Bingen And Mayence
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Bingen is an exceedingly pretty place, having at once the somber look of an ancient town, and the cheering aspect of a new one. From the days of Consul Drusus to those of the Emperor Charlemagne, from Charlemagne to Archbishop Willigis, from Willigis to the merchant Montemagno, and from Montemagno to the visionary Holzhausen, the town gradually increased in the number of its houses, as the dew gathers drop by drop in the cup of a lily. Excuse this comparison; for, tho flowery, it has truth to back it, and faithfully illustrates the mode in which a town near the con-flux of two rivers is constructed. The irregularity of the houses—in fact everything, tends to make Bingen a kind of antithesis, both with respect to buildings and the scenery which surrounds them. The town, bounded on the left by Nahe, and by the Rhine on the right, develops itself in a triangular form near a Gothic church, which is backed by a Roman citadel. In this citadel, which bears the date of the first century, and has long been the haunt of bandits, there is a garden; and in the church, which is of the fifteenth century, is the tomb of Barthelemy de Holzhausen. In the direction of Mayence, the famed Paradise Plain opens upon the Ringau; and in that of Coblentz, the dark mountains of Leyen seem to frown on the surrounding scenery. Here Nature smiles like a lovely woman extended unadorned on the greensward; there, like a slumbering giant, she excites a feeling of awe.
The more we examine this beautiful place, the more the antithesis is multiplied under our looks and thoughts. It assumes a thousand different forms; and as the Nahe flows through the arches of the stone bridge, upon the parapet of which the lion of Hesse turns its back to the eagle of Prussia, the green arm of the Rhine seizes suddenly the fair and indolent stream, and plunges it into the Bingerloch.
To sit down toward the evening on the summit of the Klopp—to see the town at its base, with an immense horizon on all sides, the mountains overshadowing all to see the slated roofs smoking, the shadows lengthening, and the scenery breathing to life the verses of Virgil—to respire at once the wind which rustles the leaves, the breeze of the flood, and the gale of the mountain—is an exquisite and inexpressible pleasure, full of secret enjoyment, which is veiled by the grandeur of the spectacle, y the intensity of contemplation. At the windows of huts, young women, their eyes fixt upon their work, are gaily singing; among the weeds that grow round the ruins birds whistle and pair; barks are crossing the river, and the sound of oars splashing in the water, and unfurling of sails, reaches our ears. The washerwomen of the Rhine spread their clothes on the bushes; and those of the Nahe, their legs and feet naked, beat their linen upon floating rafts, and laugh at some poor artist as he sketches Ehrenfels.
The sun sets, night comes on, the slated roofs of the houses appear as one, the mountains congregate and take the aspect of an immense dark body; and the washerwomen, with bundles on their heads, return cheerfully to their cabins; the noise subsides, the voices are hushed; a faint light, resembling the reflections of the other world upon the countenance of a dying man, is for a short time observable on the Ehrenfels; then all is dark, except the tower of Hatto, which, tho scarcely seen in the day, makes its appearance at night, amid a light smoke and the reverberation of the forge. . . .
Mayence and Frankfort, like Versailles and Paris, may, at the present time, be called one town. In the middle ages there was a distance of eight leagues between them, which was then considered a long journey; now, an hour and a quarter will suffice to transport you from one to the other. The buildings of Frankfort and Mayence, like those of Liege, have been devastated y modern good taste, and old and venerable edifices are rap-idly disappearing, giving place to frightful groups of white houses.
I expected to be able to see, at Mayence, Martinsburg, which, up to the seventeenth century, was the feudal residence of the ecclesiastical electors; but the French made a hospital of it, which was afterward razed to the ground to make room for the Porte Franc; the merchant's hotel, built in 1317 by the famed League, and which was splendidly decorated with the statues of seven electors, and surmounted by two colossal figures, bearing the crown of the empire, also shared the same fate. Mayence, possesses that which marks its antiquity—a venerable cathelral, which was commenced in 978, and finished in 1009. Part of this superb structure was burned in 1190, and since that period has, from century to century, undergone some change.
I explored its interior, and was struck with awe on beholding innumerable tombs, bearing dates as far back as the eighteenth century. Under the galleries of the cloister I observed an obscure monument, a bas-relief of the fourteenth century, and tried, in vain, to guess the enigma. On one side are two men in chains, wildness in their looks, and despair in their attitudes; on the other, an emperor, accompanied y a bishop, and surrounded y a number of people, triumphing. Is it Barbarossa? Is it Louis of Bavaria? Does it speak of the revolt of 1160, or of the war between Mayence and Frankfort in 1332? I could not tell, and therefore passed y.
As I was leaving the galleries, I discovered in the shade a sculptured head, half protruding from the wall, surmounted y a crown of flower-work, similar to that worn y the kings of the eleventh century. I looked at it; it had a mild countenance; yet it possest something of severity in it —a face imprinted with that august beauty which the workings of a great mind give to the countenance of man. The hand of some peasant had chalked the name "Frauenlob" above it, and I instantly remembered the Tasso of Mayence, so calumniated during his life, so venerated after his death. When Henry Frauenlob died, which was in the year 1318, the females who had insulted him in life carried his coffin to the tomb, which procession is chiseled on the tombstone beneath. I again looked at that noble head. The sculptor had left the eyes open; and thus, in that church of sepulchers—in that cloister of the dead—the poet alone sees; he only is represented standing, and observing all.
The market-place, which is y the side of the cathedral, has rather an amusing and pleasing aspect. In the middle is a pretty triangular fountain of the German Renaissance, which, besides having scepters, nymphs, angels, dolphins, and mermaids, serves as a pedestal to the Virgin Mary. This fountain was erected y Albert de Brandenburg, who reigned in 1540, in commemoration of the capture of Francis the First y Charles the Fifth.
Mayence, white tho it be, retains its ancient aspect of a beautiful city. The river here is not less crowded with sails, the town not less in-cumbered with bales, nor more free from bustle, than formerly. People walk, squeak, push, sell, buy, sing, and cry; in fact in all the quarters of the town, in every house, life seems to predominate. At night the buzz and noise cease, and nothing is heard at Mayence but the murmurings of the Rhine, and the everlasting noise of seven-teen water mills, which are fixt to the piles of the bridge of Charlemagne.