could find no trace of her mysterious visitor.

Richberta strove to discover the meaning of the old man's words. She was rich--she possessed greater treasures than any in Stavoren, at a time when that city was among the wealthiest in Europe--and yet she lacked the most precious of earth's treasures. The memory of the words galled her pride and excited her curiosity to an extraordinary pitch. In vain she asked the wise men of her time--the priests and philosophers--to read her the riddle

p. 10

of the mysterious traveller. None could name a treasure that was not already hers.

In her anxiety to obtain the precious thing, whatever it might be, Richberta sent all her ships to sea, telling the captain of each not to return until he had found some treasure that she did not already possess. The vessels were victualled for seven years, so that the mariners might have ample time in which to pursue their quest. So their commander sent one division of the fleet to the east, another to the west, while he left his own vessel to the hazard of the winds, letting it drift wheresoever the fates decreed. His ship as well as the others was laden heavily with provisions, and during the first storm they encountered it was necessary to cast a considerable portion of the food overboard, so that the ship might right itself. As it was, the remaining provisions were so damaged by the sea-water that they rotted in a few days and became unfit for food. A pestilence would surely follow the use of such unwholesome stuff, and consequently the entire cargo of bread had to be cast into the sea.

The commander saw his crew ravaged by the dreaded scurvy, suffering from the lack of bread. Then only did he begin to perceive the real meaning of the sage's words. The most valuable of all earthly treasures was not the pearls from the depths of the sea, gold or silver from the heart of the mountains, nor the rich spices of the Indies. The most common of all earth's, products, that which was to be found in every country, which flourished in every clime, on which the lives of millions depended--this was the greatest treasure, and its name was--bread.

Having reached this conclusion, the commander of Richberta's fleet set sail for a Baltic port, where he took on

p. 11

board a cargo of corn, and returned immediately to Stavoren.

Richberta was astonished and delighted to see that he had achieved his purpose so soon, and bade him tell her of what the treasure consisted which he had brought with him. The commander thereupon recounted his adventures--the storm, the throwing overboard of their store of bread, and the consequent sufferings of the crew--and told how he at length discovered what was the greatest treasure on earth, the priceless possession which the stranger had looked for in vain at her rich board. It was bread, he said simply, and the cargo he had brought home was corn.

Richberta was beside herself with passion. When she had recovered herself sufficiently to speak she asked him:

"At which side of the ship did you take in the cargo?"

"At the right side," he replied.

"Then," she exclaimed angrily, "I order you to cast it into the sea from the left side."

It was a cruel decision. Stavoren, like every other city, had its quota of poor families, and these were in much distress at the time, many of them dying from sheer starvation. The cargo of corn would have provided bread for them throughout the whole winter, and the commander urged Richberta to reconsider her decision. As a last resort he sent the barefooted children of the city to her, thinking that their mute misery would move her to alleviate their distress and give them the shipload of corn. But all was in vain. Richberta remained adamantine, and in full view of the starving multitude she had the precious cargo cast into the sea.

p. 12

But the curses of the despairing people had their effect. Far down in the bed of the sea the grains of corn germinated, and a harvest of bare stalks grew until it reached the surface of the water. The shifting quicksands at the bottom of the sea were bound together by the overspreading stalks into a mighty sand-bank which rose above the surface in front of the town of Stavoren.

No longer were the merchant-vessels able to enter the harbour, for it was blocked by the impassable bank. Nay, instead of finding refuge there, many a ship was dashed to pieces by the fury of the breakers, and Stavoren became a place of ill-fame to the mariner.

All the wealth and commerce of this proud city were at an end. Richberta herself, whose wanton act had raised the sand-bank, had her ships wrecked there one by one, and was reduced to begging for bread in the city whose wealthiest inhabitant she had once been. Then, perhaps, she could appreciate the words of the old traveller, that bread was the greatest of earthly treasures.

At last the ocean, dashing against the huge mound with ever-increasing fury, burst through the dyke which Richberta had raised, overwhelmed the town, and buried it for ever under the waves.

And now the mariner, sailing on the Zuider Zee, passes above the engulfed city and sees with wonderment the towers and spires of the 'Sunken Land.'

Historical Sketch

Like other world-rivers, the Rhine has attracted to its banks a succession of races of widely divergent origin. Celt, Teuton, Slav, and Roman have contested for the territories which it waters, and if the most enduring of these races has finally achieved dominion over the fairest

p. 13

river-province in Europe, who shall say that it has emerged from the struggle as a homogeneous people, having absorbed none of the blood of those with whom it strove for the lordship of this vine-clad valley? He would indeed be a courageous ethnologist who would suggest a purely Germanic origin for the Rhine race. As the historical period dawns upon Middle Europe we find the Rhine basin in the possession of a people of Celtic blood. As in Britain and France, this folk has left its indelible mark upon the countryside in a wealth of place-names embodying its characteristic titles for flood, village, and hill. In such prefixes and terminations as magh, brig, dun, and ac we espy the influence of Celtic occupants, and Maguntiacum, or Mainz, and Borbetomagus, or Worms, are examples of that 'Gallic' idiom which has indelibly starred the map of Western Europe.

Prehistoric Miners

The remains of this people which are unearthed from beneath the superincumbent strata of their Teutonic successors in the country show them to have been typical of their race. Like their kindred in Britain, they had successfully exploited the mineral treasures of the country, and their skill as miners is eloquently upheld by the mute witness of age-old cinder-heaps by which are found the once busy bronze hammer and the apparatus of the smelting-furnace, speaking of the slow but steady smith-toil upon which the foundation of civilization arose. There was scarcely a mineral beneath the loamy soil which masked the metalliferous rock which they did not work. From Schönebeck to Dürkheim lies an immense bed of salt, and this the Celtic population of the district dug and condensed by aid of fires fed by huge logs cut from the giant

p. 14

trees of the vast and mysterious forests which have from time immemorial shadowed the whole existence of the German race. The salt, moulded or cut into blocks, was transported to Gaul as an article of commerce. But the Celts of the Rhine achieved distinction in other arts of life, for their pottery, weapons, and jewellery will bear comparison with those of prehistoric peoples in any part of Europe.

As has been remarked, at the dawn of history we find the Rhine Celts everywhere in full retreat before the rude and more virile Teutons. They lingered latterly about the Moselle and in the district of Eifel, offering a desperate resistance to the onrushing hordes of Germanic warriors. In all likelihood they were outnumbered, if not outmatched in skill and valour, and they melted away before the savage ferocity of their foes, probably seeking asylum with their kindred in Gaul.

Probably the Teutonic tribes had already commenced to apply pressure to the Celtic inhabitants of Rhine-land in the fourth century before the Christian era. As was their wont, they displaced the original possessors of the soil as much by a process of infiltration as by direct conquest. The waves of emigration seem to have come from Rhaetia and Pannonia, broad-headed folk, who were in a somewhat lower condition of barbarism than the race whose territory they usurped, restless, assertive, and irritable. Says Beddoe: 1

"The mass of tall, blond, vigorous barbarians multiplied, seethed, and fretted behind the barrier thus imposed. Tacitus and several other classic authors speak of the remarkable uniformity in their appearance; how they were all tall and handsome, with fierce blue eyes and

p. 15

yellow hair. Humboldt remarks the tendency we all have to see only the single type in a strange foreign people, and to shut our eyes to the differences among them. Thus some of us think sheep all alike, but the shepherd knows better; and many think all Chinamen are alike, whereas they differ, in reality, quite as much as we do, or rather more. But with respect to the ancient Germans, there certainly was among them one very prevalent form of head, and even the varieties of feature which occur among the Marcomans--for example, on Marcus Aurelius' column--all seem to oscillate round one central type.

