Part 4 out of 5
--illustrating that wonderful law of identity which is the
great discovery of modern science. Every child knows this peculiarity
of the water-lily, but the extent of it seems to vary with season and
locality, and sometimes one finds a succession of flowers almost
entirely free from this confusion of organs.
Our readers may not care to know that the order of Nymphaeaceae
"differs from Ranunculaceae in the consolidation of its carpels, from
Papaveraceae in the placentation not being parietal, and from
Nelumbiaceae in the want of a large truncated disc containing
monospermous achenia"; but they may like to know that the water-lily
has relations on land, in all gradations of society, from poppy to
magnolia, and yet does not conform its habits precisely to those of
any of them. Its great black roots, sometimes as large as a man's arm,
form a network at the bottom of the water. Its stem floats, an airy
four-celled tube, adapting itself to the depth, though never stiff in
shallows, like the stalk of the yellow lily: and it contracts and
curves when seed-time approaches, though not so ingeniously as the
spiral threads of the European Vallisneria, which uncoil to let the
flowers rise to the surface, and then cautiously retract, that the
seeds may ripen on the very bottom of the lake. The leaves show
beneath the magnifier beautiful adaptations of structure. They are
not, like those of land-plants, constructed with deep veins to receive
the rain and conduct it to the stem, but are smooth and glossy, and of
even surface. The leaves of land-vegetation have also thousands of
little breathing-pores, principally on the under side: the apple-leaf,
for instance, has twenty-four thousand to a square inch. But here they
are fewer; they are wholly on the upper side, and, whereas in other
cases they open or shut according to the moisture of the atmosphere,
here the greedy leaves, secure of moisture, scarcely deign to close
them. Nevertheless, even these give some recognition of hygrometric
necessities, and, though living on the water, and not merely
christened with dewdrops like other leaves, but baptized by immersion
all the time, they are yet known to suffer in drought and to take
pleasure in the rain.
We have spoken of the various kindred of the water-lily; but we must
not leave our fragrant subject without due mention of its most
magnificent, most lovely relative, at first claimed even as its twin
sister, and classed as a Nymphaea. We once lived near neighbor to a
Victoria Regia. Nothing, in the world of vegetable existence, has such
a human interest. The charm is not in the mere size of the plant,
which disappoints everybody, as Niagara does, when tried by that sole
standard. The leaves of the Victoria, indeed, attain a diameter of six
feet; the largest flowers, of twenty-three inches,--less than four
times the size of the largest of our water-lilies. But it is not the
mere looks of the Victoria, it is its life which fascinates. It is not
a thing merely of dimensions, nor merely of beauty, but a creature of
vitality and motion. Those vast leaves expand and change almost
visibly. They have been known to grow half an inch an hour, eight
inches a day. Rising one day from the water, a mere clenched mass of
yellow prickles, a leaf is transformed the next day to a crimson
salver, gorgeously tinted on its upturned rim. Then it spreads into a
raft of green, armed with long thorns, and supported by a frame-work
of ribs and cross-pieces, an inch thick, and so substantial, that the
Brazil Indians, while gathering the seed-vessels, place their young
children on the leaves;--_yrupe_, or water-platter, they call the
accommodating plant. But even these expanding leaves are not the glory
of the Victoria; the glory is in the opening of the flower.
We have sometimes looked in, for a passing moment, at the green-house,
its dwelling-place, during the period of flowering,--and then stayed
for more than an hour, unable to leave the fascinating scene. After
the strange flower-bud has reared its dark head from the placid tank,
moving it a little, uneasily, like some imprisoned water-creature, it
pauses for a moment in a sort of dumb despair. Then trembling again,
and collecting all its powers, it thrusts open, with an indignant
jerk, the rough calyx-leaves, and the beautiful disrobing begins. The
firm, white, central cone, first so closely infolded, quivers a
little, and swiftly, before your eyes, the first of the hundred petals
detaches its delicate edges, and springs back, opening towards the
water, while its white reflection opens to meet it from below. Many
moments of repose follow,--you watch,--another petal trembles,
detaches, springs open, and is still. Then another, and another, and
another. Each movement is so quiet, yet so decided, so living, so
human, that the radiant creature seems a Musidora of the water, and
you almost blush with a sense of guilt, in gazing on that peerless
privacy. As petal by petal slowly opens, there still stands the
central cone of snow, a glacier, an alp, a jungfrau, while each
avalanche of whiteness seems the last. Meanwhile, a strange rich odor
fills the air, and Nature seems to concentrate all fascinations and
claim all senses for this jubilee of her darling.
So pass the enchanted moments of the evening, till the fair thing
pauses at last, and remains for hours unchanged. In the morning, one
by one, those white petals close again, shutting all their beauty in,
and you watch through the short sleep for the period of waking. Can
this bright transfigured creature appear again, in the same chaste
beauty? Your fancy can scarcely trust it, fearing some disastrous
change; and your fancy is too true a prophet. Come again, after the
second day's opening, and you start at the transformation which one
hour has secretly produced. Can this be the virgin Victoria,--this
thing of crimson passion, this pile of pink and yellow, relaxed,
expanded, voluptuous, lolling languidly upon the water, never to rise
again? In this short time every tint of every petal is transformed; it
is gorgeous in beauty, but it is "Hebe turned to Magdalen."
But our rustic water-lily, our innocent Nymphaea, never claiming such
a hot-house glory, never drooping into such a blush, blooms on
placidly in the quiet waters, till she modestly folds her leaves for
the last time, and bows her head beneath the surface forever. Next
year she lives for us only in her children, fair and pure as herself.
Nay, not alone in them, but also in memory. The fair vision will not
fade from us, though the paddle has dipped its last crystal drop from
the waves, and the boat is drawn upon the shore. We may yet visit many
lovely and lonely places,--meadows thick with violet, or the homes of
the shy Rhodora, or those sloping forest-haunts where the slight
Linnaea hangs its twin-born heads,--but no scene will linger on our
vision like this annual Feast of the Lilies. On scorching mountains,
amid raw prairie-winds, or upon the regal ocean, the white pageant
shall come back to us again, with all the luxury of summer heats, and
all the fragrant coolness that can relieve them. We shall fancy
ourselves again among these fleets of anchored lilies,--again, like
Urvasi, sporting amid the Lake of Lotuses.
For that which is remembered is often more vivid than that which is
seen. The eye paints better in the presence, the heart in the absence,
of the object most dear. "He who longs after beautiful Nature can best
describe her," said Bettine; "he who is in the midst of her loveliness
can only lie down and enjoy." It enhances the truth of the poet's
verses, that he writes them in his study. Absence is the very air of
passion, and all the best description is _in memoriam_. As with our
human beloved, when the graceful presence is with us, we cannot
analyze or describe, but merely possess, and only after its departure
can it be portrayed by our yearning desires; so is it with Nature:
only in losing her do we gain the power to describe her, and we are
introduced to Art, as we are to Eternity, by the dropping away of our
FIFTY AND FIFTEEN.
With gradual gleam the day was dawning,
Some lingering stars were seen,
When swung the garden-gate behind us,--
He fifty, I fifteen.
The high-topped chaise and old gray pony
Stood waiting in the lane:
Idly my father swayed the whip-lash,
Lightly he held the rein.
The stars went softly back to heaven,
The night-fogs rolled away,
And rims of gold and crowns of crimson
Along the hill-tops lay.
That morn, the fields, they surely never
So fair an aspect wore;
And never from the purple clover
Such perfume rose before.
O'er hills and low romantic valleys
And flowery by-roads through,
I sang my simplest songs, familiar,
That he might sing them too.
Our souls lay open to all pleasure,--
No shadow came between;
Two children, busy with their leisure,--
He fifty, I fifteen.
* * * * *
As on my couch in languor, lonely,
I weave beguiling rhyme,
Comes back with strangely sweet remembrance
That far-removed time.
The slow-paced years have brought sad changes,
That morn and this between;
And now, on earth, my years are fifty,
And his, in heaven, fifteen.
ILLINOIS IN SPRING-TIME: WITH A LOOK AT CHICAGO.
I remember very well, that, when I studied the "Arabian Nights," with
a devotion which I have since found it difficult to bestow on the
perusal of better books, the thing that most excited my imagination
was the enchanted locomotive carpet, granted by one of the amiable
genii to his favorite, to whom it gave the power of being in a moment
where nobody expected him, paying visits at the most unfashionable
hours, and making himself generally ubiquitous when interest or
curiosity prompted. The other wonders were none of them inexhaustible.
Donkeys that talked after their heads were cutoff, just as well as
some donkeys do with them on,--old cats turned into beautiful
damsels,--birds that obligingly carried rings between parted
lovers,--one soon had enough of. Caves full of gold and silver, and
lighted by gems resplendent as the stars, were all very well, but soon
tired. After your imagination had selected a few rings and bracelets,
necklaces and tiaras, and carried off one or two chests full of gold,
what could it do with the rest,--especially as they might vanish or
turn to pebbles or hazel-nuts in your caskets?
But flying carpets! They could never tire. You seated yourself just in
the middle, in the easiest possible attitude, and at a wish you were
off, (not off the carpet, but off this work-a-day world,) careering
through sunny fields of air with the splendid buoyancy of the eagle,
steering your intelligent vehicle by a mere thought, and descending,
gently as a snow-flake, to garden-bower or palace-window, moonlit
kiosk or silent mountain-peak, as whim suggested or affairs urged.
This was magic indeed, and worthy the genii of any age.
The sense of reality with which I accepted this wonder of wonders has
furnished forth many a dream, sleeping and waking, since those days;
and it is no uncommon thing for me, even now, to be sailing through
the air, feeling its soft waves against my face, and the delicious
refreshment of the upper ether in my breast, only to wake as if I had
dropped into bed with a celerity that made the arrival upon earth
anything but pleasant. I am not sure but there is some reality in
these flights, after all. These aerial journeys may be foretastes of
those we shall make after we are freed from the incumbrance of
avoirdupois. I hope so, at least.
Yet there are good things of the kind here below, too. After all, what
were a magic carpet that could carry a single lucky wight,--at best,
but a species of heavenly sulky,--compared with a railroad train that
speeds along hundreds of men, women, and children, over land and
water, with any amount of heavy baggage, as well as a boundless extent
of crinoline? And if this equipage, gift of genii of our age, seem to
lack some of the celerity and secrecy which attended the voyagers of
the flying carpet, suppose we add the power of whispering to a friend
a thousand miles off the inmost thoughts of the heart, the most
desperate plans, the most dangerous secrets! Do not the two powers
united leave the carpet immeasurably behind?
Shakspeare is said, in those noted lines,--
"Dear as the ruddy drops
That visit this sad heart,"
to have anticipated the discovery of the circulation of the blood: did
not the writers of the Oriental stories foresee rail and telegraph,
and describe them in their own tropical style?
It is often said, that, although medical science leaves us pretty much
as it found us with regard to the days of the years of our pilgrimage,
and has as yet, with all its discoveries, done little towards
prolonging "this pleasing, anxious being," yet the material
improvements of our day do in effect lengthen mortal life for us. And
truly, what must Indian life have been worth, when it took a month to
cut down a tree with a stone hatchet, and when the shaping of a canoe
was the work of a year? When two hundred miles of travel consumed a
week's time, every two hundred miles' journey was worth a week's life;
and if we accept the idea of a certain celebrated character, (not
"Quintus Curtius," but Geoffrey Crayon, I believe,) that the time we
spend in journeying is just so much subtracted from our little span of
days, what a fearful loss of life must have resulted from our old
modes of locomotion! And yet we inconsiderately grumble at an
occasional smash-up! So easily are we spoiled!
There are grave doubts, however, in some minds, whether our present
celerity of travel be wholly a gain upon the old methods. It must
depend upon circumstances. If agreeable people virtually live longer
now, so do bores, cheats, slanderers, hypocrites, and people who eat
onions and chew tobacco; and the rail enables these to pursue their
victims with inevitable, fatal swiftness.
