Eduard Bernstein

My Years of Exile

In Zürich

Zürich, in the year when I first arrived there – in 1879 – was almost as different from the Zürich of to-day as the Lugano of that period from Lugano as it is to-day. It contained, with its eight or nine still independent suburbs, little more than half the number of inhabitants which Greater Zürich, now united with the suburbs, can boast of at the present time. It lacked as yet a considerable proportion of the splendid buildings and tasteful pleasure-grounds which adorn it to-day, and the great majority of its dwelling-houses and business quarters still displayed a sort of local colour. In the southern portion of the city, it is true, there were already, in the Bahnhofstrasse, and a few small side streets which stood in architectural relationship to it, many fine buildings in the modern or the pseudo-classic style. And in the suburbs, as well as on the adjacent heights, there was no lack of villas, some of which were even palatial; but the great majority of dwelling-houses and business houses alike were to be found either in the narrow, crooked streets of the old hilly town, where, indefensible as they might be from the hygienic point of view, they were of the greatest interest as memorials of a past civilisation, or in the new streets, which were then only partially built, in which case they were mostly a sort of cross between a modern city dwelling-house and the type of house to be met with in a country town. The Zürich of those days was, to a great extent, a combination of village, market-town, and capital. In some places the meadows and vineyards extended into Greater Zürich, almost reaching the bounds of the old city, and any one visiting the tomb of the gifted Georg Büchner, which was situated on the Germaniahügel on the Zürichberg, past the suburb of Fluntern, still came upon genuine farmhouses of the well-known Swiss type. Now that part of the hill which lies about Büchner’s grave, and which was in those days a wilderness, is covered with villas, between which a road leads past their beautiful gardens, affording a most delightful walk in summer. But if one escapes from this confusion of villas and seeks out the grave, it is difficult to recover the mood which the latter once evoked, in its lonely situation, in the wanderer who reached it from Fluntern or Oberstrass, over the heather-clad slopes. For him it was a place of repose; for the wanderer of to-day it is scarcely an occasion for a moment’s halt, and of the many thousands who vouchsafe it a glance only a very few know anything definite of the poet who wrote the tragedy Dantons Tod, as well as the revolutionary Landbote Hessische, and to whom Georg Herwegh dedicated the noble poem beginning with the words

So once again a splendour is laid low,
Again thou robb’st us of a halo’d head ;
The viper ‘twixt thy feet may scathless go;
The nestling eagle dies beneath thy tread.

[So hat ein Purpur wieder fallen müssen,
Hast eine Krone wieder uns geraubt,
Du schonst die Schlange zwischen deinen Füssen,
Und trittst dem jungen Adler auf das Haupt.]

From this poem, too, were borrowed the lines engraved on the tombstone:

An uncompleted song the grave receives
His noblest poems are not those he leaves.

[Ein unvollendet Lied sinkt er ins Grab
Der Verse schönsten nimmt er mit hinab.]

Herwegh also had found a second home in Zürich. The house which he finally inhabited stood on the upper edge of a green slope opposite the Canton school, and in my time it was as open there as in the lifetime of the “great Swabian child.” To-day it is surrounded by University buildings.

A similar fate has overtaken many houses which, when I knew them, were beyond the precincts of the city, and were surrounded by gardens or uncultivated land. Again, many houses and groups of houses which were still standing in my time have been fated to disappear in order that the streets might be widened, and all sorts of interesting corners and houses with a history went to join the kingdom of the Past during the years when Zürich was in process of being transformed into Greater Zürich, growing in all directions and in all sorts of ways, and becoming, in a greater degree than before, a centre of industry and a resort of foreigners.

