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Chapter 15

SECOND VISIT

TO

SWITZERLAND.

LETTER XV.

A Swiss Inn.—Cataract of the Rhine.—Canton of Zurich.—Town of Zurich.—Singular Concurrence.—Formidable Ascent.—Exquisite View.—Einsiedeln—The Convent.—"Par exemple."—Shores of the Lake of Zug.—The Chemin Creux.—Water Excursion to Alpnach.—Lake of Lungern.—Lovely Landscape.—Effects of Mists on the prospect.—Natural Barometer.—View from the Brunig.—Enter the great Canton of Berne.—An Englishman's Politics.—Our French Companion.—The Giesbach.—Mountain Music.—Lauterbrunnen.—Grindewald.—Rising of the Waters in 1830.—Anecdote.—Excursion on the Lake to Thoun.


Dear ——,

We had sought refuge on the Rhine, from the tameness and monotony of Wurtemberg! I dare say the latter country has many beautiful districts, that it contains much to admire and much to awaken useful reflection, but to the mere passer-by it is not a land of interest. Like a boat that has unexpectedly got into a strong adverse current, we had put our helm down and steered out of it, to the nearest shore. Here we were then, and it became necessary to say where we should be next. My own eyes were turned wistfully towards the east, following the road by the Lake of Constance, Inspruck, and Saltzbourg, to Vienna; but several of our party were so young when we were in Switzerland, in 1828, that it seemed ungracious to refuse them this favourable opportunity to carry away lasting impressions of a region that has no parallel. It was, therefore, settled before we slept, again to penetrate the cantons next morning.

I heard the drum-like sound of the inn once more with great satisfaction; for although the house, judging from the coronets and armorial bearings about it, had once been the abode of a count, it was not free from the peculiar echoes of a true Swiss tenement, any more than it was free from its neatness. The drum, however, did not prevent us all from sleeping soundly, and after an early breakfast we went forth on this new pilgrimage to the mountains.

There was an end to posting, no relays existing in this part of Switzerland, and I had been compelled to confide in the honesty of an unknown voiturier; a class of men who are pre-eminently subject to the long-established frailty of all who deal in horses, wines, lamp-oil, and religion. Leaving this functionary to follow with the carriage, we walked along the banks of the river, by a common-place and dirty road, among forges and mills, to the cataract of the Rhine. What accessories to a cataract! How long will it be before the imagination of a people who are so fast getting to measure all greatness, whether in nature or art, by the yard-stick, will think of those embellishments for Niagara? Fortunately the powers of men are not equal to their wishes and a mill by the side of this wonder of the world will be a mill still; whereas these falls of the Rhine are nearly reduced to the level of a raceway, by the spirit of industry. We were less struck with them than ever, and left the place with the conviction that, aided by a few suitable embellishments, they would have been among the prettiest of the pretty cascades that we know, but that, as matters go, they are in danger of soon losing the best part of their charms. We saw no reason, in this instance, to change the impressions made at the former visit, but think, the volume of water excepted, that Switzerland has cascades that outdo this cataract.

After following the course of the river, for a few miles, we met the stream, buried low in the earth, at one of its sudden bends, and, descending a sharp declivity, crossed to its left bank, and into the Canton of Zurich. We were taken by surprise, by this sudden rencontre, and could hardly believe it was the mighty Rhine, whose dark waters were hurrying beneath us, as we passed a covered bridge of merely a hundred or two feet in length. One meets with a hundred streams equal to this in width, while travelling in America, though it is rare to find one anywhere with the same majesty of motion, and of its fine cerulean tint.

We had travelled an hour or two towards Zurich, before our eyes were greeted with the sight of peaks capped with snow. They looked like the faces of old acquaintances, and, distance depriving them of their severity, they now shone in a mild sublimity. We were all walking ahead, while the horses were eating, when these noble objects came into the view, and, preceding the rest a little, I involuntarily shouted with exultation, as, turning a knoll, they stood ranged along the horizon. The rest of the party hurried on, and it was like a meeting of dear friends, to see those godlike piles encircling the visible earth.

