Modern Painters, Volume IV (of V)
by John Ruskin
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The principal difference between the Turnerian aspen and the purist aspen is, it will be seen, in the expression of lightness and confusion of foliage, and roundness of the tree as a mass; while the purist tree, like the thirteenth century one, is still flat. All attempt at the expression of individual leaves is now gone, the tree being too far off to justify their delineation; but the direction of the light, and its gradations, are carefully studied.

Sec. 19. Fig. 6 is a tolerable facsimile[36] of a little chalk sketch of Harding's; quite inimitable in the quantity of life and truth obtained by about a quarter of a minute's work; but beginning to show the faulty vagueness and carelessness of modernism. The stems, though beautifully free, are not thoroughly drawn or rounded; and in the mass of the tree, though well formed, the tremulousness and transparency of leafage are lost. Nor is it possible, by Harding's manner of drawing, to express such ultimate truths; his execution, which, in its way, no one can at all equal (the best chalk drawing of Calame and other foreign masters being quite childish and feeble in comparison), is yet sternly limited in its reach, being originally based on the assumption that nothing is to be delicately drawn, and that the method is only good which insures specious incompletion.

It will be observed, also, that there is a leaning first to one side, then to the other, in Harding's aspen, which marks the wild picturesqueness of modernism as opposed to the quiet but stiff dignity of the purist (Fig. 2); Turner occupying exactly the intermediate place.

The next example (Fig. 5) is an aspen of Constable's, on the left in the frontispiece to Mr. Leslie's life of him. Here we have arrived at the point of total worthlessness, the tree being as flat as the old purist one, but, besides, wholly false in ramification, idle, and undefined in every respect; it being, however, just possible still to discern what the tree is meant for, and therefore, the type of the worst modernism not being completely established.

Sec. 20. Fig. 4 establishes this type, being the ordinary condition of tree treatment in our blotted water-color drawings; the nature of the tree being entirely lost sight of, and no accurate knowledge, of any kind, possessed or communicated.

Thus, from the extreme of definiteness and light, in the thirteenth century (the middle of the Dark Ages!), we pass to the extreme of uncertainty and darkness, in the middle of the nineteenth century.

As, however, the definite mediaeval work has some faults, so the indefinite modern work has some virtues, its very uncertainty enabling it to appeal pleasantly to the imagination (though in an inky manner, as described above, Vol. III. Chap. x. Sec. 10), and sometimes securing qualities of color which could no otherwise be obtained. It ought, however, if we would determine its true standing, to be compared, not with the somewhat forced and narrow decision of the thirteenth century, but with the perfect and well-informed decision of Albert Durer and his fellow-workmen. For the proper representation of these there was no room in this plate; so, in Plate 25, above, on each side of the daguerreotyped towers of Fribourg, I have given, Fig. 1, a Dureresque, and Fig. 3, a Blottesque, version of the intermediate wall. The latter version may, perhaps, be felt to have some pleasantness in its apparent ease; and it has a practical advantage, in its capability of being executed in a quarter of a minute, while the Dureresque statement cannot be made in less than a quarter of an hour. But the latter embraces not only as much as is worth the extra time, but even an infinite of contents, beyond and above the other, for the other is in no single place clear in its assertion of anything; whereas the Dureresque work, asserting clearly many most interesting facts about the grass on the ledges, the bricks of the windows, and the growth of the foliage, is forever a useful and trustworthy record; the other forever an empty dream. If it is a beautiful dream, full of lovely color and good composition, we will not quarrel with it; but it can never be so, unless it is founded first on the Dureresque knowledge, and suggestive of it, through all its own mystery or incompletion. So that by all students the Dureresque is the manner to be first adopted, and calmly continued as long as possible; and if their inventive instincts do not, in after life, force them to swifter or more cloudy execution,—if at any time it becomes a matter of doubt with them how far to surrender their gift of accuracy,—let them be assured that it is best always to err on the side of clearness; to live in the illumination of the thirteenth century rather than the mysticism of the nineteenth, and vow themselves to the cloister rather than to lose themselves in the desert.

Sec. 21. I am afraid the reader must be tired of this matter; and yet there is one question more which I must for a moment touch upon, in conclusion, namely, the mystery of clearness itself. In an Italian twilight, when, sixty or eighty miles away, the ridge of the Western Alps rises in its dark and serrated blue against the crystalline vermilion, there is still unsearchableness, but an unsearchableness without cloud or concealment,—an infinite unknown, but no sense of any veil or interference between us and it: we are separated from it not by any anger or storm, not by any vain and fading vapor, but only by the deep infinity of the thing itself. I find that the great religious painters rejoiced in that kind of unknowableness, and in that only; and I feel that even if they had had all the power to do so, still they would not have put rosy mists and blue shadows behind their sacred figures, but only the far-away sky and cloudless mountains. Probably the right conclusion is that the clear and cloudy mysteries are alike noble; but that the beauty of the wreaths of frost mist, folded over banks of greensward deep in dew, and of the purple clouds of evening, and the wreaths of fitful vapor gliding through groves of pine, and irised around the pillars of waterfalls, is more or less typical of the kind of joy which we should take in the imperfect knowledge granted to the earthly life, while the serene and cloudless mysteries set forth that belonging to the redeemed life. But of one thing I am well assured, that so far as the clouds are regarded, not as concealing the truth of other things, but as themselves true and separate creations, they are not usually beheld by us with enough honor; we have too great veneration for cloudlessness. My reasons for thinking this I will give in the next chapter; here we have, I believe, examined as far as necessary, the general principles on which Turner worked, and justified his adoption of them so far as they contradicted preceding practice.

It remains for us to trace, with more observant patience, the ground which was marked out in the first volume; and, whereas in that volume we hastily compared the truth of Turner with that of preceding landscapists, we shall now, as closely as possible, examine the range of what he himself has done and felt, and the way in which it is likely to influence the future acts and thoughts of men.

Sec. 22. And I shall attempt to do this, first, by examining what the real effect of the things painted—clouds, or mountains, or whatever else they may be—is, or ought to be, in general, on men's minds, showing the grounds of their beauty or impressiveness as best I can; and then examining how far Turner seems to have understood these reasons of beauty, and how far his work interprets, or can take the place of nature. But in doing this, I shall, for the sake of convenience, alter the arrangement which I followed in the first volume; and instead of examining the sky first, treat of it last; because, in many illustrations which I must give of other things, I shall have to introduce pieces of sky background which will all be useful for reference when I can turn back to them from the end of the book, but which I could not refer to in advance without anticipating all my other illustrations. Nevertheless, some points which I have to note respecting the meaning of the sky are so intimately connected with the subjects we have just been examining, that I cannot properly defer their consideration to another place; and I shall state them, therefore, in the next chapter, afterwards proceeding, in the order I adopted in the first volume, to examine the beauty of mountains, water, and vegetation.


[32] Art and Artists in England, vol. ii., p. 151. The other characteristics which Dr. Waagen discovers in Turner are, "such a looseness of treatment, such a total want of truth, as I never before met with."

[33] And yet, all these intricacies will produce for it another whole; as simple and natural as the child's first conception of the thing; only more comprehensive. See above, Chap. III., Sec. 21.

[34] Compare Vol. III. Chap. XIV. Sec. 13. Touching the exact degree in which ignorance or incapacity is mingled with wilful conventionalism in this drawing, we shall inquire in the chapters on Vegetation.

[35] Only the main lines: the outer sprays have had no pains taken with them, as I am going to put some leaves on them in next volume.

[36] It is quite impossible to facsimile good free work. Both Turner and Harding suffer grievously in this plate.



Sec. 1. The task which we now enter upon, as explained in the close of the preceding chapter, is the ascertaining as far as possible what the proper effect of the natural beauty of different objects ought to be on the human mind, and the degree in which this nature of theirs, and true influence, have been understood and transmitted by Turner.

I mean to begin with the mountains, for the sake of convenience in illustration; but, in the proper order of thought, the clouds ought to be considered first; and I think it will be well, in this intermediate chapter, to bring to a close that line of reasoning by which we have gradually, as I hope, strengthened the defences around the love of mystery which distinguishes our modern art; and to show, on final and conclusive authority, what noble things these clouds are, and with what feeling it seems to be intended by their Creator that we should contemplate them.

Sec. 2. The account given of the stages of Creation in the first chapter of Genesis, is in every respect clear and intelligible to the simplest reader, except in the statement of the work of the second day. I suppose that this statement is passed over by careless readers without an endeavor to understand it; and contemplated by simple and faithful readers as a sublime mystery, which was not intended to be understood. But there is no mystery in any other part of the chapter, and it seems to me unjust to conclude that any was intended here.

