Summer on the Lakes, in 1843
Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Paul Murray and PG Distributed Proofreaders
[Illustration: ARCHED ROCK AT MACKINAW]
SUMMER ON THE LAKES
S. M. FULLER
SUMMER ON THE LAKES.
Summer days of busy leisure,
Long summer days of dear-bought pleasure,
You have done your teaching well;
Had the scholar means to tell
How grew the vine of bitter-sweet,
What made the path for truant feet,
Winter nights would quickly pass,
Gazing on the magic glass
O'er which the new-world shadows pass;
But, in fault of wizard spell,
Moderns their tale can only tell
In dull words, with a poor reed
Breaking at each time of need.
But those to whom a hint suffices
Mottoes find for all devices,
See the knights behind their shields,
Through dried grasses, blooming fields.
TO A FRIEND.
Some dried grass-tufts from the wide flowery plain,
A muscle shell from the lone fairy shore,
Some antlers from tall woods which never more
To the wild deer a safe retreat can yield,
An eagle's feather which adorned a Brave,
Well-nigh the last of his despairing band,
For such slight gifts wilt thou extend thy hand
When weary hours a brief refreshment crave?
I give you what I can, not what I would,
If my small drinking-cup would hold a flood,
As Scandinavia sung those must contain
With which the giants gods may entertain;
In our dwarf day we drain few drops, and soon must thirst again.
Niagara, June 10, 1843.
Since you are to share with me such foot-notes as may be made on the
pages of my life during this summer's wanderings, I should not be quite
silent as to this magnificent prologue to the, as yet, unknown drama.
Yet I, like others, have little to say where the spectacle is, for once,
great enough to fill the whole life, and supersede thought, giving us
only its own presence. "It is good to be here," is the best as the
simplest expression that occurs to the mind.
We have been here eight days, and I am quite willing to go away. So
great a sight soon satisfies, making us content with itself, and with
what is less than itself. Our desires, once realized, haunt us again
less readily. Having "lived one day" we would depart, and become worthy
to live another.
We have not been fortunate in weather, for there cannot be too much, or
too warm sunlight for this scene, and the skies have been lowering, with
cold, unkind winds. My nerves, too much braced up by such an atmosphere,
do not well bear the continual stress of sight and sound. For here there
is no escape from the weight of a perpetual creation; all other forms
and motions come and go, the tide rises and recedes, the wind, at its
mightiest, moves in gales and gusts, but here is really an incessant, an
indefatigable motion. Awake or asleep, there is no escape, still this
rushing round you and through you. It is in this way I have most felt
the grandeur--somewhat eternal, if not infinite.
At times a secondary music rises; the cataract seems to seize its own
rhythm and sing it over again, so that the ear and soul are roused by a
double vibration. This is some effect of the wind, causing echoes to the
thundering anthem. It is very sublime, giving the effect of a spiritual
repetition through all the spheres.
When I first came I felt nothing but a quiet satisfaction. I found that
drawings, the panorama, &c. had given me a clear notion of the position
and proportions of all objects here; I knew where to look for
everything, and everything looked as I thought it would.
Long ago, I was looking from a hill-side with a friend at one of the
finest sunsets that ever enriched this world. A little cow-boy, trudging
along, wondered what we could be gazing at. After spying about some
time, he found it could only be the sunset, and looking, too, a moment,
he said approvingly "that sun looks well enough;" a speech worthy of
Shakspeare's Cloten, or the infant Mercury, up to everything from the
cradle, as you please to take it.
Even such a familiarity, worthy of Jonathan, our national hero, in a
prince's palace, or "stumping" as he boasts to have done, "up the
Vatican stairs, into the Pope's presence, in my old boots," I felt
here; it looks really _well enough_, I felt, and was inclined, as you
suggested, to give my approbation as to the one object in the world that
would not disappoint.
But all great expression, which, on a superficial survey, seems so easy
as well as so simple, furnishes, after a while, to the faithful observer
its own standard by which to appreciate it. Daily these proportions
widened and towered more and more upon my sight, and I got, at last, a
proper foreground for these sublime distances. Before coming away, I
think I really saw the full wonder of the scene. After awhile it so drew
me into itself as to inspire an undefined dread, such as I never knew
before, such as may be felt when death is about to usher us into a new
existence. The perpetual trampling of the waters seized my senses. I
felt that no other sound, however near, could be heard, and would start
and look behind me for a foe. I realized the identity of that mood of
nature in which these waters were poured down with such absorbing force,
with that in which the Indian was shaped on the same soil. For
continually upon my mind came, unsought and unwelcome, images, such as
never haunted it before, of naked savages stealing behind me with
uplifted tomahawks; again and again this illusion recurred, and even
after I had thought it over, and tried to shake it off, I could not help
starting and looking behind me.
As picture, the Falls can only be seen from the British side. There they
are seen in their veils, and at sufficient distance to appreciate the
magical effects of these, and the light and shade. From the boat, as
you cross, the effects and contrasts are more melodramatic. On the road
back from the whirlpool, we saw them as a reduced picture with delight.
But what I liked best was to sit on Table Rock, close to the great fall.
There all power of observing details, all separate consciousness, was
Once, just as I had seated myself there, a man came to take his first
look. He walked close up to the fall, and, after looking at it a moment,
with an air as if thinking how he could best appropriate it to his own
use, he spat into it.
This trait seemed wholly worthy of an age whose love of _utility_ is
such that the Prince Puckler Muskau suggests the probability of men
coming to put the bodies of their dead parents in the fields to
fertilize them, and of a country such as Dickens has described; but
these will not, I hope, be seen on the historic page to be truly the age
or truly the America. A little leaven is leavening the whole mass for
The whirlpool I like very much. It is seen to advantage after the great
falls; it is so sternly solemn. The river cannot look more
imperturbable, almost sullen in its marble green, than it does just
below the great fall; but the slight circles that mark the hidden
vortex, seem to whisper mysteries the thundering voice above could not
proclaim,--a meaning as untold as ever.
It is fearful, too, to know, as you look, that whatever has been
swallowed by the cataract, is like to rise suddenly to light here,
whether uprooted tree, or body of man or bird.
The rapids enchanted me far beyond what I expected; they are so swift
that they cease to seem so; you can think only of their beauty. The
fountain beyond the Moss Islands, I discovered for myself, and thought
it for some time an accidental beauty which it would not do to leave,
lest I might never see it again. After I found it permanent, I returned
many times to watch the play of its crest. In the little waterfall
beyond, nature seems, as she often does, to have made a study for some
larger design. She delights in this,--a sketch within a sketch, a dream
within a dream. Wherever we see it, the lines of the great buttress in
the fragment of stone, the hues of the waterfall, copied in the flowers
that star its bordering mosses, we are delighted; for all the lineaments
become fluent, and we mould the scene in congenial thought with its
People complain of the buildings at Niagara, and fear to see it further
deformed. I cannot sympathize with such an apprehension: the spectacle
is capable to swallow up all such objects; they are not seen in the
great whole, more than an earthworm in a wide field.
The beautiful wood on Goat Island is full of flowers; many of the
fairest love to do homage here. The Wake Robin and May Apple are in
bloom now; the former, white, pink, green, purple, copying the rainbow
of the fall, and fit to make a garland for its presiding deity when he
walks the land, for they are of imperial size, and shaped like stones
for a diadem. Of the May Apple, I did not raise one green tent without
finding a flower beneath.
And now farewell, Niagara. I have seen thee, and I think all who come
here must in some sort see thee; thou art not to be got rid of as easily
as the stars. I will be here again beneath some flooding July moon and
sun. Owing to the absence of light, I have seen the rainbow only two or
three times by day; the lunar bow not at all. However, the imperial
presence needs not its crown, though illustrated by it.
General Porter and Jack Downing were not unsuitable figures here. The
former heroically planted the bridges by which we cross to Goat Island,
and the Wake-Robin-crowned genius has punished his temerity with
deafness, which must, I think, have come upon him when he sank the first
stone in the rapids. Jack seemed an acute and entertaining
representative of Jonathan, come to look at his great water-privilege.
He told us all about the Americanisms of the spectacle; that is to say,
the battles that have been fought here. It seems strange that men could
fight in such a place; but no temple can still the personal griefs and
strifes in the breasts of its visiters.
No less strange is the fact that, in this neighborhood, an eagle should
be chained for a plaything. When a child, I used often to stand at a
window from which I could see an eagle chained in the balcony of a
museum. The people used to poke at it with sticks, and my childish heart
would swell with indignation as I saw their insults, and the mien with
which they were borne by the monarch-bird. Its eye was dull, and its
plumage soiled and shabby, yet, in its form and attitude, all the king
was visible, though sorrowful and dethroned. I never saw another of the
family till, when passing through the Notch of the White Mountains, at
that moment striding before us in all the panoply of sunset, the driver
shouted, "Look there!" and following with our eyes his upward-pointing
finger, we saw, soaring slow in majestic poise above the highest summit,
the bird of Jove. It was a glorious sight, yet I know not that I felt
more on seeing the bird in all its natural freedom and royalty, than
when, imprisoned and insulted, he had filled my early thoughts with the
Byronic "silent rages" of misanthropy.
Now, again, I saw him a captive, and addressed by the vulgar with the
language they seem to find most appropriate to such occasions--that of
thrusts and blows. Silently, his head averted, he ignored their
existence, as Plotinus or Sophocles might that of a modern reviewer.
Probably, he listened to the voice of the cataract, and felt that
congenial powers flowed free, and was consoled, though his own wing was
The story of the Recluse of Niagara interested me a little. It is
wonderful that men do not oftener attach their lives to localities of
great beauty--that, when once deeply penetrated, they will let
themselves so easily be borne away by the general stream of things, to
live any where and any how. But there is something ludicrous in being
the hermit of a show-place, unlike St. Francis in his mountain-bed,
where none but the stars and rising sun ever saw him.
There is also a "guide to the falls," who wears his title labeled on his
hat; otherwise, indeed, one might as soon think of asking for a
gentleman usher to point out the moon. Yet why should we wonder at such,
either, when we have Commentaries on Shakspeare, and Harmonics of the
And now you have the little all I have to write. Can it interest you? To
one who has enjoyed the full life of any scene, of any hour, what
thoughts can be recorded about it, seem like the commas and semicolons
in the paragraph, mere stops. Yet I suppose it is not so to the absent.
