• %E2%80%98Cold%20Stony%20Reality%E2%80%99%3A%20Subjectivity%20and%20Experience%20in%20Victorian%20Mountaineering


    ‘Cold Stony Reality’: Subjectivity and Experience in Victorian Mountaineering



‘Cold Stony Reality’: Subjectivity and Experience in Victorian Mountaineering

How to Cite: McNee, A . (2011) “‘Cold Stony Reality’: Subjectivity and Experience in Victorian Mountaineering”, Dandelion: Postgraduate Arts Journal and Research Network. 2(2). doi: 10.16995/ddl.252



0Alt Metrics

Published on
05 Dec 2011
Peer Reviewed


‘Cold Stony Reality’: Subjectivity and Experience in Victorian Mountaineering

We begin with two pictures, separated by eight decades. In the first, a frock-coated figure is seen from behind, astride the summit of a mountain. Clutching a walking stick and looking down from an omniscient viewpoint, he presides over a landscape which has been turned to partial seascape by a thick blanket of mist. The second is a photograph, showing a pair of figures clambering up a rock face. The person higher up the cliff is wedged into a vertical fissure in the slab, using a rope to protect the second climber, who clings to the sheer face with outstretched arms. The foreground is in sharp focus, but the horizon beyond is misty and indistinct. Both are images of mountaineers, and the shift in sensibility they illustrate reflects a wider set of cultural changes that took place over the course of the nineteenth century.

Fig. 1. Caspar David Friedrich, The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818).

Fig. 1. Caspar David Friedrich, The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818).

Fig. 2. George and Ashley Abraham, Untitled (1897).

Fig. 2. George and Ashley Abraham, Untitled (1897).

The first picture is an oil painting by Caspar David Friedrich, dated 1818 and usually referred to as The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog. Familiar as the cover illustration to countless anthologies of Romantic literature, Friedrich’s painting has taken on the status of synecdoche for Romantic attitudes to mountains in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It is frequently used to express visually the mystical, inaccessible, spiritual elements that tend to be foregrounded in Romantic depictions of mountain landscapes.

The photograph was taken in 1897 and is attributed to the brothers George and Ashley Abraham, Keswick-based photographers who created an extensive photographic record of the early days of rock-climbing in the English Lake District. In contrast to Friedrich’s Wanderer, this is an image that owes little to Romantic conventions about mountain landscapes. The setting is dark and rather grim, and were it not for the glimpse of mist-shrouded valley below, the scene could be taking place in a disused quarry. Just as significant as the setting is the focus of attention in the image. The people in this photograph are not gazing out over the landscape, like the Romantic wanderer in the Friedrich painting, and there is no suggestion that they are having any kind of spiritually elevated or emotionally charged experience. Instead they are focusing on the immediate, tangible problem of getting themselves up the rock face. This is also the focus of attention for the viewer: most people looking at this image will find themselves responding not to the mountain scenery, but rather to the two central characters and their physical progress up the cliff.

The contrast is not simply a formal one, a photograph compared to a painting. These pictures illustrate two contrasting attitudes to mountains and to the activity of climbing mountains. The Friedrich painting represents an approach which emphasizes an aesthetically and spiritually elevated experience, and views the mountains themselves with a mystical, quasi-religious sense of wonder and veneration. For all its visual drama, it also suggests some sort of internal, subjective experience for the central figure. Friedrich himself has been famously quoted as saying that the artist ‘should not paint merely what he sees in front of him, but what he sees within himself’, and the art critic Joseph Koerner has suggested that the Wanderer ‘aspires to invoke the sublime of a thoroughly subjectivized aesthetic, in which the painted world turns inward upon the beholder’.1

The photograph of the Lake District climbers, on the other hand, captures a quite different approach to mountain experience, one in which the notion of spiritual and emotional engagement with mountains has been diminished in favour of a very physical, tangible, and tactile contact with a particular mountain, and even a specific rock face (unlike the idealized mountain landscape in the Friedrich painting, this image shows a named climb, Kern Knotts Crack, on an actual mountain, Great Gable). It is also an approach in which random wandering across a generic mountain landscape has been replaced by definite and defined progress up a specific route.

