By-Ways of Europe: The Kyffhäuser and Its Legends
THÜRINGIA, " The Heart of Germany,” has for many a century ceased to be a political designation, yet it still lives in the mouths and the songs of the people as the well-beloved name for all that middle region lying between the Hartz on the north and the mountain-chain stretching from the Main to the Elbe on the south. A few points, such as Eisenach, Weimar, and Jena, are known to the tourist; the greater part, although the stage whereon many of the most important events in early and mediæval German history were enacted, has not yet felt the footstep of the curious stranger. From the overthrow of its native monarchy by the Franks, in the sixth century, to the close of the Thirty Years’ War, in the seventeenth, the fortunes of this land symbolized, in a great measure, those of the Teutonic race. Behind battle and crime and knightly deed sprang up those flowers of legend whose mature seed is Poetry. In no part of Europe do they blossom so thickly as here.
I had already stood in the hall of the Minnesingers on the Wartburg; had crept into the cave of Venus, on the mountain of Tannhäuser; had walked through the Valley of Joy. where the two wives of the Count of Gleichen first met face to face ; and had stood on the spot where Winfried, the English apostle, cut down the Druid oaks, and set up in their stead the first altar to Christ. But on the northern border of Thüringia, where its last mountains look across the Golden Mead towards the dark summits ol the Hartz, there stands a castle, in whose ruins sleeps the favorite tradition of Germany,-— a legend which, changing with the ages, became the embodiment of an idea, and now represents the national unity, strength, and freedom. This is the Kyffhäuser ; and the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa sleeps under it, in a crypt of the mountain, waiting for the day when the whole land, from the Baltic to the Alps, shall be ready to receive a single ruler. Then he will come forth, and the lost Empire will be restored.
Many a time, looking towards the far-away Brocken from the heights of the Thüringian Forest, had I seen the lower of the Kyffhäuser like a speck on the horizon, and as often had resolved to cross the twenty intervening leagues. The day was appointed and postponed—for years, as it happened ; but a desire which is never given up works out its own fulfilment in the course of time, and so it was with mine. It is not always best to track a legend too closely. The airy brow of Tannhäuser’s Mountain proved to be very ugly rock and very tenacious clay, when I had climbed it ; and I came forth from the narrow slit of a cavern torn, squeezed out of breath, and spotted with tallow. Something of the purple atmosphere of the mountain and the mystery of its beautiful story has vanished since then. But the day of my departure for tire Kyffhäuser was meant for an excursion into dream-land. When the Summer, departing, stands with reluctant feet; when the Autumn looks upon the land, yet has not taken up her fixed abode ; when the freshness of Spring is revived in every cloudless morning, and the afternoons melt slowly into smoke and golden vapor, — then comes, for a short space, the season of illusion, of credulity, of winsome superstition.
On such a day I went northward from Gotha into a boundless, undulating region of tawny harvest and stubble fields. The plain behind me, stretching to the foot of the Thüringian Forest, was covered with a silvery shimmering atmosphere, on which the scattered villages, the orchards, and the poplar-bordered highways were dimly blotted, like the first timid sketch of a picture, which shall grow into clear, confident color. Far and wide, over the fields, the peasants worked silently and steadily among their flax, oats, and potatoes,— perhaps rejoicing in the bounty of the sunshine, but too much in earnest to think of singing. Only the harvest of the vine is gathered to music. The old swallows collected their flocks of young on the ploughed land, and drilled them for the homeward flight. The sheep, kept together in a dense gray mass, nibbled diligently among the stubble, guarded only by a restless dog. At a corner of the field the box-house of the shepherd rested on its wheels, and he was probably asleep within it. Wains, laden with sheaves, rumbled slowly along the road towards the village barns. Only the ravens wheeled and croaked uneasily, as if they had a great deal of work to do, and could n’t decide what to undertake first.
I stretched myself out luxuriously in the carriage, and basked in the tempered sunshine. I had nothing to do but to watch the mellow colors of the broadening landscape, as we climbed the long waves of earth, stretching eastward and westward out of sight. Those mixed, yet perfect moods, which come equally from the delight of the senses and the release of the imagination, seem to be the very essence of poetry, yet how rarely do they become poetry ! The subtile spirit of song cannot often hang poised in thin air ; it must needs rest on a basis, however slender, of feeling or reflection. Eichendorff is the only poet to whom completely belongs the narrow border-land of moods and sensations. Yet the key-note of the landscape around me was struck by Tennyson in a single fortunate word,— “In looking on the happy Autumnfields.”The earth had finished its Summer work for Man, and now breathed of rest and peace from tree, and bush, and shorn stubble, and reviving grass. It was still the repose of lusty life ; the beginning of death, the sadness of the autumn, was to come.
