The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 12/Letters from Switzerland/Part II
PART THE SECOND.
Munster, Oct. 3, 1797.
From Basle you will receive a packet containing an account of my travels up to that point; for we are now continuing in good earnest our tours through Switzerland. On our route to Biel we rode up the beautiful valley of the Birsch, and at last reached the pass which leads to this place.
Among the ridges of the broad and lofty range of mountains, the little stream of the Birsch found, of old, a channel for itself. Necessity soon after may have driven men to clamber wearily and painfully through its gorges. The Romans, in their time, enlarged the track; and now you may travel through it with perfect ease. The stream, dashing over crags and rocks, and the road, run side by side; and, except at a few points, these make up the whole breadth of the pass, which is hemmed in by rocks, the top of which is easily reached by the eye. Behind them the mountain chain rose with a slight inclination: the summits, however, were veiled by a mist.
Here walls of rock rise precipitously one above another, there immense strata run obliquely down to the river and the road; here, again, broad masses lie piled one over another, while close beside stands a line of sharp-pointed crags. Wide clefts run yawning upward; and blocks, of the size of a wall, have detached themselves from the rest of the stony mass. Some fragments of the rock have rolled to the bottom: others are still suspended, and by their position alarm you, as also likely at any moment to come toppling down.
Now round, now pointed, now overgrown, now bare, are the tops of these rocks, among and high above which some single bald summit boldly towers; while along the perpendicular cliffs, and among the hollows below, the weather has worn many a deep and winding cranny.
The passage through this defile raised in me a grand but calm emotion. The sublime produces a beautiful calmness in the soul, which, entirely possessed by it, feels as great as it ever can feel. How glorious is such a pure feeling when it rises to the very highest, without overflowing! My eye and my soul were both able to take in the objects before me; and as I was preoccupied by nothing, and had no false tastes to counteract their impression, they had on me their full and natural effect. When we compare such a feeling with that we are sensible of when we laboriously harass ourselves with some trifle, and strain every nerve to gain as much as possible for it, and, as it were, to patch it out, striving to furnish joy and aliment to the mind from its own creation, we then feel sensible what a poor expedient, after all, the latter is.
A young man whom we have had for our companion from Basle said his feelings were very far from what they were on his first visit, and gave all the honour to novelty. I, however, would say, when we see such objects as these for the first time, the unaccustomed soul has to expand itself; and this gives rise to a sort of painful joy,—an overflowing of emotion, which agitates the mind, and draws from us the most delicious tears. By this operation, the soul, without knowing it, becomes greater in itself, and is, of course, not capable of ever feeling again such a sensation; and man thinks, in consequence, that he has lost something, whereas in fact he has gained. What he loses in delight, he gains in inward riches. If only destiny had bidden me to dwell in the midst of some grand scenery, then would I every morning have imbibed greatness from its grandeur; as, from a lonely valley, I would extract patience and repose.
After reaching the end of the gorge, I alighted, and went back alone through a part of the valley. I thus called forth another profound feeling,—one by which the attentive mind may expand its joys to a high degree. One guesses in the dark about the origin and existence of these singular forms. It may have happened when and how it may: these masses must, according to the laws of gravity and affinity, have been formed grandly and simply by aggregation. Whatever revolutions may subsequently have upheaved, rent, and divided them, the latter were only partial convulsions; and even the idea of such mighty commotions gives one a deep feeling of the eternal stability of the masses. Time, too, bound by the everlasting law, has had here greater, here less, effect upon them.Internally their colour appears to be yellowish. The air, however, and the weather, have changed the surface into a bluish-gray; so that the original colour is only visible here and there in streaks and in the fresh cracks. The stone itself slowly crumbles beneath the influence of the weather, becoming rounded at the edges as the softer flakes wear away. In this manner have been formed hollows and cavities gracefully shelving off, which, when they have sharp slanting and pointed edges, present a singular appearance.
Vegetation maintains its rights on every ledge, on every flat surface; for in every fissure the pines strike root, and the mosses and plants spread themselves over the rocks. One feels deeply convinced that there is nothing accidental; that here there is working an eternal law, which, however slowly, yet surely governs the universe; that there is nothing here from the hand of man but the convenient road by means of which this singular region is traversed.
Geneva, Oct. 21, 1779.
The great mountain range, which, running from Basle to Geneva, divides Switzerland from France, is, as you are aware, named the Jura. Its principal heights run by Lausanne, and reach as far as Rolle and Nyon. In the midst of this summit ridge, Nature has cut out—I might almost say washed out—a remarkable valley; for on the tops of all these limestone rocks the operation of the primal waters is manifest. It is called La Vallée de Joux, which means the Valley of the Rock, since Joux, in the local dialect, signifies a rock. Before I proceed with the further description of our journey, I will give you a brief geographical account of its situation. Lengthwise it stretches, like the mountain range itself, almost directly from south to north, and is locked in on the one side by Sept Moncels, and on the other by Dent de Vaulion, which after the Dole, is the highest peak of the Jura. Its length, according to the statement of the neighbourhood, is nine short leagues, but, according to our rough reckoning as we rode through it, six good leagues. The mountainous ridge which bounds it lengthwise on the north, and is also visible from the flat lands, is called the Black Mountain (Le Noir Mont). Toward the west, the Risou rises gradually, and slopes away toward Franche Comté. France and Berne divide the valley pretty evenly between them; the former claiming the upper and inferior half, and the latter possessing the lower and better portion, which is properly called La Vallée du Lac de Joux. Quite at the upper part of the valley, and at the foot of Sept Moncels, lies the Lac des Rousses, which has no single visible origin, but gathers its waters from the numerous springs which here gush out of the soil, and from the little brooks which run into the lake from all sides. Out of it flows the Orbe, which, after running through the whole of the French and a great portion of the Bernese territory, forms, lower down and toward the Dent de Vaulion, the Lac de Joux, which falls on one side into a smaller lake, the waters of which have some subterraneous outlet. The breadth of the valley varies: above, near the Lac des Rousses, it is nearly half a league, then it closes in to expand again presently, and to reach its greatest breadth, which is nearly a league and a half. So much to enable you better to understand what follows. While you read it, however, I would beg you now and then to cast a glance upon your map, although, so far as concerns this country, I have found them all to be incorrect.
Oct. 24.—In company with a captain and an upper ranger of the forests in these parts, we rode, first of all, up Mont, a little scattered village which much more correctly might be called a line of husbandmen's and vine-dressers' cottages. The weather was extremely clear. When we turned to look behind us, we had a view of the Lake of Geneva, the mountains of Savoy and Valais, and could just catch Lausanne, and also, through a light mist, the country round Geneva. Mont Blanc, which towers above all the mountains of Faucigni, stood out more and more distinctly. It was a brilliant sunset; and the view was so grand, that no human eye was equal to it. The moon rose almost at the full as we got continually higher. Through large pine forests we continued to ascend the Jura, and saw the lake in a mist, and in it the reflection of the moon. It became lighter and lighter. The road is a well-made causeway, though it was laid down merely for the sake of facilitating the transport of the timber to the plains below. We had been ascending for full three leagues, before the road began gently to descend. We thought we saw below us a vast lake, for a thick mist filled the whole valley which we overlooked. Presently we came nearer to the mist, and observed a white bow, which the moon formed in it, and were soon entirely enveloped in the fog. The company of the captain procured us lodgings in a house where strangers were not usually entertained. In its internal arrangement, it differed in nothing from usual buildings of the same kind, except that the great room in the centre was at once the kitchen, the anteroom, and general gathering-place of the family; and from it you entered at once into the sleeping-rooms, which were either on the same floor with it, or had to be approached by steps. On the one side was the fire, which was burning on the ground on some stone slabs; while a chimney, built durably and neatly of planks, received and carried off the smoke. In the corner were the doors of the oven. All the rest of the floor was of wood, with the exception of a small piece near the window, around the sink, which was paved. Moreover, all around and overhead, on the beams, a multitude of domestic articles and utensils were arranged in beautiful order, and all kept nice and clean.
Oct. 25.—This morning the weather was cold but clear, the meadows covered with hoar-frost, and here and there light clouds were floating in the air. We could pretty nearly survey the whole of the lower valley, our house being situated at the foot of the eastern side of Noir Mont. About eight we set off, and, in order to enjoy the sun fully, proceeded on the western side. The part of the valley we now traversed was divided into meadows, which toward the lake were rather swampy. The inhabitants either dwell in detached houses built by the side of their farms, or else have gathered closer together in little villages, which bear simple names derived from their several sites. The first of those that we passed through was called "Le Sentier." We saw at a distance the Dent de Vaulion peeping out over a mist which rested on the lake. The valley grew broader; but our road now lay behind a ridge of rock which shut out our view of the lake, and then through another village, called "Le Lieu." The mist arose and fell off, highly variegated by the sun. Close hereto is a small lake, which apparently has neither inlet nor outlet to its waters. The weather cleared up completely as we came to the foot of Dent de Vaulion, and reached the northern extremity of the great lake, which, as it turns westward, empties itself into a smaller by a dam beneath the bridge. The village just above is called "Le Pont." The situation of the smaller lake is what you may easily conceive as being in a peculiar little valley, which may be called pretty. At the western extremity there is a singular mill built in a ravine of the rock, which the smaller lake used formerly to fill. At present it is dammed out of the mill, which is erected in the hollow below. The water is conveyed by sluices to the wheel, from which it falls into crannies of the rock, and, being sucked in by them, does not show itself again till it reaches Valorbe, which is a full league off, where it again bears the name of the "Orbe." These outlets (entonnoirs) require to be kept clear: otherwise the water would rise, and again fill the ravine, and overflow the mill, as it has often done already. We saw the people hard at work removing the worn pieces of the limestone, and replacing them by others.
We rode back again over the bridge, toward Le Pont, and took a guide for the Dent du Vaulion. In ascending it we now had the great lake directly behind us. To the east its boundary is the Noir Mont, behind which the bald peak of the Dole rises up: to the west it is shut in by the mountain ridge, which, on the side of the lake, is perfectly bare. The sun felt hot: it was between eleven and twelve o'clock. By degrees we gained a sight of the whole valley, and were able to discern in the distance the Lac des Rousses, and then, stretching to our feet, the district we had just ridden through, and the road which remained for our return. During the ascent my guide discoursed of the whole range of the country and the lordships, which, he said, it was possible to distinguish from the peak. In the midst of such talk we reached the summit. But a very different spectacle was prepared for us. Under a bright and clear sky nothing was visible but the high mountain chain. All the lower regions were covered with a white sea of cloudy mist, which stretched from Geneva northwards, along the horizon, and glittered brilliantly in the sunshine. Out of it rose, to the east, the whole line of snow and ice capped mountains, acknowledging no distinction of names of either the princes or peoples who fancied they were owners of them, and owning subjection only to one Lord, and to the glance of the sun, which was tinging them with a beautified red. Mont Blanc, right opposite to us, seemed the highest; next to it were the ice-crowned summits of Valais and Oberland; and lastly came the lower mountains of the canton of Berne. Toward the west, the sea of mist, which was unconfined to one spot; on the left, in the remotest distance, appeared the mountains of Solothurn; somewhat nearer, those of Neufchâtel; and right before us, some of the lower heights of the Jura. Just below, lay some of the masses of the Vaulion, to which belongs the Dent (tooth), which takes from it its name. To the west, Franche-Comté, with its flat, outstretched, and wood-covered hills, shut in the whole horizon. In the distance, toward the northwest, one single mass stood out distinct from all the rest. Straight before us, however, was a beautiful object. This was the peak which gives this summit the name of a tooth. It descends precipitously, or rather with a slight curve, inwards; and in the bottom it is succeeded by a small valley of pine-trees, with beautiful grassy patches here and there, while right beyond it lies the valley of the Orbe (Val-orbe), where you see this stream coming out of the rock, and can trace, in thought, its route backwards to the smaller lake. The little town of Valorbe also lies in this valley. Most reluctantly we quitted the spot. A delay of a few hours longer (for the mist generally disperses in about that time) would have enabled us to distinguish the low lands with the lake; but, in order that our enjoyment should be perfect, we must always have something behind still to be wished. As we descended, we had the whole valley lying perfectly distinct before us. At Le Pont we again mounted our horses, and rode to the east side of the lake, and passed through L'Abbaye de Joux, which at present is a village, but once was a settlement of monks, to whom the whole valley belonged. Toward four we reached our auberge, and found our meal ready, of which we were assured by our hostess that at twelve o'clock it would have been good eating, and which, overdone as it was, tasted excellently.Let me now add a few particulars just as they were told me. As I mentioned just now, the valley belonged formerly to the monks, who, having divided it again to feudatories, were, with the rest, ejected at the Reformation. At present it belongs to the canton of Berne; and the mountains around are the timber-stores of the Pays de Vaud. Most of the timber is private property, and is cut up under supervision, and then carried down into the plains. The planks are also made here into deal utensils of all kinds, and pails, tubs, and similar articles manufactured.
