Musäus: “Libussa” 4/5

Excerpt from Thomas Carlyle’s “German Romance: Specimens of its Chief Authors; with Biographical and Critical Notices.” Vol. I, 1827.

By Johann Karl August Musäus

Though in those distant times, the pairing of the sexes was as little estimated by parchments and genealogical trees, as the chaffers were arranged by their antennae and shell-wings, or the flowers by their pistils, stamina, calix and honey-produce ; it was understood that with the lofty elm the precious vine should mate itself, and not the rough tangleweed which creeps along the hedges.
A misassortment of marriage from a difference of rank an inch in breadth excited, it is true, less uproar than in these our classic times ; yet a difference of an ell in breadth, especially when rivals occupied the interstice, and made the distance of the two extremities more visible, was even then a thing which men could notice.
All this, and much more, did the Fraulein accurately ponder in her prudent heart ; therefore she granted Passion, the treacherous babbler, no audience, loudly as it spoke in favour of the youth whom Love had honoured. Like a chaste vestal, she made an irrevocable vow to persist through life in her virgin closeness of heart ; and to answer no inquiry of a wooer, either with her eyes, or her gestures, or her lips yet reserving to herself, as a just indemnification, the right of platonising to any length she liked.
This nunlike system suited the aspirants’ way of thought so ill, that they could not in the least comprehend the killing coldness of their mistress ; Jealousy, the confidant of Love, whispered torturing suspicion in their ears ; each thought the other was the happy rival, and their penetration spied about unweariedly to make discoveries, which both of them recoiled from. Yet Fraulein Libussa weighed out her scanty graces to the two valiant Ritters with such prudence and acuteness, on so fair a balance, that the scale of neither rose above the other.
Weary of this fruitless waiting, both of them retired from the Court of their Princess, and settled, with secret discontent,upon the affeoffments which Duke Krokus had conferred on them. They brought so much ill-humour home with them, that Wladomir was an oppression to all his vassals and his neighbours ; and Ritter Mizisla, on the other hand, became a hunter, followed deer and foxes over the seed-fields and fences of his subjects, and often with his train, to catch one hare, would ride ten acres of corn to nothing.
In consequence, arose much sobbing and bewailing in the land ; yet no righteous judge stepped forth to stay the mischief ; for who would willingly give judgment against the stronger ?
And so the sufferings of the people never reached the throne of the Duchess. By the virtue of her second-sight, however, no injustice done within the wide limits of her sway could escape her observation ; and the disposition of her mind being soft, like the sweet features of her face, she sorrowed inwardly at the misdeeds of her vassals, and the violence of the powerful. She took counsel with herself how the evil might be remedied, and her wisdom suggested an imitation of the gods, who, in their judicial procedure, do not fall upon the criminal, and cut him off as it were with the red hand ; though vengeance, following with slow steps, sooner or later overtakes him.
The young Princess appointed a general Convention of her Chivalry and States, and made proclamation, that whoever had a grievance or a wrong to be righted, should come forward free and fearless, under her safe-conduct. Thereupon, from every end and corner of her dominions, the maltreated and oppressed crowded towards her ; the wranglers also,and litigious persons, and whoever had a legal cause against his neighbour.
Libussa sat upon her throne, like the goddess Themis, and passed sentence, without respect of persons, with unerring judgment ; for the labyrinthic mazes of chicane could not lead her astray, -as they do the thick heads of city magistrates ; and all men were astonished at the wisdom with which she unravelled the perplexed hanks of processes for meum and tuum, and at her unwearied patience in picking out the threads of justice, never once catching a false end, but passing them from side to side of their embroilments, and winding them off to the uttermost thrum.
When the tumult of the parties at her bar had by degrees diminished, and the sittings were about to be concluded, on the last day of these assizes audience was demanded by a free neighbour of the potent Wladomir, and by deputies from the subjects of the hunter Mizisla.
They were admitted, and the Freeholder first addressing her, began: “An industrious planter,” said he, ” fenced-in a little circuit, on the bank of a broad river, whose waters glided down with ‘soft rushing through the green valley; for, he thought, The fair stream will be a guard to me on this side, that no hungry wild-beast eat my crops, and it will moisten the roots of my fruit-trees, that they flourish speedily and bring me fruit.
