Modern Painters, Volume IV (of V)
by John Ruskin
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Sec. 33. No happy chance—nay, no happy thought—no perfect knowledge—will ever take the place of that mighty unconsciousness. I have often had to repeat that Turner, in the ordinary sense of the words, neither knew nor thought so much as other men. Whenever his perception failed—that is to say, with respect to scientific truths which produce no results palpable to the eye—he fell into the frankest errors. For instance, in such a thing as the relation of position between a rainbow and the sun, there is not any definitely visible connection between them; it needs attention and calculation to discover that the centre of the rainbow is the shadow of the spectator's head.[79] And attention or calculation of this abstract kind Turner appears to have been utterly incapable of; but if he drew a piece of drapery, in which every line of the folds has a visible relation to the points of suspension, not a merely calculable one, this relation he will see to the last thread; and thus he traces the order of the mountain crests to their last stone, not because he knows anything of geology, but because he instinctively seizes the last and finest traces of any visible law.

Sec. 34. He was, however, especially obedient to these laws of the crests, because he heartily loved them. We saw in the early part of this chapter how the crest outlines harmonized with nearly every other beautiful form of natural objects, especially in the continuity of their external curves. This continuity was so grateful to Turner's heart that he would often go great lengths to serve it. For instance, in one of his drawings of the town of Lucerne he has first outlined the Mont Pilate in pencil, with a central peak, as indicated by the dotted line in Fig. 72. This is nearly true to the local fact; but being inconsistent with the general look of crests, and contrary to Turner's instincts, he strikes off the refractory summit, and, leaving his pencil outline still in the sky, touches with color only the contour shown by the continuous line in the figure, thus treating it just as we saw Titian did the great Alp of the Tyrol. He probably, however, would not have done this with so important a feature of the scene as the Mont Pilate, had not the continuous line been absolutely necessary to his composition, in order to oppose the peaked towers of the town, which were his principal subject; the form of the Pilate being seen only as a rosy shadow in the far off sky. We cannot, however, yet estimate the importance, in his mind, of this continuity of descending curve, until we come to the examination of the lower hill flanks, hitherto having been concerned only with their rocky summits; and before we leave those summits, or rather the harder rocks which compose them, there is yet another condition of those rocks to be examined; and that the condition which is commonly the most interesting, namely, the Precipice. To this inquiry, however, we had better devote a separate chapter.


[66] So called from the mouldering nature of its rocks. They are slaty crystallines, but unusually fragile.

[67] The materials removed from the slope are spread over the plain or valley below. A nearly equal quantity is supposed to be removed from the other side; but besides this removed mass, the materials crumble heavily from above, and form the concave curve.

[68] The lines are a little too straight in their continuations, the engraver having cut some of the curvature out of their thickness, thinking I had drawn them too coarsely. But I have chosen this coarsely lined example, and others like it, following, because I wish to accustom the reader to distinguish between the mere fineness of instrument in the artist's hand, and the precision of the line he draws. Give Titian a blunt pen, and still Titian's line will be a noble one: a tyro, with a pen well mended, may draw more neatly; but his lines ought to be discerned from Titian's, if we understand drawing. Every line in this woodcut of Durer's is refined; and that in the noblest sense. Whether broad or fine does not matter, the lines are right; and the most delicate false line is evermore to be despised, in presence of the coarsest faithful one.

[69] Not absolutely on the meeting of the curves in one point, but on their radiating with some harmonious succession of difference in direction. The difference between lines which are in true harmony of radiation, and lines which are not, can, in complicated masses, only be detected by a trained eye; yet it is often the chief difference between good and bad drawing. A cluster of six or seven black plumes forming the wing of one of the cherubs in Titian's Assumption, at Venice, has a freedom and force about it in the painting which no copyist or engraver has ever yet rendered, though it depends merely on the subtlety of the curves, not on the color.

[70] "Out of perspective," I should have said: but it will show what I mean.

[71] Nor did any nearer observations ever induce me to form any contrary opinion. It is not easy to get any consistent series of measurements of the slope of these gneiss beds; for, although parallel on the great scale, they admit many varieties of dip in minor projections. But all my notes unite, whether at the bottom or top of the great slope of the Montanvert and La Cote, in giving an angle of from 60 deg. to 80 deg. with the horizon; the consistent angle being about 75 deg.. I cannot be mistaken in the measurements themselves, however inconclusive observations on minor portions of rock may be; for I never mark an angle unless enough of the upper or lower surface of the beds be smoothly exposed to admit of my pole being adjusted to it by the spirit-level. The pole then indicates the strike of the beds, and a quadrant with a plumb-line their dip; to all intents and purposes accurately. There is a curious distortion of the beds in the ravine between the Glacier des Bois and foot of the Montanvert, near the ice, about a thousand feet above the valley; the beds there seem to bend suddenly back under the glacier, and in some places to be quite vertical. On the opposite side of the glacier, below the Chapeau, the dip of the limestone under the gneiss, with the intermediate bed, seven or eight feet thick, of the grey porous rock which the French call cargneule, is highly interesting; but it is so concealed by debris and the soil of the pine forests, as to be difficult to examine to any extent. On the whole, the best position for getting the angle of the beds accurately, is the top of the Tapia, a little below the junction there of the granite and gneiss (see notice of this junction in Appendix 2); a point from which the summit of the Aiguille du Goute bears 11 deg. south of west, and that of the Aiguille Bouchard 17 deg. north of east, the Aiguille Dru 51/2 deg. or 6 deg. north of east, the peak of it appearing behind the Petit Charmoz. The beds of gneiss emerging from the turf under the spectator's feet may be brought parallel by the eye with the slopes of the Aiguille du Goute on one side, and the Bouchard (and base of Aiguille d'Argentiere) on the other; striking as nearly as possible from summit to summit through that on which the spectator stands, or from about 10 deg. north of east to 10 deg. south of west, and dipping with exquisite uniformity at an angle of 74 degrees with the horizon. But what struck me as still more strange was, that from this point I could distinctly see traces of the same straight structure running through the Petit Charmoz, and the roots of the aiguilles themselves, as in Fig. 59; nor could I ever, in the course of countless observations, fairly determine any point where this slaty structure altogether had ceased. It seemed only to get less and less traceable towards the centre of the mass of Mont Blanc; and, from the ridge of the Aiguille Bouchard itself, at the point a in Plate 33, whence, looking south-west, the aiguilles can be seen in the most accurate profile obtainable throughout the valley of Chamouni, I noticed a very singular parallelism even on the south-east side of the Charmoz, x y (Fig. 60), as if the continued influence of this cleavage were carried on from the Little Charmoz, c, d (in which, seen on the opposite side, I had traced it as in Fig. 59), through the central mass of rock r. In this profile, M is the Mont Blanc itself; m, the Aiguille du Midi; P, Aiguille du Plan; b, Aiguille Blaitiere; C, Great Charmoz; c, Petit Charmoz; E, passage called de l'Etala.

[72] Many geologists think they are the true beds. They run across the gneissitic folia, and I hold with De Saussure, and consider them a cleavage.

[73] I tried in vain to get along the ridge of the Bouchard to this junction, the edge of the precipice between a and b (Plate 33) being too broken; but the point corresponds so closely to that of the junction of the gneiss and protogine on the Charmoz ridge, that, adding the evidence of the distant contour, I have no doubt as to the general relations of the rocks.

[74] De Saussure often refers to these as "assaissements." They occur, here and there, in the aiguilles themselves.

[75] The aqueous curves and roundings on the nearer crest (La Cote) are peculiarly tender, because the gneiss of which it is composed is softer in grain than that of the Bouchard, and remains so even to the very top of the peak, a, in Fig. 61, where I found it mixed with a yellowish and somewhat sandy quartz rock, and generally much less protogenic than is usual at such elevations on other parts of the chain.

[76] It is worth while noting here, in comparing Fig. 66 and Fig. 68, how entirely our judgment of some kinds of art depends upon knowledge, not on feeling. Any person unacquainted with hills would think Claude's right and Titian's ridiculous: but, after inquiring a little farther into the matter, we find Titian's a careless and intense expression of true knowledge, and Claude's a slow and plausible expression of total ignorance.

It will be observed that Fig. 69 is one of the second order of crests, d, Fig. 48. The next instance given is of the first order of crests, c, in the same figure

[77] This etching, like that of the Bolton rocks, is prepared for future mezzo-tint, and looks harsh in its present state; but will mark all the more clearly several points of structure in question. The diamond-shaped rock, however, (M, in the reference figure,) is not so conspicuous here as it will be when the plate is finished, being relieved in light from the mass behind, as also the faint distant crests in dark from the sky.

[78] An anecdote is related, more to our present purpose, and better authenticated, inasmuch as the name of the artist to whom Turner was speaking at the time is commonly stated, though I do not give it here, not having asked his permission. The story runs that this artist (one of our leading landscape painters) was complaining to Turner that, after going to Domo d'Ossola, to find the site of a particular view which had struck him several years before, he had entirely failed in doing so; "it looked different when he went back again." "What," replied Turner, "do you not know yet, at your age, that you ought to paint your impressions?"

