A Description of the Valley of Chamouni, in Savoy

THE
VALLEY OF CHAMOUNI.

Wavering mortal wouldst thou know
Whence proceed those sounds of woe;
Hasten to the bed of death,
Where the Atheist yields his breath:
Mark his wild, his haggard eye,
Emblem of direst misery;
See, what throes his bosom swell,
Where fell remorse, and horror dwell:
His quivering lips no more defame
The great JEHOVAH’S sacred name.
In broken accents sounds proceed,
Sounds which abjure the Atheists’ Creed;
‘O thou! (he falters), Power Supreme,
On my sad soul let mercy beam!
Calm, Lord, O calm my troubled breast
With confidence and holy rest!
Not to despair my thoughts resign,
But cheer my mind with hope divine!
With my last gasp I worship THEE,
THOU FIRST, GREAT CAUSE THROUGH
ALL ETERNITY.’ S.G.

AMONG the events which mark the annals of the last century, one of the most interesting is the discovery of the lovely, the fertile, the highly romantic Valley of Chamouni. Of course, the following pages will be perused with indifference by those, who delight in the destruction of the human race; and who, instead of consigning, were it possible, to eternal oblivion the blood-stained scenes of revolutionary France, blazon them forth as the noblest effort of human nature; still less will they be honoured with a glance from those, whose object is base lucre, and who calculate the importance of an event by the treasure, which swells their insatiable avarice. But to those, “who look through nature up to nature’s God;” to the Atheists, who in despite of their revolting principles, discover in the minutest, as in the most stupendous works, the master-hand {8} of the Mighty Architect through whom we live, and move, and have our being; to all, whose bosoms, on beholding the magnificent works of creation, swell with rapture, and own the presence of the Deity, I would say, “attend me to the valley, where the wonders of nature are lavishly spread around; where the eye is alternately struck with fertile fields and pyramids of ice; with murmuring streams and roaring torrents; with gently rising grounds and frightful precipices; and with meadows of the richest verdure, bordered with everlasting snow.”

Wonderful is the creation, in which the Almighty has manifested his perfections; and displayed his unbounded power: no language can describe, no colours shew the grandeur of this valley; but I will humbly attempt a feeble outline of its beauties, and trace the effect produced on my senses by the rapid succession of scenes, now inviting to repose, now chilling with horror.

TO visit the renowned passage of the SIMPLON, the celebrated convent of SAINT BERNARD, the Valley of BAGNES, scene of the most frightful disasters, or the romantic Vale of CHAMOUNI, it is necessary, on quitting the PAYS DE VAUD, in Switzerland, to traverse the town of SAINT MAURICE, whose ancient bridge of one bold arch crosses from rock to rock the rapid Rhone, which discharges itself into the Lake of Geneva.

Near to Saint Maurice is the beautiful cascade called the PIESVACHE, which precipitates itself from the height of eighty feet, and falls into the Rhone.

At the distance of eight miles is the town of MARTIGNY, the resort of the neighbouring villagers for the purpose of selling the produce of the adjacent vallies: fruit, game, butter, cheese, honey, or of bartering for commodities, of which they stand in need. This town consists of 2500 inhabitants, and is {9} situated on the Rhone, at the junction of three vallies; one of which, leading to the SIMPLON, discovers to the astonished eye of the traveller, the herculean works of NAPOLEON BUONAPARTE; who, to open a passage for his army to the delightful plains of Italy, with incredible labour and perseverance, perforated rocks of 750 feet in thickness; thereby enabling his soldiers to avoid precipices, which thrilled the boldest heart with terror, and march in perfect safety.

The second valley, after following for some distance the course of a river called, the DRANSE, branches off into two smaller vallies; one of which leads to the memorable, but dangerous pass of Saint Bernard, through which HANNIBAL and his Carthaginian Warriors penetrated to Italy; and where, isolated amid eternal snows, stands the celebrated and hospitable convent of that name, whose dogs, of an uncommon size, trained to carry baskets of provisions, have oft, by instinct, discovered and rescued the benighted traveller, who, bewildered in the trackless snow, must otherwise have perished.

The other branch conducts – no longer to the lovely valley of Bagnes, smiling in gay luxuriance, the abode of health and peace, where, welcoming each stranger as a friend, the cottagers’ doors flew open, the frugal fare was served, and, adoring the bounteous hand of nature, all slept in peace, but – O Providence! how mysterious are thy ways! – to a frightful waste, a desert, where, mingled in wild confusion, are seen fragments of trees, masses of rock and ice, the refuse of the torrent; – the fields, the vineyards, meadows, villages, have “vanished like the baseless fabric of a vision,” and the enlivening strains of the pastoral pipe are exchanged to heart-rending lamentations and accents of despair.

This hapless valley, containing twelve towns and villages, is twenty miles in length, and bounded by towering rocks and stupendous mountains, among which the fatal Montpleureurand Mauvoisin, source of the evil which has desolated this valley. The inhabitants, once in number about 3600, are frugal, healthy, and industrious; mendicity is never seen; their hospitality is proverbial, {10} which more than compensates for the want of inns; honest without pride, virtuous from principle, and adhering to the heavenly precept of “do as thou wouldst be done by”; envy, hatred, and malice, are strangers to their bosoms; strife, excepting in acts of benevolence, is never heard, and the genuine character of these unsophisticated children of nature may be duly appreciated by stating – hear it, ye civilised inhabitants of cities, ye, who pride yourselves on the perfection you have attained by education, and an intercourse with society; hear it, ye votaries of justice, ye, who exist but by the weakness of human nature, hear it and tremble at the possibility, at least, that mankind may yet be wise — IN THIS VALLEY, DURING A CENTURY, A LAW-SUIT WAS UNKNOWN!!!

Lovely valley, once rich in all the necessaries, if not the luxuries of life; blest with a hardy race, whose truth and goodness are proverbial; whose simplicity of manners recall the golden age; surrounded by rocks and precipices, and almost inaccessible mountains, which shelter you from the vices of mankind, as from destructive warfare, that long has desolated afflicted Europe; vaunt no more thy happiness, sweet valley, nor triumph in security; with purity of conscience blest, thy offspring slept in peace, the sleep of innocence, but soon awoke to horror, for in thy own bosom lurked, unheard, unseen, the fiend of desolation, which in one frightful moment laid waste thy verdant pastures, thy fertile plains, thy humble villages, and changed the smile of joy, which always mantled on thy peasants’ cheeks, to sorrow and despair!!

The river Dranse, already mentioned, after traversing the little Valley of Torembec, where it takes its rise, waters that of Bagnes. At the junction of these two vallies, over which a bridge is thrown, ninety feet in height, the lofty mountains of Mauvoisin and Montpleureur suddenly contract, and descending abruptly towards the river, divide the Vallies of Bagnes and Torembec. On this spot originated the evil, which has desolated the former valley, and plunged {11} its inhabitants into irremediable woe. Here, resting on the abrupt declivity of Montpleureur, was formed THE FATAL GLACIER of GETROZ. As this immense body of ice, impelled by its own weight, imperceptibly glided down the mountain, its extremity over-hung the intervening rocks, whence large masses of ice detached themselves, and, with a thundering noise, rolled into the valley.

It is said, that five years ago, owing to the heat, the Glacier was greatly reduced but the intenseness of the winters of 1816 and 1817 increased it to an alarming degree; this accumulation of weight naturally facilitated its movement; the rocks, which project from the mountain’s side and overhang the river, were unable to stem its progress, and enormous fragments of the Glacier fell in rapid succession into the valley, and almost choaked the current of the Dranse.

