THE BLACK FOREST AND ITS PEASANTRY.*
IT is amusing to observe the different aspects in which that much-talked-of personage, the peasant-proprietor, comes at present before the British public, according as he is to those who see and. interview him an object of love or hatred, or, in some rare instances, merely a being to be looked upon with kindly but unprejudiced eyes. If you want to see him at his best, in a state that borders as closely upon contentment as can be looked for here below, you must go, according to Miss Seguin, to the Black Forest. There all are Bauern or Biluerin- Igen, and pride themselves on being such. Some may be what Schiller calls Bauernadel, peasant nobles; others may be poor, but every one owns land. It may be little, it may be much, but it is his own. There the peasant's wants are nearly all provided for within the magic circle of his home. Scarcely an article of food or clothing is sought beyond it; the spring, summer, and autumn find him and his family engaged in outdoor labour, and the winter in the exercise of some trade or industry. Hard-working and frugal, these people are self- respecting and independent, yet courteous and friendly ; and if they possess the vices as well as the virtues which are usually to be found in primitive societies, the latter are decidedly in the ascendant. Such is the dictum of one who spent an autumn in exploring the innermost recesses of the Schwarzwald, and in studying its quaint population and legendary lore. Let it be said at the outset that the Black Forest is not a tract of country to be " done " in a fortnight. Though traversed from end to end by a railway that takes the traveller through some of its most beautiful scenery, such traveller, if he does not diverge from it in many a direction not easy of access, has but gained a merely superficial notion of what really deserves a lengthened study. It is a treat even to follow the writer by means of her pleasant pages from one lovely valley to another, making ac- quaintance with the simple friendly people, who have so much to ask and so much to tell, and whose manners, dress, and occupations are so different from those of our own country ; and it is easy to believe that for the pedestrian the Black Forest is simply a paradise, while even those who are constrained to make use of the long lumbering vehicles that creep, German fashion, beside foaming torrents and among pine- covered hills, far from desiring to proceed more rapidly, are apt to say at the close of a journey,—" Did we go slowly ? The time was all too short."
No better place for the wearied brain-worker in search of a holiday could possibly be found than this vast region, which may be roughly said to form a triangle, lying between Basle, Constance, and Rastadt, so easily reached from London, for the forest, notwithstanding the too speedy increase of roads and railways within its precincts, has as yet been little invaded by the British or American tourist. Miss Seguin furnishes her readers, not merely with a sketch-map of its principal towns and villages, but has, in two others, most minutely delineated both its northern and southern portion, so that the traveller approaching from any direction can have no difficulty in selecting all the points of interest that may lie within his reach, and finding out the best centres for pedestrian or other expeditions. Concerning the inns, the writer is especially reassuring, for she promises cleanliness and the absence of imposition in every one of them, no matter how remote, and, moreover, excellent country fare, the host and hostess receiving the traveller as a guest, and bestowing upon him a number of unexpected personal attentions, which establish a friendliness far from disagreeable to those who do not disdain the primitive simplicity of a thoroughly independent people.
The Black Forest is usually visited in summer or autumn; but the time to see it at its best is the spring, when it is decked with lovely flowers and. made jubilant with the song of the lark and the nightingale; but every season, even stern winter, has its peculiar charm. We do not look for what is called grand scenery in the Schwarzwald; and yet there is much grandeur in the neighbourhood of the Hornisgrinde and the Feldberg. Some of these mountains are always covered with snow, and the last- mentioned is one of the highest in Germany. But the valleys are especially delightful ; they are, as the writer says,—
" As beautiful and varied gems of Nature as the world, or at least
• The Black Forest: its People and Legends. By L. C. 88snin. London : Hodder and 8toughttn.
Europe, can offer. They are among the scenes that rest in the memory as joys,'—joys of a peaceful and happy kind. One would like to think of them lying awake in the quiet night, on a bed, perhaps, of sickness. There is associated with their remembrance no shuddering recollection of hair-breadth escapee, no nightmare toils, each as may cling uneasily about certain Alpine adventures. They bring with them rather a vision of still contentment, a glimpse into the good land,—' a land of brooks, of waters, of fountains, and depths that spring out of valleys ;' an echo of murmuring streams, a lingering fragrance of pines."
Of these valleys it is bard to say which most deserve a visit.
Much depends upon the taste of the explorer; but it is safe to mention the Nagoldthal, scene of so many of Auerbach's stories, the valley of Murg, the Lierbachthal, and that of Oppenau, where Kirschwasser is so largely manufactured. Speaking of the favourite spirituous liquor of the country naturally leads to its older industries, and the "clock country," a district comprising ninety-two parishes, is a region of special interest. Then there are the straw-hat makers, who are to be found in every part of the southern Schwarzwald, plaiting with their roughened fingers straw imported from Italy into the most fashionable ladies' head- gear, as well as into the children's hats which we call Swiss, and the mighty fabrics affected by the women of Triberg and other places. And besides these industries, there are those of the pewter and silver-workers and the glass-blowers, as well as cotton and cloth mills, and woollen and soap manufactories, all worked by water-power, and the beautiful pottery ware of Willingen is well known. From the Black Forest, too, come those wonderful Rhine-rafts,—real floating villages, carrying three or four hundred persons, with cows, fowls, pigs, and what- ever provisions the boatmen and their families have need of ; rafts which in their commencement were but a few pines tied. together with willow-roots launched upon the mountain torrent but gradually increasing in size as they pass from the streamlet to the river, until at last they are built up into a huge mass, some of which are said to be as much as 700 feet long. Bathing-places are also a very marked feature in the Black Forest ; for, as the author tells us, the water-thirst never fails to seize upon Germans of every station of life at a certain season
of the year, when a cure of some kind is a necessity ; and if mineral waters are unattainable, air is expected to take its place. What are called the Kniebis Baths, consisting of six separate watering-places, including the specially distinguished one of Rippoldsau, are among the most remarkable ; the scenery
leading to each of them is very lovely ; and the costumes of the peasantry, though scarcely equal to those of Triberg and. St. Georgen, extremely picturesque. The wooden cottages, brown with age, with their deep thatch overlying an outer staircase and.
carved balconies, each having, besides its kitchen-garden, a field, and a little bit of ground crowded with roses, phloxes, and many other brilliant flowers, are charming elements in almost every Black-Forest landscape, quite as attractive as the romantic castles that appear every now and then on some pine-covered rocky height. Very quaint, too, are the little towns, of which Wolfach, in the Kinzigthal, with its pine-cone baths, is one of the choicest specimens, and a capital centre from which to make excursions. The one from Triberg to Freiburg, only a five hours' drive, is one of the most beautiful of the Forest routes, that should by no means be omitted. Triberg, of course, is on the line of railway.
But we must linger no longer over Miss Seguin's delightful book, although we have said nothing of the many charming legends she has everywhere introduced. One word, however, anent the effects, as she has seen them, of peasant-proprietor- ship, for she appears to look upon the matter in a common-sense point of view. This writer by no means ignores the charm of poesession,—the satisfaction a man feels in having a house or land of his own that he can hand down to his children ; and such possession, she says, neither makes the Bauer less indus- trious nor less ambitious for his children. He works, not on his land alone, but at whatever industry may be within his reach, and he sends the younger generation out into the world, and dreams for them of a success in life which is eontetiruee, though, of course, rarely, attained.