The Austrian Alps
( Originally Published 1889 )
It was nearly dark when we came to the end of the plain and looked on the city at our feet and the lovely lake that lost itself in the mountains before us. We were early on board the steamboat next morning, with a cloudless sky above us and a snow-crested Alp beckoning' on from the end of the lake. The water was of the most beautiful green hue, the morning light colored the peaks around with purple, and a misty veil rolled up the rocks of the Traunstein. We stood on the prow and enjoyed to the fullest extent the enchanting scenery. The white houses of Gmunden sank down to the water's edge like a flock of ducks; half-way we passed castle Ort, on a rock in the lake, whose summit is covered with trees.
As we neared the other extremity, the mountains became steeper and loftier; there was no path along their wild sides, nor even a fisher's, but nestled at their feet, and the snow filled the ravines more than half-way from the summit. An hour and a quarter brought us to Ebensee, at the head of the lake, where we landed and plodded on towards Ischl, following the Traun up a narrow valley, whose mountain-walls shut out more than half the sky. They are covered with forests, and the country is inhabited entirely by the woodmen who fell the mountain pines and float the timber rafts down to the Danube. The steeps are marked with white lines, where the trees have been rolled, or rather thrown from the summit. Often they descend several miles over rocks and precipices, where the least deviation from the track would dash them in a thousand pieces. This generally takes place in the winter when the sides are covered with snow and ice. It must be a dangerous business, for there are many crosses by the way-side where the pictures represent persons accidentally killed by the trees ; an additional painting represents them as burning in the flames of purgatory, and the pious traveller is requested to pray an Ave or a Paternoster for the repose of their souls.
On we went, up the valley of the Traun, between mountains five and six thousand feet high, through scenes constantly changing and constantly grand, for three or four hours. Finally the hills opened, disclosing a little triangular valley, whose base was formed by a mighty mountain covered with clouds., Through the two side-angles came the Traun and his tributary the Ischl, while the little town of Ischl lay in the centre. Within a few years this has become a very fashionable bathing-place, and the influx of rich visitors, which n the summer sometimes amounts to two thousand, has entirely destroyed the primitive simplicity the in-habitants originally possessed. From Ischl we took a road through the fore gang, on the lake of the same part of the way led along the b disclosing some delicious view lakes surpass any scenery I hay water is of the most beautiful g of molten beryl, and the cloud ains that encompass them shu nearly half the day. St. Wolf village in a cool and quiet nob Schafberg. - The houses are bu esque Swiss style, with flat, pro ornamented balconies, and the very picture of neatness and is to St. Wolfame. The last banks of the lake. These Alpine yet seen. The green, like a sheet piercing mount-out the sun for Wolfgang is a lovely at the foot of It in the picturecting roofs and people are the cheerfulness.
We started next morning to ascend the Schafberg, which is called the Righi of the Austrian Switzerland. It is somewhat higher than its Swiss namesake, and commands -a prospect scarcely less extensive or grand. We followed a, foot-path through the thick forest by the side of a roaring torrent. The morning mist still covered the lake, but the white summits of the Salzburg and Noric Alps opposite us, rose above it and stood pure and bright in the upper air. We passed a little mill and one or two cottages, and then wound round one of the lesser heights into a deep ravine, down in whose dark shadow we sometimes heard the axe and saw of the mountain woodmen. Finally the path disappeared altogether under a mass of logs and rocks, which appeared to have been whirled together by a sudden flood. We deliberated what to do; the summit rose several thousand feet above us, almost precipitously steep, but we did not like to turn back, and there was still a hope of meeting with the path again. Clambering over the ruins and rubbish we pulled, ourselves by the limbs of trees up a steep ascent and descended again to the stream. We here saw the ravine was closed by a wall of rock and our only chance was to cross to the west side of the mountain, where the ascent seemed somewhat easier. A couple of mountain maidens whom we fortunately met, carrying home grass for their goats, told us the mountain could be ascended on that side, by one who could climb well -laying a strong emphasis on the word. The very doubt implied in this expression was enough to decide us; so we began the work. And work it was, too! The side was very steep, the trees all leaned downwards, and we slipped at every step on the dry leaves and grass. After making a short distance this way with the greatest labor, we came to the track of an, avalanche, which had swept away the trees and earth.