At least, I have read things written about Niagara, music, and the like,
that interested _me_. Once I was moved by Mr. Greenwood's remark, that
he could not realize this marvel till, opening his eyes the next morning
after he had seen it, his doubt as to the possibility of its being still
there, taught him what he had experienced. I remember this now with
pleasure, though, or because, it is exactly the opposite to what I
myself felt. For all greatness affects different minds, each in "its own
particular kind," and the variations of testimony mark the truth of
I will add a brief narrative of the experience of another here, as being
much better than anything I could write, because more simple and
"Now that I have left this 'Earth-wonder,' and the emotions it excited
are past, it seems not so much like profanation to analyze my feelings,
to recall minutely and accurately the effect of this manifestation of
the Eternal. But one should go to such a scene prepared to yield
entirely to its influences, to forget one's little self and one's little
mind. To see a miserable worm creep to the brink of this falling world
of waters, and watch the trembling of its own petty bosom, and fancy
that this is made alone, to act upon him excites--derision?--No,--pity."
As I rode up to the neighborhood of the falls, a solemn awe
imperceptibly stole over me, and the deep sound of the ever-hurrying
rapids prepared my mind for the lofty emotions to be experienced. When I
reached the hotel, I felt a strange indifference about seeing the
aspiration of my life's hopes. I lounged about the rooms, read the stage
bills upon the walls, looked over the register, and, finding the name of
an acquaintance, sent to see if he was still there. What this hesitation
arose from, I know not; perhaps it was a feeling of my unworthiness to
enter this temple which nature has erected to its God.
At last, slowly and thoughtfully I walked down to the bridge leading to
Goat Island, and when I stood upon this frail support, and saw a quarter
of a mile of tumbling, rushing rapids, and heard their everlasting roar,
my emotions overpowered me, a choaking sensation rose to my throat, a
thrill rushed through my veins, "my blood ran rippling to my finger's
ends." This was the climax of the effect which the falls produced upon
me--neither the American nor the British fall moved me as did these
rapids. For the magnificence, the sublimity of the latter I was prepared
by descriptions and by paintings. When I arrived in sight of them I
merely felt, "ah, yes, here is the fall, just as I have seen it in
picture." When I arrived at the terrapin bridge, I expected to be
overwhelmed, to retire trembling from this giddy eminence, and gaze
with unlimited wonder and awe upon the immense mass rolling on and on,
but, somehow or other, I thought only of comparing the effect on my mind
with what I had read and heard. I looked for a short time, and then with
almost a feeling of disappointment, turned to go to the other points of
view to see if I was not mistaken in not feeling any surpassing emotion
at this sight. But from the foot of Biddle's stairs, and the middle of
the river, and from below the table rock, it was still "barren, barren
all." And, provoked with my stupidity in feeling most moved in the wrong
place, I turned away to the hotel, determined to set off for Buffalo
that afternoon. But the stage did not go, and, after nightfall, as there
was a splendid moon, I went down to the bridge, and leaned over the
parapet, where the boiling rapids came down in their might. It was
grand, and it was also gorgeous; the yellow rays of the moon made the
broken waves appear like auburn tresses twining around the black rocks.
But they did not inspire me as before. I felt a foreboding of a mightier
emotion to rise up and swallow all others, and I passed on to the
terrapin bridge. Everything was changed, the misty apparition had taken
off its many-colored crown which it had worn by day, and a bow of
silvery white spanned its summit. The moonlight gave a poetical
indefiniteness to the distant parts of the waters, and while the rapids
were glancing in her beams, the river below the falls was black as
night, save where the reflection of the sky gave it the appearance of a
shield of blued steel. No gaping tourists loitered, eyeing with their
glasses, or sketching on cards the hoary locks of the ancient river god.
All tended to harmonize with the natural grandeur of the scene. I gazed
long. I saw how here mutability and unchangeableness were united. I
surveyed the conspiring waters rushing against the rocky ledge to
overthrow it at one mad plunge, till, like toppling ambition,
o'erleaping themselves, they fall on t'other side, expanding into foam
ere they reach the deep channel where they creep submissively away.
Then arose in my breast a genuine admiration, and a humble adoration of
the Being who was the architect of this and of all. Happy were the first
discoverers of Niagara, those who could come unawares upon this view and
upon that, whose feelings were entirely their own. With what gusto does
Father Hennepin describe "this great downfall of water," "this vast and
prodigious cadence of water, which falls down after a surprising and
astonishing manner, insomuch that the universe does not afford its
parallel. 'Tis true Italy and Swedeland boast of some such things, but
we may well say that they be sorry patterns when compared with this of
which we do now speak."
SCENE, STEAMBOAT.--_About to leave Buffalo--Baggage coming on
board--Passengers bustling for their berths--Little boys persecuting
everybody with their newspapers and pamphlets--J., S. and M. huddled
up in a forlorn corner, behind a large trunk--A heavy rain falling_.
_M_. Water, water everywhere. After Niagara one would like a dry strip
of existence. And at any rate it is quite enough for me to have it under
foot without having it over head in this way.
_J_. Ah, do not abuse the gentle element. It is hardly possible to have
too much of it, and indeed, if I were obliged to choose amid the four,
it would be the one in which I could bear confinement best.
_S_. You would make a pretty Undine, to be sure!
_J_. Nay, I only offered myself as a Triton, a boisterous Triton of the
sounding shell ... You; M. I suppose, would be a salamander, rather.
_M_. No! that is too equivocal a position, whether in modern mythology,
or Hoffman's tales. I should choose to be a gnome.
_J_. That choice savors of the pride that apes humility.
_M_. By no means; the gnomes are the most important of all the elemental
tribes. Is it not they who make the money?
_J_. And are accordingly a dark, mean, scoffing,--
_M_. You talk as if you had always lived in that wild unprofitable
element you are so fond of, where all things glitter, and nothing is
gold; all show and no substance. My people work in the secret, and their
works praise them in the open light; they remain in the dark because
only there such marvels could be bred. You call them mean. They do not
spend their energies on their own growth, or their own play, but to feed
the veins of mother earth with permanent splendors, very different from
what she shows on the surface.
Think of passing a life, not merely in heaping together, but making
gold. Of all dreams, that of the alchymist is the most poetical, for he
looked at the finest symbol. Gold, says one of our friends, is the
hidden light of the earth, it crowns the mineral, as wine the vegetable
order, being the last expression of vital energy.
_J_. Have you paid for your passage?
_M_. Yes! and in gold, not in shells or pebbles.
_J_. No really wise gnome would scoff at the water, the beautiful water.
"The spirit of man is like the water."
_S_. Yes, and like the air and fire, no less.
_J_. Yes, but not like the earth, this low-minded creature's chosen
_M_. The earth is spirit made fruitful,--life. And its heart-beats are
told in gold and wine.
_J_. Oh! it is shocking to hear such sentiments in these times. I
thought that Bacchic energy of yours was long since repressed.
_M_. No! I have only learned to mix water with my wine, and stamp upon
my gold the heads of kings, or the hieroglyphics of worship. But since I
have learnt to mix with water, let's hear what you have to say in praise
of your favorite.
_J_. From water Venus was born, what more would you have? It is the
mother of Beauty, the girdle of earth, and the marriage of nations.
_S_. Without any of that high-flown poetry, it is enough, I think, that
it is the great artist, turning all objects that approach it to picture.
_J_. True, no object that touches it, whether it be the cart that
ploughs the wave for sea-weed, or the boat or plank that rides upon it,
but is brought at once from the demesne of coarse utilities into that of
picture. All trades, all callings, become picturesque by the water's
side, or on the water. The soil, the slovenliness is washed out of every
calling by its touch. All river-crafts, sea-crafts, are picturesque, are
poetical. Their very slang is poetry.
_M_. The reasons for that are complex.
_J_. The reason is, that there can be no plodding, groping words and
motions, on my water as there are on your earth. There is no time, no
chance for them where all moves so rapidly, though so smoothly,
everything connected with water must be like itself, forcible, but
clear. That is why sea-slang is so poetical; there is a word for
everything and every act, and a thing and an act for every word. Seamen
must speak quick and bold, but also with utmost precision. They cannot
reef and brace other than in a Homeric dialect--therefore,--(Steamboat
bell rings.) But I must say a quick good-by.
_M_. What, going, going back to earth after all this talk upon the other
side. Well, that is nowise Homeric, but truly modern.
J. is borne off without time for any reply, but a laugh--at himself, of
S. and M. retire to their state-rooms to forget the wet, the chill and
steamboat smell in their just-bought new world of novels.
Next day, when we stopped at Cleveland, the storm was just clearing up;
ascending the bluff, we had one of the finest views of the lake that
could have been wished. The varying depths of these lakes give to their
surface a great variety of coloring, and beneath this wild sky and
changeful lights, the waters presented kaleidoscopic varieties of hues,
rich, but mournful. I admire these bluffs of red, crumbling earth. Here
land and water meet under very different auspices from those of the
rock-bound coast to which I have been accustomed. There they meet
tenderly to challenge, and proudly to refuse, though not in fact repel.
But here they meet to mingle, are always rushing together, and changing
places; a new creation takes place beneath the eye.
The weather grew gradually clearer, but not bright; yet we could see
the shore and appreciate the extent of these noble waters.
Coming up the river St. Clair, we saw Indians for the first time. They
were camped out on the bank. It was twilight, and their blanketed forms,
in listless groups or stealing along the bank, with a lounge and a
stride so different in its wildness from the rudeness of the white
settler, gave me the first feeling that I really approached the West.
The people on the boat were almost all New Englanders, seeking their
fortunes. They had brought with them their habits of calculation, their
cautious manners, their love of polemics. It grieved me to hear these
immigrants who were to be the fathers of a new race, all, from the old
man down to the little girl, talking not of what they should do, but of
what they should get in the new scene. It was to them a prospect, not of
the unfolding nobler energies, but of more ease, and larger
accumulation. It wearied me, too, to hear Trinity and Unity discussed in
the poor, narrow doctrinal way on these free waters; but that will soon
cease, there is not time for this clash of opinions in the West, where
the clash of material interests is so noisy. They will need the spirit
of religion more than ever to guide them, but will find less time than
before for its doctrine. This change was to me, who am tired of the war
of words on these subjects, and believe it only sows the wind to reap
the whirlwind, refreshing, but I argue nothing from it; there is nothing
real in the freedom of thought at the West, it is from the position of
men's lives, not the state of their minds. So soon as they have time,
unless they grow better meanwhile, they will cavil and criticise, and
judge other men by their own standard, and outrage the law of love every
way, just as they do with us.
We reached Mackinaw the evening of the third day, but, to my great
disappointment, it was too late and too rainy to go ashore. The beauty
of the island, though seen under the most unfavorable circumstances, did
not disappoint my expectations. But I shall see it to more purpose on my
As the day has passed dully, a cold rain preventing us from keeping out
in the air, my thoughts have been dwelling on a story told when we were
off Detroit, this morning, by a fellow passenger, and whose moral beauty
touched me profoundly.