The shift from the values and attitudes embodied in the Friedrich image to those implicit in the photograph of rock climbers is paralleled in the history of the physical activity of mountain climbing.

The Romantic Revolution

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the writers and artists who later came to be known as the Romantics emphasized, among other things, a preoccupation with the importance and validity of personal experience, and a turn to wild nature. A significant part of this turn to nature involved a new fascination with mountains, and a taste for travelling through and engaging with mountainous landscapes which was virtually unprecedented in history. With a very few notable exceptions (Petrarch’s ascent of Mont Ventoux in the mid-fourteenth century, or the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner’s vow a century later to ascend a mountain every year for the rest of his life), mountains were considered throughout much of human history as ugly excrescences upon the earth, savage and barren regions to be avoided and shunned.2 The aesthetic appreciation of mountains, the sense of their potential for the spiritual or moral enrichment of human beings, is to a large degree an invention of the second half of the eighteenth century.

As Marjorie Hope Nicolson points out in Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory, her influential 1959 study of the history of human attitudes to mountain landscapes, the much-quoted sentiment of Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812), that ‘high mountains are a feeling’, was a relatively new one even by the time Byron was writing.3 ‘High mountains were not a “feeling” to Virgil or Horace, to Dante, to Shakespeare or Milton’, notes Nicolson, who attributes the change in attitudes to mountain landscapes to a variety of factors, among them changes in theology, philosophy, geology, and astronomy, as well as to the more specific influence of Romantic literature and art.4 In short, people did not generally climb mountains if they could help it much before the late eighteenth century. So ‘mountaineering’ as a leisure activity was a new taste, closely associated in its early stages with Romantic literature and art, as well as with notions of the picturesque and the sublime and with the legacy of the Grand Tour tradition.

This Romantic approach encouraged what Anne Wallace calls ‘excursive walking’; that is, a form of pedestrianism which is seemingly geographically random but actually involves progress towards self-renewal and self-knowledge.5 It led to a shift, towards the end of the eighteenth century, to a new way of seeing mountains — no longer as barren, ugly places to be feared and shunned, but as beautiful, majestic, aesthetically pleasing, and inspiring. The relatively few people who climbed mountains in the early nineteenth century, and the far greater numbers of Victorians who began to do so from the late 1840s, were to a greater or lesser degree carrying out this activity under the influence of these Romantic assumptions about mountains.

The Romantic tradition tended to emphasize the spiritual, aesthetic and perhaps even moral benefits available to the climber who comes to the mountains with the appropriate attitude. These benefits were seen to arise from three overlapping but ultimately distinct sources. The aesthetic response suggested by Romantic convention was by and large a visual one. Carl Thompson suggests that the mountain traveller would be ‘overwhelmed simultaneously by circumstances and stimuli external to him, and by his own response to that external stimulation’, as external visual effects gave rise to internal aesthetic sensation.6 Moral benefits, from walking in general and mountain climbing in particular, were perceived to have the potential for, as Anne D. Wallace puts it, ‘reconnecting us with both the physical world and the natural order inherent in it’.7 Spiritual motives for climbing mountains ultimately derive from what Michael Ferber describes as a belief common to a number of poets and philosophers of the period, that ‘the divine is immanent in nature, as well as in the human psyche, as opposed to being transcendent in God’.8

All three motives merged to create a powerful new set of values associated with mountain landscapes and with climbing mountains. From the 1850s onwards, however, these motives for climbing mountains started to change, as the attitudes, assumptions and language of Romantic literature began to give way to a new set of conventions for writing and talking about mountaineering.

