« PreviousContinue »
in early summer nights, would remind me of the times and scenes of our old acquaintance. I would think of the days when with young ideas I first traced on the map the little crooked line of the far-distant Ohio. As I looked back to those pleasant days, contemplated the peaceful haven I had left, and saw myself fairly adrift among the vicissitudes of life, and thought of the sorrow and disappointment that had already come upon me, a sigh would overcome pleasant emotions; the night-winds would have a solemn sound; gloom would gather over my soul, and darkness arise in my way like, the mountains which now and then seemed to shut up the course of the river: a sadness would come over my heart, dark as the shadow of the bluff which the old boat drifted under. But these April clouds soon passed away: my elastic spirits would be aroused; a little enthusiasm would discern the bright hopes twinkling afar, and my changeful heart presently beat high again with joyful anticipations. And the boat would sweep around the base of the bluff, and shoot out into the clear light; and the river appeared again, far-extending, with the mild moon smiling from heaven on its gentle way, gilding its banks, and lighting it on through a long course of peaceful glory.
'During my sojourn in those regions, our camp was usually fixed on the bank of the stream. Good books and flutes were not wanting, nor sweet-tempered companions; and at evening, when the day's toil was done, there were bright faces gathered at the camp. It was a pleasant scene after supper, when the song, the story, and the laugh went round. Not unfrequently, too, at that late hour, the joyful shout might be heard from some weary loiterer, as the first glimpse of his home flashed upon him from the hills. We had most of the true delights of civilization, and enjoyed them with the zest of the wilderness. We slept sweetly in the free air, and awoke fresh with the birds at balmy dawn. It was the perfection of early
'My companions were fond of hunting; and many a long day have I spent alone in the shade of the solitary camp, with no company but a book, and no sound to disturb me but the hollow echoes of the forest, the footsteps of the birds among the branches of the trees, and the pleasant whispers of the rippling waters. Sometimes, when the sun declined, and the long shadows stretched across the river, soft strains from the flute of some one of the wanderers would come back from the mountain, to the lively notes of some familiar tune, seeming like the spirit of the old cultivated air, in exile, and gracefully wooing the sweet wild echoes. When the shades of evening fell around, and the cook's generous fire blazed up, and the old teakettle hissed and whistled between the forkedd-props, it was with pleasant social emotions, that meditating a few cheerful sallies, I sat down to await the return of my companions. But in such a situation, a man will gradually sink into sober reflections; and when night and darkness had fallen around, and the silence remained unbroken, old fire-side feelings would come seeking my heart like the humble friends of our early days. Old faces, forms once familiar, the generous, the kind, of former years, would congregate around me; and by-and-by, when one of my companions did return, and weary and heavy-laden came moving from the darkness into the bright circle of
the fire-light, he would seem like one of the spirit-throng, until the noise startled me into a strange confusion between the vision and the reality.
'Sometimes when the camp was thus deserted, and often on the still Sabbath, I used to ascend the mountain, and lie down on some airy crag, from which I could look over into the vallies, and down on the tops of the interlocking ridges, terminating in bluffs and steep promontories, frowning like rude giants along the way; while the river, like a beautiful maiden, went turning and winding gracefully to pass them by. Sometimes a solitary flat-boat might be seen drifting around the base of the distant mountain; or a hawk, on easy wing, sailing in his lofty circles. And there would be all the magic of shadow and sunshine; the woods inverted in the margin of the bright blue waters, and the shade of the clouds passing over the still forests, like the smiles of sleep.
Nature always seemed to me to 'keep Sabbath' in the wilderness. I used to fancy that the wild birds were more quiet on that day, sitting on the branches with their heads under their wings, smoothing their plumage, or looking quietly about them, and sometimes venturing a faint warble, scarcely above a whisper. And I have seen a large wolfish animal stand for hours upon a dry log, on the bank of the river, contemplating the stream, or gazing into the air; once or twice, perhaps, starting suddenly a few paces, but then halting as if he had given up the idea; and his tail all the while hanging listlessly down, as if indicating that no enterprise could be undertaken on that day. Just like the merchant who may be seen in the city, on a bright Sunday morning, in clean shirt collar, and with hands thrust into his pockets, loitering slowly down the street, or standing in ruminating attitude at the corner, pondering carefully every step of the morrow's tangled path, or perhaps calculating the amount of time lost in Sundays, by the whole world, taken individually and collectively, from Moses' day to the present time; but on the whole, enduring the Sabbath with Christian resignation.
