Modern Painters, Volume IV (of V)
by John Ruskin
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Sec. 22. Detailed accounts of the Rossberg Fall may be found in any ordinary Swiss Guide; the only points we have to notice respecting it are, that the mountain was composed of an indurated gravel, disposed in oblique beds sloping towards the valley. A portion of one of these beds gave way, and half filled the valley beneath, burying five villages, together with the principal one of Goldau, and partially choking up a little lake, the streamlets which supplied it now forming irregular pools among the fallen fragments. I call the rock, and accurately, indurated gravel; but the induration is so complete that the mass breaks through the rolled pebbles chiefly composing it, and may be considered as a true rock, only always in its blocks rugged and formless when compared with the crystalline formations. Turner has chosen his position on some of the higher heaps of ruin, looking down towards the Lake of Zug, which is seen under the sunset, the spire of the tower of Aart on its shore just relieved against the light of the waves.

The Rossberg itself, never steep, and still more reduced in terror by the fall of a portion of it, was not available to him as a form explanatory of the catastrophe; and even the slopes of the Righi on the left are not, in reality, as uninterrupted in their slope as he has drawn them; but he felt the connection of this structure with the ruin amidst which he stood, and brought the long lines of danger clear against the sunset, and as straight as its own retiring rays.

Sec. 23. If the reader will now glance back to the St. Gothard subject, as illustrated in the two Plates 21 and 37, and compare it with this of Goldau, keeping in mind the general conclusions about the two great classes of mountain scenery which I have just stated, he will, I hope, at last cease to charge me with enthusiasm in anything that I have said of Turner's imagination, as always instinctively possessive of those truths which lie deepest, and are most essentially linked together, in the expression of a scene. I have only taken two drawings (though these of his best period) for the illustration of all the structures of the Alps which, in the course of half a volume, it has been possible for me to explain; and all my half-volume is abstracted in these two drawings, and that in the most consistent and complete way, as if they had been made on purpose to contain a perfect summary of Alpine truth.

Sec. 24. There are one or two points connected with them of yet more touching interest. They are the last drawings which Turner ever made with unabated power. The one of the St. Gothard, speaking with strict accuracy, is the last drawing; for that of Goldau, though majestic to the utmost in conception, is less carefully finished, and shows, in the execution of parts of the sky, signs of impatience, caused by the first feeling of decline of strength. Therefore I called the St. Gothard (Vol. III. Ch. XV. Sec. 5) the last mountain drawing he ever executed with perfect power. But the Goldau is still a noble companion to it—more solemn in thought, more sublime in color, and, in certain points of poetical treatment, especially characteristic of the master's mind in earlier days. He was very definitely in the habit of indicating the association of any subject with circumstances of death, especially the death of multitudes, by placing it under one of his most deeply crimsoned sunset skies. The color of blood is this plainly taken for the leading tone in the storm-clouds above the "Slave-ship." It occurs with similar distinctness in the much earlier picture of Ulysses and Polypheme, in that of Napoleon at St. Helena, and, subdued by softer hues, in the Old Temeraire. The sky of this Goldau is, in its scarlet and crimson, the deepest in tone of all that I know in Turner's drawings. Another feeling traceable in several of its former works, is an acute sense of the contrast between the careless interests and idle pleasures of daily life, and the state of those whose time for labor, or knowledge, or delight is passed for ever. There is evidence of this feeling in the introduction of the boys at play in the churchyard of Kirkby Lonsdale, and the boy climbing for his kite among the thickets above the little mountain churchyard of Brignal-banks; it is in the same tone of thought that he has placed here the two figures fishing, leaning against these shattered flanks of rock,—the sepulchral stones of the great mountain Field of Death.

Sec. 25. Another character of these two drawings, which gives them especial interest as connected with our inquiries into mediaeval landscape, is, that they are precisely and accurately illustrative of the two principal ideas of Dante about the Alps. I have already explained the rise of the first drawing out of Turner's early study of the "Male Bolge" of the Splugen and St. Gothard. The Goldau, on the other hand, might have been drawn in purposeful illustration of the lines before referred to (Vol. III. Ch. XV. Sec. 13) as descriptive of a "loco Alpestro." I give now Dante's own words:

"Qual' e quella ruina, che nel fianco Di qua da Trento l'Adice percosse, O per tremuoto, o per sostegni manco, Che da cima del monte, onde si mosse, Al piano e si la roccia discoscesa Che alcuna via darebbe a chi su fosse; Cotal di quel burrato era la scesa."

"As is that landslip, ere you come to Trent, That smote the flank of Adige, through some stay Sinking beneath it, or by earthquake rent; For from the summit, where of old it lay, Plainwards the broken rock unto the feet Of one above it might afford some way; Such path adown this precipice we meet."


Sec. 26. Finally, there are two lessons to be gathered from the opposite conditions of mountain decay, represented in these designs, of perhaps a wider range of meaning than any which were suggested even by the states of mountain strength. In the first, we find the unyielding rock, undergoing no sudden danger, and capable of no total fall, yet, in its hardness of heart, worn away by perpetual trampling of torrent waves, and stress of wandering storm. Its fragments, fruitless and restless, are tossed into ever-changing heaps: no labor of man can subdue them to his service, nor can his utmost patience secure any dwelling-place among them. In this they are the type of all that humanity which, suffering under no sudden punishment or sorrow, remains "stony ground," afflicted, indeed, continually by minor and vexing cares, but only broken by them into fruitless ruin of fatigued life. Of this ground not "corn-giving,"—this "rough valley, neither eared nor sown,"[99] of the common world, it is said, to those who have set up their idols in the wreck of it—

"Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion. They, they are thy lot."[100]

But, as we pass beneath the hills which have been shaken by earthquake and torn by convulsion, we find that periods of perfect repose succeeded those of destruction. The pools of calm water lie clear beneath their fallen rocks, the water-lilies gleam, and the reeds whisper among their shadows; the village rises again over the forgotten graves, and its church-tower, white through the storm-twilight, proclaims a renewed appeal to His protection in whose hand "are all the corners of the earth, and the strength of the hills is His also." There is no loveliness of Alpine valley that does not teach the same lesson. It is just where "the mountain falling cometh to naught, and the rock is removed out of his place," that, in process of years, the fairest meadows bloom between the fragments, the clearest rivulets murmur from their crevices among the flowers, and the clustered cottages, each sheltered beneath some strength of mossy stone, now to be removed no more, and with their pastured flocks around them, safe from the eagle's stoop and the wolf's ravin, have written upon their fronts, in simple words, the mountaineer's faith in the ancient promise—

"Neither shalt thou be afraid of destruction when it cometh;

"For thou shalt be in league with the Stones of the Field; and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee."



Small fragments of limestone, five or six inches across, and flattish, sharp, angular on edges, and quite loose; slope deg. near fountain of Maglans 311/2 Somewhat larger stones, nearer Maglans; quite loose 313/4 Similar debris, slightly touched with vegetation 35 Debris on southern side of Maglans 331/2 Slope of Montagne de la Cote, at the bottom, as seen from the village of Chamouni 403/4 Average slope of Montagne de Taconay, seen from Chamouni 38 Maximum slope of side of Breven 41 Slope of debris from ravine of Breven down to the village of Chamouni 14 Slopes of debris set with pines under Aiguille Verte, seen from Argentiere 36 General slope of Tapia, from Argentiere 34 Slopes of La Cote and Taconay, from Argentiere 273/4 Profile of Breven, from near the Chapeau (a point commanding the valley of Chamouni in its truest longitude) 321/2 Average slope of Montanvert, from same point 391/2 Slope of La Cote, same point 361/2 Eastern slope of Pain de Sucre, seen from Vevay 33 Western " " " 361/2 Slope of foot of Dent de Morcles, seen from Vevay 381/2 " " Midi, " " 40

[99] Deut. xxi. 4. So Amos, vi. 12: "Shall horses run upon the rock; will one plow here with oxen?"

[100] Is. lvii. 5, 6.



Sec. 1. We have now cursorily glanced over those conditions of mountain structure which appear constant in duration, and universal in extent; and we have found them, invariably, calculated for the delight, the advantage, or the teaching of men; prepared, it seems, so as to contain, alike in fortitude or feebleness, in timeliness or in terror, some beneficence of gift, or profoundness of counsel. We have found that where at first all seemed disturbed and accidental, the most tender laws were appointed to produce forms of perpetual beauty; and that where to the careless or cold observer it seemed severe or purposeless, the well-being of man has been chiefly consulted, and his rightly directed powers, and sincerely awakened intelligence, may find wealth in every falling rock, and wisdom in every talking wave.

It remains for us to consider what actual effect upon the human race has been produced by the generosity, or the instruction of the hills; how far, in past ages, they have been thanked, or listened to; how far, in coming ages, it may be well for us to accept them for tutors, or acknowledge them for friends.

Sec. 2. What they have already taught us may, one would think, be best discerned in the midst of them,—in some place where they have had their own way with the human soul; where no veil has been drawn between it and them, no contradicting voice has confused their ministries of sound, or broken their pathos of silence: where war has never streaked their streams with bloody foam, nor ambition sought for other throne than their cloud-courtiered pinnacles, nor avarice for other treasure than, year by year, is given to their unlaborious rocks, in budded jewels, and mossy gold.

