Vol. IV, Selected Writings of William Sharp
THE LAKE OF GENEVA
Toi, notre amour, Vieille Genève,
Dont l'Acropole a double autel,
Qui tiens la Bible et ceins le glaive,
Cité du droit, temple immortel;
Toi, lac d'azur, dont l'eau profonde
Baigne I'Eden créé pour nous,
Sous quels cieux trouver, en ce monde,
Aïeux plus gyands, berceau plus doux?
LET the travelled as well as the untravelled reader rest assured: I have not written of Lac Léman in order to describe Chillon and quote the deadly-familiar lines of Byron, nor to record the fact that a considerable change has come upon Lausanne since that innumerably chronicled hour, when, in an alley overlooking the lake, near midnight, Gibbon walked slowly to and fro alone, having just written the last lines of his great life-work--"his monumental masterpiece," as the guide-book writers call it, as though it were the chef d'oeuvre of an "artist in funereal stone," to quote the delightful designation of a proud Marylebonian. These things have been done to death. I am sure many tourists to the eastern end of the Lake of Geneva refrain at Vevey, or stand fast at Territet, because of this exploited Chillon, these exhausted associations, these paralysing quotations. It is a point of honour among residents at Montreux to ignore Bonnivard, and to become distant at any mention of Byron. Sometimes, on the steamer from Montreux to Villeneuve, or on the top of the electric Vevey-Territet car, when a group of tourists stare, some hungrily, some shamefacedly, upon Chillon, an uncontrolled mind breaks out in the timeworn Byronic quotation. It is always done with an air of new discovery or of lightly carried erudition, without pity for, the sufferings of others. Then there is that island, wedded hopelessly to an inane couplet. No, if one wish to "Byronise" (as a serious French writer has it), let it rather be at Ouchy, where, at the Anchor Inn, the poet spent pleasant days, or at the Villa Diodati on the Geneva shore, opposite Coppet, where Manfred was written, and where Byron the poet is much more interesting than Byron the sentimentalist.
AMIEL.---Hymne A Genève.
Of course they must be mentioned. As a matter of fact one could not sail eastern Geneva without a heard, read, or remembered Byron quotation or association; as a matter of surety one could not visit Lausanne without a real quickening at the thought of Gibbon as not last nor least among its "associations." True, the quickening slacks off considerably when one penetrates the Hôtel Gibbon, and particularly if one stays or has a meal, when the bill is apt to suffer of a dropsy because the visitor is a Briton and because (as an imported cockney-Swiss waiter may confide): "'Ere sir, yessir, it was 'ere, sir, that the great Mr. Gibbon wrote 'is 'istory. View from the window sir, when you 'ave your coffee. Wine list, sir?"
But the time is past to dwell upon them. Many scores, many hundreds belike, have, in connection with the Lake of Geneva, exploited these two great names. By Lèman shores there is a contagious ailment to Byronise, to Gibbonate. To read most guide-books and kindred chronicles, one would think the Lake had no other associations; that at most these are shared, though in lesser degree, by Voltaire and Rousseau only. And what a deal of eloquence always accompanies those reminiscences! I take up one familiar volume, and read that in the pleasant hotel-gardens are "the harmonious sounds of an almost invisible orchestra in the fleecy foliage of the glades, whose melodies mingle with, &c. &c.--delicious rocking of the soul and the senses in an immaterial atmosphere." The same enthusiast states that Annecy is the nurse of passion. Alas! my soul was never, along these lovely shores, deliciously rocked in an immaterial atmosphere; and, a conscientious St. Anthony en voyage, I avoided Annecy. The reader, therefore, must be content with little of Gibbon and less of Byron, and nothing of dithyrambic. A simple directness must be my humbler aim--if not quite the same simple directness as that of the American translator of Voltaire's Princesse de Babylon, who makes the Pharaoh of Egypt address the Princess Formosanta as "Miss, you are the lady I was in quest of"; or, again, "Miss," replied the King of Egypt," I know life too well," &c.
This same Formosanta, by the way, has always struck me as a most delightful character and a veritable Princess Charming among the princesses lointaines of modern literature. Why is she not better known? How naïve her continual delightful reverie--as when she ponders profoundly on the certainly puzzling problem as to why the young man of her fancy should choose to ride a unicorn. Unicorns, it may be added, are for some singular reason as common in La Princesse de Babylon as are wicked baronets and dishonourable honourables in contemporary fiction. One is surprised that when the Pharaoh approaches Formosanta with select wooing-gifts he omits this useful animal in his present of two crocodiles, two sea-horses, two zebras, two Nile rats, and two mummies in prime condition. On the other hand, those who have read the tale will remember that, in an emergency, the obliging Phoenix forthwith ordered a coach with six unicorns. And what a Phoenix ! What words of wisdom it communicates in and out of season! How far from Maeterlinckian in its freedom from mysticism, as when it remarks "Resurrection? Why, resurrection is one of the most simple things in the world; there is nothing more in being born twice than once."
All which is not so inapposite as it may seem. For La Princesse de Babylon was written by the same waters where Calvin brooded, where Amiel sadly pondered, where Dumas laughed and Tartarin gasconaded, &c. &c. &c.; yes, where Gibbon historiographed, and where Byron immortalised Bonnivard, and where Lady Rose's Daughter has been a recent visitor.
It would be impracticable to give a complete list of all the famous folk in art and literature in one way or another associated with the shores and towns of Lac Lèman.* It is a kind of shore-set Cosmopolis.
Julius Caesar is a long way off, and Mrs. Humphry Ward is very much of to-day, but between these two scribes is an army of poets and novelists, essayists and philosophers, "Alpestriens" like De Saussure (and, let us add, Tartarin), "wordpainters" like Rousseau and Amiel and our own John Ruskin. Switzerland itself gives many names, from the great Jean Jacques to the much-loved romancist Töpffer and his confrère Victor Cherbuliez--" this young conqueror, this young wizard of erudition and charm," as Henri Frédéric Amiel wrote of him more than forty years ago in the famous journal. But it is France, with Voltaire, De Senancour, Stendhal, Mme. de Staël, George Sand, Dumas, Daudet, and others; England, with Byron, Gibbon, Dickens, and a score more, from Ruskin, the literary high-priest of Switzerland, to more than one eminent novelist of to-day; America with Longfellow and Mark Twain, Russia with Turgéniev, Germany with a battalion led by Goethe, Italy with Edmondo de Amicis and others, which contribute collectively far more to the roll-call than does the Helvetian Republic. Indeed, the chief Swiss critics themselves recognise that their country does not excel in literature and the arts, though they can say with pride that the most influential of all modern authors, Jean Jacques Rousseau, was not only born a Swiss, but lived the better part of his years and wrote the better part of his immense achievement in his native country. "The one regret we have," said a Freiburg professor whom I met on a "Nouvelle Héloïse" pilgrimage in the pleasant hill-country between Montreux and Vevey, "is that Rousseau lies at Ermenonville, in France, instead of at Geneva or Lausanne, Vevey or Clarens, Neuchatel or Berne, or best perhaps at that Ile de la Motte, on the beautiful Lake of Bienne, where he spent some of his happiest days."