[79] So, in the exact length or shape of shadows in general, he will often be found quite inaccurate; because the irregularity caused in shadows by the shape of what they fall on, as well as what they fall from, renders the law of connection untraceable by the eye or the instinct. The chief visible thing about a shadow is, that it is always of some form which nobody would have thought of; and this visible principle Turner always seizes, sometimes wrongly in calculated fact, but always so rightly as to give more the look of a real shadow than any one else.



Sec. 1. The reader was, perhaps, surprised by the smallness of the number to which our foregoing analysis reduced Alpine summits bearing an ascertainedly peaked or pyramidal form. He might not be less so if I were to number the very few occasions on which I have seen a true precipice of any considerable height. I mean by a true precipice, one by which a plumb-line will swing clear, or without touching the face of it, if suspended from a point a foot or two beyond the brow. Not only are perfect precipices of this kind very rare, but even imperfect precipices, which often produce upon the eye as majestic an impression as if they were vertical, are nearly always curiously low in proportion to the general mass of the hills to which they belong. They are for the most part small steps or rents in large surfaces of mountain, and mingled by Nature among her softer forms, as cautiously and sparingly as the utmost exertion of his voice is, by a great speaker, with his tones of gentleness.

Sec. 2. Precipices, in the large plurality of cases, consist of the edge of a bed of rock, sharply fractured, in the manner already explained in Chap. XII., and are represented, in their connection with aiguilles and crests, by c, in Fig. 42, p. 195. When the bed of rock slopes backwards from the edge, as a, Fig. 73, a condition of precipice is obtained more or less peaked, very safe, and very grand.[80] When the beds are horizontal, b, the precipice is steeper, more dangerous, but much less impressive. When the beds slope towards the precipice, the front of it overhangs, and the noblest effect is obtained which is possible in mountain forms of this kind.

Sec. 3. Singularly enough, the type b is in actual nature nearly always the most dangerous of the three, and c the safest, for horizontal beds are usually of the softest rocks, and their cliffs are caused by some violent agency in constant operation, as chalk cliffs by the wearing power of the sea, so that such rocks are continually falling, in one place or another. The form a may also be assumed by very soft rocks. But c cannot exist at all on the large scale, unless it is built of good materials, and it will then frequently stay in its fixed frown for ages.

Sec. 4. It occasionally happens that a precipice is formed among the higher crests by the sides of vertical beds of slaty crystallines. Such rocks are rare, and never very high, but always beautiful in their smoothness of surface and general trenchant and firm expression. One of the most interesting I know is that of the summit of the Breven, on the north of the valley of Chamouni. The mountain is formed by vertical sheets of slaty crystallines, rather soft at the bottom, and getting harder and harder towards the top, until at the very summit it is hard and compact as the granite of Waterloo Bridge, though much finer in the grain, and breaking into perpendicular faces of rock so perfectly cut as to feel smooth to the hand. Fig. 4, p. 107, represents, of the real size, a bit which I broke from the edge of the cliff, the shaded part underneath being the surface which forms the precipice. The plumb-line from the brow of this cliff hangs clear 124 English feet; it is then caught by a ledge about three feet wide, from which another precipice falls to about twice the height of the first; but I had not line enough to measure it with from the top, and could not get down to the ledge. When I say the line hangs clear, I mean when once it is off the actual brow of the cliff, which is a little rounded for about fourteen or fifteen feet, from a to b, in the section, Fig. 75. Then the rock recedes in an almost unbroken concave sweep, detaching itself from the plumb-line about two feet at the point c (the lateral dimensions are exaggerated to show the curve), and approaching it again at the ledge d, which is 124 feet below a. The plumb-line, fortunately, can be seen throughout its whole extent from a sharp bastion of the precipice farther on, for the face of the cliff runs, in horizontal plan, very nearly to the magnetic north and south, as shown in Fig. 74, the plumb-line swinging at a, and seen from the advanced point P. It would give a similar result at any other part of the cliff face, but may be most conveniently cast from the point a, a little below, and to the north of the summit.

Sec. 5. But although the other divisions of this precipice, below the ledge which stops the plummet, give it altogether a height of about five hundred feet,[81] the whole looks a mere step on the huge slope of the Breven; and it only deserves mention among Alpine cliffs as one of singular beauty and decision, yet perfectly approachable and examinable even by the worst climbers; which is very rarely the case with cliffs of the same boldness. I suppose that this is the reason for its having been often stated in scientific works that no cliff could be found in the Alps from which a plumb-line would swing two hundred feet. This can possibly be true (and even with this limitation I doubt it) of cliffs conveniently approachable by experimental philosophers. For, indeed, one way or another, it is curious how Nature fences out, as it were, the brows of her boldest precipices. Wherever a plumb-line will swing, the precipice is, almost without exception, of the type c, in Fig. 73, the brow of it rounding towards the edge for, perhaps, fifty or a hundred yards above, rendering it unsafe in the highest degree for any inexperienced person to attempt approach. But it is often possible to ascertain from a distance, if the cliff can be got relieved against the sky, the approximate degree of its precipitousness.

Sec. 6. It may, I think, be assumed, almost with certainty, that whenever a precipice is very bold and very high, it is formed by beds more or less approaching horizontally, out of which it has been cut, like the side of a haystack from which part has been removed. The wonderfulness of this operation I have before insisted upon; here we have to examine the best examples of it.

As, in forms of central rock, the Aiguilles of Chamouni, so in notableness of lateral precipice, the Matterhorn, or Mont Cervin, stands, on the whole, unrivalled among the Alps, being terminated, on two of its sides, by precipices which produce on the imagination nearly the effect of verticality. There is, however, only one point at which they reach anything approaching such a condition; and that point is wholly inaccessible either from below or above, but sufficiently measurable by a series of observations.

Sec. 7. From the slope of the hill above, and to the west of, the village of Zermatt, the Matterhorn presents itself under the figure shown on the right hand in the opposite plate (38). The whole height of the mass, from the glacier out of which it rises, is about 4000 feet; and although, as before noticed, the first slope from the top towards the right is merely a perspective line, the part of the contour c d, Fig. 33, p. 181, which literally overhangs,[82] cannot be. An apparent slope, however steep, so that it does not overpass the vertical, may be a horizontal line; but the moment it can be shown literally to overhang, it must be one of two things,—either an actually pendant face of rock, as at a, Fig. 77, or the under edge of an overhanging cornice of rock, b. Of course the latter condition, on such a scale as this of the Matterhorn, would be the more wonderful of the two; but I was anxious to determine which of these it really was.

Sec. 8. My first object was to reach some spot commanding, as nearly as might be, the lateral profile of the Mont Cervin. The most available point for this purpose was the top of the Riffelhorn; which, however, first attempting to climb by its deceitful western side, and being stopped, for the moment, by the singular moat and wall which defend its Malakhoff-like summit, fearing that I might not be able ultimately to reach the top, I made the drawing of the Cervin, on the left hand in Plate 38, from the edge of the moat; and found afterwards the difference in aspect, as it was seen from the true summit, so slight as not to necessitate the trouble of making another drawing.[83]

Sec. 9. It may be noted in passing, that this wall which with its regular fosse defends the Riffelhorn on its western side, and a similar one on its eastern side, though neither of them of any considerable height, are curious instances of trenchant precipice, formed, I suppose, by slight slips or faults of the serpentine rock. The summit of the horn, a, Fig. 78, seems to have been pushed up in a mass beyond the rest of the ridge, or else the rest of the ridge to have dropped from it on each side, at b c, leaving the two troublesome faces of cliff right across the crag, hard, green as a sea wave, and polished like the inside of a seashell, where the weather has not effaced the surface produced by the slip. It is only by getting past the eastern cliff that the summit can be reached at all, for on its two lateral escarpments the mountain seems quite inaccessible, being in its whole mass nothing else than the top of a narrow wall with a raised battlement, as rudely shown in perspective at e d; the flanks of the wall falling towards the glacier on one side, and to the lower Riffel on the other, four or five hundred feet, not, indeed, in unbroken precipice, but in a form quite incapable of being scaled.[84]

Sec. 10. To return to the Cervin. The view of it given on the left hand in Plate 38 shows the ridge in about its narrowest profile; and shows also that this ridge is composed of beds of rock shelving across it, apparently horizontal, or nearly so, at the top, and sloping considerably southwards (to the spectator's left), at the bottom. How far this slope is a consequence of the advance of the nearest angle giving a steep perspective to the beds, I cannot say; my own belief would have been that a great deal of it is thus deceptive, the beds lying as the tiles do in the somewhat anomalous, but perfectly conceivable house-roof, Fig. 79. Saussure, however, attributes to the beds themselves a very considerable slope. But be this as it may, the main facts of the thinness of the beds, their comparative horizontality, and the daring swordsweep by which the whole mountain has been hewn out of them, are from this spot comprehensible at a glance. Visible, I should have said; but eternally, and to the uttermost, incomprehensible. Every geologist who speaks of this mountain seems to be struck by the wonderfulness of its calm sculpture—the absence of all aspect of convulsion, and yet the stern chiselling of so vast a mass into its precipitous isolation leaving no ruin nor debris near it. "Quelle force n'a-t-il pas fallu," exclaims M. Saussure, "pour rompre, et pour balayer tout ce qui manque a cette pyramide!" "What an overturn of all ancient ideas in Geology," says Professor Forbes, "to find a pinnacle of 15,000 feet high [above the sea] sharp as a pyramid, and with perpendicular precipices of thousands of feet on every hand, to be a representative of the older chalk formation; and what a difficulty to conceive the nature of a convulsion (even with unlimited power), which could produce a configuration like the Mont Cervin rising from the glacier of Zmutt!"

