Part 4 out of 7
describe what we saw. I feel that I have already been too
presumptuous. We sat down, and each made a hasty sketch of Mont Blanc.
We took tea at the hotel, which reminded us, by the neatness of its
scoured chambers with their white bedspreads, of the apartments of
some out-of-the-way New England farm house.
The people of the neighborhood having discovered who H. was, were very
kind, and full of delight at seeing her. It was Scotland over again.
We have had to be unflinching to prevent her being overwhelmed, both
in Paris and Geneva, by the same demonstrations of regard. To this we
were driven, as a matter of life and death. It was touching to listen
to the talk of these secluded mountaineers. The good hostess, even the
servant maids, hung about H., expressing such tender interest for the
slave. All had read Uncle Tom. And it had apparently been an era in
their life's monotony, for they said, "O, madam, do write another!
Remember, our winter nights here are _very_ long!"
The proprietor of the inn (not the landlord) was a gentleman of
education and polished demeanor. _He had lost an Eva_, he said.
And he spoke with deep emotion. He thanked H. for what she had
written, and at parting said, "Have courage; the sacred cause of
Liberty will yet prevail through the world."
Ah, they breathe a pure air, these generous Swiss, among these
mountain tops! May their simple words be a prophecy divine.
At about six we returned, and as we slowly wound down the mountain
side we had a full view of all the phenomena of color attending the
sun's departure. The mountain,--the city rather,--for so high had it
risen, that I could imagine a New Jerusalem of pearly white, with Mont
Blanc for the central citadel, or temple,--the city was all a-glow.
The air behind, the sky, became of a delicate apple green; the snow,
before so incandescent in whiteness, assumed a rosy tint. We paused--
we sat in silence to witness these miraculous transformations.
"Charley," said H., "sing that hymn of yours, the New Jerusalem." And
in the hush of the mountain solitudes we sang together,--
"We are on our journey home,
Where Christ our Lord is gone;
We will meet around his throne,
When he makes his people one
In the New Jerusalem.
We can see that distant home,
Though clouds rise oft between;
Faith views the radiant dome,
And a lustre flashes keen
From the New Jerusalem.
O, glory shining far
From the never-setting sun!
O, trembling morning star!
Our journey's almost done
To the New Jerusalem.
Our hearts are breaking now
Those mansions fair to see:
O Lord, thy heavens bow,
And raise us up with thee
To the New Jerusalem."
The echoes of our voices died along the mountain sides, as slowly we
wended our downward way. The rosy flush began to fade. A rich creamy
or orange hue seemed to imbue the scene, and finally, as the shadows
from the Jura crept higher, and covered it with a pall, it assumed a
startling, deathlike pallor of chalky white. Mont Blanc was dead. Mont
Blanc was walking as a ghost upon the granite ranges. But as darkness
came on, and as the sky over the Jura, where the sun had set, obtained
a deep, rosy tinge, Mont Blanc revived a little, and a flush of
delicate, transparent pink tinged his cone, and Mont Blanc was asleep.
Good night to Mont Blanc.
Wednesday morning, June 29. The day is intensely hot; the weather is
exceedingly fair, but Mont Blanc is not visible. Not a vestige--not a
trace. All vanished. It does not seem possible. There do not seem to
exist the conditions for such celestial pageant to have stood there.
What! there--where my eyes now look steadily and piercingly into the
blue, into the seemingly fathomless azure--there, will they tell me, I
saw that enraptured vision, as it were, the city descending from God
out of heaven, as a bride adorned for her husband? Incredible! It must
be a dream, a vision of the night.
Evening. After the heat of the day our whole household, old and young,
set forth for a boating excursion on the lake. Dividing our party in
two boats, we pulled about a mile up the left shore. Lake Leman was
before us in all its loveliness; and we were dipping our oar where
Byron had floated past scenes which scarce need to become classic to
possess a superior charm. The sun was just gone behind the Jura,
leaving a glorious sky. Mont Blanc stood afar behind a hazy veil, like
a spirit half revealed. We saw it pass before our eyes as we moved.
"It stood still, but we could not discern the form thereof." As we
glided on past boats uncounted, winged or many-footed, motionless or
still, we softly sung,--
"Think of me oft at twilight hour,
And I will think of thee;
Remembering how we felt its power
When thou wast still with me.
Dear is that hour, for day then sleeps
Upon the gray cloud's breast;
And not a voice or sound e'er keeps
His wearied eyes from rest."
The surface of the lake was unruffled. The air was still. An
occasional burst from the band in the garden of Rousseau came softened
in the distance. Enveloped in her thick shawl H. reclined in the
stern, and gave herself to the influences of the hour.
Darkness came down upon the deep. And in the gloom we turned our prows
towards the many-twinkling quays, far in the distance. We bent to the
oar in emulous contest, and our barks foamed and hissed through the
water. In a few moments we were passing through the noisy crowd on the
quay towards our quiet home.
I promised to write from Chamouni, so to commence at the commencement.
Fancy me, on a broiling day in July, panting with the heat, gazing
from my window in Geneva upon Lake Leman, which reflects the sun like
a burning glass, and thinking whether in America, or any where else,
it was ever so hot before. This was quite a new view of the subject to
me, who had been warned in Paris only of the necessity of blanket
shawls, and had come to Switzerland with my head full of glaciers, and
my trunk full of furs.
While arranging my travelling preparations, Madame F. enters.
"Have you considered how cold it is up there?" she inquires.
"I am glad if it is cold any where," said I.
"Ah, you will find it dreadful; you will need to be thoroughly
I suggested tippets, flannels, and furs, of which I already possessed
a moderate supply. But no; these were altogether insufficient. It was
necessary that I should buy two immense fur coats; one for C., and one
I assure you that such preparations, made with the thermometer between
eighty and ninety, impress one with a kind of awe. "What regions must
they be," thought I to myself, "thus sealed up in eternal snows, while
the country at their feet lies scorching in the very fire!" A shadow
of incredulity mingled itself with my reflections. On the whole, I
bought but _one_ fur coat.
At this moment C. came up to tell me that W., S., and G. had all come
back from Italy, so that our party was once more together.
It was on the 5th of July that S. and I took our seats in the _coupé_
of the diligence. Now, this _coupé_ is low and narrow enough, so that
our condition reminded me slightly of the luckless fowls which I have
sometimes seen riding to the Cincinnati market in _coupés_ of about
equal convenience. Nevertheless, it might be considered a peaceable
and satisfactory style of accommodation in an ordinary country. But to
ride among the wonders of the Alps in such a vehicle is something like
contemplating infinity through the nose of a bottle. It was really very
tantalizing and provoking to me till C. was so obliging as to resign his
seat on top in my favor, and descend into _Sheol_, as he said. Then I
began to live; for I could see to the summit of the immense walls of rock
under which we were passing. By and by we were reminded, by the
examination of our passports, that we had entered Sardinia; and the
officers, being duly satisfied that we were not going to Chamouni to
levy an army among the glaciers, or raise a sedition among the
avalanches, let us pass free. The discretion and wisdom of this
passport system can never be sufficiently admired. It must be entirely
owing to this, that the Alps do not break out on Europe generally, and
tear it in pieces.
But the mountains--how shall I give you the least idea of them? Old,
sombre, haggard genii, half veiled in clouds, belted with pines, worn
and furrowed with storms and avalanches, but not as yet crowned with
snow. For many miles after leaving Geneva, the Mole is the principal
object; its blue-black outline veering and shifting, taking on a
thousand strange varieties of form as you approach it, others again as
It is a cloudy day; and heavy volumes of vapor are wreathing and
unwreathing themselves around the gaunt forms of the everlasting
rocks, like human reasonings, desires, and hopes around the ghastly
realities of life and death; graceful, undulating, and sometimes
gleaming out in silver or rosy wreaths. Still, they are nothing but
mist; the dread realities are just where they were before. It is odd,
though, to look at these cloud caperings; quite as interesting, in its
way, as to read new systems of transcendental philosophy, and perhaps
quite as profitable. Yonder is a great, whiteheaded cloud, slowly
unrolling himself in the bosom of a black pine forest. Across the
other side of the road a huge granite cliff has picked up a bit of
gauzy silver, which he is winding round his scraggy neck. And now,
here comes a cascade right over our heads; a cascade, not of water,
but of cloud; for the poor little brook that makes it faints away
before it gets down to us; it falls like a shimmer of moonlight, or a
shower of powdered silver, while a tremulous rainbow appears at
uncertain intervals, like a half-seen spirit.
[Illustration: _of waterfalls._]
The cascade here, as in mountains generally, is a never-failing source
of life and variety. Water, joyous, buoyant son of Nature, is calling
to you, leaping, sparkling, mocking at you between bushes, and singing
as he goes down the dells. A thousand little pictures he makes among
the rocks as he goes; like the little sketch which I send you.
Then, the _bizarre_ outline of the rocks; well does Goethe call
them "the giant-snouted crags;" and as the diligence winds slowly on,
they seem to lean, and turn, and bend. Now they close up like a wall
in front, now open in piny and cloudy vistas: now they embrace the
torrent in their great, black arms; and now, flashing laughter and
babbling defiance through rifted rocks and uprooted pines, the torrent
shoots past them, down into some fathomless abyss. These old Alp
mothers cannot hold their offspring back from abysses any better than
poor earth mothers.
There are phases in nature which correspond to every phase of human
thought and emotion; and this stern, cloudy scenery answers to the
melancholy fatalism of Greek tragedy, or the kindred mournfulness of
the Book of Job.
These dark channelled rocks, worn, as with eternal tears,--these
traces, so evident of ancient and vast desolations,--suggest the idea
of boundless power and inexorable will, before whose course the most
vehement of human feelings are as the fine spray of the cataract.
"For, surely, the mountain, falling, cometh to nought;
The rock is remored out of his place;
The waters wear the stones;
Thou washest away the things that grow out of the earth,
And thou destroyest the hopes of man;
Thou prevailest against him, and he passeth;
Thou changest his countenance, and sendest him away."
The sceptical inquirer into the mysteries of eternal things might
here, if ever, feel the solemn irony of Eliphaz the Temanite:--
"Should a wise man utter vain knowledge?
Should he reason with unprofitable talk?
Or with speeches that can do no good?
Art thou the first man that ever was born?
Or wast thou made before the hills?"
There are some of my fellow-travellers, by the by, who, if they
_had_ been made before the hills, would never have been much
wiser. All through these solemn passages and gorges, they are
discussing hotels, champagne, wine, and cigars. I presume they would
do the same thing at the gates of the Celestial City, if they should
accidentally find themselves there. It is one of the dark providences
that multitudes of this calibre of mind find leisure and means to come
among these scenes, while many to whom they would be an inspiration,
in whose souls they would unseal ceaseless fountains of beauty, are
forever excluded by poverty and care.