And the passage ought to be peculiarly interesting to us, as being the first in the Bible in which the heavens are named, and the only one in which the word "Heaven," all important as that word is to our understanding of the most precious promises of Scripture, receives a definite explanation.

Let us, therefore, see whether, by a little careful comparison of the verse with other passages in which the word occurs, we may not be able to arrive at as clear an understanding of this portion of the chapter as of the rest.

Sec. 3. In the first place, the English word "Firmament" itself is obscure and useless; because we never employ it but as a synonym of heaven; it conveys no other distinct idea to us; and the verse, though from our familiarity with it we imagine that it possesses meaning, has in reality no more point or value than if it were written, "God said let there be a something in the midst of the waters, and God called the something Heaven."

But the marginal reading, "Expansion," has definite value; and the statement that "God said, let there be an expansion in the midst of the waters, and God called the expansion Heaven," has an apprehensible meaning.

Sec. 4. Accepting this expression as the one intended, we have next to ask what expansion there is, between two waters, describable by the term Heaven. Milton adopts the term "expanse;"[37] but he understands it of the whole volume of the air which surrounds the earth. Whereas, so far as we can tell, there is no water beyond the air, in the fields of space; and the whole expression of division of waters from waters is thus rendered valueless.

Sec. 5. Now, with respect to this whole chapter, we must remember always that it is intended for the instruction of all mankind, not for the learned reader only; and that, therefore, the most simple and natural interpretation is the likeliest in general to be the true one. An unscientific reader knows little about the manner in which the volume of the atmosphere surrounds the earth; but I imagine that he could hardly glance at the sky when rain was falling in the distance, and see the level line of the bases of the clouds from which the shower descended, without being able to attach an instant and easy meaning to the words "Expansion in the midst of the waters." And if, having once seized this idea, he proceeded to examine it more accurately, he would perceive at once, if he had ever noticed anything of the nature of clouds, that the level line of their bases did indeed most severely and stringently divide "waters from waters," that is to say, divide water in its collective and tangible state, from water in its divided and aerial state; or the waters which fall and flow, from those which rise and float. Next, if we try this interpretation in the theological sense of the word Heaven, and examine whether the clouds are spoken of as God's dwelling place, we find God going before the Israelites in a pillar of cloud; revealing Himself in a cloud on Sinai; appearing in a cloud on the mercy seat, filling the Temple of Solomon with the cloud when its dedication is accepted; appearing in a great cloud to Ezekiel; ascending into a cloud before the eyes of the disciples on Mount Olivet; and in like manner returning to Judgment. "Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him." "Then shall they see the son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory."[38] While farther, the "clouds" and "heavens" are used as interchangeable words in those Psalms which most distinctly set forth the power of God: "He bowed the heavens also, and came down; he made darkness pavilions round about him, dark waters, and thick clouds of the skies." And, again: "Thy mercy, oh Lord, is in the heavens, and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds." And, again: "His excellency is over Israel, and his strength is in the clouds." Again: "The clouds poured out water, the skies sent out a sound, the voice of thy thunder was in the heaven." Again: "Clouds and darkness are round about him, righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne; the heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory."

Sec. 6. In all these passages the meaning is unmistakable, if they possess definite meaning at all. We are too apt to take them merely for sublime and vague imagery, and therefore gradually to lose the apprehension of their life and power. The expression, "He bowed the Heavens," for instance, is, I suppose, received by most readers as a magnificent hyperbole, having reference to some peculiar and fearful manifestation of God's power to the writer of the Psalm in which the words occur. But the expression either has plain meaning, or it has no meaning. Understand by the term "Heavens" the compass of infinite space around the earth, and the expression, "bowed the Heavens," however sublime, is wholly without meaning; infinite space cannot be bent or bowed. But understand by the "Heavens" the veil of clouds above the earth, and the expression is neither hyperbolical nor obscure; it is pure, plain, and accurate truth, and it describes God, not as revealing Himself in any peculiar way to David, but doing what he is still doing before our own eyes day by day. By accepting the words in their simple sense, we are thus led to apprehend the immediate presence of the Deity, and His purpose of manifesting Himself as near us whenever the storm-cloud stoops upon its course; while by our vague and inaccurate acceptance of the words we remove the idea of His presence far from us, into a region which we can neither see nor know; and gradually, from the close realization of a living God who "maketh the clouds his chariot," we refine and explain ourselves into dim and distant suspicion of an inactive God, inhabiting inconceivable places, and fading into the multitudinous formalisms of the laws of Nature.

Sec. 7. All errors of this kind—and in the present day we are in constant and grievous danger of falling into them—arise from the originally mistaken idea that man can, "by searching, find out God—find out the Almighty to perfection;" that is to say by help of courses of reasoning and accumulations of science, apprehend the nature of the Deity in a more exalted and more accurate manner than in a state of comparative ignorance; whereas it is clearly necessary, from the beginning to the end of time, that God's way of revealing Himself to His creatures should be a simple way, which all those creatures may understand. Whether taught or untaught, whether of mean capacity or enlarged, it is necessary that communion with their Creator should be possible to all; and the admission to such communion must be rested, not on their having a knowledge of astronomy, but on their having a human soul. In order to render this communion possible, the Deity has stooped from His throne, and has not only, in the person of the Son, taken upon Him the veil of our human flesh, but, in the person of the Father, taken upon Him the veil of our human thoughts, and permitted us, by His own spoken authority, to conceive Him simply and clearly as a loving Father and Friend;—a being to be walked with and reasoned with; to be moved by our entreaties, angered by our rebellion, alienated by our coldness, pleased by our love, and glorified by our labor; and, finally, to be beheld in immediate and active presence in all the powers and changes of creation. This conception of God, which is the child's, is evidently the only one which can be universal, and therefore the only one which for us can be true. The moment that, in our pride of heart, we refuse to accept the condescension of the Almighty, and desire Him, instead of stooping to hold our hands, to rise up before us into His glory,—we hoping that by standing on a grain of dust or two of human knowledge higher than our fellows, we may behold the Creator as He rises,—God takes us at our word; He rises, into His own invisible and inconceivable majesty; He goes forth upon the ways which are not our ways, and retires into the thoughts which are not our thoughts; and we are left alone. And presently we say in our vain hearts, "There is no God."

Sec. 8. I would desire, therefore, to receive God's account of His own creation as under the ordinary limits of human knowledge and imagination it would be received by a simply minded man; and finding that the "heavens and the earth" are spoken of always as having something like equal relation to each other ("thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them"), I reject at once all idea of the term "Heavens" being intended to signify the infinity of space inhabited by countless worlds; for between those infinite heavens and the particle of sand, which not the earth only, but the sun itself, with all the solar system, is in relation to them, no relation of equality or comparison could be inferred. But I suppose the heavens to mean that part of creation which holds equal companionship with our globe; I understand the "rolling of those heavens together as a scroll" to be an equal and relative destruction with the "melting of the elements in fervent heat;"[39] and I understand the making the firmament to signify that, so far as man is concerned, most magnificent ordinance of the clouds;—the ordinance, that as the great plain of waters was formed on the face of the earth, so also a plain of waters should be stretched along the height of air, and the face of the cloud answer the face of the ocean; and that this upper and heavenly plain should be of waters, as it were, glorified in their nature, no longer quenching the fire, but now bearing fire in their own bosoms; no longer murmuring only when the winds raise them or rocks divide, but answering each other with their own voices from pole to pole; no longer restrained by established shores, and guided through unchanging channels, but going forth at their pleasure like the armies of the angels, and choosing their encampments upon the heights of the hills; no longer hurried downwards forever, moving but to fall, nor lost in the lightless accumulation of the abyss, but covering the east and west with the waving of their wings, and robing the gloom of the farther infinite with a vesture of divers colors, of which the threads are purple and scarlet, and the embroideries flame.

