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self-sufficient beauty (not decreased by the moonlight), and solitary.
Even the owls are almost silent - birds of the twilight more than of the
midnight. The squirrels (for there are still squirrels, even here, far
within the brick-and-mortar girdle) - they are long asleep. The Warden
is safe in bed. The Climber, who is here partly for the garden’s sake,
partly to prospect for a route up the College, swishes through the
soaking grass along by the shadow of the pines and cedars. Ha! - ‘Wer
reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?’ - What is that dark form that
he sees ‘cross and recross the strips of moon-blanched green’? The
Climber, cautiously approaching, greets with joy a hedge-pig (hedgehog,
called by the general name - illogical and less euphonious). He is very
tame; even permits a finger to stroke the only strokeable part of him,
his soft furry stomach, before rolling up into a pin-cushion. Leaving
him thus defensive and spherical, the Climber passes on, only by the
next tree to find another; and the performance is repeated.

No route was found that night; but as in the Alps not seldom the
off-day in the upland valley brings with birds and flowers a new and
equal joy with that of the summits, so the moon-lit hedge-pigs of
Wadham touched a chord of romance all their own, and vivified that
night with as strong a memory as any hard-won roof-tree could have
done.

But it is not always through such moon-lit Edens that the Climber
passes; sometimes it is the fierce flames of the Cities of the Plain.

Trinity (to make a necessary digression) has a roof, which, once
reached, is mostly walking. It has also a quad with gravel paving,
an absence of Bodleian libraries in close propinquity, and the usual
complement of chairs. In addition, it sometimes makes six bumps.
After one of those occasions it was therefore not unexpected when
the Climber, perambulating the Trinity leads, saw beyond the further
roof-tree Vesuvius in full eruption - red smoke in a whirling column,
full of blazing sparks sailing up and off on the wind. Crawling up the
roof-tree and looking over, the Climber saw a sight, not unfamiliar
in itself, but strange when viewed from such a viewpoint, and with
such detachment. A bit of hell was here on earth. Devils in deshabille
were dancing round a flaming pyre, screaming, with shrieking laughter.
Others, issuing from the dark doors round the prison-like yard,
brought with them offerings for the fire. The iron gates that barred
the further side of the square from the night beyond were reminders
that none might pass out from this pit: ‘Lasciate ogni speranza’ was
doubtless inscribed upon their outer face. It was a relief to find that
the servers of the flames brought no writhing Spirits of the Damned,
but mere inanimate combustibles.

Well might the Climber lie there gazing till the flames were sinking on
to the ember-pile, and the corybantic Zoroastrian bacchanals (for all
the three rituals they combined) had begun to slink off to their cells.

To ease stiff limbs, the chapel was taken on the homeward way; and
from its top the final flare was seen - a last great blaze, streamers
of burning paper floating eastwards away (scaring, no doubt, Eden’s
nocturnal browsers), showers of sparks, and then all sinking to a mere
flicker in the quiet night. And so to bed.

The Climber can thus penetrate into secret places, see strange sights,
have familiar ones for him transmogrified. But this is not all. Profit
is combined with pleasure. In an emergency, how useful he can prove.

He may perhaps be allowed to relate a case in point: One Lent Term,
after a heavy fall of snow, the inmates of a certain College, which
shall be nameless, finding the snow hang heavy on their feet, took it
into their heads to take it into their hands, and thence dispatched it
as a challenge through the windows of their neighbour College - through
the very windows once source of light to the famous Galetti (gone down
to posterity, by one of Clio’s whims, with name distorted almost out
of recognition). After much shouting and the filling of the historic
chamber with snow, the challenge was taken up.

I am no Homer to describe the combat, nor were I one, would this be the
place to do so....

