Switzerland is full of these wild tales

THE first view one gets of the Rhine in leaving Switzerland from the east is on his way from Zurich to Basle. Here, also, he takes his farewell look of the Alps. From the top of the Botzberg the whole range of the Bernese Alps rises on the view. Amid the scenes in which he has moved since he left their presence, the traveller almost forgot their existence, and as they here rise again on his vision, they bring back a world of associations on his heart. There they stand leaning against the distant sky, like the forms of friends he has left forever. Such were my feelings as I sat down by the road-side, under as bright a sky as ever bent over the vineyards of Italy, and looked off upon those bold peaks which had become to me objects of affection. A few days only had elasped since I was amid their terror and their beauty. I had seen the moonbeams glancing on their glaciers at midnight, and heard the music of their torrents lifting up their voices from the awful abysses. I had seen the avalanche bound from their precipices, and rush, smoking and thundering, into the gulfs below—and been wrapt in their storms and clouds. I had toiled and struggled through their snow drifts and stood enraptured on their green pasturages, while the music of bells, the bleating of flocks, and the clear tones of the Alp-horn made it seem like a dreamland to me. A mere dwarf in comparison, I had moved and mused amid those terrific forms. Now mellowed and subdued by distance, the vast, white, irregular mass, lay like a monster dreaming in the blue mist. Clouds resting below the summit slept here and there along the range, and all was silent and beautiful. I love nature always, but especially in these her grander and nobler aspects. The Alps had lain along the horizon of my imagination from childhood up. The desire of years had at length been fulfilled, and I had wandered amid the avalanches and glaciers and snow-fields and cottages of the Oberland, and now I was taking my last look. It was with feelings of profound melancholy I turned away from St. Peters and the Duomo of Milan, feeling I should see their magnificent proportions no more. But it was with still sadder feelings I gazed my farewell on the glorious Alps.
On this route, within half a mile of Brugg, is a lunatic asylum, once the Abbey of Koenigsfelden, (King’s field,) which the guide book informs you was founded in 1310, by Empress Elizabeth, and Agnes, Queen of Hungary, on the spot where the Emperor Albert, the husband of the former and father of the latter, was assassinated. Leaving his suite on the opposite bank, he had crossed the river Reuss at this point, with only the four conspirators accompanying him. The principal one, John of Swabia, was the nephew of Albert, and was incited to this deed from being kept out of his paternal inheritance by his uncle. He struck first, and sent his lance through the Emperor’s throat. Bolm then pierced him through and through with his sword, while Walter von Eschenbach cleaved his skull in twain with a felling stroke. Wart, the fourth conspirator, took no part in the murder, and yet, by a singular providence, was the only one that was ever caught and executed for the deed. The others escaped, although the King’s attendants were in sight. Indeed the latter was so alarmed they took to flight, leaving their master to die alone, sustained and cheered only by a poor peasant girl, who held the royal dying head upon her bosom.

“Alone she sate: from hill and wood low sunk the mournful sun;
Fast gushed the fount of noble blood; treason its worst had done.
With her long hair she vainly pressed the wounds to staunch their tide:
Unknown, on that meek humble breast imperial Albert died.”

On the friends and families of these murderers the children of Albert wreaked a most bloody vengeance. The remotest relative was hunted down and slain, and every friend offered up as a victim to revenge, till one thousand is supposed to have fallen. Queen Agnes was accustomed to witness the executions, and seemed actuated by the spirit of a fiend while the horrid butchery was going on. On one occasion she saw sixty-three, one after another slain, and in the midst of the bloody spectacle exclaimed, “Now I bathe in May-dew.” This convent of Koenigsfelden was en dowed with the confiscated property of these murdered men, and here she ended her days. But her religious seclusion, prayers and almsgiving were powerless to wipe the blood from her conscience. The ghosts of her murdered and innocent victims rose up before her guilty spirit, and frightened peace from her bosom. Revenge had been gratified, but she forgot that after it has been glutted with victims, it always turns round and gnaws at the heart which gave it birth. When she came to die, and the vision of that terrible and just tribunal that awaited her passed before her trembling spirit, she sent for a priest to give her absolution. “Woman,” he replied, “God is not to be served with bloody hands, nor by the slaughter of innocent persons, nor by convents built with the plunder of widows and orphans,—but by mercy and forgiveness of injuries.” Switzerland is full of these wild tales. They meet you at every turn ; and you often start to be told you are standing on the grave of a murderer.