In crossing the last hill, before descending to the city of Langensalza, I saw one of the many reverse sides of this fair picture of life. A peasant girl, ragged, dusty, and tired, with a young child in her lap, sat on a stone seat by the wayside. She had no beauty ; her face was brown and hard, her hair tangled, her figure rude and strong, and she held the child with a mechanical clasp, in which there was instinct, but not tenderness. Yet it needed but a single glance to read a story of poverty, and of shame and desertion ignorantly encountered and helplessly endured. Here was no acute sense of degradation ; only a blind, brutish wretchedness. It seemed to me, as I saw her, looking stolidly into the sunny air, that she was repeating the questions, over and over, without hope of answer: “ Why am I in the world ? What is to become of me ? ”
At Langensalza I took a lighter carriage, drawn by a single horse, which was harnessed loosely on the left side of a long pole. Unfortunately I had a garrulous old driver, who had seen something of last year’s battle, and supposed that nothing could interest me more than to know precisely where certain Prussian regiments were posted. Before I had divined his intention, he left the highway, and carried me across the fields to the top of the Jews’ Hill, which was occupied at the commencement of the battle by the Prussian artillery. The turf is still marked with the ragged holes of the cannon-balls. In the plain below, many trees are slowly dying from an overdose of lead. In the fields which the farmers were ploughing one sees here and there a headstone of granite or an iron crucifix ; but all other traces of the struggle have disappeared. The little mill, which was the central point of the fight, has been well repaired ; only some cannonballs, grim souvenirs, are left sticking in the gable-wall. A mile farther, across the Unstrut, at the commencement of the rising country, is the village of Merxleben, where the Hanoverians were posted. Its streets are as dull and sleepy as ever before. Looking at the places where the plaster has been knocked off the houses, one would not guess the instruments by which it was done.
Some distance farther, at a safe height, my old man halted beside two poplars. " Here,” he said, “ the King of Hanover stood.” Did he keep up the mimicry of sight, I wonder, While the tragedy was going on ? This blind sovereign represents the spirit of monarchy in its purest essence. Though totally blind, from a boy, he pretends to see, because — the people must perceive no defect in a king. When he rides out, the adjutants on both sides are attached to his arms by fine threads ; and he is thus guided, while appearing to guide himself. He visits picture-galleries, admires landscapes, and makes remarks upon the good or ill appearance of his courtiers. After the battle of Langensalza, which he pretended to direct, he seat his uniform to the museum at Hanover, with some straws and wheat-blades from the field where he stood sewed upon it in various places ! Other monarchs of Europe have carried the tattered trappings of absolutism into a constitutional form of government, but none of them has been so exquisitely consistent as this man.
We plodded forward over vast tawny waves of landscape, as regular as the swells of the sea. All this territory, once so rich and populous, was reduced to a desert during the Thirty Years’ War, and two centuries have barely sufficed to reclaim it. After that war, Germany possessed only twenty-five per cent of the men, the cattle, and the dwellings which she owned when it began, and this was the least of the evil. The new generation had grown up in insecurity, in idleness, immorality, and crime ; the spirit of the race was broken, its blood was tainted, and it has ever since then been obliged to struggle from decadence into new power. We must never lose sight of these facts when we speak of the Germany of the present day. Well for us that we have felt only the shock and struggle, the first awakening of the manly element, not the later poison of war !
After more than two hours on the silent, lonely heights, — scarcely a man being here at work in the fields or abroad on the road, — I approached a little town called Ebcleben, in the principality of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen. The driver insisted on baiting his horse at the “ municipal tavern,” as it was called; and I remembered that in the place lived a gentleman whom I had met nine years before. Everybody knew the Amtsrath ; he was at home ; it was the large house beside the castle. Ebeleben was a former residence of the princes ; but now its wonderful rococo gardens have run wild, the fountains and waterfalls are dry, the stone statues have lost their noses and arms, and the wooden sentries posted at all the gates have rotted to pieces. The remains are very funny. Not a particle of melancholy can be attached to the decayed grotesque.
I went into the court-yard of the house to which I had been directed. A huge parallelogram of stone and steep roofs enclosed it ; there were thirteen ploughs in a row on one side, and three mountains of manure on the other. As no person was to be seen, I mounted the first flight of steps, and found myself in a vast, antiquated kitchen. A servant, thrusting her head from behind a door, told me to go forward. Pantries and store-rooms fallowed, passages filled with antique household gear, and many a queer nook and corner ; but I at last reached the front part of the building, and found its owner. His memory was better than I had ventured to hope ; I was made welcome so cordially, that only the sad news that the mistress of the house lay at the point of death made my visit brief. The Amtsrath, who farms a thousand acres, led me back to the tavern through his garden, saying, “ We must try and bear all that comes to us,” as I took leave.
A few years ago there was a wild, heathery moorland, the haunt of gypsies and vagabonds, beyond Ebcleben. Now it is all pasture and grain-field, of thin and barren aspect, but steadily growing better. The dark-blue line I bad seen to the north, during the day, now took the shape of hills covered with forest, and the road passed between them into the head of a winding valley. The green of Thüringian meadows, the rich masses of beech and oak, again refreshed my eyes. The valley broadened as it fell, and the castle and spires of Sondershausen came into view. An equipage, drawn by four horses, came dashing up from a side-road. There were three persons in it ; the short, plain-faced man in a felt hat was the reigning prince, Gunther von Schwarzburg. There was not much of his illustrious namesake, the Emperor, in his appearance ; but he had an honest, manly countenance, and I thought it no harm to exchange greetings.