Some hold that the pleasure of travelling is even impaired by this
increase of speed. There is such a thing as fatal facility. As well
eat a condensed dinner, or hear a concert in one comprehensive crash,
ear-splitting and soul-confounding, as see miles of landscape at a
glance. Willis says, travelling on an English railway is equivalent to
having so many miles of green damask unrolled before your weary eyes.
And one may certainly have too much of a good thing.
But, instead of discussing railroads in general,--too grand a theme
for me,--let me say that nobody can persuade me it is not delightful
to fly over ground scarcely yet trodden by the foot of man; to
penetrate, with the most subtle resources of inventive art, the
recesses in which Nature has enshrined herself most privately,--her
dressing-room, as it were, where we find her in her freshness, before
man-milliners have marred her beauty by attempts at improvement. The
contrast between that miracle of art, a railroad-train at full speed,
and a wide, lonely prairie, or a dusky forest, leafless, chilly, and
silent,--save for the small tinkling of streams beginning to break
from their frosty limits,--is one of the most striking in all the wide
range of rural effects. It reminds me, though perhaps unaccountably to
some, of Browning's fine image,--
"And ever and anon some bright white shaft
Burnt through the pine-tree roof, here burnt
As if God's messenger through the close
Plunged and re-plunged his weapon at a venture."
Even where fields have begun to be tilled and houses and barns to be
built, the scared flying of domestic animals at sound of the terrific
visitor,--the resistless chariot of civilization with scythed axles
mowing down ignorance and prejudice as it whirls along,--tells a whole
story of change and wonder. We can almost see the shadows of the past
escaping into the dim woods, or flitting over the boundless prairie,
shivering at the fearful whistle, and seeking shelter from the wind of
The season for this romantic pleasure of piercing primeval Nature on
the wings of subtilest Art is rapidly drawing to a close. How few
penetrable regions can we now find where the rail-car is a novelty!
The very cows and horses, in most places, know--when to expect it, and
hardly vouchsafe a sidelong glance as they munch their green dinner. A
railroad to the Pacific may give excitement of this kind a somewhat
longer date, but those who would enjoy the sensation on routes already
in use must begin their explorings at once. There is no time to be
lost. If we much longer spend all our summers in beating the
changeless paths of the Old World, our chance for the fresh but
fleeting delight I have been speaking of will have passed by, never to
return. It were unwise to lose this, one of the few remaining avenues
to a new sensation. Europe will keep; but the prairies will not, the
woods will not, hardly the rivers. Already the flowery waving oceans
of Illinois begin to abound in ships, or what seem such,--houses
looming up from the horizon, like three-masters sometimes, sometimes
schooners, and again little tentative sloops. These are creeping
nearer and nearer together, filling and making commonplace those
lovely deserts where the imagination can still find wings, and
world-wearied thought a temporary repose. "Where neighbors were once
out of beacon-sight, they are now within bell-sound; and however
pleasant this may be for the neighbors, it is not so good for the
traveller, especially the traveller who has seen Europe. Only think of
a virgin forest or prairie, after over-populated Belgium or finished
England! Europeans understand the thing, and invariably rush for the
prairies; but we Americans, however little we may have seen of either
world, care little for the wonders of our own. Yet, when we go abroad,
we cannot help blushing to acknowledge that we have not seen the most
striking features of our own country. I speak from experience. Scott,
describing the arid wastes of the Hebrides,--
"Placed far amid the melancholy main,"
and swept bare by wintry-cold sea-breezes, said,--
"Yes! 'twas sublime, but sad; the loneliness
Loaded thy heart, the desert tired thine eye."
But how different the loneliness of a soft-waving prairie,--soft even
before the new grass springs; soft in outline, in coloring, in its
whispering silence! Nothing sad or harsh; no threat or repulsion; only
mild hope, and promise of ease and abundance. Whether the glad flames
sport amid the long dry grass of last year, or the plough turn up a
deep layer of the exhaustless soil, or flocks of prairie-chickens fly
up from every little valley, images of life, joy, and plenty belong to
the scene. The summer flowers are not more cheerful than the spring
blaze, the spring blackness of richness, or the spring whirr and
flutter. The sky is alive with the return of migratory birds, swinging
back and forth, as if hesitating where to choose, where all is good.
Frogs hold noisy jubilees, ("Anniversary Meetings," perhaps,)--very
hoarse, and no wonder, considering their damp lodging,--but singing,
in words more intelligible than those of the opera-choruses, "Winter's
gone! Spring's come! No, it isn't! Yes, it is!"--and the Ayes have it.
The woodpecker's hammer helps the field-music, wherever he can find a
tree. He seems to know the carpenter is coming, and he makes the most
of his brief season. All is life, movement, freedom, joy. Not on the
very Alps, where their black needles seem to dart into the blue
depths, or snow-fields to mingle with the clouds, is the immediate,
vital sympathy of Earth with Heaven more evident and striking.
The comparative ease with which prairie regions are prepared for the
advent of the great steam-car is exactly typical of the facilities
which they offer to other particulars of civilization. As the
smoothing of the prairie path, preparatory to railway speed, is but
short work, compared with the labor required in grading and levelling
mountainous tracts for the same purpose, so the introduction of all
that makes life desirable goes on with unexampled rapidity where the
land requires no felling of heavy timber to make it ready for the
plough, and where the soil is rich to such a depth that no man fears
any need of new fertilizing in his life-time or his son's. We observe
this difference everywhere in prairiedom; and it is perhaps this
thought, this close interweaving of marked outward aspect with great
human interests, that gives the prairie country its air of peculiar
cheerfulness. To man the earth was given; for him its use and its
beauty were created; it is his idea which endows it--with expression,
whether savage or kindly. Rocks and mountains suggest the force
required to conquer difficulties, and the power with which the lord of
creation is endowed to subdue them; and the chief charm and interest
of such regions is derived, consciously or unconsciously, from this
suggestion. Prairie images are more domestic, quiet, leisurely. No
severe, wasting labor is demanded before corn and milk for wife and
little ones are wrung from reluctant clods. No danger is there of sons
or daughters being obliged to quit their homes and roam over foreign
lands for a precarious and beggarly subsistence. No prairie-boy will
ever carry about a hand-organ and a monkey, or see his sister yoked to
the plough, by the side of horse or ox. Blessed be God that there are
still places where grinding poverty is unfelt and unfeared! "Riches
fineless" belong to these deep, soft fields, and they become
picturesque by the thought, as the sea becomes so by the passing of a
ship, and the burning desert by the foot-print of a traveller or the
ashes of his fire.
It was in spring weather, neither cold nor warm, now and then shiny,
and again spattering with a heavy shower, or misty under a warm, slow
rain,--the snow still lying in little streaks under shady
ridges,--that I first saw the prairies of Illinois. Everybody--kind
everybody!--said, "Why didn't you come in June?" But I, not being a
bird of the air, who alone travels at full liberty, the world before
him where to choose and Providence his guide, cared not to answer this
friendly query, but promised to be interested in the spring aspect of
the prairies, after my fashion, as sincerely as more fastidious
travellers can be in the summer one. It is very well to be prepared
when company is expected, but friends may come at any time. "Brown
fields and pastures bare" have no terrors for me. Green is gayer, but
brown softer. Blue skies are not alone lovely; gray ones set them
off--Rain enhances shine. Mud, to be sure;--but then railroads are the
Napoleons of mud. Planks and platforms quench it completely. One may
travel through tenacious seas of it without smirching one's boot-heel.
There is even a feeling of triumph as we see it lying sulky and
impotent on either side, while we bowl along dry-shod. When Noah and
his family came out of the Ark, and found all "soft with the Deluge,"
it was very different. The prospect must have been discouraging. I
thought of it as we went through, or rather over, the prairies. But if
there had been in those days an Ararat Central, with good "incline"
and stationary engine, they need not have sent out dove or raven, but
might have started for home as soon as the rails shone in the sun and
they could get the Ark on wheels. It would have been well to move
carefully, to be sure; and it is odd to think what a journey they
might have had, now and then stopping or switching-off because of a
dead Mastodon across the track, or a panting Leviathan lashing out,
thirstily, with impertinent tail,--to say nothing of sadder sights and
There were only pleasant reminiscences of the Great Deluge as we flew
along after a little one. Happy we! in a nicely-cushioned car,
berthed, curtained, and, better than all, furnished with the "best
society," _sans_ starch, _sans_ crinoline; the gentlemen sitting on
their hats as much as they pleased, and the ladies giving curls and
collars the go-by, all in tip-top humor to be pleased. I could imagine
but one improvement to our equipage,--that a steam-organ attached to
it should have played, very softly, Felicien David's lovely level
music of "The Desert," as we bowled along. There were long glittering
side-streams between us and the black or green prairie,--streams with
little ripples on their faces, as the breeze kissed them in passing,
and now and then a dimple, under the visit of a vagrant new-born
beetle. To call such shining waters mud or puddles did not accord with
the spirit of the hour; so we fancied them the "mirroring waters" of
the poet, and compared them to fertilizing Nile,--whose powers,
indeed, they share, to some extent. By their sides _ought_ to be
planted willows and poplars, and alders of half a dozen kinds, but are
not yet. All in good time. Thirsty trees would drink up superfluous
moisture, and in return save fuel by keeping off sweeping winds, and
money by diverting heavy snows, those Russian enemies to the Napoleon
rail, and by preserving embankments, to which nothing but interlacing
roots can give stability. Rows of trees bordering her railroads would
make Illinois look more like France, which in many respects she
The haze or _mirage_ of the prairies is wonderfully fantastic and
deceptive. The effect which seamen call _looming_ is one of the
commonest of its forms. This brings real but distant objects into
view, and dignifies them in size and color, till we can take a
farm-house for a white marble palace, and leafless woods with sunset
clouds behind them for enchanted gardens hung with golden fruit. But
the most gorgeous effects are, as is usual with air-castles, created
out of nothing,--that is, nothing more substantial than air, mist, and
sun- or moon- or star-beams. Fine times the imagination has, riding on
purple and crimson rays, and building Islands of the Blest among
vapors that have just risen from the turbid waters of the Mississippi!
No Loudon or Downing is invoked for the contriving or beautifying of
these villa-residences and this landscape-gardening. Genius comes with
inspiration, as inspiration does with genius; and we are our own
architects and draughtsmen, rioting at liberty with Nature's splendid
palette at our command, and no thought of rule or stint. Why should we
not, in solider things, derive more aid, like the poor little
"Marchioness" of Dickens, from this blessed power of imagination?
Those who do so are always laughed at as unpractical; but are they not
most truly practical, if they find and use the secret of gilding over,
and so making beautiful or tolerable, things in themselves mean or
Once upon a time, then, the great State of Illinois was all under
water;--at least, so say the learned and statistical. If you doubt it,
go count the distinctly-marked ridges in the so-called bluffs, and see
how many years or ages this modern deluge has been subsiding. Where
its remains once lay sweltering under the hot sun, and sucking miasms
from his beams, now spread great green expanses, wholesome and
fertile, making the best possible use of sunbeams, and offering, by
their aid, every earthly thing that men and animals need for their
bodily growth and sustenance, in almost fabulous abundance.
The colored map of Illinois, as given in a nice, new book, called,
"Illinois as it is," looks like a beautiful piece of silk, brocaded in
green (prairies) on a brownish ground (woodland tracts),--the surface
showing a nearly equal proportion of the two; while the swampy lands,
designated by dark blue,--in allusion, probably, to the occasional
state of mind of those who live near them,--take up a scarce
appreciable part of the space. Long, straggling "bluffs," on the banks
of the rivers, occupy still less room; but they make, on land and
paper, an agreeable variety. People thus far go to them only for the
mineral wealth with which they abound. It will be many years, yet,
before they will be thought worth farming; not because they would not
yield well, but because there is so much land that yields better.
Some parts of the State are hilly, and covered with the finest timber.
The scenery of these tracts is equal to any of the kind in the United
States; and much of it has been long under cultivation, having been
early chosen by Southern settlers, who have grown old upon the soil.
