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Art. X.—Sketches of Switzerland. By the author of the Spy,
&c. &c. 2 vols. Philadelphia : 1836.
In common with the south of Europe, Switzerland is annually overrun by that restless and uneasy crowd of travellers, who, like their Gothic predecessors of old, pour from the north, but who, unlike them, are fleeced instead of fleecing. As a consequence of this yearly incursion, we have numerous works on these countries; though, from their very number, we are apt, unless some great name is given as the author, to allow most of them to float by us into oblivion without even a cursory examination. Let who will write a book of travels, it seems to be essentially an ephemeral production. A narrative of impressions of the face of a country is agreeable, if from any cause, such as personal acquaintance, or prepossession, we are interested in it; otherwise mere novelty is its only charm, and that not the novelty of a new thought, but of a new author. Who reads a tour of the last century-nay, of the last ten years ? The tourists of those days are forgotten ; new ones arise who visit the same places, write the same things about them, and in their turn yield to a newer throng. Perhaps no kind of writing is more difficult to excel in than the description of scenery; nothing more difficult than to convey an idea of locality; to give to the mind of the reader clear and definite impressions of a place. Whether we describe Mount Ida, or Mont Blanc, all we can say is, that it is a pile of earth so many feet high and so broad at its base, and we may also say that it is magnificent to behold, and sublime in its effect, but it is to be doubted whether that, with as many adjuncts of wonder as we please, would convey a clear idea of it to a Dutchman on the Zuyder Zee. Our author remarks this: he says, "A Swiss would readily comprehend a description of vast masses of granite capped with eternal snow, for such objects are constantly before his eyes; but to those who have never looked upon such a magnificent spectacle, written accounts, when they come near their climax, fall as much short of the intention as words are less substantial than things.”
So peculiar is Switzerland in this respect, so remarkable for scenery, sui generis, so very Swiss, we may say, that we doubt very much if any one who has not seen it, can at all arrive at an adequate conception of its peculiarities from any description. Like the school-boy, who in his essay wrote that “there is nothing so virtuous as virtue,” so one might gravely assert that there is nothing so Swiss as Switzerland, or, to modify the proposition, nothing Swiss but Switzerland. Nature has made it her sport. As if tired with the production of the fertile, the
level, and the available, she has there, in unsparing magnificence, thrown together the rock, the lake, the cataract, the glacier, and the mountain, in chaotic confusion. 'Tis as if she had made it the play-house of her wonders, and had left them strewed about in careless profusion. Alp after Alp, view after view, calls the traveller's attention ; he sees one but to find another more admirable; he admires that but to discover another more astonishing. It is the paradise of the lovers of the picturesque, of the rugged, of the sublime. Nay, these are thrown together in the most brilliant contrasts ; luxuriant fertility touches eternal snows, the softest and most verdant valleys lie at the foot of glaciers, within the sound of ever-falling avalanches, under the most precipitous and lofty mountains. Often, too, the hardy inhabitant has terraced up the rocky side of a mountain, and covered it with grain, or the vine. In other parts of Switzerland, where the beautiful predominates, (and, be it known, the beautiful divides the country with the sublime,) the dark blue lake lies along a swelling and thickly peopled country, each hill, as it heaves its lessening swells to the water, crowned with a chateau, and each valley shining with a village. Every gradation of scenery is to be enjoyed there; and of course, from some points, the Righi, for instance, one may enjoy all at a coup d'æii. .
There can be no better preparation for the delights of a Swiss tour than riding through France to arrive at it. After the level treeless plains, the vineyards which, saving the poetry thereof, look like large pea-patches, the picturesque comes with peculiar
Never shall we forget one clear and sunny morning in July, when, after breakfasting near the top of the Jura, we dashed through a notch in the mountain, and Switzerland lay before us.
