They Came to the Hills

Publication Year: 1953.

They came to the Hills, by Claire Eliane Engel. 8 vo., 273 pages, with bibliography and index and 17 illustrations. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1952.

This is a group of seventeen short biographies, set down in “an attempt to outline the successive conceptions of mountaineering which have arisen in the course of about a century of mountain climbing in Western Europe.” The series begins with Forbes and closes with Mallory and Smythe. Most of them were British Victorians, the males nearly all, at one time or another, members of the Alpine Club. The author has done considerable research and added comments of her own. Whenever possible, the essays were read prior to publication by descendents.

Men like Forbes and Tyndall were involved in controversy over opposed theories of glacial motion, and this once delicate subject is handled with understanding. The study of Ruskin, which must have been difficult, is entirely fair. We learn, in addition, some odd facts, that the accidental death of Tyndall resulted from an overdose of chloral hydrate and that Justice Wills was the man who sentenced Oscar Wilde.

As Mlle. Engel is sometimes dictatorial in manners of taste, we may express our opinion that it is bad form to call Coolidge “a climbing antic of quite the maddest sort.” With all his idiosyncrasy, such vituperation scarcely fits. She also pronounces him to have been “a second-rate climber,” but many of the others would merit no greater distinction by modern standards. Her criterion appears to be whether or not they avoided the Chamonix aiguilles, although these were not then thought of as requisite Victorian objectives.

Even after the years, Whymper stands out as an enigmatic force, his fame based largely on an accident, and Mlle. Engel properly wonders what would have been his place in Alpine history had his party of 1865 come down from the Matterhorn unscathed. As for the Canadian expedition of 1901, it is quite wrong to say (p. 128) that Whymper never climbed a peak of the Rockies with Pollinger. Despite his known bibulous habits, Whymper and Pollinger were together on at least the following: Mts. Whymper, Kerr, Marpole, des Poilus, Collie, Isolated, and Stanley Peaks and Trolltinder Mtn.

As minor points we may mention that Giovanni (not Frederico) Segantini (p. 224) was not a victim of pneumonia but of peritonitis following a ruptured appendix, before which the medical science of 1899 was almost helpless. While Gabriel Loppé’s art (p. 61) was sometimes lurid, it was not invariably so, and it should have been stated that this artist was one of the first to paint above the snowline. He was elected to honorary membership in the Alpine Club in 1864, proposed by Alfred Wills and seconded by Leslie Stephen, the second edition of whose Playground of Europe is dedicated to Loppé. D. W. Freshfield wrote the sympathetic notice in A. J. 31, 334. The two large paintings (Matterhorn and Grands Charmoz), in the collection of the American Alpine Club (A. A.J. vi, 177 and frontis) are subdued in tone, faithful in outline, and include powerful studies of ice. Mlle. Engel continues her dislike of Javelle, which has not met with agreement elsewhere.

Several of the subjects are hitherto little known. Particularly we enjoyed the sketch of Boileau de Castelnau, conqueror of the Meije when he was 20, whose extensive climbing came to a voluntary end before he was 25. Three women, Lucy Walker, Miss

Brevoort, and Mrs. Le Blond, reveal diverse, tenacious personalities, and one hopes that Mlle. Engel will devote a full book to climbers of her sex, as this was but partially covered by Francis Gribble and, later, by Mlle. Morin. The book concludes with chapters on Mallory and Smythe, the only moderns included, each with the touch of a poet half-hidden in his being; each with career too soon cut short.

J. Monroe Thorington

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