Frances (Winckley) Shelley.

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summer months, and closes during the winter,
through the accumulation of frozen water above.
The Source is constantly changing its situation, and
the river its bed. As we were returning along the
direct road to Chamonix, the sun suddenly broke


through the clouds, and quickly dispersed the dense
vapours which had shrouded Mont Blanc. It was,
for me, a moment of ecstasy ; and the beauty of the
spectacle was enhanced by occasional cloud-drifts which
passed swiftly over the summit of the dome — for a
moment veiling, in order to increase, the splendour of
its reappearance. After our return to our auberge,
we enjoyed the finest sight in Nature : the setting sun
reflected upon the snows of this majestic mountain,
which added tints and richness to the verdure ol
this fertile valley. The moon then slowly rose, clear
and bright, with promise of fine weather for the
morrow. We went to out beds contented by the
prophecy of our guide, that our excursion to
Montanvert would be made in glorious weather.

July 31. — How disappointed we were at midnight,
to hear the rain pattering against our windows !
Alas ! this morning there is no hope whatever of a
fine day. We watched until noon every brightening
in the sullen, pitiless clouds, and, as there seemed to
be no prospect of better things, I persuaded Shelley to
allow me to go to Montanvert without him. As it was
not possible to spend another day at Chamonix, this
was my only chance ; so 1 resolved to brave the
elements alone with Pierre Balmat. Everybody said
that I should bitterly repent my rashness, except my
maid Angelique, who had made up her mind to share
my fortunes. We dressed ourselves in the hats and
coats of the peasants, and, mounting our mules, set
off under the care of two guides — Pierre Balmat and
Marie Couttet. Angelique rode a calif ourchon . From
the moment we set out until our return at seven o'clock,
the violent downpour did not cease, even for a moment.
And yet we neither of us regretted our expedition.
The mules did wonders. The trees gave us a shower-
bath at every step, and the ground was so slippery
that we could scarcely stand on our feet. But when,
on reaching Montanvert, I beheld the Mer de Glace in

244 THE MER DE GLACE [ch. xiv

all the fine desolation — a picture which the elements
intensified — all my discomforts were forgotten. I felt
the presence of God, and realised that state of chaos
from which this lovely world has been formed. I walked
on that frozen sea, and gazed on chasms tinged with
a deep blue, into whose depths no eye can penetrate.
Through a snowstorm I beheld indistinctly the savage
barrenness of the rocks on the further shore, while
loud peals of thunder reverberated from side to side.
And then, in the far distance, I heard that awful
sound — once heard never forgotten — caused by falling
avalanches, and rolling stones which bounded, from
rock to rock, into the valley below. It was a sublime
experience. The Mer de Glace, which from above
appeared to undulate but gently, we found, on reaching
it, to be broken into pointed ice crags of every fantastic
shape. This wonderful glacier imperceptibly moves
immense granite blocks, year by year, pushing them
towards the valley with irresistible force, little heeding
the wooden crosses which superstitious peasants and
priests, with much pomp, place there to arrest its pro-
gress ! I never before felt so near Eternity as I did at
that moment. And yet, while bending over those awful
crevasses, I felt no fear, and quitted this savage scene
with a regret which, had I visited it in finer weather
and with a gay party, I should not have experienced.

When I entered the pavilion, I was very glad to
crouch over a fire which the shepherd had made, and
drank, with real pleasure, some hot milk and brandy.
Thus refreshed, we began to descend, and found the
road excessively slippery and tiring. I leant on the
shoulder of Balmat, who, in spite of his pointed
stick, made frequent stumbles, and thus we went
laughing along, sliding more often than walking.
While crossing a ravine, our mirth was checked by
seeing some large boulders rolling down the hill
towards us. We ran back a few paces, and escaped
them. We then quietly crossed the ravine, and waited


in the woods for my maid, who was some distance
behind. When she came up to us, we warned her of
the falling stones ; she said that she had heard them,
and regretted not having seen them fall. The words
were scarcely out of her mouth when suddenly an
immense block of granite came bounding past her.
She covered her eyes. Angelique had no wish to see
any more stones ; and we hastened our pace down the
zig-zag paths. In rainy weather these falling boulders
appear to be of frequent occurrence. At six o'clock
we reached our auberge, wet to the skin. For six
hours we had been regaled by the praises of our
guides, who seemed delighted with our gaiety and
enthusiasm. I never enjoyed anything more, and was
indeed thankful that I had not been deterred by the
awful weather.

