Copyright
Horace Rumbold.

Recollections of a diplomatist .. (Volume 2) online

. (page 12 of 23)
Online LibraryHorace RumboldRecollections of a diplomatist .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 12 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


of the better educated mass of their countrymen,
bring to their arduous duties a remarkable degree of
tact and sagacity, and form an Executive as able and
efficient as any I have seen at work in the many
countries I have resided in. Nor should it be for-
gotten that, in accepting office, most of these capable
administrators exchange remunerative employment
in their respective cantons for an official salary
not exceeding the modest figure of 12,000 francs
(^480) per annum ; the President of the Confedera-
tion, who is chosen from amongst them for the term
of one year, himself not receiving more than 13,500
francs (,540). On the other hand, in devoting
themselves to the public service, they are assured of

1 My very excellent friend, the late Sir Francis Ottiwell Adams,
did me the honour of embodying the whole of this passage, almost
verbatim, in his valuable work entitled, "The Swiss Confederation"
(Macmillan & Co., 1889). At page 64 he says : " A diplomatist who
knew them (the Federal Counril) well, and appreciated their -ood
qualities, aptly remarked that they reminded him of a characteristic
industry of their own country, of watchmaking." And he then goes
on to transcribe the entire passage without any inverted commas to
mark it as a quotation. A singular, however friendly, instance of the
crib unacknowledged.

~ There are, of course, exceptions to this. M. 1'avier of the Orisons,
M. Fornerod of Vaud, and M. Hammer of Argovie are instances of
men of good means and position in their respective cantons.



1 84 RECOLLECTIONS OF A DIPLOMATIST

a long lease of power, for, unlike other Executives
under a parliamentary system, the Federal Council
practically constitute a permanent Cabinet entirely
independent of party claims, and are not displaced
at will by a shifting majority in the Legislature.
Being thus outside the range of parliamentary strife,
the Council frequently contains men of widely diver-
gent views, who none the less work harmoniously
together for the common good. These arrange-
ments, which secure to the country for a long period
(some of the Federal Councillors have held office for
over twenty years) the continuous services of a set
of perfectly trained and experienced officials, can-
not, it seems to me, be too highly commended. At
any rate, they admirably suit the peculiar require-
ments of the Swiss people, whom they provide, at
trifling cost, with a thoroughly competent and at
the same time independent Administration.

The high character and integrity of the Federal
Councillors have indeed never been called in ques-
tion, and in this respect they may challenge com-
parison with governing bodies in other democracies.
Only on one occasion, as far as I know, has the
slightest aspersion been cast on any of their number,
and in that instance the person concerned the able
but unprincipled Staempfli had ceased for some
years to form part of the Council. Certainly his
attitude in the affair of the Alabama claims was
suspiciously strange, and had very disastrous re-
sults for us. Unfortunately, our representative in



THE ALABAMA ARBITRATION 185

Switzerland at that time was partly answerable for
the mischief done. The story is, I believe, not
generally known. When Geneva had been selected
as the place where the arbitrators were to meet, and
it became necessary to decide who was to repre-
sent Switzerland on the Tribunal, the American
Minister at Berne called one day on his British
colleague to consult him in a friendly way as to
who, in his opinion, would be a suitable person
for the purpose. At the same time he suggested, as
from himself, that Professor Konig of the University
of Berne an authority of the first rank in matters
of international law would, to his mind, be an
excellent selection. He knew, he added, that the
Professor was desirous of the appointment, and if
the representative of England would join in recom-
mending him he would no doubt be chosen. Konig
of whom I afterwards saw a good deal was re-
markably well affected towards England, besides
being standing legal adviser to our Legation. Like
some of his countrymen, however, he was a man of
rough, abrupt manners, and had succeeded in ruffling
the susceptibilities of her Majesty's Minister by
treating him with less ceremony than that worthy,
but somewhat touchy, personage deemed to be his
due. The friendly Professor happened thus to be in
the Minister's black books. Instead, therefore, of
simply acquiescing in the unexpectedly advantageous
proposal made to him by his American colleague (he
need not have moved at all in the matter himself),



1 86 RECOLLECTIONS OF A DIPLOMATIST

our representative assumed a lofty tone, and said that
he considered it was not for her Majesty's Minister to
offer any opinion respecting the choice to be made.
The American Minister, thus rebuffed, abandoned
all thought of recommending Konig, and gave his
support to Staempfli instead ; the result being that,
on points where even the American arbitrator sided
with us, the Swiss went dead against us and showed
us throughout the most uncompromising hostility.
In fact, in the opinion of those best acquainted with
the inner history of the affair, this blunder of our
representative, by bringing about the appointment
of the corrupt and hostile Staempfli, led, in some
degree, to the award given against us to the tune of
three million sterling.

