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pended over the numerous villages of the Vallée de Bagnes—but with very partial success. Signals were then established—sentinels posted—and alarum fires kept lighted in the night, to warn the inhabitants should the flood-gate give way.
“At length, late one afternoon, a thundering explosion was heard! Reverberating through the surrounding hills, it bore the fearful tidings to an immense distance, scattering dismay and terror amongst the trembling inhabitants. The dyke had burst; and the gigantic lakes of imprisoned water rushed from their confinement with headlong fury, forming a prodigious torrent a hundred feet deep, and sweeping along at the rate of twenty miles an hour. A huge forest which lay across its track was not proof against the strength of the waters-large trees were rooted up as though they had been osier wands, and were borne away like floating branches on its tide."*
In this manner the stupendous mass of waters, combined with all the ruins which it had gathered in its progress—forests, rocks, houses, cattle, and immense blocks of ice-rushed, an overwhelming deluge, and with a noise louder than the heaviest peals of thunder, down towards the ill-fated Martigny! The scene of destruction was awful beyond the power of conception! Half the town was immediately swept away; and the other half was covered with ruins. The terrific inundation proceeded in its destructive course till it mingled with the Rhone, and was ultimately lost in the peaceful but affrighted Lake of Geneva !
The Inn (La Tour) where these memoranda were written, has a black line, (some seven or eight feet above the ground) marked on its walls, shewing the height of the inundation. The destined bridegroom of the unhappy maniac, alluded to in the preceding section, was lost (with many others) in this dreadful catastrophe, having come, the day before his intended marriage to Martigny, from his native village of LavEY-probably to purchase paraphernalia for that ceremony which was to consign himself to a watery tomb, and his more unfortunate bride to the ten thousand horrors of reminiscent insanity!
Tragic and terrific as was the above scene, it was probably but a miniature representation of what happened, in some remote and unrecorded period, near the same place. When the stupendous barrier of rock at St. Maurice was first rent asunder, by the violence of subterranean fires, or the pressure of superincumbent fluids, and the congregated waters of the Rhone rushed through the yawning abyss, the phenomenon must have been one of the most awful and sublime spectacles ever presented to human eye. Perhaps no living being witnesssed this tremendous crash, except the ibex browsing on the
neighbouring mountains, or the eagle, startled from its eyrie on the inaccessible cliffs of the Dent de Morcles. In the geological history of the earth's present surface, there must have been a period, however early, when the now hoary heads of Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa, first became blanched with descending snows, and their shoulders spangled with glittering icicles. The daily and annual revolutions of the sun dissolved a portion of these, which trickled in currents along the most indented fissures of the declivities, and still form the channels of mountain torrents. The crusts of snow and ice increased every year in thickness, while the descending streams accumulated in the valleys and formed lakes. After a time, the agglomerated snows and icicles began to fall in avalanches into the hollows of the mountains' sides, and thus to form what are now termed “Mers de Glace” or “ Glaciers,” the current underneath still preserving its wonted channel, and forming a receptacle for the drippings that fell through the various fissures. The annual descent of snow and ice from the higher peaks of cliffs and mountains, caused the glaciers themselves to move slowly downwards towards the valleys, where they fell in masses into the current below, and were dissolved by the Summer's heat. This slow and almost imperceptible motion of the Glaciers did not escape the notice of Byron, who characterizes them as solid rivers, moving along majestically by the law of gravitation. Meantime the accumulated waters in the valleys rose till they found some outlet, and then descended by circuitous routes to the ocean, in the form of rivers. Thus, for instance, the Vallais became one vast lake, till the waters found an issue over the stony barrier at St. Maurice, and when this barrier gave way, the lake rushed with tremendous velocity into the valley, now the Lake of Geneva! A contemplation of the formation of glaciers, lakes, and rivers, in this romantic country, is extremely interesting, and should occupy a portion of the traveller's time and attention while wandering among the Alps.
