It was short work to squeeze all the poetry out of this group

The afternoon was lovely, when, passing the conical and castle-crowned steep of Godisberg, we approached the hills, where the road for the first time runs on the immediate borders of the stream. Opposite to us were the Seven mountains, topped by the ruins of the Drachenfels, crag and masonry wearing the appearance of having mouldered together under the slow action of centuries; and, a little in advance, the castle of Rolandseck peered above the wooded rocks on our own side of the river. Two low islands divided the stream, and on one of them stood the capacious buildings of a convent. Every one at all familiar with the traditions of the Rhine, has heard the story of the crusader, who, returning from the wars, found his betrothed a nun in this asylum. It would seem that lies were as rife before the art of printing had been pressed into their service, or newspapers known, as they are to-day, for she had been taught to think him dead or inconstant; it was much the same to her. The castle which overlooked the island was built for his abode, and here the legend is prudently silent. Although one is not bound to believe all he hears; we are all charmed with the images which such tales create, especially when, as in this case, they are aided by visible and tangible objects in the shape of good stone walls. As we trotted along under the brow of the mountain that upholds the ruins of the castle of Charlemagne’s nephew, my eye rested musingly on the silent pile of the convent. “That convent,” I called out to the postilion, “is still inhabited?” “Ja, mein Herr, es ist ein gasthaus.” An inn!—the thing was soon explained. The convent, a community of Benedictines, had been suppressed some fifteen or twenty years, and the buildings had been converted into one of your sentimental taverns. With the closest scrutiny I could not detect a soul near the spot, for junketing in a ruin is my special aversion. A hamlet stood on the bank at no great distance above the island; the postilion grinned when I asked if it would be possible to get horses to this place in the morning, for it saved him a trot all the way to Oberwinter. He promised to send word in the course of the night to the relay above, and the whole affair was arranged in live minutes. The carriage was housed and left under the care of François on the main land, a night sack thrown into a skiff, and in ten minutes we were afloat on the Rhine. Our little bark whirled about in the eddies, and soon touched the upper point of the island.

We found convent, gasthaus, and sentiment, without any pre-occupants. There was not a soul on the island, but the innkeeper, his wife, a child, a cook, a crone who did all sorts of work, and three Prussian soldiers, who were billeted on the house, part of a detachment that we had seen scattered along the road, all the way from Bonn. I do not know which were the most gladdened by the meeting, ourselves or the good people of the place; we at finding anything like retirement in Europe, and they at seeing anything like guests. The man regretted that we had come so late, for a large party had just left him; and we felicitated ourselves that we had not come any sooner, for precisely the same reason. As soon as he comprehended our tastes, he very frankly admitted that every room in the convent was empty. “There is no one, but these, on the island. Not a living being, herr graf” for these people have made a count of me, whether or not. Here then were near two hundred acres, environed by the Rhine, prettily disposed in wood and meadow, absolutely at our mercy. You can readily imagine, with what avidity a party of young Parisiennes profited by their liberty, while I proceeded forthwith to inspect the ladder, and then to inspect the cloisters. Sooth to say, sentiment had a good deal to do with two of the courses of a dinner at Nonnenswerth, for so is the island called. The buildings were spacious, and far from mean; and it was a pleasant thing to promenade in cloisters that had so lately been trodden by holy nuns, and see your dinner preparing in a convent kitchen. I could do no less than open a bottle of “Liebfraumilch” in such a place, but it proved to be a near neighbour to bonny-clabber.

As the evening closed we took possession of our rooms. Our parlour had been that of the lady abbess, and A—— had her bed-chamber. These were spacious rooms and well furnished. The girls were put into the cells, where girls ought never to be put. Jetty had another near them, and, these dispositions made, I sallied forth alone, in quest of a sensation.

