Then, however, I started to read the sources. Both of the aforementioned authors cited Thomas Burnet (c.1635-1715) as proof that, even in the late seventeenth century, people were dubious of mountains; in his Theory of the Earth (published in English 1684-1690), Burnet argued that mountains, being as they were 'a broken and confus'd heap of bodies, place'd in no order to one another', were not part of God's original creation but, rather, the result of the Flood. So far, so negative. However, almost every single response to Burnet - and there were a fair few! - included in its criticisms of his Theory the argument that mountains, being useful and pleasing elements of the natural world, had to have been designed by God.
This is by no means all; the sources I have gathered so far include descriptions of mountains as 'fruitfull' (1609), 'pleasant to the eye' (1669), and even 'delightful' (1665). Sources also include either accounts of mountain ascents, or passages that make it pretty clear that, whilst the author themselves may not have frequented mountain slopes, such an activity was fairly well-known. One source, published in 1638, even speaks of climbing so high that the group found themselves suffering from 'chill exhalations', a description that resembles to me the shortness of breath experienced at altitude. On the other hand, I have not found any references to mountains as objects of disgust or indifference. It could be that I have just found a whole heap of exceptions to the rule of early modern mountain gloom; but there also comes a time when one has to wonder whether the exceptions actually were the rule, and to start to question the previous historiographical arguments.
However, this is much more than a question of historiography. During a supervision fairly early on in my PhD, my supervisor gently suggested that I needed to move away from hammering home the point that, in my opinion, Hope Nicholson, Macfarlane, and other historical scholars 'got it wrong', and start to build my own argument. But the problem that I'm increasingly encountering is that the perception of early modern 'mountain gloom' is not just an academic, historiographical one: it is so widespread and embedded that it could practically be called common knowledge. Almost every time that I have described my research in a single sentence ('I'm studying early modern reactions to mountains and mountain-climbing!') my interlocutor, be they an academic, a mountaineer, or neither, has nodded sagely and said 'ah, yes - no one liked mountains then, did they?'
That people hated, feared, or simply disregarded mountains in the early modern period is an 'article of knowledge' that has gone far beyond mere historiography. It is the kind of point that I have seen academics, across disciplines - in history, literature, aesthetic philosophy - mention without citation. And they aren't necessarily to be blamed for that; rather, it should be taken as proof of the fact that this claim has reached the status of general knowledge, for which no citation is necessary. I would even go so far as to say that it is a sort of mythology, underlying our own modern interaction with the landscape; we appreciate these mountains, our souls or hearts or minds are thrilled by them in a vital way, but they, the people in the past, they tried to avoid even looking at them. Our historical uniqueness sharpens our experience of the 'sublime mountains'. It also forms a complete historical blind-spot. Common knowledge says that no-one liked/noticed mountains in the early modern period - so why bother looking for what they said?
Exactly how this came to be is a big question - certainly one deserving of another blog post, but above all one that I think, at this stage, an entire chapter of my thesis needs to be dedicated to. The thing is that I am not just disagreeing with Marjorie Hope Nicholson, a (impressive!) scholar who wrote her seminal work some forty years before I was even born. I'm going against ingrained common knowledge. You can disagree with an element of the historiography of your field; but when you come up against a mythology, I think you have to completely dismantle it before you can give centre stage to a story that goes completely contrary to its claims. Otherwise, everything I find will just be written off as 'exceptions to the rule'. I don't just want to say that rule is wrong; I want to demonstrate how it is wrong, to trace the historical contingency of the development of the claim that 'no-one liked mountains then, did they?"
There are lots of fancy words to describe what thesis or an academic monograph in history does - it interrogates, it unpacks, it analyses, it explicates. But I think that at the most essential level they are still about telling stories of some sort. I am sure this is liable to question, if not complete change, but from where I am standing right now, I think my thesis is going to try to tell two stories - firstly, the previously-unheard story of what early modern Europeans thought and felt about mountains, and secondly, how our current story of 'mountain gloom' came to be, and how it is intertwined with our modern interaction with the landscape around us.