I have now been nearly two days in wide-famed Leipsic, and the more I see of it, the better I like it. It is a pleasant, friendly town, old enough to be interesting and new enough to be comfortable. There is much active business-life, through which it is fast increasing in size and beauty. Its publishing establishments are the largest in the world, and its annual fairs attended by people from all parts of Europe. This is much for a city to accomplish situated alone in the middle of a great plain, with no natural charms of scenery or treasures of art to attract strangers. The energy and enterprise of its merchants have accomplished all this, and it now stands in importance among the first cities of Europe.
On my first walk around the city, yesterday morning, I passed the Augustus Platz-a broad green lawn on which front the university and several other public buildings. A chain of beautiful promenades encircles the city on the site of its old fortifications. Following their course through walks shaded by large trees and bordered with flowering shrubs, I passed a small but chaste monument to Sebastian Bach, the composer, which was erected almost entirely at the private cost of Mendelssohn, and stands opposite the building in which Bach once directed the choirs. As I was standing beside it a glorious choral swelled by a hundred voices came through the open windows like a tribute to the genius of the great master.
Having found my friend, we went together to the Sternwarte, or observatory, which gives a fine view of the country around the city, and in particular the battlefield. The castellan who is stationed there is well acquainted with the localities, and pointed out the position of the hostile armies. It was one of the most bloody and hard-fought battles which history records. The army of Napoleon stretched like a semi-circle around the southern and eastern sides ‘of the city, and the plain beyond was occupied by the allies, whose forces met together here. Schwarzenberg, with his Austrians, came from Dresden; Blucher, from Halle, with the Emperor Alexander. Their forces amounted to three hundred thousand, while those of Napoleon ranked at one hundred and ninety-two thousand men. It must have been a terrific scene. Four days raged the battle, and the meeting of half a million of men in deadly conflict was accompanied by the thunder of sixteen hundred cannon. The small rivers which flow through Leipsic were swollen with blood, and the vast plain was strewed with more than fifty thou-sand dead.
It is difficult to conceive of such slaughter while looking at the quiet and tranquil landscape below. It seemed more like a legend of past ages, when ignorance and passion led men to murder and destroy, than an event which the last half century witnessed. For the sake of humanity it is to be hoped that the world will never see such another.
There are some lovely walks around Leipsic. We went yesterday afternoon with a few friends to the Rosenthal, a beautiful meadow, bordered by forests of the German oak, very few of whose Druid trunks have been left standing. There are Swiss cottages embowered in the foliage where every afternoon the social citizens assemble to drink their coffee and enjoy a few hours’ escape from the noisy and dusty streets. One can walk for miles along these lovely paths by the side of the velvet meadows or the banks of some shaded stream. We visited the little village of Golis, a short distance off, where, in the second story of a little white house, hangs the sign, “Schiller’s Room.” Some of the Leipsic “literati” have built a stone arch over the entrance, with the inscription above: “Here dwelt Schiller in 1795, and wrote his Hymn to Joy.” Everywhere through Germany the remembrances of Schiller are sacred. In every city where he lived they show his dwelling. They know and reverence the mighty spirit who has been among them. The little room where he conceived that sublime poem is hallowed as if by the presence of unseen spirits.
I was anxious to see the spot where Poniatowsky fell We returned over the plain to the city, and passed in at the gate by which the Cossacks entered, pursuing the flying French. Crossing the lower part, we came to the little river Elster, in whose waves the gallant prince sank. The stone bridge by which we crossed was blown up by the French to cut off pursuit. Napoleon had given orders that it should not be blown up till the Poles had all passed over as the river, tho narrow, is quite deep and the banks are steep. Nevertheless, his officers did not wait, and the Poles, thus exposed to the fire of the enemy, were obliged to plunge into the stream to join the French army, which had begun retreat toward Frankfort. Poniatowsky, severely wounded, made his way through a garden near, and escaped on horseback into the water. He became entangled among the fugitives, and sank. By walking a little distance along the road toward Frankfort we could see the spot where his body was taken out of the river; it is now marked by a square stone covered with the names of his countrymen who have visited it. We returned through the narrow arched way by which Napoleon fled when the battle was lost.
Another interesting place in Leipsie is Auerbach’s Cellar, which, it is said, contains an old manuscript history of Faust from which Goethe derived the first idea of his poem. He used to frequent this cellar, and one of his scenes in “Faust” is laid in it. We looked down the arched passage; not wishing to purchase any wine, we could find no pretense for entering. The streets are full of book-stores, and one-half the business of the inhabitants appears to consist in printing, paper-making and binding. The publishers have a handsome exchange of their own, and during the fairs the amount of business transacted is enormous.