I need scarcely say that the worthy Federals, with
all their intrinsic merits, did not shine in society.
They led retiring, hard-working lives, in very modest
surroundings, and there was a story of some diplo-
matist, who was leaving a card on the President
at his private abode, being admitted by a lady
with her sleeves tucked up and her arms covered
with soap-suds, Madame la Presidente having come
straight from the family wash-tub to answer the bell.
The only occasion for social intercourse between the
members of the Government and ourselves was the
annual diner federal, for which the President re-
ceives a special allowance, and which used to be
given by rotation at one or other of the principal
hotels of the town. To this the entire corps diplo-



FEDERAL HOSPITALITY 187

matique, as well as all the higher federal and
cantonal functionaries, were bidden. It was a huge
and sumptuous entertainment, the Council doing
themselves and their guests right well in the matter
of food and drink. We made it a rule to take our
leave as soon as possible after the dinner, which was
interminable ; but our hosts kept up the festivity
till well into the small hours, and one foggy night
a certain member of the Council was reported to
have come to grief walking home, and found his
way into a ditch, whence he was extricated by
passers-by in the early morning. These hard-
headed Switzers, although habitually abstemious
enough, are formidable topers on occasion. The
most perfect presentment of a Teutonic Bacchus or
Gambrinus I ever came across was old Schiessl,
the Secretary of the Federal Council practically a
permanent Under Secretary of State an admirable
official, but a tun of a man, with a perpetual Alpen-
fjliihn on his fat, jovial face, and withal of a Rabe-
laisian wit and humour.

I spent most of the autumn and winter of this
year at Berne, where I remember we had capital
skating on some flooded meadows by the banks of
the Aare, just below the Bernerhof. But for the
anxiety caused me by the family troubles I have
alluded to, time sped away pleasantly enough in the
sleepy, but sociable, federal city.



CHAPTER XXI

LIFE AT BERNE, 1866-1868

THE opening of the year 1866 a momentous one
in the world's history found me settled in a corner
house of the recently opened Hue Fdderale, exactly
facing the gap left between the Bernerhof and the
Federal Palace. My lodging, a modest entresol,
thus had a lovely outlook towards the Bernese Alps,
and it was roomy enough to enable me to put up
a friend or two on occasion. Here I spent the best
part of two years of unbroken sunshine, and first
came to know the blessings of a genuine home.

My sister and her daughter, now a girl of four-
teen, came on a visit to me at the beginning of
March, remaining till early in June. During the
three months she kept house for me, my rooms
became a favourite centre for the small set of col-
leagues with whom 1 mostly consorted. She had
brought with her from Baden-Baden an excellent
French cook of the toothsome sounding name of
Fraisicr, and we gave little dinners which were in
great request. Indirectly, my sister's visit led to
my marriage. About this time a new American
Minister had been appointed to Berne in the person
of Mr. (iforL, r e Harrington, who had held oiiice as



THE HARRINGTONS 189

Assistant Secretary to the Treasury under Mr. Chase
all through the great civil contest in the United
States, and had, in that capacity, done distinguished
service. Mr. Harrington brought with him his wife
and two grown-up daughters by his first marriage
with a Miss Barney, whose father was one of the
chief naval worthies of the revolutionary war.
The ladies of the family soon became very popular
in our little set, my sister especially taking a great
fancy to the daughters, the youngest of whom, after-
wards my wife, was then but little over eighteen.
Their step-mother, Mrs. Harrington, was a Miss
Scott, niece and adopted daughter of a Mr. Seaton,
who for many years was the proprietor of the
National Intelligencer of Washington, one of the
ablest and most respectable newspapers ever pub-
lished in the States. Under his hospitable roof
she had been acquainted with most of the distin-
guished persons, whether American or foreign, who
had visited Washington during more than a quarter
of a century, and had become a highly cultivated
woman of decided English tastes and proclivities,
such as clung to a generation still strongly imbued
with the old Colonial traditions, and in many ways
bound to England by sentiment. Under her guidance
her younger step-daughter especially had blossomed
into a very perfect type of the younu; American girl,
with all that unconscious charm and simple irnicc
which, when found in hor countrywomen, can hardly,
I think, be surpassed. It is difficult for me to write