Basle is the last town in Switzerland standing on the Rhine at the head of navigation. It contains a little over 21,000 inhabitants, and is well worth a longer stay than the thousands of travellers who yearly pass through it ever give it. It was once one of the strictest of the Swiss cities in its sumptuary laws. Every person on the Sabbath, who went to church, was compelled to dress in black; no carriage could enter the town after ten at night, and the luxury of a footman was forbidden. A set of officers called Unzichterherrn decided the number of dishes and the wines to be used at a dinner party, and also the cut and quality of all the clothes worn. Until fifty years ago, the time-pieces of this town were an hour in advance of all others in Europe. Tradition states that this curious custom had its origin in the deliverance of the place once from a band of conspirators by the town clock striking one instead of twelve. But the Swiss have a tradition to establish every custom. There is a curious head attached to the clock tower standing on the bridge which connects the two towns. The movement of the pendulum causes a long tongue to protrude, and the eyes to roll about—“making faces,” it is said, “at Little Basle on the opposite side of the river.” Since the Reformation Basle has been the principal seat of Methodism in Switzerland. Formerly the citizens exhibited their piety in odd mottoes and doggrels placed over their doors in the public streets. These, of course, no longer remain, and the people are any thing but religious. Two of these strange mottoes we give from the guide book as a specimen of the pious Methodists of that time :

“Auf Gott ich meine Hoffnung bau
Und wohne in der Alten Sau.”
In God my hope of grace I big,
And dwell within the Ancient Pig.

“Wacht auf ihr Menschen und that Buss
Ich heiss zum goldenen Rinderfuss.”
Wake and repent your sins with grief,
I’m called the golden Shin of Beef.

This was a queer mode of publishing to the traveller one’s religious opinions, but it shows to what ridiculous extremes fanaticism will carry a man. To the credit of the place I will say, however, that even now a carriage arriving at the gates of the town during church time on the Sabbath is compelled to wait there till service is over.
Here one begins to think of the Rhine, “the glorious Rhine.” It goes rushing and foaming through Basle as if in haste to reach the vine-clad shores of Germany. The traveller, as he sees its waters darting onward, imbibes a portion of their anxiety, and is in haste to be borne along on their bosom to the shore below, so rich in associations and so marked in the history of man.

(Joel Tyler Headley: The Alps and the Rhine. A Series of Sketches, New York 1845)

