by Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller
Translator: Theodore Martin
Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller was born at Marbach, Wurtemberg, Germany, November 10, 1759. His father had served both as surgeon and soldier in the War of the Austrian Succession, and at the time of the poet's birth held an appointment under the Duke of Wurtemberg. Friedrich's education was begun with a view to holy orders, but this idea was given up when he was placed in a military academy established by the Duke. He tried the study of law and then of medicine, but his tastes were literary; and, while holding a position as regimental surgeon, he wrote his revolutionary drama, "The Robbers," which brought down on him the displeasure of his ducal master. Finding the interference with his personal liberty intolerable, he finally fled from the Duchy, and in various retreats went on with his dramatic work. Later he turned to philosophy and history and through his book on "The Revolt of the Netherlands" he was appointed professor extraordinarius at Jena, in 1789. His "History of the Thirty Years' War" appeared in 1790-93, and in 1794 began his intimate relation with Goethe, beside whom he lived in Weimar from 1799 till his death in 1805. His lyrical poems were produced throughout his career, but his last period was most prolific both in these and in dramatic composition, and includes such great works as his "Wallenstein," "Marie Stuart," "The Maid of Orleans," "The Bride of Messina," and "William Tell" (1804). His life was a continual struggle against ill-health and unfavorable circumstances; but he maintained to the end the spirit of independence and love of liberty which are the characteristic mark of his writings.
This enthusiasm for freedom is well illustrated in "William Tell," the most widely popular of his plays. Based upon a world-wide legend which became localized in Switzerland in the fifteenth century and was incorporated into the history of the struggle of the Forest Cantons for deliverance from Austrian domination, it unites with the theme of liberty that of the beauty of life in primitive natural conditions, and both in its likenesses and differences illustrates Schiller's attitude toward the principles of the French Revolution.
by Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller
HERMANN GESSLER, governor of Schwytz, and Uri. WERNER, Baron of Attinghausen, free noble of Switzerland. ULRICH VON RUDENZ, his Nephew.
People of Schwytz: WERNER STAUFFACHER. CONRAD HUNN. HANS AUF DER MAUER. JORG IM HOFE. ULRICH DER SCHMIDT. JOST VON WEILER. ITEL REDING.
People of Uri: WALTER FURST. WILHELM TELL. ROSSELMANN, the Priest. PETERMANN, Sacristan. KUONI, Herdsman. WERNI, Huntsman. RUODI, Fisherman.
People of Unterwald: ARNOLD OF MELCHTHAL. CONRAD BAUMGARTEN. MEYER VON SARNEN. STRUTH VON WINKELRIED. KLAUS VON DER FLUE. BURKHART AM BUHEL. ARNOLD VON SEWA.
PFEIFFER of Lucerne. KUNZ of Gersau. JENNI, Fisherman's son. SEPPI, Herdsman's son. GERTRUDE, Stauffacher's wife. HEDWIG, wife of Tell, daughter of Furst. BERTHA of Bruneck, a rich heiress. ARMGART, peasant woman. MECHTHILD, peasant woman. ELSBETH, peasant woman. HILDEGARD, peasant woman. WALTER, Tell's son. WILHELM, Tell's son. FRIESSHARDT, Soldier. LEUTHOLD, Soldier. RUDOLPH DER HARRAS, Gessler's master of the horse. JOHANNES PARRICIDA, Duke of Suabia. STUSSI, Overseer. The Mayor of Uri. A Courier. Master Stonemason, Companions, and Workmen. Taskmaster. A Crier. Monks of the Order of Charity. Horsemen of Gessler and Landenberg. Many Peasants; Men and Women from the Waldstetten.
A high rocky shore of the Lake of Lucerne opposite Schwytz. The lake makes a bend into the land; a hut stands at a short distance from the shore; the fisher boy is rowing about in his boat. Beyond the lake are seen the green meadows, the hamlets and farms of Schwytz, lying in the clear sunshine. On the left are observed the peaks of The Hacken, surrounded with clouds; to the right, and in the remote distance, appear the Glaciers. The Ranz des Vaches, and the tinkling of cattle bells, continue for some time after the rising of the curtain.
FISHER BOY (sings in his boat) Melody of the Ranz des Vaches The smile-dimpled lake woo'd to bathe in its deep, A boy on its green shore had laid him to sleep; Then heard he a melody Floating along, Sweet as the notes Of an angel's song. And as thrilling with pleasure he wakes from his rest, The waters are rippling over his breast; And a voice from the deep cries, "With me thou must go, I charm the young shepherd, I lure him below."
HERDSMAN (on the mountains) Air.—Variation of the Ranz des Vaches Farewell, ye green meadows, Farewell, sunny shore, The herdsman must leave you, The summer is o'er. We go to the hills, but you'll see us again, When the cuckoo calls, and the merry birds sing, When the flowers bloom afresh in glade and in glen, And the brooks sparkle bright in the sunshine of Spring. Farewell, ye green meadows, Farewell, sunny shore, The herdsman must leave you, The summer is o'er.
CHAMOIS HUNTER (appearing on the top of a cliff) Second Variation of the Ranz des Vaches On the heights peals the thunder, and trembles the bridge, The huntsman bounds on by the dizzying ridge. Undaunted he hies him O'er ice-covered wild, Where leaf never budded, Nor Spring ever smiled; And beneath him an ocean of mist, where his eye No longer the dwellings of man can espy; Through the parting clouds only The earth can be seen, Far down 'neath the vapour The meadows of green.
[A change comes over the landscape. A rumbling, cracking noise is heard among the mountains. Shadows of clouds sweep across the scene. Ruodi, the fisherman, comes out of his cottage. Werni, the huntsman, descends from the rocks. Kuoni, the shepherd, enters, with a milkpail on his shoulders, followed by Seppi, his assistant.]
RUODI. Come, Jenni, bustle; get the boat on shore. The grizzly Vale-King[*] comes, the Glaciers moan, The Mytenstein[+] is drawing on his hood, And from the Stormcleft chilly blows the wind; The storm will burst before we know what's what.
[*] The German is, Thalvogt, Ruler of the Valley—the name given figuratively to a dense grey mist which the south wind sweeps into the valleys from the mountain tops. It is well known as the precursor of stormy weather.
[+] A steep rock, standing on the north of Rutli, and nearly opposite to Brumen.
KUONI. 'Twill rain ere long; my sheep browse eagerly, And Watcher there is scraping up the earth.
WERNI. The fish are leaping, and the water-hen Keeps diving up and down. A storm is brewing.
KUONI (to his boy). Look, Seppi, if the beasts be all in sight.
SEPPI. There goes brown Liesel, I can hear her bells.
KUONI. Then all are safe; she ever ranges farthest.
RUODI. You've a fine chime of bells there, master herdsman.
WERNI. And likely cattle, too. Are they your own?
KUONI. I'm not so rich. They are the noble lord's Of Attinghaus, and told off to my care.
RUODI. How gracefully yon heifer bears her ribbon!
KUONI. Ay, well she knows she's leader of the herd, And, take it from her, she'd refuse to feed.
RUODI. You're joking now. A beast devoid of reason—
WERNI. Easily said. But beasts have reason, too,— And that we know, we chamois-hunters, well. They never turn to feed—sagacious creatures! Till they have placed a sentinel ahead, Who pricks his ears whenever we approach, And gives alarm with clear and piercing pipe.
RUODI (to the shepherd). Are you for home?
KUONI. The Alp is grazed quite bare.
WERNI. A safe return, my friend!
KUONI. The same to you! Men come not always back from tracks like yours.
RUODI. But who comes here, running at topmost speed?
WERNI. I know the man; 'tis Baumgart of Alzellen.
KONRAD BAUMGARTEN (rushing in breathless). For God's sake, ferryman, your boat!
RUODI. How now? Why all this haste?
BAUM. Cast off! My life's at stake! Set me across!
KUONI. Why, what's the matter, friend?
WERNI. Who are pursuing you? First tell us that.
BAUM. (to the fisherman). Quick, quick, man, quick! they're close upon my heels! It is the Viceroy's men are after me; If they should overtake me, I am lost.
RUODI. Why are the troopers in pursuit of you?
BAUM. First make me safe and then I'll tell you all.
WERNI. There's blood upon your garments—how is this?
BAUM. The Imperial Seneschal, who dwelt at Rossberg—
KUONI. How! What! The Wolfshot?[*] Is it he pursues you?
[*] In German, Wolfenschiessen—a young man of noble family, and a native of Unterwalden, who attached himself to the House of Austria, and was appointed Burvogt, or Seneschal, of the Castle of Rossberg. He was killed by Baumgarten in the manner, and for the cause, mentioned in the text.
BAUM. He'll ne'er hurt man again; I've settled him.
ALL (starting back). Now, God forgive you, what is this you've done!
BAUM. What every free man in my place had done. Mine own good household right I have enforced 'Gainst him that would have wrong'd my wife—my honour.
KUONI. How? Wronged you in your honour, did he so?
BAUM. That he did not fulfil his foul desire, Is due to God, and to my trusty axe.
WERNI. And you have cleft his skull then with your axe?
KUONI. O, tell us all! You've time enough, and more, While he is getting out the boat there from the beach.
BAUM. When I was in the forest felling timber, My wife came running out in mortal fear. "The Seneschal," she said, "was in my house, Had ordered her to get a bath prepared, And thereupon had ta'en unseemly freedoms, From which she rid herself, and flew to me." Arm'd as I was, I sought him, and my axe Has given his bath a bloody benison.
WERNI. And you did well; no man can blame the deed.
KUONI. The tyrant! Now he has his just reward! We men of Unterwald have owed it long.
BAUM. The deed got wind, and now they're in pursuit. Heavens! whilst we speak, the time is flying fast.
[It begins to thunder.]
KUONI. Quick, ferryman, and set the good man over.
RUODI. Impossible! a storm is close at hand, Wait till it pass! You must.
BAUM. Almighty heavens! I cannot wait; the least delay is death.
KUONI (to the fisherman). Push out—God with you! We should help our neighbours; The like misfortune may betide us all.
[Thunder and the roaring of the wind.]
RUODI. The South-wind's up![*] See how the lake is rising! I cannot steer against both wind and wave.
[*] Literally, The Fohn is loose! "When," says Muller, in his History of Switzerland, "the wind called the Fohn is high, the navigation of the lake becomes extremely dangerous. Such is its vehemence, that the laws of the country require that the fires shall be extinguished in the houses while it lasts, and the night watches are doubled. The inhabitants lay heavy stones upon the roofs of their houses, to prevent their being blown away."
BAUM. (clasping him by the knees). God so help you as now you pity me!
WERNI. His life's at stake. Have pity on him, man!
KUONI. He is a father: has a wife and children.
[Repeated peals of thunder.]
RUODI. What! and have I not, then, a life to lose, A wife and child at home as well as he? See how the breakers foam, and toss, and whirl, And the lake eddies up from all its depths! Right gladly would I save the worthy man, But 'tis impossible, as you must see.
BAUM. (still kneeling). Then must I fall into the tyrant's hands. And with the shore of safety close in sight! Yonder it lies! My eyes can see it clear, My very voice can echo to its shores. There is the boat to carry me across, Yet must I lie here helpless and forlorn.
KUONI. Look! who comes here?
