FROM A TERRACE IN PRAGUE
LIEUT.-COL. B. GRANVILLE BAKER,
WITH 36 ILLUSTRATIONS AND ONE MAP
(All rights reserved)
Printed in Great Britain by
UNWIN BROTHERS, LIMITED, THE GRESHAM PRESS, LONDON AND WOKING
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO A WISE AND GENTLE LADY WHO LOOKS OUT UPON LIFE FROM A TERRACE
There are many excuses for the writing of books, and sometimes there may even be sufficient reason. I offer no excuses, but will give what reasons I have for committing to paper these my reflections or meditations inspired by the sight of a fine old capital city as seen from a Terrace in Prague.
The first reason I wish to give may be altruistic, namely, that finding so many of my race quite ignorant of Prague and all that city stands for right down the ages, I feel compelled to add my mite to what has already been written about the subject.
My second reason, a strong one with me, arises out of my inability to enjoy things of beauty and interest without letting my friends know about them. This may be a weak and selfish reason, but there it is.
The third reason rests on my intense desire that you should come out here, to Prague, even to the terrace of my choice, and look at the scene through my eyes while I would endeavour to see it through yours. This, I admit, is undiluted selfishness on my part.
While awaiting you, I am preparing, by means of this work, to introduce you to a goodly throng of those who know or knew this city and loved it well. Perhaps they may admit me to their round table as the last to arrive, and the least. In any case, I owe them a debt of gratitude for their help in becoming acquainted with Prague and the deeper meaning of this glorious city. There are many such kindly helpers: there was Cosmas Pragensis the chronicler, Palacky the historian, there was Count Luetzow, whose works on Prague, as on his native country, are inspired by intense love of them, and illumined by transparent honesty. There are others still among us and doing useful work. A walk with Dr. Jeřabek in the gardens of Waldstein's palace, a talk with Professor Škola, and many other good friends of mine in Prague, have made a pleasure of this work I have undertaken. Out of sheer joy in the things I have seen and heard, and the kindly spirit that informed those who helped me, have I written and illustrated this book From a Terrace in Prague.
- Transcriber's note: In this text the caron has been represented with x X etc. -
INTRODUCES PRAGUE 14
ABOUT GUIDES AND GUIDE BOOKS AND THE WEATHER OF PRAGUE 32
VYŠEHRAD, LIBUŠA AND PŘEMYSL, AND OTHER EARLY NOTABLES OF PRAGUE, AMONG THEM ST. WENCESLAUS 50
MORE ABOUT ST. WENCESLAUS AND HIS IMMEDIATE SUCCESSORS 70
GOOD AND BAD RULERS OF BOHEMIA UP TO A CONTEMPORARY OF FREDERICK BARBAROSSA. STRAHOV MONASTERY 88
FIVE KINGS OF THE HOUSE OF PŘEMYSL, INTRODUCES THE FIRST HABSBURG TO VISIT BOHEMIA 106
BLIND KING JOHN OF BOHEMIA 130
CHARLES IV KING OF BOHEMIA, OF THE GERMANS, AND ROMAN EMPEROR. ŽIŠKA AND HIS HUSSITES. ABOUT SOME CHURCHES IN PRAGUE 148
CHARLES AND HIS BRIDGE. HIS SON WENCESLAUS. JOHN NEPOMUK AND JOHN HUS 166
A HOUSING PROBLEM. ANCIENT AND MODERN PRAGUE 192
SIGISMUND AND OTHER HABSBURGS. GEORGE PODIEBRAD, ALSO THE "WINTER KING" 216
JESUITS AND THEIR WORK. SOME HISTORIC FIGURES AND SOME BRITONS WHO CAME TO PRAGUE. EPILOGUE 234
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
THE CITY OF PRAGUE Frontispiece
THE "CHARLES BRIDGE" AND "HRADŠANY" 60
THE CATHEDRAL OF ST. VITUS 154
THE "POWDER TOWER" 220
INITIAL LETTER (ARMS OF CZECHO-SLOVAKIA) 15
INITIAL LETTER (A TOWER OF KARLOV TYN) 33
INITIAL LETTER (A SENTRY) 51
THE HRADŠANY FROM THE FUeRSTENBURG GARDEN 61
INITIAL LETTER (VYŠEHRAD) 71
OLD BOLESLAV 81
INITIAL LETTER (QUEEN JUDITH'S BRIDGE-HEAD) 89
ST. MARTIN'S, VYŠEHRAD 95
STRAHOV MONASTERY 102
INITIAL LETTER 107
A RELIC OF THE GHETTO 115
A TOWER OF THE HRADŠANY 123
INITIAL LETTER 131
INITIAL LETTER (KARLOV) 149
ST. STEPHEN'S 160
INITIAL LETTER 167
VENICE IN PRAGUE 169
TOWER OF NEW TOWN HALL 174
RIVER SCENE 188
"BE THOU LIKE A PROMONTORY" 189
RIVER SCENE 190
INITIAL LETTER 193
ON THE WHITE MOUNTAIN 200
THE CHAPEL OF THE TOWN HALL 201
THE TOWERS OF OUR LADY OF TYN 205
A CORNER OF THE OLD TOWN 207
INITIAL LETTER 217
THE HRADŠANY FROM THE NEBOZIZEK GARDEN 225
INITIAL LETTER 235
A CORNER OF KŘIVOKLAT CASTLE 250
TABOR, BY THE WATERS OF JORDAN 252
Refers in a general way to several great and historic cities of this earth. Indicates the routes by which Prague may be reached by the traveller from the West, tells a wayside story or two and mentions several very great people, also others of a less degree. Digresses seriously from the purpose of the whole book by raking up the author's personal recollections of people that lived and events that happened right away back in the last century, and far away in the East.
The author then formally introduces a friend, the ancient and venerable City of Prague.
The Psalmist once declared in a burst of enthusiasm, no doubt justified, that "Jerusalem is a city that is at unity in itself." This remark applies with equal right to other great historic cities, as who can deny it that has stood in the "Place de l'Opera" and felt that Paris is indeed at unity in itself?... Or who that has looked upon Constantinople rising out of the pearly depths of the Sea of Marmora will fail to realize that the city of Constantine, despite its many vicissitudes, was indeed a united whole fulfilling its sometime tragic destiny in the history of mankind?
Lisbon, mirrored in the broad waters of the Tagus, is another such city, and so, in yet more marked degree, is Prague. The Psalmist, in poetic exuberance, may appear to have overstated the case, allowance must be made for him, but in the main he was right. The city of Zion had grown up at the feet of the temple of David, and its massive strength impressed the poet who overlooked the bickerings, the quarrels, of the "dwellers therein"; he knew his city was the centre of his race, for "thither the tribes go up," and he took in only the big enduring things; he held the key to the soul of the city.
Let us, then, approach the city of Prague in the right manner, prepared to enter into the spirit of the place, to realize what it stands for, what it has always stood for since those dim days when legend and history entwined.
It is said that "all roads lead to Rome"; as many lead to Prague, as a glance at the map will show. There are first of all those oldest of roads—the waterways—along which moved wandering tribes in quest of betterment and adventure. Two of these waterways meet just above Prague, the Vltava and Berounka; they open out from the wooded heights of the Bohemian Forest, the former river leading up towards a pass in those heights over which you descend to the Danube near Linz, the latter showing the way into the heart of Bohemia from the west from Bavaria. It was by the latter route probably that the Boievari, a Celtic tribe, made their way after a short stay in Bohemia, to settle in the land that is called after them, Bavaria.
Bavarians, who had become thoroughly Germanized, and many other Teutons, frequently found their way into Bohemia by this route, notably in the fifteenth century, when a vast unwieldy army called up by Rome and led by an English Cardinal, tried conclusions with a nation in arms inspired by religious fervour and led by Žiška the Hussite, and was beaten ignominiously.
All along this route are landmarks of a history which tells of the attraction that Prague exercised on the rulers and people of neighbouring countries.
So Eger and Pilsen tell of the horrors of the War of Thirty Years, for which a Bohemian nobleman was largely responsible. Of him and his doings more hereafter. Eger, by the way is now called Cheb, a guttural Ch which is a difficult sound to begin a word with, but you have got to do it if you wish to be considered up to date. The Czech language is difficult to pronounce, a fact of which the Czechs seem rather proud. Pilsen, which is known to us chiefly (and rightly) for its good beer, is now spelt Plzen; this, however, makes little difference to the pronunciation, and happily none at all to the quality of the beer. The Czechs are just a bit sparing of vowels; they prefer a good fat cluster of consonants, as, for instance, in Vltava, Brno, and other such pretty names, but then you simply insert an indefinite sound here and there between the spiky consonants, and all is well; anyone who knows Hindustani or Arabic will find it quite easy. After all, if the Czechs prefer their language that way it is their concern, as long as they do not expect the world outside Bohemia to learn it.
Another fine broad road leading to Prague is the Elbe, into which flows the Vltava, some thirty miles north of the capital. No doubt the Elbe was the road by which the Slavonic tribes poured into present-day Germany what time all Central Europe was swarming with migrant peoples moving westward under pressure from the East.
That a great part of Germany as we know it now was formerly inhabited by Slavs seems beyond doubt; such names as Berlin, Stettin, Strelitz, Rostock, have a distinct Slavonic ring.
Remains of primitive Slavonic culture have been dug up on the islands in the Baltic Sea and even as far west as Hanover; remains of an identical culture have been found as far east as the Volga, so the Slavs have been widely spread out over Europe in earliest days. The expansion of Slavs so far to westward may have been due to the fact that Wittekind, King of the Saxons, called Slavonic tribes to his aid against the Franks.
Charlemagne and his Franks must have been rather a nuisance to their neighbours. Charles had a mission in life, and people thus afflicted are apt to be tiresome. We are taught to number him among the truly great and good men, but he lived and laboured long ago; moreover, we are not a cheery lot of heathen living happy and unwashed in the depths of primeval forests, so our judgment is warped. As to Charles's goodness, I heard some story about his offering to marry an Empress of the East while his first wife was still alive, not, it appears, from any ardent devotion to the lady—I do not believe he ever met her—but simply from the sordid motive of adding another empire to his business. However, I am no scandal-monger, and all the parties concerned have been dead some time.
