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Chapter 17

LETTER XVII.

Our Voiturier and his Horses.—A Swiss Diligence.—Morat.—Inconstancy of feeling.—Our Route to Vévey.—Lake Leman.—Difficulty in hiring a House.—"Mon Repos" engaged for a mouth.—Vévey.—Tne great Square—The Town-house.—Environs of Vévey.—Summer Church and Winter Church.—Clergy of the Canton.—Population of Vaud.—Elective qualifications of Vaud.

Dear ——,

Le Petit Savoyard was punctual, and after breakfasting, away we rolled, along the even and beaten road towards Morat. This man and his team were epitomes of the voiturier caste and their fixtures. He himself was a firm, sun-burned, compact little fellow, just suited to ride a wheeler, while the horses were sinewy, and so lean, that there was no mistaking their vocation. Every bone in their bodies spoke of the weight of miladi, and her heavy English travelling chariot, and I really thought they seemed to be glad to get a whole American family in place of an Englishwoman and her maid. The morning was fine, and our last look at the Oberland peaks was sunny and pleasant. There they stood ranged along the horizon, like sentinels (not lighthouses) of the skies, severe, chiseled, brilliant, and grand.

Another travelling equipage of the gregarious kind, or in which the carriage as well as the horses was the property of the voiturier, and the passengers mere pic-nics, was before us in ascending a long hill, affording an excellent opportunity to dissect the whole party. As it is a specimen of the groups one constantly meets on the road, I will give you some idea of the component parts.

The voiturier was merely a larger brother of le petit Savoyard, and his horses, three in number, were walking bundles of chopped straw. The carriage was spacious, and I dare say convenient, though anything but beautiful. On the top there was a rail, within which effects were stowed beneath an apron, leaving an outline not unlike the ridges of the Alps. The merry rogues within had chosen to take room to themselves, and not a package of any sort encumbered their movements. And here I will remark, that America, free and independent, is the only country in which I have ever journeyed, where the comfort and convenience in the vehicle is the first thing considered, that of the baggage the next, and that of the passengers the last.[32] Fortunately for the horses, there were but four passengers, though the vehicle could have carried eight. One, by his little green cap, with a misshapen shade for the eyes; light, shaggy, uncombed hair; square high shoulders; a coat that appeared to be half-male half-female; pipe and pouch—was undeniably a German student, who was travelling south to finish his metaphysics with a few practical notions of men and things. A second was a Jew, who had trade in every lineament, and who belonged so much to the nation, that I could not give him to any other nation in particular. He was older, more wary, less joyous, and probably much more experienced, than either of his companions. When they laughed, he only smiled; when they sang, he hummed; and when they seemed thoughtful, he grew sad. I could make nothing out of him, except that he ran a thorough bass to the higher pitches of his companions' humours. The third was Italian "for a ducat." A thick, bushy, glossy, curling head of hair was covered by a little scarlet cap, tossed negligently on one side, as if lodged there by chance; his eye was large, mellow, black as jet, and full of fun and feeling; his teeth white as ivory; and the sun, the glorious sun, and the thoughts of Italy, towards which he was travelling, had set all his animal spirits in motion. I caught a few words in bad French, which satisfied me that he and the German were jeering each other on their respective national peculiarities. Such is man; his egotism and vanity first centre in himself, and he is ready to defend himself against the reproofs of even his own mother; then his wife, his child, his brother, his friend is admitted, in succession, within the pale of his self-love, according to their affinities with the great centre of the system; and finally he can so far expand his affections as to embrace his country, when that of another presents its pretensions in hostility. When the question arises, as between humanity and the beasts of the field, he gets to be a philanthropist!

Morat, with its walls of Jericho, soon received us, and we drove to an inn, where chopped straw was ordered for the horses, and a more substantial goûter for ourselves. Leaving the former to discuss their meal, after finishing our own, we walked ahead, and waited the appearance of the little Savoyard, on the scene of the great battle between the Swiss and the Burgundians. The country has undergone vast changes since the fifteenth century, and cultivation has long since caused the marsh, in which so many of the latter perished, to disappear, though it is easy to see where it must have formerly been. I have nothing new to say concerning Avenche, whose Roman ruins, after Rome itself, scarce caused us to cast a glance at them, and we drove up to the door of the Ours at Payerne, without alighting. When we are children, we fancy that sweets can never cloy, and indignantly repel the idea that tarts and sugar-plums will become matters of indifference to us; a little later we swear eternal constancy to a first love, and form everlasting friendships: as time slips away, we marry three or four wives, shoot a bosom-friend or two, and forget the looks of those whose images were to be graven on our hearts for ever. You will wonder at this digression, which has been excited by the simple fact that I actually caught myself gaping, when something was said about Queen Bertha and her saddle. The state of apathy to which one finally arrives is really frightful!

