Directly between Paris and Berlin; only a hair’s breadth, indeed, away from a straight line drawn between these two cities, there lies a little and independent country. By Americans it has been inexplicably overlooked. It contains a multitude of ruined castles, perched craggily. It is of the diverting area of nine hundred and ninety-nine square miles.
It presents phases of thriving modern life, yet there are extensive sections of wooded wilderness. In its wildest part I have seen the wild deer as I drove along the public road. It is saturated with historic association. There are regions of delectable charm. Its people take their autonomy with great seriousness, yet with the subtle sense of a jest in it all.
Although this almost unnoticed Grossherzogthum of Luxembourg, this Grand-Duchy, is in the very heart of most-travelled Europe, one may for a few francs and with the formality of an invitation join in the annual official chase of wild boar! A few dollars buys a license to hunt deer. At an inn one may find the right to miles of fishing included with room and food.
Luxembourg is not really difficult to reach. One notices again, however, that there are distances in Europe and that trains are easy-going. Luxembourg, the capital of Luxembourg, is a trifle over 250 miles from Paris by rail, and the trains have fairly good connections. It is about as far from Brussels. It is farther from Berlin. From the Forest of Arden, where I was when I wished to go to Luxembourg, I had the choice of diligencing back to Sedan and there getting a train to take me fifty miles, or of changing cars at Longuyon, which is forty miles from Luxembourg.
Luxembourg would not even now be independent had not Queen Wilhelmina been a girl. It would have remained a province of the Netherlands, although hedged in (such, again, the bewilderment of it) by Germany and Belgium and France. But its constitution makes the succession hereditary in the male line of Nassau, and so at Wilhelmina’s accession it eluded her grasp and placidly entered the family circle of independent European countries; not large for its age, this new member, for its size is less than a twelfth part that of tiny Holland.
The Grand-Duke William, who died only last year, had six children, all girls, and there were no other heirs. This failure of the male line threatened the loss of Luxembourg’s independence, whereupon there was invoked a constitutional interpreta tion not vouchsafed to pretty Wilhelmina-an interpretation that permitted of female succession, after all; and the oldest of the six daughters became Grand-Duchess. She is just nineteen years old, and her name is Marie Adelaide Therese Hilda Antoinette Wilhelmine, and she is not only GrandDuchess of Luxembourg, but the Duchess of Nassau, Countess Palatine of the Rhine, Konigstein, Katzeneinbogen and Dietz, Burggravine of Hammerstein, and so on, such being among the nomenclatural privileges of the nobility.
The people are resolved to give no pretext for the seizing of their land by France or Prussia, and especially by Prussia. The bells of the capital city ring out, preliminary to the striking of the hours, not the grave chorals heard from the church towers of other parts of Europe, but this or that gay selection from opera or song, and nothing is so popular as the much-beloved tune, chimed with clangerous gusto, ” Wir wollen bleiben was wir sind! Wir wollen keine Preussen sein!” (We will remain as we are! We will not be Prussians!) Thus with characteristic lightheartedness they daringly jest with what they dread.
Luxembourg, the capital of Luxembourg, is set proudly upon a plateau girdled by precipices two hundred feet in height. Rivers wind circumfluent at the foot of the rocks, and from the boulevarded brink there are alluring views.
Until less than fifty years ago the city was of a strength only second to that of Gibraltar, but by the Treaty of London, of 1867, the powers decreed that the Duchy should thenceforth be neutral, although it was a province of Holland, and that the fortifications of the capital should be destroyed. For centuries the city held a proud distinction, under the oft-alternating rule of France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Spain; and the change has not come in order that nation shall not lift up sword against nation, but only that in case of war great armies may maneuver without the check inherent in the very presence at this central spot of a powerful stronghold.
And so, the splendid haughtiness has gone, and only fragments of the fortifications remain. But what fragments! Rocks honeycombed with passages and pierced with embrasures; grim piles of stone; and here and there, projecting over the edges of the cliff, the noble Spanish Towers.
The powers decreed, too, that the army be reduced to a paltry three hundred, and the inhibition still holds. But the happy people, making a jest of necessity, smile when the handful march along with pomp of colors and blare of music; some sixth of the total army being band. But, with saving sense of humor, there is no extravagance of military title, and the commander-in-chief is but a major.
The decrees of the great powers may not be defied with impunity, for, after all, the little countries like Holland and Belgium and Andorra and Liechtenstein and Luxembourg preserve their independence only on sufferance and at the price of a readiness to bow to the will of their powerful and mutually jealous neighbors. It is well when, as with the cheerful folk of Luxembourg, the humors of their situation are appreciated. Smite Luxembourg anywhere and humor bubbles forth.
