If comparisons are often odious, it is because they often serve to very small purpose, and often lead to much injustice. Prejudice usually plays a conspicuous part in them; predilections already exist, and our comparisons are thus rendered markedly unscientific. In nothing is this more true than in attempting comparison between spring in the Swiss Alps and spring in England. The Englishman will vaunt his spring to you as something incomparable. Well, he is right in a sense. Let him leave it at that: it is incomparable. It is incomparable just as the Alpine spring is incomparable. Conditions are so different that it is useless and unjust to go into comparisons with any idea of putting one above the other in the end. Each is best in its way; each is unique; each is fascinating and wholly delightful. As well say that a cat is wrong because it does not wag its tail with pleasure like a dog as say that an English spring stands first and foremost because it is more balmy, homely, and reposeful than an Alpine spring. A cat does not rank lower than a dog because the waving of its tail is less homely and reposeful than the wagging of a dog's tail. It is of small use, and it leads to great injustice, to conduct comparison upon such lines as these. Both the dog and the cat stand equally right in the use of their tails; and both the English spring and the Alpine spring are equally lovely, though cast in somewhat different moulds.
No; it is best not to attempt comparison. Let us study differences if we will, but leave comparisons alone. What has been called 'the quiet bandbox scenery of cultivated England' lends itself to a very distinctive exposition of spring-time delights. Scenes such as depicted with so much truth and humour by W. H. Drummond, the poet of the Canadian Habitants; scenes such as ' W'en small sheep is firs' comin' out on de pasture, Deir nice leetle tail stickin' up on deir back, Dey ronne wit' deir moder, an' play wit' each oder. An' jomp all de tam jus' de sam' dey was crack!
'An' ole cow also, she's glad winter is over, So she kick herse'f up, an' start off on de race Wit' de two-year-ole heifer, dat's purty soon lef' her - W'y ev'ryt'ings crazee all over de place.'
Scenes such as these, though they be of the very essence of spring in England, are altogether foreign to spring in the Swiss Alps. So also are the rookeries and rabbit-warrens, the hedgerows of hawthorn, the banks of primroses, the nut-woods carpeted with bluebells, the copses gay with foxgloves - and much besides. In fact, the whole 'atmosphere' differs, for the larger part of the fundamentals of an English spring are absent in the spring of the Alps. And yet the Alps have a spring no whit less entrancing than the spring of England.
In the Alps the steel-blue of winter is still in the air - indeed, one feels it in the very flowers. Even though no snowy Alp be in sight, and nothing but floral gaiety around, there is yet a sense of austerity. The vegetation, though colourfull, is neither coarse nor rank, nor even luxurious, as judged by English standard. Nature is crisp and brisk; the air is thin and clear; everywhere is great refinement - yes, refinement; that, perhaps, is the better word - refinement quite other than that of spring in England. It were as though the severity of the struggle for existence could be read in the sweet face of things, just as we may often read it in the smiling face of some chastened human being lines of sweetness running side by side with lines of acute capacity; a strong face beautiful; a face in which optimism reigns sovereign over an active pessimism. Nature in the Alps is instinct with the stern necessity for perpetual endeavour, whereas in England, where conditions are not so harsh, we have a sense of a certain indolence and ease of circumstance of Nature which we call homeliness and repose. Repose, in this sense, there certainly is not in the Alpine spring. Every suspicion of lassitude or laissez-faire is unknown; all is keen and buoyant, quick with an earnest joie de vivre which is as exquisite in its way as anything more voluptuously sentimental that England can produce We feel small want to loll about and dream; the one impulse is to be up and exploring the wonders to be found on every side, and to do the while our dreaming, Not that these wonders are new to us, and therefore incentive to energy; we may know them all well of old, but the infection is the same. Spring in the Alps is redolent of energy. The cattle, goats, and sheep, are not yet here for us to watch the romping of. We it is, young and old, who do the skipping!
And this energy is felt the moment the hem of Alpine altitudes is touched; we are instantly inspired by that refinement already alluded to. Maybe we shall have to walk for an hour, or perhaps more, from our hotel before reaching really representative Alpine vegetation. It will be the case at such mountain resorts as, for instance, Chateau-d'Cex, Villars-sur-Ollon, or Finhaut; for it is not everywhere, as at Champex or at the Col de la Forclaz, that true Alpine abundance is to be found at our very door. Up through a belt of forest we must often wend our way ere we reach our quest. And here it is that some small fatigue may possibly be felt, for the paths are steep and 'rough and ready,' and there is little of the particular interest of which we are in search. Stopping to gather breath, we shall perhaps exclaim: 'Where are these wonderful pastures of which we have heard so much? Where is this fairyland? Pines, nothing but pines, seem to be ahead!' Patience! presently we shall have forgotten this little toil; for we shall suddenly emerge from the forest into the open - into the Promised Land of Plenty.
The path steepens for awhile, and presently sharply rounds a great wall of rock; and then, before we are well aware of what has happened, the curtain has lifted, the sombre forest is behind us, and we are face to face with one of the most perfect of Alpine landscapes imaginable. From where we are standing, a glory of colour, broken here and there by great grey boulders and the dark, rich foliage of Rhododendron-bushes, stretches up and away until it dies in a haze of lively tints against the slopes and rugged cliffs of a stately snow-clad Alp. The transition has been so unexpectedly sudden as to surprise all utterance, and it is some time before we can realize our feelings. Rumour and report have not exaggerated; they have not even done justice to the scene. All fatigue has fled; energy is in the air, and pervades everything. We are indeed in fairyland!