Sec. 11. The term "perpendicular" is of course applied by the Professor in the "poetical" temper of Reynolds,—that is to say, in one "inattentive to minute exactness in details;" but the effect of this strange Matterhorn upon the imagination is indeed so great, that even the gravest philosophers cannot resist it; and Professor Forbes's drawing of the peak, outlined at page 180, has evidently been made under the influence of considerable excitement. For fear of being deceived by enthusiasm also, I daguerreotyped the Cervin from the edge of the little lake under the crag of the Riffelhorn, with the somewhat amazing result shown in Fig. 80. So cautious is Nature, even in her boldest work, so broadly does she extend the foundations, and strengthen the buttresses, of masses which produce so striking an impression as to be described, even by the most careful writers, as perpendicular.

Sec. 12. The only portion of the Matterhorn which approaches such a condition is the shoulder, before alluded to, forming a step of about one twelfth the height of the whole peak, shown by light on its snowy side, or upper surface, in the right-hand figure of Plate 38. Allowing 4000 feet for the height of the peak, this step or shoulder will be between 300 and 400 feet in absolute height; and as it is not only perpendicular, but assuredly overhangs, both at this snow-lighted angle and at the other corner of the mountain (seen against the sky in the same figure), I have not the slightest doubt that a plumb-line would swing from the brow of either of these bastions, between 600 and 800 feet, without touching rock. The intermediate portion of the cliff which joins them is, however, not more than vertical. I was therefore anxious chiefly to observe the structure of the two angles, and, to that end, to see the mountain close on that side, from the Zmutt glacier.

Sec. 13. I am afraid my dislike to the nomenclatures invented by the German philosophers has been unreasonably, though involuntarily, complicated with that which, crossing out of Italy, one necessarily feels for those invented by the German peasantry. As travellers now every day more frequently visit the neighborhood of the Monte Rosa, it would surely be a permissible, because convenient, poetical license, to invent some other name for this noble glacier, whose present title, certainly not euphonious, has the additional disadvantage of being easily confounded with that of the Zermatt glacier, properly so called. I mean myself, henceforward, to call it the Red glacier, because, for two or three miles above its lower extremity, the whole surface of it is covered with blocks of reddish gneiss, or other slaty crystalline rocks,—some fallen from the Cervin, some from the Weisshorn, some brought from the Stockhi and Dent d'Erin, but little rolled or ground down in the transit, and covering the ice, often four or five feet deep, with a species of macadamization on a large scale (each stone being usually some foot or foot and a half in diameter), anything but convenient to a traveller in haste. Higher up, the ice opens into broad white fields and furrows, hard and dry, scarcely fissured at all, except just under the Cervin, and forming a silent and solemn causeway, paved, as it seems, with white marble from side to side; broad enough for the march of an army in line of battle, but quiet as a street of tombs in a buried city, and bordered on each hand by ghostly cliffs of that faint granite purple which seems, in its far-away height, as unsubstantial as the dark blue that bounds it;—the whole scene so changeless and soundless; so removed, not merely from the presence of men, but even from their thoughts; so destitute of all life of tree or herb, and so immeasurable in its lonely brightness of majestic death, that it looks like a world from which not only the human, but the spiritual, presences had perished, and the last of its archangels, building the great mountains for their monuments, had laid themselves down in the sunlight to an eternal rest, each in his white shroud.

Sec. 14. The first point from which the Matterhorn precipices, which I came to examine, show their structure distinctly, is about half-way up the valley, before reaching the glacier. The most convenient path, and access to the ice, are on the south; but it is best, in order to watch the changes of the Matterhorn, to keep on the north side of the valley; and, at the point just named, the shoulder marked e in Fig. 33, p. 181, is seen, in the morning sunlight, to be composed of zigzag beds, apparently of eddied sand. (Fig. 81.)

I have no doubt they once were eddied sand; that is to say, sea or torrent drift, hardened by fire into crystalline rock; but whether they ever were or not, the certain fact is, that here we have a precipice, trenchant, overhanging, and 500 feet in height, cut across the thin beds which compose it as smoothly as a piece of fine-grained wood is cut with a chisel.

Sec. 15. From this point, also, the nature of the corresponding bastion, c d, Fig 33, is also discernible. It is the edge of a great concave precipice, cut out of the mountain, as the smooth hollows are out of the rocks at the foot of a waterfall, and across which the variously colored beds, thrown by perspective into corresponding curvatures, run exactly like the seams of canvas in a Venetian felucca's sail.

Seen from this spot, it seems impossible that the mountain should long support itself in such a form, but the impression is only caused by the concealment of the vast proportions of the mass behind, whose poise is quite unaffected by this hollowing at one point. Thenceforward, as we ascend the glacier, the Matterhorn every moment expands in apparent width; and having reached the foot of the Stockhi (about a four hours' walk from Zermatt), and getting the Cervin summit to bear S. 111/2 deg. E., I made the drawing of it engraved opposite, which gives a true idea of the relations between it and the masses of its foundation. The bearing stated is that of the apparent summit only, as from this point the true summit is not visible; the rocks which seem to form the greatest part of the mountain being in reality nothing but its foundations, while the little white jagged peak, relieved against the dark hollow just below the seeming summit, is the rock marked g in Fig. 33. But the structure of the mass, and the long ranges of horizontal, or nearly horizontal, beds which form its crest, showing in black points like arrow-heads through the snow, where their ridges are left projecting by the avalanche channels, are better seen than at any other point I reached, together with the sweeping and thin zones of sandy gneiss below, bending apparently like a coach-spring; and the notable point about the whole is, that this under-bed, of seemingly the most delicate substance, is that prepared by Nature to build her boldest precipice with, it being this bed which emerges at the two bastions or shoulders before noticed, and which by that projection causes the strange oblique distortion of the whole mountain mass, as it is seen from Zermatt.

Sec. 16. And our surprise will still be increased as we farther examine the materials of which the whole mountain is composed. In many places its crystalline slates, where their horizontal surfaces are exposed along the projecting beds of their foundations, break into ruin so total that the foot dashes through their loose red flakes as through heaps of autumn leaves; and yet, just where their structure seems most delicate, just where they seem to have been swept before the eddies of the streams that first accumulated them, in the most passive whirls, there the after ages have knit them into the most massive strength, and there have hewn out of them those firm grey bastions of the Cervin,—overhanging, smooth, flawless, unconquerable! For, unlike the Chamouni aiguilles, there is no aspect of destruction about the Matterhorn cliffs. They are not torn remnants of separating spires, yielding flake by flake, and band by band, to the continual process of decay. They are, on the contrary, an unaltered monument, seemingly sculptured long ago, the huge walls retaining yet the forms into which they were first engraven, and standing like an Egyptian temple,—delicate-fronted, softly colored, the suns of uncounted ages rising and falling upon it continually, but still casting the same line of shadows from east to west, still, century after century, touching the same purple stains on the lotus pillars; while the desert sand ebbs and flows about their feet, as those autumn leaves of rock lie heaped and weak about the base of the Cervin.

Sec. 17. Is not this a strange type, in the very heart and height of these mysterious Alps—these wrinkled hills in their snowy, cold, grey-haired old age, at first so silent, then, as we keep quiet at their feet, muttering and whispering to us garrulously, in broken and dreaming fits, as it were, about their childhood—is it not a strange type of the things which "out of weakness are made strong?" If one of those little flakes of mica-sand, hurried in tremulous spangling along the bottom of the ancient river, too light to sink, too faint to float, almost too small for sight, could have had a mind given to it as it was at last borne down with its kindred dust into the abysses of the stream, and laid, (would it not have thought?) for a hopeless eternity, in the dark ooze, the most despised, forgotten, and feeble of all earth's atoms; incapable of any use or change; not fit, down there in the diluvial darkness, so much as to help an earth-wasp to build its nest, or feed the first fibre of a lichen;—what would it have thought, had it been told that one day, knitted into a strength as of imperishable iron, rustless by the air, infusible by the flame, out of the substance of it, with its fellows, the axe of God should hew that Alpine tower; that against it—poor, helpless, mica flake!—the wild north winds should rage in vain; beneath it—low-fallen mica flake!—the snowy hills should lie bowed like flocks of sheep, and the kingdoms of the earth fade away in unregarded blue; and around it—weak, wave-drifted mica flake!—the great war of the firmament should burst in thunder, and yet stir it not; and the fiery arrows and angry meteors of the night fall blunted back from it into the air; and all the stars in the clear heaven should light, one by one as they rose, new cressets upon the points of snow that fringed its abiding-place on the imperishable spire?

