Page images

[1798 A.D.]

drew his former announcement on the arrival of counter-orders, Schauenburg would admit no further parley. He had already attacked, without warning, the old castle of Dornach, in the neighbourhood of Bâle, which sustained a siege of twenty-four hours. The attack of a Bernese division near Vingels was repulsed with loss, and the French surprised the Bernese posts at Lengnau, which they carried after an obstinate resistance. The town of Solothurn capitulated, on Schauenburg's appearance before it. The passage across the Aar now lay open to the French troops. Fribourg was attacked and taken, though a stand was made by the Bernese garrison.

Erlach was now compelled to withdraw his troops behind the Aar and the Sense; though it was not without extreme reluctance that the men of Bern abandoned Morat. On the 3rd of March, Brune destroyed one of the finest monuments of Swiss courage and union, the Ossuary of Morat; and the French, among whom were many natives of Burgundy, honoured the bones of their ancestors with a grave, after an interval of more than three hundred years. Now at length, Bern, Solothurn, and Fribourg proclaimed a levy en masse of the able-bodied men within their territories. The Bernese army was in a dreadful state of confusion; particularly that division which stood directly opposed to Brune, in which the distrust and exasperation of the soldiers were at their highest pitch. Officers were dismissed by their soldiers, and others put in their place. Colonels Stettler and Ryhiner were bayonetted and shot before the very gates of Bern; and Colonels Crusez and Goumoens fell beneath the sabre-strokes of their own dragoons. Nevertheless, the troops were again assembled under command of Grafenried, who was admirably supported by his officers, and repulsed the French in every attempt to charge them at the point of the bayonet. Eighteen cannons were taken from the enemy, and their loss in men besides was very considerable.

The Capitulation of Berne; the Constitution Unitaire (1798 A.D.)

The native troops had now fully recovered spirit and confidence; but just as Grafenried prepared to cross the Sense at Neueneck, the decisive intelligence arrived that Bern was in the hands of the enemy! Early on the 5th, an attack had been made by Schauenburg on Solothurn. His force was far numerically superior to the Bernese; his horse artillery terrified the native militia by its novelty, and his cavalry was nearly eight-fold that of Bern in numbers. At Fraubrunnen, the French turned the left flank of the Bernese: in the Grauholz and at Breitenfeld their militia under Erlach offered a brave resistance, armed with scythes and other agricultural implements. Men, women, and even children mixed, and fell in the mortal struggle. On its unsuccessful issue, ensued the capitulation of Bern.

All was lost: the armed bands of the peasantry dispersed in every direction with loud accusations of treason against their officers, many of whom were slain by their own men. Amongst these was the general Erlach, an illustrious name in the annals of Bern. That unfortunate commander, and the avoyer Steiger, when the fortune of the day was decided, retreated towards the Oberland, whither they knew that arms and money had already been despatched by the government, and where they still hoped to offer an effective resistance. But Erlach was murdered in the way by the enraged fugitives, who breathed nothing but revenge for their imaginary betrayal, and it was only by chance that Steiger did not meet a similar fate.

Even public extremity could not restore public spirit. Every little canton treated, armed, and cared for itself exclusively, totally regardless of the rest.

[1798 A.D.] Wherever the authorities had, till then, withheld freedom from their subjects, they no longer delayed to grant it; but bestowed emancipation with so ill a grace, as to indicate how gladly they would have refused it, had they dared.

France now assumed a tone of direct command, and proclaimed the dissolution of the Helvetic body, and the establishment of a constitution unitaire, embracing the whole of Switzerland under one uniform system of government. This system announced a perfect equality of rights between the inhabitants of the towns and of the villages, assigned the nomination of judges, magistrates, and legislators, to the people in their primary assemblies, and entrusted to the government the choice of executive functionaries. The founders of this new Helvetic republic next proceeded to the more material objects of their mission. They levied large contributions on the towns, appropriated the treasures amassed at Bern, Zurich, Solothurn, and Fribourg, and carried off many members of council and other persons, as hostages for the further payments exacted from those places.

