About sunset I set out again; the landscape, though rugged,
was beautiful. Having left behind me the Gothic chapel of St. Clement,
to my right was the right bank of the Rhine, all slate and vineyards;
and the last rays of the sun cast their red reflections upon the far-famed
hills of Assmanshausen, at the foot of which a cloud of smoke pointed
out to me Aulhausen, the village of the potteries. Above the road I
was following, stood in echelon, from hill to hill, three castles: Reichenstein
and Rheinstein, demolished by Rodolph of Hapsburg, and rebuilt
by the Count Palatine; and Vaugtsberg, inhabited, in 1458, by Kuno of
Falkenstein, and lately restored by Prince Frederick of Prussia.
The Vaugtsberg played a prominent part in the feudal wars. The Archbishop
of Mayence mortgaged it to the Emperor of Germany, for forty thousand
livres of Tours. This reminds me that Thibaut, Count of Champagne, not
knowing how to acquit himself towards the Queen of Cyprus, sold to his
beloved lord, Louis, King of France, the counties of Chartres, Blois,
Sancerne, and the viscounty of Chateaudun for the like sum—about
the price a retired tradesman now pays for his retreat in the neighborhood
I paid but little attention, however, to the landscape; and since the
approach of evening, entertained only a single idea— that before
arriving at Bingen I could see, at the confluence of Nahe, a curious
edifice in ruins, standing solitarily among the rushes in the midst
of the river, betwixt two high mountains. This ruin is the Mäusethurm.
In my childhood there was an old woodcut suspended near my bed, hung
up there by an old German nurse, which represented an ancient, mouldering,
isolated ruin, amidst fogs and mountains. The sky was charged with black
and threatening clouds, and every evening, after offering up my prayers,
and previous to closing my eyes, I used to gaze till the last moment
upon the woodcut. In the night I saw it in my dreams, and connected
it with terrible ideas. The tower seemed immense. Water poured, and
lightning fell from the clouds, while the wind from the mountains seemed
to groan heavily. One day I inquired of the nurse the name of the tower;
to which she answered, making the sign of the cross, "The Mäusethurm!"
Then she related to me, how, in older times at Mayence, there was once
a wicked archbishop named Hatto, also abbot of Fulda; "a covetous
priest," said she, "opening the hand to bestow benedictions
rather than benefactions." In a year of scarcity he bought up all
the corn, in order to sell it dear to the people. Then came famine,
and the peasants along the Rhine were all dying of hunger, so that they
crowded round the burgh of Mayence, crying aloud for bread, which the
archbishop haughtily denied. The story now becomes dreadful. The starving
people, refusing to disperse, thronged the archbishop's palace ; when,
lo! the enraged Hatto surrounded them with his archer guard, who, seizing
the men, women, and children, shut them up in a barn, and set fire to
it; a scene, said the old lady, "that would have melted rocks of
stone." Hatto, however, only laughed, and on hearing the wretched
beings scream in the flames, remarked, "'Tis but the squeaking
of rats!" The barn was now in ashes, and Mayence unpeopled and
deserted; when suddenly a multitude of rats swarmed forth from the barn,
like worms from the sores of Ahasuerus, making their way through the
fissures of the walls, defying the foot that spurned them, multiplying
at every moment, inundating the streets, citadel, and palace, cellars
and chambers; in fact, a divine plague and visitation! Hatto fled from
Mayence, pursued by the rats into the fields, and took refuge in Bingen,
which was surrounded by lofty walls. It was there the archbishop had
built a tower in the middle of the Rhine, to which he proceeded in a
boat, round which his archers beat the water. But, lo! the rats also
took to the river, crossed the Rhine, clambered up the tower, gnawed
the doors, windows, roofs, ceilings, and floors, and finding their way
to the lower ditch, in which the cruel bishop was hid, devoured him
The malediction of heaven and indignation of man have laid the finger
of scorn upon that fatal tower, now called the Mäusethurm. It stands
deserted and decaying in the middle of the river, and a reddish vapor
is sometimes seen at night issuing from the walls, like the smoke of
a furnace; according to the superstition of the spot, the soul of Hatto
returning to haunt its scene of condemnation.
Did you ever remark, that history is often immoral, while tales and
fictions are moral, virtuous, and decent? In history, the law of the
strongest is always good; tyrants are victorious, and headsmen prosper;
the monstrous fatten; the Syllas become honest burghers, and Louis XI.
and Cromwell die quietly in their bed. Fictions always command a view
of the infernal regions; no delinquency but what has its chastisement;
no crime but it ensures its penalty; no sinner but eventually becomes
penitent, or meets with his fitting doom. This arises from history moving
in infinite space, and fiction being restricted to the finite. The author
of a fiction does not assume the right of laying down the facts without
exposing the consequences: for he works in the dark; is sure of nothing;
must teach, advise, expound ; and would not dare invent incidents without
an immediate conclusion. God, who creates history, divulges only what
seemeth to Him good! The consequences of historical events often lie
at too wide a distance from their origin to be readily retraceable.
