The Way of All Flesh HTML version

Chapter 4
In a year or two more came Waterloo and the European peace. Then Mr George Pontifex
went abroad more than once. I remember seeing at Battersby in after years the diary
which he kept on the first of these occasions. It is a characteristic document. I felt as I
read it that the author before starting had made up his mind to admire only what he
thought it would be creditable in him to admire, to look at nature and art only through the
spectacles that had been handed down to him by generation after generation of prigs and
impostors. The first glimpse of Mont Blanc threw Mr Pontifex into a conventional
ecstasy. "My feelings I cannot express. I gasped, yet hardly dared to breathe, as I viewed
for the first time the monarch of the mountains. I seemed to fancy the genius seated on
his stupendous throne far above his aspiring brethren and in his solitary might defying the
universe. I was so overcome by my feelings that I was almost bereft of my faculties, and
would not for worlds have spoken after my first exclamation till I found some relief in a
gush of tears. With pain I tore myself from contemplating for the first time 'at distance
dimly seen' (though I felt as if I had sent my soul and eyes after it), this sublime
spectacle." After a nearer view of the Alps from above Geneva he walked nine out of the
twelve miles of the descent: "My mind and heart were too full to sit still, and I found
some relief by exhausting my feelings through exercise." In the course of time he reached
Chamonix and went on a Sunday to the Montanvert to see the Mer de Glace. There he
wrote the following verses for the visitors' book, which he considered, so he says,
"suitable to the day and scene":-
Lord, while these wonders of thy hand I see,
My soul in holy reverence bends to thee.
These awful solitudes, this dread repose,
Yon pyramid sublime of spotless snows,
These spiry pinnacles, those smiling plains,
This sea where one eternal winter reigns,
These are thy works, and while on them I gaze
I hear a silent tongue that speaks thy praise.
Some poets always begin to get groggy about the knees after running for seven or eight
lines. Mr Pontifex's last couplet gave him a lot of trouble, and nearly every word has been
erased and rewritten once at least. In the visitors' book at the Montanvert, however, he
must have been obliged to commit himself definitely to one reading or another. Taking
the verses all round, I should say that Mr Pontifex was right in considering them suitable
to the day; I don't like being too hard even on the Mer de Glace, so will give no opinion
as to whether they are suitable to the scene also.
Mr Pontifex went on to the Great St Bernard and there he wrote some more verses, this
time I am afraid in Latin. He also took good care to be properly impressed by the Hospice
and its situation. "The whole of this most extraordinary journey seemed like a dream, its
conclusion especially, in gentlemanly society, with every comfort and accommodation
amidst the rudest rocks and in the region of perpetual snow. The thought that I was