THE ALPS AND THE RHINE; By J.T. HEADLEY. Wiley & Putnam’s Library of American Books, No. X.
It is a bold enterprise to make up a volume of descriptions of scenery. We know nothing from which human nature more relucts than from reading many of these, unless artfully interspersed with histories and portraits of men. Even with works of art, so strong is that instinct which causes this, that few can bear to look upon a landscape without figures. We have seen pictures where the introduction of figures would to us have entirely destroyed the poetical charm, have broken the solitude and limited the expression, but most persons even here have desired them, seeming to feel in their absence a want of repose for the eye and an impossibility of concentrating the interest. This is still more the case as to pen and ink pictures.
Yet the bold enterprise has this time been successful, and Mr. Headley has given us a charming book, one that will please the multitude who have, and the few who have not, visited the scenes he describes. A great deal of life has, in this instance, been transferred to paper; that new life which Switzerland almost invariably gives to those born full of it, but well nigh slain by custom and labor.
Mr. Headley mentions his unwillingness to part with the boots he had worn on the Swiss journey. “They gave out at Goldau, but by dint of strings, &c. I made them do till I reached Arth, where I was compelled to abandon the trustiest companions of all my travels; and left them standing in the inn, with their tops leaning over one side, in the most delorous, reproachful manner imaginable. It is curious how one becomes attached to every thing he carries about him on the Alps. I have known the most unsentimental men carry their Alpine stick across the Atlantic with them.”
This enduring interest is because the foot journey through the Alps is really a time of new life, when the sights, the sounds, one’s own bodily and mental state, the temporary release from the routine which infects even Nature in most parts of civilized Europe, give to one capable of better things a period in existence green and lovely as the Swiss valleys, soaring and purely eloquent as the Swiss mountain:
Natures of very coarse fibre share this experience, and some we have known who have never realized their own capacities for joy and ideal life, except in this short period of Switzerland. No wonder they hoard up even their boots and caps as precious reliques.
This is not the case with Mr. Headley; he loves nature always, and we have seen sketches by him of scenes here at home as bold and lively as any in this book of Alps and Rhine. We might make excellent extracts, but forbear; the whole book should be read; each passage is much better in its own place. But we can assure those who have not yet been introduced to Mr. Headley, that he will be found well worth knowing if only for this singularity—he is never dull (in the English sense of the word) and therefore not likely to make them so (in the American).*
“The Alps and The Rhine . . .” New-York Daily Tribune, 24 December 1845, p. 1.