Part 4 out of 10
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THE GREAT STONE FACE
One afternoon, when the sun was going down, a mother and her little boy sat
at the door of their cottage, talking about the Great Stone Face. They had
but to lift their eyes, and there it was plainly to be seen, though miles
away, with the sunshine brightening all its features.
And what was the Great Stone Face?
Embosomed amongst a family of lofty mountains, there was a valley so
spacious that it contained many thousand inhabitants. Some of these good
people dwelt in log-huts, with the black forest all around them, on the
steep and difficult hillsides. Others had their homes in comfortable
farm-houses, and cultivated the rich soil on the gentle slopes or level
surfaces of the valley. Others, again, were congregated into populous
villages, where some wild, highland rivulet, tumbling down from its
birthplace in the upper mountain region, had been caught and tamed by human
cunning, and compelled to turn the machinery of cotton-factories. The
inhabitants of this valley, in short, were numerous, and of many modes of
life. But all of them, grown people and children, had a kind of familiarity
with the Great Stone Face, although some possessed the gift of
distinguishing this grand natural phenomenon more perfectly than many of
The Great Stone Face, then, was a work of Nature in her mood of majestic
playfulness, formed on the perpendicular side of a mountain by some immense
rocks, which had been thrown together in such a position as, when viewed at
a proper distance, precisely to resemble the features of the human
countenance. It seemed as if an enormous giant, or a Titan, had sculptured
his own likeness on the precipice. There was the broad arch of the
forehead, a hundred feet in height; the nose, with its long bridge; and the
vast lips, which, if they could have spoken, would have rolled their
thunder accents from one end of the valley to the other. True it is, that
if the spectator approached too near, he lost the outline of the gigantic
visage, and could discern only a heap of ponderous and gigantic rocks,
piled in chaotic ruin one upon another. Retracing his steps, however, the
wondrous features would again be seen; and the farther he withdrew from
them, the more like a human face, with all its original divinity intact,
did they appear; until, as it grew dim in the distance, with the clouds and
glorified vapor of the mountains clustering about it, the Great Stone Face
seemed positively to be alive.
It was a happy lot for children to grow up to manhood or womanhood with the
Great Stone Face before their eyes, for all the features were noble, and
the expression was at once grand and sweet, as if it were the glow of a
vast, warm heart, that embraced all mankind in its affections, and had room
for more. It was an education only to look at it. According to the belief
of many people, the valley owed much of its fertility to this benign aspect
that was continually beaming over it, illuminating the clouds, and infusing
its tenderness into the sunshine.
As we began with saying, a mother and her little boy sat at their
cottage-door, gazing at the Great Stone Face, and talking about it. The
child's name was Ernest.
"Mother," said he, while the Titanic visage smiled on him, "I wish that it
could speak, for it looks so very kindly that its voice must needs be
pleasant. If I were to see a man with such a face, I should love him
"If an old prophecy should come to pass," answered his mother, "we may see
a man, some time or other, with exactly such a face as that."
"What prophecy do you mean, dear mother?" eagerly inquired Ernest. "Pray
tell me all about it!"
So his mother told him a story that her own mother had told to her, when
she herself was younger than little Ernest; a story, not of things that
were past, but of what was yet to come; a story, nevertheless, so very old,
that even the Indians, who formerly inhabited this valley, had heard it
from their forefathers, to whom, as they affirmed, it had been murmured by
the mountain streams, and whispered by the wind among the tree-tops. The
purport was, that, at some future day, a child should be born hereabouts,
who was destined to become the greatest and noblest personage of his time,
and whose countenance, in manhood, should bear an exact resemblance to the
Great Stone Face. Not a few old-fashioned people, and young ones likewise,
in the ardor of their hopes, still cherished an enduring faith in this old
prophecy. But others, who had seen more of the world, had watched and
waited till they were weary, and had beheld no man with such a face, nor
any man that proved to be much greater or nobler than his neighbors,
concluded it to be nothing but an idle tale. At all events, the great man
of the prophecy had not yet appeared.
"O mother, dear mother!" cried Ernest, clapping his hands above his head,
"I do hope that I shall live to see him!"
His mother was an affectionate and thoughtful woman, and felt that it was
wisest not to discourage the generous hopes of her little boy. So she only
said to him, "Perhaps you may."
And Ernest never forgot the story that his mother told him. It was always
in his mind, whenever he looked upon the Great Stone Face. He spent his
childhood in the log-cottage where he was born, and was dutiful to his
mother, and helpful to her in many things, assisting her much with his
little hands, and more with his loving heart. In this manner, from a happy
yet often pensive child, he grew up to be a mild, quiet, unobtrusive boy,
and sun-browned with labor in the fields, but with more intelligence
brightening his aspect than is seen in many lads who have been taught at
famous schools. Yet Ernest had had no teacher, save only that the Great
Stone Face became one to him. When the toil of the day was over, he would
gaze at it for hours, until he began to imagine that those vast features
recognized him, and gave him a smile of kindness and encouragement,
responsive to his own look of veneration. We must not take upon us to
affirm that this was a mistake, although the Face may have looked no more
kindly at Ernest than at all the world besides. But the secret was that the
boy's tender and confiding simplicity discerned what other people could not
see; and thus the love, which was meant for all, became his peculiar
About this time there went a rumor throughout the valley, that the great
man, foretold from ages long ago, who was to bear a resemblance to the
Great Stone Face, had appeared at last. It seems that, many years before, a
young man had migrated from the valley and settled at a distant seaport,
where, after getting together a little money, he had set up as a
shopkeeper. His name--but I could never learn whether it was his real one,
or a nickname that had grown out of his habits and success in life--was
Gathergold. Being shrewd and active, and endowed by Providence with that
inscrutable faculty which develops itself in what the world calls luck, he
became an exceedingly rich merchant, and owner of a whole fleet of
bulky-bottomed ships. All the countries of the globe appeared to join hands
for the mere purpose of adding heap after heap to the mountainous
accumulation of this one man's wealth. The cold regions of the north,
almost within the gloom and shadow of the Arctic Circle, sent him their
tribute in the shape of furs; hot Africa sifted for him the golden sands of
her rivers, and gathered up the ivory tusks of her great elephants out of
the forests; the East came bringing him the rich shawls, and spices, and
teas, and the effulgence of diamonds, and the gleaming purity of large
pearls. The ocean, not to be behindhand with the earth, yielded up her
mighty whales, that Mr. Gathergold might sell their oil, and make a profit
on it. Be the original commodity what it might, it was gold within his
grasp. It might be said of him, as of Midas in the fable, that whatever he
touched with his finger immediately glistened, and grew yellow, and was
changed at once into sterling metal, or, which suited him still better,
into piles of coin. And, when Mr. Gathergold had become so very rich that
it would have taken him a hundred years only to count his wealth, he
bethought himself of his native valley, and resolved to go back thither,
and end his days where he was born. With this purpose in view, he sent a
skilful architect to build him such a palace as should be fit for a man of
his vast wealth to live in.
As I have said above, it had already been rumored in the valley that Mr.
Gathergold had turned out to be the prophetic personage so long and vainly
looked for, and that his visage was the perfect and undeniable similitude
of the Great Stone Face. People were the more ready to believe that this
must needs be the fact, when they beheld the splendid edifice that rose, as
if by enchantment, on the site of his father's old weather-beaten
farm-house. The exterior was of marble, so dazzlingly white that it seemed
as though the whole structure might melt away in the sunshine, like those
humbler ones which Mr. Gathergold, in his young play-days, before his
fingers were gifted with the touch of transmutation, had been accustomed to
build of snow. It had a richly ornamented portico, supported by tall
pillars, beneath which was a lofty door, studded with silver knobs, and
made of a kind of variegated wood that had been brought from beyond the
sea. The windows, from the floor to the ceiling of each stately apartment,
were composed, respectively, of but one enormous pane of glass, so
transparently pure that it was said to be a finer medium than even the
vacant atmosphere. Hardly anybody had been permitted to see the interior of
this palace; but it was reported, and with good semblance of truth, to be
far more gorgeous than the outside, insomuch that whatever was iron or
brass in other houses was silver or gold in this; and Mr. Gathergold's
bedchamber, especially, made such a glittering appearance that no ordinary
man would have been able to close his eyes there. But, on the other hand,
Mr. Gathergold was now so inured to wealth, that perhaps he could not have
closed his eyes unless where the gleam of it was certain to find its way
beneath his eyelids.
In due time, the mansion was finished; next came the upholsterers, with
magnificent furniture; then, a whole troop of black and white servants, the
harbingers of Mr. Gathergold, who, in his own majestic person, was expected
to arrive at sunset. Our friend Ernest, meanwhile, had been deeply stirred
by the idea that the great man, the noble man, the man of prophecy, after
so many ages of delay, was at length to be made manifest to his native
valley. He knew, boy as he was, that there were a thousand ways in which
Mr. Gathergold, with his vast wealth, might transform himself into an angel
of beneficence, and assume a control over human affairs as wide and
benignant as the smile of the Great Stone Face. Full of faith and hope,
Ernest doubted not that what the people said was true, and that now he was
to behold the living likeness of those wondrous features on the
mountain-side. While the boy was still gazing up the valley, and fancying,
as he always did, that the Great Stone Face returned his gaze and looked
kindly at him, the rumbling of wheels was heard, approaching swiftly along
the winding road.
"Here he comes!" cried a group of people who were assembled to witness the
arrival. "Here comes the great Mr. Gathergold!" A carriage, drawn by four
horses, dashed round the turn of the road. Within it, thrust partly out of
the window, appeared the physiognomy of the old man, with a skin as yellow
as if his own Midas-hand had transmuted it. He had a low forehead, small,
sharp eyes, puckered about with innumerable wrinkles, and very thin lips,
which he made still thinner by pressing them forcibly together.
"The very image of the Great Stone Face!" shouted the people. "Sure enough,
the old prophecy is true; and here we have the great man come, at last!"
And, what greatly perplexed Ernest, they seemed actually to believe that
here was the likeness which they spoke of. By the roadside there chanced to
be an old beggar-woman and two little beggar-children, stragglers from some
far-off region, who, as the carriage rolled onward, held out their hands
and lifted up their doleful voices, most piteously beseeching charity. A
yellow claw--the very same that had clawed together so much wealth--poked
itself out of the coach-window, and dropt some copper coins upon the
ground; so that, though the great man's name seems to have been Gathergold,
he might just as suitably have been nicknamed Scattercopper. Still,
nevertheless, with an earnest shout, and evidently with as much good faith
as ever, the people bellowed,--
"He is the very image of the Great Stone Pace!"
But Ernest turned sadly from the wrinkled shrewdness of that sordid visage,
and gazed up the valley, where, amid a gathering mist, gilded by the last
sun beams, he could still distinguish those glorious features which had
impressed themselves into his soul. Their aspect cheered him. What did the
benign lips seem to say?
"He will come! Fear not, Ernest; the man will come!"
