Up The Danube
( Originally Published 1889 )
We passed out of Vienna in the face of one of the strongest winds it was ever my lot to en-counter. It swept across the plain with such force that it was almost impossible to advance till we got under the lee of a range of hills. About two miles from the barrier we passed Schoenbrunn, the Austrian Versailles. It was built by the Empress Maria Theresa, and was the residence of Napoleon in 1809, when Vienna was in the hands of the French. Later, in 1832, the Duke of Reichstadt died in the same room which his father once occupied. Behind the palace is a magnificent garden, at the foot of a hill covered with rich forests and crowned with an open pillared hall, 300 feet long, called the Gloriette. The colossal eagle which surmounts it, can be seen a great distance.
The lovely valley in which Schoenbrunn lies, follows the course of the little river Vienna into the 'heart of that mountain region lying between the Styrian Alps and the Danube, and called the Vienna Forest. Into this our road led. between hills covered with wood, with here and there a lovely green meadow, where herds of cattle were grazing. The third day we came to the Danube again at Melk, a little city built under the edge of a steep hill, on whose summit stands the palace-like abbey of the Benedictine Monks. The old friars must have had a merry life of it, for the wine-cellar of the abbey furnished the French army 50,000 measures for several days in succession. The shores of the Danube here are extremely beautiful. The valley where. it spreads out, is filled with groves, but where the hills approach the stream, its banks are rocky and precipitous, like the Rhine. Although not so picturesque as the latter river, the scenery on the Danube is on a grander scale. Oil the south side the mountains bend down to it with a majestic sweep, and there must be delightful glances into the valleys that lie between, in passing down the current.
But we soon left the river, and journeyed on through the enchanting inland vales. To give an idea of the glorious enjoyment of travelling through such scenes, let me copy a leaf out of my journal, written as we rested at noon on the top of a lofty hill :-" Here, while the delightful mountain breeze that comes fresh from the Alps cools my forehead, and the pines around are sighing their eternal anthem, I seize a few moments to tell what a paradise is around me. I have felt an elevation of mind and spirit, a perfect rapture from morning till night, since we left Vienna. It is the brightest and balmiest June weather ; an ever fresh breeze sings through the trees and waves the ripening grain on the verdant meadows and hill-slopes. The air is filled with bird-music. The lark sings above us out of sight, the bull-finch wakes his notes in the grove, and at eve the nightingale pours forth her thrilling strain. The meadows are literally covered with flowers-beautiful purple salvias, pinks such as we have at home in our gardens and glowing buttercups, color the banks of every stream. I never saw richer or more luxuriant foliage. Magnificent forests clothe the hills, and the villages are embedded in fruit trees, shrubbery and flowers. Sometimes we go for miles through some enchanting valley, lying like a paradise between the mountains,, while the distant, white Alps look on it from afar ; some-times over swelling ranges of hills, where we can see to the right the valley of the Danube, threaded by his silver current and dotted with white cottages and glittering spires, and farther beyond, the blue mountains of the Bohemian Forest. To the left, the range of the Styrian Alps stretches along the sky, summit above summit, the farther ones robed in perpetual snow. I could never tire gazing on those glorious hills. They fill the soul with a conception of sublimity, such as one feels when listening to triumphal music. They seem like the marble domes of a mighty range of temples, where earth worships her Maker with an organ-anthem of storms !
" There is luxury in travelling here. We walk all day through such scenes, resting often in the shade of the fruit trees which line the road, or on a mossy bank by the side of some cool forest. Sometimes for enjoyment as well as variety, we make our dining-place by a clear spring instead of within a smoky tavern; and our simple meals have a relish an epicure could never attain.
Away with your railroads and steamboats and mail-coaches, or keep them for those who have no eve but for the sordid interests of life! With my knapsack and pilgrim-staff, I ask not their aid. If a mind and soul full of rapture with beauty, a frame in glowing and vigorous health, and slumbers unbroken even by dreams, are blessings any one would attain, let him pedestrianize it through Lower Austria!
I have never been so strongly and constantly reminded of America, as during this journey. Perhaps the balmy season, the. same in which I last looked upon the dear scenes at home, may have its effect; but there is besides a richness in the forests and waving fields of grain, a wild luxuriance over every landscape, which I have seen nowhere else in Europe. The large farm-houses, buried in orchards, scattered over the valleys, add to the effect. Everything seems to speak of happiness and prosperity.
We were met one morning by a band of wandering Bohemian gipsies-thee first of the kind I ever saw. A young woman, with a small child in her arms came directly up to me, and looking full in my face with her wild black eyes, said, without any preface: "Yes, he too has met with sorrow and trouble already, and will still have more. But he is not false-he is true and sincere, and will also meet with good luck !" She said she could tell me three numbers with which I should buy a lottery ticket and win a great prize.. I told her I would have nothing to do with the lottery, and would buy no ticket, but she persisted, saying : "Has he a twenty kreutzer piece ?-will he give it? Lay it in his hand and make a cross over it, and I will reveal the numbers !" On my refusal, she became angry, and left me, saying : " Let him take care -the third day something will happen to him !" An old, wrinkled hag made the same proposition to my companion with no better success.
They reminded me strikingly of our Indians; their complexion is a dark brown, and their eyes and hair are black as night. These belonged to a small tribe who wander through the forests of Bohemia; and support themselves by cheating and stealing.
