Part 2 out of 4
[A bell is heard at a distance.]
The forest chapel's matin bell
Chimes clearly o'er the lake from Switzerland.
The air is clear, and bears the sound so far.
Go, you and you, and light some broken boughs,
Let's bid them welcome with a cheerful blaze.
[Two peasants exeunt.]
The moon shines fair to-night. Beneath its beams
The lake reposes, bright as burnish'd steel.
They'll have an easy passage.
WINK. (pointing to the lake).
Ha! look there!
Do you see nothing?
Ay, indeed, I do!
A rainbow in the middle of the night.
Formed by the bright reflection of the moon!
A sign most strange and wonderful, indeed!
Many there be, who ne'er have seen the like.
'Tis doubled, see, a paler one above!
A boat is gliding yonder right beneath it.
That must be Werner Stauffacher! I knew
The worthy patriot would not tarry long.
[Goes with Baumgarten towards the shore.]
The Uri men are like to be the last.
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
[While the rest remain behind exchanging greetings, Melchthal comes
forward with Stauffacher.]
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.
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?
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
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.
Great things, indeed, you've wrought in little time.
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.
How! Venture even into the tiger's den?
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!
Fortune, indeed, upon your boldness smiled.
[Meanwhile the others have arrived and join Melchthal and
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.
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.
No unknown name. A Winkelried it was,
Who slew the dragon in the fen at Weiler,
And lost his life in the encounter, too.
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.
That is Herr Reding, sir, our old Landamman.
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.]
That's well and bravely said.
Listen! They come. The horn of Uri! Hark!
[On the right and left armed men are seen descending the rocks with
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.
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
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.
So be it. What is hatch'd in gloom of night
Shall free and boldly meet the morning light.
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.
'Tis well advised.--Let us, then, hold the Diet,
According to our ancient usages.--
Though it be night, there's sunshine in our cause.
Few though our numbers be, the hearts are here
Of the whole people; here the BEST are met.
The ancient books may not be near at hand,
Yet are they graven in our inmost hearts.
'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.
Let the Landamman step into his place,
And by his side his secretaries stand.
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.
We stand aside. We are but suppliants here,
Invoking aid from our more potent friends.
Let Uri have the sword. Her banner takes,
In battle, the precedence of our own.
Schwytz, then, must share the honour of the sword;
For she's the honoured ancestor of all.
Let me arrange this generous controversy.
Uri shall lead in battle--Schwytz in Council.
FURST. (gives Stauffacher his hand).
Then take your place.
Not I. Some older man.
Ulrich, the smith, is the most aged here.
A worthy man, but not a freeman; no!--
No bondman can be judge in Switzerland.
Is not Herr Reding here, our old Landamman?
Where can we find a worthier man than he?
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.
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.
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.]
Ay, we are all one heart, one blood, one race!
ALL (joining hands).
We are one people, and will act as one.
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.
Freely we sought it--freely it was given.
'Tis so set down in Emperor Frederick's charter.
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.
He's but a slave that would acknowledge more.
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/
No! You have spoken but the simple truth;
We never stoop'd beneath a tyrant's yoke.
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!
What says the priest? To Austria allegiance?
Hearken not to him!
'Tis a traitor's counsel, His country's foe!
Peace, peace, confederates!
Homage to Austria, after wrongs like these!
Shall Austria extort from us by force
What we denied to kindness and entreaty?
Then should we all be slaves, deservedly.
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!
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.
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.
On with the order of the day! Proceed!
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!
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.
You hear. Expect not from the Emperor
Or right or justice! Then redress yourselves!
No other course is left us. Now, advise
What plan most likely to ensure success.
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.
I hold my land of Austria in fief.
Continue, then, to pay your feudal dues.
I'm tenant of the lords of Rappersweil.
Continue, then, to pay them rent and tithe.
Of Zurich's Abbess humble vassal I.
Give to the cloister, what the cloister claims.
The Empire only is my feudal lord.
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.
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.
He will, whene'er he sees us up in arms;
We shall surprise him, ere he is prepared.
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.
Should we delay, the foe would soon be warned;
We are too numerous for secrecy.
There is no traitor in the Forest States.
But even zeal may heedlessly betray.
Delay it longer, and the keep at Altdorf
Will be complete,--the governor secure.
You think but of yourselves.
You are unjust!
Unjust! said you? Dares Uri taunt us so?
Peace, on your oath!
If Schwytz be leagued with Uri,
Why, then, indeed, we must perforce be dumb.
