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PASS OF THE GREAT ST. BERNARD.
(With an Engraving.) Every student in geography has noticed the peculiar shape of Italy; its outline on the maps resembling that of a human leg, as though about to kick Sicily, the island at its toe. If the maps be consulted, its northern portion will be seen to consist of an amply-watered, broad plain, the north boundary of which is constituted by the huge and towering Alps, rising near the western coast, where there is an almost (comparatively speaking) level pass between the Mediterranean and the beginning of the mountain range; and sweeping to the north, then to the north-east, and then, after a short easterly course, to the south-east, till they arrive at their termination, on the opposite coast of the Adriatic. Italy seems thus to be walled in from the rest of the world.
Across the Alps there are several passes, as they are termed, -roads by which the traveller may journey without ascending to the full height of the mountains. One of these is called the Pass of the Great St. Bernard. Its position is where the range begins to trend from the north to a more easterly direction. The journey is usually understood to begin from Martigny, in Switzerland, a little to the south of the Lake of Geneva, and crossing the highest portion of the mountains, (bearing the name of the Pennine Alps,) to terminate at Aosta, in
Vol. IX. Second Series.
Piedmont. These passes are, in fact, defiles, generally by the side of mountain-torrents, between the higher ridges and peaks of the range, enabling the traveller to cross the barrier without ascending to the full height to which these enormous boundaries are lifted up. The Great St. Bernard pass is rather more steep and difficult on the northern side, and is only practicable the whole way for pedestrians and mules; though, at times, the light chars-a-bancs of the country accomplish the ascent. The path, winding on the brink of steep ravines, and beneath towering heights, in the midst of a wild ruggedness, is often extremely sublime ; and, by the contrast which it presents, prepares the traveller for the beautiful plains of “fair Italia,” to which he is directing his steps. On the southern side, monuments are occasionally seen, which remind the tourist that he is approaching a land which once swayed the sceptre of the world, but from whose nerveless grasp, paralysed by superstition, that sceptre has long ago fallen. But we will not advert to these. Superstition may be connected with truth; and where there is Christian truth, there may be Christian charity, and its blessed results, cheering the beholder even while he laments the degrading superstition, and making him wish that every shadow might pass away, and the splendours of truth shine without obscuration. The Pass of Great St. Bernard is rendered memorable by the “Hospice of St. Bernard.” The most elevated part of the passage is a long and narrow valley, the bottom of which is occupied by a lake, which is frozen over during eight or nine months of the year. The height of this valley above the level of the sea is calculated to be seven thousand nine hundred apd sixty-three English feet; while above it tower tremendous rocks and peaks, four thousand two hundred and forty feet higher. At the eastern extremity of the lake is the Monastery of St. Bernard; and in this perpetually in hospitable clime, in this bleak and most uninviting position, dwell its Monks, and their noted dogs. It is the only house of reception for travellers. Relief, and, when needed, eleemosynary hospitality, are extended to all classes of travellers; and when snow-storms arise, or the snow lies deeper than usual on the ground, (and the “ Hospice” is close upon the limits of perpetual snow,) or
“avalanches” fall, not only do the Monks expose themselves both to weather and danger to meet the bewildered traveller, but their dogs, who are trained to the work, are sent forth into the snow to search for any who may have wandered from the path. Around the necks of these wonderfully sagacious animals are small packets of refreshments and cordials for the fainting wanderers whom they may find, and whom, having found, they guide to safety and comfort. Many personis have been saved from impending death by the fraternity of St. Bernard, and their faithful canine helpers. The Monks are of the order of St. Augustine; and it deserves notice that in his writings—however obscured, and even deformed, by the prevailing errors of the day—are some of the most explicit and powerful testimonies to the great truths of the Gospel of human redemption. To this humane and useful establishment considerable landed property was once attached; but it now chiefly depends on an allowance made annually by the Swiss and Piedmontese governments, and on the voluntary donations of private individuals and rich travellers.
SCRIPTURE ILLUSTRATIONS. Exodus xxii. 6. “ If fire break out, and catch in thorns, so that the stacks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field, be consumed therewith,” &c.—This doubtless alludes to the common practice in the East of setting fire to the dry herbage, before the commencement of the autumnal rains, under the very correct impression that this operation is favourable to the next crop. The herbage is so perfectly dry by the long summer droughts, that the fire when kindled often spreads to a great extent, and cannot be checked while it finds any aliment. The operation is attended with great danger, and requires to be performed with a careful reference to the direction in which the wind blows, and to local circumstances, that nothing valuable may be consumed in the course given to the destructive element. Such a fire, kindled accidentally or wilfully, is sometimes attended with most calamitous consequences, destroying trees, shrubs, and standing crops, and placing in considerable danger persons who happen to be abroad, on a journey or otherwise. Such accidents sometimes happen through the carelessness of travellers in neglecting, when they leave their stations, to extinguish the fires they have used during the night. The dry herbage towards the end of summer is so very combustible, that a slight cause is sufficient to set it in a blaze. Dr. Chandler relates an anecdote, which sufficiently shows the necessity and propriety of the law which the text brings to our notice. When he was taking a plan of Troas, one day after dinner, a Turk came near and emptied the ashes out of his pipe. A spark fell unobserved upon the grass, and a brisk wind soon kindled a blaze, which withered in an instant the leaves of the trees and bushes in its way, seized the branches and roots, and devoured all before it with prodigious crackling and noise. Chandler and his party were much alarmed, as a general conflagration of the country seemed likely to ensue : but after an hour's exertion they were enabled to extinguish the flames. The writer of this note can himself recollect, that when, one chilly night, he assisted in kindling a fire, for warmth, on the western bank of the Tigris, so much alarm was exhibited by the Arabs lest the flames should catch the tamarisks and other shrubs and bushes which skirt the river, that the party were induced to forego the enjoyment which the fire afforded. The writer has often witnessed these fires; and the appearance which they present, particularly at night, was always very striking. The height of the flame depends upon the thickness and strength of its aliment; and its immediate activity, upon the force of the wind. When there is little or no wind, the fire has no other food than the common herbage of the desert or steppe; the flame seldom exceeds three feet in height, and advances slowly and steadily like a vast tide of fire, backed by the smoke of the smouldering embers, and casting a strong light for a considerable height into the air, sometimes also throwing up a taller mass of flame, where it meets with clumps of bushes or shrubs which afford more substantial aliment. This taller mass lingers behind to complete its work after the general body of flame has continued its destructive and conquering march. A high wind throws the flames forward with great