[From Manx Quarterly #7 1909]
To the Editor.
Dear Sir,-When I sent greetings to Manx friends in the New Year, I had at the back of my head a little article which I thought might prove interesting to your readers. Pressure of business and much travelling has prevented me accomplishing that end up till now. But here you are! And I hope I am not encroaching on your space in my desire to prove there is always a corner in my memory for Manxland.
We left America for Hamburg in the late fall. Had a splendid passage in a fine boat, the President Grant. She was not extremely fast, but that did not matter, for what with games in the gymnasium, and on deck concerts, dances -etcetera, the time seemed to fly. I was sorry we touched Plymouth at a very early hour, for the beauties of Mount Edgecombe, Slaten Heights, and the famous backwater could not be seen by our American fellow-passengers. But Cherbourg, in the afternoon, was a perfect picture. Its magnificent harbour looked lovely in the brilliant sunshine. We saw some fine practice of the submarine naval boats; and the run up the English Channel that night was delightful-the coast seemed to be one endless row of electric lights as we passed Bournemouth, Hastings, Brighton, Folkestone, and the smaller seaside towns. We arrived at Cuxhaven safely, after a most enjoyable, trip. Then took train for Hamburg, en route for Berlin. We encountered a little mild excitement before arriving at our destination. Just outside Hamburg station we ran into collision with another train-the carriage containing our party and two other passengers received a severe smashing up. The coach gracefully toppled over on its side, amidst screams and smashing of glass. After extricating myself from a " scrimmage in my twenty-five," it became necessary to get the ladies out of the wreckage by the openings in the roof, which had previously been the side windows. Bar a few abrasions from the broken glass, no one was seriously injured, and we resumed our journey to Prague next day.
What says Jeff Prowse of this oldtime town in connection with the Bohemia which is so fast dying out
The latitude's very uncertain,
The longitude's equally vague;
But that person I pity
Who knows not the city,
The beautiful city of Prague.
And Prague is a beautiful city. But affairs are terribly slow. The traa-dy-liooar attitude of the community hits one in the eye after the mad wild rush incidental to the larger American cities. It is curious when one comes to think that Denver, U.S.A., one of the last towns we played in, is as large as Prague though little over a century old; whilst in the capital of Bohemia you can visit the Jewish Synagogue which was founded Anno Domini 500, and has been a place of worship ever since. The oldest in Europe, it is said.
It would appear like a very conventional guide book were I to enumerate the noted sights of Prague or to allude to its ever-changing history. It seems to have had a pretty rollicking time, judging from the merry little wars that have taken place within its precincts during the last thousand years. So I will leave picture galleries, museums, arts, institutions. old castles, etc., to the literature compiled for the tourist by the ubiquitous Baedeker.
Oh! by the way, the churches, 350 (fact) in a city of 500,000. Pretty large number, eh? And only one variety theatre!-so the inference is obvious when you say Prague is a slow place. It is a very fine theatre. But it appears antagonistic to English ideas to see the floor of a play-house fitted with tables and the audience eating and drinking during the performance. But, then, the only time a German does not eat is when he sleeps. During our sojourn in Prague we were witnesses of some stirring times. Conflicts between the students of the German College and the Bohemian populace were as regular as the table d'hote dinner, the point at issue being whether the official language should be German or Bohemian. The town, as matters had reached a crisis, was placed under martial law, and pickets of armed soldiers patrolled the streets to prevent the rival factions cracking each other's crowns and such playful silliness. And all this turmoil about a language that is as ugly as it is difficult. Well, after the riots, one may call it a jaw-breaking tongue! Oh, one other thing that was very striking-the marvellous progress made by the Bohemians in football during the last five years. The S.S. Slavia Club is really a fine combination, and under the tuition of J. Madden, the clebrated international half-back of the Celtic F.C., they can hold their own with most of our crack teams. I saw them play the English Amateur Association F.C., consisting of picked men from " The Corinthians," Oxford University, and the top layer of other football baskets, and the Bohemians walked round them to the extent of three goals to one. The team of Danes, the runners-up at the Olympic games, were defeated by them, eight goals to one. They are an extremely sturdy lot of fellows, and remind me of a good Lancashire league team. It is certainly remarkable how strongly athletics as we understand then have taken hold of the Continent. The good old Anglo-Saxon will have to "buck up," as they say in slangy sporting phraseology, if he means to hold his own.
