Ramond de Carbonnières, Travels in the Pyrenees; containing a description of the principal summits, passes, and vallies. Trans. F. Gold (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Browne, 1813). (Original work: Observations faites dans les Pyreneés, 1789)
Note. A toise is approximately 1.95 metres. Page numbers corresponding to the English text are inserted between angle brackets at the head of the page to which they refer.
Illustrations added to the text are from Joseph Hardy, A Picturesque and Descriptive Tour of the Mountains of the High Pyrenees (London: R. Ackermann, 1825). Click on pictures to enlarge.
Ch. I: distant view of the Pyrenees
Ch. II: pastoral idyll
Ch. II: wild scenery compared with the Reuss valley
Ch. IV: ascent of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre
Ch. IV: pastoral simplicity of shepherds
Ch. V: road to Gavarnie
Ch. V: encounter with a smuggler on the high mountains
Ch. V: fragrance and memory
Ch. VI: smugglers above Gavarnie
Ch. VII: near Bagneres de Luchon
Ch. XI: approach to the Maladetta
Ch. XI: descent in fog from the Maladetta
Detail from a map drawn by Ramond,
from the French edition of the book.
Click on picture to enlarge (86K)
Ch. I: distant view of the Pyrenees
The Pyrenees are seen from a vast distance, and, whatever aspect they present, appear like the Alps to be a stupendous mass of sharp, ragged, and pointed summits, partaking either of the whiteness of the clouds or of the azure of the sky, as they reflect the light or are covered with shadow. Nothing can be more striking than the eastern part of the chain. Situated on the borders of the sea, it unfolds itself as it were in the view of all Languedoc; and when viewed from the mountain of Cette is seen like a vast promontory jutting up <P 9> from the very water, while the plains of Roussillon, which were originally raised above the sea by the gradual accumulation of the deposit of the rivers, at such a distance, re-assume the appearance of their native element.
The centre of the chain remains for a longer time hidden as it is approached by the way of Auch. Various groups of mountains, mostly of the secondary order, but doubtless depending on its primordial mass, continue successively to intercept the view of it, until from an eminence at some distance from Mirande, between Miellan and Rabastens, this noble barrier is suddenly discovered at the extremity of an immense plain. From Tarbes, however, may be had the most magnificent view of these mountains.
Ch. II: pastoral idyll
Nothing can be more delightful than the environs of Pau, than the meanders of the Gave, than the undulations of its hilly banks, directing, as they do, its waters, and opposing its inundations. Nothing can be richer than the vineyards round about, than the declivities and surrounding uplands waving with harvests, than the orchards of the spot, and those scattered habitations, where the gentleman and the peasant, the proprietors of the land, alike subsist upon the produce of their <P 14> fields. And what is there so interesting as a people who can be happier and more free from their native character and manners, than either from charter or privilege? With such men old customs and an old language must ever be in honor, they testify and nourish their attachment to their country.
Ch. II: wild scenery compared with the Reuss valley
The high vallies of the primordial mountains frequently offer scenery less extraordinary than that of those lower chasms which are excavated by the torrents at their feet. The narrow valley which runs from Pierrefitte to Luz exemplifies both beauties and horrors which are alike unknown to the more elevated vallies. In the same way the route of Schellenenthal, at the foot of St. Gothard, has scenery of which the higher part of the pass is entirely devoid. Between these two vallies indeed there is a very close resemblance; the same obstacles to be overcome; the same efforts of man attended with a like <P 22> success. They are both of them traversed by a furious torrent, and in both of them this torrent is encased at the foot, and flies over the bases of the most stupendous precipices. In both of them the road is hewn on the precipitous flanks of the rock; suspended frequently and salient over vaults projected from beneath it. Where a prop is entirely wanting, it passes the abyss, and seeks, upon the opposite mountains, a less rebellious declivity. In the deeps the same din, on the heights the same silence is ever observable. In the same way, between the rugged and jutting summits above, may be seen a heaven as straitened as the waters in the abysses are contracted; but nature in the Schellenenthal is still more majestic in her works, and man more astonishing in his endeavors. The precipices are more abrupt, the summits more projecting. The Swiss has hewn himself a passage in the hardest granite, and to attain the bason of Luz there is no Devil's Bridge to cross, no rock of eighty yards in thickness to traverse.
