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

Act II

Scene I

The Mansion of the BARON OF ATTINGHAUSEN. A Gothic Hall, decorated with escutcheons and helmets. The BARON, a grey-headed man, eighty-five years old, tall and of a commanding mien, clad in a furred pelisse, and leaning on a staff tipped with chamois horn. KUONI and six hinds standing round him with rakes and scythes. ULRICH OF RUDENZ enters in the costume of a knight.

Rud.Uncle, I’m here! Your will?

Atting.First let me share,

After the ancient custom of our house,

The morning cup, with these my faithful servants![He drinks from a cup, which is then passed round.

Time was, I stood myself in field and wood,

With mine own eyes directing all their toil,

Even as my banner led them in the fight,

Now I am only fit to play the steward:

And, if the genial sun come not to me,

I can no longer seek it on the hills.

Thus slowly, in an ever-narrowing sphere,

I move on to the narrowest and the last,

Where all life’s pulses cease. I now am but

The shadow of my former self, and that

Is fading fast—’twill soon be but a name.

Kuoni(offering RUDENZ the cup). A pledge, young master![RUDENZ hesitates to take the cup.

Nay, Sir, drink it off!

One cup, one heart! You know our proverb, Sir?

Atting.Go, children, and at eve, when work is done,

We’ll meet and talk the country’s business over.[Exeunt servants.

Belted and plumed, and all thy bravery on!

Thou art for Altdorf—for the castle, boy?

Rud.Yes, uncle. Longer may I not delay—

Atting.(sitting down). Why in such haste? Say, are thy youthful hours

Doled in such niggard measure, that thou must

Be chary of them to thy aged uncle?

Rud.I see my presence is not needed here,

I am but as a stranger in this house.

Atting.(gazes fixedly at him for a considerable time). Ay, pity ’tis thou art! Alas, that home

To thee has grown so strange! Oh, Uly! Uly!

I scarce do know thee now, thus deck’d in silks,

The peacock’s feather flaunting in thy cap,

And purple mantle round thy shoulders flung;

Thou look’st upon the peasant with disdain;

And tak’st his honest greeting with a blush.

Rud.All honour due to him I gladly pay,

But must deny the right he would usurp.

Atting.The sore displeasure of its monarch rests

Upon our land, and every true man’s heart,

Is full of sadness for the grievous wrongs

We suffer from our tyrants. Thou alone

Art all unmoved amid the general grief.

Abandoning thy friends, thou tak’st thy stand

Beside thy country’s foes, and, as in scorn

Of our distress, pursuest giddy joys,

Courting the smiles of princes all the while

Thy country bleeds beneath their cruel scourge.

Rud.The land is sore oppress’d, I know it, uncle.

But why? Who plunged it into this distress?

A word, one little easy word, might buy

Instant deliverance from all our ills,

And win the good will of the Emperor.

Woe unto those who seal the people’s eyes.

And make them adverse to their country’s good—

The men who, for their own vile, selfish ends,

Are seeking to prevent the Forest States

From swearing fealty to Austria’s House,

As all the countries round about have done.

It fits their humour well, to take their seats

Amid the nobles on the Herrenbank;

They’ll have the Kaiser for their lord, forsooth,—

That is to say, they’ll have no lord at all.

Atting.Must I hear this, and from thy lips, rash boy!

Rud.You urged me to this answer. Hear me out.

What, uncle, is the character you’ve stoop’d

To fill contentedly through life? Have you

No higher pride, than in these lonely wilds

To be the Landamman or Banneret,

The petty chieftain of a shepherd race?

How! Were it not a far more glorious choice,

To bend in homage to our royal lord,

And swell the princely splendours of his court,

Than sit at home, the peer of your own vassals,

And share the judgment-seat with vulgar clowns?

Atting.Ah, Uly, Uly; all too well I see,

The tempter’s voice has caught thy willing ear,

And pour’d its subtle poison in thy heart.

Rud.Yes, I conceal it not. It doth offend

My inmost soul, to hear the stranger’s gibes,

That taunt us with the name of “Peasant Nobles!”

Think you the heart that’s stirring here can brook,

While all the young nobility around

Are reaping honour under Hapsburg’s banner,

That I should loiter, in inglorious ease,

Here on the heritage my fathers left,

And, in the dull routine of vulgar toil,

Lose all life’s glorious spring? In other lands

Great deeds are done. A world of fair renown

Beyond these mountains stirs in martial pomp.

My helm and shield are rusting in the hall;

The martial trumpet’s spirit-stirring blast,

The herald’s call, inviting to the lists,

Rouse not the echoes of these vales, where nought

Save cowherd’s horn and cattle bell is heard,

In one unvarying dull monotony.

Atting.Deluded boy, seduced by empty show!

Despise the land that gave thee birth! Ashamed

Of the good ancient customs of thy sires!

The day will come, when thou, with burning tears,

Wilt long for home, and for thy native hills,

And that dear melody of tuneful herds,

Which now, in proud disgust, thou dost despise!

A day when wistful pangs shall shake thy heart,

Hearing their music in a foreign land.