One day I strolled into the Metske Museum most interesting. Splendid collection of china and pottery ware, old arms, rare engravings. But you can imagine my surprise when I came across a case filled with old MSS., charters, seals, books, pictures, with the
stamped all over them. For a moment I thought " Where am I " The attendant could give me no information. The secretary could not speak English; I was not conversant with the Bohemian language. Here was a " cul de sac." The head waiter at the hotel fortunately spoke good English (and Bohemian, of course). I enlisted his services as interpreter, and together we interviewed the secretary again. The outcome was that I learnt that all I had seen appertained to, "The Boot and Shoemakers' Guild of Bohemia." But I said to myself, said I, they use the Manx crest or vice versa, and I wanted to penetrate to the core of things. After many inquiries and researchings, I foregathered with the president of the society. His knowledge of the financial state of the Guild was much stronger than his memory of the romantic traditions of the association. He was, however, very courteous, and gave me an introduction to
who is Professor of History for Bohemia. Unfortunately, he could not speak English, but lie asked me to call on his friend and fellow Don, Dr V. E. Mourek, who is Professor of Languages. I found Dr Mourek a charming cosmopolitan man of the world, and he promised to see Professor Wintre on the subject of the Three Legs of Man and its relation to Bohemian romanticism. The appended letter gives the result of his researches :-"
Sunday, Nov. 29th, 1908.
" Dear Sir,- What Professor Wintre told me is this, literally, though not perhaps very elegantly, translated
"The Shoemakers appear in our country as an organised Guild about the middle of the fourteenth century (about 1356) ; then they had a statute granted them by the Town Council. Only at that time, not before, they got the crest or coat of arms with the 'Three Bundschuks.' The word means shoes fastened to the shins and calves of the legs by bands of leather.
" In Germany there were Guilds earlier than in our country (Bohemia), because to us they came from Germany and spread on even to Poland. The first German Guild dates from the twelfth century (about 1140), and it is interesting to note that everywhere in Germany, in Bohemia, in Poland, the same armorial bearings. So far, Professor Wintre thinks the Shoemakers' crest has nothing to do with the Isle of Man in the form of the 'Three Bundschuks,' which may be founded upon some old and thoroughly obscured traditions.-Yours sincerely,
V. E. MOUREK.
"To Alfred Hemming, Esquire."
In this opinion I coincide, for when I called upon Mr F. R. Chaura, the noted antiquarian of Prague, he informed me that he had never come across the crest of the Three Legs on anything appertaining to Bohemia except the Shoemakers. But he produced a very valuable album of rare curios and coins, and they showed that m the Province of Panormus, in the Isle of Sicily, about 700 B.C., the triquetra (or three legs) was used on the reverse side of a coin; the head of an Emperor being on the face. I noticed that in the centre of the three legs was a female face with three long plaits of hair flowing carelessly from the back of the head.
Any Manxman visiting Prague will find Mr F. R. Chaura a most pleasant and well-informed gentleman. He speaks English well, and his kind courtesy, as well as that of Professors Wintre and Mourek, was a most pleasing incident of my visit to Prague. But, not being quite satisfied, I thought I might probe the matter further, so I again sought the secretary of the Metske Museum. He related the following legend, a story handed down orally from generation to generation, one of the many items of folklore of this most interesting country, or it may have had its origin in Germany years before.
LEGEND OF THE THREE BUNDSCHUKS.
About the year 1135, during one of the Feudal Wars so common from the earliest history of the country, a wealthy noble, Bodisvlas, was seized and cast into prison by his enemies. His estates were confis cated, and his power crushed. He was chained to a fellow-prisoner, a poor, lowly-born shoemaker. The shoemaker recognised the noble Bodisvlas, the beloved of his countrymen by reason of his deeds of charity and his impartial justice. After the first few days of wretchedness and misery caused by this cruel persecution the thought of freedom came to the nobls prisoner. But it was almost a forlorn hope, seeing how securely the chains had been rivetted, and how lightly, just above the ankle, firmly securing them together. One day a gaoler, who had recognised the noble Bodisvlas, showed plainly his desire to help them. On leaving their cell, he turned the key, but the door was left open. The imprisoned men then realised the meaning of his significant glances. Freedom was theirs if they could but themselves from their chains. This impossible, far the chain was ly secured to the floor from the of the poor shoemaker. It seemed fate with the door so close.
A desperate idea came to the mind of humble prisoner. It was the only way for the noble Bodisvlas. Would he agree? Could he bear the torture? Yes! anything for life and liberty.
Quick as thought the shoemaker had firmly tied a thong from his shin straps round the leg of Bodisvlas, just above the knee, to stop the circulation of the blood temporarily. Then with the skill almost of a practised surgeon, he removed the imprisoned noble's lower limb at the knee joint. Bodisvlas, bandaging the wound as best he could, sustained by the thought of home and friends, crawled into the light of day on his hands and foot.
He soon found friends, and in a few days overthrew his enemies, regaining his estates and position. His first thought on returning to power was his fellow-captive, whom he found in his prison cell, " a man with three legs." On the spot Bodisvlas determined to form and endow a Guild Or Society for the Shoemakers of his country in order to show his gratitude for his deliverance. The crest of the society in honour of the presence of mind of his deliverer, should be the Three Legs, and so it is to this day.
This is the old story. Of course, like all legends it might be pulled to pieces by the hypercritical, but dramatically the exact psychological conclusion was arrived at when the shoemaker became possessed of a third leg, and his noble friend of his liberty.
I think this account will prove as interesting to your readers as the incidents were to me. And with every good wish for a prosperous season. I am, yours very truly,