Charlotte Mary Yonge.

The Dove in the Eagle's Nest online

. (page 1 of 25)
Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeThe Dove in the Eagle's Nest → online text (page 1 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


THE DOVE IN THE EAGLE'S NEST

by Charlotte M. Yonge


INTRODUCTION


In sending forth this little book, I am inclined to add a few
explanatory words as to the use I have made of historical personages.
The origin of the whole story was probably Freytag's first series of
pictures of German Life: probably, I say, for its first commencement
was a dream, dreamt some weeks after reading that most interesting
collection of sketches. The return of the squire with the tidings of
the death of the two knights was vividly depicted in sleep; and,
though without local habitation or name, the scene was most likely to
have been a reflection from the wild scenes so lately read of.

In fact, waking thoughts decided that such a catastrophe could hardly
have happened anywhere but in Germany, or in Scotland; and the
contrast between the cultivation in the free cities and the savagery
of the independent barons made the former the more suitable region
for the adventures. The time could only be before the taming and
bringing into order of the empire, when the Imperial cities were in
their greatest splendour, the last free nobles in course of being
reduced from their lawless liberty, and the House of Austria
beginning to acquire its preponderance over the other princely
families.

M. Freytag's books, and Hegewisch's History of Maximilian, will, I
think, be found fully to bear out the picture I have tried to give of
the state of things in the reign of the Emperor Friedrich III., when,
for want of any other law, Faust recht, or fist right, ruled; i.e. an
offended nobleman, having once sent a Fehde-brief to his adversary,
was thenceforth at liberty to revenge himself by a private war, in
which, for the wrong inflicted, no justice was exacted.

Hegewisch remarks that the only benefit of this custom was, that the
honour of subscribing a feud-brief was so highly esteemed that it
induced the nobles to learn to write! The League of St. George and
the Swabian League were the means of gradually putting down this
authorized condition of deadly feud.

This was in the days of Maximilian's youth. He is a prince who seems
to have been almost as inferior in his foreign to what he was in his
domestic policy as was Queen Elizabeth. He is chiefly familiar to us
as failing to keep up his authority in Flanders after the death of
Mary of Burgundy, as lingering to fulfil his engagement with Anne of
Brittany till he lost her and her duchy, as incurring ridicule by his
ill-managed schemes in Italy, and the vast projects that he was
always forming without either means or steadiness to carry them out,
by his perpetual impecuniosity and slippery dealing; and in his old
age he has become rather the laughing-stock of historians.

But there is much that is melancholy in the sight of a man endowed
with genius, unbalanced by the force of character that secures
success, and with an ardent nature whose intention overleapt
obstacles that in practice he found insuperable. At home Maximilian
raised the Imperial power from a mere cipher to considerable weight.
We judge him as if he had been born in the purple and succeeded to a
defined power like his descendants. We forget that the head of the
Holy Roman Empire had been, ever since the extinction of the Swabian
line, a mere mark for ambitious princes to shoot at, with everything
expected from him, and no means to do anything. Maximilian's own
father was an avaricious, undignified old man, not until near his
death Archduke of even all Austria, and with anarchy prevailing
everywhere under his nominal rule. It was in the time of Maximilian
that the Empire became as compact and united a body as could be hoped
of anything so unwieldy, that law was at least acknowledged, Faust
recht for ever abolished, and the Emperor became once more a real
power.

The man under whom all this was effected could have been no fool;
yet, as he said himself, he reigned over a nation of kings, who each
chose to rule for himself; and the uncertainty of supplies of men or
money to be gained from them made him so often fail necessarily in
his engagements, that he acquired a shiftiness and callousness to
breaches of promise, which became the worst flaw in his character.
But of the fascination of his manner there can be no doubt. Even
Henry VIII.'s English ambassadors, when forced to own how little they
could depend on him, and how dangerous it was to let subsidies pass
through his fingers, still show themselves under a sort of
enchantment of devotion to his person, and this in his old age, and
when his conduct was most inexcusable and provoking.