Long had they struggled, when there arrived on the field a messenger.
His message, delivered with more jocularity than he would have
exhibited in Greek drama, was to the effect that the Dean had been
peeping through some alleyway, had seen that any direct interference
was useless, and had resorted to the method of blockade. All the gates
were shut, and the prophets of Baal were to be mercilessly dealt
with. ‘Que faire’? Hostilities ceased; earth became united in its
opposition to Olympus. Racked brains gave birth to hasty plans - all
proved abortive, till suddenly one - a full-armoured Minerva - flashed
from its parent’s engendering lead. ‘The Climber, the Climber!’ was all
the cry. Soon he appeared, triumphantly escorted, and bearing in his
arms his rope. One end of this went through the window (that window,
serving more often for the passage of insults, not wholly unaccompanied
by injuries, now consecrated to pacific use), and was grasped within
by six strong men. The other end became a loop, into which the foot of
one of the aliens was inserted. No sooner this, than, hey presto! a
pull by the six, and, an alien no longer, he was clinging to his own
country’s boundary - the window-sill. No Customs examination or landing
formalities - other stalwarts gripped him, and he disappeared into the
bowels of his fatherland, a pair of legs for an instant waving farewell
to his late enemies.

This was repeated more than a score of times, till at length not one
remained for the cunning Dean and his unwreaked vengeance. Barred
gates, alert porters, grinning scouts, confidently waiting dons: - who
was the instrument to bring them all to nought? - the Climber!

This much for its use to others. Rich use to the Climber himself
it has too. Not only as a way out of the prosaic world of streets
and staircases into another where for a glorious dusky hour he may
feel free, alone with himself, the night, and active limbs, but also
as a true training for the more grave realities of nobler peaks in
other lands. General exercise for arms (lying sadly fallow if only
the ordinary run of games be followed), and back and legs - that is
something; but more special practice is given in lightness of balancing
and in training a dizzy head. Cat-soft feet are needed there where
tell-tale tiles are crossed, where dons abound, and where sharp-hearing
porters lurk. Light, even-pulling arms alone can with safety grip frail
roof-trees, tiles, or chimney-pots. Then, in reality, it is not common
to be above precipices of the true vertical: here in the comfortable
city they are never to be avoided. It is physically no doubt as easy to
step across above a plumb drop than where the ground is sloping; but
however steep the slope, there is some comfort in it for the untrained
head, while every crumb of it drops away down the perpendicular.

Soon, however, under necessity’s spell, the reluctant cerebellum
(where, I am told, our balance-bump is to be found) becomes used to the
smooth uncompromising walls, and the Climber can sally qualmless forth
to tackle Dolomites or Cumberland climbs.

Beauty, Romance, Adventure; Help to others; Use, both for mind and
body, to oneself: I hope the Climber has said enough to show our
Cinderella forth for What she really is. And, gentle reader, you will
not grumble if her champion, for reasons not obscure, can display no
betraying blazon on his shield. Having championed his fair, and been
acclaimed victor in the lists, he rides triumphant forth to kneel
before his sovran liege - the British Public. ‘What is your name, that I
may honour you?’ ‘Sire, if you will permit me, I will present you with
my card.’ Which done, he vanishes, leaving not a wrack behind save the
white pasteboard with the two words upon it:

ΑΝΩΝΥΜΟΣ ΤΙΣ




THE MOUNTAINS OF YOUTH

BY

ARNOLD H. M. LUNN
(Balliol)




IX. THE MOUNTAINS OF YOUTH

‘Fire made them, earth clothed them, man found them,
Our playmates the princes of hills,
Last uttered of time, and love-fashioned,
Of a fullness of knowledge impassioned
For freedom: boy-hearts, royal wills,
Sun nursed them, wind taught them, frost crowned them.

Light o’er them, life with them, peace round them,
They have waited in masterless strength
For the moment of mortal awaking,
When bright on new vision upbreaking
Far beacons of freedom, at length
Art saw them, hope sought them, youth found them.’
GEOFFREY WINTHROP YOUNG.


Few haunters of the Alps can have altogether escaped the dreary
ceremonies in some mountain Tabernacle, manufactured perhaps from a
drawing-room whose windows reveal malicious glimpses of the snows
that suggest a more acceptable service. Few but would recognise the
discourse meandering on from the inevitable text, that cry of the
soul to great hills afar, which constant quotation cannot wholly
mar, to the final application which asserts that the sojourn among
the mountains is only given that, fortified in soul and body, we may
return to the battle of life. To some of us this pious reflection must
appear irredeemably vulgar. Those moments on the hills when the pulses
of life seem quickened with new fire are given for the sake, and for
the sake alone, of the moments themselves. To adapt them to didactic
disquisition is to degrade the chief things of the ancient mountains.
For the hills are no mere nursing-home to recuperate after the drudgery
of the plains. Those that climb to advance science, to surpass records,
to improve their digestion miss the real appeal. For we deserve or we
do not deserve the mountains according as we regard them as an end in
themselves or as a means to an end.

