A week can be well employed at St. Goar; taking care to put up at the
Lily, a most comfortable inn, and to secure a room overlooking the Rhine.
At St. Goar, you are midway between the Cat and the Mouse.
To the left, you have the Mouse, halflost, at the verge of
the horizon, in the mists of the Rhine; to the right, and before you,
the Cat, a stern-looking donjon, flanked with turrets, which
form on the summit of the hill the apex of a triangle, of which the
picturesque village of St. Goarhausen forms the base towards the Rhine;
marking the angles with two towers, one round, the other square.
The two castles frown defiance at each other across the landscape: for
though a donjon be in ruins, its shattered window still stares out with
the unmeaning gaze of an eyeless socket.
In front, upon the right bank, as if to part the two antagonists, stands
the colossal spectre of the castle of Rheinfels, belonging
to the Landgraves of Hesse. If you remain at home, you command a fine
view of the Rhine, crowded with sailing boats, and eight or ten steam
omnibuses, with their streamers, going up and down the river, lapping
the water like a huge dog swimming in the Rhine.
Farther on, upon the opposite bank, you discover the Nassau soldiers
at drill, in their green jackets and white trowsers, and hear the pompous
drums and fifes of a little insignificant sovereign duke. Under the
window you see the women of St. Goar passing to and fro, with their
light blue caps, and hear the voices of children sporting with the shallow
waters of the Rhine. Why not? Those born in a seaport town presume to
sport with the ocean. The little Germans are charming. None of them
exhibit the forbidding and surly look of English children! their faces
have a good and indulgent expression, like those of aged village curates.
On leaving the house, you may cross the Rhine for three pence, the price
of a Parisian omnibus, and progress as far as the Cat.
It was in this same castle of the Barons of Katznellenbogen that occurred
the sad adventure of the chaplain, John of Barnich. It is now a ruin,
rented by a Prussian officer of the Duke of Nassau, for five florins
per annum. Three or four tourists suffice to pay his rent. I turned
over the pages of the visitors' book, and found there for the course
of a year scarcely a single French name, several English, but numerous
Germans, and a few Italians. The interior of the Katz is completely
gutted ; the lower apartment, where the chaplain prepared the poison
for the Countess, is now a cellar, and some meagre vines entwine themselves
upon a trellis, in what used to be the picture-gallery. In a small room,
the only one having door or window, they have stuck up an engraving
representing Bohdan Chmielnicki, under which you read, "Belli
servilis autor (sic) rebelliumque Cosaccorum et plebis Ukraynen."
The formidable Zaporavian chief, muffled up in a costume partaking of
the Muskovite and Turk, appears to squint at two or three reigning princes
hanging near him; perhaps through the want of skill of the artist.
From the heights of the Katz the eye looks down upon the celebrated
whirlpool called the Bank, between which and the square tower
of St. Goarhausen there is only a narrow channel. On one side the whirlpool,
on the other a shoal; another Scylla and Charybdis. To secure themselves
across this dangerous passage, the rafts throw out on the left side
the trunk of a tree, which is called a hund or dog; and at
the pass betwixt the bank and the tower they cast the tree towards the
whirlpool, which sucking it in, maintains the raft aloof from the tower.
When the danger is past the cord is cut, and the whirlpool swallows
the tree—a sop for Cerberus.
When you desire the guide on the platform of the Katz to show
you the Bank, he points out a little ripple in the Rhine, which
literally is'the whirlpool. Things are not to be judged from appearances.
A little farther than the bank is the Rock of Lurley, rising
perpendicularly from the Rhine, with its thousand blocks of granite,
somewhat resembling a broken-down stone staircase. It is said that an
echo here repeats all you sing or say, seven times.