In every respect the Zürich of 1879 was a different city from the Zürich of to-day. To take only the outer aspect of the city, there was then no trace of the splendid quay which now extends to such a length along the shore of the Lake of Zürich. The shore then offered a very chaotic picture; in one place the wall of a garden met the eye, in another a stretch of uncultivated land, and here and there stood houses built directly upon the edge of the lake. The garden of the old Concert Hall also ran right down to the lake. The hall itself, a very much plainer building than its successor on the Alpenkai, stood where now the Utokai branches off from the Bellevueplatz. But one heard good music even in those days in the old Concert Hall, and with the simplicity many of the charms have disappeared. On summer evenings, when concerts were held in the garden, a number of pleasure boats always collected inshore. The people in the boats enjoyed the music on the water, and in the intervals paddled up to the balustrade of the garden, so that a waiter could reach drinks down to them; or sometimes they chatted with members of the audience who stood by the balustrade. It was all very cheerful. When I first became closely acquainted with the lake – and I became very intimate with it in the course of time – the summer evenings upon the water provided one of my favourite recreations. They were glorious. One rowed quickly out over the wide-spreading waters, and surrendered oneself to the magic of the night, which was only enhanced by the snatches of music wafted from the distance; and, presently, rowing back again, one listened, at a suitable distance, to one or two items of the programme, finally rowing so close to the garden that one’s attention was once more diverted from the music by all that was going on around one. The new Concert Hall is a handsomer building than the old, and affords a still more captivating outlook upon the Alps, but homeliness and comfort have been sacrificed in the change of locality.

One might say the same thing of various alterations which distinguish the new Zürich from the old. It is painful for the nature-loving wanderer to find that large tracts of the beautiful wooded portions of the Zürichberg are to-day private property, surrounded by wire fencing; and there are certainly many who would be willing to forgo the larger and more smartly appointed inns of the present time for the very much simpler establishments of the old days, where one sat upon a roughly-made bench at a rough wooden table, and where one could obtain little more than plain wine, bread, and cheese, could one only do away with the aforesaid fences. There are those who would make the exchange even without this negative addition. How exhilarating it used to be to rest on the summit, when as yet no cogwheel railway ran up to it; where one could commune in thought, over a simple glass of wine, with our princes of poetry, in whose days the outlook was essentially the same as then!

In this respect, indeed, social life underwent less alteration during the first eight decades of the nineteenth century than in the following lustrum.

Other times, other contrivances. Now one not only rides to the summit on the cog-wheel railway, but from another part one can take the train for some distance up the Zürichberg, nearly as far as the garden hostelry now known as Beau Séjour. In my time the natives called it the “Rinderknecht”; not because of any prejudice against the French language, but with reference to the proprietor. To-day, perhaps, the train goes even farther up the hill, and for people to whom climbing is difficult this would certainly be a great advantage. And no architectural changes can rob of its beauty the wonderful view from the Zürichberg, across the lake, of the peaks of the Alpine chain that runs through central Switzerland and over the Albis range to Rigi, Pilatus, and the Berner Alps. But the nearer surroundings have to my eyes lost much of their charm.

It is as well that human beings die. Every man becomes a romantic when he has passed his fiftieth year. However closely the intellect keeps step with the times, the emotions are more and more concerned with the past. But in the meantime a new generation has arisen which knows nothing of this past, and which can find no place for the things that have endeared themselves to the old.

The Zürich of 1879 had no more thought of a railway up the Zürichberg than of tram-lines through the city and the more or less level suburbs. But the people of Zürich did not seem to feel the lack of them very seriously. The traffic between the city and the suburbs was not particularly heavy; apparently a certain commercial decentralisation went with the communal decentralisation. And it did not greatly trouble the native of Zürich that a great part of his city was built on hilly ground, and that many of its streets were always climbing up or down hill.

It was otherwise with the natives of Berlin, accustomed to convenience of communication, when they came to Zürich. “Zürich would be a very nice town,” said a countryman of mine one day, who had come from the Athens on the Spree to the Athens on the Limmat, and with whom I was walking through the city, “if only it hadn’t so many humps.” I, in the meantime, had already become so acclimatised to Zürich that I might have concluded my rejoinder, with a slight variation, in the words of the poet: “Was euch es widrig macht, macht mir es wert “ (That which mislikes you doth endear it to me).

