Modern Painters, Volume IV (of V)
by John Ruskin
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Sec. 14. There can be no doubt as to the answer. The rock itself answers audibly by the murmur of some falling stone or rending pinnacle. It is not as it was once. Those waste leagues around its feet are loaded with the wrecks of what it was. On these, perhaps, of all mountains, the characters of decay are written most clearly; around these are spread most gloomily the memorials of their pride, and the signs of their humiliation.

"What then were they once?"

The only answer is yet again,—"Behold the cloud."

Their form, as far as human vision can trace it, is one of eternal decay. No retrospection can raise them out of their ruins, or withdraw them beyond the law of their perpetual fate. Existing science may be challenged to form, with the faintest color of probability, any conception of the original aspect of a crystalline mountain; it cannot be followed in its elevation, nor traced in its connection with its fellows. No eyes ever "saw its substance, yet being imperfect;" its history is a monotone of endurance and destruction: all that we can certainly know of it, is that it was once greater than it is now, and it only gathers vastness, and still gathers, as it fades into the abyss of the unknown.

Sec. 15. Yet this one piece of certain evidence ought not to be altogether unpursued; and while, with all humility, we shrink from endeavoring to theorize respecting processes which are concealed, we ought not to refuse to follow, as far as it will lead us, the course of thought which seems marked out by conspicuous and consistent phenomena. Exactly as the form of the lower mountains seems to have been produced by certain raisings and bendings of their formerly level beds, so the form of these higher mountains seems to have been produced by certain breakings away from their former elevated mass. If the process appears in either case doubtful, it is less so with respect to the higher hills. We may not easily believe that the steep limestone cliffs on one side of a valley, now apparently secure and steadfast, ever were united with the cliffs on the other side; but we cannot hesitate to admit that the peak which we see shedding its flakes of granite, on all sides of it, as a fading rose lets fall its leaves, was once larger than it is, and owes the present characters of its forms chiefly to the modes of its diminution.

Sec. 16. Holding fast this clue, we have next to take into consideration another fact of not less importance,—that over the whole of the rounded banks of lower mountain, wherever they have been in anywise protected from the injuries of time, there are yet visible the tracks of ancient glaciers. I will not here enter into detail respecting the mode in which traces of glaciers are distinguishable. It is enough to state that the footmark, so to speak, of a glacier is just as easily recognizable as the trail of any well-known animal; and that with as much confidence as we should feel in asserting that a horse had passed along a soft road which yet retained the prints of its shoes, it may be concluded that the glaciers of the Alps had once triple or quadruple the extent that they have now; so that not only the banks of inferior mountains were once covered with sheets of ice, but even the great valley of the Rhone itself was the bed of an enormous "Mer de Glace," which extended beyond the Lake of Geneva to the slopes of Jura.[55]

Sec. 17. From what has already been noted of glacier action, the reader cannot but be aware that its universal effect is to round and soften the contours of the mountains subjected to it; so that a glacier may be considered as a vast instrument of friction, a white sand-paper, applied slowly but irresistibly to all the roughnesses of the hill which it covers. And this effect is of course greatest when the ice flows fastest, and contains more embedded stones; that is to say, greater towards the lower part of a mountain than near its summit.

Suppose now a chain of mountains raised in any accidental form, only of course highest where the force was greatest,—that is to say, at the centre of the chain,—and presenting any profile such as a, Fig. 24; terminated, perhaps, by a broken secondary cliff, and the whole covered with a thick bed of glacier, indicated by the spotted space, and moving in the direction of the arrows. As it wears away the mountain, not at all at the top, but always more and more as it descends, it would in process of time reduce the contour of the flank of the hill to the form at b. But at this point the snow would begin to slide from the central peak, and to leave its rocks exposed to the action of the atmosphere. Supposing those rocks disposed to break into vertical sheets, the summit would soon cleave itself into such a form as that at x; and the flakes again subdividing and falling, we should have conditions such as at y. Meanwhile the glacier is still doing its work uninterruptedly on the lower bank, bringing the mountain successively into the outlines c and d, in which the forms x and y are substituted consecutively for the original summit. But the level of the whole flank of the mountain being now so much reduced, the glacier has brought itself by its own work into warmer climate, and has wrought out its own destruction. It would gradually be thinned away, and in many places at last vanish, leaving only the barren rounded mountains, and the tongues of ice still supplied from the peaks above.

Sec. 18. Such is the actual condition of the Alps at this moment. I do not say that they have in reality undergone any such process. But I think it right to put the supposition before the reader, more with a view of explaining what the appearance of things actually is, than with any wish that he should adopt either this or any other theory on the subject. It facilitates a description of the Breche de Roland to say, that it looks as if the peer had indeed cut it open with a swordstroke; but it would be unfair to conclude that the describer gravely wished the supposition to be adopted as explanatory of the origin of the ravine. In like manner, the reader who has followed the steps of the theory I have just offered, will have a clearer conception of the real look and anatomy of the Alps than I could give him by any other means. But he is welcome to accept in seriousness just as much or as little of the theory as he likes.[56] Only I am well persuaded that the more familiar any one becomes with the chain of the Alps, the more, whether voluntarily or not, the idea will force itself upon him of their being mere remnants of large masses,—splinters and fragments, as of a stranded wreck, the greater part of which has been removed by the waves; and the more he will be convinced of the existence of two distinct regions, one, as it were, below the ice, another above it,—one of subjected, the other of emergent rock; the lower worn away by the action of the glaciers and rains, the higher splintering and falling to pieces by natural disintegration.

Sec. 19. I press, however, neither conjecture nor inquiry farther; having already stated all that is necessary to give the reader a complete idea of the different divisions of mountain form. I proceed now to examine the points of pictorial interest in greater detail; and in order to do so more conveniently, I shall adopt the order, in description, which Nature seems to have adopted in formation; beginning with the mysterious hardness of the central crystallines, and descending to the softer and lower rocks which we see in some degree modified by the slight forces still in operation. We will therefore examine: 1. the pictorial phenomena of the central peaks; 2. those of the summits of the lower mountains round them, to which we shall find it convenient to give the distinguishing name of crests; 3. the formation of Precipices, properly so called; then, the general aspect of the Banks and Slopes, produced by the action of water or of falling debris, on the sides or at the bases of mountains; and finally, remove, if it may be, a few of the undeserved scorns thrown upon our most familiar servants, Stones. To each of these subjects we shall find it necessary to devote a distinct chapter.


[52] It may be thought I should have reversed these sentences, and written where the hills are low and safe, the climate is soft, &c. But it is not so. No antecedent reason can be shown why the Mont Cervin or Finsteraarhorn should not have risen sharp out of the plains of Lombardy, instead of out of glaciers.

[53] I use the terms "pyramid" and "peak" at present, in order to give a rough general idea of the aspect of these hills. Both terms, as we shall see in the next chapter, are to be accepted under limitation.

[54] This coarse sketch is merely given for reference, as I shall often have to speak of the particular masses of mountain, indicated by the letters in the outline below it; namely—

b. Aiguille Blaitiere. p. Aiguille du Plan. m. Aiguille du Midi. M. Mont Blanc (summit). d. Dome du Goute. g. Aiguille du Goute. q and r indicate stations only. T. Tapia. C. Montagne de la Cote. t. Montagne de Taconay.

[55] The glacier tracks on the gneiss of the great angle opposite Martigny are the most magnificent I ever saw in the Alps; those above the channel of the Trient, between Valorsine and the valley of the Rhone, the most interesting.

[56] For farther information respecting the glaciers and their probable action, the reader should consult the works of Professor Forbes. I believe this theory of the formation of the upper peaks has been proposed by him, and recently opposed by Mr. Sharpe, who believes that the great bank spoken of in the text was originally a sea-bottom. But I have simply stated in this chapter the results of my own watchings of the Alps; for being without hope of getting time for available examination of the voluminous works on these subjects, I thought it best to read nothing (except Forbes's most important essay on the glaciers, several times quoted in the text), and therefore to give, at all events, the force of independent witness to such impressions as I received from the actual facts; De Saussure, always a faithful recorder of those facts, and my first master in geology, being referred to, occasionally, for information respecting localities I had not been able to examine.



Sec. 1. I have endeavored in the preceding chapters always to keep the glance of the reader on the broad aspect of things, and to separate for him the mountain masses into the most distinctly comprehensible forms. We must now consent to take more pains, and observe more closely.

Sec. 2. I begin with the Aiguilles. In Fig. 24, p. 170, at a, it was assumed that the mass was raised highest merely where the elevating force was greatest, being of one substance with the bank or cliff below. But it hardly ever is of the same substance. Almost always it is of compact crystallines, and the bank of slaty crystallines; or if it be of slaty crystallines the bank is of slaty coherents. The bank is almost always the softer of the two.[57]

Is not this very marvellous? Is it not exactly as if the substance had been prepared soft or hard with a sculpturesque view to what had to be done with it; soft, for the glacier to mould, and the torrent to divide; hard, to stand for ever, central in mountain majesty.

