Dora B. Montefiore, New Age September 1903
Source: New Age, p. 587, 10 September 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Though I am wandering just now far from Took’s Court, and beyond the immediate “zones of influence” of THE NEW AGE, my women readers are constantly present in my mind; whilst the conditions of the women in the countries through which am travelling prove a never ending source of interest and of instruction. As I sit writing on the veranda of my hotel at Ilsenburg, an exquisitely-placed village in the Harz Mountains, I see the bare-headed peasant women, bending under the heavily-loaded baskets which they carry on their backs. The white-haired, shaven-polled children, play in the sunshine, the thick-set peasant men walk beside their teams, or sit on the edge of the long narrow waggons drawn by sturdy oxen; but the women, only the women throughout Germany are the human beasts of burden. I have tried to recall an instance of having sent a man carrying a piled-up basket, or drawing a hand-cart, but have failed. They all are, have been, or are going to be, soldiers; and they delight, even as civilians, in gay-coloured uniforms, red or green caps, and a profusion of gold braid. Such adornments in a military-ridden country like Germany, mark them out as lords of creation, and they act up to the character. I have seen a peasant man go so far as to lift a basket on to a woman’s back and help adjust the cords and hooks that hold it there – but as to sharing the burden! Shades of the Valkyrie! The German Haus Frau is now a tamed domesticated animal. Her strength, which at one time brandished a spear, held aloft a shield, or restrained the mettle of the fiery cloud horses, has now for many hundreds of years spent itself in the monotonous tasks of husbandry, in the drudgery of daily domestic toil, and in the bearing and rearing of soldiers, whose warlike splendour may some day reflect a ray of glamour on her own pale-coloured life.
I am still, as I write, under the influence of that mysterious mountain, the Brocken, up which we yesterday toiled. There is of course a railway now to the summit (all fashionable mountains possess railways now-a-days, not to mention telephones and table d'hôtes), but who would go by rail when one can walk up through winding paths, under the fragrant shade of firs and pines? We found pleasant travelling companions in a German school inspector – a most cultured broad-minded man, taking a walking tour with his family; and our talk was of the Walpurgissnacht, of Folk-lore of the different nations, of the dead hand of the past, still stretched out and influencing the thoughts and actions of the present. As we approached the top of the mountain, the scenery became wilder, the firs and pines grew sparser and more stunted, the rocks stood out in bolder relief, and the sun’s heat poured down unbroken. As a reward for our labours we were encouraged, by those who knew, with, the assurance that the view from the summit on such a clear bright day would be a record one. This turned out indeed to be the case, and from the outlook tower, opposite the hotel, we had unbroken views, north, south, east, arid west, over rolling ocean-like expanses of blue hills. Panorama is the only word by which such a comprehensive outlook can be described, and one could understand the value in early primitive days of such a mountain watch-tower, whence knowledge of distant movements could be obtained, and news signalled for stores of miles round. The witches’ altars, heaps of enormous stones piled high, one on another, stand on the southern slope of the summit, and tradition tells of the human sacrifices offered thereon by druidical priests and priestesses. Be that as it may, the formation of the rocks and the surrounding scenery inspired doubtlessly the genius of Wagner, when he conjured up the marvellous scene of the awakening of Brunhilde after her sleep of years. As if in sympathy with our musings, the sky after a brilliantly clearing became suddenly overcast, and threatening clouds swept up mysteriously from the four quarters of heaven. As we waited for the diligence that was to take us down the mountain, distant thunder muttered ominously, and the shrill voices of the Valkyrie sisters seemed to swirl in the gathering wind. As we drove down to Ilsenburg by a rough mountain road the down-swooping clouds covered the Bracken top, and hid rocks and witches’ altars from our view, while ominous thunder drops splashed on the sandy track. Nearer and nearer the thunder came, and heavier grew the air; but the storm in all its fury did not break till many hours later, and we were safely sheltered in the valley before we witnessed the full fury and beauty of a mountain thunderstorm. “Colossal” was the adjective our waiter at the hotel used to describe it, with a very long accent in the last syllable; and I can find no other to describe it better.
Dora B. Montefiore.