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The Castle Of Heidelberg

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



There is every style in the Castle of Heidelberg. It is one of those buildings where are accumulated and mingled beauties which elsewhere are scattered. It has some notched towers like Pierrefonds, some jewelled facades like Anet, some fosse-walls fallen into the moat in a single piece like Rheinfels, some large sorrowful fountains, mossgrown and ready to fall, like the Villa Pamfili, some regal chimney-pieces filled with briers and brambles, - the grandeur of Tancarville, the grace of Chambord, the terror of Chillon...

If you turn towards the Palace of Frederick IV. you have before you the two high, triangular pediments of this dark and bristling facade, the greatly projecting entablatures, where, between four rows of windows, are sculptured with the most spirited chisel, nine Palatines, two Kings, and five Emperors.

On the right you have the beautiful Italian front of Otho-Heinrich with its divinities, its chimerae, and its nymphs who live and breathe velveted by the soft shadows, with its Roman Caesars, its Grecian demi-gods, its Hebraic heroes, and its porch which was sculptured by Ariosto. On the left you catch a glimpse of the Gothic front of Louis the Bearded, as savagely dug out and creviced as if gored by the horns of a gigantic bull. Behind you, under the arches of a porch, which shelters a half-filled well, you see four columns of grey granite, presented by the Pope to the great Emperor of Aix-la-Chapelle, which in the Eighth Century went to Ravenna on the border of the Rhine, in the Fifteenth, from the borders of the Rhine to the borders of the Neckar, and which, after having witnessed the fall of Charlernagne's Palace at Ingelheim, have watched the crumbling of the Palatines' Castle at Heidel berg. All the pavement of the court is covered with ruins of flights of steps, dried-up fountains, and broken basins. Everywhere the stones are cracked and nettles have broken through.

The two facades of the Renaissance which give such an air of splendour to this court are of red sandstone and the statues which decorate them are of white sandstone, an admirable combination which proves that the great sculptors were also great colourists. Time has rusted the red sand stone and given a golden tinge to the white, Of these two facades one, that of Frederick IV., is very severe; the other, that of Otho Heinrich, is entirely charming. The first is historical, the second is fabulous. Charlemagne dominates the one, Jupiter dominates the other.

The more you regard these two Palaces in juxtaposition and the more you study their marvellous details, the more sadness gains upon you. Strange destiny for masterpieces of marble and stone! An ignorant visitor mutilates them, an absurd cannon-ball annihilates them, and they were not mere artists but kings who made them. Nobody knows today the names of those divine men who built and sculptured the walls of Heidelberg. There is renown there for ten great artists who hover nameless above this illustrious ruin. An unknown Boccador planned this Palace of Frederick IV.; an ignored Prirnaticcio composed the facade of Otho-Heinrich; a Caesar Caesarino, lost in the shadows, designed the pure arches to the equilateral triangle of Louis V.'s mansion. Here are arabesques of Raphael, and here are figurines of Benvenuto. Darkness shrouds everything. Soon these marble poems will perish,-their poets have already died.

For what did these wonderful men work? Alas! for the sighing wind, for the thrusting grass, for the ivy which has come to compare its foliage with theirs, for the transient swallow, for the falling rain, and for the enshrouding night.

One singular thing here is that the three or four bombardments to which these two facades have been subjected have not treated them in the same way. Only the cornice and the architraves.of Otho-Heinrich's Palace have been damaged. The immortal Olympians who dwell there have not suffered. Neither Hercules, nor Minerva, nor Hebe has been touched. The cannon-balls and shells crossed each other here without harming these invulnerable statues. On the other hand, the sixteen crowned knights, who have heads of lions on the grenouillieres of their armour and who have such valiant countenances, on the Palace of Frederick IV. have been treated by the bombs as if they had been living warriors. Nearly every one of them has been wounded. The face of the Emperor Otho has been covered with scars; Otho, King of Hungary, has had his left leg fractured; Otho-Heinrich, the Palatine, has lost his hand; a ball has disfigured Frederick the Pious; an explosion has cut Frederick II. in half and broken Jean Casimir's loins. In the assaults which were levelled at the highest row, Charlemagne has lost his globe and in the lower one Frederick IV. has lost his sceptre.

