Modern Painters, Volume IV (of V)
by John Ruskin
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3. Security on declivities.

Sec. 9. There is another result of nearly equal importance as far as regards the habitableness of the hills. When stones are thrown together in rounded or massy blocks, like a heap of hazel nuts, small force will sometimes disturb their balance; and when once set in motion, a square-built and heavy fragment will thunder down even a slightly sloping declivity, with an impetus as unlikely to be arrested as fatal in its increase. But when stones lie flatly, as dead leaves lie, it is not easy to tilt any one of them upon its edge, so as to set it in motion; and when once moved, it will nearly always slide, not roll, and be stopped by the first obstacle it encounters, catching against it by the edge, or striking into the turf where first it falls, like a hatchet. Were it not for the merciful ordinance that the slaty crystallines should break into thin and flattish fragments, the frequent falls of stones from the hill sides would render many spots among the greater mountain chains utterly uninhabitable, which are now comparatively secure.

4. Tendency to form the loveliest scenery.

Sec. 10. Of the picturesque aspects which this mode of cleavage produces in the mountains, and in the stones of the foreground, we shall have to speak presently; with regard to the uses of the materials it is only necessary to note farther that these slaty rocks are of course, by their wilful way of breaking, rendered unfit for sculpture, and for nearly all purposes of art; the properties which render them convenient for the peasant in building his cottage, making them unavailable for the architecture of more elaborate edifices. One very great advantage is thus secured for the scenery they compose, namely, that it is rarely broken by quarries. A single quarry will often spoil a whole Alpine landscape; the effect of the lovely bay of the Lago Maggiore, for instance, in which lie the Borromean Islands, is, in great part, destroyed by the scar caused by a quarry of pink granite on its western shore; and the valley of Chamouni itself has lost some of its loveliest rock scenery in consequence of the unfortunate discovery that the boulders which had fallen from its higher pinnacles, and were lying in massy heaps among its pines, were available for stone lintels and door-posts in the building of its new inns. But the slaty crystallines, though sometimes containing valuable mines, are hardly ever quarried for stone; and the scenes they compose retain, in general, little disturbed by man, their aspect of melancholy power, or simple and noble peace. The color of their own mass, when freshly broken, is nearly the same as that of the compact crystallines; but it is far more varied by veins and zones of included minerals, and contains usually more iron, which gives a rich brown or golden color to their exposed sides, so that the coloring of these rocks is the most glowing to be found in the mountain world. They form also soil for vegetation more quickly, and of a more fruitful kind than the granites, and appear, on the whole, intended to unite every character of grandeur and of beauty, and to constitute the loveliest as well as the noblest scenes which the earth ever unfolds to the eyes of men.


[45] See again Appendix 2. Slaty Cleavage.

[46] This is a piece of the gneiss of the Montanvert, near the Chalets of Blaitiere dessous.

[47] "Some idea may be formed of the nature of these incurvations by supposing the gneiss beds to have been in a plastic state, either from the action of heat or of some other unknown cause, and, while in this state, to have been subjected to pressure at the two extremities, or in some other parts, according to the nature of the curvatures. But even this hypothesis (though the best that has been thought of) will scarcely enable us to explain all the contortions which not merely the beds of gneiss, but likewise of mica slate and clay slate, and even greywacke slate, exhibit. There is a bed of clay slate near the ferry to Kerrera, a few miles south of Oban, in Argyleshire. This bed has been partly wasted away by the sea, and its structure exposed to view. It contains a central cylindrical nucleus of unknown length (but certainly considerable), round which six beds of clay slate are wrapt, the one within the other, so as to form six concentric cylinders. Now, however plastic the clay slate may have been, there is no kind of pressure which will account for this structure; the central cylinder would have required to have been rolled six times in succession (allowing an interval for solidification between each) in the plastic clay slate."—Outlines of Mineralogy, Geology, &c., by Thomas Thomson, M.D.



Sec. 1. It will be remembered that we resolved to give generally the term "coherent" to those rocks which appeared to be composed of one compact substance, not of several materials. But, as in all the arrangements of Nature we find that her several classes pass into each other by imperceptible gradations, and that there is no ruling of red lines between one and the other, we need not suppose that we shall find any plainly distinguishable limit between the crystalline and coherent rocks. Sometimes, indeed, a very distinctly marked crystalline will be joined by a coherent rock so sharply and neatly that it is possible to break off specimens, no larger than a walnut, containing portions of each; but far more frequently the transition from one to the other is effected gradually; or, if not, there exist, at any rate, in other places intervening, a series of rocks which possess an imperfectly crystalline character, passing down into that of simple coherence. This transition is usually effected through the different kinds of slate; the slaty crystallines becoming more and more fine in texture, until at last they appear composed of nothing but very fine mica or chlorite; and this mass of micaceous substance becomes more and more compact and silky in texture, losing its magnesia, and containing more of the earth which forms the substance of clay, until at last it assumes the familiar appearance of roofing-slate, the noblest example of the coherent rocks. I call it the noblest, as being the nearest to the crystallines, and possessing much in common with them. Connected with this well-known substance are enormous masses of other rocks, more or less resembling it in character, of which the following are universal characteristics.

Characteristics of Slaty Coherents.

1. Softness of texture.

2. Lamination of structure.

Sec. 2. First. They nearly always, as just said, contain more of the earth, which is the basis of clay, than the crystalline rocks; and they can be scratched or crushed with much greater facility. The point of a knife will trace a continuous powdery streak upon most of the coherent rocks; while it will be quite powerless against a large portion of the granular knots in the crystallines. Besides this actual softness of substance, the slaty coherents are capable of very fine division into flakes, not irregularly and contortedly, like the crystallines, but straightly, so as to leave a silky lustre on the sides of the fragments, as in roofing slate; and separating with great ease, yielding to a slight pressure against the edge. Consequently, although the slaty coherents are capable of forming large and bold mountains, they are liable to all kinds of destruction and decay in a far greater degree than the crystallines; giving way in large masses under frost, and crumbling into heaps of flaky rubbish, which in its turn dissolves or is ground down into impalpable dust or mud, and carried to great distances by the mountain streams. These characters render the slaty coherents peculiarly adapted for the support of vegetation; and as, though apparently homogeneous, they usually contain as many chemical elements as the crystallines, they constitute (as far as regards the immediate nourishment of soils) the most important part of mountain ranges.

3. Darkness and blueness in color.

Sec. 3. I have already often had occasion to allude to the apparent connexion of brilliancy of color with vigor of life, or purity of substance. This is preeminently the case in the mineral kingdom. The perfection with which the particles of any substance unite in crystallization corresponds, in that kingdom, to the vital power in organic nature; and it is a universal law, that according to the purity of any substance, and according to the energy of its crystallization, is its beauty or brightness. Pure earths are without exception white when in powder; and the same earths which are the constituents of clay and sand, form, when crystallized, the emerald, ruby, sapphire, amethyst, and opal. Darkness and dulness of color are the universal signs of dissolution, or disorderly mingling of elements.[48]

Sec. 4. Accordingly, these slaty coherents, being usually composed of many elements imperfectly united, are also for the most part grey, black, or dull purple; those which are purest and hardest verging most upon purple, and some of them in certain lights displaying, on their smooth sides, very beautiful zones and changeful spaces of grey, russet, and obscure blue. But even this beauty is strictly connected with their preservation of such firmness of form as properly belongs to them; it is seen chiefly on their even and silky surfaces; less, in comparison, upon their broken edges, and is lost altogether when they are reduced to powder. They then form a dull grey dust, or, with moisture, a black slime, of great value as a vegetative earth, but of intense ugliness when it occurs in extended spaces in mountain scenery. And thus the slaty coherents are often employed to form those landscapes of which the purpose appears to be to impress us with a sense of horror and pain, as a foil to neighboring scenes of extreme beauty. There are many spots among the inferior ridges of the Alps, such as the Col de Ferret, the Col d'Anterne, and the associated ranges of the Buet, which, though commanding prospects of great nobleness, are themselves very nearly types of all that is most painful to the human mind. Vast wastes of mountain ground, covered here and there with dull grey grass, or moss, but breaking continually into black banks of shattered slate, all glistening and sodden with slow tricklings of clogged, incapable streams; the snow water oozing through them in a cold sweat, and spreading itself in creeping stains among their dust; ever and anon a shaking here and there, and a handful or two of their particles or flakes trembling down, one sees not why, into more total dissolution, leaving a few jagged teeth, like the edges of knives eaten away by vinegar, projecting through the half-dislodged mass from the inner rock, keen enough to cut the hand or foot that rests on them, yet crumbling as they wound, and soon sinking again into the smooth, slippery, glutinous heap, looking like a beach of black scales of dead fish, cast ashore from a poisonous sea, and sloping away into foul ravines, branched down immeasurable slopes of barrenness, where the winds howl and wander continually, and the snow lies in wasted and sorrowful fields, covered with sooty dust, that collects in streaks and stains at the bottom of all its thawing ripples. I know no other scenes so appalling as these in storm, or so woful in sunshine.

