Part 1 out of 3
Produced by David Widger (Illustrated HTML version)
A TRAMP ABROAD
By Mark Twain
(Samuel L. Clemens)
First published in 1880
[My Poor Sick Friend Disappointed]
Everybody was out-of-doors; everybody was in the
principal street of the village--not on the sidewalks,
but all over the street; everybody was lounging, loafing,
chatting, waiting, alert, expectant, interested--for it
was train-time. That is to say, it was diligence-time
--the half-dozen big diligences would soon be arriving
from Geneva, and the village was interested, in many ways,
in knowing how many people were coming and what sort of
folk they might be. It was altogether the livest-looking
street we had seen in any village on the continent.
The hotel was by the side of a booming torrent, whose music
was loud and strong; we could not see this torrent, for it
was dark, now, but one could locate it without a light.
There was a large enclosed yard in front of the hotel,
and this was filled with groups of villagers waiting to see
the diligences arrive, or to hire themselves to excursionists
for the morrow. A telescope stood in the yard, with its
huge barrel canted up toward the lustrous evening star.
The long porch of the hotel was populous with tourists,
who sat in shawls and wraps under the vast overshadowing
bulk of Mont Blanc, and gossiped or meditated.
Never did a mountain seem so close; its big sides seemed
at one's very elbow, and its majestic dome, and the lofty
cluster of slender minarets that were its neighbors,
seemed to be almost over one's head. It was night
in the streets, and the lamps were sparkling everywhere;
the broad bases and shoulders of the mountains were in
a deep gloom, but their summits swam in a strange rich
glow which was really daylight, and yet had a mellow
something about it which was very different from the hard
white glare of the kind of daylight I was used to.
Its radiance was strong and clear, but at the same time
it was singularly soft, and spiritual, and benignant.
No, it was not our harsh, aggressive, realistic daylight;
it seemed properer to an enchanted land--or to heaven.
I had seen moonlight and daylight together before, but I
had not seen daylight and black night elbow to elbow before.
At least I had not seen the daylight resting upon an object
sufficiently close at hand, before, to make the contrast
startling and at war with nature.
The daylight passed away. Presently the moon rose up
behind some of those sky-piercing fingers or pinnacles
of bare rock of which I have spoken--they were a little
to the left of the crest of Mont Blanc, and right over
our heads--but she couldn't manage to climb high
enough toward heaven to get entirely above them.
She would show the glittering arch of her upper third,
occasionally, and scrape it along behind the comblike row;
sometimes a pinnacle stood straight up, like a statuette
of ebony, against that glittering white shield, then seemed
to glide out of it by its own volition and power,
and become a dim specter, while the next pinnacle glided
into its place and blotted the spotless disk with the black
exclamation-point of its presence. The top of one pinnacle
took the shapely, clean-cut form of a rabbit's head,
in the inkiest silhouette, while it rested against the moon.
The unillumined peaks and minarets, hovering vague and
phantom-like above us while the others were painfully
white and strong with snow and moonlight, made a peculiar effect.
But when the moon, having passed the line of pinnacles,
was hidden behind the stupendous white swell of Mont Blanc,
the masterpiece of the evening was flung on the canvas.
A rich greenish radiance sprang into the sky from behind
the mountain, and in this same airy shreds and ribbons of vapor
floated about, and being flushed with that strange tint,
went waving to and fro like pale green flames. After a while,
radiating bars--vast broadening fan-shaped shadows--grew up
and stretched away to the zenith from behind the mountain.
It was a spectacle to take one's breath, for the wonder of it,
and the sublimity.
Indeed, those mighty bars of alternate light and shadow
streaming up from behind that dark and prodigious form
and occupying the half of the dull and opaque heavens,
was the most imposing and impressive marvel I had ever
looked upon. There is no simile for it, for nothing
is like it. If a child had asked me what it was,
I should have said, "Humble yourself, in this presence,
it is the glory flowing from the hidden head of the Creator."
One falls shorter of the truth than that, sometimes,
in trying to explain mysteries to the little people.
I could have found out the cause of this awe-compelling
miracle by inquiring, for it is not infrequent at Mont
Blanc,--but I did not wish to know. We have not the
reverent feeling for the rainbow that a savage has,
because we know how it is made. We have lost as much as we
gained by prying into the matter.
We took a walk down street, a block or two, and a
place where four streets met and the principal shops
were clustered, found the groups of men in the roadway
thicker than ever--for this was the Exchange of Chamonix.
These men were in the costumes of guides and porters,
and were there to be hired.
The office of that great personage, the Guide-in-Chief
of the Chamonix Guild of Guides, was near by. This guild
is a close corporation, and is governed by strict laws.
There are many excursion routes, some dangerous and
some not, some that can be made safely without a guide,
and some that cannot. The bureau determines these things.
Where it decides that a guide is necessary, you are
forbidden to go without one. Neither are you allowed to be
a victim of extortion: the law states what you are to pay.
The guides serve in rotation; you cannot select the man
who is to take your life into his hands, you must take
the worst in the lot, if it is his turn. A guide's fee
ranges all the way up from a half-dollar (for some trifling
excursion of a few rods) to twenty dollars, according to
the distance traversed and the nature of the ground.
A guide's fee for taking a person to the summit of Mont
Blanc and back, is twenty dollars--and he earns it.
The time employed is usually three days, and there is
enough early rising in it to make a man far more "healthy
and wealthy and wise" than any one man has any right to be.
The porter's fee for the same trip is ten dollars.
Several fools--no, I mean several tourists--usually go together,
and divide up the expense, and thus make it light;
for if only one f--tourist, I mean--went, he would have
to have several guides and porters, and that would make the
We went into the Chief's office. There were maps
of mountains on the walls; also one or two lithographs
of celebrated guides, and a portrait of the scientist
In glass cases were some labeled fragments of boots
and batons, and other suggestive relics and remembrances
of casualties on Mount Blanc. In a book was a record of all
the ascents which have ever been made, beginning with Nos.
1 and 2--being those of Jacques Balmat and De Saussure,
in 1787, and ending with No. 685, which wasn't cold yet.
In fact No. 685 was standing by the official table waiting
to receive the precious official diploma which should prove
to his German household and to his descendants that he had once
been indiscreet enough to climb to the top of Mont Blanc.
He looked very happy when he got his document; in fact,
he spoke up and said he WAS happy.
I tried to buy a diploma for an invalid friend at home
who had never traveled, and whose desire all his life has
been to ascend Mont Blanc, but the Guide-in-Chief rather
insolently refused to sell me one. I was very much offended.
I said I did not propose to be discriminated against on
the account of my nationality; that he had just sold
a diploma to this German gentleman, and my money was
a good as his; I would see to it that he couldn't keep
his shop for Germans and deny his produce to Americans;
I would have his license taken away from him at the dropping
of a handkerchief; if France refused to break him, I would
make an international matter of it and bring on a war;
the soil should be drenched with blood; and not only that,
but I would set up an opposition show and sell diplomas
at half price.
For two cents I would have done these things, too;
but nobody offered me two cents. I tried to move that
German's feelings, but it could not be done; he would
not give me his diploma, neither would he sell it to me.
I TOLD him my friend was sick and could not come himself,
but he said he did not care a VERDAMMTES PFENNIG,
he wanted his diploma for himself--did I suppose he was
going to risk his neck for that thing and then give it
to a sick stranger? Indeed he wouldn't, so he wouldn't.
I resolved, then, that I would do all I could to injure
In the record-book was a list of all the fatal accidents
which happened on the mountain. It began with the one
in 1820 when the Russian Dr. Hamel's three guides were
lost in a crevice of the glacier, and it recorded the
delivery of the remains in the valley by the slow-moving
glacier forty-one years later. The latest catastrophe
bore the date 1877.
We stepped out and roved about the village awhile.
In front of the little church was a monument to the memory
of the bold guide Jacques Balmat, the first man who ever
stood upon the summit of Mont Blanc. He made that wild
trip solitary and alone. He accomplished the ascent
a number of times afterward. A stretch of nearly half
a century lay between his first ascent and his last one.
At the ripe old age of seventy-two he was climbing
around a corner of a lofty precipice of the Pic du
Midi--nobody with him--when he slipped and fell.
So he died in the harness.
He had grown very avaricious in his old age, and used to go
off stealthily to hunt for non-existent and impossible
gold among those perilous peaks and precipices.
He was on a quest of that kind when he lost his life.
There was a statue to him, and another to De Saussure,
in the hall of our hotel, and a metal plate on the door
of a room upstairs bore an inscription to the effect
that that room had been occupied by Albert Smith.
Balmat and De Saussure discovered Mont Blanc--so to
speak--but it was Smith who made it a paying property.
His articles in BLACKWOOD and his lectures on Mont Blanc
in London advertised it and made people as anxious to see it
as if it owed them money.
As we strolled along the road we looked up and saw a red
signal-light glowing in the darkness of the mountainside.
It seemed but a trifling way up--perhaps a hundred yards,
a climb of ten minutes. It was a lucky piece of sagacity
in us that we concluded to stop a man whom we met and get
a light for our pipes from him instead of continuing the climb
to that lantern to get a light, as had been our purpose.
The man said that that lantern was on the Grands Mulets,
some sixty-five hundred feet above the valley! I know
by our Riffelberg experience, that it would have taken us
a good part of a week to go up there. I would sooner not
smoke at all, than take all that trouble for a light.
Even in the daytime the foreshadowing effect of this
mountain's close proximity creates curious deceptions.
For instance, one sees with the naked eye a cabin up
there beside the glacier, and a little above and beyond
he sees the spot where that red light was located;
he thinks he could throw a stone from the one place to
the other. But he couldn't, for the difference between
the two altitudes is more than three thousand feet.
It looks impossible, from below, that this can be true,
but it is true, nevertheless.