The years went on, and Ernest ceased to be a boy. He had grown, to be a
young man now. He attracted little notice from the other inhabitants of the
valley; for they saw nothing remarkable in his way of life, save that, when
the labor of the day was over, he still loved to go apart and gaze and
meditate upon the Great Stone Face. According to their idea of the matter,
it was a folly, indeed, but pardonable, inasmuch as Ernest was industrious,
kind, and neighborly, and neglected no duty for the sake of indulging this
idle habit. They knew not that the Great Stone Face had become a teacher to
him, and that the sentiment which was expressed in it would enlarge the
young man's heart, and fill it with wider and deeper sympathies than other
hearts. They knew not that thence would come a better wisdom than could be
learned from books, and a better life than could be moulded on the defaced
example of other human lives. Neither did Ernest know that the thoughts and
affections which came to him so naturally, in the fields and at the
fireside, and wherever he communed with himself, were of a higher tone than
those which all men shared with him. A simple soul,--simple as when his
mother first taught him the old prophecy,--he beheld the marvelous features
beaming adown the valley, and still wondered that their human counterpart
was so long in making his appearance.
By this time poor Mr. Gathergold was dead and buried; and the oddest part
of the matter was, that his wealth, which was the body and spirit of his
existence, had disappeared before his death, leaving nothing of him but a
living skeleton, covered over with a wrinkled, yellow skin. Since the
melting away of his gold, it had been very generally conceded that there
was no such striking resemblance, after all, betwixt the ignoble features
of the ruined merchant and that majestic face upon the mountainside. So the
people ceased to honor him during his lifetime, and quietly consigned him
to forgetfulness after his decease. Once in a while, it is true, his memory
was brought up in connection with the magnificent palace which he had
built, and which had long ago been turned into a hotel for the
accommodation of strangers, multitudes of whom came, every summer, to visit
that famous natural curiosity, the Great Stone Face. Thus, Mr. Gathergold
being discredited and thrown into the shade, the man of prophecy was yet to
It so happened that a native-born son of the valley, many years before, had
enlisted as a soldier, and, after a great deal of hard fighting, had now
become an illustrious commander. Whatever he may be called in history, he
was known in camps and on the battle-field under the nickname of Old
Blood-and-Thunder. This war-worn veteran, being now infirm with age and
wounds, and weary of the turmoil of a military life, and of the roll of the
drum and the clangor of the trumpet, that had so long been ringing in his
ears, had lately signified a purpose of returning to his native valley,
hoping to find repose where he remembered to have left it. The inhabitants,
his old neighbors and their grown-up children, were resolved to welcome the
renowned warrior with a salute of cannon and a public dinner; and all the
more enthusiastically, it being affirmed that now, at last, the likeness of
the Great Stone Face had actually appeared. An aid-de-camp of Old
Blood-and-Thunder, traveling through the valley, was said to have been
struck with the resemblance. Moreover the schoolmates and early
acquaintances of the general were ready to testify, on oath, that, to the
best of their recollection, the aforesaid general had been exceedingly like
the majestic image, even when a boy, only that the idea had never occurred
to them at that period. Great, therefore, was the excitement throughout the
valley; and many people, who had never once thought of glancing at the
Great Stone Face for years before, now spent their time in gazing at it,
for the sake of knowing exactly how General Blood-and-Thunder looked.
On the day of the great festival, Ernest, with all the other people of the
valley, left their work, and proceeded to the spot where the sylvan banquet
was prepared. As he approached, the loud voice of the Rev. Dr. Battleblast
was heard, beseeching a blessing on the good things set before them, and on
the distinguished friend of peace in whose honor they were assembled. The
tables were arranged in a cleared space of the woods, shut in by the
surrounding trees, except where a vista opened eastward, and afforded a
distant view of the Great Stone Face. Over the general's chair, which was a
relic from the home of Washington, there was an arch of verdant boughs,
with the laurel profusely intermixed, and surmounted by his country's
banner, beneath which he had won his victories. Our friend Ernest raised
himself on his tiptoes, in hopes to get a glimpse of the celebrated guest;
but there was a mighty crowd about the tables anxious to hear the toasts
and speeches, and to catch any word that might fall from the general in
reply; and a volunteer company, doing duty as a guard, pricked ruthlessly
with their bayonets at any particularly quiet person among the throng. So
Ernest, being of an unobtrusive character, was thrust quite into the
background, where he could see no more of Old Blood-and-Thunder's
physiognomy than if it had been still blazing on the battle-field. To
console himself, he turned towards the Great Stone Face, which, like a
faithful and long-remembered friend, looked back and smiled upon him
through the vista of the forest. Meanwhile, however, he could overhear the
remarks of various individuals, who were comparing the features of the hero
with the face on the distant mountain-side.
"'Tis the same face, to a hair!" cried one man, cutting a caper for joy.
"Wonderfully like, that's a fact!" responded another.
"Like! why, I call it Old Blood-and-Thunder himself, in a monstrous
looking-glass!" cried a third. "And why not? He's the greatest man of this
or any other age, beyond a doubt."
And then all three of the speakers gave a great shout, which communicated
electricity to the crowd, and called forth a roar from a thousand voices,
that went reverberating for miles among the mountains, until you might have
supposed that the Great Stone Face had poured its thunder-breath into the
cry. All these comments, and this vast enthusiasm, served the more to
interest our friend; nor did he think of questioning that now, at length,
the mountain-visage had found its human counterpart. It is true, Ernest had
imagined that this long-looked-for personage would appear in the character
of a man of peace, uttering wisdom, and doing good, and making people
happy. But, taking an habitual breadth of view, with all his simplicity, he
contended that Providence should choose its own method of blessing mankind,
and could conceive that this great end might be effected even by a warrior
and a bloody sword, should inscrutable wisdom see fit to order matters so.
"The general! the general!" was now the cry. "Hush! silence! Old
Blood-and-Thunder's going to make a speech."
Even so; for, the cloth being removed, the general's health had been drunk,
amid shouts of applause, and he now stood upon his feet to thank the
company. Ernest saw him. There he was, over the shoulders of the crowd,
from the two glittering epaulets and embroidered collar upward, beneath the
arch of green boughs with intertwined laurel, and the banner drooping as if
to shade his brow! And there, too, visible in the same glance, through the
vista of the forest, appeared the Great Stone Face! And was there, indeed,
such a resemblance as the crowd had testified? Alas, Ernest could not
recognize it! He beheld a war-worn and weather-beaten countenance, full of
energy, and expressive of an iron will; but the gentle wisdom, the deep,
broad, tender sympathies, were altogether wanting in Old
Blood-and-Thunder's visage; and even if the Great Stone Face had assumed
his look of stern command, the milder traits would still have tempered it.
"This is not the man of prophecy," sighed Ernest to himself, as he made his
way out of the throng. "And must the world wait longer yet?"
The mists had congregated about the distant mountain-side, and there were
seen the grand and awful features of the Great Stone Face, awful but
benignant, as if a mighty angel were sitting among the hills, and enrobing
himself in a cloud-vesture of gold and purple. As he looked, Ernest could
hardly believe but that a smile beamed over the whole visage, with a
radiance still brightening, although without motion of the lips. It was
probably the effect of the western sunshine, melting through the thinly
diffused vapors that had swept between him and the object that he gazed at.
But--as it always did--the aspect of his marvelous friend made Ernest as
hopeful as if he had never hoped in vain.
"Fear not, Ernest," said his heart, even as if the Great Face were
whispering him,--"fear not, Ernest; he will come." More years sped swiftly
and tranquilly away. Ernest still dwelt in his native valley, and was now a
man of middle age. By imperceptible degrees, he had become known among the
people. Now, as heretofore, he labored for his bread, and was the same
simple-hearted man that he had always been. But he had thought and felt so
much, he had given so many of the best hours of his life to unworldly hopes
for some great good to mankind, that it seemed as though he had been
talking with the angels, and had imbibed a portion of their wisdom
unawares. It was visible in the calm and well-considered beneficence of his
daily life, the quiet stream of which had made a wide green margin all
along its course. Not a day passed by, that the world was not the better
because this man, humble as he was, had lived. He never stepped aside from
his own path, yet would always reach a blessing to his neighbor. Almost
involuntarily, too, he had become a preacher. The pure and high simplicity
of his thought, which, as one of its manifestations, took shape in the good
deeds that dropped silently from his hand, flowed also forth in speech. He
uttered truths that wrought upon and moulded the lives of those who heard
him. His auditors, it may be, never suspected that Ernest, their own
neighbor and familiar friend, was more than an ordinary man; least of all
did Ernest himself suspect it; but, inevitably as the murmur of a rivulet,
came thoughts out of his mouth that no other human lips had spoken.
When the people's minds had had a little time to cool, they were ready
enough to acknowledge their mistake in imagining a similarity between
General Blood-and-Thunder's truculent physiognomy and the benign visage on
the mountain-side. But now, again, there were reports and many paragraphs
in the newspapers, affirming that the likeness of the Great Stone Face had
appeared upon the broad shoulders of a certain eminent statesman. He, like
Mr. Gathergold and Old Blood-and-Thunder, was a native of the valley, but
had left it in his early days, and taken up the trades of law and politics.
Instead of the rich man's wealth and the warrior's sword, he had but a
tongue, and it was mightier than both together. So wonderfully eloquent was
he, that whatever he might choose to say, his auditors had no choice but to
believe him; wrong looked like right, and right like wrong; for when it
pleased him, he could make a kind of illuminated fog with his mere breath,
and obscure the natural daylight with it. His tongue, indeed, was a magic
instrument: sometimes it rumbled like the thunder; sometimes it warbled
like the sweetest music. It was the blast of war,--the song of peace; and
it seemed to have a heart in it, when there was no such matter. In good
truth, he was a wondrous man; and when his tongue had acquired him all
other imaginable success,--when it had been heard in halls of state, and in
the courts of princes and potentates,--after it had made him known all over
the world, even as a voice crying from shore to shore,--it finally
persuaded his countrymen to select him for the Presidency. Before this
time,--indeed, as soon as he began to grow celebrated,--his admirers had
found out the resemblance between him and the Great Stone Face; and so much
were they struck by it, that throughout the country this distinguished
gentleman was known by the name of Old Stony Phiz. The phrase was
considered as giving a highly favorable aspect to his political prospects;
for, as is likewise the case with the Popedom, nobody ever becomes
President without taking a name other than his own.
While his friends were doing their best to make him President, Old Stony
Phiz, as he was called, set out on a visit to the valley where he was born.
Of course, he had no other object than to shake hands with his fellow
citizens, and neither thought nor cared about any effect which his progress
through the country might have upon the election. Magnificent preparations
were made to receive the illustrious statesman; a cavalcade of horsemen set
forth to meet him at the boundary line of the State, and all the people
left their business and gathered along the wayside to see him pass. Among
these was Ernest. Though more than once disappointed, as we have seen, he
had such a hopeful and confiding nature, that he was always ready to
believe in whatever seemed beautiful and good. He kept his heart
continually open, and thus was sure to catch the blessing from on high when
it should come. So now again, as buoyantly as ever, he went forth to behold
the likeness of the Great Stone Face. The cavalcade came prancing along the
road, with a great clattering of hoofs and a mighty cloud of dust, which
rose up so dense and high that the visage of the mountain-side was
completely hidden from Ernest's eyes. All the great men of the neighborhood
were there on horseback; militia officers, in uniform; the member of
Congress; the sheriff of the county; the editors of newspapers; and many a
farmer, too, had mounted his patient steed, with his Sunday coat upon his
back. It really was a very brilliant spectacle, especially as there were
numerous banners flaunting over the cavalcade, on some of which were
gorgeous portraits of the illustrious statesman and the Great Stone Face,
smiling familiarly at one another, like two brothers. If the pictures were
to be trusted, the mutual resemblance, it must be confessed, was marvelous.