4. Great power of supporting vegetation.

Sec. 5. Where, however, these same rocks exist in more favorable positions, that is to say, in gentler banks and at lower elevations, they form a ground for the most luxuriant vegetation; and the valleys of Savoy owe to them some of their loveliest solitudes,—exquisitely rich pastures, interspersed with arable and orchard land, and shaded by groves of walnut and cherry. Scenes of this kind, and of that just described, so singularly opposed, and apparently brought together as foils to each other, are, however, peculiar to certain beds of the slaty coherents, which are both vast in elevation, and easy of destruction. In Wales and Scotland, the same groups of rocks possess far greater hardness, while they attain less elevation; and the result is a totally different aspect of scenery. The severity of the climate, and the comparative durableness of the rock, forbid the rich vegetation; but the exposed summits, though barren, are not subject to laws of destruction so rapid and fearful as in Switzerland; and the natural color of the rock is oftener developed in the purples and greys which, mingled with the heather, form the principal elements of the deep and beautiful distant blue of the British hills. Their gentler mountain streams also permit the beds of rock to remain in firm, though fantastic, forms along their banks, and the gradual action of the cascades and eddies upon the slaty cleavage produces many pieces of foreground scenery to which higher hills can present no parallel. Of these peculiar conditions we shall have to speak at length in another place.

5. Adaptation to architecture and the fine arts.

Sec. 6. As far as regards ministry to the purposes of man, the slaty coherents are of somewhat more value than the slaty crystallines. Most of them can be used in the same way for rough buildings, while they furnish finer plates or sheets for roofing. It would be difficult, perhaps, to estimate the exact importance of their educational influence in the form of drawing-slate. For sculpture they are, of course, altogether unfit, but I believe certain finer conditions of them are employed for a dark ground in Florentine mosaic.

Sec. 7. It remains only to be noticed, that the direction of the lamination (or separation into small folio) is, in these rocks, not always, nor even often indicative of the true direction of their larger beds. It is not, however, necessary for the reader to enter into questions of such complicated nature as those which belong to the study of slaty cleavage; and only a few points, which I could not pass over, are noted in the Appendix; but it is necessary to observe here, that all rocks, however constituted, or however disposed, have certain ways of breaking in one direction rather than another, and separating themselves into blocks by means of smooth cracks or fissures, technically called joints, which often influence their forms more than either the position of their beds, or their slaty lamination; and always are conspicuous in their weathered masses. Of these, however, as it would be wearisome to enter into more detail at present, I rather choose to speak incidentally, as we meet with examples of their results in the scenery we have to study more particularly.


[48] Compare the close of Sec. 11, Chap. III. Vol. III., and, here, Chap. III. Sec. 23.



Sec. 1. This group of rocks, the last we have to examine, is, as far as respects geographical extent and usefulness to the human race, more important than any of the preceding ones. It forms the greater part of all low hills and uplands throughout the world, and supplies the most valuable materials for building and sculpture, being distinguished from the group of the slaty coherents by its incapability of being separated into thin sheets. All the rocks belonging to the group break irregularly, like loaf sugar or dried clay. Some of them are composed of hardened calcareous matter, and are known as limestone; others are merely hardened sand, and are called freestone or sandstone; and others, appearing to consist of dry mud or clay, are of less general importance, and receive different names in different localities.

Sec. 2. Among these rocks, the foremost position is, of course, occupied by the great group of the marbles, of which the substance appears to have been prepared expressly in order to afford to human art a perfect means of carrying out its purposes. They are of exactly the necessary hardness,—neither so soft as to be incapable of maintaining themselves in delicate forms, nor so hard as always to require a blow to give effect to the sculptor's touch; the mere pressure of his chisel produces a certain, effect upon them. The color of the white varieties is of exquisite delicacy, owing to the partial translucency of the pure rock; and it has always appeared to me a most wonderful ordinance,—one of the most marked pieces of purpose in the creation,—that all the variegated kinds should be comparatively opaque, so as to set off the color on the surface, while the white, which if it had been opaque would have looked somewhat coarse (as, for instance, common chalk does), is rendered just translucent enough to give an impression of extreme purity, but not so translucent as to interfere in the least with the distinctness of any forms into which it is wrought. The colors of variegated marbles are also for the most part very beautiful, especially those composed of purple, amber, and green, with white; and there seems to be something notably attractive to the human mind in the vague and veined labyrinths of their arrangements. They are farther marked as the prepared material for human work by the dependence of their beauty on smoothness of surface; for their veins are usually seen but dimly in the native rock; and the colors they assume under the action of weather are inferior to those of the crystallines: it is not until wrought and polished by man that they show their character. Finally, they do not decompose. The exterior surface is sometimes destroyed by a sort of mechanical disruption of its outer flakes, but rarely to the extent in which such action takes place in other rocks; and the most delicate sculptures, if executed in good marble, will remain for ages undeteriorated.

Sec. 3. Quarries of marble are, however, rare, and we owe the greatest part of the good architecture of this world to the more ordinary limestones and sandstones, easily obtainable in blocks of considerable size, and capable of being broken, sawn, or sculptured with ease; the color, generally grey, or warm red (the yellow and white varieties becoming grey with age), being exactly that which will distinguish buildings by an agreeable contrast from the vegetation by which they may be surrounded.

To these inferior conditions of the compact coherence we owe also the greater part of the pretty scenery of the inhabited globe. The sweet winding valleys, with peeping cliffs on either side; the light, irregular wanderings of broken streamlets; the knolls and slopes covered with rounded woods; the narrow ravines, carpeted with greensward, and haunted by traditions of fairy or gnome; the jutting crags, crowned by the castle or watch-tower; the white sea-cliff and sheep-fed down; the long succession of coteau, sunburnt, and bristling with vines,—all these owe whatever they have of simple beauty to the peculiar nature of the group of rocks of which we are speaking; a group which, though occasionally found in mountain masses of magnificent form and size, is on the whole characterized by a comparative smallness of scale, and a tendency to display itself less in true mountains than in elevated downs or plains, through which winding valleys, more or less deep, are cut by the action of the streams.

Sec. 4. It has been said that this group of rocks is distinguished by its incapability of being separated into sheets. This is only true of it in small portions, for it is usually deposited in beds or layers of irregular thickness, which are easily separable from each other; and when, as not unfrequently happens, some of these beds are only half an inch or a quarter of an inch thick, the rock appears to break into flat plates like a slaty coherent. But this appearance is deceptive. However thin the bed may be, it will be found that it is in its own substance compact, and not separable into two other beds; but the true slaty coherents possess a delicate slatiness of structure, carried into their most minute portions, so that however thin a piece of them may be, it is usually possible, if we have instruments fine enough, to separate it into two still thinner flakes. As, however, the slaty and compact crystallines, so also the slaty and compact coherents pass into each other by subtle gradations, and present many intermediate conditions, very obscure and indefinable.

Sec. 5. I said just now that the colors of the compact coherents were usually such as would pleasantly distinguish buildings from vegetation. They are so; but considered as abstract hues, are yet far less agreeable than those of the nobler and older rocks. And it is to be noticed, that as these inferior rocks are the materials with which we usually build, they form the ground of the idea suggested to most men's minds by the word "stone," and therefore the general term "stone-color" is used in common parlance as expressive of the hue to which the compact coherents for the most part approximate. By stone-color I suppose we all understand a sort of tawny grey, with too much yellow in it to be called cold, and too little to be called warm. And it is quite true that over enormous districts of Europe, composed of what are technically known as "Jura" and "mountain" limestones, and various pale sandstones, such is generally the color of any freshly broken rock which peeps out along the sides of their gentler hills. It becomes a little greyer as it is colored by time, but never reaches anything like the noble hues of the gneiss and slate; the very lichens which grow upon it are poorer and paler; and although the deep wood mosses will sometimes bury it altogether in golden cushions, the minor mosses, whose office is to decorate and chequer the rocks without concealing them, are always more meagrely set on these limestones than on the crystallines.

Sec. 6. I never have had time to examine and throw into classes the varieties of the mosses which grow on the two kinds of rock, nor have I been able to ascertain whether there are really numerous differences between the species, or whether they only grow more luxuriantly on the crystallines than on the coherents. But this is certain, that on the broken rocks of the foreground in the crystalline groups the mosses seem to set themselves consentfully and deliberately to the task of producing the most exquisite harmonies of color in their power. They will not conceal the form of the rock, but will gather over it in little brown bosses, like small cushions of velvet made of mixed threads of dark ruby silk and gold, rounded over more subdued films of white and grey, with lightly crisped and curled edges like hoar frost on fallen leaves, and minute clusters of upright orange stalks with pointed caps, and fibres of deep green, and gold, and faint purple passing into black, all woven together, and following with unimaginable fineness of gentle growth the undulation of the stone they cherish, until it is charged with color so that it can receive no more; and instead of looking rugged, or cold, or stern, as anything that a rock is held to be at heart, it seems to be clothed with a soft, dark leopard skin, embroidered with arabesque of purple and silver. But in the lower ranges this is not so. The mosses grow in more independent spots, not in such a clinging and tender way over the whole surface; the lichens are far poorer and fewer; and the color of the stone itself is seen more frequently; altered, if at all, only into a little chiller grey than when it is freshly broken. So that a limestone landscape is apt to be dull, and cold in general tone, with some aspect even of barrenness. The sandstones are much richer in vegetation: there are, perhaps, no scenes in our own island more interesting than the wooded dingles which traverse them, the red rocks growing out on either side, and shelving down into the pools of their deep brown rivers, as at Jedburgh and Langholme; the steep oak copses climbing the banks, the paler plumes of birch shaking themselves free into the light of the sky above, and the few arches of the monastery where the fields in the glen are greenest, or the stones of the border tower where its cliffs are steepest, rendering both field and cliff a thousandfold more dear to the heart and sight. But deprived of associations, and compared in their mere natural beauty with the ravines of the central ranges, there can be no question but that even the loveliest passages of such scenery are imperfect and poor in foreground color. And at first there would seem to be an unfairness in this, unlike the usual system of compensation which so often manifests itself throughout nature. The higher mountains have their scenes of power and vastness, their blue precipices and cloud-like snows: why should they also have the best and fairest colors given to their foreground rocks, and overburden the human mind with wonder; while the less majestic scenery, tempting us to the observance of details for which amidst the higher mountains we had no admiration left, is yet, in the beauty of those very details, as inferior as it is in scale of magnitude?

