Penelope’s Postscripts

Author: Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin

Penelope in Switzerland


Salemina and I were in Geneva. If you had ever travelled through Europe with a charming spinster who never sat down at a Continental table d’hote without being asked by an American vis-a-vis whether she were one of the P.’s of Salem, Massachusetts, you would understand why I call my friend Salemina. She doesn’t mind it. She knows that I am simply jealous because I came from a vulgarly large tribe that never had any coat-of-arms, and whose ancestors always sealed their letters with their thumb nails.

Whenever Francesca and I call her "Salemina," she knows, and we know that she knows, that we are seeing a group of noble ancestors in a sort of halo over her serene and dignified head, so she remains unruffled under her petit nom, inasmuch as the casual public comprehends nothing of its spurious origin and thinks it was given her by her sponsors in baptism.

Francesca, Salemina, and I have very different backgrounds. The first-named is an extremely pretty person of large income who is travelling with us simply because her relatives think that she will "see Europe" more advantageously under our chaperonage than if she were accompanied by persons of her own age or "set."

Salemina is a philanthropist and educator of the first rank, and is collecting all sorts of valuable material to put at the service of her own country when she returns to it, which will not be a moment before her letter of credit is exhausted.

I, too, am quasi-educational, for I had a few years of experience in mothering and teaching little waifs and strays of the streets before I began to paint pictures. Never shall I regret those nerve-racking, back-breaking, heart-warming, weary, and beautiful years, when, all unconsciously, I was learning to paint children by living with them. Even now the spell still works and it is the curly head, the "shining morning face," the ready tear, the glancing smile of childhood that enchains me and gives my brush whatever skill it possesses.

We had not been especially high-minded or educational in Switzerland, Salemina and I. The worm will turn; and there is a point where the improvement of one’s mind seems a farce, and the service of humanity, for the moment, a duty only born of a diseased imagination.

How can one sit on a vine-embowered balcony facing lovely Lake Geneva and think about modern problems,—Improved Tenements, Child Labour, Single Tax, Sweat Shops, and the Right Training of the Rising Civilization? Blue Lake Geneva!—blue as a woman’s eye, blue as the vault of heaven, dropped into the lap of the green earth like a great sparkling sapphire! Mont Blanc you know to be just behind the clouds on the other side, and that presently, after hours or days of patient waiting, he may condescend to unveil himself to your worshipful gaze.

"He is wise in his dignity and reserve," mused Salemina as we sat on the veranda. "He is all the more sublime because he withdraws himself from time to time. In fact, if he didn’t see fit to cover himself occasionally, one could neither eat nor sleep, nor do anything but adore and magnify."

The day before this interview we had sailed to the end of the sapphire lake and visited the "snow-white battlements" of the Castle of Chillon; seen its "seven pillars of Gothic mould," and its dungeons deep and old, where poor Bonnivard, Byron’s famous "Prisoner of Chillon," lay captive for so many years, and where Rousseau fixes the catastrophe of his Heloise.

We had just been to Coppet too; Coppet where the Neckers lived and Madame de Stael was born and lived during many years of her life. We had wandered through the shaded walks of the magnificent chateau garden, and strolled along the terrace where the eloquent Corinne had walked with the Schlegels and other famous habitues of her salon. We had visited Calvin’s house at 11 Rue des Chanoines, Rousseau’s at No. 40 on the Grande Rue, and Voltaire’s at Ferney.

And so we had been living the past, Salemina and I. But

"Early one morning, Just as the day was dawning."

my slumbering conscience rose in Puritan strength and asserted its rights to a hearing.

