Page images
PDF
EPUB

upon him, stifle his cries, and bring him into a subterranean room of the castle, called the laboratory. These instructions were given in the presence of the Elector. Her secret orders to the Italians, in their own language, were to murder Königsmark in the laboratory; and just before they repaired to the rendezvous her waiting-maid was to hand them refreshments mixed with poison, so that they might not survive the deed long enough to give evidence of her complicity. To inveigle Königsmark into the snare, the co-operation of the Princess's confidential attendant, Miss Dillon, was required. By the command of the Elector, the poor young lady repaired trembling to a private interview with the Countess, who, by the threat of instant death, compelled her to write the following billet:

• MONSIEUR LE COMTE,-Ma Princesse désire de vous voir, elle ne peut pas vous escrire, s'estant braslée la main, et m'a ordonné de vous faire savoir que vous pouvez vous rendre ce soir chez elle par le petit escalier comme autre fois; elle me paroist inquiette de votre silence. À Dieu, tirez bientost de doute la plus aimable princesse da monde.'

On receiving this billet, Königsmark hurried to the garden, ascended the steps, and found the Princess in her usual sittingroom. She was surprised to see him, not knowing he was in Hanover, and gently reproached him for his indiscretion. He produced Miss Dillon's note as his justification; on reading which the Princess exclaimed that he was lost; that it was a trick of the Countess, and that she would not lose a moment in ascertaining the truth. He hurried down the steps, and was just entering the garden saloon when the three Germans and two Italians fell upon him. He defended himself with skill and courage. Two of the Germans and one of the Italians were killed on the spot; the second Italian and the third German, named Fourier, were wounded, when Fourier, a very strong man, threw away his sword, caught up the eloak which Königsmark had let fall, and as the Count was rushing upon the Italian, the sole remaining obstacle to his escape, flung it over his head. The Italian instantly ran him through his body, and he sank senseless to the ground.

In the narrative of M. Blaze de Bury, the Countess and Princess are present at this scene, and an animated dialogue, worthy of one of M. Alexandre Dumas' melodrames, is carried on between the actors and actresses. In the narrative before us, the Countess judiciously keeps her distance, and the Princess only comes on the ground time enough to be nade aware that a bloody deed has been done. She was roused from the reverie or stupor into which she had sunk after the Count's departure,

[ocr errors]

by the barking of her pet dog at the door; on its being opened he rushed down the steps, and she followed him. The first objects that met her eye in the saloon were the two men preparing to carry off Königsmark. After a vain effort to approach or call for help, finding her strength failing, she tried to regain her chamber, but stumbled over one of the dead bodies and fainted. The murderers left their victim, carried her to her room, laid her on a couch, locked the door on the outside to prevent further interruption, and after conveying the Count to the laboratory, proceeded to report proceedings to the Elector. Fourier threw all the blame of what had been done in excess of his highness' instructions on the Italian, who confidently appealed to the Countess; and the Elector, half beside himself with confusion and remorse, requested an interview with the Princess, to wbich he repaired in company with her husband, the Crown Prince, who had passed the preceding day and night at bis hunting-box. They were thus addressed by the Princess :

I have only a very few words to say to you. I will not lower myself to persuade you of my innocence. I am guilty, but only in this, that in cowardly obedience I broke my troth to Count Königsmark. I loved Königsmark before the duty was imposed on me, Prince, of obeying you. I own, shuddering, my fault in permitting him access to me; and the rest of my life shall be devoted to repentance and recollection. I am the cause of his death ; it lies on me to revenge him. Be prepared, therefore, for every horror that revenge can impose.'

At the frank commencement of this pithy speech, the Crown Prince must have felt like Sir Peter Teazle when he exclaims, · Now I believe the truth is coming out indeed;' and the conclusion naturally suggested the prudence of placing some slight restraint on the movements of his spouse. The Count, however, was not dead ; his wounds were reported

; dangerous but not mortal; and the thought occurred whether his recovery and release would not be the best things that could happen under the circumstances, when the surviving Italian began to feel the effects of the poison administered by the waiting-maid, sent for two of his countrymen in default of a spiritual confessor, made a clean breast of it, and died invoking vengeance on the Countess. She was disgraced and ruined if Königsmark lived to disentangle and denounce the conspiracy, and he was accordingly despatched by poison. His brother-in-law, Count von Lowenhaupt, made a gallant attempt at rescue, and actually forced his way to the vault, where he found no trace of his relative but these words scrawled with coal on the wall: Philippe de Königsmark a rempli sa destinée dans ce lieu le 14 Feb. de l'année 1694.'

:

[ocr errors]

The fate of the Princess is well known: she was divorced from her husband and confined in the castle of Ablden, near Celle, till her death in 1726, twenty-nine years after these events. Count Moritz, of Saxony, says that she retained her attitude of dignified superiority, if not quite of injured innocence, and refused all offers of reconciliation; and this is the point in which his narrative most materially differs from the popular versions. Whether she was guilty or not in the worst acceptation of the term, is one of those questions which people will decide according to their excess or lack of charity, their belief or disbelief in Platonics. Making every allowance for the pride of the Princess and the delicacy of the admirer, these admitted private interviews sound compromising at best. The

progress of a private conversation,' says Scott in reference to Leicester and Elizabeth, 'betwixt two persons of different sexes

is often decisive of their fate, and gives it a turn very different ' from what they themselves anticipated. Gallantry becomes mingled with conversation, and affection and passion come