Here and there, on these beautiful highlands, we find ancient ladies,
bright-eyed and cheerful, who tell us they have occupied the selfsame
house--built, Kentucky-fashion, with chimney outside--for forty years
or so. The legends these good dames have to tell are, no doubt, quite
as interesting in their way as those which Sir Walter Scott used to
thread the wilds of Scotland to gather up; but we value them not.
By-and-by, posterity will anathematize us for letting our old national
stories die in blind contempt or sheer ignorance of their value.
The only thing to be found fault with in the landscape is the want of
great fields full of stumps. It does not seem like travelling in a new
country to see all smooth and ready for the plough. Trees are not here
looked upon as natural enemies; and so, where they grow, there they
stand, and wave triumphant over the field like victors' banners. No
finer trees grow anywhere, and one loves to see them so prized. Yet we
miss the dear old stumps. My heart leaps up when I behold hundreds of
them so close together that you can hardly get a plough between. Long,
long years ago, I have seen a dozen men toiling in one little cleared
spot, jollily engaged in burning them with huge fires of brush-wood,
chopping at them with desperate axes, and tearing the less tenacious
out by the roots, with a rude machine made on the principle of that
instrument by the aid of which the dentist revenges you on an
offending tooth. The country looks tame, at first, without these
characteristic ornaments, so suggestive of human occupancy. The ground
is excellently fertile where stumps have been, and association makes
us rather distrustful of its goodness where nothing but grass has ever
The prairies are not as flat in surface as one expects to find them.
Except in the scarcity of trees, their surface is very much like other
portions of what is considered the best farming land. There are great
tracts of what are called bushy prairies, covered with a thick growth
of hazel and sassafras, jessamine and honey-suckle, and abounding in
grape-vines. These tracts possess springs in abundance. The "islands"
so often alluded to by travellers are most picturesque and beautiful
features in the landscape. They must not be compared to oases, for
they are surrounded by anything but sterility; but they are the
evidence of springs, and generally of a slight rise in the ground, and
the timber upon them is of almost tropical luxuriance. Herds of deer
are feeding in their shade, the murmur of wild bees fills the air, and
the sweet vine-smell invites birds and insects of every brilliant
color. Prairie-chickens are in flocks everywhere, and the approach of
civilization scarcely ever disturbs them. No engine-driver in the
southern part of the State but has often seen deer startled by the
approach of his train, and many tell tales of more ferocious denizens
of the wilds. Buffalo have all long since disappeared; but what times
they must have had in this their paradise, before they went! On the
higher prairies the grass is of a superior quality, and its seed
almost like wheat On those which are low and humid it grows rank and
tough, and sometimes so high that a man on horseback may pass through
it unobserved. The crowding of vegetation, owing to the over-fertility
of the soil, causes all to tend upward, so that most of the growth is
extra high, rather than spreading in breadth. In the very early
spring, the low grass is interspersed with quantities of violets,
strawberry-blossoms, and other delicate flowers. As the grass grows
taller, flowers of larger size and more brilliant hues diversify it,
till at length the whole is like a flowery forest, but destined to be
burnt over in the autumn, leaving their ashes to help forward the
splendid growth of their successors.
One of the marvels of this marvellous prairiedom, at the present hour,
is the taste and skill displayed in houses and gardens. One fancies a
"settler" in the Western wilds so occupied with thoughts of shelter
and sustenance as hardly to remember that a house must be
perpendicular to be safe, and a garden fenced before it is worth
planting. But every mile of our prairie-flight reminds us, that, where
no time and labor are to be consumed in felling trees and "toting"
logs to mill,--planks and joists, and such like, walking in, by rail,
all ready for the framing,--there is leisure for reflection and choice
as to form; and also, that, where fertility is the inevitable
attendant upon the first incision of the plough, _what_ we shall plant
and _how_ we shall plant it become the only topics for consideration.
Setting aside the merely temporary residences of the poorer class of
farmers,--houses sure to be replaced by palaces of pine-boards, at
least, before a great while, provided the owner does not "move West,"
or take to whiskey,--the cottages we catch glimpses of from
car-windows are pretty and well-planned, and some of them show even
better on the inside than on the out. I must forbear to enlarge on the
comfort and abundance of these dwellings, lest I trench upon private
matters; but I may mention, by way of illustrating my subject, and
somewhat as the painter introduces human figures into his picture to
give an idea of the height of a tower or the vastness of a cathedral,
that I have found an abundant and even elegant table, under frescoed
ceiling, in a cottage near the Illinois Central, and far south of the
mid-line of this wonderful State, so lately a seeming waste through
much of its extent.
And thus throughout. At one moment a bare expanse, looking
man-despised, if not God-forgotten,--and at the next, a smiling
village, with tasteful dwelling, fine shrubbery, great hotels, spires
pointing heavenward, and trees that look down with the conscious
dignity of old settlers, as if they had stood just so since the time
of good Father Marquette, that stout old missionary, who first planted
the holy cross in their shade, and, "after offering to the Mightiest
thanks and supplications, fell asleep to wake no more."
There are many interesting reminiscences or traditions of the early
European settlers of Illinois. After Father Marquette,--whom I always
seem to see in Hicks's sweet picture of a monk inscribing the name
JESU on the bark of a tree in the forest,--came La Salle, an emissary
of the great Colbert, under Louis XIV.; an explorer of many heroic
qualities, who has left in this whole region important traces of his
wanderings, and the memory of his bloody and cruel murder at the
impious hands of his own followers, who had not patience to endure to
the end. Counted as part of Florida, under Spanish rule, and part of
Louisiana, under that of the French,--falling into the hands of the
celebrated John Law, in the course of his bubble Mississippi scheme,
and afterwards ceded with Canada and Nova Scotia to the English,
Illinois was never Americanized until the peace of '83. The spongy
turf of her prairies bore the weight of many a fort, and drank the
blood of the slain in many a battle, when all around her was at peace.
The fertility of her soil and the comparative mildness of her climate
caused her to be eagerly contended for, as far back as 1673, when the
pioneers grew poetical under the inspiration of "a joy that could not
be expressed," as they passed her "broad plains, all garlanded with
majestic forests and checkered with illimitable prairies and island
groves." "We are Illinois," said the poor Indians to Father
Marquette,--meaning, in their language, "We are men." And the Jesuits
treated them as men; but by traders they soon began to be treated like
beasts; and of course--poor things!--they did their best to behave
accordingly. All the forts are ruins now; there is no longer occasion
for them. The Indians are nothing. There can scarcely be found the
slightest trace of their occupancy of these rich acres. Nations that
build nothing but uninscribed burial-places foreshadow their own
doom,--to return to the soil and be forgotten. But the mode of their
passing away is not, therefore, a matter of indifference.
On the stronger and more intelligent rests the responsibility of such
changes; and in the case of our Indians, it is certain that a load of
guilt, individual and national, rests somewhere. Necessity is no
Christian plea, "It must needs be that offences come, but woe to him
by whom the offence cometh!" The Indian and the negro shall rise up in
judgment against our rich and happy land, and condemn it for
inhumanity and selfishness. Have they not already done so? Blood and
treasure, poured out like water, have been the beginnings of
retribution in one case; a deeper and more vital punishment, such as
belongs to bosom-sins, awaits us in the other. Shall no penitence, no
sacrifice, attempt to avert it?
Illinois, level, fertile, joyous, took French rule very kindly. The
missionaries, who were physicians, schoolmasters, and artisans, as
well as preachers, lived among the people, instructed them in the arts
of life as well as in the ceremonies and spirit of the Catholic faith;
and natives and foreigners seem to have dwelt together in peace and
love. The French brought with them the regularity and neatness that
characterize their home-settlements, and the abundance in which they
lived enabled them to be public-spirited and to deal liberally even
with the Indians. They raised wheat in such plenty that Indian corn
was cultivated chiefly for provender, although they found the
_voyageurs_ glad to buy it as they passed back and forth on their
adventurous journeys. The remains of their houses show how
substantially they built; two or three modern sudden houses could be
made out of one old French picketed and porticoed cottage.
The appearance of an Illinois settler in those days was rather
picturesque than elegant,--substance before show being the principle
upon which it was planned. While the Indian still wore his paint and
feathers when he came to trade, the rural swain appeared in a _capote_
made of blanket, with a hood that served in cold weather instead of a
Leary, buck-skin overalls, moccasins of raw-hide, and, generally, only
a natural shock of Sampsonian locks between his head and the sun;
while his lady-love was satisfied with an outfit not very
different,--save that there is no tradition that she ever capped the
climax of ugliness by wearing Bloomers. There were gay colors for
holidays, no doubt; but not till 1830, we are told, did the genuine
Illinois settler adopt the commonplace dress of this imitative land.
What pity when people are in such haste to do away with everything
characteristic in costume!
Both sexes worked hard, bore rough weather without flinching, and
attended carefully to their religious duties; but, withal, they were
gay and joyous, ready for dance and frolic, and never so anxious to
make money that they forgot to make fun.
What must the ghosts of these primitive Christians think of their
successors, ploughing in broadcloth and beaver, wading through the mud
in patent-leather boots, and all the while wrinkled with anxiety,
gaunt with ambition, and grudging themselves three holidays a year!
Immigrants in time changed the character of the population as well as
its dress, and for a while there seems to have been something of a
jumble of elements, new laws conflicting with old habits, hungry
politicians preying upon a simple people, who only desired to be let
alone, and who, when they discovered some gross imposition, were
philosophical enough to call it, jokingly, being "greased and
swallowed." This anarchical condition resulted, as usual, in habits of
personal violence; and, at one time, an adverse vote was considered
matter for stabbing or gouging, and juries often dismissed
indictments, fearing private vengeance in case of a discharge of their
duty. They made a wide distinction, in murder trials, between him who
committed the crime in a passion and those who did the thing quietly;
so that you had only to walk up to the person who had offended you,
and shoot him in the open street, to feel tolerably sure of impunity.
In short, there seems to have prevailed, at that time, north of Mason
and Dixon's line, very much the same state of things that still
prevails south of it; but there was other leaven at work, and the good
sense of the people gradually got the better of this short-sighted
folly of violence.
It is reported as fact, by all writers on the earlier history of this
State, that the holding of courts was conducted very much in the style
reported of the back counties of Georgia and Alabama in our day. The
sheriff would go out into the court-yard and say to the people, "Come
in, boys,--the court is going to begin,"--or sometimes, "Our John is
going to open court now,"--the judge being just one of the "boys."
Judges did not like to take upon themselves the _onus_ of deciding
cases, but shared it with the jury as far as possible. One story, well
authenticated, runs thus: A certain judge, having to pass sentence of
death upon one of his neighbors, did it in the following form: "Mr.
Green, the jury in their verdict say you are guilty of murder, and the
law in that case says you are to be hung. Now I want you and all your
friends down on Indian Creek to know that it is not me that condemns
you, but the jury and the law. What time would you like to be hung,
Sir?" The poor man replied, that it made no difference to him; he
would rather the court should appoint a time. "Well, then, Mr. Green,"
says the judge, "the court will allow you four weeks' time to prepare
for death and settle up your business." It was here suggested by the
Attorney-General that it was usual in such cases for the court to
recapitulate the essential parts of the evidence, to set forth the
nature and enormity of the crime, and solemnly to exhort the prisoner
to repent and fit himself for the awful doom awaiting him. "Oh!" said
the judge, "Mr. Green understands all that as well as if I had
preached to him a month. Don't you, Mr. Green? You understand you're
to be hung this day four weeks?" "Yes, Sir," replied Mr. Green, and so
the matter ended.
One legal brilliant blazes on the forehead of youthful Illinois, in
the shape of a summary remedy for duelling. One of those heroes who
think it safer to appeal to chance than to logic in vindication of
tarnished honor, and who imagine the blood of a dead friend the only
salve to be relied on for the cure of wounded feelings, killed his
opponent in a duel. The law of Illinois very coolly hanged the
survivor; and from that time to this, other remedies have been found
for spiritual hurts, real or imaginary. Nobody has fancied it
necessary to fight with a noose round his neck. If ever capital
punishment were lawful, (which I confess I do not think it ever can
be,) it would be as a desperate remedy against this horrid relic of
mediaeval superstition and impiety, no wiser or more Christian than
the ordeal by burning ploughshares or poisoned wine. The rope in
judicial hands is certainly as lawful as the pistol in rash ones; so
the duellist has no reason to complain.