If I were not apprehensive of passing for a man desirous of disparaging
the fame of Echo, I would observe that I could not catch more than five
repetitions. It is possible that the Oread of Lurley, once
so courted by princes and mythological counts, begins to get husky and
tired of her vocation. This forlorn nymph has now only one admirer,
who has hollowed out two cavities in the opposite rock, and devotes
his time to blowing his horn and firing his rifle at her. This individual,
who gains his livelihood by "worshipping the echo," is a veteran
Nevertheless, to the tourist unprepared for the exhibition, the echo
of Lurley is very extraordinary. The little boat which lakes
you over makes a most formidable noise. Shut your eyes, and you might
fancy yourself in a Maltese galley of fifty oars, each pulled by four
criminals in his galley-chains.
On quitting the Katz, before leaving St. Goarhausen, you must
go visit an old house in a street parallel with the Rhine; a charming
specimen of the German renaissance, and of course despised by the natives.
Then passing to the right, you follow a bridge over a stream, and penetrate,
amid the noise of water-mills, to the "Swiss Valley," a superb
ravine, almost Alpine, formed by the high hill of Petersburg, one of
the hindmost summits of the Lurley.
The Swiss Valley is a delightful walk. You first visit the
highest villages, and then penetrate into the gloomy and solitary glens,
in one of which I saw the earth freshly furrowed up by the snout of
a wild boar. Or you may follow a deep ravine, between Cyclopean walls,
among thickets of alder and willow trees ; wandering the whole day long,
absorbed in thought, in a wilderness of wild flowers, and enjoying the
sweet converse of the torrent and the mountain path. By re-approaching
the beaten track, you find everything pre-arranged and grouped, as if
to sit for its portrait to Poussin: a half-naked shepherd watching his
flock, blowing wild melodies from an antique pipe ; a car drawn by oxen,
such as I used to admire in my youth in the cuts of Herhan's Virgil,
having between the yoke and forehead of the animal a small cushion brilliantly
embroidered with scarlet; and young maidens with naked feet, like the
nymphs seen in the sculptures of the Lower Empire. Some of them were
really beautiful; one especially, seated beside a smoking oven, drying
fruit, who raised towards heaven a pair of large blue melancholy eyes,
shaped like almonds, upon her bronzed face, her neck being adorned with
beaded ornaments, the better to conceal an incipient goitre. With this
deformityjmpairing her beauty, she looked like an Indian idol crouched
near her altar.
After crossing a meadow, the jaws of the ravine suddenly unclose, and
you discern a beautiful ruin on the summit of a hill. This is the Reichenberg,
where dwelt during the feuds of the middle ages one of the most formidable
of those baronial depredators self-styled "plagues of the country
Under his exactions the neighboring town uttered its groans in vain;
in vain did the emperor cite the escutcheoned brigand before the diet.
The man of iron, shutting himself up in his granite den, persevered
in the work of blood and rapine, living out of the pale of the church,
condemned by the diet, and hemmed in by the emperor, till his grey beard
fell down his knees from age.
I visited the Reichenberg, where nothing now exists but the wild scabious,
the shadows cast by the broken windows waving among the ruins, and the
remains of a mutilated escutcheon over the principal entrance, where,
among heaps of stones through which reptiles have worn a way, two or
three cows browse upon the intrusive verdure.
I likewise visited, behind the hill of Reichenberg, some remains of
a decayed village, formerly known by the name of the village of the
Barbers, of which the following is the legend;—
His Satanic Majesty, disapproving the numerous crusades of Frederick
Barbarossa, determined to cut off his beard; a shrewd idea, worthy the
vengeance of the devil upon an emperor. With the connivance of some
Dalilah of the place, he devised means by which Barbarossa, on visiting
Bacharach, might be put to sleep, and in this condition shaved by one
of the numerous barbers of the place. But Barbarossa, then only Duke
of Suabia, had at the period of his intimacy with the beautiful Gela
conferred an obligation on the fairy of the Wisper, who was resolved
upon defeating the project of the devil.
