29 APRIL 1899, Page 5


THE fascination exercised on the imagination by the great White Mountain is not difficult to understand. What is more incomprehensible is that the mountain cult should be a plant of this century only. We know that the love of landscape is quite modern, bat one would have thought that these great white peaks flushed at sunrise and sunset with the tints of the rose would have appealed to some eyes. Yet the mention of mountains up to the days of the nineteenth century caused the generality of mankind to shudder. Alas ! Mont Blanc has abundantly justified the terror of a bygone age. Hudson and Kennedy, writing in 1856, could point to mountaineering as the safest of the stirring pleasures of the athletic Englishman, but one accident, the Hamel catastrophe in 1820, having occurred since the first ascent in 1786. Nor did another occur till 1860, when a party crossing the Col du Giant, from Chamonix to Cour- mayeur, slipped, and four men were lost. This was not an ascent, though from the locality of the accident Mr. Mathews includes it in the Mont Blanc fatalities. The next was in 1864, after an ascent, so that in the first seventy- eight years of Mont Blanc ascents only five lives were lost. The death-roll of the mountain now counts some fifty lives.

There were exceptions to the old indifference or dislike, for there is always some pioneer, centuries before the time is ripe, who reveals with a flash of light the dawn that is to come. Konrad Gesner, writing in 1541, said he should ascend several mountains every year when the flowers were at their best, partly for the sake of examining them, and partly for the sake of good bodily exercise and mental delight. As Sir F. Pollock says, this is the true mountaineering spirit, and Mr. Mathews says the Alpine Club might have taken those half-dozen words as their motto. It is remarkable, says Mr. Mathews, that Geneva, that city of scientific inquiry, should not have pro- duced some one among those who could have seen the whole of the Mont Blanc chain, to take an interest in the monn-

• The Annals of Mont Blanc a Monograph. Etp Charles Edward Mathews. Illustrated. Lordon : T. Fisher Unwin. I212.1

tame. Bat no, the Chamoniards themselves, for Chamonix • was known a long time ago, were compelled to dwell among the accursed mountains, it was supposed, on account of their crimes. The first pioneers were interested in the glaciers, and Mont Blanc itself is mentioned for the first time, as far as can be known, in 1742. Pocock and Wyndham made their visit to the glaciers the year before, and from their description public attention was first drawn to the niJuntains. But it is to Saussure that we owe the great advance in Alpine dis- covery. He visited Chamonix in 1760 and 1761, and crossed and recrossed the chain subsequently several times. He offered a large reward to any one who could make the ascent, —even payments to those who made unsuccessful attempts. One Pierre Simond made two attempts in 1762, but the Chamoniards were interested only in chamois and crystals ; the era of the franc had not arrived. Thirteen years later four peasants tried the route by which the White Mountain was finally ascended,—the Montagne de la Cote. But neither they nor the three men who tried eight years later reached the Grand Plateau. It was one of these three who said it

was no use taking provisions at all; "all that is wanted is an umbrella and a scent-bottle." Then, and for many years after, it was the fashion for a climbing party to take pro- visions enough to feed a regiment; and the constant re- course to stimulants assisted, if it did not actually produce, that "rarity of the atmosphere" and mountain sickness so much complained of by the early mountaineers.

But in the next year an attempt from the western side so nearly succeeded that it began to look as if the ascent was not so hopeless as it had seemed from the Chamonix side.

De Saussure, who had almost given the possibility up, came and tried after receiving a letter from the enthusiastic Bourrit. Poor Bourrit 1 in spirit the keenest mountaineer of all, but fated never to crown his several attempts with success. It was the firmness of Bourrit's belief, a belief which be communicated to Saussure, that the St. Gervais side gave the only possible route, that roused the jealousy of the Chamonix crystal-hunters. Five of them started in two parties, one from Chamonix, the other from Bionnassay, on June 8th, 1786. The Chamonix detachment were joined at the last moment by Jacques Balmat, who had just returned from an attempt. Whatever one may think of Balmat's vanity and veracity, his strength and his calves were no idle boast. He went home to change a few things and to get some food, and by midnight had rejoined his companions on the Montague de la Cate. The end is known to all mountaineers. The Chamoniards proved to their own satisfaction that they could reach the Dame du Goater before the climbers from Bionna.seay, but they gave the summit up and returned. Bahnat, who had been exploring while his party waited for the others, was left behind to follow. He decided that it was a case of now or never, slept out on the Grand Plateau— "slept out" is a merely conventional expression, for the man dared not sleep—and before he returned satisfied himself by climbing the snow elope to the Rochers Rouges that the summit could be reached easily from thence. The feet that Balmat had noticed this passage is not mentioned in Dumas's narrative, though it is hinted at when Balmat is made to say he felt certain, weather permitting, that he would be more fortunate in his third attempt. Why Dumas did not include it one cannot say. Balmat told others, and the paragraph that should have completed the Dumas narrative occurs in Payot's guide, in D'Arve's, and is transcribed from Balmat's own notes according to Stephen D'Arve. Carrier, a well- known guide, a friend and contemporary of Balmat, refers to the " ancien passage" in his biography of Balmat, and his evidence is conclusive. There can be no doubt that Balmat kept the secret till he and Paccard had made the famous ascent of August 8th, 1786. This contem- porary evidence is brought in not so much to prove this, for Balmat was as determined as any man to make the ascent, and to make it alone if he possibly could, but to restore to Dr. Paccard his proper place in the great moun- taineering triumph beside Jacques Balmat. This Mr.