The New Mountaineers

The second half of the nineteenth century increasingly saw an approach in which irreverent, athletic, adventurous individuals took satisfaction in breaking records and making first ascents of difficult routes, in mapping, measuring, and naming mountain landscapes, and in codifying and formalizing the activity of mountaineering itself. These ‘new mountaineers’, as one observer would later dub them, had little time for discussing the finer emotions and internal experiences supposedly engendered by travel in mountain landscapes. Instead, they tended to view their activity as an outdoor sport rather than as a quest for the sublime, and as healthy, rugged adventure rather than as aesthetic or transcendent experience. In particular, they tended to write and talk about their experiences in the mountains in practical and concrete terms. Their books, essays, and journal entries are filled with details of routes, place names, the type of rock and quality of snow encountered, and were often written in what one critic calls the characteristic ‘jocular, “oh-it-was-nothing” tone’ of the period, in which avalanches, rock falls, and other mountain hazards are treated less as near-death experiences than as minor inconveniences.9

Mountaineering, in other words, had ceased to be a discursive, seemingly random practice of wandering across mountain landscapes. Instead, it had effectively become a sport, with all the codification and organization that implied. The latter half of the nineteenth century was the period when most of the major sports in Britain started to be codified, and sporting organizations such as the Football Association (1863) and the Amateur Athletic Association (1865) were formed.10 There were a number of reasons for this, but arguably one of the most important was the diffusion into wider society of the values of the public school system, with its emphasis on the importance of games and its promotion of sport as character building. This process was mirrored in climbing. The Alpine Club, the first great institution of British mountaineering, had been founded in 1857, and the 1880s and 1890s saw the formation of a number of new clubs focussed on climbing in the British Isles: the Cairngorms Club, the Scottish Mountaineering Club, and the Climbers’ Club. As Walter Perry Haskett-Smith noted in the introduction to one of the first climbing guidebooks to Britain, published in 1894, ‘what was formerly done casually and instinctively has for the last dozen years or so been done systematically and of set purpose’.11

It was no accident that this happened at this particular historical moment. This was the point at which a massive expansion of the railways had made it easier to actually get to mountainous parts of the country.12 It was also the period in which leisure and recreation become more important in people’s lives, and in which a whole new range of recreations and leisure activities became available to a wider public. Above all, the mid-Victorian period saw a massive expansion of the middle classes, with new professionals such as teachers, doctors, and civil servants joining the more traditional clergymen, lawyers, and academics in the ranks of the upper middle classes.

These new middle classes were very much in the ascendancy in this period, and with this importance and self-confidence came a new set of values and attitudes. Among other things, these included a greater regard for professionalism, for a rational, scientific approach to problems, and for the benefits of what we might now think of as rather dull bureaucratic virtues such as competence, accurate record-keeping, the purposeful and constructive use of leisure time, and for what was often referred to as ‘manliness’, by which was generally meant the development of a wholesome, straightforward character along with a healthy physique. This idea of manliness, promoted by the public school system and fed by the cult of physical culture, is mentioned frequently in mountaineering texts in the late century, and involves a subtle but distinct change in notions of the moral benefits to be gained from climbing mountains. From the notion that walking in the mountains will allow one to reconnect with the natural world, this new approach emphasized the rather more bracing, astringent lessons which danger and hardship could teach. Here is William Martin Conway writing in 1895 on the ‘moral tonic’ which the experience of near-disaster on a climb could provide:

Such struggles with nature produce a moral invigoration of enduring value. They wash the mind free of sentimental cobwebs and foolish imagining. They bring a man in contact with cold stony reality and call forth all that is best in nature. They act as moral tonics.13

A Science of a Highly Complex Character

Quantification and measurement were central to this new ethos. This manifested itself in a variety of developments. In 1891, for example, Sir Hugh Munro drew up a list of Scottish mountains over 3000 feet in height. Known as Munro’s Tables, these charts of 238 mountains immediately became the focus of systematic, organized record attempts, as people set about climbing all the mountains on the list.14 A year later, William Naismith — who, like Munro, was a member of the influential Scottish Mountaineering Club — formulated the rule of thumb which came to be known as Naismith’s Rule, allowing climbers and walkers to accurately calculate how long a journey over mountainous terrain should take. The Ordnance Survey’s maps, which were still fairly unreliable for the Scottish Highlands at this stage, began to be supplemented and improved by topographical information supplied by mountaineers themselves; the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal (hereafter SMCJ), for example, carried articles and letters in virtually every issue in its early years offering detailed corrections and supplements to the existing Ordnance Survey maps.