"Salemina," said I, as I walked into her room, "this life that we are leading will not do for me any longer. I have been too much immersed in ruins. Last night in writing to a friend in New York I uttered the most disloyal and incendiary statements. I said that I would rather die than live without ruins of some kind; that America was so new, and crude, and spick and span, that it was obnoxious to any aesthetic soul; that our tendency to erect hideous public buildings and then keep them in repair afterwards would make us the butt of ridicule among future generations. I even proposed the founding of an American Ruin Company, Limited,—in which the stockholders should purchase favourably situated bits of land and erect picturesque ruins thereon. To be sure, I said, these ruins wouldn’t have any associations at first, but what of that? We have plenty of poets and romancers; we could manufacture suitable associations and fit them to the premises. At first, it is true, they might not fire the imagination; but after a few hundred years, in being crooned by mother to infant and handed down by father to son, they would mellow with age, as all legends do, and they would end by being hallowed by rising generations. I do not say they would be absolutely satisfactory from every standpoint, but I do say that they would be better than nothing.

"However," I continued, "all this was last night, and I have had a change of heart this morning. Just on the borderland between sleeping and waking, I had a vision. I remembered that to-day would be Monday the 1st of September; that all over our beloved land schools would be opening and that your sister pedagogues would be doing your work for you in your absence. Also I remembered that I am the dishonourable but Honorary President of a Froebel Society of four hundred members, that it meets to-morrow, and that I can’t afford to send them a cable."

"It is all true," said Salemina. "It might have been said more briefly, but it is quite true."

"Now, my dear, I am only a painter with an occasional excursion into educational fields, but you ought to be gathering stories of knowledge to lay at the feet of the masculine members of your School Board."

"I ought, indeed!" sighed Salemina.

"Then let us begin!" I urged. "I want to be good to-day and you must be good with me. I never can be good alone and neither can you, and you know it. We will give up the lovely drive in the diligence; the luncheon at the French restaurant and those heavenly little Swiss cakes" (here Salemina was almost unmanned); "the concert on the great organ and all the other frivolous things we had intended; and we will make an educational pilgrimage to Yverdon. You may not remember, my dear,"—this was said severely because I saw that she meditated rebellion and was going to refuse any programme which didn’t include the Swiss cakes,—"you may not remember that Jean Henri Pestalozzi lived and taught in Yverdon. Your soul is so steeped in illusions; so submerged in the Lethean waters of the past; so emasculated by thrilling legends, paltry titles, and ruined castles, that you forget that Pestalozzi was the father of popular education and the sometime teacher of Froebel, our patron saint. When you return to your adored Boston, your faithful constituents in that and other suburbs of Salem, Massachusetts, will not ask you if you have seen the Castle of Chillon and the terrace of Corinne, but whether you went to Yverdon."

Salemina gave one last fond look at the lake and picked up her Baedeker. She searched languidly in the Y’s and presently read in a monotonous, guide-book voice. "Um—um—um—yes, here it is, ’Yverdon is sixty-one miles from Geneva, three hours forty minutes, on the way to Neuchatel and Bale.’ (Neuchatel is the cheese place; I’d rather go there and we could take a bag of those Swiss cakes.) ’It is on the southern bank of Lake Neuchatel at the influx of the Orbe or Thiele. It occupies the site of the Roman town of Ebrodunum. The castle dates from the twelfth century and was occupied by Pestalozzi as a college.’"

This was at eight, and at nine, leaving Francesca in bed, we were in the station at Geneva. Finding that we had time to spare, we went across the street and bargained for an in-transit luncheon with one of those dull native shopkeepers who has no idea of American-French.

Your American-French, by the way, succeeds well enough so long as you practise, in the seclusion of your apartment, certain assorted sentences which the phrase-book tells you are likely to be needed. But so far as my experience goes, it is always the unexpected that happens, and one is eternally falling into difficulties never encountered by any previous traveller.

For instance, after purchasing a cold chicken, some French bread, and a bit of cheese, we added two bottles of lemonade. We managed to ask for a glass, from which to drink it, but the man named two francs as the price. This was more than Salemina could bear. Her spirit was never dismayed at any extravagance, but it reared its crested head in the presence of extortion. She waxed wroth. The man stood his ground. After much crimination and recrimination I threw myself into the breach.