His variety of powers was wonderful. He was learned in many
languages - in all those of his empire or hereditary states, and in
many besides; and he had an ardent love of books, both classical and
modern. He delighted in music, painting, architecture, and many arts
of a more mechanical description; wrote treatises on all these, and
on other subjects, especially gardening and gunnery. He was the
inventor of an improved lock to the arquebus, and first divined how
to adapt the disposition of his troops to the use of the newly-
discovered fire-arms. And in all these things his versatile head and
ready hand were personally employed, not by deputy; while coupled
with so much artistic taste was a violent passion for hunting, which
carried him through many hairbreadth 'scapes. "It was plain," he
used to say, "that God Almighty ruled the world, or how could things
go on with a rogue like Alexander VI. at the head of the Church, and
a mere huntsman like himself at the head of the Empire." His bon-
mots are numerous, all thoroughly characteristic, and showing that
brilliancy in conversation must have been one of his greatest charms.
It seems as if only self-control and resolution were wanting to have
made him a Charles, or an Alfred, the Great.

The romance of his marriage with the heiress of Burgundy is one of
the best known parts of his life. He was scarcely two-and-twenty
when he lost her, who perhaps would have given him the stability he
wanted; but his tender hove for her endured through life. It is not
improbable that it was this still abiding attachment that made him
slack in overcoming difficulties in the way of other contracts, and
that he may have hoped that his engagement to Bianca Sforza would
come to nothing, like so many others.

The most curious record of him is, however, in two books, the
materials for which he furnished, and whose composition and
illustration he superintended, Der Weise King, and Theurdank, of both
of which he is well known to be the hero. The White, or the Wise
King, it is uncertain which, is a history of his education and
exploits, in prose. Every alternate page has its engraving, showing
how the Young White King obtains instruction in painting,
architecture, language, and all arts and sciences, the latter
including magic - which he learns of an old woman with a long-tailed
demon sitting, like Mother Hubbard's cat, on her shoulder - and
astrology. In the illustration of this study an extraordinary figure
of a cross within a circle appears in the sky, which probably has
some connection with his scheme of nativity, for it also appears on
the breast of Ehrenhold, his constant companion in the metrical
history of his career, under the name of Theurdank.

The poetry of Theurdank was composed by Maximilian's old writing-
master, Melchior Pfinznig; but the adventures were the Kaisar's own,
communicated by himself, and he superintended the wood-cuts. The
name is explained to mean "craving glory," - Gloriaememor. The
Germans laugh to scorn a French translator, who rendered it
"Chermerci." It was annotated very soon after its publication, and
each exploit explained and accounted for. It is remarkable and
touching in a man who married at eighteen, and was a widower at
twenty-two, that, in both books, the happy union with his lady love
is placed at the end - not at the beginning of the book; and in
Theurdank, at least, the eternal reunion is clearly meant.

In this curious book, Konig Romreich, by whom every contemporary
understood poor Charles of Burgundy - thus posthumously made King of
Rome by Maximilian, as the only honour in his power, betroths his
daughter Ehrenreich (rich in honour) to the Ritter Theurdank. Soon
after, by a most mild version of Duke Charles's frightful end, Konig
Romreich is seen on his back dying in a garden, and Ehrenreich (as
Mary really did) despatches a ring to summon her betrothed.

But here Theurdank returns for answer that he means first to win
honour by his exploits, and sets out with his comrade, Ehrenhold, in
search thereof. Ehrenhold never appears of the smallest use to him
in any of the dire adventures into which he falls, but only stands
complacently by, and in effect may represent Fame, or perhaps that
literary sage whom Don Quixote always supposed to be at hand to
record his deeds of prowess.

