Herman and Thusnelda - George Upton

The Voice of the People

The proverbial German honesty and fair dealing were specially characteristic of our ancestors in those days. They who are honest themselves are likely to be deceived many times before they will believe that others are dishonest or are cherishing evil designs against them. While this attitude is commendable it ought, however, to go hand in hand with wisdom. As the old saying goes: "Be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove." Many another people under the same circumstances would have divined the purposes of Rome much sooner; but years passed before the Germans really perceived the net of deceit which Roman cunning and Roman power were weaving about them. In their invasions the Romans always pretended they were seeking their own security, so that if an alliance were made they could guarantee its security also.

But one occurrence at last opened the eyes of the majority of the German people. The Sigambrians, one of the strongest nations on the Rhine, were requested by the Roman general to send a delegation to meet him and arrange conditions of peace, as he treacherously asserted. Depending upon his honor, a large number of the princes and leaders of the people met him, but instead of making peaceful negotiations with them, he overpowered them with a strong force, and distributed them as captives among the cities of Gallia. Before the people, robbed of their leaders, could decide upon any plan of action, they too were driven over the Rhine in great numbers and forced to remain in Gallia. It is estimated that nearly forty thousand Sigambrians were thus dispossessed of their country. The captive princes, knowing there was no hope of rescue, killed themselves.

If such an event had happened in these times it would have been known all over Germany in a few days. It was different then. Months might elapse before news could travel a circuit of one hundred and fifty miles.

This treacherous act aroused a bitter feeling of resentment in the breast of every free German. The Romans now seldom met a German with a joyous face. Had not the enemy been blinded by its own egregious conceit it would have noted the fact that behind those dark clouds of wrath, which were growing more and more threatening every day, the lightnings were flashing, which sooner or later would smite the heads of the oppressors.

The spirit which animated the people was unprecedented. In some places longing for united resistance seized upon men like a sacred fire; in others, impatience and longing for war were so intense that they bitterly complained of the slowness of their princes and leaders.

It was in such moods as these that Herman found the people, and it inspired him with a feeling of certainty that their cause would be successful. His father received him with open arms, and by his advice an assembly of the leading men of the people was ordered, but Segest was not invited to it. All were animated by the one thought that the time had arrived to wage a decisive war with the Romans. The sacred work was enthusiastically inaugurated. The leaders hurried to their nearest people. The Runic wands, signals for the convocation of the people, were sent out. To many a German it seemed as if the sun were rising after a long, dark night. All hearts beat stronger, for the spirit of freedom was abroad in the land. One circumstance added greatly to the enthusiasm. When Herman met the priestess in the forest and she uttered her mysterious prophecy he was not alone. Some hunters were nearby and heard her words:

"They will seek to rob us of freedom; but help will come from the enemy."

These words ran from mouth to mouth. The people said to each other: "It is he whom the gods meant. They are seeking to rob us of freedom, and behold, Herman, at whose call we are to assemble, has come from the enemy." An old legend of his childhood was also revived and circulated among the people. The Norns, it was said, appeared by his cradle at night, placed the oldest sword in the castle, which came from the gods, at his side, bent over him, and said some mysterious words. Half waking, half dreaming, his mother saw the apparitions and heard these words:

"A rock of freedom shalt thou be, And thy name shall be immortal."