Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin
PENELOPE IN SWITZERLAND
A DAY IN PESTALOZZI-TOWN
Salemina and I were in Geneva. If you had ever travelled through Europe with a charming spinster who never sat down at a Continental table d’hôte without being asked by an American vis-à-vis whether she were one of the P.’s of Salem, Massachusetts, you would understand why I call my friend Salemina. She doesn’t mind it. She knows that I am simply jealous because I came from a vulgarly large tribe that never had any coat-of-arms, and whose ancestors always sealed their letters with their thumb nails.
Whenever Francesca and I call her “Salemina,” she knows, and we know that she knows, that we are seeing a group of noble ancestors in a sort of halo over her serene and dignified head, so she remains unruffled under her petit nom, inasmuch as the casual public comprehends nothing of its spurious origin and thinks it was given her by her sponsors in baptism.
Francesca, Salemina, and I have very different backgrounds. The first-named is an extremely pretty person of large income who is travelling with us simply because her relatives think that she will “see Europe” more advantageously under our chaperonage than if she were accompanied by persons of her own age or “set.”
Salemina is a philanthropist and educator of the first rank, and is collecting all sorts of valuable material to put at the service of her own country when she returns to it, which will not be a moment before her letter of credit is exhausted.
I, too, am quasi-educational, for I had a few years of experience in mothering and teaching little waifs and strays of the streets before I began to paint pictures. Never shall I regret those nerve-racking, back-breaking, heart-warming, weary, and beautiful years, when, all unconsciously, I was learning to paint children by living with them. Even now the spell still works and it is the curly head, the “shining morning face,” the ready tear, the glancing smile of childhood that enchains me and gives my brush whatever skill it possesses.
We had not been especially high-minded or educational in Switzerland, Salemina and I. The worm will turn; and there is a point where the improvement of one’s mind seems a farce, and the service of humanity, for the moment, a duty only born of a diseased imagination.
How can one sit on a vine-embowered balcony facing lovely Lake Geneva and think about modern problems,—Improved Tenements, Child Labour, Single Tax, Sweat Shops, and the Right Training of the Rising Civilization? Blue Lake Geneva!—blue as a woman’s eye, blue as the vault of heaven, dropped into the lap of the green earth like a great sparkling sapphire! Mont Blanc you know to be just behind the clouds on the other side, and that presently, after hours or days of patient waiting, he may condescend to unveil himself to your worshipful gaze.
“He is wise in his dignity and reserve,” mused Salemina as we sat on the veranda. “He is all the more sublime because he withdraws himself from time to time. In fact, if he didn’t see fit to cover himself occasionally, one could neither eat nor sleep, nor do anything but adore and magnify.”
The day before this interview we had sailed to the end of the sapphire lake and visited the “snow-white battlements” of the Castle of Chillon; seen its “seven pillars of Gothic mould,” and its dungeons deep and old, where poor Bonnivard, Byron’s famous “Prisoner of Chillon,” lay captive for so many years, and where Rousseau fixes the catastrophe of his Héloïse.
We had just been to Coppet too; Coppet where the Neckers lived and Madame de Staël was born and lived during many years of her life. We had wandered through the shaded walks of the magnificent château garden, and strolled along the terrace where the eloquent Corinne had walked with the Schlegels and other famous habitués of her salon. We had visited Calvin’s house at 11 Rue des Chanoines, Rousseau’s at No. 40 on the Grande Rue, and Voltaire’s at Ferney.
And so we had been living the past, Salemina and I. But
“Early one morning,
Just as the day was dawning.”
my slumbering conscience rose in Puritan strength and asserted its rights to a hearing.
