‘Libussa’ by Johann Karl August Musäus

by nike, March 6, 2017

Max Švabinský (1950) “Libussa prophesizes the glory of Prague”.

‘Libussa’ is one of the tales related/retold by Johann Karl August Musäus, and first translated into English by Thomas Carlyle. It was published in Carlyle’s three-volume publication Translations from the German (1827). The tale below is a transcription of Carlyle’s translation (not one of my own translations).

The tale was part of Musäus’s 1728 collection Volksmärchen der Deutschen (German folktales). Musäus drew heavily on Jan Dubravius’s Historia regni Bohemiae (1522) and Aenes Silvias’s (Pope Pius II) fifteenth century Cardinalis de Bohemarum Origine ac Gestis Historia. In an earlier post I shared a translation of another of the tales from this collection, ‘Richilde’, an early Snow White tale.

Libussa, or Libuše, is a wonderful female heroine: the founder of the P?emyslid dynasty, and of the city of Prague. One story about the founding of Prague is that she sent her councillors out to find a man making the best use of his teeth at midday, saying that she would found a city wherever they found him. The councillors came across a man using the teeth of a saw to chop wood, while his companions ate lunch in the shade of a tree. When asked what he was making, the man (P?emysl, translated by Carlyle as ‘Primislaus’)  replied that he was making Prah (‘threshold’ in Czech), and so the city founded at the site where he was working was named Praha (Prague). The P?emyslid dynasty reigned in Bohemia and Moravia–as well as some parts of Hungary, Poland, Austria, and Silesia–from some time in the 9th century, until August 4, 1306, when the sole son and heir to the dynastic family, Wenceslaus III (b. 1289), was murdered. [Wenceslaus III was the descendant of Wenceslaus I (c. 907 – September 28, 935), or Saint Wenceslaus, who inspired the popular Saint Stephen’s Day carol ‘Good King Wenceslaus’. I could write a whole other post about the beautiful carol!]

Libussa’s story has inspired a modest number of adaptations, including a 2009 English-language film, The Pagan Queen, directed by the German filmmaker Constantin Werner and starring Winter Ave Zoli as Libussa. The film isn’t great, but has a lesbian sub-plot (sort of!), revolving around Libussa’s relationship with her Amazonian warrior Vlasta (played by Lea Mornar), and draws on the history of the maiden wars (including several scenes showing the maiden’s army): the stories of the women, including Libussa’s daughters and followers, who declared war on the men of Bohemia. You can view the trailer here.

Some other adaptations of Libussa’s tale include:

I hope you enjoy this marvellous tale of this legendary pagan queen who created a real-life dynasty.

Winter Ave Zoli as Libussa in The Pagan Queen (2009)

Deep in the Bohemian forest, which has now dwindled to a few scattered  woodlands, there abode, in the primeval times, while it stretched its umbrage far and wide, a spiritual race of beings, airy and avoiding light, incorporeal also, more delicately fashioned than the clay-formed sons of men; to the coarser sense of feeling imperceptible, but to the finer, half-visible by moonlight; and well known to poets by the name of Dryads, and to ancient bards by that of Elves. From immemorial ages, they had dwelt here undisturbed; till all at once the forest sounded with the din of warriors, for Duke Czech of Hungary, with his Sclavonic hordes, had broken over the mountains, to seek in these wild tracts a new habitation. The fair tenants of the aged oaks, of the rocks, clefts and grottos, and of the flags in the tarns and morasses, fled before the clang of arms and the neighing of chargers: the stout Erl-King himself was annoyed by the uproar, and transferred his court to more sequestered wildernesses. One solitary Elf could not resolve to leave her darling oak; and as the wood began here and there to be felled for the purposes of cultivation, she alone undertook to defend her tree against the violence of the strangers, and chose the towering summit of it for her residence.

Among the retinue of the Duke was a young Squire, Krokus by name, full of spirit and impetuosity; stout and handsome, and of noble mien, to whom the keeping of his master’s stud had been entrusted, which at times he drove far into the forest for their pasture. Frequently he rested beneath the oak which the Elf inhabited: she observed him with satisfaction; and at night, when he was sleeping at the root, she would whisper pleasant dreams into his ear, and announce to him in expressive images the events of the coming day. When any horse had strayed into the desert, and the keeper had lost its tract, and gone to sleep with anxious thoughts, he failed not to see in vision the marks of the hidden path, which led him to the spot where his lost steed was grazing.

The farther the new colonists extended, the nearer came they to the dwelling of the Elf; and as by her gift of divination, she perceived how soon her life-tree would be threatened by the axe, she determined to unfold this sorrow to her guest. One moonshiny summer evening, Krokus had folded his herd somewhat later than usual, and was hastening to his bed under the lofty oak. His path led him round a little fishy lake, on whose silver face the moon was imaging herself like a gleaming ball of gold; and across this glittering portion of the water, on the farther side, he perceived a female form, apparently engaged in walking by the cool shore. This sight surprised the young warrior: What brings the maiden hither, thought he, by herself, in this wilderness, at the season of the nightly dusk? Yet the adventure was of such a sort, that, to a young man, the more strict investigation of it seemed alluring rather than alarming. He redoubled his steps, keeping firmly in view the form which had arrested his attention; and soon reached the place where he had first noticed it, beneath the oak. But now it looked to him as if the thing he saw were a shadow rather than a body; he stood wondering and motionless, a cold shudder crept over him; and he heard a sweet soft voice address to him these words: “Come hither, beloved stranger, and fear not; I am no phantasm, no deceitful shadow: I am the Elf of this grove, the tenant of the oak, under whose leafy boughs thou hast often rested. I rocked thee in sweet delighting dreams, and prefigured to thee thy adventures; and when a brood-mare or a foal had chanced to wander from the herd, I told thee of the place where thou wouldst find it. Repay this favour by a service which I now require of thee; be the Protector of this tree, which has so often screened thee from the shower and the scorching heat; and guard the murderous axes of thy brethren, which lay waste the forest, that they harm not this venerable trunk.”

The young warrior, restored to self-possession by this soft still voice, made answer: “Goddess or mortal, whoever thou mayest be, require of me what thou pleasest; if I can, I will perform it. But I am a man of no account among my people, the servant of the Duke my lord. If he tell me today or tomorrow, Feed here, feed there, how shall I protect thy tree in this distant forest? Yet if thou commandest me, I will renounce the service of princes, and dwell under the shadow of thy oak, and guard it while I live.”

“Do so,” said the Elf: “thou shalt not repent it.”

Hereupon she vanished; and there was a rustling in the branches above, as if some breath of an evening breeze had been entangled in them, and had stirred the leaves. Krokus, for a while, stood enraptured at the heavenly form which had appeared to him. So soft a female, of such slender shape and royal bearing, he had never seen among the short squat damsels of his own Sclavonic race. At last he stretched himself upon the moss, but no sleep descended on his eyes; the dawn overtook him in a whirl of sweet emotions, which were as strange and new to him as the first beam of light to the opened eye of one born blind. With the earliest morning he hastened to the Court of the Duke, required his discharge, packed up his war-accoutrements, and, with rapid steps, his burden on his shoulders, and his head full of glowing enthusiasm, hied him back to his enchanted forest-hermitage.

Meanwhile, in his absence, a craftsman among the people, a miller by trade, had selected for himself the round straight trunk of the oak to be an axle, and was proceeding with his mill-men to fell it. The affrighted Elf sobbed bitterly, as the greedy saw began with iron tooth to devour the foundations of her dwelling. She looked wildly round, from the highest summit, for her faithful guardian, but her glance could find him nowhere; and the gift of prophecy, peculiar to her race, was in the present case so ineffectual, that she could as little read the fate that stood before her, as the sons of AEsculapius, with their vaunted prognosis, can discover ways and means for themselves when Death is knocking at their own door.

Krokus, however, was approaching, and so near the scene of this catastrophe, that the screeching of the busy saw did not escape his ear. Such a sound in the forest boded no good: he quickened his steps, and beheld before his eyes the horror of the devastation that was visiting the tree which he had taken under his protection. Like a fury he rushed upon the wood-cutters, with pike and sword, and scared them from their work; for they concluded he must be a forest-demon, and fled in great precipitation. By good fortune, the wound of the tree was still curable; and the scar of it disappeared in a few summers.

In the solemn hour of evening, when the stranger had fixed upon the spot for his future habitation; had meted out the space for hedging round as a garden, and was weighing in his mind the whole scheme of his future hermitage; where, in retirement from the society of men, he purposed to pass his days in the service of a shadowy companion, possessed apparently of little more reality than a Saint of the Calendar, whom a pious friar chooses for his spiritual paramour,–the Elf appeared before him at the brink of the lake, and with gentle looks thus spoke:

“Thanks to thee, beloved stranger, that thou hast turned away the wasteful arms of thy brethren from ruining this tree, with which my life is united. For thou shalt know that Mother Nature, who has granted to my race such varied powers and influences, has combined the fortune of our life with the growth and duration of the oak. By us the sovereign of the forest raises his venerable head above the populace of other trees and shrubs; we further the circulation of the sap through his trunk and boughs, that he may gain strength to battle with the tempest, and for long centuries to defy destructive Time. On the other hand, our life is bound to his: when the oak, which the lot of Destiny has appointed for the partner of our existence, fades by years, we fade along with him; and when he dies, we die, and sleep, like mortals, as it were a sort of death-sleep, till, by the everlasting cycle of things, Chance, or some hidden provision of Nature, again weds our being to a new germ; which, unfolded by our enlivening virtue, after the lapse of long years, springs up to be a mighty tree, and affords us the enjoyment of existence anew. From this thou mayest perceive what a service thou hast done me by thy help, and what gratitude I owe thee. Ask of me the recompense of thy noble deed; disclose to me the wish of thy heart, and this hour it shall be granted thee.”

