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OXFORD MOUNTAINEERING ESSAYS ***




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[Transcriber’s Note:

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OXFORD
MOUNTAINEERING ESSAYS


TO
G. WINTHROP YOUNG




OXFORD
MOUNTAINEERING
ESSAYS

EDITED BY
ARNOLD H. M. LUNN

LONDON
EDWARD ARNOLD
1912

[_All rights reserved_]




PREFACE


Oxford, they tell us, is the home of movements; Cambridge the home of
men. Certainly the miniature movement that took shape in this little
book was inspired by a Cambridge man. It was at an Oxford tea-party,
where the talk had been unashamedly of mountains and their metaphysic,
that Mr. G. Winthrop Young gave the first impulse to the scheme that
ultimately produced this collection of essays. To Mr. Young the editor
and contributors have been indebted for constant help and advice. He
has heartened the despondent, and has inked cold daylight into more
than one ‘sunset’ passage.

At Oxford there are a number of Alpine clubs. The oldest and most
sedate meets once a year in New College Hall. A less dignified
association meets at irregular intervals _on_ New College Hall and
other hospitable roofs. Lastly, there is a genial little society
which owed its beginnings to some twenty undergraduates who agreed
they could spare an occasional arduous evening to the revival of
their Alpine memories. One confiding member bought a lantern, and has
since endeavoured - with indifferent success - to recoup himself out of
spasmodic subscriptions. We shall none of us forget the first meeting.
In our innocence we had hoped that a scientist might know something
of electricity, and Mr. Bourdillon was in consequence entrusted with
the lantern. After much hissing on the part of the machine, and of the
audience, a faint glow appeared on the sheet, and enveloped in a halo
of restless hues we dimly discerned the dome of Mont Blanc. A pathetic
voice from behind the lantern sadly inquired whether we would ‘prefer
Mont Blanc green and spluttering or yellow and steady.’ The chairman
then proceeded to read a paper illustrated or rather misrepresented
by lantern slides, and at the conclusion proposed a very hearty vote
of thanks to himself for his interesting and entertaining lecture.
The House then divided, and the motion was lost by an overwhelming
majority. The minutes also record that a member moved to inhibit the
secretary of the Church Union from issuing a printed prayer for ‘faith
to remove mountains.’ This motion was lost, as Mr. Tyndale ably pointed
out the value of a publication that might facilitate the transfer of
some superfluous mountains from the Alps to the monotonous surroundings
of Oxford.

The members of this learned society furnished the majority of our
contributors. ‘Conscious as we are of one another’s deficiencies,’
we view with misgiving the publication of these essays. We have no
virgin ascents, no climbs of desperate difficulty, to record. Our
justification must rest on other grounds.

In a paper memorable for the circumstances of its delivery, and the
dramatic irony of its concluding words, Donald Robertson pleaded for a
simpler treatment of our mountain worship, and claimed that there was
‘still room for a man to tell freely and without false shame the simple
story of a day among the mountains.’ And this is what some of us have
attempted.

And further, although there scarce remains a great Alpine ridge
untrodden by man, though the magic words - ‘No information’ - are rapidly
vanishing from the pages of the _Climber’s Guides_, yet as subjects for
literary, artistic, and philosophic inquiry, the mountains are far from
exhausted. The basic emotions of the hills, at once bold and subtle,
remain an almost untouched field, and many a curious by-path in the
psychology of mountaineering has yet to be explored.

Those of us who have ventured to approach our theme in such subjective
fashion, who have tried to give something more than a plain record of
a climb, who may even have attempted to interpret the secrets of the
hills, have probably only courted failure and earned ridicule. But at
least we have started on a stirring venture, and we shall consider it
successful if only a word here or there serves to recall some forgotten
picture, some early romantic impression, to any reader for whom
mountains, nature, or wandering have perhaps lost their first halo of
romance.