Some years ago, said Mrs. L., my father and mother stopped to dine at
Detroit. A short time before dinner my father met in the hall Captain
P., a friend of his youthful days. He had loved P. extremely, as did
many who knew him, and had not been surprised to hear of the distinction
and popular esteem which his wide knowledge, talents, and noble temper
commanded, as he went onward in the world. P. was every way fitted to
succeed; his aims were high, but not too high for his powers, suggested
by an instinct of his own capacities, not by an ideal standard drawn
from culture. Though steadfast in his course, it was not to overrun
others, his wise self-possession was no less for them than himself. He
was thoroughly the gentleman, gentle because manly, and was a striking
instance that where there is strength for sincere courtesy, there is no
need of other adaptation to the character of others, to make one's way
freely and gracefully through the crowd.
My father was delighted to see him, and after a short parley in the
hall--"We will dine together," he cried, "then we shall have time to
tell all our stories."
P. hesitated a moment, then said, "My wife is with me."
"And mine with me," said my father, "that's well; they, too, will have
an opportunity of getting acquainted and can entertain one another, if
they get tired of our college stories."
P. acquiesced, with a grave bow, and shortly after they all met in the
dining-room. My father was much surprised at the appearance of Mrs. P.
He had heard that his friend married abroad, but nothing further, and he
was not prepared to see the calm, dignified P. with a woman on his arm,
still handsome, indeed, but whose coarse and imperious expression showed
as low habits of mind as her exaggerated dress and gesture did of
education. Nor could there be a greater contrast to my mother, who,
though understanding her claims and place with the certainty of a lady,
was soft and retiring in an uncommon degree.
However, there was no time to wonder or fancy; they sat down, and P.
engaged in conversation, without much vivacity, but with his usual ease.
The first quarter of an hour passed well enough. But soon it was
observable that Mrs. P. was drinking glass after glass of wine, to an
extent few gentlemen did, even then, and soon that she was actually
excited by it. Before this, her manner had been brusque, if not
contemptuous towards her new acquaintance; now it became, towards my
mother especially, quite rude. Presently she took up some slight remark
made by my mother, which, though it did not naturally mean anything of
the sort, could be twisted into some reflection upon England, and made
it a handle, first of vulgar sarcasm, and then, upon my mother's
defending herself with some surprise and gentle dignity, hurled upon her
a volley of abuse, beyond Billingsgate.
My mother, confounded, feeling scenes and ideas presented to her mind
equally new and painful, sat trembling; she knew not what to do, tears
rushed into her eyes. My father, no less distressed, yet unwilling to
outrage the feelings of his friend by doing or saying what his
indignation prompted, turned an appealing look on P.
Never, as he often said, was the painful expression of that sight
effaced from his mind. It haunted his dreams and disturbed his waking
thoughts. P. sat with his head bent forward, and his eyes cast down,
pale, but calm, with a fixed expression, not merely of patient wo, but
of patient shame, which it would not have been thought possible for
that, noble countenance to wear, "yet," said my father, "it became him.
At other times he was handsome, but then beautiful, though of a beauty
saddened and abashed. For a spiritual light borrowed from the worldly
perfection of his mien that illustration by contrast, which the
penitence of the Magdalen does from the glowing earthliness of her
Seeing that he preserved silence, while Mrs. P. grew still more
exasperated, my father rose and led his wife to her own room. Half an
hour had passed, in painful and wondering surmises, when a gentle knock
was heard at the door, and P. entered equipped for a journey. "We are
just going," he said, and holding out his hand, but without looking at
They each took his hand, and silently pressed it, then he went without a
Some time passed and they heard now and then of P., as he passed from
one army station to another, with his uncongenial companion, who became,
it was said, constantly more degraded. Whoever mentioned having seen
them, wondered at the chance which had yoked him to such a woman, but
yet more at the silent fortitude with which he bore it. Many blamed him
for enduring it, apparently without efforts to check her; others
answered that he had probably made such at an earlier period, and
finding them unavailing, had resigned himself to despair, and was too
delicate to meet the scandal that, with such a resistance as such a
woman could offer, must attend a formal separation.
But my father, who was not in such haste to come to conclusions, and
substitute some plausible explanation for the truth, found something in
the look of P. at that trying moment to which none of these explanations
offered a key. There was in it, he felt, a fortitude, but not the
fortitude of the hero, a religious submission, above the penitent, if
not enkindled with the enthusiasm of the martyr.
I have said that my father, was not one of those who are ready to
substitute specious explanations for truth, and those who are thus
abstinent rarely lay their hand on a thread without making it a clue.
Such an one, like the dexterous weaver, lets not one color go, till he
finds that which matches it in the pattern; he keeps on weaving, but
chooses his shades, and my father found at last what he wanted to make
out the pattern for himself. He met a lady who had been intimate with
both himself and P. in early days, and finding she had seen the latter
abroad, asked if she knew the circumstances of the marriage. "The
circumstances of the act I know," she said, "which sealed the misery of
our friend, though as much in the dark as any one about the motives that
led to it."
We were quite intimate with P. in London, and he was our most delightful
companion. He was then in the full flower of the varied accomplishments,
which set off his fine manners and dignified character, joined, towards
those he loved, with a certain soft willingness which gives the
desirable chivalry to a man. None was more clear of choice where his
personal affections were not touched, but where they were, it cost him
pain to say no, on the slightest occasion. I have thought this must have
had some connexion with the mystery of his misfortunes.
One day he called on me, and, without any preface, asked if I would be
present next day at his marriage. I was so surprised, and so
unpleasantly surprised, that I did not at first answer a word. We had
been on terms so familiar, that I thought I knew all about him, yet had
never dreamed of his having an attachment, and, though I had never
inquired on the subject, yet this reserve, where perfect openness had
been supposed, and really, on my side, existed, seemed to me a kind of
treachery. Then it is never pleasant to know that a heart, on which we
have some claim, is to be given to another. We cannot tell how it will
affect our own relations with a person; it may strengthen or it may
swallow up other affections; the crisis is hazardous, and our first
thought, on such an occasion, is too often for ourselves, at least, mine
was. Seeing me silent, he repeated his question.
To whom, said I, are you to be married?
That, he replied, I cannot tell you. He was a moment silent, then
continued with an impassive look of cold self-possession, that affected
me with strange sadness.
"The name of the person you will hear, of course, at the time, but more
I cannot tell you. I need, however, the presence, not only of legal, but
of respectable and friendly witnesses. I have hoped you and your husband
would do me this kindness. Will you?"
Something in his manner made it impossible to refuse. I answered before
I knew I was going to speak, "We will," and he left me.
I will not weary you with telling how I harassed myself and my husband,
who was, however, scarce less interested, with doubts and conjectures.
Suffice it that, next morning, P. came and took us in a carriage to a
distant church. We had just entered the porch when a cart, such as fruit
and vegetables are brought to market in, drove up, containing an elderly
woman and a young girl. P. assisted them to alight, and advanced with
the girl to the altar.
The girl was neatly dressed and quite handsome, yet, something in her
expression displeased me the moment I looked upon her. Meanwhile the
ceremony was going on, and, at its close, P. introduced us to the bride,
and we all went to the door.
Good-by, Fanny, said the elderly woman. The new-made Mrs. P. replied
without any token of affection or emotion. The woman got into the cart
and drove away.
From that time I saw but little of P. or his wife. I took our mutual
friends to see her, and they were civil to her for his sake. Curiosity
was very much excited, but entirely baffled; no one, of course, dared
speak to P. on the subject, and no other means could be found of solving
He treated his wife with grave and kind politeness, but it was always
obvious that they had nothing in common between them. Her manners and
tastes were not at that time gross, but her character showed itself hard
and material. She was fond of riding, and spent much time so. Her style
in this, and in dress, seemed the opposite of P.'s; but he indulged all
her wishes, while, for himself, he plunged into his own pursuits.
For a time he seemed, if not happy, not positively unhappy; but, after a
few years, Mrs. P. fell into the habit of drinking, and then such scenes
as you witnessed grew frequent. I have often heard of them, and always
that P. sat, as you describe him, his head bowed down and perfectly
silent all through, whatever might be done or whoever be present, and
always his aspect has inspired such sympathy that no person has
questioned him or resented her insults, but merely got out of the way,
so soon as possible.
Hard and long penance, said my father, after some minutes musing, for an
hour of passion, probably for his only error.
Is that your explanation? said the lady. O, improbable. P. might err,
but not be led beyond himself.
I know his cool gray eye and calm complexion seemed to say so, but a
different story is told by the lip that could tremble, and showed what
flashes might pierce those deep blue heavens; and when these over
intellectual beings do swerve aside, it is to fall down a precipice, for
their narrow path lies over such. But he was not one to sin without
making a brave atonement, and that it had become a holy one, was written
on that downcast brow.
The fourth day on these waters, the weather was milder and brighter, so
that we could now see them to some purpose. At night was clear moon,
and, for the first time, from the upper deck, I saw one of the great
steamboats come majestically up. It was glowing with lights, looking
many-eyed and sagacious; in its heavy motion it seemed a dowager queen,
and this motion, with its solemn pulse, and determined sweep, becomes
these smooth waters, especially at night, as much as the dip of the
sail-ship the long billows of the ocean.
But it was not so soon that I learned to appreciate the lake scenery; it
was only after a daily and careless familiarity that I entered into its
beauty, for nature always refuses to be seen by being stared at. Like
Bonaparte, she discharges her face of all expression when she catches
the eye of impertinent curiosity fixed on her. But he who has gone to
sleep in childish ease on her lap, or leaned an aching brow upon her
breast, seeking there comfort with full trust as from a mother, will see
all a mother's beauty in the look she bends upon him. Later, I felt that
I had really seen these regions, and shall speak of them again.
In the afternoon we went on shore at the Manitou islands, where the boat
stops to wood. No one lives here except woodcutters for the steamboats.
I had thought of such a position, from its mixture of profound solitude
with service to the great world, as possessing an ideal beauty. I think
so still, after seeing the woodcutters and their slovenly huts.
In times of slower growth, man did not enter a situation without a
certain preparation or adaptedness to it. He drew from it, if not to the
poetical extent, at least, in some proportion, its moral and its
meaning. The woodcutter did not cut down so many trees a day, that the
hamadryads had not time to make their plaints heard; the shepherd tended
his sheep, and did no jobs or chores the while; the idyl had a chance to
grow up, and modulate his oaten pipe. But now the poet must be at the
whole expense of the poetry in describing one of these positions; the
worker is a true Midas to the gold he makes. The poet must describe, as
the painter sketches Irish peasant girls and Danish fishwives, adding
the beauty, and leaving out the dirt.
