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their summits. Looking up the valley of the Arve, an immense breastwork of mountain rears itself at a few leagues distance, covered with dark gloomy firs, till vegetation gives place to a summit of barren rock. Behind and above those stupendous heights, rises the colossal Mont Blanc, higher than this his vanguard by about 6 or 7000 feet of eternal snows, which are only here and there broken by grey pointed needles, and jagged rocks of granite, which refuse the snow a restingplace, and project their rude and gigantic forms beyond its glittering surface. In addition to its height, and the awful winter which frowns from its summits, nothing can be more majestic than the forms of the mountain. The summit presents a smooth and rounded kind of dome, which may be said to repose upon colossal pyramids and pillars of granite. The various needles and subordinate heights, the satellites of the imperial mountain, rise around in beautiful gradation to heights of 9, 10, 11, and 12,000 feet, and are all attached to the dome by connecting masses of snow, covered rocks, and glaciers. The sun was illuminating this stupendous expanse of snow, reared amidst the heavens ; and it was impossible to look at it for many minutes successively. We met with a Chamounix guide, François Simon, (honoured with the appellation of “Simun des dames,") whom we instantly engaged to ascend with us to a little grassy eminence above Sallanche, where we sat down and admired this sublime scene-making acquaintance, under the auspices of the guide, with every rock, and pinnacle, and glacier, and valley, which presented itself. The evening was not remarkably fine, but still, as the sun gradually sank, the whole expanse of snowy mountain was suffused with every varying tint of gold, rose, carnation, and richest purple. We bad not quite Lord Byron's hues of love.
The snows above
By rays which sleep there lovingly. At night a bright starry sky "tipped with silver every mountain's head," and we enjoyed from the gallery of the inn at Sallanche (where, by the way, we drank bottled ale not unworthy of Edinburgh) the prospect of the white dome of the mountain standing out pure and resplendent under the blue canopy of Heaven, and rearing its sublime head among the sparkling stars and constellations which lighted up this scene of silent loveliness and grandeur.
Carriages of the ordinary description cannot proceed farther than Sallancbe, and we set forth the next morning in a char-d-banc, drawn by two fine mules, on our road to Chamounix. You may conceive the difficulties of the road, when I tell you that we were above seven hours performing the six leagues from Sallanche to Chamounix. Our char was a stout mountain vehicle, on which we sat sideways, which just carried our feet above the ground, and which was well calculated, from its lightness and strength, to defy the rocks, slopes, and rugged inequalities of our route. In some places the road was swept away by a debordement of the Arve, and we drove along the bed of the river-in others, a torrent from the mountains had ploughed across the path, leaving blocks of rock, heaps of mud, and branches of fir-trees rooted up, over which our sure-footed mules drew us with perfect safety.
The vast bed of the Arve, strewed with trees, rocks, and stones, the torrents descending into it, the blocks of granite, and the wrecks of the vast eboulement of the mountain d'Anterne, which took place in 1751, and lasted for eight days, and which has now left on the ragged and herbless sides of the mountain fresh traces of the convulsion, add infinitely to the effect of the scene. We stopped to admire the beautiful little cascade of the Chéde, one of the prettiest near the Alps, and then proceeded to Servoz. From Servoz to Chamounix is one of the grandest Alpine scenes in Europe. We passed a monument erected by the road to a young German, who perished in the glaciers of the Buet mountain. We had ascended rapidly from Sallanche to Savoy. Sallanche is situated 1674 feet above the level of the sea, and Chamounix not less than 3174 feet. We passed the impetuous Arve by a rude bridge of unhewn fir-trees, and ascended a rapid acclivity at the edge of a frightful precipice, at the bottom of which we left far below us the foaming Arve, roaring over rocks and amongst a forest of larches and dark firs. On the opposite bank of the river rose an immense wall of perpendicular rock to a height of many thousand feet, almost on the summit of which we could just discover a little cluster of chalets, absolutely overhanging the frightful valley of the Arve. Such was the scene of wild magnificence immediately about us ; while towards the South we were almost under the shelter and shade of the stupendous Mont Blanc, and its dependent rocks and needles of Bionnassay, the Dôme du Gouté, &c. &c. Having reached the summit of our ascent, we entered the valley of Chamounix at the little hamlet of Ouches. You appear in a new world on entering this singular valley. The five leagues from Sallanche to les Ouches is one scene of wild and desolate grandeur, with few habitations, and few spots of ground sufficient even for cattle to pasture. A few browsing goats, and here and there a cow, attended by little sunburnt children, who offered us nosegays, and some scattered rude log-built chalets, were all the traces we had seen of human inhabitants. After this scene the valley of Chamounix appears like a little thriving Alpine colony, with neat hamlets, inclosed pastures, gardens and cottages, flocks of sheep and herds of cows and goats, and a decent civilized sort of people, dressed with considerable neatness, and apparently relieved from abject poverty. Imagine this green and smiling valley, extending about six leagues in length, and scarcely one league in breadth, at the very foot of Mont Blanc and the grand barrier of the central Alps, the glaciers descending from their summits into the very midst of the fertile pastures, dark forests of fir fringing the
