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Glaciers bounded the view, and torrents were seen tumbling into the chaos beneath, looking chill and wild. The whole gradually dissappeared with the waning light.”
As he crosses the Wengern Alps he sees an avalanche.
"Once or twice the sound we heard was like the mutterings of a distant storm, and we tried to fancy it a mountain turning in its lair. A mountain groaning is very expressive.
“My eye was fixed on the side of the Jung Frau, when I saw a speck of snow start out of a mass which formed a sort of precipice, leaving a very small hole, not larger in appearance than a bee-hive. The report came soon after. It was equal to what a borseman's pistol would produce in a good echo. The snow glided downward two or three hundred feet, and lodged. All heard the report, though no one saw this little avalanche but myself. I was in the act of pointing out the spot to my companions, when a quantity of dusty snow shot out of the same little hole, followed by a stream that covered an inclined plane, which seemed to be of the extent of ten or twelve acres. The constant roaring convinced us the affair was not to end here. The stream forced its way through a narrow gorge in the rocks, and reappeared, tumbling perpendicularly two hnndred feet more on another inclined plane. Crossing this, it became hid again; but soon issued by another rocky gorge on a third plane, down which it slid to the verge of the green pastures; for, at this season the grass grows beneath the very drippings of the glaciers.
“This was a picturesque avalanche to the eye, though the sound came so direct, that it was like the noise produced by snow falling from a house, differing only in degree. The size of the stream was so much reduced in passing the gorges, that it bore a strong resemblance to the Staubbach, and according to the best estimate could make, its whole descent was not short of a thousand feet. The hole out of which all this mass of snow issued, and which literally covered acres, did not appear to have more capacity than a large oven. We shook our heads, after examining it, and began to form better estimates of heights and distances among the Alps."
Of Grindewald, he says
“ Seen from the inn, the glaciers of Grindewald are apt at first to disappoint the traveller. The magnitude of the mountains diminishes the apparent size of all other objects, and it requires practice with these, as with other things, to form a true estimate of their dimensions. Before I had left the place, the very vastness of these immense fields of ice filled me with wonder. In order that you should have accurate ideas of what they are, it will be necessary to explain.
"You are to imagine, in the first place, that all Switzerland, with Savoy, and, indeed, the Tyrol, and other adjoining countries, lies on a huge mountain. They all have their valleys, it is true, but these valleys are more elevated than even the hills of the lower regions : lhus Berne, which lies in a valley, is at the height of eighteen hundred feet above the sea; Interlachen is higher than Berne; and Grindewald, as you approach the Upper Alps, more elevated still. Though this formation is continued to the very highest peaks, which are separated from each other by their valleys, yet, towards the apexes of the great mountains, there is less confusion in the arrangement—the last ascents usually lowering many thousand feet in distinct but neighbouring piles, that admit of different names and peculiar features. These highest peaks also run in VOL. XX.--NO. 39.
ranges, and, as a consequence of all, there is a vast upper plain, or a succession of connected valleys, out of which the summits shoot in a variety of forms-some conical, others more broken, and all sublimethat extends for a hundred miles. These plains or upper valleys are, of course, covered with eternal snow. I do not say that it is literally possible to find the extent I have mentioned in one continued field of ice; for valleys break the continuity in some portion of the range, and occasionally a barrier of rock interposes; but it is known that these glaciers are of very great extent. They are frequently traversed, from one inhabited valley to another; and histories of the perils of these journeys have been published, which have the interest of dangerous sea voyages. The snow falls in avalanches, from the peaks, and there is a constant accession to the masses, which, if they do not increase, as certainly do not diminish. There are writers who affirm that the glaciers add to their power by their own cold, and that, in time, without the intervention of some new natural phenomenon, they will eventually extend themselves downward into the valleys that lie on the next level beneath, overcoming vegetation and destroying life. A succession of cold summers might certainly extend the boundaries of the glaciers; but it is scarcely possible that the heat of the sun can be finally overcome in this manner. There must be a limit, somewhere, to the increase of the ice, and it is almost certain that these limits have been attained during the centuries that the present physical formation of Switzerland is known to have existed. Local circumstances may have induced local changes; but, as a whole, the contest between heat and cold ought to be set down as producing exactly equal effects.
“'Here and there the ice has forced itself through gorges in the higher peaks, towards the inhabited valleys. These gorges are the natural outlets through which the water that flows from the heat of the sun (for it is not always freezing, even in the higher valleys) finds a passage. The ice is undermined by the currents beneath, and large blocks slide downward, until they reach the end of the inclined plane in the inferior valley, where their descent is necessarily arrested. In the course of time, the piles increase until that equilibrium state is attained, in which there ceases to be any very material augmentation or lessening of the masses. In this manner the glaciers of Grindewald have had their origin. Their terminations are sudden, presenting walls of ice, twenty or thirty feet high, out of which gush torrents full grown at the birth. The meadows are verdant to the very edge of the ice, and we gathered strawberries within a few yards of it.