I come to the west prepared for the distaste I must experience at its
mushroom growth. I know that where "go ahead" is the only motto, the
village cannot grow into the gentle proportions that successive lives,
and the gradations of experience involuntarily give. In older countries
the house of the son grew from that of the father, as naturally as new
joints on a bough. And the cathedral crowned the whole as naturally as
the leafy summit the tree. This cannot be here. The march of peaceful is
scarce less wanton than that of warlike invasion. The old landmarks are
broken down, and the land, for a season, bears none, except of the
rudeness of conquest and the needs of the day, whose bivouac fires
blacken the sweetest forest glades. I have come prepared to see all
this, to dislike it, but not with stupid narrowness to distrust or
defame. On the contrary, while I will not be so obliging as to confound
ugliness with beauty, discord with harmony, and laud and be contented
with all I meet, when it conflicts with my best desires and tastes, I
trust by reverent faith to woo the mighty meaning of the scene, perhaps
to foresee the law by which a new order, a new poetry is to be evoked
from this chaos, and with a curiosity as ardent, but not so selfish as
that of Macbeth, to call up the apparitions of future kings from the
strange ingredients of the witch's caldron. Thus, I will not grieve that
all the noble trees are gone already from this island to feed this
caldron, but believe it will have Medea's virtue, and reproduce them in
the form of new intellectual growths, since centuries cannot again adorn
the land with such.
On this most beautiful beach of smooth white pebbles, interspersed with
agates and cornelians, for those who know how to find them, we stepped,
not like the Indian, with some humble offering, which, if no better than
an arrow-head or a little parched corn, would, he judged, please the
Manitou, who looks only at the spirit in which it is offered. Our visit
was so far for a religious purpose that one of our party went to inquire
the fate of some Unitarian tracts left among the woodcutters a year or
two before. But the old Manitou, though, daunted like his children by
the approach of the fire-ships which he probably considered demons of a
new dynasty, he had suffered his woods to be felled to feed their pride,
had been less patient of an encroachment, which did not to him seem so
authorized by the law of the strongest, and had scattered those leaves
as carelessly as the others of that year.
But S. and I, like other emigrants, went not to give, but to get, to
rifle the wood of flowers for the service of the fire-ship. We returned
with a rich booty, among which was the uva ursi, whose leaves the
Indians smoke, with the kinnick-kinnick, and which had then just put
forth its highly-finished little blossoms, as pretty as those of the
Passing along still further, I thought it would be well if the crowds
assembled to stare from the various landings were still confined to the
kinnick-kinnick, for almost all had tobacco written on their faces,
their cheeks rounded with plugs, their eyes dull with its fumes. We
reached Chicago on the evening of the sixth day, having been out five
days and a half, a rather longer passage than usual at a favorable
season of the year.
Chicago, June 20.
There can be no two places in the world more completely thoroughfares
than this place and Buffalo. They are the two correspondent valves that
open and shut all the time, as the life-blood rushes from east to west,
and back again from west to east.
Since it is their office thus to be the doors, and let in and out, it
would be unfair to expect from them much character of their own. To make
the best provisions for the transmission of produce is their office, and
the people who live there are such as are suited for this; active,
complaisant, inventive, business people. There are no provisions for the
student or idler; to know what the place can give, you should be at work
with the rest, the mere traveller will not find it profitable to loiter
there as I did.
Since circumstances made it necessary for me so to do, I read all the
books I could find about the new region, which now began to become real
to me. All the books about the Indians, a paltry collection, truly, yet
which furnished material for many thoughts. The most narrow-minded and
awkward recital, still bears some lineaments of the great features of
this nature, and the races of men that illustrated them.
Catlin's book is far the best. I was afterwards assured by those
acquainted with the regions he describes, that he is not to be depended
on for the accuracy of his facts, and, indeed, it is obvious, without
the aid of such assertions, that he sometimes yields to the temptation
of making out a story. They admitted, however, what from my feelings I
was sure of, that he is true to the spirit of the scene, and that a far
better view can be got from him than from any source at present
existing, of the Indian tribes of the far west, and of the country where
their inheritance lay.
Murray's travels I read, and was charmed by their accuracy and clear
broad tone. He is the only Englishman that seems to have traversed these
regions, as man, simply, not as John Bull. He deserves to belong to an
aristocracy, for he showed his title to it more when left without a
guide in the wilderness, than he can at the court of Victoria. He has,
himself, no poetic force at description, but it is easy to make images
from his hints. Yet we believe the Indian cannot be looked at truly
except by a poetic eye. The Pawnees, no doubt, are such as he describes
them, filthy in their habits, and treacherous in their character, but
some would have seen, and seen truly, more beauty and dignity than he
does with all his manliness and fairness of mind. However, his one fine
old man is enough to redeem the rest, and is perhaps the relic of a
better day, a Phocion among the Pawnees.
Schoolcraft's Algic Researches is a valuable book, though a worse use
could hardly have been made of such fine material. Had the mythological
or hunting stones of the Indians been written down exactly as they were
received from the lips of the narrators, the collection could not have
been surpassed in interest, both for the wild charm they carry with
them, and the light they throw on a peculiar modification of life and
mind. As it is, though the incidents have an air of originality and
pertinence to the occasion, that gives us confidence that they have not
been altered, the phraseology in which they were expressed has been
entirely set aside, and the flimsy graces, common to the style of
annuals and souvenirs, substituted for the Spartan brevity and sinewy
grasp of Indian speech. We can just guess what might have been there, as
we can detect the fine proportions of the Brave whom the bad taste of
some white patron has arranged in frock-coat, hat, and pantaloons.
The few stories Mrs. Jameson wrote out, though to these also a
sentimental air has been given, offend much less in that way than is
common in this book. What would we give for a completely faithful
version of some among them. Yet with all these drawbacks we cannot doubt
from internal evidence that they truly ascribe to the Indian a delicacy
of sentiment and of fancy that justifies Cooper in such inventions as
his Uncas. It is a white man's view of a savage hero, who would be far
finer in his natural proportions; still, through a masquerade figure, it
implies the truth.
Irving's books I also read, some for the first, some for the second
time, with increased interest, now that I was to meet such people as he
received his materials from. Though the books are pleasing from their
grace and luminous arrangement, yet, with the exception of the Tour to
the Prairies, they have a stereotype, second-hand air. They lack the
breath, the glow, the charming minute traits of living presence. His
scenery is only fit to be glanced at from dioramic distance; his Indians
are academic figures only. He would have made the best of pictures, if
he could have used his own eyes for studies and sketches; as it is, his
success is wonderful, but inadequate.
McKenney's Tour to the Lakes is the dullest of books, yet faithful and
quiet, and gives some facts not to be met with elsewhere.
I also read a collection of Indian anecdotes and speeches, the worst
compiled and arranged book possible, yet not without clues of some
value. All these books I read in anticipation of a canoe-voyage on Lake
Superior as far as the Pictured Rocks, and, though I was afterwards
compelled to give up this project, they aided me in judging of what I
afterwards saw and heard of the Indians.
In Chicago I first saw the beautiful prairie flowers. They were in their
glory the first ten days we were there--
"The golden and the flame-like flowers."
The flame-like flower I was taught afterwards, by an Indian girl, to
call "Wickapee;" and she told me, too, that its splendors had a useful
side, for it was used by the Indians as a remedy for an illness to which
they were subject.
Beside these brilliant flowers, which gemmed and gilt the grass in a
sunny afternoon's drive near the blue lake, between the low oakwood and
the narrow beach, stimulated, whether sensuously by the optic nerve,
unused to so much gold and crimson with such tender green, or
symbolically through some meaning dimly seen in the flowers, I enjoyed a
sort of fairyland exultation never felt before, and the first drive amid
the flowers gave me anticipation of the beauty of the prairies.
At first, the prairie seemed to speak of the very desolation of
dullness. After sweeping over the vast monotony of the lakes to come to
this monotony of land, with all around a limitless horizon,--to walk,
and walk, and run, but never climb, oh! it was too dreary for any but a
Hollander to bear. How the eye greeted the approach of a sail, or the
smoke of a steamboat; it seemed that any thing so animated must come
from a better land, where mountains gave religion to the scene.
The only thing I liked at first to do, was to trace with slow and
unexpecting step the narrow margin of the lake. Sometimes a heavy swell
gave it expression; at others, only its varied coloring, which I found
more admirable every day, and which gave it an air of mirage instead of
the vastness of ocean. Then there was a grandeur in the feeling that I
might continue that walk, if I had any seven-leagued mode of conveyance
to save fatigue, for hundreds of miles without an obstacle and without a
But after I had rode out, and seen the flowers and seen the sun set with
that calmness seen only in the prairies, and the cattle winding slowly
home to their homes in the "island groves"--peacefullest of sights--I
began to love because I began to know the scene, and shrank no longer
from "the encircling vastness."
It is always thus with the new form of life; we must learn to look at it
by its own standard. At first, no doubt my accustomed eye kept saying,
if the mind did not, What! no distant mountains? what, no valleys? But
after a while I would ascend the roof of the house where we lived, and
pass many hours, needing no sight but the moon reigning in the heavens,
or starlight falling upon the lake, till all the lights were out in the
island grove of men beneath my feet, and felt nearer heaven that there
was nothing but this lovely, still reception on the earth; no towering
mountains, no deep tree-shadows, nothing but plain earth and water
bathed in light.
Sunset, as seen from that place, presented most generally, low-lying,
flaky clouds, of the softest serenity, "like," said S., "the Buddhist
One night a star shot madly from its sphere, and it had a fair chance to
be seen, but that serenity could not be astonished.
Yes! it was a peculiar beauty of those sunsets and moonlights on the
levels of Chicago which Chamouny or the Trosachs could not make me
Notwithstanding all the attractions I thus found out by degrees on the
flat shores of the lake, I was delighted when I found myself really on
my way into the country for an excursion of two or three weeks. We set
forth in a strong wagon, almost as large, and with the look of those
used elsewhere for transporting caravans of wild beasteses, loaded with
every thing we might want, in case nobody would give it to us--for
buying and selling were no longer to be counted on--with a pair of
strong horses, able and willing to force their way through mud holes and
amid stumps, and a guide, equally admirable as marshal and companion,
who knew by heart the country and its history, both natural and
artificial, and whose clear hunter's eye needed neither road nor goal to
guide it to all the spots where beauty best loves to dwell.
Add to this the finest weather, and such country as I had never seen,
even in my dreams, although these dreams had been haunted by wishes for
just such an one, and you may judge whether years of dullness might not,
by these bright days, be redeemed, and a sweetness be shed over all
thoughts of the West.