What is significant about these developments is how enthusiastically they were received, and how widely the new emphasis was accepted. Almost as soon as Munro’s Tables were published they became a kind of touchstone for value: if a mountain was on the list, it was considered worth climbing; if not, it had less prestige. Thus, writing in 1894 in SMCJ about the Scottish mountain known as Beinn Mhic Mhonaidh, Francis J. Dewar could remark that

Beinn Mhic Mhonaidh lies on the southeastern side of Glenstrae, and although under 3,000 feet, and therefore unclassed as a ‘Ben’, is worth a visit from members of the Club who may be at Dalmally and have exhausted the 3,000 feet hills in the neighbourhood.15

This assumption, that a mountain below Munro’s arbitrary 3000-feet altitude is only ‘worth a visit’ when other, higher mountains have been ticked off the list, is increasingly prevalent in the writing of the period, and again suggests that measurement, quantification, and tabulation had come to be the mark of the ‘new mountaineer’. Indeed, quantification — looking at the precise height, the exact distance, the specific location — comes to be seen not just as a useful adjunct to the activity of mountaineering, but as something absolutely central to the activity itself. As George Gilbert Ramsay boasted in 1890, ‘mountaineering is now a science of a highly complex character, cultivated by trained experts, with a vocabulary, an artillery, and rigorous methods of its own’.16 These qualities of scientific rigour and physical challenge were what the late Victorian climbers valued and emphasized in their writing, along with a kind of grim determination to reach the summit which sometimes seemed to render the view from the summit irrelevant.

The Old Order Changeth

It is dangerous, however, to assume a straightforward teleological progression from the old construct to the new, or to believe that at some point in the second half of the century the influence of Romantic attitudes disappeared altogether. While there was undoubtedly a shift, the new values were deeply, sometimes bitterly contested. Many mountaineers continued to write in terms which owed a great deal to Romantic conventions and ideas about the Sublime — indeed, some displayed a determined resistance to the new values of those they derided as ‘mountain gymnasts’ and ‘rock acrobats’. Moreover, many of those who wrote about mountains and mountaineering betrayed a kind of dualism in their attitudes, superficially adopting the values of the so-called ‘new mountaineers’ while still retaining many of the underlying attitudes of the older generation.

An 1898 article by John Norman Collie provides an interesting example of how resistance to the new ethos was expressed. Collie was a rather unlikely champion of the Romantic tendency. A prominent research scientist, who among other achievements helped to develop the medical use of X-rays, he was also a pioneer of Scottish mountaineering and eventually participated in some of the first climbing expeditions to the Himalayas. Yet, in ‘A Reverie’, he quotes from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s 1842 poem Morte d’Arthur in his epigraph (‘The old order changeth | yielding place to the new’) to create a sense of elegy for a vanished sensibility, and complains about the ‘progressive democratical finger’ of the new mountaineer. Collie predicts that in the face of the new approach

one by one the recollections of all our most cherished climbs will be punctured, flat and unprofitable as a collapsed bicycle tyre they will rotate over the rough roads of bygone memories, whilst that progressive democratical finger will guide the new nickel-plated, pneumatic-cushioned, electrically-driven modern mountaineer on his fascinating career.17

Collie identifies a new type of climber, with a new sensibility and set of values. His language associates this new breed with technology, modernity, and mechanization, with nickel-plated technological innovation and pneumatic-cushioned modes of transport. His appeal to Tennyson evokes a time when mountains were associated with romance and mysticism. Like Tennyson’s dying king, the epigraph seems to imply, Collie was witnessing the world he knew being changed by a coming generation with a new code of behaviour. This kind of textual strategy was repeated throughout the last few decades of the nineteenth century, as a significant minority of writers on mountains and mountaineering fought a rearguard action against what they regarded as a reductive, philistine approach.