While strolling around, we kept the run of the moon all
the time, and we still kept an eye on her after we got back
to the hotel portico. I had a theory that the gravitation
of refraction, being subsidiary to atmospheric compensation,
the refrangibility of the earth's surface would emphasize
this effect in regions where great mountain ranges occur,
and possibly so even-handed impact the odic and idyllic
forces together, the one upon the other, as to prevent
the moon from rising higher than 12,200 feet above
sea-level. This daring theory had been received with frantic
scorn by some of my fellow-scientists, and with an eager
silence by others. Among the former I may mention
Prof. H----y; and among the latter Prof. T----l. Such
is professional jealousy; a scientist will never show
any kindness for a theory which he did not start himself.
There is no feeling of brotherhood among these people.
Indeed, they always resent it when I call them brother.
To show how far their ungenerosity can carry them, I will
state that I offered to let Prof. H----y publish my great
theory as his own discovery; I even begged him to do it;
I even proposed to print it myself as his theory.
Instead of thanking me, he said that if I tried to
fasten that theory on him he would sue me for slander.
I was going to offer it to Mr. Darwin, whom I understood
to be a man without prejudices, but it occurred to me
that perhaps he would not be interested in it since it did
not concern heraldry.
But I am glad now, that I was forced to father my intrepid
theory myself, for, on the night of which I am writing,
it was triumphantly justified and established. Mont Blanc
is nearly sixteen thousand feet high; he hid the moon utterly;
near him is a peak which is 12,216 feet high; the moon slid
along behind the pinnacles, and when she approached that
one I watched her with intense interest, for my reputation
as a scientist must stand or fall by its decision.
I cannot describe the emotions which surged like tidal
waves through my breast when I saw the moon glide behind
that lofty needle and pass it by without exposing more
than two feet four inches of her upper rim above it;
I was secure, then. I knew she could rise no higher,
and I was right. She sailed behind all the peaks and
never succeeded in hoisting her disk above a single one
While the moon was behind one of those sharp fingers,
its shadow was flung athwart the vacant heavens
--a long, slanting, clean-cut, dark ray--with a streaming
and energetic suggestion of FORCE about it, such as the
ascending jet of water from a powerful fire-engine affords.
It was curious to see a good strong shadow of an earthly
object cast upon so intangible a field as the atmosphere.
We went to bed, at last, and went quickly to sleep, but I
woke up, after about three hours, with throbbing temples,
and a head which was physically sore, outside and in.
I was dazed, dreamy, wretched, seedy, unrefreshed.
I recognized the occasion of all this: it was that torrent.
In the mountain villages of Switzerland, and along the roads,
one has always the roar of the torrent in his ears.
He imagines it is music, and he thinks poetic things
about it; he lies in his comfortable bed and is lulled
to sleep by it. But by and by he begins to notice
that his head is very sore--he cannot account for it;
in solitudes where the profoundest silence reigns,
he notices a sullen, distant, continuous roar in his ears,
which is like what he would experience if he had sea-shells
pressed against them--he cannot account for it; he is
drowsy and absent-minded; there is no tenacity to his mind,
he cannot keep hold of a thought and follow it out;
if he sits down to write, his vocabulary is empty,
no suitable words will come, he forgets what he started to do,
and remains there, pen in hand, head tilted up, eyes closed,
listening painfully to the muffled roar of a distant train
in his ears; in his soundest sleep the strain continues,
he goes on listening, always listening intently, anxiously,
and wakes at last, harassed, irritable, unrefreshed.
He cannot manage to account for these things.
Day after day he feels as if he had spent his nights
in a sleeping-car. It actually takes him weeks to find
out that it is those persecuting torrents that have been
making all the mischief. It is time for him to get out
of Switzerland, then, for as soon as he has discovered
the cause, the misery is magnified several fold. The roar
of the torrent is maddening, then, for his imagination
is assisting; the physical pain it inflicts is exquisite.
When he finds he is approaching one of those streams,
his dread is so lively that he is disposed to fly the track
and avoid the implacable foe.
Eight or nine months after the distress of the torrents
had departed from me, the roar and thunder of the
streets of Paris brought it all back again. I moved
to the sixth story of the hotel to hunt for peace.
About midnight the noises dulled away, and I was
sinking to sleep, when I heard a new and curious sound;
I listened: evidently some joyous lunatic was softly
dancing a "double shuffle" in the room over my head.
I had to wait for him to get through, of course. Five long,
long minutes he smoothly shuffled away--a pause followed,
then something fell with a thump on the floor.
I said to myself "There--he is pulling off his boots
--thank heavens he is done." Another slight pause--he went
to shuffling again! I said to myself, "Is he trying to see
what he can do with only one boot on?" Presently came
another pause and another thump on the floor. I said
"Good, he has pulled off his other boot--NOW he is done."
But he wasn't. The next moment he was shuffling again.
I said, "Confound him, he is at it in his slippers!"
After a little came that same old pause, and right after
it that thump on the floor once more. I said, "Hang him,
he had on TWO pair of boots!" For an hour that magician
went on shuffling and pulling off boots till he had shed
as many as twenty-five pair, and I was hovering on the verge
of lunacy. I got my gun and stole up there. The fellow
was in the midst of an acre of sprawling boots, and he had
a boot in his hand, shuffling it--no, I mean POLISHING it.
The mystery was explained. He hadn't been dancing.
He was the "Boots" of the hotel, and was attending
[I Scale Mont Blanc--by Telescope]
After breakfast, that next morning in Chamonix, we went
out in the yard and watched the gangs of excursioning
tourists arriving and departing with their mules and guides
and porters; then we took a look through the telescope
at the snowy hump of Mont Blanc. It was brilliant
with sunshine, and the vast smooth bulge seemed hardly
five hundred yards away. With the naked eye we could
dimly make out the house at the Pierre Pointue, which is
located by the side of the great glacier, and is more
than three thousand feet above the level of the valley;
but with the telescope we could see all its details.
While I looked, a woman rode by the house on a mule, and I
saw her with sharp distinctness; I could have described
her dress. I saw her nod to the people of the house,
and rein up her mule, and put her hand up to shield
her eyes from the sun. I was not used to telescopes;
in fact, I had never looked through a good one before;
it seemed incredible to me that this woman could be
so far away. I was satisfied that I could see all
these details with my naked eye; but when I tried it,
that mule and those vivid people had wholly vanished,
and the house itself was become small and vague. I tried
the telescope again, and again everything was vivid.
The strong black shadows of the mule and the woman were
flung against the side of the house, and I saw the mule's
silhouette wave its ears.
The telescopulist--or the telescopulariat--I do not know
which is right--said a party were making a grand ascent,
and would come in sight on the remote upper heights,
presently; so we waited to observe this performance.
Presently I had a superb idea. I wanted to stand with
a party on the summit of Mont Blanc, merely to be able
to say I had done it, and I believed the telescope
could set me within seven feet of the uppermost man.
The telescoper assured me that it could. I then asked
him how much I owed him for as far as I had got? He said,
one franc. I asked him how much it would cost to make
the entire ascent? Three francs. I at once determined
to make the entire ascent. But first I inquired
if there was any danger? He said no--not by telescope;
said he had taken a great many parties to the summit,
and never lost a man. I asked what he would charge to let
my agent go with me, together with such guides and porters
as might be necessary. He said he would let Harris go
for two francs; and that unless we were unusually timid,
he should consider guides and porters unnecessary;
it was not customary to take them, when going by telescope,
for they were rather an encumbrance than a help.
He said that the party now on the mountain were approaching
the most difficult part, and if we hurried we should
overtake them within ten minutes, and could then join them
and have the benefit of their guides and porters without
their knowledge, and without expense to us.
I then said we would start immediately. I believe I
said it calmly, though I was conscious of a shudder
and of a paling cheek, in view of the nature of the
exploit I was so unreflectingly engaged in. But the old
daredevil spirit was upon me, and I said that as I
had committed myself I would not back down; I would
ascend Mont Blanc if it cost me my life. I told the man
to slant his machine in the proper direction and let us be off.
Harris was afraid and did not want to go, but I heartened
him up and said I would hold his hand all the way; so he
gave his consent, though he trembled a little at first.
I took a last pathetic look upon the pleasant summer scene
about me, then boldly put my eye to the glass and prepared
to mount among the grim glaciers and the everlasting snows.
We took our way carefully and cautiously across the great
Glacier des Bossons, over yawning and terrific crevices
and among imposing crags and buttresses of ice which were
fringed with icicles of gigantic proportions. The desert
of ice that stretched far and wide about us was wild and
desolate beyond description, and the perils which beset us
were so great that at times I was minded to turn back.
But I pulled my pluck together and pushed on.
We passed the glacier safely and began to mount
the steeps beyond, with great alacrity. When we
were seven minutes out from the starting-point, we
reached an altitude where the scene took a new aspect;
an apparently limitless continent of gleaming snow was
tilted heavenward before our faces. As my eye followed
that awful acclivity far away up into the remote skies,
it seemed to me that all I had ever seen before of sublimity
and magnitude was small and insignificant compared to this.
We rested a moment, and then began to mount with speed.
Within three minutes we caught sight of the party ahead of us,
and stopped to observe them. They were toiling up a long,
slanting ridge of snow--twelve persons, roped together some
fifteen feet apart, marching in single file, and strongly
marked against the clear blue sky. One was a woman.
We could see them lift their feet and put them down;
we saw them swing their alpenstocks forward in unison,
like so many pendulums, and then bear their weight
upon them; we saw the lady wave her handkerchief.
They dragged themselves upward in a worn and weary way,
for they had been climbing steadily from the Grand Mulets,
on the Glacier des Dossons, since three in the morning,
and it was eleven, now. We saw them sink down in the
snow and rest, and drink something from a bottle.