Sec. 7. I believe the answer must be, simply, that it is not good for man to live among what is most beautiful;—that he is a creature incapable of satisfaction by anything upon earth; and that to allow him habitually to possess, in any kind whatsoever, the utmost that earth can give, is the surest way to cast him into lassitude or discontent.

If the most exquisite orchestral music could be continued without a pause for a series of years, and children were brought up and educated in the room in which it was perpetually resounding, I believe their enjoyment of music, or understanding of it, would be very small. And an accurately parallel effect seems to be produced upon the powers of contemplation, by the redundant and ceaseless loveliness of the high mountain districts. The faculties are paralyzed by the abundance, and cease, as we before noticed of the imagination, to be capable of excitement, except by other subjects of interest than those which present themselves to the eye. So that it is, in reality, better for mankind that the forms of their common landscape should offer no violent stimulus to the emotions,—that the gentle upland, browned by the bending furrows of the plough, and the fresh sweep of the chalk down, and the narrow winding of the copse-clad dingle, should be more frequent scenes of human life than the Arcadias of cloud-capped mountain or luxuriant vale; and that, while humbler (though always infinite) sources of interest are given to each of us around the homes to which we are restrained for the greater part of our lives, these mightier and stranger glories should become the objects of adventure,—at once the cynosures of the fancies of childhood, and themes of the happy memory, and the winter's tale of age.

Sec. 8. Nor is it always that the inferiority is felt. For, so natural is it to the human heart to fix itself in hope rather than in present possession, and so subtle is the charm which the imagination casts over what is distant or denied, that there is often a more touching power in the scenes which contain far-away promise of something greater than themselves, than in those which exhaust the treasures and powers of Nature in an unconquerable and excellent glory, leaving nothing more to be by the fancy pictured, or pursued.

I do not know that there is a district in the world more calculated to illustrate this power of the expectant imagination, than that which surrounds the city of Fribourg in Switzerland, extending from it towards Berne. It is of grey sandstone, considerably elevated, but presenting no object of striking interest to the passing traveller; so that, as it is generally seen in the course of a hasty journey from the Bernese Alps to those of Savoy, it is rarely regarded with any other sensation than that of weariness, all the more painful because accompanied with reaction from the high excitement caused by the splendor of the Bernese Oberland. The traveller, footsore, feverish, and satiated with glacier and precipice, lies back in the corner of the diligence, perceiving little more than that the road is winding and hilly, and the country through which it passes cultivated and tame. Let him, however, only do this tame country the justice of staying in it a few days, until his mind has recovered its tone, and take one or two long walks through its fields, and he will have other thoughts of it. It is, as I said, an undulating district of grey sandstone, never attaining any considerable height, but having enough of the mountain spirit to throw itself into continual succession of bold slope and dale; elevated, also, just far enough above the sea to render the pine a frequent forest tree along its irregular ridges. Through this elevated tract the river cuts its way in a ravine some five or six hundred feet in depth, which winds for leagues between the gentle hills, unthought of, until its edge is approached; and then suddenly, through the boughs of the firs, the eye perceives, beneath, the green and gliding stream, and the broad walls of sandstone cliff that form its banks; hollowed out where the river leans against them, at its turns, into perilous overhanging, and, on the other shore, at the same spots, leaving little breadths of meadow between them and the water, half-overgrown with thicket, deserted in their sweetness, inaccessible from above, and rarely visited by any curious wanderers along the hardly traceable footpath which struggles for existence beneath the rocks. And there the river ripples, and eddies, and murmurs in an utter solitude. It is passing through the midst of a thickly peopled country; but never was a stream so lonely. The feeblest and most far-away torrent among the high hills has its companions: the goats browse beside it; and the traveller drinks from it, and passes over it with his staff; and the peasant traces a new channel for it down to his mill-wheel. But this stream has no companions: it flows on in an infinite seclusion, not secret nor threatening, but a quietness of sweet daylight and open air,—a broad space of tender and deep desolateness, drooped into repose out of the midst of human labor and life; the waves plashing lowly, with none to hear them; and the wild birds building in the boughs, with none to fray them away; and the soft, fragrant herbs rising, and breathing, and fading, with no hand to gather them;—and yet all bright and bare to the clouds above, and to the fresh fall of the passing sunshine and pure rain.

Sec. 9. But above the brows of those scarped cliffs, all is in an instant changed. A few steps only beyond the firs that stretch their branches, angular, and wild, and white, like forks of lightning, into the air of the ravine, and we are in an arable country of the most perfect richness; the swathes of its corn glowing and burning from field to field; its pretty hamlets all vivid with fruitful orchards and flowery gardens, and goodly with steep-roofed storehouse and barn; its well-kept, hard, park-like roads rising and falling from hillside to hillside, or disappearing among brown banks of moss, and thickets of the wild raspberry and rose; or gleaming through lines of tall trees, half glade, half avenue, where the gate opens, or the gateless path turns trustedly aside, unhindered, into the garden of some statelier house, surrounded in rural pride with its golden hives, and carved granaries, and irregular domain of latticed and espaliered cottages, gladdening to look upon in their delicate homeliness—delicate, yet, in some sort, rude; not like our English homes—trim, laborious, formal, irreproachable in comfort; but with a peculiar carelessness and largeness in all their detail, harmonizing with the outlawed loveliness of their country. For there is an untamed strength even in all that soft and habitable land. It is, indeed, gilded with corn and fragrant with deep grass, but it is not subdued to the plough or to the scythe. It gives at its own free will,—it seems to have nothing wrested from it nor conquered in it. It is not redeemed from desertness, but unrestrained in fruitfulness,—a generous land, bright with capricious plenty, and laughing from vale to vale in fitful fulness, kind and wild; nor this without some sterner element mingled in the heart of it. For along all its ridges stand the dark masses of innumerable pines, taking no part in its gladness, asserting themselves for ever as fixed shadows, not to be pierced or banished, even in the intensest sunlight; fallen flakes and fragments of the night, stayed in their solemn squares in the midst of all the rosy bendings of the orchard boughs, and yellow effulgence of the harvest, and tracing themselves in black network and motionless fringes against the blanched blue of the horizon in its saintly clearness. And yet they do not sadden the landscape, but seem to have been set there chiefly to show how bright everything else is round them; and all the clouds look of purer silver, and all the air seems filled with a whiter and more living sunshine, where they are pierced by the sable points of the pines; and all the pastures look of more glowing green, where they run up between the purple trunks: and the sweet field footpaths skirt the edges of the forest for the sake of its shade, sloping up and down about the slippery roots, and losing themselves every now and then hopelessly among the violets, and ground ivy, and brown sheddings of the fibrous leaves; and, at last, plunging into some open aisle where the light through the distant stems shows that there is a chance of coming out again on the other side; and coming out, indeed, in a little while, from the scented darkness, into the dazzling air and marvellous landscape, that stretches still farther and farther in new wilfulness of grove and garden, until, at last, the craggy mountains of the Simmenthal rise out of it, sharp into the rolling of the southern clouds.

Sec. 10. I believe, for general development of human intelligence and sensibility, country of this kind is about the most perfect that exists. A richer landscape, as that of Italy, enervates, or causes wantonness; a poorer contracts the conceptions, and hardens the temperament of both mind and body; and one more curiously or prominently beautiful deadens the sense of beauty. Even what is here of attractiveness,—far exceeding, as it does that of most of the thickly peopled districts of the temperate zone,—seems to act harmfully on the poetical character of the Swiss; but take its inhabitants all in all, as with deep love and stern penetration they are painted in the works of their principal writer, Gotthelf, and I believe we shall not easily find a peasantry which would completely sustain comparison with them.

