While reading Helen Maria Williams' "A Tour in Switzerland" and William Coxe's "Sketches of the Natural, Civil, and Political State of Swisserland," I find myself captivated by Williams' description of the Rhine Falls, while feeling indifferent by Coxe's account of the same landscape. It strikes me how much the Rhine Falls influences Williams' emotions and her avid imagination, yet it seems to have a subtle effect on Coxe. In her introduction, Williams mentions that "the descriptive parts of this journal were rapidly traced with the ardour of a fond imagination, eager to seize the vivid colouring of the moment ere it fled, and give permanence to the emotions of admiration, while the solemn enthusiasm beat high in [her] bosom" (vol. I, i). Coxe, on the other hand, seems to approach all that he sees with a detached attitude - he is simply there to observe the scenery, not dwell emotionally and spiritually within it. The obvious differences between Williams' and Coxe's approach towards the Rhine Falls show the contrast between what female and male writers value the most in their travels. Williams easily immerses herself into the magic of the moment in front of the Rhine Falls, while Coxe shows a more aloof reaction towards the Rhine Falls, preferring, instead, to observe the Rhine Falls and its surrounding areas as a whole.
Both Williams and Coxe approach Switzerland differently. Before traveling to the Rhine Falls, Williams already has preconceived expectations and fantasies about what Switzerland is like: "I [am] going to contemplate that interesting country, of which I have never heard without emotion! - I am going to gaze upon images of nature, images of which the idea has so often swelled my ...
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...s more on how the landscape will benefit them intellectually. For example, William' encounter with the Rhine Falls results in her developing an attachment to the majestic grandeur of the cataract, and she feels the cataract possesses a power that is far beyond the comprehension of mankind. Coxe, on the other hand, maintains a detached attitude towards the Rhine Falls. To Coxe, the Rhine Falls is only one of the objects that make up the sublimity of the landscape.
Coxe, William. Sketches of the Natural, Civil, and Political State of Swisserland. A Series of Letters to William Melmoth, Esq. London: J. Dodsley, 1779.
Williams, Helen Maria. A Tour in Switzerland. A View of the Present State of the Government and Manners of Those Cantons: With Comparative Sketches of the Present State of Paris, 2 vols. London: G. G. and J. Robinson, 1798.
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