Some of the later days of Illinois, the days of Indian wars and Mormon
wars, pro-slavery wars and financial wars, are too red and black for
peaceful pages; and as they were incidental rather than
characteristic, they do not come within our narrow limits. There is
still too large an infusion of the cruel slavery spirit in the laws of
Illinois; but the immense tide of immigration will necessarily remedy
that, by overpowering the influence introduced over the southern
border. So nearly a Southern State was Illinois once considered to be,
that, in settling the northern boundary, it was deemed essential to
give her a portion of the lake-shore, that her interests might be at
least balanced. They have proved to be more than balanced by this wise
The little excuse there is in this favored region for a sordid
devotion to toil, a journey through the State, even at flying pace, is
sufficient to show. The fertility of the soil is the despair of
scientific farming. Who cares for rules, when he has only to drop a
seed and tread on it, to be sure of a hundred-fold return? Who talks
of succession of crops, when twelve burdens of wheat, taken from the
same soil in as many years, leave the ground black and ready for
another yield of almost equal abundance? An alluvial tract of about
three hundred thousand acres, near the Mississippi, has been
cultivated in Indian corn a hundred and fifty years,--indeed, ever
since the French occupation of Illinois. What of under-draining? Some
forty or fifty rivers threading the State, besides smaller streams
innumerable, always will do that, as soon as the Nilic floods of
spring have accomplished their work by floating to the surface the
finest part of the soil. Irrigation? You may now grow rice on one farm
and grapes on another, without travelling far between. It is true,
there must be an end to this universality of power and advantage, some
day; but nobody can see far enough ahead to feel afraid, and it is not
in the spirit of our time to think much about the good of our
grandchildren. "What has posterity done for me?" is the instinctive
question of the busy Westerner, as he sits down under vine and
fig-tree which his own hands have planted, to enjoy peace and plenty,
after suffering the inevitable hardships of pioneer life. You may tell
him he is not wise to scorn good rules; but he will reply, that he did
not come so far West, and begin life anew, for the sake of being wise,
but of making money, and that as rapidly as possible. He has forgotten
the care and economy learned among the cold and stony hills of New
England, and wants to do everything on a large scale. He likes to hear
of patent reapers, Briarean threshing-machines, and anything that will
save him most of the time and trouble of gathering in his heavy
crops,--but that is all. The growth of those crops he has nothing to
do with. That is provided for by Nature in Illinois; if it were not,
he would move "out West"
Stories of this boundless fertility are rife here. One pioneer told
us, that, when a fence is to be made and post-holes are wanted, it is
only necessary to drop beet-seed ten feet apart all around the field,
and, when the beet is ripe, you pull it up and your post-hole is
ready! To be sure, there was a twinkle in the corner of his eye as he
stated this novel and interesting fact; but, after all, the fertility
in question was not so extravagantly "poefied" by this _canard_ as
some may suppose. Our friend went on to state, that, in his district,
they had a kind of corn which produced from a single grain a dozen
stalks of twelve ears each; and not content with this, on _most_ of
the stalks you would find, somewhere near the top, a small calabash
full of shelled corn! To put the matter beyond doubt, he pulled a
handful of the corn from his pocket, which he invited us to plant, and
The reader has probably concluded, by this time, that beets and corn
are not the only enormous things grown in Illinois.
A friend told us, in perfectly good faith, that a tract of his, some
fourteen thousand acres, in the southern part of the State, contained
coal enough to warm the world, and more iron than that coal would
smelt,--salt enough for all time, and marble and rich metallic ores of
various kinds besides. In one region are found inexhaustible beds of
limestone, the smoke of whose burning fills the whole spring air, and
the crevices of whose formation make very pokerish-looking caves,
which young and adventurous ladies are fond of exploring; in another
we come to quantities of that snow-white porcelain clay of which some
people suppose themselves to have been originally formed, but which
has been, in a commercial point of view, hitherto a _desideratum_ in
these United States of ours. The people at Mound City (an aspiring
rival of Cairo, on the banks of the Ohio) are about building a factory
for the exploitation of this clay, not into ladies and gentlemen,
(unpopular articles here,) but into china-ware, the quality of which
will be indisputable.
One soon ceases wondering at the tropicality of the Illinoisian
imagination. Ali Baba's eye-straining experiences were poor, compared
to these every-day realities.
The "Open Sesame" in this case has been spoken through the
railroad-whistle. Railroads cannot make mines and quarries, and fat
soil and bounteous rivers; yet railroads have been the making of
Illinois. Nobody who has ever seen her spring roads, where there are
no rails, can ever question it. From the very fatness of her soil, the
greater part of the State must have been one Slough of Despond for
three quarters of the year, and her inhabitants strangers to each
other, if these iron arms had not drawn the people together and
bridged the gulfs for them. No roads but railroads could possibly have
threaded the State, a large and the best portion of whose surface is
absolutely devoid of timber, stone, gravel, or any other available
material. The prairies must have remained flowery deserts, visited as
a curiosity every year by strangers, but without dwellings for want of
wood. The vast quarries must, of course, have lain useless, for want
of transporting power,--our friend's coal and iron undisturbed,
waiting for an earthquake,--and the poetical pioneer's beets and
Indian corn unplanted, and therefore uncelebrated. Well may it be said
here, that iron is more valuable than gold. Population, agriculture,
the mechanic arts, literature, taste, civilization, in short, are all
magnetized by the beneficent rail, and follow wherever it leads. The
whole southern portion of Illinois has been nicknamed "Egypt,"
--whether because at its utmost point, on a dampish delta,
reposes the far-famed city of Cairo,--or whether, as wicked satirists
pretend, its denizens have been found, in certain particulars, rather
behind our times in intellectual light. Whatever may have been the
original excuse for the _sobriquet_, the derogatory one exists no
more. Light has penetrated, and darkness can reign no longer. Every
day, a fiery visitant, bearing the collective intelligence of the
whole world's doings and sayings, dashes through Egypt into Cairo,
giving off scintillations at every hamlet on the way,--and every day
the brilliant marvel returns, bringing northward, not only the good
things of the Ohio and Mississippi, but tropic _on-dits_ and oranges,
only a few hours old, to the citizens of Chicago, far "in advance of
the (New York) mail." With the rail comes the telegraph; and whispers
of the rise and fall of fancies and potatoes, of speculations and
elections, of the sale of corner-lots and the evasion of
bank-officers, are darting about in every direction over our heads, as
we unconsciously admire the sunset, or sketch a knot of rosy children
as they come trooping from a quaint school-house on the prairie edge.
Fancy the rail gone, and we have neither telegraph, nor school-house,
nor anything of all this but the sunset,--and even that we could not
be there to see in spring-time, at least, unless we could transmigrate
for the time into the relinquished forms of some of these aboriginal
bull-frogs, which grow to the nice size of two feet in length,
destined, no doubt, to receive the souls of habitual croakers
But if the railroads have been the making of the land, it is not to be
denied that the land has been the making of the railroads. Egyptian
minds they must have been, that grudged the tracts given by the United
States to the greatest of roads, the greatest road in the world.
Having bestowed a line of alternate sections on this immense
undertaking,--vital in importance, and impossible without such
aid,--the Government at once doubled the price of the intermediate
sections, _and sold them at the doubled price_, though they had been
years, and might have been ages, in market unsold, without means of
communication and building. Who, then, was the loser? Not the United
States; for they received for half the land just what they would
otherwise have received for the whole. Not the State; for it lays
hands on a good slice of the annual profits, not to speak of
incalculable benefits beside. Not the farmer, surely; for what would
his now high-priced land be worth, if the grand road were annihilated?
Not the bond-holder; for he receives a fair, full interest on his
money. Not the stock-holder; for he looks with eyes of faith toward a
great future. It was a sort of triangular or quadrangular or
pentangular bargain, in which all these parties were immensely
benefited. The traveller blesses such liberal policy, as he flies
along towards the land of oranges, or turns aside to measure mammoth
beets or weigh extra-supernal corn, to "bore" or to "prospect," to
pick at ooelite and shale or to "peep and botanize" through an
inexhaustible Flora. The present writer has certainly reason to be
grateful,--not, alas! with that gushing warmth of feeling which the
owners of shares or bonds naturally experience,--but as an "'umble
individual" who could not have found material for this valuable
article, if certain gentlemen who do own the said shares had not been
The man who may be said to have devised the land-basis for railroads
through unsettled tracts--a financier of unsurpassed sagacity, and
once the soul of commercial honor as well as intelligence--should not,
in his dishonored grave, and far beyond the reach of human scorn or
vengeance, be denied the credit of what he accomplished before the
fatal madness seized his soul and dragged him to perdition. Let it be
enough that his name has come to be an epithet of infamy in his land's
language. Let not the grandeur of his views, the intent with which he
set out, and the good he achieved, be lost in oblivion. Pride--"by
that sin fell the angels!"--cast him headlong down the irrecoverable
"And when he fell, he fell like Lucifer,"--
aye! like Wolsey and Bacon,--
"Never to rise again!"
It is no sin to hope that the All-seeing eye discerned in those noble
undertakings and beneficent results the germ of wings that shall one
day bear him back to light and mercy. Let us, who benefit by his good
deeds, not insist on remembering only the evil!
Chicago, the Wondrous, sits amid her wealth, like a magnificent
sultana, half-reclining over a great oval mirror, supplied by that
lake of lakes, the fathomless Michigan. Perhaps the resemblance might
be unpoetically traced to particulars; for we are told by lotos-eating
travellers, that Oriental beauties, with all their splendor, are not
especially clean. Certain it is that our Occidental sultana dresses
her fair head with towers and spires, and hangs about her neck long
rows of gems in the shape of stately and elegant dwellings,--yet,
descending to her feet, we sink in mud and mire, or tumble unguardedly
into excavations set like traps for the unwary, or oust whole colonies
of rats from beneath plank walks where they have burrowed securely
ever since "improvements" began. At some seasons, indeed, there is no
mud; because the high winds from the lake or the prairies turn the mud
into dust, which blinds our eyes, fills our mouths, and makes us
Quakers in appearance and anything but saints in heart.
Chicago-walking resembles none but such as Christian encountered as he
fled from the City of Destruction; yet in this case the ills are those
of a City of _Con_struction.--sure to disappear as soon as the
builders find time to care for such trifles. Chicago people, it is
well known, walk with their heads in the clouds, and, naturally, do
not mind what happens to their feet. It is only strangers who exclaim,
and sometimes more than exclaim, at the dangers of the way. Cast-away
carriages lie along the road-side, like ships on Fire Island beach.
Nobody minds them. If you see a gentleman at a distance, progressing
slowly with a gliding or floundering pace, you conclude he has a horse
under him, and, perhaps, on nearer approach, you see bridle and
headstall. This is in early spring, while the frost is coming out of
the ground. As the season advances, the horse emerges, and you are
just getting a fair sight of him when the dust begins and he
disappears again. So say the scoffers, and those who would, but do
not, own any city-lots in that favored vicinity; and to the somewhat
heated mind of the traveller who encounters such things for the first
time, the story does not seem so very much exaggerated. Simple
wayfarers like myself, however, tell no such wicked tales of the
Garden City; but remember only her youth, her grandeur, her spirit,
her hospitality, her weight of cares, her immense achievements, and
her sure promise of future metropolitan splendors.
The vicinity of Chicago is all dotted with beautiful villa-residences.
