Billeder på siden



ONE of the first points that strikes an Englishman as remarkable in the condition of the German students, is the extraordinary freedom accorded to them, and the slight apparent control exercised over them; but a point still more extraordinary is the slight abuses that arise from such a liberty. This, however, can be easily accounted for by the fact that they have a code of honour amongst themselves, which is intimately bound up with, and inseparable from, the practice of duelling. This is the secret charm by which they regulate their constitution, and in chivalrous fashion settle dissensions of every description. Moralists may say what they please, but once banish duelling from these universities, and with one blow you put an end to the romantic life of the students. Let not the reader of these few pages suppose that the object is to introduce German practices into our own universities, or to make invidious comparisons between them-such is by no means the intention; they are rather written with the view to giving a few slight hints of information, and to state at the same time some peculiarities and points of difference.

The privileges of the German student are numerous and important. He is almost superior to the law, cannot be arrested in any case for debt, and in a criminal cause can only be tried by or with the consent of the university judge, who has his court, prison, and all other appurtenances. Tradesmen are compelled to give credit for necessaries as far as a certain amount, and up to a certain time; within which period, if application be made to the university authorities, the money is paid from a fund set apart for that purpose; but in default of this application the money is irrecoverable. One consequence of this is, naturally, that very little credit is given, and young gentlemen are compelled to dispense with such luxuries as they would probably consider necessaries, were unlimited credit given. One piece of extravagance every student must plead guilty to-that is, his pipe. A handsome meerschaum is considered quite a necessary accompaniment; and frequently so much as five, and even ten pounds, are given by them for the article. To a German his pipe is his friend-a very constant one, too. When not making use of it-which, by the way, only occurs when eating, drinking, or sleeping, and often in the last case-he hangs it in the most conspicuous part of the apartment, making a sort of tutelary deity of it. His apartment is furnished in a very rough-andready style a few chairs, of a very common description, and a table form the principal luxuries of the establishment. A carpet is a rarity among them.

Perhaps there is no class amongst whom such romantic friendships are found; and it is usual to have the walls decorated with portraits of all friends, sometimes singly and sometimes in groups, taken from duelling reminiscences, or from scenes of the "Kneip," or drinking-room. As these "Kneips," or "Commerces," form one of the principal features in the life of a student, some description may be given. It may sound somewhat curious that in universities societies should be permitted to exist which are formed for no other apparent purpose than duelling and drinking. The only defence one can make is, that the duelling is not with a

view to any serious consequence, nor the drinking with a view to intoxication; nor does any very serious result arise in either case: a few slight flesh-wounds in the one case, and in the other no very great intoxication, inasmuch as they do not venture on any more potent liquor than beer.

These drinking-bouts are generally held in rooms set apart, which belong to different "corps," or societies, respectively. We shall have occasion hereafter to speak of the mode in which they are formed. In the ordinary Kneip none but members are admitted, or rather no member of any other corps; as it is not against rule to introduce a stranger or "Philister," as they designate all who are not members of a university either as professor or student. In their eyes an emperor or a king is a "Philister," equally with the landlord of the tavern where they hold their revels. We will now imagine ourselves one of the fortunate invited, and as soon as our eyes have been enabled to penetrate the smoke, proceed to give some sort of description of the scene.

At a long table are seated a number of young men, in every descrip tion of dress and undress (as many are stripped to their shirts), the only uniformity appearing to consist in the cap, and a general determination to amuse themselves. A president and vice-president stand at either end of the table, unlike the rest of the company, dressed in the full uniform of the corps, which is sometimes very splendid. They are sword in hand, and have the maintenance of order and the infliction of the fines, which are usually in the "cuppa magistra" line. The quantity of beer consumed on these occasions is quite incredible. Thirty or forty large glasses is not an unusual quantity; and instead of calling for more glasses, they save unnecessary trouble by having numerous formidable casks brought to table. One is expected to drink at all times when challenged, and the challenger has the option of saying whether it is to be a whole glass or not. In the former case it must be emptied, and turned upside down on the table, on pain of having to drink more, or being obliged to pay the penalty of a fresh cask. Above the din of everything is easily heard the clash of the president's sword on the table, which enforces silence on the most unruly. Each person is provided with a book containing the favourite songs, and the music. Some of these songs are very beautiful, and as every German is a musician, the effect is admirable. These songs are kept up at intervals of ten minutes or so throughout the evening, commencing at about six, and finishing indefinitely in the morning. They are always accompanied by an excellent band, stationed in an adjoining apartment, who carry on during the intervals a species of counter-Kneip of their own.

