And this is hard: that the Faith begins to make one abandon the old way of judging. Averages and movements and the rest grow uncertain. We see things from within and consider one mind or a little group as a salt or leaven. The very nature of social force seems changed to us. And this is hard when a man has loved common views and is happy only with his fellows.
And this again is very hard, that we must once more take up that awful struggle to reconcile two truths and to keep civic freedom sacred in spite of the organization of religion, and not to deny what is certainly true. It is hard to accept mysteries, and to be humble. We are tost as the great schoolmen were tost, and we dare not neglect the duty of that wrestling.
But the hardest thing of all is that it leads us away, as by a command, from all that banquet of the intellect than which there is no keener joy known to man.
I went slowly up the village place in the dusk, thinking of this deplorable weakness in men that the Faith is too great for them, and accepting it as an inevitable burden. I continued to muse with my eyes upon the ground...
There was to be no more of that studious content, that security in historic analysis, and that constant satisfaction of an appetite which never cloyed. A wisdom more imperative and more profound was to put a term to the comfortable wisdom of learning. All the balance of judgement, the easy, slow convictions, the broad grasp of things, the vision of their complexity, the pleasure in their innumerable life—all that had to be given up. Fanaticisms were no longer entirely to be despised, just appreciations and a strong grasp of reality no longer entirely to be admired.
The Catholic Church will have no philosophies. She will permit no comforts; the cry of the martyrs is in her far voice; her eyes that see beyond the world present us heaven and hell to the confusion of our human reconciliations, our happy blending of good and evil things.
By the Lord! I begin to think this intimate religion as tragic as a great love. There came back into my mind a relic that I have in my house. It is a panel of the old door of my college, having carved on it my college arms. I remembered the Lion and the Shield, Haec fuit, Haec almae janua sacra domus. Yes, certainly religion is as tragic as first love, and drags us out into the void away from our dear homes.
It is a good thing to have loved one woman from a child, and it is a good thing not to have to return to the Faith.
They cook worse in Undervelier than any place I was ever in, with the possible exception of Omaha, Neb.
LECTOR. Why do you use phrases like 'possible exception'?
AUCTOR. Why not? I see that all the religion I have stuck into the book has no more effect on you than had Rousseau upon Sir Henry Maine. You are as full of Pride as a minor Devil. You would avoid the cliche and the commonplace, and the phrase toute faite. Why? Not because you naturally write odd prose—contrariwise, left to yourself you write pure journalese; but simply because you are swelled and puffed up with a desire to pose. You want what the Martha Brown school calls 'distinction' in prose. My little friend, I know how it is done, and I find it contemptible. People write their articles at full speed, putting down their unstudied and valueless conclusions in English as pale as a film of dirty wax—sometimes even they dictate to a typewriter. Then they sit over it with a blue pencil and carefully transpose the split infinitives, and write alternative adjectives, and take words away out of their natural place in the sentence and generally put the Queen's English—yes, the Queen's English—on the rack. And who is a penny the better for it? The silly authors get no real praise, not even in the horrible stucco villas where their clique meet on Sundays. The poor public buys the Marvel and gasps at the cleverness of the writing and despairs, and has to read what it can understand, and is driven back to toshy novels about problems, written by cooks. 'The hungry sheep,' as some one says somewhere, 'look up and are not fed;' and the same poet well describes your pipings as being on wretched straw pipes that are 'scrannel'—a good word.
Oh, for one man who should write healthy, hearty, straightforward English! Oh, for Cobbett! There are indeed some great men who write twistedly simply because they cannot help it, but their honesty is proved by the mass they turn out. What do you turn out, you higglers and sticklers? Perhaps a bad triolet every six months, and a book of criticism on something thoroughly threadbare once in five years. If I had my way—
LECTOR. I am sorry to have provoked all this.
AUCTOR. Not at all! Not at all! I trust I have made myself clear.
Well, as I was saying, they cook worse at Undervelier than any place I was ever in, with the possible exception of Omaha, Neb. However, I forgave them, because they were such good people, and after a short and bitter night I went out in the morning before the sun rose and took the Moutier road.
The valley in which I was now engaged—the phrase seems familiar—was more or less like an H. That is, there were two high parallel ranges bounding it, but across the middle a low ridge of perhaps a thousand feet. The road slowly climbed this ridge through pastures where cows with deep-toned bells were rising from the dew on the grass, and where one or two little cottages and a village already sent up smoke. All the way up I was thinking of the surfeit of religion I had had the night before, and also of how I had started that morning without bread or coffee, which was a folly.
When I got to the top of the ridge there was a young man chopping wood outside a house, and I asked him in French how far it was to Moutier. He answered in German, and I startled him by a loud cry, such as sailors give when they see land, for at last I had struck the boundary of the languages, and was with pure foreigners for the first time in my life. I also asked him for coffee, and as he refused it I took him to be a heretic and went down the road making up verses against all such, and singing them loudly through the forest that now arched over me and grew deeper as I descended.
And my first verse was—
Heretics all, whoever you be, In Tarbes or Nimes, or over the sea, You never shall have good words from me. Caritas non conturbat me.
If you ask me why I put a Latin line at the end, it was because I had to show that it was a song connected with the Universal Fountain and with European culture, and with all that Heresy combats. I sang it to a lively hymn-tune that I had invented for the occasion.
I then thought what a fine fellow I was, and how pleasant were my friends when I agreed with them. I made up this second verse, which I sang even more loudly than the first; and the forest grew deeper, sending back echoes—
But Catholic men that live upon wine Are deep in the water, and frank, and fine; Wherever I travel I find it so, Benedicamus Domino.
There is no doubt, however, that if one is really doing a catholic work, and expressing one's attitude to the world, charity, pity, and a great sense of fear should possess one, or, at least, appear. So I made up this third verse and sang it to suit—
On childing women that are forlorn, And men that sweat in nothing but scorn: That is on all that ever were born, Miserere Domine.
Then, as everything ends in death, and as that is just what Heretics least like to be reminded of, I ended thus—
To my poor self on my deathbed, And all my dear companions dead, Because of the love that I bore them, Dona Eis Requiem.
I say 'I ended.' But I did not really end there, for I also wrote in the spirit of the rest a verse of Mea Culpa and Confession of Sin, but I shall not print it here.
So my song over and the woods now left behind, I passed up a dusty piece of road into Moutier, a detestable town, all whitewashed and orderly, down under the hills.
I was tired, for the sun was now long risen and somewhat warm, and I had walked ten miles, and that over a high ridge; and I had written a canticle and sung it—- and all that without a sup or a bite. I therefore took bread, coffee, and soup in Moutier, and then going a little way out of the town I crossed a stream off the road, climbed a knoll, and, lying under a tree, I slept.
I awoke and took the road.
The road after Moutier was not a thing for lyrics; it stirred me in no way. It was bare in the sunlight, had fields on either side; and in the fields stood houses. In the houses were articulately-speaking mortal men.
There is a school of Poets (I cannot read them myself) who treat of common things, and their admirers tell us that these men raise the things of everyday life to the plane of the supernatural. Note that phrase, for it is a shaft of light through a cloud revealing their disgusting minds.
Everyday life! As La Croix said in a famous leading article: 'La Presse?' POOH!' I know that everyday life. It goes with sandals and pictures of lean ugly people all just like one another in browny photographs on the wall, and these pictures are called, one 'The House of Life', or another, 'The Place Beautiful', or yet again a third, 'The Lamp of the Valley', and when you complain and shift about uneasily before these pictures, the scrub-minded and dusty-souled owners of them tell you that of course in photographs you lose the marvellous colour of the original. This everyday life has mantelpieces made of the same stuff as cafe-tables, so that by instinct I try to make rings on them with my wine-glass, and the people who suffer this life get up every morning at eight, and the poor sad men of the house slave at wretched articles and come home to hear more literature and more appreciations, and the unholy women do nothing and attend to local government, that is, the oppression of the poor; and altogether this accursed everyday life of theirs is instinct with the four sins crying to heaven for vengeance, and there is no humanity in it, and no simplicity, and no recollection. I know whole quarters of the towns of that life where they have never heard of Virtus or Verecundia or Pietas.
