Eduard Bernstein

My Years of Exile

Across the St. Gotthard in 1878

IN the late summer of 1878 Karl Höchberg – since deceased – inquired whether I should care to accompany him on his travels as secretary on the staff of the Socialist periodical, Die Zukunft, of which he was then the publisher. It was an enticing offer for one who, like myself, had done very little travelling, and except for a visit to Vienna, in the summer of 1872, had so far seen nothing of foreign countries. So I set aside the material considerations which might have deterred me: the danger of giving up a safe, and – in respect of my requirements – a sufficiently well-paid post in a bank in exchange for a position which would probably be only a temporary one; and I accepted. Höchberg, who was compelled, owing to a chronic affection of the lungs, to seek a warmer climate, wrote to me saying that he was going in the first place to Lugano, and that he would expect me there. My knowledge of the beautiful city on the banks of the Ceresio was at that time extremely slight. But the mere sound of the word had a magical effect upon me, and I joyfully set forth, on the 12th October 1878, on the journey which was to take me for the first time into Switzerland. But I had no foreboding that this journey was also to exile me from my native country, and the city of my birth, Berlin, for more than twenty years.

The journey to Basle occupied two nights and a day; the day I spent in Frankfort-on-the-Main, in order to visit, at Höchberg’s wish, his family and two of his friends. One of these friends – who died only recently – was well known, as a sociologist and politician, to the people’s party; this was Dr. Karl Flesch, a town councillor, a deputy to the Landtag, and a newly fledged barrister: the other was G. Schnapper-Arndt, a man of letters, whose knowledge of social politics was the fruit of a mass of valuable research work. My visit to Frankfort was made as pleasant as could be by these two gentlemen, as well as by Höchberg’s family – which did not prevent my passing the second night of my journey, as well as the first, absolutely without sleep. But I slept on the third night.

On the morning of the 14th October we came to Basle, and thence we proceeded by way of Olten to Lucerne. From Lucerne we had to take the boat to Flüelen, and thence we set forth by diligence over the St. Gotthard Pass, for the St. Gotthard Railway was then only in course of construction. Fortunately so, I may say, for I had to thank this circumstance for one of the most beautiful memories of my life.

My first impression of Switzerland, obtained through the window of the railway carriage, and later from the deck of the steamer, was something of a disillusion. The morning was cold, wet, and misty, and the lower slopes of the Alps, through which we were then travelling, – and which since then, with their wealth of alluring and constantly changing landscapes, have become, for me, an ever-renewed source of rapturous delight, – by no means came up to the conceptions of the Swiss mountains which my imagination had painted for me. So far my eye was completely unable to form an estimate of mountain and valley, and because the apparent height of the mountains did not correspond with my anticipations, the beauties of their wooded slopes, and the charm of their surrounding plains and meadows, escaped me. Consequently the Rigi and even Pilatus fell short of my expectations, and my disillusion was of course increased by the fact that the highest peaks of these mountains were hidden in cloud. Owing to the dullness of the day even the Lake of the Four Cantons was not seen all at once in its full beauty. But when we had left Beckenried and Gersau behind us the weather suddenly cleared, and near Brunnen, as the steamer entered the last limb of the lake – the Urner section – the lake was suddenly unrolled before me, shining with the most wonderful blue, and surrounded by the ever-aspiring mountains, with the mighty Uri-Rotstock and the Bristenstock in the background. So enchanting was the picture that only one thing was lacking to raise the exaltation that took possession of me to the highest conceivable degree: the sympathetic human soul beside me, to whom I could have expressed all that filled my mind and struggled for release. Although the vessel was well filled with passengers I had not made any close acquaintance among them, which was less their fault than mine, and on my part it was assuredly due less to any lack of goodwill than to a lack of social dexterity. To strike up a conversation with a fellow-traveller, or for that matter with any stranger, is to me almost always a matter of insuperable difficulty. And in those days especially I belonged to that category of travellers which I am to-day in the habit of calling the passive category.