The 'Graverow' Type

"This is the Graverow type of Ecker, the Hohberg type of His and Rutimeyer, the Swiss anatomists. In it the head is long, narrow (say from 70 to 76 in breadth-index), as high or higher than it is broad, with the upper part of the occiput very prominent, the forehead rather high than broad, often dome-shaped, often receding, with prominent brows, the nose long, narrow, and prominent, the cheek-bones narrow and not prominent, the chin well marked, the mouth apt to be prominent in women. In Germany persons with these characters have almost always light eyes and hair.. . . This Graverow type is almost exclusively what is found in the burying-places of the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries, whether of the Alemanni, the Bavarians, the Franks, the Saxons, or the Burgundians. Schetelig dug out a graveyard in Southern Spain which is attributed to the Visigoths. Still the same harmonious elliptic form, the same indices, breadth 73, height 74."

p. 16

Early German Society

Tacitus in his Germania gives a vivid if condensed picture of Teutonic life in the latter part of the first century:

"The face of the country, though in some parts varied, presents a cheerless scene, covered with the gloom of forests, or deformed with wide-extended marshes; toward the boundaries of Gaul, moist and swampy; on the side of Noricum and Pannonia, more exposed to the fury of the winds. Vegetation thrives with sufficient vigour. The soil produces grain, but is unkind to fruit-trees; well stocked with cattle, but of an under-size, and deprived by nature of the usual growth and ornament of the head. The pride of a German consists in the number of his flocks and herds; they are his only riches, and in these he places his chief delight. Gold and silver are withheld from them: is it by the favour or the wrath of Heaven? I do not, however, mean to assert that in Germany there are no veins of precious ore; for who has been a miner in these regions? Certain it is they do not enjoy the possession and use of those metals with our sensibility. There are, indeed, silver vessels to be seen among them, but they were presents to their chiefs or ambassadors; the Germans regard them in no better light than common earthenware. It is, however, observable that near the borders of the empire the inhabitants set a value upon gold and silver, finding them subservient to the purposes of commerce. The Roman coin is known in those parts, and some of our specie is not only current, but in request. In places more remote the simplicity of ancient manners still prevails: commutation of property is their only traffic. Where money passes in the way of barter our old coin is the most acceptable, particularly that which is indented at the edge,

p. 17

or stamped with the impression of a chariot and two horses, called the Serrati and Bigati. Silver is preferred to gold, not from caprice or fancy, but because the inferior metal is of more expeditious use in the purchase of low-priced commodities.

Ancient German Weapons

"Iron does not abound in Germany, if we may judge from the weapons in general use. Swords and large lances are seldom seen. The soldier grasps his javelin, or, as it is called in their language, his fram--an instrument tipped with a short and narrow piece of iron, sharply pointed, and so commodious that, as occasion requires, he can manage it in close engagement or in distant combat. With this and a shield the cavalry are completely armed. The infantry have an addition of missive weapons. Each man carries a considerable number, and being naked, or, at least, not encumbered by his light mantle, he throws his weapon to a distance almost incredible. A German pays no attention to the ornament of his person; his shield is the object of his care, and this he decorates with the liveliest colours. Breastplates are uncommon. In a whole army you will not see more than one or two helmets. Their horses have neither swiftness nor elegance, nor are they trained to the various evolutions of the Roman cavalry. To advance in a direct line, or wheel suddenly to the right, is the whole of their skill, and this they perform in so compact a body that not one is thrown out of his rank. According to the best estimate, the infantry comprise the national strength, and, for that reason, always fight intermixed with the cavalry. The flower of their youth, able by their vigour and activity to keep pace with the movements of the horse, are selected for this purpose, and placed in the front of the lines. The

p. 18

number of these is fixed and certain: each canton sends a hundred, from that circumstance called Hundreders by the army. The name was at first numerical only: it is now a title of honour. Their order of battle presents the form of a wedge. To give ground in the heat of action, provided you return to the charge, is military skill, not fear or cowardice. In the most fierce and obstinate engagement, even when the fortune of the day is doubtful, they make it a point to carry off their slain. To abandon their shield is a flagitious crime. The person guilty of it is interdicted from religious rites and excluded from the assembly of the state. Many who survived their honour on the day of battle have closed a life of ignominy by a halter."

Teutonic Customs

The kings of this rude but warlike folk were elected by the suffrages of the nobility, and their leaders in battle, as was inevitable with such a people, were chosen by reason of their personal prowess. The legal functions were exercised by the priesthood, and punishments were thus held to be sanctioned by the gods. Among this barbaric people the female sex was held as absolutely sacred, the functions of wife and mother being accounted among the highest possible to humanity, and we observe in ancient accounts of the race that typically Teutonic conception of the woman as seer or prophetess which so strongly colours early Germanic literature. Women, indeed, in later times, when Christianity had nominally conquered Paganism, remained as the sole conservators of the ancient Teutonic magico-religious lore, and in the curtained recesses of dark-timbered halls whiled away the white hours of winter by the painful spelling out of runic characters and the

p. 19

practice of arts which they were destined to convey from the priests of Odin and Thor to the witches of medieval days.

Costume of the Early Teuton

The personal appearance of these barbarians was as rude and simple as were their manners. Says Tacitus:

"The clothing in use is a loose mantle, made fast with a clasp, or, when that cannot be had, with a thorn. Naked in other respects, they loiter away whole days by the fireside. The rich wear a garment, not, indeed, displayed and flowing, like the Parthians or the people of Sarmatia, but drawn so tight that the form of the limbs is palpably expressed. The skins of wild animals are also much in use. Near the frontier, on the borders of the Rhine, the inhabitants wear them, but with an air of neglect that shows them altogether indifferent about the choice, The people who live more remote, near the northern seas, and have not acquired by commerce a taste for new-fashioned apparel, are more curious in the selection. They choose particular beasts and, having stripped off the furs, clothe themselves with the spoil, decorated with parti-coloured spots, or fragments taken from the skins of fish that swim the ocean as yet unexplored by the Romans. In point of dress there is no distinction between the sexes, except that the garment of the women is frequently made of linen, adorned with purple stains, but without sleeves, leaving the arms and part of the bosom uncovered."

The Germanic Tribes

It is also from Tacitus that we glean what were the names and descriptions of those tribes who occupied the territory adjacent to the Rhine. The basin of the river between

p. 20

[paragraph continues] Strassburg and Mainz was inhabited by the Tribacci, Nemetes, and Vangiones, further south by the Matiacci near Wiesbaden, and the Ubii in the district of Cologne. Further north lay the Sugambri, and the delta of the river in the Low Countries was the seat of the brave Batavii, from whom came the bulk of the legions by means of which Agricola obtained a footing in far Caledonia. Before the Roman invasion of their territories these tribes were constantly engaged in internecine warfare, a condition of affairs not to be marvelled at when we learn that at their tribal councils the warrior regarded as an inspired speaker was he who was most powerfully affected by the potations in which all habitually indulged to an extent which seemed to the cultured Roman as bestial in the last degree. The constant bearing of arms, added to their frequent addiction to powerful liquors, also seemed to render the Germanic warriors quarrelsome to excess, and to provoke intertribal strife.

