"Switzerland" in Encyclopaedia Britannica (1797), IV

{247} SWITZERLAND, or Swisserland, is bounded on the north by Swabia; on the east by Tirol; on the south by Savoy and the Milanese; and on the west by France, being about 260 miles long and 100 broad. It is divided into 13 cantons, viz. Berne, Zurich, Schaffhausen, Basil, Lucerne, Underwalden, Uri, Switz, Friburg, Zug, Soleure, Glaris, and Appenzel. See these articles.

The Swiss were anciently called Helvetti; and being subdued by the Romans, they continued in subjection to that power till the empire declined, when they became a part of the kingdom of Burgundy. After that they fell under the dominion of the Franks, then of the Germans; but being oppressed by the latter, they threw off the yoke, and erected several states and republics, which, at the treaty of Westphalia in 1648, were recognized as free and independent. The cantons of Switz, Uri, and Underwalden, having as early as the year 1308, entered into a confederacy in the canton of Switz, and having also obtained their first victory, in 1315, over Leopold archduke of Austria in the same canton, its name was given to the whole confederacy, which it still retains. The other cantons successively acceded to this association, but some of them not until upwards of 100 years after. With respect to the government and constitution of these cantons, some of them are aristocracies and some democracies. In the former, both the legislative and executive power is lodged in the burghers or citizens of the capital of each canton; and of these there are seven, viz. Zurich, Berne, Basil, Friburg, Soleure, and Schaffhausen; an account of the most important of which may be seen under their respective names. In the others, the legislative power is lodged in the whole body of the people; and every male above 16, whether master or servant, has a vote in making laws and in the choice of magistrates. For what concerns the whole Helvetic body, there are diets ordinary and extraordinary: the former are held annually, and the others upon particular emergencies; and both are summoned by the city of Zurich, which appoints the time and place of their meetings. Besides the general diets since the Reformation, there have been particular diets of the two religions, at which all public affairs of consequence that regard the two parties are treated separately; for though a sense of their common interest obliges them to study to maintain the league and union, yet it is certain, that the mutual confidence between the cantons is in some measure lost through the zeal of each party for their particular opinions, especially of the Roman Catholics. The annual general diets are held always at Frauenfeld or Baden, principally to regulate the affairs of the common bailiages. Lucern takes the lead of the Roman Catholic cantons, being the most powerful of that denomination; but Zurich, though less powerful than that of Berne, takes the precedence of all the other cantons, both Protestant and Popish. These cantons do not make one commonwealth, but are so many independent states, united together by strict alliances for their mutual defence. The extraordinary diets or congresses are held at Aldorf. Each canton usually deputes two envoys both to the ordinary and extraordinary, to which also the abbot and the town of St Gall, and the town of Biel, send representatives as allies. To the 13 cantons belong in common 21 bailiages, two towns, and two lordships. The allies, or incorporated places as they are called, are the abbot and town of St Gall, the three Grison leagues, the republic of the Valais, the towns of Mahlhausen and Biel, the principality of Nuremberg or Neufchatel, Geneva, and the bishop of Basil. Of these the abbot and town of St Gall, and the town of Biel, are regarded as members of the Helvetic body, but the rest only as allies.

As to the air, foil, and produce of Switzerland, that part of the canton of Berne to the east of the lake of Geneva, together with the cantons of Uri, Switz, Underwalden, Glaris, Appenzel, and part of the canton of Lucern, consist of stupendous mountains, whose tops are said to be from 9000 to 12,000 feet above the level of the sea, consisting of craggy inaccessible rocks, of which some are quite bare, while others are always covered with ice and snow. Among the mountains are many excellent medicinal and other springs, cold and warm baths, water-falls, craggy precipices, deep narrow valleys, and caverns. They yield also a great variety of herbs, thickets, and bushes, in the upper parts; and in the lower, richer pastures and woods. The highest are those in the canton of Uri. Many of the valleys are covered with lakes, or watered by brooks and rivers. In some of them are towns, villages, woods, vineyards, and corn lands. Both on the mountains and in the valleys the air is extremely cold in winter; but in summer it is very pleasant, cool, and refreshing on the former, but excessively hot in the latter. Sometimes it is winter on the north side of a mountain when it is summer on the other; nay, flowers may be gathered sometimes with one hand, and snow with the other. Prodigious masses of ice and snow often fall from them in winter, and do a great deal of damage (see GLACIER); and most of the streams and rivers take their rise from thawing of the ice and snow on their sides and tops. From the rising or descending of the clouds, with which they are commonly enveloped, the inhabitants can, for the most part, pretty exactly foretel the changes of the weather; so that they serve them instead of weather-glasses. The other and lower parts of Switzerland are very pleasant and fertile, being diversified with vineyards, corn-fields, meadows, and pasture-grounds. The mountains in these are but mole-hills in comparison of the others: there is neither snow nor ice on them in summer; and they frequently afford not only good pasturage, but arable ground. Many petrifications are found both among these and the others, with a variety of fossils. The sands of the rivers yield gold-dust, particularly those of the Rhine, the Emmet, and the Aar, the Reuss, the Arve, and the Inn. The metals of this country being generally found to be brittle, the only mines that are worked are a few iron ones. In the lower parts of Switzerland they sow rye, oats, barley, spelt, flax, and hemp. Wines of various sorts are also produced in some of them, with a variety of fruits. Of wood for fuel and other uses there is generally plenty; in some places, however, they are obliged to burn sheeps dung, and in others a kind of heath and small shrubs. In the valleys they cultivate saffron with success. The Switzers derive their principal subsistence from their flocks and herds of cattle, which in summer graze upon the mountains. Their cheese is much esteemed, especially that of Berne and Griers in the canton of Friburg. Great numbers of horses are also bred here, and brought up for the French cavalry. Besides the above mentioned rivers, the Rhone and the Tesin have their sources in this country. The lakes are very numerous; but the chief are those of Geneva, Neufchatel, Biel, Zurich, Thun, Brien, Constance, and Lucern. Both rivers and lakes abound with fish, and afford a cheap water-carriage. Switzerland is not so populous as many other countries in Europe; and the Popish cantons less so than the Protestant. The total number of the inhabitants is computed at two millions.