AUCTOR. Alas! alas! Dear Lector, in these houses there is no honest dust. Not a bottle of good wine or bad; no prints inherited from one's uncle, and no children's books by Mrs Barbauld or Miss Edgeworth; no human disorder, nothing of that organic comfort which makes a man's house like a bear's fur for him. They have no debts, they do not read in bed, and they will have difficulty in saving their souls.
LECTOR. Then tell me, how would you treat of common things?
AUCTOR. Why, I would leave them alone; but if I had to treat of them I will show you how I would do it. Let us have a dialogue about this road from Moutier.
LECTOR. By all means.
AUCTOR. What a terrible thing it is to miss one's sleep. I can hardly bear the heat of the road, and my mind is empty!
LECTOR. Why, you have just slept in a wood!
AUCTOR. Yes, but that is not enough. One must sleep at night.
LECTOR. My brother often complains of insomnia. He is a policeman.
AUCTOR. Indeed? It is a sad affliction.
LECTOR. Yes, indeed.
AUCTOR. Indeed, yes.
LECTOR. I cannot go on like this.
AUCTOR. There. That is just what I was saying. One cannot treat of common things: it is not literature; and for my part, if I were the editor even of a magazine, and the author stuck in a string of dialogue, I would not pay him by the page but by the word, and I would count off 5 per cent for epigrams, 10 per cent for dialect, and some quarter or so for those stage directions in italics which they use to pad out their work.
So. I will not repeat this experiment, but next time I come to a bit of road about which there is nothing to say, I will tell a story or sing a song, and to that I pledge myself.
By the way, I am reminded of something. Do you know those books and stories in which parts of the dialogues often have no words at all? Only dots and dashes and asterisks and interrogations? I wonder what the people are paid for it? If I knew I would earn a mint of money, for I believe I have a talent for it. Look at this—
There. That seems to me worth a good deal more money than all the modern 'delineation of character', and 'folk' nonsense ever written. What verve! What terseness! And yet how clear!
LECTOR. Let us be getting on.
AUCTOR. By all means, and let us consider more enduring things.
After a few miles the road going upwards, I passed through another gap in the hills and—
LECTOR. Pardon me, but I am still ruminating upon that little tragedy of yours. Why was the guardian a duchess?
AUCTOR. Well, it was a short play and modern, was it not?
LECTOR. Yes. And therefore, of course, you must have a title in it. I know that. I do not object to it. What I want to know is, why a duchess?
AUCTOR. On account of the reduction of scale: the concentration of the thing. You see in the full play there would have been a lord, two baronets, and say three ladies, and I could have put suitable words into their mouths. As it was I had to make absolutely sure of the element of nobility without any help, and, as it were, in one startling moment. Do you follow? Is it not art?
I cannot conceive why a pilgrimage, an adventure so naturally full of great, wonderful, far-off and holy things should breed such fantastic nonsense as all this; but remember at least the little acolyte of Rheims, whose father, in 1512, seeing him apt for religion, put him into a cassock and designed him for the Church, whereupon the youngling began to be as careless and devilish as Mercury, putting beeswax on the misericords, burning feathers in the censer, and even going round himself with the plate without leave and scolding the rich in loud whispers when they did not put in enough. So one way with another they sent him home to his father; the archbishop thrusting him out of the south porch with his own hands and giving him the Common or Ferial Malediction, which is much the same as that used by carters to stray dogs.
When his father saw him he fumed terribly, cursing like a pagan, and asking whether his son were a roysterer fit for the gallows as well as a fool fit for a cassock. On hearing which complaint the son very humbly and contritely said—
'It is not my fault but the contact with the things of the Church that makes me gambol and frisk, just as the Devil they say is a good enough fellow left to himself and is only moderately heated, yet when you put him into holy water all the world is witness how he hisses and boils.'
The boy then taking a little lamb which happened to be in the drawing-room, said—
'Father, see this little lamb; how demure he is and how simple and innocent, and how foolish and how tractable. Yet observe!' With that he whipped the cassock from his arm where he was carrying it and threw it all over the lamb, covering his head and body; and the lamb began plunging and kicking and bucking and rolling and heaving and sliding and rearing and pawing and most vigorously wrestling with the clerical and hierarchically constraining garment of darkness, and bleating all the while more and more angrily and loudly, for all the world like the great goat Baphomet himself when the witches dance about him on All-hallowe'en. But when the boy suddenly plucked off the cassock again, the lamb, after sneezing a little and finding his feet, became quite gentle once more, and looked only a little confused and dazed.
'There, father,' said the boy, 'is proof to you of how the meekest may be driven to desperation by the shackles I speak of, and which I pray you never lay upon me again.'
His father finding him so practical and wise made over his whole fortune and business to him, and thus escaped the very heavy Heriot and Death Dues of those days, for he was a Socage tenant of St Remi in Double Burgage. But we stopped all that here in England by the statute of Uses, and I must be getting back to the road before the dark catches me.
As I was saying, I came to a gap in the hills, and there was there a house or two called Gansbrunnen, and one of the houses was an inn. Just by the inn the road turned away sharply up the valley; the very last slope of the Jura, the last parallel ridge, lay straight before me all solemn, dark, and wooded, and making a high feathery line against the noon. To cross this there was but a vague path rather misleading, and the name of the mountain was Weissenstein.
So before that last effort which should lead me over those thousands of feet, and to nourish Instinct (which would be of use to me when I got into that impenetrable wood), I turned into the inn for wine.
A very old woman having the appearance of a witch sat at a dark table by the little criss-cross window of the dark room. She was crooning to herself, and I made the sign of the evil eye and asked her in French for wine; but French she did not understand. Catching, however, two words which sounded like the English 'White' and 'Red', I said 'Yaw' after the last and nodded, and she brought up a glass of exceedingly good red wine which I drank in silence, she watching me uncannily.
Then I paid her with a five-franc piece, and she gave me a quantity of small change rapidly, which, as I counted it, I found to contain one Greek piece of fifty lepta very manifestly of lead. This I held up angrily before her, and (not without courage, for it is hard to deal with the darker powers) I recited to her slowly that familiar verse which the well-known Satyricus Empiricius was for ever using in his now classical attacks on the grammarians; and without any Alexandrian twaddle of accents I intoned to her—and so left her astounded to repentance or to shame.
Then I went out into the sunlight, and crossing over running water put myself out of her power.
The wood went up darkly and the path branched here and there so that I was soon uncertain of my way, but I followed generally what seemed to me the most southerly course, and so came at last up steeply through a dip or ravine that ended high on the crest of the ridge.
Just as I came to the end of the rise, after perhaps an hour, perhaps two, of that great curtain of forest which had held the mountain side, the trees fell away to brushwood, there was a gate, and then the path was lost upon a fine open sward which was the very top of the Jura and the coping of that multiple wall which defends the Swiss Plain. I had crossed it straight from edge to edge, never turning out of my way.
It was too marshy to lie down on it, so I stood a moment to breathe and look about me.
It was evident that nothing higher remained, for though a new line of wood—firs and beeches—stood before me, yet nothing appeared above them, and I knew that they must be the fringe of the descent. I approached this edge of wood, and saw that it had a rough fence of post and rails bounding it, and as I was looking for the entry of a path (for my original path was lost, as such tracks are, in the damp grass of the little down) there came to me one of those great revelations which betray to us suddenly the higher things and stand afterwards firm in our minds.
There, on this upper meadow, where so far I had felt nothing but the ordinary gladness of The Summit, I had a vision.
What was it I saw? If you think I saw this or that, and if you think I am inventing the words, you know nothing of men.
I saw between the branches of the trees in front of me a sight in the sky that made me stop breathing, just as great danger at sea, or great surprise in love, or a great deliverance will make a man stop breathing. I saw something I had known in the West as a boy, something I had never seen so grandly discovered as was this. In between the branches of the trees was a great promise of unexpected lights beyond.
I pushed left and right along that edge of the forest and along the fence that bound it, until I found a place where the pine-trees stopped, leaving a gap, and where on the right, beyond the gap, was a tree whose leaves had failed; there the ground broke away steeply below me, and the beeches fell, one below the other, like a vast cascade, towards the limestone cliffs that dipped down still further, beyond my sight. I looked through this framing hollow and praised God. For there below me, thousands of feet below me, was what seemed an illimitable plain; at the end of that world was an horizon, and the dim bluish sky that overhangs an horizon.