Charles must have been rather a prig. He was evidently, immensely pleased with his own little bit of book-learning; he even insisted on talking and writing Latin—pure "swank"—whereas his family would surely have preferred their native Frankish. Worse still, Charles had an obsession, that of a Holy Roman Empire, with himself as head and the Pope as an "also ran," and this obsession led to endless trouble—trouble which is not over yet. Charles also had no sense of humour, or he would have made friends with the Slavs instead of fighting them. Men with a "mission in life" rarely have the "saving gift," and so they cause endless trouble; Charles did.
He hammered the Saxons into Christianity: they were Teutons and could stand it. He tried the same on the Slavs, but force was not the right method in their case. Charles could not see this, and went on killing Slavs, handing over their property to Teuton knights. This method, and especially its results, appealed strongly to Charles's successor, who continued to hack the way of Christianity through Slavonic tribes until eventually the latter were completely subjugated in all the German-speaking countries of to-day. It took a long time to do this, for there is a deal of resilience in the Slav, and his soul remains his own even under much persecution. The Slavs were heavily handicapped too; they were broken up into numerous little tribes and clans, and seldom became united under the leadership of a strong man of their own race. They had no spiritual head who would take responsibility for any crime as long as it was atoned for by a corresponding number of heathen converted or killed. The pagan Slav would not just push his bit of piety on to the priest before dashing into the fray; he had to propitiate various jealous deities in person, not by proxy. This must have been anxious work and a waste of time to boot. Then again, both sides were capable and frequently guilty of abominable treachery, with the difference that the Christian Teuton betrayed his enemy only, which was counted unto him for righteousness, whereas the Slav was inclined to sell his own cause, only to be "let down" by the Teuton in the end. The Slavs were also prone to fight among themselves in their spare time; there has been no marked improvement on either side for the last ten centuries or so; however, the history of other nations and races tends to prove that neither Slav nor Teuton are unique in this respect.
Anyway, the "Holy Roman Empire," describing itself as of German nationality, spread out over Central Europe, absorbing one Slavonic tribe after another until there remained as the most western of them only the Czechs of Bohemia as a coherent body, their national life centred on Prague.
* * * * *
However, we are still on the way to Prague up the valley of the Elbe, an interesting route, as it takes you by Dresden, rich in art treasures and still renowned for its music.
The best time of year to travel by this route is the season when the fruit trees are in blossom. Then the valley of the Elbe is a mass of white and pale green set against a background of yellow sandstone rocks and the sombre greens and purples of pine forests. It is not so very long ago since this district of Saxony formed part of the Kingdom of Bohemia, and many names familiar to travellers in these parts recall memories of Slavonic inhabitants—Blasewitz, Loschwitz, Pilnitz, whither the royal family of Wettin, another Slavonic name, was wont to retire for the summer months. The Wettins have now retired from business as monarchs, and their former subjects are following the prevailing fashion of submission to democratic rule tempered by an occasional diversion in the form of an attempted local counter-revolution. These movements are generally innocuous; they sometimes add to the gaiety of nations by the sheer imbecility of their inception and attempted execution, and they appear to be welcome rather than otherwise, as a means of distracting public attention from the universal muddle and general misguidance of European affairs, to those who consider themselves called upon and qualified to set those affairs right.
* * * * *
You may also approach Prague via Vienna; in former days you were encouraged by Austrian propaganda to do so, and this in order to emphasize the fact that you were expected to regard Prague as a quaint little provincial town lying on the road to nowhere in particular. The hand of the Habsburg lay heavy on Prague, and all the glory of great possessions had to be concentrated on Vienna.
We are still on the road to Prague, which has come into its own at last, whereas the glory of Vienna has departed. You wind up to the Bohemian Forest through lovely scenery, where the grey ramparts of Eggenburg look out over the blue distances, across the uplands of Bohemia, passing Tabor dreaming yet of stirring days of religious strife, its towers mirrored in the waters of Jordan, and onward till a wide curve brings the first sight of the towers and spires of "Zlata Praha," Golden Prague.
The usual travelling Westerner prefers the shortest and most convenient route to Prague, namely, via Paris. You may get right through from London to Prague in thirty-six hours if you just skirt round Paris by the ceinture, but a right-minded wayfarer, who should never hurry, will not miss an opportunity of taking the tonic of a few days in the "Ville Lumiere." If he be a true wayfarer—that means not only an enterprising traveller but also given to contemplation—he will bestow some thought on the geographical position respectively of Paris and his destination, Prague, which should help him to enter into the spirit of those two cities; but of this more hereafter.
When the wayfarer does tear himself away from Paris he should travel by the train de luxe, which lands him, without the trouble of changing, in Prague at a reasonably early hour of the evening. This route is interesting in itself, as it leads through many notable places, Chateau Thierry, with its grim reminders of the Great War, Nancy, and Strasbourg restored to France. Then on to Stuttgart, the capital of a small but healthy German Republic, formerly the Kingdom of Wuertemberg; there has been no exaggerated display of republican fervour here in this clean and proper capital, and a crown still tops the coat of arms of a line of rulers, on the former royal palace. You cross the fertile country of Franconia, a wide curve gives you a fine view of Nuremberg, and then you ascend towards the pass that divides the Ore Mountains from the Bohemian Forest. There are quaint old towns growing out of crumbling battlements perched on rocks, towns of soft-sounding South German names breathing history of long ago. There is, for instance, Waiblingen, a very ordinary-looking wayside station, yet what memories does that name recall! Memories of Hohenstaufen Emperors, Fredericks and Conrads, down to the last and luckless Conradin, memories of faction fights between the city republics of Italy, within the walls of those cities, between Guelph and Ghibelline, Welf and Waiblingen. This country Bavaria was also at one time the home of the Welfs; they were a strong, determined race, and spent much time and energy in vigorous opposition to Holy Roman Emperors, possibly as men of common sense they considered the whole prevailing idea of empire rather nonsensical; they were eventually banished to the country about Hanover and Brunswick, where they flourished by virtue of their forceful character—and we Britons have reason to be grateful that it was so.
We move along to Eger or Cheb, where we find a last reminder of the Hohenstaufen in the ruins of a castle and a round two-storied chapel built by Frederick Barbarossa.
During the summer season a through coach from Paris is detached at Eger, whence it is taken to Carlsbad, whither go those who have occasion to repent them of the evil they have wrought in themselves by self-indulgence; there they fast and prepare for the next season of overeating, among peculiarly beautiful surroundings.
From Eger onwards we pass out of the zone of German predominance and into the ancient land of Bohemia, over wooded heights and broad fertile fields, past Marienbad, beloved of our King Edward, and where are also many who love his memory, past Pilsen, and winding along a clear river, the Berounka, its banks crowned here and there by castles and chapels, each with a story all its own yet part of the life of the people of Bohemia, until a sharp curve brings you to the meeting of the waters of Berounka and Vltava within hail of Prague.
You should travel to Prague when the days are long, so you will be rewarded by a very fair view as the train crosses the placid River Vltava. Out of a shadowy mass of grey houses with tiled roofs, divided by the glittering, winding river, rises the Castle of Prague, a massive building crowned by a church of which the soaring spires, pinnacles, and flying buttresses s'accusent against the western sky. The train then plunges you into a tunnel, a long tunnel taken slowly, where you may reflect on the vision you have seen, the vision of another city "that is at unity in itself."
You have had your first glimpse of Prague, and it was beautiful, so you set about endeavouring to enter into the spirit of the place, to absorb its atmosphere and to study its character. For every ancient city that has stood up against adversity and overcome it has a very definite character of its own. And it is a mysterious, wonderful thing this character, this cachet of a great city; the charm of Paris or the grandeur of London, the glittering stillness of Venice or the insistent glory of eternal Rome.
The character of a city, as is that of man, is formed by experience, chiefly adverse, and is made evident by the work the city has done for humanity, its creator and its care. From the study of a city's character may you look into its future and presage whether it be likely to achieve success or doomed to failure. For there have been failures among cities as among men, some pathetic owing to inherent weakness, others as a consequence of their own misdeeds.
Contrast Constantinople with Eternal Rome. Constantinople, with its pathetic remains of greatness, failed to remain "at unity in itself"; ancient Byzantium the "Guardian of the Gate" against the invading Oriental, lived to see its churches turned into mosques, below which lie, broken and untended, the porphyry monuments of Paleologue and Cantacuzene.
What of things beautiful was spared wandered to Rome, whence from the crumbling remnants of an old civilization came the light of the Renaissance that spread over Western Europe.
Most pathetic of all cities that have failed is Amarapura, not so long ago the capital of Burma, and a flourishing city on the banks of the Irrawaddy, placed indeed in the most appropriate position for its former purpose.
But a new King came who was not content with the capital of his fathers, so he ordered its removal. A sycophantic priesthood was loud in prophecies of the great future of the new capital to be built some few miles away, but Mandalay is this day the provincial centre of the government of a race alien to those who founded the city; the race of Kings, the last scion of which abandoned the city of his fathers, is all but extinct, and Amarapura has returned to the jungle from which it rose.
Now this, I admit, appears to have nothing to do with the city of Prague; it is indeed a far stretch of vision from "a Terrace in Prague" to the banks of the Irrawaddy.
Nevertheless, memories of far-off days in Burma came surging up one day as I sat on my terrace reading a newspaper printed and published in the city that lay shrouded in historic mist below. The paper brought news of an old acquaintance, not exactly a close, not even a bowing acquaintance, for we were generally kept apart by force of circumstances (which he might have controlled) at a distance of about a rifle-shot. This acquaintance was one Wun Thu, a son of Thebaw, last of the Burman Kings.