The people are civil and well disposed. Besides their trade in wood, they also breed cattle. Their beasts are of a small size. The cheese they make is excellent. They are very industrious, and a clod of earth is with them a great treasure. We saw one man, with a horse and cart, carefully collecting the earth which had been thrown up out of a ditch, and carrying it to some hollow places in the same field. They lay the stones carefully together, and make little heaps of them. There are here many stone-polishers, who work for the Genevese and other tradesmen; and this business furnishes occupation for many women and children. The houses are neat, but durable; the form and internal arrangements being determined by the locality, and the wants of the inmates. Before every house there is a running stream, and everywhere you see signs of industry, activity, and wealth. But above all things is the highest praise due to the excellent roads, which in this remote region, as also in all the other cantons, are kept up by that of Berne. A causeway is carried all round the valley, not unnecessarily broad, but in excellent repair; so that the inhabitants can pursue their avocations without inconvenience, and, with their small horses and light carts, pass easily along. The air is very pure and salubrious.
On the 26th of October, during breakfast, we deliberated as to the road we should take on our return. As we heard that the Dole, the highest summit of the Jura, lay at no great distance from the upper end of the valley, and as the weather promised to be most glorious, so that we might to-day hope to enjoy all that chance denied us yesterday, we finally determined to take this route. We loaded a guide with bread and cheese, and butter and wine, and by eight o'clock mounted our horses. Our route now lay along the upper part of the valley, in the shade of Noir Mont. It was extremely cold, and there had been a sharp hoar-frost. We had still a league to ride, through the part belonging to Berne, before the causeway (which there terminates) branches off into two parts. Through a little wood of pine-trees we entered the French territory. Here the scene changed greatly. What first excited our attention was the wretched roads. The soil is rather stony: everywhere you see great heaps of those which have been picked off the fields. Soon you come to a part where is very marshy, and full of springs. The woods all around you are in wretched condition. In all the houses and people you recognise, I will not say want, but certainly a hard and meagre subsistence. They belong, almost as serfs, to the canons of St. Claude: they are bound to the soil (glebæ astricti), and are oppressed with imposts (sujets à la main-morte et au droit de la suite), of which we will hereafter have some talk together, as also of a late edict of the king's, repealing the droit de la suite, and inviting the owners and occupiers to redeem the main-morte for a certain compensation, but still even this portion of the valley is well cultivated. The people love their country dearly; though they lead a hard life, being driven occasionally to steal the wood from the Bernese, and sell it again in the lowlands. The first division is called the Bois d'Amant. After passing through it, we entered the parish of Les Rousses, where we saw before us the little Lake des Rousses and Les Sept Moncels,—seven small hills of different shapes, but all connected together, which form the southern limit of the valley. We soon came upon the new road which runs from the Pays de Vaud to Paris. We kept to this for a mile downwards, and now left entirely the valley. The bare summit of the Dole was before us. We alighted from our horses, and sent them on by the road toward St. Cergue while we ascended the Dole. It was near noon. The sun felt hot, but a cool south wind came now and then to refresh us. When we looked round for a halting-place, we had behind us Les Sept Moncels, we could still see a part of the Lac des Rousses, and around it the scattered houses of the parish. The rest of the valley was hidden from our eye by the Noir Mont, above which we again saw our yesterday's view of Franche-Comté, and nearer at hand, southwards, the last summits and valleys of the Jura. We carefully avoided taking advantage of a little peep in the hill, which would have given us a glimpse of the country, for the sake of which, in reality, our ascent was undertaken. I was in some anxiety about the mist: however, from the aspect of the sky above, I drew a favourable omen. At last we stood on the highest summit, and saw with the greatest delight that to-day we were indulged with all that yesterday had been denied us. The whole of the Pays de Vaux and de Gex lay like a plan before us; all the different holdings divided off with green hedges, like the beds of a parterre. We were so high, that the rising and sinking of the landscape before us were unnoticeable. Villages, little towns, country-houses, vine-covered hills, and higher up still, where the forests and Alps begin, the cow-sheds (mostly painted white, or some other light colour),—all glittered in the sunshine. The mist had already rolled off from Lake Leman. We saw the nearest part of the coast on our side, quite clear: of the so-called smaller lake, where the larger lake contracts itself, and turns toward Geneva, which was right opposite to us, we had a complete view; and on the other side, the country which shuts it in was gradually clearing. But nothing could vie with the view of the mountains, covered with snow and glaciers. We sat down before some rocks, to shelter us from the cold wind, with the sunshine full upon us, and highly relished our little meal. We kept watching the mist, which gradually retired. Each one discovered, or fancied he discovered, some object or other. One by one we distinctly saw Lausanne, surrounded with its houses and gardens, then Bevay and the Castle of Chillon; the mountains, which shut out from our view the entrance into Valais, and extended as far as the lake; from thence the borders of Savoy, Evian, Repaille, and Tonon, with a sprinkling of villages and farmhouses between them. At last Geneva stood clear from the mist; but beyond, and toward the south, in the neighbourhood of Monte Credo and Monte Vauche, it still hung immovable. When the eye turned to the left, it caught sight of the whole of the lowlands from Lausanne, as far as Solothurn, covered with a light halo. The nearer mountains and heights, and every spot that had a white house on it, could be closely distinguished. The guides pointed out a glimmering, which they said was the Castle of Chauvan, which lies to the left of the Neuberger-See. We were just able to guess whereabouts it lay, but could not distinguish it through the bluish haze. There are no words to express the grandeur and beauty of this view. At the moment every one is scarcely conscious of what he sees: one does but recall the names and sites of well-known cities and localities, to rejoice in a vague conjecture that he recognises them in certain white spots which strike his eye in the prospect before him.
And then the line of ghttering glaciers was continually drawing the eye back again to the mountains. The sun made his way toward the west, and lighted up their great flat surfaces, which were turned toward us. How beautifully before them rose from above the snow the variegated rows of black rocks!—teeth, towers, walls; wild, vast, inaccessible vestibules!—and seeming to stand there in the free air in the first purity and freshness of their manifold variety. Man gives up at once all pretensions to the infinite, while he here feels that neither with thought nor vision is he equal to the finite.
Before us we saw a fruitful and populous plain. The spot on which we were standing was a high, bare mountain rock, which, however, produces a sort of grass as food for the cattle, which are here a great source of gain. This the conceited lord of creation may yet make his own; but those rocks before his eyes are like a train of holy virgins, which the spirit of heaven reserves for itself alone in these inaccessible regions. We tarried awhile, tempting each other, in turn, to try and discover cities, mountains, and regions, now with the naked eye, now with the telescope, and did not begin to descend till the setting sun gave permission to the mist—his own parting breath—to spread itself over the lake.
With sunset we reached the ruins of the fort of St. Cergue. Even when we got down in the valley, our eyes were still riveted on the mountain glaciers. The farthest of these, lying on our left in Oberland, seemed almost to be melting into a light fiery vapour: those still nearer stood with their sides toward us, still glowing and red; but by degrees they became white, green, and grayish. There was something melancholy in the sight. Like a powerful body over which death is gradually passing from the extremities to the heart, so the whole range gradually paled away as far as Mont Blanc, whose ampler bosom was still covered all over with a deep red blush, and even appeared to us to retain a reddish tint to the very last,—just as, when one is watching the death of a dear friend, life still seems to linger, and it is difficult to determine the very moment when the pulse ceases to beat.
This time, also, we were very loath to depart. We found our horses in St. Cergue; and, that nothing might be wanting to our enjoyment, the moon rose, and lighted us to Nyon. While on the way, our strained and excited feelings were gradually calmed, and assumed their wonted tone; so that we were able, with keen gratification, to enjoy from our inn window the glorious moonlight which was spread over the lake.
At different spots of our travels, so much was said of the remarkable character of the glaciers of Savoy, and when we reached Geneva we were told it was becoming more and more the fashion to visit them, that the count was seized with a strange desire to bend our course in that direction, and from Geneva to cross Cluse and Salenche, and enter the Valley of Chamouni, and, after contemplating its wonderful objects, to go on by Valorsine and Trent into Valais. This route, however, which was the one usually pursued by travellers, was thought dangerous in this season of the year. A visit was therefore paid to M. de Saussure at his country-house, and his advice requested. He assured us that we need not hesitate to take that route: there was no snow as yet on the middle-sized mountains; and if on our road we were attentive to the signs of the weather and the advice of the country-people, who were seldom wrong in their judgment, we might enter upon this journey with perfect safety. Here is the copy of the journal of a day's hard travelling.
Cluse in Savoy, Nov. 3, 1779.
Salenche, Nov. 4, 1779.
Whilst a dinner is being prepared by very willing hands, I will attempt to set down the most remarkable incidents of our yesterday's journey, which commenced with the early morning. With break of day we set out on foot from Cluse, taking the road toward Balme. In the valley the air was agreeably fresh. The moon, in her last quarter, rose bright before the sun, and charmed us with the sight, as being one which we do not often see. Single light vapours rose upwards from all the chasms in the rocks. It seemed as if the morning air were awakening the young spirits, who took pleasure in meeting the sun with expanded bosoms, and gilding them in his rays. The upper heaven was perfectly clear, except where now and then a single cloudy streak, which the rising sun lit up, swept lightly across it. Balme is a miserable village, not far from the spot where a rocky gorge runs off from the road. We asked the people to guide us through the cave for which the place is famous. At this they kept looking at one another, till at last one said to the second, "Take you the ladder, I will carry the rope: come, gentlemen." This strange invitation did not deter us from following them. Our line of descent passed, first of all, among fallen masses of limestone rock, which by the course of time had been piled up, step by step, in front of the precipitous wall of rock, and were now overgrown with bushes of hazel and beech. Over these you reach, at last, the strata of the rock itself, which you have to climb up slowly and painfully, by means of the ladder and of the steps cut into the rock, and by help of branches of the nut-trees which hung overhead, or of pieces of rope tied to them. After this you find yourself, to your great satisfaction, in a kind of portal, which has been worn out of the rock by the weather, and overlooks the valley and the village below. We now prepared for entering the cave,—lighted our candles, and loaded a pistol, which we proposed to let off. The cave is a long gallery, mostly level, and on one strand; in parts broad enough for two men to walk abreast, in others only passable by one; now high enough to walk upright, then obliging you to stoop, and sometimes even to crawl on hands and feet. Nearly about the middle a cleft runs upwards, and forms a sort of a dome. In one corner, another goes downwards. We threw several stones down it, and counted slowly from seventeen to nineteen before they reached the bottom, after touching the sides many times, but always with a different echo. On the walls a stalactite forms its various devices: however, it is only damp in a very few places, and forms, for the most part, long drops, and not those rich and rare shapes which are so remarkable in Baumann's Cave. We penetrated as far as we could for the water, and, as we came out, let off our pistol, which shook the cave with a strong but dull echo, so that it boomed round us like a bell. It took us a good quarter of an hour to get out again; and, on descending the rocks, we found our carriage, and drove onwards. We saw a beautiful waterfall in the manner of the Staubbach. Neither its height was very great, nor its volume very large, and yet it was extremely interesting, for the rocks formed around it, as it were, a circular niche, in which its waters fell; and the pieces of the limestone, as they were tumbled one over another, formed the most rare and unusual groups.
