Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/549

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
545
ON MOUNTAINS AND MANKIND.

links or gymnasiums. Intellectual life was concentrated in cities and courts, it despised the country. Books were written by townsmen, dwellers in towns which had not grown into vast cities, and whose denizens therefore had not the longing to escape from their homes into purer air that we have to-day. They abused the Alps frankly. But all they saw of them was the comparatively dull carriage passes, and these they saw at the worst time of year. Hastening to Rome for Easter, they traversed the Maurienne while the ground was still brown with frost and patched untidily with half-melted snowdrifts. It is no wonder that Gray and Richardson, having left spring in the meadows and orchards of Chambéry, grumbled at the wintry aspect of Lanslebourg.

That at the end of the eighteenth century a literary lady of western Europe preferred a Paris gutter to the Lake of Geneva is an amusing caricature of the spirit of the age that was passing away, but it is no proof that the love of mountains is a new mania, and that all earlier ages and peoples looked on them with indifference or dislike. Wordsworth and Byron and Scott in this country, Rousseau and Goethe, De Saussure and his school abroad broke the ice, but it was the ice of a winter frost, not of a glacial period.

Consider for a moment the literature of the two peoples who have most influenced European thought—the Jews and the Greeks. I need hardly quote a book that before people quarrelled over education was known to every child—the Bible. I would rather refer you to a delightful poem in rhyming German verse written in the seventeenth century by a Swiss author, Rebman, in which he relates all the great things that happened on mountains in Jewish history: how Solomon enjoyed his Sommerfrische on Lebanon, and Moses and Elias both disappeared on mountain tops; how kings and prophets found their help among the hills; how closely the hills of Palestine are connected with the story of the Gospels.

Consider, again, Greece, where I have just been wandering. Did the Greeks pay no regard to their mountains? They seized eagerly on any striking piece of hill scenery and connected it with a legend or a shrine. They took their highest mountain, broad-backed Olympus, for the home of the gods; their most conspicuous mountain, Parnassus, for the home of poetry. They found in the cliffs of Delphi a dwelling for their greatest oracle and a center for their patriotism. One who has lately stood on the top of Parnassus and seen the first rays of the sun as it springs from the waves of the Ægean strike its snows, while Attica and Bœotia and Eubœa still lay in deep shadow under his feet, will appreciate the famous lines of Sophocles, which I will not quote, as I am uncertain how you may pronounce Greek in this university. You may remember, too, that Lucian makes Hermes take Charon, when he