From around the late 1870s, this kind of complaint is heard more and more frequently, in a wide range of texts: mountaineering club journals, guidebooks, memoirs, personal letters and diaries, even the visitors’ books of inns and hotels where climbers stayed. The complainants argue that a new spirit of measurement, quantification and tabulation has taken hold of the mountaineering community, that a new generation of climbers is more interested in ticking peaks off a list than in the views to be seen from the summits of those peaks, and that mountain literature is increasingly preoccupied with what Joseph Gibson Stott, the first editor of SMCJ, called ‘endless dissections of the unhappy points of the compass’ — the prosaic details of routes, distances, and techniques, rather than descriptions of scenery, weather, and atmosphere.18 Above all, they complain, as Collie did, that the old order is changing, that something has been lost — something which they often find hard to clearly identify or fully articulate, but which is implicit in the language they use and which is at least analogous to the Romantic experience of mountains.

Outright opposition to the values of the new mountaineers characterized a significant minority of writing about mountaineering from the late 1870s to the end of the century. ‘There is a danger, to my thinking’, wrote Conway in 1891,

in that the gymnastic and quasi-professional element tends to increase; and that tendency should now be combated. Alpine climbing is no mere gymnastic exercise like rowing, but a large and comprehensive sport, wherein the whole nature of man can find stimulus and play. It is not an exercise for the muscles and the nerves only, but for the reason and imagination as well.19

Some writers, however, took an apparently contradictory approach. The Irish physicist and Alpinist John Tyndall was noted for his hard-headed, scientific, and robust approach to mountains and mountaineering: the title of his most famous climbing book, Hours of Exercise in the Alps (1871) gives some idea of his priorities. Tyndall notoriously resigned from the Alpine Club when another prominent member, Leslie Stephen, made a speech at a Club dinner gently mocking the scientific approach he personified, and he spent much of the late 1850s and early 1860s embroiled in a bitter controversy with the glaciologist James David Forbes over glaciation theory.20 Tyndall described his own writing as ‘for the most part a record of bodily action’.21 Yet this seemingly unromantic, dour recorder of physical struggles, cloud formation, and glacial action was also able to write in the following terms about sunset on the Matterhorn:

As the day approached its end the scene assumed the most sublime aspect. All the lower portions of the mountains were deeply shaded, while the loftiest peaks, ranged upon a semicircle, were fully exposed to the sinking sun. They seemed pyramids of solid fire, while here and there long stretches of crimson light drawn over the higher snow-fields linked the summits together.22

On another summit, the man who resigned from the Alpine Club because science had been mocked is struck by this unlikely thought:

Over the peaks and through the valleys the sunbeams poured, unimpeded save by the mountains themselves, which sent their shadows in bars of darkness through the illuminated air. I had never witnessed a scene which affected me like this one. I opened my notebook to make a few observations but soon relinquished the attempt. There was something incongruous, if not profane, in allowing the scientific faculty to interfere where silent worship seemed the ‘reasonable service’.23

This is not an isolated incongruity in Tyndall’s writing. Time and again mountaineers of this period write about their sport in ways that undermine the notion of a simple binary opposition between the Romantic, aesthetic approach on the one hand, and the modern sporting approach on the other. Perhaps the best way to explain this is to think of a preoccupation with the physical and the subjective as a link between the two approaches — a pattern of thinking which manifests itself in different forms at different times, but which consistently views the mountains not as physical features with an independent reality but as an arena in which human beings are able to have powerful, transformative experiences.