At noon we stopped at Sallenches, famous for two things; first, as the
spot where people get dinner, and second, where they take the
_char_, a carriage used when the road is too steep for the
diligence. Here S., who had been feeling ill all the morning, became
too unwell to proceed, so that we had to lie by an hour or two, and
did not go on with the caravan. I sat down at the room window to study
and sketch a mountain that rose exactly opposite. I thought to myself,
"Now, would it be possible to give to one that had not seen it an idea
of how this looks?" Let me try if words can paint it. Right above the
fiat roof of the houses on the opposite side of the street rose this
immense mountain wall. The lower tier seemed to be a turbulent swell
of pasture land, rolling into every imaginable shape; green billows
and dells, rising higher and higher in the air as you looked upward,
dyed here and there in bright yellow streaks, by the wild crocus, and
spotted over with cattle. Dark clumps and belts of pine now and then
rise up among them; and scattered here and there in the heights, among
green hollows, were cottages, that looked about as big as hickory
Above all this region was still another, of black pines and crags; the
pines going up, and up, and up, till they looked no larger than pin
feathers; and surmounting all, straight, castellated turrets of rock,
looking out of swathing bands of cloud. A narrow, dazzling line of
snow crowned the summit.
You see before you three distinct regions--of pasture, of pine, of
bare, eternal sterility. On inquiring the name of the mountain, I was
told that it was the "Aiguille" something, I forget what; but I
discovered that almost all the peaks in this region of the Alps are
called Aiguille, (needle,) I suppose from the straight, sharp points
that rise at their summits.
There is a bridge here in Sallenches, from which, in clear weather,
one of the best views of Mont Blanc can be obtained--so they tell us.
To-day it is as much behind the veil, and as absolutely a matter of
faith as heaven itself. Looking in that direction you could not
believe that there ever had been, or could be, a mountain there. The
concealing clouds look as gray, as cool, and as absolutely unconscious
of any world of glory behind them as our dull, cold, every-day life
does of a heaven, which is, perhaps, equally near us. As we were
passing the bridge, however, a gust of icy wind swept down the course
of the river, whose chilly breath spoke of glaciers and avalanches.
Our driver was one of those merry souls, to be found the world over,
whose hearts yearn after talk; and when I volunteered to share the
outside seat with him, that I might see better, he inquired anxiously
if "mademoiselle understood French," that he might have the pleasure
of enlightening her on the localities. Of course mademoiselle could do
no less than be exceedingly grateful, since a peasant on his own
ground is generally better informed than a philosopher from elsewhere.
Our path lay along the banks of the Arve, a raving, brawling,
turbulent stream of muddy water. A wide belt of drifted, pebbly land,
on either side of it, showed that at times the torrent had a much
wider sweep than at present.
In fact, my guide informed me that the Arve, like most other mountain
streams, had many troublesome and inconvenient personal habits, such
as rising up all of a sudden, some night, and whisking off houses,
cattle, pine trees; in short, getting up sailing parties in such a
promiscuous manner that it is neither safe nor agreeable to live in
his neighborhood. He showed me, from time to time, the traces of such
We were now descending rapidly through the valley of Chamouni, by a
winding road, the scenery becoming every moment more and more
impressive. The path was so steep and so stony that our guide was well
enough contented to have us walk. I was glad to walk on alone; for the
scenery was so wonderful that human sympathy and communion seemed to
be out of the question. The effect of such scenery to our generally
sleeping and drowsy souls, bound with the double chain of earthliness
and sin, is like the electric touch of the angel on Peter, bound and
sleeping. They make us realize that we were not only made to commune
with God, but also what a God he is with whom we may commune. We talk
of poetry, we talk of painting, we go to the ends of the earth to see
the artists and great men of this world; but what a poet, what an
artist is God! Truly said Michael Angelo, "The true painting is only a
copy of the divine perfections--a shadow of his pencil."
I was sitting on a mossy trunk of an old pine, looking up admiringly
on the wonderful heights around me--crystal peaks sparkling over dark
pine trees--shadowy, airy distances of mountain heights, rising
crystalline amid many-colored masses of cloud; while, looking out over
my head from green hollows, I saw the small cottages, so tiny, in
their airy distance, that they seemed scarcely bigger than a
squirrel's nut, which he might have dropped in his passage. A pretty
Savoyard girl, I should think about fifteen years old, came up to me.
"Madame admires the mountains," she said.
"Yes," she added, "strangers always admire our mountains."
"And don't you admire them?" said I, looking, I suppose, rather amused
into her bright eyes.
"No," she said, laughing. "Strangers come from hundreds of miles to
see them all the time; but we peasants don't care for them, no more
than the dust of the road."
I could but half believe the bright little puss when she said so; but
there was a lumpish, soggy fellow accompanying her, whose nature
appeared to be sufficiently unleavened to make almost any thing
credible in the line of stupidity. In fact, it is one of the greatest
drawbacks to the pleasure with which one travels through this
beautiful country, to see what kind of human beings inhabit it. Here
in the Alps, heaven above and earth beneath, tree, rock, water, light
and shadow, every form, and agent, and power of nature, seem to be
exerting themselves to produce a constant and changing poem and
romance; every thing is grand, noble, free, and yet beautiful: in all
these regions there is nothing so repulsive as a human dwelling.
A little further on we stopped at a village to refresh the horses. The
_auberge_ where we stopped was built like a great barn, with an
earth floor, desolate and comfortless. The people looked poor and
ground down, as if they had not a thought above the coarsest animal
wants. The dirty children, with their hair tangled beyond all hope of
combing, had the begging whine, and the trick of raising their hands
for money, when one looked at them, which is universal in the Catholic
parts of Switzerland. Indeed, all the way from the Sardinian frontier
we had been dogged by beggars continually. Parents seemed to look upon
their children as valuable only for this purpose; the very baby in
arms is taught to make a pitiful little whine, and put out its fat
hand, if your eye rests on it. The fact is, they are poor--poor
because invention, enterprise, and intellectual vigor--all that
surrounds the New England mountain farmer with competence and
comfort--are quenched and dead, by the combined influence of a
religion and government whose interest it is to keep people stupid
that they may be manageable. Yet the Savoyards, as a race, it seems to
me, are naturally intelligent; and I cannot but hope that the liberal
course lately adopted by the Sardinian government may at last reach
them. My heart yearns over many of the bright, pretty children, whose
little hands have been up, from time to time, around our carriage. I
could not help thinking what good schools and good instruction might
do for them. It is not their fault, poor little things, that they are
educated to whine and beg, and grow up rude, uncultured, to bring
forth another set of children just like themselves; but what to do
with them is the question. One generally begins with giving money; but
a day or two of experience shows that it would be just about as
hopeful to feed the locusts of Egypt on a loaf of bread. But it is
hard to refuse children, especially to a mother who has left five or
six at home, and who fancies she sees, in some of these little eager,
childish faces, something now and then that reminds her of her own.
For my part, I got schooled so that I could stand them all, except the
little toddling three-year olds--they fairly overcame me. So I
supplied my pocket with a quantity of sugar lozenges, for the relief
of my own mind. I usually found the little fellows looked exceedingly
delighted when they discovered the nature of the coin. Children are
unsophisticated, and like sugar better than silver, any day.
In this _auberge_ was a little chamois kid, of which fact we were
duly apprised, when we got out, by a board put up, which said, "Here
one can see a live chamois." The little live representative of
chamoisdom came skipping out with the most amiable unconsciousness,
and went through his paces for our entertainment with as much
propriety as a New England child says his catechism. He hopped up on a
table after some green leaves, which were then economically used to
make him hop down again. The same illusive prospect was used to make
him jump over a stick, and perform a number of other evolutions. I
could not but admire the sweetness of temper with which he took all
this tantalizing, and the innocence with which he chewed his cabbage
leaf after he got it, not harboring a single revengeful thought at us
for the trouble we had given him. Of course the issue of the matter
was, that we all paid a few sous for the sight--not to the chamois,
which would have been the most equitable way, but to those who had
appropriated his gifts and graces to eke out their own convenience.
"Where's his mother?" said I, desiring to enlarge my sphere of natural
history as much as possible.
"_On a tué sa mere_"--"They have killed his mother," was the
reply, cool enough.
There we had the whole story. His enterprising neighbors had invaded
the domestic hearth, shot his mother, and eaten her up, made her skin
into chamois leather, and were keeping him till he got big enough for
the same disposition, using his talents meanwhile to turn a penny
upon; yet not a word of all this thought he; not a bit the less
heartily did he caper; never speculated a minute on why it was, on the
origin of evil, or any thing of the sort; or, if he did, at least
never said a word about it. I gave one good look into his soft, round,
glassy eyes, and could see nothing there but the most tranquil
contentment. He had finished his cabbage leaf, and we had finished our
call; so we will go on.
It was now drawing towards evening, and the air began to be sensibly
and piercingly cold. One effect of this mountain air on myself is, to
bring on the most acute headache that I ever recollect to have felt.
Still, the increasing glory and magnificence of the scenery overcame
bodily fatigue. Mont Blanc, and his army of white-robed brethren, rose
before us in the distance, glorious as the four and twenty elders
around the great white throne. The wonderful gradations of coloring in
this Alpine landscape are not among the least of its charms. How can I
describe it? Imagine yourself standing with me on this projecting
rock, overlooking a deep, piny gorge, through which flow the brawling
waters of the Arve. On the other side of this rise mountains whose
heaving swells of velvet green, cliffs and dark pines, are fully made
out and colored; behind this mountain, rises another, whose greens are
softened and shaded, and seem to be seen through a purplish veil;
behind that rises another, of a decided cloud-like purple; and in the
next still the purple tint changes to rosy lilac; while above all,
like another world up in the sky, mingling its tints with the passing
clouds, sometimes obscured by them, and then breaking out between
them, lie the glacier regions. These glaciers, in the setting sun,
look like rivers of light pouring down from the clouds. Such was the
scene, which I remember with perfect distinctness as enchaining my
attention on one point of the road.
We had now got up to the valley of Chamouni. I looked before me, and
saw, lying in the lap of the green valley, a gigantic pile of icy
pillars, which, seen through the trees, at first suggested the idea of
"What is that?" said I to the guide.
"The Glacier de Boisson."
I may as well stop here, and explain to you, once for all, what a
glacier is. You see before you, as in this case, say thirty or forty
mountain peaks, and between these peaks what seem to you frozen
rivers. The snow from time to time melting, and dripping down the
sides of the mountain, and congealing in the elevated hollows between
the peaks, forms a half-fluid mass--a river of ice--which is called a
As it lies upon the slanting surface, and is not entirely solid
throughout, the whole mass is continually pushing, with a gradual but
imperceptible motion, down into the valleys below.
At a distance these glaciers, as I have said before, look like frozen
rivers; when one approaches nearer, or where they press downward into
the valley, like this Glacier de Boisson, they look like immense
crystals and pillars of ice piled together in every conceivable form.
