Journeys To And From Switzerland
( Originally Published 1921 )
BEFORE plunging into the accounts of travels by the three past generations, which it is the main purpose of this volume to reproduce, a few words may be given to explain who were the actors in the first scenes which we are about to recall. The first journey to which we shall refer was made by the present editor's great-grandfather, Rev. Jean Roget, and his wife, Mrs. Catherine Roget, from England to Geneva in 1779.
It should be remarked that this Jean Roget, who was born in 1751 of a Genevese family of Huguenot origin, came first to England as a Minister at a French Protestant church in London. He married (in 1778) the daughter of a member of his congregation, Miss Catherine Romilly, whose father, Peter Romilly (1712-84), was a jeweller, also of Huguenot descent, living in Marylebone. Catherine Romilly, who was born in 1755, was the sister of the famous Sir Samuel Romilly (1757-1818). Portraits of Sir Samuel Romilly and his father are included in the collection forming our frontispiece, but unfortunately no portrait of either Jean Roget or Catherine Roget is available.
This is not the place to enlarge upon the history of the distinguished family of Romilly, to which many able pens have done tribute, but it should be pointed out that Mrs. Catherine Roget was descended on both sides from Huguenot families, for her mother was a member of the family of Garnault, also French Protestant refugees (coming originally from Châtellerault in Poitou).
The Romillys established themselves in England at their first migration from France, but the Rogets transferred their home to Geneva. Jean Roget was the first to take up residence in England, but this country was not his home for long, for a few months after the birth of his son Peter Mark Roget (January 18, 1779) ill health caused him to seek once more his native land, whither he made the painful journey later in that year to which we refer in more detail below. The infant son, who was left behind with his grandparents, was destined to become well known to many as the originator of Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases and as a versatile author of scientific papers. Jean Roget's increasing illness caused him to resign his ministry in 1781. He was not long to be spared, for at the early age of thirty-two, yet in the prime of an intellectual vigour of no ordinary calibre, he left his devoted wife a widow with two young children. During this period he continued to be an earnest thinker on political and social matters, and such topics provided much of the subject-matter of a correspondence between him and his brother-in-law, Samuel Romilly. Part of this is published in the first volume of The Memoirs of the Life of Sir Samuel Romilly, while a collection of some of Roget's letters to Romilly has been published in the original French (edited by Professor F. F. Roget of Geneva) under the title of Les Affaires de Genève 1780-1783, Lettres de Jean Roget, Ministre de l'Eglise de Genève. In these letters and others which passed between these two and Etienne Dumont, who was a close friend of both, was elaborated much of the liberal thought of the time regarding the relations between England and her American colonies and the times preceding the French Revolution. Roget's letters contain a full account of the events in Geneva which led up to the local revolution which occurred there in 1782, and may be regarded in some ways as a small precursor of the great Revolution yet to come in France. The correspondence also shows the strong influence which Jean Roget exercised over the formation of the character of Sir Samuel Romilly.
A few of the letters written during Jean Roget's journey back to his native country in 1779 in search of renewed health are still pre-served. From Dover, just before the ordeal of crossing the Channel in one of the primitive sailing packets of those days, Mrs. Roget writes to her father as follows :
I have the happiness to inform my dear father that we are safely arrived at Dover, where we have just breakfasted. Notre cher Malade is very much fatigued, so much so, that I have advised him to go to bed, as the Packet Boat (after all our hurry) sets off but to-morrow morning. It may perhaps be better, as I hope Roget will be able to recover in some measure from his fatigue. Bon Dieu, quelle triste soirée nous avons passée hier. After my brothers left us, we dragged on with tired horses as far as Canterbury, where we did not arrive till almost twelve o'clock at night ; poor Roget exceedingly tired, and to add to our misfortunes arrived at an Inn filled with the Military Gentlemen, a fresh painted house, no fire, no chairs, no supper. We stayed by the kitchen fire till our beds were ready ; and glad we were to embrace our pillows. Called at half-past five (not waked, for the noise and confusion prevented our sleeping). Really they have no soul of compassion. For all our hurry, it has come to sleeping here a day when we might have made our journey quite agreeable. I write this while I flatter myself mon cher époux is enjoying a little sleep. You must not expect, my dear father, any account of the places I go through, as I never leave him, and till he gets better mean to be his constant companion. . . Next letter I hope will bring you good news of our passage. I expect a very uncomfortable voyage, as I shall be uneasy lest the sea-sickness should be productive of bringing on his complaint. Really, I pray heartily I may be monstrous sick, that I may lose all feeling and compassion (for an unquiet mind is the worst of maladies). I believe it is the very first time I ever wished to be void of all tenderness for those I love. Our two companions are very agreeable men ; one is going to Orbe, the other to Geneva . . . they are both Englishmen and know very little French. I have promised to be their interpreter. It is really farce, when I speak so miser-ably myself. You will excuse if I am shorter in my epistles from Calais, etc., as I don't wish to have so good an opportunity to write again, for this is delaying our journey of a whole day.
