Monday, May 24, 2010

Thoughts on Swiss Society

The following observation about Swiss society of the 1860s comes from the letters of English historian Edward Augustus Freeman (1823-1892). It comes from The life and letters of Edward A. Freeman, D.C.L., LL. D. By William Richard Wood Stephens. Freemen mentions both Albert de Büren and his son Henri de Büren in this letter. Freeman three years earlier spent the night at Vaumarcus at the invitation of Albert and it is unclear if they met again or he is referencing their previous encounter. From his letter is appears that Albert would have liked to turn back the clock on social reform, like many other Swiss aristocrats for that matter.

Edward Augustus Freeman (1823-1892)


"To J. Bryce, Esq.

Somerleaze, February 24, 1867.
... As for the rich, I conceive that save merchants at Basel and such like, Schweiz has hardly any people whom we should count rich. Aristocrats, or rather ex-aristocrats, abound, but they are mainly poor, having lost their two great sources of revenue, Condottieriship and Verres-ship. From all I can hear, they have no real grievances. Wherever, as at Zurich, they have frankly accepted the new state of things, and have gone in and taken their chance with other folk, they have got their share like other folk. At Bern for a long time they were sulky and held aloof from public affairs ; more fools they, as in many parts of the Canton they were distinctly popular, and would have been preferred to other candidates. Most of my friends are naturally democrats, but I saw some of the other sort at Chur, and specially at Neuchâtel.

One man, James de Meuron, patrician, but who talked fairly and sensibly, told me that, just after the Revolution, there was an ugly rush of Artisans and market folk, but that things had righted themselves, and that all sorts got into the Assembly, only too many lawyers, a fault not confined to Welsh-Newcastle. Then I stayed a night with the Baron de Buren, a charming old man, but who wanted the king of Prussia back again. The only intelligible grievance I could make out was that he had been compelled to sell some tithes. If he got a fair price, I don't see great harm. I should like to see all rights of one man over the land of another redeemed in the same way. On the other hand, he seemed to be in exactly the position of an English squire, people capping him and calling him ' M. le Baron.' He was, by election, President of the Communal Council, and his son was a member of the Legislature of the Canton. So I really did not see that his hardships were very great. He dwelleth in a real castle, Vauxmarcus to wit, whose name you will find among the doings of Charles the Bold."

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