We are now in the centre of the Vallais--the head-quarters of goitre and cretinism. There are few portions of the earth's surface, in these temperate climes, better calculated for the deterioration, if not the destruction of life, than the Valley of the Rhone. It is bounded on each side by steep mountains, four or five thousand feet in height—and the intermediate ground contains all the elements that are found to operate against human health. The valley consists, in some places, of a rich, flat, alluvial earth, covered with corn, fruit trees, and gardens—in others, it presents swamps and meadows—then, again, jungle and woods—vineyards—pine forests, &c. while brawling brooks intersect it in all directions, and often inundate it, in their precipitous course
from the mountains to the Rhone, which runs through its centre. Were this valley beneath a tropical sun, it would be the seat of pestilence and death. As it is, the air must necessarily be bad; for the high ridges of mountains, which rise like walls on the north and south sides, prevent a free ventilation, while, in Summer, a powerful sun beats down into the valley, rendering it a complete focus of heat, and extricating from vegetation and humidity a prodigious quantity of malaria. In Winter, the high southern ridge shuts out the rays of a feeble sun, except for a few hours in the middle of the day—so that the atmosphere is not sufficiently agitated at any season of the year. To this must be added, the badness of the waters which, along the banks of the upper Rhone, are superlatively disgusting.
As the Vallais is the land of cretinism, so is Sion the capital of that humiliating picture of humanity! There are but few travellers who take the trouble to examine Sion philosophically, and make themselves acquainted with the state of its wretched inhabitants. I explored this town with great attention, traversing its streets in every direction ; and I can safely aver that, in no part of the world, not even excepting the Jews' quarter in Rome, or the polluted back lanes of Irri and Fondi, in the kingdom of Naples, have I seen such intense filth! With the exception of two or three streets, the others present nothing on their surface but a nameless mass of vegeto-animal corruption, which, in all well-regulated towns, is consigned to pits, or carried away by scavengers. The alleys are narrow; and the houses are constructed as if they were designed for the dungeons of malefactors, rather than the abodes of men at liberty.
Goitre, on such a scale as we see it in the Vallais, is bad enough ; but CRETINISM is a cure for the pride of man, and may here be studied by the philosopher and physician on a large scale, and in its must frightful colours. This dreadful deformity of body and mind is not confined to the Alps. It is seen among the Pyrennees—the valleys of the Tyrol—and the mountains of China and Tartary. Nearly 200 years have elapsed since it was noticed by Plater, in the spot where I am now viewing it ; but Saussure was the first who accurately described this terrible degeneracy of the human species. From common bronchocele, and a state of body and mind bordering on health, down to a complete destitution of intelligence and sensibility--in short, to an existence purely vegetative, cretins present an infinite variety of intermediate grades, filling up these wide extremes. In general, but not invariably, goitre is an attendant on cretinism. The stature is seldom more than from four to five feet, often much less—the head is deformed in shape, and too large in proportion to the body—the skin is yellow, cadaverous, or of a mahogany colour, wrinkled, sometimes of an unearthly pallor, with unsightly eruptions -the flesh is soft and flabby—the tongue is large, and often hanging out of the mouth-the eyelids thick--the eyes red, prominent, watery, and
frequently squinting--the countenance void of all expression, except that of idiotism or lasciviousness—the '
nose flat-the mouth large, gaping, slavering -the lower jaw elongated the belly pendulous—the limbs crooked, short, and so distorted as to prevent any thing but a waddling progression--the external senses often imperfect, and the cretin deaf and dumb the tout ensemble of this hideous abortion of Nature presenting the traits of premature old age! Such is the disgusting physical exterior of the apparently wretched, but perhaps comparatively happy, cretin !
If we look to the moral man (if man he can be called) the picture is still more humiliating. The intellectual functions being, as it were, nul, certain of the lower animal functions are in a state of increased activity. The cretins are voracious and addicted to low propensities which cannot be named. To eat and to sleep form their chief pleasures. Hence we see them, between meals, basking in nonchalance on the sunny sides of the houses, insensible to every stimulus that agitates their more intelligent fellow-creatures-frequently insensible to every call of Nature itself !
