Eternal Spirit of the chainless Mind! Brightest in dungeons, Liberty! thou art, For there thy habitation is the heart -- The heart which love of thee alone can bind; And when thy sons to fetters are consign'd -- To fetters, and the damp vault's dayless gloom, Their country conquers with their martyrdom, And Freedom's fame finds wings on every wind. Chillon! thy prison is a holy place, And thy sad floor an altar -- for 'twas trod, Until his very steps have left a trace Worn, as if thy cold pavement were a sod, By Bonnivard! -- May none those marks efface! For they appeal from tyranny to God.When this poem was composed, I was not sufficiently aware of the history of Bonnivard, or I should have endeavoured to dignify the subject by an attempt to celebrate his courage and his virtues. With some account of his life I have been furnished, by the kindness of a citizen of that republic, which is still proud of the memory of a man worthy of the best age of ancient freedom: --
'François de Bonnivard, fils de Louis de Bonnivard, originaire de Seyssel et Seigneur de Lunes, naquit en 1496. II fit ses études à Turin: en 1510 Jean Aimé de Bonnivard, son oncle, lui résigna le Prieuré de St Victor, qui aboutissoit aux murs de Genève, et qui formoit un bénéfice considérable.
'Ce grand homme -- (Bonnivard mérite ce titre par la force de son âme, la droiture de son coeur, la noblesse de ses intentions, la sagesse de ses conseils, le courage de ses démarches, l'étendue de ses connaissances, et la vivacité de son esprit), -- ce grand homme, qui excitera l'admiration de tous ceux qu'une vertu héroïque peut encore émouvoir, inspirera encore la plus vive reconnaissance dans les coeurs des Génévois qui aiment Genève. Bonnivard en fut toujours un des plus fermes appuis: pour assurer la liberté de notre République, il ne craignit pas de perdre souvent la sienne; il oublia son repos; il méprisa ses richesses; il ne négligea rien pour affermir le bonheur d'une patrie qu'il honora de son choix: dés ce moment il la chérit comme le plus zélé de ses citoyens; il la servit avec l'intrépidité d'un héros, et il écrivit son Histoire avec la naîveté d'un philosophe et la chaleur d'un patriote.
'Il dit dans le commencement de son Histoire de Genève, que, dés qu'il eut commencé de lire l'histoire des nations, il se sentit entrâiné par son goût pour les Républiques, dont il épousa toujours les intérêts: c'est ce goût pour la liberté qui lui fit sans doute adopter Genève pour sa patrie.
'Bonnivard, encore jeune, s'annonça hautement comme le défenseur de Genève contre le Duc de Savoye et l'Evêque.
'En 1519, Bonnivard devient le martyr de sa patrie. Le Duc de Savoye étant entré dans Genève avec cinq cent hommes, Bonnivard craint le ressentiment du Duc; il voulut se retirer à Fribourg pour en éviter les suites; mais il fut trahi par deux hommes qui l'accompagnoient, et conduit par ordre du Prince à Grolée, où il resta prisonnier pendant deux ans. Bonnivard etoit malheureux dans ses voyages: comme ses malheurs n'avoient point ralenti son zéle pour Genève, il etoit toujours un ennemi redoutable pour ceux qui la menaçoient, et par conséquent il devait être exposé à leurs coups. Il fut rencontré en 1530 sur le Jura par des voleurs, qui le dépouillèrent et qui le mirent encore entre les mains du Duc de Savoye: ce Prince le fit enfermer dans le Château de Chillon, où il resta sans être interrogé jusques en 1536; il fut alors delivré par les Bernois, qui s'emparèrent du Pays de Vaud.
'Bonnivard, en sortant de sa captivité, eut le plaisir de trouver Genève libre et réformee: la République s'empressa le lui témoigner sa reconnaissance, et de le dédommager des maux qu'il avoit soufferts; elle le reçut Bourgeois de la ville au mois de Juin, 1536; elle lui donna la maison habitée autrefois par le Vicaire-Général , et elle lui as signa une pension de deux cent écus d'or tant qu'il séjourneroit à Genève. Il fut admis dans le Conseil de Deux-Cent en 1537.
'Bonnivard n'a pas fini d'être utile: après avoir travaillé à rendre Genève libre, il réussit à la rendre tol´erante. Bonnivard engagea le Conseil à accorder aux Ecclésiastiques et aux paysans un tems suffisant pour examiner les propositions qu'on leur faisoit; il reússit par sa douceur: on prêche toujours le Christianisme avec succès quand on le prêche avec charité.
