In the dim days of very long ago there was a country called Fensalir. It was a low-lying country of rich green meadows and fair cornfields. Beside the slow-flowing streams trees drooped their branches laden with wondrous fruit. Upon the endless meadows countless herds of cattle browsed. It was a rich and peaceful land, but no man knew where it began or where it ended, for round the fair green meadows there hung ever a soft white mist, and any who strayed far were lost in its rolling folds. Weary of the quiet peace, stung by the longing to adventure and to know, some indeed wandered forth, never to return.
Over this strange land there rifled a beautiful giantess. Her hair was gold with the gold of the cornfields, her dress was rich and green with the rich green of the meadows. Only she knew the length and breadth of the fair country over which she ruled. Only she knew what lay beyond the rolling mists. All who remained under her rule found lasting peace and gladness. For she was to them a gracious, tender mother. She spread her hands abroad to bless her land with warmth and fruitfulness; she stretched forth her skirts to shelter her people from cold and frost.
So long years passed, and to this fair giantess there Tew came a son. This son she called Tew. He was bold and he was wise. To him was given victory in war. To him was given the wisdom of words. So it came to pass that if a man was very brave it was said of him, "He is as brave as Tew"; if a man was very wise it was said of him, "He hath the wisdom of Tew." And at length people made songs about Tew, in which they told of his deeds of valour and his wisdom.
And so as years went on, to the people Tew became a god, even as the sun and the moon. One day of the week was called after him, and to this day we still call it Tuesday.
Now Tew had a son, and he again had many children, so that soon the land was filled with people. Of these people there were many tribes, each taking its name from one of the grandsons of Tew; but the whole people were called Teutons, after the name of the great god himself.
This is a fairy-tale and an allegory. The beautiful giantess is a giantess we all know, for she is Mother Earth, and from her broad green lap there rose the god Tew, the father of the great Teutonic race. It is a race which stretches far and wide, and nearly all the peoples of Northern Europe belong to it. The Germans are but one of its many branches, and it is of them I mean to tell in this book.
They first got the name of Germans in Roman times. North of the Rhine dwelt the Teutons, south of the Rhine dwelt the Gauls. But there came a time when a wild horde of Teutons crossed the Rhine, and drove the Gauls out. The Gauls then gave to the wild tribe the name of Germans or neighbours, and by degrees the name was given to the whole race. We still call them Germans, but they call themselves die Deutschen. That is a much newer name, and they did not receive until the end of the ninth century.
It too has a meaning which is interesting. The Gauls and the Franks who had settled south of the Rhine; gradually began to talk Latin, or the Roman language, which later grew into French. It was the language of the learned. But the tribes on the north of the Rhine continued to speak the old language. It was the language of the common people. Thiod means "people"; theotisce means "of the people." So the language was called theotiscos, meaning "the people's language," and gradually it became changed from theotiscos to Deutsch.
So Deutsch means nothing less than "a son of the soil, a son of Mother Earth." And perhaps the little fairy-tale at the beginning of this chapter may help to make some of us understand better why we so often speak of Fatherland or Mother Earth. And it is interesting to find in the early story of the German people the dim outlines of this tale, for they more than any other people have given to their country the name of Fatherland.
But whence really came these Teutons or Germans? In the dim far-off days of the long-forgotten past, in a time so far back that neither history nor legend can tell us ought of it, they dwelt in Asia. But their home was never settled. They loved battle and hated labour. It was easier to conquer new lands than to till that they already possessed. So slowly they moved westward from country to country until they reached Europe. At first they settled along the shores of the Baltic, but by degrees they passed southward to the country of the Gauls.
These ancient Teutons were heathen, but not Druids like the Britons or the Gauls. They worshipped other gods. Wodan was chief of them all, but they worshipped also his son, Thor, the god of the hammer, and many a god besides. And when they died these old heathens believed that they went to Wodan's palace, the splendid hall of Valhalla. There, in company with all the gods and heroes of their race, they would lead, they believed, for ever a life of feasting and drinking, such as they had loved on earth.
They were fair-haired giants those Germans of old time—"Children with old men's hair," the Romans called them. Huge they were, strong of limb, and able to endure both cold and hunger. They cared nothing or gold and ornaments, and were clad only in a cloak of cloth, or the hide of some animal. This was held about their shoulders by a simple clasp or even by a thorn. They were armed with long spears and short javelins. Few wore helmets or armour of any sort.
As they dashed to war the very sight of them struck fear to the hearts of their enemies. Their fierce blue eyes and yellow streaming hair, their huge bodies, the shrieks of the women and children who surrounded the battle-field, and, above all, the hoarse sound of their war-chants, which rose and fell in harsh roar, all added to the terror of their attack.
These ancient Germans loved battle. They held it more honourable to win their daily bread by blood and conquest than to earn it by the sweat of the brow.
Yet even the best and bravest warriors in times of peace did nothing but eat and drink. "It is marvellous," says a Roman writer, "that the same men should so love sloth and hate peace."