ⓘ Swiss literature

Swiss literature

ⓘ Swiss literature

As there is no dominant national language, the four main languages of French, Italian, German and Romansch form the four branches which make up a literature of Switzerland. The original Swiss Confederation, from its foundation in 1291 up to 1798, gained only a few French-speaking districts in what is now the Canton of Fribourg, and so the German language dominated. During that period the Swiss vernacular literature was in German, although in the 18th century, French became fashionable in Bern and elsewhere. At that time, Geneva and Lausanne were not yet Swiss: Geneva was an ally and Vaud a subject land. The French branch does not really begin to qualify as Swiss writing until after 1815, when the French-speaking regions gained full status as Swiss cantons. The Italian and Romansch-Ladin branches are less prominent.

Like the earlier charters of liberties, the original League of 1291 was drawn up in Latin. Later alliances among the cantons, as well as documents concerning the whole Confederation - the Parsons Ordinance of 1370, the Sempach Ordinance of 1393, the Compact of Stans 1481 and all the Recesses of the Diets - were compiled in German. Political documents are not necessarily literature, but these pre-Reformation alliances rested on popular consent, and were expressed in vernacular German rather than in clerkly Latin.


1.1. German branch Emergence of vernacular literature

First in order of date are the Minnesingers, the number of whom in the districts that ultimately formed part of the medieval Swiss Confederation are said to have exceeded thirty. Zurich then as now was the chief literary centre of the Confederation. The two Manesses father and son collected many of their songs in a manuscript that has happily come down to us and is preserved in Paris. The most prominent was Master John Hadlaub, who flourished in the second half of the 13th and the first quarter of the 14th centuries. Next we have a long series of war songs, celebrating the victories of the Swiss. One of the earliest and most famous of these was composed by Hans Halbsuter of Lucerne to commemorate the battle of Sempach 1386, not far from his native town. There are other similar songs for the victory of Nafels 1388 and those of the battle of Grandson and battle of Morat both 1476 in the Burgundian War. In the 14th century the Dominican friar Ulrich Boner of Bern versified many old fables.

More important are the historical chronicles. In the 14th century we have Christian Kuchlmasters continuation of the annals of the famous monastery of St Gall, in the early 15th century the rhymed chronicle of the war between the Appenzellers and the abbot of St Gall, and rather later in the same century the chronicles of Conrad Justinger of Bern and Hans Frund died 1469 of Lucerne, besides the fantastical chronicle of Strattligen and a scarcely less fanciful poem on the supposed Scandinavian descent of the men of Schwyz and of Ober Hasle, both by Elogius Kiburger died 1506 of Berne.

In the 15th century, too, we have the White Book of Sarnen and the first William Tell song, which gave rise to the well-known legend, as well as the rather later play named the Urnerspiel dealing with the same subject. The Burgundian War witnessed a great outburst of historical ardour in the shape of chronicles written by Diebold Schilling died 1486 of Bern, by Melchior Russ died 1499, Diebold Schilling the Younger d. between 1516 and 1523 and Petermann Etterlin died 1509, all three of Lucerne as well as by Gerold Edlibach died 1530 of Zurich, and by Johnanes Lenz died 1541 of Brugg. In the vernacular, too, are the earliest descriptions of the Confederation, those by Albert von Bonstetten of Einsiedeln 1479 and by Conrad Turst of Zurich 1496, to whom also owe the first map of the country 1495–1497.

The Swiss humanists wrote in Latin, as did also the Swiss Reformers, at any rate for the most part, though the Zurich Bible of 1531 is an exception. Nicholas Manuel 1484–1530, a many-sided Bernese, composed satirical poems in German against the pope, while Valerius Anshelm died 1540, also of Bern, wrote one of the best Swiss chronicles. Aegidius Tschudi of Glarus, despite great literary activity, published but a single German work in his lifetime, the Uralt warhafflig Alpisch Rhaetia sam pt dem Tract der anderen Alpgebirgen 1538 besides his map of Switzerland same date. Sebastian Munster, who was a Swiss by adoption, published 1544 his Cosmographia in German, the work being translated into Latin in 1550. But the many-sided Conrad Gesner, a born Swiss, wrote all his works in Latin, German translations appearing only at a later date.

The first important original product in German was the remarkable and elaborate history and description of Switzerland, issued in 1548 at Zurich by Johannes Stumpf of that town. But Josias Simler, who was in a way his continuator, wrote all his works, theological and geographical, in Latin. Matthew Merian engraved many plates, which were issued in a series of volumes 1642–1688 under the general title of Topographia, the earliest volume describing Switzerland, while all had a text in German by an Austrian, Martin Zeiller. Very characteristic of the age are the autobiography of the Valais scholar Thomas Platter 1499–1582 and the diary of his still more distinguished son Felix 1536–1614, both written in German, though not published till long after.

