THE PASSAGE OF THE MOUNTAIN OF SAINT GOTHARD.
TO MY CHILDREN.
[Page 3] 1 Ye plains, where three fold harvests press the ground,[*]
[*] We quitted Italy in August 1793, and passed into Switzerland over the mountain of Saint Gothard. The third crop of corn was already standing in Lombardy.
2 Ye climes, where genial gales incessant swell,
3 Where art and nature shed profusely round
4 Their rival wonders — Italy, farewell.
5 Still may thy year in fullest splendor shine!
6 Its icy darts in vain may winter throw!
7 To thee, a parent, sister, I consign,[*]
[*] We left Lady Spencer and Lady Bessborough at the Baths of Lucca; intending to pass the winter at Naples.
8 And wing'd with health, I woo thy gales to blow.
9 Yet, pleas'd, Helvetia's rugged brows I see,[*]
[*] The contrast between Switzerland and the Milanese appeared very striking; the Milanese was infested with a band of robbers that caused us some alarm, and obliged us to use some precautions, but from the moment we entered the mountains of Switzerland we travelled without any fear, and felt perfectly secure. Death is the punishment of robbery, this punishment however very rarely occurs; at Lausanne there had been but one execution in fifteen years.
10 And thro' their craggy steeps delighted roam;
11 Pleas'd with a people, honest, brave and free,
12 Whilst every step conducts me nearer home.
[Page 5] 13 I wander where Tesino madly flows,[*]
On the 9th we embarked, upon the Lago Maggiore, at the little town of Sesto situated where the Tesino runs out of the lake. In the course of two days navigation we particularly admired the striking and colossal statue of S. Charles Boromeo (with its pedestal, 100 feet from the ground), the beautiful Boromean islands, and the shores of the lake, interspersed with towns and woods and crowned by the distant view of the Alps.
On the evening of the 10th, we landed at Magadino, one of the three Cisalpine Balliages belonging to Switzerland; and as the air was too noxious for us to venture to sleep there, we sent for horses to conduct us to Belinzona, a pretty town in the midst of high mountains, under the jurisdiction of three of the Swiss Cantons, Switz, Underwald, and Uri. From hence (after having prepared horses, chairs and guides, and having our carriages taken to pieces) we set out, on the evening of the 12th, to enter the mountain, and ascended gradually by a road which nearly followed the course of the Tesino. The Tesino takes its rise not far from the summit of St. Gothard, and joins the Po near Pavia.
14 From cliff to cliff in foaming eddies tost;
15 On the rude mountain's barren breast he rose,
16 In Po's broad wave now hurries to be lost.
17 His shores, neat huts and verdant pastures fill,
18 And hills where woods of pine the storm defy;
19 While, scorning vegetation, higher still,
20 Rise the bare rocks coeval with the sky.
21 Upon his banks a favor'd spot I found,
22 Where shade and beauty tempted to repose;
23 Within a grove, by mountains circled round,
24 By rocks o'erhung, my rustic seat I chose.
25 Advancing thence, by gentle pace and slow,
26 Unconscious of the way my footsteps prest,
27 Sudden, supported by the hills below,
28 St. Gothard's summits rose above the rest. [*][Page 7]
[*] St. Gothard itself, arises from the top of several other high mountains; some have given it 17,600 feet of perpendicular the level of the sea, but General Ptyffer, who compleated the celebrated model of that part of Switzerland surrounding Lucerne, makes it only 90, 75 feet above the Mediterranean. It is the center of that collection of mountains which the ancients called by the name of Adula, and which separated the Rhaetian from the Poenian Alps. To us it appeared, owing to its gradual ascent, less high than the mountain of the great St. Bernard.
29 'Midst tow'ring cliffs and tracts of endless cold
30 Th' industrious path pervades the rugged stone,
31 And seems — Helvetia let thy toils be told —
32 A granite girdle o'er the mountain thrown. [*]
[*] Mr. Coxe's editor (Mr. Raymond) calls it a granite ribbon thrown over the mountain. This wonderfull work is a road of nearly 15 feet in breadth, paved with granite, and executed even through the most difficult part of the mountain; sometimes suspended on the edge of a precipice; sometimes pierced through rocks, where no other passage offered; sometimes forming bold and light bridges, from rock to rock.