It may be said that greater and more modest mountaineers have waited
the experience of years before embodying their reflections in the
written word. This reproof leaves us unmoved, for we are only concerned
with the message the hills hold for Youth, a message which Youth
therefore may be pardoned for attempting to explain. Each age hears
different accents in the mountain voices. To the old mountaineer the
riven lines of cliff may speak of failing strength or inevitable decay.
For the child the white far gates may hide an unknown kingdom of magic.
But active Youth need fear no comparison of strength, need draw no
moral from decay. For him the gates that childhood could not pass have
opened, and disclosed a wonderland ‘more real than childhood’s fairy
trove,’ a country of difficult romance, and of perpetual challenge to
the undying instincts of knight errantry and young adventure.

A. H. M. L.

_February 1912._




CONTENTS


PAGE

I. AN ARTIST OF MOUNTAINS - C. J. HOLMES, 3
BY MICHAEL T. H. SADLER (Balliol).

II. OF THE BEHAVIOUR OF A CHAMOIS:
AND INCIDENTALLY OF SOME
OTHER MATTERS, 37
BY JULIAN S. HUXLEY (Balliol).

III. THE MOUNTAINS IN GREEK POETRY, 59
BY NORMAN EGERTON YOUNG (Corpus Christi College).

IV. A JOURNEY, 93
BY HUGH KINGSMILL LUNN (New College).

V. THE MOUNTAINEER AND THE PILGRIM, 109
BY H. E. G. TYNDALE (New College).

VI. PASSES, 137
BY N. T. HUXLEY (Balliol).

VII. BRITISH HILLS, 157
BY H. R. POPE (New College).

VIII. ROOF-CLIMBING AT OXFORD, 177

IX. THE MOUNTAINS OF YOUTH, 197
BY ARNOLD H. M. LUNN (Balliol).




AN ARTIST OF MOUNTAINS

BY

MICHAEL T. H. SADLER
(Balliol)




I. AN ARTIST OF MOUNTAINS - C. J. HOLMES


Mountains, more than any other of the features of nature, are
fundamental, synthetic. They present, untrammelled and without
elaboration, the great basic principles on which they are built;
their structure has absolute unity, their monumental architecture is
simple. Their moods are the moods of primitive humanity, their spirit,
like their form, is unmodified, above and below civilisation. Every
climber must, at one time or another, have shuddered before the hatred
of an Alpine peak, the hatred of all that is primeval in nature for
all that is artificially progressive in man. I remember one evening
sitting above the Col de Vosa and watching the glow of the sunset on
Mont Blanc. The entire range of peaks from the Dôme du Goûter to the
Aiguille Verte blazed with colour down to a point a little above where
the ragged fringe of the moraines slide into the grassy upland. There
a hard line of shadow reflected the contour of the hill on which I
sat. As the sun sank, this line of shadow crept up the mountain-side
with almost visible speed, till only the topmost pinnacles kept their
colour, like a row of beacon-lights flaming above the darkened valley.
Gradually they in their turn paled and died.

But it is now, when most onlookers turn away, that the mountains begin
to live. When the fire has left the snow, when the rock ridges leap out
cold and black, when the fissures of the ice cliffs yawn pitilessly
once again, the real character of the place is shown. The mountains
are cruel and angry. Traffic with them is not friendship, but war. All
the mountaineer’s thrill of conquest is the thrill of victory over
an enemy, an enemy who hates as men hate, as the ancient hates the
upstart or the lonely giant, the puny multitude, but whose resources
are endless and whose ally is the storm.

Snow mountains are seldom friendly. Sometimes they seem to smile, but
their welcome, for all its glitter, is treacherous and cruel. With
lower hills the case is rather different. The rock precipices and
windy fells of Cumberland, the spaces of the Yorkshire moors, have an
individuality as complete as Mont Blanc, but less overwhelming. Their
anger is sullen, their moods more passive. At times they are almost
gracious, but the difference is one of degree only. The quality of
their emotion sees no variant in glacier and heather.

It would seem that any normal sensibility could in some measure
appreciate these mountain moods, and, where the observer is an artist,
reproduce them in line and colour.... And yet it is only in our own day
that a painter has appeared with a proper understanding of their true
existence. In art the coming of landscape was slow, but the mountain,
as a mountain, has come more slowly still. Why this neglect? Why,
until long after the landscape picture had become a commonplace, was
the mountain not disentangled from the myriad aspects of nature and
made the object of artistic interpretation?

