The Rhine Valley
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Of all rivers, I prefer the Rhine. It is now a year, when passing the bridge of boats at Kehl, since I first saw it. I remember that I felt a certain respect, a sort of adoration, for this old, this classic stream. I never think of rivers—those great works of Nature, which are also great in History—without emotion.
I remember the Rhone at Valserine; I saw it in 1825, in a pleasant excursion to Switzerland, which is one of the sweet, happy recollections of my early life. I remember with what noise, with what ferocious bellowing, the Rhone precipitated itself into the gulf while the frail bridge upon which I was standing was shaking beneath my feet. Ah well ! since that time, the Rhone brings to my mind the idea of a tiger—the Rhine, that of a lion.
The evening on which I saw the Rhine for the first time, I was imprest with the same idea. For several minutes I stood contemplating this proud and noble river—violent, but not furious; wild, but still majestic. It was swollen, and was magnificent in appearance, and was washing with its yellow mane, or, as Boileau says, its "slimy beard," the bridge of boats. Its two banks were lost in the twilight, and tho' its roaring was loud, still there was tranquillity.
The Rhine is unique : it combines the qualities of every river. Like the Rhone, it is rapid; broad like the Loire; encased, like the Meuse; serpentine, like the Seine; limpid and green, like the Somme; historical, like the Tiber; royal like the Danube; mysterious, like the Nile; spangled with gold, like an American river; and like a river of Asia, abounding with fantoms and fables.
From historical records we find that the first people who took possession of the banks of the Rhine were the half-savage Celts, who were after-ward named Gauls by the Romans. When Rome was in its glory, Caesar crossed the Rhine, and shortly afterward the whole of the river was under the jurisdiction of his empire. When the Twenty-second Legion returned from the siege of Jerusalem, Titus sent it to the banks of the Rhine, where it continued the work of Martius Agrippa. After Trajan and Hadrian came Julian, who erected a fortress upon the confluence of the Rhine and the Moselle; then Valentinian, who built a number of castles. Thus, in a few centuries, Roman colonies, like an immense chain, linked the whole of the Rhine.
At length the time arrived when Rome was to assume another aspect. The incursions of the northern hordes were eventually too frequent and too powerful for Rome; so, about the sixth century, the banks of the Rhine were strewed with Roman ruins, as at present with feudal ones.
Charlemagne cleared away the rubbish, built fortresses, and opposed the German hordes; but, notwithstanding all that he did, notwithstanding his desire to do more, Rome died, and the physiognomy of the Rhine was changed.
The sixteenth century approached; in the fourteenth the Rhine witnessed the invention of artillery; and on its bank, at Strassburg, a printing-oflice was first established. In 1400 the famous cannon, fourteen feet in length, was cast at Cologne; and in 1472 Vindelin de Spire printed his Bible. A new world was making its appearance; and, strange to say, it was upon the banks of the Rhine that those two mysterious tools with which God unceasingly works out the civilization of man—the catapult and the book—war and thought—took a new form.
The Rhine, in the destinies of Europe, has a sort of providential signification. It is the great moat which divides the north from the south. The Rhine for thirty ages, has seen the forms and reflected the shadows of almost all the warriors who tilled the old continent with that share which they call sword. Caesar crossed the Rhine in going from the south; Attila crossed it when descending from the north. It was here that Clovis gained the battle of Tolbiac; and that Charlemagne and Napoleon figured. Frederick Barbarossa, Rudolph of Hapsburg, and Frederick the First, were great, victorious, and formidable when here. For the thinker, who is conversant with history, two great eagles are perpetually hovering over the Rhine—that of the Roman legions, and the eagle of the French regiments.
The Rhine—that noble flood, which the Romans named "Superb," bore at one time upon its surface bridges of boats, over which the armies of Italy, Spain, and France poured into Germany, and which, at a later date, were made use of by the hordes of barbarians when rushing into the ancient Roman world; at another, on its surface it floated peaceably the fir-trees of Murg and of Saint Gall, the porphyry and the marble of Bale, the salt of Karlshall, the leather of Stromberg, the quicksilver of Lansberg, the wine of Johannisberg, the slates of Coab, the cloth and earthen-ware of Wallendar, the silks and linens of Cologne. It majestically performs its double function of flood of war and flood of peace, having, without interruption, upon the ranges of hills which em-bank the most notable portion of its course, oak-trees on one side and vine-trees on the other—signifying strength and joy.