For a moment I was puzzled, for I remembered somewhat vaguely having read in the Confessions or elsewhere that Rousseau had recorded his happiest memories as connected with the Isle of Saint-Pierre. However, my companion of the hour informed me that the Ile de Saint-Pierre and the Ile de la Motte are one and the same, and obliged me further by quoting Jean Jacques' own words: "de toutes les habitations où j'ai demeuré, et j'en ai eu de charmantes, aucune ne m'a rendu si véritablement heureux et ne m'a laissé de si tendres regrets que l'ile de Saint-Pierre au milieu du lac de Bienne"-- (which I trust are correctly given; if not, the fault is mine, not the good Freiburger's).
But as it does not do for a foreigner to make sweeping statements about the literature of another country, let me translate a passage from M. Joël Cherbuliez's excellent monograph Genève.* After recounting some
of the more or less celebrated Swiss names since Rousseau and Madame de Staël--e.g. the publicist, Mallet Du Pan; the historian Bérenger; the philosophic writer P. Prévost, who made known in France the works of Dugald Stewart, and had (according to the point of view) a good or bad influence as the French populariser of the doctrines of Malthus on the regulation of population; Sismondi, the historian of the Italian Republics; and Chr. V. de Bonstetter, a name once so familiar in the literary circles of Geneva, Lausanne, Paris, London, and Berlin, but now almost forgotten, though to our disadvantage, I thought, after reading one day at Lausanne this spring his excellent Voyage dans le Latium, and suggestive L'Homme du Midi et I'Homme du Nord--M. Cherbuliez adds: "As to light literature, it has never flourished among the Genevese. As yet Geneva has not been fertile in poets; she can claim but a very small number of writers of fiction, and not a single dramatic author of any renown. It is her weak side."
It may be admitted, of course, on the principle of quality and importance rather than quantity and promiscuity, that to have produced Rousseau and Madame de Staël--the one a great writer, whose genius blew over the minds of men as an irresistible wind, and whose thought descended in fertilising rain upon waste regions, or upon places become or becoming arid; the other, one of the few women who have shown the way and seized the passes of new regions for the curious mind and the eager imagination--is, perhaps, adequate distinction for a country so small and language-severed as Switzerland.
Ah, that fatal handicap of the absence of a national language! "Where am I," writes Mark Twain somewhere: "where am I, in this unhappy land, where one citizen speaks German, and the next fellow citizen speaks French, and the third speaks Italian--to say nothing of the Swiss waiter, who speaks everything from Chinese to Choctaw?"
"Is there a Switzerland!" wrote Dumas in one of his delightful reminiscences of travel: "or is it only a geographical expression for an international playground snipped off from France, Germany, and Italy?"
And lovers of the immortal Tartarin and Bompard will recall their pregnant summary:
"'What a queer country this Switzerland is!'" exclaimed Tartarin.
"Bompard began to laugh.
"'Ah, vaI! Switzerland? In the first place there is nothing Swiss in it!'"
Every visitor to the Lake of Geneva will, en route or on the spot, have learned all that his "Baedeker" or "Joanne" or other guide-book has to tell, as to the physical geography of Lac Léman or Genfer-See, as French and Germans respectively call this mountain-circled inland sea, which stretches from Geneva along French shores by Yvoire and Thonon and Evian to Saint Gingolph, a townlet in the valley of the Rhone where one may sleep in France, but at the post-office across the road is in Switzerland; and from Eaux-vives, on the Genevese left bank, by Coppet to Lausanne and Vevey, to the three towns of Montreux, and to the final shores at Chillon and Villeneuve. There is not a locality on either side that has not some association of literary interest. In this respect, indeed, there is truth in Voltaire's verse, when in a moment of rare enthusiasm he exclaimed, "My lake ranks foremost." Even small unnoticed districts, as St. Saphorin on the north and Des Allinges on the south bank, have their added interests of association with Amiel and Saint Frangois de Sales.
Also, he will read all the hackneyed particulars about Bonnivard at Chillon, and Byron's lines; about Calvin at Geneva; and the distinct waters of the Arve and the Rhone when they have become one river with the usual commentary that it is like life, like fate, like marriage, or like something else to which it bears a painfully obvious symbolical or other resemblance.
So, rather, let us seek other company, be content to linger or turn aside, and not hurry through from Geneva to Territet by boat, or let a glimpse of Geneva and Lausanne suffice for this section of the Canton de Vaud. It would be delightful to wander upon the mountain-lands with a De Saussure; along the hill-pastures and lake-meadows with a De Candolle or Huber; to study with Bouvet those unexpected aliens, descendants of a remote sea-ancestry, the laughing-gull, the sea-swallow, and the wild swan, lovely habitants which give a note of wildness and strangeness to Geneva waters; to stroll by shore-roads and highland ways with the often mournful but oftener eloquent and moving pages of the Journal Intime, for that is the way to realise to the full the subtle charm of Amiel; to wake in a Vevey dawn, as De Senancour chronicles in that often beautiful but most triste of books, Obermann, "to the exquisite fragrance of new-mown hay, cut during the cool freshness of the falling dews, in the light of the moon"; or to go to the scenes painted by Delacroix, to visit Chartran at his island-studio off Clarens, to watch this or that deft French artist painting the picturesque felucca-rigged boats and sailing-barges which, inimitably graceful, inimitably lovely, are an untiring pleasure for the eyes, or watch this or that Swede or Norwegian (the Scandinavian and the Russ are almost as frequent now as the English and German, and in art have many more representatives) painting the seemingly motionless highlands and vast capes of cloudland reflected in the moveless blue depths; to spend hours adrift in a sailingboat, in hazy mornings, in dreamlike afternoons, in moonlit nights, sometimes dreaming, sometimes reading a few winged and lovely words of those beautiful pages where Ruskin's heart overflows in a grave ecstasy--it would be delightful to do all this vicariously as well as directly to enjoy it, but, alack, the adequate chronicling of it would need a volume. These delights can only be indicated. And are they not, in truth, of the kind which the few will find out for themselves, if time and the occasions permit? To the many, Calvin's pulpit in Geneva and Bonnivard's damp quarters in Chillon seem the paramount attraction of a visit to French-Switzerland.
Besides, I should like to unburden all my accumulated lore! Meanwhile, with the vagrant New Englander in A Tramp Abroad, I must perforce content myself with "I know more about this lake than the fishes in it!"