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?
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.
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.
Are all resolved in favor of delay?
[The majority raise their hands.]
STAUFF. (counting them).
Twenty to twelve is the majority.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]
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.]
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
Court before Tell's house. Tell with an axe. Hedwig engaged in her
domestic duties. Walter and William in the background, playing with a
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!
Not I; a true-born archer helps himself.
The boys begin to use the bow betimes.
'Tis early practice only makes the master.
Ah! Would to heaven they never learned the art!
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.
Alas, alas! and they will never rest
Contentedly at home.
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.
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.
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.]
To Altdorf, to your father.
You have some dangerous enterprise in view?
Why think you so?
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.
I was not there. Yet will I not hold back,
Whene'er my country calls me to her aid.
Wherever danger is, will you be placed.
On you, as ever, will the burden fall.
Each man shall have the post that fits his powers.
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?
Dear wife, I had;
And therefore saved the father for his children.
To brave the lake in all its wrath! 'Twas not
To put your trust in God! 'Twas tempting Him.
Little will he that's over cautious do.
Yes, you've a kind and helping hand for all;
But be in straits, and who will lend you aid?
God grant I ne'er may stand in need of it!
[Takes up his cross-bow and arrows.]
Why take your cross-bow with you? leave it here.
I want my right hand, when I want my bow.
[The boys return.]
Where, father, are you going?
To grand-dad, boy--
To Altdorf. Will you go?
Ay, that I will!
The Viceroy's there just now. Go not to Altdorf!
He leaves to-day.
Then let him first be gone,
Cross not his path.--You know he bears us grudge.
His ill-will cannot greatly injure me.
I do what's right, and care for no man's hate.
'Tis those who do what's right, whom most he hates.
Because he cannot reach them. Me, I ween,
His knightship will be glad to leave in peace.
Ay!--Are you sure of that?
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.
He trembled, then, before you? Woe the while
You saw his weakness; that he'll ne'er forgive.
I shun him, therefore, and he'll not seek me.
But stay away to-day. Go hunt instead!
What do you fear?
I am uneasy. Stay!
Why thus distress yourself without a cause?
Because there is no cause. Tell, Tell! stay here!
Dear wife, I gave my promise I would go.
Must you,--then go. But leave the boys with me.
No, mother dear, I go with father, I.
How, Walter! Will you leave your mother then?
I'll bring you pretty things from grandpapa.
[Exit with his father.]
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.
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.
But are you sure they will not follow us?
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!
How! This reproach from thee! Whom do I seek,
On Austria's side, my own beloved, but thee?
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.
Oh Heaven, what words are these?
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.
Is not my country's welfare all my wish?
What seek I for her, but to purchase peace
'Neath Austria's potent sceptre?
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.
Bertha, you hate me--you despise me!
Nay! And if I did, 'twere better for my peace.
But to see him despised and despicable,--
The man whom one might love--
Oh Bertha! You
Show me the pinnacle of heavenly bliss,
Then, in a moment, hurl me to despair!
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!
You trust me, then? Oh, Bertha, with thy love
What might I not become!
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!
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?
All my estates lie in the Forest Cantons;
And I am free, when Switzerland is free.
Oh! what a prospect, Bertha, hast thou shown me!
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.
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!
Now art thou all my fancy dream'd of thee.
My trust has not been given to thee in vain.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yet, how to free myself; to loose the coils
Which I have madly twined around my head?
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
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.
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.
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.
Hark ye, companion, I've a shrewd suspicion,
Our post's no better than the pillory.
It is a burning shame, a trooper should
Stand sentinel before an empty cap,
And every honest fellow must despise us.
To do obeisance to a cap, too! Faith,
I never heard an order so absurd!
Why not, an't please you, to an empty cap?
You've duck'd, I'm sure, to many an empty sconce.
[Hildegard, Mechthild, and Elsbeth enter with their children, and
station themselves around the pole.]
And you are a time--serving sneak, that takes
Delight in bringing honest folks to harm.
For my part, he that likes may pass the cap:
I'll shut my eyes and take no note of him.
There hangs the Viceroy! Your obeisance, children!
I would to God he'd go, and leave his cap!
The country would be none the worse for it.
FRIESS. (driving them away).
Out of the way! Confounded pack of gossips!
Who sent for you? Go, send your husbands here,
If they have courage to defy the order.
[Tell enters with his cross-bow, leading his son Walter by the hand.
They pass the hat without noticing it, and advance to the front of the
WALT. (pointing to the Bannberg).