Sec. 9. This, I believe, is the ordinance of the firmament; and it seems to me that in the midst of the material nearness of these heavens God means us to acknowledge His own immediate presence as visiting, judging, and blessing us. "The earth shook, the heavens also dropped, at the presence of God." "He doth set His bow in the cloud," and thus renews, in the sound of every drooping swathe of rain, his promises of everlasting love. "In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun;" whose burning ball, which without the firmament would be seen as an intolerable and scorching circle in the blackness of vacuity, is by that firmament surrounded with gorgeous service, and tempered by mediatorial ministries; by the firmament of clouds the golden pavement is spread for his chariot wheels at morning; by the firmament of clouds the temple is built for his presence to fill with light at noon; by the firmament of clouds the purple veil is closed at evening round the sanctuary of his rest; by the mists of the firmament his implacable light is divided, and its separated fierceness appeased into the soft blue that fills the depth of distance with its bloom, and the flush with which the mountains burn as they drink the overflowing of the dayspring. And in this tabernacling of the unendurable sun with men, through the shadows of the firmament, God would seem to set forth the stooping of His own majesty to men, upon the throne of the firmament. As the Creator of all the worlds, and the Inhabiter of eternity, we cannot behold Him; but, as the Judge of the earth and the Preserver of men, those heavens are indeed His dwelling-place. "Swear not, neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool." And all those passings to and fro of fruitful shower and grateful shade, and all those visions of silver palaces built about the horizon, and voices of moaning winds and threatening thunders, and glories of colored robe and cloven ray, are but to deepen in our hearts the acceptance, and distinctness, and dearness of the simple words, "Our Father which art in heaven."


[37] "God made The firmament, expanse of liquid, pure, Transparent, elemental air, diffused In circuit to the uttermost convex Of this great round."

Paradise Lost, book vii.

[38] The reader may refer to the following texts, which it is needless to quote: Exod. xiii. 21, xvi. 10, xix. 9, xxiv. 16, xxxiv. 5, Levit. xvi. 2, Num. x. 34, Judges v. 4, 1 Kings viii. 10, Ezek. i. 4, Dan. vii. 13, Matt. xxiv. 30, 1 Thess. iv. 17, Rev. i. 7.

[39] Compare also Job, xxxvi. 29, "The spreading of the clouds, and the noise of his tabernacle;" and xxxviii. 33, "Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth? canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds?"

Observe that in the passage of Addison's well known hymn—

"The spacious firmament on high, With all the blue ethereal sky, And spangled heavens, a shining frame, Their great Original proclaim"—

the writer has clearly the true distinctions in his mind; he does not use his words, as we too often accept them, in vain tautology. By the spacious firmament he means the clouds, using the word spacious to mark the true meaning of the Hebrew term: the blue ethereal sky is the real air or ether, blue above the clouds; the heavens are the starry space, for which he uses this word, less accurately, indeed, than the others, but as the only one available for this meaning.



Sec. 1. Having thus arrived at some apprehension of the true meaning and noble offices of the clouds, we leave farther inquiry into their aspects to another time, and follow the fixed arrangement of our subject; first, to the crests of the mountains. Of these also, having seen in our review of ancient and modern landscape various strange differences in the way men looked upon them, it will be well in the outset to ascertain, as far as may be, the true meaning and office.

The words which marked for us the purpose of the clouds are followed immediately by those notable ones:—

"And God said, Let the waters which are under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear."

We do not, perhaps, often enough consider the deep significance of this sentence. We are too apt to receive it as the description of an event vaster only in its extent, not in its nature, than the compelling the Red Sea to draw back, that Israel might pass by. We imagine the Deity in like manner rolling the waves of the greater ocean together on a heap, and setting bars and doors to them eternally.

But there is a far deeper meaning than this in the solemn words of Genesis, and in the correspondent verse of the Psalm, "His hands prepared the dry land." Up to that moment the earth had been void, for it had been without form. The command that the waters should be gathered was the command that the earth should be sculptured. The sea was not driven to his place in suddenly restrained rebellion, but withdrawn to his place in perfect and patient obedience. The dry land appeared, not in level sands, forsaken by the surges, which those surges might again claim for their own; but in range beyond range of swelling hill and iron rock, for ever to claim kindred with the firmament, and be companioned by the clouds of heaven.

Sec. 2. What space of time was in reality occupied by the "day" of Genesis, is not, at present, of any importance for us to consider. By what furnaces of fire the adamant was melted, and by what wheels of earthquake it was torn, and by what teeth of glacier and weight of sea-waves it was engraven and finished into its perfect form, we may perhaps hereafter endeavor to conjecture; but here, as in few words the work is summed by the historian, so in few broad thoughts it should be comprehended by us; and as we read the mighty sentence, "Let the dry land appear," we should try to follow the finger of God, as it engraved upon the stone tables of the earth the letters and the law of its everlasting form; as, gulf by gulf, the channels of the deep were ploughed; and cape by cape, the lines were traced, with Divine foreknowledge, of the shores that were to limit the nations; and chain by chain, the mountain walls were lengthened forth, and their foundations fastened for ever; and the compass was set upon the face of the depth, and the fields, and the highest part of the dust of the world were made; and the right hand of Christ first strewed the snow on Lebanon, and smoothed the slopes of Calvary.

Sec. 3. It is not, I repeat, always needful, in many respects it is not possible, to conjecture the manner, or the time, in which this work was done; but it is deeply necessary for all men to consider the magnificence of the accomplished purpose, and the depth of the wisdom and love which are manifested in the ordinances of the hills. For observe, in order to bring the world into the form which it now bears, it was not mere sculpture that was needed; the mountains could not stand for a day unless they were formed of materials altogether different from those which constitute the lower hills, and the surfaces of the valleys. A harder substance had to be prepared for every mountain chain; yet not so hard but that it might be capable of crumbling down into earth fit to nourish the alpine forest and the alpine flower; not so hard but that, in the midst of the utmost majesty of its enthroned strength, there should be seen on it the seal of death, and the writing of the same sentence that had gone forth against the human frame, "Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return."[40] And with this perishable substance the most majestic forms were to be framed that were consistent with the safety of man; and the peak was to be lifted, and the cliff rent, as high and as steeply as was possible, in order yet to permit the shepherd to feed his flocks upon the slope, and the cottage to nestle beneath their shadow.

Sec. 4. And observe, two distinct ends were to be accomplished in the doing this. It was, indeed, absolutely necessary that such eminences should be created, in order to fit the earth in any wise for human habitation; for without mountains the air could not be purified, nor the flowing of the rivers sustained, and the earth must have become for the most part desert plain, or stagnant marsh. But the feeding of the rivers and the purifying of the winds are the least of the services appointed to the hills. To fill the thirst of the human heart for the beauty of God's working,—to startle its lethargy with the deep and pure agitation of astonishment,—are their higher missions. They are as a great and noble architecture; first giving shelter, comfort, and rest; and covered also with mighty sculpture and painted legend. It is impossible to examine in their connected system the features of even the most ordinary mountain scenery, without concluding that it has been prepared in order to unite as far as possible, and in the closest compass, every means of delighting and sanctifying the heart of man. "As far as possible;" that is, as far as is consistent with the fulfilment of the sentence of condemnation on the whole earth. Death must be upon the hills; and the cruelty of the tempests smite them, and the briar and thorn spring up upon them: but they so smite, as to bring their rocks into the fairest forms; and so spring, as to make the very desert blossom as the rose. Even among our own hills of Scotland and Cumberland, though often too barren to be perfectly beautiful, and always too low to be perfectly sublime, it is strange how many deep sources of delight are gathered into the compass of their glens and vales; and how, down to the most secret cluster of their far-away flowers, and the idlest leap of their straying streamlets, the whole heart of Nature seems thirsting to give, and still to give, shedding forth her everlasting beneficence with a profusion so patient, so passionate, that our utmost observance and thankfulness are but, at last, neglect of her nobleness, and apathy to her love. But among the true mountains of the greater orders the Divine purpose of appeal at once to all the faculties of the human spirit becomes still more manifest. Inferior hills ordinarily interrupt, in some degree, the richness of the valleys at their feet; the grey downs of Southern England, and treeless coteaux of Central France, and grey swells of Scottish moor, whatever peculiar charm they may possess in themselves, are at least destitute of those which belong to the woods and fields of the lowlands. But the great mountains lift the lowlands on their sides. Let the reader imagine, first, the appearance of the most varied plain of some richly cultivated country; let him imagine it dark with graceful woods, and soft with deepest pastures; let him fill the space of it, to the utmost horizon, with innumerable and changeful incidents of scenery and life; leading pleasant streamlets through its meadows, strewing clusters of cottages beside their banks, tracing sweet footpaths through its avenues, and animating its fields with happy flocks, and slow wandering spots of cattle; and when he has wearied himself with endless imagining, and left no space without some loveliness of its own, let him conceive all this great plain, with its infinite treasures of natural beauty and happy human life, gathered up in God's hands from one edge of the horizon to the other like a woven garment; and shaken into deep, falling folds, as the robes droop from a king's shoulders; all its bright rivers leaping into cataracts along the hollows of its fall, and all its forests rearing themselves aslant against its slopes, as a rider rears himself back when his horse plunges; and all its villages nestling themselves into the new windings of its glens; and all its pastures thrown into steep waves of greensward, dashed with dew along the edges of their folds, and sweeping down into endless slopes, with a cloud here and there lying quietly, half on the grass, half in the air; and he will have as yet, in all this lifted world, only the foundation of one of the great Alps. And whatever is lovely in the lowland scenery becomes lovelier in this change: the trees which grew heavily and stiffly from the level line of plain assume strange curves of strength and grace as they bend themselves against the mountain side; they breathe more freely, and toss their branches more carelessly as each climbs higher, looking to the clear light above the topmost leaves of its brother tree: the flowers which on the arable plain fell before the plough, now find out for themselves unapproachable places, where year by year they gather into happier fellowship, and fear no evil; and the streams which in the level land crept in dark eddies by unwholesome banks, now move in showers of silver, and are clothed with rainbows, and bring health and life wherever the glance of their waves can reach.