Krokus continued silent. The sight of the enchanting Elf had made more impression on him than her speech, of which, indeed, he understood but little. She noticed his embarrassment; and, to extricate him from it, plucked a withered reed from the margin of the lake, broke it into three pieces, and said: “Choose one of these three stalks, or take one without a choice. In the first, lie Honour and Renown; in the second, Riches and the wise enjoyment of them; in the third is happiness in Love laid up for thee.”

The young man cast his eyes upon the ground, and answered: “Daughter of Heaven, if thou wouldst deign to grant the desire of my heart, know that it lies not in these three stalks which thou offerest me; the recompense I aim at is higher. What is Honour but the fuel of Pride? what are Riches but the root of Avarice? and what is Love but the trap-door of Passion, to ensnare the noble freedom of the heart? Grant me my wish, to rest under the shadow of thy oak-tree from the toils of warfare, and to hear from thy sweet mouth the lessons of wisdom, that I may understand by them the secrets of the future.”

“Thy request,” replied the Elf, “is great; but thy deserving toward me is not less so: be it then as thou hast asked. Nor, with the fruit, shall the shell be wanting to thee; for the wise man is also honoured; he alone is rich, for he desires nothing more than he needs, and he tastes the pure nectar of Love without poisoning it by polluted lips.”

So saying, she again presented him the three reed-stalks, and vanished from his sight.

The young Eremite prepared his bed of moss, beneath the oak, exceedingly content with the reception which the Elf had given him. Sleep came upon him like a strong man; gay morning dreams danced round his head, and solaced his fancy with the breath of happy forebodings. On awakening, he joyfully began his day’s work; ere long he had built himself a pleasant hermit’s-cottage; had dug his garden, and planted in it roses and lilies, with other odoriferous flowers and herbs; not forgetting pulse and cole, and a sufficiency of fruit-trees. The Elf never failed to visit him at twilight; she rejoiced in the prospering of his labours; walked with him, hand in hand, by the sedgy border of the lake; and the wavering reeds, as the wind passed through them, whispered a melodious evening salutation to the trustful pair. She instructed her attentive disciple in the secrets of Nature; showed him the origin and causes of things; taught him their common and their magic properties and effects; and formed the rude soldier into a thinker and philosopher.

In proportion as the feelings and senses of the young man grew refined by this fair spiritual intercourse, it seemed as if the tender form of the Elf were condensing, and acquiring more consistency; her bosom caught warmth and life; her brown eyes sparkled with the fire of love; and with the shape, she appeared to have adopted the feelings of a young blooming maiden. The sentimental hour of dusk, which is as if expressly calculated to awaken slumbering feelings, had its usual effect; and after a few moons from their first acquaintance, the sighing Krokus found himself possessed of the happiness in Love, which the Third Reed-stalk had appointed him; and did not repent that by the trap-door of Passion the freedom of his heart had been ensnared. Though the marriage of the tender pair took place without witnesses, it was celebrated with as much enjoyment as the most tumultuous espousal; nor were speaking proofs of love’s recompense long wanting. The Elf gave her husband three daughters at a birth; and the father, rejoicing in the bounty of his better half, named, at the first embrace, the eldest infant, Bela; the next born, Therba; and the youngest, Libussa. They were all like the Genies in beauty of form; and though not moulded of such light materials as the mother, their corporeal structure was finer than the dull earthy clay of the father. They were also free from all the infirmities of childhood; their swathings did not gall them; they teethed without epileptic fits, needed no calomel taken inwardly, got no rickets; had no small-pox, and, of course, no scars, no scum-eyes, or puckered faces: nor did they require any leading-strings; for after the first nine days, they ran like little partridges; and as they grew up, they manifested all the talents of the mother for discovering hidden things, and predicting what was future.

Krokus himself, by the aid of time, grew skilful in these mysteries also. When the wolf had scattered the flocks through the forest, and the herdsmen were seeking for their sheep and horses; when the woodman missed an axe or bill, they took counsel from the wise Krokus, who showed them where to find what they had lost. When a wicked prowler had abstracted aught from the common stock; had by night broken into the pinfold, or the dwelling of his neighbour, and robbed or slain him, and none could guess the malefactor, the wise Krokus was consulted. He led the people to a green; made them form a ring; then stept into the midst of them, set the faithful sieve a-running, and so failed not to discover the misdoer. By

A statue of Libussa in Prague

such acts his fame spread over all the country of Bohemia; and whoever had a weighty care, or an important undertaking, took counsel from the wise Krokus about its issue. The lame and the sick, too, required from him help and recovery; even the unsound cattle of the fold were driven to him; and his gift of curing sick kine by his shadow, was not less than that of the renowned St. Martin of Schierbach. By these means the concourse of the people to him grew more frequent, day by day, no otherwise than if the Tripod of the Delphic Apollo had been transferred to the Bohemian forest: and though Krokus answered all inquiries, and cured the sick and afflicted, without fee or reward, yet the treasure of his secret wisdom paid him richly, and brought him in abundant profit; the people crowded to him with gifts and presents, and almost oppressed him with testimonies of their good-will. It was he that first disclosed the mystery of washing gold from the sands of the Elbe; and for his recompense he had a tenth of all the produce. By these means his wealth and store increased; he built strongholds and palaces; had vast herds of cattle; possessed fertile pasturages, fields and woods; and thus found himself imperceptibly possessed of all the Riches which the beneficently foreboding Elf had enclosed for him in the Second Reed.

One fine summer evening, when Krokus with his train was returning from an excursion, having by special request been settling the disputed marches of two townships, he perceived his spouse on the margin of the sedgy lake, where she had first appeared to him. She waved him with her hand; so he dismissed his servants, and hastened to clasp her in his arms. She received him, as usual, with tender love; but her heart was sad and oppressed; from her eyes trickled down ethereal tears, so fine and fugitive, that as they fell they were greedily inhaled by the air, and not allowed to reach the ground. Krokus was alarmed at this appearance; he had never seen his wife’s fair eyes otherwise than cheerful, and sparkling with youthful gaiety. “What ails thee, beloved of my heart?” said he; “black forebodings overcast my soul. Speak, say what mean those tears.”

The Elf sobbed, leaned her head sorrowfully on his shoulder, and said: “Beloved husband, in thy absence I have looked into the Book of Destiny; a doleful chance overhangs my life-tree; I must part from thee forever. Follow me into the Castle, till I bless my children; for from this day you will never see me more.”

“Dearest wife,” said Krokus, “chase away these mournful thoughts. What misfortune is it that can harm thy tree? Behold its sound boughs, how they stretch forth loaded with fruit and leaves, and how it raises its top to the clouds. While this arm can move, it shall defend thy tree from any miscreant that presumes to wound its stem.”

“Impotent defence,” replied she, “which a mortal arm can yield! Ants can but secure themselves from ants, flies from flies, and the worms of Earth from other earthly worms. But what can the mightiest among you do against the workings of Nature, or the unalterable decisions of Fate? The kings of the Earth can heap up little hillocks, which they name fortresses and castles; but the weakest breath of air defies their authority, blows where it lists, and mocks at their command. This oak-tree thou hast guarded from the violence of men; canst thou likewise forbid the tempest that it rise not to disleaf its branches; or if a hidden worm is gnawing in its marrow, canst thou draw it out, and tread it under foot?”

Amid such conversation they arrived at the Castle. The slender maidens, as they were wont at the evening visit of their mother, came bounding forth to meet them; gave account of their day’s employments, produced their needlework, and their embroideries, to prove their diligence: but now the hour of household happiness was joyless. They soon observed that the traces of deep suffering were imprinted on the countenance of their father; and they looked with sympathising sorrow at their mother’s tears, without venturing to inquire their cause. The mother gave them many wise instructions and wholesome admonitions; but her speech was like the singing of a swan, as if she wished to give the world her farewell. She lingered with her husband, till the morning-star went up in the sky; then she embraced him and her children with mournful tenderness; and at dawn of day retired, as was her custom, through the secret door, to her oak-tree, and left her friends to their own sad forebodings.

Nature stood in listening stillness at the rising sun; but heavy black clouds soon veiled his beaming head. The day grew sultry and oppressive; the whole atmosphere was electric. Distant thunder came rolling over the forest; and the hundred-voiced Echo repeated, in the winding valleys, its baleful sound. At the noontide, a forked thunderbolt struck quivering down upon the oak; and in a moment shivered with resistless force the trunk and boughs, and the wreck lay scattered far around it in the forest. When Father Krokus was informed of this, he rent his garments, went forth with his daughters to deplore the life-tree of his spouse, and to collect the fragments of it, and preserve them as invaluable relics. But the Elf from that day was not seen any more.