I think Sondershausen must be the quietest capital in Europe. It is said to have six thousand inhabitants, about two hundred of whom I saw. Four were walking in a pleasant, willowshaded path beside the mills ; ten were wandering in the castle-park ; and most of the remainder, being children, were playing in the streets. When I left, next morning, by post for the nearest railway station, beyond the Golden Mead, I was the only passenger. But the place is well built, and has an air of contentment and comfort.
I was here on the southern side of the mountain ridge which is crowned by the Kyffhäuser, and determined to cross to Kelbra, in the Golden Mead, at its northern base. The valley was draped in the silver mists of the morning as I set out; and through them rose the spire of Jechaburg, still bearing the name of the Druid divinity there overthrown by the apostle Winfried. But there was another point in the landscape where my fancy settled, — the Trauenberg, at the foot of which was fought the first great Hunnenschlachl (Battle of the Huns). When that gallant Emperor, Henry the BirdSnarer. sent a mangy dog to Hungary, instead of the usual tribute, he knew and prepared for the consequences of his act. The Huns burst into Germany ; he met and defeated them, first here, and then near Merseburg (A. D. 933), so utterly that they never again attempted invasion. Kaulbach’s finest cartoon represents one or the other of these battles. Those fierce groups of warriors, struggling in a weird atmosphere, made the airy picture which I saw. One involuntarily tries to vivify history, and the imagination holds fast to any help.
After an hoar and a half among the hills, I saw the Golden Mead,—so bright, so beautiful, that I comprehended the love which the German emperors, for centuries, manifested for it. I looked across a level valley, five or six miles wide, meadows green as May interrupting the bands of autumnal gold, groves and winding lines of trees marking the watercourses, stately towns planted at intervals, broad, ascending slopes of forest beyond, and the summit of the Brocken crowning all. East and west, the Mead faded out of sight in shining haze. It is a favored region. Its bounteous soil lies low and warm, sheltered by the Hartz ; it has an earlier spring and a later summer than any other part of Northern Germany. This I knew, but I was not prepared to find it, also, a delight to the eye. Towards Nordhausen the green was dazzling, and there was a blaze of sunshine upon it which recalled the plain of Damascus.
At Kelbra, I looked in vain for the Kyffhäuser, though so near it; an intervening summit hides the tower. On the nearest headland of the range, however, there is a ruined castle called the Rothenburg, which has no history worth repeating, but is always visited by the few who find their way hither. I procured a small boy as guide, and commenced my proper pilgrimage on foot. An avenue of cherry-trees gave but scanty shade from the fierce sun, while crossing the level of the Golden Mead; but, on reaching the mountain, I found a path buried in forests. It was steep, and hard to climb : and I soon found reason for congratulation in the fact that the summit has an altitude of only fifteen hundred feet. It was attained at last ; the woods, which had, been nearly impenetrable, ceased, and I found myself in front of a curious cottage, with a thatched roof, built against the foot of a tall round tower of other days. There were benches and tables under the adjoining trees ; and a solid figure, with a great white beard, was moving about in a semi-subterranean apartment, inserted among the foundations of the castle.
Had it been the Kyffhäuser, I should have taken him for Barbarossa. The face reminded me of Walt Whitman, and, verily, the man proved to be a poet. I soon discovered the fact; and when he had given us bread and beer, he brought forth, for my purchase, the third edition of “ Poems by the Hermit of the Rothenburg,” published by Brockhaus, Leipzig. His name is Friedrich Beyer. His parents kept an inn on ground which became the battle-field of Jena, three or four years after he was born. His first recollection is of cannon, fire, and pillage. This is all that I learned of his history ; his face suggests a great deal more. The traces of old passions, ambitions, struggles, and disappointments have grown faint from the exercise of a cheerful philosophy. He is proud to be called a poet, yet serves refreshments with as much alacrity as any ordinary kellner.
After a time he brought an album, saying : “ I keep this fur such poets as happen to come, but there are only two names, perhaps, that you have ever heard,—Ludwig Storch and Midler von der Worn. Uhland was once in the Hartz, but he never came here. Ruckertand a great many others have written, about the Kyffhäuser and Barbarossa ; but the poets, you know, depend on their fancies, rather than, on what they see. I can’t go about and visit them, so I can only become acquainted with the few who travel this way.”
He then took an immense tin speaking-trumpet, stationed himself on a rock, pointed live trumpet at an opposite ridge of the mountain, and bellowed forth four notes which sounded like the voice of a dying bull. But, after a pause of silence, angels replied. Tones of supernatural sweetness filled the distant air. fading slowly upwards, until the blue, which seemed to vibrate like a string that has been struck, trembled into quiet again. It was wonderful ! I have heard many echoes, but no other which so marvellously translates the sounds of earth into the language of heaven. " Do you notice.” said the poet, “how one tone grows out of the others, and silences them? Whatever sound I make, that same tone is produced. — not at first, but it comes presently from somewhere else, and makes itself heard. I call it reconciliation,— atonement; the principle in which all human experience must terminate. You will find a poem about it in my book.”