On the 15th of May, 1818, the villagers of the Valley of Bagnes, on quitting their peaceful homes to pursue their daily labours, perceived the bed of the river nearly dry: the alarm was spread; the consternation became general; they hurried to a projecting rock, called the Oratoire, which overlooks the valley and perceived, with indescribable terror, that during the night the whole of the Glacier of Getroz had detached itself from the mountain, and precipitated itself into the narrow passage of the Vallies of Bagnes and Torembec; blocking up the river Dranse, which already formed a lake of considerable extent.

Information of this disaster was instantly communicated to the Government at Saint Maurice, which deputed able engineers to hasten to the spot, and adopt measures to avert the impending danger.

On examining this Glacier, or mountain of ice, it was found to be 400 feet in height, 600 feet in length, and at its base 2000 feet in thickness. The lake, which was rapidly increasing, and had gradually submerged the hamlets and meadows of the little Valley of Torembec, was already 300 feet in depth, 600 feet in breadth, and 7000 feet in length. {12}

The necessity of perforating a gallery, or outlet, 50 feet above the level of the lake, became apparent; numbers of robust and hardy villagers presented themselves for the arduous enterprise; some were stationed at the mouth of, and round about the gallery to apprize the workmen of any danger arising from the repeated blows of their axes and hammers, which reverberating, as they advanced, with a noise of thunder, detached immense masses of ice from the summit of the Glacier: others were occupied in removing the rubbish from the gallery, and precipitating it down its sides. Day and night their labours were unceasing, and with incredible danger and fatigue, they succeeded in excavating through solid ice as clear as chrystal, and so hard that it often broke the axe, an aperture four feet broad, six feet high, AND 600 FEET IN LENGTH.

The lake continued to increase, and on the 13th of June it rose to a level with the gallery, and precipitated itself into the bed of the river Dranse; forming cascade 350 feet in height; a scene as magnificent, as unprecedented.

On the 14th of June it was discovered, that fragments of ice, which detached themselves from the summit of the Glacier and floated on the lake, had entered the gallery and blocked up its passage; the villagers, however, at the hazard of their lives, and with a courage bordering on despair, succeeded in removing them, and the lake continued to flow. On the 15th of June, the river Dranse attained its usual height, and the villagers retired to rest, in the hope that success had crowned their labours, and that danger was no more.

Their hopes, alas! were vain: THE FIAT HAD GONE FORTH; – even then the swift-winged messenger of death hovered around, and marked them for his prey: – mysterious providence, how wonderful are thy ways! – could not their innocence, – their upright manners, integrity of soul and strict obedience to thy sacred will avert the dreadful mandate? – no crime was theirs; – no visitings of remorse; – no fears disturbed their peaceful slumbers; their hearts were pure, their consciences at rest, and yet, – BUT WHO SHALL DARE TO ARRAIGN OMNIPOTENCE, {13} OR SAY “WHY DOST THOU SO?” – ’TIS THINE, SUPREME, TO FULMINATE THY DREAD COMMANDS; ’TIS OURS TO OBEY IN SILENCE, AND ADORE.

Notwithstanding the apparent security, signals were established on the summits of the mountains to warn the inhabitants in case of danger; by such precautions they flattered themselves to save their lives at least, if not their little property; but the Hour was come; – the torrent itself was the precursor of ruin, and in one moment the havoc was complete; the steps taken to prevent the increase of the lake, which finally burst upon this devoted valley, could not avert the fatal calamity; this immense body of water opened itself a passage BENEATH the mountain of ice, and then began the work of desolation.

A forest of trees and a village, situated near the fatal Glacier, were swept away; – not one villager escaped: – not a vestige remains – but large masses of ice and rock alone mark the spot. At Champsal fifty-two houses have disappeared, and the soul-piercing cries of the drowning inhabitants were distinctly heard amid the devastating element; every town, every village has suffered more or less; the greater part of Bagnes, of Saint Bianchi, of Beauverniers, and of Martigny, is totally destroyed. In this last town, distant from the fatal Glacier twenty-four miles, the water rose to the height of fourteen feet, and a rock, fifty-two feet in circumference, was borne along by the torrent, and left in the market-place: some English travellers, whose curiosity induced them to visit the fatal Glacier, were warned of their danger by the thunder proceeding from the bursting of the waters beneath the mountain of ice, and they had just time to dismount from their mules and climb the neighbouring acclivity, when the foaming torrent rolled at their feet: in many places, where the projecting rocks formed obstacles to the dreadful element, broken trees, masses of ice, drowned cattle, and furniture of every description, intermingled with the afflicting spectacle of human bodies, were heaped to the height of fifty feet. The whole of this once fertile valley is irrecoverably lost. The {14} extent of the damage, and the number, who have perished, is uncertain; the destruction is more prodigious and terrific than can be conceived by the most ardent imagination; and it will give the reader some idea of the rapidity of this dreadful torrent, when informed, that it traversed a distance of TWENTY FOUR miles, in the short space of EIGHTY MINUTES.

All communication with this hapless valley, excepting over the almost impassable mountains, was long impracticable, and many, who escaped the horrors of the flood, perished from want: the wretched villagers are to this hour employed in the heart-rending task of removing fragments of rock and ice, and the wrecks of their once peaceful homes, in search of the dead bodies of their beloved relatives; but the greater part, alas! perished in the waters.

But time, perhaps, which heals the wounds of suffering humanity, may pour its balm into their lacerated bosoms. Ah no! no! “hope, which comes to all, comes not to them,” – the Glacier, The FATAL GLACIER REMAINS, – like Satan, when he sealed the fall of man, towering amid the ruin – no human power can stir this mighty mass, This BEACON OF DESPAIR; and should industry and perseverance restore the beauty of the valley, the intenseness of a single winter, or other causes, may obstruct the present passage of the river Dranse, and produce, the same disaster.

Like our first parents, (excepting in their fall,) these virtuous, hapless villagers, are driven from their Eden, and doomed to seek from strangers that hospitality and relief, THEY NEVER DENIED TO THEIR FELLOW-CREATURES. – Let us hope they will not seek in vain; and, under the trials to which they are doomed, may they remember, that sufferings here are no particular marks of divine displeasure, and that unmerited affliction, supported with resignation, prepares us for ETERNITY.

But let us hasten from this scene of desolation, and traversing the third valley, climb the ascent which conducts thro’ the Vale of TRIANT to the lofty COL DE {15} BALME, from whose summit, to appretiate its beauty, the romantic Valley of CHAMOUNI, must be seen at Sunrise.

’Ere Aurora in her flaming car with “rosy fingers dropping gentle dews” unbars the portals of the East; ’ere the mists, suspended over the vallies, are in motion and escape to the recesses and caverns of the rocks, the admirer of nature, regardless of toil and danger, starts from his couch, and from the Vale of Triant ascends with eager steps the rugged mountain’s side; his senses pant to drink at the inexhaustible fountain of beauty which awaits him; he fears to arrive too late; he hurries forward, and, emerging from the dark and lofty pines, he flies across the little plain conducting to the summit of

THE COL DE BALME.