The Romans in the Rhine Country

Caesar is the first Roman writer to give us any historical data concerning the peoples who inhabited the basin of the Rhine. He conquered the tribes on the left bank, and was followed a generation or so later by Augustus, who established numerous fortified posts on the river. But the Romans never succeeded in obtaining a firm occupancy of the right bank. Their chief object in colonizing the Rhine territory was to form an effective barrier between themselves and the restless barbarian tribes of the Teutonic North, the constant menace of whose invasion lay as a canker at the heart of rich and fruitful Italy. With the terror of a barbarian inroad ever before their eyes, the cohorts of the Imperial City constructed a formidable

p. 21

vallum, or earthen wall, from the vicinity of Linz to Regensburg, on the Danube, a distance of three hundred and fifty miles, for the purpose of raising a barrier against the advance of the warlike men of the North. They further planted a colony of veterans in the Black Forest neighbourhood in order that invasion might be resisted from that side. But as the Empire began to exhibit signs of decadence the barbarians were quick to recognize the symptoms of weakness in those who barred their advance to the wealthy South, the objective of their dreams, hurled themselves against the boundary, now rendered feeble by reason of the withdrawal of its most experienced defenders, and, despite a stern resistance, flooded the rich valleys of the Rhine, swamped the colonies on the left bank which had imbibed Roman civilization, and made all wholly Teutonic.

The Rebellion of the Barbarians

This was, however, a process of years, and by no means a speedy conquest. The closing years of Augustus' reign were clouded by a general rising of the Rhine peoples. Quintilius Varus, an officer who had been entrusted with the government of the provinces beyond the Rhine, proved totally unequal to curbing the bolder spirits among the Germans, who under their chief, Arminius, boldly challenged the forces of this short-sighted officer. Arminius belonged to the Cherusci. He had served with the German horsemen in the Rhenish armies, and was conversant with the Latin language. Observing that half, at least, of the Roman forces were on leave, he incited the tribes of Lower Saxony to revolt. The weak Varus, who had underestimated the influence of Arminius, attempted to quell the rising, but without success, and the bank of the

p. 22

river was the scene of a wholesale slaughter. Varus, completely losing his nerve, attempted to separate the cavalry from the infantry and endeavoured to escape with three squadrons of the former; but the Germans surrounded them, and after a hand-to-hand struggle of three days the Roman army was annihilated. The news of this disaster prompted the aged Emperor to dispatch his son Tiberius to suppress what appeared to be a general rising of the North. The Rhenish tribes, however, were too wary to meet the powerful force now sent against them in the open field, and during the remainder of the year Tiberius, left in peace, occupied himself in strengthening the Rhine fortifications.

He was soon after recalled to Rome to assume the purple on the death of Augustus. Germanicus, who had taken command of the legions on the Rhine, became conscious of discontent among the soldiers, who threatened to carry him into Rome and thrust him into the seat of empire. But he soothed the passions of his soldiers by gifts and promises. A road was opened from the Rhine into the German hinterland, and Germanicus led his army into the heart of a country of which he knew but little to avenge the disasters of the Varian legions. The forest folk eluded the invading host, which now sought to return to headquarters; but ere they had completed the journey they were assailed and suffered a severe reverse.

Numerous revolts occurred among the Gaulish legions in the service of the Roman Empire in Germany. But the stubborn and trained resistance of the Romans no less than the inexperience of the Gauls led to a cessation of hostilities. The secret of Roman power in Rhenish territory lay in the circumstance that the two great elements of German nationality, the nobility and the priesthood,

p. 23

were becoming Romanized. But a rude culture was beginning to blossom, and a desire arose among the barbarians for unity. They wished to band themselves into a nation.

The Franks and Goths

The most dangerous enemies of Rome during the reigns of Valerian and Gallienus were the Franks, the Alemanni, and the Goths, whose action finally decided the conquest of the Rhenish provinces of Rome. The name Frank, or Freedman, was given to a confederacy formed in A.D. 240 by the old inhabitants of the Lower Rhine and the Weser. It consisted of the Chauci, the Cherusci, and the Chatti, and of several other tribes of greater or less renown. The Romans foresaw the power of this formidable union and, by the presence of the Emperor himself and his son, endeavoured to stem the invasion, which threatened their suzerainty. The Franks, fond of liberty and imbued with a passion for conquest, crossed the Rhine, in spite of its strong fortifications, and carried their devastations to the foot of the Pyrenees. For twelve years Gallienus attempted to stem the torrent thus freed.

The Alemanni, who belonged to the Upper Rhine, between the Main and the Danube, were composed of many tribes, the most important of which was the celebrated Suevi. This people, who had now become a permanent nation, threatened the Empire with an invasion which was checked with difficulty after they had fought their way to the gates of Rome itself. In A.D. 271 Aurelian completely subdued the Rhenish peoples, numbers of whom were dragged in his triumph through the streets of Rome; but after his brief reign the old condition of things reasserted itself, until Probus, who assumed the purple in 276, restored

p. 24

peace and order by the construction of a massive wall between the Rhine and the Danube over two hundred miles in length. The barbarians were driven beyond the river, which had hitherto served as a boundary-line, even past the Elbe and the Neckar. Finally, however, the internecine strife in the Imperial City forced the Romans to return thence, and Rhineland was abandoned to the will of its semi-barbarian inhabitants.

The early Christian centuries are full of the sound of conflict. In the fourth century the principal tribes in Western Germany were the Franks and the Alemanni, the former of whom maintained a constant strife with the Saxons, who pressed heavily upon their rear. The Franks occupied the lower portion of the river, near to its mouth, whilst the Alemanni dwelt on the portion to the bounds of Helvetia and Switzerland. At this period great racial upheavals appear to have been taking place further east. By the beginning of the sixth century the Saxons seem to have penetrated almost to the north-western Rhine, where the Franks were now supreme.

The Merovingians

In the middle of the fifth century arose the powerful dynasty of the Merovingians, one of the most picturesque royal houses in the roll of history. In their records we see the clash of barbarism with advancement, the bizarre tints of a semi-civilization unequalled in rude magnificence. Giant shadows of forgotten kings stalk across the canvas, their royal purple intermingling with the shaggy fell of the bear and wolf. One, Chilperic, a subtle grammarian and the inventor of new alphabetic symbols, is yet the most implacable of his race, the murderer of his wife, the heartless slayer of hundreds, to whom human life is as that of

p. 25

cattle skilled in the administration of poison, a picturesque cut-throat. Others are weaklings, fainéants; but one, the most dread woman in Frankish history, Fredegonda, the queen of Chilperic, towers above all in this masque of slaughter and treachery.

Tradition makes claim that Andernach was the cradle of the Merovingian dynasty. In proof of this are shown the extensive ruins of the palace of these ancient Frankish kings. Merovig, from whom the race derived its name, was said to be the son of Clodio, but legend relates far otherwise. In name and origin he was literally a child of the Rhine, his father being a water-monster who seized the wife of Clodio while bathing in that river. In time she gave birth to a child, more monster than man, the spine being covered with bristles, fingers and toes webbed, eyes covered with a film, and thighs and legs horny with large shining scales. Clodio, though aware of the real paternity of this creature, adopted it as his own son, as did King Minos in the case of the Minotaur, giving him the name Merovig from his piscatory origin. On Clodio's death the demi-monster succeeded to the throne, and from him sprang a long line of sovereigns, worthless and imbecile for the most part.

Childeric, the son and successor of Merovig, enraged his people to such a degree by his excesses that they drove him from throne and country. One friend alone remained to him, Winomadus, who, having no female relations to suffer by the king's attentions, did not find the friendship so irksome as others; indeed, had been a partner in his licentious pleasures. He undertook to watch over the interests of Childeric during his enforced absence in Thuringia at the court of Basium, king of that country.