But the people of Uri, Nidwalden, Schwyz, and Glarus, were resolved not to deliver up their old independence so easily, and organised a heroic, though a useless, resistance under their brave leader Aloys Reding. The most brilliant and the most sanguinary struggle took place at Rothenthurm, in the neighbourhood of the battle-field of Morgarten. These Alpine shepherds combated with a spirit and success which showed them not unworthy of their forefathers. Thrice were the attacks of regular troops, four times their number, repulsed, with serious loss on the side of the enemy. But the vigour of this peasant militia was exhausted by their very successes, and they were, finally, compelled to accept terms from the invaders, and to bow beneath the yoke of the Helvetic Republic. Thus ended the old Swiss confederation, after enduring for a term of nearly five centuries. "It fell," says an enlightened native historian," "not exactly for want of strength in the bands which held it together; for, without any stronger bond of union the old confederates won their freedom, crushed or repelled the force of mighty antagonists, and rendered themselves poweful and fomidable. The Swiss succumbed in the last unfortunate struggle, because the feeling of duty, the lofty faith in their country and its fortunes, had become chilled in the bosoms of the many, and because the democratical cantons thought of none but themselves."

While the well-instructed friends of their country regretted the rude violence with which every link in the system of society, from the Alps to the Jura, had been totally torn away from its ancient holdings, they could not fail to perceive the ultimate benefits educible from the general convulsion. The former aggregation of little states had been productive of estrangement and enmity; the cantons had been proved powerless, even for self-defence; separately too poor for public enterprises; collectively incapable of any combined action. But now an opportunity seemed to be given to the Swiss people of becoming one great family, enjoying equal rights. The mass of the people, however, was not penetrated by such ideas, and only deplored the breach made in their old habits and usages. They had, indeed, demanded freedom and independence, but not this melting up into an uniform mass. They would have preferred that every petty district, nay, every single valley, should become a free and independent canton, ruling itself in its own assemblies, according to its own pleasure, and only connected by federal ties with the rest of the Swiss people. The whole subsequent march of events tended only to increase the desire for a subdivided federative system of this kind,

Ludwig Meyer.

[ocr errors]

[1798 A.D.]

and the aversion for the newly established order. The new general government, called an executive directory, after its prototype at Paris, resided at Aarau without inspiring either respect or confidence, dependent on its sole protectors, the French plenipotentiaries. In the senate and the great council, composed of delegates from all the cantons, the conflicting opinions of parties caused an incessant wordy warfare. Out of doors the same parties abandoned parliamentary weapons, and asserted their discordant creeds with arms in their hands. New and old laws and regulations were perpetually coming in collision. While the state was often without the most indispensable means for its maintenance, and even for the daily pay of its functionaries, the French plenipotentiaries, leaders, and subalterns, rioted in shameless superfluities at the cost of the country, and sent to France the surplus of their plunder.

The discontents of the people were considerably aggravated by the murmurs and manœuvres of the ci-devant authorities; of the monks who apprehended the abolition of all monasteries; of the priests who had suffered diminution of the stipends, and of the traders and artisans in the towns who no longer enjoyed the sweets of corporations and monopolies. They trusted to the approaching renewal of war between France and Austria, and prepared to support the emperor for the expulsion of the French. When the whole population was summoned, in July, 1798, to take the oath of allegiance to the newly formed constitution, disturbances and revolts took place in many districts.c

[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small]

WAR with France was at length renewed by the emperor of Austria, and a division of his army entered the Grisons. A signal defeat sustained by the French troops near Stockach, in Swabia, the victorious advance of the Austrian army into Switzerland, and the removal of the seat of the Helvetic government from Lucerne to Bern, seemed to inspire the conflicting parties with renewed animation and fury. Swiss fought against Swiss under the banners of France and Austria; tumults and revolts took place on account of the French conscription or in favour of the Austrian invasion; battles were fought between foreign armies in the valleys, on the Alps, and on the banks of the lakes; and horse and man clambered over heights which had formerly been only known to the chamois hunter. The Grisons and the mountainous lands as far as the St. Gotthard were alternately won and lost by French and Germans. The victorious banners of Austria were carried on the left as far as Zurich and the St. Gotthard, on the right up to the banks of the Rhine, supported by the Russians under Suvarov. Switzerland had never sustained such desolating inroads since the times of the Romans, Alamanni, and Burgundians.