And up there, as I looked down on man and those quiet scenes, I used to muse, and moralize, and fall into reveries of early wisdom. I could not help thinking of the sound of the church-bell that was coming to break up those silent Sabbaths, and in the true spirit of civilization, to usurp the old caves, and send all the wild echoes packing. What a delightful world this would be,' thought I, 'if man could cultivate his grain on the plains, and be content to build his house out of sight between the hills; to make his paths invisible under the woods, and leave the forests to robe sweet Nature, and shelter his own frail works from the storms!' But, alas! he retains his fatal thirst for knowledge and improvement. He is not content to enjoy his noble heritage, as heaven has fitted it up for him; he must needs tinker about it, and fashion it anew; and like all quacks, he brings ruin around him, and then takes to his heels. Thus it is that 'the star of empire is setting westward.' From his first step in Eden, on the banks of the Euphrates, his course is marked by barrenness and desolation. Man comes like the migratory armies of grubs and locusts, destroying every thing in his way, and leaving nakedness and devastation in the rear. He comes in a blind rage,
sweeping the land with the besom of civilization. He will descend into these valleys like a tornado, stripping Nature of her brightest charms; digging into her bosom for the coal mine; marring her beauty by the gravelly track of the rail-road, and the slimy course of the canal. Here he will build the city, with its hideous upturned suburbs, where gangs of laborers will be working out the labyrinth of streets, like delving worms. And in the height of his havoc, he will plant in the naked scene the rectangular orchard, and rear the gaudy, glaring house; and then he will strut as he looks around and thinks how he is improving and adorning the landscape! And weeping Nature will never truly smile again in these scenes, until at least ten centuries after this bustling storm has passed over the Rocky Mountains, and died away in fishing huts on the shore of the Pacific.
'When I had been a little more than a year in the wilderness, I set out on a long-cherished equestrian tour through the wild valleys, and over the mountains homeward. It was at the time when one Hares, a desperate ruffian, haunted the Alleghanies; and as I had more than a year's pay in my pocket, I accepted a pair of small pocket-pistols, which a sagacious friend pressed upon me. I travelled up the valley of the Ohio by slow and agreeable journeys; and tried the comforts of some of those hospitable farm-houses, which had so charmed me as I went down. I crossed the Ohio in the mists of morning at Wheeling; surveyed that little hill-side town by sunrise, and went on to the mountains. On that day I made a long journey : at evening I stopped at a poor inn, surrounded by great teams, and crowded with rude teamsters. I was much fatigued, and would willingly have remained there; but I found no rest for the sole of my foot. I could generally, in the worst situations of a rambler's life, lie down on the ground, or a cotton-bale, or a bench, and repose, careless and comfortable, let what might be going on around me. But this inn tried me sorely. The smell of old pipes, and the roar of loud voices, in a jargon like that of Babel, penetrated to every part of the house. I walked about, nervous and fidgety; until at last I said to myself, 'I cannot remain here.' Then I felt relieved. I almost think there was fate in it.
'At eight o'clock, the moon arose, broad and brilliant; and I set forward, fully determined to find more agreeable quarters, or at the worst, to make a pleasant night-journey. I was delighted with the moon-lit scenery, and kept on in pleasant reverie, over hill and through dusky valley, until long after midnight. I was approaching a small bridge; a branch of the road turned down through the stream, and I took that way. It was darkly overhung with trees; and just as I was coming under the shade, two men stepped out, took my horse by the bridle, and brought me to a stand so suddenly and so quietly, that I hardly comprehended the manœuvre. I was interrupted in a delicious reverie; and for a moment I felt all the confusion of a dream : but a great horse-pistol at my breast soon restored my senses. 'It would be a sad thing to die here all alone in the woods with a lie in your mouth; so 'fess clean!' said one of the ruffians; beginning in a low tone, tremulous with restrained energy, and breaking at the end into a voice that startled my nerves like a clap of thunder. He was a great tall, bony villain; with broad shoulders, and a fist like a
blacksmith's. His eye chilled me to the heart: the cold white was exposed to a horrible extent; and his broad mouth and protruding jaws looked sufficiently wolfish to eat me up.