Statue of Libussa and P?emysl, her ploughman husband, in a park in Vyšehrad. Statue by Josef Václav Myslbek (1881).

In some few years, the tender girls had waxed in stature; their maiden forms blossomed forth, as the rose pushing up from the bud; and the fame of their beauty spread abroad over all the land. The noblest youths of the people crowded round, with cases to submit to Father Krokus for his counsel; but at bottom, these their specious pretexts were directed to the fair maidens, whom they wished to get a glimpse of; as is the mode with young men, who delight to have some business with the master of the household, when his daughters are beautiful. The three sisters lived in great simplicity and unity together; as yet but little conscious of their talents. The gift of prophecy had been communicated to them in an equal degree; and all their words were oracles, although they knew it not. Yet soon their vanity awoke at the voice of flattery; word-catchers eagerly laid hold of every sound proceeding from their lips; Celadons noted down every look, spied out the faintest smile, explored the aspect of their eyes, and drew from it more or less favourable prognostics, conceiving that their own destiny was to be read by means of it; and from this time, it has become the mode with lovers to deduce from the horoscope of the eyes the rising or declining of their star in courtship. Scarcely had Vanity obtained a footing in the virgin heart, till Pride, her dear confidante, with her wicked rabble of a train, Self-love, Self-praise, Self-will, Self-interest, were standing at the door; and all of them in time sneaked in. The elder sisters struggled to outdo the younger in their arts; and envied her in secret her superiority in personal attractions. For though they all were very beautiful, the youngest was the most so. Fräulein Bela turned her chief attention to the science of plants; as Fräulein Medea did in earlier times. She knew their hidden virtues, could extract from them poisons and antidotes; and farther, understood the art of making from them sweet or nauseous odours for the unseen Powers. When her censer steamed, she allured to her Spirits out of the immeasurable depth of aether, from beyond the Moon, and they became her subjects, that with their fine organs they might be allowed to snuff these delicious vapours: and when she scattered villanous perfumes upon the coals, she could have smoked away with it the very Zihim and the Ohim from the Wilderness.

Fräulein Therba was inventive as Circe in devising magic formulas, which could command the elements, could raise tempests and whirlwinds, also hail and thunder; could shake the bowels of the Earth, or lift itself from the sockets of its axle. She employed these arts to terrify the people, and be feared and honoured by them as a goddess; and she could, in fact, arrange the weather more according to the wish and taste of men than wise old Nature does. Two brothers quarrelled on this subject, for their wishes never were the same. The one was a husbandman, and still desired rain for the growth and strengthening of his crops. The other was a potter, and desired constant sunshine to dry his dishes, which the rain destroyed. And as Heaven never could content them in disposing of this matter, they repaired one day with rich presents to the Castle of the wise Krokus; and submitted their petitions to Therba. The daughter of the Elf gave a smile over their unquiet grumbling at the wise economy of Nature; and contented the demands of each: she made rain fall on the seed-lands of the cultivator; and the sun shone on the potter-field close by. By these enchantments both the sisters gained much fame and riches, for they never used their gifts without a fee. With their treasures they built castles and country-houses; laid out royal pleasure-gardens; to their festivals and divertisements there was no end. The gallants, who solicited their love, they gulled and laughed at.

Fräulein Libussa was no sharer in the vain proud disposition of her sisters. Though she had the same capacities for penetrating the secrets of Nature, and employing its hidden powers in her service, she remained contented with the gifts she had derived from her maternal inheritance, without attempting to increase them, or turn them to a source of gain. Her vanity extended not beyond the consciousness that she was beautiful; she cared not for riches; and neither longed to be feared nor to be honoured like her sisters. Whilst these were gadding up and down among their country-houses, hastening from one tumultuous pleasure to another, with the flower of the Bohemian chivalry fettered to their chariot-wheels, she abode in her father’s house, conducting the economy, giving counsel to those who begged it, friendly help to the afflicted and oppressed; and all from good-will, without remuneration [1]. Her temper was soft and modest, and her conduct virtuous and discreet, as beseems a noble virgin. She might secretly rejoice in the victories which her beauty gained over the hearts of men, and accept the sighing and cooing of her languishing adorers as a just tribute to her charms; but none dared speak a word of love to her, or venture on aspiring to her heart. Yet Amor, the roguish urchin, takes a pleasure in exerting his privileges on the coy; and often hurls his burning torch upon the lowly straw-roof, when he means to set on fire a lofty palace.

Far in the bosom of the forest lived an ancient Knight, who had come into the land with the host of Czech. In this seclusion he had fixed his settlement; reduced the desert under cultivation, and formed for himself a small estate, where he thought to pass the remainder of his days in peace, and live upon the produce of his husbandry. A strong-handed neighbour took forcible possession of the land, and expelled the owner, whom a hospitable peasant sheltered in his dwelling. The distressed old Knight had a son, who now formed the sole consolation and support of his age; a bold active youth, but possessed of nothing save a hunting-spear and a practised arm, for the sustenance of his gray-haired father. The injustice of their neighbour stimulated him to revenge, and he had been prepared for resisting force by force; but the command of the anxious father, unwilling to expose his son to danger, had disarmed him. Yet ere long he resumed his former purpose. Then the father called him to his presence, and said:

“Pass over, my son, to the wise Krokus, or to the cunning virgins his daughters, and ask counsel whether the gods approve thy undertaking, and will grant it a prosperous issue. If so, gird on thy sword, and take the spear in thy hand, and go forth to fight for thy inheritance. If not, stay here till thou hast closed my eyes and laid me in the earth; then do what shall seem good to thee.”

The youth set forth, and first reached Bela’s palace, a building like a temple for the habitation of a goddess. He knocked at the door, and desired to be admitted; but the porter observing that he came empty-handed, dismissed him as a beggar, and shut the door in his face. He went forward in sadness, and reached the house of sister Therba, where he knocked and requested an audience. The porter looked upon him through his window, and said: “If thou bringest gold in thy bag, which thou canst weigh out to my mistress, she will teach thee one of her good saws to read thy fortune withal. If not, then go and gather of it in the sands of the Elbe as many grains as the tree hath leaves, the sheaf ears, and the bird feathers, then will I open thee this gate.” The mocked young man glided off entirely dejected; and the more so, as he learned that Seer Krokus was in Poland, arbitrating the disputes of some contending Grandees. He anticipated from the third sister no more flattering reception; and as he descried her father’s castle from a hill in the distance, he could not venture to approach it, but hid himself in a thicket to pursue his bitter thoughts. Ere long he was roused by an approaching noise; he listened, and heard a sound of horses’ hoofs. A flying roe dashed through the bushes, followed by a lovely huntress and her maids on stately steeds. She hurled a javelin from her hand; it flew whizzing through the air, but did not hit the game. Instantly the watchful young man seized his bow, and launched from the twanging cord a bolt, which smote the deer through the heart, and stretched it lifeless on the spot. The lady, in astonishment at this phenomenon, looked round to find her unknown hunting partner: and the archer, on observing this, stept forward from his bush, and bent himself humbly before her to the ground. Fräulein Libussa thought she had never seen a finer man. At the first glance, his figure made so deep an impression on her, that she could not but award him that involuntary feeling of goodwill, which a beautiful appearance claims as its prerogative. “Tell me, fair stranger,” said she to him, “who art thou, and what chance is it that leads thee to these groves?” The youth guessed rightly that his lucky star had brought him what he was in search of; he disclosed his case to her in modest words; not hiding how disgracefully her sisters had dismissed him, or how the treatment had afflicted him. She cheered his heart with friendly words. “Follow me to my abode,” said she; “I will consult the Book of Fate for thee, and answer thy demand tomorrow by the rising of the sun.”

The young man did as he was ordered. No churlish porter here barred for him the entrance of the palace; the fair lady exercised the rights of hospitality with generous attention. He was charmed by this benignant reception, but still more by the beauty of his gentle hostess. Her enchanting figure hovered all night before his eyes; he carefully defended himself from sleep, that he might not for a moment lose from his thoughts the delightful events of the day. Fräulein Libussa, on the contrary, enjoyed soft slumber: for seclusion from the influences of the external senses, which disturb the finer presentiments of the future, is an indispensable condition for the gift of prophecy. The glowing fancy of the maiden blended the form of this young stranger with all the dreaming images which hovered through her mind that night. She found him where she had not looked for him, in connexion with affairs in which she could not understand how this unknown youth had come to be involved.

“Libuše” (1851) by Ludwig von Schwanthaler / Ferdinand von Miller. Eingangshalle Nationalmuseum.

On her early awakening, at the hour when the fair prophetess was wont to separate and interpret the visions of the night, she felt inclined to cast away these phantasms from her mind, as errors which had sprung from a disturbance in the operation of her prophetic faculty, and were entitled to no heed from her. Yet a dim feeling signified that this creation of her fancy was not idle dreaming; but had a significant allusion to certain events which the future would unravel; and that last night this presaging Fantasy had spied out the decrees of Fate, and blabbed them to her, more successfully than ever. By help of it, she found that her guest was inflamed with warm love to her; and with equal honesty her heart confessed the same thing in regard to him. But she instantly impressed the seal of silence on the news; as the modest youth had, on his side, set a guard upon his lips and his eyes, that he might not expose himself to a contemptuous refusal; for the chasm which Fortune had interposed between him and the daughter of the wise Krokus seemed impassable.

