I had occasion at the end of this month last year (1897) to go to Germany to the neighbourhood of Frankfort. The journey, about twenty-five hours from London, is wonderfully easy. My friends said: 'What! go all that way for ten days?' But in fact it means far less time and money than did a journey to Devonshire, or even the Isle of Wight, to our grandmothers. I had never seen the Rhine before in late autumn. The late vintage was just over, and the vines and the earth seemed one even brown, diversified at times with yellow leaves hanging thinly on the poplars, and the low oak brushwood bronze and gold against the sky. It seems bathos to say so, but the Rhine runs so due north and south that it reminded me of my winter walks in Sloane Street. The sun was always in one's eyes in the middle of the day, and behind the hills morning and evening; and the fogs hung about the river as they do between the houses in the street. How entirely the Rhine of Turner and Byron has ceased to be! All the beautiful, picturesque boats, barges, rafts, etc., with white or tan sails, that trailed their long reflections in the broad river, representing the commercial industries of the people, which had been growing from the commencement of history - all this has completely disappeared. On the Main I saw one or two of the old-fashioned large rafts, not towed by steamers, but punted by the graceful little black figures ceaselessly labouring up and down a small portion of the raft and pushing it with long poles. On the Rhine everything was towed by steamers of various sizes and kinds. As I sped along in the luxurious railway carriage, and noticed the road beside the river turning and twisting along the bank, I could not but think of the changes since the days when all travelling was done by carriages and lumbering diligences. In Moore's 'Life of Byron,' which I used to think such a delightful book, but which now is somewhat sneered at as unfair book-making by Byron biographers, there is a detailed account of the way the rich and great journeyed at the beginning of the century: 'Lord Byron travelled in a huge coach copied from the celebrated one of Napoleon, taken at Genappe, with additions. Besides a lit de repos it contained a library, a plate chest, and every apparatus for dining in it. It was not, however, found sufficiently capacious for his baggage and suite, and he purchased a calčche at Brussels for his servants.' So travelled the man whom Lady Caroline Lamb attempts to describe, in her famous though dull novel of 'Glenavon,' with the motto:
He left a name to all succeeding times Link'd with one virtue and a thousand crimes.
The train sped along and the weather was beautiful. We were not parboiled in the carriages, as they do not warm them before the 1st of November. My friend lived out of Frankfort, on the slopes of the Taunus Mountains, under the towers of the medićval Castle of Cronberg. Land is not, I fancy, to be bought in Germany except close to the towns; all the forests belong to the State, and are not sold. I was surprised to find in this delightful home of my Cronberg friends, in the very kingdom of stoves as we consider Germany, that one of the rooms was warmed by an Irish stove, made by Messrs. Musgrave of Bond Street, exactly like the one I find so invaluable for keeping my own little house at an even temperature. I cannot imagine why any English house not warmed with hot pipes is ever without one of these stoves. They burn only coke, they require very little stoking, they keep in a very long time, and they never unpleasantly dry the air or cause the least smell. I afterwards found that the shops in Frankfort were full of English goods. This is some consolation for us when things we buy are so constantly marked 'made in Germany.'
My bedroom at Cronberg looked north and faced a long line of sunlit Taunus Mountains, clothed with oak woods in all their autumn glory. They were intersected with pine woods, which in previous months must have looked dull and dark against the summer green, but in late October they were shining bright against the red gold of the dying woods. They reminded me of one of 'Bethia Hardacre's' truest touches of colour:
Silver, and pearl-white sky Hills of dim amethyst, Bracken to gold changed by Autumn, the Alchemist.
Spikes of bright yellow poplars here and there marked the road as it wound up the hill to lose itself in the silent forest. The walls of my bedroom were hung round with photographs and prints, remembrances brought back by my cosmopolitan hostess from various countries. They were most of them known to me, but one print was quite a stranger and very striking. It was of a picture, I was told, by a Swiss artist called Arnold Boecklin, a celebrated man, though unknown to me. On the white margin of the print were written the simple words: Todten-Insel. The print represents an imaginary burial-place: A high rocky island with a suggestion of big caves in the rock and windows made by man. In the middle a little open space with tall upright groups of splendid Italian Cypresses, which seem to be mournfully swaying in the wind. Down the rocks on each side tumble somewhat conventional waterfalls into a fathomless ocean, perhaps meant to be typical of Life and Death. Two white stone posts on each side of a step mark the entrance to this sombre garden of peace and rest. On the foreground of calm water floats a black boat, which approaches this entrance rowed by a solitary dark figure - a realistic Charon. Across the front of the boat lies the dead; and a radiant, draped, mysterious mourner, with head bowed over the inevitable sorrow of mankind, stands erect in the middle of the boat. The combination of the horizontal dead figure and the upright mourner, in their white draperies, seems to form a shining cross against the deep shade of the Cypresses. This print fascinated me with its eternal facts transcribed into an allegory by a man of genius. The picture from which it is taken is a replica, with many alterations, of one painted some years ago which I have seen. But, judging from the print, I believe that the last-painted one is the finest. Certainly the allegorical details in this later one are brought out with greater distinctness. Several of Herr Boecklin's pictures have been bought by his native town of Bâle, and later on I will describe how I spent a night there on purpose to see them. After my return home I came across an interesting description of Herr Boecklin and his work in a lately published book called 'The History of Modern Painting,' by Richard Muther, from which the following extract will perhaps make others wish as much as I do to see his pictures. Mr. Muther says of him that: 'He belonged to the very time when Richard Wagner lured the colours of sound from music with a glow and light such as no master had kindled before Boecklin's symphonies of colour streamed forth like a crashing orchestra. The whole scale, from the most sombre depth to the most chromatic light, was at his command. In his pictures of spring the colour laughs, rejoices, and exults. In the "Isle of the Dead" it seems as though a veil of crępe were spread over the sea, the sky, and the trees. . . . Many of his pictures have such an ensnaring brilliancy that the eye is never weary of feasting upon their floating splendour. Indeed, later generations will probably do him honour as the greatest colour-poet of the century, and at the same time they will learn from his works that at the close of this same unstable century there were complete and healthy human beings. . . . The more modern sentiment became emancipated, the more did artists venture to feel with their own nerves and not with those of earlier generations, and the more it became evident that modern sentiment is almost always disordered, recklessly despairing, unbelieving, and weary of life. Boecklin, the most modern of modern painters, possesses that quality of iron health of which modernity knows so little.'