RUODI. 'Tis Tell, ay, Tell, of Burglen.[*]
[*] Burglen, the birthplace and residence of Tell. A chapel, erected in 1522, remains on the spot formerly occupied by his house.
[Enter Tell with a crossbow.]
TELL. What man is he that here implores of aid?
KUONI. He is from Alzellen, and to guard his honour From touch of foulest shame, has slain the Wolfshot, The Imperial Seneschal, who dwelt at Rossberg. The Viceroy's troopers are upon his heels; He begs the ferryman to take him over, But frightened at the storm he says he won't.
RUODI. Well, there is Tell can steer as well as I. He'll be my judge, if it be possible.
[Violent peals of thunder—the lake becomes more tempestuous.]
Am I to plunge into the jaws of hell? I should be mad to dare the desperate act.
TELL. The brave man thinks upon himself the last. Put trust in God, and help him in his need!
RUODI. Safe in the port, 'tis easy to advise. There is the boat, and there the lake! Try you!
TELL. The lake may pity, but the Viceroy never. Come, risk it, man!
SHEPHERD and HUNTSMAN. O save him! save him! save him!
RUODI. Though 'twere my brother, or my darling child, I would not go. 'Tis Simon and Jude's day, The lake is up, and calling for its victim.
TELL. Nought's to be done with idle talking here. Each moment's precious; the man must be help'd, Say, boatman, will you venture?
RUODI. No; not I.
TELL. In God's name, then, give me the boat! I will, With my poor strength, see what is to be done!
KUONI. Ha, gallant Tell!
WERNI. That's like a huntsman true.
BAUM. You are my angel, my preserver, Tell.
TELL. I may preserve you from the Viceroy's power, But from the tempest's rage another must. Yet better 'tis you fall into God's hands, Than into those of men.
[To the herdsman.]
Herdsman, do thou Console my wife if I should come to grief. I could not choose but do as I have done.
[He leaps into the boat.]
KUONI (to the fisherman). A pretty man to keep a ferry, truly! What Tell could risk, you dared not venture on.
RUODI. Far better men would never cope with Tell. There's no two such as he 'mong all our hills.
WERNI (who has ascended a rock). Now he is off. God help thee, gallant sailor! Look how the little boat reels on the waves! There! they have swept clean over it. And now—
KUONI (on the shore). 'Tis out of sight. Yet stay, there 'tis again! Stoutly he stems the breakers, noble fellow!
SEPPI. Here come the troopers hard as they can ride!
KUONI. Heavens! so they do! Why, that was help, indeed.
[Enter a troop of horsemen.]
1ST H. Give up the murderer! You have him here!
2ND H. This way he came! 'Tis useless to conceal him!
RUODI and KUONI. Whom do you mean?
1ST H. (discovering the boat). The devil! What do I see?
WERNI. (from above). Isn't he in yonder boat ye seek? Ride on, If you lay to, you may o'ertake him yet.
2ND H. Curse on you, he's escaped!
1ST H. (to the shepherd and fisherman). You help'd him off, And you shall pay for it! Fall on their herds! Down with the cottage! burn it! beat it down!
[They rush off.]
SEPPI (hurrying after them). Oh, my poor lambs!
KUONI (following him). Unhappy me, my herds!
WERNI. The tyrants!
RUODI (wringing his hands). Righteous Heaven! Oh, when will come Deliverance to this doom-devoted land?
A lime tree in front of Stauffacher's house at Steinen, in Schwytz, upon the public road, near a bridge.
Werner Stauffacher and Pfeiffer, of Lucerne, enter into conversation.
PFEIFF. Ay, ay, friend Stauffacher, as I have said, Swear not to Austria, if you can help it. Hold by the Empire stoutly as of yore, And God preserve you in your ancient freedom!
[Presses his hand warmly, and is going.]
STAUFF. Wait till my mistress comes. Now do! You are My guest in Schwytz—I in Lucerne am yours.
PFEIFF. Thanks! thanks! But I must reach Gersau to-day. Whatever grievances your rulers' pride And grasping avarice may yet inflict, Bear them in patience—soon a change may come. Another emperor may mount the throne. But Austria's once, and you are hers for ever.
[Stauffacher sits down sorrowfully upon a bench under the lime tree. Gertrude, his wife, enters, and finds him in this posture. She places herself near him, and looks at him for some time in silence.]
GERT. So sad, my love! I scarcely know thee now. For many a day in silence I have mark'd A moody sorrow furrowing thy brow. Some silent grief is weighing on thy heart. Trust it to me. I am thy faithful wife, And I demand my half of all thy cares.
[Stauffacher gives her his hand and is silent.]
Tell me what can oppress thy spirits thus? Thy toil is blest—the world goes well with thee— Our barns are full—our cattle, many a score; Our handsome team of well-fed horses, too, Brought from the mountain pastures safely home, To winter in their comfortable stalls. There stands thy house—no nobleman's more fair! 'Tis newly built with timber of the best, All grooved and fitted with the nicest skill; Its many glistening windows tell of comfort! 'Tis quarter'd o'er with' scutcheons of all hues, And proverbs sage, which passing travellers Linger to read, and ponder o'er their meaning.
STAUFF. The house is strongly built, and handsomely, But, ah! the ground on which we built it quakes.
GERT. Tell me, dear Werner, what you mean by that?
STAUFF. No later gone than yesterday, I sat Beneath this linden, thinking with delight, How fairly all was finished, when from Kussnacht The Viceroy and his men came riding by. Before this house he halted in surprise: At once I rose, and, as beseemed his rank, Advanced respectfully to greet the lord, To whom the Emperor delegates his power, As judge supreme within our Canton here. "Who is the owner of this house?" he asked, With mischief in his thoughts, for well he knew. With prompt decision, thus I answered him: "The Emperor, your grace—my lord and yours, And held by me in fief." On this he answered, "I am the Emperor's viceregent here, And will not that each peasant churl should build At his own pleasure, bearing him as freely As though he were the master in the land. I shall make bold to put a stop to this!" So saying, he, with menaces, rode off, And left me musing with a heavy heart On the fell purpose that his words betray'd.
GERT. My own dear lord and husband! Wilt thou take A word of honest counsel from thy wife? I boast to be the noble Iberg's child, A man of wide experience. Many a time, As we sat spinning in the winter nights, My sisters and myself, the people's chiefs Were wont to gather round our father's hearth, To read the old imperial charters, and To hold sage converse on the country's weal. Then heedfully I listened, marking well What now the wise man thought, the good man wished, And garner'd up their wisdom in my heart. Hear then, and mark me well; for thou wilt see, I long have known the grief that weighs thee down. The Viceroy hates thee, fain would injure thee, For thou hast cross'd his wish to bend the Swiss In homage to this upstart house of princes, And kept them staunch, like their good sires of old, In true allegiance to the Empire. Say, Is't not so, Werner? Tell me, am I wrong?
STAUFF. 'Tis even so. For this doth Gessler hate me.
GERT. He burns with envy, too, to see thee living Happy and free on thine ancestral soil, For he is landless. From the Emperor's self Thou hold'st in fief the lands thy fathers left thee. There's not a prince i' the Empire that can show A better title to his heritage; For thou hast over thee no lord but one, And he the mightiest of all Christian kings. Gessler, we know, is but a younger son, His only wealth the knightly cloak he wears; He therefore views an honest man's good fortune With a malignant and a jealous eye. Long has he sworn to compass thy destruction. As yet thou art uninjured. Wilt thou wait Till he may safely give his malice vent? A wise man would anticipate the blow.
STAUFF. What's to be done?
GERT. Now hear what I advise. Thou knowest well, how here with us in Schwytz All worthy men are groaning underneath This Gessler's grasping, grinding tyranny. Doubt not the men of Unterwald as well, And Uri, too, are chafing like ourselves, At this oppressive and heart-wearying yoke. For there, across the lake, the Landenberg Wields the same iron rule as Gessler here— No fishing-boat comes over to our side, But brings the tidings of some new encroachment, Some fresh outrage, more grievous than the last. Then it were well, that some of you—true men— Men sound at heart, should secretly devise, How best to shake this hateful thraldom off. Full sure I am that God would not desert you, But lend His favour to the righteous cause. Has thou no friend in Uri, one to whom Thou frankly may'st unbosom all thy thoughts?
STAUFF. I know full many a gallant fellow there, And nobles, too,—great men, of high repute, In whom I can repose unbounded trust.
Wife! What a storm of wild and perilous thoughts Hast thou stirr'd up within my tranquil breast! The darkest musings of my bosom thou Hast dragg'd to light, and placed them full before me; And what I scarce dared harbour e'en in thought, Thou speakest plainly out with fearless tongue. But hast thou weigh'd well what thou urgest thus? Discord will come, and the fierce clang of arms, To scare this valley's long unbroken peace, If we, a feeble shepherd race, shall dare Him to the fight, that lords it o'er the world. Ev'n now they only wait some fair pretext For setting loose their savage warrior hordes, To scourge and ravage this devoted land, To lord it o'er us with the victor's rights, And, 'neath the show of lawful chastisement, Despoil us of our chartered liberties.
GERT. You, too are men; can wield a battle axe As well as they. God ne'er deserts the brave.
STAUFF. Oh wife! a horrid, ruthless fiend is war, That smites at once the shepherd and his flock.
GERT. Whate'er great Heaven inflicts, we must endure; But wrong is what no noble heart will bear.
STAUFF. This house—thy pride—war, unrelenting war Will burn it down.
GERT. And did I think this heart Enslaved and fettered to the things of earth, With my own hand I'd hurl the kindling torch.
STAUFF. Thou hast faith in human kindness, wife; but war Spares not the tender infant in its cradle.
GERT. There is a Friend to innocence in heaven. Send your gaze forward, Werner—not behind.
STAUFF. We men may die like men, with sword in hand; But oh, what fate, my Gertrude, may be thine?
GERT. None are so weak, but one last choice is left. A spring from yonder bridge and I am free!
STAUFF. (embracing her). Well may he fight for hearth and home, that clasps A heart so rare as thine against his own! What are the host of emperors to him? Gertrude, farewell! I will to Uri straight. There lives my worthy comrade, Walter Furst; His thoughts and mine upon these times are one. There, too, resides the noble Banneret Of Attinghaus. High though of blood he be, He loves the people, honours their old customs. With both of these I will take counsel, how To rid us bravely of our country's foe. Farewell! and while I am away, bear thou A watchful eye in management at home. The pilgrim journeying to the house of God, And holy friar, collecting for his cloister, To these give liberally from purse and garner. Stauffacher's house would not be hid. Right out Upon the public way it stands, and offers To all that pass a hospitable roof.
[While they are retiring, Tell enters with Baumgarten.]
TELL. Now, then, you have no further need of me. Enter yon house. 'Tis Werner Stauffacher's, A man that is a father to distress. See, there he is, himself! Come, follow me.
[They retire up. Scene changes.]
A common near Altdorf. On an eminence in the background a castle in progress of erection, and so far advanced that the outline of the whole may be distinguished. The back part is finished: men are working at the front. Scaffolding, on which the workmen are going up and down. A slater is seen upon the highest part of the roof. All is bustle and activity.
Taskmaster, Mason, Workmen and Labourers.