Sec. 5. And although this beauty seems at first, in its wildness, inconsistent with the service of man, it is, in fact, more necessary to his happy existence than all the level and easily subdued land which he rejoices to possess. It seems almost an insult to the reader's intelligence to ask him to dwell (as if they could be doubted) on the uses of the hills; and yet so little, until lately, have those uses been understood, that, in the seventeenth century, one of the most enlightened of the religious men of his day (Fleming), himself a native of a mountain country, casting about for some reason to explain to himself the existence of mountains, and prove their harmony with the general perfectness of the providential government of creation, can light upon this reason only, "They are inhabited by the beasts."

First use of mountains. To give motion to water.

Sec. 6. It may not, therefore, even at this day, be altogether profitless or unnecessary to review briefly the nature of the three great offices which mountain ranges are appointed to fulfil, in order to preserve the health and increase the happiness of mankind. Their first use is of course to give motion to water. Every fountain and river, from the inch-deep streamlet that crosses the village lane in trembling clearness, to the massy and silent march of the everlasting multitude of waters in Amazon or Ganges, owe their play, and purity, and power, to the ordained elevations of the earth. Gentle or steep, extended or abrupt, some determined slope of the earth's surface is of course necessary, before any wave can so much as overtake one sedge in its pilgrimage; and how seldom do we enough consider, as we walk beside the margins of our pleasant brooks, how beautiful and wonderful is that ordinance, of which every blade of grass that waves in their clear water is a perpetual sign; that the dew and rain fallen on the face of the earth shall find no resting-place; shall find, on the contrary, fixed channels traced for them, from the ravines of the central crests down which they roar in sudden ranks of foam, to the dark hollows beneath the banks of lowland pasture, round which they must circle slowly among the stems and beneath the leaves of the lilies; paths prepared for them, by which, at some appointed rate of journey, they must evermore descend, sometimes slow and sometimes swift, but never pausing; the daily portion of the earth they have to glide over marked for them at each successive sunrise, the place which has known them knowing them no more, and the gateways of guarding mountains opened for them in cleft and chasm, none letting them in their pilgrimage; and, from far off, the great heart of the sea calling them to itself! Deep calleth unto deep. I know not which of the two is the more wonderful,—that calm, gradated, invisible slope of the champaign land, which gives motion to the stream; or that passage cloven for it through the ranks of hill, which, necessary for the health of the land immediately around them, would yet, unless so supernaturally divided, have fatally intercepted the flow of the waters from far-off countries. When did the great spirit of the river first knock at those adamantine gates? When did the porter open to it, and cast his keys away for ever, lapped in whirling sand? I am not satisfied—no one should be satisfied—with that vague answer,—the river cut its way. Not so. The river found its way. I do not see that rivers, in their own strength, can do much in cutting their way; they are nearly as apt to choke their channels up, as to carve them out. Only give a river some little sudden power in a valley, and see how it will use it. Cut itself a bed? Not so, by any means, but fill up its bed, and look for another, in a wild, dissatisfied, inconsistent manner. Any way, rather than the old one, will better please it; and even if it is banked up and forced to keep to the old one, it will not deepen, but do all it can to raise it, and leap out of it. And although, wherever water has a steep fail, it will swiftly cut itself a bed deep into the rock or ground, it will not, when the rock is hard, cut a wider channel than it actually needs; so that if the existing river beds, through ranges of mountain, had in reality been cut by the streams, they would be found, wherever the rocks are hard, only in the form of narrow and profound ravines,—like the well-known channel of the Niagara, below the fall; not in that of extended valleys. And the actual work of true mountain rivers, though often much greater in proportion to their body of water than that of the Niagara, is quite insignificant when compared with the area and depth of the valleys through which they flow; so that, although in many cases it appears that those larger valleys have been excavated at earlier periods by more powerful streams, or by the existing stream in a more powerful condition, still the great fact remains always equally plain, and equally admirable, that, whatever the nature and duration of the agencies employed, the earth was so shaped at first as to direct the currents of its rivers in the manner most healthy and convenient for man. The valley of the Rhone may, though it is not likely, have been in great part excavated in early time by torrents a thousand times larger than the Rhone; but it could not have been excavated at all, unless the mountains had been thrown at first into two chains, between which the torrents were set to work in a given direction. And it is easy to conceive how, under any less beneficent dispositions of their masses of hill, the continents of the earth might either have been covered with enormous lakes, as parts of North America actually are covered; or have become wildernesses of pestiferous marsh; or lifeless plains, upon which the water would have dried as it fell, leaving them for great part of the year desert. Such districts do exist, and exist in vastness: the whole earth is not prepared for the habitation of man; only certain small portions are prepared for him,—the houses, as it were, of the human race, from which they are to look abroad upon the rest of the world, not to wonder or complain that it is not all house, but to be grateful for the kindness of the admirable building, in the house itself, as compared with the rest. It would be as absurd to think it an evil that all the world is not fit for us to inhabit, as to think it an evil that the globe is no larger than it is. As much as we shall ever need is evidently assigned to us for our dwelling-place; the rest, covered with rolling waves or drifting sands, fretted with ice or crested with fire, is set before us for contemplation in an uninhabitable magnificence; and that part which we are enabled to inhabit owes its fitness for human life chiefly to its mountain ranges, which, throwing the superfluous rain off as it falls, collect it in streams or lakes, and guide it into given places, and in given directions; so that men can build their cities in the midst of fields which they know will be always fertile, and establish the lines of their commerce upon streams which will not fail.

Sec. 7. Nor is this giving of motion to water to be considered as confined only to the surface of the earth. A no less important function of the hills is in directing the flow of the fountains and springs, from subterranean reservoirs. There is no miraculous springing up of water out of the ground at our feet; but every fountain and well is supplied from a reservoir among the hills, so placed as to involve some slight fall or pressure, enough to secure the constant flowing of the stream. And the incalculable blessing of the power given to us in most valleys, of reaching by excavation some point whence the water will rise to the surface of the ground in perennial flow, is entirely owing to the concave disposition of the beds of clay or rock raised from beneath the bosom of the valley into ranks of enclosing hills.

Second use. To give motion to air.

Sec. 8. The second great use of mountains is to maintain a constant change in the currents and nature of the air. Such change would, of course, have been partly caused by differences in soils and vegetation, even if the earth had been level; but to a far less extent than it is now by the chains of hills, which exposing on one side their masses of rock to the full heat of the sun (increased by the angle at which the rays strike on the slope), and on the other casting a soft shadow for leagues over the plains at their feet, divide the earth not only into districts, but into climates, and cause perpetual currents of air to traverse their passes, and ascend or descend their ravines, altering both the temperature and nature of the air as it passes, in a thousand different ways; moistening it with the spray of their waterfalls, sucking it down and beating it hither and thither in the pools of their torrents, closing it within clefts and caves, where the sunbeams never reach, till it is as cold as November mists, then sending it forth again to breathe softly across the slopes of velvet fields, or to be scorched among sunburnt shales and grassless crags; then drawing it back in moaning swirls through clefts of ice, and up into dewy wreaths above the snow-fields; then piercing it with strange electric darts and flashes of mountain fire, and tossing it high in fantastic storm-cloud, as the dried grass is tossed by the mower, only suffering it to depart at last, when chastened and pure, to refresh the faded air of the far-off plains.

Third use. To give change to the ground.

