Lucerne – Switzerland

A height crowned with embattled ramparts that bristle with loop-holed turrets; church towers mingling their graceful spires and peaceful crosses with those warlike edifices; dazzling white villas, planted like tents under curtains of verdure; tall houses with old red skylights on the roofs—this is our first glimpse of the Catholic and warlike city of Lucerne. We seem to be approaching some town of old feudal times that has been left solitary and forgotten on the mountain side, outside of the current of modern life.

But when We pass through the station we find ourselves suddenly transported to the side of the lake, where whole flotillas of large and small boats lie moored on the blue waters of a large harbor. And along the banks of this wonderful lake is a whole town of hotels, gay with’ many colored flags, their terraces and balconies rising tier above tier, like the galleries of a grand theater whose scenery is the mighty Alps.

In summer Lucerne is the Hyde Park of Switzerland. Its quays are thronged by people of every nation. There you meet pale women from the lands of snow, and dark women from the lands of the sun; tall, six-foot English women, and lively, alert, trim Parisian women, with the light and graceful carriage of a bird on the bough. At certain hours this promenade on the quays is like a charity fair or a rustic ball—bright colors and airy draperies everywhere.

Nowhere can the least calm and repose be found but in the old town. There the gabled houses, with wooden galleries hanging over the waters of the Reuss, make a charming ancient picture, like a bit of Venice set down amid the verdant landscape of the valley.

I also discovered on the heights beyond the ram-parts a pretty and peaceful convent of Capuchins, the way to which winds among wild plants, starry with flowers. It is delicious to go right away, far from the town swarming and running over with Londoners, Germans, and Americans, and to find yourself among fragrant hedges, peopled by warblers whom it has not yet occurred to the hotelkeepers to teach to sing in English. This sweet path leads without fatigue to the convent of the good fathers.

In a garden flooded with sunshine and balmy with the fragrance of mignonette and vervain, where broad sunflowers erect their black discs fringed with gold, two brothers with fan-shaped beards, their brass-mounted spectacles astride on their flat noses, and arrayed in green gardening aprons, are plying enormous watering-cans; while, in the green and cool half-twilight under the shadowy trees, big, rubicund brothers walk up and down, reading their red-edged breviaries in black leather bindings.

Happy monks! Not a fraction of a pessimist among them! How well they understand life! A beautiful convent, beautiful nature, good wine and good cheer, neither disturbance nor care; neither wife nor children; and when they leave the world, heaven specially created for them, seraphim waiting for them with harps of gold, and angels with urns of rose-water to wash their feet!

Lucerne began as a nest of monks, hidden in an orchard like a nest of sparrows. The first house of the town was a monastery, erected by the side of the lake. The nest grew, became a village, then a town, then a city. The monks of Murbach, to whom the monastery of St. Leger belonged, had got into debt; this sometimes does happen even to monks. They sold to King Rudolf all the property they possest at Lucerne and in Unterwalden; and thus the town passed into the hands of the Hapsburgs.

When the first Cantons, after expelling the Austrian bailiffs, had declared their independence, Lucerne was still one of Austria’s advanced posts. But its people were daily brought into contact with the shepherds of the Forest Cantons, who came into the town to supply themselves with pro-visions; and they were not long in beginning to ask themselves if there was any reason why they should not be, as well as their neighbors, absolutely free. The position of the partizans of Austria soon became so precarious that they found it safe to leave the town. . .

The opening of the St. Gothard Railway has given a new impulse to this cosmopolitan city, which has a great future before it. Already it has supplanted Interlaken in the estimation of the furbelowed, fashionable world—the women who come to Switzerland not to see but to be seen. Lucerne is now the chief summer station of the twenty-two Cantons. And yet it does not possess many objects of interest. There is the old bridge on the Reuss, with its ancient paintings; the Church of St. Leger, with its lateral altars and its Campo Santo, reminding us of Italian cemeteries; the museum at the Town Hall, with its fine collection of stained glass; the blood-stained standards from the Burgundian wars, and the flag in which noble old Gundolfingen, after charging his fellow-citizens never to elect their magistrates for more than a year, wrapt himself as in a shroud of glory to die in the fight; finally, there is the Lion of Lucerne; and that is all.

The most wonderful thing of all is that you are allowed to see this lion for nothing; for close beside it you are charged a franc for permission to cast an indifferent glance on some uninteresting excavations, which date, it is said, from the glacial period. We do not care if they do.

The great quay of Lucerne is delightful; as good as the seashore at Dieppe or Trouville. Before you, limpid and blue, lies the lake, which from the character of its shores, at once stern and graceful, is the finest in Switzerland. In front rises the snow-clad peaks of Uri, to the left the Rigi, to the right the austere Pilatus, almost always wearing his high cap of clouds. This beautiful walk on the quay, long and shady like the avenue of a gentleman’s park, is the daily resort, toward four o’clock, of all the foreigners who are crowded in the hotels or packed in the boarding-houses. Here are Russian and Polish counts with long mustaches, and pins set with false brilliants; Englishmen with fishes’ or horses’ heads; English-women with the figures of angels or of giraffes; Parisian women, daintily attired, sprightly, and coquettish; American women, free in their bearing, and eccentric in their dress, and their men as stiff as the smoke-pipes of steamboats; German women, with languishing voices, drooping and pale like willow branches, fair-haired and blue-eyed, talking in the same breath of Goethe and the price of sausages, of the moon and their glass of beer, of stars and black radishes. And here and there are a few little Swiss girls, fresh and rosy as wood strawberries, smiling darlings like Dresden shepherdesses, dreaming of scenes of platonic love in a great garden adorned with the statue of William Tell or General Dufour.