Switzerland, the Cradle of Liberty by Mark Twain
Interlaken, Switzerland, 1891.
It is a good many years since I was in Switzerland last. In that remote
time there was only one ladder railway in the country. That state of
things is all changed. There isn't a mountain in Switzerland now that
hasn't a ladder railroad or two up its back like suspenders; indeed, some
mountains are latticed with them, and two years hence all will be. In that
day the peasant of the high altitudes will have to carry a lantern when he
goes visiting in the night to keep from stumbling over railroads that have
been built since his last round. And also in that day, if there shall
remain a high-altitude peasant whose potato-patch hasn't a railroad
through it, it will make him as conspicuous as William Tell.
However, there are only two best ways to travel through Switzerland. The
first best is afoot. The second best is by open two-horse carriage. One
can come from Lucerne to Interlaken over the Brunig by ladder railroad in
an hour or so now, but you can glide smoothly in a carriage in ten, and
have two hours for luncheon at noon—for luncheon, not for rest.
There is no fatigue connected with the trip. One arrives fresh in spirit
and in person in the evening—no fret in his heart, no grime on his
face, no grit in his hair, not a cinder in his eye. This is the right
condition of mind and body, the right and due preparation for the solemn
event which closed the day—stepping with metaphorically uncovered
head into the presence of the most impressive mountain mass that the globe
can show—the Jungfrau. The stranger's first feeling, when suddenly
confronted by that towering and awful apparition wrapped in its shroud of
snow, is breath-taking astonishment. It is as if heaven's gates had swung
open and exposed the throne.
It is peaceful here and pleasant at Interlaken. Nothing going on—at
least nothing but brilliant life-giving sunshine. There are floods and
floods of that. One may properly speak of it as "going on," for it is full
of the suggestion of activity; the light pours down with energy, with
visible enthusiasm. This is a good atmosphere to be in, morally as well as
physically. After trying the political atmosphere of the neighboring
monarchies, it is healing and refreshing to breathe in air that has known
no taint of slavery for six hundred years, and to come among a people
whose political history is great and fine, and worthy to be taught in all
schools and studied by all races and peoples. For the struggle here
throughout the centuries has not been in the interest of any private
family, or any church, but in the interest of the whole body of the
nation, and for shelter and protection of all forms of belief. This fact
is colossal. If one would realize how colossal it is, and of what dignity
and majesty, let him contrast it with the purposes and objects of the
Crusades, the siege of York, the War of the Roses, and other historic
comedies of that sort and size.
Last week I was beating around the Lake of Four Cantons, and I saw Rutli
and Altorf. Rutli is a remote little patch of a meadow, but I do not know
how any piece of ground could be holier or better worth crossing oceans
and continents to see, since it was there that the great trinity of
Switzerland joined hands six centuries ago and swore the oath which set
their enslaved and insulted country forever free; and Altorf is also
honorable ground and worshipful, since it was there that William, surnamed
Tell (which interpreted means "The foolish talker"—that is to say,
the too-daring talker), refused to bow to Gessler's hat. Of late years the
prying student of history has been delighting himself beyond measure over
a wonderful find which he has made—to wit, that Tell did not shoot
the apple from his son's head. To hear the students jubilate, one would
suppose that the question of whether Tell shot the apple or didn't was an
important matter; whereas it ranks in importance exactly with the question
of whether Washington chopped down the cherry-tree or didn't. The deeds of
Washington, the patriot, are the essential thing; the cherry-tree incident
is of no consequence. To prove that Tell did shoot the apple from his
son's head would merely prove that he had better nerve than most men and
was as skillful with a bow as a million others who preceded and followed
him, but not one whit more so. But Tell was more and better than a mere
marksman, more and better than a mere cool head; he was a type; he stands
for Swiss patriotism; in his person was represented a whole people; his
spirit was their spirit—the spirit which would bow to none but God,
the spirit which said this in words and confirmed it with deeds. There
have always been Tells in Switzerland—people who would not bow.
There was a sufficiency of them at Rutli; there were plenty of them at
Murten; plenty at Grandson; there are plenty today. And the first of them
all—the very first, earliest banner-bearer of human freedom in this
world—was not a man, but a woman—Stauffacher's wife. There she
looms dim and great, through the haze of the centuries, delivering into
her husband's ear that gospel of revolt which was to bear fruit in the
conspiracy of Rutli and the birth of the first free government the world
had ever seen.
