The old church bell


Den gamle kirkeklokke

In the country of Wurtemburg, in Germany, where the acacias grow by the public road, where the apple-trees and the pear-trees in autumn bend to the earth with the weight of the precious fruit, lies the little town of Marbach. As is often the case with many of these towns, it is charmingly situated on the banks of the river Neckar, which rushes rapidly by, passing villages, old knights' castles, and green vineyards, till its waters mingle with those of the stately Rhine. It was late in the autumn; the vine-leaves still hung upon the branches of the vines, but they were already tinted with red and gold; heavy showers fell on the surrounding country, and the cold autumn wind blew sharp and strong. It was not at all pleasant weather for the poor. The days grew shorter and more gloomy, and, dark as it was out of doors in the open air, it was still darker within the small, old-fashioned houses of the village. The gable end of one of these houses faced the street, and with its small, narrow windows, presented a very mean appearance. The family who dwelt in it were also very poor and humble, but they treasured the fear of God in their innermost hearts. And now He was about to send them a child. It was the hour of the mother's sorrow, when there pealed forth from the church tower the sound of festive bells. In that solemn hour the sweet and joyous chiming filled the hearts of those in the humble dwelling with thankfulness and trust; and when, amidst these joyous sounds, a little son was born to them, the words of prayer and praise arose from their overflowing hearts, and their happiness seemed to ring out over town and country in the liquid tones of the church bells' chime. The little one, with its bright eyes and golden hair, had been welcomed joyously on that dark November day. Its parents kissed it lovingly, and the father wrote these words in the Bible, "On the tenth of November, 1759, God sent us a son." And a short time after, when the child had been baptized, the names he had received were added, "John Christopher Frederick."

And what became of the little lad?– the poor boy of the humble town of Marbach? Ah, indeed, there was no one who thought or supposed, not even the old church bell which had been the first to sound and chime for him, that he would be the first to sing the beautiful song of "The Bell." The boy grew apace, and the world advanced with him.

While he was yet a child, his parents removed from Marbach, and went to reside in another town; but their dearest friends remained behind at Marbach, and therefore sometimes the mother and her son would start on a fine day to pay a visit to the little town. The boy was at this time about six years old, and already knew a great many stories out of the Bible, and several religious psalms. While seated in the evening on his little cane-chair, he had often heard his father read from Gellert's fables, and sometimes from Klopstock's grand poem, "The Messiah." He and his sister, two years older than himself, had often wept scalding tears over the story of Him who suffered death on the cross for us all.

On his first visit to Marbach, the town appeared to have changed but very little, and it was not far enough away to be forgotten. The house, with its pointed gable, narrow windows, overhanging walls and stories, projecting one beyond another, looked just the same as in former times. But in the churchyard there were several new graves; and there also, in the grass, close by the wall, stood the old church bell! It had been taken down from its high position, in consequence of a crack in the metal which prevented it from ever chiming again, and a new bell now occupied its place. The mother and son were walking in the churchyard when they discovered the old bell, and they stood still to look at it. Then the mother reminded her little boy of what a useful bell this had been for many hundred years. It had chimed for weddings and for christenings; it had tolled for funerals, and to give the alarm in case of fire. With every event in the life of man the bell had made its voice heard. His mother also told him how the chiming of that old bell had once filled her heart with joy and confidence, and that in the midst of the sweet tones her child had been given to her. And the boy gazed on the large, old bell with the deepest interest. He bowed his head over it and kissed it, old, thrown away, and cracked as it was, and standing there amidst the grass and nettles. The boy never forgot what his mother told him, and the tones of the old bell reverberated in his heart till he reached manhood. In such sweet remembrance was the old bell cherished by the boy, who grew up in poverty to be tall and slender, with a freckled complexion and hair almost red; but his eyes were clear and blue as the deep sea, and what was his career to be? His career was to be good, and his future life enviable. We find him taking high honors at the military school in the division commanded by the member of a family high in position, and this was an honor, that is to say, good luck. He wore gaiters, stiff collars, and powdered hair, and by this he was recognized; and, indeed, he might be known by the word of command– "March! halt! front!"

