We passed this glorious scene, almost the only green spot on the bleak mountain-side, and swept around the base of the Axenberg, at whose foot, in a rocky cave, stands the chapel of William Tell. This is built on the spot where he leaped from Gessler’s boat during the storm. It sits at the base of the rock, on the water’s edge, and can be seen far over the waves. The Alps, whose eternal snows are lifted dazzling to the sky, complete the grandeur of a scene so hallowed by the footsteps of freedom. The grand and lonely solemnity of the landscape impressed me with an awe, like that one feels when standing in a mighty cathedral, when the aisles are dim with twilight. And how full of interest to a citizen of young and free America is a shrine where the votaries of Liberty have turned to gather strength and courage, through the storms and convulsions of five hundred years!
We stopped at the village of Fluelen, at the head of the lake, and walked on to Altorf, a distance of half a league. Here, in the market-place, is a tower said to be built on the spot where the linden tree stood, under which the child of Tell was placed, while, about a hundred yards distant, is a fountain with Tell’s statue, on the spot from whence he shot the apple. If these localities are correct, he must indeed have been master of the cross-bow. The tower is covered with rude paintings of the principal events in the history of Swiss liberty. I viewed these scenes with double interest from having read Schiller’s “Wilhelm Tell,” one of the most splendid tragedies ever written. The beautiful reply of his boy, when he described to him the condition of the “land where there are no mountains,” was sounding in my ears during the whole day’s journey:
“Father, I’d feel
oppressed in that broad land,
I’d rather dwell beneath the avalanche!”
The little village of Burglen, whose spire we saw above the forest, in a glen near by, was the birth-place of Tell, and the place where his dwelling stood, is now marked by a small chapel. In the Schachen, a noisy mountain stream that comes down to join the Reuss, he was drowned, when an old man, in attempting to rescue a child who had fallen in—a death worthy of the hero! We bestowed a blessing on his memory in passing, and then followed the banks of the rapid Reuss. Twilight was gathering in the deep Alpine glen, and the mountains on each side, half-seen through the mist, looked like vast, awful phantoms. Soon they darkened to black, indistinct masses; all was silent except the deepened roar of the falling floods; dark clouds brooded above us like the outspread wings of night, and we were glad, when the little village of Amstegg was reached, and the parlor of the inn opened to us a more cheerful, if not so romantic scene.
PASSAGE OF THE ST. GOTHARD AND DESCENT INTO ITALY.