Here the rock had been worn rough by torrents, but by using both hands and foot, we clomb directly up the side of the mountain, sometimes dragging ourselves up by the branches of trees ' where the rocks were smooth. After half an hour of such work we came above the forests, on the bare side of the mountains . The summit was far above us and so steep that our limbs involuntarily shrunk from the task of climbing. The side ran up at an angle of nearly sixty degrees, and the least slip threw us flat on our faces. We had to use both hand and foot, and were obliged to rest every few minutes to recover breath. Crimson-flowered moss and bright blue gentians covered the rock, land I filled my books with blossoms for friends t home.
Up and up, for what seemed a age, we clambered. So steep was it, that the east rocky projection hid my friend from sight, as he was coming up ,below me. I let stones roll sometimes, which went down, down, almost like a cannon-ball, till I could see them no ore. At length we reached the region of dwarf pines, which was even more difficult to pass through. Although the mountain was not so steep, this forest, centuries old, reached no higher t an our breasts, and the trees leaned downwards, so that we were obliged to take hold of t e tops of those above us, and drag ourselves p through the others. Here and there lay large patches of snow; we sat down in the glowing June sun, and bathed our hands and face in it. Finally the sky became bluer and bro der, the clouds seemed nearer, and a few more steps through the bushes brought us to the summit of the mountain, on the edge of a precipice a thousand feet deep, whose bottom stood in a vast field of snow !
We lay down on the heather exhausted by five hours' incessant toil, and drank in like a refreshing draught, the sublimity of the scene. The green lakes of the Salzburg Alps lay far below us, and the whole southern horizon was filled with the mighty range of the Styrian and Noric Alps, their summits of never-melted snow mingling and blending with the clouds. On the other side the mountains of Salzburg lifted their ridgy backs from the plains of Bavaria and the Chiem lake lay spread out in the blue distance. A line of mist far to the north betrayed the path of the Danube, and beyond it we could barely trace the outline of the Bohemian mountains. With a glass the spires of Munich, one hundred and twenty miles distant, can be seen. It was a view whose grandeur I can never forget. In that dome of the cloud we seemed to breathe a purer air than that of earth.
After an hour or two we began to think of descending, as the path was yet to be found. The summit, which was a mile or more in length, extended farther westward, and by climbing over the dwarf pines for some time, we' saw a little wooden house above us. It stood near the highest part of the peak, and two or three men were engaged in repairing it, as a shelter for travellers. They pointed out the path which went down on the side toward St. Gilgen, and we began descending. The mountain on this side is much less steep, but the descent is fatiguing enough. The path led along the side of a glen where mountain goats were grazing, and further down we saw cattle feeding on the little spots of verdure which lay in the forest. My knees became so weak from this continued descent, that they would scarcely support me; but we were three hours, partly walking and partly running down, before we reached the bottom. Half an hour's walk around the head of the St. Wolfgang See, brought us to the little village of St. Gilgen.
The valley of St. Gilgen lies like a little paradise between the mountains. Lovely green fields and woods slope gradually from the mountain behind, to the still greener lake spread out before it, in whose bosom th white Alps are mirrored. Its picturesque cottages cluster around the neat church with its lofty spire, and the simple inhabitants have countenances as bright and cheerful as the blue ,sky above them. We breathed an air of poetry'. The Arcadian simplicity of the people, the pastoral beauty of the fields around, and the grandeur of the mountains which' shut it out from the world', realized my ideas of a dwelling-place, where, with a few kindred spirits, the bliss of Eden might almost be restored.
