Byron's Swiss Tour (1816)

Source: Thomas Moore, Ed., The Works of Lord Byron; with His Letters and Journals, and His Life (London: John Murray, 1832). Moore's footnotes omitted (see Romanticism CD-ROM for details).


September 18. 1816.

Yesterday, September 17th, I set out with Mr. Hobhouse on an excursion of some days to the mountains.

September 17.

Rose at five; left Diodati about seven, in one of the country carriages (a char-à-banc), our servants on horseback. Weather very fine; the lake calm and clear; Mont Blanc and the Aiguille of Argentières both very distinct; the borders of the lake beautiful. Reached Lausanne before sunset; stopped and slept at -----. Went to bed at nine: slept till five o'clock.

September 18.

Called by my courier; got up. Hobhouse walked on before. A mile from Lausanne, the road overflowed by the lake; got on horseback and rode till within a mile of Vevay. The colt young, but went very well. Overtook Hobhouse, and resumed the carriage, which is an open one. Stopped at Vevay two hours (the second time I had visited it); walked to the church; view from the churchyard superb; within it General Ludlow (the regicide's) monument -- black marble -- long inscription -- Latin, but simple; he was an exile two-and-thirty-years -- one of King Charles's judges. Near him Broughton (who read King Charles's sentence to [257] Charles Stuart) is buried, with a queer and rather canting, but still a republican, inscription. Ludlow's house shown; it retains still its inscription -- 'Omne solum forti patria.' Walked down to the Lake side; servants, carriage, saddle-horses -- all set off and left plantés là [dumped there], by some mistake, and we walked on after them towards Clarens: Hobhouse ran on before, and overtook them at last. Arrived the second time (first time was by water) at Clarens. Went to Chillon through scenery worthy of I know not whom; went over the Castle of Chillon again. On our return met an English party in a carriage; a lady in it fast asleep -- fast asleep in the most anti-narcotic spot in the world -- excellent! I remember, at Chamouni, in the very eyes of Mont Blanc, hearing another woman, English also, exclaim to her party, 'Did you ever see any thing more rural?' -- as if it was Highgate, or Hampstead, or Brompton, or Hayes, -- 'Rural!' quotha. -- Rocks, pines, torrents, glaciers, clouds, and summits of eternal snow far above them -- and 'rural!'

After a slight and short dinner we visited the Chateau de Clarens; an English woman has rented it recently (it was not let when I saw it first); the roses are gone with their summer; the family out, but the servants desired us to walk over the interior of the mansion. Saw on the table of the saloon Blair's Sermons and somebody else's (I forget who's) sermons, and a set of noisy children. Saw all worth seeing, and then descended to the 'Bosquet de Julie,' &c. &c.; our guide full of Rousseau, whom he is eternally confounding with St. Preux, and [257] mixing the man and the book. Went again as far as Chillon to revisit the little torrent from the hill behind it. Sunset reflected in the lake. Have to get up at five tomorrow to cross the mountains on horseback; carriage to be sent round; lodged at my old cottage -- hospitable and comfortable; tired with a longish ride on the colt, and the subsequent jolting of the char-à-banc, and my scramble in the hot sun.

Mem. The corporal who showed the wonders of Chillon was as drunk as Blucher, and (to my mind) as great a man; he was deaf also, and thinking every one else so, roared out the legends of the castle so fearfully that H. got out of humour. However, we saw things from the gallows to the dungeons (the potence and the cachots), and returned to Clarens with more freedom than belonged to the fifteenth century.

September 19.

