a word or two of the Suiss

“(…) But here a word or two of the Suiss. That they came originally from the Gauls, was the opinion in Caesar`s time, for he says, that they exceed the rest of the Gauls in deeds of arms. Suetonius also calls them Gens Gallica turbidi ingenii, an unquiet or troublesome sort of French, which two characters of stout and boisterous may not unfitly be applied to them at this day. Besides this, they are believed very faithful and trusty, which reputation (with that of their courage) prefers them before others to the service of the Pope, the King of France, and many other princes, as guards to their persons, and soldiers in their wars. But this fidelity is no longer binding than they are well paid, believing it no defamation of a true mercenary to mutiny for his pay, which gave rise to the proverb, point d`argent, point de Swisse; no pay, no Swiss.
They are of little stature, spread and strong, fair, hardy and inured to labour from their infancy; they never change their mode, which is great trunk breeches, slashed and laced with silk lace, the lining of some coloured stuff appearing underneath; they have doublets with long skirts and bonnets, for in towns the hats are forbidden.
What gentlemen may except from democrazy sufficiently appears in this, where there is none left that dare pretend to a better quality, one than another. A person of quality I met with at Chur, of that country, assured me, that though his ancestors had been barons, and himself seised of a good estate, as also of a castle which had formerly the privilege of a county palatine, he was forced to comply and associate himself with the meanest peasants, to avoid the jealousy and prejudice of his neighbours. The best man in town is commonly mine host, and should a traveller think himself imposed upon, or notoriously cheated in his reckoning, as strangers commonly are there, and go to complain to the chief magistrate, he would find his host the first man on the bench. They drink excessively, and the greatest affront you can do them is not to pledge them. Their festivals last hole days, none rising except it be for evacuation, till they be taken up. They lie between two feather beds, and use no hearths, but stoves. Their women are esteemed chaste, the coldness of the country rather inclining them to good fellowship than venery, which may be some reason why their country is most clear of the French pox, though others impute it to some occult quality in the air. (…)”

(aus: The Memoirs and Travels of Sir John Reresby)


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