« PreviousContinue »
fearless intrepidity and enterprising perseverance of resolute and inquisitive men. The first is the enterprise of penetrating into the heart of Africa; the second, that of finding a north-west passage from the Frozen Ocean to the Great Pacific; and the third is, the ascent to the summit of Mont Blanc. The two former enterprises have not yet been attained; but the latter has, in several instances, been successfully accomplished.
Paccard, Saussure, Beaufoy, Woodley, Forueret, and Doorthasen, have gazed around from the summit. Rodaty, Meteyeski, Renseyler, Howard, Undrel, and Clissold, have achieved the same adventure: and Jackson, Clarke, Sherwell, Fellows, Hawes, Auldjo, Barry, Tilly, and Waddington, encouraged by the successes of those who had preceded them, mounted also to the giddy height, more than fifteen thousand feet above the level of the sea. To this list the names of several other successful adventurers might now be added.Nor has man alone triumphed in this ambitious enterprise; for the foot of woman has left its impress on the proudest summit of the monarch mountain.
But let us look at the panorama. It is a bold attempt on the part of man to mimic nature in her sublimest forms. Not long ago, within this building, we could almost fancy we heard the thundering din of Niagara, spell-bound by the attractive representation of the great falls. At the present time, only some stairs above us, the fairy scene of Lago Maggiore is winning the hearts of the beholders; and here is Mont Blanc, vast, stupendous, and thrillingly arrestive.
I have walked round the area occupied by spectators, and gazed on the bulky bases and colossal spires of the snow-clad eminences so strikingly depicted. The montagnes, the aiguilles, the glaciers, the rochers, and the hameaux, have each characters of their own, altogether new to an untravelled eye.
After the first surprise of the spectator is a little abated, and the mingled masses of earth, and ice, and snow have somewhat disentangled themselves; when the varied points that rise up to the sky have receded into their relative distances, the inquiry is made, "Which is Mont Blanc 1" for so many aspiring pinnacles appear to be worthy of the distinction, that the spectator is quite at a loss to decide, and something like disappointment is felt on finding Mont Blanc to be a distant, and by no means conspicuous peak, when compared with some of the bolder eminences near the spectator's eye. A little good sense will reconcile us to this disappointment.
There is no point of view in which the highest peak of Mont Blanc could have been faithfully portrayed as a prominent object, without the omission of the striking group of eminences here drawn together. The painter, in securing the most interesting view of the Alpine scene he had to represent, has been constrained to throw the giant mountain into the distance, where it is apparently overtopped by other pinnacles. Five times, already, have I heard the natural ejaculation, "Why, the aiguilles on the left are higher than Mont Blanc!" The fact is, that the aguilles on the left are much nearer the spectator than Mont Blanc on the right, and hence arises their great apparent elevation.
A traveller, just returned from the Alps, with whom I have been conversing for half-an-hour, assures me that, though he retains his opinion of the utter impossibility of transferring to canvas a faithful representation of the monarch mountain, yet he never expected to see so good an Alpine picture as the one before him.
In gazing on a panorama, we ought to assist the painter, rather than throw impediments in his way. If it be a difficult attempt to represent an altitude of fifteen thousand feet, let us not increase that difficulty by refusing an effort of the imagination. Let us remember that we are supposed to be gazing on Mont Blanc from an eminence of several thousand feet. The brushwood, for such it appears, in the valley there below, clothing the foot of the mountain, consists of pines, many of them fifty feet high; we should therefore take these, rather than our fellow spectators around us, for our standard.
What a noble point is that yonder, on the left, the Aiguille du Dru, shooting upwards to the sky! the solid shaft at the top alone is four thousand feet in height, and the whole mountain more than twelve thousand. Regard the Mer de Glace, and the Glacier des Bois, a mass of ice two hundred feet thick, and seven miles in length, stretching down into the valley.
That pathway, faintly traced across the woody mountain from the valley, is the Sentier du Montanvert, and mules are frequently bearing along it the different parties who go to gaze on the Mer de Glace and the snowy mountains. Further on the right is the valley of Chamounix.
The ascent of Mont Blanc has usually been effected by the route to the east of the Glacier des Buissons; the Grand Mulet is then gained by winding round the base of the Aiguille du Midi. The next point to achieve is to mount the Plateaux. The Taculand the Rochers Rouges follow; and then comes the giant of the old world, Mont Blanc, lifting his head 15,775 feet above the Mediterranean.
The mighty monarch of the wild, With beaming brow looks down;He wears a robe of changing clouds, Eternal snow his crown.
He sits upon a rocky throne, Unmoved by gloom profound;While storms, and thundering avalanche, Spread ruthless ruin round.
The longer the spectator gazes on the scene before him, the nearer does it approach reality. Painting cannot give the height of the mountains, the glitter of the icy glacier in the sun, nor the crash of the falling avalanche: but these are supplied by the ardent imagination, while revelling among the massy rocks and snow-clad peaks. The treasured snows of a thousand winters are here piled high amid the mountains, and the streams of as many summers are stopped and frozen in their course. All is vast, arresting, and magnificent.
We talk of St. Paul's, and St. Peter's, but what puny toys are they, compared with the stupendous temple of the Alps, erected by the hand of an Almighty Architect! A thousand glittering spires mount up to the very skies, and roofs of gilded snow, immeasurably spread, weary the eye with their vast extent. Oh for a choir of heaven-tuned hearts to pour forth the praises of the Eternal! But such aid is not needed; the picturesque beauty, the vast immensity, the dread magnificence, and unbroken silence, proclaim emphatically, as with a burst of hallelujahs, "The Lord God omnipotent reigneth!"
One can hardly enter into such a scene as this without yearning to gaze on the great original mountain; nor can we avoid conjuring up before us imaginary scenes consistent with the impressions we have received. Let us, for a moment,