Chapter XV. Switzerland.

It is almost impossible to describe the scenery of the Alps to one who had never yet ascended mountains above the region of the clouds, without so bewildering his imagination that his fancy will call forth and accept more fictitious notions than true ones. The best description that I had ever heard of the Alps, was the occasion of my most incorrect conceptions about them. I think the speaker did not misstate or exaggerate anything in a single word, but as he could in an hour's talk tell only one tenth of what one ought to know, in order to form a correct notion of what the Alps look like, my fanciful imagination promptly supplied the coloring of the other nine tenths of the picture which he left untouched; and consequently when I came to see the Alps, I found them entirely different from what I had anticipated.

The ordinary school maps represent the Alps as extending along the borders of Switzerland, as if they consisted of a single range, or possibly of several parallel ranges, and Mount Blanc as its towering peak. With what surprise a scholar who only saw these maps, will look about him, when he reaches the summit of any high peak in Switzerland! On the Rigi, for example, one sees an extent of territory almost 300 miles in circuit, every part of which is studded with ice-capped peaks. These range not in any one particular direction, nor do they number only several dozen, but many hundreds of them stand around the beholder toward every point of the compass and at variable distances, from the Pilatus near by to the most distant part of the horizon - more than 50 miles away. The snow-clad crowns of many of these rise high above the clouds, so that

  "Through the parting clouds only 
  The earth can be seen, 
  Far down 'neath the vapour 
  The meadows of green."

Those forms of clouds called cumuli, (P.G. Gewitter Wolken), presenting themselves the appearance of mountains covered with ice, often creep around these peaks at less than half their height! At Zurich I first beheld the strange sight of mountains and clouds piled upon each other so that I could not well distinguish them. It was on a sunny afternoon that I stood on the banks of the Zuricher See (Lake Zurich) and, looking over its calm waters, I beheld in the distant southeast a strange phenomenon. There stood the high glittering banks of clouds, and over them I saw the black sides of a towering peak whose top was covered with ice and snow. I then visited the Rigi and looked at Alpine Switzerland from its giddy heights. This, since the railroad has been completed to its top, is one of the most famous mountains in Switzerland. Though it stands beneath the line of perpectual snow, its top being covered with grass in summer, still it commands a panoramic view of indescribable grandeur. Numerous hotels stand around the top where thousands of tourists find shelter during the summer nights, and among them is one of the finest hotels in the world. When fall comes, all the landlords must take their families and move down from the mountain, as it would be impossible to keep the track of the railroad clear during the winter to bring up the necessary provisions for them. The snow is often from 10 to 20 feet deep on these Alps.

All Swiss scenery, whether one is on the lakes, upon the mountains, or in the valleys and ravines, is singularly charming, and bears no resemblance to the scenery which one sees elsewhere; so that for this lack of having something with which to compare it, no one can do it justice in any description short of a volume. The reader will therefore pardon our haste in this country. One who sees the rest of Europe and not Switzerland, will not miss any particular links in the historic chain of social, religious and political development of the human race, but he will not have seen the sublime in nature. The Alps are the poetry of inorganic creation, and a week or two spent on their lakes, in their valleys and gorges, amid the high waterfalls or upon their snowfields and glaciers, teaches one to associate new meanings to the words, grand, sublime, lofty, inspiring, overawing, romantic, wild, precipitous and bewildering, &c. It took me two days to ascend as high as the Rhone glacier, during which time I walked over 30 miles up hill along old military roads which the Romans constructed through Switzerland. I saw the snow and ice on the first day already, and it seemed as if I was but a little below it, but in place of reaching the snow line in the afternoon as I judged I might, I did not reach it until the next afternoon at 5:00 o'clock. The valleys are narrow and the mountains rise in some places almost perpendicularly at the sides, so that the snow and ice which melts near the tops of the mountains, falls down thousands of feet into the streams below. Water-falls that are from several hundred to a thousand feet in height are numerous among the Alps.

The Giessbach Falls which I ascended on the 6th of September, descends in a series of seven cascades 1,148 feet, and the Handeck Falls, which I passed on the 5th, precipitates in an unbroken sheet from the height of 250 feet! Rainbows stand over all the falls of the Alps, whenever the sun shines.

On the second day (Sept. 4th) of my ascend of the Alps, I could look upwards and see the eternal snows, or look down into the valleys, and see the people in the meadows and fields making hay or cutting grain! Haymakers may drink the water that was an hour before part of the mass of ice and snow which they see hanging near the top of the mountains several thousand feet above their heads! Avalanches slide down into the valleys every month of the year, and I passed through tunnels and bridges that are purposely constructed that the snow may thus slide over the roads without doing harm to any one. Where the mountains rise too precipitously, it is in some places impossible to construct a road along the edge; in these cases they pierce through the mountains for considerable distances. The Axenstrasse, along Lake Luzerne, has many such tunnels, one of which is about one eighth of a mile in length. In the Grimsel, the road avoids a water-fall by passing through a tunnel under it.