The effect of this pile of ice, lying directly in the lap of green
grass and flowers, is quite singular. The village of Chamouni itself
has nothing in particular to recommend it. The buildings and every
thing about it have a rough, coarse appearance. Before we had entered
the valley this evening the sun had gone down; the sky behind the
mountains was clear, and it seemed for a few moments as if darkness
was rapidly coming on. On our right hand were black, jagged, furrowed
walls of mountain, and on our left Mont Blanc, with his fields of
glaciers and worlds of snow; they seemed to hem us in, and almost
press us down. But in a few moments commenced a scene of
transfiguration, more glorious than any thing I had witnessed yet. The
cold, white, dismal fields of ice gradually changed into hues of the
most beautiful rose color. A bank of white clouds, which rested above
the mountains, kindled and glowed, as if some spirit of light had
entered into them. You did not lose your idea of the dazzling,
spiritual whiteness of the snow, yet you seemed to see it through a
rosy veil. The sharp edges of the glaciers, and the hollows between
the peaks, reflected wavering tints of lilac and purple. The effect
was solemn and spiritual above every thing I have ever seen. These
words, which had been often in my mind through the day, and which
occurred to me more often than any others while I was travelling
through the Alps, came into my mind with a pomp and magnificence of
meaning unknown before--"For by Him were all things created in heaven
and on earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or
dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things are by him and for
him; and he is before all things, and by him all things subsist."
In this dazzling revelation I saw not that cold, distant, unfeeling
fate, or that crushing regularity of power and wisdom, which was all
the ancient Greek or modern Deist can behold in God; but I beheld, as
it were, crowned and glorified, one who had loved with our loves, and
suffered with our sufferings. Those shining snows were as his garments
on the Mount of Transfiguration, and that serene and ineffable
atmosphere of tenderness and beauty, which seemed to change these
dreary deserts into worlds of heavenly light, was to me an image of
the light shed by his eternal love on the sins and sorrows of time,
and the dread abyss of eternity.
Well, I waked up this morning, and the first thought was, "Here I am
in the valley of Chamouni, right under the shadow of Mont Blanc, that
I have studied about in childhood and found on the atlas." I sprang
up, and ran to the window, to see if it was really there where I left
it last night. Yes, true enough, there it was! right over our heads,
as it were, blocking up our very existence; filling our minds with its
presence; that colossal pyramid of dazzling snow! Its lower parts
concealed by the roofs, only the three rounded domes of the summit cut
their forms with icy distinctness on the intense blue of the sky!
On the evening before I had taken my last look at about nine o'clock,
and had mentally resolved to go out before daybreak and repeat
Coleridge's celebrated hymn; but I advise any one who has any such
liturgic designs to execute them over night, for after a day of
climbing one acquires an aptitude for sleep that interferes with early
rising. When I left last evening its countenance was "filled with rosy
light," and they tell us, that hours before it is daylight in the
valley this mountain top breaks into brightness, like that pillar of
fire which enlightened the darkness of the Israelites.
I rejoice every hour that I am among these scenes in my familiarity
with the language of the Bible. In it alone can I find vocabulary and
images to express what this world of wonders excites. Mechanically I
repeat to myself, "The everlasting mountains were scattered; the
perpetual hills did bow; his ways are everlasting." But as straws,
chips, and seaweed play in a thousand fantastic figures on the face of
the ocean, sometimes even concealing the solemn depths beneath, so the
prose of daily existence mixes itself up with the solemn poetry of
life, here as elsewhere.
You must have a breakfast, and then you cannot rush out and up Mont
Blanc _ad libitum_; you must go up in the regular appointed way,
with mule and guides. This matter of guides is perfectly systematized
here; for, the mountains being the great overpowering fact of life, it
follows that all that enterprise and talent which in other places
develop themselves in various forms, here take the single channel of
climbing mountains. In America, if a man is a genius he strikes out a
new way of cleaning cotton; but in Chamouni, if he is a genius he
finds a new way of going up Mont Blanc.
As a sailor knows every timber, rope, and spar of his ship, and seems
to identify his existence with her, so these guides their mountains.
The mountains are their calendar, their book, their newspaper, their
cabinet, herbarium, barometer, their education, and their livelihood.
In fine, behold us about eight o'clock, C., S., W., little G., and
self, in all the bustle of fitting out in the front of our hotel. Two
guides, Balmat and Alexandre, lead two mules, long-eared, slow-footed,
considerate brutes, who have borne a thousand ladies over a thousand
pokerish places, and are ready to bear a thousand more. Equipped with
low-backed saddles, they stand, their noses down, their eyes
contemplatively closed, their whole appearance impressing one with an
air of practical talent and reliableness. Your mule is evidently safe
and stupid as any conservative of any country; you may be sure that no
erratic fires, no new influx of ideas will ever lead him to desert the
good old paths, and tumble you down precipices. The harness they wear
is so exceedingly ancient, and has such a dilapidated appearance, as
if held together only by the merest accident, that I could not but
express a little alarm on mounting.
"Those girths--won't they break?"
"O, no, no, mademoiselle!" said the guides. In fact, they seem so
delighted with their arrangements, that I swallow my doubts in
silence. A third mule being added for the joint use of the gentlemen,
and all being equipped with iron-pointed poles, off we start in high
A glorious day; air clear as crystal, sky with as fixed a blue as if
it could not think a cloud; guides congratulate us, "_Qu'il fait
très beau!_" We pass the lanes of the village, our heads almost on
a level with the flat stone-laden roofs; our mules, with their long
rolling pace, like the waves of the sea, give to their riders a
facetious wag of the body that is quite striking. Now the village is
passed, and see, a road banded with green ribands of turf. S.'s mule
and guide pass on, and head the party. G. rides another mule. C. and
W. leap along trying their alpenstocks; stopping once in a while to
admire the glaciers, as their brilliant forms appear through the
Here a discussion commences as to where we are going. We had agreed
among ourselves that we would visit the Mer de Glâce. We fully meant
to go there, and had so told the guide on starting; but it appears he
had other views for us. There is a regular way of seeing things,
orthodox and appointed; and to get sight of any thing in the wrong way
would be as bad as to get well without a scientific physician, or any
other irregular piece of proceeding.
It appeared from the representations of the guide that to visit Mer de
Glâce before we had seen La Flégère, would no more answer than for
Jacob to marry Rachel before he had married Leah. Determined not to
yield, as we were, we somehow found ourselves vanquished by our
guide's arguments, and soberly going off his way instead of ours,
doing exactly what we had resolved not to do. However, the point being
yielded we proceeded merrily.
As we had some way, however, to trot along the valley before we came
to the ascending place, I improved the opportunity to cultivate a
little the acquaintance of my guide. He was a tall, spare man, with
black eyes, black hair, and features expressive of shrewdness, energy,
and determination. Either from paralysis, or some other cause, he was
subject to a spasmodic twitching of the features, producing very much
the effect that heat lightning does in the summer sky--it seemed to
flash over his face and be gone in a wink; at first this looked to me
very odd, but so much do our ideas depend on association, that after I
had known him for some time, I really thought that I liked him better
with, than I should without it. It seemed to give originality to the
expression of his face; he was such a good, fatherly man, and took
such excellent care of me and the mule, and showed so much
intelligence and dignity in his conversation, that I could do no less
than like him, heat lightning and all.
This valley of Chamouni, through which we are winding now, is every
where as flat as a parlor floor. These valleys in the Alps seem to
have this peculiarity--they are not hollows, bending downward in the
middle, and imperceptibly sloping upward into the mountains, but they
lie perfectly flat. The mountains rise up around them like walls
"_Voilà!_" says my guide, pointing to the left, to a great, bare
ravine, "down there came an avalanche, and knocked down those houses
and killed several people."
"Ah!" said I; "but don't avalanches generally come in the same places
"Generally, they do."
"Why do people build houses in the way of them?" said I.
"Ah! this was an unusual avalanche, this one here."
"Do the avalanches ever bring rocks with them?"
"No, not often; nothing but snow."
"There!" says my guide, pointing to an object about as big as a
good-sized fly, on the side of a distant mountain, "there's the
_auberge_, on La Flégère, where we are going."
"Up there?" say I, looking up apprehensively, and querying in my mind
how my estimable friend the mule is ever to get up there with me on
"O yes," says my guide, cheerily, "and the road is up through that
The ravine is a charming specimen of a road to be sure, but no
matter--on we go.
"There," says a guide, "those black rocks in the middle of that
glacier on Mont Blanc are the Grands Mulets, where travellers sleep
going up Mont Blanc."
We wind now among the pine tree still we come almost under the Mer de
Glâce. A most fairy-like cascade falls down from under its pillars of
ice over the dark rocks,--a cloud of feathery foam,--and then streams
into the valley below.
"_Voilà, L'Arveiron!_" says the guide.
"O, is that the Arveiron?" say I; "happy to make the acquaintance."
But now we cross the Arve into a grove of pines, and direct our way to
the ascent. We begin to thread a zigzag path on the sides of the
As mules are most determined followers of precedent, every one keeps
his nose close by the heels of his predecessor. The delicate point,
therefore, of the whole operation is keeping the first mule straight.
The first mule in our party, who rejoiced in the name of Rousse, was
selected to head the caravan, perhaps because he had more native
originality than most mules, and was therefore better fitted to lead
than to follow. A troublesome beast was he, from a habit of abstract
meditation which was always liable to come on him in most inconvenient
localities. Every now and then, simply in accordance with his own
sovereign will and pleasure, and without consulting those behind him,
he would stop short and descend into himself in gloomy revery, not
that he seemed to have any thing in particular on his mind,--at least
nothing of the sort escaped his lips,--but the idea would seem to
strike him all of a sudden that he was an ill-used beast, and that
he'd be hanged if he went another step. Now, as his stopping stopped
all the rest, wheresoever they might happen to be, it often occurred
that we were detained in most critical localities, just on the very
verge of some tremendous precipice, or up a rocky stairway. In vain
did the foremost driver admonish him by thumping his nose with a sharp
stick, and tugging and pulling upon the bridle. Rousse was gifted with
one of those long, India rubber necks that can stretch out
indefinitely, so that the utmost pulling and jerking only took his
head along a little farther, but left his heels planted exactly here
they were before, somewhat after this fashion. His eyes, meanwhile,
devoutly closed, with an air of meekness overspreading his visage, he
might have stood as an emblem of conscientious obstinacy.
[Illustration: _of two men trying to force forward a stubborn mule with
a female rider._]
The fact is, that in ascending these mountains there is just enough
danger to make one's nerves a little unsteady; not by any means as
much as on board a rail car at home; still it comes to you in a more
demonstrable form. Here you are, for instance, on a precipice two
thousand feet deep; pine trees, which, when you passed them at the
foot you saw were a hundred feet high, have dwindled to the size of
pins. No barrier of any kind protects the dizzy edge, and your mule is
particularly conscientious to stand on the very verge, no matter how
wide the path may be. Now, under such circumstances, though your guide
assures you that an accident or a person killed is a thing unknown,
you cannot help seeing that if the saddle should turn, or the girths
break, or a bit of the crumbling edge cave away--all which things
appear quite possible--all would be over with you. Yet I suppose we
are no more really dependent upon God's providence in such
circumstances, than in many cases where we think ourselves most
secure. Still the thrill of this sensation is not without its
pleasure, especially with such an image of almighty power and glory
constantly before one's eyes as Mont Blanc. Our own littleness and
helplessness, in view of these vast objects which surround us, give a
strong and pathetic force to the words, "The eternal God is thy
refuge, and underneath thee are the everlasting arms."