I am not aware whether any one has anticipated me in making this division, but at the risk of repeating what has already been said I should like here in passing to remark that of all the many classes of travellers two is particular may be sharply distinguished: they are, the active travellers and the passive travellers. The first are the true artists of travel: they know everything worth knowing about the journey they are about to make, and they see everything that repays a glance. They find their way about everywhere and at all times, as easily as possible, and they contrive to manage their fellow-travellers as it suits their wishes or their needs. Very different is the class of those whom I call the passive travellers, because they allow themselves to be dispatched rather than travel in the true sense of the word. At best they know only the most necessary things, which one must know if one isn’t to get completely lost, and they see only that which pushes itself, so to speak, right in front of them. In such matters as securing seats, in carriage or coach, choosing the right hotel, getting the right room, etc., they rely more or less upon hazard, and if it comes to a question of give and take between them and their fellow-travellers, they are the givers.

When Mother Nature so created me that I belong to the second category of travellers rather than to the first, she also gave me, in compensation, a higher degree of susceptibility than that which the average person is blessed with, and as makeweight the cognate disposition to reconcile myself readily with any situation. This last is an attribute which from the general point of view cannot be called a virtue. For if it were innate in all of us it would go ill with social and cultural progress. The gift of susceptibility, however, is a gift that hurts no one, but helps one over many a blunder.

As I had applied in Flüelen for a voucher for the journey over the St. Gotthard Pass, and had left it to the mail contractor to allot me a place, Fate had been very kind to me. Like most of the mountain diligences, the old Gotthard diligence had three sorts or classes of sitting accommodation. The dearest of these was the “Imperial,” a seat above or behind the coach proper, which allowed the traveller a full view of the landscape through which he was travelling. Next in rank, and price was the “coupé,” three seats under the driver, with a limited but still extensive outlook, forwards. The cheapest or “interior” places were the seats inside the coach, from which the traveller could at best see a portion of the landscape, but never a full view of it. In order to save money I had taken an “interior,” but was given a place in the “extra coach,” which was nothing more than an open carriage with four seats, which were perhaps not quite so soft as the seats of the “Imperial,” but if possible afforded an even finer view. So I was able to enjoy the journey across the St. Gotthard to the full.

And what a journey it was! First of all came the wonderful Reussthal – with its luxuriant vegetation. As on the Lake of the Four Cantons memories of Schiller’s Tell had been awakened by the Rütli and the Teltsplatte, so here, as we passed, behind Flüelen, the old market-town of Altdorf, the place of the legendary shooting of the apple, it was impossible not to think of the great poet, who had sung of this neighbourhood to such wonderful effect, although he had never seen it. What a power over the emotions had the legend to which he had given enduring life, and how completely the heart failed to respond to the historical truth, established by careful research! We ought sorely to lament this victory of the glorified legend over the unveiled truth, were it not at the same time a victory of the struggle to preserve the ideals which uplift us above the littleness and the doubts of every day. The men of the Four Cantons who revolted against the government of the Hapsburgs may in reality have been ignorant stock-farmers, who, historically considered, in comparison with that Government, were reactionaries; yet their fight was none the less a fight for right, and, as such, is worthy of commemoration. Men see in Wilhelm Tell the ideal avenger of an oppressed people, and it is well for them that they refuse to allow him to be taken from them.

Such reflections thronged into my mind at the sight of the pictures on the house-fronts which one sees on driving through Altdorf, many of which depict incidents of the struggle of the Four Cantons. The inscriptions on the shops and inns, on the other hand, told us that it was the proletarian children of Italy who were building the St. Gotthard Railway, which was then under construction. There was hardly one of these inscriptions that had not the Italian version under the German. From the main highway the coach road climbed upwards in innumerable windings, continually crossing the Reuss on stone bridges, so that the traveller had the river now on his right hand, now on his left, but always deep below him, where it made its way onward, foaming and roaring, over a bed full of blocks of stone of every size. The weather was glorious; it was a clear autumn day, the air cool but not cold, so that all the men of the party (for women such behaviour was not at that time considered seemly) left their seats and proceeded to climb upwards by the short cuts or connecting paths, which shortened the distance so greatly that one could keep well ahead of the diligence without making any extraordinary effort. When the road became more level and the post-horses were in consequence able to gallop we resumed our seats, only to leave them again when we came to a fresh rise, to repeat the former process. These intervals of actual climbing were the best parts of the journey.