TASK. (with a stick, urging on the workmen). Up, up! You've rested long enough. To work! The stones here! Now the mortar, and the lime! And let his lordship see the work advanced, When next he comes. These fellows crawl like snails!
[To two labourers, with loads.]
What! call ye that a load? Go, double it. Is this the way ye earn your wages, laggards?
1ST W. 'Tis very hard that we must bear the stones, To make a keep and dungeon for ourselves!
TASK. What's that you mutter? 'Tis a worthless race, For nothing fit but just to milk their cows, And saunter idly up and down the hills.
OLD MAN (sinks down exhausted). I can no more.
TASK. (shaking him). Up, up, old man, to work!
1ST W. Have you no bowels of compassion, thus To press so hard upon a poor old man, That scarce can drag his feeble limbs along?
MASTER MASON and WORKMEN. Shame, shame upon you—shame! It cries to heaven.
TASK. Mind your own business. I but do my duty.
1ST W. Pray, master, what's to be the name of this Same castle, when 'tis built?
TASK. The Keep of Uri; For by it we shall keep you in subjection.
WORK. The Keep of Uri?
TASK. Well, why laugh at that?
2ND W. Keep Uri, will you, with this paltry place!
1ST W. How many molehills such as that must first Be piled up each on each, ere you make A mountain equal to the least in Uri?
[Taskmaster retires up the stage.]
MAS. M. I'll drown the mallet in the deepest lake, That served my hand on this accursed pile.
[Enter Tell and Stauffacher.]
STAUFF. O, that I had not lived to see this sight!
TELL. Here 'tis not good to be. Let us proceed.
STAUFF. Am I in Uri,—Uri, freedom's home?
MAS. M. O, sir, if you could only see the vaults Beneath these towers. The man that tenants them Will ne'er hear cock crow more.
STAUFF. O God! O God!
MASON. Look at these ramparts and these buttresses, That seem as they were built to last for ever.
TELL. What hands have built, my friend, hands can destroy.
[Pointing to the mountains.]
/That/ home of freedom God hath built for us.
[A drum is heard. People enter bearing a cap upon a pole, followed by a crier. Women and children thronging tumultuously after them.]
1ST W. What means the drum? Give heed!
MASON. Why, here's a mumming! And look, the cap—what can they mean by that?
CRIER. In the Emperor's name, give ear!
WORK. Hush! silence! hush!
CRIER. Ye men of Uri, ye do see this cap! It will be set upon a lofty pole In Altdorf, in the market place: and this Is the Lord Governor's good will and pleasure; The cap shall have like honour as himself, All do it reverence with bended knee, And head uncovered; thus the king will know Who are his true and loyal subjects here; His life and goods are forfeit to the crown That shall refuse obedience to the order.
[The people burst out into laughter. The drum beats and the procession passes on.]
1ST W. A strange device to fall upon indeed: Do reverence to a cap! A pretty farce! Heard ever mortal anything like this?
MAS. M. Down to a cap on bended knee, forsooth! Rare jesting this with men of sober sense!
1ST W. Nay, an it were the imperial crown! A cap! Merely the cap of Austria! I've seen it Hanging above the throne in Gessler's hall.
MASON. The cap of Austria? Mark that! A snare To get us into Austria's power, by Heaven!
WORK. No freeborn man will stoop to such disgrace.
MAS. M. Come—to our comrades, and advise with them!
[They retire up.]
TELL (to Stauffacher). You see how matters stand. Farewell, my friend.
STAUFF. Whither away? Oh, leave us not so soon.
TELL. They look for me at home. So fare ye well.
STAUFF. My heart's so full, and has so much to tell you.
TELL. Words will not make a heart that's heavy light.
STAUFF. Yet words may possibly conduct to deeds.
TELL. Endure in silence! We can do no more.
STAUFF. But shall we bear what is not to be borne?
TELL. Impetuous rulers have the shortest reigns. When the fierce Southwind rises from its chasms, Men cover up their fires, the ships in haste Make for the harbour, and the mighty spirit Sweeps o'er the earth, and leaves no trace behind. Let every man live quietly at home; Peace to the peaceful rarely is denied.
STAUFF. And is it thus you view our grievances?
TELL. The serpent stings not till it is provoked. Let them alone; they'll weary of themselves, When they shall see we are not to be roused.
STAUFF. Much might be done—did we stand fast together.
TELL. When the ship founders, he will best escape, Who seeks no other's safety but his own.
STAUFF. And you desert the common cause so coldly?
TELL. A man can safely count but on himself!
STAUFF. Nay, even the weak grow strong by union.
TELL. But the strong man is strongest when alone.
STAUFF. So, then, your country cannot count on you, If in despair she rise against her foes.
TELL. Tell rescues the lost sheep from yawning gulfs: Is he a man, then, to desert his friends? Yet, whatsoe'er you do, spare me from council! I was not born to ponder and select; But when your course of action is resolved, Then call on Tell: you shall not find him fail.
[Exeunt severally. A sudden tumult is heard around the scaffolding.]
MASON (running in). What's wrong?
FIRST WORKMAN (running forward). The slater's fallen from the roof.
BERTHA (rushing in). Heavens! Is he dashed to pieces? Save him, help! If help be possible, save him! Here is gold.
[Throws her trinkets among the people.]
MASON. Hence with your gold,—your universal charm, And remedy for ill! When you have torn Fathers from children, husbands from their wives, And scattered woe and wail throughout the land, You think with gold to compensate for all. Hence! Till we saw you, we were happy men; With you came misery and dark despair.
BERTHA (to the Taskmaster, who has returned). Lives he?
[Taskmaster shakes his head.]
Ill-omened towers, with curses built, And doomed with curses to be tenanted!
The House of Walter Furst. Walter Furst and Arnold von Melchthal enter simultaneously at different sides.
MELCH. Good Walter Furst.
FURST. If we should be surprised! Stay where you are. We are beset with spies.
MELCH. Have you no news for me from Unterwald? What of my father? 'Tis not to be borne, Thus to be pent up like a felon here! What have I done so heinous that I must Skulk here in hiding, like a murderer? I only laid my staff across the fists Of the pert varlet, when before my eyes, By order of the governor, he tried To drive away my handsome team of oxen.
FURST. You are too rash by far. He did no more Than what the Governor had ordered him. You had transgress'd, and therefore should have paid The penalty, however hard, in silence.
MELCH. Was I to brook the fellow's saucy gibe, "That if the peasant must have bread to eat, Why, let him go and draw the plough himself!" It cut me to the very soul to see My oxen, noble creatures, when the knave Unyoked them from the plough. As though they felt The wrong, they lowed and butted with their horns. On this I could contain myself no longer, And, overcome by passion, struck him down.
FURST. O, we old men can scarce command ourselves! And can we wonder youth breaks out of bounds?
MELCH. I'm only sorry for my father's sake! To be away from him, that needs so much My fostering care! The Governor detests him, Because, whene'er occasion served, he has Stood stoutly up for right and liberty. Therefore they'll bear him hard—the poor old man! And there is none to shield him from their gripe. Come what come may, I must go home again.
FURST. Compose yourself, and wait in patience till We get some tidings o'er from Unterwald. Away! away! I hear a knock! Perhaps A message from the Viceroy! Get thee in! You are not safe from Landenberger's[*] arm In Uri, for these tyrants pull together.
[*] Berenger von Landenberg, a man of noble family in Thurgau, and Governor of Unterwald, infamous for his cruelties to the Swiss, and particularly to the venerable Henry of the Halden. He was slain at the battle of Morgarten, in 1315.
MELCH. They teach us Switzers what we ought to do.
FURST. Away! I'll call you when the coast is clear.
Unhappy youth! I dare not tell him all The evil that my boding heart predicts! Who's there? The door ne'er opens, but I look For tidings of mishap. Suspicion lurks With darkling treachery in every nook. Even to our inmost rooms they force their way, These myrmidons of power; and soon we'll need To fasten bolts and bars upon our doors.
[He opens the door, and steps back in surprise as Werner Stauffacher enters.]
What do I see? You, Werner? Now, by Heaven! A valued guest, indeed. No man e'er set His foot across this threshold, more esteem'd, Welcome! thrice welcome, Werner, to my roof! What brings you here? What seek you here in Uri?
STAUFF. (shakes Furst by the hand). The olden times and olden Switzerland.
FURST. You bring them with you. See how glad I am, My heart leaps at the very sight of you. Sit down—sit down, and tell me how you left Your charming wife, fair Gertrude? Iberg's child, And clever as her father. Not a man, That wends from Germany, by Meinrad's Cell,[*] To Italy, but praises far and wide Your house's hospitality. But say, Have you come here direct from Fluelen, And have you noticed nothing on your way, Before you halted at my door?
[*] A cell built in the 9th century, by Meinrad, Count of Hohenzollern, the founder of the Convent of Einsiedeln, subsequently alluded to in the text.
STAUFF. (sits down). I saw A work in progress, as I came along, I little thought to see—that likes me ill.
FURST. O friend! you've lighted on my thought at once.
STAUFF. Such things in Uri ne'er were known before. Never was prison here in man's remembrance, Nor ever any stronghold but the grave.
FURST. You name it well. It is the grave of freedom.
STAUFF. Friend, Walter Furst, I will be plain with you. No idle curiosity it is That brings me here, but heavy cares. I left Thraldom at home, and thraldom meets me here. Our wrongs, e'en now, are more than we can bear And who shall tell us where they are to end? From eldest time the Switzer has been free, Accustom'd only to the mildest rule. Such things as now we suffer ne'er were known, Since herdsman first drove cattle to the hills.
FURST. Yes, our oppressions are unparallel'd! Why, even our own good lord of Attinghaus, Who lived in olden times, himself declares They are no longer to be tamely borne.
STAUFF. In Unterwalden yonder 'tis the same; And bloody has the retribution been. The imperial Seneschal, the Wolfshot, who At Rossberg dwelt, long'd for forbidden fruit— Baumgarten's wife, that lives at Alzellen, He tried to make a victim to his lust, On which the husband slew him with his axe.
FURST. O, Heaven is just in all its judgments still! Baumgarten, say you? A most worthy man. Has he escaped, and is he safely hid?
STAUFF. Your son-in-law conveyed him o'er the lake, And he lies hidden in my house at Steinen. He brought the tidings with him of a thing That has been done at Sarnen, worse than all, A thing to make the very heart run blood!
FURST. (attentively). Say on. What is it?
STAUFF. There dwells in Melchthal, then, Just as you enter by the road from Kerns, An upright man, named Henry of the Halden, A man of weight and influence in the Diet.
FURST. Who knows him not? But what of him? Proceed.
STAUFF. The Landenberg, to punish some offence Committed by the old man's son, it seems, Had given command to take the youth's best pair Of oxen from his plough; on which the lad Struck down the messenger and took to flight.
FURST. But the old father—tell me, what of him?
STAUFF. The Landenberg sent for him, and required He should produce his son upon the spot; And when the old man protested, and with truth, That he knew nothing of the fugitive, The tyrant call'd his torturers.
FURST. (springs up and tries to lead him to the other side). Hush, no more!
STAUFF. (with increasing warmth). "And though thy son," he cried, "has 'scaped me now, I have thee fast, and thou shalt feel my vengeance." With that they flung the old man to the ground, And plunged the pointed steel into his eyes.
FURST. Merciful Heaven!
