Au Royaume du Mont-Blanc, by Paul Payot. 305 pages, with 97 illustrations. Bonneville (Haute-Savoie): Imprimerie Plancher, 1950.
A year ago, we reviewed the modest text written by Paul Payot to accompany the splendid photographs by G. Tairraz in Chamonix et le Mont Blanc. Anyone who knew Payot as a diligent historian must have felt that he must go on to produce a more comprehensive book about his valley, but one did not expect anything so fine and so thoroughly successful as the volume now before us. It offers in small space the authoritative modern summing up of all that we have found in the earlier works of such men as Charles Durier, Stephen d’Arve and C. E. Mathews. It should be on every climber’s bookshelf, for there is a great deal to be learned from it, and much that is new. For instance, the 13th-century designation for Chamonix was Campus munitus. Payot believes that this should be translated as “enclosed plain,” rather than as “fortified camp.” He rejects the opinion quaintly held by his uncle that the name was derived from the two mills of the Priory—Champ du meunier. The first to mention Mont Blanc, he tells us, was François de Sales, in a manuscript of 1603. In a brief paragraph he describes the amazing expedition made in the last century by a guide of Bon- neval who, when cattle plague forbade the traverse of animals through Savoy, took a herd of 400 sheep across the Col du Géant from Aosta to the Montenvers. The history of the valley and the account of its resources, and the story of the development of Chamonix itself, are followed by records of the first tourists and of the conquest and subsequent ascents of Mont Blanc and its neighbors. The illustrations, chiefly from the author’s collection, are not to be found in anthologies; the old hotels, the tourists of another day, the strange spectacle of a herd of cows on the Mer de Glace are highly entertaining.
The growth of Chamonix as a tourist center depended largely on interest in Mont Blanc and excitement generated by the ascent. Let us hope that this excellent book will somehow lead to the restoration of the politically suppressed Chamonix Museum, which once so attractively exhibited the historic relics of bygone events, and whose absence is a present disgrace.
J. M. T.