Next we are presented with the German impersonation of Satan as a
wise old magician, only with claws instead of feet, commissioning his
three captains (hauptleutern), Furwitz, Umfallo, and Neidelhard, to
beset and ruin Theurdank. They are interpreted as the dangers of
youth, middle life, and old age - Rashness, Disaster, and Distress (or
Envy). One at a time they encounter him, - not once, but again and
again; and he has ranged under each head, in entire contempt of real
order of time, the perils he thinks owing to each foe. Furwitz most
justly gets the credit of Maximilian's perils on the steeple of Ulm,
though, unfortunately, the artist has represented the daring climber
as standing not much above the shoulders of Furwitz and Ehrenhold;
and although the annotation tells us that his "hinder half foot"
overhung the scaffold, the danger in the print is not appalling.
Furwitz likewise inveigles him into putting the point (schnabel) of
his shoe into the wheel of a mill for turning stone balls, where he
certainly hardly deserved to lose nothing but the beak of his shoe.
This enemy also brings him into numerous unpleasant predicaments on
precipices, where he hangs by one hand; while the chamois stand
delighted on every available peak, Furwitz grins malevolently, and
Ehrenhold stands pointing at him over his shoulder. Time and place
are given in the notes for all these escapes. After some twenty
adventures Furwitz is beaten off, and Umfallo tries his powers. Here
the misadventures do not involve so much folly on the hero's part -
though, to be sure, he ventures into a lion's den unarmed, and has to
beat off the inmates with a shovel. But the other adventures are
more rational. He catches a jester - of admirably foolish expression-
-putting a match to a powder-magazine; he is wonderfully preserved in
mountain avalanches and hurricanes; reins up his horse on the verge
of an abyss; falls through ice in Holland and shows nothing but his
head above it; cures himself of a fever by draughts of water, to the
great disgust of his physicians, and escapes a fire bursting out of a
tall stove.

Neidelhard brings his real battles and perils. From this last he is
in danger of shipwreck, of assassination, of poison, in single
combat, or in battle; tumults of the people beset him; he is
imprisoned as at Ghent. But finally Neidelhard is beaten back; and
the hero is presented to Ehrenreich. Ehrenhold recounts his
triumphs, and accuses the three captains. One is hung, another
beheaded, the third thrown headlong from a tower, and a guardian
angel then summons Theurdank to his union with his Queen. No doubt
this reunion was the life-dream of the harassed, busy, inconsistent
man, who flashed through the turmoils of the early sixteenth century.

The adventures of Maximilian which have been adverted to in the story
are all to be found in Theurdank, and in his early life he was
probably the brilliant eager person we have tried in some degree to
describe. In his latter years it is well known that he was much
struck by Luther's arguments; and, indeed, he had long been conscious
of need of Church reform, though his plans took the grotesque form of
getting himself made Pope, and taking all into his own hands.

Perhaps it was unwise to have ever so faintly sketched Ebbo's career
through the ensuing troubles; but the history of the star and of the
spark in the stubble seemed to need completion; and the working out
of the character of the survivor was unfinished till his course had
been thought over from the dawn of the Wittenberg teaching, which
must have seemed no novelty to an heir of the doctrine of Tauler, and
of the veritably Catholic divines of old times. The idea is of the
supposed course of a thoughtful, refined, conscientious man through
the earlier times of the Reformation, glad of the hope of cleansing
the Church, but hoping to cleanse, not to break away from her - a hope
that Luther himself long cherished, and which was not entirely
frustrated till the re-assembly at Trent in the next generation.
Justice has never been done to the men who feared to loose their hold
on the Church Catholic as the one body to which the promises were
made. Their loyalty has been treated as blindness, timidity, or
superstition; but that there were many such persons, and those among
the very highest minds of their time, no one can have any doubt after
reading such lives as those of Friedrich the Wise of Saxony, of
Erasmus, of Vittoria Colonna, or of Cardinal Giustiniani.

April 9, 1836.


CHAPTER I: MASTER GOTTFRIED'S WORKSHOP


The upper lattices of a tall, narrow window were open, and admitted
the view, of first some richly-tinted vine leaves and purpling
grapes, then, in dazzling freshness of new white stone, the lacework
fabric of a half-built minster spire, with a mason's crane on the
summit, bending as though craving for a further supply of materials;
and beyond, peeping through every crevice of the exquisite open
fretwork, was the intensely blue sky of early autumn.

The lower longer panes of the window were closed, and the glass,
divided into circles and quarrels, made the scene less distinct; but
still the huge stone tower was traceable, and, farther off, the slope
of a gently-rising hill, clothed with vineyards blushing into autumn
richness. Below, the view was closed by the gray wall of a court-
yard, laden with fruit-trees in full bearing, and inclosing paved
paths that radiated from a central fountain, and left spaces between,
where a few summer flowers still lingered, and the remains of others
showed what their past glory had been.

