The Castle Of Chillon
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Here I am, sitting at my window, overlooking Lake Leman. Castle Chillon, with its old conical towers, is silently pictured in the still waters. It has been a day of a thousand. We took a boat, with two oarsmen, and passed leisurely along the shores, under the cool, drooping branches of trees, to the castle, which is scarce a stone's throw from the hotel. We rowed along, close under the walls, to the ancient moat and drawbridge. There I picked a bunch of blue bells, "les clochettes," which were hanging their aerial pendants from every crevice—some blue, some white.
We rowed along, almost touching the castle rock, where the wall ascends perpendicularly, and the water is said to be a thousand feet deep. We passed the loopholes that illuminate the dungeon vaults, and an old arch, now walled up, where prisoners, after having been strangled, were thrown into the lake.
Last evening we walked through the castle. An interesting Swiss woman, who has taught herself English for the benefit of her visitors, was our "cicerone." She seemed to have all the old Swiss vivacity of attachment for "liberte et patrie." She took us first into the dungeon, with the seven pillars, described by Byron. There was the pillar to which, for protecting the liberty of Geneva, Bonivard was chained. There the Duke of Savoy kept him for six years, confined by a chain four feet long. He could take only three steps, and the stone floor is deeply worn by the prints of those weary steps. Six years is so easily said; but to live them, alone, helpless, a man burning with all the fires of manhood, chained to that pillar of stone, and those three unvarying steps! Two thousand one hundred and ninety days rose and set the sun, while seed time and harvest, winter and summer, and the whole living world went on over his grave. For him no sun, no moon, no stars, no business, no friendship, no plans—nothing! The great millstone of life emptily grinding itself away !
What a power of vitality was there in Boni-yard, that he did not sink in lethargy, and forget himself to stone! But he did not; it is said that when the victorious Swiss army broke in to liberate him, they cried,
"Bonivard, you are free!"
"Geneva is free also!"
You ought to have heard the enthusiasm with which our guide told this story !
Near by are the relics of the cell of a companion of Bonivard, who made an ineffectual attempt to liberate him. On the wall are still seen sketches of saints and inscriptions by his hand. This man one day overcame his jailer, locked him in his cell, ran into the hall above, and threw himself from a window into the lake, struck a rock, and was killed instantly. One of the pillars in this vault is covered with names. I think it is Bonivard's pillar. There are the names of Byron, Hunt, Schiller, and many other celebrities.
After we left the dungeons we went up into the judgment hall, where prisoners were tried, and then into the torture chamber. Here are the pulleys by which limbs were broken; the beam, all scorched with the irons by which feet were burned; the oven where the irons were heated; and there was the stone where they were sometimes laid to be strangled, after the torture. On that stone, our guide told us, two thousand Jews, men, women, and children, had been put to death. There was also, high up, a strong beam across, where criminals were hung; and a door, now walled up, by which they were thrown into the lake. I shivered. "'Twas cruel," she said; "'twas almost as cruel as your slavery in America."
Then she took us into a tower where was the "oubliette." Here the unfortunate prisoner was made to kneel before an image of the Virgin, while the treacherous floor, falling beneath him, precipitated him into a well forty feet deep, where he was left to die of broken limbs and starvation. Below this well was still another pit, filled with knives, into which, when they were disposed to a merciful hastening of the torture, they let him fall. The woman has been herself to the bottom of the first dungeon, and found there bones of victims. The second pit is now walled up... .
Tonight, after sunset, we rowed to Byron's "little isle," the only one in the lake. 0, the unutterable beauty of these mountains—great, purple waves, as if they had been dashed up by a mighty tempest, crested with snow-like foam ! this purple sky, and crescent moon, and the lake gleaming and shimmering, and twinkling stars, while far off up the sides of a snow-topped mountain a light shines like a star—some mountaineer's candle, I suppose.
In the dark stillness we rode again over to Chillon, and paused under its walls. The frogs were croaking in the moat, and we lay rocking on the wave, and watching the dusky outlines of the towers and turrets. Then the spirit of the scene seemed to wrap me round like a cloak. Back to Geneva again. This lovely place will ever leave its image on my heart. Mountains embrace it.
*Mrs. Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" had been published about a year when this remark was made to her.