I like best these snow-pure glaciers seen through these black pines;
there is something mysterious about them when you thus catch glimpses,
and see not the earthly base on which they rest. I recollect the same
fact in seeing the Cataract of Niagara through trees, where merely the
dizzying fall of water was visible, with its foam, and spray, and
rainbows; it produced an idea of something supernatural.
I forgot to say that at the foot of the mountain a party of girls
started to ascend with us, carrying along bottles of milk and small
saucers full of mountain strawberries. About half way up the ascent we
halted by a spring of water which gushed from the side of the
mountain, and there we found the advantage of these arrangements. The
milk is very nice, almost as rich as cream. I think they told me it
was goat's milk. The strawberries are very small indeed, like our
field strawberries, but not as good. One devours them with great
relish, simply because the keen air of the mountain disposes one to
eat something, and there is nothing better to be had. They were
hearty, rosy-looking girls, cheerful and obliging, wore the flat,
Swiss hat, and carried their knitting work along with them, and knit
whenever they could.
When you asked them the price of their wares they always said, "_Au
plaisir_" i. e., whatever you please; but when we came to offer
them money, we found "_au plaisir_" meant so much at _any
rate_, and as much more as they could get.
There were some children who straggled up with the party, who offered
us flowers and crystals "_au plaisir_" to about the same intent
and purpose. This _cortége_ of people, wanting to sell you
something, accompanies you every where in the Alps. The guides
generally look upon it with complacency, and in a quiet way favor it.
I suppose that the fact was, these were neighbors and acquaintances,
and the mutual understanding was, that they should help each other.
It was about twelve o'clock, when we gained a bare board shanty as
near the top of La Flégère as it is possible to go on mules.
It is rather a discouraging reflection that one should travel three or
four hours to get to such a desolate place as these mountain tops
generally are; nothing but grass, rocks, and snow; a shanty, with a
show case full of minerals, articles of carved wood, and engravings of
the place for sale. In these show cases the Alps are brought to market
as thoroughly as human ingenuity can do the thing. The chamois figures
largely; there are pouches made of chamois skin, walking sticks and
alpenstocks tipped with chamois horn; sometimes an entire skin, horns
and all, hanging disconsolately downward. Then all manner of crystals,
such as are found in the rocks, are served up--agate pins, rings,
seals, bracelets, cups, and snuffboxes--all which are duly urged on
your attention; so, instead of falling into a rapture at the sight of
Mont Blanc, the regular routine for a Yankee is to begin a bargain for
a walking stick or a snuffbox.
There is another curious fact, and that is, that every prospect loses
by being made definite. As long as we only see a thing by glimpses,
and imagine that there is a deal more that we do not see, the mind is
kept in a constant excitement and play; but come to a point where you
can fairly and squarely take in the whole, and there your mind falls
listless. It is the greatest proof to me of the infinite nature of our
minds, that we almost instantly undervalue what we have thoroughly
attained. This sensation afflicted me, for I had been reining in my
enthusiasm for two days, as rather premature, and keeping myself in
reserve for this ultimate display. But now I stood there, no longer
seeing by glimpses, no longer catching rapturous intimations as I
turned angles of rock, or glanced through windows of pine--here it
was, all spread out before me like a map, not a cloud, not a shadow to
soften the outline--there was Mont Blanc, a great alabaster pyramid,
with a glacier running down each side of it; there was the Arve, and
there was the Arveiron, names most magical in song, but now literal
But in full possession of the whole my mind gave out like a rocket
that will not go off at the critical moment. I remember, once after
finishing a very circumstantial treatise on the nature of heaven,
being oppressed with a similar sensation of satiety,--that which hath
not entered the heart of man to conceive must not be mapped out,--
hence the wisdom of the dim, indefinite imagery of the Scriptures;
they give you no hard outline, no definite limit; occasionally they
part as do the clouds around these mountains, giving you flashes and
gleams of something supernatural and splendid, but never fully
But La Flegerc is doubtless the best point for getting a statistically
accurate idea of how the Alps lie, of any easily accessible to ladies.
This print you may regard more as a chart than as a picture.
Our guide pointed out every feature with praiseworthy accuracy.
Midmost is Mont Blanc; on the right the Glacier de Boisson. Two or
three little black peaks' in it are the sleeping-place for travellers
ascending--the zigzag line shows their path. On the left of the
mountain lies Mer de Glâce, with the Arveiron falling from it. The
Arve crosses the valley below us; the fall is not indicated in this
view. The undulations, which, on near view, are fifty feet high, seem
mere ripples. Its purity is much soiled by the dust and debris which
are constantly blown upon it, making it look in some places more like
mud than ice. Its soiled masses contrast with the dazzling whiteness
of the upper regions, just as human virtue exposed to the wind and
dust of earth, with the spotless purity of Jesus.
[Illustration: _of a long view of mountains with glacial valley in
foreground. What follows is a rough ASCII interpretation_:
/\ /\_/ \ 2
/\/\ __ /\/\_ /'\/\/ \__/ \ \_/\
'/\ _/ / / \ 4_ / \_3_
'' / \ | _/ __ __ 5 / \
\, / ___,,__ ____,___/ / \
_ \__--' _/ \ '--' | \____,|
\ /9/ __/ |\ | \ \\ \ |
\/ |/ | \ \ \\ \|
_ | \ | \ \_ 7 \\ \\6
\ \ 8 \__ \ \_ \\ \\
\_ \ \ \===-'--'---->
trees / /
EXPLANATION OF ILLUSTRATION.
1. Mont Blanc. 2. Deme de Goute. 3. Aiguille de Goute. 4. Grand
Plateau. 5. Les Grands Mulets. 6. Glacier de Tacconnaz. 7. Glacier de
Boisson. 8. Mer de Glâce. 9. Montauvert.]
These mulets, which at this distance appear like black points, are
needle cliffs rising in a desert of snow, thus--
[Illustration: _of narrow jagged dark rocks about 70 feet across at
the base and rising to about 80 feet from the base._]
Coming down I mentally compared Mont Blanc and Niagara, as one should
compare two grand pictures in different styles of the same master.
Both are of that class of things which mark eras in a mind's history,
and open a new door which no man can shut. Of the two, I think Niagara
is the most impressive, perhaps because those aerial elements of foam
and spray give that vague and dreamy indefiniteness of outline which
seems essential in the sublime. For this reason, while Niagara is
equally impressive in the distance, it does not lose on the nearest
approach--it is always mysterious, and, therefore, stimulating. Those
varying spray wreaths, rising like Ossian's ghosts from its abyss;
those shimmering rainbows, through whose veil you look; those dizzying
falls of water that seem like clouds poured from the hollow of God's
hand; and that mystic undertone of sound that seems to pervade the
whole being as the voice of the Almighty,--all these bewilder and
enchant the discriminative and prosaic part of us, and bring us into
that cloudy region of ecstasy where the soul comes nearest to Him whom
no eye hath seen, or can see. I have sometimes asked myself if, in the
countless ages of the future, the heirs of God shall ever be endowed
by him with a creative power, by which they shall bring into being
things like these? In this infancy of his existence, man creates
pictures, statues, cathedrals; but when he is made "ruler over many
things," will his Father intrust to him the building and adorning of
worlds? the ruling of the glorious, dazzling forces of nature?
At the foot of the mountain we found again our company of strawberry
girls, with knitting work and goat's milk, lying in wait for us. They
knew we should be thirsty and hungry, and wisely turned the
circumstance to account. Some of our party would not buy of them,
because they said they were sharpers, trying to get all they could out
of people; but if every body who tries to do this is to be called a
sharper, what is to become of respectable society, I wonder?
On the strength of this reflection, I bought some more goat's milk and
strawberries, and verily found them excellent; for, as Shakspeare
says, "How many things by season seasoned are."
We returned to our hotel, and after dining and taking a long nap, I
began to feel fresh once more, for the air here acts like an elixir,
so that one is able to do twice as much as any where else. S. was too
much overcome to go with us, but the rest of us started with our
guides once more at five o'clock. This time we were to visit the
Cascade des Pèlérins, which comes next on the orthodox list of places
to be seen.
It was a lovely afternoon; the sun had got over the Mont Blanc side of
the world, and threw the broad, cool shadow of the mountains quite
across the valley. What a curious kind of thing shadow is,--that
invisible veil, falling so evenly and so lightly over all things,
bringing with it such thoughts of calmness, of coolness, and of rest.
I wonder the old Greeks did not build temples to Shadow, and call her
the sister of Thought and Peace. The Hebrew writers speak of the
"overshadowing of the Almighty;" they call his protection "the shadow
of a great rock in a weary land." Even as the shadow of Mont Blanc
falls like a Sabbath across this valley, so falls the sense of his
presence across our weary life-road!
As we rode along under the sides of the mountain every thing seemed so
beautiful, so thoughtful, and so calm! All the goats and cows were in
motion along the mountain paths, each one tinkling his little bell and
filling the rocks with gentle melodies. You can trace the lines of
these cattle paths, running like threads all along the sides of the
mountains. We went in the same road that we had gone in the morning.
How different it seemed, in the soberness of this afternoon light,
from its aspect under the clear, crisp, sharp light of morning!
We pass again through the pine woods in the valley, and cross the
Arve; then up the mountain side to where a tiny cascade throws up its
feathery spray in a brilliant _jet d'eau_. Every body knows, even
in our sober New England, that mountain brooks are a frisky,
indiscreet set, rattling, chattering, and capering in defiance of all
law and order, tumbling over precipices, and picking themselves up at
the bottom, no whit wiser or more disposed to be tranquil than they
were at the top; in fact, seeming to grow more mad and frolicsome with
every leap. Well, that is just the way brooks do here in the Alps, and
the people, taking advantage of it, have built a little shanty, where
they show up the capers of this child of the mountain, as if he
tumbled for their special profit. Here, of course, in the shanty are
the agates, and the carved work, and so forth, and so on, and you must
buy something for a souvenir.
I sat down on the rocks to take, not a sketch,--for who can sketch a
mountain torrent?--but to note down on paper a kind of diagram, from
which afterwards I might reconstruct an image of this feathery, frisky
son of Kuhleborn.
And while I was doing this, little G. seemed to be possessed by the
spirit of the brook to caper down into the ravine, with a series of
leaps far safer for a waterfall than a boy. I was thankful when I saw
him safely at the bottom.