These bêtes here have demanded five shillings each passenger, with an excuse that it is customary to give with the past Port (sic). I expect many of these kind of tricks before we leave Calais. . . . The packet-boat is to set off to-morrow morning. I am myself very well in health, and in Dover as in London and every quarter of the world your dutiful affectionate daughter CATH. ROGET."
We have no account of the details of the crossing, for the next letter that is preserved is dated from Aire on June 7th. It is given almost in full below " I write to you as often as I can, my dear father, as I know you must wish much to hear how we go on. We do not mend apace, but hope Roget is not worse for our journey so far, yet I am often very uneasy . . . and it is a long way to Geneva. We are but little advanced through the carelessness of Mons. Comte, who with trifling excuses detained us at Calais all day yesterday. We are little content with him as (par bonheur, it was not our coach) he put such horses in the voiture that ran away, threw the driver and much frightened the poor lady ; indeed the whole morning was disagreeable, for they were obliged to walk aside the horses, they went so bad. Yet (what I did not expect) we are at last arrived at Aire. We dined at St. Omer, a pretty neat town. I went to see one of the churches.
We are not to go to Lisle, as was first proposed, but are to cut across a shorter route. On that condition, I do not regret not seeing much of Lisle. You must think, my dear father, situated as I am, what a desire I have to arrive at our journey's end. . . . Our table since we are in France is elegant, two courses and a dessert, excellent soup and bouillie, but miss the good bread and beer in England. Supper is ready. My dear father will permit me to wish him bon soir, as I am very tired. . . . From your affectionate daughter CATH. ROGET."
She was, however, doomed to be sadly disappointed, for in great grief she wrote next from St. Dezier, on June 14th, in these words .
" Many are the unhappy moments I have passed since I wrote to you last, my dear father. Roget has been exceedingly ill . . . yet we have not stopped in our journey, though every night I thought it would be impossible to go on in the morning. Judge then of the uneasiness and anxiety I go through. Heaven protect us to the end of our journey, which I think never can arrive fast enough. I should not have had spirits to have wrote thus, were it not for the kind consolation I have received from the surgeon who has just bled Roget. He assures me the journey is of service to him. . . . But to be sick on a journey is a melancholy situation; it is seldom you can find half you wish for, then the continual fear that perhaps you may be left here without friend, without advice ; what have I not suffered from those unhappy thoughts which have haunted my mind since our leaving of Calais. I shall love Geneva to my heart if it restores him his health again. I endeavour to cast off all dull thoughts, at least in appearance. It is unfortunate that there is no woman of our party, for I do not call that melancholy lady one ; she scarcely lives, and three words is more than in general she favours us with. I at first pitied her and tried every means to induce her to talk, but all in vain. Our two gentlemen, young and merry, at first pleased much. I myself (thinking Roget much better) was in tolerable spirits, now their laughing displeases me. The good Doctor has just entered again ; he has advised Roget to rest a day. All the company has willingly consented that we set off not till Wednesday. . . . Your affectionate Dutiful children CATH. & J. ROGET."
The letter finally announcing their arrival at Geneva has not come down to us ; but another letter of June 25th (1779) begins in a less melancholy vein, as follows :
" Dear and honor'd Father, I wish to repair the many scrawls of bad news I have sent you by informing you Roget is something better."