The Franks had elected Aegidius, a Roman general, to

p. 26

the sovereignty over them, but as he proved himself no better than Childeric, whom they had deposed, they once more essayed to choose another ruler. This was made known to Childeric through his friend Winomadus. He rapidly returned to the shores of the Rhine and, reinforcing his following as he proceeded on his march, appeared before Andernach at the head of a formidable force, composed of many of his former subjects, together with Thuringian auxiliaries. The people of Andernach, unable to resist this overwhelming argument, again accepted Childeric as their king.

Basina the Sorceress

While in Thuringia Childeric had seduced the affections of Basina, the queen of his protector. When he regained his throne he induced her to leave her husband, and made her his queen. Basina was a sorceress, one who could divine the future and also bestow the gift upon others. Through this she gained great influence over Childeric, who desired to see and know what fate had in store for himself and his race. Basina agreed to satisfy his curiosity, and one night, at the midnight hour, they climbed together to the summit of the hill behind Andernach. There she bade him stand and look out over the plain while she performed her magical operations. After some lengthy incantations she bade him look well and tell her what he saw.

In a trance-like voice the king replied:

"I see a great light upon the plain, although all around is blackest night."

He paused; then, at her bidding, proceeded again:

"I see an immense concourse of wild animals--the lion, the tiger, the spotted pard, the elephant, the unicorn--ah!

p. 27

they are coming this way--they will devour us!" and he turned to flee in great terror.

Basina bade him stay in peremptory tones and again to look out over the plain. In a voice of alarm he cried out:

"I see bears and wolves, jackals and hyenas. Heaven help us, the others are all gone!"

Heedless of his terror, the queen bade him look again and, for the last time, tell her what he saw.

"I see now dogs and cats and little creatures of all kinds. But there is one small animal--smaller than a mouse--who commands them all. Ah! he is eating them up--swallowing them all--one after another."

As he looked the light, the plain, the animals all vanished, and darkness fell. Basina then read to him the meaning of his vision.

"The first vision you saw indicated the character of our immediate successors. They will be as bold as lions, terrible as tigers, strong as elephants, uncommon as unicorns, beautiful as the pard. These are the men of an age; for a century shall they rule over the land."

At this Childeric was delighted and ejaculated a fervent "Praise be to the gods!"

"The second," pursued Basina, "are the men of the following century--our more remote descendants--rude as the bear, fell as the wolf, fawning as the jackal, cruel as the hyena--the curse of their people and--themselves. The last one--the following century--they will be weak, timid, irresolute--the prey of every base and low thing, the victims of violence, deceit, and cunning; vanquished and destroyed at last by the smallest of their own subjects."

Such was Childeric's vision and his queen's interpretation.

p. 28

As she had predicted, the Merovingian dynasty lasted three hundred years, when it was overturned by one Pepin of Heristal, the smallest man of his day--at least, so tradition tells.

At the death of Clovis his sons split up the kingdom, and from that epoch a deadly war was waged between the rival kingdoms of Neustria and Austrasia, the west and the east.

The wars of Neustria and Austrasia (Ost Reich, the Eastern Kingdom, which has, of course, no connexion with the modern Austria) are related by Gregory of Tours in his Ecclesiastical History of the Franks, one of the most brilliant pieces of historical and biographical writing to be discovered among the literature of Europe in the Dark Ages. Metz was the capital of this kingdom-province. Fredegonda, the queen of Chilperic of Neustria, had a deadly blood-feud with her sister-in-law of Austrasia, and in the event put her rival to death by having her torn asunder by wild horses (A.D. 613). Later Austrasia became incorporated with Franconia, which in 843 was included in the kingdom of Louis the German.

The Great Race of Charlemagne

The race of the Carolingians, whose greatest monarch was the famous Charlemagne, or Karl der Grosse, sprang from a family of usurpers known as the 'Mayors of the Palace,' who had snatched the crown from the rois fainéants, the last weakly shoots of the mighty line of Merovig. He was the elder son of Pepin the Short, and succeeded, on the death of his father in A.D. 768, to a kingdom which extended from the Low Countries to the borders of Spain. His whole life was

p. 29

one prolonged war undertaken against the forces of paganism, the Moors of Spain who harassed his borders to the south, and the restless Saxon tribes dwelling between the Rhine, Weser, and Elbe. Innumerable are the legends and romances concerning this great, wise, and politic monarch and statesman, who, surrounding himself with warriors of prowess whom he called his paladins, unquestionably kept the light of Christianity and civilization burning in Western Europe. He was, however, quite as great a legislator as a warrior, and founded schools and hospitals in every part of his kingdom. He died at Aix-la-Chapelle in 814, and was buried there. 1

The 'Song of the Saxons'

One of the most stirring of the romances which tell of the wars of Charlemagne in the Rhine country is the Song of the Saxons, fifth in number of the Romans des Douze Pairs de France, and composed by Jean Bodel, a poet of Artois, who flourished toward the middle of the thirteenth century. Charles, sitting at table in Laon one Whitsuntide with fourteen kings, receives news of an invasion of the Saxons, who have taken Cologne, killed many Frankish nobles, and laid waste the country. A racy epitome of the events which follow has been given by Ludlow in his Popular Epics of the Middle Ages (1865) as follows:

"Charles invades Saxony, and reaches the banks of 'Rune the Deep,' beyond which lies Guiteclin's palace of 'Tremoigne' (supposed to be Dortmund, in Westphalia). The river is too deep to be crossed by the army, although

p. 30

the two young knights, Baldwin and Berard, succeed in doing so in quest of adventure. The Saxons will not attack, trusting that the French will be destroyed by delay and the seasons. And, indeed, after two years and four months, the barons represent to the Emperor the sad plight of the host, and urge him to call upon the men of Herupe (North-west France) for performance of their warlike service. This is done accordingly, and the Herupe barons make all haste to their sovereign's aid, and come up just after the Saxons have made an unsuccessful attack. They send to ask where they are to lodge their troops. The Emperor points them laughingly to the other side of the Rune, where float the silken banners of the Saxons, but says that any of his men shall give up their camping-place to them. The Herupe men, however, determine to take him at his word and, whilst the Archbishop of Sens blesses the water, boldly fling themselves in and cross it, and end, after a tremendous struggle, in taking up the quarters assigned to them; but when he sees their prowess the Emperor recalls them to his own side of the river.

"A bridge is built, the army passes over it, the Saxons are discomfited in a great battle, and Guiteclin is killed in single combat by Charlemagne himself.

"By this time the slender vein of historic truth which runs through the poem may be considered as quite exhausted. Yet the real epic interest of the work centres in its wholly apocryphal conclusion, connected essentially with its purely romantic side.

"Sebile, the wife of Guiteclin, is a peerless beauty, wise withal and courteous; 'hair had she long and fair, more than the shining gold, a brow polished and clear, eyes blue and laughing, a very well-made nose, teeth small and


Sebile and Baldwin     30<br> <i>Hiram Ellis</i>.
Click to enlarge

Sebile and Baldwin     30
Hiram Ellis.


p. 31

white, a savourous mouth, more crimson than blood; and in body and limbs so winning was she that God never made the man, howsoever old and tottering, if he durst look at her, but was moved with desire.'"

Fair Helissend, the daughter of the murdered Milo of Cologne, is her captive at once and her favourite, and when the French host takes up its position before the Rune, names and points out young Baldwin to her.