There were the exquisite valley of the Rhone, the river glancing through it ever and anon, the lake of Geneva, the old gray town, chateau upon chateau in the midst of seas of green, and, on the other side of the lake, the mountains of Savoy, with their white towns clustering along their bases, and, above the whole, the glistening summit of Mont Blanc, around which the others crowded, like nobles around their king, the glorious feudality of nature. There are other views in Switzerland even finer than this, but it was our first-our introduction to the sublime ; and the impression it left has never been eradicated, and scarcely lessened, by the others.
The most frequented parts of the country, including Savoy, which is Swiss by nature, though not by government, are the valley of Chamouni and the Bernese Oberland. The former our tourist did not visit; or if he did, he has not chosen to introduce it into a tour through Switzerland. Still it unites in itself, even in a greater degree than the Oberland, the
peculiarities of Swiss scenery. Situated at the foot of Mont Blanc, between it and the Breven, and hedged in at one end by the Col de Balme, its utter seclusion, one might suppose, would have protected it from even the traveller's prying eye. Five glaciers descend to the doors of its inhabitants; the roar of avalanches is continually heard. At the summit of one of these glaciers is the far-famed Mer de Glace—that sea of ice which astounds alike the learned and the ignorant, the philosopher and the peasant; which has been likened to frozen hurricanes and seas suddenly congealed, and all other wonders of ice and cold, and which still remains undescribed and indescribable. The goat browses at its side, the flower blooms on its bank, yet there it lies, unchanged by the summer's sun or winter's storm. Returning from Italy in '34, after crossing the Simplon, and arriving at Martiguy, the fancy took us to visit Chamouni at that early period. We crossed the Tete Noire, encountering a little snow, en passant, and arrived after night at the hotel of Chamouni.
On awaking the next morning, we found the bottom of the valley verdant with the return of spring; but about half way up the mountains, the line being drawn as if with the accuracy of a machine, winter still reigned. The Montanvert had not been ascended yet that season, except by chamois hrinters. Having come thus far, however, we were determined not to be disappointed, and accordingly procured a guide and commenced the ascent. Until we reached the snow, it was easy, but once upon that, softened as it was by the return of heat, our progress became exceedingly toilsome ; always sinking up to our knees, and frequently to our waists: with our feet wet and frozen in the snow, and our bodies heated by the exertion and the temperature, we paid dearly for our excursion. To add to this, we crossed, from time to time, the paths of avalanches which had swept down trees and rocks in their headlong course, and which, for all we knew, might have been tottering over our heads as we slowly progressed. However, we at length reached the summit, and were amply repaid for our toil. The Mer de Glace, partially covered with snow; here and there a huge green mass of ice thrusting itself forth, the glacier descending to the valley from it, with the occasional roar of a detached part of it as it thundered down; the aiguilles or sharp needles of rock standing out like sentinels; above us, as high and unattainable as ever to all appearance, the cloud-like Mont Blanc; and beneath us, the valley with its little river and its fields enamelled with their just bursting crops, formed a view not to be surpassed even in this country of views. Our descent was made with much greater rapidity than our ascent. Sticking our pikes behind us, into the snow, we commenced a
race, half sliding, half running, directly down the mountain, which speedily brought us to the foot of the glacier. We stopped here to look at the cavernous source of the Arveron, and then returned to our quarters. In the course of the same year we visited Chamouni again, but its aspect had materially changed; we found Alpine flowers where we had left ten feet of snow.
We have digressed somewhat. The Oberland of Berne, which our author very fully visited, has much more extent than Chamouni,-it unites also two beautiful lakes, those of
Thun and Brienz, the most picturesque valley in the world, that of Interlaken, and three of the most remarkable, also, those of Lauterbrunnen, Gründewald and Meysingen. In the first of these is the cascade of the Staubbach with nine hundred feet fall, where
The sunbow's rays still arch
As told in the Apocalypse." That of Meysingen boasts the Reichenbach, which, not as lofty: as the other, is by many preferred to it. : Add to these the passage of the Wengern Alp, and that of the Scheidegg; the glaciers of Gründewald and Rosenlaüi, and the view of the Jung-Frau, the Eiger, and the Wetterhorn, forming a wall of snow-capped mountains, not equalled by Mont Blanc in its effect, and it is easy to conceive the interest of the Oberland. Byron's description of the view from the Wengern Alp will be remembered: Cross the Brunig and there lies the Canton of Underwalden, a short ride down which brings you to the lake of the Four Forest Cantons, avowedly the most diversified, and we think the most beautiful of Switzerland.