Le Styx des Alpes

À ma gauche coule le Rhin ; au delà c’est le canton des Grisons ; je suis entré dans celui de Saint-Gall. On a cru reconnaître que le Rhin n’a pas toujours suivi le cours actuel : les terrains d’ alluvion du pays de Wallenstadt, et en général de la vallée de la Limmat, tendent à démontrer que, il y a une vingtaine de siècles, le fleuve se jetait dans le lac de Wallenstadt, couloit ensuite dans celui de Zurich, et finalement se confondait avec l’Aar, à partir de Brugg (Suisse). Le silence des Romains à l’endroit de la cataracte de Schaffhouse est très significatif à cet égard. Suivant des sérieuses observations hydrographiques, le Rhin se serait donc frayé peu à peu un passage à travers les rochers pour prendre une direction nouvelle vers le nord. Ce serait un de ces caprices qu’il s’est déjà permis ailleurs : du temps de Philippe-Auguste, la ville de Vieux-Brisach, batie sur de haute rochers, était alsacienne ; mais le Rhin, changeant de cours au moment d’une grande inondation, rejeta la ville sur la rive droite, et depuis lors elle est badoise.
En roman le mot “Rhin” signifie eau courante : ne faudrait-il pas trouver l’origine de ce nom propre dans le verbe grec (…), qui signifie couler, et rapprocher de cette étymologie les mots Rhône et Rha (l’ancien nom du Volga)?
Le pays où je suis est vaste et large ; il est dominé par les montagnes du canton de Glaris.
À Ragatz je descendis avec mon compagnon. Il me suffira de dire que cinquant mille personnes visitent anuellement Ragatz et la Tamina, pour donner une idée de l’animation qui règne en cet endroit. Nous entendons les couchers de toute livrée nous crier: “Hôtel Ragatz, hôtel Quellenhof (hôtel des sources), hôtel Rosengarten (jardin des roses), hôtel Freieck, hôtel Schweizerhof, hôtel Tamina, etc.” Reste à savoir si les notes de consommation sont aussi poétiques que les noms des hôtels.
Nous nous dirigeons aussitôt vers le joli bourg de Ragatz (1 900 habitants) : nous approchons de l’un des passages les plus fameux et les plus terribles des Alpes. Ce n’est point de la gorge de la sauvage Tamina, un affluent du Rhin, soit dangereuse pour le touriste ; mais, par le fait même qu’il n’a point à se soucier de sa conservation, il peut mieux sonder de l’oeil le gouffre, et jouir en frissonnant d’un site peut-être sans pareil.
Déjà nous avons dépassé Ragatz ; déjà la vallée se resserre, et les rochers font place à la nature cultivée. Ça et la une petite voiture marche au pas sur la route ; mais la plupart des touristes préfèrent s’enfoncer à pied dans l’étroit passage.
Les rochers cependant se resserrent ; la portion de ciel dont on jouit devient plus étroite ; seule la nature brute et morte accompagne le voyageur vers les autres profonds. La vallée n’est plus que le cours torrentueux et effrayant de la Tamina.
La route serpente le long de la rive gauche ; à mes pieds se précipitent les caux, dont je ne suis séparé que par un talus cacarpé et toujours vertigineux ; à droite je remarque quelques traînées de maigre végétation sur un sol escarpé, halayé par chaque pluie d’orage ; mais enfin les rochers perpendieulaires font aussi leur apparition de ce côté, et occuperont désormais sans partage les deux rives du torrent. Il nous arrive donc souvent de voir les blocs énormes suspendus au-dessus de nos têtes, tandis que les eaux mugissantes exécutent leur valse éternelle sous nos pieds. La lumière devient plus rare ; le rayon de soleil, même en plein midi, est un luxe ; quelques mousses, quelques herbes souffreteuses poussent encore à des rares intervalles sur les parois humides, hautes de deux cent cinquante à trois cent mètres.
Continuons à suivre cet effroyable ravin dont l’embouchure se trouve à Ragatz, à environ quinze lieues du lac de Constance. Le chemin, encore accessible aux voitures, s’enfonce complètement dans le roc vif, comme s’il voulait fuir les abîmes inévitables. Maint touriste ne voit qu’avec terreur le fond où se précipitent les eaux, sur un lit formé de cailloux noirâtres, complètement différent des parois calcaires, veinées de quartz, qui forment le gouffre. Lorsque le torrent tombe perpendiculairement, l’écume jaillit jusqu’aux pieds du passant. La route est étroite ; si donc deux voiture s’y rencontrent, il faut que l#une d’elles approche de l’abîme, et que l’autre frise les rochers pendants ; ceux-ci se touchent, est c’est un moment d’émotion à subir. Je conseille à tout voyageur de ne passer qu’à pied en de tels lieux.

(F. A. Robischung, Un touriste alpin à travers la forêt de Bregenz et la Via Mala (1881))