Ten Great Events in History
By James Johonnot

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Drawing of the Mayflower
From the collection of the
Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association

Chapter III. Defense of Freedom in Alpine Passes

1. While the great sovereigns of Europe were busy in fighting the Moslems in Palestine, they did not entirely neglect affairs at home. Some of them were very good rulers, protecting their subjects and maintaining good order, and others were tyrannical and imposed all sorts of taxes and heavy burdens upon the people. Up among the Alps, where the country is made up of rough, rocky mountains and narrow valleys, lived a people who were practically free. They lived in little communities, each one of which elected its own magistrate or governor, and made its own laws. The region was so poor and rough that the neighboring kings little cared to get possession of it, and the Alpine dwellers had a greater amount of freedom than any other people of Europe. The country was divided into little separate communities, one of which was called Schwytz, and this afterward gave the name to the whole country–Switzerland.

2. This country of the Swiss was really a part of the German empire, but the emperors had extended their rule over the lower parts of the country, leaving the forest cantons free. And a brave, courageous, and industrious people grew up there. No pauper-house among the Alps, for every able-bodied person worked, and no body tried to rob his neighbor of his honest earnings. They were a strong athletic race, and the monarchs of the surrounding countries were glad to secure Swiss soldiers, for it was said that the Swiss never deserted. In 1298, while Wallace was struggling for freedom in Scotland, Albert of Austria, the second of the house of Hapsburg, resolved to get possession of the free forest cantons. He observed great secrecy in carrying out his designs, and it was not until a tax-gatherer or bailiff was permanently established in the country, supported by Austrian soldiers, that the people awakened to their danger. The story that follows is one that all true Swiss delight to believe, and, though it may not be true in regard to names and details, yet as a record of the main incidents of history it is substantially correct.

3. The first Austrian bailiff was Hermann Gessler, who built a strong fortress at Küssnacht, in Uri. At first he professed great love for the people, but when he became firmly established he threw off the mask, and showed himself to be a cruel, cowardly, mean-spirited tyrant. He was both vain and greedy, and he exacted both homage and tribute from the surrounding peasantry. Property was seized by the soldiers, and, should the owner venture to remonstrate, he was mercilessly beaten or killed on the spot. Complaints to the governor were followed by fresh outrages, until no one, even in the most secluded valleys, considered himself safe. Here tyranny as usual overstepped the bounds of safety. The free spirit, born of toil and privations in the mountain-fastnesses, would not long endure the outrages to which the people were subjected. A leader only was needed to induce a general revolt, and this leader was found in the person of William Tell.

4. William Tell, according to the received accounts, was born at Bürgelen, a secluded hamlet in the canton of Uri, near the lake of Lucerne, about the year 1275; and, like his forefathers, was the proprietor of a cottage, a few small fields, a vineyard, and an orchard. When William had reached the age of twenty, his father is said to have died, bequeathing to him these humble possessions. Endowed by nature with a lofty and energetic mind, Tell was distinguished also by great physical strength and manly beauty. He was taller by a head than most of his companions; he loved to climb the rugged rocks of his native mountains in pursuit of the chamois, and to steer his boat across the lake in time of storm and of danger. The load of wood which he could bear upon his shoulders was double that which any ordinary man could support.

5. With other sources of happiness, Tell combined that of possessing an intimate friend, who dwelt amid the rocky heights separating Uri from Unterwalden. Arnold Auderhalden, of Melchthal, was this associate. Although similar in many salient points of character, there was still an essential difference between the two men. Arnold, of Melchthal, while he loved his country with an ardor equal to that of Tell, and was capable of very great actions, was not prepared for much patient suffering or long endurance of wrong. Tell, whose temperament was more calm, and whose passions were more influenced by reason than impulse, only succeeded in restraining his friend’s impulsive character by the stern force of example. Meantime the two friends passed their days in the enjoyment of one another’s society, visiting at intervals each other’s humble residence. Tell foresaw, on the arrival of Gessler, many of the misfortunes which must inevitably follow his iron rule, and without explaining his views even to Arnold, of Melchthal, without needlessly alarming his family, endeavored to devise some means, not of bearing the yoke patiently, but of delivering his country from the galling oppression which Albert had brought upon it. The hero felt satisfied that the evil deeds of the governor would sooner or later bring just retribution upon him; for this, and many other reasons, therefore, despite his own secret wishes, when Arnold poured out his fiery wrath in the ear of his friend, he listened calmly, and, to avoid inflaming him more, avowed none of his own views, or even feelings, in return.

