Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XV.: cassel and frankfort. - Travels in the North of Germany, vol. 2
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CHAPTER XV.: cassel and frankfort. - Thomas Hodgskin, Travels in the North of Germany, vol. 2 
Travels in the North of Germany, describing the Present State of the Social and Political Institutions, the Agriculture, Manufactures, Commerce, Education, Arts and Manners in that Country, particularly in the Kingdom of Hannover (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1820). Vol. 2
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cassel and frankfort.
Cassel; situation.—Wilhelms Höhe; date of its improvements; paid for by the blood of the Hessians.—The Museum.—Examples of the absurdities of learning.—Difference between Cassel and Hannover.—Fritzlar.—A tax on travellers.—Marburg.—Giessen.—Wetzlar.—Frankfort.—Fair.—Musicians.
Cassel is only a few hours’ walk from Münden,∗ and I arrived there at noon on September 3, 1818. It had rained extremely hard during the night, and the morning had the fresh cold feel of Autumn. Towards mid-day the weather became warm, and the palaces of Cassel, as I approached it, gleamed glorious in the sun. The outspread plain at the extremity of which it is situated was yet bright with newly-reaped corn fields. The Fulda, clear and bright with several tributary rivulets, was flowing at its foot, and the dark wood-covered hills in the back-ground, made its buildings whiter and more glancing. The plain was thickly studded with villages and single houses, and the peasant, proud of a rich crop, was carrying home the last produce of his field. Few towns, indeed, are more beautifully situated than Cassel. It lies at the eastern foot of some commanding, well-wooded, and beautiful hills, and overlooks a fertile well-cultivated plain. Nothing, however, commanded my attention so much as the palace, situated on a hill above the town, and, not knowing what it was, I inquired of a peasant. “That,” he said, “was the Wilhelms Höhe.”—“But the building at the very top of the hill?—What is that which is seen from so far?”—“Oh, that is the Great Christ.” I then knew it was the celebrated copy of the Farnesian Hercules, which the Landgraf Charles caused to be erected in the beginning of the last century. The peasantry, however, have given their prince credit for a reverence for their own religion rather than for the mythology of the ancient world. They have transformed the son of Jupiter into their own Saviour, and they venerate the piety, as they record, with marks of wonder, the power of their sovereign.
After seeking, in Cassel, during the early part of the day, for any political or statistical works relative to Hesse Cassel, none of which I could find, except a Court Calendar, I strolled alone to the Wilhelms Höhe. This is the place which every stranger is most desirous to see. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, all the fountains, cascades, and other rattles of this monarch’s bauble, are made to spout and tumble for the amusement of the infant, or, as the Germans more pompously call it, the great public—des grosseren Publicum. It is only on one of these days that this royal plaything can be seen to advantage, and then it is visited by many parties, who come to Cassel for no other purpose than to see and admire it. There is nothing in the north of Germany more praised than it. It is thought to do honour to the taste and genius of the whole country. Every German appears to be enraptured with it, and when I sometimes attempted to laugh at the trifles they frequently described, I was assured I should change my opinion when I saw them. Perhaps I should, had I visited it in company with many other persons, and had I had a Cicerone to marshal my thoughts into the common order. But I was alone, and rather prejudiced against the place, because I knew the price of many of its beauties had been paid with the blood of the Hessians.