The old church bell had long been quite forgotten, and no one imagined it would ever again be sent to the melting furnace to make it as it was before. No one could possibly have foretold this. Equally impossible would it have been to believe that the tones of the old bell still echoed in the heart of the boy from Marbach; or that one day they would ring out loud enough and strong enough to be heard all over the world. They had already been heard in the narrow space behind the school-wall, even above the deafening sounds of "March! halt! front!" They had chimed so loudly in the heart of the youngster, that he had sung them to his companions, and their tones resounded to the very borders of the country. He was not a free scholar in the military school, neither was he provided with clothes or food. But he had his number, and his own peg; for everything here was ordered like clockwork, which we all know is of the greatest utility– people get on so much better together when their position and duties are understood. It is by pressure that a jewel is stamped. The pressure of regularity and discipline here stamped the jewel, which in the future the world so well knew.

In the chief town of the province a great festival was being celebrated. The light streamed forth from thousands of lamps, and the rockets shot upwards towards the sky, filling the air with showers of colored fiery sparks. A record of this bright display will live in the memory of man, for through it the pupil in the military school was in tears and sorrow. He had dared to attempt to reach foreign territories unnoticed, and must therefore give up fatherland, mother, his dearest friends, all, or sink down into the stream of common life. The old church bell had still some comfort; it stood in the shelter of the church wall in Marbach, once so elevated, now quite forgotten. The wind roared around it, and could have readily related the story of its origin and of its sweet chimes, and the wind could also tell of him to whom he had brought fresh air when, in the woods of a neighboring country, he had sunk down exhausted with fatigue, with no other worldly possessions than hope for the future, and a written leaf from "Fiesco." The wind could have told that his only protector was an artist, who, by reading each leaf to him, made it plain; and that they amused themselves by playing at nine-pins together. The wind could also describe the pale fugitive, who, for weeks and months, lay in a wretched little road-side inn, where the landlord got drunk and raved, and where the merry-makers had it all their own way. And he, the pale fugitive, sang of the ideal.

For many heavy days and dark nights the heart must suffer to enable it to endure trial and temptation; yet, amidst it all, would the minstrel sing. Dark days and cold nights also passed over the old bell, and it noticed them not; but the bell in the man's heart felt it to be a gloomy time. What would become of this young man, and what would become of the old bell?

The old bell was, after a time, carried away to a greater distance than any one, even the warder in the bell tower, ever imagined; and the bell in the breast of the young man was heard in countries where his feet had never wandered. The tones went forth over the wide ocean to every part of the round world.

We will now follow the career of the old bell. It was, as we have said, carried far away from Marbach and sold as old copper; then sent to Bavaria to be melted down in a furnace. And then what happened?

In the royal city of Bavaria, many years after the bell had been removed from the tower and melted down, some metal was required for a monument in honor of one of the most celebrated characters which a German people or a German land could produce. And now we see how wonderfully things are ordered. Strange things sometimes happen in this world.

In Denmark, in one of those green islands where the foliage of the beech-woods rustles in the wind, and where many Huns' graves may be seen, was another poor boy born. He wore wooden shoes, and when his father worked in a ship-yard, the boy, wrapped up in an old worn-out shawl, carried his dinner to him every day. This poor child was now the pride of his country; for the sculptured marble, the work of his hands, had astonished the world.* To him was offered the honor of forming from the clay, a model of the figure of him whose name, "John Christopher Frederick," had been written by his father in the Bible. The bust was cast in bronze, and part of the metal used for this purpose was the old church bell, whose tones had died away from the memory of those at home and elsewhere. The metal, glowing with heat, flowed into the mould, and formed the head and bust of the statue which was unveiled in the square in front of the old castle. The statue represented in living, breathing reality, the form of him who was born in poverty, the boy from Marbach, the pupil of the military school, the fugitive who struggled against poverty and oppression, from the outer world; Germany's great and immortal poet, who sung of Switzerland's deliverer, William Tell, and of the heaven-inspired Maid of Orleans.

* The Danish sculptor Thorwaldsen.

It was a beautiful sunny day; flags were waving from tower and roof in royal Stuttgart, and the church bells were ringing a joyous peal. One bell was silent; but it was illuminated by the bright sunshine which streamed from the head and bust of the renowned figure, of which it formed a part. On this day, just one hundred years had passed since the day on which the chiming of the old church bell at Marbach had filled the mother's heart with trust and joy– the day on which her child was born in poverty, and in a humble home; the same who, in after-years, became rich, became the noble woman-hearted poet, a blessing to the world– the glorious, the sublime, the immortal bard, John Christoper Frederick Schiller!
(Skrevet til "Schillers album")

I det tyske land Würtemberg, hvor akacietræerne så dejligt blomstrer ved landevejen og æble- og pæretræerne bugner i høst ved den modne velsignelse, ligger en lille by, Marbach; den hører til de ganske ringe stæder, men smukt ligger den ved Neckarfloden, der skynder sig forbi byer, gamle ridderborge og grønne vinbjerge, for at blande sine vande med den stolte Rhinstrøm.