The Rothenburg has been a ruin for about three hundred years. It was a small castle, but of much more elegant and symmetrical architecture than most of its crumbling brethren. The trees which have grown up in court-yard and hall have here and there overthrown portions of the walls, but a number of handsome Gothic portals and windows remain. The round tower appears to have belonged to a much earlier structure. The present picturesque beauty of the place compensates tor the lack of history and tradition. Its position is such that it overlooks nearly the whole extent of the Golden Mead and the southern slope of the Hartz, — a hemisphere of gold and azure at the time of my visit. It was a day which had strayed into September out of midsummer. Intense, breathless heat filled the earth and sky, and there was scarcely a wave of air, even upon that summit.
The Kyffhäuser is two or three miles farther eastward, upon the last headland of the range, in that direction. The road connecting the two castles runs along the crest, through forests of the German oak, as is most fit. Taking leave of the poet, and with his volume in my pack, I plodded forward in the shade, attended by “ spirits twain,” invisible to iny young guide. Poetry walked on my right hand, Tradition on my left. History respectfully declined to join the party; the dim, vapory, dreamful atmosphere did not suit her. Besides, in regard to the two points concerning which I desired to be enlightened she could have given me little assistance. Why was the dead Barbarossa supposed to be enchanted in a vault under the Kyffhäuser, a castle which he had never made his residence ? Fifteen years ago, at the foot of the Taurus, in Asia Minor, I had stood on the banks of the river in which he was drowned ; and in Tyre I saw the chapel in which, according to such history as we possess, his body was laid. Then, why should he, of all the German emperors, be chosen as the symbol of a political resurrection ? He defied the power of the popes, and was placed under the ban of the Church ; he gained some battles, and lost others ; he commenced a crusade, but never returned from it ; he did something towards the creation of a middle class, but in advance of the time when such a work could have been appreciated. He was evidently a man of genius and energy, of a noble personal presence, and probably possessed that individual magnetism, the effect of which survives so long among the people ; yet all these things did not seem to constitute a sufficient explanation.
The popularity of the Barbarossa legend, however, is not to be ascribed to anything in the Emperor’s history. In whatever way it may have been created, it soon became the most picturesque expression of the dream of German unity,— a dream to which the people held fast, while the princes were doing their best to make its fulfilment impossible. Barbarossa was not the first, nor the last, nor the best of the great Emperors ; but the legend, ever wilful in its nature, fastened upon him, and Art and Literature are forced to accept what they find already accepted by the people. This seemed to me, then, to be the natural explanation, and I am glad to find it confirmed in the main points by one of the best living writers of Germany. The substance of the popular tradition is embodied in this little song of Ruckcrt: —
Friedrich, the Kaiser great,
Within the castle-cavern
Sits in enchanted state.
Waits in the chamber deep,
Where, hidden under the castle,
He sat himself, to sleep.
He took with him away,
And back to earth will bring it
When dawns the chosen day.
Whereof he makes his bed ;
The table is of marble
Whereon he props his head.
With fierce and fiery glow,
Right through the marble table
Beneath his chin doth grow.
With dull, half-open eye,
And, once an age, he beckons
A page that standeth by.
'O dwarf, go up this hour,
And see if still the ravens
Are flying round the tower.
Still wheel above me here,
Then must I sleep enchanted
For many a hundred year.’ ”
Half-way from the Rothenburg, after passing a curious pyramid of petrified wood, I caught sight of the tower of the Kyffhäuser, a square, dark-red mass, towering over the oak woods. The path dwindled to a rude forest road, and the crest of the mountain, on the left, hid from view the glimmering level of the Golden Mead. I saw nothing but the wooded heights on the right, until, after climbing a space, I found myself suddenly in the midst of angular mounds of buried masonry. The “ Kaiser Fried-rich’s tower,” eighty feet high and about thirty feet square, appeared to be all that remained of the castle. But the extensive mounds over which I stumbled were evidently formed from the débris of roofs and walls, and something in their arrangement suggested the existence of vaults under them. The summit of the mountain, four or fare hundred feet in length, is entirely covered with the ruins. A cottage in the midst, occupied by three wild women, is built over an ancient gateway, the level of which is considerably below the mounds ; and i felt sure, although the women denied it, that there must be subterranean chambers. They permitted me, in consideration of the payment of three cents, to look through a glass in the wall, and behold a hideous picture of the sleeping Emperor. Like Macbeth’s witches, they cried in chorus : —
Show his eyes and grieve his heart ;
Take his money, and let him depart!”
That, and a bottle of bad beer, which my small boy drank with extraordinary facility, was all the service they were willing to render me. But the storied peak was deserted; the vast ring of landscape basked in the splendid day ; the ravens were flying around the tower; and there were seats at various points where I could rest at will and undisturbed. The Kyffhäuser was so lonely that its gnomes might have allowed the wonder-flower to grow for me, and have opened their vaults without the chance of a profane foot following. I first sketched the tower, to satisfy Duty ; and then gave myself up to the guidance of Fancy, whose face, on this occasion, was not to be distinguished from that of Indolence. There was not a great deal to see, and no discoveries to make ; but the position of the castle was so lordly, the view of the Golden Mead so broad and beautiful, that I could have asked nothing more. I remembered, as I looked down, the meadows of Tarsus, and pictured to myself, in the haze beyond the Brocken, the snow summits of the Taurus. " What avails the truth of history ? ” I reflected ; “ I know that Barbarossa never lived here, yet I cannot banish his shadowy figure from my thoughts. Nay, I find myself on the point of believing the legend.”