It certainly is one of the handsomest palaces of Germany. Its situation, about three miles from Cassel, at a considerable elevation on the same hill at the foot of which the town itself stands, and commanding a view of it and of all the surrounding country, is noble and grand. By it the hill, which is covered with fine woods, begins to rise more abruptly. It was made a charming spot by nature, and needed nothing from the labour of man but a few scattered flowers and tasteful bushes, and winding walks, easy of ascent, to have rendered it a fit place either for the residence of a prince, for the retirement of a philosopher, for the haunts of a poet, or for the exercise and health of the population of the neighbouring city. I enjoyed the situation and the delightful evening when I visited it, but I looked on its numerous ornaments as the follies of a vitiated taste, and I was more displeased than amused by them! The sovereign and his architects, measuring the taste of mankind by their own taste, have converted this noble hill into a larger museum of monstrosities, and the attention of the people who go there is constantly turned from the admiration of nature to worship the petty wonders of mimic and useless art. Some places are levelled into gardens, and others are hollowed into ponds; cascades tumble from artificial rocks, and fountains spout up in a wilderness; old castles, newly built, to imitate ruins, in which all the arms and ornaments of the days of chivalry are collected to make up a goodly shew, tower on the heights; and grottos of yesterday, to imitate the eternal caverns of the world, have been dug under every brow. Homer’s hell, all on fire, with Pluto and Proserpine, and the grim judges, with Cerberus threatened by Hercules, all as large as life, and as natural as they were ever seen in a penny shew, ornament one spot. Not far from it are the Fates and the Furies, with Orpheus and Eurydice, and all the gods, goddesses, thieves, and jades of the ancient mythology. Giants are buried under rocks, and spout scorn and defiance against the heavens; water is made to turn organs, blow flutes, and sound trumpets, and to give forth all the sweet sounds which are supposed to be heard in Elysium. The grotto of Neptune, in imitation of that of Tivoli, and Virgil’s tomb; a Chinese village and a Swiss cow-house; the Devil’s Bridge from St Gothard’s, and aqueducts from Rome; superb palaces, and numerous hermitages, are all crowded on this spot. In short, there is nothing, either of fancy or of reality, either of ancient or modern art and poetry, of which some counterpart, or some imitation, does not deform this beautiful hill. Taste looks at these disfigurements of nature with disdain, good sense deplores such a waste of labour for so perfectly childish an object, and philosophy execrates the whole, because it influences a trifling people to admire a magnificence that is purchased with their own degradation. Most of these playthings were made by sovereigns who lent their armies to Great Britain. They were, in fact, paid for by the bones and the blood of those Hessians who were sold by their fathers,—for so the sovereigns call themselves,—as soldiers, to put down freedom in America. It is left to nice casuists to determine, whether there be more guilt in buying or in selling men; but surely nothing but an utter forgetfulness of the fact, could save any man from the reproaches of his own conscience, who could look on this blood-bought splendour with any feeling but horror. Yet men do look on it with rapture, and our modern Iscariots are prevented from hanging themselves, because they find a world to flatter, to imitate, and to worship them. But it is perhaps wrong thus to speak of the great; for he who ridicules their splendour, though it be bought by oppression, and their amusements, though they are childish and absurd, is known to weaken the claim they make to the respect of mankind, and he rebels against that authority to do mischief which they are said to derive from God. Such, however, were some of my reflections as I strolled through the beautiful gardens, and I felt no gratitude to the prince for any pleasure I enjoyed.
Some of the ornaments of the Wilhelms Höhe, particularly the water-works, were made in the beginning of the last century, but the new palace and the new old castle were built, and many of the other wonders were made, by the present sovereign, who began to reign in the year 1785. He inherited a large treasure from his father, the Landgraf Frederic, although he had always been a prince who loved pomp. But the historian accounts for his leaving this behind him by saying, “he had kept a large army on foot, the greater part of which was in the pay of Great Britain.” The palace contains a number of pictures, most of which are the work of Tischbein; some few are by Böttner.
The new-town of Cassel, ornamented by the palaces of the sovereign and of his son, is well built. The streets are wide and well paved, and the Elector is about to make it still more magnificent by rebuilding the ancient residence of the Landgraves. The orangery, the park, and the walks, are all very fine, but Frederic’s Square and Bellevue are the handsomest parts of the town. In the former stands a colossal statue, fifteen feet high, of the Landgraf Frederic, erected to his honour by the states of the country. It was the last work of a sculptor called the famous Nahl, and it is recorded, as something extraordinary, that for this work he received 1000 R. Thalers, about L. 160 Sterling. At one side of this square stands a superb palace built by Frederic. He was the father of the present Elector, and reigned between the years 1760 and 1785; he was the great beautifier of Cassel; he loved magnificence, and was a patron of the arts; he founded an academy for them, and an agricultural society, and he built the palace just mentioned, which is now named Frederic’s Museum.
