Letters from Abroad to Kindred at Home/Place XIII
My Dear C.,
Bonn.—We embarked, for the first time, yesterday on the Rhine, the "father and king of rivers," as the German poets with fond reverence call it. "The majestic Rhine" it has not yet appeared to us, having but just come opposite to the Sichengebirge, a cluster of mountains where the scenery first takes its romantic character. We were four hours, in a good steamer, getting to Bonn, a distance of about twenty miles. This slow ascent of the river is owing to the force of the current. We were much struck with the social, simple, and kindly manners of our German companion in the steamer, Several well-bred persons addressed us and asked as many questions as a Yankee would have asked in the same time. Some of them made us smile, such as whether the language in America was not very like that spoken in England! and if New-York had more than thirty thousand inhabitants! Before we separated the girls were on familiar terms with some pretty young ladies going to boarding-school, and half a dozen people, at least, had ascertained whence we came and whither we were going. M. was quite charmed with this unreserve. "Like to like," you know!
There was a lady on board who riveted our attention. Without being handsome, she had the "air noble," that is, perhaps, the best substitute for beauty. Her face was intellectual, and her eyes such as I have never seen except in the head of a certain harpy eagle in the zoological gardens. Lest you should get a false impression from this comparison, I must tell you that these harpy eyes haunted me for days after I saw them reviving, with their human expression and wonderful power, my childish superstition about the transmigration of souls.
"That woman is very ill-bred," said M., "to peer at us so steadily through her eyeglass." "We look at her just as steadily, only without eyeglasses," said L.; and, as none think themselves ill-bred, we came to the silent conclusion that the stranger might not be so. There was something in her air, and in a peculiar, as well as elegance of dress, that indicated she felt well assured of her position.
Bonn.—We brought letters to the celebrated Schlegel, who resides here, and to a certain Madame M. Schlegel sent us a note, saying he was kept in by indisposition, but would be most happy to receive us. Soon after breakfast Madame M. was announced, and proved to be the harpy-eyed lady of the steamer. Her manner struck me as cold, and I felt all the horror of thrusting myself on involuntary hospitality. "She is doing a detestable duty," thought I, "in honouring Mrs. —— a letter of credit in behalf of strangers from a far country, and of a language that she does not speak." By degrees her manner changed from forced courtesy to voluntary kindness. She marked out occupation for all our time at Bonn, lavished invitations on all our party, and insisted on my going home with her to see what was to be seen at her house, which, she said, in a way to excite no expectation, "was better than staying at the inn. I went, and found that she had a superb establishment in the best quarter of the town. We met a pretty young woman on the stairs, whom she introduced to us as her daughter. She had her long sleeves tucked up over her elbow, and a cotton apron on, and reminded me of a thrifty New-England lady preparing to make her "Thanksgiving pies." Mademoiselle M. soon after brought in a small waiter, with rich hot chocolate and cakes. I asked Madame M. if the accounts we had received of the domestic education of women in Germany of the condition of her daughter were true. She said yes; they were taught everything that appertained to house-affairs. We know they do not find this domestic education incompatible with high refinement and cultivation. Knowledge of house-affairs is a necessity for our young countrywomen—perhaps some of them would think it less an evil if they could see Mademoiselle M. in her luxurious home expressing, as did Eve, Penelope, and other classic dames, by the dainty work of her own hands, that she was "on hospitable thoughts intent."
When I entered Bonn through an ineffably dirty street, I little dreamed it could contain a house with the lovely view there is from Madame M.'s window, of gardens and cornfields; and much less did I anticipate sitting with that fearful lady of the steamer over cases of antique gems—some as old as remote epochs of Grecian art—while she expounded them to me; so at the mercy of accident are the judgments of tourists. Madame M.'s house is filled with productions of the arts, pictures, busts, &c., which I was obliged to leave all too soon to go with my party to pay our respects to Schlegel; and I went, half wishing, as L. did on a similar occasion, that then were no celebrated people that one must see.
Schlegel is past seventy, with an eye still brilliant, and a fresh colour in his cheek. He attracted our attention to his very beautiful bust of Carrara marble, and repeatedly averted to the decay of the original since the bust was made, with a sensibility which proved that the pleasures and regrets that accompany; the possession of beauty arc not limited to women. He makes the most of his relics by wearing a particularly becoming black velvet cap, round which his wavy white locks lay as loft as rays of light He was courteous and agreeable for the half hour we passed with him; but I brought away no new impression but that I have given you, that he is a handsome man for threescore and ten.
At three Madame M. came, according to appointment, to show us the Bonn lions and surroundings. We drove first to the University, which is the old electoral palace. Bonn was comprehended within the Electorate of Cologne. The façade of this palace of the lord elector, which has now become a flourishing seat of learning, is nearly a quarter of a mile in extent. The palaces and cottages of Europe indicate its history.
The University, which has now between eight and nine hundred students, was established by the King of Prussia, and is said to owe its reputation to its distinguished professors; Niebuhr was here, and Schlegel is. We were shown a library of one hundred thousand volumes, a museum of natural history, and a very interesting museum of Roman remains found on the hanks of the Rhine, altars, vases, weapons, &c. We were conducted through the botanical garden by Monsieur I'Inspecteur, a celebrated botanist, and one of a large family of brothers devoted to the science. "botaniste," said Madame M. He showed us a rich collection of American plants, and I stood amid the mosses and ferns, my old friends of the ice-glen, feeling very much as if I ought to speak to them as they did to me!
