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Chapter 16

LETTER XVI.

Conspiracy discovered.—The Austrian Government and the French Carlists.—Walk to La Lorraine.—Our old friend "Turc."—Conversation with M. W——.—View of the Upper Alps.—Jerome Bonaparte at La Lorraine.—The Bears of Berne.—Scene on the Plateforme.


Dear ——,

Soon after we reached Berne, François came to me in a mysterious manner, to inquire if I had heard any news of importance. I had heard nothing; and he then told me that many arrests had just taken place, and that a conspiracy of the old aristocracy had been discovered, which had a counter-revolution for its object. I say a counter-revolution, for you ought to have heard that great political changes have occurred in Switzerland since 1830, France always giving an impulse to the cantons. Democracy is in the ascendant, and divers old opinions, laws, and institutions have been the sacrifice. This, in the land of the Burgerschaft, has necessarily involved great changes, and the threatened plot is supposed to be an effort of the old privileged party to regain their power. As François, notwithstanding he has seen divers charges of cavalry against the people, and has witnessed two or three revolutions, is not very clear-headed in such matters, I walked out immediately to seek information from rather better authority.

The result of my inquiries was briefly as follows:—Neufchâtel, whose prince is the King of Prussia, has receded from the confederation, on account of the recent changes, and the leaders of the aristocratic party were accused of combining a plan, under the protection and with the knowledge of the authorities of this state, to produce a counter-revolution in Berne, well knowing the influence of this canton in the confederation. This very day is said to be the one selected for the effort, and rumour adds, that a large body of the peasants of the Oberland were to have crossed the Brunig yesterday, with a view to co-operate in other sections of the country. A merry company we should have been, had it been our luck to have fallen in with this escort! Now, rightfully or not, the Austrian government and the French Carlists are openly accused of being concerned in this conspiracy, and probably not without some cause. The suspicions excited concerning our fellow-traveller, through his own acts, recurred to me, and I now think it probable he was in waiting for the aforesaid peasants, most probably to give them a military direction, for he had the air and franchise of an old French soldier. The plot had been betrayed; some were already arrested, and some had taken refuge in flight. The town was tranquil, but the guards were strengthened, and the popular party was actively on the alert.

The next morning we went forth to look once more at picturesque, cloistered, verdant Berne. Nothing appeared to be changed, though the strangers were but few, and there was, perhaps, less movement than formerly. We crossed the Aar, and walked to La Lorraine. As we were going through the fields, several dogs rushed out against us; but when P—— called out "Turc" the noble animal appeared to know him, and we were permitted to proceed, escorted, rather than troubled, by the whole pack. This was a good omen, and it was grateful to be remembered, by even a dog, after an absence of four years.

We found the same family in possession of the farm, though on the point of removing to another place. Our reception in the house was still more cordial than that given by Turk, and our gratitude in proportion. The old abode was empty, and we walked over it with feelings in which pain and pleasure were mingled; for poor W——, who was with us, full of youth and spirits, when we resided here, is now a tenant of Père Lachaise. When we went away, all the dogs, with Turk at their head, escorted us to the ferry, where they stood looking wistfully at us from the bank, until we landed in Berne.

Soon after, I met M. W—— in the streets, and, as he had not been at home, I greeted him, inviting him to dine with us at the Crown. The present aspect of things was of course touched upon during the dinner, when the worthy member of the Burgerschaft lamented the changes, in a manner becoming his own opinions, while I rejoiced in them, in a manner becoming mine. He asked me if I really thought that men who were totally inexperienced in the affairs of government could conduct matters properly,—an old and favourite appeal with the disciples of political exclusion. I endeavoured to persuade him that the art of administering was no great art; that there was more danger of rulers knowing too much than of their knowing too little, old soldiers proverbially taking better care of themselves than young soldiers; that he must not expect too much, for they that know the practices of free governments, well know it is hopeless to think of keeping pure and disinterested men long in office, even as men go, there being a corrupting influence about the very exercise of power that forbids the hope; and that all which shrewd observers look for in popular institutions is a greater check than common on the selfishness of those to whom authority is confided. I told him the man who courts popular favour in a republic, would court a prince in a monarchy, the elements of a demagogue and a courtier being exactly the same; and that, under either system, except in extraordinary instances, it was useless to attempt excluding such men from authority, since their selfishness was more active than the feelings of the disinterested; that, in our own case, so long as the impetus of the revolution and the influence of great events lasted, we had great men in the ascendant, but, now that matters were jogging on regularly, and under their common-place aspects, we were obliged to take up with merely clever managers; that one of the wisest men that had ever lived (Bacon) had said, that "few men rise to power in a state, without a union of great and mean qualities," and that this was probably as true at Berne as it is at Washington, and as true at Paris as at either; that the old system in his country savoured too much of the policy of giving the milk of two cows to one calf, and that he must remember it was a system that made very bad as well as very good veal, whereas for ordinary purposes it was better to have the same quantity of merely good veal; and, in short, that he himself would soon be surprised at discovering how soon the new rulers would acquire all the useful habits of their predecessors, and I advised him to look out that they did not acquire some of their bad ones too.

I never flattered myself with producing a change of opinion in the captain, who always listened politely, but with just such an air of credulity as you might suppose one born to the benefits of the Burgerschaft, and who had got to be fifty, would listen to a dead attack on all his most cherished prejudices.