"Salemina," said I, "I wish to remark, first: That we have three minutes to catch the train. Second: That, occupying the position we do in America,—you the member of a School Board and I the Honorary President of a Froebel Society,—we cannot be seen drinking lemonade from a bottle, in a public railway carriage; it would be too convivial. Third: You do not understand this gentleman. You have studied the language longer than I, but I have studied it more lately than you, and I am fresher, much fresher than you." (Here Salemina bridled obviously.) "The man is not saying that two francs is the price of the glass. He says that we can pay him two francs now, and if we will return the glass tonight when we come home he will give us back one franc fifty centimes. That is fifty centimes for the rent of the glass, as I understand it."

Salemina’s right hand, with the glass in it, dropped nervelessly at her side. "If he uttered one single syllable of all that rigmarole, then Ollendorf is a myth, that’s all I have to say."

"The gift of tongues is not vouchsafed to all," I responded with dignity. "I happen to possess a talent for languages, and I apprehend when I do not comprehend."

Salemina was crushed by the weight of my self-respect, and we took the tumbler, and the train.

It was a cloudless day and a beautiful journey, along the side of the sapphire lake for miles, and always in full view of the glorious mountains. We arrived at Yverdon about noon, and had eaten our luncheon on the train, so that we should have a long, unbroken afternoon. We left our books and heavy wraps in the station with the porter, with whom we had another slight misunderstanding as to general intentions and terms; then we started, Salemina carrying the lemonade glass in her hand, with her guide-book, her red parasol, and her Astrakhan cape. The tumbler was a good deal of trouble, but her heart was set on returning it safely to the Geneva pirate; not so much to reclaim the one franc fifty centimes as to decide conclusively whether he had ever proposed such restitution. I knew her mental processes, so I refused to carry any of her properties; besides, the pirate had used a good many irregular verbs in his conversation, and upon due reflection I was a trifle nervous about the true nature of the bargain.

The Yverdon station fronted on a great open common dotted with a few trees. There were a good many mothers and children sitting on the benches, and a number of young lads playing ball. The town itself is one of the quaintest, quietest, and sleepiest in Switzerland. From 1803 to 1810 it was a place of pilgrimage for philanthropists from all parts of Europe; for at that time Pestalozzi was at the zenith of his fame, having under him one hundred and sixty-five pupils from Europe and America, and thirtytwo adult teachers, who were learning his method.

But Yverdon has lost its former greatness now! Scarcely any English travellers go there and still fewer Americans. We fancied that there was nothing extraordinary in our appearance; nevertheless a small crowd of children followed at our heels, and the shopkeepers stood at their open doors and regarded us with intense interest.

"No English spoken here, that is evident," said Salemina ruefully; "but you have such a gift for languages you can take the command to-day and make the blunders and bear the jeers of the public. You must find out where the new Pestalozzi Monument is,—where the Chateau is,—where the schools are, and whether visitors are admitted,—whether there is a respectable hotel where we can get dinner,—whether we can get back to Geneva to-night, whether it’s a fast or a slow train, and what time it gets there,—whether the methods of Pestalozzi are still maintained,—whether they know anything about Froebel,—whether they know what a kindergarten is, and whether they have one in the village. Some of these questions will be quite difficult even for you."

Well, the monument was not difficult to find, at all events. We accosted two or three small boys and demanded boldly of one of them, "Ou est le monument de Pestalozzi, s’il vous plait?"

He shrugged his shoulders like an American small boy and said vacantly, "Je ne sais pas."

"Of course he does know," said Salemina; "he means to be disagreeable; or else ’monument’ isn’t monument."

"Well," I answered, "there is a monument in the distance, and there cannot be two in this village."

Sure enough it was the very one we sought. It stands in a little open place quite "in the business heart of the city,"—as we should say in America, and is an exceedingly fine and impressive bit of sculpture. The group of three figures is in bronze and was done by M. Gruet of Paris.

The modelling is strong, the expression of Pestalozzi benign and sweet, and the trusting upturned faces of the children equally genuine and attractive.