Det var sent på året, vinløvet hang med røde blade, regnbyger faldt, og den kolde blæst tog til; det var ikke den fornøjeligste tid for de fattige; det blev mørke dage, og mørkere endnu var der inde i de gamle, små huse. Et af disse lå med gavlen ud mod gaden, med lave vinduer, fattigt og ringe at se til, og det var da også familien, som boede der, men brav og flittig; dertil med gudsfrygt i hjertets skatkammer. Et barn tíl ville Vorherre snart forunde dem; det var timen, moderen lå i smerte og nød, da lød ind til hende fra kirketårnet klokkeklang, så dyb, så festlig, det var en højtidsstund, og klokkens lyd fyldte den bedende med andagt og tro; tankerne løftede sig så inderligt mod Gud, og i samme stund fødte hun sin lille søn og følte sig så uendelig glad. Klokken i tårnet syntes at ringe hendes glæde ud over by og land. To klare barneøjne så på hende, og den lilles hår skinnede, som om det var forgyldt; barnet blev modtaget i verden med klokkeklang på den mørke novemberdag; moder og fader kyssede det, og i deres bibel skrev de ind, at "den tiende november 1759 gav Gud os en søn," og siden blev tilføjet, at han i dåben fik navnene "Johan Christoph Friedrich."

Hvad blev der af den lille fyr, den fattige dreng fra det ringe Marbach? Ja, det vidste ingen dengang, selv ikke den gamle kirkeklokke, i hvor højt den hang og havde ringet og sunget først for ham, der siden skulle synge den dejligste sang om "Klokken."

Og den lille voksede og verden voksede for ham; vel flyttede forældrene til en anden by, men kære venner blev i det lille Marbach, og derfor kom også moder og søn der i besøg en dag; drengen var endnu kun seks år, men han kendte allerede en del til Biblen og de fromme salmer, han havde alt mangen aften fra sin lille rørstol hørt fader læse Gellerts fabler og sangen om Messias; hede tårer havde han og den to års ældre søster grædt ved læsningen om ham, der led korsets død til frelse for os alle.

Ved det første besøg i Marbach havde byen ikke stort forandret sig, det var jo heller ikke så meget længe siden, de drog bort; husene stod som før med spidse gavle, hældende mure og lave vinduer; på kirkegården var kommet nye grave til, og der, lige op til muren, stod nu nede i græsset den gamle klokke, den var falden ned fra sin højde, havde fået en sprække og kunne ikke ringe mere, en ny var også kommen i dens sted.

Moder og søn var trådt ind på kirkegården, de stod foran den gamle klokke, og moderen fortalte sin lille dreng, hvorledes den klokke i flere hundrede år havde gjort gavn, ringet til barnedåb, til bryllupsglæde og begravelse; den havde mælet om festglæde og ildens rædsler; ja klokken sang ud et helt menneskeliv. Og aldrig glemte barnet hvad moderen fortalte, det klang i hans bryst, til han som mand måtte synge det ud. Og moderen fortalte ham, hvorledes denne gamle kirkeklokke havde ringet trøst og glæde til hende i angstens time, runget og sunget, da hendes lille dreng blev givet hende. Og barnet så næsten med andagt på den store, gamle klokke, han bøjede sig ned og kyssede den, i hvor gammel, sprukken og henkastet den end her stod imellem græs og nælder.

I minde blev den hos den lille dreng, der i fattigdom skød op; lang og mager, rødlig af hår, fregnet i ansigtet, ja det var han, men to klare øjne, som det dybe vand, havde han i eje. Hvorledes gik det ham? Det gik ham godt, misundelsesværdigt godt! han var i højeste nåde taget op i den militære skole i afdelingen, hvor de finere folks børn var, og det var en hæder, en lykke; han gik med støvletter, stift halsbind og pudret paryk. Lærdommen fik han, og den kom under "March!" - "Holdt!" - "Front!" Det kunne der nok komme noget ud af.