Gradually Swiss historical writers gave up the use of Latin for their native tongue, so Michael Stettler 1580–1642 of Bern, Franz Haffner 1609–1671 of Soleure, and quite a number of Grisons authors, such as Bartholomaus Anhorn 1566–1640 and his son of the same name 1616–1670 and Johannes Guler von Wyneck 1562–1637. Fortunat Sprecher 1585–1647 preferred to write his Pallas raetica in Latin, as did Fortunat von Juvalta 1567–1654? in the case of his autobiography. The autobiography of Hans Ardser of Davos 1557-post 1614 and the amusing dialogue between the Niesen and the Stockhorn by Hans Rudolf Rebmann 1566–1605 are both in German. Jean-Baptiste Plantin 1625–1697 wrote his description of Switzerland in Latin, Helvetia nova et antiqua 1656, but Johann Jacob Wagners 1641–1695 guide to Switzerland is in German, despite its titles Inder memorabilium Helvetiae 1684 and Mercurius Helveticus 1688, though he issued his scientific description of his native land in Latin, Historia naturalis Helvetiae curiosa 1680.


1.2. German branch Eighteenth century

In the 18th century the intellectual movement in Switzerland greatly developed, though it was naturally strongly influenced by local characteristics. Basel, Bern and especially Zurich were the chief literary centres. Basel was particularly distinguished for its mathematicians, such as Leonhard Euler 1707–1783, and three members of the Bernoulli family refugees from Antwerp, the brothers Jakob 1654–1705 and Johann 1667–1748, and the latters son Daniel 1700–1782. But its chief literary glory was Isaac Iselin 1728–1783, one of the founders of the Helvetic Society 1760 and of the Economical Society 1777, and author of a treatise on the philosophy of history entitled Geschichte dee Menschheit 1764, and of another on ideal politics, Philosophische und patriotische Trume eines Menschenfreundes 1755, while many of his economical tracts appeared 1776–1782 under the general title of Ephemeriden der Menschheit. At Bern Albrecht von Haller, though especially distinguished as a scientific writer, yet by his poem Die Alpen 1732 and his travels in his native country did much to excite and stimulate the love of mountain scenery. Another Bernese, Charles Victor de Bonstetten, is a type of the gallicized Liberal Bernese patrician, while Beat Ludwig von Muralt 1665–1749 analysed the racial characteristics of other nations for the instruction of his fellow-countrymen, his Lettres sur les anglais et les francais 1725 being his principal work. Samuel Wyttenbach 1748–1830 devoted himself to making known the beauties of his country to its natives, travelling much and writing much about his travels. Gottlieb Sigmund Gruner wrote the Eisgebirge des Schweizerlandes 1760, a work describing the ice-clad mountains of Switzerland, though it is rather a useftil compilation than an original contribution to knowledge, but a decided advance on his fellow Bernese, Johann Georg Altmanns 1697–1758 Versuch einer historischen und physischen Beschreibung dee helvetischen Eisgebirge 1751. In another department of knowledge a son of Albrecht von Haller, Gottlieb Emmantiel von Haller 1735–1786, compiled a most useful bibliography of writings relating to Swiss history, the Bibliothek dee Schweizergeschichte 6 vols, 1784–1787, that is still indispensable to the historical student.

But in the 18th century Zurich was undoubtedly the intellectual and literary capital of German-speaking Switzerland, and gained the title of Athens on the Limmat. One of its earliest and most famous celebrities was JJ Scheuchzer, who travelled much in Switzerland, and wrote much his travels are described in Latin as to its natural curiosities, being himself an FRS, and closely associated with Newton and the other English scientific men of the day. But in the purely literary domain the names of JJ Bodmer and of his friend Johann Jakob Breitinger 1701–1776, are the most prominent. By their united exertions the antiquated traditions of German literature were broken down to a large extent, while great praise was bestowed on English poets, Shakespeare, Milton and others. Their views were violently opposed by Gottsched, the leader of the Saxon school, and the controversy that arose forms part of the history of German literature. In 1721–1723 they published jointly the Discourse der Mater, a periodical which spread their views, while more elaborate and systematic expositions of their critical doctrine as to poetry are Bodmers Kritische Abhandlung von dem Wunderbaren in der Poesie 1740, and Breitingers Critische Dichtkunst also in 1740. Their untiring efforts helped to prepare the way for the later outburst of German literature begun by Klopstock, Wieland and Lessing. Another famous Zurich writer was Solomon Gesner, the pastoral poet, and yet another was JK Lavater, now best remembered as a supporter of the view that the face presents a perfect indication of character and that physiognomy may therefore he treated as a science. Other well-known Zurich names are those of JH Pestalozzi 1746–1827, the educationalist, of Johann Caspar Hirzel 1725–1803, another of the founders of the Helvetic Society, and author of Die Wirthschaft eines philosophischen Bauers 1761, and of Johann Georg Sulzer 1720–1779, whose chief work is one on the laws of art or aesthetics, entitled Allgemeine Theorie der schonen Kunste 1771–1774.

Outside the three towns named above there were several writers of German-speaking Switzerland who must be mentioned. One of the best known even now is Johann Georg Zimmermann 1728–1795, whose Betrachtungen fiber die Einsamkeit 1756-1784/1785 profoundly impressed his contemporaries. He, like the fabulist AE Erhlich, was born at Brugg. Johannes von Muller of Schaffhausen, was the first who attempted to write 1780 a detailed history of Switzerland, which, though inspired rather by his love of freedom than by any deep research, was very characteristic of his times. JG Ebel was a Swiss by adoption only, but deserves mention as the author of the first detailed guidebook to the country 1793, which held its ground till the days of Murray and Baedeker. A later writer, Heinrich Zschokke 1771–1848, also a Swiss by adoption only, produced 1822 a history of Switzerland written for the people, which had a great vogue.