The most interesting part of the entertainment takes place about midnight. It consists in a ceremony in which the purpose of these societies seems to be depicted, that is, the practice of duelling. What we are now describing may seem absurd, but it is difficult to explain in words the significance of what can be hardly appreciated but by a student. The president having previously clashed his sword, and having called for the song which is the accompaniment of the ceremony, all stand up, while the president and vice-president standing on the vacated chairs, beginning at the top of the table, take the cap from each guest and run it through with the sword, until they have thus visited all the guests, and have all the caps strung on the swords. Each in turn takes the sword in

his left, and with the cap in his right drinks to the health of fatherland, and swears ever to be a brave member of the corps, and to preserve the liberties of the student. The caps are returned in the same order by the president and his vice, the song being kept up throughout. This is never omitted during a Kneip, and as they occur at least once during a week, the caps resemble sieves rather than coverings for the head.

It would be difficult to explain all this, and one can only say there are plenty of more absurd and less harmless ceremonies in the world. In it are united some of the principal elements in German student-life. The cap, the cup, the song, and the sword are brought into pretty close contact. Each corps has on different appointed days, once or perhaps twice a year, a grand "Commerce." On these occasions they traverse the town in full dress, with swords drawn and colours flying, while a huge barrel of beer is borne in front. After traversing in this way some of the principal thoroughfares, they betake themselves, by various modes of locomotion, to some appointed place at a certain distance from the town, varied according to the facilities of communication. It is necessary to go some distance from the town, as the authorities might be obliged to take notice of their orgies if conducted within the precincts of the university. These festivities last for two or three days, according as the money may be forthcoming. There is a general fund made up by the corps for these occasions, and placed in the hands of a treasurer. During their stay it is a constant scene of drinking, singing, &c., the ceremony of the caps being gone through every night. No baggage is taken; so that at the end of the saturnalia their situation may be more readily imagined than described. On their return, the streets are paraded in the same fashion, at least by those who can walk, the incapable being borne on the shoulders of the capable. The barrel of beer, now empty, is again borne in front, the band plays, and the scene finishes by a return to the Kneiproom. It is a curious scene, but so common among them as to pass without much notice, and the little accompaniment of drunkenness is forgotten.

It is, perhaps, generally imagined that because there are constant duels taking place amongst these students that they must be a very quarrelsome race. This is a mistake. Perhaps there is no class amongst which more good fellowship and good temper can be found. There is certainly a passion for duelling, but as it seldom leads to any serious result, it is not of so much importance as might be supposed. They look upon duelling as a pastime-pretty much in the same light as that in which we regard a game of cricket. Ordinarily speaking, there is no real quarrel between the combatants. Sometimes a sham quarrel is got up, merely to save appearances, not that they are very particular on that score. The president of each corps is expected to keep lists of the members, and to be tolerably well acquainted with their capabilities and state of preparation for fighting. The names of those who are ready to fight are then sent to another corps, and the president of that body writes opposite to each name a man of his own corps, who he thinks is likely to make a good match. A day is then appointed, and a number of fights take place one after the other. The practice is forbidden by the authorities, and slight punishments are inflicted, generally estimated according to the nature of the wounds: however, as the university police find it

answers their purpose-i. e. their pockets-better to hold their tongues, information is seldom given. The combats are held generally in the midst of some wood, in a spot quite removed from any thoroughfare, whilst on all sides persons are kept on the watch to give immediate alarm in case of intrusion.

We will now suppose ourselves arrived at the ground. There are perhaps a hundred young men present. Some are lying on the grass, some sitting in trees, but all accompanied by the eternal pipe. Many of them have a huge cow's horn almost encircling the body. This is not to blow, as the reader may imagine; no, they have too much musical taste to desecrate the air with anything half so hideous. It contains their beer, and is in pretty constant request both amongst the combatants and the spectators. The swords are sharp only at the end for about three inches, but for that length they are like razors, and the slightest touch will cause the blood to flow profusely. There are always surgeons on the spot to bind the wounds immediately, and they, from constant practice, become so expert, that wounds which might in other hands turn out troublesome prove only trifling. There are various descriptions and degrees of duel amongst them. Always, except in an extreme case, the neck, body, and arms are bound with stuffed leather, not unlike our boxing-glove material; the head is sometimes entirely bare, but sometimes covered with a cap with a strong beak, which protects the head and temples. The expert despise the use of the cap, and it is generally only used by beginners. The coverings of the arms are very thick, and tolerably heavy; so that in the intervals of the contest it is necessary to have supporters. To each combatant a second is given, who acts also as umpire, settling any disputed point by an appeal to the referee, who stands near, watch in hand, to regulate the time. The seconds are provided with swords, and stand close behind their respective principals; so close, indeed, that they are apparently in as much danger as the combatants. They are sometimes slightly scratched, but are too old hands at the game to allow it to occur often.

