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PREFACE

A WORD ON THE ALPS.

In the building of Europe, Nature placed as a guard and a barrier at the head of each southern tongue of land, a formidable screen of mountains—the Balkans, the Pyrenees and the Alps. Of all these ranges far and away the most formidable is the Alps. It stretches from sea to sea—from the Mediterranean to the Adriatic. It contains mountains of every shape and form, from the great rounded formation of Mont Blanc to the needle points of the Dolomites. It includes great lakes, rich valleys, wide mountain pastures. It leans down to grassy slopes and up to eternal snows. It comprises vast glaciers and huge plains. In building such a barrier Nature seems to have had some prophetic feeling that it was to be a protection for a race destined to give to Europe both a law and a religion.

For the human interest of the Alps is almost as great as their natural beauty. They protected that early civilisation of Rome from the invading masses of the barbarians, and afterwards sheltered the first flowering of Christianity from the rude hands of Northern heathenism. Not only so, but in modern days the Alps have themselves become the centre and home of a race wrought like beaten iron out of all that is strongest and most valiant in Europe. Throughout the centuries the Western races, whenever pressed by war and persecution, have found their refuge in the mountains. From the hills cometh my help!' cried the Psalmist in ancient days; and it was in the mountains that men in the Middle Ages found the only refuge from the inquisitor and the tyrant. Hence it is that the population of Switzerland, scattered through those valleys, divided from one another by mountain walls, include fragments of the hardiest stocks in

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Europe. Thus it is that Switzerland has become the home of all the religions, races and tongues of Central Europe. In that wonderful country Protestantism is dovetailed into Catholicism, each in friendly neighbourhood. You find within these valleys at least three European languages-French, German and Italianbesides numerous patois, some of them survivals of the very languages spoken by the subject populations of the Roman Empire.

Pre-eminent in these respects, Switzerland is also alone among European nations in regard to its government. It presents to Europe the only instance of a country quite literally self-governed -governed, not by any quintessence of public opinion expressed in a representative assembly, but from year to year by the very voice of the people, directly expressed in votes on great public subjects. This actual and immediate form of self-government takes various shapes and images—in several cases being actually a government by assembly, and in other cases government by popular vote. But the result of it is that you have in Switzerland the most remarkable living example of a perfect and complete democratic State, content with its own laws, peaceful in its disposition, equally remote from the extremes of wealth or poverty, or from the violences of political or social opinion. It is a State of moderate and middle temper, immune by treaty from the shocks of war, and pursuing the even tenor of its way without rising to splendour of achievement or sinking to blackness of disaster.

This country has left a deep mark on literature. These dominating mountains, always the background of every scene in Northern Italy, the familiar setting of many of our greatest sacred pictures --these mountains have profoundly impressed the imagination of

The first impression seems to have been that of terror, expressed by the men who lived in the warm lands to the South, in the first great literature of Italy, the now 'classic' poetry and prose of Ancient Rome. The prevailing mood of that literature is a sense of the coldness and austerity of these mighty heights.

With rare exceptions that continued to be the prevalent European mood right through the Middle Ages, and is still reflected in the

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verse of Dante (1265-1321) and even later still, of our own Shakespeare (1564-1616).

We do not, indeed, find this impression of fear at all at first passing away with the great growth of the artistic sense following on the Renaissance. There are two remarkabie examples in literature of the effect produced by the Alps on the mind of the early modern man. One is in the diary of Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571). That mighty artist, whose splendid sculpture still adorns the Piazza at Florence, has left us an account of a journey across the Alps. It is a narrative of pitiable terror, so overwhelming as to produce an entire blindness to the beauties of the scenery–a narrative in which all sense of delight is drowned and swamped in simple fear. The second example is to be found -two centuries later—in the diary of Horace Walpole (1717-1797).3 He, too, crossed the Alps, and his impressions were little different from those of Cellini. As one reads his letters from the Alpine pass, one obtains a glimpse of that bright and urbane spirit brushing from his silken coat the grime and mud of the journey, longing for the plains, and hurrying through the Alps in all haste to leave them behind.

It is not, indeed, until the modern man is fully arrived,' with his new mastery over nature, and his new sympathy with great natural forces, that the Alps obtain their due in literature. The first great outburst of admiration is to be found in the prose of France and the poetry of England. In France it was a Swiss writer who taught the secret of the Alps — that wonderful Rousseau, who brought from Switzerland to France the very storm-wind of mountain liberty. In England it was that group of singers, often rather vaguely called the Poets of the Revolution, who first mirrored in verse the splendour of the Alpine visionWordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Byron, Keats. As the nineteenth century wore on, this hymn of admiration was taken up by all the poets, by Tennyson, Browning, Swinburne, and Longfellow. At the same time it attained perhaps a literary form of almost equal beauty in the mighty prose of John Ruskin, who has left us a series of prose Alpine pictures that can be compared only to i See pp. 81. ? See pp. 248-9.

: See pp. 251.

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the paintings of his mighty artistic model and idol, Joseph William Turner.

So much for this literature of admiration, a mighty literature, of which the echoes still sound throughout the writings of the moderns. But there is another literature of the Alps. That is the literature of adventure. In its first stage the attitude of the modern man towards the Alps was still of admiration from a distance. The terror and horror had gone. Wonder and worship had taken its place. But it was still like the wonder of the ancients at Mount Sinai, which no ordinary man dare approach.

The first change in that attitude is contained in the remarkable descriptions of mountain expeditions by the famous Swiss botanist, De Saussure, who lived at Geneva during the second half of the eighteenth century. It was De Saussure's great leisure interest to climb and observe the mountains, and it was his most vital ambition to stand on the summit of Mont Blanc. He achieved that ambition, and he told the story in a very remarkable series of papers which, in simplicity and directness of descriptive power, still present a noble model for the modern mountaineer.1

De Saussure climbed Mont Blanc in 1787. The great troubles through which Europe passed during the following generation practically closed the Alps to modern adventure until 1820. Even then it was only gradually that Europe returned to the great Alpine enthusiasms of that group of early climbers—a group that included Windham, Balmat and Paccard. The first mark of this revived interest was contained in the work of a new group, this time of Englishmen, mostly men of high literary, scientific, or political distinction, The first fruits of this work became famous in a series of volumes under the title of Peaks, Passes and Glaciers.

From 1840 onwards this literature began to grow at an increasing pace. The early awe of the mountains gave way before achievement. Achievement gave birth to a new and more intimate knowledge of the Alps. Between 1840 and 1870 practically all the highest peaks of Switzerland were conquered. Region after region delivered up its secrets — first the Oberland, then the

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See pp. 85-95, 111•18.

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