Rose at five. Crossed the mountains to Montbovon on horseback, and on mules, and, by dint of scrambling, on foot also; the whole route beautiful as a dream, and now to me almost as indistinct. I am so tired; -- for though healthy, I have not the strength I possessed but a few years ago. At Montbovon we breakfasted; afterwards, on a steep ascent dismounted; tumbled down; cut a finger open; the baggage also got loose and fell down a ravine, till stopped by a large tree; recovered baggage; horse tired and drooping; mounted mule. At the approach of the summit of Dent Jument [Dent de Jaman] dismounted [259] again with Hobhouse and all the party. Arrived at a lake in the very bosom of the mountains; left our quadrupeds with a shepherd, and ascended farther; came to some snow in patches, upon which my forehead's perspiration fell like rain, making the same dints as in a sieve; the chill of the wind and the snow turned me giddy, but I scrambled on and upwards. Hobhouse went to the highest pinnacle; I did not, but paused within a few yards (at an opening of the cliff). In coming down, the guide tumbled three times; I fell a laughing, and tumbled too -- the descent luckily soft, though steep and slippery: Hobhouse also fell, but nobody hurt. The whole of the mountains superb. A shepherd on a very steep and high cliff playing upon his pipe; very different from Arcadia, where I saw the pastors with a long musket instead of a crook, and pistols in their girdles. Our Swiss shepherd's pipe was sweet, and his tune agreeable. I saw a cow strayed; am told that they often break their necks on and over the crags. Descended to Montbovon; pretty scraggy village, with a wild river and a wooden bridge. Hobhouse went to fish -- caught one. Our carriage not come; our horses, mules, &c. knocked up; ourselves fatigued; but so much the better -- I shall sleep.

The view from the highest points of today's journey comprised on one side the greatest part of Lake Leman; on the other, the valleys and mountain of the Canton of Fribourg, and an immense plain, with the lakes of Neuchâtel and Morat, and all which the borders of the Lake of Geneva inherit; [260] we had both sides of the Jura before us in one point of view, with Alps in plenty. In passing a ravine, the guide recommended strenuously a quickening of pace, as the stones fall with great rapidity and occasional damage; the advice is excellent, but, like most good advice, impracticable, the road being so rough that neither mules, nor mankind, nor horses, can make any violent progress. Passed without fractures or menace thereof.

The music of the cow's bells (for their wealth, like the patriarchs', is cattle) in the pastures, which reach to a height far above any mountains in Britain, and the shepherds shouting to us from crag to crag, and playing on their reeds where the steeps appeared almost inaccessible, with the surrounding scenery, realized all that I have ever heard or imagined of a pastoral existence: -- much more so than Greece or Asia Minor, for there we are a little too much of the sabre and musket order, and if there is a crook in one hand, you are sure to see a gun in the other: -- but this was pure and unmixed -- solitary, savage, and patriarchal. As we went, they played the ' Rans des Vaches' and other airs, by way of farewell. I have lately repeopled my mind with nature.

September 20.

Up at six; off at eight. The whole of this day's journey at an average of between from 2700 to 3000 feet above the level of the sea. This valley, the longest, narrowest, and considered the finest of the Alps, little traversed by travellers. Saw the bridge of La Roche. The bed of the river very low and [261] deep, between immense rocks, and rapid as anger; -- a man and mule said to have tumbled over without damage. The people looked free, and happy, and rich (which last implies neither of the former); the cows superb; a bull nearly leapt into the char-à-banc -- 'agreeable companion in a postchaise;' goats and sheep very thriving. A mountain with enormous glaciers to the right -- the Klitzgerberg; further on, the Hockthorn -- nice names -- so soft ! -- Stockhorn, I believe, very lofty and scraggy, patched with snow only; no glaciers on it, but some good epaulettes of clouds.

Passed the boundaries, out of Vaud and into Berne canton; French exchanged for bad German; the district famous for cheese, liberty, property, and no taxes. Hobhouse went to fish -- caught none. Strolled to the river; saw boy and kid; kid followed him like a dog; kid could not get over a fence, and bleated piteously; tried myself to help kid, but nearly overset both self and kid into the river. Arrived here about six in the evening. Nine o'clock -- going to bed; not tired to day, but hope to sleep, nevertheless.

September 21.

Off early. The valley of Simmenthal as before. Entrance to the plain of Thoun very narrow; high rocks, wooded to the top; river; new mountains, with fine glaciers. Lake of Thoun; extensive plain with a girdle of Alps. Walked down to the Chateau de Schadau; view along the lake; crossed the river in a boat rowed by women. Thoun a very [262] pretty town. The whole day's journey Alpine and proud.

September 22.