On either side, continually assuming fresh forms, were the mighty, upward-shouldering mountains, still wooded here and there; above was the cloudless vault of heaven; by the wayside was the lovely Alpine vegetation; and below us, framed in luxuriously over-grown banks, was the roaring Reuss. The buoyant air was faintly aromatic. All this together worked like magic on the emotions. The fairy-tales which one reads in childhood rose to one’s mind; one found one’s self in the world which they described; – the stillness all around – for I kept, for the most part, at a respectful distance from the other travellers – gave rise to a mood which realised the words of the poet, false as a matter of natural history, yet containing so much truth from the standpoint of human history

The world is perfect everywhere
Where man is not with his pain and care.

The evening fell much too early, compelling us to travel uninterruptedly by coach. As we drove through Göschenen we saw at a short distance above us what looked like moving glow-worms. The Italian workmen employed on the construction of the tunnel were seeking their quarters with their little hand-lanterns. In other ways too we realised, although our eyes, strain them as we would, could make out very little of it, that here one of the marvels of human achievement was in process of construction. A young Swiss engineer, employed by the Gotthard Railway Company, who had hitherto travelled with us, told us that difficult as were the problems which the building of the great tunnel set the engineering experts, those which had to be solved in the construction of the track leading thither surpassed them in the demands which they made upon the staff, and indeed to-day the mysterious corkscrew tunnels and loops impress the initiated more deeply than the long stretch of line leading under the old giant. In this connection we must not forget the splendid performances of the instruments of precision, and their utilisation, thanks to which the boring gangs, progressing simultaneously from the north and the south, in strict conformity with the plans, met accurately in the middle of the tunnel at the appointed time.

In complete darkness we drove through the most magnificent portion of the St. Gotthard road, known as the Schöllenen, where the highway narrows to a narrow pass enclosed by gigantic and . precipitous cliffs of granite. Here the Reuss roars with a deeper, fiercer voice, and only a few isolated trees still struggle up the massive rock. Here, as at the Devil’s Bridge and the Urner Loch, we drove past without seeing anything more than a dim outline which scarcely enabled us to divine what it concealed, and at last, at ten o’clock, arrived in Andermatt, where, after supper, I soon retired to my bedroom, for I now felt thoroughly tired out.

When I awoke it was broad daylight, and somewhere below me a terrific uproar was going on. But the noise had no human origin. When I looked into the question of its cause I found that close to the inn and just under my window the Reuss tumbled over the rocks in quite a respectable waterfall. As it was then nine o’clock I had slept eleven hours without in the least noticing this noise. My nerves had demanded tribute for two sleepless nights on the railway, for I was already past the age at which one enjoys a good thing under any circumstances. But I have noticed that, even at my age, unless bodily suffering, chronic neurasthenia, or tormenting anxieties rob us of sleep, one need not be greatly excited to induce Morpheus to take a night off. But he gives in on the second or third night, although not always under such pleasant circumstances as on this day in Andermatt.

Downstairs in the dining-room I found I had missed nothing. The diligence started at one o’clock, and the passengers had gone for a walk in the meantime. I myself followed suit as soon as I had breakfasted, and turned back along the road by which we had travelled in the darkness, whereby I unfortunately but unavoidably had to take in the unfolding of the pass, as described by Schiller, backwards. First came the “smiling regions” of the Ursenertal, here spreading to a width of two-thirds of a mile:

The smiling land where spring and autumn wed.

Smiling indeed it lay before me in the freshness of morning, surrounded by the last heights of the giant mountains, watered by the hurrying, green, foaming Reuss, overgrown with the grasses and flowers of the Alpine world, and inhabited by grazing cattle, the sound of whose bells, unmusical as it is, yet acquires a charm of its own from the circumstances and surroundings. The Urner Loch was disappointing. Even for the untravelled it had nothing of the black rocky gateway which

No day has yet illumed.

