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LETTERS ON A TOUR IN SWITZERLAND.
I sit me down a pensive hour to spend. GOLDSMITH. As we drove towards Aarberg on the road to Berne, every successive object presented a change of character from the villages and people of Neuchatel and the Pays de Vaud. It was evident we had quitted the Pays Romand (French Switzerland), and were now in the heart of the German canton of Berne. The appearance, stature, costume, and looks of the people, presented a marked difference : the men were taller, squarer, more strongly built, with an air of true German sedateness and taciturnity: the women large portly dames, with their fair hair parted across the forehead, (I cannot say the
fallax retia tendit Amor,") large lace grasshopper wings to their caps, a black velvet bodice, short stuff petticoats, thick ancles, and silver buckles on their shoes. Such is a Bernese beauty (for they are reckoned some of the finest women in Switzerland)—a sort of rustic queen-a peasantwoman of Rubens-with a clumsy kind of dignity, and a sort of ponderous grace which is not very piquant or attractive, at the same time that it is impossible to deny her the merit of good shape, fair complexion, and arms and legs which render her à most serviceable helpmate to her husband in all agricultural employment. The country around us was, in general, of the richest pasture, the verdure of which I never saw equalled, except in England. Indeed, the neatness of the fields, the carefully compacted inclosures and hedgerows, the chequering of wood here and there interspersed, gave the country more resemblance to our own than any district I ever saw on the continent. Had the broad barrier of the Jura behind us, and the glittering snow-tops of the Alps peeping out from the clouds before us, been removed, the home-scene immediately about us might easily have been taken for a scene in the county of Hertford or of Berks. The resemblance would be put to flight, indeed, in a moment by the appearance of one of the aforesaid Amaryllises with a pitchfork on her shoulder, driving home a load of sheaves drawn by a pair of little fawn-coloured cows, obeying with docile steps the shrill voice of their mistress. We crossed twice the rapid Aar, which waters this green and fertile country, and arrived at the white, elegant, and picturesque town of Berne towards evening.
Berne is beyond comparison the finest and best-built town in Switzerland, with a peculiarity of character and situation which render it unlike any place with which I am acquainted. It stands on a narrow high peninsular ridge almost surrounded by the Aar, over which there is a handsome stone bridge at the lower extremity of the town. This ridge slopes down with great rapidity to the river-in some places its sides are nearly perpendicular, in others covered with garden and vineyard ; and the houses of the town look down immediately on the river and green mea. dows at 200 feet below. The width of the town from the river to the river is no where more than a quarter of a mile, and its length about a mile. On all sides are noble terrace-walks overhanging the Aar, and commanding the loveliest prospects of the pastures, woods, and mountains around: the most delightful of these walks is on a terrace above the river in the churchyard of the cathedral, where the Bernese are fond of lounging under the shade of some fine avenues of horse-chestnuts. The river Hows rapidly immediately below the terrace, and is formed into a fine murmuring cascade by a mill-dam below. A fine expanse of the richest meadow, studded with white peasants' houses, chateaux, and farms, stretches for some miles near the river ; while a fine slope of pasture mountain, half covered with a fir forest, rises beyond, closing the rich home landscape. A green, fresh pastoral beauty characterises this near scene. It is more like Arcadia than any picture one's fancy can suggest ; but, lovely as it is, a far sublimer and more lovely sight opens on the eye when the clouds break away, and beyond this verdant foreground the Bernese Alps in all their grandeur rise towering into the heavens, and glittering with a resplendent whiteness. The grandeur of landscape can hardly go beyond this view. Every near object glads the eye and soothes the feelings with an aspect of rural plenty and peace and independence; while the hoary majestic forms of these distant “ palaces of nature” give a nobler and more elevated tone to the feeling which the scene inspires
All that expands the spirit, yet appals,