After sketching a little while, I rambled off to a point where I
looked over towards Mont Blanc, and got a most beautiful view of the
Glacier de Boisson. Imagine the sky flushed with a rosy light, a
background of purple mountains, with darts of sunlight streaming among
them, touching point and cliff with gold. Against this background
rises the outline of the glacier like a mountain of the clearest white
crystals, tinged with blue; and against their snowy whiteness in the
foreground tall forms of pines. I rejoiced in the picture with
exceeding joy as long as the guide would let me; but in all these
places you have to cut short your raptures at the proper season, or
else what becomes of your supper?
I went back to the cottage. A rosy-cheeked girl had held our mules,
and set a chair for us to get off, and now brings them up with "_Au
plaisir, messieurs_" to the bearers of our purse. Half a dozen
children had been waiting with the rose des Alps, which they wanted to
sell us "_au plaisir_" but which we did not buy.
These continual demands on the purse look very alarming, only the coin
you pay in is of such infinitesimal value that it takes about a pocket
full to make a cent. Such a currency is always a sign of poverty.
We had a charming ride down the mountain side, in the glow of the
twilight. We passed through a whole flock of goats which the children
were driving home. One dear little sturdy Savoyard looked so like a
certain little Charley at home that I felt quite a going forth of soul
to him. As we rode on, I thought I would willingly live and die in
such a place; but I shall see a hundred such before we leave the Alps.
Thursday, July 7. Weather still celestial, as yesterday. But lo, these
frail tabernacles betray their earthliness. H. remarked at breakfast
that all the "tired" of yesterday was piled up into to-day. And S.
actually pleaded inability, and determined to remain at the hotel.
However, the Mer de Glâce must be seen; so, at seven William, Georgy,
H., and I, set off. When about half way or more up the mountain we
crossed the track of the avalanches, a strip or trail, which looks
from beneath like a mower's swath through a field of tall grass. It is
a clean path, about fifty rods wide, without trees, with few rocks,
smooth and steep, and with a bottom of ice covered with gravel.
"Hurrah, William," said I, "let's have an avalanche!"
"Agreed," said he; "there's a big rock."
"Monsieur le Guide, Monsieur le Guide!" I shouted, "stop a moment. H.,
stop; we want you to see our avalanche."
"No," cried H., "I will not. Here you ask me to stop, right on the
edge of this precipice, to see you roll down a stone!"
So, on she ambled. Meanwhile William and I were already on foot, and
our mules were led on by the guide's daughter, a pretty little lass of
ten or twelve, who accompanied us in the capacity of mule driver.
We found several stones of inferior size, and sent them plunging down.
At last, however, we found one that weighed some two tons, which
happened to lie so that, by loosening the earth before and under it
with our alpenstocks, we were able to dislodge it. Slowly,
reluctantly, as if conscious of the awful race it was about to take,
the huge mass trembled, slid, poised, and, with a crunch and a groan,
went over. At the first plunge it acquired a heavy revolving motion,
and was soon whirling and dashing down, bounding into the air with
prodigious leaps, and cutting a white and flashing path into the icy
way. Then first I began to realize the awful height at which we stood
above the plain. Tracts, which looked as though we could almost step
across them, were reached by this terrible stone, moving with
frightful velocity; and bound after bound, plunge after plunge it
made, and we held our breath to see each tract lengthen out, as if
seconds grew into minutes, inches into rods; and still the mass moved
on, and the microscopic way lengthened out, till at last a curve hid
its further progress from our view.
What other cliffs we might have toppled over the muse refuses to tell;
for our faithful guide returned to say that it was not quite safe;
that there were always shepherds and flocks in the valley, and that
they might be injured. So we remounted, and soon overtook H. at a
fountain, sketching a pine tree of special physiognomy.
"Ah," said I, "H., how foolish you were! You don't know what a sight
you have lost."
"Yes," said she, "all C. thinks mountains are made for is to roll
"And all H. thinks trees made for," said I, "is to have ugly pictures
made of them."
"Ay," she replied, "you wanted me to stand on the very verge of the
precipice, and see two foolish boys roll down stones, and perhaps make
an avalanche of themselves! Now, you know, C., I could not spare you;
first, because I have not learned French enough yet; and next, because
I don't know how to make change."
"Add to that," said I, "the damages to the _bergers_ and flocks."
"Yes," she added; "no doubt when we get back to the inn we shall have
a bill sent in, 'H. B. S. to A. B., Dr., to one shepherd and six
And so we chatted along until we reached the _auberge_, and,
after resting a few moments, descended into the frozen sea.
Here a scene opened upon us never to be forgotten. From the distant
gorge of the everlasting Alpine ranges issued forth an ocean tide, in
wild and dashing commotion, just as we have seen the waves upon the
broad Atlantic, but all motionless as chaos when smitten by the mace
of Death; and yet, not motionless! This denser medium, this motionless
mass, is never at rest. This flood moves as it seems to move; these
waves are actually uplifting out of the abyss as they seem to lift;
the only difference is in the time of motion, the rate of change.
These prodigious blocks of granite, thirty or forty feet long and
twenty feet thick, which float on this grim sea of ice, _do
float_, and are _drifting_, drifting down to the valley below,
where, in a few days, they must arrive.
We walked these valleys, ascended these hills, leaped across chasms,
threw stones down the _crevasses_, plunged our alpenstocks into
the deep baths of green water, and philosophized and poetized till we
were tired. Then we returned to the _auberge_, and rode down the
zigzag to our hotel.
The Mer de Glâce is exactly opposite to La Flégère, where we were
yesterday, and is reached by the ascent of what is called Montanvert,
or Green Mountain. The path is much worse than the other, and in some
places makes one's nerves twinge, especially that from which C.
projected his avalanche. Just think of his wanting to stop me on the
edge of a little shelf over that frightful chasm, and take away the
guide from the head of my mule to help him get up avalanches!
I warn you, if ever you visit the Alps, that a travelling companion
who has not the slightest idea what fear is will give you many a
commotion. For instance, this Mer de Glâce is traversed every where by
_crevasses_ in the ice, which go to--nobody knows where, down
into the under world--great, gaping, blue-green mouths of Hades; and
C. must needs jump across them, and climb down into them, to the
mingled delight and apprehension of the guide, who, after
conscientiously shouting out a reproof, would say to me, in a lower
tone, "Ah, he's the man to climb Mont Blanc; he would do well for
The fact is, nothing would suit our guides better, this clear, bright
weather, than to make up a party for the top of Mont Blanc. They look
longingly and lovingly up to its clear, white fields; they show us the
stages and resting-places, and seem really to think that it is a waste
of this beautiful weather not to be putting it to that most sublime
Why, then, do not we go up? you say. As to us ladies, it is a thing
that has been done by only two women since the world stood, and those
very different in their _physique_ from any we are likely to
raise in America, unless we mend our manners very much. These two were
a peasant woman of Chamouni, called Marie de Mont Blanc, and
Mademoiselle Henriette d'Angeville, a lady whose acquaintance I made
in Geneva. Then, as to the gentlemen, it is a serious consideration,
in the first place, that the affair costs about one hundred and fifty
dollars apiece, takes two days of time, uses up a week's strength, all
to get an experience of some very disagreeable sensations, which could
not afflict a man in any other case. It is no wonder, then, that
gentlemen look up to the mountain, lay their hands on their pockets,
and say, No.
Our guide, by the way, is the son, or grandson, of the very first man
that ascended Mont Blanc, and of course feels a sort of hereditary
property and pride in it.
C. spoke about throwing our poles down the pools of water in the ice.
There is something rather curious about these pools. Our guide saw us
measuring the depth of one of them, which was full of greenish-blue
water, colored only by the refraction of the light. He took our long
alpenstock, and poising it, sent it down into the water, as a man
might throw a javelin. It disappeared, but in a few seconds leaped up
at us out of the water, as if thrown back again by an invisible hand.
A poet would say that a water spirit hurled it back; perhaps some old
under-ground gnome, just going to dinner, had his windows smashed by
it, and sent it back with a becoming spirit, as a gnome should.
It was a sultry day, and the sun was exercising his power over the
whole ice field. I sat down by a great ice block, about fifty feet
long, to interrogate it, and see what I could make of it, by a cool,
confidential proximity and examination. The ice was porous and spongy,
as I have seen it on the shores of the Connecticut, when beginning to
thaw out under the influence of a spring sun. I could see the little
drops of water percolating in a thousand tiny streams through it, and
dropping down on every side. Putting my ear to it, I could hear a fine
musical trill and trickle, and that still small click and stir, as of
melting ice, which showed that it was surely and gradually giving way,
and flowing back again.
Drop by drop the cold iceberg was changing into a stream, to flow down
the sides of the valley, no longer an image of coldness and death, but
bearing fertility and beauty on its tide. And as I looked abroad over
all the rifted field of ice, I could see that the same change was
gradually going on throughout. In every blue ravine you can hear the
clink of dropping water, and those great defiant blocks of ice, which
seem frozen with uplifted warlike hands, are all softening in that
beneficent light, and destined to pass away in that benignant change.
So let us hope that those institutions of pride and cruelty, which are
colder than the glacier, and equally vast and hopeless in their
apparent magnitude, may yet, like that, be slowly and surely passing
away. Like the silent warfare of the sun on the glacier, is that
overshadowing presence of Jesus, whose power, so still, yet so
resistless, is now being felt through all the moving earth.
Those defiant waves of death-cold ice might as well hope to conquer
the calm, silent sun, as the old, frozen institutions of human
selfishness to resist the influence which he is now breathing through
the human heart, to liberate the captive, to free the slave, and to
turn the ice of long winters into rivers of life for the new heaven
and the new earth.
All this we know is coming, but we long to see it now, and breathe
forth our desires with the Hebrew prophet, "O that thou wouldst rend
the heavens, that thou wouldst come down, that the mountains might
flow down at thy presence."
I had, while upon this field of ice, that strange feeling which often
comes over one, at the sight of a thing unusually beautiful and
sublime, of wanting, in some way, to appropriate and make it a part of
myself. I looked up the gorge, and saw this frozen river, lying
cradled, as it were, in the arms of needle-peaked giants of
amethystine rock, their tops laced with flying silvery clouds. The
whole air seemed to be surcharged with tints, ranging between the
palest rose and the deepest violet--tints never without blue, and
never without red, but varying in the degrees of the two. It is this
prismatic hue diffused over every object which gives one of the most
noticeable characteristics of the Alpine landscape.
This sea of ice lies on an inclined plane, and all the blocks have a
general downward curve.
I told you yesterday that the lower part of the glacier, as seen from
La Flégère, appeared covered with dirt. I saw to-day the reason for
this. Although it was a sultry day in July, yet around the glacier a
continual high wind was blowing, whirling the dust and _débris_
of the sides upon it. Some of the great masses of ice were so
completely coated with sand as to appear at a distance like granite
rocks. The effect of some of these immense brown masses was very
peculiar. They seemed like an army of giants, bending forward, driven,
as by an invisible power, down into the valley.
It reminds one of such expressions as these in Job:--
"Have the gates of death been open to thee, or hast thou seen the
doors of the shadow of death?" One should read that sublime poem in
such scenes as these. I remained on the ice as long as I could
persuade the guides and party to remain.
