ALTDORF, the capital of the Swiss canton of Uri. It is built at a height of 1516 ft. above sea-level, a little above the right bank of the Reuss, not far above the point where this river is joined on the right by the Schächen torrent. In 1900 the population was 3117, all Romanists and German-speaking. Altdorf is 34 m. from Lucerne by the St Gotthard railway and 22 m. from Goeschenen. Its port on the Lake of Lucerne, Flüelen, is 2 m. distant. There is a stately parish church, while above the little town is the oldest Capuchin convent in Switzerland (1581). Altdorf is best known as the place where, according to the legend, William Tell shot the apple from his son’s head. This act by tradition happened on the market-place, where in 1895, at the foot of an old tower (with rude frescoes commemorating the feat), there was set up a fine bronze statue (by Richard Kissling of Zürich) of Tell and his son. In 1899 a theatre was opened close to the town for the sole purpose of performing Schiller’s play of Wilhelm Tell. The same year a new carriage-road was opened from Altdorf through the Schächen valley and over the Klausen Pass (6404 ft.) to the village of Linththal (30 m.) and so to Glarus. One and a half mile from Altdorf by the Klausen road is the village of Bürglen, where by tradition Tell was born; while he is also said to have lost his life, while saving that of a child, in the Schächen torrent that flows past the village. On the left bank of the Reuss, immediately opposite Altdorf, is Attinghausen, where the ruined castle (which belonged to one of the real founders of the Swiss Confederation) now houses the cantonal museum of antiquities. (W. A. B. C.)
ALTDORFER, ALBRECHT (? 1480–1538), German painter and engraver, was born at Regensburg (Ratisbon), where in 1505 he was enrolled a burgher, and described as “twenty-five years old.” Soon afterwards he is known to have been prosperous, and as city architect he erected fortifications and a public slaughterhouse. Altdorfer has been called the “Giorgione of the North.” His paintings are remarkable for minute and careful finish, and for close study of nature. The most important of them are to be found in the Pinakothek at Munich. A representation of the battle of Arbela (1529), included in that collection, is usually considered his chief work. His engravings on wood and copper are very numerous, and rank next to those of Albrecht Dürer. The most important collection is at the Berlin museum. Albrecht’s brother, Erhard Altdorfer, was also a painter and engraver, and a pupil of Lucas Cranach.
ALTEN, SIR CHARLES [Karl] (1764–1840), Hanoverian and British soldier, son of Baron Alten, a member of an old Hanoverian family, entered the service of the elector as a page at the age of twelve. In 1781 he received a commission in the Hanoverian guards, and as a captain took part in the campaigns of 1793–1795 in the Low Countries, distinguishing himself particularly on the Lys in command of light infantry. In 1803 the Hanoverian army was disbanded, and Alten took service with the King’s German Legion in British pay. In command of the light infantry of this famous corps he took part with Lord Cathcart in the Hanoverian expedition of 1805 and in the siege of Copenhagen in 1807, and was with Moore in Sweden and Spain, as well as in the disastrous Walcheren expedition. He was soon employed once more in the Peninsula, and at Albuera commanded a brigade. In April 1813 Wellington placed him at the head of the famous “Light Division” (43rd, 52nd, 95th, and Caçadores), in which post he worthily continued the records of Moore and Robert Craufurd at Nivelle, Nive, Orthez and Toulouse. His officers presented him with a sword of honour as a token of their esteem. In 1815 Alten commanded Wellington’s 3rd division and was severely wounded at Waterloo. His conduct won for him the rank of Count von Alten. When the King’s German Legion ceased to exist, Alten was given the command of the Hanoverians in France, and in 1818 he returned to Hanover, where he became subsequently minister of war and foreign affairs, and rose to be field-marshal, being retained on the British Army list at the same time as Major-General Sir Charles Alten, G. C. B. He died in 1840. A memorial to Alten has been erected at Hanover.
ALTENA, a town of Germany, in the Prussian province of Westphalia, on the river Lenne, 38 m. S.S.E. from Dortmund. Pop. (1900) 12,769. It consists of a single street, winding up a deep valley for about 3 m. There are three churches, a museum, high grade and popular schools. Its hardware industries are important, and embrace iron rolling, the manufacture of fine wire, needles, springs and silver ornaments. On the neighbouring Schlossberg is the ancestral castle of the counts of La Marck, ancestors, on the female side, of the Prussian royal house.
ALTENBURG, a town of Germany, capital of the duchy of Saxe-Altenburg, situated near the river Pleisse, 23 m. S. of Leipzig, and at the junction of the Saxon state railways Leipzig-Hof and Altenburg-Zeitz. Pop. (1905) 38,811. The town from its hilly position is irregularly built, but many of its streets are wide, and contain a number of large and beautiful buildings. Its ancient castle is picturesquely situated on a lofty porphyry rock, and is memorable as the place from which, in 1455, Kunz von Kaufungen carried off the young princes Albert and Ernest, the founders of the present royal and ducal families of Saxony. Its beautiful picture gallery, containing portraits of several of the famous princes of the house of Wettin, was almost totally destroyed by fire in January 1905. Altenburg is the seat of the higher courts of the Saxon duchies, and possesses a cathedral and several churches, schools, a library, a gallery of pictures and a school of art, an infirmary and various learned societies. There is also a museum, with natural history, archaeological, and art collections, and among other buildings may be mentioned St Bartholomew’s church (1089), the town hall (1562–1564), a lunatic asylum, teachers’ seminary and an agricultural academy. There is considerable traffic in grain and cattle brought from the surrounding districts; and twice a year there are large horse fairs. Cigars, woollen goods, gloves, hats and porcelain are among the chief manufactures. There are lignite mines in the vicinity.
ALTENSTEIN, a castle upon a rocky mountain in Saxe-Meiningen, on the south-western slope of the Thüringerwald, not far from Eisenach. It is the summer residence of the dukes of Meiningen, and is surrounded by a noble park, which contains, among other objects of interest, a remarkable underground cavern, 500 ft. long, through which flows a large and rapid stream. Boniface, the apostle of the Germans, lived and preached at Altenstein in 724; and near by is the place where, in 1521, Luther was seized, by the order of the elector Frederick the Wise, to be carried off to the Wartburg. An old beech called “Luther’s tree,” which tradition connected with the reformer, was blown down in 1841, and a small monument now stands in its place.
ALTERNATION (from Lat. alternare, to do by turns), strictly, the process of “alternating,” i.e. of two things following one another regularly by turns, as night alternates with day. A somewhat different sense is attached to some usages of the derivatives. Thus, in American political representative bodies and in the case of company directors, a substitute is sometimes called an “alternate.” An “alternative” is that which is offered as a choice of two things, the acceptance of the one implying the rejection of the other. It is incorrect to speak of more than two alternatives, though Mr Gladstone wrote in 1857 of a fourth (Oxf. Essays, 26). When there is only one course open there is said to be no alternative.