Fiction > Harvard Classics > Friedrich von Schiller > Wilhelm Tell
Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805).  Wilhelm Tell.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act I
Scene IV
The House of WALTER FÜRST. WALTER FÜRST and ARNOLD VON MELCHTHAL enter simultaneously at different sides.

  Melch.  Good Walter Fürst.
  Fürst.        If we should be surprised!
Stay where you are. We are beset with spies.
  Melch.  Have you no news for me from Unterwald?
What of my father? ’Tis not to be borne,        5
Thus to be pent up like a felon here!
What have I done so heinous that I must
Skulk here in hiding, like a murderer?
I only laid my staff across the fists
Of the pert varlet, when before my eyes,        10
By order of the governor, he tried
To drive away my handsome team of oxen.
  Fürst.  You are too rash by far. He did no more
Than what the Governor had ordered him.
You had transgress’d, and therefore should have paid        15
The penalty, however hard, in silence.
  Melch.  Was I to brook the fellow’s saucy gibe,
“That if the peasant must have bread to eat,
Why, let him go and draw the plough himself!”
It cut me to the very soul to see        20
My oxen, noble creatures, when the knave
Unyoked them from the plough. As though they felt
The wrong, they lowed and butted with their horns.
On this I could contain myself no longer,
And, overcome by passion, struck him down.        25
  Fürst.  O, we old men can scarce command ourselves!
And can we wonder youth breaks out of bounds?
  Melch.  I’m only sorry for my father’s sake!
To be away from him, that needs so much
My fostering care! The Governor detests him,        30
Because, whene’er occasion served, he has
Stood stoutly up for right and liberty.
Therefore they’ll bear him hard—the poor old man!
And there is none to shield him from their gripe.
Come what come may, I must go home again.        35
  Fürst.  Compose yourself, and wait in patience till
We get some tidings o’er from Unterwald.
Away! away! I hear a knock! Perhaps
A message from the Viceroy! Get thee in!
You are not safe from Landenberger’s 1 arm        40
In Uri, for these tyrants pull together.
  Melch.  They teach us Switzers what we ought to do.
  Fürst.  Away! I’ll call you when the coast is clear.  [MELCHTHAL retires.
Unhappy youth! I dare not tell him all
The evil that my boding heart predicts!        45
Who’s there? The door ne’er opens, but I look
For tidings of mishap. Suspicion lurks
With darkling treachery in every nook.
Even to our inmost rooms they force their way,
These myrmidons of power; and soon we’ll need        50
To fasten bolts and bars upon our doors.  [He opens the door, and steps back in surprise as WERNER STAUFFACHER enters.
What do I see? You, Werner? Now, by Heaven!
A valued guest, indeed. No man e’er set
His foot across this threshold, more esteem’d,
Welcome! thrice welcome, Werner, to my roof!        55
What brings you here? What seek you here in Uri?
  Stauff.  (shakes FÜRST by the hand). The olden times and olden Switzerland.
  Fürst.  You bring them with you. See how glad I am,
My heart leaps at the very sight of you.
Sit down—sit down, and tell me how you left        60
Your charming wife, fair Gertrude? Iberg’s child,
And clever as her father. Not a man,
That wends from Germany, by Meinrad’s Cell, 2
To Italy, but praises far and wide
Your house’s hospitality. But say,        65
Have you come here direct from Flüelen,
And have you noticed nothing on your way,
Before you halted at my door?
  Stauff.  (sits down).        I saw
A work in progress, as I came along,        70
I little thought to see—that likes me ill.
  Fürst.  O friend! you’ve lighted on my thought at once.
  Stauff.  Such things in Uri ne’er were known before.
Never was prison here in man’s remembrance,
Nor ever any stronghold but the grave.        75
  Fürst.  You name it well. It is the grave of freedom.
  Stauff.  Friend, Walter Fürst, I will be plain with you.
No idle curiosity it is
That brings me here, but heavy cares. I left
Thraldom at home, and thraldom meets me here.        80
Our wrongs, e’en now, are more than we can bear
And who shall tell us where they are to end?