Sec. 18. I have thought it worth while, for the sake of these lessons, and the other interests connected with them, to lead the reader thus far into the examination of the principal precipices among the Alps, although, so far as our immediate purposes are concerned, the inquiry cannot be very fruitful or helpful to us. For rocks of this kind, being found only in the midst of the higher snow fields, are not only out of the general track of the landscape painter, but are for the most part quite beyond his power—even beyond Turner's. The waves of snow, when it becomes a principal element in mountain form, are at once so subtle in tone, and so complicated in curve and fold, that no skill will express them, so as to keep the whole luminous mass in anything like a true relation to the rock darkness. For the distant rocks of the upper peaks are themselves, when in light, paler than white paper, and their true size and relation to near objects cannot be exhibited unless they are painted in the palest tones. Yet, as compared with their snow, they are so dark that a daguerreotype taken for the proper number of seconds to draw the snow shadows rightly, will always represent the rocks as coal-black. In order, therefore, to paint a snowy mountain properly, we should need a light as much brighter than white paper as white paper is brighter than charcoal. So that although it is possible, with deep blue sky, and purple rocks, and blue shadows, to obtain a very interesting resemblance of snow effect, and a true one up to a certain point (as in the best examples of the body-color drawings sold so extensively in Switzerland) it is not possible to obtain any of those refinements of form and gradation which a great artist's eye requires. Turner felt that, among these highest hills, no serious or perfect work could be done; and although in one or two of his vignettes (already referred to in the first volume) he showed his knowledge of them, his practice, in larger works, was always to treat the snowy mountains merely as a far-away white cloud, concentrating the interest of his picture on nearer and more tractable objects.

Sec. 19. One circumstance, however, bearing upon art, we may note before leaving these upper precipices, namely, the way in which they illustrate the favorite expression of Homer and Dante—cut rocks. However little satisfied we had reason to be with the degree of affection shown towards mountain scenery by either poet, we may now perceive, with some respect and surprise, that they had got at one character which was in the essence of the noblest rocks, just as the early illuminators got at the principles which lie at the heart of vegetation. As distinguished from all other natural forms,—from fibres which are torn, crystals which are broken, stones which are rounded or worn, animal and vegetable forms which are grown or moulded,—the true hard rock or precipice is notably a thing cut, its inner grain or structure seeming to have less to do with its form than is seen in any other object or substance whatsoever; and the aspect of subjection to some external sculpturing instrument being distinct in almost exact proportion to the size and stability of the mass.

Sec. 20. It is not so, however, with the next groups of mountain which we have to examine—those formed by the softer slaty coherents, when their perishable and frail substance has been raised into cliffs in the manner illustrated by Fig. 12 at p. 146,—cliffs whose front every frost disorganizes into filmy shale, and of which every thunder-shower dissolves tons in the swoln blackness of torrents. If this takes place from the top downwards, the cliff is gradually effaced, and a more or less rounded eminence is soon all that remains of it; but if the lower beds only decompose, or if the whole structure is strengthened here and there by courses of harder rock, the precipice is undermined, and remains hanging in perilous ledges and projections until, the process having reached the limit of its strength, vast portions of it fall at once, leaving new fronts of equal ruggedness, to be ruined and cast down in their turn.

The whole district of the northern inferior Alps, from the mountains of the Reposoir to the Gemmi, is full of precipices of this kind; the well known crests of the Mont Doron, and of the Aiguille de Varens, above Sallenches, being connected by the great cliffs of the valley of Sixt, the dark mass of the Buet, the Dent du Midi de Bex, and the Diablerets, with the great amphitheatre of rock in whose securest recess the path of the Gemmi hides its winding. But the most frightful and most characteristic cliff in the whole group is the range of the Rochers des Fys, above the Col d'Anterne. It happens to have a bed of harder limestone at the top than in any other part of its mass; and this bed, protecting its summit, enables it to form itself into the most ghastly ranges of pinnacle which I know among mountains. In one spot the upper edge of limestone has formed a complete cornice, or rather bracket—for it is not extended enough to constitute a cornice, which projects far into the air over the wall of ashy rock, and is seen against the clouds, when they pass into the chasm beyond, like the nodding coping-stone of a castle—only the wall below is not less than 2500 feet in height,—not vertical, but steep enough to seem so to the imagination.

Sec. 21. Such precipices are among the most impressive as well as the most really dangerous of mountain ranges; in many spots inaccessible with safety either from below or from above; dark in color, robed with everlasting mourning, for ever tottering like a great fortress shaken by war, fearful as much in their weakness as in their strength, and yet gathered after every fall into darker frowns and unhumiliated threatening; for ever incapable of comfort or of healing from herb or flower, nourishing no root in their crevices, touched by no hue of life on buttress or ledge, but, to the utmost, desolate; knowing no shaking of leaves in the wind, nor of grass beside the stream,—no motion but their own mortal shivering, the deathful crumbling of atom from atom in their corrupting stones; knowing no sound of living voice or living tread, cheered neither by the kid's bleat nor the marmot's cry; haunted only by uninterrupted echoes from far off, wandering hither and thither among their walls, unable to escape, and by the hiss of angry torrents, and sometimes the shriek of a bird that flits near the face of them, and sweeps frightened back from under their shadow into the gulf of air: and, sometimes, when the echo has fainted, and the wind has carried the sound of the torrent away, and the bird has vanished; and the mouldering stones are still for a little time,—a brown moth, opening and shutting its wings upon a grain of dust, may be the only thing that moves, or feels, in all the waste of weary precipice, darkening five thousand feet of the blue depth of heaven.

Sec. 22. It will not be thought that there is nothing in a scene such as this deserving our contemplation, or capable of conveying useful lessons, if it were fitly rendered by art. I cannot myself conceive any picture more impressive than a faithful rendering of such a cliff would be, supposing the aim of the artist to be the utmost tone of sad sublime. I am, nevertheless, aware of no instance in which the slightest attempt has been made to express their character; the reason being, partly, the extreme difficulty of the task, partly the want of temptation in specious color or form. For the majesty of this kind of cliff depends entirely on its size: a low range of such rock is as uninteresting as it is ugly; and it is only by making the spectator understand the enormous scale of their desolation, and the space which the shadow of their danger oppresses, that any impression can be made upon his mind. And this scale cannot be expressed by any artifice; the mountain cannot be made to look large by painting it blue or faint, otherwise it loses all its ghastliness. It must be painted in its own near and solemn colors, black and ashen grey; and its size must be expressed by thorough drawing of its innumerable details—pure quantity,—with certain points of comparison explanatory of the whole. This is no light task; and, attempted by any man of ordinary genius, would need steady and careful painting for three or four months; while, to such a man, there would appear to be nothing worth his toil in the gloom of the subject, unrelieved as it is even by variety of form; for the soft rock of which these cliffs are composed rarely breaks into bold masses; and the gloom of their effect partly depends on its not doing so.

Sec. 23. Yet, while painters thus reject the natural, and large sublime, which is ready to their hand, how strangely do they seek after a false and small sublime. It is not that they reprobate gloom, but they will only have a gloom of their own making; just as half the world will not see the terrible and sad truths which the universe is full of, but surrounds itself with little clouds of sulky and unnecessary fog for its own special breathing. A portrait is not thought grand unless it has a thundercloud behind it (as if a hero could not be brave in sunshine); a ruin is not melancholy enough till it is seen by moonlight or twilight; and every condition of theatrical pensiveness or of the theatrical terrific is exhausted in setting forth scenes or persons which in themselves are, perhaps, very quiet scenes and homely persons; while that which, without any accessories at all, is everlastingly melancholy and terrific, we refuse to paint,—nay, we refuse even to observe it in its reality, while we seek for the excitement of the very feelings it was meant to address, in every conceivable form of our false ideal.

For instance: there have been few pictures more praised for their sublimity than the "Deluge" of Nicolas Poussin; of which, nevertheless, the sublimity, such as it is, consists wholly in the painting of everything grey or brown,—not the grey and brown of great painters, full of mysterious and unconfessed colors, dim blue, and shadowy purple, and veiled gold,—but the stony grey and dismal brown of the conventionalist. Madame de Genlis, whose general criticisms on painting are full of good sense—singularly so, considering the age in which she lived[85]—has the following passage on this picture:—

"'I remember to have seen the painting you mention; but I own I found nothing in it very beautiful.'

"'You have seen it rain often enough?'