Sec. 3. Next, then, comes the question, How do these compact crystallines and slaty crystallines join each other? It has long been a well recognized fact in the science of geology, that the most important mountain ranges lift up and sustain upon their sides the beds of rock which form the inferior groups of hills around them in the manner roughly shown in the section Fig. 25, where the dark mass stands for the hard rock of the great mountains (crystallines), and the lighter lines at the side of it indicate the prevalent direction of the beds in the neighboring hills (coherents), while the spotted portions represent the gravel and sand of which the great plains are usually composed. But it has not been so universally recognized, though long ago pointed out by De Saussure, that the great central groups are often themselves composed of beds lying in a precisely opposite direction; so that if we analyze carefully the structure of the dark mass in the centre of Fig. 25, we shall find it arranged in lines which slope downwards to the centre; the flanks of it being of slaty crystalline rock, and the summit of compact crystallines, as at a, Fig. 26.

In speaking of the sculpture of the central peaks in the last chapter, I made no reference to the nature of the rocks in the banks on which they stood. The diagram at a, Fig. 27, as representative of the original condition, and b, of the resultant condition will, compared with Fig. 24, p. 170, more completely illustrate the change.[58]

Sec. 4. By what secondary laws this structure may ultimately be discovered to have been produced is of no consequence to us at present; all that it is needful for us to note is the beneficence which appointed it for the mountains destined to assume the boldest forms. For into whatever outline they may be sculptured by violence or time, it is evident at a glance that their stability and security must always be the greatest possible under the given circumstances. Suppose, for instance, that the peak is in such a form as a in Fig. 26, then, however steep the slope may be on either side, there is still no chance of one piece of rock sliding off another; but if the same outline were given to beds disposed as at b, the unsupported masses might slide off those beneath them at any moment, unless prevented by the inequalities of the surfaces. Farther, in the minor divisions of the outline, the tendency of the peak at a will be always to assume contours like those at a in Fig. 28, which are, of course, perfectly safe; but the tendency of the beds at b in Fig. 27 will be to break into contours such as at b here, which are all perilous, not only in the chance of each several portion giving way, but in the manner in which they would deliver, from one to the other, the fragments which fell. A stone detached from any portion of the peak at a would be caught and stopped on the ledge beneath it; but a fragment loosened from b would not stay till it reached the valley by a series of accelerating bounds.

Sec. 5. While, however, the secure and noble form represented at a in Figs. 26 and 28 is for the most part ordained to be that of the highest mountains, the contours at b, in each figure, are of perpetual occurrence among the secondary ranges, in which, on a smaller scale, they produce some of the most terrific and fantastic forms of precipice; not altogether without danger, as has been fearfully demonstrated by many a "bergfall" among the limestone groups of the Alps; but with far less danger than would have resulted from the permission of such forms among the higher hills; and with collateral advantages which we shall have presently to consider. In the meantime, we return to the examination of the superior groups.

Sec. 6. The reader is, no doubt, already aware that the chain of the Mont Blanc is bordered by two great valleys, running parallel to each other, and seemingly excavated on purpose that travellers might be able to pass, foot by foot, along each side of the Mont Blanc and its aiguilles, and thus examine every peak in succession. One of these valleys is that of Chamouni, the other that of which one half is called the Allee Blanche, and the other the Val Ferret, the town of Cormayeur being near its centre, where it opens to the Val d'Aosta. Now, cutting the chain of Mont Blanc right across, from valley to valley, through the double range of aiguilles, the section would be[59] as Fig. 29 here, in which a is the valley of Chamouni, b the range of aiguilles of Chamouni, c the range of the Geant, d the valley of Cormayeur.

Ideal. Actual.

The little projection under M is intended to mark approximately the position of the so well-known "Montanvert." It is a great weakness, not to say worse than weakness, on the part of travellers, to extol always chiefly what they think fewest people have seen or can see. I have climbed much, and wandered much, in the heart of the high Alps, but I have never yet seen anything which equalled the view from the cabin of the Montanvert; and as the spot is visited every year by increasing numbers of tourists, I have thought it best to take the mountains which surround it for the principal subjects of our inquiry.

Sec. 7. The little eminence left under M truly marks the height of the Montanvert on the flanks of the Aiguilles, but not accurately its position, which is somewhat behind the mass of mountain supposed to be cut through by the section. But the top of the Montanvert is actually formed, as shown at M, by the crests of the oblique beds of slaty crystallines. Every traveller must remember the steep and smooth beds of rock like sloping walls, down which, and over the ledges of which, the path descends from the cabin to the edge of the glacier. These sloping walls are formed by the inner sides of the crystalline beds,[60] as exposed in the notch behind the letter M.

Sec. 8. To these beds we shall return presently, our object just now being to examine the aiguille, which, on the Montanvert, forms the most conspicuous mass of mountain on the right of the spectator. It is known in Chamouni as the Aiguille des Charmoz, and is distinguished by a very sharp horn or projection on its side, which usually attracts the traveller's attention as one of the most singular minor features in the view from the Montanvert. The larger masses of the whole aiguille, and true contour of this horn, are carefully given in plate 30, Fig. 2, as they are seen in morning sunshine. The impression which travellers usually carry away with them is, I presume, to be gathered from Fig. 1, a fac simile of one of the lithographs purchased with avidity by English travellers, in the shops of Chamouni and Geneva, as giving a faithful representation of this aiguille seen from the Montanvert. It is worth while to perpetuate this example of the ideal landscape of the nineteenth century, popular at the time when the works of Turner were declared by the public to be extravagant and unnatural.

Sec. 9. This example of the common ideal of aiguilles is, however, useful in another respect. It shows the strong impression which these Chamouni mountains leave, of their being above all others sharp-peaked and splintery, dividing more or less into arrowy spires; and it marks the sense of another and very curious character in them, that these spires are apt to be somewhat bent or curved.

Both these impressions are partially true, and need to be insisted upon, and cleared of their indistinctness, or exaggeration.

First, then, this strong impression of their peakedness and spiry separateness is always produced with the least possible danger to the travelling and admiring public; for if in reality these granite mountains were ever separated into true spires or points, in the least resembling this popular ideal in Plate 30, the Montanvert and Mer de Glace would be as inaccessible, except at the risk of life, as the trenches of a besieged city; and the continual fall of the splintering fragments would turn even the valley of Chamouni itself into a stony desolation.

Sec. 10. Perhaps in describing mountains with any effort to give some idea of their sublime forms, no expression comes oftener to the lips than the word "peak." And yet it is curious how rarely, even among the grandest ranges, an instance can be found of a mountain ascertainably peaked in the true sense of the word,—pointed at the top, and sloping steeply on all sides; perhaps not more than five summits in the chain of the Alps, the Finster-Aarhorn, Wetterhorn, Bietschhorn, Weisshorn, and Monte Viso presenting approximations to such a structure. Even in the case of not very steep pyramids, presenting themselves in the distance under some such outline as that at the top of Fig. 30, it almost invariably happens, when we approach and examine them, that they do not slope equally on all their sides, but are nothing more than steep ends of ridges, supported by far-extended masses of comparatively level rock, which, seen in perspective, give the impression of a steep slope, though in reality disposed in a horizonal, or nearly horizontal, line.

Sec. 11. Supposing the central diagram in Fig. 30 to be the apparent contour of a distant mountain, then its slopes may indeed, by singular chance, be as steep as they appear; but, in all probability, several of them are perspective descents of its retiring lines; and supposing it were formed as the gable roof of the old French house below, and seen under the same angle, it is evident that the part of the outline a b (in lettered reference line below) would be perfectly horizontal; b c an angle slope, in retiring perspective, much less steep than it appears; c d, perfectly, horizontal; d e, an advancing or foreshortened angle slope, less steep than it appears; and e f, perfectly horizontal.

But if the pyramid presents itself under a more formidable aspect, and with steeper sides than those of the central diagram, then it may be assumed (as far as I know mountains) for next to a certainty, that it is not a pointed obelisk, but the end of a ridge more or less prolonged, of which we see the narrow edge or section turned towards us.

For instance, no mountain in the Alps produces a more vigorous impression of peakedness than the Matterhorn. In Professor Forbes's work on the Alps, it is spoken of as an "obelisk" of rock, and represented with little exaggeration in his seventh plate under the outline Fig. 31. Naturally, in glancing, whether at the plate or the mountain, we assume the mass to be a peak, and suppose the line a b to be the steep slope of its side. But that line is a perspective line. It is in reality perfectly horizontal, corresponding to e f in the penthouse roof, Fig. 30.

