Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 26 >> Telemachus to Textile Printing >> Tell

Tell

gessler, swiss, lake, name and und

TELL, tel, William, Swiss peasant of Biirglen, near Altorf, celebrated in legend for his resistance to the tyranny of the Austrian governor, Gessler. The stories connected with him, with those relating to the origin of the Swiss Confederation, first appear in the 15th century. According to them, Gessler, the ty rannical Austrian bailiff of Uri, one of the forest cantons, pushed his insolence so far as to require the Swiss to uncover their heads before his hat (as an emblem of the Austrian sover eignty), and condemned Tell, who refused to comply with this mandate, to shoot an apple from the head of his own son. Tell was suc cessful in his attempt, but confessed that a sec ond arrow, which he bore' about his person, was intended, in case he had failed, for the punishment of the tyrant, and was, therefore, retained prisoner. While he was crossing the Lake of the Four Cantons, or Lake of Lucerne, in the same boat with Gessler, a violent storm threatened the destruction of the skiff. Tell, as the most vigorous and skilful helmsman, was set free, and he conducted the boat successfully near the shore, but seized the opportunity to spring upon a rock, pushing off the bark. He had fortunately taken his bow with him, and when the governor finally escaped the storm, and reached a rocky defile on the road to Kiissnacht, Tell shot him dead. The death of Gessler was the signal for a most obstinate war between the Swiss and Austrians, which was not brought to a close until 1499. Tell was present at the battle of Morgarten, and is sup posed to have lost his life in an inundation in 1350 while attempting to save a friend. Such

is the legendary story of William Tell. Inves tigation has broken down the proofs of his ex istence. There is no mention of him by any contemporaneous historian; his name is first met with in the chronicles of the second half of the 15th century, and none of the Tell bal lads are of an earlier date. Similar stories in regard to the shooting of the apple occur in Saxo Grammaticus, the Danish historian, and in Icelandic literature, not to mention the old English ballad of Adam Bel, Clym of the Cloughe and Wyllyam of Cloudesle. Besides, the many contradictions between the various personages, dates and places, and the widely differing representations of the event, show the gradual development of the legend. The untir ing industry of historical scholars has not been rewarded by the finding of the name of Tell in the archives and church registers of Uri, and although an uninterrupted series of charters exists relative to the bailiffs or governors of Kiissnacht in the 14th century, there is no Gess ler among them. The Tell chapels were erected or called by his name generations after his death; the document which speaks of the as semblage in 1388 of 114 persons who knew him personally, and of the erection at that,time of a Tell chapel on the shore of the Lake of Lucerne, was not known until 1759. Consult Hisely's 'Recherches Critiques> (1843) ; Roch holz's (1895). See SWITZERLAND, History.