The Sun’s first rays have already poured their dazzling lustre on the snow-clad pinnacle of MONT BLANC, whence, like molten silver, it imperceptibly descends and spreads a broader light; still the monarch of the vale alone is crowned with glory; the luminary is invisible and the plain involved in darkness. Now, on the towering point of LE GEANT, next to MONT BLANC in height, the sacred light trembles awhile, then, streaming down its sides, chases the shades of night: in the East numerous corruscations of a brilliant hue rise in pyramidal, undulating forms; empurpled and roseate clouds, precursors of the Sun, rapidly mount, and now the God of Day appears in all his Splendour, and resumes his Empire –

“Prodigious instance of creative might!
“His globose body how immensely great!
“How fierce his burnings! how intense his heat!
“As swift as thought he darts his radiance round,
“To distant worlds, his system’s, utmost bounds;
“Of all the planets the directing soul,
“That heightens and invigorates the Whole”. {16}

In a curved line from the COL-DE-BALME stretches the romantic VALLEY of CHAMOUNI, skirted by the dark fir, the pointed Glacier, or lively larch tree, and watered by the rapid ARVE (in which gold is found) and the TORRENT of L’ARVEIRON, bursting from its icy cavern, now, foaming over a rocky bed, now, meandering as the zephyr succeeds the storm; – at a distance, the hamlets of the villagers, the abodes of hospitality and ever-cheerful innocence; – on the left, crowned with snow and fringed with icicles, which threaten the bold intruder with destruction, appear the craggy rocks of L’ARGENTIERES and DU TOURS, the Druid’s point and spire-like needle of Le GEANT; – to the right, THE LOFTY BREVEN, from whose summit the view stretches over the mountains of Savoy, and the innumerable towns and vineyards of the Pays de Vaud; thence, glancing around, it is suddenly arrested by the gigantic monarch of the ancient continent, the MONT BLANC, – its base and sides guarded by frightful Glaciers, – its summit mantled with eternal snow, the region of cold and silence.

This romantic valley, eighteen miles in length, but not more than half a mile in breadth, is situated at the foot of MONT BLANC; its form is an arc, of which the MONT BLANC occupies a considerable portion of its convex, and the lofty BREVEN of its concave. At the commencement of the eighteenth century it was so little known, that when the celebrated traveller, Pocock, and an Englishman of the name of Wyndham, impelled by an ardent desire to approach the MONT BLANC, which towers above the clouds, resolved to explore its vicinity, they expected to find the inhabitants uncivilised, – ferocious; and they armed themselves and their attendants from top to toe, to resist any moderate force which might be brought against them.

But how agreeably were they surprised on finding a people whose manners, tho’ rude, breathed the spirit of peace: the strangers were welcomed with hospitality; they were conducted to the motionless waves and yawning chasms of THE SEA OF ICE; – THE EVER-VERDANT GARDEN, CASED IN ETERNAL SNOW; – THE {17} GROTTO OF L’ARVEIRON; – THE GLACIERS OF MONT-BLANC: and they returned, charmed with their reception and penetrated with the wonders of this valley.

The account given by these Englishmen was electric. Travellers of every nation have since, during the summers, frequented the valley; and Chamouni, (or the Prieure’), formerly a miserable village, is now a considerable town, with two excellent Inns, and not only the conveniences, but the luxuries of life.

There are eleven villages, the principal of which is Chamouni; the inhabitants (about 5000), are frugal and honest: their minds active and lively; and their tempers gay, inclining to raillery; of course, the fears of the two Englishmen are a never-failing source of amusement, especially to the old mountaineers, who still laugh and joke at their formidable, but unnecessary precautions.

Altho’ the concourse of strangers, and the money they leave behind them, have somewhat affected the ancient simplicity of these people, and even the purity of their manners, nobody has anything to fear from them; the most inviolable fidelity is observed, and travellers are merely exposed to the importunate solicitations of those, who eagerly offer their services as guides.

The principal commerce is in cheese and honey; the latter, owing to the quantity of larch trees, whence the bees derive their sweets, is of uncommon whiteness: – little corn is grown, but the meadows, in the centre of which appear huge masses of snow, the remains of the furious AVALANCHES, which roll from the mountains and defy the summers’ heat, are of matchless richness and verdure.

Chrystals are here found in all their purity, and the hope of enriching themselves by the discovery of chrystal caverns, is so powerful a motive, that the inhabitants expose themselves in the search to the most alarming dangers, and often perish in the snow, or are precipitated down the precipices.

The indications of these grottos of chrystal are white veins of quartz, which appear on the surface of the rocks, chiefly in inaccessible places; the villagers arrive at them by hewing paths across the Glaciers, or suspending themselves by {18} ropes over the most frightful precipices: – when they reach the spot, they strike the rock, and if it return a hollow sound, they open it with a hammer, or blow it up with gunpowder.

The chace of the chamois, or mountain-goat, is equally dangerous, and carries off, in the flower of their age, many, whose lives are invaluable to their families. The hunter sets out at night to gain the elevated spots, where the chamois feed; – here, concealed behind a rock, the snow his bed, a stone his pillow, he resigns himself to sleep, from which the morning dew awakes him: at length the mountain-goats arrive, and whilst one of them stations himself on a spiring rock to give the alarm, the others browse and alternately relieve the sentinel: the slightest noise suffices to rouse them to a sense of danger, and with incredible velocity, they bound over chasms of snow and ice, followed by the intrepid hunter, who carefully marks their tracks and pursues, during several days, the chace, regardless of his family, who await his return with trembling anxiety.

Sometimes the chamois, after skirting on a narrow ridge a dangerous abyss, find themselves on the brink of a precipice, whence there is no retreating but by the road they came: here the hunter’s danger is most imminent; the chamois, no longer timid, boldly advance to meet the enemy, who fires, and by throwing himself prostrate, sometimes escapes destruction, as the chamois would, otherwise, force a passage between the hunter and the overhanging rock, and hurl him down the precipice.

The infatuation of the inhabitants for this chace, borders on romance; – a traveller, expressing his surprise to a young mountaineer, “my grandfather, he said, and my father perished in pursuit of the chamois, and whenever I leave my tender wife, my lovely infants, I regard my hunting dress as my shroud, convinced that the same fate awaits me.” His prophecy was accomplished; – on the morrow he departed – never to return – after a long search, he was found at the foot of a precipice, dashed to atoms. {19}

Descending from the COL-DE-BALME by an easy and open path, as if nature had ordained no danger should appal the stranger, the first object which presents itself is the celebrated

Cavern of Du Tours,

extending half a league under the Glaciers of that name, and abounding in petrified fishes, sea-shells, and various marine productions: – virgin-gold and chrystals in all their purity are also found; the stalactites or spars are remarkable for size and beauty; – but the danger attending the traveller, who explores the interior of this cavern, is sufficient to check the most ardent curiosity, since enormous icicles, like the sword suspended by a hair over the head of Damocles, threaten, at the slightest vibration of sound, to detach themselves from their slender supports, and crush him beneath their weight; – the guides, therefore, insist on the strictest adherence to rules, necessary for self-preservation, and enjoin the profoundest silence.

A melancholy circumstance which lately occurred, illustrates, beyond the power of words, the necessity of conforming to the guides’ precautions. A traveller and his son explored the interior of the cavern – the usual warning, during their subterranean research, was rigidly observed; but, on returning to the entrance, the youth, actuated by curiosity to witness the effect of sound, fired a pistol; the thunder, proceeding from the falling of the stalactites and masses of ice in and around the cavern, resembled the repeated discharges of artillery, and, horrible to relate, the son was literally cleft in twain by the edge of a ponderous icicle, which shattered the arm of his agonized father.

The guides escaped by miracle; but the dreadful scene is traced in characters indelible on their memories, and they prefer braving the dangers attendant on the ascent to the summit of Mont-Blanc, rather than revisit this fatal cavern. {20}

On arriving at the foot of the COL-DE BALME, you skirt the rapid Arve, which traverses the valley; now, gliding thro’ a deep, but level bed, now, dashing thro’ fragments of rocks, foaming and boiling in its descent; then, expanding, it overflows a large portion of the plain, and returning to its channel, meanders in conjunction with L’ARVEIRON thro’ the valley.

As you advance, the wildest tracts border on the richest pastures; – eternal ice and snow intermingle with verdure, vying with the emerald; – larch-trees and black pines clothe the mountains’ sides, whence, in formidable array, and stretching far into the valley, as if to dispute the passage, appear

The Glaciers,

or pyramids of ice, not smooth and slippery, but rough and porous.