Sec. 11. But be this as it may, it is certain that the compact coherent rocks are appointed to form the greatest part of the earth's surface, and by their utility, and easily changed and governed qualities, to tempt man to dwell among them; being, however, in countries not definitely mountainous, usually covered to a certain depth by those beds of loose gravel and sand to which we agreed to give the name of diluvium. There is nothing which will require to be noted respecting these last, except the forms into which they are brought by the action of water; and the account of these belongs properly to the branch of inquiry which follows next in the order we proposed to ourselves, namely, that touching the sculpture of mountains, to which it will be best to devote some separate chapters; this only being noted in conclusion respecting the various rocks whose nature we have been describing, that out of the entire series of them we may obtain almost every color pleasant to human sight, not the less so for being generally a little softened or saddened. Thus we have beautiful subdued reds, reaching tones of deep purple, in the porphyries, and of pale rose color, in the granites; every kind of silvery and leaden grey, passing into purple, in the slates; deep green, and every hue of greenish grey, in the volcanic rocks and serpentines; rich orange, and golden brown, in the gneiss; black, in the lias limestones; and all these, together with pure white, in the marbles. One color only we hardly ever get in an exposed rock—that dull brown which we noticed above, in speaking of color generally, as the most repulsive of all hues; every approximation to it is softened by nature, when exposed to the atmosphere, into a purple grey. All this can hardly be otherwise interpreted, than as prepared for the delight and recreation of man; and I trust that the time may soon come when these beneficent and beautiful gifts of color may be rightly felt and wisely employed, and when the variegated fronts of our houses may render the term "stone-color" as little definite in the mind of the architect as that of "flower-color" would be to the horticulturist.



Sec. 1. Close beside the path by which travellers ascend the Montanvert from the valley of Chamouni, on the right hand, where it first begins to rise among the pines, there descends a small stream from the foot of the granite peak known to the guides as the Aiguille Charmoz. It is concealed from the traveller by a thicket of alder, and its murmur is hardly heard, for it is one of the weakest streams of the valley. But it is a constant stream; fed by a permanent though small glacier, and continuing to flow even to the close of the summer, when more copious torrents, depending only on the melting of the lower snows, have left their beds "stony channels in the sun."

I suppose that my readers must be generally aware that glaciers are masses of ice in slow motion, at the rate of from ten to twenty inches a day, and that the stones which are caught between them and the rocks over which they pass, or which are embedded in the ice and dragged along by it over those rocks, are of course subjected to a crushing and grinding power altogether unparalleled by any other force in constant action. The dust to which these stones are reduced by the friction is carried down by the streams which flow from the melting glacier, so that the water which in the morning may be pure, owing what little strength it has chiefly to the rock springs, is in the afternoon not only increased in volume, but whitened with dissolved dust of granite, in proportion to the heat of the preceding hours of the day, and to the power and size of the glacier which feeds it.

Sec. 2. The long drought which took place in the autumn of the year 1854, sealing every source of waters except these perpetual ones, left the torrent of which I am speaking, and such others, in a state peculiarly favorable to observance of their least action on the mountains from which they descend. They were entirely limited to their own ice fountains, and the quantity of powdered rock which they brought down was, of course, at its minimum, being nearly unmingled with any earth derived from the dissolution of softer soil, or vegetable mould, by rains.

At three in the afternoon, on a warm day in September, when the torrent had reached its average maximum strength for the day, I filled an ordinary Bordeaux wine-flask with the water where it was least turbid. From this quart of water I obtained twenty-four grains of sand and sediment, more or less fine. I cannot estimate the quantity of water in the stream; but the runlet of it at which I filled the flask was giving about two hundred bottles a minute, or rather more, carrying down therefore about three quarters of a pound of powdered granite every minute. This would be forty-five pounds an hour; but allowing for the inferior power of the stream in the cooler periods of the day, and taking into consideration, on the other side, its increased power in rain, we may, I think, estimate its average hour's work at twenty-eight or thirty pounds, or a hundred weight every four hours. By this insignificant runlet, therefore, some four inches wide and four inches deep, rather more than two tons of the substance of the Mont Blanc are displaced, and carried down a certain distance every week; and as it is only for three or four months that the flow of the stream is checked by frost, we may certainly allow eighty tons for the mass which it annually moves.

Sec. 3. It is not worth while to enter into any calculation of the relation borne by this runlet to the great torrents which descend from the chain of Mont Blanc into the valley of Chamouni. To call it the thousandth part of the glacier waters, would give a ludicrous under-estimate of their total power; but even so calling it, we should find for result that eighty thousand tons of mountain must be yearly transformed into drifted sand, and carried down a certain distance.[49] How much greater than this is the actual quantity so transformed I cannot tell; but take this quantity as certain, and consider that this represents merely the results of the labor of the constant summer streams, utterly irrespective of all sudden falls of stones and of masses of mountain (a single thunderbolt will sometimes leave a scar on the flank of a soft rock, looking like a trench for a railroad); and we shall then begin to apprehend something of the operation of the great laws of change, which are the conditions of all material existence, however apparently enduring. The hills, which, as compared with living beings, seem "everlasting," are, in truth, as perishing as they: its veins of flowing fountain weary the mountain heart, as the crimson pulse does ours; the natural force of the iron crag is abated in its appointed time, like the strength of the sinews in a human old age; and it is but the lapse of the longer years of decay which, in the sight of its Creator, distinguishes the mountain range from the moth and the worm.

Sec. 4. And hence two questions arise of the deepest interest. From what first created forms were the mountains brought into their present condition? into what forms will they change in the course of ages? Was the world anciently in a more or less perfect state than it is now? was it less or more fitted for the habitation of the human race? and are the changes which it is now undergoing favorable to that race or not? The present conformation of the earth appears dictated, as has been shown in the preceding chapters, by supreme wisdom and kindness. And yet its former state must have been different from what it is now; as its present one from that which it must assume hereafter. Is this, therefore, the earth's prime into which we are born; or is it, with all its beauty, only the wreck of Paradise?

I cannot entangle the reader in the intricacy of the inquiries necessary for anything like a satisfactory solution of these questions. But, were he to engage in such inquiries, their result would be his strong conviction of the earth's having been brought from a state in which it was utterly uninhabitable into one fitted for man;—of its having been, when first inhabitable, more beautiful than it is now; and of its gradually tending to still greater inferiority of aspect, and unfitness for abode.

It has, indeed, been the endeavor of some geologists to prove that destruction and renovation are continually proceeding simultaneously in mountains as well as in organic creatures; that while existing eminences are being slowly lowered, others, in order to supply their place, are being slowly elevated; and that what is lost in beauty or healthiness in one spot is gained in another. But I cannot assent to such a conclusion. Evidence altogether incontrovertible points to a state of the earth in which it could be tenanted only by lower animals, fitted for the circumstances under which they lived by peculiar organizations. From this state it is admitted gradually to have been brought into that in which we now see it; and the circumstances of the existing dispensation, whatever may be the date of its endurance, seem to me to point not less clearly to an end than to an origin; to a creation, when "the earth was without form and void," and to a close, when it must either be renovated or destroyed.

Sec. 5. In one sense, and in one only, the idea of a continuous order of things is admissible, in so far as the phenomena which introduced, and those which are to terminate, the existing dispensation, may have been, and may in future be, nothing more than a gigantic development of agencies which are in continual operation around us. The experience we possess of volcanic agency is not yet large enough to enable us to set limits to its force; and as we see the rarity of subterraneous action generally proportioned to its violence, there may be appointed, in the natural order of things, convulsions to take place after certain epochs, on a scale which the human race has not yet lived long enough to witness. The soft silver cloud which writhes innocently on the crest of Vesuvius, rests there without intermission; but the fury which lays cities in sepulchres of lava bursts forth only after intervals of centuries; and the still fiercer indignation of the greater volcanoes, which make half the globe vibrate with earthquake, and shrivels up whole kingdoms with flame, is recorded only in dim distances of history: so that it is not irrational to admit that there may yet be powers dormant, not destroyed, beneath the apparently calm surface of the earth, whose date of rest is the endurance of the human race, and whose date of action must be that of its doom. But whether such colossal agencies are indeed in the existing order of things or not, still the effective truth, for us, is one and the same. The earth, as a tormented and trembling ball, may have rolled in space for myriads of ages before humanity was formed from its dust; and as a devastated ruin it may continue to roll, when all that dust shall again have been mingled with ashes that never were warmed by life, or polluted by sin. But for us the intelligible and substantial fact is that the earth has been brought, by forces we know not of, into a form fitted for our habitation: on that form a gradual, but destructive, change is continually taking place, and the course of that change points clearly to a period when it will no more be fitted for the dwelling-place of men.

Sec. 6. It is, therefore, not so much what these forms of the earth actually are, as what they are continually becoming, that we have to observe; nor is it possible thus to observe them without an instinctive reference to the first state out of which they have been brought. The existing torrent has dug its bed a thousand feet deep. But in what form was the mountain originally raised which gave that torrent its track and power? The existing precipice is wrought into towers and bastions by the perpetual fall of its fragments. In what form did it stand before a single fragment fell?

Yet to such questions, continually suggesting themselves, it is never possible to give a complete answer. For a certain distance, the past work of existing forces can be traced; but there gradually the mist gathers, and the footsteps of more gigantic agencies are traceable in the darkness; and still, as we endeavor to penetrate farther and farther into departed time, the thunder of the Almighty power sounds louder and louder; and the clouds gather broader and more fearfully, until at last the Sinai of the world is seen altogether upon a smoke, and the fence of its foot is reached, which none can break through.

Sec. 7. If, therefore, we venture to advance towards the spot where the cloud first comes down, it is rather with the purpose of fully pointing out that there is a cloud, than of entering into it. It is well to have been fully convinced of the existence of the mystery, in an age far too apt to suppose that everything which is visible is explicable, and everything that is present, eternal. But besides ascertaining the existence of this mystery, we shall perhaps be able to form some new conjectures respecting the facts of mountain aspects in the past ages. Not respecting the processes or powers to which the hills owe their origin, but respecting the aspect they first assumed.

