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Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805). Wilhelm Tell.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Act I

Scene II

A lime tree in front of STAUFFACHER’S house at Steinen, in Schwytz, upon the public road, near a bridge

WERNER STAUFFACHER and PFEIFFER, of Lucerne, enter into conversation

Pfeiff.Ay, ay, friend Stauffacher, as I have said,

Swear not to Austria, if you can help it.

Hold by the Empire stoutly as of yore,

And God preserve you in your ancient freedom![Presses his hand warmly, and is going.

Stauff.Wait till my mistress comes. Now do! You are

My guest in Schwytz—I in Lucerne am yours.

Pfeiff.Thanks! thanks! But I must reach Gersau to-day.

Whatever grievances your rulers’ pride

And grasping avarice may yet inflict,

Bear them in patience—soon a change may come.

Another emperor may mount the throne.

But Austria’s once, and you are hers for ever.[Exit.[STAUFFACHER sits down sorrowfully upon a bench under the lime tree. GERTRUDE, his wife, enters, and finds him in this posture. She places herself near him, and looks at him for some time in silence.

Gert.So sad, my love! I scarcely know thee now.

For many a day in silence I have mark’d

A moody sorrow furrowing thy brow.

Some silent grief is weighing on thy heart.

Trust it to me. I am thy faithful wife,

And I demand my half of all thy cares.[Stauffacher gives her his hand and is silent.

Tell me what can oppress thy spirits thus?

Thy toil is blest—the world goes well with thee—

Our barns are full—our cattle, many a score;

Our handsome team of well-fed horses, too,

Brought from the mountain pastures safely home,

To winter in their comfortable stalls.

There stands thy house—no nobleman’s more fair!

’Tis newly built with timber of the best,

All grooved and fitted with the nicest skill;

Its many glistening windows tell of comfort!

’Tis quarter’d o’er with’ scutcheons of all hues,

And proverbs sage, which passing travellers

Linger to read, and ponder o’er their meaning.

Stauff.The house is strongly built, and handsomely,

But, ah! the ground on which we built it quakes.

Gert.Tell me, dear Werner, what you mean by that?

Stauff.No later gone than yesterday, I sat

Beneath this linden, thinking with delight,

How fairly all was finished, when from Küssnacht

The Viceroy and his men came riding by.

Before this house he halted in surprise:

At once I rose, and, as beseemed his rank,

Advanced respectfully to greet the lord,

To whom the Emperor delegates his power,

As judge supreme within our Canton here.

“Who is the owner of this house?” he asked,

With mischief in his thoughts, for well he knew.

With prompt decision, thus I answered him:

“The Emperor, your grace—my lord and yours,

And held by me in fief.” On this he answered,

“I am the Emperor’s viceregent here,

And will not that each peasant churl should build

At his own pleasure, bearing him as freely

As though he were the master in the land.

I shall make bold to put a stop to this!”

So saying, he, with menaces, rode off,

And left me musing with a heavy heart

On the fell purpose that his words betray’d.

Gert.My own dear lord and husband! Wilt thou take

A word of honest counsel from thy wife?

I boast to be the noble Iberg’s child,

A man of wide experience. Many a time,

As we sat spinning in the winter nights,

My sisters and myself, the people’s chiefs

Were wont to gather round our father’s hearth,

To read the old imperial charters, and

To hold sage converse on the country’s weal.

Then heedfully I listened, marking well

What now the wise man thought, the good man wished,

And garner’d up their wisdom in my heart.

Hear then, and mark me well; for thou wilt see,

I long have known the grief that weighs thee down.

The Viceroy hates thee, fain would injure thee,

For thou hast cross’d his wish to bend the Swiss

In homage to this upstart house of princes,

And kept them staunch, like their good sires of old,

In true allegiance to the Empire. Say,

Is’t not so, Werner? Tell me, am I wrong?

Stauff.’Tis even so. For this doth Gessler hate me.

Gert.He burns with envy, too, to see thee living

Happy and free on thine ancestral soil,

For he is landless. From the Emperor’s self

Thou hold’st in fief the lands thy fathers left thee.