Several reasons may be suggested. In the first place, for true
appreciation more than a mere acquaintance is necessary. Mountains are
reserved. They extend no real welcome even when they do not actively
resent familiarity. Only patient perseverance can gauge their real
significance. The men of old hated them. Perhaps as they watched from
afar the towering army of the Alps, there came to them on the breeze
some breath of mountain anger, and they trembled, hardly knowing
why. To them the hills were just so many hideous obstacles to war or
commerce. To make a way through them was a task to be dreaded. It needs
a rare vision to see beauty beyond danger, to recognise the sublime in
the menace of death.

But, apart from this, it is doubtful whether the mediæval mind could
have grasped the essentials of mountain scenery had it striven to do
so - and this is the second reason for delay. The synthetic vision,
the subordination of part to a whole, is not really primitive. The
savage sees individual objects in strong unhampered outline, but he
cannot relate them. His decorative sense lacks cohesion. This very
lack is the weakness of Egyptian wall-painting, where harmony of line
and movement reaches a point seldom achieved since those early days,
but where the feeling of a procession is rarely lost owing to the
failure to relate the figures and objects to each other. It needs a
new hypercivilised primitivism - to use what appears a contradiction in
terms - extraordinarily subtle, backed by a store of imagination and
detailed knowledge, which can by its very wisdom select and discard,
keeping the chain of essentials, disregarding the rest. And no one has
greater need of this than the mountain artist. It is equally useless
for him to reproduce, however skilfully, every glacier, every gully on
the mountain-side, and to daub vague, unrelated lumps of paint one
beside another. The important artistic fact in a mountain scene is
the intricate rhythm of line and slope, the true relation of curve to
curve, and this is obscured and lost in photographic realism, as it
is never realised in the scribblings of a child. The mountain artist
must grasp every detail, but distinguish what he requires and discard
all else. That is why in the early days of landscape-painting the
excitement of new beauties inevitably caused overcrowded pictures.
There was no attempt at selection, because the selective point of view
had, as yet, no appeal. The last thirty years have brought it to the
front.

The third reason for the tardy recognition of mountains is expressed
by the man with whom this discussion is really concerned, by Professor
C. J. Holmes in his monograph on Constable.[1] ‘Mountains have
returned with the desire for design.’ The most significant feature of
recent painting is the renaissance of decoration. The easel picture
as Corot knew it has been eclipsed by the art of the fresco. Design
has replaced light as the central study, just as light replaced the
twilit realism of the first ‘plein-airists.’ The primitive Italians
knew no landscape-painting in our modern sense. The value of mountains
in design could not, therefore, appeal to them; and so it is left to
the present day to employ for the first time the mountains with their
rhythm and their feeling.

But such generalisation, unsuggested by fact, can have little weight,
and confirmation of these statements must be found in an outlined
indication of the growth of the landscape tradition, and, springing
from it, the treatment of mountains.’

* * * * *

When European art began to elaborate the religious conceptions
with which it was in early times mainly concerned, landscapes were
introduced as part of the Bible stories. But they were purely
subordinate. Duccio and Giotto use conventionalised trees and strange
bare rocks which, while evidence of wonderful vision, show no sense
of the value of landscape for itself. The delicate distances of the
Flemish primitives, the backgrounds of Benozzo Gozzoli’s frescoes, the
settings of Cinquecento Madonnas, are merely so much design to fill a
space, so many accessories to the figures in the foreground. One would
like to except Patinir’s ‘Flight into Egypt,’[2] where the thicket
behind the Virgin has more than a merely decorative significance,
and shows a loving study of trees and rocks, were not the vistas to
left and right pure design. There are also rare landscape studies of
Dürer - one particularly, an unfinished study of hills in the Ashmolean
Museum at Oxford - which are strikingly ahead of their time in their
sole preoccupation with nature as distinct from humanity.