Sec. 8. For it is evident that, through all their ruin, some traces must still exist of the original contours. The directions in which the mass gives way must have been dictated by the disposition of its ancient sides; and the currents of the streams that wear its flanks must still, in great part, follow the course of the primal valleys. So that, in the actual form of any mountain peak, there must usually be traceable the shadow or skeleton of its former self; like the obscure indications of the first frame of a war-worn tower, preserved, in some places, under the heap of its ruins, in others to be restored in imagination from the thin remnants of its tottering shell; while here and there, in some sheltered spot, a few unfallen stones retain their Gothic sculpture, and a few touches of the chisel, or stains of color, inform us of the whole mind and perfect skill of the old designer. With this great difference, nevertheless, that in the human architecture the builder did not calculate upon ruin, nor appoint the course of impendent desolation; but that in the hand of the great Architect of the mountains, time and decay are as much the instruments of His purpose as the forces by which He first led forth the troops of hills in leaping flocks:—the lightning and the torrent, and the wasting and weariness of innumerable ages, all bear their part in the working out of one consistent plan; and the Builder of the temple for ever stands beside His work, appointing the stone that is to fall, and the pillar that is to be abased, and guiding all the seeming wildness of chance and change, into ordained splendors and foreseen harmonies.

Sec. 9. Mountain masses, then, considered with respect to their first raising and first sculpture, may be conveniently divided into two great groups; namely, those made up of beds or layers, commonly called stratified; and those made of more or less united substance, called unstratified. The former are nearly always composed of coherent rocks, the latter of crystallines; and the former almost always occupy the outside, the latter the centre of mountain chains. It signifies, therefore, very little whether we distinguish the groups by calling one stratified and the other unstratified, or one "coherent" and the other "crystalline," or one "lateral" and the other "central." But as this last distinction in position seems to have more influence on their forms than either of the others, it is, perhaps, best, when we are examining them in connection with art, that this should be thoroughly kept in mind; and therefore we will consider the first group under the title of "lateral ranges," and the second under that of "central peaks."

Sec. 10. The LATERAL RANGES, which we are first to examine, are, for the most part, broad tabular masses of sandstone, limestone, or whatever their material may be,—tilted slightly up over large spaces (several or many miles square), and forming precipices with their exposed edges, as a book resting obliquely on another book forms miniature precipices with its back and sides. The book is a tolerably accurate representation of the mountain in substance, as well as in external aspect; nearly all these tabular masses of rock being composed of a multitude of thinner beds or layers, as the thickness of the book is made up of its leaves; while every one of the mountain leaves is usually written over, though in dim characters, like those of a faded manuscript, with history of departed ages.

"How were these mountain volumes raised, and how are they supported?" are the natural questions following such a statement.

And the only answer is: "Behold the cloud."

No eye has ever seen one of these raised on a large scale; no investigation has brought completely to light the conditions under which the materials which support them were prepared. This only is the simple fact, that they are raised into such sloping positions; generally several resting one upon another, like a row of books fallen down (Fig. 8); the last book being usually propped by a piece of formless compact crystalline rock, represented by the piece of crumpled paper at a.

Sec. 11. It is another simple fact that this arrangement is not effected in an orderly and serene manner; but that the books, if they were ever neatly bound, have been fearfully torn to pieces and dog's-eared in the course of their elevation; sometimes torn leaf from leaf, but more commonly rent across, as if the paper had been wet and soft: or, to leave the book similitude, which is becoming inconvenient, the beds seem to have been in the consistence of a paste, more or less dry; in some places brittle, and breaking, like a cake, fairly across; in others moist and tough, and tearing like dough, or bending like hot iron; and, in others, crushed and shivering into dust, like unannealed glass. And in these various states they are either bent or broken, or shivered, as the case may be, into fragments of various shapes, which are usually tossed one on top of another, as above described; but, of course, under such circumstances, presenting, not the uniform edges of the books, but jagged edges, as in Fig. 9.

Sec. 12. Do not let it be said that I am passing my prescribed limits, and that I have tried to enter the clouds, and am describing operations which have never been witnessed. I describe facts or semblances, not operations. I say "seem to have been," not "have been." I say "are bent;" I do not say "have been bent." Most travellers must remember the entrance to the valley of Cluse, from the plain of Bonneville, on the road from Geneva to Chamouni. They remember that immediately after entering it they find a great precipice on their left, not less than two thousand feet in perpendicular height. That precipice is formed by beds of limestone bent like a rainbow, as in Fig. 10. Their edges constitute the cliff; the flat arch which they form with their backs is covered with pine forests and meadows, extending for three or four leagues in the direction of Sixt. Whether the whole mountain was called out of nothing into the form it possesses, or created first in the form of a level mass, and then actually bent and broken by external force, is quite irrelevant to our present purpose; but it is impossible to describe its form without appearing to imply the latter alternative; and all the distinct evidence which can be obtained upon the subject points to such a conclusion, although there are certain features in such mountains which, up to the present time, have rendered all positive conclusion impossible, not because they contradict the theories in question, but because they are utterly inexplicable on any theory whatever.

Sec. 13. We return then to our Fig. 9, representing beds which appear to have been broken short off at the edges. "If they ever were actually broken," the reader asks, "what could have become of the bits?" Sometimes they seem to have been lost, carried away no one knows where. Sometimes they are really found in scattered fragments or dust in the neighborhood. Sometimes the mountain is simply broken in two, and the pieces correspond to each other, only leaving a valley between; but more frequently one half slips down, or the other is pushed up. In such cases, the coincidence of part with part is sometimes so exact, that half of a broken pebble has been found on one side, and the other half five or six hundred feet below, on the other.

Sec. 14. The beds, however, which are to form mountains of any eminence are seldom divided in this gentle way. If brittle, one would think they had been broken as a captain's biscuit breaks, leaving sharp and ragged edges; and if tough, they appear to have been torn asunder very much like a piece of new cheese.

The beds which present the most definite appearances of abrupt fracture, are those of that grey or black limestone above described (Chap. x. Sec. 4), formed into a number of thin layers or leaves, commonly separated by filmy spreadings of calcareous sand, hard when dry, but easily softened by moisture; the whole, considered as a mass, easily friable, though particular beds may be very thick and hard. Imagine a layer of such substance, three or four thousand feet thick, broken with a sharp crash through the middle, and one piece of it thrown up as in Fig. 11. It is evident that the first result of such a shock would be a complete shattering of the consistence of the broken edges, and that these would fall, some on the instant, and others tottering and crumbling away from time to time, until the cliff had got in some degree settled into a tenable form. The fallen fragments would lie in a confused heap at the bottom, hiding perhaps one half of its height, as in Fig. 12; the top of it, wrought into somewhat less ragged shape, would thenceforth submit itself only to the gradual influences of time and storm.

I do not say that this operation has actually taken place. I merely say that such cliffs do in multitudes exist in the form shown at Fig. 12, or, more properly speaking, in that form modified by agencies in visible operation, whose work can be traced upon them, touch by touch. But the condition at Fig. 12 is the first rough blocking out of their form, the primal state in which they demonstrably were, some thousands of years ago, but beyond which no human reason can trace them without danger of error. The cloud fastens upon them there.

Sec. 15. It is rare, however, that such a cliff as that represented in Fig. 12 can maintain itself long in such a contour. Usually it moulders gradually away into a steep mound or bank; and the larger number of bold cliffs are composed of far more solid rock, which in its general make is quite unshattered and flawless; apparently unaffected, as far as its coherence is concerned, by any shock it may have suffered in being raised to its position, or hewn into its form. Beds occur in the Alps composed of solid coherent limestone (such as that familiar to the English traveller in the cliffs of Matlock and Bristol), 3000 or 4000 feet thick, and broken short off throughout a great part of this thickness, forming nearly[50] sheer precipices not less than 1500 or 2000 feet in height, after all deduction has been made for slopes of debris at the bottom, and for rounded diminution at the top.

Sec. 16. The geologist plunges into vague suppositions and fantastic theories in order to account for these cliffs; but, after all that can be dreamed or discovered, they remain in great part inexplicable. If they were interiorly shattered, it would be easy to understand that, in their hardened condition, they had been broken violently asunder; but it is not easy to conceive a firm cliff of limestone broken through a thickness of 2000 feet without showing a crack in any other part of it. If they were divided in a soft state, like that of paste, it is still less easy to understand how any such soft material could maintain itself, till it dried, in the form of a cliff so enormous and so ponderous: it must have flowed down from the top, or squeezed itself out in bulging protuberance at the base. But it has done neither; and we are left to choose between the suppositions that the mountain was created in a form approximating to that which it now wears, or that the shock which produced it was so violent and irresistible, as to do its work neatly in an instant, and cause no flaws to the rock except in the actual line of fracture. The force must have been analogous either to the light and sharp blow of the hammer with which one breaks a stone into two pieces as it lies in the hand, or the parting caused by settlement under great weight, like the cracks through the brickwork of a modern ill-built house. And yet the very beds which seem at the time they were broken to have possessed this firmness of consistency, are also bent throughout their whole body into waves, apparently following the action of the force that fractured them, like waves of sea under the wind. Truly the cloud lies darkly upon us here!