With her husband's sanction, Sebile has her tent pitched on the bank, and establishes herself there with her ladies to act as decoys to the Franks; for "fair lady's look makes men undertake folly." She is taken, however, in her own toils; falls in love with Baldwin one summer's day on seeing him ride forth with hawk on wrist, and makes Helissend invite him over the river, under a very frank pledge that "she will be his, for loss or gain." Their first meeting apparently takes place in the presence of Sebile's ladies, and so little mystery is attached to their love that, on Baldwin's return to the Frank host after killing and despoiling of his armour a Saxon chief, he not only tells his adventure publicly to the Emperor, but the latter promises in a twelvemonth to have him crowned king of the country and to give him Sebile for wife, forbidding him, however, to cross the river any more--a command which Baldwin hears without meaning to obey. Nay, when Baldwin has once broken this injunction and escaped with great difficulty from the Saxons, the Emperor imposes on him the brutal penance of entering Sebile's tent to kiss her in the sight of the Saxons, and bringing back her ring--which Baldwin contrives to fulfil by putting on the armour of a Saxon knight whom he kills. As in The Taking of Orange, it never seems to occur to

p. 32

the poet that there can be any moral wrong in making love to a "Saracen's" wife, or in promising her hand in her husband's lifetime; and, strange to say, so benignant are these much-wronged paynim that Guiteclin is not represented as offering or threatening the slightest ill-treatment to his faithless queen, however wroth he may be against her lover; nor, indeed, as having even the sense to make her pitch her tent further from the bank. The drollest bit of sentimentality occurs, however, after the victory of the Franks and Guiteclin's death, when Sebile is taken prisoner. After having been bestowed in marriage on Baldwin by the Emperor, she asks one boon of both, which is that Guiteclin's body be sought for, lest the beasts should eat it--a request the exceeding nobleness of which strikes the Emperor and the Frank knights with astonishment. When the body is found and brought to Sebile, "the water of her eyes falls down her chin. 'Ha, Guiteclin,' said she, 'so gentle a man were you, liberal and free-spending, and of noble witness! If in heaven and on earth Mahomet has no power, even to pray Him who made Lazarus, I pray and request Him to have mercy on thee.'" The dead man is then placed in a great marble tomb; Sebile is christened, marries her lover, and is crowned with him as Queen of Saxony, Helissend being in like manner given to Berard.

"It is now that the truly tragical part of the poem commences. Charles and his host depart, the Emperor warning his nephew to be courteous, loyal, and generous, to keep true faith to his wife, yet not to spend too much time in her arms, but to beware of the Saxons. The caution is needed, for already the two sons of Guiteclin, with one hundred thousand Russians and Bulgarians, and the giant Ferabras of Russia, a personage twelve feet high, with

p. 33

light hair plaited together, reddish beard, and flattened face, are within a day and a half's journey of 'Tremoigne,' burning to avenge Guiteclin. One Thursday morning their invasion is announced to the young king, who has but fifteen thousand men to oppose to them. Sebile embraces her husband's knees, and entreats him to send at once for help to his uncle; the barons whom he has called to counsel favour her advice. 'Barons,' said Baldwin, 'I should fear the dishonour of it. It is too soon to seek and pray for succour. We have not yet unhorsed knights, cut arms from bodies, made bowels trail; we are fifteen thousand young men untried, who should buy our praise and our honour, and seize and acquire strange lands, and kill and shame and grieve our enemies, cleave the bright helmets, pierce the shields, break and tear the hauberks of mail, shed blood and make brains to fly. To me a pleasure it seems to put on hauberk, watch long nights, fast long days. Let us go strike upon them without more delay, that we may be able to govern this kingdom.' The barons listen with an ill-will to this speech; Baldwin himself, on viewing the paynim host, is staggered at their numbers, and lets Sebile persuade him to send a messenger to his uncle. However, with five thousand men he makes a vigorous attack on the vanguard of the Saxons, consisting of twenty thousand, and ends by putting them to flight. On the news of this repulse the two sons of Guiteclin come out, apparently with the bulk of the army. The French urge the young king to re-enter the city, but he refuses--Sebile would hold him for a sleepy coward. He kills Ferabras, unhorses one of Guiteclin's sons. But the disparity of numbers is too great; the French are obliged to retreat, and shut themselves up in the city.

"Meanwhile the messenger had reached Charlemagne at

p. 34

[paragraph continues] Cologne with the news of the renewal of the war. Whilst all his barons are summoned, the Emperor starts in haste himself for Saxony with ten thousand men. Baldwin was seated in his tower, looking out upon a league of hostile tents, complaining to Sebile, who 'comforts him as a worthy lady,' bidding him trust in his uncle's succour. She is the first to descry the French host and to point it out to her husband. 'Ah, God!' said Charles's nephew, 'fair Father Creator, yet will I avenge me of the pagan people.' He goes down from his palace, and cries to his men, 'Arm ye, knights! Charles is returned.'

"The besieged prepare at once for a sally. Sebile places the helmet on her husband's head and kisses him, never to see him more alive. The enemy are disarmed; three thousand of them are killed by the time Baldwin cuts his way to his uncle, to whom, as his liege lord, he makes complaint against the Saxons. The Emperor's answer contains little but philosophic comfort: 'Fair nephew, so goes war; when your day comes, know that you will die; your father died, you will not escape. Yonder are your enemies, of whom you complain; I give you leave, go and strike them.' Uncle and nephew both perform wonders. But Berard is killed by Feramor, one of Guiteclin's sons, and the standard which he bore disappears under him. Baldwin engages Feramor; each severely wounds the other; the fight is so well contested that Baldwin offers to divide the land with him if he will make peace. The Saxon spurns the offer, and is killed.

"But 'Baldwin is wounded in the breast grievously; from thence to the spur his body is bloody.' Saxons, Lusatians, Hungarians perceive that his blows lessen and fall slow. 'Montjoie!' he cries many a time, but the French hear him not. 'When Baldwin sees that he will have no succour,

p. 35

as a boar he defends himself with his sword. . . . Who should have seen the proud countenance of the king, how he bears and defends himself against the paynim, great pity should surely take his heart.' Struck with fifteen wounds, his horse killed under him, he offers battle on foot. They dare not approach, but they fling their swords at him, and then go and hide beneath a rock. Baldwin, feeling death approaching, 'from the fair eyes of his head begins to weep' for sorrow and rage. He now addresses an elaborate last prayer to God; but whilst he is on his knees, looking toward the East, a Saxon comes to cut off his head. Baldwin, furious, seizes his sword, which had fallen from his hand on the green grass, and with a last blow cleaves the Saxon to the shoulders, then dies.

"The news is carried to the Emperor, who laments his ill fate. Rest he has never had; the paynim folk have killed him the flower of his friends, Roland at Roncevaux and now Baldwin. 'Ha, God! send me death, without making long delay!' He draws his sword, and is about to kill himself when Naymes of Bavaria restrains him and bids him avenge his nephew's death. The old man, however, exposes his life with such recklessness, the struggle is so unequal, that Naymes himself has to persuade him to leave the battle and enter the city until the Herupe nobles come to his aid. 'Dead is Count Roland and Count Oliver, and all the twelve peers, who used to help in daunting that pride which makes us bend so; no longer at your right hand is Baldwin the warrior; the paynim have killed him and Berard the light; God has their souls. . . . If you are killed . . . in your death alone a hundred thousand will die.'

"They lead him away, unwilling, from the field. Baldwin's corpse is carried by him on his shield. Sebile comes to

p. 36

meet the Emperor and asks of her husband. Charles bids her look at him. She faints to the ground. There is true pathos (though somewhat wire-drawn) in her lament, when she comes to herself:

"'Sir King Baldwin, for God's sake, speak! I am your love, mistake me not. If I have offended you in aught, it shall be made amends for wholly to your pleasure; but speak to me. For you was my body baptized and lifted; my heart leans on you, and all my affections, and if you fail me, it will be ill done. Too soon it seems to me, if already you repent. Baldwin, is it a trick? Are you deceiving me? Speak to me, friend, if you can. . . . I see your garments dyed and bloody, but I do not believe that you are killed; there is no man so bold or so outrageous who ever could kill you; he durst not do so. But I think by such a will you wish to try me, how I should behave if you were departed. Speak to me, for God's sake who was born of virgin, and for that lady who kept chastity, and for the holy cross whereon Jesus suffered! Try me no more, friend, it is enough; I shall die now if you tarry longer,' 'Naymes,' says the king, 'take this lady away; if I see her grief any more, I shall go mad.'