6. One evening, however, William Tell and his wife sat in front of their cottage, watching their son amusing himself amid the flocks, when the former grew more thoughtful and sad than usual. Presently Tell spoke, and for the first time imparted to his wife some of his most secret designs. While the conversation was still proceeding, the parents saw their son rush toward them crying for help, and shouting the name of old Melchthal. As he spoke, Arnold’s father appeared in sight, led by his grand-child, and feeling his way with a stick. Tell and his wife hastened forward, and discovered, to their inconceivable horror, that their friend was blind, his eyes having been put out with hot irons. The hero of Bürgelen, burning with just indignation, called on the old man to explain the fearful sight, and also the cause of Arnold’s absence.

7. It appeared that that very morning the father, son, and grand-daughter were in the fields loading a couple of oxen with produce for the market-town, when an Austrian soldier presented himself, and, having examined the animals, which appeared to suit his fancy, ordered their owner to unyoke the beasts preparatory to his driving them off. Adding insolence to tyranny, he further remarked that such clod-poles might very well draw their own plows and carts. Arnold, furious at the man’s daring impertinence, was only restrained by his father’s earnest entreaties from sacrificing the robber on the spot; nothing, however, could prevent him from aiming a blow at the soldier, which broke two of his fingers.

8. The enraged soldier then retreated; but old Melchthal, who well knew the character of Gessler, immediately forced Arnold, much against his inclination, to go and conceal himself for some days in the Righi. Scarcely had Arnold departed in this direction, when a detachment of guards from Altorf surrounded their humble tenement, and dragged old Melchthal before Gessler, who ordered him to give up his son. Furious at the refusal which ensued, the tyrant commanded the old man’s eyes to be put out, and then sent him forth blind to deplore his misfortunes.

9. Tell heard the story of Melchthal in silence, and, when he had finished, inquired the exact spot of his son’s concealment. The father replied that it was in a particular cavern of Mount Righi, the desert rocks of which place are unknown to the emissaries of the governor, and there he had promised to remain until he received his parent’s permission to come forth. This Tell requested might be granted immediately; and, turning to his son, ordered him to start at once for the Righi with a message to Arnold. Walter obeyed gladly; and, providing himself with food, and receiving private instructions from his father, went on his journey under cover of the night.

10. Tell himself then threw around his own person a cloak of wolf-skin, seized his quiver full of sharp arrows, and, taking his terrible bow, which few could bend, in hand, bade adieu to his wife for a few days, and took his departure in an opposite direction from that pursued by his son. It was quite dawn when Walter reached the Righi, and a slight column of blue smoke speedily directed him to the spot where Arnold lay concealed. The intrusion at first startled the fugitive; but, recognizing Tell’s son, he listened eagerly to his dismal story, the conclusion of which roused in him so much fury that he would have rushed forth at once to assassinate Gessler had not Walter restrained him.

11. Schooled by Tell, he informed him that his father was engaged in preparing vengeance for the tyrant’s crime, being at that moment with Werner Stauffacher concerting proper measures of resistance. “’Go,’ said my father, ’and tell Arnold of this new villany of the governor’s, and say that it is not rage which can give us just revenge, but the utmost exertion of courage and prudence. I leave Schwytz to bid Werner arm his canton: let Melchthal go to Stautz and prepare the men of Unterwalden for the outbreak; having done this, let him meet me, with Fürst and Werner, in the field of Grütli!’”

12. Arnold, scarcely taking time to refresh himself with food, sent Walter on his homeward journey, while he started for Stautz. Walter, when alone, turned his steps toward Altorf, where unfortunately, and unknown to himself, he came into the presence of Gessler, to whom he uttered somewhat hard things about the state of the country, being led to commit himself by the artful questions of the tyrant, who immediately ordered the lad into confinement, with strict injunctions to the guards to seize whomsoever should claim him.