Sec. 12. I say "perfectly horizontal," meaning, of course, in general tendency. It is more or less irregular and broken, but so nearly horizontal that, after some prolonged examination of the data I have collected about the Matterhorn, I am at this moment in doubt which is its top. For as, in order to examine the beds on its flanks, I walked up the Zmutt glacier, I saw that the line a b in Fig. 31 gradually lost its steepness; and about half-way up the glacier, the conjectural summit a then bearing nearly S. E. (forty degrees east of south), I found the contour was as in Fig. 32. In Fig. 33, I have given the contour as seen from Zermatt; and in all three, the same letters indicate the same points. In the Figures 32 and 33 I measured the angles with the greatest care,[61] from the base lines x y, which are accurately horizontal; and their general truth, irrespective of mere ruggedness, may be depended upon. Now in this flank view, Fig. 32, what was the summit at Zermatt, a, becomes quite subordinate, and the point b, far down the flank in Forbes's view taken from the Riffelhorn, is here the apparent summit. I was for some time in considerable doubt which of the appearances was most trustworthy; and believe now that they are both deceptive; for I found, on ascending the flank of the hills on the other side of the Valais, to a height of about five thousand feet above Brieg, between the Aletsch glacier and Bietschhorn; being thus high enough to get a view of the Matterhorn on something like distant terms of equality, up the St. Nicholas valley, it presented itself under the outline Fig. 34, which seems to be conclusive for the supremacy of the point e, between a and b in Fig. 33. But the impossibility of determining, at the foot of it, without a trigonometrical observation, which is the top of such an apparent peak as the Matterhorn, may serve to show the reader how little the eye is to be trusted for the verification of peaked outline.

Sec. 13. In like manner, the aiguilles of Chamouni, which present themselves to the traveller, as he looks up to them from the village, under an outline approximating to that rudely indicated at C in the next figure, are in reality buttresses projecting from an intermediate ridge. Let A be supposed to be a castle wall, with slightly elevated masses of square-built buttresses at intervals. Then, by a process of dilapidation, these buttresses might easily be brought to assume in their perspective of ruin the forms indicated at B, which, with certain modifications, is the actual shape of the Chamouni aiguilles. The top of the Aiguille Charmoz is not the point under d, but that under e. The deception is much increased by the elevation of the whole castle wall on the green bank before spoken of, which raises its foundation several thousand feet above the eye, and thus, giving amazing steepness to all the perspective lines, produces an impression of the utmost possible isolation of peaks, where, in reality, there is a well-supported, and more or less continuous, though sharply jagged, pile of solid walls.

Sec. 14. There is, however, this great difference between the castle wall and aiguilles, that the dilapidation in the one would take place by the fall of horizontal bricks or stones; in the aiguilles it takes place in quite an opposite manner by the flaking away of nearly vertical ones.

This is the next point of great interest respecting them. Observe, the object of their construction appears to be the attainment of the utmost possible peakedness in aspect, with the least possible danger to the inhabitants of the valleys. As, therefore, they are first thrown into transverse ridges, which take, in perspective, a more or less peaked outline, so, in their dilapidation, they split into narrow flakes, which, if seen edgeways, look as sharp as a lance-point, but are nevertheless still strong; being each of them, in reality, not a lance-point or needle, but a hatchet edge.

Sec. 15. And since if these sharp flakes broke straight across the masses of mountain, when once the fissure took place, all hold would be lost between flake and flake, it is ordered (and herein is the most notable thing in the whole matter) that they shall not break straight, but in curves, round the body of the aiguilles, somewhat in the manner of the coats of an onion; so that, even after fissure has taken place, the detached film or flake clings to and leans upon the central mass, and will not fall from it till centuries of piercing frost have wedged it utterly from its hold; and, even then, will not fall all at once, but drop to pieces slowly, and flake by flake. Consider a little the beneficence of this ordinance;[62] supposing the cliffs had been built like the castle wall, the mouldering away of a few bricks, more or less, at the bottom would have brought down huge masses above, as it constantly does in ruins, and in the mouldering cliffs of the slaty coherents; while yet the top of the mountain would have been always blunt and rounded, as at a, Fig. 36, when seen against the sky. But the aiguille being built in these nearly vertical curved flakes, the worst that the frost can do to it is to push its undermost rocks asunder into forms such as at b, of which, when many of the edges have fallen, the lower ones are more or less supported by the very debris accumulated at their feet; and yet all the while the tops sustain themselves in the most fantastic and incredible fineness of peak against the sky.

Sec. 16. I have drawn the flakes in Fig. 36, for illustration's sake, under a caricatured form. Their real aspect will be understood in a moment by a glance at the opposite plate, 31, which represents the central aiguille in the woodcut outline Fig. 35 (Aiguille Blaitiere, called by Forbes Greppond), as seen from within about half a mile of its actual base. The white shell-like mass beneath it is a small glacier, which in its beautifully curved outline[63] appears to sympathize with the sweep of the rocks beneath, rising and breaking like a wave at the feet of the remarkable horn or spur which supports it on the right. The base of the aiguille itself is, as it were, washed by this glacier, or by the snow which covers it, till late in the season, as a cliff is by the sea; except that a narrow chasm, of some twenty or thirty feet in depth and two or three feet wide, usually separates the rock from the ice, which is melted away by the heat reflected from the southern face of the aiguille. The rock all along this base line is of the most magnificent compactness and hardness, and rings under the hammer like a bell; yet, when regarded from a little distance, it is seen to be distinctly inclined to separate into grand curved flakes or sheets, of which the dark edges are well marked in the plate. The pyramidal form of the aiguille, as seen from this point, is, however, entirely deceptive; the square rock which forms its apparent summit is not the real top, but much in advance of it, and the slope on the right against the sky is a perspective line; while, on the other hand, the precipice in light, above the three small horns at the narrowest part of the glacier, is considerably steeper than it appears to be, the cleavage of the flakes crossing it somewhat obliquely. But I show the aiguille from this spot that the reader may more distinctly note the fellowship between its curved precipice and the little dark horn or spur which bounds the glacier; a spur the more remarkable because there is just such another, jutting in like manner from the corresponding angle of the next aiguille (Charmoz), both of them looking like remnants or foundations of the vaster ancient pyramids, of which the greater part has been by ages carried away.

Sec. 17. The more I examined the range of the aiguilles the more I was struck by this curved cleavage as their principal character. It is quite true that they have other straighter cleavages (noticed in the Appendix, as the investigation of them would be tiresome to the general reader); but it is this to which they owe the whole picturesqueness of their contours; curved as it is, not simply, but often into the most strange shell-like undulations, as will be understood by a glance at Fig. 37, which shows the mere governing lines at the base of this Aiguille Blaitiere, seen, with its spur, from a station some quarter of a mile nearer it, and more to the east than that chosen in Plate 31. These leading lines are rarely well shown in fine weather, the important contour from a downwards being hardly relieved clearly from the precipice beyond (b), unless a cloud intervenes, as it did when I made this memorandum; while, again, the leading lines of the Aiguille du Plan, as seen from the foot of it, close to the rocks, are as at Fig. 38, the generally pyramidal outline being nearly similar to that of Blaitiere, and a spur being thrown out to the right, under a, composed in exactly the same manner of curved folia of rock laid one against the other. The hollow in the heart of the aiguille is as smooth and sweeping in curve as the cavity of a vast bivalve shell.

Sec. 18. I call these the governing or leading lines, not because they are the first which strike the eye, but because, like those of the grain of the wood in a tree-trunk, they rule the swell and fall and change of all the mass. In Nature, or in a photograph, a careless observer will by no means be struck by them, any more than he would by the curves of the tree; and an ordinary artist would draw rather the cragginess and granulation of the surfaces, just as he would rather draw the bark and moss of the trunk. Nor can any one be more steadfastly adverse than I to every substitution of anatomical knowledge for outward and apparent fact; but so it is, that as an artist increases in acuteness of perception, the facts which become outward and apparent to him are those which bear upon the growth or make of the thing. And, just as in looking at any woodcut of trees after Titian or Albert Durer, as compared with a modern water-color sketch, we shall always be struck by the writhing and rounding of the tree trunks in the one, and the stiffness, and merely blotted or granulated surfaces of the other; so, in looking at these rocks, the keenness of the artist's eye may almost precisely be tested by the degree in which he perceives the curves that give them their strength and grace, and in harmony with which the flakes of granite are bound together, like the bones of the jaw of a saurian. Thus the ten years of study which I have given to these mountains since I described them in the first volume as "traversed sometimes by graceful curvilinear fissures, sometimes by straight fissures," have enabled me to ascertain, and now generally at a glance to see, that the curvilinear ones are dominant, and that even the fissures or edges which appear perfectly straight have almost always some delicate sympathy with the curves. Occasionally, however, as in the separate beds which form the spur or horn of the Aiguille Blaitiere, seen in true profile in Plate 29, Fig. 3, the straightness is so accurate that, not having brought a rule with me up the glacier, I was obliged to write under my sketch, "Not possible to draw it straight enough." Compare also the lines sloping to the left in Fig. 38.

Sec. 19. "But why not give everything just as it is; without caring what is dominant and what subordinate?"