1.3. German branch Nineteenth century

In the later literary history of German-speaking Switzerland three names stand out above all others: Albert Bitzius, known as Jeremias Gotthelf from the first of his numerous tales of peasant life in the Emmenthal, Gottfried Keller, perhaps the most genuinely Swiss poet and novelist of the century, and Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, also a poet and novelist, but of more cosmopolitan leanings and tastes. Jakob Burckhardt was a famous writer on Italian art, while Jakob Frey 1824–1875 continued the work of Bitzius by his tales of Swiss peasant life. Ulrich Hegner 1759–1840 of Winterthur wrote novels full of local colour, as is also the case with David Hess painter 1770–1843 in his description of a cure at Baden in Aargau and various tales. Johann Martin Usteri 1763–1827 of Zurich was one of the earliest to write poems in his native dialect.

Later we have a number of Zurich poets or versifiers, some of whose writings have become very well known. Such were Heinrich Leuthold 1827–1879, August Corrodi 1826–1885 and Leonhard Widmer 1808–1868, the author of Trittst im Morgenrot daher 1842 which, set to music by the Cistercian monk Alberic Zwyssig 1808–1854, is now known as the Swiss Psalm), of Es lebt in jeder Schweizerbrust 1842, and Wo Berge sich erheben 1844. To the Bernese poet, Johann Rudolf Wyss 1782–1830, whose father, Johann David Wyss 1743–1818, was the author of the Swiss Family Robinson, owe the Swiss national anthem, Rufst du mein Vaterland? and the song, Herz, mys Herz, warum so trurig? - while Johann Georg Krauer 1792–1845, of Lucerne, wrote the Rutlilied, Von ferne sei herzlich gegruSet, and Gottfried Keller himself was responsible for O mein Heimatland. Gottlieb Jakob Kuhn 1775–1845 wrote many poems in the Bernese dialect about the Alps and their inhabitants. Less national in sentiment and more metaphysical are the lyrics of Dranmor, the pen-name of the Bernese Ferdinand Schmid 1823–1888.

Among the chief Swiss writers in the department of belles-lettres, novelists, poets, etc., may be mentioned Ernst Zahn, Meinrad Lienert, Arnold Ott, Carl Spitteler, Fritz Marti, Walther Siegfried, Adolf Frey, Hermann Hesse, Jakob Christoph Heer, Joseph Victor Widmann, and Gottfried Strasser.

Isabella Kaiser wrote poems and stories. Johanna Spyri is famous for her childrens stories including Heidi, a fictional character living in the Swiss Alps.


1.4. German branch Twentieth century

The Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Carl Spitteler 1919 and Hermann Hesse 1946. Robert Walser was only decades after his death in 1956 recognized as one of the great modern Swiss novelists at the beginning of the twentieth century. Likewise, the revival of the works of travel writer and novelist Annemarie Schwarzenbach had to wait almost 50 years after her premature death in 1942. Friedrich Durrenmatt was a playwright, author of philosophical crime novels and novellas. Max Frisch was also a playwright, but was famous for being considered the greatest Swiss novelist since Walser. Adolf Muschg is an important essayist, Peter Bichsel and Urs Widmer write stories. Ohter important Swiss writers are Otto F. Walter and his sister Silja Walter.

Others worth mentioning are Melinda Nadj Abonji, Sibylle Berg, Erika Burkart, Jurg Federspiel, Lukas Hartmann, Thomas Hurlimann, Franz Hohler, Zoe Jenny, Jurg Laederach, Hugo Loetscher, Kurt Marti, Niklaus Meienberg, Gerhard Meier, Milena Moser, Adolf Muschg, Paul Nizon, Erica Pedretti, Martin Suter, Peter Weber, and Markus Werner. Writers after 1990 are Peter Stamm, Lukas Barfuss, Christian Kracht and Alex Capus.


1.5. German branch Historians

Important Swiss historians include:

  • Felix Stahelin 1897–1952, Switzerland in the Roman era
  • E. von Wattenwyl 1815–1890, and
  • J. C. Zellweger 1768–1855, the historian of Appenzell.
  • his stepbrother F. von Wyss 1818–1907, a great authority on the legal and constitutional history of Switzerland, and
  • A. von Tillier 1792–1854,
  • J. J. Blumer 1819–1875, and
  • J. A. Pupikofer 1797–1882, history of the Thurgau
  • JJ Hottinger 1783–1860, the continuator of J. von Mullers Swiss history,
  • P. C. von Planta 1815–1902 history of the Grisons
  • Johannes Dierauer 1842–1920, who wrote the impressive Geschichte der schweizerischen eidgenossenschaft, 2 vo, 1887–91,
  • Jacob Burckhardt 1818–1897, Italian Renaissance
  • E. Blusch 1838–1900, the historian of the Protestant churches in German-speaking Switzerland,
  • A. P. von Segesser 1817–1888, the historian and statesman of Lucerne,
  • Georg von WyS 1816–1893, to whom we owe, among many excellent works, an admirable account of all Swiss historians and their works,
  • A. F. Stettler 1796–1849 Swiss constitutional matters
  • J. E. Kopp 1793–1866, who rewrote early Swiss history on the basis of authentic documents,
  • Ildefons von Arx 1755–1833, the historian of St Gall, of which he had been a monk,
  • Johann Ludwig Wurstemberger 1783–1862 who all four wrote on Bernese history,
  • Johann Kaspar Bluntschli 1808–1881, Swiss constitutional matters,
  • R. Maag 1866–1899, who began the publication of the invaluable Flabsburg terrier of the early 14th century, but had to leave the completion of the work to other competent hands,

