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The mansion of the Baron of Attinghausen. A Gothic Hall, decorated with
escutcheons and helmets. The Baron, a grey-headed man, eighty-five years
old, tall and of a commanding mien, clad in a furred pelisse, and leaning
on a staff tipped with chamois horn. Kuoni and six hinds standing round
him with rakes and scythes. Ulrich of Rudenz enters in the costume of a
Uncle, I'm here! Your will?
First let me share, After the ancient custom of our house, The morning
cup, with these my faithful servants!
(He drinks from a cup, which is then passed round.)
Time was, I stood myself in field and wood, With mine own eyes directing
all their toil, Even as my banner led them in the fight, Now I am only
fit to play the steward: And, if the genial sun come not to me, I can no
longer seek it on the hills. Thus slowly, in an ever-narrowing sphere,
I move on to the narrowest and the last, Where all life's pulses cease.
I now am but The shadow of my former self, and that Is fading fast--'twill
soon be but a name.
KUONI (offering Rudenz the cup).
A pledge, young master!
Rudenz hesitates to take the cup.
Nay, Sir, drink it off!
One cup, one heart! You know our proverb, Sir?
Go, children, and at eve, when work is done, We'll meet and talk the
country's business over.
Belted and plumed, and all thy bravery on! Thou art for Altdorf--for
the castle, boy?
Yes, uncle. Longer may I not delay--
ATTING. (sitting down).
Why in such haste? Say, are thy youthful hours Doled in such niggard
measure, that thou must Be chary of them to thy aged uncle?
I see my presence is not needed here, I am but as a stranger in this
ATTING. (gazes fixedly at him for a considerable time). Ay, pity 'tis
thou art! Alas, that home To thee has grown so strange! Oh, Uly! Uly! I
scarce do know thee now, thus deck'd in silks, The peacock's feather(*)
flaunting in thy cap, And purple mantle round thy shoulders flung; Thou
look'st upon the peasant with disdain; And tak'st his honest greeting with
(*) The Austrian knights were in the habit of wearing a plume of peacock's
feathers in their helmets. After the overthrow of the Austrian dominion
in Switzerland, it was made highly penal to wear
the peacock's feather at any public assembly there.
All honour due to him I gladly pay, But must deny the right he would
The sore displeasure of its monarch rests Upon our land, and every
true man's heart, Is full of sadness for the grievous wrongs We suffer
from our tyrants. Thou alone Art all unmoved amid the general grief. Abandoning
thy friends, thou tak'st thy stand Beside thy country's foes, and, as in
scorn Of our distress, pursuest giddy joys, Courting the smiles of princes
all the while Thy country bleeds beneath their cruel scourge.
The land is sore oppress'd, I know it, uncle. But why? Who plunged
it into this distress? A word, one little easy word, might buy Instant
deliverance from all our ills, And win the good will of the Emperor. Woe
unto those who seal the people's eyes. And make them adverse to their country's
good-- The men who, for their own vile, selfish ends, Are seeking to prevent
the Forest States From swearing fealty to Austria's House, As all the countries
round about have done. It fits their humour well, to take their seats Amid
the nobles on the Herrenbank;(*) They'll have the Kaiser for their lord,
That is to say, they'll have no lord at all.
(*) The bench reserved for the nobility.
Must I hear this, and from thy lips, rash boy!
You urged me to this answer. Hear me out. What, uncle, is the character
you've stoop'd To fill [contentedly9 through life? Have you No higher pride,
than in these lonely wilds To be the Landamman or Banneret,(*)
The petty chieftain of a shepherd race? How! Were it not a far more
glorious choice, To bend in homage to our royal lord, And swell the princely
splendours of his court, Than sit at home, the peer of your own vassals,
And share the judgment-seat with vulgar clowns?
(*) The Landamman was an officer chosen by the Swiss Gemeinde , or
Diet, to preside over them. The Banneret was an officer entrusted with
the keeping of the State Banner, and such others as were
taken in battle.
Ah, Uly, Uly; all too well I see, The tempter's voice has caught thy
willing ear, And pour'd its subtle poison in thy heart.
Yes, I conceal it not. It doth offend My inmost soul, to hear the stranger's
gibes, That taunt us with the name of "Peasant Nobles!" Think you the heart
that's stirring here can brook, While all the young nobility around Are
reaping honour under Hapsburg's banner, That I should loiter, in inglorious
ease, Here on the heritage my fathers left, And, in the dull routine of
Lose all life's glorious spring? In other lands Great deeds are done.
A world of fair renown Beyond these mountains stirs in martial pomp. My
helm and shield are rusting in the hall; The martial trumpet's spirit-stirring
blast, The herald's call, inviting to the lists, Rouse not the echoes of
these vales, where nought Save cowherd's horn and cattle bell is heard,
In one unvarying dull monotony.
Deluded boy, seduced by empty show! Despise the land that gave thee
birth! Ashamed Of the good ancient customs of thy sires! The day will come,
when thou, with burning tears, Wilt long for home, and for thy native hills,
And that dear melody of tuneful herds, Which now, in proud disgust, thou
dost despise! A day when wistful pangs shall shake thy heart, Hearing their
music in a foreign land. Oh! potent is the spell that binds to home! No,
no, the cold, false world is not for thee. At the proud court, with thy
true heart, thou wilt For ever feel a stranger among strangers.