1 90 RECOLLECTIONS OF A DIPLOMATIST

of the wife I lost, very suddenly, after a few brief
years of great happiness. I will only say that with-
out being endowed with striking beauty she was
most attractive. Very slight and graceful, a little
above the middle height, she had small and exqui-
sitely shaped hands and feet and a wealth of fair
hair, in charming contrast with her hazel eyes and
perfectly marked dark eyebrows. . . . Unfortunately,
none of the photographs taken of her do her any-
thing like justice, while a picture painted by Weigall
from the indications I furnished him and on which
he bestowed infinite pains by no means conveys an
accurate idea of her.

But I must turn from this painful subject to the
important political events which marked this summer
of 1866. The grave dissensions that had arisen
between Austria and Prussia, in connection with the
affairs of Schleswig-IIolstein, had now culminated in
open hostility. The effete Germanic Confederation,
of the working of which I had seen something in my
Frankfort days, was tottering on the brink of ruin
within a short year of the fiftieth anniversary of
its establishment. That long-impending breach be-
tween the two great German Powers, towards which
the deeply laid, relentless plans of Bismarck had
been directed from the first, could no longer be
staved off. Germany was divided into two camps,
and, after fruitless attempts at some agreement, war
actually broke out in the middle of what happened
to be a glorious month of June.



THE SEVEN WEEKS' WAR 191

Most sympathies were with Austria at the com-
mencement of the struggle, which was watched in
Switzerland with intense interest. More especially
the Swiss of the German cantons sided with their
Suabian and other neighbours, who all had thrown
in their lot with Austria. Prussian ways were re-
pugnant to the Swiss, and the action of Prussia in
the Neuchatel affair eleven years before had left
behind it very unpleasant recollections. There was,
besides, an almost universal belief in the military
superiority of Austria. It was confidently expected
that her magnificent white-coated battalions and
splendid horsemen, under the leadership of the re-
nowned Benedek, would give a good account of the
Pikelhauben, who, except for the storming of the lines
of Diippel, had for years known nothing but the stiff
drill of their barrack-yards and exercising grounds.
The marvellous machinery of the Prussian organisa-
tion and the wonders of the needle-gun had yet
to be revealed to the world. I saw a good deal
at this time of the Wiirtemberg Chargd d' Affaires,
Spitzemberg, and his very handsome, clever wife, a
daughter of the distinguished statesman, Varnbiiler,
whom I had known well at Stuttgart. The couple
were intensely anti-Prussian, and with my old pre-
dilections for everything Austrian we got on very
well together on the subject of current events,
watching with almost feverish excitement for the
telegrams that should tell us of Henedok's triumph-
ant march on Berlin. Our hopes and illusions were



i 9 2 RECOLLECTIONS OF A DIPLOMATIST

all too roughly dispelled by the astoundingly brief
and crushing Sadowa campaign. When I think of
the sentiments so openly expressed at this crisis by
my friends the Spitzembergs, I cannot but marvel
at their subsequent career. Not long after the
close of the conflict they were appointed to Berlin,
where the " ogre " Bismarck had no more devoted
admirers than the Wtirtemberg Envoy and his
brilliant spouse.

The tide of war threatened to roll so near to
Swiss territory that the Confederation lined its
northern and southern frontiers with troops mobi-
lised for the protection of its neutrality. Fortunately
for the Swiss, their military qualities have not been
put to the test for many years. Their troops are,
however, well spoken of by those who have had
opportunities of studying them, though their officers,
with the exception of those belonging to the armes
spe'ciales, are held to be less efficient, and a strong
argument has been thence deduced in favour of the
old military capitulations, now strictly prohibited
tinder the Federal Constitution. At the period
when some thirty thousand Swit/ers mounted guard
over the principal Continental thrones, Switzerland
could reckon on a reserve, as it were, of experienced
officers, mostly cadets of great patrician houses
D'Erlachs, Diesbachs, or Wattenwyls many of
whom had seen active service, and who, on re-
turning home, brought back with them the best
principles of military science and discipline. 1