Sec. 17. And it renders these precipices more remarkable that there is in them no principle of compensation against destructive influences. They are not cloven back continually into new cliffs, as our chalk shores are by the sea; otherwise, one might attribute their first existence to the force of streams. But, on the contrary, the action of years upon them is now always one of deterioration. The increasing heap of fallen fragments conceals more and more of their base, and the wearing of the rain lowers the height and softens the sternness of their brows, so that a great part of their terror has evidently been subdued by time; and the farther we endeavor to penetrate their history, the more mysterious are the forms we are required to explain.

The three great representative forms of stratified mountains.

Sec. 18. Hitherto, however, for the sake of clearness, we have spoken of hills as if they were composed of a single mass or volume of rock. It is very seldom that they are so. Two or three layers are usually raised at once, with certain general results on mountain form, which it is next necessary to examine.

1. Wall above slope.

1st. Suppose a series of beds raised in the condition a, Fig. 13, the lowest soft, the uppermost compact; it is evident that the lower beds would rapidly crumble away, and the compact mass above break for want of support, until the rocks beneath had reached a slope at which they could securely sustain themselves, as well as the weight of wall above, thus bringing the hill into the outline b.

2. Slope above wall.

2d. If, on the other hand, the hill were originally raised as at c, the softest beds being at the top, these would crumble into their smooth slope without affecting the outline of the mass below, and the hill would assume the form d, large masses of debris being in either of these two cases accumulated at the foot of the slope, or of the cliff. These first ruins might, by subsequent changes, be variously engulfed, carried away, or covered over, so as to leave nothing visible, or at least nothing notable, but the great cliff with its slope above or below it. Without insisting on the evidences or probabilities of such construction, it is sufficient to state that mountains of the two types, b and d, are exceedingly common in all parts of the world; and though of course confused with others, and themselves always more or less imperfectly developed, yet they are, on the whole, singularly definite as classes of hills, examples of which can hardly but remain clearly impressed on the mind of every traveller. Of the first, b, Salisbury Crags, near Edinburgh, is a nearly perfect instance, though on a diminutive scale. The cliffs of Lauterbrunnen, in the Oberland, are almost without exception formed on the type d.

3. Slope and wall alternately.

3d. When the elevated mass, instead of consisting merely of two great divisions, includes alternately hard and soft beds, as at a, Fig. 14, the vertical cliffs and inclined banks alternate with each other, and the mountain rises on a series of steps, with receding slopes of turf or debris on the ledge of each, as at b. At the head of the valley of Sixt, in Savoy, huge masses of mountain connected with the Buet are thus constructed: their slopes are quite smooth, and composed of good pasture land, and the cliffs in many places literally vertical. In the summer the peasants make hay on the inclined pastures; and the hay is "carried" by merely binding the haycocks tight and rolling them down the slope and over the cliff, when I have heard them fall to the bank below, a height of from five to eight hundred feet, with a sound like the distant report of a heavy piece of artillery.

Sec. 19. The next point of importance in these beds is the curvature, to which, as well as to fracture, they seem to have been subjected. This curvature is not to be confounded with that rippling or undulating character of every portion of the slaty crystalline rocks above described. I am now speaking of all kinds of rocks indifferently;—not of their appearance in small pieces, but of their great contours in masses, thousands of feet thick. And it is almost universally true of these masses that they do not merely lie in flat superposition one over another, as the books in Fig. 8; but they lie in waves, more or less vast and sweeping according to the scale of the country, as in Fig. 15, where the distance from one side of the figure to the other is supposed to be four or five leagues.

Sec. 20. Now, observe, if the precipices which we have just been describing had been broken when their substance was in a hard state, there appears no reason why any connexion should be apparent between the energy of undulation and these broken rocks. If the continuous waves were caused by convulsive movements of the earth's surface while its substance was pliable, and were left in repose for so long a period as to become perfectly hard before they were broken into cliffs, there seems no reason why the second series of shocks should so closely have confined itself to the locality which had suffered the first, that the most abrupt precipices should always be associated with the wildest waves. We might have expected that sometimes we should have had noble cliffs raised where the waves had been slight; and sometimes low and slight fractures where the waves had been violent. But this is not so. The contortions and fractures bear always such relation to each other as appears positively to imply contemporaneous formation. Through all the lowland districts of the world the average contour of the waves of rock is somewhat as represented in Fig. 16 a, and the little cliffs or hills formed at the edges of the beds (whether by fracture, or, as oftener happens in such countries, by gradual washing away under the surge of ancient seas) are no higher, in proportion to the extent of surface, than the little steps seen in the centre of the figure. Such is the nature, and such the scale, of the ranges of hills which form our own downs and wolds, and the French coteaux beside their winding rivers. But as we approach the hill countries, the undulation becomes more marked, and the crags more bold; so that almost any portion of such mountain ranges as the Jura or the Vosges will present itself under conditions such as those at b, the precipices at the edges being bolder in exact proportion to the violence of wave. And, finally, in the central and noblest chains the undulation becomes literally contortion; the beds occur in such positions as those at c, and the precipices are bold and terrific in exact proportion to this exaggerated and tremendous contortion.

Sec. 21. These facts appear to be just as contrary to the supposition of the mountains having been formed while the rocks were hard, as the considerations adduced in Sec. 15 are to that of their being formed while they were soft. And I believe the more the reader revolves the subject in his thoughts, and the more opportunities he has of examining the existing facts, the less explicable those facts will become to him, and the more reverent will be his acknowledgment of the presence of the cloud.

For, as he examines more clearly the structure of the great mountain ranges, he will find that though invariably the boldest forms are associated with the most violent contortions, they sometimes follow the contortions, and sometimes appear entirely independent of them. For instance, in crossing the pass of the Tete Noire, if the traveller defers his journey till near the afternoon, so that from the top of the pass he may see the great limestone mountain in the Valais, called the Dent de Morcles, under the full evening light, he will observe that its peaks are hewn out of a group of contorted beds, as shown in Fig. 4, Plate 29. The wild and irregular zigzag of the beds, which traverse the face of the cliff with the irregularity of a flash of lightning, has apparently not the slightest influence on the outline of the peak. It has been carved out of the mass, with no reference whatever to the interior structure. In like manner, as we shall see hereafter, the most wonderful peak in the whole range of the Alps seems to have been cut out of a series of nearly horizontal beds, as a square pillar of hay is cut out of a half-consumed haystack. And yet, on the other hand, we meet perpetually with instances in which the curves of the beds have in great part directed the shape of the whole mass of mountain. The gorge which leads from the village of Ardon, in the Valais, up to the root of the Diablerets, runs between two ranges of limestone hills, of which the rude contour is given in Fig. 17, page 154. The great slope seen on the left, rising about seven thousand feet above the ravine, is nothing but the back of one sheet of limestone, whose broken edge forms the first cliff at the top, a height of about six hundred feet, the second cliff being the edge of another bed emergent beneath it, and the slope beyond, the surface of a third. These beds of limestone all descend at a uniform inclination into the gorge, where they are snapped short off, the torrent cutting its way along the cleft, while the beds rise on the other side in a huge contorted wave, forming the ridge of mountains on the right,—a chain about seven miles in length, and from five thousand to six thousand feet in height. The actual order of the beds is seen in Fig. 18, and it is one of the boldest and clearest examples of the form of mountains being correspondent to the curves of beds which I have ever seen; it also exhibits a condition of the summits which is of constant occurrence in stratified hills, and peculiarly important as giving rise to the serrated structure, rendered classical by the Spaniards in their universal term for mountain ridges, Sierra, and obtaining for one of the most important members of the Comasque chain of Alps its well known Italian name—Il Resegone. Such mountains are not merely successions of irregular peaks, more or less resembling the edge of a much-hacked sword; they are orderly successions of teeth set in one direction, closely resembling those of a somewhat overworn saw, and nearly always produced by successive beds emerging one from beneath the other.

Sec. 22. In all such cases there is an infinitely greater difficulty in accounting for the forms than in explaining the fracture of a single bed. How, and when, and where, were the other portions carried away? Was each bed once continuous over a much larger space from the point where its edge is now broken off, or have such beds slipped back into some gulf behind them? It is very easy for geologists to speak generally of elevation and convulsion, but very difficult to explain what sort of convulsion it could be which passed forward from the edge of one bed to the edge of another, and broke the required portion off each without disturbing the rest. Try the experiment in the simplest way: put half a dozen of hard captain's biscuits in a sloping position on a table, and then try, as they lie, to break the edge of each, one by one, without disturbing the rest. At least, you will have to raise the edge before you can break it; to put your hand underneath, between it and the next biscuit, before you can get any purchase on it. What force was it that put its fingers between one bed of limestone 600 feet thick and the next beneath? If you try to break the biscuits by a blow from above, observe the necessary force of your blow, and then conceive, if you can, the sort of hammer that was required to break the 600 feet of rock through in the same way. But, also, you will, ten to one, break two biscuits at the same time. Now, in these serrated formations, two biscuits are never broken at the same time. There is no appearance of the slightest jar having taken place affecting the bed beneath. If there be, a huge cliff or gorge is formed at that spot, not a sierra. Thus, in Fig. 18, the beds are affected throughout their united body by the shock which formed the ravine at a; but they are broken, one by one, into the cliffs at b and c. Sometimes one is tempted to think that they must have been slipped back, one from off the other; but there is never any appearance of friction having taken place on their exposed surfaces; in the plurality of instances their continuance or rise from their roots in waves (see Fig. 16 above) renders the thing utterly impossible; and in the few instances which have been known of such action actually taking place (which have always been on a small scale), the sliding bed has been torn into a thousand fragments almost as soon as it began to move.[51]

Sec. 23. And, finally, supposing a force found capable of breaking these beds in the manner required, what force was it that carried the fragments away? How were the gigantic fields of shattered marble conveyed from the ledges which were to remain exposed? No signs of violence are found on these ledges; what marks there are, the rain and natural decay have softly traced through a long series of years. Those very time-marks may have indeed effaced mere superficial appearances of convulsion; but could they have effaced all evidence of the action of such floods as would have been necessary to carry bodily away the whole ruin of a block of marble leagues in length and breadth, and a quarter of a mile thick? Ponder over the intense marvellousness of this. The bed at c (Fig. 18) must first be broken through the midst of it into a sharp precipice, without at all disturbing it elsewhere; and then all of it beyond c is to be broken up, and carried perfectly away, without disturbing or wearing down the face of the cliff at c.

