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HE OLD CHURCH BELL

 

IN the German land of Würtembergwhere the acacias bloom by the high roadand the apple trees and pear trees bend in autumn under their burden of ripe fruitlies the little town of MarbachAlthough this place can only be ranked among the smaller townsit is charmingly situated on the Neckar streamthat flows on and onhurrying past villages and old castles and green vineyardsto pour its waters into the proud Rhine

It was late in autumnThe leaves still clung to the grape-vinebut they were already tingedwith redRain showers felland the cold wind increasedIt was no pleasant time for poor folk

The days became darkand it was darker still in the little old-fashioned housesOne of these houses was built with its gable end towards the streetwith low windowshumble and poor enough in appearancethe family was poortoothat inhabited the little housebut good and industriousand rich in pietyin the treasury of the heartAnd they expected that God would soon give them another childthe hour had comeand the mother lay in pain and sorrowThen from the church tower the deep rich sound of the bell came to herIt was a solemn hourand the sound of the bell filled the heart of the praying woman with trustfulness and faiththe thought of her in-most heart soared upward towards the Almightyand in the same hour she gave birth to a sonThen she was filled with a great joyand the bell in the tower seemed to be ringing to spread the news of her happiness over town and countryThe clear child-eyes looked at her and the infant's hair gleamed like goldThus was the little one ushered into the world with the ringing of the church bell on the dark November dayThe mother and father kissed itand wrote in their Bible:“ On the 10th of November1759God gave us a son;”and soon afterwards the fact was added that the child had been baptized under the name ofJohann Christoph Friedrich”.

And what became of the little fellowthe poor boy from the little town of MarbachAhat that time no one knew what would become not even the old church bell that had sung at his birthhanging so high in the towerover him who was one day himself to sing the beautiful Lay of the Bell”.

Wellthe boy grew olderand the world grew older with himHis parents removed to another townbut they had left dear friends in little Marbachand therefore it was that mother and son one day went there on a visitThe lad was only six years oldbut he already knew many things out of the Bibleand many a pious psalmand many an evening he had sat on his little stoollistening while his father read aloud from Gellert's Fables and the poem about the Messiahand he and his sisterwho was his semior by two yearshad wept hot tears of pity for Him who died on the cross to redeem us all

At the time of this first visit to Marbach the little town had not greatly changedand indeed they had not long left itThe houses stoodas beforewith their pointed gablesprojecting wallsand low windowsbut there were new graves in the churchyardand therein the grasshard by the walllay the old bellIt had fallen from its positionand had received a crack and could ring no moreand accordingly a new bell had been put in its place

Mother and son went into the churchyardThey stopped where the old bell layand the mother told the boy how for centuries this had been a very useful belland had rung at christeningsst weddingsand at burialshow it had spoken about feasts and rejoicingsand alarms of fireand how it hadin factsung the Whole life of manAnd the boy never forgot what his mother told himIt echoed in his heartuntilwhen he was grown a manhe was compelled to sing itThe mother told him also how the bell had rung of joy and comfort to her in the time of her perilthat it had rung and sung at the time when heher little sonwas bornAnd the boy gazedalmost with a feeling of devotionat the great old belland he bent over it and kissed itas it lay all rusty and broken among the long grass and nettles

The old bell was held in remembrance by the boywho grew up in povertytall and thinwith reddish hair and freckled face;—yesthat's how he lookedbut he had a pair of eyesclear and deep as the deepest waterAnd what fortune had heWhygood fortuneenviable fortuneWe find him graciously received into the military schooland even in the department where sons of people in society were taughtand that was honor and fortuneHe went about with bootsa stiff collarand a powdered wigand they educated him to the words of command,“HaltMarchFront!”and on such a system much might be expected