The world asks virtues of far other stamp Than thou hast learned within
these simple vales. But go--go thither,--barter thy free soul, Take land
in fief, be minion to a prince, Where thou might'st be lord paramount,
and prince Of all thine own unburden'd heritage! O, Uly, Uly, stay among
thy people! Go not to Altdorf. Oh, abandon not The sacred cause of thy
wrong'd native land! I am the last of all my race. My name Ends with me.
Yonder hang my helm and shield; They will be buried with me in the grave.(*)
And must I think, when yielding up my breath, That thou but wait'st the
closing of mine eyes, To stoop thy knee to this new feudal court, And take
in vassalage from Austria's hands The noble lands, which I from God received,
Free and unfetter'd as the mountain air!
(*) According to the custom, by which, when the last male descendant
of a noble family died, his sword, helmet, and shield were buried with
'Tis vain for us to strive against the king. The world pertains to
him:--shall we alone, In mad presumptuous obstinacy, strive To break that
mighty chain of lands, which he Hath drawn around us with his giant grasp?
His are the markets, his the courts,--his, too, The highways; nay, the
very carrier's horse, That traffics on the Gotthardt, pays him toll. By
his dominions, as within a net,
We are enclosed, and girded round about. And will the Empire shield
us? Say, can it Protect itself 'gainst Austria's growing power? To God,
and not to emperors must we look! What store can on their promises be placed,
When they, to meet their own necessities, Can pawn, and even alienate the
towns That flee for shelter 'neath the Eagle's wings?(*) No, uncle! It
is wise and wholesome prudence,
In times like these, when faction's all abroad, To vow attachment to
some mighty chief. The imperial crown's transferred from line to line.(*)
It has no memory for faithful service:
But to secure the favour of these great Hereditary masters, were
to sow Seed for a future harvest.
(*) This frequently occurred. But in the event of an imperial city being
mortgaged for the purpose of raising money, it lost its freedom, and was
considered as put out of the realm.
(**) An allusion to the circumstance of the Imperial Crown not being
hereditary, but conferred by election on one of the Counts of the Empire.
Art so wise? Wilt thou see clearer than thy noble sires, Who battled
for fair freedom's priceless gem, With life, and fortune, and heroic arm?
Sail down the lake to Lucerne, there inquire,
How Austria's thraldom weighs the Cantons down. Soon she will come
to count our sheep, our cattle, To portion out the Alps, e'en to their
peaks, And in our own free woods to hinder us From striking down the eagle
or the stag; To set her tolls on every bridge and gate, Impoverish us,
to swell her lust of sway, And drain our dearest blood to feed her wars.
No, if our blood must flow, let it be shed In our own cause! We purchase
liberty More cheaply far than bondage.
What can we, A shepherd race, against great Albert's hosts?
Learn, foolish boy, to know this shepherd race! I know them, I have
led them on in fight,-- I saw them in the battle at Favenz. What! Austria
try, forsooth, to force on us A yoke we are determined not to bear! Oh,
learn to feel from what a stock thou'rt sprung; Cast not, for tinsel trash
and idle show, The precious jewel of thy worth away, To be the chieftain
of a free-born race, Bound to thee only by their unbought love, Ready to
stand--to fight--to die with thee, Be that thy pride, be that thy noblest
boast! Knit to thy heart the ties of kindred--home-- Cling to the land,
the dear land of thy sires, Grapple to that with thy whole heart and soul!
Thy power is rooted deep and strongly here, But in yon stranger world thou'lt
stand alone, A trembling reed beat down by every blast. Oh come! 'tis long
since we have seen thee, Uly! Tarry but this one day. Only to-day! Go not
to Altdorf. Wilt thou? Not to-day! For this one day, bestow thee on thy
(Takes his hand.)
I gave my word. Unhand me! I am bound.
ATTING. (drops his hand and says sternly).
Bound, didst thou say? Oh yes, unhappy boy, Thou art indeed. But not
by word or oath. 'Tis by the silken mesh of love thou'rt bound.
(Rudenz turns away.)
Ah, hide thee, as thou wilt. 'Tis she, I know, Bertha of Bruneck, draws
thee to the court; 'Tis she that chains thee to the Emperor's service.
Thou think'st to win the noble knightly maid
By thy apostasy. Be not deceived. She is held out before thee as a
lure; But never meant for innocence like thine.
No more, I've heard enough. So fare you well.
Stay, Uly! Stay! Rash boy, he's gone! I can Nor hold him back, nor
save him from destruction. And so the Wolfshot has deserted us;-- Others
will follow his example soon. This foreign witchery, sweeping o'er our
hills, Tears with its potent spell our youth away. O luckless hour, when
men and manners strange Into these calm and happy valleys came, To warp
our primitive and guileless ways!
The new is pressing on with might. The old, The good, the simple, all
flee fast away. New times come on. A race is springing up, That think not
as their fathers thought before! What do I hear? All, all are in the grave
With whom erewhile I moved, and held converse; My age has long been laid
beneath the sod; Happy the man, who may not live to see What shall be done
by those that follow me!
next: Wilhelm Tell Act II Scence II