And yet no trace of the means by which all this was effected is left. The rock stands forth in its white and rugged mystery, as if its peak had been born out of the blue sky. The strength that raised it, and the sea that wrought upon it, have passed away, and left no sign; and we have no words wherein to describe their departure, no thoughts to form about their action, than those of the perpetual and unsatisfied interrogation,—

"What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest? And ye mountains, that ye skipped like lambs?"


[49] How far, is another question. The sand which the stream brings from the bottom of one eddy in its course, it throws down in the next; all that is proved by the above trial is, that so many tons of material are annually carried down by it a certain number of feet.

[50] Nearly; that is to say, not quite vertical. Of the degree of steepness, we shall have more to say hereafter.

[51] The Rossberg fall, compared to the convulsions which seem to have taken place in the higher Alps, is like the slip of a paving stone compared to the fall of a tower.



Sec. 1. In the 20th paragraph of the last chapter, it was noticed that ordinarily the most irregular contortions or fractures of beds of rock were found in the districts of most elevated hills, the contortion or fracture thus appearing to be produced at the moment of elevation. It has also previously been stated that the hardness and crystalline structure of the material increased with the mountainous character of the ground; so that we find as almost invariably correlative, the hardness of the rock, its distortion, and its height; and, in like manner its softness, regularity of position, and lowness. Thus, the line of beds in an English range of down, composed of soft chalk which crumbles beneath the fingers, will be as low and continuous as in a of Fig. 16 (p. 151); the beds in the Jura mountains, composed of firm limestone, which needs a heavy hammer stroke to break it, will be as high and wavy as at b; and the ranges of Alps, composed of slaty crystallines, yielding only to steel wedges or to gunpowder, will be as lofty and as wild in structure as at c. Without this beneficent connection of hardness of material with height, mountain ranges either could not have existed, or would not have been habitable. In their present magnificent form, they could not have existed; and whatever their forms, the frequent falls and crumblings away, which are of little consequence in the low crags of Hastings, Dover, or Lyme, would have been fatal to the population of the valleys beneath, when they took place from heights of eight or ten thousand feet.

Sec. 2. But this hardening of the material would not have been sufficient, by itself, to secure the safety of the inhabitants. Unless the reader has been already familiarized with geological facts, he must surely have been struck by the prominence of the bedded structure in all the instances of mountain form given in the preceding chapter; and must have asked himself, Why are mountains always built in this masonry-like way, rather than in compact masses? Now, it is true that according to present geological theories, the bedded structure was a necessary consequence of the mode in which the materials were accumulated; but it is not less true that this bedded structure is now the principal means of securing the stability of the mass, and is to be regarded as a beneficent appointment, with such special view. That structure compels each mountain to assume the safest contour of which under the given circumstances of upheaval it is capable. If it were all composed of an amorphous mass of stone as at A, Fig. 19, a crack beginning from the top, as at x in A, might gradually extend downwards in the direction x y in B, until the whole mass, indicated by the shade, separated itself and fell. But when the whole mountain is arranged in beds, as at C, the crack beginning at the top stops in the uppermost bed, or, if it extends to the next, it will be in a different place, and the detached blocks, marked by the shaded portions, are of course still as secure in their positions as before the crack took place. If, indeed, the beds sloped towards the precipice, as at D, the danger would be greater; but if the reader looks to any of the examples of mountain form hitherto given, he will find that the universal tendency of the modes of elevation is to cause the beds to slope away from the precipice, and to build the whole mountain in the form C, which affords the utmost possible degree of security. Nearly all the mountains which rise immediately above thickly peopled districts, though they may appear to be thrown into isolated peaks, are in reality nothing more than flattish ranks of rock, terminated by walls of cliff, of this perfectly safe kind; and it will be part of our task in the succeeding chapter to examine at some length the modes in which sublime and threatening forms are almost deceptively assumed by arrangements of mountain which are in themselves thus simple and secure.

Sec. 3. It, however, fell within the purpose of the Great Builder to give, in the highest peaks of mountains, examples of form more strange and majestic than any which could be attained by structures so beneficently adapted to the welfare of the human race. And the admission of other modes of elevation, more terrific and less secure, takes place exactly in proportion to the increasing presence of such conditions in the locality as shall render it on other grounds unlikely to be inhabited, or incapable of being so. Where the soil is rich and the climate soft, the hills are low and safe;[52] as the ground becomes poorer and the air keener, they rise into forms of more peril and pride; and their utmost terror is shown only where their fragments fall on trackless ice, and the thunder of their ruin can be heard but by the ibex and the eagle.

Sec. 4. The safety of the lower mountains depends, as has just been observed, on their tendency to divide themselves into beds. But it will easily be understood that, together with security, such a structure involves some monotony of aspect; and that the possibility of a rent like that indicated in the last figure, extending itself without a check, so as to detach some vast portion of the mountain at once, would be a means of obtaining accidental forms of far greater awfulness. We find, accordingly, that the bedded structure is departed from in the central peaks; that they are in reality gifted with this power, or, if we choose so to regard it, affected with this weakness, of rending downwards throughout into vertical sheets; and that to this end they are usually composed of that structureless and massive rock which we have characterized by the term "compact crystalline."

Sec. 5. This, indeed, is not universal. It happens sometimes that toward the centre of great hill ranges ordinary stratified rocks of the coherent groups are hardened into more compact strength than is usual with them; and out of the hardened mass a peak, or range of peaks, is cut as if out of a single block. Thus the well known Dent du Midi of Bex, a mountain of peculiar interest to the English travellers who crowd the various inns and pensions which now glitter along the shores of the Lake of Geneva at Vevay, Clarens, and Montreux, is cut out of horizontal beds of rock which are traceable in the evening light by their dark and light lines along its sides, like courses of masonry; the real form of the mountain being that of the ridge of a steep house-roof, jagged and broken at the top, so that, seen from near St. Maurice, the extremity of the ridge appears a sharp pyramid. The Dent de Morcles, opposite the Dent du Midi, has been already noticed, and is figured in Plate 29, Fig. 4. In like manner, the Matterhorn is cut out of a block of nearly horizontal beds of gneiss. But in all these cases the materials are so hardened and knit together that to all intents and purposes they form one solid mass, and when the forms are to be of the boldest character possible, this solid mass is unstratified, and of compact crystalline rock.

Sec. 6. In looking from Geneva in the morning light, when Mont Blanc and its companion hills are seen dark against the dawn, almost every traveller must have been struck by the notable range of jagged peaks which bound the horizon immediately to the north-east of Mont Blanc. In ordinary weather they appear a single chain, but if any clouds or mists happen to float into the heart of the group, it divides itself into two ranges, lower and higher, as in Fig. 1, Plate 29, of which the uppermost and more distant chain is the real crest of the Alps, and the lower and darker line is composed of subordinate peaks which form the south side of the valley of Chamouni, and are therefore ordinarily known as the "Aiguilles of Chamouni."

Though separated by some eight or nine miles of actual distance, the two ranges are part of one and the same system of rock. They are both of them most notable examples of the structure of the compact crystalline peaks, and their jagged and spiry outlines are rendered still more remarkable in any view obtained of them in the immediate neighborhood of Geneva, by their rising, as in the figure, over two long slopes of comparatively flattish mountain. The highest of these is the back of a stratified limestone range, distant about twenty-five miles, whose precipitous extremity, nodding over the little village of St. Martin's, is well known under the name of the Aiguille de Varens. The nearer line is the edge of another limestone mountain, called the Petit Saleve, within five miles of Geneva. And thus we have two ranges of the crystalline rocks opposed to two ranges of the coherents, both having their distinctive characters, the one of vertical fracture, the other of level continuousness, developed on an enormous scale. I am aware of no other view in Europe where the essential characteristics of the two formations are so closely and graphically displayed.

Sec. 7. Nor can I imagine any person thoughtfully regarding the more distant range, without feeling his curiosity strongly excited as to the method of its first sculpture. That long banks and fields of rock should be raised aslope, and break at their edges into cliffs, however mysterious the details of the operation may be, is yet conceivable in the main circumstances without any great effort of imagination. But the carving of those great obelisks and spires out of an infinitely harder rock; the sculpture of all the fretted pinnacles on the inaccessible and calm elevation of that great cathedral,—how and when was this wrought? It is necessary, before the extent and difficulty of such a question can be felt, to explain more fully the scale and character of the peaks under consideration.