Wun Thu objected strongly to British rule, and emphasized his objection by making trouble with his bands of patriots, whom we called dacoits, robbers.
Even my peaceable occupation of surveying the land met with obstruction on the part of Wun Thu, and led to a frequent exchange of perfectly harmless rifle-shots. And here in Prague, looking down over my newspaper from the terrace of my choice, I seemed to see the spires of the city mass closer together and take on the form of giant jungle trees, the broad Vltava to shrink to the narrow silver thread of a mountain stream at the crossing of which Wun Thu's sporting warriors had levelled their blunderbusses lashed to trees and warranted harmless to all but the men behind them; the paper told of another rising led by Wun Thu. Wun Thu had lain "doggo" for many years—at least he had done nothing to attract the attention of Central Europe—yet here he was, a man of my age and on the downward slope, following the post-war instinct of making trouble—for himself chiefly, as his attempt failed. I feel sorry for my old acquaintance; like so many of us of a former generation, he no longer fits into the picture; he is probably too honest to succeed under present-day conditions. However, Wun Thu has been banished to Ceylon, and I am still writing about Prague. Even in this I am last and, I willingly admit, least of a goodly company.
First in time of this goodly company is Cosmas of Prague, who wrote his chronicles early in the twelfth century. There are yet earlier German chronicles which make mention of the Bohemians, but the city of Prague was not in the days in which they were written. Those German chronicles suggest that the Bohemians who came into their land some time in the sixth century were at one time tributary to the Avari, an Asiatic tribe which had taken possession of the greater part of present-day Hungary, and were rather a nuisance to Western Europe.
It will be remembered that Charlemagne had forceful argument with these Avari; it had something to do with that worthy's trip to visit the Empress of the East; there was a squabble about fares, river dues and such matters. However, this is vieux jeu, and has nothing to do with Prague. The Avari were devoted to the time-honoured practice of robbing and ravishing their neighbours, among them the Bohemians. These latter seem to have borrowed one Samo the Frank, a strong man, from one of the northern Slavonic tribes, and as he proved a success, invited him to be King over them.
Samo accepted the invitation, and is said to have founded the first great Slavonic State with Bohemia as nucleus and a strong castle at Vyšehrad, of which we shall have more to tell hereafter. The neighbouring Franks became uneasy at Samo's increasing importance, and under Dagobert, their King, invaded Bohemia, to be badly beaten at Wogastisburg, which, according to Count Luetzow, was near the present town of Cheb. Samo extended his territory after this victory, and appears to have lived till about the middle of the seventh century.
There ensues a complete lapse in the chronicling of the history of Bohemia until Cosmas took up the tale.
Having no historical records of events since the days of Samo, he drew upon a rich store of legend which, coloured by his lively imagination, forms a glowing and vivid background to the story of this interesting and attractive branch of the great Slavonic race, I am not competing with Cosmas. Bohemia has produced many chroniclers and historians since his day, men whose soul was filled with pride and love of race, whose mind was bent on giving to the world truthfully recorded history, men whose imagination nurtured on lovely legends, on great traditions amid the beauties of one of Europe's fairest countries, found expression in works of lasting worth: I need only mention such names as Palacky, Tomek, and Luetzow among many.
Of strangers who have been charmed to pertinent utterance by the glory and beauty of Prague there is an imposing array. In the fifteenth century AEneas Silvius, afterwards Pope Pius II, came this way, and described Prague as the "Queen of Towns." Then Goethe, whose glowing pen could add colour to the vibrant beauty of Italian landscape, writes of Prague as "der Mauerkrone der Erde kostbarste Stein." We will interpret this, as it is no longer the fashion to understand German, especially in Prague: "the most precious jewel in the mural crown of this earth." Another German, Alexander von Humboldt, gives to Prague fourth place among the world's "cities beautiful."
Rodin considered Prague as the "Rome of the North," a comparison that seems rather trite at first, but those who feel the meaning of this city will understand and appreciate the French sculptor's judgment. Prague has, at least superficially, one quality in common with Rome; in your wanderings in either city you may come suddenly upon something of beauty so stupendous as to take your breath away.
Other French visitors of importance show a tendency to dwell upon the character of the Bohemians in general rather than on the beauty of their capital. With keen perception they draw the deeper meaning from out the stones of Prague; thus in the fifties of the last century writes Viollet-le-Duc, "Prague est une capitale dans laquelle on sent la puissance d'un grand peuple," and Massieu de Clerval is yet more emphatic: "si un pays peut se vanter d'une nationalite indestructible c'est a coup sur la Boheme.—Une nation qui a passe par de pareilles epreuves ne perira, elle a vaincu la mort."
We must not overlook yet another visitor to Prague whose outlook was practical rather than romantic, Ibrahim Ibn Jacub. This Jewish trader from Arabia travelled in Bohemia some time in the tenth century, and was much struck with Prague, "a great commercial town of stone-built houses."
So we who would add a belated word of tribute to the glory of Prague the Golden find ourselves indeed in goodly company. Moreover, we live in the present, and have, as far as this book is concerned, only just arrived in Prague.
The morning sun that tips the pinnacles of the Castle of Prague with gold, that dispels the purple shadows in which the city lies shrouded, and calls forth sparkling facets on the broad river, dissipates our dreams of cities that have failed and perished. It summons us to study this ancient city, old yet ever young. Beautiful, too, in all the varying glints of light upon the spires and turrets of its hundred towers, when the morning breeze comes down-stream and rustles in the trees that deck the islands, to the golden glory of the sunset behind the purple masses of the castle. Then a short star-lit night while Prague rests in dreams of former greatness to gain strength to face its high duties of the morrow.
Indeed, Prague is an ancient city, yet young and active and wonderfully beautiful in all its aspects.
It is not my intention to conduct you round Prague, to introduce to you one by one the many features of the city, and tell you all there is to know about them. This for two excellent reasons: one, that I am far from having got to the end of such knowledge myself, the other that you may be induced to come here and find out for yourself how much of interest and of beauty lies open before you.
As in introducing a friend, I mean to state only a few salient points, to give you a hint of the city's story here and there as told by ancient buildings, as shown in public haunts or quiet nooks, hoping that in your turn you may make a friend of this venerable, this beautiful Prague.
Discusses the question of guides and guide-books, and tries to explain the author's method, or lack of it, when making himself acquainted with places of interest. Contains also remarks on terraces, which are expected to edify. There is a good deal about the weather of Prague, about the gardens at different seasons, also an account of merrymaking in bygone days, and some reflections, in the same spirit, on present-day rejoicings.
There are various ways of becoming acquainted with an interesting city. Some people invest in a guide-book before starting out on the journey, others do not rest until they have bought one or more on arriving at their destination. You may notice these people studying the book on the boat perhaps, certainly in the train; they even let the book interfere with the proper attention that is due to meals; and allow me to remark here that the wagon-lit people are very sound on the question of food.
These people are slaves to the guide-book; they leave it not, day or night, and the more methodical they are in conforming to the cramped spirit of the book, the less do they discover things by themselves. No guide-book ever can initiate you into the atmosphere of a city like Prague.
The sight of the guide-book slave "doing" an ancient and glorious city always fills me with sorrow, sometimes, indeed, with annoyance. These slaves frequently hunt in couples, male and female, sometimes with progeny at heel, and it is generally the male who discovers things—in the guide-book—and then drags the rest of his outfit in search of his discovery. As this is usually done at a reckless pace, the performance is apt to upset the repose of the inhabitants whose perambulations of their native place are in marked contrast to the silent, ruthless hurry in the streets of our large towns. The good burghers of foreign towns seem to have plenty of their own and other people's time to spare; they also possess the gift of unlimited conversational powers. I have known many a pleasant chat rudely interrupted by a group of British or American travellers who, with nose well inside a book, blue or red but obviously "guide," push their way, ruthless as Juggernaut, through bunches of inoffensive natives. There is one consolation: those slaves of the guide-book frequently miss the prettiest bits, just because they are looking into the book instead of around them.
Ask such as they about the atmosphere of some old-world haunt, and you will probably hear complaints about the food or the service.
Some tourists aggravate their position by hiring a guide. Every city of any historic importance breeds a class of mortals that are born guides; they have come to belong to the "staffage" of picturesque surroundings; and in this respect Prague is happily yet unspoilt. The born guide, when young, is generally to be found running after you barefooted, clamouring for coppers or cigarettes. His picturesqueness is due to the fact that he does not disclose the incipient traits of villainy in his face by washing it. The adult of the species does wash his face sometimes, but he has no other virtues. The species "guide" is found in its perfection in Southern Europe. Some day I must write a book on "Guides I have Spurned"; there were many, and I have had to acquire a cursory acquaintance with several foreign languages in order to deal adequately with the spurning action which is chiefly vocal and invective. For the present I can only remember one of the many spurned ones. He had been following me about all over the ruins of a Moorish castle, and finally, breathless, came up with me by a little pile of stones leaning, with some faint attempt at symmetry, against a wall. In gusts a garlic-charged voice explained, "Zat modern. Zat rabbit-'ouse!" In his case the spurning could be done quite conveniently in English.
We cannot all afford to be original. I lay no claim to that quality for myself; my method of making the acquaintance of such an interesting old city as Prague may be that of thousands of other wayfarers. However this may be, I propose to explain my method, not necessarily in order to induce others to adopt it, but rather because it explains the title of this work. I look upon cities, landscapes, in fact upon life in general, from a terrace—not over or through the leaves of a guide-book.
There is a deal more interest in a terrace, and you can always find one if you really want to do so, than the casual passer-by is inclined to realize. It is easy to reconstruct the scene of building up the first terrace. Some fairly primitive man had emancipated himself from the old-fashioned ancestral habit of just letting the rain wash away the hillside, and with it the family's prospects of green food for the season. Squatting outside his cave he had done some hard thinking which, transmitted into action, had led him to build up a wall here and there on the hillside, a wall of clumsy stones kept in place by stakes hammered into the ground, yet a wall, indeed a terrace, and an advance upon the methods of his neighbours whose struggles he could watch from the surer footing he himself had gained—a terrace and a point of view.