But it is really with Dutch and Flemish seventeenth-century art that
landscape for landscape’s sake makes its appearance, with Rubens,
Rembrandt, Koninck, van Goyen. However, to them mountains are as
accessory as was nature generally for their predecessors. To give
composition, to round off a landscape, to frame a vista, Rubens and the
great Dutchmen used hills and crags. There are probably many exceptions
to this generalisation. To mention one only, there is a picture by the
Flemish Millet (1642-1679) at Munich in which a mountain occupies the
centre of the canvas. This mountain, though tree-covered, forms the
main element in the painting, and despite the presence of allegorical
figures in the foreground, is proof of a curiously modern interest in
hill-formation. In the main, however, the contention is true that the
mountain in art does not appear in the seventeenth century.

The landscape tradition passed to Claude, and then forked. One branch,
the English, produced Wilson, Crome, Constable, Turner, and the
water-colourists. To the other belongs Poussin, and through him the
Barbizon school in France. (It should here be noticed, at the risk of
anticipating, that this last-named group derived from Bonington a large
share of Constable’s influence, and owe perhaps the greater part of
their inspiration to English sources.)

Traces now begin to appear of a love of mountains for themselves.
Crome’s ‘Slate Quarries,’ some of Wilson’s Welsh pictures, many of
Turner’s sketches, show rocks and hills painted for their own grandeur
and beauty. Similarly, in much of Corot’s early work - before 1830 - bare
mountain-sides and wastes of rock stand unadorned by trees or other
counter-interests.

Of Constable we are told that ‘the grandeur of hills weighed on him. He
wanted meadows,’[3] but Plate III. in the book from which this
quotation is taken shows that he possessed a very real understanding of
mountains.

The recognition proved only momentary, and was soon lost in
conventional trickery. In England the water-colourists began once more
to use mountains merely to break the level of a landscape, to give
a pleasing variety. The idea of depicting them solely for themselves
becomes actually abhorrent. An extract from William Gilpin’s _Essays on
Landscape-painting_ will show the attitude which became general to the
early English school: -

‘In landscape-painting smooth objects would produce no composition
at all. In a mountain scene what composition could arise from one
smooth knoll coming forward on one side, intersected by a smooth
knoll on the other, with a smooth plain perhaps in the middle and a
smooth mountain in the distance? The very idea is disgusting.’[4]

To prove the awful result he reproduces a drawing in his book done on
these very lines, a drawing so superior to all the other illustrations
in the volume as to show how utterly tastes have changed and advanced
since his time.

Again: -

‘The beauty of a distant mountain depends on the line it traces
along the sky.... Such forms as suggest the idea of lumpish
heaviness are disgusting - round, swelling forms without any break to
disencumber them of their weight.

‘Mountains in composition are considered as single objects and
follow the same rules; - if they join heavily together in lumpish
shapes, if they fall into each other at right angles, or if their
lines run parallel - in all these cases the combination will be more
or less disgusting.’[5]

Barbizon painting underwent a change somewhat similar to that just
described in England. Corot altered his manner and evolved the graceful
greenery and scenes of trees and water for which he is admired to-day.
It is perhaps to be regretted that he exchanged his strong renderings
of mountain and rock for twilight fantasies which, for all their
lyrical charm, slide frequently into sentimentality and prettiness. His
fellow-landscape-painters, Rousseau, Daubigny, Dupré, and the veteran
Harpignies, used mountains either not at all or merely as incidents
in a panorama. Courbet alone, the greatest of them all, continued to
the last his rugged studies of cliff and slope, blending the romantic
tradition with the realist, supplying, as the first real painter of
rocks, a noble and fearless link between the ideal and the selective.
In true modern landscape the influence of Courbet appears again and
again, strengthening and vigorous.

With the coming of Impressionist painting no marked advance is
noticeable. Monet and his followers are concerned with light and
colour, not with form. Dutch Impressionism - the Hague school With
its curious mixture of seventeenth-century genre tradition and
modern French landscape methods - keeps to trees and sky. It would be
unreasonable indeed to look for the birth of the mountain in art to
take place in Holland!

* * * * *

Before passing on to the latest phase of European painting, some
attention must be given to the art of the Far East. China, Japan,
India, loom large in the history of the landscape tradition, and
especially in its newest development, where their influence, as will be
seen, has been very great.

