Writing About Glaciers In The Romantic Period

2410 words - 10 pages

Glaciers, an integral feature of any mountainous landscape, were the focus of interest, curiosity and admiration for many travelers in the Romantic period, especially those in the Swiss region of Chamounix. During the 18th and 19th century, four of the voyagers who wrote excerpts on the glaciers were Coxe, Bourrit, Ramond and Shelley; these travelers made similar comparisons to each other regarding the nature of glaciers and the emotions evoked upon their viewing.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, there was not a significant amount of scientific information known about the character of glaciers and therefore these travelers would not have had nearly the same exposure to factual information as a visitor in modern times. Even without the modern knowledge, the four writers make a diligent attempt to formulate words to describe the indescribable and unfamiliar, and to explain the nature, formation and behavior of glaciers.

The initial description of the glaciers offered by each writer is in regards to the immense size in non-descript factual and numerical terms, for instance Coxe states that the ice ranges rise "abruptly from their base and parallel to each other" and Bourrit analyses the height of Mount Blanc with mathematical descriptions "when that height is thirty or nearly forty times increased upon a base proportionally massive…". Faced with such massive and overwhelming landscape features, it was probably an element of comfort to associate a numerical perspective in order to better understand the height of the monumental masses in relation to the self. The writers are in general agreement that glaciers are an aspect of the landscape which is hard to describe and formulate words concerning their appearance; this was mainly due to the unfamiliarity and even strangeness of glaciers upon first sight. For instance, Coxe expresses difficulty in describing the glaciers with the sentence beginning "I can no otherwise convey to you an image of this immense body of ice…" and Bourrit states that Mount Blanc "especially produces a sensation which is very difficult to express." It is understandable that the travelers were almost at a loss for words when viewing immense images such as mountains and glaciers because if viewing for the first time with little background knowledge, the effect would have been powerfully overwhelming. The glaciers were very different from picturesque and familiar aspects of the scenery such as lakes and meadows, and the sheer enormity of the glaciers would have rendered it difficult to formulate a description that could be appreciated by anyone who had not ever seen one.

In some instances, words cannot adequately achieve the same meaning, effect and impact that an image conveys; therefore it would have been difficult to achieve a parallel between visual and textual when describing the appearance of the glaciers.

In order to familiarize the unfamiliar, some viewers sought to compare the appearance of a...

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