We stopped the fourth night at Enns, a small city on the river of the same name, which divides Upper from Lower Austria. After leaving the beautiful little village where we passed the night before, the road ascended one of those long ranges of hills, which stretch off from the Danube towards the Alps. We walked for miles over the broad and uneven summit, enjoying the enchanting view which opened on both sides. If we looked to the right we could trace the windings of the Danube for twenty miles, his current filled with green, wooded islands; white cities lie at the foot of the hills, which, covered to the summit with grain-fields and vine-yards, extended back one behind another, till the farthest were lost in the distance. I was glad we had taken the way from Vienna to Linz by land, for from the heights we had a, view of the whole course of the Danube, enjoying besides, the beauty of the inland vales and the far-off Styrian Alps. From the hills we passed over we could see the snowy range as far as the Alps of Salsburg-some of them seemed robed to the very base in their white mantles. In the morning the glaciers on their summit glittered like stars ; it was the first time I saw the sun reflected at a hundred miles' distance !
On descending we came into a garden-like plain, over which rose the towers of Enns, built by the ransom money paid to Austria for the deliverance of the Lion-hearted Richard. The country legends say that St. Florian was thrown into the river by the Romans in the third century, with a millstone around his neck, which, however, held him above the water like a cork, until he had finished preaching them a sermon. In the villages we often saw his image painted on the houses, in the act of pouring a pail of water on a burning building, with the inscription beneath-" Oh, holy Florian, pray for us!" This was supposed to be a charm against fire. In Upper Austria, it is customary to erect a shrine on the road, wherever an accident has happened, with a painting 'and description of it, and an admonition to all passers-by to pray for the soul of the unfortunate person. On one of them, for instance, was a cart with a wild ox, which a man was holding by the horns; a woman kneeling by the wheels appeared to be drawing a little girl by the feet from under it, and the inscription stated : "By calling on Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the girl was happily rescued. Many of the shrines had images which the people no doubt, in their ignorance and simplicity, considered holy, but they were to us impious and almost blasphemous.
From Enns a morning's walk brought us to Linz. The peasant girls in their broad straw hats were weeding the young wheat, looking as cheerful and contented as the larks that sung above them. A mile or two from Linz we passed one or two of the round towers belonging to the new fortifications of the city. As walls have grown out of fashion, Duke Maximilian substituted an invention of his own. The city is surrounded by thirty-two towers, one to three miles distant from it, and so placed that they form a complete line of communication and defence. They are sunk in the earth, surrounded with a ditch and embankments, and each is cap-able of containing ten cannon and three hundred men. The pointed roofs of these towers are seen on all the hills around. We were obliged to give up our passports at the barrier, the officer telling us to call for them in three hours at the City Police Office; we spent the intervening time very agreeably in rambling through this gay, cheerful-looking town. With its gilded spires and ornamented houses, with their green lattice-blinds, it reminds one strongly of Italy, or at least of what Italy is said to be. It has now quite an active and business-like aspect, occasioned by the steamboat and railroad lines which connect it with Vienna, Prague, Ratisbon and Salzburg. Although we had not exceeded our daily allowance by more than a few kreutzers, we found that twenty days would be hardly sufficient to accomplish the journey, and our funds must therefore be replenished. Accordingly I wrote from Linz to Frankfort, directing a small sum, to be forwarded to Munich, which city we hoped to reach in eight days.
We took the horse cars at Linz for Lambach, seventeen miles on the way towards Gmunden. The mountains were covered with clouds as we approached them, and the storms they had been brewing for two or three days began to march down on the plain. They had nearly reached us, when we crossed the Traun and arrived at Lambach, a small city built upon a hill. We left the next day at noon, and on ascending the hill after crossing the Traun, had an opportunity of seeing the portrait on the Traunstein, of which the old landlord told us. I saw it at the first glance-certainly it is a most remarkable freak of nature. The rough back of the mountain forms the exact profile of the human countenance, as if regularly hewn out of the rock. What is still more singular, it is said to be a correct portrait of the unfortunate Louis XVI. The landlord said it was immediately recognized by all Frenchmen. The road followed the course of the Traun, whose green waters roared at the bottom of the glen below us ; we walked for several miles through a fine forest, through whose openings we caught glimpses of the mountains we longed to reach.
The river roared at last somewhat louder, and on looking down the bank, I saw rocks and rapids, and a few houses built on the edge of the stream. Thinking it must be near the fall, we went down the path, and to ! on crossing a little wooden bridge, the whole affair burst in sight! Judge of our surprise at finding a fall of fifteen feet, after we had been led to expect a tremendous leap of forty or fifty, with all the accompaniment of rocks and precipices. Of course the whole descent of the river at the place was much greater, and there were some romantic cascades over the rocks which blocked its course. Its greatest beauty consisted in the color of the water-the brilliant green of the waves being broken into foam of the most dazzling white and the great force with which it is thrown below.
The Traunstein grew higher as we approached, presenting the same profile till we had nearly reached Gmunden. From the green upland meadows above the town, the view of the mountain range was glorious, and I could easily conceive the effect of the Unknown Student's appeal to the people to fight for those free hills. I think it is Howitt who relates the incident-one of the most romantic in German history. Count Pappenheim led his forces here in the year 1626, to suppress a revolution of the people of the whole Salzburg region, who had risen against an invasion of their rights by the Austrian government. The battle which took place on these meadows was about being decided in favor of the oppressors, when a young man, clad as a student, suddenly appeared and addressed the people, pointing to the Alps above them and the sweet lake below, and asking if that land should not be free. The effect was electrical ; they returned to the charge and drove back the troops of Pappenheim, who were about taking to flight, when the unknown leader fell, mortally wounded.
This struck a sudden panic through his followers, and the Austrians turning again, gained a complete victory. But the name of the brave student is unknown, his deed unsung by his country's bards, and almost forgotten.