Many of the old superseded members of the government now looked forward to the speedy restoration of their authority, which they here and there attempted to recover with the assistance of the Austrian bayonets: even the new abbot of St. Gall resumed the exercise of his feudal rights, such as they had existed before the recent emancipation which had been granted to the


[1801 A.D.]

people. The effects of this iniquitous resumption did not fail soon to be felt by the proud prelate himself; Zurich and Schaffhausen, too, were soon forced to acknowledge that the people did not wish to be replaced in its state of subjection. The decisive and brilliant victory of Masséna near Zurich, and the destruction of Suvarov's army, which had marched over the Alps from Italy, restored the Helvetic constitution throughout the whole country. Parties now supplanted and succeeded each other in quick succession, so that none could remain long at the helm or consult for the public benefit.

First of all, the legislative councils dissolved the executive directory, and substituted for it an executive committee; then, in its turn, this executive committee dissolved the councils, convoked a new legislature, and styled itself an executive council. Twelve months afterwards a general Helvetic diet was assembled at Bern for the formation of a new and improved constitution: this, like the former deliberative bodies, was arbitrarily deposed from its functions, and a newest-of-all constitution established, in October, 1801. Alois Reding, the victor of Rothenthurm, as the foremost Swiss landammann, was placed at the head of the senate; but as he possessed neither the confidence of the French rulers nor that of those who detested all recurrence to the old state of things, a new act of arbitrary power deposed him from the presidency of the council.

These continual changes of administration were looked upon with absolute indifference by the Swiss people, who only sighed at the total interruption of law and order, the increase of taxes, and the lawless acts of the French soldiery. The Valais more particularly suffered by the military tyranny to which it was subjected. The object of France was to separate it from Switzerland, in order to keep a route open across the Alps into Italy.

In the same degree as popular consideration ceased to attend the everchanging but equally odious aspects of the new government, individual opinions and wild fancies obtained prevalence. Mystical views were propagated in Appenzell; and the anabaptists reared their heads once more in Bern and Zurich. The quiet of the former town and its neighbourhood was suddenly disturbed by a swarm of fanatics from Amsoldingen. Two years before, a quack doctor and fanatic, by name Antony Unternerer, had fixed his abode in that village. A certain flow of language, combined with prepossessing manners and the profuse employment of benedictory formulas in human diseases, as well as in those of cattle, had gained for this fellow the confidence of the multitude. He held meetings in which particular parts of the New Testament were interpreted in a new and peculiar manner; and his adherents ceased their attendance on the ordinary divine service. Unternerer addressed a summons in writing to the supreme tribunal of Bern, to appear, with all its prisoners and their keepers, in the cathedral church on the morning of Good Friday, when the Saviour of the world would ascend the pulpit and hold his judgment. He also summoned all his disciples to meet at Bern on the same day. Many of them had already remained during several days assembled together; and, anticipating the coming judgment, had transferred their worldly possessions to others. Curiosity drew a multitude together from all quarters. Unternerer himself was announced as Saviour by his adherents; and seditious projects peeped out under the mantle of fanaticism. However, such a wholesome effect was produced by the arrest of the ringleader, the consignment of his most conspicuous followers to the lunatic hospital, and the billetting of dragoons in the houses of others, that the poor enthusiasts soon came to their senses, lamenting the error of their ways and the transfer of their properties.

« PreviousContinue »