There was brume in it and thickness. One saw the sky beyond the edge of the world getting purer as the vault rose. But right up—a belt in that empyrean—ran peak and field and needle of intense ice, remote, remote from the world. Sky beneath them and sky above them, a steadfast legion, they glittered as though with the armour of the immovable armies of Heaven. Two days' march, three days' march away, they stood up like the walls of Eden. I say it again, they stopped my breath. I had seen them.
So little are we, we men: so much are we immersed in our muddy and immediate interests that we think, by numbers and recitals, to comprehend distance or time, or any of our limiting infinities. Here were these magnificent creatures of God, I mean the Alps, which now for the first time I saw from the height of the Jura; and because they were fifty or sixty miles away, and because they were a mile or two high, they were become something different from us others, and could strike one motionless with the awe of supernatural things. Up there in the sky, to which only clouds belong and birds and the last trembling colours of pure light, they stood fast and hard; not moving as do the things of the sky. They were as distant as the little upper clouds of summer, as fine and tenuous; but in their reflection and in their quality as it were of weapons (like spears and shields of an unknown array) they occupied the sky with a sublime invasion: and the things proper to the sky were forgotten by me in their presence as I gazed.
To what emotion shall I compare this astonishment? So, in first love one finds that this can belong to me.
Their sharp steadfastness and their clean uplifted lines compelled my adoration. Up there, the sky above and below them, part of the sky, but part of us, the great peaks made communion between that homing creeping part of me which loves vineyards and dances and a slow movement among pastures, and that other part which is only properly at home in Heaven. I say that this kind of description is useless, and that it is better to address prayers to such things than to attempt to interpret them for others.
These, the great Alps, seen thus, link one in some way to one's immortality. Nor is it possible to convey, or even to suggest, those few fifty miles, and those few thousand feet; there is something more. Let me put it thus: that from the height of Weissenstein I saw, as it were, my religion. I mean, humility, the fear of death, the terror of height and of distance, the glory of God, the infinite potentiality of reception whence springs that divine thirst of the soul; my aspiration also towards completion, and my confidence in the dual destiny. For I know that we laughers have a gross cousinship with the most high, and it is this contrast and perpetual quarrel which feeds a spring of merriment in the soul of a sane man.
Since I could now see such a wonder and it could work such things in my mind, therefore, some day I should be part of it. That is what I felt.
This it is also which leads some men to climb mountain-tops, but not me, for I am afraid of slipping down.
Then you will say, if I felt all this, why do I draw it, and put it in my book, seeing that my drawings are only for fun? My jest drags down such a memory and makes it ludicrous. Well, I said in my beginning that I would note down whatever most impressed me, except figures, which I cannot draw (I mean figures of human beings, for mathematical figures I can draw well enough), and I have never failed in this promise, except where, as in the case of Porrentruy, my drawing was blown away by the wind and lost—- if anything ever is lost. So I put down here this extraordinary drawing of what I saw, which is about as much like it as a printed song full of misprints is to that same song sung by an army on the march. And I am consoled by remembering that if I could draw infinitely well, then it would become sacrilege to attempt to draw that sight. Moreover, I am not going to waste any more time discussing why I put in this little drawing. If it disturbs your conception of what it was I saw, paste over it a little bit of paper. I have made it small for the purpose; but remember that the paper should be thin and opaque, for thick paper will interfere with the shape of this book, and transparent paper will disturb you with a memory of the picture.
It was all full of this, as a man is full of music just after hearing it, that I plunged down into the steep forest that led towards the great plain; then, having found a path, I worked zig-zag down it by a kind of gully that led through to a place where the limestone cliffs were broken, and (so my map told me) to the town of Soleure, which stands at the edge of the plain upon the river Aar.
I was an hour or more going down the enormous face of the Jura, which is here an escarpment, a cliff of great height, and contains but few such breaks by which men can pick their way. It was when I was about half-way down the mountain side that its vastness most impressed me. And yet it had been but a platform as it were, from which to view the Alps and their much greater sublimity.
This vastness, even of these limestone mountains, took me especially at a place where the path bordered a steep, or rather precipitous, lift of white rock to which only here and there a tree could cling.
I was still very high up, but looking somewhat more eastward than before, and the plain went on inimitably towards some low vague hills; nor in that direction could any snow be seen in the sky. Then at last I came to the slopes which make a little bank under the mountains, and there, finding a highroad, and oppressed somewhat suddenly by the afternoon heat of those low places, I went on more slowly towards Soleure.
Beside me, on the road, were many houses, shaded by great trees, built of wood, and standing apart. To each of them almost was a little water-wheel, run by the spring which came down out of the ravine. The water-wheel in most cases worked a simple little machine for sawing planks, but in other cases it seemed used for some purpose inside the house, which I could not divine; perhaps for spinning.
All this place was full of working, and the men sang and spoke at their work in German, which I could not understand. I did indeed find one man, a young hay-making man carrying a scythe, who knew a little French and was going my way. I asked him, therefore, to teach me German, but he had not taught me much before we were at the gates of the old town and then I left him. It is thus, you will see, that for my next four days or five, which were passed among the German-speaking Swiss, I was utterly alone.
This book must not go on for ever; therefore I cannot say very much about Soleure, although there is a great deal to be said about it. It is distinguished by an impression of unity, and of civic life, which I had already discovered in all these Swiss towns; for though men talk of finding the Middle Ages here or there, I for my part never find it, save where there has been democracy to preserve it. Thus I have seen the Middle Ages especially alive in the small towns of Northern France, and I have seen the Middle Ages in the University of Paris. Here also in Switzerland. As I had seen it at St Ursanne, so I found it now at Soleure. There were huge gates flanking the town, and there was that evening a continual noise of rifles, at which the Swiss are for ever practising. Over the church, however, I saw something terribly seventeenth century, namely, Jaweh in great Hebrew letters upon its front.
Well, dining there of the best they had to give me (for this was another milestone in my pilgrimage), I became foolishly refreshed and valiant, and instead of sleeping in Soleure, as a wise man would have done, I determined, though it was now nearly dark, to push on upon the road to Burgdorf.
I therefore crossed the river Aar, which is here magnificently broad and strong, and has bastions jutting out into it in a very bold fashion. I saw the last colourless light of evening making its waters seem like dull metal between the gloomy banks; I felt the beginnings of fatigue, and half regretted my determination. But as it is quite certain that one should never go back, I went on in the darkness, I do not know how many miles, till I reached some cross roads and an inn.
This inn was very poor, and the people had never heard in their lives, apparently, that a poor man on foot might not be able to talk German, which seemed to me an astonishing thing; and as I sat there ordering beer for myself and for a number of peasants (who but for this would have me their butt, and even as it was found something monstrous in me), I pondered during my continual attempts to converse with them (for I had picked up some ten words of their language) upon the folly of those who imagine the world to be grown smaller by railways.
I suppose this place was more untouched, as the phrase goes, that is, more living, more intense, and more powerful to affect others, whenever it may be called to do so, than are even the dear villages of Sussex that lie under my downs. For those are haunted by a nearly cosmopolitan class of gentry, who will have actors, financiers, and what not to come and stay with them, and who read the paper, and from time to time address their village folk upon matters of politics. But here, in this broad plain by the banks of the Emmen, they knew of nothing but themselves and the Church which is the common bond of Europe, and they were in the right way. Hence it was doubly hard on me that they should think me such a stranger.
When I had become a little morose at their perpetual laughter, I asked for a bed, and the landlady, a woman of some talent, showed me on her fingers that the beds were 50c., 75c., and a franc. I determined upon the best, and was given indeed a very pleasant room, having in it the statue of a saint, and full of a country air. But I had done too much in this night march, as you will presently learn, for my next day was a day without salt, and in it appreciation left me. And this breakdown of appreciation was due to what I did not know at the time to be fatigue, but to what was undoubtedly a deep inner exhaustion.
When I awoke next morning it was as it always is: no one was awake, and I had the field to myself, to slip out as I chose. I looked out of the window into the dawn. The race had made its own surroundings.