To drive among them is like turning over a book of architectural
drawings,--so great is their variety, and so marked the taste which
prevails. Many of them are of the fine light-colored stone found in
the neighborhood, and their substantial excellence inspires a feeling
that all this prosperity is of no ephemeral character. People do not
build such country-houses until they feel settled and secure. The
lake-shore is of course the line of attraction, for it is the only
natural beauty of the place. But what trees! Several of the streets of
Chicago may easily become as beautiful drives as the far-famed Cascine
at Florence, and will be so before her population doubles
again,--which is giving but a short interval for the improvement. No
parks as yet, however. Land on the lake-shore is too precious, and the
flats west of the town are quite despised. Yet city parks do not
demand very unequal surface, and it would not require a very potent
landscape-gardener or an unheard-of amount of dollars to make a fine
driving-and riding-ground, where the new carriages of the fortunate
might be aired, and the fine horses of the gay exercised, during a
good part of the year.
To describe Chicago, one would need all the superlatives set in a row.
Grandest, flattest,--muddiest, dustiest,--hottest, coldest,--wettest,
driest,--farthest north, south, east, and west from other places,
consequently most central,--best harbor on Lake Michigan, worst harbor
and smallest river any great commercial city ever lived on,--most
elegant in architecture, meanest in hovel-propping,--wildest in
speculation, solidest in value,--proudest in self-esteem, loudest in
self-disparagement,--most lavish, most grasping,--most public-spirited
in some things, blindest and darkest on some points of highest
And some poor souls would doubtless add,--most fascinating, or most
desolate,--according as one goes there, gay and hopeful, to find
troops of prosperous friends, or, lonely and poor, with the distant
hope of bettering broken fortunes by struggling among the driving
thousands already there on the same errand. There is, perhaps, no
place in the world where it is more necessary to take a bright and
hopeful view of life, and none where this is more difficult. There is
too much at stake. Those who have visited Baden-Baden and her Kursaal
sisters in the height of the season need not be told that no
"church-face" ever equalled in solemnity the countenances of those who
surround the fatal tables, waiting for the stony lips of the croupier
to announce "_Noir perd_" or "_Rouge gagne_." At Chicago are a wider
table, higher stakes, more desperate throws, and Fate herself
presiding, or what seems Fate, at once partial and inexorable.
But, on this great scale, even success fails to bring smiles. The
winners sit "with hair on end at their own wonders," and half-fearing
that such golden showers have some illusion about them and may prove
fairy favors at last. Next to this fueling comes the thirst for more.
Enlarged means bring enlarged desires and ever-extending plans. The
repose and lightness of heart that were at first to be the reward of
success recede farther and farther into the dim distance, until at
last they are lost sight of entirely, confessed, with a sigh, to be
unattainable. How can people in this State wear cheerful countenances?
When one looks at the gay and social faces and habits of some little
German town, where are cultivated people, surrounded by the books and
pictures they love, with leisure enough for music and dancing and
tea-garden chat, for deep friendships and lofty musings, it would seem
as if our shrewd Yankee-land and its outcroppings at the West had not
yet found out everything worth knowing. Froissart's famous remark
about the English in France--"They take their pleasure sadly, after
their fashion"--may apply to the population of Chicago, and it will be
some time yet, I fancy, before they will take it very gayly.
At a little country-town, the other day, not within a thousand miles
of Chicago, a family about leaving for a distant place advertised
their movables for sale at auction. There was such a stir throughout
the settlement as called forth an expression of wonder from a
stranger, "Ah!" said a good lady, "auctions are the only gayety we
Joking apart, there was a deep American truth in this seeming
Chicago has, as we have said, with all her wealth, no public park or
other provision for out-door recreation. She has no gallery of Art, or
the beginning of one,--no establishment of music, no public
library,--no social institution whatever, except the church. Without
that blessed bond, her people would be absolute units, as independent
of each other as the grains of sand on the seashore, swept hither and
thither by the ocean winds.
But even before these words have found their way to the Garden City,
they will, perhaps, be inapplicable,--so rapid is progress at the
West. The people are like a great family moving into a new house.
There is so much sweeping and dusting to do, so much finding of places
for the furniture, so much time to spend in providing for breakfast,
dinner, and tea, lodging and washing, that nobody thinks of unpacking
the pictures, taking the books out of their boxes, or getting up
drives or riding-parties. All these come in good time, and will be the
better done for a little prudent delay.
There is, to the stranger, an appearance of extreme hurry in Chicago,
and the streets are very peculiar in not having a lady walking in
them. Day after day I traversed them, meeting crowds of men, who
looked like the representatives of every nation and tongue and
people,--and every class of society, from the greenest rustic, or the
most undisguised sharper, to the man of most serious respectability,
or him of highest _ton_. Yet one lady walking in the streets I saw
not; and when I say not one lady, I mean that I did not meet a woman
who seemed to claim that title, or any title much above that of an
ordinary domestic. Perhaps this is only a spring symptom, which passes
off when the mud dries up a little,--but it certainly gave a rather
forlorn or funereal aspect to the streets for the time.
There is, nevertheless, potent inspiration in the resolute and
occupied air of these crowds. Hardly any one stays long among them
without feeling a desire to share their excitement, and do something
towards the splendid future which is evidently beckoning them on.
Preparing the future! It is glorious business. No wonder it makes the
pulse quicken and the eye look as if it saw spirits. It may be said,
that in some sense we are all preparing the future; but in the West
there is a special meaning in the expression. In circumstances so new
and wondrous, first steps are all-important. Those who have been
providentially led to become early settlers have immense power for
good or evil. One can trace in many or most of our Western towns, and
even States, the spirit of their first influential citizens. Happy is
it for Chicago that she has been favored in this respect,--and to her
honor be it said, that she appreciates her benefactors. Of one
citizen, who has been for twenty years past doing the quiet and modest
work of a good genius in the city of his adoption, it is currently
said, that be has built a hundred miles of her streets,--and there is
no mark of respect and gratitude that she would not gladly show him.
Other citizens take the most faithful and disinterested care of her
schools; and to many she is indebted for an amount of liberality and
public spirit which is constantly increasing her enormous prosperity.
Happy the city which possesses such citizens! Happy the citizens who
have a city so nobly deserving of their best services!
AN EVENING WITH THE TELEGRAPH-WIRES.
My cousin Moses has made the discovery that he is a powerful
Like many others who have newly come into possession of a small tract
in those mysterious, outlying, unexplored wildernesses of Nature,
which we call by so many names, but which as yet refuse to be defined
or classed, he has been naturally eager to commence operations, and
_exploit_ and farm it a little. He is making experiments on a narrow
border of his wild lands. He is a man of will and of strong
_physique_, with an inquiring and scientific turn of mind, which
inclines him chiefly to metaphysical studies. It is not to be wondered
at, that, having lately discovered that he possesses the mesmeric
gift, he should not sufficiently discriminate as to its application.
Later he will see that it is an agent not to be tampered with, and
never to be used on healthy subjects, but applied only to invalids.
To-day he is like a newly-armed knight-errant, bounding off on his
steed at sunrise, in search of adventures.
One afternoon, not long since, he was telling me of his extraordinary
successes with somnambulists and _somnoparlists_,--of old ladies cured
of nervous headaches and face-twitches, and of young ones put to sleep
at a distance from the magnetizer, dropping into a trance suddenly as
a bird struck by a gun-shot, simply by an act of his volition,--of
water turned into wine, and wine into brandy, to the somnambulic
taste,--and so on, till we got wandering into crooked by-paths of
physics and metaphysics, that seemed to lead us nowhere in
particular,--when I said, "Come, Cousin Moses, suppose you try it on
me, by way of experiment. But I have my doubts if you'll ever put me
My cousin yielded to my request with alacrity;--every subject for
mesmerism was for him legitimate;--and I relinquished myself to his
passes with the docility of a man about to be shaved.
The passes from the head downward were kept up perseveringly for half
an hour, without my experiencing any change, or manifesting the least
symptom of drowsiness. At last the charm began to work. I began to be
conscious of a singular trickling or creeping sensation following the
motion of his passes down my arms. My respiration grew short. I
experienced, however, no tendency to sleep, and my mind was perfectly
calm and unexcited. My cousin was satisfied with his experiment so
far, but we both concluded it had better end here. So he made the
reverse passes, in order to undo the knot he was beginning to tie in
my nerves. He did not, however, entirely succeed in untying it. I was
a healthy subject, and the magnetism continued to affect my nerves, in
spite of the untangling passes.
Soon after, I rose and took my leave. I was strangely excited, but it
was a purely physical, and not a mental excitement. Thinking that a
walk would quiet me, I went through street after street, until I
reached the outskirts of the city. It was a mild September evening.
The fine weather and the sight of the trees and fields tempted me to
continue my walk. It was near sunset, and I strolled on and on,
watching the purple gray and ruddy gold of the clouds, until I had got
fairly into the country.
As I rambled on, I was suddenly seized with a fancy to climb a tree
which stood by the roadside, and rest myself in a convenient notch
which I observed between two of the limbs. I was soon seated in among
the branches, with a canopy of leaves around and over me,--feeling, in
my still nervous condition, as I leaned my back against the mossy
bark, like a magnified tree-toad in clothes.
The air was balmy and fragrant, and against the amber of the western
sky rose and fell numberless little clouds of insects. The birds were
chirping and fluttering about me, and made their arrangements for
their night's lodging, in manifest dread of the clothed tree-toad who
had invaded their leafy premises.
The peculiar nervousness which had taken possession of me was now
passing off, to be replaced by a species of mental exaltation. I was
becoming conscious of something approaching semi-clairvoyance, and yet
not in the ordinary form. Sensation, emotion, thought were
intensified. The landscape around me was dotted with farm-houses,
pillowed in soft, dark clumps of trees. One by one, the lights began
to appear at the windows,--soft rising stars of home-joys. The
glorious September sunset was fading, but still resplendent in the
west. The landscape was pervaded with a deeper repose, the glowing
clouds with a diviner splendor than that which filled the eye. Then
thronging memories awoke. My remembrances of all my past life in the
crowded cities of America and Europe rose vividly before me. In the
long strata of solid gray clouds, where the sun had gone down, leaving
only a few vapory gold-fishes swimming in the clear spaces above, I
could fancy I saw the lonely Roman Campagna and the wondrous dome of
St. Peter's, as when first beheld on the horizon ten years ago. Then,
as from the slopes of San Miniato at sunset, gray, red-tiled Florence,
with its Boboli gardens, full of nightingales, its old towers and
cathedrals, and its soaring Giotto Campanile. Then Genoa, with its
terraces and marble palaces, and that huge statue of Andre Doria. Then
Naples, gleaming white in the eye of day over her pellucid depths of
sea. The golden days of Italy floated by me. Then came the memories,
glad or sad, of days that had passed in my own native land,--in the
very city that lay behind me,--the intimate communings with dear
friends,--the musical and the merry nights,--the trials, anxieties,
But all this is very egotistical and unnecessary. I merely meant to
say that I was in a peculiar, almost abnormal state of mind, that
evening. The spirit had, as it were, been drawn outwards, and perhaps
slightly dislocated, by those mesmeric passes of my cousin, and I had
not succeeded as yet in adjusting it quite satisfactorily in its old
bodily grooves and sockets. The condition I was in was not as pleasant
as I could have wished; for I was as alive to painful remembrances and
imaginations, as to pleasant ones. I seemed to myself like a revolving
lantern of a light-house,--now dark, now glowing with a fiery
I asked myself, Is it that I have been blind and deaf and dull all my
life, and am just waking into real existence? or am I developing into
a _medium_,--Heaven forbid!--and the spirits pushing at some unguarded
portal of the nervous system, and striving to take possession? Shall I
hear raps and knockings when I return to my solitary chamber, and sit
a powerless beholder of damaged furniture, which the spirits will
never have the conscience to promise payment for, when my landlady's
bill comes in? (By the way, have the spirits _ever_ behaved like
gentlemen in this respect, and settled up fair and square for the
breakages they have indulged in by way of exemplifying the doctrine of
a future state?)
As I soliloquized thus, I was attracted by a low vibrating note among
the leaves. Looking through them, I saw, for the first time, that two
or three telegraph-wires, which I had observed skirting the road, ran
directly through the tree in which I was seated. It was a strange sort
of sound, that came in hurried jerks, as it were, accompanied with a
corresponding jerk of the wire.