That these Glaciers increase and decrease, is evident from the following circumstance: their borders are skirted with trees, some of which are eighty feet in height, and of a great age: between these and the Glaciers are trees of a later growth, which have been overturned by the ice; hence it is clear that the ice once extended to the trees of larger growth, and as it dissolves or retires a number of trees shoot up on the spot which it occupied, and as the Glaciers again advance, they in their turn are enveloped and overthrown.

The Glaciers are of two descriptions – those occupying the deep vallies, situated in the bosom of the Alps, many leagues in length, intersected with large crevices from 100 to 600 feet in depth, and distinguished by the name of Ice-vallies: others, emerging from the snow, which clothes the mountains’ sides, and assuming the appearance of pyramids or ruins.

The Glaciers of Chamouni are of the latter description. These vast masses of ice, resting on an inclined plane, are impelled forward by their own weight, and being weakly resisted by the intervening rocks, they imperceptibly advance into the plain, threatening in time to obstruct the course of the rapid ARVE; altho’, {21} from the breadth of the valley, the same disaster, which has lately desolated the once fertile valley of Bagnes, is, happily, not to be apprehended.

On approaching the town of Chamouni, the rocks assume the appearance of mouldering fortifications, or rise in spiring needles, which pierce the clouds; frequently huge fragments detach themselves from their summits, and bound from precipice to precipice, but ’ere they reach the plain, they are shivered into dust.

Here, the rippling stream modestly announces its approach; – there, the torrent precipitates itself from the mountains’ height, and its thunder is increased by the devastating

Avalanches,

which are formed in the following manner: the snow, that lodges on the pinnacles of the rocks, accumulating, at length falls, and rolling down the declivity, increases to an enormous size, sweeping before it forests and rocks, and overwhelming villages in its furious career.

“Mountains of snow, their gathering terrors roll,
“From steep to steep; loud thundering down they come,
“A wintry waste in dire commotion all;
“And herds, and forests, travellers, and swains,
“And hamlets, sleeping in the dead of night,
“Are deep beneath the smothering ruin whelm’d!!”

To guard against these disasterous events, the mountaineers encourage the growth of trees, particularly around the villages and on the sides of the mountains, whence the danger is apprehended; – they are preserved with reverential awe, and have often diminished, if not entirely averted the dreadful calamity – thus, what contributes to the beauty of the vallies, affords security to the inhabitants.

Impressed with admiration, awe, and reverence, the mind, overpowered by the wonders of nature, willingly escapes from the tumults occasioned by the rapid {22} succession of scenes so novel, and you gladly seek repose, to be enabled minutely to examine the details of this valley, and enter on your coup-d-essai as Mountain traveller, by climbing, on the following day, to the summit of

THE BREVEN

This lofty mountain is 7086 feet in height; its rugged aspect and steep ascent repels, rather than invites the traveller – in itself it is destitute of all attraction, but nature has abundantly compensated, by placing it in a situation of matchless beauty and grandeur: it rises in the centre of an amphitheatre, original in the universe, in which nature has lavished her wonders, and appears to have set bounds even to her own creative powers.

My pen trembles to proceed! – altho’, after a lapse of twenty years, the impression on my senses at the recollection of this romantic valley is still the same, yet I feel, forcibly feel the presumption of attempting to delineate, where the discordant scenes of pastoral beauty – eternal ice – devastating torrents – murmuring streams – overhanging rocks – sloping lawns and snow-clad mountains, strive for pre-eminence; memory is my guide, and if I fail correctly to portray, the wish to please, at least, will not be wanting,

“Soon as meek-ey’d morn her rosy steps advancing, strews the earth with orient pearls,” you leave the town of Chamouni, and at once enter on the steep ascent, which continues, without the slightest variation, almost to the top of the mountain, when the eye is agreeably surprised by a verdant plain, covered with cattle.

From this plain rises a craggy rock, called “la Cheminee”, which must be scaled to reach the summit of the BREVEN.

Here, an almost boundless view presents itself: – unable for a single instant to repose, the eye wanders from dark and towering needles, that pierce the clouds, to the placid lake, which skirts the Pays-de-Vaud, whose numerous vineyards, villages and towns, appearing in succession, beautify the landscape; – thence, {23} it glances on the distant mountains of the Jura, which on that side bound the prospect, and descending, dwells with pleasure on the territory of Geneva, a republic famed for industry, its love of glorious liberty, and justly proud of its independence.

Fatigued with attempting to discriminate distant objects, the eye awhile reposes on the COL-DE-BALME, and then embarks on the region of everlasting snow and ice, thro’ which in proud defiance rise the spire-like rocks of ARGENTIERES and DU TOURS, and the cloud-capt summit of LE GEANT.

Next, in its full extent, and clad in all its terrors, the SEA OF ICE appears; its waves are clearly discernible, and fancy gives them motion. This valley of ice, twenty miles in circumference and 600 feet in thickness, is bounded by a circular and hollow rock, enclosing a mass of pure, unbroken snow, called the TACUL, surrounded by large conical points, like towers on an ancient fortification – to the right, a range of magnificent peakes, the intervals filled with masses of suspended ice, which, disengaging themselves from their heights, are dashed with thundering violence on the SEA OF ICE, and buried in its chasms.

The appearance of the SEA OF ICE is indeed tremendous; numerous and broad chasms intersect it in every direction, rendering the attempt to cross it apparently impracticable; still, courage and activity accomplish the task, and large pointed nails in the shoes and spiked sticks are found to be particularly serviceable.

But to what reflections may not the DRUIDS’ POINT give rise? – this towering needle is situated on an eminence, which overhangs THE SEA OF ICE, from the name it was once, perhaps, sacred to religious purposes and around its base the dark and lofty pines concealed the Druids’ mysteries. The guides relate a melancholy proof of the audacity, or rather madness of two travellers, who defied each other to scale its point; one of them succeeded, but in the act of exultation over his comrade, who had almost attained the summit {24} he became giddy; – he fell; – and his neck coming in contact with a projecting rock, his head was severed from his body and flew to an incredible distance from the spot.

To the right of THE SEA OF ICE, and stretching down the sides of the MONT BLANC into the valley of Chamouni, appear the Glaciers of les Pelerins, – of du Bossons, – of Tacona, of l’Agria, – of des Ouches, and of Bionassy – the eye follows them alternately, then, gradually rising, continues its course, and, at length, loses itself in the clouds.

Yes! – there, towering in sullen majesty, fronting THE BREVEN, – in all its grandeur, in all its horrors, mantled with eternal snow and ice, the region of cold and silence, stands the almost inaccessible MONT BLANC, – the gigantic monarch of the vale; – such is its magnitude, that at its presence the circumjacent mountains seem to shrink before him, and “hide their diminished heads;” the path leading to its summit is carefully pointed out by the guides, but the mind is too much enrapt in meditation on this colossal mountain, this mighty mass, to spare the least attention; – this alone amply repays your toil and danger, and insensible, indeed, must that heart be, which overflows not with adoration before the wondrous works of THE CREATOR.

But the silence, the effect of awe, that pervades the breast of those, whose eyes are rivetted on this stupendous mountain, is suddenly broken by the lowing of the herds, which graze the little plain beneath your feet and haste to crowd together: a rumbling noise, re-echoed by the rocks, leave it doubtful whether it be caused by THE AVALANCHE, rebounding from rock to rock, or by the distant thunder; – the sound approaches and a mist, like flakes of cotton, with white and rolling clouds, announce the thunder-storm; – soon the valley disappears, and at your feet, whilst all above is sunshine, the tempest spends its fury.