We left Payerne early, and breakfasted at the "inevitable inn" of Moudon. Here it was necessary to decide in what direction to steer, for I had left the charter-party with le petit Savoyard, open, on this essential point. The weather was so fine, the season of the year so nearly the same, and most of the other circumstances so very much like those under which we had made the enchanting passage along the head of the Leman four years before, that we yielded to the desire to renew the pleasures of such a transit, and turned our faces towards Vévey.

At the point where the roads separate, therefore, we diverged from the main route, which properly leads to Lausanne, inclining southward. We soon were rolling along the margin of the little blue lake that lies on the summit of the hills, so famous for its prawns. We knew that a few minutes would bring us to the brow of the great declivity, and all eyes were busy, and all heads eagerly in motion. As for myself, I took my station on the dickey, determined to let nothing escape me in a scene that I remembered with so much enduring delight.

Contrary to the standing rule in such cases, the reality surpassed expectation. Notwithstanding our long sojourn in Italy, and the great variety and magnificence of the scenery we had beheld, I believe there was not a feeling of disappointment among us all. There lay the Leman, broad, blue, and tranquil; with its surface dotted by sails, or shadowed by grand mountains; its shores varying from the impending precipice, to the sloping and verdant lawn; the solemn, mysterious, and glen-like valley of the Rhone; the castles, towns, villages, hamlets, and towers, with all the smiling acclivities loaded with vines, villas, and churches; the remoter pastures, out of which the brown chalets rose like subdued bas-reliefs, and the back-ground of dents, peaks, and glaciers. Taking it altogether, it is one of the most ravishing views of an earth that is only too lovely for its evil-minded tenants; a world that bears about it, in every lineament, the impression of its divine Creator!

One of our friends used to tell an anecdote of the black servant of a visitor at Niagara, who could express his delight, on seeing the falls, in no other way than by peals of laughter; and perhaps I ought to hesitate to confess it, but I actually imitated the Negro, as this glorious view broke suddenly upon me. Mine, however, was a laugh of triumph, for I instantly discovered that my feelings were not quite worn out, and that it was still possible to awaken enthusiasm within me, by the sight of an admirable nature.

Our first resolution was to pass a month in this beautiful region. Pointing to a building that stood a thousand feet below us, on a little grassy knoll that was washed by the lake, and which had the quaint appearance of a tiny chateau of the middle ages, we claimed it, at once, as the very spot suited for the temporary residence of your scenery-hunters. We all agreed that nothing could possibly suit us better, and we went down the descent, among vineyards and cottages, not building "castles in the air," but peopling one in a valley. It was determined to dwell in that house, if it could be had for love or money, or the thing was at all practicable.

It was still early when we reached the inn in Vévey, and I was scarcely on the ground, before I commenced the necessary inquiries about the little chateauish house. As is usual in some parts of Europe, I was immediately referred to a female commissionnaire, a sort of domestic broker of all-work. This woman supplies travelling families with linen, and, at need, with plate; and she could greatly facilitate matters, by knowing where and to whom to apply for all that was required; an improvement in the division of labour that may cause you to smile, but which is extremely useful, and, on the whole, like all division of labour, economical.

The commissionnaire informed us that there were an unusual number of furnished houses to be let, in the neighbourhood, the recent political movements having driven away their ordinary occupants, the English and Russians. Some of the proprietors, however, might object to the shortness of the time that we could propose for (a month), as it was customary to let the residences by the year. There was nothing like trying, however, and, ordering dinner to be ready against our return, we took a carriage and drove along the lake-shore as far as Clarens, so renowned in the pages of Rousseau. I ought, however, to premise that I would not budge a foot, until the woman assured me, over and over, that the little antiquated edifice, under the mountain, which had actually been a sort of chateau, was not at all habitable for a genteel family, but had degenerated to a mere coarse farm-house, which, in this country, like "love in a cottage," does better in idea than in the reality. We gave up our "castle under the hill" with reluctance, and proceeded to Clarens, where a spacious, unshaded building, without a spark of poetry about it, was first shown us. This was refused, incontinently. We then tried one or two more, until the shades of night overtook us. At one place the proprietor was chasing a cow through an orchard, and, probably a little heated with his exercise, he rudely repelled the application of the commissionnaire, by telling her, when he understood the house was wanted for only a month, that he did not keep a maison garnie. I could not affirm to the contrary, and we returned to the inn discomfited, for the night.

