Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXV, 12

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XXXV, 11 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXV, 13

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXXV, chapter 12
The Saint-GothardPass

The new Saint-Gothard road, on leaving Amsteg, weaves to and fro in a zigzag for six miles; now joining the Reuss, now moving away as the torrent’s ravine widens. In the perpendicular plane of the landscape, short slopes or clumps of coppiced beech, peaks rising into the blue, ice-covered domes, summits naked or retaining a few streaks of snow like locks of white hair; in the valley, bridges, huts of blackened timber, walnut and fruit trees which gain in a wealth of leaves and branches what they lose in the succulence of their fruit. Alpine nature forces these trees to return to the wild; the ancient sap reveals itself despite the graft: an inner energy breaks the bounds of civilisation.

A little higher, on the right bank of the Reuss, the scene changes: the river descends in falls through a stony channel, under a double and triple avenue of pines, forming the Pont-d’Espagne valley at Cauterets. On sections of the mountain, larches clothe ridges of broken rock; moored by their roots, they resist the buffeting of storms.

Along the roadside, only a few patches of earth given over to potatoes testify to the presence of man: he must eat and journey; a summary of his history. There is no sign of the herds, relegated to higher regions of pasture: no birds; no likelihood of eagles: the great eagle plunged into the ocean in crossing to St Helena; there is no flight however strong and high that does not fail in the immensity of the heavens, The royal eaglet has just died. Other eaglets of July 1830 have been proclaimed; apparently they have descended from their eyrie to nest among the pigeons. They no longer rise with chamois in their talons; reduced to a domesticated gleam, their flickering gaze will no longer contemplate the free glittering sun of France’s glory from the summit of Saint-Gothard.