The next day was Sunday, and we still lingered in our comfortable quarters at the Crown. I walked on the Plateforme before breakfast, and got another of those admirable views of the Upper Alps, which, notwithstanding the great beauty of its position and immediate environs, form the principal attraction of Berne. The peaks were draped rather than veiled in clouds, and it was not easy to say which was the most brilliant, the snow-white vapour that adorned their sides, or the icy glaciers themselves. Still they were distinct from each other, forming some such contrast as that which exists between the raised and sunken parts on the faces of new coin.

We went to church and listened to some excellent German, after which we paid our last visit to La Lorraine. This house had been hired by King Jerome for a short time, after his exile in 1814, his brother Joseph occupying a neighbouring residence. The W——s told me that Jerome arrived, accompanied by his amiable wife, like a king, with horses, chamberlains, pages, and all the other appliances of royalty, and that it was curious, as well as painful, to witness how fast these followers dropped off, as the fate of the family appeared to be settled. Few besides the horses remained at the end of ten days!

On our return from this visit we went in a body to pay our respect to our old friends, the bears. I believe you have already been told that the city of Berne maintains four bears in certain deep pens, where it is the practice to feed them with nuts, cakes, apples, etc., according to the liberality and humour of the visitor. The usage is very ancient, and has some connexion with a tradition that has given its name to the canton. A bear is also the arms of the state. One of these animals is a model of grace, waddling about on his hind legs like an alderman in a ball-room. You may imagine that P—— was excessively delighted at the sight of these old friends. The Bernese have an engraving of the graceful bear in his upright attitude; and the stove of our salon at the Crown, which is of painted tile, among a goodly assemblage of gods and goddesses, includes Bruin as one of its ornaments.

François made his appearance after dinner, accompanied by his friend, le petit Savoyard, who had arrived from Frankfort, and came once more to offer his services to conduct us to Lapland, should it be our pleasure to travel in that direction. It would have been ungracious to refuse so constant a suitor, and he was ordered to be in attendance next morning, to proceed towards the lake of Geneva.

In the evening we went on the Plateforme to witness the sunset, but the mountains were concealed by clouds. The place was crowded, and refreshments were selling in little pavilions erected for the purpose. We are the only Protestants who are such rigid observers of the Sabbath, the Scotch perhaps excepted. In England there is much less restraint than in America, and on the Continent the Protestants, though less gay than the Catholics, very generally consider it a day of recreation, after the services of the church are ended. I have heard some of them maintain that we have misinterpreted the meaning of the word holy, which obtains its true signification in the term holiday. I have never heard any one go so far, however, as Hannah Moore says was the case with Horace Walpole, who contended that the ten commandments were not meant for people of quality. No one whose mind and habits have got extricated from the fogs of provincial prejudices, will deny that we have many odious moral deformities in America, that appear in the garb of religious discipline and even religious doctrine, but which are no more than the offspring of sectarian fanaticism, and which, in fact, by annihilating charity, are so many blows given to the essential feature of Christianity; but, apart from these, I still lean to the opinion that we are quite as near the great truths as any other people extant.

Mr. ——, the English chargé d'affaires, whom I had known slightly at Paris, and Mr. ——, who had once belonged to the English legation in Washington, were on the Plateforme. The latter told me that Carroll of Carrolton was dead; that he had been dead a year, and that he had written letters of condolence on the occasion. I assured him that the old gentleman was alive on the 4th July last, for I had seen one of his letters in the public journals. Here was a capital windfall for a regular diplomate, who now, clearly, had nothing to do but to hurry home and write letters of felicitation!

The late changes in England have produced more than the usual mutations in her diplomatic corps, which, under ordinary circumstances, important trusts excepted, has hitherto been considered at the disposal of any minister. In America we make it matter of reproach that men are dismissed from office on account of their political opinions, and it is usual to cite England as an example of greater liberality. All this is singularly unjust, because in its spirit, like nine-tenths of our popular notions of England, it is singularly untrue. The changes of ministry, which merely involve the changes incident on taking power from one clique of the aristocracy to give it to another, have not hitherto involved questions of sufficient importance to render it matter of moment to purge all the lists of the disaffected; but since the recent serious struggles we have seen changes that do not occur even in America. Every Tory, for instance, is ousted from the legations, if we except nameless subordinates. The same purification is going on elsewhere, though the English system does not so much insist on the changes of employés, as that the employés themselves should change their opinions. How long would an English tide-waiter, for instance, keep his place should he vote against the ministerial candidate? I apprehend these things depend on a common principle (i.e. self-interest) everywhere, and that it makes little difference, in substance, what the form of government may happen to be.

But of all the charges that have been brought against us, the comparative instability of the public favour, supposed to be a consequence of fluctuations in the popular will, is the most audacious, for it is contradicted by the example of every royal government in Christendom. Since the formation of the present American constitution, there have been but two changes of administration, that have involved changes of principles, or changes in popular will;—that which placed Mr. Jefferson in the seat of Mr. Adams, senior, and that which placed Mr. Jackson in the seat of Mr. Adams, junior: whereas, during the short period of my visit to Europe, I have witnessed six or seven absolute changes of the English ministry, and more than twenty in France, besides one revolution. Liberty has been, hitherto, in the situation of the lion whose picture was drawn by a man, but which there was reason to think would receive more favourable touches, when the lion himself should take up the pallet.




James Fenimore Cooper

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