On my arrival in Zürich I put up at the Sign of the Stork, which is on the Weinplatz, opposite the Sign of the Sword, which we Germans know from the biographies of Goethe and Fichte. My quarters in the little-known Stork Hotel were to afford me an unexpected benefit.

As I was going out on the day after my arrival to look for lodgings it occurred to me that although it was a weekday the streets were full of children disporting themselves in festal raiment some of them in heterogeneous costumes, while many of the boys were carrying masks in their hands. Evidently something unusual was afoot. In order to learn what it was I turned to one of the gaily-dressed boys and asked him why they were all dressed up. I had to repeat my question several times before he understood what I wanted to know, and then he vouchsafed me a reply of which I could make absolutely nothing: “’s isch Sachzelüte.” He was not able to explain what he meant by that; he stuck firmly to his “’s isch Sachzelüte.” And every child to whom I addressed the same question during my wanderings always gave me the stereotyped reply: “’s isch Sachzelüte.” I felt almost like the man in Hebel’s tale of “Kannitverstan” (Can’t understand). At last I asked an adult in the neighbourhood of my hotel, and was informed that it was “ Sechseläuten,” and that a “Bog” would be burned in the evening on the Limmat. The Sechseläuten, or rather the Sechsührläutenfest (festival of the six-o’clock bell), is a festival dating from the days of the guilds, which is held on the first Monday in spring, when the close of the working day is announced by pealing the bells at six o’clock in the evening. The guilds which are still extant in Zürich have long ago lost all economic and political significance, but every year they hold their festival on the evening of the appointed day by a feast, accompanied – in my time, at least – by festive drinking. It is a whole holiday for the school children, who dress themselves up and wear masks, sometimes forming processions in characteristic costume, while every fourth or fifth year all Zürich takes part in a procession, of great and small, all in costume, which always expresses some definite idea, and in which the wealthier participators often display the greatest luxury in their appointments. For the people, the conclusion of the festival is the solemn burning of the “Bog,” a dummy stuffed with inflammable materials and fireworks, which represents some generally unpopular person, tendency, or power. On this occasion the burning of the “Bog” was intended as a demonstration against the old Zürich theatre, which certainly looked, from the outside, more like a stables than a theatre, and whose capacity and internal appointments no longer sufficed to satisfy the requirements of the people. Without wishing to dissent from this opinion, I may nevertheless mention that I have witnessed many performances in this old building which have given me the greatest satisfaction. Precisely because the theatre was only of moderate size, it was possible, for instance, in dialogue, to develop a feeling of intimacy between the stage and the auditorium which made for delicacy of acting, and in opera again the beauty of many voices was realised to much greater advantage in a small space than in the large opera-houses. The performances of opera in Zürich, under the management of Lothar Kempter, were often admirable, as regards both orchestra and soloists. The chorus, to be sure, not infrequently observed a great deal too closely the rule of the great Aristotle, in that it excited terror and compassion. But that had nothing to do with the cubic capacity of the theatre.

Still, the theatre was to be symbolically destroyed, so that the “Bog” of 1879 was made in the likeness of Winter, an old man with white hair and beard, who sat on a shallow lighter holding a model of the theatre in his lap. The lighter was anchored in the Limmat opposite the Stork Hotel, and towards evening enormous crowds collected on either bank, in order to witness the auto-da-fé, which was to take place, according to programme, on the approach of darkness. Since my room in the hotel overlooked the river, I was able to enjoy the spectacle admirably from my window. Fireworks had been provided with no niggardly hand, and. when old Winter, spouting fire, cast a brilliant illumination on the thousands thronging upon the banks, and the surrounding buildings, or revealed them only in outline, the spectacle was really a fine one. I had not imagined that I should be favoured with such an entertainment so soon after my arrival.