We arrived here at midday, not quite hungry enough to relish our dinner, which consisted of warm fish, cow-beef, and very stale bread. From this place there is no road leading to the mountains that is passable for so stately an equipage as we have with us: it therefore returns to Geneva, and I now must take my leave of you in order to pursue my route a little farther. A mule with my luggage will follow us as we pick our way on foot.
Chamouni, Nov. 4, 1779.
Evening, about nine o'clock.
It is only because this letter will bring me for a while nearer to yourself, that I resume my pen: otherwise it would be better for me to give my mind a little rest.
We left Salenche behind us in a lovely open valley. During our noonday's rest the sky had become overcast with white fleecy clouds, about which I have here a special remark to make. We had seen them on a bright day rise equally fine, if not still finer, from the glaciers of Berne. Here, too, it again seemed to us as if the sun had first of all attracted the light mists which evaporated from the tops of the glaciers, and then a gentle breeze had, as it were, combed the fine vapours like a fleece of foam, over the atmosphere. I never remember at home, even in the height of summer (when such phenomena do also occur with us), to have seen any so transparent; for here it was a perfect web of light. Before long the ice-covered mountains from which it rose lay before us. The valley began to close in. The Arve was gushing out of the rock. We now began to ascend a mountain, and went up higher and higher, with the snowy summits right before us. Mountains and old pine forests, either in the hollows below, or on a level with, our track, came out one by one before the eye as we proceeded. On our left were the mountain peaks, bare and pointed. We felt that we were approaching a mightier and more massive chain of mountains. We passed over a dry and broad bed of stones and gravel, which the watercourses tear down from the sides of the rocks, and in turn flow among and fill up. This brought us into an agreeable valley, flat, and shut in by a circular ridge of rocks, in which lies the little village of Serves. There the road runs round some very highly variegated rocks, and takes again the direction toward the Arve. After crossing the latter, you again ascend. The masses become constantly more imposing. Nature seems to have begun here with a light hand to prepare her enormous creations. The darkness grew deeper and deeper as we approached the Valley of Chamouni; and when, at last, we entered it, nothing but the larger masses were discernible. The stars came out one by one; and we noticed above the peaks of the summits, right before us, a light which we could not account for. Clear, but without brilliancy; like the milky way, but closer; something like that of the Pleiades,—it riveted our attention, until at last, as our position changed, like a pyramid illuminated by a secret light within, which could best be compared to the gleam of a glowworm, it towered high above the peaks of all the surrounding mountains, and at last convinced us that it must be the peak of Mont Blanc. The beauty of this view was extraordinary. For while, together with the stars that clustered round it, it glimmered,—not, indeed, with the same twinkling light, but in a broader and more continuous mass,—it seemed to belong to a higher sphere, and one had difficulty in thought to fix its roots again in the earth. Before it we saw a line of snowy summits, sparkling as they rested on the ridges covered with the black pines; while between the dark forests vast glaciers sloped down to the valley below.
My descriptions begin to be irregular and forced: in fact, one wants two persons here,—one to see, and the other to describe.
Here we are, in the middle village of the valley called "Le Prieuré," comfortably lodged in a house which a widow caused to be built here in honour of the many strangers who visited the neighbourhood. We are sitting close to the hearth, relishing our Muscatel wine from the Vallée d'Aost far better than the lenten dishes which were served up for our dinner.
Nov. 5, 1779. Evening.
To take up one's pen and write, almost requires as great an effort as to go into a cold river. At this moment I have a great mind to put you off by referring you to the description of the glaciers of Savoy, published by Bourritt, an enthusiastic climber.
Invigorated, however, by a few glasses of excellent wine, and by the thought that these pages will reach you much sooner than either the travellers or Bourritt's book, I will do my best. The Valley of Chamouni, in which we are at present, lies very high among the mountains, and, from six to seven leagues long, runs pretty nearly from south to north. The characteristic features which to my mind distinguish it from all others, are its having scarcely any flat portion; but the whole tract, like a trough, slopes from the Arve gradually up the sides of the mountain. Mont Blanc and the line of mountains which runs off from it, and the masses of ice which fill up the immense ravines, make up the eastern wall of the valley, on which, throughout its entire length, seven glaciers, of which one is considerably larger than the others, run down to the bottom of the valley.
The guides whom we had engaged to show us to the ice-lake came betimes. One was an active young fellow; the other, much older, who seemed to think himself a very shrewd personage, having held intercourse with all learned foreigners, and being well acquainted with the nature of the ice-mountains, and a very clever fellow. He assured us, that, for eight and twenty years (so long had he acted as guide), this was the first time his services had been put in requisition so late in the year,—after All-Saints' Day,—and yet that we might even now see every object quite as well as in June. Provided with wine and food, we began to ascend Mont Anvert, from which we were told the view of the ice-lake would be quite ravishing. Properly I should call it the ice-valley or the ice-stream; for, looking at it from above, the huge masses of ice force themselves out of a deep valley in tolerable smoothness. Eight behind it ends a sharp-pointed mountain, from both sides of which waves of ice run frozen into the principal stream. Not the slightest trace of snow was as yet to be seen on the rugged surfaces, and the blue crevices glistened beautifully. The weather, by degrees, became overcast; and I saw gray wavy clouds, which seemed to threaten snow more than it had ever yet done. On the spot where we were standing is a small cabin, built of stones loosely piled together, as a shelter for travellers, which in joke has been named "The Castle of Mont Anvert." An Englishman of the name of Blaire, who is residing at Geneva, has caused a more spacious one to be built at a more convenient spot, and a little higher up, where, sitting by a fireside, you catch through the window a view of the whole ice-valley. The peaks of the rocks over against you, as also in the valley below, are very pointed and rugged. These jags are called needles; and the Aiguille du Dru is a remarkable peak of this kind, right opposite to Mont Anvert. We now wished to walk upon the ice-lake itself, and to consider these immense masses close at hand. Accordingly, we climbed down the mountain, and took nearly a hundred steps round about on the wave-like crystal cliffs. It is certainly a singular sight, when, standing on the ice itself, you see before you the masses pressing upwards, and divided by strangely shaped clefts. However, we did not like standing on this slippery surface; for we were not provided with ice-shoes, nor had we nails in those which we ordinarily wore, and which, on the contrary, had become smooth and rounded with our long walk. We therefore made our way back to the hut, and, after a short rest, were ready for returning. We descended the mountain, and came to the spot where the ice-stream, step by step, forces its way to the valley below; and we entered the cavern, into which it empties its water. It is broad, deep, and of the most beautiful blue; and in the cave the supply of water is more invariable than farther on at the mouth, since great pieces of ice are constantly melting and dissolving in it.
On our road to the auberge, we passed the house where there were two Albinos,—children between twelve and fourteen, with very white complexions, rough white hair, and with red and restless eyes, like those of rabbits. The deep night which hangs over the valley invites me to retire early to bed; and I am hardly awake enough to tell you that we have seen a tame young ibex, who stands out as distinctly among the goats, as the natural son of a noble prince from the burgher's family among whom he is privately brought up and educated. It does not suit with our discourses, that I should speak of anything out of its due order. Besides, you do not take much delight in specimens of granite, quartz, or in larch and pine trees, yet, most of all, you would desire to see some remarkable fruits of our botanising. I think I am stupid with sleep: I cannot write another line.
Chamouni, Nov. 6, 1779.
Content with seeing all that the early season allows us to see, we are ready to start again, intending to penetrate as far as Valais to-day. A thick mist covers the whole valley, and reaches half-way up the mountains; and we must wait and see what sun and wind will yet do for us. Our guide purposes that we should take the road over the Col de Balme (a lofty eminence which lies on the north side of the valley, toward Valais), from the summit of which, if we are lucky, we shall be able to take another survey of the Valley of Chamouni, and of all its remarkable objects.
Whilst I am writing, a remarkable phenomenon is passing along the sky. The mists, which are shifting about and breaking in some places, allow you, through their openings, as through skylights, to catch a glance of the blue sky, while at the same time the mountain peaks, rising above our roof of vapour, are illuminated by the sun's rays. Even without the hope it gives of a beautiful day, this sight of itself is a rich treat to the eye.
We have at last obtained a standard for judging the heights of the mountains. It is at a considerable height above the valley that the vapour rests on the mountains. At a still greater height are clouds, which have floated off upwards from the top of the mist; and then far above these clouds you see the summits glittering in the sunshine.
It is time to go. I must bid farewell to this beautiful valley and to you.
Martinac in Valais, Nov. 6, 1779.
We have made the passage across without any mishap, and so this adventure is over. The joy of our good luck will keep my pen going merrily for a good half-hour yet.
Having packed our luggage on a mule, we set out early (about nine) from Prieuré. The clouds shifted, so that the peaks were now visible, and then were lost again: at one moment the sun's rays came in streaks on the valley, at the next the whole of it was again in shade. We went up the valley, passing the outlet of the ice-stream, then the glacier d'Argentière, which is the highest of the five: the top of it, however, was hidden from our view by the clouds. On the plain we held a council whether we should or not take the route over Col de Balme, and abandon the road over Valorsine. The prospect was not the most promising: however, as here there was nothing to lose, and much, perhaps, to gain, we took our way boldly toward the dark region of mists and clouds. As we approached the Glacier du Tour, the clouds parted, and we saw this glacier also in full light. We sat down awhile, and drank a flask of wine, and took something to eat. We now mounted toward the sources of the Arve, passing over rugged meadows, and patches scantily covered with turf, and came nearer and nearer to the region of mists, until at last we entered right into it. We went on patiently for awhile, till at last, as we got up higher, it began again to clear above our heads. It lasted for a short time: so we passed right out of the clouds, and saw the whole mass of them beneath us, spread over the valley, and were able to see the summits of all the mountains on the right and left that enclosed it, with the exception of Mont Blanc, which was covered with clouds. We were able to point them out one by one, and to name them. In some we saw the glaciers reaching from their summits to their feet: in others we could only discern their tracks, as the ice was concealed from our view by the rocky sides of the gorges. Beyond the whole of the flat surface of the clouds, except at its southern extremity, we could distinctly see the mountains glittering in the sunshine. Why should I enumerate to you the names of summits, peaks, needles, icy and snowy masses, when their mere designations can furnish no idea to your mind, either of the whole scene or of its single objects?