And rather than “in the kingdom of the shadows,” one might have thought oneself in the Saxon Switzerland, whose rocky gateway, known as the “Cowshed,” will well bear comparison with this old tunnel. But the Devil’s Bridge and the Schollenen, on the contrary, more than justified their reputation; they were beyond description. Seen inland from the wide and magnificent St. Gotthard highway they awaken only wonder and a pleasant horror. But if one looked down from the old pack-horse track, the only road over the Gotthard in Schiller’s time, and imagined the travellers with laden pack-mules passing along this ancient highway, one realised the accuracy of the lines

O’er the abyss goes the dizzy way,
It runs between life and death;
For the giants bar it, the lonely way,
With a deadly threat in their breath.
If thou wouldst not the lioness vex in her sleep,
Thro’ the pass of terror in silence creep.

On this narrow track the oppressive weight of the towering granite giants, and the fierce might of the Reuss, playfully casting aside all human opposition, and driving down, as though lashing onwards, the rugged masses of rock, must have thrust all other feelings into the background, leaving only the consciousness of danger, and we understand how this mountain pass lived in the memories of the men of former centuries only as the “road of terror.”

In Goethe’s Travels in Switzerland, 1797, we read, where he describes the road over the Gotthard, how often in those days part of the track had to be closed on account of landslips. [1]

To-day people speak of avalanches (Lawinen) almost as they would of tamed lionesses (Löwinnen). The tracks above whose higher portions they lie in wait serve for traffic mostly in those seasons of the year when the avalanches caused by the breaking loose of masses of snow occur as seldom as the escape of lions from menageries. The terrors of nature are conquered; so-called civilisation prides itself on the fact, and altogether outdoes them. We must go back tens and of thousands of years before we come upon catastrophes in which the blindly raging elements have accomplished as much destruction and destroyed as much life as civilised humanity is doing in the catastrophe which we are witnessing as contemporaries.

Thoughts of another nature filled my mind when on the 15th October 1878 I wandered along the Schöllenen. Yet even there an inscription reminded one of war and the extermination of men by men. It told of the battle between the Russians and the French in September 1799, when Suvoroff carried out his devastating crossing of the St. Gotthard. But that lay three generations behind us. Who would dream nowadays of a battle between French and Russians? Yet in the spring of 1878 it had nearly come to a war between England and Austria-Hungary on the one side, and Russia on the other, for the first-named States had mobilised – in order to annul the concessions which Russia had wrung from Turkey in concluding the Peace of San Stefano. The conflict was after all averted by the then recently held Congress of Berlin ( June to July 1878), which is the only good thing that can be recorded of that Congress. But the summer of 1878 had been marked, in Germany, by the attempts of two madmen – the semi-anarchist Max Hödel and the crazy Karl Nobiling – on the life of Wilhelm I, which brought to a head a terrible baiting of the Social Democrats, and the dissolution of the Reichstag, with the result of the numerical and moral weakening of the Left in the Reichstag; and one of the “exceptional laws” against Social Democracy, introduced by the Imperial Government, had already received a majority at its second reading and was now being read for the third time before acceptance. How far would the party suffer under the law? Before I left Berlin we had, in a secret conference, discussed this question, and had come to the conclusion that the circumstances would compel us to adopt, for the time being, an expectant attitude. The party’s means of authority were still comparatively modest; its Press, with few exceptions, was not in anything like a position to compete with the bourgeois Press, and the extreme depression of trade, with the corresponding unemployment, had every where reduced the strength of the Labour opposition. The immediate future of the party depended on the form which the “exceptional law” would assume in the final statute, and the way in which it would be executed by the authorities. Although most of us by now had some suspicion of the height of interpretative skill which the Court of Appeal would display, we were yet prepared for severe blows; so that the party, to which I was devoted heart and soul, saw threatening weather ahead of it. As I wandered on beside the Schöllenen all this passed once again through my mind, and I was oppressed by distressing thoughts.

