Pioneers of the Alps
by Allegra Baggio Corradi
The restless mountain urge that rippled through the Victorian years can be explained vis-à-vis the material and immaterial circumstances of the time. Travelling across Europe was made easier by the invention of several tools and techniques throughout the 19th century. Scientific inventions were fuelled by the insatiable curiosity of scientists and amateurs, who began questioning why it was that one began to pant and gasp at a great altitude, why glaciers moved and why birds and insects could survive above the heights at which snow lasted throughout the year. Curiosity was not just supported by a certain joie de vivre, but was driven by a scientific desire to frame the confines of the mountain as a complex and multi-layered ecosystem. A less materialistic impulse was also crucial in the development of mountaineering in so far as many of the explorers who ventured to the top of the mountain also stayed there to marvel and meander rather than to investigate. Altogether, Victorian climbers were not interested in the mountain as a backdrop to their sports activity, but as a place that impinged on their thoughts much more significantly than a mere pastime. The love of exploring fresh country was therefore supported by a genuine interest in the mountain as a natural environment and as a spiritual destination.
James Smeaton Chase was a British traveller and writer, who spent most of his life in the United States. About his trips across the desert and the mountains, he published a number of books, which he illustrated with his own photographs. Cone-Bearing Trees of the California Mountains, for instance, he wrote as a tree-lover for tree-lovers. The simplicity of the text allowed people to recognise the “tree-company” through the illustration of the characteristics of each species, from pines to firs and other coniferous trees. Interestingly, Chase looked at trees as if they were human beings, for both vary greatly in their particularisation.
Émile de la Bédollière was a French journalist and translator. Together with the photographer and journalist Ildefonse Rousset, he founded the newspaper Le National. Rousset owned a bookshop in Paris, where he cooperated with artists like Grandville. With Rousset, la Bédollière published Le Bois de Vincennes, a book containing photographs of the woods around the city of Vincennes. The narrative describes the landscape and the views of Vincennes in an evocative way and for a public of amateur travellers and explorers.
La Fôret Noire. Études, impressions et voyages is book containing photographs by Charles Lallemand. The volume evocatively reconstructs a voyage from Stuttgart through the Württemberg region. The natural landscape is amply described and the peculiarities of the villages and urban agglomerates along the travellers’ way evoked for their amenity. The photographic focus is predominantly on people, their costumes, daily activities and private moments.
Pioneers of the Alps covers the development of mountaineering from the fourteenth century to the 1880s. Written by Captain William de Wiveleslie Abney and C.D. Cunningham, the book contains pen and photographic portraits of notable mountain guides and their activity across Grindelwald, Zermatt, Chamonix and their surroundings. Special attention was devoted to the training of mountaineers, to Alpine accidents and to winter expeditions. Abney was a military and a pioneer of several photographic products such as wet emulsions and gelatins. He also introduced useful and novel types of photographic papers and for his achievements he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1876. Abney also conducted research in spectroscopy, developing techniques to photograph the infrared solar spectrum.
Nina Lovering Marshall was the author of numerous books on mushrooms and more generally on biology. Mosses and Lichens was written with the aim to facilitate the identification of the growths typical of woods and forests. Marshall made pen-and-ink drawings directly from nature in order to compensate the lack of visual sources available at her time. Among the topics covered in the book were the growth of mosses and lichens on rocks and trees, the place of lichens and mosses in history and their presence in herbaria. Marshall’s evocative and descriptive prose contrasts with the scientific content of her book.