It is difficult for anybody who has, not actually seen such mountain scenery as is presented by the Alps, to form any clear conception of its magnificence and grandeur. Hannibal had never seen the Alps, but the world was filled then, as now, with their fame.
Some of the leading features of sublimity and grandeur which these mountains exhibit, result mainly from the perpetual cold which reigns upon their summits. This is owing simply to their elevation. In every part of the earth, as we ascend from the surface of the ground into the atmosphere, it becomes, for some mysterious reason or other, more and more cold as we rise, so that over our heads, wherever we are, there reigns, at a distance of two or three miles above us, an intense and perpetual cold. This is true not only in cool and temperate latitudes, but also in the most torrid regions of the globe. If we were to ascend in a balloon at Borneo at midday, when the burning sun of the tropics was directly over our heads, to an elevation of five or six miles, we should find that although we had been moving nearer to the sun all the time, its rays would have lost, gradually, all their power. They would fall upon us as brightly as ever, but their heat would be gone. They would feel like moonbeams, and we should be surrounded with an atmosphere as frosty as that of the icebergs of the Frigid Zone.
It is from this region of perpetual cold that hailstones descend upon us in the midst of summer, and snow is continually forming and falling there; but the light and fleecy flakes melt before they reach the earth, so that, while the hail has such solidity and momentum that it forces its way through, the snow dissolves, and falls upon us as a cool and refreshing rain. Rain cools the air around us and the ground, because it comes from cooler regions of the air above. Now it happens that not only the summits, but extensive portions of the upper declivities of the Alps, rise into the region of perpetual winter. Of course ice conceals continually there, aria the snow which forms falls to the ground as snow, and accumulates in vast and permanent stores. The summit of Mont Blanc is covered with a bed of snow of enormous thickness, which is almost as much a permanent geological stratum of the mountain as the granite which lies beneath it. Of course, during the winter months, the whole country of the Alps, valley as well as hill, is covered with snow. In the spring the snow melts in the valleys and plains, and higher up it becomes damp and heavy with partial melting, and slides down the declivities in vast avalanches, which sometimes are of such enormous magnitude, and descend with such resistless force, as to bring down earth, rocks, and even the trees of the forest in their train. On the higher declivities, however, and over all the rounded summits, the snow still clings to its place, yielding but very little to the feeble beams of the sun, even in July.