After a while they moved on, and as they approached the final
short dash of the home-stretch we closed up on them and
Presently we all stood together on the summit! What a view
was spread out below! Away off under the northwestern horizon
rolled the silent billows of the Farnese Oberland, their snowy
crests glinting softly in the subdued lights of distance;
in the north rose the giant form of the Wobblehorn,
draped from peak to shoulder in sable thunder-clouds;
beyond him, to the right, stretched the grand processional
summits of the Cisalpine Cordillera, drowned in a
sensuous haze; to the east loomed the colossal masses
of the Yodelhorn, the Fuddelhorn, and the Dinnerhorn,
their cloudless summits flashing white and cold in the sun;
beyond them shimmered the faint far line of the Ghauts
of Jubbelpore and the Aigulles des Alleghenies; in the
south towered the smoking peak of Popocatapetl and the
unapproachable altitudes of the peerless Scrabblehorn;
in the west-south the stately range of the Himalayas
lay dreaming in a purple gloom; and thence all around
the curving horizon the eye roved over a troubled sea
of sun-kissed Alps, and noted, here and there, the noble
proportions and the soaring domes of the Bottlehorn,
and the Saddlehorn, and the Shovelhorn, and the Powderhorn,
all bathed in the glory of noon and mottled with softly
gliding blots, the shadows flung from drifting clouds.
Overcome by the scene, we all raised a triumphant,
tremendous shout, in unison. A startled man at my elbow
"Confound you, what do you yell like that for, right here
in the street?"
That brought me down to Chamonix, like a flirt.
I gave that man some spiritual advice and disposed of him,
and then paid the telescope man his full fee, and said
that we were charmed with the trip and would remain down,
and not reascend and require him to fetch us down by telescope.
This pleased him very much, for of course we could have
stepped back to the summit and put him to the trouble
of bringing us home if we wanted to.
I judged we could get diplomas, now, anyhow; so we
went after them, but the Chief Guide put us off,
with one pretext or another, during all the time we stayed
in Chamonix, and we ended by never getting them at all.
So much for his prejudice against people's nationality.
However, we worried him enough to make him remember
us and our ascent for some time. He even said, once,
that he wished there was a lunatic asylum in Chamonix.
This shows that he really had fears that we were going
to drive him mad. It was what we intended to do,
but lack of time defeated it.
I cannot venture to advise the reader one way or the other,
as to ascending Mont Blanc. I say only this: if he is at
all timid, the enjoyments of the trip will hardly make up
for the hardships and sufferings he will have to endure.
But, if he has good nerve, youth, health, and a bold,
firm will, and could leave his family comfortably provided
for in case the worst happened, he would find the ascent
a wonderful experience, and the view from the top a vision
to dream about, and tell about, and recall with exultation
all the days of his life.
While I do not advise such a person to attempt the ascent,
I do not advise him against it. But if he elects to attempt it,
let him be warily careful of two things: chose a calm,
clear day; and do not pay the telescope man in advance.
There are dark stories of his getting advance payers on
the summit and then leaving them there to rot.
A frightful tragedy was once witnessed through the
Chamonix telescopes. Think of questions and answers
like these, on an inquest:
CORONER. You saw deceased lose his life?
WITNESS. I did.
C. Where was he, at the time?
W. Close to the summit of Mont Blanc.
C. Where were you?
W. In the main street of Chamonix.
C. What was the distance between you?
W. A LITTLE OVER FIVE MILES, as the bird flies.
This accident occurred in 1866, a year and a month after the
disaster on the Matterhorn. Three adventurous English gentlemen,
 of great experience in mountain-climbing, made up their
minds to ascend Mont Blanc without guides or porters.
All endeavors to dissuade them from their project failed.
Powerful telescopes are numerous in Chamonix. These huge
brass tubes, mounted on their scaffoldings and pointed
skyward from every choice vantage-ground, have the
formidable look of artillery, and give the town the general
aspect of getting ready to repel a charge of angels.
The reader may easily believe that the telescopes
had plenty of custom on that August morning in 1866,
for everybody knew of the dangerous undertaking which was
on foot, and all had fears that misfortune would result.
All the morning the tubes remained directed toward the
mountain heights, each with its anxious group around it;
but the white deserts were vacant.
1. Sir George Young and his brothers James and Albert.
At last, toward eleven o'clock, the people who were
looking through the telescopes cried out "There they
are!"--and sure enough, far up, on the loftiest terraces
of the Grand Plateau, the three pygmies appeared,
climbing with remarkable vigor and spirit. They disappeared
in the "Corridor," and were lost to sight during an hour.
Then they reappeared, and were presently seen standing together
upon the extreme summit of Mont Blanc. So, all was well.
They remained a few minutes on that highest point of land
in Europe, a target for all the telescopes, and were then
seen to begin descent. Suddenly all three vanished.
An instant after, they appeared again, TWO THOUSAND FEET
Evidently, they had tripped and been shot down an almost
perpendicular slope of ice to a point where it joined
the border of the upper glacier. Naturally, the distant
witness supposed they were now looking upon three corpses;
so they could hardly believe their eyes when they presently saw
two of the men rise to their feet and bend over the third.
During two hours and a half they watched the two busying
themselves over the extended form of their brother,
who seemed entirely inert. Chamonix's affairs stood still;
everybody was in the street, all interest was centered
upon what was going on upon that lofty and isolated stage
five miles away. Finally the two--one of them walking
with great difficulty--were seen to begin descent,
abandoning the third, who was no doubt lifeless.
Their movements were followed, step by step, until they
reached the "Corridor" and disappeared behind its ridge.
Before they had had time to traverse the "Corridor"
and reappear, twilight was come, and the power of the
telescope was at an end.
The survivors had a most perilous journey before
them in the gathering darkness, for they must get
down to the Grands Mulets before they would find
a safe stopping-place--a long and tedious descent,
and perilous enough even in good daylight. The oldest
guides expressed the opinion that they could not succeed;
that all the chances were that they would lose their lives.
Yet those brave men did succeed. They reached the Grands
Mulets in safety. Even the fearful shock which their nerves
had sustained was not sufficient to overcome their coolness
and courage. It would appear from the official account
that they were threading their way down through those
dangers from the closing in of twilight until two o'clock
in the morning, or later, because the rescuing party from
Chamonix reached the Grand Mulets about three in the morning
and moved thence toward the scene of the disaster under
the leadership of Sir George Young, "who had only just arrived."
After having been on his feet twenty-four hours,
in the exhausting work of mountain-climbing, Sir George
began the reascent at the head of the relief party
of six guides, to recover the corpse of his brother.
This was considered a new imprudence, as the number
was too few for the service required. Another relief
party presently arrived at the cabin on the Grands
Mulets and quartered themselves there to await events.
Ten hours after Sir George's departure toward the summit,
this new relief were still scanning the snowy altitudes
above them from their own high perch among the ice
deserts ten thousand feet above the level of the sea,
but the whole forenoon had passed without a glimpse of any
living thing appearing up there.
This was alarming. Half a dozen of their number set out,
then early in the afternoon, to seek and succor Sir George
and his guides. The persons remaining at the cabin saw
these disappear, and then ensued another distressing wait.
Four hours passed, without tidings. Then at five
o'clock another relief, consisting of three guides,
set forward from the cabin. They carried food and
cordials for the refreshment of their predecessors;
they took lanterns with them, too; night was coming on,
and to make matters worse, a fine, cold rain had begun
At the same hour that these three began their dangerous ascent,
the official Guide-in-Chief of the Mont Blanc region
undertook the dangerous descent to Chamonix, all alone,
to get reinforcements. However, a couple of hours later,
at 7 P.M., the anxious solicitude came to an end,
and happily. A bugle note was heard, and a cluster
of black specks was distinguishable against the snows
of the upper heights. The watchers counted these specks
eagerly--fourteen--nobody was missing. An hour and a half
later they were all safe under the roof of the cabin.
They had brought the corpse with them. Sir George Young
tarried there but a few minutes, and then began the long
and troublesome descent from the cabin to Chamonix.
He probably reached there about two or three o'clock
in the morning, after having been afoot among the rocks
and glaciers during two days and two nights. His endurance
was equal to his daring.
The cause of the unaccountable delay of Sir George and
the relief parties among the heights where the disaster
had happened was a thick fog--or, partly that and partly
the slow and difficult work of conveying the dead body
down the perilous steeps.
The corpse, upon being viewed at the inquest, showed
no bruises, and it was some time before the surgeons
discovered that the neck was broken. One of the surviving
brothers had sustained some unimportant injuries,
but the other had suffered no hurt at all. How these men
could fall two thousand feet, almost perpendicularly,
and live afterward, is a most strange and unaccountable thing.
A great many women have made the ascent of Mont Blanc.
An English girl, Miss Stratton, conceived the daring idea,
two or three years ago, of attempting the ascent in the
middle of winter. She tried it--and she succeeded.
Moreover, she froze two of her fingers on the way up,
she fell in love with her guide on the summit,
and she married him when she got to the bottom again.
There is nothing in romance, in the way of a striking
"situation," which can beat this love scene in midheaven
on an isolated ice-crest with the thermometer at zero
and an Artic gale blowing.
The first woman who ascended Mont Blanc was a girl aged
twenty-two--Mlle. Maria Paradis--1809. Nobody was
with her but her sweetheart, and he was not a guide.
The sex then took a rest for about thirty years,
when a Mlle. d'Angeville made the ascent --1838. In
Chamonix I picked up a rude old lithograph of that day
which pictured her "in the act."
However, I value it less as a work of art than as a
fashion-plate. Miss d'Angeville put on a pair of men's
pantaloons to climb it, which was wise; but she cramped
their utility by adding her petticoat, which was idiotic.
One of the mournfulest calamities which men's disposition
to climb dangerous mountains has resulted in,
happened on Mont Blanc in September 1870. M. D'Arve
tells the story briefly in his HISTOIRE DU MONT BLANC.
In the next chapter I will copy its chief features.
A Catastrophe Which Cost Eleven Lives
[Perished at the Verge of Safety]
On the 5th of September, 1870, a caravan of eleven persons
departed from Chamonix to make the ascent of Mont Blanc.