This fairy, about the size of a grasshopper, went in search of a giant,
her friend, of mean capacity, and begged him to lend her a sack. This
giant readily complied, and even offered to accompany her, a proposal
at which she was enchanted. The little fairy managed, I conclude, to
assume vaster proportions; and, proceeding to Bacharach on the night
of the emperor's journey, seized every barber in the town, one by one,
and put them into her sack ; which she desired the giant to throw over
his shoulders, and go wherever he wished. The giant, who, owing to the
darkness and his own stupidity, had not observed the fairy's proceedings,
set off across the country with immense strides, the sack full of barbers
swinging at his back.
Meanwhile the barbers of Bacharach, knocking against each other in the
sack, began to awake; and the giant, alarmed by their noise, to double
his strides. As he was passing the castle of Reichenberg, on raising
his leg to avoid the great tower, one of the barbers, having a razor
in his pocket, drew it forth, and cut a hole in the sack, through which
the barbers slipped out, and, falling amongst the briars, shrieked aloud.
The giant, thinking he had ten thousand devils on his shoulders, made
off as fast as his seven leagued boots would carry him. Next day the
emperor passed through Bacharach, and not a barber was to be found in
the place. The devil also made his appearance—when a facetious
crow, perched upon the gate of the town, addressed him thus:—
"My worthy friend, you have something attached to your head longer
than the beard of the Emperor Barbarossa: even a pair of ass's ears!"
From that time till now, not a barber can ever be found at Bacharach.
As to those who slipped out of the sack, they established themselves
where they fell, and from that period the village was called "the
village of the barbers." Such are the means by which Frederick
Barbarossa preserved his beard and his empire.
In addition to the Katz, the Maus, and the Lurley,
the Swiss Valley, and the Reichenberg, there is still
the Rheinfels near St. Goar, to which I have alluded. This
interesting spot exhibits a mountain excavated in all directions, crested
with ruins, having prodigious internal galleries, vast halls with arched
openings fifty feet wide, dungeons plunged below the stream, animated
by the rattle of the water-mills in the valley behind the castle. Through
fissures in the wall the steamers on the Rhine appear no bigger than
large fishes trained to carry people on their backs. The feudal palace
of the Landgraves of Hesse has become a heap of ruins, with embrasures
for catapults and cannon, which resemble the dens of wild beasts seen
in the Roman circus; the weeds sprouting from every crevice, the rough-cut
slates and basalts assigning to the groinings the profiles of saws and
open jaws: and all this to be seen for the price of two sols.
There seems to have been an earthquake in this scene of ruin and desolation.
But the earthquake was produced by Napoleon, who blew up the Rheinfels
in 1807, when, strange to say, the whole structure fell, with the exception
of the four walls of the chapel. It is difficult to stand in this holy
place, preserved as it were miraculously amid universal destruction,
without profound emotion.
In the embrasures of the windows are placed devout inscriptions, two
in each window:— "Sanctus Franciscus vixit 1526—
Sanctus Dominicus vixit (erased)—Sanctus Albertus vixit
1292— Sanctus Narbertus, 1150—Sanctus Bernardus,
1139—Sanctus Bruno, 1115—Sanctus Benedictus,
1140." There is another name effaced: then, recurring
back several centuries, these three majestic lines present themselves
: "Sanctus Basilius magnus, Episc. Casarece Cappadoci, magister
monackorum orientalium, vixit anno 372." By the side of Basil
the Great, under the door of the chapel, these two names are inscribed
: "Sanctus Antonius magnus; Sanctus Paulus Eremita."
This is all that escaped from the shells and mine of the Imperial army.
The castle of Rheinfels, demolished by Napoleon, was likewise
threatened by Louis XIV. The old "Gazette of France," which
was printed in the Louvre, announces, under the date of January 23,
1693, "The Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel takes possession of the town
of St. Goar and of the Rheinfels, ceded to him by the Landgrave, Frederick
of Hesse, who has determined to end his days at Cologne." In a
following number, the same journal announces, "Five hundred peasants
are working with the soldiers at the fortifications of the Rheinfels."
A fortnight afterwards we read, " The Count of Thingen is suspending
chains and constructing redoubts upon the Rhine."