We stopped there two or three hours to relieve our hunger and fatigue. My boots had suffered severely in our mountain adventure, and I called at a shoemaker's cottage to get them repaired. I sat down and talked for Half an hour with the family. The man and his wife spoke of the delightful scenery around them, and expressed themselves with correctness and even elegance. They were much pleased that I admired their village so greatly, and related everything which they supposed could interest me. As I rose to go my head nearly touched the ceiling, which was very low. The man exclaimed : "Ach Gott! how tall!" I told him the people were all tall in our country; he then asked where I came from, and I had no sooner said America, than he threw up his hands and uttered an ejaculation of the greatest surprise. His wife observed that "it was wonderful how far man was permitted to travel." They wished me a prosperous journey and a safe return home.
St. Gilgen was also interesting to me from that beautiful chapter in "Hyperion "-" Footsteps of Angels "-and on passing the church on my way back to the inn, I entered the grave-yard mentioned in it. The green turf grows thickly over the rows of mounds, with here and there a rose planted by the hand of affection, and the white crosses were hung with wreaths, some of which had been freshly laid on. Behind the church under the shade of a tree, stood a small chapel.-I opened the unfastened door, and entered. The afternoon sun shone through the side window, and all was still around. A little shrine, adorned with flowers, stood at the other end, and there were two tablets on the wall, to persons who slumbered beneath. I approached these and read on one of them with feelings not easily described: "Look not mournfully into the past-it comes not again; wisely improve the present-it is time; and go forward to meet the shadowy future, without fear, and with a manly heart ! " This then was the spot where Paul Flemming came in loneliness and sorrow to muse over what he had lost, and these were the words whose truth and eloquence strengthened and consoled him, " as if the unknown tenant of the grave had opened his lips of dust and spoken those words of consolation his soul needed." I sat down and mused a long time, for there was something in the silent holiness of the spot, that impressed me more than I could well describe.
We reached a little village on the Fuschel See, the same evening, and set off the next morning for Salzburg. The day was hot and we walked slowly, so that it was not till two o'clock that we saw the castellated rocks on the side of the Gaissberg, guarding the entrance to the valley of Salzburg. A short distance further, the whole glorious panorama was spread out below us. From the height on which we stood, We looked directly on the summit of the Capuchin Mountain, which hid part of the city from sight; the double peak of the Staufen rose opposite, and a heavy storm was raging along the Alpine heights around it, while the lovely valley lay in sunshine below, threaded by the bright current of the Salza. As we descended .and passed around the foot of the hill, the Untersberg came in sight, whose broad summits lift themselves seven thousand feet above the plain. The legend says that Charlemagne and his warriors sit in its subterraneous caverns in complete armor, and that they will arise and come forth again, when Germany recovers her former power and glory.
I wish I could convey in words some idea of the elevation of spirit experienced while looking on these eternal mountains. They fill the soul with a sensation of power and grandeur which frees it awhile from the cramps and fetters of common life. It rises and expands to the level of their sublimity, till its thoughts stand solemnly aloft, like their summits, piercing the free heaven. Their dazzling and imperishable beauty is to the mind an image of its own enduring existence. When I stand upon some snowy summit-the invisible apex of that mighty pyramid -there seems a majesty in my weak will which might defy the elements. This sense of power, inspired by a silent sympathy with the forms of nature, is beautifully described-as shown in the free unconscious instincts of childhood-by the poet Uhland, in his ballad of the "Mountain Boy." I have attempted a translation:
THE MOUNTAIN BOY
A herd-boy on the mountain's brow,
The mother-house of streams is here
To me belongs the mountain's bound,
Below me clouds and thunders move;
And when the loud bell shakes the spires
Salzburg lies on both sides of the Salza, hemmed in on either hand by precipitous mountains. A large fortress overlooks it on the south, from the summit of a perpendicular rock, against which the houses in that part of the city are built. The streets are narrow and crooked, but the newer part contains many open squares, adorned with handsome fountains. The variety of costume among the people, is very interesting. The inhabitants of the salt district have a peculiar dress; the women wear round fur caps, with little wings of gauze at the side. I saw other women with head-dresses of gold or silver filagree, something in shape like a Roman helmet, with a projection at the back of the head, a foot long. . The most interesting objects in Salzburg to us, were the house of Mozart, in which the composer was born, and the monument lately erected to him. The St. Peter's Church, near by, contains the tomb of Haydn, the great composer, and the Church of St. Sebastian, that of the renowned Paracelsus, who was also a native of Salzburg.
