“Chamouni” [essay]

Chamouni a

And this is our last excursion on Swiss ground thought I scanning
the provoking clouds that ever rolled massively among the regions of
eternal snow, though far above the blue mountains that encircle their
mighty monarch. 1 I have always a sort of kindred feeling for these
beautiful blue hills they ever look half English, and I love them for it.
They may not be so wonderful, so majestic, so mighty, or so beautiful
but they are more like home, sweet home, & it is pleasant very pleasant
to meet a friend in a foreign land. We are going to Chamouni. Cʼest
vrai, but it seems exceeding strange. Before we left home, I had
read of Chamouni, heard of Chamouni, & seen some few drawings
of Chamouni, but never so much as dreamed of going to Chamouni,
it seemed so uncome‐at‐able, and for the Mont Blanc, it seemed
in another world, in fairy‐land, and of course had a magic
halo
thrown
round it, an (aetherialness,) that can never be joined with reality
That halo comes again on looking back. And this is our last excursion
on Swiss ground thought I, the last, & the wildest, & the sweetest, because,
because, perhaps it was
is
the last. The day was exceedingly favourable
for the scenery of the lower mountains, not for the Alps, they were
reserved for other times. The noon verged gradually from burning
shineshine, b to thick thundery clouds, that rolled rapidly over the murky
heaven, as we entered a solitary mountain recess, a cliffy defile, leading
from the valley of Maglan, to that of Salenches. 2 Down they burst with
a fierce rattling turmoil & headlong flash flash flashing, and the
bridleless clouds careered along the crags at such a wild rate, that their
own speed broke them into scattered disorder
confusion
, that the blue sky shone calmly through their openings, and the labouring sun struggled
strangely, now gleaming waterily on the red ribbed skeleton crags, now
mingling with the quiver of
the
lightning, now again plunged into the
swift rack of the thunder clouds that seemed sweeping round the
mountain summits like lashed ocean waves round a labouring
vessel. The Arve swelled on the instant and his turbid waves
tore madly down, trees, stones, rocks, all tost along the channel, by
the arrowy force of that resistless river, ever mighty but now
fearful. As the sun verged towards the horizon, the clouds swept partially away, the hills, the cliffs, the mountains the rocks, and the
blue vaulted sky glowed with his last rays for a moment, he sunk
& the night came, his darkness made yet more visible by the thunder
gloom of the storm.
Voila les aiguilles quoth our char‐à‐banc driver. If any person
in the whole world is totally insensible to pain, knocks, aches, & bruises,
it must be a Swiss char‐à‐banc driver. The Swiss char‐à‐banc is
a vehicle expressly built for the purpose of passing over those roads,
which no other species of conveyance can pass over twelve yards
of without immediate demolition, c It is a sort of large side
saddle, capable of containing, if well packed three “pauvres
miserables”, with a back & roof to it, & a board to put the feet on,
with a leather to keep you in, all which are of a most ancient
& venerable description, this is fixed totally without springs or
any thing of the kind, as far as I could see, upon four wheels, et
voilà un char‐à‐banc. With this kind of vehicle upon roads, which
always resemble, & are often carried through the beds of tumbling
mountain torrents. d Any one may easily imagine the sort of
pleasurable penance to which he is subjected who submits to be
driven from Salenches up to Chamouni in a char‐à‐banc.
Voila les aiguilles quoth our char‐à‐banc driver. 3 How I started
I believe I was dreaming of home at the time, it is odd you
always think it would be very pleasant, to be where you are not
it canʼt be helped but it is very provoking, the charms of a
place always increase in geometrical ratio as you get farther
from it, & therefore ʼtis a rich pleasure to look back on any thing
though it has a dash of regret. It is singular that almost all
pleasure is past, or coming. Well I looked up, & lo! seven thousand
feet above me soared the needles of Mont Blanc, splintered, &
crashed, & shivered, the marks of the tempest for three score
centuries, yet they are here, shooting up, red, bare, scarcely even
lichened, entirely inaccessible, snowless, the very snow cannot cling
to the down plunging sheerness of these terrific flanks, that rise
pre‐eminently dizzying & beetling above the sea of wreathed snow
that rolled its long surging waves over the summits of the lower
& less precipitous mountains. Then came the stretching gloominess
of the pine forests jagging darkly upon the ridge of every crag
strangely contrasted with the cold blueness of the peaky glaciers
that filled the huge ravines between the hills descending like
the bursting billows of a chafed ocean‐tide from the desolate dominion
of the snow & curling forward till they lay on the green fields of
Chamouni, which stretched away one unbroken line of luxuriance
till bounded by the lonely desertness of the Col de Balme. 4
There is not another scene like Chamouni throughout all Switzerland.
In no other spot, that I have seen is the rich luxuriance
of the cultivated valley, the flashing splendour of the eternal
snow, the impending magnificence of the bare spiry crag &
the strange cold rigidity of the surgy glaciers, so dreadfully
& beautifully combined. There is silence unbroken, no thunder
of the Avalanche comes crashing from the recesses of the hills
there is no voice from the chasmy glacier, no murmur from the
thousand mountain streams, you are in solitude, a strange
unearthly solitude, but you feel as if the air were full of
Spirits. 5
 J.R.
 fragment from a Journal
 1833. e