13. Meanwhile, certain doubts and fears, from he knew not what cause, arose in the mind of Gessler, and struck him with a presentiment that all was not right. He imagined that the people wore in their looks less abject submission to his authority, and, the better to satisfy himself of the correctness or erroneousness of this view, he commanded Berenger to erect at dawn of day, in the market-place of Altorf, a pole, on the point of which he was to place the ducal cap of Austria. An order was further promulgated, to the effect that every one passing near or within sight of it should make obeisance, in proof of his honor and fealty to the duke.

14. Numerous soldiers under arms were directed to surround the place, to keep the avenues, and to compel the passers-by to bend with proper respect to the emblem of the governing power of the three cantons. Gessler likewise determined that whoever should disobey the mandate should be accused of disaffection, and treated accordingly; a measure which promised both to discover the discontented, and furnish sufficient grounds for their punishment. Numerous detachments of troops, among whom money had been previously distributed, were then placed around to see that his commands were scrupulously obeyed. History scarcely records another instance of tyranny so galling and humiliating to the oppressed, and so insolent on the part of its author.

15. The proceedings of Tell in the interval were of the deepest concern to the country. Having arrived within the territory of Schwytz, and at the village of Stainea, he called at the house of Werner, and, being admitted, threw at his feet a heavy bundle of lances, arrows, cross-bows, and swords. “Werner Stauffacher,” cried Tell, “the time is come for action!” and without a moment’s delay he informed his friend of all that had passed, dwelling minutely on every detail. And, when he had at length finished, the cautious Werner could restrain his wrath no longer, but exclaimed, clasping the hero’s hand, “Friend, let us begin; I am ready!” After further brief conference, they, by separate ways, carried round arms to their friends in the town and neighboring villages. Many hours were thus consumed; and, when their weapons were at last distributed, they both returned to Stauffacher’s house, snatched some slight refreshment, and then sped on their way to Grütli, accompanied by ten of their most tried adherents.

16. The lake of Lucerne was soon reached, and a boat procured. Werner, perceiving the furious tempest, inquired of Tell if his skill would enable him to struggle against the storm. “Arnold awaits us!” cried William; “and the fate of our country depends on this interview!” With these words he leaped into the boat, Werner jumped after him, and the rest followed. Tell cast loose the agitated vessel, seized the tiller, and, hoisting sail, the little craft flew along the waves.

17. Presently, it is said, the wind moderated, and ere they reached the opposite side had ceased altogether–a phenomenon common in these mountain lakes. The boat was now made fast, and the conspirators hastened to the field of Grütli, where, at the mouth of a cavern of the same name, Arnold and Walter Fürst awaited them, each with ten other companions. Tell allowed no consideration of natural feeling to silence the calls of duty, but at once came to the point. He first gave a brief sketch of the state of the country under the Austrian bailiffs, and, having shown to the satisfaction of his companions the necessity for immediate and combined action, is related to have added: “We may have our plans frustrated by delay, and the time has come for action. I ask only a few days for preparation. Unterwalden and Schwytz are armed. Three hundred and fifty warriors are, I am assured, ready. I will remain in Altorf, and, as soon as I receive tidings from Fürst, will fire a huge pile of wood near my house. At this signal let all march to the rendezvous, and, when united, we will pour down upon Altorf, where I will then strive to rouse the people!”

18. This plan of the campaign was agreed to; and it was further resolved that, in the enterprise upon which they were now embarked, no one should be guided by his own private opinion, nor ever forsake his friends; that they should jointly live or jointly die in defense of the common cause; that each should in his own vicinity promote the object in view, trusting that the whole nation would one day have cause to bless their friendly union; that the Count of Hapsburg should be deprived of none of his lands, vassals, or prerogatives; that the freedom which they had inherited from their fathers they were determined to assert, and to hand down to their children untainted and undiminished. Then Stauffacher, Fürst, and Melcthal, and the other conspirators, stepped forward, and, raising their hands, swore that they would die in defense of that freedom. After this solemn oath, and after an agreement that New Year’s Day should be chosen for the outbreak, unless, in the meantime, a signal fire should arouse the inhabitants on some sudden emergency, the heroes separated. Arnold returned to Stautz, Werner to Schwytz, while Tell and Fürst took their way to Altorf. The sun already shone brightly as Tell entered the town, and he at once advanced into the public place, where the first object which caught his eye was a handsome cap embroidered with gold stuck upon the end of a long pole. Soldiers walked around it in respectful silence, and the people of Altorf, as they passed, bowed their heads profoundly to the symbol of power.