It was quite singular how the spirits of the air seemed to be waging war beneath us. Scarcely had we stood a few minutes enjoying the grand view, when a hostile ferment seemed to arise within the mist; and it suddenly rose upwards, and threatened once more to envelop us. We commenced stoutly ascending the height, in the hope of yet awhile escaping from it; but it outstripped us, and enclosed us on all sides. However, perfectly fresh, we continued to mount; and soon there came to our aid a strong wind, blowing from the mountain. Blowing over the saddle which connected two peaks, it drove the mist back again into the valley. This strange conflict was frequently repeated; and at last, to our joy, we reached the Col de Balme. The view from it was singular, indeed unique. The sky above the peaks was overcast with clouds: below, through the many openings in the mist, we saw the whole of Chamouni, and between these two layers of cloud the mountain summits were all visible. On the east we were shut in by rugged mountains: on the west we looked down on wild valleys, where, however, on every green patch, human dwellings were visible. Before us lay the Valley of Valais, where, at one glance, the eye took in mountains piled in every variety of mass, one upon another, and stretching as far as Martinac, and even beyond it. Surrounded on all sides by mountains, which, farther on toward the horizon, seemed continually to multiply, and to tower higher and higher, we stood on the confines of Valais and Savoy.
Some contrabandists, who were ascending the mountains with their mules, were alarmed at seeing us; for at this season they did not reckon on meeting with any one at this spot. They fired a shot to intimate that they were armed, and one advanced before the rest to reconnoitre. Having recognised our guide, and seen what a harmless figure we made, he returned to his party, who now approached us, and we passed one another with mutual greetings.
The wind now blew sharp; and it began to snow a little as we commenced our descent, which was rough and wild enough, through an ancient forest of pines. which had taken root on the faces of the gneiss. Torn up by the winds, the trunks and roots lay rotting together; and the rocks, which were loosened at the same time, were lying in rough masses among them.
At last we reached the valley where the River Trent takes its rise from a glacier, and passing the village of Trent, close upon our right, we followed the windings of the valley along a rather inconvenient road, and about six reached Martinac, which lies in the flatter portion of the Valais. Here we must refresh ourselves for further expeditions.
Martinac, Nov. 6, 1779.
Just as our travels proceed uninterruptedly, so my letters, one after another, keep up my conversation with you. Scarcely have I folded and put aside the conclusion of "Wanderings through Savoy," ere I take up another sheet of paper in order to acquaint you with all that we have further in contemplation.
It was night when we entered a country about which our curiosity had long been excited. As yet we have seen nothing but the peaks of the mountains, which enclose the valley on both sides, and then only in the glimmering of twilight. We crept into our inn, and from the window we see the clouds shift. We feel as glad and comfortable to have a roof over our heads, as children do, when with stools, table-leaves, and carpets they construct a roof near the stove, and therein say to one another that outside "it is raining or snowing," in order to excite a pleasant and imaginary shudder in their little souls. It is exactly so with us on this autumnal evening in this strange and unknown region.
We learn from the maps that we are sitting in the angle of an elbow, from which the smaller part of Valais—running almost directly from south to north, and with the Rhone—extends to the Lake of Geneva, while the other and the larger portion stretches from west to east, and goes up the Rhone to its source, the Furca. The prospect of riding through the Valais is very agreeable: our only anxiety is how we are to cross over into it. First of all, with the view of seeing the lower portion, it is settled that we go to-morrow to St. Maurice, where we are to meet our friend, who, with the horses, has gone round by the Pays de Vaud. To-morrow evening we think of being here again, and then on the next day shall begin to go up the country. If the advice of M. de Saussure prevails, we shall perform the route to the Furca on horseback, and then back to Brieg over the Simplon, where, in any weather, the travelling is good over Domo d'Osula, Lago Maggiore, Bellinzona, and then up Mount Gothard. The road is said to be excellent, and everywhere passable for horses. We should best prefer going over the Furca to St. Gothard, both for the sake of the shorter route, and also because this détour through the Italian provinces was not within our original plan. But then what could we do with our horses? They could not be made to descend the Furca; for, in all probability, the path for pedestrians is already blocked up by the snow.
With regard to the latter contingency, however, we are quite at our ease, and hope to be able, as we have hitherto done, to take counsel, from moment to moment, with circumstances as they arise.
The most remarkable object in this inn is a servant-girl, who, with the greatest stupidity, gives herself all the airs of one of our would-be delicate German ladies. We had a good laugh, when after bathing our weary feet in a bath of red wine and clay, as recommended by our guide, we had in the affected hoiden to wipe them dry.Our meal has not refreshed us much, and after supper we hope to enjoy our beds more.
St. Maurice, Nov. 7, 1779.
On the road it is my way to enjoy the beautiful views in order that I may call in one by one my absent friends, and converse with them on the subject of the glorious objects. If I come into an inn, it is in order to rest myself, to go back in memory and to write something to you, when many a time my overstrained faculties would much rather collapse upon themselves, and recover their tone in a sort of half-sleep.
This morning we set off at dawn from Martinac. A fresh breeze was stirring with the day, and we soon passed the old castle which stands at the point where the two arms of Valais make a sort of Y. The valley is narrow, shut in on its two sides by mountains highly diversified in their forms, and which, without exception, are of a peculiar and sublimely beautiful character. We came to the spot where the Trent breaks into the valley around some narrow and perpendicular rocks; so that one almost doubts whether the river does not flow out of the solid rock itself. Close by stands the old bridge, which only last year was greatly injured by the stream; while not far from it lie immense masses of rock, which have fallen very recently from the mountains, and blocked up the road. The whole group together would make an extremely beautiful picture. At a short distance, a new wooden bridge has been built and a new road laid down.
We knew that we were getting near the famous waterfall of Pisse Vache, and wished heartily for a peep at the sun; the shifting clouds giving us some hope that our wish would be gratified. On the road we examined various pieces of granite and of gneiss, which, with all their differences, seem, nevertheless, to have a common origin. At last we stood before the waterfall, which well deserves its fame above all others. At a considerable height a strong stream bursts from a cleft in the rock, falling downward into a basin, over which the foam and spray is carried far and wide by the wind. The sun at this moment came forth from the clouds, and made the sight doubly vivid. Below in the spray, wherever you go, you have close before you a rainbow. If you go higher up, you still witness no less singular a phenomenon. The airy foaming waves of the upper stream of water, as, with their frothy vapour, they come in contact with the angle of vision at which the rainbow is formed, assume a flamelike hue, without giving rise to the pendent form of the bow; so that at this point you have before you a constantly varying play of fire.
We climbed all round, and, sitting down near it, wished we were able to spend whole days, and many a good hour of our life, on this spot. Here, too, as in so many other places during our present tour, we felt how impossible it was to enjoy and to be fully impressed with grand objects on a passing visit.
We came to a village where there were some merry soldiers, and we drank there some new wine. Some of the same sort had been set before us yesterday. It looked like soap and water: however, I had rather drink it than their sour "this year's" and "two years' old" wine. When one is thirsty nothing comes amiss.
We saw St. Maurice at a distance: it is situated just at the point where the valley closes in, so much as to cease to be anything more than a mere pass. Over the city, on the left, we saw a small church, with a hermitage close to it; and we hope to have an opportunity yet of visiting them both.We found in the inn a note from our friend, who has stopped at Bec, which is about three-quarters of a league from this place: we have sent a messenger to him. The count is gone out for a walk, to see the country before us. I shall take a morsel to eat, and then set out toward the famous bridge and the pass.
After one o'clock.
I have at last got back from the spot where one could be contented to spend whole days together lounging and loitering about, without once getting tired, holding converse with one's self.
If I had to advise any one as to the best route into Valais, I should recommend the one from the Lake of Geneva up the Rhone. I have been on the road to Bec over the great bridge, from which you step at once into the Bernese territory. Here the Rhone flows downwards, and the valley near the lake becomes a little broader. As I turned round again, I saw that the rocks near St. Maurice pressed together from both sides, and that a small light bridge, with a high arch, was thrown boldly across from them over the Rhone, which rushes beneath it with its roaring and foaming stream. The numerous angles and turrets of a fortress stand close to the bridge, and a single gateway commands the entrance into Valais. I went over the bridge back toward St. Maurice, and even beyond it, in search of a view, which I had formerly seen a drawing of at Huber's house, and by good luck found it.
The count is come back. He had gone to meet the horses, and, mounting his gray, had outstripped the rest. He says the bridge is so light and beautiful that it looks like a horse in the act of leaping a ditch. Our friend, too, is coming, and is quite contented with his tour. He accomplished the distance from the Lake of Geneva to Bec in a few days, and we are all delighted to see one another again.
Martinac, at about nine.
We were out riding till late at night; and the road seemed much longer returning than going, as, in the morning, our attention had been constantly attracted from one object to another. Besides, I am, for this day at least, heartily tired of descriptions and reflections: however, I must try hastily to perpetuate the memory of two beautiful objects. It was deep twilight, when, on our return, we reached the waterfall of the Pisse Vache. The mountains, the valley, and the heavens themselves, were dark and dusky. By its grayish tint and unceasing murmur you could distinguish the falling stream from all other objects, though you could scarcely discern the slightest motion. Suddenly the summit of a very high peak glowed just like molten brass in a furnace, and above it rose red smoke. This singular phenomenon was the effect of the setting sun illuminating the snow and the mists which ascended from it.
Sion, Nov. 8, 1779.
About three o'clock.
This morning we missed our way riding, and were delayed, in consequence, three hours at least. We .set out from Martinac before dawn, in order to reach Sion in good time. The weather was extraordinarily beautiful, only that the sun, being low in the heavens, was shut out by the mountains; so that the road, as we passed along, was entirely in the shade. The view, however, of the marvellously beautiful valley of Valais called up many a good and cheerful idea. We had ridden for full three hours along the highroad, with the Rhone on our left, when we saw Sion before us; and we were beginning to congratulate ourselves on the prospect of soon ordering our noonday's meal, when we found that the bridge we ought to cross had been carried away. Nothing remained for us, we were told by the people who were busy repairing it, but either to leave our horses, and go by a foot-path which ran across the rocks, or else to ride on for about three miles, and then cross the Rhone by some other bridges. We chose the latter; and we would not suffer any ill humour to get possession of us, but determined to ascribe this mischance to the interposition of our good genius, who intended to take us a slow ride through this interesting region with the advantage of good daylight. Everywhere, indeed, in this narrow district, the Rhone makes sad havoc. In order to reach the other bridges, we were obliged, for more than a league and a half, to ride over sandy patches, which, in the various inundations, are constantly shifting, and are useful for nothing but alder and willow beds. At last we came to the bridges, which were wretched, tottering, long, and composed of rotten timbers. We had to lead our horses over, one by one, and with extreme caution. We were now on the left side of the Valais, and had to turn backwards to get to Sion. The road itself was, for the most part, wretched and stony: every step, however, opened a fresh view, which was well worth a painting. One, however, was particularly remarkable. The road brought us up to a castle, below which there was spread out the most lovely scene that we had seen in the whole road. The mountains nearest to us run down on both sides slantingly to the level ground, and by their shape give a kind of perspective effect to the natural landscape. Beneath us was the Valais, in its entire breadth from mountain to mountain, so that the eye could easily take it in. The Rhone, with its ever-varying windings and bushy banks, was flowing past villages, meadows, and richly cultivated highlands. In the distance you saw the Castle of Sion, and the various hills which begin to rise behind it. The farthest horizon was shut in, amphitheatre like, with a semicircular range of snow-capped mountains, which, like all the rest of the scene, stood glittering in the sun's meridian splendour. Disagreeable and rough was the road we had to ride over: we therefore enjoyed the more, perhaps, the still tolerably green festoons of the vines which overarched it. The inhabitants, to whom every spot of earth is precious, plant their grape-vines close against the walls which divide their little holdings from the road where they grow to an extraordinary thickness, and, by means of stakes and trellises, are trained across the road so as almost to form one continuous arbour. The lower grounds were principally meadows. In the neighbourhood of Sion, however, we noticed some tillage. Toward this town, the scenery is extremely diversified by a variety of hills, and we washed to be able to make a longer stay in order to enjoy it. But the hideousness of the town and of the people fearfully disturb the pleasant impression which the scenery leaves. The most frightful goitres put me altogether out of humour. We cannot well put our horses any farther to-day, and therefore we think of going on foot to Seyters. Here in Sion the inn is disgusting, and the whole town has a dirty and revolting appearance.
