Pentecost In Schlesien
( Originally Published 1887 )
AND now Berlin, — dear old Berlin !— is left behind. Very much has been crowded into the short time since Elizabeth and I packed our basket trunks, flung our bags over our shoulders, and set our faces southward. To spend the Pentecost holidays in Schlesien, Schlesien renowned for its Gemüthlichkeit, Schlesien lying among vine covered hills, and watered by the winding Oder, and this for an American ! What more could one ask ? Out of the beaten road of travel, far from the usual tourist route, unspoiled from intercourse with strangers, — here is where one can learn of the primitive German simplicity and those homely hearty traits sung by the poet and pictured by the story-writer. Our good genius, Ismenor of the fairy tale, continually leads us into paths of pleasantness in Germany, so that we see the land through rose-colored glasses, as one happy experience follows another.
We were not to board, we were to visit ; " to spend the holidays as guests of the Familie Hempel," thus read the invitation from the relatives of our Berlin family. The anticipation and the appreciation of the privilege robbed the parting days in Berlin of their keenest sting.
Everywhere holiday possessed the land. As we travelled onward, we realized the universal holiday. The soldiers were all returning home, students and relatives gathering from near and far, and "Pfingsten " (Pentecost) was on all lips. And cakes ! We shall always remember Frank-fort on the Oder as the place where " much, much cake " is eaten during Pentecost holidays. We may forget its park, beautiful in wandering streams, winding paths, and overarching trees ; its old, old churches, with wooden carved altar and ancient relics of art ; its memories of the poet Von Kleist and Humboldt, — all these we may forget, but our memory will ever cling to the remembrance of these Frankfort women and maids carrying the cakes to the baker. On every corner, every street, were the women with arms laden with cakes, — the Pfingsten cake, a bread like flat cake with cinnamon and sugar rolled with butter on the top. There are no ovens of any size in the stoves, so that a large baking must be done in the public ovens or at the baker's.
Beyond Frankfort the province of Schlesien begins, and here are a people so full of kindness, simplicity, and hospitality that we shall always love anything that is Schlesien. Silesia is the English name ; it is the territory seized by Frederick the Great from the unfortunate Maria Theresa, the country where Frederick won his skill and fame as a soldier, and whose wine he declared was unfit for the usual purposes of wine.
At the station we were received by the family ; indeed, all the inhabitants had turned out to welcome the "live Americans," and some walked away in unbelief and disgust because we were not red, as the real American should be. We pass under an evergreen arch with its bright " Wilkommen" in flowers, and, as we enter the white house with its aspiring towers, we are again welcomed, as each shakes hands and expresses the wish that the hours with them may be happy ones.
About the house is the garden, where the greater part of the time is spent from early spring until late autumn. The Germans love nature, and love to be in the open air, and so take all their meals in the garden when possible, even the " first breakfast." Their gardens are a combination of nature and art. In the Grünberg home, the garden is ideal for comfort ; benches, tables, chairs in secluded nooks, comfortable seats among the tree-branches, hidden by vines, and a charming summer-house completely covered within and without by vines. Wherever you sit, there opens before you some beautiful view of flower-beds or roses, a vine-yard or, in the distance, meadows brilliant with wild-flowers, or hills dark with woods. One could live an ideal summer here, with nature and books, and these kindly German hearts.
Pfingsten roses and Pfingsten wreaths adorn all the rooms. Each festival has some charming peculiarity, as Christmas its tree, Easter its eggs, and Pfingsten these wreaths hung up in the homes ; wreaths of delicate rosebuds and tiny blue forget-me-nots, lilies-of-the-valley, and tender green vines. It gives a festive touch. These charming little customs, so delightful in the German home, give a poetry and grace that remove the every day prose. Early Pfingsten morning came the family greetings. There is a holiday air — just as at Christmas — about the whole place. As all shake hands and heartily say, "Besten Wünsche zum heutigen Tag'," the little ones, as they lisp, drop a winning courtesy, and the boys most gallantly and reverently touch your hand with their lips. Then the whole neighborhood turns out to church. There is not a church for each village, but eight or ten villages unite and have one large church, an immense congregation, and several pastors. Germany is thickly populated, and villages are never far apart ; our large farms do not exist.