To Learn Size by Disappointment and Fatigue

One of the commonest ways in which these experiences were described from the middle of the nineteenth century was in terms of their ability to change how people viewed mountain distance and size: in other words, the way that physical experience changed visual perception. This represents a significant shift from an aesthetic response which is thought and written about in purely visual terms, to an aesthetic which owes as least as much to the physical and even the physiological.

Conway’s 1895 book The Alps from End to End contains this telling passage:

It is a well-recognized fact that the size of mountains can only be appreciated by an experienced eye. Newcomers to the hills always under-estimate, sometimes absurdly under-estimate, magnitudes and distances. It is only when a man has climbed peaks, and learned by close inspection the actual dimensions of such details as bergschrunds, couloirs, cornices, and the like, that he is enabled to see them from afar off for what they are. The beginner has to learn size by disappointment and fatigue.24

‘To learn size by disappointment and fatigue’: in one sense, this is a bold statement of empiricism, and represents a clear break with a tradition which had emphasized the visual in the appreciation of mountain beauty. As Peter Hansen, an historian of Alpine mountaineering, has pointed out,

For passive observers, mountains had been associated with an expected emotional response which transcended the scene. Mountaineers experienced mountains through physical touch. Emotional associations were thus transformed by sensory perception. To call the mountaineers’ aesthetic phenomenological does not do it justice; it was in a literal sense tactile, visceral, physical.25

Yet at the same time it also represents a deeply subjective approach — a belief that only by Conway’s ‘cold, stony reality’ of physical encounter, by clinging desperately to precipitous ledges and trudging wearily up steep snow slopes, can the human being truly experience and understand what the mountain has to offer. Although it seems far removed from the Romantic attitudes of the early part of the century, this approach does share an essentially subjective attitude to mountains. As Joe Kember notes,

the mountaineers emulated, and then outreached, the passive Romantic appreciation of the wilderness, and ultimately cultivated that wilderness as a new kind of natural resource. They pursued an active interrogation of the land, turning it into a landscape by simultaneously immersing themselves in it and objectifying it as another space defined principally by human activities.26

This tendency to define mountains in terms of human activity is a common thread throughout the nineteenth century, and it manifests itself in a variety of ways, but among the most significant is in the belief — almost universal among writers on mountaineering in the second half of the century — that only the person who had struggled to the top of a mountain could fully comprehend its scale and form. Perhaps the most explicit proponent of this attitude was Leslie Stephen, who devotes considerable space in his 1871 memoir, The Playground of Europe, to what Simon Schama calls ‘this confident belief that physical experience yielded the truth about the relative scale of mountains and men’.27 Here is Stephen on the shortcomings of standard quantification as opposed to the lived, subjective experience of size and height:

The mere dry statement that a mountain is so many feet in vertical height above the sea, and contains so many tons of granite, is nothing. Mont Blanc is about three miles high. What of that? Three miles is an hour’s walk for a lady — an eighteen-penny cab-fare — the distance from Hyde Park Corner to the Bank — an express train could do it in three minutes, or a racehorse in five.28

The only way to truly appreciate the scale of Mont Blanc, in other words, is to have personally climbed every step to the summit. Mountaineering, Stephens continues, ‘enables one, first, to assign something like its true magnitude to a rock or a snow-slope; and secondly, to measure that magnitude in terms of muscular exertion instead of bare mathematical units’.29

This notion of measuring size and distance by muscular exertion is key to Stephen’s view of the value of mountaineering. Ordinary tourists or spectators do not have access to the same quality of experience as the mountaineer, simply because they have not had the same physical experience. The mountaineer

measures the size, not by the vague abstract term of so many thousand feet, but by the hours of labour, divided into minutes — each separately felt — of strenuous muscular exertion. The steepness is not expressed in degrees, but by the memory of the sensation produced when a snow-slope seems to be rising up and smiting you in the face; when, far away from all human help, you are clinging like a fly to the slippery side of a mighty pinnacle in mid-air.30

