FROM a little book called ‘Mountaineering in 1861,’ published nine years ago, but long since out of print, I will now make a few selections. The mountain work of that year embraced the ascent of the Weisshorn, and the passage of the barrier between the Cima di Jazzi and Monte Rosa by an untried and dangerous route. Both these expeditions are described. But, besides these narratives of outward action, I notice in the book a subjective element, consisting of the musings and reflections to which I often abandon myself when sauntering over easy ground, and without which even Switzerland would sometimes be monotonous to me. It is only from the reader accustomed to similar reflective moods that I expect acceptance, or even tolerance, of these musings : the man of action will pass them impatiently by. I begin with
A LETTER FROM BALE
‘I reached Bâle last night, and now sit on the balcony of the” Three Kings” with the Rhine flashing below me. It is silent here, but higher up, in passing the props of a bridge, it breaks into foam; its compressed air-bubbles burst like elastic springs, and shake the air into sonoroûs vibrations.’ Thus the rude mechanical motion of the river is converted into music. The hammer of the boat-builder rings on his plank, the leaves of the poplars rustle in the breeze, the watchdog’s honest bark is heard in the distance ; while from the windows of the houses along the banks gleam a series of reflected suns, each surrounded by a coloured glory.
‘ Yesterday I travelled from Paris, and the day previous from London, when the trail of a spent storm swept across the sea and kept its anger awake. The stern of our boat went up and down, the distant craft were equally pendulous, and the usual results followed. Men’s faces waxed green, roses faded from ladies’ cheeks ; while puzzled children yelled intermittently in the grasp of the demon which had newly taken possession of them. One rare pale maiden sat right in the line of the spray, and bore the violence of the ocean with the resignation of an angel. A white arm could be seen shining through translucent muslin, but even against it the brine beat as if it were a mere seaweed. I sat at rest, hovering fearfully on the verge of that doleful region, whose bourne most of those on board had already passed, thinking how directly materialistic is the tendency of sea-sickness, through its remorse-less demonstration of the helplessness of the human soul and will.
‘ The morning of the 1st of August found me on my way from Paris to Bale. The sun was strong, and, in addition to this source of temperature, eight human beings, each burning the slow fire which we call life, were cooped within the limits of our compartment. We slept, first singly, then by groups, and finally as a whole. Vainly we endeavoured to ward off the coming lethargy. Thought gradually slips away from its object, or the object glides out of the nerveless grasp of thought, and we are conquered by the heat. But what is heat, that it should work such changes in moral and intellectual nature ? Why are we unable to read ” Mill’s Logic ” or study the ” Kritik der reinen Vernunft ” with any profit in a Turkish bath ? Heat, defined without reference to our sensations, is a kind of motion, as strictly mechanical as the waves of the sea, or as the aerial vibrations which produce sound. The communication of this motion to the molecules of the brain produces the moral and intellectual effects just referred to. Human action is only possible within a narrow zone of temperature. Transgress the limit ou one side, and we are torpid by excess ; transgress it on the other, and we are torpid by defect. The intellect is in some sense a function of temperature.
Thus at noon we were drained of intellectual energy ; eight hours later the mind was awake and active, and through her operations was shed that feeling of earnestness and awe which the mystery of the. starry heavens ever inspires. Physically considered, however, the intellect of noon differed from that of 8 P.M. simply in the amount of motion possessed by the molecules of the brain.
It is not levity which prompts me to write thus. Matter, in relation to vital phenomena, has yet to be studied, and the command of Canute to the waves would be wisdom itself compared with any attempt to stop such enquiries. Let the tide rise, and let knowledge advance the limits of the one are not more rigidly fixed than those of the other ; and no worse infidelity could seize upon the mind than the belief that a man’s earnest search after truth should culminate in his perdition.’
The sun was high in heaven as we rolled away from Bâle on the morning of the 2nd. Sooner or later every intellectual canker disappears before earnest work, the influence of which, moreover, fills a wide margin beyond the time of its actual performance. Thus, to-day, I sang as I rolled alongnot with boisterous glee, but with serene and deep-lying gladness of heart. This happiness, however, had its roots in the past, and had I not been a worker previous to my release from London,
I could not now have been so glad an idler. In any other country than Switzerland the valley through which we sped would have called forth admiration and delight. Noble fells, proudly grouped, flanked us right and left. Cloud-like woods of pines overspread them in broad patches, with between them spaces of the tenderest green, while among the meadows at their feet gleamed the rushing Rhine.
The zenith was blue, but the thick stratum of horizontal air invested the snowy peaks with a veil of translucent haze, through which their vast and spectral outlines were clearly seen. As we rolled on towards Thun the haze thickened, while dense and rounded clouds burst upwards, as if let loose from a prison behind the mountains. Soon afterwards the black haze and blacker clouds resolved themselves into a thunderstorm. The air was cut repeatedly by zigzag bars of solid light. Then came the cannonade, and then the heavy rain-pellets rattling with fury against the carriages. It afterwards cleared, but not wholly. Stormy cumuli swept round the mountains, between which, however, the illuminated ridges seemed to swim in the opalescent air.
At Thun I found my faithful and favourite guide, Johann Bennen, of Laax, in the valley of the Rhone, the strongest limb and stoutest heart of my acquaintance in the Alps. We took the steamer to Interlaken, and while we were on the lake the heavens again darkened, and the deck was flooded by the gushing rain. The dusky cloud-curtain was rent at intervals, and through the apertures thus formed parallel bars of extraordinary radiance escaped across the lake. On reaching Interlaken I drove to the steamer on the lake of Brientz. We started at 6 P.M., with a purified atmosphere, and passed through scenes of serene beauty in the tranquil evening light. The bridge of Brientz had been carried away by the floods, the mail was intercepted, and I joined a young Oxford man in a vehicle to Meyringen. The west wind again filled the atmosphere with gloom, and after supper I spent an hour watching the lightning thrilling behind the clouds. The darkness was intense, and the intermittent glare corespondingly impressive. Sometimes the lightning seemed to burst, like a fireball, midway between the horizon and the zenith, spreading a vast glory behind the clouds and revealing all their outlines. In front of me was a craggy summit, which indulged in intermittent shots of thunder ; sharp, dry, and sudden, with scarcely an echo to soften them off.
NOTE ON THE SOUND OF AGITATED WATER
A LIQUID vein descending through a round hole in the bottom of a tin vessel exhibits two distinct portions, the one steady and limpid, the other unsteady and apparently turbid. The flash of an electric spark in a dark room instantly resolves the turbid portion into isolated drops. Experiments made in 1849 with such a jet directed my attention to the origin of the sound of agitated water. When the smoke is projected from the lips of a tobacco-smoker, a little explosion usually occurs, which is chiefly due to the sudden bursting of the film of saliva connecting both lips. An inflated bladder bursts with an explosion as loud as a pistol-shot. Sound to some extent always accompanies the sudden liberation of compressed air, and this fact is also exhibited in the deportment of a water-jet. If the surface of water into which the jet falls intersect its limpid portion, the jet enters silently, and no bubbles are produced. If the surface cut the turbid portion of the jet, bubbles make their appearance with an accompaniment of sound. The very nature of the sound pronounces its origin to be the bursting of the bubbles; and to the same cause the murmur of streams and the sound of breakers appear to be almost exclusively due. The impact of water against water is a comparatively subordinate cause of the sound, and could never of itself occasion the babble of a brook or the musical roar of the ocean.