At last in this “Florence of the Elbe,” as the Saxons have christened it ! Exclusive of its glorious galleries of art, which are scarcely surpassed by any in Europe, Dresden charms one by the natural beauty of its environs. It stands in a curve of the Elbe, in the midst of green meadows, gardens and fine old woods, with the hills of Saxony sweeping around like an amphitheater and the craggy peaks of the high-lands looking at it from afar. The domes and spires at a distance give it a rich Italian look, which is heightened by the white villas embowered in trees gleaming on the hills around. In the streets there is no bustle of businessnothing of the din and confusion of tragic which mark most cities; it seems like a place for study and quiet enjoyment.
The railroad brought us in three hours from Leipsic over the eighty miles of plain that intervene. We came from the station through the Neustadt, passing the Japanese palace and the equestrian statue of Augustus the Strong. The magnificent bridge over the Elbe was so much injured by the late inundation as to be impassable; we were obliged to go some distance up the river-bank and cross on a bridge of boats. Next morning my first search was for the picture-gallery. We set off at random, and after passing the church of Our Lady, with its lofty dome of solid stone, which withstood the heaviest bombs during the war with Frederick the Great, came to an open square one side of which was occupied by an old brown, red-roofed building which I at once recognized from pictures as the object of our search.
I have just taken a last look at the gallery this morning, and left it with real regret; for during the two visits Raphael’s heavenly picture of the Madonna and Child had so grown into my love and admiration that it was painful to think I should never see it again. There are many more which clung so strongly to my imagination, gratifying in the highest degree the love for the beautiful, that I left them with sadness and the thought that I would now only have the memory. I can see the inspired eye and godlike brow of the Jesus-child as if I were still standing before the picture, and the sweet, holy countenance of the Madonna still looks upon me. Yet, tho this picture is a miracle of art, the first glance filled me with disappointment. It has somewhat faded during the three hundred years that have rolled away since the hand of Raphael worked on the canvas, and the glass with which it is covered for better preservation injures the effect. After I had gazed on it a while, every thought of this vanished.
The figure of the Virgin seemed to soar in the air, and it was difficult to think the clouds were not in motion, An aerial lightness clothes her form, and it is perfectly natural for such a figure to stand among the clouds. Two divine cherubs look up from below, and in her arms sits the sacred Child. Those two faces beam from the picture like those of angels. The mild, prophetic eye and lofty brow of the young Jesus chain one like a spell. There is some-thing more than mortal in its expressionsomething in the infant face which indicates a power mightier than the proudest manhood. There is no glory around the head, but the spirit which shines from those features marks its divinity. In the sweet face of the mother there speaks a sorrowful foreboding mixed with its tenderness, as if she knew the world into which the Savior was born and foresaw the path in which he was to tread. It is a picture which one can scarce look upon without tears.
There are in the same room six pictures by Correggio which are said to be among his best worksone of them, his celebrated Magdalen. There is also Correggio’s “Holy Night,” or the Virgin with the shepherds in the manger, in which all the light comes from the body of the Child. The surprise of the shepherds it most beautifully exprest. In one of the halls there is a picture of Van der Werff in which the touching story of Hagar is told more feelingly than words could do it. The ‘young Ishmael is represented full of grief at parting with Isaac, who, in childish unconsciousness of what has taken place, draws in sport the corner of his mother’s mantle around him and smiles at the tears of his lost playmate.
Nothing can come nearer real flesh and blood than the two portraits of Raphael Mengs, painted by himself when quite young. You almost think the artist has in sport crept behind the frame and wishes to make you believe he is a picture. It would be impossible to speak of half the gems of art contained in this unrivalled collection. There are twelve large halls, containing in all nearly two thousand pictures.
The plain south of Dresden was the scene of the hard-fought battle between Napoleon and the allied armies in 1813. On the heights above the little village of Racknitz, Moreau was shot on the second day of the battle. We took a footpath through the meadows, shaded by cherry trees in bloom, and reached the spot after an hour’s walk. The monument is simplea square block of granite surmounted by a helmet and sword, with the inscription, “The hero Moreau fell here by the side of Alexander, Au-gust 17, 1813,” I gathered as a memorial a few leaves of the oak which shades it.