The road is gay with peasants from the country. The women have on their festive costumes, short full red-wool skirts and white waists, and a gay head-dress with an immense stiff bow standing up straight at the top of the head. The men wear caps and long frock-coats, generally green. The village people think themselves vastly superior to these " Bauers." It is from this class that our emigrants usually come. The church is crowded. It is like an immense theatre ; three galleries running around the sides, the upper one so low as to allow only the head to be seen. All is white and gold, and there are odd little private boxes, for select families, at irregular spaces in the auditorium. It was an earnest sermon, and carefully listened to by the vast audience.
The next morning, Pfingsten Montag, there was the same filled church, the same devout people. Yet on the afternoon of both days, and one a Sabbath day, all were as eager in pleasure, and the woods and gardens were crowded with a gay people. It is the national life, and we can-not judge it by our rules. Our German Schlesien family is the most Christian we have met in Europe, and eager to learn of the observance of religion in America. We explained our system and the spirit of the Christian church. They agree with us in the truth and reality of religion as in our land, but say that without a force system of religion Christianity in Germany would be feeble. They would not know how to use our freedom.
We were on exhibition much of the time, and the villagers would not miss the opportunity of seeing the Americans. We enjoyed the comments made upon us, in which particular they took no note of our pleasure or displeasure,-probably we were to them a species rather than a human creature like themselves. We were called on to sing for them ; some of our hymns, our popular airs, and, of course, Yankee Doodle. Then we were requested to talk to each other that they might hear American talk. Afterward, we were put under catechization, to tell about the log houses, the prowling wolves, and yelling Indians, about our food and homes, and if the mosquitoes were really as large as humming-birds ! Each day they made the prettiest little wreaths of rosebuds, and fastened them on our heads. We were feasted and toasted, until we pleaded sick to escape the pressure. Most charming drives we had through the little Dorfs, with their odd houses, with high pointed roofs, red-tiled or straw-thatched, and overgrown with moss. The farmers collect in a village for safety and convenience, and go out thence to work on their small farms. There are no fences, but they are separated by ditches.
They are wonderfully friendly in Schlesien. Everybody greeted us, and at the toll gates we were wished much pleasure. Every time we drove out, we took cake with us, and stopped at the inns by the road-side, for coffee. It was a good chance to see the peasant dancing in the inn halls. We wandered among vineyards, and rested on the banks of the Oder; we sang and chatted, and the happy hours flew by until the time came for the Dresden trip, and all the gardens in Grunberg must have contributed to the immense bouquet given us at parting. The memory of Pentecost in Schlesien can never lose its charm.
We liked Dresden from the moment we entered, and were tempted to be disloyal to Berlin, as it is so modern, and Dresden seems more like the old European city we have expected of a country old as Germany. Ismenor, the good genius of Aladdin, led us to the right pension another happy experience. The Frau is very intelligent, was a teacher before her marriage, and her husband is a poet. He has a remarkable history, a romance stranger than fiction. He has been an invalid all his life, and, when young, had most terrible convulsions. A wealthy old lady admired his genius, for he wrote beautiful poetry, and had a room prepared for him in her villa. The walls of this room were cushioned so that he could not hurt himself in his violence. Here she cared for him, and finally married the gifted youth. For eighteen years he lost his speech, but wrote fine poetry all this time. Freedom, liberty, was his passion; and his poems were so full of it that he was ordered to prison, but, as he was such a helpless invalid, he was spared. His wife nursed him back to comparative health, when, through some mismanagement, he lost all her fortune, but his speech returned that very day. She died shortly after — and he talks about her as his saint, and shows her picture with utmost reverence and solemnity. Then he married this Minna, who adores him. She is so grateful to him for marrying her when she could bring him no dowry, that she tries to make up for his generosity by keeping a pension. O, O, 0!— how she runs and waits on him ! And when we laugh she solemnly maintains that woman ist dem Manne unterthan, and answers all our American arguments with Scripture verses, and in a manner so fraught with warning that we feel sure she thinks we will yet call down the wrath of Heaven upon our independent heads. But, really, Herr D. is a poet ; he looks it, with his great, dreamy eyes, and he shows it in his choice of language in conversation. O, but he is an advocate of freedom, and is so unhappy at all he sees contrary in the land he loves. They are both religious, and say grace before and after meals ; and it is hard to remember to stand still, after you rise from the table, as he says:
" Danket dem Herrn, denn er ist freundlich,
They belong to a kind of a pietist community called Brüdern Band or Herren-hüter hiller, and meet in private houses for worship.
