After making the ascent of Montanvert, and learning something of the wonders of the Mer de Glace, we again sallied forth upon a tour of discovery in the immediate neighborhood of La Prieure.
With Mont Blanc before me and hardly conscious that I was alone, I pursued my walk, continuing to ascend till my path was obstructed by a mass of fallen snow. Fascinated with the idea of a better view, I determined to find a way around it, I climbed higher and higher, now stopping to admire the interior domes and spires and pyramids that cluster in this wondrous region, then fancying myself in a vast cathedral more grand and magnificent than I had ever before seen. The summit of Mont Blanc seemed to have greatly increased since I began to ascend, and this, and not looking behind me, rendered me wholly unconscious of the progress I made.
At length, from the slippery condition of the path and the frequent use that I was obliged to make of the pole with which I had been furnished, I became conscious that I had advanced far beyond what I had at first purposed. Looking back, I could see nothing of the valley; night was coming on, and the winds sweeping over the snowy heights made me shiver; at the same time they threatened to hurl me over the precipice. Go on I could not; to retrace my steps seemed equally impossible; planting my pole with its long spike deep in the ice, I attempted to keep my footing. Sending my eyes in every direction, and hoping that the guides had missed me and followed in the track, I perceived an immense mass of ice, one of the very turrets that I had so greatly admired, trembling and just ready to fall.
Before I had time to think, it slipped and fell with a thundering sound, rolling and dashing like a huge cataract of liquid silver, glittering in the sunbeams, and spent itself on the surface below over which it spread. Its roar, like that of thunder, reverberated from peak to peak, and many seconds elapsed before it completely died away.
My situation was perilous. Of the extent of the glacier I could not determine. In following after me, my companions might have been buried underneath its fall; or the guides might think that there was no possibility of my escape, and thus give up the attempt to rescue me.
All this and more passed through my mind. What if I should never reach my home, should never look into the faces of those I love! One quiet look upward, and peace filled my heart. God was above me, and around me; this terrible solitude spoke of his majesty, his might, his power. These mountains were in my Redeemer's hands. His eye was upon me, and I was safe.
The sun fell behind the western mountains, but his splendors deepening as they died away, were succeeded by the softer beams of the moon that rose full orbed above the lofty horizon. At first their mild effulgence was only seen on the hoary head of the monarch of the Alps: but as I gazed, summit after summit caught the silvery lustre, till all above and below me was enveloped in the same glorious light.
Chateaubriand says that mountain elevations are no place for contemplation; and certainly, surrounded by great dangers, it may seem incredible that I indulged in it. Still, I cannot but attribute my safety to this very state of mind--looking away from myself, holding fast to my pike-staff, and rising spontaneously to the adoration of that Being who commanded these mighty masses to take their form and place. Every object seemed in silent but impressive eloquence to celebrate His praise. The moon, with her attendant stars, the spotless dome of Mont Blanc, the glittering glaciers and the roaring torrents all seemed endowed with a voice to touch the heart of man, and to assure him of a hearing from God.
The moon was rising higher: forced to keep one position, I was growing stiff and weary, the wind chilled me, and there were ringing noises in my ears: the enthusiasm that had sustained me grew less. Would they ever find me? Glancing downward, I tried to discover lights. In listening I grew numb, the mountains began to reel around me, the moon and the stars danced before me, my senses began to wander. Should I attempt to go forward? Would it not be better to throw myself down?
Once more I looked over the precipice, and just then a horn rang out far below; then a voice apparently nearer. I tried to answer, but no sound came; I tried to move, but was fast. The next I remember, a guide was rubbing my breast with his rough hands; while another forced open my mouth and poured something from a flask. How we got down, I never knew. But the next day as Dr. Kemper told me of the excitement of the guides as soon as my absence became known to them, and the fall of the glacier, of the fear that I was buried beneath it, and of my state when found, I could only adore still more His goodness that had preserved me, while a still firmer purpose thrilled my being to live for Him.
A prisoner in my room, Dr. Kemper told me the manner in which Saussure made the ascent. A party of guides going up from Chamouni, one of them by some means was far ahead of the others, when suddenly darkness enveloped him. Cut off from his companions, he was obliged to pass the night at the immense elevation of twelve thousand feet above the level of the sea. Chilled, but not overcome, he had strength sufficient in the morning to reconnoitre, and thereby found an access to the mountain-top comparatively easy. On reaching Chamouni, he was seized with severe illness, and in return for the kind care of his physician, he told the doctor of the path he had discovered, and that if he felt a desire to be the first man to stand upon the summit of Mont Blanc, he would lead him to it. The doctor readily accepted, and on the seventh of August, 1786, they began the ascent. Twice the physician, overcome by fatigue and cold, turned his back upon the goal; but the guide, more accustomed to hardships, urged him on, and at length he was privileged to set his foot upon the loftiest elevation in Europe, a triumph never before enjoyed by man.
From Berne To Basle.
Before leaving Lausanne I received an invitation from a friend in the university at Basle to visit that city. To do this, we had to pass Berne. The approach to this place is very pleasing: the country is beautifully undulating, and in the highest state of cultivation. The neighborhood indicated by its noise and bustle that we were approaching a capital, and as we entered the city we found the streets crowded with people in their gayest attire, and filled with corn and cattle, and almost every article of commerce, it being market day. It is a magnificent city. The houses are all built of stone, with arcades in the principal streets, and rows of well-furnished shops. Fountains are numerous, and streams of water flow through the centre of the spacious streets, in deep and broad channels cut for their reception.