When I proceeded to look for lodgings, my experience in respect of the language of the country was much the same as when I was inquiring as to the meaning of the “Sachzelüte.” I had not as yet the least notion of Zürich German, and as I had never learned any middle High German at school, I often had some difficulty in understanding the Zürich landladies. “Ach, sie verstahe kei Züritütsch, ich kann auch hochdütsch zu Ihne rede “ (Ah, you don’t understand Zürich German; but I can talk High German as well), replied one of these ladies, when I asked her if she would kindly speak a little more slowly, since I could not follow her very well. And she inundated me with an explanation in the idiom which she called “ hochdütsch,” but which was not much more comprehensible than her native speech. In connection with another landlady, I had the following experience: I found her at her front door, and began to negotiate with her as to the monthly rent of the three rooms that Höchberg and I required. She named a sum which I understood as eighty francs, which I declared satisfactory if we could come to an understanding in respect of other points. But scarcely had I repeated the amount when a man, who was likewise standing in the doorway, began to make repeated signs to me as I discussed the other points under consideration. Was the house verminous, or had some one hanged himself in it? I thought; but I did not allow myself to be influenced by those signs, as apart from them I found that the rooms were not what I was looking for. I told the woman that I should have to talk the matter over with my friend, and went my way. A glance behind me informed me that the gentleman of the doorway was following me; and as I thereupon diminished my pace, the unknown plucked up courage and addressed me: “Sie!” “What can I do for you?” I inquired. “Sie,” he replied, “sie hett ja nit gesagt, achtzig franke, sie hett gesagt sachzig Franke “ (She didn’t say eighty francs, she said sixty francs). The worthy fellow had been disturbed by the idea that I might be sacrificed to a misunderstanding. I thanked him, of course, for his benevolent forethought.

To the German, and particularly to the North German, who comes to Zürich knowing nothing of the Zürich dialect, it is not easy to understand the latter. That it is, apart from a few peculiarities of expression, not merely a sort of jargon, but an historical national speech, with regular inflections, is a thing that very few people realise. To these it sounds ugly, and seems merely the language of careless or uneducated people. And undoubtedly the Swiss-German as it is spoken in Zürich and other cantons of Switzerland has many unbeautiful characteristics. No one will regard the pronunciation of ch as a guttural, the flattening of i into u, and a or a into o as an embellishment of the German language. But any one who refuses to be deterred by these and other externalities from entering into the spirit of the Swiss-German dialect will find much that is estimable in its forms of expression and its syntax, a combination of strength and sincerity which is wanting in literary German, and which enables one to understand why Schweizerdeutsch is spoken not only by the lower classes of society, but also by its cultivated elements in private intercourse. I had the good fortune while in Switzerland to mix with people who had proved themselves to be truly masters of the German language in the literary sense – and also, if it comes to that, as speakers. But even these – for example, the late regretted Theodor Curti, sometime editor and afterwards director of our Frankfurter Zeitung, who could hold his own as a prose-writer and as a poet, in respect of style and wealth of expression, with any true German – used to speak Swiss-German, or what we understand as Low German, in his intercourse with his fellow-countrymen. On the other hand, with many Germans it has happened as with me. It was only in the land of the Alps that I first acquired an understanding of and a feeling for the dialect.

If I had time I should much like to draw a philological comparison between the relation of Swiss-German to German and that of the dialetto milanese spoken in the Ticino to the literary lingua Toscana. To the novice many points of similarity occur. In both cases we have the modification of the vowels into flattened diphthongs and the tendency to contract words by the elision of vowels or final syllables. In Casa in Valle I once heard a youth who was climbing the hillside call out to a friend who was sitting at the window of the neighbouring house: “’ndemm.” I pondered for a long time over this, wondering what he could possibly have meant, until I concluded by analogy that I had heard a contracted form of “andiamo.” The name Bernstein, with its conjunction of the four consonants b, n, s, t, presents an insuperable difficulty to any Italian tongue. Some people get over it by inserting an e between the r and the n; others simplify matters by simply omitting the n following the r. I was not a little surprised one day when I heard some one before our house repeatedly calling out “Besting,” and realised that this was intended for my name. One of M. d’Arcès’ workwomen, who had a message for me, had made short work of my name in the spirit of the popular etymology of the Milanese dialect.

