Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
Alpine Scenery: The Grande Chartreuse
By Horace Walpole (17171797)
From a Hamlet among the Mountains of Savoy, 28th Sept. 1739, N.S.
TO RICHARD WEST, ESQ. Precipices, mountains, torrents, wolves, rumblings, Salvator Rosathe pomp of our park and the meekness of our palace! Here we are, the lonely lords of glorious, desolate prospects. I have kept a sort of resolution which I made, of not writing to you as long as I staid in France: I am now a quarter of an hour out of it, and write to you. Mind, tis three months since we heard from you. I begin this letter among the clouds; where I shall finish my neighbour Heaven probably knows: tis an odd wish in a mortal letter, to hope not to finish it on this side the atmosphere. You will have a billet tumble to you from the stars when you least think of it; and that I should write it too! Lord, how potent that sounds! But I am to undergo many transmigrations before I come to yours ever. Yesterday I was a shepherd of Dauphiné: to-day an Alpine savage; to-morrow a Carthusian monk; and Friday a Swiss Calvinist. I have one quality which I find remains with me in all worlds and in all æthers; I brought it with me from your world, and am admired for it in thistis my esteem for you: this is a common thought among you, and you will laugh at it, but it is new here, as new to remember ones friends in the world one has left, as for you to remember those you have lost.
We are this minute come in here, and heres an awkward Abbé this minute come in to us. I asked him if he would sit down. Oui, oui, oui. He has ordered us a radish soup for supper, and has brought a chess-board to play with Mr. Conway. I have left em in the act, and am set down to write to you. Did you ever see anything like the prospect we saw yesterday? I never did. We rode three leagues to see the Grande Chartreuse; expected bad roads and the finest convent in the kingdom. We were disappointed pro and con. The building is large and plain, and has nothing remarkable but its primitive simplicity; they entertained us in the neatest manner, with eggs, pickled salmon, dried fish, conserves, cheese, butter, grapes, and figs, and pressed us mightily to lie there. We tumbled into the hands of a lay-brother, who unluckily having charge of the meal and bran showed us little besides. They desired us to set down our names in the list of strangers, where, among others, we found two mottoes of our countrymen, for whose stupidity and brutality we blushed. The first was of Sir J D, who had wrote down the first stanza of Justum et tenacem altering the last line to Mente quatit Carthusiana.1 The second was of one D, Clum ipsum petimus stultitiâ; et hìc ventri indico bellum.2 The Goth!But the road, West, the road! winding round a prodigious mountain, and surrounded with others, all shagged with hanging woods, obscured with pines, or lost in clouds! Below, a torrent breaking through cliffs, and tumbling through fragments of rocks! Sheets of cascades forcing their silver speed down channelled precipices, and hasting into the roughened river at the bottom! Now and then an old foot-bridge, with a broken rail, a leaning cross, a cottage, or the ruin of an hermitage! This sounds too bombast and too romantic to one that has not seen it, too cold for one that has. If I could send you my letter post between two lovely tempests that echoed each others wrath, you might have some idea of this noble roaring scene, as you were reading it. Almost on the summit, upon a fine verdure, but without any prospect, stands the Chartreuse. We staid there two hours, rode back through this charming picture, wished for a painter, wished to be poets! Need I tell you we wished for you? Good night!
Note 1. Mente quatit Carthusiana. Altering the words of Horace, mente quatit solida, in order to commemorate his connection with the Charterhouse. [back]
Note 2. Cælum ipsum petimus, etc. In our folly we seek heaven itself. The remaining words (and here I proclaim war against my belly) are an addition to the words of Horace, as inept as the alteration of Sir J D. [back]