THE RABBI OF BACHARACH (1840)
With kindly greeting, the Legend of the Rabbi of Bacharach is dedicated to his friend HENRY LAUBE by the AUTHOR
TRANSLATED BY CHARLES GODFREY LELAND
On the Lower Rhine, where its banks begin to lose their smiling aspect, where the hills and cliffs with their romantic ruined castles rise more defiantly, and a wilder, sterner majesty prevails, there lies, like a strange and fearful tale of olden times, the gloomy and ancient town of Bacharach. But these walls, with their toothless battlements and blind turrets, in whose nooks and niches the winds whistle and the sparrows build their nests, were not always so decayed and fallen, and in these poverty-stricken, repulsive muddy lanes which one sees through the ruined gate, there did not always reign that dreary silence which only now and then is broken by the crying of children, the scolding of women, and the lowing of cows. These walls were once proud and strong, and these lanes were alive with fresh, free life, power and pomp, joy and sorrow, much love and much hate. For Bacharach once belonged to those municipalities which were founded by the Romans during their rule on the Rhine; and its inhabitants, though the times which came after were very stormy, and though they had to submit first to the Hohenstaufen, and then to the Wittelsbach authority, managed, following the example of the other cities on the Rhine, to maintain a tolerably free commonwealth. This consisted of an alliance of separate social elements, in which the patrician elders and those of the guilds, who were subdivided according to their different trades, both strove for power; so that while they were bound in union to resist and guard against outside robber-nobles, they were, nevertheless, constantly having domestic dissensions over disputed interests. Consequently there was but little social intercourse, much mistrust, and not infrequently actual outbursts of passion. The ruling governor sat in his lofty castle of Sareck, and swooped down like his falcon, whenever he was called, and often when not called. The clergy ruled in darkness by darkening the souls of others. One of the most forsaken and helpless of the social elements, which had been gradually bound down by local laws, was the little Jewish community. This had first settled in Bacharach in the days of the Romans, and during the later persecution of the Jews it had taken in many a flock of fugitive co-religionists.