pure white masses of ice and snow, and neat cottages and gardens flourishing at the foot of glaciers, from 100 to 300 feet in height, which often accumulate and advance, so as to threaten with destruction the neighbouring hamlets and inclosures. Nothing is more uncertain than the ratio of the advance or decrease of the glaciers. The glacier des Bois, the most considerable at Chamounix, is said to have been ascertained by trunks of trees planted in the crevices of the glacier to advance about fourteen feet in a year. But this must be a very doubtful fact, and it only applies to the rate of progressive movement of the middle of the glacier; for certainly the glacier does not regularly advance fourteen feet annually into the valley. In some years it recedes—in others is stationary, according as the winter is long and severe, or the summer sultry and prolonged, as the ground is more or less rapidly inclined, and various other uncertain circumstances. It seems certain, that almost all the glaciers do increase in a greater or less degree. The people of Chamounix say, they increase for seven years, and then diminish for seven years—an arbitrary assumption, on which Saussure remarks,“ La regularité plaît aux hommes-elle semble leur assujettir les évènemens.” In the same manner, people on the sea-coast tell you the tide advances in a regular series, first of nine small waves and then of three large ones. The sun, rains, warm winds, the internal heat of the earth, seem to place certain providential limits to the advances of this wintry reign, which have hitherto checked its encroachments on the fertile valleys of the Alps. The glacier des Bossons is by far the most beautiful of those at Chamounix. Its descent being extremely rapid, and the valley down which it descends being rugged and uneven, the mass of ice is split and broken into pyramids, and cones, and all sorts of beautiful and capricious forms. The ice is very pure and unsoiled (a very rare circumstance), and the conical masses are sometimes of 80, 90, and 100 feet in height, of the most beautiful white, green, and sky-blue colours. They look like the ruins of marble palaces, temples, and obelisks, reared and overthrown by the hands of an Oriental genius. They have the appearance of productions of art; but it is the unreal art of fairies-not that of men. We crossed over this fine glacier, in an upper part of it, where it presented a sort of table land, intersected occasionally by enormous chasms and crevices; down which we rolled blocks of granite, which produced a rumbling like distant thunder in the bowels of the glacier. The air of the glacier was remarkably inspiring and elating from its freshness and rarity. On a sudden, I was surprised to feel my face fanned by a sultry current from the South, which passed away, and then came again, like 2 sirocco. The effect was so surprising, that I stopped short in walking. On mentioning it to Michel Devassaux, our guide, he said it was not uncommon; and that these warm winds (of which Saussure also speaks) were particularly felt on the glacier des Bossons, owing to its being opposite to several indentures or breaks in the Alpine chain,
which give a passage to the currents of air from Italy and the South. The perpetual movements and constant noises in the glaciers have a very striking effect, and give them, in a less degree, that impressive character of life and animation which belongs to a river or the ocean.
Their sounds are among Nature's most singular and sublime voices. A rattling crash is heard in the ice, an internal rumbling-you then perceive a commotion in the glacier for a space of many yards-new fissures open-projecting masses of ice break and fall, blocks of granite roll down the sides of the glacier, and set in motion hundreds of other rocks and stones, and the confused clatter and noise dies away like a distant fire of artillery, leaving an awful silence till the constant pressure of the upper part of the glacier against the lower again produces a fresh dislocation of the masses. Every glacier is the source of a river or stream of greater or less consequence, furnished by the melted snow which flows during summer perpetually from the foot of the glacier. A large supply proceeds from the ice at the bottom, melted by the internal heat of the earth. When you examine the junction between the glacier and the soil, you perceive the rapidity with which this dissolution takes place. The glacier appears completely disjoined from the earth, and seems as if it might slide forward in a detached mass. The water dissolved from the surface of the glacier rushes down in perpetual small torrents through the chasms and fissures in the ice to the bottom, and a large accumulated stream flows forth from the foot of the glacier, foaming impetuously along the valley. The source of the Arveiron, which rushes out of the glacier des Bois, is one of the most curious objects in the valley. The force of the stream gushing forth from the glacier has hollowed out an immense vaulted arch about 50 or 60 feet in height, composed of the most lovely bluish ice. It is a complete cave of ice; the roof of which is formed of rude and jagged masses of solid snow ice. These masses are continually detaching themselves and falling into the torrent below. The blue and celadon hues of the ice, its light transparent substance, and grotesque and fantastic shapes, give the cavern an air of fairy-work, which, added to the constant roar of the torrent, far surpasses in beauty and interest the Empress Catherine's ice palaces, or even the caves of ice in the vision of Kubla Khan.