MELCH. (rushing out). Into his eyes, his eyes?
STAUFF. (addresses himself in astonishment to Walter Furst). Who is this youth?
MELCH. (grasping him convulsively). Into his eyes? Speak, speak!
FURST. Oh, miserable hour!
STAUFF. Who is it, tell me?
[Stauffacher makes a sign to him.]
It is his son! All-righteous Heaven!
MELCH. And I Must be from thence! What! Into both his eyes?
FURST. Be calm, be calm; and bear it like a man!
MELCH. And all for me— for my mad willful folly! Blind, did you say? Quite blind—and both his eyes?
STAUFF. Ev'n so. The fountain of his sight is quench'd, He ne'er will see the blessed sunshine more.
FURST. Oh, spare his anguish!
MELCH. Never, never more!
[Presses his hands upon his eyes and is silent for some moments: then turning from one to the other, speaks in a subdued tone, broken by sobs.]
O, the eye's light, of all the gifts of Heaven, The dearest, best! From light all beings live— Each fair created thing—the very plants Turn with a joyful transport to the light, And he—he must drag on through all his days In endless darkness! Never more for him The sunny meads shall glow, the flow'rets bloom; Nor shall he more behold the roseate tints Of the iced mountain top! To die is nothing. But to have life, and not have sight,—oh that Is misery, indeed! Why do you look So piteously at me? I have two eyes, Yet to my poor blind father can give neither! No, not one gleam of that great sea of light, That with its dazzling splendour floods my gaze.
STAUFF. Ah, I must swell the measure of your grief, Instead of soothing it. The worst, alas! Remains to tell. They've stripp'd him of his all; Nought have they left him, save his staff, on which, Blind, and in rags, he moves from door to door.
MELCH. Nought but his staff to the old eyeless man! Stripp'd of his all—even of the light of day, The common blessing of the meanest wretch? Tell me no more of patience, of concealment! Oh, what a base and coward thing am I, That on mine own security I thought, And took no care of thine! Thy precious head Left as a pledge within the tyrant's grasp! Hence, craven-hearted prudence, hence! And all My thoughts be vengeance, and the despot's blood! I'll seek him straight—no power shall stay me now— And at his hands demand my father's eyes. I'll beard him 'mid a thousand myrmidons! What's life to me, if in his heart's best blood I cool the fever of this mighty anguish?
[He is going.]
FURST. Stay, this is madness, Melchthal! What avails Your single arm against his power? He sits At Sarnen high within his lordly keep, And, safe within its battlemented walls, May laugh to scorn your unavailing rage.
MELCH. And though he sat within the icy domes Of yon far Schreckhorn—ay, or higher, where, Veil'd since eternity, the Jungfrau soars, Still to the tyrant would I make my way; With twenty comrades minded like myself, I'd lay his fastness level with the earth! And if none follow me, and if you all, In terror for your homesteads and your herds, Bow in submission to the tyrant's yoke, Round me I'll call the herdsmen on the hills, And there beneath heaven's free and boundless roof, Where men still feel as men, and hearts are true, Proclaim aloud this foul enormity!
STAUFF. (to Furst.) The measure's full—and are we then to wait Till some extremity—
MELCH. Peace! What extremity Remains for us to dread? What, when our eyes No longer in their sockets are secure? Heavens! Are we helpless? Wherefore did we learn To bend the cross-bow,—wield the battle-axe? What living creature but in its despair, Finds for itself a weapon of defence? The baited stag will turn, and with the show Of his dread antlers hold the hounds at bay; The chamois drags the hunstman down th' abyss, The very ox, the partner of man's toil, The sharer of his roof, that meekly bends The strength of his huge neck beneath the yoke, Springs up, if he's provoked, whets his strong horn, And tosses his tormentor to the clouds.
FURST. If the three Cantons thought as we three do, Something might then be done, with good effect.
STAUFF. When Uri calls, when Unterwald replies, Schwytz will be mindful of her ancient league.[*]
[*] The League, or Bond, of the Three Cantons was of very ancient origin. They met and renewed it from time to time, especially when their liberties were threatened with danger. A remarkable instance of this occurred in the end of the 13th century, when Albert of Austria became Emperor, and when, possibly, for the first time, the Bond was reduced to writing. As it is important to the understanding of many passages of the play, a translation is subjoined of the oldest known document relating to it. The original, which is in Latin and German, is dated in August, 1291, and is under the seals of the whole of the men of Schwytz, the commonalty of the vale of Uri, and the whole of the men of the upper and lower vales of Stanz.
Be it known to every one, that the men of the Dale of Uri, the Community of Schwytz, as also the men of the mountains of Unterwald, in consideration of the evil times, have full confidently bound themselves, and sworn to help each other with all their power and might, property and people, against all who shall do violence to them, or any of them. That is our Ancient Bond.
Whoever hath a Seignior, let him obey according to the conditions of his service.
We are agreed to receive into these dales no Judge, who is not a countryman and indweller, or who hath bought his place.
Every controversy amongst the sworn confederates shall be determined by some of the sagest of their number, and if any one shall challenge their judgment, then shall he be constrained to obey it by the rest.
Whoever intentionally or deceitfully kills another, shall be executed, and whoever shelters him shall be banished.
Whoever burns the property of another shall no longer be regarded as a countryman, and whoever shelters him shall make good the damage done.
Whoever injures another, or robs him, and hath property in our country, shall make satisfaction out of the same.
No one shall distrain a debtor without a judge, nor any one who is not his debtor, or the surety of such debtor.
Every one in these dales shall submit to the judge, or we, the sworn confederates, all will take satisfaction for all the injury occasioned by his contumacy. And if in any internal division the one party will not accept justice, all the rest shall help the other party. These decrees shall, God willing, endure eternally for our general advantage.
MELCH. I've many friends in Unterwald, and none That would not gladly venture life and limb, If fairly back'd and aided by the rest. Oh! sage and reverend fathers of this land, Here do I stand before your riper years, An unskill'd youth, who in the Diet must Into respectful silence hush his voice. Yet do not, for that I am young, and want Experience, slight my counsel and my words. 'Tis not the wantonness of youthful blood That fires my spirit; but a pang so deep That e'en the flinty rocks must pity me. You, too, are fathers, heads of families, And you must wish to have a virtuous son, To reverence your grey hairs, and shield your eyes With pious and affectionate regard. Do not, I pray, because in limb and fortune You still are unassailed, and still your eyes Revolve undimm'd and sparkling in their spheres; Oh, do not, therefore, disregard our wrongs! Above you, also, hangs the tyrant's sword. You, too, have striven to alienate the land From Austria. This was all my father's crime: You share his guilt, and may his punishment.
STAUFF. (to Furst). Do thou resolve! I am prepared to follow.
FURST. First let us learn what steps the noble lords Von Sillinen and Attinghaus propose. Their names would rally thousands to the cause.
MELCH. Is there a name within the Forest Mountains That carried more respect than yours—and yours? On names like these the people build their trust In time of need—such names are household words. Rich was your heritage of manly worth, And richly have you added to its stores. What need of nobles? Let us do the work Ourselves. Yes, though we have to stand alone, We shall be able to maintain our rights.
STAUFF. The noble's wrongs are not so great as ours. The torrent, that lays waste the lower grounds, Hath not ascended to the uplands yet. But let them see the country once in arms, They'll not refuse to lend a helping hand.
FURST. Were there an umpire 'twixt ourselves and Austria, Justice and law might then decide our quarrel. But out oppressor is our Emperor too, And judge supreme. 'Tis God must help us, then, And our own arm! Be yours the task to rouse The men of Schwytz. I'll rally friends in Uri. But whom are we to send to Unterwald?
MELCH. Thither send me. Whom should it more concern!
FURST. No, Melchthal, no; you are my guest, and I Must answer for your safety.
MELCH. Let me go. I know each forest track and mountain path; Friends too, I'll find, be sure, on every hand, To give me willing shelter from the foe.
STAUFF. Nay, let him go; no traitors harbour there: For tyranny is so abhorred in Unterwald, No tools can there be found to work her will. In the low valleys, too, the Alzeller Will gain confederates, and rouse the country.
MELCH. But how shall we communicate, and not Awaken the suspicion of the tyrants?
STAUFF. Might we not meet at Brunnen or at Treib, Where merchant vessels with their cargoes come?
FURST. We must not go so openly to work. Hear my opinion. On the lake's left bank, As we sail hence to Brunnen, right against The Mytenstein, deep-hidden in the wood A meadow lies, by shepherds called the Rootli, Because the wood has been uprooted there.
'Tis where our Canton bound'ries verge on yours;
Your boat will carry you across from Schwytz.
Thither by lonely bypaths let us wend At midnight, and deliberate o'er our plans. Let each bring with him there ten trusty men, All one at heart with us; and then we may Consult together for the general weal, And, with God's guidance, fix what next to do.
STAUFF. So let it be. And now your true right hand! Yours, too, young man! and as we now three men Among ourselves thus knit our hands together In all sincerity and truth, e'en so Shall we three cantons, too, together stand In victory and defeat, in life and death.
FURST and MELCH. In life and death!
[They hold their hands clasped together for some moments in silence.]
MELCH. Alas, my old blind father! The day of freedom, that thou canst not see, But thou shalt hear it, when from Alp to Alp The beacon fires throw up their flaming signs, And the proud castles of the tyrants fall, Into thy cottage shall the Switzer burst, Bear the glad tidings to thine ear, and o'er Thy darken'd way shall Freedom's radiance pour.
The mansion of the Baron of Attinghausen. A Gothic Hall, decorated with escutcheons and helmets. The Baron, a grey-headed man, eighty- five years old, tall and of a commanding mien, clad in a furred pelisse, and leaning on a staff tipped with chamois horn. Kuoni and six hinds standing round him with rakes and scythes. Ulrich of Rudenz enters in the costume of a knight.
RUD. Uncle, I'm here! Your will?
ATTING. First let me share, After the ancient custom of our house, The morning cup, with these my faithful servants!
[He drinks from a cup, which is then passed round.]
Time was, I stood myself in field and wood, With mine own eyes directing all their toil, Even as my banner led them in the fight, Now I am only fit to play the steward: And, if the genial sun come not to me, I can no longer seek it on the hills. Thus slowly, in an ever-narrowing sphere, I move on to the narrowest and the last, Where all life's pulses cease. I now am but The shadow of my former self, and that Is fading fast—'twill soon be but a name.
KUONI (offering Rudenz the cup). A pledge, young master!
[Rudenz hesitates to take the cup.]
Nay, Sir, drink it off! One cup, one heart! You know our proverb, Sir?
ATTING. Go, children, and at eve, when work is done, We'll meet and talk the country's business over.
Belted and plumed, and all thy bravery on! Thou art for Altdorf—for the castle, boy?
RUD. Yes, uncle. Longer may I not delay—
ATTING. (sitting down). Why in such haste? Say, are thy youthful hours Doled in such niggard measure, that thou must Be chary of them to thy aged uncle?
RUD. I see my presence is not needed here, I am but as a stranger in this house.
ATTING. (gazes fixedly at him for a considerable time). Ay, pity 'tis thou art! Alas, that home To thee has grown so strange! Oh, Uly! Uly! I scarce do know thee now, thus deck'd in silks, The peacock's feather[*] flaunting in thy cap, And purple mantle round thy shoulders flung; Thou look'st upon the peasant with disdain; And tak'st his honest greeting with a blush.