You cannot. Of all the various impossibilities which torment and humiliate the painter, none are more vexatious than that of drawing a mountain form. It is indeed impossible enough to draw, by resolute care, the foam on a wave, or the outline of the foliage of a large tree; but in these cases, when care is at fault, carelessness will help, and the dash of the brush will in some measure give wildness to the churning of the foam, and infinitude to the shaking of the leaves. But chance will not help us with the mountain. Its fine and faintly organized edge seems to be definitely traced against the sky; yet let us set ourselves honestly to follow it, and we find, on the instant, it has disappeared: and that for two reasons. The first, that if the mountain be lofty, and in light, it is so faint in color that the eye literally cannot trace its separation from the hues next to it. The other day I wanted the contour of a limestone mountain in the Valais, distant about seven miles, and as many thousand feet above me; it was barren limestone; the morning sun fell upon it, so as to make it almost vermilion color, and the sky behind it a bluish green. Two tints could hardly have been more opposed, but both were so subtle, that I found it impossible to see accurately the line that separated the vermilion from the green. The second, that if the contour be observed from a nearer point, or looked at when it is dark against the sky, it will be found composed of millions of minor angles, crags, points, and fissures, which no human sight or hand can draw finely enough, and yet all of which have effect upon the mind.

Sec. 20. The outline shown as dark against the sky in Plate 29, Fig. 2 is about a hundred, or a hundred and twenty, yards of the top of the ridge of Charmoz, running from the base of the aiguille down to the Montanvert, and seen from the moraine of the Charmoz glacier, a quarter of a mile distant to the south-west.[64] It is formed of decomposing granite, thrown down in blocks entirely detached, but wedged together, so as to stand continually in these seemingly perilous contours (being a portion of such a base of aiguille as that in b, Fig. 36, p. 185).[65] The block forming the summit on the left is fifteen or eighteen feet long; and the upper edge of it, which is the dominant point of the Charmoz ridge, is the best spot in the Chamouni district for giving a thorough command of the relations of the aiguilles on each side of the Mer de Glace. Now put the book, with that page open, upright, at three yards distance from you, and try to draw this contour, which I have made as dark and distinct as it ever could be in reality, and you will immediately understand why it is impossible to draw mountain outlines rightly.

Sec. 21. And if not outlines, a fortiori not details of mass, which have all the complexity of the outline multiplied a thousand fold, and drawn in fainter colors. Nothing is more curious than the state of embarrassment into which the unfortunate artist must soon be cast when he endeavors honestly to draw the face of the simplest mountain cliff—say a thousand feet high, and two or three miles distant. It is full of exquisite details, all seemingly decisive and clear; but when he tries to arrest one of them, he cannot see it,—cannot find where it begins or ends,—and presently it runs into another; and then he tries to draw that, but that will not be drawn, neither, until it has conducted him to a third, which, somehow or another, made part of the first; presently he finds that, instead of three, there are in reality four, and then he loses his place altogether. He tries to draw clear lines, to make his work look craggy, but finds that then it is too hard; he tries to draw soft lines, and it is immediately too soft; he draws a curved line, and instantly sees it should have been straight; a straight one, and finds when he looks up again, that it has got curved while he was drawing it. There is nothing for him but despair, or some sort of abstraction and shorthand for cliff. Then the only question is, what is the wisest abstraction; and out of the multitude of lines that cannot altogether be interpreted, which are the really dominant ones; so that if we cannot give the whole, we may at least give what will convey the most important facts about the cliff.

Sec. 22. Recurring then to our "public opinion" of the Aiguille Charmoz, we find the greatest exaggeration of, and therefore I suppose the greatest interest in, the narrow and spiry point on its left side. That is in reality a point at all but a hatchet edge; a flake of rock, which is enabled to maintain itself in this sharp-edged state by its writhing folds of sinewy granite. Its structure, on a larger scale, and seen "edge on," is shown in Fig. 41. The whole aiguille is composed of a series of such flakes, liable, indeed, to all kinds of fissure in other directions, but holding, by their modes of vertical association, the strongest authority over the form of the whole mountain. It is not in all lights that they are seen plainly: for instance, in the morning effect in Plate 30 they are hardly traceable: but the longer we watch, the more they are perceived; and their power of sustaining themselves vertically is so great, that at the foot of the aiguille on the right a few of them form a detached mass, known as the Petit Charmoz, between E and c in Fig. 60, p. 210, of which the height of the uttermost flake, between c and d, is about five hundred feet.

Important, however, as this curved cleavage is, it is so confused among others, that it has taken me, as I said, ten years of almost successive labor to develope, in any degree of completeness, its relations among the aiguilles of Chamouni; and even of professed geologists, the only person who has described it properly is De Saussure, whose continual sojourn among the Alps enabled him justly to discern the constant from the inconstant phenomena. And yet, in his very first journey to Savoy, Turner saw it at a glance, and fastened on it as the main thing to be expressed in those mountains.

In the opposite Plate (32), the darkest division, on the right, is a tolerably accurate copy of Turner's rendering of the Aiguille Charmoz (etched and engraved by himself), in the plate called the "Mer de Glace," in the Liber Studiorum. Its outline is in local respects inaccurate enough, being modified by Turnerian topography; but the flaky character is so definite, that it looks as if it had been prepared for an illustrative diagram of the points at present under discussion.

Sec. 23. And do not let it be supposed that this was by chance, or that the modes of mountain drawing at the period would in any wise have helped Turner to discover these lines. The aiguilles had been drawn before this time, and the figure on the left in Plate 32 will show how. It is a facsimile of a piece of an engraving of the Mer de Glace, by Woollett, after William Pars, published in 1783, and founded on the general Wilsonian and Claudesque principles of landscape common at the time. There are, in the rest of the plate, some good arrangements of shadow and true aerial perspective; and the piece I have copied, which is an attempt to represent the Aiguille Dru, opposite the Charmoz, will serve, not unfairly, to show how totally inadequate the draughtsmen of the time were to perceive the character of mountains, and, also, how unable the human mind is by itself to conceive anything like the variety of natural form. The workman had not looked at the thing,—trusted to his "Ideal," supposed that broken and rugged rocks might be shaped better out of his own head than by Nature's laws,—and we see what comes of it.

Sec. 24. And now, lastly, observe, in the laws by which this strange curvilinear structure is given to the aiguilles, how the provision for beauty of form is made in the first landscape materials we have to study. We have permitted ourselves, according to that unsystematic mode of proceeding pleaded for in the opening of our present task, to wander hither and thither as this or that question rose before us, and demanded, or tempted, our pursuit. But the reader must yet remember that our special business in this section of the work is the observance of the nature of beauty, and of the degrees in which the aspect of any object fulfils the laws of beauty stated in the second volume. Now in the fifteenth paragraph of the chapter on infinity, it was stated that curvature was essential to all beauty, and that what we should "need more especially to prove, was the constancy of curvature in all natural forms whatsoever." And these aiguilles, which are the first objects we have had definitely to consider, appeared as little likely to fulfil the condition as anything we could have come upon. I am well assured that the majority of spectators see no curves in them at all, but an intensely upright, stern, spiry ruggedness and angularity. And we might even beforehand have been led to expect, and to be contented in expecting, nothing else from them than this; for since, as we have said often, they are part of the earth's skeleton, being created to sustain and strengthen everything else, and yet differ from a skeleton in this, that the earth is not only supported by their strength, but fed by their ruin; so that they are first composed of the hardest and least tractable substance, and then exposed to such storm and violence as shall beat large parts of them to powder;—under these desperate conditions of being, I say, we might have anticipated some correspondent ruggedness and terribleness of aspect, some such refusal to comply with ordinary laws of beauty, as we often see in other things and creatures put to hard work, and sustaining distress or violence.

Sec. 25. And truly, at first sight, there is such refusal in their look, and their shattered walls and crests seem to rise in a gloomy contrast with the soft waves of bank and wood beneath; nor do I mean to press the mere fact, that, as we look longer at them, other lines become perceptible, because it might be thought no proof of their beauty that they needed long attention in order to be discerned. But I think this much at least is deserving of our notice, as confirmatory of foregone conclusions, that the forms which in other things are produced by slow increase, or gradual abrasion of surface, are here produced by rough fracture, when rough fracture is to be the law of existence. A rose is rounded by its own soft ways of growth, a reed is bowed into tender curvature by the pressure of the breeze; but we could not, from these, have proved any resolved preference, by Nature, of curved lines to others, inasmuch as it might always have been answered that the curves were produced, not for beauty's sake, but infallibly, by the laws of vegetable existence; and, looking at broken flints or rugged banks afterwards, we might have thought that we only liked the curved lines because associated with life and organism, and disliked the angular ones, because associated with inaction and disorder. But Nature gives us in these mountains a more clear demonstration of her will. She is here driven to make fracture the law of being. She cannot tuft the rock-edges with moss, or round them by water, or hide them with leaves and roots. She is bound to produce a form, admirable to human beings, by continual breaking away of substance. And behold—so soon as she is compelled to do this—she changes the law of fracture itself. "Growth," she seems to say, "is not essential to my work, nor concealment, nor softness; but curvature is: and if I must produce my forms by breaking them, the fracture itself shall be in curves. If, instead of dew and sunshine, the only instruments I am to use are the lightning and the frost, then their forked tongues and crystal wedges shall still work out my laws of tender line. Devastation instead of nurture may be the task of all my elements, and age after age may only prolong the unrenovated ruin; but the appointments of typical beauty which have been made over all creatures shall not therefore be abandoned; and the rocks shall be ruled, in their perpetual perishing, by the same ordinances that direct the bending of the reed and the blush of the rose."