Father, is't true, that on the mountain there
The trees, if wounded with a hatchet, bleed?
Who says so, boy?
The master herdsman, father!
He tells us there's a charm upon the trees,
And if a man shall injure them, the hand
That struck the blow will grow from out the grave.
There is a charm about them--that's the truth.
Dost see those glaciers yonder--those white horns--
That seem to melt away into the sky?
They are the peaks that thunder so at night,
And send the avalanches down upon us.
They are; and Altdorf long ago had been
Submerged beneath these avalanches' weight,
Did not the forest there above the town
Stand like a bulwark to arrest their fall.
WALT. (after musing a little).
And are there countries with no mountains, father?
Yes, if we travel downwards from our heights,
And keep descending where the rivers go,
We reach a wide and level country, where
Our mountain torrents brawl and foam no more,
And fair large rivers glide serenely on.
All quarters of the heaven may there be scann'd
Without impediment. The corn grows there
In broad and lovely fields, and all the land
Is like a garden fair to look upon.
But, father, tell me, wherefore haste we not
Away to this delightful land, instead
Of toiling here, and struggling as we do?
The land is fair and bountiful as Heaven;
But they who till it never may enjoy
The fruits of what they sow.
Live they not free,
As you do, on the land their fathers left them?
The fields are all the bishop's or the king's.
But they may freely hunt among the woods?
The game is all the monarch's--bird and beast.
But they, at least, may surely fish the streams?
Stream, lake, and sea, all to the king belong.
Who is this king, of whom they're so afraid?
He is the man who fosters and protects them.
Have they not courage to protect themselves?
The neighbour there dare not his neighbour trust.
I should want breathing room in such a land.
I'd rather dwell beneath the avalanches.
'Tis better, child, to have these glacier peaks
Behind one's back, than evil-minded men!
[They are about to pass on.]
See, father, see the cap on yonder pole!
What is the cap to us? Come, let's begone.
[As he is going, Friesshardt, presenting his pike, stops him.]
Stand, I command you, in the Emperor's name!
TELL. (seizing the pike).
What would ye? Wherefore do ye stop me thus?
You've broke the mandate, and with us must go.
You have not done obeisance to the cap.
Friend, let me go.
Away, away to prison!
Father to prison. Help!
[Calling to the side scene.]
This way, you men!
Good people, help! They're dragging him to prison!
[Rosselmann the priest and the Sacristan, with three other men,
What's here amiss?
Why do you seize this man?
He is an enemy of the King--a traitor.
TELL. (seizing him with violence).
A traitor, I!
Friend, thou art wrong. 'Tis Tell,
An honest man, and worthy citizen.
WALT. (descries Furst, and runs up to him).
Grandfather, help; they want to seize my father!
Away to prison!
FURST (running in).
Stay, I offer bail.
For God's sake, Tell, what is the matter here?
[Melchthal and Stauffacher enter.]
He has contemn'd the Viceroy's sovereign power,
Refusing flatly to acknowledge it.
Has Tell done this?
Villain, you know 'tis false!
He has not made obeisance to the cap.
And shall for this to prison? Come, my friend,
Take my security, and let him go.
Keep your security for yourself--you'll need it.
We only do our duty. Hence with him.
MELCH. (to the country people).
This is too bad--shall we stand by and see
Him dragged away before our very eyes?
We are the strongest. Friends, endure it not,
Our countrymen will back us to a man.
Who dares resist the governor's commands?
OTHER THREE PEASANTS (running in).
We'll help you.
What's the matter? Down with them!
[Hildegard, Mechthild and Elsbeth return.]
Go, go, good people, I can help myself.
Think you, had I a mind to use my strength,
These pikes of theirs should daunt me?
MELCH. (to Friesshardt).
Try from our midst to force him, if you dare.
FURST and STAUFF.
Peace, peace, friends!
Riot! Insurrection, ho!
[Hunting horns without.]
FRIESS. (raising his voice).
Roar till you burst, knave!
ROSSEL. and MELCH.
Will you hold your tongue?
FRIESS. (calling still louder).
Help, help, I say, the servants of the law!
The Viceroy here! Then we shall smart for this!
[Enter Gessler on horseback, with a falcon on his wrist; Rudolph der
Harras, Bertha, and Rudenz, and a numerous train of armed attendants,
who form a circle of lances round the whole stage.]
Room for the Viceroy!
Drive the clowns apart.
Why throng the people thus? Who calls for help?