From this Victoria Hotel one looks straight across a flat of trifling
width to a lofty mountain barrier, which has a gateway in it shaped like
an inverted pyramid. Beyond this gateway arises the vast bulk of the
Jungfrau, a spotless mass of gleaming snow, into the sky. The gateway, in
the dark-colored barrier, makes a strong frame for the great picture. The
somber frame and the glowing snow-pile are startlingly contrasted. It is
this frame which concentrates and emphasizes the glory of the Jungfrau and
makes it the most engaging and beguiling and fascinating spectacle that
exists on the earth. There are many mountains of snow that are as lofty as
the Jungfrau and as nobly proportioned, but they lack the frame. They
stand at large; they are intruded upon and elbowed by neighboring domes
and summits, and their grandeur is diminished and fails of effect.
It is a good name, Jungfrau—Virgin. Nothing could be whiter; nothing
could be purer; nothing could be saintlier of aspect. At six yesterday
evening the great intervening barrier seen through a faint bluish haze
seemed made of air and substanceless, so soft and rich it was, so
shimmering where the wandering lights touched it and so dim where the
shadows lay. Apparently it was a dream stuff, a work of the imagination,
nothing real about it. The tint was green, slightly varying shades of it,
but mainly very dark. The sun was down—as far as that barrier was
concerned, but not for the Jungfrau, towering into the heavens beyond the
gateway. She was a roaring conflagration of blinding white.
It is said the Fridolin (the old Fridolin), a new saint, but formerly a
missionary, gave the mountain its gracious name. He was an Irishman, son
of an Irish king—there were thirty thousand kings reigning in County
Cork alone in his time, fifteen hundred years ago. It got so that they
could not make a living, there was so much competition and wages got cut
so. Some of them were out of work months at a time, with wife and little
children to feed, and not a crust in the place. At last a particularly
severe winter fell upon the country, and hundreds of them were reduced to
mendicancy and were to be seen day after day in the bitterest weather,
standing barefoot in the snow, holding out their crowns for alms. Indeed,
they would have been obliged to emigrate or starve but for a fortunate
idea of Prince Fridolin's, who started a labor-union, the first one in
history, and got the great bulk of them to join it. He thus won the
general gratitude, and they wanted to make him emperor—emperor over
them all—emperor of County Cork, but he said, No, walking delegate
was good enough for him. For behold! he was modest beyond his years, and
keen as a whip. To this day in Germany and Switzerland, where St. Fridolin
is revered and honored, the peasantry speak of him affectionately as the
first walking delegate.
The first walk he took was into France and Germany, missionarying—for
missionarying was a better thing in those days than it is in ours. All you
had to do was to cure the head savage's sick daughter by a "miracle"—a
miracle like the miracle of Lourdes in our day, for instance—and
immediately that head savage was your convert, and filled to the eyes with
a new convert's enthusiasm. You could sit down and make yourself easy,
now. He would take an ax and convert the rest of the nation himself.
Charlemagne was that kind of a walking delegate.
Yes, there were great missionaries in those days, for the methods were
sure and the rewards great. We have no such missionaries now, and no such
But to continue the history of the first walking delegate, if you are
interested. I am interested myself because I have seen his relics in
Sackingen, and also the very spot where he worked his great miracle—the
one which won him his sainthood in the papal court a few centuries later.
To have seen these things makes me feel very near to him, almost like a
member of the family, in fact. While wandering about the Continent he
arrived at the spot on the Rhine which is now occupied by Sackingen, and
proposed to settle there, but the people warned him off. He appealed to
the king of the Franks, who made him a present of the whole region, people
and all. He built a great cloister there for women and proceeded to teach
in it and accumulate more land. There were two wealthy brothers in the
neighborhood, Urso and Landulph. Urso died and Fridolin claimed his
estates. Landulph asked for documents and papers. Fridolin had none to
show. He said the bequest had been made to him by word of mouth. Landulph
suggested that he produce a witness and said it in a way which he thought
was very witty, very sarcastic. This shows that he did not know the
walking delegate. Fridolin was not disturbed. He said:
"Appoint your court. I will bring a witness."
The court thus created consisted of fifteen counts and barons. A day was
appointed for the trial of the case. On that day the judges took their
seats in state, and proclamation was made that the court was ready for
business. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes passed, and yet no
Fridolin appeared. Landulph rose, and was in the act of claiming judgment
by default when a strange clacking sound was heard coming up the stairs.
In another moment Fridolin entered at the door and came walking in a deep
hush down the middle aisle, with a tall skeleton stalking in his rear.
Amazement and terror sat upon every countenance, for everybody suspected
that the skeleton was Urso's. It stopped before the chief judge and raised
its bony arm aloft and began to speak, while all the assembly shuddered,
for they could see the words leak out between its ribs. It said:
"Brother, why dost thou disturb my blessed rest and withhold by robbery
the gift which I gave thee for the honor of God?"
