British writers in Switzerland
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J.M.W Turner (1775-1851)
The Mont Saint-Gothard Passage seen from the middle of the Teufelsbrücke (Devil's Bridge), Switzerland

Joseph Mallord William Turner is one of the first British painters to have explored the Swiss Alps in detail. The Gianadda Foundation dedicated an exhibition to his pictorial journey.

The majesty of the Swiss Alps and the splendor of the Geneva Riviera have inspired more than one English poet, who, through their works, have made Switzerland known throughout the world. Swiss gratitude can be seen by the countless monuments and souvenirs dedicated to these early tourists. Discover Switzerland through the eyes of the most famous English writers, with this unique anthology offered exclusively for our British clients.

Writer Edward Gibbon spent his youth on the lakeshore. He was very attached to Lausanne, where he studied at the faculty of law and attended the salons of high Lausanne society. He had a romance with a pastor's daughter, whose father forced him to renounce the marriage. Gibbon lived on Rue de Bourg, a well-to-do street in the old quarter of the city. He frequented an English-style Club "where one could read the foreign press and, above all, play whist". In 1764, he went to Italy to write Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The author then returned to Lausanne where he completed his work along the tranquil lakeshores. Gibbon stayed in Lausanne in a villa called La Grotte until 1793. A hotel on Place Saint-Francois bore his name from 1839 to 1920.

In 1790, poet William Wordsworth traveled the length and breadth of Switzerland, drawing his passion for the mountain landscapes from Rousseau. Back in England, memories of his travels inspired Prelude. He recalls the disappointment when they discovered that they had already crossed the Alps, "for we still had hopes that pointed to the clouds". In 1820, he returned to Switzerland and visited mountain sites such as Brienz or Meiringen. Thirty-eight poems are the product of those days of discovery, in which he exalts his love of the mountains.

Lord Byron loved mountains as well. The famous English poet settled in the Villa Diodati, near Geneva, in 1816. He wrote these lines during a boat trip on the lake: "How much more, Lake of Beauty! do we feel, in sweetly gliding o'er thy crystal sea." Byron hired the services of a boatman and spent the majority of his time on the lake. The poet stayed five months in Geneva, where he continued his passionate love affair with Claire Clairmont and his friendship with Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was in Switzerland with his wife. Then Byron stayed at the Hotel de l'Ancre in Ouchy. The splendid view over the lake inspired his poem The Prisoner of Chillon, based on the flood of emotions he experienced after his shipwreck near the sumptuous Chillon castle. His stay in Clarens with Shelley inspired him to complete Childe Harold III. Byron also toured the surrounding area and travelled to Martigny, in the Valais, where he sojourned in two lovely inns. He then continued on his way and met up with a fellow Englishman in Sion, who accompanied him to Italy. A lakefront hotel in Villeneuve still bears his name today.

His friend the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley went to Switzerland in 1814. Upon seeing the mountains, he exclaimed: "What joy to see these majestic Alps! They are more dreamlike than real, so pure and heavenly white!" Then he withdrew to central Switzerland to begin working on a novel. Shelley went to Geneva in 1816, where he met his friend Byron. They dined together on a boat, which then took them to Evian, Le Bouveret and Clarens. They went to Lausanne to visit Gibbon's home and Shelley described his impressions: "They showed us the house where he completed his "Decline and Fall" and the old locust trees on the terrace from where he gazed upon Mont Blanc as he wrote the last line of his book." Shelley retired to his house next door to Byron's in Montalègre, near Geneva. He passed his time dreaming at the water's edge, writing verse and talking with Byron. Then he went back to England and never returned to Switzerland.

Mary Shelley, wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley and author of Frankenstein, found inspiration during her stay in Switzerland. In the summer of 1816, she accompanied Byron and Shelley during their travels. One night, when a storm was raging over the lake, Mary Shelley and her husband spent the night at Lord Byron's. Byron challenged them to think up ghost stories, but Mary Shelley wrote nothing. Then, the night before Byron and Shelley's boat trip on Lake Geneva, Mary Shelley had a nightmare. The dream inspired her to write the novel "Frankenstein", which she began that very morning. She completed the work the following year and published it in January, 1818.

After these poets, Scottish author Walter Scott arrived in Lausanne in 1826. He visited the area around the Chillon castle, hailed by Byron. He immersed himself in the landscape and declared: "This lake seems so tenderly loved by the mountains". He visited the region of Lake Neuchâtel and the Isle of Saint-Pierre, so dear to Rousseau. "In Neuchâtel, the people have no troubles. They live and are happy," he said, adding, "I spent wondrous hours in Switzerland, filled with captivating discoveries."

In 1846, another author, Charles Dickens, settled in a villa in Upper Lausanne, with a view over the Dents du Midi, Lake Geneva and the Savoy. He traveled in the hinterland and began a new novel. He wanted to escape to nature and a trip to Chamonix did him a world of good. He visited Geneva and the surrounding countryside inspired him to complete his writing, with such major works as David Copperfield and Great Expectations. Dickens left for Paris and then returned briefly to Switzerland in the canton of Bern. In 1865, Dickens had a replica of a Valais-style chalet built at Gad's Hills.

He was not the only prominent English author to write in Switzerland: Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, made several trips to the Graubunden region. He introduced the sport of skiing to Switzerland when he arrived in Dacos with some skis that he had brought from his travels to Norway. In the heart of winter, he attempted to climb a mountain pass and was injured, although he still managed to reach Arosa and succeed in his challenge. His hero Sherlock Holmes lived his greatest adventures in Switzerland and even met his bitter end there. On May 4, 1891, to be precise, the detective fought his enemy the professor Moriarty at the top of the Reichenbach Falls, in Meiringen. In heir struggle, they fell over the edge and were both killed. The Sherlock Holmes museum in Meiringen is fully dedicated to this famous character and recounts his adventures in Switzerland. The Sherlock Holmes Fan Club meets yearly in Switzerland to commune with one another at the death place of the world's most famous detective.

And finally, English novelist Joseph Conrad, author of Typhoon and Lord Jim, settled with his family at La Roseraie boarding house, near Geneva. When his child fell ill, Conrad went to find a doctor in the old quarter of the city. Their son recovered within one night. The end of his stay was an absolute delight. His wife remarked: "Geneva is a wonderful city: everything is beautiful, quiet, gleaming and discreet." Conrad wrote in his notebook: "I don't know why, but there is a surprising kinship between England and Switzerland." The writer's stays in Switzerland filled him with renewed energy, as was the case with Charles Dickens.

British author Mavis Coulson appreciates Geneva and knows just how to share her passion. In her book Southwards to Geneva, she recounts the events and actions of numerous English travelers who have lived in Geneva.

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