"'Have you ever at such times observed the color of the clouds attentively?—how the dusky atmosphere obscures all objects, makes them, if distant, disappear, or be seen with difficulty? Had you paid a proper attention to these effects of rain, you would have been amazed by the exactitude with which they are painted by Poussin.'"[86]

Sec. 24. Madame de Genlis is just in her appeal to nature, but had not herself looked carefully enough to make her appeal accurate. She had noticed one of the principal effects of rain, but not the other. It is true that the dusky atmosphere "obscures all objects," but it is also true that Nature, never intending the eye of man to be without delight, has provided a rich compensation for this shading of the tints with darkness, in their brightening by moisture. Every color, wet, is twice as brilliant as it is when dry; and when distances are obscured by mist, and bright colors vanish from the sky, and gleams of sunshine from the earth, the foreground assumes all its loveliest hues, the grass and foliage revive into their perfect green, and every sunburnt rock glows into an agate. The colors of mountain foregrounds can never be seen in perfection unless they are wet; nor can moisture be entirely expressed except by fulness of color. So that Poussin, in search of a false sublimity, painting every object in his picture, vegetation and all, of one dull grey and brown, has actually rendered it impossible for an educated eye to conceive it as representing rain at all; it is a dry, volcanic darkness. It may be said that had he painted the effect of rain truly, the picture, composed of the objects he has introduced, would have become too pretty for his purpose. But his error, and the error of landscapists in general, is in seeking to express terror by false treatment, instead of going to Nature herself to ask her what she has appointed to be everlastingly terrible. The greatest genius would be shown by taking the scene in its plainest and most probable facts; not seeking to change pity into fear, by denying the beauty of the world that was passing away. But if it were determined to excite fear, and fear only, it ought to have been done by imagining the true ghastliness of the tottering cliffs of Ararat or Caucasus, as the heavy waves first smote against the promontories that until then had only known the thin fanning of the upper air of heaven;—not by painting leaves and grass slate-grey. And a new world of sublimity might be opened to us, if any painter of power and feeling would devote himself, for a few months, to these solemn cliffs of the dark limestone Alps, and would only paint one of them, as it truly stands, not in rain nor storm, but in its own eternal sadness: perhaps best on some fair summer evening, when its fearful veil of immeasurable rock is breathed upon by warm air, and touched with fading rays of purple; and all that it has of the melancholy of ruin, mingled with the might of endurance, and the foreboding of danger, rises in its grey gloom against the gentle sky; the soft wreaths of the evening clouds expiring along its ridges one by one, and leaving it, at last, with no light but that of its own cascades, standing like white pillars here and there along its sides, motionless and soundless in their distance.

Sec. 25. Here, however, we must leave these more formidable examples of the Alpine precipice, to examine those which, by Turner or by artists in general, have been regarded as properly within the sphere of their art.

Turner had in this respect some peculiar views induced by early association. It has already been noticed, in my pamphlet on Pre-Raphaelitism, that his first conceptions of mountain scenery seem to have been taken from Yorkshire; and its rounded hills, far winding rivers, and broken limestone scars, to have formed a type in his mind to which he sought, as far as might be, to obtain some correspondent imagery in all other landscape. Hence, he almost always preferred to have a precipice low down on the hillside, rather than near the top; liked an extent of rounded slope above, and the vertical cliff to the water or valley, better than the slope at the bottom and wall at the top (compare Fig. 13, p. 148); and had his attention early directed to those horizontal, or comparatively horizontal, beds of rock which usually form the faces of precipices in the Yorkshire dales; not, as in the Matterhorn, merely indicated by veined coloring on the surface of the smooth cliff, but projecting, or mouldering away, in definite successions of ledges, cornices, or steps.

Sec. 26. This decided love of the slope, or bank above the wall, rather than below it, is one of Turner's most marked idiosyncrasies, and gives a character to his composition, as distinguished from that of other men, perhaps more marked than any which are traceable in other features of it (except, perhaps, in his pear-shaped ideal of trees, of which more hereafter). For when mountains are striking to the general eye, they almost always have the high crest or wall of cliff on the top of their slopes, rising from the plain first in mounds of meadow-land, and bosses of rock, and studded softness of forest; the brown cottages peeping through grove above grove, until just where the deep shade of the pines becomes blue or purple in the haze of height, a red wall of upper precipice rises from the pasture land, and frets the sky with glowing serration. Plate 40, opposite, represents a mass of mountain just above Villeneuve, at the head of the Lake of Geneva, in which the type of the structure is shown with singular clearness. Much of the scenery of western Switzerland, and characteristically the whole of that of Savoy, is composed of mountains of this kind; the isolated group between Chambery and Grenoble, which holds the Grande Chartreuse in the heart of it, is constructed entirely of such masses; and the Montagne de Vergi, which in like manner encloses the narrow meadows and traceried cloisters of the Convent of the Reposoir, forms the most striking feature among all the mountains that border the valley of the Arve between Cluse and Geneva; while ranges of cliffs presenting precisely the same typical characters frown above the bridge and fortress of Mont-Meillan, and enclose, in light blue calm, the waters of the Lake of Annecy.

Sec. 27. Now, although in many of his drawings Turner acknowledges this structure, it seems always to be with some degree of reluctance; whereas he seizes with instant eagerness, and every appearance of contentment, on forms of mountain which are rounded into banks above, and cut into precipices below, as is the case in most elevated table-lands; in the chalk coteaux of the Seine, the basalt borders of the Rhine, and the lower gorges of the Alps; so that while the most striking pieces of natural mountain scenery usually rise from the plain under some such outline as that at a, Fig. 82, Turner always formed his composition, if possible, on such an arrangement as that at b.

One reason for this is clearly the greater simplicity of the line. The simpler a line is, so that it be cunningly varied within its simplicities, the grander it is; and Turner likes to enclose all his broken crags by such a line as that at b, just as we saw the classical composer, in our first plate, enclose the griffin's beak with breadth of wing. Nevertheless, I cannot but attribute his somewhat wilful and marked rejection of what sublimity there is in the other form, to the influence of early affections; and sincerely regret that the fascination exercised over him by memory should have led him to pass so much of his life in putting a sublimity not properly belonging to them into the coteaux of Clairmont and Meauves, and the vine terraces of Bingen and Oberwesel; leaving almost unrecorded the natural sublimity, which he could never have exaggerated, of the pine-fringed mountains of the Iscre, and the cloudy diadem of the Mont Vergi.

Sec. 28. In all cases of this kind, it is difficult to say how far harm and how far good have resulted from what unquestionably has in it something of both. It is to be regretted that Turner's studies should have been warped, by early affection, from the Alps to the Rhine; but the fact of his feeling this early affection, and being thus strongly influenced by it through his life, is indicative of that sensibility which was at the root of all his greatness. Other artists are led away by foreign sublimities and distant interests; delighting always in that which is most markedly strange, and quaintly contrary to the scenery of their homes. But Turner evidently felt that the claims upon his regard possessed by those places which first had opened to him the joy, and the labor, of his life, could never be superseded; no Alpine cloud could efface, no Italian sunbeam outshine, the memory of the pleasant dales and days of Rokeby and Bolton; and many a simple promontory, dim with southern olive,—many a low cliff that stooped unnoticed over some alien wave, was recorded by him with a love, and delicate care, that were the shadows of old thoughts and long-lost delights, whose charm yet hung like morning mist above the chanting waves of Wharfe and Greta.

Sec. 29. The first instance, therefore, of Turner's mountain drawing which I endeavored to give accurately, in this book, was from those shores of Wharfe which, I believe, he never could revisit without tears; nay, which for all the latter part of his life, he never could even speak of, but his voice faltered. We will now examine this instance with greater care.

It is first to be remembered that in every one of his English or French drawings, Turner's mind was, in two great instincts, at variance with itself. The affections of it clung, as we have just seen, to humble scenery, and gentle wildness of pastoral life. But the admiration of it was, more than any other artist's whatsoever, fastened on largeness of scale. With all his heart, he was attached to the narrow meadows and rounded knolls of England; by all his imagination he was urged to the reverence of endless vales and measureless hills; nor could any scene be too contracted for his love, or too vast for his ambition. Hence, when he returned to English scenery after his first studies in Savoy and Dauphine, he was continually endeavoring to reconcile old fondnesses with new sublimities; and, as in Switzerland he chose rounded Alps for the love of Yorkshire, so in Yorkshire he exaggerated scale, in memory of Switzerland, and gave to Ingleborough, seen from Hornby Castle, in great part the expression of cloudy majesty and height which he had seen in the Alps from Grenoble. We must continually remember these two opposite instincts as we examine the Turnerian topography of his subject of Bolton Abbey.

Sec. 30. The Abbey is placed, as most lovers of our English scenery know well, on a little promontory of level park land, enclosed by one of the sweeps of the Wharfe. On the other side of the river, the flank of the dale rises in a pretty wooded brow, which the river, leaning against, has cut into two or three somewhat bold masses of rock, steep to the water's edge, but feathered above with copse of ash and oak. Above these rocks, the hills are rounded softly upwards to the moorland; the entire height of the brow towards the river being perhaps two hundred feet, and the rocky parts of it not above forty or fifty, so that the general impression upon the eye is that the hill is little more than twice the height of the ruins, or of the groups of noble ash trees which encircle them. One of these groups is conspicuous above the rest, growing on the very shore of the tongue of land which projects into the river, whose clear brown water, stealing first in mere threads between the separate pebbles of shingle, and eddying in soft golden lines towards its central currents, flows out of amber into ebony, and glides calm and deep below the rock on the opposite shore.