And what is the meaning of this flight of the Landgrave? Why these five
hundred peasants added to the troops? Why those redoubts and chains
so hastily thrown up? Simply because Louis XIV, was pleased to knit
his brow, and that the campaign was about to open in Germany.
The Rheinfels, over the door of which the ducal coronet of
the Landgraves still remains, is now the mere outhouse of a farm! A
few vines climb about the walls, and gnats browse. on the ground-floor.
At dusk, the whole mass defined against the evening sky produces a superb
Returning up the Rhine, about a mile from St. Goar (the Prussian mile,
like the league of Spain, and the hour's march of the Turk, comprehends
two French leagues), you suddenly discern, in the space between two
mountains, a beautiful Gothic town, situated on the declivity of a hill,
and sloping to the brink of the Rhine; with antiquated streets, such
as we only see in the scenery of the Opera, fourteen embattled towers
overgrown with ivy, and two vast churches of the purest Gothic.
This is the warlike Oberwesel, whose old walls are riddled with the
havoc of shot and shells. Upon them you easily recognize the trace of
the huge cannon-balls of the bishops of Treves, the Biscayans of Louis
XIV., and the revolutionary grape-shot of France. At the present day,
Oberwesel resembles an old veteran turned vine-dresser; and excellent
wine he produces.
Like the other Rhenish towns, Oberwesel has its castle in ruins, called
the Schonberg; one of the most remarkable ruins in Europe.
It was in this castle dwelt, in the tenth century, the seven cruel and
scoffing young ladies, who may now be admired through the fissures of
their castle, transformed into seven rocks in the Rhine!
An excursion from St. Goar to Oberwesel is amply repaid. The road runs
parallel with the river, here narrow and confined between high hills.
Neither house nor traveller is visible; and all is wild and lonely.
Piles of slate arise out of the river, covering the bank like heaps
of gigantic scales. Every now and then you perceive among the bushes
a kind of immense spider, formed by two transversal rods, crossed and
confined in their centre by a stout knot, suspended from a lever, while
the four extremities remain in the water; and amid the silent solitude
of the place, you every now and then perceive the lever shake, and the
rods suddenly spring up, holding in the net they sustain a lively salmon,
twisting and leaping in his prison.
In the evening, after one of these exhilarating excursions, which serve
to open every cavity of the stomach, you return to St. Goar, and find
two or three silent smokers seated at a table, at the end of which is
laid one of those excellent and simple German suppers which exhibit
the partridges the size of fowls. With such fare you may recruit your
strength, especially if you know how to conform to local customs, like
the wise Ulysses, and have the good sense to take in good part certain
fantastic incongruities, such as a roast duck dressed with apple marmalade,
or a boar's head with apricot sauce.
Towards the end of the supper, the sound of horns and firing is heard
; and on looking out, you find this to be the work of the veteran hussar,
waking up the echo of St. Goar; scarcely less marvellous than that of
Lurley. A pistol-shot becomes as loud as the discharge of a
cannon; and every note of the trumpet is repeated with the most perfect
exactness in all the depths of the valleys. These delicate symphonies,
remote and faint, appear to become ironical, at once deriding and delighting
the attention. As it is difficult to suppose the huge and heavy mountain
endued with so delicate a vein of irony, at the end of a few minutes
you become the dupe of your illusions, and, however matter-of-fact in
your nature, are ready to swear that in those dark recesses, in some
fantastic retreat, there must exist supernatural beings—some fairy,
some Titania, who diverts herself by parodying human music, and throwing
down a mountain every time she is insulted by the report of a pistol.
All this is as charming as it is startling. The effect would be still
more perfect, if we could forget that we were standing at an inn-window
; and that the extraordinary phenomenon is served up like an extra dish
for the dessert of a table d'hôte. The enchantment ends of course
in the most natural manner. The operation over, a waiter, holding a
tin plate, presents it to all present, while the veteran hussar stands
with stern dignity in a corner, watching the operation; after which
all retire from the field, every man having paid his shot!