William Tell, a legendary hero of Switzerland. According to tradition, he was a hunter, living at Btirgelen in the canton of Uri. His wife was a daughter of Walter Furst, who with Stauffacher of Schwytz and Melchthal of Unterwalden organized the conspiracy of the Grutli in 1307, and founded Swiss independence. Tell's part in the revolt against Austria is related as follows: Gessler, Austrian bailiff in Kussnacht, placed his cap upon a pole in the market place of Altorf, and gave orders that passers by should do it reverence. Tell neglected or refused to do this, and was arrested and sentenced to death. But Gessler, hearing that he was a skilful marksman, told him his life would be spared on condition of his shooting an apple from his child's head. Tell ventured the shot, and succeeded without injuring the child. Gessler perceived that he had put a second arrow in his quiver just before shooting, and asked the object. Tell replied: "To kill you if I had harmed my son." For this he was again put in chains. Gessler then embarked for Kussnacht, taking Tell with him. On the way the boat was overtaken by a storm. The crew, fearing for their lives, begged Gessler to release Tell, that he might steer the boat.
He complied, and as they neared the point now known as "Tell's Rock" or "Leap," Tell sprang ashore; but the most dangerous part of the coast had been passed, and the crew brought the boat safely to Brunnen. Meanwhile Tell went around by land, and, lying in ambush between Brunnen and Kussnacht, wounded Gessler mortallv with an arrow. Gessler's death was the signal for a general uprising; the Austrian bailiffs were driven from the several cantons, and their castles destroyed. In 1315 Tell took part in the battle of Morgarten, and in 1354 was drowned in the Schachen while trying to save a boy's life. - Such is the story in its main features, as Schiller has embodied it in his drama. But recent historical investigations put it in a very different light. Schwytz, Uri, and Unterwalden struggled for autonomy against the Hapsburgs from 1240 to 1315, and later. The conflict seldom took the shape of armed hostilities; it was rather the gradual growth of local independence. We do not know the names of the leaders of the Swiss movement, but we do know that there was no conspiracy of the Grutli, that no such bailiffs as Gessler, Wolfen-schiessen, and Landberg existed by those names, and no such men as Tell, Stauffacher, or Melch-thal. A league was formed by Schwytz, Uri, and Unterwalden, but it was not a secret conspiracy, and it was formed in 1291 and not in 1307; and there was no uprising in 1308. Kopp (Urhunden der Geschichte der eidgen'os-sischen Bunde, 1835), Huber (Die Waldstd " his zur Begrundung Hirer Eidgenossenchft, 18G1), W. Vischer (Die Sage von der Befreiung der Waldstadte, 1867), Rilliet (Les origines de la confederation Suisse, 1869), and others, have shown how patriotic imagination in Switzerland, having lost the remembrance of the precise steps by which independence was obtained, has actually created the tradition in its present shape.
The beginning was made by Das weisse Buck, a chronicle composed about 1470, in which first occur most of the names with which we are familiar. Then comes the Tel-lenlied, composed about the same time; then, in 1540, the Hiibsch Spyl of Uri. But these and similar productions were all outdone by AEgidius Tschudi (1505-72), in his Chroni-con Helveticum. Tschudi seems to have gathered scraps of tradition wherever he could find them, to have expanded them and put them into the most plausible shape, and to have invented names, surnames, and even dates. Johannes von Muller and Schiller followed Tschudi. The popular version of the Swiss uprising, then, is to be regarded as a distortion of the facts, and its prominent persons and striking incidents are imaginative decorations added by generation after generation from the 15th to the 17th century. But Tell is the embodiment of a wide-spread Aryan myth. The Persian poet Ferid ed-Din Attar (about 1175) sings of a king who shoots an apple from the head of his favorite. Saxo Gram-maticus, in his "Danish Chronicle" (about 1170), tells how Toko shoots an apple from the head of his son, by order of King Harold Bluetooth; here the incident with the second arrow is mentioned.
In the Edda, Eigil the marksman is made by King Nidung to shoot an apple from the head of his son, and the incident with the second arrow again occurs. The name " Tell" has been variously explained. Grimm connects it with the Latin telum, an arrow; others with the German word tall, meaning half-witted. In Das weisse Buck Tell seeks to excuse his disrespect to the hat on the ground that he is dull of wit, saying, "Otherwise I should not be called the tally According to Carriere, the Tell saga is neither history nor pure invention, but the reminiscence of ancient mythological poetry, recast and coupled with historical events. For a brief account of the Tell saga, see Carriere's edition of Schiller's Tell (Leipsic, 1871), and Buch-heim's edition (London, 1871).