An apology has already been offered in the Introduction for a
subjective treatment of mountains. Whether the mountain that we
loved is an entity independent of man is a question that may be left
to philosophers to discuss. Man may or may not be the measure of all
things, but to some extent every man undoubtedly fashions Nature in the
mould of his own beliefs. Every mountain lover brings something new to
the common worship: for each of us spells out a different syllable in
the universal message of the hills. So these pages contain an attempt
to analyse one aspect of the mountains, that aspect which is caught in
childhood and youth.

The thread that binds the scattered memories of seventeen summers and
eleven winters in the Alps is the half-belief that in some sense the
mountains are not only so many tons of rock and ice, that they are
something more than the ruins of chaos, and possess an individuality
elusive but none the less very real. In an uninspired age when a
dogmatic Christianity was pitted against an even more dogmatic
Rationalism, this belief in a mountain soul found its most poetic
expression in an unsuspected quarter. Leslie Stephen would have
smiled grimly at any attempt to read more than a figurative meaning
into certain passages of _The Alps in Winter_; but no one can read
that lofty confession of an agnostic’s faith without feeling that it
is this rather than the essay of that name which constitutes the true
_Agnostic’s Apology_. Naturalism could not resist the mute appeal of
‘those mighty monuments of a bygone age ... to which in spite of all
reason it is impossible not to attribute some shadowy personality.’ And
there is the ring of something more than fantasy in the final words:
‘Their voice is mystic and has found discordant interpreters, but to me
at least it speaks in tones at once more simple and more awe-inspiring
than that of any mortal teacher.’

What the heart feels to-day, philosophy may assume to-morrow. It would
be easy to find a further illustration in Fechner’s great vision of the
Earth Soul; easy but unprofitable, for no faith, least of all a fragile
_Aberglaube_ such as this, can stand the strain of a philosophic
formula. This sense of a conscious personality in Nature is most
powerful in childhood. I do not pretend that our childhood peopled
its surroundings with fairies, goblins, and similar stage supers.
Nor shall I add to the accumulations of mischievous nonsense that
have become fashionable at a time when literature delights, without
understanding, to dabble in the curious psychology of childhood. The
modern conception of the child seems oddly mistaken. He is pictured
as a sexless cherub trailing clouds of moral glory from a prenatal
paradise. But the child is non-moral, and only acquires with difficulty
and growth the conventional ethics of his elders. The natural child
is cruel with the cruelty that comes from an absence of experience
of pain. Without experience his imagination has nothing to build on,
for, as that genial cynic Hobbes remarks, ‘Pity is the imagining unto
oneself of a woe.’ The modern child and the mediæval man have much in
common. The imagination of both is at once vivid and restricted. From
this springs the experimental cruelty as well as that intense joy of
life equally characteristic of the age of childhood and of the Middle
Ages. The world of the fifteenth century was narrower, but within its
restricted boundaries far richer in romantic possibilities than the
world as it now exists for the ‘grown-ups.’ For all but the child the
dog-headed men have had their day. So the narrow limits that bounded
our wanderings in those early Grindelwald summers contained a world
instinct with an intangible romance that the years have never expelled.

My first distinct mountain memory is that of watching at the age of
four Grindelwald and our temporary home in flames. An aunt tried to
banish the terrifying spectacle by a handkerchief round my eyes, a
needless precaution. As a proper child I was fascinated by the prospect
of vicarious emotion, and the possibility of some fellow-creature
roasting in the flames added interest to the drama. But it was not
Grindelwald in flames, it was the ruthless indifference of the Eiger
insolently preening its snows in the blood-red haze of the catastrophe
that really gripped me with fear. The mountains bind us by their very
superiority to suffering. The unrelenting callousness that hurls the
boulders down the gully in which we are pinned appeals to our primitive
imaginations. ‘The attitude of the creature towards his Creator,’
said Newman, ‘should be one of abject submission.’ ‘Not abject,’
replied some Anglican divine, ‘respectful.’ ‘Not submission,’ says the
mountaineer, ‘resistance.’ Analyse the peculiar appeal of some stern
struggle against a mountain stronghold, and it is this sentiment that
is most prominent. Conflict without animosity makes the strongest
demand on the fighting instinct and the faculty for worship. Like
children we like to see how far we can go. We learn to honour the
reserve of strength that is not exerted against us and of beauty that
we cannot overcome.

