Wordsworth's Route Over the Simplon in 1790: A Reconstruction

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Wordsworth's Route Over the Simplon in 1790: A Reconstruction

Romantic Circles


1 Wildi (1959), Bernard-Kabisch (1979), Hayden (1979), Johnston (1997).

2 Most British travellers'accounts of the Simplon describe the Napoleonic road, which follows a significantly different route until the pass. Mourning the loss of the old mule track became almost a common place in the Swiss travel literature after 1805. Louis Simond wrote, for example, that "what with this road, and the road over Mont Cenis, all the glory, the poetry, or, if you please, the sport of crossing the Alps are lost ; one might as well travel in Flanders" (Simond, I, 360). However, despite the new road, the passage remained challenging, taking twelve to thirteen hours by post, and some travellers even found the addition of tunnels sublime. Henry Coxe, for instance, described the Gondo tunnel as the eighth wonder of world, where "art and nature seem to have combined in this place everything which is calculated to strike the imagination"(70). James Johnson was similarly impressed, calling the new road the "'seventh wonder' of the world" offering a "scene ... sublime, and even fearful" (59-60).

3 Traveling up the pass in 1814 on the Napoleonic road, Henry Coxe noted that "below the Schalbet [a gallery built for road] are the two houses called Tavernettes, where travellers who keep the old road stop for refreshment" (66).

4 Kenneth Johnston also notes this anomaly, noting that the two men, used to mountain walking, "could hardly have misinterpreted the relief they felt in their muscles" and that "by the time you reach the spittal, it is quite clear that one has crossed the Alps" (207) Although Johnston writes that the exact place where Wordsworth and Jones had lunch that day "is a matter of some critical importance" (206), whether or not they ate at the Taferna or at the Spittal, and why they failed to understand they had already reached the pass, remain biographical conundrums but do not change the way we interpret the poem.

5 Johnston's remark that "nearly a quarter of their time and distance on this day was taken up with wandering around, lost, near the top of the pass" (205) is inexact. Wordsworth and Jones got lost four hours after and over a thousand meters down from the actual pass. As Wildi has noted, they could not have been lost more than an hour and a half (181), while the whole walk takes approximately ten to twelve hours.



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Published @ RC

August 2001