The bason of Luz recalls that of Argeles to mind, but is one degree higher in the mountains. It is of less extent, less fertile, and possesses beauties of a severer kind, nevertheless, from whatever quarter the traveller arrives, he has here a place of repose in every sense. The meadows are still gay, the cottages neat and numerous, and the two Gaves also, whose waters are here united, have lost the fury of their waves, on issuing from their savage vallies, and reappear as threatening torrents only when they quit this privileged and peaceful spot. The surrounding mountains have submitted to the hand of cultivation: nothing appears to threaten this retreat; and here the shepherd finds a certain refuge when the heights in which he wanders with his flock are buried under the snows of winter.
Ch. IV: ascent of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre
<P 53>[Lake of Oncet below summit] The scenery around is grand. To the south it is enclosed by rocks, which are only visited by the Izard and the Hunter. One of their ravines, the deepest and most rugged of them all, had conducted from the region of the clouds to the level of its frozen surface an immense body of snow. On the opposite side, however, are small vallies and the freshest verdure. In front the peak rose rapidly, meanwhile to the south the view extends as far as the points of Granite, whose bases form on this side the boundary of the valley of Bastan. -- The place, indeed, is a fine desert; the mountains well connected, the rocks of a majestic form, the outlines wild, the summits pointed, their precipices profound; and they that have not sufficient strength to seek the centre of the hills, where nature is more sublime, and her solitudes more <P 54> rude, may here obtain at little cost a very good idea of those aspects which are exemplified in mountains of the first order.
The heat of the sun was now felt strongly, and obliged us to rest a moment. We resumed our march at a slower pace. Here it was that the flowers of a short and vigorous turf, but just forsaken by the snow, which was still apparent in patches, recalled to my remembrance the high vallies and the pastures of the Alps. The air was calm and loaded with perfumes; the Daphne Cneorum but just in blossom, for the dog-days are the spring of these high regions of the earth. I had now begun to feel that charm, which I have so often known, so often tasted upon the mountains, that vague content, that lightness of body, that agility of limb, and that serenity of mind, which are all so sweet to experience, but so difficult to paint. My steps became more rapid: at last, I could no longer wait for my companions, but, leaving them and my guide, began to climb in a straight line towards the summit of <P 55> the mountain. I had soon attained it; and from the brink of a hideous precipice beheld a world beneath my feet.
The confused mass of southern rocks, which till now had confined my sight, and bewildered my conjectures, extended behind me in a vast crescent, and towered with its superior eminences at a distance where greatness ceases to be overwhelming. Placed in the apparent centre of the curve, I could see its extremities die away on either hand; nothing interposed between me and the plains. Here, then, as from the height of the clouds, I gazed down on the vallies and their hills, and with one glance embraced all Bigorre, Bearn, the Conserans, and even Languedoc itself, to that extreme distance where a light vapour, confounding the limits of the horizon with the immensity of the heavens, assists the eye, and leaves it nothing to regret.
But what incessantly attracted my regards, and afforded them a delicious repose, were the hillocks and the pastures which <P 56> rise from the bottom of the precipice towards the steep declivity of the peak, and from a resting point betwixt its summit and its base. There I perceived the hut of the shepherd surrounded with the fresh and verdant herbage of his meadow, the windings of the waters describing the figure of the heights; and the rapidity of the torrents perceptible by the foaming of their waves. Some points especially rivetted my attention. I fancied that I could distinguish a flock and discern their shepherd, who, perhaps, was gazing from below at an eagle, which I beheld beneath me, describing vast circles in the air.