The old church bell would no doubt find its way into the melting furnaceand what would become of it thenIt was impossible to sayand equally impossible to tell what would come from the bell within that young beartbut that bell was of bronzeand kept sounding so loud that it must at last be heard out in the wide worldand the more cramped the space within the school wallsand the more deafening the shout ofMarchHaltFront!”the louder did the sound ring through the youth's breastand he sang it in the circle of his companionsand the sound was heard beyond the boundaries of the landBut it was not for this he had got his schoolingboardand clothingHad he not been already numbered and destined to be a certain wheel in the great watchwork to Which we all be-long as pieces of practical machineryHow imperfectly do we understand ourselvesAnd howthenshall otherseven the best menunderstand usBut it is the pressure that forms the precious stoneThere was pressure enough herebut would the world be ablesome dayto recognize the jewel

In the capital of the prince of the countrya great festival was being celebratedThousands of lamps gleamed and rockets glitteredThe splendor of that day yet lives throug himwho was trying in sorrow and tears to escape unperceived from the landhe was compelled to leave allmothernative countrythose he lovedfor perish in the stream of commonplace things

The old bell was well offit stood sheltered beside the church-wall of MarbachThe wind whistled over itand might have told about him at whose birth the bell had soundedand over whom the wind had but now blown cold in the forest of a neighboring landwhere he had sunk downexhausted by fatiguewith his whole wealthhis only hope for the futurethe written pages of his tragedy Fiesco”:the wind might have told of the youth's only patronsmen who were artistsand who yet slunk away to amuse themselves at skittles While his play was being readthe wind could have told of the pale fugitivewho lived for weary weeks and months in the wretched tavernwhere the host brawled and drankand coarse merriment was going on while he sang of the idealHeavy daysdark daysThe heart must suffer and endure for it-self the trials it is to sing

Dark days and cold nights also passed over the old bellIt did not feel thembut the bell within the heart of man is affected by gloomy timesHow fared it with the young manHow fared it with the old bellThe bell was carried far awayfarther than its sound could have been heard from the lofty tower in which it had once hungAnd the youthThe bell in his heart sounded farther than his eye should ever see or his foot should ever wanderit sounded and is sounding onover the oceanround the whole earth·But let us first speak of the belfry bellIt was carried away from Marbachwas sold for old metaland destined for the melting furnace in BavariaBut when and how did this happenWellthe bell itself must tell about thatif it canit is not a matter of great importancebut certain it is that it came to the capital of Bavariamany years had passed since the bell had fallen from the towerand now it was to be melted downto be used in the manufacture of a memorial in honor of one of the great ones of the German people and landAnd be-hold how suitable this washow strangely and wonderful-ly things happen in the world

In Denmarkon one of those green islands where the beech tree growsand the many grave-mounds are to be seenthere was quite a poor boyHe had been accustomed to walk about in wooden shoesand to carry a dinner wrapped in an old handkerchief to his fatherwho carved figure-heads on the shipbuilderswharvesbut this poor lad had become the pride of his countryHe carved marble blocks into such glorious shapes as made the whole world wonderand to him had been awarded the honor-able commission that he should fashion of clay a noble form that was to be cast in bronzea statue of him whose name the father in Marbach had inscribed in the old Bible as Johann Christoph Friedrich

And the glowing metal flowed into the mouldThe old church bellof whose home and of whose vanished sounds no one thoughtthe bell flowed into the mouldand formed the head and bust of the figure that was soon to be unveiledwhich now stands in Stuttgartbefore the old palacea representation of him who once walked to and fro therestriving and sufferingharassed by the world withouthethe boy of Marbachthe pupil of the Karlschule”,the fugitiveGermany's great immortal poetwho sang of the liberator of Switzerland and of the Heaven-inspired Maid of Orleans

It was a beautiful sunny dayflags were waving from roofs and steeples in the royal city of Stuttgartthe bells rang for joy and festivityone bell alone was silentbut it gleamed in another form in the bright sunshineit gleamed from the head and breast of the statue of honorOn that clayexactly one hundred years had elapsed since the clay on which the bell at Marbach had rung comfort and peace to the suffering motherwhen she bore her sonin povertyin the humble cottagehim who was afterwards to become the rich manwhose treasures enriched the worldthe poet who sang of the noble virtues of womanwho sang of all that was great and gloriousJohann Christoph Friedrich Schiller

 


 

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