From eldest time the Switzer has been free,
Accustom’d only to the mildest rule.
Such things as now we suffer ne’er were known,        85
Since herdsman first drove cattle to the hills.
  Fürst.  Yes, our oppressions are unparallel’d!
Why, even our own good lord of Attinghaus,
Who lived in olden times, himself declares
They are no longer to be tamely borne.        90
  Stauff.  In Unterwalden yonder ’tis the same;
And bloody has the retribution been.
The imperial Seneschal, the Wolfshot, who
At Rossberg dwelt, long’d for forbidden fruit—
Baumgarten’s wife, that lives at Alzellen,        95
He tried to make a victim to his lust,
On which the husband slew him with his axe.
  Fürst.  O, Heaven is just in all its judgments still!
Baumgarten, say you? A most worthy man.
Has he escaped, and is he safely hid?        100
  Stauff.  Your son-in-law conveyed him o’er the lake,
And he lies hidden in my house at Steinen.
He brought the tidings with him of a thing
That has been done at Sarnen, worse than all,
A thing to make the very heart run blood!        105
  Fürst.  (attentively). Say on. What is it?
  Stauff.        There dwells in Melchthal, then,
Just as you enter by the road from Kerns,
An upright man, named Henry of the Halden,
A man of weight and influence in the Diet.        110
  Fürst.  Who knows him not? But what of him? Proceed.
  Stauff.  The Landenberg, to punish some offence
Committed by the old man’s son, it seems,
Had given command to take the youth’s best pair
Of oxen from his plough; on which the lad        115
Struck down the messenger and took to flight.
  Fürst.  But the old father—tell me, what of him?
  Stauff.  The Landenberg sent for him, and required
He should produce his son upon the spot;
And when the old man protested, and with truth,        120
That he knew nothing of the fugitive,
The tyrant call’d his torturers.
  Fürst.  (springs up and tries to lead him to the other side).  Hush, no more!
  Stauff.  (with increasing warmth). “And though thy son,” he cried, “has ’scaped me now,
I have thee fast, and thou shalt feel my vengeance.”        125
With that they flung the old man to the ground,
And plunged the pointed steel into his eyes.
  Fürst.  Merciful Heaven!
  Melch.  (rushing out). Into his eyes, his eyes?
  Stauff.  (addresses himself in astonishment to WALTER FÜRST). Who is this youth?        130
  Melch.  (grasping him convulsively). Into his eyes? Speak, speak!
  Fürst.  Oh, miserable hour!
  Stauff.        Who is it, tell me?  [STAUFFACHER makes a sign to him.
It is his son! All-righteous Heaven!
  Melch.        And I        135
Must be from thence! What! Into both his eyes?
  Fürst.  Be calm, be calm; and bear it like a man!
  Melch.  And all for me—for my mad willful folly!
Blind, did you say? Quite blind—and both his eyes?
  Stauff.  Ev’n so. The fountain of his sight is quench’d,        140
He ne’er will see the blessed sunshine more.
  Fürst.  Oh, spare his anguish!
  Melch.        Never, never more!  [Presses his hands upon his eyes and is silent for some moments: then turning from one to the other, speaks in a subdued tone, broken by sobs.
O, the eye’s light, of all the gifts of Heaven,
The dearest, best! From light all beings live—        145
Each fair created thing the very plants
Turn with a joyful transport to the light,
And he—he must drag on through all his days
In endless darkness! Never more for him
The sunny meads shall glow, the flow’rets bloom;        150
Nor shall he more behold the roseate tints
Of the iced mountain top! To die is nothing.
But to have life, and not have sight,—oh that
Is misery, indeed! Why do you look
So piteously at me? I have two eyes,        155
Yet to my poor blind father can give neither!
No, not one gleam of that great sea of light,
That with its dazzling splendour floods my gaze
  Stauff.  Ah, I must swell the measure of your grief,
Instead of soothing it. The worst, alas!        160
Remains to tell. They’ve stripp’d him of his all;
Nought have they left him, save his staff, on which,
Blind, and in rags, he moves from door to door.