But when the earnings of his toil were about to ripen, the deceitful stream grew troubled ; its still waters began to swell and roar, it overflowed its banks, and carried one piece after another of the fruitful soil along with it ; and dug itself a bed through the middle of the cultivated land ; to the sorrow of the poor planter, who had to give up his little property to the malicious wasting of his strong neighbour, the raging of whose waves he himself escaped with difficulty.
Puissant daughter of the wise Krokus, the poor planter entreats of thee to command the haughty river no longer to roll its proud billows over the field of the toilsome husbandman, or wash away the fruit of his weary arms, his hope of glad harvest ; but to flow peacefully along within the limits of its own channel.”
During this speech, the cheerful brow of the fair Libussa became overclouded; manly rigour gleamed from her eyes, and all around was ear to catch her sentence, which ran thus: ” Thy cause is plain and straight ; no force shall disturb thy rightful privileges. A dike, which it shall not overpass, shall set bounds to the tumultuous river ; and from its fishes thou shalt be repaid sevenfold the plunder of its wasteful billows.”
Then she beckoned to the eldest of the Deputies, and he bowed his face to the earth, and said : ” Wise daughter of the far-famed Krokus, Whose is the grain upon the field, the sower’s, who has hidden the seed-corn in the ground that it spring up and bear fruit ; or the tempest’s, which breaks it and scatters it away ?”
She answered: “The sower’s.” “Then command the tempest,” said the spokesman, “that it choose not our corn-fields for the scene of its caprices, to uproot our crops and shake the fruit from our trees.” “So be it,” said the Duchess; ” I will tame the tempest, and banish it from your fields ; it shall battle with the clouds, and disperse them, where they are rising from the south, and threatening the land with hail and heavy weather.” Prince Wladomir and Ritter Mizisla were both assessors in the general tribunal.
On hearing the complaint, and the rigorous sentence passed regarding it, they waxed pale, and looked down upon the ground with suppressed indignation ; not daring to discover how sharply it stung them to be condemned by a decree from female lips. For although, out of tenderness to their honour, the complainants had modestly overhung the charge with an allegorical veil, which the righteous sentence of the fair President had also prudently respected, yet the texture of this covering was so fine and transparent, that whoever had an eye might see what stood behind it.
But as they dared not venture to appeal from the judgment-seat of the Princess to the people, since the sentence passed upon them had excited universal joy, they submitted to it, though with great reluctance.
Wladomir indemnified his freeholding neighbour sevenfold for the mischief done him ; and Nimrod Mizisla engaged, on the honour of a knight, no more to select the corn-fields of his subjects as a chase for hare-catching. Libussa, at the same time, pointed out to them a more respectable employment, for occupying their activity, and restoring to their fame, which now, like a cracked pot when struck, emitted nothing but discords, the sound ring of knightly virtues.
She placed them at the head of an army, which she was dispatching to encounter Zornebock, the Prince of the Sorbi, a giant, and a powerful magician withal, who was then meditating war against Bohemia.
This commission she accompanied with the penance, that they were not to appear again at Court, till the one could offer her the plume, the other the golden spurs, of the monster, as tokens of their victory.
The unfading rose, during this campaign, displayed its magic virtues once more. By means of it, Prince Wladomir was as invulnerable to mortal weapons, as Achilles the Hero ; and as nimble, quick and dextrous, as Achilles the Light-of-foot. The armies met upon the southern boundaries of the Kingdom, and joined in fierce battle.
The Bohemian heroes flew through the squadrons, like storm and whirlwind; and cut down the thick spear-crop, as the scythe of the mower cuts a field of hay. Zornebock fell beneath the strong dints of their falchions ; they returned in triumph with the stipulated spoils to Vizegrad; and the spots and blemishes, which had soiled their knightly virtue, were now washed clean away in the blood of their enemies. Libussa bestowed on them every mark of princely honour, dismissed them to their homes when the army was discharged ; and gave them, as a new token of her favour, a purple-red apple from her pleasure-garden, for a memorial of her by the road, enjoining them to part the same peacefully between them, without cutting it in two.
They then went their way ; put the apple on a shield, and had it borne before them as a public spectacle, while they consulted together how the parting of it might be prudently effected, according to the meaning of its gentle giver. While the point where their roads divided lay before them at a distance, they proceeded with their partition-treaty in the most accommodating mood; but at last it became necessary to determine which of the two should have the apple in his keeping, for both had equal shares in it, and only one could get it, though each promised to himself great wonders from the gift, and was eager to obtain possession of it.