How do the people remodel such foreign words as they absorb into their language? Any one who will follow this process attentively – and it is always going on, despite all efforts to purify the language – will discover, without being a philologist, that it proceeds according to definite rules, which the man of the people follows without being conscious of them. When the worthy Stefanina dropped the r as well as the n from the middle of my name and pronounced the ei as e, she merely gave it the form adapted to the spirit of the Malian language. But the final n is always given a nasal pronunciation wherever the Milanese dialect is spoken. Thus, for example, since in this dialect the u is modified and the final vowel elided, Lugano, on the lips of its inhabitants, becomes Lügang. The Bernese dialect of Swiss-German turns the Italian fazzoletto (pocket-handkerchief) into fazinettli, while in the Zürich dialect the French pois verts becomes Bouverli.

To the native of Zürich High German is a foreign tongue which he has to learn. When a German. friend of mine, in the house of a Genevan lady, from whom she was taking lessons in French, addressed an eight-year old native of Zürich, who brought her some message or other, in High German, the child answered, in a bewildered fashion: “Ich verstah kei Französisch nüt.”

The political life of Zürich was, at a low ebb in the eighties of the nineteenth century. The Democratic Party of the Canton, which at the time of the revision of the Constitution in 1869 had won for Zürich the most democratic form of Constitution then conceivable, and which, when it came into power, under the leadership of a succession of distinguished politicians, pursued a truly enlightened policy of reform, was, about the middle of the seventies, as the result of a concatenation of deserved and undeserved reverses, overthrown by a coalition of its opponents, and deprived of its powers of recovery. It was not responsible for the reaction upon the business life of Zürich of the commercial crisis which had supervened in Germany and Austria; yet its fate was not wholly undeserved by reason of the circumstance that the collapse of its fundamentally mistaken railway enterprise, hastened by this business crisis, might be placed to its account. On a small scale the same amalgamation of railway interests with political and party interests took place in the Zürich of the seventies that we have seen accomplished in various greater States. In order to make it possible to work against the party control of the Swiss North-Eastern Railway, which was controlled by the Liberal-Conservatives, a competing line was founded known as the National Railway. Its main line was to run from the Bodensee past Winterthur and Baden in the Aargau, avoiding the city of Zürich, into Central and Western Switzerland. Avoiding the city of Zürich: for the idea of being able to reject the Liberal-Conservative capital of the canton in favour of Winterthur, which was at that time the headquarters of the Democratic Party, had been the intellectual Hamartia of the latter, the great strategical blunder, thanks to which the financial ruin of the National Railway might lead to their political ruin. Hence the opposition existing between the National Railway and the North-Eastern Railway had to the popular mind become synonymous with that of the Democratic Party and the Liberal-Conservative Party. And the North-Eastern Railway had proved to be the stronger; its shares maintained themselves at a moderate height, while fortunes were lost by the shareholders of the National Railway.

Almost simultaneously with the Democratic Party the Social Democratic Labour movement of the Canton of Zürich, which in the political conflict leant upon the Democratic Party, found itself very scant of breath. At first it was hampered, as was the Democratic Party, by the commercial depression then extending all over Europe; but from 1878 onwards its difficulties were greatly aggravated by the German anti-Socialist legislation. But there was not as yet such a thing as a genuine Swiss Social Democratic Party. The Grütliverein was a specifically Swiss political organisation, which recruited its members almost exclusively from the working classes and the lower middle class; but it was in the meantime leading a very passive existence In the Swiss Workers’ League (Arbeiterbund), founded in 1874, which included all sections of the working classes – political societies, trade unions, educational societies, benevolent societies – and was intended to be a militant alliance, the German element was preponderant, with the German-Austrian element, which was completely assimilated thereto. It was not that the Germans and Austrians constituted the majority of the workers employed in the canton; but for various reasons, which, among other things, were connected with the arrangement for relief in their home districts, most of the Swiss workers lacked the inducement to join an avowedly militant organisation, and those who did so felt themselves in a minority even when they were not so in reality.