Dresden represents Saxon glory, just as Berlin does Prussian, and, notwithstanding the present supremacy of Prussia politically, Saxony has a greater glory behind it. I like the Saxons better ; they are more friendly, probably more honest. Their countenances have a more open and a winning look, and there is a most musical tone in their voices. The Saxons feel it deeply that the Prussians have risen above them, and that it is a Prussian king who is Emperor. Out at Meissen, in the old palace of the early Saxon kings, the walls all painted with historical scenes, the guide grew eloquent over the glories of Saxony, and then sank into mourning that this glory had faded before Prussian might. This old palace at Meissen, overlooking the Elbe, is really more like the castle of imagination than any of the Berlin pal-aces. It is fortified by nature by a high, rocky cliff, the walls built around it. In this palace the chemist Butcher discovered the process of burning clay so as to bring out the beautiful glazed china that makes Dresden porcelain, or Meissner ware, so celebrated. This is no longer the porcelain factory, — the immense buildings for this purpose are opposite. Some of the finest artists in Europe are engaged in the work here, and these large vases, with the lovely landscapes, testify to their genius. There is a training-school connected with the factory, where several hundred students work under the direction of artists. It is amazing how much work a single piece re-quires, aside from the many burnings. Each leaf must be modelled, each limb fashioned. Whole cases of legs, arms, hands, heads, stems, leaves, — each made separately, then fastened on, then painted, then burned, then burnished ! The figures are a fascinating study, — especially the Cupids. One little Cupid is blowing a heart to warm it, one crushing it under foot, another bruising it with a hammer, one torturing it with a thorn, another kissing it, and one poor little fellow, with a woful face, looks into an empty basket. "Give the basket " is equivalent to our " give the mitten," as Professor Richter explained.
Saxon glory is seen in the Grüne Gewolbe, or Green Vaults, in a bewildering array of bronze, ivory, shell, amber, pearl, coral, jasper, onyx, crystal, gold, silver in most fantastic and lovely forms, and jewels that blind the eyes and make one faint with their glory. You would never dream what artistic forms can exist ; and these vaults are used as a school for designers. A court jeweller is also an artist. The royal family lets the whole world enjoy the magnificence of their court jewels and precious treasures ! Yet, Dresden means the great gallery. Everything else, great as many things may be,— all is lost in the greatness of the gallery and its great picture, the Sistine Ma-donna. This is the place to study art by its masterpieces. I was fairly faint, after each of my first few visits to the gallery ; there was so much and so grand that one feels unequal to the mastery. Where begin ? What study ? Which take ? which let go ?—for to know all is impossible ! And the great drawback to study in the Sistine itself! After seeing it, it takes possession of mind and heart, and its presence goes with you, filling you with the power of. its mystery. You feel its greatness at once, on entering the cabinet. To me, it was more than I could bear, and I turned away and took a tour of the gallery, and returned again to it, having seen nothing in the meantime but this vision.
The Madonna is in a room alone, —no other picture may stand beside it. Enter the cabinet. Here, as in a sacred spot, there ever pervades a solemn stillness, — there is the Madonna! As the crowds press in, silence falls upon them, and the loudest voice sinks to a whisper in the presence of the divine inspiration. Raphael has made her young — a much more beautiful idea and more true than is seen in the host of mature Marys. Even the beautiful Holbein is too mature for the maiden Mary. This is a young mother with a sweet, fresh, womanly dignity,— such a holy, serene, inspired look that we recognize her as the ideal, just as Mary should be.