Although the fair Libussa well knew what she had to say in answer to the young man’s question, yet it went against her heart to let him go from her so soon. At sunrise she called him to her in her garden, and said: “The curtain of darkness yet hangs before my eyes; abide with me till sunset;” and at night she said: “Stay till sunrise;” and next morning: “Wait another day;” and the third day: “Have patience till tomorrow.” On the fourth day she at last dismissed him; finding no more pretexts for detaining him, with safety to her secret. At parting, she gave him his response in friendly words: “The gods will not that thou shouldst contend with a man of violence in the land; to bear and suffer is the lot of the weaker. Return to thy father; be the comfort of his old age; and support him by the labour of thy diligent hand. Take two white Steers as a present from my herd; and this Staff to drive them; and when it blossoms and bears fruit, the spirit of prophecy will descend on thee.”

The young man felt himself unworthy of the gentle virgin’s gift; and blushed that he should receive it and make no return. With ineloquent lips, but with looks so much the more eloquent, he took mournful leave of her; and at the gate below found two white Steers awaiting him, as sleek and glittering as of old the godlike Bull, on whose smooth back the virgin Europa swam across the blue sea waves. Joyfully he loosed them from the post, and drove them softly on before him. The distance home seemed but a few ells, so much was his spirit busied with the fair Libussa: and he vowed, that as he never could obtain her love, he would love no other all his days. The old Knight rejoiced in the return of his son; and still more in learning that the oracle of the fair heiress agreed so completely with his own wishes. As husbandry had been appointed by the gods for the young man’s trade, he lingered not in harnessing his white Steers, and yoking them to the plough. The first trial prospered to his wish: the bullocks had such strength and alacrity that they turned over in a single day more land than twelve yoke of oxen commonly can master: for they were fiery and impetuous, as the Bull is painted in the Almanac, where he rushes from the clouds in the sign of April; not sluggish and heavy like the Ox, who plods on with his holy consorts, in our Gospel-Book, phlegmatically, as a Dutch skipper in a calm.

Duke Czech, who had led the first colony of his people into Bohemia, was now long ago committed to his final rest, yet his descendants had not been promoted to succeed him in his princely dignity. The Magnates had in truth, at his decease, assembled for a new election; but their wild stormy tempers would admit of no reasonable resolution. Self-interest and self-sufficiency transformed the first Bohemian Convention of Estates into a Polish Diet: as too many hands laid hold of the princely mantle, they tore it in pieces, and no one of them obtained it. The government had dwindled to a sort of Anarchy; every one did what was right in his own eyes; the strong oppressed the weak, the rich the poor, the great the little. There was now no public security in the land; yet the frank spirits of the time thought their new republic very well arranged: “All is in order,” said they, “every thing goes on its way with us as well as elsewhere; the wolf eats the lamb, the kite the dove, the fox the cock.” This artless constitution could not last: when the first debauch of fancied freedom had gone off, and the people were again grown sober, reason asserted its rights; the patriots, the honest citizens, whoever in the nation loved his country, joined together to destroy the idol Hydra, and unite the people once more under a single head. “Let us choose a Prince,” said they, “to rule over us, after the manner of our fathers, to tame the froward, and exercise right and justice in the midst of us. Not the strongest, the boldest, or the richest; the wisest be our Duke!” The people, wearied out with the oppressions of their petty tyrants, had on this occasion but one voice, and loudly applauded the proposal. A meeting of Estates was convoked; and the choice unanimously fell upon the wise Krokus. An embassy of honour was appointed, inviting him to take possession of the princely dignity. Though he had never longed for lofty titles, he hesitated not about complying with the people’s wish. Invested with the purple, he proceeded, with great pomp, to Vizegrad, the residence of the Dukes; where the people met him with triumphant shouting, and did reverence to him as their Regent. Whereby he perceived, that now the third Reed-stalk of the bountiful Elf was likewise sending forth its gift upon him.

His love of justice, and his wise legislation, soon spread his fame over all the surrounding countries. The Sarmatic Princes, incessantly at feud with one another, brought their contention from afar before his judgment-seat. He weighed it with the undeceitful weights of natural Justice, in the scales of Law; and when he opened his mouth, it was as if the venerable Solon, or the wise Solomon from between the Twelve Lions of his throne, had been pronouncing sentence. Some seditious instigators having leagued against the peace of their country, and kindled war among the Poles, he advanced at the head of his army into Poland; put an end to the civil strife; and a large portion of the people, grateful for the peace which he had given them, chose him for their Duke also. He there built the city Cracow, which is called by his name, and has the privilege of crowning the Polish Kings, even to the present time. Krokus ruled with great glory to the end of his days. Observing that he was now near their limit, and must soon set out, he caused a coffin to be made from the fragments of the oak which his spouse the Elf had inhabited; and then departed in peace, bewept by the Princesses his three daughters, who deposited the Ducal remains in the coffin, and consigned him to the Earth as he had commanded; and the whole land mourned for him.

When the obsequies were finished, the Estates assembled to deliberate who should now possess the vacant throne. The people were unanimous for one of Krokus’s daughters; but which of the three they had not yet determined. Fräulein Bela had, on the whole, the fewest adherents; for her heart was not good; and her magic-lantern was too frequently employed in doing sheer mischief. But she had raised such a terror of herself among the people, that no one liked to take exception at her, lest he might draw down her vengeance on him. When the vote was called, therefore, the Electors all continued dumb; there was no voice for her, but also none against her. At sunset the representatives of the people separated, adjourning their election to another day. Then Fräulein Therba was proposed: but confidence in her incantations had made Fräulein Therba’s head giddy; she was proud and overbearing; required to be honoured as a goddess; and if incense did not always smoke for her, she grew peevish, cross, capricious; displaying all the properties by which the fair sex, when they please, can cease to be fair. She was less feared than her elder sister, but not on that account more loved. For these reasons, the election-field continued silent as a lykewake; and the vote was never called for. On the third day came Libussa’s turn. No sooner was this name pronounced, than a confidential hum was heard throughout the electing circle; the solemn visages unwrinkled and brightened up, and each of the Electors had some good to whisper of the Fräulein to his neighbour. One praised her virtue, another praised her modesty, a third her prudence, a fourth her infallibility in prophecy, a fifth her disinterestedness in giving counsel, a tenth her chastity, other ninety her beauty, and the last her gifts as a housewife. When a lover draws out such a catalogue of the perfections of his mistress, it remains still doubtful whether she is really the possessor of a single one among them; but the public seldom errs on the favourable side, however often on the other, in the judgments it pronounces on good fame. With so many universally acknowledged praiseworthy qualities, Fräulein Libussa was undoubtedly the favoured candidate, at least in petto, of the sage Electors: but the preference of the younger sister to the elder has so frequently, in the affair of marriage, as experience testifies, destroyed the peace of the house, that reasonable fear might be entertained lest in affairs of still greater moment it might disturb the peace of the country. This consideration put the sapient guardians of the people into such embarrassment, that they could come to no conclusion whatever. There was wanting a speaker, to hang the clock-weight of his eloquence upon the wheel of the Electors’ favourable will, before the business could get into motion, and the good disposition of their minds become active and efficient; and this speaker now appeared, as if appointed for the business.

“Libussa Goth. Reg.” (“Libussa, Queen of the Goths”) from Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum (1553)

Wladomir, one of the Bohemian Magnates, the highest after the Duke, had long sighed for the enchanting Libussa, and wooed her during Father Krokus’s lifetime. The youth being one of his most faithful vassals, and beloved by him as a son, the worthy Krokus could have wished well that love would unite this pair; but the coyness of the maiden was insuperable, and he would in nowise force her inclination. Prince Wladomir, however, would not be deterred by these doubtful aspects; but still hoped, by fidelity and constancy, to tire out the hard heart of the Fräulein, and by his tender attentions make it soft and pliant. He continued in the Duke’s retinue to the end, without appearing by this means to have advanced a hair’s-breadth towards the goal of his desires. But now, he thought, an opportunity was offered him for opening her closed heart by a meritorious deed, and earning from her noble-minded gratitude what love did not seem inclined to grant him voluntarily. He determined on braving the hatred and vengeance of the two dreaded sisters, and raising his beloved to her paternal throne. Observing the indecision of the wavering assembly, he addressed them, and said:

“If ye will hear me, ye courageous Knights and Nobles from among the people, I will lay before you a similitude, by which you shall perceive how this coming choice may be accomplished, to the weal and profit of the land.”