And here the difference of language already described played a decisive part. In all organisations not specifically national literary German was, if not statutorily prescribed, at least, in the nature of things, the language required for purposes of debate, and the result of this was that the Swiss, although they could perfectly well understand literary German, and could also speak it quite readily, were very unwilling to take part in any discussion. For a long time I could not quite understand this, until one day a Swiss of great literary culture, and quite free from prejudice, explained that he always felt disconcerted in the society of Germans, even when they were friends of his, because he could not get rid of the idea that he would make some linguistic blunder as soon as he opened his mouth. If this is true of a man who has formed himself upon the best German stylists, and writes the most exquisite German, we can imagine how a working man, innocent of literary culture, would be affected. It was only now that I began to understand the true significance of the many bitter complaints of the German workers’ “gift of the gab.” Even if the Swiss workers who joined organisations of mixed nationality were treated with the greatest consideration, this would not alter the fact that they – a few individuals excepted – would not feel properly at home in such surroundings, but rather oppressed and ill at ease. And such a feeling is not conducive to correct judgment.

However, the difficulties of language, alone would scarcely have been enough to produce this feeling had not the Swiss people in general regarded the Germans with fear or suspicion. Germany and the Germans were not only disliked by the Swiss people; by many they were actually hated. This aversion is to a great extent an historical inheritance, and may be explained by the relations which so long existed between Switzerland and the old Empire. The Swiss, while independent of the Empire, have always felt themselves threatened or oppressed, and have regarded the Empire with fear, which always gives rise to a feeling of hatred. They knew little that was good of the Empire, which they regarded as the ally of their domestic oppressors, while France, under the Bourbons, offered them commercial advantages, and, in the great Revolution, became their liberator. This historical relation between the two adjacent countries, as Theodor Curti once pointed out to me, has even found expression in the speech of the people. If the young Switzer wants to go abroad, he says, if France is his destination, “I am going into France”; but if he elects to go to Germany, he says, “I am going out to Germany.” This differentiation, quite unconscious to-day, betrays a difference of feeling which needs very little encouragement to transform itself into a conscious aversion. It revealed itself in elemental fashion at the time of the Franco-Prussian War. When in January 1871 the Germans of the Empire celebrated their victory over France in the Zürich Concert Hall, there was a hostile demonstration on the part of the populace which almost amounted to a veritable riot.

This incident was not yet ten years old when I arrived in Zürich, and the prejudice against the “Swabians” (Schwaben), as the Germans were called collectively, was still fairly strong. But in the practical relations of everyday life its expression was not more disagreeable than that of the similar feeling then entertained in the “great Wurttemberg canton” in respect of the North Germans. Yet, in spite of this, Germans of truly liberal sentiments felt quite at home in Switzerland. A German aristocrat of liberal opinions who was living in Zürich, who published a newspaper in which he revealed himself as a pitiless critic of all that displeased him in the manners, institutions, and politics of the Swiss, replied, when some one once asked him what he would do if he was suddenly transported to Germany: “I should crawl back into Switzerland on all fours.” This original gentleman ended his life upon Swiss soil. He was a scion of the noble Silesian house of Rotkirch, but as a writer he was known by the name of von Taur, which was a secondary family title. His journal, the Schweizerische Handelszeitung, had only a small circulation and a moderate range, but was read with attention, as the carefully considered judgments of such matters as came within the editor’s competence were greatly valued, and he was known to be incorruptible. There can scarcely have been a second editor of a commercial newspaper so inaccessible to his clients as von Taur. Every attempt on the part of bank directors or the managers of business establishments to obtain personal interviews with him was regarded by him as an insult, and decisively repulsed. In the newspaper published by this peculiar character a Swiss journalist, a Democrat, with whom I was soon to become acquainted, and who is still an intimate friend of mine, first revealed his remarkable talents as a political humorist. Reinhold Ruegg was the son of a schoolmaster and was educated for the same profession, but in the days of the struggle for Zürich’s democratic Constitution he played an active part in the campaign, and afterwards applied himself to political journalism. For a long time he was a contributor to the Winterthur Landbote, which was then the chief organ of the Zürich, indeed one might say of the Swiss Democratic Party. Among the editors of this paper was the admirable Friedrich Albert Lange, the author of Labour Problems and the History of Materialism. To the conception of democracy which was then defended in the Landbote, and which was not differentiated from Social Democracy by any sharp dividing line, Ruegg has remained faithful all his life. His ardent sympathy for all honourable movements of liberation has prevented the sceptical flavour which pervades his humorous work from degenerating into the cynicism of the professional jester.