'Bonnivard fut savant: ses manuscrits, qui sont dans la Bibliothèque publique, prouvent qu'il avoit bien lu les auteurs classiques Latins, et qu'il avoit approfondi la théologie et l'histoire. Ce grand homme aimoit les sciences, et il croyoit qu'elles pouvoient faire la gloire de Genève; aussi il ne négligea rien pour les fixer dans cette ville naissante; en 1551 il donna sa bibliothèque au public; elle fut le commencement de notre biblothèque publique; et ces livres sont en partie les rares et belles éditions du quinzième siècle qu'on voit dans notre collection. Enfin, pendant la même année, ce bon patriote institua la République son héritière, à condition qu'elle projettoit la fondation.
'Il paroit que Bonnivard mourut en 1570; mais on ne peut l'assurer, parcequ'il y a une lacune dans le Nécrologe depuis le mois de Juillet, 1570, jusques en 1571.'
I My hair is grey, but not with years, Nor grew it white In a single night,1 As men's have grown from sudden fears: 5 My limbs are bow'd, though not with toil, But rusted with a vile repose, For they have been a dungeon's spoil, And mine has been the fate of those To whom the goodly earth and air 10 Are bann'd, and barr'd -- forbidden fare; But this was for my father's faith I suffer'd chains and courted death; That father perish'd at the stake For tenets he would not forsake; 15 And for the same his lineal race In darkness found a dwelling-place; We were seven - who now are one, Six in youth and one in age, Finish'd as they had begun, 20 Proud of Persecution's rage; One in fire, and two in field, Their belief with blood have seal'd: Dying as their father died, For the God their foes denied; -- 25 Three were in a dungeon cast, Of whom this wreck is left the last. II There are seven pillars of Gothic mould, In Chillon's dungeons deep and old, There are seven columns massy and grey, 30 Dim with a dull imprison'd ray. A sunbeam which hath lost its way, And through the crevice and the cleft Of the thick wall is fallen and left: Creeping o'er the floor so damp, 35 Like a marsh's meteor lamp: And in each pillar there is a ring, And in each ring there is a chain; That iron is a cankering thing, For in these limbs its teeth remain, 40 With marks that will not wear away, Till I have done with this new day, Which now is painful to these eyes, Which have not seen the sun so rise For years -- I cannot count them o'er, 45 I lost their long and heavy score When my last brother droop'd and died, And I lay living by his side. III They chain'd us each to a column stone, And we were three -- yet, each alone; 50 We could not move a single pace, We could not see each other's face, But with that pale and livid light That made us strangers in our sight: And thus together -- yet apart, 55 Fetter'd in hand, but pined in heart; 'Twas still some solace, in the dearth Of the pure elements of earth, To hearken to each other's speech, And each turn comforter to each 60 With some new hope or legend old, Or song heroically bold; But even these at length grew cold. Our voices took a dreary tone, An echo of the dungeon stone, 65 A grating sound -- not full and free As they of yore were wont to be; It might be fancy -- but to me They never sounded like our own. IV I was the eldest of the three, 70 And to uphold and cheer the rest I ought to do -- and did my best And each did well in his degree. The youngest, whom my father loved, Because our mother's brow was given 75 To him - with eyes as blue as heaven, For him my soul was sorely moved: And truly might it be distressed To see such bird in such a nest; For he was beautiful as day -- 80 (When day was beautiful to me As to young eagles being free) A polar day, which will not see A sunset till its summer's gone Its sleepless summer of long light 85 The snow-clad offspring of the sun: And thus he was as pure and bright, And in his natural spirit gay, With tears for nought but others' ills, And then they flow'd like mountain rills, 90 Unless he could assuage the woe Which he abhorr'd to view below V The other was as pure of mind, But form'd to combat with his kind; Strong in his frame, and of a mood 95 Which 'gainst the world in war had stood, And perish'd in the foremost rank With joy: -- but not in chains to pine: His spirit wither'd with their clank, I saw it silently decline 100 And so perchance in sooth did mine: But yet I forced it on to cheer Those relics of a home so dear He was a hunter of the hills, Had follow'd there the deer and wolf; 105 To him this dungeon was a gulf, And fetter'd feet the worst of ills VI Lake Leman lies by Chillon's walls: A thousand feet in depth below Its massy waters meet and flow; 110 Thus much the fathom-line was sent From Chillon's snow-white battlement,2 Which round about the wave inthrals: A double dungeon wall and wave Have made -- and like a living grave. 