A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
Henry David Thoreau

Part 6 out of 7

As long as there is satire, the poet is, as it were, _particeps
criminis_. One sees not but he had best let bad take care of
itself, and have to do only with what is beyond suspicion. If
you light on the least vestige of truth, and it is the weight of
the whole body still which stamps the faintest trace, an eternity
will not suffice to extol it, while no evil is so huge, but you
grudge to bestow on it a moment of hate. Truth never turns to
rebuke falsehood; her own straightforwardness is the severest
correction. Horace would not have written satire so well if he
had not been inspired by it, as by a passion, and fondly
cherished his vein. In his odes, the love always exceeds the
hate, so that the severest satire still sings itself, and the
poet is satisfied, though the folly be not corrected.

A sort of necessary order in the development of Genius is, first,
Complaint; second, Plaint; third, Love. Complaint, which is the
condition of Persius, lies not in the province of poetry. Erelong
the enjoyment of a superior good would have changed his disgust
into regret. We can never have much sympathy with the complainer;
for after searching nature through, we conclude that he must be
both plaintiff and defendant too, and so had best come to a
settlement without a hearing. He who receives an injury is to
some extent an accomplice of the wrong-doer.

Perhaps it would be truer to say, that the highest strain of the
muse is essentially plaintive. The saint's are still _tears_ of
joy. Who has ever heard the _Innocent_ sing?

But the divinest poem, or the life of a great man, is the
severest satire; as impersonal as Nature herself, and like the
sighs of her winds in the woods, which convey ever a slight
reproof to the hearer. The greater the genius, the keener the
edge of the satire.

Hence we have to do only with the rare and fragmentary traits,
which least belong to Persius, or shall we say, are the properest
utterances of his muse; since that which he says best at any time
is what he can best say at all times. The Spectators and
Ramblers have not failed to cull some quotable sentences from
this garden too, so pleasant is it to meet even the most familiar
truth in a new dress, when, if our neighbor had said it, we
should have passed it by as hackneyed. Out of these six satires,
you may perhaps select some twenty lines, which fit so well as
many thoughts, that they will recur to the scholar almost as
readily as a natural image; though when translated into familiar
language, they lose that insular emphasis, which fitted them for
quotation. Such lines as the following, translation cannot
render commonplace. Contrasting the man of true religion with
those who, with jealous privacy, would fain carry on a secret
commerce with the gods, he says:--

"Haud cuivis promptum est, murmurque humilesque susurros
Tollere de templis; et aperto vivere voto."

It is not easy for every one to take murmurs and low
Whispers out of the temples, and live with open vow.

To the virtuous man, the universe is the only _sanctum sanctorum_,
and the penetralia of the temple are the broad noon of his
existence. Why should he betake himself to a subterranean crypt,
as if it were the only holy ground in all the world which he had
left unprofaned? The obedient soul would only the more discover
and familiarize things, and escape more and more into light and
air, as having henceforth done with secrecy, so that the universe
shall not seem open enough for it. At length, it is neglectful
even of that silence which is consistent with true modesty, but
by its independence of all confidence in its disclosures, makes
that which it imparts so private to the hearer, that it becomes
the care of the whole world that modesty be not infringed.

To the man who cherishes a secret in his breast, there is a still
greater secret unexplored. Our most indifferent acts may be
matter for secrecy, but whatever we do with the utmost
truthfulness and integrity, by virtue of its pureness, must be
transparent as light.

In the third satire, he asks:--

"Est aliquid quo tendis, et in quod dirigis arcum?
An passim sequeris corvos, testave, lutove,
Securus quo pes ferat, atque ex tempore vivis?"

Is there anything to which thou tendest, and against which thou
directest thy bow?
Or dost thou pursue crows, at random, with pottery or clay,
Careless whither thy feet bear thee, and live _ex tempore_?

The bad sense is always a secondary one. Language does not
appear to have justice done it, but is obviously cramped and
narrowed in its significance, when any meanness is described.
The truest construction is not put upon it. What may readily be
fashioned into a rule of wisdom, is here thrown in the teeth of
the sluggard, and constitutes the front of his offence.
Universally, the innocent man will come forth from the sharpest
inquisition and lecturing, the combined din of reproof and
commendation, with a faint sound of eulogy in his ears. Our
vices always lie in the direction of our virtues, and in their
best estate are but plausible imitations of the latter.
Falsehood never attains to the dignity of entire falseness, but
is only an inferior sort of truth; if it were more thoroughly
false, it would incur danger of becoming true.

"Securus quo pes ferat, atque ex tempore _vivit_,"

is then the motto of a wise man. For first, as the subtle
discernment of the language would have taught us, with all his
negligence he is still secure; but the sluggard, notwithstanding
his heedlessness, is insecure.

The life of a wise man is most of all extemporaneous, for he
lives out of an eternity which includes all time. The cunning
mind travels further back than Zoroaster each instant, and comes
quite down to the present with its revelation. The utmost thrift
and industry of thinking give no man any stock in life; his
credit with the inner world is no better, his capital no larger.
He must try his fortune again to-day as yesterday. All questions
rely on the present for their solution. Time measures nothing
but itself. The word that is written may be postponed, but not
that on the lip. If this is what the occasion says, let the
occasion say it. All the world is forward to prompt him who gets
up to live without his creed in his pocket.

In the fifth satire, which is the best, I find,--

"Stat contra ratio, et secretam garrit in aurem,
Ne liceat facere id, quod quis vitiabit agendo."

Reason opposes, and whispers in the secret ear,
That it is not lawful to do that which one will spoil by doing.

Only they who do not see how anything might be better done are
forward to try their hand on it. Even the master workman must be
encouraged by the reflection, that his awkwardness will be
incompetent to do that thing harm, to which his skill may fail to
do justice. Here is no apology for neglecting to do many things
from a sense of our incapacity,--for what deed does not fall
maimed and imperfect from our hands?--but only a warning to
bungle less.

The satires of Persius are the furthest possible from inspired;
evidently a chosen, not imposed subject. Perhaps I have given
him credit for more earnestness than is apparent; but it is
certain, that that which alone we can call Persius, which is
forever independent and consistent, _was_ in earnest, and so
sanctions the sober consideration of all. The artist and his
work are not to be separated. The most wilfully foolish man
cannot stand aloof from his folly, but the deed and the doer
together make ever one sober fact. There is but one stage for
the peasant and the actor. The buffoon cannot bribe you to laugh
always at his grimaces; they shall sculpture themselves in
Egyptian granite, to stand heavy as the pyramids on the ground of
his character.


Suns rose and set and found us still on the dank forest path
which meanders up the Pemigewasset, now more like an otter's or a
marten's trail, or where a beaver had dragged his trap, than
where the wheels of travel raise a dust; where towns begin to
serve as gores, only to hold the earth together. The wild pigeon
sat secure above our heads, high on the dead limbs of naval
pines, reduced to a robin's size. The very yards of our
hostelries inclined upon the skirts of mountains, and, as we
passed, we looked up at a steep angle at the stems of maples
waving in the clouds.

Far up in the country,--for we would be faithful to our
experience,--in Thornton, perhaps, we met a soldier lad in the
woods, going to muster in full regimentals, and holding the
middle of the road; deep in the forest, with shouldered musket
and military step, and thoughts of war and glory all to himself.
It was a sore trial to the youth, tougher than many a battle, to
get by us creditably and with soldierlike bearing. Poor man! He
actually shivered like a reed in his thin military pants, and by
the time we had got up with him, all the sternness that becomes
the soldier had forsaken his face, and he skulked past as if he
were driving his father's sheep under a sword-proof helmet. It
was too much for him to carry any extra armor then, who could not
easily dispose of his natural arms. And for his legs, they were
like heavy artillery in boggy places; better to cut the traces
and forsake them. His greaves chafed and wrestled one with
another for want of other foes. But he did get by and get off
with all his munitions, and lived to fight another day; and I do
not record this as casting any suspicion on his honor and real
bravery in the field.

Wandering on through notches which the streams had made, by the
side and over the brows of hoar hills and mountains, across the
stumpy, rocky, forested, and bepastured country, we at length
crossed on prostrate trees over the Amonoosuck, and breathed the
free air of Unappropriated Land. Thus, in fair days as well as
foul, we had traced up the river to which our native stream is a
tributary, until from Merrimack it became the Pemigewasset that
leaped by our side, and when we had passed its fountain-head, the
Wild Amonoosuck, whose puny channel was crossed at a stride,
guiding us toward its distant source among the mountains, and at
length, without its guidance, we were enabled to reach the summit
of ^Agiocochook^.


"Sweet days, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky,
Sweet dews shall weep thy fall to-night,
For thou must die."

When we returned to Hooksett, a week afterward, the melon man, in
whose corn-barn we had hung our tent and buffaloes and other
things to dry, was already picking his hops, with many women and
children to help him. We bought one watermelon, the largest in
his patch, to carry with us for ballast. It was Nathan's, which
he might sell if he wished, having been conveyed to him in the
green state, and owned daily by his eyes. After due consultation
with "Father," the bargain was concluded,--we to buy it at a
venture on the vine, green or ripe, our risk, and pay "what the
gentlemen pleased." It proved to be ripe; for we had had honest
experience in selecting this fruit.

Finding our boat safe in its harbor, under Uncannunuc Mountain,
with a fair wind and the current in our favor, we commenced our
return voyage at noon, sitting at our ease and conversing, or in
silence watching for the last trace of each reach in the river as
a bend concealed it from our view. As the season was further
advanced, the wind now blew steadily from the north, and with our
sail set we could occasionally lie on our oars without loss of
time. The lumbermen throwing down wood from the top of the high
bank, thirty or forty feet above the water, that it might be sent
down stream, paused in their work to watch our retreating sail.
By this time, indeed, we were well known to the boatmen, and were
hailed as the Revenue Cutter of the stream. As we sailed rapidly
down the river, shut in between two mounds of earth, the sounds
of this timber rolled down the bank enhanced the silence and
vastness of the noon, and we fancied that only the primeval
echoes were awakened. The vision of a distant scow just heaving
in sight round a headland also increased by contrast the

Through the din and desultoriness of noon, even in the most
Oriental city, is seen the fresh and primitive and savage nature,
in which Scythians and Ethiopians and Indians dwell. What is
echo, what are light and shade, day and night, ocean and stars,
earthquake and eclipse, there? The works of man are everywhere
swallowed up in the immensity of Nature. The Aegean Sea is but
Lake Huron still to the Indian. Also there is all the refinement
of civilized life in the woods under a sylvan garb. The wildest
scenes have an air of domesticity and homeliness even to the
citizen, and when the flicker's cackle is heard in the clearing,
he is reminded that civilization has wrought but little change
there. Science is welcome to the deepest recesses of the forest,
for there too nature obeys the same old civil laws. The little
red bug on the stump of a pine,--for it the wind shifts and the
sun breaks through the clouds. In the wildest nature, there is
not only the material of the most cultivated life, and a sort of
anticipation of the last result, but a greater refinement already
than is ever attained by man. There is papyrus by the river-side,
and rushes for light, and the goose only flies overhead, ages
before the studious are born or letters invented, and that
literature which the former suggest, and even from the first have
rudely served, it may be man does not yet use them to express.
Nature is prepared to welcome into her scenery the finest work of
human art, for she is herself an art so cunning that the artist
never appears in his work.

