It was late one year; the vines had red leaves; showers fell, and the cold winds increased. This was not a happy time for the poor people. The days were dark, but it was darker still within the cramped old houses. One of these stood with its gabled end toward the street, with low windows, poor and humble in appearance; and poor indeed was the family that lived there, yet courageous and diligent, with the love and fear of God within their hearts.
God was soon to give them one more child. The hour of its birth had come; the mother lay in pain and need. From the church tower came the sound of chiming bells, so deep, so festive. It was a holiday, and the solemn ringing of the bells filled the heart of the praying woman with faith and devotion; she lifted her soul to God in fervent prayer, and at that moment her little son was born; and she was happy beyond words. The bell from the church tower seemed to send forth her joy over town and country. Two bright baby eyes gazed up at her, and the little one's hair shone as if it were gilded. On that gloomy November day the child had been welcomed into the world by the chiming bells; the mother and father kissed it and wrote in their Bible, "The tenth of November, 1759, God gave us a son," adding later that he had received at his baptism the names, "Johann Christoph Friedrich."
The boy was still only six years old, but already he knew parts of the Bible and the pious old hymns; many an evening while seated on his little cane stool, he had heard his father read Gellert's Fables and the poem about Messiah; hot tears had come into the boy's eyes, and his sister had cried at hearing of Him who had suffered death on the cross of Golgotha, that He might save us.
(...) but there were new graves in the churchyard; and there, down in the grass, close by the wall, lay the old church bell, fallen from its high position. It had developed a flaw and could ring no longer, and a new one had been put up in its place.
The mother and son had entered the churchyard and stood still before the old bell, while she told the little boy how this bell had performed its duty for centuries; it had pealed at baptisms, and joyful weddings, and funerals.
But the old bell was well off; it lay hidden in the shelter of the church wall of Marbach.
Dark days and cold nights passed over the old bell, and it did not feel them; but the bell within the human breast is sensitive to these miseries. What happened to the young man? What happened to the old bell? Well, the bell went far away, farther than its sound could ever be heard even from its high tower; the young man – ah, yes, the bell within his breast sounded farther into distant lands than ever his foot would ever tread or his eyes ever see; it sounded and resounded across the ocean and around the earth.
But first you must hear about the church bell. It was taken away from Marbach and sold for old copper, and now it was to go into a smelting furnace in Bavaria. How did it come there, and when? Well, this the bell itself may tell you, if it can – it's of no great importance; but it is certain that it came to the capital of Bavaria. Many years had passed since it fell from the tower; and now it was to be melted down, to become part of the casting of a great monument, a statue in honor of one of the German people's great men. Now listen to how it all came about. Strange and beautiful things do happen in this world!
Up in Denmark, on one of the green islands where the beech tree grows and there are many ancient viking graves, there once lived a very poor little boy who wore wooden shoes and used to carry the meals, wrapped up in an old piece of cloth, to his father who worked on the wharves, carving figureheads for ships. This poor child had become his country's pride; he carved out of marble such wonderful things that they amazed the whole world, and to him the noble task was given to shape from clay a majestic and beautiful figure that would be cast in bronze, a statue of him whose name his father wrote in the Bible, Johann Christoph Friedrich.
It was a beautiful sunny day, and flags waved from the towers and roofs of the royal town of Stuttgart. The church bells chimed in holiday joy; only one bell was silent, but it shone in the bright sunlight, shone from the breast and face of that noble statue. It was just a hundred years since that day when, in Marbach's church tower, it had pealed joy and comfort to the suffering mother when in that lowly house she gave birth to her child – who would one day be a rich man, whose treasures the world blesses, the heart-thrilling poet of noble women, the great and glorious singer – Johann Christoph Friedrich Schiller.