115 Below the surface of the lake The dark vault lies wherein we lay, We heard it ripple night and day; Sounding o'er our heads it knock'd; And I have felt the winter's spray 120 Wash through the bars when winds were high And wanton in the happy sky; And then the very rock hath rock'd, And I have felt it shake, unshock'd, Because I could have smiled to see 125 The death that would have set me free VII I said my nearer brother pined, I said his mighty heart declined, He loathed and put away his food; It was not that 'twas coarse and rude, 130 For we were used to hunter's fare, And for the like had little care: The milk drawn from the mountain goat Was changed for water from the moat, Our bread was such as captive's tears 135 Have moisten'd many a thousand years, Since man first pent his fellow men Like brutes within an iron den; But what were these to us or him? These wasted not his heart or limb; 140 My brother's soul was of that mould Which in a palace had grown cold, Had his free breathing been denied The range of the steep mountain's side; But why delay the truth? -- he died. 145 I saw, and could not hold his head, Nor reach his dying hand -- nor dead, -- Though hard I strove, but strove in vain, To rend and gnash my bonds in twain. He died - and they unlock'd his chain, 150 And scoop'd for him a shallow grave Even from the cold earth of our cave. I begg'd them, as a boon, to lay His corse in dust whereon the day Might shine -- it was a foolish thought, 155 But then within my brain it wrought, That even in death his freeborn breast In such a dungeon could not rest. I might have spared my idle prayer -- They coldly laugh'd -- and laid him there: 160 The flat and turfless earth above The being we so much did love; His empty chain above it leant, Such murder's fitting monument! VIII But he, the favourite and the flower, 165 Most cherish'd since his natal hour, His mother's image in fair face, The infant love of all his race, His martyr'd father's dearest thought, My latest care, for whom I sought 170 To hoard my life, that his might be Less wretched now, and one day free; He, too, who yet had held untired A spirit natural or inspired -- He, too, was struck, and day by day 175 Was wither'd on the stalk away. Oh, God! it is a fearful thing To see the human soul take wing In any shape, in any mood: -- I've seen it rushing forth in blood, 180 I've seen it on the breaking ocean Strive with a swoln convulsive motion, I've seen the sick and ghastly bed Of Sin delirious with its dread: But these were horrors -- this was woe 185 Unmix'd with such -- but sure and slow: He faded, and so calm and meek, So softly worn, so sweetly weak, So tearless, yet so tender -- kind, And grieved for those he left behind; 190 With all the while a cheek whose bloom Was as a mockery of the tomb, Whose tints as gently sunk away As a departing rainbow's ray -- An eye of most transparent light, 195 That almost made the dungeon bright, And not a word of murmur -- not A groan o'er his untimely lot, -- A little talk of better days, A little hope my own to raise, 200 For I was sunk in silence -- lost In this last loss, of all the most; And then the sighs he would suppress Of fainting nature's feebleness, More slowly drawn, grew less and less: 205 I listen'd, but I could not hear -- I call'd, for I was wild with fear; I knew 'twas hopeless, but my dread Would not be thus admonished; I call'd, and thought I heard a sound 210 I burst my chain with one strong bound, And rush'd to him: -- I found him not, I only stirr'd in this black spot, I only lived -- I only drew The accursed breath of dungeon-dew; 215 The last -- the sole -- the dearest link Between me and the eternal brink, Which bound me to my failing race, Was broken in this fatal place. One on the earth, and one beneath -- 220 My brothers -- both had ceased to breathe: I took that hand which lay so still, Alas! my own was full as chill; I had not strength to stir, or strive, But felt that I was still alive -- 225 A frantic feeling, when we know That what we love shall ne'er be so. I know not why I could not die, I had no earthly hope - but faith, 230 And that forbade a selfish death. IX What next befell me then and there I know not well - I never knew -- First came the loss of light, and air, And then of darkness too: 235 I had no thought, no feeling -- none -- Among the stones I stood a stone, And was, scarce conscious what I wist, As shrubless crags within the mist For all was blank, and bleak, and grey, 240 It was not night -- it was not day, It was not even the dungeon-light, So hateful to my heavy sight, But vacancy absorbing space, And fixedness -- without a place; 245 There were no stars -- no earth -- no time No check -- no change -- no good -- no crime But silence, and a stirless breath Which neither was of life nor death; A sea of stagnant idleness, 250 Blind, boundless, mute, and motionless! X A light broke in upon my brain, -- It was the carol of a bird; It ceased, and then it came again, The sweetest song ear ever heard, 255 And mine was thankful till my eyes Ran over with the glad surprise, And they that moment could not see I was the mate of misery; But then by dull degrees came back 260 My senses to their wonted track, I saw the dungeon walls and floor Close slowly round me as before, I saw the glimmer of the sun Creeping as it before had done, 265 But through the crevice where it came That bird was perch'd, as fond and tame, And tamer than upon the tree; A lovely bird, with azure wings, And song that said a thousand things, 270 And seem'd to say them all for me! I never saw its like before, I ne'er shall see its likeness more: It seem'd like me to want a mate, But was not half so desolate, 275 And it was come to love me when None lived to love me so again, And cheering from my dungeon's brink, Had brought me back to feel and think. I know not if it late were free, 280 Or broke its cage to perch on mine, But knowing well captivity, Sweet bird! I could not wish for thine! Or if it were, in winged guise, A visitant from Paradise; 285 For -- Heaven forgive that thought! the while Which made me both