Gather around these summits. The interior of the town is neat, regular, and cleanly beyond example for a town of the same size and antiquity. It is built entirely of white stone, and well paved. The main street, which runs the length of the town, is divided in the middle by an antique arch and gateway of an early date, erected by Berchtold, Duke of Zähringen, the founder of the town. Over this gateway is a very curious ancient clock of singular mechanism, and one of the earliest specimens of the art. All the houses in Berne are built towards the street on arcades which occupy the place of the ground-floor, so that the foot pavement is entirely under cover-a great convenience to foot passengers. This gives a uniform and somewhat quiet and lifeless character to the streets, the shops being kept out of view, and the throng of passers concealed under the arcades. Berne has in all respects a truly aristocratic appearance. The approaches to the town are by admirable roads between avenues of limes and chestnuts. The gates and entrances are striking—the public buildings, particularly the hospital, the mint, and the cathedral, are imposing masses of stone architecture—fountains and gushing streams are distributed in all quarters of the town—the noble terraces, fine ramparts, with deer and bears running loose in the ditches, the arms of the ambassadors on their mansions, and the absence of all the dirt and noisy confusion of commerce, of which there is not a shadow at Berne, give a character of patrician elegance and dignity to this metropolis of a pastoral and agricultural country. Patricians and peasants are alone to be seen at Berne. The Bernese have the credit of possessing a spirit quite in keeping with this aristocratic air of their town. They pride themselves much upon their venerable families which have furnished distinguished statesmen and warriors to Switzerland from the earliest periods of the Helvetic league to the present day. Some of the families who now take lead in the council, and who frequently fill the office of Avoyer or president of the republic, have filled the same offices, cultivated the same estates, and dwelt in the same chateaur, almost since the days of William Tell. Some branches of these ancient families, which are often very numerous, are not in affluent circumstances; but few condescend to resort to commerce ; preferring, in the true chivalrous spirit of their ancestors, the profession of arms, and entering into foreign military service rather than degrade their hereditary rank by mercenary occupations. There is something noble and respectable in this sort of feeling which induces men to submit to personal privations and sacrifices from what they conceive a point of honour to their families and themselves. Aristocracy at Berne is, in fact, the stern ancient warrior's feeling, full of pride and patriotism, but in no way sullied by pomp or fastidious luxury, or frittered away by foppery and fashion.
The simplicity of life in all ranks is most remarkable. All the town, from the Avoyer downwards, dine from twelve to two. No carriages or equipages, or laced liveries, are to be seen. Except one of the Spanish Minister, I never saw a coach in the streets of Berne. The first dignitaries and nobles are to be seen driving themselves in a humble char-àbanc with one horse. The “ Persicos apparatus” of the table are not attempted, and a man servant is a rarity even in the best houses. So. ciety was described to us by the Bernese themselves (for we were at Berne in the heat of summer, when “ the season" was quite at an end) as rather of a stiff old-fashioned character. The coteries are divided strictly according to ages-the old, the middle-aged, and the young, form entirely distinct parties, and rarely mingle together. Till acertain age, a young lady or gentleman belongs to the youthful squadron
-at a precise period they quit this and enter into the next division. At the casino to which we were introduced, the same regulation prevails--there is the young men's room, and the elderly gentlemen's room--they can by no means read the papers or play billiards in the same apartment. Various other etiquettes of the same sort prevail in the best society. If a husband and wife go to the same party, they cannot possibly go together ; the wives go about an hour beforehand, and then the husbands appear. Swiss society does not appear, in general, to afford very brilliant resources of conversation, or the graces of court breeding; but, when you stand in a circle of Swiss gentlemen, their plain and simple manners and appearance vouch for the manly strength and virtues of their character : you feel that you are among honest men and gentlemen in feelings and in birth.
Their conversation is that of agricultural gentlemen - the patricians of a pastoral state : the vintage, the crops, the barometer, the foreign news, are discussed with unpretending good sense; then a rubber at whist is resorted to ; and walizing is the never-failing resource of the young people.