gradually to mix with gallantry. Nobles, as well as shepherd swains, will, in such a trying moment, say more than they intended; and queens, like village maidens, will listen longer 'than they should.' From the correspondence between the Count and Princess, especially from her letters, unfavourable conclusions have been deduced; but they are not utterly inconsistent with the theory of her personal purity; their authenticity may be questioned; and the entire tenor might have been changed by the alteration or introduction of a sentence or two. We now know, what was all along suspected, that Mrs. Piozzi's letters to Conway the actor, published as loveletters,' have been shamefully garbled to bear out the title*; and the letters of the Princess may have undergone a similar process. When the divorce was threatened, she again avowed her affection for Königsmark, and offered to take the sacrament on its stainlessness. Wonderful to relate, the offer was accepted. Dignified ecclesiastics officiated at the altar : with the elements in her hands she called God to witness her truth, and then, having undergone the ordeal without blenching, she challenged the Countess Platen to do the same. The Countess turned pale and refused.

Instances of strange imposture and wondrous credulity abound in these volumes, where we find the very tricks of

The originals are in the possession of Mrs. Ellet, an American lady of literary distinction, who is about to publish an exposure of the fraud.

spirit-raising and table-creaking which have recently been turned to good account under the auspices, we regret to add, of persons who should be prevented by self-respect from lending a momentary sanction to such charlatanry. Here, also, we meet with anomalous crimes and atrocities which set all ordinary theories of proof, motive, and probability at defiance. The punishments are often on a par in point of singularity with the delinquencies, and prison discipline appears to have been imperfectly understood. Instead of simple decapitation, one recorded sentence is, that the criminal be cut into two pieces, the head part the smaller, and the body part the larger, as a well-merited doom to him and a terrible example to others.' Three incendiaries were apprehended and convicted in Eilenburg. One was burnt to death, another beheaded, and the third condemned to be branded and kept in safe custody till his reform was ascertained. The branding was easy, but the safe custody embarrassed the town council, who ended by putting him in irons and sending him daily to beg his bread from door to door, with a view to his reformation. To the indignation and surprise of their worships, as they report, 'the ungrateful rascal, not appreciating their clemency, stole away.'

Peter Jokuff had been guilty of contempt by words or gestures against the tribunals of Wilthen, and refused to ask pardon or express contrition. Having no prison or legal place of confinement at their disposal, they placed the said Peter under arrest in the public-house, where he was chained by the leg to the public table, from the 2nd September 1750 to the 15th February 1751. Barring the awkwardness of the position, he led an agreeable life enough, as he had plenty of company, and could eat and drink his fill at the expense of the frequenters of the house, with whom he was in high favour for his spirited contumacy. So the magistracy caused a kind of wooden cage to be constructed in the same room, shut him up in it, and by strict prohibitions to the landlord and guests did all that in them lay to confine him to a bread and water diet. They tried to put both his feet in the stocks, but met with so determined a resistance that they were obliged to rest satisfied with one. He remained in the cage till the 15th August, 1751, when, being still unsubdued, he was removed to the newly constructed house of correction at Waldheim, where, we regret to say, we lose sight of him altogether.

Valuable illustrations of the history of German morals and manners may be deduced from sumptuary laws against luxury and dress. Less than a century since, these were frequently and invidiously enforced in Germany. Thus a formal

a

report of the courts at Hirschstein makes known to the administrative body, at the instance of the church-patron and judge, Julius Alexander von Hartitsch, that the excess of the peasantry in dress had become intolerable, inasmuch as three farmers' daughters had appeared at church attired in silks, furs, gold brocades, and spangles, which are detailed in the document with such minuteness as to justify a suspicion that the accusing elder was set on by the ladies of his family and had taken counsel with them. His demand was that the three damsels should be warned to dress according to their degree, under penalty of having their finery publicly stripped off. Their fathers pleaded in reply, that they had shown a particular liking for such attire ; that they had town marriages in prospect; lastly, that the garments in question were by no means expensive, and were more convenient than the ancestral habits, veils and hoods. Their persecutor was still unsatisfied, and called for summary judgment on their contumacy. The fathers appealed to the provincial government, who rejected the appeal, and ordered the appellants to forbid the alleged excess in dress, to give Hartitsch notice that they had done so, and to let the affair rest.

So late as 1786, a fur cap excited much local agitation, and led to a serious conflict of the authorities. The daughter of the state-piper, Meischner, at Eisenbach, appeared at church with the cap. She was a pretty girl ; it became her; and the town-judge, Stölzel, looked at her oftener than was agreeable to his wife. The result was that the next day, under domestic compulsion, he issued an order to the piper to prevent bis daughter from wearing the cap again. The piper appealed to the district magistrate, who, after inspecting the head-dress, and finding it composed of ordinary and unforbidden materials, formally authorised the damsel to wear it, and gave the judge due notice of the fact. The judge held to his prohibition, and the town was divided into two parties, who exhibited as much eagerness and animosity as the greens and blues of the amphitheatre, or the smallendians and bigendians of Lilliput. The old and ugly women, with their husbands, supported the judge; the young and pretty, with the bachelors, were mostly on the side of the magistrate. The married interest was strongest in the town council, and one of their myrmidons was commissioned to repair to the church on the 19th February 1786, and before the whole congregation remove the cap from the fair head of the wearer. He performed this invidious duty without hesitation or compunction, and bore off the cap to the council

, who condemned it as lawful prize; whereupon the leaders of the

« PreviousContinue »