Also: A. Bahl, J. L. Brandstetter, W. Burckhardt, K. Dandliker, R. Durrer, H. Escher, A. Heusler, R. Hoppeler, T. von Liebenau, W. Merz, G Meyer von Knonau, W. F. von Munen, W. Oechsli, J. R. Rahn, L. R. von Salis, P. Schweizer, J. Schollenberger, J. Strickler, R. Thommen, and H. Wartmann.


2. French branch

The knight Othon of Grandson is the earliest figure in the literature of the Suisse romande. He was killed in a judicial duel in 1397, the last scion of his ancient house, and left some amatory poems behind him, while one is extant only in a translation by Chaucer, who makes flattering mention of him. In the 15th and 16th centuries many miracle plays in the local Romance dialect were known. The Chronique des chanoines de Neuchatel was formerly supposed to date from the 15th century, but is now considered by many to be a forgery. More individual and characteristic are the romance about Charlemagne, entitled Fierabras le Giant 1478, by Jean Bagnyon, and the poem named Conge pris du siecle siculier 1480, by Jacques de Bugnin. But the first really prominent personage in this department of literature is François Bonivard died 1570 who wrote the Chroniques de Geuve that extend down to 1530 and were continued to 1562 by Michel Roset died 1613. The first Protestant French translation of the Bible was issued at Neuchatel in 1535, its principal authors being Pierre Robert Olivetan and Pierre de Vingle. As a sort of pendant to the Protestant Bonivard, we have the nun Jeanne de Jussie who in her Levain du Calvinisme c. 1545 recounts the establishment of Calvinism at Geneva, while the noble Pierre de Pierrefleur in his Memoires does the same in a lighter and less lachrymose style for Orbe, his native district. Naturally the Reformers of the Suisse Romande used French much in their theological and polemical works. Of more general interest are the writings of two Frenchmen who were driven by religious persecutions to end their lives at Geneva - the memoirs and poems of Theodore Agrippa dAubigne 1552–1630, and the historical writings and poems of Simon Goulart 1543–1628. The great deliverance of Geneva from the duke of Savoy, known as the Escalade 1602, was described in prose by David Piaget 1580–1644 in his Histoire de lescalade and celebrated in verse by Samuel Chappuzeau 1625–1701--in his Geneve delivree, though the narratives of Goulart and that published officially by the government attributed to Jean Sarasin 1574–1632, the author of the Citadin de Geneve 1606, are more laconic and more striking. JB Plantin 1625–1697, of Vaud, wrote his topography of Switzerland, Helvetia antiqua et nova 1656, in Latin, but his Abrege de lhistoire generale de la Suisse 1666 in French, while Georges de Montmollin 1628–1703 of Neuchatel wrote, besides various works as to local history, Memoires of his times which have a certain historical value.

But the 17th century in the Suisse Romande pales before the glories of the 18th century, which forms its golden age, and was, in a large degree due to the influence of French refugees who, with their families, flocked thither after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes 1685 and settled down there for the rest of their lives. Such was Louis Bourguet 1678–1743, who, besides his geological works, founded two periodicals which in different ways did much to stimulate the intellectual life of the Suisse Romande; these were the Bibliotheque italique 1729–1734, which aimed at making more widely known the results of Italian research, and the Mercure suisse which, first issued in 1732, lasted till 1784, under different names rom 1738 onwards the literary section bore the name of Journee helvetique, and secured contributions from most of the leading writers of the Suisse Romande of the day, such as Firmin Abauzit 1679–1767, Abraham Ruchat 1678–1750, and others. Ruchat is now best remembered as the author under the pen-name of Gottlieb Kypseler of an excellent guide-book to Switzerland, the Deuces de la Suisse, which first appeared in 1714 and passed through many editions, the latest being issued in 1778; but his Histoire de la Reformation de la Suisse 1727–1728 was much esteemed in his day. Another Vaudois historian and antiquary was Charles Guillaume Loys de Bochat 1695–1754 whose Memoires critiques sur divers points de lancienne histoire de la Suisse 1747–1749 still form a treasure-house for archaeologists. Yet a third Lausanne man was JP de Crousaz 1663–1750, who introduced there the philosophy of Descartes, and was, by his books, the master of Gibbon in logic. A French refugee at Lausanne, Jean Barbeyrac 1674–1744, published in 1712 the Droit de la nature et des gens, a translation of Puffendorfs treatise, with a striking preface of his own. A precursor of Montesquieu and of Rousseau was Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui 1694–1750 in his Principes du droit naturel et politique 1747 and 1751, issued together in 1763, while the celebrated international lawyer, Emeric de Vattel 1714–1767, was a native of Neuchatel by birth and descent, and, though he spent most of his life at foreign courts, died at Neuchatel, not so very long after the publication of his famous Droit des gens 1758.

