Littell's Living Age/Volume 127/Issue 1634/The Clockmakers of the Schwarzwald

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Littell's Living Age, Volume 127, Issue 1634
The Clockmakers of the Schwarzwald


The Baden State Railway, running in an unbroken line from the Rhine plain at Mannheim to the shores of the Boden See at Constance, forms two sides of that part of the Grand Duchy of Baden which in Germany is called Badischer Schwarzwald. Along this line go great numbers of English tourists hurrying to Switzerland, and rushing back again to England, but they seldom set foot in any part of this district, except in the town of Freiburg, a pleasant point to break a long and somewhat tedious journey. The dark hills thickly covered with pine-trees, which the traveller sees from the windows of his carriage, generally serve to remind him of the grander mountains he has left, or of the peaks which he hopes to climb. But among these hills is much picturesque and quaint scenery, of a character at once unique and distinct from that of countries more frequented by the traveller. From any high ground, lofty hills can be seen extending towards the horizon, more or less clothed with black pine-forests, broken here and there by the lighter foliage in the valleys, or by the open patches of cultivated land. There are cottage farms, with huge black and spreading roofs, better built, and showing signs of greater prosperity and comfort than in most mountainous districts. The village houses are less thickly grouped, and everything indicates an active and industrious people. In the valleys are many charming landscapes; the scale is small, but the perfect union of water and rock, of wood and meadow, produces harmonious and delightful pictures. Among the thick and fragrant woods the scenes are different, more weird and wild, but none the less attractive. Among these woods and hills dwell a people who unite the simplicity and kindness of the mountaineer and agriculturist with the shrewdness and energy of the artisan of the town. They cultivate their land with surprising care, and work at the manufacture of clocks and watches, glass and straw articles, with a diligence which has been rewarded by great success. They are so energetic and desirous of doing well in life, that like the men of the Canton Graubünden and the Oetzthal Alps, they willingly leave their own country and go away to England, America, or France, where they work hard, chiefly at clocks and watches. But to this desire for bettering their condition is united a strong love of home, so that in three or four years they come back with sufficient money to buy themselves a piece of land, on which for the rest of their days they live; they settle down, and their children will do as they have done.

The first thing which a stranger does at Furtwangen is to see the exhibition of the Gewerbevereins, and at Tryberg the Gewerbe Hall, open from May to October. The latter is a wooden building of some taste, where every variety of clock can be seen which the ingenuity of the Schwarzwalder can devise or his fingers execute. Round the walls and on the tables are clocks of every sort. Nearly all are of wood, though here and there is a fragile one of straw or ivory. The first which attracts attention is a very fine specimen of wood-carving; the figures and design are cut in lime-wood, and it stands two feet high. The fingers and hours are of ivory. The attendant puts it to two o'clock, and it forthwith plays a melodious air, as of the most delicate flutes. The next is still larger, and as the hour strikes a miniature band plays "Der Wacht am Rhein." We pass on to one made of beach and walnut, the dark and light wood being charmingly blended. As the fingers touch the hour, two helmeted trumpeters step out and blow the reveille. Then there are cuckoos which strike up at the hour and thrushes who sing at the quarter, venerable monks standing beneath the belfry ring the hour when midnight comes. The automaton clock comes next, and we watch a sort of Pickwickian fat boy feed himself with rolls till three has finished striking. The taste and minuteness of the carving in the largest or the smallest point are very great; the regulator on the pendulum of the smallest clock represents, perhaps, an oak-leaf, or some simple, but still graceful object. Nor are more methodical and stronger-looking clocks wanting; they are of every kind; they will suit the kitchen or the boudoir. The excellence of the external work is equalled by that of the machinery, for having once gained a reputation, the inhabitants of these hills take care that it shall not be lost. The Gewerbeverein, or Union, guarantee the goodness of each clock which hangs on the walls.

Thirty years ago a really good little clock could have been bought for sixpence or eightpence, but now, with communication more easy, the small ones are sold for four or five shillings, the cheapest trumpeter for six pounds. Every workman has his special piece of work; one carves the figures, another prepares the dial, a third the wheels, a fourth the pendulum, so that on one clock many hands are employed. Under this system, within a radius of sixty English miles, the number of clocks or watches turned out annually is nearly seven hundred thousand. Figures convey but small impressions to the mind, but if it is remembered that five thousand men are working at this trade, and that there are only about two thousand five hundred inhabitants in Furtwangen and fifteen hundred in Tryberg, it will be seen how strong a hold this trade has upon the people of the Schwarzwald.