33 No haunt of man the weary traveller greets,
34 No vegetation smiles upon the moor,
35 Save where the flow'ret breathes uncultur'd sweets,[*]
[*] Soon after leaving Ayrollo and passing the last wood of firs, all vegetation ceases, except the scanty grass and heath which creeps among the rocks; but there appears to be some wild flowers, and in particular, a very sweet one which I gathered, and which I think is called Achillea mille folium, but by the guides, Mutterino; and also a flossy flower, of which I could not learn the name.
36 Save where the patient monk receives the poor. [*]
[*] There is a small Convent on the top ef the mountain, where two monks reside; and who are obliged to receive and entertain the poor travellers that pass this way. Padre Lorenzo had lived there for twenty years, and seemed a sen sible and benevolent man. They have a large dairy and make excellent cheese; five small lakes, which are at the top of the mountain, supply them with fish. The monks are Capuchins, and belong to a convent at Milan.
37 Yet let not these rude paths be coldly trac'd,
38 Let not these wilds with listless steps be trod,
39 Here fragrance scorns not to perfume the waste,
40 Here charity uplifts the mind to God. [Page 9]
41 His humble board the holy man prepares,
42 And simple food, and wholesome lore bestows,
43 Extols the treasures that his mountain bears,
44 And paints the perils of impending snows.
45 For whilst bleak Winter numbs with chilling hand —
46 Where frequent crosses mark the traveller's fate —[*]
[*] When any lives have been lost from the falls of snow, a small cross is erected.
47 In slow procession moves the merchant band,[*]
[*] The whole trade from Switzerland to Italy, passes over this mountain; and they often travel in bands of forty laden mules. The destruction occasioned by the avalanches, which also bring rocks along with them, is so much dreaded 'that they are obliged to keep the strictest silence, least the vibration of the air should bring down the snow. The excellence of the road over the mountain of St. Gothard is owing to its being kept up for this yearly commerce.
48 And silent bends, where tottering ruins wait.
49 Yet 'midst those ridges, 'midst that drifted snow,
50 Can nature deign her wonders to display;
51 Here Adularia shines with vivid glow,[*]
[*] No mountain is more rich in its mineral productions, at least with regard to beauty. The treasures it possesses were brought into their present repute by Padre Pini, the chief of the cabinet at Milan. The adularia is a beautiful variety of the Feldt Spar, and is thus called after the ancient name of the mountain. The chrystals of St. Gothard are much celebrated; in it is also found the blue Shoerl or Sappar, as it has been named by young Mr. de Saussure; and also a marble which has the singular quality of bending and being phosphoric it is called Dolomite, from the name of its discoverer, Dolomieu.
52 And gems of crystal sparkle to the day. [Page 11]
53 Here too, the hoary mountain's brow to grace,
54 Five silver lakes, in tranquil state are seen;
55 While from their waters, many a stream we trace,[*]
[*] The Rhine, the Rhone, the Aar, the Tesino, and the Reuss, all rise in the mountain of St. Gothard.
56 That, scap'd from bondage, rolls the rocks between.
57 Hence flows the Reuss to seek her wedded love,[*]
[*] The Reuss unites with the Aar, beyond the lake of Lucerne, and with him falls into the Rhine.
58 And, with the Rhine, Germanic climes explore;
59 Her stream I mark'd, and saw her wildly move
60 Down the bleak mountain, thro' her craggy shore.
61 My weary footsteps hop'd for rest in vain,
62 For steep on steep, in rude confusion rose;
63 At length I paus'd above a fertile plain[*]
[*] The valley of Ursera, is celebrated for its fertility and verdure; and the placid manner in which the Reuss runs through it. It feeds a great number of cattle, and has two small towns. It was formerly woody, but the peasants believe that their forests were destroyed by a magician. They have only one wood above the town, which protects it from the avalanches; and considering this wood as their palladium, it is said, they forbid cutting down a tree on pain of death. The green pastures and placid appearance of the valley, form a beautiful contrast with the rocks and precipices which surround it.