Most visitors approach by way of Geneva itself. And this is the right way. It is not to discredit the City of the Faith to say that other places along these shores will seem better after it ; that is, to go to other places on the Lake first and then to visit Geneva is to come upon disappointment. It is difficult to say why this is so; and of course the impression may not be general, may for all I know be merely personal. With all its spaciousness, with its magnificent quays, its city divided into two beautiful towns, its many buildings of interest, its quick and active life, its whole-hearted eagerness to spoil the Egyptian, and every other admitted and unadmitted attraction, from Rousseau's Isle (Who was he, anyway?" remarked a Cook-conducted American one day) to the Calvinium and the Model of Jerusalem, where the travelling evangelical mightily rejoiceth--with all this, and all that Baedeker indicates and the local guide welters in, Geneva remains a dull place for other than a brief stay. Something of its old bard Calvinistic régime endures. It has no French gaiety, though it is so near France and is in many things so French. Nor, despite its size and importance, does it vie with Lausanne as an intellectual centre. Perhaps one reason why the city is somewhat in disfavour with foreign residents now is conveyed in a remark made to me by a depressed hotel- proprietor: "Too many anarchists and such-like come here to live, and too few watchmakers go away. People nowadays think Geneva does nothing but turn but millions of watches, and then at odd times make bombs to meet the international demand." As for the anarchists, however, I think the Genevese have little affection for their company, though it is pleasant to be told at regular intervals that one's town is the true Cosmopolis, and that the Genevese are the "Birds o' Freedom" of Europe.
And then,"said one expostulating restaurateur indignantly, "they're teetotalers to a man. Why, the worst of the lot, that Russian what writes about a red dagger and a bomb as his signature, he feeds on milk and sardines."
The abiding attraction at Geneva is the magnificent outlook, from the superb rush of the azure Rhone between the two towns, to the ever-beautiful vicinage of hills and mountains and snow-white Alps, with the crowning glory of Mont Blanc visible from many a busy thoroughfare as well as from the fascinating quays, the Rhone-spanning bridges, and the lovely promenades and environs.
In the town itself, visitors who combine a literary pilgrimage with the pursuit of pleasure commonly divide allegiance between Rousseau and Calvin . . . "those two disagreeable people," the remark with which Mr. Clemens casually introduces and summarily dismisses them, in that humorous classic of his. Certainly one should go and see (the somewhat moulty eagles of Geneva, like the bears of Berne, must be "done" first, I am told, if one would be in the run of popular taste--so let one see, and then leave, the Place Bel Air) that venerable cathedral of St. Peter whose towers rise so impressively from old Geneva, where Calvin preached and whence John Knox went to Scotland. And one must visit, of course, the steep and somewhat malodorous Grande Rue, and look at the uninteresting house-block, on one floor of which the great Jean Jacques was born (for the drift of evidence is against the more picturesque house on the right bank of the Rhone, now known as No. 27 Rue Rousseau . . . where, certainly, Rousseau's grandfather lived). But perhaps for most visitors there is more significance in the simple chronicle that here, in Geneva, Calvin died and Rousseau was born ; the harvest was spent, the new seed was sown.
Calvin made Geneva the Mecca of the Protestant world. But it is safe to say that if the Geneva of to-day were the least like the Geneva of the Calvinistic régime, Messrs. Thos. Cook and Co. might close their much-frequented office in the Rue du Rhône. For were not all citizens imperatively required by that régime, to be out of bed at 4 A.M. in summer and at 6 in winter? And was not the cuisine ordained to the hard-and-fast extreme of two dishes, "one of animal, one of vegetable food," and no pastry? As for wine, it was anathema. Meanwhile, the "Consistoire" looked after "the other morals." To-day, however--by way of revenge, I suppose--Geneva "rises later" than Paris or any other large French town, and is become gastronomic, not to say gourmandisiac in its tastes; while as for pastry, that lyrical effervescence, the vers-de-société, the exquisite poetry of the culinary art (mixed metaphor goes well with the mixed mysteries of the confectioner), one may seek and find none to surpass it between the Boulevard St. Germain of Paris and the Via Vittorio Emanuele of Milan. And this, the grateful visitor must recollect, is in great part due to Voltaire, who laughed away so many drear absurdities. "When I shake my wig," he wrote from Ferney, its powder dusts the whole republic." And more powder fell at Geneva than anywhere else. Here, and in these respects at least, the most confirmed anti-Voltairian will admit the justice of that famous summing-up of his own achievement, "J'ai fait an peu de bien: c'est mon mieilleur ouvrage."
But before we take the electric car out beyond the pretty village of Grand Seconnex, close by which the French frontier runs, a mile or two from Ferney, to Voltaire's home, a reminiscence of two of another kind. The visitor will have had more than sufficient of Calvin; there is little enough interest in seeing the more or less authentic house where "that impudent fellow, Jean Jacques," was born, or the square or place where "Candide" and the "Dictionnaire philosophique" of "the old devil of Ferney" were publicly burned; and I doubt if there are many visitors who care to find out where Amiel was born some eighty years or more ago. One literary tourist, indeed, who was "working up Voltaire and that lot" (a rival, I thought at first, and imitated Brer Rabbit when Brer Fox was around), remarked to me in surprise that he thought Amiel was a book written by Stendhal or somebody, or perhaps (he added, as an afterthought) was "the pseudonym of Obermann or Henri Beyle or one of those fellows." But in those lovely environs of Geneva one (if that way inclined) could not be better than take the Journal Intime as companion: much of it was written there, notably at Lancy and Van-doeuvres--from which latter, I may add for music-lovers, Frederic Amiel went one May-day in 1857 to hear the first performance of "Tannhäuser" given out of Germany, performed at the Geneva theatre by a passing German company, and wrote that night perhaps the subtlest criticism of Wagner's music yet given in these ensuing five-and-forty-years. Either by the hillpastures or on the calm waters of the lake, no "literary companion" wears so well as the journal of this famous Swiss, who knew and could describe the mountains as well as De Saussure, and the Rhonestretch and Rhone-lake as well as Ruskin, and the whole of "this symphony of mountains, this cantata of sunny Alps," as well as "our common ancestor in modern literature," Rousseau.* But if one's tastes are not that way,a delightful walk or sail
along the right shore may be made from Geneva to the Villa Diodati, where, as well as Manfred (as already mentioned), Byron wrote the third canto of Childe Harold. As for Geneva itself and its immediate vicinage I can think of nothing for the reader able to understand French comparable to the fifty-seven delightful stanzas which in an almost unknown book of verse Amiel himself calls Guide du Touriste à Genève, where everything of interest is mentioned, from the Plainpalais to the site of La Tour Maîtresse, from "nos quais, lignes de flamrne et d'eau" to the Rocher du Niton, off the lake-embankment of the Eaux Vives,Où l'on sacrifia, dit-on,
In the tenth of her published Lettres d'un Voyageur, George Sand gives us a delightful account of her sudden departure from Nohant, her rapid journey across Eastern France in August of 1837, in order to join the Abbé Liszt and his sister at Geneva, who had arrived there a year before and ever since been daily awaiting her! Arrived astonishing people by her "blouse bleue et ses bottes crottées," she told the postillion to drive "chez M. Liszt," when ensued the following dialogue:
"Liszt? Who's he? What does he do? What's his business?"
"Artiste "--(this shortly and conclusively).
"Bah, you must be in need of such yourself, animal!"
At this point, when France and Switzerland were at loggerheads, a passer-by intervened, with the remark, "Ah, I know whom you're after. . . He is a fiddlemerchant. . . . I can show you where he lodges."
The quest, however, was not at an end. At the first place the weary traveller was told that M. Liszt was in Paris; at the next, London was specified; at the next, Italy. Finally, at the latest place of call, the lady found a note from the musician's sister, la Comtesse d'Agoult (George Sand's "Princesse Mirabelle"), saying briefly: "We have long waited you; you take your own time; and now we're wearied out. It is now your turn to seek us out, for we're gone."