We must not forget to mention that there was a band of music, which made
the echoes of the mountains ring and reverberate with the loud triumph of
its strains; so that airy and soul-thrilling melodies broke out among all
the heights and hollows, as if every nook of his native valley had found a
voice, to welcome the distinguished guest. But the grandest effect was when
the far-off mountain precipice flung back the music; for then the Great
Stone Face itself seemed to be swelling the triumphant chorus, in
acknowledgment that, at length, the man of prophecy was come.
All this while the people were throwing up their hats and shouting with
enthusiasm so contagious that the heart of Ernest kindled up, and he
likewise threw up his hat, and shouted, as loudly as the loudest, "Huzza
for the great man! Huzza for Old Stony Phiz!" But as yet he had not seen
"Here he is, now!" cried those who stood near Ernest. "There! There! Look
at Old Stony Phiz and then at the Old Man of the Mountain, and see if they
are not as like as two twin-brothers!"
In the midst of all this gallant array came an open barouche, drawn by four
white horses; and in the barouche, with his massive head uncovered, sat the
illustrious statesman, Old Stony Phiz himself.
"Confess it," said one of Ernest's neighbors to him, "the Great Stone Face
has met its match at last!"
Now, it must be owned that, at his first glimpse of the countenance which
was bowing and smiling from the barouche, Ernest did fancy that there was a
resemblance between it and the old familiar face upon the mountain-side.
The brow, with its massive depth and loftiness, and all the other features,
indeed, were boldly and strongly hewn, as if in emulation of a more than
heroic, of a Titanic model. But the sublimity and stateliness, the grand
expression of a divine sympathy, that illuminated the mountain visage and
etherealized its ponderous granite substance into spirit, might here be
sought in vain. Something had been originally left out, or had departed.
And therefore the marvelously gifted statesman had always a weary gloom in
the deep caverns of his eyes, as of a child that has outgrown its
playthings or a man of mighty faculties and little aims, whose life, with
all its high performances, was vague and empty, because no high purpose had
endowed it with reality.
Still, Ernest's neighbor was thrusting his elbow into his side, and
pressing him for an answer.
"Confess! confess! Is not he the very picture of your Old Man of the
"No!" said Ernest, bluntly, "I see little or no likeness."
"Then so much the worse for the Great Stone Face!" answered his neighbor;
and again he set up a shout for Old Stony Phiz.
But Ernest turned away, melancholy, and almost despondent: for this was the
saddest of his disappointments, to behold a man who might have fulfilled
the prophecy, and had not willed to do so. Meantime, the cavalcade, the
banners, the music, and the barouches swept past him, with the vociferous
crowd in the rear, leaving the dust to settle down, and the Great Stone
Face to be revealed again, with the grandeur that it had worn for untold
"Lo, here I am, Ernest!" the benign lips seemed to say. "I have waited
longer than thou, and am not yet weary. Fear not; the man will come."
The years hurried onward, treading in their haste on one another's heels.
And now they began to bring white hairs, and scatter them over the head of
Ernest; they made reverend wrinkles across his forehead, and furrows in his
cheeks. He was an aged man. But not in vain had he grown old: more than the
white hairs on his head were the sage thoughts in his mind; his wrinkles
and furrows were inscriptions that Time had graved, and in which he had
written legends of wisdom that had been tested by the tenor of a life. And
Ernest had ceased to be obscure. Unsought for, undesired, had come the fame
which so many seek, and made him known in the great world, beyond the
limits of the valley in which he had dwelt so quietly. College professors,
and even the active men of cities, came from far to see and converse with
Ernest; for the report had gone abroad that this simple husbandman had
ideas unlike those of other men, not gained from books, but of a higher
tone,--a tranquil and familiar majesty, as if he had been talking with the
angels as his daily friends. Whether it were sage, statesman, or
philanthropist, Ernest received these visitors with the gentle sincerity
that had characterized him from boyhood, and spoke freely with them of
whatever came uppermost, or lay deepest in his heart or their own. While
they talked together, his face would kindle, unawares, and shine upon them,
as with a mild evening light. Pensive with the fulness of such discourse,
his guests took leave and went their way; and passing up the valley, paused
to look at the Great Stone Face, imagining that they had seen its likeness
in a human countenance, but could not remember where.
While Ernest had been growing up and growing old, a bountiful Providence
had granted a new poet to this earth. He, likewise, was a native of the
valley, but had spent the greater part of his life at a distance from that
romantic region, pouring out his sweet music amid the bustle and din of
cities. Often, however, did the mountains which had been familiar to him in
his childhood lift their snowy peaks into the clear atmosphere of his
poetry. Neither was the Great Stone Face forgotten, for the poet had
celebrated it in an ode, which was grand enough to have been uttered by its
own majestic lips. This man of genius, we may say, had come down from
heaven with wonderful endowments. If he sang of a mountain, the eyes of all
mankind beheld a mightier grandeur reposing on its breast, or soaring to
its summit, than had before been seen there. If his theme were a lovely
lake, a celestial smile had now been thrown over it, to gleam forever on
its surface. If it were the vast old sea, even the deep immensity of its
dread bosom seemed to swell the higher, as if moved by the emotions of the
song. Thus the world assumed another and a better aspect from the hour that
the poet blessed it with his happy eyes. The Creator had bestowed him, as
the last best touch to his own handiwork. Creation was not finished till
the poet came to interpret, and so complete it.
The effect was no less high and beautiful, when his human brethren were the
subject of his verse. The man or woman, sordid with the common dust of
life, who crossed his daily path, and the little child who played in it,
were glorified if he beheld them in his mood of poetic faith. He showed the
golden links of the great chain that intertwined them with an angelic
kindred; he brought out the hidden traits of a celestial birth that made
them worthy of such kin. Some, indeed, there were, who thought to show the
soundness of their judgment by affirming that all the beauty and dignity of
the natural world existed only in the poet's fancy. Let such men speak for
themselves, who undoubtedly appear to have been spawned forth by Nature
with a contemptuous bitterness; she having plastered them up out of her
refuse stuff, after all the swine were made. As respects all things else,
the poet's ideal was the truest truth.
The songs of this poet found their way to Ernest. He read them after his
customary toil, seated on the bench before his cottage-door, where for such
a length of time he had filled his repose with thought, by gazing at the
Great Stone Face. And now as he read stanzas that caused the soul to thrill
within him, he lifted his eyes to the vast countenance beaming on him so
"O majestic friend," he murmured, addressing the Great Stone Face, "is not
this man worthy to resemble thee?"
The Face seemed to smile, but answered not a word.
Now it happened that the poet, though he dwelt so far away, had not only
heard of Ernest, but had meditated much upon his character, until he deemed
nothing so desirable as to meet this man, whose untaught wisdom walked hand
in hand with the noble simplicity of his life. One summer morning,
therefore, he took passage by the railroad, and, in the decline of the
afternoon, alighted from the cars at no great distance from Ernest's
cottage. The great hotel, which had formerly been the palace of Mr.
Gathergold, was close at hand, but the poet, with his carpetbag on his arm,
inquired at once where Ernest dwelt, and was resolved to be accepted as his
Approaching the door, he there found the good old man, holding a volume in
his hand, which alternately he read, and then, with a finger between the
leaves, looked lovingly at the Great Stone Face.
"Good evening," said the poet. "Can you give a traveler a night's lodging?"
"Willingly," answered Ernest; and then he added, smiling, "Methinks I never
saw the Great Stone Face look so hospitably at a stranger."
The poet sat down on the bench beside him, and he and Ernest talked
together. Often had the poet held intercourse with the wittiest and the
wisest, but never before with a man like Ernest, whose thoughts and
feelings gushed up with such a natural freedom, and who made great truths
so familiar by his simple utterance of them. Angels, as had been so often
said, seemed to have wrought with him at his labor in the fields; angels
seemed to have sat with him by the fireside; and, dwelling with angels as
friend with friends, he had imbibed the sublimity of their ideas, and
imbued it with the sweet and lowly charm of household words. So thought the
poet. And Ernest, on the other hand, was moved and agitated by the living
images which the poet flung out of his mind, and which peopled all the air
about the cottage-door with shapes of beauty, both gay and pensive. The
sympathies of these two men instructed them with a profounder sense than
either could have attained alone. Their minds accorded into one strain, and
made delightful music which neither of them could have claimed as all his
own, nor distinguished his own share from the other's. They led one
another, as it were, into a high pavilion of their thoughts, so remote, and
hitherto so dim, that they had never entered it before, and so beautiful
that they desired to be there always.
As Ernest listened to the poet, he imagined that the Great Stone Face was
bending forward to listen too. He gazed earnestly into the poet's glowing
"Who are you, my strangely gifted guest?" he said. The poet laid his finger
on the volume that Ernest had been reading.
"You have read these poems," said he. "You know me, then,--for I wrote
Again, and still more earnestly than before, Ernest examined the poet's
features; then turned towards the Great Stone Face; then back, with an
uncertain aspect, to his guest. But his countenance fell; he shook his
head, and sighed.
"Wherefore are you sad?" inquired the poet.
"Because," replied Ernest, "all through life I have awaited the fulfilment
of a prophecy; and, when I read these poems, I hoped that it might be
fulfilled in you."
"You hoped," answered the poet, faintly smiling, "to find in me the
likeness of the Great Stone Face. And you are disappointed, as formerly
with Mr. Gathergold, and Old Blood-and-Thunder, and Old Stony Phiz. Yes,
Ernest, it is my doom. You must add my name to the illustrious three, and
record another failure of your hopes. For--in shame and sadness do I speak
it, Ernest--I am not worthy to be typified by yonder benign and majestic
"And why?" asked Ernest. He pointed to the volume. "Are not those thoughts
"They have a strain of the Divinity," replied the poet. "You can hear in
them the far-off echo of a heavenly song. But my life, dear Ernest, has not
corresponded with my thought. I have had grand dreams, but they have been
only dreams, because I have lived--and that, too, by my own choice--among
poor and mean realities. Sometimes even--shall I dare to say it?--I lack
faith in the grandeur, the beauty, and the goodness, which my own works are
said to have made more evident in nature and in human life. Why, then, pure
seeker of the good and true, shouldst thou hope to find me, in yonder image
of the divine?"
The poet spoke sadly, and his eyes were dim with tears. So, likewise, were
those of Ernest.
At the hour of sunset, as had long been his frequent custom, Ernest was to
discourse to an assemblage of the neighboring inhabitants in the open air.