Sec. 9. The third great use of mountains is to cause perpetual change in the soils of the earth. Without such provisions the ground under cultivation would in a series of years become exhausted and require to be upturned laboriously by the hand of man. But the elevations of the earth's surface provide for it a perpetual renovation. The higher mountains suffer their summits to be broken into fragments and to be cast down in sheets of massy rock, full, as we shall see presently, of every substance necessary for the nourishment of plants: these fallen fragments are again broken by frost, and ground by torrents, into various conditions of sand and clay—materials which are distributed perpetually by the streams farther and farther from the mountain's base. Every shower which swells the rivulets enables their waters to carry certain portions of earth into new positions, and exposes new banks of ground to be mined in their turn. That turbid foaming of the angry water,—that tearing down of bank and rock along the flanks of its fury,—are no disturbances of the kind course of nature; they are beneficent operations of laws necessary to the existence of man and to the beauty of the earth. The process is continued more gently, but not less effectively, over all the surface of the lower undulating country; and each filtering thread of summer rain which trickles through the short turf of the uplands is bearing its own appointed burden of earth to be thrown down on some new natural garden in the dingles below.

And it is not, in reality, a degrading, but a true, large, and ennobling view of the mountain ranges of the world, if we compare them to heaps of fertile and fresh earth, laid up by a prudent gardener beside his garden beds, whence, at intervals, he casts on them some scattering of new and virgin ground. That which we so often lament as convulsion or destruction is nothing else than the momentary shaking of the dust from the spade. The winter floods, which inflict a temporary devastation, bear with them the elements of succeeding fertility; the fruitful field is covered with sand and shingle in momentary judgment, but in enduring mercy; and the great river, which chokes its mouth with marsh, and tosses terror along its shore, is but scattering the seeds of the harvests of futurity, and preparing the seats of unborn generations.

Sec. 10. I have not spoken of the local and peculiar utilities of mountains: I do not count the benefit of the supply of summer streams from the moors of the higher ranges,—of the various medicinal plants which are nested among their rocks,—of the delicate pasturage which they furnish for cattle,[41]—of the forests in which they bear timber for shipping,—the stones they supply for building, or the ores of metal which they collect into spots open to discovery, and easy for working. All these benefits are of a secondary or a limited nature. But the three great functions which I have just described,—those of giving motion and change to water, air, and earth,—are indispensable to human existence; they are operations to be regarded with as full a depth of gratitude as the laws which bid the tree bear fruit, or the seed multiply itself in the earth. And thus those desolate and threatening ranges of dark mountain, which, in nearly all ages of the world, men have looked upon with aversion or with terror, and shrunk back from as if they were haunted by perpetual images of death, are, in reality, sources of life and happiness far fuller and more beneficent than all the bright fruitfulness of the plain. The valleys only feed; the mountains feed, and guard, and strengthen us. We take our idea of fearfulness and sublimity alternately from the mountains and the sea; but we associate them unjustly. The sea wave, with all its beneficence, is yet devouring and terrible; but the silent wave of the blue mountain is lifted towards heaven in a stillness of perpetual mercy; and the one surge, unfathomable in its darkness, the other, unshaken in its faithfulness, for ever bear the seal of their appointed symbol:

"Thy righteousness is like the great mountains: Thy judgments are a great deep."


[40] "Surely the mountain falling cometh to nought, and the rock is removed out of his place. The waters wear the stones: thou washest away the things which grow out of the dust of the earth; and thou destroyest the hope of man."—Job, xiv. 18, 19.

[41] The highest pasturages (at least so say the Savoyards) being always the best and richest.



Sec. 1. In the early days of geological science, the substances which composed the crust of the earth, as far as it could be examined, were supposed to be referable to three distinct classes: the first consisting of rocks which not only supported all the rest, but from which all the rest were derived, therefore called "Primary;" the second class consisting of rocks formed of the broken fragments or altered substance of the primary ones, therefore called "Secondary;" and, thirdly, rocks or earthy deposits formed by the ruins and detritus of both primary and secondary rocks, called, therefore, "Tertiary." This classification was always, in some degree, uncertain; and has been lately superseded by more complicated systems, founded on the character of the fossils contained in the various deposits, and on the circumstances of position, by which their relative ages are more accurately ascertainable. But the original rude classification, though of little, if any, use for scientific purposes, was based on certain broad and conspicuous phenomena, which it brought clearly before the popular mind. In this way it may still be serviceable, and ought, I think, to be permitted to retain its place, as an introduction to systems more defined and authoritative.

Sec. 2. For the fact is, that in approaching any large mountain range, the ground over which the spectator passes, if he examine it with any intelligence, will almost always arrange itself in his mind under three great heads. There will be, first, the ground of the plains or valleys he is about to quit, composed of sand, clay, gravel, rolled stones, and variously mingled soils; which, if he has any opportunity,—at the banks of a stream, or the sides of a railway cutting,—to examine to any depth, he will find arranged in beds exactly resembling those of modern sand-banks or sea-beaches, and appearing to have been formed under such natural laws as are in operation daily around us. At the outskirts of the hill district, he may, perhaps, find considerable eminences, formed of these beds of loose gravel and sand; but, as he enters into it farther, he will soon discover the hills to be composed of some harder substance, properly deserving the name of rock, sustaining itself in picturesque forms, and appearing, at first, to owe both its hardness and its outlines to the action of laws such as do not hold at the present day. He can easily explain the nature, and account for the distribution, of the banks which overhang the lowland road, or of the dark earthy deposits which enrich the lowland pasture; but he cannot so distinctly imagine how the limestone hills of Derbyshire and Yorkshire were hardened into their stubborn whiteness, or raised into their cavernous cliffs. Still, if he carefully examines the substance of these more noble rocks, he will, in nine cases out of ten, discover them to be composed of fine calcareous dust, or closely united particles of sand; and will be ready to accept as possible, or even probable, the suggestion of their having been formed, by slow deposit, at the bottom of deep lakes and ancient seas, under such laws of Nature as are still in operation.

Sec. 3. But, as he advances yet farther into the hill district, he finds the rocks around him assuming a gloomier and more majestic condition. Their tint darkens; their outlines become wild and irregular; and whereas before they had only appeared at the roadside in narrow ledges among the turf, or glanced out from among the thickets above the brooks in white walls and fantastic towers, they now rear themselves up in solemn and shattered masses far and near; softened, indeed, with strange harmony of clouded colors, but possessing the whole scene with their iron spirit; and rising, in all probability, into eminences as much prouder in actual elevation than those of the intermediate rocks, as more powerful in their influence over every minor feature of the landscape.

Sec. 4. And when the traveller proceeds to observe closely the materials of which these noble ranges are composed, he finds also a complete change in their internal structure. They are no longer formed of delicate sand or dust—each particle of that dust the same as every other, and the whole mass depending for its hardness merely on their closely cemented unity; but they are now formed of several distinct substances, visibly unlike each other; and not pressed but crystallized into one mass,—crystallized into a unity far more perfect than that of the dusty limestone, but yet without the least mingling of their several natures with each other. Such a rock, freshly broken, has a spotty, granulated, and, in almost all instances, sparkling, appearance; it requires a much harder blow to break it than the limestone or sandstone; but, when once thoroughly shattered, it is easy to separate from each other the various substances of which it is composed, and to examine them in their individual grains or crystals; of which each variety will be found to have a different degree of hardness, a different shade of color, and a different character of form.

But this examination will not enable the observer to comprehend the method either of their formation or aggregation, at least by any process such as he now sees taking place around him; he will at once be driven to admit that some strange and powerful operation has taken place upon these rocks, different from any of which he is at present cognizant; and farther inquiry will probably induce him to admit, as more than probable, the supposition that their structure is in great part owing to the action of enormous heat prolonged for indefinite periods.

Sec. 5. Now, although these three great groups of rocks do indeed often pass into each other by imperceptible gradations, and although their peculiar aspect is never a severe indication of their relative ages, yet their characters are for the most part so defined as to make a strong impression on the mind of an ordinary observer, and their age is also for the most part approximately indicated by their degrees of hardness, and crystalline aspect. It does, indeed, sometimes happen that a soft and slimy clay will pass into a rock like Aberdeen granite by transitions so subtle that no point of separation can be determined; and it very often happens that rocks like Aberdeen granite are of more recent formation than certain beds of sandstone and limestone. But, in spite of all these uncertainties and exceptions, I believe that unless actual pains be taken to efface from the mind its natural impressions, the idea of three great classes of rocks and earth will maintain its ground in the thoughts of the general observer; that whether he desire it or not, he will find himself throwing the soft and loose clays and sands together under one head; placing the hard rocks, of a dull, compact, homogeneous substance, under another head; and the hardest rocks, of a crystalline, glittering, and various substance, under a third head; and having done this, he will also find that, with certain easily admissible exceptions, these three classes of rocks are, in every district which he examines, of three different ages; that the softest are the youngest, the hard and homogeneous ones are older, and the crystalline are the oldest; and he will, perhaps, in the end, find it a somewhat inconvenient piece of respect to the complexity and accuracy of modern geological science, if he refuse to the three classes, thus defined in his imagination, their ancient title of Tertiary, Secondary, and Primary.