Seyters, Nov. 8, 1779.
As evening had begun to fall before we set out from Sion, we reached here at night, with the sky above us clear and starry. We have consequently lost many a good view: that I know well. Particularly we should have liked to ascend to the Castle of Tourbillon, which is at no great distance from Sion: the view from it must be uncommonly beautiful. A guide whom we took with us skilfully guided us through some wretched low lands, where the water was out. We soon reached the heights, and had the Rhone below us on our right. By talking over some astronomical matters, we shortened our road, and have taken up our abode here with some very worthy people, who are doing their best to entertain us. When we think over what we have gone through, so busy a day, with its many incidents and sights, seems almost equal to a whole week. I begin to be quite sorry that I have neither time nor talent to sketch at least the outlines of the most remarkable objects; for that would be much better for the absent than all descriptions.
Seyters, Nov. 9, 1779.
Before we set out, I can just bid you good morning. The count is going with me to the mountains on the left, toward Leukerbad. Our friend will, in the meantime, stay here with the horses, and join us to-morrow at Leuk.
Leukerbad, Nov. 9, 1779.
At the foot of Mount Gemmi.
In a little wooden house, where we have been most kindly received by some very worthy people, we are sitting in a small, low room, and trying how much of to-day's highly interesting tour can be communicated in words. Starting from Seyters very early, we proceeded for three leagues up the mountains, after having passed large districts laid waste by the mountain torrents. One of these streams will suddenly rise, and desolate an extent of many miles, covering with fragments of rock and gravel the fields, meadows, and gardens, which (at least wherever possible) the people laboriously set to work to clear, in order, within two generations, perhaps, to be again laid waste. We have had a gray day, with every now and then a glimpse of sunshine. It is impossible to describe how infinitely variegated the Valais here again becomes: the landscape bends and changes every moment. Looking around you, all the objects seem to lie close together; and yet they are separated by great ravines and hills. Generally we had had the open part of the valley below us, on the right, when suddenly we came upon a spot which commanded a most beautiful view over the mountains.
In order to render more clear what it is I am attempting to describe, I must say a few words on the geographical position of the district in which we are at present. We had now, for three hours, been ascending the mountainous region which separates Valais from Berne. This is, in fact, the great track of mountains which runs in one continuous chain from the Lake of Geneva to Mount St. Gothard, and on which, as it passes through Berne, rest the great masses of ice and snow. Here "above" and "below" are but the relative terms of the moment. I say, for instance, beneath me lies a village; and, in all probability, the level on which it is built is on a precipitous summit, which is far higher above the valley below than I am above it.
As we turned an angle of the road, and rested a while at a hermitage, we saw beneath us, at the end of a lovely green meadow-land which stretched along the brink of an enormous chasm, the village of Inden, with its white church exactly in the middle of the landscape, and built altogether on the slope of the hillside. Beyond the chasm another line of meadow-lands and pine forests went upwards, while right behind the village a vast cleft in the rocks ran up the summit. On the left hand the mountains came right down to us, while those on our right stretched far away into the distance; so that the little hamlet, with its white church, formed, as it were, the focus toward which the many rocks, ravines, and mountains all converged. The road to Inden is cut out of the precipitous side of the rock, which, on your left going to the village, lines the amphitheatre. It is not dangerous, although it looks frightful enough. It goes down on the slope of a rugged mass of rocks, separated from the yawning abyss on the right by nothing but a few poor planks. A peasant with a mule, who was descending at the same time as ourselves, whenever he came to any dangerous points, caught his beast by the tail, lest the steep descent should cause him to slip, and roll into the rocks below. At last we reached Inden. As our guide was well known there, he easily managed to obtain for us, from a good-natured dame, some bread and a glass of red wine; for in these parts there are no regular inns.
We now ascended the high ravine behind Inden, where we soon saw before us the Gemmiberg (of which we had heard such frightful descriptions), with Leukerbad at its foot, lying between two lofty, inaccessible, snow-covered mountains, as if it were in the hollow of a hand. It was three o'clock, nearly, when we arrived there; and our guide soon procured us lodgings. There is properly no inn, even here; but in consequence of the many visitors to the baths at this place, all people have good accommodations. Our hostess had been put to bed the day before; but her husband, with an old mother and a servant girl, did very creditably the honours of the house. We ordered something to eat, and went to see the warm springs, which in several places burst out of the earth with great force, and are received in very clean reservoirs. Out of the village, and more toward the mountains, there are said to be still stronger ones. The water has not the slightest smell of sulphur; and neither at its source, nor in its channel, does it make the least deposit of ochre, or of any other earth or mineral, but, like any other clear spring-water, it leaves not the slightest trace behind it. As it comes out of the earth, it is extremely hot, and is famous for its good qualities. We had still time for a walk to the foot of the Gemmi, which appeared to us to be at no great distance. I must here repeat a remark that has been made so often already,—that, when one is surrounded with mountain scenery, all objects appear to be extremely near. We had a good league to go,—across fragments of rocks which had fallen from the heights, and over gravel brought down by the torrents,—before we reached the foot of the Gemmi, where the road ascends along the precipitous crags. This is the only pass into the canton of Berne, and the sick have to be transported along it in sedan-chairs.
If the season did not bid us hasten onward, we should probably to-morrow make an attempt to ascend this remarkable mountain: as it is, however, we must content ourselves with the simple view of it. On our return we saw the clouds brewing, which in these parts is a highly interesting sight. The fine weather we have hitherto enjoyed has made us almost entirely forget that we are in November: moreover, as they foretold us in Berne, the autumn here is very delightful. The short days, however, and the clouds, which threaten snow, warn us how late it is in the year. The strange drift which has been agitating them this evening was singularly beautiful. As we came back from the foot of the Gemmi, we saw light mists come up the ravine from Inden, and move with great rapidity. They continually changed their direction, going, now forward, now backward; and at last, as they ascended, they came so near to Leukerbad, that we saw clearly that we must double our steps, if we would not, before nightfall, be enveloped in the clouds. However, we reached our quarters without accident; and, whilst I write this, it is snowing in earnest. This is the first fall of snow that we have yet had; and when we call to mind our warm ride yesterday, from Martinac to Sion, beneath the vine-arbours, which were still pretty thick with leaves, the change does appear sudden indeed. I have been standing some time at the door, observing the character and look of the clouds, which are beautiful beyond description. It is not yet night; but at intervals the clouds veil the whole sky, and make it quite dark. They rise out of the deep ravines until they reach the highest summits of the mountains: attracted by these, they appear to thicken; and, being condensed by the cold, they fall down in the shape of snow. It gives you an inexpressible feeling of loneliness to find yourself here at this height, as it were, in a sort of well, from which you scarcely can suppose that there is even a foot-path to get out by, except down the precipice before you. The clouds which gather here in this valley, at one time completely hiding the immense rocks, and absorbing them in a waste, impenetrable gloom, or at another letting a part of them be seen, like huge spectres, give to the people a cast of melancholy. In the midst of such natural phenomena, the people are full of presentiments and forebodings. Clouds, a phenomenon remarkable to every man from his youth up, are in the flat countries generally looked upon at most as something foreign, something super-terrestrial. People regard them as strangers, as birds of passage, which, hatched under a different climate, visit this or that country for a moment or two in passing; as splendid pieces of tapestry, wherewith the gods part off their pomp and splendour from human eyes. But here, where they are hatched, one is enveloped in them from the very first, and the eternal and intrinsic energy of his nature feels moved at every nerve to forebode, and to indulge in presentiments.
To the clouds, which with us even produce these effects, we pay little attention: moreover, as they are not pushed so thickly and directly before our eyes, their economy is the more difficult to observe. With regard to all such phenomena, one's only wish is to dwell on them for awhile, and to be able to tarry several days in the spots where they are observable. If one is fond of such observations, the desire becomes the more vivid, the more one reflects that every season of the year, every hour of the day, and every change of weather, produces new phenomena which we little looked for. And as no man, not even the most ordinary character, was ever a witness, even for once, of great and unusual events, without their leaving behind in his soul some traces or other, and making him feel himself also to be greater for this one little shred of grandeur, so that he is never weary of telling the whole tale of it over again, and has gained, at any rate, a little treasure for his whole life, just so is it with the man who has seen and become familiar with the grand phenomena of nature. He who manages to preserve these impressions, and to combine them with other thoughts and emotions, has, assuredly, a stock of spice wherewith to season the most tasteless parts of life, and to give a pervading relish to the whole of existence.
I observe that in my notes I make very little mention of human beings. Amid these grand objects of nature, they are but little worthy of notice, especially where they do but come and go. I doubt not but that, on a longer stay, we should meet with many worthy and interesting people. One thing I think I have observed everywhere,—the farther one moves from the highroad and the busy marts of men, the more people are shut in by the mountains, isolated and confined to the simplest wants of life, the more they draw their maintenance from simple, humble, and unchangeable pursuits, the better, the more obliging, the more friendly, unselfish, and hospitable they are.
Leukerbad, Nov. 10, 1779.
We are getting ready by candle-light, in order to descend the mountain again as soon as day breaks I have passed a rather restless night. I had not been long in bed before I felt as if I were attacked all over with the nettle-rash. I soon found, however, that it was a swarm of jumping insects, who, ravenous for blood, had fallen upon the newcomer. These insects breed in great numbers in these wooden houses. The night appeared to me extremely long; and I was heartily glad, when, in the morning, a light was brought in.
About ten o'clock.
We have not much time to spare: however, before we set out, I will give you an account of the remarkable breaking up of our company, which has here taken place, and also of the cause of it. We set out from Leukerbad with daybreak this morning, and had to make our way over the meadows through the fresh and slippery snow. We soon came to Inden, where, leaving above us on our right the precipitous road which we came down yesterday, we descended to the meadow-lands along the ravine, which now lay on our left. It is extremely wild, and overgrown with trees; but a very tolerable road runs down into it. Through the clefts in the rock, the water which comes down from Leukerbad has its outlets into the Valais. High up on the side of the hill which yesterday we descended, we saw an aqueduct skilfully cut out of rock, by which a little stream is conducted from the mountain, then through a hollow into a neighbouring village.