This letter also contains the following passage :
" I believe I did not tell you in my last that the evening we arrived the whole city was in confusion, as there was a great fire in the town near the hospital. It is the custom here on such occasions that every private gentleman, etc., arm themselves, to keep the populace off, that none may be near the place but those that can be of service to extinguish the flames. The gates are immediately shut, and they, very fortunately for us, were ordered to be opened about a minute before we arrived, otherwise, ill as Roget was, we must have waited till the fire was put out. There were a great many carts, coaches, etc., waiting; the town was like a fair on our entrance."
There is no need to follow the movements of the Rogets further in detail. They took up their residence later in Lausanne, which remained their headquarters until Jean Roget's death. In the meantime it was realized that there was no prospect of an early return to England, and on June 16, 1781, Samuel Romilly set out for Switzerland to bring the infant child Peter Mark to his parents. In his Memoirs, Romilly writes of this journey as follows :
" My most affectionate father had grown dotingly fond of his little grandson, and though he would reluctantly resign him into the hand of my poor sister, who, in a foreign country, and with a sick husband, stood in need of such a consolation, yet he would not consent to commit his little charge to the care only of strangers or of a servant for so long a journey. I offered, therefore, to convey him, and to deliver him into the hands of his parents and this offer was very thankfully on all sides accepted.
His nursery maid was of coursé to go with him, and as the best mode of conveyance for such a party, and the most economical, we put ourselves under the care of one of those Swiss voituriers, who were at that time in the habit of convoying parties of six or eight persons to any part of Switzerland. Our party consisted of seven : a Mr. Bird, who was going to Turin ; a Mr. Barde, a Genevese ; a young man of the name of Broughton ; a little effeminate Englishman whose name I do not recollect ; the nursery maid ; the child and myself. It was a time of war, and we were therefore obliged to pass through the Low Countries ; and as is necessary with this mode of travelling, which is performed with the same horses, we made short and easy journeys of not more than thirty or forty miles a day, which gave us an opportunity of seeing all the objects of curiosity that lay upon the road.. . . I shall never forget the impression I received on first landing at Ostend ; and after-wards, upon entering the magnificent city of Ghent ; every human creature, every building, every object of superstition, almost everything I beheld, attracted my notice and excited my curiosity.
We pursued our course through Brussels, Namur, Longwy, Metz, Nancy, Plombières and Besançon to Lausanne, where I safely delivered their little boy to Roget and my sister."
The following extracts from a letter written at Ostend give a further picture of the journey. (This letter has not previously been published.)
" I am just arrived, my dear sister, at this place with your dear little boy, who is in perfect health and in excellent spirits. He is quite delighted with his journey ; he plays till he is tired and then sleeps for two or three hours together upon the road. Of all the passengers, he was the only one who was not sick upon our little voyage and the only one who could sleep well. His sleep was quite as sound the whole night as if he had been on shore. It is happy it was, for we had a tedious passage of twenty-six hours. . . . The weather is exceedingly hot, and though I slept on board the packet-boat less than all the other passengers, I am sitting writing to you in my usual dress, though my three male compagnons de voyage are all stretched upon beds round me without their coats and waistcoats. Our manner of travelling is the most agreeable that can be imagined. We have two English postchaises, in one of which are my three companions mentioned before, and in the other Peter, myself and Bell " (the nursemaid). " . . . As yet it is uncertain whether we shall go through Brussels, Basel and Berne, or through Besançon, or else through Lisle and Rheims." (The actual route adopted is given above.)
" Don't be surprised that my letter is so greasy. As I was writing it at the window a sudden breeze took it and carried it into the street, and a little dirty boy, taking it, I suppose, to contain matters of great importance to the Emperor his Master, seized it and, in spite of all the signs I could make, ran away with it. I pursued him. down two streets into his house, where he gave it to his father, a soldier, from whom I fortunately rescued it.
June 20th. We still remain at this place waiting for our baggage, which we could not get out of the packet-boat last night because the tide was gone out."
Romilly's return journey was made via Lyons and Paris. On the way a visit was paid to the Monastery of the Grand Chartreuse near Grenoble, where he and the party with which he was travelling were snow-bound for some days. The following is extracted from a letter written thence by Romilly (published in the first volume of his Memoirs, p. 171).