One side of the pedestal bears the inscription:-

A Pestalozzi 1746-1827 Monument erige par souscription populaire MDCCCXC

On a second side these words are carved in the stone:-

Sauveur des Pauvres a Neuhof Pere des Orphelins a Stanz Fondateur de l’ecole populaire a Burgdorf Educateur de l’humanite a Yverdon Tout pour les autres, pour lui,—rien!

An older monument erected in 1846 by the Canton of Argovia bears this same inscription, save that it adds, "Preacher to the people in ’Leonard and Gertrude.’ Man. Christian. Citizen. Blessed be his name!"

On the third side of the Yverdon Monument is Pestalozzi’s noble speech, fine enough indeed, to be cut in stone:-

"J’ai vecu moi-meme comme un mendiant, pour apprendre a des mendiants a vivre comme des hommes."

We sat a long time on the great marble pedestal, gazing into the benevolent face, and reviewing the simple, self-sacrificing life of the great educator, and then started on a tour of inspection. After wandering through most of the shops, buying photographs and mementoes, Salemina discovered that she had left the expensive tumbler in one of them. After a long discussion as to whether tumbler was masculine or feminine, and as to whether "Ai-je laisse un verre ici?" or "Est-ce que j’ai laisse un verre ici?" was the proper query, we retraced our steps, Salemina asking in one shop, "Excusez-moi, je vous prie, mais ai-je laisse un verre ici?",—and I in the next, "Je demands pardon, Madame, est-ce que j’ai laisse un verre dans ce magasin-ci?—J’en ai perdu un, somewhere." Finally we found it, and in response not to mine but to Salemina’s question, so that she was superior and obnoxious for several minutes.

Our next point of interest was the old castle, which is still a public school. Finding the caretaker, we visited first the museum and library—a small collection of curiosities, books, and mementoes, various portraits of Pestalozzi and his wife, manuscripts and so forth. The simple-hearted woman who did the honours was quite overcome by our knowledge of and interest in her pedagogical hero, but she did not return the compliment. I asked her if the townspeople knew about Friedrich Froebel, but she looked blank.

"Froebel? Froebel?" she asked; "qui est-ce?"

"Mais, Madame," I said eloquently, "c’etait un grand homme! Un heros! Le plus grand eleve de Pestalozzi! Aussi grand que Pestalozzi soi-meme!"

("PLUS grand! Why don’t you say plus grand?" murmured Salemina loyally.)

"Je ne sais!" she returned, with an indifferent shrug of the shoulders. "Je ne sais! Il y a des autres, je crois; mais moi, je connais Pestalozzi, c’est assez!"

All the younger children had gone home, but she took us through the empty schoolrooms, which were anything but attractive. We found an unhappy small boy locked in one of them. I slipped behind the concierge to chat with him, for he was so exactly like all other small boys in disgrace that he made me homesick.

"Tu etais mechant, n’est ce-pas?" I whispered consolingly; "mais tu seras sage demain, j’en suis sure!"

I thought this very pretty, but he wriggled from under my benevolent hand, saying "Va!" (which I took to be, "Go ’long, you!") "je n’etais mechant aujourd’hui et je ne serai pas sage demain!"

I asked the concierge if the general methods of Pestalozzi were still used in the schools of Yverdon, "Mais certainement!" she replied as we went into a room where twenty to thirty girls of ten years were studying. There were three pleasant windows looking out into the street; the ordinary platform and ordinary teacher’s table, with the ordinary teacher (in an extraordinary state of coma) behind it; and rather rude desks and seats for the children, but not a single ornament, picture, map, or case of objects and specimens around the room. The children were nice, clean, pleasant, stolid little things with braided hair and pinafores. The sole decoration of the apartment was a highly-coloured chart that we had noticed on the walls of all the other schoolrooms. Feeling that this must be a sacred relic, and that it probably illustrated some of the Pestalozzian foundation principles, I walked up to it reverently,

"Qu’est-ce-que c’est cela, Madame?" I inquired, rather puzzled by its appearance.

