Sunday, July 08, 2007

William Tell

Of the great counterrevolutionary heroes of literature and legend, William Tell is one of my favorites. Despite Carlyle's attempt to make a revolutionary hero of him, Tell will forever be in the vanguard of the counterrevolutionaries.

Why is Tell a counterrevolutionary? Because of what he fights for and who he fights against. He fights first for his family, secondly for his countrymen, and thirdly for the holy Roman Emperor. His quarrel is not with the right ordering of Christendom with a Christian emperor as the overseer of numerous independent Christian states. Tell's quarrel is with a petty tyrant named Gessler. Gessler tramples on the sacred hearth rights of the Swiss people, and by doing so, violates his oath to the Emperor to rule as Christ the King would rule.

Tell, with no political aspirations whatever, does not seek a quarrel with Gessler. He lives the simple life of the mountain folk. But his life is not that of the incomplete woodsman hero of American folklore: Tell is an integral family man. He roams the mountains with his sons during the day, and nightfall finds him sleeping, not Natty Bumpo-style under the stars with an Indian, but under a humble roof with his wife and sons.

Gessler, however, is the type of man who must impose his pettiness of soul on those with largesse of soul. Hence the tyranny of the hat. We all know the result. Gessler begins the quarrel, but Tell finishes it. Because he has a heart on flame with love for his son and for his beloved mountain country, Tell knows it cannot end with the challenge of the apple. It has to end with an arrow in Gessler's heart, or else his children, his wife, and his country will be forever in danger. After the deed is done, Tell, as Schiller describes the scene, appears above the mountain rocks and issues his apologia for the execution of Gessler:

Tell: Thou know's the marksman—I, and I alone
Now are our homesteads free, and innocence
From thee is safe: thou'lt be our curse no more.

Yes, innocence is safe. Tell reaches the pinnacle of heroism. The true hero fights for innocence, for the hearth, for the babe at his mother's breast, and for the babe unborn in his mother's womb. We need William Tell in the 21st century.