" This is but the third day that I find myself in this monastery, and I seem already to have inhabited it for years. The sight of the same objects and of the same faces, and the precise order which reigns here, soon destroys the novelty of the life of a recluse ; and I can hardly persuade myself, since I have been in this place, that I am ever to quit it. It was dusk when we arrived, and we were so much fatigued with our journey that we paid little attention to anything but the hospitality of our religious hosts and the excellent supper they set before us. As for myself, when I was shown into my chamber, I was so overwhelmed with drowsiness that I took notice of nothing in it but a bed, into which I threw my-self with the impatience of a weary traveller. The next morning, after a slumber of nine hours without interruption, except once indeed that I was waked by the melancholy bell which summons the fathers to the midnight service, I found myself lying on a small wooden bed, in a cell paved with tiles, and furnished only with two wooden chairs and a desk for prayer, over which hung a very indifferent print of the passion of our Saviour. My window looked over the spacious courtyard before the house, which was vast but solitary ; the grass grew between the stones, and in the midst stood two fountains, the melancholy splashing of whose waters alone interrupted the deep silence. The aspect of the country was well suited to the building, and presented to the view a dreary mountain rising above, one end wholly covered with woods of gloomy pine. I quitted my little cell to walk about the house of this solitary community. Every object struck me with awe and respect. As -I walked through the long cloisters, nothing broke the profound silence of the convent but the sound of my steps on the pavement, faintly echoed by the vaulted roof. The cloister led me by a small burial-ground in the midst of the building, where a number of tombstones in the form of crosses were placed in a kind of irregular order, some high, some low, some new, some old, others mouldering away and broken or fallen down and with inscriptions scarce legible. This is the burial-place of the Generals ; and they are never permitted to be far distant from it after their elevation to the supremacy of their order ; for the General must not step beyond the precincts of the monastery. I began to read the inscriptions, and while I was remarking the very advanced age to which a life abstemious, even to excess, had been prolonged by these venerable fathers, and was observing the slight distinctions which some of them derived from the addition of a few years to their uniform lives, or by having died, some in the present century and some three hundred years ago, I heard the distant steps of some person in the cloister. I quitted the cemetery to see who it might be ; a white figure at a considerable distance was advancing towards me ; it was one of the fathers. I walked to meet him, and should have spoken to him ; but he had arrived at the door of his cell, which opened into the cloister : he entered and shut the door. I reproached myself for having forgotten that the fathers are not permitted to speak, and for having exposed him to the temptation of opening his lips ; for he seemed in that instant to regret that the laws of his order imposed silence on him. The falling to of the heavy door rang through the building, and left an awful impression on my mind. In imagination I followed this venerable monk into his cell. I fancied myself, like him, imprisoned from the world, and separated from the grave by nothing but the unvaried round of fasts and prayers ; and that I should never quit my cell, except to rehearse the vigils in the chapel, to eat one weekly meal in silence with my brethren, or to walk about the lonely mountain, till I was carried into my tomb."
Regarding the departure from the Grand Chartreuse, Romilly writes in his Memoirs as follows :
" Amongst the travellers collected together there were two young French officers ; one of whom was going to Lyons, and I joined his company. We proceeded together on mules to Grenoble, and there hired a cabriolet which conveyed us to Lyons. At that place we parted, and I proceeded to Paris in the diligence or messagerie, a large carriage containing eight inside passengers ; not a very convenient or a very elegant conveyance, but one which was well suited to my humble cir cumstances, and in which much more is to be learnt of the manners of a people than by being shut up in a commodious English carriage and travelling post. Arrived at Paris, I left my luggage at the Bureau des diligences, and set off on foot to inquire my way through the streets for an hotel at the other end of the town to which I had got a direction. . . I returned to London by way of Lisle and Ostend, still travelling in public carriages."
A letter dated Ostende, Nov. 10, 1781 (the original of which is in the present writer's possession), commences : ----
"Once better than my word, I write to you, my dear Roget, from this place, though I did not give you reason to expect to hear from me till I should have arrived at London ; but I deserve no thanks for this letter, for it is the fruits of the most irksome leisure which an unfavourable wind inflicts on me, by confining me to this place. . . ."