64 That promis'd shelter and foretold repose. [Page 13]
65 Fair runs the streamlet o'er the pasture green,
66 Its margin gay, with flocks and cattle spread;
67 Embowering trees the peaceful village screen,
68 And guard from snow each dwelling's jutting shed.
69 Sweet vale! whose bosom wastes and cliffs surround,
70 Let me awhile thy friendly shelter share!
71 Emblem of life! where some bright hours are found
72 Amidst the darkest, dreariest years of care.
73 Delv'd thro' the rock, the secret passage bends;[*]
[*] The two outlets to this beautiful little valley, are the rugged descent from St. Gothard, and a passage, of some yards in length, cut through the rock, on the Switzerland side. The traveller immediately, upon passing this aperture, finds himself on the celebrated Devil's bridge, and beholds the Reuss dashing in a torrent under it. The Devil's bridge is one of the five bridges that distinguish this road. It was so named from the people thinking it impossible to be the work of man; several other bridges in Switzerland have the same name given to them. The whole of this extraordinary road was supposed to have been performed by the Swiss soldiers after the revolution in 1313, which secured liberty to Switzerland; it is imagined the government thus employed them in order to keep them quiet.
74 And beauteous horror strikes the dazzled sight;
75 Beneath the pendent bridge the stream descends
76 Calm — till it tumbles o'er the frowning height. [Page 15]
77 We view the fearful pass — we wind along
78 The path that marks the terrors of our way —
79 'Midst beetling rocks, and hanging woods among,
80 The torrent pours, and breathes its glitt'ring spray.
81 Weary at length, serener scenes we hail —
82 More cultur'd groves o'ershade the grassy meads,
83 The neat, tho' wooden hamlets, deck the vale,
84 And Altorf's spires recall heroic deeds. [*]
[*] The Revolution, known by the name of the Swiss League, began in its smallest canton, Switz; but the chief events happened at Altorf, capital of the canton of Uri. The original name of Switzerland was Helvetia; when united to the emperor, under Conrad the Salique, it was La haute Allemagne; and after the revolution of 1313, it took the name of Suitzerland, from the canton Suitz having been the cradle of its liberty.
85 But tho' no more amidst those scenes I roam,
86 My fancy long each image shall retain —
87 The flock returning to its welcome home —[*]
[*] The circumstance alluded to pleased me very much, though I saw it not in St. Gothard but in the mountains of Bearn. At evening, a flock of goats returned to the market-place of the little town of Interlacken; immediately each goat went to its peculiar cottage, the children of which came out to welcome and caress their little comrade. The Rans des Vaches, sung by the Swiss cowherds, is a simple melody intermixed with the cry which they use to call the cows together.
88 And the wild carrol of the cowherd's strain. [Page 17]
89 Lucernia's lake its glassy surface shews,[*]
[*] The Lake of Lucerne is also called the Lake of the four Cantons, and is as diversified aud beautiful as any of Switzerland. Embarking below Altorf, the first part of the navigation is narrow but romantic, bounded by the rocky shores of Uri and Underwald; after passing through the narrowest part, a large expanse presents itself, bounded to the right by Switz, to the left by Underwald, and having Lucerne and distant mountains in front.
90 Whilst nature's varied beauties deck its side;
91 Here, rocks and woods its narrow waves inclose,
92 And there, its spreading bosom opens wide.
93 And hail the chapel! hail the platform wild! [*]
[*] The Emperor Albert, having the ambitious design of conquering Switzerland in order to make a patrimony of it for one of his younger sons, had by degrees succeeded in subduing the greater part; and, under false pretences, had sent arbitrary baillies or governors, who exercised much cruelty and oppression upon the people. The worst of these was Geissler, a rapacious and ferocious man, whose castle in Uri was a continued scene of barbarity and plunder. Discontents had already taken place, and the people not only murmured but had meetings on every fresh insult; when, in the year 1307, Geissler, to prove his power and indulge his vanity, erected his hat on a pole in the market-place of Altorf, and insisted on the people bowing to it as they passed. William Tell refused. The tyrant, to revenge himself, ordered Tell's youngest son to be brought to the market-place, and, tying him to a stake, placed an apple upon his head and desired the father to shoot at it with his cross-bow. William Tell succeeded in hitting the apple; but when the tyrant asked him the reason of his having another arrow concealed in his dress, he replied, to have killed you, had I killed my son. The offended governor had Tell seized and bound and placed in the same boat with himself, resolving to carry him across the lake to his own castle. A frightful storm (to which the Swiss lakes are liable) suddenly arose, and they were obliged to unchain the prisoner, who was celebrated for his skill as a mariner. He conducted them near a ridge of rocks, and vaulting from the boat, with his cross-bow in his hand, killed the tyrant. To this Tell, and Switzerland owed their delivrance. The chapel is built on the very spot, surrounded with picturesque woods; and the simple story of Tell, in the appropriate dresses, is painted within the chapel.
