Page:The Mythology of the Aryan Nations.djvu/369

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337
THE LEGEND OF TELL.

CHAP. II

The myth of Tell, with which the story of Baldur and Sarpedon suggests a comparison, has received its deathblow as much from the hands of historians as from those of comparative mythologists. But there are probably few legends which more thoroughly show that from Gesler. myths which have worked themselves into the narrative of an historical age there is absolutely nothing to be learnt in the way of history. Even if the legend of Tell be given up as a myth, it might be con- tended that at the least it indicates some fact, and this fact must be the oppression of the Swiss by iVustrian tyrants; and yet this supposed fact, without which the story loses all point and meaning, has been swept away as effectually as the incidents which have been supposed to illustrate it. The political history of the Forest Cantons begins at a time long preceding the legendary date of Tell and Gesler; and the election of Rudolf of Hapsburg as king of the Romans in 1273 was important to the Swiss only from their previous connexion with his house.^ In short, we have proof of the existence of a confederation of the Three Cantons in 1291, while the popular account dates its origin from the year 13 14, and ascribes it to the events which are assigned to that time. Nay, more, " there exist in contemporary re- cords no instances of wanton outrage and insolence on the Hapsburg side. It was the object of that power to obtain pohtical ascendancy, not to indulge its representatives in lust or wanton insult. That it was so becomes all the more distinct, since there are plentiful records of disputes in which the interests of the two were mixed up with those of particular persons." In these quarrels, we are told, "the symptoms of violence, as is natural enough, appear rather on the side of the Swiss Communities than on that of the aggrandising imperial house;" and the attack on the abbey of Einsiedeln was treated " not as a crime of which the men of Schwitz were guilty, but as an act of war for which the Three Cantons were responsible as a separate state." The war of Swiss independence which followed this event was brought to an issue in the battle of Morgarten ; but the documents which have preserved the terms of peace simply define the bounds of the imperial authority, without questioning that authority itself. In all this there is no real need of the exploits of Tell, or rather there is no room for them, even if the existence of the Confederation were not traced back to a time which according to the legend would probably precede his birth.

This legend, which makes Tell not less skilful as a boatman than The myth wholly

" The evidence of this connexion Confederation Suisse in the Edinburgh has been ably summarised by the writer Revicuj for January, 1869, p. 134, ct scq.

of the article on Rilliet's Origines de la