It seems a strange thing and most irregular, but the verdict was actually
given against Landulph on the testimony of this wandering rack-heap of
unidentified bones. In our day a skeleton would not be allowed to testify
at all, for a skeleton has no moral responsibility, and its word could not
be believed on oath, and this was probably one of them. Most skeletons are
not to be believed on oath, and this was probably one of them. However,
the incident is valuable as preserving to us a curious sample of the
quaint laws of evidence of that remote time--a time so remote, so far back
toward the beginning of original idiocy, that the difference between a
bench of judges and a basket of vegetables was as yet so slight that we
may say with all confidence that it didn't really exist.
During several afternoons I have been engaged in an interesting, maybe
useful, piece of work—that is to say, I have been trying to make the
mighty Jungfrau earn her living—earn it in a most humble sphere, but
on a prodigious scale, on a prodigious scale of necessity, for she
couldn't do anything in a small way with her size and style. I have been
trying to make her do service on a stupendous dial and check off the hours
as they glide along her pallid face up there against the sky, and tell the
time of day to the populations lying within fifty miles of her and to the
people in the moon, if they have a good telescope there.
Until late in the afternoon the Jungfrau's aspect is that of a spotless
desert of snow set upon edge against the sky. But by mid-afternoon some
elevations which rise out of the western border of the desert, whose
presence you perhaps had not detected or suspected up to that time, began
to cast black shadows eastward across the gleaming surface. At first there
is only one shadow; later there are two. Toward 4 P.M. the other day I was
gazing and worshiping as usual when I chanced to notice that shadow No. 1
was beginning to take itself something of the shape of the human profile.
By four the back of the head was good, the military cap was pretty good,
the nose was bold and strong, the upper lip sharp, but not pretty, and
there was a great goatee that shot straight aggressively forward from the
At four-thirty the nose had changed its shape considerably, and the
altered slant of the sun had revealed and made conspicuous a huge buttress
or barrier of naked rock which was so located as to answer very well for a
shoulder or coat-collar to this swarthy and indiscreet sweetheart who had
stolen out there right before everybody to pillow his head on the Virgin's
white breast and whisper soft sentimentalities to her in the sensuous
music of the crashing ice-domes and the boom and thunder of the passing
avalanche—music very familiar to his ear, for he has heard it every
afternoon at this hour since the day he first came courting this child of
the earth, who lives in the sky, and that day is far, yes—for he was
at this pleasant sport before the Middle Ages drifted by him in the
valley; before the Romans marched past, and before the antique and
recordless barbarians fished and hunted here and wondered who he might be,
and were probably afraid of him; and before primeval man himself, just
emerged from his four-footed estate, stepped out upon this plain, first
sample of his race, a thousand centuries ago, and cast a glad eye up
there, judging he had found a brother human being and consequently
something to kill; and before the big saurians wallowed here, still some
eons earlier. Oh yes, a day so far back that the eternal son was present
to see that first visit; a day so far back that neither tradition nor
history was born yet and a whole weary eternity must come and go before
the restless little creature, of whose face this stupendous Shadow Face
was the prophecy, would arrive in the earth and begin his shabby career
and think it a big thing. Oh, indeed yes; when you talk about your poor
Roman and Egyptian day-before-yesterday antiquities, you should choose a
time when the hoary Shadow Face of the Jungfrau is not by. It antedates
all antiquities known or imaginable; for it was here the world itself
created the theater of future antiquities. And it is the only witness with
a human face that was there to see the marvel, and remains to us a
memorial of it.
By 4:40 P.M. the nose of the shadow is perfect and is beautiful. It is
black and is powerfully marked against the upright canvas of glowing snow,
and covers hundreds of acres of that resplendent surface.
Meantime shadow No. 2 has been creeping out well to the rear of the face
west of it—and at five o'clock has assumed a shape that has rather a
poor and rude semblance of a shoe.
Meantime, also, the great Shadow Face has been gradually changing for
twenty minutes, and now, 5 P.M., it is becoming a quite fair portrait of
Roscoe Conkling. The likeness is there, and is unmistakable. The goatee is
shortened, now, and has an end; formerly it hadn't any, but ran off
eastward and arrived nowhere.
By 6 P.M. the face has dissolved and gone, and the goatee has become what
looks like the shadow of a tower with a pointed roof, and the shoe had
turned into what the printers call a "fist" with a finger pointing.
If I were now imprisoned on a mountain summit a hundred miles northward of
this point, and was denied a timepiece, I could get along well enough from
four till six on clear days, for I could keep trace of the time by the
changing shapes of these mighty shadows on the Virgin's front, the most
stupendous dial I am acquainted with, the oldest clock in the world by a
couple of million years.