Let us imagine the fight now about to begin. The opponents regard one another fixedly, but without exchanging a word. Coat, waistcoat, neckcloth, and cap are laid aside, and in lieu of these is donned the duelcovering described above. The seconds, meanwhile, measure the ground, and mark with chalk the line beyond which neither combatant can pass. As it is not intended that they should injure one another very much, the seconds have the power by turns of staying the contest after a few passes. They are rarely permitted to make more than two or three cuts at one another, and always when a blow is struck they are stopped.

We will suppose the contest to have commenced, and, after a few rounds, a slight wound to have been inflicted. It is nothing, a simple scratch, but the face is covered with blood. The wounded, however, considers he has not received satisfaction, and the contest is allowed to continue at intervals of the same description, until the referee declares the time to be expired. This varies from a quarter to half an hour, according as agreed upon previously. The intervals are a minute in duration. Each second can stop the fight when he pleases, but is immediately expected to give a reason. These reasons are merely an excuse to prevent too much mischief. Sometimes, however, they lead to disputes between the friends of

the respective combatants, and occasionally to a general mêlée among the spectators. At the end of the fight they shake hands, and all animosity is supposed to be at an end. They then wash their faces, and, after having their wounds dressed, if not faint from the loss of blood, return and become spectators of the other fights which are taking place.

One curious circumstance may be mentioned with respect to the wounds-viz., that the eye is never touched or injured in any way; a fact arising, of course, from the extraordinary sensibility of that organ. Cuts are inflicted on all sides without injury to the orb. Many fight in spectacles, and have them occasionally dashed to pieces, but it is rare to hear of an instance of loss of sight from this cause. Noses are cut off, ears slit across, and even the tongue damaged. They take a sort of pride in the number of their scars, and this feeling is unhappily encouraged by the fair sex. Here they have no fear of losing their beauty. In fact, an ugly man may pass muster if he is fortunate enough to have received a good seam across his physiognomy. These duels take place nearly every day during "Semester," or term, sometimes ten or a dozen together, so that they are no novelty, and a stranger, or rather a non-participator in the passion, would weary of such scenes. Every student-duel does not, however, end in the innocent manner described above; but mortal combats are, perhaps, quite as rare amongst them as amongst ourselves. Occasionally they fight without bandages, or have recourse to pistols.

No duels are allowed between members of the same corps, on pain of expulsion. These corps, or societies, of which the distinguishing mark is generally a peculiar cap and ribbon, were, and are still to a certain extent, formed of different nations of Germany respectively. The names would imply this-Prussian, Westphalian, Saxon, Hanseatic (from the Hanse towns), &c. Some have a political tendency, as the "Allemanen," formed indiscriminately from natives of all parts of Germany, and whose political object is to restore the ancient empire of Germany. A movement was made in this direction in the year 1848. The principal objects, however, of these societies is the practice of duelling; all others are subservient to this. The symbol of full membership of a corps is the ribbon, and, on first admission, this is not given until a probation of at least a year is gone through. It gives a very distingué air to the wearer: as some resemble the ribbons of the great European orders of merit, and it has occurred not unfrequently to the bearers of these to be mistaken for persons of great distinction. It has been said above that the principal object of these corps is duelling: it should, however, be stated that a very large portion of the students do not belong to them, among whom the practice is very much disapproved of, and is only resorted to in extreme cases. These, of course, form the more studious portion of the university. Whatever professors, parents, and guardians may consider the objects in sending young men to universities, it is pretty certain that a very large portion of the students themselves imagine that they are places of amusement, and that the best amusements this life can afford are duelling and convivial meetings. Before the commencement of each "Semester," and during the vacation, some few of the oldest members of each corps come up to tout among the freshmen, or "Foxes," as they are called, for new members. The first question they ask "Mr. Verdant Green" is as to his opinion about fighting. If, fearful of papa's prohi

« ForrigeFortsæt »