Fortunately I was considerably younger than my years in the matter of temperament, as I was in experience of life. These melancholy reflections vanished as I stood once more, on the way back, before the Devil’s Bridge, where, lit by the sun, now fairly high in the heavens, the rising particles of spray came boiling up from the gorge of the downward-tumbling Reuss, glittering like innumerable diamonds, and in their midst, according to the position of the onlooker, rainbows appeared in the most beautiful blaze of colour. A picture of frantic, irresistible movement, which momentarily completed itself, and by this ever-unremitting: completion achieved at the same time permanence. Always the same river, stormily plunging hitherward, shattering itself into dust in its ponderous fail, but never precisely the same combination of the countless particles of water, which one will never grow weary of watching. Although Schiller sang of the old Devil’s Bridge

There sways a bridge in the mountain land
O’er the terrible gorge outsweeping;
It was not built by human hand,
No man such arch could e’er have planned ...

it was not long before events gave the poet the lie. Even the old bridge was built by human hands, and here, in 1830, human hands constructed, at a still greater height, a much wider and more massive bridge. More accurately do the poet’s words depict the mutable permanence of the picture

Beneath it the raging stream for ever
Leaps at it foaming, but shatters it never.

At last, as it was time to make ready for the continuation of the journey, I tore myself away from this spectacle. People left the inn rather earlier than the coach in order to travel the whole of the way through the Ursenertal and a goodly portion of the upper Gotthard Pass on foot. Nevertheless the charm of the pass was soon greatly diminished. The vegetation became ever scanty, the road more monotonous, and only the very poor and sordid-looking houses of refuge by the roadside – they were known as cantonments – provided landmarks for the traveller; taking the place of the villages – Erstfeld, Wasen, Goschenen – which we passed between Altdorf and Andermatt. Accordingly we drove through the greater part of this section of the pass in the coach, nor did our interest revive to any great extent until we reached the summit of the pass, whence we were able to get a view of the Tomasee, which is no other than “the home of the Rhine.” It was not a very inspiring view – a silent lake with flat, unattractive banks, on which nothing was happening. But a little of the magic which the name of the stream that flowed out of it possessed for us fell upon the lake itself, and we regarded it with that respect which is owing to the grandparent of a famous personality. At the hospice on the summit is the halting-place of the post. We got out, obtained some food, and proceeded to begin the descent on the south side.

I now had a seat in the coupé given me. My neighbour was a young Frenchman, who soon proved to be a profitable companion, since he put an end to a feeling that otherwise might easily have spoiled the pleasure of the downward journey for me. Wherever the road downwards turned upon itself one had the impression that any farther advance must be perilous. The track ran down the steep slopes in great loops, but the horses, of which the driver controlled only the two leaders, by means of a slender bridle, pressed downwards with restless haste, so that in spite of the width of the roadway it seemed that only a trifling mistake at one of the turns would hurl us all into the depths. In reality the position was not so dangerous as it appeared from the window of the coupé. But there it seemed as if every turn must throw us over the precipice. I must confess that at first I felt rather uncomfortable. But then I noticed that my neighbour had the same feeling in a very much greater degree than I. Again and again he seized hold of me, and emitted, in a somewhat husky voice, a flood of words which were intended to express admiration, but betrayed anxiety, and, curiously enough, instead of proving contagious, these outbursts had a contrary effect upon me. I was sorry for the fellow, – but it suddenly flashed upon my mind: “Since he is worrying himself enough for two you can save your share of anxiety.” With a greater inward calm than I had previously felt, I allowed my eyes to wander over the surrounding landscape and the road lying before us. The granite walls of the mountains seemed to me to fall even more precipitously than on the northern side, and the ravines beside us were visibly deeper. At moderate intervals stones of something less than a yard in height bordered the mountain road; at best they might, if the coach were really driven to the edge of the road, delay the fall a little, but they would hardly prevent it. Moreover, such a weight as that of our coach would have needed a thoroughly strong wall to support it. But were we then really in danger? We were certainly moving forward at a rapid pace, but had the mental illusion that the pace was greater than it really was, and the turns of the road were sufficiently far apart to give the driver time to wheel the horses quietly. Even so, it was a long while before we reached the next stage of our journey, Airolo. But, alas! afternoon gave way to evening, and the darkness fell, and even before we reached Airolo, which we were able to see in the distance long before we got there, we saw from the coach that the lamps were being lighted beneath us.