Art is not tame, and Nature is not wild, in the ordinary sense.
A perfect work of man's art would also be wild or natural in a
good sense. Man tames Nature only that he may at last make her
more free even than he found her, though he may never yet have

With this propitious breeze, and the help of our oars, we soon
reached the Falls of Amoskeag, and the mouth of the Piscataquoag,
and recognized, as we swept rapidly by, many a fair bank and
islet on which our eyes had rested in the upward passage. Our
boat was like that which Chaucer describes in his Dream, in which
the knight took his departure from the island,

"To journey for his marriage,
And return with such an host,
That wedded might be least and most. . . . .
Which barge was as a man's thought,
After his pleasure to him brought,
The queene herself accustomed aye
In the same barge to play,
It needed neither mast ne rother,
I have not heard of such another,
No master for the governance,
Hie sayled by thought and pleasaunce,
Without labor east and west,
All was one, calme or tempest."

So we sailed this afternoon, thinking of the saying of
Pythagoras, though we had no peculiar right to remember it, "It
is beautiful when prosperity is present with intellect, and when
sailing as it were with a prosperous wind, actions are performed
looking to virtue; just as a pilot looks to the motions of the
stars." All the world reposes in beauty to him who preserves
equipoise in his life, and moves serenely on his path without
secret violence; as he who sails down a stream, he has only to
steer, keeping his bark in the middle, and carry it round the
falls. The ripples curled away in our wake, like ringlets from
the head of a child, while we steadily held on our course, and
under the bows we watched

"The swaying soft,
Made by the delicate wave parted in front,
As through the gentle element we move
Like shadows gliding through untroubled dreams."

The forms of beauty fall naturally around the path of him who is
in the performance of his proper work; as the curled shavings
drop from the plane, and borings cluster round the auger.
Undulation is the gentlest and most ideal of motions, produced by
one fluid falling on another. Rippling is a more graceful
flight. From a hill-top you may detect in it the wings of birds
endlessly repeated. The two _waving_ lines which represent the
flight of birds appear to have been copied from the ripple.

The trees made an admirable fence to the landscape, skirting the
horizon on every side. The single trees and the groves left
standing on the interval appeared naturally disposed, though the
farmer had consulted only his convenience, for he too falls into
the scheme of Nature. Art can never match the luxury and
superfluity of Nature. In the former all is seen; it cannot
afford concealed wealth, and is niggardly in comparison; but
Nature, even when she is scant and thin outwardly, satisfies us
still by the assurance of a certain generosity at the roots. In
swamps, where there is only here and there an ever-green tree
amid the quaking moss and cranberry beds, the bareness does not
suggest poverty. The single-spruce, which I had hardly noticed
in gardens, attracts me in such places, and now first I
understand why men try to make them grow about their houses. But
though there may be very perfect specimens in front-yard plots,
their beauty is for the most part ineffectual there, for there is
no such assurance of kindred wealth beneath and around them, to
make them show to advantage. As we have said, Nature is a
greater and more perfect art, the art of God; though, referred to
herself, she is genius; and there is a similarity between her
operations and man's art even in the details and trifles. When
the overhanging pine drops into the water, by the sun and water,
and the wind rubbing it against the shore, its boughs are worn
into fantastic shapes, and white and smooth, as if turned in a
lathe. Man's art has wisely imitated those forms into which all
matter is most inclined to run, as foliage and fruit. A hammock
swung in a grove assumes the exact form of a canoe, broader or
narrower, and higher or lower at the ends, as more or fewer
persons are in it, and it rolls in the air with the motion of the
body, like a canoe in the water. Our art leaves its shavings and
its dust about; her art exhibits itself even in the shavings and
the dust which we make. She has perfected herself by an eternity
of practice. The world is well kept; no rubbish accumulates; the
morning air is clear even at this day, and no dust has settled on
the grass. Behold how the evening now steals over the fields,
the shadows of the trees creeping farther and farther into the
meadow, and erelong the stars will come to bathe in these retired
waters. Her undertakings are secure and never fail. If I were
awakened from a deep sleep, I should know which side of the
meridian the sun might be by the aspect of nature, and by the
chirp of the crickets, and yet no painter can paint this
difference. The landscape contains a thousand dials which
indicate the natural divisions of time, the shadows of a thousand
styles point to the hour.

"Not only o'er the dial's face,
This silent phantom day by day,
With slow, unseen, unceasing pace
Steals moments, months, and years away;
From hoary rock and aged tree,
From proud Palmyra's mouldering walls,
From Teneriffe, towering o'er the sea,
From every blade of grass it falls."

It is almost the only game which the trees play at, this
tit-for-tat, now this side in the sun, now that, the drama of the
day. In deep ravines under the eastern sides of cliffs, Night
forwardly plants her foot even at noonday, and as Day retreats
she steps into his trenches, skulking from tree to tree, from
fence to fence, until at last she sits in his citadel and draws
out her forces into the plain. It may be that the forenoon is
brighter than the afternoon, not only because of the greater
transparency of its atmosphere, but because we naturally look
most into the west, as forward into the day, and so in the
forenoon see the sunny side of things, but in the afternoon the
shadow of every tree.

The afternoon is now far advanced, and a fresh and leisurely wind
is blowing over the river, making long reaches of bright ripples.
The river has done its stint, and appears not to flow, but lie at
its length reflecting the light, and the haze over the woods is
like the inaudible panting, or rather the gentle perspiration of
resting nature, rising from a myriad of pores into the attenuated

On the thirty-first day of March, one hundred and forty-two years
before this, probably about this time in the afternoon, there
were hurriedly paddling down this part of the river, between the
pine woods which then fringed these banks, two white women and a
boy, who had left an island at the mouth of the Contoocook before
daybreak. They were slightly clad for the season, in the English
fashion, and handled their paddles unskilfully, but with nervous
energy and determination, and at the bottom of their canoe lay
the still bleeding scalps of ten of the aborigines. They were
Hannah Dustan, and her nurse, Mary Neff, both of Haverhill,
eighteen miles from the mouth of this river, and an English boy,
named Samuel Lennardson, escaping from captivity among the
Indians. On the 15th of March previous, Hannah Dustan had been
compelled to rise from child-bed, and half dressed, with one foot
bare, accompanied by her nurse, commence an uncertain march, in
still inclement weather, through the snow and the wilderness.
She had seen her seven elder children flee with their father, but
knew not of their fate. She had seen her infant's brains dashed
out against an apple-tree, and had left her own and her
neighbors' dwellings in ashes. When she reached the wigwam of
her captor, situated on an island in the Merrimack, more than
twenty miles above where we now are, she had been told that she
and her nurse were soon to be taken to a distant Indian
settlement, and there made to run the gauntlet naked. The family
of this Indian consisted of two men, three women, and seven
children, beside an English boy, whom she found a prisoner among
them. Having determined to attempt her escape, she instructed
the boy to inquire of one of the men, how he should despatch an
enemy in the quickest manner, and take his scalp. "Strike 'em
there," said he, placing his finger on his temple, and he also
showed him how to take off the scalp. On the morning of the 31st
she arose before daybreak, and awoke her nurse and the boy, and
taking the Indians' tomahawks, they killed them all in their
sleep, excepting one favorite boy, and one squaw who fled wounded
with him to the woods. The English boy struck the Indian who had
given him the information, on the temple, as he had been
directed. They then collected all the provision they could find,
and took their master's tomahawk and gun, and scuttling all the
canoes but one, commenced their flight to Haverhill, distant
about sixty miles by the river. But after having proceeded a
short distance, fearing that her story would not be believed if
she should escape to tell it, they returned to the silent wigwam,
and taking off the scalps of the dead, put them into a bag as
proofs of what they had done, and then retracing their steps to
the shore in the twilight, recommenced their voyage.

Early this morning this deed was performed, and now, perchance,
these tired women and this boy, their clothes stained with blood,
and their minds racked with alternate resolution and fear, are
making a hasty meal of parched corn and moose-meat, while their
canoe glides under these pine roots whose stumps are still
standing on the bank. They are thinking of the dead whom they
have left behind on that solitary isle far up the stream, and of
the relentless living warriors who are in pursuit. Every
withered leaf which the winter has left seems to know their
story, and in its rustling to repeat it and betray them. An
Indian lurks behind every rock and pine, and their nerves cannot
bear the tapping of a woodpecker. Or they forget their own
dangers and their deeds in conjecturing the fate of their
kindred, and whether, if they escape the Indians, they shall find
the former still alive. They do not stop to cook their meals
upon the bank, nor land, except to carry their canoe about the
falls. The stolen birch forgets its master and does them good
service, and the swollen current bears them swiftly along with
little need of the paddle, except to steer and keep them warm by
exercise. For ice is floating in the river; the spring is
opening; the muskrat and the beaver are driven out of their holes
by the flood; deer gaze at them from the bank; a few
faint-singing forest birds, perchance, fly across the river to
the northernmost shore; the fish-hawk sails and screams overhead,
and geese fly over with a startling clangor; but they do not
observe these things, or they speedily forget them. They do not
smile or chat all day. Sometimes they pass an Indian grave
surrounded by its paling on the bank, or the frame of a wigwam,
with a few coals left behind, or the withered stalks still
rustling in the Indian's solitary cornfield on the interval. The
birch stripped of its bark, or the charred stump where a tree has
been burned down to be made into a canoe, these are the only
traces of man,--a fabulous wild man to us. On either side, the
primeval forest stretches away uninterrupted to Canada, or to the
"South Sea"; to the white man a drear and howling wilderness, but
to the Indian a home, adapted to his nature, and cheerful as the
smile of the Great Spirit.

