Comparison: Coxe and Williams

Ascent to the St. Gotthard. Coxe on left; Williams, comparable sentences, middle; commentary on right. Note: the order of Williams's sentences is not always followed. See also Emerson extract below.

[157] We set out this morning early from Wasen, a small village where we passed the night; and continued advancing for some way on a rugged ascent, through the same wild and beautiful tract of [158] country, which I have just mentioned. [149] Here we began to ascend that mass of mountains, which is rather the base than the mountain itself of St. Gothard. The road suddenly becomes so [150] steep, that it required at first some address to keep a seat on horseback.
  • Williams dramatizes her own horse-riding (note her difficulty over steep ascents or descents elsewhere)

We could scarce walk an hundred yards without crossing some of those torrents, that precipitated with violence from the tops of the mountains in different forms; the water clearer than chrystal.


The road lay for a considerable length on the left side of the precipices, from which we beheld the struggles of the waters, and the tremendous succession of cascades which they formed. An abrupt precipice, forbidding the continuance of the road on this side, a bridge of hardy construction [151] led to the opposite mountain, which is ascended, till meeting with a similar obstruction, we crossed the stream again to the left.

  • Coxe: more objective terms for action: 'precipitated with violence'; scientific comparison: 'chrystal'
  • Williams anthro.: 'struggles'; 'forbidding'; and sentence enacts the repeated crossing, unlike Coxe
The road, exceedingly steep and craggy, is chiefly paved: in many places it is carried upon arches under a high mountain, and overhangs a deep precipice; the river roaring and foaming below. The river, which glided gently through the valley on its expanded bed, being now hemmed in by rocks, begins to struggle for its passage at a profound depth. The pine-clad hills rose on each side to our furthest ken, down which torrent streams were rushing, and crossed our way to mingle themselves with the Reuss, which continually presented new scenes of wonder. The mountains seemed to close upon us as we advanced, sometimes but just space enough was left to admit the passage of the river foaming through the rocks, which seem obstinately to oppose its passage.
  • Williams continues to dramatize, especially the river: e.g., 'profound depth' vs. Coxe's 'below';
  • struggling and opposition enact river's activity;
  • tributary streams mentioned, not in Coxe, i.e., more capacious view;
  • sense of increasing enclosure;
  • emphasis on act of perception: 'further ken'; 'new scenes of wonder'
This being one of the great passages into Italy, we met a considerable number of pack-horses laden with merchandize: and as the road in particular parts is very narrow, it required some dexterity in the horses to pass one another without jostling. These roads, hanging as they do over the precipice, cannot fail of inspiring terror to those travellers, who are unaccustomed to them; and more particularly as the mules and horses have a singular method of going on. They do not keep in the middle of the track, [159] but continue crossing from the side of the mountain towards the edge of the precipice, then turn aslant abruptly; and thus form, if I may so express myself, a constant zig-zag. This passage, which in summer is sufficiently terrific, becomes dangerous in winter by the frequent avalanches that rush from those tremendous heights, and so delicately are these messengers of destruction hung on the summits, that the guides and mule-drivers tye up the bells of their cattle to prevent the gingling, and forbid a word [157] to be spoken by the passengers, that the avalanche, which waits on the mountain to overwhelm them, may not hear them approach. Little crosses placed by the road side where travellers have perished, are melancholy mementoes of such mortal accidents
  • Williams: no exact correspondence to Coxe, but her mention of mule-drivers more dramatic: avalanches and death;
  • generally she seems more attentive to the presence of people and their history -- 'Little crosses' etc.
We then came to a bridge thrown across a very deep chasm over the Reuss, which here forms a [160] considerable cataract down the shagged sides of the mountain, and over immense fragments of rock which it has undermined in its course. This bridge is called Teufels-bruck, or the devil's bridge; the common people always attributing works of any difficulty to the devil. As we stood upon the bridge admiring the cataract, we were covered with a kind of drizzling rain; the river throwing up the spray to a considerable heighth. These are sublime scenes of horror, of which those who have not been spectators, can form no idea: neither the powers of painting nor poetry can give an adequate image of them. After winding for some time among these awful scenes, of which no painting can give an adequate description, and of which an imagination the most pregnant in sublime horrors could form but a very imperfect idea, we came within the sound of these cataracts of the Reuss which announced our approach towards another operation of Satanic power, called the Devil's Bridge. We were more struck with the august drapery of this supernatural work, than with the work itself. . . . On this spot we loitered for some time to contemplate the stupendous and terrific scenery. The mountainous rocks lifted their heads abrupt, and appeared to fix the limits of our progress at this point, unless we could climb the mighty torrent which was struggling impetuously for passage under our feet, after precipitating its afflicted waters with tremendous roar in successive cascades over the disjointed rocks, and filling the atmosphere with foam.
  • Coxe (last sentence) / Williams (first): both say scene beyond representation
  • Coxe proceeds next to the tunnel; Williams dramatizes the obstruction that required the tunnel
  • Williams, anthro: 'announced'; 'lifted'; 'fix the limits'; 'struggling'; 'afflicted', altogether serving to create a sense of titanic forces witnessed which oppose themselves to her continued passage

Emerson's Nature (1836). From Chapter IV: Language

Words are signs of natural facts. The use of natural history is to give us aid in supernatural history: the use of the outer creation, to give us language for the beings and changes of the inward creation. Every word which is used to express a moral or intellectual fact, if traced to its root, is found to be borrowed from some material appearance. Right means straight; wrong means twisted. Spirit primarily means wind; etc.

It is not words only that are emblematic; it is things which are emblematic. Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact. Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of the mind, and that state of the mind can only be described by presenting that natural appearance as its picture.

Who looks upon a river in a meditative hour, and is not reminded of the flux of all things? Throw a stone into the stream, and the circles that propagate themselves are the beautiful type of all influence. Man is conscious of a universal soul within or behind his individual life, wherein, as in a firmament, the natures of Justice, Truth, Love, Freedom, arise and shine.

picturesque language is at once a commanding certificate that he who employs it, is a man in alliance with truth and God. The moment our discourse rises above the ground line of familiar facts, and is inflamed with passion or exalted by thought, it clothes itself in images.

Have mountains, and waves, and skies, no significance but what we consciously give them, when we employ them as emblems of our thoughts? The world is emblematic. Parts of speech are metaphors, because the whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind.

See this site for online version of Nature

Return to Romantic Travellers

Document created February 3rd 2003