[*] The Austrian knights were in the habit of wearing a plume of peacock's feathers in their helmets. After the overthrow of the Austrian dominion in Switzerland, it was made highly penal to wear the peacock's feather at any public assembly there.
RUD. All honour due to him I gladly pay, But must deny the right he would usurp.
ATTING. The sore displeasure of its monarch rests Upon our land, and every true man's heart, Is full of sadness for the grievous wrongs We suffer from our tyrants. Thou alone Art all unmoved amid the general grief. Abandoning thy friends, thou tak'st thy stand Beside thy country's foes, and, as in scorn Of our distress, pursuest giddy joys, Courting the smiles of princes all the while Thy country bleeds beneath their cruel scourge.
RUD. The land is sore oppress'd, I know it, uncle. But why? Who plunged it into this distress? A word, one little easy word, might buy Instant deliverance from all our ills, And win the good will of the Emperor. Woe unto those who seal the people's eyes. And make them adverse to their country's good— The men who, for their own vile, selfish ends, Are seeking to prevent the Forest States From swearing fealty to Austria's House, As all the countries round about have done. It fits their humour well, to take their seats Amid the nobles on the Herrenbank;[*] They'll have the Kaiser for their lord, forsooth, That is to say, they'll have no lord at all.
[*] The bench reserved for the nobility.
ATTING. Must I hear this, and from thy lips, rash boy!
RUD. You urged me to this answer. Hear me out. What, uncle, is the character you've stoop'd To fill contentedly through life? Have you No higher pride, than in these lonely wilds To be the Landamman or Banneret,[*] The petty chieftain of a shepherd race? How! Were it not a far more glorious choice, To bend in homage to our royal lord, And swell the princely splendours of his court, Than sit at home, the peer of your own vassals, And share the judgment-seat with vulgar clowns?
[*] The Landamman was an officer chosen by the Swiss Gemeinde, or Diet, to preside over them. The Banneret was an officer entrusted with the keeping of the State Banner, and such others as were taken in battle.
ATTING. Ah, Uly, Uly; all too well I see, The tempter's voice has caught thy willing ear, And pour'd its subtle poison in thy heart.
RUD. Yes, I conceal it not. It doth offend My inmost soul, to hear the stranger's gibes, That taunt us with the name of "Peasant Nobles!" Think you the heart that's stirring here can brook, While all the young nobility around Are reaping honour under Hapsburg's banner, That I should loiter, in inglorious ease, Here on the heritage my fathers left, And, in the dull routine of vulgar toil, Lose all life's glorious spring? In other lands Great deeds are done. A world of fair renown Beyond these mountains stirs in martial pomp. My helm and shield are rusting in the hall; The martial trumpet's spirit-stirring blast, The herald's call, inviting to the lists, Rouse not the echoes of these vales, where nought Save cowherd's horn and cattle bell is heard, In one unvarying dull monotony.
ATTING. Deluded boy, seduced by empty show! Despise the land that gave thee birth! Ashamed Of the good ancient customs of thy sires! The day will come, when thou, with burning tears, Wilt long for home, and for thy native hills, And that dear melody of tuneful herds, Which now, in proud disgust, thou dost despise! A day when wistful pangs shall shake thy heart, Hearing their music in a foreign land. Oh! potent is the spell that binds to home! No, no, the cold, false world is not for thee. At the proud court, with thy true heart, thou wilt For ever feel a stranger among strangers. The world asks virtues of far other stamp Than thou hast learned within these simple vales. But go—go thither,—barter thy free soul, Take land in fief, be minion to a prince, Where thou might'st be lord paramount, and prince Of all thine own unburden'd heritage! O, Uly, Uly, stay among thy people! Go not to Altdorf. Oh, abandon not The sacred cause of thy wrong'd native land! I am the last of all my race. My name Ends with me. Yonder hang my helm and shield; They will be buried with me in the grave.[*] And must I think, when yielding up my breath, That thou but wait'st the closing of mine eyes, To stoop thy knee to this new feudal court, And take in vassalage from Austria's hands The noble lands, which I from God received, Free and unfetter'd as the mountain air!
[*] According to the custom, by which, when the last male descendant of a noble family died, his sword, helmet, and shield were buried with him.
RUD. 'Tis vain for us to strive against the king. The world pertains to him:—shall we alone, In mad presumptuous obstinacy, strive To break that mighty chain of lands, which he Hath drawn around us with his giant grasp? His are the markets, his the courts,—his, too, The highways; nay, the very carrier's horse, That traffics on the Gotthardt, pays him toll. By his dominions, as within a net, We are enclosed, and girded round about. And will the Empire shield us? Say, can it Protect itself 'gainst Austria's growing power? To God, and not to emperors must we look! What store can on their promises be placed, When they, to meet their own necessities, Can pawn, and even alienate the towns That flee for shelter 'neath the Eagle's wings?[*] No, uncle! It is wise and wholesome prudence, In times like these, when faction's all abroad, To vow attachment to some mighty chief. The imperial crown's transferred from line to line.[+] It has no memory for faithful service: But to secure the favour of these great Hereditary masters, were to sow Seed for a future harvest.
[*] This frequently occurred. But in the event of an imperial city being mortgaged for the purpose of raising money, it lost its freedom, and was considered as put out of the realm.
[+] An allusion to the circumstance of the Imperial Crown not being hereditary, but conferred by election on one of the Counts of the Empire.
ATTING. Art so wise? Wilt thou see clearer than thy noble sires, Who battled for fair freedom's priceless gem, With life, and fortune, and heroic arm? Sail down the lake to Lucerne, there inquire, How Austria's thraldom weighs the Cantons down. Soon she will come to count our sheep, our cattle, To portion out the Alps, e'en to their peaks, And in our own free woods to hinder us From striking down the eagle or the stag; To set her tolls on every bridge and gate, Impoverish us, to swell her lust of sway, And drain our dearest blood to feed her wars. No, if our blood must flow, let it be shed In our own cause! We purchase liberty More cheaply far than bondage.
RUD. What can we, A shepherd race, against great Albert's hosts?
ATTING. Learn, foolish boy, to know this shepherd race! I know them, I have led them on in fight,— I saw them in the battle at Favenz. What! Austria try, forsooth, to force on us A yoke we are determined not to bear! Oh, learn to feel from what a stock thou'rt sprung; Cast not, for tinsel trash and idle show, The precious jewel of thy worth away, To be the chieftain of a free-born race, Bound to thee only by their unbought love, Ready to stand—to fight—to die with thee, Be that thy pride, be that thy noblest boast! Knit to thy heart the ties of kindred—home— Cling to the land, the dear land of thy sires, Grapple to that with thy whole heart and soul! Thy power is rooted deep and strongly here, But in yon stranger world thou'lt stand alone, A trembling reed beat down by every blast. Oh come! 'tis long since we have seen thee, Uly! Tarry but this one day. Only to-day! Go not to Altdorf. Wilt thou? Not to-day! For this one day, bestow thee on thy friends.
[Takes his hand.]
RUD. I gave my word. Unhand me! I am bound.
ATTING. (drops his hand and says sternly). Bound, didst thou say? Oh yes, unhappy boy, Thou art indeed. But not by word or oath. 'Tis by the silken mesh of love thou'rt bound.
[Rudenz turns away.]
Ah, hide thee, as thou wilt. 'Tis she, I know, Bertha of Bruneck, draws thee to the court; 'Tis she that chains thee to the Emperor's service. Thou think'st to win the noble knightly maid By thy apostasy. Be not deceived. She is held out before thee as a lure; But never meant for innocence like thine.
RUD. No more, I've heard enough. So fare you well.
ATTING. Stay, Uly! Stay! Rash boy, he's gone! I can Nor hold him back, nor save him from destruction. And so the Wolfshot has deserted us;— Others will follow his example soon. This foreign witchery, sweeping o'er our hills, Tears with its potent spell our youth away. O luckless hour, when men and manners strange Into these calm and happy valleys came, To warp our primitive and guileless ways! The new is pressing on with might. The old, The good, the simple, all flee fast away. New times come on. A race is springing up, That think not as their fathers thought before! What do I hear? All, all are in the grave With whom erewhile I moved, and held converse; My age has long been laid beneath the sod; Happy the man, who may not live to see What shall be done by those that follow me!
A meadow surrounded by high rocks and wooded ground. On the rocks are tracks, with rails and ladders, by which the peasants are afterwards seen descending. In the back-ground the lake is observed, and over it a moon rainbow in the early part of the scene. The prospect is closed by lofty mountains, with glaciers rising behind them. The stage is dark, but the lake and glaciers glisten in the moonlight.
Melchthal, Baumgarten, Winkelried, Meyer von Sarnen, Burkhart am Buhel, Arnold von Sewa, Klaus von der Flue, and four other peasants, all armed.
MELCHTHAL (behind the scenes). The mountain pass is open. Follow me! I see the rock, and little cross upon it: This is the spot; here is the Rootli.
[They enter with torches.]
SEWA. The coast is clear.
MEYER. None of our comrades come? We are the first, we Unterwaldeners.
MELCH. How far is't i' the night?
BAUM. The beacon watch Upon the Selisberg has just called two.
[A bell is heard at a distance.]
MEYER. Hush! Hark!
BUHEL. The forest chapel's matin bell Chimes clearly o'er the lake from Switzerland.
VON F. The air is clear, and bears the sound so far.
MELCH. Go, you and you, and light some broken boughs, Let's bid them welcome with a cheerful blaze.
[Two peasants exeunt.]
SEWA. The moon shines fair to-night. Beneath its beams The lake reposes, bright as burnish'd steel.
BUHEL. They'll have an easy passage.
WINK. (pointing to the lake). Ha! look there! Do you see nothing?
MEYER. Ay, indeed, I do! A rainbow in the middle of the night.
MELCH. Formed by the bright reflection of the moon!
VON F. A sign most strange and wonderful, indeed! Many there be, who ne'er have seen the like.
SEWA. 'Tis doubled, see, a paler one above!
BAUM. A boat is gliding yonder right beneath it.
MELCH. That must be Werner Stauffacher! I knew The worthy patriot would not tarry long.
[Goes with Baumgarten towards the shore.]
MEYER. The Uri men are like to be the last.
BUHEL. They're forced to take a winding circuit through The mountains; for the Viceroy's spies are out.
[In the meanwhile the two peasants have kindled a fire in the centre of the stage.]
MELCH. (on the shore). Who's there? The word?
STAUFF. (from below). Friends of the country.
[All retire up the stage, towards the party landing from the boat. Enter Stauffacher, Itel Reding, Hans auf der Mauer, Jorg im Hofe, Conrad Hunn, Ulrich der Schmidt, Jost von Weiler, and three other peasants, armed.
[While the rest remain behind exchanging greetings, Melchthal comes forward with Stauffacher.]
MELCH. Oh, worthy Stauffacher, I've look'd but now On him, who could not look on me again, I've laid my hands upon his rayless eyes, And on their vacant orbits sworn a vow Of vengeance, only to be cool'd in blood.
STAUFF. Speak not of vengeance. We are here, to meet The threatened evil, not to avenge the past. Now tell me what you've done, and what secured, To aid the common cause in Unterwald. How stand the peasantry disposed, and how Yourself escaped the wiles of treachery?