[57] See, for explanatory statements, Appendix 2.

[58] I have been able to examine these conditions with much care in the chain of Mont Blanc only, which I chose for the subject of investigation both as being the most interesting to the general traveller, and as being the only range of the central mountains which had been much painted by Turner. But I believe the singular arrangements of beds which take place in this chain have been found by the German geologists to prevail also in the highest peaks of the Western Alps; and there are a peculiar beauty and providence in them which induce me to expect that farther inquiries may justify our attributing them to some very extensive law of the earth's structure. See the notes from De Saussure in Appendix 2.

[59] That is to say, as it appears to me. There are some points of the following statements which are disputed among geologists; the reader will find them hereafter discussed at greater length.

[60] Running, at that point very nearly, N. E. and S. W., and dipping under the ice at an angle of about seventy degrees.

[61] It was often of great importance to me to ascertain these apparent slopes with some degree of correctness. In order to do so without the trouble of carrying any instrument (except my compass and spirit-level), I had my Alpine pole made as even as a round rule for about a foot in the middle of its length. Taking the bearing of the mountain, placing the pole at right angles to the bearing, and adjusting it by the spirit-level, I brought the edge of a piece of finely cut pasteboard parallel, in a vertical plane (plumbed), with the apparent slope of the hillside. A pencil line drawn by the pole then gave me a horizon, with which the angle could be easily measured at home. The measurements thus obtained are given under the figures.

[62] That is to say, in a cliff intended to owe its outline to dilapidation. Where no dilapidation is to be permitted, the bedded structure, well knit, is always used. Of this we shall see various examples in the 16th chapter.

[63] Given already as an example of curvature in the Stones of Venice, vol. 1, plate 7.

[64] The top of the aiguille of the Little Charmoz bearing, from the point whence this sketch was made, about six degrees east of north.

[65] The summits of the aiguilles are often more fantastically rent still. Fig. 39 is the profile of a portion of the upper edge of the Aiguille du Moine, seen from the crest of Charmoz; Fig. 40 shows the three lateral fragments, drawn to a larger scale. The height of each of the upright masses must be from twenty to twenty-five feet. I do not know if their rude resemblance to two figures, on opposite sides of a table or altar, has had anything to do with the name of the aiguille.



Sec. 1. Between the aiguilles, or other conditions of central peak, and the hills which are clearly formed, as explained in Chap. XII. Sec. 11, by the mere breaking of the edges of solid beds of coherent rock, there occurs almost always a condition of mountain summit, intermediate in aspect, as in position. The aiguille may generally be represented by the type a, Fig. 42; the solid and simple beds of rock by the type c. The condition b, clearly intermediate between the two, is, on the whole, the most graceful and perfect in which mountain masses occur. It seems to have attracted more of the attention of the poets than either of the others; and the ordinary word, crest, which we carelessly use in speaking of mountain summits, as if it meant little more than "edge" or "ridge," has a peculiar force and propriety when applied to ranges of cliff whose contours correspond thus closely to the principal lines of the crest of a Greek helmet.

Sec. 2. There is another resemblance which they can hardly fail to suggest when at all irregular in form,—that of a wave about to break. Byron uses the image definitely of Soracte; and, in a less clear way, it seems to present itself occasionally to all minds, there being a general tendency to give or accept accounts of mountain form under the image of waves; and to speak of a hilly country, seen from above, as looking like a "sea of mountains."

Such expressions, vaguely used, do not, I think, generally imply much more than that the ground is waved or undulated into bold masses. But if we give prolonged attention to the mountains of the group b we shall gradually begin to feel that more profound truth is couched under this mode of speaking, and that there is indeed an appearance of action and united movement in these crested masses, nearly resembling that of sea waves; that they seem not to be heaped up, but to leap or toss themselves up; and in doing so, to wreathe and twist their summits into the most fantastic, yet harmonious, curves, governed by some grand under-sweep like that of a tide, running through the whole body of the mountain chain.

For instance, in Fig. 43, which gives, rudely, the leading lines of the junction of the "Aiguille pourri"[66] (Chamouni) with the Aiguilles Rouges, the reader cannot, I think, but feel that there is something which binds the mountains together—some common influence at their heart which they cannot resist: and that, however they may be broken or disordered, there is as true unity among them as in the sweep of a wild wave, governed, through all its foaming ridges, by constant laws of weight and motion.

Sec. 3. How far this apparent unity is the result of elevatory force in mountain, and how far of the sculptural force of water upon the mountain, is the question we have mainly to deal with in the present chapter.

But first look back to Fig. 7, of Plate 8, Vol. III., there given as the typical representation of the ruling forces of growth in a leaf. Take away the extreme portion of the curve on the left, and any segment of the leaf remaining, terminated by one of its ribs, as a or b, Fig. 44, will be equally a typical contour of a common crested mountain. If the reader will merely turn Plate 8 so as to look at the figure upright, with its stalk downwards, he will see that it is also the base of the honeysuckle ornament of the Greeks. I may anticipate what we shall have to note with respect to vegetation so far as to tell him that it is also the base of form in all timber trees.

Sec. 4. There seems something, therefore, in this contour which makes its production one of the principal aims of Nature in all her compositions. The cause of this appears to be, that as the cinqfoil is the simplest expression of proportion, this is the simplest expression of opposition, in unequal curved lines. If we take any lines, a x and e g, Fig. 45, both of varied curvature (not segments of circles), and one shorter than the other, and join them together so as to form one line, as b x, x g, we shall have one of the common lines of beauty; if we join them at an angle, as c x, x y, we shall have the common crest, which is in fact merely a jointed line of beauty. If we join them as at a, Fig. 46, they form a line at once monotonous and cramped, and the jointed condition of this same line, b, is hardly less so. It is easily proved, therefore, that the junction of lines c x, x y, is the simplest and most graceful mode of opposition; and easily observed that in branches of trees, wings of birds, and other more or less regular organizations, such groups of line are continually made to govern the contours. But it is not so easily seen why or how this form should be impressed upon irregular heaps of mountain.

Sec. 5. If a bed of coherent rock be raised, in the manner described in Chap. XIII., so as to form a broken precipice with its edge, and a long slope with its surface, as at a, Fig. 47 (and in this way nearly all hills are raised), the top of the precipice has usually a tendency to crumble down, and, in process of time, to form a heap of advanced ruins at its foot. On the other side, the back or slope of the hill does not crumble down, but is gradually worn away by the streams; and as these are always more considerable, both in velocity and weight, at the bottom of the slope than the top, the ground is faster worn away at the bottom, and the straight slope is cut to a curve of continually increasing steepness. Fig. 47 b represents the contour to which the hill a would thus be brought in process of time; the dotted line indicating its original form. The result, it will be seen, is a crest.[67]

Sec. 6. But crests of this uniform substance and continuous outline occur only among hills composed of the softest coherent rocks, and seldom attain any elevation such as to make them important or impressive. The notable crests are composed of the hard coherents or slaty crystallines, and then the contour of the crests depends mainly on the question whether in the original mass of it, the beds lie as at a or as at b, Fig. 48. If they lie as at a, then the resultant crest will have the general appearance seen at c; the edges of the beds getting separated and serrated by the weather. If the beds lie as at b, the resultant crest will be of such a contour as that at d.

The crests of the contour d are formed usually by the harder coherent rocks, and are notable chiefly for their bold precipices in front, and regular slopes, or sweeping curves, at the back. We shall examine them under the special head of precipices. But the crests of the form at c belong usually to the slaty crystallines, and are those properly called crests, their edges looking, especially when covered with pines, like separated plumes. These it is our chief business to examine in the present chapter.

Sec. 7. In order to obtain this kind of crest, we first require to have our mountain beds thrown up in the form a, Fig. 48. This is not easily done on a large scale, except among the slaty crystallines forming the flanks of the great chains, as in Fig. 29, p. 176. In that figure it will be seen that the beds forming each side of the chain of Mont Blanc are thrown into the required steepness, and therefore, whenever they are broken towards the central mountain, they naturally form the front of a crest, while the torrents and glaciers falling over their longer slopes, carve them into rounded banks towards the valley.

Sec. 8. But the beauty of a crest or bird's wing consists, in nature, not merely in its curved terminal outline, but in the radiation of the plumes, so that while each assumes a different curve, every curve shall show a certain harmony of direction with all the others.

