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Chapter 29


We left Schaffhausen for Zurich, in mist and rain, and walked for some time along the north bank of the Rhine. We could have enjoyed the scenery much better, had it not been for the rain, which not only hid the mountains from sight, but kept us constantly half soaked. We crossed the rapid Rhine at Eglisau, a curious antique village, and then continued our way through the forests of Canton Zurich, to Bülach, with its groves of lindens--"those tall and stately trees, with velvet down upon their shining leaves, and rustic benches placed beneath their overhanging eaves."

When we left the little village where the rain obliged us to stop for the night, it was clear and delightful. The farmers were out, busy at work, their long, straight scythes glancing through the wet grass, while the thick pines sparkled with thousands of dewy diamonds. The country was so beautiful and cheerful, that we half felt like being in America. The farm-houses were scattered over the country in real American style, and the glorious valley of the Limmat, bordered on the west by a range of woody hills, reminded me of some scenes in my native Pennsylvania. The houses were neatly and tastefully built, with little gardens around them--and the countenances of the people spoke of intelligence and independence. There was the same air of peace and prosperity which delighted us in the valleys of Upper Austria, with a look of freedom which those had not. The faces of a people are the best index to their condition. I could read on their brows a lofty self-respect, a consciousness of the liberties they enjoy, which the Germans of the laboring class never show. It could not be imagination, for the recent occurrences in Switzerland, with the many statements I heard in Germany, had prejudiced me somewhat against the land; and these marks of prosperity and freedom were as surprising as they were delightful.

As we approached Zurich, the noise of employment from mills, furnaces and factories, came to us like familiar sounds, reminding us of the bustle of our home cities. The situation of the city is lovely. It lies at the head of the lake, and on both sides of the little river Limmat, whose clear green waters carry the collected meltings of the Alps to the Rhine. Around the lake rise lofty green hills, which, sloping gently back, bear on their sides hundreds of pleasant country-houses and farms, and the snowy Alpine range extends along the southern sky. The Limmat is spanned by a number of bridges, and its swift waters turn many mills which are built above them. From these bridges one can look out over the blue lake and down the thronged streets of the city on each side, whose bright, cheerful houses remind him of Italy.

Zurich can boast of finer promenades than any other city in Switzerland. The old battlements are planted with trees and transformed into pleasant walks, which being elevated above the city, command views of its beautiful environs. A favorite place of resort is the Lindenhof, an elevated court-yard, shaded by immense trees. The fountains of water under them are always surrounded by washerwomen, and in the morning groups of merry school children may be seen tumbling over the grass. The teachers take them there in a body for exercise and recreation. The Swiss children are beautiful, bright-eyed creatures; there is scarcely one who does not exhibit the dawning of an active, energetic spirit. It may be partly attributed to the fresh, healthy climate of Switzerland, but I am partial enough to republics to believe that the influence of the Government under which they live, has also its share in producing the effect.

There is a handsome promenade on an elevated bastion which overlooks the city and lakes. While enjoying the cool morning breeze and listening to the stir of the streets below us, we were also made aware of the social and friendly politeness of the people. Those who passed by, on their walk around the rampart, greeted us, almost with the familiarity of an acquaintance. Simple as was the act, we felt grateful, for it had at least the seeming of a friendly interest and a sympathy with the loneliness which the stranger sometimes feels. A school-teacher leading her troop of merry children on their morning walk around the bastion, nodded to us pleasantly and forthwith the whole company of chubby-cheeked rogues, looking up at us with a pleasant archness, lisped a "guten morgen" that made the hearts glad within us. I know of nothing that has given me a more sweet and tender delight than the greeting of a little child, who, leaving his noisy playmates, ran across the street to me, and taking my hand, which he could barely clasp in both his soft little ones, looked up in my face with an expression so winning and affectionate, that I loved him at once. The happy, honest farmers, too, spoke to us cheerfully everywhere. We learned a lesson from all this--we felt that not a word of kindness is ever wasted, that a simple friendly glance may cheer the spirit and warm the lonely heart, and that the slightest deed, prompted by generous sympathy, becomes a living joy in the memory of the receiver, which blesses unceasingly him who bestowed it.