August 1. — In spite of the persistent rain, we made
up our minds to make a start for the Tete Noire,
which the guides told us is more picturesque than the
Col de Balme. As the latter was completely enveloped
in clouds, and the rain on the snow had made the
track impracticable for our mules, we took the advice
of our guides. We passed the glacier and village of
Argentiere, turned to the left, and followed the steep
ascent to the edge of a rapid torrent. As we passed
some chalets, the inhabitants flocked to their doors
to have a good look at us. We then entered upon a
wild and barren district, watered in every direction by
mountain streams. Avalanches had effaced the traces
of the path that had once existed. We saw the danger-
ous Buet, which has been so fatal to mountain climbers.
Last year a young man was making an ascent with
an inexperienced guide, and was precipitated into a
crevasse. His guide, after giving the alarm, took to
flight, and has not since been heard of.

Some hours later Pierre Balmat and others extricated
the lifeless body of this young man from its bed of
snow. I cannot bear to think of his sufferings during

246 LIKE A SCENE IN A PLAY [ch. xiv

the long hours before death released him — there were
all the appearances of a long unavailing fight for life
in the body when found.

We passed the hameau of Valorsine, whose church
has been more than once swept away by avalanches,
and which is now surrounded by a wall of masonry nine
feet thick. The country hereabouts is of a beautiful
verdure, and the pine forests magnificent. We began
to descend steps cut out of the rock, our mules jumping
first with their front feet, and then with their hinder
ones. Both Angelique and I rode our mules astride.
We were smothered in plaids and great-coats, and
must have cut strange figures. Angelique's straw hat
had got so out of shape from the rain, that it now had
four angles from which the water poured copiously.
Her white, terrified face made such a contrast to her
droll habiliments and stiff attitude, that I nearly fell
from my mule in a paroxysm of laughter. Her invari-
able good humour, under very trying circumstances,
has been quite delightful. On a woman's saddle, it
would have been impossible to sit the mules. We
crossed a torrent over a real Alpine bridge — two trees
laid across the foaming waters — without any rail to
give confidence, and entered the dark forest of the
Tete Noire. The road was scarcely passable, even on
foot, with ascending and descending steps round huge
boulders, in the centre of the track, round which the
mules twisted themselves, taking care to keep as near
as possible to the edge of the precipice ! Experience
has taught these sagacious animals, while carrying
their burthens, to give the rocks as wide a berth as

While halting at a fountain to drink, we met a party
of gentlemen from Martigny, winding down the zig-zag
track above our heads, like a scene in a play. The
effect was picturesque. We came across a fine granite
rock with a natural cave capable of holding at least
thirty people. My imagination suggested banditti, to


which the savage Salvator-like scene around us lent
some probability.

I have, at last, beheld that really wild Alpine scenery
of which 1 had heard so much. The keen enjoyment I
felt when on the brink of these precipices is not easily
described. A dark forest rose majestically above me.
A roaring torrent shouted at my feet. The opposite
rocks were thickly clothed with pines. Some had
been blasted by the winter storms, others lay prostrate
in the torrent, whose remorseless waves passed swiftly
over them. Far away stood the snow-capped moun-
tains, whose summits kissed the azure sky, while fleecy
clouds, descending half-way down, seemed to draw the
earth to heaven. After leaving the forest we entered a
fertile valley, in which a few chalets and a church
represent the village of Trient. Here are the rocks of
pudding-stone described by De Saussure, In one of
these chalets we partook of an excellent repast, con-
sisting of boiled milk, eggs, cheese, and the best honey
in the world. The honey was quite hard, and cut like
cheese. They told us it was three years old and had
been kept in earthen pipkins underground. I am sure
that Tweedale is right in recommending a milk diet
during excursions to the mountains. I never felt less
tired than during this thirty-mile ride over detestable
roads. After our dinner we ascended the Forclas,
which rises abruptly above the village, and joined the
road which leads to the Col de Balme. The ascent is
very rapid. The hill is covered with laburnums in full
bloom. During the earlier part of the day we gathered
many rhododendrons, and sweet Alpine roses without
thorns. The air was perfumed by the breath of every
variety of Alpine flower. Often, even in the wildest
scenery, one sees green patches rising high upon the
mountain sides, while the tinkling of deep-mouthed
bells marks the site of chalets, some perched above
the clouds, the summer residence of this hardy, indus-
trious race. On the top of the Forclas there are the


