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We soon began to ascend the second range of mountains, and had not advanced far when we came to a passage or tunnel, hewn or blown through the solid rock, of considerable length and ample height, illumined throughout by lamps suspended from the roof. This, if my memory is accurate, is one of the enterprises of Napoleon, under whose auspices the Mont Cénis road was constructed, or at least coinpleteú. In many points I am disposed to think that it rivals the celebrated Simplon, which I crossed upon my return from Italy. Louis the Fourteenth is said to have exclaimed, in allusion to the fact that the throne of Spain was occupied by a French prince, that there were no more Pyrenees. Bonaparte might have said with more literal truth, that there are no more Alps. The Simplon and the Mont Cénis are in fact, two grand highways which unite regions that nature seemed to have separated by insurmountable barriers. These proofs of wonder-working power have survived the transient dominion of their author, and will prove the most enduring monuments of his greatness. They are inscriptions graven in colossal characters upon the everlasting hills. Had he concentrated his mighty genius and vast resources upon works of public and permanent utility, instead of pursuing with insatiable avidity his boundless schemes of ambition, he might in a measure have changed the face and remoulded the features of his vast empire. Yet this is narrow reasoning, for without his military prowess and dazzling conquests he had acquired neither the means nor the effect to accomplish great improvements. The magnificent project of universal empire has been attributed to him, and may have sometimes dazzled his eye, like the star which, invisible to others, was discerned by his vision alone. Had this supposed dream been realized, what might not have been expected from his boundless spirit of enterprise and unwearied energy of action, operating upon so extensive a scale? As it is, he accomplished much both morally and physically; much beyond empty victories and sanguinary trophies. His contemporaries were the chief sufferers by his faults; the benefits of his labors are reaped by posterity. But to return from this episode.
We slept the first night at Chambéry, a pretty town, the capital of Savoy, and a place of no little historical interest. It was attractive to me chiefly as the youthful residence of that eccentric and gifted being, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and the scene of his sin. gular adventures with Madame de Warens, so eloquently described in the first book of his Confessions. Her dwelling, a little country house and garden, called les Charmettes, is just without the town. Genius throws a charm around the most insignificant objects. It consecrates every thing which it touches, and its enduring associa. tions speak more to the soul than the loveliest attractions of nature. We left Chambéry the next morning, and at every step we
took the scene became more striking and majestic. I was shocked, however, at the repulsive subjects of goitre and crétinism which frequently met our view, as well as at the squalid appearance generally presented by the peasantry of these regions. Man is the paramount object of the creation, and the grandest or loveliest scene fails to please, when it is not favorable to human happiness or dignity. These people are, however, like all mountaineers, remarkable for their attachment to their country. Most of them repair, when mere children, to Paris and other large cities, where they follow various employments, and are much esteemed for their industry and integrity. Nearly all the water-carriers, messengers, &c. in the French metropolis, are Savoyards, or from the mountains of Auvergne. Groups of them are often met with, at a very tender age, wending their way to the capital. When, after long years of patient industry, they have succeeded in accumulating a few thousand francs, they generally return to their country, purchase a cottage and a small spot of ground, marry, and then turn out their children to pursue the same traditionary career.
The town of Montmélian, through which we passed this day, is perched like a nest upon a craggy height which overhangs a deep ravine, through which flows the river Iser, with turbulent velocity. Aiguebelle, which we also traversed, is supposed to be the site where Hannibal fought his first battle with the Allobrogi, who destroyed a part of his rear guard. Here also the Duke Don Philip of Parma, at the head of the French and Spaniards, engaged with the troops of the King of Sardinia. At Sh. Jean de Maurienne, another town on our right, Charles the Bald, son of Louis le Débonnaire, and grandson of Charlemagne, died, said to be poisoned by a Jewish physician. Thus every place has its historical event, or interesting tradition.