It chanced that towards the end of the seventeenth century a family named Kreuz, more enterprising or clever than their neighbours, lived in the village of Neukirch. They made a rude clock, works and frame of wood, with a weight, and this was given or sold to the parish priest. This idea was not lost upon others of the enterprising Schwarzwalders, and the example was soon followed, and not long afterwards the farmhouses of the district began to be adorned with other wooden clocks. Two men were very apt at the work, they may almost be called the fathers of the art; their names were Lorenz Frei, called "the Woodworker," and Solomon Henniger, of St. Märgen. The germs now rapidly developed; the simple carving of wooden stands or frames gave place to the more elaborate work of ornamental clockmaking; the wood, the want of other occupations, the uncommon industry, acuteness, and union of the people, the freedom from political and other disturbing causes, all promoted this quick growth. Hawkers sold the clocks throughout Germany, and the Schwarzwald soon became celebrated throughout the empire.

The clocks were at first very simple in construction, wooden wheels and carved frames. It was not until between the years 1730 and 1740 that the first cuckoo clock—which is one of the class called Spiebihren, or clocks of amusement—was introduced, by Franz Ketterer, of Schönwald, a small hamlet on the hill above Tryberg, who is the real originator of the description of clock for which the Black Forest is most noted. This was novel enough for a time, but more minds set to work, and forty years later Anthony Duffner devised the first flute clock. Soon a real, noteworthy advance took place, in the introduction of the first pendulum clock. Then the fancy of one Kirner, a Schwarzwalder, who had become court painter to the king of Bavaria, suggested that very pleasant instrument, the trumpet clock. There were now five hundred persons engaged in the clock-trade in the Black Forest, and it had become the recognized occupation of the people. The work was all done by hand; not for some years was machinery used. But instead of the primitive fashion of each family working for themselves, masters and workmen began to appear; and as time went on, the change became more and more complete, till in 1849, the Grand Duke Leopold was asked to assist in founding a clock and watchmakers' school. The government of Baden at once acceded, and they gave ten thousand florins for the purpose of defraying some of the building expenses and to carry on the work of the institution—the community of Furtwangen gave wood and materials—and in 1850 the Clockmakers' School at Furtwangen was opened. Thus almost before the workmen of England had begun to think of technical schools, the peasants of a distant German province had already set one on foot. It has given new impetus to the work, and by the introduction of a special literature and instruction, in no small degree aided the general education of the people of this and the neighbouring villages, as well as the actual technical branch which it was created to improve. The school has two main objects. Firstly, the education of the young by literary and theoretical teaching in the elements on which the art of clockmaking is composed, that is, in the general principles common to any scientific manufacture, and in the more intricate details belonging specially to this one branch. Secondly, the improvement of the trade by a practical school or workshop, where the theories already taught can be carried out, where new improvements and methods can be tried, and where practical instruction can be given. Two important principles are acted upon in carrying out these aims,—the instruction is free, and it is not in the place of, but subsidiary to, and based on, that which is given in the Folkschule, or public elementary schools. This is important to notice, because there is too great a tendency in England to begin at the wrong end, not only in the lower branches of technical instruction, but also in those of a higher and more intellectual grade, and make technical supply the place of general teaching. Briefly put, these are some of the details connected with the school. The age of admittance is fourteen, and the pupil must have passed through the Folkschule, a yearly examination, yearly distribution of prizes, a library containing technical and scientific books and models, and a period of study not confined to any particular time or length. The subjects taught are: (a) freehand and ornamental drawing; (b) arithmetic, geometry, and lineal drawing; (c) constructive drawing; (d) mechanics and natural science; (e) heads of German industry and mercantile business; (f) French, when possible.

There are a few minutiæ to notice as to the workshop. The most important are that the workers must bring their own tools, unless they can show satisfactorily that they are too poor to afford them, when they will obtain them freely at the shop. The government defrays the expense of living at Furtwangen of those also who would be unable to attend out of their own means. There are saw-mills and other appliances for doing the rougher work, preparatory to the more delicate details of the instructive workshop. Lastly, the whole is under the supervision of the government, through the minister of industry. The school and shop have both succeeded well, the trade increases every year, the prosperity of the people in an equal degree. As railways are extended, and the means of communication, not only with the immediate parts of Germany, but with the more distant countries of Europe and the world, become more easy, so undoubtedly will be seen a further extension of the business of the Schwarzwald.

It will be seen from these brief sketches that the wanderer in the Black Forest can not only receive pleasure from the charms of a peculiar and beautiful scenery,—he has also opportunities of studying some social features hardly to be found in more populous places. He finds—a long way from the great centres of commerce and manufactures—a simple and kind-hearted people, carrying on an ingenious trade quietly, yet actively, and keeping pace with modern improvements, for the peacefulness of the pine woods and the patriarchal simplicity of the villagers' lives seem to enable them to labour without the disturbing influences at work among so many industrial communities.