The word Kyffhäuser ” means, simply, houses on the peak” (kippe or kuppe). The people, however, have a derivation of their own. They say that, after Julius Cæsar had conquered the Thüringian land, he built a castle for his praetor on this mountain, and called it Confusio, to signify the state to which he had reduced the ancient monarchy. Long afterwards, they add, a stag was found in the forest, with a golden cellar around its neck, on which, were the words : “ Let no one hurt me ; Julius gave me my liberty.” The date of the foundation of the castle cannot be determined. It was probably a residence, alternately, of the Thüringians and Franks, in the early Christian centuries ; the German emperors afterwards occasionally inhabited it; but it was ruined in the year 1189, just before the departure of Barbarossa for the Orient. Afterwards rebuilt, it appears to have been finally overthrown and deserted in the fourteenth century. It is a very slender history which I have to relate ; but, as I said before, History did not accompany me on the pilgrimage.
The Saga, however, — whose word is often as good as the w. it ten record,— had a great deal to say. She told me. first, that the images and ideas of a religion live among the people for ages after the creed is overthrown; that the half of a faith is simply transferred, not changed. Here is the thread by which the legend of the Kyffhäuser may be unravelled. The gods of the old Scandinavian and Teutonic mythology retreated into the heart of certain sacred mountains during the winter, and there remained until the leaves began to put forth in the forests, when the people celebrated the ir reappearance by a spring festival, the Druid Pentecost. When Christianity was forced upon the land, and the names of the gods were prohibited, the prominent chiefs and rulers took their place. Charlemagne sat with his paladins in the Untersberg, near Salzburg, under the fortress of Nuremberg, and in various other mountains. Two centuries later, Otto the Great was, in like manner, invested with a subterranean court; then, after an equal space of time, came Barbarossa’s turn. Gustav Freytag,1 to whom I am indebted for some interesting information on this point, read to me, from a Latin chronicle of the year 1050, the following passage : " This year there was great excitement among the people, from the report that a ruler would come forth and lead them to war. Many believed that it would be Charlemagne ; but many also believed that it would be another, whose name cannot be mentioned.”This other was Wuotan (Odin), whose name the people whispered three centuries after they had renounced his worship.
This explanation fits every particular of the legend. The Teutonic tribes always commenced their wars in the spring, after the return of the gods to the surface of the earth. The ravens flying around the tower are the wellknown birds of Odin. When Barbarossa conies forth, he will first hang his shield on the barren tree, which will then burst into leaf. The mediæval legend sprang naturally from the grave of the dead religion. Afterwards, — probably during the terrible depression which followed the Thirty Years’ War,—another transfer took place. The gods were at last forgotten ; but the aspirations of the people, connecting Past and Future, found a new meaning in the story, which the poets, giving it back to them in a glorified form, fixed forever.
We have only two things to assume, and they will give us little trouble. The Kyffhäuser must have been one of those sacred mountains of the Teutons in which the gods took up their winter habitation. Its character corresponds with that of other mountains which were thus selected. It is a projecting headland, partly isolated from the rest of the range, — like Tabor, “a mountain apart.” This would account for the location of the legend. The choice of Barbarossa may be explained partly by the impression which his personal presence and character made upon the people (an effect totally independent of his place in history), and partly from the circumstance, mysterious to them, that he went to the Holy Land, and never returned. Although they called him the “ Heretic Emperor,” on account of his quarrel with the Pope, this does not appear to have diminished the power of his name among them. The first form of the legend, as we find it in a fragment of poetry from the fourteenth century, says that he disappeared, but is not dead ; that hunters or peasants sometimes meet him as a pilgrim, whereupon he discovers himself to them, saying that he will yet punish the priests, and restore the Holy Roman Empire. A history, published in the year 1519, says: " He was a man of great deeds, marvellously courageous, lovable, severe, and with the gift of speech, — renowned in many things as was no one before him save Carolus the Great, — and is at last lost, so that no man knows what is become of him.”
I know not where to look for another tradition made up of such picturesque elements. Although it may be told in a few words, it contains the quintessence of the history of two thousand years. Based on the grand Northern mythology, we read in it the foundation of Christianity, the Crusades, that hatred of priestcraft which made the Reformation possible, the crumbling to pieces of the old German Empire, and finally that passionate longing of the race which is now conducting it to a new national unity and power. For twenty years the Germans have been collecting funds to raise a monument to Herrmann, the Cheruskian chief, the destroyer of Varus and his legions in the Teutoburger Forest ; yet Germany, after all, grew great from subjection to the laws and learning of Rome. The Kyffhäuser belter deserves a monument, not specially to Barbarossa, but to that story which tor centuries symbolized the political faith of the people.