Who was it? I will know.
[Friesshardt steps forward.]
And who art thou?
And why hast thou this man in custody?
[Gives his falcon to an attendant.]
Dread sir, I am a soldier of your guard.
And station'd sentinel beside the cap;
This man I apprehended in the act
Of passing it without obeisance due,
So as you ordered, I arrested him,
Whereon to rescue him the people tried.
GESSL. (after a pause).
And do you, Tell, so lightly hold your King,
And me, who act as his viceregent here,
That you refuse obeisance to the cap,
I hung aloft to test your loyalty?
I read in this a disaffected spirit.
Pardon me, good my lord! The action sprung
From inadvertence,--not from disrespect.
Were I discreet, I were not Wilhelm Tell.
Forgive me now--I'll not offend again.
GESSL. (after a pause).
I hear, Tell, you're a master with the bow,
From every rival bear the palm away.
That's very truth, sir! At a hundred yards
He'll shoot an apple for you off the tree.
Is that boy thine, Tell?
Yes, my gracious lord.
Hast any more of them?
Two boys, my lord.
And, of the two, which dost thou love the most?
Sir, both the boys are dear to me alike.
Then, Tell, since at a hundred yards thou canst
Bring down the apple from the tree, thou shalt
Approve thy skill before me. Take thy bow--
Thou hast it there at hand--make ready, then,
To shoot an apple from the stripling's head!
But take this counsel,--look well to thine aim,
See, that thou hit'st the apple at the first,
For, shouldst thou miss, thy head shall pay the forfeit.
[All give signs of horror.]
What monstrous thing, my lord, is this you ask?
What! from the head of mine own child!--No, no!
It cannot be, kind sir, you meant not that--
God, in His grace, forbid! You could not ask
A father seriously to do that thing!
Thou art to shoot an apple from his head!
I do desire--command it so.
Level my crossbow at the darling head
Of mine own child? No--rather let me die!
Or thou must shoot, or with thee dies the boy.
Shall I become the murderer of my child!
You have no children, sir--you do not know
The tender throbbings of a father's heart.
How now, Tell, on a sudden so discreet?
I had been told thou wert a visionary,--
A wanderer from the paths of common men.
Thou lov'st the marvellous. So have I now
Cull'd out for thee a task of special daring.
Another man might pause and hesitate;--
Thou dashest at it, heart and soul, at once.
Oh, do not jest, my lord, with these poor souls!
See, how they tremble, and how pale they look,
So little used are they to hear thee jest.
Who tells thee that I jest?
[Grasping a branch above his head.]
Here is the apple.
Room there, I say! And let him take his distance--
Just eighty paces,--as the custom is,--
Not an inch more or less! It was his boast,
That at a hundred he could hit his man.
Now, archer, to your task, and look you miss not!
Heavens! this grows serious--down, boy, on your knees,
And beg the governor to spare your life.
FURST (aside to Melchthal, who can scarcely restrain his indignation).
Command yourself,--be calm, I beg of you!
BERTHA (to the Governor).
Let this suffice you, sir! It is inhuman
To trifle with a father's anguish thus.
Although this wretched man had forfeited
Both life and limb for such a slight offence,
Already has he suffer'd tenfold death.
Send him away uninjured to his home;
He'll know thee well in future; and this hour
He and his children's children will remember.
Open a way there--quick! Why this delay?
Thy life is forfeited; I might dispatch thee,
And see, I graciously repose thy fate
Upon the skill of thine own practised hand.
No cause has he to say his doom is harsh,
Who's made the master of his destiny.
Thou boastest thine unerring aim. 'Tis well!
Now is the fitting time to show thy skill;
The mark is worthy and the prize is great.
To hit the bull's eye in the target;--that
Can many another do as well as thou;
But he, methinks, is master of his craft,
Who can at all times on his skill rely,
Nor lets his heart disturb or eye or hand.
My lord, we bow to your authority;
But oh, let justice yield to mercy here.
Take half my property, nay, take it all,
But spare a father this unnatural doom!
Grandfather, do not kneel to that bad man!
Say, where am I to stand? I do not fear;
My father strikes the bird upon the wing,
And will not miss now when 'twould harm his boy!
Does the child's innocence not touch your heart?
Bethink you, sir, there is a God in heaven,
To whom you must account for all your deeds.
GESSL. (pointing to the boy).
Bind him to yonder lime tree!
What! Bind me?
No, I will not be bound! I will be still.
Still as a lamb--nor even draw my breath!