The weary and disgusted traveller posted on as soon as possible, and ultimately found herself at the Hôtel Union at Chamounix. This time, instead of asking for Liszt by name, she gave a description of the person she sought: "A man in a short blouse, with long and dishevelled hair, a cravat tied in a knot, more or less limping at present, and habitually humming the Dies Iræ, in a light agreeable fashion!" The description was unmistakable, and the fugitive was tracked.
With all their mutual affection and admiration, each doubtless found the other somewhat trying at times: the lady, certainly, had her ways. For example, in her Impressions et Souvenirs there is an entry: "Midnight, January.--A. has just raised a scene because of the open window. This excellent man cannot understand that it is better to have a cold in his head than to deprive his soul of a sublime joy (i.e. contemplation of the moon). I try in vain to describe to him this quiet enjoyment arising from contemplation. He is enraged . . ."
It was in this hotel that Liszt wrote in the visitors' book under the statutory headings:
PLACE OF BIRTH: On Parnassus.
WHENCE COME: From Doubt.
WHERE GOING: To Truth--
and that George Sand described herself and party as "la famille Piffoëls" in this fashion:
NAME OF TRAVELLERS: The Piffle Family.
WHENCE COME: God.
WHERE GOING: Heaven.
PLACE OF BIRTH: Europe.
DATE OF PASSPORT: For Ever.
(lit. titre, meaning Voucher and Claim, as well as its other meanings.)
BY WHOM GRANTED: Public Opinion.
Neither, it will be seen, suffered from excessive modesty.
At Geneva itself we may enjoy a delightful reminiscence of these two great ones when they lived in an hotel by the Rhone-side, which we owe to Mme. Lina Ramann. "Here," she chronicles, the Abbé Liszt used often to extemporise, when his hands wandered over the white keys with that delicate mother-o'-pearl touch of his, while George Sand would sit near the fire, listening attentively, or turning with dreaming eyes and looking out on the magnificent landscape seen through the window, while her mind transformed the master's harmonies into her own poetic visions."
It was here, and thus, that Liszt composed, on a Spanish air, his "Rondo Fantastique," which he dedicated to George Sand. "Shortly after he had composed it, the Abbé played it one autumn evening to George Sand, who was seated in the twilight at a couch by the window, smoking her cigarette. Moved by the music," adds Mme. Lina Ramann, "and by the murmurous wash of the lake-water along its narrow beaches, she gradually let her mind weave other fantasies born of the 'Rondo,' and that night took up her pen and wrote Le Contrebandier: Conte lyrique. Paraphrase fantastique sur un Rondo fantastique de Franz Liszt."
But now for Voltaire-land and the lakeside home of Mme. de Staël.
The former means an expedition across the frontier. Ferney (or Fernex as generally printed in Switzerland) used to be somewhat inaccessible for the ordinary tourist; now it can be reached swiftly and frequently by an electric car, which leaves Geneva from just off the Rue du Mont Blanc, opposite the new General Post Office. A pleasanter way still, however, is to drive, or, except in the summer heats, to walk. But to those unhurried, and with a preference for the unbeaten track, I would recommend that the morning or forenoon steamer be taken to Coppet, when, after a stroll through the sleepy, charming village-town and a visit to Mme. de Stael's old home, one can strike across a charming region, visit by a detour the Villa des Delices, where Voltaire had his first home in these parts, and so come upon Ferney.
To the lover of French literature, and of genius that knows no geographical limit, a visit to Coppet cannot but give a moving pleasure. What a wonderful woman this Mme. de Staël was: so brilliant, so charming, so great a captain of the intellectual forces of modern Europe! One may turn to-day from Delphine and its fellows; even Corinne may seem outworn now, with all the revelation become commonplace and the quick life gone away on the wind. But her influence, which was so great, endured as an awakening, a moulding, and even a directing force; though it is, perhaps, only since Georg Brandes' fine study of the intellectual achievement of this princess of letters that, in this country at least, she has won anything like adequate recognition.
To-day, the Coppet manor-house, with its two grey towers, and the near-by chapel where her impatient spirit knew rest at last, has relatively few pilgrims; but these go in reverence and love.
To some it may be new that Mme. de Staël's mother, when Suzanne Curchod, knew Gibbon well, fell in love with him indeed, and even fascinated that somewhat cold and irresponsive student. During his four years of absence in England, between his first and second sojourn in Lausanne, she remained constant; but, on his return, not even Rousseau's mediation brought the callous historian "to reason"; not even when the lady finally pleaded that at least they might remain friends did Gibbon relent, for he declined the compromise as dangerous for both."
We may deplore the gentleman's philosophic calm, but cannot regret the fair Suzanne's disappointment, for in a fit of the blues she married M. Necker, afterwards to become Louis XVI.'s famous Minister of Finance; went to Coppet; and bore to her husband and the literary world of Europe the beautiful girl and enchanted mind whom it was long the wont to allude to as "Corinne." There can be no doubt that in gaining a Mlle. Germaine Necker by losing a Miss Gibbon we owe a big debt to the Destinies.
She had her faults, of course, this brilliant woman, and in her work as in her life. Particularly in her earlier writings she is like her own heroine in the Histoire de Pauline," apt to pour out the feelings of her young and tender soul in an incorrect but extraordinary style." On the other hand, I can recall no youthful critical effort more mature in thought and expression than her admirable Essay on Fiction, prefaced to the two volumes of Zulma, and Other Tales, all written before she was twenty.
It was here, in Coppet, that, in the perilous days of the Revolution, Mme. de Staël was visited by so many famous people, from Sismondi to Byron. Here the brilliant Benjamin Constant first met Mme. Récamier, that woman so beautiful that at forty-three she had as ardent lovers as at twentythree, and even when seventy and blind was found by the great Chateaubriand "still lovely and still charming." Mme. de Staël herself had this unpassing beauty, this undying youth and unfading charm; and has herself chronicled her "passionate and inappeasable desire to be loved." She was forty-five when she fell in love with and married the successor to M. de Staël-Holstein --M. Rocca, a handsome youth of three-and-twenty, who had first attracted her attention and admiration by pirouetting and leaping his black Andalusian stallion under the windows of the house in Geneva where she was then staying.
But, poor thing, she was a mondaine, and longed ever for Paris and the excitements of life. To her, too often, this lovely view that we look at from Coppet to-day "oppressed her with its inexorable beauty and maddening calm."
One wonders, though, if she was really happier in Paris or London, or here,
For she was of those in whom life is intensified to the double. But Mme. de Staël and London! . . . some will wonder. Yes, for a while, she had her salon here. It was in Argyll Place, Regent Street (No. 30, near the present Union Bank), that in her hour of exile she "received" such mixed if brilliant society, that Byron said it reminded him of the grave, as all distinctions were levelled in it!
Où Corinne repose au bruit des eaux plaintives.
But what about "le vieux diable de Ferney . . . où est cette âme infernale," as a contemporary chronicler politely alludes to Voltaire?
