Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 82.djvu/563

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559
ALPINIST OF THE HEROIC AGE

EDWARD WHYMPER: ALPINIST OF THE HEROIC AGE
By Professor B. E. YOUNG

VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY

ON September 16, 1911, there died suddenly at Chamonix, France, a man who made a most unusual figure in his specialty. Most of us must have thought of Edward Whymper as long since dead and gone to the limbo of travelers, for he did his work a generation ago, reached his fame and enjoyed it, and had lately been forgotten, in the general commercialization of sports that has taken place in the last two decades.

Any one who has sojourned in the Alpine region for any length of time has been struck with the enormous number of tourists and sportsmen visiting this chief playground of the nations, and with the extraordinary perfection of the system of taking care of them and meeting their every whim. There are few centers, even the small ones, without their Club Alpin. It was not so when Whymper went to the Alps on a professional errand in 1860 and began his career as a climber.

By neither heredity nor environment did Whymper come by his mountaineering. Born in London, April 27, 1840, he was the son of an artist and engraver on wood, who gave him a good education at Clarendon House School and by private tutor, and then trained him carefully and with excellent results in his own profession. By 1860 young Whymper had become an artist of sufficient ability to be sent to Switzerland by a London publisher to make some sketches of the great Alpine peaks, and more particularly to prepare some illustrations which were intended to celebrate the triumph of an English party, headed by Professor Bonney, who intended to make the ascent of Mont Pelvoux in Dauphiny. Whymper states that at this time he had only a literary acquaintance with mountaineering, and had not even seen, much less set foot upon, a mountain. The party of distinguished Englishmen failed in their attempt to conquer this virgin mountain. A very agreeable Frenchman, who accompanied the party, was charmed with Whymper, and begged him to return with him to the assault. In 1861 he did so, and with his friend made the first ascent of Mont Pelvoux; thus was he infected with the love of high places!

In 1861, Edward Whymper found in the Alps none of the modern machinery of mountaineering; there were no railroads to the top of Jungfrau; no railings on the Matterhorn and no hotels on the Mer de Glace; travel was slow, mostly on foot, or by the unreliable diligence,