Three of the party were tourists; Messrs. Randall and Bean,
Americans, and Mr. George Corkindale, a Scotch gentleman;
there were three guides and five porters. The cabin
on the Grands Mulets was reached that day; the ascent
was resumed early the next morning, September 6th.
The day was fine and clear, and the movements of the party
were observed through the telescopes of Chamonix; at two
o'clock in the afternoon they were seen to reach the summit.
A few minutes later they were seen making the first steps
of the descent; then a cloud closed around them and hid
them from view.
Eight hours passed, the cloud still remained, night came,
no one had returned to the Grands Mulets. Sylvain Couttet,
keeper of the cabin there, suspected a misfortune,
and sent down to the valley for help. A detachment of
guides went up, but by the time they had made the tedious
trip and reached the cabin, a raging storm had set in.
They had to wait; nothing could be attempted in such
The wild storm lasted MORE THAN A WEEK, without ceasing;
but on the 17th, Couttet, with several guides, left the
cabin and succeeded in making the ascent. In the snowy
wastes near the summit they came upon five bodies,
lying upon their sides in a reposeful attitude which
suggested that possibly they had fallen asleep there,
while exhausted with fatigue and hunger and benumbed with cold,
and never knew when death stole upon them. Couttet moved
a few steps further and discovered five more bodies.
The eleventh corpse--that of a porter--was not found,
although diligent search was made for it.
In the pocket of Mr. Bean, one of the Americans, was found
a note-book in which had been penciled some sentences
which admit us, in flesh and spirit, as it were, to the
presence of these men during their last hours of life,
and to the grisly horrors which their fading vision looked
upon and their failing consciousness took cognizance of:
TUESDAY, SEPT. 6. I have made the ascent of Mont Blanc,
with ten persons--eight guides, and Mr. Corkindale
and Mr. Randall. We reached the summit at half past 2.
Immediately after quitting it, we were enveloped in clouds
of snow. We passed the night in a grotto hollowed
in the snow, which afforded us but poor shelter, and I
was ill all night.
SEPT. 7--MORNING. The cold is excessive. The snow falls
heavily and without interruption. The guides take no rest.
EVENING. My Dear Hessie, we have been two days on
Mont Blanc, in the midst of a terrible hurricane of snow,
we have lost our way, and are in a hole scooped in the snow,
at an altitude of 15,000 feet. I have no longer any hope
They had wandered around, and around, in the blinding
snow-storm, hopelessly lost, in a space only a hundred
yards square; and when cold and fatigue vanquished them
at last, they scooped their cave and lay down there
to die by inches, UNAWARE THAT FIVE STEPS MORE WOULD HAVE
BROUGHT THEM INTO THE TRUTH PATH. They were so near
to life and safety as that, and did not suspect it.
The thought of this gives the sharpest pang that the tragic
The author of the HISTOIRE DU MONT BLANC introduced
the closing sentences of Mr. Bean's pathetic record thus:
"Here the characters are large and unsteady; the hand
which traces them is become chilled and torpid;
but the spirit survives, and the faith and resignation
of the dying man are expressed with a sublime simplicity."
Perhaps this note-book will be found and sent to you.
We have nothing to eat, my feet are already frozen,
and I am exhausted; I have strength to write only a few
words more. I have left means for C's education; I know
you will employ them wisely. I die with faith in God,
and with loving thoughts of you. Farewell to all.
We shall meet again, in Heaven. ... I think of
It is the way of the Alps to deliver death to their victims
with a merciful swiftness, but here the rule failed.
These men suffered the bitterest death that has been
recorded in the history of those mountains, freighted as
that history is with grisly tragedies.
[Meeting a Hog on a Precipice]
Mr. Harris and I took some guides and porters and ascended
to the Ho^tel des Pyramides, which is perched on the
high moraine which borders the Glacier des Bossons.
The road led sharply uphill, all the way, through grass
and flowers and woods, and was a pleasant walk,
barring the fatigue of the climb.
From the hotel we could view the huge glacier at very
close range. After a rest we followed down a path
which had been made in the steep inner frontage
of the moraine, and stepped upon the glacier itself.
One of the shows of the place was a tunnel-like cavern,
which had been hewn in the glacier. The proprietor
of this tunnel took candles and conducted us into it.
It was three or four feet wide and about six feet high.
Its walls of pure and solid ice emitted a soft and rich
blue light that produced a lovely effect, and suggested
enchanted caves, and that sort of thing. When we had
proceeded some yards and were entering darkness, we turned
about and had a dainty sunlit picture of distant woods
and heights framed in the strong arch of the tunnel and seen
through the tender blue radiance of the tunnel's atmosphere.
The cavern was nearly a hundred yards long, and when we
reached its inner limit the proprietor stepped into a branch
tunnel with his candles and left us buried in the bowels
of the glacier, and in pitch-darkness. We judged his
purpose was murder and robbery; so we got out our matches
and prepared to sell our lives as dearly as possible
by setting the glacier on fire if the worst came to the
worst--but we soon perceived that this man had changed
his mind; he began to sing, in a deep, melodious voice,
and woke some curious and pleasing echoes. By and by he
came back and pretended that that was what he had gone
behind there for. We believed as much of that as we wanted to.
Thus our lives had been once more in imminent peril,
but by the exercise of the swift sagacity and cool courage
which had saved us so often, we had added another escape
to the long list. The tourist should visit that ice-cavern,
by all means, for it is well worth the trouble; but I would
advise him to go only with a strong and well-armed force.
I do not consider artillery necessary, yet it would not be
unadvisable to take it along, if convenient. The journey,
going and coming, is about three miles and a half, three of
which are on level ground. We made it in less than a day,
but I would counsel the unpracticed--if not pressed
for time--to allow themselves two. Nothing is gained
in the Alps by over-exertion; nothing is gained by crowding
two days' work into one for the poor sake of being able
to boast of the exploit afterward. It will be found
much better, in the long run, to do the thing in two days,
and then subtract one of them from the narrative.
This saves fatigue, and does not injure the narrative.
All the more thoughtful among the Alpine tourists
We now called upon the Guide-in-Chief, and asked for a squadron
of guides and porters for the ascent of the Montanvert.
This idiot glared at us, and said:
"You don't need guides and porters to go to the Montanvert."
"What do we need, then?"
"Such as YOU?--an ambulance!"
I was so stung by this brutal remark that I took
my custom elsewhere.
Betimes, next morning, we had reached an altitude of five
thousand feet above the level of the sea. Here we camped
and breakfasted. There was a cabin there--the spot is
called the Caillet--and a spring of ice-cold water.
On the door of the cabin was a sign, in French, to the effect
that "One may here see a living chamois for fifty centimes."
We did not invest; what we wanted was to see a dead one.
A little after noon we ended the ascent and arrived at the
new hotel on the Montanvert, and had a view of six miles,
right up the great glacier, the famous Mer de Glace.
At this point it is like a sea whose deep swales and long,
rolling swells have been caught in mid-movement and
frozen solid; but further up it is broken up into wildly
tossing billows of ice.
We descended a ticklish path in the steep side of the moraine,
and invaded the glacier. There were tourists of both
sexes scattered far and wide over it, everywhere, and it
had the festive look of a skating-rink.
The Empress Josephine came this far, once. She ascended
the Montanvert in 1810--but not alone; a small army
of men preceded her to clear the path--and carpet it,
perhaps--and she followed, under the protection
of SIXTY-EIGHT guides.
Her successor visited Chamonix later, but in far different style.
It was seven weeks after the first fall of the Empire,
and poor Marie Louise, ex-Empress was a fugitive.
She came at night, and in a storm, with only two attendants,
and stood before a peasant's hut, tired, bedraggled,
soaked with rain, "the red print of her lost crown still
girdling her brow," and implored admittance--and was
refused! A few days before, the adulations and applauses
of a nation were sounding in her ears, and now she was come to
We crossed the Mer de Glace in safety, but we had misgivings.
The crevices in the ice yawned deep and blue and mysterious,
and it made one nervous to traverse them. The huge
round waves of ice were slippery and difficult to climb,
and the chances of tripping and sliding down them and
darting into a crevice were too many to be comfortable.
In the bottom of a deep swale between two of the biggest
of the ice-waves, we found a fraud who pretended
to be cutting steps to insure the safety of tourists.
He was "soldiering" when we came upon him, but he hopped
up and chipped out a couple of steps about big enough
for a cat, and charged us a franc or two for it.
Then he sat down again, to doze till the next party
should come along. He had collected blackmail from two
or three hundred people already, that day, but had not
chipped out ice enough to impair the glacier perceptibly.
I have heard of a good many soft sinecures, but it seems
to me that keeping toll-bridge on a glacier is the softest
one I have encountered yet.
That was a blazing hot day, and it brought a persistent
and persecuting thirst with it. What an unspeakable luxury
it was to slake that thirst with the pure and limpid
ice-water of the glacier! Down the sides of every great rib
of pure ice poured limpid rills in gutters carved by their
own attrition; better still, wherever a rock had lain,
there was now a bowl-shaped hole, with smooth white sides
and bottom of ice, and this bowl was brimming with water
of such absolute clearness that the careless observer would
not see it at all, but would think the bowl was empty.
These fountains had such an alluring look that I often
stretched myself out when I was not thirsty and dipped my
face in and drank till my teeth ached. Everywhere among
the Swiss mountains we had at hand the blessing--not
to be found in Europe EXCEPT in the mountains--of water
capable of quenching thirst. Everywhere in the Swiss
highlands brilliant little rills of exquisitely cold water
went dancing along by the roadsides, and my comrade and I
were always drinking and always delivering our deep gratitude.
But in Europe everywhere except in the mountains, the water
is flat and insipid beyond the power of words to describe.
It is served lukewarm; but no matter, ice could not help it;
it is incurably flat, incurably insipid. It is only good
to wash with; I wonder it doesn't occur to the average
inhabitant to try it for that. In Europe the people
say contemptuously, "Nobody drinks water here." Indeed,
they have a sound and sufficient reason. In many places
they even have what may be called prohibitory reasons.