We left Zurich the same afternoon, to walk to Stafa, where we were told the poet Freiligrath resided. The road led along the bank of the lake, whose shores sloped gently up from the water, covered with gardens and farm-houses, which, with the bolder mountains that rose behind them, made a combination of the lovely and grand, on which the eye rested with rapture and delight. The sweetest cottages were embowered among the orchards, and the whole country bloomed like a garden. The waters of the lake are of a pale, transparent green, and so clear that we could see its bottom of white pebbles, for some distance. Here and there floated a quiet boat on its surface. The opposite hills were covered with a soft blue haze, and white villages sat along the shore, "like swans among the reeds." Behind, we saw the woody range of the Brunig Alp. The people bade us a pleasant good evening; there was a universal air of cheerfulness and content on their countenances.

Towards evening, the clouds which hung in the south the whole day, dispersed a little and we could see the Dodiberg and the Alps of Glarus. As sunset drew on, the broad summits of snow and the clouds which were rolled around them, assumed a soft rosy hue, which increased in brilliancy as the light of day faded. The rough, icy crags and snowy steeps were fused in the warm light and half blended with the bright clouds. This blaze, as it were, of the mountains at sunset, is called the Alp-glow, and exceeds all one's highest conceptions of Alpine grandeur. We watched the fading glory till it quite died away, and the summits wore a livid, ashy hue, like the mountains of a world wherein there was no life. In a few minutes more the dusk of twilight spread over the scene, the boatmen glided home over the still lake and the herdsmen drove their cattle back from pasture on the slopes and meadows.

On inquiring for Freiligrath at Stafa, we found he had removed to Rapperschwyl, some distance further. As it was already late, we waited for the steamboat which leaves Zurich every evening. It came along about eight o'clock, and a little boat carried us out through rain and darkness to meet it, as it came like a fiery-eyed monster over the water. We stepped on board the "Republican," and in half an hour were brought to the wharf at Rapperschwyl.

There are two small islands in the lake, one of which, with a little chapel rising from among its green trees, is Ufnau, the grave of Ulrich von Hutten, one of the fathers of the German Reformation. His fiery poems have been the source from which many a German bard has derived his inspiration, and Freiligrath who now lives in sight of his tomb, has published an indignant poem, because an inn with gaming tables has been established in the ruins of the castle near Creuznach, where Hutten found refuge from his enemies with Franz von Sickingen, brother-in-law of "Goetz with the iron Hand." The monks of Einsiedeln, to whom Ufnau belongs, have carefully obliterated all traces of his grave, so that the exact spot is not known, in order that even a tombstone might be denied him who once strove to overturn their order. It matters little to that bold spirit whose motto was: "The die is cast--I have dared it!"--the whole island is his monument, if he need one.

I spent the whole of the morning with Freiligrath, the poet, who was lately banished from Germany on account of the liberal principles his last volume contains. He lives in a pleasant country-house on the Meyerberg, an eminence near Rapperschwyl, overlooking a glorious prospect. On leaving Frankfort, R.S. Willis gave me a letter to him, and I was glad to meet with a man personally whom I admired so much through his writings, and whose boldness in speaking out against the tyranny which his country suffers, forms such a noble contrast to the cautious slowness of his countrymen. He received me kindly and conversed much upon American literature. He is a warm admirer of Bryant and Longfellow, and has translated many of their poems into German. He said he had received a warm invitation from a colony of Germans in Wisconsin, to join them and enjoy that freedom which his native land denies, but that his circumstances would not allow it at present. He is perhaps thirty-five years of age. His brow is high and noble, and his eyes, which are large and of a clear gray, beam with serious, saddened thought. His long chesnut hair, uniting with a handsome beard and moustache, gives a lion-like dignity to his energetic countenance. His talented wife, Ida Freiligrath, who shares his literary labors, and an amiable sister, are with him in exile, and he is happier in their faithfulness than when he enjoyed the favors of a corrupt king.

We crossed the long bridge from Rapperschwyl, and took the road over the mountain opposite, ascending for nearly two hours along the side, with glorious views of the Lake of Zurich and the mountains which enclose it. The upper and lower ends of the lake were completely hid by the storms, which, to our regret, veiled the Alps, but the part below lay spread out dim and grand, like a vast picture. It rained almost constantly, and we were obliged occasionally to take shelter in the pine forests, whenever a heavier cloud passed over. The road was lined with beggars, who dropped on their knees in the rain before us, or placed bars across the way, and then took them down again, for which they demanded money.