Sec. 3. I do not know any district possessing more pure or uninterrupted fulness of mountain character (and that of the highest order), or which appears to have been less disturbed by foreign agencies, than that which borders the course of the Trient between Valorsine and Martigny. The paths which lead to it out of the valley of the Rhone, rising at first in steep circles among the walnut trees, like winding stairs among the pillars of a Gothic tower, retire over the shoulders of the hills into a valley almost unknown, but thickly inhabited by an industrious and patient population. Along the ridges of the rocks, smoothed by old glaciers into long, dark, billowy swellings, like the backs of plunging dolphins, the peasant watches the slow coloring of the tufts of moss and roots of herb which, little by little, gather a feeble soil over the iron substance; then, supporting the narrow strip of clinging ground with a few stones, he subdues it to the spade; and in a year or two a little crest of corn is seen waving upon the rocky casque. The irregular meadows run in and out like inlets of lake among these harvested rocks, sweet with perpetual streamlets, that seem always to have chosen the steepest places to come down, for the sake of the leaps, scattering their handfuls of crystal this way and that, as the wind takes them, with all the grace, but with none of the formalism, of fountains; dividing into fanciful change of dash and spring, yet with the seal of their granite channels upon them, as the lightest play of human speech may bear the seal of past toil, and closing back out of their spray to lave the rigid angles, and brighten with silver fringes and glassy films each lower and lower step of sable stone; until at last, gathered altogether again,—except, perhaps, some chance drops caught on the apple-blossom, where it has budded a little nearer the cascade than it did last spring,—they find their way down to the turf, and lose themselves in that silently; with quiet depth of clear water furrowing among the grass blades, and looking only like their shadow, but presently emerging again in little startled gushes and laughing hurries, as if they had remembered suddenly that the day was too short for them to get down the hill.

Green field, and glowing rock, and glancing streamlet, all slope together in the sunshine towards the brows of the ravines, where the pines take up their own dominion of saddened shade; and with everlasting roar in the twilight, the stronger torrents thunder down pale from the glaciers, filling all their chasms with enchanted cold, beating themselves to pieces against the great rocks that they have themselves cast down, and forcing fierce way beneath their ghastly poise.

The mountain paths stoop to these glens in forky zigzags, leading to some grey and narrow arch, all fringed under its shuddering curve with the ferns that fear the light; a cross of rough-hewn pine, iron-bound to its parapet, standing dark against the lurid fury of the foam. Far up the glen, as we pause beside the cross, the sky is seen through the openings in the pines, thin with excess of light; and, in its clear, consuming flame of white space, the summits of the rocky mountains are gathered into solemn crowns and circlets, all flushed in that strange, faint silence of possession by the sunshine which has in it so deep a melancholy; full of power, yet as frail as shadows; lifeless, like the walls of a sepulchre, yet beautiful in tender fall of crimson folds, like the veil of some sea spirit, that lives and dies as the foam flashes; fixed on a perpetual throne, stern against all strength, lifted above all sorrow, and yet effaced and melted utterly into the air by that last sunbeam that has crossed to them from between the two golden clouds.

Sec. 4. High above all sorrow: yes; but not unwitnessing to it. The traveller on his happy journey, as his foot springs from the deep turf and strikes the pebbles gayly over the edge of the mountain road, sees with a glance of delight the clusters of nut-brown cottages that nestle among those sloping orchards, and glow beneath the boughs of the pines. Here, it may well seem to him, if there be sometimes hardship, there must be at least innocence and peace, and fellowship of the human soul with nature. It is not so. The wild goats that leap along those rocks have as much passion of joy in all that fair work of God as the men that toil among them. Perhaps more. Enter the street of one of those villages, and you will find it foul with that gloomy foulness that is suffered only by torpor, or by anguish of soul. Here, it is torpor—not absolute suffering,—not starvation or disease, but darkness of calm enduring; the spring known only as the time of the scythe, and the autumn as the time of the sickle, and the sun only as a warmth, the wind as a chill, and the mountains as a danger. They do not understand so much as the name of beauty, or of knowledge. They understand dimly that of virtue. Love, patience, hospitality, faith,—these things they know. To glean their meadows side by side, so happier; to bear the burden up the breathless mountain flank, unmurmuringly; to bid the stranger drink from their vessel of milk; to see at the foot of their low deathbeds a pale figure upon a cross, dying also, patiently;—in this they are different from the cattle and from the stones, but in all this unrewarded as far as concerns the present life. For them, there is neither hope nor passion of spirit; for them neither advance nor exultation. Black bread, rude roof, dark night, laborious day, weary arm at sunset; and life ebbs away. No books, no thoughts, no attainments, no rest; except only sometimes a little sitting in the sun under the church wall, as the bell tolls thin and far in the mountain air; a pattering of a few prayers, not understood, by the altar rails of the dimly gilded chapel, and so back to the sombre home, with the cloud upon them still unbroken—that cloud of rocky gloom, born out of the wild torrents and ruinous stones, and unlightened, even in their religion, except by the vague promise of some better thing unknown, mingled with threatening, and obscured by an unspeakable horror,—a smoke, as it were, of martyrdom, coiling up with the incense, and, amidst the images of tortured bodies and lamenting spirits in hurtling flames, the very cross, for them, dashed more deeply than for others, with gouts of blood.

Sec. 5. Do not let this be thought a darkened picture of the life of these mountaineers. It is literal fact. No contrast can be more painful than that between the dwelling of any well-conducted English cottager, and that of the equally honest Savoyard. The one, set in the midst of its dull flat fields and uninteresting hedgerows, shows in itself the love of brightness and beauty; its daisy-studded garden beds, its smoothly swept brick path to the threshold, its freshly sanded floor and orderly shelves of household furniture, all testify to energy of heart, and happiness in the simple course and simple possessions of daily life. The other cottage, in the midst of an inconceivable, inexpressible beauty, set on some sloping bank of golden sward, with clear fountains flowing beside it, and wild flowers, and noble trees, and goodly rocks gathered round into a perfection as of Paradise, is itself a dark and plague-like stain in the midst of the gentle landscape. Within a certain distance of its threshold the ground is foul and cattle-trampled; its timbers are black with smoke, its garden choked with weeds and nameless refuse, its chambers empty and joyless, the light and wind gleaming and filtering through the crannies of their stones. All testifies that to its inhabitant the world is labor and vanity; that for him neither flowers bloom, nor birds sing, nor fountains glisten; and that his soul hardly differs from the grey cloud that coils and dies upon his hills; except in having no fold of it touched by the sunbeams.

Sec. 6. Is it not strange to reflect, that hardly an evening passes in London or Paris but one of those cottages is painted for the better amusement of the fair and idle, and shaded with pasteboard pines by the scene-shifter; and that good and kind people,—poetically minded,—delight themselves in imagining the happy life led by peasants who dwell by Alpine fountains, and kneel to crosses upon peaks of rock? that nightly we lay down our gold to fashion forth simulacra of peasants, in gay ribands and white bodices, singing sweet songs, and bowing gracefully to the picturesque crosses; and all the while the veritable peasants are kneeling, songlessly, to veritable crosses, in another temper than the kind and fair audiences dream of, and assuredly with another kind of answer than is got out of the opera catastrophe; an answer having reference, it may be, in dim futurity, to those very audiences themselves? If all the gold that has gone to paint the simulacra of the cottages, and to put new songs in the mouths of the simulacra of the peasants, had gone to brighten the existent cottages, and to put new songs into the mouths of the existent peasants, it might in the end, perhaps, have turned out better so, not only for the peasants, but for even the audience. For that form of the False Ideal has also its correspondent True Ideal,—consisting not in the naked beauty of statues, nor in the gauze flowers and crackling tinsel of theatres, but in the clothed and fed beauty of living men, and in the lights and laughs of happy homes. Night after night, the desire of such an ideal springs up in every idle human heart; and night after night, as far as idleness can, we work out this desire in costly lies. We paint the faded actress, build the lath landscape, feed our benevolence with fallacies of felicity, and satisfy our righteousness with poetry of justice. The time will come when, as the heavy-folded curtain falls upon our own stage of life, we shall begin to comprehend that the justice we loved was intended to have been done in fact, and not in poetry, and the felicity we sympathized in, to have been bestowed and not feigned. We talk much of money's worth, yet perhaps may one day be surprised to find that what the wise and charitable European public gave to one night's rehearsal of hypocrisy,—to one hour's pleasant warbling of Linda or Lucia,—would have filled a whole Alpine Valley with happiness, and poured the waves of harvest over the famine of many a Lammermoor.[101]

Sec. 7. "Nay," perhaps the reader answers, "it is vain to hope that this could ever be. The perfect beauty of the ideal must always be fictitious. It is rational to amuse ourselves with the fair imagination; but it would be madness to endeavor to put it into practice, in the face of the ordinances of Nature. Real shepherdesses must always be rude, and real peasants miserable; suffer us to turn away our gentle eyes from their coarseness and their pain, and to seek comfort in cultivated voices and purchased smiles. We cannot hew down the rocks, nor turn the sands of the torrent into gold."