The first day brought us through woods rich in the moccasin flower and
lupine, and plains whose soft expanse was continually touched with
expression by the slow moving clouds which
"Sweep over with their shadows, and beneath
The surface rolls and fluctuates to the eye;
Dark hollows seem to glide along and chase
The sunny ridges,"
to the banks of the Fox river, a sweet and graceful stream. We reached
Geneva just in time to escape being drenched by a violent thunder
shower, whose rise and disappearance threw expression into all the
features of the scene.
Geneva reminds me of a New England village, as indeed there, and in the
neighborhood, are many New Englanders of an excellent stamp, generous,
intelligent, discreet, and seeking to win from life its true values.
Such are much wanted, and seem like points of light among the swarms of
settlers, whose aims are sordid, whose habits thoughtless and slovenly.
With great pleasure we heard, with his attentive and affectionate
congregation, the Unitarian clergyman, Mr. Conant, and afterward visited
him in his house, where almost everything bore traces of his own handy
work or that of his father. He is just such a teacher as is wanted in
this region, familiar enough with the habits of those he addresses to
come home to their experience and their wants; earnest and enlightened
enough to draw the important inferences from the life of every day.
A day or two we remained here, and passed some happy hours in the woods
that fringe the stream, where the gentlemen found a rich booty of fish.
Next day, travelling along the river's banks, was an uninterrupted
pleasure. We closed our drive in the afternoon at the house of an
English gentleman, who has gratified, as few men do, the common wish to
pass the evening of an active day amid the quiet influences of country
life. He showed us a bookcase filled with books about this country;
these he had collected for years, and become so familiar with the
localities that, on coming here at last, he sought and found, at once,
the very spot he wanted, and where he is as content as he hoped to be,
thus realizing Wordsworth's description of the wise man, who "sees what
A wood surrounds the house, through which paths are cut in every
direction. It is, for this new country, a large and handsome dwelling;
but round it are its barns and farm yard, with cattle and poultry.
These, however, in the framework of wood, have a very picturesque and
pleasing effect. There is that mixture of culture and rudeness in the
aspect of things as gives a feeling of freedom, not of confusion.
I wish it were possible to give some idea of this scene as viewed by the
earliest freshness of dewy dawn. This habitation of man seemed like a
nest in the grass, so thoroughly were the buildings and all the objects
of human care harmonized with what was natural. The tall trees bent and
whispered all around, as if to hail with sheltering love the men who had
come to dwell among them.
The young ladies were musicians, and spoke French fluently, having been
educated in a convent. Here in the prairie, they had learned to take
care of the milk-room, and kill the rattlesnakes that assailed their
poultry yard. Beneath the shade of heavy curtains you looked out from
the high and large windows to see Norwegian peasants at work in their
national dress. In the wood grew, not only the flowers I had before
seen, and wealth of tall, wild roses, but the splendid blue spiderwort,
that ornament of our gardens. Beautiful children strayed there, who were
soon to leave these civilized regions for some really wild and western
place, a post in the buffalo country. Their no less beautiful mother was
of Welsh descent, and the eldest child bore the name of Gwynthleon.
Perhaps there she will meet with some young descendants of Madoc, to be
her friends; at any rate, her looks may retain that sweet, wild beauty,
that is soon made to vanish from eyes which look too much on shops and
streets, and the vulgarities of city "parties."
Next day we crossed the river. We ladies crossed on a little
foot-bridge, from which we could look down the stream, and see the wagon
pass over at the ford. A black thunder cloud was coming up. The sky and
waters heavy with expectation. The motion of the wagon, with its white
cover, and the laboring horses, gave just the due interest to the
picture, because it seemed as if they would not have time to cross
before the storm came on. However, they did get across, and we were a
mile or two on our way before the violent shower obliged us to take
refuge in a solitary house upon the prairie. In this country it is as
pleasant to stop as to go on, to lose your way as to find it, for the
variety in the population gives you a chance for fresh entertainment in
every hut, and the luxuriant beauty makes every path attractive. In this
house we found a family "quite above the common," but, I grieve to say,
not above false pride, for the father, ashamed of being caught barefoot,
told us a story of a man, one of the richest men, he said, in one of the
eastern cities, who went barefoot, from choice and taste.
Near the door grew a Provence rose, then in blossom. Other families we
saw had brought with them and planted the locust. It was pleasant to see
their old home loves, brought into connection with their new splendors.
Wherever there were traces of this tenderness of feeling, only too rare
among Americans, other things bore signs also of prosperity and
intelligence, as if the ordering mind of man had some idea of home
beyond a mere shelter, beneath which to eat and sleep.
No heaven need wear a lovelier aspect than earth did this afternoon,
after the clearing up of the shower. We traversed the blooming plain,
unmarked by any road, only the friendly track of wheels which tracked,
not broke the grass. Our stations were not from town to town, but from
grove to grove. These groves first floated like blue islands in the
distance. As we drew nearer, they seemed fair parks, and the little log
houses on the edge, with their curling smokes, harmonized beautifully
One of these groves, Ross's grove, we reached just at sunset. It was of
the noblest trees I saw during this journey, for the trees generally
were not large or lofty, but only of fair proportions. Here they were
large enough to form with their clear stems pillars for grand cathedral
aisles. There was space enough for crimson light to stream through upon
the floor of water which the shower had left. As we slowly plashed
through, I thought I was never in a better place for vespers.
That night we rested, or rather tarried at a grove some miles beyond,
and there partook of the miseries so often jocosely portrayed, of
bedchambers for twelve, a milk dish for universal handbasin, and
expectations that you would use and lend your "hankercher" for a towel.
But this was the only night, thanks to the hospitality of private
families, that we passed thus, and it was well that we had this bit of
experience, else might we have pronounced all Trollopian records of the
kind to be inventions of pure malice.
With us was a 'young lady who showed herself to have been bathed in the
Britannic fluid, wittily described by a late French writer, by the
impossibility she experienced of accommodating herself to the indecorums
of the scene. We ladies were to sleep in the bar-room, from which its
drinking visitors could be ejected only at a late hour. The outer door
had no fastening to prevent their return. However, our host kindly
requested we would call him, if they did, as he had "conquered them for
us," and would do so again. We had also rather hard couches; (mine was
the supper table,) but we yankees, born to rove, were altogether too
much fatigued to stand upon trifles, and slept as sweetly as we would in
the "bigly bower" of any baroness. But I think England sat up all night,
wrapped in her blanket shawl, and with a neat lace cap upon her head; so
that she would have looked perfectly the lady, if any one had come in;
shuddering and listening. I know that she was very ill next day, in
requital. She watched, as her parent country watches the seas, that
nobody may do wrong in any case, and deserved to have met some
interruption, she was so well prepared. However, there was none, other
than from the nearness of some twenty sets of powerful lungs, which
would not leave the night to a deadly stillness. In this house we had,
if not good beds, yet good tea, good bread, and wild strawberries, and
were entertained with most free communications of opinion and history
from our hosts. Neither shall any of us have a right to say again that
we cannot find any who may be willing to hear all we may have to say.
"A's fish that comes to the net," should be painted on the sign at Papaw
In the afternoon of this day we reached the Rock river, in whose
neighborhood we proposed to make some stay, and crossed at Dixon's
This beautiful stream flows full and wide over a bed of rocks,
traversing a distance of near two hundred miles, to reach the
Mississippi. Great part of the country along its banks is the finest
region of Illinois, and the scene of some of the latest romance of
Indian warfare. To these beautiful regions Black Hawk returned with his
band "to pass the summer," when he drew upon himself the warfare in
which he was finally vanquished. No wonder he could not resist the
longing, unwise though its indulgence might be, to return in summer to
this home of beauty.
Of Illinois, in general, it has often been remarked that it bears the
character of country which has been inhabited by a nation skilled like
the English in all the ornamental arts of life, especially in landscape
gardening. That the villas and castles seem to have been burnt, the
enclosures taken down, but the velvet lawns, the flower gardens, the
stately parks, scattered at graceful intervals by the decorous hand of
art, the frequent deer, and the peaceful herd of cattle that make
picture of the plain, all suggest more of the masterly mind of man, than
the prodigal, but careless, motherly love of nature. Especially is this
true of the Rock river country. The river flows sometimes through these
parks and lawns, then betwixt high bluffs, whose grassy ridges are
covered with fine trees, or broken with crumbling stone, that easily
assumes, the forms of buttress, arch and clustered columns. Along the
face of such crumbling rocks, swallows' nests are clustered, thick as
cities, and eagles and deer do not disdain their summits. One morning,
out in the boat along the base of these rocks, it was amusing, and
affecting too, to see these swallows put their heads out to look at us.
There was something very hospitable about it, as if man had never shown
himself a tyrant near them. What a morning that was! Every sight is
worth twice as much by the early morning light. We borrow something of
the spirit of the hour to look upon them.
The first place, where we stopped was one of singular beauty, a beauty
of soft, luxuriant wildness. It was on the bend of the river, a place
chosen by an Irish gentleman, whose absenteeship seems of the wisest
kind, since for a sum which would have been but a drop of water to the
thirsty fever of his native land, he commands a residence which has all
that is desirable, in its independence, its beautiful retirement, and
means of benefit to others.
His park, his deer-chase, he found already prepared; he had only to
make an avenue through it. This brought us by a drive, which in the heat
of noon seemed long, though afterwards, in the cool of morning and
evening, delightful, to the house. This is, for that part of the world,
a large and commodious dwelling. Near it stands the log-cabin where its
master lived while it was building, a very ornamental accessory.
In front of the house was a lawn, adorned by the most graceful trees. A
few of these had been taken out to give a full view of the river,
gliding through banks such as I have described. On this bend the bank is
high and bold, so from the house or the lawn the view was very rich and
commanding. But if you descended a ravine at the side to the water's
edge, you found there a long walk on the narrow shore, with a wall above
of the richest hanging wood, in which they said the deer lay hid. I
never saw one, but often fancied that I heard them rustling, at
daybreak, by these bright clear waters, stretching out in such smiling
promise, where no sound broke the deep and blissful seclusion, unless
now and then this rustling, or the plash of some fish a little gayer
than the others; it seemed not necessary to have any better heaven, or
fuller expression of love and freedom than in the mood of nature here.
Then, leaving the bank, you would walk far and far through long grassy
paths, full of the most brilliant, also the most delicate flowers. The
brilliant are more common on the prairie, but both kinds loved this
Amid the grass of the lawn, with a profusion of wild strawberries, we
greeted also a familiar love, the Scottish harebell, the gentlest, and
most touching form of the flower-world.
The master of the house was absent, but with a kindness beyond thanks
had offered us a resting place there. Here we were taken care of by a
deputy, who would, for his youth, have been assigned the place of a page
in former times, but in the young west, it seems he was old enough for a
steward. Whatever be called his function, he did the honors of the place
so much in harmony with it, as to leave the guests free to imagine
themselves in Elysium. And the three days passed here were days of
unalloyed, spotless happiness.