19. Tell was much surprised at this new and strange manifestation of servility, and, leaning on his cross-bow, gazed contemptuously both on the people and the soldiers. Berenger, captain of the guard, at length observed this man, who alone, amid a cringing populace, carried his head erect. He went to him, and fiercely asked why he neglected to pay obedience to the orders of Hermann Gessler? Tell replied that he saw no reason why he should bow to a hat, or even to the one which the hat represented. This bold language surprised Berenger, who ordered Tell to be disarmed, and then, surrounded by guards, he was carried before the governor. “Wherefore,” demanded the incensed bailiff, “Hast thou disobeyed my orders, and failed in thy respect to the emperor? Why hast thou dared to pass before the sacred badge of thy sovereign without the evidence of homage required of thee?” “Verily,” answered Tell, with mock humility, “how this happened I know not; ’tis an accident, and no mark of contempt. Suffer me, therefore, in thy clemency to depart.”

20. Gessler was irritated at this reply, feeling assured that there was something beneath the tranquil and bitter smile of the prisoner which he could not fathom. Suddenly he was struck by the resemblance which existed between him and the boy Walter, whom he had met the previous day, and immediately ordered him to be brought forward.

21. Gessler now inquired the prisoner’s name, which he no sooner learned than he recognized as that of the archer so celebrated throughout the canton. As soon as the youth arrived, the governor turned to Tell and told him that he had heard of his extraordinary dexterity, and was accordingly determined to put it to proof. “While beholding justice done, the people of Altorf shall also admire thy skill. Thy son shall be placed a hundred yards distant, with an apple on his head; if thou hast the good fortune to carry off the apple in triumph with one of thy arrows, I pardon both, and restore your liberty. If thou refusest this trial, thy son shall die before thine eyes!”

22. Tell implored Gessler to spare him so cruel an experiment, but, finding the governor inexorable, the hero submitted to the trial. He was conducted into the public place, where the required distance was measured by Berenger–a double row of soldiers shutting up three sides of the square. The people, awe-stricken and trembling, pressed behind. Walter stood with his back to a linden tree, patiently awaiting the exciting moment. Hermann Gessler, some distance behind, watched every motion. His cross-bow and belt were handed to Tell; he tried the point, broke the weapon, and demanded his quiver. It was brought to him, and emptied at his feet. William stooped down, and, taking a long time to choose one, managed to hide a second in his girdle; the other he held in his hand, and proceeded to string his bow, while Berenger cleared away the remaining arrows. After hesitating, he drew the bow, aimed, shot, and the apple, struck through the core, was carried away by the arrow.

23. The market-place was filled by loud cries of admiration. Walter flew to embrace his father, who, overcome by the excess of his emotions, fell insensible to the ground, thus exposing the second arrow to view. Gessler stood over him awaiting his recovery, which speedily took place. Tell rose, and turned away from the governor, who, however, thus addressed him: “Incomparable archer! I will keep my promise; but,” added he, “tell me what needed you with that second arrow which you have, I see, secreted in your girdle? One was surely enough.” “The second shaft,” replied Tell, “was to pierce thy heart, tyrant, if I had chanced to harm my son!” At these words the terrified governor retired behind his guards, revoked his promise of pardon, commanding him further to be placed in irons, and to be reconducted to the fort. He was obeyed, and, as slight murmurs rose among the people, double patrols of Austrian soldiers paraded the streets, and forced the citizens to retire to their houses. Walter, released, fled to join Arnold, of Melchthal, according to a whispered order from his father.