MELCH. Through the Surenen's fearful mountain chain, Where dreary ice-fields stretch on every side, And sound is none, save the hoarse vulture's cry, I reach'd the Alpine pasture, where the herds From Uri and from Engelberg resort, And turn their cattle forth to graze in common. Still as I went along, I slaked my thirst With the coarse oozings of the glacier heights that thro' the crevices come foaming down, And turned to rest me in the herdsmen's cots, Where I was host and guest, until I gain'd The cheerful homes and social haunts of men. Already through these distant vales had spread The rumour of this last atrocity; And wheresoe'er I went, at every door, Kind words saluted me and gentle looks. I found these simple spirits all in arms Against our ruler's tyrannous encroachments. For as their Alps through each succeeding year Yield the same roots,—their streams flow ever on In the same channels,—nay, the clouds and winds The selfsame course unalterably pursue, So have old customs there, from sire to son, Been handed down, unchanging and unchanged; Nor will they brook to swerve or turn aside From the fixed even tenor of their life. With grasp of their hard hands they welcomed me,— Took from the walls their rusty falchions down,— And from their eyes the soul of valour flash'd With joyful lustre, as I spoke those names, Sacred to every peasant in the mountains, Your own and Walter Furst's. Whate'er your voice Should dictate as the right, they swore to do; And you they swore to follow e'en to death. So sped I on from house to house, secure In the guest's sacred privilege;—and when I reached at last the valley of my home, Where dwell my kinsmen, scatter'd far and near— And when I found my father, stript and blind, Upon the stranger's straw, fed by the alms Of charity—
STAUFF. Great Heaven!
MELCH. Yet wept I not! No—not in weak and unavailing tears Spent I the force of my fierce burning anguish; Deep in my bosom, like some precious treasure, I lock'd it fast, and thought on deeds alone. Through every winding of the hills I crept,— No valley so remote but I explored it; Nay, at the very glacier's ice-clad base, I sought and found the homes of living men; And still, where'er my wandering footsteps turn'd, The selfsame hatred of these tyrants met me. For even there, at vegetation's verge, Where the numb'd earth is barren of all fruits, Their grasping hands had been for plunder thrust. Into the hearts of all this honest race, The story of my wrongs struck deep, and now They, to a man, are ours; both heart and hand.
STAUFF. Great things, indeed, you've wrought in little time.
MELCH. I did still more than this. The fortresses, Rossberg and Sarnen, are the country's dread; For from behind their adamantine walls The foe, like eagle from his eyrie, swoops, And, safe himself, spreads havoc o'er the land. With my own eyes I wish'd to weigh its strength, So went to Sarnen, and explored the castle.
STAUFF. How! Venture even into the tiger's den?
MELCH. Disguised in pilgrim's weeds I entered it; I saw the Viceroy feasting at his board— Judge if I'm master of myself or no! I saw the tyrant, and I slew him not!
STAUFF. Fortune, indeed, upon your boldness smiled.
[Meanwhile the others have arrived and join Melchthal and Stauffacher.]
Yet tell me now, I pray, who are the friends, The worthy men, who came along with you? Make me acquainted with them, that we may Speak frankly, man to man, and heart to heart.
MEYER. In the three Cantons, who, sir, knows not you? Meyer of Sarnen is my name; and this Is Struth of Winkelried, my sister's son.
STAUFF. No unknown name. A Winkelried it was, Who slew the dragon in the fen at Weiler, And lost his life in the encounter, too.
WINK. That, Master Stauffacher, was my grandfather.
MELCH. (pointing to two peasants). These two are men who till the cloister lands Of Engelberg, and live behind the forest. You'll not think ill of them, because they're serfs, And sit not free upon the soil, like us. They love the land, and bear a good repute.
STAUFF. (to them). Give me your hands. He has good cause for thanks, That to no man his body's service owes. But worth is worth, no matter where 'tis found.
HUNN. That is Herr Reding, sir, our old Landamman.
MEYER. I know him well. I am at law with him About a piece of ancient heritage. Herr Reding, we are enemies in court, Here we are one.
[Shakes his hand.]
STAUFF. That's well and bravely said.
WINK. Listen! They come. The horn of Uri! Hark!
[On the right and left armed men are seen descending the rocks with torches.]
MAUER. Look, is not that the holy man of God? A worthy priest! The terrors of the night, And the way's pains and perils scare not him, A faithful shepherd caring for his flock.
BAUM. The Sacrist follows him, and Walter Furst. But where is Tell? I do not see him there.
[Walter Furst, Rosselmann the Pastor, Petermann the Sacrist, Kuoni the Shepherd, Werni the Huntsman, Ruodi the Fisherman, and five other countrymen, thirty-three in all, advance and take their places round the fire.]
FURST. Thus must we, on the soil our fathers left us, Creep forth by stealth to meet like murderers, And in the night, that should her mantle lend Only to crime and black conspiracy, Assert our own good rights, which yet are clear As is the radiance of the noonday sun.
MELCH. So be it. What is hatch'd in gloom of night Shall free and boldly meet the morning light.
ROSSEL. Confederates! Listen to the words which God Inspires my heart withal. Here we are met, To represent the general weal. In us Are all the people of the land convened. Then let us hold the Diet, as of old, And as we're wont in peaceful times to do. The time's necessity be our excuse, If there be aught informal in this meeting. Still, wheresoe'er men strike for justice, there Is God, and now beneath His heav'n we stand.
STAUFF. 'Tis well advised.—Let us, then, hold the Diet, According to our ancient usages.— Though it be night, there's sunshine in our cause.
MELCH. Few though our numbers be, the hearts are here Of the whole people; here the BEST are met.
HUNN. The ancient books may not be near at hand, Yet are they graven in our inmost hearts.
ROSSEL. 'Tis well. And now, then, let a ring be formed, And plant the swords of power within the ground.[*]
[*] It was the custom at the Meetings of the Landes Gemeinde, or Diet, to set swords upright in the ground as emblems of authority.
MAUER. Let the Landamman step into his place, And by his side his secretaries stand.
SACRIST. There are three Cantons here. Which hath the right To give the head to the united Council? Schwytz may contest that dignity with Uri, We Unterwald'ners enter not the field.
MELCH. We stand aside. We are but suppliants here, Invoking aid from our more potent friends.
STAUFF. Let Uri have the sword. Her banner takes, In battle, the precedence of our own.
FURST. Schwytz, then, must share the honour of the sword; For she's the honoured ancestor of all.
ROSSEL. Let me arrange this generous controversy. Uri shall lead in battle—Schwytz in Council.
FURST. (gives Stauffacher his hand). Then take your place.
STAUFF. Not I. Some older man.
HOFE. Ulrich, the smith, is the most aged here.
MAUER. A worthy man, but not a freeman; no!— No bondman can be judge in Switzerland.
STAUFF. Is not Herr Reding here, our old Landamman? Where can we find a worthier man than he?
FURST. Let him be Amman and the Diet's chief! You that agree with me, hold up your hands!
[All hold up their right hands.]
REDING. (stepping into the center). I cannot lay my hands upon the books; But by yon everlasting stars I swear, Never to swerve from justice and the right.
[The two swords are placed before him, and a circle formed; Schwytz in the centre, Uri on his right, Unterwald on his left.]
REDING. (resting on his battle sword). Why, at the hour when spirits walks the earth, Meet the three Cantons of the mountains here, Upon the lake's inhospitable shore? What may the purport be of this new league We here contract beneath the starry heaven?
STAUFF. (entering the circle). 'Tis no new league that here we now contract, But one fathers framed, in ancient times, We purpose to renew! For know, confederates, Though mountain ridge and lake divide our bounds, And each Canton by its own laws is ruled, Yet are we but one race, born of one blood, And all are children of one common home.
WINK. Is then the burden of our legends true, That we came hither from a distant land? Oh, tell us what you know, that our new league May reap fresh vigour from the leagues of old.
STAUFF. Hear, then, what aged herdsmen tell. There dwelt A mighty people in the land that lies Back to the north. The scourge of famine came; And in this strait 'twas publicly resolved, That each tenth man, on whom the lot might fall, Should leave the country. They obey'd—and forth, With loud lamentings, men and women went, A mighty host; and to the south moved on. Cutting their way through Germany by the sword, Until they gained these pine-clad hills of ours; Nor stopp'd they ever on their forward course, Till at the shaggy dell they halted, where The Muta flows through its luxuriant meads. No trace of human creature met their eye, Save one poor hut upon the desert shore, Where dwelt a lonely man, and kept the ferry. A tempest raged—the lake rose mountains high And barr'd their further progress. Thereupon They view'd the country—found it rich in wood, Discover'd goodly springs, and felt as they Were in their own dear native land once more. Then they resolved to settle on the spot; Erected there the ancient town of Schwytz; And many a day of toil had they to clear The tangled brake and forest's spreading roots. Meanwhile their numbers grew, the soil became Unequal to sustain them, and they cross'd To the black mountain, far as Weissland, where, Conceal'd behind eternal walls of ice, Another people speak another tongue. They built the village Stanz, beside the Kernwald; The village Altdorf, in the vale of Reuss; Yet, ever mindful of their parent stem, The men of Schywtz, from all the stranger race, That since that time have settled in the land, Each other recognize. Their hearts still know, And beat fraternally to kindred blood.
[Extends his hand right and left.]
MAUER. Ay, we are all one heart, one blood, one race!
ALL (joining hands). We are one people, and will act as one.
STAUFF. The nations round us bear a foreign yoke; For they have to the conqueror succumbed. Nay, e'en within our frontiers may be found Some, that owe villein service to a lord, A race of bonded serfs from sire to son. But we, the genuine race of ancient Swiss, Have kept our freedom from the first till now. Never to princes have we bow'd the knee; Freely we sought protection of the Empire.
ROSSEL. Freely we sought it—freely it was given. 'Tis so set down in Emperor Frederick's charter.
STAUFF. For the most free have still some feudal lord There must be still a chief, a judge supreme, To whom appeal may lie, in case of strife. And therefore was it, that our sires allow'd, For what they had recover'd from the waste This honour to the Emperor, the lord Of all the German and Italian soil; And, like the other free men of his realm, Engaged to aid him with their swords in war; The free man's duty this alone should be, To guard the Empire that keeps guard for him.
MELCH. He's but a slave that would acknowledge more.
STAUFF. They followed, when the Heribann[*] went forth, The imperial standard, and they fought its battles! To Italy they march'd in arms, to place The Caesars' crown upon the Emperor's head. But still at home they ruled themselves in peace, By their own laws and ancient usages. The Emperor's only right was to adjudge The penalty of death; he therefore named Some mighty noble as his delegate, That had no stake or interest in the land, Who was call'd in, when doom was to be pass'd, And, in the face of day, pronounced decree, Clear and distinctly, fearing no man's hate. What traces here, that we are bondsmen? Speak, If there be any can gainsay my words!
[*] The Heribann was a muster of warriors similar to the /arriere ban/ of France.
HOFE. No! You have spoken but the simple truth; We never stoop'd beneath a tyrant's yoke.