The forked lightnings are perceptible by bright and vivid flashes, which flit along, succeeded by a pealing crash and rapid motion on the surface of the {25} thunder-cloud, a portion of which, as from the cannon’s mouth, darts upwards and dissolves in air: the discharge of the electric fluid is followed by an universal commotion of the surrounding clouds, which, rolling over each other, assume the most fantastic forms: these thunder-storms are usually preceded by an awful stillness and closeness of the atmosphere; soon, however, the shrubs are stripped of their boughs and foliage; – the rocks and trees shivered by the electric flash and huge fragments driven to an amazing distance, and with dreadful velocity thro’ the air, whilst tremendous peals of thunder, reverberated by the mountains, render the scene awfully sublime.

“The tempest growls, but as it nearer comes,
“And rolls its awful burden on the wind,
“The lightnings flash a larger curve, and more
“The noise astounds; – till overhead a sheet
“Of livid flame discloses wide; then shuts,
“And opens wider; shuts, and opens still
“Expansive, wrapping ether in a blaze”.

The effect of the thunder-storm is instantaneous; the path by which you ascended to the summit of THE BREVEN is, now, a water-course, which, uniting with innumerable channels, swells, as by enchantment, to a torrent and sweeps away all trace of vegetation.

“O’er rocks and woods, in broad, brown cataracts,
“A thousand torrents shoot at once along,
“And where they rush, the wide resounding plain
“Is left one slimy waste.”

The descent is now extremely slippery and difficult, but the assistance of the guides diminishes the fatigue, and on the following day you are sufficiently recovered to explore the mysteries of

THE SEA OF ICE

Mysteries indeed! – such as plunge the reflecting mind in the deepest meditation, and furnish unbounded scope to the imagination: the road conducting {26} thither, contributes greatly to enable you to enjoy in its fullest extent the wonders which await you.

I have already said, that the ascent to the summit of the BREVEN is abrupt, barren, almost destitute of trees or verdure; – as you rise, the view expands, and terminates, as described, in an extensive scene on one side, and on the other the snow-clad monarch of the vale; – but the path conducting to THE MONTALVERT, which overlooks THE SEA OF ICE, is gentle, free from rock, and abounding with plants, which invite the research of the botanist; as you advance, the sombre hue increases; dark and gloomy pines rise thick together, and, at length, conceal surrounding objects “from mortal ken,” as if to attune the soul to reflection, ’ere a sight, original in nature, bursts on the astonished eye.

On a sudden you emerge from darkness, and at your feet, motionless at THE FIAT OF NATURE’S GOD, appear the once turbulent, once foaming waves of THE SEA OF ICE.

All is calm around, forming an impressive contrast to the once dreadful uproar of the elements, combating for supremacy; – here, the waves, swelling into mountains, retain their rounded forms; – there, exhausted by their weight, they sink to an even surface; – now, rising into pyramids; – then, gaining their utmost height, frowning and already curved, they are suddenly arrested by that POWER, before whom rocks melt, and mountains tremble to their foundations.

That THE SEA OF ICE, seven miles in length and one to three miles in breadth, was once a portion of the valley, smiling in gay luxuriance, the contours of the mountains testify; nor is it presumption to hazard an opinion as to the cause of this wonderful phenomenon.

The surrounding rocks and mountains were buried in snow, on which a sudden heat was permitted to exert its influence, and reducing it to water, it rushed with indescribable impetuosity, submerging a branch of the VALLEY OF CHAMOUNI, and threatening to engulf the whole in indiscriminate ruin; – nature sighed at the havoc; – her plaint was heard; – a voice cried, “THUS FAR SHALT THOU GO, {27}AND NO FARTHER”; – a violent wind met the watery element in its devastating career; – its waves recoiled upon themselves, and a sudden frost transfixed them immoveable in their multifarious forms; – still they frown and bend, threatening to bury in their yawning gulfs the mortal, who treads this once liquid element, and dares to explore its mysteries.

Atheist! stand here; – here, amid this chaos of mountains, – these shapeless and gigantic rocks; – fancy thyself spectator of “this war of elements”; – darest thou, unappaled, listen to the dreadful uproar, or fearlessly behold the mighty conflict? thinkest thou the phantom, to whose creation thou arrogantly attributest the wondrous universe; thinkest thou, presumptuous man, that chance could save thee from destruction ? – impossible!!! – in prostrate adoration thou wouldest abjure thy impious precepts, implore celestial aid, and own the presence of that GOD, who sits above the heavens enthroned in majesty supreme, – whom chance approaches not, – whose will is fate;

“Whose voice created and whose wisdom guides;
“Of him, from whom we spring, to whom we tend,
“PATH, MOTIVE, GUIDE, ORIGINAL, and END.”

At the extremity of THE SEA OF ICE is seen

The Grotto of L’Aveiron,

100 feet in height, unique in magnificence and terror, inviting, yet repelling all whom curiosity prompts to approach its entrance: in winter immense icicles, which choak the passage of the cavern, whence THE TORRENT OF L’ARVEIRON rushes with impetuosity, form an impenetrable barrier to the prying eye of the stranger; in summer they disappear, when mortals are permitted, with reverential awe, to enter the portal, transparent as the purest chrystal, and tinged with green and azure.  [1]  {28}

It leads to the palace of the icy God, where, crouching on his congealed throne, whilst icicles hang around his wrinkled visage, the hoary tyrant shrouds himself in darkness, and enrapt in the contemplation of his usurped dominion, gluts on the sighs and plaintive tones of the sylvan deities, who unceasingly bewail their loss; – no more the cloven-footed fauns, with vine-leaves crowned, carouse and shout in jocund strains their wild, their boisterous joy; – no more the music of the pastoral pipe is heard; – the dryades and the sedge-crowned nymphs, wander on the margin of THE SEA OF ICE disconsolate, and echo repeats their accents of despair.

In rude mockery, as if to insult their sorrow and constantly renew their tears, one spot, one little spot remains, (emblem of hope amid life’s storms),

The Garden,

of this desert place, cased in eternal ice, yet green as an emerald, to which the odoriferous and healing plants have crept for refuge, and where on the anniversary of their disaster, beneath the moon’s mild beams, the sylvan deities resort to sacrifice to Pan, and bathe with tears his altar.

The preceding idea, which has served as an introduction to the ever-verdant garden, is, I believe, novel; – enthusiastically attached to romance, I delight in fabulous history, and am intimately acquainted with the heathen deities, from the mighty thunderer to the forger of his bolts, the limping Vulcan: but in vain I pass them in review; I can no where discover the icy God; he is a being of my own creation, and unwilling that his godship should rule over an uninhabited empire, I have decided on peopling his dominion with myriads of subjects.

It is a generally received opinion, that the fate allotted to the wicked is eternal purgatory in flames of liquid sulphur; but as fire is the consumer of all things, I cannot digest the idea, that the spirits, which are precipitated therein, {29} can possibly survive the plunge, and lest they escape the just punishment due to their crimes, I have determined, in despite of the imprecations of Pluto, the howlings of Cerberus, and the furious gestures of Old Charon, for loss of fees, to debar all future access to flaming Tartarus, and consign the evil spirits to the regions of eternal ice and snow; – for instance, the wicked of various denominations I confine beneath the Glaciers, which occupy the lower vallies of the Alps; the thunder, proceeding from the bursting of these Glaciers, and attributable to the heat of the Meridian sun, are the ravings of these spirits; and as it is a well-known fact that the Glaciers rise and fall, advance, and then recede, it is occasioned by an universal struggle of these impious spirits to escape from their cold and dreary prisons: but their efforts serve to increase their torments, by condensing more closely the ice-mountains, which envelop them.

