Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

any member might make objections and institute inquiries. There were very few instances of peculation, exactions, or breach of trust on the part of inferior agents ; none ever on the part of any member of the government. We have on this point the honourable testimony of a determined, active, and open enemy of Berne, Colonel Laharpe, who declared to us, that le gouvernment de Berne est le plus intégre qui existe.' Simond. Vol. II. pp. 465–73.

Still, it was an arbitrary government, arbitrary, though kind, and one which owed its stability to the stationary character of the people. It did not encourage either commerce or manufactures, nor, indeed, the arts, or the sciences, or any branch of industry, except husbandry. It was, in principles and in

practice,' says M. Simond, - a patriarchal government.' But a patriarchal government is ill adapted for any but the earliest stage of society, when all are proprietors or slaves. It cannot survive either foreign invasion or the growth of national wealth, because it depends on a sort of equipoise which must in eitirer case. be destroyed. It is the interest of such a government,

, therefore, and will be more or less its actual policy; to retard the progress of society, by discouraging the spirit of enterprise and the dissemination of knowledge. Thus, public establishments of education at Berne bore no proportion to the other institutions. In point of fact, there was no middle class : they were all either magnifiques et souverains scigneurs,' or substantial peasants. And this,' says M. Simond, may be said • of all Switzerland. Now, the question is not, what might be the comparative sum of happiness enjoyed under such a political constitution. The peasantry were quietly ignorant and contented, -and so, if they happen to have a kind master, are the serfs in Russia. No one can doubt that a large share of social happiness may be enjoyed under the most arbitrary government. But, though the Poet may sing or say, that when • ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise, or, that when slavery is bliss, 'tis folly to be free, yet, a constitution of things which tends to paralyse the faculties of man, to check every tendency, to improvement, to exclude the mass of society alike front knowledge and from honourable distinction, and to infuse a torpor into the public mind as unfavourable to moral advancea ment as to the development of talent and industry, --such a political constitution cannot be regarded as upon tlie whole conducive to the welfare of its subjects, except as any and every sort of government is a positive blessing, when opposed to anarchy. We imagine,' says M. S., the friends of Berne • must plead guilty here, and admit there was really something

of a torpid nature in the Bernese institutions; a certain want of proper excitements. Their subjects were, in truth, 80 well

[ocr errors]

6

• off and so comfortable, that they were apt to go to sleep.' And so long as they were sleepily disposed, it was well; but the time came when they could no longer sleep. So far back as 1714, Stanyan, a British minister in Switzerland, remarked, that the Bernese were certainly the most free from political burdens of any people; but, for what I can observe, the sub• jects think no mildness in the government can make them amends for the hardship of being excluded from their share of it.' M. Simond has on this subject a fine remark.

• When the state of civilisation is so far advanced that moral enjoyment becomes one of the necessaries of life, and the humiliation at. tached, not to legal restraints, but to legal exclusion, hereditary and irrevocable, weighs upon men with more force than physical evil, no civil institutions are safe which overlook this disposition and wound this feeling: The foundations of society, undermined by degrees, may still shew a fair face above ground ; but the least shake will pall down the hollow structure. Obedience, on the most favourable hypotheses, becomes mere resignation : it is only lent provisionally, and, without an appearance of rebellion, the peace of society hangs on a thread. It is not material interests, nor a rivality of power, necessarily confined to a few individuals, which excite the most general discon. tents, or kindle the most deadly hatred, but the violation of favourite doctrines and principles; and the feeling may operate on a whole people at once with a degree of force amounting to fanaticism Civil liberty is the end of political institutions; yet does the attain. ment of that end excite less enthusiasm than the attainment of the means,—as the miser sacrifices, all his life, present enjoyment, to the abstract and indefinite power of enjoying in future.' pp. 479, 80.