While we loiter here this autumn evening, looking for a spot
retired enough, where we shall quietly rest to-night, they thus,
in that chilly March evening, one hundred and forty-two years
before us, with wind and current favoring, have already glided
out of sight, not to camp, as we shall, at night, but while two
sleep one will manage the canoe, and the swift stream bear them
onward to the settlements, it may be, even to old John Lovewell's
house on Salmon Brook to-night.

According to the historian, they escaped as by a miracle all
roving bands of Indians, and reached their homes in safety, with
their trophies, for which the General Court paid them fifty
pounds. The family of Hannah Dustan all assembled alive once
more, except the infant whose brains were dashed out against the
apple-tree, and there have been many who in later times have
lived to say that they had eaten of the fruit of that apple-tree.

This seems a long while ago, and yet it happened since Milton
wrote his Paradise Lost. But its antiquity is not the less great
for that, for we do not regulate our historical time by the
English standard, nor did the English by the Roman, nor the Roman
by the Greek. "We must look a long way back," says Raleigh, "to
find the Romans giving laws to nations, and their consuls bringing
kings and princes bound in chains to Rome in triumph; to see men
go to Greece for wisdom, or Ophir for gold; when now nothing
remains but a poor paper remembrance of their former condition."
And yet, in one sense, not so far back as to find the Penacooks
and Pawtuckets using bows and arrows and hatchets of stone, on
the banks of the Merrimack. From this September afternoon, and
from between these now cultivated shores, those times seemed more
remote than the dark ages. On beholding an old picture of
Concord, as it appeared but seventy-five years ago, with a fair
open prospect and a light on trees and river, as if it were broad
noon, I find that I had not thought the sun shone in those days,
or that men lived in broad daylight then. Still less do we
imagine the sun shining on hill and valley during Philip's war,
on the war-path of Church or Philip, or later of Lovewell or
Paugus, with serene summer weather, but they must have lived and
fought in a dim twilight or night.

The age of the world is great enough for our imaginations, even
according to the Mosaic account, without borrowing any years from
the geologist. From Adam and Eve at one leap sheer down to the
deluge, and then through the ancient monarchies, through Babylon
and Thebes, Brahma and Abraham, to Greece and the Argonauts;
whence we might start again with Orpheus and the Trojan war, the
Pyramids and the Olympic games, and Homer and Athens, for our
stages; and after a breathing space at the building of Rome,
continue our journey down through Odin and Christ to--America.
It is a wearisome while. And yet the lives of but sixty old
women, such as live under the hill, say of a century each, strung
together, are sufficient to reach over the whole ground. Taking
hold of hands they would span the interval from Eve to my own
mother. A respectable tea-party merely,--whose gossip would be
Universal History. The fourth old woman from myself suckled
Columbus,--the ninth was nurse to the Norman Conqueror,--the
nineteenth was the Virgin Mary,--the twenty-fourth the Cumaean
Sibyl,--the thirtieth was at the Trojan war and Helen her
name,--the thirty-eighth was Queen Semiramis,--the sixtieth was
Eve the mother of mankind. So much for the

"Old woman that lives under the hill,
And if she's not gone she lives there still."

It will not take a very great-granddaughter of hers to be in at
the death of Time.

We can never safely exceed the actual facts in our narratives.
Of pure invention, such as some suppose, there is no instance.
To write a true work of fiction even, is only to take leisure and
liberty to describe some things more exactly as they are. A true
account of the actual is the rarest poetry, for common sense
always takes a hasty and superficial view. Though I am not much
acquainted with the works of Goethe, I should say that it was one
of his chief excellences as a writer, that he was satisfied with
giving an exact description of things as they appeared to him,
and their effect upon him. Most travellers have not self-respect
enough to do this simply, and make objects and events stand
around them as the centre, but still imagine more favorable
positions and relations than the actual ones, and so we get no
valuable report from them at all. In his Italian Travels Goethe
jogs along at a snail's pace, but always mindful that the earth
is beneath and the heavens are above him. His Italy is not
merely the fatherland of lazzaroni and virtuosi, and scene of
splendid ruins, but a solid turf-clad soil, daily shined on by
the sun, and nightly by the moon. Even the few showers are
faithfully recorded. He speaks as an unconcerned spectator,
whose object is faithfully to describe what he sees, and that,
for the most part, in the order in which he sees it. Even his
reflections do not interfere with his descriptions. In one place
he speaks of himself as giving so glowing and truthful a
description of an old tower to the peasants who had gathered
around him, that they who had been born and brought up in the
neighborhood must needs look over their shoulders, "that," to use
his own words, "they might behold with their eyes, what I had
praised to their ears,"--"and I added nothing, not even the ivy
which for centuries had decorated the walls." It would thus be
possible for inferior minds to produce invaluable books, if this
very moderation were not the evidence of superiority; for the
wise are not so much wiser than others as respecters of their own
wisdom. Some, poor in spirit, record plaintively only what has
happened to them; but others how they have happened to the
universe, and the judgment which they have awarded to
circumstances. Above all, he possessed a hearty good-will to all
men, and never wrote a cross or even careless word. On one
occasion the post-boy snivelling, "Signor perdonate, questa e` la
mia patria," he confesses that "to me poor northerner came
something tear-like into the eyes."

Goethe's whole education and life were those of the artist. He
lacks the unconsciousness of the poet. In his autobiography he
describes accurately the life of the author of Wilhelm Meister.
For as there is in that book, mingled with a rare and serene
wisdom, a certain pettiness or exaggeration of trifles, wisdom
applied to produce a constrained and partial and merely well-bred
man,--a magnifying of the theatre till life itself is turned into
a stage, for which it is our duty to study our parts well, and
conduct with propriety and precision,--so in the autobiography,
the fault of his education is, so to speak, its merely artistic
completeness. Nature is hindered, though she prevails at last in
making an unusually catholic impression on the boy. It is the
life of a city boy, whose toys are pictures and works of art,
whose wonders are the theatre and kingly processions and
crownings. As the youth studied minutely the order and the
degrees in the imperial procession, and suffered none of its
effect to be lost on him, so the man aimed to secure a rank in
society which would satisfy his notion of fitness and
respectability. He was defrauded of much which the savage boy
enjoys. Indeed, he himself has occasion to say in this very
autobiography, when at last he escapes into the woods without the
gates: "Thus much is certain, that only the undefinable,
wide-expanding feelings of youth and of uncultivated nations are
adapted to the sublime, which, whenever it may be excited in us
through external objects, since it is either formless, or else
moulded into forms which are incomprehensible, must surround us
with a grandeur which we find above our reach." He further says
of himself: "I had lived among painters from my childhood, and
had accustomed myself to look at objects, as they did, with
reference to art." And this was his practice to the last. He
was even too _well-bred_ to be thoroughly bred. He says that he
had had no intercourse with the lowest class of his towns-boys.
The child should have the advantage of ignorance as well as of
knowledge, and is fortunate if he gets his share of neglect and

"The laws of Nature break the rules of Art."

The Man of Genius may at the same time be, indeed is commonly, an
Artist, but the two are not to be confounded. The Man of Genius,
referred to mankind, is an originator, an inspired or demonic
man, who produces a perfect work in obedience to laws yet
unexplored. The Artist is he who detects and applies the law
from observation of the works of Genius, whether of man or
nature. The Artisan is he who merely applies the rules which
others have detected. There has been no man of pure Genius; as
there has been none wholly destitute of Genius.

Poetry is the mysticism of mankind.

The expressions of the poet cannot be analyzed; his sentence is
one word, whose syllables are words. There are indeed no _words_
quite worthy to be set to his music. But what matter if we do
not hear the words always, if we hear the music?

Much verse fails of being poetry because it was not written
exactly at the right crisis, though it may have been
inconceivably near to it. It is only by a miracle that poetry is
written at all. It is not recoverable thought, but a hue caught
from a vaster receding thought.

A poem is one undivided unimpeded expression fallen ripe into
literature, and it is undividedly and unimpededly received by
those for whom it was matured.

If you can speak what you will never hear, if you can write what
you will never read, you have done rare things.

The work we choose should be our own,
God lets alone.

The unconsciousness of man is the consciousness of God.

Deep are the foundations of sincerity. Even stone walls have
their foundation below the frost.

What is produced by a free stroke charms us, like the forms of
lichens and leaves. There is a certain perfection in accident
which we never consciously attain. Draw a blunt quill filled
with ink over a sheet of paper, and fold the paper before the ink
is dry, transversely to this line, and a delicately shaded and
regular figure will be produced, in some respects more pleasing
than an elaborate drawing.

The talent of composition is very dangerous,--the striking out
the heart of life at a blow, as the Indian takes off a scalp. I
feel as if my life had grown more outward when I can express it.

On his journey from Brenner to Verona, Goethe writes:

"The Tees flows now more gently, and makes in many places broad
sands. On the land, near to the water, upon the hillsides,
everything is so closely planted one to another, that you think
they must choke one another,--vineyards, maize, mulberry-trees,
apples, pears, quinces, and nuts. The dwarf elder throws itself
vigorously over the walls. Ivy grows with strong stems up the
rocks, and spreads itself wide over them, the lizard glides
through the intervals, and everything that wanders to and fro
reminds one of the loveliest pictures of art. The women's tufts
of hair bound up, the men's bare breasts and light jackets, the
excellent oxen which they drive home from market, the little
asses with their loads,--everything forms a living, animated
Heinrich Roos. And now that it is evening, in the mild air a few
clouds rest upon the mountains, in the heavens more stand still
than move, and immediately after sunset the chirping of crickets
begins to grow more loud; then one feels for once at home in the
world, and not as concealed or in exile. I am contented as
though I had been born and brought up here, and were now
returning from a Greenland or whaling voyage. Even the dust of
my Fatherland, which is often whirled about the wagon, and which
for so long a time I had not seen, is greeted. The
clock-and-bell jingling of the crickets is altogether lovely,
penetrating, and agreeable. It sounds bravely when roguish boys
whistle in emulation of a field of such songstresses. One
fancies that they really enhance one another. Also the evening
is perfectly mild as the day."

"If one who dwelt in the south, and came hither from the south,
should hear of my rapture hereupon, he would deem me very
childish. Alas! what I here express I have long known while I
suffered under an unpropitious heaven, and now may I joyful feel
this joy as an exception, which we should enjoy everforth as an
eternal necessity of our nature."