The local traditions which have grown up around the national one are very numerous. Some have been transplanted hither from other places—as, for instance, that of the key-flower, — but others, very naïve and original, belong exclusively here. It is verypossible, however, that they may also be found in other lands ; the recent researches in fairy lore teach us that scarcely anything of what we possess is new. Here is one which suggests some passages in Wieland’s “Oberon.”
In Tilleda, a village at the foot of the Kyffhäuser, some lads and lasses were met, one evening, for social diversion. Among them was a girl whom they were accustomed to make the butt of their fun, — whom none of them liked, although she was honest and industrious. By a secret understanding, a play of pawns was proposed ; and when this girl’s turn came to redeem hers, she was ordered to go up to the castle and bring back three hairs from the sleeping Emperor’s beard. She set out on the instant, while the others made themselves merry over her simplicity. To their great surprise, however, she returned in an hour, bringing with her three hairs, fiery-red in color and of astonishing length. She related that, having entered the subterranean chambers, she was conducted by a dwarf to the Emperor’s presence, where, after having drained a goblet of wine to his health, and that of the Frau Empress, she received permission to pluck three hairs from the imperial beard, on condition that she would neither give them away nor destroy them. She faithfully kept the promise. The hairs were laid away among her trinkets; and a year afterwards she found them changed into rods of gold, an inch in diameter. Of course the former Cinderella then became the queen.
There are several stories, somewhat similar in character, of which musicians or piping herdsmen are the heroes. Now it is a company of singers or performers, who, passing the Kyffhäuser late at night, give the sleeping Emperor a serenade ; now it is a shepherd, who, saying to himself, “ This is for the Kaiser Friedrich,” plays a simple melody upon his flute. In each case an entrance opens, into the mountain. Either a princess comes forth with wine, or a page conducts the musicians into the Emperor’s presence. Sometimes they each receive a green bough in payment, sometimes a horse’s head, a stick, or a bunch of flax. All are either dissatisfied with their presents, or grow tired of carrying them, and throw them away, — except one (generally the poorest and silliest of the company), who takes his home with him as a souvenir of the adventure, or as an ironical present to his wife, and finds it, next morning, changed into solid gold. How faithful are all these legends to the idea of compensation ! It is always the poor, the simple, the persecuted to whom luck comes.
I have two more stories, of a different character, to repeat. A poor laborer in Tilleda had an only daughter, who was betrothed to a young man equally poor, but good and honest. It was the evening before the weddingday ; the guests were already invited, and the father suddenly remembered with dismay that there was only one pot, one dish, and two plates in the house. “ What shall we do ?” he cried. “ You must go tip to the Kyffhäuser, and ask the Princess to lend us some dishes.” Hand in hand the lovers climbed the mountain, and at the door of the cavern found the Princess, who smiled upon them as they came. They made their request timidly and with fear; but she bade them lake heart, gave them to eat and drink, and filled a large basket with dishes, spoons, and everything necessary for a wedding feast. When they returned to the village with their burden, it was day. All things were strange ; they recognized neither house nor garden : the people were unknown, to them, and wore a costume they had never before seen. Full of distress and anxiety, they Sought the priest, who, after hearing their story turned over the church-books, and found that they had been absent just two hundred years.
The other legend is that of Peter Klaus, the source from which Irving drew his Rip Van Winkle. I had read it before (as have, no doubt, many of rny readers), but was not acquainted with its local habitation until my visit to the Kyffhäuser. It was first printed, so far as I can learn, in a collection made by Otmar, and published in Bremen in the year 1800. Given in the briefest outline, it is as follows : Peter Klaus, a shepherd of Sittendorf, pastured his herd on the Kyffhäuser, and was in the habit of collecting the animals at the foot of an old ruined wall. He noticed that one of his goats regularly disappeared for some hours every day ; and, finding that she went into an opening between two of the stones, he followed her. She led him into a vault, where she began eating grains of oats which fell from the ceiling. Over his head he beard the stamping and neighing of horses. Presently a squire in ancient armor appeared, and beckoned to him without speaking He was led up stairs, across a courtyard, and into an open space in the mountain, sunken deep between rocky walls, where a company of knights, stern and silent, were playing at bowls. Peter Klaus was directed by gestures to set up the pins, which he did in mortal fear, until the quality of a can of wine, placed at his elbow, stimulated his courage. Finally, after long service and many deep potations, he slept. When he awoke, he found himself lying among tall weeds, at the foot of the ruined wall. Herd and dog had disappeared ; his clothes were in tatters, and a long beard hung upon his breast. He wandered back to the village, seeking his goats, and marvelling that he saw none but strange faces. The people gathered around him, and answered his questions, hat each name he named was that upon a stone in the churchyard. Finally, a woman who scented to he his wife pressed through the crowd, leading a wild-looking boy, and with a baby in her arms. “What is your name ? ” he asked.
“ And your father ? ”
“He was Peter Klaus, God rest his soul ! wild went up the Kyffhäuser with his herd, twenty years ago, and has never been seen since.”