Sec. 6. But however this may be, there is one lesson evidently intended to be taught by the different characters of these rocks, which we must not allow to escape us. We have to observe, first, the state of perfect powerlessness, and loss of all beauty, exhibited in those beds of earth in which the separated pieces or particles are entirely independent of each other, more especially in the gravel whose pebbles have all been rolled into one shape: secondly, the greater degree of permanence, power, and beauty possessed by the rocks whose component atoms have some affection and attraction for each other, though all of one kind; and lastly, the utmost form and highest beauty of the rocks in which the several atoms have all different shapes, characters, and offices; but are inseparably united by some fiery process which has purified them all.

It can hardly be necessary to point out how these natural ordinances seem intended to teach us the great truths which are the basis of all political science; how the polishing friction which separates, the affection which binds, and the affliction that fuses and confirms, are accurately symbolized by the processes to which the several ranks of hills appear to owe their present aspect; and how, even if the knowledge of those processes be denied to us, that present aspect may in itself seem no imperfect image of the various states of mankind: first, that which is powerless through total disorganization; secondly, that which, though united, and in some degree powerful, is yet incapable of great effort or result, owing to the too great similarity and confusion of offices, both in ranks and individuals; and finally, the perfect state of brotherhood and strength in which each character is clearly distinguished, separately perfected, and employed in its proper place and office.

Sec. 7. I shall not, however, so oppose myself to the views of our leading geologists as to retain here the names of Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary rocks. But as I wish the reader to keep the ideas of the three classes clearly in his mind, I will ask his leave to give them names which involve no theory, and can be liable, therefore, to no great objections. We will call the hard, and (generally) central, masses Crystalline Rocks, because they almost always present an appearance of crystallization. The less hard substances, which appear compact and homogeneous, we will call Coherent Rocks, and for the scattered debris we will use the general term Diluvium.

Sec. 8. All these substances agree in one character, that of being more or less soft and destructible. One material, indeed, which enters largely into the composition of most of them, flint, is harder than iron; but even this, their chief source of strength, is easily broken by a sudden blow; and it is so combined in the large rocks with softer substances, that time and the violence of the weather invariably produce certain destructive effects on their masses. Some of them become soft, and moulder away; others break, little by little, into angular fragments or slaty sheets; but all yield in some way or other; and the problem to be solved in every mountain range appears to be, that under these conditions of decay, the cliffs and peaks may be raised as high, and thrown into as noble forms, as is possible, consistently with an effective, though not perfect permanence, and a general, though not absolute security.

Sec. 9. Perfect permanence and absolute security were evidently in nowise intended.[42] It would have been as easy for the Creator to have made mountains of steel as of granite, of adamant as of lime; but this was clearly no part of the Divine counsels: mountains were to be destructible and frail; to melt under the soft lambency of the streamlet; to shiver before the subtle wedge of the frost; to wither with untraceable decay in their own substance; and yet, under all these conditions of destruction, to be maintained in magnificent eminence before the eyes of men.

Nor is it in any wise difficult for us to perceive the beneficent reasons for this appointed frailness of the mountains. They appear to be threefold: the first, and the most important, that successive soils might be supplied to the plains, in the manner explained in the last chapter, and that men might be furnished with a material for their works of architecture and sculpture, at once soft enough to be subdued, and hard enough to be preserved; the second, that some sense of danger might always be connected with the most precipitous forms, and thus increase their sublimity; and the third, that a subject of perpetual interest might be opened to the human mind in observing the changes of form brought about by time on these monuments of creation.

In order, therefore, to understand the method in which these various substances break, so as to produce the forms which are of chief importance in landscape, as well as the exquisite adaptation of all their qualities to the service of men, it will be well that I should take some note of them in their order; not with any mineralogical accuracy, but with care enough to enable me hereafter to explain, without obscurity, any phenomena dependent upon such peculiarities of substance.


Sec. 10. 1st. CRYSTALLINE ROCKS.—In saying, above, that the hardest rocks generally presented an appearance of "crystallization," I meant a glittering or granulated look, somewhat like that of a coarse piece of freshly broken loaf sugar.

Are always Compound.

But this appearance may also exist in rocks of uniform and softer substance, such as statuary marble, of which freshly broken pieces, put into a sugar-basin, cannot be distinguished by the eye from the real sugar. Such rocks are truly crystalline in structure; but the group to which I wish to limit the term "crystalline," is not only thus granulated and glittering, but is always composed of at least two, usually three or four, substances, intimately mingled with each other in the form of small grains or crystals, and giving the rock a more or less speckled or mottled look, according to the size of the crystals and their variety of color. It is a law of nature, that whenever rocks are to be employed on hard service, and for great purposes, they shall be thus composed. And there appear to be two distinct providential reasons for this.

Sec. 11. The first, that these crystalline rocks being, as we saw above, generally the oldest and highest, it is from them that other soils of various kinds must be derived; and they were therefore made a kind of storehouse, from which, wherever they were found, all kinds of treasures could be developed necessary for the service of man and other living creatures. Thus the granite of Mont Blanc is a crystalline rock composed of four substances; and in these four substances are contained the elements of nearly all kinds of sandstone and clay, together with potash, magnesia, and the metals of iron and manganese. Wherever the smallest portion of this rock occurs, a certain quantity of each of these substances may be derived from it, and the plants and animals which require them sustained in health.

The second reason appears to be that rocks composed in this manner are capable of more interesting variety in form than any others; and as they were continually to be exposed to sight in the high ranges, they were so prepared as to be always as interesting and beautiful as possible.

And divisible into two classes, Compact Crystallines and Slaty Crystallines.

Sec. 12. These crystalline or spotted rocks we must again separate into two great classes, according to the arrangement, in them, of the particles of a substance called mica. It is not present in all of them; but when it occurs, it is usually in large quantities, and a notable source of character. It varies in color, occurring white, brown, green, red, and black; and in aspect, from shining plates to small dark grains, even these grains being seen, under a magnifier, to be composed of little plates, like pieces of exceedingly thin glass; but with this great difference from glass, that, whether large or small, the plates will not easily break across, but are elastic, and capable of being bent into a considerable curve; only if pressed with a knife upon the edge, they will separate into any number of thinner plates, more and more elastic and flexible according to their thinness, and these again into others still finer; there seeming to be no limit to the possible subdivision but the coarseness of the instrument employed.

Sec. 13. Now, when these crystals or grains, represented by the black spots and lines in Fig. 3, lie as they do at a in that figure, in all directions, cast hither and thither among the other materials of the stone,—sometimes on their faces, sometimes on their sides, sometimes on their edges,—they give the rock an irregularly granulated appearance and structure, so that it will break with equal ease in any direction; but if these crystals lie all one way, with their sides parallel, as at b, they give the rock a striped or slaty look, and it will most readily break in the direction in which they lie, separating itself into folia or plates, more or less distinctly according to the quantity of mica in its mass. In the example Fig. 4, a piece of rock from the top of Mont Breven, there are very few of them, and the material with which they are surrounded is so hard and compact that the whole mass breaks irregularly, like a solid flint, beneath the hammer; but the plates of mica nevertheless influence the fracture on a large scale, and occasion, as we shall see hereafter, the peculiar form of the precipice at the summit of the mountain.[43]

The rocks which are destitute of mica, or in which the mica lies irregularly, or in which it is altogether absent, I shall call Compact Crystallines. The rocks in which the mica lies regularly I shall call Slaty Crystallines.


Sec. 14. 1st. Compact Crystallines.—Under this head are embraced the large group of the granites, syenites, and porphyries,—rocks which all agree in the following particulars:—

Their first characteristic. Speckledness.