Mäusethurm is an appropriate name. One finds there all
that it promises. But there are minds which consider themselves matter
of fact, and are simply barren; which would fain extinguish all the
poetry of life, and say to the imagination as the gardener did to the
nightingale, "Will you never be quiet, stupid beast!" Such
people as these pretend that the name of Mäusethurm comes
from Mouse or Mauth, signifying toll; and pretend
that, in the tenth century, before the river was widened, the Rhine
was only navigable on the left, side, and that the town of Bingen exacted,
by means of this tower, a toll from all the craft upon the river. They
back this assertion by the fact of there being two such towers close
to Strasbourg, devoted to-such a purpose; and, in like manner, called
"Mäusethürme." For such grave reasoners,
utterly inaccessible to legendary lore, the town must remain a tollbar,
and Hatto a custom-house officer!
For all well-thinking old women, myself among the rest, Mäusethurm
derives its name from mduse, which is derived from mus, which means
a rat; and for us, the pretended toll and custom-house officer are mere
After all, the two opinions may be reconciled; for about the sixteenth
or seventeenth century, after Luther and Erasmus, the municipal authorities
may have utilized the tower of Hatto, and installed some tollage in
the haunted tower. Why not? Rome established her custom-house in the
temple of Antoninus; and the outrage she offered to history Bingen may
have offered to tradition! By this rule, Mauth would be right,
and Mouse wrong. However it may be, ever since my old nurse
related to me the story of Hatto, it has remained one of the familiar
visions of my mind. Every man has his favorite phantoms, just as all
have their hobbies. Night is the realm of dreams. Sometimes a gleam,
at others a flame, brightens our souls. The self-same dream may bring
"airs from heaven," and "blasts from hell!" Imagination
throws up her Bengal lights, coloring all things with their fantastic
I must observe that the Mäuse tower always appeared to
me a tale of especial horror; and that when my fancy urged me towards
the Rhine, my first thought was neither the Cathedral of Cologne, the
dome of Mayence, nor the Pfalz, but the Mäuse tower! Imagine
therefore the feelings of a poor credulous poet, as well as impassioned
antiquary, when, twilight having succeeded the parting day, the hills
became less defined, the trees black, with a few stars twinkling thereon,
the Rhine murmuring unseen, and the road fore-shortened as night approached,
losing itself, as it were, in mist a few steps before me. I walked slowly
on, my eyes peering into the obscurity. I knew I was approaching the
Mäusethurm, that mysterious ruin till now an hallucination,
which was about to become a reality.
A Chinese proverb says, "Strain the bow, and the arrow swerves!"
Such is the case with the mind. By degrees the vapor called reverie
mounted into my brain. The rustle ox the foliage was hushed. The faint
ring of the distant forge clinked in my ear from afar off; and, lost
in the vague current of my ideas, I forgot both rats and mice, the toll
and the archbishop, and listened, as I walked along, to the remote clang
of the anvil, which, among the varying voices of evening, of all others
wakes in my mind the wildest range of ideas. Even when it had ceased,
I seemed to hear it still, and at the expiration of a quarter of an
hour, I had composed the following effusion, as a sort of accompaniment
to my measured march :—
L'Amour forgeait. Au bruit de son enclume,
Tous les oiseaux, troublés, rouvraient les yeux ;
Car c'était l'heure où se répand la brume,
Où sur les monts, comme un feu qui s'allume,
Brille Vénus, l'escarboucle des cieux.
La grieve au nid, la caille en son champ d'orge,
S'interrogeaient, disant: Que fait-il là?
Que forge-t-il si tard?—Un rouge-gorge
Leur répondit: Moi je sais ce qu'il forge ;
C'est un regard qu'il a pris à Stella.
Et les oiseaux, riant du jeune maître,
De s'ecrier: Amour, que ferez-vous
De ce regard qu' aucun fiel ne pénètre?
Il est trop pur pour vous servir, o traître!
Pour vous servir, méchant, il est trop doux!
Mais Cupidon, parmi les étincelles,
Leur dit: Dormez, petits oiseaux des bois.
Couvrez vos œufs et répliez vos aîles,
Les purs regards sont mes flèches mortelles ;
Les plus doux yeux sont mes pires carquois.