24. Gessler, reflecting on the aspect of the people, and fearful that some plot was in progress, which his accidental shortness of provisions rendered more unfortunate, determined to rid his citadel of the object which might induce an attack. With this in view, he summoned Berenger, and said to him: “I am about to leave Altorf, and you shall command during my absence. I leave my brave soldiers, who will readily obey your voice; and soon, returning with supplies and reinforcements, we will crush this vile people, and punish them for their insolent murmurings. Prepare me a large boat, in which thirty men, picked from my guard, may depart with me. As soon as night comes on, load this audacious Tell with chains, and send him on board. I will myself take him where he can expiate his crimes!”

25. The evening was fine and promising; the boat danced along the placid waters. The air was pure, the waves tranquil, the stars shone brightly in the sky. A light southern breeze aided the efforts of the oarsmen, and tempered the rigor of the cold, which night in that season rendered almost insupportable so near the glaciers. All appeared in Gessler’s favor. The extent of the first section of the lake was soon passed, and the boat headed for Brunnen. Tell, meantime, loaded with irons, gazed with eager eye on the desert rocks of Grütli, where the day before he had planned with his friends for the deliverance of his country. While painful thoughts crossed his mind, his looks were attracted by a dim light which burst forth near his own house. Presently this light increased, and before long a blaze arose visible all over Uri. The heart of the prisoner beat with joy, for he felt that all efforts were making to rescue him. Gessler observed the flame, which in reality was a signal-fire to arouse the cantons, but supposed it some Swiss peasant’s house accidentally in flames.

26. Suddenly, however, between Fluelen and Sissigen, when in deep water, intermingled with shoals, the south wind ceased to blow, and one of those storms which are common on the lake commenced. A north wind burst upon them, raised the waves to a great height, and dashed them over the gunwale of the boat, which, giving way to the fury of the storm, flew toward the shore that, rocky and precipitous, menaced their lives. The bleak wind brought also frost, snow, and sleet, which spread darkness over the waters, and covered the hands and faces of the rowers with ice. The soldiers, inert and panic-stricken, prayed for life, while Gessler, but ill prepared for death, was profuse in his offers of money and other rewards if they would rouse themselves to save him.

27. In this emergency the Austrian bailiff was reminded by one of his attendants that the prisoner Tell was no less skillful in the management of a boat than in the exercise of the bow. “And, see, my lord,” said one of the men, representing to Gessler the imminent peril they were all incurring, “all are paralyzed with terror, and even the pilot is unable to manage the helm!”

28. Gessler’s fear of Tell induced him at first to hesitate, but, the prayers of the soldiers becoming pressing, he told the prisoner that if he could take them safely through the storm he should be at once unbound. Tell having replied that, by the grace of God, he could still save them, was instantly freed from his shackles and placed at the helm, when the boat, answering to a master-hand, kept its course steadily through the bellowing surge, as if conscious of the free spirit which had now taken the command.

29. Guiding the obedient tiller at his will, Tell pointed the head of the boat in the direction whence they came, which he knew to be the only safe course; and, encouraging and cheering the rowers, made rapid and steady progress through the water. The darkness which now wrapped them round prevented Gessler from discovering that he had turned his back on his destination. Tell continued on his way nearly the whole night, the dying light of the signal-fire on the mountain serving as a beacon in enabling him to approach the shores of Schwytz, and to avoid the shoals.

30. Between Sissigen and Fluelen are two mountains, the greater and the lesser Achsenberg, whose sides, hemmed in and rising perpendicularly from the bed of the lake, offer not a single platform where human foot can stand. When near this place dawn broke in the eastern sky, and Gessler–the danger appearing to decrease–scowled upon Tell in sullen silence. As the prow of the vessel was driven inland, Tell perceived a solitary table-rock, and called to the rowers to redouble their efforts till they should have passed the precipice ahead, observing with ominous truth that it was the most dangerous point on the whole lake.

31. The soldiers here recognized their position, and pointed it out to Gessler, who demanded of Tell what he meant by taking them back to Altorf. William, without answering him, brought the bow suddenly close upon the rock, seized his bow, and, with an effort which sent the unguided craft back into the lake, sprang on shore, scaled the rocks, and took the direction of Schwytz.

