Nothing can be more stupid than the descent of the Rhine to Mayence

ONE is constantly shown choice relics in passing through Switzerland, as well as in passing over Italy. Some, doubtless, are genuine, but which are so is the trouble. Thus, at Lucerne, in the public archives, I was shown the very sword William
Tell was accustomed to swing before him in battle, and the very cross-bow from which he hurled the bolt into the tyrant’s bosom. Both, however, are apocryphal. I forgot to mention, by the way, that these old Swiss cross-bows are not our Indian bows, but what school-boys call cross-guns. The bow, frequently made of steel, is fastened to a stock, and the arrow is launched along a groove. The bows of many of these are so stiff that it was with difficulty I could make them spring at all with my utmost strength. I might as well have pulled on a bar of iron. The stiffest of them even the strong-limbed mountaineer could not span with his unaided strength, and was compelled to have cog wheels and a small crank attached to the stock, by winding which he was enabled to spring the bow. He thus accumulated tremendous force on the arrow, and when it was dismissed it went with the speed and power of a bullet. At Basle there is a large collection of relics, made by a private gentleman, who has sunk his fortune in it. Among other things are Bonaparte’s robe worked by Josephine, in which he was crowned at Milan, and a neat rose-wood dressing case of the Empress, containing fifty secret drawers.
But not to stop here, we will away down the Rhine. The river is here shallow and bad to navigate, and so I took the railroad to Strasbourg, the lofty spire of whose cathedral rises to view long before the traveller reaches the town. This cathedral
or minster is one of the finest Gothic buildings in Europe, and has the loftiest spire in the world, it being four hundred and seventy-four feet above the pavement. It is formed of stone and yet open like frost-work, and looks from below like a delicate cast iron frame. Yet there it stands and has stood, with the wind whistling through its open-work for centuries. Begun about the time of the Crusades by Erwin of Steinbach, it was continued by his son, and afterwards by his daughter, and after that by others, and was finally finished 424 years after its foundation. I am not going to describe it; but just stand outside, by the west end, and cast your eye over the noble face it presents. Over the solid part of the wall is thrown a graceful net-work of arcades and pillars, formed of stone, yet so delicately cut that it seems a casting fastened on the surface. In the centre is a magnificent circular window, like a huge eye, only it is fifty feet across, while the body of the building itself towers away 230 feet above you, or nearly as high as Trinity church, steeple and all, will be when finished. And over all is this beautiful netting of stone. When Trinity church is completed, clap another just like it, spire and all, on the top of its spire, and you have some conception of the man ner the Strasbourg Minster lifts its head into the heavens. Among other things in the interior is the famous clock which, till lately, has for a long time remained silent, because no mechanist could be found of sufficient skill to arrange its elaborate interior. It is about the size of a large organ, and tells not only the time of the day, but the changes of the seasons—exhibits the different phases of the moon—the complicated movements of the planets, bringing about in their appointed time the eclipses of the sun and moon, besides playing several tunes and performing various marches by way of pastime. It is a time-keeper, astronomer, almanac, mathematician, and musician at the same time. Every hour a procession appears on its face marching round to the sound of music, with some striking figure in the foreground. We waited to notice one performance, and the chief personage that came out to do us honour was old Father Time, with his scythe over his shoulder, and his head bowed down in grief, looking as if he were striking his last hour. Here lies Oberlin, and about a mile and a half distant, at Waldbach, is his house and library, standing just as he left them.
Here for the first time I noticed the storks sitting quietly on their nests on the tops of the lofty chimnies, or stepping with their long legs and outstretched necks around on their perilous promenade. There is one street in this town called Brand Strasse (Fire Street), from the fact that in 1348 a huge bonfire was made where it runs, to burn the Hebrews, and 2,000 were consumed, for having, as it was declared, poisoned the wells and fountains of the town. Ah! almost all Europe has been one wide Brand Strasse to this unfortunate people.
Strasbourg is the great market for pates de foies gras, made, as it is known, of the livers of geese. These poor creatures are shut up in coops so narrow they cannot turn round in them, and then stuffed twice a day with Indian corn, to enlarge their livers, which have been known to swell till they reached the enormous weight of two pounds and a half. Garlick steeped in water is given them to increase their appetites. This invention is worthy of the French nation, where cooks are great as nobles.