Sec. 8. The valley of Chamouni, largely viewed, and irrespectively of minor ravines and irregularities, is nothing more than a deep trench, dug between two ranges of nearly continuous mountains,—dug with a straightness and evenness which render its scenery, in some respects, more monotonous than that of any other Alpine valley. On each side it is bordered by banks of turf, darkened with pine forest, rising at an even slope to a height of about 3000 feet, so that it may best be imagined as a kind of dry moat, which, if cut across, would be of the form typically shown in Fig. 20; the sloping bank on each side being about 3000 feet high, or the moat about three fifths of a mile in vertical depth. Then, on the top of the bank, on each side, and a little way back from the edge of the moat, rise the ranges of the great mountains, in the form of shattered crests and pyramids of barren rock sprinkled with snow. Those on the south side of the valley rise another 3000 feet above the bank on which they stand, so that each of the masses superadded in Fig. 21 may best be described as a sort of Egyptian pyramid,[53] of the height of Snowden or Ben Lomond, hewn out of solid rock, and set on the shoulder of the great bank which borders the valley. Then the Mont Blanc, a higher and heavier cluster of such summits, loaded with deep snow, terminates the range. Glaciers of greater or less extent descend between the pyramids of rock; and one, supplied from their largest recesses, even runs down the bank into the valley. Fig. 22[54] rudely represents the real contours of the mountains, including Mont Blanc itself, on its south side. The range of peaks, b, p, m, is that already spoken of, known as the "Aiguilles of Chamouni." They form but a very small portion of a great crowd of similar, and, for the most part, larger peaks which constitute the chain of Mont Blanc, and which receive from the Savoyards the name of Aiguilles, or needles, in consequence of their peculiarly sharp summits. The forms of these Aiguilles, wonderful enough in themselves, are, nevertheless, perpetually exaggerated both by the imagination of the traveller, and by the artists whose delineations of them find most frank acceptance. Fig. 1 in Plate 30 is faithfully copied from the representation given of one of these mountains in a plate lately published at Geneva. Fig. 2 in the same plate is a true outline of the mountain itself. Of the exaggerations in the other I shall have more to say presently; meantime, I refer to it merely as a proof that I am not myself exaggerating, in giving Fig. 22 as showing the general characters of these peaks.

Sec. 9. This, then, is the problem to be considered,—How mountains of such rugged and precipitous outline, and at the least 3000 feet in height, were originally carved out of the hardest rocks, and set in their present position on the top of the green and sloping bank which sustains them.

"By mere accident," the reader replies. "The uniform bank might as easily have been the highest, and the broken granite peaks have risen from its sides, or at the bottom of it. It is merely the chance formation of the valley of Chamouni."

Nay; not so. Although, as if to bring the problem more clearly before the thoughts of men, by marking the structure most where the scenery is most attractive, the formation is more distinct at Chamouni than anywhere else in the Alpine chain; yet the general condition of a rounded bank sustaining jagged or pyramidal peaks is more or less traceable throughout the whole district of the great mountains. The most celebrated spot, next to the valley of Chamouni, is the centre of the Bernese Oberland; and it will be remembered by all travellers that in its principal valley, that of Grindelwald, not only does the summit of the Wetterhorn consist of a sharp pyramid raised on the advanced shoulder of a great promontory, but the two most notable summits of the Bernese Alps, the Schreckhorn and Finsteraarhorn, cannot be seen from the valley at all, being thrown far back upon an elevated plateau, of which only the advanced head or shoulder, under the name of the Mettenberg, can be seen from the village. The real summits, consisting in each case of a ridge starting steeply from this elevated plateau, as if by a new impulse of angry or ambitious mountain temper, can only be seen by ascending a considerable height upon the flank of the opposite mass of the Faulhorn.

Sec. 10. And this is, if possible, still more notably and provokingly the case with the great peaks of the chain of Alps between Monte Rosa and Mont Blanc. It will be seen, by a glance at any map of Switzerland, that the district which forms the canton Valais is, in reality, nothing but a ravine sixty miles long, between that central chain and the Alps of the cantons Fribourg and Berne. This ravine is also, in its general structure, merely a deeper and wider moat than that already described as forming the valley of Chamouni. It lies, in the same manner, between two banks of mountain; and the principal peaks are precisely in the same manner set back upon the tops of these banks; and so provokingly far back, that throughout the whole length of the valley not one of the summits of the chief chain can be seen from it. That usually pointed out to travellers as Monte Rosa is a subordinate, though still very colossal mass, called the Montagne de Saas; and this is the only peak of great size discoverable from the valley throughout its extent; one or two glimpses of the snows, not at any eminent point, being caught through the entrances of the lateral valleys of Evolena, &c.

Sec. 11. Nor is this merely the consequence of the great distance of the central ridge. It would be intelligible enough that the mountains should rise gradually higher and higher towards the middle of the chain, so that the summit at a in the upper diagram of Fig. 23 should be concealed by the intermediate eminences b, c, from the valley at d. But this is not, by any means, the manner in which the concealment is effected. The great peaks stand, as at a in the lower diagram, jagged, sharp, and suddenly starting out of a comparatively tame mass of elevated land, through which the trench of the valley of the Rhone is cut, as at c. The subdivision of the bank at b by thousands of ravines, and its rise, here and there, into more or less notable summits, conceal the real fact of the structure from a casual observer. But the longer I stayed among the Alps, and the more closely I examined them, the more I was struck by the one broad fact of their being a vast Alpine plateau, or mass of elevated land, upon which nearly all the highest peaks stood like children set upon a table, removed, in most cases, far back from the edge of the plateau, as if for fear of their falling. And the most majestic scenes in the Alps are produced, not so much by any violation of this law, as by one of the great peaks having apparently walked to the edge of the table to look over, and thus showing itself suddenly above the valley in its full height. This is the case with the Wetterhorn and Eiger at Grindelwald, and with the Grande Jorasse, above the Col de Ferret. But the raised bank or table is always intelligibly in existence, even in these apparently exceptional cases; and, for the most part, the great peaks are not allowed to come to the edge of it, but remain like the keeps of castles far withdrawn, surrounded, league beyond league, by comparatively level fields of mountain, over which the lapping sheets of glacier writhe and flow, foaming about the feet of the dark central crests like the surf of an enormous sea-breaker hurled over a rounded rock, and islanding some fragment of it in the midst. And the result of this arrangement is a kind of division of the whole of Switzerland into an upper and lower mountain-world; the lower world consisting of rich valleys bordered by steep, but easily accessible, wooded banks of mountain, more or less divided by ravines, through which glimpses are caught of the higher Alps; the upper world, reached after the first steep banks, of 3000 or 4000 feet in height, have been surmounted, consisting of comparatively level but most desolate tracts of moor and rock, half covered by glacier, and stretching to the feet of the true pinnacles of the chain.

Sec. 12. It can hardly be necessary to point out the perfect wisdom and kindness of this arrangement, as a provision for the safety of the inhabitants of the high mountain regions. If the great peaks rose at once from the deepest valleys, every stone which was struck from their pinnacles, and every snow-wreath which slipped from their ledges, would descend at once upon the inhabitable ground, over which no year could pass without recording some calamity of earth-slip or avalanche; while, in the course of their fall, both the stones and the snow would strip the woods from the hill sides, leaving only naked channels of destruction where there are now the sloping meadow and the chestnut glade. Besides this, the masses of snow, cast down at once into the warmer air, would all melt rapidly in the spring, causing furious inundation of every great river for a month or six weeks. The snow being then all thawed, except what lay upon the highest peaks in regions of nearly perpetual frost, the rivers would be supplied, during the summer, only by fountains, and the feeble tricklings on sunny days from the high snows. The Rhone under such circumstances would hardly be larger at Lyons than the Severn at Shrewsbury, and many Swiss valleys would be left almost without moisture. All these calamities are prevented by the peculiar Alpine structure which has been described. The broken rocks and the sliding snow of the high peaks, instead of being dashed at once to the vales, are caught upon the desolate shelves or shoulders which everywhere surround the central crests. The soft banks which terminate these shelves, traversed by no falling fragments, clothe themselves with richest wood; while the masses of snow heaped upon the ledge above them, in a climate neither so warm as to thaw them quickly in the spring, nor so cold as to protect them from all the power of the summer sun, either form themselves into glaciers, or remain in slowly wasting fields even to the close of the year,—in either case supplying constant, abundant, and regular streams to the villages and pastures beneath, and, to the rest of Europe, noble and navigable rivers.

Sec. 13. Now, that such a structure is the best and wisest possible, is, indeed, sufficient reason for its existence; and to many people it may seem useless to question farther respecting its origin. But I can hardly conceive any one standing face to face with one of these towers of central rock, and yet not also asking himself, Is this indeed the actual first work of the Divine Master on which I gaze? Was the great precipice shaped by His finger, as Adam was shaped out of the dust? Were its clefts and ledges carved upon it by its Creator, as the letters were on the Tables of the Law, and was it thus left to bear its eternal testimony to His beneficence among these clouds of heaven? Or is it the descendant of a long race of mountains, existing under appointed laws of birth and endurance, death and decrepitude?

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