Next we had to ascend a steep height, from which we soon saw the open country of Valais, with the dirty town of Valais lying beneath us. These little towns are mostly stuck on the hillsides, the roofs inelegantly covered with coarsely split planks, which within a year become black, and overgrown with moss; and when you enter them you are at once disgusted, for everything is dirty. Want and hardship are everywhere apparent among these highly privileged and free burghers.
We found here our friend, who brought the uufavourable report, that it was beginning to be injudicious to proceed farther with the horses. The stables were everywhere small and narrow, being built only for mules or sumpter-horses; oats, too, were rarely to be procured: indeed, he was told, that, higher up among the mountains, there were none to be had. Accordingly a council was held. Our friend, with the horses, was to descend the Valais, and go by Bec, Vevay, Lausanne, Freiburg, and Berne, to Lucerne; while the count and I pursued our course up the Valais, and endeavoured to penetrate to Mount Gothard, and then through the canton of Uri, and by the lake of the Forest Towns, likewise make for Lucerne. In these parts you may anywhere procure mules, which are better suited to these roads than horses; and to go on foot is, after all, the most agreeable mode of travel. Our friend is gone, and our portmanteaus packed on the back of a mule, and so we are now ready to set off, and make our way on foot to Brieg. The sky has a motley appearance: still I hope that the good luck which has hitherto attended us, and attracted us to this distant spot, will not abandon us at the very point where we have the most need of it.
Brieg, Nov. 10, 1779.
Of to-day's expedition I have little to tell you, unless you would like to be entertained with a long circumstantial account of the weather. About eleven o'clock we set off from Leuk, in company with a Suabian butcher's boy,—who had run away hither, and had found a place, where he served somewhat in the capacity of Hanswurst (Jack-pudding),—and with our luggage packed on the back of a mule, which its master was driving before him. Behind us, as far as the eye could reach, thick snow-clouds, which came driving up the lowlands, covered everything. It was really a dull aspect. Without expressing my fears, I felt anxious, lest—even though right before us it looked as clear as it could do in the land of Goshen— the clouds might, nevertheless, overtake us; and here, perhaps in the territory of the Valais, shut in on both sides by mountains, we might be covered with the clouds, and in one night snowed up. Thus whispered alarm, which got possession almost entirely of one ear: at the other, good courage was speaking in a confident tone, and, reproving me for want of faith, kept reminding me of the past, and called my attention to the phenomena of the atmosphere before us. Our road went continually on toward the fine weather. Up the Rhone all was clear; and, although a strong west wind kept driving the clouds behind us, they could not reach us.
The following was the cause of this. Into the valley of Valais there are, as I have so often remarked already, running down from the neighbouring mountain chains, many ravines, which fall into it like little brooks into a great stream, as, indeed, all their waters flow off into the hone. Out of each of these openings R rushes a current of wind, which has been forming in the inner valleys and nooks of the rocks. Whenever the principal drift of the clouds up the valley reaches one of these ravines, the current of the wind does not allow the clouds to pass, but contends with them and with the wind that is driving them, and thus detains them, and disputes with them for whole hours the passage up the valley. This conflict we often witnessed; and, when we believed we should surely be overtaken by the clouds, an obstacle of this kind would again arise: and, after we had gone a league, we found they had scarcely stirred from the spot.
Toward evening the sky was. uncommonly beautiful. As we arrived at Brieg, the clouds got there almost as soon as we: however, as the sun had set, and a driving east wind blew against them, they were obliged to come to a halt, and formed a huge crescent, from mountain to mountain, across the valley. The cold air had greatly condensed them; and, where their edge stood out against the blue sky, it presented to the eye many beautiful, light, and elegant forms. It was quite clear that they were heavy with snow: however, the fresh air seemed to us to promise that much would not fall during the night.
Here we are in a very comfortable inn; and, what greatly tends to make us contented, we have found a roomy chamber with a stove in it, so that we can sit by the fireside, and take counsel together as to our future travels. Through Brieg runs the usual road to Italy, over the Simplon. Should we, therefore, give up our plan of going over the Furca to Mount St. Gothard, we shall go with hired horses and mules to Domo d'Ossula, Margozro, pass up Lago Maggiore, and then to Bellinzona, then on to St. Gothard, and over Airolo, to the monastery of the Capuchins. This road is passable all the winter through, and good travelling for horses. However, to our minds it is not very inviting, especially as it was not in our original plan, and will not bring us to Lucerne till five days after our friend. We should like better to see the whole of the Valais up to its extreme limit, whither we hope to come by to-morrow evening; and, if fortune favours, we shall be sitting, by about the same time next day, in Realp, in the canton of Uri, which is on Mount Gothard, and very near to its highest summit. If we then find it impossible to cross the Furca, the road back to this spot will still be open to us, and we then shall pursue from necessity what we will not do from choice.
You can well believe that I have here closely examined the people, whether they believe that the passage over the Furca is open; for that is the one idea with which I rise, and lie down to sleep, and occupy myself all day long. Hitherto our journey was like a march directed against an enemy; and now it is as if we were approaching the spot where he has entrenched himself, and we must give him battle. Besides our mule, two horses are ordered to be ready by the evening.
Munster, Nov. 11, 1779.
Evening, six o'clock.
Again we have had a pleasant and prosperous day. This morning, as we set out early and in good time from Brieg, our host, when we were already on the road, said, "If the mountain (so they call the Furca here) should prove too fearful, you can easily come back, and take another route." With our two horses and mule we soon came upon some pleasant meadows, where the valley becomes so narrow that it is scarcely some gunshots wide. Here are some beautiful pasture-lands, on which stand large trees; while pieces of rock lie scattered about, which have rolled down from the neighbouring mountains. The valley gradually grows narrower; and the traveller is forced to ascend along the side of the mountain, having, the while, the Rhone below him, in a rugged ravine on his left. Above him, however, the land is beautifully spread out. On the variously undulating hills are verdant and rich meadows and pretty hamlets, which, with their dark brown wooden houses, peep out prettily from among the snow. We travelled a good deal on foot, and we did so in turns to accommodate one another; for, although riding is safe enough, still it excites one's alarm to see another riding before you along so narrow a track, and on so weak an animal, and just on the brink of so rugged a precipice. And, as no cattle can be left in the meadows (for the people here shut them all up in sheds at this season), such a country looks lonely; and the thought that one is continually being hemmed in closer and closer by the vast mountains fills the imagination with sombre and disagreeable fancies, enough to make you fall from your seat if you are not very firm in the saddle. Man is never perfectly master of himself. As he lives in utter ignorance of the future, as, indeed, what the next moment may bring forth is hidden from him, he has often, when anything unusual falls beneath his notice, to contend with involuntary sensations, forebodings, and dream-like fancies, at which shortly afterward he may laugh outright, but which at the decisive moment are often extremely oppressive.
In our noonday quarters we met with some amusement. We had taken up our lodgings with a woman in whose house everything looked neat and orderly. Her room, after the fashion of the country, was wainscoted; the beds ornamented with carving; the cupboards, tables, and all the other little repositories which were fastened against the walls or to the corners, had pretty ornaments of turner's work or carving. From the portraits which hung around in the room, it was easy to see that several members of the family had devoted themselves to the clerical profession. We also observed over the door a collection of bound books, which we took to be the endowment of one of these reverend personages. We took down the "Legends of the Saints," and read it while our meal was preparing. On one occasion of our hostess entering the room, she asked us if we had ever read the history of St. Alexis. We said no, and took no further notice of her question, but went on reading the chapter we each had begun. When, however, we had sat down to table, she placed herself by our sides, and began again to talk of St. Alexis. We asked her whether he was her patron saint or that of her family; which she denied, affirming at the same time, however, that this saintly person had undergone so much for the love of God, that his history always affected her more than any other's. When she saw that we knew nothing about him, she began to tell us his history. "St. Alexis," she said, "was the son of noble, rich, and God-fearing parents in Rome; and in the practice of good works he delighted to follow their example, for they did extraordinary good to the poor. All this, however, did not appear enough to Alexis; but he secretly devoted himself entirely to God's service, and vowed to Christ perpetual virginity. When, in the course of time, his parents wished to marry him to a lovely and amiable maiden, he did not oppose their will, and the marriage ceremony was concluded; but, instead of retiring to his bed in the nuptial chamber, he went on board a vessel which he found ready to sail, and with it passed over to Asia. Here he assumed the garb of a wretched mendicant, and became so thoroughly disguised, that the servants of his father who had been sent after him failed to recognise him. Here he posted himself near the door of the principal church, invariably attending the divine services, and supporting himself on the alms of the faithful. After two or three years, various miracles took place, betokening the special favour of the Almighty. In the church, the bishop heard a voice bidding him summon into the sacred temple that man whose prayer was most acceptable to God, and to keep him by his side while he celebrated divine worship. As the bishop did not at once know who could be meant, the voice went on to announce to him the beggar, whom, to the great astonishment of the people, he immediately fetched into the church. St. Alexis, embarrassed by having the attention of the people directed to him, quietly and silently departed, also on shipboard, intending to proceed still farther abroad. But, by a tempest, and other circumstances, he was compelled to land in Italy. The saint, seeing in all this the finger of God, was rejoiced to meet with an opportunity of exercising self-denial in the highest degree. He therefore set off direct for his native town, and placed himself as a beggar at the door of his parents' house. With their usual pious benevolence did they receive him, and commanded one of their servants to furnish him with lodging in the castle and with all necessary sustenance. This servant, annoyed at the trouble he was put to, and displeased with his master's benevolence, assigned to this seeming beggar a miserable hole under some stone steps, where he threw to him, as to a dog, a sorry pittance of food. The saint, instead of suffering himself to be vexed thereat, first of all thanked God sincerely for it in his heart, and not only bore with patient meekness all this, which he might easily have altered, but, with incredible and superhuman fortitude, endured to witness the lasting grief of his parents and his wife for his absence. For he heard his much-loved parents and his beautiful spouse invoke his name a hundred times a day, and pray for his return, and he saw them waste their days in sorrow for his supposed absence." At this passage of her narrative our good hostess could not refrain her tears; while her two daughters, who during the story had crept close to her side, kept looking steadily up in their mother's face. "But," she continued, "great was the reward which the Almighty bestowed on his constancy, giving him, at his death, the greatest possible proofs of his favour in the eyes of the faithful. For after living several years in this state, daily frequenting the service of God with the most fervent zeal, he at last fell sick, without any particular heed being given to his condition by any one. One morning shortly after this, while the Pope was himself celebrating high mass, in the presence of the emperor and all the nobles, suddenly all the bells in the whole city of Rome began to toll, as if for the passing knell of some distinguished personage. Whilst every one was full of amazement, it was revealed to the Pope that this marvel was in honour of the death of the holiest person in the whole city, who had but just died in the house of the noble patrician. The father of Alexis, being interrogated, thought at once of the beggar. He went home, and found him beneath the stairs, quite dead. In his folded hands the saintly man clutched a paper, which his old father sought in vain to take from him. He returned to the church, and told all this to the emperor and the Pope, who thereupon, with their courtiers and clergy, set off to visit the corpse of the saint. When they reached the spot, the holy father took the paper without difficulty out of the hands of the dead man, and handed it to the emperor, who thereupon caused it to be read aloud by his chancellor. The paper contained the history of the saint. Then you should have seen the grief of his parents and wife, which now became excessive,—to think that they had had near to them a son and husband so dear, for whom there was nothing too good that they would not have done; and then, too, to know how ill he had been treated! They fell upon his corpse and wept so bitterly, that there was not one of the bystanders who could refrain from tears. Moreover, among the multitude of the people who gradually flocked to the spot, there were many sick, who were brought to the body, and by its touch were made whole."