Well, Voltaire and Rousseau Gibbon and Dickens, the gay Dumas and the irresistible Tartarin, and company, must now be diligently sought.
Besides, I bear in mind the apposite words of an anonymous scribe of 1785, writing upon "that singular man Rousseau": "There is scarcely any prejudice more general than that which inclines us to believe that whatever is pleasing to ourselves must necessarily be so to the rest of the world. This desire, improperly indulged, not only fails of producing the wished-for effect, but is often followed by one quite contrary."
Again, I recollect the warning of that objectionable elderly Miss from Chicago, in A Tramp Abroad, who, on the Geneva steamer, remarked incidentally: "If a person starts in to jabber-jabber-jabber about scenery and history and all sorts of tiresome things, I get the fan-tods mighty soon."
And no self-respecting writer would inflict "the fan-tods" even on that most genial of collective beings, the Reader.
Switzerland a crammed caravanserai in August? Yes, no doubt. And yet it is constantly maintained that English visitors are not nearly so numerous as formerly, except perhaps at Easter and other popular holiday seasons. This, however, is partly because that seventy or a hundred years ago comparatively few "ordinary" people travelled for pleasure, except English; to-day the German outnumbers the Britisher, not only in Switzerland but along the Italian Riviera and North Italy, and even as far south as Sicily. There is at least one gain in this: it is not "the inevitable English" one hears of now, but "these Germans"; and it is some consolation to know that, in every country, the change is hailed with most sincere regret, for the Teuton, especially the Prussian variety, is nowhere loved, and for the most part is scrupulously avoided. "The English invasion" began with the freeing of Europe after Waterloo: once Napoleon was secure in St. Helena, the British tourist spread in a fertilising (if often exasperating flood over Western Europe. It is amusing to find that even then "the superior people" resented the crowd. In the delightful record of the 1819 Journey of Earl-Spencer-All-the-Talents and his lively Lady Lavinia, recently given us from the dame's letters, we find the complaint, early in October, that Geneva is as full as it can stick with English"; while at the next stopping-place the sprightly correspondent writes: ". . . . When we all arrived, extenuated with fatigue, we were favoured with a thunderstorm. . . . Quantities of English everywhere. One family of nineteen, ten children, here yesterday." The lively Lady Lavinia must have been an amusing person to travel with, though she had her tempers (when her language was more emphatic than refined) and sometimes must have tried the patience of her courtly but pedantic lord. "Ld S. has made some extraordinary acquisitions of curiositys, which I have heard discussed over and over, with an eagerness which always surprises me, for the duce a bit can I recollect the name of one of these Treasures." And Rome found her no more amenable than Geneva. It was the time when "the antiquarian circles" were much excited over the excavations in the Forum, and the leading part taken by the Duchess of Devonshire; but Lady Spencer showed as little respect for the first as for the second, writing of the lady as "that witch of Endor," and of the treasure trove as "old horrors.
To adapt Gibbon, my readers will, I trust, excuse this short digression: "the practice of celebrated moralists is so often at variance with their precepts." For I had meant to begin this article with Voltaire, and to lead off with that admirable motto of his: "Precision in thought; concision in style; decision in life."
Yes, it is time we were at Ferney. Not that the Voltaire associations with Geneva itself have been adequately touched upon it would take a volume to exploit that theme. And then those lovely vicinage walks, especially that by the Salève, Lamartine's "Salève aux flancs azurés," and its memories of the great French poet, its association with those Thursday walks recorded by Edmond Scherer when he and Amiel and Victor Cherbuliez and others devoted themselves to "débauches platoniciennes." Here it was that Amiel found those ceaseless metaphors of beauty which give so great a charm to his prose--as this, at the tumultuous town-weir of the Rhone, where the river pours like a melted avalanche"--"This standpoint (of ideal vision) whence, as it were, one hears the impetuous passage of time, rushing and foaming as it flows out into the changeless ocean of eternity,"--where he wrote so many of those lovely if almost wholly ignored poems, of which I give one, adventuring by its side a poor translation:
Partout le regret ou l'inquiEtude,
Partout le souci:
Toujours la tristesse et la solitude,
Et le deuil aussi!
Où fleurit l'espoir? où verdit la palme?
Oùcroit le bonheur?
Où cueillir la joie? Où trouver le calmer?
Où poser son coeur?
L'or ni le savoir, le vin ni les Roses,
L'art ni le ciel bleu,
N'emplissent le coeur; et deux seules choses
L'apaisent un peu:
C'est d'abord un coeur fait pour lui, qui l'aime
Et qu'il nomme sien,
Et puis une voix au fond de lui-même
Qui lui dise: Bien!
Regret, disquietude,Well, when "Obermann" came back one July from Paris or Fontainebleau to Switzerland, he begins his letter, "Il n'y a pas l'ombre de sens dans la manière dont je vis ici": and in like fashion, when I consider what extent of "literary geography" I have to cover in this article, I say to myself that there is no shadow of sense in the manner in which I hark back to Geneva!
And weary care:
Grief, melancholy, solitude,
where blossoms Hope?
Where blooms Life's palm?
Happiness . . . joy . . .
O heart . . . or calm?
Nor wine, nor gold
Nor art nor the blue sky
Bring peace to this sad fold,
Bring but this quiet sigh--
A heart to hold my love,
A heart its love to tell ! . . .
Then from the depths shall this low whisper move,
"Soul, it is well."
As I wrote a few pages back, one may come upon Ferney either from Geneva by the frontier village of Grand Seconnex, or by the lake-steamer to Coppet, and thence afoot by way of Voltaire's earlier residence, the Villa des Délices, and Les Charmilles.
To approach the home-farm, so to say, of this great agriculturist of the mind, this strenuous, mocking, earnest, laughing, eager, jibing sower of good and evil seed is indeed an experience for any one versed in the great ways of literature. Voltaire the man may no longer wear that aureole woven of the wonder and admiration of a startled, scandalised, but fascinated Europe: Voltaire the publicist may be ignored, Voltaire the romancist be spoken of rather than read, Voltaire the dramatist be (deservedly) forgotten, Voltaire the historian be shelved, Voltaire the autocrat of letters be discredited. There is enough left to keep his fame alive, apart from the great, the unparalleled tradition of the supreme place and influence he won and so long held. If everything else of his perished, the volumes of his correspondence would suffice to justify the legend of his supremacy. What a wonderful old man, this, who laughed at everything, and yet had unselfish enthusiasms impossible to the Gibbon who decried him and the Napoleon who hated him! And apart from all else, Voltaire lives as an abiding quality, as an intellectual tradition. He is the high-priest of irony. "Always walk laughing in the road of truth," he writes in one of his letters to D'Alembert. Once it was the fashion, and in this country in particular, to class him with Mephistopheles ("why drag in Mephistopheles?--Voltaire is the original Satanic name," was doubtless the unexpressed thought of many); but later and fuller knowledge reveals "le vieux diable de Ferney" as a man who wore a mocking smile as our forefathers wore a wig, and carried the air of the cynic and the infidel as the beau of that day carried a cane: at heart sound, a giant mind, a nature perverse but fundamentally fine.