In company with Theodor Curti, who held similar opinions, Ruegg started a newspaper in Zürich at the beginning of the year 1879. This was the Züricher Post, which represented the cause of democracy as he understood it. Under the editorship of these two, it soon won a considerable position in the world of Swiss journalism. It is true that the Züricher Post was too much the organ of definite opinions to achieve a wide circulation, but it created too great an impression to be ignored. The active politician on the staff was Curti, who, before long, was elected to the Swiss National Council. He was much tied by parliamentary activities, which possessed no more than a moderate interest for Ruegg. At one in their way of thinking, in temperament the two editors of the Post were as different as can be imagined. This was sometimes exemplified in an amusing fashion in their newspaper. Ruegg, in his “turnover,” would now and again rebel, in a witty and ironical manner, against the over-estimation of the guerilla warfare of Parliament in Curti’s political articles and letters, whereupon Curti would make a somewhat learned rejoinder, the point of which would pass unperceived by the uninitiated. Curti had the foundations of a great parliamentary style, which impelled him to devote himself to creative legislative work, and by his activities in this direction he had won the right to claim election to the Federal Council; but the Liberal-Radical Party, who disposed of the majority in the National Council, felt that he was too turbulent a spirit to make it possible for them to place him on their list of candidates, and the Labour Party, which would willingly have elected him, although he was not a member of it, had as yet sufficient strength to enforce its choice.

Of all the Swiss whom I met in Zürich only a few seemed to me to be men who gained upon closer acquaintance in the same degree as the editors of the Züricher Post. They were both men of real culture, with a broad outlook, and each, in his own fashion, was an acceptable neighbour to a Socialist. Curti, later on, at the desire of Leopold Sonnemann, resigned his mandate as delegate to the National Council and his position as member of the Government of his native canton, St. Gallen, in order to become director of the Frankfürter Zeitung, and to uphold the traditions of this newspaper as they existed at its best period. On the eve of the Great War he resigned this position just in time, for it would have been difficult for him to avoid conflict with the present owners of the paper. As a Swiss he was free from any bias with regard to Germany, and was often a severe critic of French policy. But he was a Democrat to the backbone, and could never, amongst other things, overlook what was done in Belgium. With surprising swiftness, and all too early for those who knew him, he died last year of a weakness of the heart.

I had only been a short time in Zürich when I first heard Theodor Curti as a speaker at a great popular demonstration. This was a manifestation against the reintroduction of the death penalty. The Conservatives had taken advantage of the occurrence of certain murders in order to set the popular initiative [1] in operation, with a view to cancelling the paragraph in the Federal Constitution which made it impossible for the individual cantons to introduce the death penalty within their jurisdiction. They had obtained sufficient signatures to enforce the Referendum; hence the demonstration. Besides Curti, the poet Gottfried Kinkel was speaking; he was then living in Zürich, where he occupied the chair of the History of Art in the Federal Polytechnic. To the present generation Kinkel is almost unknown. But in those days it was not yet forgotten that he had taken part in the rising in Baden and the Palatinate when those countries demanded the Constitution of the Empire; that he was taken prisoner, and condemned to imprisonment for life by the Rastatt court-martial. This sentence was commuted by a rescript of Friedrich Wilhelm Iv. of Prussia to a term of penal servitude, and it was only a bold coup de main on the part of Karl Schürz that saved him from years of a convict’s life in Spandau until the promulgation of a possible amnesty. Of course, in Radical circles they knew all manner of things concerning his infirmities, and Karl Marx had overwhelmed him with derision on this account; in Herr Vogt, which appeared in 1860, he called him “ the passion-flower of German Philistinism,” and even Freiligrath speaks ironically enough of him in his letters. So I was all agog to hear the poet of Otto der Schütz as a popular speaker.