I put my hand into my pocket for my money, without a moment's hesitation. One of the pistols of which I have spoken was at the bottom: it was the first thing I took hold of, and courage crept up from the little thing to my heart. I drew it slowly forth, thrust it into the ruffian's face, and fired. I had not a proper hold of it; it turned in my hand; and instead of blowing his brains out, it only sent the charge through his cheek, and burnt his face. His pistol went off at the same instant; but more in the direction of his friend than me. The latter fled, and my horse made a bound; but the huge ruffian held me by the shoulder: he jerked me off; dashed me on the ground; stamped upon me, kicked me, choked me, and beat me over the head with his great pistol, until I was well nigh insensible. He had the activity as well as the ferocity of a tiger. Having wreaked his vengeance, he took my pocket-book, hurled me over into the sidedrain, and vanished in the forest.
'MORE TRUTH THAN POETRY.'
IN LINES TO A LADY: BY THE AUTHOR OF 'MY FISHING GROUND.'
A LADY asks. The harp I strung
Was shattered when I touched it last;
A lady asks: some angel strain
And briefly stir its cords again,
With seraph sounds it loved so well!
A lady asks: a rose is she,
Full blown and sweet, with love's dew wet;
Her virtues cluster, as you see
Around the stem the rose-leaves set,
A lady asks: it would be rash;
Not Beauty's eye, with glances bright,
Yet Genius' self scarce opes the door;
'T was Mammon struck the fatal blow,
It is as well: for oh! how brief
The romance in that soul of thine!
As age and care their mildew bring:
H. H. R,
LETTER FROM JOHN WATERS.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE KNICKERBOCKER,
THY courteous reception, admired chronicler, of an Advértisement that I sent thee some time agone, hath brought me not intrusively?— again into the light of thy presence.
may I hope
From time to time my heart, gathering up almost unconsciously to itself the varied sweets of intercourse and observation, longs for a depository of its acquisitions with an ardor that refuses to be withstayed. May I not be permitted to regard thy pages as my prepared cells and let those of thy readers who delight in the cultivation of flowers not disdain the result of an industry, of which they may themselves perchance have contributed to the success.
Dost thou, who as an Editor art bound to know every thing; to have thought and read upon every subject; and within the compass of a short flight of time to have visited every place; dost thou remem
ber the corner house in the city of Perugia, in Italy, where strangers are shewn a small collection of paintings while their horses are changed and their passports examined? Dost thou remember the old gentleman who was the proprietor of these paintings, and the air of suppressed testiness with which he began the exhibition of them?-how wonderfully it wore off when you reached his beautiful specimen of the Boтus!-how he forgot his rheumatic gout as he stood in front of it, dilating on the peculiar excellencies of the two Brothers! 'The back-ground was formed by a view of the yellow Appenines. The time which the painters had chosen was mid-summer, at the last hour of sunlight. With what a warm and golden haze the atmosphere is charged, so that the broken branch of a tree in the centre of the piece seems almost to float athwart the sky; and what a sky! and what clouds! See how the light lingers about the scarlet doublet of the peasant at the foot of the tree! Behold the dog at his side, and the loaded ass in panniers retiring slowly up the rear! And then the group of cattle and of goats standing in water in the fore-ground, and the setting sun casting his blessed rays over the back of that white cow! And all this was the work, not of one artist, but of two! The landscape, the sky, the clouds, the trees, the water, the atmosphere, are by John Both; the figures, the cattle, by Andrew Both.
'The golden light which the pencil of the one brother had diffused in the back-ground, and which breathes in the atmosphere, is collected by the other, and made to dwell, with a concentrated force of expression, upon the objects to which the latter calls the attention of the rapt spectator! And this with so nice a graduation of thought and color, that one might almost as easily believe the Rose to be the product of two bushes, as this picture that of two minds. Oh, Sirs! oh, Madam! what shall we say of artists who can make the dumb works of GoD speak to the soul of man in such a language as this!' Since I returned home, I have consulted various lives of the painters, and have found that the enthusiastic old gentleman was correct in his facts. The two Brothers lived for six years together in Ve