Lady Morgan, from Italy (1821)

Contemplations near Mont Cenis

[33] Whoever has wandered far, and seen much, has learned to distrust the promises of books; and (in respect of the most splendid efforts of human labour) must have often felt how far the unworn expectation starts beyond its possible accomplishment. But nature never disappoints. Neither the memory nor the imagination of authorship can go beyond the fact she dictates, or the image she presents. If general feelings can be measured by individual impressions, Italy, with all her treasures of art, and associations of history, has nothing to exhibit that strikes the traveller like the Alps which meet his view on his ascent to the summit of Mount Cenis, or of the Semplon. That is a moment in which the imagination feels the real poverty of its resources, the narrow limits of its range. An aspect of the material world then presents itself, which genius, even in its highest exaltation, must leave to original creation, as unimitated and inimitable. The sensation it produces is too strong for pleasure, too intense for enjoyment. There, where all is so new, novelty loses its charm; where all is so safe, conscious security is no proof against "horrible imaginings;" and those splendid evidences of the science and industry of man, which rise at every step, recede before the terrible possibilities with which they mingle, and which may render the utmost precaution of talent and philanthropy unavailable. It is in vain that the barrier rises and the arch springs; that the gulf is platformed and the precipice skreened -- [34] still the eye closes and the breath is suspended, while danger, painted in the unmastered savagery of remote scenes, creates an ideal and proximate peril. Here experience teaches the falsity of the trite maxim, that the mind becomes elevated by the contemplation of nature in the midst of her grandest works, and engenders thoughts "that wander through eternity." The mind in such scenes is not raised. It is stricken back upon its own insignificance. Masses like these sublime deformities, starting out of the ordinary proportions of nature, in their contemplation reduce man to what he is -- an atom. In such regions nothing is in conformity with him, all is at variance with his end and being, all is commemorative of those elementary convulsions, which sweep away whatever lives and breathes, in the general wreck of inanimate matter. Engines and agents of the destructive elements that rage around them, these are regions fitted only to raise the storm, and to launch the avalanche, to cherish the whirlwind, and attract the bolt; until some convulsive throe within the mystic womb, awakens fiercer contentions: then they heave and shift, and burst and burn, again to subside, cool down, and settle into awful stillness and permanent desolation; at once the wreck and the monument of changes, which scoff at human record, and trace in characters that admit no controversy, the fallacy of calculation and the vanity of systems. Well may the countless races of successive ages have left the mysteries of the Alps unexplored, their snows untracked: but immortal glory be the meed of them, the brave, bold spirits, whose unaccommodated natures, in these regions, where "cold performs the effect of fire," braved dangers in countless forms, to oppose the invading enemies of their country's struggling rights; who climbing where the eagle had not soared, nor the chamois dared to spring, raised the shout of national independence amidst echoes which had never reverberated, save to the howl of the wolf, or the thunder of the avalanche. Gratitude as eternal as the snows of Mount Blanc to them or him, who grappled with obstacles coeval with creation, levelled the pinnacle and blew up the rock, pierced the granite, and spanned the torrent, disputing with nature in all her potency her right to separate man from man, [35] and made straight in the desert an highway for progressive civilization!

Return to Romantic Travellers

Document created April 1st 2003