Bourrit and Ramond

For March 8/10 2005

What is being encountered at Chamonix?

"the literary text is not just the displacement but the overdetermined and agonic denial of historical reference" (47). Liu, Alan. Wordsworth: The Sense of History. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1989.

"to write about nature is to write about how the mind sees nature, and sometimes about how the mind sees itself" (Sharon Cameron, cited Slovic)

"by granting the thing, as it were, a free field to display its thingly character directly. Everything that might interpose itself between the thing and us in apprehending and talking about it must first be set aside." (156) "The Origin of the Work of Art." Martin Heidegger. Basic Writings. David Farrell Krell, Ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1977. 149-187.

"to suggest that man can and should be studied exclusive of his environment is as good an example of reductionism as we are likely to find" (102). Neil Evernden. "Beyond Ecology: Self, Place, and the Pathetic Fallacy." The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology. Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, Eds. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 1996. 92-104.

Critical suggestions

John Whale: "The appetite for novelty in Gilpin's Picturesque can thus be measured against the obsessive questing of the actual explorer and the wanderlust of the Romantic poet" (179). "Romantics, Explorers, and Picturesque Travellers." The Politics of the Picturesque: Literature, Landscape and Aesthetics since 1770. Stephen Copley and Peter Garside, Eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. 175-195.

                                    I look on high;
Has some unknown omnipotence unfurled
The veil of life and death?
                        (Shelley, "Mont Blanc" 52-4)

"Tours, as opposed to journeys or explorations, always seem undermotivated; they always seem impelled by someone else's motive. A tour's conventional motivation, perhaps, always represses something indescribably at home -- whether ennui or something stronger" (Liu, 7)

Miscellaneous quality of travel writing, supposedly.

The Sublime / inexpressible


But there is more than one way of seeing objects. One has to distinguish between the matter of simple seeing, where the object prompts us to perceive a specific form, and cases where no well-established ways of perceiving exist. In the latter instance, the sudden access of visual meaning is equivalent to discovery. This mode of perception is endemic to a period that valued the factual, that doted on meticulous observation, that dwelled on experience. (Barbara Maria Stafford, "Toward Romantic Landscape Perception: Illustrated Travels and the Rise of 'Singularity' as an Aesthetic Category." Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, 10 (1981), 17-75, p. 59)

To stumble upon otherness without foreknowledge is the experiential equivalent of launching one's creative imagination into the visionary mode, unhampered by reason. (Roger Cardinal, "Romantic Travel." In R. Porter (Ed.), Rewriting the Self: Histories from the Renaissance to the Present (1997), p. 147)

Exotic shapes or combinations pose no problem: the picturesque traveller calmly makes them familiar. (Anne D. Wallace, Walking, Literature, and English Culture (1993), p. 49)

Limits of "reading" landscape: cf. Wordsworth in Gondo Ravine, perhaps?

But also consider striking change that nature can induce, we feel but cannot articulate:

That domination which she oftentimes
Exerts upon the outward face of things,
So moulds them, and endues, abstracts, combines,
Or by abrupt and unhabitual influence
Doth make one object so impress itself
Upon all others, and pervade them so,
That even the grossest minds must see and hear
And cannot choose but feel. (Prelude XIII, 77-84)

Glaciers: challenge our sense of being an 'inmate' of the natural world: Wordsworth's babe: "An inmate of this active universe" (Prelude II, 266).

Windham (1744). First sight of glacier, Mer de Glace:

I own to you that I am extremely at a Loss how to give a right Idea of it; as I know no one thing which I have ever seen that has the least Resemblance to it. (8)

His comparison, which would become a commonplace:

The Description which Travellers give of the Seas of Greenland seems to come the nearest to it. You must imagine your Lake put in Agitation by a strong Wind, and frozen all at once, perhaps even that would not produce the same Appearance. (8)

Cf. Moore (1779): "we found ourselves on a plain, whose appearance has been aptly compared to that which a stormy sea would have, if it were suddenly arrested by a strong frost. This is called the Valley of Ice." (217)

Increase of glaciers, history of the world:

Our Guides assured us, that, in the time of their Fathers, the Glaciere was but small, and that there was even a Passage thro' these Valleys, by which they could go into the Val d'Aoste in six Hours: But that the Glaciere was so much increased, that the Passage was quite stopped up, and that it went on increasing every Year. (Windham 10)

formerly it was possible to penetrate from the extremity of this valley, even to Val d'Aoste, which the vast accumulation of ice has rendered at present impracticable. (Bourrit 81)

Haller . . . then fourteen years of age, has affirmed to me, that in his early youth he had seen from Berne, mountains stript of their snows during the greater part of the summer, which are now constantly covered. (Ramond, in Williams II, 306)

Bourrit (1775)

Sublime vs. picturesque:

Introductory: glaciers and mountains of Chamonix as if beyond description: "the inimitable originals" (2). What of residents? - those within the valley familiarized to it; those outside find the way there too forbidding.

In Author's Advertisement, on his plates: "the first time he went into this romantic country, the number, and immensity of the objects which struck his sight, at the same time presented difficulties it was impossible for him then to surmount, not having formed the least idea of them before he set out" (np).

But the way there very picturesque and, in places, sublime (5-7); "the beauties of this romantic region" (5-6) Note Cascade of Nant d'Arpenaz (omitted here): will see it again with Shelleys.

Emotion-based: from "such impressions become more agreeable" (1) to:

There is still a singular emotion which the sight of this country excites in the mind, from the prodigious height of the mountains, which surround these valleys on every side. Mount Blanc especially produces a sensation which is very difficult to express. (7)

Mathematical sublime, affective:

The height of Mount Blanc, . . . upon a [8] base proportionally massive, which yet the eye can take in at one view, the mind is almost lost in the sublimity of its own idea, and no tongue whatever is capable of describing, and conveying justly to others, the humiliating, elevated, awful feelings of the soul upon the sight of such an object.

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Document created March 3rd 2003