The intense heat of the day had engendered a gust. The thunder was muttering among the “seven mountains,” and occasionally a flash of lightning illumined the pitchy darkness of the night. I walked out into the grounds, where the wind was fiercely howling through the trees. A new flash illumined the hills, and I distinctly saw the naked rock of the Drachenfels, with the broken tower tottering on the half-ruined crag, looked fearful and supernatural. By watching a minute, another flash exposed Rolandseck, looking down upon me with melancholy solicitude. Big drops began to patter on the leaves, and, still bent on sensations, I entered the buildings.

The cloisters were gloomy, but I looked into the vast, smoked, and cavern-like kitchen, where the household were consuming the fragments of our dinner. A light shone from the door of a low cell, in a remote corner of the cloisters, and I stole silently to it, secretly hoping it would prove to be a supernatural glimmering above some grave. The three Prussians were eating their cheese-parings and bread, by the light of a tallow candle, seated on a stone floor. It was short work to squeeze all the poetry out of this group.

The storm thickened, and I mounted to the gallery, or the corridor above the cloisters, which communicated with our own rooms. Here I paced back and forth, a moment, in obscurity, until, by means of a flash, I discovered a door, at one extremity of the passage. Bent on adventure, I pushed and it opened. As there were only moments when anything could be seen, I proceeded in utter darkness, using great caution not to fall through a trap. Had it been my happy fortune to be a foundling, who had got his reading and writing “by nature,” I should have expected to return from the adventure a Herzog, at least, if not an Erz-Herzog. Perhaps, by some inexplicable miracle of romance, I might have come forth the lawful issue of Roland and the nun!

As it was, I looked for no more than sensations, of which the hour promised to be fruitful. I had not been a minute in the unknown region, before I found that, if it were not the abode of troubled spirits, it at least was worthy to be so. You will remember that I am not now dealing in fiction, but truth, and that, unlike those who “read when they sing, and sing when they read,” I endeavour to be imaginative in poetry and literal in my facts. I am now dealing strictly with the latter, which I expect will greatly enhance the interest of this adventure.

After taking half-a-dozen steps with extreme caution, I paused a moment, for the whole air appeared to be filled by a clatter, as if ten thousand bats’ wings were striking against glass. This was evidently within the convent, while, without, the wind howled even louder than ever. My hand rested on something, I knew not what. At first I did not even know whether I was in the open air, or not, for I felt the wind, saw large spaces of dim light, and yet could distinguish that something like a vault impended over my head. Presently a vivid flash of lightning removed all doubt. It flickered, seemed extinguished, and flared up again, in a way to let me get some distinct ideas of the locus in quo. I had clearly blundered into the convent chapel; not upon its pavement, which was on a level with the cloisters below, but into an open gallery, that communicated with the apartments of the nuns, and my hand was on the chair of the lady abbess, the only one that remained. The dim light came from the high arched windows, and the bats’ wings were small broken panes rattling in the gale. But I was not alone. By the transient light I saw several grim figures, some kneeling, others with outstretched arms, bloody and seared, and one appeared to be in the confessional. At the sight of these infernal spectres, for they came and went with the successive flashes of the lightning, by a droll chain of ideas, I caught myself shouting, rather than singing—”Ship ahoy! ship ahoy!—what cheer, what cheer?” in a voice loud as the winds. At last, here was a sensation! Half-a-dozen flashes rendered me familiar with the diabolical-looking forms, and as I now knew where to look for them, even their grim countenances were getting to be familiar. At this moment, when I was about to address them in prose, the door by which I had entered the gallery opened slowly, and the withered face of an old woman appeared in a flash. The thunder came next, and the face vanished—”Ship ahoy! ship ahoy!—what cheer, what cheer?” There was another pause—the door once more opened, and the face re-appeared. I gave a deep and loud groan; if you ask me why, I can only say, because it seemed to be wanting to the general effect of the scene and place. The door slammed, the face vanished, and I was alone again with the demons. By this time the gust was over I groped my way out of the gallery, stole through the corridor into my own room, and went to bed. I ought to have had exciting dreams, especially after the Liebfraumilch, but, contrary to all rule, I slept like a postilion in a cock-loft, or a midshipman in the middle watch.