He and the poet, arm in arm, still talking together as they went along,
proceeded to the spot. It was a small nook among the hills, with a gray
precipice behind, the stern front of which was relieved by the pleasant
foliage of many creeping plants that made a tapestry for the naked rock, by
hanging their festoons from all its rugged angles. At a small elevation
above the ground, set in a rich framework of verdure, there appeared a
niche, spacious enough to admit a human figure, with freedom for such
gestures as spontaneously accompany earnest thought and genuine emotion.
Into this natural pulpit Ernest ascended, and threw a look of familiar
kindness around upon his audience. They stood, or sat, or reclined upon the
grass, as seemed good to each, with the departing sunshine falling
obliquely over them, and mingling its subdued cheerfulness with the
solemnity of a grove of ancient trees, beneath and amid the boughs of which
the golden rays were constrained to pass. In another direction was seen the
Great Stone Face, with the same cheer, combined with the same solemnity, in
its benignant aspect.
Ernest began to speak, giving to the people of what was in his heart and
mind. His words had power, because they accorded with his thoughts; and his
thoughts had reality and depth, because they harmonized with the life which
he had always lived. It was not mere breath that this preacher uttered;
they were the words of life, because a life of good deeds and holy love was
melted into them. Pearls, pure and rich, had been dissolved into this
precious draught. The poet, as he listened, felt that the being and
character of Ernest were a nobler strain of poetry than he had ever
written. His eyes glistening with tears, he gazed reverentially at the
venerable man, and said within himself that never was there an aspect so
worthy of a prophet and a sage as that mild, sweet, thoughtful countenance,
with the glory of white hair diffused about it. At a distance, but
distinctly to be seen, high up in the golden light of the setting sun,
appeared the Great Stone Face, with hoary mists around it, like the white
hairs around the brow of Ernest. Its look of grand beneficence seemed to
embrace the world.
At that moment, in sympathy with a thought which he was about to utter, the
face of Ernest assumed a grandeur of expression, so imbued with
benevolence, that the poet, by an irresistible impulse, threw his arms
aloft, and shouted,--
"Behold! Behold! Ernest is himself the likeness of the Great Stone Face!"
Then all the people looked, and saw that what the deep-sighted poet said
was true. The prophecy was fulfilled. But Ernest, having finished what he
had to say, took the poet's arm, and walked slowly homeward, still hoping
that some wiser and better man than himself would by and by appear, bearing
a resemblance to the GREAT STONE FACE.
HELPS TO STUDY.
Notes and Questions.
What part of the description of the Great Stone Face do you like the best?
What influence had this Face upon the valley? Upon the clouds? Upon the
Show how each of the four characters failed to realize the ideal.
What purpose do you think Hawthorne had in creating these characters?
Why did so many people think that each of these men was the image of the
Great Stone Face?
Why did not Ernest think so?
What were the characteristics of the ideal? What words name them?
What does the Great Stone Face symbolize?
What words tell you the source of Ernest's power?
What lines tell you of his humility?
Summarize his characteristics.
What pictures do you find in the selection?
Point out sentences that contain examples of alliteration.
Find a humorous sentence.
Who were the Titans?
Who was Midas?
Words and Phrases for Discussion.
"infusing its tenderness into the sunshine"
"transform himself into an angel of beneficence"
"the mountain visage had found its human counterpart"
"a kind of illuminated fog"
"the prophecy was fulfilled"
* * * * *
MY VISIT TO NIAGARA
Never did a pilgrim approach Niagara with deeper enthusiasm than mine. I
had lingered away from it, and wandered to other scenes, because my
treasury of anticipated enjoyments, comprising all the wonders of the
world, had nothing else so magnificent, and I was loath to exchange the
pleasures of hope for those of memory so soon. At length the day came. The
stage-coach, with a Frenchman and myself on the back seat, had already left
Lewiston, and in less than an hour would set us down in Manchester. I began
to listen for the roar of the cataract, and trembled with a sensation like
dread, as the moment drew nigh, when its voice of ages must roll, for the
first time, on my ear. The French gentleman stretched himself from the
window, and expressed loud admiration, while, by a sudden impulse, I threw
myself back and closed my eyes. When the scene shut in, I was glad to
think, that for me the whole burst of Niagara was yet in futurity. We
rolled on, and entered the village of Manchester, bordering on the falls.
I am quite ashamed of myself here. Not that I ran like a madman to the
falls, and plunged into the thickest of the spray,--never stopping to
breathe, till breathing was impossible; not that I committed this, or any
other suitable extravagance. On the contrary, I alighted with perfect
decency and composure, gave my cloak to the black waiter, pointed out my
baggage, and inquired, not the nearest way to the cataract, but about the
dinner-hour. The interval was spent in arranging my dress. Within the last
fifteen minutes, my mind had grown strangely benumbed, and my spirits
apathetic, with a slight depression, not decided enough to be termed
sadness. My enthusiasm was in a deathlike slumber. Without aspiring to
immortality, as he did, I could have imitated that English traveller, who
turned back from the point where he first heard the thunder of Niagara,
after crossing the ocean to behold it. Many a Western trader, by the by,
has performed a similar act of heroism with more heroic simplicity, deeming
it no such wonderful feat to dine at the hotel and resume his route to
Buffalo or Lewiston, while the cataract was roaring unseen.
Such has often been my apathy, when objects, long sought, and earnestly
desired, were placed within my reach. After dinner--at which an unwonted
and perverse epicurism detained me longer than usual--I lighted a cigar and
paced the piazza, minutely attentive to the aspect and business of a very
ordinary village. Finally, with reluctant step, and the feeling of an
intruder, I walked towards Goat Island. At the toll-house, there were
farther excuses for delaying the inevitable moment. My signature was
required in a huge ledger, containing similar records innumerable, many of
which I read. The skin of a great sturgeon, and other fishes, beasts, and
reptiles; a collection of minerals, such as lie in heaps near the falls;
some Indian moccasins, and other trifles, made of deer-skin and embroidered
with beads; several newspapers, from Montreal, New York, and Boston,--all
attracted me in turn. Out of a number of twisted sticks, the manufacture of
a Tuscarora Indian, I selected one of curled maple, curiously convoluted,
and adorned with the carved images of a snake and a fish. Using this as my
pilgrim's staff, I crossed the bridge. Above and below me were the rapids,
a river of impetuous snow, with here and there a dark rock amid its
whiteness, resisting all the physical fury, as any cold spirit did the
moral influences of the scene. On reaching Goat Island, which separates the
two great segments of the falls, I chose the right-hand path, and followed
it to the edge of the American cascade. There, while the falling sheet was
yet invisible, I saw the vapor that never vanishes, and the Eternal Rainbow
It was an afternoon of glorious sunshine, without a cloud, save those of
the cataracts. I gained an insulated rock, and beheld a broad sheet of
brilliant and unbroken foam, not shooting in a curbed line from the top of
the precipice, but falling, headlong down from height to depth. A narrow
stream diverged from the main branch, and hurried over the crag by a
channel of its own, leaving a little pine-clad island and a streak of
precipice between itself and the larger sheet. Below arose the mist, on
which was painted a dazzling sunbow with two concentric shadows,--one,
almost as perfect as the original brightness; and the other, drawn faintly
round the broken edge of the cloud.
Still I had not half seen Niagara. Following the verge of the island, the
path led me to the Horseshoe, where the real, broad St. Lawrence, rushing
along on a level with its banks, pours its whole breadth over a concave
line of precipice, and thence pursues its course between lofty crags
towards Ontario. A sort of bridge, two or three feet wide, stretches out
along the edge of the descending sheet, and hangs upon the rising mist, as
if that were the foundation of the frail structure. Here I stationed myself
in the blast of wind, which the rushing river bore along with it. The
bridge was tremulous beneath me, and marked the tremor of the solid earth.
I looked along the whitening rapids, and endeavored to distinguish a mass
of water far above the falls, to follow it to their verge, and go down with
it, in fancy, to the abyss of clouds and storm. Casting my eyes across the
river, and every side, I took in the whole scene at a glance, and tried to
comprehend it in one vast idea. After an hour thus spent, I left the
bridge, and by a staircase, winding almost interminably round a post,
descended to the base of the precipice. From that point, my path lay over
slippery stones, and among great fragments of the cliff, to the edge of the
cataract, where the wind at once enveloped me in spray, and perhaps dashed
the rainbow round me. Were my long desires fulfilled? And had I seen
Oh that I had never heard of Niagara till I beheld it! Blessed were the
wanderers of old, who heard its deep roar, sounding through the woods, as
the summons to an unknown wonder, and approached its awful brink, in all
the freshness of native feeling. Had its own mysterious voice been the
first to warn me of its existence, then, indeed, I might have knelt down
and worshipped. But I had come thither, haunted with a vision of foam and
fury, and dizzy cliffs, and an ocean tumbling down out of the sky,--a
scene, in short, which nature had too much good taste and calm simplicity
to realize. My mind had struggled to adapt these false conceptions to the
reality, and finding the effort vain, a wretched sense of disappointment
weighed me down. I climbed the precipice, and threw myself on the earth,
feeling that I was unworthy to look at the Great Falls, and careless about
beholding them again.
All that night, as there has been and will be for ages past and to come, a
rushing sound was heard, as if a great tempest were sweeping through the
air. It mingled with my dreams, and made them full of storm and whirlwind.
Whenever I awoke, and heard this dread sound in the air, and the windows
rattling as with a mighty blast, I could not rest again, till looking
forth, I saw how bright the stars were, and that every leaf in the garden
was motionless. Never was a summer night more calm to the eye, nor a gale
of autumn louder to the ear. The rushing sound proceeds from the rapids,
and the rattling of the casements is but an effect of the vibration of the
whole house, shaken by the jar of the cataract. The noise of the rapids
draws the attention from the true voice of Niagara, which is a dull,
muffled thunder, resounding between the cliffs. I spent a wakeful hour at
midnight, in distinguishing its reverberations, and rejoiced to find that
my former awe and enthusiasm were reviving.
Gradually, and after much contemplation, I came to know, by my own
feelings, that Niagara is indeed a wonder of the world, and not the less
wonderful, because time and thought must be employed in comprehending it.
Casting aside all preconceived notions, and preparation to be dire-struck
or delighted, the beholder must stand beside it in the simplicity of his
heart, suffering the mighty scene to work its own impression. Night after
night, I dreamed of it, and was gladdened every morning by the
consciousness of a growing capacity to enjoy it. Yet I will not pretend to
the all-absorbing enthusiasm of some more fortunate spectators, nor deny
that very trifling causes would draw my eyes and thoughts from the
The last day that I was to spend at Niagara, before my departure for the
Far West, I sat upon the Table Rock. This celebrated station did not now,
as of old, project fifty feet beyond the line of the precipice, but was
shattered by the fall of an immense fragment, which lay distant on the
shore below. Still, on the utmost verge of the rock, with my feet hanging
over it, I felt as if suspended in the open air. Never before had my mind
been in such perfect unison with the scene. There were intervals, when I
was conscious of nothing but the great river, lolling calmly into the
abyss, rather descending than precipitating itself, and acquiring tenfold
majesty from its unhurried motion. It came like the march of Destiny. It
was not taken by surprise, but seemed to have anticipated, in all its
course through the broad lakes, that it must pour their collected waters
down this height. The perfect foam of the river, after its descent, and the
ever-varying shapes of mist, rising up, to become clouds in the sky, would
be the very picture of confusion, were it merely transient, like the rage
of a tempest. But when the beholder has stood awhile, and perceives no lull
in the storm, and considers that the vapor and the foam are as everlasting
as the rocks which produce them, all this turmoil assumes a sort of
calmness. It soothes, while it awes the mind.