We now entered the high Alps, and a scene of unrivalled grandeur and sublimity unrolled itself. · Mountains whose towering summits seemed to scale the very heavens, cloud-piercing peaks, “ where wings alone can travel,” overhanging precipices, dark and solitary forests, tremendous abysses, echoing the hollow roar of the torrent or the rebounding voice of the cataract, combined to im. press the mind with a feeling of awe for which words have no utterance. Amidst the “ the interior Alps, gigantic crew,” I felt myself a feeble and insignificant being, overwhelmed by a sense of the littleness of man, the majesty of nature, and the power of God. And yet
What are they but a wreck and residue,
To which sad course, these wrinkled Sons of Time
In confirmation of the sentiment of the poet, the following remarks of an eminent geologist may be cited : “If, in contemplating,” says Dr. MacCulloch, "the towering peaks and the solid precipices of an Alpine region, braving the fury of the elements and the floods of winter, the spectator is at first impressed with the character of strength and solidity whichi nature here seems to have conferred on her works, it requires but a moment's reflection, to show that every thing around him bears the marks of ruin and decay. Here he learns to withhold his regret at the perishable nature of all human labors,—at the fall of the strong tower and the solid pyramid,—when he sees that the most massive rocks, those mountains which seem calculated for eternal duration, bear alike the marks of vicissitude and the traces of ruin.” With sudden transition, the scene whose stillness had been hitherto disturbed by no sound save the monotonous voice of waters, awoke as from a profound lethargy, and gave terrific signs of life and motion. Whirling masses of clouds enveloped all but the summits of the loftiest peaks, the deep-mouthed thunder bellowed among the rocks, and vivid flashes of lightning succeeded each other in rapid succession. As the thunderbolt leapt from mountain to mountain, and the red lightning flew like shafts of vengeance among the echoing peaks, I could not help calling to mind the impious war waged by the fabled Titans against the majesty of Heaven. The quick, explosive shocks, which almost deafened the startled ear, were repeated by a hundred hills, until they died away in the prolonged moanings of the distant echo. Presently the tumult subsided, the tempest was hushed, the sun shot forth a kindly ray, the mists vanished, a delighiful calm ensued, and the whole scene assumed a fairer and brighter aspect.
We slept this night at a pretty village called St. Michaels, and starting again at two o'clock, reached Lanslebourg, at the foot of Mount Cénis, a little after day-break. Here we determined to accomplish the passage of the mountain on foot, and accordingly set out upon an enterprise which we should probably have not undertaken, had we anticipated the labor which it involved. Mont Cénis is between six and seven thousand feet above the level of the ocean, and could not be traversed by carriages, until the construction of the new road which I have described. At intervals, houses of refuge are placed, occupied by persons in the employ of the government, who keep the way in repair, and administer succour to the erring or weary traveller. Though somewhat advanced in the month of April, more than the upper half of the mountain was still covered with snow, in some places accumulated to an enormous depth. After toiling a considerable time, we at length arrived, very much fatigued, at the summit, which is a large platform surrounded by an amphitheatre of elevated peaks. Here, then, is a lake, filled with excellent trout, which at the period of our visit, was entirely covered with ice and snow. There are also several public edifices, among others, a post-house, barracks, and a monastery. We stopped about half an hour, at the first of them, to obtain a little repose and refreshment after the fatigues of our morning's journey. This elevated plain is said to be a delightful retreat in summer, when it is covered with verdure, and blooming with a great variety of Alpine herbs and flowers, which afford pasture to numerous flocks of sheep and goats, from whose milk an excellent cheese is made. The as. pect, however, which it presented at this season was most dreary, and I should regard a residence on the summit of Mont Cénis as little better than a Siberian banishment. In the winter the passage is frequently interrupted for days, and accidents not unfrequently happen from the tourmente or Alpine tornado, and, at a later season, from the fall of avalanches. The " difficult air of the iced mountain top” may be breathed here in perfection throughout the greater part of the year.
The prospect of loftier hills, covered with perpetual snow, is very imposing, from this very elevated table. The solitary grandeur and tranquil majesty of their dazzling summits, “ far lifted towards the unfading sky,” fill the spirit with solemn admiration.
But to describe the reflections or emotions awakened by such a spectacle the language of prose is tame, and I must therefore call to my aid the following lines, than which the whole range of descriptive poetry does not contain a nobler passage:
“But now with other mind I stand alone,
Those fast receding depths of sable blue,
Flying till vision can no more pursue !"
And oft when passed that solemn vision by,
Tinged like an angel's smile all rosy red."* Resuming our journey, I had the good fortune, my companion having preceded me, to fall in with some honest Savoyards, who make it a business to accompany travellers who may stand in need of their services. I found them simple and communicative, and they furnished me with much information concerning these romantic, or, rather, savage regions and their hardy inhabitants. Their language, which is a sort of Italicized French, is not unpleasant por difficult to understand. The reflection of the sun's rays upon the dazzling surface of the snow painfully affected the eyes, and produced an acute headache, which, combined with the fatigue of this toiling pedestrian journey, rendered the assistance of these sturdy mountaineers very seasonable. Indeed I know not what I should have done had they not lent me their arms, and almost borne me along during the latter part of the route. Being familiar with all the localities, they would frequently leave the main road and thus shorten our tedious journey. Their agility and firmness of step amid ice and snow and shelving rocks, were not a little remarkable. Sometimes they would amuse me by dropping upon their haunches, paddling themselves along with their hands, and then rapidly gliding down the steep declivities covered, with hard polished snow. The southern descent of Mont Cénis, as is the case with all the Alps, is more rapid than the northern, and is rendered difficult by numerous precipices, glaciers, cascades and torrents.
At length, as the road took a sudden turn, my eyes were cheered
. Wordsworth's Descriptive Sketches.