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Tell

(William). The boldest of the Swiss mountaineers. The daughter of Leuthold having been insulted by an emissary of Albrecht Gessler, the enraged father killed the ruffian and fled. William Tell carried the assassin across the lake, and greatly incensed the tyrannical governor. The people rising in rebellion, Gessler put to death Melchtal, the patriarch of the district, and, placing the ducal cap of Austria on a pole, commanded the people to bow down before it in reverence. Tell refused to do so, whereupon Gessler imposed on him the task of shooting an apple from his little boy's head. Tell succeeded in this perilous trial of skill, but, letting fall a concealed arrow, was asked with what object he had secreted it. “To kill thee, O tyrant,” he replied, “if I had failed in the task imposed on me.” Gessler now ordered the bold mountaineer to be put in chains and carried across the lake to Küssnacht Castle “to be devoured alive by reptiles,” but, being rescued by the peasantry, he shot Gessler and liberated his country. (Rossini: Guglielmo Tell, an opera.)

Kissling's monument at Altorf (1892) has four reliefs on the pedestal: (1) Tell shooting the apple; (2) Tell's leap from the boat; (3) Gessler's death; and (4) Tell's death at Schachenbach.

William Tell.
The story of William Tell is told of several other persons:

(1) Egil, the brother of Wayland Smith. One day King Nidung commanded him to shoot an apple off the head of his son. Egil took two arrows from his quiver, the straightest and sharpest he could find. When asked by the king why he took two arrows, the god-archer replied, as the Swiss peasant to Gessler, “To shoot thee, tyrant, with the second if the first one fails.”

(2) Saxo Grammaticus tells nearly the same story respecting Toki, who killed Harald.

(3) Reginald Scot says, “Puncher shot a pennie on his son's head, and made ready another arrow to have slain the Duke Remgrave, who commanded it.” (1584.)

(4) Similar tales are told of Adam Bell, Clym of the Clough, William of Cloudeslie and Henry IV., Olaf and Eindridi, etc.

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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