The country through which we travelled, was the low land of which I have so often spoken, nor was it particularly beautiful or well cultivated until we drew near the capital, when it assumed the polished look of the environs of a large town; and the approach to Zurich, on this side, though less romantic perhaps, wanting the lake and mountains, we thought, if anything, was more beautiful than that by which we had come in 1828.

We were much gratified with the appearance of Zurich; more even than in our former visit, and not the less so at finding it unusually empty. The agitated state of Europe, particularly of England, has kept the usual class of travellers at home, though the cantons are said to be pretty well sprinkled with Carlists, who are accused of assembling here lo plot. M. de Châteaubriand is in the same hotel as ourselves, but it has never been my fortune to see this distinguished writer to know him, even accidentally; although I afterwards learned that, on one occasion, I had sat for two hours on a bench immediately before him, at a meeting of the French Academy. My luck was no better now, for he went away unseen, an hour after we arrived. Some imagine themselves privileged to intrude on a celebrity, thinking that those men will pardon the inconvenience for the flattery, but I do not subscribe to this opinion: I believe that nothing palls sooner than notoriety, and that nothing is more grateful to those who have suffered under it, than retirement.

By a singular concurrence, we were at Zurich the second time on Sunday, and almost on the same day of the year. In 1828, we drove along the lake-shore, August 30th, and we now left Zurich, for the same purpose, August 28th, after an interval of four years. The same objects were assembled, under precisely the same circumstances: the lake was covered with boats, whose tall sails drooped in pure laziness; the solemn bells startled the melancholy echoes, and the population was abroad, now as then, in holiday guise, or crowding the churches. The only perceptible changes in the scene were produced by the change in our own direction. Then we looked towards the foot of the lake, and had its village-lined shores before us, and the country that melts away towards the Rhine for a back-ground; while now, after passing the objects in the near view, the sight rested on the confused and mysterious mountains of Glaris.

We took our goûter at the Paon, and, unwilling to cross the bridge in the carriage, we all preceded it through the crowded streets of Rapperschwyl, leaving the voiturier to follow at his leisure. We were just half an hour on this bridge, which appeared as ticklish as ever, though not so much as to stifle the desire of P—— to see how near its edge he could walk. When we entered Schweitz, the carriage overtook us, and we drove to the foot of the mountain which it is necessary to ascend to reach Einsiedeln. Here we took chevaux de renfort, and a reinforcement they proved indeed; for I do not remember two nobler animals than the voiturier obtained for the occasion. They appeared to be moulded on the same scale as the mountains. We were much amused by the fellow's management, for he contrived to check his own cattle in such a way as to throw all the work on the recruits. This was not effected without suspicion; but he contrived to allay it, by giving his own beasts sundry punches in the sides, so adroitly bestowed as to render them too restive to work. By way of triumph, each poke was accompanied by a knowing leer at François, all whose sympathies, a tribute to his extraction, I have had frequent opportunities of observing, to my cost, were invariably on the side of the voituriers. So evident, indeed, was this feeling in the gentleman, that had I been accustomed to travel much by this mode, I should not have kept him a month.

It was a mild evening as we travelled our way up this formidable ascent, which is one of the severest in Switzerland, and we had loitered so much along the shores of the lake, as to bring us materially behind our time. Still it was too late to return, and we made the best of things as they were. It is always more pleasant to ascend than to descend, for the purposes of scenery; and, as picture after picture broke upon us, the old touzy-mouzy was awakened, until we once more felt ourselves in a perfect fever of mountain excitement. In consequence of diverging by a foot-path, towards the east, in descending this mountain, in 1828, I had missed one of the finest reaches of its different views, but which we now enjoyed under the most favourable circumstances. The entire converging crescent of the north shore of the lake, studded with white churches, hamlets, and cottages, was visible, and as the evening sun cast its mild light athwart the crowded and affluent landscape, we involuntarily exclaimed, "that this even equalled the Neapolitan coast in the twilight." The manner in which the obscurity settled on this picture, slowly swallowing up tower after tower, hamlet, cottage, and field, until the blue expanse of the lake alone reflected the light from the clouds, was indescribably beautiful, and was one of those fine effects that can only be produced amid a nature as grand as that of the Alps.