A gigantic fancy flashed across me:--This State of New York is a great
guitar; yonder, at Albany, are the legislative pegs and screws; down
there in Manhattan Island is the great sounding-board; these iron
wires are the strings! The spirits are singing, perhaps, with their
heads up there in the sweet heavens and the rosy clouds,--and this
vibration of the wires is a sort of loose jangling accompaniment of
their unpractised hands on earth. The voice is always above the
strings.--This I thought in my semi-mesmeric condition, perhaps. I
soon laughed at my Brobdignagian nonsense, and said,--There is a
telegraphic despatch passing. Now if I could only find out what it
is!--that would be something new in science,--a discovery worth
knowing,--to be able to hear or feel the purport of a telegraphic
message, simply by touching the wire along which it runs!
So, regardless of any electric shock I might receive, I thrust out my
hand through the leaves of the tree, and boldly grasped the wire. The
jerks instantly were experienced in my elbow, and it was not long
before certain short sentences were conveyed, magnetically, to my
brain. In my amazement at the discovery, I almost dropped out of the
tree. However, I kept firm hold of the wire, and my sensorium made me
aware of something passing like this:--"Market active. Fair demand for
exchange. Transactions from five to ten thousand shares. Aristides
railroad-stock scarce. Rates of freight to Liverpool firm. Yours
respectfully, Grabber and Holdham."
Upon my word, said I, this is rather dry!--only a merchant! I expected
something better than this, to commence with.
The wire being now quiet, I fell into a musing upon the singular
discovery I had made,--and whether I should get anything from the
public or the government for revealing it. And then my thoughts
wandered across the Atlantic, and I remembered those long rows of
telegraphic wires in France, ruled along the tops of high
barrier-walls, and looking against the sky like immense
music-lines,--and those queer inverted-coffee-cup-like supports for
the wires, on the tall posts. Then I thought of music and coffee at
the Jardin Mabille. Then my fancy wandered down the Champs Elysees to
those multitudinous spider-web wires that radiate from the palace of
the Tuileries, where the Imperial spider sits plotting and weaving his
meshes around the liberties of France. Then I thought, What a thing
this discovery of mine would be for political conspirators,--to
reverse the whispering-gallery of Dionysius, and, instead of the
tyrant hearing the secrets of the people, the people hearing the
secrets of the tyrant! Then I thought of Robespierre, and Marat, and
Charlotte Corday, and Marie Antoinette,--then of Delaroche's and
Mueller's pictures of the unfortunate Queen,--then of pictures in
general,--then of landscape-scenery,--till I almost fell into a doze,
when I was startled by a faint sound along the wire, as of a sigh,
like the first thrill of the AEolian harp in the evening wind. Another
message was passing. I reached my hand out to the iron thread. A
confused sadness began to oppress me. A mother's voice weeping over
her sick child pulsed along the wire. Her husband was far away. Her
little daughter lay very ill. "Come quick," said the voice. "I have
little hope; but if you were only here, I should be calmer. If she
must die, it would be such a comfort to have you here!"
I drew my hand away. I saw the whole scene too vividly. Who this
mother was I knew not; but the news of the death of a child whom I
knew and loved could not have affected me more strangely and keenly
than this semi-articulate sob which quivered along the iron airtrack,
in the silence of the evening, from one unknown--to another unknown.
I roused myself from my sadness, and thought I would descend the tree
and stroll home. The moon was up, and a pleasant walk before me, with
enough to meditate upon in the singular discovery I had made. I was
about to get down from my crotch in the tree, and was just reaching
out my dexter leg to feel if I could touch a bough below me, when a
low, wild shriek ran along the wire,--as when the wind-harp, above
referred to for illustration, is blown upon by some rude, sharp
northwester. In spite of myself, I touched the vibrating cord. The
message was brief and abrupt, like a sea-captain's command:--"Ship
Trinidad wrecked off Wildcat's Beach,--all hands lost,--no insurance!"
Do you recollect, when sitting alone sometimes in your room, at
midnight, in the month of November, how, after a lull in the blast,
the bleak wind will all at once seem to clutch at the windows, with a
demoniac howl that makes the house rock? Do you remember the
half-whistles and half-groans through the key-holes and crevices,--the
cries and shrieks that rise and fall,--the roaring in the
chimney,--the slamming of distant doors and shutters? Well, all this
seemed to be suggested in the ringing of the iron cord. The very
leaves, green and dewy, and the delicate branches, seemed to quiver as
the dreary message passed.
I thought,--This is a little too much! This old tree is getting to be
a very lugubrious spot. I don't want to hear any more such messages. I
almost wish I had never touched the wire. Strange! one reads such an
announcement in a newspaper very coolly;--why is it that I can't take
it coolly in a telegraphic despatch? We can read a thing with
indifference which we hear spoken with a shudder,--such prisoners are
we to our senses! I have had enough of this telegraphing. I sha'n't
close my eyes to-night, if I have any more of it.
I had now fairly got my foot on the branch below, and was slipping
myself gradually down, when the wire began to ring like a horn, and in
the merriest of strains. I paused and listened. I could fancy the
joyful barking of dogs in accompaniment. Ah, surely, this is some
sportsman,--"the hunter's call, to faun and dryad known." This smacks
of the bright sunshine and the green woods and the yellow fields. I
will stop and hear it.--It was just what I expected,--a jolly citizen
telegraphing his country friend to meet him with his guns and dogs at
such a place.
And immediately afterwards, in much the same key, came a musical note
and a message babbling of green fields, from a painter:--"I shall
leave town to-morrow. Meet me at Bullshornville at ten, A.M. Don't
forget to bring my field-easel, canvases, and the other traps."
If there is more of this music, I said, I think I shall stay. I love
the sportsmen and the artists, and am glad they are going to have a
good time. The weather promises well for them.
There was a little pause, and then a strain of perfect jubilation came
leaping along the wire, like the flying song of the bobolink over
tracts of blowing clover and apple-blossoms. I expected something very
rare,--a strain of poetry at least. It was only this:--"Mr. Grimkins,
Sir, we shall expect rooms for the bridal party at your hotel, on the
side overlooking the lake, if possible. Yours, P. Simpkins."
Ah, I said, that's all Greek to me,--poor, lonely bachelor that I am!
I wonder, by the way, if they ever wrote their love-letters by
telegraph.--But what is this coming? I am clearly getting back to my
normal condition:--"Miss Polly Wogg wishes to say that she has been
unable to procure the silk for Mrs. Papillon for less than five
dollars a yard."--Nonsense! I'm not in the dry-goods, nor millinery,
nor young-lady department.
And here was another:--"I have found an excellent school for Adolphus
in Birchville, near Mastersville Corners. Send him up without delay,
with all the school-books you can find."
And another,--important, very:--"I find that 'One touch of Nature
makes the whole world kin' is in 'Troilus and Cressida.' Don't send
the MS. without this correction."
But what's this, accompanied with a long, low whistle?--"The cars have
run off the track at Breakneck Hollow. Back your engine and wait for
We are getting into the minor key again, I thought. Listen!--"Mr. S.
died last night. You must be here to-morrow, if possible, at the
opening of the will."
Well, said I, I have had plenty of despatches, and have expended
enough sympathy, for one night. I have been very mysteriously
affected,--how, I can't exactly tell. But who will ever believe my
evening's adventure? Who will not laugh at my pretended discovery?
Even my cousin Moses will be incredulous. I shall be at least looked
upon as a _medium_, and so settled.
And here allow me to remark,--Have you not observed how easily things
apparently difficult and mysterious are arranged in the popular
understanding by the use of certain stereotyped names applied to them?
Only give a name to a wonder, or an unclassified phenomenon, or even
an unsound notion, and you instantly clear away all the fog of
mystery. Let an unprincipled fellow call his views Latitudinarianism
or Longitudinarianism, he may, with a little adroitness, go for a
respectable and consistent member of some sect. A filibuster may pass
current under some such label as Political or Territorial
Extensionist;--the name is a long, decent overcoat for his shabby
ideas. So when wonderful phenomena in the nervous system are
observed,--when tables are smashed by invisible hands,--when people
see ghosts through stone walls, and know what is passing in the heart
of Africa,--how easily you unlock your wardrobe of terms and clap on
the back of every eccentric fact your ready-made phrase-coat,--Animal
Magnetism, Biology, Odic Force, Optical Illusion, Second Sight,
Spirits, and what not! It is a wonderful labor-saving and faith-saving
process. People say, "Oh, is that all?" and pass on complacently.
There are such explanatory labels to be met with everywhere. They save
a deal of trouble. All the shops keep these overcoats,--shops
ecclesiastical, medical, juridical, professional, political, social.
Now all I have to do is, not to go to the second-hand slop-shops for
the phrase-coat I need for my naked discovery, but look for some
unfamiliar robe,--some name more _recherche_, learned, and
transcendental than my neighbors sport,--and then I shall pass muster.
The classic togas seem to be the most imposing. The Germans, who weave
their names out of their indigenous Saxon roots, are much too _naive_.
I will get a Greek Lexicon and set about it this very night.
After all, why should it be thought so improbable, in this age of
strange phenomena, that the ideas transmitted through the
electro-magnetic wire may be communicated to the brain,--especially
when there exist certain abnormal or semi-abnormal conditions of that
brain and its nerves? Is it not reasonable to suppose that all
magnetisms are one in essence? The singular experiences above related
seem to hint at the truth of such a view. If it be true that certain
delicately-organized persons have the power of telling the character
of others, who are entire strangers to them, simply by holding in
their hands letters written by those strangers, is it not full as much
within the scope of belief that there are those who, under certain
physical conditions, may detect the purport of an electro-magnetic
message,--that message being sent by vibrations of the wire through
the nerves to the brain? If all magnetisms are one in essence,--as I
am inclined to believe,--and if the nerves, the brain, and the mind
are so swayed by what we term animal magnetism, why not allow for the
strong probability of their being also, under certain conditions,
equally impressible by electro-magnetism? I put these questions to
scientific men; and I do not see why they should be answered by
silence or ridicule, merely because the whole subject is veiled in
It may be asked,--How can an electro-magnetic message be communicated
to the mind, without a knowledge of the alphabet used by the
telegraphers? This question may seem a poser to some minds. But I
don't see that it raises any grave difficulty. I answer the question
by asking another:--How can persons in the somnambulic state read with
the tops of their heads?
Besides, I once had the telegraph alphabet explained to me by one of
the wire-operators,--though I have forgotten it,--and it is possible,
that, in my semi-mesmeric condition, the recollection revived, so that
I knew that such and such pulsations of the wire stood for such and
But is there not a certain spiritual significance, also, in these
singular experiences here related?
We may safely lay down this doctrine,--a very old and much-thumbed
doctrine, but none the less true for all its dog-ears:--No man lives
for himself alone. He is related not only to the silent stars and the
singing-birds and the sunny landscape, but to every other human soul.
You say, This should not be stated so sermonically, but symbolically.
That is just what I have been doing in my narrative of the wires.
It gives one a great idea of human communion,--this power of sending
these spark-messages thousands of miles in a second. Far more
poetical, too,--is it not?--as well as more practical, than tying
billets under the wings of carrier-pigeons. It is removing so much
time and space out of the way,--those absorbents of spirits,--and
bringing mind into close contact with mind. But when one can read
these messages without the aid of machinery, by merely touching the
wires, how much greater does the symbol become!
All mankind are one. As some philosophers express it,--one great mind
includes us all. But then, as it would never do for all minds to be
literally one, any more than it would for all magnetisms to be
identical in their modes of manifestation, or for all the rivers,
creeks, and canals to flow together, so we have our natural barriers
and channels, our _propriums_, as the Swedish seer has it,--and so we
live and let live. We feel with others and think with others, but with
strict reservations. That evening among the wires, for instance,
brought me into wonderful intimate contact with a few of the joys and
sorrows of some of my fellow-beings; but an excess of such experiences
would interfere with our freedom and our happiness. It is our
self-hood, properly balanced, which constitutes our dignity, our
humanity. A certain degree, and a very considerable degree of
insulation is necessary, that individual life and mental equanimity
may go on.