There was a peculiar charm in coming here, where the choice of location,
and the unobtrusive good taste of all the arrangements, showed such
intelligent appreciation of the spirit of the scene, after seeing so
many dwellings of the new settlers, which showed plainly that they had
no thought beyond satisfying the grossest material wants. Sometimes they
looked attractive, the little brown houses, the natural architecture of
the country, in the edge of the timber. But almost always when you came
near, the slovenliness of the dwelling and the rude way in which objects
around it were treated, when so little care would have presented a
charming whole, were very repulsive. Seeing the traces of the Indians,
who chose the most beautiful sites for their dwellings, and whose habits
do not break in on that aspect of nature under which they were born, we
feel as if they were the rightful lords of a beauty they forbore to
deform. But most of these settlers do not see it at all; it breathes, it
speaks in vain to those who are rushing into its sphere. Their progress
is Gothic, not Roman, and their mode of cultivation will, in the course
of twenty, perhaps ten, years, obliterate the natural expression of the
This is inevitable, fatal; we must not complain, but look forward to a
good result. Still, in travelling through this country, I could not but
be struck with the force of a symbol. Wherever the hog comes, the
rattlesnake disappears; the omnivorous traveller, safe in its stupidity,
willingly and easily makes a meal of the most dangerous of reptiles, and
one whom the Indian looks on with a mystic awe. Even so the white
settler pursues the Indian, and is victor in the chase. But I shall say
more upon the subject by-and-by.
While we were here we had one grand thunder storm, which added new glory
to the scene.
One beautiful feature was the return of the pigeons every afternoon to
their home. Every afternoon they came sweeping across the lawn,
positively in clouds, and with a swiftness and softness of winged
motion, more beautiful than anything of the kind I ever knew. Had I been
a musician, such as Mendelsohn, I felt that I could have improvised a
music quite peculiar, from the sound they made, which should have
indicated all the beauty over which their wings bore them. I will here
insert a few lines left at this house, on parting, which feebly indicate
some of the features.
Familiar to the childish mind were tales
Of rock-girt isles amid a desert sea,
Where unexpected stretch the flowery vales
To soothe the shipwrecked sailor's misery.
Fainting, he lay upon a sandy shore,
And fancied that all hope of life was o'er;
But let him patient climb the frowning wall,
Within, the orange glows beneath the palm tree tall,
And all that Eden boasted waits his call.
Almost these tales seem realized to-day,
When the long dullness of the sultry way,
Where "independent" settlers' careless cheer
Made us indeed feel we were "strangers" here,
Is cheered by sudden sight of this fair spot,
On which "improvement" yet has made no blot,
But Nature all-astonished stands, to find
Her plan protected by the human mind.
Blest be the kindly genius of the scene;
The river, bending in unbroken grace,
The stately thickets, with their pathways green,
Fair lonely trees, each in its fittest place.
Those thickets haunted by the deer and fawn;
Those cloudlike flights of birds across the lawn;
The gentlest breezes here delight to blow,
And sun and shower and star are emulous to deck the show.
Wondering, as Crusoe, we survey the land;
Happier than Crusoe we, a friendly band;
Blest be the hand that reared this friendly home,
The heart and mind of him to whom we owe
Hours of pure peace such as few mortals know;
May he find such, should he be led to roam;
Be tended by such ministering sprites--
Enjoy such gaily childish days, such hopeful nights!
And yet, amid the goods to mortals given,
To give those goods again is most like heaven.
Hazelwood, Rock River, June 30th, 1843.
The only really rustic feature was of the many coops of poultry near the
house, which I understood it to be one of the chief pleasures of the
master to feed.
Leaving this place, we proceeded a day's journey along the beautiful
stream, to a little town named Oregon. We called at a cabin, from whose
door looked out one of those faces which, once seen, are never
forgotten; young, yet touched with many traces of feeling, not only
possible, but endured; spirited, too, like the gleam of a finely
tempered blade. It was a face that suggested a history, and many
histories, but whose scene would have been in courts and camps. At this
moment their circles are dull for want of that life which is waning
unexcited in this solitary recess.
The master of the house proposed to show us a "short cut," by which we
might, to especial advantage, pursue our journey. This proved to be
almost perpendicular down a hill, studded with young trees and stumps.
From these he proposed, with a hospitality of service worthy an
Oriental, to free our wheels whenever they should get entangled, also,
to be himself the drag, to prevent our too rapid descent. Such
generosity deserved trust; however, we women could not be persuaded to
render it. We got out and admired, from afar, the process. Left by our
guide--and prop! we found ourselves in a wide field, where, by playful
quips and turns, an endless "creek," seemed to divert itself with our
attempts to cross it. Failing in this, the next best was to whirl down a
steep bank, which feat our charioteer performed with an air not unlike
that of Rhesus, had he but been as suitably furnished with chariot and
At last, after wasting some two or three hours on the "short cut," we
got out by following an Indian trail,--Black Hawk's! How fair the scene
through which it led! How could they let themselves be conquered, with
such a country to fight for!
Afterwards, in the wide prairie, we saw a lively picture of nonchalance,
(to speak in the fashion of dear Ireland.) There, in the wide sunny
field, with neither tree nor umbrella above his head, sat a pedler, with
his pack, waiting apparently for customers. He was not disappointed. We
bought, what hold in regard to the human world, as unmarked, as
mysterious, and as important an existence, as the infusoria to the
natural, to wit, pins. This incident would have delighted those modern
sages, who, in imitation of the sitting philosophers of ancient Ind,
prefer silence to speech, waiting to going, and scornfully smile in
answer to the motions of earnest life,
"Of itself will nothing come,
That ye must still be seeking?"
However, it seemed to me to-day, as formerly on these sublime occasions,
obvious that nothing would come, unless something would go; now, if we
had been as sublimely still as the pedler, his pins would have tarried
in the pack, and his pockets sustained an aching void of pence!
Passing through one of the fine, park-like woods, almost clear from
underbrush and carpeted with thick grasses and flowers, we met, (for it
was Sunday,) a little congregation just returning from their service,
which had been performed in a rude house in its midst. It had a sweet
and peaceful air, as if such words and thoughts were very dear to them.
The parents had with them all their little children; but we saw no old
people; that charm was wanting, which exists in such scenes in older
settlements, of seeing the silver bent in reverence beside the flaxen
At Oregon, the beauty of the scene was of even a more sumptuous
character than at our former "stopping place." Here swelled the river in
its boldest course, interspersed by halcyon isles on which nature had
lavished all her prodigality in tree, vine, and flower, banked by noble
bluffs, three hundred feet high, their sharp ridges as exquisitely
definite as the edge of a shell; their summits adorned with those same
beautiful trees, and with buttresses of rich rock, crested with old
hemlocks, which wore a touching and antique grace amid the softer and
more luxuriant vegetation. Lofty natural mounds rose amidst the rest,
with the same lovely and sweeping outline, showing everywhere the
plastic power of water,--water, mother of beauty, which, by its sweet
and eager flow, had left such lineaments as human genius never dreamt
Not far from the river was a high crag, called the Pine Rock, which
looks out, as our guide observed, like a helmet above the brow of the
country. It seems as if the water left here and there a vestige of forms
and materials that preceded its course, just to set off its new and
The aspect of this country was to me enchanting, beyond any I have ever
seen, from its fullness of expression, its bold and impassioned
sweetness. Here the flood of emotion has passed over and marked
everywhere its course by a smile. The fragments of rock touch it with a
wildness and liberality which give just the needed relief. I should
never be tired here, though I have elsewhere seen country of more secret
and alluring charms, better calculated to stimulate and suggest. Here
the eye and heart are filled.
How happy the Indians must have been here! It is not long since they
were driven away, and the ground, above and below, is full of their
"The earth is full of men."
You have only to turn up the sod to find arrowheads and Indian pottery.
On an island, belonging to our host, and nearly opposite his house, they
loved to stay, and, no doubt, enjoyed its lavish beauty as much as the
myriad wild pigeons that now haunt its flower-filled shades. Here are
still the marks of their tomahawks, the troughs in which they prepared
their corn, their caches.
A little way down the river is the site of an ancient Indian village,
with its regularly arranged mounds. As usual, they had chosen with the
finest taste. It was one of those soft shadowy afternoons when we went
there, when nature seems ready to weep, not from grief, but from an
overfull heart. Two prattling, lovely little girls, and an African boy,
with glittering eye and ready grin, made our party gay; but all were
still as we entered their little inlet and trod those flowery paths.
They may blacken Indian life as they will, talk of its dirt, its
brutality, I will ever believe that the men who chose that
dwelling-place were able to feel emotions of noble happiness as they
returned to it, and so were the women that received them. Neither were
the children sad or dull, who lived so familiarly with the deer and the
birds, and swam that clear wave in the shadow of the Seven Sisters. The
whole scene suggested to me a Greek splendor, a Greek sweetness, and I
can believe that an Indian brave, accustomed to ramble in such paths,
and be bathed by such sunbeams, might be mistaken for Apollo, as Apollo
was for him by West. Two of the boldest bluffs are called the Deer's
Walk, (not because deer do _not_ walk there,) and the Eagle's Nest. The
latter I visited one glorious morning; it was that, of the fourth of
July, and certainly I think I had never felt so happy that I was born in
America. Wo to all country folks that never saw this spot, never swept
an enraptured gaze over the prospect that stretched beneath. I do
believe Rome and Florence are suburbs compared to this capital of
The bluff was decked with great bunches of a scarlet variety of the
milkweed, like cut coral, and all starred with a mysterious-looking dark
flower, whose cup rose lonely on a tall stem. This had, for two or
three days, disputed the ground with the lupine and phlox. My companions
disliked, I liked it.
Here I thought of, or rather saw, what the Greek expresses under the
form of Jove's darling, Ganymede, and the following stanzas took form.
GANYMEDE TO HIS EAGLE,
SUGGESTED BY A WORK OF THORWALDSEN'S.
Composed on the height called the Eagle's Nest, Oregon, Rock River,
July 4th, 1843.
Upon the rocky mountain stood the boy,
A goblet of pure water in his hand,
His face and form spoke him one made for joy,
A willing servant to sweet love's command,
But a strange pain was written on his brow,
And thrilled throughout his silver accents now--
"My bird," he cries, "my destined brother friend,
O whither fleets to-day thy wayward flight?
Hast thou forgotten that I here attend,
From the full noon until this sad twilight?
A hundred times, at least, from the clear spring,
Since the full noon o'er hill and valley glowed,
I've filled the vase which our Olympian king
Upon my care for thy sole use bestowed;
That at the moment when thou should'st descend,
A pure refreshment might thy thirst attend.