Sec. 31. Except in this stony bed of the stream, the scene possesses very little more aspect of mountain character than belongs to some of the park and meadow land under the chalk hills near Henley and Maidenhead; and if it were faithfully drawn in all points, and on its true scale, would hardly more affect the imagination of the spectator, unless he traced, with such care as is never from any spectator to be hoped, the evidence of nobler character in the pebbled shore and unconspicuous rock. But the scene in reality does affect the imagination strongly, and in a way wholly different from lowland hill scenery. A little farther up the valley the limestone summits rise, and that steeply, to a height of twelve hundred feet above the river, which foams between them in the narrow and dangerous channel of the Strid. Noble moorlands extend above, purple with heath, and broken into scars and glens, and around every soft tuft of wood, and gentle extent of meadow, throughout the dale, there floats a feeling of this mountain power, and an instinctive apprehension of the strength and greatness of the wild northern land.

Sec. 32. It is to the association of this power and border sternness with the sweet peace and tender decay of Bolton Priory, that the scene owes its distinctive charm. The feelings excited by both characters are definitely connected by the melancholy tradition of the circumstances to which the Abbey owes its origin; and yet farther darkened by the nearer memory of the death, in the same spot which betrayed the boy of Egremont, of another, as young, as thoughtless, and as beloved.

"The stately priory was reared, And Wharfe, as he moved along, To matins joined a mournful voice, Nor failed at evensong."

All this association of various awe, and noble mingling of mountain strength with religious fear, Turner had to suggest, or he would not have drawn Bolton Abbey. He goes down to the shingly shore; for the Abbey is but the child of the Wharfe;—it is the river, the great cause of the Abbey, which shall be his main subject; only the extremity of the ruin itself is seen between the stems of the ash tree; but the waves of the Wharfe are studied with a care which renders this drawing unique among Turner's works, for its expression of the eddies of a slow mountain stream, and of their pausing in treacherous depth beneath the hollowed rocks.

On the opposite shore is a singular jutting angle of the shales, forming the principal feature of the low cliffs at the water's edge. Turner fastens on it as the only available mass; draws it with notable care, and then magnifies it, by diminishing the trees on its top to one fifth of their real size, so that what would else have been little more than a stony bank becomes a true precipice, on a scale completely suggestive of the heights behind. The hill beyond is in like manner lifted into a more rounded, but still precipitous, eminence, reaching the utmost admissible elevation of ten or twelve hundred feet (measurable by the trees upon it). I have engraved this entire portion of the drawing of the real size, on the opposite page; the engraving of the whole drawing, published in the England Series, is also easily accessible.

Sec. 33. Not knowing accurately to what group of the Yorkshire limestones the rocks opposite the Abbey belonged, or their relation to the sandstones at the Strid, I wrote to ask my kind friend Professor Phillips, who instantly sent me a little geological sketch of the position of these "Yoredale Shales," adding this interesting note: "The black shales opposite the Abbey are curiously tinted at the surface, and are contorted. Most artists give them the appearance of solid massive rocks; nor is this altogether wrong, especially when the natural joints of the shale appear prominent after particular accidents; they should, however, never be made to resemble [i.e. in solidity] limestone or gritstone."

Now the Yoredale shales are members of the group of rocks which I have called slaty coherents, and correspond very closely to those portions of the Alpine slates described in Chap. X. Sec. 4; their main character is continual separation into fine flakes, more or less of Dante's "iron-colored grain;" which, however, on a large scale, form those somewhat solid-looking masses to which Mr. Phillips alludes in his letter, and which he describes, in his recently published Geology, in the following general terms: "The shales of this tract are usually dark, close, and fissile, and traversed by extremely long straight joints, dividing the rock into rhomboidal prisms" (i.e. prisms of the shape c, Fig. 83, in the section).

Sec. 34. Turner had, therefore, these four things to show:—1. Flaky division horizontally; 2. Division by rhomboidal joints; 3. Massy appearance occasionally, somewhat concealing the structure; 4. Local contortion of the beds. (See passage quoted of Mr. Phillips's letter).

Examine, then, the plate just given (12 A). The cleavage of the shales runs diagonally up from left to right; note especially how delicately it runs up through the foreground rock, and is insisted upon, just at the brow of it, in the angular step-like fragments; compare also the etching in the first volume. Then note the upright pillars in the distance, marked especially as rhomboidal by being drawn with the cleavage still sloping up on the returning side, as at a, Fig. 83, not as at b, which would be their aspect if they were square; and then the indication of interruption in the structure at the brow of the main cliff, where, as well as on the nearer mass, exposure to the weather has rounded away the cleavages.

This projection, as before mentioned, does exist at the spot; and I believe is partly an indication of the contortion in the beds alluded to by Mr. Phillips; but no one but Turner would have fastened on it, as in anywise deserving special attention.

For the rest, no words are of any use to explain the subtle fidelity with which the minor roundings and cleavages have been expressed by him. Fidelity of this kind can only be estimated by workers: if the reader can himself draw a bit of natural precipice in Yoredale shale, and then copy a bit of the etching, he will find some measure of the difference between Turner's work and other people's, and not otherwise; although, without any such labor, he may at once perceive that there is a difference, and a wide one,—so wide, that I have literally nothing to compare the Turnerian work with in previous art. Here, however, Fig. 84, is a rock of Claude's (Liber Veritatis, No. 91, on the left hand), which is something of the shape of Turner's, and professes to be crested in like manner with copse-wood. The reader may "compare" as much as he likes, or can, of it.

Sec. 35. In fact, as I said some time ago, the whole landscape of Claude was nothing but a more or less softened continuance of the old traditions of missal-painting, of which I gave examples in the previous volume. The general notion of rock which may be traced in the earliest work, as Figs. 1 and 2 in Plate 10 Vol. III. is of an upright mass cut out with an adze; as art advances, the painters begin to perceive horizontal stratification, and, as in all the four other examples of that plate, show something like true rendering of the fracture of rocks in vertical joints with superimposed projecting masses. They insist on this type, thinking it frowning or picturesque, and usually exhibit it to more advantage by putting a convent, hermitage, or castle on the projection of the crag. In the blue backgrounds of the missals the projection is often wildly extravagant; for instance, the MS. Additional, 11,696 Brit. Mus., has all its backgrounds composed of blue rocks with towers upon them, of which Fig. 85 is a characteristic example (magnified in scale about one-third; but, I think, rather diminished in extravagance of projection). It is infinitely better drawn than Claude's rocks ever are, in the expression of cleavage; but certainly somewhat too bold in standing. Then, in more elaborate work, we get conditions of precipice like Fig. 3 in Plate 10, which, indeed, is not ill-drawn in many respects; and the book from which it is taken shows other evidences of a love of nature sufficiently rare at the period, though joined quaintly with love of the grotesque: for instance, the writer, giving an account of the natural productions of Saxony, illustrates his chapter with a view of the salt mines; he represents the brine-spring, conducted by a wooden trough from the rock into an evaporating-house where it is received in a pan, under which he has painted scarlet flames of fire with singular skill; and the rock out of which the brine flows is in its general cleavages the best I ever saw drawn by mediaeval art. But it is carefully wrought to the resemblance of a grotesque human head.

Sec. 36. This bolder quaintness of the missals is very slightly modified in religious paintings of the period. Fig. 86, by Cima da Conegliano, a Venetian, No. 173 in the Louvre, compared with Fig. 3 of Plate 10 (Flemish), will show the kind of received tradition about rocks current throughout Europe. Claude takes up this tradition, and, merely making the rocks a little clumsier, and more weedy, produces such conditions as Fig. 87 (Liber Veritatis, No. 91, with Fig. 84 above); while the orthodox door or archway at the bottom is developed into the Homeric cave, shaded with laurels, and some ships are put underneath it, or seen through it, at impossible anchorages.

Sec. 37. Fig. 87 is generally characteristic, not only of Claude, but of the other painters of the Renaissance period, because they were all equally fond of representing this overhanging of rocks with buildings on the top, and weeds drooping into the air over the edge, always thinking to get sublimity by exaggerating the projection, and never able to feel or understand the simplicity of real rock lines; not that they were in want of examples around them: on the contrary, though the main idea was traditional, the modifications of it are always traceable to the lower masses of limestone and tufa which skirt the Alps and Apennines, and which have, in reality, long contracted habits of nodding over their bases; being, both by Virgil and Homer, spoken of always as "hanging" or "over-roofed" rocks. But then they have a way of doing it rather different from the Renaissance ideas of them. Here, for instance (Plate 41), is a real hanging rock, with a castle on the top of it, and ([Greek: katerephes]) laurel, all plain fact, from Arona, on the Lago Maggiore; and, I believe, the reader, though we have not as yet said anything about lines, will at once, on comparing it with Fig. 87, recognize the difference between the true parabolic flow of the rock-lines and the humpbacked deformity of Claude; and, still more, the difference between the delicate overhanging of the natural cliff, cautiously diminished as it gets higher[87], and the ideal danger of the Liber Veritatis.

Sec. 38. And the fact is, generally, that natural cliffs are very cautious how they overhang, and that the artist who represents them as doing so in any extravagant degree entirely destroys the sublimity which he hoped to increase, for the simple reason that he takes away the whole rock-nature, or at least that part of it which depends upon weight. The instinct of the observer refuses to believe that the rock is ponderous when it overhangs so far, and it has no more real effect upon him than the imagined rocks of a fairy tale.