32. Having thus escaped the clutches of the governor, he made for the main road between Art and Küssnacht, and there hid himself until such a time as the bailiff should pass that way. Gessler and his attendants having, with great difficulty, effected a landing at Brunnen, proceeded toward Küssnacht. In the spot still known as “the hollow way,” and marked by a chapel, Tell overheard the threats pronounced against himself should he once more be caught, and, in default of his apprehension, vengeance was vowed against his family. Tell felt that the safety of himself and his wife and children, to say nothing of the duty he owed to his country, required the tyrant’s death; and, seizing an arrow, he pierced Gessler to the heart.

33. The bold deed accomplished, the hero effected his escape to Stemen, where he found Werner Stauffacher preparing to march. Immediate action was now necessary, but the original decision of the conspirators remained unchanged. Accordingly, on the morning of New Year’s Day, 1308, the castle of Rostberg, in Obwalden, was taken possession of, its keeper, Berenger, of Landasberg, made prisoner, and compelled to promise that he would never again set foot within the territory of the three cantons, after which he was allowed to retire to Lucerne.

34. Stauffacher, the same morning, at the head of the men of Schwytz, destroyed the fortress of Schwanan, while Tell and the men of Uri took possession of Altorf. On the following Sunday the deputies of Uri, Schwytz, and Unterwalden met, and renewed that fraternal league which has endured to this day.

35. In 1315 Leopold, second son of Albert, determined to punish the confederate cantons for their revolt, and accordingly marched against them at the head of a considerable army, accompanied by a numerous retinue of nobles. Count Otho, of Strasberg, one of his ablest generals, crossed the Brunig with a body of four thousand men, intending to attack Upper Unterwalden. The bailiffs of Willisan, of Wodhausen, and of Lucerne meantime armed a fourth of that number to make a descent on the lower division of the same canton, while the emperor in person, at the head of his army of reserve, poured down from Egerson on Mogarten, in the country of Schwytz, ostentatiously displaying an extensive supply of rope where with to hang the chiefs of the rebels.

36. The confederates, in order to oppose this formidable invasion, occupied a position in the mountains bordering on the convent of Our Lady of the Hermits. Four hundred men of Uri, and three hundred of Unterwalden, had effected a junction with the warriors of Schwytz, who formed the principal force of the little army. Fifty men, banished from this latter canton, offered themselves to combat beneath their banner, intending to efface by their valor the remembrance of past faults. Early on the morning of November 15, 1315, some thousands of well-armed Austrian knights slowly ascended the hill on which the Swiss were posted, with the hope of dislodging them; the latter, however, advanced to meet their enemies, uttering the most terrific cries. The band of banished men, having precipitated large stones and fragments of rocks from the hillsides and from overhanging cliffs, rushed from behind the sheltering influence of a thick fog and threw the advancing columns into confusion. The Austrians immediately broke their ranks, and presently a complete rout, with terrible slaughter, ensued. The flower of the Austrian chivalry perished on the field of Morgarten, beneath the halberts, arrows, and iron-headed clubs of the shepherds. Leopold, himself, though he succeeded in gaining the shattered remnant of his forces, had a narrow escape, while the Swiss, animated by victory, hastened to Unterwalden, where they defeated another body of Austrians. In this instance Count Otho had as narrow an escape as the emperor.

37. After these two well-fought fields, the confederates hastened to renew their ancient alliance, which was solemnly sworn to in an assembly held at Brunnen on the eighth day of December.