"That night he ate no bread nor drank wine, but had the city watched, and rode the rounds himself, with helmet closed, his great buckler hanging to his neck, his sword in his fist. All the night it rained and blew; the water ran through the joints of his hauberk, and wetted his ermine pelisse beneath. His beard swayed, whiter than flax, his long moustache quivered; until dawn he lamented his nephew, and the twelve peers, and all his next-of-kin who were dead. From the gate at morn a Saxon, King Dyalas, defies the old man, swearing that he will wear his

p. 37

crown in Paris. The Emperor has the gate opened, and sallies forth to meet him. They engage in single combat; the old Emperor kills the Saxon's horse, disarms him, and only spares his life on condition of his embracing Christianity and yielding himself prisoner.

"The rest of the poem has comparatively little interest. Old Naymes in turn kills his man--a brother of Guiteclin--in single combat, Dyalas, the Emperor's new vassal, 'armed in French fashion,' performs wonders in honour of his new allegiance. Finally the Herupese come up, and of course overthrow the Saxons. An abbey is founded on the field of battle, which Sebile enters; Dyalas, baptized as 'Guiteclin the convert,' receives charge of the kingdom, and the Emperor returns, bearing with him the bodies of Baldwin and Berard; after which 'well was France in peace many a year and many a day; the Emperor found not any who should make him wroth.'"

Fastrada: a Legend of Aix-la-Chapelle

Fastrada, we are told, was the fourth wife of the Emperor Charlemagne and the best beloved. Historians have judged that the lady was by no means worthy of the extraordinary affection bestowed upon her by her husband, some maintaining that she practised the arts of sorcery, others crediting her with political intrigues, and still others roundly asserting that she was not so virtuous as she should have been.

History failing to account for Charlemagne's devotion to his fourth wife, the task has devolved upon tradition. Once upon a time (so runs the tale), when Charlemagne dwelt at Zurich, he had a pillar erected before his house, and on the top of the pillar a bell was placed, so that any one desiring justice had but to ring it to be immediately

p. 38

conducted before the Emperor, there to have his case considered.

One day, just as Charlemagne was about to dine, the bell was rung loudly. He at once dispatched his attendants to bring the importunate claimant into his presence. A moment later they re-entered with the assurance that no one waited outside. Even as they spoke the bell rang again, and again the attendants withdrew at the bidding of their royal master. Once more they returned with the information that none was to be seen. When the bell rang for the third time the Emperor himself rose from the table and went outside to satisfy himself as to the ringer's identity. This time the mystery was solved; for twining round the pillar was a great snake, which, before the astonished eyes of the Emperor and his suite, was lustily pulling the bell-rope.

"Bring the snake before me," said Charlemagne. "Whether to man or beast, I may not refuse justice."

Accordingly the snake was conducted with much ceremony into the Emperor's presence, where it was distinctly observed to make a low obeisance. The Kaiser addressed the animal courteously, as though it were a human being, and inquired what it wanted. Whereupon the snake made a sign which the company took to indicate that it desired the Emperor to follow it. Charlemagne did not hesitate, but followed the creature to the shores of the lake, attended by all his courtiers. Straight to its nest went the snake, and there, among the eggs, was an enormous toad, puffing out its bloated body and staring with glassy eyes at the company. The reason for the snake's appeal was at once apparent.

"Take away that toad," said the Emperor, as gravely as though he were pronouncing judgment in an important

p. 39

human case; "take away that toad and burn it. It has taken unlawful possession of the snake's nest."

The court listened to the Emperor's decree in respectful silence, and immediately carried out the sentence. The company thereupon re-entered the royal abode, and thought no more of the incident.

On the following day, however, at about the same hour, the serpent entered the chamber in which Charlemagne sat, and glided swiftly toward the table. The attendants were somewhat astonished at the unexpected appearance, but the Kaiser motioned to them to stand aside, for he was very curious to see what the reptile would do. Raising itself till its head was on a level with the table, it dropped into his plate a magnificent diamond of the first water, gleaming with the purest light. This done, the serpent bowed low, as on the previous occasion, and quitted the room as silently as it had entered.

The diamond, set in a gold ring of exquisite workmanship, Charlemagne presented to his wife, the beautiful Fastrada. But besides being a thing of beauty and of great value, the diamond was also a charm, for whoever received it from another received with it a wealth of personal affection. So was it with Charlemagne and Fastrada. On presenting the ring to his wife the Emperor straightway conceived for her a passion far more intense than he had hitherto experienced. From that time to the day of her death he was her devoted slave, blind and deaf to all her faults. Nay, even when she died, he refused to quit the room in which she lay, or permit the interment of her body; refused to see the approach of corruption, which spares not youth or loveliness; seemed, in short, to have lost all count of the passage of time in his grief for the beloved Fastrada. At length he was approached by Turpin,

p. 40

[paragraph continues] Archbishop of Rheims, who had learnt, by occult means, the reason for the Emperor's strange infatuation. Going up to the dead Empress, he withdrew from her mouth a large diamond. At the same moment Charlemagne regained his senses, made arrangements for the burial of his wife, and left for the Castle of Frankenstein.

The possessor of the ring was now the worthy archbishop, and to him the magically inspired affections of Charlemagne were transferred, much to the good man's annoyance. To rid himself of the unwelcome attentions and fulsome flatteries of his sovereign, he cast the ring into the lake which surrounded the castle. Once more the Emperor's affections changed their object, and this time it was the town of Aix-la-Chapelle with which he fell in love, and for which he retained a firm attachment all through his life, finally directing that he should be buried there. And so he was laid to rest in that wondrous old town in the church of St. Mary. In the year 1000 his tomb was opened by the Emperor Otto III, but the account that Otto found the body seated upon a throne with crown on head and sceptre in hand is generally regarded as legendary. The sarcophagus was once more opened by Frederick I in 1165, when the remains were transferred from the princely marble where they had hitherto rested and placed in a wooden coffin. Fifty years later, however, Frederick II had them placed in a splendid shrine. The original sarcophagus may still be seen at Aix, and the royal relics are exhibited every six years.

Louis, Charlemagne's son, lived to see the division of his Empire, brought about through his own weakness. His fair provinces were ravaged by the Danes and the Normans. Teuton and Frank were now for ever separated. Twice during Louis' reign his own sons dethroned him, but

p. 41

on his death in 840 the Empire became more firmly established.

Lothair I (840-855) succeeded to the imperial title, while Germany fell to the lot of his brother Louis. Charles the Bald ruled over France. Lothair's portion was limited to Lorraine, Burgundy, Switzerland, and Italy. Civil strife broke out, but Louis retained the whole of Germany with the provinces on the left bank of the Rhine. Louis II (856-875) ascended the throne as Roman Emperor, but died without any male issue, while Charles the Fat, who succeeded him, was removed from the throne by order of the Church on account of his insanity.