However, nothing could be more superb than this legion of princes all mutilated and all standing. The anger of Leopold II. and of Louis XIV., the thunder-the anger of the sky, and the anger of the French Revolution-the anger of the people, have vainly assailed them; they all stand there defending their facade with their fists on their hips, with their legs outstretched, with firmly planted heel and defiant head. The Lion of Bavaria is proudly scowl ing under their feet. On the second row beneath a green bough, which has pierced through architrave and which is gracefully playing with the stone feathers of his casque, Frederick the Victorious is half drawing his sword. The sculptor has put into his face an indescribable expression of Ajax challenging Jupiter and Nirnrod shooting his arrow at Jehovah. These two Palaces of Otho-Heinrich and Frederick IV. must have offered a superb sight when seen in the light of that bombardment on the fatal night of May 21, 1693...

Today the Tower of Frederick the Victorious is called the Blown-up Tower.

Half of this colossal cylinder of masonry lies in the moat. Other cracked blocks detached from the top of the tower would have fallen long ago if the monster-trees had not seized them in their powerful claws and held them suspended above the abyss.

A few steps from this terrible ruin chance has made a ruin of ravishing beauty; this is the interior of OthoHeinrich's Palace, of which until now I have only described the facade. There it stands open to everybody under the sunshine and the rain, the snow and the wind, without a ceiling, without a canopy, and without a roof, whose dismantled walls are pierced as if by hazard with twelve Renaissance doors, -twelve jewels of orfevrerie, twelve chefs d'oeuvre, twelve idyls in stone-entwined as if they issued from the same roots, a wonderful and charming forest of wild flowers, worthy of the Palatines, consule dignoe. I can only tell you that this mixture of art and reality is indescribable; it is at once a contest and a harmony. Nature, who has a rival in Beethoven, finds also a rival in Jean Goujon. The arabesques form tendrils and the tendrils form arabesques. One does not know which to admire most, the living or the sculptured leaf.

This ruin appears to be filled with a divine order.

It seems to me that this Palace, built by the fairies of the Renaissance, is now in its natural state. All these marvellous fantasies of free and savage art would be out of harmony in these halls when treaties of peace or war were signed here, when grave princes dreamed here, and when queens were married and German emperors created here. Could these Vertumnuses, Pomonas, or Ganymedes have understood anything about the ideas that came into the heads of Frederick IV. or Frederick V., by the grace of God Count Palatine of the Rhine, Vicar of the Holy Roman Empire, Elector and Duke of Upper and Lower Bavaria', A grand seigneur slept in this chamber beside a king's daughter, under a ducal baldaquin; now there is neither seigneur, king's daughter, baldaquin, nor even ceiling to this chamber; it is now the home of the bind-weed, and the wild mint is its perfume. It is well. It is better thus. This adorable sculpture was made to be kissed by the flowers and looked upon by the stars...

The night had fallen, the clouds were spread over the sky, and the moon had mounted nearly to the zenith, while I was still sitting on the same stone, gazing into the darkness which had gathered around me and into the shadows which I had within me. Suddenly the town-clock far below me sounded the hour; it was midnight: I rose and descended. The road leading to Heidelberg passes the ruins. At the moment when I arrived before them, the moon, veiled by the diffused clouds and surrounded by an immense halo, threw a weird light upon this magnificent mass of mouldering ruins...

The ruin, always open, is deserted at this hour. The idea of entering it possessed me. The two stone giants, who guard the stone court, allowed me to pass. I crossed the dark porch, upon which the iron portcullis still hangs, and entered the court. The moon had almost disappeared beneath the clouds. There was only a pallid light in the sky.

