BLTC Press Titles

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The Haunted Bookshop

Christopher Morely

The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot

Arthur Edward Waite

Tao Te Ching

Lao Tzu, James Legge (trans.)

Bible teachings in nature

by Hugh Macmillan


But the feature that struck me most in the landscape was not stupendous precipices, or lofty spires of rock, or towering dome of everlasting snow, catching the radiance of ruby, topaz, and amethyst from the gates of heaven;—it was the glaciers, those silent, motionless cataracts "that heard a mighty voice and stopped at once amid their maddest play," which filled with their rigid ghastly masses every gorge around. There is no sight among the Alps so calculated to impress the mind; and even the most apathetic spectator cannot come into contact with them for the first time without emotions of the profoundest astonishment. Nowhere could a grander view of them be got than from the spot where I halted. No less than three great tributary glaciers—the Glacier du Ge'ant, the Glacier de Lechaud, and the Glacier du Talifre— came pouring down in the wildest and most tumultuous confusion, from so many ravines into the great central basin of the Mer de Glace. This accumulated mass of ice, about twelve miles long and from one to two wide, extended right before me, as far as my eye could reach, down towards the valley of Chamouni. Its surface was like that of a sea which had been suddenly frozen, not during the height of a storm, but when the billows had partially subsided; and these blunted waves, broken and disjointed in the roughest manner by transverse crevasses, ran parallel with the whole length of the glacier. In some places the ice was

,black and discoloured with long lines of moraine matter; while in others it was pure and greenish white, like the hyaline pavement which John saw in vision stretching away into shining distance before the throne of God.

Along the brink close beside me there was a bright little garden of Alpine wild flowers. Clinging to the loose verdureless debris of the lateral moraine, nurtured by the cold drip of the melting ice, exposed to the combined effects of a scorching sun by day and the keenest frost at night, of the deepest calm and the wildest storm, and frequently snowed on and sunned in the same hour, these flowers were yet, strange to say, among the loveliest of nature's productions. Golden geums and potentillas gleamed like miniature suns; gentians, veronicas, violets, and forget-me-nots, formed an earthly firmament of deepest blue in which they shone; while moss-campions and aretias braided their soft clouds of richest crimson, imitating those aerial ones which at that moment were sailing in all their sunset glory overhead. These flowers, blooming on the very borders of the ice, eloquently spoke to me of the life and death, the joy and sorrow, the blight that destroys and the blessing that renews, which are so mysteriously blent on this earth of ours. On the one hand was Nature ruining her own creations; on the other hand she was restoring and beautifying them. The glacier was grinding down the mountains, and the Alpine flowers were healing the scars which it inflicted. The mercy and the judgment were here, as they ever are, if we could only see it, side by side.

How solemn was the stillness which brooded over everything! A dread voice had gone forth, "Let all the earth keep silence," and the solitude was like the presence of God. My soul was burdened with "the power of the hills;" each sense was strained, by the sublimity around, to its utmost tension. And yet the glaciers were far from being mute and inanimate. Every ten minutes or so, the breathless pause of nature was broken by the muffled roar of a distant avalanche. Everything seemed on the point of moving, and waiting but a whisper from heaven. All that looked most solid and permanent, turned out to be most treacherous and unstable. The force of gravitation and the action of the sun caused the glaciers continually to crack and strain over their rocky beds; and huge stones and pinnacles of ice that seemed motionless and steadfast as the peaks overhead, were in a single instant hurled headlong with a noise like thunder down a steep abyss, or into a wide crevasse, and ground to atoms in the fall. Each sight and sound proclaimed the incessant tendency of material forces towards the equilibrium which is yet unattainable ; the longing of matter for that rest which cannot be reached; the constant attractions and repulsions of nature's frame, which, were they to cease, would result not in the order and perfection of life, but in the stillness and chaos of everlasting death. Never before did I hear the voice of the Eternal, in the sounds of earth, so unmistakeable, so impressive, as in these utterances of the glaciers. Never before did I realize the weight of meaning in these apparently simple words of the Psalmist, "He scattereth His hoar frost like ashes; He casteth forth His ice like morsels; who can stand before His cold?" These mighty glaciers were no more to Him than the feathery flakes of falling snow which the child catches in its tiny hand. By the simple process of abstracting a few degrees of heat from the vapours that floated, light and airy as shapes in a dream, on the mountain summits, these morsels of ice were formed, before whose silent concentrated power the hardest granite crumbles into dust, and the proudest mountains are ultimately brought low; and it thrilled me with unspeakable awe to recognise in the "signs and wonders" around me the same Almighty Arm which piled up the waters of the Red Sea in crystal walls, and opened up for the chosen people a way of escape. Miracles of nature such as these made the most wonderful miracles of Scripture intelligible and easy of belief.

The feeling of astonishment and dread which these "ice-morsels" produce at a distance, is greatly increased by a closer acquaintance with their physi ognomy. Everywhere their surface is broken up into rents or fissures called crevasses. These are largest and most numerous at the edges, and are caused by the motion of the glacier over the inequalities of its bed. They are sometimes very deep, the plummet failing to find bottom at a depth of six or seven hundred feet; and they vary in width from a narrow crack, over which a child can step, to yawning chasms three or four hundred feet across. It is no easy task to thread one's way among their slippery labyrinths. So tortuous is the maze into which the traveller is led that escape often seems hopeless; while so narrow is the neck of ice that separates the one from the other, that there is often hardly standing-room between them, and the unconscious dangers behind have to be guarded against as well as the obvious ones before. During a fall of snow many of the crevasses are concealed by a treacherous covering of it; and the surface of the ice looks uniformly smooth and white. In these circumstances a single incautious step may be attended with the most fatal consequences; and no traveller should cross a glacier so coated without carefully sounding his way, and being tied with a rope to his guides. In the higher ice-regions the crevasses are on a vast scale; but even on the more disturbed parts of the Mer de Glace they present a spectacle of great grandeur. In crossing the glacier on my way homewards from the Couvercle I had often to retrace my steps, or take a long circuitous route in order to avoid them. Some of them were fringed with icicles of the most fantastic shapes, and others had smooth perpendicular walls of glittering ice. I had the curiosity to descend into one, which happened to be choked up at a depth of thirty or forty feet by huge boulders of granite; and the appearance which it presented was most magical. It was like a fairypalace of sapphire; the walls of ice around me being of the loveliest and most vivid blue colour, radiating a soft cerulean light throughout the whole place. There was a coldness and unearthliness about it, however, which repelled and prevented me from fully enjoying its exquisite beauty; and I remember well the involuntary shudder that crept through my frame as I looked down, through the vacant space between the boulders, into the blue gloom of the fearful abyss,


hundreds of feet below, and listened to the hollow all-pervading murmurs of the subglacial streams, that came up to my ear like the groans of tortured spirits.

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