'A crescent moon followed the day god down'

Vevey steamer courtesy of Wendy McGuire Courtesy of Wendy McGuire

[Author’s note: This series of excerpts from the Regina Shober Gray diary began here.]

For those of us wiling away the summer in offices in the United States, yearning for a glimpse of blue water, here is a living portrait of a Swiss summer 138 years ago from the Gray[1] diary:

Hotel Monnet, ou “Les Trois Couronnes,” Vevey, Sunday, 4 August 1878: We are delightfully accommodated here; our rooms, including a handsome parlor with a broad balcony to our own use, look upon the lake, and to-day there has been a rowing race, wh. we watched with some interest; a sailing regatta fails to take place for want of a wind. The weather to-day has been lovely – but it seems clouding over now.

We went to Chillon this morning, Bonnivard’s Chillon, Byron’s Chillon![2] The gray old pile is very picturesque from some points of view – but very disappointing when first seen from the steamer. We walked around the “Seven pillars of Gothic mould” so sanctified by suffering & faith, and so richly immortalized in Byron’s verse, and thought it a much more cheerful dungeon than the dark, 10 foot square cell in the Tower of London, where grand Raleigh[3] pined so many years. Either one made an awful fate…

The shore of this lovely Lake “Leman”, or “of Geneva” (it bears both names), is classic ground. Clarens is the scene of Rousseau’s “Nouvelle Heloise”[4] and the writings wh. issued from his retreat here, selfish sensualist & profligate though he was, influenced [so] largely the thought of his day with dreams of idyllic purity & freedom, emancipation & progress – an emancipation, however, that would throw off all lawful restraint, and a progress that was mere heathenism!

A little farther off is Madame de Stael’s Coppet,[5] where she pined in exile from her beloved Paris; and Ferney, Voltaire’s Ferney;[6] and Geneva itself, hot-bed of puritanic bigotry & intolerance, while bravely standing in the fore front of religious reform, since the days of Calvin.

Nature here is beautiful exceedingly. After the rain yesterday, toward sunset, the clouds lifted and rolled away in great white masses, silver-touched on every swelling bastion; the blue sky, bent over the blue water – oh, so marvelously blue, two or three light skiffs with bulging sails skimmed like great white winged birds (the simile is trite enough – but apt as trite, so let it pass!), the hills stood in softest amethyst lights; a faint veil of mist in all their hollows, bays, and gorges, just bringing out the fine lines everywhere; and far-off toward Geneva the dying day paved the broad lake with molten gold, while a crescent moon followed the day god down the radiant slopes of western sky, its pale gold sickle, barred with the long, level clouds underlying the great, soft, silver masses; and in the east, just lifted over the mountains' brow, one radiant star.

I think I can never forget the picture, so exquisite it was, in every detail.

Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Hotel de la Couronne, Geneva, Tuesday, 6 August 1878: Mary & Sam [Gray] left us this morning to our own devices, very reluctantly, and went to Chamonix in the diligence, [7] having secured good seats in the banquette… I was sorry to leave Vevey – it was very lovely there. Our sail to Geneva was delightful and we had quite good views of the great monarch mountain – but no actually unclouded ones. This lake certainly wears the loveliest turquoise blue garment of light imaginable; the other Swiss lakes have a beautiful green tinge; a sort of robin’s-egg colour, and look like liquid malachite, but this blue, blue water is heavenly pure in tone, owing it is said to iodine in it – but some scientists dispute that theory.

The shores are far less boldly beautiful & winding than those of Lucerne’s “Vierwaldstadtter See,”[8] but the towns are very picturesque, with their old, heavy-browed, rambling, red-tiled houses; their fine modern villas & hotels standing in beautiful ground & groves; almost every town, too, has its mediaeval castle, with round romanesque towers & pointed roofs, and narrow long slits for windows – and buttressed walls wh. are often 10 or 12 ft in thickness, impregnable strongholds no doubt before the use of gunpowder came to render the combat a little more equal between the man in armour and his strong stone keep, and the man in a frock, behind his mud walls…

1½ o’c. p m., Tuesday, 6 August 1878: Thank God that we went to consult … Dr. Gautier, whom the banker recommended; he assures us there is no trouble, such as our dear invalid has feared for a few weeks past; a little hardening, which he felt – but wh. I could not detect myself with my unskilled touch, Dr. Gray has thought might prove a cancer – it is nothing of the kind – and Dr. Gautier assures him there is no trouble there at all and he need not give it another thought.

He was very kind and encouraging, and I am thankful we went – my poor husband was quite unnerved about going, and besought me to let him give it up and go back to the Hotel – but I could not do that – just to let the old dread gnaw and gnaw and … keep the vital question unasked & unanswered. He has been meaning to have this consultation for weeks past whenever he should reach Geneva; and now it is done and we are greatly relieved.

Hotel de la Couronne, Wednesday, 7 August 1878: Dr. [Gray] is lying down and tho’ not sleeping is quiet. He has been so much quieter & more self-controlled since our visit yesterday to Dr. Gautier that I feel very thankful that we had the resolution to go – and set that terrible question at rest. He is still unhappy & depressed about his mind as ever, but the other apprehension is quieted…

Hotel Bellevue, Neuchâtel, Saturday, 10 August 1878: Mary & Sam returned yesterday from their Mont Blanc trip in time for us to take the 2:25 pm train for Neuchâtel. We did not much like the Hotel de la Couronne, and were glad to leave Geneva. I find our impressions of any place depend a good deal on our personal accommodations & comfort! ‒ ignoble but very human! If we are crowded in small untidy rooms, and eat at an untidy table, and if our honey is left uncovered and catches flies & dust!! we are ready to leave that place in double quick time, no matter what its natural advantages may be…

Continued here.


[1] Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885) was married to Dr. Francis Henry Gray 1844–80. In 1878, the Grays were traveling in Europe with their children Mary Clay Gray (1848–1923) and Samuel Shober Gray (1849–1926). Entries from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[2] François Bonnivard (1493–1570) was the subject of The Prisoner of Chillon (1816) by George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron (1788–1824).

[3] Sir Walter Raleigh (1552/54–1618).

[4] The epistolary novel Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse (1761) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778).

[5] The Chateau de Coppet in the Canton of Vaud, home of Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker (Madame de Staël; 1766–1817), who was married to Baron Erik Magnus Staël von Holstein 1786–1802 and to Albert de Rocca in 1811.

[6] Ferney (Ain), in France but on the Swiss border, home of François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire; 1694–1778) from 1759.

[7] A diligence was a stagecoach, and came in three sizes: small, large, and Imperial.

[8] So called as there are four settlements in the area around the lake: the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, and Lucerne.

Scott C. Steward

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.View all posts by Scott C. Steward