The interior of the room was wainscoted, the floor paved with bright
red and cream-coloured tiles, and the tall stove in one corner
decorated with the same. The eastern end of the apartment was
adorned with an exquisite small group carved in oak, representing the
carpenter's shop at Nazareth, with the Holy Child instructed by
Joseph in the use of tools, and the Mother sitting with her book,
"pondering these things in her heart." All around were blocks of
wood and carvings in varying states of progress - some scarcely shaped
out, and others in perfect completion. And the subjects were equally
various. Here was an adoring angel with folded wings, clasped hands,
and rapt face; here a majestic head of an apostle or prophet; here a
lovely virgin saint, seeming to play smilingly with the instrument of
her martyrdom; here a grotesque miserere group, illustrating a fairy
tale, or caricaturing a popular fable here a beauteous festoon of
flowers and fruit, emulating nature in all save colour; and on the
work-table itself, growing under the master's hand, was a long
wreath, entirely composed of leaves and seed-vessels in their quaint
and beauteous forms - the heart-shaped shepherd's purse, the mask-like
skull-cap, and the crowned urn of the henbane. The starred cap of
the poppy was actually being shaped under the tool, copied from a
green capsule, surmounted with purple velvety rays, which, together
with its rough and wavy leaf, was held in the hand of a young maiden
who knelt by the table, watching the work with eager interest.

She was not a beautiful girl - not one of those whose "bright eyes
rain influence, and judge the prize." She was too small, too slight,
too retiring for such a position. If there was something lily-like
in her drooping grace, it was not the queen-lily of the garden that
she resembled, but the retiring lily of the valley - so purely,
transparently white was her skin, scarcely tinted by a roseate blush
on the cheek, so tender and modest the whole effect of her slender
figure, and the soft, downcast, pensive brown eyes, utterly
dissimilar in hue from those of all her friends and kindred, except
perhaps the bright, quick ones of her uncle, the master-carver.
Otherwise, his portly form, open visage, and good-natured
stateliness, as well as his furred cap and gold chain, were
thoroughly those of the German burgomaster of the fifteenth century;
but those glittering black eyes had not ceased to betray their
French, or rather Walloon, origin, though for several generations
back the family had been settled at Ulm. Perhaps, too, it was
Walloon quickness and readiness of wit that had made them, so soon as
they became affiliated, so prominent in all the councils of the good
free city, and so noted for excellence in art and learning. Indeed
the present head of the family, Master Gottfried Sorel, was so much
esteemed for his learning that he had once had serious thoughts of
terming himself Magister Gothofredus Oxalicus, and might have carried
it out but for the very decided objections of his wife, Dame Johanna,
and his little niece, Christina, to being dubbed by any such surname.

Master Gottfried had had a scapegrace younger brother named Hugh, who
had scorned both books and tools, had been the plague of the
workshop, and, instead of coming back from his wandering year of
improvement, had joined a band of roving Lanzknechts. No more had
been heard of him for a dozen or fifteen years, when he suddenly
arrived at the paternal mansion at Ulm, half dead with intermittent
fever, and with a young, broken-hearted, and nearly expiring wife,
his spoil in his Italian campaigns. His rude affection had utterly
failed to console her for her desolated home and slaughtered kindred,
and it had so soon turned to brutality that, when brought to
comparative peace and rest in his brother's home, there was nothing
left for the poor Italian but to lie down and die, commending her
babe in broken German to Hausfrau Johanna, and blessing Master
Gottfried for his flowing Latin assurances that the child should be
to them even as the little maiden who was lying in the God's acre
upon the hillside