The spot itself on which I stood was the last to attract my notice. I had already exhausted the little strength which man is possessed of for contemplating the immensity of nature, when I began to consider my narrow situation. I now beheld that even upon this barren rock there are other things to examine besides ruins, and that the pointed plates of the very hard schiste, which compose it, protect a <P 57> verdure and flowers from the cold and storms of the place. The Silene Acaulis, the ornament of lofty rocks, and two or three roots of Gentian, a plant which delights in situations for a long time buried and moistened under snow, were flourishing here, exiled upon this desert summit. A few insects buzzed about me; even a butterfly, which had arrived at this height by ascending the southern declivities, fluttered for a moment from flower to flower, but soon was borne towards the brink of the precipice, and confided its frail existence to the ocean of the air.
Such however is not the aspect, nor such the decorations of the central mountains of the earth. Very different are those desolated heights, under which the vallies sink into an abyss, which the eye dares not sound; far other are those summits, the view from whence shows only other summits, which seem to swim above the terrestrial vapours, and those deserts in which the eye finds no repose, where the ear catches not a sound of life, nor the <P 58> thought an object of contemplation, which does not seem to overwhelm it with the approaching ideas of immensity and eternity. In such scenes the traces of the habitable world expire, and that gloomy state of mind succeeds which recoils upon the idea of the nothingness of itself. Here upon the Pic du Midi we are not beyond the sphere of the world; we are above it and observe it; the dwellings of man are still beneath us; their agitations fresh in the memory, and the expanding heart still trembles with a somewhat of remaining passion.
I had recollected, rather than reposed, myself, and with the air of the region was inhaling peace of mind, when my companions arrived, and recalled my attention to the object of my journey. While they enjoyed, in their turn, this view, which overpays us for all fatigues, I was examining the southern mountains. One look was sufficient. The chaos was unravelled, and I had no longer any doubt as to the relative height of its various mountains, or the road towards the principal <P 59> elevations. Many ranks of mountains rise in succession, like a vast amphitheatre, from the Pic du Midi as far as the frontiers of Spain.
My companions had rested themselves for about an hour at the summit of the peak, when the proposed to quit it. We descended rapidly to the Hourque des Cinq Ours, a small platform which is situated between the top of the mountain and the lake. It is at this point that the valley which rises from the bottom of that of Campan to the summit of the peak is met by that through which we had ascended; and it was at this spot that in 1748 M. de Plantade, at the age of 70 years, died suddenly by the side of his quadrant, in the arms of his guides. Here we found a hunter. The Izard frequents this region, and in the windings of its vallies avoids the heat of the sun, which it cannot endure. The Izard is the chamois of the <P 63> Pyrenees. I found it smaller and of a lighter colour than that of the Alps; and if I may judge from the information which I have received from the hunters, with respect to its manners, and the method of pursuing it, I have reason also to believe that it is weaker and less active.
In less than three quarters of an hour from the time of our departure, we were on the borders of the lake. We rested there a moment. The heat was insufferable. The very sheep that here were scattered over the pastures were reposing, some under the shadow of the rocks, others on the snow; their shepherds had thrown themselves out upon the top of an enormous fragment. The sight was at once picturesque and pleasing; and this time nothing fled at our approach. We were soon accosted by two young mountaineers, handsome and well made; they were walking barefooted, but with that grace and agility which so particularly distinguish the natives of the Pyrenees. Their bonnets were tastily ornamented with mountain flowers; <P 64> and an air of adventure about them interested me exceedingly. They were ascending to the peak, said they, and asked if the plain were visible and free from vapours: for curiosity alone it seems had conducted them thither from the mountains of Bearn. Never had I seen in the Alps a similar instance of curiosity. It supposes that inquietude of mind, those wants of the imagination, that love of what is extraordinary or famous, with which the peaceful felicity of the Swiss had never yet been troubled; but of this the more romantic happiness of the inhabitant of the Pyrenees is composed: for independent of liberty, of ease, or of education, an elevated train of ideas are here discernible in the language of the shepherd, whose appearance would bespeak him the most gross of men. In fact, the true inhabitant of the Pyrenees, the native shepherd of these mountains, however uncultivated or poor is lively, generous, and noble; proud even in a state of degradation, and under every reverse of fortune; ever amiable, ever alive to the soft illusions of sentiment, and the <P 65> noble charms of glory, and thus is ever to be recognized by that inheritance which he had received from race, not climate, a true nobility, from which he has never derogated, and which follows him alike in every condition.