These people who suffocated with laughter at the idea of one's knowing no German, had produced, as it were, a German picture by the mere influence of years and years of similar thoughts.
Out of my window I saw the eaves coming low down. I saw an apple-tree against the grey light. The tangled grass in the little garden, the dog-kennel, and the standing butt were all what I had seen in those German pictures which they put into books for children, and which are drawn in thick black lines: nor did I see any reason why tame faces should not appear in that framework. I expected the light lank hair and the heavy unlifting step of the people whose only emotions are in music.
But it was too early for any one to be about, and my German garden, si j'ose m'exprimer ainsi, had to suffice me for an impression of the Central Europeans. I gazed at it a little while as it grew lighter. Then I went downstairs and slipped the latch (which, being German, was of a quaint design). I went out into the road and sighed profoundly.
All that day was destined to be covered, so far as my spirit was concerned, with a motionless lethargy. Nothing seemed properly to interest or to concern me, and not till evening was I visited by any muse. Even my pain (which was now dull and chronic) was no longer a subject for my entertainment, and I suffered from an uneasy isolation that had not the merit of sharpness and was no spur to the mind. I had the feeling that every one I might see would be a stranger, and that their language would be unfamiliar to me, and this, unlike most men who travel, I had never felt before.
The reason being this: that if a man has English thoroughly he can wander over a great part of the world familiarly, and meet men with whom he can talk. And if he has French thoroughly all Italy, and I suppose Spain, certainly Belgium, are open to him. Not perhaps that he will understand what he hears or will be understood of others, but that the order and nature of the words and the gestures accompanying them are his own. Here, however, I, to whom English and French were the same, was to spend (it seemed) whole days among a people who put their verbs at the end, where the curses or the endearments come in French and English, and many of whose words stand for ideas we have not got. I had no room for good-fellowship. I could not sit at tables and expand the air with terrible stories of adventure, nor ask about their politics, nor provoke them to laughter or sadness by my tales. It seemed a poor pilgrimage taken among dumb men.
Also I have no doubt that I had experienced the ebb of some vitality, for it is the saddest thing about us that this bright spirit with which we are lit from within like lanterns, can suffer dimness. Such frailty makes one fear that extinction is our final destiny, and it saps us with numbness, and we are less than ourselves. Seven nights had I been on pilgrimage, and two of them had I passed in the open. Seven great heights had I climbed: the Forest, Archettes, the Ballon, the Mont Terrible, the Watershed, the pass by Moutier, the Weissenstein. Seven depths had I fallen to: twice to the Moselle, the gap of Belfort, the gorge of the Doubs, Glovelier valley, the hole of Moutier, and now this plain of the Aar. I had marched 180 miles. It was no wonder that on this eighth day I was oppressed and that all the light long I drank no good wine, met no one to remember well, nor sang any songs. All this part of my way was full of what they call Duty, and I was sustained only by my knowledge that the vast mountains (which had disappeared) would be part of my life very soon if I still went on steadily towards Rome.
The sun had risen when I reached Burgdorf, and I there went to a railway station, and outside of it drank coffee and ate bread. I also bought old newspapers in French, and looked at everything wearily and with sad eyes. There was nothing to draw. How can a man draw pain in the foot and knee? And that was all there was remarkable at that moment.
I watched a train come in. It was full of tourists, who (it may have been a subjective illusion) seemed to me common and worthless people, and sad into the bargain. It was going to Interlaken; and I felt a languid contempt for people who went to Interlaken instead of driving right across the great hills to Rome.
After an hour, or so of this melancholy dawdling, I put a map before me on a little marble table, ordered some more coffee, and blew into my tepid life a moment of warmth by the effort of coming to a necessary decision. I had (for the first time since I had left Lorraine) the choice of two roads; and why this was so the following map will make clear.
Here you see that there is no possibility of following the straight way to Rome, but that one must go a few miles east or west of it. From Burgundy one has to strike a point on the sources of the Emmen, and Burgdorf is on the Emmen. Therefore one might follow the Emmen all the way up. But it seemed that the road climbed up above a gorge that way, whereas by the other (which is just as straight) the road is good (it seemed) and fairly level. So I chose this latter Eastern way, which, at the bifurcation, takes one up a tributary of the Emmen, then over a rise to the Upper Emmen again.
Do you want it made plainer than that? I should think not. And, tell me—what can it profit you to know these geographical details? Believe me, I write them down for my own gratification, not yours.
I say a day without salt. A trudge. The air was ordinary, the colours common; men, animals, and trees indifferent. Something had stopped working.
Our energy also is from God, and we should never be proud of it, even if we can cover thirty miles day after day (as I can), or bend a peony in one's hand as could Frocot, the driver in my piece—a man you never knew—or write bad verse very rapidly as can so many moderns. I say our energy also is from God, and we should never be proud of it as though it were from ourselves, but we should accept it as a kind of present, and we should be thankful for it; just as a man should thank God for his reason, as did the madman in the Story of the Rose, who thanked God that he at least was sane though all the rest of the world had recently lost their reason.
Indeed, this defaillance and breakdown which comes from time to time over the mind is a very sad thing, but it can be made of great use to us if we will draw from it the lesson that we ourselves are nothing. Perhaps it is a grace. Perhaps in these moments our minds repose... Anyhow, a day without salt.
You understand that under (or in) these circumstances—
When I was at Oxford there was a great and terrible debate that shook the Empire, and that intensely exercised the men whom we send out to govern the Empire, and which, therefore, must have had its effect upon the Empire, as to whether one should say 'under these circumstances' or 'in these circumstances'; nor did I settle matters by calling a conclave and suggesting Quae quum ita sint as a common formula, because a new debate arose upon when you should say sint and when you should say sunt, and they all wrangled like kittens in a basket.
Until there rose a deep-voiced man from an outlying college, who said, 'For my part I will say that under these circumstances, or in these circumstances, or in spite of these circumstances, or hovering playfully above these circumstances, or—
I take you all for Fools and Pedants, in the Chief, in the Chevron, and in the quarter Fess. Fools absolute, and Pedants lordless. Free Fools, unlanded Fools, and Fools incommensurable, and Pedants displayed and rampant of the Tierce Major. Fools incalculable and Pedants irreparable; indeed, the arch Fool-pedants in a universe of pedantic folly and foolish pedantry, O you pedant-fools of the world!'
But by this time he was alone, and thus was this great question never properly decided.
Under these circumstances, then (or in these circumstances), it would profit you but little if I were to attempt the description of the Valley of the Emmen, of the first foot-hills of the Alps, and of the very uninteresting valley which runs on from Langnau.
I had best employ my time in telling the story of the Hungry Student.
LECTOR. And if you are so worn-out and bereft of all emotions, how can you tell a story?
AUCTOR. These two conditions permit me. First, that I am writing some time after, and that I have recovered; secondly, that the story is not mine, but taken straight out of that nationalist newspaper which had served me so long to wrap up my bread and bacon in my haversack. This is the story, and I will tell it you.
Now, I think of it, it would be a great waste of time. Here am I no farther than perhaps a third of my journey, and I have already admitted so much digression that my pilgrimage is like the story of a man asleep and dreaming, instead of the plain, honest, and straightforward narrative of fact. I will therefore postpone the Story of the Hungry Student till I get into the plains of Italy, or into the barren hills of that peninsula, or among the over-well-known towns of Tuscany, or in some other place where a little padding will do neither you nor me any great harm.
On the other hand, do not imagine that I am going to give you any kind of description of this intolerable day's march. If you want some kind of visual Concept (pretty word), take all these little chalets which were beginning and make what you can of them.
LECTOR. Where are they?
AUCTOR. They are still in Switzerland; not here. They were overnumerous as I maundered up from where at last the road leaves the valley and makes over a little pass for a place called Schangnau. But though it is not a story, on the contrary, an exact incident and the truth—a thing that I would swear to in the court of justice, or quite willingly and cheerfully believe if another man told it to me; or even take as historical if I found it in a modern English history of the Anglo-Saxon Church—though, I repeat, it is a thing actually lived, yet I will tell it you.