An illustration of the truth of this remark must immediately suggest itself to our readers,—one of a nature but too forcible and ominous,-in the present state of Ireland. But Switzerland was free, and happy, and prosperous in comparison with that most injured and unhappy country. It neither groaned beneath a foreign yoke, nor was crushed beneath a bloated hierarchy. Its clergy were not of a different religion from the people, nor its rulers, of another nation, nor its nobles, absentees

who tyrannised by deputy. The population was divided into patricians and peasants, not into princes and beggars. And yet, the invidious system of political exclusion was felt by the subjects of Berne as a grievance and an injury, and laid the foundation for the Revolution. It is remarkable, that one source of peculiar irritation was the Bernese Game-laws. Their Excellencies of Berne had the privilege of shooting snipes (grives) in the vineyards of their subjects of the Pays de Vaud, while the proprietors themselves were excluded from the sport without special permission. • It could scarcely be imagined,' says

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

M. Simond, how many of the latter were converted to revo

lutionary principles, from the feeling nourished by this apparently trifling grievance, although they had much to appre

hend from a Revolution. But a taunting speech made by one of the judges to a young advocate of the Pays de Vaux• Savez vous bien que vous n'éles que nos sujets,' had, in its unforeseen consequences, a still greater share in bastening the downfal of the Bernese aristocracy. That young lawyer was La Harpe, who, in irritation and disgust, abandoned his profession and his country. He repaired to St. Petersburgh, where, having attracted the attention of the Empress Catherine, he became the Seneca of the present Autocrat. As soon as the French Revolution was announced, he saw in it the means of emancipation for his country from what he considered as tyranny; and to the essays which he published at this juncture are attributed the first revolutionary symptoms in the Pays de Vaud, particularly those of 1791. When the consequences of the invasion became manifest, he bitterly lamented it, but it was too late. The constitution unitaire was forced upon the Nineteen Cantons at the point of the bayonet; and a government under which the great mass of the people had lived contented during five centuries, was violently and perfidiously overthrown by a ruffian Directory and its fiendish generals. The invasion of Switzerland is one of the blackest crimes in the annals of Revolutionary France : that of Spain by Napoleon was justifiable in comparison. The constitution thus tyrannically imposed, was not, M. Simond admits, a bad one ; but the means by which it was propagated, were rapine and extermination. As a specimen of the transactions of this period, and the nature of the resistance made by the Swiss, we transcribe the following anecdote.

• General Schauenburg advanced, the 3d of September, 1798, with a division of from twelve to sixteen thousand men, against the small district of Nidwalden, counting about two thousand fighting individuals of all ages and sexes, and two hundred and eighty volunteers of the neighbouring districts. The landing-places on their lake were defended by abattis of trees, stakes driven on the beach, and six fieldpieces; they had two more pieces to protect the land-side. The French attempted a descent day after day, from the fourth to the eighth of September, under cover of batteries, at the foot of Mount Pilatus, firing across the lake; but were unsuccessful, and lost many men. Early on the ninth, they penetrated by the land-side, and succeeded in clearing the plain with their flying artillery. The Nidwaldians retired to a woody height, half a league from Stantz, where they had iwo field-pieces, and defended the position several hours; but thirty boats, full of French troops, having effected their landing on

[ocr errors]

three different points, while reinforcements poured in by the Oswalden, about noon the engagement became a promiscuous massacre, the people fighting desperately with such weapons as they could procure; and whole families, men, women, and children, were cut down, for no quarter was given on either side. Eighteen young girls, who had fought in the ranks, were found among the dead, near the chapel of Winkelried ; and upwards of sixty persons, mostly the old and infirm, who had taken shelter in the church of Stantz, were put to death, together with the priest at the altar. Several officers of the 14th and 44th demi-brigades exerted themselves, with great zeal and humanity, to rescue such of the people as were found among the ruins ; the buildings of Stantz were saved by their interference, but all those about the country (584 in number) were plundered, and set on fire ; not a house was left standing. Notwithstanding this state of things, Schauenburg imposed a contribution of 60,000 livres on the country; but it was a desert, and the act appeared besides so odious, that the army itself, when the first fury was over, disclaimed all share in it, and refused even the offer which was made by the Helvetic Directory to pay it.