Thus we "sayled by thought and pleasaunce," as Chaucer says, and
all things seemed with us to flow; the shore itself, and the
distant cliffs, were dissolved by the undiluted air. The hardest
material seemed to obey the same law with the most fluid, and so
indeed in the long run it does. Trees were but rivers of sap and
woody fibre, flowing from the atmosphere, and emptying into the
earth by their trunks, as their roots flowed upward to the
surface. And in the heavens there were rivers of stars, and
milky-ways, already beginning to gleam and ripple over our heads.
There were rivers of rock on the surface of the earth, and rivers
of ore in its bowels, and our thoughts flowed and circulated, and
this portion of time was but the current hour. Let us wander
where we will, the universe is built round about us, and we are
central still. If we look into the heavens they are concave, and
if we were to look into a gulf as bottomless, it would be concave
also. The sky is curved downward to the earth in the horizon,
because we stand on the plain. I draw down its skirts. The
stars so low there seem loath to depart, but by a circuitous path
to be remembering me, and returning on their steps.

We had already passed by broad daylight the scene of our
encampment at Coos Falls, and at length we pitched our camp on
the west bank, in the northern part of Merrimack, nearly opposite
to the large island on which we had spent the noon in our way up
the river.

There we went to bed that summer evening, on a sloping shelf in
the bank, a couple of rods from our boat, which was drawn up on
the sand, and just behind a thin fringe of oaks which bordered
the river; without having disturbed any inhabitants but the
spiders in the grass, which came out by the light of our lamp,
and crawled over our buffaloes. When we looked out from under
the tent, the trees were seen dimly through the mist, and a cool
dew hung upon the grass, which seemed to rejoice in the night,
and with the damp air we inhaled a solid fragrance. Having eaten
our supper of hot cocoa and bread and watermelon, we soon grew
weary of conversing, and writing in our journals, and, putting
out the lantern which hung from the tent-pole, fell asleep.

Unfortunately, many things have been omitted which should have
been recorded in our journal; for though we made it a rule to set
down all our experiences therein, yet such a resolution is very
hard to keep, for the important experience rarely allows us to
remember such obligations, and so indifferent things get
recorded, while that is frequently neglected. It is not easy to
write in a journal what interests us at any time, because to
write it is not what interests us.

Whenever we awoke in the night, still eking out our dreams with
half-awakened thoughts, it was not till after an interval, when
the wind breathed harder than usual, flapping the curtains of the
tent, and causing its cords to vibrate, that we remembered that
we lay on the bank of the Merrimack, and not in our chamber at
home. With our heads so low in the grass, we heard the river
whirling and sucking, and lapsing downward, kissing the shore as
it went, sometimes rippling louder than usual, and again its
mighty current making only a slight limpid, trickling sound, as
if our water-pail had sprung a leak, and the water were flowing
into the grass by our side. The wind, rustling the oaks and
hazels, impressed us like a wakeful and inconsiderate person up
at midnight, moving about, and putting things to rights,
occasionally stirring up whole drawers full of leaves at a puff.
There seemed to be a great haste and preparation throughout
Nature, as for a distinguished visitor; all her aisles had to be
swept in the night, by a thousand hand-maidens, and a thousand
pots to be boiled for the next day's feasting;--such a whispering
bustle, as if ten thousand fairies made their fingers fly,
silently sewing at the new carpet with which the earth was to be
clothed, and the new drapery which was to adorn the trees. And
then the wind would lull and die away, and we like it fell asleep



"The Boteman strayt
Held on his course with stayed stedfastnesse,
Ne ever shroncke, ne ever sought to bayt
His tryed armes for toylesome wearinesse;
But with his oares did sweepe the watry wildernesse."


"Summer's robe grows
Dusky, and like an oft-dyed garment shows."




As we lay awake long before daybreak, listening to the rippling
of the river, and the rustling of the leaves, in suspense whether
the wind blew up or down the stream, was favorable or unfavorable
to our voyage, we already suspected that there was a change in
the weather, from a freshness as of autumn in these sounds. The
wind in the woods sounded like an incessant waterfall dashing and
roaring amid rocks, and we even felt encouraged by the unusual
activity of the elements. He who hears the rippling of rivers in
these degenerate days will not utterly despair. That night was
the turning-point in the season. We had gone to bed in summer,
and we awoke in autumn; for summer passes into autumn in some
unimaginable point of time, like the turning of a leaf.

We found our boat in the dawn just as we had left it, and as if
waiting for us, there on the shore, in autumn, all cool and
dripping with dew, and our tracks still fresh in the wet sand
around it, the fairies all gone or concealed. Before five
o'clock we pushed it into the fog, and, leaping in, at one shove
were out of sight of the shores, and began to sweep downward with
the rushing river, keeping a sharp lookout for rocks. We could
see only the yellow gurgling water, and a solid bank of fog on
every side, forming a small yard around us. We soon passed the
mouth of the Souhegan, and the village of Merrimack, and as the
mist gradually rolled away, and we were relieved from the trouble
of watching for rocks, we saw by the flitting clouds, by the
first russet tinge on the hills, by the rushing river, the
cottages on shore, and the shore itself, so coolly fresh and
shining with dew, and later in the day, by the hue of the
grape-vine, the goldfinch on the willow, the flickers flying in
flocks, and when we passed near enough to the shore, as we
fancied, by the faces of men, that the Fall had commenced. The
cottages looked more snug and comfortable, and their inhabitants
were seen only for a moment, and then went quietly in and shut
the door, retreating inward to the haunts of summer.

"And now the cold autumnal dews are seen
To cobweb ev'ry green;
And by the low-shorn rowens doth appear
The fast-declining year."

We heard the sigh of the first autumnal wind, and even the water
had acquired a grayer hue. The sumach, grape, and maple were
already changed, and the milkweed had turned to a deep rich
yellow. In all woods the leaves were fast ripening for their
fall; for their full veins and lively gloss mark the ripe leaf,
and not the sered one of the poets; and we knew that the maples,
stripped of their leaves among the earliest, would soon stand
like a wreath of smoke along the edge of the meadow. Already the
cattle were heard to low wildly in the pastures and along the
highways, restlessly running to and fro, as if in apprehension of
the withering of the grass and of the approach of winter. Our
thoughts, too, began to rustle.

As I pass along the streets of our village of Concord on the day
of our annual Cattle-Show, when it usually happens that the
leaves of the elms and buttonwoods begin first to strew the
ground under the breath of the October wind, the lively spirits
in their sap seem to mount as high as any plough-boy's let loose
that day; and they lead my thoughts away to the rustling woods,
where the trees are preparing for their winter campaign. This
autumnal festival, when men are gathered in crowds in the streets
as regularly and by as natural a law as the leaves cluster and
rustle by the wayside, is naturally associated in my mind with
the fall of the year. The low of cattle in the streets sounds
like a hoarse symphony or running bass to the rustling of the
leaves. The wind goes hurrying down the country, gleaning every
loose straw that is left in the fields, while every farmer lad
too appears to scud before it,--having donned his best pea-jacket
and pepper-and-salt waistcoat, his unbent trousers, outstanding
rigging of duck or kerseymere or corduroy, and his furry hat
withal,--to country fairs and cattle-shows, to that Rome among
the villages where the treasures of the year are gathered. All
the land over they go leaping the fences with their tough, idle
palms, which have never learned to hang by their sides, amid the
low of calves and the bleating of sheep,--Amos, Abner, Elnathan,

"From steep pine-bearing mountains to the plain."

I love these sons of earth every mother's son of them, with their
great hearty hearts rushing tumultuously in herds from spectacle
to spectacle, as if fearful lest there should not be time between
sun and sun to see them all, and the sun does not wait more than
in haying-time.

"Wise Nature's darlings, they live in the world
Perplexing not themselves how it is hurled."

Running hither and thither with appetite for the coarse pastimes
of the day, now with boisterous speed at the heels of the
inspired negro from whose larynx the melodies of all Congo and
Guinea Coast have broke loose into our streets; now to see the
procession of a hundred yoke of oxen, all as august and grave as
Osiris, or the droves of neat cattle and milch cows as unspotted
as Isis or Io. Such as had no love for Nature

"at all,
Came lovers home from this great festival."

They may bring their fattest cattle and richest fruits to the
fair, but they are all eclipsed by the show of men. These are
stirring autumn days, when men sweep by in crowds, amid the
rustle of leaves, like migrating finches; this is the true
harvest of the year, when the air is but the breath of men, and
the rustling of leaves is as the trampling of the crowd. We read
now-a-days of the ancient festivals, games, and processions of
the Greeks and Etruscans, with a little incredulity, or at least
with little sympathy; but how natural and irrepressible in every
people is some hearty and palpable greeting of Nature. The
Corybantes, the Bacchantes, the rude primitive tragedians with
their procession and goat-song, and the whole paraphernalia of
the Panathenaea, which appear so antiquated and peculiar, have
their parallel now. The husbandman is always a better Greek than
the scholar is prepared to appreciate, and the old custom still
survives, while antiquarians and scholars grow gray in
commemorating it. The farmers crowd to the fair to-day in
obedience to the same ancient law, which Solon or Lycurgus did
not enact, as naturally as bees swarm and follow their queen.

It is worth the while to see the country's people, how they pour
into the town, the sober farmer folk, now all agog, their very
shirt and coat-collars pointing forward,--collars so broad as if
they had put their shirts on wrong end upward, for the fashions
always tend to superfluity,--and with an unusual springiness in
their gait, jabbering earnestly to one another. The more supple
vagabond, too, is sure to appear on the least rumor of such a
gathering, and the next day to disappear, and go into his hole
like the seventeen-year locust, in an ever-shabby coat, though
finer than the farmer's best, yet never dressed; come to see the
sport, and have a hand in what is going,--to know "what's the
row," if there is any; to be where some men are drunk, some
horses race, some cockerels fight; anxious to be shaking props
under a table, and above all to see the "striped pig." He
especially is the creature of the occasion. He empties both his
pockets and his character into the stream, and swims in such a
day. He dearly loves the social slush. There is no reserve of
soberness in him.

I love to see the herd of men feeding heartily on coarse and
succulent pleasures, as cattle on the husks and stalks of
vegetables. Though there are many crooked and crabbled specimens
of humanity among them, run all to thorn and rind, and crowded
out of shape by adverse circumstances, like the third chestnut in
the burr, so that you wonder to see some heads wear a whole hat,
yet fear not that the race will fail or waver in them; like the
crabs which grow in hedges, they furnish the stocks of sweet and
thrifty fruits still. Thus is nature recruited from age to age,
while the fair and palatable varieties die out, and have their
period. This is that mankind. How cheap must be the material of
which so many men are made.