“Salemina,” said I, as I walked into her room, “this life that we are leading will not do for me any longer. I have been too much immersed in ruins. Last night in writing to a friend in New York I uttered the most disloyal and incendiary statements. I said that I would rather die than live without ruins of some kind; that America was so new, and crude, and spick and span, that it was obnoxious to any æsthetic soul; that our tendency to erect hideous public buildings and then keep them in repair afterwards would make us the butt of ridicule among future generations. I even proposed the founding of an American Ruin Company, Limited,—in which the stockholders should purchase favourably situated bits of land and erect picturesque ruins thereon. To be sure, I said, these ruins wouldn’t have any associations at first, but what of that? We have plenty of poets and romancers; we could manufacture suitable associations and fit them to the premises. At first, it is true, they might not fire the imagination; but after a few hundred years, in being crooned by mother to infant and handed down by father to son, they would mellow with age, as all legends do, and they would end by being hallowed by rising generations. I do not say they would be absolutely satisfactory from every standpoint, but I do say that they would be better than nothing.
“However,” I continued, “all this was last night, and I have had a change of heart this morning. Just on the borderland between sleeping and waking, I had a vision. I remembered that to-day would be Monday the 1st of September; that all over our beloved land schools would be opening and that your sister pedagogues would be doing your work for you in your absence. Also I remembered that I am the dishonourable but Honorary President of a Froebel Society of four hundred members, that it meets to-morrow, and that I can’t afford to send them a cable.”
“It is all true,” said Salemina. “It might have been said more briefly, but it is quite true.”
“Now, my dear, I am only a painter with an occasional excursion into educational fields, but you ought to be gathering stories of knowledge to lay at the feet of the masculine members of your School Board.”
“I ought, indeed!” sighed Salemina.
“Then let us begin!” I urged. “I want to be good to-day and you must be good with me. I never can be good alone and neither can you, and you know it. We will give up the lovely drive in the diligence; the luncheon at the French restaurant and those heavenly little Swiss cakes” (here Salemina was almost unmanned); “the concert on the great organ and all the other frivolous things we had intended; and we will make an educational pilgrimage to Yverdon. You may not remember, my dear,”—this was said severely because I saw that she meditated rebellion and was going to refuse any programme which didn’t include the Swiss cakes,—“you may not remember that Jean Henri Pestalozzi lived and taught in Yverdon. Your soul is so steeped in illusions; so submerged in the Lethean waters of the past; so emasculated by thrilling legends, paltry titles, and ruined castles, that you forget that Pestalozzi was the father of popular education and the sometime teacher of Froebel, our patron saint. When you return to your adored Boston, your faithful constituents in that and other suburbs of Salem, Massachusetts, will not ask you if you have seen the Castle of Chillon and the terrace of Corinne, but whether you went to Yverdon.”
Salemina gave one last fond look at the lake and picked up her Baedeker. She searched languidly in the Y’s and presently read in a monotonous, guide-book voice. “Um—um—um—yes, here it is, ‘Yverdon is sixty-one miles from Geneva, three hours forty minutes, on the way to Neuchâtel and Bâle.’ (Neuchâtel is the cheese place; I’d rather go there and we could take a bag of those Swiss cakes.) ‘It is on the southern bank of Lake Neuchâtel at the influx of the Orbe or Thiele. It occupies the site of the Roman town of Ebrodunum. The castle dates from the twelfth century and was occupied by Pestalozzi as a college.’”
This was at eight, and at nine, leaving Francesca in bed, we were in the station at Geneva. Finding that we had time to spare, we went across the street and bargained for an in-transit luncheon with one of those dull native shopkeepers who has no idea of American-French.
Your American-French, by the way, succeeds well enough so long as you practise, in the seclusion of your apartment, certain assorted sentences which the phrase-book tells you are likely to be needed. But so far as my experience goes, it is always the unexpected that happens, and one is eternally falling into difficulties never encountered by any previous traveller.
For instance, after purchasing a cold chicken, some French bread, and a bit of cheese, we added two bottles of lemonade. We managed to ask for a glass, from which to drink it, but the man named two francs as the price. This was more than Salemina could bear. Her spirit was never dismayed at any extravagance, but it reared its crested head in the presence of extortion. She waxed wroth. The man stood his ground. After much crimination and recrimination I threw myself into the breach.