Silence being ordered, he proceeded thus:

“The Bees had lost their Queen, and the whole hive sat sad and moping; they flew seldom and sluggishly out, had small heart or activity in honey-making, and their trade and sustenance fell into decay. Therefore they resolved upon a new sovereign, to rule over their community, that discipline and order might not be lost from among them. Then came the Wasp flying towards them, and said: ‘Choose me for your Queen, I am mighty and terrible; the strong horse is afraid of my sting; with it I can even defy the lion, your hereditary foe, and prick him in the snout when he approaches your store: I will watch you and defend you.’ This speech was pleasant to the Bees; but after deeply considering it, the wisest among them answered: ‘Thou art stout and dreadful, but even the sting which is to guard us we fear: thou canst not be our Queen.’ Then the Humble-bee came buzzing towards them, and said: ‘Choose me for your Queen; hear ye not that the sounding of my wings announces loftiness and dignity? Nor is a sting wanting to me, wherewith to protect you.’ The Bees answered: ‘We are a peaceable and quiet people; the proud sounding of thy wings would annoy us, and disturb the continuance of our diligence: thou canst not be our Queen.’ Then the Royal-bee requested audience: ‘Though I am larger and stronger than you,’ said she, ‘my strength cannot hurt or damage you; for, lo, the dangerous sting is altogether wanting. I am soft of temper, a friend of order and thrift, can guide your honey-making, and further your labour.’ ‘Then,’ said the Bees, ‘thou art worthy to rule over us: we obey thee; be our Queen.'”

Wladomir was silent. The whole assembly guessed the meaning of his speech, and the minds of all were in a favourable tone for Fräulein Libussa. But at the moment when the vote was to be put, a croaking raven flew over their heads: this evil omen interrupted all deliberations, and the meeting was adjourned till the morrow. It was Fräulein Bela who had sent this bird of black augury to stop their operations, for she well knew how the minds of the Electors were inclining; and Prince Wladomir had raised her bitterest spleen against him. She held a secret consultation with her sister Therba; when it was determined to take vengeance on their common slanderer, and to dispatch a heavy Incubus to suffocate the soul from his body. The stout Knight, dreaming nothing of this danger, went, as he was wont, to wait upon his mistress, and was favoured by her with the first friendly look; from which he failed not to presage for himself a heaven of delight; and if anything could still have increased his rapture, it must have been the gift of a rose, which was blooming on the Fräulein’s breast, and which she reached him, with an injunction to let it wither on his heart. He interpreted these words quite otherwise than they were meant; for of all the sciences, there is none so deceitful as the science of expounding in matters of love: here errors, as it were, have their home. The enamoured Knight was anxious to preserve his rose as long as possible in freshness and bloom; he put it in a flower-pot among water, and fell asleep with the most flattering hopes.

At gloomy midnight, the destroying angel sent by Fräulein Bela glided towards him; with panting breath blew off the bolts and locks of his apartment; lighted like a mountain of lead upon the slumbering Knight, and so squeezed him together, that he felt on awakening as if a millstone had been hung about his neck. In this agonising suffocation, thinking that the last moment of his life was at hand, he happily remembered the rose, which was standing by his bed in a flower-pot, and pressed it to his breast, saying: “Wither with me, fair rose, and die on my chilled bosom, as a proof that my last thought was directed to thy gentle mistress.” In an instant all was light about his heart; the heavy Incubus could not withstand the magic force of the flower; his crushing weight would not now have balanced a feather; his antipathy to the perfume soon scared him from the chamber; and the narcotic virtue of this rose-odour again lulled the Knight into refreshing sleep. He rose with the sun next morning, fresh and alert, and rode to the field, to see what impression his similitude had made on the Electors, and to watch what course the business was about to take; determined at all hazards, should a contrary wind spring up, and threaten with shipwreck the vessel of his hopes, to lay his hand upon the rudder, and steer it into port.

For the present this was not required. The electing Senate had considered Wladomir’s parable, and so sedulously ruminated and digested it overnight, that it had passed into their hearts and spirits. A stout Knight, who espied this favourable crisis, and who sympathised in the concerns of his heart with the enamoured Wladomir, was endeavouring to snatch away, or at least to share with him, the honour of exalting Fräulein Libussa to the throne. He stept forth, and drew his sword, and with a loud voice proclaimed Libussa Duchess of Bohemia, calling upon all who thought as he did, to draw their swords and justify the choice. In a moment hundreds of swords were gleaming through the field; a loud huzza announced the new Regent, and on all sides arose the joyful shout: “Libussa be our Duchess!” A commission was appointed, with Wladomir and the stout sword-drawer at its head, to acquaint the Fräulein with her exaltation to the princely rank. With that modest blush, which gives the highest grace to female charms, she accepted the sovereignty over the people; and the magic of her enrapturing look made all hearts subject to her. The nation celebrated the event with vast rejoicings: and although her two sisters envied her, and employed their secret arts to obtain revenge on her and their country for the slight which had been put upon them, and endeavoured by the leaven of criticism, by censuring all the measures and transactions of their sister, to produce a hurtful fermentation in the state, yet Libussa was enabled wisely to encounter this unsisterly procedure, and to ruin all the hostile projects, magical or other, of these ungentle persons; till at last, weary of assailing her in vain, they ceased to employ their ineffectual arts against her.

The sighing Wladomir awaited, in the mean time, with wistful longing, the unfolding of his fate. More than once he had tried to read the final issue of it in the fair eyes of his Princess; but Libussa had enjoined them strict silence respecting the feelings of her heart; and for a lover, without prior treaty with the eyes and their significant glances, to demand an oral explanation, is at all times an unhappy undertaking. The only favourable sign, which still sustained his hopes, was the unfaded rose; for after a year had passed away, it still bloomed as fresh as on the night when he received it from her fair hand. A flower from a lady’s hand, a nosegay, a ribbon, or a lock of hair, is certainly in all cases better than an empty nut; yet all these pretty things are but ambiguous pledges of love, if they have not borrowed meaning from some more trustworthy revelation. Wladomir had nothing for it but to play in silence the part of a sighing shepherd, and to watch what Time and Chance might in the long-run do to help him. The unquiet Mizisla pursued his courtship with far more vivacity: he pressed forward on every occasion where he could obtain her notice. At the coronation, he had been the first that took the oath of fealty to the Princess; he followed her inseparably, as the Moon does the Earth, to express by unbidden offices of zeal his devotion to her person; and on public solemnities and processions, he flourished his sword before her, to keep its good services in her remembrance.

Yet Libussa seemed, like other people in the world, to have very speedily forgotten the promoters of her fortune; for when an obelisk is once standing perpendicular, one heeds not the levers and implements which raised it; so at least the claimants of her heart explained the Fräulein’s coldness. Meanwhile both of them were wrong in their opinion: the Fräulein was neither insensible nor ungrateful; but her heart was no longer a free piece of property, which she could give or sell according to her pleasure. The decree of Love had already passed in favour of the trim Forester with the sure cross-bow. The first impression, which the sight of him had made upon her heart, was still so strong, that no second could efface it. In a period of three years, the colours of imagination, in which that Divinity had painted the image of the graceful youth, had no whit abated in their brightness; and love therefore continued altogether unimpaired. For the passion of the fair sex is of this nature, that if it can endure three moons, it will then last three times three years, or longer if required. In proof of this, see the instances occurring daily before our eyes. When the heroes of Germany sailed over distant seas, to fight out the quarrel of a self-willed daughter of Britain with her motherland, they tore themselves from the arms of their dames with mutual oaths of truth and constancy; yet before the last Buoy of the Weser had got astern of them, the heroic navigators were for most part forgotten of their Chloes. The fickle among these maidens, out of grief to find their hearts unoccupied, hastily supplied the vacuum by the surrogate of new intrigues; but the faithful and true, who had constancy enough to stand the Weser-proof, and had still refrained from infidelity when the conquerors of their hearts had got beyond the Black Buoy, these, it is said, preserved their vow unbroken till the return of the heroic host into their German native country; and are still expecting from the hand of Love the recompense of their unwearied perseverance.

It is therefore less surprising that the fair Libussa, under these circumstances, could withstand the courting of the brilliant chivalry who struggled for her love, than that Penelope of Ithaca could let a whole cohort of wooers sigh for her in vain, when her heart had nothing in reserve but the gray-headed Ulysses. Rank and birth, however, had established such a difference in the situations of the Fräulein and of her beloved youth, that any closer union than Platonic love, a shadowy business which can neither warm nor nourish, was not readily to be expected. 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 Fräulein 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 Fräulein 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.

The rather racy cover image for Mil Urban’s Libussa novel, Pole a palisáda.

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 Fräulein 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.”