Politics are naturally enough rather a sore subject at Berne; the wounds of the Revolution were too deep, and are still too fresh, not to smart on touching. At Berne these are naturally felt with peculiar acuteness. In one day the glory and pride of three centuries were tarnished. On the 5th of March, 1798, Berne was entered by French troops. This stern oligarchy, which had been the fulcrum and shield of the Swiss Confederation for centuries, preserving neutrality and peace to Switzerland, and ruling its subjeets with a paternal and tranquil authority, was broken and overthrown with insult. Its treasure, to the immense amount of fifteen millions of francs, was pillaged; its venerable dignitaries insulted—its brave defenders slaughtered --its arsenal, with 40,000 stand of arms, plundered—and even the antique armour of the warlike forefathers of the state carried off by 'a rapacious soldiery. It is now, indeed, restored to peace and to much of its ancient condition ; but its treasure, aceumulated by the frugality and honesty of its rulers for centuries, has been squandered by the French armies_its armoury is despoiled-it has lost two of its fairest provinces, the Pays de Vaud and Argoviem-the charm of long unbroken peace and security is dispelled; and what is, perhaps, as disagreeable as all to the upper ranks, the frame of its venerable institutions has been shaken, and their pure aristocracy compelled to endure a coalition with some democratic elements. Before the Revolution the eligibility to all offices was vested in 236 ancient families, among whom about seventy, in fact, monopolized all honour and consequence--for honour and consequence were every thing their emolument was little more than nominal. Their Excellencies the Members of the Sovereign Council had none at' all, and the President of the State (the Avoyer) had about 4001. per ann.-and this with fifteen millions of francs in the public treasury! Since the Revolution, the door has been opened to a considerable number of families of the upper peasantry, who are now eligible to public offices, but in such a number as still to leave a decided preponderance among the old aristocratic families. Taxes were absolutely unknown in Berne before the Revolution, thanks to peace and frugality : they are now very trifling in amount. The hospitals are admirably administered. Beggars are unknown: every individual has a claim on some commune or parish for support ; and if ever peasants appeared well-fed, substantial, proud, and opulent, certainly it is the peasantry of Berne."
The old government of Berne, according to the general confession of friends and foes, afforded one of the most remarkable instances in his tory of a long course of spotless integrity, and wise and temperate admi... nistration. The people, it is true, had no influence in it; the oligarchy of old families were absolute rulers. But for five centuries the people had lived prosperous, powerful, and happy, without a single tax, with little either of poverty or crime, with justice open to all, a publie granary full of corn provided for emergencies, and a treasury overflowing with money, for which there was absolutely no use in a state where the rulers were unpaid. The best representative government that ever existed never secured so long and plentiful a result of happiness to a people as had been produced by this absolute oligarchy. It is no proof of the advantage of such a form of government in the abstract but it is a proof of the honour, benevolence, and patriotism of the Swiss aristocracy, which will in all history redound to their glory. Nor is the fact to be considered as imputing blame to the advocates of some kind of change. Even had the French not introduced their own principles as usual at the point of their bayonets, the people were, perhaps, fairly entitled to demand some innovations suited to the spirit of the times and their own increased lights and knowledge. They began to see, that, without a single important grievance to complain of, they held their freedom and prosperity only at the pleasure of the Sovereign Council: they had no securities but their rulers' integrity and conscience. They began to theorize as well as their neighbours, and in theory they had neither rights, nor freedom, nor security of any kind. They cannot ke blamed for having urged a claim to some guarantee of the permanence of those blessings of good government which they had enjoyed for cen
turies. The means by which their object was effected were, indeed, bitter and galling to Switzerland; but French ambition and avarice, and the imprudent zeal of some Swiss reformers, must take the blame of these excesses. Notwithstanding the successful defence of their liberty and neutrality for three centuries against ordinary attacks, it is, perhaps, doubtful whether Switzerland, even had she been firm, united, and undivided by French principles and views of reform, could have withstood the overbearing torrent of an invasion by Republican France. Her reformers and revolutionists certainly did not allow her the trial, and gave France assistance; but they were the dupes of that which duped some of the greatest and wisest men in Europe—the perfidious hypocrisy and profligate ambition of the agents of the French Revolution.
THE DEVIL AND THE NUNS,
There once was a convent of beautiful Nuns,
Sing heigh, and their looks were so holy,
Made the Devil himself melancholy.
And of love at their grate he sung lowly;
And they tumbled him back rowley-powley.
And his way he by hook or by crook made,
To be hired in their house for a cook-maid.
Ye should meet with a snare so bewitching,
Was to cook apple-pies in your kitchen?
And he pamper'd his pretty despisers,
Into bouncing and brave gormandizers.
You could scarcely distinguish them from boys;
But they romp'd like a parcel of tomboys.
But the Devil slipt under their patties
About ladies that kiss'd through the lattice.
And began with love-fancies to palter;
But alas! 'twas not songs of the Psalter.
Then O-ho, quoth the Devil (and droily
For your tumbling me back rowley-powley. C.