“ The distance from the lower end of the lower glacier, (they are called the upper and lower, from their relative positions in the valley,) to the plain of ice above, may be half a mile, and the width of the gorge through which it finds its way, seems to be less than half that distance.
“There formerly stood a small chapel on a point of rock near the margin of the upper valley, and in the gorge itself, where the chamois hunters, and those wbo attempted to pass to the other side of the great range, could offer up prayers for their safety. This chapel disappeared -for a succession of two or three severe winters could do greater marvels than swallow up a small pile of stones—and (a certain evidence of the manner in which these lower spurs of ice are fed) the bell found its way down to the meadows, and is now exhibited' in the church of Grindewald.
“It is not an easy matter to walk on the surface of those parts of the glaciers which lie on the inclined planes, or between the gorges and the fields. The fissures between the broken masses are of a depth and
width that render it far easier to enter than to get out of them. There is a tradition, however, of a hunter who fell into one, and wbo effected his escape, with a broken limb, I believe, through the vaults which are formed by the passage of the water beneath. The thing seems possible, but the odds must be greatly against its safe achievement."
The view from the Righi he thus describes
“The path was always upward, after leaving the hospice, though there was no very severe ascent. It led through pastures, and nearly in a direct line. w—and myself pressed on, nor did an inscription, in memory of some Saxon prince, cut on the living rock, tempt us to halt. Before us lay a broad reach of pastures on an inclined plane, the azure of the heavens bounding its upper margin. Thither, then, we eagerly held our way, leaving guides, horses, and companions, far behind. Twenty times, during the afternoon, I had been reminded of the Pilgrim's Progress, by the rocks, marshes, burdens, and weary ascents, and it now appeared as if the end of our labours, like his, was to be heaven. Upward, then, we urged, until, without the smallest sense of fatigue, we stood on the very verge of that line which, for half an hour, had lain before
us, bounded by air. “For myself, I can fairly say, that, the occasion of a total eclipse of the sun excepted, I never felt so deep a sentiment of admiration and awe, as at that exquisite moment. So greatly did reality exceed the pictures we had formed, that the surprise was as complete as if nothing had been expected. The first effect was really bewildering, leaving behind it a vague sensation, that the eye had strangely assembled the rarest elements of scenery, which were floating before it, without order, in pure wantonness. To this feeling, the indefinite form of the lake of Lucerne greatly contributed, for it stretches out its nnmerous arms in so many different directions, as, at first, to appear like water in the unreal forms of the fancy. Volumes of mist were rolling swiftly along it, at the height of about two thousand feet above its surface, and of as many below ourselves, allowing us to look through the openings, in a way to aid the illusion.
“ The party came up in time to enjoy the effects of the vapour before it blew entirely away. We were at the point which is called the Righi Staffel, and I can describe the position no better, than by likening it.to the roof of a shed, placing the spectator on its upper edge. The entire mountain is near thirty miles in circumference at its base, standing like an advanced bastion of the Alpine range, separated from all others; and the place we occupied was more than 4000 feet above the adjoining lakes, and about 5500 above the sea.
“The manner in which Lucerne coquetted with us, before the vapour drove away, was indescribably beautiful. This town, which is surrounded by ancient walls, that are bristling with towers, and which contains many striking objects in its churches and other edifices, was actually several leagues distant, though it appeared nearly beneath the eye. But why speak of one object, when there were a thousand ? Of towns, there were Küsnacht, Sarnen, Lucerne ; and villages without number. The blue of the water, too, imbedded, as it was, in dark mountains, was alone sufficient to make an uncommon landscape. It was of the colour of the skies in the old Italian paintings, which every one from the northern regions is ready to pronounce preposterous, but which was certainly seen here, in the other element, and to a degree almost to cause us to believe we had made acquaintance with a new nature.
“As we did not choose to stay at the inn which has been erected near this enchanting spot, with the bald head of the mountain at no great distance, and in plain view, we pressed forward for the Righi Kulm, or head. Having still a little time to look about us, however, the guide led us to a place at which the water had made a passage through the rocks, and where a stone dropped in the orifice above; found its way out at the side, several hundred feet down the high perpendicular wall which forms this face of the mountain. As you are so familiar with the state of New York, before quitting the Righi Staffel, I may give you some idea of the nature of its view by telling you that it is not unlike that from the terrace of the Pine Orchard, with the material difference, however, of the spectator being twice as high above the adjoining country, and three times higher above tide. The Righi is nearly naked of trees, too, at this elevation; the mountain is better placed, standing more forward from the great ranges; the atmosphere has that visible transparency which one observes in the most. limpid water, and which great artists sometimes succeed in throwing around a landscape, while the country seen from the Kaatskill will bear no comparison, in either natural objects or artificial accessaries, with those which cover the whole face of the land in the region I am describing,
“I very well know that these comparisons are little likely to find favour among patriots, in a country in which it is permitted to say with impunity what one will of the institutions, the work of man, and for which men are or ought to be responsible ; but where it is lèse majesté to whisper aught against the perfection of natural objects, unless some plausible connection can be made out between them and democracy. American bon ton, in these matters, is of a singularly delicate texture, polite patriotism spreading its mantle before even the cats and dogs, when it will suffer those sturdy truths, which form the true glory of the nation, to defend themselves in the best manner they can. Thank God! they are strong enough to go alone. At the risk, however, of being set down as one spoiled by traveling, –a dire calamity!—and of certain defeat, should it ever be my ill look to be put in the way of preferment by a 'regular nomination,' I now tell you the Pine Orchard will compare with the Righi, only as the Kaatskill will compare with the falls of Trenton, and that the Hudson, unrivalled as a river and in the softer landscape scenery, bears some such resemblance to the lake of the Four Cantons, in the grand and the sublime, as the falls of the Canada do to those of the Niagara.
