THE wand of some good fairy transports us into the Rhineland, a region of such enchantment that eye, ear, thought, imagination, sentiment, are all fully satisfied. Which is greater here man or nature? The river dashing on, so swiftly, swiftly flowing, with its clear sparkling green winding among abrupt, yet gently sloping hill-sides and rocks, to the music of resounding echoes and its own rushing, is not this, nature’s work, that which makes the Rhine beloved ? Yes, but it is not all. Equally as cherished, as potent in charm, are the associations, all that man has made the Rhine. How the mind is quickened by the history calling out from every wooded hill-side and ruined castle ! The old Romans, the bandit robbers, the feudal lords, Napoleon’s soldiers, how they people these banks! Then with what random fancy revels ! legend and song and superstition. Truly we here enter the realm of necromancy.
The interests are mingled. We become ex-cited over the history, charmed with the legends, enchanted with the scenery, pleased with the constant undertone of poetry; yet find even more in the people themselves, the signs of national life, the peculiar customs of the Rhine people, which are as distinct and separate as the wonderful natural features. Indeed, it is so throughout Germany, each district has its own peculiarities, as the various yet distinct members of one family. America is such a broad country, not separated into petty kingdoms, that we do not know this. The Rhine people are like their land ; much of nature, warm-hearted, bright as their wines, full of lively fancy and superstition as their beloved haunts, rugged and hardy as the soil, and pure German in thrift, energy, and industry.
Each spot, as we float downward with the stream, tells its story, and the past and present meet in the people. Fair Bingen on the Rhine! Of course, we must stop here, and ascend the hills to Rochelle chapel. A lovely view meets the gaze. Below, the light green flowing waters ; on either side, the rocky hills rising at once steep from the river bank, opposite the vineyards. These vineyards are one of the distinctive beauties of the Rhine, in their wonderful cultivation. It has taken the labor of centuries, hard and never-ceasing labor : every tiny spot, every inch of ground, we may say, on the crevices between the rocks, is cultivated. How did they work on these hill-sides ? We grew dizzy in even walking at the edges. Then, the vines need so much care this must be an industrious people. On one side of the Rhine there is little cultivation, for here are thick woods facing the opposite banks of vines. Both sides are varied with castles ; some in ruin, some still in perfect beauty.
As we stand here, above Bingen, the scene is rich ; the vines, hills, rocks, and high above, as a golden crown, the shining wheat-fields, while far below is the shining river. Yet giving another touch, just opposite, and seen for miles, gleams the German national monument, the Germania. What a glorious beauty ! Standing high on her throne, her hair floating behind, her head raised nobly, her arm thrown up in pride and defiance, the hand holding aloft a crown, she claims her right to the Rhine, and challenges dispute. Professor Schilling of Dresden is the sculptor, and they say his daughter was the model for this figure ; if so, she is a beautiful woman. The whole is a work of art. The Germania figure is thirty-three feet high, and one cari judge of its size from the fact that when something was injured in the hand, a man went up inside of the arm to fix it. The bas-reliefs have figures of the rulers and generals in the late war. The Germans date the rise of the German nation from the victory of Herman, or Arminius, over the Romans in the Teutoberger Wald, in 9 B. C. This Germania monument is placed on this spot as the old ground of the Niederwald, where the legions of Varus were scattered.
We catch the kindly spirit of the Rhinelanders. They greet us with such hearty cheer as we trudge on our way. Along the road are shrines : some little niches cut in the rocks, in which are placed wax images, dolls elaborately dressed in white and lace ; others, pretty white stone chapels, and within the image of the Virgin. Here are fresh flowers, growing and in wreaths and bunches. As they pass, the women pause, take down the basket from their heads, then the cushion, and kneel for prayer, and afterward go on their way to work. There is something beautiful about this. Their lives are labor and worship, simple and uneventful. The people have very faint ideas of our religion, yet a beautiful faith. Law, command, duty these they do not know. We cannot judge them ; they have the simplicity of childhood. We can learn of their faith.
Bingen fades Bingen, with its neat houses and their pretty gardens. We wondered in which the Soldier of the Legion had lived; where, too, that ” other, not a sister.” The Mouse Tower rises on an island in the very midst of the stream. It has its legend of cruel Bishop Hatto, who refused grain to the people in time of famine, and, so, according to their curse, was devoured by mice. Even the high tower in the midst of the stream could not save him. The seven heartless virgins turned to seven stones in the river still speak their warning, and the Lorelei rock stands out boldly against the sky. Under its shadow is the quaint little town of St. Goarshausen, a lovely spot to sojourn, to linger, and, by familiarity with the Rhine scenes, gain an enduring remembrance of their beauty.