From the borders of the lake we directed our course towards those heights to the south of the valley of Bastan, which we had traversed in ascending to the peak, but kept the path a little higher. I then conducted my companions to the most elevated huts of the whole country. As I knew the shepherd, I expected to be able to procure some milk there. The milk of the Pyrenees is as inferior in quality, as it is in quantity, to that of the Alps, but even what we found, from its delicious freshness, was the most agreeable beverage that we could desire.
Ch IV: pastoral simplicity of shepherds
The shepherd to whose hut I led my companions, is one of those unfortunate men, whom I have described as condemned to perpetual solitude. Alone, <P 67> with his herds on their summer pastures, he returns with them, and lives in as lonely a way in their winter stables. His long association with his cows and sheep has given him so extensive a knowledge of their tastes and passions, so perfect an acquaintance with the least of their desires and affections, that he scarcely dares maintain, with regard to them, his pre-eminence as one of the human race. One day, as he was compassionating their wants, with a sentiment of equality, he cut short the expression, and frankly avowed that, saving the light of Christianity, he could find but very little difference betwixt their condition and our own.
It is thus that at a very small distance from Bareges, there are still to be found a number of men entirely without the sphere of its influence; and dwellings, which however easy of access to such as wish to seek them, are nevertheless sufficiently elevated to forbid the adventures of the townsman. The simplicity of the mountaineer, then, is little altered. I have lived in these spots, <P 68> and with this order of men. I have stopped wherever I found a family of shepherds, indifferent to every other pursuit but their own; and whose ambition was bounded to their meadow and flocks; and arriving early in the morning before the shepherd, who follows the cattle into the higher mountains, had brought in his leathern bag, could partake of their bread and milk, and not believe myself above their gratuitous hospitality, whenever I perceived them a little at their ease; at the same time not forgetting when I payed for any things in the houses of the poor, that to live with the simple, and be acquainted with them, we must avoid usurping, by the miserable superiority which the power of spending a little money bestows, a consideration which is hurtful to all free communication, if not obtained by those advantages which tend to equalize the conditions of all. I have conversed, then, with the fathers of these families, and have played with their children. I have followed the young huntsman and the young shepherd to the <P 69> mountain. More curious with the respect to their manners, than the singularities of nature, I have made myself their companion or their guest, without any interest which they could perceive. In this way they have seen me bare-footed upon their declivities, where the use of shoes, without my cramp-irons would have given me only a ridiculous disadvantage; and they have neither laughed at me for dreading their precipices, nor treated me with that feigned deference, which they pay to the pretensions of the citizen.
In nine hours' time, on foot, we had finished our journey. My companions indeed were much fatigued, but the access to this famous mountain is of the easiest.
Ch. V: road to Gavarnie
The entrance to the valley of Gavernie partakes of the charming dress of the bason of Luz. The Gave which escapes it, has not, like its brother of the valley of Bastan, a desolate border; its course is approached by trees; it is overhung with habitations; for a short time we see it covered with a fine arch, which leads to the baths of St. Sauveur. Hereabouts, indeed, it is more encased within its banks; but these are formed of living rock and not of melancholy ruins. It passes thus below St. Sauveur, the houses of which, of a simple and rustic construction, are suspended on its precipices, and at about 200 toises from the baths, a fine torrent, half <P 78> hidden with thick and dark gree foliage, just lets us see the fall by which it is precipitated towards the Gave.
Meanwhile the road continues to ascend, and the Gave to sink. We now have to traverse a projecting rock, from whence will be soon effaced the last remains of the fort of Escalette. It was formerly erected to shut up, at this point, the narrowest part of the defile. Here the rocks are extremely steep, and no further habitations can be met with; but a number of torrents, whose source is in the western mountains, roll and plunge towards the Gave. They assume every variety of form; in one place being vomited from wild ravines; in another, making their tranquil escapefrom the shadows of the thickest forests; elsewhere, they are opposed by a long succession of saw-mills, which turn by turn take possession of their waters, and restore them to nature, only when the work of man is done.