THE LAST OF PATRICIAN STATESMEN 193

had, during my stay at Berne, a very kind friend in
old M. de Gonzenbach, for many years Permanent
Secretary to the Diet, prior to the democratic reform
of the Constitution in 1854. This ancient patrician
statesman and patriot, the last survival of his class,
was fond of enlarging on the above theme, and one
day told me of a remark made to him by the late
Emperor Napoleon, whom he had known intimately
during that potentate's early exile in Switzerland, and
who subsequently consulted him on the formation of
Swiss regiments for service in France a measure the
Emperor seriously contemplated at one time. " I
know your Allmend 1 well," the Emperor had said to
him, " but what are you able to do there ? Very
little ! It was otherwise in old days. Not a shot
could be fired in Europe without Switzerland being
taken into account. You were then a great military
nation." " The Emperor was quite right," added my
friend. "What have we become now? A nation
of waiters and porters. When I think of Suisse and
portier being synonymous, le rouge me monte cm
visage"

To the suppression of the capitulations M. de
Gonzenbach likewise attributed in part the fact of
Switzerland being now so much less in touch with
European affairs. It would be difficult, he pointed
out, to take up any historical memoirs, down even

1 The federal manoeuvring ground, or Swiss ('hump* <lc Mtirs, at

Thun. The Emperor had held a commission in his youth in the
cantonal forces of Thurgovia.

VOL. 11. N



i 9 4 RECOLLECTIONS OF A DIPLOMATIST

to some eighty years ago, without finding there
prominent mention of Swiss engaged in the most
important military or political transactions of the
period, sometimes filling high offices of state, and
not infrequently (as in the case of the Gjenevese)
directing the studies of heirs to powerful monarchies.
At the present time the Swiss seem to have dropped
altogether out of European society, if I may be
permitted the expression. There are few represen-
tative Swiss left ; for the poorly paid, middle-class
men who, as a rule, have charge of Swiss interests at
three or four foreign capitals, represent their country
only by reason of their functions, and in no other
respect. My Swiss sage for such was his acknow-
ledged position among his countrymen was of
opinion that her political isolation had become a
distinct disadvantage to Switzerland.

M. de Gonzenbach, as Secretary to the old Diet,
had for the time practically had charge of the
foreign relations of Switzerland, besides being en-
trusted with various important diplomatic missions.
His recollections of Napoleon 111. went back to the
days of his restless youth, and he had been a frequent
guest of Queen Ilortense at Arenenberg. To the
last he remained a valued friend and constant cor-
respondent of that very remarkable woman the late
Queen Sophie of the Netherlands, who frequently
stopped on her way through Switzerland to visit
him at his country home at Muri near Berne.
M. de (jronzenbach's last days were devoted to the



"THE BEAR THAT ATE THE ENGLISHMAN" 195

publication of the memoirs and correspondence of
the Mare'chal d'Erlach, and it was characteristic
of him that in order to get hold of the papers left
by the Marechal, which contained a mass of original
letters to and from Louvois and others, he purchased,
for a relatively large sum, the entire library of the
old chateau of Spiez on the Lake of Thun when
that remnant of Erlach property was sold by its
impecunious owner. But I have lingered unduly
long over my recollections of the venerable sage
of Muri, long forgotten now by all but a very few
like Sir Robert Peel, perhaps, who, during his
short and brilliant, but somewhat eccentric, diplo-
matic career at Berne l must have seen a good
deal of him, more especially at the time of the
war of the Sonderbund.

Henry Dering was now transferred to Florence
and replaced by Charles Calvert Eden, a nephew
of the late Primate of Scotland. Eden, who had
been married very young to a Bernese lady of
the patrician family of Sinner, had asked to be
reappointed to Berne. He was a pleasant, intel-
ligent fellow, and had seen a good deal of the
world, having begun life in the navy. In my
memory he is chielly connected with the story
of the " bear that ate the Englishman," a ghastly

1 One of the many stories told of Sir Robert is that, when riding on
a hot summer's day by the banks of the Aare, he was minded t<> have
a bathe. Finding, when he came out of the water, that his dollies
had been stolen, he calmly mounted his horse and rode into tn\vn a
diplomatic t.Jodiva (or Godivus !).



196 RECOLLECTIONS OF A DIPLOMATIST

incident of which he had been an eye-witness
during his first sojourn at Berne. The subject
was one he disliked, but I succeeded with some
difficulty in extracting from him the particulars of
this dreadful occurrence, which, not being generally
known, seem worth putting down.