The wind blew steadily down the stream, so that we kept our sails
set, and lost not a moment of the forenoon by delays, but from
early morning until noon were continually dropping downward.
With our hands on the steering-paddle, which was thrust deep into
the river, or bending to the oar, which indeed we rarely
relinquished, we felt each palpitation in the veins of our steed,
and each impulse of the wings which drew us above. The current
of our thoughts made as sudden bends as the river, which was
continually opening new prospects to the east or south, but we
are aware that rivers flow most rapidly and shallowest at these
points. The steadfast shores never once turned aside for us, but
still trended as they were made; why then should we always turn
aside for them?

A man cannot wheedle nor overawe his Genius. It requires to be
conciliated by nobler conduct than the world demands or can
appreciate. These winged thoughts are like birds, and will not
be handled; even hens will not let you touch them like
quadrupeds. Nothing was ever so unfamiliar and startling to a
man as his own thoughts.

To the rarest genius it is the most expensive to succumb and
conform to the ways of the world. Genius is the worst of lumber,
if the poet would float upon the breeze of popularity. The bird
of paradise is obliged constantly to fly against the wind, lest
its gay trappings, pressing close to its body, impede its free

He is the best sailor who can steer within the fewest points of
the wind, and extract a motive power out of the greatest
obstacles. Most begin to veer and tack as soon as the wind
changes from aft, and as within the tropics it does not blow from
all points of the compass, there are some harbors which they can
never reach.

The poet is no tender slip of fairy stock, who requires peculiar
institutions and edicts for his defence, but the toughest son of
earth and of Heaven, and by his greater strength and endurance
his fainting companions will recognize the God in him. It is the
worshippers of beauty, after all, who have done the real pioneer
work of the world.

The poet will prevail to be popular in spite of his faults, and
in spite of his beauties too. He will hit the nail on the head,
and we shall not know the shape of his hammer. He makes us free
of his hearth and heart, which is greater than to offer one the
freedom of a city.

Great men, unknown to their generation, have their fame among the
great who have preceded them, and all true worldly fame subsides
from their high estimate beyond the stars.

Orpheus does not hear the strains which issue from his lyre, but
only those which are breathed into it; for the original strain
precedes the sound, by as much as the echo follows after. The
rest is the perquisite of the rocks and trees and beasts.

When I stand in a library where is all the recorded wit of the
world, but none of the recording, a mere accumulated, and not
truly cumulative treasure, where immortal works stand side by
side with anthologies which did not survive their month, and
cobweb and mildew have already spread from these to the binding
of those; and happily I am reminded of what poetry is,--I
perceive that Shakespeare and Milton did not foresee into what
company they were to fall. Alas! that so soon the work of a true
poet should be swept into such a dust-hole!

The poet will write for his peers alone. He will remember only
that he saw truth and beauty from his position, and expect the
time when a vision as broad shall overlook the same field as

We are often prompted to speak our thoughts to our neighbors, or
the single travellers whom we meet on the road, but poetry is a
communication from our home and solitude addressed to all
Intelligence. It never whispers in a private ear. Knowing this,
we may understand those sonnets said to be addressed to
particular persons, or "To a Mistress's Eyebrow." Let none feel
flattered by them. For poetry write love, and it will be equally

No doubt it is an important difference between men of genius or
poets, and men not of genius, that the latter are unable to grasp
and confront the thought which visits them. But it is because it
is too faint for expression, or even conscious impression. What
merely quickens or retards the blood in their veins and fills
their afternoons with pleasure they know not whence, conveys a
distinct assurance to the finer organization of the poet.

We talk of genius as if it were a mere knack, and the poet could
only express what other men conceived. But in comparison with
his task, the poet is the least talented of any; the writer of
prose has more skill. See what talent the smith has. His
material is pliant in his hands. When the poet is most inspired,
is stimulated by an _aura_ which never even colors the afternoons
of common men, then his talent is all gone, and he is no longer a
poet. The gods do not grant him any skill more than another.
They never put their gifts into his hands, but they encompass and
sustain him with their breath.

To say that God has given a man many and great talents,
frequently means that he has brought his heavens down within
reach of his hands.

When the poetic frenzy seizes us, we run and scratch with our
pen, intent only on worms, calling our mates around us, like the
cock, and delighting in the dust we make, but do not detect where
the jewel lies, which, perhaps, we have in the mean time cast to
a distance, or quite covered up again.

The poet's body even is not fed like other men's, but he sometimes
tastes the genuine nectar and ambrosia of the gods, and lives a
divine life. By the healthful and invigorating thrills of
inspiration his life is preserved to a serene old age.

Some poems are for holidays only. They are polished and sweet,
but it is the sweetness of sugar, and not such as toil gives to
sour bread. The breath with which the poet utters his verse must
be that by which he lives.

Great prose, of equal elevation, commands our respect more than
great verse, since it implies a more permanent and level height,
a life more pervaded with the grandeur of the thought. The poet
often only makes an irruption, like a Parthian, and is off again,
shooting while he retreats; but the prose writer has conquered
like a Roman, and settled colonies.

The true poem is not that which the public read. There is always
a poem not printed on paper, coincident with the production of
this, stereotyped in the poet's life. It is _what he has become
through his work_. Not how is the idea expressed in stone, or on
canvas or paper, is the question, but how far it has obtained
form and expression in the life of the artist. His true work
will not stand in any prince's gallery.

My life has been the poem I would have writ,
But I could not both live and utter it.


In vain I see the morning rise,
In vain observe the western blaze,
Who idly look to other skies,
Expecting life by other ways.

Amidst such boundless wealth without,
I only still am poor within,
The birds have sung their summer out,
But still my spring does not begin.

Shall I then wait the autumn wind,
Compelled to seek a milder day,
And leave no curious nest behind,
No woods still echoing to my lay?

This raw and gusty day, and the creaking of the oaks and pines on
shore, reminded us of more northern climes than Greece, and more
wintry seas than the Aegean.

The genuine remains of Ossian, or those ancient poems which bear
his name, though of less fame and extent, are, in many respects,
of the same stamp with the Iliad itself. He asserts the dignity
of the bard no less than Homer, and in his era we hear of no
other priest than he. It will not avail to call him a heathen,
because he personifies the sun and addresses it; and what if his
heroes did "worship the ghosts of their fathers," their thin,
airy, and unsubstantial forms? we worship but the ghosts of our
fathers in more substantial forms. We cannot but respect the
vigorous faith of those heathen, who sternly believed somewhat,
and are inclined to say to the critics, who are offended by their
superstitious rites,--Don't interrupt these men's prayers. As if
we knew more about human life and a God, than the heathen and
ancients. Does English theology contain the recent discoveries!

Ossian reminds us of the most refined and rudest eras, of Homer,
Pindar, Isaiah, and the American Indian. In his poetry, as in
Homer's, only the simplest and most enduring features of humanity
are seen, such essential parts of a man as Stonehenge exhibits of
a temple; we see the circles of stone, and the upright shaft
alone. The phenomena of life acquire almost an unreal and
gigantic size seen through his mists. Like all older and grander
poetry, it is distinguished by the few elements in the lives of
its heroes. They stand on the heath, between the stars and the
earth, shrunk to the bones and sinews. The earth is a boundless
plain for their deeds. They lead such a simple, dry, and
everlasting life, as hardly needs depart with the flesh, but is
transmitted entire from age to age. There are but few objects to
distract their sight, and their life is as unencumbered as the
course of the stars they gaze at.

"The wrathful kings, on cairns apart,
Look forward from behind their shields,
And mark the wandering stars,
That brilliant westward move."

It does not cost much for these heroes to live; they do not want
much furniture. They are such forms of men only as can be seen
afar through the mist, and have no costume nor dialect, but for
language there is the tongue itself, and for costume there are
always the skins of beasts and the bark of trees to be had. They
live out their years by the vigor of their constitutions. They
survive storms and the spears of their foes, and perform a few
heroic deeds, and then

"Mounds will answer questions of them,
For many future years."

Blind and infirm, they spend the remnant of their days listening
to the lays of the bards, and feeling the weapons which laid
their enemies low, and when at length they die, by a convulsion
of nature, the bard allows us a short and misty glance into
futurity, yet as clear, perchance, as their lives had been. When
Mac-Roine was slain,

"His soul departed to his warlike sires,
To follow misty forms of boars,
In tempestuous islands bleak."

The hero's cairn is erected, and the bard sings a brief
significant strain, which will suffice for epitaph and biography.

"The weak will find his bow in the dwelling,
The feeble will attempt to bend it."

Compared with this simple, fibrous life, our civilized history
appears the chronicle of debility, of fashion, and the arts of
luxury. But the civilized man misses no real refinement in the
poetry of the rudest era. It reminds him that civilization does
but dress men. It makes shoes, but it does not toughen the soles
of the feet. It makes cloth of finer texture, but it does not
touch the skin. Inside the civilized man stand the savage still
in the place of honor. We are those blue-eyed, yellow-haired
Saxons, those slender, dark-haired Normans.

The profession of the bard attracted more respect in those days
from the importance attached to fame. It was his province to
record the deeds of heroes. When Ossian hears the traditions of
inferior bards, he exclaims,--

"I straightway seize the unfutile tales,
And send them down in faithful verse."

His philosophy of life is expressed in the opening of the third
Duan of Ca-Lodin.

"Whence have sprung the things that are?
And whither roll the passing years?
Where does Time conceal its two heads,
In dense impenetrable gloom,
Its surface marked with heroes' deeds alone?
I view the generations gone;
The past appears but dim;
As objects by the moon's faint beams,
Reflected from a distant lake.
I see, indeed, the thunderbolts of war,
But there the unmighty joyless dwell,
All those who send not down their deeds
To far, succeeding times."

The ignoble warriors die and are forgotten;

"Strangers come to build a tower,
And throw their ashes overhand;
Some rusted swords appear in dust;
One, bending forward, says,
`The arms belonged to heroes gone;
We never heard their praise in song.'"

The grandeur of the similes is another feature which characterizes
great poetry. Ossian seems to speak a gigantic and universal
language. The images and pictures occupy even much space in the
landscape, as if they could be seen only from the sides of
mountains, and plains with a wide horizon, or across arms of the
sea. The machinery is so massive that it cannot be less than
natural. Oivana says to the spirit of her father, "Gray-haired
Torkil of Torne," seen in the skies,

"Thou glidest away like receding ships."

So when the hosts of Fingal and Starne approach to battle,

"With murmurs loud, like rivers far,
The race of Torne hither moved."

And when compelled to retire,

"dragging his spear behind,
Cudulin sank in the distant wood,
Like a fire upblazing ere it dies."