It was at the very end of the road, and when an enormous weariness had begun to add some kind of interest to this stuffless episode of the dull day, that a peasant with a brutal face, driving a cart very rapidly, came up with me. I said to him nothing, but he said to me some words in German which I did not understand. We were at that moment just opposite a little inn upon the right hand of the road, and the peasant began making signs to me to hold his horse for him while he went in and drank.
How willing I was to do this you will not perhaps understand, unless you have that delicate and subtle pleasure in the holding of horses' heads, which is the boast and glory of some rare minds. And I was the more willing to do it from the fact that I have the habit of this kind of thing, acquired in the French manoeuvres, and had once held a horse for no less a person than a General of Division, who gave me a franc for it, and this franc I spent later with the men of my battery, purchasing wine. So to make a long story short, as the publisher said when he published the popular edition of Pamela, I held the horse for the peasant; always, of course, under the implicit understanding that he should allow me when he came out to have a drink, which I, of course, expected him to bring in his own hands.
Far from it. I can understand the anger which some people feel against the Swiss when they travel in that country, though I will always hold that it is monstrous to come into a man's country of your own accord, and especially into a country so free and so well governed as is Switzerland, and then to quarrel with the particular type of citizen that you find there.
Let us not discuss politics. The point is that the peasant sat in there drinking with his friends for a good three-quarters of an hour. Now and then a man would come out and look at the sky, and cough and spit and turn round again and say something to the people within in German, and go off; but no one paid the least attention to me as I held this horse.
I was already in a very angry and irritable mood, for the horse was restive and smelt his stable, and wished to break away from me. And all angry and irritable as I was, I turned around to see if this man were coming to relieve me; but I saw him laughing and joking with the people inside; and they were all looking my way out of their window as they laughed. I may have been wrong, but I thought they were laughing at me. A man who knows the Swiss intimately, and who has written a book upon 'The Drink Traffic: The Example of Switzerland', tells me they certainly were not laughing at me; at any rate, I thought they were, and moved by a sudden anger I let go the reins, gave the horse a great clout, and set him off careering and galloping like a whirlwind down the road from which he had come, with the bit in his teeth and all the storms of heaven in his four feet. Instantly, as you may imagine, all the scoffers came tumbling out of the inn, hullabooling, gesticulating, and running like madmen after the horse, and one old man even turned to protest to me. But I, setting my teeth, grasping my staff, and remembering the purpose of my great journey, set on up the road again with my face towards Rome.
I sincerely hope, trust, and pray that this part of my journey will not seem as dull to you as it did to me at the time, or as it does to me now while I write of it. But now I come to think of it, it cannot seem as dull, for I had to walk that wretched thirty miles or so all the day long, whereas you have not even to read it; for I am not going to say anything more about it, but lead you straight to the end.
Oh, blessed quality of books, that makes them a refuge from living! For in a book everything can be made to fit in, all tedium can be skipped over, and the intense moments can be made timeless and eternal, and as a poet who is too little known has well said in one of his unpublished lyrics, we, by the art of writing—
Can fix the high elusive hour And stand in things divine.
And as for high elusive hours, devil a bit of one was there all the way from Burgdorf to the Inn of the Bridge, except the ecstatic flash of joy when I sent that horse careering down the road with his bad master after him and all his gang shouting among the hollow hills.
So. It was already evening. I was coming, more tired than ever, to a kind of little pass by which my road would bring me back again to the Emmen, now nothing but a torrent. All the slope down the other side of the little pass (three or four hundred feet perhaps) was covered by a village, called, if I remember right, Schangnau, and there was a large school on my right and a great number of children there dancing round in a ring and singing songs. The sight so cheered me that I determined to press on up the valley, though with no definite goal for the night. It was a foolish decision, for I was really in the heart of an unknown country, at the end of roads, at the sources of rivers, beyond help. I knew that straight before me, not five miles away, was the Brienzer Grat, the huge high wall which it was my duty to cross right over from side to side. I did not know whether or not there was an inn between me and that vast barrier.
The light was failing. I had perhaps some vague idea of sleeping out, but that would have killed me, for a heavy mist that covered all the tops of the hills and that made a roof over the valley, began to drop down a fine rain; and, as they sing in church on Christmas Eve, 'the heavens sent down their dews upon a just man'. But that was written in Palestine, where rain is a rare blessing; there and then in the cold evening they would have done better to have warmed the righteous. There is no controlling them; they mean well, but they bungle terribly.
The road stopped being a road, and became like a Californian trail. I approached enormous gates in the hills, high, precipitous, and narrow. The mist rolled over them, hiding their summits and making them seem infinitely lifted up and reaching endlessly into the thick sky; the straight, tenuous lines of the rain made them seem narrower still. Just as I neared them, hobbling, I met a man driving two cows, and said to him the word, 'Guest-house?' to which he said 'Yaw!' and pointed out a clump of trees to me just under the precipice and right in the gates I speak of. So I went there over an old bridge, and found a wooden house and went in.
It was a house which one entered without ceremony. The door was open, and one walked straight into a great room. There sat three men playing at cards. I saluted them loudly in French, English, and Latin, but they did not understand me, and what seemed remarkable in an hotel (for it was an hotel rather than an inn), no one in the house understood me—neither the servants nor any one; but the servants did not laugh at me as had the poor people near Burgdorf, they only stood round me looking at me patiently in wonder as cows do at trains. Then they brought me food, and as I did not know the names of the different kinds of food, I had to eat what they chose; and the angel of that valley protected me from boiled mutton. I knew, however, the word Wein, which is the same in all languages, and so drank a quart of it consciously and of a set purpose. Then I slept, and next morning at dawn I rose up, put on my thin, wet linen clothes, and went downstairs. No one was about. I looked around for something to fill my sack. I picked up a great hunk of bread from the dining-room table, and went out shivering into the cold drizzle that was still falling from a shrouded sky. Before me, a great forbidding wall, growing blacker as it went upwards and ending in a level line of mist, stood the Brienzer Grat.
To understand what I next had to do it is necessary to look back at the little map on page 105.
You will observe that the straight way to Rome cuts the Lake of Brienz rather to the eastward of the middle, and then goes slap over Wetterhorn and strikes the Rhone Valley at a place called Ulrichen. That is how a bird would do it, if some High Pope of Birds lived in Rome and needed visiting, as, for instance, the Great Auk; or if some old primal relic sacred to birds was connected therewith, as, for instance, the bones of the Dodo.... But I digress. The point is that the straight line takes one over the Brienzer Grat, over the lake, and then over the Wetterhorn. That was manifestly impossible. But whatever of it was possible had to be done, and among the possible things was clambering over the high ridge of the Brienzer Grat instead of going round like a coward by Interlaken. After I had clambered over it, however, needs must I should have to take a pass called the Grimsel Pass and reach the Rhone Valley that way. It was with such a determination that I had come here to the upper waters of the Emmen, and stood now on a moist morning in the basin where that stream rises, at the foot of the mountain range that divided me from the lake.
The Brienzer Grat is an extraordinary thing. It is quite straight; its summits are, of course, of different heights, but from below they seem even, like a ridge: and, indeed, the whole mountain is more like a ridge than any other I have seen. At one end is a peak called the 'Red Horn', the other end falls suddenly above Interlaken, and wherever you should cut it you would get a section like this, for it is as steep as anything can be short of sheer rock. There are no precipices on it, though there are nasty slabs quite high enough to kill a man—I saw several of three or four hundred feet. It is about five or six thousand feet high, and it stands right up and along the northern shore of the lake of Brienz. I began the ascent.
Spongy meads, that soughed under the feet and grew steeper as one rose, took up the first few hundred feet. Little rivulets of mere dampness ran in among the under moss, and such very small hidden flowers as there were drooped with the surfeit of moisture. The rain was now indistinguishable from a mist, and indeed I had come so near to the level belt of cloud, that already its gloom was exchanged for that diffused light which fills vapours from within and lends them their mystery. A belt of thick brushwood and low trees lay before me, clinging to the slope, and as I pushed with great difficulty and many turns to right and left through its tangle a wisp of cloud enveloped me, and from that time on I was now in, now out, of a deceptive drifting fog, in which it was most difficult to gauge one's progress.