"C’est la methode de Pestalozzi," the teacher replied absently.

I wished that we kindergarten people could get Froebel’s educational idea in such a snug, portable shape, and drew nearer to gaze at it. I can give you a very complete description of the pictures from memory, as I copied the titles verbatim et literatim. The whole chart was a powerful moral object-lesson on the dangers of incendiarism and the evils of reckless disobedience. It was printed appropriately in the most lurid colours, and divided into nine tableaux.

These were named as follows:-


Twelve or fifteen boys and girls are playing together so happily and innocently that their good angels sing for joy.


Suddenly "LE PETIT Charles" says to his comrades, "Come! let us build a fire!" LE PETIT Charles is a typical infant villain and is surrounded at once by other incendiary spirits all in accord with his insidious plans.


The Good Little Marie, a Sunday-school heroine of the true type, approaches the group and, gazing heavenward, remarks that it is wicked to play with matches. The G. L. M. is of saintly presence,- -so clean and well groomed that you feel inclined to push her into a puddle. Her hands are not full of vulgar toys and sweetmeats, like those of the other children, but are extended graciously as if she were in the habit of pronouncing benedictions.


LE PETIT Charles puts his evil little paw in his dangerous pockets and draws out a wicked lucifer match, saying with abominable indifference, "Bah! what do we care? We’re going to build a fire, whatever you say. Come on, boys!"


The boys "come on." Led by "LE PETIT VILAIN Charles" they light a dangerous little fire in a dangerous little spot. Their faces shine with unbridled glee. The G. L. M. retires to a distance with a few saintly followers, meditating whether she shall run and tell her mother. "LE PETIT Paul," an infant of three summers, draws near the fire, attracted by the cheerful blaze.


LE PETIT Paul somehow or other tumbles into the fire. Nothing but a desire to influence posterity as an awful example could have induced him to take this unnecessary step, but having walked in he stays in, like an infant John Rogers. The bad boys are so horrorstricken it does not occur to them to pull him out, and the G. L. M. is weeping over the sin of the world.


The male parent of LE PETIT Paul is seen rushing down an adjacent Alp. He leads a flock of frightened villagers who have seen the smoke and heard the wails of their offspring. As the last shred of LE PETIT Paul has vanished in said smoke, the observer notes that the poor father is indeed "too late."


The despair of all concerned would draw tears from the dryest eye. Only one person wears a serene expression, and that is the G. L. M., who is evidently thinking: "Perhaps they will listen to me the next time."


The charred remains of LE PETIT Paul are being carried to the cemetery. The G. L. M. heads the procession in a white veil. In a prominent place among the mourners is "LE PAUVRE PETIT Charles," so bowed with grief and remorse that he can scarcely be recognized.

It was a telling sermon! If I had been a child I should never have looked at a match again; and old as I was, I could not, for days afterwards, regard a box of them without a shudder. I thought that probably Yverdon had been visited in the olden time by a series of disastrous holocausts, all set by small boys, and that this was the powerful antidote presented; so I asked the teacher whether incendiarism was a popular failing in that vicinity and whether the chart was one of a series inculcating various moral lessons. I don’t know whether she understood me or not, but she said no, it was "la methode de Pestalozzi."

Just at this juncture she left the room, apparently to give the pupils a brief study-period, and simultaneously the concierge was called downstairs by a crying baby. A bright idea occurred to me and I went hurriedly into the corridor where my friend was taking notes.

"Salemina," said I, "here is an opportunity of a lifetime! We ought to address these children in their native tongue. It will be something to talk about in educational pow-wows. They do not know that we are distinguished visitors, but we know it. A female member of a School Board and the Honorary President of a Froebel Society owe a duty to their constituents. You go in and tell them who and what I am and make a speech in French. Then I’ll tell them who and what you are and make another speech."