But I shall pass on from this melancholy example of the effects of climate, or at all events of physical agencies, on the moral and corporeal constitution of man, to the causes which are supposed to produce them. This is not an uninteresting inquiry, and it is intimately connected with a principal object of this volume, as will be seen in the sequel.
In the first place, it is remarked that cretinism is bounded to certain altitudes above the level of the sea. The Vallais itself, and the ravines or gorges of the mountains by which it is enclosed, are the chief seats of this deformity. All, or almost all, those who inhabit the higher ranges of the mountains overlooking the valleys are exempt from the malady. This single fact proves that cretinism is owing to a physical rather than a moral cause, or series of
There can be no material difference in the moral habits of peasants residing at the base and on the brow of the same mountain. If the former be more subject to goitre and cretinism than the latter, it must be owing to something in the air they breathe, the water they drink, or the emanations from the soil on which they reside. Saussure, Ferrus, Georget, and all those who have personal knowledge of the subject, acknowledge that, at a certain height (five or six hundred toises) among the Alps, goitre and cretinism dis. appear. In the year 1813, M. Rambuteau, then Prefect of the department of the Simplon, addressed a memoir to the Minister of the Interior of France, on this subject, in which, after describing very accurately the medical topography of the Vallais, with its malarious exhalations, stagnant atmosphere, and alternate exposure to the rays of a burning sun, and piercing icy winds, as the causes of cretinism, goes on to add, “ the use of waters, which, in descending from the mountains by long and circuitous routes, become im. pregnated with calcareous salts.” “A ces causes il croit devoir adjuter l'usage
des eaux, qui, en descendant des montagnes et parcourant de longues distances, se chargent de sels calcaires.* As moral auxiliaries, the Prefect enumerates “the indolence of the inhabitants, their want of education, the dirtiness of the houses, the badness of the provisions—their drunkenness and debauchery.” M. Rambuteau mentions some curious particulars respecting this dreadful deterioration of human nature. He affirms that those Valaisans who intermarry with the Savoyards from the Italian side of the Alps, give birth to more cretins than those who form matrimonial connexions with the inhabitants of their native valley. The females of the latter place, who marry men born on the higher regions of the Alps, and who are accustomed to live in the open air, with much bodily exercise, hardly ever bring forthcretinous children. The same intelligent observer remarks that—"Wherever cretinism is seen, goitre is also prevalent—but the latter is found in places where the former does not exist.” Hence he is led to the conclusion, that
" the nature of the two maladies is the same, (le principe des deux maladies est le même) but the cause is more active where cretinism and goitre both prevail-more feeble where goitre only obtains.” In short, we find in the Vallais, and in the lower gorges or ravines that open on its sides, both cretinism and bronchocele in the most intense degrees—as we ascend the neighbouring mountains, cretinism disappears and goitre only is observed--and when we get to a certain altitude both maladies vanish, and the Alpine peasant or shepherd once more assumes the “image of his Creator !"
It is said and believed by travellers, that cretinism is decreasing in the Vallais. The diminution is, I fear, more apparent than real. The “march of intellect” and the intercourse with strangers have taught the parents and friends of these wretched creatures to doubt that the cretin is the favourite of Heaven, as is thought of idiots in Turkey. They, therefore conceal, rather than expose, their offspring so afflicted. I saw them driving them in from the back streets of Sion on my approach. It is probable, however, that there is a diminution in the number of cretins in the Vallais. Many of the auxiliary
* Dr. Bally, a native of a goitrous district in Switzerland, states the fol. lowing very important fact. “ Bronchocele appears to me to be produced by certain waters which issue from the hollows of rocks—trickle along the cliffs of mountains-or spring from the bowels of the earth. That this is the case, I may instance some fountains in my own country, (Departement du Leman, au Hameau de Thuet) the use of whose waters will, in eight or ten days, produce or augment goitrous swellings. Such of the inhabitants of the above village as avoid those waters are free from goitre and cretinism."*
* Dict. des Sciences Medicales, T. VII.