Sec. 8. This is no answer. Be assured of the great truth—that what is impossible in reality is ridiculous in fancy. If it is not in the nature of things that peasants should be gentle and happy, then the imagination of such peasantry is ridiculous, and to delight in such imagination wrong; as delight in any kind of falsehood is always. But if in the nature of things it be possible that among the wildness of hills the human heart should be refined, and if the comfort of dress, and the gentleness of language, and the joy of progress in knowledge, and of variety in thought, are possible to the mountaineer in his true existence, let us strive to write this true poetry upon the rocks before we indulge it in our visions, and try whether, among all the fine arts, one of the finest be not that of painting cheeks with health rather than rouge.

Sec. 9. "But is such refinement possible? Do not the conditions of the mountain peasant's life, in the plurality of instances, necessarily forbid it?"

As bearing sternly on this question, it is necessary to examine one peculiarity of feeling which manifests itself among the European nations, so far as I have noticed, irregularly,—appearing sometimes to be the characteristic of a particular time, sometimes of a particular race, sometimes of a particular locality, and to involve at once much that is to be blamed and much that is praiseworthy. I mean the capability of enduring, or even delighting in, the contemplation of objects of terror—a sentiment which especially influences the temper of some groups of mountaineers, and of which it is necessary to examine the causes, before we can form any conjecture whatever as to the real effect of mountains on human character.

Sec. 10. For instance, the unhappy alterations which have lately taken place in the town of Lucerne have still spared two of its ancient bridges; both of which, being long covered walks, appear, in past times, to have been to the population of the town what the Mall was to London, or the Gardens of the Tuileries are to Paris. For the continual contemplation of those who sauntered from pier to pier, pictures were painted on the woodwork of the roof. These pictures, in the one bridge, represent all the important Swiss battles and victories; in the other they are the well-known series of which Longfellow has made so beautiful a use in the Golden Legend, the Dance of Death.

Imagine the countenances with which a committee, appointed for the establishment of a new "promenade" in some flourishing modern town, would receive a proposal to adorn such promenade with pictures of the Dance of Death.

Sec. 11. Now just so far as the old bridge at Lucerne, with the pure, deep, and blue water of the Reuss eddying down between its piers, and with the sweet darkness of green hills, and far-away gleaming of lake and Alps alternating upon the eye on either side; and the gloomy lesson frowning in the shadow, as if the deep tone of a passing-bell, overhead, were mingling for ever with the plashing of the river as it glides by beneath; just so far, I say, as this differs from the straight and smooth strip of level dust, between two rows of round-topped acacia trees, wherein the inhabitants of an English watering-place or French fortified town take their delight,—so far I believe the life of the old Lucernois, with all its happy waves of light, and mountain strength of will, and solemn expectation of eternity, to have differed from the generality of the lives of those who saunter for their habitual hour up and down the modern promenade. But the gloom is not always of this noble kind. As we penetrate farther among the hills we shall find it becoming very painful. We are walking, perhaps, in a summer afternoon, up the valley of Zermatt (a German valley), the sun shining brightly on grassy knolls and through fringes of pines, the goats leaping happily, and the cattle bells ringing sweetly, and the snowy mountains shining like heavenly castles far above. We see, a little way off, a small white chapel, sheltered behind one of the flowery hillocks of mountain turf; and we approach its little window, thinking to look through it into some quiet home of prayer; but the window is grated with iron, and open to the winds, and when we look through it, behold—a heap of white human bones mouldering into whiter dust!

So also in that same sweet valley, of which I have just been speaking, between Chamouni and the Valais, at every turn of the pleasant pathway, where the scent of the thyme lies richest upon its rocks, we shall see a little cross and shrine set under one of them; and go up to it, hoping to receive some happy thought of the Redeemer, by whom all these lovely things were made, and still consist. But when we come near—behold, beneath the cross, a rude picture of souls tormented in red tongues of hell fire, and pierced by demons.

Sec. 12. As we pass towards Italy the appearance of this gloom deepens; and when we descend the southern slope of the Alps we shall find this bringing forward of the image of Death associated with an endurance of the most painful aspects of disease, so that conditions of human suffering, which in any other country would be confined in hospitals, are permitted to be openly exhibited by the wayside; and with this exposure of the degraded human form is farther connected an insensibility to ugliness and imperfection in other things; so that the ruined wall, neglected garden, and uncleansed chamber, seem to unite in expressing a gloom of spirit possessing the inhabitants of the whole land. It does not appear to arise from poverty, nor careless contentment with little: there is here nothing of Irish recklessness or humor; but there seems a settled obscurity in the soul,—a chill and plague, as if risen out of a sepulchre, which partly deadens, partly darkens, the eyes and hearts of men, and breathes a leprosy of decay through every breeze and every stone. "Instead of well-set hair, baldness, and burning instead of beauty."

Nor are definite proofs wanting that the feeling is independent of mere poverty or indolence. In the most gorgeous and costly palace garden the statues will be found green with moss, the terraces defaced or broken; the palace itself partly coated with marble, is left in other places rough with cementless and jagged brick, its iron balconies bent and rusted, its pavements overgrown with grass. The more energetic the effort has been to recover from this state, and to shake off all appearance of poverty, the more assuredly the curse seems to fasten on the scene, and the unslaked mortar, and unfinished wall, and ghastly desolation of incompleteness entangled in decay, strike a deeper despondency into the beholder.

Sec. 13. The feeling would be also more easily accounted for if it appeared consistent in its regardlessness of beauty,—if what was done were altogether as inefficient as what was deserted. But the balcony, though rusty and broken, is delicate in design, and supported on a nobly carved slab of marble; the window, though a mere black rent in ragged plaster, is encircled by a garland of vine and fronted by a thicket of the sharp leaves and aurora-colored flowers of the oleander; the courtyard, overgrown by mournful grass, is terminated by a bright fresco of gardens and fountains; the corpse, borne with the bare face to heaven, is strewn with flowers; beauty is continually mingled with the shadow of death.

Sec. 14. So also is a kind of merriment,—not true cheerfulness, neither careless nor idle jesting, but a determined effort at gaiety, a resolute laughter, mixed with much satire, grossness, and practical buffoonery, and, it always seemed to me, void of all comfort or hope,—with this eminent character in it also, that it is capable of touching with its bitterness even the most fearful subjects, so that as the love of beauty retains its tenderness in the presence of death, this love of jest also retains its boldness, and the skeleton becomes one of the standard masques of the Italian comedy. When I was in Venice, in 1850, the most popular piece of the comic opera was "Death and the Cobbler," in which the point of the plot was the success of a village cobbler as a physician, in consequence of the appearance of Death to him beside the bed of every patient who was not to recover; and the most applauded scene in it was one in which the physician, insolent in success, and swollen with luxury, was himself taken down into the abode of Death, and thrown into an agony of terror by being shown lives of men, under the form of wasting lamps, and his own ready to expire.

Sec. 15. I have also not the smallest doubt that this endurance or affronting of fearful images is partly associated with indecency, partly with general fatuity and weakness of mind. The men who applauded loudest when the actress put on, in an instant, her mask representing a skull, and when her sharp and clear "Sono la Morte" rang through the theatre, were just those whose disgusting habits rendered it impossible for women to pass through some of the principal streets in Venice,—just those who formed the gaping audience, when a mountebank offered a new quack medicine on the Riva dei Schiavoni. And, as fearful imagery is associated with the weakness of fever, so it seems to me that imbecility and love of terror are connected by a mysterious link throughout the whole life of man. There is a most touching instance of this in the last days of Sir Walter Scott, the publication of whose latter works, deeply to be regretted on many accounts, was yet, perhaps, on the whole, right, as affording a means of studying the conditions of the decay of overwrought human intellect in one of the most noble of minds. Among the many signs of this decay at its uttermost, in Castle Dangerous, not one of the least notable was the introduction of the knight who bears on his black armor the likeness of a skeleton.

Sec. 16. The love of horror which is in this manner connected with feebleness of intellect, is not, however, to be confounded with that shown by the vulgar in general. The feeling which is calculated upon in the preparation of pieces full of terror and crime, at our lower theatres, and which is fed with greater art and elegance in the darker scenery of the popular French novelists, however morally unhealthy, is not unnatural; it is not the result of an apathy to such horror, but of a strong desire for excitement in minds coarse and dull, but not necessarily feeble. The scene of the murder of the jeweller in the "Count of Monte Cristo," or those with the Squelette in the "Mysteres de Paris," appeal to instincts which are as common to all mankind as those of thirst and hunger, and which are only debasing in the exaggerated condition consequent upon the dulness of other instincts higher than they. And the persons who, at one period of their life, might take chief pleasure in such narrations, at another may be brought into a temper of high tone and acute sensibility. But the love of horror respecting which we are now inquiring appears to be an unnatural and feeble feeling; it is not that the person needs excitement, or has any such strong perceptions as would cause excitement, but he is dead to the horror, and a strange evil influence guides his feebleness of mind rather to fearful images than to beautiful ones,—as our disturbed dreams are sometimes filled with ghastliness which seem not to arise out of any conceivable association of our waking ideas, but to be a vapor out of the very chambers of the tomb, to which the mind, in its palsy, has approached.

