Page images

cased below the knees in stout and coarse brown worsted stockings; on his feet he wears a pair of shoes, well hob-nailed, as broad and as flat as platters, and no doubt comfortable enough. He has in his hand a heavy pole of ash, seven or eight feet long. What do I say! has it in his hand? He had, a minute ago, but it has slipped, and I hear it shooting down far below, striking against the rocks as it falls; and Balmat looks over a precipice, and says it is sticking upright in the snow, in a place where we shall be able to get it again. So much the better: a mountaineer leaving his alpenstock among the mountains feels like a soldier leaving his musket on the field, and would at any time run considerable risks to recover it.

'The curé is a fine fellow; his people love him; and we, who have experienced his genuine kindness and untiring hospitality, do not wonder that they do so; we are all getting attached to him, and whenever he is mentioned, "c'est un brave homme " escapes from the lips of one or another.

'While we were loitering about here, the curé touched me on the shoulder, and pointing to the crags above and the snows around, exclaimed, in a tone which marked the genuine lover of nature, "Per "nives sempiternas et rupes tremendas!" It was a graceful quotation from the inscription on a snuff-box, of which my friend H. and I had begged his acceptance, as a memorial of our grateful sense of his kindness, on the occasion of our passage of the Allelein glacier, the year before.' (Pp. 177-9.)

This excellent Curé, Herr Imseng, is the son of a peasant of Saas, and in his youth tended sheep and goats on the mountain





sides, and thus acquired his great strength and agility.' He is a good Latinist, and can talk Latin with an ease and fluency 'that would shame many a professed scholar;' something of a botanist, and a good local topographer and historian. Like many of his coat in these remote regions, he does, or did, a fair stroke of business in the innkeeping line; but he always had a 'façon de parler, by which he interposed himself as a mere interpreter between his guests and the "aubergiste." For instance, after we had initiated him into the mysteries of omelet making, we asked for a second omelet, and the curé brought 'us word that the aubergiste had commissioned him to say that 'there were no more eggs; by which we returned, by the same 'ambassador, our compliments to the aubergiste, and we hoped 'he would instruct his fowls to provide a due supply by the ' evening a message which he promised to convey.'

These peasant curés in the German or Upper Valais are generally fine fellows, reminding one of their predecessors in the sixteenth cen ury, when Cardinal Schinner, of Sion, used annually to conduct his flock, clergy and laity together, to battle, pay, and plunder in the quarrels between Pope and Emperor. He of Zermatt, if not a mountaineer equal to his neigh

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

bour of Saas, is a man of some scientific acquirements, and of great local intelligence. He, too, speculates in the Boniface line, and is said to be the chief party concerned in the establishment of the new hotel on the Riffel. But these remnants of an early age in tourist progress will soon be swept away, and the professional hotel-keeper of Geneva or Zurich will doubtless exterminate the honest, old-fashioned extortioners who made their little profit out of the rarer travellers of bygone times.


The mighty Monte Rosa himself consists of several peaks, disposed north and south on a snow-covered plateau. The highest of these appears to be of not very difficult access (comparatively speaking) until the last few hundred feet of the ascent, which are terribly severe. It was first climbed by some guides in 1841, according to Tschudi; the two brothers Schlagintweit effected the ascent in 1851, and have described it in their usual painstaking manner, in the second volume of their Neue Untersuchungen.' They found the peak to be a very narrow ridge of quartzose mica slate, running into two points of nearly equal height, but separated by a couple of indentations. They reached the eastern point successfully, after clambering over steep, ice-bound rocks; but they were not able to ascend the western, which measured twenty-two feet higher. According to Mr. Wills, the Messrs. Smyth (of the St. Gervais party) accomplished the feat in 1854, and several others, if Murray's Handbook' reports correctly, have succeeded them in

[ocr errors]


The third great snow region is that of the Bernese Oberland; a square plateau, surmounted by lofty peaks, of which the boundaries may be very sufficiently defined east and west, by the Gemmi and Grimsel passes. Nor is this province without its own special points of superiority. It has the largest unbroken area of snow-sixty square leagues within a ring-fence.' It has the largest single glacier-that of Aletsch, in the Valais. Nowhere else do the glaciers descend so deep, and form so grand a contrast with the green and smiling Alpine world, as at Grindelwald and Rosenlaui. No single mountain equals in beauty of form and general grandeur of effect the peerless Jungfrau. No other range presents so magnificent a front to the distant spectator. No other has such wondrous water-privileges' to boast of- no other mirrors its peaks in such lakes as those of Brienz and Thun, or has its base washed by waterfalls such as the Giessbach, Staubbach, Reichenbach, and Handeck.


The loftiest of the Bernese mountains, the Finsteraarhorn, was first ascended by Leuthold and Währen (in 1829) and many times since, notwithstanding its very impracticable ap

pearance. The Jungfrau has long possessed no better title to her name than a wedded actress, who retains her spinster appellation. It was first ascended as long ago as 1811, by the brothers Meyer, of Aarau; but Swiss patriotism deliberately shut its ears to their story: the reputation of the Jungfrau was an article of faith; and the two worthy brothers lived (and died, we believe, like Bruce the traveller,) under the imputation of Munchausenism, until certain guides, who followed their steps in 1828, fully confirmed their description. Professor Forbes's narrative of his ascent from the Aletsch Thal (described in an appendix to his Norwegian volume), gives by far the best English account of this expedition.