The fair speaker ceased; and a deep reverent silence reigned throughout the hall of meeting; none presumed to utter a word against her. Yet Prince Wladomir and his allies desisted not from their intention, but whispered in each other’s ear: “The sly Doe is loath to quit the fat pastures; but the hunter’s horn shall sound yet louder, and scare her forth.” [2] Next day they prompted the knights to call loudly on the Princess to choose a husband within three days, and by the choice of her heart to give the people a Prince, who might divide with her the cares of government. At this unexpected requisition, coming as it seemed from the voice of the nation, a virgin blush overspread the cheeks of the lovely Princess; her clear eye discerned all the sunken cliffs, which threatened her with peril. For even if, according to the custom of the great world, she should determine upon subjecting her inclination to her state-policy, she could only give her hand to one suitor, and she saw well that all the remaining candidates would take it as a slight, and begin to meditate revenge. Besides, the private vow of her heart was inviolable and sacred in her eyes. Therefore she endeavoured prudently to turn aside this importunate demand of the States; and again attempted to persuade them altogether to renounce their schemes of innovation. “The eagle being dead,” said she, “the birds chose the Ring-dove for their queen, and all of them obeyed her soft cooing call. But light and airy, as is the nature of birds, they soon altered their determination, and repented them that they had made it. The proud Peacock thought that it beseemed him better to be ruler; the keen Falcon, accustomed to make the smaller birds his prey, reckoned it disgraceful to obey the peaceful Dove; they formed a party, and appointed the weak-eyed Owl to be the spokesman of their combination, and propose a new election of a sovereign. The sluggish Bustard, the heavy-bodied Heath-cock, the lazy Stork, the small-brained Heron, and all the larger birds chuckled, flapped, and croaked applause to him; and the host of little birds twittered, in their simplicity, and chirped out of bush and grove to the same tune. Then arose the warlike Kite, and soared boldly up into the air, and the birds cried out: ‘What a majestic flight! The brave, strong Kite shall be our King!’ Scarcely had the plundering bird taken possession of the throne, when he manifested his activity and courage on his winged subjects, in deeds of tyranny and caprice: he plucked the feathers from the larger fowls, and eat the little songsters.”

Significant as this oration was, it made but a small impression on the minds of the people, hungering and thirsting after change; and they abode by their determination, that within three days, Fräulein Libussa should select herself a husband. At this, Prince Wladomir rejoiced in heart; for now, he thought, he should secure the fair prey, for which he had so long been watching in vain. Love and ambition inflamed his wishes, and put eloquence into his mouth, which had hitherto confined itself to secret sighing. He came to Court, and required audience of the Duchess.

“Gracious ruler of thy people and my heart,” thus he addressed her, “from thee no secret is hidden; thou knowest the flames which burn in this bosom, holy and pure as on the altar of the gods, and thou knowest also what fire has kindled them. It is now appointed, that at the behest of thy people, thou give the land a Prince. Wilt thou disdain a heart, which lives and beats for thee? To be worthy of thy love, I risked my life to put thee on the throne of thy father. Grant me the merit of retaining thee upon it by the bond of tender affection: let us divide the possession of thy throne and thy heart; the first be thine, the second be mine, and my happiness will be exalted beyond the lot of mortals.”

Fräulein Libussa wore a most maidenlike appearance during this oration, and covered her face with her veil, to hide the soft blush which deepened the colour of her cheeks. On its conclusion, she made a sign with her hand, not opening her lips, for the Prince to step aside; as if she would consider what she should resolve upon, in answer to his suit.

Immediately the brisk Knight Mizisla announced himself, and desired to be admitted.

“Loveliest of the daughters of princes,” said he, as he entered the audience-chamber, “the fair Ring-dove, queen of the air, must no longer, as thou well knowest, coo in solitude, but take to herself a mate. The proud Peacock, it is talked, holds up his glittering plumage in her eyes, and thinks to blind her by the splendour of his feathers; but she is prudent and modest, and will not unite herself with the haughty Peacock. The keen Falcon, once a plundering bird, has now changed his nature; is gentle and honest, and without deceit; for he loves the fair Dove, and would fain that she mated with him. That his bill is hooked and his talons, sharp, must not mislead thee: he needs them to protect the fair Dove his darling, that no bird hurt her, or disturb the habitation of her rule; for he is true and kindly to her, and first swore fealty on the day when she was crowned. Now tell me, wise Princess, if the soft Dove will grant to her trusty Falcon the love which he longs for?”

Fräulein Libussa did as she had done before; beckoned to the Knight to step aside; and, after waiting for a space, she called the two rivals into her presence, and spoke thus:

“I owe you great thanks, noble Knights, for your help in obtaining me the princely crown of Bohemia, which my father Krokus honourably wore. The zeal, of which you remind me, had not faded from my remembrance; nor is it hid from my knowledge, that you virtuously love me, for your looks and gestures have long been the interpreters of your feelings. That I shut up my heart against you, and did not answer love with love, regard not as insensibility; it was not meant for slight or scorn, but for harmoniously determining a choice which was doubtful. I weighed your merits, and the tongue of the trying balance bent to neither side. Therefore I resolved on leaving the decision of your fate to yourselves; and offered you the possession of my heart, under the figure of an enigmatic apple; that it might be seen to which of you the greater measure of judgment and wisdom had been given, in appropriating to himself this gift, which could not be divided. Now tell me without delay, In whose hands is the apple? Whichever of you has won it from the other, let him from this hour receive my throne and my heart as the prize of his skill.”

The two rivals looked at one another with amazement; grew pale, and held their peace. At last, after a long pause, Prince Wladomir broke silence, and said:

“The enigmas of the wise are, to the foolish, a nut in a toothless mouth, a pearl which the cock scratches from the sand, a lantern in the hand of the blind. O Princess, be not wroth with us, that we neither knew the use nor the value of thy gift; we misinterpreted thy purpose; thought that thou hadst cast an apple of contention on our path, to awaken us to strife and deadly feud; therefore each gave up his share, and we renounced the divisive fruit, whose sole possession neither of us would have peaceably allowed the other!”

“You have given sentence on yourselves,” replied the Fräulein: “if an apple could inflame your jealousy, what fighting would ye not have fought for a myrtle-garland twined about a crown!”

With this response she dismissed the Knights, who now lamented that they had given ear to the unwise arbiter, and thoughtlessly cast away the pledge of love, which, as it appeared, had been the casket of their fairest hopes. They meditated severally how they might still execute their purpose, and by force or guile get possession of the throne, with its lovely occupant.

Fräulein Libussa, in the mean while, was not spending in idleness the three days given her for consideration; but diligently taking counsel with herself, how she might meet the importunate demand of her people, give Bohemia a Duke, and herself a husband according to the choice of her heart. She dreaded lest Prince Wladomir might still more pressingly assail her, and perhaps deprive her of the throne. Necessity combined with love to make her execute a plan, with which she had often entertained herself as with a pleasant dream; for what mortal’s head has not some phantom walking in it, towards which he turns in a vacant hour, to play with it as with a puppet? There is no more pleasing pastime for a strait-shod maiden, when her galled corns are resting from the toils of the pavement, than to think of a stately and commodious equipage; the coy beauty dreams gladly of counts sighing at her feet; Avarice gets prizes in the Lottery; the debtor in the jail falls heir to vast possessions; the squanderer discovers the Hermetic Secret; and the poor woodcutter finds a treasure in the hollow of a tree; all merely in fancy, yet not without the enjoyment of a secret satisfaction. The gift of prophecy has always been united with a warm imagination; thus the fair Libussa had, like others, willingly and frequently given heed to this seductive playmate, which, in kind companionship, had always entertained her with the figure of the young Archer, so indelibly impressed upon her heart. Thousands of projects came into her mind, which Fancy palmed on her as feasible and easy. At one time she formed schemes of drawing forth her darling youth from his obscurity, placing him in the army, and raising him from one post of honour to another; and then instantly she bound a laurel garland about his temples, and led him, crowned with victory and honour, to the throne she could have been so glad to share with him. At other times, she gave a different turn to the romance: she equipped her darling as a knight-errant, seeking for adventures; brought him to her Court, and changed him into a Huon of Bourdeaux; nor was the wondrous furniture wanting, for endowing him as highly as Friend Oberon did his ward. But when Common Sense again got possession of the maiden’s soul, the many-coloured forms of the magic lantern waxed pale in the beam of prudence, and the fair vision vanished into air. She then bethought her what hazards would attend such an enterprise; what mischief for her people, when jealousy and envy raised the hearts of her grandees in rebellion against her, and the alarum beacon of discord gave the signal for uproar and sedition in the land. Therefore she sedulously hid the wishes of her heart from the keen glance of the spy, and disclosed no glimpse of them to any one.

But now, when the people were clamouring for a Prince, the matter had assumed another form: the point would now be attained, could she combine her wishes with the national demand. She strengthened her soul with manly resolution; and as the third day dawned, she adorned herself with all her jewels, and her head was encircled with the myrtle crown. Attended by her maidens, all decorated with flower garlands, she ascended the throne, full of lofty courage and soft dignity. The assemblage of knights and vassals around her stood in breathless attention, to learn from her lips the name of the happy Prince with whom she had resolved to share her heart and throne. “Ye nobles of my people,” thus she spoke, “the lot of your destiny still lies untouched in the urn of concealment; you are still free as my coursers that graze in the meadows, before the bridle and the bit have curbed them, or their smooth backs have been pressed by the burden of the saddle and the rider. It now rests with you to signify, Whether, in the space allowed me for the choice of a spouse, your hot desire for a Prince to rule over you has cooled, and given place to more calm scrutiny of this intention; or you still persist inflexibly in your demand.” She paused for a moment; but the hum of the multitude, the whispering and buzzing, and looks of the whole Senate, did not long leave her in uncertainty, and their speaker ratified the conclusion, that the vote was still for a Duke. “Then be it so!” said she; “the die is cast, the issue of it stands not with me! The gods have appointed, for the kingdom of Bohemia, a Prince who shall sway its sceptre with justice and wisdom. The young cedar does not yet overtop the firm-set oaks; concealed among the trees of the forest it grows, encircled with ignoble shrubs; but soon it shall send forth branches to give shade to its roots; and its top shall touch the clouds. Choose a deputation, ye nobles of the people, of twelve honourable men from among you, that they hasten to seek out the Prince, and attend him to the throne. My steed will point out your path; unloaded and free it shall course on before you; and as a token that you have found what you are sent forth to seek, observe that the man whom the gods have selected for your Prince, at the time when you approach him, will be eating his repast on an iron table, under the open sky, in the shadow of a solitary tree. To him you shall do reverence, and clothe his body with the princely robe. The white horse will let him mount it, and bring him hither to the Court, that he may be my husband and your lord.”

