William Tell - George Upton

Death of the Tyrant

There was a law at that time which forbade the imprisonment of any Switzer outside the section of country to which he belonged, but Gessler paid no attention to it. He decided to go to Kussnacht by boat, and take Tell with him. Half an hour later the tyrant and his prisoner were on the lake. They had not sailed far before the "Fan "arose. The waves rolled high, and the boat was tossed about like a nutshell. Those who were sailing it lost courage, for they never before had experienced such a blow as this on the lake. Each instant the waves threatened to sink them. What a difference there was in the demeanor of the two men!

Many a thought disturbed Gessler, which under ordinary circumstances he easily would have dismissed. Tell, fettered and lying in the stern, regarded the storm with the utmost composure.

The wind meanwhile continually increased in fury. Gessler asked the helmsman if there was any possibility of escape. He shrugged his shoulders, and after a pause replied: "If any one can save us it is Tell."

When Gessler heard this he quickly unbound Tell, and bade him take charge of the boat. Without a word Tell went to the helm and skilfully handled the boat. After a little they approached the Axenberg, a much-dreaded shelving crag jutting into the lake, with jagged edges concealed below the surface. Tell steered the boat straight for the spot, and when near enough, seized his bow, which was lying near him, jumped out on the rocks, and thrust the boat back into the lake with all his strength. He made his escape into the canton of Schwyz, and concealed himself in a defile near Kussnacht. Gessler escaped the storm, but as he was riding through this defile Tell's arrow pierced him, and he fell dead from his horse. Thus were the people released by the hand of a hero from the most cruel of their tyrants.

"Hermann Gessler [says Johann von Muller] met his fate before the time appointed for the deliverance of the country, not at the hands of an outraged people, but because of the righteous anger of a freeman. No one will disapprove of the deed who considers how unendurable Gessler's contempt for the usages of the people and his invasions of their liberty had become to the feelings of these brave men, especially at a time when courageous men always acted upon the spur of the moment, and when the laws were powerless to protect them even in the ordinary affairs of life. Tell's act, to be sure, was a violation of established laws. It was like those deeds related in the old historic and sacred books, which made many of the liberators of Athens and Rome and many of the Hebrew heroes famous, and like those deeds performed in more modern times when the ancient rights of a peaceful people were endangered by absolute and overwhelming force, and men ordained by Providence rose up and removed these scourges of mankind. Lawful rulers are sacred; but that a tyrant should be left free to carry out his infamous schemes is neither needful nor proper. The act of William Tell gave all his countrymen more courage, for they had begun to fear that Landenberg and the other castle governors were vigilantly watching them and increasing their own power. Those who had taken the oath on the Rutli meadow were still silent, but the year 1307 was drawing to its close."

Tell escapes


Schiller says:

"Yes, there 's a limit to the despot's power!

When the oppressed looks round in vain for justice,

When his sore burden may no more be borne,

With fearless heart he makes appeal to Heaven

And thence brings down his everlasting rights,

Which then abide inalienably his

And indestructible as are the stars."

Schiller's William Tell,

Dr. Hempel's version.