To these former conquests Mr. Wills has now added that of the Wetterhorn (in 1854); inferior in height to its towering compeers (12,500 feet), but commanding, from its advanced position, probably the finest view of all; and (still greater attraction to one of Mr. Wills's temperament) presenting the most dangerous and breakneck ascent. We recommend his account to our readers, as calculated to give, in perfection, that tingling sensation under the soles of the feet which some of us experience on the top of a cliff or the battlements of a tower. The summit is a frozen plateau of hard ice, over'hanging on all sides the steep wall of the same material which 'leads up to it (angle of inclination in the higher part, 60° or 70°!) 'with a dense fringe, or projecting cornice, which curled over 'towards us, like the crest of a wave, breaking at irregular in'tervals along the line into pendants and inverted pinnacles of 'ice, many of which hang down to the full length of a tall man's 'height.' Through this strange parapet the explorers had to make a breach with the hatchet, and drag themselves through the tunnel thus made on to the summit

E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle!'

The instant before, I had been face to face with a blank wall of ice. One step, and the eye took in a boundless expanse of crag and glacier, peak and precipice, mountain and valley, lake and plain. The whole world seemed to be at my feet. The next moment, I was almost appalled by the awfulness of our position. The side we had come up was steep-but an agreeable slope, compared with that which now fell away from where I stood. A few yards of glittering ice at our feet, and then, nothing between us and the green slopes of Grindelwald, nine thousand feet beneath.' (P. 295.)

Last, and farthest to the east, the 'many-peaked' Bernina constitutes another well-defined region of snow and ice, supposed, according to Tschudi, to be about sixteen leagues in circumference. It forms a mass entirely of primitive rock (chiefly gneiss and

[ocr errors]

unstratified granite), between the valleys of the Inn and Adda; the nucleus of the region being comprised between the pass of the Muretto to the West (a glacier pass which, strange to say, seems to have been described by no Alpine tourist since Coxe), and that of the Bernina, properly so called, to the east. It is by far the least known and frequented of all; visited as yet only by a few casual wanderers, distinguished,' says Tschudi, by the crystalline formation of its rocks, and pos'sessing relatively the narrowest basis, and the fewest known ' and named peaks.' The loftiest, Mortaratsch (we believe it is the same known on the Italian side as the Monte Rosso, or Red peak of Scersen), was successfully ascended and measured,' says the same authority, by Coaz, a geometer in the Swiss 'service; its height is 13,508 (French) feet' (exceeding, if true, the Finsteraarhorn by 300 feet). Like that of the Jungfrau, its summit is approached by a sharp glacier covered ridge, as sharp as a razor.' These mountains are easily visited from their northern side, fronting the Engadine, that most singular of Alpine valleys, suspended 5000 or 6000 feet above the sea

a long strip of level, treeless meadow of vivid green, between snowy declivities, and under skies of a strange cold blue, where vegetables and even poultry are unknown, and the inhabitants, a wealthy race of retired pastry-cooks, regale on old beef,' preserved for years by being merely hung up in that intensely dry air; from seven to five years being required, in the opinion of the native gourmand, to ripen a lordly joint, stored up for a wedding feast. But on the south these mountains appear to descend, probably in tiers of inaccessible precipice, towards the low hot region of the Valteline, with a sharper declivity (judging by the map only, for the district is quite undescribed) than any other first-rate range of mountains. Here, among other attractions, are the chief chamois-preserves now remaining in the Western Alps: the favourite ground, within these few years, of the famous brigand-hunter, Johann Marcus Colani, of whom Tschudi gives a romantic but rather marvellous account. But the whole region yet awaits an English explorer, and we hope that Mr. Wills will one day take it fairly in hand, and add the interest of novelty to that which he is able to confer by his power of description on old and familiar scenery.

We might carry the reader eastward, from the Bernina into the Tyrol, with its three great bosses of snowy mountain, scarcely inferior in magnitude or interest to those of Switzerland; those, namely, of the Orteler, the Oetzthal, and the Gross-Glockner. But we have said more than enough already. The real glacierlover will think our pages very superficial; he who is not bitten

by the infection, will consider them a mere unnecessary gloss on Murray's Handbook; we know not whether we may find a few more liberally disposed readers, who will thank us for a modest endeavour to direct their attention to some recent additions to a trite but never uninteresting subject.

ART. VI.-Beaumarchais et son Temps. Etudes sur la Société en France au XVIIIme Siècle d'après des documents inédites. Par LOUIS DE LOMÉNIE. Paris: 1856.

BEAUMARCHAIS, although his life was chequered with many

failures and disappointments, may, on the whole, be considered a favourite of fortune. The career which he found or created was admirably suited to the development of his peculiar faculties. During his lifetime he largely enjoyed the fame or notoriety which he desired; and a posthumous felicity has, after the lapse of two generations, provided him with a most able biographer to revive his waning celebrity. M. de Loménie thoroughly understands the character which he has undertaken to illustrate. Equally exempt from supercilious patronage and from prostrate devotion, he cordially appreciates the good qualities of his hero, while he regards his weaknesses with tolerant and humorous sympathy. It is satisfactory as it is rare to find a biographical writer who is neither a censor nor a partisan. The distribution of praise and blame is but a secondary element in the history of an individual. The representation of what he was and of what he did, is more instructive than any abstract conclusion or moral.

The materials for the work are, to a great extent, original; and they have been collected with an amount of industry which might almost seem excessive when compared with the importance of the personal narrative; but the Life of Beaumarchais' constitutes a valuable addition to the social history of France in the eighteenth century. Innumerable writers have recorded the scandalous intrigues of Versailles, or described the literary circles of Paris; but the lives of mere authors are generally barren of incident; and the historians of the aristocracy confine their attention to the happy few who were privileged to sun themselves in the Royal presence. The relations which existed between different ranks have been less fully delineated. M. de Loménie records the history of a tradesman's son, who, becoming eminent in literature, in politics, in commerce, and in society, experienced to the utmost both the facilities for rising which were offered to ability, and the impassable limits which were

« PreviousContinue »