STAUFF. Even to the Emperor we did not submit, When he gave judgment 'gainst us for the church; For when the Abbey of Einsiedlen claimed The Alp our fathers and ourselves had grazed, And showed an ancient charter, which bestowed The land on them as being ownerless— For our existence there had been concealed— What was our answer? This: "The grant is void. No Emperor can bestow what is our own: And if the Empire shall deny our rights, We can, within our mountains, right ourselves!" Thus spake our fathers! And shall we endure The shame and infamy of this new yoke, And from the vassal brook what never king Dared, in his plenitude of power, attempt? This soil we have created for ourselves, By the hard labour of our hands; we've changed The giant forest, that was erst the haunt Of savage bears, into a home for man; Extirpated the dragon's brood, that wont To rise, distent with venom, from the swamps; Rent the thick misty canopy that hung Its blighting vapours on the dreary waste; Blasted the solid rock; across the chasm Thrown the firm bridge for the wayfaring man. By the possession of a thousand years The soil is ours. And shall an alien lord, Himself a vassal, dare to venture here, Insult us by our own hearth fires,—attempt To forge the chains of bondage for our hands, And do us shame on our own proper soil? Is there no help against such wrong as this?
[Great sensation among the people.]
Yes! there's a limit to the despot's power! When the oppress'd for justice looks in vain, When his sore burden may no more be borne, With fearless heart he makes appeal to Heaven, And thence brings down his everlasting rights, Which there abide, inalienably his, And indestructible as are the stars. Nature's primaeval state returns again, Where man stands hostile to his fellow man; And if all other means shall fail his need, One last resource remains—his own good sword. Our dearest treasures call to us for aid, Against the oppressor's violence; we stand For country, home, for wives, for children here!
ALL (clashing their swords). Here stand we for our homes, our wives, and children.
ROSSEL. (stepping into the circle). Bethink ye well, before ye draw the sword. Some peaceful compromise may yet be made; Speak but one word, and at your feet you'll see The men who now oppress you. Take the terms That have been often tendered you; renounce The Empire, and to Austria swear allegiance!
MAUER. What says the priest? To Austria allegiance?
BUHEL. Hearken not to him!
WINK. 'Tis a traitor's counsel, His country's foe!
REDING. Peace, peace, confederates!
SEWA. Homage to Austria, after wrongs like these!
FLUE. Shall Austria extort from us by force What we denied to kindness and entreaty?
MEYER. Then should we all be slaves, deservedly.
MAUER. Yes! Let him forfeit all a Switzer's rights, Who talks of yielding thus to Austria's yoke! I stand on this, Landamman. Let this be The foremost of our laws!
MELCH. Even so! Whoe'er Shall talk of bearing Austria's yoke, let him Of all his rights and honours be despoiled, No man thenceforth receive him at his hearth!
ALL (raising their right hands). Agreed! Be this the law!
REDING. (After a pause). The law it is.
ROSSEL. Now you are free—this law hath made you free. Never shall Austria obtain by force What she has fail'd to gain by friendly suit.
WEIL. On with the order of the day! Proceed!
REDING. Confederates! Have all gentler means been tried? Perchance the Emp'ror knows not of our wrongs, It may not be his will we suffer thus: Were it not well to make one last attempt, And lay our grievances before the throne, Ere we unsheath the sword? Force is at best A fearful thing e'en in a righteous cause; God only helps, when man can help no more.
STAUFF. (to Conrad Hunn). Here you can give us information. Speak!
HUNN. I was at Rheinfeld, at the Emperor's Court, Deputed by the Cantons to complain Of the oppressions of these governors, And of our liberties the charter claim, Which each new king till now has ratified. I found the envoys there of many a town, From Suabia and the valley of the Rhine, Who all received their parchments as they wish'd, And straight went home again with merry heart. But me, your envoy, they to the Council sent, Where I with empty cheer was soon dismiss'd: "The Emperor at present was engaged; Some other time he would attend to us!" I turn'd away, and passing through the hall, With heavy heart, in a recess I saw The Grand Duke John[*] in tears, and by his side The noble lords of Wart and Tegerfeld, Who beckon'd me, and said, "Redress yourselves. Expect not justice from the Emperor. Does he not plunder his own brother's child, And keep from him his just inheritance?" The Duke claims his maternal property, Urging he's now of age, and 'tis full time, That he should rule his people and estates; What is the answer made to him? The King Places a chaplet on his head; "Behold The fitting ornament," he cries, "of youth!"
[*] The Duke of Suabia, who soon afterwards assassinated his uncle, for withholding his patrimony from him.
MAUER. You hear. Expect not from the Emperor Or right or justice! Then redress yourselves!
REDING. No other course is left us. Now, advise What plan most likely to ensure success.
FURST. To shake a thraldom off that we abhor, To keep our ancient rights inviolate, As we received them from our fathers,—this, Not lawless innovation, is our aim. Let Caesar still retain what is his due; And he that is a vassal, let him pay The service he is sworn to faithfully.
MEYER. I hold my land of Austria in fief.
FURST. Continue, then, to pay your feudal dues.
WEIL. I'm tenant of the lords of Rappersweil.
FURST. Continue, then, to pay them rent and tithe.
ROSSEL. Of Zurich's Abbess humble vassal I.
FURST. Give to the cloister, what the cloister claims.
STAUFF. The Empire only is my feudal lord.
FURST. What needs must be, we'll do, but nothing more. We'll drive these tyrants and their minions hence, And raze their towering strongholds to the ground, Yet shed, if possible, no drop of blood, Let the Emperor see that we were driven to cast The sacred duties of respect away; And when he finds we keep within our bounds, His wrath, belike, may yield to policy; For truly is that nation to be fear'd, That, arms in hand, is temperate in its wrath.
REDING. But prithee tell us how may this be done? The enemy is arm'd as well as we, And, rest assured, he will not yield in peace.
STAUFF. He will, whene'er he sees us up in arms; We shall surprise him, ere he is prepared.
MEYER. Easily said, but not so easily done. Two strongholds dominate the country—they Protect the foe, and should the King invade us, Our task would then be dangerous, indeed. Rossberg and Sarnen both must be secured, Before a sword is drawn in either Canton.
STAUFF. Should we delay, the foe would soon be warned; We are too numerous for secrecy.
MEYER. There is no traitor in the Forest States.
ROSSEL. But even zeal may heedlessly betray.
FURST. Delay it longer, and the keep at Altdorf Will be complete,—the governor secure.
MEYER. You think but of yourselves.
SACRIS. You are unjust!
MEYER. Unjust! said you? Dares Uri taunt us so?
REDING. Peace, on your oath!
SACRIS. If Schwytz be leagued with Uri, Why, then, indeed, we must perforce be dumb.
REDING. And let me tell you, in the Diet's name, Your hasty spirit much disturbs the peace. Stand we not all for the same common cause?
WINK. What, if till Christmas we delay? 'Tis then The custom for the serfs to throng the castle, Bringing the Governor their annual gifts. Thus may some ten or twelve selected men Assemble unobserved, within its walls. Bearing about their persons pikes of steel, Which may be quickly mounted upon staves, For arms are not admitted to the fort. The rest can fill the neighb'ring wood, prepared To sally forth upon a trumpet's blast, Soon as their comrades have secured the gate; And thus the castle will with ease be ours.
MELCH. The Rossberg I will undertake to scale. I have a sweetheart in the garrison, Whom with some tender words I could persuade To lower me at night a hempen ladder. Once up, my friends will not be long behind.
REDING. Are all resolved in favor of delay?
[The majority raise their hands.]
STAUFF. (counting them). Twenty to twelve is the majority.
FURST. If on the appointed day the castles fall, From mountain on to mountain we shall speed The fiery signal: in the capital Of every Canton quickly rouse the Landsturm.[*] Then, when these tyrants see our martial front, Believe me, they will never make so bold As risk the conflict, but will gladly take Safe conduct forth beyond our boundaries.
[*] A sort of national militia.
STAUFF. Not so with Gessler. He will make a stand. Surrounded with his dread array of horse, Blood will be shed before he quits the field, And even expell'd he'd still be terrible. 'Tis hard, nay, dangerous, to spare his life.
BAUM. Place me where'er a life is to be lost; I owe my life to Tell, and cheerfully Will pledge it for my country. I have clear'd My honour, and my heart is now at rest.
REDING. Counsel will come with circumstance. Be patient! Something must still be to the moment left. Yet, while by night we hold our Diet here, The morning, see, has on the mountain tops Kindled her glowing beacon. Let us part, Ere the broad sun surprise us.
FURST. Do not fear. The night wanes slowly from these vales of ours.
[All have involuntarily taken off their caps, and contemplate the breaking of day, absorbed in silence.]
ROSSEL. By this fair light which greeteth us, before Those other nations, that, beneath us far, In noisome cities pent, draw painful breath, Swear we the oath of our confederacy! A band of brothers true we swear to be, Never to part in danger or in death!
[They repeat his words with three fingers raised.]
We swear we will be free as were our sires, And sooner die than live in slavery!
[All repeat as before.]
We swear, to put our trust in God Most High, And not to quail before the might of man!
[All repeat as before, and embrace each other.]
STAUFF. Now every man pursue his several way Back to his friends, his kindred, and his home. Let the herd winter up his flock, and gain In secret friends for this great league of ours! What for a time must be endured, endure, And let the reckoning of the tyrants grow, Till the great day arrive when they shall pay The general and particular debt at once. Let every man control his own just rage, And nurse his vengeance for the public wrongs: For he whom selfish interests now engage Defrauds the general weal of what to it belongs.
[As they are going off in profound silence, in three different directions, the orchestra plays a solemn air. The empty scene remains open for some time showing the rays of the sun rising over the Glaciers.]
Court before Tell's house. Tell with an axe. Hedwig engaged in her domestic duties. Walter and William in the background, playing with a little cross-bow.
(Walter sings) With his cross-bow, and his quiver, The huntsman speeds his way, Over mountain, dale and river, At the dawning of the day. As the eagle, on wild pinion, Is the king in realms of air, So the hunter claims dominion Over crag and forest lair. Far as ever bow can carry, Thro' the trackless airy space, All he sees he makes his quarry, Soaring bird and beast of chase.
WILL. (runs forward). My string has snapped! Oh, father, mend it, do!
TELL. Not I; a true-born archer helps himself.
HEDW. The boys begin to use the bow betimes.
TELL. 'Tis early practice only makes the master.
HEDW. Ah! Would to heaven they never learned the art!
TELL. But they shall learn it, wife, in all its points. Whoe'er would carve an independent way Through life, must learn to ward or plant a blow.
HEDW. Alas, alas! and they will never rest Contentedly at home.
TELL. No more can I! I was not framed by nature for a shepherd. My restless spirit ever yearns for change; I only feel the flush and joy of life, If I can start fresh quarry every day.
HEDW. Heedless the while of all your wife's alarms, As she sits watching through long hours at home. For my soul sinks with terror at the tales The servants tell about the risks you run, Whene'er we part, my trembling heart forebodes, That you will ne'er come back to me again. I see you on the frozen mountain steeps, Missing, perchance, your leap from crag to crag. I see the chamois, with a wild rebound, Drag you down with him o'er the precipice. I see the avalanche close o'er your head, The treacherous ice give way, and you sink down Intombed alive within its hideous gulf. Ah! in a hundred varying forms does death Pursue the Alpine huntsman on his course. That way of life can surely ne'er be blessed, Where life and limb are perill'd every hour.