A charming spot ! Here is the little town. It is not at all pretty ; for it is old and crowded together, and the people are poor. The steep hills rise almost perpendicularly, directly from the river’s bank, so that all these little towns consist of only one or two rows of houses stretching along the shore in one street. When the river rises, they have no retreat but the steep hills above. The Rhine is such a model river in appearance, that it is amazing that it acts so unseemly as to overflow its banks. It looks so regular and sittlich ” from Bingen to Cologne, the river of perfect pleasure. The banks are not broken and straggling, or with a flat, sunny, tire-some beach ; but the river cuts its way between the heights in exactly the manner an ideal river should. The banks are made firm with a solid wall of stone masonry. From a distance the towns are pretty. The houses themselves are often picturesque : their odd shapes, striped wood-work over the plaster. Of course flowers are in the windows, for was there ever a German house without them ? On many there is a wooden image, before which the people kneel or cross themselves, for the Rhine villages are Catholic.
The very name of our resting place at St. Goarshausen has a charm Zum Lamm Hotel to the Lamb. We were tired out and dispirited when we reached here. Elizabeth had lost the diamond out of her ring, and my umbrella had found another owner, and this ” Zum Lamm ” was the place for the footsore and weary. The Frau soothed us by the musical Rhineland tones of her voice, and, in a motherly way, made us comfort-able, and, from the moment we entered the Lamm, we have been happy : probably, it is at the relief of not having to take care of ourselves, for, not-withstanding the fact that it can be done, after all it is a burden for two women “to do Europe” alone. Here was a final reunion with Berlin friends. The garden in front of the Gasthaus has two long arbors, and here, under the vines, we take our meals or lunch of fragrant honey and the golden apricots of the Rhineland, while the Rhinelanders, as they pass, smilingly wish us ” Guten Appetit.” Opposite are the turrets of the Rheinfels ruins, above tower those of the Cat, and in full view is the Lorelei rock. In the moon-light we fancy the fair maiden still sitting there, combing her golden hair, while the enchanted sailors are engulfed in the whirlpools below. We try the whirlpools, singing our song as the little boat turns around. But the spell is broken, and we float onward. Yet those Lorelei echoes, once heard, they live forever.
Lovely walks, foot-tours, invite in all directions. We stop at the peasant houses, and are given a piece of black bread for lunch, and the wine is always offered, for every home here has wine. It is their own native wine from their own vineyards, and the Rhine wines are most sparkling. The Lorcher is like imprisoned sunlight. It has gathered the glitter and gold of the sun, as it beamed upon the vines, into its shining cup by the magical force in nature.
The wine is very cheap, scarcely seems to pay for the arduous labor of caring for vines on these rocky, steep hills. We lost our way in one of our rambles, and found ourselves high up above the village, the descent down the steep rocks. Round and round, and in and out, we went, faint at the sight of the village and river far below, and when we finally landed, after several hours scramble, we were trembling in every limb.
We stop and talk with the peasants. They speak a quaint dialect, or, rather, not so far from grammatical German as a dialect, but their speech has a little peculiarity that has a pretty sound to foreign ears. They leave the ” n ” off of the infinitive, and call ” nicht ” “nit,” as “Sie kann nit gut spreche.” ” Leite ” for ” Leute,” as the ” eu ” is always made “ei.” These dialects in the different provinces make the language difficult, and there is strife as to which has the pure speech, Berlin and Hanover leading in strong rivalry. The difference between these two is slight. The Berliners give a ” sh ” sound in such words as stehen, sprechen, but it is the language of the pulpit, the stage, the court, and so authority. The great fault urged against the Berlin speech is that they change g into y, and from this the saying has arisen, that the Berliner will say ” a yute yebratene Yans ” for a ” gute gebratene Gans.” This, however, is only among the lower classes, and never in the circles where one is to learn the German language. There is as much difference in the language in the various parts of our country : the southern elision of the ” r,” the western broad ” a,” the eastern added r,” and all the various patois resulting from the mingling of nations. Still, the English is pure everywhere among the educated, and it is the same in Germany. The various provinces have peculiar intonations, and the rising inflection at the close of the sentence among the Rhinelanders is very pleasing.
A few miles inland from our village of St. Goarshausen is the most extensive ruin of the Rhine region. It is somewhat restored, as the countess who owns it resides here part of the time. An AEolian harp arranged far up in the tower, sounded weird and siren like long before we reached the place. The keeper is devoted to this Gräfin, and even we were touched with admiration for the unknown countess, as we caught some insight into her nature from the tender pictures in her boudoir, the works in various languages in her little study, and her favorite heliotropes in the tiny window-garden. She has artists come from far to paint the surrounding scenery, and she brings musicians with her on her visits, and many guests arrive, and the old castle relives its scenes of glory of the Middle Ages.