Den gamle kirkeklokke, gemt og glemt, ville vel engang komme i smelteovnen, hvad kom der så ud af den? Ja det var det umuligt at sige, og det var heller ikke muligt at sige, hvad der ville komme af den klokke inde i det unge bryst, der var en malm derinde, den rungede, den måtte klinge ud i den vide verden, og jo snævrere der blev bag skolens mur og jo mere døvende der lød "March! Holdt! Front!," des stærkere klang det i ungersvendens bryst, og han sang det for kammeraternes kreds, og klangen lød ud over landets grænser; men derfor havde han ikke fået skolegang, klæder og føde; nummeret havde han til den nagle, han skulle være i det store urværk, vi alle skulle høre til i den håndgribelige nytte. - Hvor lidet forstår vi os selv, hvorledes skulle da de andre, selv de bedste, altid forstå os! Men det er ved trykket just at ædelstenen skabes. Trykket var her, mon i tidens løb verden skulle kende ædelstenen?

Der var stor festlighed i landsherrens hovedstad. Tusinde lamper lyste, raketterne strålede; den glans mindes endnu ved ham, der da i tårer og smerte uænset søgte at nå fremmed grund; han måtte fra fædreland, moder, alle sine kære, eller forgå i almindelighedens strøm.

Den gamle klokke havde det godt, den stod i læ ved Marbachs kirkemur, gemt, glemt! Vinden fór hen over den og kunne have fortalt om ham, ved hvis fødsel klokken ringede, fortalt, hvor koldt den havde blæst hen over ham, nys han udmattet af træthed sank ned i nabolandets skov, hvor hele hans rigdom og fremtids håb kun var skrevne blade om "Fiesco"; Vinden kunne have fortalt om de eneste beskyttere, kunstnere jo alle sammen, der sneg sig bort fra læsningen deraf og legede ved keglespillet. Vinden kunne melde om den blege flygtning, der levede uger, måneder i det fattige krohus, hvor værten støjede og drak, hvor der var rå lystighed, medens han sang om idealet. Tunge dage, mørke dage! selv må hjertet lide og prøve hvad det skal synge ud.

Mørke dage, kolde nætter gik over den gamle klokke; den fornam det ikke, men klokken i menneskets bryst fornemmer sin trange tid. Hvorledes gik det den unge mand? Hvorledes gik det den gamle klokke? Ja klokken kom langvejs bort, længere end den fra sin højhed i tårnet havde kunnet høres; den unge mand, ja klokken i hans bryst lød længere bort end hans fod skulle vandre og hans øjne se, den rungede og ringer endnu ud over verdenshavet, jorden rundt. Hør nu først om klokken! Den kom fra Marbach, solgt blev den som gammelt kobber og skulle i smelteovnen inde i det bayerske land. Hvorledes kom den derhen og når? Ja, det må klokken selv fortælle, om den kan, det er ikke af stor vigtighed; men vist er det, den kom til Bayerns kongestad; mange år var gået siden den faldt fra tårnet, nu skulle den smeltes, skulle med i støbning af et stort hædersmonument, skikkelsen af en storhed for det tyske folk og land. Hør nu, hvorledes det traf, underligt og dejligt går det dog til i denne verden! Oppe i Danmark, på en af de grønne øer, hvor bøgen gror og hvor der er de mange kæmpegrave, var der en ganske fattig dreng, der havde gået i træsko, båret mad i et gammelt klæde til sin fader, der gik og snittede på holmen; det fattige barn var blevet sit lands stolthed, han huggede i marmor herligheder, så at verden undrede sig derover, og ham var det just, der fik det hædershverv af forme i leret en storheds, skønheds skikkelse, der kunne støbes i malm, billedet af ham, hvis navn faderen havde nedskrevet i sin bibel: Johan Christoph Friedrich.

Og malmet flød glødende ind i formen, den gamle kirkeklokke - ja, ingen tænkte på dens hjemstavn og hendøde klingen, klokken flød med i formen og dannede hoved og bryst på statuen, som den nu afsløret står i Stuttgart foran det gamle slot, på pladsen hvor han, den forestiller, gik lyslevende, i kamp og stræben, trykket af verden udenom, han, drengen fra Marbach, eleven fra Carlsskolen, flygtningen, Tysklands store, udødelige digter, der sang om Schweiz' befrier og Frankrigs gudbegejstrede jomfru.

Det var en dejlig solskinsdag, faner vajede fra tårn og tage i det kongelige Stuttgart, kirkeklokkerne ringede til fest og glæde, kun én klokke tav, den lyste i det klare solskin, lyste fra ansigt og bryst i hædersskikkelsen; det var netop hundrede år fra den dag, klokken i Marbachs tårn ringede glæde og trøst til den lidende moder, der fødte sit barn, fattig i det fattige hus, engang den rige mand, hvis skatte verden velsigner; han, det ædle kvindehjertes digter, det stores og herliges sanger, Johan Christoph Friedrich Schiller.

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