We shall have to enter into the examination of this subject at greater length in the 17th chapter; meanwhile, it is sufficient to observe the law in a single example, such as Fig. 49, which is a wing of one of the angels in Durer's woodcut of the Fall of Lucifer.[68] At first sight, the plumes seem disposed with much irregularity, but there is a sense of power and motion in the whole which the reader would find was at once lost by a careless copyist; for it depends on the fact that if we take the principal curves at any points of the wing, and continue them in the lines which they are pursuing at the moment they terminate, these continued lines will all meet in a single point, C. It is this law which gives unity to the wing.

All groups of curves set beside each other depend for their beauty upon the observance of this law;[69] and if, therefore, the mountain crests are to be perfectly beautiful, Nature must contrive to get this element of radiant curvature into them in one way or another. Nor does it, at first sight, appear easy for her to get, I do not say radiant curves, but curves at all: for in the aiguilles, she actually bent their beds; but in these slaty crystallines it seems not always convenient to her to bend the beds; and when they are to remain straight, she must obtain the curvature in some other way.

Sec. 9. One way in which she gets it is curiously simple in itself, but somewhat difficult to explain, unless the reader will be at the pains of making a little model for himself out of paste or clay. Hitherto, observe, we have spoken of these crests as seen at their sides, as a Greek helmet is seen from the side of the wearer. By means presently to be examined, these mountain crests are so shaped that, seen in front, or from behind (as a helmet crest is seen in front of or behind the wearer), they present the contour of a sharp ridge, or house gable. Now if the breadth of this ridge at its base remains the same, while its height gradually diminishes from the front of it to the back (as from the top of the crest to the back of the helmet), it necessarily assumes the form of such a quaint gable roof as that shown in profile in Fig. 50, and in perspective[70] in Fig. 51, in which the gable is steep at the end farthest off, but depressed at the end nearest us; and the rows of tiles, in consequence, though in reality quite straight, appear to radiate as they retire, owing to their different slopes. When a mountain crest is thus formed, and the concave curve of its front is carried into its flanks, each edge of bed assuming this concave curve, and radiating, like the rows of tiles, in perspective at the same time, the whole crest is thrown into the form Fig. 52, which is that of the radiating plume required.

Sec. 10. It often happens, however, that Nature does not choose to keep the ridge broad at the lower extremity, so as to diminish its steepness. But when this is not so, and the base is narrowed so that the slope of side shall be nearly equal everywhere, she almost always obtains her varied curvature of the plume in another way, by merely turning the crest a little round as it descends. I will not confuse the reader by examining the complicated results of such turning on the inclined lines of the strata; but he can understand, in a moment, its effect on another series of lines, those caused by rivulets of water down the sides of the crest. These lines are, of course, always, in general tendency, perpendicular. Let a, Fig. 53, be a circular funnel, painted inside with a pattern of vertical lines meeting at the bottom. Suppose these lines to represent the ravines traced by the water. Cut off a portion of the lip of the funnel, as at b, to represent the crest side. Cut the edge so as to slope down towards you, and add a slope on the other side. Then give each inner line the concave sweep, and you have your ridge c, of the required form, with radiant curvature.

Sec. 11. A greater space of such a crest is always seen on its concave than on its convex side (the outside of the funnel); of this other perspective I shall have to speak hereafter; meantime, we had better continue the examination of the proper crest, the c of Fig. 48, in some special instance.

The form is obtained usually in the greatest perfection among the high ridges near the central chain, where the beds of the slaty crystallines are steep and hard. Perhaps the most interesting example I can choose for close examination will be that of a mountain in Chamouni, called the Aiguille Bouchard, now familiar to the eye of every traveller, being the ridge which rises, exactly opposite the Montanvert, beyond the Mer de Glace. The structure of this crest is best seen from near the foot of the Montanvert, on the road to the source of the Arveiron, whence the top of it, a, presents itself under the outline given rudely in the opposite plate (33), in which it will be seen that, while the main energy of the mountain mass tosses itself against the central chain of Mont Blanc (which is on the right hand), it is met by a group of counter-crests, like the recoil of a broken wave cast against it from the other side; and yet, as the recoiling water has a sympathy with the under swell of the very wave against which it clashes, the whole mass writhes together in strange unity of mountain passion; so that it is almost impossible to persuade oneself, after long looking at it, that the crests have not indeed been once fused and tossed into the air by a tempest which had mastery over them, as the winds have over ocean.

Sec. 12. And yet, if we examine the crest structure closely, we shall find that nearly all these curvatures are obtained by Nature's skilful handling of perfectly straight beds,—only the meeting of those two waves of crest is indeed indicative of the meeting of two masses of different rocks; it marks that junction of the slaty with the compact crystallines, which has before been noticed as the principal mystery of rock structure. To this junction my attention was chiefly directed during my stay at Chamouni, as I found it was always at that point that Nature produced the loveliest mountain forms. Perhaps the time I gave to the study of it may have exaggerated its interest in my eyes; and the reader who does not care for these geological questions, except in their direct bearing upon art, may, without much harm, miss the next seven paragraphs, and go on at the twenty-first. Yet there is one point, in a Turner drawing presently to be examined, which I cannot explain without inflicting the tediousness even of these seven upon him.

Sec. 13. First, then, the right of the Aiguille Bouchard to be called a crest at all depends, not on the slope from a to b, Plate 33, but on that from a to h. The slope from a to b is a perspective deception; b is much the highest point of the two. Seen from the village of Chamouni, the range presents itself under the outline Fig. 54, the same points in each figure being indicated by the same letters. From the end of the valley the supremacy of the mass b c is still more notable. It is altogether with mountains as with human spirits, you never know which is greatest till they are far away.

Sec. 14. It will be observed also, that the beauty of the crest, in both Plate 33 and Fig. 54, depends on the gradually increasing steepness of the lines of slope between a and b. This is in great part deceptive, being obtained by the receding of the crest into a great mountain crater, or basin, as explained in Sec. 11. But this very recession is a matter of interest, for it takes place exactly on the line above spoken of, where the slaty crystallines of the crest join the compact crystallines of the aiguilles; at which junction a correspondent chasm or recession, of some kind or another, takes place along the whole front of Mont Blanc.

Sec. 15. In the third paragraph of the last chapter we had occasion to refer to the junction of the slaty and compact crystallines at the roots of the aiguilles. It will be seen in the figure there given, that this change is not sudden, but gradated. The rocks to be joined are of the two types represented in Fig. 3, p. 106 (for convenience' sake I shall in the rest of this chapter call the slaty rock gneiss, and the compact rock protogine, its usual French name). Fig. 55 shows the general manner of junction, beds of gneiss occurring in the middle of the protogine, and of protogine in the gneiss; sometimes one touching the other so closely, that a hammer-stroke breaks off a piece of both; sometimes one passing into the other by a gradual change, like the zones of a rainbow; the only general phenomenon being this, that the higher up the hill the gneiss is, the harder it is (so that while it often yields to the pressure of the finger down in the valley, on the Montanvert it is nearly as hard as protogine); and, on the other hand, the lower down the hill, or the nearer the gneiss, the protogine is, the finer it is in grain. But still the actual transition from one to the other is usually within a few fathoms; and it is that transition, and the preparation for it, which causes the great step, or jag, on the flank of the chain, and forms the tops of the Aiguille Bouchard, Charmoz ridges, Tapia, Montagne de la Cote, Montagne de Taconay, and Aiguille du Goute.

Sec. 16. But what most puzzled me was the intense straightness of the lines of the gneiss beds, dipping, as it seemed, under the Mont Blanc. For it has been a chief theory with geologists that these central protogine rocks have once been in fusion, and have risen up in molten fury, overturning and altering all the rocks around. But every day, as I looked at the crested flanks of the Mont Blanc, I saw more plainly the exquisite regularity of the slopes of the beds, ruled, it seemed, with an architect's rule, along the edge of their every flake from the summits to the valley. And this surprised me the more because I had always heard it stated that the beds of the lateral crests, a and b, Fig. 56, varied in slope, getting less and less inclined as they descended, so as to arrange themselves somewhat in the form of a fan. It may be so; but I can only say that all my observations and drawings give an opposite report, and that the beds seemed invariably to present themselves to the eye and the pencil in parallelism, modified only by the phenomena just explained (Sec.Sec. 9, 10). Thus the entire mass of the Aiguille Bouchard, of which only the top is represented in Plate 33, appeared to me in profile, as in Fig. 57, dependent for all its effect and character on the descent of the beds in the directions of the dotted lines, a, b, d. The interrupting space, g g, is the Glacier des Bois; M is the Montanvert; c, c, the rocks under the glacier, much worn by the fall of avalanches, but, for all that, showing the steep lines still with the greatest distinctness. Again, looking down the valley instead of up, so as to put the Mont Blanc on the left hand, the principal crests which support it, Taconay and La Cote, always appeared to me constructed as in Plate 35 (p. 212), they also depending for all their effect on the descent of the beds in diagonal lines towards the left. Nay, half-way up the Breven, whence the structure of the Mont Blanc is commanded, as far as these lower buttresses are concerned, better than from the top of the Breven, I drew carefully the cleavages of the beds, as high as the edge of the Aiguille de Goute, and found them exquisitely parallel throughout; and again on the Cormayeur side, though less steep, the beds a, b, Fig. 58, traversing the vertical irregular fissures of the great aiguille of the Allee Blanche, as seen over the Lac de Combal, still appeared to me perfectly regular and parallel.[71] I have not had time to trace them round, through the Aiguille de Bionassay, and above the Col de Bonhomme, though I know the relations of the beds of limestone to the gneiss on the latter col are most notable and interesting. But, as far as was required for any artistical purposes, I perfectly ascertained the fact that, whatever their real structure might be, these beds did appear, through the softer contours of the hill, as straight and parallel; that they continued to appear so until near the tops of the crests; and that those tops seemed, in some mysterious way, dependent on the junction of the gneissitic beds with, or their transition into, the harder protogine of the aiguilles.