Leaning over the cliff, I saw the guide conducting two adventurers behind
the falls. It was pleasant, from that high seat in the sunshine, to observe
them struggling against the eternal storm of the lower regions, with heads
bent down, now faltering, now pressing forward, and finally swallowed up in
their victory. After their disappearance, a blast rushed out with an old
hat, which it had swept from one of their heads. The rock, to which they
were directing their unseen course, is marked, at a fearful distance on the
exterior of the sheet, by a jet of foam. The attempt to reach it appears
both poetical and perilous to a looker-on, but may be accomplished without
much more difficulty or hazard than in stemming a violent northeaster. In a
few moments, forth came the children of the mist. Dripping and breathless,
they crept along the base of the cliff, ascended to the guide's cottage,
and received, I presume, a certificate of their achievement, with three
verses of sublime poetry on the back.
My contemplations were often interrupted by strangers who came down from
Forsyth's to take their first view of the falls. A short, ruddy,
middle-aged gentleman, fresh from Old England, peeped over the rock, and
evinced his approbation by a broad grin. His spouse, a very robust lady,
afforded a sweet example of maternal solicitude, being so intent on the
safety of her little boy that she did not even glance at Niagara. As for
the child,--he gave himself wholly to the enjoyment of a stick of candy.
Another traveller, a native American, and no rare character among us,
produced a volume of Captain Hall's tour, and labored earnestly to adjust
Niagara to the captain's description, departing, at last, without one new
idea or sensation of his own. The next comer was provided, not with a
printed book, but with a blank sheet of foolscap, from top to bottom of
which, by means of an ever-pointed pencil, the cataract was made to
thunder. In a little talk which we had together, he awarded his approbation
to the general view, but censured the position of Goat Island, observing
that it should have been thrown farther to the right, so as to widen the
American falls, and contract those of the Horseshoe. Next appeared two
traders of Michigan, who declared, that, upon the whole, the sight was
worth looking at; there certainly was an immense water-power here; but
that, after all, they would go twice as far to see the noble stone-works of
Lockport, where the Grand Canal is locked down a descent of sixty feet.
They were succeeded by a young fellow, in a homespun cotton dress, with a
staff in his hand, and a pack over his shoulders. He advanced close to the
edge of the rock, where his attention, at first wavering among the
different components of the scene, finally became fixed in the angle of the
Horseshoe falls, which is, indeed the central point of interest. His whole
soul seemed to go forth and be transported thither, till the staff slipped
from his relaxed grasp, and falling down--down--down--struck upon the
fragment of the Table Rock.
In this manner I spent some hours, watching the varied impression, made by
the cataract, on those who disturbed me, and returning to unwearied
contemplation, when left alone. At length my time came to depart. There is
a grassy footpath through the woods, along the summit of the bank, to a
point whence a causeway, hewn in the side of the precipice, goes winding
down to the Ferry, about half a mile below the Table Rock. The sun was near
setting, when I emerged from the shadow of the trees, and began the
descent. The indirectness of my downward road continually changed the point
of view, and showed me, in rich and repeated succession, now, the whitening
rapids and majestic leap of the main river, which appeared more deeply
massive as the light departed; now, the lovelier picture, yet still
sublime, of Goat Island, with its rocks and grove, and the lesser falls,
tumbling over the right bank of the St. Lawrence, like a tributary stream;
now, the long vista of the river, as it eddied and whirled between the
cliffs, to pass through Ontario toward the sea, and everywhere to be
wondered at, for this one unrivalled scene. The golden sunshine tinged the
sheet of the American cascade, and painted on its heaving spray the broken
semi-circle of a rainbow, heaven's own beauty crowning earth's sublimity.
My steps were slow, and I paused long at every turn of the descent, as one
lingers and pauses who discerns a brighter and brightening excellence in
what he must soon behold no more. The solitude of the old wilderness now
reigned over the whole vicinity of the falls. My enjoyment became the more
rapturous, because no poet shared it, nor wretch devoid of poetry profaned
it; but the spot so famous through the world was all my own!
HELPS TO STUDY.
Notes and Questions.
Why was Hawthorne's first impression of Niagara a disappointment?
How did Hawthorne come to know that Niagara is a wonder of the world?
What feelings did Niagara produce in Hawthorne?
What effect on the reader did Hawthorne seek in this story?
What does Hawthorne say is necessary in order to appreciate nature?
What relation has Niagara to the geography of the country, its animal and
vegetable life, its trade and industry?
What is the effect on one's feelings when he "considers that the vapor and
the foam are as everlasting as the rocks which produce them"?
Niagara _grew_ on Hawthorne. Justify this.
Note the comments of other observers based upon their interpretation of
Do you think one who sees nothing in Niagara except a mass of rock and
water, vapor and sunshine, could appreciate its beauty, grandeur, and
Words and Phrases for Discussion.
"abyss of clouds"
"eddied and whirled"
"voice of ages"
* * * * *
EDGAR ALLAN POE
So irregular was the life of Edgar Allan Poe and so strong were the
prejudices of his critics that not only his character and habits of life,
but even the simplest facts of his biography, are surrounded with mystery
and are subjects of doubt and dispute.
By everything, but the accident of birth, Poe belongs to the South. His
father was from Baltimore and his mother was of English birth. They were
both members of a theatrical company playing in Boston at the time of Poe's
birth, January 19, 1809. At the age of three he was left an orphan by the
death of his mother. A wealthy Scotchman of Virginia, Mr. John Allan,
adopted him and brought him up in luxury--a much spoiled child, everywhere
petted for his beauty and precocity.
He was sent to school in a suburb of London and upon his return to America
entered the University of Virginia, a proud, reserved, and self-willed
youth. Here he led an irregular life, so that Mr. Allan was forced to
withdraw him from school and gave him work in his office. The routine of
office work was very distasteful to Poe and he ran away to Boston, where he
published his first volume of poems. Here he enlisted in the army, but when
Mr. Allan heard of his whereabouts he secured his discharge and obtained an
appointment for him, as a cadet, at West Point. The severe discipline of
that school proved irksome to his restless nature and after a few months he
brought upon himself his dismissal. At the age of twenty-two he found
himself adrift with nothing further to expect from Mr. Allan.
Literature presented itself as his most natural vocation. He had written
poetry from the pure love of it, but now actual poverty drove him to the
more remunerative prose writing. He engaged in journalistic work in
Baltimore, living with his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, and her daughter, Virginia.
Two years later he married Virginia Clemm, a mere child; but Poe, whose
reverence for women was his noblest trait, loved her and cared for her
through poverty and ill-health, until her death eleven years later, a short
time before his own. His life was a melancholy one, a fierce struggle and
final defeat. In 1849, on his way to New York from Richmond, chance brought
him and election day together in the city of Baltimore. He was found in an
election booth, delirious, and died a few days later.
Poe was a keen critic of the literary men of his day, but he applied the
same standards to himself. He was constantly re-writing and polishing what
he had written. Poe's greatness lay in his imaginative, work--his tales and
his poems. The tales may be said to constitute a distinct addition to the
world's literature. From time immemorial, there have been tales in prose
and in verse, tales legendary, romantic, and humorous, but never any quite
The appeal of his poetry is to the sentiment of beauty--the one appeal,
which according to his theory is the final justification of any poem.
Language is made to yield its utmost of melody. "The Raven" was first
published in January, 1845, and immediately became and remains one of the
most widely known of English poems. It can be mentioned anywhere, without
apology or explanation and there is scarcely a lover of melodious verse who
cannot repeat many of its lines and stanzas.
Every reader of Poe's prose will be impressed with the charm of the
language itself, the fascination of the vivid scenes and the magic touch
like the Necromancer's wand, which removes these scenes into the uncharted
realm of the supernatural and invests them with a kind of sacred awe.
* * * * *
A DESCENT INTO THE MAELSTRÖM
EDGAR ALLAN POE
WE had now reached the summit of the loftiest crag. For some minutes the
old man seemed too much exhausted to speak.
"Not long ago," said he at length, "and I could have guided you on this
route as well as the youngest of my sons; but, about three years past,
there happened to me an event such as never happened before to mortal
man--or at least such as no man ever survived to tell of--and the six hours
of deadly terror which I then endured have broken me up body and soul. You
suppose me a _very_ old man--but I am not. It took less than a single
day to change these hairs from a jetty black to white, to weaken my limbs,
and to unstring my nerves, so that I tremble at the least exertion, and am
frightened at a shadow. Do you know I can scarcely look over this little
cliff without getting giddy?"
The "little cliff," upon whose edge he had so carelessly thrown himself
down to rest that the weightier portion of his body hung over it, while he
was only kept from falling by the tenure of his elbow on its extreme and
slippery edge--this "little cliff" arose, a sheer unobstructed precipice of
black shining rock, some fifteen or sixteen hundred feet from the world of
crags beneath us. Nothing would have tempted me to within half a dozen
yards of its brink. In truth so deeply was I excited by the perilous
position of my companion, that I fell at full length upon the ground, clung
to the shrubs around me, and dared not even glance upward at the sky--while
I struggled in vain to divest myself of the idea that the very foundations
of the mountain were in danger from the fury of the winds. It was long
before I could reason myself into sufficient courage to sit up and look out
into the distance.
"You must get over these fancies," said the guide, "for I have brought you
here that you might have the best possible view of the scene of that event
I mentioned--and to tell you the whole story with the spot just under your
"We are now," he continued, in that particularizing manner which
distinguished him--"we are now close upon the Norwegian coast--in the
sixty-eighth degree of latitude--in the great province of Nordland--and in
the dreary district of Lofoden. The mountain upon whose top we sit is
Helseggen, the Cloudy. Now raise yourself up a little higher--hold on to
the grass if you feel giddy--so--and look out, beyond the belt of vapor
beneath us, into the sea."
I looked dizzily, and beheld a wide expanse of ocean, whose waters wore so
inky a hue as to bring at once to my mind the Nubian geographer's account
of the _Mare Tenebrarum_. A panorama more deplorably desolate no human
imagination can conceive. To the right and left, as far as the eye could
reach, there lay outstretched, like ramparts of the world, lines of
horridly black and beetling cliff, whose character of gloom was but the
more forcibly illustrated by the surf which reared high up against it its
white and ghastly crest, howling and shrieking forever. Just opposite the
promontory upon whose apex we were placed, and at a distance of some five
or six miles out at sea, there was visible a small, bleak-looking island;
or, more properly, its position was discernible through the wilderness of
surge in which it was enveloped. About two miles nearer the land arose
another of smaller size, hideously craggy and barren, and encompassed at
various intervals by a cluster of dark rocks.