It was dark when we reached the inn at the summit; but it was not possible to remain there, for it had room for little more than kirschwasser. The night came on dark and menacing, and for near two hours we crawled up and down the sharp ascents and descents, and, to make the matter worse, it began to rain. This was a suitable approach to the abodes of monastic votaries, and I had just made the remark, when the carriage stopped before the door of my old inn, the Ox, at Einsiedeln. It was near ten, and we ordered a cup of tea and beds immediately.

The next morning we visited the church and the convent. The first presented a tame picture, compared to that I had witnessed in the former visit, for there was not a pilgrim present; the past year it had been crowded. There were, however, a few groups of the villagers kneeling at the shrine, or at the different altars, to aid the picturesque. We ascended into the upper part of the edifice, and walked in those narrow galleries through which I had formerly seen the Benedictines stalking in stealthy watchfulness, looking down at the devotees beneath. I was admitted to the cloisters, cells, library, &c., but my companions were excluded as a matter of course. It is merely a spacious German convent, very neat, and a little barnish. A recent publication caused me to smile involuntarily once or twice, as the good father turned over the curiosities of the library, and expatiated on the history and objects of his community; but the book in question had evidently not yet, if indeed it will ever reach this remote spot.

We had a little difficulty here in getting along with the French; and our German (in which, by the way, some of the party are rather expert) had been acquired in Saxony, and was taken for base coin here. The innkeeper was an attentive host, and wished to express every thing that was kind and attentive; all of which he succeeded in doing wonderfully well, by a constant use of the two words, "par exemple." As a specimen of his skill, I asked him if an extra horse could be had at Einsiedeln, and his answer was, "Par exemple, monsieur; par exemple, oui; c'est-à-dire, par exemple." So we took the other horse, par exemple, and proceeded.

Our road carried us directly across the meadows that had been formed in the lake of Lowertz, by the fall of the Rossberg. When on them, they appeared even larger than when seen from the adjacent mountain; they are quite uneven, and bear a coarse wiry grass, though there are a few rocks on their surface. Crossing the ruin of Goldau, we passed on a trot from the desolation around it, into the beautiful scenery of Arth. Here we dined and witnessed another monastic flirtation.

After dinner we drove along the shores of the lake of Zug, winding directly round the base of the cone of the Righi, or immediately beneath the point where the traveller gets the sublime view of which you have already heard. This was one of the pleasantest bits of road we had then seen in Switzerland. The water was quite near us on the right, and we were absolutely shut in on the left by the precipitous mountain, until having doubled it, we came out upon an arm of the lake of Lucerne, at Küsnacht, to which place we descended by the chemin creux. Night overtook us again while crossing the beautiful ridge of land that separates the bay of Küsnacht from the foot of the lake, but the road being excellent, we trotted on in security until we alighted, at nine o'clock, in the city of Lucerne.

The weather appearing unusually fine the next day, François was ordered round to Berne with the carriage and luggage, and we engaged a guide and took a boat for Alpnach. At eleven we embarked and pulled up under lovely verdant banks, which are occupied by villas, till we reached the arm of the lake that stretches towards the south-west. Here a fair breeze struck us, and making sail, away we went, skimming before it, at the rate of eight miles an hour. Once or twice the wind came with a power that showed how necessary it is to be cautious on a water that is bounded by so many precipitous rocks. We passed the solitary tower of Stanztad on the wing, and reached Alpnach in less than two hours after embarking.

Here we took two of the little vehicles of the country and went on. The road carried us through Sarnen, where my companions, who had never before visited the Unterwaldens, stopped to see the lions. I shall not go over these details with you again, but press on towards our resting-place for the night. On reaching the foot of the rocks which form the natural dam that upholds the lake of Lungern, P—— and myself alighted and walked ahead. The ascent being short, we made so much progress as to reach the upper end of the little sheet, a distance of near a league, before we were overtaken by the others; and when we did meet, it was amid general exclamations of delight at the ravishing beauties of the place. I cannot recall sensations of purer pleasure produced by any scenery, than those I felt myself on this occasion, and in which all around me appeared to participate.