At about a thousand toises from the ruins of the fort of Escalette, some cottages are suddenly discovered below the road. They stand upon a small platform, which is nearer the level of the Gave, are overshadowed with fine walnut trees, and separated from each other by great blocks of stone. This is the hamlet of Sia. Hereabouts we descend by the zig-zags of a steep and rugged path, and cross a bridge of a single arch; it is ninety feet above the torrent; meanwhile the hamlet has disappeared. From this bridge we may see the Gave profoundly imbedded, and forming a long and terrible cataract, under shadow of the thickest umbrage. Presently the waters redouble their rapidity, and shoot along under the bridge, without either foam or waves, into a tortuous labyrinth of rocks, overhung with tranquil verdure. The bridge itself is ancient, and clad with ivy; it thus assumes in some degree the uniform of nature, and ceases to be a foreign object in this wild and savage landscape.
We have now the torrent to the left, and the landscape, still more melancholy. From the borders of the Gave, to which the path descends, there is nothing to be seen but lofty mountains and uniform declivities, without repose, without verdure, without habitations. It is only from distance to distance that an isolated cabin is here and there to be discovered on the side of some vast ruin of the mountains, of which a portion has been clad with verdure, or some saw-mills scarcely distinguishable, amid the enormous fragments with which the borders of the torrents are loaded.
Here again we had the sunshine, and perceived the silver summit of the Marboré, but the prospect was soon interrupted by the projection of a rock, which supports the first houses of Gedro, and at the foot of which we found this village, with its charming valley. Into this there branches out, under the name of the valley of Heas, one of the largest and deepest vallies, which descend from the region of granite, which is situated between the valley of Bastan, that of Aure, and that of Gavarnie. Its torrent rolls down the fragments of this granite, and the various contractions of the valley of Gavarnie appear to correspond to the principal bands of rock which surround it. The lateral valley of which I speak, takes the name of one of its <P 86> branches, which is distinguished by a chapel, not less famous for the singularity of its situation, than the devotion of the mountaineers. Two other principal branches are detached from it; that which is least in depth, rises directly to the east towards the Piclong; the other, much wilder and deeper, is the valley of Estaubé, which traverses this desolate region as far as the base of Mont Perdu, the principal summit of the Marboré, which is seen from thence on its more inaccessible side, supporting to the greatest height which the Pyrenees attain, the homogenous marble of which it appears to be formed to its very summit.
Gedro and its bason are at the foot of the Comelie. When we arrived there, the heat was very sensible, and the climate of the spot appeared to us as mild as the soil was rich and fertile. A beautiful arch crosses the Gave of Heas. This bridge, and the cataracts of the torrent, were shaded with lime trees in blossom, and formed a singularly interesting object. From a house, too, of the village, belonging <P 87> to one Palasser, there is an easy descent towards the level of the Gave, where the torrent, rolling the deep obscurity of the shades which cover it, is seen to form a beautiful and thundering cataract; and rushes furiously from a vault of verdure, as from the entrails of the earth.
After having passed Gedro, the road rises considerably upon the base of the Comelie. Here we have nothing but ruins, and these ruins are enormous. A vast declivity of blocks of granite, confusedly piled together, descends from the very summit of the mountains to the lowest depths of the valley. It is the terrible monument of the fall of almost an entire mountain. These blocks are formed of masses of from ten to a hundred thousand cubic feet each, and are heaped up and suspended one above another as the little pebbles of our torrents are. The Gave, compressed, repelled and divided by these ruins, which, with all its fury it cannot stir, escapes with a bellowing sound from amidst them, and adds to the horror of this chaos, the <P 88> tumult of its cataracts, and the thunders of its waves.