A. Variety of color.—The method of their composition out of different substances necessitates their being all more or less spotted or dashed with various colors; there being generally a prevalent ground color, with other subordinate hues broken over it, forming, for the most part, tones of silver grey, of warm but subdued red, or purple. Now, there is in this a very marvellous provision for the beauty of the central ranges. Other rocks, placed lower among the hills, receive color upon their surfaces from all kinds of minute vegetation; but these higher and more exposed rocks are liable to be in many parts barren; and the wild forms into which they are thrown necessitate their being often freshly broken, so as to bring their pure color, untempered in anywise, frankly into sight. Hence it is appointed that this color shall not be raw or monotonous, but composed—as all beautiful color must be composed—by mingling of many hues in one. Not that there is any aim at attractive beauty in these rocks; they are intended to constitute solemn and desolate scenes; and there is nothing delicately or variously disposed in their colors. Such beauty would have been inconsistent with their expression of power and terror, and it is reserved for the marbles and other rocks of inferior office. But their color is grave and perfect; closely resembling, in many cases, the sort of hue reached by cross-chequering in the ground of fourteenth-century manuscripts, and peculiarly calculated for distant effects of light; being, for the most part, slightly warm in tone, so as to receive with full advantage the red and orange rays of sunlight. This warmth is almost always farther aided by a glowing orange color, derived from the decomposition of the iron which, though in small quantity, usually is an essential element in them: the orange hue forms itself in unequal veins and spots upon the surfaces which have been long exposed, more or less darkening them; and a very minute black lichen,—so minute as to look almost like spots of dark paint,—a little opposed and warmed by the golden Lichen geographicus, still farther subdues the paler hues of the highest granite rocks. Now, when a surface of this kind is removed to a distance of four or five miles, and seen under warm light through soft air, the orange becomes russet, more or less inclining to pure red, according to the power of the rays: but the black of the lichen becomes pure dark blue; and the result of their combination is that peculiar reddish purple which is so strikingly the characteristic of the rocks of the higher Alps. Most of the travellers who have seen the Valley of Chamouni carry away a strong impression that its upper precipices are of red rock. But they are, without exception, of a whitish grey, toned and raised by this united operation of the iron, the lichen, and the light.

Sec. 15. I have never had an opportunity of studying the effects of these tones upon rocks of porphyry; but the beautiful color of that rock in its interior substance has rendered it one of the favorite materials of the architects of all ages, in their most costly work. Not that all porphyry is purple; there are green and white porphyries, as there are yellow and white roses; but the first idea of a porphyry rock is that it shall be purple,—just as the first idea of a rose is that it shall be red. The purple inclines always towards russet[44] rather than blue, and is subdued by small spots of grey or white. This speckled character, common to all the crystalline rocks, fits them, in art, for large and majestic work; it unfits them for delicate sculpture; and their second universal characteristic is altogether in harmony with this consequence of their first.

Their second characteristic. Toughness.

Sec. 16. This second characteristic is a tough hardness, not a brittle hardness, like that of glass or flint, which will splinter violently at a blow in the most unexpected directions; but a grave hardness, which will bear many blows before it yields, and when it is forced to yield at last, will do so, as it were, in a serious and thoughtful way; not spitefully, nor uselessly, nor irregularly, but in the direction in which it is wanted, and where the force of the blow is directed—there, and there only. A flint which receives a shock stronger than it can bear, gives up everything at once, and flies into a quantity of pieces, each piece full of flaws. But a piece of granite seems to say to itself, very solemnly: "If these people are resolved to split me into two pieces, that is no reason why I should split myself into three. I will keep together as well as I can, and as long as I can; and if I must fall to dust at last, it shall be slowly and honorably; not in a fit of fury." The importance of this character, in fitting the rock for human uses, cannot be exaggerated: it is essential to such uses that it should be hard, for otherwise it could not bear enormous weights without being crushed; and if, in addition to this hardness, it had been brittle, like glass, it could not have been employed except in the rudest way, as flints are in Kentish walls. But now it is possible to cut a block of granite out of its quarry to exactly the size we want; and that with perfect ease, without gunpowder, or any help but that of a few small iron wedges, a chisel, and a heavy hammer. A single workman can detach a mass fifteen or twenty feet long, by merely drilling a row of holes, a couple of inches deep, and three or four inches apart, along the surface, in the direction in which he wishes to split the rock, and then inserting wedges into each of these holes, and striking them, consecutively, with small, light, repeated blows along the whole row. The granite rends, at last, along the line, quite evenly, requiring very little chiselling afterwards to give the block a smooth face.

Sec. 17. This after-chiselling, however, is necessarily tedious work, and therefore that condition of speckled color, which is beautiful if exhibited in broad masses, but offensive in delicate forms, exactly falls in with the conditions of possible sculpture. Not only is it more laborious to carve granite delicately, than a softer rock; but it is physically impossible to bring it into certain refinements of form. It cannot be scraped and touched into contours, as marble can; it must be struck hard, or it will not yield at all; and to strike a delicate and detached form hard, is to break it. The detached fingers of a delicate hand, for instance, cannot, as far as I know, be cut in granite. The smallest portion could not be removed from them without a strength of blow which would break off the finger. Hence the sculptor of granite is forced to confine himself to, and to seek for, certain types of form capable of expression in his material; he is naturally driven to make his figures simple in surface, and colossal in size, that they may bear his blows; and this simplicity and magnitude are exactly the characters necessary to show the granitic or porphyritic color to the best advantage. And thus we are guided, almost forced, by the laws of nature, to do right in art. Had granite been white, and marble speckled (and why should this not have been, but by the definite Divine appointment for the good of man?), the huge figures of the Egyptian would have been as oppressive to the sight as cliffs of snow, and the Venus de Medicis would have looked like some exquisitely graceful species of frog.

Their third characteristic. Purity in decomposition.

Sec. 18. The third universal characteristic of these rocks is their decomposition into the purest sand and clay. Some of them decompose spontaneously, though slowly, on exposure to weather; the greater number only after being mechanically pulverized; but the sand and clay to which by one or the other process they are reducible, are both remarkable for their purity. The clay is the finest and best that can be found for porcelain; the sand often of the purest white, always lustrous and bright in its particles. The result of this law is a peculiar aspect of purity in the landscape composed of such rocks. It cannot become muddy, or foul, or unwholesome. The streams which descend through it may indeed be opaque, and as white as cream with the churned substance of the granite; but their water, after this substance has been thrown down, is good and pure, and their shores are not slimy or treacherous, but of pebbles, or of firm and sparkling sand. The quiet streams, springs, and lakes are always of exquisite clearness, and the sea which washes a granite coast is as unsullied as a flawless emerald. It is remarkable to what extent this intense purity in the country seems to influence the character of its inhabitants. It is almost impossible to make a cottage built in a granite country look absolutely miserable. Rough it may be,—neglected, cold, full of aspect of hardship,—but it never can look foul; no matter how carelessly, how indolently, its inhabitants may live, the water at their doors will not stagnate, the soil beneath their feet will not allow itself to be trodden into slime, the timbers of their fences will not rot, they cannot so much as dirty their faces or hands if they try; do the worst they can, there will still be a feeling of firm ground under them, and pure air about them, and an inherent wholesomeness in their abodes which it will need the misery of years to conquer. And, as far as I remember, the inhabitants of granite countries have always a force and healthiness of character, more or less abated or modified, of course, according to the other circumstances of their life, but still definitely belonging to them, as distinguished from the inhabitants of the less pure districts of the hills.

These, then, are the principal characters of the compact crystallines, regarded in their minor or detached masses. Of the peculiar forms which they assume we shall have to speak presently; meantime, retaining these general ideas touching their nature and substance, let us proceed to examine, in the same point of view, the neighboring group of slaty crystallines.


[42] I am well aware that to the minds of many persons nothing bears a greater appearance of presumption than any attempt at reasoning respecting the purposes of the Divine Being; and that in many cases it would be thought more consistent with the modesty of humanity to limit its endeavor to the ascertaining of physical causes than to form conjectures respecting Divine intentions. But I believe this feeling to be false and dangerous. Wisdom can only be demonstrated in its ends, and goodness only perceived in its motives. He who in a morbid modesty supposes that he is incapable of apprehending any of the purposes of God, renders himself also incapable of witnessing his wisdom; and he who supposes that favors may be bestowed without intention, will soon learn to receive them without gratitude.

[43] See Appendix 2. Slaty Cleavage.

[44] As we had to complain of Dante for not enough noticing the colors of rocks in wild nature, let us do him the justice to refer to his noble symbolic use of their colors when seen in the hewn block.

"The lowest stair was marble white, so smooth And polished that therein my mirrored form Distinct I saw. The next of hue more dark Than sablest grain, a rough and singed block, Cracked lengthwise and across. The third, that lay Massy above, seemed porphyry, that flamed Red as the life-blood spouting from a vein."

This stair is at the gate of Purgatory. The white step means sincerity of conscience; the black, contrition; the purple (I believe), pardon by the Atonement.