Hast thou forgotten earth, forgotten me,
Thy fellow bondsman in a royal cause,
Who, from the sadness of infinity,
Only with thee can know that peaceful pause
In which we catch the flowing strain of love,
Which binds our dim fates to the throne of Jove?
Before I saw thee, I was like the May,
Longing for summer that must mar its bloom,
Or like the morning star that calls the day,
Whose glories to its promise are the tomb;
And as the eager fountain rises higher
To throw itself more strongly back to earth,
Still, as more sweet and full rose my desire,
More fondly it reverted to its birth,
For, what the rosebud seeks tells not the rose,
The meaning foretold by the boy the man cannot disclose.
I was all Spring, for in my being dwelt
Eternal youth, where flowers are the fruit,
Full feeling was the thought of what was felt,
Its music was the meaning of the lute;
But heaven and earth such life will still deny,
For earth, divorced from heaven, still asks the question _Why?_
Upon the highest mountains my young feet
Ached, that no pinions from their lightness grew,
My starlike eyes the stars would fondly greet,
Yet win no greeting from the circling blue;
Fair, self-subsistent each in its own sphere,
They had no care that there was none for me;
Alike to them that I was far or near,
Alike to them, time and eternity.
But, from the violet of lower air,
Sometimes an answer to my wishing came,
Those lightning births my nature seemed to share,
They told the secrets of its fiery frame,
The sudden messengers of hate and love,
The thunderbolts that arm the hand of Jove,
And strike sometimes the sacred spire, and strike the sacred grove.
Come in a moment, in a moment gone,
They answered me, then left me still more lone,
They told me that the thought which ruled the world,
As yet no sail upon its course had furled,
That the creation was but just begun,
New leaves still leaving from the primal one,
But spoke not of the goal to which _my_ rapid wheels would run.
Still, still my eyes, though tearfully, I strained
To the far future which my heart contained,
And no dull doubt my proper hope profaned.
At last, O bliss, thy living form I spied,
Then a mere speck upon a distant sky,
Yet my keen glance discerned its noble pride,
And the full answer of that sun-filled eye;
I knew it was the wing that must upbear
My earthlier form into the realms of air.
Thou knowest how we gained that beauteous height,
Where dwells the monarch of the sons of light,
Thou knowest he declared us two to be
The chosen servants of his ministry,
Thou as his messenger, a sacred sign
Of conquest, or with omen more benign,
To give its due weight to the righteous cause,
To express the verdict of Olympian laws.
And I to wait upon the lonely spring,
Which slakes the thirst of bards to whom 'tis given
The destined dues of hopes divine to sing,
And weave the needed chain to bind to heaven.
Only from such could be obtained a draught
For him who in his early home from Jove's own cup has quaffed.
To wait, to wait, but not to wait too long,
Till heavy grows the burthen of a song;
O bird! too long hast thou been gone to-day,
My feet are weary of their frequent way,
The spell that opes the spring my tongue no more can say.
If soon thou com'st not, night will fall around,
My head with a sad slumber will be bound,
And the pure draught be spilt upon the ground.
Remember that I am not yet divine,
Long years of service to the fatal Nine
Are yet to make a Delphian vigor mine.
O, make them not too hard, thou bird of Jove,
Answer the stripling's hope, confirm his love,
Receive the service in which he delights,
And bear him often to the serene heights,
Where hands that were so prompt in serving thee,
Shall be allowed the highest ministry,
And Rapture live with bright Fidelity.
The afternoon was spent in a very different manner. The family, whose
guests we were, possessed a gay and graceful hospitality that gave zest
to each moment. They possessed that rare politeness which, while fertile
in pleasant expedients to vary the enjoyment of a friend, leaves him
perfectly free the moment he wishes to be so. With such hosts, pleasure
may be combined with repose. They lived on the bank opposite the town,
and, as their house was full, we slept in the town, and passed three
days with them, passing to and fro morning and evening in their boats.
(To one of these, called the Fairy, in which a sweet little daughter of
the house moved about lighter than any Scotch Ellen ever sung, I should
indite a poem, if I had not been guilty of rhyme on the very last page.)
At morning this was very pleasant; at evening, I confess I was generally
too tired with the excitements of the day to think it so.
Their house--a double log cabin--was, to my eye, the model of a Western
villa. Nature had laid out before it grounds which could not be
improved. Within, female taste had veiled every rudeness--availed itself
of every sylvan grace.
In this charming abode what laughter, what sweet thoughts, what pleasing
fancies, did we not enjoy! May such never desert those who reared it and
made us so kindly welcome to all its pleasures!
Fragments of city life were dexterously crumbled into the dish prepared
for general entertainment. Ice creams followed the dinner drawn by the
gentlemen from the river, and music and fireworks wound up the evening
of days spent on the Eagle's Nest. Now they had prepared a little fleet
to pass over to the Fourth of July celebration, which some queer
drumming and fifing, from the opposite bank, had announced to be "on
We found the free and independent citizens there collected beneath the
trees, among whom many a round Irish visage dimpled at the usual puffs
The orator was a New Englander, and the speech smacked loudly of Boston,
but was received with much applause, and followed by a plentiful dinner,
provided by and for the Sovereign People, to which Hail Columbia served
[Illustration: LOG CABIN AT ROCK RIVER]
Returning, the gay flotilla hailed the little flag which the children
had raised from a log-cabin, prettier than any president ever saw, and
drank the health of their country and all mankind, with a clear
Dance and song wound up the day. I know not when the mere local
habitation has seemed to me to afford so fair a chance of happiness as
this. To a person of unspoiled tastes, the beauty alone would afford
stimulus enough. But with it would be naturally associated all kinds of
wild sports, experiments, and the studies of natural history. In these
regards, the poet, the sportsman, the naturalist, would alike rejoice in
this wide range of untouched loveliness.
Then, with a very little money, a ducal estate may be purchased, and by
a very little more, and moderate labor, a family be maintained upon it
with raiment, food and shelter. The luxurious and minute comforts of a
city life are not yet to be had without effort disproportionate to their
value. But, where there is so great, a counterpoise, cannot these be
given up once for all? If the houses are imperfectly built, they can
afford immense fires and plenty of covering; if they are small, who
cares?--with such fields to roam in. In winter, it may be borne; in
summer, is of no consequence. With plenty of fish, and game, and wheat,
can they not dispense with a baker to bring "muffins hot" every morning
to the door for their breakfast?
Here a man need not take a small slice from the landscape, and fence it
in from the obtrusions of an uncongenial neighbor, and there cut down
his fancies to miniature improvements which a chicken could run over in
ten minutes. He may have water and wood and land enough, to dread no
incursions on his prospect from some chance Vandal that may enter his
neighborhood. He need not painfully economise and manage how he may use
it all; he can afford to leave some of it wild, and to carry out his own
plans without obliterating those of nature.
Here, whole families might live together, if they would. The sons might
return from their pilgrimages to settle near the parent hearth; the
daughters might find room near their mother. Those painful separations,
which already desecrate and desolate the Atlantic coast, are not
enforced here by the stern need of seeking bread; and where they are
voluntary, it is no matter. To me, too, used to the feelings which haunt
a society of struggling men, it was delightful to look upon a scene
where nature still wore her motherly smile and seemed to promise room
not only for those favored or cursed with the qualities best adapting
for the strifes of competition, but for the delicate, the thoughtful,
even the indolent or eccentric. She did not say, Fight or starve; nor
even, Work or cease to exist; but, merely showing that the apple was a
finer fruit than the wild crab, gave both room to grow in the garden.
A pleasant society is formed of the families who live along the banks of
this stream upon farms. They are from various parts of the world, and
have much to communicate to one another. Many have cultivated minds and
refined manners, all a varied experience, while they have in common the
interests of a new country and a new life. They must traverse some
space to get at one another, but the journey is through scenes that make
it a separate pleasure. They must bear inconveniences to stay in one
another's houses; but these, to the well-disposed, are only a source of
amusement and adventure.
The great drawback upon the lives of these settlers, at present, is the
unfitness of the women for their new lot. It has generally been the
choice of the men, and the women follow, as women will, doing their best
for affection's sake, but too often in heart-sickness and weariness.
Beside it frequently not being a choice or conviction of their own minds
that it is best to be here, their part is the hardest, and they are
least fitted for it. The men can find assistance in field labor, and
recreation with the gun and fishing-rod. Their bodily strength is
greater, and enables them to bear and enjoy both these forms of life.
The women can rarely find any aid in domestic labor. All its various and
careful tasks must often be performed, sick or well, by the mother and
daughters, to whom a city education has imparted neither the strength
nor skill now demanded.
The wives of the poorer settlers, having more hard work to do than
before, very frequently become slatterns; but the ladies, accustomed to
a refined neatness, feel that they cannot degrade themselves by its
absence, and struggle under every disadvantage to keep up the necessary
routine of small arrangements.
With all these disadvantages for work, their resources for pleasure are
fewer. When they can leave the housework, they have not learnt to ride,
to drive, to row, alone. Their culture has too generally been that given
to women to make them "the ornaments of society." They can dance, but
not draw; talk French, but know nothing of the language of flowers;
neither in childhood were allowed to cultivate them, lest they should
tan their complexions. Accustomed to the pavement of Broadway, they dare
not tread the wild-wood paths for fear of rattlesnakes!
Seeing much of this joylessness, and inaptitude, both of body and mind,
for a lot which would be full of blessings for those prepared for it, we
could not but look with deep interest on the little girls, and hope they
would grow up with the strength of body, dexterity, simple tastes, and
resources that would fit them to enjoy and refine the western farmer's
But they have a great deal to war with in the habits of thought acquired
by their mothers from their own early life. Everywhere the fatal spirit
of imitation, of reference to European standards, penetrates, and
threatens to blight whatever of original growth might adorn the soil.
If the little girls grow up strong, resolute, able to exert their
faculties, their mothers mourn over their want of fashionable delicacy.
Are they gay, enterprising, ready to fly about in the various ways that
teach them so much, these ladies lament that "they cannot go to school,
where they might learn to be quiet." They lament the want of "education"
for their daughters, as if the thousand needs which call out their young
energies, and the language of nature around, yielded no education.
Their grand ambition for their children, is to send them to school in
some eastern city, the measure most likely to make them useless and
unhappy at home. I earnestly hope that, ere long, the existence of good
schools near themselves, planned by persons of sufficient thought to
meet the wants of the place and time, instead of copying New York or
Boston, will correct this mania. Instruction the children want to enable
them to profit by the great natural advantages of their position; but
methods copied from the education of some English Lady Augusta, are as
ill suited to the daughter of an Illinois farmer, as satin shoes to
climb the Indian mounds. An elegance she would diffuse around her, if
her mind were opened to appreciate elegance; it might be of a kind new,
original, enchanting, as different from that of the city belle as that
of the prairie torch-flower from the shopworn article that touches the
cheek of that lady within her bonnet.