Nothing is grander than that which has fallen. This ruin, illuminated in such a way, at such an hour, was indescribably sad, gentle, and majestic. I fancied that in the scarcely perceptible rustling of the trees and foliage there was something grave and respectful. I heard no footstep, no voice, no breath. In the court there was neither light, nor shadow; a sort of dreamful twilight outlined everything and veiled everything. The confused gaps and rifts allowed the feeble rays of moonlight to penetrate the most remote corners; and in the black depths of the inaccessible arches and corridors, I saw white figures, slowly gliding.

It was the hour when the facades of old abandoned buildings are no longer facades but faces. I walked over the uneven pavement without daring to make any noise, and I experienced between the four walls of this enclosure that strange disquietude, that undefined sentiment which the ancients called "the horror of the sacred woods."There is a kind of insurmountable terror in the sinister mingled with the superb.

However, I climbed up the green and damp steps of the old stairway without rails and entered the old roofless dwelling of Otho-Heinrich. Perhaps you will laugh; but I assure you that to walk at night through chambers which have been inhabited by people, whose doors are dismantled, whose apartments each have their peculiar signification, saying to yourself: " Here is the dining-room, here is the bed-room, here is the alcove, here is the mantel-piece, - and to feel the grass under your feet and to see the sky above your head, is terrifying. A room which has still the form of a room and whose ceiling has been lifted off, as it were like the lid of a box, becomes a mournful and nameless thing. It is not a house, it is not a tomb. In a tomb you feel the soul of a man; in this place you feel his shadow.

As soon as I passed the Knights' Hall I stopped. Here there was a singular noise, the more distinct because a sepulchral silence filled the rest of the ruin. It was a weak, prolonged, strident rattle, mingled at moments with a little, dry and rapid hammering, which at times seemed to come from the depths of the darkness, from a far-away copse, or the edifice itself; at times, from beneath my feet between the rifts in the pavement. Whence came this noise? Of what nocturnal creature was it the cry, or the knocking? I am not acquainted with it, but as I listen to it, I cannot help thinking of that hideous, legendary spinner who weaves rope for the gibbet.

However, nothing, nobody, not a living person is here. This hall, like the rest of the Palace, is deserted. I struck the pavement with my cane, the noise ceased, only to begin again a moment afterwards. I knocked again, it ceased, then it began again. Yet I saw nothing but a large frightened bat, which the blow of my cane on the stones had scared from one of the sculptured corbels of the wall, and which circled around my head in that funereal flight which seems to have been made for the interior of ruined.towers...

At the moment I descended the flight of stairs the moon shone forth, large and brilliant, from a rift in the clouds; the Palace of Frederick IV., with its double pediment, suddenly appeared, magnificent and clear as daylight with its sixteen pale and formidable giants; while, at my right, Otho's facade, a black silhouette against the luminous sky, allowed a few dazzling rays of moonlight to escape through its twenty-four windows.

I said clear as daylight - I am wrong. The moon upon ruins is more than a light,-it is a harmony. It hides no detail, it exaggerates no wounds, it throws a veil on broken objects and adds an indescribable, misty aureole of majesty to ancient buildings. It is better to see a palace, or an old cloister, at night than in the day. The hard brilliancy of the sunlight is severe upon the ruins and intensifies the sadness of the statues...

I went out of the Palace through the garden, and, descending, I stopped once more for a moment on one of the lower terraces. Behind me the ruin, hiding the moon, made, half down the slope, a large mass of shadow, where in all directions were thrown out long, dark lines, and long, luminous lines, which striped the vague and misty background of the land scape. Below me lay drowsy Heidelberg, stretched out at the bottom of the valley, the length of the mountain; all the lights were out; all the doors were shut; below Heidelberg I heard the murmur of the Neckar, which seemed to be whispering to the hill and valley; and the thoughts which filled me all the evening,-the nothingness of man in the Past, the infirmity of man in the Present, the grandeur of Nature, and the eternity of God, -came to me altogether, in a triple figure, whilst I descended with slow steps into the darkness between this river awake and living, this sleeping town, and this dead Palace.



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