It is not suggested that the wayfarer on arriving in a strange city should make a bee-line for the nearest terrace.
There are terraces and terraces, each one with its own definable point of view, and it is this quality which should influence the traveller's choice. Prague offers considerable variety in terraces suitable to every conceivable outlook on life. You may choose a terrace that looks out over the factory quarter of Prague, over grimy Smichov for instance, and make notes on the growing industrial prosperity of the city. You will probably be smoked out of your position, for a cheap and nasty variety of brown coal is used by local industries. If you belong to the eclectic you may be privileged to look down on Prague from a terrace with a background of diplomacy, and find the outlook somewhat limited.
Again, there are terraces where you can get beer and other refreshment. Such terraces are generally so contrived as to give you an outlook too varied to allow of concentration on the essentials of the city; the background to these terraces is generally some little building where the waiter lurks for orders. But there are other, real terraces to be found by those who search diligently and know how to discriminate, terraces with a background that has grown up with the city, that strikes no foreign note in that harmony of form and colour, of clustering red-tiled roofs surmounted by domes, towers and spires, which is Prague. Such a terrace is that from which I write. It is a real terrace, serving its original purpose in supporting a garden on a hillside. A garden carefully, fondly tended by generations of those who lived useful lives and looked out over the city from this point of view.
It is old, very old, this terrace, and it has witnessed many terrible scenes, fire and slaughter and religious strife, but it has also seen more that is ennobling and inspiring. In its strength this terrace has supported those who passed their days upon it, imbuing them, and those who live there yet, with the serenity that comes of a faith built on a sure foundation. This terrace is a bridge to the "Abiding City." It is not my intention to disclose the locality of this terrace; let every man find one to suit his own particular outlook.
Having found your terrace, settle down to a serious contemplation of your surroundings and of the outlook before you; absorb as much as you can of the atmosphere of the place, let it sink into you. For this purpose a guide-book is not only useless, it is a let and a hindrance. After all, what does a guide-book tell you? Either it recites dry facts in an utterly soulless voice, or else, if it make any pretence at belles-lettres, as some of them painfully do, it goes off into sentiment and rapture before you have decided whether these be suited to the occasion. Anyway, a guide-book is the expression of some one else's opinion or experience, and as such is harmful to the soul as likely to exert undue influence.
From your terrace you take in a more or less comprehensive view of the city and its surroundings, and also form some conception of its inner meaning. Then descend from your terrace and wander at random about the streets, choosing as the more appropriate time the long twilight of a summer morning which brings the cruder modern aspect of the place into harmony with the fundamental values. Then, before she awakens to the stir and activity of everyday life, old Prague will speak to you of herself and take you into her confidence; she will tell you some startling stories, for she has a lurid past, has the city of Prague.
I do not know what was Rodin's method of appreciating Prague, but can easily imagine him looking out over the city from the terrace of his choice, looking out over Prague and recalling memories of Rome as seen from the Pincio. There are certain obvious points of resemblance. First there are several hills on which Prague is built; they are said to be seven in number, as in the case of the Eternal City. Personally I can only make out five hills, and I have counted them carefully. It seems to be the right thing in cities of venerable antiquity to claim seven hills; to me this seems a mixture of superstition and snobbery. Prague can well afford to be original and rest content with standing on five hills. This, by the way, does not include all the suburbs which have lately been added in order to make up Greater Prague; the innovation is much too recent, and no "Terrace in Prague" can embrace a view of all the latest additions to the urban district.
Further superficial points of resemblance to Rome are the towers and cupolas that rise above a sea of houses, and the winding river; to find yet more would be a serious strain on the imagination. But there is a deeper resemblance, and this perchance is what Rodin meant when he described Prague as "the Rome of the North." I say "perchance," because Rodin never gave any closer reason for the comparison he drew, so I can only give my own personal impression of what he may have meant. There are, to my thinking, two distinct Romes as there are two distinct Pragues. The old original Rome seems to me fundamentally, gloriously, and, indeed, unblushingly pagan. All the top-hamper even of such beauty as Michel Angelo conceived does not alter this my impression. Churches arisen out of an Emperor's bath, or resting on some pagan shrine, are superimposed on Rome. Rome and all that Rome stands for down the ages is that glorious mass of ruins which cluster about the Capitoline Hill or come upon you in unexpected places. And so it is with Prague; Prague—the real Prague—is to be found in the graceful and enduring monuments erected by Kings of Bohemia in the Middle Ages; Prague of the Luxemburg monarchs, with echoes, faint yet insistent, of remoter legendary times. Over this ancient Prague rise structures of an alien nature, baroque creations of the Jesuits, in spirit foreign to all that the capital of Bohemia stands for. Indeed, most of these buildings are imposing; some are beautiful, but despite the mellowing influence of time it seems as if they had not been completely merged into the soul of the city; they do not express its inner meaning unreservedly. And modern Prague is built up among and about the gracious relics of past ages; at first it appears detached, as it were hesitant between the serenity of a former golden age, the forcefulness of the Jesuit era and the vigour of modernity, but at heart it is one with the Prague of many centuries, is "at unity in itself" by virtue of reverence for noble tradition and hope for a glorious future.
"Thither the tribes go up"; indeed, they have been swarming in since Prague came into her own some few years ago and became the capital of a free and independent republic. In former years, when Prague was still accounted a small provincial town of somnolent habits, there were only two or three hotels that counted at all as accommodation for foreigners; now there are many yet inadequate to the number of visitors. As to those that are drawn to Prague, their numbers may be accounted for by the fact that most of them are native Bohemians who have business in the capital as the seat of government and also as a commercial, industrial and intellectual centre; these latter qualities attract an ever swelling stream of foreigners. To account for this I will draw a comparison all my own between Prague and Paris.
The true Parisian will probably shrug his shoulders at any idea of comparing his city with Prague; but as he is above all a logically minded, reasoning sort of person and, moreover, courteous, he will listen to my argument, and even should he not agree, is generous enough to join me in the happy auguries for Prague which my comparison suggests.
Take a map showing the physical features of France and you will find that the capital of the country could be nowhere else but exactly on the spot where Paris stands in a fertile plain where meet a number of waterways—Seine and Marne just above the city, Oise some little way down. By these waterways and by high roads that came after, a constant stream of peoples has been swirling into France and mingling in the basin of Paris. Among these were Latins from the south coming up the valley of the Rhone and Saone, over the heights and down the Yonne to the valley of the Seine. Then came Franks through the gap of Belfort and over the hills by Nancy, down to the Marne and the Aube; Celts and Flemings from the north, and Norsemen from the west, all met and mingled with the native Gauls and eventually became Parisians. Environment acted its part, and so did the forces of Nature. The soil of the basin of Paris is fruitful, the climate equable, but neither encourage idlers; both demand a toll of strenuous labour, yet not so trying to man's strength as to leave him exhausted at the end of the day's work; he may recreate himself and bring his mind to bear on the result of his handiwork.
This made him critical, and the constant flow of foreigners brought him new ideas to test by the light of his own experience, and so Paris became, as it were, a crucible in which theories of life were tested and rendered by science into practical form.
Only the best is good enough for Paris, and this will remain the case until the disintegration of our planet; no invading hosts, be they never so numerous, nor the most fiendish inventions in modern chemistry, can alter this fact, they may beat down the superficial Paris, they cannot destroy its spirit.
To a lesser degree this is also true of Prague. As we have already seen, its geographical position marks it out as a centre where meet roads coming from all directions. This fact was not discovered at such an early period as that in which Paris arose out of the river swamps. Possibly this was due to the westward tendency of migratory races during the first centuries of our era when Teutonic tribes and Celts passed over Bohemia under pressure from the east. It is strange that the Romans did not discover the geographical advantages of the site on which Prague was founded. Roman influence began to make itself felt early in the first century of the Christian era in these parts, but the trade route which connected the Danube with the Baltic shore passed eastward of Prague, it seems via the valley of the Morava and the "Gate of Bohemia" at Nachod, through Breslau and Stettin, both, by the way, former Slavonic settlements. There are not many traces of Roman culture, and what there are seem to have been imposed on the inhabitants themselves rather than left behind by the Romans. Even Marcus Aurelius, who wrote about most things under the sun, has little to say of the country north of his stronghold at the confluence of the Danube and Morava. It was not till several centuries after the Roman Empire's glory had departed that Prague became a place of importance, and this was largely due to the Luxemburg Kings, whose introduction of French culture made of the city a centre of attraction on the eastern marches of Europe. How and why Prague lost in importance may be gathered from its history; whether it will again gain and hold the prominent position to which it is entitled by its situation must depend entirely on the people of old Bohemia and the other countries which compose the new Czecho-Slovak Republic in general and the citizens of Prague in particular; the fortunes of their country and capital are in their own hands to make or mar. They have many points in their favour: first, a central position in a country endowed with great riches; then a sturdy, hardworking and law-abiding population; and finally a climate that neither encourages idleness nor puts too severe a strain upon man's power of endurance.
The people of Prague have their theories about the climate of their country; they maintain that it is governed by certain rules that are made to apply to Central Europe generally. Thus they will tell you that the winter is severe, that ice and snow keep the country bound for several months at a time, that spring comes swiftly but gently with the melting of the snow and the gradual breaking up of the ice-floes on the river, that then a fine summer follows, a summer hot indeed but tempered by cool breezes from the north and showers from south and west; then through a glorious autumn all russet and gold on a background of hazy blue mountains, back to a winter as in the Christmas carol about Good King Wenceslaus. All this is theory; in reality the weather here, as elsewhere, is not to be trusted, though, indeed, it is not as fickle as that of our own dear country. Still, the people cling to their theory about the climate of the country, and if perchance the theory does not fit, there is always an "oldest inhabitant" handy to declare the weather quite exceptional. Why is it that the oldest inhabitant is invariably the greatest local liar? Is it simply a matter of long life and ripe experience?