Nor did Fingal want a proper audience when he spoke;

"A thousand orators inclined
To hear the lay of Fingal."

The threats too would have deterred a man. Vengeance and terror
were real. Trenmore threatens the young warrior whom he meets on
a foreign strand,

"Thy mother shall find thee pale on the shore,
While lessening on the waves she spies
The sails of him who slew her son."

If Ossian's heroes weep, it is from excess of strength, and not
from weakness, a sacrifice or libation of fertile natures, like
the perspiration of stone in summer's heat. We hardly know that
tears have been shed, and it seems as if weeping were proper only
for babes and heroes. Their joy and their sorrow are made of one
stuff, like rain and snow, the rainbow and the mist. When Fillan
was worsted in fight, and ashamed in the presence of Fingal,

"He strode away forthwith,
And bent in grief above a stream,
His cheeks bedewed with tears.
From time to time the thistles gray
He lopped with his inverted lance."

Crodar, blind and old, receives Ossian, son of Fingal, who comes
to aid him in war;--

"`My eyes have failed,' says he, `Crodar is blind,
Is thy strength like that of thy fathers?
Stretch, Ossian, thine arm to the hoary-haired.'
I gave my arm to the king.
The aged hero seized my hand;
He heaved a heavy sigh;
Tears flowed incessant down his cheek.
`Strong art thou, son of the mighty,
Though not so dreadful as Morven's prince.

Let my feast be spread in the hall,
Let every sweet-voiced minstrel sing;
Great is he who is within my walls,
Sons of wave-echoing Croma.'"

Even Ossian himself, the hero-bard, pays tribute to the superior
strength of his father Fingal.

"How beauteous, mighty man, was thy mind,
Why succeeded Ossian without its strength?"


While we sailed fleetly before the wind, with the river gurgling
under our stern, the thoughts of autumn coursed as steadily
through our minds, and we observed less what was passing on the
shore, than the dateless associations and impressions which the
season awakened, anticipating in some measure the progress of the

I hearing get, who had but ears,
And sight, who had but eyes before,
I moments live, who lived but years,
And truth discern, who knew but learning's lore.

Sitting with our faces now up stream, we studied the landscape by
degrees, as one unrolls a map, rock, tree, house, hill, and
meadow, assuming new and varying positions as wind and water
shifted the scene, and there was variety enough for our
entertainment in the metamorphoses of the simplest objects.
Viewed from this side the scenery appeared new to us.

The most familiar sheet of water viewed from a new hill-top,
yields a novel and unexpected pleasure. When we have travelled a
few miles, we do not recognize the profiles even of the hills
which overlook our native village, and perhaps no man is quite
familiar with the horizon as seen from the hill nearest to his
house, and can recall its outline distinctly when in the valley.
We do not commonly know, beyond a short distance, which way the
hills range which take in our houses and farms in their sweep.
As if our birth had at first sundered things, and we had been
thrust up through into nature like a wedge, and not till the
wound heals and the scar disappears, do we begin to discover
where we are, and that nature is one and continuous everywhere.
It is an important epoch when a man who has always lived on the
east side of a mountain, and seen it in the west, travels round
and sees it in the east. Yet the universe is a sphere whose
centre is wherever there is intelligence. The sun is not so
central as a man. Upon an isolated hill-top, in an open country,
we seem to ourselves to be standing on the boss of an immense
shield, the immediate landscape being apparently depressed below
the more remote, and rising gradually to the horizon, which is
the rim of the shield, villas, steeples, forests, mountains, one
above another, till they are swallowed up in the heavens. The
most distant mountains in the horizon appear to rise directly
from the shore of that lake in the woods by which we chance to be
standing, while from the mountain-top, not only this, but a
thousand nearer and larger lakes, are equally unobserved.

Seen through this clear atmosphere, the works of the farmer, his
ploughing and reaping, had a beauty to our eyes which he never
saw. How fortunate were we who did not own an acre of these
shores, who had not renounced our title to the whole. One who
knew how to appropriate the true value of this world would be the
poorest man in it. The poor rich man! all he has is what he has
bought. What I see is mine. I am a large owner in the Merrimack

Men dig and dive but cannot my wealth spend,
Who yet no partial store appropriate,
Who no armed ship into the Indies send,
To rob me of my orient estate.

He is the rich man, and enjoys the fruits of riches, who summer
and winter forever can find delight in his own thoughts. Buy a
farm! What have I to pay for a farm which a farmer will take?

When I visit again some haunt of my youth, I am glad to find that
nature wears so well. The landscape is indeed something real,
and solid, and sincere, and I have not put my foot through it
yet. There is a pleasant tract on the bank of the Concord,
called Conantum, which I have in my mind;--the old deserted
farm-house, the desolate pasture with its bleak cliff, the open
wood, the river-reach, the green meadow in the midst, and the
moss-grown wild-apple orchard,--places where one may have many
thoughts and not decide anything. It is a scene which I can not
only remember, as I might a vision, but when I will can bodily
revisit, and find it even so, unaccountable, yet unpretending in
its pleasant dreariness. When my thoughts are sensible of
change, I love to see and sit on rocks which I _have_ known, and
pry into their moss, and see unchangeableness so established. I
not yet gray on rocks forever gray, I no longer green under the
evergreens. There is something even in the lapse of time by
which time recovers itself.

As we have said, it proved a cool as well as breezy day, and by
the time we reached Penichook Brook we were obliged to sit
muffled in our cloaks, while the wind and current carried us
along. We bounded swiftly over the rippling surface, far by many
cultivated lands and the ends of fences which divided innumerable
farms, with hardly a thought for the various lives which they
separated; now by long rows of alders or groves of pines or oaks,
and now by some homestead where the women and children stood
outside to gaze at us, till we had swept out of their sight, and
beyond the limit of their longest Saturday ramble. We glided
past the mouth of the Nashua, and not long after, of Salmon
Brook, without more pause than the wind.

Salmon Brook,
Ye sweet waters of my brain,
When shall I look,
Or cast the hook,
In your waves again?

Silver eels,
Wooden creels,
These the baits that still allure,
And dragon-fly
That floated by,
May they still endure?

The shadows chased one another swiftly over wood and meadow, and
their alternation harmonized with our mood. We could distinguish
the clouds which cast each one, though never so high in the
heavens. When a shadow flits across the landscape of the soul,
where is the substance? Probably, if we were wise enough, we
should see to what virtue we are indebted for any happier moment
we enjoy. No doubt we have earned it at some time; for the gifts
of Heaven are never quite gratuitous. The constant abrasion and
decay of our lives makes the soil of our future growth. The wood
which we now mature, when it becomes virgin mould, determines the
character of our second growth, whether that be oaks or pines.
Every man casts a shadow; not his body only, but his imperfectly
mingled spirit. This is his grief. Let him turn which way he
will, it falls opposite to the sun; short at noon, long at eve.
Did you never see it?--But, referred to the sun, it is widest at
its base, which is no greater than his own opacity. The divine
light is diffused almost entirely around us, and by means of the
refraction of light, or else by a certain self-luminousness, or,
as some will have it, transparency, if we preserve ourselves
untarnished, we are able to enlighten our shaded side. At any
rate, our darkest grief has that bronze color of the moon
eclipsed. There is no ill which may not be dissipated, like the
dark, if you let in a stronger light upon it. Shadows, referred
to the source of light, are pyramids whose bases are never
greater than those of the substances which cast them, but light
is a spherical congeries of pyramids, whose very apexes are the
sun itself, and hence the system shines with uninterrupted light.
But if the light we use is but a paltry and narrow taper, most
objects will cast a shadow wider than themselves.

The places where we had stopped or spent the night in our way up
the river, had already acquired a slight historical interest for
us; for many upward day's voyaging were unravelled in this rapid
downward passage. When one landed to stretch his limbs by
walking, he soon found himself falling behind his companion, and
was obliged to take advantage of the curves, and ford the brooks
and ravines in haste, to recover his ground. Already the banks
and the distant meadows wore a sober and deepened tinge, for the
September air had shorn them of their summer's pride.

"And what's a life? The flourishing array
Of the proud summer meadow, which to-day
Wears her green plush, and is to-morrow hay."

The air was really the "fine element" which the poets describe.
It had a finer and sharper grain, seen against the russet
pastures and meadows, than before, as if cleansed of the summer's

Having passed the New Hampshire line and reached the Horseshoe
Interval in Tyngsborough, where there is a high and regular
second bank, we climbed up this in haste to get a nearer sight of
the autumnal flowers, asters, golden-rod, and yarrow, and
blue-curls (_Trichostema dichotoma_), humble roadside blossoms,
and, lingering still, the harebell and the _Rhexia Virginica_.
The last, growing in patches of lively pink flowers on the edge
of the meadows, had almost too gay an appearance for the rest of
the landscape, like a pink ribbon on the bonnet of a Puritan
woman. Asters and golden-rods were the livery which nature wore
at present. The latter alone expressed all the ripeness of the
season, and shed their mellow lustre over the fields, as if the
now declining summer's sun had bequeathed its hues to them. It
is the floral solstice a little after midsummer, when the
particles of golden light, the sun-dust, have, as it were, fallen
like seeds on the earth, and produced these blossoms. On every
hillside, and in every valley, stood countless asters, coreopses,
tansies, golden-rods, and the whole race of yellow flowers, like
Brahminical devotees, turning steadily with their luminary from
morning till night.

"I see the golden-rod shine bright,
As sun-showers at the birth of day,
A golden plume of yellow light,
That robs the Day-god's splendid ray.

"The aster's violet rays divide
The bank with many stars for me,
And yarrow in blanch tints is dyed,
As moonlight floats across the sea.

"I see the emerald woods prepare
To shed their vestiture once more,
And distant elm-trees spot the air
With yellow pictures softly o'er.
. . . . .
"No more the water-lily's pride
In milk-white circles swims content,
No more the blue-weed's clusters ride
And mock the heavens' element.
. . . . .
"Autumn, thy wreath and mine are blent
With the same colors, for to me
A richer sky than all is lent,
While fades my dream-like company.

"Our skies glow purple, but the wind
Sobs chill through green trees and bright graas,
To-day shines fair, and lurk behind
The times that into winter pass.

"So fair we seem, so cold we are,
So fast we hasten to decay,
Yet through our night glows many a star,
That still shall claim its sunny day."

So sang a Concord poet once.

