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Farina   By: (1828-1909)

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By George Meredith


In those lusty ages when the Kaisers lifted high the golden goblet of Aachen, and drank, elbow upward, the green eyed wine of old romance, there lived, a bow shot from the bones of the Eleven Thousand Virgins and the Three Holy Kings, a prosperous Rhinelander, by name Gottlieb Groschen, or, as it was sometimes ennobled, Gottlieb von Groschen; than whom no wealthier merchant bartered for the glory of his ancient mother city, nor more honoured burgess swallowed impartially red juice and white under the shadow of his own fig tree.

Vine hills, among the hottest sun bibbers of the Rheingau, glistened in the roll of Gottlieb's possessions; corn acres below Cologne; basalt quarries about Linz; mineral springs in Nassau, a legacy of the Romans to the genius and enterprise of the first of German traders. He could have bought up every hawking crag, owner and all, from Hatto's Tower to Rheineck. Lore ley, combing her yellow locks against the night cloud, beheld old Gottlieb's rafts endlessly stealing on the moonlight through the iron pass she peoples above St. Goar. A wailful host were the wives of his raftsmen widowed there by her watery music!

This worthy citizen of Cologne held vasty manuscript letters of the Kaiser addressed to him:

'Dear Well born son and Subject of mine, Gottlieb!' and he was easy with the proudest princes of the Holy German Realm. For Gottlieb was a money lender and an honest man in one body. He laid out for the plenteous harvests of usury, not pressing the seasons with too much rigour. 'I sow my seed in winter,' said he, 'and hope to reap good profit in autumn; but if the crop be scanty, better let it lie and fatten the soil.'

'Old earth's the wisest creditor,' he would add; 'she never squeezes the sun, but just takes what he can give her year by year, and so makes sure of good annual interest.'

Therefore when people asked Gottlieb how he had risen to such a pinnacle of fortune, the old merchant screwed his eye into its wisest corner, and answered slyly, 'Because I 've always been a student of the heavenly bodies'; a communication which failed not to make the orbs and systems objects of ardent popular worship in Cologne, where the science was long since considered alchymic, and still may be.

Seldom could the Kaiser go to war on Welschland without first taking earnest counsel of his Well born son and Subject Gottlieb, and lightening his chests. Indeed the imperial pastime must have ceased, and the Kaiser had languished but for him. Cologne counted its illustrious citizen something more than man. The burghers doffed when he passed; and scampish leather draggled urchins gazed after him with praeternatural respect on their hanging chins, as if a gold mine of great girth had walked through the awe struck game.

But, for the young men of Cologne he had a higher claim to reverence as father of the fair Margarita, the White Rose of Germany; a noble maiden, peerless, and a jewel for princes.

The devotion of these youths should give them a name in chivalry. In her honour, daily and nightly, they earned among themselves black bruises and paraded discoloured countenances, with the humble hope to find it pleasing in her sight. The tender fanatics went in bands up and down Rhineland, challenging wayfarers and the peasantry with staff and beaker to acknowledge the supremacy of their mistress. Whoso of them journeyed into foreign parts, wrote home boasting how many times his head had been broken on behalf of the fair Margarita; and if this happened very often, a spirit of envy was created, which compelled him, when he returned, to verify his prowess on no less than a score of his rivals. Not to possess a beauty scar, as the wounds received in these endless combats were called, became the sign of inferiority, so that much voluntary maiming was conjectured to be going on; and to obviate this piece of treachery, minutes of fights were taken and attested, setting forth that a certain glorious cut or crack was honourably won in fair field; on what occasion; and from whom; every member of the White Rose Club keeping his particular scroll, and, on days of festival and holiday, wearing it haughtily in his helm... Continue reading book >>

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