Our pleasures, tastes, and even our judgments are so much affected by the circumstances under which they are called into action, that one has need of diffidence on the subject of their infallibility, if it be only to protect himself from the imputation of inconsistency. I was pleased with the Lake of Lungern in 1828, but the term is not strong enough for the gratification it gave me on this return to it. Perhaps the day, the peculiar play of light and shade, a buoyancy of spirits, or some auxiliary causes, may have contributed to produce this state of mind; or it is possible that the views were really improved by changing the direction of the route; as all connoisseurs in scenery know that the Hudson is much finer when descending than when ascending its stream; but let the cause be what it might, had I then been asked what particular spot in Europe had given me most delight, by the perfection of its natural beauties, taken in connexion with its artificial accessories, I should have answered that it was the shores of the lake of Lungern. Nor, as I have told you, was I alone in this feeling, for one and all, big and little,—in short, the whole party joined in pronouncing the entire landscape absolutely exquisite. Any insignificant change, a trifle more or less of humidity in the atmosphere, the absence or the intervention of a few clouds, a different hour or a different frame of mind, may have diminished our pleasure, for these are enjoyments which, like the flavour of delicate wines, or the melody of sweet music, are deranged by the condition of the nerves, or a want of harmony, in the chords.

After this explanation you will feel how difficult it will be to describe the causes of our delight. The leading features of the landscape, however, were a road that ran along the shore beneath a forest, within ten feet of the water, winding, losing itself, and re-appearing with the sinuosities of the bank; water, limpid as air and blue as the void of the heavens, unruffled and even holy in its aspect, as if it reflected the pure space above; a mountain-side, on the opposite shore, that was high enough to require study to draw objects from its bosom, on the distant heights, and yet near enough below, to seem to be within an arrow's flight; meadows shorn like lawns, scattered over its broad breast; woods of larches, to cast their gloom athwart the glades and to deepen the shadows; brown chalets that seemed to rise out of the sward, at the bidding of the eye; and here and there a cottage poised on a giddy height, with a chapel or two to throw a religious calm over all! There was nothing ambitious in this view, which was rural in every feature, but it was the very bean idéal of rustic beauty, and without a single visible blemish to weaken its effect. It was some such picture of natural objects as is formed of love by a confiding and ingenuous youth of fifteen.

We passed the night in the drum of Lungern, and found it raining hard when we rose the following morning. The water soon ceased to fall in torrents, however, changing to a drizzle, at which time the valley, clouded in mists in constant motion, was even more beautiful than ever. So perfect, were the accessories, so minute was everything rendered by the mighty scale, so even was the grass and so pure the verdure that bits of the mountain pasturages, or Alps, coming into view through the openings in the vapour, appeared like highly-finished Flemish paintings; and this the more so, because all the grouping of objects, the chalets, cottages, &c. were exactly those that the artist would seize upon to embellish his own work. Indeed, we have daily, hourly, occasions to observe how largely the dealers in the picturesque have drawn upon the resources of this extraordinary country, whether the pallet, or poetry in some other form, has been the medium of conveying pleasure.

The garçon of the inn pointed to some mist that was rolling along a particular mountain, and said it was the infallible barometer of Lungern. We might be certain of getting fair weather within an hour. A real barometer corroborated the testimony of the mist, but the change was slower than had been predicted; and we began to tire of so glorious a picture, under an impatience to proceed, for one does not like to swallow pleasure even, perforce.

At ten we were able to quit the inn, one half of the party taking the bridle-path, attended by two horse-keepers, while the rest of us, choosing to use our own limbs, were led by the guide up the mountains by a shorter cut, on foot. The view from the Brunig was not as fine as I had round it in 1828, perhaps because I was then taken completely by surprise, and perhaps because ignorance of the distant objects had then thrown the charm of mystery over its back-ground. We now saw the scene in detail, too, while mounting; for, though it is better to ascend than descend, the finest effects are produced by obtaining the whole at once.