Whatever the climate may be, whatever vagaries the weather may indulge in, the view from my terrace is always lovely, its subtle beauty ever new. If I were called upon to say which season shows ancient Prague at her best, I would say the spring time. Then the orchards on the slopes are arrayed in virgin white of pear and cherry blossom, with here and there a blush from apple-trees and a faint glimmer of delicate green against cool grey of stone walls showing among the purples of trunks and branches warming into new life under the fitful rays of April sunshine. The sunshine draws out colour from soaring spires or copper domes of churches and from the quaint towers and pinnacles of old Prague's former defences against enemies that came like storm clouds from out of the west or over the giant mountains to northward. A passing cloud throws into the shade the middle ground of grouped and red-tiled roofs overtopped by some stately church, and the terraced gardens that descend into the harmonies of deep reds and greyish purples which is the dominant note in the colour scheme of the "Mala Strana," the small side of Prague on the left bank of the river. Far beyond are the encircling heights—some wooded, others under cultivation; cloud shadows pass over them like ghosts of the tragic events that made up the history of Bohemia and its capital. But the sunshine wins over the clouds and draws out the strength and glory of Golden Prague.
Summer and autumn bring fulfilment of spring's promise of plenty, with fruit in abundance. Autumn lingers in red and yellow motley, stoutly resisting winter's attack until boisterous winds from east and north send the last leaves shivering to the ground and spread out the city's winter garb. Then Prague assumes a severer aspect; reds and warm greys have vanished, castle, churches, palaces stand out in marked relief, their features accentuated by piled-up snow on roof and gallery and flying buttress. And seen from my terrace, Prague under snow is very beautiful.
The winter had been erratic; spells of intense cold when ice-floes piled up about the piers of the bridges, and even gave rise to anxiety concerning the safety of those structures; then mild winds from the south driving the smoke of the Smichov factories across Castle Hill. This, too, has its beauties when reluctant rays of the setting sun try to dispel it and cloak the Hradčany in a shroud of purple mist.
Winter lingered on into the beginning of the week of Resurrection. On Tuesday in Holy Week wild gusts from the north drove powdered snow in scurries across the uplands through the broad streets and into narrow alleys, where it lingered during two breathless days until with Good Friday came glorious sunshine, dispelling the last traces of winter storms.
As if to attune themselves to the change from winter's bondage to generous life, from the season of Lent to the Day of Resurrection, the people of Prague, as is their wont, called music to their aid. On Palm Sunday, as the last light of a grey day faded away, the church dedicated to Saint Henry, standing austerely apart from the traffic of the streets, was filled with the sweet sadness of Pergolesi's "Stabat Mater." From the organ-loft came the soul-searching harmony of two voices, a pure white soprano and a rich vibrant contralto, which spread about the lofty building, penetrated to the secluded corners where the scent of incense lingers, and then seemed to lose itself in the shadowy arches of the roof, merging, as it were, into the memories of centuries of prayer and praise.
There was that feeling of impending relief from pain, then as of a healing touch when glorious sunshine ushered in Easter Sunday. Larks poured out their soul into a cloudless sky over the battlefield of the White Mountain, the pale green of larches showed up bravely among the riot of live purple and crimson and the flashing trunks of birches, over the wall that confines the park of the Star. The Star itself, that singular monument, a former hunting-box of Bohemian Kings and built in the shape of a six-pointed star, is undergoing renaissance: it is being arranged as a museum for the Czecho-Slovak legionaries. The little brook that makes such a long detour on its way to join the Vltava, passing through the rocky gorge and the winding valley of the Sharka, was very emphatic on the subject of spring's arrival, and its voice must have penetrated to secluded nooks and crannies, rousing sluggard forms of life from winter sleep. Spring was asserting itself with all the glorious certainty of youth, and was calling aloud to all and sundry to come out and witness a brave display in the many gardens of Prague.
I doubt whether any other town in Europe is so well equipped with gardens as is Prague for its size. Chiefest among these is the Stromovka, on the northern slope of the Letna Hill. Your best approach is from the direction of the castle by a broad and shady avenue which leads you first down, then up again to a little plateau where stands a building called Zamek. This building is said to be an old hunting-box of Bohemian royalty: it certainly tries its best to look ancient, but fails to convince you. Then by shady winding ways down the slope to a broad valley deep in verdure. A little stream, which broadens into a lake, keeps up the necessary moisture, and the grass and the weeping willows in their loveliness offer it their silent thanks. The trees on the northern slope grow high: they had to do so to meet the sunshine.
There are broad, shady drives and rides, and many seats, also two restaurants, with at least one band playing heartily of an afternoon. But the beauty spot in all this loveliness is right in the centre—a rose-garden. It is no use trying to describe this rose-garden; only a poet could do that, so all I say is, Come and see for yourself.
Other public gardens I would mention, at least the larger ones—Kinsky, Nebozizek, Riegrovy—but there are a number of others, smaller ones, with shady nooks and plenty of seats. These gardens are dispersed about the town in its workaday quarters; at midday—in fact, at any time of day—you may see the workers enjoying a rest and also whatever kindly fruits of the earth happen to be in season—in July your path is paved with cherry-stones.
There are rows of trees along many of the streets; there are many private gardens of palace, hospital, monastery or convent, adding the freshness of their verdure to the beauty of Prague.
No wonder, then, that with so much loveliness about them the people of Prague should be gay and intent on enjoying life amid such surroundings. On a Sunday or feast-day you have music all round you. Look over the holiday city from your terrace, you will see happy well-dressed crowds moving to one or other place whence rise the strains of music. From one side you hear the solemn notes of the fanfarade from Libuša; a little farther away a very cheery brass band is stirring its audience with a rattling march—impossible to keep your feet still; then while the brass band pauses for breath and beer the insistent cadence of a dreamy valse floats up to meet you.
Finest of all was Stromovka. Here weeping willows trailed their weeds of daintiest green; here vigorous chestnut buds threw out their strong scent; here osier-beds were a living tangle of gold and crimson reflected brokenly in the lake where frogs made merry, the frogs being about the only wild animals left in the Stromovka. Things were very different in this park when it was known as the Thiergarten, Hortus Ferarum, as long ago as the days of King John, the knight-errant ruler of Bohemia. It appears that bison, "aurochs," were kept here, and it is recorded that the sole surviving specimen died in 1566, which fact Archduke Ferdinand, the Kaiser's lieutenant, reported to Emperor Maximilian; he was thereupon ordered to ask the Duke of Prussia to oblige with a new couple of bison.
The Stromovka was at one time described as "where the ox preaches on a sack of straw," which description was probably meant to be humorous. The connection comes about by the fact that the tailors of the town held their revels in the Thiergarten every Tuesday in Easter week, and it seems that a sack of straw was necessary to their happiness. This sack, of the finest white linen, was sewn up with great neatness and adorned with bows of ribbon, red, blue, yellow, green and white, by the apprentices. The sack was further decorated with a design representing a lass and a lad.
There seems to have been no particular object for the sack, as it was only fastened to a pole round which danced young men and maidens. As the gay Czechs of the present day are ready to dance without any such fortuitous aid, it may be presumed that there was some meaning in the idea of carrying a sack about and then dancing round it; but the chronicler does not mention this point—he probably missed it.
Not to be outdone by the tailors, the cobblers of Prague had their day on the Wednesday after Easter, and went for their diversion in an opposite direction, namely, to Nusle, which lies tucked away behind Vyšehrad. The cobblers' feast-day was called "Fidlovatchka," which has a cheery ring, and tradition gives the following origin: The cobblers' guild had built a pair of boots, a most excellent pair of boots, for Emperor Joseph, who himself had learnt their craft. Every cobbler's apprentice in Prague had contributed of his labour to this pair of boots. In token of gratitude the Emperor had given to the guild a little tree, silver-plated, on which were displayed specimens, also in silver, of all the implements used in the cobbler's handicraft. This imperial present was displayed at the cobblers' guildhall and held in high honour.
Now as it happened the cobblers' apprentices seem to have been afflicted more than those of other guilds by the complaint called by the Germans "Blue Monday," which being interpreted meaneth "the morning after the night before." It was of necessity observed as a holiday. Masters insisted on abolishing this holiday, apprentices insisted on its retention. The latter removed the silver-plated tree from its sanctuary and carried it, to the strains of music and with much vociferation, to a mill, now no longer, at Nusle, at which place the adventure had been planned.
Not a single apprentice was to be found in Prague: needless to say, they had the enthusiastic support and inspiring company of all the cobblers' errand-boys.
The apprentices kept up the feast for several days until their funds were exhausted; they then stripped the imperial tree of its ornaments and sold them. When they had arrived at the stage known as au sec they passed the time in fighting. Eventually a deputation of masters came out, a conference was held, the "Blue Monday" feast was reinstituted, and the apprentices returned to Prague, carrying, in place of the imperial tree, a maypole—premature, no doubt, but it probably best expressed their feelings.
The very learned will tell us that the maypole custom of the Prague cobblers dates back to much remoter times than those of Emperor Joseph, and may draw attention to the habit prevalent in Saxony and other neighbouring countries with an originally strongly Slav population of displaying a birch-tree at the beginning of May. The learned will then dive down into Slavonic mythology, which process to the dilettante in such matters, is like "going in off the deep end"—you never know when or where you may come up again.
At any rate, it appears that the cobblers' apprentices chose to call their maypole "Fidlovatchka," and that they carried it about on their feast-day, the Wednesday after Easter. Tradition has it that they all smoked in turn, from a giant pipe capable of holding two pounds of tobacco. Here a fastidious chronicler draws the curtain.
The habit of the Prague apprentices in the matter of keeping the feast remains much the same to-day; moreover, it is not their exclusive right or privilege. I know few other places in the world where people are more ready to make merry on the least provocation. I do not know why this is, nor have I analysed the Czech disposition towards festivities; I do know that it is contagious. Perhaps it is due to the fact that the Church of Rome encouraged the converted Hussites to keep things merry and bright on every available saint's day so as to deaden all recollection of Hus's martyrdom, but this is a deeper matter which we will discuss later. The fact is that the Czech is by nature gay and cheerful and an expert merrymaker, as who would not be in a country like Bohemia, with its grand natural beauties, its wealth of music and poetry—and its beer?
