I was glad when we were really in motion on the swift Rhine, and nearing the chain of mountains that rose up before us. We passed Godesberg on the right, while on our left was the group of the seven mountains which extend back from the Drachenfels to the Wolkenberg, or “Castle of the Clouds.” Here we begin to enter the enchanted land. The Rhine sweeps around the foot of the Drachenfels, while, opposite, the precipitous rock of Rolandseck, crowned with the castle of the faithful knight, looks down upon the beautiful island of Nonnenwerth, the white walls of the convent still gleaming through the trees as they did when the warrior’s weary eyes looked upon them for the last time. I shall never forget the enthusiasm with which I saw this scene in the bright, warm sun-light, the rough crags softened in the haze which filled the atmosphere, and the wild mountains springing up in the midst of vineyards and crowned with crumbling towers filled with the memories of a thousand years.
After passing Andernach we saw in the distance the highlands of the middle Rhinewhich rise above Coblentz, guarding the entrance to its sceneryand the mountains of the Moselle. They parted as we approached; from the foot shot up the spires of Coblentz, and the battlements of Ehrenbreitstein, crowning the mountain opposite, grew larger and broader. The air was slightly hazy, and the clouds seemed laboring among the distant mountains to raise a storm. As we came opposite the mouth of the Moselle and under the shadow of the mighty fortress, I gazed up with awe at its massive walls. Apart from its magnitude and almost impregnable situation on a perpendicular rock, it is filled with the recollections of history and hallowed by the voice of poetry. The scene went past like a panorama, the bridge of boats opened, the city glided behind us, and we entered the highlands again.
Above Coblentz almost every mountain has a ruin and a legend. One feels everywhere the spirit of the past, and its stirring recollections come back upon the mind with irresistible force. I sat upon the deck the whole afternoon as mountains, towns and castles passed by on either side, watching them with a feeling of the most enthusiastic enjoyment. Every place was familiar to me in memory, and they seemed like friends I had long communed with in spirit and now met face to face. The English tourists with whom the deck was covered seemed interested too, but in a different manner. With Murray’s Handbook open in their hands, they sat and read about the very towns and towers they were passing, scarcely lifting their eyes to the real scenes, except now and then to observe that it was “very nice.”
As we passed Boppart, I sought out the inn of the “Star,” mentioned in “Hyperion;” there was a maiden sitting on the steps who might have been Paul Flemming’s fair boat-woman. The clouds which had here gathered among the hills now came over the river, and the rain cleared the deck of its crowd of admiring tourists. As we were approaching Lorelei Berg, I did not go below, and so enjoyed some of the finest scenery on the Rhine alone. The mountains approach each other at this point, and the Lorelei rock rises up for four hundred and forty feet from the water. This is the haunt of the water nymph Lorelei, whose song charmed the ear of the boatman while his bark was dashed to pieccs on the rocks below. It is also celebrated for its remarkable echo. As we passed between the rocks; a guard, who has a little house on the roadside, blew a flourish on his bugle, which was instantly answered by a blast from the rocky battlements of Lorelei.
The sun came out of the clouds as we passed Oberwesel, with its tall round tower, and the light shining through the ruined arches of Schonberg castle made broad bars of light and shade in the still misty air. A rainbow sprang up out of the Rhine and lay brightly on the mountain-side, coloring vineyard and crag in the most singular beauty, while its second reflection faintly arched like a glory above the high summits in the bed of the river were the seven countesses of Schonberg turned into seven rocks for their cruelty and hard-heartedness toward the knights whom their beauty had made captive. In front, at a little distance, was the castle of Pfalz, in the middle of the river, and from the heights above Caub frowned the crumbling citadel of Gutenfels. Imagine all this, and tell me if it is not a picture whose memory should last a lifetime.
We came at last to Bingen, the southern gate of the highlands. Here, on an island in the middle of the stream, is the old mouse-tower where Bishop Hatto of Mayence was eaten up by the rats for his wicked deeds. Passing Rudesheim and Geisenheimcelebrated for their winesat sunset, we watched the varied shore in the growing darkness, till like a line of stars across the water we saw before us the bridge of Mayence.