The mountaineer’s superior quality of experience is here closely bound up with subjective memory, and with the recall of physical sensations. Yet the ultimate end of this physical contact with the harsh reality of rock, ice, and snow is surprisingly close to the typical Romantic view of what can be taken away from an encounter with the mountains:

Hence I say that the qualities which strike every sensitive observer are impressed upon the mountaineer with tenfold force and intensity. If he is as accessible to poetical influences as his neighbours — and I don’t know why he should be less so — he has opened new avenues of access between the scenery and his mind. He has learnt a language which is only partially revealed to ordinary men.31

Stephen, on the face of it a quintessentially anti-Romantic figure, effectively concedes a central tenet of much Romantic writing about mountains: that the person who climbs mountains can somehow gain access to privileged categories of knowledge, virtue, or wisdom. This is not quite the same thing as Shelley’s claim that ‘Thou hast a voice, great Mountain, to repeal | Large codes of fraud and woe; not understood | By all’, but it is not as far removed as one might expect from the austere, patrician figure of Stephen.32 Both statements emphasize that the message or lesson to be found in mountain landscapes is available not to everyone, but only to those who have the aesthetic ability to interpret them. Both seem less interested in mountains as objective physical facts in themselves than in mountains as the venue for elevated and intense physical and spiritual experience. Above all, both are primarily concerned with the subjective experience of the mountaineer, and with what is taken home from that experience afterwards.

In this sense, the new mountaineers did not represent as clean a break from their predecessors as might at first appear to be the case. Friedrich’s frock-coated wanderer and the rock climbers in the Abrahams’ photograph are alike in the subjectivity of their experience, yet a decisive shift had taken place. From an aesthetic which privileged the visual, and which assumed that stimuli would arise from what was seen by the mountaineer, the new mountaineers believed themselves to be participating in a more tactile, experiential and thus more immersive aesthetic, one in which the physical experiences of cold, exhaustion, pain, and fear were added to the traditional visual experience of mountain landscapes. The intimate contact with the harsh reality of rock face and snow slope provided not only the ‘moral tonic’ that Conway prescribed, but a profoundly new aesthetic experience, one in which ‘cold, stony reality’ would allow the mountaineer insight and knowledge ‘only partially revealed to ordinary men’.

Birkbeck College, University of London

1. Joseph Leo Koerner, Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape (London: Reaktion, 1990), p. 181.
2. Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1959), p.50.; Conrad Gessner, On the Admiration of Mountains (San Francisco: Grabhorn Press, repr. 1937), p. 5.
3. George Gordon (Lord Byron), Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, III. 682, in Lord Byron: The Major Works, ed. by Jerome J. McGann (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), [19–206].
4. Nicolson, p. 3.
5. Anne D. Wallace, Walking, Literature and English Culture: The Origins and Uses of the Peripatetic in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 11.
6. Carl Thompson, The Suffering Traveller and the Romantic Imagination (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007), p. 195.
7. Wallace, p. 13.
8. Michael Ferber, Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
9. Fergus Fleming, Killing Dragons: The Conquest of the Alps (London: Granta, 2000), p. 320.
10. John Lowerson, Sport and the English Middle Classes, 1870–1914 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), p. 169.
11. Walter Perry Haskett-Smith, Climbing in the British Isles, 2 vols (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1894), I, p. vii.
12. James Walvin, Leisure and Society 1830–1950 (London: Longman, 1978), p. 21.
13. William Martin Conway, The Alps from End to End (London: Archibald Constable, 1895), p. 174.
14. Andrew Dempster, The Munro Phenomenon (Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1995), p. 25.
15. Francis J. Dewar, ‘Beinn Mhic Mhonaidh’, SMCJ, 3.2 (May 1894), 70–72 (p. 70).
16. George Gilbert Ramsay, ‘President’s Address’, SMCJ, 1.1 (January 1890), 2–11 (p. 3).
17. John Norman Collie, ‘A Reverie’, SMCJ, 5.3 (September 1898), 93–102 (p. 98).
18. Quoted in Robin N. Campbell, ‘My Dear Douglas’, SMCJ, 34.181 (1990), 388–99 (p. 392).
19. William Martin Conway, ‘Centrists and Excentrists’, Alpine Journal, 15.112 (May 1891), 397–403 (p. 401).
20. Frank F. Cunningham, James David Forbes: Pioneer Scottish Glaciologist (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic, 1990), p. 256.
21. John Tyndall, Hours of Exercise in the Alps (London: Longmans, [repr.] 1899), p. v.
22. Tyndall, p. 95.
23. Tyndall, p. 106.
24. Conway, The Alps from End to End, p. 10.
25. Hansen, ‘British Mountaineering, 1850–1914’, (unpublished doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, 1991) p. 219.
26. Joe Kember, ‘The View from the Top of Mont Blanc: The Alpine Entertainment in Victorian Britain’, Living Pictures, 2.1 (2003), 21–45 (p. 24).
27. Leslie Stephen, The Playground of Europe (San Rafael: Archivum, repr. 2007); Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (New York, Knopf, 1995), p. 505.
28. Stephen, p. 225.
29. Stephen, p. 225.
30. Stephen, p. 230.
31. Stephen, p. 230.
32. Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni’, 80–82 [original pub 1817] ( [repr. in] in The Longman Anthology of British Literature: The Romantics and their Contemporaries, ed. by Susan Wolfson and Peter Manning (New York: Longman, 1999), [653–657]).