We were not less than half an hour in traversing this hideous solitude, which the people of the country call the Peyrada. On leaving it, the beautiful cascade of Saousa is seen descending from a mountain of the same name into the Gave. The snows of the Marboré are now in front. From this point, indeed, the snows are already seen on all sides terminating the different views, which by the lateral vallies may be had of the interior mountains. At the same time the Comelie changes its form, and presents itself under the singular aspect of a very sharp peak, which is crowned nevertheless to the very top with trees. At the bottom of it, is the road, and as we advance by a series of defiles continually shortening, and of the basons gradually more contracted, the surrounding boundary of the rocks of Gavarnie unfolds and enlarges. The Gave is passed for the last time at the bridge of Barygui, which is often <P 89> considered as the limit between the pastures on the French and Spanish side, and here is situated what is called the Inn of Gavarnie. A little further lies the village itself, from whence the mountains of the bottom present almost entirely to the view their semicircular wall, the snows which load its stages, the tower-like rocks which crown its heights, and the numerous cascades which are precipitated into the inferior circus. This beautiful mass is the most known part of the Marboré. Its volume and its height would make it appear to be very near Gavarnie, but its colour, which partakes of the azure of the high regions of the atmosphere, and of that golden light which lies upon distant objects, is a good warning, that before it can be reached, there are many vallies yet to pass. It is a magnificent picture, set as it were in the nearer mountains; and, contrasting with them both in form and tint, appears to have been coloured by a more brilliant, a lighter and more magic pencil; for such as are not acquainted with the mountains of the first order, can have no <P 90> idea of that golden and transparent hue, which tinges the highest summits of the earth. It is often by this alone, that the eye is informed of their prodiguous elevation; for, deceived in its estimation of heights and distance, it would confound them with every thing which, either by its form or situation, is capable of imitating their magnificence, did not this species of celestial light announce that their summits inhabit a region of perpetual serenity.
Ch. V: encounter with a smuggler on the high mountains
After some moments of repose and tranquil conversation, we again set off, and ascended to the west, in order to view those ices, which were as yet concealed from us. We soon attained a valley of snow, which rises in a direction parallel to that of the bands of the mountains, and is consequently primitive. Scarcely had we entered it, when I beheld upon the heights above us, a very stout fellow armed with a gun, and descending with an air of agility and boldness, which I could not enough admire. This was an Arrogonese smuggler. As soon as he perceived us, he stopt, and put himself on his guard; but seeing me approach him with confidence, and that I was not armed, he continued to descend, preserving however the advantage of the heights, until he had well observed us. He informed us <P 103> that the snows of the pass were good, and that he had descended from the Breche de Roland with ease: but after all, a smuggler does not travel as a philosopher, and when I remarked his cramp-irons hanging from his sack, and the small hatchet which he carried at his side for hewing out his way in the ice, I could easily guess, that if he had not had occasion for them, I might.
In the countenance of this man I could perceive a mixture of boldness and confidence; his thick and frizzled beard was continued up into his black and curling hair; his broad breast was open, his strong and nervous legs naked; all his clothing consisted of a simple vest; the covering of his feet, after the manner of the Romans and Goths, of a piece of cow's skin applied to the sole of the foot, and bound round it like a purse, by means of two straps, which were afterwards crossed and fastened above the ancles. Such is the dress of the true mountaineer, of the smuggler, of the hunter of the Izard, of the shepherd even of these high regions; but what can never <P 104> be described is, that grace and agility of step which they possess, that vigor which pervades their every movement, and that air of their countenance at once so wild and noble.