Among the innumerable books written about Voltaire, I doubt if any affords more revelation of the man than the little volume published in the Year X (i.e. 1802), entitled Soirées de Ferney. I re-read this delightful book one wet and stormy spring evening at Ferney, at the amusing if not particularly attractive Hôtel de la Truite. As the rain came in sudden noisy whispers, with the wind-eddies abruptly rising or falling, I fancied I heard the ghosts of many old laughters, many cries of anger, and half-real, half-mocking lamentations, many half-solemn, half-blasphemous derisions. And looking in the leaping flame of the wood-fire I dreamed I saw a withered old face--cynical, ironical, vain, great in intellect, and behind the mocking eyes a spirit of love and charity and good-will.
"A good deal of it all was tomfoolery" (c'etait de la petite charlatanerie). There we have Voltaire. "Below all my raillery there has ever been the anger at evil, the cry for justice, the passion of an idea." There also we have Voltaire. And he sums up both when he says somewhere, "For all that, I was not born more wicked than any one else, and at bottom I'm not a bad fellow" (quoique je ne sois pas né plus malin qu'un autre, et que dans le fond je suis bonhomme). But he would not be Voltaire if his last words were not, "For some thirty or forty years I took everything seriously, and was a fool for my pains. I have finished by laughing at everything." '
"What is the Voltairian spirit in ordinary life?" some one asked me the other
"Audacity that hits the mark," I answered.
"Such as . . . ?
But not remembering at the moment "la phrase juste," and recollecting an apposite anecdote, I answered: "A great lady once replied to the third Napoleon, shortly before he appropriated the vacant throne of France, when he had with an ironical smile asked her to explain the difference she drew between 'an accident' and 'a misfortune':--'If,' she said, 'you were to fall into the Seine, that would be an accident; if they pulled you out again, that would be a misfortune.'"
An American transcriber published a volume of the Humour of Voltaire. But humour, as we understand it, is no characteristic of his. His wit is keen, poignant, sometimes cruel, generally a lash--even when it laughs it bites. When he is alluding somewhere to "the soul" and our hope of immortality, he adds, "I am persuaded that if the peacock could speak he would boast of his soul, and would affirm that it inhabited his magnificent tail." He is nearer humour when, in a well-known tale, he has: "'A little wine, drunk in moderation, comforts the heart of God and man.' So reasoned Memnon the philosopher; and he became intoxicated." Of wit his very spirit was made; fun he had in plenty--not of the Dumas or Dickens genial kind, not of Daudet's brilliant burlesque, not of Mark Twain's sly drollery, but a perverse, amusing, often convincing and always fascinating fun of his own. But he had nothing of that pawky humour which we consider so essentially northern, as, for example, that story of the unco' cautious Scot who always emptied his glass at a gulp because he "once had one knocked over."
Not that "the ecstasy of the incongruous" did not appeal to him. One can imagine his sarcastic reticence if, in writing on heroism in modern life, he had lived long enough to be able to illustrate the narrative with that duel between Dumas and Jules Janin--when Janin would not fight with swords because he knew an infallible thrust, and Dumas refused pistols because he could kill a fly at forty paces, and so the foes embraced! Or his mocking delight if, in writing on the sincerity of ideals, he had lived long enough to supplement that wicked "Conversation" of his, concerning Ossian, between an Oxford professor, a Florentine, and a Scot, at Lord Chesterfield's, with the episode of how, under the Directory, persons near the Bois de Boulogne were one day alarmed to see a great blaze among the trees, and on coming close perceived some men "attired in Scandinavian fashion' endeavouring to set fire to a pine tree, and singing to the accompaniment of a guitar with an air of inspiration--merely admirers, as it proved, of Ossian, who intended to sleep in the open air, and to set a tree alight in order to keep themselves warm, and thus emulate the people of Caledonia! (Thus Mons. Texte, in his able and suggestive work on The Cosmopolitan Spirit in Literature.)
Voltaire had pre-eminently the genius of repartee. None more than he would have rejoiced in that cutting rejoinder of the elder Dumas to Balzac, when the two great men were brought together at the house of a well-meaning friend. After neither had spoken a word to the other, Balzac was about to leave, when he said viciously: "When I am written out I too shall take to writing dramas."
To which Dumas at once replied: "You'd better begin at once, then!"
But . . . Well, no; this has become a series of "buts," like that dialogue of "buts" between Don Inigo-y-Medroso-y-Comodios-y-Papalarniendos and the Englishman (whom the good Bachelor Don Papalamiendos imagined an anthropophagus) in our great man's tale of The Sage and the Atheist. Some time ago a doubtless worthy but certainly bigoted individual perpetrated a booklet on Voltaire. One of the deadly sins he adduced was that "this Scoffer incarnate" stole his name, "like all else."It is quite true that François Marie Arouet, in a crude anagram, evolved the name his genius adopted and made immortal. But to keep on speaking of Mons. Arouet is more pedantic than to allude invariably to Bacon as Lord Verulam. As for Voltaire's standing unique in this iniquity, it is enough to cite, among other famous instances, Montesquieu, whom no one knows now as Charles Secondat, Jean Chauvin, known to us as Calvin, or Molière, whose actual name of Jean Baptiste Pocquelin is long forgotten.
When one thinks--at Lausanne (Monrion), at Tournay, and still more at Aux Délices, and above all at Ferney--of what Voltaire achieved merely in quantity of work, one stands amazed. Even at an age when most men are content to (or at least eager to) "cultivate their cabbages," Voltaire maintained lightly and set himself heroically to tasks overmuch for ninety-nine men out of a hundred in the fulness of youth. Some idea of this may be gathered from the fact that after he was sixty-four he published some forty volumes; or, to put it another way, he issued in the last twenty years of his long life some twenty-eight works, apart from many long and short tales, pieces in verse, miscellanies.* However, we cannot dwell
upon his achievements: we are but pilgrims to where he lived and worked. If one is alert to the irony of changing circumstance one may stand on the shore at Coppet, or on the high road to Grand Seconnex, and look over or back to Geneva, and recognise that the same town burned Voltaire's most famous books, and received him with adulation when he drove city-wards in his coach-and-six; for long sedulously decried him as an evil, and now as sedulously cultivates him as an important commercial asset. The value of his work and the extent of his influence have been exaggerated by many who have written about both; they have been more grossly underrated by the ignorant and the prejudiced. In one direction, at least, I think no one has so keenly perceived and tersely stated the relative distinctions as the great historian Michelet, when he wrote, "Montesquieu écrit, interprète le droit; Voltaire pleure et cric pour le droit; et Rousseau le fonde."
When I was at Coppet on a previous occasion I found in the salon-de-lecture of the Hôtel du Lac the discarded or lost MS. diary of "a travelling miss." I copied one entry: "Madame de Staël was a dear. Her portrait as Sappho, by David, at the château, is sweet. Voltaire is an old horror. He's always laughing at one, and looks a wicked old fright, and Dan says he's the same in his books."
The effervescent miss and the more reserved Dan represent the great public. The sentimentalism of "Corinne" keeps her memory sweet, and there are tears and sighs at Coppet. The continual irony of Voltaire discomposes, and refuge is taken in the first available car back, to Geneva.