Irving has taken almost every feature of his story from this legend ; but his happy translation of it to the Catskills, and the grace and humor which he has added to it, have made it a new creation. Peter Klaus is simply a puppet of the people’s fancy, but Rip Van Winkle has an immortal vitality of his own. Few, however, who look into the wild little glen, on climbing to the Catskill Mountain House, suspect from what a distance was wafted the thistledown which there dropped and grew into a new plant, with the richest flavor and color of the soil. Here, on the Kyffhäuser, I find the stalk whence it was blown by some fortunate wind.
No doubt some interesting discoveries might be made, if the ruins were cleared and explored. At the eastern end of the crest are the remains of another tower, from which I detected masses of masonry rising through the oaks, on a lower platform of the mountain. The three wild women informed me that there was a chapel down there; but my small boy had never heard of it, and did n’t know the way.
“ Where do you come from, boy ? ” the women asked.
“ From Kelbra.”
Oh ! ah ! To be sure you don’t know ! The Kelbra people are blockheads and asses, every one of 'em. They think their Rothenburg is everything, when the good Lord knows that the Kaiser Red-beard never lived there a day of his life. From Kelbra, indeed ! It’s the Tilleda people that know how to guide strangers ; you ve made a nice mess of it, Herr, taking a Kelbra boy ! ”
Perhaps I had ; but it was n't pleasant to be told of it in that way. So I took my boy, said farewell to Barbarossa’s tower, and climbed down the steep of slippery grass and stones to the ruins of the lower castle. The scrubby oaks and alder thickets were almost impenetrable ; a single path wound among them, leading me through three ancient gateways, but avoiding several chambers, the walls of which are still partially standing. However, I finally reached the chapel, — a structure more Byzantine than Gothic, about fifty feet in length. It stands alone, at the end of a court-yard, and is less ruined than any other part of the castle. The windows remain, and a great part of the semicircular chancel, but I could find no traces of sculpture. The floor had been dug up in search of buried treasure. Looking through an aperture in the wall, I saw another enclosure of ruins on a platform farther below. The castle of Kyffhäuser, then, embraced three separate stages of buildings, all connected, and forming a pile nearly a quarter of a mile in length. Before its fall it must have been one of the stateliest fortresses in Germany.
I descended the mountain in the fierce, silent heat which made it seem so lonely, so far removed from the bright world of the Golden Mead. There were no flocks on the dry pasture-slopes, no farmers in the stubblefields under them; and the village of Tilleda, lying under my eyes, bared its deserted streets to the sun. There, nevertheless, I found rest and refreshment in a decent inn. My destination was the town of Artern, on the Unstrut, at the eastern extremity of the Golden Mead; and I had counted on finding a horse and hay-cart, at least, to carry me over the intervening nine or ten miles. But no ; nothing of the kind was to be had in Tilleda, — even a man to shoulder my pack was an unusual fortune, for which I must be grateful. “ Wait till evening,” said the landlady, after describing to me the death of her husband, and her business troubles, “and then Hans Meyer will go with you.”
The story being that the family of Goethe originally came from Artern, and that some of its members were still living in the neighborhood, I commenced my inquiries at Tilleda.
“Is there anybody of the name of Goethe in the village ? ” I asked the landlady.
“ Yes,” said she, “ there’s the blacksmith Goethe, but I believe he’s the only one.”
The poet’s great-grandfather having been a blacksmith, and the practice of a certain trade or profession being so frequently hereditary among the Germans, I did not doubt but that this was a genuine branch of the family. All that the landlady could say of the man, in reply to my questions, was, “ He ’s only a blacksmith.”
The sun had nearly touched the tower on the Kyffhäuser when Hans Meyer and I set out for Artern ; but the fields still glowed with heat, and the far blue hills, which I must reach, seemed to grow no nearer, as I plodded painfully along the field-roads. The man was talkative enough, and his singular dialect was not difficult to understand. He knew no tradition which had not already been gathered, but, like a genuine farmer, entertained me with stories of hail-storms, early and late frosts, and inundations. He was inveterately wedded to old fashions, and things of the past, had served against the Republicans in 1849, and not a glimmering idea of the present national movement had ever entered his mind. I had heard that tins region was the home of conservative land-owners, and ignorant peasants who believe in them, but I am not willing to take Hans Meyer as a failspecimen of the people.
It is wearisome to tell of a weary journey. The richest fields may be monotonous, and the sweetest pastoral scenery become tame, without change. I looked over the floor of the Golden Mead, with ardent longing towards the spire of Artern in the east, and with a faint interest towards the castle of Sachsenberg, in the south, perched above a gorge through which the Unstrut breaks its way. The sun went down in a splendor of color, the moon came up like a bronze shield, grain-wagons rolled homewards, men and women flocked into the villages, with rakes and forks on their shoulders, and a cool dusk slowly settled over the great plain. Hans Meyer was silent at last, and I was in that condition of tense endurance when an unnecessary remark is almost as bad as an insult; and so we went over the remaining miles, entering the gates of Artern by moonlight.
The first thing I did, in the morning, was to recommence my inquiries in regard to Goethe. “Yes,” said the landlord, “his stammhaus (ancestral house) is here, but the family don’t live in it any longer. If you want to see it, one of the boys shall go with you. There was formerly a smithy in it; but the smiths of the family left, and then it was changed.”