But there may be a degree of insulation which is unbecoming a member
of the human family. It may become brutish,--or it may amount to the
ridiculous. In Paris, there was an old lady, of uncertain age, who
lived in the apartment beneath mine. I think I never saw her but
twice. She manifested her existence sometimes by complaining of the
romping of the children overhead, who called her the "bonne femme."
Why they gave her the name I don't know; for she seemed to have no
human ties in the world, and wasted her affections on a private
menagerie of parrots, canaries, and poodle-dogs. A few shocks of the
electric telegraph might have raised her out of her desert island, and
given her some glimpses of the great continents of human love and
A man who lives for himself alone sits on a sort of insulated glass
stool, with a _noli-me-tangere_ look at his fellow-men, and a
shivering dread of some electric shock from contact with them. He is a
non-conductor in relation to the great magnetic currents which run
pulsing along the invisible wires that connect one heart with another.
Preachers, philanthropists, and moralists are in the habit of saying
of such a person,--"How cold! how selfish! how unchristian!" I
sometimes fancy a citizen of the planet Venus, that social star of
evening and morning, might say,--"How absurd!" What a figure he cuts
there, sitting in solitary state upon his glass tripod,--in the middle
of a crowd of excited fellow-beings, hurried to and fro by their
passions and sympathies,--like an awkward country-bumpkin caught in
the midst of a gay crowd of polkers and waltzers at a ball,--or an
oyster bedded on a rock, with silver fishes playing rapid games of
hide and seek, love and hate, in the clear briny depths above and
beneath! If the angels ever look out of their sphere of intense
spiritual realities to indulge in a laugh, methinks such a lonely
tripod-sitter, cased over with his invulnerable, non-conducting cloak
and hood,--shrinking, dodging, or bracing himself up on the defensive,
as the crowd fans him with its rush or jostles up against him,--like
the man who fancied himself a teapot, and was forever warning people
not to come too near him,--might furnish a subject for a planetary
joke not unworthy of translation into the language of our dim earth.
One need not be a lonely bachelor, nor a lonely spinster, in order to
live alone. The loneliest are those who mingle with men bodily and yet
have no contact with them spiritually. There is no desert solitude
equal to that of a crowded city where you have no sympathies. I might
here quote Paris again, in illustration,--or, indeed, any foreign
city. A friend of mine had an _atelier_ once in the top of a house in
the Rue St. Honore. He knew not a soul in the house nor in the
neighborhood. There was a German tailor below, who once made him a
pair of pantaloons,--so they were connected sartorically and
pecuniarily, and, when they met, recognized one another: and there was
the _concierge_ below, who knew when he came in and went out,--that
was all. All day long the deafened roar of carts and carriages, and
the muffled cry of the _marchands des legumes_, were faintly heard
from below. And in an adjoining room a female voice (my friend could
never tell whether child's or woman's, for he never saw any one)
overflowed in tones of endearment on some unresponding creature,--he
could never guess whether it was a baby, or a bird, or a cat, or a
dog, or a lizard, (the French have such pets sometimes,) or an
enchanted prince, like that poor half-marble fellow in the "Arabian
Nights." In that garret the painter experienced for six months the
perfection of Parisian solitude. Now I dare say he or I might have
found social sympathies, by hunting them up; but he didn't, and I dare
say he was to blame, as I should be in the same situation,--and I am
willing to place myself in the same category with the menagerie-loving
old lady, above referred to, omitting the feathered and canine pets.
As to my mesmerico-telegraphic discovery, it may pass for what it is
worth. I shall submit it at least to my cousin Moses, as soon as he
returns from the South. People may believe it or not. People may say
it may be of practical use, or not. I shall overhaul my terminologies,
and, with the "metaphysical aid" of my cousin, fit it with a
scientific name which shall overtop all the _ologies_.
Having dressed my new Fact in a respectable and scholarlike coat, I
shall let him take his chance with the judicious public,--and content
myself, for the present, with making him a sort of humble _colporteur_
of the valuable tract on Human Brotherhood of which I have herewith
furnished a few dry specimens.
THE AUTOCRAT OF THE BREAKFAST-TABLE.
EVERY MAN HIS OWN BOSWELL.
The company looked a little flustered one morning when I came in,--so
much so, that I inquired of my neighbor, the divinity-student, what
had been going on. It appears that the young fellow whom they call
John had taken advantage of my being a little late (I having been
rather longer than usual dressing that morning) to circulate several
questions involving a quibble or play upon words,--in short,
containing that indignity to the human understanding, condemned in the
passages from the distinguished moralist of the last century and the
illustrious historian of the present, which I cited on a former
occasion, and known as a _pun_. After breakfast, one of the boarders
handed me a small roll of paper containing some of the questions and
their answers. I subjoin two or three of them, to show what a tendency
there is to frivolity and meaningless talk in young persons of a
certain sort, when not restrained by the presence of more reflective
natures.--It was asked, "Why tertian and quartan fevers were like
certain short-lived insects." Some interesting physiological relation
would be naturally suggested. The inquirer blushes to find that the
answer is in the paltry equivocation, that they _skip_ a day or
two.--"Why an Englishman must go to the Continent to weaken his grog
or punch." The answer proves to have no relation whatever to the
temperance-movement, as no better reason is given than that
island--(or, as it is absurdly written, _ile and_) water won't
mix.--But when I came to the next question and its answer, I felt that
patience ceased to be a virtue. "Why an onion is like a piano" is a
query that a person of sensibility would be slow to propose; but that
in an educated community an individual could be found to answer it in
these words,--"Because it smell odious," _quasi_, it's melodious,--is
not credible, but too true. I can show you the paper.
Dear reader, I beg your pardon for repeating such things. I know most
conversations reported in books are altogether above such trivial
details, but folly will come up at every table as surely as purslain
and chickweed and sorrel will come up in gardens. This young fellow
ought to have talked philosophy, I know perfectly well; but he
didn't,--he made jokes.
I am willing,--I said,--to exercise your ingenuity in a rational and
contemplative manner.--No, I do not proscribe certain forms of
philosophical speculation which involve an approach to the absurd or
the ludicrous, such as you may find, for example, in the folio of the
Reverend Father Thomas Sanchez, in his famous tractate, "De Sancto
Matrimonio." I will therefore turn this levity of yours to profit by
reading you a rhymed problem, wrought out by my friend the Professor.
THE DEACON'S MASTERPIECE: OR THE WONDERFUL "ONE-HOSS-SHAY."
A LOGICAL STORY.
Have you heard of the wonderful one-HOSS-shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then, of a sudden, it----ah, but stay,
I'll tell you what happened without delay,
Scaring the parson into fits,
Frightening people out of their wits,--
Have you ever heard of that, I say?
Seventeen hundred and fifty-five.
_Georgius Secundus_ was then alive,--
Snuffy old drone from the German hive!
That was the year when Lisbon-town
Saw the earth open and gulp her down,
And Braddock's army was done so brown,
Left without a scalp to its crown.
It was on the terrible Earthquake-day
That the Deacon finished the one-hoss-shay.
Now in building of chaises, I tell you what,
There is always _somewhere_, a weakest spot,--
In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,
In panel, or crossbar, or floor, or sill,
In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace,--lurking still
Find it somewhere you must and will,--
Above or below, or within or without,--
And that's the reason, beyond a doubt,
A chaise _breaks down_, but doesn't _wear out_,
But the Deacon swore (as Deacons do,
With an "I dew vum," or an "I tell _yeou_,")
He would build one shay to beat the taown
'n' the keounty 'n' all the kentry raoun';
It should be so built that it _couldn'_ break daown:
--"Fur," said the Deacon, "'t's mighty plain
Thut the weakes' place mus' stan' the strain;
'n' the way t' fix it, uz I maintain,
Is only jest
To make that place uz strong uz the rest."
So the Deacon inquired of the village folk
Where he could find the strongest oak,
That couldn't be split nor bent nor broke,--
That was for spokes and floor and sills;
He sent for lancewood to make the thills;
The crossbars were ash, from the straightest trees;
The panels of white-wood, that cuts like cheese,
But lasts like iron for things like these;
The hubs of logs from the "Settler's ellum,"--
Last of its timber,--they couldn't sell 'em,--
Never an axe had seen their chips,
And the wedges flew from between their lips,
Their blunt ends frizzled like celery-tips;
Step and prop-iron, bolt and screw,
Spring, tire, axle, and linchpin too,
Steel of the finest, bright and blue;
Thoroughbrace bison-skin, thick and wide;
Boot, top, dasher, from tough old hide
Found in the pit when the tanner died.
That was the way he "put her through."--
"There!" said the Deacon, "naow she'll dew!"
Do! I tell you, I rather guess
She was a wonder, and nothing less!
Colts grew horses, beards turned gray,
Deacon and deaconess dropped away,
Children and grand-children--where were they?
But there stood the stout old one-hoss-shay
As fresh as on Lisbon-earthquake-day!
EIGHTEEN HUNDRED;---it came and found
The Deacon's Masterpiece strong and sound.
Eighteen hundred increased by ten;--
"Hahnsum kerridge" they called it then.
Eighteen hundred and twenty came;--
Running as usual; much the same.
Thirty and forty at last arrive,
And then come fifty, and FIFTY-FIVE.
Little of all we value here
Wakes on the morn of its hundredth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, there's nothing that keeps its youth,
So far as I know, but a tree and truth.
(This is a moral that runs at large;
Take it.--You're welcome--No extra charge.)
FIRST OF NOVEMBER,--the Earthquake-day.--
There are traces of age in the one-hoss-shay,
A general flavor of mild decay,
But nothing local, as one may say.
There couldn't be,--for the Deacon's art
Had made it so like in every part
That there wasn't a chance for one to start.
For the wheels were just as strong as the thills,
And the floor was just as strong as the sills,
And the panels just as strong as the floor,
And the whippletree neither less nor more,
And the back-crossbar as strong as the fore,
And spring and axle and hub _encore_.
And yet, _as a whole_, it is past a doubt
In another hour it will be _worn out_!
First of November, 'Fifty-five!
This morning the parson takes a drive.
Now, small boys, get out of the way!
Here comes the wonderful one-hoss-shay,
Drawn by a rat-tailed, ewe-necked bay.
"Huddup!" said the parson.--Off went they.
The parson was working his Sunday's text,--
Had got to _fifthly_, and stopped perplexed
At what the---Moses--was coming next.
All at once the horse stood still,
Close by the meet'n'-house on the hill.
--First a shiver, and then a thrill,
Then something decidedly like a spill,--
And the parson was sitting upon a rock,
At half-past nine by the meet'n'-house-clock,--
Just the hour of the Earthquake-shock!
--What do you think the parson found,
When he got up and stared around?
The poor old chaise in a heap or mound,
As if it had been to the mill and ground!
You see, of course, if you're not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once,--
All at once, and nothing first,--
Just as bubbles do when they burst.
End of the wonderful one-hoss-shay.
Logic is logic. That's all I say.
--I think there is one habit,--I said to our company a day or two
afterwards,--worse than that of punning. It is the gradual
substitution of cant or flash terms for words which truly characterize
their objects. I have known several very genteel idiots whose whole
vocabulary had deliquesced into some half dozen expressions. All
things fell into one of two great categories,--_fast_ or _slow_. Man's
chief end was to be a _brick_. When the great calamities of life
overtook their friends, these last were spoken of as being _a good
deal cut up_. Nine-tenths of human existence were summed up in the
single word, _bore_. These expressions come to be the algebraic
symbols of minds which have grown too weak or indolent to
discriminate. They are the blank checks of intellectual
bankruptcy;--you may fill them up with what idea you like; it makes no
difference, for there are no funds in the treasury upon which they are
drawn. Colleges and good-for-nothing smoking-clubs are the places
where these conversational fungi spring up most luxuriantly. Don't
think I undervalue the proper use and application of a cant word or
phrase. It adds piquancy to conversation, as a mushroom does to a
sauce. But it is no better than a toadstool, odious to the sense and
poisonous to the intellect, when it spawns itself all over the talk of
men and youths capable of talking, as it sometimes does. As we hear
flash phraseology, it is commonly the dishwater from the washings of
English dandyism, school-boy or full-grown, wrung out of a
three-volume novel which had sopped it up, or decanted from the
pictured urn of Mr. Verdant Green, and diluted to suit the provincial
----The young fellow called John spoke up sharply and said, it was
"rum" to hear me "pitchin' into fellers" for "goin' it in the slang
line," when I used all the flash words myself just when I pleased.