Ch. V: fragrance and memory
I left my guide at Gavarnie, and resumed the road of Gedro, where I arrived at sunset. At every step I could perceive the temperature changing. From the heights of the rock to Gavarnie I had passed from winter to spring; from Gavarnie to Gedro I passed from spring to summer. Here I felt a mild and pleasant warmth. The new-mown hay was lying in the fields, and the various plants exhaling their perfumes. The limes trees were in blossom. I entered the house, from whence in the morning I had examined the almost hidden cataracts of the Gave of Heas. At the bottom of the court was a rock which overhung them: I sat myself upon it. The night was now descending, and the stars, according to their magnitude, beginning to appear. I quitted the torrent <P 112> and the tumult of its waves, to breathe again the air of the valley, and inhale its fragrance. Retracing so my steps, I endeavoured to account with myself for that portion of my voluptuous sensations, for which I was conscious of being indebted to recollection. There is a somewhat in perfumes which powerfully awakens the memory of the past. Nothing so soon recalls to the mind a beloved spot, a regretted situation, or moments whose passage has been deeply recorded in the heart, though lightly in the memory. The fragrance of a violet restores us to the enjoyment of many springs. I know not to what exquisite moments of my life, the lime in flower was ever witness, but I could plainly feel that it occasioned a vibration which had long been dormant, that it awakened recollections connected with happy days. I could feel between my heart as it were and my thoughts, that there was spread a veil, which perhaps it would have been pleasing, perhaps the contrary, to have removed. I indulged then in my reverie, though somewhat bordering <P 113> upon the melancholy, which is ever occasioned by the images of the past, and extended over nature that illusion which I had caught from her; for by this time I had ceased to be alone amidst these wild retreats, and had established between them and myself a secret and indefinable intelligence. Alone, upon the borders of the torrent of Gedro; alone, but under a heaven the witness of all things, I abandoned myself with emotion to that soft security, to that delicious sentiment of co-existence, which we can experience only in the fields of our native country. Invisible Being, who interposest in our lives some happy moments, be blessed for those fleeting hours when the unquiet spirit is at peace, when the heart is in unison with nature, and enjoys; for enjoyment is ours, frail but sensible beings that we are; and knowledge is thine, who, in abandoning the earth to our possession, and the universe to our disputes, hast extended between us and creation, between us and ourselves, the sacred obscurity with which thou art enveloped.
Ch. VI: smugglers above Gavarnie
<P 116> Four Spanish smugglers, who were marching in company, completed this strange assembly of different objects, united in one of the wildest, and least accessible deserts in nature. These smugglers are as adroit as they are determined, are familiarized at all times with peril, and march in the very face of death: their first movement is a never-failing shot, and certainly would be a subject of dread to most travellers; for where are they to be dreaded more than in deserts, where crime has nothing to witness it, and the feeble no assistance. As for myself, alone and unarmed, I have met them without anxiety, and have accompanied then without fear. We have little to apprehend from men whom we inspire with no distrust nor envy, and every thing to expect in those, from whom we claim only what is due from man to man. The laws of nature still exist, for those who have long shaken off the laws of civil government. At war with society, they are sometimes at peace with their fellows. The assassin has been my guide in the defiles of the boundaries of <P 117> Italy; the smuggler of the Pyrenees has received me with a welcome in his secret paths. Armed, I should have been the enemy of both; unarmed, they have alike respected me. In such expectation, I have long since laid aside all menacing apparatus whatever. Arms may indeed be employed against the wild beast, but no one should forget that they are no defence against the traitor; that they irritate the wicked, and intimidate the simple; lastly, that the man of peace, among mankind, has a much more sacred defence, -- his character.
Ch. VII: near Bagneres de Luchon
We arrived at last at the bottom of the mountain, and entered the principal branch of the valley of Arboust. Here we passed a number of beautiful villages, the view extends, every thing is enlivening. At about a league from the town of Bagneres de Luchon, I particularly remarked a village in a most extraordinary situations, and before me a tower situated upon a rock so elevated, and commanded itself by mountains so abrupt, that never did ancient dwelling of the savage lords of the mountains so perfectly resemble an eagle's nest. On the borders of the road beside it, there is a small chapel; it is but little frequented, however, its pavement being overgrown with shrubs. I stopt for a moment before this chapel, to admire the magnificence of the landscape which surrounds it. The declining sun had spread over it the charm which arises from the approach of evening. It is then that the immensity of nature adopts that unity of <P 177> colours, and that regular disposition of shade, which simplifies her forms, connects them in great masses, and gives them that harmony and gravity of tone, in which both the eye and the mind may alike be at rest.