I followed the boy through the long, roughly paved main street, until we had nearly reached the western end of the town, when he stopped before an old yellow house, two stories high, with a steep tiled roof. Its age, I should guess, was between two and three hundred years. The street-front, above the ground floor,— which, having an arched entrance and only one small window, must have been the former smithy, — showed its framework of timber, as one sees in all old German houses. Before the closely ranged windows of the second story, there were shelves with pots of gilliflowers and carnations in blossom. It was a genuine mechanic’s house, with no peculiar feature to distinguish it particularly from the others in the street. A thin-faced man, with sharp black mustache, looked out of one of the windows, and spoke to the boy, who asked whether I wished to enter. But as there was really nothing to be seen, I declined.
According to the chronicles of Artern, the great-grandfather Goethe, the blacksmith, had a son who was apprenticed to a tailor, and who, during his wanderschaft, sojourned awhile in Frankforton-the-Main. He there captivated the fancy of a rich widow, the proprietress of the Willow-Bush Hotel (the present “ Hotel Union ”), and married her, — or she married him,—a fact which presupposes good looks, or talents, or both, on his part. His son, properly educated, became in time the Councillor Goethe, who begat the poet. The latter, it is said, denied that the tailor was his grandfather, whence it is probable that an additional generation must be interpolated ; but the original blacksmith has been accepted, I believe, by the most of Goethe’s biographers. A generation, more or less, makes no difference. Goethe’s ancestry, like that of Shakespeare, lay in the ranks of the people, and their strong blood ran in the veins of both.
No author ever studied himself with such a serene, objective coolness as Goethe ; but when he speaks to the world, one always feels that there is a slight flavor of dichtung infused into his wahrheit. Or perhaps, with the arrogance natural to every great intellect, he reasoned outward, and assumed material from spiritual facts. Fiction being only Truth seen through a different medium, the poet who can withdraw far enough from his own nature to contemplate it as an artistic study, works under a different law from that of the autobiographer. So when Goethe illustrates himself, we must not always look closely for facts. The only instance, which I can recall at this moment, wherein he speaks of his ancestors, is the poetical fragment: —
Stern views of life compelling ;
From mother I take the joyous heart,
And the love of story-telling;
Great-grandsire’s passion was the fair —
What if I still reveal it ?
Great-grandam’s was pomp, and gold, and show,
And in my bones I feel it,”
It is quite as possible, here, that Goethe deduced the character of his ancestors from his own, as that he sought an explanation of the latter in their peculiarities. The great-grandsire may have been Textor, of his mother’s line ; it is not likely that he knew much of his father’s family-tree. The burghers of Frankfurt were as proud, in their day, as the nobility of other lands ; and Goethe, at least in his tastes and habits, was a natural aristocrat. It is not known that he ever visited Artern.
Concerning the other members of the original family, the landlord said: “ Not one of them lives here now. The last Goethe in the neighborhood was a farmer, who had a lease of the scharfrichterei ” (an isolated property, set apart for the use of the government executioner), “but he left here some six or eight years ago, and emigrated to America.” “ Was he the executioner ? ” I asked. “ O, by no means ! ” the landlord answered ; “ he only leased the farm ; but it was not a comfortable place to live upon, and, besides, he did n’t succeed very well.” So the blacksmith in Tilleda and the American Goethe are the only representatives left. What if a great poet for our hemisphere should, in time, spring from the loins of the latter ?
I ordered a horse and carriage with no compunctions of conscience, for I was really unable to make a second day’s journey on foot. The golden weather had lasted just long enough to complete my legendary pilgrimage. The morning at Artern came on with cloud and distant gray sweeps of rain, which soon blotted out the dim headland of the Kyffhäuser. I followed the course of the Unstrut, which here reaches the northern limit of his wanderings, and winds southward to seek the Saale. The valley of the river is as beautiful as it is secluded, and every hour brings a fresh historical field to the traveller. No highway enters it; only rude country roads lead from village to village, and rude inns supply plain cheer. Tourists are here an unknown variety of the human race.
I passed the ruins of Castle Wendelstein, battered during the Thirty Years’ War, — a manufactory of beet-sugar now peacefully smokes in the midst of its gray vaults and buttresses, -— and then Memleben, where Henry the BirdSnarer lived when he was elected Emperor, and Otto II. founded a grand monastery. Other ruins and ancient battle-fields followed, and finally Nebra, where, in 531, the Thüringians fought with the Franks three days, and lost their kingdom. On entering Nebra, I passed an inn with the curious sign of “ Care” (Sorge),— represented by a man with a most dismal face, and his head resting hopelessly upon his hand. An inn of evilest omen ; and, assuredly, I did not stop there.
Farther down the valley, green vineyards took the place of the oak forests, and the landscapes resembled those of the Main and the Neckar. There were still towns, and ruined castles, and battle-fields, but I will not ask the reader to explore the labyrinthine paths of German history. The atmosphere of the legend had faded, and I looked with an indifferent eye on the storied scenes which the windings of the river unfolded. At sunset, I saw it pour its waters into those of the Saale, not far from the railway station of Naumburg, where I came back to the highways of travel.
- The well-known author of "Debit and Credit” and “ Pictures of the German Past.”↩