At once the soul wakes, is charmed, bound with a spell, — those marvellous eyes ! There she steps out of the clouds they arestill floating about her, and in their depths are lovely angel faces ; in her arms she bears the child. It is as Raphael's vision, as he says the dream appeared to him, — "the curtain just drawn back and the Virgin issuing, as it were, from the depths of heaven, awe-inspiring, solemn, serene, her large eyes embracing the world in their gaze. The idea of a hitherto concealed mystery could not be more effectively expressed." All at once, as a revelation, for the first time in life, you realize the divine mission of Mary ; you feel how blessed she was among women, and how, with honor due, the angel from heaven saluted her, — " Hail ! " Never before have you realized the beauty of Mary, she who found favor with God, whose divine mission it was to bring to earth the Redeemer of the world. We turn with so much zeal from all that savors of Romanism that, while banishing the worship of Mary, we have also banished the recognition of her mission, of her character; and yet, what must have been the beauty and purity of soul of that one chosen by the Most High to become the mother of the Saviour of the world ! It is not strange that there grew up the worship of such a woman. "Behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed!" is her own prophecy ; and the walls upon .walls, in gallery after gallery, all lined with madonna-pictures, speak its fulfilment. It is no marvel that the world of art strove to express this "blessed among women."
The Sistine speaks the ideal woman. As you gaze, the spell increases. The pure, true, womanly look, the sweetness, the nobility, the youth, yet with a sense of strength, simple„ slight ; yet with a dignity resting upon her, as though filled with a knowledge of her holy mission, overwhelmed with its mystery. The divine Presence seems over and in her, and speaks through her, — she seems filled with it. From such a deep soul, conscious of its honor, the work to which it has been called, from such a one as here looks upon you, came forth the glorious words, " My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit bath rejoiced in God, my Saviour. For he bath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden ; for behold, from henceforth, all generations shall call me blessed. For He that is mighty bath done to me great things, and holy is His name." She steps forth, with ease, with grace, — nay, with confidence, and on her arm she bears the babe : its wondrous eyes looking far, far away. Mother and child seem to have the same far-away look, as though seeing far into the future, world-embracing. One never wearies of the vision ; but the more one sees it the more one loves this beautiful Madonna.
The only one of the innumerable Madonnas, that comes on a higher plane near this, having caught the power to reflect a divine significance, is the Holbein Madonna. It is a sweet reflection of the Sistine. It seems a strange coincidence, or a providential plan, that these two pictures should be in the same gallery, one at each end of this wonderful Dresden gallery. The Holbein receives a radiance from the Sistine, and the Sistine is softened and toned by the Holbein. The Sistine reveals to us the greatness of the Christ-child ; there is the noble Madonna, treading on the clouds in the midst of heaven, with the far-away, deep look in the eyes, and their world-wide vision, —below, kneeling, the Pope and saint, — but the mother and child note not the adoration, they are far above ! It is the God hild, and speaks the God in the incarnation. We feel its greatness, the soul rises, mounts it is too great !
Then the Holbein Madonna speaks its secret power what comfort and help to the soul ! All is human here. The fair Madonna, with golden hair, so sweet, so motherly, with a gentle dignity, and who, despite the golden crown, lets you love her, and loves you in return. And the child ! Ah, what is here symbolized, touching the tenderest chords of the human heart ! It lies there, ill, weak, suffering, so touching that the heart could weep for it. Below is another little child, strong, full of happy health. Holbein's idea was beautiful.. The story is that this little one, sick and suffering, had been brought to the Christ-child to be healed. The Christ-child had taken the suffering to relieve it. There it stands, putting out its little hand as restored, and viewing itself with wonder and gladness. It is so happy in its new health. But the little child in the Madonna's arms clings in weakness to the loving mother, rests its suffering head upon her neck, still reaching forth its feeble hand in blessing. How it touches the soul ! It is the very tenderest thought that the artist has given touched with the feeling of our infirmities " —" bath borne our griefs," and " with his stripes we are healed." This is the Man-child, the one who was subject to all the weakness of humanity, the one even as we are. Beneath is the thankful, worshipping family. The little hand is held above them still in blessing, and the down-cast eyes of the Madonna does not forget them. She comes not as a vision, as the Sistine, but as a real person.
How beautiful the blending of the two ! The strong God-child, seeing the vast issues of the creation plan, calling forth worship — the Man-child, to whom we turn for sympathy, who calls for reverential, tender love. So these Madonnas speak in power, — how they fill the soul ! One feels it for days. It rests upon one, a sweet mingling of the Madonna of the clouds and the sweet human mother all lifting the soul to a soul to a wonderful new conception of the Incarnation, — a new wonder and adoration of the great world plan. What a lesson and an experience to the millions who gaze ! Ah, if they have but the open soul to catch the Divine spirit !