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August 03 , 2010

The Story of Switzerland


For many reasons, some of which are obvious to the least thoughtful, the history of Switzerland is peculiarly interesting, and not least so to English-speaking peoples. In the first place, the "playground of Europe" is every year visited by large numbers of British and Americans, some of whom indeed are familiar with almost every corner of it. Then to the Anglo-Saxon race the grand spectacle of a handful of freemen nobly struggling for and maintaining their freedom, often amidst enormous difficulties, and against appalling odds, cannot but be heart-stirring. To the citizen of the great American republic a study of the constitution of the little European republic should bring both interest and profit—a constitution resembling in many points that of his own country, and yet in many other respects so different. And few readers, of whatever nationality, can, we think, peruse this story without a feeling of admiration for a gallant people who have fought against oppression as the Swiss have fought, who have loved freedom as they have loved it, and who have performed the well-nigh incredible feats of arms the Switzers have performed. And as Sir Francis O. Adams and Mr. Cunningham well point out in their recently published work on the Swiss Confederation, as a study in constitutional history, the value of the story of the development of the Confederation can hardly be over-estimated. Few of the existing accounts of Swiss history which have appeared in the English language go back beyond the year 1291 a.d., the date of the earliest Swiss League, and of course Switzerland as a nation cannot boast of an earlier origin. But surely some account should be given of the previous history of the men who founded the League. For a country which has been occupied at different periods by lakemen, Helvetians, and Romans; where Alamanni, Burgundians, and Franks have played their parts; where Charlemagne lived and ruled, and Charles the Bold fought; where the great families of the Zaerings, the Kyburgs, and Savoy struggled; and whence the now mighty house of Habsburg sprang (and domineered)—all this before 1291—a country with such a story to tell of its earlier times, we say, should not have that story left untold. Accordingly in this volume the history of the period before the formation of the Confederation has been dwelt upon at some little length. It should be mentioned, too, that in view of the very general interest caused by the remarkable discovery of the Swiss lake settlements a few years ago, a chapter has been devoted to the subject.
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