It contains a library, galleries of pictures, statues, urns, and antiques, collections of curious workmanship in ivory, of minerals, and insects, of medals, of mathematical and optical instruments, of old arms and armour, of figures in wax, particularly all the family of Hesse Cassel, dressed in the very clothes they wore while living,—of musical instruments, and, in short, there is an immense building full of all sorts of curiosities. Indeed, a museum means a collection of things that are of themselves of no value. They are full of the baubles of nature, or the remains of antiquity; they are of great use to idle men, by enabling them to pass their time without doing mischief, and they afford the rich a manner of disposing of their wealth somewhat less pernicious than gambling or debauchery. A few hours might be passed in them with pleasure, if doing so did not tend to encourage people to form them, and if they, too, were not a part of that splendour or dissipation in the rulers of nations, which the subjects are impoverished and oppressed to support.
On several occasions I have mentioned the taste for trifles and absurdities which yet so much distinguishes scientific Germans, that their country is sometimes called a madhouse of natural philosophers. This unhappy propensity has undoubtedly been invigorated by the honours bestowed on such pursuits by the numerous sovereigns of Germany. At Cassel I was informed of a physician of Heidelberg, who, in the madness of scientific, or rather witchcraft experiments, prescribed human brains to be taken inwardly as a cure for violent fevers, and he had worked something like a wonder on his patients, probably by affecting their imagination. Another celebrated man had recently adapted the entrails of cats as a specific for all disorders. And a public newspaper, while it announced the death of the child of a celebrated physician, also announced his intention of preserving it in his anatomical museum, along with some more of the issue of his loins who had before died. I give these anecdotes as forming the best illustration I know of the effects on the human mind of the patronage of scientific trifles.
Cassel possesses a great number of pictures, both in the Academy and in the Gallery of the reigning sovereign. Many of them are works of famous Italian and Dutch masters. The works of Tischbein are seen in various parts of the city. It was here the celebrated painters of this name, for there were two, lived and flourished. Cassel is ranked, by connoisseurs, as fourth in the list of the cities of Germany which ought to be visited. Vienna is first, then Berlin, Dresden, Cassel. Travellers, therefore, who have not grown weary of seeing wonders and sights, would do well to visit the palaces and curiosities of those fathers of their people, the Landgraves and Electors of Hesse Cassel.
With fine palaces in a land without commerce there may be much poverty and many beggars, and I saw more of the latter in Cassel than I had seen for some time. They are not shy in demanding alms. When I had given one a Hessian albus, about a penny, to buy potatoes, as he explained it, he asked me for another, “that he might buy fat to them.” He was an old soldier, left to beg or starve. I met two or three such instances, and one old man said he had served in America.
The character of the Hessian people among the Germans is, that they are rather stupid and heavy, but very loyal and faithful. No stranger must breathe a word against their prince; and, with such devotion, they, of course, think the splendour of Cassel cheaply purchased with their own blood. Loyalty of subjects says nothing for the character of sovereigns. Men may be degraded to honour mortals who inflict misery and death on them. The inhabitants of Morocco are undoubtedly very loyal.
This disposition of the Hessian people accounts, however, for the joy which was exhibited by all classes as the Elector re-entered his dominions in the year 1813. He has since been involved in disputes, and has grown unpopular. He has forfeited love, though he is not yet hated. He seems to have forgotten that, in 20 years, another generation is walking the earth, who differ from their fathers. He returned too rashly to his former plans of government. Every part of the country to which regulations could reach, even to the ancient uniform of the soldiers, pig-tails and all, was to be restored to the precise same state as it was in the year 1798. This, of course, excited some murmurs;—even the military were offended at being exposed to the laughter of the rest of their fellow-citizens and of Germany. The students of Göttingen, who make frequent excursions to Cassel, helped to ridicule the whole. To do honour, they said, to the Elector, they visited Cassel in a large body; and every one wore a tail that reached to the ground. The citizens chuckled—the soldiers were offended—and the Elector himself, though he could not openly be angry, sent a message to Göttingen requesting the young men might be kept in better order.