In Paris and Munich, for instance, they say, "Don't drink
the water, it is simply poison."
Either America is healthier than Europe, notwithstanding her
"deadly" indulgence in ice-water, or she does not keep
the run of her death-rate as sharply as Europe does.
I think we do keep up the death statistics accurately;
and if we do, our cities are healthier than the cities
of Europe. Every month the German government tabulates
the death-rate of the world and publishes it. I scrap-booked
these reports during several months, and it was curious
to see how regular and persistently each city repeated
its same death-rate month after month. The tables might
as well have been stereotyped, they varied so little.
These tables were based upon weekly reports showing the
average of deaths in each 1,000 population for a year.
Munich was always present with her 33 deaths in each
1,000 of her population (yearly average), Chicago was
as constant with her 15 or 17, Dublin with her 48--and
Only a few American cities appear in these tables, but they
are scattered so widely over the country that they furnish
a good general average of CITY health in the United States;
and I think it will be granted that our towns and villages
are healthier than our cities.
Here is the average of the only American cities reported
in the German tables:
Chicago, deaths in 1,000 population annually,
16; Philadelphia, 18; St. Louis, 18; San Francisco,
19; New York (the Dublin of America), 23.
See how the figures jump up, as soon as one arrives
at the transatlantic list:
Paris, 27; Glasgow, 27; London, 28; Vienna, 28;
Augsburg, 28; Braunschweig, 28; K"onigsberg, 29;
Cologne, 29; Dresden, 29; Hamburg, 29; Berlin, 30;
Bombay, 30; Warsaw, 31; Breslau, 31; Odessa, 32;
Munich, 33; Strasburg, 33, Pesth, 35; Cassel, 35;
Lisbon, 36; Liverpool, 36; Prague, 37; Madras, 37;
Bucharest, 39; St. Petersburg, 40; Trieste, 40;
Alexandria (Egypt), 43; Dublin, 48; Calcutta, 55.
Edinburgh is as healthy as New York--23; but there
is no CITY in the entire list which is healthier,
except Frankfort-on-the-Main--20. But Frankfort is not
as healthy as Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, or Philadelphia.
Perhaps a strict average of the world might develop the fact
that where one in 1,000 of America's population dies,
two in 1,000 of the other populations of the earth succumb.
I do not like to make insinuations, but I do think
the above statistics darkly suggest that these people
over here drink this detestable water "on the sly."
We climbed the moraine on the opposite side of the glacier,
and then crept along its sharp ridge a hundred yards or so,
in pretty constant danger of a tumble to the glacier below.
The fall would have been only one hundred feet, but it
would have closed me out as effectually as one thousand,
therefore I respected the distance accordingly, and was
glad when the trip was done. A moraine is an ugly thing
to assault head-first. At a distance it looks like an endless
grave of fine sand, accurately shaped and nicely smoothed;
but close by, it is found to be made mainly of rough
boulders of all sizes, from that of a man's head to that of
By and by we came to the Mauvais Pas, or the Villainous Road,
to translate it feelingly. It was a breakneck path
around the face of a precipice forty or fifty feet high,
and nothing to hang on to but some iron railings.
I got along, slowly, safely, and uncomfortably, and finally
reached the middle. My hopes began to rise a little,
but they were quickly blighted; for there I met a hog--a
long-nosed, bristly fellow, that held up his snout
and worked his nostrils at me inquiringly. A hog on
a pleasure excursion in Switzerland--think of it! It is
striking and unusual; a body might write a poem about it.
He could not retreat, if he had been disposed to do it.
It would have been foolish to stand upon our dignity
in a place where there was hardly room to stand upon
our feet, so we did nothing of the sort. There were
twenty or thirty ladies and gentlemen behind us; we all
turned about and went back, and the hog followed behind.
The creature did not seem set up by what he had done;
he had probably done it before.
We reached the restaurant on the height called the Chapeau
at four in the afternoon. It was a memento-factory, and
the stock was large, cheap, and varied. I bought the usual
paper-cutter to remember the place by, and had Mont Blanc,
the Mauvais Pas, and the rest of the region branded on
my alpenstock; then we descended to the valley and walked
home without being tied together. This was not dangerous,
for the valley was five miles wide, and quite level.
We reached the hotel before nine o'clock. Next
morning we left for Geneva on top of the diligence,
under shelter of a gay awning. If I remember rightly,
there were more than twenty people up there.
It was so high that the ascent was made by ladder.
The huge vehicle was full everywhere, inside and out.
Five other diligences left at the same time, all full.
We had engaged our seats two days beforehand, to make sure,
and paid the regulation price, five dollars each; but the
rest of the company were wiser; they had trusted Baedeker,
and waited; consequently some of them got their seats
for one or two dollars. Baedeker knows all about hotels,
railway and diligence companies, and speaks his mind freely.
He is a trustworthy friend of the traveler.
We never saw Mont Blanc at his best until we were many
miles away; then he lifted his majestic proportions
high into the heavens, all white and cold and solemn,
and made the rest of the world seem little and plebeian,
and cheap and trivial.
As he passed out of sight at last, an old Englishman
settled himself in his seat and said:
"Well, I am satisfied, I have seen the principal features
of Swiss scenery--Mont Blanc and the goiter--now for home!"
[Queer European Manners]
We spent a few pleasant restful days at Geneva,
that delightful city where accurate time-pieces are made
for all the rest of the world, but whose own clocks
never give the correct time of day by any accident.
Geneva is filled with pretty shops, and the shops are
filled with the most enticing gimacrackery, but if one
enters one of these places he is at once pounced upon,
and followed up, and so persecuted to buy this, that,
and the other thing, that he is very grateful to get
out again, and is not at all apt to repeat his experiment.
The shopkeepers of the smaller sort, in Geneva,
are as troublesome and persistent as are the salesmen
of that monster hive in Paris, the Grands Magasins du
Louvre--an establishment where ill-mannered pestering,
pursuing, and insistence have been reduced to a science.
In Geneva, prices in the smaller shops are very elastic
--that is another bad feature. I was looking in at a window
at a very pretty string of beads, suitable for a child.
I was only admiring them; I had no use for them; I hardly
ever wear beads. The shopwoman came out and offered
them to me for thirty-five francs. I said it was cheap,
but I did not need them.
"Ah, but monsieur, they are so beautiful!"
I confessed it, but said they were not suitable for one
of my age and simplicity of character. She darted in and
brought them out and tried to force them into my hands,
"Ah, but only see how lovely they are! Surely monsieur will
take them; monsieur shall have them for thirty francs.
There, I have said it--it is a loss, but one must live."
I dropped my hands, and tried to move her to respect
my unprotected situation. But no, she dangled the beads
in the sun before my face, exclaiming, "Ah, monsieur
CANNOT resist them!" She hung them on my coat button,
folded her hand resignedly, and said: "Gone,--and for
thirty francs, the lovely things--it is incredible!--but
the good God will sanctify the sacrifice to me."
I removed them gently, returned them, and walked away,
shaking my head and smiling a smile of silly embarrassment
while the passers-by halted to observe. The woman leaned
out of her door, shook the beads, and screamed after me:
"Monsieur shall have them for twenty-eight!"
I shook my head.
"Twenty-seven! It is a cruel loss, it is ruin
--but take them, only take them."
I still retreated, still wagging my head.
"MON DIEU, they shall even go for twenty-six! There,
I have said it. Come!"
I wagged another negative. A nurse and a little English girl
had been near me, and were following me, now. The shopwoman
ran to the nurse, thrust the beads into her hands, and said:
"Monsieur shall have them for twenty-five! Take them
to the hotel--he shall send me the money tomorrow
--next day--when he likes." Then to the child: "When thy
father sends me the money, come thou also, my angel,
and thou shall have something oh so pretty!"
I was thus providentially saved. The nurse refused
the beads squarely and firmly, and that ended the matter.
The "sights" of Geneva are not numerous. I made one
attempt to hunt up the houses once inhabited by those
two disagreeable people, Rousseau and Calvin, but I had
no success. Then I concluded to go home. I found it was
easier to propose to do that than to do it; for that town
is a bewildering place. I got lost in a tangle of narrow
and crooked streets, and stayed lost for an hour or two.
Finally I found a street which looked somewhat familiar,
and said to myself, "Now I am at home, I judge." But I
was wrong; this was "HELL street." Presently I found
another place which had a familiar look, and said to myself,
"Now I am at home, sure." It was another error. This was
"PURGATORY street." After a little I said, "NOW I've got the
right place, anyway ... no, this is 'PARADISE street';
I'm further from home than I was in the beginning."
Those were queer names--Calvin was the author of them,
likely. "Hell" and "Purgatory" fitted those two streets
like a glove, but the "Paradise" appeared to be sarcastic.
I came out on the lake-front, at last, and then I knew
where I was. I was walking along before the glittering
jewelry shops when I saw a curious performance.
A lady passed by, and a trim dandy lounged across the walk
in such an apparently carefully timed way as to bring
himself exactly in front of her when she got to him;
he made no offer to step out of the way; he did not apologize;
he did not even notice her. She had to stop still and let
him lounge by. I wondered if he had done that piece
of brutality purposely. He strolled to a chair and seated
himself at a small table; two or three other males were
sitting at similar tables sipping sweetened water.
I waited; presently a youth came by, and this fellow got
up and served him the same trick. Still, it did not seem
possible that any one could do such a thing deliberately.
To satisfy my curiosity I went around the block, and,
sure enough, as I approached, at a good round speed, he got
up and lounged lazily across my path, fouling my course
exactly at the right moment to receive all my weight.
This proved that his previous performances had not
been accidental, but intentional.
I saw that dandy's curious game played afterward, in Paris,
but not for amusement; not with a motive of any sort, indeed,
but simply from a selfish indifference to other people's
comfort and rights. One does not see it as frequently
in Paris as he might expect to, for there the law says,
in effect, "It is the business of the weak to get out of
the way of the strong." We fine a cabman if he runs over
a citizen; Paris fines the citizen for being run over.