From this place to Mayence, down the Rhine, there is nothing of interest except the old city of Worms, immortal for the part it played in the Reformation. It is now half desolate, but I looked upon it with the profoundest emotions. Luther rose before me with that determined brow and strange, awful eye of his, before which the boldest glance went down. I seemed to behold him as he approached the thronged city. Every step tells on the fate of a world, and on the single will of that single man rests the whole Reformation. But he is firm as truth itself, and in the regular beatings of that mighty heart, and the unfaltering step of that fear less form, the nations read their destiny. The Rhine is lined with battle fields, and mighty chieftains lie along its banks; but there never was the march of an army on its shores, not even when Bonaparte trod there with his strong legions, so sublime and awful as the approach of that single man to Worms. The fate of a nation hung on the tread of one—that of the world on the other. Crowns and thrones were carried by the former—the freedom of mankind by the latter. What is the headlong valour of Bonaparte on the bridge of Lodi, the terrible charge of McDonald at Wagram, or Ney at Waterloo, compared to the steady courage of this fearless man, placing himself single-handed against kings and princes, and facing down the whole visible church of God on earth, with its prisons and torture and death placed before him. But there was a mightier power at work within him than human will or human courage—the upstaying and uplifting spirit of God bearing on the heart with its sweet promise, and nerving it with its divine strength, till it could throb as calmly in the earthquake as in the sunshine. Still his was a bold spirit, daring all and more than man dare do.
The Rhine here is a miserable stream enough, flowing amid low marshy islands, and over a flat country, so that you seem to be moving through a swamp rather than down the most beautiful river of Europe. The boat will now be entangled in a perfect crowd of these mud islands till there seems no way of escape, and now, caught in a current, go dashing straight on to another; and just when the crash is expected, and you are so near you could easily leap ashore, it shoots away like an arrow, and floats on the broad lake-like bosom of the stream. Nothing can be more stupid than the descent of the Rhine to Mayence.
Here I crossed the river and took cars for Frankfort-on-the Maine. Here, also, I first noticed those huge rafts of timber which are brought from the mountains of Germany and floated down to Holland. One was moving down towards the bridge, four hundred feet long, and nearly three hundred wide, sprinkled over with the cabins of the navigators, who, with their families, amounted to between two and three hundred persons. I supposed the spectacle of such immense masses of floating timber was one of the peculiar features of our western world, and I did not expect such a wild and frontier scene here on the Rhine.
There are three classes of cars on the railroad to Frankfort. The first is fitted up for the delicate tastes of noble blood, though free to all. The second is better than any railroad carriage I ever saw at home, and the third very passable. Taking the second as more becoming my rank, I sped off for Frankfort. Of this free town I will say only that the belt of shrubbery and flowers going entirely round it, with carriage drives and promenades between, looks like a beautiful wreath encircling it, and occupying as it does the place of the old line of forts, is a sweet emblem of the change that is yet to come over the cities of the world from the peaceful influence of the gospel. The two things that interested us most were, the house in which Goethe was born, showing by its fine exterior that poverty was not the inheritance of one poet at least,-and the Jews’ street, at one end of which stands the palace of the Rothschilds. The Jews here, as every where, are old clothes men, and the street is black with garments hanging before the dwellings to tempt the purchaser. The Rothschilds have built their palace at the end of the street, but facing one of the most fashionable streets of the town. Thus they stand with one foot among the Jews and the other among Christians. I was struck with one little incident illustrating the tenacity with which a Hebrew clings to his despised people. The mother of the Rothschilds still lives among the old clothes in the midst of her kindred, and steadily refuses to dwell with her children in their magnificent palace. Like Ruth she says to her people, “Where thou goest I will go, and thy God shall be my God.” I love this strong affection for her persecuted race, choosing, as it does, shame and disgrace with them, rather than honour and riches with the world. Even here, in this enlightened town, until eleven years ago, there was an edict in force restricting the number of marriages among the Hebrews to thirteen per year.

(Joel Tyler Headley: The Alps and the Rhine. A Series of Sketches, New York 1845)


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