‘Love thou the Gods and withstand them, lest thy
fame should fail at the end -
And thou be but their thrall and their bondman,
who wast born for their very friend.’

Five summer months we spent in a little village a few miles from
Grindelwald. We came in the early days of May just as the snow began to
call a late retreat from the pastures above the chalet. We watched the
fields rich in the promise of spring, and caught some afterglow from

‘The gleam of the first of summers on the yet untrodden grass.’

The most prosaic child can fashion from a back-garden of weeds a world
of magical fancies. So it is not surprising that we found in our summer
playground a wealth of intimate suggestion. For it is true of the
child, as was said of Fechner, that ‘his only extravagances are those
of thought, but these are gorgeous ones.’

As the shortening days at the end of September foretold the long
winter sleep we sorrowfully departed for the City of Dreadful Night.
The sorrows and joys of childhood are singularly final. The wider
imagination of youth can realise that the Alps are not irrevocably lost
when the train steams sadly out of the platform at Berne. No such
consolations suggested themselves to us as children, and the weary
months that had to elapse before the next glimpse of Paradise might as
well have been eternity. But life is vital only by contrast, and it
may have been that the mountain passion found its strongest ally in a
childhood divided between the generous open life of the hills and the
sullen gloom of a London Square.

To those days we owe the fascination that even now invests the railway
journey to the Alps with a romance that an older school would have us
believe vanished with the last stage-coach. Perhaps it did for them.
But for those who have been brought up on steam, there can be few
things more provocative of wonder than the journey to Switzerland. We
used to wait for the vigilant nurse to trumpet forth the evidences of
deep slumber, and then gently raised the blinds always relentlessly
drawn. For us the rattle and roar of the night express - to some a
discordant chaos of sound - seemed ‘the music nighest bordering upon
heaven,’ a brave accompaniment to the drama that flashed past us into
the night, dim white spaces of open road, sleeping hamlets, shadowy
trees and waters mirroring the stars. Could any contrast be more
intense than the sunlit joy of that first morning in Berne when the
‘authentic air of Paradise’ seemed to linger round the terrace, and
the leaden despair of the return to Charing Cross in a fog? I am still
susceptible to the riotous excitement of the nights in the train. Even
now I can barely understand how any one can remain unmoved as the train
sweeps from the gates of the Jura to reveal beyond the morning mists
the host of peaks from the Wetterhorn to the Blumlisalp.

Chalet life is a useful corrective for those who regard the Swiss as
a nation of hotelkeepers and guides. We soon picked up the unlovely
patois, and gradually worked our way into the life of the village. We
made friends with the owner of the chalet, and spent long hours on the
Grindelalp watching the evolution of cheese. We made shameless love
to the daughter of the chalet, now a dignified matron. A deserted kine
shed was fitted up as a temporary home, and my brother, despite his
obvious reluctance, was required to accept the rôle of our offspring.
On Sunday we joined the brown-coated congregation in the white-washed
Zwinglian church, helped to swell the mournful drone to which Luther’s
sonorous hymns are intoned, and listened with incurious awe to the
torrent of language with which the ‘Gletcher Pfarrer’ drenched his fold.

Our imagination took its suggestion from those around us. We did not
play at soldiers or enginedrivers, for our hero was an old guide. It is
significant that we admired him not so much for his sixty odd ascents
of the Wetterhorn as for a mythical reputation, which we probably
evolved from our sense of the heroic proprieties, that he beat his wife
and looked upon the wine when it was red. Inspired by our knight of the
rope, we surreptitiously stole an old pick-axe and some forty feet
of clothes-line, and daily made our way to the woods above. The will
to believe is the greatest asset of childhood, the age of unconscious
pragmatism, and we convinced ourselves that, but for the steps
laboriously hewed from the yielding earth, we could never have ascended
so grim a slope. One day we received a rude awakening. A little damsel
followed us, smiled cynically at the elaborate preparations, and then
ran lightly up the perilous incline, disdainfully dodging the steps.
The moment held material for tragedy. We affected an air of scornful
indifference, but the pick-axe was never disturbed again.