Now and then a higher mass of rock, a peak on the ridge, would show clear through a corridor of cloud and be hidden again; also at times I would stand hesitating before a sharp wall or slab, and wait for a shifting of the fog to make sure of the best way round. I struck what might have been a loose path or perhaps only a gully; lost it again and found it again. In one place I climbed up a jagged surface for fifty feet, only to find when it cleared that it was no part of the general ascent, but a mere obstacle which might have been outflanked. At another time I stopped for a good quarter of an hour at an edge that might have been an indefinite fall of smooth rock, but that turned out to be a short drop, easy for a man, and not much longer than my body. So I went upwards always, drenched and doubting, and not sure of the height I had reached at any time.
At last I came to a place where a smooth stone lay between two pillared monoliths, as though it had been put there for a bench. Though all around me was dense mist, yet I could see above me the vague shape of a summit looming quite near. So I said to myself—
'I will sit here and wait till it grows lighter and clearer, for I must now be within two or three hundred feet of the top of the ridge, and as anything at all may be on the other side, I had best go carefully and knowing my way.'
So I sat down facing the way I had to go and looking upwards, till perhaps a movement of the air might show me against a clear sky the line of the ridge, and so let me estimate the work that remained to do. I kept my eyes fixed on the point where I judged that sky line to lie, lest I should miss some sudden gleam revealing it; and as I sat there I grew mournful and began to consider the folly of climbing this great height on an empty stomach. The soldiers of the Republic fought their battles often before breakfast, but never, I think, without having drunk warm coffee, and no one should attempt great efforts without some such refreshment before starting. Indeed, my fasting, and the rare thin air of the height, the chill and the dampness that had soaked my thin clothes through and through, quite lowered my blood and left it piano, whimpering and irresolute. I shivered and demanded the sun.
Then I bethought me of the hunk of bread I had stolen, and pulling it out of my haversack I began to munch that ungrateful breakfast. It was hard and stale, and gave me little sustenance; I still gazed upwards into the uniform meaningless light fog, looking for the ridge.
Suddenly, with no warning to prepare the mind, a faint but distinct wind blew upon me, the mist rose in a wreath backward and upward, and I was looking through clear immensity, not at any ridge, but over an awful gulf at great white fields of death. The Alps were right upon me and before me, overwhelming and commanding empty downward distances of air. Between them and me was a narrow dreadful space of nothingness and silence, and a sheer mile below us both, a floor to that prodigious hollow, lay the little lake.
My stone had not been a halting-place at all, but was itself the summit of the ridge, and those two rocks on either side of it framed a notch upon the very edge and skyline of the high hills of Brienz.
Surprise and wonder had not time to form in my spirit before both were swallowed up by fear. The proximity of that immense wall of cold, the Alps, seen thus full from the level of its middle height and comprehended as it cannot be from the depths; its suggestion of something never changing throughout eternity—yet dead—was a threat to the eager mind. They, the vast Alps, all wrapped round in ice, frozen, and their immobility enhanced by the delicate, roaming veils which (as from an attraction) hovered in their hollows, seemed to halt the process of living. And the living soul whom they thus perturbed was supported by no companionship. There were no trees or blades of grass around me, only the uneven and primal stones of that height. There were no birds in the gulf; there was no sound. And the whiteness of the glaciers, the blackness of the snow-streaked rocks beyond, was glistening and unsoftened. There had come something evil into their sublimity. I was afraid.
Nor could I bear to look downwards. The slope was in no way a danger. A man could walk up it without often using his hands, and a man could go down it slowly without any direct fall, though here and there he would have to turn round at each dip or step and hold with his hands and feel a little for his foothold. I suppose the general slope, down, down, to where the green began was not sixty degrees, but have you ever tried looking down five thousand feet at sixty degrees? It drags the mind after it, and I could not bear to begin the descent.
However I reasoned with myself. I said to myself that a man should only be afraid of real dangers. That nightmare was not for the daylight. That there was now no mist but a warm sun. Then choosing a gully where water sometimes ran, but now dry, I warily began to descend, using my staff and leaning well backwards.
There was this disturbing thing about the gully, that it went in steps, and before each step one saw the sky just a yard or two ahead: one lost the comforting sight of earth. One knew of course that it would only be a little drop, and that the slope would begin again, but it disturbed one. And it is a trial to drop or clamber down, say fourteen or fifteen feet, sometimes twenty, and then to find no flat foothold but that eternal steep beginning again. And this outline in which I have somewhat, but not much, exaggerated the slope, will show what I mean. The dotted line is the line of vision just as one got to a 'step'. The little figure is AUCTOR. LECTOR is up in the air looking at him. Observe the perspective of the lake below, but make no comments.
I went very slowly. When I was about half-way down and had come to a place where a shoulder of heaped rock stood on my left and where little parallel ledges led up to it, having grown accustomed to the descent and easier in my mind, I sat down on a slab and drew imperfectly the things I saw: the lake below me, the first forests clinging to the foot of the Alps beyond, their higher slopes of snow, and the clouds that had now begun to gather round them and that altogether hid the last third of their enormous height.
Then I saw a steamer on the lake. I felt in touch with men. The slope grew easier. I snapped my fingers at the great devils that haunt high mountains. I sniffed the gross and comfortable air of the lower valleys, I entered the belt of wood and was soon going quite a pace through the trees, for I had found a path, and was now able to sing. So I did.
At last I saw through the trunks, but a few hundred feet below me, the highroad that skirts the lake. I left the path and scrambled straight down to it. I came to a wall which I climbed, and found myself in somebody's garden. Crossing this and admiring its wealth and order (I was careful not to walk on the lawns), I opened a little private gate and came on to the road, and from there to Brienz was but a short way along a fine hard surface in a hot morning sun, with the gentle lake on my right hand not five yards away, and with delightful trees upon my left, caressing and sometimes even covering me with their shade.
I was therefore dry, ready and contented when I entered by mid morning the curious town of Brienz, which is all one long street, and of which the population is Protestant. I say dry, ready and contented; dry in my clothes, ready for food, contented with men and nature. But as I entered I squinted up that interminable slope, I saw the fog wreathing again along the ridge so infinitely above me, and I considered myself a fool to have crossed the Brienzer Grat without breakfast. But I could get no one in Brienz to agree with me, because no one thought I had done it, though several people there could talk French.
The Grimsel Pass is the valley of the Aar; it is also the eastern flank of that great massif, or bulk and mass of mountains called the Bernese Oberland. Western Switzerland, you must know, is not (as I first thought it was when I gazed down from the Weissenstein) a plain surrounded by a ring of mountains, but rather it is a plain in its northern half (the plain of the lower Aar), and in its southern half it is two enormous parallel lumps of mountains. I call them 'lumps', because they are so very broad and tortuous in their plan that they are hardly ranges. Now these two lumps are the Bernese Oberland and the Pennine Alps, and between them runs a deep trench called the valley of the Rhone. Take Mont Blanc in the west and a peak called the Crystal Peak over the Val Bavona on the east, and they are the flanking bastions of one great wall, the Pennine Alps. Take the Diablerets on the west, and the Wetterhorn on the east, and they are the flanking bastions of another great wall, the Bernese Oberland. And these two walls are parallel, with the Rhone in between.
Now these two walls converge at a point where there is a sort of knot of mountain ridges, and this point may be taken as being on the boundary between Eastern and Western Switzerland. At this wonderful point the Ticino, the Rhone, the Aar, and the Reuss all begin, and it is here that the simple arrangement of the Alps to the west turns into the confused jumble of the Alps to the east.
When you are high up on either wall you can catch the plan of all this, but to avoid a confused description and to help you to follow the marvellous, Hannibalian and never-before-attempted charge and march which I made, and which, alas! ended only in a glorious defeat—to help you to picture faintly to yourselves the mirific and horripilant adventure whereby I nearly achieved superhuman success in spite of all the powers of the air, I append a little map which is rough but clear and plain, and which I beg you to study closely, for it will make it easy for you to understand what next happened in my pilgrimage.
The dark strips are the deep cloven valleys, the shaded belt is that higher land which is yet passable by any ordinary man. The part left white you may take to be the very high fields of ice and snow with great peaks which an ordinary man must regard as impassable, unless, indeed, he can wait for his weather and take guides and go on as a tourist instead of a pilgrim.