finest larch trees that I ever saw ; their girth is
immense. Below us lay the Canton Valais. The
setting sun illumined the distant town of Sion, which
lies on the Simplon route. We followed the winding
route that leads to Martigny, at the foot of a mountain
covered with fine Spanish chestnuts and walnut trees.
We saw the road that leads to the Grand St. Bernard,
with its old castle and picturesque houses, which
formed a striking contrast to the wild scenery we had
passed. It seemed as though we had passed, in one
short day, from a northern winter to a southern summer.
The trees on each side of us were bowed under the
weight of cherries and walnuts. Vines clothed the
sides of the hills. In the midst of this luxuriance,
where Nature smiled so brightly, man alone was
defective. The villages are dirty and disgusting,
and their inhabitants are mostly goiterous and
idiotic. There is a dunghill before every door.
Goats move about the kitchen, and the children have
large heads, and a vacant expression on their sallow
faces. The dirt and ugliness of the Valaisians are
notorious, and I am bound to say that we did not meet
with a single exception. I had a long talk with Pierre
Balmat on the subject of goitre. He told me of a
wonderful cure which had been performed by a native
of Argentine upon himself. He was personally ac-
quainted with the man before, and has seen him often
since. He will swear to the truth of his statement.
When this man was about seven-and-twenty, he was
laughed at, and tormented by his companions about
his goitre, which was immense. One night, at a
cabaret, where he had been more tormented than
usual, he left his companions and shut himself up in a
room. While seated before a looking-glass he took a
common clasp knife, removed the outer skin, took out
the goitre, and replaced the skin where it had been.
He then spread some ointment over the wound, and
bound it up. In a short time the skin grew together


again, and he has never since had the least appearance
of a goitre. The goitre resembled a lump of solid
flesh. 1

Balmat's character, and veracity, which no one here
doubts, induce me to believe the story. Both Balmat
and our other guide, Marie Couttet, are of opinion
that goitre — that awful scourge in Switzerland — is a
humour in the blood induced by drinking snow-water
and encouraged by the close confinement in the
valleys. But the locality of the disorder — in identical
situations — does not account for the origin of this
terrible malady. Balmat maintains that no child was
ever born with goitre in its system. Somehow, it is
quickly engendered, and often appears before the child
is four years of age.

We reached Martigny through a dirty suburb,
larger than the town itself, and put up at Le Cygne,
a good auberge kept by a very pretty woman. She
complains bitterly of the weather, which is destroying
all the crops. She says that after having been nearly
ruined by the war, they are now threatened by famine.
She also complained of the conduct of the Austrian
troops, who plundered the inhabitants most cruelly.
She attributes this to the hatred of the Genevois, who
told the Austrians that the people of the Valais
sympathised with the French.

Martigny, August 2. — We left the bad weather in
the mountains. The sun arose in all its glory and
bathed the Valais in its golden light. I bade farewell,

1 The most generally accepted view among physicians now, is that the
malady is due to drinking water impregnated with the salts oflime and magnesia,
in which ingredients the water of goitrous districts appears always to abound.
But this theory alone is inadequate, because in localities not far removed from
those in which goitre prevails (and where the water is of the same chemical
composition) the disease may be entirely unknown. It is safe to regard goitre
as the result of a combination of causes, among which local malarial influences
concur with those of the drinking water in developing the disease. It is not
considered desirable to attempt to remove goitre by surgical means. The best
system is absorption, by application of an ointment of biniodide of mercury,
assisted by a long exposure to the rays of the sun.