Early next morning the search was renewed with zeal. We climbed the mountain-side, in the rear of the town, among vines, orchards, hamlets, terraces castles, and villas, to see one of the latter, which was refused on account of its remoteness from the lake. We then went to see a spot that was the very beau idéal of an abode for people like ourselves, who were out in quest of the picturesque. It is called the Chateau of Piel, a small hamlet, immediately on the shore of the lake, and quite near Vévey, while it is perfectly retired. The house is spacious, reasonably comfortable, and had some fine old towers built into the modern parts, a detached ruin, and a long narrow terrace, under the windows, that overhung the blue Leman, and which faced the glorious rocks of Savoy. Our application for their residence was also refused, on account of the shortness of the time we intended to remain.[33]

We had in reserve, all this time, two or three regular maisons meublées in the town itself, and finally took refuge in one called "Mon repos," which stands quite near the lake, and in a retired corner of the place. A cook was engaged forthwith, and in less than twenty-four hours after entering Vévey, we had set up our household gods, and were to be reckoned among them who boiled our pot in the commune. This was not quite as prompt as the proceedings had been at Spa; but here we had been bothered by the picturesque, while at Spa we consulted nothing but comfort. Our house was sufficiently large, perfectly clean, and, though without carpets or mats, things but little used in Switzerland, quite as comfortable as was necessary for a travelling bivouac. The price was sixty dollars a month, including plate and linen. Of course it might have been got at a much lower rate, had we taken it by the year.

One of the first measures, after getting possession of Mon Repos, was to secure a boat. This was soon done, as there are several in constant attendance, at what is called the port. Harbour, strictly speaking, Vévey has none, though there is a commencement of a mole, which scarcely serves to afford shelter to a skiff. The crafts in use on the lake are large two-masted boats, having decks much broader than their true beam, and which carry most of their freight above board. The sails are strictly neither latine nor lug, but sufficiently like the former to be picturesque, especially in the distance. These vessels are not required to make good weather, as they invariably run for the land when it blows, unless the wind happen to be fair, and sometimes even then. Nothing can be more primitive than the outfit of one of these barks, and yet they appear to meet the wants of the lake. Luckily Switzerland has no custom-houses, and the King of Sardinia appears to be wise enough to let the Savoyards enjoy nearly as much commercial liberty as their neighbours. Three cantons, Geneva, which embraces its foot; Vaud, which bounds nearly the whole of the northern shore; Valais, which encircles the head; together with Savoy, which lies along the cavity of the crescent, are bounded by the lake. There are also many towns and villages on the lake, among which Geneva, Lausanne, and Vévey are the principal.

This place lies immediately at the foot of the Chardonne, a high retiring section of the mountains called the Jorat, and is completely sheltered from the north winds. This advantage it possesses in common with the whole district between Lausanne and Villeneuve, a distance of some fifteen miles, and, the mountains acting as great natural walls, the fruits of milder latitudes are successfully cultivated, notwithstanding the general elevation of the lake above the sea is near thirteen hundred feet. Although a good deal frequented by strangers, Vévey is less a place of fashionable resort than Lausanne, and is consequently much simpler in its habits, and I suppose cheaper, as a residence. It may have four or five thousand inhabitants, and possessing one or two considerable squares, it covers rather more ground than places of that population usually do, in Europe. It has no edifice of much pretension, and yet it is not badly built.

We passed the first three or four days in looking about us, and, on the whole, we have been rather pleased with the place. Our house is but a stone's throw from the water, at a point where there is what in the Manhattanese dialect would be called a battery.[34] This battery leads to the mole and the great square. At the first corner of the latter stands a small semi-castellated edifice, with the colours of the canton on the window-shutters, which is now in some way occupied for public purposes, and which formerly was the residence of the bailli, or the local governor that Berne formerly sent to rule them in the name of the Burgerschaft. The square is quite large, and usually contains certain piles of boards, &c. that are destined for the foot of the lake, lumber being a material article in the commerce of the place. On this square, also, is the ordinary market and several inns. The town-house is an ancient building in a more crowded quarter, and at the northern gate are the remains of another structure that has an air of antiquity, which I believe also belongs to the public. Beyond these and its glorious views, Vévey, in itself, has but little to attract attention. But its environs contain its sources of pride. Besides the lake-shore, which varies in its form and beauties, it is not easy to imagine a more charming acclivity than that which lies behind the town. The inclination is by no means as great, just at this spot, at it is both farther east and farther west, but it admits of cultivation, of sites for hamlets, and is much broken by inequalities and spacious natural terraces. I cannot speak with certainty of the extent of this acclivity, but, taking the eye for a guide, I should think there is quite a league of the inclined plane in view from the town. It is covered with hamlets, chateaux, country-houses, churches and cottages, and besides its vines, of which there are many near the town, it is highly beautiful from the verdure of its slopes, its orchards, and its groves of nut-trees.