You will observe that I have marked five clefts or valleys. A is that of the Aar, and the little white patch at the beginning is the lake of Brienz. B is that of the Reuss. C is that of the Rhone; and all these three are north of the great watershed or main chain, and all three are full of German-speaking people.
On the other hand, D is the valley of the Toccia, E of the Maggia, and F of the Ticino. All these three are south of the great watershed, and are inhabited by Italian-speaking people. All these three lead down at last to Lake Major, and so to Milan and so to Rome.
The straight line to Rome is marked on my map by a dotted line ending in an arrow, and you will see that it was just my luck that it should cross slap over that knot or tangle of ranges where all the rivers spring. The problem was how to negotiate a passage from the valley of the Aar to one of the three Italian valleys, without departing too far from my straight line. To explain my track I must give the names of all the high passes between the valleys. That between A and C is called the Grimsel; that between B and C the Furka. That between D and C is the Gries Pass, that between F and C the Nufenen, and that between E and F is not the easy thing it looks on the map; indeed it is hardly a pass at all but a scramble over very high peaks, and it is called the Crystalline Mountain. Finally, on the far right of my map, you see a high passage between B and F. This is the famous St Gothard.
The straightest way of all was (1) over the Grimsel, then, the moment I got into the valley of the Rhone (2), up out of it again over the Nufenen, then the moment I was down into the valley of the Ticino (F), up out of it again (3) over the Crystalline to the valley of the Maggia (E). Once in the Maggia valley (the top of it is called the Val Bavona), it is a straight path for the lakes and Rome. There were also these advantages: that I should be in a place very rarely visited—all the guide-books are doubtful on it; that I should be going quite straight; that I should be accomplishing a feat, viz. the crossing of those high passes one after the other (and you must remember that over the Nufenen there is no road at all).
But every one I asked told me that thus early in the year (it was not the middle of June) I could not hope to scramble over the Crystalline. No one (they said) could do it and live. It was all ice and snow and cold mist and verglas, and the precipices were smooth—a man would never get across; so it was not worth while crossing the Nufenen Pass if I was to be balked at the Crystal, and I determined on the Gries Pass. I said to myself: 'I will go on over the Grimsel, and once in the valley of the Rhone, I will walk a mile or two down to where the Gries Pass opens, and I will go over it into Italy.' For the Gries Pass, though not quite in the straight line, had this advantage, that once over it you are really in Italy. In the Ticino valley or in the Val Bavona, though the people are as Italian as Catullus, yet politically they count as part of Switzerland; and therefore if you enter Italy thereby, you are not suddenly introduced to that country, but, as it were, inoculated, and led on by degrees, which is a pity. For good things should come suddenly, like the demise of that wicked man, Mr (deleted by the censor), who had oppressed the poor for some forty years, when he was shot dead from behind a hedge, and died in about the time it takes to boil an egg, and there was an end of him.
Having made myself quite clear that I had a formed plan to go over the Grimsel by the new road, then up over the Gries, where there is no road at all, and so down into the vale of the Tosa, and having calculated that on the morrow I should be in Italy, I started out from Brienz after eating a great meal, it being then about midday, and I having already, as you know, crossed the Brienzer Grat since dawn.
The task of that afternoon was more than I could properly undertake, nor did I fulfil it. From Brienz to the top of the Grimsel is, as the crow flies, quite twenty miles, and by the road a good twenty-seven. It is true I had only come from over the high hills; perhaps six miles in a straight line. But what a six miles! and all without food. Not certain, therefore, how much of the pass I could really do that day, but aiming at crossing it, like a fool, I went on up the first miles.
For an hour or more after Brienz the road runs round the base of and then away from a fine great rock. There is here an alluvial plain like a continuation of the lake, and the Aar runs through it, canalized and banked and straight, and at last the road also becomes straight. On either side rise gigantic cliffs enclosing the valley, and (on the day I passed there) going up into the clouds, which, though high, yet made a roof for the valley. From the great mountains on the left the noble rock jutted out alone and dominated the little plain; on the right the buttresses of the main Alps all stood in a row, and between them went whorls of vapour high, high up—just above the places where snow still clung to the slopes. These whorls made the utmost steeps more and more misty, till at last they were lost in a kind of great darkness, in which the last and highest banks of ice seemed to be swallowed up. I often stopped to gaze straight above me, and I marvelled at the silence.
It was the first part of the afternoon when I got to a place called Meiringen, and I thought that there I would eat and drink a little more. So I steered into the main street, but there I found such a yelling and roaring as I had never heard before, and very damnable it was; as though men were determined to do common evil wherever God has given them a chance of living in awe and worship.
For they were all bawling and howling, with great placards and tickets, and saying, 'This way to the Extraordinary Waterfall; that way to the Strange Cave. Come with me and you shall see the never-to-be-forgotten Falls of the Aar,' and so forth. So that my illusion of being alone in the roots of the world dropped off me very quickly, and I wondered how people could be so helpless and foolish as to travel about in Switzerland as tourists and meet with all this vulgarity and beastliness.
If a man goes to drink good wine he does not say, 'So that the wine be good I do not mind eating strong pepper and smelling hartshorn as I drink it,' and if a man goes to read a good verse, for instance, Jean Richepin, he does not say, 'Go on playing on the trombone, go on banging the cymbals; so long as I am reading good verse I am content.' Yet men now go into the vast hills and sleep and live in their recesses, and pretend to be indifferent to all the touts and shouters and hurry and hotels and high prices and abominations. Thank God, it goes in grooves! I say it again, thank God, the railways are trenches that drain our modern marsh, for you have but to avoid railways, even by five miles, and you can get more peace than would fill a nosebag. All the world is my garden since they built railways, and gave me leave to keep off them.
Also I vowed a franc to the Black Virgin of La Delivrande (next time I should be passing there) because I was delivered from being a tourist, and because all this horrible noise was not being dinned at me (who was a poor and dirty pilgrim, and no kind of prey for these cabmen, and busmen, and guides and couriers), but at a crowd of drawn, sad, jaded tourists that had come in by a train.
Soon I had left them behind. The road climbed the first step upwards in the valley, going round a rock on the other side of which the Aar had cut itself a gorge and rushed in a fall and rapids. Then the road went on and on weary mile after weary mile, and I stuck to it, and it rose slowly all the time, and all the time the Aar went dashing by, roaring and filling the higher valley with echoes.
I got beyond the villages. The light shining suffused through the upper mist began to be the light of evening. Rain, very fine and slight, began to fall. It was cold. There met and passed me, going down the road, a carriage with a hood up, driving at full speed. It could not be from over the pass, for I knew that it was not yet open for carriages or carts. It was therefore from a hotel somewhere, and if there was a hotel I should find it. I looked back to ask the distance, but they were beyond earshot, and so I went on.
My boots in which I had sworn to walk to Rome were ruinous. Already since the Weissenstein they had gaped, and now the Brienzer Grat had made the sole of one of them quite free at the toe. It flapped as I walked. Very soon I should be walking on my uppers. I limped also, and I hated the wet cold rain. But I had to go on. Instead of flourishing my staff and singing, I leant on it painfully and thought of duty, and death, and dereliction, and every other horrible thing that begins with a D. I had to go on. If I had gone back there was nothing for miles.
Before it was dark—indeed one could still read—I saw a group of houses beyond the Aar, and soon after I saw that my road would pass them, going over a bridge. When I reached them I went into the first, saying to myself, 'I will eat, and if I can go no farther I will sleep here.'
There were in the house two women, one old, the other young; and they were French-speaking, from the Vaud country. They had faces like Scotch people, and were very kindly, but odd, being Calvinist. I said, 'Have you any beans?' They said, 'Yes.' I suggested they should make me a dish of beans and bacon, and give me a bottle of wine, while I dried myself at their great stove. All this they readily did for me, and I ate heartily and drank heavily, and they begged me afterwards to stop the night and pay them for it; but I was so set up by my food and wine that I excused myself and went out again and took the road. It was not yet dark.