----I replied with my usual forbearance.--Certainly, to give up the
algebraic symbol, because _a_ or _b_ is often a cover for ideal
nihility, would be unwise. I have heard a child laboring to express a
certain condition, involving a hitherto undescribed sensation, (as it
supposed,) all of which could have been sufficiently explained by
the participle--_bored_. I have seen a country-clergyman, with a
one-story intellect and a one-horse vocabulary, who has consumed his
valuable time (and mine) freely, in developing an opinion of a
brother-minister's discourse which would have been abundantly
characterized by a peach-down-lipped sophomore in the one
word--_slow_. Let us discriminate, and be shy of absolute
proscription. I am omniverbivorous by nature and training. Passing by
such words as are poisonous, I can swallow most others, and chew such
as I cannot swallow.
Dandies are not good for much, but they are good for something. They
invent or keep in circulation those conversational blank checks or
counters just spoken of, which intellectual capitalists may sometimes
find it worth their while to borrow of them. They are useful, too, in
keeping up the standard of dress, which, but for them, would
deteriorate, and become, what some old fools would have it, a matter
of convenience, and not of taste and art. Yes, I like dandies well
enough,--on one condition.
----What is that, Sir?--said the divinity-student.
----That they have pluck. I find that lies at the bottom of all true
dandyism. A little boy dressed up very fine, who puts his finger in
his mouth and takes to crying, if other boys make fun of him, looks
very silly. But if he turns red in the face and knotty in the fists,
and makes an example of the biggest of his assailants, throwing off
his fine Leghorn and his thickly-buttoned jacket, if necessary, to
consummate the act of justice, his small toggery takes on the
splendors of the crested helmet that frightened Astyanax. You remember
that the Duke said his dandy officers were his best officers. The
"Sunday blood," the super-superb sartorial equestrian of our annual
Fast-day, is not imposing or dangerous. But such fellows as Brummel
and D'Orsay and Byron are not to be snubbed quite so easily. Look out
for "la main de fer sous le gant de velours" (which I printed in
English the other day without quotation-marks, thinking whether any
_scarabaeus criticus_ would add this to his globe and roll in glory
with it into the newspapers,--which he didn't do it, in the charming
pleonasm of the London language, and therefore I claim the sole merit
of exposing the same). A good many powerful and dangerous people have
had a decided dash of dandyism about them. There was Alcibiades, the
"curled son of Clinias," an accomplished young man, but what would be
called a "swell" in these days. There was Aristoteles, a very
distinguished writer, of whom you have heard,--a philosopher, in
short, whom it took centuries to learn, centuries to unlearn, and is
now going to take a generation or more to learn over again. Regular
dandy, he was. So was Marcus Antonius: and though he lost his game, he
played for big stakes, and it wasn't his dandyism that spoiled his
chance. Petrarca was not to be despised as a scholar or a poet, but he
was one of the same sort. So was Sir Humphrey Davy; so was Lord
Palmerston, formerly, if I am not forgetful. Yes,--a dandy is good for
something as such; and dandies such as I was just speaking of have
rocked this planet like a cradle,--aye, and left it swinging to this
day.--Still, if I were you, I wouldn't go to the tailor's, on the
strength of these remarks, and run up a long bill which will render
pockets a superfluity in your next suit. _Elegans "nascitur, non
fit._" A man is born a dandy, as he is born a poet. There are heads
that can't wear hats; there are necks that can't fit cravats; there
are jaws that can't fill out collars--(Willis touched this last point
in one of his earlier ambrotypes, if I remember rightly); there are
_tournures_ nothing can humanize, and movements nothing can subdue to
the gracious suavity or elegant languor or stately serenity which
belong to different styles of dandyism.
We are forming an aristocracy, as you may observe, in this
country,--not a _gratia-Dei_, nor a _jure-divino_ one,--but a
_de-facto_ upper stratum of being, which floats over the turbid waves
of common life as the iridescent film you may have seen spreading over
the water about our wharves,--very splendid, though its origin may
have been tar, tallow, train-oil, or other such unctuous commodities.
I say, then, we are forming an aristocracy; and, transitory as its
individual life often is, it maintains itself tolerably, as a whole.
Of course, money is its corner-stone. But now observe this. Money kept
for two or three generations transforms a race,--I don't mean merely
in manners and hereditary culture, but in blood and bone. Money buys
air and sunshine, in which children grow up more kindly, of course,
than in close, back streets; it buys country-places to give them happy
and healthy summers, good nursing, good doctoring, and the best cuts
of beef and mutton. When the spring-chickens come to market----I beg
your pardon,--that is not what I was going to speak of. As the young
females of each successive season come on, the finest specimens among
them, other things being equal, are apt to attract those who can
afford the expensive luxury of beauty. The physical character of the
next generation rises in consequence. It is plain that certain
families have in this way acquired an elevated type of face and
figure, and that in a small circle of city-connections one may
sometimes find models of both sexes which one of the rural counties
would find it hard to match from all its townships put together.
Because there is a good deal of running down, of degeneration and
waste of life, among the richer classes, you must not overlook the
equally obvious fact I have just spoken of,--which in one or two
generations more will be, I think, much more patent than just now.
The weak point in our chryso-aristocracy is the same I have alluded to
in connection with cheap dandyism. Its thorough manhood, its
high-caste gallantry, are not so manifest as the plate-glass of its
windows and the more or less legitimate heraldry of its coach-panels.
It is very curious to observe of how small account military folks are
held among our Northern people. Our young men must gild their spurs,
but they need not win them. The equal division of property keeps the
younger sons of rich people above the necessity of military service.
Thus the army loses an element of refinement, and the moneyed upper
class forgets what it is to count heroism among its virtues. Still I
don't believe in any aristocracy without pluck as its backbone. Ours
may show it when the time comes, if it ever does come.
----These United States furnish the greatest market for intellectual
_green fruit_ of all the places in the world. I think so, at any rate.
The demand for intellectual labor is so enormous and the market so far
from nice, that young talent is apt to fare like unripe
gooseberries--get plucked to make a fool of. Think of a country which
buys eighty thousand copies of the "Proverbial Philosophy," while the
author's admiring countrymen have been buying twelve thousand! How can
one let his fruit hang in the sun until it gets fully ripe, while
there are eighty thousand such hungry mouths ready to swallow it and
proclaim its praises? Consequently, there never was such a collection
of crude pippins and half-grown windfalls as our native literature
displays among its fruits. There are literary green-groceries at every
corner, which will buy anything, from a button-pear to a pine-apple.
It takes a long apprenticeship to train a whole people to reading and
writing. The temptation of money and fame is too great for young
people. Do I not remember that glorious moment when the late Mr. ----
we won't say who,--editor of the ---- we won't say what, offered me
the sum of fifty cents _per_ double-columned quarto page for shaking
my young boughs over his foolscap apron? Was it not an intoxicating
vision of gold and glory? I should doubtless have revelled in its
wealth and splendor, but for learning the fact that the _fifty cents_
was to be considered a rhetorical embellishment, and by no means a
literal expression of past fact or present intention.
----Beware of making your moral staple consist of the negative
virtues. It is good to abstain, and teach others to abstain, from all
that is sinful or hurtful. But making a business of it leads to
emaciation of character, unless one feeds largely also on the more
nutritious diet of active sympathetic benevolence.
----I don't believe one word of what you are saying,--spoke up the
angular female in black bombazine.
I am sorry you disbelieve it, Madam,--I said, and added softly to my
next neighbor,--but you prove it.
The young fellow sitting near me winked; and the divinity-student
said, in an undertone,--_Optime dictum_.
Your talking Latin,--said I,--reminds me of an odd trick of one of my
old tutors. He read so much of that language, that his English half
turned into it. He got caught in town, one hot summer, in pretty close
quarters, and wrote, or began to write, a series of city pastorals.
Eclogues he called them, and meant to have published them by
subscription. I remember some of his verses, if you want to hear
them.--You, Sir, (addressing myself to the divinity-student,) and all
such as have been through college, or, what is the same thing,
received an honorary degree, will understand them without a
dictionary. The old man had a great deal to say about "aestivation,"
as he called it, in opposition, as one might say, to _hibernation_.
Intramural festivation, or town-life in summer, he would say, is a
peculiar form of suspended existence or semi-asphyxia. One wakes up
from it about the beginning of the last week in September. This is
what I remember of his poem:--
_An Unpublished Poem, by my late Latin Tutor._
In candent ire the solar splendor flames;
The foles, languescent, pend from arid rances;
His humid front the cive, anheling, wipes,
And dreams of erring on ventiferous ripes.
How dulce to vive occult to mortal eyes,
Dorm on the herb with none to supervise,
Carp the suave berries from the crescent vine,
And bibe the flow from longicaudate kine!
To me, alas! no verdurous visions come,
Save yon exigous pool's conferva-scum,--
No concave vast repeats the tender hue
That laves my milk-jug with celestial blue!
Me wretched! Let me curr to quercine shades!
Effund your albid hausts, lactiferous maids!
Oh, might I vole to some umbrageous clump,--
--I have lived by the sea-shore and by the mountains.--No, I am not
going to say which is best. The one where your place is is the best
for you. But this difference there is: you can domesticate mountains,
but the sea is _ferae naturae_. You may have a hut, or know the owner
of one, on the mountain-side; you see a light half-way up its ascent
in the evening, and you know there is a home, and you might share it.
You have noted certain trees, perhaps; you know the particular zone
where the hemlocks look so black in October, when the maples and
beeches have faded. All its reliefs and intaglios have electrotyped
themselves in the medallions that hang round the walls of your
memory's chamber.--The sea remembers nothing. It is feline. It licks
your feet,--its huge flanks purr very pleasantly for you; but it will
crack your bones and eat you, for all that, and wipe the crimsoned
foam from its jaws as if nothing had happened. The mountains give
their lost children berries and water; the sea mocks their thirst and
lets them die. The mountains have a grand, stupid, lovable
tranquillity; the sea has a fascinating, treacherous intelligence. The
mountains lie about like huge ruminants, their broad backs awful to
look upon, but safe to handle. The sea smooths its silver scales until
you cannot see their joints,--but their shining is that of a snake's
belly, after all.--In deeper suggestiveness I find as great a
difference. The mountains dwarf mankind and foreshorten the procession
of its long generations. The sea drowns out humanity and time; it has
no sympathy with either; for it belongs to eternity, and of that it
sings its monotonous song forever and ever.
Yet I should love to have a little box by the sea-shore. I should love
to gaze out on the wild feline element from a front window of my own,
just as I should love to look on a caged panther, and see it stretch
its shining length, and then curl over and lap its smooth sides, and
by-and-by begin to lash itself into rage and show its white teeth and
spring at its bars, and howl the cry of its mad, but, to me, harmless
fury.--And then,--to look at it with that inward eye,--who does not
love to shuffle off time and its concerns, at intervals,--to forget
who is President and who is Governor, what race he belongs to, what
language he speaks, which golden-headed nail of the firmament his
particular planetary system is hung upon, and listen to the great
liquid metronome as it beats its solemn measure, steadily swinging
when the solo or duet of human life began, and to swing just as
steadily after the human chorus has died out and man is a fossil on
--What should decide one, in choosing a summer
residence?--Constitution, first of all. How much snow could you melt
in an hour, if you were planted in a hogshead of it? Comfort is
essential to enjoyment. All sensitive people should remember that