There is a peculiar interest belonging to the still later
flowers, which abide with us the approach of winter. There is
something witch-like in the appearance of the witch-hazel, which
blossoms late in October and in November, with its irregular and
angular spray and petals like furies' hair, or small ribbon
streamers. Its blossoming, too, at this irregular period, when
other shrubs have lost their leaves, as well as blossoms, looks
like witches' craft. Certainly it blooms in no garden of man's.
There is a whole fairy-land on the hillside where it grows.

Some have thought that the gales do not at present waft to the
voyager the natural and original fragrance of the land, such as
the early navigators described, and that the loss of many
odoriferous native plants, sweet-scented grasses and medicinal
herbs, which formerly sweetened the atmosphere, and rendered it
salubrious,--by the grazing of cattle and the rooting of swine,
is the source of many diseases which now prevail; the earth, say
they, having been long subjected to extremely artificial and
luxurious modes of cultivation, to gratify the appetite,
converted into a stye and hot-bed, where men for profit increase
the ordinary decay of nature.

According to the record of an old inhabitant of Tyngsborough, now
dead, whose farm we were now gliding past, one of the greatest
freshets on this river took place in October, 1785, and its
height was marked by a nail driven into an apple-tree behind his
house. One of his descendants has shown this to me, and I judged
it to be at least seventeen or eighteen feet above the level of
the river at the time. According to Barber, the river rose
twenty-one feet above the common high-water mark, at Bradford in
the year 1818. Before the Lowell and Nashua railroad was built,
the engineer made inquiries of the inhabitants along the banks as
to how high they had known the river to rise. When he came to
this house he was conducted to the apple-tree, and as the nail
was not then visible, the lady of the house placed her hand on
the trunk where she said that she remembered the nail to have
been from her childhood. In the mean while the old man put his
arm inside the tree, which was hollow, and felt the point of the
nail sticking through, and it was exactly opposite to her hand.
The spot is now plainly marked by a notch in the bark. But as no
one else remembered the river to have risen so high as this, the
engineer disregarded this statement, and I learn that there has
since been a freshet which rose within nine inches of the rails
at Biscuit Brook, and such a freshet as that of 1785 would have
covered the railroad two feet deep.

The revolutions of nature tell as fine tales, and make as
interesting revelations, on this river's banks, as on the
Euphrates or the Nile. This apple-tree, which stands within a
few rods of the river, is called "Elisha's apple-tree," from a
friendly Indian, who was anciently in the service of Jonathan
Tyng, and, with one other man, was killed here by his own race in
one of the Indian wars,--the particulars of which affair were
told us on the spot. He was buried close by, no one knew exactly
where, but in the flood of 1785, so great a weight of water
standing over the grave, caused the earth to settle where it had
once been disturbed, and when the flood went down, a sunken spot,
exactly of the form and size of the grave, revealed its locality;
but this was now lost again, and no future flood can detect it;
yet, no doubt, Nature will know how to point it out in due time,
if it be necessary, by methods yet more searching and unexpected.
Thus there is not only the crisis when the spirit ceases to
inspire and expand the body, marked by a fresh mound in the
churchyard, but there is also a crisis when the body ceases to
take up room as such in nature, marked by a fainter depression in
the earth.

We sat awhile to rest us here upon the brink of the western bank,
surrounded by the glossy leaves of the red variety of the
mountain laurel, just above the head of Wicasuck Island, where we
could observe some scows which were loading with clay from the
opposite shore, and also overlook the grounds of the farmer, of
whom I have spoken, who once hospitably entertained us for a
night. He had on his pleasant farm, besides an abundance of the
beach-plum, or _Prunus littoralis_, which grew wild, the Canada
plum under cultivation, fine Porter apples, some peaches, and
large patches of musk and water melons, which he cultivated for
the Lowell market. Elisha's apple-tree, too, bore a native
fruit, which was prized by the family. He raised the blood
peach, which, as he showed us with satisfaction, was more like
the oak in the color of its bark and in the setting of its
branches, and was less liable to break down under the weight of
the fruit, or the snow, than other varieties. It was of slower
growth, and its branches strong and tough. There, also, was his
nursery of native apple-trees, thickly set upon the bank, which
cost but little care, and which he sold to the neighboring
farmers when they were five or six years old. To see a single
peach upon its stem makes an impression of paradisaical fertility
and luxury. This reminded us even of an old Roman farm, as
described by Varro:--Caesar Vopiscus Aedilicius, when he pleaded
before the Censors, said that the grounds of Rosea were the
garden (_sumen_ the tid-bit) of Italy, in which a pole being left
would not be visible the day after, on account of the growth of
the herbage. This soil may not have been remarkably fertile,
yet at this distance we thought that this anecdote might be told
of the Tyngsborough farm.

When we passed Wicasuck Island, there was a pleasure-boat
containing a youth and a maiden on the island brook, which we
were pleased to see, since it proved that there were some
hereabouts to whom our excursion would not be wholly strange.
Before this, a canal-boatman, of whom we made some inquiries
respecting Wicasuck Island, and who told us that it was disputed
property, suspected that we had a claim upon it, and though we
assured him that all this was news to us, and explained, as well
as we could, why we had come to see it, he believed not a word of
it, and seriously offered us one hundred dollars for our title.
The only other small boats which we met with were used to pick up
driftwood. Some of the poorer class along the stream collect, in
this way, all the fuel which they require. While one of us
landed not far from this island to forage for provisions among
the farm-houses whose roofs we saw, for our supply was now
exhausted, the other, sitting in the boat, which was moored to
the shore, was left alone to his reflections.

If there is nothing new on the earth, still the traveller always
has a resource in the skies. They are constantly turning a new
page to view. The wind sets the types on this blue ground, and
the inquiring may always read a new truth there. There are
things there written with such fine and subtile tinctures, paler
than the juice of limes, that to the diurnal eye they leave no
trace, and only the chemistry of night reveals them. Every man's
daylight firmament answers in his mind to the brightness of the
vision in his starriest hour.

These continents and hemispheres are soon run over, but an always
unexplored and infinite region makes off on every side from the
mind, further than to sunset, and we can make no highway or
beaten track into it, but the grass immediately springs up in the
path, for we travel there chiefly with our wings.

Sometimes we see objects as through a thin haze, in their eternal
relations, and they stand like Palenque and the Pyramids, and we
wonder who set them up, and for what purpose. If we see the
reality in things, of what moment is the superficial and apparent
longer? What are the earth and all its interests beside the deep
surmise which pierces and scatters them? While I sit here
listening to the waves which ripple and break on this shore, I am
absolved from all obligation to the past, and the council of
nations may reconsider its votes. The grating of a pebble annuls
them. Still occasionally in my dreams I remember that rippling

Oft, as I turn me on my pillow o'er,
I hear the lapse of waves upon the shore,
Distinct as if it were at broad noonday,
And I were drifting down from Nashua.

With a bending sail we glided rapidly by Tyngsborough and
Chelmsford, each holding in one hand half of a tart country
apple-pie which we had purchased to celebrate our return, and in
the other a fragment of the newspaper in which it was wrapped,
devouring these with divided relish, and learning the news which
had transpired since we sailed. The river here opened into a
broad and straight reach of great length, which we bounded
merrily over before a smacking breeze, with a devil-may-care look
in our faces, and our boat a white bone in its mouth, and a speed
which greatly astonished some scow boatmen whom we met. The wind
in the horizon rolled like a flood over valley and plain, and
every tree bent to the blast, and the mountains like school-boys
turned their cheeks to it. They were great and current motions,
the flowing sail, the running stream, the waving tree, the roving
wind. The north-wind stepped readily into the harness which we
had provided, and pulled us along with good will. Sometimes we
sailed as gently and steadily as the clouds overhead, watching
the receding shores and the motions of our sail; the play of its
pulse so like our own lives, so thin and yet so full of life, so
noiseless when it labored hardest, so noisy and impatient when
least effective; now bending to some generous impulse of the
breeze, and then fluttering and flapping with a kind of human
suspense. It was the scale on which the varying temperature of
distant atmospheres was graduated, and it was some attraction for
us that the breeze it played with had been out of doors so long.
Thus we sailed, not being able to fly, but as next best, making a
long furrow in the fields of the Merrimack toward our home, with
our wings spread, but never lifting our heel from the watery
trench; gracefully ploughing homeward with our brisk and willing
team, wind and stream, pulling together, the former yet a wild
steer, yoked to his more sedate fellow. It was very near flying,
as when the duck rushes through the water with an impulse of her
wings, throwing the spray about her, before she can rise. How we
had stuck fast if drawn up but a few feet on the shore!

When we reached the great bend just above Middlesex, where the
river runs east thirty-five miles to the sea, we at length lost
the aid of this propitious wind, though we contrived to make one
long and judicious tack carry us nearly to the locks of the
canal. We were here locked through at noon by our old friend,
the lover of the higher mathematics, who seemed glad to see us
safe back again through so many locks; but we did not stop to
consider any of his problems, though we could cheerfully have
spent a whole autumn in this way another time, and never have
asked what his religion was. It is so rare to meet with a man
out-doors who cherishes a worthy thought in his mind, which is
independent of the labor of his hands. Behind every man's
busy-ness there should be a level of undisturbed serenity and
industry, as within the reef encircling a coral isle there is
always an expanse of still water, where the depositions are going
on which will finally raise it above the surface.

The eye which can appreciate the naked and absolute beauty of a
scientific truth is far more rare than that which is attracted by
a moral one. Few detect the morality in the former, or the
science in the latter. Aristotle defined art to be e'rgou a'neu hy'l_es>, _The principle of the work without the
wood_; but most men prefer to have some of the wood along with
the principle; they demand that the truth be clothed in flesh and
blood and the warm colors of life. They prefer the partial
statement because it fits and measures them and their commodities
best. But science still exists everywhere as the sealer of
weights and measures at least.

We have heard much about the poetry of mathematics, but very
little of it has yet been sung. The ancients had a juster notion
of their poetic value than we. The most distinct and beautiful
statement of any truth must take at last the mathematical form.
We might so simplify the rules of moral philosophy, as well as of
arithmetic, that one formula would express them both. All the
moral laws are readily translated into natural philosophy, for
often we have only to restore the primitive meaning of the words
by which they are expressed, or to attend to their literal
instead of their metaphorical sense. They are already
_supernatural_ philosophy. The whole body of what is now called
moral or ethical truth existed in the golden age as abstract
science. Or, if we prefer, we may say that the laws of Nature
are the purest morality. The Tree of Knowledge is a Tree of
Knowledge of good and evil. He is not a true man of science who
does not bring some sympathy to his studies, and expect to learn
something by behavior as well as by application. It is childish
to rest in the discovery of mere coincidences, or of partial and
extraneous laws. The study of geometry is a petty and idle
exercise of the mind, if it is applied to no larger system than
the starry one. Mathematics should be mixed not only with
physics but with ethics, _that_ is _mixed_ mathematics. The fact
which interests us most is the life of the naturalist. The
purest science is still biographical. Nothing will dignify and
elevate science while it is sundered so wholly from the moral
life of its devotee, and he professes another religion than it
teaches, and worships at a foreign shrine. Anciently the faith
of a philosopher was identical with his system, or, in other
words, his view of the universe.