38. After the battle of Morgarten one canton after another threw off the Austrian yoke, and joined the forest cantons, until nearly all Switzerland was joined in a confederacy. A later war waged by Albert proved disastrous to the Austrian cause, and ended by a further consolidation of the Swiss cantons. In 1356, seventy years after Morgarten, the Austrians made another attempt to bring the brave mountaineers into subjection. An army of nine thousand men, the best trained soldiers of the empire, under the lead of the Archduke Leopold, invaded the country. To these the confederates opposed a force of fourteen hundred. They met in a valley near the lake of Sempach. The Austrians had learned something of Swiss warfare, and knew that they stood no chance in a hand-to-hand conflict with the Swiss, and so they formed their men into squares, with a wall of bristling spears on every side. Upon this solid mass of men the Swiss could make no impression. In vain they charged with the fiery courage which had so often gained them the victory; they could find no vulnerable point in the serried columns, and it seemed that the brave mountaineers must all perish, and leave their homes again to the mercy of the Austrian soldiers. But, when almost in despair, the tide of battle was turned by the acts of a single Swiss soldier, Arnold Winkelried, of Unterwalden. He communicated his plan to his immediate neighbors, and then, rushing forward, he grasped as many of the Austrian spears as he could reach; and, gathering them together, he bowed to the ground with the spears buried in his breast. Into the breach his companions rushed, and with their powerful swords they soon widened the space, so that the whole Swiss force had room for action. The Austrians were almost annihilated, Leopold himself being slain. The poet Montgomery has given the following version of this event:

Arnold Winkelried.

  39. “Make way for liberty!” he cried;
  “Make way for liberty!” and died.

  40. In arms the Austrian phalanx stood,
  A living wall, a human wood!
  A wall where every conscious stone
  Seemed to its kindred thousands grown;
  A rampart all assaults to bear,
  Till time to dust their frames should wear!
  A wood, like that enchanted grove
  In which with fiends Rinaldo strove,
  Where every silent tree possessed
  A spirit prisoned in its breast,
  Which the first stroke of coming strife
  Would startle into hideous life;
  So dense, so still, the Austrians stood,
  A living wall, a human wood!
  Impregnable their front appears,
  All horrent with projected spears,
  Whose polished points before them shine,
  From flank to flank, one brilliant line,
  Bright as the breakers’ splendors run
  Along the billows, to the sun.

  41. Opposed to these, a hovering band
  Contended for their native land;
  Peasants, whose new-found strength had broke
  From manly necks the ignoble yoke,
  And forged their fetters into swords,
  On equal terms to fight their lords
  And what insurgent rage had gained,
  In many a mortal fray maintained!
  Marshaled at morn at Freedom’s call,
  They come to conquer or to fall,
  Where he who conquered, he who fell,
  Was deemed a dead, or living Tell!
  Such virtue had that patriot breathed,
  So to the soil his soul bequeathed,
  That wheresoe’er his arrows flew,
  Heroes in his own likeness grew,
  And warriors sprang from every sod
  Which his awakening footstep trod.

  42. And now the work of life and death
  Hung on the passing of a breath;
  The fire of conflict burnt within,
  The battle trembled to begin;
  Yet, while the Austrians held their ground,
  Point for attack was nowhere found.
  Where’er the impatient Switzers gazed,
  The unbroken line of lances blazed;
  That line ’twere suicide to meet,
  And perish at their tyrant’s feet
  How could they rest within their graves,
  And leave their homes the homes of slaves?
  Would they not feel their children tread
  With clanging chains above their head?

  43. It must not! This day, this hour,
  Annihilates the oppressor’s power;
  All Switzerland is in the field,
  She will not fly, she can not yield–
  She must not fall; her better fate
  Here gives her an immortal date.
  Few were the numbers she could boast;
  But every freeman was a host,
  And felt as though himself were he
  On whose sole arm hung victory!

  44. It did depend on one, indeed,
  Behold him–Arnold Winkelried
  There sounds not to the tramp of fame
  The echo of a nobler name.
  Unmarked he stood amid the throng,
  In rumination deep and long,
  Till you might see, with sudden grace,
  The very thought come o’er his face,
  And by the motion of his form
  Anticipate the coming storm;
  And by the uplifting of his brow
  Tell where the bolt would strike, and how.

  45. But ’twas no sooner thought and done,
  The field was in a moment won.

  46. “Make way for Liberty!” he cried;
  Then ran with arms extended wide
  As if his dearest friend to clasp;
  Ten spears he swept within his grasp.
  “Make way for Liberty!” he cried:
  Their keen points met from side to side;
  He bowed among them like a tree,
  And thus made way for Liberty!