Left Thoun in a boat, which carried us the length of the lake in three hours. The lake small; but the banks fine. Rocks down to the water's edge. Landed at Newhause; passed Interlachen; entered upon a range of scenes beyond all description or previous conception. Passed a rock; inscription -- two brothers -- one murdered the other; just the place for it. After a variety of windings came to an enormous rock. Arrived at the foot of the mountain (the Jungfrau, that is, the Maiden); glaciers; torrents; one of these torrents nine hundred feet in height of visible descent [the Staubbachfall]. Lodged at the curate's. Set out to see the valley; heard an avalanche fall, like thunder; glaciers enormous; storm came on, thunder, lightning, hail; all in perfection, and beautiful. I was on horseback; guide wanted to carry my cane; I was going to give it him, when I recollected that it was a swordstick, and I thought the lightning might be attracted towards him; kept it myself; a good deal encumbered with it, as it was too heavy for a whip, and the horse was stupid, and stood with every other peal. Got in, not very wet, the cloak being stanch. Hobhouse wet through; Hobhouse took refuge in cottage; sent man, umbrella, and cloak (from the curate's when I arrived) after him. Swiss curate's house very good indeed -- much better than most English vicarages. It is immediately opposite the torrent I spoke of. The torrent is in shape curving over the rock, like the [263] tail of a white horse streaming in the wind, such as it might be conceived would be that of the 'pale horse' on which Death is mounted in the Apocalypse. It is neither mist nor water, but a something between both; its immense height (nine hundred feet) gives it a wave or curve, a spreading here or condensation there, wonderful and indescribable. I think, upon the whole, that this day has been better than any of this present excursion.

September 23.

Before ascending the mountain, went to the torrent (seven in the morning) again, the sun upon it, forming a rainbow of the lower part of all colours, but principally purple and gold; the bow moving as you move; I never saw any thing like this; it is only in the sunshine. Ascended the Wengen mountain; at noon reached a valley on the summit; left the horses, took off my coat, and went to the summit, seven thousand feet (English feet) above the level of the sea, and about five thousand above the valley [264] we left in the morning. On one side, our view comprised the Jungfrau, with all her glaciers; then the Dent d'Argent [the Silberhorn], shining like truth; then the Little Giant (the Kleine Eigher); and the Great Giant (the Grosse Eigher), and last, not least, the Wetterhorn. The height of Jungfrau is 13,000 feet above the sea, 11,000 above the valley; she is the highest of this range. Heard the avalanches falling every five minutes nearly. From whence we stood, on the Wengen Alp, we had all these in view on one side, on the other, the clouds rose from the opposite valley, curling up perpendicular precipices like the foam of the ocean of hell, during a spring tide -- it was white and sulphury, and immeasurably deep in appearance. The side we ascended was (of course) not of so precipitous a nature; but on arriving at the summit, we looked down upon the other side upon a boiling sea of cloud, dashing against the crags on which we stood (these crags on one side quite perpendicular). Stayed a quarter of an hour; begun to descend; quite clear from cloud on that side of the mountain. In passing the masses of snow, I made a snowball and pelted Hobhouse with it.

Got down to our horses again; ate something; [265] remounted; heard the avalanches still; came to a morass; Hobhouse dismounted to get over well; I tried to pass my horse over; the horse sunk up to the chin, and of course he and I were in the mud together; bemired, but not hurt; laughed, and rode on. Arrived at the Grindelwald; dined; mounted again, and rode to the higher glacier -- like a frozen hurricane. Starlight, beautiful, but a devil of a path! Never mind, got safe in; a little lightning; but the whole of the day as fine in point of weather as the day on which Paradise was made. Passed whole woods of withered pines, all withered; trunks stripped and barkless, branches lifeless; done by a single winter, -- their appearance reminded me of me and my family.