“Salemina,” said I, “I wish to remark, first: That we have three minutes to catch the train. Second: That, occupying the position we do in America,—you the member of a School Board and I the Honorary President of a Froebel Society,—we cannot be seen drinking lemonade from a bottle, in a public railway carriage; it would be too convivial. Third: You do not understand this gentleman. You have studied the language longer than I, but I have studied it more lately than you, and I am fresher, much fresher than you.” (Here Salemina bridled obviously.) “The man is not saying that two francs is the price of the glass. He says that we can pay him two francs now, and if we will return the glass to-night when we come home he will give us back one franc fifty centimes. That is fifty centimes for the rent of the glass, as I understand it.”
Salemina’s right hand, with the glass in it, dropped nervelessly at her side. “If he uttered one single syllable of all that rigmarole, then Ollendorf is a myth, that’s all I have to say.”
“The gift of tongues is not vouchsafed to all,” I responded with dignity. “I happen to possess a talent for languages, and I apprehend when I do not comprehend.”
Salemina was crushed by the weight of my self-respect, and we took the tumbler, and the train.
It was a cloudless day and a beautiful journey, along the side of the sapphire lake for miles, and always in full view of the glorious mountains. We arrived at Yverdon about noon, and had eaten our luncheon on the train, so that we should have a long, unbroken afternoon. We left our books and heavy wraps in the station with the porter, with whom we had another slight misunderstanding as to general intentions and terms; then we started, Salemina carrying the lemonade glass in her hand, with her guide-book, her red parasol, and her Astrakhan cape. The tumbler was a good deal of trouble, but her heart was set on returning it safely to the Geneva pirate; not so much to reclaim the one franc fifty centimes as to decide conclusively whether he had ever proposed such restitution. I knew her mental processes, so I refused to carry any of her properties; besides, the pirate had used a good many irregular verbs in his conversation, and upon due reflection I was a trifle nervous about the true nature of the bargain.
The Yverdon station fronted on a great open common dotted with a few trees. There were a good many mothers and children sitting on the benches, and a number of young lads playing ball. The town itself is one of the quaintest, quietest, and sleepiest in Switzerland. From 1803 to 1810 it was a place of pilgrimage for philanthropists from all parts of Europe; for at that time Pestalozzi was at the zenith of his fame, having under him one hundred and sixty-five pupils from Europe and America, and thirty-two adult teachers, who were learning his method.
But Yverdon has lost its former greatness now! Scarcely any English travellers go there and still fewer Americans. We fancied that there was nothing extraordinary in our appearance; nevertheless a small crowd of children followed at our heels, and the shopkeepers stood at their open doors and regarded us with intense interest.
“No English spoken here, that is evident,” said Salemina ruefully; “but you have such a gift for languages you can take the command to-day and make the blunders and bear the jeers of the public. You must find out where the new Pestalozzi Monument is,—where the Château is,—where the schools are, and whether visitors are admitted,—whether there is a respectable hotel where we can get dinner,—whether we can get back to Geneva to-night, whether it’s a fast or a slow train, and what time it gets there,—whether the methods of Pestalozzi are still maintained,—whether they know anything about Froebel,—whether they know what a kindergarten is, and whether they have one in the village. Some of these questions will be quite difficult even for you.”
Well, the monument was not difficult to find, at all events. We accosted two or three small boys and demanded boldly of one of them, “Où est le monument de Pestalozzi, s’il vous plaît?”
He shrugged his shoulders like an American small boy and said vacantly, “Je ne sais pas.”
“Of course he does know,” said Salemina; “he means to be disagreeable; or else ‘monument’ isn’t monument.”
“Well,” I answered, “there is a monument in the distance, and there cannot be two in this village.”
Sure enough it was the very one we sought. It stands in a little open place quite “in the business heart of the city,”—as we should say in America, and is an exceedingly fine and impressive bit of sculpture. The group of three figures is in bronze and was done by M. Gruet of Paris.
The modelling is strong, the expression of Pestalozzi benign and sweet, and the trusting upturned faces of the children equally genuine and attractive.
One side of the pedestal bears the inscription:—
par souscription populaire