  47. Swift to the breach his comrades fly;
  “Make way for Liberty!” they cry.
  And through the Austrian phalanx dart,
  As rushed the spears through Arnold’s heart!
  While instantaneous as his fall,
  Rout, ruin, panic, scattered all
  An earthquake could not overthrow
  A city with a surer blow.

  48. Thus Switzerland again was free,
  Thus death made way for Liberty!

49. In the next fifty years the Swiss were engaged in a war with Austria and another with France, and in both cases they were victorious. But, while they were exhausted by the incessant wars that had been urged upon them, they were threatened with a more formidable invasion than ever. Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, resolved to attach Switzerland to his domain. Crossing the Jura, the duke found himself in possession of Yverdun, it having been betrayed into his hands; but the citadel still held out. Charles, irritated that his progress should be stayed by such a handful of men, offered to let them retire home if they would surrender, but if they still held out he would hang them all! The Swiss, knowing prolonged defense was useless, surrendered. As they marched out of the citadel they were seized, by order of the duke, and all murdered.

50. Aroused by these horrors, an army of twenty thousand advanced to meet the duke at the head of three times that number. In the battle that ensued the Burgundians were entirely defeated, and Charles narrowly escaped with his life. Writhing under his disgrace, and vowing revenge, the duke raised a much more numerous army, and again invaded Switzerland.

51. He advanced by the way of the lake of Neufchatel, and paused a few days to capture the fortress on the banks of Lake Morat. While the siege was going on the Swiss army concentrated, and marched to meet their foes. Thirty thousand men were to fight the battle of freedom against one hundred thousand. It was on Saturday, June 22, 1476. The weather was threatening, the sky overcast, and rain fell in torrents. A vanguard was formed, commanded by John Hallwyl, who knelt and besought a blessing from on high. While they yet prayed the sun broke through the clouds, upon which the Swiss commander rose, sword in hand, crying: “Up, up, Heaven smiles on our victory!” The artillery thundered forth as he spoke, and the whole plain, from the lake to the rocky heights, became one vast battle-field! Toward the main body of the Burgundians the Swiss army poured down with irresistible force and courage; and, clearing all difficulties, they reached the line of the enemy. A fearful slaughter now ensued. The Burgundians were utterly vanquished. The haughty duke, pale and dispirited, fled with a few followers, and never stopped till he reached the banks of Lake Leman. The rout was so complete that many of the Burgundians, in terror and despair, threw themselves into the Lake of Morat, the banks of which were strewed with the bodies of the slain.

52. The battle of Morat lives in history with the victories of Marathon and Bannockburn. In each, freedom for the nation was secured, and liberty for man was preserved and transmitted. As a deed, the Swiss victory for ever freed a people from a grasping foreign tyrant; and it is a matter of rejoicing to all who love liberty till to-day, and, like other great events, it is the subject of national traditions.

53. According to one of these, a young native of Friburg, who had been engaged in the battle, keenly desirous of being the first to carry home tidings of the victory, ran the whole way–a distance of ten or twelve miles–and with such overhaste that on his arrival at the market-place he dropped with fatigue, and, barely able to shout that the Swiss were victorious, immediately expired. A twig of lime-tree, which he carried in his hand, was planted on the spot in commemoration of this event; and till the present day are seen, in the market-place of Friburg, the aged and propped-up remains of the venerable tree which grew from this twig. In most of the towns of Switzerland a “tree of Liberty” is preserved, which came from scions of the original tree at Friburg.


Preface  •  Chapter I. Defense of Freedom By Greek Valor  •  Chapter II. Crusades and the Crusaders  •  Chapter III. Defense of Freedom in Alpine Passes  •  Chapter IV. Bruce and Bannockburn  •  Chapter V. Columbus and the New World  •  Chapter VI. Defence of Freedom On Dutch Dikes  •  Chapter VII. The Invincible Armada  •  Chapter VIII. Freedom’s Voyage to America  •  Chapter IX. Plassey; and How An Empire Was Won  •  Chapter X. Lexington and Bunker Hill

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