Among other objects that crowd this back-ground, is a church which stands on a sharp acclivity, about a quarter of a mile on the rear of the town. It is a stone building of some size, and has a convenient artificial terrace that commands, as a matter of course, a most lovely view. We attended service in it the first Sunday after our arrival, and found the rites homely and naked, very much like those of our own Presbyterians. There was a luxury about this building that you would hardly expect to meet among a people so simple, which quite puts the coquetry of our own carpeted, cushioned, closet-like places of worship to shame. This is the summer church of Vévey, another being used for winter. This surpasses the refinement of the Roman ladies, who had their summer and their winter rings, but were satisfied to use the same temples all the year round. After all there is something reasonable in this indulgence: one may love to go up to a high place to worship, whence he can look abroad on the glories of a magnificent nature, which always disposes the mind to venerate Omnipotence, and, unable to enjoy the advantage the year round, there is good sense in seizing such occasions as offer for the indulgence. I have frequently met with churches in Switzerland perched on the most romantic sites, though this is the first whose distinctive uses I have ascertained. There is a monument to the memory of Ludlow, one of Charles' judges, in this church, and an inscription which attributes to him civic and moral merits of a high order.

The clergy in this canton, as in most, if not all the others, are supported by the state. There is religious toleration, much as it formerly existed in New England, each citizen being master of his religious professions, but being compelled to support religion itself. Here, however, the salaries are regulated by a common scale, without reference to particular congregations or parishes. The pastors at first receive rather less than three hundred dollars a year. This allowance is increased about fifty dollars at the end of six years, and by the same sum at each successive period of six years, until the whole amounts to two thousand Swiss, or three thousand French francs, which is something less than six hundred dollars. There is also a house and a garden, and pensions are bestowed on the widows and children. On the whole, the state has too much connexion with this great interest, but the system has the all-important advantage of preventing men from profaning the altar as a pecuniary speculation. The population of Vaud is about 155,000 souls, and there are one hundred and fifty-eight Protestant pastors, besides four Catholics, or about one clergyman to each thousand souls, which is just about the proportion that exists in New York.

In conversing with an intelligent Vaudois on returning from the church, I found that a great deal of interest is excited in this Canton by the late conspiracy in Berne. The Vaudois have got that attachment to liberty which is ever the result of a long political dependence, and which so naturally disposes the inferior to resist the superior. It is not pretended, however, that the domination of Berne was particularly oppressive, though as a matter of course, whenever the interests of Vaud happened to conflict with those of the great canton, the former had to succumb. Still the reaction of a political dependency, which lasted more than two centuries and a half, had brought about, even previously to the late changes, a much more popular form of government than was usual in Switzerland, and the people here really manifest some concern on the subject of this effort of aristocracy. As you may like to compare the elective qualifications of one of the more liberal cantons of the confederation with some of our own, I will give you an outline of those of Vaud, copied, in the substance, from Picot.

The voter must have had a legal domicile in the canton one year, be a citizen, twenty-five years old, and be of the number of the three-fourths of the citizens who pay the highest land-tax, or have three sons enrolled and serving in the militia. Domestics, persons receiving succour from the parishes, bankrupts, outlaws, and convicted criminals, are perpetually excluded from the elective franchise.

This system, though far better than that of France, which establishes a certain amount of direct taxation, is radically vicious, as it makes property, and that of a particular species, the test of power. It is, in truth, the old English plan a little modified; and the recent revolution that has lately taken place in England under the name of reform, goes to prove that it is a system which contains in itself the seeds of vital changes. As every political question is strictly one of practice, changes become necessary everywhere with the changes of circumstances, and these are truly reforms; but when they become so serious as to overturn principles, they produce the effects of revolutions, though possibly in a mitigated form. Every system, therefore, should be so framed as to allow of all the alterations which are necessary to convenience, with a strict regard to its own permanency as connected with its own governing principle. In America, in consequence of having attended to this necessity from the commencement, we have undergone no revolution in principle in half a century, though constantly admitting of minor changes, while nearly all Europe has, either in theory or in practice, or in both, been effectually revolutionized. Nor does the short period from which our independent existence dates furnish any argument against us, as it is not so much time, as the changes of which time is the parent, that tries political systems; and America has undergone the ordinary changes, such as growth, extension of interests, and the other governing circumstances of society, that properly belong to two centuries, within the last fifty years. America to-day, in all but government, is less like the America of 1776, than the France of to-day is like the France of 1600. While it is the fashion to scout our example as merely that of an untried experiment, ours is fast getting to be the oldest political system in Christendom, as applied to one and the same people. Nations are not easily destroyed,—they exist under a variety of mutations, and names last longer than things; but I now speak in reference to distinguishing and prominent facts, without regard to the various mystifications under which personal interests disguise themselves.




James Fenimore Cooper

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