We joined the equestrians on the summit, where the horses were discharged, and we proceeded the remainder of the distance on foot. We soon met the Bear of Berne, and entered the great canton. The view of the valley of Meyringen, and of the cataracts, greeted us like an old friend; and the walk, by a path which wound its way through the bushes, and impended over this beautiful panorama, was of course delightful. At length we caught a glimpse of the lake of Brientz, and hurrying on, reached the village before two.

Here we ordered a goûter, and, while taking it, the first English party we had yet seen, entered the inn, as we were all seated at the same table. The company consisted of this English party, ourselves, and a solitary Frenchman, who eyed us keenly, but said nothing. It soon appeared that some great political crisis was at hand, for the Englishman began to cry out against the growing democracy of the cantons. I did not understand all his allusions, nor do I think he had very clear notions about them himself, for he wound up one of his denunciatory appeals, by the old cant, of "instead of one tyrant they will now have many;" which is a sort of reasoning that is not particularly applicable to the overturning of aristocracy anywhere. It is really melancholy to perceive how few men are capable of reasoning or feeling on political subjects, in any other way than that which is thought most to subserve their own particular interests and selfishness. Did we not know that the real object of human institutions is to restrain human tendencies, one would be almost disposed to give up the point in despair; for I do affirm, that in all my associations in different countries, I do not recollect more than a dozen men who have appeared to me to entertain right notions on this subject, or who have seemed capable of appreciating the importance of any changes that were not likely materially to affect their own pockets.

The Frenchman heard us speaking in his own language, which we did with a view of drawing John Bull out, and he asked a passage in the boat I had ordered, as far as Interlachen. Conditioning that he should make the détour to the Giesbach, his application was admitted, and we proceeded forthwith. This was the fourth time I had crossed the lake of Brientz, but the first in which I visited the justly celebrated falls, towards which we now steered on quitting the shore.

Our companion proved to be a merry fellow, and well disposed to work his passage by his wit. I have long been cured of the notion "that the name of an American is a passport all over Europe," and have learned to understand in its place, that, on the contrary, it is thought to be prima facie evidence of vulgarity, ignorance, and conceit; nor do I think that the French, as a nation, have any particular regard for us; but knowing the inherent dislike of a Frenchman for an Englishman, and that the new-fangled fraternity, arising out of the trading-principle government, only renders, to a disinterested looker on, the old antipathies more apparent, I made an occasion, indirectly, to let our new associate understand that we came from the other side of the Atlantic. This produced an instantaneous change in his manner, and it was now that he began to favour us with specimens of his humour. Notwithstanding all this facetiousness, I soon felt suspicion that the man was an employé of the Carlists, and that his business in Switzerland was connected with political plots. He betrayed himself, at the very moment when he was most anxious to make us think him a mere amateur of scenery: I cannot tell you how, but still so clearly, as to strike all of us, precisely in the same way.

The Giesbach is a succession of falls, whose water comes from a glacier, and which are produced by the sinuosities of the leaps and inclined planes of a mountain side, aided by rocks and precipices. It is very beautiful, and may well rank as the third or fourth cascade of Switzerland, for variety, volume of water, and general effect. A family has established itself among the rocks, to pick up a penny by making boxes of larch, and singing the different ranz des raches. Your mountain music does not do so well, when it has an air so seriously premeditated, and one soon gels to be a little blasé on the subject of entertainments of this sort, which can only succeed once, and then with the novice. Alas! I have actually stood before the entrance of the cathedral at Rouen, and the strongest feeling of the moment was that of surprise at the manner in which my nerves had thrilled, when it was first seen. I do not believe that childhood, with its unsophistication and freshness, affords the greatest pleasures, for every hour tells me how much reason and cultivation enhance our enjoyments; but there are certainly gratifications that can be felt but once; and if an opera of Rossini or Meyerbeer grows on us at each representation, or a fine poem improves on acquaintance, the singing of your Swiss nightingales is sweeter in its first notes than in its second.