The next morning at breakfast, A—— had a melancholy tale to relate; how the poor old crone, who has already been mentioned, had been frightened by the gust—how she stole to the chapel to mutter a prayer—how she opened the door of the gallery—how she heard strange sounds, and particularly certain groans—how she had dropped the candle—how the door had blown to, and she, miserable woman, had stolen to the bed of her (A——’s) maid, whom she had implored to give her shelter and protection for the night! We went in a body to look at the chapel, after breakfast, and it was admitted all round, that it was well suited to produce a sensation, in a thunder-storm, of a dark night, and that it was no wonder Jetty’s bed-fellow had been frightened. But now everything was calm and peaceful. The glass hung in fragments about the leaden sashes; the chair and prière-dieu of the lady abbess had altogether an innocent and comfortable air, and the images, of which there were several, as horrible as a bungling workman and a bloody imagination could produce, though of a suffering appearance, were really insensible to pain. While we were making this reconnoissance a bugle sounded on the main, and looking out, we saw the Oberwinter postilion coming round the nearest bend in the river. On this hint, we took our leave of the island, not forgetting to apply a little of the universal salve to the bruised spirit of the old woman whose dread of thunder had caused her to pass so comfortless a night.

(aus: James Fenimore Cooper, A residence in France; with an excursion up the Rhine, and a second visit to Switzerland; Paris, 1836)

this place is the dirtiest and most offensive we have yet seen, or rather smelt, in Europe

Dear ——,

I do not know by what dignitary of the ancient electorate the hotel in which we lodged was erected, but it was a spacious building, with fine lofty rooms and a respectable garden. As the language of a country is influenced by its habits, and in America everything is so much reduced to the standard of the useful that little of the graceful has yet been produced, it may be well to remind you that this word “garden,” signifies pleasure-grounds in Europe. It way even be questioned if the garden of Eden was merely a potager.

After breakfasting we began to deliberate as to our future movements. Here we were at Cologne, in Prussia, with the wide world before us, uncertain whither to proceed. It was soon decided, however, that a first duty was to look again at the unfinished cathedral, that wonder of Gothic architecture; to make a pilgrimage to the house in which Rubens was born; to pay a visit to the eleven thousand virgins, and to buy some Cologne water: after which it would be time enough to determine where we should sleep.

The first visit was to the bones. These relics are let into the walls of the church that contains them, and are visible through a sort of pigeon-holes which are glazed. There is one chapel in particular, that is altogether decorated with the bones arranged in this manner, the effect being very much like that of an apothecary’s shop. Some of the virgins are honoured with hollow wooden or silver busts, lids in the tops of which being opened, the true skull is seen within. These relics are not as formidable, therefore, as one would be apt to infer the bones of eleven thousand virgins might be, the grinning portion of the skulls being uniformly veiled for propriety’s sake. I thought it a miracle in itself to behold the bones of all these virgins, but, as if they were insufficient, the cicerone very coolly pointed out to us the jar that had held the water which was converted into wine by the Saviour at the marriage of Cana! It was Asiatic in form, and may have held both water and wine in its day.

The cathedral is an extraordinary structure. Five hundred years have gone by, and there it is less than half finished. One of the towers is not forty feet high, while the other may be two hundred. The crane, which is renewed from time to time, though a stone has not been raised in years, is on the latter. The choir, or rather the end chapel that usually stands in rear of the choir, is perfect, and a most beautiful thing it is. The long narrow windows, that are near a hundred feet in height, are exquisitely painted, creating the peculiar cathedral atmosphere, that ingenious invention of some poet to render solemn architecture imaginative and glorious. We could not dispense with looking at the skulls of the Magi, which are kept in an exceedingly rich reliquary or shrine. They are all three crowned, as well as being masked like the virgins. There is much jewellery, though the crowns had a strong glow of tinsel about them, instead of the mild lustre of the true things. Rubens, as you know, was of gentle birth, and the house in which he was born is just such a habitation as you would suppose might have been inhabited by a better sort of burgher. It is said that Mary of Medicis, the wife of Henry IV, died in this building, and tradition, which is usually a little ambitious of effect, has it that she died in the very room in which Rubens was born. The building is now a public-house.

