James Fenimore Cooper.

The heidenmauer; or, The Benedictines, a legend of the Rhine online

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"Gottlob stopped short, and, kneeling, he reverently asked the monk
to bless him." The Heidenmauer. page 53.






" From mighty wrongs to petty perfidy,
Have I not seen what human things could do." BYRON





"I shall crave your forbearance a little ; may be, I will call upon you
anon, for some advantage to yourself." Measure for Measure.

CONTRARY to a long-established usage, a summer had
been passed within the walls of a large town ; but, the
moment of liberation arrived, the bird does not quit its
cage with greater pleasure than that with which post-
horses were commanded. We were four in a light
travelling caleche, which strong Norman cattle transported
merrily towards their native province. For a time we
quitted Paris, the queen of modern cities, with its tumults
and its order ; its palaces and its lanes ; its elegance and
its filth ; its restless inhabitants and its stationary politi-
cians ; its theories and its practices ; its riches and its
poverty ; its gay and its sorrowful ; its rentiers and its
patriots ; its young liberals and its old illiberals ; its three
estates and its equality ; its delicacy of speech and its
strength of conduct ; its government of the people and its
people of no government ; its bayonets and its moral
force ; its science and its ignorance ; its amusements and
its revolutions ; its resistance that goes backward, and its
movement that stands still ; its milliners, its philosophers,
its opera-dancers, its poets, its fiddlers, its bankers, and its
cooks. Although so long enthralled within the barriers,
it was not easy to quit Paris entirely without regret
Paris, which every stranger censures, and every stranger
seeks ; which moralists abhor and imitate , which causes
the heads of the old to shake, and the hearts of the young
to beat ; Paris, the centre of so much that is excellent,
and of so much that cannot be named !

That night we laid our heads on rustic pillows, far from
the French capital. The succeeding day we snuffed the
air of the sea. Passing through Artois and French Flan-


ders, on the fifth morning we entered the new kingdom of
Belgium, by the historical and respectable town of Doua'i,
and Tournai, and Ath. At every step we met the flag
which flutters over the pavilion of the Tuileries, and
recognized the confident air and swinging gait of French
soldiers. They had just been employed in propping the
crumbling throne of the house of Saxe. To us they
seemed as much at home as when they lounged on the
Quai d'Orsay.

There was still abundant evidence visible at Brussels, of
the fierce nature of the struggle that had expelled the
Dutch. Forty-six shells were sticking in the side of a
single building of no great size, while ninety-three grape-
shot were buried in one of its pilasters! In our own
rooms, too, there were fearful signs of war. The mirrors
were in fragments, the walls broken by langrage, the
wood-work of the beds was pierced by shot, and the
furniture was marked by rude encounters. The trees of
the park were mutilated in a thousand places, and one of
the little Cupids, that we had left laughing above the
principal gate three years before, was now maimed and
melancholy, whilst its companion had altogether taken
flight on the wings of a cannon-ball. Though dwelling in
the very centre of so many hostile vestiges, we happily
escaped the sight of human blood ; for we understood
from the obliging Swiss who presides over the hotel that
his cellars, at all times in repute, were in more than usual
request during the siege. From so much proof we were
left to infer, that the Belgians had made stout battle for
their emancipation, one sign at least that they merited to
be free.

Our road lay by Louvain, Thirlemont, Liege, Aix-la-
Chapelle, and Juliers, to the Rhine. The former of these
towns had been the scene of a contest between the hostile
armies, the preceding week. As the Dutch had been
accused of unusual excesses in their advance, we looked
out for the signs. How many of these marks had been
already obliterated, we could not well ascertain ; but those
which were still visible gave us reason to think that the
invaders did not merit all the opprobrium they had re-
ceived. Each hour, as life advances, am I made to see
how capricious and vulgar is the immortality conferred by
a newspaper !

It would be injustice to the ancient Bishopric of Liege


to pass its beautiful scenery without a comment. Th<
country possesses nearly every requisite for the milde
and more rural sort of landscape ; Isolated and innumer
able farm-houses, herds in the fields, living hedges, <
waving surface, and a verdure to rival the emerald. By a
happy accident, the road runs for miles on an elevated
ridge, enabling the traveller to enjoy these beauties at his

At Aix-la-Chapelle we bathed, visited the relics, saw the
scene of so many coronations of emperors of more or less
renown, sat in the chair of Charlemagne, and went our way.