The year 1754 is a great date in the literary history of the Suisse Romande, for in that year Rousseau came back for good to Geneva, and Voltaire established himself at Ferney, while in 1753 Gibbon had begun his first residence which lasted till 1758 in Lausanne. The earlier writers mentioned above had then nearly all disappeared, and a more brilliant set took their place. But Rousseau, though a Genevese, belongs rather to European than to Swiss literature, as do later Jacques Necker and his daughter, Madame de Stael, Benjamin Constant and Sismondi. Madame de Charriere 1740–1805 was Dutch by birth, but married to a native of Neuchatel. Among her earlier works were two novels, Le mari sentimental 1783, and the Lettres de Mistriss Henley publiees par son ami 1784, both of which had a great vogue in their day and paint, from her own experience, the sad results of an unsuitable marriage. More celebrated by reason of the liveliness and acuteness with which the manners of a little provincial town are described are her Lettres de Lausanne 1871, and her Lettres neuchateloises 1784, particularly the second part of a story of the former, entitled Caliste, and published in 1788, for, according to Sainte-Beuve, it was a sort of foreshadowing of the more famous Coninne 1807 of Madame de Stael.

PH Mallet, a Genevese, who held a chair at Copenhagen, devoted himself to making known to the educated world the history and antiquities of Scandinavia. But more characteristic of Geneva were the efforts of a group of men to spread the cause of natural science by personal investigations in the higher Alps, then but little known. Possibly their interest in such matters had been stimulated by the scientific and psychological speculations of Charles Bonnet. The chief of this school was HB de Saussure one of the founders of geology and meteorology, while his Alpine ascents undertaken in the cause of science opened a new world even to non-scientific travellers. The brothers De Luc devoted themselves mainly to questions of physics in the Alps, while Senebier, the biographer of Saussure, was more known as a physiologist than as a physicist, though he wrote on many branches of natural science, which in those days was not yet highly specialized. On the other hand, Marc Theodore Bourrit, the contemporary of these three men, was rather a curious and inquisitive traveller than a scientific investigator, and charms us even now by his genial simplicity as contrasted with the austerity and gravity of the three writers we have mentioned. Philippe Cyriaque Bridel 1757–1845, best known as the doyen Bridel, was the earliest of the Vaudois poets by virtue of his Poesies helvetiennes 1782. But he is better known as the painter of the scenery and people among whom he worked as pastor at Basel, at Chateau dOex, and at Montreux successively. His Course de Bale à Bienne par les vallees du Jura appeared in 1802, while descriptions of his travels, as well as of the manners of the natives, local history, and in short everything that could stimulate national sentiment, were issued in a series of periodicals from 1783 to 1831 under the successive titles of Etrennes helvetiennes and of Conservateur suisse. His patriotic aim met with great success, while his impressions of his mountain wanderings are fresh and unspoilt by any straining after effect. He was the first writer of the Suisse Romande to undertake such wanderings, so that, with obvious differences, he may be regarded not merely as the forerunner, but as the inspirer and model of later Vaudois travellers and climbers in the Alps, such as Rodolphe Topffer, of Eugene Rambert, and of the last-nameds most brilliant pupil, Emile Javelle 1844–1883, whose articles were collected in 1886 by the pious care of his friends under the title of Souvenirs dun alpiniste.

As a poet Juste Olivier surpassed Bridel. Nor can we wonder that with the advance of knowledge Bridels history is found to be more picturesque than scientific. Two Vaudois, Charles Monnard 1790–1865 and Louis Vulliemin 1797–1879 carried out their great scheme of translating 1837–1840 J. von Mullers Swiss history with its continuation by Hottinger, and then completed it 1841–1851 down to 1815. This gigantic task did not, however, hinder the two friends from making many solid contributions to Swiss historical learning. Later in date were Alexandre Daguet 1816–1894 who wrote an excellent history of Switzerland, while Jean Joseph Hisely 1800–1866, Albert Rilliet 1809–1883, and Pierre Vaucher 1833–1898, all devoted much labour to studying the many problems offered by the early authentic history from 1291 onwards of the Swiss Confederation. A different type of history is the work of an honest but partisan writer, the Genevese Jules Henri Merle dAubign 1794–1872, entitled Histoire de la reformation au temps de Calvin 1835–1878. The Vaudois noble Frederic Gingins-la-Sarra 1790–1863 represents yet another type of historian, devoting himself mainly to the medieval history of Vaud, but occasionally going beyond the numberless authentic documents brought to light by him, and trying to make them prove more than they can fairly be expected to tell us. Jean Antoine Petit-Senn 1792–1870 was a thorough Genevese and a biting satirist, a pensive poet, the Genevese La Bruyere, as he liked to be called, yet was not fully appreciated until after his death, when his widely scattered writings were brought together. Alexandre Vinet, the theologian, and HF Amiel, the philosopher, in a fashion balance each other, and need only be mentioned here. Jean Jacques Porchat 1800–1864 was one of the most prominent among the minor poets of the region, very French owing to his long residence in Paris, and best remembered probably by his fables, first published in 1837 under the title of Glanures dEsope reissued in 1854 as Fables et paraboles, though in his day his stories for the young were much appreciated. Urbain Olivier 1810–1888, a younger brother of the poet, wrote many tales of rural life in Vaud, while the Genevese novelist Victor Cherbuliez 1829–1899 was perhaps the most brilliant of a brilliant family. Fribourg has produced the local novelist Pierre Sciobret 1833–1876 and the Bohemian poet Etienne Eggis 1830–1867, and Neuchatel Auguste Bachelin 1830–1890 whose best novel was Jean Louis, a tale of which the scene is laid in the old-fashioned little village of St Blaise. Another Neuchatel writer, Alice de Chambrier, the poet, died young, as did the Genevese poet Louis Duchosal, both showing in their short lives more promise than performance. Madame de Gasparins 1813–1894 best tale is Horizons prochains 1857, a very vivid story of rural life in the Vaudois Jura, remarkable for the virile imagination of its descriptions.