  Melch.  Nought but his staff to the old eyeless man!
Stripp’d of his all—even of the light of day,        165
The common blessing of the meanest wretch?
Tell me no more of patience, of concealment!
Oh, what a base and coward thing am I,
That on mine own security I thought,
And took no care of thine! Thy precious head        170
Left as a pledge within the tyrant’s grasp!
Hence, craven-hearted prudence, hence! And all
My thoughts be vengeance, and the despot’s blood!
I’ll seek him straight—no power shall stay me now—
And at his hands demand my father’s eyes.        175
I’ll beard him ’mid a thousand myrmidons!
What’s life to me, if in his heart’s best blood
I cool the fever of this mighty anguish?  [He is going.
  Fürst.  Stay, this is madness, Melchthal! What avails
Your single arm against his power? He sits        180
At Sarnen high within his lordly keep,
And, safe within its battlemented walls,
May laugh to scorn your unavailing rage.
  Melch.  And though he sat within the icy domes
Of yon far Schreckhorn—ay, or higher, where,        185
Veil’d since eternity, the Jungfrau soars,
Still to the tyrant would I make my way;
With twenty comrades minded like myself,
I’d lay his fastness level with the earth!
And if none follow me, and if you all,        190
In terror for your homesteads and your herds,
Bow in submission to the tyrant’s yoke,
Round me I’ll call the herdsmen on the hills,
And there beneath heaven’s free and boundless roof,
Where men still feel as men, and hearts are true,        195
Proclaim aloud this foul enormity!
  Stauff.  (to FÜRST.) The measure’s full—and we are then to wait
Till some extremity—
  Melch.        Peace! What extremity
Remains for us to dread? What, when our eyes        200
No longer in their sockets are secure?
Heavens! Are we helpless? Wherefore did we learn
To bend the cross-bow,—wield the battle-axe?
What living creature but in its despair,
Finds for itself a weapon of defence?        205
The baited stag will turn, and with the show
Of his dread antlers hold the hounds at bay;
The chamois drags the hunstman down th’ abyss,
The very ox, the partner of man’s toil,
The sharer of his roof, that meekly bends        210
The strength of his huge neck beneath the yoke,
Springs up, if he’s provoked, whets his strong horn,
And toses his tormentor to the clouds.
  Fürst.  If the three Cantons thought as we three do,
Something might then be done, with good effect.        215
  Stauff.  When Uri calls, when Unterwald replies,
Schwytz will be mindful of her ancient league. 3
  Melch.  I’ve many friends in Unterwald, and none
That would not gladly venture life and limb,
If fairly back’d and aided by the rest.        220
Oh! sage and reverend fathers of this land,
Here do I stand before your riper years,
An unskill’d youth, who in the Diet must
Into respectful silence hush his voice.
Yet do not, for that I am young, and want        225
Experience, slight my counsel and my words.
’Tis not the wantonness of youthful blood
That fires my spirit; but a pang so deep
That e’en the flinty rocks must pity me.
You, too, are fathers, heads of families,        230
And you must wish to have a virtuous son,
To reverence your grey hairs, and shield your eyes
With pious and affectionate regard.
Do not, I pray, because in limb and fortune
You still are unassailed, and still your eyes        235
Revolve undimm’d and sparkling in their spheres;
Oh, do not, therefore, disregard our wrongs!
Above you, also, hangs the tyrant’s sword.
You, too, have striven to alienate the lagd
From Austria. This was all my father’s crime:        240
You share his guilt, and may his punishment.
  Stauff.  (to FÜRST).
Do thou resolve! I am prepared to follow.
  Fürst.  First let us learn what steps the noble lords
Von Sillinen and Attinghaus propose.        245
Their names would rally thousands to the cause.
  Melch.  Is there a name within the Forest Mountains
That carried more respect than yours—and yours?