The Righi, affording the finest view under heaven, juts into it on one side, the Pilatus, only surpassed by the Righi, stands on the other : Lucerne lies at one end, at the other begins the ascent of the St. Gothard. Within five miles of this lake is the scene of the fall of the Ross-berg, which destroyed so many lives and so much property by an almost unexampled convulsion of nature. Besides all this, the genius of history has touched the scene with her wand, and has consecrated the shores of the Waldstätten Sea, as the cradle of Swiss liberty. There is the Tellsplatte, whereon Tell leaped from the boat, in which Gessler was conveying him to prison : the distance at which he cleft the apple on his son's head, marked out in the town of
Altdorf; the pass in which he so signally avenged himself on the tyrant. But let us hear our author on these points:
“ Lauterbrunnen is commonly thought to be the most intrinsically Swiss, of all the inhabited valleys of Switzerland. It certainly strikes the novice with more of wonder and delight than any other that I know; but our tastes change and improve in matters of scenery as in other things, and the same objects, seen a second time, and after frequent occasions of comparison, do not always produce the same relative impressions.
“We walked to the waterfall, which was the celebrated Staubbach, (Torrent or Fall of Dust,) and at a short distance from the inn. It contained as much water as would turn a large mill, and fell over the face of a stupendous rock, itself an imposing object, seen as it then was, by twilight, beetling above the narrow valley. The perpendicular, or lower fall
, is said to be eight hundred feet. About a third of the distance, the fluid descends towards the eye in a sort of thick spray; it then seems to be broken into fallen mist, until it touches a projection in the mountain, where it resumes the more palpable character of the element, and descends, washing the base of the rock, to the spectator, flowing past him in a limpid current. It is well named, for so ethereal or dust-like is one of its sections, that once or twice it appeared about tu sail away like a cloud, in the duskiness of the evening, on the wings of the wind.
“I despair of making you see Lauterbrunnen through the medium of the mind's eye; still you shall have the elements of this remarkable valley, to combine in such a picture as your own imagination can draw.
'Standing at the foot of the Staubbach, you have in the near ground, a hamlet of truly rustic peculiarities; scanty, but beautifully verdant meadows, a little church, and the inn. The latter is merely for summer use, and, though Swissish in exterior, might be spared from the view. It has three stories, and iwelve small windows in front; too much like a hotel for the picturesque: but it is scarcely observed amid the stupendous objects around it. The valley may possibly be half a mile in width, in an air line, though it does not seem to be nearly so much. One of its sides, that of the Staubbach, is little other than a rampart of ragged rocks; but the other is composed of a sort of verdant débris, that admits of herbage, and even of some little cultivation, though still so steep in the main as to require great care in descending. The whole valley, and the whole of this mountain side, are dotted with those persectly rural objects, châlets, or small dark picturesque barns of larch, such as you have often seen in engravings. I counted one hundred and fiftyeight of them, from the windows of the inn. Towards Interlachen, or in the direction we had come, a huge mountain lay directly athwart the entrance of the valley, appearing to close it entirely; though we pigmies, by following the torrents, had stolen around its base; and, in the other, or the opposite direction, was one of those awfully mysterious and grand views that are occasionally seen in Switzerland, which present a strange and chaotic assenublage of the sublimest natural objects, thrown together in a way to leave even more to the imagination than is actually presented to the eye.
“We walked a mile or two up the valley, in the latter direction. At that hour, dim twilight, it was not difficult to fancy we were approaching a spot which Omnipotence had not yet reduced to order and useful
We looked out of our own straitened valley, through a gorge, into a sort of mountain basin, that was formed by the higher Alps.