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by the Alps. It has two thousand inhabitants, a mimic Corso, in imitation of that at Milan, and a large Duomo, whence the name of the village was derived-the Cathedral of the vale of Ossola. The place has a good deal of bustle and business, being near the frontier, and the rendezvous of Italian and transalpine merchants. Good accommodations were obtained at the hotel, which afforded us a night of quiet repose, preparatory to the long and arduous journey on the following day.
DEPARTURE FROM DOMO D'OSSOLA-PASSAGE OF THE SIMPLON-DESCRIPTION OF THE ROAD-BRIDGE OF CREVOLA-ALPINE SCENERY-OLD PATH-MONKS--REFUGES--HAMLETS—AVALANCHES-VILLAGE OF SIMPLON-VIEW FROM THE SUMMIT OF THE MOUNTAIN-GLACIERS OF SWITZERLAND-TORRENTS OF THE GANTER AND SALTINE-ARRIVAL
WE rose at 4 o'clock, on the morning of the 11th, and took breakfast by candle-light. Our Savoyard here reinforced his team with four additional horses and a postillion; but notwithstanding the vigilance of the two guides, the streets were so dark that in going out of the town, the coach ran against the wall and detained us, till the bell of the Cathedral rang the knell of five o'clock in our ears. In the stillness of night, the roar of distant waters was heard around us, and the shadowy forms of mountains were indistinctly traced, by being thrown against the sky. The twinkling of a few stars, emerging occasionally from transient clouds, gave promise of a favourable day.
At dawn we reached the entrance of the gallery or terrace, which spans the Alps for a distance of forty miles; hewn the greater part of the way through mountains of granite to the width of twenty-five feet; supported by walls sometimes two hundred feet in height; hanging frequently upon perpendicular ledges; piercing a dozen impassable barriers of rock; and bridging twenty-five torrents. Such are some of the features of this stupendous work, of the grandeur of which it is impossible to convey an adequate idea. What would be thought of a good carriage road, along which it should be unnecessary for horses to break from a trot, passing the summit of the White Hills, the highest in the United States? Yet such a miracle would be nothing to the Simplon. The sides are always guarded by railings, balustrades, and pillars, so as to render it perfectly secure.
After the pacification of Europe, the Austrian soldiers in their passage of the Alps, to deluge Italy with other swarms of Goths from the north, broke off with sledge-hammers the tops of nearly all the columns lining this road, and attempted to demolish the bridges! But they found the monuments, like the fame of Napoleon, too indestructible and eternal to be prostrated by the hands of such barbarians, who have merely left traces of their infamy, to excite the scorn and detestation of travellers. Had the Emperor of Austria and King
of Sardinia the least respect for their own characters, they would immediately set about obliterating every vestige of such brutal acts of violence; but instead of taking this course, they neglect other necessary repairs, and seem determined to hasten the destruction of a work, which perpetuates the glory of a name they cordially hate. Yet the sovereign of marmots and anchovies keeps on an exorbitant toll, and hence derives no inconsiderable part of his revenue, to be expended in founding new monasteries, endowing altars, and pampering priests and monks.
Had Napoleon left no other memorials of his greatness, this monument alone would have made him immortal; for he has inscribed his glory upon the eternal rocks of the Alps, which neither torrents nor avalanches, the ravages of time nor the rage of kings, can wholly obliterate. Eustace asserts, that the terrace of the Simplon cannot be compared in magnitude with the Appian Way. What consummate folly! It as much transcends the pavements of the old Romans, as Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa surpass the Alban Mount or the cliffs of Anxur, in elevation and grandeur.
Others have attempted to detract from the merits of the enterprise, by impeaching the motives of Bonaparte, and by calling it a military pathway opened for the accommodation of his armies, at the expense of a vanquished nation. If all this were true, it could not diminishi the sublimity of the conception, nor change the character of the work itself. But the fact is, that the plan belongs exclusively to Napoleon, and that it was executed by an amicable arrangement, at the joint expense of France and Italy. French engineers and labourers constructed that part, which extends from the Rhone to the summit of the Simplon; while the Milanese, under the superintendence of Fabbroni, completed the remaining section, which is by far the grandest and most stupendous portion of the undertaking. The geological formation of the Italian side is primitive rock, and the opposite side, chiefly secondary, consisting of schist and argillaceous slate. Something like a ton of gunpowder was consumed in blowing through the solid masses of granite; and never was ammunition more successfully or usefully expended. Three thousand men were employed from 1801 till 1805, in the execution of this imperial project.