Ch. XI: approach to the Maladetta
Such persons as have not traversed mountains of the first order, will with difficulty form an idea of what repays the fatigues which are experienced, and the dangers which are undergone there. Still less will they be able to imagine that these fatigues are not without their pleasures, and these dangers not without their <P 257> charms. They will be quite unable to conceive how great is their attraction for those who know them, if they do not call to mind that man, by his very nature, is fond of overcoming obstacles; that from character he is inclined to seek adventures; and that it is a property of the mountains to contain within the smallest space, and to present within the shortest period, the greatest possible variety of aspect, the appearances of distant regions and climates; to connect events which are elsewhere separated by a length of interval; and to nourish with profusion that desire of sensation and of knowledge, that primitive and inextinguishable passion of man, which arises from his perfectibility, and tends to its developement; a passion greater than himself, which embraces more than he can grasp, conjectures more than he can comprehend, is prescient of more than he can foresee, deceives him frequently as to the proper end of life, but lulls him at least over its miseries, and consoles him for its brevity.
Ch. XI: descent in fog from the Maladetta
One of the first objects to be remarked in the descent is a great and beautiful lake, commanded to the right by a peak of the boldest form, named the Pomeron. The lake also assumes this name. It is discharged into a smaller lake, the waters of which disappear under a mass of schist, but make their appearance again, though at a considerable distance, in the form of a torrent, which falls into the lower valley. These lakes, with the bason, the naked rocks, and the ruins which accompany them, form altogether one of the most melancholy landscapes that I have ever met with.
The fog, which had surrounded me at the summit of the Maladetta, had descended by degrees to the level of this gorge. All on a sudden the mountains disappeared, and in a couple of seconds the lake also was swallowed up. The mist was flying with such rapidity as not to allow me time to draw the attention of my guides to the singular spectacle which struck me on its first appearance. The <P 297> cloud was opening and closing again with equal promptitude. Sometimes it was the summit of the peak, sometimes the bottom of the valley that were to be seen through its divisions. It stopt only once, and then covered the whole of the country about us, but showed us, through a circular opening, the rich and fertile declivity of the mountains of the valley of Aure. This apparition, which had something of magic in it, lasted but for a moment, and was the last. Scarcely could we perceive one another. The world was at an end at three steps before us, and we were marching over its ruins. A rapid declivity, which on the right conducted to the lake, and at the same time plunged before us into the deep vallies of which we had a glimpse through the clouds, together with a soil on which the ruins of the neighbouring mountains presented us a mingled mass of the rocks of their summit, their flanks and entrails, every thing, in fine, concurred to render the descent most dangerous; at the same time, the obscurity redoubling at every <P 298> moment, might have rendered any tardiness of consequence.
The hunter who conducted us was perfectly acquainted with the passage. He marched before and directed us with his voice, for at every moment we were losing sight of one another. The mass of ruins over which we were passing, appeared to be so extraordinary a mixture of schistous rocks of every kind, that I could not but stop from time to time to break some pieces of them. How much did I regret that I was deprived of the sight of the mountains which have covered this ravine with their ruins, and that I could not observe the general disposition of the strata upon the fragments of which I trod. But this was so much gained for the safety of the march: where a single false step might have been fatal, it was fortunate that the soil should have attracted my attention.
This dangerous descent led us to a pasture; and as the thick fog which had surrounded us was much less prompt than <P 299> we were to disengage itself from the labyrinth of these upper gorges, it remained suspended over our heads.
In passing suddenly from night to day, we had at the same time past from a scene of the wildest to one of the most smiling nature. All the declivities were covered either with herbage or forests, and descended rapidly towards the lower vallies, which I beheld uniting underneath me, and conveying each in its turn to the great valley which rises from their union the torrent which concurs to form its river. The sun was now descended towards the west, and almost cloudless. It enlightened a vast extent of horizon, composed entirely of rounded summits, submitted henceforth to man and the animals of his dominion, which, descending gradually towards the plains, appeared to expire there, like the high waves of the ocean against a distant shore.