His voice and appearance qualified him for the post. A tall, broad-shouldered man, he took up his position rather to the front of the platform, and his voice was clear and powerful. But an exaggerated theatrical emotionalism betrayed the speaker of 1848. This was not to the taste of his Swiss audience, neither could it win the approval of Social Democrats of the Lassalle-Marxian school. Even a well-meaning pamphlet which Kinkel wrote against the death sentence failed of effect because of the unfortunate tone in which it was conceived. The reactionary initiative obtained the majority in the Referendum, because the Radical cantons of West Switzerland, although they had no desire to restore the death penalty at home, voted for it out of hostility to the centralism of the Federal Constitution.

Shortly after this meeting I made Kinkel’s personal acquaintance; and I must say, to his credit, that his demeanour in respect of our persecuted Social Democracy was extremely proper. But his manner in social intercourse made a comical impression on me whenever I met him. It confirmed what I read later on in a letter of Freiligrath’s: “He must walk on stilts; he can’t do otherwise.” And that Kinkel, when he once had to give a lecture in German before the Workers’ Union in Zürich, should have chosen as his subject Theodor Körner, a brave fellow, but without significance in respect of the problems of our times, and of no great importance as a poet, struck me as rather humorous.

At all events, Kinkel, after wavering somewhat in 1866, found his way back to the Democratic Party, while the majority of the departed “forty-niners” who settled in Zürich in his time strayed off into the camp of the National Liberals after the victories of 1866 and 1870.

Among the faithful, I became acquainted with the erstwhile Prussian artillery captain, Freiherr von Beust, who, in 1848, had played a prominent part in various popular insurrections, and had been three times sentenced to death in contumacio. As a fugitive, he worked for a long time in Zürich as teacher in one of the schools established by Fröbe1, which he took over after Fröbel’s death, introducing still further developments of the Fröbelian education by intuition, so that the school became widely known abroad, and was often visited by foreigners. Beust – he had laid aside his title – was helped in the school by his wife, a cousin of Friedrich Engels, in character and appearance a genuine Rheinlander, as described in the lines by Simrock

Lo, the maids are so frank and the men are so free,
‘Tis surely a noble race.

A characteristic remark of hers illustrates her manner of thinking. The Beusts had repeatedly given the German Socialists living in Zürich a highly acceptable proof of the fact that they regularly employed Socialist teachers in their school. One of these teachers, for whose appointment I was partly responsible, had not behaved very well to the Beusts. When Frau Beust told me of his dismissal, she added, “He was an unpolished customer, and that really prejudiced me in his favour, but I have been forced to realise that one can be a churl and yet, at the same time, very insidious.”

The Beusts’ school was attended almost exclusively by the children of well-to-do Germans living in Zürich. In very many cases, however, the choice of this school was due less to the preference evinced by the parents of these children for the Beust educational method, than to a rather strong dose of snobbishness. In Zürich the schools are of uniform type, and even quite wealthy Swiss people send their children without hesitation from the very first to the ordinary Volksschule. But it does not suit the majority of the middle-class Germans to allow their children to receive their education side by side with the children of the proletariat, so they are sent to the Beusts’ school. Whether this is still the case, I do not know. Freiherr von Beust and his wife have long ago departed this life, and a son, who was also a teacher in the school, and as such gave promise of great distinction, died in his early youth.

There were two other distinguished persons whose acquaintance I made in Zürich, but I had better speak of them when describing the rise of the Social Democratic colony, which from 1879 onwards made Zürich unsafe, and whose centre was the “Olympus” on the higher slopes of the Wolfbach at Hottingen.



1. In most of the Swiss cantons the rights of democracy are safeguarded by the Popular Initiative and the Referendum. – (Trans.)


Last updated on 15.8.2003