At length we reached the top of the pass. Many pilgrims to Einsiedeln had stopped at a little inn there, some of whom came a long distance to pay their vows, especially as the next day was the Ascension day of the Virgin, whose image there is noted for performing many miracles. Passing on, we crossed a wild torrent by an arch called the "Devil's Bridge." The lofty, elevated plains were covered with scanty patches of grain and potatoes, and the boys tended their goats on the grassy slopes, sometimes trilling or yodling an Alpine melody. An hour's walk brought us to Einsiedeln, a small town, whose only attraction is the Abbey--after Loretto, in Italy, the most celebrated resort for pilgrims in Europe.

We entered immediately into the great church. The gorgeous vaulted roof and long aisles were dim with the early evening; hundreds of worshippers sat around the sides, or kneeled in groups on the broad stone pavements, chanting over their Paternosters and Ave Marias in a shrill, monotonous tone, while the holy image near the entrance was surrounded by persons, many of whom came in the hope of being healed of some disorder under which they suffered. I could not distinctly make out the image, for it was placed back within the grating, and a strong crimson lamp behind it was made to throw the light around, in the form of a glory. Many of the pilgrims came a long distance. I saw some in the costume of the Black Forest, and others who appeared to be natives of the Italian Cantons; and a group of young women wearing conical fur caps, from the forests of Bregenz, on the Lake of Constance.

I was astonished at the splendor of this church, situated in a lonely and unproductive Alpine valley. The lofty arches of the ceiling, which are covered with superb fresco paintings, rest on enormous pillars of granite, and every image and shrine is richly ornamented with gold. Some of the chapels were filled with the remains of martyrs, and these were always surrounded with throngs of believers. The choir was closed by a tall iron grating; a single lamp, which swung from the roof, enabled me to see through the darkness, that though much more rich in ornaments than the body of the church, it was less grand and impressive. The frescoes which cover the ceiling, are said to be the finest paintings of the kind in Switzerland.

In the morning our starting was delayed by the rain, and we took advantage of it to hear mass in the Abbey and enjoy the heavenly music. The latter was of the loftiest kind; there was one voice among the singers I shall not soon forget. It was like the warble of a bird who sings out of very wantonness. On and on it sounded, making its clear, radiant sweetness heard above the chant of the choir and the thunder of the orchestra. Such a rich, varied and untiring strain of melody I have rarely listened to.

When the service ceased, we took a small road leading to Schwytz. We had now fairly entered the Alpine region, and our first task was to cross a mountain. This having been done, we kept along the back of the ridge which bounds the lake of Zug on the south, terminating in the well known Rossberg. The scenery became wilder with every step. The luxuriant fields of herbage on the mountains were spotted with the picturesque chalets of the hunters and Alp-herds; cattle and goats were browsing along the declivities, their bells tinkling most musically, and the little streams fell in foam down the steeps. We here began to realize our anticipations of Swiss scenery. Just on the other side of the range, along which we traveled, lay the little lake of Egeri and valley of Morgarten, where Tell and his followers overcame the army of the German Emperor; near the lake of Lowertz, we found a chapel by the roadside, built on the spot where the house of Werner Stauffacher, one of the "three men of Grütli," formerly stood. It bears a poetical inscription in old German, and a rude painting of the Battle of Morgarten.

As we wound around the lake of Lowertz, we saw the valley lying between the Rossberg and the Righi, which latter mountain stood full in view. To our regret, and that of all other travelers, the clouds hung low upon it, as they had done for a week at least, and there was no prospect of a change. The Rossberg, from which we descended, is about four thousand feet in height; a dark brown stripe from its very summit to the valley below, shows the track of the avalanche which, in 1806, overwhelmed Goldau, and laid waste the beautiful vale of Lowertz. We could trace the masses of rock and earth as far as the foot of the Righi. Four hundred and fifty persons perished by this catastrophe, which was so sudden that in five minutes the whole lovely valley was transformed into a desolate wilderness. The shock was so great that the lake of Lowertz overflowed its banks, and part of the village of Steinen at the upper end was destroyed by the waters.

