The dress of the young mountaineers who had performed this task was peculiar. They wore no stockings, their feet being thrust, uncovered, into heavy shoes. But over the lower part of the leg was drawn a thick woolen sock, leaving the knee and ankle bare. The trousers, usually green in color, did not reach the knee. The vest and jacket were adorned with silver buttons, while their green Tyrolese hats were decorated with feathers or bright flowers. In fact, stalwart and handsome men were these young villagers of Ober-Ammergau, and on their return from the mountain they were welcomed not only by the band of music which I had heard, but also by a company of village maidens, dressed in picturesque costumes. Thus escorted by melody and beauty they re-entered their hamlet in triumph.
On the Friday afternoon before the performance, in response to an invitation, I made my way to the house of the "Christus" - Joseph Maier. In 1880 I had made this man's acquaintance, and had been profoundly impressed with his modest manner and unfeigned piety. In 1890 I saw no cause to alter my opinion of him. Yet, if persistent flattery could spoil a man like Maier, he would long ago have been spoiled. For not only have multitudes gathered about his house merely to gain a glimpse of him, but he has received innumerable letters, expressing lavish adulation of his genius. One of these I had the privilege of reading. It was from a distinguished actor in Munich, who assured the peasant of Ober-Ammergau that the hour when he took his arm and walked him through his mountain village was one of the proudest of his life. It is said (and it is not improbable) that Maier has sometimes had to seclude himself after the Play, to avoid being almost worshiped by some of the Bavarian peasants who have been so wrought upon that they well-nigh identify him with Christ himself. What is it, therefore, that has kept him always modest and retiring? It is undoubtedly the way in which he looks upon his work. He feels that the praise which he receives is due, not to himself, but to the part which he assumes; and so he said to me impressively: "It is not only the greatest honor of my life to represent the character of Jesus; it is for me also the most solemn of religious duties."
The Young Mountaineers.
I was astonished and pained to see, not long ago, in the columns of a New York paper, the statement that most of the people of that city who went to see the Ober-Ammergau Passion Play in 1880 discovered there no sign of reverence in the parts presented, and were more struck by the capacity of Maier to absorb beer, than by his pious aspirations. This seems to me incredible, and I cannot understand how any one can be so lacking in ability to discern simple piety and intrinsic merit. As for his private character, that Joseph Maier may drink beer is very probable: he would not be a German if he did not do so. But that he is (as the newspaper account would imply) a coarse, sensual man, I can pronounce to be unqualifiedly false. This I do, not as a defender of religion, nor as a Catholic or a Protestant, but simply a man who hears a worthy person slandered in his absence. I say it the more positively, too, not only from what I myself saw of Maier, but also because a literary friend of mine who lodged nearly the whole summer at his house, and is certainly qualified to judge of his private life, represents him as a thoroughly refined, modest, sensitive man, pure and blameless in life, unselfish, and devoted to his family.
After the lapse of ten years it was with mingled pleasure and curiosity that I again conversed with Maier.
True, the lines in his face had in the interval somewhat deepened, and he modestly said that he was now too old for the part; but his hair and beard were still jet-black, his tall form was as erect, his step was as light, and his gestures were as graceful as before.
However, he looked weary, and said that he was exhausted by the arduous work of preparation. In my first interview with him, moreover, I thought he exhibited considerable reluctance at coming once more into the light of world-wide fame and criticism.