The appearance of the ocean, in the space between the more distant island
and the shore, had something very unusual about it. Although, at the time,
so strong a gale was blowing landward that a brig in the remote offing lay
to under a double-reefed trysail, and constantly plunged her whole hull out
of sight, still there was here nothing like a regular swell, but only a
short, quick, angry cross-dashing of water in every direction--as well in
the teeth of the wind as otherwise. Of foam there was little except in the
immediate vicinity of the rocks.
"The island in the distance," resumed the old man, "is called by the
Norwegians Vurrgh. The one midway is Moskoe. That a mile to the northward
is Ambaaren. Yonder are Iflesen, Hoeyholm, Kieldholm, Suarven, and
Buckholm. Farther off--between Moskoe and Vurrgh--are Otterholm, Flimen,
Sandflesen, and Skarholm. These are the true names of the places--but why
it has been thought necessary to name them at all is more than either you
or I can understand. Do you hear anything? Do you see any change in the
We had now been about ten minutes upon the top of Helseggen, to which we
had ascended from the interior of Lofoden, so that we had caught no glimpse
of the sea until it had burst upon us from the summit. As the old man
spoke, I became aware of a loud and gradually increasing sound, like the
moaning of a vast herd of buffaloes upon an American prairie; and at the
same moment I perceived that what seamen term the _chopping_ character
of the ocean beneath us, was rapidly changing into a current which set to
the eastward. Even while I gazed, this current acquired a monstrous
velocity. Each moment added to its speed--to its headlong impetuosity. In
five minutes the whole sea, as far as Vurrgh, was lashed into ungovernable
fury; but it was between Moskoe and the coast that the main uproar held its
sway. Here the vast bed of the waters, seamed and scarred into a thousand
conflicting channels, burst suddenly into frenzied convulsion--heaving,
boiling, hissing--gyrating in gigantic and innumerable vortices, and all
whirling and plunging on to the eastward with a rapidity which water never
elsewhere assumes, except in precipitous descents.
In a few minutes more there came over the scene another radical alteration.
The general surface grew somewhat more smooth, and the whirlpools, one by
one, disappeared, while prodigious streaks of foam became apparent where
none had been seen before. These streaks, at length, spreading out to a
great distance, and entering into combination, took unto themselves the
gyratory motion of the subsided vortices, and seemed to form the germ of
another more vast. Suddenly--very suddenly--this assumed a distinct and
definite existence, in a circle of more than a mile in diameter. The edge
of the whirl was represented by a broad belt of gleaming spray; but no
particle of this slipped into the mouth of the terrific funnel, whose
interior, as far as the eye could fathom it, was a smooth, shining and
jet-black wall of water, inclined to the horizon at an angle of some
forty-five degrees, speeding dizzily round and round with a swaying and
sweltering motion, and sending forth to the winds an appalling voice, half
shriek, half roar, such as not even the mighty cataract of Niagara ever
lifts up in its agony to Heaven.
The mountain trembled to its very base, and the rock rocked. I threw myself
upon my face, and clung to the scant herbage in an excess of nervous
"This," said I at length, to the old man--"this _can_ be nothing else
than the great whirlpool of the Maelström."
"So it is sometimes termed," said he. "We Norwegians call it the
Moskoe-ström, from the island of Moskoe in the midway."
The ordinary accounts of this vortex had by no means prepared me for what I
saw. That of Jonas Ramus, which, is perhaps the most circumstantial of any,
cannot impart the faintest conception either of the magnificence or of the
horror of the scene--or of the wild bewildering sense of _the novel_
which confounds the beholder. I am not sure from what point of view the
writer in question surveyed it, nor at what time; but it could neither have
been from the summit of Helseggen, nor during a storm. There are some
passages of his description, nevertheless, which may be quoted for their
details, although their effect is exceedingly feeble in conveying an
impression of the spectacle.
"Between Lofoden and Moskoe," he says, "the depth of the water is between
thirty-six and forty fathoms; but on the other side, toward Ver (Vurrgh)
this depth decreases so as not to afford a convenient passage for a vessel,
without the risk of splitting on the rocks, which happens even in the
calmest weather. When it is flood, the stream runs up the country between
Lofoden and Moskoe with a boisterous rapidity; but the roar of its
impetuous ebb to the sea is scarce equaled by the loudest and most dreadful
cataracts, the noise being heard several leagues off; and the vortices or
pits are of such an extent and depth that if a ship comes within its
attraction it is inevitably absorbed and carried down to the bottom, and
there beat to pieces against the rocks; and when the water relaxes, the
fragments thereof are thrown up again. But these intervals of tranquillity
are only at the turn of the ebb and flood, and in calm weather, and last
but a quarter of an hour, its violence gradually returning. When the stream
is most boisterous, and its fury heightened by a storm, it is dangerous to
come within a Norway mile of it. Boats, yachts, and ships have been carried
away by not guarding against it before they were within its reach. It
likewise happens frequently that whales come too near the stream, and are
overpowered by its violence; and then it is impossible to describe their
howling and bellowings in their fruitless struggles to disengage
themselves. A bear once, attempting to swim from Lofoden to Moskoe, was
caught by the stream and borne down, while he roared terribly, so as to be
heard on shore. Large stocks of firs and pine trees, after being absorbed
by the current, rise again broken and torn to such a degree as if bristles
grew upon them. This plainly shows the bottom to consist of craggy rocks,
among which they are whirled to and fro. This stream is regulated by the
flux and reflux of the sea--it being constantly high and low water every
six hours. In the year 1645, early in the morning of Sexagesima Sunday, it
raged with such noise and impetuosity that the very stones of the houses on
the coast fell to the ground."
In regard to the depth of the water, I could not see how this could have
been ascertained at all in the immediate vicinity of the vortex. The "forty
fathoms" must have reference only to portions of the channel close upon the
shore either of Moskoe or Lofoden. The depth in the center of the
Moskoe-ström must be immeasurably greater; and no better proof of this fact
is necessary than can be obtained from even the sidelong glance into the
abyss of the whirl which may be had from the highest crag of Helseggen.
Looking down from this pinnacle upon the howling Phlegethon below, I could
not help smiling at the simplicity with which the honest Jonas Ramus
records, as a matter difficult of belief, the anecdotes of the whales and
the bears; for it appeared to me, in fact, a self-evident thing that the
largest ships of the line in existence, coming within the influence of that
deadly attraction, could resist it as little as a feather the hurricane,
and must disappear bodily and at once.
The attempts to account for the phenomenon--some of which, I remember,
seemed to me sufficiently plausible in perusal--now wore a very different
and unsatisfactory aspect. The idea generally received is that this, as
well as three smaller vortices among the Feroe Islands, "have no other
cause than the collision of waves rising and falling, at flux and reflux,
against a ridge of rocks and shelves, which confines the water so that it
precipitates itself like a cataract; and thus the higher the flood rises,
the deeper must the fall be, and the natural result of all is a whirlpool
or vortex, the prodigious suction of which is sufficiently known by lesser
experiments."--These are the words of the "Encyclopaedia Brittanica."
Kircher and others imagine that in the center of the channel of the
Maelström is an abyss penetrating the globe, and issuing in some very
remote part--the Gulf of Bothnia being somewhat decidedly named in one
instance. This opinion, idle in itself, was the one to which, as I gazed,
my imagination most readily assented; and, mentioning it to the guide, I
was rather surprised to hear him say that, although it was the view almost
universally entertained of the subject by the Norwegians, it nevertheless
was not his own. As to the former notion he confessed his inability to
comprehend it; and here I agreed with him--for, however conclusive on
paper, it becomes altogether unintelligible, and even absurd, amid the
thunder of the abyss.
"You have had a good look at the whirl now," said the old man, "and if you
will creep round this crag, so as to get in its lee, and deaden the roar of
the water, I will tell you a story that will convince you I ought to know
something of the Moskoe-ström."
I placed myself as desired, and he proceeded.
"Myself and my two brothers once owned a schooner-rigged smack of about
seventy tons burden, with which we were in the habit of fishing among the
islands beyond Moskoe, nearly to Vurrgh. In all violent eddies at sea there
is good fishing, at proper opportunities, if one has only the courage to
attempt it; but among the whole of the Lofoden coastmen we three were the
only ones who made a regular business of going out to the islands, as I
tell you. The usual grounds are a great way lower down to the southward.
There fish can be got at all hours, without much risk, and therefore these
places are preferred. The choice spots over here among the rocks, however,
not only yield the finest variety, but in far greater abundance; so that we
often got in a single day what the more timid of the craft could not scrape
together in a week. In fact, we made it a matter of desperate
speculation--the risk of life standing instead of labor, and courage
answering for capital.
"We kept the smack in a cove about five miles higher up the coast than
this; and it was our practice, in fine weather, to take advantage of the
fifteen minutes' slack to push across the main channel of the Moskoe-ström,
far above the pool, and then drop down upon anchorage somewhere near
Otterholm, or Sandflesen, where the eddies are not so violent as elsewhere.
Here we used to remain until nearly time for slack-water again, when we
weighed and made for home. We never set out upon this expedition without a
steady side wind for going and coming--one that we felt sure would not fail
us before our return--and we seldom made a miscalculation upon this point.
Twice, during six years, we were forced to stay all night at anchor on
account of a dead calm, which is a rare thing indeed just about here; and
once we had to remain on the grounds nearly a week, starving to death,
owing to a gale which blew up shortly after our arrival, and made the
channel too boisterous to be thought of. Upon this occasion we should have
been driven out to sea in spite of everything (for the whirlpools threw us
round and round so violently that, at length, we fouled our anchor and
dragged it) if it had not been that we drifted into one of the innumerable
cross currents--here to-day and gone to-morrow--which drove us under the
lee of Flimen, where, by good luck, we brought up.
"I could not tell you the twentieth part of the difficulties we encountered
'on the ground'--it is a bad spot to be in, even in good weather--but we
made shift always to run the gauntlet of the Moskoe-ström itself without
accident; although at times my heart has been in my mouth when we happened
to be a minute or so behind or before the slack. The wind sometimes was not
as strong as we thought it at starting, and then we made rather less way
than we could wish, while the current rendered the smack unmanageable. My
eldest brother had a son eighteen years old, and I had two stout boys of my
own. These would have been of great assistance at such times, in using the
sweeps, as well as afterward in fishing--but, somehow, although we ran the
risk ourselves, we had not the heart to let the young ones get into the
danger--for, after all said and done, it _was_ a horrible danger, and
that is the truth.
"It is now within a few days of three years since what I am going to tell
you occurred. It was on the tenth of July, 18--, a day which the people of
this part of the world will never forget--for it was one in which blew the
most terrible hurricane that ever came out of the heavens. And yet all the
morning, and indeed until late in the afternoon, there was a gentle and
steady breeze from the southwest, while the sun shone brightly, so that the
oldest seaman among us could not have foreseen what was to follow.
"The three of us--my two brothers and myself--had crossed over to the
islands about two o'clock P.M., and soon nearly loaded the smack with fine
fish, which, we all remarked, were more plenty that day than we had ever
known them. It was just seven, _by my watch_, when we weighed and
started for home, so as to make the worst of the Ström at slack water,
which we knew would be at eight.
