Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXVIII: The Invasion of Switzerland. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER XXVIII: The Invasion of Switzerland. - Germaine de Staël, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, newly revised translation of the 1818 English edition, edited, with an introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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The Invasion of Switzerland.
As Switzerland was threatened with an approaching invasion, I quitted Paris in the month of January, 1798, to rejoin my father at Coppet. He was still on the list of emigrants, and a positive law condemned to death emigrants who remained in a country occupied by the French troops. I did my utmost to induce him to quit his abode; he would not: “At my age,” said he, “a man should not wander upon the earth.” I believe that his secret motive was his reluctance to remove himself from the tomb of my mother: on this subject he had a superstition of the heart which he would have sacrificed only to the interest of his family, and never to his own. In the four years since the companion of his life had ceased to live, scarcely a day passed in which he did not go to walk near the tomb in which she reposes, and by departing he would have thought that he was abandoning her.
When the entry of the French was positively announced, my father and myself, with my young children, remained alone in the château of Coppet. On the day appointed for the violation of the Swiss territory, our inquisitive people went down to the bottom of the avenue; and my father and I, who were awaiting our fate together, placed ourselves in a balcony that had a view of the high road by which the troops were to arrive. Though it was the middle of winter, the weather was delightful; the Alps were reflected in the lake; and the noise of the drum alone disturbed the tranquillity of the scene. My heart throbbed violently from the apprehension of what might menace my father. I knew that the Directory spoke of him with respect; but I knew also the empire of revolutionary laws over those who had made them. At the moment when the French troops passed the frontier of the Helvetic confederation, I saw an officer quit his men to proceed toward our château. A mortal terror seized me; but what he said to us soon re-assured me. He was commissioned by the Directory to offer my father a safeguard. This officer, since well known under the title of Marshal Suchet,1 conducted himself extremely well toward us; and his staff, whom he brought to my father’s house the day after, followed his example.
It is impossible not to find among the French, in spite of the wrongs with which they may be justly reproached, a social spirit which makes us live at our ease with them. Nevertheless this army, which had so well defended the independence of its own country, wished to conquer the whole of Switzerland, and to penetrate even into the mountains of the small cantons, where men of simplicity retained the old-fashioned treasure of their virtues and usages. Berne and other Swiss cities possessed without doubt unjust privileges, and old prejudices were mingled with the democracy of the small cantons; but was it by force that any amelioration was to be effected in the condition of a country accustomed to acknowledge only the slow and progressive operation of time? The political institutions of Switzerland have, it is true, been improved in some respects, and up to these late times it might have been believed that even the mediation of Bonaparte2 had removed some prejudices of the Catholic cantons. But union and patriotic energy have lost much since the revolution. The Swiss are now accustomed to have recourse to foreigners, and to share in the political passions of other nations, while the only interest of Helvetia is to be peaceful, independent, and animated by a jealous dignity of spirit.
In 1797, there was a rumor of the resistance which Berne and the small democratical cantons would make to the threatened invasion. Then, for the first time in my life, I entertained wishes against the French; for the first time in my life I experienced the painful anguish of blaming my own country enough to desire the triumph of those who fought against it. Formerly, just before the battle of Granson,3 the Swiss prostrated themselves before God; their cruel enemies thought that they were about to surrender their arms; but they rose up and were victorious. The small cantons in 1798, in their noble ignorance of the things of this world, sent their quota to Berne; these religious soldiers kneeled before the church when they arrived in the public square. “We do not dread,” said they, “the armies of France; we are four hundred, and if that is not enough, we are ready to make four hundred more of our companions march to the assistance of our country.” Who would not be touched by this great confidence in such feeble means! But the days of the three hundred Spartans were gone by: numbers were omnipotent; and individual devotedness struggled in vain against the resources of a great state and the combination of tactics.
On the day of the first battle of the Swiss with the French, though Coppet is thirty leagues from Berne, we heard, in the silence of the evening, the discharges of cannon, which were resounding far off among the echos of the mountains. We scarcely dared to breathe, that we might the better distinguish the mournful noise; and though every probability was in favor of the French, we had still a vague hope of some miracle in behalf of justice: but time alone is her all-powerful ally. The Swiss troops were defeated in pitched battle;4 the inhabitants, however, defended themselves long among their mountains; the women and children took up arms; priests were massacred at the foot of their altars. But there was in this small territory a national will, which the French were obliged to treat with consideration; nor did the lesser cantons ever accept the republic one and indivisible5 —that metaphysical present which the Directory offered at the cannon’s mouth. It must be allowed, however, that there was in Switzerland a party for the unity of the republic which could boast of very respectable names. The Directory never acquired any influence in the affairs of foreign nations without being supported by some portion of the natives. But these men, however decided they might be in favor of liberty, always found it difficult to maintain their popularity, because they had rallied round the overwhelming power of the French.
When Bonaparte was at the head of France, he made war to extend his empire; and that policy is easily understood. But although the Directory were desirous of obtaining possession of Switzerland as an advantageous military position, their principal aim was to extend the republican system in Europe. Now, how could they flatter themselves that they would succeed, by putting constraint on the opinion of people, especially of those who, like the Swiss, were entitled to consider themselves as the oldest friends of freedom? Violence suits despotism alone; and, accordingly, it showed itself at last under its true name—that of a military chief: to this the tyrannical measures of the Directory were a prelude.
It was likewise by a series of these combinations, half abstract and half positive, half revolutionary and half diplomatic, that the Directory wished to unite Geneva to France.6 In this regard, they committed an act of injustice so much the more revolting that it was in opposition to all the principles which they professed. They robbed a free state of its independence, in spite of the strongly declared wish of its inhabitants; they annihilated completely the moral importance of a republic, the cradle of the Reformation, which had produced more distinguished men than the largest province of France; the democratic party, in short, did what they would have deemed a crime even in their adversaries. In fact, what would not have been said of kings and aristocrats who should have tried to deprive Geneva of its individual existence? For states, as well as men, have an individual existence. Did the French derive from their acquisition a gain equal to the loss which was occasioned to the wealth of the human mind in general? And may not the fable of the goose that laid eggs of gold be applied to small independent states which the greater are eager to occupy? Conquest destroys the very advantages of which she covets the possession.
My father, by the union of Geneva, found himself legally a Frenchman; he, who had always been so in his sentiments and in his career. To live in safety in Switzerland, at that time occupied by the armies of the Directory, it was necessary that he should obtain the erasure of his name from the list of emigrants. With this view he gave me a report to carry to Paris which was a real masterpiece of dignity and logic. The Directory, after having read it, were unanimous in the resolution to erase M. Necker’s name; and, although this was an act of the most obvious justice, it gave me so much pleasure that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of it.
I then negotiated with the Directory for the payment of the two million livres which my father had left deposited in the public treasury. The government acknowledged the debt, but offered payment out of the estates of the clergy, which my father refused: not that he meant thus to assume the colors of the party who consider the sale of that property illegal; but because he had never in any situation wished to make his opinions and interests coincide, that there might not be the possibility of the slightest doubt of his perfect impartiality.
[1. ] Napoléon appointed Suchet (1770–1826) marshal of France in 1811 and a peer of France during the Hundred Days.
[2. ] On February 19, 1803.
[3. ] On March 2, 1476.
[4. ] On May 3, 1798, at Morgarten.
[5. ] The Helvetic Republic imposed by the French army lasted from 1798 until 1800.
[6. ] Geneva was annexed to France on April 15, 1798.