At least so everybody says--but I saw something which
caused me to doubt; I saw a horseman run over an old woman
one day--the police arrested him and took him away.
That looked as if they meant to punish him.
It will not do for me to find merit in American manners
--for are they not the standing butt for the jests
of critical and polished Europe? Still, I must venture
to claim one little matter of superiority in our manners;
a lady may traverse our streets all day, going and coming
as she chooses, and she will never be molested by any man;
but if a lady, unattended, walks abroad in the streets
of London, even at noonday, she will be pretty likely
to be accosted and insulted--and not by drunken sailors,
but by men who carry the look and wear the dress of gentlemen.
It is maintained that these people are not gentlemen,
but are a lower sort, disguised as gentlemen. The case
of Colonel Valentine Baker obstructs that argument,
for a man cannot become an officer in the British army
except he hold the rank of gentleman. This person,
finding himself alone in a railway compartment with
an unprotected girl--but it is an atrocious story,
and doubtless the reader remembers it well enough.
London must have been more or less accustomed to Bakers,
and the ways of Bakers, else London would have been
offended and excited. Baker was "imprisoned"--in a parlor;
and he could not have been more visited, or more overwhelmed
with attentions, if he had committed six murders and then
--while the gallows was preparing--"got religion"--after
the manner of the holy Charles Peace, of saintly memory.
Arkansaw--it seems a little indelicate to be trumpeting forth
our own superiorities, and comparisons are always odious,
but still--Arkansaw would certainly have hanged Baker.
I do not say she would have tried him first, but she would have
hanged him, anyway.
Even the most degraded woman can walk our streets unmolested,
her sex and her weakness being her sufficient protection.
She will encounter less polish than she would in the
old world, but she will run across enough humanity to make
up for it.
The music of a donkey awoke us early in the morning,
and we rose up and made ready for a pretty formidable
walk--to Italy; but the road was so level that we took
the train.. We lost a good deal of time by this, but it
was no matter, we were not in a hurry. We were four
hours going to Chamb`ery. The Swiss trains go upward
of three miles an hour, in places, but they are quite safe.
That aged French town of Chamb`ery was as quaint and crooked
as Heilbronn. A drowsy reposeful quiet reigned in the back
streets which made strolling through them very pleasant,
barring the almost unbearable heat of the sun.
In one of these streets, which was eight feet wide,
gracefully curved, and built up with small antiquated houses,
I saw three fat hogs lying asleep, and a boy (also asleep)
taking care of them. From queer old-fashioned windows
along the curve projected boxes of bright flowers, and over
the edge of one of these boxes hung the head and shoulders
of a cat--asleep. The five sleeping creatures were the
only living things visible in that street. There was not
a sound; absolute stillness prevailed. It was Sunday;
one is not used to such dreamy Sundays on the continent.
In our part of the town it was different that night.
A regiment of brown and battered soldiers had arrived home
from Algiers, and I judged they got thirsty on the way.
They sang and drank till dawn, in the pleasant open air.
We left for Turin at ten the next morning by a railway which
was profusely decorated with tunnels. We forgot to take
a lantern along, consequently we missed all the scenery.
Our compartment was full. A ponderous tow-headed Swiss woman,
who put on many fine-lady airs, but was evidently more
used to washing linen than wearing it, sat in a corner
seat and put her legs across into the opposite one,
propping them intermediately with her up-ended valise.
In the seat thus pirated, sat two Americans, greatly incommoded
by that woman's majestic coffin-clad feet. One of them
begged, politely, to remove them. She opened her wide eyes
and gave him a stare, but answered nothing. By and by he
proferred his request again, with great respectfulness.
She said, in good English, and in a deeply offended tone,
that she had paid her passage and was not going to be
bullied out of her "rights" by ill-bred foreigners,
even if she was alone and unprotected.
"But I have rights, also, madam. My ticket entitles me
to a seat, but you are occupying half of it."
"I will not talk with you, sir. What right have you
to speak to me? I do not know you. One would know
you came from a land where there are no gentlemen.
No GENTLEMAN would treat a lady as you have treated me."
"I come from a region where a lady would hardly give me
the same provocation."
"You have insulted me, sir! You have intimated that I am
not a lady--and I hope I am NOT one, after the pattern
of your country."
"I beg that you will give yourself no alarm on that head,
madam; but at the same time I must insist--always
respectfully--that you let me have my seat."
Here the fragile laundress burst into tears and sobs.
"I never was so insulted before! Never, never! It
is shameful, it is brutal, it is base, to bully and abuse
an unprotected lady who has lost the use of her limbs
and cannot put her feet to the floor without agony!"
"Good heavens, madam, why didn't you say that at first! I
offer a thousand pardons. And I offer them most sincerely.
I did not know--I COULD not know--anything was the matter.
You are most welcome to the seat, and would have been
from the first if I had only known. I am truly sorry it
all happened, I do assure you."
But he couldn't get a word of forgiveness out of her.
She simply sobbed and sniffed in a subdued but wholly
unappeasable way for two long hours, meantime crowding
the man more than ever with her undertaker-furniture
and paying no sort of attention to his frequent and
humble little efforts to do something for her comfort.
Then the train halted at the Italian line and she hopped
up and marched out of the car with as firm a leg as any
washerwoman of all her tribe! And how sick I was, to see
how she had fooled me.
Turin is a very fine city. In the matter of roominess
it transcends anything that was ever dreamed of before,
I fancy. It sits in the midst of a vast dead-level, and one
is obliged to imagine that land may be had for the asking,
and no taxes to pay, so lavishly do they use it.
The streets are extravagantly wide, the paved squares
are prodigious, the houses are huge and handsome,
and compacted into uniform blocks that stretch away as
straight as an arrow, into the distance. The sidewalks
are about as wide as ordinary European STREETS, and are
covered over with a double arcade supported on great stone
piers or columns. One walks from one end to the other
of these spacious streets, under shelter all the time,
and all his course is lined with the prettiest of shops
and the most inviting dining-houses.
There is a wide and lengthy court, glittering with the
most wickedly enticing shops, which is roofed with glass,
high aloft overhead, and paved with soft-toned marbles
laid in graceful figures; and at night when the place
is brilliant with gas and populous with a sauntering
and chatting and laughing multitude of pleasure-seekers,
it is a spectacle worth seeing.
Everything is on a large scale; the public buildings,
for instance--and they are architecturally imposing,
too, as well as large. The big squares have big bronze
monuments in them. At the hotel they gave us rooms
that were alarming, for size, and parlor to match.
It was well the weather required no fire in the parlor,
for I think one might as well have tried to warm a park.
The place would have a warm look, though, in any weather,
for the window-curtains were of red silk damask,
and the walls were covered with the same fire-hued
goods--so, also, were the four sofas and the brigade
of chairs. The furniture, the ornaments, the chandeliers,
the carpets, were all new and bright and costly.
We did not need a parlor at all, but they said it belonged
to the two bedrooms and we might use it if we chose.
Since it was to cost nothing, we were not averse to using it,
Turin must surely read a good deal, for it has more
book-stores to the square rod than any other town I
know of. And it has its own share of military folk.
The Italian officers' uniforms are very much the most
beautiful I have ever seen; and, as a general thing,
the men in them were as handsome as the clothes. They were
not large men, but they had fine forms, fine features,
rich olive complexions, and lustrous black eyes.
For several weeks I had been culling all the information
I could about Italy, from tourists. The tourists were
all agreed upon one thing--one must expect to be cheated
at every turn by the Italians. I took an evening walk
in Turin, and presently came across a little Punch and Judy
show in one of the great squares. Twelve or fifteen
people constituted the audience. This miniature theater
was not much bigger than a man's coffin stood on end;
the upper part was open and displayed a tinseled
parlor--a good-sized handkerchief would have answered
for a drop-curtain; the footlights consisted of a couple
of candle-ends an inch long; various manikins the size
of dolls appeared on the stage and made long speeches at
each other, gesticulating a good deal, and they generally
had a fight before they got through. They were worked
by strings from above, and the illusion was not perfect,
for one saw not only the strings but the brawny hand
that manipulated them--and the actors and actresses all
talked in the same voice, too. The audience stood in front
of the theater, and seemed to enjoy the performance heartily.
When the play was done, a youth in his shirt-sleeves started
around with a small copper saucer to make a collection.
I did not know how much to put in, but thought I would
be guided by my predecessors. Unluckily, I only had two
of these, and they did not help me much because they
did not put in anything. I had no Italian money,
so I put in a small Swiss coin worth about ten cents.
The youth finished his collection trip and emptied
the result on the stage; he had some very animated talk
with the concealed manager, then he came working his
way through the little crowd--seeking me, I thought.
I had a mind to slip away, but concluded I wouldn't;
I would stand my ground, and confront the villainy,
whatever it was. The youth stood before me and held
up that Swiss coin, sure enough, and said something.
I did not understand him, but I judged he was requiring
Italian money of me. The crowd gathered close,
to listen. I was irritated, and said--in English,
"I know it's Swiss, but you'll take that or none.
I haven't any other."
He tried to put the coin in my hand, and spoke again.
I drew my hand away, and said:
"NO, sir. I know all about you people. You can't play
any of your fraudful tricks on me. If there is a discount
on that coin, I am sorry, but I am not going to make
it good. I noticed that some of the audience didn't pay
you anything at all. You let them go, without a word,
but you come after me because you think I'm a stranger
and will put up with an extortion rather than have a scene.
But you are mistaken this time--you'll take that Swiss
money or none."
The youth stood there with the coin in his fingers,
nonplused and bewildered; of course he had not understood
a word. An English-speaking Italian spoke up, now, and said:
"You are misunderstanding the boy. He does not mean any harm.
He did not suppose you gave him so much money purposely,
so he hurried back to return you the coin lest you
might get away before you discovered your mistake.
Take it, and give him a penny--that will make everything
I probably blushed, then, for there was occasion.