The splendour of Cassel made me more sensible of the difference occasioned by the sovereign living in or out of the country. Hannover, whose sovereigns have long been more powerful than the landgraves of Hesse, has no sort of magnificence. Cassel has a great deal. The sovereign of the one draws as large a revenue from his country as the sovereign of the other, but the electors of Hannover have resided out of the country for more than a century, while the landgraves of Hesse have lived at home. This is probably the point on which the natives of Hannover have suffered most by their sovereign being king of Great Britain. I do not believe much of their wealth has been imported into Britain; and I am sure there are no traces of the wealth of Britain in Hannover, but the Hannoverians have wanted all the advantages which the residence of a sovereign brings. His revenues have been divided amongst numerous nobles, who have spent them in trifles, and have left no memorial, either of usefulness or magnificence. The sovereigns of Hannover have, however, nourished one of the best universities of Germany; and probably the encouragement which they have given to learning by the establishment at Göttingen would not have been bestowed had not their taste for magnificence been gratified at the expence of another nation. The Hannoverians may have lost something by wanting the splendour of a capital, but the dignity of their sovereign has been a means of increasing their attachment to him; and, like the Hessians, they also are distinguished for their loyalty.
It is by no means a revolutionary practice, that sovereigns should keep mistresses while their wives are yet living. This is an immorality of the old school, which is still practised by the Elector of Hesse Cassel, probably from his reverence for former customs. Three ladies have been distinguished as having enjoyed his embraces. He has still one. In this point, his son follows his example. In one part of a square is the palace where the wife of the young prince lives; in another is a house which is the residence of his mistress. The elector openly lives with his mistress, but the son only openly visits his, as if he were ashamed of following too closely the example of the father. Sovereigns deserve to have tales of scandal told of them by their flatterers; and they would not be here mentioned, were it not that their example has a vast deal of influence on the morality of the world; the guilt of corrupting it attaches much less to the Jacobins than to them.
Between Cassel and Frankfort, which it cost me three days to reach, the country for the whole distance is fertile and agreeably diversified. It is well peopled, and there is a considerable traffic, but the roads are by no means good. The inns are large, but dirty and ill-provided. Some traces of prosperity were visible, but more of poverty and want. At Fritzlar, which is a Catholic town, I was rather incommoded by intrusive begging boys. There had formerly been a large convent of Ursulines here, which was recently destroyed,—though a few pious nuns still remain, who employ themselves educating girls. A considerable number come from the neighbouring villages to learn fine needle-work. The former revenues of the convent will now swell the revenues of the prince; and the people, on whose industry they are a tax, will derive no benefit from the change. The evident poverty and beggary of this little town, while it is situated in a pleasant fertile country, was undoubtedly owing, in a great measure, to the convent and the Catholicism.
Some students, who came from Göttingen, and were going to Nassau, were my companions for some time. They were quite boastful of what they had done at Göttingen, and seemed to think they could accomplish whatever they pleased. They sang as we marched; and though they had been so reduced by their pranks, that one of them was actually without shoes, and they had but little money to pay their travelling expences, they were merry companions. The Germans understand, in general, the art of self-denial very little; and these young men, as they encountered any person by the road, adopting the phrase of relationship, (Vetter, cousin,) borrowed tobacco, or stopped the traveller till he had given them a light. Their quarters at night did not precisely suit me; and I left them to enjoy their thick milk covered with grated bread and sugar for supper, and their straw to sleep on; and, by walking some distance further, I procured a good bed, a cleaner inn, and better food.
The sovereign of Cassel levies a tax on people passing through his dominions, by making them pay for their passports. The fee, which was twopence, was exacted at Marburg. There is a university here. It is the only one belonging to Cassel, but is not very celebrated at present. The whole population of the town does not exceed 6000 souls.