In those masses of snow, the remains of the Avalanches, which encumber the verdant meadows, and defy the summers’ heat, are incarcerated those scourges of the human race –those depopulators of nations, who, like the thundering Avalanches, resistless in their course, swept all before them in their fury, marking their progress with destruction. Where is now the pride and pomp of war – the plumed helmet – the blood-stained sword – the crimsoned spear – the gaudy banner, reeking with human gore? – No more the marshalled legions, the licenced murderers swarm around them and obey their nod: – beneath their snowy prisons’ shade, screened from the mid-day sun, the shepherds and their flocks repose in safety; and instead of glowing at the war-denouncing trumpets’ sound, the infuriate spirits of these mighty conquerors are roused to frenzy by the music of the pastoral pipes, breathing the airs of happiness and peace.

Yon towering glaciers, which proudly advance into the vallies, aping a stately march, entomb the spirits of those sovereigns, who, forgetful of their first, great duty, the happiness of their subjects, abandon themselves to every vice disgraceful to humanity: the smaller glaciers, which precede and follow them, {30} contain the spirits of Court parasites, – of evil Counsellors, of Ministers, who, blind to their country’s good, and deaf to the peoples’ cries, were solely intent on the means of furthering their interest and advancing their ambition; – but their punishment is in the highest degree humiliating; the smaller glaciers, impregnated with a portion of these groveling spirits, instead of solid ice, are soft and porous; – in spring, to preserve the corn from sudden frosts, the Mountaineers strew their fields with the substance of these Glaciers; this disgraceful proceeding takes place in the vicinity of the towering Glaciers, the receptacles of the spirits of kings, and makes them tremble for their fate.

Within those icicles which adorn the spiring rocks, or fringe the precipices’ edge, are shrouded the worst of spirits; – of mortals, who prostituted their brilliant talents to the nefarious purpose of subverting religion and disproving the existence of a GOD. To the Atheists I assign those icicles, clear as chrystal, where, suspended high in air, these presumptuous spirits are unceasingly exposed to the storms and tempests which sweep around their icy prisons, and doomed eternally to behold those magnificent works of nature they ever affected to despise: how ardently do they now desire to atone for their impiety, by abjuring before the universe their blasphemous precepts; but, conscious their torments will endure, though “nature sink in years,” despair possesses them; they rave in frantic agony, and with imprecations, such as burst from the agonised bosom of Satan when first he saw the sun, they curse the glorious orb, whose morning rays, chasing the shades of night, illume the scenes they hate.

Look’st from thy sole dominion like the God
Of this new world; at whose sight all the stars
Hide their diminish’d heads, to thee we call,
But with no friendly voice; and add thy name,
O Sun to tell thee how we hate thy beams,
Which bring to our remembrance what we were.” {31}

Such are the ravings of these impious spirits; and as my imagination wafts the appaling sound, I shudder and exclaim, “though my transgressions bow me to the dust, hope still is mine; I AM NO ATHEIST!”

But whither does my fancy wander? – Let us quit a scene which excites to gloom and melancholy, and retiring early to repose, prepare with renovated steps, to tread the path conducting to the summit of

This mountain is the most elevated of the ancient continent, its height above the level of the sea, being 15,662 feet, (nearly three miles); – the summit in a direct line is distant from THE VALLEY OF CHAMOUNI about six miles, but nine miles by the path which leads thereto – it is enveloped in a mantle of eternal snow, which clothes its summit and sides, almost without the intervention of rocks to break the glare of the white appearance, whence its name is derived. – On the side of the WHITE VALLEY, (which during the greater part of the year is buried in snow), it is perpendicular, exceeding the most ardent imagination in ruggedness and horror.

The attempts to scale this colossal mountain, surrounded with Glaciers or Pyramids of ice and frightful crevices, which threaten to engulf the mortal who dares to explore these regions of eternal cold and silence, were numerous, and, until lately, unsuccessful; – efforts were made to gain the summit by the PEAKE DU GOUTE, but after reaching the height of 9,600 feet, chasms of immeasurable depth formed an insurmountable obstacle; in the hope, however, of discovering a passage, a cabin was constructed near this peake, whence various excursions were made, and at length, with infinite labour, some mountaineers arrived at the DOME DU GOUTE, and already felicitated themselves on success, when a tremendous gulf, which could only be crossed by a narrow ridge of ice, blasted their hopes, and they returned to Chamouni, convinced that nature had decreed the foot of man should never tread the summit of MONT BLANC. {32}

But chance effected what years of toil and danger could not accomplish – a mountaineer, called JAMES BALMAT, since surnamed “THE MONT BLANC,” accompanied the party; – on their return, in passing near the PEAKE DU GOUTE, he was induced to look for chrystals, which are here found in all their purity; – success made him forgetful that evening approached, but he was aroused from his pursuit by a violent snow-storm, which enveloped him; – he called aloud, and endeavoured, but in vain, to trace the footsteps of his companions; – the darkness increased, and not daring to advance, he was necessitated to pass the night on the mountain, and as sleep on these heights was presumed to be mortal, he was supposed to have perished.

On the following day, instead of returning to the valley, this hardy mountaineer undauntedly ventured to explore these unknown and solitary regions; – his courage was rewarded by the discovery of a path which led to the summit of the mountain, and he returned to CHAMOUNI, his lips swelled with cold; almost blinded by the dazzling whiteness of the snow, and his face excoriated by the finer particles of ice, which the wind incessantly drove against him.

Thus, the way was marked out for future adventurers, and in particular for De Saussure, who has enriched natural history with numerous and valuable discoveries, and who, after the most indefatigable exertions, during twenty seven years, to scale this mountain, at length attained the object of his wishes.

But the most daring attempt to overtop this gigantic monarch of the vale, was made from THE WHITE VALLEY; – history has carefully registered the name of JAMES BALMAT, who first trod the summit of this mountain, whilst the names of those who, with a courage supernatural, scaled the dreadful precipice, which defies the eagles’ flight, are buried in oblivion. It is ever thus; – had not victory crowned the Macedonian drunkard’s ravages, he would have been justly branded with the names of “madman”; “robber”; instead of “the Great”; “the Godlike Alexander”. {33}

From the outline of the mountain, as seen from the WHITE VALLEY, it was presumed by these noble spirits, that to surmount the precipice’s height was to ensure an ascent to the summit of MONT BLANC, and stamp their claim to immortality; – IMMORTALITY THEIR ONLY OBJECT: not so the views of BALMAT; interest impelled his perseverance, and success enabled him, as guide, to enrich himself by the discovery; – but a single glance on the model, [2]  which represents the MONT BLANC, is sufficient to deter the boldest heart from treading this path of almost certain destruction.

These Mountaineers, however, succeeded in their noble daring: with perseverance and courage for their guide, they scaled the frightful precipice; they reached its utmost height, and standing on the brink, measured with a steady eye its vast abyss – they shouted “Victory,” and eager to attain their wishes, continued their course, vying with each other for the glory of first reaching the mountain’s summit; but what a scene awaited them – in an instant they shrunk aghast, transfixed with horror; chasms of ice, which, however broad, no eye could fathom, crossed their path, and unwilling to retrace their steps, providence conducted them by LE GEANT, the SEA OF ICE, and the MONTANVERT, in safety to the VALLEY of CHAMOUNI. {34}

To scale this gigantic mountain, to which “many are called, but few are chosen,” it is necessary to procure guides, who are perfect masters of their business: armed with hatchets, cords, and long poles, pointed with iron at one end, and on the other a hook, they carry the provisions and a tent, as the third day of peril and fatigue will scarcely bring the travellers to the summit.

But for the danger of being enveloped in the dense clouds, which unexpectedly roll around the mountain’s sides, and during their progress compel the daring adventurers to remain immoveable, few provisions would be necessary, since the rarification of the atmosphere, after the first day’s march, greatly diminishes the appetite, but produces an ardent thirst, accompanied by a pulsation, which, on the mountain’s top, beats with double rapidity.