Though, therefore, the subject sketched on this page is sufficiently trifling in itself, it is important as a perfect general type of the overhanging of that kind of precipices, and of the mode in which they are connected with the banks above. Fig. 88 shows its abstract leading lines, consisting of one great parabolic line x y falling to the brow, curved aqueous lines down the precipice face, and the springing lines of its vegetation, opposed by contrary curves on the farther cliff. Such an arrangement, with or without vegetation, may take place on a small or large scale; but a bolder projection than this, except by rare accident, and on a small scale, cannot. If the reader will glance back to Plate 37, and observe the arrangement of the precipices on the right hand, he will now better understand what Turner means by them. But the whole question of the beauty of this form, or mode of its development, rests on the nature of the bank above the cliffs, and of the aqueous forces that carved it; and this discussion of the nature of banks, as it will take some time, had better be referred to next chapter. One or two more points are, however, to be stated here.

Sec. 39. For the reader has probably been already considering how it is that these overhanging cliffs are formed at all, and why they appear thus to be consumed away at the bottom. Sometimes if of soft material they actually are so consumed by the quicker trickling of streamlets at the base than at the summit, or by the general action of damp in decomposing the rock. But in the noblest instances, such cliffs are constructed as at c in Fig. 73, above, and the inward retirement of the precipice is the result of their tendency to break at right angles to the beds, modified according to the power of the rock to support itself, and the aqueous action from above or below.

I have before alluded (in p. 157) to this somewhat perilous arrangement permitted in the secondary strata. The danger, be it observed, is not of the fall of the brow of the precipice, which never takes place on a large scale in rocks of this kind (compare Sec. 3 of this chapter), but of the sliding of one bed completely away from another, and the whole mass coming down together. But even this, though it has several times occurred in Switzerland, is not a whit more likely to happen when the precipice is terrific than when it is insignificant. The danger results from the imperfect adhesion of the mountain beds; not at all from the external form of them. A cliff, which is in aspect absolutely awful, may hardly, in the part of it that overhangs, add one thousandth part to the gravitating power of the entire mass of the rocks above; and, for the comfort of nervous travellers, they may be assured that they are often in more danger under the gentle slopes of a pleasantly wooded hill, than under the most terrific cliffs of the Eiger or Jungfrau.

Sec. 40. The most interesting examples of these cliffs are usually to be seen impendent above strong torrents, which, if forced originally to run in a valley, such as a in Fig. 89, bearing the relation there shown to the inclination of beds on each side, will not, if the cleavage is across the beds, cut their channel straight down, but in an inclined direction, correspondent to the cleavage, as at b. If the operation be carried far, so as to undermine one side of the ravine too seriously, the undermined masses fall, partially choke the torrent, and give it a new direction of force, or diminish its sawing power by breaking it among the fallen masses, so that the cliff never becomes very high in such an impendent form; but the trench is hewn downwards in a direction irregularly vertical. Among the limestones on the north side of the Valles, they being just soft enough to yield easily to the water, and yet so hard as to maintain themselves in massy precipices, when once hewn to the shape, there are defiles of whose depth and proportions I am almost afraid to state what I believe to be the measurements, so much do they differ from any which I have seen assigned by scientific men as the limits of precipitous formation. I can only say that my deliberate impression of the great ravine cut by the torrent which descends from the Aletsch glacier, about half way between the glacier and Brieg, was, that its depth is between a thousand and fifteen hundred feet, by a breadth of between forty and a hundred.

But I could not get to the edge of its cliffs, for the tops rounded away into the chasm, and, of course, all actual measurement was impossible. There are other similar clefts between the Bietschhorn and the Gemmi; and the one before spoken of at Ardon, about five miles below Sion, though quite unimportant in comparison, presents some boldly overhanging precipices easily observed by the passing traveller, as they are close to the road. The glen through which the torrent of the Trient descends into the valley of the Rhone, near Martigny, though not above three or four hundred feet deep, is also notable for its narrowness, and for the magnificent hardness of the rock through which it is cut,—a gneiss twisted with quartz into undulations like those of a Damascus sabre, and as compact as its steel.

Sec. 41. It is not possible to get the complete expression of these ravines, any more than of the apse of a Gothic cathedral, into a picture, as their elevation cannot be drawn on a vertical plane in front of the eye, the head needing to be thrown back, in order to measure their height, or stooped to penetrate their depth. But the structure and expression of the entrance to one of them have been made by Turner the theme of his sublime mountain-study (Mill near the Grande Chartreuse) in the Liber Studiorum; nor does he seem ever to have been weary of recurring for various precipice-subject, to the ravines of the Via Mala and St. Gothard. I will not injure any of these—his noblest works—by giving imperfect copies of them; the reader has now data enough whereby to judge, when he meets with them, whether they are well done or ill; and, indeed, all that I am endeavoring to do here, as often aforesaid, is only to get some laws of the simplest kind understood and accepted, so as to enable people who care at all for justice to make a stand at once beside the modern mountain-drawing, as distinguished from Salvator's, or Claude's, or any other spurious work. Take, for instance, such a law as this of the general oblique inclination of a torrent's sides, Fig. 89, and compare the Turnerian gorge in the distance of Plate 21 here, or of the Grande Chartreuse subject in the Liber Studiorum, and consider whether anywhere else in art you can find similar expressions of the law.

"Well; but you have come to no conclusions in this chapter respecting the Beauty of Precipices; and that was your professed business with them."

I am not sure that the idea of beauty was meant in general to be very strictly connected with such mountain forms: one does not, instinctively, speak or think of a "Beautiful Precipice." They have, however, their beauty, and it is infinite; yet so dependent on help or change from other things, on the way the pines crest them, or the waterfalls color them, or the clouds isolate them, that I do not choose to dwell here on any of their perfect aspects, as they cannot be reasoned of by anticipating inquiries into other materials of landscape.

Thus, I have much to say of the cliffs of Grindelwald and the Chartreuse, but all so dependent upon certain facts belonging to pine vegetation, that I am compelled to defer it to the next volume; nor do I much regret this; because it seems to me that, without any setting forth, or rather beyond all setting forth, the Alpine precipices have a fascination about them which is sufficiently felt by the spectator in general, and even by the artist; only they have not been properly drawn, because people do not usually attribute the magnificence of their effect to the trifling details which really are its elements; and, therefore, in common drawings of Swiss scenery we see all kinds of efforts at sublimity by exaggeration of the projection of the mass, or by obscurity, or blueness or aerial tint,—by everything, in fact, except the one needful thing,—plain drawing of the rock. Therefore in this chapter I have endeavored to direct the reader to a severe mathematical estimate of precipice outline, and to make him dwell, not on the immediately pathetic or impressive aspect of cliffs, which all men feel readily enough, but on their internal structure. For he may rest assured that, as the Matterhorn is built of mica flakes, so every great pictorial impression in scenery of this kind is to be reached by little and little; the cliff must be built in the picture as it was probably in reality—inch by inch; and the work will, in the end, have most power which was begun with most patience. No man is fit to paint Swiss scenery until he can place himself front to front with one of those mighty crags, in broad daylight, with no "effect" to aid him, and work it out, boss by boss, only with such conventionality as its infinitude renders unavoidable. We have seen that a literal facsimile is impossible, just as a literal facsimile of the carving of an entire cathedral front is impossible. But it is as vain to endeavor to give any conception of an Alpine cliff without minuteness of detail, and by mere breadth of effect, as it would be to give a conception of the facades of Rouen or Rheims, without indicating any statues or foliation. When the statues and foliation are once got, as much blue mist and thundercloud as you choose, but not before.

Sec. 43. I commend, therefore, in conclusion, the precipice to the artist's patience; to which there is this farther and final encouragement, that, though one of the most difficult of subjects, it is one of the kindest of sitters. A group of trees changes the color of its leafage from week to week, and its position from day to day; it is sometimes languid with heat, and sometimes heavy with rain; the torrent swells or falls in shower or sun; the best leaves of the foreground may be dined upon by cattle, or trampled by unwelcome investigators of the chosen scene. But the cliff can neither be eaten nor trampled down; neither bowed by the shower nor withered by the heat: it is always ready for us when we are inclined to labor; will always wait for us when we would rest; and, what is best of all, will always talk to us when we are inclined to converse. With its own patient and victorious presence, cleaving daily through cloud after cloud, and reappearing still through the tempest drift, lofty and serene amidst the passing rents of blue, it seems partly to rebuke, and partly to guard, and partly to calm and chasten, the agitations of the feeble human soul that watches it; and that must be indeed a dark perplexity, or a grievous pain, which will not be in some degree enlightened or relieved by the vision of it, when the evening shadows are blue on its foundation, and the last rays of the sunset resting in the fair height of its golden Fortitude.


[80] Distinguished from a crest by being the face of a large contiguous bed of rock, not the end of a ridge.

