Sunday, October 16, 2005

Extracts from Letters from Germany

August: 1800.— On the morning before Ratisbonne was taken, a grand and solemn ceremony was performed in the cathedral, of which the band and organ are reckoned the best in Germany. At one passage of the Latin service, the fears of the inhabitants of a siege and bombardment seemed to be expressed in the words, 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou shalt be made desolate!'

The prophecy was chanted by a shrill single voice, like one from the dead, at the further end of the long echoing cathedral. A dreadfully sublime pause succeeded, and then the whole thunder of the organ, drums, and trumpets, broke in. I never thought terrific music could have reached so high.

Two hours after an alarm was given, and the Hungarian infantry were called out to support their defeated countrymen. This music, though less sacred, was also perfect in its kind. Its effect was heightened by the sound of artillery coming nearer and nearer, and the flash of carbines from the neighbouring wood, where they were skirmishing in small parties. The sight of men and horses passing, gave a serious aspect to the scene, and convinced the spectator that he was not hearing the drums of a holiday parade.

Sept. 1st, 1802.— He gave me an account of the demolition of the strong castle of Ehrenbreitstein, which human force had never conquered, but the destruction of which was a stipulated article in the German Treaty of
Peace. The task is not even yet fully accomplished. He was present at the springing of the principal mine. It must have been a sight terrible and magnificent in the extreme.

The mighty structure, compacted and cemented by the skill of early ages, did not immediately separate, but rose at the explosion in one great mass, slowly
sullenly, to the distance of four feet from the ground for a moment it remained in the air in awful equipoise, visibly balancing from side to side, as if in do
which way to deal devastation; at last, with resist impetuosity, and with a crash that rent the air, it for its way down a shelving precipice of 800 feet into
valley beneath. Near the river's brink was an ancient seat of the Elector Palatine, which had long been desolate and uninhabited. Against this the bastion, still entire, rushed with all its augmented and accelerated force.

Feeble was the resistance; but feeble as it was, the sudden collision loosened all the component parts of the destructive engine, and the tower and the palace form one blended shapeless heap of indiscriminate ruin.

Mentz: 1802.— This unfortunate city thrice changed its masters during the war. Custine first took it; then, after a most severe bombardment, it fell into the hands of the Prussians; and again it reverted to the French amid the tide of their splendid victories.

Its public buildings are all ruined and destroyed; its religious houses demolished; the trees which formed a magnificent avenue on the ramparts are felled to the earth; the palace of the Elector and all the adjacent villas so entirely done away, that their place knoweth them no more; the stately cathedral, once the pride and glory of ecclesiastical sovereignty, presented to the view little more than. a broken dilapidated mass of complicated destruction.

Here my melancholy walk ended: the evening was far advanced, and there remained just enough light to relieve the dark shadows which the projections of tombs, chapels, and arches threw forward. Except a few wanton mutilations, the superb monuments all remain as in their pristine state: they chiefly consist of busts and statues of the successive Electors, in the purest white marble, from the fifteenth to the middle of the eighteenth century. Amid these splendid specimens of art, the traveller sees in the great aisle a shapeless heap of forage : near the pulpit, all glittering with coloured ornaments, a depot of straw in trusses; in the choir, which neither war nor sacrilege could entirely deprive of its enrichments, two or three miserable cabriolets; the western chapel, once embellished by all that wealth, ingenuity, or devotion could prompt or suggest, turned into an occasional stable.

It was a second Babylon in ruins; full of doleful creatures, profaned, desecrated, devastated. The pavement, formerly in rich mosaic, exhibits evident proof of that furious zeal which ransacked the mansions of the dead in order to fabricate engines and weapons of death. The leaden coffins were too valuable objects of military consideration to escape the hands of those whose hearts nothing could soften.
As my dubious feet were feeling their way along, and it was only not totally dark, my guide, a savage-looking ruffian fellow, suddenly and violently seized my arm. I was straining my eyes to catch a glimpse of a gigantic figure in marble elevated to a considerable height against one of the pillars. I had insensibly prolonged my stay, rapt in musing and meditations congenial to the scene; but when I met with this unexpected attack, and as I deemed assault, it took not a moment to bring me to myself. The man, in his rude jargon between German and French, soon explained to me his kindness and mv own danger: at my feet was a hideous chasm through which in the siege a bomb had forced its way into a spacious vault that had ever since remained open; one moment more, and it would have received another visitor.*

* I rather think that Sir R. Wilmot Horton was the writer of these remarkable letters.


Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Lovely writing. I've established (I think) that Ratisbonne is the French name for what is now better known as Regensburg, now in Germany. And here's a map of the city in the relevant year.

It seems that at some battle there Napoleon was injured in the thigh, or the foot, depending which source you believe. Whether that was the same battle, and indeed what war we're talking about here, I'm still trying to work out.

All help will be gratefully received!

3:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Ratisbonne (Ratisbona ist the old Latin name and still the usual name of the city in Italian) is obviously Regensburg in Bavaria.
The Castle Ehrenbreitstein still exists and hosts a youth hostel today: rechts/ehrenbreitstein/index.html.
On this website an explosion in 1801 is mentioned: "1801 wurde die Festung mit all ihren Bauten durch die Franzosen mit 30.000 Pfund Schießpulver gesprengt."

I think "Mentz" is a wrong spelling by the OCR, since I find no such town. I guess it's Metz in Lothringen, on the Northern border of France, near the Saarland and Belgium.
gives an overview on the history of the city, which more than once was conquered by France and Germany. -
Very nice, that you publish all these letters, they are interesting to read.

7:26 PM  

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