94 Where Tell directed the avenging dart,
95 With well strung arm, that first preserv'd his child,
96 Then wing'd the arrow to the tyrant's heart.
97 Across the lake, and deep embower'd in wood,[*]
[*] Opposite to Tell's chapel, in the woody and high shore of the opposite part of Uri, another little chapel just peeps from the surrounding grove. It was here, to avoid discovery, that the friends of liberty met, before the adventure of Tell and the death of Geissler facilitated their endeavours. The chiefs of them were three: Henry de Melchtal, whose father, an old peasant of Underwald, when plowing his field, was insulted by the emissaries of Geissler, who told him, that a wretch like him ought not to use oxen, but to be yoked himself. — The son defended his father and the oxen, and was obliged to fly to secure his own life. — They seized the helpless old man, and, as he refused to discover the retreat of his son, put out his eyes. Young Henry fled to Uri, to the house of a gentleman of the name of Walter Furst. Vernier de Staubach, a gentleman of the canton of Switz, joined in their meetings at the chapel; he also had been insulted by the tyrant — By the steady and uniform exertions of these men, and the three cantons, they at length took prisoners all the emperor's officers, but with this remarkable instance of humanity, that they banished them without any injury to their persons or possessions. The famous victory of Mongarten in 1315, where a small number of Swiss, from the advantage of their mountains, defeated the Imperial army under Leopold, son to Albert, established their liberty. The three cantons formed excellent laws, and promised friendship and assistance to each other; and by degrees, though at different periods, the thirteen cantons joined in Ligue Suisse.
98 Behold another hallow'd chapel stand,
99 Where three Swiss heroes, lawless force withstood,
100 And stamp'd the freedom of their native land. [Page 19]
101 Their liberty requir'd no rites uncouth,
102 No blood demanded, and no slaves enchain'd;
103 Her rule was gentle and her voice was truth,
104 By social order form'd, by laws restrain'd.
105 We quit the lake — and cultivation's toil,
106 With nature's charms combin'd, adorns the way,
107 And well earn'd wealth improves the ready soil,
108 And simple manners still maintain their sway. [*]
[*] The domestic society and simple gaiety of most parts of Suitzerland exist in spite of the inroads of strangers; indeed it seems impossible not to seek rather to join in their happy amusements than to wish to introduce the dissipation of other countries amongst them.
109 Farewell Helvetia! from whose lofty breast,
110 Proud Alps arise, and copious rivers flow;
111 Where, source of streams, eternal glaciers rest,[*]
[*] The glaciers are formed probably by such an accumulation of ice, that the summer's sun only melts what is sufficient to supply the rivers without diminishing the original stores which are there congealed. This however varies their forms, which are sometimes very beautiful, in waves, arches, pinnacles, &c. and the light of the sun gives them prismatic colours. I saw the glacier of Grindelwald in August, and I might have touched the ice with one hand, and with the other gathered strawberies that grew at its foot.
112 And peaceful science gilds the plains below. [*][Page 21]
[*] The interesting litterary characters in Suitzerland are very numerous. At Geneva, M. de Saussure, the first who boldly reached and examined the summit of Mont Blanc; his daughter Madame de Germary, whose writings are said to be as lively and fanciful as Ariosto's, and who is celebrated as a botanist; Mr. Hubert the blind observer of nature; Mr. Senebier, &c. At Lausanne, Mr. Constant the author of Laure; Madame de Montolieu, the author of Caroline de Litchfield, &c. &c. &c.
113 Oft on thy rocks the wondering eye shall gaze,
114 Thy vallies oft the raptur'd bosom seek —
115 There, nature's hand her boldest work displays,
116 Here, bliss domestic beams on every cheek.
117 Hope of my life! dear Children of my heart!
118 That anxious heart, to each fond feeling true,
119 To You still pants each pleasure to impart,
120 And more — oh transport — reach its Home and You.