Today's Memory

Dirk Puehl‘s Today’s Memory

Dirk Puehl‘s Today’s Memory

Dirk Puehl‘s Today’s Memory

Jacques Balmat and Michel-Gabriel Paccard’s first ascent of Mont Blanc

Originally shared by Dirk Puehl

“Mont Blanc yet gleams on high:—the power is there,

The still and solemn power of many sights,

And many sounds, and much of life and death.

In the calm darkness of the moonless nights,

In the lone glare of day, the snows descend

Upon that Mountain; none beholds them there,

Nor when the flakes burn in the sinking sun,

Or the star-beams dart through them. Winds contend

Silently there, and heap the snow with breath

Rapid and strong, but silently! Its home

The voiceless lightning in these solitudes

Keeps innocently, and like vapour broods

Over the snow. The secret Strength of things

Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome

Of Heaven is as a law, inhabits thee!

And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,

If to the human mind’s imaginings

Silence and solitude were vacancy?”

(P.B. Shelley, “Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni“)

The “cursed mountain” always had left a profound impression on those who saw it. Legends have sprung up from its base in Aosta Valley and Haute-Savoie up to its peak, where a fairy kingdom is supposed to be, ruled by a “white goddess”, while its glaciers are populated by all kinds of dragons, demons and spirits, dooming all those who dare to approach its snowy flanks. It was, naturally, the duty of an enlightened scientist to dispel those myths and show that it was, after all, a mountain that could be climbed, like all the other mountains. The Age of Reason was upon Europe then and Paccard and Balmat set forth to show that it could be done, anticipating the spirit of competition of the long 19th century looming ahead. Twenty years later, the Romantics took a more nuanced view, and while Wordsworth and Coleridge indulged themselves in the glory of god and Mother Nature looking upon Mont Blanc, Shelley metaphorically descends from its summits to the limits of human comprehension hidden under the glaciers of the undeniably magnificent natural spectacle. And while his wife used the mountain as vanishing point of refuge for her poor, disturbed creature Victor Frankenstein who had transgressed natural law in his own hubris and Byron retransformed the mountain into an enchanted realm again, haunted by his “Manfred”, tourism had already in 1815 caught up with the site and turned it into a hotspot and Byron jeered at an English lady who asked her tourist party if they had ever seen anything so rural, “as if it were Highgate, Hampstead, Brompton or Hayes.” Nonetheless, modern alpinism and sportsmanship had begun with its own particular narrative in 1786, as remembered by Mother Google with her Doodle today and by me, two years ago, in a short feature, re-shared here:

Depicted is below is, naturally, a more Romantic meditation of the scene than that done in the spirit of “citius, altius, fortius”, J.M.W. Turner’s „Bonneville, Savoy, with Mont Blanc” (1803)

#alpinism #europeanhistory #europeanliterature #folklore #history #montblanc

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