There’s not a prince i’ the Empire that can show

A better title to his heritage;

For thou hast over thee no lord but one,

And he the mightiest of all Christian kings.

Gessler, we know, is but a younger son,

His only wealth the knightly cloak he wears;

He therefore views an honest man’s good fortune

With a malignant and a jealous eye.

Long has he sworn to compass thy destruction.

As yet thou art uninjured. Wilt thou wait

Till he may safely give his malice vent?

A wise man would anticipate the blow.

Stauff.What’s to be done?

Gert.Now hear what I advise.

Thou knowest well, how here with us in Schwytz

All worthy men are groaning underneath

This Gessler’s grasping, grinding tyranny.

Doubt not the men of Unterwald as well,

And Uri, too, are chafing like ourselves,

At this oppressive and heart-wearying yoke.

For there, across the lake, the Landenberg

Wields the same iron rule as Gessler here—

No fishing-boat comes over to our side,

But brings the tidings of some new encroachment,

Some fresh outrage, more grievous than the last.

Then it were well, that some of you—true men—

Men sound at heart, should secretly devise,

How best to shake this hateful thraldom off.

Full sure I am that God would not desert you,

But lend His favour to the righteous cause.

Has thou no friend in Uri, one to whom

Thou frankly may’st unbosom all thy thoughts?

Stauff.I know full many a gallant fellow there,

And nobles, too,—great men, of high repute,

In whom I can repose unbounded trust.[Rising.

Wife! What a storm of wild and perilous thoughts

Hast thou stirr’d up within my tranquil breast!

The darkest musings of my bosom thou

Hast dragg’d to light, and placed them full before me;

And what I scarce dared harbour e’en in thought,

Thou speakest plainly out with fearless tongue.

But hast thou weigh’d well what thou urgest thus?

Discord will come, and the fierce clang of arms,

To scare this valley’s long unbroken peace,

If we, a feeble shepherd race, shall dare

Him to the fight, that lords it o’er the world.

Ev’n now they only wait some fair pretext

For setting loose their savage warrior hordes,

To scourge and ravage this devoted land,

To lord it o’er us with the victor’s rights,

And, ’neath the show of lawful chastisement,

Despoil us of our chartered liberties.

Gert.You, too are men; can wield a battle axe

As well as they. God ne’er deserts the brave.

Stauff.Oh wife! a horrid, ruthless fiend is war,

That smites at once the shepherd and his flock.

Gert.Whate’er great Heaven inflicts, we must endure;

But wrong is what no noble heart will bear.

Stauff.This house—thy pride—war, unrelenting war

Will burn it down.

Gert.And did I think this heart

Enslaved and fettered to the things of earth,

With my own hand I’d hurl the kindling torch.

Stauff.Thou hast faith in human kindness, wife; but war

Spares not the tender infant in its cradle.

Gert.There is a Friend to innocence in heaven.

Send your gaze forward, Werner—not behind.

Stauff.We men may die like men, with sword in hand;

But oh, what fate, my Gertrude, may be thine?

Gert.None are so weak, but one last choice is left

A spring from yonder bridge and I am free!

Stauff.(embracing her). Well may he fight for hearth and home, that clasps

A heart so rare as thine against his own!

What are the host of emperors to him?

Gertrude, farewell! I will to Uri straight.

There lives my worthy comrade, Walter Fürst;

His thoughts and mine upon these times are one.

There, too, resides the noble Banneret

Of Attinghaus. High though of blood he be,

He loves the people, honours their old customs.

With both of these I will take counsel, how

To rid us bravely of our country’s foe.

Farewell! and while I am away, bear thou

A watchful eye in management at home.

The pilgrim journeying to the house of God,

And holy friar, collecting for his cloister,

To these give liberally from purse and garner.

Stauffacher’s house would not be hid. Right out

Upon the public way it stands, and offers

To all that pass a hospitable roof.[While they are retiring, TELL enters with BAUMGARTEN.

Tell.Now, then, you have no further need of me.

Enter yon house. ’Tis Werner Stauffacher’s,

A man that is a father to distress.

See, there he is, himself! Come, follow me.[They retire up. Scene changes.