Two or three hours sufficed to see everything of interest in the city. We had intended to go further through the Alps, to the beautiful vales of the Tyrol, but our time was getting short, our boots, which are the pedestrian's sole dependence, began to show symptoms of wearing out, and our expenses among the lakes and mountains of Upper Austria, left us but two florins apiece, so we reluctantly turned our backs upon the snowy hills and set out for Munich, ninety miles distant. After passing the night at Saalbruck, on the banks of the stream which separates the two kingdoms, we entered Bavaria next morning. I could not help feeling glad to leave Austria, although within her bounds 1 had passed scenes whose beauty will long haunt me, and met with many honest friendly hearts among her people. We noticed a change as soon as we had crossed the border. The roads were neater and handsomer, and the country people greeted us in going by, with a friendly cheerfulness that made us feel half at home. The houses are built in the picturesque Swiss fashion, their balconies often ornamented with curious figures, carved in wood. Many of them, where they are situated remote from a church, have a little bell on the roof which they ring for morning and evening prayers ; we often heard these simple monitors sounding from the cottages as we passed by.
The next night we stopped at the little village of Stein, famous in former times for its robber-knight, Hans von Stein. The ruins of his castle stand on the rock above, and the caverns hewn in the sides of the precipice, where he used to confine his prisoners, are still visible. Walking on through a pleasant, well cultivated country, we came to Wasserburg, on the Inn. The situation of the city is peculiar. The Inn has gradually worn his channel deeper in the sandy soil, so that he now flows at the bottom of a glen, a hundred feet below the plains around. Wasserburg lies in a basin, formed by the change of the current, which flows around it like a horse-shoe, leaving only a narrow neck of land which connects it with the country above.
We left the little village where we were quartered for the night and took a foot path which led across the country to the field of Hohenlinden, about six miles distant. The name had been familiar to me from childhood, and my love for Campbell, with the recollection of the school-exhibitions where " On Linden when the sun was low" had been so often declaimed, induced me to make the excursion to it. We traversed a large forest, belonging to the King\ of Bavaria, and came out on a plain covered with grain-fields and bounded on the right by a semi-circle of low hills. Over the fields, about two miles distant, a tall, minaret-like spire rose from a small cluster of houses, and this was Hohenlinden? To tell the truth I had been expecting something more. The "hills of blood-stained snow" are very small hills indeed, and the "Isar, rolling rapidly," is several miles off; it was the spot, however, and we recited Campbell's poem, of course, and brought away a few wild flowers as memorials. There is no monument or any other token of the battle, and the people seem to endeavor to forget the scene of - Moreau's victory and their defeat.
From a hill twelve miles off we had our first view of the spires of Munich, looking like distant ships over the sea-like plain. They kept in sight till we arrived at eight o'clock in the evening, after a walk of more than thirty miles. We crossed the rapid Isar on three bridges, entered the magnificent Isar Gate, and were soon comfortably quartered in the heart of Munich.
Entering the city without knowing a single soul within it, we made within a few minutes an agreeable aquaintance. After we had passed the Isar Gate, we began looking for a decent inn, for the day's walk was very fatiguing. Presently a young man, who had been watching us for some time, came up and said, if we would allow him, he would conduct us to a good lodging place. Finding we were strangers, he ex-pressed the greatest regret that he had not time to go with us every day around the city. Our surprise and delight at the splendor of Munich, he said, would more than repay him for the trouble. In his anxiety to show us something he took us some distance out of the way, (although it was growing dark and we were very tired,) to see the Palace and the Theatre, with its front of rich frescoes.