The fire department of the capital, and its hand apparatus and the few demands upon it, are one of the local jokes; but one of the fire officials, fearful lest I should belittle the basic importance of it all, told me, with paradoxical pride, that a few years ago the city had “one of the biggest fires in Europe”!
Once a year, through the streets of the capital, goes the unique March of the Muttons; a puzzled clump of snow-white lambs making their way through the amused and thronging people, close followed by volunteer musicians playing the ancient Mutton March.
Luxembourg must assuredly be the place to which the Pied Piper led the bewitched children, such a gay and a dancing folk these are.
On the evening of my arrival the people were celebrating the birthday of their ruler; they had really begun the day before, but had found one day insufficient for the expression of their jubilance. It was raining, but the population thronged the streets oblivious. A band was playing, and there, in the open square, a great number were dancing in the rain, some holding umbrellas and some not.
The Grand-Duchess and her sisters dwell in what was a beautiful oriel-windowed palace, which has in recent years been unimprovingly enlarged. Her people love her, and not only because she is a woman, but because Luxembourg always did love the titled. Long ago the little country took the side of Spain against the Netherlands. It sided with Louis the Sixteenth against the Revolution, and thereby suffered wild devastation.
A city of some twenty thousand this capital, and there are other and smaller towns, as, narrowvalleyed Vianden, on either side of which the mountains rise in mellow walls; Diekirch, set beside a smiling river, with glimmering meadows sentinelled by lofty heights; Echternach, where, once a year, on Whit-Tuesday, the Dancing Procession gathers from ten to twenty thousand, mostly pilgrims from distant places, under its rhythmic spell, to sway in spiritual ecstasy through the streets, three steps forward and two back, to the monotonous tune of “Adam, he had seven sons,” just as pilgrims have done here for a thousand years. There are interesting little villages away from the railroad. There is much of shadowy forest. There are serpentizing streams in such number that one ceases to attempt differentiation. There are quarries and iron mines, but the principal material interests are agricultural.
It is the pride of Luxembourg that the, principal reward of those who handle the public money consists in honorable decoration, and that there is consequently no embezzlement of public funds. “Why, if one were to steal he could have no decoration!”such is their naive viewpoint in this century of “high-finance.”
Under the Grand-Duchess is a Chamber of Deputies, of forty-eight members, chosen by the suffrages of such men of over twenty-five as pay an annual tax of ten francs. The Duchess has the power of veto, but that is but another Luxembourg joke, for she, like her father and her father’s father, never uses it.
But between the Chamber and the Duchess, lest there should be too much of democracy, there is a Court; and it is a court of title and ceremony.
There is a grand-chamberlain; there are other chamberlains, with equerries and aides-de-camp, and a marechal de la cour; there is a grande-maitresse de la grande-duchesse; there are dames du palais, d’honneur, du service, de la cour.
The national colors are the red and white and blue; there are governmental departments of state, of justice, of agriculture, of the interior, of finance. The Minister of State sees personally the poor and the rich alike. The Department of Agriculture, alert to be of aid, gladly advises any farmer who presents a problem of seed or season or soil.
Ordinarily, there is dulness in statistics; but I was really pleased with the attention to detail of the official who compiled the census. Out of a total population of 236,543 all are Roman Catholics, with the exception of 1201 Israelites, 2269 Protestants, 49 “other Christians,” and 186 who are rated as “not known.” At once one wonders who and what are the 49, and what is the religion of the “not known.”
An anxious, faithful, worrying man, he of the Census Bureau, one would gather, and one who leaves loose ends through very excess of fussiness. He finds that almost all the inhabitants are natives of the duchy, but that some small number are Swiss, German, Russian, or of other nationalities, with 96 of “nationality not known.”
The total annual revenue is small-only from two to three million dollars-yet the treasury always manages to hold a little surplus. The purposes for which a state spends money are always illuminative, and here, quoting from the report most recently published, I find that the Chamber of Deputies costs but $15,000; that prisons demand only $50,000; the civil list and government, $80,000; that religion and the army go hand in hand, each taking nearly $100,000; that justice is given $110,000; pensions, $170,000; and agriculture, commerce, and industries, $200,000; that “interior” expenses, one of the items under which is that of police, require $230,000 (New York City spends annually on its police department alone more than thirteen millions of dollars); that to public works goes over $600,000; and that, under the noble classification of public instruction and the arts and sciences, Luxembourg gladly expends $300,000. The post-office, with the cognate branches of telephone and telegraph, is not quite self-supporting, it being the policy of the government to encourage increase of the service by reasonable fees.