We found a more real scope for our climbing ambition on a boulder that
the ice rivers of the dawn of time had left stranded in the woods. Some
thirty feet in height, it fell away sheer on all sides and gave scope
for some pretty problems. With vague memories of Bunyan we dubbed it
‘Hill Difficulty,’ and tried to believe that Apollyon lurked in the
neighbouring wood. Apollyon was an actuality for whom we entertained
a chastened respect. We thought then that every Alpine peak was formed
of perpendicular cliffs scaled by infinitesimal handholds. Experience
has shown that many of the climbs on this boulder were harder than any
similar short stretch on, say, the Finsteraarhorn. Hill Difficulty,
on which we learned our craft at the respective ages of six and four,
was really a sound training-ground. More than once we were placed in
positions of considerable ignominy, and, for our size, some danger.
A twenty-foot fall head first might have had awkward results but for
a helpful bush which often proved a friend. On one fateful occasion
I remember weeping profusely and shouting for aid to my nurse, a
humiliating experience for a mountaineer. She, worthy dame, declined to
interfere, and beat me soundly on returning to earth.

When I look back on those long summers, and try to recapture the
haunting vagueness of the first moods born of the hills, I am faced by
the insufficiency of the written word to express sensations that seem
the less definite in outline the more vividly their colour endures.
But certain broad features stand out, and I am convinced by experience
that the normal conception of childhood, as embodied, for instance, in
_The Child’s Garden of Verses_, is radically wrong. Some of Blake’s
detached verses, and the poetry - written at the age of seven - by Miss
Enid Welsford, reflect truer glimpses of that mood of savagery and
vague fear that enwraps the world of the imaginative child, a world
in which there is little either of the cosy or the snug. Alarming
actual incidents such as Grindelwald on fire often excite an abstract
curiosity, whilst people and places intrinsically innocent may in a
moment become charged with cosmic significance. Of fact and tradition
the modern child is often a sceptic. Neither of us believed in fairies,
though we accepted with indulgence the well-meant efforts of our elders
to amuse. But to this day I cannot explain why there should ever have
existed a well-marked boundary in the Grindelwald woods, beyond which
there dwelt an unhealthy influence. I cannot understand what fixed this
bourne, nor yet why a certain slope of scree and slag leading up to a
cluster of rock and pine should even now seem laden with brooding fear.
So, too, though we did not believe in the ice maiden, we yet felt that
certain mountains were, so to speak, healthy and others provokingly
sinister. The child in touch with Nature finds his own fairy land, and
the mountains are the most potent magicians.

The inner secrets of the mountain fear are seldom revealed, for those
that know are ashamed of the atavistic emotions that robbed them of
self-control. For the possessing terror of the lonely hills is a thing
by itself. It is most felt in childhood, and best known to the solitary
intruder. I am not thinking of those trying periods whose horror is
at least reducible to natural causes, of the slow advance from step
to step across an ice-slope raked by falling stones, of the desperate
race against darkness as night charged up from the valley, of the grim
struggle when retreat was and advance seemed equally impossible:

νῦν δ’ (ἔμπης γὰρ κῆρες ἐφεστᾶσιν θανάτοιο
μύριαι, ἃς οὐκ ἐστι φυγεῖν βροτὸν οὐδ’ ὑπαλύξαι)
ἴομεν.

The strain of such moments is at least healthy, but the uncanny terror
that grips the lonely victim is not. Often it is independent of
difficulty or danger. As a boy I had wandered up to that barren valley
of barren boulders that closes in the head of the Val d’Arpette. There
was no suggestion of gloom in the peaceful afternoon light that cast
lazy shadows on the Clochers d’Arpette. I was perfectly happy. Suddenly
the whole wilderness of forbidding stones seemed fraught with evil
intent. There was no tangible reason for this transformation, but it
was sufficiently real to produce a headlong flight. I still remember
the compelling terror that drove me to bruise shin and elbow as I
hurled myself from boulder to boulder in a desperate attempt to escape
from a valley tenanted by the shades of dim derisive evil.


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