By applying an hour before the appointed time, we obtained admission to the royal library. It contains three hundred thousand volumesamong them, the most complete collection of historical works in existence. Each hall is devoted to a history of a separate country, and one large room is filled with that of Saxony alone. There is a large number of rare and curious manuscripts, among which are old Greek works of the seventh and eighth centuries, a Koran which once belonged to the Sultan Bajazet, the handwriting of Luther and Melanchthon, a manuscript volume with penand-ink sketches by Albert Durer, and the earliest works after the invention of printing. Among these latter was a book published by Faust and Schaeffer, at Mayence, in 1457. There were also Mexican manuscripts written on the aloe leaf, and many illuminated monkish volumes of the Middle Ages.
We were fortunate in seeing the Grune Gewolbe, or Green Gallery, a collection of jewels and costly articles unsurpassed in Europe. The first hall into which we were ushered contained works in bronze. They were all small, and chosen with regard to their artistical value. Some by John of Bologna were exceedingly fine, as was also a group in iron cut out of a single block, perhaps the only successful attempt in this branch. The next room contained statues, and vases covered with reliefs in ivory. The most remarkable work was the fall of Lucifer and his angels, containing ninety-two figures in all, carved out of a single piece of ivory sixteen inches high., It was the work of as Italian monk, and cost him many years of hard labor. There were two tables of mosaic-work that would not be out of place in the fabled halls of the Eastern genii, so much did they exceed my former ideas of human skill. The tops were of jasper, and each had a border of fruit and flowers in which every color was represented by some precious stone, all with the utmost delicacy and truth to nature. It is impossible to conceive the splendid effect it produced. Besides some fine pictures on gold by Raphael Mengs, there was a Madonna, the largest specimen of enamel-painting in existence.
However costly the contents of these halls, they were only an introduction to those which followed. Each one exceeded the other in splendor and costliness. The walls were covered to the ceiling with rows of goblets, vases, etc., of polished jasper, agate, and lapis lazuli. Splendid mosaic tables stood around with caskets of the most exquisite silver and gold work upon them, and vessels of solid silver, some of them weighing six hundred pounds, were placed at the foot of the columns. We were shown two goblets, each prized at six thousand thalers, made of gold and precious stones; also the great pearl called the “Spanish Dwarf,” nearly as large as a pullet’s egg, globes and vases cut entirely out of the mountain-crystal, magnificent Nuremberg watches and clocks, and a great number of figures made ingeniously of rough pearls and diamonds.
The officer showed me a hen’s egg of silver. There was apparently nothing remarkable about it, but by unscrewing it came apart and disclosed the yolk of gold. This again opened, and a golden chicken was seen; by touching a spring a little diamond crown came from the inside, and, the crown being again taken apart, out dropt a valuable diamond ring. The seventh hall contains the coronation-robes of Augustus II. of Poland, and many costly specimens of carving in wood. A cherry-stone is shown in a glass case which has one hundred and twenty-five facets, all perfectly finished, carved upon it.
The next room we entered sent back, a glare of splendor that perfectly dazzled us; it was all gold, diamond, ruby, and sapphire. Every case sent out such a glow and glitter that it seemed like a cage of imprisoned lightnings. Wherever the eye turned it was met by a blaze of broken rainbows. They were there by hundreds, and every gem was a fortunewhole cases of swords with hilts and scabbards of solid gold studded with gems, the great two-handed coronation sword of the German emperors, daggers covered with brilliants and rubies, diamond buttons, chains, and orders, necklaces and brace-lets of pearl and emerald, and the order of the Golden Fleece made in gems of every kind.
We were also shown the largest known onyx, nearly seven inches long and four inches broad. One of the most remarkable works is the throne and court of Aurungzebe, the Indian king, by Dinglinger, a celebrated goldsmith of the last century. It contains one hundred and thirty-two figures, all of enameled gold and each one most perfectly and elaborately finished. It was purchased by Prince Augustus for fifty-eight thousand thalers,’ which was not a high sum, considering that the making of it occupied Dinglinger and thirteen workmen for seven , years.
It is almost impossible to estimate the value of the treasures these halls contain. That of the gold and jewels alone must be many millions of dollars, and the amount of labor expended on these toys of royalty is incredible. As monuments of patient and untiring toil they are interesting, but it is sad to think how much labor and skill and energy have been wasted in producing things which are useless to the world and only of secondary importance as works of art. Perhaps, however, if men could be diverted by such playthings from more dangerous games, it would be all the better.