She then left the assembly, with the cheerful yet abashed countenance which brides wear, when they look for the arrival of the bridegroom. At her speech there was much wondering; and the prophetic spirit breathing from it worked upon the general mind like a divine oracle, which the populace blindly believe, and which thinkers alone attempt investigating. The messengers of honour were selected, the white horse stood in readiness, caparisoned with Asiatic pomp, as if it had been saddled for carrying the Grand Signior to mosque. The cavalcade set forth, attended by the concourse, and the loud huzzaing of the people; and the white horse paced on before. But the train soon vanished from the eyes of the spectators: and nothing could be seen but a little cloud of dust whirling up afar off: for the spirited courser, getting to its mettle when it reached the open air, began a furious gallop, like a British racer, so that the squadron of deputies could hardly keep in sight of it. Though the quick steed seemed abandoned to its own guidance, an unseen power directed its steps, pulled its bridle, and spurred its flanks. Fräulein Libussa, by the magic virtues inherited from her Elfine mother, had contrived so to instruct the courser, that it turned neither to the right hand nor to the left from its path, but with winged steps hastened on to its destination: and she herself, now that all combined to the fulfilment of her wishes, awaited its returning rider with tender longing.

The messengers had in the mean time been soundly galloped; already they had travelled many leagues, up hill and down dale; had swum across the Elbe and the Moldau; and as their gastric juices made them think of dinner, they recalled to mind the strange table, at which, according to the Fräulein’s oracle, their new Prince was to be feeding. Their glosses and remarks on it were many. A forward knight observed to his companions: “In my poor view of it, our gracious lady has it in her eye to bilk us, and make April messengers of us; for who ever heard of any man in Bohemia that ate his victuals off an iron table? What use is it? our sharp galloping will bring us nothing but mockery and scorn.” Another, of a more penetrating turn, imagined that the iron table might be allegorical; that they should perhaps fall in with some knight-errant, who, after the manner of the wandering brotherhood, had sat down beneath a tree, and spread out his frugal dinner on his shield. A third said, jesting: “I fear our way will lead us down to the workshop of the Cyclops; and we shall find the lame Vulcan, or one of his journeymen, dining from his stithy, and must bring him to our Venus.”

Amid such conversation, they observed their guiding quadruped, which had got a long start of them, turn across a new-ploughed field, and, to their wonder, halt beside the ploughman. They dashed rapidly forward, and found a peasant sitting on an upturned plough, and eating his black bread from the iron ploughshare, which he was using as a table, under the shadow of a fresh pear-tree. He seemed to like the stately horse; he patted it, offered it a bit of bread, and it eat from his hand. The Embassy, of course, was much surprised at this phenomenon; nevertheless, no member of it doubted but that they had found their man. They approached him reverently, and the eldest among them opened his lips, and said: “The Duchess of Bohemia has sent us hither, and bids us signify to thee the will and purpose of the gods, that thou change thy plough with the throne of this kingdom, and thy goad with its sceptre. She selects thee for her husband, to rule with her over the Bohemians.” The young peasant thought they meant to banter him; a thing little to his taste, especially as he supposed that they had guessed his love-secret, and were now come to mock his weakness. Therefore he answered somewhat stoutly, to meet mockery with mockery: “But is your dukedom worth this plough? If the prince cannot eat with better relish, drink more joyously, or sleep more soundly than the peasant, then in sooth it is not worth while to change this kindly furrow-field with the Bohemian kingdom, or this smooth ox-goad with its sceptre. For, tell me, Are not three grains of salt as good for seasoning my morsel as three bushels?”

Then one of the Twelve answered: “The purblind mole digs underground for worms to feed upon; for he has no eyes which can endure the daylight, and no feet which are formed for running like the nimble roe; the scaly crab creeps to and fro in the mud of lakes and marshes, delights to dwell under tree-roots and shrubs by the banks of rivers, for he wants the fins for swimming; and the barn-door cock, cooped up within his hen-fence, risks no flight over the low wall, for he is too timorous to trust in his wings, like the high-soaring bird of prey. Have eyes for seeing, feet for going, fins for swimming, and pinions for flight been allotted thee, thou wilt not grub like a mole underground; nor hide thyself like a dull shell-fish among mud; nor, like the king of the poultry, be content with crowing from the barn-door: but come forward into day; run, swim, or fly into the clouds, as Nature may have furnished thee with gifts. For it suffices not the active man to continue what he is; but he strives to become what he may be. Therefore, do thou try being what the gods have called thee to; then wilt thou judge rightly whether the Bohemian kingdom is worth an acre of corn-land in barter, yea or not.”

This earnest oration of the Deputy, in whose face no jesting feature was to be discerned; and still more the insignia of royalty, the purple robe, the sceptre and the golden sword, which the ambassadors brought forward as a reference and certificate of their mission’s authenticity, at last overcame the mistrust of the doubting ploughman. All at once, light rose on his soul; a rapturous thought awoke in him, that Libussa had discovered the feelings of his heart; had, by her skill in seeing what was secret, recognised his faithfulness and constancy: and was about to recompense him, so as he had never ventured even in dreams to hope. The gift of prophecy predicted to him by her oracle, then came into his mind; and he thought that now or never it must be fulfilled. Instantly he grasped his hazel staff; stuck it deep into the ploughed land; heaped loose mould about it, as you plant a tree; and, lo, immediately the staff got buds, and shot forth sprouts and boughs with leaves and flowers. Two of the green twigs withered, and their dry leaves became the sport of the wind; but the third grew up the more luxuriantly, and its fruits ripened. Then came the spirit of prophecy upon the rapt ploughman; he opened his mouth, and said: “Ye messengers of the Princess Libussa and of the Bohemian people, hear the words of Primislaus the son of Mnatha, the stout-hearted Knight, for whom, blown upon by the spirit of prophecy, the mists of the Future part asunder. The man who guided the ploughshare, ye have called to seize the handles of your princedom, before his day’s work was ended. O that the glebe had been broken by the furrow, to the boundary–stone; so had Bohemia remained an independent kingdom to the utmost ages! But since ye have disturbed the labour of the plougher too early, the limits of your country will become the heritage of your neighbour, and your distant posterity will be joined to him in unchangeable union. The three twigs of the budding Staff are three sons which your Princess shall bear me: two of them, as unripe shoots, shall speedily wither away; but the third shall inherit the throne, and by him shall the fruit of late grandchildren be matured, till the Eagle soar over your mountains and nestle in the land; yet soon fly thence, and return as to his own possession. And then, when the Son of the Gods arises [3], who is his plougher’s friend, and smites the slave-fetters from his limbs, then mark it, Posterity, for thou shalt bless thy destiny! For when he has trodden under his feet the Dragon of Superstition, he will stretch out his arm against the waxing moon, to pluck it from the firmament, that he may himself illuminate the world as a benignant star.”

The venerable deputation stood in silent wonder, gazing at the prophetic man, like dumb idols: it was as if a god were speaking by his lips. He himself turned away from them to the two white steers, the associates of his toilsome labour; he unyoked and let them go in freedom from their farm-service; at which they began frisking joyfully upon the grassy lea, but at the same time visibly decreased in bulk; like thin vapour melted into air, and vanished out of sight. Then Primislaus doffed his peasant wooden shoes, and proceeded to the brook to clean himself. The precious robes were laid upon him; he begirt himself with the sword, and had the golden spurs put on him like a knight; then stoutly sprang upon the white horse, which bore him peaceably along. Being now about to quit his still asylum, he commanded the ambassadors to bring his wooden shoes after him, and keep them carefully, as a token that the humblest among the people had once been exalted to the highest dignity in Bohemia; and as a memorial for his posterity to bear their elevation meekly, and, mindful of their origin, to respect and defend the peasantry, from which themselves had sprung. Hence came the ancient practice of exhibiting a pair of wooden shoes before the Kings of Bohemia on their coronation; a custom held in observance till the male line of Primislaus became extinct.