They split in their opinions on this matter ; and things went so far, that it appeared as if the sword must decide, to whom this indivisible apple had been allotted by the fortune of arms. But a shepherd driving his flock overtook them as they stood debating; him they selected (apparently in imitation of the Three Goddesses, who also applied to a shepherd ‘to decide their famous apple-quarrel), and made arbiter of their dispute, and laid the business in detail before him.
The shepherd thought a little, then said : “In the gift of this apple lies a deep-hidden meaning ; but who can bring it out, save the sage Virgin who hid it there ? For myself, I conceive the apple is a treacherous fruit, that has grown upon the Tree of Discord, and its purple skin may prefigure bloody feud between your worshipful knightships ; that each is to cut off the other, and neither of you get enjoyment of the gift. For, tell me, how is it possible to part an apple, without cutting it in twain?”
The Knights took the shepherd’s speech to heart, and thought there was a deal of truth in it. ” Thou hast judged rightly,” said they : ” Has not this base apple already kindled anger and contention between us ? Were we not standing harnessed to fight, for the deceitful gift of this proud Princess? Did she not put us at the head of her army, with intention to destroy us ? And having failed in this, she now arms our hands with the weapons of discord against each other ! We renounce her crafty present ; neither of us will have the apple. Be it thine, as the reward of thy righteous sentence : to the judge belongs the fruit of the process, and to the parties the rind.”
The Knights then went their several ways, while the herdsman consumed the objectum litis with all the composure and conveniency common among judges. The ambiguous present of the Duchess cut them to the heart ; and as they found, on returning home, that they could no longer treat their subjects and vassals in the former arbitrary fashion, but were forced to obey the laws, which Fraulein Libussa had promulgated for the general security among her people, their ill humour grew more deep and rancorous.
They entered into a league offensive and defensive with each other ; made a party for themselves in the country ; and many mutinous wrongheads joined them, and were sent abroad in packs to decry and calumniate the government of women. ” Shame ! Shame !” cried they, ” that we must obey a woman, who gathers our victorious laurels to decorate a distaff with them ! The Man should be master of the house, and not the Wife ; this is his special right, and so it is established everywhere, among all people.
What is an army without a Duke to go before his warriors, but a helpless trunk without a head ? Let us appoint a Prince, who may be ruler over us, and whom we may obey.”
These seditious speeches were no secret to the watchful Princess ; nor was she ignorant what wind blew them thither, or what its sounding boded. Therefore she convened a deputation of the States ; entered their assembly with the stateliness of an earthly goddess, and the words of her mouth dropped like honey from her virgin lips. ” A rumour flies about the land,” said she, “that you desire a Duke to go before you to battle, and that you reckon it inglorious to obey me any longer.
Yet,in a free and unconstrained election, you yourselves did not choose a man from among you ; but called one of the daughters of the people, and clothed her with the purple, to rule over you according to the laws and customs of the land. Whoso can accuse me of error in conducting the government, let him step forward openly and freely, and bear witness against me.
But if I, after the manner of my father Krokus, have done prudently and justly in the midst of you, making crooked things straight, and rough places plain ; if I have secured your harvests from the spoiler, guarded the fruit-tree, and snatched the flock from the claws of the wolf; if I have bowed the stiff neck of the violent, assisted the down-pressed, and given the weak a staff to rest on ; then will it beseem you to live according to your covenant, and be true, gentle and helpful to me, as in doing fealty to me you engaged.
If you reckon it inglorious to obey a woman, you should have thought of this before appointing me to be your Princess ; if there is disgrace here, it is you alone who ought to bear it. But your procedure shows you not to understand your own advantage : for. woman’s hand is soft and tender, accustomed only to waft cool air with the fan ; and sinewy and rude is the arm of man, heavy and oppressive when it grasps the supreme control. And know ye not that where a woman governs, the rule is in the power of men ? For she gives heed to wise counsellors, and these gather round her.
But where the distaff excludes from the throne, there is the government of females ; for the women, that please the king’s eyes, have his heart in their hand. Therefore, consider well of your attempt, lest ye repent your fickleness too late.”
To be continued…