TELL. The man that bears a quick and steady eye, And trusts in God, and his own lusty thews, Passes, with scarce a scar, through every danger. The mountain cannot awe the mountain child.
[Having finished his work, he lays aside his tools.]
And now, methinks, the door will hold awhile, Axe in the house oft saves the carpenter.
[Takes his cap.]
HEDW. Whither away?
TELL. To Altdorf, to your father.
HEDW. You have some dangerous enterprise in view? Confess!
TELL. Why think you so?
HEDW. Some scheme's on foot Against the governors. There was a Diet Held on the Rootli—that I know—and you Are one of the confederacy, I'm sure.
TELL. I was not there. Yet will I not hold back, Whene'er my country calls me to her aid.
HEDW. Wherever danger is, will you be placed. On you, as ever, will the burden fall.
TELL. Each man shall have the post that fits his powers.
HEDW. You took—ay, 'mid the thickest of the storm The man of Unterwald across the lake. 'Tis marvel you escaped. Had you no thought Of wife and children, then?
TELL. Dear wife, I had; And therefore saved the father for his children.
HEDW. To brave the lake in all its wrath! 'Twas not To put your trust in God! 'Twas tempting Him.
TELL. Little will he that's over cautious do.
HEDW. Yes, you've a kind and helping hand for all; But be in straits, and who will lend you aid?
TELL. God grant I ne'er may stand in need of it!
[Takes up his cross-bow and arrows.]
HEDW. Why take your cross-bow with you? leave it here.
TELL. I want my right hand, when I want my bow.
[The boys return.]
WALT. Where, father, are you going?
TELL. To grand-dad, boy— To Altdorf. Will you go?
WALT. Ay, that I will!
HEDW. The Viceroy's there just now. Go not to Altdorf!
TELL. He leaves to-day.
HEDW. Then let him first be gone, Cross not his path.—You know he bears us grudge.
TELL. His ill-will cannot greatly injure me. I do what's right, and care for no man's hate.
HEDW. 'Tis those who do what's right, whom most he hates.
TELL. Because he cannot reach them. Me, I ween, His knightship will be glad to leave in peace.
HEDW. Ay!—Are you sure of that?
TELL. Not long ago, As I was hunting through the wild ravines Of Shechenthal, untrod by mortal foot,— There, as I took my solitary way Along a shelving ledge of rocks, where 'twas Impossible to step on either side; For high above rose, like a giant wall, The precipice's side, and far below The Shechen thunder'd o'er its rifted bed;
[The boys press towards him, looking upon him with excited curiosity.]
There, face to face, I met the Viceroy. He Alone with me—and I myself alone— Mere man to man, and near us the abyss; And when his lordship had perused my face, And knew the man he had severely fined On some most trivial ground, not long before, And saw me, with my sturdy bow in hand, Come striding towards him, his cheek grew pale, His knees refused their office, and I thought He would have sunk against the mountain side. Then, touch'd with pity for him, I advanced, Respectfully, and said, "'Tis I, my lord." But ne'er a sound could he compel his lips To frame in answer. Only with his hand He beckoned me in silence to proceed. So I pass'd on, and sent his train to seek him.
HEDW. He trembled, then, before you? Woe the while You saw his weakness; that he'll ne'er forgive.
TELL. I shun him, therefore, and he'll not seek me.
HEDW. But stay away to-day. Go hunt instead!
TELL. What do you fear?
HEDW. I am uneasy. Stay!
TELL. Why thus distress yourself without a cause?
HEDW. Because there is no cause. Tell, Tell! stay here!
TELL. Dear wife, I gave my promise I would go.
HEDW. Must you,—then go. But leave the boys with me.
WALT. No, mother dear, I go with father, I.
HEDW. How, Walter! Will you leave your mother then?
WALT. I'll bring you pretty things from grandpapa.
[Exit with his father.]
WIL. Mother, I'll stay with you!
HEDW. (embracing him). Yes, yes! thou art My own dear child. Thou'rt all that's left to me.
[She goes to the gate of the court and looks anxiously after Tell and her son for a considerable time.]
A retired part of the forest.—Brooks dashing in spray over the rocks.
Enter Bertha in a hunting dress. Immediately afterwards Rudenz.
BERTH. He follows me. Now, then, to speak my mind!
RUD. (entering hastily). At length, dear lady, we have met alone In this wild dell, with rocks on every side, No jealous eye can watch our interview. Now let my heart throw off this weary silence.
BERTH. But are you sure they will not follow us?
RUD. See, yonder goes the chase! Now, then, or never! I must avail me of this precious chance,— Must hear my doom decided by thy lips, Though it should part me from thy side forever. Oh, do not arm that gentle face of thine With looks so stern and harsh! Who—who am I, That dare aspire so high, as unto thee? Fame hath not stamp'd me yet; nor may I take My place amid the courtly throng of knights, That, crown'd with glory's lustre, woo thy smiles. Nothing have I to offer, but a heart That overflows with truth and love for thee.
BERTH. (sternly and with severity). And dare you speak to me of love—of truth? You, that are faithless to your nearest ties! You, that are Austria's slave—bartered and sold To her—an alien, and your country's tyrant!
RUD. How! This reproach from thee! Whom do I seek, On Austria's side, my own beloved, but thee?
BERTH. Think you to find me in the traitor's ranks? Now, as I live, I'd rather give my hand To Gessler's self, all despot though he be, Than to the Switzer who forgets his birth, And stoops to be a tyrant's servile tool.
RUD. Oh Heaven, what words are these?
BERTH. Say! What can lie Nearer the good man's heart than friends and kindred? What dearer duty to a noble soul, Than to protect weak, suffering innocence, And vindicate the rights of the oppress'd? My very soul bleeds for your countrymen. I suffer with them, for I needs must love them; They are so gentle, yet so full of power; They draw my whole heart to them. Every day I look upon them with increased esteem. But you, whom nature and your knightly vow, Have given them as their natural protector, Yet who desert them and abet their foes In forging shackles for your native land, You—you incense and wound me to the core. It tries me to the utmost not to hate you.
RUD. Is not my country's welfare all my wish? What seek I for her, but to purchase peace 'Neath Austria's potent sceptre?
BERTH. Bondage, rather! You would drive Freedom from the last stronghold That yet remains for her upon the earth. The people know their own true int'rests better: Their simple natures are not warp'd by show. But round your head a tangling net is wound.
RUD. Bertha, you hate me—you despise me!
BERTH. Nay! And if I did, 'twere better for my peace. But to see him despised and despicable,— The man whom one might love—
RUD. Oh Bertha! You Show me the pinnacle of heavenly bliss, Then, in a moment, hurl me to despair!
BERTH. No, no! the noble is not all extinct Within you. It but slumbers,—I will rouse it. It must have cost you many a fiery struggle To crush the virtues of your race within you. But, Heaven be praised, 'tis mightier than yourself, And you are noble in your own despite!
RUD. You trust me, then? Oh, Bertha, with thy love What might I not become!
BERTH. Be only that For which your own high nature destin'd you. Fill the position you were born to fill;— Stand by your people and your native land— And battle for your sacred rights!
RUD. Alas! How can I win you—how can you be mine, If I take arms against the Emperor? Will not your potent kinsmen interpose, To dictate the disposal of your hand?
BERTH. All my estates lie in the Forest Cantons; And I am free, when Switzerland is free.
RUD. Oh! what a prospect, Bertha, hast thou shown me!
BERTH. Hope not to win my hand by Austria's grace; Fain would they lay their grasp on my estates, To swell the vast domains which now they hold. The selfsame lust of conquest, that would rob You of your liberty, endangers mine. Oh, friend, I'm mark'd for sacrifice;—to be The guerdon of some parasite, perchance! They'll drag me hence to the Imperial court, That hateful haunt of falsehood and intrigue, And marriage bonds I loathe await me there. Love, love alone—your love can rescue me.
RUD. And thou couldst be content, love, to live here; In my own native land to be my own? Oh Bertha, all the yearnings of my soul For this great world and its tumultuous strife, What were they, but a yearning after thee? In glory's path I sought for thee alone, And all my thirst of fame was only love. But if in this calm vale thou canst abide With me, and bid earth's pomps and pride adieu, Then is the goal of my ambition won; And the rough tide of the tempestuous world May dash and rave around these firm-set hills! No wandering wishes more have I to send Forth to the busy scene that stirs beyond. Then may these rocks, that girdle us, extend Their giant walls impenetrably round, And this sequestered happy vale alone Look up to heaven, and be my paradise!
BERTH. Now art thou all my fancy dream'd of thee. My trust has not been given to thee in vain.
RUD. Away, ye idle phantoms of my folly; In mine own home I'll find my happiness. Here, where the gladsome boy to manhood grew, Where ev'ry brook, and tree, and mountain peak, Teems with remembrances of happy hours, In mine own native land thou wilt be mine. Ah, I have ever loved it well, I feel How poor without it were all earthly joys.
BERTH. Where should we look for happiness on earth, If not in this dear land of innocence? Here, where old truth hath its familiar home. Where fraud and guile are strangers, envy ne'er Shall dim the sparkling fountain of our bliss, And ever bright the hours shall o'er us glide. There do I see thee, in true manly worth, The foremost of the free and of thy peers, Revered with homage pure and unconstrain'd, Wielding a power that kings might envy thee.
RUD. And thee I see, thy sex's crowning gem, With thy sweet woman's grace and wakeful love, Building a heaven for me within my home, And, as the spring-time scatters forth her flowers, Adorning with thy charms my path of life, And spreading joy and sunshine all around.
BERTH. And this it was, dear friend, that caused my grief, To see thee blast this life's supremest bliss With thine own hand. Ah! what had been my fate, Had I been forced to follow some proud lord, Some ruthless despot, to his gloomy keep! Here are no keeps, here are no bastion'd walls To part me from a people I can bless.
RUD. Yet, how to free myself; to loose the coils Which I have madly twined around my head?
BERTH. Tear them asunder with a man's resolve. Whate'er ensue, firm by thy people stand! It is thy post by birth.
[Hunting horns are heard in the distance.]
But hark! The chase! Farewell,—'tis needful we should part—away! Fight for thy land; thou fightest for thy love. One foe fills all our souls with dread; the blow That makes one free, emancipates us all.
A meadow near Altdorf. Trees in the foreground. At the back of the stage a cap upon a pole. The prospect is bounded by the Bannberg, which is surmounted by a snow-capped mountain.
Friesshardt and Leuthold on guard
FRIESS. We keep our watch in vain. Zounds! not a soul Will pass, and do obeisance to the cap. But yesterday the place swarm'd like a fair; Now the old green looks like a desert, quite, Since yonder scarecrow hung upon the pole.
LEUTH. Only the vilest rabble show themselves, And wave their tattered caps in mockery at us. All honest citizens would sooner make A weary circuit over half the town, Than bend their backs before our master's cap.
FRIESS. They were obliged to pass this way at noon, As they were coming from the Council House. I counted then upon a famous catch, For no one thought of bowing to the cap, But Rosselmann, the priest, was even with me: Coming just then from some sick man, he takes His stand before the pole,—lifts up the Host— The Sacrist, too, must tinkle with his bell, When down they dropp'd on knee—myself and all— In reverence to the Host, but not the cap.