Look back to Plate 33. The peak of the Bouchard, a, is of gneiss, and its beds run down in lines originally straight, but more or less hollowed by weathering, to the point h, where they plunge under debris. But the point b is, I believe, of protogine; and all the opposed writhing of the waves of rock to the right appears to be in consequence of the junction.

Sec. 17. The way in which these curves are produced cannot, however, be guessed at until we examine the junction more closely. Ascending about five hundred feet above the cabin of the Montanvert, the opposite crest of the Bouchard, from a to c, Plate 33, is seen more in front, expanded into the jagged line, a to c, Plate 34, and the beds, with their fractures, are now seen clearly throughout the mass, namely:

1st. (See references on plate). The true gneiss beds dipping down in the direction G H, the point H being the same as h in Plate 33. These are the beds so notable for their accurate straightness and parallelism.

2nd. The smooth fractures which in the middle of the etching seem to divide the column of rock into a kind of brickwork. They are very neat and sharp, running nearly at right angles with the true beds.[72]

3rd. The curved fractures of the aiguilles (seen first under the letter b, and seeming to push outwards against the gneiss beds[73]) continuing through c and the spur below.

4th. An irregular cleavage, something like that of starch, showing itself in broken vertical lines.

5th. Writhing lines, cut by water. These have the greatest possible influence on the aspect of the precipice: they are not merely caused by torrents, but by falls of winter snow, and stones from the glacier moraines, so that the cliff being continually worn away at the foot of it, is wrought into a great amphitheatre, of which the receding sweep continually varies the apparent steepness of the crest, as already explained. I believe in ancient times the great Glacier des Bois itself used to fill this amphitheatre, and break right up against the base of the Bouchard.

6th. Curvatures worn by water over the back of the crest towards the valley, in the direction g i.

7th. A tendency (which I do not understand) to form horizontal masses at the levels k and l.[74]

Sec. 18. The reader may imagine what strange harmonies and changes of line must result throughout the mass of the mountain from the varied prevalence of one or other of these secret inclinations of its rocks (modified, also, as they are by perpetual deceptions of perspective), and how completely the rigidity or parallelism of any one of them is conquered by the fitful urgencies of the rest,—a sevenfold action seeming to run through every atom of crag. For the sake of clearness, I have shown in this plate merely leading lines; the next (Plate 35, opposite) will give some idea of the complete aspect of two of the principal crests on the Mont Blanc flanks, known as the Montagne de la Cote, and Montagne de Taconay, c and t in Fig. 22, at page 163. In which note, first, that the eminences marked a a, b b, c c, here, in the reference figure (61), are in each of the mountains correspondent, and indicate certain changes in the conditions of their beds at those points. I have no doubt the two mountains were once one mass, and that they have been sawn asunder by the great glacier of Taconay, which descends between them; and similarly the Montagne de la Cote sawn from the Tapia by the glacier des Bossons, B B in reference figure.

Sec. 19. Note, secondly, the general tendency in each mountain to throw itself into concave curves towards the Mont Blanc, and descend in rounded slopes to the valley; more or less interrupted by the direct manifestation of the straight beds, which are indeed, in this view of Taconay, the principal features of it. They necessarily become, however, more prominent in the outline etching than in the scene itself, because in reality the delicate cleavages are lost in distance or in mist, and the effects of light bring out the rounded forms of the larger masses; and wherever the clouds fill the hollows between, as they are apt to do, (the glaciers causing a chillness in the ravines, while the wind, blowing up the larger valleys, clears the edges of the crests,) the summits show themselves as in Plate 36, dividing, with their dark frontlets, the perpetual sweep of the glaciers and the clouds.[75]

Sec. 20. Of the aqueous curvatures of this crest, we shall have more to say presently; meantime let us especially observe how the providential laws of beauty, acting with reversed data, arrive at similar results in the aiguilles and crests. In the aiguilles, which are of such hard rock that the fall of snow and trickling of streams do not affect them, the inner structure is so disposed as to bring out the curvatures by the mere fracture. In the crests and lower hills, which are of softer rock, and largely influenced by external violence, the inner structure is straight, and the necessary curvatures are produced by perspective, by external modulation, and by the balancing of adverse influences of cleavage. But, as the accuracy of an artist's eye is usually shown by his perceiving the inner anatomy which regulates growth and form, and as in the aiguilles, while we watch them, we are continually discovering new curves, so in the crests, while we watch them, we are continually discovering new straightnesses; and nothing more distinguishes good mountain-drawing, or mountain-seeing, from careless and inefficient mountain-drawing, than the observance of the marvellous parallelisms which exist among the beds of the crests.

Sec. 21. It indeed happens, not unfrequently, that in hills composed of somewhat soft rock, the aqueous contours will so prevail over the straight cleavage as to leave nothing manifest at the first glance but sweeping lines like those of waves. Fig. 43, p. 196, is the crest of a mountain on the north of the valley of Chamouni, known, from the rapid decay and fall of its crags, as the Aiguille Pourri; and at first there indeed seems little distinction between its contours and those of the summit of a sea wave. Yet I think also, if it were a wave, we should immediately suppose the tide was running towards the right hand; and if we examined the reason for this supposition, we should perceive that along the ridge the steepest falls of crag were always on the right-hand side; indicating a tendency in them to break rather in the direction of the line a b than any other. If we go half-way down the Montanvert, and examine the left side of the crest somewhat more closely, we shall find this tendency still more definitely visible, as in Fig. 62.

Sec. 22. But what, then, has given rise to all those coiled plungings of the crest hither and thither, yet with such strange unity of motion?

Yes. There is the cloud. How the top of the hill was first shaped so as to let the currents of water act upon it in so varied a way we know not, but I think that the appearance of interior force of elevation is for the most part deceptive. The series of beds would be found, if examined in section, very uniform in their arrangement, only a little harder in one place, and more delicate in another. A stream receives a slight impulse this way or that, at the top of the hill, but increases in energy and sweep as it descends, gathering into itself others from its sides, and uniting their power with its own. A single knot of quartz occurring in a flake of slate at the crest of the ridge may alter the entire destinies of the mountain form. It may turn the little rivulet of water to the right or left, and that little turn will be to the future direction of the gathering stream what the touch of a finger on the barrel of a rifle would be to the direction of the bullet. Each succeeding year increases the importance of every determined form, and arranges in masses yet more and more harmonious, the promontories shaped by the sweeping of the eternal waterfalls.

Sec. 23. The importance of the results thus obtained by the slightest change of direction in the infant streamlets, furnishes an interesting type of the formation of human characters by habit. Every one of those notable ravines and crags is the expression, not of any sudden violence done to the mountain, but of its little habits, persisted in continually. It was created with one ruling instinct; but its destiny depended nevertheless, for effective result, on the direction of the small and all but invisible tricklings of water, in which the first shower of rain found its way down its sides. The feeblest, most insensible oozings of the drops of dew among its dust were in reality arbiters of its eternal form; commissioned, with a touch more tender than that of a child's finger,—as silent and slight as the fall of a half-checked tear on a maiden's cheek,—to fix for ever the forms of peak and precipice, and hew those leagues of lifted granite into the shapes that were to divide the earth and its kingdoms. Once the little stone evaded,—once the dim furrow traced,—and the peak was for ever invested with its majesty, the ravine for ever doomed to its degradation. Thenceforward, day by day, the subtle habit gained in power; the evaded stone was left with wider basement; the chosen furrow deepened with swifter-sliding wave; repentance and arrest were alike impossible, and hour after hour saw written in larger and rockier characters upon the sky, the history of the choice that had been directed by a drop of rain, and of the balance that had been turned by a grain of sand.

Sec. 24. Such are the principal laws, relating to the crested mountains, for the expression of which we are to look to art; and we shall accordingly find good and intelligent mountain-drawing distinguished from bad mountain-drawing, by an indication, first, of the artist's recognition of some great harmony among the summits, and of their tendency to throw themselves into tidal waves, closely resembling those of the sea itself; sometimes in free tossing towards the sky, but more frequently still in the form of breakers, concave and steep on one side, convex and less steep on the other; secondly, by his indication of straight beds or fractures, continually stiffening themselves through the curves in some given direction.