Just as I had strung my verses to an end, suddenly turning, I halted,
when lo! at my feet lay the Rhine, crushing through the bushes, hoarse
and impetuous; to the right and left were mountains, or rather dense
masses of darkness, their summits vanishing in the clouds, which here
and there were transpierced by them —the horizon forming a vast
curtain of shade.
In the middle of the river, in the distance, rose from the still and
dead waters a high black tower of hideous form; from the summit of which
proceeded, by fits and starts, a reddened nebulosity. This gleam, resembling
the reverberation of some red-hot pipe or furnace, threw out its glare
upon the hills, setting forth on the right bank an isolated ruin,—the
lengthening shadow of which was reflected in the water, even to my feet.
Imagine, if possible, this sinister landscape, defined by such singular
effects of light and shade. Not a voice or cry of bird intruded upon
the' chill and mournful silence, save the monotonous ripple of the Rhine.
The Mäusethurm was before me! I had conceived it to be
more imposing. All was there that I could require—the solemn night,
the trembling reeds, the roar of the Rhine, as though hydras were hissing
under its waters; the fitful moaning of the wind, the red glare from
the tower, the soul of Hatto! And yet I was disappointed! No matter!
I clung to the work of my fancy; and a work of fancy it was fated to
I felt inclined, in spite of the lateness of the hour, and without waiting
for day-light, to visit the edifice. The apparition was before my eyes,
the night dark, the pale phantom of the archbishop visible in the water.
Surely this was the very moment to visit this formidable tower.
But how was I to proceed? Where to find a boat? At such an hour, and
in such a place, to swim across the Rhine was too great an effort for
the sake of a spectre. Besides, had I been a firstrate swimmer, and
rash enough for the attempt, within a few yards of the spot is the well
known whirlpool of Bingerloch, which formerly swallowed up vessels with
as much ease as a shark a herring, and to which the best of swimmers
would prove a mere gudgeon. I was consequently somewhat perplexed!
On my road towards the ruin, I recalled to mind that the vibrations
of the silver bell, and the ghosts of the donjon of Velmich, do not
prevent excellent vines from flourishing near the walls, and that it
was to be presumed the river, even here, must contain fish. I might
therefore probably find the hut of some salmon-fisher at hand. As the
vinedressers defy Falkenstein and its Mause, the fishermen
may well confront the Hatto and his rats!
I was not mistaken. Nevertheless I proceeded some distance without success,
reached the nearest point to the ruin, and, on passing it, found myself
at the confluence of the Nahe. Already I had begun to despair of my
purpose, when, on approaching the willows on the bank, I perceived one
of those spider-like nets I have already mentioned. A few paces off
a boat was moored, in which lay a man enveloped in a blanket. I woke
him up, and pointed to the tower, but he did not understand me. I then
showed him a Saxon dollar, a sign which he understood in a moment; and
some minutes afterwards we were gliding along like two spectres, in
the direction of the Mäusethurm.
As we approached the tower from the middle of the river, it appeared
to diminish in consequence of the breadth of the Rhine. This effect
was of short duration. As I got into the boat above the tower, the current
soon carried us thither; my eyes being fixed on the red glare still
issuing from the summit of the tower, which I now saw increase in size
at every stroke of the oar, so as to become really imposing.
On a sudden I felt the boat bend beneath me, and the shock jerked my
cane from out of my hands. I looked towards my companion; who, steering
coolly on by the sinister guidance of the glowing Mausethurm, said aloud
"Bingerloch!" We were passing the whirlpool!
The boat swerved, the man rose, and seizing a pole with one hand, and
a rope with the other, plunged the first into the water, and leaning
on it with all his weight, ran along the plank on the side; I felt the
boat grate harshly against the rocks beneath!
This difficult manoeuvre was executed with marvellous dexterity, and
without uttering a word. Suddenly withdrawing his pole from the water,
he held it up horizontally, and threw out a rope into the water. The
boat immediately stopped. We were arrived.
There stood the lonely and formidable Mäusethurm, with
its base deeply furrowed, as if the rats of the legend had gnawed through
the very stones!
The glare had now become a fierce and brilliant flame, throwing forth
its rays far and wide, and bursting from the crevices and fissures of
the tower, as if through the holes of a gigantic magic-lantern. I seemed
to hear within a harsh and continuous noise as if from grinding. I now
landed, and bade the boatman wait for me, and approached the ruin.
I had at last then attained the object of my wishes. This was the rat-swarming
tower of Hatto, close to me, before my very eyes. I was literally on
the threshold, able to touch, feel, pluck the grass from the very stones
of the nightmare of my youth! Yes! an embodied nightmare, real and genuine,
was before me. What extraordinary sensations must arise from so strange
The front before which I was standing had a glazed loop-hole, and four
windows of unequal sizes; two on the second, and two on the third story.