Edouard Rod the novelist, and Marc Monnier, critic, poet, dramatist and novelist, are the most prominent figures in the recent literature of the Suisse Romande. Amongst lesser stars we may mention in the department of belles-lettres novelists, poets or critics Charles Du Bois-Melly, T. Combe the pen name of Mlle Adele Huguenin, Samuel Cornut, Louis Favre, Philippe Godet, Oscar Huguenin, Philippe Monnier, Nolle Roger, Virgile Rossel, Paul Seippel and Gaspard Vallette. The chief literary organ of the Suisse Romande is the Bibliotheque universelle, which in 1816 took that title in lieu of Bibliotheque Britannique founded in 1796, and in 1861 added that of Revue suisse, which it then absorbed. Amongst historians the first place is due to one of the most learned men whom Switzerland has ever produced, and whose services to the history of the Valais were very great, and abbe Jean Gremaud 1823–1897 of Fribourg. The principal contemporary historians are Victor van Berchem, Francis de Crue, Camille Favre, Henri Fazy, B. de Mandrot, Berthold van Muyden and Edouard Rott.

More recent authors include Charles Ferdinand Ramuz 1878–1947, whose novels describe the lives of peasants and mountain dwellers, set in a harsh environment, the poets Blaise Cendrars born Frederic Sauser, 1887–1961, Leon Savary 1895–1968, Gustave Roud 1897–1976, Jean-Georges Lossier 1911–2004, Pericle Patocchi 1911–1968, Maurice Chappaz 1916–2009 and Philippe Jaccottet born 1925, Armel Guerne 1911–1980 and the novelists Catherine Colomb 1892–1965, Monique Saint-Helier 1895–1955, Alice Rivaz 1901–1998, Prix Renaudot winner Georges Borgeaud 1914–1998, Yvette ZGraggen 1920–2012 and Prix Goncourt winner Jacques Chessex 1934–2009. Griselidis Real 1929–2005 is in a category of her own.


3. Italian branch

Italian Switzerland is best known by its artists, while its literature is naturally subject to strong Italian influences, and not to any of a strictly Swiss nature. Stefano Franscini 1796–1857 did much for his native land, especially in educational matters, while his chief published work 1835 was one that gave a general account of the canton. But this is not so thorough and good as a later book by Luigi Lavizzari 1814–1875, entitled Escursioni net cantone Ticino 1861, which is very complete from all points of view.

Angelo Barotho died 1893 and Emilio Motta represent the historical sciences, the latter contributing much to the Bollettino della Svizzera Italiana from 1879 onwards, which, though mainly historical, devotes much space to literary and historical matters relating to the canton. The art of novel writing does not flourish in Ticino. But it has produced a great number of poets such as Pietro Pen 1794–1869, who translated the Swiss national anthem into Italian, JB Buzzi 1825–1898, Giovanni Airoldi died before 1900 and Carlo Cioccari 1829–1891, the two former were lyric poets, and the third a dramatist. Two "younger" singers are Francesco Chiesa 1871–1973 and M. A. Nessi.

Contemporary poets are Giorgio Orelli 1921-2013 and his cousin Giovanni Orelli 1928-2016, Alberto Nessi born 1940 and Fabio Pusterla born 1957.


4. Romansh branch

Romansh is spoken by some 1% of Switzerlands 7.4 million inhabitants. It is the smallest of Switzerlands national languages in terms of number of speakers, and has not much to show in the way of literary activity. Fears of the language perishing altogether have spurred certain energetic groups to promote and foster a language revival. The five largest languages in the Romansh family are Sursilvan, Sutsilvan, Surmiran, Puter and Vallader. Puter and Vallader are sometimes grouped together as one language: Ladin. Romansh was standardized in 1982. The unified language, called Rumantsch Grischun, is used by the federal government and the canton of Graubunden, where is it an official language, for administrative purposes.

Romansh had a rich oral tradition before the appearance of Romansh writing, but apart from songs such as the Canzun da Sontga Margriata, virtually none of it survives. Prior to the 16th century, Romansh writings are only known from a few fragments.