The Government has recently abolished all holidays but a few of the very obvious ones, such as New Year's Day, Good Friday, and May Day. I do not think that this paternal decree will make the least difference to the cheery Czech; in fact, only a day or so after the decree was passed into law the event was celebrated by a very hearty tribute, lasting two days, to a national saint, followed by a day's strike organized by those who protest against all such obsolete notions as saints' days. Everyone was satisfied; everyone's opinion had been freely expressed, and everyone had enjoyed three holidays in one week, thus, by the way, exceeding the allowance for the whole year. Oh yes! the Czechs know what they are about when it comes to merrymaking.
Such a day of merriment is March 7th, very much of a feast-day indeed—the birthday of President Masaryk. Were I a Czech or Slovak, I should celebrate right heartily at least once a week the birthday of the present President, for he is one of the few great men among the swarm that arrived at the top as a result of the World War.
Deals in order of seniority with two of the hills on which Prague stands. First in order, Vyšehrad, with its memories of Libuša and her supernatural gift. Refers also to one Přemysl, Libuša's chosen consort, and the long line of rulers his descendants. Tells of how the foundations of the Hradšany were laid according to Libuš's instructions. Tries to describe the Hradšany as seen to-day, inadequately be it admitted, but illustrations are added in order to help the reader's comprehension of this crowning glory of Prague. Tells a story or two about sentries, one of which at least is intended to thrill. There is also mention of one Czech, of his discovery of the hill Řip. This chapter shows also how by degrees the descendants of Přemysl emerged from the mist of legend with the dawn of Christianity over these Slavonic tribes.
Duke Mnata and his wife Strzezislava flit across the stage. Then we linger on Bořivoj and note that German influence begins to make itself felt. St. Methodius is also mentioned, as is one Svatopluk, Prince of Moravia. Finally we arrive at properly authenticated Princes of Bohemia, each labelled and dated correctly, St. Wenceslaus and his brother Boleslav. Mentions also a saintly lady Ludmilla and her daughter-in-law Dragomira in vivid contrast. Family dissensions among the Přemysls which lead to such unpleasant happenings as the murder of St. Ludmilla and the consequent banishment of Dragomira by her son Wenceslaus, of whom there is so much to relate that he is worthy to open a fresh chapter.
Let us lift up our eyes unto the hills, the hills on which stands Prague, and if help do not come at once we may at least hope for inspiration; the beauty of the scene alone assures us. Look out from your terrace of a morning, a cloudless morning of early summer, and gainsay it if you can. The town is extending considerably, growing up the distant slopes on the far side of the river and trickling down into the little valleys, but the general outline of Prague is much the same as it has been for centuries; the eternal hills may be scarred and patched by us who have here no "abiding city," but they remain.
I have already mentioned the hills on which Prague was built, and had decided that they are five in number, not seven as is popularly alleged. I have counted those hills several times over, and make their number five, and quite sufficient too; another two hills would mar the composition. At the risk of repeating myself, I maintain that Prague can well afford to be original and forgo any imitation of other cities by insisting on standing on seven hills; a truly great city should not descend to servile flattery. Paris, for example, undoubtedly a great city, is quite content to stand on two hills, Montmartre and Montparnasse, the latter quite worn flat by the levelling tendencies of modern times.
It is now time that we delved down into the history of Bohemia, and in this we gain inspiration from the hills of Prague, the works of man that crown them and the traditions, legends, shreds of history that cling to them. Of these hills that of Vyšehrad is entitled to hold seniority in the history of Prague. It takes a place somewhat akin to that held by the Capitoline Hill of Rome. It was from here that the city started, though this hill has little left of former grandeur and shows nothing to compare with Rome's monuments to a glorious past. A crumbling block of masonry, the story of which is quite unknown, a round chapel dating from the days when Christianity was young among the Slavs and still found ready martyrs in its cause even among princes, and an enceinte of brick fortifications, stone-faced and in Vauban's best style, battered by Frederick the Great's guns, are all that Vyšehrad has to show by way of relics of a stormy past.
Vyšehrad is about the first striking view you obtain of Prague as the train de luxe brings you round a bend before crossing the railway bridge over the Vltava. Travellers seeing Prague for the first time are apt to mistake this hill of Vyšehrad for the castle. I did so myself; my delight, therefore, at the first sight of Prague's crowning glory, the Hradšany, was all the greater.
Seen against the evening sky, Vyšehrad looks very imposing; it is at its best by winter twilight, when the heavy mass is dully reflected on the surface of the frozen river. Then you may gain some idea of what this rugged promontory stands for in the life-history of a race that has passed through great tribulation. Two Gothic spires point to the skies, rising from a church which, despite its newness, seems more in accord with the spirit of Prague than do the copper domes of Jesuit structures; but then this church is built on foundations so ancient as to defy investigation by the most assiduous chroniclers. No doubt those spires are right enough in their way, but they are almost painfully modern and unromantic compared to a square bit of crumbling masonry that clings limpet-like to the crags of Vyšehrad overhanging the river at the feet of the twin church towers. For here, according to legend, is the cradle of the city of Prague. In popular parlance this bit of masonry is called Libuša's bath, and hereby hangs a tale to introduce which we must hark back some fourteen centuries.
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Some time in the sixth century—nobody seems to know exactly or to care much when it was—one Czech or Czechus was wandering about this land of Bohemia with a party of friends and relatives, probably a whole tribe of them. Czech seems to have had the country to himself; if he had met any strangers there would have been a fight, and we should have heard about it. It may therefore be assumed that the former occupants, probably lodgers only, had moved on. There was much movement going on in those early centuries of the Christian era, the main tendency being from north-east to south-west, from cold, damp and short-commons to warmth and plenty. Now we have sufficient reason to believe that Thuringians and Rugians abode for a while in Bohemia and parts of Bavaria, and Lombards in Moravia, and that these gentry, hearing of loot to be had in plenty farther south, left their temporary homes, crossed the Danube and made themselves unpopular elsewhere, leaving the lands of Bohemia and Moravia to anyone who cared to take them. This happened some time about the middle of the sixth century, which gives us something more definite to go upon as to Czech's place in time. Anyway, there were Czech, his friends and relations wandering at their own sweet pleasure over the rolling wood-clad landscape of Bohemia. On this excursion Czech espied from afar a peculiar shaped hill (not one of the hills of Prague) to which he promptly gave the appropriate name of Řip. Now this innocent-looking word is, by virtue of the sign placed over the R, pronounced in a peculiar manner; between the initial consonant and the "i" you should insert a sound somewhat like that of the French "j" as in "jamais," for instance. Heaven and the Czechs only know what meaning you would convey did you neglect this euphonious concatenation of consonants and simply say "rip"—probably something to cover the young person with confusion; but rightly pronounced, and with due regard to the soft but insistent sibilant, this mixture of sounds means—toadstool. It is all so simple when once you know: Řip = toadstool,—and there you are. The description tallies too: the hill of Řip does look like a toadstool; I have seen it myself, and am prepared to support Czech's statement on oath. Anyway, Řip stands there still, much the same as when Czech discovered it, but for a chapel dedicated to St. George on its summit, the result of some one else's piety.
You can see Řip for miles round, as it has chosen a fairly level plain out of which to arise much like a mushroom on the lawn after a rainy night. No wonder, then, that Czech made straight for Řip, climbed to the top, looked around him, approved of what he saw, and decided to stay. He did, so did his friends and relatives and those that came after them, and no power on earth was able to shift them. The descendants of Czech are there still. One of these told me that the best and sturdiest type of Czech is bred round about Řip; he was born thereabouts himself, and should know. I am prepared to believe it anyway, as my friend is certainly of the best and sturdiest type of Czech.
That much for Czech and his descendants; we must now skip a century or two which even Cosmas of Prague was unable to fill out with legend, and return to the lady whose bath I have already referred to. Not that I believe the ruined bits of wall to have contained a lady's bathroom; I have tried to imagine Libuša using the place for the morning tub, and have failed to conjure up any picture that would carry conviction. However, I do not wish to prejudice the case; come out to Prague and judge for yourself.
Libuša was one of three sisters, daughters of Krok, Prince of Bohemia, or at least some part of it, for frontiers in those very early days were even more elastic than those drawn by International Commissions. Anyway, there was Krok lording it over as much of Bohemia as he could control, from his fastness of Vyšehrad. Of Libuša's sisters, Kazi and Teta, nothing but their names is known even in legend; they passed into oblivion on Krok's demise, for he ordained that Libuša, his youngest daughter, should succeed him. Libuša, according to legend, was a model of all the virtues, and as in those days there was no ever-ready Press lurking to pounce on historical inaccuracies, we may accept the statement of kindly Saga.
Libuša had a rare gift, one which proved uncomfortable to other ladies of legend similarly endowed, uncomfortable both to themselves and their belongings, the gift of prophecy. She foretold the future greatness of Prague, and undoubtedly spotted a winner. This was not the only occasion either, for she did herself a good turn too by means of her supernatural power. As it happened, despite her possession of all the virtues, she had trouble with her subjects, who declared themselves weary of petticoat government and urged her to look round for a husband. She did, calling to aid her uncanny gift. The discussion with her subjects probably took place in the open, high up on Vyšehrad. Libuša, with that far-away gaze proper to all soothsaying, pointed out over the distant hills, saying, "Behind those hills is a small river called Belna, and on its bank a farm named Stadic. Near that farm is a field, and in that field your future ruler is ploughing with two spotted oxen. His name is Přemysl, and his descendants will rule over you for ever. Take my horse and follow it; you will be led to the place."
