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The Legend Of William Tell
by [?]

“Ye crags and peaks, I’m with you once again! I hold to you the hands you first beheld, to show they still are free. Methinks I hear a spirit in your echoes answer me, and bid your tenant welcome to his home again! O sacred forms, how proud you look! how high you lift your heads into the sky! how huge you are, how mighty, and how free! Ye are the things that tower, that shine; whose smile makes glad–whose frown is terrible; whose forms, robed or unrobed, do all the impress wear of awe divine. Ye guards of liberty, I’m with you once again! I call to you with all my voice! I hold my hands to you to show they still are free. I rush to you as though I could embrace you!”

What schoolboy or schoolgirl is not familiar with those stirring lines from “William Tell’s Address to His Native Mountains,” by J. M. Knowles? And the story of William Tell,–is it not dear to every heart that loves liberty? Though modern history declares it to be purely mythical, its popularity remains unaffected. It will live forever in the traditions of Switzerland, dear to the hearts of her people as their native mountains, and even more full of interest to the stranger than authentic history.

“His image [Tell’s],” says Lamartine, “with those of his wife and children, are inseparably connected with the majestic, rural, and smiling landscapes of Helvetia, the modern Arcadia of Europe. As often as the traveler visits these peculiar regions; as often as the unconquered summits of Mont Blanc, St. Gothard, and the Rigi, present themselves to his eyes in the vast firmament as the ever-enduring symbols of liberty; whenever the lake of the Four Cantons presents a vessel wavering on the blue surface of its waters; whenever the cascade bursts in thunder from the heights of the Splugen, and shivers itself upon the rocks like tyranny against free hearts; whenever the ruins of an Austrian fortress darken with the remains of frowning walls the round eminences of Uri or Claris; and whenever a calm sunbeam gilds on the declivity of a village the green velvet of the meadows where the herds are feeding to the tinkling of bells and the echo of the Ranz des Vaches–so often the imagination traces in all these varied scenes the hat on the summit of the pole–the archer condemned to aim at the apple placed on the head of his own child–the mark hurled to the ground, transfixed by the unerring arrow–the father chained to the bottom of the boat, subduing night, the storm, and his own indignation, to save his executioner–and finally, the outraged husband, threatened with the loss of all he holds most dear, yielding to the impulse of nature, and in his turn striking the murderer with a deathblow.”

The story which tradition hands down as the origin of the freedom of Switzerland dates back to the beginning of the fourteenth century. At that time Switzerland was under the sovereignty of the emperor of Germany, who ruled over Central Europe. Count Rudolph of Hapsburg, a Swiss by birth, who had been elected to the imperial throne in 1273, made some efforts to save his countrymen from the oppression of a foreign yoke. His son, Albert, Archduke of Austria, who succeeded him in 1298, inherited none of his sympathies for Switzerland. On his accession to the throne Albert resolved to curtail the liberties still enjoyed by the inhabitants of some of the cantons, and to bend the whole of the Swiss people to his will.

The mountaineers of the cantons of Schwytz, Uri, and Unterwalden recognized no authority but that of the emperor; while the peasants of the neighboring valleys were at the mercy of local tyrants–the great nobles and their allies.

In order to carry out his project of subjecting all to the same yoke, Albert of Austria appointed governors to rule over the semi-free provinces or cantons. These governors, who bore the official title of Bailiffs of the Emperor, exercised absolute authority over the people. Men, women, and children were at their mercy, and were treated as mere chattels–the property of their rulers. Insult and outrage were heaped upon them until their lives became almost unendurable.