The city had a very gay appearance. The costume, the expression, the language--all were new. I was greatly interested in my excursions round the walls. The cathedral is a magnificent pile of gothic architecture, occupying a bold elevation above the Aar. We found here a remarkably fine organ, of great size, stretching across nearly the whole breadth of the church.
Climbing up to the loft, we were told the story of a former organist, a famous musician, somewhat independent, and yet sensitive and quick to feel. Under the papal power Louis Steinway incurred the displeasure of one of the dignitaries of the church, and his position as organist was taken from him. Overcome with sorrow he at once proceeded to the house of the bishop to make an explanation. Trembling with excitement he so poorly explained the misunderstanding, as to give the prelate even a worse idea of it than he had at first: the consequence was that hard words were added to the burden already laid upon him. The poor organist went home and was immediately taken down with severe illness, and a few days afterward eluded his attendants and flew along the streets to the cathedral, from which the people soon heard tones of the organ issuing majestic and ravishing but unspeakably sad. As soon as the wife knew of her husband's absence, she went to the cathedral.
Her husband was in his old place, his hands upon the keys, as if in the act of playing, his head bent forward and drooping. He was dead!
From Berne the road climbs a hill immediately on leaving the gates of the city, and passes between rows of trees, with a gentle slope on either hand, covered with a soft fresh green and smooth as the finest lawn. The glimpses of the city through the trees, with the windings of the Aar, were extremely interesting. But a far nobler scene was unfolded to the south, where an immense chain of Alps appeared like the boundaries of some new world, to which their fearful precipices, glittering peaks, and summits of untrodden snow for ever barred the approach of man. The purity of the atmosphere gave them peculiar distinctness of outline, while the beams of the setting sun gilded their lofty brightness, that seemed to have more of heaven in it than earth. Oh! if natural scenes can appear so lovely, what must that purity and lustre be of which they are only the shadowy emblems?
We slept, and set out again at an early hour. Our route lay through the finest portion of Switzerland. The land is chiefly pasturage, and the meadows are extremely rich. Traversing a rocky pass, we came to the castle of Kluss. Issuing from the pass we entered a smiling valley, the hills gently rising to the right, clothed with forests of fir; while on the left, rocks towered to an amazing altitude. On the summit of what seemed to be an inaccessible crag, perched the ruins of Falkenstein, and a few miles on, those of Wallenberg.
Soon after stopping to lunch, we came in sight of the Rhine, with the dark woods of the Black Forest forming a background, and also the frontier of the Austrian territory. Weary and still delighted with the day, I was glad to hear the guides exclaim that Basle was before us.
The Rhine divides the city into two parts. Crossing the bridge, we proceeded at once to the University. Bonnevard was there, and in the society of my friend I forgot for the time every other consideration.
It was two weeks before I left, and in that time I had learned many things, attending lectures with my friend, and enjoying the society of some of the most illustrious names in literature and science.
After the lectures, Bonnevard was to go to Fribourg; and it was with a view to accompanying him that I remained in Basle. Passing over the bridge and through the little city, we left the canton, and entered Germany by the territories of the grand duke of Baden. The Rhine was on our left, the Black Forest, covering a series of rugged hills, at some distance on our right; and we found a rich and beautiful landscape at every step. Climbing the brow of a hill about twelve miles from Basle, we obtained a charming view of the windings of the river--the broad valley through which it passes, the dark undulations of the forest, the towers and spires of the distant city, and the long line of Alps in the background, rising in inexpressible grandeur and glittering in the beams of the morning sun.
This was our last of the Rhine; our road taking the direction of the Black Forest, and skirting it all the way to Fribourg. On the way, Bonnevard gave me many sketches of real life, one of which, from having seen the person in Basle, interested me deeply. The Black Forest was formerly, and is now at certain seasons, greatly infested by wolves. It so happened that a government officer, passing to Vienna, was pursued by a ravenous pack of these animals; the postilion spurred his horses until they began to flag, and the wolves were gaining upon them. The officer feeling assured that all was lost, was about giving himself up to be devoured, when a woodcutter and his son emerged from the forest, armed only with knives or short daggers.
The hungry pack were diverted, and in the struggle that followed, the postilion whipped up his horses and escaped. On reaching Vienna, the officer sent back to see what had been the fate of the woodcutter. A desperate battle had been fought; the father killed five of the largest wolves, and then, seeing that escape was impossible, implored the boy to fly, saving the life of his son by the sacrifice of his own. In admiration for this deed, the people placed the family of the woodcutter beyond want; and the lad showing a rare aptitude to learn, and expressing only a wish to study, was sent to Basle, where he soon distinguished himself as a scholar, and bids fair to become a man of mark.
Fribourg is a fine old town, famous for its minster, and its university. The minster is of gothic architecture, magnificently carved, and of fine proportions. It is after the model of that at Strasbourg, and is said to be one of the finest edifices in Germany.
Early in the morning, we took occasion to visit the cathedral. The gates were open, and early as we considered it, many were kneeling before the different altars. The interior of the church is grand and magnificent, and abounds with sculptures and paintings of the most costly description. In a small chapel in one of the aisles of the church, we found an ordinary table covered with white linen, with images of the Saviour and the twelve apostles seated around it, figures of marble, as large as life. The expression of each face is admirably given, especially those of John, who leans upon Jesus'
bosom, and of Judas, seated the last in the group, and grasping the bag in his hand. It was so real and lifelike, that I could with difficulty understand that the genius of man had fashioned it out of cold and senseless stone.
From the cathedral we visited the library. It is a rare and valuable collection, and belongs to the university. Here Bonnevard met with many of his associates, and soon after we parted from him, with regret. How pleasant it is to meet and talk with those we love; but the parting makes it sweet to think of that world where there will be no need of adieus.