The Rhine was an old acquaintance. A few years earlier,
I had stood upon the sands, at Katwyck, and watched its
periodical flow into the North Sea, by means of sluices
made in the short reign of the good King Louis, and, the
same summer, I had bestrode it, a brawling brook, on the
icy side of St. Gothard. We had come now to look at its
beauties, in its most beautiful part, and to compare them,
so far as native partiality might permit, with the well-
established claims of our own Hudson.

Quitting Cologne, its exquisite but incomplete cathe-
dral, with the crane that has been poised on its unfinished
towers five hundred years, its recollections of Rubens and
his royal patroness, we travelled up the stream so leisurely
as to examine all that offered, and yet so fast as to avoid
the hazard of satiety. Here we met Prussian soldiers, pre-
paring, by mimic service, for the more serious duties of
their calling. Lancers were galloping, in bodies, across
the open fields ; videttes were posted, the cocked pistol in
hand, at every hay-stack ; while couriers rode, under the
spur, from point to point, as if the great strife, which is
so menacingly preparing, and which sooner or later must
come, had actually commenced. As Europe is now a camp,
these hackneyed sights scarce drew a look aside. We were
in quest of the interest which nature, in her happier
humors, bestows.

1 There were ruined castles, by scores ; gray fortresses,
abbeys, some deserted and others yet tenanted ; villages
and towns ; the seven mountains ; cliifs and vineyards. At
every step we felt how intimate is the association between
the poetry of Nature and that of art ; between the hill-side
with its falling turret, and the moral feeling that lends
them interest. Here was an island, of no particular excel-
lence, but the walls of a convent of the middle ages crum-


ed on its surface. There was a naked rock, destitute of
randeur, and wanting in those tints which milder climates
stow, but a baronial hold tottered on its apex. Here
aesar led his legions to the stream, and there Napoleon
irew his corps-d'armee on the hostile bank ; this monu-
icnt was to Hoche, and from that terrace the great
dolphus directed his battalions. Time is wanting to mel-
ow the view of our own historical sites ; for the sympathy
hat can be accumulated only by the general consent of
mankind has not yet clothed them with the indefinable
olors of distance and convention.

In the mood likely to be created by a flood of such recol-
lections, we pursued our way along the southern margin
f this great artery of central Europe. We wondered at
the vastness of the Rheinfels, admired the rare jewel of the
ruined church at Baccarach, and marvelled at the giddy
precipice on which a prince of Prussia even now dwells, in
the eagle-like grandeur and security of the olden time. On
reaching Mayence, the evening of the second day, we de-
liberately and, as we hoped, impartially compared what
had just been seen with that which is so well and so affec-
tionately remembered.

I had been familiar with the Hudson from childhood.
The great thoroughfare of all who journey from the inte-
rior of the state toward the sea, necessity had early made
me acquainted with its windings, its promontories, its
islands, its cities, and its villages. Even its hidden chan-
nels had been professionally examined, and time was when
there did not stand an unknown seat on its banks, or a
hamlet that had not been visited. Here then was the force
of deep impressions to oppose to the influence of objects
still visible.

To me it is quite apparent that the Rhine, while it fre-
quently possesses more of any particular species of scenery,
within a given number of miles, than the Hudson, has
none of so great excellence. It wants the variety, the noble
beauty, and the broad grandeur of the American stream.
The latter, within the distance universally admitted to con-
tain the finest parts of the Rhine, is both a large and a
small river; it has its bays, its narrow passages among the
meadows, its frowning gorges, and its reaches resembling
Italian lakes ; whereas the most that can be said of its
European competitor, is that all these wonderful peculiari-
ties are feebly imitated. Ten degrees of a lower latitude


supply richer tints, brighter transitions of light and shadow,
and more glorious changes of the atmosphere, to embellish
the beauties of our western clime. In islands, too, the ad-
vantage is with the Hudson, for, while those of the Rhine
are the most numerous, those of the former stream are
bolder, better placed, and, in every naturalffeature, of more