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves,
From the fountain and the caves.
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice. I think every candid person will confess that Mont Blanc seen from Chamounix, on the whole, rather disappoints expectations. It is unquestionably a sublime object, but the valley is so immediately below it, that the mountain is very much foreshortened in the view; you hardly see its summit, and lose much of its gigantic proportions. You can form little idea of the majesty and beauty of St. Paul's standing in St. Paul's church yard. The immense expanse of perpetual snow reminds one of the mountain's colossal height, in comparison with the bare and rocky needles around, rather than its mere effect on the eye. Add to this, that the eye is so familiarized to stupendous heights by the neighbouring mountains, that the additional 3 or 4000 feet which belong to Mont Blanc produce an effect proportioned only to the relative height of the mountain, not to its absolute height as the great monarch of European mountains. If we could put Mont Blanc on Salisbury plain it would equal all that our imagination can dream about it; but elbowed on all sides by mountains of 10, 11, and 12,000 feet, he is the giant monarch of giant subjects, not a giant among men of ordinary stature. The height of Mont Blanc as seen from Chamounix, it is to be observed, is greater than that of Chimborazo, as seen from its base in the valley of Tapia : the summit of Chimborazo being 11,232 feet above the vale of Tapia, and Mont Blanc rising to 11,532 feet above Chamounix. But the absolute height of Chimborazo above the sea is 20,148 feet, and that of Mont Blanc 14,700 feet. The weather during our stay at Chamounix was not favourable, and I regretted not being able to accomplish the ascent of the Buet or the Breven, or some other height from which you might command a view of these gigantic Alps, of which one forms a very imperfect conception while at their feet in the valley.
We of course did not omit the ordinary excursion to the Montanvert,
a grand eminence at the foot of Mont Blanc, its steep sides covered with a forest of dark firs, and the summit being about 2500 feet above Chamounix, or about 5700 above the sea. About a score of individuals of both sexes and all ages, and including English, French, Russians, &c. ascended on the same day, principally mounted on mules, and attended by a troop of trusty guides. The ascent is fearfully rapid, and only to be accomplished (at least on mule-back) by going probably three times the real distance in a zigzag path just wide enough for a mule to stand, and where a false step would often precipitate mule and rider (note-books, barometers, telescopes, and all) rolling down to the valley, unless perchance arrested by a fortunate fir stump or granite block. The mule path is only carried about two thirds of the whole ascent; the remainder you walk or climb on foot. The bird's eye view of the valley and villages of Chamounix below, reduced to pigmy dimensions by a distance of 2000 feet, is remarkably fine. A thunder-storm overtook us when about half a mile from the summit. We had been praying for one at Chamounix the day before, to the great astonishment and horror of a French lady, who set us down for absolutely fous in expressing so monstrous a wish. And when we met her shivering with terror and wet clothes at the Chalet on the Montanvert, she instantly attacked us with an air of triumph, taking it for granted that we fully participated in all her terrors, and must long since have repented of our rash wishes the day before. The storm (although, or perhaps because, a slight one) had in fact completely repaid, without exceeding our wishes~ by the magnificence of its reverberated sounds among this world of mountains, the roar of the fir forests, the awful masses of cloud sailing over the crags and needles, and breaking in torrents of rain down the abysses and valleys, the swollen streams roaring down the precipices and hurrying along with them rocks and fragments of trees. Every mountain had indeed “found a tongue”—each successive peal of thunder made the tour of the whole range of adjacent Alps, travelling with sublime roar from the heights towards Piedmont along the chain bounding the valley, and lost in dim murmurs among the mountains near Geneva.
Of the loud hills shook with its mountain-mirth,
As if they did rejoice o'er a young earthquake's birth. There was just sufficient apprehension of possible danger to heighten the awfulness of the scene, without overpowering the sense of admiration and enjoyment. The wind rose violently and suddenly with the storm, and the deracinated trees strewed about the mountain forest around us bore evidence of whole ranks having been on former occasions swept away by its fury. The guides had before told us that these bourasques were sometimes very formidable. The heavens, however, had soon spent their fury, and the sun was soon“ laughing the clouds away with playful scorn. The Chalet on the mountain was filled with the whole party from Chamounix, drying their clothes at a wretched fire, reading the Album, and eating mountain strawberries and cream, together with the cold fowls and Burgundy, which had been packed on the mules. The immense glacier of the Mer de Glace lies behind the Montanvert, a few hundred feet below the summit of the mountain. The enormous Aiguille verte, the highest of all the needles round Mont Blanc, the pointed and graceful Aiguille du Dru, and the rugged