They lit the place only very dimly, for as yet we knew nothing of electric light. Once we had reached the town we could make out very little of it. Working men were still moving about – evidently going home from work – through the street in which the posting-station was situated, in the middle of which various goods were displayed on roughly-made tables. Despite the vague outlines – or perhaps precisely on that account – this was a picture that made a great impression on the mind.

The beauties of the journey from Airolo over Faido to Biasca were, to my great regret, as it was now quite dark, completely lost to us. From Biasca it was possible to travel to Bellinzona by rail, as this section of the Gotthard Railway was already completed; and at Bellinzona we had again to spend the night. Here I noted that we were in a district where the speech was Italian. The landlord of the inn at which I put up spoke, in addition to Italian, only a very little French, and that little was very ungrammatical, so that we understood one another very imperfectly indeed. However, he showed me to a good room with an irreproachable French bed, to which indeed I was not immediately able to accommodate myself, but it had the art of keeping me safely fettered for quite a long time. Once again the clock showed a late hour of the morning when I awoke.

Of this curious city, which with Locarno and Lugano has alternately shared the honour of being the headquarters of the Government of the Canton Ticino, I could not manage to see much. On account of the linguistic difficulties already alluded to, my host was unable to give me any good advice, and as the post for Lugano started before ten o’clock I could not abandon myself to the hazards of an improvised voyage of discovery, gladly as I would have obtained a nearer view of Bellinzona’s Lombard’s Tower.

The last part of the journey was favoured by the finest weather. The road ran over the chestnut-covered Monte Cenere, which is pierced to-day by a fairly long tunnel, so that those travelling by the Gotthard Railway have but a faint conception of its charm and beauty. I was able to enjoy them in the fullest measure. I had only two travelling companions, natives of the district, to whom I could hardly make myself understood. But they served me unconsciously as guides. As a matter of course we went ahead of the posting-carriage when the highway became a mountain road, and before it reached the summit we could no longer see the carriage. It was impossible not to profit by every moment of the stroll – for the ascent was nothing more. The leaves were as yet only partly fallen; the trees were still arrayed in all their beauty; the foliage of the walnut trees was as glossy as that of the Spanish chestnut; but from the ground rose the characteristic odour which proceeds from the fallen leaves in autumn, and is so familiar to every lover of the woods.

When we turned our gaze backwards we had a view which stretched from Bellinzona, which we now saw beneath us, to the northern shore of Lago Maggiore, whose beauty, in the light of the sun, shining from a bright blue sky, showed to peculiar advantage. A feeling of indescribable well-being filled me all day long. At that time, and later, I always noticed that it was pleasantest to travel in the early autumn, even if the world was not then at its most beautiful.

On the summit of Monte Cenere the carriage halted awhile at the posting-station, so that the travellers might have time for lunch. Then we had to take our places, for we should now proceed at a gallop, first along a splendid stretch of level road, and then downhill to the Lago di Lugano.

Beautiful indeed as was this part of the journey, it could not compare with the ascent. I never experience the full enjoyment of travelling when I am driving; for in a carriage I can never throw off a feeling of imprisonment. Only the man who goes wandering afoot, without being obliged to cover excessive distances in a short space of time, or he who makes his journey alone, without being hampered in respect of fellow-travellers, can feel free upon his travels. Only when I was travelling afoot did Geibel’s line rise to my lips

To wander, O to wander with the free foot of youth.

At the same time, I cannot claim to be a particularly good walker. It is purely a matter of psychology. It is no mere figure of speech if I speak of this feeling as denoting a tendency to vagrancy or the nomadic life.

