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Classics in the Literature of Mountaineering and Mountain Travel from the Francis P. Farquhar Collection

Classics in the Literature of Mountaineering and Mountain Travel from the Francis P. Farquhar Collection, an annotated bibliography by James R. Cox. Los Angeles: University of California Library, 1980. 58 pages, illus. Price $25.00.

Some years ago I came across a lingerie advertisement—I think in the New Yorker—which contained the oddly ambiguous phrase “rien ne remplace le vrais …”—“nothing replaces the real thing.” I was reminded of it as I wandered through this short book. Classics in the Literature of Mountaineering is twice removed, or, perhaps thrice removed, from the real thing. Any mountaineering book—even the greatest —is once removed from the mountaineering experience. This book is not a mountaineering book but rather a catalogue of the great collection of over 2000 volumes that the late Francis Peloubet Farquhar left to the UCLA library, and in fact, it is, in reality a selected catalogue containing only 110 annotated selections from the collection. Indeed, after looking through the book I was led to ask myself, “Who needs it?” It is not clear to me that anyone does, except as a sort of memorial to Mr. Farquhar. It is not that I came across anything actually wrong with the brief descriptions of the various books and journals. It is quite true that Horace-Bénedict de Saussure “made an ascent of the Mont Blanc,” and gave “impetus to the sport of climbing.” It is also true, and not mentioned in the three lines that the book’s editor James R. Cox devotes to de Saussure, that in fact de Saussure invented this activity when, in 1760, he offered a prize to the first man to climb Mont Blanc. Until this time it does not seem to have occurred to anyone to try to climb a high, snow-covered mountain simply for the sake of climbing it. In fact, snow-covered, high mountains were not even regarded as beautiful, at least by Europeans, something that gradually changed in the early nineteenth century.

I pick this example because it is rather typical of the limitations of a selective enterprise of this kind. If one includes Gaston RébufFat’s fine Starlight and Storm, as Mr. Cox does, then how can one leave out the marvelous autobiographies of Lionel Terray and Armand Charlet? These two books contain as fine and important writing as has been done in our discipline. And what about people like Bonatti, Joe Brown and the rest whose books are not even mentioned? No doubt these books are in the Farquhar collection. If, by some misadventure, I find myself in Los Angeles in the future I will take the opportunity to visit UCLA and have a look at the collection. In the meanwhile I cannot see any reason for anyone to buy this précis. Spend the money on a good book.

Jeremy Bernstein