By some reflection from the fields of snow, which were now quite near at hand through the mist, the daylight lingered astonishingly late. The cold grew bitter as I went on through the gloaming. There were no trees save rare and stunted pines. The Aar was a shallow brawling torrent, thick with melting ice and snow and mud. Coarse grass grew on the rocks sparsely; there were no flowers. The mist overhead was now quite near, and I still went on and steadily up through the half-light. It was as lonely as a calm at sea, except for the noise of the river. I had overworn myself, and that sustaining surface which hides from us in our health the abysses below the mind—I felt it growing weak and thin. My fatigue bewildered me. The occasional steeps beside the road, one especially beneath a high bridge where a tributary falls into the Aar in a cascade, terrified me. They were like the emptiness of dreams. At last it being now dark, and I having long since entered the upper mist, or rather cloud (for I was now as high as the clouds), I saw a light gleaming through the fog, just off the road, through pine-trees. It was time. I could not have gone much farther.
To this I turned and found there one of those new hotels, not very large, but very expensive. They knew me at once for what I was, and welcomed me with joy. They gave me hot rum and sugar, a fine warm bed, told me I was the first that had yet stopped there that year, and left me to sleep very deep and yet in pain, as men sleep who are stunned. But twice that night I woke suddenly, staring at darkness. I had outworn the physical network upon which the soul depends, and I was full of terrors.
Next morning I had fine coffee and bread and butter and the rest, like a rich man; in a gilded dining-room all set out for the rich, and served by a fellow that bowed and scraped. Also they made me pay a great deal, and kept their eyes off my boots, and were still courteous to me, and I to them. Then I bought wine of them—the first wine not of the country that I had drunk on this march, a Burgundy—and putting it in my haversack with a nice white roll, left them to wait for the next man whom the hills might send them.
The clouds, the mist, were denser than ever in that early morning; one could only see the immediate road. The cold was very great; my clothes were not quite dried, but my heart was high, and I pushed along well enough, though stiffly, till I came to what they call the Hospice, which was once a monk-house, I suppose, but is now an inn. I had brandy there, and on going out I found that it stood at the foot of a sharp ridge which was the true Grimsel Pass, the neck which joins the Bernese Oberland to the eastern group of high mountains. This ridge or neck was steep like a pitched roof—very high I found it, and all of black glassy rock, with here and there snow in sharp, even, sloping sheets just holding to it. I could see but little of it at a time on account of the mist.
Hitherto for all these miles the Aar had been my companion, and the road, though rising always, had risen evenly and not steeply. Now the Aar was left behind in the icy glen where it rises, and the road went in an artificial and carefully built set of zig-zags up the face of the cliff. There is a short cut, but I could not find it in the mist. It is the old mule-path. Here and there, however, it was possible to cut off long corners by scrambling over the steep black rock and smooth ice, and all the while the cold, soft mist wisped in and out around me. After a thousand feet of this I came to the top of the Grimsel, but not before I had passed a place where an avalanche had destroyed the road and where planks were laid. Also before one got to the very summit, no short cuts or climbing were possible. The road ran deep in a cutting like a Devonshire lane. Only here the high banks were solid snow.
Some little way past the summit, on the first zig-zag down, I passed the Lake of the Dead in its mournful hollow. The mist still enveloped all the ridge-side, and moved like a press of spirits over the frozen water, then—as suddenly as on the much lower Brienzer Grat, and (as on the Brienzer Grat) to the southward and the sun, the clouds lifted and wreathed up backward and were gone, and where there had just been fulness was only an immensity of empty air and a sudden sight of clear hills beyond and of little strange distant things thousands and thousands of feet below.
LECTOR. Pray are we to have any more of that fine writing?
AUCTOR. I saw there as in a cup things that I had thought (when I first studied the map at home) far too spacious and spread apart to go into the view. Yet here they were all quite contained and close together, on so vast a scale was the whole place conceived. It was the comb of mountains of which I have written; the meeting of all the valleys.
There, from the height of a steep bank, as it were (but a bank many thousands of feet high), one looked down into a whole district or little world. On the map, I say, it had seemed so great that I had thought one would command but this or that portion of it; as it was, one saw it all.
And this is a peculiar thing I have noticed in all mountains, and have never been able to understand—- namely, that if you draw a plan or section to scale, your mountain does not seem a very important thing. One should not, in theory, be able to dominate from its height, nor to feel the world small below one, nor to hold a whole countryside in one's hand—yet one does. The mountains from their heights reveal to us two truths. They suddenly make us feel our insignificance, and at the same time they free the immortal Mind, and let it feel its greatness, and they release it from the earth. But I say again, in theory, when one considers the exact relation of their height to the distances one views from them, they ought to claim no such effect, and that they can produce that effect is related to another thing—the way in which they exaggerate their own steepness.
For instance, those noble hills, my downs in Sussex, when you are upon them overlooking the weald, from Chanctonbury say, feel like this—or even lower. Indeed, it is impossible to give them truly, so insignificant are they; if the stretch of the Weald were made nearly a yard long, Chanctonbury would not, in proportion, be more than a fifth of an inch high! And yet, from the top of Chanctonbury, how one seems to overlook it and possess it all!
Well, so it was here from the Grimsel when I overlooked the springs of the Rhone. In true proportion the valley I gazed into and over must have been somewhat like this—
It felt for all the world as deep and utterly below me as this other—
Moreover, where there was no mist, the air was so surprisingly clear that I could see everything clean and sharp wherever I turned my eyes. The mountains forbade any very far horizons to the view, and all that I could see was as neat and vivid as those coloured photographs they sell with bright green grass and bright white snow, and blue glaciers like precious stones.
I scrambled down the mountain, for here, on the south side of the pass, there was no snow or ice, and it was quite easy to leave the road and take the old path cutting off the zig-zags. As the air got heavier, I became hungry, and at the very end of my descent, two hundred feet or so above the young Rhone, I saw a great hotel. I went round to their front door and asked them whether I could eat, and at what price. 'Four francs,' they said.
'What!' said I, 'four francs for a meal! Come, let me eat in the kitchen, and charge me one.' But they became rude and obstinate, being used only to deal with rich people, so I cursed them, and went down the road. But I was very hungry.
The road falls quite steeply, and the Rhone, which it accompanies in that valley, leaps in little falls. On a bridge I passed a sad Englishman reading a book, and a little lower down, two American women in a carriage, and after that a priest (it was lucky I did not see him first. Anyhow, I touched iron at once, to wit, a key in my pocket), and after that a child minding a goat. Altogether I felt myself in the world again, and as I was on a good road, all down hill, I thought myself capable of pushing on to the next village. But my hunger was really excessive, my right boot almost gone, and my left boot nothing to exhibit or boast of, when I came to a point where at last one looked down the Rhone valley for miles. It is like a straight trench, and at intervals there are little villages, built of most filthy chalets, the said chalets raised on great stones. There are pine-trees up, up on either slope, into the clouds, and beyond the clouds I could not see. I left on my left a village called 'Between the Waters'. I passed through another called 'Ehringen', but it has no inn. At last, two miles farther, faint from lack of food, I got into Ulrichen, a village a little larger than the rest, and the place where I believed one should start to go either over the Gries or Nufenen Pass. In Ulrichen was a warm, wooden, deep-eaved, frousty, comfortable, ramshackle, dark, anyhow kind of a little inn called 'The Bear'. And entering, I saw one of the women whom god loves.
She was of middle age, very honest and simple in the face, kindly and good. She was messing about with cooking and stuff, and she came up to me stooping a little, her eyes wide and innocent, and a great spoon in her hand. Her face was extremely broad and flat, and I have never seen eyes set so far apart. Her whole gait, manner, and accent proved her to be extremely good, and on the straight road to heaven. I saluted her in the French tongue. She answered me in the same, but very broken and rustic, for her natural speech was a kind of mountain German. She spoke very slowly, and had a nice soft voice, and she did what only good people do, I mean, looked you in the eyes as she spoke to you.
Beware of shifty-eyed people. It is not only nervousness, it is also a kind of wickedness. Such people come to no good. I have three of them now in my mind as I write. One is a Professor.
And, by the way, would you like to know why universities suffer from this curse of nervous disease? Why the great personages stammer or have St Vitus' dance, or jabber at the lips, or hop in their walk, or have their heads screwed round, or tremble in the fingers, or go through life with great goggles like a motor car? Eh? I will tell you. It is the punishment of their intellectual pride, than which no sin is more offensive to the angels.