The oldest known written records identified as Romansh before 1500 are:

  • the Wurzburg manuscript 10th century probably written in the Abbey of Saint Gall,
consists of only the sentence: Diderros ne habe diege muscha, considered as an early form of Romansh, two translations proposed are either: "Diderros does not even have ten flies" or "Diderros has ten flies from this", probably meaning that the scribe named Diderros was poorly paid for his work;
  • the Mustair linguistic monument dated 1389 and consisting of a fragment of a document about grazing rights on common land in the Val Mustair, it is a court testimony in Romansh attested in an otherwise Latin document
  • the Einsiedeln Homily dates from the early 12th century, a longer piece of writing discovered in 1907, and consists of a fourteen lines, in an early form of the Romonsch dialect, of incomplete interlinear translation with the original Latin text of a sermon attributed to St.Augustine;

The emergence of Romansh as a literary language is generally dated to the mid-16th century. The first substantial surviving work in Romansh is a poem in Ladin, the Chianzun dalla guerra dagl Chiaste da Mus written in the Puter dialect in 1527 by Gian Travers Johann von Travers, 1483–1563, though it was not published till 1865. It is an epic poem describing the First Musso war which Travers himself had taken part in.

Subsequent works usually have religious themes, including Bible translations, manuals for religious instructions, and biblical plays. The first book printed in it at Poschiavo in 1552 was the translation of a German catechism, and the next a translation of the New Testament: Lg Nuof Sainc Testamaint da nos Signer Jesu Christ, also at Poschiavo, but in 1560, both works by Jachiam Bifrun/Giachem Bifrun. Most of the works in the Ladin dialects are translations of books of a religious or educational nature. Two years later, in 1562, another writer from the Engadine, Durich Chiampel, published the Cudesch da Psalms, a collection of Romansh church songs in the Vallader dialect.

In the Sursilvan dialect, the first surviving works are also religious works such as catechism by Daniel Bonifaci and in 1611, Ilg Vêr Sulaz da pievel giuvan "The true joys of young people", a series of religious instructions for Protestant youths was published by Steffan Gabriel. Four years later in 1615, a catholic catechism Curt Mussament was published in response, written by Gion Antoni Calvenzano. The first translation of the new testament into Sursilvan was published in 1648 by the son of Steffan Gabriel, Luci Gabriel. The first complete translation of the Bible, the Bibla da Cuera was published between 1717 and 1719.

The principal writers in the Romonsch dialects, generally the less literary of the two, in the 19th century are Theodor von Castelberg 1748–1830, a poet and translator of poetry, and P. A. de Latour about 1811 also a poet, while the best of all poets in this dialect was Anton Huonder, whose lyrics are considered remarkable. Alexander Balletta 1842–1887 wrote prose romances and sketches, while J. C. Muoth Giacun Hasper Muoth, 1844–1906, himself a most typical and characteristic figure, wrote much in prose and verse as regards his native region.

In Ladin one of the chief figures was the poet Conradin von Flugi 1787–1874, who published volumes of poems in 1845 and 1861, but the poems, novels and translations of Gian Fadri Caderas 1830–1891 are placed above them. Other Ladin poets are Florin Valentin, O. P. Juvalta and S. Caratsch died 1892, while Peider Lansel 1863–1943 represents a younger generation. Zaccaria Pallioppi 1820–1873 also wrote poems, but the excellent Ladin dictionary that he compiled was not published till 1895 by the care of his son.

Non-religious writings in Romansh began appearing in the second half of the 19th century in substantial numbers. The literary output of this period often deals with the language itself and is seen as part of the Romansh revival known as the "Romansh Renaissance". Most literature of the period consists of poetry and short stories praising the Romansh language and usually dealing with topics related to the rural background of the Romansh valleys. Another common theme is the emigration of the so-called "Randulins", who would spend much of their lives working abroad. In addition, many works were translated into Romansh, generally German writers that were popular at the time. Well-known Sursilvan poets of the time include Theodore de Castelberg 1748–1818, Placidus a Spescha 1752–1833 or Gion Antoni Huonder 1824–1867. The best-known Sursilvan poet is Giachen Caspar Muoth 1844–1906 however, who is often considered the most well-versed Romansh poet of all. His poets and ballads often deal with Romansh itself, such as his most famous work Al pievel romontsch "To the Romansh people":

Stai si, defenda, Romontsch, tiu vegl lungatg, Risguard pretenda Per tiu patratg!

Stand up, defend, Romansh, your old language, demand respect for your thought!

Other Sursilvan writers of the Romansh Renaissance include Caspar Decurtins 1855–1916, who collected among other things popular legends, ballads, and songs, as well as Giachen Michel Nay 1860–1920, who described rural life in several novels, Alfons Tuor 1871–1904, and Gian Fontana 1897–1935, who are also known for their novels. In addition, the priest Maurus Carnot 1865–1935 who had grown up in Samnaun but did not speak the Romansh dialect of his hometown, learned Sursilvan in Disentis and later wrote plays, lyric, and short stories dealing with rural life. Finally, Flurin Camathias is the author of several Sursilvan plays, poems, and epics, in addition to having translated numerous works into Romansh.

Literary works in Surmiran are comparatively rare, with Alexander Lozza from Murmarera being the most notable one.