The language generally spoken here is the German, in which also all public affairs are transferred; but in those parts {248} of the country that border on Italy or France, a corrupt French or Italian prevails. The two predominant religions are Calvinism and Popery. Of the former are the canton of Zurich and Berne, the town of St Gall, Geneva, Mulhausen, and Biel, the principality of Neufchatel, the greater part of Basil, Schauffhausen, the country of the Grisons, the Thurgau, Toggenburg, Glaris, and the Rhine valley; the frontiers of Appenzel, with a small part of Solothurn, and some places in the countries of Baden and Sargans. The rest of the Swiss cantons, allies and dependents, are Popish. For the education of youth there is an university at Basil, and academies at Zurich, Berne, a href="lausanne.html">Lausanne, and Geneva, besides gymnasiums and scholæ illustres, both in the Popish and Protestant cantons. There are also societies among them for the improvement of the German language and sciences.

The principal manufactures are snuff and tobacco, linen of several sorts, lace, thread, silk, and worsted stockings, neckcloths, cotton stuffs, gloves, handkerchiefs, silks of several sorts, gold and silver brocades, a variety of woollen manufactures, hats, paper, leather of all sorts, earthen wares, porcelain, toys, watches, clocks, and other hardwares, &c. The trade of Switzerland is greatly promoted by many navigable lakes and rivers. In some of the above manufactures, and in cheese, butter, sheep, horses, black cattle, hides, and skins, the exports are considerable; and as the imports are chiefly grain and salt, with some American and Asiatic goods, there is probably a large balance in their favour. In some parts of Switzerland dress is restrained by sumptuary laws.

The public revenues are in general very inconsiderable, arising chiefly from the usual regalia, appropriated everywhere to the sovereign, the demesnes, and public granaries, voluntary contributions, the sale of salt, and a land-tax; in the Protestant cantons, from the church-lands also that were seized at the Reformation. Except in Zurich, Berne, Basil, and Schaffhausen, where the people are more industrious, have a greater trade, and are richer than in the others, they defray the ordinary charges, and that is all.

The cantons never keep any standing troops, except for a few garrisons; but their militia is reckoned to be the best regulated of any in Europe. Every male from 16 to 60 is enrolled, and about one-third of them regimented. They must all provide themselves with arms, clothing, and accoutrements, and appear on the stated days for exercise; and the several cantons and districts must be furnished with a sufficient train of artillery, and all the other implements of war. The Switzers of the several cantons are allowed to engage in the service of such foreign princes and states as are in alliance with those cantons, or with whom they have made a previous agreement. Such states, paying an annual subsidy to the respective cantons, are allowed to make levies. Every man enlists voluntarily, and for what number of years he pleases; at the expiration of which he is at liberty to return home. A great many thus always returning from foreign service, Switzerland is never unprovided with able and experienced officers and soldiers. With respect to their character, they are brave, honest, hospitable, hardy people; very true to their engagements, friendly, and humane. In short, there is not a people in Europe whose national character is better. In their persons they are generally tall, robust, and well-made; but their complexions are none of the best, and those that live in the neighbourhood of the mountains are subject to wens. The women are said to be generally handsome and well-shaped, sensible and modest, yet frank, easy, and agreeable in conversation. Few of the peasants are miserably poor; many of them are rich, especially in the Protestant cantons, and that of Berne in particular.