But if you bind me, I can not be still.
Then I shall writhe and struggle with my bonds.
But let your eyes at least be bandaged, boy!
And why my eyes? No! Do you think I fear
An arrow from my father's hand? Not I!
I'll wait it firmly, nor so much as wink!
Quick, father, show them what thy bow can do.
He doubts thy skill--he thinks to ruin us.
Shoot then and hit, though but to spite the tyrant!
[He goes to the lime tree, and an apple is placed on his head.]
MELCH. (to the country people).
What! Is this outrage to be perpetrated
Before our very eyes? Where is our oath?
Resist we cannot! Weapons we have none.
And see the wood of lances round us! See!
Oh! would to heaven that we had struck at once!
God pardon those who counsell'd the delay!
GESSL. (to Tell).
Now to your task! Men bear not arms for naught.
To carry deadly tools is dangerous,
And on the archer oft his shaft recoils.
This right, these haughty peasant churls assume,
Trenches upon their master's privileges:
None should be armed, but those who bear command.
It pleases you to carry bow and bolt;--
Well,--be it so. I will prescribe the mark.
TELL. (bends the bow, and fixes the arrow).
A lane there! Room!
What, Tell? You would--no, no!
You shake--your hand's unsteady--your knees tremble.
TELL (letting the bow sink down).
There's something swims before mine eyes!
Release me from this shot! Here is my heart!
[Tears open his breast.]
Summon your troopers--let them strike me down!
'Tis not thy life I want--I want the shot,
Thy talent's universal! Nothing daunts thee!
The rudder thou canst handle like the bow!
No storms affright thee, when a life's at stake.
Now, saviour, help thyself,--thou savest all!
[Tell stands fearfully agitated by contending emotions, his hands
moving convulsively, and his eyes turning alternately to the Governor
and Heaven. Suddenly he takes a second arrow from his quiver, and
sticks it in his belt. The Governor notes all he does.]
WALT. (beneath the lime tree).
Shoot, father, shoot! fear not!
It must be!
[Collects himself and levels the bow.]
RUD. (who all the while has been standing in a state of violent
excitement, and has with difficulty restrained himself, advances).
My lord, you will not urge this matter further;
You will not. It was surely but a test.
You've gained your object. Rigour push'd too far
Is sure to miss its aim, however good,
As snaps the bow that's all too straitly bent.
Peace, till your counsel's ask'd for!
I will speak!
Ay, and I dare! I reverence my king;
But acts like these must make his name abhorr'd.
He sanctions not this cruelty. I dare
Avouch the fact. And you outstep your powers
In handling thus my harmless countrymen.
Ha! thou grow'st bold, methinks!
I have been dumb
To all the oppressions I was doomed to see.
I've closed mine eyes to shut them from my view,
Bade my rebellious, swelling heart be still,
And pent its struggles down within my breast.
But to be silent longer, were to be
A traitor to my king and country both.
BERTH. (casting herself between him and the Governor).
Oh, Heavens! you but exasperate his rage!
My people I forsook--renounced my kindred--
Broke all the ties of nature, that I might
Attach myself to you. I madly thought
That I should best advance the general weal
By adding sinews to the Emperor's power.
The scales have fallen from mine eyes--I see
The fearful precipice on which I stand.
You've led my youthful judgment far astray,--
Deceived my honest heart. With best intent,
I had well-nigh achiev'd my country's ruin.
Audacious boy, this language to thy lord?
The Emperor is my lord, not you! I'm free.
As you by birth, and I can cope with you
In every virtue that beseems a knight.
And if you stood not here in that king's name,
Which I respect e'en where 'tis most abused,
I'd throw my gauntlet down, and you should give
An answer to my gage in knightly sort.
Ay, beckon to your troopers! Here I stand;
But not like these
[Pointing to the people,]
--unarmed. I have a sword,
And he that stirs one step--
The apple's down!
[While the attention of the crowd has been directed to the spot where
Bertha had cast herself between Rudenz and Gessler, Tell has shot.]
The boy's alive!
The apple has been struck!
[Walter Furst staggers and is about to fall. Bertha supports him.]
How? Has he shot? The madman!
Pray you, compose yourself. The boy's alive.
WALT. (runs in with the apple).
Here is the apple, father! Well I knew
You would not harm your boy.
[Tell stands with his body bent forwards, as if still following the
arrow. His bow drops from his hand. When he sees the boy advancing, he
hastens to meet him with open arms, and, embracing him passionately,