The lady was not quite correct about Přemysl and his descendants—they have ceased to rule over the Czechs, and are now replaced by a sovereign people; but she certainly was right in her description of her future husband and his surroundings. The search party, following Libuša's horse, found Přemysl busy at his plough, roped him in and brought him to their Princess. Legend again asserts that Přemysl made a first-class husband and ruler (he probably did exactly as his wife told him) and his descendants reigned with varying fortunes, until the first years of the fourteenth century—a very good innings for the lineage of Přemysl, the sturdy farmer, and that far-seeing lady Libuša, his wife. During those centuries the Czechs had consolidated into an important kingdom; from a misty chaos of heathen Slavonic tribes had grown a people brave and generous, with a culture all its own, and above all with a surpassing gift of expressing itself in music.
It must not be supposed that Libuša rested content with being wife to Přemysl, just keeping house, mending clothes and minding the babies. She continued her activities as directress of her people's fortunes, and is made responsible, among other matters, for choosing the site of the Hradšany, the Castle of Prague, and this is what the chronicler has to say about it.
One day as Libuša looked out from her fastness over the river towards the wooded heights to northward, she was moved by the gift of prophecy to which she was addicted when deeply stirred.
Her own abode, built by her father, hung upon that rocky crag called Vyšehrad, and was probably by no means roomy; Krok, her father, had no doubt found it a convenient spot, being somewhat difficult of access in those days to armed visitors, who were likely to prove a disturbing element. The ancient Slav preferred to build in secluded spots, on heights amid forests for choice, there was so much to guard against in those dark ages, so the wooded heights that Libuša looked out upon must have appealed to her strongly. Anyway, she decided to act, prefacing action by some quite useful sooth-saying. According to the chronicler Cosmas of Prague, who lived three or four centuries after Libuša had passed away, the following impressive scene was enacted: Libuša, standing on a high rock on the Vyšehrad in presence of her husband Přemysl and the elders of the people, incited by the spirit of prophecy, uttered this prediction: "I see a town, the glory of which will reach the stars. There is a spot in the forest, thirty stades from this village which the River Vltava encircles, and which to the north the stream Brusnice secures by its deep valley; and to the south a hill, which from its rocks takes the name Petřin, towers above it. When you have reached this spot you will find a man in the midst of the forest, who is working at a door-sill for a house; even mighty lords bend before a low door. From this you shall call the town which you will build there 'Praha.'" The elders did as they were bid, and so Prague arose. The Czech name is Praha, the derivation possibly from prah= door.
The Hradšany Hill was thus by Princess Libuša indicated as the pinnacle on which should rest for ever the glory of Prague and of Bohemia. Glory is a doubtful gift and costly, and the history of Prague shows clearly that this is true. No doubt work was started at once on a castle to crown the hill. Libuša probably saw to it that there was no time wasted. This would be some time about the middle of the eighth century, but history, as handed down from those days, is wrapped about with mystery and legend from the obscurity of which events gradually detached themselves. It was not till Christianity had got a firm hold of the Czech people that any half-way reliable records were kept.
We will take it for granted that it was Libuša who, with the seer's eye penetrating the future, laid the foundations of that right royal pile, Prague's crown of glory, the Hradšany. We have the authority of Cosmas for this; also Smetana composed an opera all about Libuša, so all our doubts are dispelled. We have noticed the site, and that it is admirably adapted to defence, a rocky eminence rising like a promontory above the broad Vltava, its steep sides falling down to the river on the eastern side, and to deep-cut valleys to north and south. The position offers a wide view over the rolling plains to westward. It was from this side chiefly that the attackers came—Germans in the cause of the Holy Roman Empire, mercenaries of many nations that swelled the imperial hosts arrayed against Protestant Bohemia, marauding armies of Swedes, all these surged up against the walls and towers of Prague's Royal Castle. They broke and passed away like the fleeting cloud shadows you may watch floating across the fields and wooded slopes of Jilove, Černy Kostelec and Zbraslav to the blue hills of Hradešin beyond. But the castle still stands a sentinel over ancient Prague.
It must have been a pleasant post, that of sentry upon a look-out tower of the Castle of Prague. What with the ever-changing beauty of the landscape and the chance of noticing a hostile force approaching with colours flying and spear-heads a-glitter in the sun, with, moreover, a prospect of a fight, a sentry's life should have been a happy one. It would be expected of the sentry that he should not be so held by the fascination of the scene as to omit to report any unusual occurrence. I have known such a thing happen even to an otherwise well-regulated sentry. It was in Mandalay where from a wooden tower in the middle of Fort Dufferin a sentry held watch and ward over the town. One bright afternoon the town caught fire. The sentry was so much impressed by the grandeur of the scene that he quite forgot to report the matter, and a large part of the town was utterly destroyed. That man might have been qualified as an artist, an author or a poet; as a sentry he was disappointing.
There are no records of sentry yarns dating back to the really exciting times in the history of the Hradšany; I have discovered only one, and that of a comparatively recent date. The event narrated happened in the autumn of 1753 at 11 p.m. The sentry was a grenadier; please note the accuracy of detail which should dispel any doubt as to the truth of the story—the grenadier touch is especially convincing. This grenadier, it would seem, was posted in the inner court of the castle, probably at the entrance to what is now the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Propaganda (places of that kind want a deal of watching). The grenadier was probably as bored as any sentry can be up till midnight sharp, when things began to happen. First of all, the dark mass of the cathedral was suddenly brilliantly illuminated from within. Then from that little side entrance to the cathedral emerged a tall figure all in white. The sentry challenged, as a sentry should. No use. The tall figure strode up to the sentry, halted before him, cast a handful of corn at his feet and stalked back the way it came. Lights out!... The next night at the same hour the programme was repeated before a new sentry, also a grenadier: the former one had probably reported himself sick. On the second night the apparition cast down a handful of silver coin. The grenadier left them all lying on the ground—this is the only part of the story that strikes me as weak. On the third night, the military being represented as before, the tall figure reappeared with commendable punctuality. On this occasion the management had arranged a display of moonlight in order to show up the pallid features, blood-stained clouts and other accessories suitable to a first-class apparition. Moreover, this being positively its last appearance in public, the tall figure spake: "1754 rich harvest, 1755 gold in plenty, 1756 blood in streams." And so it happened. In the year 1754 there was a record harvest in Bohemia, the year 1755 brought considerable wealth into the country (the handful of silver was probably something on account), and in 1756 the Seven Years' War broke out. So the story must be true, all except that little bit about the grenadier leaving all the silver lying on the ground.
* * * * *
We were really still watching the Hradšany grow out of Libuša's prophecy. The chronicler left it to others to find out where the building stood for which the man in the forest was carpentering the door-sill as described by Libuša. That great lady simply said that the work was going on in the forest which surely extended down to the river-bank in those days. This may have encouraged the belief that the first house, built by Libuša herself, of course, stood somewhere below the Castle Hill—it is said on the site of the old posting house, but some one obliterated all trace of it by erecting a church, dedicated to St. Procopius, above it, no doubt as part of the business of stamping out paganism. The Church of St. Procopius is no longer in evidence, and as there have been further additions and improvements to the quarter of Prague in question since the eighth century, it is now quite impossible, even to the liveliest imagination, to fix upon the spot where stood that first house. It does not matter very much either. The Hradšany itself is easily the most imposing and interesting sight which Prague has to offer.
The massive strength of the castle, the Hradšany, holds your gaze from whatever quarter of Prague you may happen to look out. The castle, as we know, has a hill to itself, up the sides of which rise clustering palaces, churches, convents and monasteries, buildings of grey stone and red-tiled roofs, standing amidst terraced gardens. In spring this ancient quarter decks itself with glorious apparel of white of cherry, pear and plum, with here and there the delicate pink of almond blossom; in winter, when the snow lies "smooth and crisp and even," the scene is changed into a fairy network as of delicate lace on a foundation of grey and purple; in all seasons it is beautiful.
ANY FROM THE FUERSTENBERG GARDEN.]
The first sight of the Hradšany conveys an impression of sheer strength, much as does Gibraltar; it also suggests a lion couchant but watchful and strong to protect the city at its feet; this effect is particularly noticeable from the Fuerstenberg garden. The beauty of this massive pile grows upon you gradually as you see it under the ever-varying atmospheric conditions of Prague. By all the canons of art the long straight lines of the Hradšany should be unlovely. The towers which broke those lines no longer stand out boldly as shown in old prints and engravings, at least on the townward side of the castle. They have been gradually merged into the general mass of the building as time and progress brought greater demands for living room and lessened the need of defensive measures. The straight outlines are still broken here and there by some trace of the ancient building showing through, a mullioned window, an old stack of chimneys, but on the whole, the mass by itself is heavy and uniform. Nevertheless, the general effect is splendid, whether you see this stately pile standing out strong and massive above the mist from the river or rising in tiers out of dimmed silvery greys against an evening sky all gold and emerald, or flushed with sunset scarlet. The crown of all this terraced glory is the great cathedral. A square massive tower stands up out of the body of the church. A purist may find fault with the mixture of styles this tower incorporates. The bulk of its structure is Gothic; at the base of the superstructure appears a nondescript medley of styles (nondescript at least in the eyes of a dilettante) out of which arises a concern of domes and cupolas one above the other, supported at each corner by little pinnacles crowned with onion-shaped tops. The copper coating of these domes and cupolas gives a distinctive touch of colour to the whole edifice of warm grey stone; this note of green you will find repeated elsewhere on the churches and other buildings of Prague, a piquant note but alien to the spirit of Prague both ancient and modern. There has been talk of removing the superstructure from the main tower of the cathedral and replacing it by a Gothic spire such as adorn the towers that flank the west front of the building, spires that gleam like lacework when standing out sunlit against dark banks of cloud. It were best to leave the superstructure of the main tower as it is; it marks an epoch and serves as reminder of a tyranny now overpast. The highest point of the main tower is not adorned with a usual emblem of our faith, a cross or a cock, but flaunts instead the "Lion of Bohemia" in all his rampant pride of a double tail. I shall have more to say about this wonderful heraldic animal on some future occasion; it is significant that this crest swings over the sacred fane where rest the remains of St. Wenceslaus, over the cradle of Bohemia's religious life.
