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Early Travelers in the Alps

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  • Publication Year: 1931

Early Travelers in the Alps, by G. R. De Beer. Pp. xi+204, including bibliography and index. Illustrated with 40 plates and 36 text figures from old woodcuts and engravings. London : Sidgwick and Jackson, Ltd., 1931. Price 10/6.

The reader who enjoys the early history of his alpine playground will find many old friends between the covers of this book, and will place it on his library-shelf beside Francis Gribble’s “The Early Mountaineers." The writer, a Fellow of Merton, is enabled through an elastic title to include among his chosen characters many interesting personages who were by no means mountaineers but who enjoyed mountain wandering; and has excluded those who merely went across the Alps in the quickest possible fashion. In early chapters are described the political conditions in the Central Alps from 1512, by which time the present southern frontier of Switzerland was established (except that the Grisons then included Bormio, Valtelline and Chiavenna) until the time of the French Revolution.

Traveling in the sixteenth century brings us in contact with the earliest tourists, Conrad Gesner, Josiah Simler, Aegidius Tschudi, Johann Stumpf, Sebastian Münster and others. Humorous is the chapter dealing with therapeutic baths—where men might lounge “and refresh the mind as the women enter and leave the water,” where many had no disease save that of love; and where those who felt an irresistible desire to sing in their bath had special license to do so provided the songs were holy or at least reputable.

The journeys of the first Englishmen, Thomas Coryate, Fynes Moryson, John Evelyn, John Ray and Bishop Burnet are followed by a chapter devoted to Dr. Scheuchzer and his dragons. The visit of Windham and Pococke to Chamonix is described in extenso, almost needlessly considering the ample treatment it has received in available modern texts. More interesting are the eighteenth century scientists: von Haller, Besson, Sulzer and the de Lucs; and thatadmirable tourist, Archdeacon Coxe. The later chapters deal with Bourrit, with an entertaining outline of his wanderings outside the Chamonix valley; and with de Saussure, “who was keenly interested in everything he saw.”

The author contends that modern photography does not produce illustrations as attractive as those which the early travelers have left in woodcuts and engravings, and amply justifies this by the number of reproductions (some of which are already in more than one anthology) with which his book is adorned. The collected pictures of the Grindelwald glaciers, and the Rhone glacier, are especially useful for comparative purposes.

J. M. T.

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