My friends mistake when they communicate facts to me with so much
pains. Their presence, even their exaggerations and loose
statements, are equally good facts for me. I have no respect for
facts even except when I would use them, and for the most part I
am independent of those which I hear, and can afford to be
inaccurate, or, in other words, to substitute more present and
pressing facts in their place.

The poet uses the results of science and philosophy, and
generalizes their widest deductions.

The process of discovery is very simple. An unwearied and
systematic application of known laws to nature, causes the
unknown to reveal themselves. Almost any _mode_ of observation
will be successful at last, for what is most wanted is method.
Only let something be determined and fixed around which
observation may rally. How many new relations a foot-rule alone
will reveal, and to how many things still this has not been
applied! What wonderful discoveries have been, and may still be,
made, with a plumb-line, a level, a surveyor's compass, a
thermometer, or a barometer! Where there is an observatory and a
telescope, we expect that any eyes will see new worlds at once.
I should say that the most prominent scientific men of our
country, and perhaps of this age, are either serving the arts and
not pure science, or are performing faithful but quite
subordinate labors in particular departments. They make no
steady and systematic approaches to the central fact. A
discovery is made, and at once the attention of all observers is
distracted to that, and it draws many analogous discoveries in
its train; as if their work were not already laid out for them,
but they had been lying on their oars. There is wanting constant
and accurate observation with enough of theory to direct and
discipline it.

But, above all, there is wanting genius. Our books of science,
as they improve in accuracy, are in danger of losing the freshness
and vigor and readiness to appreciate the real laws of Nature,
which is a marked merit in the ofttimes false theories of the
ancients. I am attracted by the slight pride and satisfaction,
the emphatic and even exaggerated style in which some of the
older naturalists speak of the operations of Nature, though they
are better qualified to appreciate than to discriminate the
facts. Their assertions are not without value when disproved.
If they are not facts, they are suggestions for Nature herself to
act upon. "The Greeks," says Gesner, "had a common proverb
() a sleeping hare, for a dissembler or
counterfeit; because the hare sees when she sleeps; for this is
an admirable and rare work of Nature, that all the residue of her
bodily parts take their rest, but the eye standeth continually

Observation is so wide awake, and facts are being so rapidly
added to the sum of human experience, that it appears as if the
theorizer would always be in arrears, and were doomed forever to
arrive at imperfect conclusions; but the power to perceive a law
is equally rare in all ages of the world, and depends but little
on the number of facts observed. The senses of the savage will
furnish him with facts enough to set him up as a philosopher.
The ancients can still speak to us with authority, even on the
themes of geology and chemistry, though these studies are thought
to have had their birth in modern times. Much is said about the
progress of science in these centuries. I should say that the
useful results of science had accumulated, but that there had
been no accumulation of knowledge, strictly speaking, for
posterity; for knowledge is to be acquired only by a corresponding
experience. How can we _know_ what we are _told_ merely? Each
man can interpret another's experience only by his own. We read
that Newton discovered the law of gravitation, but how many who
have heard of his famous discovery have recognized the same truth
that he did? It may be not one. The revelation which was then
made to him has not been superseded by the revelation made to any

We see the _planet_ fall,
And that is all.

In a review of Sir James Clark Ross's Antarctic Voyage of
Discovery, there is a passage which shows how far a body of men
are commonly impressed by an object of sublimity, and which is
also a good instance of the step from the sublime to the
ridiculous. After describing the discovery of the Antarctic
Continent, at first seen a hundred miles distant over fields of
ice,--stupendous ranges of mountains from seven and eight to
twelve and fourteen thousand feet high, covered with eternal snow
and ice, in solitary and inaccessible grandeur, at one time the
weather being beautifully clear, and the sun shining on the icy
landscape; a continent whose islands only are accessible, and
these exhibited "not the smallest trace of vegetation," only in a
few places the rocks protruding through their icy covering, to
convince the beholder that land formed the nucleus, and that it
was not an iceberg;--the practical British reviewer proceeds
thus, sticking to his last, "On the 22d of January, afternoon,
the Expedition made the latitude of 74 degrees 20' and by 7h
P.M., having ground (ground! where did they get ground?) to
believe that they were then in a higher southern latitude than
had been attained by that enterprising seaman, the late Captain
James Weddel, and therefore higher than all their predecessors,
an extra allowance of grog was issued to the crews as a reward
for their perseverance."

Let not us sailors of late centuries take upon ourselves any airs
on account of our Newtons and our Cuviers; we deserve an extra
allowance of grog only.

We endeavored in vain to persuade the wind to blow through the
long corridor of the canal, which is here cut straight through
the woods, and were obliged to resort to our old expedient of
drawing by a cord. When we reached the Concord, we were forced
to row once more in good earnest, with neither wind nor current
in our favor, but by this time the rawness of the day had
disappeared, and we experienced the warmth of a summer afternoon.
This change in the weather was favorable to our contemplative
mood, and disposed us to dream yet deeper at our oars, while we
floated in imagination farther down the stream of time, as we had
floated down the stream of the Merrimack, to poets of a milder
period than had engaged us in the morning. Chelmsford and
Billerica appeared like old English towns, compared with
Merrimack and Nashua, and many generations of civil poets might
have lived and sung here.

What a contrast between the stern and desolate poetry of Ossian,
and that of Chaucer, and even of Shakespeare and Milton, much
more of Dryden, and Pope, and Gray. Our summer of English poetry
like the Greek and Latin before it, seems well advanced toward
its fall, and laden with the fruit and foliage of the season,
with bright autumnal tints, but soon the winter will scatter its
myriad clustering and shading leaves, and leave only a few
desolate and fibrous boughs to sustain the snow and rime, and
creak in the blasts of ages. We cannot escape the impression
that the Muse has stooped a little in her flight, when we come to
the literature of civilized eras. Now first we hear of various
ages and styles of poetry; it is pastoral, and lyric, and
narrative, and didactic; but the poetry of runic monuments is of
one style, and for every age. The bard has in a great measure
lost the dignity and sacredness of his office. Formerly he was
called a _seer_, but now it is thought that one man sees as much
as another. He has no longer the bardic rage, and only conceives
the deed, which he formerly stood ready to perform. Hosts of
warriors earnest for battle could not mistake nor dispense with
the ancient bard. His lays were heard in the pauses of the
fight. There was no danger of his being overlooked by his
contemporaries. But now the hero and the bard are of different
professions. When we come to the pleasant English verse, the
storms have all cleared away and it will never thunder and
lighten more. The poet has come within doors, and exchanged the
forest and crag for the fireside, the hut of the Gael, and
Stonehenge with its circles of stones, for the house of the
Englishman. No hero stands at the door prepared to break forth
into song or heroic action, but a homely Englishman, who
cultivates the art of poetry. We see the comfortable fireside,
and hear the crackling fagots in all the verse.

Notwithstanding the broad humanity of Chaucer, and the many
social and domestic comforts which we meet with in his verse, we
have to narrow our vision somewhat to consider him, as if he
occupied less space in the landscape, and did not stretch over
hill and valley as Ossian does. Yet, seen from the side of
posterity, as the father of English poetry, preceded by a long
silence or confusion in history, unenlivened by any strain of
pure melody, we easily come to reverence him. Passing over the
earlier continental poets, since we are bound to the pleasant
archipelago of English poetry, Chaucer's is the first name after
that misty weather in which Ossian lived, which can detain us
long. Indeed, though he represents so different a culture and
society, he may be regarded as in many respects the Homer of the
English poets. Perhaps he is the youthfullest of them all. We
return to him as to the purest well, the fountain farthest
removed from the highway of desultory life. He is so natural and
cheerful, compared with later poets, that we might almost regard
him as a personification of spring. To the faithful reader his
muse has even given an aspect to his times, and when he is fresh
from perusing him, they seem related to the golden age. It is
still the poetry of youth and life, rather than of thought; and
though the moral vein is obvious and constant, it has not yet
banished the sun and daylight from his verse. The loftiest
strains of the muse are, for the most part, sublimely plaintive,
and not a carol as free as nature's. The content which the sun
shines to celebrate from morning to evening, is unsung. The muse
solaces herself, and is not ravished but consoled. There is a
catastrophe implied, and a tragic element in all our verse, and
less of the lark and morning dews, than of the nightingale and
evening shades. But in Homer and Chaucer there is more of the
innocence and serenity of youth than in the more modern and moral
poets. The Iliad is not Sabbath but morning reading, and men
cling to this old song, because they still have moments of
unbaptized and uncommitted life, which give them an appetite for
more. To the innocent there are neither cherubim nor angels. At
rare intervals we rise above the necessity of virtue into an
unchangeable morning light, in which we have only to live right
on and breathe the ambrosial air. The Iliad represents no creed
nor opinion, and we read it with a rare sense of freedom and
irresponsibility, as if we trod on native ground, and were
autochthones of the soil.

Chaucer had eminently the habits of a literary man and a scholar.
There were never any times so stirring that there were not to be
found some sedentary still. He was surrounded by the din of
arms. The battles of Hallidon Hill and Neville's Cross, and the
still more memorable battles of Cressy and Poictiers, were fought
in his youth; but these did not concern our poet much, Wickliffe
and his reform much more. He regarded himself always as one
privileged to sit and converse with books. He helped to
establish the literary class. His character as one of the
fathers of the English language would alone make his works
important, even those which have little poetical merit. He was
as simple as Wordsworth in preferring his homely but vigorous
Saxon tongue, when it was neglected by the court, and had not yet
attained to the dignity of a literature, and rendered a similar
service to his country to that which Dante rendered to Italy. If
Greek sufficeth for Greek, and Arabic for Arabian, and Hebrew for
Jew, and Latin for Latin, then English shall suffice for him, for
any of these will serve to teach truth "right as divers pathes
leaden divers folke the right waye to Rome." In the Testament of
Love he writes, "Let then clerkes enditen in Latin, for they have
the propertie of science, and the knowinge in that facultie, and
lette Frenchmen in their Frenche also enditen their queinte


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