Sec. 17. But even this imbecile revelling in terror is more comprehensible, more apparently natural, than the instinct which is found frequently connected with it, of absolute joy in ugliness. In some conditions of old German art we find the most singular insisting upon what is in all respects ugly and abortive, or frightful; not with any sense of sublimity in it, neither in mere foolishness, but with a resolute choice, such as I can completely account for on no acknowledged principle of human nature. For in the worst conditions of sensuality there is yet some perception of the beautiful, so that men utterly depraved in principle and habits of thought will yet admire beautiful things and fair faces. But in the temper of which I am now speaking there is no preference even of the lower forms of loveliness; no effort at painting fair limbs or passionate faces, no evidence of any human or natural sensation,—a mere feeding on decay and rolling in slime, not apparently or conceivably with any pleasure in it, but under some fearful possession of an evil spirit.

Sec. 18. The most wonderful instance of this feeling at its uttermost which I remember, is the missal in the British Museum, Harl. MSS. 1892. The drawings of the principal subjects in it appear to have been made first in black, by Martin Schoengauer (at all events by some copyist of his designs), and then another workman has been employed to paint these drawings over. No words can describe the intensity of the "plague of the heart" in this man; the reader should examine the manuscript carefully if he desires to see how low human nature can sink. I had written a description of one or two of the drawings in order to give some conception of them to persons not able to refer to the book; but the mere description so saddened and polluted my pages that I could not retain it. I will only, therefore, name the principal characteristics which belong to the workman's mind.

Sec. 19. First, perpetual tampering with death, whether there be occasion to allude to it or not,—especially insisting upon its associations with corruption. I do not pain the reader by dwelling on the details illustrative of this feeling.

Secondly, Delight in dismemberment, dislocation, and distortion of attitude. Distortion, to some extent, is a universal characteristic of the German fifteenth and sixteenth century art; that is to say, there is a general aptitude for painting legs across, or feet twisted round, or bodies awkwardly bent, rather than anything in a natural position; and Martin Schoengauer himself exhibits this defect in no small degree. But here the finishing workman has dislocated nearly every joint which he has exposed, besides knitting and twisting the muscles into mere knots of cordage.

What, however, only amounts to dislocation in the limbs of the human figures, becomes actual dismemberment in the animals. Fig. 113 is a faithful copy of a tree with two birds, one on its bough, and one above it, seen in the background, behind a soldier's mace, in the drawing of the Betrayal. In the engraving of this subject, by Schoengauer himself, the mace does not occur; it has been put in by the finishing workman, in order to give greater expression of savageness to the boughs of the tree, which, joined with the spikes of the mace, form one mass of disorganized angles and thorns, while the birds look partly as if being torn to pieces, and partly like black spiders.

In the painting itself the sky also is covered with little detached and bent white strokes, by way of clouds, and the hair of the figures torn into ragged locks, like wood rent by a cannon shot.

This tendency to dismember and separate everything is one of the eminent conditions of a mind leaning to vice and ugliness; just as to connect and harmonize everything is that of a mind leaning to virtue and beauty. It is shown down to the smallest details; as, for instance, in the spotted backgrounds, which, instead of being chequered with connected patterns, as in the noble manuscripts (see Vol. III. Plate 7), are covered with disorderly dashes and circles executed with a blunt pen or brush, Fig. 114. And one of the borders is composed of various detached heads cut off at the neck or shoulders without the slightest endeavor to conceal or decorate the truncation. All this, of course, is associated with choice of the most abominable features in the countenance.

Sec. 20. Thirdly, Pure ignorance. Necessarily such a mind as this must be incapable of perceiving the truth of any form; and therefore together with the distortion of all studied form is associated the utter negation or imperfection of that which is less studied.

Fourthly, Delight in blood. I cannot use the words which would be necessary to describe the second[102] painting of the Scourging, in this missal. But I may generally notice that the degree in which the peculiar feeling we are endeavoring to analyze is present in any district of Roman Catholic countries, may be almost accurately measured by the quantity of blood represented on the crucifixes.

The person employed to repaint, in the Campo Santo of Pisa, the portion of Orcagna's pictures representing the Inferno, has furnished a very notable example of the same feeling; and it must be familiar to all travellers in countries thoroughly subjected to modern Romanism, a thing as different from thirteenth-century Romanism as a prison from a prince's chamber.

Lastly, Utter absence of inventive power. The only ghastliness which this workman is capable of is that of distortion. In ghastly combination he is impotent; he cannot even understand it or copy it when set before him, continually destroying any that exists in the drawing of Schoengauer.

Sec. 21. Such appear to be the principal component elements in the mind of the painter of this missal, and it possesses these in complete abstraction from nearly all others, showing, in deadly purity, the nature of the venom which in ordinary cases is tempered by counteracting elements. There are even certain feelings, evil enough themselves, but more natural than these, of which the slightest mingling would here be a sort of redemption. Vanity, for instance, would lead to a more finished execution, and more careful copying from nature, and of course subdue the ugliness by fidelity; love of pleasure would introduce occasionally a graceful or sensual form; malice would give some point and meaning to the bordering grotesques, nay, even insanity might have given them some inventive horror. But the pure mortiferousness of this mind, capable neither of patience, fidelity, grace, or wit, in any place, or from any motive,—this horrible apathy of brain, which cannot ascend so high as insanity, but is capable only of putrefaction, save us the task of all analysis, and leave us only that of examining how this black aqua Tophana mingles with other conditions of mind.

Sec. 22. For I have led the reader over this dark ground, because it was essential to our determination of the influence of mountains that we should get what data we could as to the extent in other districts, and derivation from other causes, of the horror which at first we might have been led to connect too arbitrarily with hill scenery. And I wish that my knowledge permitted me to trace it over wider ground, for the observations hitherto stated leave the question still one of great difficulty. It might appear to a traveller crossing and recrossing the Alps between Switzerland and Italy, that the main strength of the evil lay on the south of the chain, and was attributable to the peculiar circumstances and character of the Italian nation at this period. But as he examined the matter farther he would note that in the districts of Italy generally supposed to be healthy, the evidence of it was less, and that it seemed to gain ground in places exposed to malaria, centralizing itself in the Val d'Aosta. He would then, perhaps, think it inconsistent with justice to lay the blame on the mountains, and transfer his accusation to the marshes, yet would be compelled to admit that the evil manifested itself most where these marshes were surrounded by hills. He would next, probably, suppose it produced by the united effect of hardships, solitude, and unhealthy air; and be disposed to find fault with the mountains, at least so far as they required painful climbing and laborious agriculture;—but would again be thrown into doubt by remembering that one main branch of the feeling,—the love of ugliness, seemed to belong in a peculiar manner to Northern Germany. If at all familiar with the art of the North and South, he would perceive that the endurance of ugliness, which in Italy resulted from languor or depression (while the mind yet retained some apprehension of the difference between fairness and deformity, as above noted in Sec. 12), was not to be confounded with that absence of perception of the Beautiful, which introduced a general hard-featuredness of figure into all German and Flemish early art, even when Germany and Flanders were in their brightest national health and power. And as he followed out in detail the comparison of all the purest ideals north and south of the Alps, and perceived the perpetual contrast existing between the angular and bony sanctities of the one latitude, and the drooping graces and pensive pieties of the other, he would no longer attribute to the ruggedness, or miasma, of the mountains the origin of a feeling which showed itself so strongly in the comfortable streets of Antwerp and Nuremberg, and in the unweakened and active intellects of Van Eyck and Albert Durer.

Conditions which produce the Mountain gloom.

Sec. 23. As I think over these various difficulties, the following conclusions seem to me deducible from the data I at present possess. I am in no wise confident of their accuracy, but they may assist the reader in pursuing the inquiry farther.

General power of intellect.

I. It seems to me, first, that a fair degree of intellect and imagination is necessary before this kind of disease is possible. It does not seize on merely stupid peasantries, but on those which belong to intellectual races, and in whom the faculties of imagination and the sensibilities of heart were originally strong and tender. In flat land, with fresh air, the peasantry may be almost mindless, but not infected with this gloom.


II. In the second place, I think it is closely connected with the Romanist religion, and that for several causes.

A. The habitual use of bad art (ill-made dolls and bad pictures), in the services of religion, naturally blunts the delicacy of the senses, by requiring reverence to be paid to ugliness, and familiarizing the eye to it in moments of strong and pure feeling; I do not think we can overrate the probable evil results of this enforced discordance between the sight and imagination.

B. The habitually dwelling on the penances, tortures, and martyrdoms of the Saints, as subjects of admiration and sympathy, together with much meditation on Purgatorial suffering; rendered almost impossible to Protestants by the greater fearfulness of such reflections, when the punishment is supposed eternal.

C. Idleness, and neglect of the proper duties of daily life, during the large number of holidays in the year, together with want of proper cleanliness, induced by the idea that comfort and happy purity are less pleasing to God than discomfort and self-degradation. This insolence induces much despondency, a larger measure of real misery than is necessary under the given circumstances of life, and many forms of crime and disease besides.