We drove, by a road that reminded me of the drives through the Connecticut River meadows, to Godesberg. There was one pretty object, the like of which we shall never see in our Puritan land—a high and beautifully-carved stone cross. It marked the spot where two cavaliers—brothers—fought for their lady-love, and the unhappy surviver erected this cross, hoping the passers-by would stop to say a prayer for the soul of his brother.
There is a cluster of hotels at Godesberg, and some villas belonging to the Cologne noblesse; it is a favourite summer retreat We went to see the ruins of the Castle of Godesberg. They crown an isolated mount, which looks, in the midst of the surrounding level, as if it were artificial; but it is one of those natural elevations which, being castellated and strongly fortified, make up so much of the romantic story of the middle ages, and, with their ruins, so much of the romantic embellishment of the present day. This Castle of Godesberg has its love story, and a true and tragic one. It was here that the Elector of Cologne who married Agnes of Massfeldt held out against his Catholic enemies. His marriage made his conversion to Protestantism somewhat questionable; and the separation and misery in which the unhappy pair died was probably interpreted into a judgment on these two apostate servants of the Church. It has been one of the purest of summer afternoons, and we had a delicious stroll up to the ruins; a world of beauty there is "within the small compass of that mount. Fancy a hill rising from the bosom of meadows as our Laurel Hill does, but twice as high and twice as steep, with a path winding round it, every foot of cultivable earth covered with grape-vines,-having shrines chiselled in the rocks, and crucifixes and madonnas for the devout. Half way up is a little Gothic church and a cemetery, where the monuments and graves—yes, old graves—were decked with fresh garlands, the lilies and roses that have blown out in this day's sun. Is not this a touching expression of faith and love—faith in God, and enduring love for the departed?
What a picture was the country beneath us, and what a pretty framework for the picture, the stone arches of the old castle! The earth was washed clean by the morning showers. Beneath us was an inimitable reach of level land covered with crops. The harvesting and hay-making just begun, but not a blade yet taken off the piled lap of mother earth. At our feet were the peasants' dwellings, little brown cottages, almost hidden in fruit-trees; beyond, the gay villas of the noblesse; and still farther, the lively-looking town of Bonn, with its five-towered Cathedral. Still farther, on one side Cologne, on the other the seven mountains, with the ruins of Drachenfels; fine wide roads—those unquestionable marks of an old civilisation—traversing the country in every direction, and, as far as your eye could reach, that king of roads, the Rhine.
Madame M. so fully enjoyed the delight she was bestowing, that she proposed to prolong it by an exclusion to-morrow, which shall be still richer in romance. She will come at ten with two carriages. We shall take ourhere, and then drive to Roland's Castle, then pass to the monastery of Nonenworth, where, her son officiating as chaplain she proposes to make a nun of Miss K., all to end in a dinner, for (I must tell you the disenchanting fact) the monastery is converted into an inn. This is too pleasant a project to be rejected, and if—and if—and if—why we are to go.
While enjoying to-day and talking of to-morrow, we had returned to the inn. Tea was preparing at the order of our charming hostess. Dispersed about the house and piazza were coteries of German ladies, who had come out for the afternoon, and were knitting and gossiping most serenely.
Our repast was very like a home tea for a hungry party of pleasure, with the agreeable addition to our cold roast fowl and Westphalia ham and strawberries, of wine, melons, and Swiss cheese.
My Dear C.,
To-day has played a common trick with yesterday's project—dispersed it in empty air. Compelled to proceed on our journey, we did not lose the highest pleasure we had counted on—Madame M.'s society. She stayed with us to the last moment, and then, when saying farewell, a land impulse seized her; she sent her footman back for her cloak, and came with us as far as Andernech, where she has one of her many villas. This was just what L. M. would have done on a similar occasion; but how many of these incidental opportunities of giving pleasure, these chance-boons in the not too happy way of life, are foregone and—irretrievable?
At Bonn the romantic beauty of the Rhine begins. I have often heard our Hudson compared to the Rhine; they are both rivers, and both have beautiful scenery; but I see no other resemblance except so far as the Highlands extend, and there only in some of the natural features. Both rivers have a very winding course, and precipitous and rocky shores. But remember, these are shores that bear the vine, and so winding for forty miles that you might fancy yourself passing through a series of small lakes. I have seen no spot on the Rhine more beautiful by Nature than the Hudson from West Point; but here is
"A blending of all beauties, streams and dells,
Read Byron's whole description in his third canto of Childe Harold, of this "abounding and exulting river," and you will get more of the sensation it is fitted to produce than most persons do from actually seeing it. Its architecture is one of its characteristic beauties; not only its mined castles—and you have sometimes at one view three or four of these stern monuments on their craggy eminences—but its pretty brown villages, its remains of Roman towers, its walls and bridges, and its military fortifications and
"A thousand battles have assailed its banks,"
and have sown them richly with their history. And every castle has its domestic legend of faithful or unfaithful love, of broken hopes or baffled treachery. Story, ballad, and tradition have breathed a soul into every tumbling tower and crumbling wall.