Sec. 25. Fig. 63 is a facsimile of a piece of the background in Albert Durer's woodcut of the binding of the great Dragon in the Apocalypse. It is one of his most careless and rudest pieces of drawing; yet, observe in it how notably the impulse of the breaking wave is indicated; and note farther, how different a thing good drawing may be from delicate drawing on the one hand, and how different it must be from ignorant drawing on the other. Woodcutting, in Durer's days, had reached no delicacy capable of expressing subtle detail or aerial perspective. But all the subtlety and aerial perspective of modern days are useless, and even barbarous, if they fail in the expression of the essential mountain facts.

Sec. 26. It will be noticed, however, that in this example of Durer's, the recognition of straightness of line does not exist, and that for this reason the hills look soft and earthy, not rocky.

So, also, in the next example, Fig. 64, the crest in the middle distance is exceedingly fine in its expression of mountain force; the two ridges of it being thrown up like the two edges of a return wave that has just been beaten back from a rock. It is still, however, somewhat wanting in the expression of straightness, and therefore slightly unnatural. It was not people's way in the Middle Ages to look at mountains carefully enough to discover the most subtle elements of their structure. Yet in the next example, Fig. 65, the parallelism and rigidity are definitely indicated, the crest outline being, however, less definite.

Note, also (in passing), the entire equality of the lines in all these examples, whether turned to dark or light. All good outline drawing, as noticed in the chapter on finish, agrees in this character.

Sec. 27. The next figure (66) is interesting because it furnishes one of the few instances in which Titian definitely took a suggestion from the Alps, as he saw them from his house at Venice. It is from an old print of a shepherd with a flock of sheep by the sea-side, in which he has introduced a sea distance, with the Venetian church of St. Helena, some subordinate buildings resembling those of Murano, and this piece of cloud and mountain. The peak represented is one of the greater Tyrolese Alps, which shows itself from Venice behind an opening in the chain, and is their culminating point. In reality the mass is of the shape given in Fig. 67. Titian has modified it into an energetic crest, showing his feeling for the form, but I have no doubt that the woodcut reverses Titian's original work (whatever it was), and that he gave the crest the true inclination to the right, or east, which it has in nature.

Sec. 28. Now, it not unfrequently happens that in Claude's distances he introduces actual outlines of Capri, Ischia, Monte St. Angelo, the Alban Mount, and other chains about Rome and Naples, more or less faithfully copied from nature. When he does so, confining himself to mere outline, the grey contours seen against the distance are often satisfactory enough; but as soon as he brings one of them nearer, so as to require any drawing within its mass, it is quite curious to see the state of paralysis into which he is thrown for want of any perception of the mountain anatomy. Fig. 68 is one of the largest hills I can find in the Liber Veritatis (No. 86), and it will be seen that there are only a few lines inserted towards the edges, drawn in the direction of the sides of the heap, or cone, wholly without consciousness of any interior structure.

Sec. 29. I put below it, outlined also in the rudest way (for as I take the shade away from the Liber Veritatis, I am bound also to take it away from Turner), Fig. 69, a bit of the crags in the drawing of Loch Coriskin, partly described already in Sec. 5 of the chapter on the Inferior Mountains in Vol. I. The crest form is, indeed, here accidentally prominent, and developed to a degree rare even with Turner; but note, besides this, the way in which Turner leans on the centre and body of the hill, not on its edge; marking its strata stone by stone, just as a good figure painter, drawing a limb, marks the fall and rise of the joint, letting the outline sink back softened; and compare the exactly opposite method of Claude, holding for life to his outline, as a Greek navigator holds to the shore.[76]

Sec. 30. Lest, however, it should be thought that I have unfairly chosen my examples, let me take an instance at once less singular and more elaborate.

We saw in our account of Turnerian topography, Chap. II., Sec. 14, that it had been necessary for the painter, in his modification of the view in the ravine of Faido, to introduce a passage from among the higher peaks; which, being thus intended expressly to convey the general impression of their character, must sufficiently illustrate what Turner felt that character to be. Observe: it could not be taken from the great central aiguilles, for none such exist at all near Faido; it could only be an expression of what Turner considered the noblest attributes of the hills next to these in elevation,—that is to say, those which we are now examining.

I have etched the portion of the picture which includes this passage, on page 221, on its own scale, including the whole couloir above the gallery, and the gallery itself, with the rocks beside it.[77] And now, if the reader will look back to Plate 20, which is the outline of the real scene, he will have a perfect example, in comparing the two, of the operation of invention of the highest order on a given subject. I should recommend him to put a piece of tracing paper over the etching, Plate 37, and with his pen to follow some of the lines of it as carefully as he can, until he feels their complexity, and the redundance of the imaginative power which amplified the simple theme, furnished by the natural scene, with such detail; and then let him observe what great mountain laws Turner has been striving to express in all these additions.

Sec. 31. The cleavages which govern the whole are precisely the same as those of the Aiguille Bouchard, only wrought into grander combinations. That the reader may the better distinguish them, I give the leading lines coarsely for reference in Fig. 70, opposite. The cleavages and lines of force are the following.

1. A B and associated lines a b, a b, &c., over the whole plate. True beds or cleavage beds (g h in Aiguille Bouchard, Plate 34); here, observe, closing in retiring perspective with exquisite subtlety, and giving the great unity of radiation to the whole mass.

2. D E and associated lines d e, d e, over all the plate. Cross cleavage, the second in Aiguille Bouchard; straight and sharp. Forming here the series of crests at B and D.

3. r s, r s. Counter-crests, closely corresponding to counter-fracture, the third in Aiguille Bouchard.

4. m n, m n, &c., over the whole. Writhing aqueous lines falling gradually into the cleavages. Fifth group in Aiguille Bouchard. The starchy cleavage is not seen here, it being not generally characteristic of the crests, and present in the Bouchard only accidentally.

5. x x x. Sinuous lines worn by the water, indicative of some softness or flaws in the rock; these probably the occasion or consequence of the formation of the great precipice or brow on the right. We shall have more to say of them in Chap. XVII.

6. g f, g f, &c. Broad aqueous or glacial curvatures. The sixth group in Aiguille Bouchard.

7. k l, k l. Concave curves wrought by the descending avalanche; peculiar, of course, to this spot.

8. i h, i h. Secondary convex curves, glacial or aqueous, corresponding to g f, but wrought into the minor secondary ravine. This secondary ravine is associated with the opponent aiguillesque masses r s; and the cause of the break or gap between these and the crests B D is indicated by the elbow or joint of nearer rock, M, where the distortion of the beds or change in their nature first takes place. Turner's idea of the structure of the whole mass has evidently been that in section it was as in Fig. 71, snapped asunder by elevation, with a nucleus at M, which, allowing for perspective, is precisely on the line of the chasm running in the direction of the arrow; but he gives more of the curved aiguillesque fracture to these upper crests, which are greater in elevation (and we saw, sometime ago, that the higher the rock the harder). And that nucleus of change at M, the hinge, as it were, on which all these promontories of upper crest revolve, is the first or nearest of the evaded stones, which have determined the course of streams and nod of cliffs throughout the chain.

Sec. 32. I can well believe that the reader will doubt the possibility of all this being intended by Turner: and intended, in the ordinary sense, it was not. It was simply seen and instinctively painted, according to the command of the imaginative dream, as the true Griffin was, and as all noble things are. But if the reader fancies that the apparent truth came by mere chance, or that I am imagining purpose and arrangement where they do not exist, let him be once for all assured that no man goes through the kind of work which, by this time, he must be beginning to perceive I have gone through, either for the sake of deceiving others, or with any great likelihood of deceiving himself. He who desires to deceive the picture-purchasing public may do so cheaply; and it is easy to bring almost any kind of art into notice without climbing Alps or measuring cleavages. But any one, on the other hand, who desires to ascertain facts, and will refer all art directly to nature for many laborious years, will not at last find himself an easy prey to groundless enthusiasms, or erroneous fancies. Foolish people are fond of repeating a story which has gone the full round of the artistical world,—that Turner, some day, somewhere, said to somebody (time, place, or person never being ascertainable), that I discovered in his pictures things which he did himself not know were there. Turner was not a person apt to say things of this kind; being generally, respecting all the movements of his own mind, as silent as a granite crest; and if he ever did say it, was probably laughing at the person to whom he was speaking. But he might have said it in the most perfect sincerity; nay, I am quite sure that, to a certain extent, the case really was as he is reported to have declared, and that he neither was aware of the value of the truths he had seized nor understood the nature of the instinct that combined them. And yet the truth was assuredly apprehended, and the instinct assuredly present and imperative; and any artists who try to imitate the smallest portion of his work will find that no happy chances will, for them, gather together the resemblances of fact, nor, for them, mimic the majesty of invention.[78]

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