[81] The contour of the whole cliff, seen from near its foot as it rises above the shoulder of the Breven, is as at Fig. 76 opposite. The part measured is a d; but the precipice recedes to the summit b, on which a human figure is discernible to the naked eye merely as a point. The bank from which the cliff rises, c, recedes as it falls to the left; so that five hundred feet may perhaps be an under-estimate of the height below the summit. The straight sloping lines are cleavages, across the beds. Finally, Fig. 4, Plate 25, gives the look of the whole summit as seen from the village of Chamouni beneath it, at a distance of about two miles, and some four or five thousand feet above the spectator. It appears, then, like a not very formidable projection of crag overhanging the great slopes of the mountain's foundation.

[82] At an angle of 79 deg. with the horizon. See the Table of angles, p. 181. The line a e in Fig. 33, is too steep, as well as in the plate here; but the other slopes are approximately accurate. I would have made them quite so, but did not like to alter the sketch made on the spot.

[83] Professor Forbes gives the bearing of the Cervin from the top of the Riffelhorn as 351 deg., or N. 9 deg. W., supposing local attraction to have caused an error of 65 deg. to the northward, which would make the true bearing N. 74 deg. W. From the point just under the Riffelhorn summit, e, in Fig. 78, at which my drawing was made, I found the Cervin bear N. 79 deg. W. without any allowance for attraction; the disturbing influence would seem therefore confined, or nearly so, to the summit a. I did not know at the time that there was any such influence traceable, and took no bearing from the summit. For the rest, I cannot vouch for bearings as I can for angles, as their accuracy was of no importance to my work, and I merely noted them with a common pocket compass and in the sailor's way (S. by W. and 1/2 W. & C.), which involves the probability of error of from two to three degrees on either side of the true bearing. The other drawing in Plate 38 was made from a point only a degree or two to the westward of the village of Zermatt. I have no note of the bearing; but it must be about S. 60 deg. or 65 deg. W.

[84] Independent travellers may perhaps be glad to know the way to the top of the Riffelhorn. I believe there is only one path; which ascends (from the ridge of the Riffel) on its eastern slope, until, near the summit, the low but perfectly smooth cliff, extending from side to side of the ridge, seems, as on the western slope, to bar all farther advance. This cliff may, however, by a good climber, be mastered even at the southern extremity; but it is dangerous there: at the opposite or northern side of it, just at its base, is a little cornice, about a foot broad, which does not look promising at first, but widens presently; and when once it is past, there is no more difficulty in reaching the summit.

[85] I ought before to have mentioned Madame de Genlis as one of the few writers whose influence was always exerted to restore to truthful feelings, and persuade to simple enjoyments and pursuits, the persons accessible to reason in the frivolous world of her times.

[86] Veillees du Chateau, vol. ii.

[87] The actual extent of the projection remaining the same throughout, the angle of suspended slope, for that reason, diminishes as the cliff increases in height.



Sec. 1. During all our past investigations of hill form, we have been obliged to refer continually to certain results produced by the action of descending streams or falling stones. The actual contours assumed by any mountain range towards its foot depend usually more upon this torrent sculpture than on the original conformation of the masses; the existing hill side is commonly an accumulation of debris; the existing glen commonly an excavated watercourse; and it is only here and there that portions of rock, retaining impress of their original form, jut from the bank, or shelve across the stream.

Sec. 2. Now this sculpture by streams, or by gradual weathering, is the finishing work by which Nature brings her mountain forms into the state in which she intends us generally to observe and love them. The violent convulsion or disruption by which she first raises and separates the masses may frequently be intended to produce impressions of terror rather than of beauty; but the laws which are in constant operation on all noble and enduring scenery must assuredly be intended to produce results grateful to men. Therefore, as in this final pencilling of Nature's we shall probably find her ideas of mountain beauty most definitely expressed, it may be well that, before entering on this part of our subject, we should recapitulate the laws respecting beauty of form which we arrived at in the abstract.

Sec. 3. Glancing back to the fourteenth and fifteenth paragraphs of the chapter on Infinity, in the second volume, and to the third and tenth of the chapters on Unity, the reader will find that abstract beauty of form is supposed to depend on continually varied curvatures of line and surface, associated so as to produce an effect of some unity among themselves, and opposed, in order to give them value, by more or less straight or rugged lines.

The reader will, perhaps, here ask why, if both the straight and curved lines are necessary, one should be considered more beautiful than the other. Exactly as we consider light beautiful and darkness ugly, in the abstract, though both are essential to all beauty. Darkness mingled with color gives the delight of its depth or power; even pure blackness, in spots or chequered patterns, is often exquisitely delightful; and yet we do not therefore consider, in the abstract, blackness to be beautiful.

Just in the same way straightness mingled with curvature, that is to say, the close approximation of part of any curve to a straight line, gives to such curve all its spring, power, and nobleness: and even perfect straightness, limiting curves, or opposing them, is often pleasurable: yet, in the abstract, straightness is always ugly, and curvature always beautiful.

Thus, in the figure at the side, the eye will instantly prefer the semicircle to the straight line; the trefoil (composed of three semicircles) to the triangle; and the cinqfoil to the pentagon. The mathematician may perhaps feel an opposite preference; but he must be conscious that he does so under the influence of feelings quite different from those with which he would admire (if he ever does admire) a picture or statue; and that if he could free himself from those associations, his judgment of the relative agreeableness of the forms would be altered. He may rest assured that, by the natural instinct of the eye and thought, the preference is given instantly, and always, to the curved form; and that no human being of unprejudiced perceptions would desire to substitute triangles for the ordinary shapes of clover leaves, or pentagons for those of potentillas.

Sec. 4. All curvature, however, is not equally agreeable; but the examination of the laws which render one curve more beautiful than another, would, if carried out to any completeness, alone require a volume. The following few examples will be enough to put the reader in the way of pursuing the subject for himself.

Take any number of lines, a b, b c, c d, &c., Fig. 91, bearing any fixed proportion to each other. In this figure, b c is one third longer than a b, and c d than b c; and so on. Arrange them in succession, keeping the inclination, or angle, which each makes with the preceding one always the same. Then a curve drawn through the extremities of the lines will be a beautiful curve; for it is governed by consistent laws; every part of it is connected by those laws with every other, yet every part is different from every other; and the mode of its construction implies the possibility of its continuance to infinity; it would never return upon itself though prolonged for ever. These characters must be possessed by every perfectly beautiful curve.

If we make the difference between the component or measuring lines less, as in Fig. 92, in which each line is longer than the preceding one only by a fifth, the curve will be more contracted and less beautiful. If we enlarge the difference, as in Fig. 93, in which each line is double the preceding one, the curve will suggest a more rapid proceeding into infinite space, and will be more beautiful. Of two curves, the same in other respects, that which suggests the quickest attainment of infinity is always the most beautiful.

Sec. 5. These three curves being all governed by the same general law, with a difference only in dimensions of lines, together with all the other curves so constructible, varied as they may be infinitely, either by changing the lengths of line, or the inclination of the lines to each other, are considered by mathematicians only as one curve, having this peculiar character about it, different from that of most other infinite lines, that any portion of it is a magnified repetition of the preceding portion; that is to say, the portion between e and g is precisely what that between c and e would look, if seen through a lens which magnified somewhat more than twice. There is therefore a peculiar equanimity and harmony about the look of lines of this kind, differing, I think, from the expression of any others except the circle. Beyond the point a the curve may be imagined to continue to an infinite degree of smallness, always circling nearer and nearer to a point, which, however, it can never reach.

Sec. 6. Again: if, along the horizontal line, A B, Fig. 94, we measure any number of equal distances, A b, b c, &c., and raise perpendiculars from the points b, c, d, &c., of which each perpendicular shall be longer, by some given proportion (in this figure it is one third), than the preceding one, the curve x y, traced through their extremities, will continually change its direction, but will advance into space in the direction of y as long as we continue to measure distances along the line A B, always inclining more and more to the nature of a straight line, yet never becoming one, even if continued to infinity. It would, in like manner, continue to infinity in the direction of x, always approaching the line A B, yet never touching it.

Sec. 7. An infinite number of different lines, more or less violent in curvature according to the measurements we adopt in designing them, are included, or defined, by each of the laws just explained. But the number of these laws themselves is also infinite. There is no limit to the multitude of conditions which may be invented, each producing a group of curves of a certain common nature. Some of these laws, indeed, produce single curves, which, like the circle, can vary only in size; but, for the most part, they vary also, like the lines we have just traced, in the rapidity of their curvature. Among these innumerable lines, however, there is one source of difference in character which divides them, infinite as they are in number, into two great classes. The first class consists of those which are limited in their course, either ending abruptly, or returning to some point from which they set out; the second class, of those lines whose nature is to proceed for ever into space. Any portion of a circle, for instance, is, by the law of its being, compelled, if it continue its course, to return to the point from which it set out; so also any portion of the oval curve (called an ellipse), produced by cutting a cylinder obliquely across. And if a single point be marked on the rim of a carriage wheel, this point, as the wheel rolls along the road, will trace a curve in the air from one part of the road to another, which is called a cycloid, and to which the law of its existence appoints that it shall always follow a similar course, and be terminated by the level line on which the wheel rolls. All such curves are of inferior beauty: and the curves which are incapable of being completely drawn, because, as in the two cases above given, the law of their being supposes them to proceed for ever into space, are of a higher beauty.

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