When the comparison between these celebrated rivers is
extended to their artificial accessories, the result becomes
more doubtful. The buildings of the older towns and vil-
lages of Europe seemed grouped especially for effect, as
seen in the distant view, though security was in truth the
cause, while the spacious, cleanly, and cheerful villages of
America must commonly be entered, to be appreciated.
In the other hemisphere, the maze of roofs, the church-
towers, the irregular faces of wall, and frequently the
castle rising to a pinnacle in the rear, give a town the ap-
pearance of some vast and antiquated pile devoted to a
single object. Perhaps the boroughs of the Rhine have
less of this picturesque, or landscape effect, than the vil-
lages of France and Italy, for the Germans regard space
more than their neighbors, but still are they less common-
place than the smiling and thriving little marts that crowd
the borders of the Hudson. To this advantage must be
added that which is derived from the countless ruins, and
a crowd of recollections. Here, the superiority of the
artificial auxiliaries of the Rhine ceases, and those of her
rival come into the ascendant. In modern abodes, in
villas, and even in seats, those of princes alone excepted,
the banks of the Hudson have scarcely an equal in any
region. There are finer and nobler edifices on the Brenta,
and in other favored spots, certainly, but I know no stream
that has so many that please and attract the eye. As ap-
plied to moving objects, an important feature in this com-
parison, the Hudson has perhaps no rival in any river that
can pretend to a picturesque character. In numbers, in
variety of rig, in beauty of form, in swiftness and dex-
terity of handling, and in general grace and movement,
this extraordinary passage ranks amongst the first of the
world. The yards of tall ships swing among the rocks
and forests of the highlands, while sloop, schooner, and
bright canopied steam-boat, yacht, periagua, and canoe
are seen in countless numbers, decking its waters. There
is one more eloquent point of difference that should not


be neglected. Drawings and engravings of the Rhine lend
their usual advantages, softening and frequently rendering
beautiful objects of no striking attractions when seen as
they exist ; while every similar attempt to represent the
Hudson, at once strikes the eye as unworthy of its original.

Nature is fruitful of fine effects in every region, and it
is a mistake not to enjoy her gifts, as we move through
life, on account of some fancied superiority in this, or
that, quarter of the world. We left the Rhine, therefore,
with regret, for, in its way, a lovelier stream can scarce be

At Mayence we crossed to the right bank of the river,
and passing by the Duchies of Nassau and Darmstadt, en-
tered that of Baden, at Heidelberg. Here \ve sat upon
the Tun, examined the castle, and strolled in the alleys of
the remarkable garden. Thence we proceeded to Man-
heim, turning our faces, once more, towards the French
capital. The illness of one of the party compelled us to
remain a few hours in the latter city, which presented little
for reflection, unless it were that this, like one or two other
towns we had lately seen, served to convince us, that the
symmetry and regularity which render large cities mag-
nificent, cause those that are small to appear mean.

It was a bright autumnal day when we returned to the left
bank of the Rhine, on the way to Paris. The wishes of
the invalid had taken the appearance of strength, and we
hoped to penetrate the mountains which bound the Palat-
inate on its south-western side, and to reach Kaiserslau-
tern, on the great Napoleon road, before the hour of rest.
The main object had been accomplished, and as with all
who have effected their purpose, the principal desire was
to be at home. A few posts convinced us that repose was
still necessary to the invalid. This conviction, unhappily
as I then believed, came too late, for we had already crossed
the plain of the Palatinate, and were drawing near to the
chain of mountains just mentioned which are a branch of
the Vosges, and are known in the country as the Haart.
We had made no calculations for such an event, and former
experience had caused us to distrust the inns of this isola-
ted portion of the kingdom of Bavaria. I was just bit-
terly regretting our precipitation, when the church-tower
of Duerckheim peered above the vineyards ; for, on get-
ting nearer to the base of the hills, the land became
slightly undulating, and the vine abundant. As we ap-