“After viewing the fissure in the rocks, which threatens another landslip at no distant day, we left the edge of the precipice, and followed a circuitous path which led to the summit
. Here, although no longer taken by surprise, we enjoyed a still more extended and magnificent prospect. The mountain rises like a cone, from the shores of Zug, preserving this form for nearly half a circle, when it joins the more irregular and huge mass already alluded to, and up one of whose sides we had been climbing. At the extreme northern end, or that which overhangs the lake just meutioned, the conical form is preserved, even above the inclined plane of the Staffel, until it reaches the height of near 5000 feet above the neighbouring waters, and of more than 6000 feet above the sea.
“ The summit of the Righi Kulm may contain three or four acres, on a slightly inclined plane, the irregular section of an irregular cone. There are a lodging house, à la Suisse, stables, a cross that is visible at a great distance from below, and an elevated platform, whence the most extended view can be obtained. This spot is without tree or shrub, but it is sufficiently well covered with grass.
“Most views lose in the detail what they gain in extent, by climbing mountains. After the first feeling of satisfaction at commanding so many objects with the eye is abated, the more critical amateur misses those minuter points of beauty which we come most to love, and which are lost for the want of the profile in bird's eye prospects. In Switzerland, however, this remark is less true than elsewhere; the grand scale of its nature rendering a mountain, even when reversed, a mountain still. As most of the country is in high relief, the shadows remain distinct, and little is lost, or rather that which remains is so palpable and bold, that the minuter parts are not missed. In the view from the Righi, towards the north and northwest, it is true, this remark is not quite infallible, for in that direction the eye is limited only by distance, the country being generally broken, but comparatively low. Even this wide sweep of vision, however, helps to make up the sublime, being, map-like, distinct, and in remarkable contrast to the magnificent confusion of Alpine peaks in the opposite points of the compass,
“The lake of Zug, being the nearest; is the most conspicuous sheet of water that is seen from the Righi Kulm. Over the dark blue expanse of this oval basin, the spectator seems literally to hang, as if suspended in a balloon. There is a spot, in particular, from which it appears as if one might almost leap into the lake, and nowhere is its southern shore visible immediately beneath the mountain. Art and its lovely valley, the desolation of Ġoldau, and the vast chasm in the mountain itself, whence the ruin came, the little lake of Lowerz, the town of Schwytz, were ranged along the left. Behind them rose mountains in a crowd and confusion that render description hopeless. I leave your imagination to body out the thousand grand or picturesque forms in which these granite piles lift their bald heads, for in that quarter few were covered with snow.
“I cannot tell you how many lakes are visible from the Righi Kulm. I counted thirteen; besides which, the lakes of Zurich and Lucerne peep out, from behind the mountains, in no less than six different places, each basin looking like a separate body of water. Then there are many rivers, drawn through rich meadows in blue winding lines. where the waters were dark as ultramarine. Of towns, and churches, and towers, it is almost commonplace to speak, on such an occasion.
They dotted the panorama, however, in all directions; for it was not possible to look into one of the many valleys which opened around us like a spreading fan, without their meeting the eye.
"I presuine you think you have now obtained some just impressions of the view from the Righi. So far from this, I have yet scarcely alluded to its leading—its most wonderful feature. The things mentioned, beyond a question, are the first to strike the eye, and for a time they occupy the attention, but the most sublime beauties of this elevated stand are to be found in the aspect of the high Alps. These peaks are clustered all along the southern horizon, looking hoary, grim, and awful; a congress of earthly giants. They are seen distinctly only at short intervals, in the morning and evening. Frequently they are shut up in a gloom adapted to their chill mysteries, and then again parts appear, as whirlwinds and mists drive past. At such moments they truly seem the region of storms.
“Amid the stern group, it is possible to distinguish the Jung Frau, and all her majestic neighbourhood; the Titlis, my Bernese discovery; and a hundred more that I could not name, if I would. I believe none of the great southern range of the Alps, including Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa, came into the view. They are excluded by the great height of the nearer line of the Oberland."