Hotel de Byron, June 12th. - Yesterday afternoon we left Geneva by a steamer, starting from the quay at only a short distance from our hotel. The forenoon had been showery; but the suit now came out very pleasantly, although there were still clouds and mist enough to give infinite variety to the mountain scenery. At the commencement of our voyage the scenery of the lake was not incomparably superior to that of other lakes on which I have sailed, as Lake Windermere, for instance, or Loch Lomond, or our own Lake Champlain. It certainly grew more grand and beautiful, however, till at length I felt that I had never seen anything worthy to be put beside it. The southern shore has the grandest scenery; the great hills on that side appearing close to the water's edge, and after descending, with headlong slope, directly from their rocky and snow-streaked summits down into the blue water. Our course lay nearer to the northern shore, and all our stopping-places were on that side. The first was Coppet, where Madame de Stael or her father, or both, were either born or resided or died, I know not which, and care very little. It is a picturesque village, with an old church, and old, high-roofed, red-tiled houses, the whole looking as if nothing in it had been changed for many, many years. All these villages, at several of which we stopped momentarily, look delightfully unmodified by recent fashions. There is the church, with its tower crowned by a pyramidal roof, like an extinguisher; then the chateau of the former lord, half castle and half dwelling-house, with a round tower at each corner, pyramid topped; then, perhaps, the ancient town-house or Hotel de Ville, in an open paved square; and perhaps the largest mansion in the whole village will have been turned into a modern inn, but retaining all its venerable characteristics of high, steep sloping roof, and antiquated windows. Scatter a delightful shade of trees among the houses, throw in a time-worn monument of one kind or another, swell out the delicious blue of the lake in front, and the delicious green of the sunny hillside sloping up and around this closely congregated neighborhood of old, comfortable houses, and I do not know what more I can add to this sketch. Often there was an insulated house or cottage, embowered in shade, and each seeming like the one only spot in the wide world where two people that had good consciences and loved each other could spend a happy life. Half-ruined towers, old historic castles, these, too, we saw. And all the while, on the other side of the lake, were the high hills, sometimes dim, sometimes black, sometimes green, with gray precipices of stone, and often snow-patches, right above the warm sunny lake whereon we were sailing.
We passed Lausanne, which stands upward, on the slope of the hill, the tower of its cathedral forming a conspicuous object. We mean to visit this to-morrow; so I may pretermit further mention of it here. We passed Vevay and Clarens, which, methought, was particularly picturesque; for now the hills had approached close to the water on the northern side also, and steep heights rose directly above the little gray church and village; and especially I remember a rocky cliff which ascends into a rounded pyramid, insulated from all other peaks and ridges. But if I could perform the absolute impossibility of getting one single outline of the scene into words, there would be all the color wanting, the light, the haze, which spiritualizes it, and moreover makes a thousand and a thousand scenes out of that single one. Clarens, however, has still another interest for me; for I found myself more affected by it, as the scene of the love of St. Preux and Julie, than I have often been by scenes of poetry and romance. I read Rousseau's romance with great sympathy, when I was hardly more than a boy; ten years ago, or thereabouts, I tried to read it again without success; but I think, from my feeling of yesterday, that it still retains its hold upon my imagination.
Farther onward, we saw a white, ancient-looking group of towers, beneath a mountain, which was so high, and rushed so precipitately down upon this pile of building as quite to dwarf it; besides which, its dingy whiteness had not a very picturesque effect. Nevertheless, this was the Castle of Chillon. It appears to sit right upon the water, and does not rise very loftily above it. I was disappointed in its aspect, having imagined this famous castle as situated upon a rock, a hundred, or, for aught I know, a thousand feet above the surface of the lake; but it is quite as impressive a fact - supposing it to be true - that the water is eight hundred feet deep at its base. By this time, the mountains had taken the beautiful lake into their deepest heart; they girdled it quite round with their grandeur and beauty, and, being able to do no more for it, they here withheld it from extending any farther; and here our voyage came to an end. I have never beheld any scene so exquisite; nor do I ask of heaven to show me any lovelier or nobler one, but only to give me such depth and breadth of sympathy with nature, that I may worthily enjoy this. It is beauty more than enough for poor, perishable mortals. If this be earth, what must heaven be!
It was nearly eight o'clock when we arrived; and then we had a walk of at least a mile to the Hotel Byron. . . . . I forgot to mention that in the latter part of our voyage there was a shower in some part of the sky, and though none of it fell upon us, we had the benefit of those gentle tears in a rainbow, which arched itself across the lake from mountain to mountain, so that our track lay directly under this triumphal arch. We took it as a good omen, nor were we discouraged, though, after the rainbow had vanished, a few sprinkles of the shower came down.