The Rhone Glacier, the only ice-field that I crossed, is upwards of nine miles in length and rises from 5,751 feet to 10,450 feet in height. About the time of sunset on the 4th of September, I entered the cavern of ice from which issues the stream that constitutes the source of the Rhone River. "This is the Rhodanus of the ancients, which was said to issue 'from the gates of eternal night at the foot of the pillar of the sun.'"

I descended through the Grimsel pass (7,103 feet) and Haslithal along the upper waters of the Aare down to Meiringen, in one day. Though there is only a bridle-path through the almost unparalled wildnesses of this valley, still there is a telegraphic wire running up to the hotel at the upper end, near the Rhone Glacier! No language can describe the picturesqueness of the bare rocky sides of this valley. I heard persons who thought they were alone, utter a dozen exclamations of surprise while making a single turn where a new view opened! The solitary tourist will ejaculate his exclamations without number; and it is under such circumstances that the unpoetical soul seeks some personification to whom it may do homage. It would not require a worshipper of images to kneel down, in the Grimsel or Ober Haslithal, before any emblem that embodied any adequate representation of the crushingly sublime scenery that one beholds there!

I met a lake whose depths seemed as boundless as the blue heavens above me. The water of many of the Swiss lakes is as clear as crystal, so that white objects at their bottoms may be discerned at great depths.

While sailing along the Lake of Geneva one day, I could as little see substance in the water below me, when I looked upon it at a certain distance from the steamer, as in the clear sky; both seemed alike blue and boundless!

The weather and the temperature changes very suddenly among the high Alps. The climate in the valleys of Switzerland is as warm as ours, in summer, while some thousand feet higher lie the everlasting glaciers. From these, avalanches of cold air precipitate into the valleys, so that the mercury often falls from 20 to 30 degrees in ten minutes! One is in danger of taking "a cold" every day in Switzerland.

Besides "The Alps" and the lovely lakes among them, the tourist may also see castles, museums, art galleries, pleasure gardens, &c., in Switzerland, but I will only enumerate a few of the most striking objects that I met and saw in this curious country, and then pass on to Italy.

One of the bridges of Lucerne is adorned with very curious paintings representing the "Dance of Death." Scores of skeletons, some blowing the bugle or playing with the triangles, others equipped with hoes and spades, are jubilant over their work!

One of the finest organs in Europe is the far-famed one at Freiburg, having 67 stops and 7,800 pipes, some of them 33 feet long. This instrument has such a range of volume that it can simulate the roaring thunder as well as the faintest echo. The portal of the same cathedral which contains the famous organ is also adorned (?) with a curious representation of the last judgment. St. Peter leads the blessed to the door of Heaven, but half a dozen evil ones busy themselves in disposing of the wicked. One of them that has a head like a hog, carries them from the scales into a large caldron where they are boiled. Others with forks in their hands pitch them into the mouth of the large dragon-devil who is represented as glutting them, and whose capacious mouth admits of several of them at a time! The time has almost arrived when one may no longer describe what he sees in the churches of Europe! This reminds me of a monster that stands upon a fountain in Bern, called the Kindlifresser, (the Ogre), who is in the act of eating a child, while others doomed to the same fate protrude from his girdle and pockets!

Berne is a great place for bears. Besides those connected with the curious machinery of the clock on one of its clock-towers, among the dead bears, they also keep a large den of living bears at the expense of the government. The bear is the heraldic emblem of Switzerland, as is our eagle of American freedom.

Of the fictitous hero, William Tell, and the nature and character of the Swiss Republic, I can not say more in the compass of this book, than that the former is a myth and that the latter was in a great measure the outgrowth of poverty.

The reader may form an idea of the miserable dwellings of the peasantry on the mountains, when he is told that many are hardly distinguishable from the stables in which the cattle are sheltered.

When I came into view of Guttannen, the first village of any considerable extent that I passed after seeing the Rhone Glacier and the wildnesses of the Grimsel and Haslithal, where no houses except hotels, and in some places not even trees or grass abound, I felt glad once more to see a group of human habitations, and determined to count them, so that I might record their number. I passed along the edge of the mountains where I could easily overlook the village, but it was in many instances impossible to determine by a survey of their external appearances, which were the stables and which the houses or huts, so I counted them all, large and small, and found their number between 60 and 90. I once intended to count these buildings only with windows, as houses; but I soon discovered that some huts had windows only on one or several sides, and looked like stables on the other sides!

A question to dairy men: Do thunder and lightning affect fresh milk? A lady keeping a cafe in Brienz, told me that if a thunder storm overtook those which were bringing the fresh milk from the mountains, the milk would suddenly turn sour, so that it could no longer be boiled for drinking it sweet. She said, "Es thut sie verbolera, so das sie gerinnt wen man sie kochen will!"