Oh! potent is the spell that binds to home!

No, no, the cold, false world is not for thee.

At the proud court, with thy true heart, thou wilt

For ever feel a stranger among strangers.

The world asks virtues of far other stamp

Than thou hast learned within these simple vales.

But go—go thither,—barter thy free soul,

Take land in fief, be minion to a prince,

Where thou might’st be lord paramount, and prince

Of all thine own unburden’d heritage!

O, Uly, Uly, stay among thy people!

Go not to Altdorf. Oh, abandon not

The sacred cause of thy wrong’d native land!

I am the last of all my race. My name

Ends with me. Yonder hang my helm and shield;

They will be buried with me in the grave.

And must I think, when yielding up my breath,

That thou but wait’st the closing of mine eyes,

To stoop thy knee to this new feudal court,

And take in vassalage from Austria’s hands

The noble lands, which I from God received,

Free and unfetter’d as the mountain air!

Rud.’Tis vain for us to strive against the King.

The world pertains to him:—shall we alone,

In mad presumptuous obstinacy, strive

To break that mighty chain of lands, which he

Hath drawn around us with his giant grasp?

His are the markets, his the courts,—his, too,

The highways; nay, the very carrier’s horse,

That traffics on the Gotthardt, pays him toll.

By his dominions, as within a net,

We are enclosed, and girded round about.

—And will the Empire shield us? Say, can it

Protect itself ’gainst Austria’s growing power?

To God, and not to emperors must we look!

What store can on their promises be placed,

When they, to meet their own necessities,

Can pawn, and even alienate the towns

That flee for shelter ’neath the Eagle’s wings?

No, uncle! It is wise and wholesome prudence,

In times like these, when faction’s all abroad,

To vow attachment to some mighty chief.

The imperial crown’s transferred from line to line.

It has no memory for faithful service:

But to secure the favour of these great

Hereditary masters, were to sow

Seed for a future harvest.

Atting.Art so wise?

Wilt thou see clearer than thy noble sires,

Who battled for fair freedom’s priceless gem,

With life, and fortune, and heroic arm?

Sail down the lake to Lucerne, there inquire,

How Austria’s thraldom weighs the Cantons down.

Soon she will come to count our sheep, our cattle,

To portion out the Alps, e’en to their peaks,

And in our own free woods to hinder us

From striking down the eagle or the stag;

To set her tolls on every bridge and gate,

Impoverish us, to swell her lust of sway,

And drain our dearest blood to feed her wars.

No, if our blood must flow, let it be shed

In our own cause! We purchase liberty

More cheaply far than bondage.

Rudenz.What can we,

A shepherd race, against great Albert’s hosts?

Atting.Learn, foolish boy, to know this shepherd race!

I know them, I have led them on in fight,—

I saw them in the battle at Favenz.

What! Austria try, forsooth, to force on us

A yoke we are determined not to bear!

Oh, learn to feel from what a stock thou’rt sprung;

Cast not, for tinsel trash and idle show,

The precious jewel of thy worth away,

To be the chieftain of a free-born race,

Bound to thee only by their unbought love,

Ready to stand—to fight—to die with thee,

Be that thy pride, be that thy noblest boast!

Knit to thy heart the ties of kindred-home—

Cling to the land, the dear land of thy sires,

Grapple to that with thy whole heart and soul!

Thy power is rooted deep and strongly here,

But in yon stranger world thou’lt stand alone,

A trembling reed beat down by every blast.

Oh come! ’tis long since we have seen thee, Uly!

Tarry but this one day. Only to-day!

Go not to Altdorf. Wilt thou? Not to-day!

For this one day, bestow thee on thy friends.[Takes his hand.

Rud.I gave my word. Unhand me! I am bound.

Atting.(drops his hand and says sternly). Bound, didst thou say? Oh yes, unhappy boy,

Thou art indeed. But not by word or oath.

’Tis by the silken mesh of love thou’rt bound.[RUDENZ turns away.

Ah, hide thee, as thou wilt. ’Tis she, I know,

Bertha of Bruneck, draws thee to the court;

’Tis she that chains thee to the Emperor’s service.

Thou think’st to win the noble knightly maid

By thy apostasy. Be not deceived.

She is held out before thee as a lure;

But never meant for innocence like thine.

Rud.No more, I’ve heard enough. So fare you well.[Exit.

Atting.Stay, Uly! Stay! Rash boy, he’s gone! I can

Nor hold him back, nor save him from destruction.

And so the Wolfshot has deserted us;—

Others will follow his example soon.

This foreign witchery, sweeping o’er our hills,

Tears with its potent spell our youth away.

O luckless hour, when men and manners strange

Into these calm and happy valleys came,

To warp our primitive and guileless ways!

The new is pressing on with might. The old,

The good, the simple, all fleet fast away.

New times come on. A race is springing up,

That think not as their fathers thought before!

What do I hear? All, all are in the grave

With whom erewhile I moved, and held converse;

My age has long been laid beneath the sod;

Happy the man, who may not live to see

What shall be done by those that follow me!