I do not know that there is a necessary connection between foul smells and Cologne water, but this place is the dirtiest and most offensive we have yet seen, or rather smelt, in Europe. It would really seem that people wish to drive their visitors into the purchase of their great antidote. Disagreeable as it was, we continued to flaner through the streets until near noon, visiting, among other things, the floating bridge, where we once more enjoyed the sight of the blue waters of the Rhine glancing beneath our feet.

(aus: James Fenimore Cooper, A residence in France; with an excursion up the Rhine, and a second visit to Switzerland; Paris, 1836)

Randnotiz (3)

Vor gut einem Jahr ist Rheinsein, dank großartiger Unterstützung aus dem, aus Googlelanden auf die jetzige .de-Domain umgezogen. Die alte blogspot-Adresse lief bisher nebenbei weiter, gestern habe ich sie vom Netz genommen. Obwohl dort seit einem Jahr nichts mehr passierte, fand die Seite weiterhin ein zwei Handvoll Besucher pro Tag. Mag es an Google liegen: die Besucher der alten, nun abgeschalteten Seite interessierten sich vornehmlich für Tierartikel, die (wie alle anderen alten Einträge auch hier erhältliche) Liste mit Rheinfischen wurde an die 2000 Mal angesteuert, die Artikel über Moby Dick, den Beluga im Rhein und den Ochsenfrosch, das Monster vom Oberrhein erreichten ebenfalls die Besucher-Top Ten, in denen auf der aktuellen Seite Textstellen von/über James Fenimore Cooper, Martin von Tours und Hanns Martin Schleyer stehen.

Rhein vs Hudson

Den Mittelrhein hat Cooper also im Schnelldurchlauf gesehen, das Filetstück wie es oft hieß und heißt, und gleicht nun das Gesehene mit dem von daheim bekannten ab: “In the mood likely to be created by a flood of such recollections, we pursued our way along the southern margin of this great artery of central Europe. We wondered at the vastness of the Rheinfels, admired the rare jewel of the ruined church at Baccarach, and marvelled at the giddy precipice on which a prince of Prussia even now dwells, in the eagle-like grandeur and security of the olden time. On reaching Mayence, the evening of the second day, we deliberately and, as we hoped, impartially compared what had just been seen, with that which is so well and so affectionately remembered. I had been familiar with the Hudson from childhood. The great thoroughfare of all who journey from the interior of the state towards the sea, necessity had early made me acquainted with its windings, its promontories, its islands, its cities, and its villages. Even its hidden channels had been professionally examined, and the time was when there did not stand an unknown seat on its banks, or a hamlet that had not been visited. Here then was the force of deep impressions to oppose to the influence of objects still visible. To me it is quiet apparent that the Rhine, while it frequently possesses more of any particular species of scenery, within a given number of miles, than the Hudson, has none of so great excellence. It wants the variety, the noble beauty, and the broad grandeur of the American stream. The latter, within the distance universally admitted to contain the finest parts of the Rhine, is both a large and a small river; it has its bays, its narrow passages among the meadows, its frowning gorges, and its reaches resembling Italian lakes; whereas the most that can be said of its European competitor, is that all these wonderful peculiarities are feebly imitated. Ten degrees of a lower latitude supply richer tints, brighter transitions of light and shadow, and more glorious changes of the atmosphere, to embellish the beauties of our western clime. In islands, too, the advantage is with the Hudson, for, while those of the Rhine are the most numerous, those of the former stream are bolder, better placed, and, in every natural feature, of more account. When the comparison between these celebrated rivers is extended to their artificial accessories, the result becomes more doubtful. The buildings of the older towns and villages of Europe seem grouped especially for effect, as seen in the distant view, though security was in truth the cause, while the spacious, cleanly, and cheerful villages of America must commonly be entered, to be appreciated. In the other hemisphere, the maze of roofs, the church-towers, the irregular faces of wall, and frequently the castle rising to a pinnacle in the rear, give a town the appearance of some vast and antiquated pile devoted to a single object. Perhaps the boroughs of the Rhine have less of this picturesque, or landscape effect, than the villages of France and Italy, for the Germans regard space more than their neighbors, but still are they less commonplace than the smiling and thriving little marts that crowd the borders of the Hudson. To this advantage must be added that which is derived from the countless ruins, and a crowd of recollections. Here, the superiority of the artificial auxiliaries of the Rhine ceases, and those of her rival come into the ascendant. In modern abodes, in villas, and even in seats, those of princes alone excepted, the banks of the Hudson have scarcely an equal in any region. There are finer and nobler edifices on the Brenta, and in other favored spots, certainly, but i know no stream that has so many that please and attract the eye. As applied to moving objects, an important feature in this comparison, the Hudson has perhaps no rival, in any river that can pretend to a picturesque character. In numbers, in variety of rig, in beauty of form, in swiftness and dexterity of handling, and in general grace and movement this extraordinary passage ranks amongst the first of the world. The yards of tall ships swing among the rocks and forests of the highlands, while sloop, schooner, and bright canopied steam-boat, yacht, periagua, and canoe are seen in countless numbers, decking its waters. There is one more eloquent point of difference that should not be neglected. Drawings and engravings of the Rhine lend their usual advantages, softening, and frequently rendering beautiful, objects of no striking attractions when seen as they exist; while every similar attempt to represent the Hudson, at once strikes the eye as unworthy of its original.”