Then we went back to the house, where, of course, we looked at some
wood work, agates, and all the et cetera.
Then we turned our steps downward. We went along the side of the
glacier, and I desired to climb over as near as possible, in order to
see the source of the Arveiron, which is formed by the melting of this
glacier. Its cradle is a ribbed and rocky cavern of blue ice, and like
a creature born full of vigor and immortality, it begins life with an
impetuous leap. The cold arms of the glaciers cannot retain it; it
must go to the warm, flowery, velvet meadows below.
The guide was quite anxious about me; he seemed to consider a lady as
something that must necessarily break in two, or come apart, like a
German doll, if not managed with extremest care; and therefore to see
one bounding through bushes, leaping, and springing, and climbing over
rocks at such a rate, appeared to him the height of desperation.
The good, faithful soul wanted to keep me within orthodox limits, and
felt conscientiously bound to follow me wherever I went, and to offer
me his hand at every turn. I considered, on the whole, that I ought
not to blame him, since guides hold themselves responsible for life
and limb; and any accident to those under their charge is fatal to
their professional honor.
Going down, I held some conversation with him on matters and things in
general, and life in Chamouni in particular. He inquired with great
interest about America; which, throughout Europe, I find the working
classes regard as a kind of star in the west, portending something of
good to themselves. He had a son, he said, settled in America, near
"And don't you want to go to America?" said I, after hearing him
praise the good land.
"Ah, no," he said, with a smile.
"Why not?" said I; "it is a much easier country to live in."
He gave a look at the circle of mountains around, and said, "I love
Chamouni." The good soul! I was much of his opinion. If I had been
born within sight of glorious Mont Blanc, with its apocalyptic clouds,
and store of visions, not all the fat pork and flat prairies of
Indiana and Ohio could tempt me. No wonder the Swiss die for their
native valleys! I would if I were they. I asked him about education.
He said his children went to a school kept by Catholic sisters, who
taught reading, writing, and Latin. The dialect of Chamouni is a
patois, composed of French and Latin. He said that provision was very
scarce in the winter. I asked how they made their living when there
were no travellers to be guided up Mont Blanc. He had a trade at which
he wrought in winter months, and his wife did tailoring.
I must not forget to say that the day before there had been some
confidential passages between us, which began by his expressing,
interrogatively, the opinion that "mademoiselle was a young lady, he
supposed." When mademoiselle had assured him, on the contrary, that
she was a venerable matron, mother of a thriving family, then followed
a little comparison of notes as to numbers. Madame he ascertained to
have six, and he had four, if my memory serves me, as it generally
does not in matters of figures. So you see it is not merely among us
New Englanders that the unsophisticated spirit of curiosity exists as
to one's neighbors. Indeed, I take it to be a wholesome development of
human nature in general. For my part, I could not think highly of any
body who could be brought long into connection with another human
being and feel no interest to inquire into his history and
As we stopped, going down the descent, to rest the mules, I looked up
above my head into the crags, and saw a flock of goats browsing. One
goat, in particular, I remember, had gained the top of a kind of table
rock, which stood apart from the rest, and which was carpeted with
lichens and green moss. There he stood, looking as unconscious and
contemplative as possible, the wicked fellow, with his long beard! He
knew he looked picturesque, and that is what he stood there for. But,
as they say in New England, he did it "_as nat'ral as a pictur!_"
By the by, the girls with strawberries, milk, and knitting work were
on hand on the way down, and met us just where a cool spring gushed
out at the roots of a pine tree; and of course I bought some more milk
How dreadfully hot it was when we got down to the bottom! for there we
had the long, shadeless ride home, with the burning lenses of the
glaciers concentrated upon our defenceless heads. I was past admiring
any thing, and glad enough for the shelter of a roof, and a place to
After dinner, although the Glacier de Boisson had been spoken of as
the appointed work for the afternoon, yet we discovered, as the psalm
book says, that
"The force of nature could no farther go"
[Illustration: _of an ice climbing party scaling a large serac._]
What is Glacier de Boisson, or glacier any thing else, to a person
used up entirely, with no sense or capability left for any thing but a
general aching? No; the Glacier de Boisson was given up, and I am
sorry for it now, because it is the commencement of the road up Mont
Blanc; and, though I could not go to the top thereof, I should like to
have gone as far as I could. In fact, I should have been glad to sleep
one night at the Grands Mulets: however, that was impossible.
To look at the apparently smooth surface of the mountain side, one
would never think that the ascent could be a work of such difficulty
and danger. Yet, look at the picture of crossing a _crevasse_,
and compare the size of the figures with the dimensions of the blocks
of ice. Madame d'Angeville told me that she was drawn across a
_crevasse_ like this, by ropes tied under her arms, by the
guides. The depth of some of the _crevasses_ may be conjectured
from the fact stated by Agassiz, that the thickest parts of the
glaciers are over one thousand feet in depth.
Friday, July 8.--Chamouni to Martigny, by Tête Noir. Mules _en
avant_. We set off in a _calèche_. After a two hours' ride we
came to "_those mules_." On, to the pass of Tête Noir, by paths
the most awful. As my mule trod within six inches of the verge, I
looked down into an abyss, so deep that tallest pines looked like
twigs; yet, on the opposite side of the pass, I looked up the steep
precipice to an equal height, where giant trees seemed white
fluttering fringe. A dizzy sight. We swept round an angle, entered a
dark tunnel blasted out through the solid rock, emerged, and saw
before us, on our right, the far-famed Tête Noir, a black ledge, on
whose face, so high is the opposite cliff, the sun never shines. A few
steps brought us to a hotel. William and I rolled down some
avalanches, by way of getting an appetite, while dinner was preparing.
[Illustration: _of the rearing head and neck of a bridled mule._]
After dinner we commenced descending towards Martigny,
alternately riding and walking. Here, while I was on foot, my mule
took it into his head to run away. I was never more surprised in my
life than to see that staid, solemn, meditative, melancholy beast
suddenly perk up both his long ears, thus, and hop about over the
steep paths like a goat. Not more surprised should I be to see some
venerable D. D. of Princeton leading off a dance in the Jardin
Mabille. We chased him here, and chased him there. We headed him, and
he headed us. We said, "Now I have you," and he said, "No, you don't!"
until the affair began to grow comically serious. "_Il se moque de
vous!_" said the guide. But, at that moment, I sprang and caught
him by the bridle, when, presto! down went his ears, shut went the
eyes, and over the entire gay brute spread a visible veil of
stolidity. And down he plodded, _slunging_, shambling, pivotting
round zigzag corners, as before, in a style which any one that ever
navigated such a craft down hill knows without further telling. After
that, I was sure that the old fellow kept up a "terrible thinking," in
spite of his stupid looks, and knew a vast deal more than he chose to
[Illustration: _of a mule's head lowered, with ears flattened._]
At length we opened on the Rhone valley; and at seven we reached Hotel
de la Tour, at Martigny. Here H. and S. managed to get up two flights
of stone stairs, and sank speechless and motionless upon their beds. I
must say they have exhibited spirit to-day, or, as Mr. C. used to say,
"pluck." After settling with our guides,--fine fellows, whom we hated
to lose,--I ordered supper, and sought new guides for our route to the
convent. Our only difficulty in reaching there, they say, is the
_snow_. The guides were uncertain whether mules could get through
so early in the season. Only to think! To-day, riding broilingly
through hay-fields--to-morrow, stuck in snow drifts!
You cannot think how beautiful are these Alpine valleys. Our course,
all the first morning after we left Chamouni, lay beside a broad,
hearty, joyous mountain torrent, called, perhaps from the darkness of
its waters, Eau Noire. Charming meadows skirted its banks. All the way
along I could think of nothing but Bunyan's meadows beside the river
of life, "curiously adorned with lilies." _These_ were curiously
adorned, broidered, and inwrought with flowers, many and brilliant as
those in a western prairie. Were I to undertake to describe them, I
might make an inventory as long as Homer's list of the ships. There
was the Canterbury bell of our garden; the white meadow sweet; the
blue and white campanula; the tall, slender harebell, and a little,
short-tufted variety of the same, which our guide tells me is called
"Les Clochettes," or the "little bells"--fairies might ring them, I
thought. Then there are whole beds of the little blue forget-me-not,
and a white flower which much resembles it in form. I also noticed,
hanging in the clefts of the rocks around Tête Noir, the long golden
tresses of the laburnum. It has seemed to me, when I have been
travelling here, as if every flower I ever saw in a garden met me some
where in rocks or meadows.
There is a strange, unsatisfying pleasure about flowers, which, like
all earthly pleasure, is akin to pain. What can you do with them?--you
want to do something, but what? Take them all up, and carry them with
you? You cannot do that. Get down and look at them? What, keep a whole
caravan waiting for your observations! That will never do. Well, then,
pick and carry them along with you. That is what, in despair of any
better resource, I did. My good old guide was infinite in patience,
stopping at every new exclamation point of mine, plunging down rocks
into the meadow land, climbing to the points of great rocks, and
returning with his hands filled with flowers. It seemed almost
sacrilegious to tear away such fanciful creations, that looked as if
they were votive offerings on an altar, or, more likely, living
existences, whose only conscious life was a continued exhalation of
joy and praise.
These flowers seemed to me to be earth's raptures and aspirations
--her better moments--her lucid intervals. Like every thing else in
our existence, they are mysterious.
In what mood of mind were they conceived by the great Artist? Of what
feelings of his are they the expression--springing up out of the
dust, in these gigantic, waste, and desolate regions, where one would
think the sense of his almightiness might overpower the soul? Born in
the track of the glacier and the avalanche, they seem to say to us
that this Almighty Being is very pitiful, and of tender compassion;
that, in his infinite soul, there is an exquisite gentleness and love
of the beautiful, and that, if we would be blessed, his will to bless
The greatest men have always thought much of flowers. Luther always
kept a flower in a glass, on his writing table; and when he was waging
his great public controversy with Eckius, he kept a flower in his
hand. Lord Bacon has a beautiful passage about flowers. As to
Shakspeare, he is a perfect Alpine valley--he is full of flowers; they
spring, and blossom, and wave in every cleft of his mind. Witness the
Midsummer Night's Dream. Even Milton, cold, serene, and stately as he
is, breaks forth into exquisite gushes of tenderness and fancy when he
marshals the flowers, as in Lycidas and Comus.
But all this while the sun has been withering the flowers the guide
brought me; how they look! blue and white Canterbury bells, harebells,
clochettes, all bedraggled and wilted, like a young lady who has been
up all night at a ball.
"No, no," say I to the guide; "don't pick me any more. I don't want
them. The fact is, if they are pretty I cannot help it. I must even
take it out in looking as I go by."
One thing is evident; He who made the world is no utilitarian, no
despiser of the fine arts, and no condemner of ornament; and those
religionists, who seek to restrain every thing within the limits of
cold, bare utility, do not imitate our Father in heaven.