With Charles ended the Carolingian dynasty. From the death of the illustrious Charlemagne the race had gradually but surely declined. After the removal of Charles the Fat there came a lapse of seventy-four years. Conrad I (911-919) founded the Gascon dynasty of Germany, and was succeeded by Henry the Fowler (919-936). His son, Otto I, called the Great (936-973), was crowned Roman Emperor in 962. In 936 his elevation to the Germanic kingdom was a popular one. A portion of Gaul to the west of the Rhine along the banks of the Meuse and the Moselle was ceded to the Germans. Otto's supremacy between the Rhine, the Rhone, and the Alps was acquired and held for his successors. With the sword he propagated Christianity, subdued Italy, and delivered the Pope from his enemies, who, to show his appreciation, invested him with the imperial title, which ever after belonged to the Germanic nation. The German Emperors, however, still continued to exercise the right of electing the Pope, thereby reducing the Roman Church to a level of servitude.

Toward the close of the Carolingian dynasty France

p. 42

and Germany had become irrevocably detached; both nations suffered from internecine wars. The Slavonians penetrated into the Empire, even to the banks of the Rhine. Feudal princes began to make war upon each other, and, within their respective districts, were virtual sovereigns.

At the partition of the domains of Charlemagne in A.D. 843 the Rhine formed the boundary between Germany and the middle kingdom of Lotharingia, but by 870 the latter had been absorbed by the larger country. For a period verging upon eight hundred years it remained the frontier of the German Empire. In the early Middle Ages the heritage of the ancient Roman civilization rendered it the most cultured portion of Germany. By the time of Otto I (died 973) both banks of the Rhine had become German, and the Rhenish territory was divided between the duchies of Upper and Lower Lorraine, the one on the Moselle and the other on the Meuse. But, like other German states, on the weakening of the central power they split up into numerous petty independent principalities, each with its special history.

The Palatinate

Chief among these was the state known as the Palatinate, from the German word Pfalz, a name given generally to any district ruled by a count palatine. It was bounded by Prussia on the north, on the east by Baden, and on the south by Alsace-Lorraine. We first hear of a royal official known as the Count Palatine of the Rhine in the tenth century. Although the office was not originally an hereditary one, it seems to have been held by the descendants of the first count, until the continuity of the race of Hermann was broken by the election of Conrad,

p. 43

stepbrother of the German king Frederick I, as Count Palatine. From that time till much later in German history the Palatinate of the Rhine appears to have been gifted during their lifetime to the nephews or sons-in-law of the reigning Emperor, and by virtue of his occupancy of the office the holder became an Elector, or voter in the election of an Emperor. The office was held by a large number of able and statesmanlike princes, as Frederick I, Frederick III, the champion of Protestantism, and Frederick V. In the seventeenth century the Palatinate was first devastated and then claimed by France, and later was disturbed by still more harassing religious strife. In 1777 it was united with Bavaria upon the reigning Elector falling heir to the Electorate of that state.

A Tale of the Palatine House

Throughout the Middle Ages the nobles of Rhineland were mostly notorious for their wild savagery and predatory habits, and thus the modern traveller on the famous river, admiring the many picturesque castles built on summits overlooking its banks, is prone to think of these places as having been the homes of men who were little better than freebooters. And in general this idea is just; yet Walter Pater's story, Duke Karl of Rosenwald--which tells how a medieval German baron discovered in himself a keen love of art, and sought to gather artists round him from France and Italy--may well have been culled from a veracious historical source. For at least a few of the German petty princes of the Middle Ages shared the aestheticism characterizing so many of their contemporaries among the noblemen of the Latin races, and it is interesting to find that among the old German courts where art was loved in this isolated fashion was

p. 44

that of the Palatine house, which ultimately became related by marriage to the Royal Stuarts, a dynasty as eminently artistic as the Medicis themselves.

This Palatine house was regnant for many generations at Heidelberg Castle, and there, at a remote medieval date, reigned a prince named Louis III, who esteemed literature and painting. A fond parent he was besides, devoted to his two sons, the elder called Louis and the younger Frederick; and from the outset he attended carefully to the education of the pair, choosing as their tutor a noted scholar, one Kenmat, while he allowed this tutor's daughter Eugenia to be taught along with the princely pupils, and he also admitted to the group an Italian boy, Rafaello. These four children grew up together, and the Palatine prince was pleased to mark that Frederick, though full of martial ardour, showed intellectual tastes as well; yet the father did not live long to watch the growth of the boy's predilection therein, and there came a day when the crown of Louis III was acquired by his heir, Louis IV. Still quite young, the latter was already affianced to Margaret of Savoy; and this engagement had incensed various nobles of the Rhine, especially the Count of Luzenstein. He was eager that his own house should become affiliated with the Palatinate, and while he knew that there was little hope of frustrating Louis' prospective wedding, this did not nullify his ambitions. For was it not possible that the marriage might prove without issue? And, as that would ultimately set Frederick on the Palatine throne, Luzenstein determined that his daughter Leonora should wed the younger of the two princes. She herself was equally eager for the union, and though the affair was not definitely arranged in the meantime, it was widely


Click to enlarge

Facing Page 44.


p. 45

understood that at no very distant date Leonora's betrothal would be announced.

At length there came a day when the noblesse of the Rhine assembled at Heidelberg to celebrate the nuptials of Louis and Margaret. For a space the rejoicings went forward merrily, but, as Louis scanned the faces of his guests, he was surprised to find that Frederick was absent. Why was this? he mused; and going in search he soon found his brother in one of the smaller rooms of the castle, attended by Rafaello. Now the latter, who was developing a rare gift for sculpture, had lately made a statue to decorate this room; and on Louis entering Frederick was gazing with passionate fondness at this new work of art. Louis was straightway called upon to observe its loveliness, and even as Frederick was descanting thus, a number of the guests who had remarked their host's temporary absence trooped into the room, among them being Leonora of Luzenstein. She was in ill-temper, for Frederick had not so much as troubled to salute her on her arrival; and now, finding him deep in admiration of a statue, its subject a beautiful girl, her rancour deepened apace. But who was the girl? she wondered; and as divers other guests were also inquisitive on this head, it soon transpired that Rafaello's model had been Eugenia. Leonora knew that this girl had been Frederick's playmate in youth, so her wrath turned to fierce malice, for she suspected that in Eugenia she had a rival who might wreck all hopes of the Luzensteins becoming united to the Palatine house.

But Frederick regarded Eugenia only as a sister. He knew that she and the sculptor who had hewn her likeness loved one another, and he longed to see their union brought

p. 46

about, his genuine affection for the young Italian being the greater on account of Rafaello's blossoming talents as an artist. Leonora, however, knew nothing of the real situation; she fancied she had been insulted, and demanding of her father that he should cease all negotiations regarding Frederick's suggested engagement to her, she proceeded to take stronger measures. Readers of Sir Walter Scott's Anne of Geierstein will recall the Vehmgericht, that 'Secret Tribunal' whose deeds were notorious in medieval Germany, and it chanced that the Luzensteins were in touch with this body. Its minions were called upon to wreak vengeance on the younger Palatine prince. On several occasions his life was attempted, and once he would certainly have been killed had not Rafaello succoured him in the hour of need.