"We set out with a fresh wind on our starboard quarter, and for some time
spanked along at a great rate, never dreaming of danger, for indeed we saw
not the slightest reason to apprehend it. All at once we were taken aback
by a breeze from over Helseggen. This was most unusual--something that had
never happened to us before--and I began to feel a little uneasy, without
exactly knowing why. We put the boat on the wind, but could make no headway
at all for the eddies, and I was upon the point of proposing to return to
the anchorage, when, looking astern, we saw the whole horizon covered with
a singular copper-colored cloud that rose with the most amazing velocity.
"In the meantime the breeze that had headed us off fell away, and we were
dead becalmed, drifting about in every direction. This state of things,
however, did not last long enough to give us time to think about it. In
less than a minute the storm was upon us--in less than two the sky was
entirely overcast--and what with this and the driving spray, it became
suddenly so dark that we could not see each other in the smack.
"Such a hurricane as then blew it is folly to attempt describing. The
oldest seaman in Norway never experienced anything like it. We had let our
sails go by the run before it cleverly took us; but, at the first puff,
both our masts went by the board as if they had been sawed off--the
mainmast taking with it my youngest brother, who had lashed himself to it
"Our boat was the lightest feather of a thing that ever sat upon water. It
had a complete flush deck, with only a small hatch near the bow, and this
hatch it had always been our custom to batten down when about to cross the
Ström, by way of precaution against the chopping seas. But for this
circumstance we should have foundered at once--for we lay entirely buried
for some moments. How my elder brother escaped destruction I cannot say,
for I never had an opportunity of ascertaining. For my part, as soon as I
had let the foresail run, I threw myself flat on deck, with my feet against
the narrow gunwale of the bow, and with my hands grasping a ringbolt near
the foot of the foremast. It was mere instinct that prompted me to do
this--which was undoubtedly the very best thing I could have done--for I
was too much flurried to think.
"For some moments we were completely deluged, as I say, and all this time I
held my breath, and clung to the bolt. When I could stand it no longer I
raised myself upon my knees, still keeping hold with my hands, and thus got
my head clear. Presently our little boat gave herself a shake, just as a
dog does in coming out of the water, and thus rid herself, in some measure,
of the seas. I was now trying to get the better of the stupor that had come
over me, and to collect my senses so as to see what was to be done, when I
felt somebody grasp my arm. It was my elder brother, and my heart leaped
for joy, for I had made sure that he was overboard--but the next moment all
this joy was turned into horror--for he put his mouth close to my ear, and
screamed out the word '_Moskoe-ström!_'
"No one will ever know what my feelings were at that moment. I shook from
head to foot as if I had had the most violent fit of the ague. I knew what
he meant by that one word well enough--I knew what he wished to make me
understand. With the wind that now drove us on, we were bound for the whirl
of the Ström, and nothing could save us!
"You perceive that in crossing the Ström _channel_, we always went a
long way up above the whirl, even in the calmest weather, and then had to
wait and watch carefully for the slack--but now we were driving right upon
the pool itself, and in such a hurricane as this! 'To be sure,' I thought,
'we shall get there just about the slack--there is some little hope in
that'--but in the next moment I cursed myself for being so great a fool as
to dream of hope at all. I knew very well that we were doomed, had we been
ten times a ninety-gun ship.
"By this time the first fury of the tempest had spent itself, or perhaps we
did not feel it so much as we scudded before it; but at all events the
seas, which at first had been kept down by the wind, and lay flat and
frothing, now got up into absolute mountains. A singular change, too, had
come over the heavens. Around in every direction it was still as black as
pitch, but nearly overhead there burst out, all at once, a circular rift of
clear sky--as clear as I ever saw--and of a deep bright blue--and through
it there blazed forth the full moon with a luster that I never before knew
her to wear. She lit up everything about us with the greatest
distinctness--but, oh God, what a scene it was to light up!
"I now made one or two attempts to speak to my brother--but, in some manner
which I could not understand, the din had so increased that I could not
make him hear a single word, although I screamed at the top of my voice in
his ear. Presently he shook his head, looking as pale as death, and held up
one of his fingers, as if to say _listen!_
"At first I could not make out what he meant--but soon a hideous thought
flashed upon me. I dragged my watch from its fob. It was not going. I
glanced at its face by the moonlight, and then burst into tears as I flung
it far away into the ocean. _It had run down at seven o'clock! We were
behind the time of the slack, and the whirl of the Ström was in full
"When a boat is well built, properly trimmed, and not deep laden, the waves
in a strong gale, when she is going large, seem always to slip from beneath
her--which appears very strange to a landsman--and this is what is called
_riding_, in sea phrase.
"Well, so far we had ridden the swells very cleverly; but presently a
gigantic sea happened to take us right under the counter, and bore us with
it as it rose--up--up--as if into the sky. I would not have believed that
any wave could rise so high. And then down we came with a sweep, a slide,
and a plunge, that made me feel sick and dizzy, as if I was falling from
some lofty mountain-top in a dream. But while we were up I had thrown a
quick glance around--and that one glance was all-sufficient. I saw our
exact position in an instant. The Moskoe-ström whirlpool was about a
quarter of a mile dead ahead--but no more like the everyday Moskoe-ström,
than the whirl as you now see it is like a mill-race. If I had not known
where we were, and what we had to expect, I should not have recognized the
place at all. As it was, I involuntarily closed my eyes in horror. The lids
clenched themselves together as if in a spasm.
"It could not have been more than two minutes afterwards until we suddenly
felt the waves subside, and were enveloped in foam. The boat made a sharp
half turn to larboard, and then shot off in its new direction like a
thunderbolt. At the same moment the roaring noise of the water was
completely drowned in a kind of shrill shriek--such a sound as you might
imagine given out by the waterpipes of many thousand steam vessels, letting
off their steam all together. We were now in the belt of surf that always
surrounds the whirl; and I thought, of course, that another moment would
plunge us into the abyss--down which we could only see indistinctly on
account of the amazing velocity with which we were borne along. The boat
did not seem to sink into the water at all, but to skim like an air-bubble
upon the surface of the surge. Her starboard side was next the whirl, and
on the larboard arose the world of ocean we had left. It stood like a huge
writhing wall between us and the horizon.
"It may appear strange, but now, when we were in the very jaws of the gulf,
I felt more composed than when we were only approaching it. Having made up
my mind to hope no more, I got rid of a great deal of that terror which
unmanned me at first. I suppose it was despair that strung my nerves.
"It may look like boasting--but what I tell you is truth--I began to
reflect how magnificent a thing it was to die in such a manner, and how
foolish it was in me to think of so paltry a consideration as my own
individual life, in view of so wonderful a manifestation of God's power. I
do believe that I blushed with shame when this idea crossed my mind. After
a little while I became possessed with the keenest curiosity about the
whirl itself. I positively felt a _wish_ to explore its depths, even
at the sacrifice I was going to make; and my principal grief was that I
should never be able to tell my old companions on shore about the mysteries
I should see. These, no doubt, were singular fancies to occupy a man's mind
in such extremity--and I have often thought since, that the revolutions of
the boat around the pool might have rendered me a little light-headed.
"There was another circumstance which tended to restore my self-possession;
and this was the cessation of the wind, which could not reach us in our
present situation--for, as you saw yourself, the belt of surf is
considerably lower than the general bed of the ocean, and this latter now
towered above us, a high, black, mountainous ridge. If you have never been
at sea in a heavy gale, you can form no idea of the confusion of mind
occasioned by the wind and spray together. They blind, deafen, and strangle
you, and take away all power of action or reflection. But we were now, in a
great measure, rid of these annoyances--just as death-condemned felons in
prisons are allowed petty indulgences, forbidden them while their doom is
"How often we made the circuit of the belt it is impossible to say. We
careered round and round for perhaps an hour, flying rather than floating,
getting gradually more and more into the middle of the surge, and then
nearer and nearer to its horrible inner edge. All this time I had never let
go of the ringbolt. My brother was at the stern, holding on to a small
empty water-cask which had been securely lashed under the coop of the
counter, and was the only thing on deck that had not been swept overboard
when the gale first took us. As we approached the brink of the pit he let
go his hold upon this, and made for the ring, from which, in the agony of
his terror, he endeavored to force my hands, as it was not large enough to
afford us both a secure grasp. I never felt deeper grief than when I saw
him attempt this act--although I knew he was a madman when he did it--a
raving maniac through sheer fright. I did not care, however, to contest the
point with him. I knew it could make no difference whether either of us
held on at all; so I let him have the bolt, and went astern to the cask.
This there was no great difficulty in doing; for the smack flew round
steadily enough, and upon an even keel--only swaying to and fro, with the
immense sweeps and swelters of the whirl. Scarcely had I secured myself in
my new position, when we gave a wild lurch to starboard, and rushed
headlong into the abyss. I muttered a hurried prayer to God, and thought
all was over.
"As I felt the sickening sweep of the descent, I had instinctively
tightened my hold upon the barrel, and closed my eyes. For some seconds I
dared not open them--while I expected instant destruction, and wondered
that I was not already in my death-struggles with the water. But moment
after moment elapsed. I still lived. The sense of falling had ceased; and
the motion of the vessel seemed much as it had been before, while in the
belt of foam, with the exception that she now lay more along. I took
courage and looked once again upon the scene.
"Never shall I forget the sensations of awe, horror, and admiration with
which I gazed about me. The boat appeared to be hanging, as if by magic,
midway down, upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in circumference,
prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides might have been
mistaken for ebony, but for the bewildering rapidity with which they spun
around, and for the gleaming and ghastly radiance they shot forth, as the
rays of the full moon, from that circular rift amid the clouds which I have
already described, streamed in a flood of golden glory along the black
walls, and far away down into the inmost recesses of the abyss.
"At first I was too much confused to observe anything accurately. The
general burst of terrific grandeur was all that I beheld. When I recovered
myself a little, however, my gaze fell instinctively downward. In this
direction I was able to obtain an unobstructed view, from the manner in
which the smack hung on the inclined surface of the pool. She was quite
upon an even keel--that is to say, her deck lay in a plane parallel with
that of the water--but this latter sloped at an angle of more than
forty-five degrees, so that we seemed to be lying upon our beam-ends. I
could not help observing, nevertheless, that I had scarcely more difficulty
in maintaining my hold and footing in this situation, than if we had been
upon a dead level; and this, I suppose, was owing to the speed at which we
"The rays of the moon seemed to search the very bottom of the profound
gulf; but still I could make out nothing distinctly, on account of a thick
mist in which everything there was enveloped, and over which there hung a
magnificent rainbow, like that narrow and tottering bridge which Mussulmans
say is the only pathway between Time and Eternity. This mist, or spray, was
no doubt occasioned by the clashing of the great walls of the funnel, as
they all met together at the bottom--but the yell that went up to the
heavens from out of that mist, I dare not attempt to describe.