proached, the village or borough promised little, but we
had the word of the postilion that the post-house was an
inn fit for a king ; and as to the wine, he could give no
higher eulogium than a flourish of the whip, an eloquent
expression of pleasure for a German of his class. We de-
bated the question of proceeding, or of stopping, in a
good deal of doubt, to the moment when the carriage drew
up before the sign of the Ox. A substantial looking
burgher came forth to receive us. There was the pledge of
good cheer in the ample development of his person, which
was not badly typified by the sign, and the hale, hearty
character of his hospitality removed all suspicion of the
hour of reckoning. If he who travels much is a gainer in
knowledge of mankind, he is sure to be a loser in the
charities that sweeten life. Constant intercourse with
men who are in the habit of seeing strange faces, who only
dispose of their services to those that are likely never to
need them again, and who, of necessity, are removed from
most of the responsibilities and affinities of a more per-
manent intercourse, exhibits the selfishness of our nature
in its least attractive form. Policy may suggest a specious
blandishment of air, to conceal the ordinary design on the
pocket of the stranger ; but it is in the nature of things
that the design should exist. The passion of gain, like all
other passions, increases with indulgence ; and thus do we
find those who dwell on beaten roads more rapacious than
those in whom the desire is latent for want of use.

Our host of Duerckheim offered a pledge, in his honest
countenance, independent air, and frank manner, of his
also being above the usual mercenary schemes of another
portion of the craft, who, dwelling in places of little resort,
endeavor to take their revenge of fortune, by showing that
they look ^ upon every post-carriage as an especial God-
send. He had a garden, too, into which he invited us to
enter, while the horses were changing, in a way that
showed he was simply desirous of being benevolent, and
that he cared little whether we staid an hour or a week.
In short, his manner was of an artless, kind, natural, and
winning character, that strongly reminded us of home, and
which at once established an agreeable confidence that is
of an invaluable moral effect. Though too experienced
blindly to confide in national characteristics, we liked, too,
his appearance of German faith, and more than all were
we pleased with the German neatness and comfort, of


which there were abundance, unalloyed by the swaggering
pretension that neutralizes the same qualities among people
more artificial. The house was not a beer-drinking, smok-
ing caravanserai, like many hotels in that quarter of the
world, but it had detached pavilions in the gardens, in
which the wearied traveller might, in sooth, take his rest.
With such inducements before our eyes, we determined to
remain, and we were not long in instructing the honest
burgher to that effect. The decision was received with
great civility, and, unlike the immortal Falstaff, I began to
see the prospects of taking " mine ease in my inn" without
having a pocket picked.

The carriage was soon housed, and the baggage in the
chambers. Notwithstanding the people of the house spoke
confidently, but with sufficient modesty, of the state of the
larder, it wanted several hours, agreeably to our habits,
to the time of dinner, though we had enjoyed frequent
opportunities of remarking that in Germany a meal is
never unseasonable. Disregarding hints, which appeared
more suggested by humanity than the love of gain, our
usual hour for eating was named, and, by way of changing
the subject, I asked,

" Did I not see some ruins, on the adjoining mountain,
as we entered the village ? "

"We call Duerckheim a city, mein Herr," rejoined our
host of the Ox ; " though none of the largest, the time has
been when it was a capital ! "

Here the worthy burgher munched his pipe and chuck-
led, for he was a man that had heard of such places as
London, and Paris, and Pekin, and Naples, and St. Peters-
burgh, or, haply, of the Federal City itself.

" A capital ! it was the abode of one of the smaller
princes, suppose ; of what family was your sovereign,
pray ? "

"You are right, mein Herr. Duerckheim, before the
French revolution, was a residence (for so the political
capitals are called in Germany), and it belonged to the
princes of Leiningen, who had a palace on the other side
of the city (the place may be about half as large as Hud-
son, or Schenectady), which was burnt in the war. After
the late wars, the sovereign was mediatise, receiving an in-
demnity in estates on the other side of the Rhine."