The guides never lose sight of the traveller; in dangerous passes they support him with their poles extended on each side, or even bear him in their arms; but on approaching certain chasms of immeasurable depth, over which a narrow ridge of ice is the only passage, they oblige him to regard for some time the vast abyss, during which they watch his countenance, and easily discern, whether he may venture to place his foot on the small hollow, hewn in the centre of these ridges, and vault across. The slightest irresolution visible in the traveller, has often determined the guides, notwithstanding the most lucrative offers, to return to Chamouni.

But the guides’ experience only extends to the line of march, since the dreadful hurricanes, accompanied with snow-storms, which delight to lord it over the upper regions of this colossal mountain, not only sweep away all trace of former footsteps, but change the aspect of the place.

On quitting the town of CHAMOUNI, the road conducts to the little village of DES BOSSONS, whence a narrow path leads to the Glaciers of that name. By a gentle ascent, you arrive at the Hamlet of DU MONT; it is situated on a small {35} plain, covered with concealed caverns in the shape of reversed funnels; they are caused by the mountain-torrents: which, perforating the softer substances of the rock, leave the vegetable covering still suspended over the chasms, and render the greatest precaution necessary.

On following the course of the torrent of TACONA, you arrive at an abrupt and wild ascent, facing the Glaciers of that name, bristling with towering pyramids of ice, not transparent or azure, but of a sombre hue, and intersected by dark rocks, which render the coup d’Oeil savage in the extreme.

Thus far the road is practicable for mules; after which the journey must be performed on foot.

At a short distance from the Glaciers of TACONA is a fountain, clear as chrystal, where travellers repose and refresh themselves.

You, now, climb with difficulty the shelving steeps of LA MORAINE, abounding in chrystals, and, continuing along its brink, arrive at an almost perpendicular rock, called LE MAUVAIS PAS, or dangerous pass, which it is absolutely necessary to scale, and which few, without the guides’ assistance, can accomplish. Here, the path skirts a dangerous abyss, and terminates at a Grotto, inviting to repose. The view from hence is truly magnificent.

Of skill divine, what shining marks appear;
Creative might is all around exprest,
The God discovered, and his power confess’d.
Nature’s high birth, her heavenly beauties shew,
By every feature, WE THE PARENT know;
The expanded spheres, amazing to the sight,
Magnificent with stars and globes of light;
The glorious orbs, which heaven’s bright host compose;
The imprison’d sea’s resistless ebbs and flows;
The fluctuating fields of liquid air,
With all the curious meteors hovering there;
And mountains, rocks and vales, aloud proclaim
The Power Divine that raised this mighty frame.” {36}

At your feet are seen the Glaciers of MONT BLANC; beneath, in its utmost extent, the VALE OF CHAMOUNI; opposite, rises the LOFTY BREVEN; beyond which are discovered the mountains of the JURA; on your right, the COL DE BALME, backed by an amphitheatre of spiring needles, and the towering points of AI and MIDI; on your left, fading in the distance, dark and craggy rocks, forming a striking contrast to the verdant meadows of DES OUCHES.

From one of these rocks projects a point, called the Bird’s Beak: an adventurous peasant dared to advance to its extremity, on which he seated himself, but on rising, he lost his balance, and was dashed to atoms.

The ascent now winds through shelving rocks to an arch of considerable extent, which terminates THE FIRST DAY’S JOURNEY; the tent is pitched, and the guides repose under fragments of rocks, which afford a partial shelter from the piercing winds.

Here, all trace of verdure disappears, and you embark on a boundless ocean of snow and ice,

Snows swell on snows, amazing to the skies;
And icy mountains are on mountains piled;
Here, winter spreads a deep, eternal gloom,
And reigns tremendous; here, the loud misrule
Of driving tempests is for ever heard;
Here, the grim tyrant meditates his wrath;
Here, arms his winds with all-subduing frost;
Moulds his fierce hail, and treasures up his snows.

The hour of trial now arrives, when the stoutest heart palpitates on beholding the dangers which await him; Glaciers, or rocks of ice, intersected with irregular and yawning gulfs, on whose borders, as through a labyrinth, the traveller must wind his dangerous way; now, balancing on a narrow ridge of ice, bordered by fearful crevices; now, sliding into Chasms, whence there is no retreating, but by rugged steps, hewn in the solid ice with the hatchets of {37} these hardy, these indefatigable mountaineers; still they laugh and joke; they cheer each other, and even court the danger; but, on approaching certain chasms, over which are suspended slight and half-congealed layers of snow, a death-like silence reigns; the cords are disentwined, and linked together at the distance of several feet, the eye immoveably fixed on the footsteps of their preceding companions, they alternately tread this feeble barrier betwixt life and death.

What will not mortals do to attain the object of their wishes!!!

In this perilous situation, a guide, named COUTET, suddenly disappeared, and for awhile remained suspended on the brink of eternity; he was rescued, with difficulty, by his companions, who were scarcely able to resist the shock, which nearly dragged them into the abyss.

Another guide, despising the necessary precautions, was precipitated into a yawning gulf; his escape was miraculous; a body of snow had rolled from the neighbouring heights, and providentially resisting the concussion, remained wedged, half-way down the chasm: on this the guide had fallen; he was seen, to appearance lifeless, by his companions, who tremblingly approached the brink; his friend – oh that my feeble voice could trumpet forth his name to after ages – despising danger, seized the cords, and with determined resolution, ordered himself to be lowered to the friend of his youth; he found him senseless, but not lifeless; disengaging himself from the cords, he secured them round his friend, and, his heart throbbing with delight, saw him dragged in safety from the abyss.

I deal not in romance, else would I represent this noble spirit, whilst in the act of adoration for the success of his daring, gradually sinking with the fragile barrier, on which he stood, and, at length, disappearing from the horror stricken view of his companions; — — and were it really so, posterity would strew no flowers over, nor plant the cyprus around the modest urn, raised to {38} commemorate his friendship, whilst the achievements of the blood-besprinkled hero are engraven on adamant, and the sculptured marble proudly blazons forth his praise : — — — but a sweet reward awaited him; the cords were lowered, and in security, he joined his loved companion.

On arriving at the termination of this frightful Glacier, joy brightens every countenance, and hilarity is the order of the day; the provisions are spread, and whilst some are occupied in preparing the chafing dish to procure water by melting the snow: others, in case the weather is serene, satisfy their burning thirst by throwing snow-balls against the rocks, which, thawed by the sun, descend in small channels, and afford a moderate supply.

At length, you reach the chain of rocks that border the perpetual snows of MONT BLANC, and mount in a serpentine direction to the first of the three plains of snow, which conduct to the highest pinnacle of the mountain; the surface has numerous fissures, penetrating to a vast depth, and disclosing in their broken sides the successive layers of snow which are annually forming.

With great fatigue you arrive at the second plain of snow, which is very shelving, and where you are in danger, especially during a high wind, from the devastating Avalanches, which, bounding from rock to rock, sweep all before them in their fury, and spread themselves over the valley.

Here, the following melancholy circumstance took place: – an English nobleman, who, with several of his countrymen and guides, attempted to scale the mountain, having advanced far beyond the rest, indulged himself in hurling snow balls: which, accumulating with rapidity, overwhelmed three guides, the fathers of families, for whom this nobleman, (the least he could do), most liberally provided.

The snow is here of the most dazzling whiteness, forming a singular contrast with the sky, which, from the rarification of the air, appears almost black; – no living creature, no trace of vegetation is seen; and the eye, fatigued with {39} the white glare, reposes with pleasure on points of rocks, that appear like small islands amid a world of snow.

The boundary of this plain terminates THE SECOND DAY’S FATIGUE.

