Charles Victor de Bonstetten

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Charles Victor de Bonstetten
Karl Viktor von Bonstetten.jpg

Charles Victor de Bonstetten (3 September 1745, Bern – 3 February 1832), was a Swiss liberal writer.

Biography[edit]

By birth a member of one of the great patrician families of Bern, he was educated there, at Yverdon, and (1763-1766) at Geneva, where he came under the influence of Rousseau and of Charles Bonnet, and imbibed liberal sentiments. His father, intending to fit him for a career as a Bernese senator of the traditional type, was alarmed at the tone of his letters from Geneva, and recalled his son to Bern. After a suicide attempt, precipitated by his distaste for Bernese life, the son was soon sent to Leiden to finish his studies.

The climate of Leiden disagreed with him, and he was permitted to proceed to England in 1769, where he made many friends, among them the poet Gray. He returned home via Paris where he was introduced to literary society. At home, he nursed his father during his final illness. After his father's death in 1770, he made a long journey in Italy, and on his return to Bern (1774) entered political life, for which he was unfitted by reason of his liberal ideas, which led him to patronize and encourage Johannes von Müller, the future Swiss historian.

In 1779 he was named the Bernese bailiff of Saanen or Gessenay (here he wrote his Lettres pastorales sur une contrie de la Suisse, published in German in 1781), and in 1787 was transferred in a similar capacity to Nyon, from which post he had to retire after taking part (1791) in a festival to celebrate the destruction of the Bastille. From 1795 to 1797 he governed (for the Swiss Confederation) the Italian-speaking districts of Lugano, Locarno, Mendrisio and Val Maggia, of which he published (1797) a pleasing description, and into which he is said to have introduced the cultivation of the potato. The French revolution of 1798 in Switzerland drove him again into private life. He spent the years 1798 to 1801 in Denmark, with his friend Friederike Brun, and travelled with her to Italy 1802-03.

He then settled down in 1803 in Geneva for the rest of his life. There he enjoyed the society of many distinguished persons, among whom was (1809-1817) Madame de Staël. It was during this period that he published his most celebrated work, L'Homme du midi et l'homme du nord (1824), a study of the influence of climate on different nations, the north being exalted at the expense of the south. Among his other works are the Recherches sur la nature et les lois de l'imagination (1807), and the Etudes de l'homme, ou Recherches sur les facultés de penser et de sentir (1821), but he was better as an observer than as a philosopher.

Bonstetten is best remembered in his social character — as a conversationalist, and as the friend, often the intimate companion, of many of the leaders of thought and action during his long life. Lives of Bonstetten have been written by A. Steinlen (Lausanne, 1860), C. Morell (Winterthur, 1861), and R. Willy (Bern, 1898). See also vol. xiv. of Sainte Beuve's Causeries du Lundi.

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