Something of the sort may remain in every man, but with me it is so big a share that among the vocations which I have missed – and they are, of course, many, as in the case of most men – I have given the vocation of vagrant a fairly prominent place. Even at an age when in others it has long been laid aside, the longing still used to plague me, so that I might in all truth have sung

So be there’s no tavern
By night will I sleep
Safe under blue heavens,
Where stars their watch keep.

But even the journey northward down from Monte Cenere had always a great charm.

It was now afternoon; the autumn sun shone hot in the sky; the landscape became animated; we drove past men and beasts and hamlets, and incessantly above the trampling of the horses and the rumbling of the wheels sounded the jingling of the bells hung upon the horses’ harness. Far in the distance rose the peaks of the mountains which enclose the Ceresio, higher and higher above the horizon, until at last the lake of many windings itself became visible, a little at a time. Faster and faster the driver urged the horses; faster and faster they thundered onwards, until we drove into Lugano, between four and five o’clock, to draw up at the posting-house, then in the Via Canova. The goal of my journey was attained.

My party comrade and henceforth my “chief,” Karl Höchberg, was waiting for me at the stopping-place, and took me, after we had greeted one another, to the Hotel Washington, which was built right upon the lake in the centre of the bay of Lugano. There he had engaged for us, facing the lake, in the uppermost storey, three adjoining rooms – one for himself, one for me, and the third as a sitting-room. When, after the renewal of my outer man, I went out into the trellis-enclosed balcony upon which my window opened, the Lago di Lugano lay outspread beneath me in all its splendour. The bay was enclosed by a beautiful shore-line; the surface of the lake, smooth as a mirror, was of a wonderful blue-green; and opposite me on the right, as though emerging suddenly from the depths, there rose, so close that it seemed that I could shout across to it, the towering, conical height of San Salvatore, with its lovely wooded slopes; while on the left, running hitherwards from the farther side of the westerly arm of the lake, were the precipitous Caprini Mountains, their dark green flanks solemnly reflected in the water. Only a few vessels were to be seen on the lake; and below me in the harbour all was very quiet. It was a wonderful picture; one could scarcely hope to see it to-day in quite the same mood. The landscape and the colours are indeed the same, but the magical peace which lay over it all is a thing of the past.




1. I cannot refrain from subjoining here a passage from Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s Letters of Travel, which I first came upon since the above was penned. It is taken from the letter written at Flüelen, on the 10th August 1831, to Mendelssohn’s sister, and describes the impression which the famous composer, who had hitherto travelled by the old pass, had received of the present pass, which was then new:

You know the Gotthard Pass in its beauty; one loses much if one travels hither from above instead of journeying upwards from this place; for the great surprise of the Urner Loch is quite lost, and the new road which is reckoned next to the Simplon route for splendour and convenience, has done away with the effect of the Devil’s Bridge, while beside it another, newer, much bolder and larger span has been constructed, which makes the old bridge quite invisible; and the old masonry looks much wilder and more romantic.

But if one loses also the view of Andermatt, and if the new Devil’s Bridge is less poetical, yet one travels all day joyfully downhill on the smoothest of highways, positively flying past the landscape, and instead of being sprinkled by the waterfall and imperilled by the wind on the bridge, as formerly, one now crosses safely, high above the stream and between strong masonry parapets.

That over a certain section of the pass the descent does not permit the charm of the journey to be realised so effectually as the ascent is undoubtedly correct, as every pedestrian will have discovered for himself. I had the same experience on the Via Mala as Mendelssohn on the St. Gotthard. When on a walking tour from Chiavenna across the Splügen I tramped through the Via Mala from above downwards not only did it seem, when compared with the majesty of the Splügen Pass, like a miniature of the latter, but the beauties of the landscape, he waterfalls, etc., made only a faint impression on me. As for the Devil’s Bridge, it has in its present form lost only the one effect of a romantic ruin. But its principal effect, the impression of the tremendous fall of the Reuss beneath it, has in my opinion gained in beauty what it has lost in wildness.


Last updated on 29.1.2003