D. Superstitious indignation. I do not know if it is as a result of the combination of these several causes, or if under a separate head, that I should class a certain strange awe which seems to attach itself to Romanism like its shadow, differing from the coarser gloom which we have been examining, in that it can attach itself to minds of the highest purity and keenness, and, indeed, does so to these more than to inferior ones. It is an undefinable pensiveness, leading to great severity of precept, mercilessness in punishment, and dark or discouraging thoughts of God and man.[103]

It is connected partly with a greater belief in the daily presence and power of evil spirits than is common in Protestants (except the more enthusiastic, and also gloomy, sects of Puritans), connected also with a sternness of belief in the condemnatory power and duty of the Church, leading to persecution, and to less tempered indignation at oppositions of opinion than characterizes the Protestant mind ordinarily, which, though waspish and bitter enough, is not liable to the peculiar heart-burning caused in a Papist by any insult to his Church, or by the aspect of what he believes to be heresy.

Sec. 24. For all these reasons, I think Romanism is very definitely connected with the gloom we are examining, so as without fail to produce some measure of it in all persons who sincerely hold that faith; and if such effect is ever not to be traced, it is because the Romanism is checked by infidelity. The atheism or dissipation of a large portion of the population in crowded capitals prevents this gloom from being felt in full force; but it resumes its power, in mountain solitudes, over the minds of the comparatively ignorant and more suffering peasantry; so that it is not an evil inherent in the hills themselves, but one result of the continuance in them of that old religious voice of warning, which, encouraging sacred feeling in general, encourages also whatever evil may essentially belong to the form of doctrine preached among them.

Disease of body.

Sec. 25. III. It is assuredly connected also with a diseased state of health. Cheerfulness is just as natural to the heart of a man in strong health as color to his cheek; and wherever there is habitual gloom, there must be either bad air, unwholesome food, improperly severe labor, or erring habits of life. Among mountains, all these various causes are frequently found in combination. The air is either too bleak, or it is impure; generally the peasants are exposed to alternations of both. Great hardship is sustained in various ways, severe labor undergone during summer, and a sedentary and confined life led during winter. Where the gloom exists in less elevated districts, as in Germany, I do not doubt, though I have not historical knowledge enough to prove this, that it is partly connected with habits of sedentary life, protracted study, and general derangement of the bodily system in consequence; when it exists in the gross form exhibited in the manuscript above examined, I have no doubt it has been fostered by habits of general vice, cruelty, and dissipation.

Rudeness of life.

Sec. 26. IV. Considered as a natural insensibility to beauty, it is, I imagine, indicative of a certain want of cultivation in the race among whom it is found, perhaps without corporal or mental weakness, but produced by rudeness of life, absence of examples of beautiful art, defects in the mould of the national features, and such other adversities, generally belonging to northern nations as opposed to southern. Here, however, again my historical knowledge is at fault, and I must leave the reader to follow out the question for himself, if it interests him. A single example maybe useful to those who have not time for investigation, in order to show the kind of difference I mean.

Fig. 115 is a St. Peter, from a German fifteenth-century MS., of good average execution; and Fig. 116 a Madonna, either of the best English, or second-rate French, work, from a service-book executed in 1290. The reader will, I doubt not, perceive at once the general grace and tenderness of sentiment in the lines of the drapery of the last, and the comparatively delicate type of features. The hardnesses of line, gesture, and feature in the German example, though two centuries at least later, are, I think, equally notable. They are accompanied in the rest of the MS. by an excessive coarseness in choice of ornamental subject: beneath a female figure typical of the Church, for instance, there is painted a carcass, just butchered, and hung up with skewers through the legs.

Sec. 27. V. In many high mountain districts, not only are the inhabitants likely to be hurt by hardship of life, and retarded by roughness of manners, but their eyes are familiarized with certain conditions of ugliness and disorder, produced by the violence of the elements around them. Once accustomed to look upon these conditions as inevitable in nature, they may easily transfer the idea of inevitableness and fitness to the same appearances in their own houses. I said that mountains seem to have been created to show us the perfection of beauty; but we saw in the tenth chapter that they also show sometimes the extreme of ugliness: and to the inhabitants of districts of this kind it is almost necessary to their daily comfort that they should view without dislike aspects of desolation which would to others be frightful. And can we blame them, if, when the rivers are continually loading their fields with heaps of black slime, and rolling, in time of flood, over the thickets on their islets, leaving, when the flood is past, every leaf and bough dim with granite-dust,—never more to be green through all the parching of summer; when the landslip leaves a ghastly scar among the grassy mounds of the hill side;—the rocks above are torn by their glaciers into rifts and wounds that are never healed; and the ice itself blackened league after league with loose ruin cast upon it as if out of some long and foul excavation;—can we blame, I say, the peasant, if, beholding these things daily as necessary appointments in the strong nature around him, he is careless that the same disorders should appear in his household or his farm; nor feels discomforted, though his walls should be full of fissures like the rocks, his furniture covered with dust like the trees, and his garden like the glacier in unsightliness of trench and desolation of mound?

Sec. 28. Under these five heads are embraced, as far as I am able to trace them, the causes of the temper which we are examining; and it will be seen that only the last is quite peculiar to mountain and marsh districts, although there is a somewhat greater probability that the others also may be developed among hills more than in plains. When, by untoward accident, all are associated, and the conditions described under the fifth head are very distinct, the result is even sublime in its painfulness. Of places subjected to such evil influence, none are quite so characteristic as the town of Sion in the Valais. In the first place (see Sec. 23), the material on which it works is good; the race of peasantry being there both handsome and intelligent, as far as they escape the adverse influences around them; so that on a fete-day or a Sunday, when the families come down from the hill chalets, where the air is healthier, many very pretty faces may be seen among the younger women, set off by somewhat more pains in adjustment of the singular Valaisan costume than is now usual in other cantons of Switzerland.

Sec. 29. Secondly, it is a bishopric, and quite the centre of Romanism in Switzerland, all the most definite Romanist doctrines being evidently believed sincerely, and by a majority of the population; Protestantism having no hold upon them at all; and republican infidelity, though active in the councils of the commune, having as yet, so far as I could see, little influence in the hearts of households. The prominence of the Valais among Roman Catholic states has always been considerable. The Cardinal of Sion was, of old, one of the personages most troublesome to the Venetian ambassadors at the English Court.[104]

Sec. 30. Thirdly, it is in the midst of a marshy valley, pregnant with various disease; the water either stagnant, or disgorged in wild torrents charged with earth; the air, in the morning, stagnant also, hot, close, and infected; in the afternoon, rushing up from the outlet at Martigny in fitful and fierce whirlwind; one side of the valley in almost continual shade, the other (it running east and west) scorched by the southern sun, and sending streams of heat into the air all night long from its torrid limestones; while less traceable plagues than any of these bring on the inhabitants, at a certain time of life, violent affections of goitre, and often, in infancy, cretinism. Agriculture is attended with the greatest difficulties and despondencies; the land which the labor of a life has just rendered fruitful is often buried in an hour; and the carriage of materials, as well as the traversing of land on the steep hill sides, attended with extraordinary fatigue.

Sec. 31. Owing to these various influences, Sion, the capital of the district, presents one of the most remarkable scenes for the study of the particular condition of human feeling at present under consideration that I know among mountains. It consists of little more than one main street, winding round the roots of two ridges of crag, and branching, on the sides towards the rocks, into a few narrow lanes, on the other, into spaces of waste ground, of which part serve for military exercises, part are enclosed in an uncertain and vague way; a ditch half-filled up, or wall half-broken down, seeming to indicate their belonging, or having been intended to belong, to some of the unfinished houses which are springing up amidst their weeds. But it is difficult to say, in any part of the town, what is garden-ground or what is waste; still more, what is new building and what old. The houses have been for the most part built roughly of the coarse limestone of the neighboring hills, then coated with plaster, and painted, in imitation of Palladian palaces, with grey architraves and pilasters, having draperies from capital to capital. With this false decoration is curiously contrasted a great deal of graceful, honest, and original ironwork, in bulging balconies, and floreted gratings of huge windows, and branching sprays, for any and every purpose of support or guard. The plaster, with its fresco, has in most instances dropped away, leaving the houses peeled and scarred; daubed into uncertain restoration with new mortar, and in the best cases thus left; but commonly fallen also, more or less, into ruin, and either roofed over at the first story when the second has fallen, or hopelessly abandoned;—not pulled down, but left in white and ghastly shells to crumble into heaps of limestone and dust, a pauper or two still inhabiting where inhabitation is possible. The lanes wind among these ruins; the blue sky and mountain grass are seen through the windows of their rooms and over their partitions, on which old gaudy papers flaunt in rags: the weeds gather, and the dogs scratch about their foundations; yet there are no luxuriant weeds, for their ragged leaves are blanched with lime, crushed under perpetually falling fragments, and worn away by listless standing of idle feet. There is always mason's work doing, always some fresh patching and whitening; a dull smell of mortar, mixed with that of stale foulness of every kind, rises with the dust, and defiles every current of air; the corners are filled with accumulations of stones, partly broken, with crusts of cement sticking to them, and blotches of nitre oozing out of their pores. The lichenous rocks and sunburnt slopes of grass stretch themselves hither and thither among the wreck, curiously traversed by stairs and walls and half-cut paths, that disappear below starkly black arches, and cannot be followed, or rise in windings round the angles, and in unfenced slopes along the fronts, of the two masses of rock which bear, one the dark castle, the other the old church and convent of Sion; beneath, in a rudely inclosed square at the outskirts of the town, a still more ancient Lombardic church raises its grey tower, a kind of esplanade extending between it and the Episcopal palace, and laid out as a plot of grass, intersected by gravel walks; but the grass, in strange sympathy with the inhabitants, will not grow as grass, but chokes itself with a network of grey weeds, quite wonderful in its various expression of thorny discontent and savageness; the blue flower of the borage, which mingles with it in quantities, hardly interrupting its character, for the violent black spots in the centre of its blue takes away the tenderness of the flower, and it seems to have grown there in some supernatural mockery of its old renown of being good against melancholy. The rest of the herbage is chiefly composed of the dwarf mallow, the wild succory, the wall-rocket, goose-foot, and milfoil;[105] plants, nearly all of them, jagged in the leaf, broken and dimly clustered in flower, haunters of waste ground and places of outcast refuse.

