Once moreperhaps for the last timeI listen to the unnumbered tinkling of the cow-bells on the slopes”the sweet bells of the sauntering herd”to the music of the cicadas in the sunshine, and the shouts of the neat herdlads, echoing back from Alp to Alp. I hear the bubbling of the mountain rill, I watch the emerald moss of the pastures gleaming in the light, and now and then the soft white mist creeping along the glen, as our poet says, “puts forth an arm and creeps from pine to pine.” And see, the wild flowers, even in this waning season of the year, the delicate lilac of the dear autumn crocus, which seems to start up elf-like out of the lush grass, the coral beads of the rowan, and the beech-trees just began to wear their autumn jewelry of old gold.
As I stroll about these hills, more leisurely, more thoughtfully than I used to do of old in my hot mountaineering days, I have tried to think out what it is that makes the Alpine landscape so marvelous a tonic to the spiritwhat is the special charm of it to those who have once felt all its inexhaustible magic. Other lands have rare beauties, wonders of their own, sights to live in the memory for ever.
In France, in Italy, in Spain, in Greece and in Turkey, I hold in memory many a superb landscape. From boyhood upward I thirsted for all kinds of Nature’s gifts, whether by sea, or by river, lake, mountain, or forest. For sixty years at least I have roved about the white cliffs, the moors, the riversides, lakes, and pastures of our own islands from Penzance to Cape Wrath, from Beachy Head to the Shetlands. I love them all. But they can not touch me, as do the Alps, with the sense at once of inexhaustible loveliness and of a sort of conscious sympathy with every fiber of man’s heart and brain. Why then is this so?
I find it in the immense range of the moods in which Nature is seen in the Alps, as least by those who have fully absorbed all the forms, sights, sounds, wonders, and adventures they offer. An hour’s walk will show them all in profound contrast and yet in exquisite harmony. The Alps form a book of Nature as wide and as mysterious as Life.
Earth has no scenes of placid fruitfulness more balmy than the banks of one of the larger lakes, crowded with vineyards, orchards, groves and pastures, down to the edge of its watery mirror, where-in, beside a semi-tropical vegetation, we see the image of some medieval castle, of some historic tower, and thence the eye strays up to sunless gorges, swept with avalanches, and steaming with feathery cascades; and higher yet one sees against the skyline ranges of terrific crags, girt with glaciers, and so often wreathed in storm clouds. –
All that Earth has of most sweet, softest, easiest, most suggestive of langor and love, of fertility and abundancehere is seen in one vision beside all that Nature has most hard, most cruel, most unkind to Manwhere life is one long weary battle with a frost bitten soil, and every peasant’s hut has been built up stone by stone, and log by log, with sweat and groans, and wrecked hopes. In a few hours one may pass from an enchanted gar-den, where every sense is satiated, and every flower and leaf and gleam of light is intoxication, up into a wilderness of difficult crags and yawning glaciers, which men can reach only by hard-earned skill, tough muscle and iron nerves.
The Alps are international, European, Humanitarian. Four written languages are spoken in their valleys; and ten times as many local dialects. The Alps are not especially SwissI used to think they were Englishthey belong equally to four nations of Europe; they are the sanatorium and the diversorium of the civilized world, the refuge, the asylum, the second home of men and women famous throughout the centuries for arts, literature, thought, religion. The poet, the philosopher, the dreamer, the patriot, the exile, the bereaved, the reformer, the prophet, the herohave all found in the Alps a haven of rest, a new home where the wicked cease from troubling, where men need neither fear nor suffer. The happy and the thought-less, the thinker and the sickare alike at home here. The patriot exile inscribed on his house on Lake Leman”Every land is fatherland to the brave man.” What he might have written is”This land is fatherland to all men.” To young and old, to strong and weak, to wise and foolish alike, the Alps are a second fatherland.