The loss of the French was never made known, but must have been very considerable, probably not less than three thousand men, as their opponents were expert marksmen. If the French had been repulsed that day as the preceding, there was every appearance of the whole country rising the next, and few of them would have escaped. “ Nous avons perdu beaucoup de monde," Schauenburg wrote, par la résistance incroyable de ces gens là. C'est le jour le plus chaud que j'aye jamais vu." All Switzerland sent money and provisions to the unfortunate survivors in Nidwalden, who must otherwise have perished during the ensuing winter, and plentiful subscriptions came from England and Germany. Schauenburg himself is said to have distributed 1200 rations a day for some time after the battle.

• Pestalozzi, the same who ltas since acquired so much celebrity by his method of education, appeared at this period as a tutelary angel among the unfortunate; he collected upwards of eig ty children of all ages, whose parents had perished, and who were left entirely destitute; found them a house, provided for their wants, and attended to ther education ; assisted, however, by the existing government.'

But we must now turn from the retrospect of the past, to Switzerland as it is. As we have been leď to refer to the history more particularly of Berne, we shall traitscribe M. Simond's description of that city.

• It is not an easy matter to account for the first impression you receive upon entering Berne : you certainly think you enter an ancient and a great city; yet, before the eleventh century, it had not a name, and its present population does not exceed twelve thousand souls. It is a republic; yet it looks kingly. Something of Roman majesty appears in its lofty terraces, in those massy arches on cach side of the streets, in the abundance of water flowing night and day into gigantic basins, in the magnificent avenues of trees. The very

silence and absence of bustle, a certain stateliness and reserved demeanour in the inhabitants, by shewing it to be not a money-making town, implies that its wealth springs froin more solid and permanent sources than trade can afford, and that another spirit animates its inhabitants. In short, of all the first-sight impressions and guesses about Berne, that of its being a Roman town would be nearer right than any other. Circumstances, in some respects similar, have produced like results in the Alps, and on the plains of Latium, at the interval of twenty centuries. Luxury at Berne seems wholly directed to objects of public utility : by the side of those gigantic terraces, of those fine fountains and noble shades, you see none but simple and solid dwellings, yet scarcely any beggarly ones; not an equipage to be seen, but many a country waggon coming to market, with a capital team of horses, or oxen, well appointed every way.

Aristocratic pride is said to be excessive at Berne ; and the antique simplicity of its magistrates, the plain amd easy manners they uniformly preserve in their intercourse with the people, are pot by any means at variance with the assertion ; for that external simplicity and affability to inferiors is one of the characteristics of the aristocratic government; all assumption of superiority being carefally avoided, when real authority is not in question. Zurich suggests the idea of a municipal aristocracy; Berne of a warlike one : there, we think we see citizens of a town transformed into nobility; here, nobles who have made themselves citizens.

• From Beroe to Thun, six leagues, is the finest road and richest country imaginable. The inhabitants in their holiday dresses were enjoying themselves at their doors, (Sunday) under the shade of walnut trees. Comfort and independence appeared conspicuous in their Jooks: although subjects of an aristocracy, they certainly do not seem conscious of a want of liberty. I never saw such a prood-looking set of men as the Bernese peasantry, nor any better fed and clad.

The women are naturally good-looking, but mosi of them working in the fields, they become frightful old women. Female beauty is wholly incompatible with exposure and fatigue : it is a decree of nature, and that state of society in which they are subjected to hard labour, may be deemed somewhat barbarous. Sunday is by no means so strictly observed here as in England : many of the men play at bowls, and amuse themselves in different ways during the intervals of public worship.

· The Bernese laws are not favourable to commerce. No debt is safe unless secured by mortgage. A debtor who refuses to give up his property, cannot be detained longer than six weeks, at the expiration of which he is banished the canton, and his property seized wherever found.

• Bernese morals* have been the subject of much praise and much censure, both perhaps deservedly : fortunes are small, and the means

* The capital condemnations in the canton of Berne, during the last seventeen years, out of a population of 350,000 souis, were 25 med, 4 women : total, 29. The crimes were mostly personal violence.

« AnteriorContinuar »