When she had finished her story, she affirmed over and over again, as she dried her eyes, that she had never heard a more touching history; and I, too, was seized with so great a desire to weep, that I had the greatest difficulty to hide and suppress it. After dinner I looked out the legend itself in "Father Cochem," and found that the good dame had dropped none of the purely human traits of the story, while she had clean forgotten all the tasteless remarks of this writer.
We keep going continually to the window, watching the weather, and are at present very near offering a prayer to the wind and clouds. Long evenings and universal stillness are the elements in which writing thrives right merrily; and I am convinced, that if, for a few months only, I could contrive, or were obliged, to stay at a spot like this, all my unfinished dramas would of necessity be completed one after another.
We have already had several people before us, and questioned them with regard to the pass over the Furca; but even here we have been unable to gain any precise information, although the mountain is only two or three leagues distant. We must, however, rest contented; and we shall set ourselves at break of day to reconnoitre, and see how destiny will decide for us. However, in general, I may be disposed to take things as they go, it would, I must confess, be highly annoying to me if we should be forced to retrace our steps again. If we are fortunate, we shall be by to-morrow evening at Realp or St. Gothard, and by noon the next day among the Capuchins, at the summit of the mountain. If things go unfortunately, we have two roads open for a retreat,—back through the whole of Valais, and by the well-known road over Berne to Lucerne; or back to Brieg, and then by a wide détour to St. Gothard. I think in this short letter I have told you three times. But in fact it is a matter of great importance to us. The issue will decide which was in the right,—our courage, which gave us a confidence that we must succeed, or the prudence of certain persons who were very earnest in trying to dissuade us from attempting this route. This much, at any rate, is certain, that both prudence and courage must own chance to be over them both. And now that we have once more examined the weather, and found the air to be cold, the sky bright, and without any signs of a tendency to snow, we shall go calmly to bed.
Munster, Nov. 12, 1779.
Six o'clock in the morning.
We are quite ready, and all is packed up in order to set out hence with the break of day. We have before
Photogravure from a photograph
Realp, Nov. 12, 1779.
We reached this place just at nightfall. We have surmounted all difficulties, and the knots which entangled our path have been cut in two. Before I tell you where we are lodged, and before I describe to you the character of our hosts, allow me the gratification of going over in thought the road which we did not see before us without anxiety, but which we have left behind us without accident, though not without difficulty. About seven we started from Munster, and saw before us the snow-covered amphitheatre of mountain summits, and took to be the Furca the mountain which in the background stood obliquely before it. But, as we afterward learned, we made a mistake: it was concealed from our view by the mountains on our left and by high clouds. The east wind blew strong, and fought with some snow-clouds, chasing the drifts, now over the mountains, now up the valley. But this only made the snow-drifts deeper on the ground, and caused us several times to miss our way; although, shut in as we were on both sides, we could not fail of reaching Oberwald eventually. About nine we actually got there: and, when we dropped in at an inn, its inmates were not a little surprised to see such characters appear there this time of the year. We asked whether the pass over the Furca were still practicable; and they answered, that their folk crossed for the greater part of the winter, but whether we should be able to get across, they could not tell. We immediately sent for some of these persons to be our guides. There soon appeared a strong, thick-set peasant, whose very look and shape inspired confidence. With him we immediately began to treat: if he thought the pass was practicable for us, let him say so, and then take one or more comrades and come with us. After a short pause he agreed, and went away to get ready and to fetch the others. In the meantime we paid our muleteer the hire of his beast, since we could no longer make any use of his mule; and having eaten some bread and cheese, and drank a glass of red wine, felt full of strength and spirits, as our guide came back, followed by another man, who looked still bigger and stronger, and, seeming to have all the strength and courage of a horse, he quickly shouldered our portmanteau. And now we set out, a party of five, through the village, and soon reached the foot of the mountain, which lay on our left, and began gradually to ascend it. At first we had to follow a beaten track which came down from a neighbouring Alp: soon, however, this came to an end, and we had to go up the mountainside through the snow. Our guides, with great skill, tracked their way among the rocks around which the usual path winds, although the deep and smooth snow had covered all alike. Still our road lay through a forest of pines, while the Rhone flowed beneath us in a narrow, unfruitful valley. Into it we also, after a little while, had to descend, and, by crossing a little foot-bridge, we came in sight of the glacier of the Rhone. It is the hugest we have as yet had so full a view of. Being of very great breadth, it occupies the whole saddle of the mountain, and descends uninterruptedly down to the point, where, in the valley, the Rhone flows out of it. At this source the people tell us it has for several years been decreasing. But that is as nothing compared with all the rest of the huge mass. Although everything was full of snow, still the rough crags of ice, on which the wind did not allow the snow to lie, were visible with their dark blue fissures, and you could see clearly where the glacier ended and the snow-covered rock began. To this point, which lay on our left, we came very close. Presently we again reached a light foot-bridge over a little mountain-stream, which flowed through a barren, trough-shaped valley to join the Rhone. After passing the glacier, neither on the right, nor on the left, nor before you, was there a tree to be seen: all was one desolate waste,—no rugged and prominent rocks, nothing but long smooth valleys, slightly inclining eminences, which now, in the snow,, which levelled all inequalities, presented to us their simple, unbroken surfaces. Turning now to the left, we ascended a mountain, sinking at every step deep in the snow. One of our guides had to go first, and, boldly treading down the snow, break the way by which we were to follow.
It was a strange sight, when, turning for a moment your attention from the road, you directed it to yourself and your fellow travellers. In the most desolate region of the world, in a boundless, monotonous wilderness of mountains enveloped in snow, where, for three leagues before and behind, you would not expect to meet a living soul, while on both sides you had the deep hollows of a web of mountains, you might see a line of men wending their way, treading each in the deep footsteps of the one before him, and where, in the whole of the wide expanse thus smoothed over, the eye could discern nothing but the track they left behind them. The hollows as we left them lay behind us gray and boundless in the mist. The changing clouds continually passed over the pale disk of the sun, and spread over the whole scene a perpetually moving veil. I am convinced that any one, who, while pursuing this route, allowed his imagination to gain the mastery, would, even in the absence of all immediate danger, fall a victim to his own apprehensions and fears. In reality, there is little or no risk of a fall here. The great danger is from the avalanches, when the snow has become deeper than it is at present, and begins to roll. However, our guide told us that they cross the mountains throughout the winter, carrying from Valais to St. Gothard skins of the chamois, in which a considerable trade is carried on here. But then, to avoid the avalanches, they do not take the route that we did, but remain for some time longer in the broad valley, and then go straight up the mountain. This road is safer, but much more inconvenient. After a march of about three hours and a half, we reached the saddle of the Furca, near the cross which marks the boundary of Valais and Uri. Even here we could not distinguish the double peak from which the Furca derives its name. We now hoped for an easier descent; but our guides soon announced to us still deeper snow, as we immediately found it to be. Our march continued in single file, as before; and the foremost man, who broke the path, often sank up to his waist in the snow. The readiness of the people, and their light way of speaking of matters, served to keep up our courage; and I will say, for myself, that I have accomplished the journey without fatigue, although I cannot say that it was a mere walk. The huntsman Hermann asserted that he had often before met with equally deep snow in the forests of Thuringia; but at last he could not help bursting out with a loud exclamation, "The Furca is a"——A vulture, or lammergeyer, swept over our heads with incredible rapidity. It was the only living thing that we had met with in this waste. In the distance we saw the mountains of the Ursi lighted up with the bright sunshine. Our guides wished to enter a shepherd's hut which had been abandoned and snowed up, and to take something to eat; but we urged them to go onwards to avoid standing still in the cold. Here, again, is another group of valleys; and at last we gained an open view into the valley of the Ursi.
We now proceeded at a shorter pace; and, after travelling about three leagues and a half from the cross, we saw the scattered roofs of Realp. We had several times questioned our guides as to what sort of an inn, and what kind of wine, we were likely to find in Realp. The hopes they gave us were anything but good; but they assured us that the Capuchins there, although they had not, like those on the summit of St. Gothard, an hospice, were in the habit of entertaining strangers. We should there get some good red wine, and better food than at an inn. We therefore sent one of our party forward to inform the Capuchins of our arrival, and procure a lodging for us. We did not loiter long behind, and arrived very soon after him, when we were received at the door by one of the fathers,—a portly, good-looking man. With much friendliness of manner he invited us to enter, and at the threshold begged that we would put up with such entertainment as they could offer, since at no time, and least of all at this season of the year, were they prepared to receive such guests. He therefore led us into a warm room, and was very busy waiting upon us while we took off our boots, and changed our linen. He begged us once for all to make ourselves perfectly at home. As to our meat, we must, he said, be indulgent; for they were in the middle of their long fast, which would last till Christmas Day. We assured him that a warm room, a bit of bread, and a glass of red wine, would, in our present circumstances, fully satisfy all our wishes. He procured us what we asked for; and we had scarcely refreshed ourselves a little, ere he began to recount to us all that concerned the establishment, and the settlement of himself and fellows, on this waste spot. "We have not," he said, "an hospice, like the fathers on Mount St. Gothard: we are here in the capacity of parish priests, and there are three of us. The duty of preaching falls to my lot; the second father has to look after the school; and the brother, after the household." He went on to describe their hardships and toils, here, at the farthest end of a lonely valley, separated from all the world, and working hard to very little profit. This spot, like all others, was formerly provided with a secular priest; but, an avalanche having buried half of the village, the last one had run away, and taken the pyx with him, whereupon he was suspended, and they, of whom more resignation was expected, were sent there in his place.
In order to write all this, I had retired to an upper room, which is warmed from below by a hole in the floor; and I have just received an intimation that dinner is ready, which, notwithstanding our luncheon, is right welcome news.
The fathers, priests, servants, guides, and all, took their dinner together at a common table. The brother, however, who superintended the cooking, did not make his appearance till dinner was nearly over. Out of milk, eggs, and flour he had compounded a variety of dishes, which we tasted one after another, and found them all very good. Our guides, who took great pleasure in speaking of the successful issue of our expedition, praised us for our uncommon dexterity in travelling, and assured us that it was not every one that they would have undertaken the task of being guides to. They even confessed, also, that this morning, when their services were required, one had gone first to reconnoitre, and to see if we looked like people who would really go through all difficulties with them; for they were particularly cautious how they accompanied old or weak people at this time of the year, since it was their duty to take over in safety every one they had once engaged to guide, being bound, in case of his falling sick, to carry him, even though it should be at the imminent risk of their own lives, and, if he were to die on the passage, not to leave his body behind. This confession at once opened the floodgates to a host of anecdotes; and each, in turn, had his story to tell of the difficulties and dangers of wandering over the mountains amidst which the people had here to live as in their proper element; so that with the greatest indifference they speak of mischances and accidents to which they themselves are daily liable. One of them told a story of how, on the Candersteg, on his way to Mount Gemmi, he and a comrade with him (he is mentioned on every occasion with both Christian and surname) found a poor family in the deep snow, the mother dying, her boy half dead, and the father in that state of indifference which verges on a total prostration of intellect. He took the woman on his back, and his comrade her son; and thus laden, they had driven before them the father, who was unwilling to move from the spot.