To a girl really skilled to make home beautiful and comfortable, with
bodily strength to enjoy plenty of exercise, the woods, the streams, a
few studies, music, and the sincere and familiar intercourse, far more
easily to be met here than elsewhere, would afford happiness enough. Her
eyes would not grow dim, nor her cheeks sunken, in the absence of
parties, morning visits, and milliner's shops.
As to music, I wish I could see in such places the guitar rather than
the piano, and good vocal more than instrumental music.
The piano many carry with them, because it is the fashionable instrument
in the eastern cities. Even there, it is so merely from the habit of
imitating Europe, for not one in a thousand is willing to give the labor
requisite to ensure any valuable use of the instrument.
But, out here, where the ladies have so much less leisure, it is still
less desirable. Add to this, they never know how to tune their own
instruments, and as persons seldom visit them who can do so, these
pianos are constantly out of tune, and would spoil the ear of one who
began by having any.
The guitar, or some portable instrument which requires less practice,
and could be kept in tune by themselves, would be far more desirable for
most of these ladies. It would give all they want as a household
companion to fill up the gaps of life with a pleasant stimulus or
solace, and be sufficient accompaniment to the voice in social meetings.
Singing in parts is the most delightful family amusement, and those who
are constantly together can learn to sing in perfect accord. All the
practice it needs, after some good elementary instruction, is such as
meetings by summer twilight, and evening firelight naturally suggest.
And, as music is an universal language, we cannot but think a fine
Italian duet would be as much at home in the log cabin as one of Mrs.
The sixth July we left this beautiful place. It was one of those rich
days of bright sunlight, varied by the purple shadows of large sweeping
clouds. Many a backward look we cast, and left the heart behind.
Our journey to-day was no less delightful than before, still all new,
boundless, limitless. Kinmont says, that limits are sacred; that the
Greeks were in the right to worship a god of limits. I say, that what is
limitless is alone divine, that there was neither wall nor road in Eden,
that those who walked there lost and found their way just as we did, and
that all the gain from the Fall was that we had a wagon to ride in. I do
not think, either, that even the horses doubted whether this last was
Everywhere the rattlesnake-weed grows in profusion. The antidote
survives the bane. Soon the coarser plantain, the "white man's
footstep," shall take its place.
We saw also the compass plant, and the western tea plant. Of some of the
brightest flowers an Indian girl afterwards told me the medicinal
virtues. I doubt not those students of the soil knew a use to every fair
emblem, on which we could only look to admire its hues and shape.
After noon we were ferried by a girl, (unfortunately not of the most
picturesque appearance) across the Kishwaukie, the most graceful stream,
and on whose bosom rested many full-blown water-lilies, twice as large
as any of ours. I was told that, _en revanche_, they were scentless, but
I still regret that I could not get at one of them to try.
Query, did the lilied fragrance which, in the miraculous times,
accompanied visions of saints and angels, proceed from water or garden
Kishwaukie is, according to tradition, the scene of a famous battle, and
its many grassy mounds contain the bones of the valiant. On these waved
thickly the mysterious purple flower, of which I have spoken before. I
think it springs from the blood of the Indians, as the hyacinth did from
that of Apollo's darling.
The ladies of our host's family at Oregon, when they first went there,
after all the pains and plagues of building and settling, found their
first pastime in opening one of these mounds, in which they found, I
think, three of the departed, seated in the Indian fashion.
One of these same ladies, as she was making bread one winter morning,
saw from the window a deer directly before the house. She ran out, with
her hands covered with dough, calling the others, and they caught him
bodily before he had time to escape.
Here (at Kishwaukie) we received a visit from a ragged and barefoot, but
bright-eyed gentleman, who seemed to be the intellectual loafer, the
walking Will's coffeehouse of the place. He told us many charming snake
stories; among others, of himself having seen seventeen young ones
reenter the mother snake, on the intrusion of a visiter.
This night we reached Belvidere, a flourishing town in Boon county,
where was the tomb, now despoiled, of Big Thunder. In this later day we
felt happy to find a really good hotel.
From this place, by two days of very leisurely and devious journeying,
we reached Chicago, and thus ended a journey, which one at least of the
party might have wished unending.
I have not been particularly anxious to give the geography of the
scene, inasmuch as it seemed to me no route, nor series of stations, but
a garden interspersed with cottages, groves and flowery lawns, through
which a stately river ran. I had no guide-book, kept no diary, do not
know how many miles we travelled each day, nor how many in all. What I
got from the journey was the poetic impression of the country at large;
it is all I have aimed to communicate.
The narrative might have been made much more interesting, as life was at
the time, by many piquant anecdotes and tales drawn from private life.
But here courtesy restrains the pen, for I know those who received the
stranger with such frank kindness would feel ill requited by its
becoming the means of fixing many spy-glasses, even though the scrutiny
might be one of admiring interest, upon their private homes.
For many of these, too, I was indebted to a friend, whose property they
more lawfully are. This friend was one of those rare beings who are
equally at home in nature and with man. He knew a tale of all that ran
and swam, and flew, or only grew, possessing that extensive familiarity
with things which shows equal sweetness of sympathy and playful
penetration. Most refreshing to me was his unstudied lore, the unwritten
poetry which common life presents to a strong and gentle mind. It was a
great contrast to the subtleties of analysis, the philosophic strainings
of which I had seen too much. But I will not attempt to transplant it.
May it profit others as it did me in the region where it was born,
where it belongs. The evening of our return to Chicago the sunset was of
a splendor and calmness beyond any we saw at the West. The twilight that
succeeded was equally beautiful; soft, pathetic, but just so calm. When
afterwards I learned this was the evening of Allston's death, it seemed
to me as if this glorious pageant was not without connection with that
event; at least, it inspired similar emotions,--a heavenly gate closing
a path adorned with shows well worthy Paradise.
* * * * *
Farewell, ye soft and sumptuous solitudes!
Ye fairy distances, ye lordly woods,
Haunted by paths like those that Poussin knew,
When after his all gazers eyes he drew;
I go,--and if I never more may steep
An eager heart in your enchantments deep,
Yet ever to itself that heart may say,
Be not exacting; thou hast lived one day;
Hast looked on that which matches with thy mood,
Impassioned sweetness of full being's flood,
Where nothing checked the bold yet gentle wave,
Where nought repelled the lavish love that gave.
A tender blessing lingers o'er the scene,
Like some young mother's thought, fond, yet serene,
And through its life new-born our lives have been.
Once more farewell,--a sad, a sweet farewell;
And, if I never must behold you more,
In other worlds I will not cease to tell
The rosary I here have numbered o'er;
And bright-haired Hope will lend a gladdened ear,
And Love will free him from the grasp of Fear,
And Gorgon critics, while the tale they hear,
Shall dew their stony glances with a tear,
If I but catch one echo from your spell;--
And so farewell,--a grateful, sad farewell!
Chicago had become interesting to me now, that I knew it as the portal
to so fair a scene. I had become interested in the land, in the people,
and looked sorrowfully on the lake on which I must soon embark, to leave
behind what I had just begun to enjoy.
Now was the time to see the lake. The July moon was near its full, and
night after night it rose in a cloudless sky above this majestic sea.
The heat was excessive, so that there was no enjoyment of life, except
in the night, but then the air was of that delicious temperature, worthy
of orange groves. However, they were not wanted;--nothing was, as that
full light fell on the faintly rippling waters which then seemed
A poem received shortly after, from a friend in Massachusetts, seemed to
say that the July moon shone there not less splendid, and may claim
So pure her forehead's dazzling white,
So swift and clear her radiant eyes,
Within the treasure of whose light
Lay undeveloped destinies,--
Of thoughts repressed such hidden store
Was hinted by each flitting smile,
I could but wonder and adore,
Far off, in awe, I gazed the while.
I gazed at her, as at the moon,
Hanging in lustrous twilight skies,
Whose virgin crescent, sinking soon,
Peeps through the leaves before it flies.
Untouched Diana, flitting dim,
While sings the wood its evening hymn.
Again we met. O joyful meeting!
Her radiance now was all for me,
Like kindly airs her kindly greeting,
So full, so musical, so free.
Within romantic forest aisles,
Within romantic paths we walked,
I bathed me in her sister smiles,
I breathed her beauty as we talked.
So full-orbed Cynthia walks the skies,
Filling the earth with melodies,
Even so she condescends to kiss
Drowsy Endymions, coarse and dull,
Or fills our waking souls with bliss,
Making long nights too beautiful.
O fair, but fickle lady-moon,
Why must thy full form ever wane?
O love! O friendship! why so soon
Must your sweet light recede again?
I wake me in the dead of night,
And start,--for through the misty gloom
Red Hecate stares--a boding sight!--
Looks in, but never fills my room.
Thou music of my boyhood's hour!
Thou shining light on manhood's way!
No more dost thou fair influence shower
To move my soul by night or day.
O strange! that while in hall and street
Thy hand I touch, thy grace I meet,
Such miles of polar ice should part
The slightest touch of mind and heart!
But all thy love has waned, and so
I gladly let thy beauty go.
Now that I am borrowing, I will also give a letter received at this
time, and extracts from others from an earlier traveller, and in a
different region of the country from that I saw, which, I think, in
different ways, admirably descriptive of the country.
[Illustration: PRAIRIE & LONG GROVE IN THE DISTANCE]
"And you, too, love the Prairies, flying voyager of a summer hour; but
_I_ have only there owned the wild forest, the wide-spread meadows;
there only built my house, and seen the livelong day the thoughtful
shadows of the great clouds color, with all-transient browns, the
untrampled floor of grass; there has Spring pranked the long smooth
reaches with those golden flowers, whereby became the fields a sea
too golden to o'erlast the heats. Yes! and with many a yellow bell she
gilded our unbounded path, that sank in the light swells of the varied
surface, skirted the unfilled barrens, nor shunned the steep banks of
rivers darting merrily on. There has the white snow frolicsomely strown
itself, till all that vast, outstretched distance glittered like a
mirror in which only the heavens were reflected, and among these drifts
our steps have been curbed. Ah! many days of precious weather are on the
"You have then found, after many a weary hour, when Time has locked your
temples as in a circle of heated metal, some cool, sweet, swift-gliding
moments, the iron ring of necessity ungirt, and the fevered pulses at
rest. You have also found this where fresh nature suffers no ravage,
amid those bowers of wild-wood, those dream-like, bee-sung, murmuring
and musical plains, swimming under their hazy distances, as if there, in
that warm and deep back ground, stood the fairy castle of our hopes,
with its fountains, its pictures, its many mystical figures in repose.
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