Mathews has done completely, and content would be perfect if Paocard's account of the ascent, known to have been printed, but now lost, could be discovered. But Mr. Mathews has discovered Paccard'e diary, with its absolutely trust- worthy records of the attempts and ascents down to that of Clark and Shirwell in 1825. This is a priceless record, for Paccard was a mountaineer himself, was on the spot, and was accurate as to his facts, as his style in- dicates plainly enough. Balmat, from the discussions tifat followed, we know to have been greedy of all the honour he could get of being first. It is a pity that even when in an honoured old age his jealousy should have dictated such a one-sided account to Dumas, for Carrier's account—a guide and a peasant as was Balmat—leaves no doubt as to Paccard reaching the summit with Balmat, and not, as Dumas has it, having to be dragged up like a baby. Balmat led naturally, being the stronger and the better mountaineer.

Great as was the triumph of the two Chamoniards, Saussnre's success the following year appeals almost more to the imagination and the feelings. It was the dream of his life, and he had realised it. To his family, who were waiting for him at Chamonix, the relief was great, for the mountain maniac—so he must have seemed to his wife—was cured. What De Saussure felt we can but faintly understand, for he belonged to that noblest part of the philosopher class, which combines the inquiring mind and the reverent spirit.

Mr. Mathews often refers to the exaggerated accounts which the early mountaineers gave of their struggles to get breath, of the steepness of the slopes, and the sickness they suffered from. Certainly the food and wine they consumed did not make the going easier. Much of Balmat's success and ability to keep going was due to the compulsory abstinence he could undergo. Mr. Mathews makes allowances for the pioneer, but not enough. Consider for a moment that the first ascent was made without ice-axes, veils, or spectacles. An Auderegg or an Almer may be able to do much with an alpenstock, but a first-rate mountaineer in a tight corner without an ice-axe when a slip occurs is in extreme peril. A furious squall was a terrible trial to the pioneers. Jacques Balmat was a man of extraordinary self-reliance and courage, or he would not have dared to sleep out alone on the snow, an unheard-of thing then, when left behind by his comrades or explored the " ancien passage" of the Rochers Rouges, digging footholds with an alpenstock. The physical and nervous strain undergone by these men must have been exhausting, half blinded as they were by the glare. They were cautious, and so won immunity from accident, yet at times they made remarkably quick climbs. The size of the parties, that of De Saussure's triumphal ascent in particular, makes us wonder, as it does Mr. Mathews, that they all reached the summit safely.

The chapter on subsequent ascents of Mont Blanc up to that of Albert Smith is interesting. Half those who ascended

were English, Colonel Beaufoy heading the list in 1787. It was Hanes and Fellows's party who discovered the route by the Mur de la Cate in 1827. Albert Smith's ascent is most amusing; the list of the provisions taken reads like the items of an episcopal installation feast of the twelfth century. Smith's account of the dangers yielded in nothing to the highly coloured accounts of those who followed in the steps of the pioneers.

The chapter on " Guides " will appeal more especially to mountaineers, for the average man who may climb a moun- tain once in a while expects to find a monopoly, and an expensive one as well. The rotation list is, of course, absurd, and the obvious result, as Mr. Mathews insists upon, is that the best guides are not Chamonix men now. It is gr;evons. when one thinks of Balmat, who met his death by a fall at the age of seventy-three, and Jean Marie Couttet, who climbed when he was eighty. We think these men were as great as any but the two or three great guides of to-day, though modern standards, as Mr. Mathews says, are higher. When all is said, these mountain guides are a fine race. Mr. Mathews passes a pretty severe criticism on the fatalities; it really comes to this, that Signor Paggi's death from a falling stone must be considered the only real and unavoidable accident. Whatever we may think of his judgment, the author's motive is a sound one. Mont Blanc is not a mole- hill, and in bad weather an ascent is simple madness.

We could wish that Mr. Mathews had supplemented his splendid photographs of Mont Blanc with enlarged ones of the difficult sections. As for his Annals of Mont Blanc, it is written with almost too little enthusiasm; otherwise its clearness, ease of style, and moderation leave nothing but a little more detail to be desired.