Meanwhile a son was born to Louis, and in celebration of the event a tourney was held at Heidelberg, competitors coming from far and near, all of them eager to win the golden sword which was promised to the man who should prove champion. One after another they rode into the lists, Frederick being among the number; and as each presented himself his name was called aloud by the herald. At length there came one of whom this functionary cried, "This is a nameless knight who bears a plain shield"; and at these words a murmur of disapproval rose from the crowd, while everyone looked up to where Louis sat, awaiting his verdict on the matter. But he signified that the mysterious aspirant should be allowed to show his prowess, and a minute later, all who were to take part being now assembled, Frederick and another competitor were stationed at opposite ends of the lists, and the signal given them to charge. Forward thundered their steeds, a fierce combat ensued; but Frederick proved victor, and so

p. 47

another warrior came forward to meet him. He, too, was worsted, and soon it appeared as though the young Palatine prince would surely win the coveted golden sword; for foeman after foeman he vanquished, and eventually only two remained to confront him--the nameless knight and another who had entered the lists under a strange, though less suspicious, pseudonym. The latter expressed his desire to fight last of all, and so the nameless one galloped toward Frederick, and their lances clashed together. The Palatine prince bore his adversary to the ground, apparently conquering him with complete ease; and fearing he had wounded him mortally, Frederick dismounted with intent to succour him. But the speedy fall had been a feint, and as the victor bent down the mysterious knight suddenly drew a dagger, with intent to plunge it into the prince's heart. So stealthy a deed was unknown in the history of the tourney. The crowd gazed as though petrified, and Frederick's life would doubtless have been lost--for he was weak after his many joustings--had not he who had asked to fight last of all galloped forward instantly on marking the drawn weapon and driven his lance into the body of the would-be murderer!

It was Rafaello who had rescued the Palatine prince once again, and it was a member of the Luzenstein house who had sought to kill him thus. A crafty device in truth, and thenceforth the name of Luzenstein became abhorred throughout all Rhineland, while the brave Italian was honoured by knighthood, and arrangements were made for his speedy union with Eugenia. But, alas! the fates were untoward; for the 'Secret Tribunal,' having been baulked again and again, began to direct their schemes against the sculptor instead of his patron; and one evening, as Rafaello was walking with his beloved one, a band

p. 48

of villains attacked and murdered the pair. They were buried together at a place known for many centuries after as 'The Lovers' Grave,' and here Frederick used to loiter often, musing fondly on the dear sister who had been snatched from him in this ruthless fashion, and dreaming of the lofty artistic career which he had planned in vain for his beloved Rafaello.

Bishops, Barons, and Bourgeois

To trace the fortunes, divisions, and junctions of the lesser Rhine principalities would be a work requiring a world of patience on the part of the reader as well as an amount of space which would speedily surpass the limits even of such an ample volume as the present. The constant changes of boundary of these tiny lordships, the hazy character of the powers possessed by their rulers, the multiplicity of free townships yielding obedience to none but their own civic rulers, the brief but none the less tyrannous rule of scores of robber barons who exercised a régime of blood and iron within a radius of five miles of their castellated eyries, render the tracing of the history of the Rhine during the Middle Ages a task of almost unequalled complexity, robbed of all the romance of history by reason of the necessity for constant attention to the details of dynastic and territorial changes and the petty squabblings and dreary scufflings of savage barons with their neighbours or with the scarcely less brutal ecclesiastical dignitaries, who, joining with gusto in the general mêlée of land-snatching, served to swell the tumult with their loud-voiced claims for land and lordship. Three of the Electors of Franconia, within the boundaries of which the Palatinate was included, were archbishops, and these were foremost in all dynastic and territorial bickerings.

p. 49

The growth of German municipalities since the days of their founder, Henry the Fowler, was not without effect upon the Empire. Distinctions of class were modified. The freeman became empowered to reserve to himself the right of going to war along with his lord. Imperial cities began to spring up; these were governed by a lieutenant of the Emperor, or by their own chief magistrate. They achieved confederation, thus guarding themselves against imperial and feudal encroachments. The 'League of the Rhine' and that of the Hanse Towns emerged as the fruit of this policy. The latter federation consisted of about four-score cities of Germany which under their charter enjoyed a commercial monopoly. This example succeeded so well that its promoter, Lübeck, had the satisfaction of seeing all cities between the Rhine and the Vistula thus connected. The clergy, jealous of this municipal power, besought the Emperor to repress the magistrates who had been called into being by the people, and who were closely allied to this commercial confederation. But the monarch advised the prelates to return to their churches lest their opulent friends became their enemies.

The Rhine Hanse Towns

The influence of the Hanseatic League of the Rhine district in the fourteenth century extended over the whole commercial radius of Germany, Prussia, Russia, the Netherlands, and Britain. It opened up new fields of commerce, manufacture, and industry. It paved the way for culture, it subdued the piracy which had existed in the Baltic, and it promoted a universal peace. On the other hand, it created jealousy; it boycotted the honest manufacturer and merchant who did not belong to the

p. 50

[paragraph continues] League, and fostered luxury in the Rhenish cities, which did much to sap the sturdy character of the people. The celebrity which many of these municipalities attained through their magnificence can be gathered from the historic buildings of Worms, Spires, Frankfort, Cologne, Augsburg, and Nuremberg. The splendour of these edifices and the munificence of their wealthy inhabitants could only be equalled in the maritime regions of Italy. But in the fifteenth century the power of the League began to decline. The Russian towns, under the leadership of Novgorod the Great, commenced a crusade against the Hanse Towns' monopoly in that country. The general rising in England, which was one of the great warehouses, under Henry VI and Edward IV reflected upon them. The Netherlands followed England's example. In the seventeenth century their existence was confined to three German towns--Lübeck, Hamburg, and Bremen. These no longer had the power to exercise their influence over the nation, and soon the League dropped out of existence.

The Thirty Years' War

The protracted struggle known as the Thirty Years' War was most prejudicial to the interests of the Rhine valley, which was overrun by the troops of the several nationalities engaged. One phase of this most disastrous struggle--the War of the Palatinate--carried the rapine and slaughter to the banks of the Rhine, where, as has been said, they were long remembered. During the reign of Ferdinand III (1637-1659) a vigorous and protracted war broke out between France and Germany, the former assisted by her ally Sweden. Germany, seeing that unless peace were restored her ruin as a great power would be inevitable, entered into negotiations with France, and in 1648

p. 51

the claims of France and Sweden were settled by the Peace of Westphalia. This treaty is particularly notable in the present instance because it gave to the former country the footing on the Rhine already mentioned as the beginning of French encroachments. Germany was forced to give up Alsace, on the left bank of the river. France, by the seizure of Strassburg, confirmed by the Treaty of Ryswick in 1695, extended her boundaries to the Rhine. At the beginning of the French Revolution Leopold II of Germany and other German monarchs agreed to support the cause of French royalty, a resolution which was disastrous to the Empire. In 1795 Prussia, for political reasons, withdrew from the struggle, ceding to France, in the terms of the Treaty of Basel, all her possessions on the left bank of the Rhine. In 1799 war again broke out; but in 1801 the Treaty of Lunéville gave to France the whole of the left bank of the river. Thus the historic stream became the boundary between France and Germany. In 1806 the humiliation of the latter country was complete, for in that year a number of German princes joined the Confederation of the Rhine, thus allying themselves with France and repudiating their allegiance to the Empire. In 1815, at the Congress of Vienna, the whole of the Lower Rhenish district was restored to Prussia, while Bavaria, a separate state, was put in possession of the greater part of the Palatinate on the left bank of the Rhine.

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

p. 52

[paragraph continues] 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,


OPPENHEIM ABBEY<br> LOUIS WEIRTER, R.B.A.<br> <i>Facing Page 52</i>.
Click to enlarge

Facing Page 52.


p. 53

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, Fräulein, 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

p. 54

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)

p. 55

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

p. 56

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 Théophile 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

p. 57

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 confrères 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

p. 58

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.


14:1 The Anthropological History of Europe, p. 100.

29:1 For numerous critical articles upon Charlemagne and the epics or chansons des gestes connected with him see the author's Dictionary of Medieval Romance.

Next: Chapter II. The Rhine in Folklore and Literature