Set off at seven; up at five. Passed the black glacier, the mountain Wetterhorn on the right; crossed the Scheideck mountain; came to the Rose glacier, said to be the largest and finest in Switzerland. I think the Bossons glacier at Chamouni as fine; Hobhouse does not. Came to the Reichenbach waterfall, two hundred feet high; halted to rest the horses. Arrived in the valley of Overland [Haslital]; rain came on; drenched a little; only four hours' rain, [266] however, in eight days. Came to the lake of Brientz, then to the town of Brientz; changed. In the evening, four Swiss peasant girls of Oberhasli came and sang the airs of their country; two of the voices beautiful -- the tunes also; so wild and original, and at the same time of great sweetness. The singing is over; but below stairs I hear the notes of a fiddle, which bode no good to my night's rest; I shall go down and see the dancing.

September 25.

The whole town of Brientz were apparently gathered together in the rooms below; pretty music and excellent waltzing; none but peasants; the dancing much better than in England; the English can't waltz, never could, never will. One man with his pipe in his mouth, but danced as well as the others; some other dances in pairs and in fours, and very good. I went to bed, but the revelry continued below late and early. Brientz but a village. Rose early. Embarked on the lake of Brientz, rowed by the women in a long boat; presently we put to shore, and another woman jumped in. It seems it is the custom here for the boats to be manned by women: for of five men and three women in our bark, all the women took an oar, and but one man.

Got to Interlachen in three hours; pretty lake; not so large as that of Thoun. Dined at Interlachen. Girl gave me some flowers, and made me a speech in German, of which I know nothing; I do not know whether the speech was pretty, but as the woman was, I hope so. Re-embarked on the lake of Thoun; [267] fell asleep part of the way; sent our horses round; found people on the shore, blowing up a rock with gunpowder; they blew it up near our boat, only telling us a minute before; -- mere stupidity, but they might have broken our noddles. Got to Thoun in the evening; the weather has been tolerable the whole day. But as the wild part of our tour is finished, it don't matter to us; in all the desirable part, we have been most lucky in warmth and clearness of atmosphere.

September 26.

Being out of the mountains, my journal must be as flat as my journey. From Thoun to Berne, good road, hedges, villages, industry, property, and all sorts of tokens of insipid civilization. From Berne to Fribourg; different canton; Catholics; passed a field of battle; Swiss beat the French in one of the late wars against the French republic. Bought a dog. The greater part of this tour has been on horseback, on foot, and on mule.

September 28.

Saw the tree planted in honour of the battle of Morat; three hundred and forty years old; a good deal decayed. Left Fribourg, but first saw the cathedral; high tower. Overtook the baggage of the nuns of La Trappe, who are removing to Normandy; afterwards a coach, with a quantity of nuns in it. Proceeded along the banks of the lake of Neuchâtel; very pleasing and soft, but not so mountainous -- at least, the Jura, not appearing so, after the Bernese Alps. Reached Yverdun in the dusk; a long line of large trees on the border of the lake; fine and [268] sombre; the auberge nearly full -- a German princess and suite; got rooms.

September 29.

Passed through a fine and flourishing country, but not mountainous. In the evening reached Aubonne (the entrance and bridge something like that of Durham), which commands by far the fairest view of the Lake of Geneva; twilight; the moon on the lake; a grove on the height, and of very noble trees. Here Tavernier (the eastern traveller) bought (or built) the chateau, because the site resembled and equalled that of Erivan, a frontier city of Persia; here he finished his voyages, and I this little excursion, -- for I am within a few hours of Diodati, and have little more to see, and no more to say.

[Moore's note: ] With the following melancholy passage this Journal concludes:--

In the weather for this tour (of 18 days), I have been very fortunate -- fortunate in a companion (Mr. H.) -- fortunate in our prospects, and exempt from even the little petty accidents and delays which often render journeys in a less wild country disappointing. I was disposed to be pleased. I am a lover of nature and an admirer of beauty. I can bear fatigue and welcome privation, and have seen some of the noblest views in the world. But in all this -- the recollection of bitterness, and more especially of recent and more home desolation, which must accompany me through life, have preyed upon me here; and neither the music of the shepherd, [269] the crashing of the avalanche, nor the torrent, the mountain, the glacier, the forest, nor the cloud, have for one moment lightened the weight upon my heart, nor enabled me to lose my own wretched identity in the majesty, and the power, and the glory, around, above, and beneath me.

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Document created March 13th 2003