25o THE ROAD TO BEX [ch. xiv

with real regret, to our old guide Balmat, and to
Marie Couttet. 1

I entered our comfortable carriage with delight, and
passed along a beautiful valley watered by the rapid
Trient of the Tete Noire. The Rhone at this part is
not of that deep blue so beautiful a feature at Geneva.
Here the Rhone wears the tint of all snow torrents,
to be later purified by its repose in the clear waters of
Lac Leman. We approached the Pisse-Vache, which
looks insignificant from this side, and made us regret
the noble torrents which we passed yesterday. But
as we came nearer, its size, and volume of water,
compelled us to admit that it deserved its renown as
the most lovely cascade in all Switzerland. A ruined
cottage near the fall marks the spot from whence its
inhabitants were driven by an immense moraine, or
fall of stones. These unfortunate people, who lost all
their worldly possessions, happily escaped with their
lives before the cottage was destroyed. An intelligent
little girl showed me the spot, now covered with a
fine block of granite, where a French soldier, from the
same cause, met the death which he had escaped on
the plains of Marengo. When the poor fellow was
found, he was holding a book. He had evidently been
reading. His head was crushed to pieces, and his
staff and wallet lay at his side. The rocks, which rise
to a great height on each side of this fertile valley,
contract in the neighbourhood of St. Maurice.
That town is not unlike Cluses, and closes the
entrance to the valley, which is watered by the Rhone.
They are widening the cornice by the banks of that
river, over which a fine bridge with a single arch leads
into the Pays de Vaud. The road to Bex is shaded
by fine walnut trees, and on each side the land is
richly cultivated. On our arrival at Bex we dined at
the table d'hote. We had not time to visit the salt

1 Marie Couttet, one of De Saussure's guides in 1787, was fifty-five years
old at this time, 181 6.


works, which are chiefly remarkable for the sub-
terranean passages cut out of the solid rock. The
fact that the great Haller resided at Roche has made
this classic ground. After dinner we passed Aigle,
and stopped at the marble quarries. Water saws are
much used for cutting both stone and timber. At
Villeneuve we reached the lake, and our drive along
its bank was delightful. Alas ! the inundations have
had grievous results. All the gardens bordering on
the lake are completely under water. We saw women
hard at work trying to rescue their vegetables, while
the men were bringing the hay home in boats. The
Castle of Chillon is a fine subject for the pencil ; and
the whole of Rousseau's classic ground from here to
Vevey is well worthy of his eloquent description.
Vevey is lovely. We walked on the marge of the
lake by moonlight. The scene was worthy of the
brush of Vernet and reminded me of my favourite
landscape by that great master, now at the Louvre.
The violent storm which burst upon Vevey on
July 31, has torn up by the roots seven huge poplars
on the public walk.

August 3. — The red sky of last evening has proved
treacherous. It promised a fine morrow. When
we arose it was pouring in torrents, and continued
thus nearly the whole day. This was the more
to be regretted, as we passed through most lovely
scenery. We ascended for about six miles above
Vevey, being drawn by six horses. The moun-
tains leading to the Gruyere country formed a
fine background to the wooded banks of the Veveyse
and the rich pasture on either side of it. At Chatel
St. Denis we entered a dairy country, like Cheshire,
extending for many miles. Here the cheese is made.
We dined at Bulle, which a few years ago had been
entirely destroyed by fire. It is now in part rebuilt,
but owing to the costly plan laid down by Govern-
ment, most of the peasants have forsaken their old

252 FRIBOURG [ch. xiv

haunts in the town, and have built their dwellings on
their own land in the neighbourhood. For that
reason the population of Bulle is much diminished.
Our landlord, at the inn, gave me some information
respecting the management of the farms. The higher
ground is let out for the summer. This year some of
the best pastures have been entirely covered by snow.
The merchants who buy the cheeses often keep them
for twenty years, by washing them with wine. They
consider them better for age. The milk of these
cheeses is entirely from the cow, and is turned with
rennet. The peculiarity is in the way the curd is
worked, and in the pasture land. We tasted three
different kinds of cheese. That from the higher
ground is the most valuable.

We slept at Fribourg, a most singular town, built
on so steep a hill that, in some of the streets, our
carriage passed over the roofs of the houses, and
through the smoke which issued from the chimneys
at the side of the street. They showed us with pride
a lime tree which had been planted by a soldier on
his return from the Battle of Morat in 1476. It is
still flourishing. Nothing is talked of here but the
approaching Musical Festival, which is to be held
in a few days. The performers are all amateurs from
different towns in Switzerland. They assemble
annually in a different canton. Three hundred
young ladies are to sing in the cathedral, and to
execute — I believe in the malicious acceptation of the
word — Haydn's " Creation." The Queen and the
Prince Royal of Sweden have taken a large house
for the occasion.