Another day we walked to Ober Wesel, to see the old Lieben Frauen Kirche, a place all devoted to tombs and memorial tablets in Latin and old, old Teuton. The remains of an old Roman wall are here, with the high gates and the steps leading up from the inside. We took a picture of this, and gave the touch of life to it, by requesting two peasant-women passing by to stand still. They had the baskets poised on their heads, in the true Rhineland style, and folded their hands properly for a picture. We climbed the hill of the Niederwald, and went halooing through the old woods that once heard the groans of the Roman legions and the shouts of the early barbarian Germans. At Rheinfels, we looked into the traditional well, but failed to see the prophesied “face of your lover,” unless we all love ourselves. The morning walk is to the Swiss valley, where are five mills, a square apart ; and the gurgle and the rush make a pleasant music, while the ferns nod in time. Within sound of this gentle murmur, we settle down, with books or writing, and, at lunch-time, the delicious wild-strawberries just at our feet flavor the crisp Rhine rolls. In the evenings we stroll to the Lorelei, and set the wild echoes flying, but we have a rival in the cornet man, who sounds, ” Was ist des deutschen Vaterland,” and then goes around among the guests for the pfennige. We row, too, and let our little boat whirl around in the eddy just under the Lorelei, until Vivian, on the shore, screams in such terror that we pull out and rest under the cliffs, watching the sun withdrawing behind the hills and cliffs, but before his farewell, as a recompense for the dark night, he is very gracious, and grants us his greatest glory, changing the whole valley into gold, and touching the water with opaline hues, the swift current into a gentle flow. Sunsets were never lovelier, and the moonlights, as we dip the oars in the shadows of the cliffs and then again let the diamonds drip into the silvery surface from the glittering oar! where is Nature lovelier ?
Then the village ! O, how different these people are ! they seem at present to exist for our study and pleasure. The school comes marching by every few hours, for they go to the woods to recite, and we go to the Exercier Platz to watch the boys at exercise, posturing, marching, stepping, manoeuvring, and we walk back along the promenade shaded on both sides by trees. The peasant women sitting there with the golden apricots, and the great gooseberries, three times the size of ours, utter their plaintive cry, ” Kaufen Sie Etwas ! ” and we are so happy, we cannot but do something to make others happy. When gloom settles on life, will not the memory of these hours of sunshine make all brighter ?
The travelling music-bands make their discordant notes heard in “Wacht am Rhein,” or “Es zogen drei Burschen wohl iiber den Rhein.” They are students, helping themselves in their education in this way. There is a natural simplicity among the people of the nation that leads them to act in many original ways. A strolling troupe of actors entertain us with a farce, “Die Einquartierung ; oder, der sanfte Heinrich,” the most absurd thing, and fun without limit ! There is a hall connected with the Gasthaus, but the stage is so small that when the “star,” with the long trained dress, came forward, the train remained behind the scenes, and was lifted forward for the audience to see ! Of course, there was an American in the play, with mints of money and most magnanimous, and, whenever any attempt was made to wrong him, he would cry, “Ich bin unter dem Schutz der amerikanischen Fahne!” We mingle sentiment and practical ideas poetry and prose. Our young American couple, who have just come over and met us here, little W.’s brother and wife, have a most practical romantic plan : on bits of ribbon, of delicate, light shades, the professor sketches the views of various places and scenes, and the bride works the name on them in colored silk. It is to result in a quilt or throw of some kind, and so is a rare combination of romance and utility.
It is an enchanted existence. But the trail of the serpent has entered this Eden, in the turmoil of the Sabbath day. This is just the spot for a perfect Sabbath, where the deep spirit in Nature would make itself more manifest when blending with the soul of man, awakened to reverence and homage for the Creator. The excursionists pour in. The tables in the arbor are set for two hundred guests, and the hilarity is maddening! Across the river is the great shooting-match, and the echoes make it seem a desperate battle. Several are wounded, and confusion reigns. We retreat to the cool quiet of the Swiss valley, the murmur of the falls, the carol of birds, and rustle of leaves.
The rest of the Rhine is before us, and the most poetical part ; the sentiment of Roland’s Eck, Drachenfels, and the Feindliche Brüder. We steep ourselves in the legends. Elizabeth weeps for the poor Lady Geraldine waiting for her lover’s return from the Crusades, and the tragic return with a Greek bride ! Then came the duel between the brothers, “and, while they were fighting with their great swords, in the valley of Bornhofen, behind the castle, the convent bells began to ring, and Lady Geraldine came forth with a train of nuns, all dressed in white, and made the brothers friends, and told them she was the bride of Heaven, and happier in her convent than she would have been in the Liebenstern or Sternenfels.” More touching are the sorrows of Roland the Brave and the gentle Hildegard, separated by the cloister walls ; his daily watching for her, as she passed to and fro, until the funeral bell accompanied her body as it passed out for the last time, and his final plunge into the rushing Rhine! All these legends, in this lovely clime, on these happy summer days, have a subtle magic. Even the most prosaic, commonplace nay, hard-hearted person must grow sentimental on the Rhine. It is the river of sentiment.
Beyond is the great Cathedral, the “epic in stone,” at Cologne. The Rhine has much to offer, but here is its greatest experience. The days in the Fatherland are numbered, and, before we leave the land that has become so dear to us, let us steep ourselves in the exaltation and inspiration, the deep religious reverence that fills the heart in this sacred Dom.