Through the interpreter I begged the boy's pardon,
but I nobly refused to take back the ten cents. I said
I was accustomed to squandering large sums in that way
--it was the kind of person I was. Then I retired to make
a note to the effect that in Italy persons connected
with the drama do not cheat.
The episode with the showman reminds me of a dark chapter
in my history. I once robbed an aged and blind beggar-woman
of four dollars--in a church. It happened this way.
When I was out with the Innocents Abroad, the ship
stopped in the Russian port of Odessa and I went ashore,
with others, to view the town. I got separated from the rest,
and wandered about alone, until late in the afternoon,
when I entered a Greek church to see what it was like.
When I was ready to leave, I observed two wrinkled old
women standing stiffly upright against the inner wall,
near the door, with their brown palms open to receive alms.
I contributed to the nearer one, and passed out.
I had gone fifty yards, perhaps, when it occurred to me
that I must remain ashore all night, as I had heard
that the ship's business would carry her away at four
o'clock and keep her away until morning. It was a little
after four now. I had come ashore with only two pieces
of money, both about the same size, but differing largely
in value--one was a French gold piece worth four dollars,
the other a Turkish coin worth two cents and a half.
With a sudden and horrified misgiving, I put my hand in
my pocket, now, and sure enough, I fetched out that Turkish
Here was a situation. A hotel would require pay in
advance --I must walk the street all night, and perhaps
be arrested as a suspicious character. There was but one
way out of the difficulty--I flew back to the church,
and softly entered. There stood the old woman yet,
and in the palm of the nearest one still lay my gold piece.
I was grateful. I crept close, feeling unspeakably mean;
I got my Turkish penny ready, and was extending a trembling
hand to make the nefarious exchange, when I heard a cough
behind me. I jumped back as if I had been accused,
and stood quaking while a worshiper entered and passed up
I was there a year trying to steal that money; that is,
it seemed a year, though, of course, it must have been
much less. The worshipers went and came; there were hardly
ever three in the church at once, but there was always one
or more. Every time I tried to commit my crime somebody
came in or somebody started out, and I was prevented;
but at last my opportunity came; for one moment there
was nobody in the church but the two beggar-women and me.
I whipped the gold piece out of the poor old pauper's palm
and dropped my Turkish penny in its place. Poor old thing,
she murmured her thanks--they smote me to the heart.
Then I sped away in a guilty hurry, and even when I was a mile
from the church I was still glancing back, every moment,
to see if I was being pursued.
That experience has been of priceless value and benefit
to me; for I resolved then, that as long as I lived I
would never again rob a blind beggar-woman in a church;
and I have always kept my word. The most permanent lessons
in morals are those which come, not of booky teaching,
but of experience.
[Beauty of Women--and of Old Masters]
In Milan we spent most of our time in the vast and
beautiful Arcade or Gallery, or whatever it is called.
Blocks of tall new buildings of the most sumptuous sort,
rich with decoration and graced with statues, the streets
between these blocks roofed over with glass at a great height,
the pavements all of smooth and variegated marble,
arranged in tasteful patterns--little tables all over these
marble streets, people sitting at them, eating, drinking,
or smoking--crowds of other people strolling by--such
is the Arcade. I should like to live in it all the time.
The windows of the sumptuous restaurants stand open,
and one breakfasts there and enjoys the passing show.
We wandered all over the town, enjoying whatever was going
on in the streets. We took one omnibus ride, and as I
did not speak Italian and could not ask the price, I held
out some copper coins to the conductor, and he took two.
Then he went and got his tariff card and showed me that he
had taken only the right sum. So I made a note--Italian
omnibus conductors do not cheat.
Near the Cathedral I saw another instance of probity.
An old man was peddling dolls and toy fans. Two small
American children and one gave the old man a franc
and three copper coins, and both started away; but they
were called back, and the franc and one of the coppers
were restored to them. Hence it is plain that in Italy,
parties connected with the drama and the omnibus and the toy
interests do not cheat.
The stocks of goods in the shops were not extensive, generally.
In the vestibule of what seemed to be a clothing store,
we saw eight or ten wooden dummies grouped together,
clothed in woolen business suits and each marked with its price.
One suit was marked forty-five francs--nine dollars.
Harris stepped in and said he wanted a suit like that.
Nothing easier: the old merchant dragged in the dummy,
brushed him off with a broom, stripped him, and shipped
the clothes to the hotel. He said he did not keep two
suits of the same kind in stock, but manufactured a second
when it was needed to reclothe the dummy.
In another quarter we found six Italians engaged
in a violent quarrel. They danced fiercely about,
gesticulating with their heads, their arms, their legs,
their whole bodies; they would rush forward occasionally
with a sudden access of passion and shake their fists
in each other's very faces. We lost half an hour there,
waiting to help cord up the dead, but they finally embraced
each other affectionately, and the trouble was over.
The episode was interesting, but we could not have afforded
all the time to it if we had known nothing was going
to come of it but a reconciliation. Note made--in Italy,
people who quarrel cheat the spectator.
We had another disappointment afterward. We approached
a deeply interested crowd, and in the midst of it
found a fellow wildly chattering and gesticulating
over a box on the ground which was covered with a piece
of old blanket. Every little while he would bend down
and take hold of the edge of the blanket with the extreme
tips of his fingertips, as if to show there was no
deception--chattering away all the while--but always,
just as I was expecting to see a wonder feat of legerdemain,
he would let go the blanket and rise to explain further.
However, at last he uncovered the box and got out a spoon
with a liquid in it, and held it fair and frankly around,
for people to see that it was all right and he was taking
no advantage--his chatter became more excited than ever.
I supposed he was going to set fire to the liquid and
swallow it, so I was greatly wrought up and interested.
I got a cent ready in one hand and a florin in the other,
intending to give him the former if he survived and the
latter if he killed himself--for his loss would be my gain
in a literary way, and I was willing to pay a fair price
for the item --but this impostor ended his intensely
moving performance by simply adding some powder to the
liquid and polishing the spoon! Then he held it aloft,
and he could not have shown a wilder exultation if he
had achieved an immortal miracle. The crowd applauded
in a gratified way, and it seemed to me that history
speaks the truth when it says these children of the south
are easily entertained.
We spent an impressive hour in the noble cathedral, where long
shafts of tinted light were cleaving through the solemn
dimness from the lofty windows and falling on a pillar here,
a picture there, and a kneeling worshiper yonder.
The organ was muttering, censers were swinging, candles were
glinting on the distant altar and robed priests were
filing silently past them; the scene was one to sweep all
frivolous thoughts away and steep the soul in a holy calm.
A trim young American lady paused a yard or two from me,
fixed her eyes on the mellow sparks flecking the far-off altar,
bent her head reverently a moment, then straightened up,
kicked her train into the air with her heel, caught it
deftly in her hand, and marched briskly out.
We visited the picture-galleries and the other regulation
of Milan--not because I wanted to write about them again,
but to see if I had learned anything in twelve years.
I afterward visited the great galleries of Rome and
Florence for the same purpose. I found I had learned
one thing. When I wrote about the Old Masters before,
I said the copies were better than the originals.
That was a mistake of large dimensions. The Old Masters
were still unpleasing to me, but they were truly divine
contrasted with the copies. The copy is to the original
as the pallid, smart, inane new wax-work group is to
the vigorous, earnest, dignified group of living men
and women whom it professes to duplicate. There is a
mellow richness, a subdued color, in the old pictures,
which is to the eye what muffled and mellowed sound
is to the ear. That is the merit which is most loudly
praised in the old picture, and is the one which the copy
most conspicuously lacks, and which the copyist must
not hope to compass. It was generally conceded by the
artists with whom I talked, that that subdued splendor,
that mellow richness, is imparted to the picture by AGE.
Then why should we worship the Old Master for it,
who didn't impart it, instead of worshiping Old Time,
who did? Perhaps the picture was a clanging bell,
until Time muffled it and sweetened it.
In conversation with an artist in Venice, I asked: "What
is it that people see in the Old Masters? I have been in the
Doge's palace and I saw several acres of very bad drawing,
very bad perspective, and very incorrect proportions.
Paul Veronese's dogs to not resemble dogs; all the horses
look like bladders on legs; one man had a RIGHT leg on
the left side of his body; in the large picture where
the Emperor (Barbarossa?) is prostrate before the Pope,
there are three men in the foreground who are over
thirty feet high, if one may judge by the size of a
kneeling little boy in the center of the foreground;
and according to the same scale, the Pope is seven feet
high and the Doge is a shriveled dwarf of four feet."
The artist said:
"Yes, the Old Masters often drew badly; they did not
care much for truth and exactness in minor details;
but after all, in spite of bad drawing, bad perspective,
bad proportions, and a choice of subjects which no longer
appeal to people as strongly as they did three hundred
years ago, there is a SOMETHING about their pictures
which is divine--a something which is above and beyond
the art of any epoch since--a something which would be
the despair of artists but that they never hope or expect
to attain it, and therefore do not worry about it."
That is what he said--and he said what he believed;
and not only believed, but felt.
Reasoning--especially reasoning, without technical
knowledge--must be put aside, in cases of this kind.
It cannot assist the inquirer. It will lead him,
in the most logical progression, to what, in the eyes
of artists, would be a most illogical conclusion.
Thus: bad drawing, bad proportion, bad perspective,
indifference to truthful detail, color which gets its
merit from time, and not from the artist--these things
constitute the Old Master; conclusion, the Old Master
was a bad painter, the Old Master was not an Old Master
at all, but an Old Apprentice. Your friend the artist
will grant your premises, but deny your conclusion;
he will maintain that notwithstanding this formidable
list of confessed defects, there is still a something
that is divine and unapproachable about the Old Master,
and that there is no arguing the fact away by any system of
I can believe that. There are women who have an
indefinable charm in their faces which makes them
beautiful to their intimates, but a cold stranger
who tried to reason the matter out and find this beauty
would fail. He would say to one of these women: This
chin is too short, this nose is too long, this forehead
is too high, this hair is too red, this complexion is
too pallid, the perspective of the entire composition
is incorrect; conclusion, the woman is not beautiful.