The scenery at the entrance of the terrace, in the approach from Italy, comports with the grandeur of the work, and impresses the mind with feelings of awe. I recoiled with a thrill of momentary dread from the congregated terrors at the opening of the gorge, consisting of enormous masses of granite, piled together in the rudest manner, and the gigantic works of art, hewn from the shattered rocks. The ruins
of the mountains looked as if another race of Titans had been warring against heaven, and labouring to shake the adamantine throne of the Omnipotent. Every circumstance seemed to conspire in heightening the sublimity of the scene. The day-star still hung upon the tops of the Alps, and the blushes of the east had just begun to redden the glaciers. Enough of morning twilight remained, to throw over objects a partial obscurity, and to magnify their proportions. The roar of waters, sent back in a thousand echoes from the hills, was deafening. From the bridge of the Diverio, which is a colossal structure, several hundred feet in length, resting on arches as massive and durable as the precipices with which they are incorporated, we looked down on the sea-green torrent, tumbling and dashing and thundering among the fragments of the mountains in the chasm below. On its left bank near its junction with the Toccia, in the hamlet of Crevola, is a large iron foundery, the fires of which had probably been kept up during the night, and were now blazing from the furnaces and glaring through the windows. To recur to a classical image, it appeared as though Vulcan and his Cyclops might be here at work, forging arms for a new war of the gods.
Deserting the secluded, romantic, and peaceful vale, which had been pursued from Lake Maggiore, we entered that of Diverio, lined with rugged precipices; narrow, lonely, and wild; noisy with descending floods; and shaggy with alpine horrors. Before us rose peak after peak, heaving their wintry tops into the skies, and now tinged of a roseate hue by the beams of a bright morning. The depths of the gorge, (for it can hardly be called a vale,) and the banks of the torrent, which the road constantly follows to the heights of the Simplon, are skirted with fir, weeping-birch, alder, willow, rosodendron, and other species of mountain plants. Surprising as it may seem, the little alluvial patches, upon which the snows above shoot their avalanches, and pour their icy waters, were still green, and in many places enamelled with autumnal flowers. The solitude of the glen, unbroken save only by the music of the elements, would be appalling, if the mind were not transported in a delirium of ecstacy, and lost to all ordinary emotions. In the enthusiasm of the moment, it forgets its little thoughts and cares, absorbed in contemplating the matchless grandeur of the scene. Yet this pass, with all its rugged sublimity, is said to be less astounding than some other chasms in the Alps. It is, however, as stupendous in its features as I have any desire to witness, infinitely transcending in the reality the mean combinations, which my imagination had formed.
In a mile or two after crossing the bridge, which constitutes the
noble threshold of the terrace, we passed an enormous column, lying with its intended pedestal by the side of the road. It was hewn from the neighbouring precipices, under the auspices of Napoleon, and designed to embellish the Arch of the Simplon at Milan. Its dimensions are something like fifty feet in length, and fifteen in circumference. In the act of rolling from the quarry, it was unfortunately broken in two; and its colossal and prostrate fragments, arrested before reaching the point of destination, and exciting surprise that so much strength could be broken, furnish to the traveller a forcible emblem of the fallen fortunes of the imperial Exile, whose power had become too disproportionate and unwieldy, to support its own weight, substantial as were the materials of which it was composed.
Along the rocks overhanging the turbulent stream, traces of the old pathway, which led through these deep solitudes, before the road of the Simplon was constructed, are at intervals still marked by the eye.* It sometimes traversed steeps and dizzy precipices, round projections of the mountains, and on natural terraces of rock, where the foot of the shepherd or chamois would scarcely venture to tread. Yet a French army, characterized by the same spirit of enthusiasm and intrepidity, which led Napoleon to encounter the snows of St. Bernard, climbed the icy summits of the Simplon, and marched through this gorge into Italy, bridging the fissures of glaciers and chasms in the mountains with their spears. At the solitary hamlet of Isella, buried in wilds which no other troops would apparently have the hardihood to enter, they built a strong fortress, to guard the natural fastnesses; and we passed two casernes, which were erected for the accommodation of the garrison and army.
But these alpine solitudes have not been traversed alone by the footsteps of soldiers. Christianity has here erected the cross, and philanthropy has reared monuments, which call forth a tear of gratitude from the traveller, for such active, unostentatious, and disinterested benevolence. Before the great road of the Simplon was constructed, monks had followed up the defile to the very top of the mountain,
* This rude track across the Alps was blocked up, and in some places wholly obliterated, by the shock of the great earthquake, in the year 1755, by which Lisbon was buried in ruins, and which reached not only the Highlands of Scotland, as I have already stated, but even our own remote shores. What must have been the violence of a concussion, which could shake at the same moment the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Grampians, and White Hills, at the distance of thousands of miles from each other? Tremendous masses of granite were here rent asunder, and tumbled into the beds of torrents.