Beyond this plot of ground the Episcopal palace, a half-deserted, barrack-like building, overlooks a neglected vineyard, of which the clusters, black on the under side, snow-white on the other with lime-dust, gather around them a melancholy hum of flies. Through the arches of its trelliswork the avenue of the great valley is seen in descending distance, enlarged with line beyond line of tufted foliage, languid and rich, degenerating at last into leagues of grey Maremma, wild with the thorn and the willow; on each side of it, sustaining themselves in mighty slopes and unbroken reaches of colossal promontory, the great mountains secede into supremacy through rosy depths of burning air, and the crescents of snow gleam over their dim summits as—if there could be Mourning, as once there was War, in Heaven—a line of waning moons might be set for lamps along the sides of some sepulchral chamber in the Infinite.

Sec. 32. I know not how far this universal grasp of the sorrowful spirit might be relaxed if sincere energy were directed to amend the ways of life of the Valaisan. But it has always appeared to me that there was, even in more healthy mountain districts, a certain degree of inevitable melancholy; nor could I ever escape from the feeling that here, where chiefly the beauty of God's working was manifested to men, warning was also given, and that to the full, of the enduring of His indignation against sin.

It seems one of the most cunning and frequent of self-deceptions to turn the heart away from this warning and refuse to acknowledge anything in the fair scenes of the natural creation but beneficence. Men in general lean towards the light, so far as they contemplate such things at all, most of them passing "by on the other side," either in mere plodding pursuit of their own work, irrespective of what good or evil is around them, or else in selfish gloom, or selfish delight, resulting from their own circumstances at the moment. Of those who give themselves to any true contemplation, the plurality, being humble, gentle, and kindly hearted, look only in nature for what is lovely and kind; partly, also, God gives the disposition to every healthy human mind in some degree to pass over or even harden itself against evil things, else the suffering would be too great to be borne; and humble people, with a quiet trust that everything is for the best, do not fairly represent the facts to themselves, thinking them none of their business. So, what between hard-hearted people, thoughtless people, busy people, humble people, and cheerfully minded people,—giddiness of youth, and preoccupations of age,—philosophies of faith, and cruelties of folly,—priest and Levite, masquer and merchantman, all agreeing to keep their own side of the way,—the evil that God sends to warn us gets to be forgotten, and the evil that He sends to be mended by us gets left unmended. And then, because people shut their eyes to the dark indisputableness of the facts in front of them, their Faith, such as it is, is shaken or uprooted by every darkness in what is revealed to them. In the present day it is not easy to find a well-meaning man among our more earnest thinkers, who will not take upon himself to dispute the whole system of redemption, because he cannot unravel the mystery of the punishment of sin. But can he unravel the mystery of the punishment of NO sin? Can he entirely account for all that happens to a cab-horse? Has he ever looked fairly at the fate of one of those beasts as it is dying,—measured the work it has done, and the reward it has got,—put his hand upon the bloody wounds through which its bones are piercing, and so looked up to Heaven with an entire understanding of Heaven's ways about the horse? Yet the horse is a fact—no dream—no revelation among the myrtle trees by night; and the dust it dies upon, and the dogs that eat it, are facts;—and yonder happy person, whose the horse was till its knees were broken over the hurdles, who had an immortal soul to begin with, and wealth and peace to help forward his immortality; who has also devoted the powers of his soul, and body, and wealth, and peace, to the spoiling of houses, the corruption of the innocent, and the oppression of the poor; and has, at this actual moment of his prosperous life, as many curses waiting round about him in calm shadow, with their death's eyes fixed upon him, biding their time, as ever the poor cab-horse had launched at him in meaningless blasphemies, when his failing feet stumbled at the stones,—this happy person shall have no stripes,—shall have only the horse's fate of annihilation; or, if other things are indeed reserved for him, Heaven's kindness or omnipotence is to be doubted therefore.

Sec. 33. We cannot reason of these things. But this I know—and this may by all men be known—that no good or lovely thing exists in this world without its correspondent darkness; and that the universe presents itself continually to mankind under the stern aspect of warning, or of choice, the good and the evil set on the right hand and the left.

And in this mountain gloom, which weighs so strongly upon the human heart that in all time hitherto, as we have seen, the hill defiles have been either avoided in terror or inhabited in penance, there is but the fulfilment of the universal law, that where the beauty and wisdom of the Divine working are most manifested, there also are manifested most clearly the terror of God's wrath, and inevitableness of His power.

Nor is this gloom less wonderful so far as it bears witness to the error of human choice, even when the nature of good and evil is most definitely set before it. The trees of Paradise were fair; but our first parents hid themselves from God "in medio ligni Paradisi," in the midst of the trees of the garden. The hills were ordained for the help of man; but, instead of raising his eyes to the hills, from whence cometh his help, he does his idol sacrifice "upon every high hill and under every green tree." The mountain of the Lord's house is established above the hills; but Nadab and Abihu shall see under His feet the body of heaven in his clearness, yet go down to kindle the censer against their own souls. And so to the end of time it will be; to the end, that cry will still be heard along the Alpine winds, "Hear, oh ye mountains, the Lord's controversy!" Still, their gulfs of thawless ice, and unretarded roar of tormented waves, and deathful falls of fruitless waste, and unredeemed decay, must be the image of the souls of those who have chosen the darkness, and whose cry shall be to the mountains to fall on them, and to the hills to cover them; and still, to the end of time, the clear waters of the unfailing springs, and the white pasture-lilies in their clothed multitude, and the abiding of the burning peaks in their nearness to the opened heaven, shall be the types, and the blessings, of those who have chosen light, and of whom it is written, "The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, righteousness."


[101] As I was correcting this sheet for press, the morning paper containing the account of the burning of Covent Garden theatre furnished the following financial statements, bearing somewhat on the matter in hand; namely,

L That the interior fittings of the theatre, in 1846, cost 40,000

That it was opened on the 6th of April, 1847; and } that in 1848 the loss upon it was } 34,756 in 1849 " " 25,455 ——— 100,211 ——— L And that in one year the vocal department cost 33,349 the ballet " " 8,105 the orchestra " " 10,048 ——— 51,502 ———

Mr. Albano afterwards corrected this statement, substituting 27,000 for 40,000: and perhaps the other sums may also have been exaggerated, but I leave the reader to consider what an annual expenditure of from 30,000l. to 50,000l. might effect in practical idealism in general, whether in Swiss valleys or elsewhere. I am not one of those who regard all theatrical entertainment as wrong or harmful. I only regret to see our theatres so conducted as to involve an expense which is worse than useless, in leading our audiences to look for mere stage effect, instead of good acting, good singing, or good sense. If we really loved music, or the drama, we should be content to hear well-managed voices, and see finished acting, without paying five or six thousand pounds to dress the songsters or decorate the stage. Simple but well-chosen dresses, and quiet landscape exquisitely painted, would have far more effect on the feelings of any sensible audience than the tinsel and extravagance of our common scenery; and our actors and actresses must have little respect for their own powers, if they think that dignity of gesture is dependent on the flash of jewellery, or the pathos of accents connected with the costliness of silk. Perfect execution of music by a limited orchestra is far more delightful, and far less fatiguing, than the irregular roar and hum of multitudinous mediocrity; and finished instrumentation by an adequate number of performers, exquisite acting, and sweetest singing, might be secured for the public at a fourth part of the cost now spent on operatic absurdities. There is no occasion whatever for decoration of the house: it is, on the contrary, the extreme of vulgarity. No person of good taste ever goes to a theatre to look at the fronts of the boxes. Comfortable and roomy seats, perfect cleanliness, decent and fitting curtains and other furniture, of good stuff, but neither costly nor tawdry, and convenient, but not dazzling, light, are the proper requirements in the furnishing of an opera-house. As for the persons who go there to look at each other—to show their dresses—to yawn away waste hours—to obtain a maximum of momentary excitement—or to say they were there, at next day's three-o'clock breakfast (and it is only for such persons that glare, cost, and noise are necessary), I commend to their consideration, or at least to such consideration as is possible to their capacities, the suggestions in the text. But to the true lovers of the drama I would submit, as another subject of inquiry, whether they ought not to separate themselves from the mob, and provide, for their own modest, quiet, and guiltless entertainment, the truth of heartfelt impersonation, and the melody of the unforced and delicate voice, without extravagance of adjunct, unhealthy lateness of hours, or appeal to degraded passions. Such entertainment might be obtained at infinitely smaller cost, and yet at a price which would secure honorable and permanent remuneration to every performer; and I am mistaken in my notion of the best actors, if they would not rather play at a house where people went to hear and to feel, than weary themselves, even for four times the pay, before an audience insulting in its listlessness and ignorant in its applause.