The Villa aux Délices of Voltaire's day is not the Villa aux Délices of to-day. The beautiful site is the same, near the confluence of the Rhone and the Arve, with, as Voltaire wrote, twenty leagues of Alp beyond, and Geneva on the lake-side across the narrowing waters And I can see from my window, as I write, the quarters where Jean Chauvin, the Picard called Calvin, reigned, and the spot where he burned Soret for the good of his soul."
Here and at Ferney Voltaire entertained royally: "for nearly a quarter of a century," he wrote, "I have been the aubergiste of Europe." Condorcet, D'Alembert, Diderot--everybody visited him who was anybody: kings, princes, philosophers, poets, writers of all kinds and every nation, statesmen, women of genius, women with beauty, women without either genius or beauty but uplifted by this fad or that vogue, exiles, patriots, rogues, the sorrowful and hopeless, the hopeful and unprincipled: "All ways lead to Ferney, as to Rome." In his correspondence we see him in all his Protean changes, from modesty (rare)--as when, from Toumay, he wrote to M. de Prégny, "I, a labourer, a shepherd, a rat retired from the world into a Swiss cheese "to fantastic grandiosity, as when he wrote to the Due de Richelieu, "I have succeeded in converting a miserable and unknown hamlet into a charming town, and in founding a commerce which embraces America, Africa, and Asia "! All the same, he worked wonders at Ferney. The place bloomed. Here Voltaire wrote, talked, read, posed, corresponded almost beyond credible limits; but here also he lived the life of a country squire, interested in agriculture, forestry, breeding, dairy-produce, farm-produce. He desired to be a French Virgil, and wrote, " I enjoy, my tranquil occupations, my ploughs, my bulls, my cows." Not a day passes, writes a friend, one Bachaumont, that M. Voltaire does not "Put out children to nurse," which is his expression for planting trees. He even bred horses, with the comment that "as so much has been written about population I will at least people the country with horses, not expecting the honour of propagating my own species."
"I am going to reside at Ferney a few, weeks," wrote Voltaire to D'Alembert in November 1758. The stay extended till February 1778, nearly twenty years. Today Ferney is all Voltaire: his memory is its sustenance--The Village-town is pleasant; the environs are delightful, the near hills lovely, the lake, and the Alps are within easy reach. But to enjoy Ferney one must be, Voltairien. He smiles, mocks, allures, enchants, repels, amuses, wearies, at every step--one cannot escape him. The kitchen wench and the boots at the Hôtel de France or the Hôtel de la Truite are in a Voltairian conspiracy. One has one's lake-trout à la Candide, chicken-legs au diable de Ferney, Rosbif au Pierre le Grand, Tarte aux Délices; one goes to sleep with the murmur of The Sage and the Atheist--one wakes to the whisper of Memnon the Philosopher. The château, where he lived and worked, the chapel (now, alack! fallen from its holy estate) with its famous inscription, "Deo erexit Voltaire," the room where he slept, the study where he wrote so many of his twenty-eight tragedies and twelve or more comedies, the shrine which is said to enclose his heart ("His Spirit is everywhere, but his heart is here"), the avenues- -wherein he walked, the village church where once he appeared as Mahomet cursing the superstitious Savoyards of the Rhone (as Pastor Gaberel relates), the garden, of which little remains now save his hedge of evergreens, where he strolled as the Autocrat of the Metropolis of Esprit, as the Public Exasperator and the private good genius and generous benefactor, as the Thinker and Poet, as the Pope of Literature, and as (for a brief season, to the laughing amazement of Paris) "Brother François, unworthy Capuchin "--one may see all these, and look at the quaint, old, smiling, ironical face of the bronze bust in the Place, or at that of Lambert's statue erected in 1890, and think one has "done it all." But there is no escape from Voltaire till one has fled from Ferney. "He is in the air," as Mark Twain remarks of the thousand-odoured smell of Cologne.
True, much is gone. The chapel is in disuse, and the famous theatre (beyond Les Délices and Les Charmilles, at the hamlet of Châtelaine) is now a store. Nevertheless we may draw the line at the remark of a Plymouth Brother, who by some wild irony of fate wrote an account of a visit to Ferney: "Ruin and desolation sit around, and we wondered how many Abels have fallen victims to this one bold, bad man."
Well, Voltaire would have smiled genially, and we may follow his example. How could our Plymouth Brother understand an elderly gentleman, who, instead of being a pillar and a churchwarden, admitted, "It is true I laugh and quiz a good deal it does one good, and holds a man up in his old age."
And now for Lausanne, an hour or two away through a charming region. But having written so much of Voltaire I must say no more of his residence here and at Tournay; nay, I find I must make pemmican of the "as much and more" I had noted in connection with Rousseau. On the other hand, like Gibbon at Lausanne and Bonnivard at Chillon, Rousseau is the prey of the guidebooker. "La Nouvelle Héloïse" is exploited by Baedeker, Joanne and Company with the methodical monotony of the chronicle of hotels and pensions, "objects of interest," and "walks in the neighbourhood." From Lausanne to Vevey, from Vevey to Montreux, and above all at Clarens the unwary tourist is caught in a Rousseau net, wanders in a Héloïsian maze. He hears (generally for the first time) of Saint Preux and Milord Edouard, of the heart-adventures of Claire and Julie, and he makes pathetically arduous efforts to visit the scenes "immortalised" by these persons of whom he may never have heard, in whom he takes no interest, and of whom he hopes in his soul never to hear again.
To know Rousseau aright one must know the history of modern literature. He is, above all other "moderns," "the sower of ideas, a discoverer of sources" "and observe," adds Amiel (that close and unprejudiced thinker), "that all the ideas sown by Rousseau have come to flower." But, with Amiel in the instance of Emile, one will often return to him or first come to him with dissappointment, for much that he wrote is bald and jejune, no grace, no distinction, the accent of good company wanting.
Rousseau, of course, is king of the countryside from Lausanne to Montreux; and with old or recent knowledge of his writings, and notably the Confessions and La Nouvelle Héloïse, the visitors to this end of Geneva-lake may have many days of delightful hillside and shore-way rambles, and particularly in the lovely inlands reaching behind Vevey, Clarens, and Charnex. At Vevey, if the Rousseau-pilgrim will penetrate behind the Market, he will see a house known as "At the Sign of the Key ("A la Clef") with the inscription that the great Jean Jacques resided here in 1732; while readers of the Confessions will remember his writing, "J'allai à Vevey, loger à la Clef. . . . Je pris pour cette ville un amour qui mla suivi dans tons mes voyages." There may be many who agree with Jean Jacques in his love for this much visited place; for myself, if seems to me the least attractive of the Geneva-side resorts, for all its glorious views. "It is stuffy, dusty, and triste," wrote Turgéniev once, and I fancy a good many will endorse the "impression" of the great Russian writer. Perhaps the spirit of Obermann, triste, enough in all conscience, has taken possession of the place; for here and in the neighbourhood De Senancour wrote much of that famous but now practically-ignored book, remembered by English readers rather for Matthew Arnold's fine poern inspired by it than for itself. He, too, as Amiel, as Rousseau, found Vevey a place of charm: "it is at Vevey, Clarens, Chillon to Villeneuve," he writes, "that I find the lake in all its charm and beauty." For one, I do not feel that the sadness of the author of Obermann was the controlled sadness of sanity, but an intellectual dyspepsia. His mind needed open windows, sunlight and fresh air, vistas; his spirit like his body needed exercise, a variegated diet, a little dissipation. perhaps. We are repelled by the incessancy of that "intolerable void" which in the fourth section of his most famous book he says he finds everywhere; and surely most of his readers can have but half-hearted sympathy with one who of set purpose seeks "that condition of tolerable well-being mixed with sadness which I prefer to happiness." Obermann has been called "the brooding spirit of the Vaud." I do not think the Canton de Vaud would relish the compliment. It is the liveliest and brightest of the Swiss cantons, and though a learned philologist has demonstrated that Vaud is at the root identical with Wales and Walloon, it will generally be admitted that the Swiss claimant to the old Celtic name has more of Walloon lightheartedness and Welsh love of song and company than of Welsh gloom and Walloon melancholy.