Cannot a bonnet cover your head, without the ribbon and the flowers,
say they? Yes; and could not a peach tree bear peaches without a
blossom? What a waste is all this colored corolla of flowers, as if
the seed could not mature without them! God could have created the
fruit in good, strong, homely bushel baskets, if he had been so
"Turn off my eyes from beholding vanity," says a good man, when he
sees a display of graceful ornament. What, then, must he think of the
Almighty Being, all whose useful work is so overlaid with ornament?
There is not a fly's leg, nor an insect's wing, which is not polished
and decorated to an extent that we should think positive extravagance
in finishing up a child's dress. And can we suppose that this Being
can take delight in dwellings and modes of life or forms of worship
where every thing is reduced to cold, naked utility? I think not. The
instinct to adorn and beautify is from him; it likens us to him, and
if rightly understood, instead of being a siren to beguile our hearts
away, it will be the closest affiliating band.
If this power of producing the beautiful has been always so
fascinating that the human race for its sake have bowed down at the
feet even of men deficient in moral worth, if we cannot forbear loving
the painter, poet, and sculptor, how much more shall we love God, who,
with all goodness, has also all beauty!
But all this while we have been riding on till we have passed the
meadows, and the fields, and are coming into the dark and awful pass
of the Tête Noir, which C. has described to you.
One thing I noticed which he did not. When we were winding along the
narrow path, bearing no more proportion to the dizzy heights above and
below than the smallest insect creeping on the wall, I looked across
the chasm, and saw a row of shepherds' cottages perched midway on a
narrow shelf, that seemed in the distance not an inch wide. By a very
natural impulse, I exclaimed, "What does become of the little children
there? I should think they would all fall over the precipice!"
My guide looked up benevolently at me, as if he felt it his duty to
quiet my fears, and said in a soothing tone, "O, no, no, no!"
Of course, I might have known that little children have their angels
there, as well as every where else. "When they have funerals there,"
said he, "they are obliged to carry the dead along that road,"
pointing to a road that resembled a thread drawn on the rocky wall.
What a strange idea--such a life and death! It seemed to me, that I
could see a funeral train creeping along; the monks, with their black
cloaks, carrying tapers, and singing psalms; the whole procession
together not larger in proportion than a swarm of black gnats; and
yet, perhaps, hearts there wrung with an infinite sorrow. In that
black, moving point, may be a soul, whose convulsions and agonies
cannot be measured or counted by any thing human, so impossible is it
to measure souls by space.
What can they think of, these creatures, who are born in this strange
place, half way between heaven and earth, to whom the sound of
avalanches is a cradle hymn, and who can never see the sun above the
top of the cliff on either side, till he really gets into the zenith?
What they can be thinking of I cannot tell. Life, I suppose, is made
up of the same prosaic material there that it is every where. The
mother thinks how she shall make her goat's milk and black bread hold
out. The grandmother knits stockings, and runs out to see if Jaques or
Pierre have not tumbled over the precipice. Jaques and Pierre, in
return, tangle grandmother's yarn, upset mother's milk bucket, pull
the goat's beard, tear their clothes to pieces on the bushes and
rocks, and, in short, commit incredible abominations daily, just as
children do every where.
In the night how curiously this little nest of houses must look,
lighted up, winking and blinking at the solitary traveller, like some
mysterious eyes looking out of a great eternity! There they all are
fast asleep, Pierre, and Jaques, and grandmother, and the goats. In
the night they hear a tremendous noise, as if all nature was going to
pieces; they half wake, open one eye, say, "Nothing but an avalanche!"
and go to sleep again.
This road, through the pass of the Tête Noir, used to be dangerous; a
very narrow bridle-path, undefended by any screen whatever. To have
passed it in those old days would have had too much of the sublime to
be quite agreeable to me. The road, as it is, is wide enough, I should
think, for three mules to go abreast, and a tunnel has been blasted
through what seemed the most difficult and dangerous point, and a
little beyond this tunnel is the Hotel de la Couronne.
If any body wanted to stop in the wildest and lonesomest place he
could find in the Alps, so as to be saturated with a sense of
savageness and desolation, I would recommend this hotel. The chambers
are reasonably comfortable, and the beds of a good quality--a point
which S. and I tested experimentally soon after our arrival. I thought
I should like to stay there a week, to be left there alone with
Nature, and see what she would have to say to me.
But two or three hours' ride in the hot sun, on a mule's back,
indisposes one to make much of the grandest scenes, insomuch that we
were glad to go to sleep; and on awaking we were glad to get some
dinner, such as it was.
Well, after our dinner, which consisted of a dish of fried potatoes
and some fossiliferous bread, such as prevails here at the small
hotels in Switzerland, we proceeded onward. After an intolerably hot
ride for half an hour we began to ascend a mountain called the
There is something magnificent about going up these mountains,
appalling as it seems to one's nerves, at particular turns and angles
of the road, where the mule stops you on the very "brink of forever,"
as one of the ladies said.
Well, at last we reached the top, and began to descend; and there, at
our feet, as if we were looking down at it out of a cloud, lay the
whole beautiful valley of the Rhone. I did not know then that this was
one of the things put down in the guide book, that we were expected to
admire, as I found afterwards it was; but nothing that I saw any where
through the Alps impressed me as this did. It seemed to me more like
the vision of "the land that is very far off" than any thing earthly.
I can see it now just as distinctly as I saw it then; one of these
flat, Swiss valleys, green as a velvet carpet, studded with buildings
and villages that looked like dots in the distance, and embraced on
all sides by these magnificent mountains, of which those nearest in
the prospect were distinctly made out, with their rocks, pine trees,
The next in the receding distance were fainter, and of a purplish
green; the next of a vivid purple; the next, lilac; while far in the
fading view the crystal summits and glaciers of the Oberland Alps rose
like an exhalation.
The afternoon sun was throwing its level beams in between these
many-colored ranges, and on one of them the ruins of an old Roman
tower stood picturesquely prominent. The Simplon road could be seen,
dividing the valley like an arrow.
I had gone on quite ahead of my company, and as my mule soberly paced
downward in the almost perpendicular road, I seemed to be poised so
high above the enchanting scene that I had somewhat the same sensation
as if I were flying. I don't wonder that larks seem to get into such a
rapture when they are high up in the air. What a dreamlike beauty
there is in distance, disappearing ever as we approach!
As I came down towards Martigny into the pasture land of the great
mountain, it seemed to me that the scenery might pass for that of the
Delectable Mountains--such beautiful, green, shadowy hollows, amid
great clumps of chestnut and apple trees, where people were making
their hay, which smelled so delightfully, while cozy little Swiss
cottages stood in every nook.
All were out in the fields, men, women, and children, and in one
hayfield I saw the baby's cradle--baby, of course, concealed from view
under a small avalanche of a feather bed, as the general fashion in
these parts seems to be. The women wore broad, flat hats, and all
appeared to be working rather lazily, as it was coming on evening.
This place might have done for Arcadia, or Utopia, or any other of
those places people think of when they want to get rid of what is, and
get into the region of what might be.
I was very far before my party, and now got off my mule, and sat down
on a log to wait till they came up. Then the drama enacted by C.'s
mule took place, which he has described to you. I merely saw a distant
commotion, but did not enter into the merits of the case.
As they were somewhat slow coming down, I climbed over a log into a
hayfield, and plucked a long, delicate, white-blossomed vine, with
which I garlanded the top of my flat hat.
One is often reminded of a text of Scripture in these valleys--"He
sendeth springs into the valleys, which run among the hills."
Every where are these little, lively, murmuring brooks falling down
the rocks, prattling through the hayfields, sociably gossiping with
each other as they go.
Here comes the party, and now we are going down into Martigny. How
tired we were! We had to ride quite through the town, then through a
long, long row of trees, to come to the Hotel de la Tour. How
delightful it seemed, with its stone entries and staircases, its
bedrooms as inviting as cleanliness could make them! The eating saloon
opened on to a beautiful garden filled with roses in full bloom. There
were little tables set about under the trees for people to take their
strawberries and cream, or tea, in the open air if they preferred it,
a very common and pleasant custom of continental hotels.
A trim, tidy young woman in a white cap, with a bunch of keys at her
girdle, ushered us up two flights of stone stairs, into a very clean,
nice apartment, with white muslin window curtains. Now, there is no
feature of a room that speaks to the heart like white muslin window
curtains; they always shed light on the whole scene.
After resting a while we were called down to a supper of strawberries
and cream, and nice little rolls with honey. This honey you find at
every hotel in Switzerland, as one of the inevitables of the breakfast
or tea table.
Here we were to part from our Chamouni guides, and engage new ones to
take us to St. Bernard. I had become so fond of mine that it really
went quite to my heart; we had an affecting leave-taking in the dark
stone entry, at the foot of the staircase. In the earnestness of my
emotion I gave him all the change I had in my pocket, to buy
_souvenirs_ for his little folks at home, for you know I told you
we had compared notes on sundry domestic points. I really flattered
myself that I was doing something quite liberal; but this deceitful
Swiss coin! I found, when I came to tell C. about it, that the whole
stock only amounted to about twenty cents: like a great many things in
this world, it looked more than it was. The good man, however, seemed
as grateful as if I had done something, wished all sorts of happiness
to me and my children, and so we parted. Peace go with him in his
Saturday, July 9. Rose in a blaze of glory. Rode five mortal hours in
a _char-à-banc_, sweltering under a burning sun. But in less than
ten minutes after we mounted the mules and struck into the gorge, the
ladies muffled themselves in thick shawls. We seemed to have passed,
almost in a moment, from the tropics into the frigid zone. A fur cloak
was suggested to me, but as it happened I was adequately calorified
without. Chancing to be the last in the file, my mule suddenly stopped
"_Allez_, _allez_!" said I, twitching the bridle.
"I _won't_!" said he, as plainly as ears and legs could speak.
"_Allez_!" thundered I, jumping off and bestowing a kick upon his
ribs which made me suffer if it did not him.
"I _won't_!" said he, stuffily.
"Won't you?" said I, pursuing the same line of inductive argument,
with rhetorical flourishes of the bridle.
"Never!" he replied again, most mulishly.
"Then if words and kicks won't do," said I, "let us see what virtue
there is in stones;" and suiting the action to the word, I showered
him with fragments of granite, as from a catapult. At every concussion
he jumped and kicked, but kept his nose in the same relative position.
I redoubled the logical admonition; he jumped the more perceptibly;
finally, after an unusually affecting appeal from a piece of granite,
he fairly budged, and I seized the bridle to mount.
"Not at all," said he, wheeling round to his first position, like a
true proslavery demagogue.
"Ah," said I; and went over the same line of argument in a more solid
and convincing manner. At length the salutary impression seemed
permanently fastened on his mind; he fairly gave in; and I rode on in
triumph to overtake the party--having no need of a fur coat.
Horeb, Sinai, and Hor! What a wilderness! what a sudden change!
