Mont Blanc In A Box

Another Englishman who drew public attention to the Alps . . . was Albert Smith. He was a prototype of the young hiker, camper and mountaineer of to-day who, with limited means, spends a short but infinitely precious holiday in the hills. Thus far mountaineering had been, and was to be for many years, the almost exclusive preserve of the eclectics, of Government officials, University dons and professional men generally who with ample time and money at their disposal could afford long holidays in the Alps and the expense of guides. In 1838, Smith, then twenty-two years old, arrived at Chamonix with twelve pounds in his pocket. Instantly he fell under the spell of the mountains and was so anxious to make the ascent of Mont Blanc that he offered to go as a porter for anyone who would take him. He failed in his ambition, but returned to the attack in 1851 with some Oxford undergraduates who were delighted to climb with him when they learned that he was “Mr. Smith of London, the well-known comic author”. This time he succeeded, but the ascent provoked much undesirable publicity. In the course of an article, the Daily News wrote, “De Saussure’s observations and reflections on Mont Blanc live in his poetical philosophy; those of Mr. Albert Smith will be most appropriately recorded in a tissue of indifferent puns and stale fast witticisms, with an incessant straining after smartness. The aimless scramble of the four pedestrians to the top of Mont Blanc . . . will not go far to redeem the somewhat equivocal reputation of the herd of English tourists in Switzerland for a mindless and rather vulgar redundance of animal spirits”.

But Albert Smith remained unabashed. He was by nature a born showman, and such are impervious to criticism and abuse. He wrote an interesting and amusing book about Mont Blanc and, constructing a model of the mountain, set out to describe it and his experiences to all and sundry. His Mont Blanc in a Box show was a popular success and, however much it may have been scorned by the eclectics, undoubtedly did much to bring the beauty and interest of the Alps to the public attention.

from British Mountaineers by F. S. Smythe (1942)

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