Immediately the guides are busied in excavating under the snow an aperture for the tent, to protect themselves, during the night, from the piercing wind and cold, which is almost insupportable; – there, huddled together in this region of eternal silence, uncertain, whether chance has not directed them to a spot, beneath which yawns an abyss, which may engulf them, or the deep and unseen AVALANCHE o’erwhelm them in its fury, they ruminate their danger, and anxiously await the morning’s dawn.

The heat, at length, becomes oppressive, and obliges for an instant to quit the tent; – then, what an awful scene awaits them! – what room for meditation! – how tranquil all around, save where, resistless in its course, the thundering AVALANCHE, with lightnings’ speed, sweeps on the vale, or dashing from the precipices’ height, remounts in showers of silver; – the plain is long since wrapt in darkness, still in the west the sun’s last rays are seen flaming with red and gold; – in the midst of a sky, as black as ebony, embossed with stars more brilliant than the ruby, emerald or sapphire, and distant worlds outlustering far the diamond’s vivid blaze, the moon, refulgent orb of night, rising in cloudless majesty, appears in all her splendour, and illumes the deep serene; – her circle, in transparency and beauty, vying with the bow of Iris: a misty sea, chequered with glittering flakes of snow and vapours of a silvery hue, thro’ which the mountaintops appear like islands, rests on the valley, and partially conceals the midnight landscape – the clouds, which roll around the mountain’s sides, agitated by the wind, assume the most fantastic forms; – now, impelled by a nether current of air, darting upwards; – then, meeting in apparent conflict; – now, rising into columns and mouldering ruins, or darting forwards with rapidity, whilst others are immoveable; – then, driven by the wind, they blend and rapidly {40} disappear, when the black pines, whose perpendicular stems rise thick and high amid the dark shades, assume a yellow verdure, and the spiring rocks and mountains appearing in succession, flame with the moon’s silver light, which, fading in the distance, imperceptibly loses itself in darkness.

O Nature! how beauteous are thy works! – at sight of thee my bosom heaves; thoughts crowd too rapidly for utterance, and tears are my relief; I prostrate myself in the dust, and silently adore THE GREAT SUPREME, parent of light and life; – regardless of thy charms, O Nature! the soul, enslaved by furious passions, feels not the bliss which thou affordst; – happy is he, whose mind is undisturbed by fell remorse; – the morning wakes to joy; – the day is sacred to deeds of virtue, and the shades of night, shrouding him in peaceful slumbers, present celestial images to his imagination.

Such are the dreams of the Virtuous; and thou, presumptuous mortal, who boastest a superior understanding, but over whom the unlettered savage justly claims pre-eminence; – thou, – atheist! wouldst thou by artful sophistry and a tale well told, where flowers conceal the wily serpent, deprive him of his dearest consolation, THAT, which RELIGION GIVES – unhappy man, be near when death, relentless tyrant, marks THE CHRISTIAN for his prey; – no visitings of remorse, no fears disturb him, and his last sigh breathes hope of IMMORTALITY: – but when the Atheist dies, what fears convulse his bosom! – “horror and doubt distract his troubled thoughts, and stir the hell within him; conscience wakes despair, that slumbered; wakes the bitter memory, the dread of what assuredly must be”; his tongue, which dared prophane RELIGION, denies in death the actions of his life, murmuring a prayer for mercy to “the Divinity, which speaks within him; which points out an HEREAFTER, and intimates ETERNITY to Man.”

The first beams of the sun arouse the travellers to resume their toil, and enter on the third and last plain of snow, the ascent to which is so steep, that the guides are obliged to hew out footsteps with their hatchets, and the air so rarefied, that after taking a few steps, you are necessitated to rest. {41}

In two hours more you reach THE SUMMIT OF MONT BLANC, when the whole appears a dream, and, for awhile, it is impossible to analyse your ideas sufficiently to enjoy the unbounded prospect.

With difficulty you distinguish the majestic peakes of L’AIGUILLES, MIDI, ARGENTIERES, and LE GEANT, – no longer frowning, as if proud of their towering heights, but sunk to an almost level, and scarcely discernible from their humble neighbours; –even the lofty BREVEN, appears but a trifling variation from the plain, that uninterruptedly extends to the lake of Geneva, beyond which, as over a rivulet, the view stretches across Swisserland, and loses itself insensibly in the distant provinces of France and Italy.

Wherever the eye is directed, a vast plain presents itself; but, as from the intenseness of the cold it is impossible to remain here long, the guides are unable to point out, with accuracy, details of this boundless prospect.

The summit of the mountain, which is visible at the distance of sixty eight leagues, or 204 miles, is so narrow, as scarcely to permit two persons to walk abreast; – especially on the West side, which is very steep, and terminates in the frightful precipices that bound THE WHITE VALLEY.

To the rarefaction of the air is to be attributed the burning thirst; – fire can scarcely be maintained in the chafing dish, and instead of a few minutes, half an hour is requisite to boil water; – hence the difficulty of breathing and consequent rapidity of pulsation; – from the same cause, the sky appears almost black; – through a tube, the stars are always visible; and, as on this isolated spot, there are no echoes to repel the sound, the report of a pistol is only equal to a Chinese cracker.

The appetite is lost; – wine and spirits are loathed, nothing but water is coveted; and so piercing is the cold, that the provisions are entirely frozen, and the ink congealed in the inkhorns.

Experience has proved the advantage of wearing green veils in the ascent, without which the dazzling whiteness of the snow would be insupportable, and the face excoriated by the finer particles of ice, which are incessantly floating in the atmosphere.

The descent, owing to its steepness, would, but for the guides’ assistance, be extremely dangerous. The night is usually passed on the upper side of the frightful Glacier, already mentioned; and on the following day, you return to the Valley of CHAMOUNI.

Sweet valley, adieu!!! may thy peasants resist the baneful effects of luxury, which the influx of strangers pours into thy bosom – and may their hearts remain pure, unsullied, as the snows, which mantle thy almost inaccessible mountains.

“Rolls round the seasons of the changeful year,
“How mighty, how majestic are thy works!
“With what a pleasing dread they swell the soul,
“That sees, astonish’d, and, astonish’d, sings;
“And yet, was every faltering tongue of man,
“Almighty Father, silent in thy praise,
“Thy works themselves would raise a general voice:
“Even in the depths of solitary woods,
“By human foot untrod, proclaim thy power,
“And to the choir celestial, THEE resound,
“THE ETERNAL CAUSE, SUPPORT, AND END OF ALL!

THE END.

Notes

[1] AUTHOR'S NOTE: I am aware of the censure to which this digression into heathen mythology subjects me, but the moral tendency must plead its excuses. BACK

[2] AUTHOR'S NOTE: Models of the Valley of Bagnes; of the Simplon; of Mont Cenis; of Saint Gothard; of Swisserland; and of the Valley of Chamouni, are executed and sold by J. B. TROYE, Sculptor and Modeller to Her late Royal Highness the Princess CHARLOTTE of SAXE COBURG, and to His Royal Highness the DUKE of GLOUCESTER, at his EXHIBITION OF THE MOUNTAINS OF SWISSERLAND, No. 20, FRITH-STREET, Soho. During a long residence in Swisserland, I was an eye witness, (particularly in the Valley of Chamouni), to the indefatigable zeal of this artist to render his works complete; the accuracy with which his models are executed, and their perfect resemblance to reality, are the theme of universal admiration; – they have undergone the strictest scrutiny, and are not only approved of, but have been purchased by the principal Engineer of LA VALLAIS, to whose eloquent and impressive address to the Senate of Berne, on the dreadful inundation in the Valley of Bagnes, are chiefly attributable the liberal contributions which have taken place on behalf of the unhappy sufferers of that once fertile, once happy, but now desolated valley. BACK

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