The Summits


Modernity was also revealing itself in the respectful partnership between savant and paysan; Hansen draws a parallel with Wordsworth and his eye-opening encounter with a “peasant” on the Simplon Pass. He adds, however, that Kant, in his positing of a transcendental aesthetics in The Critique of Judgement, distinguished Saussure from both the sceptical indigenes and the crampon-sporting hobbyists by his desire to edify, which opened him to elevating sentiments during the ascent and made him, for Kant, “the first mortal to climb to the summit of Mont Blanc”. The unassuming Paccard – who would take to wandering the mountains alone with a dash of opium – began to be left behind in the narrative because, as Hansen puts it, he “did not fit the model”: neither peasant guide nor (being from Chamonix) a travelling adventurer. A statue of him sitting alone was finally unveiled in the now chic town on the ascent’s bicentenary (a full ninety-nine years after the monument to Balmat and Saussure): its trendy materials had serious issues with the first winter, and it was redone in bronze.

more from Adam Thorpe at the TLS here.