On names like these the people build their trust
In time of need—such names are household words.        250
Rich was your heritage of manly worth,
And richly have you added to its stores.
What need of nobles? Let us do the work
Ourselves. Yes, though we have to stand alone,
We shall be able to maintain our rights.        255
  Stauff.  The nobles’ wrongs are not so great as ours.
The torrent, that lays waste the lower grounds,
Hath not ascended to the uplands yet.
But let them see the country once in arms,
They’ll not refuse to lend a helping hand.        260
  Fürst.  Were there an umpire ’twixt ourselves and Austria,
Justice and law might then decide our quarrel.
But out oppressor is our Emperor too,
And judge supreme. ’Tis God must help us, then,
And our own arm! Be yours the task to rouse        265
The men of Schwytz’ I’ll rally friends in Uri.
But whom are we to send to Unterwald?
  Melch.  Thither send me. Whom should it more concern!
  Fürst.  No, Melchthal, no; you are my guest, and I
Must answer for your safety.        270
  Melch.        Let me go.
I know each forest-track and mountain-path;
Friends too, I’ll find, be sure, on every hand,
To give me willing shelter from the foe.
  Stauff.  Nay, let him go; no traitors harbour there:        275
For tyranny is so abhorred in Unterwald,
No tools can there be found to work her will.
In the low valleys, too, the Alzeller
Will gain confederates, and rouse the country.
  Melch.  But how shall we communicate, and not        280
Awaken the suspicion of the tyrants?
  Stauff.  Might we not meet at Brunnen or at Treib,
Where merchant vessels with their cargoes come?
  Fürst.  We must not go so openly to work.
Hear my opinion. On the lake’s left bank,        285
As we sail hence to Brunnen, right against
The Mytenstein, deep-hidden in the wood
A meadow lies, by shepherds called the Rootli,
Because the wood has been uprooted there.
’Tis where our Canton bound’ries verge on yours;—  (To MELCHTHAL.)        290
Your boat will carry you across from Schwytz.  (To STAUFFACHER.)
Thither by lonely bypaths let us wend
At midnight, and deliberate o’er our plans.
Let each bring with him there ten trusty men,
All one at heart with us; and then we may        295
Consult together for the general weal,
And, with God’s guidance, fix what next to do.
  Stauff.  So let it be. And now your true right hand!—
Yours, too, young man!—and as we now three men
Among ourselves thus knit our hands together        300
In all sincerity and truth, e’en so
Shall we three cantons, too, together stand
In victory and defeat, in life and death.
  Fürst and Melch.  In life and death!  [They hold their hands clasped together for some moments in silence.
  Melch.        Alas, my old blind father!        305
The day of freedom, that thou canst not see,
But thou shalt hear it, when from Alp to Alp
The beacon fires throw up their flaming signs,
And the proud castles of the tyrants fall,
Into thy cottage shall the Switzer burst,        310
Bear the glad tidings to thine ear, and o’er
Thy darken’d way shall Freedom’s radiance pour.
Note 1. Berenger von Landenberg, a man of noble family in Thurgau, and Governor of Unterwald, infamous for his cruelties to the Swiss, and particularly to the venerable Henry of the Halden. He was slain at the battle of Morgarten, in 1315. [back]
Note 2. A cell built in the 9th century, by Meinrad, Count of Hohenzollern, the founder of the Convent of Einsiedeln, subsequently alluded to in the text. [back]
Note 3. The League, or Bond, of the Three Cantons was of very ancient origin. They met and renewed it from time to time, especially when their liberties were threatened with danger. A remarkable instance of this occurred in the end of the 13th century, when Albert of Austria became Emperor, and when, possibly, for the first time, the Bond was reduced to writing. As it is important to the understanding of many passages of the play, a translation is subjoined of the oldest known document relating to it. The original, which is in Latin and German, is dated in August, 1291, and is under the seals of the whole of the men of Schwytz, the commonalty of the vale of Uri, and the whole of the men of the upper and lower vales of Stanz. [back]


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