I suppose I should not have noticed the forms of the shadows if I hadn't
the habit of hunting for faces in the clouds and in mountain crags—a
sort of amusement which is very entertaining even when you don't find any,
and brilliantly satisfying when you do. I have searched through several
bushels of photographs of the Jungfrau here, but found only one with the
Face in it, and in this case it was not strictly recognizable as a face,
which was evidence that the picture was taken before four o'clock in the
afternoon, and also evidence that all the photographers have persistently
overlooked one of the most fascinating features of the Jungfrau show. I
say fascinating, because if you once detect a human face produced on a
great plan by unconscious nature, you never get tired of watching it. At
first you can't make another person see it at all, but after he has made
it out once he can't see anything else afterward.
The King of Greece is a man who goes around quietly enough when off duty.
One day this summer he was traveling in an ordinary first-class
compartment, just in his other suit, the one which he works the realm in
when he is at home, and so he was not looking like anybody in particular,
but a good deal like everybody in general. By and by a hearty and healthy
German-American got in and opened up a frank and interesting and
sympathetic conversation with him, and asked him a couple of thousand
questions about himself, which the king answered good-naturedly, but in a
more or less indefinite way as to private particulars.
"Where do you live when you are at home?"
"Greece! Well, now, that is just astonishing! Born there?"
"Do you speak Greek?"
"Now, ain't that strange! I never expected to live to see that. What is
your trade? I mean how do you get your living? What is your line of
"Well, I hardly know how to answer. I am only a kind of foreman, on a
salary; and the business—well, is a very general kind of business."
"Yes, I understand—general jobbing—little of everything—anything
that there's money in."
"That's about it, yes."
"Are you traveling for the house now?"
"Well, partly; but not entirely. Of course I do a stroke of business if it
falls in the way—"
"Good! I like that in you! That's me every time. Go on."
"I was only going to say I am off on my vacation now."
"Well that's all right. No harm in that. A man works all the better for a
little let-up now and then. Not that I've been used to having it myself;
for I haven't. I reckon this is my first. I was born in Germany, and when
I was a couple of weeks old shipped for America, and I've been there ever
since, and that's sixty-four years by the watch. I'm an American in
principle and a German at heart, and it's the boss combination. Well, how
do you get along, as a rule—pretty fair?"
"I've a rather large family—"
"There, that's it—big family and trying to raise them on a salary.
Now, what did you go to do that for?"
"Well, I thought—"
"Of course you did. You were young and confident and thought you could
branch out and make things go with a whirl, and here you are, you see! But
never mind about that. I'm not trying to discourage you. Dear me! I've
been just where you are myself! You've got good grit; there's good stuff
in you, I can see that. You got a wrong start, that's the whole trouble.
But you hold your grip, and we'll see what can be done. Your case ain't
half as bad as it might be. You are going to come out all right—I'm
bail for that. Boys and girls?"
"My family? Yes, some of them are boys—"
"And the rest girls. It's just as I expected. But that's all right, and
it's better so, anyway. What are the boys doing—learning a trade?"
"Well, no—I thought—"
"It's a great mistake. It's the biggest mistake you ever made. You see
that in your own case. A man ought always to have a trade to fall back on.
Now, I was harness-maker at first. Did that prevent me from becoming one
of the biggest brewers in America? Oh no. I always had the harness trick
to fall back on in rough weather. Now, if you had learned how to make
harness—However, it's too late now; too late. But it's no good plan
to cry over spilt milk. But as to the boys, you see—what's to become
of them if anything happens to you?"
"It has been my idea to let the eldest one succeed me—"
"Oh, come! Suppose the firm don't want him?"
"I hadn't thought of that, but—"
"Now, look here; you want to get right down to business and stop dreaming.
You are capable of immense things—man. You can make a perfect
success in life. All you want is somebody to steady you and boost you
along on the right road. Do you own anything in the business?"
"No—not exactly; but if I continue to give satisfaction, I suppose I
can keep my—"
"Keep your place—yes. Well, don't you depend on anything of the
kind. They'll bounce you the minute you get a little old and worked out;
they'll do it sure. Can't you manage somehow to get into the firm? That's
the great thing, you know."
"I think it is doubtful; very doubtful."
"Um—that's bad—yes, and unfair, too. Do you suppose that if I
should go there and have a talk with your people—Look here—do
you think you could run a brewery?"
"I have never tried, but I think I could do it after I got a little
familiarity with the business."
The German was silent for some time. He did a good deal of thinking, and
the king waited curiousity to see what the result was going to be. Finally
the German said:
"My mind's made up. You leave that crowd—you'll never amount to
anything there. In these old countries they never give a fellow a show.
Yes, you come over to America—come to my place in Rochester; bring
the family along. You shall have a show in the business and the
foremanship, besides. George—you said your name was George?—I'll
make a man of you. I give you my word. You've never had a chance here, but
that's all going to change. By gracious! I'll give you a lift that'll make
your hair curl!"