In the art of the Far East, whether theoretical or practical, there
are traces from the earliest times of a conception of landscape and of
its bearing on art somewhat similar to that of Wordsworth. The early
Chinese in their aphorisms and paintings loved to express the majesty
of mountains. ‘Rhythmic vitality, anatomical structure, conformity
with nature, suitability of colouring, artistic composition and finish
are the six canons of art,’ wrote Hsieh-Ho in the sixth century
A.D., and no subject could be more suitable than a mountain
for the application of those canons. Through the later periods of
Chinese art, and during the history of the painting of Japan, recurring
cases appear of the same inclination.

But there are differences of opinion among the Eastern theorists. Here
is Kuo Hsi, who seems to be an early Chinese incarnation of William
Gilpin: -

‘Hills without clouds look bare; without water they are wanting in
fascination; without paths they are wanting in life; without trees
they are dead; without depth-distance they are shallow; without
level-distance they are near; and without height-distance they are
low.’

Indian art provides such a striking parallel to the ideas of modern
European painting that it will be useful to return to it when
discussing the new movement. It is sufficient here to say that an
examination of Indian landscape drawings will reveal an interest in
mountains similar to and no less vivid than that of the Japanese.

The interest in Eastern art began to spread over Europe during the
last half of the nineteenth century. The de Goncourt brothers and
Whistler by adopting some of the Japanese methods familiarised their
countrymen with the ideas and practices of a hitherto little-known art.
The researches and writings of Edmond de Goncourt, the flat, roomy
arrangements of Whistler, struck a note so new that a wild outcry
greeted their efforts. But the strangeness has worn off. Whistler
is accepted as a master; Japanese prints are everywhere; and, like
the Spanish influence introduced by Manet in the face of general
execration, the Eastern ideas have gone to produce a new art.[6]

It was near the end of last century that first appeared what has
so misleadingly been called Post-Impressionism, an art with a new
synthetic vision which saw beyond realism, which repudiated illusion,
which tried to get deep down to where life and beauty touch and so
externalise that indefinite something which makes things what they
always seem to us to be. This art which has recreated decoration,
which is going to revolutionise stage-craft, house furniture and even
building, while it deals unhesitatingly with any subject, is perhaps
chiefly significant in its bearing on landscape.

In this department appears that extraordinary parallel with Indian
ideas which has already been mentioned. No Indian artist ever aimed
at a mere representation of nature. He drew from his store of
imagination and memory a revisualised landscape which suggests the
idea behind nature and not her seeming reality. To him natural forms
were merely incarnations of ideas, and the effort to complete the
expression necessitated a repudiation of illusion. It follows that the
representative science displayed appears inept, if judged by ordinary
outward standards. But when one considers that accuracy is purely
relative, and that the synthetic vision naturally subordinates certain
features in its preoccupation with others, to condemn Indian drawing as
bad, or Byzantine either, for the case is analogous, shows a faulty
standard of judgment.[7]

As in Indian, so in modern European art, an understanding of the
peculiar ideas which have inspired is necessary for appreciation.
Keeping, therefore, this fact in view, that the aim is not for illusion
but for the subtler and truer realism which lies in all natural
phenomena, we can pass to the consideration of an artist who stands
at the head of ‘Post-Impressionist’ - or, as I prefer to call it,
‘Fauvist’ - landscape tradition, and who really marks the beginning of
the new appreciation of mountains.

Paul Cézanne has waited longer than any of his contemporaries for
sympathy and fame, but now that his time has come he bids fair easily
to outstrip Manet and the Impressionists in importance. As is often
the case, the same reason accounts for his being neglected and for
his later popularity, and that reason is the complete newness of his
outlook. His vision was a much stranger and newer one than had been
that of the Impressionists, and yet but for a fortunate failing of
his own it might never have been expressed at all. Cézanne was a very
great artist and a very bad painter. One may go further and say that
had he not been such a bad painter he might never have shown himself
to be a great artist. His whole being was clumsy and blundering, and
his attempts to emulate the brilliant Manet in his light effects


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