At about the height of a man's head, under the lower windows, was a
low wide door, open, and communicating with the ground by means of a
heavy ladder with only three steps. From this door issued more light
than from the windows. As I proceeded towards it with caution, over
the sharp and pointed rocks, something round and black passed rapidly
by me, almost between my feet, and I could have fancied it to be an
enormous rat flying towards the reeds. I still heard the hoarse grinding
within, and, in a few more strides, found myself before the door.
This door, which the architect of the wicked bishop had constructed
high above the soil, to render the access more difficult to the rats,
had formed the entrance to the lower room of the tower, when it had
upper and lower rooms. But now both floors and ceilings have fallen
in, and the tower of Mäusethurm has four high walls, rubbish
for floor, and the sky for roof. I looked however into the space from
which I had heard the grinding, and seen so strange a light; and there
observed two men in an angle, their backs turned towards me ; the one
bending, the other leaning upon a kind of rod, which by a slight exercise
of the imagination might have been converted into an instrument of torture.
Their arms and feet were naked, covered with rags, with a leather apron
to the knees, and a hooded jacket on their back. One was old and grey,
the other young, with light hair, reddened by the reflection from a
vast furnace in the opposite angle of the building. The hood of the
old man inclined to the right, like a Guelph ; that of the young man
to the left, like a Ghibeline. But they were neither the one nor the
other, nor even devils, but simply two smiths.
Their furnace, in which was a red-hot bar of iron, filled the building
with the glare and reddened smoke, constituting the soul of Hatto transformed
by the powers of hell into fiery vapor. The grinding proceeded from
a file. Near the door was an anvil with two huge hammers, the sound
of which an hour before had prompted my poetical effusion.
And thus the Mäusethurm has progressed into a forge! Why
then might it not as well have been a custom-house? Decidedly, my dear
friend, Mauth was the true version!
Nothing can be more dilapidated than the tower, both within and without.
The walls, from which once were suspended episcopal hangings, and afterwards,
according to the legend, gnawed by the rats with the name of Hatto,
are now naked, worn by the rain, covered by the moisture without with
a green coating, and by the furnace within with a black.
The two smiths proved to be worthy people. Having ascended the ladder,
they showed me into the building; and near a chimney pointed out a narrow
door leading into a turret without windows, and almost inaccessible,
in which the archbishop is said to have sought refuge. They also lent
me a lantern to visit every part of the diminutive island; which is
a long and narrow tongue of land, with a belt of reeds and rushes, and
the Euphorbia officinalis. At every step in this island, the feet knock
against hillocks, or sink into galleries; for moles have succeeded to
The Rhine has left uncovered the eastern point of the island, which
seems to stem like a prow the current. On lowering with my lantern,
I found the tower to be built on red marble, which has the appearance
of being veined with blood. The Mause tower is square. The
turret, of which the smiths showed me the interior, presents a picturesque
feature, looking towards Bingen. The pentagonal form of this lofey turret
is evidently of the eleventh century, and the rats seem to have particularly
wreaked their vengeance upon its base. The apertures in the tower have
so completely lost their form, that it would be impossible to infer
a date. The stone facings are so time-worn as to resemble hideous leprosy.
The stones which once constituted embattlements might pass for the teeth
of the walrus or mastodon cemented into the walls.
Above the tower floats a black and white rag—fit emblem, Heaven
knows, of the decaying structure; but, upon nearer inspection, I found
it to be simply the Prussian flag. The duchy of Hesse terminates at
Bingen, and Rhenish Prussia begins. Mind, I only speak thus disrespectfully
of the effect produced, not of the flag itself. All national flags are
glorious. Above all, the man who respects the flag of Napoleon must
render due homage to that of Frederick II. ...
After gathering a sprig of euphorbia, I quitted the Mausethurm.
The boatman was fast asleep. As we rowed away from the island, and the
two smiths returned to the anvil, I heard the heated iron hiss aloud,
as it was plunged into the water. Half an hour afterwards I reached
Bingen, and after supper, though I was much fatigued, and all the people
were in bed, by means of a dollar I managed to ascend to a dilapidated
old castle, called the Klopp. I was rewarded with a scene worthy
of closing such a day, having seen so much, and indulged in so many
fancies. It was dead of night. Beneath me lay a mass of black houses,
like a vast lake of darkness, there being but seven lights visible in
the town. By a strange chance, these seven lights, like seven stars,
exactly represented Ursa major, which at that moment shone pure and
bright in the heavens, so that the majestic constellation, millions
of miles above us, seemed reflected at my feet in an ocean of liquid