You will remember Libuša's vision of an endless succession of little Přemysls. She overrated Přemysl a bit as a good wife should, for the Přemysl dynasty ended abruptly with the murder of Wenceslaus III in 1306 at the hand of some unknown assassins at Olomouc, by the Germans called Olmuetz. Nevertheless, the family had had a good long spell of life and plenty to keep them busy during those six or seven centuries; it produced some very fine rulers; all honour to old farmer Přemysl. The first eleven scions of that line are very faint figures; they are not even dated; only a few of them show more than a shadowy outline in the mist of legend and dawning history. Of these early rulers there is echo of one Mnata, who is said to have built the first stone house on the Hradšany for his wife Strzezislava. I wonder what he called her for short? Strz sounds a bit abrupt, Slava is too general among Slavonic people: perhaps he called her Cissie. Strzezislava is certainly too rich for ordinary household use. Cosmas passes by this point in silence, which is a pity; it is just those intimate little touches that foster pleasant social relations and justify the chronicler's attitude of omniscience; our illustrated Press has reached perfection in that line. Mnata and Strzezislava flit across the stage and pass into oblivion without the benefit of gramophone and cinema. Then emerges one Bořivoj, first of that name, who stands out more distinctly against the background of misty legend, probably by reason of his having embraced Christianity; he also embraced a lady, Ludmilla, who became his wife and one of Bohemia's moat popular saints and patrons. It happened that Bořivoj had occasion to ask his neighbour Svatopluk, Prince of Moravia, for protection, and then he became acquainted with that energetic missionary, St. Methodius. Unhappily we have no precise information concerning date and place of this picturesque event. The chronicler has done his best by giving the following story to fill up the blank. He narrates that Bořivoj was not allowed to sit at table with Svatopluk, but was given a low stool apart, as being unfit to associate with Christian company. This is what the Christian chronicler says, and he made it his business to bear testimony on all occasions. It is, however, quite conceivable that Bořivoj's manners were not up to refined Moravian form. Anyway, Bořivoj allowed himself to be converted, and as there is no mention of his table manners we may assume that he reached the required standard.
After all, manners are a matter of relativity, and not so long ago, somewhere about 1700, the Austrian Court found it necessary to issue a handbook thereon, in which guests bidden to the imperial banquets were requested not to throw their chicken bones under the table, it made so much extra work for the servants. There is quite a modern touch about this.
With all the fervour of a convert, Bořivoj set about the salvation of his people from heathen darkness. I have sought diligently for some records of the beliefs held by this branch of the Slavonic race. There is no evidence of any deities of strong if unpleasant personality, such as that obstinate, one-eyed Wotan, or that destructive bully Thor, whose brutality coloured German mentality down to most recent days, and seems to do so still. Neither seem those Slavs to have been subject to visitations in their homes by such doubtful characters as Hermes, nor was their sense of propriety outraged by the "carryings on" of Zeus. No doubt they had some benign deity, and also a malignant, jealous one, no western creed is complete without the latter at least, if only for the benefit of the priests, but they have left no trace on a people that has suffered so much from the wickedness and stupidity of their human oppressors. The western Slavs in general and the sons of Czech in particular, had their flights of fairies, sprites, pixies and other lovable immortals. They are here still; even I, a stranger, claim to have heard them in "den heiteren Regionen, wo die reinen Formen wohnen," on the sun-kissed snow of the mountains, in the whispering voices of the forest and the song of the burn in the glen. A sight of these benign beings has been denied me—for this I make the heavy cuisine of Bohemia responsible; but their spirit lives on and informs the sons of Czech in the realm of the spirit, in art and poetry, above all in music.
Bořivoj plunged into Christianity with enthusiasm; he is known to have built a church at Levy Hradec, and is said to have laid the foundations of another on the Castle Hill. It appears, however, that the pace he set was rather too hot for his people; they raised a deal of trouble, and Bořivoj had to call in the German King Arnulf to help in restoring order. This step did not bring unmixed blessings; it gave the Germans an excuse for interfering in Bohemian affairs. Now Arnulf was a Carolingian, of bastard blood indeed, but nevertheless under the "Holy Roman Empire" obsession, and therefore convinced of the German right to round up all Christian countries into that Empire. In this action of Bořivoj we see the first instalment of the endless trouble caused by the obsession which originated with Charlemagne as mentioned in the first chapter. Moreover, this German intervention gave to the inhabitants of Bohemia their first experience of religious dissension. Their first contact with Christianity brought them the choice of rival liturgies, the Latin as favoured by the Germans with their "Holy Roman" idea, and the Slavonic which St. Methodius had introduced. So Christianity in Bohemia began with an exhibition of divergent religious views, which may account for a good deal of the suffering brought upon this country for its own salvation and its neighbours' benefit.
Bořivoj's successors, Spytihnev I and Vratislav I, were kept so busy guarding their country against Magyar inroads that it seems they had no time to worry about religious differences. Neighbour Svatopluk's extensive empire had fallen to pieces owing to the quarrels of his sons and under Magyar aggression; this gave Spytihnev the opportunity of freeing himself from the supremacy of Moravia which Bořivoj had accepted in return for assistance rendered him by Svatopluk and the Slavonic liturgy thrown into the bargain. This, again, brought the Germans nearer to Bohemia, as neither Spytihnev nor Vratislav were strong enough to stand alone. As politics and Church worked hand in hand in those days, the Germans imposed the Bishop of Ratisbon, and with him the Latin liturgy, on Bohemia, whereas such Slavs as had taken to Christianity at all were rather inclined to the other version. This must have caused a good deal of trouble, so it is not to be wondered at if the rulers of Bohemia recalled happier, simpler days. There came a certain reaction in the affairs of the Přemysl family. We have noted the saintly lady Ludmilla, wife of Bořivoj, the first Christian Prince of Bohemia. Ludmilla was very pious indeed; you will find frescoes illustrating her good deeds, adorning the walls of Karlov Tyn (Karlstein), a fine old castle of which I will tell you more by and by. It is quite impossible to be so picturesquely good and pious as was Ludmilla, in these days of mail-orders, wholesale departments, banking accounts and cheque-books. There was another lady of the Přemysl family, and she, according to all accounts, was neither good nor pious. She was a reactionary, a thorough-paced pagan, and it was this lady who caused trouble in the household. The lady's name was Dragomira; she had married Bořivoj's second son, and had been left a widow with three sons. This did not have the usual soothing effect upon the lady. Dragomira, as regent during the minority of her sons, had revived paganism, and this brought her into conflict with the German King, Henry the Fowler. Pious Ludmilla, Dragomira's mother-in-law, was much upset about this conflict, for with all her good works she found time to take an active interest in foreign politics. Here were all the elements of a hearty family row; in addition, Dragomira's sons took different sides: Wenceslaus with his grandmother Ludmilla, Boleslav the younger with his pagan mother. The chronicler sides entirely with Ludmilla and Wenceslaus in his narrative of the domestic dissensions of the Přemysl family. He shows no sympathy for the other side, does not realize that Dragomira must have got very weary of her mother-in-law's piety and annoyed at that lady's interference in the education of her sons. There is a great deal to be said for Dragomira's point of view, and it is a pity that her remarks on the rival Christian liturgies, Latin and Slavonic, have not been handed down to us. Dragomira certainly carried matters too far when she strangled Ludmilla with her own veil one evening in chapel; she made the mistake of furnishing the other side with a first-class saint and royal martyr.
Wenceslaus, the pious elder son, was extremely annoyed at this open demonstration of family discord. Dragomira was sent into exile; her name was never mentioned again. The treatment meted out to his mother made of young Boleslav a more determined pagan than he was before; he sat up at night hatching heathen plots against brother Wenceslaus. Boleslav's reincarnation is probably to be found among international financiers of the present day. The result of his machinations must be told in a fresh chapter.
Begins with the accession of Wenceslaus I, tells you how to pronounce his name correctly in Czech, and informs you of his piety and general saintliness. There is also mention of other saints as suitable company for Wenceslaus, and a short account of how that prince qualified for a halo himself. We note also the contrition of Brother Boleslav, who made a martyr of Wenceslaus, how Boleslav did a good deal of fighting, most successfully, and extended his dominions thereby. Also how Boleslav learnt to be neighbourly and wise in his choice of a wife for his neighbour who was promptly converted to Christianity. Of the son of Boleslav I and Dubravka, wife of Duke Mieceslav I of Poland. How Boleslav II, called "the Pious," earned that epithet and started Prague with a bishop all to herself. Of churches and convents, and Milada, the pious sister of Boleslav II. Of the growing importance of Prague and how it was recognized and appreciated by Ibrahim Ibn Jacub and many of his race.
With the accession of Wenceslaus, first Přemysl prince of that name, Bohemia passes out of legend into ordered history; its rulers are henceforth properly labelled and dated. This is chiefly due to the spread of Christianity; priests and monks take up the tale of kindly Saga, and keep careful record of events. These chroniclers were not as a rule unbiassed; I cannot see how they could have been otherwise, for not only did they undertake the task of compiling history, they were constantly making propaganda for their own ideals against the paganism which still had a considerable hold on the sons of Czech. I doubt whether any historian can be absolutely unbiassed; a warm-blooded man—and you must be that if you would record the doings of your fellow-men—is bound to feel sympathy with or dislike for one or other actors in the far-off pageant of history. I frankly admit myself biassed in favour of Brother Boleslav the hearty heathen, and somewhat bored by that saintly lady Ludmilla. A night out with Boleslav would have been more amusing, if less edifying, than a country walk with pious Wenceslaus, who would be sure to waste a good deal of time at wayside shrines; a picnic arranged by Dragomira and in that lady's company, would have been at least a material improvement on any little outing with Ludmilla, who would surely have discovered some reason for fasting on that particular day. But then I can afford a bias; am only making observations from "a Terrace in Prague."