On the whole, a wise and liberal government, with a watchfulness which shows that the influence has not been forgotten of that old-time ruler who was accustomed to go to Luxembourg in disguise and buy fish and bread so that he might detect any evils, punish the evil seller, and give the food to the poor.
I did not look into statistics of marriage; it did not seem needful to do so, for whenever, which was often, I passed the city hall of the capital I saw the carriages of one or more wedding parties drawn up there. The double marriage, civil and religious, expands the glory of the day by giving wider opportunity to drive in proud publicity through the streets. Sometimes the glory is spread over two days. One chill morning I stepped into a church just as a couple -the bridegroom gray-haired!-arrived. But the priest was not ready, and so the impatient two, with white-clad bridesmaids and black-clad men, stood patiently, while ever and anon one of the carriage-drivers inquiringly poked in his head, until at last the priest, kindly, benign, and still sleepy, appeared.
It is a land of amenities. Ask a direction, and a man will quit his occupation or turn back in his walk to pilot you. Ask a question of the guardian of the gate at a railway station, and he is likely to lock his gate in the face of the other people and hurry off to find an answer for the stranger.
Luxembourg for centuries had an uneasy existence. In the pathway of the nations, army after army overran and harried it, changes of government were frequent, shadowy claims and actual conquests succeeded one another. It escaped misusage in the Franco-Prussian War, in spite of its situation between the two rival capitals, because its neutrality had been decreed but a few years before.
The most picturesque of the men of Luxembourg was that John, the Blind King of Bohemia-hereditary ruler of Luxembourg, setting forth claims upon the Bohemian throne-who was slain at Crecy after heroically going into the battle linked to a knight on either side. “John the Errant,” the old chroniclers term him, for he loved to roam about Europe, taking part chivalrously in as many quarrels as he could assume. Even when blindness came it did not cause him entirely to cease from activities, but permitted him to end his career in unique glory. In the hurly-burly of fight it may not have been possible to avoid killing him, but there is not in all history anything more unchivalrous recorded than the triumphant taking of the crest, the Three Feathers, of this slain old blind man, by the Black Prince, and its incorporation with the arms of the Prince of Wales as something to be transmitted as a proud heritage.
The general dislike and even dread of Germany are the more curious because the Luxembourg folk are mostly of Teutonic race, and only secondarily Walloon. More German than French is heard, but the common speech is a patois compounded from several languages. Alone among Continental peoples, so they believe, they say “mouse” and “mice,” just as the English do (although they do not spell them in this way), and of this apparent connection with England they are inordinately proud.
By diligence or postwagen one enters little-visited portions of the Duchy. I was so fortunate as to choose a time when, at some of the stopping-places, there was not a single visitor of any nationality. There are, however, portions that are freely visited by French and Belgians at certain seasons of the year.
The diligences proceed with restful leisure, stopping at every wayside tavern and many a house. For one family the driver carries a loaf of bread; for another a bottle of medicine, and here he makes solicitous inquiry before going on; at another house he leaves a box, in regard to which there is uproarious but incomprehensive patois of joke: for, although one may, by dint of great effort, master the patois, he shall never come to comprehension of the patois humor.
One is given a general impression of long drives by the side of sparkling rivers, of villages strung attenuatedly through slim valleys, of idyllic glades where women tend the grazing flocks, of two-wheeled ox-drawn carts, of old, old houses, where ancient women offer snuff from ancient boxes, and where there are black-mouthed fire-places, and enormous beams, and winding stairs of stone, and carven doors, and stately standing clocks.
In considering foreign countries there is usually some specific taste to satisfy. Dickens was eager to see an American prairie and was not satisfied until taken to one. Scott longed to view an American forest. Nowadays the thoughts of the European in regard to America lightly turn to thoughts of skyscrapers. Most Americans in Europe wish primarily to go where splendor falls on ruined castle walls; and in Luxembourg they may plethorically satisfy this desire, for the number of ruins is astonishing for so small a region. And so loftily placed are these castles of olden time that one sees a new and literal meaning in the terms “upper classes” and “high life.”
Among the many are the two towers of Esch, glooming at each other across a rock-bound cleft; the splendid fastness of Brandenburg, brooding over white houses beneath it; the stern remains of Bourscheid, deployed in crenelated complexity against the sky; mighty Vianden, looming somber and gray, and with spacious expanse of the subterranean.