At Lausanne itself the chief literary association, of course--for the Anglo-Saxon traveller at least--is Gibbon. But, apart from what has been already written of him in this Geneva chronicle, is not every visitor "primed" with Gibbon before the train slides midway into the hillside town? Does he not know all that he cares about the life of Gibbon there, and the whole story of "the closing scene" of the great history? He can purchase a "Gibbon pen" or "Gibbon pipe," he can have coffee at the sign of the "Philosopher," or dine at the sign of the "Historian"; the youngest generation of Lausannians (Lausonians, Lausannèges - an ignorant outsider, I would not discriminate among these and others) have even a hard and perilous "lollipop" called, for some mysterious reason, boules-à-Gibbon.
So, rather, let me guide a few to the pleasant eastern residential quarter, where there is now a Dickens Avenue or Street ) and the house where our great novelist lived for a time, and wrote all or the greater part of Dombey and Son, longing the while for the life and movement and inspiration of the London streets, feeling, with an aching nostalgia, that a hundred hours of Cockaigne were better than a cycle of the Canton de Vaud.
Coming to Lausanne by the waterway, one lands at Ouchy, its port--a charming place, and, as many think, superior to Vevey, though each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Byron enjoyed his stay at the Anchor Inn here: and many a wit poet and famous scribe, from Voltaire and Rousseau to Gibbon and Goethe, from Dumas, that great laugher, to our own genial Dickens and the smiling creator of Tartarin, have lingered at this out-of-the-season-delightful spot. There is a local legend that a great French wit died here in a feverish delirium induced by his own witticisms. I sought in vain the tomb of the great unknown; in vain, even, for any authentic trace of the legend. But we all know the delightful floating foam of anonymous wit on the wide sea of the French genius; and who can affirm that a lord of irony did not take refuge here, and perished --nobly (and unfortunately in silence) as indicated? Many must have long desired to know the source of anonymous modem aphoristic wisdom such as, "Marriage is ennui felt by two persons instead of one.". . . "There is a magic in the word duty, which sustains magistrates, inflames warriors, and cools married people." . . . "For one Orpheus who went to Hell to seek his wife, how many widowers who would not even go to Paradise to find theirs!" . . . "Of all heavy bodies, the heaviest is the woman we have ceased to love." . . . "The last Census of France embraced nearly twenty millions of women. Happy rascal!" And perhaps the infamous wretch lies unhonoured and unsung at Ouchy!
Does the lover of the impressionable Dumas remember his pleasure when, on landing at Ouchy, with a touch of that home-sickness on arrival at new places so characteristic of the French, he was greeted with proud delight by a compatriot, in whom at last he recognised a young exile named Allier, who thenceforth acted as his cicerone at Lausanne and the neighbourhood? "Le grand et cher Alexandre" was welcome everywhere, and no wonder: he radiated good-humour wherever he went, was "bon camarade" with the host, the head waiter, the cook, the chambermaid, and the "boots" at every hotel he visited. Of his many experiences in this region but a single citation, however, can be made here. Scene, Martigny, across the lake beyond Villeneuve, up the Rhone valley. It was at the hotel here that he made those surprising economies of his, the thought of which beforehand made travel seem so feasible, the recollection of which after return to Paris made him re-echo the lament of Ecclesiastes, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity." One plan was to economise with dinner, then at Swiss hotels usually four francs. He achieved this by invariably eating six francs worth, and so bringing the final outlay down to two francs! And above all there is the famous episode of the bear-steak! The landlord gave him a table apart, and solemnly informed him that he was to have all to himself "a beefsteak of bear." But even Dumas, after "preliminaries," was startled by the magnitude of the viand placed before him, and at first had a qualm or two. Then he set to, and, later, summoned the landlord to express his satisfaction. It was then he learned that the "bifsteck d'ours" ought to be even better than usual, for . . . had it not been nourished by the huntsman Guillaume Mona, who had recently found his quiet grave in the interior of Bruin! From that landlord and that table Dumas precipitately fled.
But at the Vevey-Montreux side of the lake an even greater than Dumas the voyageur is to be remembered-who but the immortal Tartarin! Chillon is again a shrine for the pilgrims who follow in the steps of the mighty. just as Bonnivard's damp cell was almost becoming "a devil without the tail," as the Spaniards say, and Byron's lines apt to be met by the same complacent smirk as greets the evidence of Rizzio's remaining blood-spot at Holyrood, Alphonse Daudet came to the rescue with Monsieur Tartarin of Tarascon. Among the inimitable things of modern humour is the account of the arrest of "the killer of lions" and that ProvenCal Ananias, Bompard; their imprisonment in Chillon, and how Tartarin conducted himself there; and the subsequent adventures of the pair till the supreme irony of their unexpected meeting at Tarascon.
But, alack! there must be an end. And just as Dumas and Tartarin were a welcome relief after De Senancour and Obermann, so again it is a pleasure to recur to the graver note of that deepest and most abiding of all the modern influences associated with the Lake of Geneva--the sometimes too saddening, the often melancholy, but always beautiful and fascinating masterpiece of Amiel, written by these lovely shores during the long, outwardly silent life of one of the most remarkable of modern spiritual and intellectual types. His tomb is at Clarens, where perhaps it will be visited when the Nouvelle Héloïse is at last faded from the minds of men..
CE QUI SUFFIT.
There we have Amiel himself, in his lifelong desire. And in these closing words, also, as well as in the finer breath of this lovely lake, these sentinel Alps, a message for one and all: "A last look at this blue night and boundless landscape. Jupiter is just setting on the counterscarp of the Dent du Midi. From the starry vault descends an invisible snow-shower of dreams. Nothing of voluptuous or enervating in this nature. All is strong, austere, and pure. Good-night to all the world! . . . to the unfortunate and to the happy. Rest and refreshment, renewal and hope a day is dead--vive le lendemain!"
Paix et peu
L'ombre et Dieu,
Calme et rêve,
N'est ce pas, O mon coer,
N'est ce pas le bonheur,
Et le bonheur sans trève?
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