And verily the little Christina had been a precious gift to the
bereaved couple. Her father had no sooner recovered than he returned
to his roving life, and, except for a report that he had been seen
among the retainers of one of the robber barons of the Swabian Alps,
nothing had been heard of him; and Master Gottfried only hoped to be
spared the actual pain and scandal of knowing when his eyes were
blinded and his head swept off at a blow, or when he was tumbled
headlong into a moat, suspended from a tree, or broken on the wheel:
a choice of fates that was sure sooner or later to befall him.
Meantime, both the burgomeister and burgomeisterinn did their utmost
to forget that the gentle little girl was not their own; they set all
their hopes and joys on her, and, making her supply the place at once
of son and daughter, they bred her up in all the refinements and
accomplishments in which the free citizens of Germany took the lead
in the middle and latter part of the fifteenth century. To aid her
aunt in all house-wifely arts, to prepare dainty food and varied
liquors, and to spin, weave, and broider, was only a part of
Christina's training; her uncle likewise set great store by her sweet
Italian voice, and caused her to be carefully taught to sing and play
on the lute, and he likewise delighted in hearing her read aloud to
him from the hereditary store of MSS. and from the dark volumes that
began to proceed from the press. Nay, Master Gottfried had made
experiments in printing and wood-engraving on his own account, and
had found no head so intelligent, no hand so desirous to aid him, as
his little Christina's, who, in all that needed taste and skill
rather than strength, was worth all his prentices and journeymen
together. Some fine bold wood-cuts had been produced by their joint
efforts; but these less important occupations had of late been set
aside by the engrossing interest of the interior fittings of the
great "Dome Kirk," which for nearly a century had been rising by the
united exertions of the burghers, without any assistance from
without. The foundation had been laid in 1377; and at length, in the
year of grace 1472, the crown of the apse had been closed in, and
matters were so forward that Master Gottfried's stall work was
already in requisition for the choir.

"Three cubits more," he reckoned. "Child, hast thou found me fruits
enough for the completing of this border?"

"O yes, mine uncle. I have the wild rosehip, and the flat shield of
the moonwort, and a pea-pod, and more whose names I know not. But
should they all be seed and fruit?"

"Yea, truly, my Stina, for this wreath shall speak of the goodly
fruits of a completed life."

"Even as that which you carved in spring told of the blossom and fair
promise of youth," returned the maiden. "Methinks the one is the
most beautiful, as it ought to be;" then, after a little pause, and
some reckoning, "I have scarce seed-pods enough in store, uncle;
might we not seek some rarer shapes in the herb-garden of Master
Gerhard, the physician? He, too, might tell me the names of some of
these."

"True, child; or we might ride into the country beyond the walls, and
seek them. What, little one, wouldst thou not?"

"So we go not far," faltered Christina, colouring.

"Ha, thou hast not forgotten the fright thy companions had from the
Schlangenwald reitern when gathering Maydew? Fear not, little
coward; if we go beyond the suburbs we will take Hans and Peter with
their halberts. But I believe thy silly little heart can scarce be
free for enjoyment if it can fancy a Reiter within a dozen leagues of
thee."

"At your side I would not fear. That is, I would not vex thee by my
folly, and I might forget it," replied Christina, looking down.

"My gentle child!" the old man said approvingly. "Moreover, if our
good Raiser has his way, we shall soon be free of the reitern of
Schlangenwald, and Adlerstein, and all the rest of the mouse-trap
barons. He is hoping to form a league of us free imperial cities
with all the more reasonable and honest nobles, to preserve the peace
of the country. Even now a letter from him was read in the Town Hall
to that effect; and, when all are united against them, my lords-
mousers must needs become pledged to the league, or go down before
it."

"Ah! that will be well," cried Christina. "Then will our wagons be
no longer set upon at the Debateable Ford by Schlangenwald or
Adlerstein; and our wares will come safely, and there will be wealth
enough to raise our spire! O uncle, what a day of joy will that be
when Our Lady's great statue will be set on the summit!"

"A day that I shall scarce see, and it will be well if thou dost,"
returned her uncle, "unless the hearts of the burghers of Ulm return
to the liberality of their fathers, who devised that spire! But what
trampling do I hear?"

There was indeed a sudden confusion in the house, and, before the
uncle and niece could rise, the door was opened by a prosperous
apple-faced dame, exclaiming in a hasty whisper, "Housefather, O
Housefather, there are a troop of reitern at the door, dismounting
already;" and, as the master came forward, brushing from his furred
vest the shavings and dust of his work, she added in a more furtive,
startled accent, "and, if I mistake not, one is thy brother!"

"He is welcome," replied Master Gottfried, in his cheery fearless
voice; "he brought us a choice gift last time he came; and it may be
he is ready to seek peace among us after his wanderings. Come
hither, Christina, my little one; it is well to be abashed, but thou
art not a child who need fear to meet a father."

Christina's extreme timidity, however, made her pale and crimson by
turns, perhaps by the infection of anxiety from her aunt, who could
not conceal a certain dissatisfaction and alarm, as the maiden, led
on either side by her adopted parents, thus advanced from the little



Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeThe Dove in the Eagle's Nest → online text (page 1 of 25)