After spending an hour at the Giesbach, we rowed along the eastern, or rather the southern, shore of the lake to Interlachen. The sight of the blue Aar revived old recollections, and we landed on its banks with infinite pleasure. Here a few civil speeches passed between the merry Frenchman and myself, when we separated, he disappearing altogether, and we taking the way to the great lodging-house, which, like most of the other places of resort in Switzerland, was then nearly empty. The Grand-duchess Anna, however, had come down from Ulfnau, her residence on the Aar, for a tour in the Oberland, and was among the guests. We got a glimpse of her coming in from a drive, and she appeared to resemble her brother the Duke, more than her brother the King.

In the morning we drove up to Lauterbrunnen, and I am compelled to say that so completely fickle had we become, that I believe all who had seen this valley before, pronounced it less beautiful than that of Lungern. By the way of proving to you how capricious a thing is taste, I liked the Staubbach better than in the former visit. We did not attempt the mountains this time, but drove round in our chars to Grindewald, where we dined and slept. Either a new approach, or improved tastes, or some other cause, wrought another change here; for we now preferred Grindewald to Lauterbrunnen, as a valley. The vulgar astonishment was gone, and our eyes sought details with critical nicety. We went to the lower glacier, whose form had not materially changed in four years, and we had fine views of both of them from the windows of the inn. There was a young moon, and I walked out to watch the effect on the high glaciers, which were rendered even more than usually unearthly in appearance, under its clear bland light. These changes of circumstances strangely increase the glories of the mountains!

We left Grindewald quite early next morning, and proceeded towards Neuhaus. The road led us through a scene of desolation that had been caused by a rising of the waters in 1830, and we examined the devastation with the more interest, as some of our acquaintances had nearly perished in the torrent.

The family in question were residing temporarily at Interlachen, when two of the ladies with a child, attended by a black servant, drove up the gorge of Lauterbrunnen for an airing. They were overtaken by a tempest of rain, and by the torrent, which rose so rapidly as to cut off all retreat, except by ascending the precipice, which to the eye is nearly perpendicular. There is, however, a hamlet on one of the terraces of the mountain, and thither the servant was despatched for succour. The honest peasants at first believed he was a demon, on account of his colour, and it was not without difficulty they were persuaded to follow him. The ladies eventually escaped up the rocks; but our coachman, who had acted as the coachman on that occasion, assured us it was with the utmost difficulty he saved his horse.

This accident, which was neither a sac d'eau nor an avalanche, gives one a good idea of the sudden dangers to which the traveller is liable, in the midst of a nature so stupendous. A large part of the beautiful meadows of Interlachen was laid desolate, and the calamity was so sudden that it overtook two young and delicate females in their morning drive!

We drove directly to the little port at Neuhaus, and took a boat for Thoun, pulling cut into the lake, with a fresh breeze directly in our teeth. The picturesque little chateau of Spietz stood on its green promontory, and all the various objects that we had formerly gazed at with so much pleasure, were there, fresh, peculiar, and attractive as ever. At length, after a heavy pull, we were swept within the current of the Aar, which soon bore us to the landing.

At Thoun we breakfasted, and, taking a return carriage, trotted up to Berne, by the valley of which you have already heard so much. François was in waiting for us, and we got comfortable rooms at the Crown.

Our tastes are certainly altering, whether there be any improvement or not. We are beginning to feel it is vulgar to be astonished, and even in scenery, I think we rather look for the features that fill up the keeping, and make the finish, than those which excite wonder. We have seen too much to be any longer taken in, by your natural clap-traps; a step in advance, that I attribute to a long residence in Italy, a country in which the sublime is so exquisitely blended with the soft, as to create a taste which tells us they ought to be inseparable.

In this little excursion to the Oberland, while many, perhaps most, of our old impressions are confirmed, its relative beauties have not appeared to be entitled to as high praises as we should have given them, had they not been seen a second time. We had fine weather, were all in good spirits and happy, and the impression being so general, I am inclined to think, it is no more than the natural effect which is produced by more experience and greater knowledge. I now speak of the valleys, however, for the high Alps are as superior to the caprices of taste, as their magnificent dimensions and faultless outline are beyond change.




James Fenimore Cooper

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