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'HERE is a climbing instinct in man which makes him
love to go up higher. The great popularity of Longfellow's little poem, “Excelsior," is due, in part, to its touching this much-loved note. To go to the top of high places is attractive. Therefore, in travelling, we love to ascend spires, towers, mountains; to go to the top of the Pyramids, the dome of St. Peter, the spire of Strasburg or Antwerp, or the lantern of our own State House. For to mount a few hundred feet above the level of the earth seems to lift us for the time above its cares into a more serene state. We look down from the summit of Trinity, in New York; or St. Paul's, in London ; or Notre Dame, in Paris, upon the streets which swarm below. The currents of life move on, but we seem far away from them; the of business comes up to us, softened through the intervening air. We look down upon this hurrying crowd with a certain angelic composure, and wonder at its impatience. Its hurry and haste appear quite unnecessary. To us, in our sublime elevation, bathed in the circumambient air, life has suddenly become calm, and our soul is serene.
Much more is this the case when we go to the summit of
a mountain. A deeper calm comes over us, and we pass into the region of nobler thoughts. Climbing mountains has, in fact, become to the English a matter of business, and they have an Alpine Club, the members of which search for virgin peaks not yet scaled, and who publish each winter a volume describing their summer triumphs. I confess to the charm of these descriptions. I do not wish to run the risk myself, nor can I think it right to peril life and limb for no adequate object; yet there is something very interesting in these accounts of strenuous exercise ; of the long, patient ascent from the Swiss valleys, up over the steep meadows, over the rugged glaciers, over the long dazzling fields of snow, until, at last, the sharp mountain edge, with precipices on either hand, is the only method of progress; where crevasses are to be crossed on thin bridges of snow, and walls of ice are to be climbed ; where the axe must cut a foothold for every step, and perpendicular walls of rock are to be scaled ; with certain and terrible death the penalty for a moment’s dizziness or a moment's carelessness. “Friends, go up higher," something seems ever to say, till at last the mountain is conquered, and they stand victorious on the submissive peak, looking down upon the immense solitudes below, the valleys far away, the frozen rivers which plunge amain adown enormous ravines; the motionless torrents and silent cataracts; the deep, deep blue of the half buried lakes ; the sister mountains, whose silver peaks cut the air near by or far away. In that lofty realm of silence, amid pure airs and snows, and rocks piled by the hand of God, and untouched since the morning of creation, the soul within us is also lifted, also purified. Therefore I do not wonder that men like to climb, for this does give us a certain experience not easily gained in any
But all this is but the type and image of moral climbing.