Lederstrumpf am Rhein

In der Einführung zu seinem Roman The Heidenmauer berichtet Lederstrumpf-Autor James Fenimore Cooper von seinen raschen, historisch inspirierten rheinischen Einsichten: „At Aix-la-Chapelle we bathed, visited the relics, saw the scene of so many coronations of emperors of more or less renown, sat in the chair of Charlemagne, and went our way. The Rhine was an old acquantaince. A few years earlier, I had stood upon the sands, at Katwyck, and watched its periodical flow into the North Sea, by means of sluices made in the short reign of the good king Louis, and, the same summer, I had bestrode it, a brawling brook, at the icy side of St. Gothard. We had come now to look at its beauties in its most beautiful part, and to compare them, as far as native partiality might permit, with the well-established claims of our Hudson. Quitting Cologne, its exquisite but incomplete cathedral, with the crane that has been poised on its unfinished towers five hundred years, its recollections of Rubens and his royal patroness, we travelled up the stream so leisurely as to examine all that offered, and yet so fast as to avoid the hazard of satiety. Here we met Prussian soldiers, preparing, by mimic service, for the more serious duties of their calling. Lancers were galloping, in bodies, across the open fields; videttes were posted, the cocked pistol in hand, at every hay-stack; while couriers rode, under the spur, from point to point, as if the great strife, which is so mennacingly preparing, and which sooner or later must come, had actually commenced. As Europe is now a camp, these hackneyed sights scarce drew a look aside. We were in quest of the interest which nature, in her happier humors, bestows. There were ruined castles, by scores; grey fortresses; abbeys, some deserted and others yet tenanted; villages and towns; the seven mountains; cliffs and vineyards. At every step we felt how intimate is the association between the poetry of Nature and that of art; between the hill-side with its falling turret and the moral feeling that lends them interest. Here was an island, of no particular excellence, but the walls of a convent of the middle ages crumbled on its surface. There was a naked rock, destitute of grandeur, and wanting in those tints which milder climates bestow, but a baronial hold tottered its apex. Here Caesar led his legions to the stream, and there Napoleon drew his corps d`armée on the hostile bank; this monument was to Hoche, and from that terrace the great Adolphus directed his battalions. Time is wanting to mellow the view of our own historical sites; for the sympathy that can be accumulated only by the general consent of mankind, has not yet clothed them with the indefinable colors of distance and convention.“