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Mystery, Beauty, and Danger: The Literature of the Mountains and Mountain Climbing Published in English before 1946

Mystery, Beauty, and Danger: The Literature of the Mountains and Mountain Climbing Published in English before 1946. Robert Hicks Bates, Ph.D. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Peter Randall, 2000. 228 pages, numerous historic photographs. $40.

As an amateur (in the finest sense of the word) historian of the mountain scene, Dr. Bates learned his trade honestly, at the knee of Dr. James Monroe Thorington, another past president of The American Alpine Club, and the man who brought Dr. Bates into the Club.

In this well-produced volume, Dr. Bates has reproduced his doctoral thesis of 1946 in an updated and delightfully illustrated format. In bringing greater awareness to us of the classic literature of alpinism, our Honorary President brings us back to the earliest days of mountaineering—and does so in the words of the participants themselves, unabridged by subsequent editors. We read about Swiss (and Pyrenean) dragons from those who saw them (or imagined that they did). We can read the words—as they were long ago translated into English—of the earliest Swiss guides, and are offered intriguing glimpses of the mountain poetry of Thomas Moore, Matthew Arnold, William Morris, John Symonds, Percy Shelley, and a dozen others.

Dr. Bates takes us back in time to the original textbook of mountaineering, that written by Conrad Gesner in 1574, and brings new life to the more recent literary works of latter-day alpinists such as Clarence King, Jan Christiaan Smuts, and Leslie Stephens. It goes against the grain of human nature to endorse the work of a competitor in this sort of literary adventure, but Dr. Bates has given me no choice.

William Lowell Putnam