Works Cited
Campbell, Robin N., ‘My Dear Douglas’, Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal, 34.181 (1990), 388–99
Conway, William Martin, The Alps from End to End (London: Archibald Constable, 1895)
—— ‘Centrists and Excentrists’, Alpine Journal, 15.112 (May 1891), 397–403
Collie, John Norman, ‘A Reverie’, Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal, 5.3 (September 1898), 93–102
Cunningham, Frank F., James David Forbes: Pioneer Scottish Glaciologist (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic, 1990)
Dempster, Andrew, The Munro Phenomenon (Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1995)
Dewar, Francis J., ‘Beinn Mhic Mhonaidh’, Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal, 3.2 (May 1894), 70–72
Ferber, Michael, Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)
Fleming, Fergus, Killing Dragons: The Conquest of the Alps (London: Granta, 2000)
Gessner, Conrad, On the Admiration of Mountains (San Francisco: Grabhorn Press, [repr.] 1937)
Hansen, Peter Holger, ‘British Mountaineering, 1850–1914’ (unpublished doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, 1991)
Haskett-Smith, Walter Perry, Climbing in the British Isles, 2 vols. (London: Longman, 1894)
Kember, Joe, ‘The View from the Top of Mont Blanc: The Alpine Entertainment in Victorian Britain’, Living Pictures, 2.1 (2003), 21–45
Koerner, Joseph Leo, Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape (London: Reaktion, 1990)
The Longman Anthology of British Literature: The Romantics and their Contemporaries, ed. by Stephen Manning and Susan Wolfson (New York: Longman, 1999)
Lord Byron: The Major Works, ed. by Jerome J. McGann (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)
Lowerson, John, Sport and the English Middle Classes, 1870–1914 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995)
Nicolson, Marjorie Hope, Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory (Seattle: University of Washington, 1950)
Ramsay, George Gilbert, ‘President’s Address’, Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal 1.1 (January 1890), 2–11
Schama, Simon, Landscape and Memory (New York: Knopf, 1995)
Stephen, Leslie, The Playground of Europe (San Rafael: Archivum, [repr.] 2007)
Thompson, Carl, The Suffering Traveller and the Romantic Imagination (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007)
Tyndall, John, Hours of Exercise in the Alps (London: Longman, [repr.] 1899)
Wallace, Anne D., Walking, Literature and English Culture: The Origins and Uses of the Peripatetic in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993)
Walvin, James, Leisure and Society, 1830–1950 (London: Longman, 1978)

Comments on this article

View all comments