During the winter of 1 860-61 there came to
Berne a certain Captain Lorch, a Norwegian by
birth, who had served in one of our foreign legions
during the Crimean War, and had lived a good deal
in England. He appears to have been a baddish
lot, but, like other adventurers of his kind, was
an amusing companion, and soon made friends with
the knot of junior diplomates who, at that period,
frequented a small club at an inn in the Rue de la
Justice at the lower end of the town. Here they
met of an evening and kept late hours, playing
cards and supping afterwards. Lorch was generally
the last to leave, and had acquired a curious habit,
before retiring to his lodging hard by, of strolling
down the street to the well-known pit beyond the
Nydeck bridge to " have a look at the bears," whicli
for years past have been kept there at the public
charge, as symbols of the Mutz or Bruin that figures
in the coat of arms of the ancient city and canton.
One night (March 3, 1861) Eden stayed at the club
later than usual, and left it with the Norwegian
who had had a run of ill-luck and Imd drunk pretty
freely. Lorch proposed he should accompany him
in his customary stroll down to the bears, and a



A MAD FREAK 197

few minutes' walk through the raw, foggy night
brought them to the pit. As the many who have
seen it know, it is surrounded by a low, broad wall
in the centre of which a railing about breast-high
is embedded. The Norwegian, who was in a queer,
defiant mood, suddenly startled Eden by taking to
vaulting backwards and forwards over the railing.
He did this very nimbly, swinging himself over
with both hands, in one of which he carried his
folded umbrella. While Eden was remonstrating
with him on this dangerous tomfoolery, Lorch's
foot slipped off the narrow inner edge or his hand
gave way and he somehow lost his hold and
disappeared into the darkness below, coming down
with a great thud on reaching the bottom.

Eden called out to him, but getting no answer,
thought he must have been killed by the fall.
Soon, however, he heard a stir, and peering down
into the gloom, perceived, to his relief, that Lorch
had risen to his feet and was therefore not fatally
injured. He had been stunned at first, having
come down flat on his face and broken, as was
afterwards ascertained, the bridge of his nose.
The fall had, however, completely sobered him,
and he seemed quite cool and collected, and re-
mained so, indeed, till the end. He exchanged
a few words with Eden as to the best means of
extricating himself, the latter undertaking to go
for assistance and get, if possible, a ladder. At
this hour close upon three in the morning not



198 RECOLLECTIONS OF A DIPLOMATIST

a creature was stirring, and the bears themselves
lay fast asleep in their dens at the back of the pit.
Looking around him, Eden espied lights in a house
at the upper end of the bridge. There was a bakery
there, and some men at work in it. He attracted
their notice, but could not make them understand
what he wanted of them. They followed him,
however, to the pit, with much loud talk in their
guttural dialect, but without directing him as to
where ladders or ropes could be procured. This
proved, indeed, the commencement of the mischief.
The noise these men made during their first parley
with Eden aroused other people and brought them
out of their dwellings. Early though it was, too,
peasants coming into town, and now and then a
casual passer-by, stopped to learn the motive of
this nocturnal concourse.

In less than half-an-hour the edge of the pit
was surrounded by a throng of hulking, jeering
boors, who, passing their coarse jests from one to
another, disturbed the bears in their slumbers and
brought them out one by one from their dens. 1
should observe here that Eden's account of the
affair was so strange and disjointed, so like some
hideous nightmare, that I am unable to give it in
any connected or, still less, succinct shape. To
make it as short as possible, no one in the crowd
lent any practical help or thought of fetching the
bear-keeper, who, unfortunately, happened to live
a long way off. The bears, meanwhile, showed no



THE FATAL BEAR-PIT 199

evil designs, and contented themselves with sniffing
at their new companion, who, with perfect nerve
and coolness, kept them at a distance by fencing
lightly with his umbrella. Eden, now feeling that
he must seek assistance elsewhere, hurried up to
the Legation, which was upwards of half a mile
away, on the Miinsterplatz. Here he had great
difficulty in gaining admittance to the worthy
Admiral, who would not at first give any credence
to Eden's strange story, and put his distracted
condition down to the effects of drink. Youn^

O

Edward Harris, 1 however, who was on leave from
his regiment, volunteered to accompany him, taking


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryHorace RumboldRecollections of a diplomatist .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 12 of 23)