As this term of mediatise has no direct synonyme in Eng-
lish, it may be well to explain its signification. Germany,


as well as most of Europe, was formerly divided into a
countless number of petty sovereignties, based on the prin-
ciple of feudal power. As accident, or talent, or alliances,
or treachery advanced the interests of the stronger of these
princes, their weaker neighbors began to disappear alto-
gether, or to take new and subordinate stations in the social
scale. In this manner has France been gradually com-
posed of its original, but comparatively insignificant king-
dom, buttressed, as it now is, by Brittany, and Burgundy,
and Navarre, and Dauphiny, and Provence, and Normandy,
with many other states ; and, in like manner has England
been formed of the Heptarchy. The confederative system
of Germany has continued more or less of this feudal or-
ganization to our own times. The formation of the em-
pires of Austria and Prussia has, however, swallowed up
many of these principalities, and the changes produced by
the policy of Napoleon gave the death-blow, without dis-
tinction, to all in the immediate vicinity of the Rhine. Of
the latter number were the Princes of Leiningen, whose
possessions were originally included in the French repub-
lic, then in the empire, and have since passed under the
sway of the King of Bavaria, who, as the legitimate heir of
the neighboring Duchy of Deux Ponts, had a nucleus of
sufficient magnitude in this portion of Germany to induce
the Congress of Vienna to add to his dominions; their object
being to erect a barrier against the future aggrandizement
of France. As the dispossessed sovereigns are permitted
to retain their conventional rank, supplying wives and
husbands, at need, to the reigning branches of the different
princely families, the term m^diatistf\\2iS been aptly enough
applied to their situation.

"The young prince was here, no later than last week,"
continued our host of the Ox ; " he lodged in that pavilion,
where he passed several days. You know that he is a. son
of the Duchess of Kent, and half-brother to the young
princess who is likely, one day, to be queen of England."

"Has he estates here, or is he still, in any way, con-
nected with your government? "

*' All they have given him is in money, or on the other
side of the Rhine. He went to see the ruins of the old
castle ; for he had a natural curiosity to look at a place
which his ancestors had built.''

" It was the ruins of the castle of Leiningen, then, that
I saw on the mountain, as we entered the town ? "


" No, mein Herr. You saw tlie ruins of the Abbey of
Limburg ; those of Hartenburg, for so the castle was
called, lie farther back among the hills."

" What ! a ruined abbey, and a ruined castle, too ! Here
is sufficient occupation for the rest of the day. An abbey
and a castle ! "

" And the Heidenmauer, and the Teufelstein."

" How ! a Pagan's wall, and a Devil's stone ! You are
rich in curiosities ! "

The host continued to smoke on philosophically.

" Have you a guide who can take me, by the shortest
way, to these places ? "

" Any child can do that."

" But one who can speak French is desirable for my
German is far from being classical."

The worthy inn-keeper nodded his head.

" Here is one Christian Kinzel," he rejoined, after a mo-
ment of thought, " a tailor who has not much custom, and
who has lived a little in France ; he may serve your turn."

I suggested that a tailor might find it healthful to stretch
his knee-joints.

The host of the Ox was amused with the conceit, and he
fairly removed the pipe, in order to laugh at his ease. His
mirth was hearty, like that of a man without guile.

The affair was soon arranged. A messenger was sent
for Christian Kinzel, and taking my little male travelling
companion by the hand, I went leisurely ahead, expecting
the appearance of the guide. But, as the reader will have
much to do with the place about to be described, it may be
desirable that he should possess an accurate knowledge of
its locality.

Duerckheim lies in that part of Bavaria which is com-
monly called the circle of the Rhine. The king, of the
country named, may have less than half a million of sub-
jects in this detached part of his territories, which extends
in one course from the river to Rhenish Prussia, and in
the other from Darmstadt to France. It requires a day of
hard posting to traverse this province in any direction,
from which it would appear that its surface is about equal
to two-thirds of that of Connecticut. A line of mountains,
resembling the smaller spurs of the Alleghanies, and which
are known by different local names, but which are a branch
of the Vosges, passes nearly through the centre of the dis-
trict, in a north and south course. These mountains ceasa


abruptly on their eastern side, leaving between them and
the river, a vast level surface of that description which is
called "flats," or "bottom land," in America. This plain,
part of the ancient Palatinate, extends equally on the other
side of the Rhine, terminating as abruptly on the eastern
as on the western border. In an air line, the distance be-
tween Heidelberg and Duerckheim, which lie opposite to
each other on the two lateral extremities of the plain, may

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe heidenmauer; or, The Benedictines, a legend of the Rhine → online text (page 1 of 72)