During the descent of Gemmi the woman died on his back; but he brought her, dead as she was, to Leukerbad. When we asked what sort of people they were, and what could have brought them at such a season into the mountains, he said they were poor people of the canton of Berne, who, driven by want, had taken to the road at an unseasonable period of the year, in the hope of finding some relations either in Valais or the Italian canton, and had been overtaken by a snow-storm. Moreover, they told many anecdotes of what had happened to themselves during the winter journeys over the Furca with the chamois-skins; on which expeditions, however, they always travelled in companies. Every now and then our reverend host would make excuses for the dinner, and we redoubled our assurances that we wished for nothing better. We also found that he contrived to bring back the conversation to himself and his own matters, observing that he had not been long in this place. He began to talk of the office of preaching and of the skill that a preacher ought to have. He compared the good preacher to a chapman who cleverly puff's his wares and by his pleasant words makes himself agreeable to his customers. After dinner he kept up the conversation; and, as he stood with his left hand leaning on the table, he accompanied his remarks with his right, and, while he discoursed most eloquently on eloquence, appeared at the moment as if he wished to convince us that he himself was the clever chapman. We assented to his observations, and he came from the lecture to the thing itself. He panegyrised the Roman Catholic religion. "We must," he said, "have a rule of faith; and the great value of it consists in its being fixed, and as little as possible liable to change. We," he said, "had made Scripture the foundation of our faith; but it was insufficient. We ourselves would not venture to put it into the hands of common men; for holy as it is, and full as every leaf is of the Spirit of God, still the worldly-minded man is insensible of all this, and finds rather perplexities and stumbling-blocks throughout. What good can a mere layman extract from the histories of sinful men which are contained therein, and which the Holy Ghost has there recorded for the strengthening of the faith of the tried and experienced children of God? What benefit can a common man draw from all this, when he is unable to consider the whole context and connection? How is such a person to see his way clear out of the seeming contradictions which occasionally occur, out of the difficulties which arise from the ill arrangement of the books, and the differences of style, when the learned themselves find it so hard, and while so many passages make them hold their reason in abeyance? What ought we, therefore, to teach? A rule of faith founded on Scripture, and proved by the best of commentaries? But who, then, is to comment upon Scripture? Who is to set up this rule? I, perhaps, or some other man? By no means. Every man has his own way of taking and seeing things, and represents them after his own ideas. That would be to give to the people as many systems of doctrines as there are heads in the world, and to produce inexplicable confusion, as indeed had already been done. No: it remains for the Holy Church alone to interpret Scripture, to determine the rule by which the souls of men are to be guided and governed. And what is the Church? It is not any single supreme head, or any particular member alone. No! it is all the holiest, most learned, and most experienced men of all times, who, with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, have successively combined in building up that great, universal, and agreeing body, which has its great councils for its members to communicate their thoughts to one another, and for mutual edification; which banishes error, and thereby imparts to our holy religion a certainty and a stability such as no other profession can pretend to, and gives it a foundation, and strengthens it with bulwarks which even hell cannot overthrow. And just so it is with the text of the Sacred Scriptures. We have," he said, "the Vulgate, moreover, an approved version of the Vulgate, and of every sentence a commentary which the Church itself has accredited. Hence arises that uniformity of our teaching which surprises every one. Whether," he continued, "you hear me preach in this most remote corner of the world or, in the great capital of a distant country, are listening to the dullest or cleverest of preachers, all will hold one and the same language. A Catholic Christian will always hear the same doctrine: everywhere will he be instructed and edified in the same manner. And this is what constitutes the certainty of our faith, what gives us the peace and confidence by which we in life hold sure communion with our brother Catholics, and at death we can calmly part in the sure hope of meeting one another again."
In his speech, as in a sermon, he let the subjects follow in due order, and spoke more from an inward feeling of satisfaction that he was exhibiting himself under a favourable aspect than from any bigoted anxiety for conversion. During the delivery he would occasionally change the arm he rested upon, or draw them both into the arms of his gown, or let them rest on his portly stomach; now and then he would, with much grace, draw his snuff-box out of his capote, and, after using it, replace it with a careless ease. We listened to him attentively, and he seemed to be quite content with our way of receiving his instructions. How greatly amazed would he have been if an angel had revealed to him at the moment, that he was addressing his peroration to a descendant of Frederick the Wise!
Nov. 13, 1779.
Among the Capuchins, on the summit of Mt. St. Gothard.
Morning, about ten o'clock.
At last we have fortunately reached the utmost limits of our journey. Here it is determined we shall rest awhile, and then turn our steps toward our dear fatherland. Very strange are my feelings here, on this summit, where, four years ago, I passed a few days with very different anxieties, sentiments, plans, and hopes, and at a very different season of the year, when, without any foreboding of my future fortunes, but moved by I know not what, I turned my back upon Italy, and ignorantly went to meet my present destiny. I did not even recognise the house again. Some time ago it was greatly injured by an avalanche; and the good fathers took advantage of this opportunity, and made a collection throughout the canton for enlarging and improving their residence. Both of the two fathers who reside here at present are absent; but, as I hear, they are still the same that I met four years ago. Father Seraphin, who has now passed fourteen years in this post, is at present at Milan; and the other is expected to-day from Airolo. In this clear atmosphere the cold is awful. As soon as dinner is over, I will continue my letter; for I see clearly we shall not go far outside the door.
It is getting colder and colder. One does not like to stir from the stove. Indeed, it is most delightful to sit upon it, which in this country, where the stoves are made of stone tiles, it is very easy to do so. First of all, therefore, we will tell you of our departure from Realp, and then of our journey hither.
Yesterday evening, before we retired to our beds, the good father would show us his bedroom, where everything was in nice order, in a very small space. His bed, which consisted of a bag of straw, with a woolen coverlid, did not appear to us to be anything very meritorious, as we ourselves had often put up with no better. With great pleasure and internal satisfaction he showed us everything,—his bookcase and all other things. We praised all that we saw; and, parting on the best terms with each other, we retired for the night. In furnishing our room, in order that two beds might stand against one wall, both had been made unusually small. This inconvenience kept me long awake, until I thought of remedying it by placing four chairs together. It was quite broad daylight before we awoke this morning. When we went down, we found nothing but happy and friendly faces. Our guides, on the point of entering upon their return over yesterday's beautiful route, seemed to look upon it as an epoch, and as a history with which hereafter they would be able to entertain other strangers; and, as they were well paid, the idea of an adventure became complete in their minds. After this, we made a capital breakfast, and departed.
Our road now lay through the Valley of the Uri, which is remarkable as having, at so great an elevation, such beautiful meadows, and pasturage for cattle. They make here a cheese which I prefer to all others. No trees, however, grow here. Sally-bushes line all the brooks, and on the mountains little shrubs grow thickly together. Of all the countries that I know, this is to me the loveliest and most interesting,—whether it is that old recollections make it precious to me, or that the reception of such a long chain of Nature's wonders excites within me a secret and inexpressible feeling of enjoyment. I take it for granted that you bear in mind that the whole country through which I am leading you is covered with snow, and that rock and meadow alike are snowed over. The sky has been quite clear, without a single cloud; the hue far deeper than one is accustomed to see in low and flat countries; and the white mountain ridges, which stood out in strong contrast to it, were either glittering in the sunshine, or else took a grayish tint in the shade.
In an hour and a half we reached Hôpital,—a little village within the canton of Uri, which lies on the road to St. Gothard. Here, at last, I regained the track of my former tour. We entered an inn, and, though it was as yet morning, ordered a dinner, and soon afterward began to ascend the summit. A long train of mules, with their bells, enlivened the whole region. It is a sound which awakens all one's recollections of mountain scenery. The greater part of the train was in advance of us, and, with their sharp iron shoes, had pretty well cut up the smooth, icy road. We also saw some labourers who were employed in covering the slippery ice with fresh earth in order to render it passable. The wish which I formerly gave utterance to, that I might one day be permitted to see this part of the world under snow, is now at last gratified. The road goes up the Reuss, as it dashes down over rocks all the way, and forms everywhere the most beautiful waterfalls. We stood a long while attracted by the singular beauty of one, which, in considerable volume, was dashing over a succession of dark black rocks. Here and there, in the cracks and on the flat ledges, pieces of ice had formed; and the water seemed to be running over a variegated black and white marble. The masses of ice glistened in the sun like veins of crystal, and the water flowed pure and fresh between them.
On the mountains, there are no more tiresome fellow travellers than a train of mules, they have so unequal a pace. With a strange instinct, they always stop awhile at the bottom of a steep ascent, and then dash off at a quick pace up it, to rest again at the top. Very often, too, they will stop at the level spots, which do occur now and then, until they are forced on by the drivers, or by other beasts coming up. And so the foot-passenger, by keeping a steady pace, soon gains upon them, and in the narrow road has to push by them. If you stand still a little while to observe any object, they, in their turn, will pass by you, and you are pestered with the deafening sound of their bells, and hard brushed with their loads, which project to a good distance on each side of them. In this way we at last reached the summit of the mountain, of which you can form some idea by fancying a bald skull surrounded with a crown. Here one finds himself on a perfect flat surrounded with peaks. Far and near the eye meets with nothing but bare and mostly snow-covered peaks and crags.
It is scarcely possible to keep one's self warm, especially as they have here no fuel but brushwood, and of that, too, they are obliged to be very sparing, as they have to fetch it up the mountains, from a distance of at least three leagues; for at the summit, they tell us, scarcely any kind of wood grows. The reverend father is returned from Airolo, so frozen, that, on his arrival, he could scarcely utter a word. Although here the Capuchins are allowed to clothe themselves a little more comfortably than the rest of their order, still their style of dress is by no means suited to such a climate as this. All the way up from Airolo, the road was frozen perfectly smooth, and he had the wind in his face. His beard was quite frozen, and it was a long while before he recovered. We had some conversation together on the hardships of their residence: he told us how they managed to get through the year, their various occupations, and their domestic circumstances. He could speak nothing but Italian, and so we had an opportunity of putting to use the exercises which we had taken in this language during the spring. Toward evening, we went for a moment outside the house-door, that the good father might point out to us the peak which is considered to be the highest summit of Mount Gothard. But we could scarcely endure to stay out a very few minutes, so searching and pinching was the cold. This time, therefore, we shall remain close shut up within doors, and shall have time enough, before we start to-morrow, to travel again, in thought, over all the most remarkable parts of this region.A brief geographical description will enable you to understand how remarkable the point is at which we are now sitting. St. Gothard is not, indeed, the highest mountain of Switzerland (in Savoy, Mont Blanc has a far higher elevation); and yet it maintains above all others the rank of a king of mountains, because all the great chains converge together around it, and all rest upon it as on their base. Indeed, if I do not make a great mistake, I think I was told at Berne, by Herr Wyttenbach, who from its highest summit had seen the peaks of all the others, that the latter all leaned toward it. The mountains of Schweitz and Unterwalden, joined by those of Uri, range from the north; from the east, those of the Grisons; from the south, those of the Italian cantons; while from the west, by means of the Furca, the double Hue of mountains which enclose Valais presses upon it. Not far from this house there are two small lakes, one of which sends forth the Ticino through gorges and valleys into Italy; while from the other, in like manner, the Reuss proceeds, till it empties itself in the Lake of the Forest towns. Not far from this spot are the sources of the Rhine, which pursue an easterly course; and if then we take in the Rhone, which rises at the foot of the Furca, and runs westward through Valais, we shall find ourselves at the point of a cross, from which mountain ranges and rivers proceed toward the four cardinal points.
- The Duke Charles Augustus of Weimar, who travelled under the title of Count of ——.
- Lake Lucerne.