[102] There are, unusually, two paintings of this subject, the first representing the preparations for the scourging, the second its close.

[103] This character has, I think, been traced in the various writings of Mrs. Sherwood better than in any others; she has a peculiar art of making it felt and of striking the deep tone of it as from a passing-bell, contrasting it with the most cheerful, lovely, and sincere conditions of Protestantism.

[104] See "Four Years at the Court of Henry VIII." (Dispatches of the Venetian ambassador Giustinian, translated by Mr. Rawdon Brown,) 1854.

[105] Malva rotundifolia, Cichorium Intybus, Sisymbrium tenuifolium, Chenopodium urbicum, Achillea Millefolium.



Sec. 1. I have dwelt, in the foregoing chapter, on the sadness of the hills with the greater insistance that I feared my own excessive love for them might lead me into too favorable interpretation of their influences over the human heart; or, at least, that the reader might accuse me of fond prejudice, in the conclusions to which, finally, I desire to lead him concerning them. For, to myself, mountains are the beginning and the end of all natural scenery; in them, and in the forms of inferior landscape that lead to them, my affections are wholly bound up; and though I can look with happy admiration at the lowland flowers, and woods, and open skies, the happiness is tranquil and cold, like that of examining detached flowers in a conservatory, or reading a pleasant book; and if the scenery be resolutely level, insisting upon the declaration of its own flatness in all the detail of it, as in Holland, or Lincolnshire, or Central Lombardy, it appears to me like a prison, and I cannot long endure it. But the slightest rise and fall in the road,—a mossy bank at the side of a crag of chalk, with brambles at its brow, overhanging it,—a ripple over three or four stones in the stream by the bridge,—above all, a wild bit of ferny ground under a fir or two, looking as if, possibly, one might see a hill if one got to the other side of the trees, will instantly give me intense delight, because the shadow, or the hope, of the hills is in them.

Sec. 2. And thus, although there are few districts of Northern Europe, however apparently dull or tame, in which I cannot find pleasure, though the whole of Northern France (except Champagne), dull as it seems to most travellers, is to me a perpetual Paradise; and, putting Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, and one or two such other perfectly flat districts aside, there is not an English county which I should not find entertainment in exploring the cross-roads of, foot by foot; yet all my best enjoyment would be owing to the imagination of the hills, coloring, with their far-away memories, every lowland stone and herb. The pleasant French coteau, green in the sunshine, delights me, either by what real mountain character it has in itself (for in extent and succession of promontory the flanks of the French valleys have quite the sublimity of true mountain distances), or by its broken ground and rugged steps among the vines, and rise of the leafage above, against the blue sky, as it might rise at Vevay or Como. There is not a wave of the Seine but is associated in my mind with the first rise of the sandstones and forest pines of Fontainebleau; and with the hope of the Alps, as one leaves Paris with the horses' heads to the south-west, the morning sun, flashing on the bright waves at Charenton. If there be no hope or association of this kind, and if I cannot deceive myself into fancying that perhaps at the next rise of the road there may be seen the film of a blue hill in the gleam of sky at the horizon, the landscape, however beautiful, produces in me even a kind of sickness and pain; and the whole view from Richmond Hill or Windsor Terrace,—nay, the gardens of Alcinous, with their perpetual summer,—or of the Hesperides (if they were flat, and not close to Atlas), golden apples and all—I would give away in an instant, for one mossy granite stone a foot broad, and two leaves of lady-fern.[106]

Sec. 3. I know that this is in great part idiosyncrasy; and that I must not trust to my own feelings, in this respect, as representative of the modern landscape instinct; yet I know it is not idiosyncrasy, in so far as there may be proved to be indeed an increase of the absolute beauty of all scenery in exact proportion to its mountainous character, providing that character be healthily mountainous. I do not mean to take the Col de Bon Homme as representative of hills, any more than I would take Romney Marsh as representative of plains; but putting Leicestershire or Staffordshire fairly beside Westmoreland, and Lombardy or Champagne fairly beside the Pays de Vaud or the Canton Berne, I find the increase in the calculable sum of elements of beauty to be steadily in proportion to the increase of mountainous character; and that the best image which the world can give of Paradise is in the slope of the meadows, orchards, and corn-fields on the sides of a great Alp, with its purple rocks and eternal snows above; this excellence not being in any wise a matter referable to feeling, or individual preferences, but demonstrable by calm enumeration of the number of lovely colors on the rocks, the varied grouping of the trees, and quantity of noble incidents in stream, crag, or cloud, presented to the eye at any given moment.

Sec. 4. For consider, first, the difference produced in the whole tone of landscape color by the introductions of purple, violet, and deep ultramarine blue, which we owe to mountains. In an ordinary lowland landscape we have the blue of the sky; the green of grass, which I will suppose (and this is an unnecessary concession to the lowlands) entirely fresh and bright; the green of trees; and certain elements of purple, far more rich and beautiful than we generally should think, in their bark and shadows (bare hedges and thickets, or tops of trees, in subdued afternoon sunshine, are nearly perfect purple, and of an exquisite tone), as well as in ploughed fields, and dark ground in general. But among mountains, in addition to all this, large unbroken spaces of pure violet and purple are introduced in their distances; and even near, by films of cloud passing over the darkness of ravines or forests, blues are produced of the most subtle tenderness; these azures and purples[107] passing into rose-color of otherwise wholly unattainable delicacy among the upper summits, the blue of the sky being at the same time purer and deeper than in the plains. Nay, in some sense, a person who has never seen the rose-color of the rays of dawn crossing a blue mountain twelve or fifteen miles away, can hardly be said to know what tenderness in color means at all; bright tenderness he may, indeed, see in the sky or in a flower, but this grave tenderness of the far-away hill-purples he cannot conceive.

Sec. 5. Together with this great source of preeminence in mass of color, we have to estimate the influence of the finished inlaying and enamel-work of the color-jewellery on every stone; and that of the continual variety in species of flower; most of the mountain flowers being, besides, separately lovelier than the lowland ones. The wood hyacinth and wild rose are, indeed, the only supreme flowers that the lowlands can generally show; and the wild rose is also a mountaineer, and more fragrant in the hills, while the wood hyacinth, or grape hyacinth, at its best cannot match even the dark bell-gentian, leaving the light-blue star-gentian in its uncontested queenliness, and the Alpine rose and Highland heather wholly without similitude. The violet, lily of the valley, crocus, and wood anemone are, I suppose, claimable partly by the plains as well as the hills; but the large orange lily and narcissus I have never seen but on hill pastures, and the exquisite oxalis is preeminently a mountaineer.[108]

Sec. 6. To this supremacy in mosses and flowers we have next to add an inestimable gain in the continual presence and power of water. Neither in its clearness, its color, its fantasy of motion, its calmness of space, depth, and reflection, or its wrath, can water be conceived by a lowlander, out of sight of sea. A sea wave is far grander than any torrent—but of the sea and its influences we are not now speaking; and the sea itself, though it can be clear, is never calm, among our shores, in the sense that a mountain lake can be calm. The sea seems only to pause; the mountain lake to sleep, and to dream. Out of sight of the ocean, a lowlander cannot be considered ever to have seen water at all. The mantling of the pools in the rock shadows, with the golden flakes of light sinking down through them like falling leaves, the ringing of the thin currents among the shallows, the flash and the cloud of the cascade, the earthquake and foam-fire of the cataract, the long lines of alternate mirror and mist that lull the imagery of the hills reversed in the blue of morning,—all these things belong to those hills as their undivided inheritance.

Sec. 7. To this supremacy in wave and stream is joined a no less manifest preeminence in the character of trees. It is possible among plains, in the species of trees which properly belong to them, the poplars of Amiens, for instance, to obtain a serene simplicity of grace, which, as I said, is a better help to the study of gracefulness, as such, than any of the wilder groupings of the hills; so also, there are certain conditions of symmetrical luxuriance developed in the park and avenue, rarely rivalled in their way among mountains; and yet the mountain superiority in foliage is, on the whole, nearly as complete as it is in water; for exactly as there are some expressions in the broad reaches of a navigable lowland river, such as the Loire or Thames, not, in their way, to be matched among the rock rivers, and yet for all that a lowlander cannot be said to have truly seen the element of water at all; so even in his richest parks and avenues he cannot be said to have truly seen trees. For the resources of trees are not developed until they have difficulty to contend with; neither their tenderness of brotherly love and harmony, till they are forced to choose their ways of various life where there is contracted room for them, talking to each other with their restrained branches. The various action of trees rooting themselves in inhospitable rocks, stooping to look into ravines, hiding from the search of glacier winds, reaching forth to the rays of rare sunshine, crowding down together to drink at sweetest streams, climbing hand in hand among the difficult slopes, opening in sudden dances round the mossy knolls, gathering into companies at rest among the fragrant fields, gliding in grave procession over the heavenward ridges,—nothing of this can be conceived among the unvexed and unvaried felicities of the lowland forest: while to all these direct sources of greater beauty are added, first the power of redundance,—the mere quantity of foliage visible in the folds and on the promontories of a single Alp being greater than that of an entire lowland landscape (unless a view from some cathedral tower); and to this charm of redundance, that of clearer visibility,—tree after tree being constantly shown in successive height, one behind another, instead of the mere tops and flanks of masses, as in the plains; and the forms of multitudes of them continually defined against the clear sky, near and above, or against white clouds entangled among their branches, instead of being confused in dimness of distance.