But her nearest friend might say, and say truly,
"Your premises are right, your logic is faultless,
but your conclusion is wrong, nevertheless; she is an Old
Master--she is beautiful, but only to such as know her;
it is a beauty which cannot be formulated, but it is there, just
I found more pleasure in contemplating the Old Masters
this time than I did when I was in Europe in former years,
but still it was a calm pleasure; there was nothing
overheated about it. When I was in Venice before,
I think I found no picture which stirred me much,
but this time there were two which enticed me to the Doge's
palace day after day, and kept me there hours at a time.
One of these was Tintoretto's three-acre picture in the
Great Council Chamber. When I saw it twelve years ago I
was not strongly attracted to it--the guide told me it
was an insurrection in heaven--but this was an error.
The movement of this great work is very fine. There are
ten thousand figures, and they are all doing something.
There is a wonderful "go" to the whole composition.
Some of the figures are driving headlong downward,
with clasped hands, others are swimming through the
cloud-shoals--some on their faces, some on their backs--great
processions of bishops, martyrs, and angels are pouring swiftly
centerward from various outlying directions--everywhere
is enthusiastic joy, there is rushing movement everywhere.
There are fifteen or twenty figures scattered here and there,
with books, but they cannot keep their attention on
their reading--they offer the books to others, but no
one wishes to read, now. The Lion of St. Mark is there
with his book; St. Mark is there with his pen uplifted;
he and the Lion are looking each other earnestly in the face,
disputing about the way to spell a word--the Lion
looks up in rapt admiration while St. Mark spells.
This is wonderfully interpreted by the artist.
It is the master-stroke of this imcomparable painting.
I visited the place daily, and never grew tired of
looking at that grand picture. As I have intimated,
the movement is almost unimaginable vigorous; the figures
are singing, hosannahing, and many are blowing trumpets.
So vividly is noise suggested, that spectators who become
absorbed in the picture almost always fall to shouting
comments in each other's ears, making ear-trumpets of their
curved hands, fearing they may not otherwise be heard.
One often sees a tourist, with the eloquent tears pouring
down his cheeks, funnel his hands at his wife's ear,
and hears him roar through them, "OH, TO BE THERE AND
None but the supremely great in art can produce effects
like these with the silent brush.
Twelve years ago I could not have appreciated this picture.
One year ago I could not have appreciated it. My study
of Art in Heidelberg has been a noble education to me.
All that I am today in Art, I owe to that.
The other great work which fascinated me was Bassano's
immortal Hair Trunk. This is in the Chamber of the Council
of Ten. It is in one of the three forty-foot pictures
which decorate the walls of the room. The composition
of this picture is beyond praise. The Hair Trunk is not
hurled at the stranger's head--so to speak--as the chief
feature of an immortal work so often is; no, it is
carefully guarded from prominence, it is subordinated,
it is restrained, it is most deftly and cleverly held
in reserve, it is most cautiously and ingeniously led up to,
by the master, and consequently when the spectator reaches
it at last, he is taken unawares, he is unprepared,
and it bursts upon him with a stupefying surprise.
One is lost in wonder at all the thought and care which
this elaborate planning must have cost. A general glance
at the picture could never suggest that there was a hair
trunk in it; the Hair Trunk is not mentioned in the title
even--which is, "Pope Alexander III. and the Doge Ziani,
the Conqueror of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa";
you see, the title is actually utilized to help
divert attention from the Trunk; thus, as I say,
nothing suggests the presence of the Trunk, by any hint,
yet everything studiedly leads up to it, step by step.
Let us examine into this, and observe the exquisitely
artful artlessness of the plan.
At the extreme left end of the picture are a couple of women,
one of them with a child looking over her shoulder at
a wounded man sitting with bandaged head on the ground.
These people seem needless, but no, they are there
for a purpose; one cannot look at them without seeing
the gorgeous procession of grandees, bishops, halberdiers,
and banner-bearers which is passing along behind them;
one cannot see the procession without feeling the curiosity
to follow it and learn whither it is going; it leads him
to the Pope, in the center of the picture, who is talking
with the bonnetless Doge--talking tranquilly, too,
although within twelve feet of them a man is beating a drum,
and not far from the drummer two persons are blowing horns,
and many horsemen are plunging and rioting about--indeed,
twenty-two feet of this great work is all a deep and
happy holiday serenity and Sunday-school procession,
and then we come suddenly upon eleven and one-half feet
of turmoil and racket and insubordination. This latter
state of things is not an accident, it has its purpose.
But for it, one would linger upon the Pope and the Doge,
thinking them to be the motive and supreme feature of
the picture; whereas one is drawn along, almost unconsciously,
to see what the trouble is about. Now at the very END
of this riot, within four feet of the end of the picture,
and full thirty-six feet from the beginning of it,
the Hair Trunk bursts with an electrifying suddenness
upon the spectator, in all its matchless perfection,
and the great master's triumph is sweeping and complete.
From that moment no other thing in those forty feet of canvas
has any charm; one sees the Hair Trunk, and the Hair Trunk
only--and to see it is to worship it. Bassano even placed
objects in the immediate vicinity of the Supreme Feature
whose pretended purpose was to divert attention from it yet
a little longer and thus delay and augment the surprise;
for instance, to the right of it he has placed a stooping
man with a cap so red that it is sure to hold the eye
for a moment--to the left of it, some six feet away,
he has placed a red-coated man on an inflated horse,
and that coat plucks your eye to that locality the next
moment--then, between the Trunk and the red horseman he
has intruded a man, naked to his waist, who is carrying
a fancy flour-sack on the middle of his back instead
of on his shoulder--this admirable feat interests you,
of course--keeps you at bay a little longer, like a sock
or a jacket thrown to the pursuing wolf--but at last,
in spite of all distractions and detentions, the eye
of even the most dull and heedless spectator is sure
to fall upon the World's Masterpiece, and in that
moment he totters to his chair or leans upon his guide
Descriptions of such a work as this must necessarily
be imperfect, yet they are of value. The top of the Trunk
is arched; the arch is a perfect half-circle, in the Roman
style of architecture, for in the then rapid decadence
of Greek art, the rising influence of Rome was already
beginning to be felt in the art of the Republic.
The Trunk is bound or bordered with leather all around
where the lid joins the main body. Many critics consider
this leather too cold in tone; but I consider this
its highest merit, since it was evidently made so to
emphasize by contrast the impassioned fervor of the hasp.
The highlights in this part of the work are cleverly managed,
the MOTIF is admirably subordinated to the ground tints,
and the technique is very fine. The brass nail-heads
are in the purest style of the early Renaissance.
The strokes, here, are very firm and bold--every nail-head
is a portrait. The handle on the end of the Trunk has
evidently been retouched--I think, with a piece of chalk
--but one can still see the inspiration of the Old Master
in the tranquil, almost too tranquil, hang of it. The hair
of this Trunk is REAL hair--so to speak--white in patched,
brown in patches. The details are finely worked out;
the repose proper to hair in a recumbent and inactive
attitude is charmingly expressed. There is a feeling
about this part of the work which lifts it to the highest
altitudes of art; the sense of sordid realism vanishes
away--one recognizes that there is SOUL here.
View this Trunk as you will, it is a gem, it is a marvel,
it is a miracle. Some of the effects are very daring,
approaching even to the boldest flights of the rococo,
the sirocco, and the Byzantine schools--yet the master's hand
never falters--it moves on, calm, majestic, confident--and,
with that art which conceals art, it finally casts over
the TOUT ENSEMBLE, by mysterious methods of its own,
a subtle something which refines, subdues, etherealizes the
arid components and endures them with the deep charm
and gracious witchery of poesy.
Among the art-treasures of Europe there are pictures
which approach the Hair Trunk--there are two which may
be said to equal it, possibly--but there is none that
surpasses it. So perfect is the Hair Trunk that it moves
even persons who ordinarily have no feeling for art.
When an Erie baggagemaster saw it two years ago, he could
hardly keep from checking it; and once when a customs
inspector was brought into its presence, he gazed upon
it in silent rapture for some moments, then slowly
and unconsciously placed one hand behind him with the
palm uppermost, and got out his chalk with the other.
These facts speak for themselves.
[Hanged with a Golden Rope]
One lingers about the Cathedral a good deal, in Venice.
There is a strong fascination about it--partly because
it is so old, and partly because it is so ugly.
Too many of the world's famous buildings fail of one
chief virtue--harmony; they are made up of a methodless
mixture of the ugly and the beautiful; this is bad;
it is confusing, it is unrestful. One has a sense
of uneasiness, of distress, without knowing why. But one
is calm before St. Mark's, one is calm in the cellar;
for its details are masterfully ugly, no misplaced
and impertinent beauties are intruded anywhere; and the
consequent result is a grand harmonious whole, of soothing,
entrancing, tranquilizing, soul-satisfying ugliness.
One's admiration of a perfect thing always grows,
never declines; and this is the surest evidence to him
that it IS perfect. St. Mark's is perfect. To me it
soon grew to be so nobly, so augustly ugly, that it was
difficult to stay away from it, even for a little while.
Every time its squat domes disappeared from my view,
I had a despondent feeling; whenever they reappeared,
I felt an honest rapture--I have not known any happier hours
than those I daily spent in front of Florian's, looking
across the Great Square at it. Propped on its long row
of low thick-legged columns, its back knobbed with domes,
it seemed like a vast warty bug taking a meditative walk.
St. Mark's is not the oldest building in the world, of course,
but it seems the oldest, and looks the oldest--especially inside.
When the ancient mosaics in its walls become damaged,
they are repaired but not altered; the grotesque old
pattern is preserved. Antiquity has a charm of its own,
and to smarten it up would only damage it. One day I
was sitting on a red marble bench in the vestibule looking
up at an ancient piece of apprentice-work, in mosaic,