Nothing but savage, awful precipices of naked granite, snowy fields,
and verdureless wastes! In every other place in the Alps, we have
looked upon the snow in the remote distance, to be dazzled with its
sheeny effulgence--ourselves, meanwhile, in the region of verdure and
warmth. Here we march through a horrid desert--not a leaf, not a blade
of grass--over the deep drifts of snow; and we find our admiration
turns to horror. And this is the road that Hannibal trod, and
Charlemagne, and Napoleon! They were fit conquerors of Rome, who could
vanquish the sterner despotism of eternal winter.
After an hour's perilous climbing, we reached, at last, the
_hospice_, and in five minutes were sitting at the supper table,
by a good blazing fire, with a lively company, chatting with a
gentlemanly abbé, discussing figs and fun, cracking filberts and
jokes, and regaling ourselves genially. But ever and anon drawing,
with a half shiver, a little closer to the roaring fagots in the
chimney, I thought to myself, "And this is our midsummer nights'
During breakfast, we were discussing whether we could get through the
snow to Mont St. Bernard. Some thought we could, and some thought not.
So it goes here: we are gasping and sweltering one hour, and plunging
through snow banks the next.
After breakfast, we entered the _char-à-banc_, a crab-like,
sideway carriage, and were soon on our way. Our path was cut from the
breast of the mountain, in a stifling gorge, where walls of rock on
both sides served as double reflectors to concentrate the heat of the
sun on our hapless heads. To be sure, there was a fine foaming stream
at the bottom of the pass, and ever so much fine scenery, if we could
have seen it; but our chars opened but one way, and that against the
perpendicular rock, close enough, almost, to blister our faces; and
the sun beat in so on our backs that we were obliged to have the
curtain down. Thus we were as uncognizant of the scenery we passed
through as if we had been nailed up in a box. Nothing but the
consideration that we were travelling for pleasure could for a moment
have reconciled us to such inconveniences. As it was, I occasionally
called out to C., in the back carriage, to be sure and take good care
of the fur coat; which always brought shouts of laughter from the
whole party. The idea of a fur coat seemed so supremely ridiculous to
us, there was no making us believe we ever should or could want it.
That was the most unpleasant day's ride I had in the Alps. We stopped
to take dinner in the little wretched village of Liddes. You have no
idea what a disagreeable, unsavory concern one of these villages is.
Houses, none of which look much better than the log barns in our
Western States, set close together on either side of a street paved
with round stones; coarse, sunburnt women, with their necks enlarged
by the goitre; and dirty children, with tangled hair, and the same
disgusting disease,--these were the principal features of the scene.
This goitre prevails so extensively in this region, that you seldom
see a person with the neck in a healthy condition. The worst of the
matter is, that in many cases of children it induces idiocy. Cases of
this kind were so frequent, that, after a while, whenever I met a
child, I began to search in its face for indications of the approach
of this disease.
They are called _cretins_. In many cases the whole head appears
swelled and deformed. As usual, every one you look at puts out the
hand to beg. The tavern where we stopped to dine seemed more like a
great barn, or cavern, than any thing else. We go groping along
perfectly dark stone passages, stumbling up a stone staircase, and
gaining light only when the door of a kind of reception room opens
upon us--a long, rough-looking room, without any carpet, furnished
with a table, and some chairs, and a rude sofa. We were shown to a bed
room, carpetless, but tolerably clean, with a very high feather bed in
each corner, under a canopy of white curtains.
After dinner we went on towards St. Pierre, a miserable hamlet, where
the mules were taken out of the chars, and we prepared to mount them.
It was between three and four o'clock. Our path lay up a desolate
mountain gorge. After we had ascended some way the cold became
intense. The mountain torrent, by the side of which we went up, leaped
and tumbled under ribs of ice, and through banks of snow.
I noticed on either side of the defile that there were high posts put
up on the rocks, and a cord stretched from one to the other. The
object of these, my guide told me, was to show the path, when this
whole ravine is filled up with deep snow.
I could not help thinking how horrible it must be to go up here in the
Our path sometimes came so near to the torrent as to suggest
In one place it swept round the point of a rock which projected into
the foaming flood, so that it was completely under water. I stopped a
little before I came to this, and told the guide I wanted to get down.
He was all accommodation, and lifted me from my saddle, and then stood
to see what I would do next. When I made him understand that I meant
to walk round the point, he very earnestly insisted that I should get
back to the saddle again, and was so positive that I had only to obey.
It was well I did so, for the mule went round safely enough, and could
afford to go up to his ankles in water better than I could.
As we neared the _hospice_ I began to feel the effects of the
rarefied air very sensibly. It made me dizzy and sick, bringing on a
most acute headache--a sharp, knife-like pain. S. was still more
I was glad enough when the old building came in view, though the road
lay up an ascent of snow almost perpendicular.
At the foot of this ascent we paused. Our guides, who looked a little
puzzled, held a few moments' conversation, in which the word
"_fonce_" was particularly prominent, a word which I took to be
equivalent to our English "_slump;_" and indeed the place was
suggestive of the idea. The snow had so far melted and softened under
the influence of the July sun, that something of this kind, in going
up the ascent, seemed exceedingly probable. The man stood leaning on
his alpenstock, looking at the thing to be demonstrated. There were
two paths, both equally steep and snowy. At last he gathered up the
bridle, and started up the most direct way. The mule did not like it
at all, evidently, and expressed his disgust by occasionally stopping
short and snuffing, meaning probably to intimate that he considered
the whole thing a humbug, and that in his opinion we should all slump
through together, and go to--nobody knows where. At last, when we were
almost up the ascent, he did slump, and went up to his breast in the
snow; whereat the guide pulled me out of the saddle with one hand, and
pulled him out of the hole with the other. In a minute he had me into
the saddle again, and after a few moments more we were up the ascent
and drawing near the _hospice_--a great, square, strong, stone
building, standing alone among rocks and snowbanks.
As we drove up nearer I saw the little porch in front of it crowded
with gentlemen smoking cigars, and gazing on our approach just as any
set of loafers do from the porch of a fashionable hotel. This was
quite a new idea of the matter to me. We had been flattering ourselves
on performing an incredible adventure; and lo, and behold, all the
world were there waiting for us.
[Illustration: _of a large multi-story hospice and other buildings in a
remote-looking mountain valley. A river flows in the foreground._]
We came up to the steps, and I was so crippled with fatigue and so
dizzy and sick with the thin air, that I hardly knew what I was doing.
We entered a low-browed, dark, arched, stone passage, smelling
dismally of antiquity and dogs, when a brisk voice accosted me in the
very choicest of French, and in terms of welcome as gay and courtly as
if we were entering a _salon_.
Keys clashed, and we went up stone staircases, our entertainer talking
volubly all the way. As for me, all the French I ever knew was buried
under an avalanche. C. had to make answer for me, that madame was very
unwell, which brought forth another stream of condolence as we came
into a supper room, lighted by a wood fire at one end. The long table
was stretched out, on which they were placing supper. Here I had light
enough to perceive that our entertainer was a young man of a lively,
intelligent countenance, in the Augustine monks' dress, viz., a long,
black camlet frock, with a kind of white band over it, which looks
much like a pair of suspenders worn on the outside. He spoke French
very purely, and had all that warm cordiality and graceful vivacity of
manner which seems to be peculiar to the French. He appeared to pity
us very much, and was full of offers of assistance; and when he heard
that I had a bad headache, insisted on having some tea made for me,
the only drink on the table being wine The supper consisted of
codfish, stewed apples, bread, filberts, and raisins. Immediately
after we were shown up stone staircases, and along stone passages, to
our rooms, of which the most inviting feature was two high, single
beds covered with white spreads. The windows of the rooms were so
narrow as to seem only like loopholes. There was a looking glass,
table, chair, and some glazed prints.
A good old woman came to see if we wanted any thing. I thought, as I
stretched myself in the bed, with feathers under me and feathers over
me, what a heaven of rest this place must have seemed to poor
travellers benighted and perishing in the snow. In the morning I
looked out of my loophole on the tall, grim rocks, and a small lake
frozen and covered with snow. "Is this lake always frozen?" said I to
the old serving woman who had come to bring us hot water for washing.
"Sometimes," says she, "about the latter part of August, it is
I suppose it thaws the last of August, and freezes the first of
After dressing ourselves we crept down stairs in hopes of finding the
fire which we left the night before in the sitting room. No such
thing. The sun was shining, and it was what was called a warm day,
that is to say, a day when a little thaw trickles down the south side
of snow banks; so the fire was out, and the windows up, and our gay
Augustine friend, coming in, congratulated us on our charming day.
The fireplace was piled up with wood and kindlings ready to be lighted
in the evening; but being made to understand that it was a very sultry
day, we could not, of course, suggest such an extravagance as igniting
the tempting pile--an extravagance, because every stick of wood has to
be brought on the backs of mules from the valleys below, at a very
great expense of time and money.
The same is true of provisions of all sorts, and fodder for cattle.
Well, after breakfast I went to the front porch to view the prospect.
And what did I see there? Banks of dirty, half-melted snow, bones, and
scraps of offal, patches of bare earth, for a small space, say about
fifty feet round, and then the whole region shut in by barren,
inaccessible rocks, which cut off all view in every direction.
Along by the frozen lake there is a kind of causeway path made for a
promenade, where one might walk to observe the beauties of the season,
and our cheery entertainer offered to show it to us; so we walked out
with him. Under the rocks in one place he showed us a little plat,
about as large as a closet door, which, he said, laughing, was their
I asked him if any thing ever really grew there. He shrugged his
shoulders, and said, "Sometimes."
We pursued this walk till we came to the end of the lake, and there he
showed me a stone pillar.
"There," said he, "beyond that pillar is Italy."
"Well," said I, "I believe I shall take a trip into Italy." So, as he
turned back to go to the house, W. and I continued on. We went some
way into Italy, down the ravine, and I can assure you I was not
particularly struck with the country.
I observed no indications of that superiority in the fine arts, or of
that genial climate and soil, of which I had heard so much. W. and I
agreed to give ourselves airs on this subject whenever the matter of
Italy was introduced, and to declare that we had been there, and had
seen none of the things of which people write in books.
"What a perfectly dismal, comfortless place!" said I; but climbing up
the rocks to rest me in a sunny place, I discovered that they were all
enamelled with the most brilliant flowers.
[Illustration: _of a cluster of small five-petaled flowers with blunt
tips growing very close to the ground._]
In particular I remarked beds of velvet moss, which bore a pink
blossom, in form somewhat like this. Then there was a kind of low,
starry gentian, of a bright metallic blue; I tried to paint it
afterwards, but neither ultramarine nor any color I could find would
represent its brilliancy; it was a kind of living brightness. I
examined the petals to see how this effect was produced, and it seemed
to be by a kind of prismatic arrangement of the small round particles
of which they were composed. The shape of the flower was somewhat like
[Illustration: _of a cluster of small five petaled flowers with sharp
points growing on short stalks near the ground._]
I spread down my pocket handkerchief, and proceeded to see how many
varieties I could gather, and in a very small circle W. and I
collected eighteen. Could I have thought, when I looked from my window