The town of Giessen, where there is another university, and which is very little more populous than Marbourg, is situated about 20 miles from it. It is in the territories of Hesse Darmstadt, and on the high road. Not far from Giessen, but out of the high road, lies the town of Wetzlar, which was formerly celebrated as the seat of the Cammergericht, one of the highest tribunals of Germany under the old constitution of the empire, and one of the means by which the subjects of every part of it were protected from arbitrary injustice. Like the other tribunals of Germany, the judges belonging to it were divided into two banks—a bank of nobles, and a bank of jurists; and it exercised a considerable degree of power over the minor princes of the empire. It was one of the means by which the jurisconsults established their extensive dominion in Germany. It lasts to this day. They are, and have long been, as councillors and as judges much more the rulers of Germany than the nobles. Their fetters bind even the princes. Wetzlar is also celebrated as the place where Goethe composed the Sorrows of Werther, and where he placed the scene of this romance. This circumstance, with the fountain of Charlotte and the tomb of Werther, both of which exist as described by the poet, may still induce travellers to visit it; but its political importance was destroyed with the ancient constitution of the empire. And there is now no tribunal but the public press, to which complaints can be carried of the sovereigns of Germany.
The whole of the country through which I passed to arrive at Frankfort abounds in fruit. Apples, pears, and plums, are preserved and dried on an extensive scale, and form a considerable article of commerce. The road-sides were planted with fruit trees, which seemed common property; for every body plucked and eat their produce. When the traveller is oppressed with heat and dust, no labour appears so benevolent as that which thus supplies him both with shelter and refreshment. Even in places where the trees were inclosed, their branches hung so often temptingly in the road, that it was impossible to refrain from plucking the fruit; and the gardeners and labourers seemed not to envy the traveller the trifling theft. As I saw some bare-footed women travellers doing this, I could not avoid thinking, if mother Eve had been a German soldier’s wife, travelling on a dusty road, on a hot day, there would have been some excuse for her breaking the command by which she doomed her posterity to sin and misery. But, living in the midst of sweets, of fragrant flowers, and refreshing streams, and not condemned to labour, she could only have done it from that disposition to disobey arbitrary commands, which, whether she bequeathed it to her descendants or not, is now evidently universal. The luxuries of fruit and fine weather made a walk, otherwise solitary, extremely pleasant.
There was a fair in Frankfort when I reached it, and every inn was so full that it was with great difficulty I procured a lodging. This is a city which has been so recently described by other travellers, that I shall say nothing of it. I was surprised by the whirl and the bustle in its streets, and by the immense quantity of itinerant musicians whom the fair had brought together. There was not a street in which three or four parties or bands were not playing; not a day passed in which the inn was not visited during dinner by several companies, and there was no inn in which their strains were not heard at various hours of the day. I once formed a devout wish that music might be more spread amongst our people—that it might be taught to them in their daily schools, and in large assemblies of children. Frankfort led me to modify this wish. If such an improvement should be the result of the sovereign patronising music; if it should not grow from the people feeling the want themselves; if they should be schooled into it; and, above all, if it should precede political knowledge, and political improvement, as it has done in Italy and Germany; it will only render a vast number of our people like so many Italians and Germans—beggarly and wandering musicians. It may be wished that our countrymen may become more musical; but they should think only of music as an amusement, not as an employment, and they should spurn it, while it can be regarded as a means of making them content with the misery inflicted by bad governments.
Frankfort differs from Cassel as much as Cassel does from Hannover in its splendour; but, in Frankfort, it is spread over a great part of the city. It is not confined to a palace or a hill, but adorns the gardens and houses of numerous wealthy merchants, and beautifies both the town and the environs. The suburbs are ornamented with fine walks; and the taste for flowers and gardens which distinguishes the other parts of Germany is very conspicuous in Frankfort.
From Frankfort I floated down the Rhine into Holland, where I remained some weeks; and then returned to England, where I arrived in November, after an absence of more than three years.
[∗]See Vol. I. p. 336.