Sec. 1. It will be remembered that we said in the last chapter (Sec. 4) that one of the notable characters of the whole group of the crystallines was the incomprehensibility of the processes which have brought them to their actual state. This however is more peculiarly true of the slaty crystallines. It is perfectly possible, by many processes of chemistry, to produce masses of irregular crystals which, though not of the substance of granite, are very like it in their mode of arrangement. But, as far as I am aware, it is impossible to produce artificially anything resembling the structure of the slaty crystallines. And the more I have examined the rocks themselves, the more I have felt at once the difficulty of explaining the method of their formation, and the growing interest of inquiries respecting that method. The facts (and I can venture to give nothing more than facts) are briefly these:—

Sec. 2. The mineral called mica, described in the course of the last chapter, is closely connected with another, differing from it in containing a considerable quantity of magnesia. This associated mineral, called chlorite, is of a dull greenish color, and opaque, while the mica is, in thin plates, more or less translucent; and the chlorite is apt to occur more in the form of a green earth, or green dust, than of finely divided plates. The original quantity of magnesia in the rock determines how far the mica shall give place to chlorite; and in the intermediate conditions of rock we find a black and nearly opaque mica, containing a good deal of magnesia, together with a chlorite, which at first seems mixed with small plates of true mica, or is itself formed of minute plates or spangles, and then, as the quantity of magnesia increases, assumes its proper form of a dark green earth.

Sec. 3. By this appointment there is obtained a series of materials by which the appearance of the rock may be varied to almost any extent. From plates of brilliant white mica half a foot broad, flashing in the sun like panes of glass, to a minute film of dark green dust hardly traceable by the eye, an infinite range of conditions is found in the different groups of rocks; but always under this general law, that, for the most part, the compact crystallines present the purest and boldest plates of mica; and the tendency to pass into slaty crystallines is commonly accompanied by the change of the whiteness of the mica to a dark or black color, indicating (I believe) the presence of magnesia, and by the gradual intermingling with it of chloritic earth; or else of a cognate mineral (differing from chlorite in containing a quantity of lime) called hornblende.

Such, at least, is eminently the case in the Alps; and in the account I have to give of their slaty crystallines, it must be understood that in using the word "mica" generally, I mean the more obscure conditions of the mineral, associated with chlorite and hornblende.

Sec. 4. Now it is quite easy to understand how, in the compact crystallines, the various elements of the rock, separating from each other as they congealed from their fluid state, whether of watery solution or fiery fusion, might arrange themselves in irregular grains as at a in Fig. 3, p. 106. Such an arrangement constantly takes place before our eyes in volcanic rocks as they cool. But it is not at all easy to understand how the white, hard, and comparatively heavy substances should throw themselves into knots and bands in one definite direction, and the delicate films of mica should undulate about and between them, as in Fig. 5 on page 114, like rivers among islands, pursuing, however, on the whole, a straight course across the mass of rock. If it could be shown that such pieces of stone had been formed in the horizontal position in which I have drawn the one in the figure, the structure would be somewhat intelligible as the result of settlement. But, on the contrary, the lines of such foliated rocks hardly ever are horizontal; neither can distinct evidence be found of their at any time having been so. The evidence, on the contrary, is often strongly in favor of their having been formed in the highly inclined directions in which they now occur, such as that of the piece in Fig. 7, p. 117.[45]

Sec. 5. Such, however, is the simple fact, that when the compact pact crystallines are about to pass into slaty crystallines, their mica throws itself into these bands and zones, undulating around knots of the other substances which compose the rock. Gradually the knots diminish in size, the mica becomes more abundant and more definite in direction, and at last the mass, when broken across the beds, assumes the appearance of Fig. 6 on the last page.[46] Now it will be noticed that, in the lines of that figure, no less than in Fig. 5, though more delicately, there is a subdued, but continual expression of undulation. This character belongs, more or less, to nearly the whole mass of slaty crystalline rocks; it is one of exquisite beauty, and of the highest importance to their picturesque forms. It is also one of as great mysteriousness as beauty. For these two figures are selected from crystallines whose beds are remarkably straight; in the greater number the undulation becomes far more violent, and, in many, passes into absolute contortion. Fig. 7 is a piece of a slaty crystalline, rich in mica, from the Valley of St. Nicolas, below Zermatt. The rock from which it was broken was thrown into coils three or four feet across: the fragment, which is drawn of the real size, was at one of the turns, and came away like a thick portion of a crumpled quire of paper from the other sheets.[47]

Typical character of Slaty Crystallines.

Sec. 6. I might devote half a volume to a description of the fantastic and incomprehensible arrangement of these rocks and their veins; but all that is necessary for the general reader to know or remember, is this broad fact of the undulation of their whole substance. For there is something, it seems to me, inexpressibly marvellous in this phenomenon, largely looked at. It is to be remembered that these are the rocks which, on the average, will be oftenest observed, and with the greatest interest, by the human race. The central granites are too far removed, the lower rocks too common, to be carefully studied; these slaty crystallines form the noblest hills that are easily accessible, and seem to be thus calculated especially to attract observation, and reward it. Well, we begin to examine them; and first, we find a notable hardness in them, and a thorough boldness of general character, which make us regard them as very types of perfect rocks. They have nothing of the look of dried earth about them, nothing petty or limited in the display of their bulk. Where they are, they seem to form the world; no mere bank of a river here, or of a lane there, peeping out among the hedges or forests: but from the lowest valley to the highest clouds, all is theirs—one adamantine dominion and rigid authority of rock. We yield ourselves to the impression of their eternal, unconquerable stubbornness of strength; their mass seems the least yielding, least to be softened, or in anywise dealt with by external force, of all earthly substance. And, behold, as we look farther into it, it is all touched and troubled, like waves by a summer breeze; rippled, far more delicately than seas or lakes are rippled; they only undulate along their surfaces—this rock trembles through its every fibre, like the chords of an Eolian harp—like the stillest air of spring with the echoes of a child's voice. Into the heart of all those great mountains, through every tossing of their boundless crests, and deep beneath all their unfathomable defiles, flows that strange quivering of their substance. Other and weaker things seem to express their subjection to an Infinite power only by momentary terrors: as the weeds bow down before the feverish wind, and the sound of the going in the tops of the taller trees passes on before the clouds, and the fitful opening of pale spaces on the dark water as if some invisible hand were casting dust abroad upon it, gives warning of the anger that is to come, we may well imagine that there is indeed a fear passing upon the grass, and leaves, and waters, at the presence of some great spirit commissioned to let the tempest loose; but the terror passes, and their sweet rest is perpetually restored to the pastures and the waves. Not so to the mountains. They, which at first seem strengthened beyond the dread of any violence or change, are yet also ordained to bear upon them the symbol of a perpetual Fear: the tremor which fades from the soft lake and gliding river is sealed, to all eternity, upon the rock; and while things that pass visibly from birth to death may sometimes forget their feebleness, the mountains are made to possess a perpetual memorial of their infancy,—that infancy which the prophet saw in his vision: "I beheld the earth, and lo, it was without form and void, and the heavens, and they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and lo, they trembled; and all the hills moved lightly."

Serviceable characters of the Slaty Crystallines.

1. Fitness for building with.

Sec. 7. Thus far may we trace the apparent typical signification of the structure of those noble rocks. The material uses of this structure are not less important. These substances of the higher mountains, it is always to be remembered, were to be so hard as to enable them to be raised into, and remain in, the most magnificent forms; and this hardness renders it a matter of great difficulty for the peasant to break them into such masses as are required for his daily purposes. He is compelled in general to gather the fragments which are to form the walls of his house or his garden from the ruins into which the mountain suffers its ridges to be naturally broken; and if these pieces were absolutely irregular in shape, it would be a matter of much labor and skill to build securely with them. But the flattened arrangement of the layers of mica always causes the rock to break into flattish fragments, requiring hardly any pains in the placing them so as to lie securely in a wall, and furnishing light, broad, and unflawed pieces to serve for slates upon the roof; for fences, when set edgeways into the ground; or for pavements, when laid flat.

2. Stability in debris.

Sec. 8. Farther: whenever rocks break into utterly irregular fragments, the masses of debris which they form are not only excessively difficult to walk over, but the pieces touch each other in so few points, and suffer the water to run so easily and so far through their cavities, that it takes a long series of years to enable them either to settle themselves firmly, or receive the smallest covering of vegetation. Where the substance of the stone is soft, it may soon be worn down, so that the irregular form is of less consequence. But in the hard crystallines, unless they had a tendency to break into flattish fragments, their ruin would remain for centuries in impassable desolation. The flat shape of the separate pieces prevents this; it permits—almost necessitates—their fitting into and over each other in a tolerably close mass, and thus they become comparatively easy to the foot, less permeable to water, and therefore retentive both of surface moisture and of the seeds of vegetation.

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