The planted hazel rod bore fruit and grew; striking roots out on every side, and sending forth new shoots, till at last the whole field was changed into a hazel copse; a circumstance of great advantage to the neighbouring township, which included it within their bounds; for, in memory of this miraculous plantation, they obtained a grant from the Bohemian Kings, exempting them from ever paying any public contribution in the land, except a pint of hazel nuts; which royal privilege their late descendants, as the story runs, are enjoying at this day. [4]

Though the white courser, which was now proudly carrying the bridegroom to his mistress, seemed to outrun the winds, Primislaus did not fail now and then to let him feel the golden spurs, to push him on still faster. The quick gallop seemed to him a tortoise-pace, so keen was his desire to have the fair Libussa, whose form, after seven years, was still so new and lovely in his soul, once more before his eyes; and this not merely as a show, like some bright peculiar anemone in the variegated bed of a flower-garden, but for the blissful appropriation of victorious love. He thought only of the myrtle-crown, which, in the lover’s valuation, far outshines the crown of sovereignty; and had he balanced love and rank against each other, the Bohemian throne without Libussa would have darted up, like a clipped ducat in the scales of the money-changer.

The sun was verging to decline, when the new Prince, with his escort, entered Vizegrad. Fräulein Libussa was in her garden, where she had just plucked a basket of ripe plums, when her future husband’s arrival was announced to her. She went forth modestly, with all her maidens, to meet him; received him as a bridegroom conducted to her by the gods, veiling the election of her heart under a show of submission to the will of Higher Powers. The eyes of the Court were eagerly directed to the stranger; in whom, however, nothing could be seen but a fair handsome man. In respect of outward form, there were several courtiers who, in thought, did not hesitate to measure with him; and could not understand why the gods should have disdained the anti-chamber, and not selected from it some accomplished and ruddy lord, rather than the sunburnt ploughman, to assist the Princess in her government. Especially in Wladomir and Mizisla, it was observable that their pretensions were reluctantly withdrawn. It behoved the Fräulein then to vindicate the work of the gods; and show that Squire Primislaus had been indemnified for the defect of splendid birth, by a fair equivalent in sterling common sense and depth of judgment. She had caused a royal banquet to be prepared, no whit inferior to the feast with which the hospitable Dido entertained her pious guest AEneas. The cup of welcome passed diligently round, the presents of the Princess had excited cheerfulness and good-humour, and a part of the night had already vanished amid jests and pleasant pastime, when Libussa set on foot a game at riddles; and, as the discovery of hidden things was her proper trade, she did not fail to solve, with satisfactory decision, all the riddles that were introduced.

When her own turn came to propose one, she called Prince Wladomir, Mizisla and Primislaus to her, and said: “Fair sirs, it is now for you to read a riddle, which I shall submit to you, that it may be seen who among you is the wisest and of keenest judgment. I intended, for you three, a present of this basket of plums, which I plucked in my garden. One of you shall have the half, and one over; the next shall have the half of what remains, and one over; the third shall again have the half, and three over. Now, if so be that the basket is then emptied, tell me, How many plums are in it now?”

The headlong Ritter Mizisla took the measure of the fruit with his eye, not the sense of the riddle with his understanding, and said: “What can be decided with the sword I might undertake to decide; but thy riddles, gracious Princess, are, I fear, too hard for me. Yet at thy request I will risk an arrow at the bull’s-eye, let it hit or miss: I suppose there is a matter of some three score plums in the basket.”

“Thou hast missed, dear Knight,” said Fräulein Libussa. “Were there as many again, half as many, and a third part as many as the basket has in it, and five over, there would then be as many above three score as there are now below it.”

Prince Wladomir computed as laboriously and anxiously, as if the post of Comptroller-General of Finances had depended on a right solution; and at last brought out the net product five-and-forty. The Fräulein then said:

“Were there a third, and a half, and a sixth as many again of them, the number would exceed forty-five as much as it now falls short of it.”

Though, in our days, any man endowed with the arithmetical faculty of a tapster, might have solved this problem without difficulty, yet, for an untaught computant, the gift of divination was essential, if he meant to get out of the affair with honour, and not stick in the middle of it with disgrace. As the wise Primislaus was happily provided with this gift, it cost him neither art nor exertion to find the answer.

“Familiar companion of the heavenly Powers,” said he, “whoso undertakes to pierce thy high celestial meaning, undertakes to soar after the eagle when he hides himself in the clouds. Yet I will pursue thy hidden flight, as far as the eye, to which thou hast given its light, will reach. I judge that of the plums which thou hast laid in the basket, there are thirty in number, not one fewer, and none more.”

The Fräulein cast a kindly glance on him, and said: “Thou tracest the glimmering ember, which lies deep-hid among the ashes; for thee light dawns out of darkness and vapour: thou hast read my riddle.”

Thereupon she opened her basket, and counted out fifteen plums, and one over, into Prince Wladomir’s hat, and fourteen remained. Of these she gave Ritter Mizisla seven and one over, and there were still six in the basket; half of these she gave the wise Primislaus and three over, and the basket was empty. The whole Court was lost in wonder at the fair Libussa’s ciphering gift, and at the penetration of her cunning spouse. Nobody could comprehend how human wit was able, on the one hand, to enclose a common number so mysteriously in words; or, on the other hand, to drag it forth so accurately from its enigmatical concealment. The empty basket she conferred upon the two Knights, who had failed in soliciting her love, to remind them that, their suit was voided. Hence comes it, that when a wooer is rejected, people say, His love has given him the basket, even to the present day.

So soon as all was ready for the nuptials and coronation, both these ceremonies were transacted with becoming pomp. Thus the Bohemian people had obtained a Duke, and the fair Libussa had obtained a husband, each according to the wish of their hearts; and what was somewhat wonderful, by virtue of Chicane, an agent who has not the character of being too beneficent or prosperous. And if either of the parties had been overreached in any measure, it at least was not the fair Libussa. Bohemia had a Duke in name, but the administration now, as formerly, continued in the female hand. Primislaus was the proper pattern of a tractable obedient husband, and contested with his Duchess neither the direction of her house nor of her empire. His sentiments and wishes sympathised with hers, as perfectly as two accordant strings, of which when the one is struck, the other voluntarily trembles to the self-same note. Nor was Libussa like those haughty overbearing dames, who would pass for great matches; and having, as they think, made the fortune of some hapless wight, continually remind him of his wooden shoes: but she resembled the renowned Palmyran Queen; and ruled, as Zenobia did her kindly Odenatus, by superiority of mental talent.

The happy couple lived in the enjoyment of unchangeable love; according to the fashion of those times, when the instinct which united hearts was as firm and durable, as the mortar and cement with which they built their indestructible strongholds. Duke Primislaus soon became one of the most accomplished and valiant knights of his time, and the Bohemian Court the most splendid in Germany. By degrees, many knights and nobles, and multitudes of people from all quarters of the empire, drew to it; so that Vizegrad became too narrow for its inhabitants; and, in consequence, Libussa called her officers before her, and commanded them to found a city, on the spot where they should find a man at noontide making the wisest use of his teeth. They set forth, and at the time appointed found a man engaged in sawing a block of wood. They judged that this industrious character was turning his saw-teeth, at noontide, to a far better use than the parasite does his jaw-teeth by the table of the great; and doubted not but they had found the spot, intended by the Princess for the site of their town. They marked out a space upon the green with the ploughshare, for the circuit of the city walls. On asking the workman what he meant to make of his sawed timber, he replied, “Prah,” which in the Bohemian language signifies a door-threshold. So Libussa called her new city Praha, that is Prague, the well-known capital upon the Moldau. In process of time, Primislaus’s predictions were punctually fulfilled. His spouse became the mother of three Princes; two died in youth, but the third grew to manhood, and from him went forth a glorious royal line, which flourished for long centuries on the Bohemian throne.

NB: These footnotes are duplicated from Carlyle’s translation. I’m working on translations of the Latin, and will add them when I can. Unless you’d like to volunteer to provide translations! Please do!

[1] Nulla Crocco virilis sexûs proles fuit, sed moriturus tres a morte suâ filias superstites reliquit, omnes ut ipse erat fatidicas, vel magas potius, qualis Medea et Circe fuerant. Nam Bela natu filiarum maxima herbis incantandis Medeam imitabatur, Tetcha (Therba) natu minor carminibus magicis Circem reddebat. Ad utramque frequens multitudinis concursus; dum alii amores sibi conciliare, alii cum bonâ valetudine in gratiam redire, alii res amissas recuperare cupiunt. Illa arcem Belinam, hæc altera arcem Thetin ex mercenariâ pecuniâ, nihil enim gratuito faciebant, ædificandam curavit. Liberalior in hac re Lybussa natu minima apparuit, ut quæ a nemine quidquam extorquebat, et potius fata publica omnibus, quam privata singulis, præcinebat: quâ liberalitate, et quia non gratuitâ solùm sed etiam minus fallace prædictione utebatur, assecuta est ut in locum patris Crocci subrogaretur.—Dubravius.

[2] Invita de lætioribus pascuis, autor seditionis inquit, bucula ista decedit; sed jam vi inde deturbanda est, si suâ sponte loco suo concedere viro alicui principi noluerit.—Dubravius.

[3] Emperor Joseph II

[4] Æneas Sylvius affirms that he saw, with his own eyes, a renewal of this charter from Charles IV. Vidi inter privilegia regni literas Caroli Quarti, Romanorum Imperatoris, divi Sigumundi patris in quibus (villæ illius incolæ) libertate donantur; nec plus tributi pendere jubentur, quam nucum illius arboris exiguam mensuram.

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