One will not so much care to learn their definite history. Their greatest charm lies in a glorified indistinctnes of association. Splendidly setting forth the character and life of an entire age, they must needs summon up remembrance of things past, and kindle imaginative fire even in those least prone to imaginative enthusiasm. One loves to wander through the halls where the stately folk of old dined and slept and gossiped and died, and to stand at recessed windows where fine ladies looked forth over delectable stretches of hill and hollow, watching for the return of husbands and brothers from business-that business, human nature being essentially the same as it is now, often being the settling of some account!
Old tales haunt these ancient piles. Penetrate to the nethermost vaults of one, so the peasants believe, and there will be found two mail-clad warriors deep at play. “May the devil take him who first quits the table!” cried the two in unison, some sundry centuries ago, and at once the devil stood there, suave, smiling, expectant. Whereat the players, one may imagine with what chagrin, with what decision born of dire necessity, determined to play patiently on till the devil should be aweary of waiting.
Between the rocky point of a castle and a rocky point beyond, there was stretched a slender plank for the convenience of men at work upon repairs. One day a mason hastened across the plank to meet his wife approaching with his dinner; thus doubly weighted the bridge broke, and the man was killed, and the woman, herself unhurt, set up a wail remembered in this land of jests throughout the centuries: “The good dinner; it is lost!”
One ruin is haunted by a fairy who sings softly in the brooding twilight; but woe to him so incautious as to utter criticism, for instantly he is metamorphosed into rock; and the rock-filled glen bears mute testimony to the legend’s truth.
A prince, without examining closely into the family connections of a maiden he loved, married her with the prenuptial stipulation that one day in every week she should have to herself unseen. Inevitably came regret and jealousy, and he spied upon her-and found her to be a mermaid who on that day resumed her natural form. Seeing him she fled and disappeared forever; but the peasants still hear her, singing from the waters of the Alzette, the melody coming crooningly like the vague voice of the wind.
Far older than the castles are ancient Druid remains; and upon the summit of one Druid-haunted hill, topped by a great dolmen, the children build a fire upon one night of the year, and then, waving burning brands, come rushing down through the torch-lit darkness into the village at the mountain foot-rushing down, thus, out of none can tell what mistiness of vanished centuries.
The iron feet of Rome left deep foot-prints here, and great Roman camps are preserved, and there are fine Roman monuments. And among them none is so fine as the monument erected to the memory of a rich old Roman who amassed his wealth in trade. It is worth while being reminded, thus, that the “commercial spirit” is not of modern growth.
Of many things are the people of Luxembourg proud besides their independence. They are proud of their free press and free speech and of their schools, of which the government conducts not alone those for general education, but others for commerce, philosophy, gardening, farming, and manual training, and still others for instructing girls in cooking and house-wifery.
There are agricultural societies for the purchase of machinery, and for combination and counsel in other lines, and for the handling and selling of milk and cheese and butter; and two great societies, one for the southern portion of the Duchy (the “good lands”), and one for the northern (the “bad lands”), are entrusted by the state with the importation of horses and cattle.
Among the taxes of Luxembourg is an income tax, graded not only according to the amount of income, but according to whether one is a professional man, office-holder, business man, or laborer.
The important day for Luxembourg is that of the patron saint; one who has been honored as such ever since a long-ago time when her image, having been carried away from the capital, miraculously transported itself back again. Every one wishes to be at the capital on the annual day, and the vital point is that the saint must believe that all have pilgrimaged thither on foot. And so-although it is not very flattering to the intelligence of the propitiated one!-trains and wagons stop just outside of the city, and the people go walking gravely in.
A strongly religious folk these of Luxembourg. At a lonely hill village, one Sunday night, I entered the church, drearily perched under the shadow of a ruined castle. Shafts of pallid moonlight came through the narrow windows, but the church was in practical darkness, for the only other light was from three tiny candles that glimmered by the altar. The church was filled with people, almost indistinguishable in the gloom, the men upon one side and the women on the other. There was no priest or other leader, but the men and women were antiphonally chanting, in almost ghostly resonance, a solemn service long since learned by heart. I left the church and climbed to the ruin above, and there long listened to the antiphon coming up to me so effective and weird.
It is astonishing that in so small a land there are places which give the impression of being at a great distance from the beaten tracks of travel. One finds isolated villages, of houses gleaming white against the glaring green of hillsides, where the landlord of the little inn will evince a desire to shake your hand on arriving, but-to use an expressive Americanism, for which there is really no capable substitute-not to pull your leg on leaving. He will himself serve you with wine, or with strong waters distilled from plum-stone or cherry and bearing names all consonants, and his pretty daughter will wait upon you. You will sleep in a bed piled mountain high, with a mountainous bed to lie upon you. You will wake with the piping of birds and look from your window upon the glory of lofty slopes white with cherry blossoms.