Sec. 8. Finally, to this supremacy in foliage we have to add the still less questionable supremacy in clouds. There is no effect of sky possible in the lowlands which may not in equal perfection be seen among the hills; but there are effects by tens of thousands, for ever invisible and inconceivable to the inhabitant of the plains, manifested among the hills in the course of one day. The mere power of familiarity with the clouds, of walking with them and above them, alters and renders clear our whole conception of the baseless architecture of the sky; and for the beauty of it, there is more in a single wreath of early cloud, pacing its way up an avenue of pines, or pausing among the points of their fringes, than in all the white heaps that fill the arched sky of the plains from one horizon to the other. And of the nobler cloud manifestations,—the breaking of their troublous seas against the crags, their black spray sparkling with lightning; or the going forth of the morning along their pavements of moving marble, level-laid between dome and dome of snow;—of these things there can be as little imagination or understanding in an inhabitant of the plains as of the scenery of another planet than his own.

Sec. 9. And, observe, all these superiorities are matters plainly measurable and calculable, not in any wise to be referred to estimate of sensation. Of the grandeur or expression of the hills I have not spoken; how far they are great, or strong, or terrible, I do not for the moment consider, because vastness, and strength, and terror, are not to all minds subjects of desired contemplation. It may make no difference to some men whether a natural object be large or small, whether it be strong or feeble. But loveliness of color, perfectness of form, endlessness of change, wonderfulness of structure, are precious to all undiseased human minds; and the superiority of the mountains in all these things to the lowland is, I repeat, as measurable as the richness of a painted window matched with a white one, or the wealth of a museum compared with that of a simply furnished chamber. They seem to have been built for the human race, as at once their schools and cathedrals; full of treasures of illuminated manuscript for the scholar, kindly in simple lessons to the worker, quiet in pale cloisters for the thinker, glorious in holiness for the worshipper. And of these great cathedrals of the earth, with their gates of rock, pavements of cloud, choirs of stream and stone, altars of snow, and vaults of purple traversed by the continual stars,—of these, as we have seen, it was written, nor long ago, by one of the best of the poor human race for whom they were built, wondering in himself for whom their Creator could have made them, and thinking to have entirely discerned the Divine intent in them—"They are inhabited by the Beasts."

Sec. 10. Was it then indeed thus with us, and so lately? Had mankind offered no worship in their mountain churches? Was all that granite sculpture and floral painting done by the angels in vain?

Not so. It will need no prolonged thought to convince us that in the hills the purposes of their Maker have indeed been accomplished in such measure as, through the sin or folly of men, He ever permits them to be accomplished. It may not seem, from the general language held concerning them, or from any directly traceable results, that mountains have had serious influence on human intellect; but it will not, I think, be difficult to show that their occult influence has been both constant and essential to the progress of the race.

Sec. 11. Consider, first, whether we can justly refuse to attribute to their mountain scenery some share in giving the Greeks and Italians their intellectual lead among the nations of Europe.

There is not a single spot of land in either of these countries from which mountains are not discernible; almost always they form the principal feature of the scenery. The mountain outlines seen from Sparta, Corinth, Athens, Rome, Florence, Pisa, Verona, are of consummate beauty; and whatever dislike or contempt may be traceable in the mind of the Greeks for mountain ruggedness, their placing the shrine of Apollo under the cliffs of Delphi, and his throne upon Parnassus, was a testimony to all succeeding time that they themselves attributed the best part of their intellectual inspiration to the power of the hills. Nor would it be difficult to show that every great writer of either of those nations, however little definite regard he might manifest for the landscape of his country, had been mentally formed and disciplined by it, so that even such enjoyment as Homer's of the ploughed ground and poplar groves owes its intensity and delicacy to the excitement of the imagination produced, without his own consciousness, by other and grander features of the scenery to which he had been accustomed from a child; and differs in every respect from the tranquil, vegetative, and prosaic affection with which the same ploughed land and poplars would be regarded by a native of the Netherlands.

The vague expression which I have just used—"intellectual lead," may be expanded into four great heads; lead in Religion, Art and Literature, War, and Social Economy.

Sec. 12. It will be right to examine our subject eventually under these four heads; but I shall limit myself, for the present, to some consideration of the first two, for a reason presently to be stated.

1st. Influence of mountains on religious temperament.

I. We have before had occasion to note the peculiar awe with which mountains were regarded in the middle ages, as bearing continual witness against the frivolity or luxury of the world. Though the sense of this influence of theirs is perhaps more clearly expressed by the mediaeval Christians than by any other sect of religionists, the influence itself has been constant in all time. Mountains have always possessed the power, first, of exciting religious enthusiasm; secondly, of purifying religious faith. These two operations are partly contrary to one another: for the faith of enthusiasm is apt to be impure, and the mountains, by exciting morbid conditions of the imagination, have caused in great part the legendary and romantic forms of belief; on the other hand, by fostering simplicity of life and dignity of morals, they have purified by action what they falsified by imagination. But, even in their first and most dangerous influence, it is not the mountains that are to blame, but the human heart. While we mourn over the fictitious shape given to the religious visions of the anchorite, we may envy the sincerity and the depth of the emotion from which they spring: in the deep feeling, we have to acknowledge the solemn influences of the hills; but for the erring modes or forms of thought, it is human wilfulness, sin, and false teaching, that are answerable. We are not to deny the nobleness of the imagination because its direction is illegitimate, nor the pathos of the legend because its circumstances are groundless; the ardor and abstraction of the spiritual life are to be honored in themselves, though the one may be misguided and the other deceived; and the deserts of Osma, Assisi, and Monte Viso are still to be thanked for the zeal they gave, or guarded, whether we find it in St. Francis and St. Dominic, or in those whom God's hand hid from them in the clefts of the rocks.

Sec. 13. And, in fact, much of the apparently harmful influence of hills on the religion of the world is nothing else than their general gift of exciting the poetical and inventive faculties, in peculiarly solemn tones of mind. Their terror leads into devotional casts of thought; their beauty and wildness prompt the invention at the same time; and where the mind is not gifted with stern reasoning powers, or protected by purity of teaching, it is sure to mingle the invention with its creed, and the vision with its prayer. Strictly speaking, we ought to consider the superstitions of the hills, universally, as a form of poetry; regretting only that men have not yet learned how to distinguish poetry from well-founded faith.

And if we do this, and enable ourselves thus to review, without carping or sneering, the shapes of solemn imagination which have arisen among the inhabitants of Europe, we shall find, on the one hand, the mountains of Greece and Italy forming all the loveliest dreams, first of the Pagan, then of the Christian mythology; on the other, those of Scandinavia to be the first sources of whatever mental (as well as military) power was brought by the Normans into Southern Europe. Normandy itself is to all intents and purposes a hill country; composed, over large extents, of granite and basalt, often rugged and covered with heather on the summits, and traversed by beautiful and singular dells, at once soft and secluded, fruitful and wild. We have thus one branch of the Northern religious imagination rising among the Scandinavian fiords, tempered in France by various encounters with elements of Arabian, Italian, Provencal, or other Southern poetry, and then reacting upon Southern England; while other forms of the same rude religious imagination, resting like clouds upon the mountains of Scotland and Wales, met and mingled with the Norman Christianity, retaining even to the latest times some dark color of superstition, but giving all its poetical and military pathos to Scottish poetry, and a peculiar sternness and wildness of tone to the Reformed faith, in its manifestations among the Scottish hills.

Sec. 14. It is on less disputable ground that I may claim the reader's gratitude to the mountains, as having been the centres not only of imaginative energy, but of purity both in doctrine and practice. The enthusiasm of the persecuted Covenanter, and his variously modified claims to miraculous protection or prophetic inspiration, hold exactly the same relation to the smooth proprieties of lowland Protestantism, that the demon-combats, fastings, visions, and miracles of the mountain monk or anchorite hold to the wealth and worldliness of the Vatican. It might indeed happen, whether at Canterbury, Rheims, or Rome, that a good bishop should occasionally grasp the crozier; and a vast amount of prudent, educated, and admirable piety is to be found among the ranks of the lowland clergy. But still the large aspect of the matter is always, among Protestants, that formalism, respectability, orthodoxy, caution, and propriety, live by the slow stream that encircles the lowland abbey or cathedral; and that enthusiasm, poverty, vital faith, and audacity of conduct, characterize the pastor dwelling by the torrent side. In like manner, taking the large aspects of Romanism, we see that its worst corruptions, its cunning, its worldliness, and its permission of crime, are traceable for the most part to lowland prelacy; but its self-denials, its obediences, humilities, sincere claims to miraculous power, and faithful discharges of pastoral duty, are traceable chiefly to its anchorites and mountain clergy.

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