to weep and smile; I sometimes deem'd that it might be My brother's soul come down to me; But then at last away it flew, 290 And then 'twas mortal -- well I knew, For he would never thus have flown, And left me twice so doubly lone, -- Lone -- as the corse within its shroud, Lone -- as a solitary cloud, 295 A single cloud on a sunny day, While all the rest of heaven is clear, A frown upon the atmosphere, That hath no business to appear When skies are blue, and earth is gay. XI 300 A kind of change came in my fate, My keepers grew compassionate; I know not what had made them so, They were inured to sights of woe, But so it was: -- my broken chain 305 With links unfasten'd did remain, And it was liberty to stride Along my cell from side to side, And up and down, and then athwart, And tread it over every part; 310 And round the pillars one by one, Returning where my walk begun, Avoiding only, as I trod, My brothers' graves without a sod; For if I thought with heedless tread 315 My step profaned their lowly bed, My breath came gaspingly and thick, And my crush'd heart fell blind and sick. XII I made a footing in the wall, It was not therefrom to escape, 320 For I had buried one and all Who loved me in a human shape; And the whole earth would henceforth be A wider prison unto me: No child -- no sire -- no kin had I, 325 No partner in my misery; I thought of this, and I was glad, For thought of them had made me mad; But I was curious to ascend To my barr'd windows, and to bend 330 Once more, upon the mountains high, The quiet of a loving eye. XIII I saw them - and they were the same, They were not changed like me in frame; I saw their thousand years of snow 335 On high -- their wide long lake below, And the blue Rhone in fullest flow; I heard the torrents leap and gush O'er channeled rock and broken bush; I saw the white-wall'd distant town, 340 And whiter sails go skimming down; And then there was a little isle,3 Which in my very face did smile, The only one in view; A small green isle, it seem'd no more, 345 Scarce broader than my dungeon floor, But in it there were three tall trees, And o'er it blew the mountain breeze, And by it there were waters flowing, And on it there were young flowers growing, 350 Of gentle breath and hue. The fish swam by the castle wall, And they seem'd joyous each and all; The eagle rode the rising blast, Methought he never flew so fast 355 As then to me he seem'd to fly, And then new tears came in my eye, And I felt troubled -- and would fain I had not left my recent chain; And when I did descend again, 360 The darkness of my dim abode Fell on me as a heavy load; It was as is a new-dug grave, Closing o'er one we sought to save, -- And yet my glance, too much oppress'd, 365 Had almost need of such a rest XIV It might be months, or years, or days, I kept no count - I took no note, I had no hope my eyes to raise, And clear them of their dreary mote; 370 At last men came to set me free, I ask'd not why, and reck'd not where, It was at length the same to me, Fetter'd or fetterless to be, I learn'd to love despair. 375 And thus when they appear'd at last, And all my bonds aside were cast, These heavy walls to me had grown A hermitage -- and all my own! And half I felt as they were come 380 To tear me from a second home: With spiders I had friendship made, And watch'd them in their sullen trade, Had seen the mice by moonlight play, And why should I feel less than they? 385 We were all inmates of one place, And I, the monarch of each race, Had power to kill - yet, strange to tell! In quiet we had learn'd to dwell -- My very chains and I grew friends, 390 So much a long communion tends To make us what we are: - even I Regain'd my freedom with a sigh.1. Ludovico Sforza, and others. -- The same is asserted of Marie Antoinette's, the wife of Louis the Sixteenth, though not in quite short a period. Grief is said to have the same effect: to such, and not to fear, thisc change in hers was to be attributed.
2. The Château de Chillon is situated between Clarens and which last is at one extremity of the Lake of Geneva. On its left are the entrances of the Rhone, and opposite are the heights of Meillerie and range of Alps above Boveret and St Gingo. Near it, on a hill behind, is a torrent: below it, washing its walls, the lake has been fathomed to the depth of 800 feet, French measure: within it are a range of dungeons, in which the early reformers, and subsequently prisoners of state, were confined. Across one of the vaults is a beam black with age, on which we were informed that the condemned were formerly executed. In the cells are seven pillars, or, rather, eight, one being half merged in the wall; in some of these are rings for the fetters and the fettered: in the pavement the steps Bonnivard have left their traces. He was confined here several years. It is by this castle that Rousseau has fixed the catastrophe of his Héloïse, in the rescue of one of her children by Julie from the water; the shock of which, and the illness produced by the immersion, is the cause of her death. The château is large, and seen along the lake for a great distance. The walls are white.
3. Between the entrances of the Rhone and Villeneuve, not far from Chillon, is a very small island; the only one I could perceive, in my voyage round and over the lake, within its circumference. It contains a few trees (I think not above three), and from its singleness and diminutive size has a peculiar effect upon the view.