A further portion of the same letter describes some impressions received in passing through France. We will content ourselves with quoting the following : ---
" At Versailles I assisted at the Mass. The service was very short, though it was on a Sunday ; for kings are so highly respected in that country that even Religion appoints for them less tedious ceremonies than it imposes on the people. The moment his Majesty appeared, the drums beat and shook the temple, as if it had been intended to announce the approach of a conqueror. During the whole time of Mass the choristers sang, some-times single parts, sometimes in chorus. In the front seats of the galleries were ranged the ladies of the Court, glowing with rouge and gorgeously apparelled, to enjoy and form part of the showy spectacle. The King laughed and spied at the ladies ; every eye was fixed on the personages of the Court, every ear was attentive to the notes of the singers, while the priest, who in the meantime went on in the exercise of his office, was unheeded by all present. Even when the Host was lifted up, none observed it ; and if the people knelt, it was because they were admonished by the ringing of the bell ; and even in that attitude, all were endeavouring to get a glimpse of the King. How can a King of France ever be brought to regard his subjects as his equals, when, even before the throne of heaven, he maintains so high a superiority over all around him? What an idea must he not conceive of his own importance, when he thus sees his God less honoured than himself ?
In his next letter (November 16, 1781) he writes :—
" At last, my dear Roget, you find I am safe arrived at my dear home. It was very fortunate that I took advantage of the first favourable moment which presented itself for crossing the sea, as the wind has been contrary ever since, and there are at present no less than four mails due."
This letter contains a further interesting picture of pre-Revolution Paris, in an account of the rejoicings on the birth of the Dauphin, which happened while Romilly was in Paris.
" The day the Dauphin was born," he writes, an order was posted up in all the streets, enjoining the citizens to illuminate their houses for three successive nights and to shut up their shops, and commanding the officers of the police to look to the execution of this order. Who would have thought that a people so famous for their fond attachment to their kings could have needed such an order ! an order which, even when rendered necessary by the disloyalty of a nation, can never answer any purpose, unless it be to lull a feeble government into a childish joy by an outward show of happiness, by making an oppressed and discontented nation for a moment act the part of a happy and grateful people !
At night I walked about Paris to see the illuminations ; the streets were crowded with people, and the public edifices were well lighted up ; but in many of the private houses there appeared only one glimmering lamp at each window, hung up, not in token of joy, but of reluctant obedience to the Sovereign's will; and some of the citizens were daring enough not to illuminate their houses at all. In many of the squares were little orchestras with bands of music playing to the populace, some of whom danced about in wild, irregular figures. But it was at the Place de Grève that the greatest crowd was assembled. The town house there was richly illuminated, a firework was played off, and afterwards the people were invited to dance to the music of four bands in the different orchestras. The company, which consisted of the very lowest and dirtiest rabble in Paris, soon began to dance in a ring, but they were noisy rather than merry, and none seemed happy, unless happiness can be found in a tumultuous oblivion. My opinion of the Parisians, with respect to gaiety, is so different from that of all travellers, that I hardly dare trust- to it, but I must describe things as I see them, and not borrow from others my opinions and observations."
As already stated, Jean Roget died on April 25, 1783. In consequence, Romilly hastened once more to Switzerland to bring back to England Mrs. Catherine Roget, her son Peter, and the infant daughter who had been born but a few weeks before Roget's death. Romilly in this case travelled via Paris, where he made a brief stay. In a letter to his sister from Paris (August 29, 1783) he writes :
" Thus far, my dear Kitty, I am arrived safe upon my journey. . . . I do not find any opportunity as I expected of travelling from hence to Geneva. Your friend Mr. Gautier will travel thither about the same time, but I fear he is engaged in a party already. If I should not within four or five days find any better method of travelling, I shall resolve to go in a diligence to Dijon or to Besançon or Lyons, and so on to Geneva. You may expect in about ten days from hence to hear from me at Geneva."
It happened after all that he was able to travel by the direct road in company with Mr. Gautier. Quoting again from the Memoirs :
" I made but a short stay at Geneva ; few of my best friends were then remaining there. The revolution which had taken place had afforded a complete triumph to the aristocratical party ; but it had been effected by the interference of France and by the terror of its arms. I shall never forget the burning indignation which I felt as I looked down upon a French regiment which was mounting guard in the place of Bel Air, under the windows of my hotel, and as I heard the noise of its military music, which seemed, as it were, to insult the ancient liberties of the Republic."
The return journey with Mrs. Roget and her children, which is the subject of the next chapter, may be regarded as the actual permanent migration of this branch of the Roget family from Switzerland to England.