( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The sun had set when we reached Cologne. I gave my luggage to a porter, with orders to carry it to a hotel at Duez, a little town on the opposite side of the Rhine; and directed my steps toward the cathedral. Rather than ask my way, I wandered up and down the narrow streets, which night had all but obscured. At last I entered a gate-way leading to a court, and came out on an open square—dark and deserted. A magnificent spectacle now presented itself, Before me, in the fantastic light of a twilight sky, rose, in the midst of a group of low houses, an enormous black mass, studded with pinnacles and belfries. A little farther was another, not quite so broad as the first, but higher; a kind of square fortress, flanked at its angles with four long detached towers, having on its summit something resembling a huge feather. On approaching, I discovered that it was the cathedral of Cologne.
What appeared Iike a large feather was a crane, to which sheets of lead were appended, and which, from its workable appearance, indicated to passers-by that this unfinished temple may one day be completed; and that the dream of Engelbert de Berg, which was realized under Conrad de Hochsteden, may, in an age or two, be the greatest cathedral in the world. This incomplete Iliad sees Homers in futurity. The church was shut. I surveyed the steeples, and was startled at their dimensions. What I had taken for towers are the projections of the buttresses. Tho only the first story is completed, the building is already nearly as high as the towers of Notre Dame at Paris. Should the spire, according to the plan, be placed upon this monstrous trunk, Strasburg would be, comparatively speaking, small by its side.* It has always struck me that nothing resembles ruin more than an unfinished edifice. Briars, saxifrages, and pellitories —indeed, all weeds that root themselves in the crevices and at the base of old buildings have besieged these venerable walls. Man only constructs what Nature in time destroys.
All was quiet; there was no one near to break the prevailing silence. I approached the facade, as near as the gate would permit me, and heard the countless shrubs gently rustling in the night breeze. A light which appeared at a neighboring window, cast its rays upon a group of exquisite statues—angels and saints, reading or preaching, with a large open book before them. Admirable prologue for a church, which is nothing else than the Word made marble, brass or stone ! Swallows have fearlessly taken up their abode here, and their simple yet curious masonry contrasts strangely with the architecture of the building. This was my first visit to the cathedral of Cologne. The dome of Cologne, when seen by day, appeared to me to have lost a little of its sublimity; it no longer had what I call the twilight grandeur that the evening lends to huge objects; and I must say that the cathedral of Beauvais, which is scarcely known, is not inferior, either in size or in detail, to the cathedral of Cologne.
The Hotel-de-Ville, situated near the cathedral, is one of those singular edifices which have been built at different times, and which consist of all styles of architecture seen in ancient buildings. The mode in which these edifices have been built forms rather an interesting study. Nothing is regular—no fixt plan has been drawn out—all has been built as necessity required. Thus the Hotel-de-Ville, which has, probably, some Roman cave near its foundation, was, in 1250, only a structure similar to those of our edifices built with pillars. For the convenience of the night-watchman, and in order to sound the alarum, a steeple was required, and in the fourteenth century a tower was built. Under Maximilian a taste for elegant structures was everywhere spread, and the bishops of Cologne, deeming it essential to dress their city-house in new raiment, engaged an Italian architect, a pupil, probably, of old Michael Angelo, and a French sculptor, who adjusted on the blackened facade of the thirteenth century a triumphant and magnificent porch. A few years expired, and they stood sadly in want of a promenade by the side of the Registry. A back court was built, and galleries erected, which were sumptuously enlivened by heraldry and bas-reliefs. These I had the pleasure of seeing; but, in a few years, no person will have the same gratification, for, without anything being done to prevent it, they are fast falling into ruins. At last, under Charles the Fifth, a large room for sales and for the assemblies of the citizens was required, and a tasteful building of stone and brick was added. I went up to the belfry; and under a gloomy sky, which harmonized with the edifice and with my thoughts, I saw at my feet the whole of this admirable town.
From Thurmchen to Bayenthurme, the town, which extends upward of a league on the banks of the river, displays a whole host of windows and facades. In the midst of roofs, turrets and gables, the summits of twenty-four churches strike the eye, all of different styles, and each church, from its grandeur, worthy of the name of cathsdral. If we examine the town in detail, all is stir, all is life. The bridge is crowded with passengers and carriages; the river is covered with sails. Here and there clumps of trees caress, as it were, the houses blackened by time; and the old stone hotels of the fifteenth century, with their long frieze of sculptured flowers, fruit and leaves, upon which the dove, when tired, rests itself, relieve the monotony of the slate roofs and brick fronts which surround them.
Round this great town—mercantile from its industry, military from its position, marine from its river is a vast plain that borders Germany, which the Rhine crosses at different places, and is crowned on the northeast by historic eminences . that wonderful nest of legends and traditions, called the "Seven Mountains." Thus Holland and its commerce, Germany and its poetry—like the two great aspects of the human mind, the positive and the ideal—shed their light upon the horizon of Cologne; a city of business and of meditation.
After descending from the belfry, I stopt in the yard before a handsome porch of the Renaissance, the second story of which is formed of a series of small triumphal arches, with inscriptions. The first is dedicated to Caesar; the second to Augustus; the third to Agrippa, the founder of Cologne; the fourth to Constantine, the Christian emperor; the fifth to Justinian, the great legislator; and the sixth to Maximilian. Upon the facade, the poetic sculpture has chased three bas-reliefs, representing the three lion-combatants, Milo of Crotona, Pepin-le-Bref, and Daniel. At the two extremities he has placed Milo of Crotons, attacking the lions by strength of body; and Daniel subduing the lions by the power of mind. Between these is Pepin-le-Bref, conquering his ferocious antagonist with that mixture of moral and physical strength which distinguishes the soldier. Between pure strength and pure thought, is courage; between the athlete and the prophet—the hero.
Pepin, sword in hand, has plunged his left arm, which is enveloped in his mantle, into the mouth of the lion; the animal stands, with extended claws, in that attitude which in heraldry represents the lion rampant. Pepin attacks it bravely and vanquishes. Daniel is standing motionless, his arms by his side, and his eyes lifted up to Heaven, the lions lovingly rolling at his feet. As for Milo of Crotona, he defends himself against the lion, which is in the act of devouring him. His blind presumption has put too much faith in muscle, in corporeal strength. These three bas-reliefs contain a world of meaning; the last produces a powerful effect. It is Nature avenging herself on the man whose only faith is in brute force... .
In the evening, as the stars were shining, I took a walk upon the side of the river opposite to Cologne. Before me was the whole town, with its innumerable steeples figuring in detail upon the pale western sky. To my left rose, like the giant of Cologne, the high spire of St. Martin's, with its two towers ; and, almost in front, the somber apsed cathedral, with its many sharp-pointed spires, resembling a monstrous hedgehog, the crane forming the tail, and near the base two lights, which appeared like two eyes sparkling with fire. Nothing disturbed the stillness of the night but the rustling of the waters at my feet, the heavy tramp of a horse's hoofs upon the bridge, and the sound of a blacksmith's hammer. A long stream of fire that issued from the forge caused the adjoining windows to sparkle; then, as if hastening to its opposite element, disappeared in the water.