"Our first slide into the abyss itself, from the belt of foam above, had
carried us to a great distance down the slope; but our farther descent was
by no means proportionate. Round and round we swept--not with any uniform
movement, but in dizzying swings and jerks, that sent us sometimes only a
few hundred yards--sometimes nearly the complete circuit of the whirl. Our
progress downward, at each revolution, was slow, but very perceptible.
"Looking about me upon the wide waste of liquid ebony on which we were thus
borne, I perceived that our boat was not the only object in the embrace of
the whirl. Both above and below us were visible fragments of vessels, large
masses of building timber and trunks of trees, with many smaller articles,
such as pieces of house furniture, broken boxes, barrels, and staves. I
have already described the unnatural curiosity which had taken the place of
my original terrors. It appeared to grow upon me as I drew nearer and
nearer to my dreadful doom. I now began to watch, with a strange interest,
the numerous things that floated in our company. I _must_ have been
delirious--for I even sought _amusement_ in speculating upon the
relative velocities of their several descents toward the foam below. 'This
fir tree,' I found myself at one time saying, 'will certainly be the next
thing that takes the awful plunge and disappears,'--and then I was
disappointed to find that the wreck of a Dutch merchant ship overtook it
and went down before. At length, after making several guesses of this
nature, and being deceived in all--this fact--the fact of my invariable
miscalculation, set me upon a train of reflection that made my limbs again
tremble, and my heart beat heavily once more.
"It was not a new terror that thus affected me, but the dawn of a more
exciting _hope_. This hope arose partly from memory, and partly from
present observation. I called to mind the great variety of buoyant matter
that strewed the coast of Lofoden, having been absorbed and then thrown
forth by the Moskoe-ström. By far the greater number of the articles were
shattered in the most extraordinary way--so chafed and roughened as to have
the appearance of being stuck full of splinters--but then I distinctly
recollected that there were _some_ of them which were not disfigured
at all. Now I could not account for this difference except by supposing
that the roughened fragments were the only ones which had been
_completely absorbed_--that the others had entered the whirl at so
late a period of the tide, or, from some reason, had descended so slowly
after entering, that they did not reach the bottom before the turn of the
flood came, or of the ebb, as the case might be. I conceived it possible,
in either instance, that they might thus be whirled up again to the level
of the ocean, without undergoing the fate of those which had been drawn in
more early or absorbed more rapidly. I made, also, three important
observations. The first was, that as a general rule, the larger the bodies
were, the more rapid their descent; the second, that, between two masses of
equal extent, the one spherical, and the other of _any other shape_,
the superiority in speed of descent was with the sphere; the third, that,
between two masses of equal size, the one cylindrical, and the other of any
other shape, the cylinder was absorbed the more slowly. Since my escape, I
have had several conversations on this subject with an old schoolmaster of
the district; and it was from him that I learned the use of the words
'cylinder' and 'sphere.' He explained to me--although I have forgotten the
explanation--how what I observed was, in fact, the natural consequence of
the forms of the floating fragments, and showed me how it happened that a
cylinder, swimming in a vortex, offered more resistance to its suction, and
was drawn in with greater difficulty, than an equally bulky body, of any
"There was one startling circumstance which went a great way in enforcing
these observations, and rendering me anxious to turn them to account, and
this was that, at every revolution, we passed something like a barrel, or
else the yard or the mast of a vessel, while many of these things, which
had been on our level when I first opened my eyes upon the wonders of the
whirlpool, were now high up above us, and seemed to have moved but little
from their original station.
"I no longer hesitated what to do. I resolved to lash myself securely to
the water-cask upon which I now held, to cut it loose from the counter, and
to throw myself with it into the water. I attracted my brother's attention
by signs, pointed to the floating barrels that came near us, and did
everything in my power to make him understand what I was about to do. I
thought at length that he comprehended my design--but, whether this was the
case or not, he shook his head despairingly, and refused to move from his
station by the ringbolt. It was impossible to reach him; the emergency
admitted of no delay; and so, with a bitter struggle, I resigned him to his
fate, fastened myself to the cask by means of the lashings which secured it
to the counter, and precipitated myself with it into the sea, without
another moment's hesitation.
"The result was precisely what I had hoped it might be. As it is myself who
now tell you this tale--as you see that I _did_ escape--and as you are
already in possession of the mode in which this escape was effected, and
must therefore anticipate all that I have farther to say-I will bring my
story quickly to conclusion. It might have been an hour, or thereabout,
after my quitting the smack, when, having descended to a vast distance
beneath me, it made three or four wild gyrations in rapid succession, and,
bearing my loved brother with it, plunged headlong, at once and forever,
into the chaos of foam below. The barrel to which I was attached sunk very
little farther than half the distance between the bottom of the gulf and
the spot at which I leaped overboard, before a great change took place in
the character of the whirlpool. The slope of the sides of the vast funnel
became momently less and less steep. The gyrations of the whirl grew,
gradually, less and less violent. By degrees, the froth and the rainbow
disappeared, and the bottom of the gulf seemed slowly to uprise. The sky
was clear, the winds had gone down, and the full moon was setting radiantly
in the west, when I found myself on the surface of the ocean, in full view
of the shores of Lofoden, and above the spot where the pool of the
Moskoe-ström _had been._ It was the hour of the slack, but the sea
still heaved in mountainous waves from the effects of the hurricane. I was
borne violently into the channel of the Ström, and in a few minutes was
hurried down the coast into the 'grounds' of the fishermen. A boat picked
me up--exhausted from fatigue--and (now that the danger was removed)
speechless from the memory of its horror. Those who drew me on board were
my old mates and daily companions, but they knew me no more than they would
have known a traveler from the spirit-land. My hair, which had been
raven-black the day before, was as white as you see it now. They say, too,
that the whole expression of my countenance had changed. I told them my
story--they did not believe it. I now tell it to you--and I can scarcely
expect you to put more faith in it than did the merry fishermen of
HELPS TO STUDY.
Notes and Questions.
Locate the scene of this story on your map.
How does the hero account for his apparent age?
What do you learn from Jonas Ramus's description of the whirlpool?
How does the "Encyclopedia Britannica" account for the vortex?
What was the theory of Kircher?
Briefly relate in your own words the hero's story of his experience in the
What tempted him into the whirlpool?
Account for his miscalculation as to the time of the slack.
What three observations did the hero make?
How did he make his escape?
From this story what do you think of Poe's powers of imagination and
What other authors have you read that have similar powers?
Words and Phrases for Discussion.
"belt of foam"
"collision of waves"
"flood of golden glory"
"wild waste of liquid ebony"
"chaos of foam"
"the gyrations of the whirl"
* * * * *
EDGAR ALLAN POE
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,--
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door:
Only this and nothing more."
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;--vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow--sorrow for the lost Lenore,
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore:
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me--filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door,
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door:
This it is and nothing more."
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"--here I opened wide the door:--
Darkness there and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore":
Merely this and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore;
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore:
'Tis the wind and nothing more."
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door,
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door:
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,--
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore:
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
Much I marveled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning--little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door,
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore."
But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour,
Nothing further then he uttered, not a feather then he fluttered,
Till I scarcely more than muttered,--"Other friends have flown before;
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said, "Nevermore."
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore:
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of 'yore,
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking "Nevermore."
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er
She shall press,' ah, nevermore!
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite--respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh, quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! prophet still, if bird or devil!
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted
On this home by Horror haunted--tell me truly, I implore:
Is there, is there balm in Gilead?--tell me--tell me, I implore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us, by that God we both adore,
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore:
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
"Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting:
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor:
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted--nevermore!
HELPS TO STUDY.
Notes and Questions.
What is the theme of this poem?
What gives it its musical quality?
Mention parts that you think are especially beautiful.
Find examples of alliteration.
What does the refrain add to this poem?
What is the meaning of "Night's Plutonian shore"?
Of what is the raven a symbol?
Why does the poet call the bust of Pallas "pallid"?
What is the significance of the last stanza?
From this poem, in what would you say Poe's poetry excels?
Which stanza do you like best?
Words and Phrases for Discussion.
"dirges of his Hope"
"bird of yore"
"balm in Gilead"
* * * * *
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
In "The Courtship of Miles Standish" Longfellow has made us acquainted with
his ancestors, John Alden and Priscilla Mullens, passengers of the
Mayflower. Of such ancestry Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in
Portland, Maine, February 27, 1807. His birthplace was at that time a
beautiful and busy town, a forest city with miles of sea beach and a port
where merchant vessels from the West Indies exchanged sugar and rum for the
products of the forest and the fisheries of Maine.
We are told that he was a boy "true, high-minded and noble"; "active,
eager, often impatient"; "handsome in appearance" and the "sunlight of the
home." His conduct at school was "very correct and amiable"--he read much
and was always studious and thoughtful. The first book which fascinated his
imagination was Irving's "Sketch-Book." Indeed there is a resemblance
between the gentle Irving and the gentle Longfellow which is expressed in
the prose of one and the poetry of the other.
Longfellow's education was obtained in Portland and at Bowdoin College,
Brunswick, Maine, where he had for classmates several youths who afterward
became famous, Nathaniel Hawthorne, J. S. C. Abbott, and Franklin Pierce.
Upon Longfellow's graduation, the trustees of the college, having decided
to establish a chair of modern languages, proposed that this young
graduate, of scholarly and literary tastes, should fit himself for this
position. Three years, therefore, he spent in delightful study and travel
in France, Spain, Italy, and Germany. Here was laid the foundation for his
scholarship, and, as in Irving on his first European trip, there was
kindled that passion for romantic lore which followed him through life and
which gave color and direction to much of his work. He mastered the
language of each country visited in a remarkably short time, and many of
the choicer poems found in these languages he has given to us in the
After five years at Bowdoin, Longfellow was invited in 1834 to the chair of
modern languages in Harvard College. Again he was given an opportunity to
prepare himself by a year of study abroad. In 1836 he began his active work
at Harvard and took up his residence in the historic Craigie House,
overlooking the Charles River--a house in which Washington had been
quartered for some months when he came to Cambridge in 1775 to take command
of the Continental forces. Longfellow was thenceforth one of the most
prominent members of that group of men including Sumner, Hawthorne,
Agassiz, Lowell, and Holmes, who gave distinction to the Boston and
Cambridge of earlier days.
For twenty years Longfellow filled the professorship of modern languages at
Harvard and was one of the best beloved instructors at the university. He
resigned that he might devote himself to writing and was succeeded at
Harvard by James Russell Lowell.
Though Longfellow wrote in prose and is the author of many shorter poems,
his reputation is mainly based upon his longer poems. Longfellow was a
great admirer of the German poet, Goethe, to whose "Hermann and Dorothea"
we are indebted for much of the form and no doubt some of the story of
Evangeline. The story of Acadie was told first to Hawthorne by a friend of
both authors; but the tale was hardly dark enough to suit the fancy of
Hawthorne, whereas to Longfellow it seemed to have in it precisely those
elements of faith and devotion that make the widest appeal. In a collection
of poems published in 1850 appeared the poem of Longfellow's highest
patriotic reach, the allegory of "The Building of the Ship." A friend of
Lincoln recited this poem to him, and when the lines of its closing
apostrophe to the ship of state were reached, with tears in his eyes the