At one little village I was told that there was no means of conveyance farther. I had gone to Vianden by steam-tramway; thence to the northward by postwagen as far as Eisenbach, following the wild valley of the River Our, the boundary between Luxembourg and Prussia; and it was at Eisenbach that I was told there was no way of getting on to Dasburg, that being a tiny town just over the Prussian line, in Eifel Land, and having no connection with the outside world in this direction. “The post wagen goes no farther than Eisenbach, and you can only return by it,” I was told.
“But I shall hire a horse,” I replied.
“Ah! But there is no horse here-not a farmer has a horse-the only horses are those of the postwagen.”
I knew that in many out-of-the-way parts of Europe a great proportion of the farmers get along without horses, where the patches of land are small, but this was the first time I had been told of entirely horseless farming.
Well, if there were actually no horse conveyance, I could at least walk-it was good weather and the roads were good-and so I asked whom I could engage to walk with me and help carry my small amount of baggage; for I had learned the value of traveling light.
Then, unexpectedly to the villagers, a man from a few miles away, who happened to come in, told me that there was actually a horse near his home! -he was sure I could hire it, and for a consideration was eager to hurry off and fetch horse and owner.
It was a queer looking animal, that solitary horse of the countryside. It was the color of soap, and was knobby with bones, yet the owner firmly demanded what, it was clear, he thought a good round sum for the trip to Dasburg. “It will break up my day,” he said, and declared that he must have (stated in American money) about a dollar and a half. He looked positively astonished when I accepted his offer without demur.
The horse was tight strapped within a tarpaulin, the wagon was without springs, the tugs were chains, and the man drove with a single rope-thus evidencing the prodigal waste of other lands, where two lines are required-and the ride was a delightful one.
Dasburg, where I spent one night, before going on in another direction by another postwagen, is a strangely solitary little place, yet I found that at a house on the edge of the village, looking out over a wide and desolate view, lived a man and his wife who had been to America, had lived for a time in Buffalo, but had wearied of Lake Erie and could not rest till they had got back to this, the home of their childhood.
Beside the top of the front door of many a Luxembourg house is a little opening, and to this there runs a narrow ladder, usually placed as a staircase along the wall, but sometimes standing out ladderwise. Bizarre in effect: but perhaps for children? one wonders-till one sees the ladders mounted, as evening comes on apace, by the family chickens, tripping up from rung to rung.
The ploughing-oxen, the houses where wealth of pewter is preserved in deep old chests, the fairs where metal keepsakes are purchased for gifts interpretative by an ancient code of love, the grotto whose iron crowns cure headaches, the discarding of a lover by the present of a black egg on Easter Day-these are among the things of charm. At fascinating Vianden, which Hugo loved, there is a church around which girls try to dance three times upon one foot and then to throw a stone into the stream that goes twinkling through the valley, for she who succeeds will be married within a twelvemonth. At Diekirch each December a fair is held at which men and women servants are engaged for the following year, each being chalked upon the back as negotiations are completed.
Here “man goeth forth unto his work until the evening,” but when evening comes the people gather in their villages for friendliness and gossip. The system which arose in the times when peasants gathered about these castles for protection, not daring to make their homes in isolated spots, still endures, as it does throughout most of Continental Europe, and so there is not that loneliness which so often is the lot of the American farmer.
Land is divided at the owner’s death among all his children. It is part of the national policy to have the people become land-owners, and one who inherits none will find the government desirous of aiding him in acquisition.
There is always a subtle responsive smile when one asks, no matter how gravely, where the Prussian boundary is-and it is never far distant in this narrow land. Ask why there are so many emigrants leaving this delectable country, especially for the United States, and a smile is again the answer.
A country piquant and fascinating. And when, on the postwagen, one approaches a mountain village through the mist of early morning, and the driver blows his horn, and the people gather where he stops, and he feeds his horses with big pieces of black bread, and the black-gowned priest, seeing that there is a stranger as passenger, hovers in the background and, divided between curiosity and dignity, bows till his tonsured spot shows shining, it is hard to realize that this is in the heart of Europe, that this is directly between the two great cities of Paris and Berlin-but in such fascinating incongruence lies much of the charm of this Grossherzogthum of Luxembourg.