1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bonstetten, Charles Victor de

BONSTETTEN, CHARLES VICTOR DE (1745–1832), Swiss writer, an excellent type of a liberal patrician, more French than Swiss, and a good representative of the Gallicized Bern of the 18th century. By birth a member of one of the great patrician families of Bern, he was educated in his native town, at Yverdon, and (1763–1766) at Geneva, where he came under the influence of Rousseau and of Charles Bonnet, and imbibed liberal sentiments. Recalled to Bern by his father, he was soon sent to Leiden, and then visited (1769) England, where he became a friend of the poet Gray. After his father’s death (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 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 contrée 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 Fredirika Brun, and 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 Études 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.

Lives by A. Steinlen (Lausanne, 1860), by C. Morell (Winterthur, 1861), and by R. Willy (Bern, 1898). See also vol. xiv. of Sainte-Beuve’s Causeries du Lundi.  (W. A. B. C.)