An hour's walk through a blooming Alpine vale brought us to the little town of Schwytz, the capital of the Canton. It stands at the foot of a rock-mountain, in shape not unlike Gibraltar, but double its height. The bare and rugged summits seem to hang directly over the town, but the people dwell below without fear, although the warning ruins of Goldau are full in sight. A narrow blue line at the end of the valley which stretches westward, marks the lake of the Four Cantons. Down this valley we hurried, that we might not miss the boat which plies daily, from Luzerne to Fluelen. I regretted not being able to visit Luzerne, as I had a letter to the distinguished Swiss composer, Schnyder von Wartensee, who resides there at present. The place is said to present a most desolate appearance, being avoided by travelers, and even by artisans, so that business of all kinds has almost entirely ceased.

At the little town of Brunnen, on the lake, we awaited the coming of the steamboat. The scenery around it is exceedingly grand. Looking down towards Luzerne, we could see the dark mass of Mount Pilatus on one side, and on the other the graceful outline of the Righi, still wearing his hood of clouds. We put off in a skiff to meet the boat, with two Capuchin friars in long brown mantles and cowls, carrying rosaries at their girdles.

Nearly opposite Brunnen is the meadow of Grütli, where the union of the Swiss patriots took place, and the bond was sealed that enabled them to cast off their chains. It is a little green slope on the side of the mountain, between the two Cantons of Uri and Unterwalden, surrounded on all sides by precipices. A little crystal spring in the centre is believed by the common people to have gushed up on the spot where the three "linked the hands that made them free." It is also a popular belief that they slumber in a rocky cavern near the spot, and that they will arise and come forth when the liberties of Switzerland are in danger. She stands at present greatly in need of a new triad to restore the ancient harmony.

We passed this glorious scene, almost the only green spot on the bleak mountain-side, and swept around the base of the Axenberg, at whose foot, in a rocky cave, stands the chapel of William Tell. This is built on the spot where he leaped from Gessler's boat during the storm. It sits at the base of the rock, on the water's edge, and can be seen far over the waves. The Alps, whose eternal snows are lifted dazzling to the sky, complete the grandeur of a scene so hallowed by the footsteps of freedom. The grand and lonely solemnity of the landscape impressed me with an awe, like that one feels when standing in a mighty cathedral, when the aisles are dim with twilight. And how full of interest to a citizen of young and free America is a shrine where the votaries of Liberty have turned to gather strength and courage, through the storms and convulsions of five hundred years!

We stopped at the village of Fluelen, at the head of the lake, and walked on to Altorf, a distance of half a league. Here, in the market-place, is a tower said to be built on the spot where the linden tree stood, under which the child of Tell was placed, while, about a hundred yards distant, is a fountain with Tell's statue, on the spot from whence he shot the apple. If these localities are correct, he must indeed have been master of the cross-bow. The tower is covered with rude paintings of the principal events in the history of Swiss liberty. I viewed these scenes with double interest from having read Schiller's "Wilhelm Tell," one of the most splendid tragedies ever written. The beautiful reply of his boy, when he described to him the condition of the "land where there are no mountains," was sounding in my ears during the whole day's journey:

"Father, I'd feel oppressed in that broad land,
I'd rather dwell beneath the avalanche!"

The little village of Burglen, whose spire we saw above the forest, in a glen near by, was the birth-place of Tell, and the place where his dwelling stood, is now marked by a small chapel. In the Schachen, a noisy mountain stream that comes down to join the Reuss, he was drowned, when an old man, in attempting to rescue a child who had fallen in--a death worthy of the hero! We bestowed a blessing on his memory in passing, and then followed the banks of the rapid Reuss. Twilight was gathering in the deep Alpine glen, and the mountains on each side, half-seen through the mist, looked like vast, awful phantoms. Soon they darkened to black, indistinct masses; all was silent except the deepened roar of the falling floods; dark clouds brooded above us like the outspread wings of night, and we were glad, when the little village of Amstegg was reached, and the parlor of the inn opened to us a more cheerful, if not so romantic scene.

Bayard Taylor