In the Engadine, the first modern poets include Gian Battista Tschander and Conradin de Flug 1787–1874. Writers of the Romanticism era include Simeon Caratsch 1826–1891 and Gian Fadri Caderas 1830–1891, who co-authored some works such as the comedy Ils duos poets. Other well-known poets and songwriters of the period include Andrea Bezzola 1840–1897, author of the song Ma bella Val, mi Engiadina, or Gudench Barblan 1860–1916, author of the song la lingua materna

Another important Engadine figure of the period is Zaccaria Pallioppi 1820–1873. While he also wrote poems of his own, his main work is the first Ladin dictionary, published by his son in 1895. One of the first female writers is Clementina Gilli 1858–1942, who translated several major works of European literature and published a few original works as well, using the pseudonym Clio. Other Engadine writers of the Romansh-Renaissance include Schimun Vonmoos 1868–1940, who wrote poets and short tales in addition to translating, Gian Gianett Cloetta 1874–1965 or Eduard Bezzola 1875–1948, who wrote dramas, comedies, and songs or translated them. The best-known Engadine poet is Peider Lansel 1863–1943 however, who retired at an early age in 1906 and dedicated himself to poetry, becoming one of the first Romansh writers to gain fame outside of his region. His work includes over 200 poems, which were published in several collections in 1907 Primulas, 1912 La cullana dambras and 1929 in his principal work Il vegl chalamêr. In addition, his work includes several anthologies of Romansh poets, such as La musa ladina 1910 and La musa rumantscha posthumous 1950. Shortly before his death, he became the first Romansh writer to receive the Grosser Schillerpreis.

From the 1940s onwards, Romansh writers began to reflect on the widespread economical and social changes of traditional Romansh society and the word of modernity. Andri Peer 1921–1985 from the Lower Engadine is considered one of the first modern Romansh writers, whose works introduced modern literary trends into Romansh. His modern writing style was initially met with opposition, and he was not fully recognized and appreciated until much later. Another Engadine writer of this literary movement is Cla Biert 1920–1981, who became known for his humorous short stories. Notably Sursilvan writers include Flurin Darms born 1918 for his lyrics, and Gion Battesta Sialm 1897–1977 and Guglielm Gadola 1902–1961 for their short stories. One of the more famous contemporary novelists is Toni Halter 1914–1986, who treated historic or rural themes in his works. Also known for his novels and short stories is the Sursilvan writer Gion Deplazes born 1918. The Engadine writer Jon Semadeni 1910–1981 is the author of several theater plays and sketches, in addition to writing some prose as well. Also known for their plays are Men Gaudenz and Tista Murk 1915–1992 from the Val Mustair and Carli Fry 1897–1956 from Surselva. More recently, the Sursilvan writer Arno Camenisch born 1978 gained attention outside the Romansh community for his novels and short stories, including the bilingual Romansh-German book Sez Ner.

Concerning children and young-adult books, some original works have been written in Romansh alongside a large number of translations. The most famous of these are the books of Selina Chonz, whose book Uorsin has become famous well outside of Switzerland in its German version Schellenursli. Other authors include Clo Duri Bezzola Kindels dal malom, Gori Klainguti Linard Lum, Linard Bardill Il guaffen gelg, G. Netzer, Theo Candinas La fuigia dil Stoffel or Claudia Cadruvi Capuns ed il stgazi dals Franzos.

Drama was represented by biblical plays, most notably the Passiuns sursilvanas developed in 17th–18th century. From the 18th century, courtroom dramas based on criminal cases were added to the village repertoire. In the early 20th century, many villages would stage an annual vernacular comedy. Jon Semadeni established the La Culissa theatrical touring company in 1944. His drama Il povel cumada, which was first staged in 1946, is considered a landmark in Romansh drama. The company ceased touring in 1977.

From the 1940s onwards, Romansh writers consciously attempted to assimilate influences from international literary movements, as well as reflecting the situation of traditional Romansh culture as a disappearing way of life in a world of modernity and change. In 1946, a Romansh writers’ union was established by Artur Caflisch and Jon Guidon, known since 2004 as ULR Union for Romansh Literature.

The Romansh writers are organized in the writers union Uniun per la Litteratura Rumantscha established in 1946, which organizes since 1990 the yearly event Dis da Litteratura an annual Romansh literary festival has been held. Most writers today write in their regional dialect, while the pan-regional variety Rumantsch Grischun is seeing increased use in works done by the Lia Rumantscha such as translations of childrens books.

Other writers include: Maurus Carnot 1846–1935, Giachen Michel Hay 1860–1920, Gian Fontana 1897–1935, Leza Uffer 1912–1982, Armon Planta 1917–1986, Gion Luregn Derungs, Gion Deplazes born 1918, Cla Biert 1920–1981, Andri Peer 1921–1985, Martin Suter, Tim Krohn.


5. Statistics

In the 2000s, Swiss production of books fluctuated between 10.000 and 12.000 titles per annum.

In 2007, the Swiss National Library recorded a total of 11.410 new titles produced by Swiss publishers. Of those, 6.631 were in German, 2.509 in French, 361 in Italian and 21 in Romansh; the rest being multilingual or in other languages. Taking all the languages combined, 1.983 new titles were in the field of literature proper. Other principal fields were musical publications 1.076 titles, the arts 1019 titles, law 949 titles, religion 948 titles, languages 467 titles, technology 446 titles, geography 412 titles and history 409 titles. 410 titles were translated from English, 200 from German and 157 from French. Books originating in 31 languages were translated into one or another of the national languages by Swiss publishers.