This being Sunday, we saw all the varieties of
national costume, which is a marked feature of this
place. The French and the German parts of Fribourg
are dressed differently. The weather is glorious. As
we were leaving we passed through the whole town,
and saw all the beautiful windings of the Sarine.


We were obliged to get an especial permit to have
the town gates opened, as they are always closed
during the hours of divine service. As we drove
along through a rich, enclosed country, varied by
hill and dale, one might have imagined oneself in
England. But, on meeting groups of peasants, dressed
as one sees them at the opera, all ideas of England
vanished. They were coming from Mass. The
young men, as well as the women, wore nosegays.
Our road led us to a small river, which separates the
cantons of Fribourg and Berne. Here we were sur-
prised by the sudden change both of language and
of dress. They declare that on one side of the bridge
German is not understood, and on the other side
not one word of French. So true is this that not
even the men who examined our passports, nor the
people at the cottages where I stopped to sketch,
close to the bridge, could understand what we said !
The religion also changes. We always knew when
we were in a Protestant canton by the superiority
of the roads, and by the land being better farmed,
and the cottages neater. This applies especially to
the Canton of Berne, which is, I believe, the richest
and the happiest spot in the whole world. There
are no taxes; and the government is universally
praised as equitable, mild, and enlightened. The
people of the Vaud, who are oppressed by taxes
which increase from day to day, already regret their
liberty. I have no doubt there will soon be a re-
volt, which will once more unite their canton to that
of Berne.

The black lace caps, which stick out from the
peasants' heads like the wings of a butterfly, are the
habiliments of winter — summer, indeed, there has
been none ! At Berne some of the women wore a
coquettish little flat hat, with a bouquet of flowers
attached, which is so much more becoming. The
peasants go to great expense in their dress. It is

254 A BEAUTIFUL WALK [ch. xiv

not at all unusual for a complete suit to cost thirty
louis. The women of a district near Berne ! wear
petticoats above their knees, and are so proud of
their legs, that if they have not good ones by nature
(which is unusual), they wear false calves. So much,
then, for Swiss simplicity !

I cannot describe the beauty and riante aspect of
the town of Berne. We longed to make some stay
there. After dining at the table d'hote, where six
English people dined in silence, which we could not
break, while two Germans gobbled their food, and
jabbered their uncouth dialect, which they seemed
to hurl at each other, we sallied forth to see the
town. Having visited Chamonix, we found the
Cabinet of Natural History very interesting. It was
founded by the great Haller. 2 In a ditch close to
the gates of the town they keep bears and stags.
A crowd of peasants collected at this spot, and gave
us quite as much amusement as the animals caused
them. There are stone arcades on each side of the
broad streets, under which are the shops. In front
of every shop is a bench, on which, in the heat, or
during the wet weather, the bourgeoises can sit in
the air and display their finery. A great many
fountains, and a stream of water down the middle
of the street, prevent the smell which, in foreign
towns, is generally so unpleasant.

I never saw anything so beautiful as the walk we
now entered. Before us lay this ancient town, backed
by the Jungfrau and her attendant Alps. To the
right rolled the clear Aar, whose verdant, wooded
banks rise from the edge of the water to the winding

1 Guggisberg.

1 Albrecht von Haller (170S— 1777), Swiss anatomist and physiologist. His
best energies were devoted to botanical and anatomical researches, which gave
him a European reputation.


avenue of magnificent limes, which form an impene-
trable shade. When we reached the top of the hill,
on a square, shaded plateau, we saw numbers of
people of all ranks drinking tea, coffee, or cream.
They were merry as they sat under the trees, and
above the hum of voices one heard the tinkling bells
of the kine that were feeding on the sloping banks
to the river's side, We remained on this lovely spot
long after every one else had departed, and returned

Online LibraryFrances (Winckley) ShelleyThe diary of Frances lady Shelley (Volume 1) → online text (page 20 of 33)