Salemina assumed a modest violet attitude, declined the honour absolutely, and intimated that there were persons who would prefer talking in a language they didn’t know rather than to remain sensibly silent.

However the plan struck me as being so fascinating that I went back alone, looked all ways to see if any one were coming, mounted the platform, cleared my throat, and addressed the awe-struck youngsters in the following words. I will spare you the French, but you will perceive by the construction of the sentences, that I uttered only those sentiments possible in an early stage of language-study.

"My dear children," I began, "I live many thousand miles across the ocean in America. You do not know me and I do not know you, but I do know all about your good Pestalozzi and I love him"

"Il est mort!" interpolated one offensive little girl in the front row.

Salemina tittered audibly in the corridor, and I crossed the room and closed the door. I think the children expected me to put the key in my pocket and then murder them and stuff them into the stove.

"I know perfectly well that he is dead, my child," I replied winningly,—"it is his life, his memory that I love.—And once upon a time, long ago, a great man named Friedrich Froebel came here to Yverdon and studied with your great Pestalozzi. It was he who made kindergartens for little children, jardins des enfants, you know. Some of your grand-mothers remember Froebel, I think?"

Hereupon two of the smaller chits shouted some sort of a negation which I did not in the least comprehend, but which from large American experience I took to be, "My grandmother doesn’t!" "My grandmother doesn’t!"

Seeing that the others regarded me favourably, I continued, "It is because I love Pestalozzi and Froebel, that I came here to day to see your beautiful new monument. I have just bought a photograph taken on that day last year when it was first uncovered. It shows the flags and the decorations, the flowers and garlands, and ever so many children standing in the sunshine, dressed in white and singing hymns of praise. You are all in the picture, I am sure!"

This was a happy stroke. The children crowded about me and showed me where they were standing in the photograph, what they wore on the august occasion, how the bright sun made them squint, how a certain malheureuse Henriette couldn’t go to the festival because she was ill.

I could understand very little of their magpie chatter, but it was a proud moment. Alone, unaided, a stranger in a strange land, I had gained the attention of children while speaking in a foreign tongue. Oh, if I had only left the door open that Salemina might have witnessed this triumph! But hearing steps in the distance, I said hastily, "Asseyez-vous, mes enfants, tout-de-suite!" My tone was so authoritative that they obeyed instantly, and when the teacher entered it was as calm as the millennium.

We rambled through the village for another hour, dined at a quaint little inn, gave a last look at the monument, and left for Geneva at seven o’clock in the pleasant September twilight. Arriving a trifle after ten, somewhat weary in body and slightly anxious in mind, I followed Salemina into the tiny cake-shop across the street from the station. She returned the tumbler, and the man, who seemed to consider it an unexpected courtesy, thanked us volubly. I held out my hand and reminded him timidly of the one franc fifty centimes.

He inquired what I meant. I explained. He laughed scornfully. I remonstrated. He asked me if I thought him an imbecile. I answered no, and wished that I knew the French for several other terms nearer the truth, but equally offensive. Then we retired, having done our part, as good Americans, to swell the French revenues, and that was the end of our day in Pestalozzi-town; not the end, however, of the lemonade glass episode, which was always a favourite story in Salemina’s repertory


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Chicago: Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin, "Penelope in Switzerland," Penelope’s Postscripts, ed. Altemus, Henry and trans. Holcomb, Thomas Addis Emmett, an Holcomb, Martha A. Lyon in Penelope’s Postscripts Original Sources, accessed August 7, 2022,

MLA: Wiggin, Kate Douglas Smith. "Penelope in Switzerland." Penelope’s Postscripts, edited by Altemus, Henry, and translated by Holcomb, Thomas Addis Emmett, an Holcomb, Martha A. Lyon, in Penelope’s Postscripts, Original Sources. 7 Aug. 2022.

Harvard: Wiggin, KD, 'Penelope in Switzerland' in Penelope’s Postscripts, ed. and trans. . cited in , Penelope’s Postscripts. Original Sources, retrieved 7 August 2022, from